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[E4C12] How to Co-Create a Greener Economy, a Better World & Retire with a Million Dollars – Green America

Alisa Gravitz, the CEO & President of Green America, is a leading expert on how families and businesses can “go green,” saving money and resources. Alisa has helped lead the national agenda to create a socially and environmentally responsible economy for 30 years. She is also a nationally recognized leader in the social investment industry. She authored Green America’s acclaimed Guide to Social Investing, with over a million copies in print, as well as the popular Guide to Community Investing.

For the past 30 years, Alisa Gravitz has led Green America, the national green economy organization. Green America develops marketplace solutions to social and environmental problems with a key focus on tackling climate change, building fair trading systems, stopping corporate abuse and growing the green economy. Green America’s major events and publications include the multi-city Green Festivals, the Green Business Conference, National Green Pages and Real Green.

Now many think that creating wealth and building a better world are fundamentally incompatible. In this call, Alisa debunks the myths around money and mission, and shares her key insights on:

  • What it will take to green the mainstream economy, and whether this is even possible
  • How Green America Certification works and how it will help you as a green business entrepreneur
  • What it takes to launch and grow an event like Green Festivals and what other countries can do to replicate their success
  • The direct financial and indirect social benefits of making a commitment to buy nothing new for 1 year
  • Different types of socially responsible investing options and the benefits of community development banks
  • The low down on socially responsible mutual funds

Mentioned in this Podcast

Where to Find Alisa Gravitz

Full Episode Transcript

Lorna: First off I want to say that I love the green festivals Alisa. Green festivals is where I see all the people I love most in one place, twice a year. So I’m thrilled to have you on the show since you’re one of the people who makes green festivals happen. So I’d love to find out more about who you are, what you do, and what exciting projects you are currently working on.

Alisa: Well thank you Lorna. It’s so great to know you’re a fan because I so admire the work you are doing. In fact, in many ways we are allies in this work together. The whole idea of, how do we grow a green economy? That’s my passion and my work. I have the privilege of serving as the Executive Director of Green America, and Green America’s mission is to grow the green economy.

We have three program areas. First is what we call Green Your Life, which is consumer facing and we help families learn what they can do to go deeper into greening their lives. And one of the things I really want to start out here with is that when we see Green America, what we mean is both social and economic justice along with community and environmental health. If you will, people and the planet. That’s what we need for a more just and sustainable future for us all.

So our first program area is Green Your Life where we help families green their lives. Our second program area is Green Your Business, where guess what, we help businesses green their business. Everything from businesses that are just starting to figure out how to spell the word green, and what sustainability is, all the way to the leaders. We like to recognise and honour the leaders in green, the companies that are really out there showing the way for everybody. But we go deeper with every business, showing how to run a business in a just and sustainable way.

And then our third program is what we call Green The World, and it’s what we call our economic advocacy work, where we focus on specific issue areas where economic solutions to social and environmental problems prevail. So for example, climate change, fair trading solutions, community investing, creating sustainable local communities. These are all ways where we can all collaborate together in our economic roles. As families, as consumers, as investors, as business leaders, to create a greener economy.

As part of that work we have created the Green Festival along with our allies Global Exchange. We co-produce the festival together. Global Exchange is an international human rights organisation and together we represent the green economy, people and the planet, and the idea of celebrating solutions in your community. Which is what happens in a Green Festival, so I’m so glad that you and your friends get together and enjoy that because we bring people together.

The Green Festivals have three different things going on. The first is wonderful ways to learn more. Half the people who come are already on their journey to sustainability and half are just getting started. Great speakers from all over the country at every Green Festival, along with hands on how to workshops. We then have our exhibitor track where innovative green companies from the local area come and show their products and services so that people can connect with and find the services and products they need from their local green economy. And then the third thing we do, of course it’s a festival, so we have arts, and culture, and music, and an organic food court. Everybody’s favourite is the organic beer and wine garden where people meet up, see their friends, and plan their ways to go green.

So it’s what we call a two day party with a purpose. We set the intention that everybody who comes can find at least one new idea and get some inspiration to either start or deepen their journey into sustainability.

Lorna: So I looked how, in your definition of green, there’s a social justice component. Would you say that green businesses are, by default, also social enterprises?

Alisa: Absolutely green business are social enterprises and part of our joy for work at Green America is to encourage businesses to be as holistic as possible as they define green and sustainability. Some green businesses become these wonderful social entrepreneurs because they have a passion in a specific area. Perhaps it’s fair trade and so it is very specifically social justice. Or perhaps it is to serve an under served community, again very specifically social justice. So folks that come from social and economic justice perspective, we encourage them to broaden and also consider environmental impact. Likewise, many companies start with an environmental impact mission, and we encourage them to look at the social and economic side. Because if we’re going to have a just and sustainable world, one that works for all, it needs to be both people and the planet. That’s the perspective we take.

We also find that one leads to the other. That once you start the inquiry of how do I become more environmentally stable, it doesn’t take very long before you are looking at how do I address social justice issues? If I care about the planet then I’m also going to care about the people who are working for me in my supply chain, so it is actually a very natural step that we find businesses are interested in taking. And we celebrate every step a business takes down this road.

Lorna: So you guys are really prolific. You’re doing so many great things and I love your description of Green Festivals as a ‘party with a purpose’. Now in my research in all of the different program areas and related entities to Green America, I have to admit I’m a bit confused. So if you could help the audience understand what the difference is between Co-op America, Green America, The Green Business Network, The National Green Pages, that would help us orient where we need to go when we are looking at how we can affiliate ourselves with your organisation. Can you help us understand succinctly what each organisation does and their relationship to one another and where one should go for their particular interest

Alisa: Lorna you’ve done great research and what a wonderful question. So, Co-op America and Green America is the same entity. Our name used to be Co-op America and is now Green America. We changed our name about two years ago, and so when you come to our website greenamerica.org that’s what you’ll find, Green America. When you come to greenamerica.org you’re going to have access to all of our information that primarily faces your journey to sustainability as an individual and as your family. So that website has the information you’ll need to deepen your families journey to sustainability.

We guide families along a five step process. The first is, how do you reach your needs without consumption, because part of a sustainable world is to meet your needs in an appropriate way. For example I had a girlfriend call me up and say ‘oh Alisa I had a terrible week at work last week and I was so stressed out that over the weekend I went to the mall and bought three new dresses but I can’t really afford three new dresses and now they’re on my credit card so I guess you could say I have a three dress stress!’

Lorna: Oh no! When shopping therapy goes wrong.

Alisa: Right. So I said to her ‘hey lets make a deal, the next time you get stressed out at work, give me a call, we’ll meet at a farmers market, we’ll sit down and have a cup of tea, we’ll put up our feet and people-watch and laugh and talk about our week and just totally relax.’ And she said, ‘oh, that’s a much better way to deal with stress than to buy dresses.’ And that’s what I mean, the first step is to meet your non material needs in non material ways. And not be subject to Madison Avenue that says ‘hey, you want to meet a man or a woman, well go out and buy a fancy car.’ No, there are much better ways to meet people. So the first step is to reduce consumption when you can, in a joyful way and of course to save lots of money.

The second step is when you decide to buy from green companies, locally based, and we have a whole set of resources to help you find really great green businesses. We have a business certification program that is considered one of the toughest in the country, so if you really want to be assured you are buying from a green company we have greenpages.org which can help you find the best green businesses from all over the country.

And then we’ll also help you connect as an individual to our economic action campaign so that we can green the world together. Everything from how do we stop coal to how do we advance fair trade and renewable energy. Because when we work on economic advocacy issues, when we work on system change, our theory of change is we have to both stop the damage, and say no to the things that are bad, like sweatshops and coal fire power plants. And we want to say yes to the things that are creating a green, restorative economy. So we want to say yes to fair trade chocolate and fair trade coffee and renewable energy. We help guide you and invite you to join our campaigns to help us do those things. So for example right now we’re working very hard to stop some of the worse coal fire power pants in the country, so you can do that. We’ve already had some great successes, we’ve got a huge coalition and it has stopped over a hundred and fifty of one hundred and seventy proposed plants. And now we’re going after carbon spewing plants and making some great in-roads, so joining our campaign really helps.

Likewise, one of the campaigns we’re working on right now, is that in conventional chocolate there is a problem with forced labour, particularly forced child labour in the supply chain. And one of the worst offenders, one who is least attentive to it is the Hershey company. So right now we have a big campaign to convince Hershey to change their practices and fix the problems in their supply chain, and to shift to fair trade chocolate. That campaign is also a great success, we’re causing so much trouble that another major company came to us and said ‘ok, we’re going to switch to fair trade so you don’t do to us what you’re doing to Hersheys.

We’ve also had some other great results with Hershey’s agreeing to work with Honest Tea to provide technology so Honest Tea can provide a fair trade chocolate drink. Next up is Hershey has to do it themselves. Great things are happening and they happen when people care about social and economic responsibility, that is growing a green economy, joining together and putting pressure on actors that need to clean up their act.

Lorna: So you’re an environmental activist type and you want to find an important campaign to get behind, all you have to do is head over to greenamerica.org.

Alisa: That’s right. We’ll help you, everything from how to reduce your shopping. One of the most popular things on the site is 10 things you’ll never have to buy again. We’ll help you when you want to shift your purchasing to more socially and environmentally responsible companies. We’ll help you with best economic action campaigns to join. And we’ll help you with social and environmental investing. All those things that deal with shifting to a greener economy you can find at greenamerica.org.

Now if you’re a business and you want to take your next steps in a journey to sustainability then you want to come to our green business network that works with businesses to deepen their sustainability. So if you’re in the workplace, and almost all of us work, you can get involved in our green business program. That is greenbusinessnetwork.org. So as a business you can come to our website to learn how to deepen your commitment to sustainability. We have some amazing tools, we’re launching something this summer called Green Gain which is an assessment and project management tool designed for small and mid sized businesses to help them walk through the steps of becoming more sustainable. For example you’re a company that sells chocolate chip cookies. You can this is who I am, this is the business I am doing, these are the steps I have already taken, and it will give an assessment of how you are doing compared to other companies like you. And it will say that if you want to do more, here’s what you can do. Would you be interested in sourcing your chocolate chips from fair trade chocolate. If you are, here’s a project management tool so you can take these initiatives and we’ll help you along the way to going fair trade with your chocolate. If you have ovens, would you lik we to know how to increase your energy efficiency in your bakery. Take this initiative and we can walk you through what you need to do.

We help businesses take their next steps from where they are, whether they have just started to having done it for years, we’ll help you take your next step.
And then when you’re ready to say proudly ‘you know what, I’m on the path I’m greening my business, you can apply to become a green business approved member, where you would go through our certification process which is a really great process because it helps you with next steps. You become either a brown, silver or gold depending on where you are with your journey. We’re proud because our certification is a really tough standard so consumers know you’re really on the path and you can proudly wear the Green America seal of approval.

Lorna: You have about two hundred pus business criteria that you rate the green businesses applicants on.

Alisa: Oh absolutely, it’s probably more like seven hundred plus.

Lorna: Woah.

Alisa: But we make it very easy. It’s an online program that takes you through the steps. If for example you are a service business and you don’t have a fleet of trucks, well then you don’t have to do the fleet of trucks portion. It makes really easy for each business to address the criteria that is most core to their business. You’ll see from our website other businesses talk about what it was like to go through the process and how much they learned and how much t not only improved the sustainability aspects of their business, but helped them become better businesses, more efficient, more profitable and able to reach their marketplaces. Of course when you want to grow the green economy, that’s what you want to do. For those businesses who do get our seal of approval we offer a whole set of benefits to help them reach green consumers. You can be at green festivals you can be in green pages. Green pages is an amazing resource for consumers and businesses to find the products and services they need from the green community.

Lorna: The National Green Pages is your directory of approved Green Business America certified companies. Is that correct?

Alisa: That is correct. The national green pages is the honour role and other companies that are on the path can be in green pages online as well. When you come to the website you can see which businesses have earned the top gold standard seal of approval, who are silver, who are bronze, and who are on the path and you can click right through to their sustainability profile. Its very cool, and its a great resource for both businesses and consumers when they want to make choices about purchasing. And we always encourage people to go local and green whenever they can.

Lorna: So there’s a number of different green certification programs springing up and I’m curious to know what differentiates the Green America approved seal versus some of the other green certifications. What benefits do you offer that are ahead of some of the other programs.

Alisa: Well I’m really proud of the work my team does in our green certification program because I think it offers two things that make it really unique from the other great work that is out there. The first is a holistic vision of sustainability. So as we talked about before, our definition of green is both social and economic as well as community and environmental health, so it is the most holistic certification program out there. When consumers are looking for companies that are really the innovators and leaders they turn to our certification, our seal of approval. So I think that is the first and most important one. The second really important thing about earning our seal of approval is that it gives you access to all of these great markets. Many certification programs, you earn the certification and then its up to you to get your name out there, while we find many different marketing channels. We’re really proud of the businesses that earn our certification and we want to proudly tell the world about them. We help get your name out there and that is very important.

And then all of our business members no matter where they are on the journey to sustainability, we also offer some wonderful services that can be a real asset to their business, everything from carbon offsets to socially responsible 401k plans. A whole range of business services including shipping and phone services and so forth. So when you first join our network, even if you haven’t yet earned the certification, you are welcomed into a community of businesses that are all on this journey. All of the other members will give you hints and tips. For example, lets say you’re running a coffee shop and you want compostable spoons and forks, well where do you find them? They’ll help you with your sourcing issues, they’ll help you find great employees, they’ll help you find board members. So its a great network, it is a great set of business services that will help you get off the ground fast with your business. And then finally, for those who go through and get the certification, it is a great marketing channel.

Lorna: Wow, that sounds like a lot. I’m so inspired I want to go out and get my certification as soon as possible for my internet based business.

Alisa: Well that’s so exciting and we really welcome all of the businesses. I don’t want any business to feel daunted. There’s a place for you in the network, we’ll help you get started on your journey to sustainability, and we’ll give you the tools and support to take those steps. It is really important to us, our passion is growing the green economy and every green business leader out there started somewhere. They had to take that first step. So we want to honour and recognise the green business leaders who are out there. If you’re a green business leader, please join the network and get your certification so we can brag about you. And if you’re just getting started, please come in, be welcomed, we can help you get down that path.

Lorna: So the other day I was speaking with Joel Makower who I also interviewed for the Entrepreneurs For A Change podcast. He actually recently wrote a blog post, ‘green marketing is over, let’s move on’. In his blog post he stated that no environmentally preferable car, carpet cleaner, cosmetic, or coffee, has effective captured more than two percent of it’s respective market. He also states that most of what we buy is becoming more green in spite of our shopping habits. So do you think more and more people are choosing to buy green or is this still very much a niche?

Alisa: Where we are is the tipping point. I think the people in the audience know of the tipping point. It’s basically a model of the diffusion of ideas and many people know Malcolm Gladwell’s tipping point. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book he walks through the different stages of bringing new ideas and new innovations to the public. The first stage is called the thought leader stage and the innovator stage, that’s where we’re at. We think it is very exciting that the first tipping point where the thought leaders and the innovators have in every segment of the economy, they have created a green business segment. Here at Green America we have a map of the economy and a wheel if you can imagine it where we break the economy up into twelve different sectors. Food and agriculture, finance and investing and so on. The entire economy. The great news is in every sector of the economy there is a green sector and it is healthier than the conventional part of the sector. For example take food and agriculture. Organic food is growing faster than conventional food. So if you’re in the organic food segment of the food industry, your segment is growing at twenty percent or better. Whereas the conventional food industry is growing at one percent at best. The good news is it is healthy and it’s growing. In the green building sector right now with the terrible recession we have all over the country, the building sector was hurt very badly. Green building is about the only bright spot in the building sector, because its the green buildings that are growing and the people who are building and renovating are going green. In every sector of the economy there is a green sector that is healthy, vibrant and growing. We do want green growth. We don’t want growth of pollution, we don’t want growth of sweatshops. We want green business growth, that’s where we want our future and our jobs to be.

Joel is right in that every one of those sectors, we’ve hit the first tipping point which is two to five percent. That’s when the thought leaders and the innovators have gotten so much traction that they’re finally visible and that is something to celebrate. Again let’s look at organic food. Organic food is somewhere around two to three percent of the food industry. Now I don’t take that as discouraging, I take that as really encouraging that the leaders and innovators in organic food have now gotten so much traction that they’ve hit the first tipping point. The next tipping point is to go very rapidly from two to five percent, to ten to twelve percent and that where the early adopters come in. By the time you hit the first tipping point you see a lot of talk. Its now visible. The media is covering it. Its a celebration but there is more talk than do. Its still only two to five percent so I’m sure that is what Joel is focused on. But when you hit that first tipping point, that is when things start to take out. Once people do start talking abut it and they do start to see it every where, that’s when they realise, ‘huh, I would rather have a job in a green business than a conventional business’. They go, ‘I would rather start a green business than a conventional business and that’s what I’m looking to see in the next five to ten years, we’re going to very rapidly go to ten or fifteen percent. Green America’s goal is that we start shifting the green economy so fast that by 2020 it is twenty percent of the economy. And that will be full – into that early maturity and tipping point. It’s juts very exciting because, guess what, once you hit twenty percent, it takes even fast to go from twenty percent to fifty percent, so that’s what we’re after.

I’m making the same observations that Joel is, so we agree there. I’m just seeing it in a different light, which is, okay, we’ve hit the first tipping point, now our job it to go to scale and get to the next tipping point and I see every indication that is exactly what we’re doing.

What do you think it will take for us to get to a place where the mainstream economy is predominantly green? Where every company strives to reduce its environmental footprint in some significant way? Do you think this is even possible in the next twenty five years?

I absolutely do and we are heading in that direction very strongly. Let me take energy as an example. Let me take cell phones as an example. So cellphones have been under development in this country since 1970 where they created the cell technology, and the bandwidth for phones. But if we could see your audience and ask them ‘how many people here had a cellphone ten years ago. Very few people would raise their hands. Cell phones ten years ago were at that same tipping point. You ask people today how many peoplke have a cell phone. Well, practically one hundred percent of Americans and hugely around the world have cell phones. That’s an example of how once they hit that first tipping point which took them thirty years to get to, they very rapidly went from five to ten percent and then from ten to ninety percent. What I’m seeing is that that will happen in many areas of the green economy.

Let me now take renewable energy and in particular solar energy. One of Green America’s projects inside of our climate action work is to really encourage the acceleration of solar and other renewables along with energy efficiency. In 2000 we were looking at solar because it is impossible to meet our 2050 climate change goals of reducing carbon by at least ninety percent without solar contributing at least fifty percent of all energy. And at that time in the year 2000 the entire global installations of solar had less output than a typical nuclear power plant. And if you’re sitting in the year 2000 and going ‘how on earth is solar going to provide fifty percent of our energy by 2050’, and guess what twenty percent by 2020 which is very important, because if we’re at twenty percent by 2020 we are on our way to eighty to ninety percent by 2050. Our solar catalyst project sat down to map out what the growth rate of solar would have to be and what would have to happen in order for us to meet that goal of being at twenty percent solar at 2020 and fifty percent solar world wide by 2050. Right now, the growth of dolar is so amazing even through the recession and all the problems we could talk about, solar is ahead of that growth curve. Right now if we keep up what we are doing with solar we could have fifty percent by 2040 or 2050. And people go ‘wow, that’s amazing how could that happen’ and I ask them to think about cellphones. Solar manufacturing is a lot like cell phones. It takes a long time to get to fve o ten percent, but once you get that first tipping point, what happens is all that manufacturing that created five percent continues to chug along and it can do the next five percent really easily. And then they bring on new manufacturing and by the time you get to ten pecent you can very easily get to twenty percent. It moves very, very rapidly. We’re seeing that wit rebuilding. We’re seeing that with food, and local food. With local food the number of farmer;s markets has quadrupled in the last two years. The number of ways to deliver food has quantupled in the last five years. Almost every community has a local food initiative that is helping to get locally grown, organic food into what we call food deserts, where low income and under served communities are finally getting access to healthy food. For the first time in fifty years the number of small family farms has actually increased, stopping the fifty year decline of small family farms. We’re hitting that first tipping point and we’re going to start to see all of this happen very rapidly. It is a great time to either join a green business or start a green business because we are going to be the mainstream so learning those skills, being the leadership, being the innovators is going to be a fantastic place to be for this green ride coming up.

Lorna: That is so inspiring. I’m so glad to hear those statistics because sometimes it can seem really daunting when you hear other dire news on how we are still trashing our planet so its good to see that there is a lot of traction happening in the green economy.

Alisa: Absolutely and its a great story of hope that again because we’re only at that two to five percent place people aren’t quite seeing it yet. But its happening, It’s happening rapidly and we are tracking these things. Now, of course its not just going to automatically happen. It requires each one of us to take the steps in our personal lives. To choose socially responsible products. To go through that little thing I talked about earlier. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need. If you do buy stuff make it green and socially responsible. When you do your investing, invest green. As a business this green economy isn’t going to happen unless, when you start a business make it a green one, when you’re looking for a new job give the greenest companies the first shot at your great talents. If you’re in a company, encourage them to think about they can go green so they don’t miss this wave and this direction. It won’t happen automatically, but if each one of us takes these steps. In our homes and in our work places, we can keep those growth curves rapidly moving from the first tipping point that we’ve hit where the innovators and thought leaders establish the green segments in each part of the economy. We can rapidly move now to the early adopters and the majority and the mainstream with these great green products, services, and businesses.

Lorna: What does it take to launch and grow a national celebration of the green economy like Green Festivals? How can people in other countries replicate your success? Or do you plan to take over the world?

Alisa: Well we want people everywhere. Green Festivals and Green America, we don’t want to be a central location of anything. We just want to give the ideas, give the inspiration and we want to say ‘hey’. From here forward its all about each one of us, no matter where we are, no matter where we live, no matter where we work. We take these ideas into our homes and workplaces and into our communities and going with it. We want to encourage other people to do festivals in their communities, here and abroad. We actually are talking with folks in both China and Russia about how they can build green festivals in their countries. And do you know what it takes? It takes people getting together and having the passion to do it. In each city where a green festival goes, we co-create that festival to serve that local area. We have a host committee that gets together and we figure out with them, who are the best speakers, which businesses are doing great stuff, who are the non-profits that are coming together to create solutions in this community? Because a locally rooted green economy where people are collaborating in all different kinds of ways, that then takes things from that innovative stage when not everybody sees what’s going on to the stage when you start going up that hockey stick and everybody can get involved.

We really hope that people take inspiration from the work that we do and say ‘how can I do it in my home? How can I do it in my business? How can I do it in my community?’ As a non profit we are here to help you do that. So come on over to the website greenamerica.org or greenbusinessnetwork.org or greenfestivals.org. Whatever your gifts and passions are, find a great way to jump in.

Lorna: So Alisa I checked out your website and you have a whole section on ‘how to retire with a million dollars in a better world’. And that sounds like a really compelling goal to have. I know many change makers feel a conflict between doing good and attracting wealth. A lot of people I know who are change makers have an aversion to money. I see money as energy that can be applied to good use and I love the idea of being able to retire with a million dollars while living in a better world. We would love for you to share some of your insights on the steps we can take to achieve this goal

Alisa: Lorna, those are such great questions and I want to start with your good insight about money being energy flow. That is really important to understand, Money helps us make visible what we want to see in the real world. And like any tool, it can be the root of all evil, or it can be a wonderful way to make happen in the world things that are exactly what our world needs now. A good place to start is with your relationship with money, to really figure out what your relationship with money is and how you can get into a balanced relationship with it so that it is not driving any evil, and you are the one making the decisions and being intentional about its direction. Another way to say that is if you think of all the things that you are going to purchase over your lifetime, those of us that have the great good fortune of having a job, that can earn twenty thousand or more a year will spend a million dollars in our lifetime. So the question becomes, how can you already act like a millionaire and make sure that when you spend that money it is going to do good in the world instead of harm? It is a fact that every time a dollar leaves your hand, it goes to work in the world. The question always is, is it going into the world to do harm, even unintentionally. I’m sure nobody has the intention of spending their hard earned money and it doing harm. But, unfortunately, we have a system which is not yet a green economy and so you have to be thoughtful about where that money goes. The idea is when you do make purchases from the green economy as much as you can, that helps steer that flow of money.

Where we start with this idea of ‘how do you retire with a million dollars and a better world’, the first place we start is in how you use that flow of money. We have lots of great resources on our website, we have a wonderful financial planning handbook that you can come onto our website and download and work through worksheets. But its really a very basic, simple concept that you want to be in control of your money flow and one way to do that of course, is to have more money coming in than flowing out. Wanting to save a lot of money and reduce your expenditure rate is a great way also automatically to conserve resources. Many people have taken up this challenge of ‘how do I really reduce the amount of things I’m spending money on’ because, by doing that you are going to become a member of the green economy. There are lots and lots of ways to do that.

Let me tell you a story a group of people from the Bay area that did something called ‘the compact’. This was a bunch of people in their twenties and thirties, most of whom were teachers or worked at non profits. These were not people who had tons of resources, and they made a compact to not buy anything new for an entire year. And in so doing, they learned lots and lots of lessons. After the year when we interviewed them we asked ‘what was the biggest lesson,’ and they said the biggest learning was ‘how joyful it was to really focus on the things they wanted to do instead of spending money.’ They said they spent more time with their families, they had much more fun. Everything from simple picnics to getting together to play games. They said that their fun quotient that year sky rocketed compared to all previous years. And many of them decided to continue the compact in many ways, simply because of how much fun they had. Secondly, they did indeed save lots and lots of money. One young woman saved enough money that she was able to go grad school the following year simply by this compact of not buying anything new. Thirdly, they found that they built community in so many ways. Clearly it helped create community amongst them, but by creative about not having to buy new things, they also created community in lots of other ways. One woman gave the example that her tv died and obviously she couldn’t go out and buy a new tv so she put the word out in her networks, ‘hey, does anybody have a tv that I can use?’ And she got back a response from several people and one of them said, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got a tv sitting here in the back room doing nothing and it makes me feel guilty, it would be my pleasure to give you this tv.’ And there were just tons of stories like that. Another great example was someone who had to go to a swanky fund raiser, and she didn’t have a swanky cocktail dress. So she put out a word to her network. She said, ‘I need something really glitzy for this fund raiser tonight, help me out here.’ Within minutes she had offers. She sent her size and colors, within minutes she had six different offers of dresses. Her friends brought the dresses over, they had a blast trying them all on and deciding which one to wear. So she went to this fancy fund raiser in a beautiful dress, didn’t cost her a penny and she had a blast with her friends getting ready for it. So community was created in so many ways.

Now not everybody is going to jump into creating a compact and saying ‘oh I’m not going to buy anything new this year,’ but if you think of the lessons from that, you’re going to create so much savings in your life, no matter where you’re starting from. Whether you’ve got a good job and a good situation or whether you’re in financial struggle. Really thinking about making a commitment to myself and my family and my people and the planet, to not buy anything new.

So we can work backwards from there. People do all kinds of fun things around the community. They do clothing swaps, they do book swaps, there are people doing more and more back yard gardening and creating informal food swaps. Maybe I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and you had a bumper crop of cucumbers and we get together once a week and we swap out. There’s just more and more going on where people are saying ‘this is how we can have a great life of plenty and not spend so much money. That’s one way to think about

Lorna: Okay so it sounds like one of the first steps you’ve got to make is, get clear with your relationship with money, and not see it as an evil kind of thing, but getting into a healthy relationship, and seeing it more as an energetic flow as opposed something that is going to taint your person. Secondly it sounds like once you’ ve established a healthy relationship then reduce unnecessary expenditures. Is that corect?

Alisa: Absolutely. And let me tell you one other thing that I recommend, particularly to young people who might be listening. Something that my husband and I stumbled on when we first got together all those many years ago. We made a compact with each other that we would always support a level of living that we could live on with one salary, and we would save the other one.

Lorna: That’s brilliant.

Alisa: This has been amazing. We’ve been married now for twenty one years and it has been an amazing gift to us. There have been times where or other of us would have gone back to school and we could totally do it. There have been times where one of us was changing jobs or one of us wanted to start a company and we always had the ability to do that and we never felt deprived. No matter how much money one of us would be making, and I’ve worked all these years with Green America in the non-profit sector, there are people who can live at that level and feel there is plenty. By doing some of the things we just talked about. We stumbled upon this idea and let me tell you, twenty one years later how much of a blessing it has been. Anyone listening who is in the position to say ‘I have a partner or I have a committed relationship, we’re going to do this together, because that is just going to reap so many benefits over the years. Just a little hint or tip from my personal world about what a blessing that has been.

Lorna: So you save a whole bunch of money by making a compact to consume less or you have a partner and you figure out ways to save more, and then what. What do you do with that extra money? Do you start to explore different avenues of socially responsible investing? I’m really curious to understand what that term means. What does socially responsible investing mean and how do you do it?

Alisa: Well socially responsible investing at the core is using your financial assets to create a better world in the same way that we talked about a few minutes ago, when you make your purchasing decisions, when you decide to buy things, you want to be supporting companies that are socially and environmentally responsible and align with your values the way they do business.

It’s the same with socially responsible investing. You want to invest in a way that your values are being made real in your investing. Because actually what investing does is it creates the products and services of the future. So you want those things that you are investing in to be creating a better future so when you retire and you’ve done all these great things and you’ve managed your money well, you can retire with resources. You are retiring in a better more joyful world.

So that’s the essence of socially responsible investing. Then the question is how do you do that? Well there’s lots of ways to do socially responsible investing and one way that’s easy to get started in, there is a branch of investing called community investing, some people call it high impact investing. That is, even before you are ready to think about stocks and bonds, if you have a bank account, you can choose community investing banks and credit unions. There are wonderful options all over the country whose mission is to serve under served communities, to build affordable housing, to create jobs and to support the development of small socially and environmentally responsible businesses. When you bank, you are literally giving your money to a bank and they do stuff with your money. The question is are they going to help communities, or are they going to build luxury condominiums in everglades? Are they going to help start a small business in solar or energy efficiency or are they going to finance a coal fire power plant? So community development banks and credit unions are a great way to start and they, just by simply opening a checking account. And you can come to our website greenamerica.org and click on social investing and community investing and we can help you find those community development banks and credit unions around the country. So that’s a great place to start.

Lorna: Do you have a lot of convenient access points, ATMs and online banking as well. Are they developed in that way or is it going to be more of a local type of service.

Alisa: Many of them do have online banking and ATM access. If the one you are interested in does not, you could maybe do something I have done over the years. I have a savings account with a bank that has ATM machines every other third corner, and the savings account is a very small amount of money, but it gives me free access to the ATM machine, and then all of the rest of my banking relationship is with a community development bank. Which is about a thousand miles from my home by the way, so my pay check gets deposited into the community development bank. They are all federally insured, they offer the same rates as any other bank in the country and yet that bank is turning around and helping create local small businesses. They have a speciality in serving under served communities. They have done things like create daycare centres and healthcare clinics and affordable housing. These community development banks are amazing and when I’m sitting here talking to you, my money is helping create sustainable businesses and affordable housing and that’s really cool.

Lorna: So the interest rates are on par with a lot of the big banks like Bank of America or Wells Fargo or City Bank?

Alisa: They are exactly the same.

Lorna: Okay great, that makes them an easier choice.

Alisa: Right, exactly the same, and guess what its the exact same insurance, and guess what else, Green America runs a big ‘break up with your bank campaign’ because the mega banks, not only do they invest in pollution, not only do they invest in sweatshops, but they were also central to the recent economic meltdown that has just occurred and hurt so many families and so many small businesses. So as far as I am concerned, they don’t get my money and I broke up with my big bank and I’m with the community development bank.

Again you get to do two things. At Green America we always say there is two parts of social change, stopping the damage, moving the money away from the destructive stuff and moving your money into good stuff. You can do that with your checking and savings accounts.

Lorna: Well that’s so awesome, I’m actually just in the process of doing a whole finance remix. I’m going to be switching up all my banks, that was already on my list of things to do so I’m really glad to be hearing about these other alternatives because I’ve been trying to figure out where to move my money to next.

Alisa: I’m so glad, yay! Lets celebrate what we’re doing.

Lorna: The big banking breakup, awesome!

Alisa: We should send them one of those breakup letters. And by the way, that is important, when you do break up with them, actually I was jesting but it is really important for them to hear ‘I am leaving you because of your practices and policies.’ It is very important for them to hear. We call it using your economic choices and your voice so that, if there is ever a chance that they could reform when they hear from more and more people that is why you are leaving, that’s really great.

Lorna: I’ll remember that. Okay so I’ll jump into, what basic steps do you recommend that the socially responsible investor take to get to a million dollars by retirement?

Alisa: Well for those that do want to find out, please come to our website greenamerica.org and search for our community investing guide and you can download it and find all the different ways to do community investing. There is some amazing stuff you can do. So when you want to take your next step into social investing and to, again when you come to our website you’re going to want to download our guide to socially responsible investing. It will help you walk through the worksheet of, now that you’ve reduced your consumption and you know how much you’re living on each month, it helps you calculate how much money you would need to retire well. So whether that’s a million dollars or whatever it is for you to retire comfortably in a better world. It’ll walk you through how much you need to save and invest. So you want to do some investing and that means for some people that means investing in the stock market, in stocks and bonds. We encourage the same thing with socially responsible investing. You can make conventional investments, but if you are investing in coal fire power plants to use that example again, you are just undoing all of that great work you’ve been doing in your personal life. You just made your home energy efficient and you’re saving a ton of money, and maybe you got a zero down solar lease on your roof which we can help you do, so you can get solar for free. You’ve done all these great things plus you give money to environmental organisations and you purchase from green companies. You’re doing all this great stuff and now you turn around and you invest in a utility company that has coal fire power plants and you’re undoing all the good work. You don’t want to do that. You want to invest in the things you’re putting your time, your purchasing power, and your philanthropy into when you give money. That’s the idea of social investing. One way to start is, there are a whole series of socially responsible mutual funds which you can link to on our site and find out about them. They have already done a lot for you, they put together their criteria, They say this is the goal of our mutual fund, we’re going to seek out renewable energy, or we’re going to invest in companies that have really great policies for promoting women and people of colour and they have great diversity in their senior management and their boards. We’re investing in companies that don’t privatise, and make sure there is clean healthy water. Whatever it is, look for the things that are really important to you, and you invest in that mutual fund. And its a mutual fund like any other out there, only in addition to managing your money in a financially prudent manner they are also making sure that these social and environmentally responsible outcomes also happen.

Lorna: So how well do some of the SRI funds perform. I hear some of the don’t really perform all that well. Is that true or are there some that are really gang busters.

Alisa: It is absolutely true that some are gang busters and it is true that you can do as well with socially responsible investing than conventional investing. We’ve kept track of the performance for years. Every single person that wants to become a social investor can do as well with social investing as conventional investing. Now some people say that’s great, I’m going to be a social investor and I’m going to outperform the market. No, No, No you still have to do your homework, you still need to know what your growth objectives are. You have to learn some of the basics of investing, have a diversified portfolio. And you need to know how much risk to take, because those companies, whether its a socially responsible mutual fund or a conventional mutual fund, those that are called growth funds are going to take more risks. They are going to invest in smaller, faster growing companies. You have to know how much risk you can tolerate. So the good news is that with socially responsible investing is you can do as well as any other investing. The bad news is it’s not a magic passport to great performance investing, you have to do your homework. So it’s not magic but you can do as well with social investing as conventional investing. Now if you say, ‘boy I don’t know a lot about investing, how am I going to know all that.’ That’s the next step you can take if you want to be a social investor. There is a whole group of socially responsible financial advisers and consultants that can help you tailor your socially responsible investing plan to meet your financial needs along with your social and environmental goals and objectives. Again if you come to our website we will link you to those financial planners and consultants that have made a commitment in helping their clients learn not only good financial planning, but also how to do socially responsible investing. They can help you learn to diversify your portfolio and they can help you assess how much risk you are willing to take. And they can help you think about what’s appropriate for the risk you are willing to take. Younger people can take more risk, they have many, many years to be investing. Older people would probably want to take less risk because if you have something like the stock market meltdown like we saw a couple of years ago, you want to have a lot of investments in securities and assets that wont take that big stock market hit. A socially responsible advisor can help you with that.

You can find them in one of two ways. Come to our website greenamerica.org, click on green pages and search for financial planners. You can also go to our sister organisation US social network forum that is socialinvest.org, click on their directory and find social investment advisers all over the country.

Lorna: That’s very cool, I didn’t know that. That is awesome thank you for sharing that resource.

Alisa: Every investor can find the right investments for both their social and environmental goals, their financial goals, and the amount of risk they are willing to take.

Lorna: Terrific. Well we’re coming to the end of our segment. Do you have any other parting words of advice on socially responsible investing, getting your financial house in order so that by the time you retire, you will be retiring in abundance with a million dollars and in a better world.

Alisa: Well we would love everyone to consider becoming a member of greenamerica.org. We provide regular resources on all of this information. We have a very popular magazine called The Green American that looks at all of the social and environmental issues of our times and gives practical solutions. In every issue of Green American we have a social investing column. The one that is just going to press now is about investing to empower women. The one prior to that was how to do community investing. So every issue has a special article that goes into depth about socially responsible investing. Come to our website and become a member. And for those of you who are completely in the digital world, we’ve just launched our digital membership where you can get all of our publications in digital format that’s really cool. It has videos embedded and hot links to all of the resources that we provide. If you want a paper copy to read on the bus or in the middle of the meadow and you can’t get your electronic reader to work, great. Otherwise you can get our digital membership and you can download that to any of your e-devices and be completely paperless.

Lorna: Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us today, I really enjoyed our conversation.

Alisa: Great pleasure, thanks for all your great questions and deep passion about this.

Lorna: Awesome. So this is Lorna Lee the editor in chief of entrepreneurs for a change, and we were just speaking with Alisa Gravitz, the executive director of Green America and co-founder of the Green Festivals. Her lifelong passion is to grow the green economy, to create a more just and sustainable world for all. To find out more about Alisa and her work, go to www.greenamerica.org and www.greenfestivals.org. If you are a green business or want to be a green business, check out www.greenbusinessnetwork.org.
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