by Rosalind Duane Special To North Shore News Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Dave Olson is declaring war on paper coffee cups.
“And this is coming from a guy who loves his coffee and hates remembering to take one of those travel mugs, hates remembering to rinse it out and hates remembering to clean it,” he says.
Olson notes that the switch is on to cloth shopping bags, and organic foods, but paper coffee cups and plastic water bottles still need to be done away with.
Five years ago, Olson, a North Vancouver resident, says he got funny looks when he used his own canvas bag for grocery shopping, but these days, options other than the ubiquitous and environmentally unfriendly plastic bags are popping up all over the place. Similarly, 10 years ago, it was difficult to find fair-trade, organic coffee, but that has also changed.
Along with consumers, businesses both big and small are also paying more attention to sustainable practices. It is getting easier (read cheaper) for companies to change their internal practices to include measures such as office recycling, and to offer incentives to employees to walk to work or carpool.
For the past 10 years, Olson has been working in online marketing and has noticed a definite shift in the way business is being done; even big-box stores are highlighting their “green” features.
“It shows that big companies are following the little companies, which is a real big paradigm shift really because 20 years ago, 10 years ago, that certainly wasn’t the case,” he says.
While working in the business world, Olson has also been taking pictures and writing blogs in support of his passion for the environment. About six months ago, he joined in the creation of an online green business directory called Happy Frog.
He says the opportunity to help develop what he calls a “green community” allowed him to put some structure around the grassroots journalism that he was doing.
“We’re really hosting the community conversation about these green and sustainability minded topics,” he says of the directory, which lists various environmental and sustainable-minded businesses from across the province. While the idea for Happy Frog started out as a directory, it has evolved to include reviews and tips from users, and piece by piece, more interactive elements have been added. Olson and his team have also gathered a group of non-professional writers and photographers to attend the upcoming Epic Sustainable Living Expo and report back to the site with photos, stories and podcasts. He says the website is the “social media partner” for the fair, and he wants to profile vendors that may not otherwise be featured in the mainstream media.
Olson notes that over the years as he has been attending and reporting on wellness fairs as a hobbyist, he has learned that by telling stories and letting people know each other’s points of view a lot of progress can be made.
Letting businesses in on the conversation is another aspect of the directory that Olson is excited about. Once listed in the directory, business owners can access their listing and add their own blog. Olson says beyond regular print ads, the online blogs allow business owners to be “authentic” and tell their story.
Each business chosen to be included on the website has to be B.C.-based and has to fit into one of the Happy Frog categories, which include Arts and Culture, Eco Travel, Food and Beverage, Fashion and Beauty and more. Olson and his team then look at what the company is selling and make sure that the company is at least making an effort toward sustainability practices.
“The other big requirement is that they are willing to say publicly, ‘We’re trying to get better. We’re trying to learn how to be sustainable,'” explains Olson.
He adds that the vendors listed may still have improvements to make, but just because the owners aren’t walking to work and wearing recycled burlap for clothes, the business can still be considered.
“We want to be inclusive and help people make those first couple of critical steps.” Olson says although it’s easy to get cynical about the amount of change that still needs to occur, every little bit helps.
“The little changes beget bigger changes and really snowballs into all of a sudden you find yourself eating organic, shopping with bags, not taking that paper coffee cup, and if we reach a critical mass of people doing that all of a sudden real positive change happens. So it’s really a shift in thinking and habits that starts small and gets bigger,” he explains, adding that his hope for the website is to get people communicating in an authentic, honest manner about environmental issues.
An afternoon chat with three time W3C TAG member Dave Orchard talking with Dave Olson about the World Wide Web consortium, gaining consensus among companies, and the shift from information to energy and intelligence economy.