Monday, September 12, 2005

Hollyhock: The Aftermath

The Social Venture Institute conference was an excellent experience. I had a chance to meet some incredible people, take in some amazing workshops and have conversations about topics that I thought existed only amongst interest groups foreign from anything resembling work. These are people who are in the process of mastering making a living out of doing good things. And they know a lot.

Some of the highlights of the conference were Gary Hirshberg’s story about the tribulations of building Stonyfield Yogurt. He had nine years without a profit, or even a glimmer of hope, but continued to hustle for investors all day, and make yogurt all night in the most remote of places, making every mistake possible – spurned on only by the desire to provide the world the best, organic natural ‘real food’ as he called it, and repay his family and wife and wife’s family and friends and nuns – all of whom he owed money. Gary’s story was an inspiration – and that fact that Stonyfield is now a multi-million dollar company, all the while doing good things, is a monumental achievement.

The next day I ran in the woods and saw some deer. I listened to Marilyn Kopansky speak about her business Edible Planet, and the incredible success she has been having. She is an intelligent lady, and has done very well with a business devoted to catering only the finest organic food. The smoked salt is a favourite of mine.

In the afternoon, I took in a workshop facilitated by Marc Stoiber of Change Advertising (a new branding company that has emerged to work with socially conscious businesses that hopefully we can partner up with on different projects, and Jason Mogus of Communicopia. They had some interesting insights into how to promote socially conscious companies into the mainstream without compromising their values, or co-opting their beliefs into empty slogans.

During dinner I spoke with various investment groups such as Vancity, which made its name in this community by giving loans to businesses east of Main, and allowing women to take out loans without a co-signer early on. Other benevolent investment groups were Real Assets, The Tides Foundation, and Renewal Partners. These companies were eager to grow and support sustainable and forward-thinking businesses.

That night there was another talk by Peter Robinson of Mountain Equipment Co-op. Peter has lived a remarkable life. His story traced his adventures from a conservation officer in BC, to a Red Cross representative in the jails of Rwanda to the CEO of MEC.

Afterward there was a party at Joel’s beautiful home, hosted by Power of Hope. There I had a chance to meet the Compassion Club, answer the questions I had about Wal-mart and the future of waste through various conversations, and had a pretty amusing conversation that went like this.

Me: “Yes it seems that bio-diesel certainly does represent the future of transportation.”

A man named Spoon: “You would be right”

Me: “I read about this company called Kettle Valley Chips that powers their entire fleet on bio-diesel, they use the vegetable oil from their manufacturing process”

Spoon: “That’s Kettle Chips, not Kettle Valley”

Me: “Oh.”

Spoon: “Yes, that is my Father’s company.”

Me: ”A hah! So you know this story”

Anyway, I got to meet some Idols in the socially conscious world, including Nina Utne, who I was able to give a few tips about public speaking to, having once taught a course in it and Raffi – who turned down a film offer for the 25th anniversary of Baby Beluga because the marketing of films to children is unethical, as they use fast food as a medium. I am still trying to put together an ethical marketing plan for film, when I do come up with it, I will contact him. And of course Darren Stott from Spud who became good mates with me, and a certain otter.

Over the course of the week, I had a chance to meet some real leaders in the sustainability world and make some incredible contacts and friends. There was also plenty of hot-tubbing, swimming at the lake, dancing to tribal drums, and eating excellent food. The weekend culminated in the perfect way after an oyster dinner on the beach, as hula-hoopers danced outside with fires blazing and the northern lights shining above.

Now it is back to work, where I will have to take in what I have learned, process all of this information, leverage the contacts I have made, and push forward with our mission to provide enlightening ideas that work.


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