Kevin Danaher is the Executive Director at Global Citizen Center, Executive General Partner at Virtual Green Festival at Greenmart, Executive Co-Producer at Green Festivals, and author of multiple books, including "Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots," "The Green Festival Reader: Fresh Ideas from Agents of Change," and more which you can find here.

SL:

What was your motivation for starting Global Exchange and what is your long term vision for building our green economy?

KD:

There were three of us that started global exchange 20 years ago me, my wife, Medea Benjamin, Kirsten Molar our executive director, and myself.

We had traveled around the world largely in the global south and been involved in the Vietnam, Civil rights, and Women movements. We saw U.S. as an empire. We have over 700 military bases outside our country. We are only 4% of the world’s people, but we consume 25% of the world’s resources. We realized there was a need to educate the American people about what was going on in the world. We invade countries and overthrow governments that most American people don’t even know about. If you gave people a blank map of the world or Middle East, most people wouldn’t even be able to find Iraq, and we’re killing people there.

We saw a need for an organization that would educate the American people, but not just to educate them so that they would have better cocktail party conversations, but so that they would be mobilized to go out and do something about changing policy.

After doing about 10 or 12 books about the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, transnational corporations, and the World Trade Organization, I realized that there was a fundamental genetic flaw in transnational corporations. They are not rooted in place. They have no patriotism towards any specific geography. They’ll move their factories in a minute if they find cheaper workers and cheaper resources somewhere else. The whole manufacturing sector of the U.S. got moved out of the country. And they are not green. A 2000 year old redwood tree is not a gift to the creator to be preserved for future generations, its 250,000 worth of lumber on a lumber market so you kill it. A fish swimming in water has no value until you kill it that it turns into a marketable commodity and takes on value under that system.

I figure the opposite of the transnational corporation is the local green economy.

I started thinking about how do we help promote the local green economy? My initial idea was to create a building where all the green companies and environmental groups will be located. But that’s very complicated and expensive. As an initial step, seeing that I didn’t know about the green economy movement, I didn’t know about these companies because I been writing books about the global economy, I figured that if we did an event, like a weekend tradeshow/expo kind of event that I would get to know these companies.  We would get contracts and develop relationships. That is how the Green Festival came about. It came about as an intermediary step toward the real estate model, bringing people together for a weekend, 125 speakers, 400 green economy exhibits, food, music, green party. But party not as a verb not as a noun and focused on the economy.

Because we believe the economy of the future is going to be the green economy. It has to be because we are depleting all our resources. People talk about peek oil. What about peak water, lead, uranium? All of these things are being depleted. The value of preserving them goes up. We’re seeing a shift in smart money, in a green direction. If you look at the growth rate of renewable energy, green building materials, organic foods, organic clothing, they are all growing rapidly while the “casino economy” is crashing. We live in a very important period where we can see a shift toward the green economy. And we want to accelerate that shift.

SL:

Moving to the green economy will be a long-term endeavor, and I agree that long term visions have far greater importance than short term ones as you, Alisa Gravitz, and many others have demonstrated. Can you share a few tips on how you were able to embrace this long term vision given all the economic challenges we face?

KD:

What we did for the Green Festival and I think this would work for other people, is setup a weekend event platform where the non-profits create the criteria for which companies get into the event. But it has been mostly private companies. It’s the non-profits who have been creating the rules and the general structure of the institution but most of the money and participation has been from private companies. But these are private companies that use a triple bottom line model, social justice, environmental restoration, and financial sustainability linked together and strengthening each other.

And what you’re finding out now is the growing number of companies that are incorporating that triple bottom line model. What is our social justice impact? What is our environmental impact? And how do we stay alive financially?

Non-profits can provide a platform where companies can come together and this can be replicated online. We are using 2nd life, the virtual reality space to make a center for the green economy. We’re developing a social networking Ning site, globalcitizencenter.ning.com. What you see is there are hundreds of really good institutions, either environmental non-profits or green companies who in their own right are making good products, services, and goods. They are making clothes, saving the dolphins, producing organic plant food, and various things that are good in their own right. But they are all separate, “fingers not a fist.” 

Historically, the question for us right now is how do we get all these organizations to start working together in unison and help each other? Buy each other’s products. Promote each other’s educational content. Come together for events. Come together in an eco-industrial park to produce products. Come together on a rural property to grow food. Come together to work together, share resources, and create a grassroots movement. If we are going to change the society, it’s going to come from the grassroots. It’s great that Barack Obama got elected, but anybody who thinks they’re going to wait for Washington to fix their problems will be sadly mistaken. It has got to come from the grassroots. What we are about is trying to create institutional models where the progressive green thinking people in all sectors, academia, government, for-profits, non-profits, bring the green thinking people from those four sectors together to collaborate and accelerate the transition towards the green economy.

SL:

I agree with your comment on growing the green movement. That by creating community platforms, you can create new and important synergies among green companies, NGO’s, government, and high-tech startups. Can you suggest a few micro-enterprise community driven platforms, eco-preneurs like myself can start to contribute to this green movement?

KD:

First, in general, I’ve been to a lot of conferences and what I noticed is that the favorite part for most attendees is not the formal sessions, it’s the coffee breaks. It’s the networking sessions. You got groups like Eco-Tuesday, the magazine Sustainable Industries, who just did an event here in SF the other day, where a significant portion of the meeting was structured networking. Where people have name tags, they get a minute to say who they are and what they do. Then, it breaks up into a free form get together with people to say, “oh hey, you’re doing bike lanes, well I have a bike shop and we can work together.” And it is that networking and synergizing of efforts that’s really important. We have a book called, “Building the Green Economy,” where one of the companies we highlighted is a company called, Terracycle. What they do is liquid compost in recycled soda bottles. Garbage wrapped in Garbage. The title of our chapter is your business plan is complete garbage. The guy who started it, a 24-year old college dropout said, “He didn’t start the company to save the environment. I started the company to prove you could make a lot of money saving the environment.”

And what people on the left need to realize is the problem isn’t enterprise, its corporate domination. Enterprise has a methodology for generating revenue. It’s the transnational corporations have taken over our government, our food system, our health care system, our public airwaves. If you take any problem in our society and pull the thread, it will lead you to corporate domination. What’s evolving in response to that is a merging of non-profit values that are focused on the triple bottom line and an enterprise model that says, let’s create jobs that do not wreck the environment, create more inequality, gentrification but fixes these problems through an enterprise model. What you get is a marriage of the best thinking in both the non-profits and for-profits sectors. And it could be groups like Global Exchange, that is a non-profit but use enterprise. What I say to people is that as long as you’re not exploiting people, but using nature in making the profit, then there is no problem.

Then, the question is what do you do with that profit? Is it for you to have a bunch of mansions, 20 cars, a private jet, and all that nonsense? Or do you put that profit back in the social movement? There’s a transformation going on in the economic model where more and more people are realizing the focus should be on the local green economy, and we should figure out ways in which we create a new triple bottom model that puts social justice and the environment at the same level of priority as profits and revolutionize systems from the bottom-up, from the grassroots.

SL:

You had an interesting conversation with Omar Freilla in your book, “Building the Green Economy.”

I agree that it will be difficult to form a green society as long as there are economic or social injustices. How can we teach the next generation, the importance of putting life values over money values to create a green economy when we are so heavily dependent on the money cycle?

KD:

The way you think about this theoretically is you got two cycles. You got the money cycle and you got the life cycle. The life cycle, solar energy comes from the sun, plants photosynthesize, create nutrients that we can eat, or animals eat and we eat the animals. We literally are stardust. We need solar energy. And the problem of our capitalist economy is that we have been rapidly depleting ancient solar energy that was stored in the form of petroleum, coal, and natural gas that all come from the decaying of plants and animals from millions of years ago. We have been rapidly depleting that ancient sunlight. Now, we are making a transition to an economy where we have to live on current sunlight, whether it’s solar, wind, or geothermal energy (where you pump water down deep into the earth, the heat boils it, and it in turn powers generators). We can power about 50 American economies off of just the geothermal power in 14 western states. The potential is huge. Just like you can generate the entire electricity for the United States off of wind potential in about four or five mid-western states. A few southern western states can generate enough solar power to power the whole country.  But in order to tap that potential, you need the political will of the people in power, the people who run corporations, who run government.

It is not a problem of technology. It is about committing the capital. We just gave about 300 billion dollars to the finance sector and that certainly didn’t fix the economy. Had that money been put into renewable energy, we could have already made a transition. If the money we spent in the Iraq war had been were put into renewable energy, we could be on 100% renewable energy already. So it’s not a problem with technology, it’s a problem of commitment and capital.

The question is how does capital get invested? Whether you’re talking about immigration, environment, job creation, gender equity, whatever the issue is, you have to look at how the capital gets invested? Who is sitting at the table when capital gets invested? What are the values driving the investment process? Is the value to maximize profits for big corporations or does it meet all social needs?

And the interesting thing about Omar Freilla, from the Bronx,  an amazing guy, very smart, he realized that there was a huge amount of waste being created on construction sites, demolition of old buildings, and just this massive amount of waste in New York. He got this idea of creating workers cooperatives that would work on taking those waste products and repurposing them. You have doors, windows, plumbing, flooring, wiring, and all that kind of stuff where instead of it going into the landfill, where the city has to pay to dump it, you take that stuff and repurpose it. Put it back into the economy, sell it, and make money. Again, this is just like Terracycle. You are diverting products out of the waste stream. I have some statistics that I use in one of my presentations about cell phones. If you collect cell phones and you break them out into their parts, you get gold, copper, and all sorts of products and metals that you can then sell and make money. There is Green Citizen here in the Bay Area and they collect cell phones, take them apart, and resell the parts. And they are making a thriving business out of this.

As the resources get depleted, the value and profitability of recovering, repurposing, recycling, and reusing them goes up. That will intensify as the environment gets destroyed. The positive side of environmental destruction is as the resources get depleted, the value of saving that resource goes up. We are seeing a big expansion in the recycling industry, composting, repurposing, and recuperating of all these industrial products to put them back into the economy and make a profit all at the same time.

SL:

One of the other challenges I often read about is measuring green improvement. How do you at Global Exchange or Green Festivals measure green growth?

KD:

What we do is use Co-op America. Though, they’ve recently changed their name to Green America. The website is greenamericatoday.org. They have developed over 25 years, a structure called the Co-op America business network of several thousand green companies. Over the years, they have developed a very strict set of social and environmental criteria, Are your products certified organic? Do you pay your employees well? Do you have a retirement plan? Do you provide health care insurance? How do you handle your customers? Are you using recycled products? These are all the different criteria we use in the Green Festival to determine which companies will come in.  And that hurts us financially.

Recently, we had an example of a company, Burt’s Bees. They were a very good company making organic products and were in the Green Festival. They got bought by Clorox. And Clorox makes most of their money making poison. We said, “Sorry you can’t be in the Green Festival any more because you’re now owned by a poison company.” And that hurt us directly because that was thousands of dollars that we would have gotten and didn’t get.

But we believe that integrity has value. If we are able to say to the people that come in to the Green Festival, you don’t have to worry about the integrity of the products because we have already filtered out the greenwashing. But even greenwashing can also be a good thing because it shows that even if these companies are lying, they are inflecting in the direction of our green values.  They believe green values are good values.

For example, a few years ago, General Motors had an electric car, the EV1 that they reclaimed from the people that leased it because they made a stupid corporate decision to not go in the direction of rechargeable electric vehicles. And now, they are touting the Chevy Volt which supposedly is going to come out 2 years from now. By the fact that they are now promoting an electric car shows that they agree with us and we been right all along.

Now we must consolidate and make a rapid transition to a truly sustainable economy, what Bill McDonough, a green architect calls, a cradle to cradle economy where every product when its done being used either has to go back into the industrial process as raw materials or into the earth as compost to grow crops. And they’ve already created certification systems with different levels just like the U.S. Green Building Council.  We can see a general movement towards the creation of more criteria like the U.S. Green Building Council LEED’s standard. They are probably the fastest growing green non-profit in the country with over 100 staff. 

Even the U.S. military is building their buildings to the U.S. Green Building Council’s standard. The army has a 2007 sustainability report about all the green things that the U.S. army is doing. So green thinking has penetrated even the military. You are going to save money when you do things in a green way. We’re seeing a transition from where environmentalists are saying don’t cut down the redwoods, don’t kill the whales and dolphins, don’t pollute the streams, etc. to now more of a mainstream economic movement where companies are trying to make greater profits saving nature instead of destroying it. Because once you’ve figured out you can make profits by saving nature instead of destroying it, you’re into a different system. That’s a different rulebook.

SL:

After investing in MicroPlace, satisfying your survival needs, and traveling by public transportation, can you suggest a few events to check out, books to read, or things to do, that can further assist the everyday person in helping the triple bottom line of social equity, environmental restoration, and financial sustainability?

KD:

If you go to globalcitizencenter.org and scroll down to the bottom on the face page, we’ve got some pdf’s of green job reports, analyses, from about 4 different sources, the academics, UN, U.S. Conference of Mayors talking about green job creation. And a lot of these green jobs, Rockell Pender at San Francisco State uses. She and her research found 22 job categories that don’t require a college diploma, just high school education and on the job training. Things like cleaning solar panels and bicycle shops. These are youth jobs not an old person job and it doesn’t require a lot of technical skills. And it could be an enterprise where people can make money from. And you’ll also find 3 curricula that we’ve developed. One of which is an introduction to environmental studies, how to be a CEO (Chief Environmental Officer), if you were going to sell yourself to a company as a CEO, what would be the things you would need to learn. It would be a 13-week course covering water, energy, building materials, and all these different areas of focus.

And there’s another course, how to create a sustainability plan for a campus, school, corporate, or government. Anywhere, where there’s a grouping of buildings that some institution controls. If you can go to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of that institution and say I’ll show you ways you can save money and save the environment at the same time and you just give me 20% of the money I save you. There’s no CFO that is going to reject that deal. Those are all available free on the globalcitizencenter.org website. Also, you could run a short video of a building we created in 2nd life, the virtual reality space, where we are planning on opening up to the public probably at the end of March at the Seattle Green Festivals. We’re now recruiting companies and environmental groups to be in that building. We’ll be the one and only 3-dimensional eco-mall online. Right now websites are flat where 2nd life is 3-dimensional. You can walk through it. The software is free. You just go to secondlife.com, download it, create an avatar, and then we’ll invite you in to the building. It would just be like when Gmail started, you had to be invited in by somebody. It wasn’t just opened to anybody.

You’ll get 100 or so green companies all in one place where we can do education seminars, run videos, allow people to stream video of speakers from the Green Festival. It will be like the green economy learning and shopping space similar to the Green Festival except, online, where anybody in the world any time of day, throughout the year can go and visit it.

Two of the books that I always recommend in addition to my own, of course are “Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough, which is kind of like the bible of the sustainability design movement where he and his co-author just lay out brilliant arguments for how we have to go to a closed-loop economy. There should be no waste.

And the other book is by Janine Benyus. It is called, “Biomimicry.” And she talks about how nature’s beta phase was billions of years. The mistakes are all gone. And we can do no better than learning from nature where everything is a closed loop system. We have systems controlled by people in congress who never ride the bus, but are in control of our mass transit policy. Of course, you have bad mass rapid transit policy because they don’t know about mass transit from their own experience. She makes the powerful argument and gives lots of examples of how we can learn from nature and create a viable and sustainable economy by imitating nature in the way we structure our economy.

 

A few parting words by Kevin Danaher -> Message to leave with: 

A few things, one, in order to save the ecosystem we have to transcend the “EGOsystem.” This notion that I am a separate entity contained in this bag of skin, and I don’t really co-penetrate the other bag of skins, that’s just ridiculous. We are like cells. If you look at the function of the cell, the most basic form of life, biologists tell us that the brain of the cell is the nucleus. That is not the case. Actually, the brain of the cell is our outer membrane. It is our outer membrane that mediates the relationships with other cells. No cell can exist as a single cell. If you look at the speeded up photography of a human zygote as it divides into many cells, you’ll see it’s the connecting membrane that connects one cell to the others. That is the key relationship. That tells us what’s important to us humans is our relationships to each other. The corporate media tell us in all their advertising, that the success of a human is determined by the quantity of the things they own. In fact, we’re learning now that long term sustainability success is the qualitative measure of your relationships with other people and mother-nature. We have to get past this EGO notion that I am this separate entity, this separate bag of skin and my success is not about how many books that have my name on it, how many PhD’s I have, or that  kind of stuff. If in any given conversation with me, someone who walks away thinking that guy Danaher is a jerk, then I’ve failed. If they walk away from an interaction thinking gee, I hope I get to work with that guy in the future, then I’ve succeeded. It’s all about relationships.

Second, we need to deconstruct this whole cult of powerlessness. You hear all this cynicism. We cannot change the world. We cannot change the course of history. We are doomed, all this lack of activist spirit. Cynicism is what passes for insight when courage is lacking. What I say to cynical people who say they can’t do something is imagine the person that you love more than anybody else in the world and imagine that person in the second story of a house that is on fire. And there’s only one person walking by on the street hearing the screams of your loved one for help. What do you want that passerby to be, a cynic or activist? Well, the house is on fire, the planetary house, Global Warming. And the child who’s starving of hunger is screaming at that window. We have 30,000 children a day on average that die from the effects of hunger related diseases. And people are plugging their ears and closing their eyes. We’ve got to all become activists. There are two kinds of analysis. There’s the analysis of the way things are and the analysis of the way we can make things be. It’s that latter activist analysis that we need to promote in the population and make sure everybody feels empowered to participate, be an active citizen, and change the course of history. The number one item on our agenda is how do we save humanity from ourselves?  And we can do that. We have this huge opportunity. Never before in history has there been such a gap between what is and what could be. We have the technical means to create an “eco-topia” on earth with no starving children, no endangered species, and no wars for oil. It’s all about, are we going to get up on our hind legs, grow a spine, stand up to the “powers that be,” and reclaim our human right as citizens to run our own society? The U.S. Constitution, our founding document starts with the three magic words, “We the people…” We are the fourth branch of government. We are supposed to rule over the other three. We are the boss. They are the workers. We are the landlord that owns the Whitehouse. Yet we don’t behave as if we are the boss. We need to start asserting our authority over the people that are running our country and put them in their proper place as employees. And I think with our new administration, at least the doors have cracked open. There’s no guarantee. There’s going to be a big struggle. But we need to get in there and assert ourselves and take all of this grassroots organizing that we did during the election campaign and reclaim our historic right as self-governing citizens and put ourselves on to the stage of history.