The Public Goods Blog is about health, sustainability and people making an impact.
That’s why we seek out and interview amazing people who can share incredible stories or valuable insights. Their wisdom might be the inspiration you need to live a healthier, more sustainable life.
These days one of the best ways to rally people around sustainable causes is to launch a podcast. Marjorie Alexander, host of A Sustainable Mind, proves it’s possible to inspire listeners to be more eco-friendly and pay attention to what’s happening to our planet. Her show receives more than 45,000 downloads a month, and at one point it was the 23rd most popular podcast in the U.S.
We contacted Alexander to learn more about her story and how her platform has impacted environmental efforts. Here’s what she had to say:
Public Goods: What inspired you to create A Sustainable Mind?
Marjorie Alexander: There was really no moment of inspiration with A Sustainable Mind but more a collection of realizations and ideas over the years that all culminated in a moment of necessity.
I worked in the film industry starting in my second year of college and moved to LA after graduation to pursue a full-time career. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of people working so feverishly together for a few days, weeks or months to create these amazing works of art was beautiful to me. Unfortunately there were a lot of not so great things about the industry, one of which was the extreme amount of waste that was generated on set.
Imagine 30 people on set for 12-16 hours. When you arrive in the morning there might be snacks or bagels and coffee, takeout would be ordered for lunch and you might get a “second meal” if you are on set long enough that dinner needs to be served.
All of those meals are served out of takeout containers and eaten on single-use plates with plastic cutlery. Every meal is accompanied by soda or water or energy drinks out of single-use bottles and cans and sometimes poured into styrofoam or plastic cups. And that’s just the meals.
Whenever there was a five or ten-minute break, everyone grabs a bottle of water, takes a few sips and leaves them on a table when the break is over. The bottles are all there together, none are ever labeled with a name, and many of the bottles are at least still half full. Now multiply that by five or six days a week for several weeks or months and then double the number of people involved if it is a larger project. The amount of waste can get sort of ridiculous.
The other main culprit of waste I noticed was that many projects would build sets in warehouses to suit the look and feel of their film and then break them apart and toss all the lumber straight into a dumpster afterward. It would cost more in time and money to find another project that needed it or to transport it to a rental house that would take them. Having worked in construction and also being a theatre geek in highschool and college, I knew the value of a good set, and I just found it really disturbing that those items weren’t re-used.
These days the film industry is a lot more eco-conscious, but at the time very little thought was given to the amount of waste that was generated from running a production in this manner.
After I decided to leave the industry (for reasons mostly unrelated to the waste issue) I took a long hard look at the values I wanted a company I worked for to embody. And then I realized that if I were asking that of my employer that I would need to embody those values as well.
At that point I decided to dedicate my life to environmental work in some capacity and eventually wound up in grad school where A Sustainable Mind was born. I needed a thesis project to graduate, and while I had a fantastic idea for a traveling online series that interviewed environmental leaders, that was going to require way too much money and time, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to filmmaking. So I decided to simplify the idea down to its core elements: stories about individuals who were making a huge and lasting environmental impact in their communities and around the world.
With my film editing experience and having built websites as a hobby, a podcast seemed like a good fit for my abilities and would be much easier than my initial idea. So I got in touch with some people I admired and recorded the first few episodes of A Sustainable Mind.
PG: How has your show fueled environmental activism?
MA: It is a rare week that I do not receive a couple emails, text messages or voicemails with listeners telling me how the show has changed their lives in some way.
Many people have said the show inspired them to change majors or go back to school for an advanced degree in various environmental fields. I even have a few teachers who play the show for their middle school class and some students have gotten in touch to say how much they like the show, especially the episodes that feature teen activists.
Then there are stories like “your show inspired me to be vegan” or “my wife and I now listen to your show together and discuss it over dinner.” I also know of a few online communities, blogs and podcasts that have been sparked from listeners being inspired from the show.
My proudest moment was when I interviewed Jordan Figueiredo, Founder of the Ugly Fruit and Veg campaign. The next day he emailed me and told me someone wanted to book him to speak to their group after hearing him on my show.
People don’t tend to reach out after they have done whatever it was they decided to do, but in their moment of inspiration, that is when they contact me. So I can’t point to anything in particular that ASM has fueled, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the show is doing its job.
PG: Do you have any quick tips for consumers who are trying to be more environmentally-conscious?
MA: My suggestion is to start where you are and allow yourself room to fail. A lot of people have expressed to me that they think being more eco-friendly will require a lot of time, money and effort, yet they want to go from zero to zero-waste in a matter of days. Unfortunately it’s never that simple, and managing expectations is a big part of experiencing success when it comes to being more earth-conscious.
I always suggest that people find an area of their life where it is easiest for them to make a change and start there. Live near a public transit route? Try taking the bus or train to work. Love to cook? Why not start buying your ingredients in bulk, go to the farmers market instead of the grocery store and make your meals from scratch as often as you can. Love your wardrobe? I get it! Try buying all garments second hand for a few months instead of always buying new. When you can “green” a part of your life that you enjoy and spend a lot of time with anyway, it can be incredibly fulfilling and you can see immediate results and maintain them with less effort.
After that I find that it’s a snowball effect, and once you start you can’t really help but get more eco-conscious as you go. You will start to notice ways to make all areas of your life more eco-friendly in no time.
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