Chicago Green Jobs


Catch A Free Screening of Carbon Nation; Resolve To Go To Bars More
August 3, 2010, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Event

The World's First Non-Depressing Climate Change Documentary!

It’s been a tough summer, no? Between the oil disaster in the gulf and various heat waves, floods and outbreaks of Dengue fever in Florida there’s hardly been enough time to even properly lament the collapse of the energy bill.

I’d say we could all use a pick me up, so mark your calendars for the August 10th free evening showing of Carbon Nation, the only documentary addressing climate change that actually has a happy ending! That’s because it’s about solutions farmers, soldiers, architects and other folks are undertaking right now to move to a low carbon economy. The key takeaway: you don’t have to believe in climate change to reap the benefits of applying innovative and pragmatic thinking to reducing carbon.  I particularly like the tag line: “A climate change solutions movie that doesn’t even care if you believe in climate change.”

Here’s how you know this will be a good movie: if you ask Karen Weigert, one of the producers, where the idea came from she’ll start the story with “I was snowboarding at Sundance a few years ago and we got into this conversation at the bar…” I find this extremely inspiring – I’ll have to start going to bars more.

So next Tuesday mix up a batch of hurricanes and mosey on down to Millennium Park at 7 for the celebrities (Van Jones! Hal Sparks!) and 8 for the show.

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Climate Change at the Field Museum: The Good, the Bad and the Corporate.
July 2, 2010, 2:31 pm
Filed under: Event

I fail to resist the plastic injection model making machine.

I scored an invitation to the launch of the Field Museum’s brand new exhibit: Climate Change. A panel of CSR VPs, organic wine, a sneak peak of the exhibit AND a chance to see Sue? Sold!

After the VP panel (which was brilliantly moderated by Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Chicago’s Commissioner of the Environment), we were released into the main hall for drinks, dinner and a tour through the exhibit. Here’s my quick take on the Good, the Bad and the Corporate of the Climate Change exhibit.

The Good

I only pushed the button once, I swear.

“Take Action” Walls. My favorite part was the interactive walls listing different actions people can take to reduce their personal carbon footprint. Added bonus: visitors can push a button to add themselves to the running tally of people taking action. Scientific? Well no – anyone who’s seen kids in a museum knows that they’ll push any button they can find over and over and over until the teacher drags them away. But research shows that people are more likely to change their behavior when they get social cues showing them that other people are doing it too. My only quibble is that I would have put this at the end of the exhibit instead of the beginning.

Being the poster victim for climate change is not as rewarding as I had hoped.

Doing something interesting with the inevitable polar bear. Let’s face it: you can’t have a climate change exhibit without trotting out a polar bear to put a fuzzy and adorable face to the problem. Kudos to the Field Museum, which presents their polar bear striding across the trash heap which is his primary source of food now that his ice pack hunting grounds are dwindling.  It’s a good punch in the gut visual that nicely underscores the problem of habitat disruption.

The Bad.

Text! The polar bear stands out because it is one of the very few things to look at in the whole hall. I’d say about 80% of the exhibit consists of the written word, which is kind of a shame. How cool would it have been to have set up a game like WWF’s CEO2 to give visitors the opportunity to really engage with the kind of issues businesses face when it comes to reducing carbon? Museums offer one of the few spaces that allow people to engage with ideas instead of just reading about them, and I wish this exhibit had taken more advantage of that chance.

Carbon Capture will ride to our rescue on a unicorn.

The Corporate.

Wouldn’t it be nice? The exhibit closes with the traditional upbeat solutions round-up and this is where you start seeing the corporate speak take center stage. The segment on Carbon Capture and Storage is particularly grim: in all the cheerleading about how functional and practical CCS could be there is no mention that the technology doesn’t exist now and won’t until 2030 at the very, very earliest. And that’s assuming that $20 billion or so gets invested in companies like Exxon-Mobil between now and then. The whole CCS piece reads a lot like talking points from the coal industry group America’s Power site.  I have no idea why the Field Museum made this choice and I wish they hadn’t.

There is definitely some good stuff in this exhibit, but if you want to get excited about strong solutions for climate change I recommend marking your calendar for the August 10th screening of Carbon Nation at Millennium Park. This new documentary promises to be an interesting, a-political and hopeful survey of technologies that actually exist to combat climate change.



Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce For The Win!
April 12, 2010, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Event

Did you hear the one about how the United States Chamber of Commerce explained in a petition to the EPA that global warming doesn’t matter because more people get air conditioners every day? No? Well, that’s actually the whole joke!

The good news is that not all Chambers of Commerce are created equal.  In fact, our very own Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce has launched the Green Business Forum, a new effort to help local businesses capitalize on the opportunities inherent in sustainability.  I’ve done some informal consulting on the business greening challenge piece if the GBF, and from all I can see this effort has legs. There will be winners and losers as our country moves towards developing a more sustainable economy, so good on the Chicagoland Chamber for seeing past the politics and protecting the interests of its members.

It’s definitely worth spending a few minutes with the PPT deck from the inaugural Green Business Forum event on March19th.  It’s divided into two segments: why businesses should incorporate sustainability into their strategies and how they can take advantage of the incentives and programs available in Chicagoland.

Deloitte, the Chamber’s partner in the Forum, contributed the research on the why behind business sustainability strategies. Highlights include:

  • The framing sentence “Sustainability is not about “going green”; it’s about ensuring an enterprise’s long-term viability and includes environmental, social and economic programs.” I could kiss the person who wrote this.  Over the years I’ve worked in this field the phrase “going green” has gone from being useful shorthand to an overused cliché that makes about half of your audience to roll their eyes and start thinking about something else.
  • A nifty graph on slide 13  showing how companies with a sustainability strategy outperform their peers financially. Click here for a fuller explanation of the 2009 source study.
  • A shout-out to Walmart’s $1 million a year savings from removing the light bulbs from vending machines, an innovation proposed by North Carolina store associate Darrell Meyers during the Personal Sustainability Project launch in 2007. Fun fact: I was the PSP strategist who interviewed Darrell Meyers for the details of his money and energy saving brainwave (and yes, I will be signing autographs after the show).

The rest of the deck is chock full of information on incentives to help businesses start moving towards sustainability. Highlights include:

I personally find energy conservation incentives and financing structures a little dry, but the next Green Business Forum event is on a subject near and dear to my heart: how are corporate claims of sustainability verified? The event runs from 5-7 in the evening on Wednesday, April 28th, and will feature a discussion of carbon trading and sustainability reporting.

It’s early days yet, but it looks like the Chamber’s efforts have the potential to cultivate new and important allies in the effort to make Chicagoland a leader in the green economy.

And if we’re lucky, the United States Chamber of Commerce will follow Chicagoland’s lead instead of continuing their comically out of touch anti-sustainability battles.



Forging a Green Career, or Kate Learns Valuable Lessons About Being Interviewed on Camera
March 10, 2010, 11:39 am
Filed under: Event, Job Training and Skills

I do my best robot impression in the opening 20 seconds of this clip. Photo courtesy of Don Solo on Flickr Creative Commons.

Last December I was invited to join a panel on forging a sustainable career at one of Peter Nicholson’s excellent Green Drinks events.  I can’t vouch for how much the audience learned from me, but I certainly learned a lot about how to behave when I’m being filmed! Note to self: try not to look like a robot that has been powered off while your interviewer is introducing you. But don’t take my word for it – watch the clip!

The keen of eye might observe that I appear to be rather round in the belly in this video – photos of a green baby here.

The next Green Drinks is tonight (March 10), and I strongly recommend attending. I’ve heard panelists Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions and Sarah Elizabeth Ippel of the Academy of Global Citizenship speak before and they are both fabulous. And as an added bonus you’ll get Janet Hong of the Field Museum talking about a new climate change exhibit she’s developing!  Register to attend here.



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!



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.



Al Gore in Chicago: April 1
March 24, 2009, 1:03 am
Filed under: Event

I am planning on writing more about that “7 Myths About Green Jobs” report, but I’ve got such a hideous cold that I just don’t think I can do it justice at the moment. So instead, let’s talk about Al Gore!

Mr. Gore will be speaking at the Chicago Theater on April 1 as part of the “Minds That Move The World” series. Tickets run $45 to $185 for the cocktail-and-photo-with-the-speaker option. $45 to hear Gore is certainly reasonable, but $185 to meet him is a pretty stiff tab, so for sheer comedy value you might prefer to invest your $185 to have your photo taken with fellow series speakers Karl Rove or Ann Coulter. Wouldn’t it be fun to get your photo taken with Karl Rove? And think of all the witty cocktail party repartee you could have with Ann Coulter!

Seriously, whoever decided that Al Gore and Ann Coulter are on par with each other in terms of great minds is a lost cause. I grew up in Nashville, and I volunteered on Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign lo these many years ago. He is an astoundingly smart guy, although I still go back and forth on whether or not their campaign headquarters address was intentional or not.  When I first called campaign headquarters to get directions, the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi! I’m a new volunteer coming in today, could you please tell me your address?”

Crotchety old man volunteering as receptionist: “We’re at #### Mainstream Drive.”

Me: “….are you kidding?”

COMVAR: “Why would I be kidding?”

Me: “Mainstream Drive? It’s just kind of funny, don’t you think?”

COMVAR: ” No.”

Me: “Right. See you soon!”

Good times! Believe it or not, unlike this particular volunteer Al Gore has a totally excellent sense of humor. I strongly recommend going to hear him speak – he really knows his stuff and he genuinely cares about it.