Sign of the Times
Photograph by Beau Meyer
Green sells expos, and it obviously sells magazines. But there is an underlying foundation to green—a taproot—without which something green cannot be a genuine article. Sustainability is the taproot. And George Zens gets it. In fact, he’s gotten it for a long time.
During his nearly three-year stint as editor of the Middleton Times-Tribune, Zens realized how many people visit the Dane County Farmers’ Market every week. There’s nothing like the market in his native Luxembourg, and as he talked to the farmers and their customers, he discovered a high level of interest in sustainability, renewable energy and local foods—but no publication consistently covering these issues. So in October 2004, he founded Sustainable Times.
“I didn’t do much of a business plan,” says Zens. “I simply decided I wanted to write about things I’m interested in as opposed to stuff I’m not really interested in.” Those interests have deep roots. “For twelve years I was environmental and agricultural editor for a weekly news magazine in Luxembourg. I have always been interested in the environment and agriculture. And, probably through my interest in economics (his minor at the University of Brussels) I’ve always been interested in the idea of sustainability.
“I remember my dad bringing home an article from a trade publication when I was in high school. The writer argued that any kind of pollution is either wasting energy or exposing inefficiencies in the production process, so it is in businesses’ best interests to reduce pollution and keep energy use as low as possible.”
Zens sees the monthly paper as a way to promote sustainable communities, healthy lifestyles and local businesses. At least twenty-five percent of the editorial content features or profiles local businesses.
“I write a lot of profiles because I like meeting the people and telling their stories. But I want to have variety.” So he’s started writing about green building and hopes to do more on buy fresh/buy local partnerships. He also plans to resume his monthly profiles of local cheese makers. In all these ways Zens’s paper has become a connector. “That actually is one of my original ideas, to not only have [the publication] as a resource for people, but as a forum for everybody involved with sustainability, so I could use my newspaper to express their views and communicate.”
The paper has grown, with more than two hundred advertising accounts supporting a circulation of ten thousand copies distributed free at some three hundred locations throughout southern Wisconsin. More important, Sustainable Times is making a difference.
“Oh, I hope I am,” he says. “A lot of what is going on right now is green-wash more than anything else. Obviously a lot of businesses and politicians have recognized that if they sprinkle the word ‘green’ through their ads or in their speeches it looks good. Obviously what we have now is everybody seems to want to get on that bandwagon because there are financial benefits. Green is a big market.
“But I think the good thing is it’s becoming wider spread. Even if there are some who only use green to sell a certain product, actually, that’s all right. It doesn’t mean those who are more serious about it can’t do it their way. You can work on all those different levels and it means more people are getting in contact with organic food, locally produced food and renewable energy.
“Sometimes I look at it like tides on a beach. You had that whole green wave come on the beach and then it retreats again and you see what’s left. And what’s left is actually not bad. And then it comes back and there’s more stuff left. And eventually people are going to become more conscious about the way they live.”
Visit Sustainable Times online at sustainabletimes.net.
Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Madison Magazine - May 2008|