Using Engagement, Pledging & Restoration to Solve Environmental Challenges with BEF’s Val Fishman
October 2, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good here in beautiful downtown Chicago, and we are so honored to have with us today Val Fishman. She is the VP of Corporate Partnerships of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Welcome to Green Is Good, Val. Val Fishman: Thank you. John Shegerian: Val, before we get talking about Bonneville and all the great work you do there, can you share a little bit about the Val Fishman journey on you becoming really one of the great leaders in sustainability. Val Fishman: Yeah. Thank you for saying that I am. John Shegerian: It’s true. Val Fishman: This is a lifelong dream of mine honestly. John Shegerian: That’s so nice. Val Fishman: This is the best job I have ever had. This is my career. I wake up every day blessed to go to work. John Shegerian: How neat. Val Fishman: It’s not without struggle and difficulty, but I absolutely love it. I’m doing my life’s work so that is fantastic. John Shegerian: When you were raised was this something that was going on in your household as a kid or did you get it in school or college, or where did you get the epiphany to be? Val Fishman: There was a lot. But I would say that the most stark one was I got involved in scuba diving when I was in my early 20s. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: Off of southern California. I was living in L.A. at the time and learned to scuba dive there, and the best place to witness the environmental degradation happening on the planet is underwater. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: It is tragic and it’s happening so fast. So you could go on a dive one year and go to the same place the next year and the same place the next year – marked differences. And it’s invisible to all of us that don’t go underwater. John Shegerian: It’s true. Val Fishman: So that was a huge impetus for me. But as far as the actual job goes I spent about 15 years, had a really successful career working in media – advertising, sales – and that’s kind of where I cut my teeth in sales and business development, which is by the way the best industry to do that in. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: Had an incredibly successful career there. Loved it because I’m a driven person and I like sort of the art of the sale and learning about a lot of different industries. What was missing for me and the reason that I made the transition was I kind of woke up one day – I was about 27 years old – and I had achieved what I wanted to achieve and I looked around at the people who were in their forties and they were getting divorced, they had drug and alcohol addictions, they were – literally, had people dropping dead at work. John Shegerian: Oh. Val Fishman: And I was like, “OK, how much good am I doing by creating another” – like creating commercials for people to eat more McDonalds. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: McDonalds was a big customer of ours. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: So it was sort of all these things coming together. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: Also experienced my own severe health problems at 27 that were pretty serious and it was all a big wake up call to say, “What am I really doing? Is this what I want to be doing, and what is my greater purpose?” and so that began my journey into sustainability, which was a very long one because I felt like I had two roads. I could either go back to school or I could kind of create it in my job. I opted for the latter because I didn’t want to take on any debt, so I started a sustainability program at Clear Channel Radio in San Francisco. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: And pioneered that for about a year and a half and then I decided I wanted to make a little bit of a lifestyle change and move to Portland, Oregon, for all the reasons that people move to Portland, Oregon. And then I ran – for about two-and-a-half-years, I was VP of Sales for a company called Collar House Paint that made zero VOC eco-friendly paints. John Shegerian: Whoa. Val Fishman: And helped them get some penetration into Home Depot, and they were the first online paint sales company. John Shegerian: No kidding. Val Fishman: So that was really fun but I was really missing even – I wanted to get into renewable energy. A friend of mine said, “Look at Bonneville Environmental Foundation; they are hiring.” I looked at the job description. It was business development for an intangible product – much like advertising – and I said, “I am the best person for this job absolutely.” John Shegerian: And how many years ago was that? Val Fishman: It will be five in October. John Shegerian: OK. So let’s give Bonneville Environmental a shout out. For our listeners and viewers, it’s www.B-E-F.org. What is Bonneville Environmental Foundation? Val Fishman: By the way, great job with the website. Not the most easy one to say. John Shegerian: Thank you. Val Fishman: And another website I would just say for individuals. John Shegerian: Yeah. Sure. Val Fishman: Is www.ShrinkYourFoot.org. John Shegerian: Love that. Val Fishman: So that is for individuals. www.B-E-F.org is the business website. John Shegerian: Perfect. Val Fishman: What we do is we work in renewable energy, renewable energy education, STEM education and carbon reduction and watershed restoration. We help corporations do what they can’t do. They can reduce and become as efficient as they want to be, but it’s very difficult for them to figure out how to restore their local watershed – or, for example, when I said STEM education. John Shegerian: Yes. Val Fishman: If you’ve installed a lot of solar arrays, we have a program called Solar for Our Schools, where we take your solar generation and we incorporate it into our K-12 teacher training program. So a tangible example of that would be we teach teachers how to teach kids how energy works – because that is not being taught in our schools – and we use solar as a tool to do that. So things like building solar boats. We have solar boat races, solar cars, solar car derbies. So those are kind of the tangible aspects of that. John Shegerian: Is Bonneville more regional or is it national or international? Val Fishman: We are national. I mean, I guess we should say we are international because we are North America. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: But really not outside North America. John Shegerian: I got you. And since it’s a .org, explain to our listeners and our viewers how is it funded? Val Fishman: Yeah, 501C3 nonprofit. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: We call ourselves an “entrepreneurial nonprofit.” John Shegerian: That’s interesting. Val Fishman: Because we get about, I think, 46 percent of our revenue – so last year our revenues were 6.6 million, and 46 percent of that came from foundations, grants, contributions and then 38 – I think – percent of that came from the sale of products, renewable energy certificates, water restoration certificates and carbon offsets. So we actually sell a tangible product to companies to fund our mission, like Solar For Our Schools and like watershed restoration. John Shegerian: So you do offset projects for big corporations. Val Fishman: We sell the credits. We are not a project developer. John Shegerian: OK. Got you. Val Fishman: Yes. John Shegerian: So you sell the credits. So explain what a water restoration certificate – how would you earn that? How does that go? Val Fishman: You don’t earn it. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: But it is a tradable or saleable product. So here’s how it works. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: I’m going to give you the simplest example, OK. John Shegerian: Please. Val Fishman: Irrigation infrastructure. John Shegerian: Yeah. Val Fishman: In the United States. First of all, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of our water use. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: OK. So we are using water incredibly unwisely right now. It’s like energy efficiency was 20 years ago. So there is a lot of low-hanging fruit. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: I’m talking about simple things like piping leaky ditches, going from flood irrigation to drip irrigation. I mean, just things that you think should be a no-brainer, but there is no financial incentive or mechanism to do so. There are a lot of NGOs on the ground that are working on these things, and BDF is kind of the matchmaker. So we support a lot of on the ground NGOs that are working on upgrading this irrigation infrastructure. What those NGOs don’t have the capacity to do – and this is where we come in – we are talking to all these corporations that are looking for a meaningful way to address their water impacts, typically in areas that are material to their business. So if they have operations in – let’s say – the State of Colorado or Southern California, they would like to restore water in those areas. John Shegerian: Oh. Val Fishman: So we are kind of the matchmaker. We say, “How much water do you need to balance? Where is your material impact? What is your budget?” and then we look at where those projects are that are available and we match them up. What happens with the actual certificate? John Shegerian: Yes. Val Fishman: Is that is just a measurement. It is one WRC equals 1,000 gallons restored to a critically dewatered ecosystem. John Shegerian: How cool. Val Fishman: OK. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: And that is an environmentally traded product that can be retired on the Market Environmental Registry, which is the environmental registers system where all the carbon offsets are retired to. So it’s a traceable serialized product. John Shegerian: Is it fair to say that corporations need your services more than ever? Val Fishman: Yeah. John Shegerian: Yeah. And are you finding the pull from them, instead of the push from you, is now greater? Is that balance changing? Instead of you having to go out and sell or be entrepreneurial in getting corporations excited about sustainability and offsets and balancing their work and their core goals? Val Fishman: It’s still a balance. It’s still a push-pull. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: Specifically, renewable energy credits and carbon offsets are really true commodities. The water is not so much of a true commodity. John Shegerian: OK. Val Fishman: OK. And so to the extent that any commodity is subject to economic fluctuations these are too. John Shegerian: Got you. Interesting. Val Fishman: So – yeah – the economy is doing a little better. John Shegerian: Ah. Val Fishman: So – yeah – we’re going to do a little better. But you know when the world is on fire and it’s crashing, it’s like “everybody batten down the hatches” and all they really want to do is figure out how they can save more money. John Shegerian: You know, we’re both here at the GSA. How many years have you been involved with the Green Sports Alliance? Val Fishman: Since the beginning. Bonneville Environmental Foundation was a founding member of the Green Sports Alliance, along with NRDC, as one of the environmental nonprofits to sort of authenticate the messages behind what the Green Sports Alliance movement is doing, so we’ve always had a board seat. This will be our fifth one. John Shegerian: So talk a little bit about, since you have an insider’s view. Val Fishman: Yeah. John Shegerian: Share with our listeners and viewers a little bit about the evolution in the five years of these summits. How’s it going? How is this one compared to the last one from day one? Explain the journey a little. Val Fishman: Well, just like – I’ll use the analogy of carbon, right? John Shegerian: Yeah. Val Fishman: So we always say, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: And so what we really needed to start with within the sports world was measuring. So we really started wit the operators, the venues, the facilities managers saying, “How is your venue operating?” John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: Making sure we had – before we go out and talk about anything. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: We always knew our endgame was engaging fans. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: And creating social change. But you can’t start with social change. If your venue isn’t operating well, you have nothing to talk about. So the very, very core foundational element was making sure that we had all the operators come to the table, take lessons learned from the ones that were doing it well and the ones that had other challenges. So it’s really bringing everybody together, developing these publications, developing webinars, creating the summit for people to come and talk to each other. So it has really been focused on that. Now we’re finally at that place where I think we have enough critical mass that we can start focusing on that fan engagement, so you’ve seen a lot of that focus here reflected in the content today. John Shegerian: Which I want you to share. You had two important speaking roles – one on a panel and one last night. Explain what you did at both of them. Val Fishman: Yeah. Last night was possibly the greatest honor of my life. John Shegerian: Explain what it was. Val Fishman: So we decided to have a special celebration last night and push the needle a little bit further than we have before. We invited Prince Ea – and that means “Prince Earth.” He is a rapper, spoken word artist and an environmental activist, and he is very, very driven from the heart. So he will not take on – no one can buy him. No one can say, “Hey, come be my advertising bugle.” John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: Everything he does is from the heart. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: So he created this incredible video called “An Apology to Future Generations.” If you haven’t seen it yet, go to www.StandForTrees.org. John Shegerian: www.StandForTrees.org. Val Fishman: Watch the video. Get ready to have something out so you can wipe away your tears because it’s incredibly moving. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: So we played that video last night. It was released on Earth Day. He has had over 68 million views. One of the most viral videos. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: And Stand for Trees is directly tied to carbon offsets and supporting primary forests and protecting what remains of our primary forests, giving the public a tangible way to stand for trees. So he put together this video, it went viral, they sold over 40,000 certificates online since Earth Day, so it has been an incredible success. People care about this message. Sarah Hoversten of the Green Sports Alliance – when this video went viral, she sent me a text message and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have Prince Ea at the summit?” and I said, “Yeah,” and I called Rachel O’Reilly from Wildlife Works. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: One of the best carbon offsets – as far as I’m concerned – on the planet. And Rachel said, “Let me see what I can do.” Here he is. So we had this event last night featuring him, his video, he got to say some words. Then Justin Zeulner, who used to work for Paul G. Allen and Vulcan, knew Shawn Heinrichs – an incredible Emmy award-winning cinematographer and conservationist and featured in the film Racing Extinction that is being released soon. So last night’s celebration was about bringing art and artists and inspirational messages to this topic. So we put them on stage and let them do what they did best, and people were clapping and standing up. John Shegerian: And this was at Soldier Field here in Chicago. Val Fishman: So I emceed the event. John Shegerian: Yeah. Right. You emceed this big event at Soldier Field. Val Fishman: Which was like “who cares?” I mean, I was – it was not about me; it was about them. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: But for me to just be on stage in their presence and be there was just an incredible honor. So that was last night. John Shegerian: Right. Val Fishman: And I think the best. Just really moving. John Shegerian: Sounds amazing. Val Fishman: Today, I was on a panel about fan engagement and I was specifically talking about the Change The Course campaign, which is our water sustainability campaign. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Val Fishman: And that is in partnership with National Geographic and Participant Media. John Shegerian: Wow. Val Fishman: So I was talking about the partnerships we created with the NHL – who has been a longtime partner of ours for over four years – and more recently, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which made an enormous commitment to change the course this year and we were able to restore 35 million gallons of water to the Verde River in Arizona. John Shegerian: Whoa. Val Fishman: In a dry part of the western United States. And Waste Management has been an incredible partner. They helped us – the visibility they gave us brought new sponsors to the campaign and just has leveraged us in an incredible way. I just love those guys. John Shegerian: Val, we’re unfortunately out of time today. Val Fishman: Great. Thank you. John Shegerian: Any final words for our listeners before we say goodbye? Val Fishman: Go to www.StandForTrees.org, watch the video. I really hope you are inspired by it. See Racing Extinction. It’s coming out in December – I think – on the Discovery Channel. Then my final plug would be to measure your own footprint at www.ShrinkYourFoot.org, and if you want to restore 1,000 gallons of water to the Colorado River system, you can text “river” to 77177. John Shegerian: And you can find Val Fishman at the Bonneville Environmental Foundation at www.B-E-F.org. Val Fishman, it’s not only an honor to have you on but it is a pleasure. You are truly making the world a better place for all of us and are really living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. Val Fishman: Thank you. Thanks for having me. John Shegerian: You are always welcome back. Thank you. Val Fishman: Thank you so much. John Shegerian: Continue your great mission and journey. Val Fishman: Thank you. John Shegerian: Thank you.