In 1990 I chose to work at The Body Shop, not because I was particularly interested in selling soap and shampoo, but because I was interested in the potential of business as a force for positive change. In those days, it would have been unimaginable to think you could gather together a large group of MBA students who were passionate about exploring the same subject. Back then, the subject might have been intriguing, in a fringe sort of way, but not the stuff careers are made of. That’s why I found my participation at this year’s Net Impact conference to be so inspiring. The conference attracted 1500 MBA students from around the country. They were brimming with curiosity, intellectual smarts, passion, and the desire to make a difference and they were there to explore everything from the role of micro finance in eradicating global poverty to the case for green building. Alan Webber, the founding editor of Fast Company, observed that real social change necessarily “starts with looking at the brutal facts of life in the eye and admitting that the status quo is broken.â€? This group of students seemed to get that, but instead of wallowing in cynicism and resignation, wanted to respond to the obvious challenges in a creative way. As for me, well, I left feeling even more conscious of my age, but energized by a new dose of optimism about the future.
Archive for November, 2006
Midway through one of the rainiest months Portland has ever seen, I realized I needed to get out of my office. I’d been glued to the surf report website for several days, watching the poor little offshore buoys get throttled by unsurfable 30-foot swells. It had been this way for 15 days, with no end to the deluge in the foreseeable future.
What do you do when Mother Nature puts the kibosh on your outdoor sport of choice? If you’re like me, you accompany your spouse to her favorite indoor activity: The Divine Funk Hip-hop Boot Camp.
Make no mistake, at first I was completely skeptical of the whole idea. I dragged my feet to the private class”which takes place in a storage unit/studio with garage doors that open to the parking lot”imagining hip-hop dance to be nothing more than Jazzercise for the new millennium.
I was wrong.
I got there and it was all women (as I expected), but they weren’t in spandex and legwarmers. They were dressed in utilitarian baggy sweats and thermal t-shirts. And to quote Sir Mix-A-Lot, these Fondas “had motors in the backs of their Hondas,â€? kicking them into overdrive as soon as the music blasted over the studio speakers.
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Recently, The New York Times published an article titled “Working Moms Find Some Peace on the Road.â€? The article set off a flurry of emails and phone calls between my female friends and me. It’s been an enlightening and alternately helpful and disheartening conversation. The article described the often-exquisite quiet and solitude professional women who also happen to be mothers sometimes find on the road when traveling for work. The women interviewed for the article, and my friends and I, revealed our gratitude for an uninterrupted night’s sleep, a dinner that we neither cook nor clean up, an evening without children spent in conversation with a far-flung friend in which we both have the luxury to finish our sentences.
It also did a good job of describing the reality of preparing for business travel when we have children at home: on the personal side, the seemingly endless notes, lists and other reminders to spouses and childcare providers about logistics, activities, meals, necessities and special touches such as the stack of notes to tuck into lunchboxes each day mom’s away; on the professional side, the pre- and post-work for meetings, presentations, and negotiations and the exhaustion of travel.
The article did not, however, detail the darker side of our appreciation and perhaps desperation for the indulgence of a full night’s sleep in a quiet hotel room: guilt.
The surfers who started Phoresia.org named their blog after the Greek form of the word “phoresy,â€? a term describing a symbiotic relationship in which one organism transports another of a different species. It’s nature’s form of hitchhiking, with the key element being the fact that the “riderâ€? doesn’t adversely affect the host. Phoresia points out that if the ocean is a massive organism, then the surfers who ride its waves shouldn’t harm it either.
The ultimate goal of the blog is to educate surfers about more sustainable surf products and in doing so, “preserve the organic integrity of our pursuit and secure a sustainable future.â€? They’re off to a great start. So far posts have covered such territory as sustainable surfboard construction, green surf magazines, and environmentally-minded companies like Patagonia.
A recurring theme throughout blog is that if surfers demand a better product (like a surfboard that lasts five times as long), they will end up buying less. This, in turn, will result in less waste. It’s a concept we couldn’t agree with more.
Aside from its status as Nau’s home turf, its proximity to the Great Wide Open (whether you prefer mountains, plains, or surf) or its infamous native wildlife, one of the best things about being a Stumptown resident is the city’s amazingly diverse music scene. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Kingsmen’s epic “Louie, Louie,â€? extends through the grunge era (and our fair city’s most noteworthy contribution to that scene, the tragically talented Elliott Smith, who first graced P-town’s stages as a singer/guitarist for the rock quartet Heatmiser) and now includes perhaps the most talented community of musicians ever to reside in the 503.
Lest you think this mere hyperbole, take a look at the last few months’ worth of activity, which is by no means a complete list but gives you some idea of what I’m talking about:
- The Shins are preparing to unleash their new album, Wincing the Night Away, on a world that now believes their music can “change your lifeâ€? (to quote Natalie Portman’s character in “Garden Stateâ€?). I got to know these guys while reporting on the latest cover story for Magnet ” they are simultaneously low-key, super talented, and funnier than I can describe here (although the story does illustrate the latter characteristic in some detail).
- The Decemberists have just released their fourth LP and first for Capitol, The Crane Wife, a song cycle built around a several-hundred-year-old Japanese folk tale that resident linguist/storyteller Colin Meloy unearthed while working in a local bookstore. The group even recently played a “secret gigâ€? as the “December Brides,â€? which was dutifully captured on YouTube for your listening (if not quite viewing) enjoyment. Just check out the “turf warsâ€? that erupted when the Oregonian, Willamette Week and Portland Mercury writers in attendance began raining free drinks down on the band… you know if you’re playing a ten-minute-plus cover of “Wooden Shipsâ€? well after midnight that something has gone horribly wrong at some point during the evening.
Hey shutterbugs, we’re sponsoring the Photo of the Year 2006 amateur photo contest to benefit the MESD Outdoor School here in Portland. The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2006. Enter your photographs in the following categories: Scenery, Adrenaline, Faces and Youth. After entries are narrowed down to the top 150 (by a panel of judges organized by Uncage the Soul Productions), finalists will be posted online to be voted on by the public. The winner will receive a $500 cash prize, and second and third place will each get $100. A gala event to announce the winners will be held January 28, 2007 with proceeds from ticket sales going to a great cause: MESD Outdoor School.
The photo on the left, by Scott Wood, was a finalist in the 2003 Photo of the Year contest.
Sin #4 (pride) rears its head when I think of how this city has evolved into an ever-increasing source of creative freshness. I can’t help but smile every time I come across a mini Mr. Ed tied up to one of the city’s many old curb rings, which were originally installed for real horses as late as the 1920s.
After my first sighting, my O.C.D. kicked in”I wanted more. I searched Google and found out a few things about Portland’s little horses. The project was started in 2005 by Scott Wayne Indiana, who thought it was a shame that the old rings in the trendy Peal District were going unused and unnoticed. Soon, the horses started showing up all around Portland.
I purposely walked by one with my girlfriend, Sal. The next day, she went cruising the isles of our local Goodwill and found an old ready-for-the-glue-factory Breyer’s Traditional”I think it was a Bluebell.
As fate would have it, we happen to have a ring in front of our house. Our pony was too cute to give up to some random curb, so Sal decided to surprise me by keeping her close to home. After knotting “Flickaâ€? up (with garden twine), she was walking over to a neighbor’s house when she turned around”and as if that moment was s-u-s-p-e-n-d-e-d in time”she saw a 20″something get off her bike and bend down towards the horse. Wow, maybe she’s making a shrine, or putting some hay out…OK, cool…but NOOOOOOOOOOOO, it was a neo horse-thief! She burned the string with a match, took the horse, jumped on her vintage Schwinn and peddled away down the street…not even fast. Sal was in shock and couldn’t move. I don’t even have a memory of the horse, because I never saw it.
So what now? Am I still smiling? Yes. Actually, I think I get more pleasure in telling (and embellishing with more beers) this story then having my friend Flicka curbed in front of the house. Besides, I believe in karma.
Urban Honking takes everything cool about Portland and compiles it into one big, overflowing cornucopia of blog bliss. Here, you’ll find musings from indie fashion havens like Seaplane, renaissance artists like E*Rock, cultural anthropologists like Kevin Erickson (Holy Moly), and many more. Started in 2001 by Steve Schroeder, Jona Bechtolt and Mike Merrill, UrHo blasted off a few years later with the rising popularity of the almighty weblog. Today, the collective boasts more than 45 individual and group bloggers who regularly bare their creative souls on subjects like art, religion, music, sports, politics, you-name-it. Among the motley crew counted in the site’s family is photographer Daniel Peterson, whose itwon’tfuckingkillyou photolog keeps us coming back for more images like the one here: beautiful, raw, rare snapshots of our city and its dwellers.
I’ve always had a bit of an attitude about folks who lived in the city, assuming that they had simply chosen financial gain over quality of life. And when it came to outdoor sports, well, they weren’t “realâ€? outdoor athletes, because they didn’t live the life of the beach rat or the mountain town local.
Now I live within the city limits of a major metropolis. But it’s not the soulless yuppie enclave I had imagined it to be. It’s a city that cares deeply about limiting urban sprawl, about energizing it’s center through progressive public transportation programs and celebrations of the arts.
More than that, it’s also home to outdoor athletes that are just as passionate and proficient at their sports as any “feralâ€? surfers or skiers. The added benefit is that by being situated equidistant from the surf and the snow, the opportunities are exponentially increased and diversified. I can surf or ski within an hour and a half of my home. I’ve even thought about doing some sort of triathlon that included dawn patrol at the local surf break, cycling in Forest Park at lunch, and an afternoon/evening ski session to close out the day.
For those of us who take a more opportunistic approach to sport, who adjust their recreation of choice according to weather conditions and the best tool for the job, Portland is, in my opinion, the ultimate outdoor town.
Alex Steffen describes his job as “attention philanthropy,â€? a term he coined and described during a visit to Nau’s offices in Portland, Oregon. Put simply, Steffen’s worldchanging.com “spendsâ€? the attention of its readers on worthy ideas and tools that he hopes readers will use to accelerate social change.
Steffen’s new book Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century“an extension of the bright green and humanitarian blog of the same name”is 600 pages of innovative and inspired solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems, ranging from climate change to launching a sustainable business. Author and advocate Bill McKibben, in an upcoming review in the New York Review of Books, likens it to The Whole Earth Catalog “retooledâ€? for the iPod generation.
Steffen, worldchanging.com’s executive editor, was in Portland, Oregon October 29, on the second stop of a 12-city North American book tour. Proclaiming that “bright green is the new black,â€? Steffen observes that green technology is now culturally iconic. He cites the DVD rental program Netflix which has, in Steffen’s words, “dematerialized drives to and from the store as well as the store itself.â€?
The book delves further into topics and behaviors indicative of conscious consumption. Vehicle sharing programs such as FlexCar are now economically viable and reap powerful dividends: For every car shared, six less are purchased. Soon, a visit to your local library may include power tools alongside books. Drills exists in most US households and yet typically have 6-20 minutes of usage in a lifetime. Steffen says what we want is the hole, not the drill. For him the critical question is: What do we need to own?
In a world that still conveys status through objects, Steffen sees changing responsibilities for consumers. More and more, consumers will be held increasingly accountable for knowing the “back storyâ€? of their material possessions”in others words, where their stuff comes from.
Steffen’s book is more than anything else a glimpse into what’s possible for us, and for this planet, if we make the choice. For more information visit: http://www.worldchanging.com/book/