Nurit Katz is University of California – Los Angeles’ very first sustainability coordinator. UCLA has taken a growing interest in sustaining and conserving across its campus, and Katz’s role is to make sure this mega-university continues to grow the green way. Katz helps oversee the Sustainability Committee at the school, spreading green thinking around the campus and beyond. “UCLA is like a small city in scope,” Katz says. “We must walk the walk by showing that it is possible to reduce greenhouse emissions while saving money in a tough budget climate — showing the ‘nuts and bolts’ of sustainability while educating the leaders of tomorrow.” Katz notes that the current generation of collegians — both at UCLA and other campuses around the country — is the most green-minded yet, choosing to focus their studies with a green slant, helping to establish green businesses and bring sustainability to the nonprofit sector and green various governmental branches.
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John: Hi. This is John Shegerian. I never could have imagined, when we started The Green is Good radio show back in 2006, that I would grow into a big podcast called. The Green is Good podcast. And now, we’ve evolved that podcast to the Impact podcast, which is more inclusive and more diverse than ever before. But we did look back recently at some of our timeless Green is Good interviews and decided to share some of them with you now. So, enjoy one of our great Green is Good episodes from our archives. And next week, I’ll be back with a fresh and new episode of the Impact podcast. Thanks again for listening. I’m grateful to all of you. This is John Shegerian.
John: Welcome to Green is Good, raising awareness of each individual’s impact on the environment and helping to create a more beautiful and sustainable world. Now, here’s John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International, and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome to Green is Good. Mike, it’s so great to be back in studio with you today.
Mike Brady: Always. I just don’t know where the time goes, John, because it seems like we were just here yesterday, but it’s been another week already. Here we are getting together for another hour to entertain, empower, inform and hopefully, really, just kind of lift the spirits of our listeners. When we talk about things environmental, we’ve said so many times on this show, John, that there’s an awful lot of stuff that needs attention right now. And somehow, sometimes all of the focus can seem a little daunting. But you are such a solution-based guy, and we’ve got another great solution-based show today.
John: Oh, yeah. Like you just said, inform. One of the words that we have to add to your adjectives and verbs today is educate because today, we’re very lucky to have 2 amazing guests on. The first half of the show, we’re going to have the head of sustainability from UCLA, which is one of the greatest learning institutions in this whole country, if not world actually.
Mike: No kidding. UCLA is world-famous in what- Really, if you’ve ever been down there and taking that trip around Sunset Drive, it is beautiful and it was carved out of some gorgeous woodlands years and years ago. So, I think just because of the surroundings being so beautiful, the whole concept of sustainability kind of might be in the DNA to begin with.
John: Absolutely. A funny story, you and I have talked off air about my eminent domain teacher professor, let me say, at law school, Gideon Canner. Well, he made a point to us. This was back in the day, Mike, years ago, sitting in class. He made a point about real estate in Los Angeles. I know you have a history in Los Angeles. Here is his point. When USC was built, it was considered the primo primal best real estate in all of the land.
John: And when UCLA was built, it was considered the farmland and the forest, and it was considered the cheapest property since it was a UC school, et cetera. He said, “Now look at how times have changed and who’s sitting on the best land now in the whole city, if not in the whole state?”
Mike: You bet. There’s a quantum difference if you’ve ever- Especially, if you’ve done the Southern California College tour, if you’ve got kids that were looking to go to either UCLA or USC, you really notice the difference in the surrounding areas. Absolutely.
John: Yeah. The fact that UCLA has a sustainability coordinator who is now going to share with us, on the first half of the show, all that they’re doing there, both in their DNA and also in terms of their teachings, is so important because as I’ve learned as an entrepreneur and as we’ve seen with the Green Revolution in America, Mike, first, it starts with education before you can motivate people to change their behavior. Whether a lot or a little, we have to educate people first to why it’s, not only in our own selfish best interest, but actually, in our legacy, in our children’s, in our grandchildren’s best interest.
Mike: Well, there you go. And you talk about enlightened self-interest. That’s what we are going to do today is enlighten us all about our self-interest in taking care of our environment.
John: I think our listeners should come on back in here with Nurit Katz to talk about what’s going on at UCLA, at Green is Good.
Voice over: If a little Green is Good, more is even better. Now, back to Green is Good with John Shegarian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to Green is Good. We’re so honored today to have Nurit Katz on with us live from Westwood, California, from UCLA’s beautiful campus. Welcome, Nurit, to Green is Good.
Nurit Katz: Thanks. I’m very excited to be here.
John: Now, Nurit, you’re UCLA’s sustainability coordinator. You’re actually UCLA’s first sustainability coordinator. Your resume is so long, I don’t want to take our precious time to read everything on it. But tell us, what does that mean to be UCLA’s first sustainability coordinator? What do you do in your role, at that important role, at UCLA?
Nurit: Thanks. My role here is, basically, to help be the connection between all of our different sustainability programs. Sustainability at a university is really, very broad. UCLA’s, kind of, like a small city. We’ve got 60,000 people. Sustainability touches on energy conservation and water management and recycling. So, my job is to have that bird’s eye view of how it all fits together and really provide the system’s perspective and help move things forward.
John: When did you actually take that position at UCLA?
Nurit: I started in this position in November of 2008.
John: Wow. Okay, excuse me. If you were to look at all the universities, the big and great universities like UCLA across America, how many universities actually have sustainability coordinators? Are you a small group, a growing group, a large group?
Nurit: We’re definitely a growing group and growing pretty rapidly. I’m not sure of the exact number. I would estimate probably about 150 or 200 schools now…
Nurit: …Have these type of positions. We certainly weren’t the first and some schools have full sustainability offices with a lot of different staff.
John: I got you.
Nurit: Yeah, it’s a growing and really fantastic group of people and we collaborate a lot.
John: Mike and I are honored to have you on today because you’re our first sustainability coordinator from a major university across America. We’re so honored to have you on today. Nurit, to segue, what do you see is the role of a university in the whole sustainability movement and the Green Revolution?
Nurit: I think universities have a very important role to play. On the one hand, as I said, UCLA is basically like a small city in scope. One role we can play is setting an example in walking the walk and showing how it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while saving money in a tough budget climate. And really kind of showing how to do the nuts and bolts of sustainability.
Nurit: But I think the most important role we have, of course, is our primary role as a university, which is educating the leaders of tomorrow. If students can leave our university with both formal and informal education and sustainability, and really learning how to do the interdisciplinary work it takes, and learning to collaborate and leaving with a culture of sustainability, then I think that’s where the real impact lies and you get the ripple effect.
Mike: Nurit, one of the questions that comes immediately to mind is, generationally, do you find that with incoming students, younger people in their late teens, early 20s, they are more inclined to be of a green mindset, to begin with, before they begin their formal and continue their informal education?
Nurit: Yeah, I do. I think I’ve definitely seen a shift. I was here at UCLA, in graduate school in ’05. And over the past 5 to ten years, I think there’s been a huge shift and this younger generation is definitely carrying the torch. Some people have referred to this generation as, “generation and,” because they’re really starting to redefine the questions and say, “Maybe it doesn’t have to be business versus environment. Maybe we can do well while doing good.” One of the most exciting shifts I’ve seen is, actually, I attended the business school here at UCLA Anderson. During the time I was here, I saw the organization, Net Impact, which is a national organization of business professionals and MBAs who are focused on having a positive social impact in solving global problems, like sustainability. I saw that group grow from just a handful of students to over 180 students, and being the second largest club at the business school. So, there’s just been a seismic shift that is particularly exciting in business students, I think. Where students are really coming from this perspective that business and government, and that we all really need to work on these issues.
John: And I want to give a shout out now to Nurit’s great website, www.sustain.ucla.edu. Nurit, what are the opportunities for undergraduates now? So many young people listen to our show around the world and they’re hungry. Now that the economy is so fractured in so many ways, people want to know, how do they step into the Green Revolution? What are these opportunities? What do they look like?
Nurit: Absolutely. I can speak specifically about UCLA’s programs, but I’ll start with more of the bird’s eye view of what’s going on in this field right now. I think there are a lot of opportunities. There are certainly new opportunities and jobs that didn’t exist before, like chief sustainability officer and VP of environment. Jobs like mine, where the function is sustainability. Some students may be interested in that but there’s a whole host of other ways to have an impact in this field. There are technical positions, environmental engineering, solar panel installer, and all sorts of technical pieces. And then there’s also traditional business positions within sustainability-oriented companies. For instance, being the marketing person for a wind turbine company. There’s a whole field of consulting now, both with large firms and boutique firms, doing sustainability management consulting. There’s the whole nonprofit sector, and a ton of really important advocacy happening there. And there’s also, of course, public policy and government. So, pretty much, anything that a student is interested in and whatever their passion is, there’s a way to get involved in this.
John: Nurit, like I said at the top of the show, your resume reads like a who’s who and what’s what. I would think you’re about 75 years old already, which is just simply truly amazing. You have 2 master’s degrees. But one of the things that jumps off your resume is that you founded the UCLA Sustainable Resource Center in 2005, way before you ever had this job. Tell us a little bit about what that was like back in 2005 and what the legacy of that Sustainable Resource Center is.
Nurit: Sure. The Sustainable Resource Center is a program that’s funded by The Graduate Students Association. And it actually was a program that evolved out of an existing program. I certainly can’t take credit for starting efforts here at UCLA. There were students interested in environmental issues years and years ago and they formed an environmental coalition. I came in at this interesting moment right after the university had formed, with student and staff efforts, a sustainability committee. The committee existed before my position and that has higher level administrators, staff, faculty and students. I was a representative on the committee as a student at that time and I did see a need at the time because my position didn’t exist. There did seem to be a need for outreach and education around sustainability. So, I took an existing graduate student association program and grew it and expanded it into the Sustainable Resource Center and hosted a lot of educational events on sustainability that brought in leaders from around Los Angeles, in California, and did a lot of outreach and kind of provided that touch pointer, that nexus, for sustainability, which now is institutionalized. The Sustainable Research Center continues as a graduate student program and is, kind of, focused more on grad students now.
John: Speaking of grad students, speak a little bit about for our recent college grads that still want to get further educated but are not sure if they should get an MBA, a JD, a PhD or who knows what? What opportunities are there for graduate students in the sustainability field and in the Green Revolution?
Nurit: Again, similarly to what I mentioned in terms of careers, there are so many different ways to plug in. We have, for instance, here at UCLA, a lot of different programs. Some in the sciences, such as atmospheric sciences or environmental health science, public health. But again, whatever field students are interested in, you can certainly bring sustainability into that. We have a very unique program at UCLA called leaders in sustainability. Rather than being a separate degree program, although you certainly can go and get a masters in sustainability, this program is actually almost like the equivalent of a graduate minor. It’s an additional certificate where students from all different programs, and we’ve got students from medicine, law, management, policy, planning, and just about anything you can think of, all take a core class together in sustainability and do projects together, and really learn to work across disciplines. You’ve got law students and engineering students working together. So, there are opportunities like that. And then there are, of course, formal full masters and PhD programs related to sustainability.
John: Speaking of that, UCLA has an amazing Extension Global Sustainability Certificate Program, where you’re actually an instructor in.
Nurit: Yes, and I’m really excited about that program. UCLA Extension began this program in fall, and it’s really just exploded. I’ve been really excited to get to see what kind of students are coming to this. I teach the core class. It’s the very first class students take and it’s just an incredibly diverse and dynamic group of professionals. I have people coming from real estate, banking, engineering, aerospace engineers. I’ve got an environmental lawyer in the class right now. I’ve also had actresses. People are coming from every discipline you can think of. Some of them are coming with the hope to gain knowledge to bring back to their current profession, and others are looking for a career change. I’ve got somebody who’s in undergrad right now, all the way through retired. And we have a lot of people that have about 10 to 20 years work experience when they’re coming to the program. So, it is a fascinating and dynamic and exciting program and I feel very blessed to get to be a part of it.
Mike: Nurit, because we have such a broad audience and it truly is global, is there an opportunity to take this extension course via the internet?
Nurit: Yes. Actually, one quarter this year, they did offer the course which I teach online. And a growing number of their courses are being offered online. My course is the introduction, but then there’s 4 different focus areas you can look at. There’s energy and technology, policy and law, design. And so, whatever your focus area is, there’s electives for each of those topics. You could take classes in lead and green building, or you could take classes in solar. I’d say a growing number of these classes are going to be available online, although there’s certainly no substitution for the kind of networking and group learning that you get in the classroom environment.
John: Just to inspire, which you’re just amazing, Nurit, at what you’re doing and what UCLA is doing in combination, what are some of the hot- Give us like the top 5 hot careers now in the field of sustainability. What are you seeing? Because you’re right on the ground floor, what do you see that students want to do? What do you see is a great need in the marketplace for right now, in terms of the top 5 hottest careers in sustainability?
Nurit: I have to think about that. I definitely think a lot of students come to me with an interest in actually pursuing a position that is sustainability related. Kind of like my job, actually. So we’ll be offering a class on teaching, on sustainability administration in the university but a lot of students are interested in doing that in the private sector. Being the sustainability person for Google for instance.
Nurit: And then also, I’d say consulting is pretty hot. A lot of people are either joining larger firms or starting up their own practices or wanting to start their own practices in sustainability consulting. And that’s everything from strategic management to energy audits and helping people green their businesses and things like that.
John: In terms of university sharing best practices, you said there was- Again, there’s no exact number out there right now. It’s still an evolving industry, but how do you work with all the other universities and the other people that are sustainability coordinators across California and across America? How do you guys share best practices? Do you have a conference? Is it online? Is it formal? Is it informal?
Nurit: It’s, kind of, all of the above. UCLA is very lucky to be a part of the UC system, which is a fantastic university system with ten campuses here in California. We, as a system, actually recently received an award for some of our sustainability efforts. We really do work together in that way. It’s larger than just UCLA. There’s a UC policy on sustainable practices that we all work with. And so, the sustainability professionals at each of our universities, we have bi-monthly calls with each other. In addition to, we just recently had a huge conference that happens every year, the California Higher Ed Sustainability Conference. And that was where it was the UC system, the CSU system or Cal State, and also the community colleges all work together to host this conference. Really, it’s been growing over the past 8 or 9 years. Now, we generally get about a thousand people. And so, it’s not just the sustainability officers but its staff, faculty, administrators and students. It really is a conference where everyone is sharing best practices and really focused on actually sharing knowledge that other campuses can apply. On the national level, there’s actually an organization called the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education or AASHE. Their website’s aashe.org. They are a fantastic networking point for all of these different campuses and resource. You can go and look up everybody’s different climate action plans, or find out what all the different campuses are doing. And they also host a conference, a national conference, similar to our California one. It also usually draws about 1500 people, I think.
Nurit: Yeah, it’s definitely a movement.
John: And it’s exciting to be where you’re sitting at this given time.
John: Let’s pivot. Now, instead of the broader picture, let’s talk about specifically UCLA and the green DNA at UCLA. Talk about what’s going on in terms of talking the talk and walking the walk with regards to climate change, energy, recycling, water. What’s going on on your campus, specifically?
Nurit: How many days do you have? There is so much going on that, really, one of the biggest challenges of my job is not creating new programs, but actually keeping track of and helping everyone know what’s going on. Constantly, I have a student come to me and say, “I have this great idea. We want to do XYZ.” And I say, “Oh, well, did you know so-and-so across the campus is already doing it?” Trying to make those connections and break down those silos is definitely a challenge. But we’ve got a lot of really pretty big initiatives. As I mentioned, the UC system has a sustainable practices policy. And so, that set some pretty aggressive targets for us as a university. For instance, in climate. We actually need to get our greenhouse gas emissions down to 2000 levels by 2014, and to 1990 levels by 2020.
Nurit: And through a combination of energy and transportation, and a number of different initiatives, we’re actually on target right now to reach both of those goals by 2012.
Nurit: That’s really exciting. It’s about 8 years ahead of state targets. So that’s a big one. And it, really, is something that requires both measures in the facilities. We have a huge energy conservation program where we’re retrofitting a lot of our HVAC systems. It’s big facilities projects like that. But then there’s also the behavioral piece. We have a new green office certification program, and we’re working with a number of different universities developing similar programs, including USC. Trojans and Bruins can work together. That’s, basically, a way in which we reach out to and educate staff about what they can do in their offices and their departments.
John: I got you.
Nurit: And that all kind of fits together.
John: Is there water or any recycling initiatives on campus also?
Nurit: Absolutely. Under the UC policy, our targets are 75% waste diversion by 2012 and zero waste by 2020.
Nurit: It is huge. It’s very aggressive and challenging because Subaru, for instance, now has a zero waste factory. There are a number of different companies with zero waste facilities, but a university, like I said, is kind of like a city. So, we have visitors and just so much that we can’t control. So it is a challenge but we’re well on our way. We’re over 60% diversion right now.
John: That’s great.
Nurit: And we’ve recently overhauled our recycling system going for a single stream recycling, which we’re hoping will help, kind of, facilitate and increase in.
John: So, UCLA is truly the blue and gold. The secret here on the show with Nurit Katz today is the blue and gold is truly really green.
Nurit: Yes, blue plus gold equals green.
John: We love it.
Nurit: That’s one of our mottos.
John: Perfect. So now, you’re sitting in a wonderful and much bigger city, a sprawling city like Los Angeles. We’re down to the last 4 minutes or so. Can you share a couple of pieces of information on what’s going on in the greater Los Angeles area and how UCLA is into relating with the Green Revolution and the sustainability movement in the greater Los Angeles area?
Nurit: Sure. Absolutely. Los Angeles is really an amazing test bed for a lot of these initiatives and we have no shortage of problems when it comes to sustainability.
Nurit: Traffic and air pollution. But that just means that we have an opportunity to lead in so many ways. And so, a big part of what the university’s role is really in the community. We’re part of an initiative called Clean Tech Los Angeles, and it’s a partnership between UCLA, USC, Cal Tech, the mayor’s office, the LA Business Council, and a number of different partners to, basically, try and make Los Angeles- Help Los Angeles grow into a clean tech hub for the nation. And so, UCLA faculty are doing all sorts of cutting-edge research right now, turning CO2 into fuel, building the latest and most exciting solar technology and desalination technology. They’re working with local businesses to license some of this technology and develop it. We’re helping develop this downtown corridor for Clean Tech. And then we also work on the policy side. UCLA has a really exciting new center called the Luskin Center for Innovation. It’s focused on bringing together the sharpest minds at UCLA to solve problems in Los Angeles. And for the first few years of the center, the focus is on sustainability. A recent project that is really exciting, and you can check out the report online, was researchers at the Luskin Center looking into a solar feed-in tariff program for the city and helping evaluate what the potential for that program would be and how it should be designed. The title of the report, that’s published online, is Bringing Solar Energy to Los Angeles and Assessment of the Feasibility and Impacts of an In-basin Solar Feed-in Tariff Program.
Nurit: And so, I think we’ll see how that gets applied and it’s really an amazing partnership with the university. Hopefully, we’ll get to see that policy in place in LA. There’s so much exciting stuff going on.
John: Nurit, we’re down to about the last minute or so and, Mike, I want to read you something from Nurit’s- I’ve seen the correspondence that’s gone back and forth between our offices and Nurit. She has one of her favorite quotes at the bottom of her email, which just sums up really what Nurit’s all about. You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give. That’s Winston Churchill, and that sounds just like Nurit Katz. Nurit, there’s so many people out there that want to be the next Nurit Katz. Can you share, just in the last thirty seconds or so, one or two pearls of wisdom to educate or at least inspire some of our listeners to be the next Nurit Katz, who want to be the next Nurit Katz?
Nurit: Wow, I’m really touched by that. Thank you. You know what? I think that this is an amazing time. I believe in being an intelligent optimist. I really do believe that it is worthwhile to be hopeful and that having hope and creative positive energy doesn’t mean that you don’t recognize the scope of the problem. I would encourage people to keep their hearts open and not be overwhelmed by the problems that they see, but just try to look at the places where we can affect change.
John: Nurit, you are truly an amazing person and we’re so honored to have you on and you’re always welcome back. For our listeners out there that want to see more of the great things that Nurit is doing, and UCLA is doing, please go to www.sustain.ucla.edu. Nurit Katz, you are an innovator. You’re a motivator. You’re an educator. And truly living proof that green is good.
Nurit: Thank you so much. It’s been an honor.
Voice over: If a little green is good, more is even better. Now, back to Green is Good with John Shegarian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to Green is Good. Mike, is Nurit Katz a rock star, a green rock star or what?
Mike: Well, you know what’s amazing too? Not only does she do all of that and she does all the sustainability for UCLA, but she’s also doing the iron man for team and training. She’s not only a rock star. Geez. Oh, man. Talk about a physical hero.
John: Can I share a secret, Mike?
John: What did you say to her when we got off the air?
Mike: I just said-
John: During the commercial.
Mike: I said, “I absolutely love you. You’re amazing.” I love the way that she closed everything out. She’s an intelligent optimist. I just absolutely love that and the fact that she quotes Winston Churchill who, as you know, John, is one of my personal heroes. What an amazing individual.
John: I’m going to say that again because I enjoyed saying it so much the first time. You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.
Mike: Sir Winston.
John: Oh, man. It doesn’t get better than that.
Mike: No, it sure doesn’t.
John: It doesn’t get better than that. And Mike, that’s why we’re here. You and I get, constantly, every week, sometimes you and I have had a tough day and we come into the studio and we’re a little bit low on energy. And we see each other, give each other a hug, but when we have these amazing inspirational guests, you and I, I know we always walk out of the studio on a cloud. And I hope our listeners get a little bit of that lift also.
Mike: Yeah. I sure do too, John, because really, it’s kind of like going to church. You do it and you just come away feeling so uplifted in. What we talked about, again, you being such a solution-based individual and to take what Nurit said about being an intelligent optimist, yes, there are some big challenges for us all in our daily life, in our daily walk, as members of families, maybe heads of household, trying to hold onto a job that it becomes increasingly tough in these really challenging economic times, maybe trying to find a job. But we look just outside our own little circle and we look at the world around us and we think about the environmental challenges that we face, and it can seem overwhelming. But that’s what’s really important about this show, our guests, and you, John, being a solution-based individual just realizing that, “Okay. It’s like eating an elephant.” You’re not going to do it all at once, but you got to start. Get a fork and just one bite at a time. Everybody doing one small thing could make a massive difference, and that really is the mantra of Green is Good.
John: Yeah, and you summed it up much better than I could, Mike. And that’s why we do what we do. And we’re so honored to have this platform. We’re thankful to Clear Channel and thank you to all of our guests who take their time to come on and share their inspirational and motivational messages. And our second guest, Mike, is no different. We have Gia on from EcoPlum. EcoPlum and Gia have an amazing history and a great mission. And again, another great woman ecopreneur. And it just fits. The first half was UCLA and Nurit Katz, now we’re going back to business and how business can make a difference. I think our listeners have to come on back and listen to Gia at EcoPlum on Green is Good.
Voice over: If a little green is good, more is even better. Now, back to Green is Good with John Shegarian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to Green is Good. We’re so excited to have on Gia Machlin from my hometown of New York, New York. Gia is the president, CEO, and the founder of ecoplum.com. Welcome to Green is Good, Gia.
Gia Machlin: Thank you so much for having me, John.
John: Hey. Gia, your resume, it would take me the whole 22-minute show to read your resume on there. You, already, are a very successful woman entrepreneur. Talk a little bit about your past before you founded EcoPlum, what you were doing before and how you came to the epiphany or the decision to found EcoPlum.
Gia: Sure. Before I founded EcoPlum, I was in a very exciting business called health insurance.
John: Hey, but timely-
Gia: I know you all want to do that. And actually, to make it even more exciting, I was making software for a health insurance company.
John: Oh, boy.
Gia: It was a very successful company and I enjoyed what I did, but I didn’t really feel like I was contributing all that much to society. I felt like I really needed to get into something that made more of a difference.
John: And what year was that? What year did you have that shift-change and thought on what you wanted to be doing with your life?
Gia: About 2005.
John: Wow, okay. What is EcoPlum and why did you come up with that name as opposed to other names that were out there in the universe?
Gia: Sure. EcoPlum is a green shopping reward site and an eco chic online magazine that makes it fun, easy, and rewarding to go green. We came up with this, I say we because my husband came up with it. We must have gone through lists of about a thousand names and everything was either taken or we didn’t like it. And my husband said, “I know, EcoPlum.” I didn’t like it at first, but then it grew on me and now I love it.
John: What does EcoPlum mean to you and why plum?
Gia: Plum, in the dictionary, if you look it up, one of the definitions is actually extremely desirable, rewarding, profitable or the like. Like, a plum job, for instance.
John: Yeah, very nice.
Gia: In our case, it has a double meaning because we’re a green shopping reward site. So the plum stands for the rewards that we give away, but it also stands for most desirable. And we spend time picking out and trying out the best of the best green products and writing about them. And they’re our plum picks.
John: Wow. So, wait a second. Explain what the mission statement is of EcoPlum and what you exactly do. And then we’re going to talk about your great website as opposed to other green websites out there.
Gia: Absolutely. Our mission is to foster environmental stewardship by educating and empowering people to make responsible choices. We want to engage with a community of people who’s conscious of their daily habits, purchases and their impact on the world’s limited resources. I have a blog called, Confessions of a Reformed Consumer, and it’s about my personal journey from being this…
John: That’s great.
Gia: …Over-consuming waste-producing materialist to being an informed environmentalist. We also have monthly columns by industry experts that cover eco-friendly beauty, green entertainment, green interior design, local and organic cooking, greening our schools, and we’re adding new ones all the time.
John: So, wait a second. Break it down for our listeners who want to go to your site. Mike, are you in front of her site now?
Mike: I am indeed. And it’s funny. It’s so easy to navigate. One of the things, kudos to you, Gia, because most green sites use the color green. Go figure. But who knew that you could take the Earth and really stylize it and shape it like a plum? The green and the plum colors look really good together. This is an amazing sight, John. It’s really easy to navigate and I was just caught by what I saw first. Is it pronounced bagasse dinnerware?
Mike: Bagasse dinnerware. And all this stuff, John, is compostable. It’s all made from sugarcane.
Mike: Yeah, this is really, very cool. I’m on the site and if you’re listening right now and you got your laptop or you’re sitting in your office, at your desk, go onto the site. It’s ecoplum.com. It’s a great site. You’re going to love it.
John: Explain to our listeners then, and thank you, Mike, for that, Gia. Can they go on the site and buy green products? Or can they-
Gia: That’s correct. It’s the combination of a commerce site and an online magazine. They can go on our website and they can buy products. All of our products have been screened by third-party certification agencies and they can buy them and when they buy them, they earn eco chip. Eco chip can then be used for more purchases or donated to environmental causes.
Gia: We also have information on our site and that’s where all of the monthly columns that I just talked about come in.
John: I got you. It’s a learning experience. It’s potentially a buying experience. It’s an earning experience. And it’s also social experience and people get the share their best habits, best practices, and their tips.
Gia: That’s right. If you think of content, commerce and community.
Gia: It really is those three things.
John: When you had this epiphany and you started this great company, when you looked at- Okay, you created it with your husband, ecoplum.com.
Gia: Actually, I didn’t create it with him. He just came up with the name.
John: Okay. All right. Well, that’s sort of a collaboration. Who were your competitors in this space or were there none? And who are your competitors today?
Gia: Sure. When I first started or conceived of EcoPlum, there weren’t too many sites out there. I have to say a ton of them came into existence in the last couple of years. But many of the sites out there catered to true-blue environmentalists. They offer products for people who kind of already know what they want, but we’re here to help people who are new to the green experience, a green newbie. For example, a busy working mom, or a person who just wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know where to start.
John: I got you.
Gia: We do the legwork for you, so you can easily find what you’re looking for.
John: I got you. That’s so great. As you just mentioned, you have a blog on the site called Confessions of a Reformed Consumer, which is such a great name. And you talk, in that blog, about MIGGs. Help me out here. What is that?
Gia: That’s a MIGG.
John: What is that?
Gia: A MIGG is a term to describe a person who, it’s my term actually, maybe isn’t doing what they should be. Not changing their wasteful habits, or doing as much green as they should be because they maybe feeling somewhat in- They may have feelings of insignificance, helplessness, maybe even a little bit of laziness and distrust. It’s me. I was a MIGG 5 years ago. It’s most of my friends. It’s a lot of the parents at my kids’ schools. It’s the guy next door. It’s your average everyday person to whom the environment is not a priority. The reason I came up with MIGG, it stands for something. MIGG, M is for my actions are just a drop in the bucket. I stands for I’ve got bigger issues to deal with right now. G stands for global warming? Not in my lifetime. And the second G stands for greenwashing is everywhere. Who can I trust? So, my point is if I can change so dramatically, then so can others. I was a MIGG. It was much bigger than me. I had other things to worry about. It wasn’t front of mind. And then, I just got informed and had an, “Aha,” moment and really changed my lifestyle. That’s what I’m trying to get other people to do as well.
Mike: Interesting. What was your, “Aha,” moment? How did that happen?
Gia: I think it was when I was reading a blog where someone talked about the fact that it took 700 years for a water bottled to decompose or to begin to decompose. And I drank water out of bottled water everyday.
Gia: In fact, I actually thought it was healthy. I wasn’t drinking soda. I was drinking water.
Gia: It didn’t even occur to me that that one act was really very wasteful, which I have to myself something that’s available for free, that I was creating waste that was going to be around for 700 years, for one drink.
John: I got you. And so, you decided that one small change can lead to another small change, which eventually, in combination with other people making small changes, can lead up to big solutions.
Gia: Absolutely. As more people become conscious of their impact and what they can do to change it, then hopefully, they’ll start to demand that companies respond with better products. And that’s when we’ll really begin to see a large scale change.
John: We have so many people that listen to our show, both consumers, obviously, entrepreneurs, existing entrepreneurs looking for pearls of wisdom, entrepreneurs and waiting, kids coming out of college, kids going into college. With EcoPlum from day 1 to now, how’s the ride? What’s the journey? How does it look like?
Gia: How’s the journey been for me?
John: Yeah, and for EcoPlum. In the beginning, when you started talking to your MIGG friends, neighbors and family members, and started sharing what the EcoPlum Vision was, how was it received then? How is it being received now, now that it seems like we’ve passed that tipping point in the US and other parts of the world, frankly? And the Green Revolution really is alive and is really not a fad. It’s really a trend that’s here to stay.
Gia: Yeah. Definitely, people are catching on. There’s been quite a big transformation. But I have to say, John, that still, there’s a lot of education and a lot of things that people still need to be made aware of so that they can think about their daily habit.
John: Sure. In terms of, you’ve already been a massive success in your previous life as an entrepreneur, and now this is a new entrepreneurial venture for you. Obviously, it’s going well. I’ve been on your site. Mike’s on your site now. Really, it’s such a relevant and important site, ecoplum.com, for our listeners out there who just joined. What’s your definition of success here? And when you go to bed at night and closing your eyes, what’s your goal with ecoplum.com?
Gia: Well, I define success as the right combination of money, lifestyle, personal fulfillment, and contribution to society. That’s really important because I think, in the past, like many other people, I put a lot of emphasis on money and not so much on lifestyle and personal fulfillment and contribution to society.
Gia: That’s how I define it for myself.
Gia: For EcoPlum, it’s pretty much the same. I wanted to be a financially sustainable company whilst creating an environment of personal fulfillment for the people who work here and making a huge contribution to society, which is really our primary mission.
Gia: I guess for EcoPlum, success is defined by our community. Will they find meaningful information that they can integrate into their lives, including shifts in their purchasing behavior? If we do that, we’ll have made a huge contribution.
John: What parts of your site are getting the most access? When you track what people are looking at the most and what information they’re hungering for most, in terms of our listeners also, what are you seeing? What is the general population looking for, in terms of the Green Revolution and learning how they could become part of the solution? What do you see on your site?
Gia: A lot of people like the blog. A lot of people can really relate to it and relate to friends who are still kind of figuring things out. We also get a lot of traffic on our Eco-tip section, where we give small tips for making little changes, like you said, that lead to bigger changes and can eventually make a big difference.
John: One question that Mike and I have been asking all of our guests of recent times, given that the economy is still in very rough shape, but the Green Revolution has taken hold, where does this leave EcoPlum and all the other great green ventures that are out there? Is this an exciting time? And if you were to sum up your feelings now, are you hopeful? Are you discouraged? What’s the general feeling now and what’s your visibility on the future for not only EcoPlum, but for, in general, the sustainability movement?
Gia: I am absolutely hopeful. I am so hopeful because I think, like you said, people are starting to catch on. Companies are starting to catch on, which is really huge. They’re starting to look at what their supply chain is and how they’re making their products and what they’re putting in their products. We’re still at the very beginning of that process, but it’s huge. This is really the future.
John: How are you getting the word out there about EcoPlum? You and I met online, obviously, through all the social media channels. Are you accessing Twitter, Facebook and the Google search engines? What’s your vision? In a new media world, how are you pushing out the message of EcoPlum and the brand of EcoPlum?
Gia: We’re very active on social media. We have a Facebook page that has a lot of engagement, a lot of conversation. We’re on Twitter and everything else. And that’s just been great. I have people that I communicate with in New Zealand and Australia through Twitter that are huge supporters of EcoPlum.
John: That’s awesome.
Gia: So, it’s really been great. We utilize a lot of social media and other traditional channels like going on this show.
John: Hey. I know you have 2 wonderful children, Noah and Talia. Because you’ve gone from healthcare to the environment and green, are you the cool mom now in school?
Gia: I’m pretty cool.
Mike: If you do say so, yourself.
Gia: If I do say so, myself. We sponsor a lot of things at my kids’ school.
John: I got you.
Gia: I have to say they’re having a good time.
John: Your traditional background in the healthcare world was B2B. But EcoPlum, obviously, for our wonderful listeners out there, is more of a consumer-focused site. What’s the role for EcoPlum in the B2B world and in the business world? What do you see the role for EcoPlum is in that world?
Gia: We’ve been exploring the area of bringing personal sustainability programs into the workplace, which is something I know that Saatchi & Saatchi S has worked with, and some other big companies. It’s something we’re very interested in because it’s reaching the consumer where they work and getting them to think about their habits and changing their habits, as well as helping green businesses with their green employee engagement programs, getting the employees more involved with greening the company. Those are areas that we’re looking into right now.
John: Perfect. What other things about EcoPlum, do you- I love your tagline, by the way, where it pays to buy green. And there’s no shame in saying that. Rewarding people who are just putting their toe into the Green Revolution and inspiring them, and motivating them to slightly change their behavior. It’s a wonderful, workable, and can be a very successful model. Ecoplum.com, where it pays to buy green. What is your vision though for the future? From this point on, what’s- You’ve gone through the pioneer years now and now a little wind is coming at your back, as it is for other green entrepreneurs. What do you see the visibility as for where can you take EcoPlum? And what’s your game plan for the next couple of years?
Gia: I think the possibilities are pretty endless. We are coming out with a new site design and a lot of new features in the fall. We’re going to have a big announcement. We’re very excited about it. And like I said, we’ve got some business ideas that we’re working on and we’re going to be building up that side of the company. It’s just going to take off from there.
John: That is so great. There’s a lot of people that listen to our show. Mike and I get tons of emails from students, from women, from people who want to be entrepreneurs, for people who want to be the next Gia Machlin, seriously. And so, as your road of success as an entrepreneur prior to EcoPlum and now post your first big victory in life in terms of entrepreneurship, and now reinventing yourself in the Green Revolution, what pearls of wisdom of your journey do you want to share back with our listeners to inspire them that they can do this also and give them some rules of the road?
Gia: I know this has been said before but it’s so true. Just follow your heart, do what you love to do, and you will be successful. I love helping people. I love educating. I love communicating, information, and I’m just having the best time. And when people write to me and say, “Gia, your blog is inspiring,” I am just on top of the world. All you got to do is do what you love.
John: That’s so funny. So, you feel, yourself, as an entrepreneur, that you’re really participating actively in changing the world.
John: Isn’t that amazing? I had the honor and the total enjoyment, and this doesn’t happen to me too often, that I’m going to share this with our listeners, to meet you in person last week. We were at a green, sort of, social mixer in New York together. And one of the things that I- First of all, I have to share with our listeners that you’re an honors graduate with an MBA program from Columbia. But one of the things at the mixer that I learned is Columbia was represented there because they are now, themselves, starting a sustainability education program.
Gia: That’s right. The Earth Institute, which is part of Columbia University, is now launching a masters in sustainability.
John: The first part of today’s show, we had Nurit Katz on who’s the director of sustainability at UCLA, and she was truly an amazing and inspirational guest. So, what this trend looks like now, Gia, is that great universities, like Columbia and UCLA, are really going in headfirst into this whole Green Revolution.
Gia: That’s right. Absolutely. I’m part of the Columbia Business School Sustainable Business Committee. This was our first year. We put on a series of events, it was called Making Green from Green, around greening business and sustainable business. And I see this as a huge trend right now.
John: I’m going back to the whole concept of MIGG. When you changed from being a MIGG to being a woman ecopreneur, how did the household change in terms of the DNA of your children, your husband, and you and your behavior in the household, in terms of water conservation, as you said, bottles usage, and recycling. What happened in the Machlin household?
Gia: A lot of little things changed. I think some of them were a little bit difficult at first for the rest of the family to warm up to. And then now, my daughter who is only 7, was offered bottled water at the beach the other day. And she said, “Oh, no. Thank you. I have my own water bottle.” She just left it at that. But then later, she said, “Mommy, because then that bottle’s going to get into the ocean and hurt the fish.” So, they get it. Everybody’s really doing what they can and it’s been an incredible transformation in our household.
John: You’re going to create a great legacy with EcoPlum for the environment, but you’re also leaving a tremendous legacy in the DNA of your children.
Gia: I hope so.
John: Well, that’s great. I just want to say, Gia, again, Mike and I are so honored to have you on today. And for our listeners out there, we want you to go to Gia’s great site, ecoplum.com, where you can learn, buy, earn rewards and share knowledge. Gia Machlin, you are truly a visionary ecopreneur and truly living proof that green is good.
John: Thank you so much, John. This is great. Thank you, Mike.
Mike: Our pleasure.
John: This program will be available for downloading in a couple of days from our station’s website, keyword podcast. Thanks for listening and join us again next week at the same time for another edition of Green is Good. This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by the Marketing Masters. The Marketing Masters is a boutique marketing agency offering website development and digital marketing services to small and medium businesses across America. For more information on how they can help you grow your business online, please visit themarketingmasters.com.