Episode 136 - Green Blogger Series: Paul Smith of TriplePundit and Ecopreneurist
GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks with green blogger Paul Smith from TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com.
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Sean Daily: Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from GreenLivingIdeas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Sean Daily: Hey everybody. This is Sean Daily with Green Talk Radio and we’re very excited today to be doing another installment in our Green Blogger series. And today’s guest is Paul Smith, who is very well known to many of those in the Lohas industry. He’s a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com, two green business focus sites.
TriplePundit is a conversation about conscious, responsible business in the context of today’s environmental and social challenges and Ecopreneurist provides news and advice on sustainable and social entrepreneurship. Paul’s also the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, which helps businesses go green with integrity, transparency, and power. He has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco.
Paul, welcome to the program.
Paul Smith: Thanks very much.
Sean Daily: Well, it is great to have you. Let’s just jump in by…well, let me just start by saying that you and I actually came in contact with each other through this whole world of new media and social networking. I think we discovered each other on Twitter. For those of you who are not on Twitter, it’s a microblogging site that is also really a conversational community of people talking back and forth. It sort of has to be experienced. It’s tough to explain. But it’s also quite addictive, I think. [laughter]
Paul Smith: For sure.
Sean Daily: As we’ve discovered. But very cool for networking for folks within one’s industry. So I first heard about you on there and then realized I already knew you from the writing that you had done on the two sites that I mentioned. So I’m curious just to have you tell us your story and how you came to be both a writer as well as a green blogger.
Paul Smith: Well actually, it’s sort of an interesting story. About three or four years ago I got West Nile virus and I nearly died from it.
Sean Daily: Whoa! I did not know that. [laughter] I didn’t see that on your Twitter stream. Wow. That’s quite something.
Paul Smith: That was pre-Twitter days. But, yeah. And so I came back from that and had really like a second chance in life. You know, I said, “Geez, what am I going to do with it?” And I was talking with a friend who is an intuitive among other things, and she said to me – we were in a restaurant – and she looks around and I said, “What do you see me doing next?” And she says, “There’s something to do with the colors of the walls here in the restaurant...” They were orange and green – sustainability. “…and Utne Magazine.” And I said, “What?”
The next day I started seeing sustainability things everywhere and I realized that my interests that I thought were under all these different categories all sort of were within this realm of sustainability. Ode Magazine was one of my favorite magazines out there and it just…I was always inspired by what the people would do in there, just creating solutions where there seemed to just be impossibilities. And I wanted to do that myself, too.
And so now, with this renewed commitment to do something with my life, I realized it had to be within the realm of sustainable business. And then I started searching and I found Presidio School of Management, which was in San Francisco where I lived nearby at the time. And, as you might guess, the website is orange and green, the same colors as that restaurant and they advertise in Utne Magazine. [laughter]
So I ended up going through that program, got an MBA, which it really was quite a good program to help bridge between green business and how it’s done now, rather than it just being an “us versus them” sort of thing so that I was better able to sort of speak the language of how people that are doing things the typical way now and then bridge them into doing things how they could be.
And then where it leads to blogging is that one of my classmates, Nick Aster, he’s one of the founders of TreeHuggers.com. and he also started TriplePundit, and had asked me if I wanted to write on there, which I agreed to and started doing that probably a year and a half ago. And from there, through various connections, I ended up connecting with Jeff from Green Options, which is a whole group of blogs, and ended up writing for Ecopreneurist.
Sean Daily: Who I should say was recently a guest on this show, as well, on the Green Blogger series. Jeff McIntyre Strasberg.
Paul Smith: Yeah, exactly. And then after getting out of the Presidio program I found I was just skilled in a lot of different areas and that I could offer things to many different businesses and so I created a consulting company called GreenSmith Consulting, as well.
Sean Daily: Now, being a writer, just focusing on the blogging side - I want to ask you about GreenSmith as well - but being a writer for two different blogs, I can just imagine you must have a lot of green ideas and developments come across your desk all the time. Are there any in particular that have you excited right now that you’d want to share?
Paul Smith: Yeah, absolutely. In the past couple weeks it’s been really on my radar the whole idea of a distributed energy grid. It’s a same sort of model as how file sharing is done, the whole MP3 file sharing thing where it’s not just a central computer, it’s several computers all over the place taking the load as need be wherever in the world it needs to be. And the same idea is popping up for energy. Rather than just having these big, fixed, coal-fired power plants, the idea is to have many, many places that are using renewable sources to get energy. And they generate more than they need, put it into the system, and then as the needs shift from place to place, the energy goes there.
And with a more distributed grid it’s actually stronger because rather than if the central place gets knocked out you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people with power out. If some one person among this grid has issues, that’s OK because there’s so many more that are out there. And it’s not just talk, it’s happening right now. In Europe right now there’s a property company there that they’re building I think it’s like a 250,000 square foot property that’s going to generate enough excess electricity to power 14 homes for a year. And if you imagine, many of those – small, big, medium, all these different sizes – putting energy out there and sharing with one another, it’s a pretty powerful way to have a really reliable source of energy in the future.
Sean Daily: Yeah, that’s very cool. So is this something you guys have covered editorially on Ecopreneurist?
Paul Smith: No. I actually haven’t done that yet. I haven’t seen that particular company that’s helping harness this yet, so it doesn’t necessarily fit within the blog. It’s that just, personally, overall as a sustainable blogger and consultant, I see as something that’s going to be pretty powerful in the future.
Sean Daily: Looking into your green crystal ball of business in the future.
Paul Smith: [laughter] Yeah. And if people want to read about that there’s an article about it in the current issue of Ode Magazine. And also there’s a website called Celsias, which is spelled with an “A” at the end, and they have an article there, too, talking about there’d be powers starting up in the Nordic countries, wind tower and wave generated power down into the African countries, using solar power and putting that throughout the deserts.
Sean Daily: Yes. Celsias, actually I was recently in a conversation with – they’re based out of New Zealand, I believe. Is that correct?
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: I was in a conversation with somebody who’s a writer over there. So that’s good. So that’s C-E-L-S-I-A-S.com?
Paul Smith: Yes.
Sean Daily: OK. Great. And Paul, just switching gears a little bit, you know we’re hearing a lot these days – and I think, in some cases, feeling – a lot of green fatigue that’s sort of settling in for a lot of consumers, again, even for some journalists who cover the space, and bloggers, and so forth. I’m curious about how you personally keep from becoming green saturated?
Paul Smith: [laughter] That’s a good question because, I mean, in my work I’m sitting in it all day long. I think what inspires me is just seeing the increasing number of large conventional companies seeing a different way to do business and going for it. For instance, [xx] Frito Lay, apparently, they’re converting one of their factories from using enough natural gas for 13,000 homes a year to now, they’re going to convert it to solar and biomass power entirely. And if Frito Lay – you know, the junk food company you ate when you grew up – is doing that, I think that’s pretty amazing.
Sean Daily: Yeah. Well, it’s definitely a good sign. It’s interesting that you brought up – this sort of harkens back to something that came up in an interview that I did with Starr Vartan of EcoChick. We were talking about authenticity within the industry and sort of evaluating green companies. So that’s something I want to save for after the break, but I want to come back to that.
And at this point we’re actually going to go ahead and take that break and we’ll be right back on Green Talk Radio. We are talking today with Paul Smith. He’s a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com, two green business sites, as well as the founder of GreenSmith Consulting. We’ll be right back on Green Talk Radio. Thanks everybody.
Sean Daily: And we’re back on Green Talk Radio. This is Sean Daily talking today with green blogger Paul Smith. He blogs for the sites TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com. They are business focus sites. And he’s also the founder of GreenSmith Consulting.
Paul, we were talking before the break about your background and we were talking a little bit after that about green fatigue and how to avoid that and how you avoid that with the voluminous amount of information coming across your desk related to green business ideas and I can only imagine what else. I wanted to switch gears a little bit to talk about your writing. What keeps you inspired to write with all the writing you’re currently doing?
Paul Smith: I think what inspires me most is when I see the conversations that go on as a result of what I’ve written. You know, you sometimes sit there writing in your office and you don’t realize or you forget what an effect that it has out there and who’s reading it. For instance, I wrote about coconut-based ice cream recently and…
Sean Daily: I love that stuff, by the way. It’s coconut bliss. That stuff is awesome. [laughter] I have to say.
Paul Smith: No doubt. You know, I wrote about that because it’s something I like myself and I said, “Oh, I’m going to contact them. I’d like to get them more exposed.” So I did that. And then watching the conversations unfold where people said, “Oh my God, this is great. I really don’t like soy and rice based ice cream and I can’t have dairy. It’s so good to know that there’s this option out here and I’m going to go find it.” And it’s like, you know, I created a new possibility for somebody out there because of what I wrote. And so that definitely inspires me.
Sean Daily: Yeah. That’s really cool. It’s funny you mentioned that company because we just got some of that the other day. My mom came over and she was raving about it to my wife and the grandkids. So it was like, “Alright, we’ll go get it.” The kids don’t like coconut so much so they’re comparing it to Baskin Robbins, but my wife and I were like, “Yeah” because it has gavé in it so it’s really low on the glycemic index.
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: And the chocolate one doesn’t actually taste too much like coconut, actually. The vanilla one has a little bit of a hint, but I like coconut so that wasn’t a problem for me. Anyway, not to like [xx] but that stuff is really good. [laughter]
So I’m curious also about where do you see things going in general?
Paul Smith: Yeah. It’s kind of a moving target these days, but what I see is that increasingly people will see that it’s just common sense to do business in this way, that it’s not just a trendy thing. I mean, right now it is a bit of a trendy thing with the whole slapping green label on things, but the underlying operational making changes in how you do business in a way that’s more efficient and we’re just going to increase the longevity of the supplies used to make whatever you make and increase the good opinion that people have of your business. I think that it will become just business, not green business, after a while.
Sean Daily: Yeah. Well, hopefully it will just be integrated into what you have to do. It’s sort of like having an accountant or keeping the books. It’s like you must be acting as a company, just as an individual, in sustainable ways to sort of even be effective and competitive in the market, both in terms of the manufacturing processes and the logistics of business as well as politically in the perception of the consumer audience.
But that sort of begs another question, Paul, which is how do we really - in this sort of wild west industry that we’re in – how do we evaluate these companies and their authenticity in making the claims that they do? I mean, I know you do a lot of that kind of work with the GreenSmith Consulting side of things in consulting with these companies to educate them on that. What are you telling them and how do you determine who’s green and who’s not?
Paul Smith: That, I mean, basically it boils down to transparency and honesty. It’s, you know, no company is 100% green. There’s always something in there that’s going to have an impact. And I think not overstating what you do, just being clear and honest about it. For instance, Cliff Bar [sp?] is a good example. They started converting their company to a more sustainable way of doing business around 2001 or so and they still say, “This is a journey in progress” and they don’t hide the things that they haven’t been able to meet what they would like to have as a standard.
Also, as a consumer, it’s just basically if you can, do your homework. Take a look into this company and see. Do they walk the talk that they’re putting out there? And don’t just go by something saying that it’s not petroleum based because if they’re just going on one factor, it’s not something. You know, look and see – does that something that they’re replacing it with, is that going to be the equal or perhaps more impact, but it just isn’t less of an obvious target?
Sean Daily: Right. Are you trading one devil for another? In some cases.
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: That makes a lot of sense. I’m wondering, too, what are your thoughts on the authenticity side and sort of evaluation? I mean, we have some organizations out there like the [xx] Counsel, but we don’t really have any centralized body or organization or standards organization to evaluate across the board. Is there anything happening there in that area to help with that? Or are consumers still sort of on their own?
Paul Smith: It depends on the industry. Of course, with foods, there’s a USDA organic standard, and depending on what country you’re in there’s different official standards for that. Europe tends to be more ahead of us as far as that goes and having standards that are consumer facing. There’s a lot of business, industrial facing standards that are within the U.S., but as far as how to [xx] the consumer, they’re not so much there.
I think what it is is that in the next couple years, that that’s just going to have to happen because people are getting more educated and they’re wanting to be spoken to more straightly and the market’s just going to demand that that be so. So it will happen because if you get all these pseudo-green labels that don’t mean anything and it gets exposed, that’s going to hurt everybody.
Sean Daily: It risks implosion of the whole concept, really, that happening.
Paul Smith: Yeah.
Sean Daily: You know, sort of as a corollary to that follow up, what becomes also difficult, in my estimation, is where we have some of the larger corporations that acquire companies that are acting sustainably, that are doing it right, that at some point sell out. And I’m not faulting those companies because I understand they’re also a business and they have that right and that’s sort of a foundation of our economy and capitalism. But when that happens, it becomes particularly difficult.
We were using the example of companies that have been somewhat PR challenged in the past about being green. Companies like Clorox that manufacture a lot of products that are very harmful when put down the drain, for example, in terms of containers and things like that. Then they acquire a company like Burt’s Bees that had a really good reputation as being a very green company. How do we then evaluate those companies as a whole when really they’re a conglomerate, multi-national corporation that has within it both green and un-green elements? That’s where it seems to get really tricky.
Paul Smith: Yeah. That’s sort of been a peeve of mine over the years, is when people judge companies just overall as a bad company because they do these things that are not so green in some aspects and they’re not entirely green. Wal-Mart’s another example of that. I think that companies deserve to be acknowledged when they do take positive steps forward. And, sure, definitely challenge them on what they still need to go further, but don’t just outright discount them because they’re not entirely there.
And with Clorox, actually, from what I’ve heard – correct me if I’m wrong – but they were creating a green cleaning product line, which was actually quite good. And they did their homework and studied the science to create some quite good products.
Sean Daily: Yes. And actually Starr was using them as an example of a company that is doing a lot of good things and didn’t perhaps deserve – I don’t want to mis-paraphrase what she said – but she was actually talking about some of the good things they’re doing but that it’s a mixed bag and so it wasn’t so much that they were a bad example, just an example of a large company that had both sides. And it was really speaking to the more general topic of how do we then, as consumers and as businesses and so forth, evaluate those companies or just the challenge that sort of inherently exists there when it is a mixed bag.
But I liked what you said. I’ve not heard it said that way and I think that it’s really important, which is just for them to be forthcoming about “this is a journey, here’s where we are.” The transparency side, that’s what I think we don’t get. What we tend to get as consumers more often, at least from my view, are these large companies that say, “Hey look, we just got these guys,” right? And so you’re like, “OK, but what am I supposed to do with that? Am I just supposed to think you’re just green now because you own this one brand?” No, that’s a brand acquisition. You know, that’s strategic business and politically. So I think that that’s sort of…if it becomes thematic within the company, that would be more impressive, at least to me personally, where I’m seeing that this is part of an overall trend – “we’re going to take our existing brands and products and we’re going to make them greener.” But in the meantime, we’re also seeing these as strategic acquisitions as an overall corporate strategy and belief system. That would mean a little bit more.
Paul Smith: For sure. And it was interesting to watch with Burt’s Bees that, yes, they were acquired by a large company, but then, I don’t know if you noticed, but the advertising for them actually became much more aggressive and was talking about these ingredients versus these ingredients in other products, which the first thought that came to my mind is; does the other products that that company makes outside of Burt’s Bees, do they add those chemicals that they’re just talking about?
Sean Daily: Yeah. Is there consistency here? Yeah, that’s interesting. I’ll have to look into that. That’s an interesting thought.
Great. Well, we’re going to take one last break and we will be back talking with Paul Smith. He’s a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com and he’s also the founder of his own business that does green business consulting called GreenSmith Consulting. You can find them online at GreenSmithConsulting.com. We’ll be right back on Green Talk Radio.
Sean Daily: And we’re back on Green Talk Radio. This is Sean Daily talking with blogger Paul Smith. He’s a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com. He’s also the founder of GreenSmith Consulting and they consult with businesses on their green strategies, both internally and externally.
So Paul, we were talking about this industry and the sort of trends in green business in authenticity and transparency in companies that are making green claims. Stepping back from all of that, so you see all this as, ultimately, being a fad? Looking back into that green crystal ball we were talking about earlier, do you see all this being a fad in the larger view over time, say, ten, fifteen, twenty years, or even more, or is there really long-term staying power here?
Paul Smith: I think both because you can see everywhere that there are a lot of companies that are just sort of jumping on it, putting green wherever they can because it’s a popular thing these days. And I think that part, the trendiness, the popular social credibility sort of thing, that that will probably fade. But I think that the lessons learned from companies that actually really do green their business in a meaningful way and see the benefits and the long-term benefit to their brand and their sales, that’s going to stick around because basically when you’re a business person, you want to see what helps the company keep lasting and keep making more money. And if you see these things are doing that you’re going to keep doing it. And there are more and more examples that are going to be popping up around that. And I think with the diminishing energy supplies for what we conventionally used happening, there’s got to be more of an investment in renewable energy sources and just being creative with re-using what you use in your business for energy sources. For instance, with the beer companies taking the dregs of what they produce to use for biomass-based energy production in their own factory. And I think people always want to be creative and innovative in what they do. And this is going to be an ongoing thing in business, I see.
Sean Daily: Good. Well, that’s certainly a positive vision of the future there and I that that’s true. And I hope, like you said, going back to a different version of the word transparency, I hope this becomes sort of an assumption in businesses in the future and that it doesn’t even require the attention. It’s just sort of in there automatically and that we can trust it. I don’t know if that’s a realistic vision, but it’s one that I like to dream of sometimes. [laughter]
Well, thanks again for being with us. Our guest today has been Paul Smith. He is a blogger for the sites TriplePundit.com and Ecopreneurist.com. He’s also the founder of GreenSmith Consulting that helps businesses in their efforts to go green. And Paul, again, thank you for coming on a sharing all this information with our audience.
Paul Smith: Thanks for having me here.
Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember, for more free on-demand podcasts, articles, videos, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website at www.GreenLivingIdeas.com. We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions. Send us an email at [email protected].
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