Friday, October 10, 2008

Greenery Lab: Part 2

Meet Jennifer McDonnell.

Jennifer is one of our experts for The Greenery Lab™. Below, Jennifer answers a few burning questions we have posed to her and several other lab members. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting other experts responses to these questions, but for below and get to know Jennifer.

1. Who are you and what is your job in relation to sustainability?
I’m Jennifer McDonnell, an independent environmental consultant. I studied Human Bio and Organizational Behavior at Brown, spent a few years working for in hospital consulting, then a bunch more at Whole Foods Market, and recently struck out to spread the word on sustainability outside the grocery industry. That’s my job in a nutshell, sharing what I have learned and encouraging other businesses to find their own path to sustainability. Currently I’m working to grow Food and Organics recycling in NYC and NJ, helping a moving company recycle, and talking to some waste oil generators about using their waste to make power for their businesses. I’m also the Chair of my township Energy Diet committee in West Orange, NJ.

2. What keeps you up at night?
The fear that even all the good work in the “green movement” recently is too little too late. I’m also worried that there’s a HUGE percentage of the global population that has no idea that we’re in a crisis. Either that or they don’t care. Either way, both are equally worrisome.

3. How did you first get into the field of sustainability?
In high school in Dover, NH. We started recycling our milk pouches. Then it was the Brown Environmental Action Club (BEAN) then it was speaking at the NE College Environmental Congress. Just kept going form there….
4. What is one or some of the most interesting ideas you have seen lately in sustainability?
The use of the internet to communicate actionable ideas to all types of populations. I’ve been really impressed by the stuff greenfaith has put together, too– light bulb bulk sales, downloadable and customizable recycling sings for gathering places. Pretty cool. I just got back from my honeymoon in Montreal and there was a little blue recycling bin in our hotel room. It was the first time I’ve seen that live. What a treat!

5. How do you see this space changing in the next year?
I think the messaging will get increasingly crowded. I’m sort of sick of the word green already, but then I speak with others who are using it for the first time so that puts it in perspective for me. Back to what keeps me up at night – there are still lots of people who aren’t “tuned in”. As they become tuned in the messaging will saturate the mediums. I also hope sustainability gets some serious air time in the upcoming presidential election.

6. How about 5 or 10 years?
This is when the dust will settle. I’ve heard and agree that the green boom is sort of like the internet boom. Some will thrive, other’s won’t survive (companies, technologies, websites, magazines, non-profits…..) I think it will take a while for stuff to be tested and proven. In this time I hope we as a civilization have found ways to truly live sustainably; and made significant changes in the way that we do live.

7. If you could offer one piece of advice to brands entering the sustainability space, what would it be?
Be honest and be transparent. It’s difficult to be there, yet. Sustainability is a process and a goal. There’s a lot of work behind realizing it. I’d rather hear what you’re trying and what you’re struggling with – not what sounds good.

8. What is your big audacious goal on the horizon?
I really, really want to see curbside composting collection (for residents and small businesses) HAPPEN in the NYC metro area, and I want to be a part of it. I’m borderline obsessed with composting and see it as such a logical, though admittedly logistically challenging, solution to so many of our eco-problems (resource scarcity, the food chain and industrial agriculture, climate change, pollution…).
9. What is one of the causes you are active in?
Education and Inspiration. I belong to this Meetup group called Community Green. It’s all about connecting with people, sharing experiences and support for being green. I also host a web-video series on eco-innovations to highlight the solutions and positive stuff that’s going on. You can check that out at It’s a lot of fun and hopefully going to grow internationally.

What I love about living in this part of the world is the diversity of our culture. Sadly, sustainability has not reached all the groups equally. My proudest achievement from my work in the field is inspiring those around me to make a difference. One of my bridesmaids who lives in ultra-urban Newark said to me at my wedding a few weeks ago “Hey Jen, I got my landlord to recycle. At first he thought I was crazy but I told him we had to!” I responded, “you know Keesha, that is pretty amazing. Thanks. You’re really making a difference and setting an example. Now – talk to your neighbors”.

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