Greener on the Other Side

How the Internet Can Save the Planet
August 20, 2009, 7:16 pm
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In preparation for what I hope is a panel at SXSW (vote for it here) moderated by my esteemed boss lady Summer Rayne Oakes, I wanted to outline some of my personal thoughts on the lack of connectivity between the internet and the environment. My career sits at the nexus of these two revolutions. I’m working on an Internet startup designed to streamline the supply chain for sustainable fashion designers. It leaves me scrambling to learn everything I can about both movements, but often I feel like I have a leg on two banks of river.  Both revolutions are infants by all accounts, but what’s perplexing is their detachment.

Let’s start with the Internet. The Internet as an industry is not doing well. It’s immensely popular, innovative, socially, culturally, and educationally life alerting, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of money. YouTube (one of the examples used in Chris Andersons incomprehensive book ‘Free’) is estimated to have made around 200 million dollars last year. You may think to yourself, shit 200 million isn’t bad, but YouTube is ranked number 4 on Alexa making it by all means one of the most powerful sites on the entire web. Look up the number 4 energy company, the number 4 bio medial corporation or the number 4 financial firm and you’ll see how measly 200 million dollars is. I understand of course, that the Internet is still in its infancy, but when its number 4 player only makes 200 million dollars something is askew. Other than giants Google, Yahoo and Facebook few top sites have billion dollar potential. Twitter is ranked number 13 and hasn’t even decided on a revenue model yet. This means one of two things; It’s still way to early in the composition of the web to see how it will be profitable. Or, the Internet (generally speaking of course) really doesn’t know how to make money and what’s worse, may not be properly structured to. Before the first bubble burst VC’s and the average investor alike were more then willing to overlook short-term profitability for inconceivable long term potential. Now, as Web 2.0 comes to a close, the honeymoon is officially over. Looking from the ground up, the start-up community from coast to coast is all in a tizzy. Few of the thousands of start-ups with or without funding have the ability to convincingly answer that ever-important question, “what is your revenue model?” It makes sense to me why, up until the last few years the tech community wasn’t really worried about their revenue stream so the 20 some odd years of experience this industry does have, in some ways, isn’t applicable.

Now lets talk about the environment. In certain aspects a much older industry than the web, conservationism dates back to the 19th century. The “Green” movement however, is relatively new. I don’t love the term “green” but in this context it best describes the social and cultural progression we’ve seen in the last decade. When global warming finally hit the collective conscious we realized that the human being was at a pivotal moment in its existence. Soaring energy costs and turmoil in energy producing regions present catastrophic political and environmental problems, but also unrivaled economic opportunity. All of this has been muddled by an economic crisis and what should be an uncontroversial debate about health care that is instead a floundering political parties last gasp for air. I understand the valid concern for these extremely important issues but the environmental problems facing our planet exceed anything we can even imagine. The beauty is that our environmental woes provide the perfect solution to our long term economic instability. That fact has been skewed by an aforementioned political parties disenchantment with reality and scientific fact, the over branding of “Green” or “greenwashing” which has led many to ignore the issue much like they would any other overly branded concept and the poor assessment that technology will just fix everything when it becomes an imminent danger. All told, the environment needs a second wind.

In sum, these two larger then life movements both have some serious ailments but their problems appear to be tangentially related: The Internet is looking for a direction (a direction that actually makes money) and the environment needs a miracle of human collaboration and invention. That seems like a good fit to me.  For the last 20 years, and rightfully so, the tech community has devoted a tremendous amount effort to improving the Internet itself. Online tools are created before their true purpose and value is revealed. It’s kind of like getting dressed in the dark but with a closet full of great clothes. Now, there is an opportunity to develop specific platforms that aid in saving the planet. It melds perfectly with the idealism that surrounds the Internet and it’s a far greater cause then “connecting” upper middle class white kids. So get on board Internet people, you don’t have to pretend you are changing the world with a social net site for cat breeders…you can actually do it.


Facebook- In Life and Death.
April 17, 2009, 3:50 pm
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First of all, I’d like to apologize for the long interval since my last post. I debated writing about myself personally on this blog, but as an advocate of social media I felt on this post I should walk the walk and bear all. So, for this installment of greener on the other side, the environment won’t have anything to do with it. Instead, I’ll focus on another aspect of my career, the aforementioned social media and how it recently played a role in my personal life.

In 2006, after 20 years of being a passive Internet user I decided to step up my online game. My brother was carving out a name for himself in the tech space, building off a passion for technology that dated back to his childhood. Under his guidance, I started to pay attention to the revolution. I began reading Wired, TechCrunch and Digg, keeping up with the Internet the way I always followed music, sports and politics. Two years earlier in 2004, Facebook flooded the lives of every college student in the country. It was a constant topic of discussion at bars, dinners and drunken Tuesday afternoons that defined college. We could feel it affecting our lives. Facebook changed the way our generation used the Internet. It was changing dating, creating an additional layer to the already hilarious process of college courtship. It even got my fraternity suspended for a semester. For better or worse, everything that happened in real life, also happened on Facebook. But even with all its influence Facebook never was and still isn’t “cool.” At least not in the way that this was cool, or these guys were cool. Ask most people aged 18-34, “ do you love facebook?” The majority will say no. They will say it’s a great way to keep in touch with friends. I like the pictures. It’s useful. But Zuckerberg’s romantic idea that people feel empowered by Facebook to express their true identity simply isn’t true for the average user. The average Facebook user is a passive one, just like I was pre 2006. They don’t care about web 2.0, the lack of online revenue streams or what their twitter ratio is. For them, the Internet is functional; Google, email, AIM, Facebook, with forays into news sites that cover specific interests, I.E.,, Pre 2006 I was skeptical of the social media tools my brother introduced to me years prior to their widespread adoption. I refused to believe twitter would become a useful tool or that anyone like me would use it. Now it’s my job to use it. So whether or not you care about the Internet doesn’t matter. Not caring about what’s happening online is like not caring about what happens in politics. You can try to ignore it, but one way or another it’s going to affect your life. And while I’ve been studying, using and perfecting the social media, particularly its effectiveness within business, it was very recently that I realized the true depth of its presence in our lives.

On April 4th I lost a wonderful friend of mine, Berit, to a tragic accident. Shortly after learning of her passing I went to her Facebook profile and scrolled through the photos one by one. I was relieved they were there. I voyeuristically watched her life as the pictures went by. I saw her laughing, traveling and living. She was happy. I even got to see myself a few times within her Facebook documentary. As the days passed people began to write on Berit’s wall. Her profile was becoming a memorial. Her sisters even posted information about funeral services. I wasn’t surprised. I had seen this happen before. Twice while I was in college I lost close friends. Each time their Facebook pages were used and still are, as a platform for collective mourning. When I had seen Facebook profiles memorialized in the past, it was in my passive Internet phase. It didn’t register into any greater context. But this time, I noticed the significance. Not only is Facebook an extension of our lives, but also our deaths. At first I felt hesitant about the role Facebook was playing in Berits passing. Somehow it seemed inappropriate. Were we really going to allow Facebook to be apart of this moment? My initial reaction was a mere amplified version of the gut reaction people have to social media all the time. Do I really want everything broadcasted? Do I want people to know where I am, what I am doing and what I am thinking? In this case, posting on Berit’s wall has been helping people express their feelings, deal with the grief and say goodbye. Sure, other people can read it, but I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. I realized that while I received the news from a dear friend, many people probably found out from Facebook directly. It’s how news travels within our generation. A few summers ago when I was traveling through Europe, cut off from my real life, I received an urgent message via Facebook. The message led me to call home and learn of my friend Garrets death. My discomfort with Facebook playing any kind of role in Berit’s passing quickly dissolved as I realized I still looked at Garrets Facebook profile and that I would do the same with hers. They still show up on your notifications when it’s their birthday. Their face still pops up in the 6 thumbnail photos of your friends. And when they do, you click it. It should be noted that because my friendship with Berit dates far back before the days of Facebook I also looked at pictures on a account. Blast from the past both in content and technology.

Unfortunately, I’m beginning to recognize the rhythm of grief I experience when I lose someone close to me. It doesn’t move through stages exactly like they say it should. Different aspects of the 7 stages of grief come in and out simultaneously. For the most part, I’m feeling a mix of reflection and loneliness. Right now, I really miss my friend. I’m beginning to accept she is gone, and I feel an overwhelming sadness for the very simple fact that I won’t get to hang out with her anymore. Missing your friend doesn’t really stop. You keep missing them forever. As time goes on you aren’t as traditionally sad as you were in the beginning, you just want to see your buddy because you know they would like this beach, or this song, or this baseball game or that they would know how to appreciate a given moment. Nothing can fix that. But for the same reason people have had gravestones, tombs and monuments for millenniums, I think it’s nice we have Facebook. More intimate then a few sentences that try to capture the beauty of someone you loved, a Facebook profile is an in depth documentation of their recent life. It goes with you everywhere and it’s at your finger tips 24/7. Gary Vanerychuck of Wine Library TV has talked about this on a few occasions. In the age of the Internet, we will leave behind a tremendous amount of content for our descendents. Our online contributions will be integral in constructing the foundation of our lineage. Imagine if you could read your grandfathers streaming thoughts after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Or, what if you could peruse one of your parent’s Facebook albums entitled, “Woodstock.” In the greater scheme of things it’s a small consolation, the same way a gravestone doesn’t make losing a loved one any easier. But for whatever reason, we as human beings are the sentimental sort. When someone is gone we like to have a symbol of their life here on earth. It helps us remember and it gives us a place to visit when we miss them. No Facebook profile, gravestone, or anything for that matter, could ever truly depict Berit as the dynamic, amorous, intelligent, effervescent person she was. But they can help us to crystallize her life’s narrative. In the end it seems we really can’t escape Facebook’s presence in life or death, but at least for now, I think that’s okay.

Defining Green
January 20, 2009, 4:57 am
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There’s far too much content on earth. If content were a pollutant I have no doubt it would be the environments most severe threat, virtually dwarfing co2 emissions, radioactive waste, uranium mining and China. Luckily for the narcissistic, awful youtube posts, terrible music on myspace, twittering and blogging have no direct environmental effect aside from the energy consumed to create them. That, however, does not make it okay. Content pollution is a serious problem.

From Greener on the Other Side you will find a synthesis of the weeks most pressing environmental news scoping business, politics, culture and energy. Hopefully that synthesis will offer some translation, context, and perspective on what all this green talk is really about.  Additionally, I will tackle evolving trends and themes within the broader green movement and attempt to editorialize in a way that will help bring you as the reader into the fold of the green universe.

To start, I will offer some closure on the term itself. Since I began pursuing a career within the green space people have asked me, “What does green mean?” Well let me clarify, green is a primary color; Favorite third among Americans after Red and Blue, it can be found in any 8 pack of crayons, and can be created by mixing yellow and blue paint. You may have attempted this at some point between ages 3 and 12. It’s home to the less sinful apple, the dollar bill, teenage mutant ninja turtles, and Kermit. One can be green with envy or green with innocence. But perhaps most famously, (at least second to money) the earth is green. And so, when PR spinsters and marketing mavens had to describe all things environmental, sustainable and energy efficient they deemed them green. It was a pretty good idea. Otherwise your nightly newscaster would’ve had to give you tips on how to avoid cataclysmic climate change resulting in massive flooding/death instead of the far less wordy, how to Go Green! It works for a lot of americas, “Well I like green, it’s my third favorite color, and I love to go places so this sounds like something for me!” The truth is that green really means efficient.  And while I am impressed and encouraged by the traction the green movement has made thus far, sometimes I wonder if we’d be better off saying Go Efficient. Going Green means doing everything in a cleaner, innovative, intelligent, responsible way. It means thinking about the broad consequences of our actions and finding renewable resources to power them. It’s a restructuring of the way we do everything in an effort to do it better on a multitude of levels.  Going Green is a crescendo in the course of human history because it is the collective realization that everything we need to power the engine of humanity is present. It’s like we’ve been searching all over the house for our keys, only to reach into our pockets and find them.

Regardless of whether or not you believe humans are responsible for global climate change, or if cutting down rain forests and killing off species really matters, I think we can all agree that doing things more efficiently is good for our economy, our country and our world, even if we are only talking about the world in a synthetic sense.  So Going Green is definitely for everyone, especially here in America. In case you haven’t noticed we could use not just an economic boost, but an economic foundation. Even if global warming and the hole in the ozone is a sham perpetrated by tree hugging hippies (science literally proves it is not) we might as well pretend it’s real for the sake of the industry it would create. Creating imaginary economies is what being American is all about! (See dot com boom and subprime mortgage crisis) But in contrast, this industry would be tangible and could leave the USA in control of the worlds greatest supply of energy while simultaneously setting the global standard for efficient business and lifestyle practices.

Going Green means taking literally every facet of life which consumes energy (everything), and finding solutions to streamline that process in the most sustainable, renewable, efficient way. This saves money, energy, time and the planet. It has been done before with great success.  The Antarctic sea urchin is incredibly energy efficient, performing key metabolic processes with 25 times less energy than anything else in the animal kingdom. The planet itself was sustainable until we started fucking it up. And the bicycle is dexterously energy efficient. What this means is that creating an energy efficient society is as possible as it is necessary. And no, we don’t need to be “God” or Michaux, (bicycle inventor) in order to do it. Despite our misgivings as a species, I am quite confident we currently posses all the brainpower and technology necessary to run the globe with adept efficiency.  It’s just a matter of reaching into our pockets and pulling out the key’s… to the electric car of course.

My third grade class. Mrs. Gerard had us do a survey.