Thursday, May 28, 2009

Creativity, Courage, and Forgetting to Drop Your PomPoms

Tomorrow morning, at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m., I am off to the train station in Quincy, Il. From there I go to Chicago (" kind of town, Chicago is..."). On Saturday morning, at 9:25 a.m. I will be standing in front of three (or so) editors of Country Living Magazine, trying desperately to explain the fabulousness of the Milkweed Mercantile. After my two minutes, they have three minutes to ask questions. They will choose five or six women entrepreneurs to be featured in the magazine.

I am so torn. A part of me feels supremely confident, fearless, brave and excited - this is the part of me who loves microphones, public speaking, sharing ideas and being the center of attention. But the other part of me, the part who forgot to drop her pompoms during cheerleader tryouts (at age 15) and then promptly burst into tears, is a bit worried. How to tap into the first, but not the second? How to honor the foiled cheerleader while embracing the woman I've become?

To me, the Mercantile is a wonder. Each day something new is finished, and we get closer to being open, and I am so excited that I practically jump up and down and clap my hands. I did a mock-up of a display for photos to bring along this weekend (since the building isn't exactly finished, I chose to feature bits and pieces...) and had so much fun doing it I thought my heart would burst.

But how to convey this in two short minutes? If my "product" were, oh, I don't know, a new kind of stapler, two minutes would feel plentiful and abundant. Two minutes for the Mercantile feels inadequate, miserly and impossible.
I've written and rewritten my 2-minute pitch, but was feeling totally stymied the other night. Kurt and Sparky happend to be there as I was melting down, and both suggested I listen to Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk.

I did, and promptly burst into tears. This is the part I especially love:

I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90’s, but she’s been a poet her entire lie and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew hat she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And the other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.”

I want to be there to catch the poem. I want to not miss my creativity as it goes barreling across the prairie. I want to be wise enough and prescient enough and present enough to grab it and share it with these editors, so that they can see what we are doing out here.

So Saturday, at 9:25, please stop for a second and send positive thoughts towards Chicago. I'll be waiting there, to grab them, and share.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Eco Goes Mainstream - International Home & Housewares Show

Recycled glass glasses from EuroCeramica.

Where does the time go? It's been over a month since I returned home from the Home & Housewares Show in Chicago.

What a great four days that was!

Topping off my experience was the opportunity to be on a panel of retailers discussing The Green Gourmet: Merchandising Green in a Gourmet Housewares Setting--What Works and What Doesn't. The three panelists were various shades of green, ranging from extremely customer-service oriented, green-if-it-sells Dominic Cimilluca of Dominic’s Kitchen Store, a traditional gourmet housewares store to way, WAY green (that would be me). In the middle was Maria Ornesto-Moran of Green Home Experts, who tries to lead her customers to greener options in her fabulous Oak Park, Illinois store, specializing in all things green for your home, from cleaning products to paint. Thoughtfully moderated by Bill McLoughlin of Gourmet Insider Magazine it was a fascinating look at how the cooking industry is slowly but oh-so-surely ooching it's way into the world of true sustainability. To listen, click here.

This is the Oatmeal Brulee from breakfast at the Hyatt. At the risk of sounding a bit naive, I thought it was a really cool idea!

In addition to the microphone aspect (which, as you may know, is my idea of a good time!), it was really fun and thought-provoking. I so enjoy speaking about the Mercantile and sustainable business, and am passionate about being able to share my ideas. Bill's questions led us down a very interesting path, and brought up all kinds of new ideas for me. It is also a really fun interacting with the audience, and I love practicing thinking on my feet. Trying to convey the many layers and facets of sustainability felt challenging and creative. Like most things in life, there are so many shades of gray, but a few key points stand out:

1. First of all, do you really need to purchase something new?

2. If you decide to purchase, consider investing in top quality goods and using them for decades. While a Le Creuset pot uses a lot of embodied energy to create, it will last FOREVER. This is so much more sustainable than a $5.99 "bargain" from WalMart that gets thrown in the landfill after a year.

3. Given a choice, choose the greener company. Granted, this is often VERY difficult - greenwashing is rampant! The good news is that many companies have certification that will help you determine if they're real or not. Take Bambu for example; on their website is a page that tells you all about their sustainability initiatives. They are members of 1% for the Planet, use certified organic bamboo, and have sustainable packaging. Additionally, they support Fair Trade practices (they are members of Green America) and take a socially responsible approach to business.

4. Ask questions, scrutinize the fine print, and use common sense - This Luminarc glassware display was shouting "GREEN" at the show. Upon closer inspection the product was glass, but not recycled glass. The box it came in was not made of recycled materials, it was merely "recycleable."

5. Which brings me to point number five: do we really need so many disposable, um, I mean recycleable products? No matter what they're made of, they're STILL disposable. It's time to return to bringing real plates to picnics instead of bamboo or compostable plates. Because, honestly, how many of those plates really get composted? Very few, I'd imagine.

Can you say "Greenwashing?" This product was supposedly green becasue it was glass, and came in a cardboard box that was recyclable. Wake up, Luminarc! This isn't going to cut it!

That's it for now. More soon on the very exciting, well-made, sustainably-sourced products from responsible companies that the Milkweed Mercantile will be bringing in. Thanks for reading!