Cassandra Carrol is the Executive Director of the Illinois Green Business Association.
How did you first get involved in the green industry?
When I was young, my father took me on nature hikes, which first piqued my interest in the environment. From there, I took an AP Environmental Science course and was hooked! I studied natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois, but noticed that the “profit” side of the triple bottom line was not active in environmental or sustainable activities. Big corporations were just beginning to report sustainability efforts and begin to set goals, but how could, small businesses, on a main street called Green Street in Champaign-Urbana, become “green”? My teammates and I went out to California to learn, where there had been a six-year-running program in 2008. From there, we wanted to bring a model of this program back to Illinois and my passion for solving this complex issue grew.
Every business has the opportunity to be sustainable, but figuring out the easiest and most informative way to help a busy small business owner be green is the challenge. When I graduated college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do before this opportunity came about, but I knew I wanted to make a difference, in someone’s life, in a community and maybe in our state, and now I’ve formed an organization that can do all three!
What interests you most about being green?
Sustainability interests me for two reasons: 1) The endless opportunities to customize sustainability to fit your unique needs or goals, and 2) The ever-evolving sustainability climate. We sometimes call sustainability the “Wild Wild West” at the IGBA because the landscape changes frequently — new companies are emerging that can harm the environment; new policy, such as the Clean Power Plan, emerges and sustainable strategies must be addressed; and new innovations and technology emerge to create greater environmental and cost savings, as well as sometimes greater accessibility to sustainability. That’s what makes sustainability exciting — it’s innovating and changing all the time, and we can adapt sustainable technologies and practices to fit our own unique situations. I think that’s really where businesses and people get hung up — they are looking for the “best” solution or where to start first — everyone is unique and some practices/technologies won’t work or be appealing to everyone. We have to take an internal look at what we can change while looking outward for solutions that fit. Sometimes the confusion of what products/services to trust with this ever-evolving market inhibits people from participating, but if the consumer/business is willing to explore their options and give sustainability a try, it can be a really fun, unique experience that helps reduce personal or business impact on our earth.
What is your biggest “green” pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve is that the sustainability movement is still branded sometimes as a “hippie” thing or issue. Unfortunately, I think that sustainability is still greatly dismissed along some audiences because of past negative connotations and because the definition of sustainability is so vast and encompassing. It means different things to different people and industries, and people that have had negative interactions with something sustainable most likely dismiss some of its root basics. When we learn that a business is not open to sustainability, we speak about green practices as asset management. Think about it: If you remove the “green” from green practices, what are these practices? Better ways to manage your assets in your life/business, reducing unnecessary use and costs. The benefit is though, with green practices, you’re managing your assets while reducing your impact on the environment — bonus! What some audiences have to see is that climate change is happening whether we believe it or not — it’s now fact, not an argument. Instead of focusing on arguing and fighting about whether it exists, we need to focus on working together to find solutions to this issue and getting ahead of the curve before it’s too late.
What green trend is most exciting to you or your industry?
One of the many
trends that excite me is technologies for your home, such as mini home power management systems, or smart grids for your home. I think it’s amazing that you can wire your home together to manage your power from your phone or mobile device. There is also technology that was actually developed in Champaign, IL, at the University of Illinois, where you can put a sensor in your plants and monitor if your plants need water on your mobile device. It’s exciting that we can improve or maintain our quality of life, reduce our impact on the environment and being cost efficient. It’s a fun challenge for me to implement sustainable technologies and practices in my everyday life and living environment. I can’t do everything at once, but I can certainly change these aspects of my life a little at a time. Think about the impact we all could make by changing one practice in our lives to be more sustainable — just one thing every couple months — what an impact we all could make!