Susan Sarandon, on Green Design

Susan Sarandon, on Green Design

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Susan Sarandon and shared tributes to Green Design guru Bill McDonough at the Cradle to Cradle Design Innovation Event this month in San Francisco.

“We are a community of change agents,” said Sarandon. “Bringing about the world we want for our children.”

In a video tribute at the Bently Reserve, enthused about healthy design being a human right, and thanked Bill McDonough for inspiring him. “It’s my mission…to create products that after we use them have a new beginning,” said the popular singer songwriter, and quipped, pointing first at himself then at Bill McDonough: “…”

The newly crowned “” came on stage  to great applause and was obviously amused by his tributes. He announced his upcoming book, “The Upcycle” (a tome on upcycling to be released in 2013)  and what he called “his baby,”  a Bill Clinton inspired solution to homelessness in Haiti and beyond.

“What if we could design a house that could be built by children and their parents in a day without tools?” said McDonough, who is well known for his visionary zeal. He showed the audience a model of a simple one room home, made of ‘upcycled’ plastic no doubt. He dreams that these homes could be shipped in flatpacks to earthquake and storm damaged areas, wherever there is a need around the world.

“What if we could do (for building) what Muhammad Yunus did for banking?” said McDonough, alluding to the microfinance guru who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work alleviating poverty in Bangladesh.

Perhaps McDonough has a similar award in mind? He’s won many awards in the green design field (including three Presidential Awards for Sustainable Development and Design), and has taken some criticism, but one thing is for certain, he’s never been short on grand vision. Witness the 6-hour long Monticello Dialogues.

He may yet succeed in taking Cradle to Cradle mainstream and making the world a healthier and greener place. With allies like Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and who can doubt him?

Click here to see highlights of Fresh Dialogues exclusive interview with Meryl Streep at the event.

The video was recorded at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala, the Bently Reserve, San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2012.


Meryl Streep’s Green Interview with Alison van Diggelen

Meryl Streep’s Green Interview with Alison van Diggelen

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

We were delighted when Meryl Streep agreed to a Fresh Dialogues interview last month in San Francisco. We had a lively conversation about why she’s become an activist for the environment.


Meryl was charming and generous, but I left the interview feeling that I’d just talked with Margaret Thatcher’s younger sister. Perhaps my British accent sparked the Queen of accents channeling her inner Iron Lady?

Interview highlights

Why should we care for the environment?

We’re all part of the ecosystem. We’re all connected. You can’t go around in a bubble…

On why green design guru Bill McDonough inspires her

Unlike so many environmental messages which are negative: “don’t this…don’t that!”  Bill approaches things in a positive, restorative, beneficial way…with a focus on abundance. His mantra is a beautiful thing: “Designing a safe, healthy and delightful world for the love of all children, for all species, for all time.”

He’s a fervent optimist. His cup is never half empty or even half full. It’s always full of water and air. We were both profoundly affected by similar things: Silent Spring (the book by Rachel Carson) and concern for the impact of toxins on children. He’s the consummate multi-tasker. He leaves me breathless.

On the roots of her environmental consciousness

It all goes back to being a mother. That’s the most invested relationship. You pay attention, perhaps for the first time. What is going in your child’s mouth? What’s her environment like? What will the future be?

In 1989 Streep cofounded “Mothers and Others” to raise awareness of toxic pesticides used in food production.

How did Julia Child influence her? Click here for more interview highlights.

Check out the video of Meryl Streep’s hilarious tribute to Bill McDonough.

The interview took place at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala at the Bently Reserve, San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2012.

Commonwealth’s Climate One: Paul Gilding and Richard Heinberg

Commonwealth’s Climate One: Paul Gilding and Richard Heinberg

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Climate One‘s Greg Dalton brought together a pair of climate experts yesterday at the Commonwealth Club to discuss the “Great Disruption” – Is it the end of the world as we know it? What will happen to the global economy when the world stops denying the realities of climate change?

Australian environmental business expert Paul Gilding, and Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon InstituteRichard Heinberg shared their wisdom in a lively dialogue with Dalton. Gilding’s latest book is The Great Disruption and describes how to fight-and win-what he calls The One Degree War to prevent catastrophic warming of the earth. It has even received a favorable review by Tom Friedman in his New York Times column. Heinberg’s tenth book is The End of Growth and describes exactly why this decade will be worse  than the Great Depression; he predicts future global growth will be a zero sum game thanks to resource, climate and financial limits. Despite the rather apocalyptic theme of both authors, the near capacity audience was treated to some upbeat comments from Gilding coupled with some more cautionary responses from Heinberg. Here are some of the highlights:

On Change

“People’s ability to change is quite impressive – witness World War 2- we can end the denial and decide on a different future…the debate is how to act not whether to act.” Paul Gilding.

“During WW2, the enemy was visible. The U.S. has a larger capacity for denial. We will have to hit a wall before seeing change…it”s like a slow motion crash.” Richard Heinberg.

On Carbon Tax

“In Australia, a carbon tax is going through Parliament. The price is low…but every balance sheet will soon show the cost of carbon. (In OZ) The debate is over.” Paul Gilding.

On the Trigger

“The price of energy, food and transport will be the trigger point. Government must put in place the framework for change.” Paul Gilding.

On Clean Tech

“Exciting things are happening in renewables. Solar will be cheaper than coal within a decade. Then the game changes dramatically.” Paul Gilding

What a stimulating way to spend your lunch hour. Thanks to Greg Dalton for orchestrating a memorable – if sobering – event.


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Solar: The Economic Argument

Solar: The Economic Argument

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

On the Eve of Earth Day, it’s telling to look at the green motivations of one of Silicon Valley’s leaders in solar technology: CEO of Akeena Solar, Barry Cinnamon. He’s been a solar advocate since the 1970’s when he studied the science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); however, he’s emphatic in his belief: economics trumps environmental arguments for going solar. So much so, that Cinnamon chose to avoid the color green in his company logo and vehicles.

What motivated Cinnamon to explore solar energy in the 1970’s?

“In the 1970’s we had the energy crisis and …(President) Jimmy Carter said ‘the energy crisis is the moral equivalent of war.’  …there was no environmental consciousness about fossil fuels being bad; nobody had ever heard of Green House Gases…We were all worried about nuclear winter.”


On becoming a green entrepreneur

“It was a really FEEL GOOD THING….We knew we were doing the right thing for the environment…”


On the economics of going solar

“Customers want to do it for the environment or for our country’s energy independence….but if the numbers don’t pencil out, they almost never do it…you’ve got to make a decent economic case.”



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How does “belief” in Global Warming alter the sales pitch?

“Some people don’t ‘believe’ it, and it’s a religious thing…’green’ works well in the Bay Area….but (elsewhere) customers would avoid a company who’s main pitch is green…but if you hit them with the economic argument or the energy independence argument – we don’t need to buy any energy from the Persian Gulf – it works just fine.”


Could there be a repeat of the 1970’s boom then bust in alternative energy?

“In the 70’s/early 80’s, the crisis went away, tax credits went away…if energy prices suddenly plummeted again….it’ll happen again. We don’t have the political will to artificially support oil or gas prices….(but) because the world  demand for oil and gas is so high and the supply is generally limited…economics is going to reduce the chances that it will happen again…but it’s not impossible.”

Jeffrey Toobin Transcript: Kagan, Supreme Court, Environment

Jeffrey Toobin Transcript: Kagan, Supreme Court, Environment

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Fresh Dialogues (TM) is an interview series with a green focus: Fresh Questions, Fresh Answers. This video interview took place at  Foothill College Celebrity Forum on April 1, 2010, just one week before Justice Stevens announced his retirement. Check out the new Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel more exclusive interviews.

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ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome. Today on Fresh Dialogues: Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey – thank you so much for joining me on Fresh Dialogues. Let’s go on to your specialty: The Supreme Court. In 2009, they decided against environmentalists in a lot of cases…

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Six out of six.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Yes. What are your thoughts on that, moving forward? Is this going to continue…this anti-environmental stance of the Supreme Court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: I think that the court as currently constituted will likely continue in that direction. I don’t think it’s a particular hostility to the environment per se. I think it is a general sympathy for corporate defendants in all cases, environmental cases being one category of cases where the corporations are the defendants.  They are also generally – the conservative majority –  fairly hostile to government regulatory efforts…and the environment is one area, not the only area. So if the court stays as it currently is, I think you’ll see a lot more cases like that.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: So would you say, it’s moving more pro-business?


ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And the environment losing out as a result?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: That’s certainly how the environmentalists see it.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And how do you see it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Again, not a field of great expertise of mine, but I see who wins the cases and who loses them. And it’s the polluters who keep winning.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And what about the future? Justice Stevens is due to retire shortly

JEFFREY TOOBIN: He hasn’t said so officially but I think he will retire this Spring.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: So how is that going to change things? What are your predictions?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: I think he is a key member of the liberal four on the court, he will likely be replaced by another liberal. So in terms of the outcome of  cases in the next few years, probably not a huge impact, but I often like to quote Byron White the late Justice, who said if you change one Justice, you don’t just change one Justice, you change the whole court. If you start to have an energized liberal group of young  – by Supreme Court standards -Justices like Sonia Sotomayor, like the next Obama appointee, the wind could start to be at their back. And if Obama gets re-elected, you could see more appointments…so it’s a big deal.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: And who is your No. 1 candidate for that appointment?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General, former Dean of Harvard Law School. Very much an Obama type person – moderate Democrat, a consensus builder…

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Do you know if she’s an environmentalist?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: I don’t… I just don’t know. My sense is, it’s just not an issue that has come across her plate a lot…she is someone who has written on administration law, which tends to mean she’s a believer in the power of the Federal Government to regulate. But I wouldn’t…

A – I don’t know what she thinks…and B – I don’t…

A is enough. I don’t know what she thinks about these issues…(laughter)

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN:  (laughter) OK. Jeffrey Toobin I really appreciate your taking the time for Fresh Dialogues.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: My pleasure. Nice to see you.

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