John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist are the proprietors of ECOpreneuring: Putting Purpose and the Planet Before Profits, provides insights on the practicalities of standing down off the fast-paced treadmills of the rat race to launch the kind of green business that facilitates the good life and helps to restore the environment.
Co-authors of Rural Renaissance and Edible Earth, they are in demand as speakers and consultants. Both writers are scheduled to appear at Wisconsin Book Festival, at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 at the Overture Center's Promenade Hall. In an interview conducted via email, Ivanko and Kivirist elaborate on their ecopreneurial philosophy and its underlying values, their vision for a 21st-century America and their enthusiasm for public libraries and other community commons.
The Daily Page: How and when did you conceive ECOpreneuring? From conception to publication, how did your vision for the book evolve?
Kivirist: ECOpreneuring was both inspired by fellow ecopreneurs -- ecological and socially responsible entrepreneurs -- and a result of our "right livelihood" chapter from our first collaborative book, Rural Renaissance.
When we spoke nationally at various events, we kept noticing a hunger for more details, practical aspects of running your own dream green business, and recognized a growing interested not in amassing all this money in a bank account or 401(k), but rather a desire for a quality of life that goes beyond financial wealth.
Given our relationship with New Society Publishers -- a publisher that shares our vision for a more sustainable, socially just and ecologically viable tomorrow -- we approached them with the ECOpreneuring book project since they published Rural Renaissance in 2004. In less than a year of writing, ECOpreneuring was published -- on ancient forest-friendly and 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper, and as an e-book as well.
ECOpreneuring reveals both our approach to small business ownership and a clarion call to those people who are fed up with their corporate job (for various reasons) to launch the dream green business they've always wanted. The exploding awareness of climate change, spiraling debt-based economy and rapidly rising energy prices (a.k.a. "peak oil") -- what we call the "four horsemen of opportunity" in ECOpreneuring -- have been rallying causes for many ecopreneurs to create for-profit or non-profit businesses to make the world a better place.
As you were researching and writing ECOpreneuring, who did you have in mind as the book's audience?
Ivanko: Anyone who is fed up with their job, frustrated by the lack of change put forth by government, or searching for a way to live and work purposefully without exploiting people or destroying the planet. From mom-preneurs and people interested in kissing off corporate America to the millions of 50-plus workers seeking "pretirement" or the fully "retired" Boomers who have come to the conclusion that there's more to the last third of their life than hitting a ball around a golf course when their grandkids are about to inherit a future with less opportunity than they had growing up. As we write about in ECOpreneuring, who wants to be the richest person in the cemetery?
For most ecopreneurs, you can keep more of your own hard earned money by running your own business; profits for ecopreneurs are plowed back into the enterprise to make the world a better place, serving what we call their Earth Mission, be it through creating more sustainable food systems like the ECOpreneuring profile in the book, like David Van Seters of Small Potatoes Urban Delivery, or putting up a 10-kilowatt Bergey wind turbine like we did to generate more power than we use annually.
How does ECOpreneuring complement or elaborate on your previous books, including Rural Renaissance and Edible Earth?
Kivirist: Rural Renaissance serves as a great overview book for sustainable living topics that include energy conservation and efficiency, gardening, natural building and renewable energy. Our Edible Earth cookbook focuses on the sustainable food systems side of our story: fresh, seasonal, local, organic, pasture-raised. ECOpreneuring emerged from Rural Renaissance and addressed the need for practical and simple information on starting a small business, complete with sample financial information so lacking in most business start-up guides. Too many business books make starting a business either financially overwhelming or exceedingly complex. The three books, plus the recently released Renewing the Countryside: WISCONSIN (a book on which we've contributed and John contributed photography), offer a comprehensive overview on what to consider when starting a business, and how to get started.
The models you propose in ECOpreneuring -- and have put into practice in your own ecopreneurial initiatives -- have the appearance of an almost ideal solution to the economic and social contractions James Howard Kunstler anticipates in The Long Emergency. How did your brand of self-sufficiency and sustainability seed itself in your lives?
Ivanko: We're essaying to harness the best ideas cultivated from those self-reliant, community-based entrepreneurs of many decades ago and blend them appropriately with today's knowledge-based and information-laden economy -- key topics in our book. Far too many working situations demand that we commute to offices when, in reality, we don't need to. Consider all positive ecological, energy, social and family outcomes to this kind of change in working and living.
We arrived at our approach to sustainability by mindfully adopting a place-based approach to our workstyle and lifestyle, drawing inspiration and knowledge from mentors and organizations like the Midwest Renewable Energy Association that have been walking the talk for years. Gas prices and economic turmoil have caused more people to start paying attention, for us to change how we live, eat, work and play. What's amazing to some who have made the changes, life is far more satisfying and enriching than ever imagined.
ECOpreneuring dwells as much on philosophy -- shifting one's focus from competition and consumption to a greater emphasis on quality of life and narrowing the gap between one's core beliefs and daily behaviors -- as it does on the practicalities of launching into ecopreneurship. To what extent was this an acknowledgement that not all your readers might be ready to make the big leap, but instead be more inclined to take smaller steps?
Kivirist: Many say we made a big leap to our Inn Serendipity farmstead outside Monroe, Wisconsin. We disagree. What we did is make incremental changes in our life, our relationship to money, to our relationship with people and nature and to our approach to energy (conservation and generation of a renewable energy surplus), dwelling in the present in a worldview of abundance, not scarcity. Each of our changes over the years, which we address in detail in Rural Renaissance, has made us more economically and ecologically diverse -- and thus, more sustainable. ECOpreneuring addressed the more pragmatic aspects of how we make the transition by owning our own enterprise.
What is your definition for quality of life -- and what are its greatest prerequisites?
Kivirist: Worth noting, we blog on this topic quite a bit for GreenOptions:
John Ivanko (with an economic/business focus)
Lisa Kiviris (with a food focus).
It's a matter of making a life, not living to work. Rather than defining our quality of life based on possessions and financial wealth, we define it by experiences and genuine well-being. We think about things qualitatively, not quantitatively, and consider the health of our family, enjoyment of work, level of satisfaction with life and opportunity for continued development key aspects. You might call it the pursuit of happiness without the pursuit of money.
Wall Street can keep their GNP and Consumer Confidence Index measures. We have our Diversified Quality of Life Index which includes some of the following tennents:
- Having a meaningful livelihood that expresses our passion, creativity and soul
- Ongoing opportunities for life-long learning
- Maintaining mental, physical and holistic spiritual health
- Having control over our schedules
- Building meaningful relationships with our friends and family
- Experiencing the satisfaction and joy that comes with greater self-reliance and self-sufficiency (we have few food or energy costs)
You've included so many appealing ideas and concepts in ECOpreneuring that some readers might be overwhelmed. What two or three lessons might you offer from your own ecopreneurial experiences that might help your more timid readers get past their inertia?
Ivanko: It's rare to solve big challenges or problems with big, complex solutions. Rather, it's about coming up with a bunch of smaller ideas that we try out (some work, others don't). Soon, you've sorted out those that work really well and develop those, like our commitment to becoming carbon negative in our operations and break from the fossil fuel based economy. By doing so, with everything from solar thermal systems to an all-electric CitiCar, we whittled down what we need to live on. That contributes to our sense of freedom.
The key is to get started, and keep picking away at it. It's far more advantageous to initiate a business when you or your community are not facing a crisis of one sort or another. That said, nature is incredibly creative and innovative when under duress. Today's climate is ripe for opportunity for ecopreneurs willing to get to work on the changes needed in the emerging restoration economy.
Who or what accounts for your own apparent fearlessness in these regards?
Kivirist: Community, be it our own family, extended family, neighbors (like "uncle Phil and aunt Judy" to whom we dedicate Rural Renaissance), friends, and the broader community of kindred spirits, each on their own sustainable journey to live and work in ways that don't exploit people or destroy the planet. Also, greater self-reliance in some respects -- like in food, shelter, energy, livelihood and childcare -- is incredibly freeing. We've rediscovered how to live richly, often below our means. Most of life's most rewarding moments are not those that you purchase with money.
How in the world did you manage to land Bill McKibben to write your foreword?
Kivirist: There's a professional and convivial relationship amongst authors and writers, especially among those who share similar values and perspectives. Years ago, McKibben's The End of Nature re-affirmed our decision to break from corporate America to follow the beats of our own drums and dreams. His later books, including Maybe One, offered guidance and perspectives often lacking in conversations about the heady questions of how to live -- or how many children might one consider having.
We e-mailed him to see if he would consider penning a foreword for Rural Renaissance (and later ECOpreneuring); he happily did so for both books. We in turn, often feature his books during our presentations or blog about the work he does, like his most recent climate change awareness project, ECOpreneuring features many ideas I should have been exposed to in business school -- but wasn't. In short, I was trained more to be a corporate clone at the time; entrepreneurship and the environment (and social responsibility) was practically ignored. I attended B-school during the Greed is Good age and Milton Friedman's treatise: the only responsibility of business is to make profits for shareholders.
So ECOpreneuring tries to provide a reading list that's contrary to what might be required for college courses (especially in B-school), although that is changing thanks to the likes of David Orr (also in the Wisconsin Book Festival). We include books like Empire of Debt and The Generational Storm.
As for books on our shelves, we have to admit that we're big public library supporters, content not to own most of what we read. We believe that libraries (and farmers' markets and town squares like the one still in Monroe) should be the community commons and foundation for community relationships and interactions (not the mall or big box retailers).
The theme of this year's Wisconsin Book Festival is "Changing Places." What does that phrase mean to you?
Ivanko: Changing places is all about our perspective on the place we call home and our place in creating the changes we deem necessary to protect, preserve or restore them. More of us are beginning to recognize that we are participants, mindfully or not, in the ecological wonder on this planet. We impact all life, even with the simplest of decisions and daily actions.
For some, Wisconsin's race to change and preserve or restore the environment for future generations may come from an unexpected source: business. Evidenced by the growth of small, ecologically and socially-minded businesses and the exploding non-profit sector, a growing movement of ecopreneurs are reinvesting their profits to make our home in Wisconsin a better place. From artisan cheese makers to innovative non-profits to green B&Bs, Wisconsin leads the nation in this movement of ecopreneurs seeking to use their business and livelihood as a means to change this place, our world, for the better. After all, the Greek roots of ECOnomy translates to "care for home", or stewardship.
If you were empowered to change a place above and beyond your present means to effect change, what place would you change -- and how would you change it?
Ivanko: While it's been said variously by others before, we cannot solve the crises of our times with the same thinking that created them.
We envision a nation of enterprising ecopreneurs, millions upon millions of small businesses that collectively transform our nation and restore the ecological systems on which we all depend, community by community.
What about investing in an America that offers the kind of America we need for the 21st Century? An America where we purchase things (when we need them) from our neighbors, in our communities, for a fair price, and that are made without destroying the planet or exploiting people in how they're designed? What about energy independence with renewable energy that does not contribute to climate change or harm ecological systems on which we depend? What about a food system that lessens its addiction to natural gas and oil (used for chemical-based agriculture)? How about a transportation system that reconnects communities by a more energy efficient railroad system and cities that showcase safe bike paths and zoning that encourages people to live closer to where they work (perhaps, even, in a home office). How about a healthcare system where people don't get sick worrying about it?
We envision a return to Main Street and neighborhood marketplaces. Perhaps the kinds of crises presently echoing on Wall Street will reinvigorate local, interdependent economies, decentralized and within communities across America. Perhaps more Americans will return to operate their own ecopreneurial companies that operate under triple bottom lines (people, planet and (some) profit), sharing their surplus rather than hoarding it like the investment bankers did on Wall Street.
And the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation that has made America great will, once again, be MADE IN AMERICA.
How can your audience best prepare itself to derive the greatest benefit from your Wisconsin Book Festival appearance?
Kivirist: If they've ever had an inkling of starting their own business, thirst for regaining control over their life, heartfelt desire to do something really meaningful rather than push around sheets of paper in a cubicle (or, as in our case, devote life energy to get people, including kids, to buy stuff they really don't need), then join an exploding crowd of people who want to create change by creating their own business or enterprise. They can Share their Story now for their business on-line at www.ecopreneuring.biz.
Which other presenters at this year's Wisconsin Book Festival are you most looking forward to seeing?
Ivanko: David Orr has always been ahead of the curve on the need for greater ecological literacy. We need more of his insight on nature, paired with a financial and ECOnomic understanding that without ecological health, our economy, communities and quality of life will ultimately be diminished, if not destroyed. Despite what Dick Cheney says, many of us are experiencing first hand just how much our communities, ecological stability and economic situation can be negotiated (and in such a short time span), by forces far more powerful than humanity can conceive, let alone understand. If anything, the line-up at this year festival gives testimony to the humility we all should try to practice more often.
What was the last book you read that you would recommend to friends, Inn Serendipity guests and strangers, and why would you recommend it?
Kivirist: I just finished the new release from New Society Publishers, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front or, One Woman's Solutions to Finding Abundance for Your Family while Coming to Terms with Peak Oil, Climate Change and Hard Times by Sharon Astyk. While an increasing number of books outline what is wrong with our current economic, political and environmental system and why we're on the brink of collapse, Astyk takes it a step further and focuses on what she and her family are personally doing about it. Similar to Rural Renaissance in that Astyk offers a snapshot peek into her daily life, yet different in that she herself brings varying perspectives, background and resources to the plate. She lives in New York, her husband has a traditional academic job, she has a larger brood of kids -- yet I immediately bonded with and felt a kinship with her values, passions and interests. I find reading other perspectives -- particularly well-written, engaging, educated outlooks like Astyk's -- very inspiring.
What question has no one yet asked you about ECOpreneuring that you most wish someone would ask, and how would you answer it?
Ivanko: Is it okay not to be obsessed with the more-based, bigger is better, growth-obsessed model of global free market capitalism?
Plants, animals and fungi in nature have evolved to fill ecological niches, not take over the entire ecosystem. In ECOpreneuring, we've discovered a different ECOnomy based not on growth, but prosperity, on quality of life, not standard of living based on lots of stuff, on abundance rather than scarcity. For the thousands of ecopreneurs we've met, interviewed and supported over the last decade or more, being an ecopreneur is, at its core, about achieving health and happiness while restoring the planet. ECOpreneuring, a business book not about its owner becoming the financially richest person on the planet? Imagine that.