Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Ecopreneur Makes Waves...

Welcome to the first installment of the Ecopreneur blog – an informal and personal extension of the business side of my life you’re already familiar with if you shop at Grassroots or attend our workshops. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know me on a more casual level, join the discussion, share your views and experiences.

So where to begin? What the heck is an Ecopreneur anyway? And what makes me one?

In my mind, an Ecopreneur is anyone who, through a combination of imagination, idealism and integrity, creates a new way of doing business while being committed to a three-part bottom line: environmental, social and economic.

I wasn’t bred to be an environmentalist. When I was a kid I didn’t dream of being an activist when I grew up. It never really occurred to me that I could make a difference, in either a negative or a positive way. I grew up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. My “developmental” years were pretty standard. There weren’t any early warning signs that I would become an ardent crusader for the protection of our planet. My folks were loving and supportive, but not political at all. We didn’t compost let alone consume much in the way of fresh food. I don’t think I tried granola until I was in University and I didn’t get my first pair of Birkenstocks until I was twentysomething. My main connection to the outdoors and ultimately, my desire to protect it, came from how I spent all my childhood summers – a couple of hours north of Toronto at our family cottage. Come to think of it, there might have been some low-level activism brewing then, or at least an increased awareness of human impact on the environment -- every summer there were more cottages built, more boats on the lake, more cars on the highway, more commerce catering to seasonal residents – was there a point where it would have to stop?

In 1989 I was in my last year of University. My life plan was to go into business, probably work in a brokerage firm, build up my stock portfolio, make some money and live well. Then one day I read an article in the Toronto Star that changed everything. It was called “In a Sea of Pollution, One Can Still Make Waves” by David Suzuki. I credit that column with getting me on the environmentally-conscious path I’ve taken ever since. I was so struck by the article that I cut it out, read it and re-read it, and I still have the original. Suzuki was writing, as he probably has countless times before and after, about empowerment, making a difference, having the will to make simple choices in aid of the environment. His ideas were thoughtful, accessible, exciting, conscientious, honest. Reading the article helped me see that even if I made some small changes in my lifestyle they could add up to a positive effect on the environment. The message resonated: it was simple and effective.

I graduated, I worked and traveled, I volunteered with a number of environmental organizations, I protested and petitioned, and finally, I opened up Grassroots.

Encouraging Personal Empowerment. Making a Difference. Offering Accessible Ways to Effect Change. Being Conscientious and Honest. I believe these are the hallmarks of Grassroots.

I have been running the business for almost 15 years now. I make decisions every day that, I hope, honour the vision Suzuki wrote about back in 1989. Grassroots has developed into more than just a business – it is a community, a gathering place, an interactive information centre, a place of action, a forum for sharing ideas, it is philanthropic, a pioneer, a passionate and ethical leader. I followed Suzuki’s advice and looked for ways to make a difference. I put both my feet firmly on the path of Ecopreneurism, and hope my enthusiasm might influence others the way I was affected by that Suzuki article.

Now if I could only meet him in person…