Green is the New Black

Not wasting is cool all over again

A couple weeks ago, I faced a tough choice. I had an opportunity to upgrade to the new iPhone 4, even though my “old” iPhone still worked like a charm.

The environmentalist in me resisted the upgrade on the grounds that my “old” iPhone would be shipped to a landfill. There, my great-great-great-grandchildren would one day stand, shaking their heads and muttering, “Wasteful! Those twenty-first century humans were so wasteful.”

On the other hand, my inner geek wanted desperately to hold the new iPhone in my hands. To use its HD videocamera to record my blog posts, to interact with my sweetums on Facetime and to multitask my way through endless airport layovers. (Ask anyone who travels extensively for business: having cool gadgets makes life on the road sexier.)

I did it. I upgraded.

Now my old iPhone sits in our office like a paperweight, reminding me that I. Committed. Waste.

This flies in the face of my upbringing. I was raised by members of the Greatest Generation. My mother, now eighty-three, taught me to darn socks, mend clothes and use leftovers. I once found a box full of very short threads labeled “string too small to save.”

Yup, my brother and I were raised in the midst of the original Zero Waste Movement: save it, fix it or make it into casserole.

Now, the Zero Waste Movement has evolved to three R’s: reuse, repair or recycle. And Madison is leading the charge. We have our ReStore. We have our curbside recycling. We have our Community Car and our rain barrels.

At work, Priuses fill those “Hybrid Only” parking spots. The office copier is set to automatically duplex. And that new intern will not let up about how “installing motion sensor lights in the conference rooms will save hundreds of pounds of CO2!”

Many well-known Madison companies—Sergenians, Capitol Insurance Companies, Great Big Pictures, Webcrafters, Union Cab, Covance and others—are taking the Mpower challenge and forming green teams. Hundreds more have taken the Mpower challenge online (

Other entrepreneurs like Gary and Rose Molz of EZ Office Products are figuring out how to bake “zero waste” practices right into their standard business operations. EZOP recently invented a way to get those environmental albatrosses—used toner cartridges—off the necks of small-business owners. And you don’t even have to be a client for EZOP to take care of them for you!

But businesses aren’t the only ones cutting a large green swath through their operations. The Madison Children’s Museum—get this—used milk-based paint in its new facility. And if you look down on your next visit, you may recognize a reclaimed basketball court. It was being thrown out by a Milwaukee-area high school when the Children’s Museum gave it a second life. Truth is, nearly all the material for the Children’s Museum came from one hundred miles away or less. Impressive.

Not to be outdone, in February 2010 Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent Dan Nerad launched the district’s Sustainable Schools Initiative. Its goal? To become a model for the nation.

Teaming up with Sustain Dane and Edgewood College, the district has completed its inventory of its existing green assets. Did you know our public schools have:

• twenty-four school gardens?

• seventeen Energy Star–certified buildings?

• five recycling and composting programs?

Me, either.

Green is the new black. And consumers are paying attention. If you want to attract new customers, show your current customers that you care about this planet we share, or attract new employees who have “Save the Earth” tattooed on their hipster hips, you, too, need to go green.

Start by checking out the annual Bioneers conference, January 21–22, here in Madison.

Rebecca Ryan studies trends and is a board member of Sustain Dane. After she wrote this article, she learned that NextWorth, Gazelle and RadioShack offer iPhone recycling programs. She googled it on her new iPhone.

Find more Next columns here.



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