[The following are automatic transcripts, and not copy edited. They should serve as a resource, not necessarily great reading.]
Alex Fisch/Culver City
Alex Fisch (00:47):
There is a real change happening. Politicians at every level of government, people are stepping up big time and actually taking some real political risks and they’re succeeding because it’s time.
Andrea Learned (01:04):
I’m Andrea Learned and welcome to Living Change, a podcast exploring unconventional climate leadership. I talk to people who’ve converted their personal values into business and policy decisions in a whole range of sectors. The more we’re visible about these changes, the more we chart the way for other leaders wanting to create new social norms. Hey
Alex Fisch (01:22):
Alex, nice to see you.
Andrea Learned (01:23):
Nice to see you too. <laugh> today I’m super excited because I’m talking with Culver City Councilman Alex Fisch, who I’ve gotten to know via Twitter and he’s so good at it. We discuss his efforts to increase transportation options and housing opportunities in his community. Needless to say, we also talk about his love for his e cargo bike. Now
Alex Fisch (01:40):
I probably drive less than 3000 miles a year, and it’s not because I’m consciously trying to avoid driving, it’s because I just don’t enjoy it. It’s faster generally to get around on e-bike in West LA and it’s a lot more fun.
Andrea Learned (01:51):
<laugh>, I’ve been especially excited to talk to Alex about Los Angeles’s Livable Communities initiative because it’s been so fun. I’ve been advising on that project and I got to know him a little bit through that and I really couldn’t wait to talk to him about it. Here
Alex Fisch (02:06):
So many of the crises we face are completely self-inflicted. Um, climate and housing, affordability, transportation, all these things are, we’re at the endpoint of 60 plus years of choices. And I, when I ran, I was pretty clear about that. But once I was in office and you’re past the communicating values to people and, and broad goals and really into the what exactly are we gonna do, I kind of felt like it was important to be very loud about these solutions because while they’re kind of obvious, you know, more houses and funding affordable housing are how you get cheaper general houses and more affordable housing, um, you know, I just really wanted to amplify the controversial but obvious things that needed to be done in the hopes that other people would say maybe that shouldn’t be so controversial. And so, you know, it’s not just via Twitter, it’s absolutely on the dais. It’s, it’s anytime I get a chance to talk to someone like you where I, you know, try to be unequivocal and hopefully that created a little bit of resonance cuz Los Angeles is absolutely, there is a region hitting the limits on things. You know, with visible street homelessness with terrible air today, there’s no reason for there to be bad air quality. But the Purple Air website shows that, um, particularly it matters over a hundred today, so,
Andrea Learned (03:16):
Oh, yuck. Yeah.
Alex Fisch (03:17):
So I think, you know, that’s part of it, but it’s not all just me. Part of it also is the regional housing needs assessment process that the state of California has. And the process has never really meant anything before. There’s no teeth. Essentially the numbers were derived by going to cities and say, how much space do you have for housing? And, you know, city like mine would say no space, totally full <laugh>, you know. And so we created sprawl, we created traffic, we created terrible air quality, we created all these GHG emissions as a collection of cities. This time the state said, here’s your number regions, figure it out. And a lot of housing was gonna end up along the coast where the climate is more moderate, where all the jobs are. Um, and Los Angeles is facing some huge number and elected officials are starting to see the impact of these changes in state law and recognizing that a lot of housing needs to get built and lci that that livable communities initiative has the benefit of not irritating the folks who live in detached traditional single family homes. So I think it’s very politically appealing when you combine all that.
Andrea Learned (04:20):
I love that Alex used the phrase, get loud. We almost call this podcast Get Louder cuz I’m always running around yelling people for the love of humanity yell about this. So I love that Alex used that phrase. A bit more background on the Livable Communities Initiative or LCI, it’s a grassroots coalition that was launched by mainly entertainment industry people that live in the Los Angeles area to address the housing crisis with lots of attention on safer streets and parking mandates. I wondered how Alex’s constituents were responding to LCI people
Alex Fisch (04:50):
Are mostly the same as Oh,
Andrea Learned (04:52):
Alex Fisch (04:52):
Yeah, people have, I I kind of thought, you know, is anybody gonna come with me if I am aggressive on all these important things? Because I spent the first couple years being loud, you know, saying, Hey, California Air Resources Board says we need to reduce the number of miles that each person drives by 20%, which is not that much, but it’s a significant change and it just never sunk in. And I would point out, and that means densifying our city. That means making space for buses and bikes. And it didn’t matter if I said it. So we started doing it and then people paid attention and, and once an actual policy is in front of people, what I’ve seen is that a tremendous number of people are primed for change because they see that things aren’t working. They, and they can feel the climate not being the same as when they were a kid. And so more people than I, than I would’ve thought a year ago have come along for the ride and, and get it and are becoming really knowledgeable.
Andrea Learned (05:46):
That’s great to hear. Now I’m interested in connecting the dots for climate and often people think affordable housing is its own little thing in the corner here and transportation is its own little thing. Thing in the corner over there. Every one of us should get louder about affordable housing because it is climate action. We need to understand these issues are linked. Again, affordable housing is climate action.
Alex Fisch (06:11):
All of this stuff is one thing in my head. Public safety is climate action. Because if you’re gonna have a public’s realm that is inviting for everybody so that they do decide it’s safe to walk, to take the bus, to take the metro to ride their bike, they have everybody has to feel safe. Black, white women on transit, everybody has to fe have, everyone has to be safe. And so to me it’s really clear that housing is climate action. It’s really clear that creating walkable bikeable networks, like actually not just in lip service mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that is climate action. And, and it all has to work together because everyone knows that public transportation doesn’t work if you don’t have enough people in proximity to use it. It doesn’t work if the public bus is stuck behind a few dozen private automobiles on the public street. There’s these things when you campaign, you get to connect these things and people are receptive cuz the people who are showing up are at least interested. So even if they hate the message, at least they hear it.
Andrea Learned (07:06):
If we look at some of what say Livable Communities initiative or anybody that’s sort of forwarding beautiful streets, they’re doing a lot of sharing. This is a yucky before picture of some huge avenue. Right. And then this is a gorgeous Paris Street or Amsterdam Street or whatever. So what have you found politically starts to make this idea palatable for people that are resistant?
Alex Fisch (07:27):
I think that’s exactly it. Um, you know, there the, the Livable Communities Initiative has a lot of people who are professional storytellers as you point out. And they know what captures people’s imaginations. And so that eye candy goes a long way. <laugh>, you know, there’s a tradition in, in sort of urbanist, uh, advocacy of showing the Amsterdam or Paris because they work so well. You know, we all know that I think lately there’s been more self-consciousness about showing more of the world because a lot of cities, north American cities are uniquely dysfunctional.
Andrea Learned (07:56):
Alex Fisch (07:58):
So, and so it shows me other parts of the world has been a trend. But what I think that the folks at Livable Community Initiative does really well in that I wish I, what I think what I try to to do myself is to appeal to people’s American sensibilities and show buildings, you know, a street that makes sense, that’s familiar to people. It’s a twist. It doesn’t exist at this moment, but it’s easy to imagine a Culver city that looks with some art deco four story buildings lining at Treeline Street. That’s very easy to imagine for someone who lives in Culver City. That’s what I think is most effective is, is kind of reflecting back a better community that people already know.
Andrea Learned (08:33):
The other thing that I’m always trying to get loud about is why do you think you wanna go to Europe to travel, right? <laugh> and then, and then you come home wherever you live, you know, Culver City or Seattle or wherever you come home and you’re like, well I guess I gotta get in my SUV and drive my kid to school two miles away and whatever.
Alex Fisch (08:50):
It’s easy to get excited about LCI because it makes such a explicit connection between the transportation, environmental justice and housing. Because as it’s become clear that people who are opposed to housing are not gonna win this fight, it’s just not legislatively possible. The temptation has been to say stick it all on the corridors. You know, stick it away from me. But of course there’s an injustice. If your affordable housing program is inclusionary zoning and the only new, big projects are gonna be those things on traffic, sewer corridors, four lanes of exhaust and tire dust and break dust, you’re basically saying that every single person who lives in a subsidized home in your community has to live in the least environmentally safe place. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I what I love about what they, the, the streets that they’re showing is that they’re much more just streets and they’re also streets that support the public transportation and active transportation that we know we have to build over the next 10 or so years.
Andrea Learned (09:42):
What Alex is saying is incredible. One thing that I’ve taken from this process is just to remind people that when you’re talking about affordable housing, you’re talking about near job. When I was first getting more familiar with the situation in Los Angeles and Culver City, which is a studio town, a light bulb went off and I was like, oh my gosh. There are these people that work at the studios, they have to drive in an hour plus from where they can afford to buy a house or rent an apartment. And then they get there and then they have late days and then they have to drive an hour plus home. These types of jobs are done by all sorts of people, lower income jobs, everyone. And everyone’s just like, well I work downtown and I live an hour way as if it’s this common thing. And it is, the thing to note here is we are literally referring to people living near where they work. Like in the olden days, near job is a concept we can’t even imagine now.
Alex Fisch (10:35):
It’s so essential. It’s such a great shorthand and, and I guess part of it is because it was part of my logic when we bought this house. I chose Culver City even though it wasn’t as trendy, I guess, and or nearly as expensive as it is now because it’s centrally located. And I knew, you know, if I’m gonna live a whole life in this basin, there’s probably over a million jobs within a 30 minute commute for me.
Andrea Learned (10:56):
That’s really interesting that point also that you were thinking that far in advance. The, the title of this podcast is Living Change a Quest for Climate Leadership. And I think that you started to live change at various points of your life. You’re making these decisions, you know, and that that was a real distinct decision I think, and whether or not you knew it was gonna be climate influence. Right. Which it ends up really being. I think that’s kudos to you and that’s super fun. Um, the thing that kills me is that 2028 Olympics will be here before we know it. So I asked Alex about the importance of that dot connecting between his Culver City work and this approach that we’ve been talking about. This combination of affordable housing, transportation and social justice.
Alex Fisch (11:35):
You know, we were thinking about knowing that sort of buses are the only hope. We’re not gonna spend a trillion dollars and build a bunch of subways in Los Angeles anytime soon. And the, and cars, whether they drive themselves or or not, <laugh>, there’s a basic geometry problem if there’s just not enough space if everybody drives. And so we opened up a project called Move Culver City, city that is, you know, it’s a bus only lane. Sometimes it shares the space with a bike lane because there’s not enough space to have both. Other times there’s a totally separated bike lane. We’ve used the separation of the cars from the sidewalks to expand outdoor dining. So it’s a much better out, um, dining experience in our downtown area with a lot more space for restaurants to turn tables. Uh, we knew that someday somebody had to do this and we piloted it during Covid 19.
During that time there had already been advocacy work about bus and only lanes. But as Metro and the LA 2028 Olympic planning started to think about, well what are we gonna do <laugh> to move millions of people during the, the Olympic Games? The answer was zero car infrastructure and it’s a series of bus, you know, rapid transit lanes and, and other sort of active transportation connections. So really we lucked into creating the first building block of what will hopefully be a transformative regional transportation system. And which Metro has said is intended to be a legacy after the Olympics.
Andrea Learned (12:53):
What a great legacy. So I have to ask, because one of your favorite modes of transportation is riding your e-bike, which I know from Twitter. Did you ride it today?
Alex Fisch (13:03):
<laugh>? Yes. I dropped off the kids, um, took my daughter on the bike and my son pedaled
Andrea Learned (13:08):
Bigger kids, these aren’t little kids.
Alex Fisch (13:10):
My daughter’s 13, my son’s 10. Oh
Andrea Learned (13:12):
Alex Fisch (13:12):
Can take, you know, they’re too big to go together, which is why my son rode. And it’s funny, this this I’d been, that was one of my few regular car trips was the drop off cuz they’re at um, a school that’s actually across town. It’s not the neighborhood school cause it’s a language immersion school. And we just didn’t ride. And then, uh, just two weeks ago I went out to start my car and my battery was dead <laugh>. And it was one of those moments, yeah, it was one of those moments of like, okay, I can call an Uber and they’re gonna be late or we can get on the bikes and sit,
Andrea Learned (13:40):
Ah, I always think that’s interesting to hear other people’s biking is the better choice moment. So what is the reason you ride your bike?
Alex Fisch (13:47):
I think it was mostly because I worked so much, that was my one chance to get exercise, but also I started to think about a different lifestyle. I think it was all sort of happening at some level because once I started working downtown Los Angeles doing work that is directly advancing climate action in a cleaner environment, then it just kind of all happened, you know, the damn broke. Because at that point I had more time to see what was going on here in Culver City, a place that I really love. And I started going to city council meetings and I was astonished that the things I had been reading about, I just assumed that it was really difficult that people were afraid of the politics. And so bike lanes weren’t happening, affordable housing wasn’t getting funded. And then I started going to meetings and nope, there was just no leadership on these issues. There were, or not enough. I don’t want to trash anybody, but at that time the idea of affordable housing was taboo. Like it was bad, you know, complete 180 today. But, um, so I was as I was quite shocked and I started to get involved with our local politics and helped a couple people with their elections and saw how easy it is to make an impact at the local level.
Andrea Learned (14:47):
Now I wanna go back to bike riding for a second. Constituents and peers. See Alex pedaling his talk every day by writing an e-bike himself. He’s modeling what is possible for a Culver city that wants to move towards being a more livable community.
Alex Fisch (15:02):
I always point out that I am a driver too, and, and everyone is a pedestrian. Um, but there’s really no question that people, whether they are themselves, people who like to ride a bicycle for their daily needs or not, there’s a lot more oomph when they see me out and about. I definitely know what I’m talking about when I express frustration and anger at a close pass, you know, <laugh> Yes. Or the, the frustration and anger over my children not having a safe route to school. So I think it helps, it, it adds legitimacy and authenticity, which I think is really important in politics. It also, there’s a joke that you’ve probably seen that everybody who rides an e cargo bike becomes an unpaid participant in a multi-level marketing scheme to sell ecar bikes. Oh, <laugh> <laugh>. Because it’s so obviously awesome, you know, it’s like it’s, I can carry a week’s worth of groceries on there for four people. I can carry a kid, I can carry an adult all without breaking a sweat and I can do it in a suit with a big smile on my face. And, and I do. Five years ago again, there were zero e cargo bikes at drop off and pick up at the school. And now they’re adding more bike racks because there are too many children’s bikes for the existing bike rack. It’s
Andrea Learned (16:10):
Really relatable and authentic and I think that, that you are really building trust, resilient trust there with your constituents.
Alex Fisch (16:16):
Yeah. If there’s a, if there’s a type of change that the population wants to see, having an elected official who’s living that change is so critical.
Andrea Learned (16:25):
Yes, yes. Exclamation mark. Being an official who is living that change is so critical. That’s why we called the podcast Living Change. There’s a connection between living that change, amplifying it on social media and ultimately the climate influence You can have, take Twitter for example, which we’ve discussed a little bit. I wanted to know how Alex first got on and why
Alex Fisch (16:50):
As I was getting ready to run for office, I thought I better use every bit of social media that I can. And Twitter just very naturally was a good place to tweet about urbanism and start to connect with other people who were thinking about it critically thinking about it, traditionally thinking about it in new ways. And it’s, it’s the education. There’s tremendous amount of education where if you curate carefully, you can receive on Twitter and start to really participate in the discussion. And what I realize when you get to a certain account size and it, the algorithm starts to screen out people who are just creating problems on the platform and it starts to really promote people who are offering something really excellent content. And so once you sort of hit that point, you realize that you’ve got this direct connection to policy makers, journalists and people who influence public opinion and actually make decisions.
And so I have watched these things that have turned into legislation or changes of the public’s mood. I’ve watched them happen in real time as you kind of see an idea, get promulgated, criticized, adapted, until you really start to have this collective input on important societal issues. People have argued about it for two years and by the time that process is done, you have legislation in Sacramento or you have a group of people in the city who come to you and say, Hey, we think we need more housing. Have you considered that? It’s like great
Andrea Learned (18:17):
Idea. Well, I mean, haven’t we just seen that? Because I participated a little bit in amplifying, uh, tweets around AB 2097. So tell me a little more about that and if you thought that that kind of conversation on Twitter may have nudged what was happening with that and, and why the governor did sign
Alex Fisch (18:36):
It. So AB 2097 eliminated the ability for cities to require to mandate parking within a half-mile transit. And as people started to talk about what are the problems in cities and there’s these little communities that form and oh my gosh, have you ever considered how much the cost this adds and how much it ruins the, the architecture of a building. You know, all of a sudden you’ve got this popular movement to illuminate parking minimums, which was unimaginable even five years ago. Unimaginable.
Andrea Learned (19:03):
It’s so powerful.
Alex Fisch (19:04):
It really is. And it doesn’t take a ton of time. It’s not like, I think, I think some social media people really wanna monitor like the gossip or what people are saying about people and Twitter just for whatever reason. And, and LinkedIn as well. LinkedIn is a place where I’m a lot quieter, but I still learn a ton because people put in their long form efforts
Andrea Learned (19:21):
Because I was observing that. I saw that several LA Metropolitan City council members, you know, some of in Santa Monica and wherever, several other places where you guys were all supporting one another on Twitter. And even as several of you are up for election or reelection, I’m watching you support each other, right. And use those channels. Oh my goodness, that never could happen. That never, the fluidity of that and the wonderful kind of warm vibe that that gives off is incredible.
Alex Fisch (19:48):
So your point about supporting people regionally and, and knowing what’s going on regionally, it’s allowing a little bit of a political movement to happen, which is, you know, one based on actual genuine municipal climate action and, and a mindset that’s about abundance and making sure that we are taking actions so that there’s enough for everybody. So yeah, I don’t think that that would be happening, you know, how would I get together with people in West Hollywood and Santa Monica and talk about what they’re doing in any other way. Instead I can just kind of keep a, keep an eye on them and say, that’s a great idea. I’m gonna tweak that and use it here.
Andrea Learned (20:23):
Throughout Alex’s career, it seems like he’s always had that mindset of abundance and has understood the importance of community with his peers. All of that combines to build political capital that he then leverages to make positive change. I asked him how he evaluates his impact.
Alex Fisch (20:40):
Oh, that’s a great question. Um, and I sure hope it’s right <laugh> because it’s, it’s sort of would be consistent with my political philosophy, which is that you have to know where North is. You know, you have to go have a good compass. I have a set of goals and, and for publicly, um, I’ve done a tremendous amount on my public goals, you know, which is to expand the capacity of Culver City’s government to put the government in a position to do more for people, to make public space more democratic, more accessible, and to really, really start to take action on climate. Cuz we know the things that cities are supposed to do and not enough people are doing ’em. So I think that I have had a pretty good impact in Culver City and and beyond, I hope. And some of the stuff is not gonna be, it’s not gonna be possible to roll back because people aren’t gonna want to go back. So I I I, it’s been a busy four years and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done.
Andrea Learned (21:30):
I love that the idea that you people aren’t gonna wanna roll back because it’s already evident that they kinda like what’s happening there. Oh, I
Alex Fisch (21:38):
Love that. Not everything is like that, right? Like if this stuff was easy, if the climate things that needed to happen were popular and easy at the front end, they would’ve been done. Cuz who doesn’t like to do something popular? <laugh>. So,
Andrea Learned (21:49):
But it’s so interesting. You just put these things into place or you may, you know, you change a couple blocks with bike lanes or whatever, and then you have to be kind of bold to do that. And I, I think as we know, people in the community are gonna be like, oh, that is kind of like, it’s just, you have to trust that that’s gonna happen.
Alex Fisch (22:08):
It’s not immediately obvious to a lot of people why having a bus lane that doesn’t have a very frequent bus in it is a good thing five years from now when there’s a bus every, you don’t have to look at a schedule, you just know you’re gonna get picked up
Andrea Learned (22:19):
By the bus. Hallelujah. Yeah,
Alex Fisch (22:20):
Yeah. And taken all the way across town in 30 minutes instead of an hour and a half and not have to pay for parking. That’s gonna be, I don’t need to sell that. That’s gonna sell itself, you know, and it’s gonna, it’s gonna come.
Andrea Learned (22:31):
Well it’s interesting that you say that because I, because I ride my bike so much, I, and I, I have a car, same, like I, that’s another, everyone thinks that if you ride your bike and you’re kind of militant about it on Twitter, you don’t have a car. I think a lot of us have a car, I just drive it very little. But when Seattle started to have the rapid transit, the b r t roots, I was suddenly like, oh, okay now, right? So I would like bike to where that was going. And it’s to your point, it’s exactly because it’s running every 10 minutes. If it’s a schedule that I have to follow and it’s every 20 minutes and this and that and the other thing, I’m not as inclined, but you better believe, I’m super psyched that they figured out at least however many north south roots they’ve got that do that. It changed me into being more of a bus rider, whereas I don’t, you know, I may have ridden a bike or whatever. So figuring out how to hold them from when it’s pokey and doesn’t come very often to like, trust me, <laugh>, you’re gonna really like this when they’re every 10 minutes. So that’s great.
Alex Fisch (23:30):
Yeah, and there’s a, there is a real change happening. Politicians at every level of government, people are stepping up big time and actually taking some real political risks and they’re succeeding because it’s time, it’s time. You know, we’re very fortunate that Congress and the president managed to get something done at the federal level on the climate. We, we all are very, very fortunate. It’s a wonderful inflection point. A lot of investments to leverage those investments, um, are gonna need people to champion them. It’s one thing to get the legislation done, uh, you know, we didn’t really touch on this, but Twitter is also good for the implementation. You, you need people who are gonna show up to those regional meetings to obscure government bodies that are gonna decide how transportation do dollars are doled out and there is no more time for highway expansions. And so we, we need people who care to do the thankless work of hounding their legislators and saying, I want the bus lane, I want the bike infrastructure, I want the water, the storm water capture and retention. Like all these things that we know need to be done. It’s just a wonderful time for people who wanna make a difference but don’t necessarily wanna be in an elected office.
Andrea Learned (24:38):
So why is it worth it to step into bold, progressive change the way you have? It’s
Alex Fisch (24:43):
Very rewarding, I think not just in the personal lived benefits, but the climate needs us <laugh> it’s civilization. The planet doesn’t care. The climate doesn’t care like civilization. My children, my children, they need me to do something. And the beginning I would say, oh, I’m doing this for my kids. And when the personal costs and the family costs of, of politics really register, I’m not doing it for them anymore, but I am doing it so that I can face them. Knowing that you’re acting on something that is valuable. There’s gonna be heroes and villains to the climate story and to the housing affordability story and homelessness. And I know which side I want to be on. And there are definitely psychic rewards from feeling like you’re doing good work.
Andrea Learned (25:30):
Thank you to Alex Fisch for the inspiring conversation. I love what he said about the importance of taking a stand, even when it seems unpopular to have the vision, the foresight, and the patience to say, we need more bike lanes here, we need more frequent bus routes, or we need to prioritize bus routes. The car will not be dominant forever. Trust the process. Trust that people will appreciate this and think of it as a system that is being built. It’s a system that takes time and investment to build. And we need brave politicians to put their stake in the ground to defend livable communities. And the idea of investing the time, resources, and energy to make it happen. Identifying, building and leveraging your leadership is something few may feel prepared to do, but climate influence can’t wait. If your organization is ready to make the shift, reach out to me, I’d love to help. Find me at www.learniton.com. I’m also easy to find on Twitter until it is no more. And LinkedIn Living Change is produced by large media. That’s L A RJ Media. Special thanks to Tina, Joelle, Jeff, Nick, and Maria. Until next time, pedal safely.
John Richards/Life On Mars
John Richards (00:00):
This was not built just for vegans. This, this was very much my intention. And I think it’s, I think it’s wrong to go in it to it that way. I don’t think shaming the non-vegan and shaming meat eaters is the way to go. And unfortunately, uh, I experience that with vegans all the time, and it really is, is a bummer. And that’s why people shy away from opening vegan places, to be honest with you. And so what we need to do is normalize it. Then when I go to Portland, when I’ve been to New York and I’ve gone to London, it just is, I don’t know how else to say it. Like they just are plant-based.
Andrea Learned (00:38):
I’m Andrea Learned and welcome to Living Change, a podcast exploring unconventional climate leadership. I talk to people who’ve converted their personal values into business and policy decisions in a load of different sectors. I believe that the more we’re visible about these changes, the more we chart the way for other leaders wanting to create new social norms. Today I’m speaking with globally recognized KEXP DJ and the longtime beloved host of the morning show. John Richards at his plant-based bar in the heart of Capitol Hill in Seattle, life on Mars.
John Richards (01:11):
I’m probably standing in the room area. That probably I’m most proud of. Yes, because, uh, when we decided to build this place, I wanted to have a living room or like a basement where people collect vinyl and hang out. And so to have a space large enough to be able to achieve, that’s been awesome. So
Andrea Learned (01:26):
We catch up with John in what he calls the vinyl living room, an area of the bar that really does feel like you’re in. Someone’s extremely cool living room. One wall has nearly 6,000 records floor to ceiling, and another has a giant mural, by the way. Cool in it. A David Bowie like spaceman floats over a classic Washington mountain landscape with translucent color spots. I found it sort of trippy and stunning, but I’m not qualified to talk about art. You just need to see it for yourself.
John Richards (01:54):
It was funny, when we did our mural here, we felt like we needed this mural for some, we needed like a thing that everyone’s eyes were drawn to whatever. We never thought that it would be the giant 6,000 record wall to my left <laugh>. But this sort of draws everybody in from outside. Yeah. I mean, I would think
Andrea Learned (02:11):
They walk by and they’re
John Richards (02:12):
Like, yeah. One of my favorite things is to sit here in the, in the room and, and, and look out the window and you see people who’ve never, you know, been in here walk by and stop and point and you know, they’re coming in at some point. <laugh> at some point we’ll break them down.
Andrea Learned (02:25):
Yeah. John gives us a quick tour of life on Mars from the disco bathroom with its own sound system. Yeah, you heard that, right?
John Richards (02:33):
So we installed a disco ball, the lighting disco’s, usually playing, you know, the entire day
Andrea Learned (02:38):
To the two record players at the front. Something I’ve never seen at another bar.
John Richards (02:43):
These are two Technics that we, uh, installed at the front of the bar. So right when you walk in, it tells you what we’re about and then that this is serious <laugh>. Yeah. And so yeah, we are about music if you didn’t know that we are. And so what happens if people come in and they can pick records from the, the wall and we play album sides instead of playing a jukebox or playing our own mix. Um, we just make sure you can only pick good records. And that’s, in our opinion, all we have in that wall. So, um, there is a cutoff like around six, seven every night we cut off to a mix that I put together because it’s just too busy. And so it’s a nice mix of both, Hey, here, pick some vinyl. And then later it’s a mix that I’ve created, um, for the bar, but I’m really proud of this just because we weren’t sure how to like hand over control to people and we ended up handing over control to people. So yeah,
John Richards (03:33):
In a smart
Andrea Learned (03:34):
…the food isn’t the only aspect of the bar that’s vegan. Every element of the bar’s design and materials are plant-based.
John Richards (03:42):
I’ve been vegan for half my life since, uh, January 1st, 2000. And so we were never gonna open a place where it was served animals or served dairy or any way exploited animals or, or any life be taken. It seems silly when you say it like that. Yes. So everything we did had that in mind when we designed the bar and we designed the menu and we designed, um, the drinks, more drinks than, you know, uh, actually have that because of the, a lot of the tubing they run through, oh, we’ve got some animals and things like that. So, and then other beers especially. Mm-hmm. Um, and some liquors as well. So we go through that with uh, you know, meticulously making sure that you just know that you can come in here and know that nothing was harmed during that. And the design was the same. You know, the whole, the materials using the booths, the everything. We didn’t want to, you know, it’s hard. You see why people cut corners or, um, don’t make that effort because it’s just easier. And, and to be honest, it’s more expensive. Doesn’t make any sense to me why it’s more expensive. But it is
Andrea Learned (04:45):
The intentionality with which John and his wife Amy built this restaurant. Living their change and living their values is so inspiring to me. I love that. Although the restaurant is plant-based, the vibe of the bar is fun, funky and inclusive. It’s a restaurant that just is plant-based and invites you to make that choice even for one meal.
John Richards (05:05):
That’s the whole idea here is this was not built just for vegans. This, this was very much my intention. And I think it’s, I think it’s wrong to go in it to it that way. I don’t think shaming the non-vegan and shaming meat eaters is the way to go. And unfortunately, uh, I experience that with vegans all the time and it really is, is a bummer. And that’s why people shy away from opening vegan places, to be honest with you. And so what we need to do is normalize it. Then when I go to Portland, when I’ve been to New York and I’ve gone to London, um, uh, even Amsterdam recently, uh, um, there’s been, it’s just, it’s just, it just is. I don’t know how else to say it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like they just are plant-based. And so I wanted this place to be plant-based and some people have come in here and accused me of tricking them cuz the food’s so good. And I’m like, great, I’m glad I tricked you, but this
Andrea Learned (05:50):
Is what I wanna say. So when you look at this place online or you walk up to it, it, there’s no neon sign saying plant-based vegan, et cetera. No. And this is that point that
John Richards (06:00):
You’re making. Yeah. We’re proud of it. And, and I put plant based on everything. Cause I think vegan scares people away. And I think, unfortunately, to be honest with you, even our, our biggest critics will be vegans and not meat eaters.
John Richards (06:13):
I mean just, it’s shocking. Yeah. It actually shocked me and I understand now. Yeah. As a vegan, why people, I get resistance whenever they just assume I’m going to shame them and I’m going to make them feel bad and I’m going to tell ’em I’m better than them. Or they just know maybe. Right. Maybe they know somewhere in their heart that eating animals and dairy is hurting the earth and hurting themselves and they don’t wanna hear us, they don’t wanna hear about it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So if you say you’re vegan, you immediately are projecting that on them. And I didn’t want that. I don’t want that. Every time you come in here, every time you’re having a plant-based meal, and then that means you weren’t having a meat dairy-based meal every time. And if you can come in here and see you can have a great bar meal like, and drinks and they’re vegan, it might open the door to you to think like, oh, I guess I could be.
Cuz I hear a lot of people like, well I can’t have anything vegan. I’m like, dude, have you had a salad? Do you have french fries? <laugh>, like potato chips? Like Right, right. Those are actually in many cases, vegan friends, you know, so, I mean, this is how it should be. You should just be matter of fact about it. That’s just what we are. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, I don’t have to be Thai to enjoy Thai food. You don’t have to be vegan, enjoy vegan food. I think food is just delicious. And if we can get people in a bar setting, especially where you have come in disarmed, you know, you’re just, you know, coming in for a drink. Yeah. Have some food. You have it. And in, and in many cases, absolutely no idea that it was plant-based is super cool. In my book…
Andrea Learned (07:32):
John’s Point here is bigger than just his experience. It’s something I’ve witnessed in my food systems related climate work too. I’ve seen this disconnect about how we get people to consider transitioning away from eating food produced through animal agriculture. There’s this infighting about which words to use and purity to us about who is in or out of the truly vegan club. If it’s visible from outer space that even the masses of people who don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs already can’t get along or agree. How can we persuasively convince other people to steer in that direction? For me the key is messaging and allowance for the journey. The journey is more than just, okay, it’s key to lasting change.
People are coming to visit Seattle. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and people who listen to you all over are coming and going. I want to check out John’s bar and coming here. So the influence that you have because of the platform is incredible. I just, it’s interesting to me. You are really influencing people globally on this front.
John Richards (08:31):
Well, I’ve learned in Seattle that people make a trip to here, they’re starting to associate it with Seattle, you know, KEXP is a location, Life on Mars is a location. The Pike Place market is a location. And so they have that on the list. And, and I’ve heard from people that like, I want to come to your bar and I’m gonna try vegan food. You know, like they have any Oh my gosh. And so when you hear that, you’re like, that’s great. Oh my gosh. Good for you. You know. Gosh. And, and it, for me it becomes like the Paul McCartney meatless Monday thing. Yes. It’s like when you come here, you’re gonna visit from that place and then you’re gonna take a chance on a meal. So what’s gonna happen when they go back, they may seek out the vegan place in their neighborhood, in their city, and then they may go down that path where they’ve seen a part of their town they haven’t seen.
If you’re visiting Seattle, let’s say you’re on a cruise ship or you’re, you came in from the airport or you’re staying downtown, yeah. You’re gonna stick to heaven forbid <laugh>. Yeah. You’re gonna stick to the same, no offense to Seattle. Some pretty kind of boring, stale areas that that, that are made for tourists. And I know this cuz when I travel I try to get out of those areas. Cuz cuz it’s it, you’re not seeing the actual city. Well what happens when you come up Pike here and you come up pine next door and you hit this qu this is where you see Seattle. Yeah. Like as much change as there’s been, this is still the heart and soul of the city. Um, or you go to West Seattle where I live and it’s, you know, the heart and soul of that area is amazing, you know, and, um, it takes the traveling a little and getting you to come somewhere. So if my platform can get you to come visit the, you know, music bar with vinyl that you’ve heard so much about that is named after David Bowie song, well then I’ve done something. Right. Cuz you’ve seen our city and you’ve tried vegan food mm-hmm. <affirmative> and hopefully, you know, you had a good memory. I I’ve run into so many people in this bar that, that have come from other cities. It’s amazing. Everywhere. Every almost every time I’m in here, I learn. People have traveled here just to come to this bar.
Andrea Learned (10:11):
I wanted to hear more about John’s journey to veganism.
John Richards (10:24):
I had been leaning towards that for quite some time. You know, I was in my twenties and I had dated someone who was a vegetarian. And so I had been in that world and it, it was not a great world then. You know, there was like, just, you know, there’s no sprouts in this bar by the way. No sprouts. Oh. Oh, okay. Because every goddamn vegetarian place I went to, it was just sprouts and dry bread. Right. And the worst sandwiches you’ve ever had, like that was it. I was like, I can’t do this. And then, you know what’s funny? You can eat really badly as a vegan, like really badly. Yes. And people say that to me, I don’t know why, like, well, you can be unhealthy. I’m like, yeah, you can. Absolutely. I, you know, I could go eat baked goods all day long, you know, like Flying Aprin, my, one of my favorite places on earth Yeah.
Is vegan. I could eat there all day and make, so I had just, I’m very <inaudible> sports lot athletics. Um, I’m from a family of, uh, smokers, alcoholics, overeaters, all who most died before they were 60 or at 60. Um, none of them were runners or vegans or anything getting close to where, what I’m doing. And so I didn’t wanna be like them. So I’ve been trying to do the opposite of them from the get-go. And so more and more I started thinking I didn’t, it seemed wrong to eat animals. Like just seemed wrong to hurt an animal if you didn’t have to. Like, why would I do that if there’s alternatives? And so actually I became vegan, right? I guess not in 2000, but vegetarian. I was at my brother’s on New Year’s Eve and Millennium, you know, we’re all freaked out about 1999. Yes. I’m like, well if we all live, my computers flip seems so stupid now.
Andrea Learned (11:55):
John Richards (11:56):
I’m just gonna, I think I’m gonna try giving up meat and I’m gonna be done with it. And I’m someone, if I commit to something, I’m pretty committed. But yeah, we had a steak that night and luckily it was super, like rare, medium rare, just pink. Oh. And I ate about half of it. I was like, this is a way to go out. Yeah. <laugh>, I’m done. This is awful. And then, uh, a little down the road a little while later. So I was barely doing any dairy and Amy and I, she had had some health issues and, um, some serious health issues. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and giving up dairy in particular. She already was vegetarian, but giving up dairy was high on that list. And we were on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean somewhere. We made that decision to give dairy. So what we did is we went and found, you’re on a, you’re still on a cruise ship Right. <laugh> that they took over and we said, we went and found the like most like disgustingly rich dairy, like, I dunno, like a Sunday cake Sunday we put ice cream on it, just piled it with dairy and just ate as much as we could to
John Richards (12:55):
John Richards (12:55):
Moment. Yeah. To be like, let’s remind ourselves why we want to give this up. I don’t know why. This was our thinking like we’re go out with a bang, I’m not sure which I’m sure we didn’t finish it. Well
Andrea Learned (13:03):
It is akin to the big rare steak kind.
John Richards (13:05):
Oh yeah. So each time it happened, I got like, it was, it was awful. Yeah. I felt so bad and it made it very easy. And I’ll tell you what, the next day, you know, how you make commitments though. The next day we had to go through the Miami airport, which is the worst airport, um, on many levels. But there was nothing, there was nothing we could eat. And we started to go like, well, I guess we could start tomorrow. And I said, look, if we can make it through the Miami Airport and stay vegan and not have to compromise here. And sometimes you do and you don’t even know you’ve compromised. I’m not, I’m not so strict that I would beat myself up when that happens.
Andrea Learned (13:36):
I’m the same.
John Richards (13:36):
I think, I think that’s a really bad, I hate to label, right? Yep. But we made it through that airport and we managed to find enough food and we decided from then on we’re gonna plan better and be vegan. And so yeah, we went out with a bang and Amy’s health improved greatly. You know, it’s not for everyone, but I think if you’re having inflammatory issues, if you’re having all, you know, health issues, it’s something to, to look at dairy in particular is something to look at. My son was that way. He, he has a gluten intolerance. But once we took dairy out of his, uh, diet, um, and he went vegan, his health improved greatly. So it’s just, for him that was, again, it was a life. It just changed his life. Well
Andrea Learned (14:13):
It’s interesting because I see the same thing. I’m like, if you, if you try it, if you go without dairy, literally I feel like for like a week you’re gonna see a difference. But two, the point of all of this is you, each of these things, if you go plant-based, then you stop eating dairy, all these things happen. You, the story tells itself to you via your body. Yeah.
John Richards (14:32):
Yeah. And, and you, you have to give yourself that chance. I have a, uh, my buddy Gary, he’s in the music industry. He’s, he’s always been sort of a mentor to me. And, and he sat with me once and said, John, I I, he came up, visited from California. He goes, I, you know, I’m really trying to be vegan. I I, but I, I gotta ask your advice here. I’m like, huh. He goes, I just love pizza. And so I don’t know what to do. And I, I said, then eat pizza. But that you don’t have, you didn’t, we don’t get a card. You’re not in a club. You didn’t fail. Right. If you’re doing everything but pizza, yeah, you’re good, man. Yeah. Like, think of the moderation you’ve just achieved. But I bet because you still eat pizza, you’re still eating meat and dairy and stuff because you’re like, well I’m not a vegan.
And I said, yeah, I am. I said, well, what if you just gave up that like you wanted to and allowed yourself this pizza. Now I didn’t tell him the secret information here is that in about three to six months you’re gonna be like, I can’t eat this pizza. Yeah. That’s the secret. So I didn’t tell him that, that he’s gonna get, then he’s gonna eat that dairy and be like, oh my. And just straight bread, by the way, this is like, I’m gonna get sick. But at the time I remember thinking, I have to remember this, these labels that we give each other that he couldn’t just be a moderate, you know, cuz you know, vegans are, say he is not a real or whatever, you know, or his friends are gonna look at him funny, you know, oh, I thought you were vegan and you’re eating the, you know, I just, you know what, 95% of my diet now is plant-based. Yeah. Great man. Because it was 50% before. Yeah. Imagine if everyone went to 50%. And so
Andrea Learned (15:49):
The motivation, it’s self perpetuating.
Speaker 3 (15:50):
That’s yeah’s my thing. People are always like, I don’t know if I could do it. And I’m like, if you do it for like a week, your body will go, what did you just put in here?
John Richards (15:56):
Yeah. Yeah. I’ve trusted the whole idea of the bar. And the whole idea with us is, um, just choose meals. Try not to make it the main thing in your meal. Yeah. Like, just try and just see. Because for me, I had to, if you’re okay, if you’re, if you’re a plant-based diet, you have to cook, you have no choice in this situation. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because I didn’t cook before and now I had to cook and I’ve got, and they said, well, what do you eat? I’m like, I eat so many more things I didn’t eat before. I’m so more creative. You know, I read Scott Zurich’s book. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he’s the ultramarathon or a vegan. I cannot recommend it enough. It had, it had, um, menus in it. And Amy was telling me, you know, when you really started cooking, I said, when he said I was pregnant with our youngest son, and you knew I was outta commission, so you’d be cooking all the time instead once in a while.
Yeah. And you’re reading that book and he has recipes in the book. She says he made like every mess recipe, like to this day you make that chili like interest from this book. And so just because I was reading it for inspiration, he’s a runner. I’m a runner. He’s vegan. I’m vegan. So for me, you know, if you want to learn more about your food and your body and, and be better about how you spend your money on food mm-hmm. <affirmative> and like, you know, and try to control what comes into your body, then if you have a plant-based diet, I think you’re gonna be a little more selective, which is good.
Andrea Learned (17:02):
John makes a great point. I tell people all the time how when I first went plant-based, it was self-perpetuating because I felt so much better almost within days. So then I wanted to experiment more with cooking and keep learning. I asked John about how his behavior changes have evolved and how it impacts his family and their lifestyles.
John Richards (17:23):
I moved to West Seattle. I used to bike my regular bike to the radio station every morning. I could. As in Greenwood, it’s, it’s just a few miles. You know, it’s a, it’s a haul, but it was like a haul like leaving at that hour because it was scarier to ride home in the daytime. Yeah, I agree. To be honest, morning was being a biker. I know. <laugh>. Yeah. Morning was like, it was dark. People could see me coming. Beautiful. You know, and, and it, and later it’s buses and cars that are mad at you and, and yeah, <laugh>. Um, but I moved to West Seattle, so that was off the table, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Okay. So I’m driving to work now. Uh, one day Megan Jasper from SubPop CEO of SubPop was riding with her husband Brian in these e-bikes down the street just with the, with just the stupidest smiles you’ve ever seen. And I was like, what is that? I didn’t know what it was. I was like, shot. I didn’t know she was get on this thing. I got on and wrote it around the neighborhood. And the next thing you know, I reached out to Rad Bikes and, and, and one,
John Richards (18:10):
One thing led
John Richards (18:11):
To another. Yeah. Now I have a cargo bike that, um, that I ride. And, and the first six months I put 200 miles on it. And these 200 miles, I only rode it two places. I rode it to the park with my son and I, I didn’t, I’m, I, 95% of the time I write it, my son’s on the back. Right. And the other was to pick him up from school and back.
Andrea Learned (18:31):
So it was really two very specific things that were transportation that you kind of felt you could do safely.
John Richards (18:37):
Safely. I kinda wanna make that felt safe. Yes, yes, yes. Yeah. Because these roads were side roads mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And the first day I rode my bike to pick him up, I’m like, well, I’m gonna pick ’em up. I was just saying like, how am I gonna use this bike? Who? And West Seattle’s made of hills. It was west. Seattle’s just hills. So I picked him up and I looked, and it’s one of those moments where you look and they’re, and I’m one of these people, I was 25 cars, idling, idling half lived within a few miles of the school. And I was doing this too. So I’m not shaming anyone, but I just looked at it like, this is crazy. This is crazy. Talk. Like, what are we doing? And they would sit and you’re looking at the cars idling and exhaust going up, and I roll on my bike and
Andrea Learned (19:14):
You roll up.
John Richards (19:15):
And I just pull it up. I’m like, Hey dude. And he gets out and he puts a helmet on and the kids are looking at him, you know, and you’re home like a half hour early. I was out and these people are still in line. And not only did I cut the line, but I cut the emissions and I just rode two, two miles that I wasn’t gonna ride. And then again, you add that up in six months, looking at that thing, that’s 200 miles. I mean that was an eyeopener.
Andrea Learned (19:36):
That’s an eyeopener. And then what happens is you start to squeak it out, right? Yeah. I need something from the drugstore or whatever. Yeah. Yeah. And then you look at your e-bike thing and go, oh my goodness, I’ve ridden this much.
John Richards (19:44):
It’s, it’s a, it it it is, it’s a tool. I cannot, I cannot recommend those enough to people. Like I cannot, uh, I they, for someone who gave up bike riding, really because of where he moved, because he has kids. So of course I can’t ride with my nine. Of course I can. Right, right, right. And, but on my back of my e-bike, he’s, he’s, he totally fits on there. And, and I can ride on roads where I’m not gonna get hit by a car most likely. And we can go down to Lincoln Park, we go down to the junction, we can go to a school. And these are all places I probably wouldn’t have gone to in a car. But,
Andrea Learned (20:14):
So then the other thing that you realize, and I’m even from the veganism and the bikes, is how much you’re influencing your kids. So you’ve got a child that’s in high school or you get to a point where the kids are 16 and my neighbor automatically like, oh, I can drive now I’m gonna save to buy a car. And it’s like just giving your kids the gift of eat a plant-based diet. Think about riding a bike instead of driving. Oh my gosh. Yeah. And then exponential climate influence.
John Richards (20:37):
My 18 year old, and I, I remember looking at your carbon footprint and I have kids, number one thing you can do is not have kids. Well, too late. I have kids <laugh> and, and you love it. Not drive a car. Okay. Well I have a car and I do, I do have to transport even if they’re hybrids and I, I’ll go electric in my next purchase. But, um, my 18 year old has never read meat in his life. He’s, he’s more militant about being vegan than I am. He’s not shy about it. He knows how to talk to people about it, even when they’re, because what we’ve experienced all our life is people angry at us. And again, I can’t understand it and it, I don’t understand a lot of things humans do, but that one always gets me. Um, and Arley has handled it like a champ, you know, and he’s just matter of fact about it. He’s like, Hey man, I just, I don’t want animals to die. So my kids I hope, will influence others in themselves. And at 18, you know, Arley can, he has the right, we are not, and that’s the other thing. We do not enforce this when they leave our homes. You’re not gonna find meat or dairy in our home because we don’t have any <laugh>. Right, right. But if you go out, my son is gonna go out. It is your call. It is up to you now. And he’s,
Andrea Learned (21:41):
And he’s gotta hunt it down right. As if he’s in the Miami airport.
John Richards (21:44):
Yeah. And I, and I let him know like, hey, well he could have meat, you know, and, and I just let him know like, this is going to taste, you’re gonna think it’s funny cuz it’s gonna taste is very similar. He said, well then why would I have that? I said, well, I don’t know. I said, that’s up to you though. And so he has stuck to that. And I would say probably will all of his life.
John Richards (22:00):
And the other thing is just being strategic, I think both with the bikes and the plant base, like being strategic of do I need to drive this? No, I can take a bus or a bike. And then being strategic with the thinking ahead. Yeah. If I’m gonna go to this party or I’m gonna be with these friends, let me bring a vegan bar or something
John Richards (22:15):
Something. Like with Arleigh, we, he takes the bus. He goes to school downtown. It’s a, it’s quite a commute. He doesn’t have a license yet. And I think it’s the best thing we did for him. Plus my son riding the bus is gonna give him an education he’s not gonna get anywhere else. He’s always gonna appreciate how he gets from one place to another. He won’t take for granted when he is able to drive. And he knows he has the tools to use public transportation or a bike, which I think is really important. You gotta at least introduce it to him so they know they have that.
Andrea Learned (22:40):
If you’re living change, people see your values. And that reflects in decisions that ripple outward in your family, in the community and in the environment. Suddenly one person’s impact really reverberates
John Richards (22:53):
At the top of who I am is I, I just wanna make a difference in people’s lives. I wanna make their lives better in some way. So it’s be a good human. And then what does that mean? I care about animals, I care about life. I don’t think, I think our, I think our ability to mass slaughter animals relates directly to our ability to hurt each other. Yeah. And so I feel like if we could just be kind to humans and be kind to animals and be kind to any living thing, it seems like our low bar that we can’t seem to hit, um, that this world would be a better place. So if I live that every day, maybe they can see like, that guy seems somewhat normal <laugh>. Right, right. He’s not a, he’s not totally loony and he’s a vegan.
Andrea Learned (23:35):
There are all sorts of people. I mean, my argument is always sports, music. I don’t know. There are a couple things where there’s community and you’re standing at a, you know, you guys go to a lot of professional sports. You’re standing standing in a stadium Yeah. With a bunch of people whose politics maybe you don’t agree with. That’s right. But you’re cheering it on. Same thing when I’m at shows or at KEXP events. That’s right. It’s like, I don’t, all the people could be whatever, but we’re all going. Hell yeah. Yeah. And so that solidarity and a universal love and respect. Yeah. Oh my God.
John Richards (24:02):
And be open about the things you support and then tell everyone, well, that’s okay. This is what we are. Not – you have to do it. Yes. No, but if this is, if you believe, if you, if you like us, if you follow what we do, this is how we made our decision. This is a decision. And I think we probably open people’s eyes to do that.
Andrea Learned (24:18):
The point that you made that you do this, but also you mention it or you let slip. Right. That you’re doing this Yes. And that you had a, maybe a decision change. So even telling me that, but I’ve also heard you say that on the air, you know? Yeah. You, you, you’re mapping it out. And in a way, what I think you’re doing is giving other people permission who are kind of thinking about going vegan. Yeah. Kind of thinking about to try it. Which I also feel that I do. And that is exactly what I’m talking about. You’re exactly right. I mean, it’s so fun. So this has been amazing, John. Thank you so much. Of course. Yeah. Really appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrea Learned (24:53):
Thanks so much to John Richards for taking the time to share his story and his amazing bar with us. This conversation with John brings up so many valuable points for leaders looking for ways to lead by example. Behavior changes are self-perpetuating. You start with a meatless Monday or a simple reduction in meat consumption and you feel so good, you start to think more about animal agriculture. The why to eat this way gets a lot more interesting to dig into. Gradually maybe you make the switch from dairy and then maybe you’re ready to tackle your transportation methods. If we trust the process and expose more people to plant-based food, especially by way of highlighting leaders who are vegan or call themselves plant-based, we can shift the perceived social norm and move their peers and followers along the path. From the climate perspective. Not being militant about veganism helps more people lower their political defenses and eat new kinds of food.
So trust the process. Expose more people to amazingly fun bars like Life on Mars and plant-based food trucks, et cetera. Leverage the stories of influential people. Celebrities, yes. But for me, even more important are the folks we already point to as professional leaders. They are the surprising validators with huge influence to shape policies and expose their staff and stakeholders to a whole new way of thinking. Identifying, building and leveraging your leadership is something few may feel prepared to do, but climate influence can’t wait. If your organization is ready to make the shift, reach out to me. I’d love to help. Find email@example.com. I’m also easy to find on Twitter until it is no more. And LinkedIn Living Change is produced by Larj media. That’s L A R J Media. Special thanks to Tina, Joel, Jeff, Nick, and Maria. Until next time, pedal safely.
Bowinn Ma / Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, British Columbia
I often hear from folks that say, I like that you’re supporting cyclists, and I like that you’re supporting bicycling. But not everybody can use a bike to replace their car. I’m not trying to get everybody outta their car and onto a bike, but I think that a lot more people can actually use a bike more than they might. They. On top of that, the more people we can get onto bikes, the more space there is for.
I’m Andrea Learned and welcome to Living Change, a podcast exploring unconventional climate leadership. I’m interested in talking to people who’ve converted their personal values into business and policy decisions. The more visible we are about these changes, the more we chart the way forward for leaders wanting to create new social norms. Today I’m speaking with British Columbia’s Minister of State for infrastructure Bowinn Ma. A few years ago, Bowinn made the transition to e-bike for her work in the legislature. That one habit shift has had huge downstream effects from becoming more accessible to her constituents to influencing her legislative strategy on mode shift to active transportation infrastructure. I wanted to know more about what the term active transportation means to her.
Let’s talk about the term active transportation. I try to use that as a way to encompass all of the different ways that we move under our own power. Um, of course I’ll talk about cycling and of course I’ll talk about bike lanes. Uh, but I feel like sometimes those who don’t regularly cycle have this misunderstanding of what it is that we are talking about when we’re talking about improving, uh, safe travel infrastructure for people who bike or people who walk or so forth. And they think that we’re talking about only providing infrastructure for this mythical, well, it’s not so mythical, but like, you know that, that that guy and the Lake Cross spandex who’s like on his $4,000 road bike
On Sundays only
On Sunday. Yeah, that’s right. Like this, the idea that it’s a very, very small percentage of the population when in fact the vast majority of us engage in some form of active transportation. Because even if you drive, you are probably walking at some point. We’re also talking about making it safer, smoother, uh, better for people who use mobility devices to travel or people who use transit. Cause most transit users are also engaged in active transportation. They are going from their home to the bus stop and they’re probably not driving from their home to the bus stop. They’re probably walking along some type of sidewalk, some type of path. And so active transportation is a phrase that I use to try to reduce that psychological barrier that people have that might prevent the, from seeing themselves on the kinda infrastructure we’re talking about.
I want to drill down on this point. The weekend Lycra cyclist is one of those frustrating stereotypes that creates the psychological barrier Bowinn is talking about here. Lots of people don’t even consider an e-bike as a viable or realistic method of transportation. They’re probably picturing this serious spandex biker and feeling intimidated. Like if you aren’t a lyra wearing long distance cyclist, you somehow lack the resources or skills to make the transition to biking local trips. I love what Bowinn’s saying here. We need to start thinking about active transportation as biking, walking and public transit. They all work together to reduce dependency on cars. Seeing leaders regularly. E-bike reflects it as a safe, reliable and fast way to get around. Living. Change in this way has massive climate influence. That’s why Bowinn’s story about transitioning to an e-bike has a potential to inspire many more urban folks.
My partner and I, we used to have two cars. Both of them were gas vehicles and both of those vehicles came to the end of life and we had to decide what we did to replace them. And we ended up purchasing with help from family because I’m a millennial and I don’t have, you know, that kind of money sitting around. So I actually took out a loan from my dad to help us purchase an electric vehicle. And then our second vehicle was an ecargo bike. And that’s actually what I use. And I often hear from folks that say, you know, I like that you’re supporting cyclists and I like that you’re supporting bicycling, but not everybody can use a bike to replace their car. And usually what my answer is, I’m not trying to get everybody outta their car and onto a bike, but I think that a lot more people can actually use a bike more than they might.
They can. And on top of that, the more people we can get onto bikes, the more space there is on the road for people who really need their vehicles. And so supporting active transportation, supporting mode shift onto bikes, e-bikes, cargo, e-bikes, it helps everyone because we’re, we’re making space on the roads. It took a little while for me to decide that I could make the transition to an e-bike instead of having my own car. Part of that is because the North shore is known for a few things. One of course is bad traffic, but the other things that it’s known for is a lot of rain and mountains. This is where the mountains are. Yeah. And so I wasn’t sure if, uh, I would be able to, you know, show up as an m l a as a, as a minister show up to a press conference ready to be in front of a camera, right?
Like I had to really think about these things, right. And a cargo bike allowed for me to, uh, I, I have a, a big box on the, on the back of my bike with a bin that I basically use as my trunk that I can carry around, you know, my spare shoes. And I figured out that I can actually cycle in business wear if I’ve got a bit of stretch in the dress that I’m wearing or if I’m, or if I choose an a line dress Yes. Instead of like a pencil skirt, that kinda thing. Right? So I’ve, I have managed to find ways to make it work. And my hope is that I can kinda help demonstrate that yes, cycling isn’t for everybody in every situation, but it might be possible for more people in more situations than they might’ve previously thought
A lot of rain and mountains. Sounds familiar, as a Seattle-ite. I also have an EV because sometimes you do need a car. I’m not saying get rid of your car altogether, but get an E-bike because you won’t believe how much you use it.
Vehicles are incredibly expensive. They’re expensive to buy to own, to operate my e cargo bike, I purchased it for about, I think it was five or $6,000 before tax. And we actually, our government ended up removing sales tax off of electric bikes. So if I had purchased it a couple years later would’ve saved me a bunch. But that’s all right. I’m glad that other people are able to Yes. Benefit from our changes. Yeah. But when I talk to people, they’ll see the bike and they’ll say something along the lines of, oh man, that’s a expensive bike. And my response will be, yeah, but it’s a lot cheaper than if I were to buy a second vehicle.
Bowinn pedals her talk. She went through all the same decision making as her constituents and she’s helping demonstrate that it’s possible. Sometimes it takes a little strategic thinking, like changing the way you dress for work, but you shouldn’t feel like you need to go full Lycra. In his new book, the Persuaders, Anand Giridharadas wrote about what it will take for political change. And one thing he emphasizes is how much better it is to say what you are for and to tell the better story. Bowinn understands that her presence on social media is accessible and optimistic.
I mean, one of the motivators, one of my motivators for getting into politics was being worried about climate change and realizing that it was important to have climate oriented voices in government. If we want government to do the right thing from a climate change perspective. And also realizing that it takes sacrifice to be an elected official and to put yourself out there and to do this role. And if I wasn’t willing to do it, then how could I expect other people to be willing, willing to make that sacrifice and, and enter into this role?
I love that. And so there will be some people from your community who will come directly to you and say, we love that you’re doing things in climate action. We want more, et cetera. Are there others in your community who sort of are resistant to the term climate action but they’re, they’re game for transportation, you know, for active, you know, like talking about climate but not talking about climate.
I’m very, very fortunate in my neck of the woods. I think overwhelmingly my local community understands the importance of climate action. Now, they might not always like what that means for them day to day because I mean, for instance, if we are prioritizing climate action and addressing congestion in the area that I’m living in under that context, then we know that we can’t keep on building more and more lanes on bridges for cars and ignoring all of the other forms of transportation. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Now that might be very frustrating. Painful. Yeah. <laugh>. Yeah. That’s very frustrating for a lot of community members to hear. Yeah. I’ll say though, certainly there’s a, a diversity of views on the importance and urgency of climate action throughout the province. And there will certainly be other communities as well that will be less concerned about climate action, more concerned about being able to live their daily lives and not spend so much time in congestion.
Now we are very fortunate though in this particular issue because largely the solution to congestion and the solution to helping people spend less time in their cars is actually the climate oriented solution. You know, enabling more socially and environmentally responsible forms of travel, building complete communities so that people don’t have to travel 50 kilometers to get to and from their job. Like those are actions that improve quality of life for people, but also help us, uh, lessen the transportation impact in terms of climate change too. So in different communities we need to speak to what’s important to them.
Yes. Well it’s interesting. Some work that I’ve gotten involved in recently is related to affordable housing in Los Angeles. And one of the things that’s been so interesting about looking at that and how you message that is as the whole system. And part of that is it’s affordable housing near jobs, right? And a long transit. So it is that whole kind of livable communities thing. And some people may be coming into it for the affordable housing. Some people may be coming into it for less congestion as they drive into work. And, and so I think this whole systems’ idea usually gives each community or each sector something to hold onto, right? That forwards the climate influence.
So one of the major shifts in the way that we are thinking about transportation used to be that we as a ministry could only acquire the land that we needed to build a highway to build a subway station to have the right of way for this particular transportation infrastructure. Our government recently passed legislation to allow the ministry of transportation and infrastructure to strategically acquire land for purposes other than direct transportation infrastructure. And now we can actually acquire strategically place land for transit oriented development. So that means housing, childcare, grocery stores, potentially schools, hospitals like, so we’re actually able now to strategically acquire land around transit stations to create this hub based community and making much more deliberate effort to engage in the development of those kinds of amenities because it’s so related to a good transportation system.
I want to emphasize what Bowinn just said there. We should be thinking about land use when we’re thinking about transportation systems and we should be taking land into account even if it’s indirect. That’s super powerful. Affordable housing is part of a system of transportation inextricably linked with transit and intentional community hubs. One of the neglected ways to reduce emissions in cities is to think about last mile delivery. You know how Amazon delivers packages and a half second to your door. That’s last mile delivery. There’s this cool alternative, well I think it’s cool, to Amazon vans called cyclelogistics.
I guess I would describe cyclelogistics as being simply replacing first mile last mile vehicles with cycles. Usually e cargo bikes,
Or, I think light electric vehicles is another term.
We actually partnered with the city of Vancouver on a cargo e-bike project where we supported the development of a cargo e-bike micro hub. So the idea is all of these goods would come in on the, the big trucks that they do from vast distances, and then they get close to the city. You go to this hub and then from there they get distributed through these e cargo bikes. Instead of getting loaded up into vans or smaller delivery vehicles, you put them into these ecar bikes. I mean, they’re pretty big. Yeah,
Yeah, yeah. And they might have a trailer with
Them that’s right there. I mean the trailer, the, the boxes is pretty big. But there is evidence that shows, especially in urban areas where congestion is significant, that deliveries by this method can be far more efficient and effective even on a for-profit basis. So I mean, I’m thinking for instance, downtown Vancouver, if you get someone to courier a package from one end of downtown Vancouver to the other end in a car, well, you know, first they’ve gotta find parking. And then once they found parking, they’re probably running a block anyway to your business and they’re picking up your package and then they’re going back to their parking spot and then they’re driving at a, like a very, very slow crawl across downtown Vancouver. Right. And then they’re gonna have to find another parking spot. We often think of cars as being faster and being able to deliver more, but in those scenarios, having somebody on a bike that can handle that package is probably gonna be a faster choice for you. So the psycho logistics basically is looking to replace that first mile last mile kind of delivery service, but with bikes,
People haven’t even imagined the potential power and profitability of the micro hubs of rethinking that first and last mile in terms of bike delivery and of the money and time that will be saved. We need to repeat and repeat that making green choices is profitable and worth innovating. Surprising validator leadership stories are the most powerful for influencing climate action at scale. Our culture reflects political leaders as white and male and in three piece suits. We’ve seen this, that global climate events up to and including COP 27. Bowinn is different. She’s a surprising validator doing all of these amazingly bold things. I wondered where her conviction to deliver values and bring others along came from.
Where does it come from? Uh, I think I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak and I think that that gives me the tendency to do things or try to do things, um, particularly when I’m told that I can’t do them.
Oh, I love it, Bowinn.
So someone came up to me who was a, a white male and I believe that he meant well and he had been involved with a party for, for quite a while and our party has, uh, something called the equity mandate that required for different constituency associations to be very intentional about making sure that they have asked multiple women, multiple people of color to run for nomination. And basically it’s kind of like you have to make the effort. This person came up to me on behalf of riding association and said something along the lines of, Hey Bowinn, you know, you should run, you should consider running for the nomination. You would make an excellent equity candidate, but you know, I mean, you’re not actually gonna win the nomination cause so and so is gonna win. Oh,
Oh, they said all of that, but with that little thing at the end,
<laugh>. Exactly. And, and the so and so that they were referring to was another white male <laugh>. And I dunno, that made me, I kinda like, it’s like I know that I think he’s meant well. He’s trying to encourage me, but also, you know, manage my expectations because I’m definitely not gonna win against this other guy. Right. And that kind of made me go like, I’ll show you. Yeah,
<laugh>, I can imagine. Oh my
Gosh. And I’ve kinda carried that attitude through a lot of things that I do. So maybe that’s the root of it, or at least my political start of that kinda attitude.
That makes a lot of sense. I think it’s funny you describe your rebellious streak and then you run for office, because I think most people think if you’re rebellious, you do everything you can to go off grid and not be connected with politics at all. But your rebellious streak was like, I’ll show you. I’m gonna invade your space and make it work.
I love that rebellious streak. That’s a fantastic story. So that’s it for me. I wanted to thank you so much for your service and for being an enduring example of a leader Living Change and all the climate influence you have in your work. I hope that anyone in public service will take note and learn from you because I’m definitely so inspired. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk Bowinn. I really appreciate it.
Thank you so much for having me.
Climate impact and sustainability can seem daunting when we think about it globally, but policy makers taking simple steps to live, the change can impact policy, can impact business, and can scale climate action. The more e-bikes there are in leadership roles, the more naturally mots will emerge throughout city planning and infrastructure. Identifying, building and leveraging your leadership is something few may feel prepared to do, but climate influence can’t wait. If your organization is ready to make the shift, reach out to me, I’d love to help. Find me at www.learniton.com. I’m also easy to find on Twitter until it is no more. And LinkedIn Living Change is produced by large media. That’s L A R J Media. Special thanks to Tina, Joel, Jeff, Nick, and Maria. Until next time, pedal safely.
Sandeep Patel / PopSockets
Andrea Learned (00:00):
I’m Andrea Learned, and welcome to Living Change, a podcast exploring unconventional climate leadership. I talk to people who’ve converted their personal values into business and policy decisions in a load of different sectors. I believe that the more we’re visible about these changes, the more we chart the way for other leaders wanting to create new social norms.
Sandeep Patel (01:30):
A plant-based diet, I would argue, is the most inclusive type of diet you could serve as a company. Everybody will be included, right? And so even cultural inclusion gets flipped on its head. Perversely to be a reason why, oh, we have to have meat for these reasons. But every culture around the world has a deep, rich history of plant-based foods. So, you know, I would argue it’s also increasing inclusivity. To do that,
Andrea Learned (02:02):
Hi Sandeep. How are you?
Sandeep Patel (02:25):
Hi, Andrea. Good to see you again.
Andrea Learned (02:27):
Today I’m speaking with Sandeep Patel, the President, cfo, and Chief Transformation Officer of Pop Sockets. Even if you don’t have a pop sockets product, chances are, you know, someone that does. They’re those super cool and expressive phone grips, pop sockets, social impact innovation is centered on what they call being an eternal positivity machine. I met Sandeep at the Reduc Arian Summit last year. Our short discussion about food as a driver of corporate sustainability really stuck with me, and I knew I had to talk to him for this podcast. Sandeep is so passionate about this impact driven work that it was important to him to talk with each person walking into the conference hall about pop socket’s company mission. So how did he get here?
Sandeep Patel (03:10):
You’d have to go all the way back to when I was eight years old and I made a conscious decision after hearing someone give a lecture on the wisdom of a plant-based diet. It was more of a humanitarian lens at that time. This was many, many years ago where the point was producing animals is very inefficient. It consumes a lot of food that could be going directly to humans. It wasn’t so much of the environmental thrust to it. It was more of a animal welfare lens and a humanitarian lens of just being fair to other humans and not consuming so much food in the way of the inefficiency of animal production. So I’d made a decision long back then. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I come from a family that comes from Western India, so my parents are vegetarian, have always been, uh, so it wasn’t that difficult a decision for me personally to make, to not eat meat.
We would still eat dairy in the home and and so forth. So when I was a vegetarian, decided to consciously decide to be a vegetarian very early on. And then for most of my career in on Wall Street for 20 years. It was something that you didn’t really highlight. You would hide it because growing up in, you know, elementary school, middle school, it was just another reason why you were different. Oh, you can’t eat that. Right? And it was always, I always found that interesting. Can you eat this <laugh>? Well, of course I can do what I want <laugh>, but I choose not to. Right. So the concept of someone choosing not to eat meat as opposed to a religion dictating you can’t do this or whatever, was a foreign concept, right? Yes.
And so, you know, it was really 20 years into investment banking. I decided, you know, what do I wanna do with the rest of my life? I want to have a bigger impact. I found myself gravitating towards entrepreneurs who envisioned the world differently than it is, and had the conviction to go and actually do something about it. And that was infectious to me. And so I wanted to be a part of building something with companies that actually shared my worldview. And so there was this book that I read at a Stanford University, how to Design Your Life. I
Andrea Learned (05:15):
Totally read that book, <laugh>. You did great. Yes, I loved
Sandeep Patel (05:19):
It. And it’s great for people in college who don’t know what they wanna do and to preempt a midlife crisis, right? Yes. So it helped me preempt a midlife crisis, and it kind of said, well, you have to think about different things. And so I thought, oh, wouldn’t it be great to fuse my sort of work life and my worldview into one? And so every day I was just excited about what I did, not only because it was intellectually interesting, but I thought, oh, this is what I care about in the world, and this is how to make the world a better place. So that’s, that’s what led me to join Califia Farms after getting to know the founder, uh, for quite some time. And then that’s also what led me to Pop Sockets.
Andrea Learned (05:55):
I’m struck that from a young age, Sandeep was living change, and even in the face of resistance on Wall Street, he was able to stick to his convictions. The lens through which he sees the world has almost exclusively been plant-based. So a role in an impact-driven company like Pop Sockets makes perfect sense.
Sandeep Patel (06:12):
I’ve been a pops sockets about two years. The is David Barnett, and he created the company kind of by accident. He was looking for a way to keep his headphone cord from tangling. He never imagined it would become as big as it did. And that was back in 2012. I was introduced to him first in 2020, right before the, the height of the pandemic. And I remember my first conversation with him, I was on the phone and I just asked him, what’s your mission in life? And he said, my mission in life is then factory farming without hesitation. Whoa,
Andrea Learned (06:46):
<laugh>, whoa. I just,
Sandeep Patel (06:48):
Exactly, I was not expecting for that to come out of his mouth. <laugh> in my first conversation with him more ever. And he said, I just happened to create this company, uh, by accident. Now I’m looking for how can we use the company to be forced for good? And then I went out to meet him in person. And I remember going to the cafeteria, and at the time I was the C F O of Califia farm. So I was very attuned, not only from a personal lifestyle standpoint, but from a professional standpoint of what kind of milk people were using. Were they using plant-based milk or not? He asked if I wanted a coffee. They had a very fancy coffee machine in the cafeteria. And I said, sure, but do you have plant milk? And he said, I don’t know. I don’t drink coffee. We opened the machine and sure enough there was almond milk and oat milk already loaded into the machine. And I had this kind of shock look on my face. And he looked at me like, why are you shocked? And then he said, oh yeah, we wouldn’t have animal products here. Why would we do that? <laugh>, it’s bad for the environment, it’s bad for the animals. And some people may not like it, but you know, they, they go work somewhere else.
Andrea Learned (07:52):
Sandeep Patel (07:53):
So I was not expecting that either. And it was a, it was a level of conviction and following through on that conviction more so than I’m even seen at some, you know, executives at plant-based food companies themselves. So I thought that was very, very interesting. And the company had a long-standing focus on doing good for the world, but the approach was more diffuse. One, it was a great approach. We empower people to be their own activist, and the goal was to create a platform for activists to express themselves. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> through custom grips and things like that. Okay. And that program was called Populism and expanded to over 450 nonprofit partners. But in my conversations with David, even before I joined, I was commenting, wouldn’t it be great if we could tie the company’s focus and products more directly to what you care about personally and what is so important for the world that many companies and the governments are not focusing on as much as they should, as well as consumers. Yeah. So that kicked off a lot of conversations, which then led for me to join the company in early 2021. And since that time, we’ve really tried to bring that vision to life and connect a focus on more sustainable food choices to the products and the partnerships that we support.
Andrea Learned (09:18):
I want to emphasize this part. Sandeep is talking about tying the company’s consumer focus and products more directly to what he and the CEO care about personally. Thus the mission around food sustainability and food waste. I love this. This is why I focus on Leaders Living Change in this podcast.
Sandeep Patel (09:37):
When I joined the company, they had already been working on sustainable materials. Okay. They had looked at biodegradable materials, concluded that that could actually do more harm than good. If it’s not composted properly, it can release methane. And they landed on a plant-based solution, a variety of different suppliers, very thorough testing, cornstarch, canola oil, castor bean, for example. And we thought for a while to call it Pop Grip echo, I convinced David and others at the company to call it Pop Grip Plant.
Andrea Learned (10:09):
Sandeep Patel (10:10):
And here we had the makings of something that we can now start connecting the product to our broader vision of a plant-based future. And you know, we, we had a lot of debates, like it’s gonna be a stretch. So the same reaction that you had, why is Pop Socket supporting Vegan Women’s Summit and Reducetarian Summit and Right. And focus on these things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what is the connection, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So we said, look, it might take us a while to really articulate that connection. In the meantime, let’s just start doing stuff. Let’s start doing stuff that has impact. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So one of the things that we did is we reached out to Partnership for Healthier America, an organization that Michelle Obama actually had started when she was First Lady. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> focused on providing more nutritious food to people in need with a real focus on nutrition and not just hunger relief.
Yes. A lot of hunger relief is focused on calories and expired food, Uhhuh, <affirmative>, and not necessarily nutrition and, and food equity, which leads to health equity, which leads to economic equity. So it’s an organization that I had gotten to know when I was at Califia Farms because we were thinking of doing things with them there. And we landed on a partnership where for all of the plant-based products that we sold on our website, we would donate cash to P H A and then they would then use that to fund a program called Good Food for All. And so we launched that in December of 21 with an initial goal of 150,000 servings over the course of a year. Wow. We hit that goal in two or three months, we exceeded that significantly. And earlier this year, we expanded that goal to a million Servings. And then what we also did as part of that partnership is we enlisted the support of five plant-based food brands, including Beyond Meat, wild Earth, back to the Roots.
Andrea Learned (12:06):
What do you mean by support? Supporting them in the fruits and vegetables offering? Is that what you’re saying? The
Sandeep Patel (12:12):
Whole concept of the partnership was we combine a corporate action, we’re putting more sustainable materials into this product with a nonprofit partnership where there’s a charitable component. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then the third piece, which I’m most excited about, but it’s also the hardest to execute, is a call for the consumer to act.
Andrea Learned (12:32):
Sandeep Patel (12:32):
And contribute. Yes. So the call there was, we had coupons and incentives from these five plant-based food brands. Okay. And then with pha, we had co-branded emails, a programmatic set of emails. So, you know, thank you for buying this sustainable pop socket. Did you know that one of the most impactful ways to address climate change is actually some of the food choices you make? And here’s some incentives from five plant-based food brands that we know well and trust to try products,
Andrea Learned (13:01):
Corporate leadership and conviction in this space is lacking. And Sandeep and his team are bold voices in this movement. I asked him why it’s so hard for corporate leaders to get louder.
Sandeep Patel (13:12):
It’s interesting because there are lots of companies stepping up to do things for climate change. They tend to gravitate towards things like tree planting. Yes.
And so you have no shortage of brands saying, we’re gonna be carbon neutral because we bought land, or we’re gonna fund tree planting projects, and we’re gonna do that. And that’s great. But from our standpoint where we have an installed base of, say, 50 million consumers around the world using our products, what are we asking the consumer to do? Right. And so we’ve always believed that impact should be participatory. So we’ve tried to create a participatory impact model. And so part of our thought is how can we kind of, in the right way, gently nudge consumers to understand one of the most impactful things they can do for the benefit of the world and their fellow human beings and, and living beings is change even so slightly their food habits, integrating more plant-based foods and reducing the amount of food waste. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, those two things. If you look at project drawdown, you look at all these other things, the science is very clear.
They’re the number one, number two or number three strategies, depending on whether you look at the 1.5 degree scenario or two degree Celsius scenario. They’re the, they’re in the top three things people can do. Companies and governments have not tended to focus on that, though. They focus on electric vehicles, solar panels and other things, which is all great. We need all of that. But without addressing these two big issues, we’re not gonna get there. We’re not gonna be at 1.5, forget 1.5, we won’t even be at two degree Celsius. And I view it as such an urgent issue. And our company views it as such an urgent issue that you gotta focus on the solutions that are gonna have immediate impact and the biggest immediate impact. And so, while I think it’s great that a lot of companies are focusing on tree planting, there’s not enough land in the world to plant all the trees people have committed to, unless we change how we think about food.
Andrea Learned (15:21):
I couldn’t agree more. Why are food systems so hard for people to see and address? The intergovernmental panel on climate change referred to as I P C C is United Nations Body for assessing the science related to climate change. Among the three key things they say we can address, one of them is food waste, and another is the adoption of more sustainable diets. And no one seems to be talking about it. Cop 27 last year was supposedly focused on food. And from my vantage point following it online, I didn’t find that at all to be the case. If they’re not seeing the connection to climate, how can he change that? Does he have any insight on how to get food on their radars?
Sandeep Patel (16:01):
Well, I think it’s, you know, I think one of the reasons people are hesitant to talk about it is there’s a number of reasons. One can be leader’s, personal preferences. Another can be they’re worried it’s too sensitive a topic, and people have cultural preferences and so forth. Right. The cultural preferences bite the way, go the other way as well. And actually, a plant-based diet, I would argue is the most inclusive type of diet you could serve as a company. Everybody will be included, right? Absolutely. And so even cultural inclusion gets flipped on its head. Perversely to be a reason why, oh, we have to have meat for these reasons. But every culture around the world has a deep, rich history of plant-based foods. So, you know, I would argue it’s also increasing inclusivity to do that. But really it’s, I, I think, you know, our approach is, look, it’s, it’s every company will make, should make a decision on its own.
Right? But the first place to start is where are you spending your corporate dollars? And so when Adam Newman at WeWorks came out and said, oh, we’re not gonna serve me the WeWorks anymore, corporate dollars. Like people can bring their own food in if they want, but we’re not gonna spend it, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that makes total sense to me. It’s like we’re not telling our employees how they have to do things in their own life. Everyone’s welcome to work here. Sure. But we as a company, we need to be very cognizant. If we’re going out of our way to put solar panels on our roof and and going to all kinds of lengths to figure out what kind of gasoline or delivery trucks are using, that’s great. But let’s not just focus on the plastic straws of the world. Right. You need to focus on the biggest issues.
Right. And I think every company should start with the food they’re offering in whatever way they think they can manage. That there’s a, a nonprofit greener by default. Oh, yes. Uh, which I’m honored to have been asked to join their board very recently. And I think they’re taking a great approach. They’re working with big companies and governments like the city of New York to just increase the number of plant-based options and simply making it a default. Right. Which then gets back to the inclusivity point, and it goes back to coming full circle. Your question of like, what has been the thread through my career? Well, instead of the people choosing a diet that’s generally better for the planet, better for health, better for animals, having to kind of say, yeah, I need a special diet. I need something else. Right? Flip it on its head. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Right? And so in its darkest terms, if you feel like you need to have meat or dairy and a meal that is more carbon consumptive and you know, all these other things, then raise your hand. Simply flipping the script will lead to a lot of change. So, you know, my advice to other corporate leaders would be focus on the science. What is the most important thing as a company we can do? And then there needs to be some internal consistency. If sustainability is very important, then yes, you should focus on the type of light bulbs you have in the building. But first, focus on the most important things you can do. And again, it doesn’t need to be all or none. If you simply set gradual goals, we wanna reduce the amount of meat that we buy as a company by 10%, then 20%, then 30%, it will have a massive impact.
Andrea Learned (19:23):
I’m so glad Sandy brought up, greener by default, an initiative that helps institutions make plant-based with the default. Diners have the choice to opt into meat and dairy, but this strategy allows companies to meet carbon reduction goals, save on food costs, and improve health and inclusivity. I recently moderated a panel at GreenBiz Verge where LinkedIn presented their pilot case study, and the data blew the audience away. I think we’re lacking bold, business leaders will talk about this and make shifts. I wondered if Sandeep was ever in rooms with leaders where this comes up, what has been their resistance? And if he has been able to convince any of them to start to think about it, what has that conversation been like? Well,
Sandeep Patel (19:59):
I, I tell you, first we start with our employees. And so at first, and, and this decision on kind of corporate policy was made even before I got to the company back in 2018 or 2019. And there were people who were like, oh, you’re telling me what I can eat? And so forth. And again, it was like, no, this is just the corporate dollars, like what we’re spending it on. But what I will say is, since I joined the company, we did a number of education sessions on climate change. Like what are the most important things? And we just let the signs speak for itself. And I think now a lot more people get it and understand it. And so I think just getting the word out, like, this is the science, this is why we’re making this decision, this is why we’re doing these things, number one.
Number two, making it fun and interesting and giving people tools. So one of the other things we did is we invested in a great startup out of the UK called Plants and Perks. And they’ve created what we believe is the world’s first plant-based employee wellness portal. And we have, all our employees have access to this, and they have all kinds of tips, recipes, live webcasts of cooking shows and demonstrations. So, so getting employees engaged in a way that’s fun, I think is also very important. Third, in terms of getting other corporates to, to do things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I would say we haven’t spent a ton of time advocating on that front yet. Okay. We wanted to make sure, first, we wanted to first just start doing things and create a track record. Look, here is what, what is possible, and here’s what we are doing. And one of the reasons I’m thrilled to be on this podcast is so we can start getting the word out. Like these are the, some of the things that companies can start doing and really improving their approach to sustainability by addressing some of the most important issues.
Andrea Learned (21:46):
I’ve been dying for somebody to say that. And the fact that Sandeep has these proof points will be hugely impactful when they’re ready to present it to the world. It’s telling a new story at the leadership level. The data and framing combined can help other leaders make these tweaks to their policies and infrastructure and nudge employees to make different decisions around food and gradually mindsets will shift. Pop Sockets has such a great story to tell. Sandeep should literally be on stage talking about food system shifts at COP 28. He tells us some of the policies, practices, and initiatives that have been successful and implemented in a way that doesn’t alienate employees.
Sandeep Patel (22:25):
Look, I’d say they’re everyday things. So if we have business partners come out and we’re going to dinner, I mean, we’ll make clear, here’s our corporate policy. So you want us to pay for it? It’s gotta be vegetarian <laugh>. Okay?
Andrea Learned (22:40):
And we don’t even know where Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is. <laugh>.
Sandeep Patel (22:43):
Some people are like, great. Oh, that’s so interesting that you do that. Other people look at us like we’re from Mars. But that’s fine. Uh, you gotta have the conviction to kind of stick to it and articulate this. And I think even those little things will start having impact over time. On the much bigger front, what we would love to do is put together a coalition similar to what has been done for tree planting, which is fantastic. So the Trillion Tree Initiative, for example, and one of the ideas we’ve been kicking around is a trillion meal initiative. How can we transition a trillion meals over the next X amount of years to plant-based, you know, we’ve done some equivalency calculations relative to tree planting. And again, the tour synergistic, if you do this, it frees up land for tree planting, right? Yes. So it’ll help companies with stated tree planting goals achieve their objectives, right?
So we would love to put that kind of coalition together and put it on the same footing as tree planting and electric vehicles and smart grids and, and you name it, in renewable energy, right? It needs to be at that same level as opposed to, oh, it’s too difficult to change food habits is just fade a complete, it’s gonna happen, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, mm-hmm. <affirmative> will, changes in consumer behavior have shown that you can change things and people are willing, and they’re very eager to play a participatory role in addressing arguably the most important issue of our time climate change. It’s just a question of finding those ways to do it. And I think because it’s very politically charged for governments to do this, that corporates have a huge opportunity here to step in and take leadership.
Andrea Learned (24:27):
Oh, I couldn’t agree more. I, I mean, I’m so excited to hear you’re talking about this and thinking about it this way. Um, do you have tips on the joyfulness, because I know that the joyfulness was in there, tips for making this shift fun and accessible that may inspire anybody who might be listening or interested in this, like tips for the joyfulness of this transition?
Sandeep Patel (24:51):
Well, I, I’d say a couple things. One, as I, as I referenced earlier, you know, every culture around the world I think has rich history of plant-based food tradition. So you can bring kind of diversity into the equation as well by highlighting, I remember when I was at cia, we would have this tremendous Mexican food that happened to be vegan, right? But it, it wasn’t that it led with vegan, it was, it’s just great tasting Mexican food, right? And so just bringing the richness of flavors from all around the world to play, you don’t need some fancy high tech meat alternative to have great tasting plant-based food, right? So I think that can bring that joyfulness and celebratory aspect to things, particularly in global multinational companies, right? It’s like we have food from all around the world. We can celebrate that and, and celebrate different people’s heritage and so forth. Secondly, I think things like plants and perks. They’re trying to gamify plant-based trial, right? So they make it fun. They have leaderboards, they have contest pledges who’s been most successful. You win prizes, you win, things like that, right? And then third, I would say just, just being very transparent about company sustainability goals. And we need everyone’s help in order to achieve these things. And these are some of the ways that people can do that.
Andrea Learned (26:08):
Are you hopeful that we can change the minds of corporations <laugh>?
Sandeep Patel (26:13):
Uh, I am Okay. Because I think that companies realize they need to be in order to be good corporate citizens, and because employees wanna work, get excited about working in a company actually doing positive things in the world, that they need to take aggressive action on climate change. So that is a major hurdle that’s already been passed. Now it’s a question of, well, okay, what is most impactful to do? Right? And I think, again, the science is very clear. So it’s kind of making it palatable from a standpoint of actually taking action, uh, in a way that’s very aligned with the science.
Andrea Learned (26:48):
Yeah. Oh, this has been wonderful. Sandeep, thank you so much for your time. I, I love your story and thank you for sharing it. And I cannot wait to to hear from you about how you’re gonna be talking about this or really positioning yourself and that coalition sounds amazing. I’m so excited to hear about that. Thank you again for your time. This was so fun.
Sandeep Patel (27:07):
Andrea Learned (27:10):
What a great conversation. I want to emphasize how energizing it is to speak to a corporate leader who is walking the talk and putting sustainability in the forefront of his company’s impact strategy. While it may be surprising to many that a CFO would be so focused on impact and sustainability, Sandeep argues and I agree that CFOs in the sustainability reporting line makes a lot of sense. It removes what some may perceive as the tension between sustainability and financial objectives. And it allows for an opportunity to integrate sustainability into core performance and reporting metrics with equal status as financial results. Small shifts, friends, that’s all it takes to get the ball rolling. Make plant-based your organization’s default food option, and allow folks to opt in for meat and dairy, eat at plant-based restaurants. When your company’s paying, put plant-based milks in the coffee maker. These choices will often lead to larger discussions and bigger goals. But Sandeep and I are here to encourage you to take the first step for your company. Lead through example, live your change. Identifying, building and leveraging your leadership is something few may feel prepared to do, but climate influence can’t wait. If your organization is ready to make the shift, reach out to me. I’d love to help. Find firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also easy to find on Twitter until it is no more. And LinkedIn
Living Change is produced by LARJ media. That’s L a R j Media. Special thanks to Tina, Joel, Jeff, and Maria. Until next time, pedal safely.
Steve Vitolo (00:00):
We’re gonna release numbers to our users about their environmental impact. And I’ll bet you people have never considered this. They’re using Scriptation as a productivity tool, and they’re gonna feel good about it. They’re gonna be aware of it, and it’s like, okay, let’s not stop here, do more. So we’ll give them resources on, on what else they can do.
Andrea Learned (00:25):
I’m Andrea Learned and welcome to Living Change, a podcast exploring Unconventional Climate Leadership. I talk to people who’ve converted their personal values into business and policy decisions in a load of different sectors. The more we’re visible about these changes, the more we chart the way for other leaders wanting to create new social norms. Today I’m speaking with Steve Vitoloitolo, the Emmy Award-winning founder and CEO of Scriptation. Steve won an engineering Emmy for developing a script annotation tool, which saves film and TV production’s time and paper. It’s used by staffers on big name shows, including Saturday Night Live and Game of Thrones. Ever heard of those two? The idea for scriptation came to Steve early in his career.
Steve Vitolo (01:08):
I’m a TV writer. Um, I’ve written features before as well, but when I starting out, I started as a writer’s assistant. And when you’re a writer’s assistant slash script coordinator, you are putting out scripts for the production is one of the things that you do. You do a thousand things <laugh> <laugh>, but one of the things that you do, uh, is you get the scripts ready and looking good and production ready, and then you distribute it to the cast and crew. So I was, um, working on a pilot in 2013. We had a table read, and then two weeks later we started production. And the showrunner was someone that rewrote constantly. And every single night there was a 50 page script that would be distributed to a hundred plus people. So as a script coordinator, I was getting the script production ready, and then I was printing it out and then handing it to a production assistant to then make a hundred copies to then destroy the environment <laugh>.
I was like, okay, here’s 50 pages that’s gonna result in at least 5,000 more pages getting printed, and then we’re gonna do it all over again the next day. Wow. So, you know, at least at that time, I, I wasn’t a person where you would think of, oh, you know, he’s a super environmental conscious person. So the fact that, you know, I was like, this is insane. Like, what are we doing? We’re destroying the environment. We could easily not do this. You know, how easy it is to not do this very easy <laugh>. So people were feeling the same thing that I was feeling, but it’s, you know, someone needs to do something about it. And it was, it was the right time. And it also wasn’t as simple as, okay, let’s go digital. Because the big problem with getting all of these script revisions is a lot of people make notes on the pages. So if you have a 50 page script and you hand it out to everyone, you have a faction of people that are marking up the script and when they get a new draft, they have to rewrite all the notes that they did previously. So, you know, the big idea was what if you could do this digitally? Yes. You know, Adobe has been around since the seventies, eighties,
Andrea Learned (03:26):
<laugh>. Yes. Yeah, very long time.
Steve Vitolo (03:28):
But what if you could make notes digitally and then transfer them in an intelligent way into the new version of the script? We had to figure out if this is something that could be done. Was the technology available to us? Could we do it? Was it practical for people? And when I was meeting with all these different departments, I said to them, would you be willing to go digital? And I got, sure, maybe, I don’t know. And then I said, well, what if we could transfer your notes into new script provisions? And then everyone was like, ding, ding, ding,
Andrea Learned (04:03):
Ding, ding, <laugh>. I’ll
Steve Vitolo (04:03):
Figure out, yeah, I will figure out your software if you can do that, because it saves me hours of time every week. And there just has to be a practical component to this. And that, you know, coincided with the environmental thing. And then it’s like, okay, like now we really have something here and it’s something that is doing good for people in multiple ways and they could get behind and use it.
Andrea Learned (04:29):
So how does somebody in a totally different industry go, oh, I know who to call about the technology. How did you do
Steve Vitolo (04:35):
That? Well, I didn’t know who to call. I, I had no idea
Andrea Learned (04:38):
Ghostbusters Scott, I was,
Steve Vitolo (04:41):
I was techy in my middle school and high school, and I would make websites with using HTML and things like that, but this was like obviously way beyond anything I had ever done. So I just, I made a post on LinkedIn, Facebook, whatever was available at the time. And I said, does anyone know an iOS developer that can understand PDF documents? And luckily I found the right person at the right time and we worked on it together. And I still remember the meeting when he showed me we were in, you know, we were at UCLA and he’s like, okay, check those out, <laugh>. And then he hit the button and it moved over. And I was like, wow, that’s amazing. That’s so
Andrea Learned (05:24):
Steve Vitolo (05:25):
That, and I was kinda like, okay, let’s, let’s make it better and then let’s put it out there and let’s see if people respond to it.
Andrea Learned (05:31):
So who, was it somebody that you were already working with? Was it a production team you were already working with that you, that you got to try it first? Or how did you do maybe a pilot or sort of start to test it? Who was game for testing?
Steve Vitolo (05:43):
Very brave <laugh>. Early adopting, uh, beta testers. Uh, we had a director that won an Emmy for Modern Family and he was using, because the, remember, you know, at that point the iPad and script is primarily an iPad app. Okay. You can use it on your Mac and you could use it on your phone, but people are used to having a paper script and a, something like that size. So, okay. An iPad had come out around 2011. Oh, okay. So it’s like, you know, the technology needed to arrive at the right time and there was a lot of that. Okay. You know, there were PDF readers and annotators that had come out at that time and he was already somebody that was using them and wanted to go digital. So this clearly appealed to him. It’s like, wow, this is the biggest problem I have now, is I just have to highlight and redraw on everything. So we got him to do it. Was
Andrea Learned (06:40):
This somebody that you worked with directly or that you’d worked with in the past and you had a good relationship with? Or like, what was that first conversation like?
Steve Vitolo (06:46):
This guy was somebody I had never worked with before, but Oh wow. I worked with a line producer for a number of years. He kept bringing me back to work on shows, thankfully. And this guy is digital and he is like always on the cutting edge of stuff, so he might be interested. And he was using us on big shows at the time when he was the only one. And we were testing stuff out. I don’t think I would’ve done that. <laugh>.
Andrea Learned (07:11):
Oh my gosh. I
Steve Vitolo (07:12):
Was like, okay. And I was saying like, here are all the caveats of using this. Right. Make sure you have a backup. Make sure you all <laugh>. Because it, at that point there were so many kinks to iron out of the app and, but yeah, it was wow. He started using it. And then in 2016 we released the app in the app store as a download where you can get it for 10 bucks. Oh my
Andrea Learned (07:36):
Steve Vitolo (07:37):
We got so many early adopters that just wanted to like, okay, you’re promising this thing. Like, let’s see if it could perform.
Andrea Learned (07:44):
So I’m kind of curious, would that director be interested in being named and famed for this? Or do you keep directors name? Oh, sure. You know what I mean? Like who is this? No, no, no, because I think we need to cheer this person on <laugh>.
Steve Vitolo (07:58):
I was just talking to him right before this call. Um, his name is Michael Spiller. Okay. He’s an Emmy Award-winning director for Modern Family. And he’s just done a ton of work since then.
Andrea Learned (08:08):
The reason why I wanted to emphasize Michael Spiller is because Steve needed an early adopter. And so by being game and taking a chance and saying yes to Steve’s app, Michael Spiller is also living change without a prominent name buying in early scriptation would’ve had a hard time getting enough beta testers to get off the ground. Steve tells us more about the early adoption of the app once Michael got on board.
Steve Vitolo (08:30):
So scriptation note transfer is very demonstrable. So imagine one person on a production, they’re in the middle of shooting, shooting is, you know, 12 hour days and you don’t want script changes coming down <laugh> while you’re in the middle of doing something. It’s really hard, <laugh>. And, uh, so, so, you know, script revisions just make things harder for everyone. So imagine someone on set, say a director, there’s, you know, 10 revision pages that come down and, and film and tv. It’s different colored pages, blue, pink, yellow, green pages, and there’s 10 revision pages that come down. So you have one person that has gotten it digitally over email and they hit a button and all of their notes get transferred into a new draft. And they’re like, okay, this took me 30 seconds. I looked at everything, I understand it, I’m ready to go in five minutes. And then everybody else is collating their pages in their binders, <laugh> and rewriting notes. Yeah. And then they’re, they go to the person that, you know, use scriptation. What, what was that <laugh>? What did you do?
Andrea Learned (09:38):
Steve Vitolo (09:39):
Cool. I wanna do that. Oh my gosh. So it spread that way because we didn’t have, you know, we weren’t, we’re not VC funded. I mean, if you think about this space, it’s a, it’s a niche product and a niche industry. So we, you know, we had to grow slowly and we had to grow organically. So, um, something that happened to me when I was working on shows, which is I’d be on a show and it would get canceled and then I’d have to go to a new show. Right. This actually worked in our favor, <laugh>, cuz you had, you had somebody working on a show and they would spread it to a few people that show would get canceled <laugh>, and then two people from that show would go there and three people from that show would go there and then it’d spread. So it was, it was very organic and that was really the only way that we could, it was the best way to do it for us at the time, cuz we couldn’t handle a ton of users at the time.
And we, it was also great cuz we had the small group of early adopters and we kept having to make the app better and they were so invested and we would get a bunch of data in terms of like, this is how you make this better and this is what users really want. And okay, we thought we were gonna build this, but they really want that. So it, it really worked in such a nice way. And really the only way that I, you know, not a business person, a film and TV writer could really do it.
Andrea Learned (11:06):
I was so curious. What were the downloads like and what was the equivalent in saving Trees, CO2 emissions, waste water.
Steve Vitolo (11:14):
Just last year, the 2022, we’ve done 133,000 note transfers. Mm. That equates to almost 7 million pieces of paper that weren’t used, which is, you know, almost 15,000 reams of paper. And if you want to calculate that over tons of wood and BTUs and all that, I mean the numbers are crazy <laugh>, it’s the equivalent of, you know, 600,000 pounds of co2, over 700,000 gallons of water, almost 40,000 pounds of solid waste. So it’s real numbers and the that are using it. I mean some are for environmental reasons and I wanna get off paper, but a lot of people are for productivity reasons and a byproduct that is that they’re saving a ton of CO2 emissions that don’t have to be made.
Andrea Learned (12:10):
I love Steve’s term byproduct. One of the reasons I was so eager to speak with Steve is because he is not running around saying he’s a climate leader and yet he’s influencing change through innovation and smart business and climate action is this huge byproduct. I wondered if environmental concerns had always been at the forefront for Steve.
Steve Vitolo (12:28):
I didn’t get really into environmental issues until after college. Um, I started scriptation and then I sort of understood the impact of all of this. Cuz when you’re, when it’s paper, it’s not just the amount of paper and, but it’s the delivery and the ink and the toner and the printing and the brads and it’s, it’s all of this. So, you know, I wish I had a better background environmental impact story, but I came to it late and I guess it, there’s, as long as you come to it,
Andrea Learned (12:59):
Steve makes an important point and one that’s really hit home. As I’ve developed this podcast, I initially thought these conversations were going to be about people whose personal values have led them to make change. But what I found is that often enough people make these shifts when a realization hits while doing their work, suddenly they start connecting the dots and leadership thinking flows from there. Corporate sustainability leaders often get nervous when they’re asked about how they’ve changed their own transportation modes or food intake for example. But they love talking about sustainability efforts generally. I think Steve is a great example of someone who focused on his own work, who identified a need for an efficiency and productivity tool and saw the climate impact emerge energized by the technical side. He pushes this whole initiative forward. His work backed him up into living change. And I think that’s more common than I initially realized. I love spotlighting it.
Steve Vitolo (13:52):
Right? And so, so something that we haven’t done, and I mentioned this a little before, is that we’re gonna release numbers to our users about their environmental impact. And I’ll bet you people have never considered this. They’re using scriptation as a productivity tool and they’re gonna feel good about it. They’re gonna be aware of it and it’s like, okay, let’s not stop here, do more. So we’ll give them resources on, on what else they can do,
Andrea Learned (14:17):
Do more. Yes. The influence that Steve has here is incredible. And it’s an example for leaders in any business. And like Steve said, the data helps people visualize and comprehend their climate impact, even small amounts of data. I wondered how climate awareness is starting to be integrated into the entertainment industry
Steve Vitolo (14:35):
There. I know there has been a big push there. This isn’t my area of expertise. I am, you know, I’m a writer. Yep. I haven’t written climate stories, but if I’m writing, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a climate story, but just in the background, just no paper cups and just reusable. If, if we’re seeing this on screen and, and these things are so easy to do. I think that’s the thing that gets me on a lot of this. You know, here’s an example. I was on a panel with another app creator, uh, he’s a director. Um, he created an app called Shot Lister. He was on set and people were, had lunch and they were using the single serve utensils and, you know, we all know how bad that is. And so what he was doing was he brought a lunch pale from home and utensils that he could wash and he got in line, had it, and was like, okay, this is what I’m doing. And then everyone saw that and they’re like, wow, I’m a bad person.
Andrea Learned (15:34):
Steve Vitolo (15:34):
Yeah. So then he eventually got a ton of people to start doing that and having reusables and bringing their own stuff from home. So we just need to see it. Someone needs to do something small and then other people will be like, oh, well that’s really easy to do and I’m gonna do that. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’m, you know, I was never pressured, you know, into going vegan. It was just something that my, my wife didn’t eat meat forever. And so I was like, okay, well we’ll move in together and
<laugh>, why am I gonna have meat in my apartment? I’m not gonna cook two separate meals. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that’s an easy way to eliminate stuff. So it it, it’s just kind of this, and then, you know, I, the more research I do, I was like, okay, what actual environmental impact is this and how bad is it on my health? And then it’s like, okay, I’m gonna cut this out and if I’m writing on a show, if I have my own feature, if I’m directing, that’s how I want the background of my film set to be. I don’t want to shove it in people’s faces, but I just want it to be there so it’s normalized and that this is a better way of doing it. And it’s not hard. It’s really not hard. I think going in terms of going vegan, you know, 20 years ago is really hard <laugh>. Um, now there are so many options and so many companies, uh, that are, you know, have vegan products that taste really good. It’s almost hard not to do it. Oh,
Andrea Learned (17:04):
Steve Vitolo (17:05):
That. Um, keep
Andrea Learned (17:06):
Steve Vitolo (17:07):
<laugh>, I say as I still am not a hundred percent vegan
Andrea Learned (17:10):
<laugh> and it’s okay not to be a hundred percent vegan. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Steve should feel great about all that he’s doing for the climate. I wanted to hear if others in the entertainment sector are getting louder about climate action.
Steve Vitolo (17:24):
Yeah, there’s a ton of people in this space right now and it’s refreshing to see young entertainment activists. Earth Angel is a company that we’ve started around the same time and their mission is to limit waste. And they have people on set, they have eco PAs that help you understand how to be more sustainable and what products and services to use. And they have a whole package and they’ve been growing at a crazy rate. So great. They’re on productions all over the place.
Andrea Learned (17:58):
It’s interesting because this is all kind of, it’s not like the famous or the fancy stuff, it’s all the stuff around the sides, right? It’s like how does the actual operation or the work in the entertainment industry get done? It’s what you’re doing right? And how do you clean things up and kind of take care of food and do all these things? It’s all the stuff on the edges that’s making a huge impact.
Steve Vitolo (18:18):
Yeah. It’s, it’s from people starting companies that have worked in the entertainment industry and they see something they don’t like and something they could change. And now they have platforms on social media to get out there and young people starting companies that are affecting change and it’s trickling it’s way up to the top. Not some celebrity telling you what to do and shaming you when they’re on their jet. It’s people that are actually living this, that are poorer than you <laugh>. Yes.
Andrea Learned (18:50):
Steve Vitolo (18:51):
That’s like, if I, if I can do it, then we should all be able to do it. Yeah. And you’re finally getting studio buy-in too. And this has happened just recently. I, you know, had meetings with people in the green departments at studios as early as 2015. Wow. And it was, you know, like I mentioned before, one person and it was largely a figurehead. There was, uh, one sustainability person that I met with a bunch of times, came really friendly with, used the product and just could not get the studio to like even have meetings on it. And, and she eventually left and went to a studio where she actually could enact change. But it was like this, it, it’s, it was the most obvious display of just having a person there just to have a person there. But that has changed recently. And because of that change, it’s helped all of these companies started by a lot of, you know, younger people to actually become real businesses. And it’s just been good for them. It’s been good for the people, um, on the production and for the studio. So it’s, it’s all a benefit. And I don’t know what eventually, you know, made that shift there, but we’re, we’re there now and we’re, we’re constantly moving and pushing and pushing the studios and thankfully they’re actually listening this time.
Andrea Learned (20:23):
That’s great. Now I’m wondering, my one wonder there is, does the studio that you had built this whole relationship with in this time with, have they crossed over to the light yet? Or are you still seeing them kind of lagging on this? No, <laugh>. Wow. That’s fascinating. That’s fascinating. So they’re looking around at all these other studios that are doing something and they’re still not acting.
Steve Vitolo (20:44):
It’s hard to shame them, right? Yeah. Because then I’m out there shaming and
Andrea Learned (20:47):
Oh yeah, it’s, yeah. The other thing that I wanted to say is there’s a pledge. We’re talking about this paperless pledge. So tell me a little bit about that. And I think there was a, there’s a 2030 pledge to make Hollywood paperless. So tell me a little bit about where you are on that and what that pledge is about.
Steve Vitolo (21:02):
2030 is a pie in the sky number. Even though it could be done today. <laugh>, we could all stop it today <laugh>. Um, but I, I understand the speed of how everyone, you know, like I said, gradual change. Yeah. Um, but yeah, I mean we’ve had people come to us specifically, a lot of people are on the productivity side, but we have some people that, you know, Valerie Weiss, a director for example, who heard about us and is using us because of the environmental impact and she directed a feature called Mixtape on Netflix, which came out. It’s great. Watch it.
Andrea Learned (21:39):
Steve Vitolo (21:40):
So she’s part of the 2030 Coalition with Bradley Whitford, Gloria Callone, ket. We’ve, you know, made it our goal to try and get the industry paperless by 2030 and we hope it happens. It’s, you know, an aspirational feat, I guess <laugh>. But hopefully the idea is that we get enough people to join this coalition. We make it known that that’s where we want to go. We set a goal and we try and connect with studios to make this happen. What can we do to work together? We work with Guild, we work with celebrities. Hey, you’re on the show, so let’s talk to the studio and see what we can do and try and get people off paper scripts cuz it is so easy. And not necessarily using scriptation either. Yeah. If they don’t wanna use scriptation for whatever reason, that’s fine. But why do you have to print a paper script where we all have computers, phones, devices, iPads, we can go digital today. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Yeah.
Andrea Learned (22:37):
So that leads me to tell me the hashtag
Steve Vitolo (22:42):
Andrea Learned (22:43):
Who makes the decision ultimately, who do we need to impact with that pledge paperless call
Steve Vitolo (22:49):
Top line people. It shows. Okay. Honestly because the, you know, the way that scriptation succeeded is by being used on shows that are very popular. Um, because those people on the shows
Andrea Learned (23:03):
Give me an example of shows that use it. Really big name shows that you think are especially gonna move average Joe TV or movie viewer to go, oh my gosh, how cool. Right? And then they can celebrate that.
Steve Vitolo (23:16):
So a lot of the big shows I can’t name, but I will name some of the ones that are possible
Andrea Learned (23:21):
That you can’t name.
Steve Vitolo (23:22):
Okay. The big show that we worked on, you know, this is our first big account was uh, game of Thrones.
Andrea Learned (23:26):
Well that’s pretty
Steve Vitolo (23:27):
Big, so obviously Yeah, that’s a big one. <laugh> um, one that we’re working on now is Saturday Night Live.
Andrea Learned (23:33):
That’s pretty big too.
Steve Vitolo (23:35):
Wait, so here’s what happens. <laugh>, <laugh>, um, when you have, when you have big shows like that, those are the ones that can say I want to use this product and studio. You have to figure out how to pay for it because it is, the big shows are the ones that call the shots, right? Yep. With the high powerful people on those shows. We want to use this, we want to use that. And then, you know, the higher ups or like whatever you guys wanna do cuz you make us a ton of money.
Andrea Learned (24:04):
Okay. That’s the bottom line. I love that. Is there anything else that you’re working on in the climate sphere or is it just mainly refining this product, which I think is is enough, right? But is there anything else that you’re working on?
Steve Vitolo (24:16):
You know, in terms of the company, it’s just branching out into different production departments. There’s a lot of areas that we haven’t explored yet. You know, actors is one of them. We are mostly a production app, but we wanna move into, um, line learning features for actors and you know, that way there can use it on their phone instead of printing up their paper sides for the day and casting teams. Cuz there is an enormous market there. An enormous amount of waste from sides being printed. Um, another thing we wanna do is get into more colleges and universities because they’re more receptive towards this type of thing. Yeah. Not necessarily script revisions cuz that’s like a, a television production thing, but for sure the process of, you know, reading and annotating a script and they’re also already on their devices, so Right. If we start there and we do some, you know, teaching of this is the benefits of it and the environmental impact and we have those two pieces just like we have in our professional space. I think in, you know, colleges, universities, and we have some high schools and middle schools.
Andrea Learned (25:20):
Steve Vitolo (25:21):
Know, these expectation as well. Right. Um, I think those are, you know, places for us to focus.
Andrea Learned (25:25):
Well, just to close this out and say the climate influence of what you’ve done and what you’re continuing to do is unbelievable. So thank you so much for taking the time.
Steve Vitolo (25:36):
Thanks for having me. This was fun.
Andrea Learned (25:39):
Learning about sustainability in the entertainment business was energizing and new for me. Our conversation makes me with my social media minded brain wanna tag every production company on Twitter about scriptation. It’s pretty cool that Steve was recognized for his work with an engineering Emmy. I’m almost certain this conversation has already inspired you to think about small changes you might be able to make in your sector. It doesn’t have to be an Emmy worthy app, but all of us can be sending an example and getting louder. Identifying, building and leveraging your leadership is something few may feel prepared to do, but climate influence can’t wait. If your organization is ready to make the shift, reach out to me. I’d love to help. Find me at www.learnedon.com. I’m also easy to find on Twitter until it is no more. And LinkedIn. Living Change is produced by Larj Media. That’s l a R j Media. Special thanks to Tina, Joel, Jeff, and Maria. Until next time, pedal safely.