Chicago Green Jobs

Must Attend Event: Sustainovate 2009, May 13-14
April 27, 2009, 6:54 pm
Filed under: Event

The clever and ambitious among us attend conferences for three reasons: to network, to swap ideas and to go back to our organizations with an actionable idea that makes us look like a rock star. And yet many, many conferences are organized around the principle that attendees are there to absorb information like sponges and then regurgitate reports to the boss. Weak.

Fortunately for us,Chicago’s Sustainovate 2009 is an outstanding opportunity to talk shop and develop new ideas into actionable plans.  If your company is planning to innovate out of this downturn, here are three reasons this conference is for you:

1. Network with the doers. There are just 100 people attending this conference, and they are all people who are out in the field doing the work of creating sustainable change with businesses. Added bonus: this conference is built around REAL networking – the kind where you build up new ideas with interesting people in your field.

2. Swap ideas with the pros: You know who I’m looking forward to talking with at Sustainovate? Saravana Balaji Jayaseelan, the Director of Sustainabilty for Newell Rubbermaid. According to their website, Newell Rubbermaid is building a “culture of sustainability” by engaging their employees.  I’ve spent the last two years doing just that with Walmart USA, Walmart Canada, a major utility company, and now a prominent law firm – and there is nothing I love more than talking shop with the pros!

3. Develop actionable ideas: The conference is built around deep dive sessions where participants can collaborate and build out ideas relevant to their businesses. If you are looking for some fresh insights on how you can tackle a specific problem at work, bring it with you. You’ll have 100 doers on tap to help you move forward.

Register now – there’s only a few spots left. And I’ll see you there – I’m one of the featured attendees!


Green Job Profile #3: Local Food Line Cook/Truffle Maker
April 23, 2009, 8:06 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

Ariel Diamond and I dropped out of the same business school, and she is now on the path to building a career as a chef working with local, sustainable food. Ariel is one of the most interesting people I know, and I learned a lot about what it takes to make our restaurants sustainable from this profile. I recommend reading it through, but here’s the money quote:

It has been quite an experience to go from offices and suits to chef pants and clogs. I feel much better suited to tackle these problems now that I can relate to people who do the labor. It makes me want to run a manual labor retreat for greenies to try to get them (us) to break that elitism that we’re so famous for. Greening the world will take a lot of WORK, work that requires you to use your body, and is sometimes helped, sometimes hindered by the educated, privileged mind.

Current Title: Line Cook/Truffle Maker. I am currently a line cook at La Tache in Andersonville and by the time this is published, I will be cooking at Green Zebra restaurant, a seasonally-focused mostly-vegetarian restaurant. On the side, I make truffles and caramels with a tiny local sustainable chocolatier, Katherine Anne Confections, with whom my biggest claim to fame – besides making over 1000 truffles by hand in a day – is that I developed our awesome white chocolate carrot cake truffle. –

Relevant training: I took a knife skills class at Kendall College and I have a newly minted sanitation certificate! I’m going to frame that and send it to my mom. No culinary school over here – I’ve been learning on the job. I walked into a French-influenced restaurant last March, got a job, and have been training (while getting paid) ever since!

What do you do all day? I prep food, cook food, plate food, and then clean up. I am currently one of two line cooks in a four-person kitchen, so I am fortunate in that I get to work directly with my chefs and be carefully trained by them. I am also fortunate that they ask me for ideas and let me develop some specials — you often have to wait years for that in bigger kitchens. This week I made the soup du jour and a dessert special, into which I integrated my value for seasonal, local food, which isn’t a high priority of the restaurant otherwise.

What did you do before you got this job? Starting at the beginning, I have a degree in Environmental Studies from Wellesley College and an uncompleted Sustainable Management MBA from the Presidio School of Management — just like you, Kate! After college, I started working on environmental issues with the Chicago city government, then worked for a while for a food-related non-profit.

A little over a year ago, I quit offices for good and after taking odd jobs for a while – much to the chagrin of my mother – and finally came to terms what I actually want to do every day, which is to get my hands all over that food I kept talking about! I walked into a kitchen off the street and asked for a job last March. I got it. I’ve been working in kitchens — some sustainable, some not — ever since.

What impact do you have on the planet and/or community through your work? While at The Land Connection, the sustainable ag org I used to (and still occasionally) work for, we used to talk about the missing link of a good local food distribution system. Now that I’m in restaurants watching my chefs put in orders, I see that problem in living color, realizing that ultimately it is light years easier and cheaper to order from Sysco and United Foods. Chefs are overworked as it is and getting food has to be easy, reasonably priced, flexible, consistent (while in accordance with seasonal availability), and FAST. Say what you will about Sysco, but you can order something on Friday night at 11 pm and get it at 2 pm on Saturday. Local foods have to be able to compete with that, but you can’t ask a farmer to quick drive up two cases of eggs.

We need some new infrastructure and new players before happy food can really compete. As I build my skill base and eventually be the one setting menus and ordering, I plan to not only stock my walk-ins with ethical food but also support any efforts towards developing a sustainable food distribution system.

Ariel’s essential skills and personality traits for success – not to mention her reading list – after the jump.

Continue reading

Sadhu Johnston, Chicago’s Chief Environmental Officer, is a Funny Guy
April 22, 2009, 8:16 pm
Filed under: Event

If you aren’t attending Chicago’s Green Drinks events you must start. Every time I go I meet fabulously interesting people and learn something new about green business and green government. Added bonus: if you come to Green Drinks on May 14th you get to help pick a sustainable business to win $2500!

But I digress. At today’s Green Drinks we got to hear from Sadhu Johnston, Chicago’s Chief Environmental Officer, about the city’s efforts to become more sustainable. Let me say on the front end that as soon as the question and answer portion of the evening started I felt a wave of empathy. Part of my job includes giving presentations and seminars too, so I’m familiar with the pointed questions about whether you’re doing enough.

Sadhu’s weapons of choice? Data and humor.

Best data point of the night: Before the parking meter rates went up, 15% of Chicago’s downtown traffic was just people driving around looking for street parking.  Parking meter rates were so cheap that people just couldn’t face garage rates.  The new parking meter rates are driving plenty of people nuts, but the smart money says that the new rates will cut the city’s traffic and carbon emissions.

Best out of context funny answer: “Imagine a stack of a trillion pancakes reaching to the moon.”

All in all, it was a really interesting evening. And now I know that Sadhu looks surprisingly like J-Lo’s husband, Marc Antony. That’s the kind of insight you only get from face to face meetings, people! See you May 14th.

Four Reasons Why Working With Corporations on Sustainability Creates Change
April 19, 2009, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change

I start fights wherever I go. Not because I’m particularly belligerent, mind you – it’s just that I’m a sustainability consultant who has spent two years working with Walmart. Many good, principled and passionate people believe that engaging with corporations on sustainability is “selling out” or “greenwashing.” Here are four reasons that I think they are wrong:

1. Corporations have a splendid bully pulpit. There are a lot of great causes in the world and a lot of great campaigns aimed at getting people to join those causes. Unfortunately, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists the average American experiences 3,000 advertising messages each day.  Even the most brilliantly crafted campaigns won’t inspire action if no one carves out the space to listen.

You know a great way to get someone to carve out some space to listen to you? Hire them and write them a regular paycheck! Corporations can not only communicate with their employees regularly and through a range of channels, their status as an employer allows them to cut through the static and get an ear.

2. Corporations have the numbers. You’re a pro, so you know that switching to CFL bulbs is one of the easiest and most high impact actions actions an individual can take to fight global warming. Making the switch saves $30 over the lifetime of a bulb and prevents about 450 pounds of carbon emissions. Now $30 bucks and a few hundred pounds of CO2 is nothing to sneeze at.  But let’s face it: $30 bucks per bulb stretched out over 5-10 years isn’t exactly strippers and clowns money. And since the average car emits 12,000 pounds of CO2 a year, cutting 450 pounds doesn’t feel very heroic.

This is why most CFL campaigns and stories focus on agregate impact, like “if every American changed just one light bulb, we’d save $8 billion and cut 2 million cars worth of green house gas emissions.” There is no single platform to convince every American to do anything, but corporations can set up tools that aggregate the efforts of their employees and demonstrate the impact they are having as a group. The bigger the company, the bigger the numbers; the associates in Walmart USA reported that they recycled 5 million pounds of aluminum in less than a year through PSP.

3. Corporations provide structure. Solving the challenge of global warming is such a complex and massive undertaking that plenty of people get discouraged before they even start. A corporate program acts as a filter that makes the challenge manageable and measurable. It’s a lot easier to start planning effective action when your goal is to reduce the company’s paper use by 10% by 2010 instead of To Save The World.

4. Corporations are full of people who want to make a difference and a sustainability program can give them the opportunity to do it. I’ve written a lot about how corporations have this great platform and structure and reach, but the truth is that there are always going to be hordes of disengaged, cynical, straight not having it employees. Fortunately, there are more employees who are hungry for an opportunity to be a part of something meaningful at work. I just ran a search for Walmart, recycling and PSP and came up with this post on

I have worked for Walmart for almost two years. I attended the PSP retreat and yes, I believe that if we (associates) get behind this project it will be a world changing event. We are the the largest company in the world, with 1.3 million associates. WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD, for the better and leave our children a legacy to be proud of . We have been recycling for at least the last two years, but now we’re kicking it in to high gear. We will make a better life for our children and future generations. I make a challenge to everyone to choose your own personal sustainability project to work on, whether it be recycling, eating better, quit smoking, exercise, what ever you can do to make the yourself and the earth a better and healthier place for everyone.

I’m really proud of the work I do, and I’m confident that as Walmart continues down the path of creating positive sustainable change that I’ll get into fewer and fewer arguments.

How To Create A Grassroots Message That Actually Works
April 11, 2009, 9:23 am
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change

So you’ve probably had a conversation about climate change/phthalates/recycling  in which someone utters the phrase “If I could just make them understand how important it is!”  Sadly, the very people who care most about an issue are the people who are least able to put themselves in the shoes of the people they are trying to convince. This is why most businesses hire a PR or marketing agency to develop campaigns – their hired guns can be clever and effective without clouds of emotion and detailed knowledge of the issue in the way.

What all pros in the messaging biz know is that people make most decisions based on emotions first and then summon up logical reasons to explain themselves afterwards.  The good news is that many environmental and social messages offer fertile ground for emotional appeals.  The bad news is that there are plenty of emotional appeals that have nothing to do with adorable polar bears and smiling blond children blowing bubbles at windmills, and that opponents of green and social campaigns are really good at manipulating them.

Take the campaign I worked on for GM. Our job was to convince voters to call up their members of Congress to register their opposition to legislation that would require car manufacturers to build cars with better gas mileage. Our campaign was part of the winning team: when new CAFE legislation was signed in December of 2001 the standard held steady at 27.5 mpg, which was the level set in 1986.

There are plenty of reasons why stronger CAFE legislation couldn’t get passed for decades (hundreds of millions of dollars in auto industry lobbying fees leap to mind), but the truth is that the auto industry has a winning hand when it comes to emotional appeals.

The bumper sticker that we handed out at NASCAR rallies is a perfect microcosm of our campaign. It read: “Hey Feds – Get Your Hands Off My Truck. No New Energy Regs!” Here are three reasons why it connected with people on an emotional level:

1. People love their cars. I used to drive a red Toyota Tacoma pick-up truck and I loved it. We named our truck Dog in honor of my sister-in-law’s dog named Truck. My first road-trip with my husband was in that truck. We took it camping in ten states. It moved us across the country three times. When I drove it I sat above all the people in their cars, and I felt all cool and southern. We finally gave up the truck when we moved to Chicago to stay, but it wasn’t easy. Loving your car is as American as apple pie, so that line “Get your hands of my truck” resonates.

2. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. In most situations people prefer to maintain the status quo rather than to shake things up. An issue as wonky as fuel economy regulations just doesn’t fire up the imagination. Most folks can’t see how such a change would benefit them, so they’re already disposed to just let sleeping dogs lie. The line “no new energy regs” plays on that predisposition.

3. NASCAR doesn’t like Big Brother. NASCAR is popular everywhere but it was born in the south. You know what else is popular in the south? Right wing politics! This is a crowd that is predisposed to believe that government is the problem, not the solution. The bumper sticker starts out with “Hey Feds” so that the reader can identify the enemy right away. It ends with “no new energy regs” so that readers know the exact issue at hand. Add in “Get your hands off my truck” and you’ve got an emotional appeal masterpiece that also includes a call to action.

I hate to say it, but my firm did a great job with that campaign. But what if we’d gotten hired on the other side of the issue? Is there any possible way that proponents of fuel economy regulations could have crafted an effective emotional appeal? Here are three possible counteracting appeals:

1. Americans don’t like “playing politics.” Despite the partisan rancor thronging the airwaves, polls show that  a majority of Americans want to see solutions, not politics.

2. People like saving money. Fuel economy regulations would ensure that most car buyers would pay thousands less for gasoline over the lifetime on the purchase, and everyone likes saving money!

3. People want good value for their money. In an ideal world, consumers would prefer to get a better car that also saves them money. They don’t buy the idea that car companies can only make good cars OR save their customers money.

So a good counteracting bumper sticker might read: “Stop playing politics and build me a better car.” Would it be good enough? Maybe not. Not all emotional appeals are created equal – love for a car will usually trump the desire for a good deal. Would it be better than talking about our country’s “oil addiction,” as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy did? Almost certainly.

Three Ways a Hotel Can Convince Guests to Go Green
April 6, 2009, 2:32 pm
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change

There’s a swank new boutique in town: Hotel Felix, the first hotel designed to meet the Silver LEED rating in Chicago. According to their press release, it’s got green features for days. Organic bedding! Green cleaners! Efficient plumbing, air conditioning, and insulation! AND if you show up driving a hybrid you get free valet parking.

So what if you’re a hotel that can’t afford to invest in these structural overhauls? Well,  most hotels start out with those little placards that say things like “Save the Environment. Reuse Your Towels.” Hotel linen reuse programs can have a profound impact on the environment – according to Green Suites International, hotels with reuse programs can reduce their yearly water consumption by 72,000 gallons and their yearly detergent consumption by 480 gallons. Of course, hotel reuse programs can also have a profound effect on the blood pressure of hotel customers – check out Jill Pellettieri’s hilariously bile-filled tantrum on Slate.  Here are three ways hotel managers can effectively boost participation in their linen reuse programs without irritating their guests:

1. Peer pressure: It’s not just for deviants anymore!

Robert B. Cialdini ran an elegant little experiment in a high-end hotel in Phoenix. His team crafted four appeals for linen reuse, distributed them across 260 rooms randomly, and then sat back and counted towels. One of the four messages outperformed the hell out of the other three – guess which:

Message 1: Help save the environment

Message 2: Help save resources for future generations

Message 3: Partner with us to save the environment

Message 4: Join your fellow citizens in helping to save the environment. The majority of hotel guests reuse their towells when asked.

Anyone who started smoking in high school should have gotten this one right: Message 4 outperformed the other three messages by an average of 34%.  Participation rates went up even higher when the message was tweaked to indicate that other guests who stayed in that specific room had participated.

2. Show your range

Make sure your customers know that you have a range of sustainability initiatives. If your guests think that your sole green initiative is the linen reuse program they will draw two conclusions:

  • That you are expecting your paying customers to do all the work for you
  • That “going green” is an excuse to guilt your customers out their right to wallow in piles of the fluffy towels that they paid for

A different study Cialdini ran tested the message “Help the hotel save energy.” Talk about an epic fail – just 16% of guests responded to that appeal, about half the rate of participation generated by “save the planet” messages. This isn’t so surprising – after all, your customers want you to save THEM money, not the other way around.

3. Create reciprocity, not a quid pro quo

The best way to beat the perception that your linen reuse program is a cheap attempt to get your customers to save you money is to put your money where your mouth is. The trick is to do it right. Here are two messages based on this approach:

Message 1: Partner with us to help save the environment. In exchange for your participation in this program, we at the hotel will donate a percentage of the energy savings to a nonprofit environmental protection organization. The environment deserves our combined efforts. You can join us by reusing your towels during your stay.

Message 2: We’re doing our part for the environment. Can we count on you? Because we are committed to preserving the environment, we have made a financial contribution to a nonprofit environmental protection organization on behalf of the hotel and its guests. If you would like to help us in recovering the expense, while conserving natural resources, please reuse your towels during your stay.

Message 1 pulled in a 35% participation rate, which is actually less than the 37% that standard “save the planet” signs generate. Message 2 pulled in a 47% participation rate, which is 10% over the average. When you make contributing to a non-profit a conditional offer, customers shrug and prefer to donate on their own time. But when you put your money on the line first and invite people to join your efforts, customers will help you out. And considering that hotel water bills can total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the savings from increased participation should be able to pay for a donation to the Sierra Club.

As with so many things, creating behavior change is all about HOW you ask, not WHAT you ask.

Robot Fish Is Disrespectful to Pollution
April 1, 2009, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Green Technology


Most of the time when people think about biomimicry, or “innovation inspired by nature,” they’re thinking about designs “inspired by” nature, like this building inspired by a termite mound and this car inspired by a blowfish. Think made for TV movies starring Sally Field that are “inspired by” a true story – there’s a connection, but you really have to look hard to see it.

Not so with the incredibly cool new biomimicry technology Robot Fish! Robot Fish is a wee chemical lab built like a carp that swims around in rivers and bays testing water for pollutants. This truly has to be seen to be believed – go watch this video explaining how it works. You will be glad you did.

So cool, right? My favorite Robot Fish feature is the little handle it has on top so scientists can carry it around like a giant, fish shaped briefcase.

When the Robot Fish are swimming instead of being toted around by scientists, they are able to convey real time information about pollution to people in a position to do something about it. That means leaks, spills, and dumps can be detected in enough time to actually do something about it, which is not possible today.

The first school of Robot Fish will be released into a port in Spain in 2011. You know what that means! By 2020 or so the Robot Fish will become self-aware, form committees and start building themselves thumbs. I’m predicting a damp version of SkyNet by 2030 at the latest.