If you’ve heard about avoiding straws or if you’ve avoided straws yourself, Dune Ives and the Lonely Whale, the organization she’s the executive director of have influenced you. If you ask yourself “Why straws?” or “What the point was?”, that’s what you wanted for people actually to talk about things on a human scale as opposed to things that are so big that people can’t really figure out how to talk about them or to act on them. If you’ve taken the next step from straws Lonely Whale has influenced you all the more. As you’ll hear when she co-founded Lonely Whale she didn’t know the demand was out there and she found some untapped demand. She just started something and finally one change led to another and another and got really big support. If you’d been thing about starting something environmentally, now may be the time. Lonely Whale helped change my views about straws and other small changes that they aren’t about the one act, any more than playing some piano scales too small to learn to play the piano. That’s how we learn. So listen on. You’ll hear some big names mentioned besides the Kardashians, you’ll hear about co-founder Adrian Grenier and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I’m here with Dune Ives of the Lonely Whale. How are you, Dune?
Dune: I’m doing really well. How are you? It’s nice to be on the program.
Joshua: I’m great and I hear a smile in your voice that I… Were you doing well before getting on here? You sound like a happy person.
Dune: Well, I think I’m naturally happy but I’m also glad the elections are over. I feel you know at least we know we know. And so I don’t have the anxiety that I had prior to the elections and it’s sunny outside. So what’s not to be happy about?
Joshua: Good enough for me. Yeah. Actually, the Lonely Whale it’s grown a lot from where it began. You guys do a lot of different things. I could imagine someone being frustrated at the world that we live in. And can you tell us a little bit about… I mean I’ll put up the description on the webpage. But how did you guys [unintelligible]? What’s the Lonely Whale? And I don’t even know it’s a…. Is there a particular whale story around?
Dune: Yes. As far as we know he’s still out there swimming. As far as we know he’s still out there swimming by himself although we do have hope that he actually has a lot of friends and he’s not so lonely. He’s just singing a lot is what we like to think. But the Lonely Whale started almost three years ago so December is our three-year anniversary. It was formed out of this desire to give people who are really interested in learning more about the story of this lonely whale which is the real creature that swims up and down the Pacific by himself supposedly for about 35-40 yards coming out at a frequency that no other whale has ever been known to sing at before or since he was discovered. And whales sing for companionship, whales sing for a lot of reasons but male whales sing for companionship and so the story was just really captivating for people because you can imagine everyone has been isolated or has felt loneliness at some point in their lives. Like you’ve had a voice and you’ve called out and no matter how loud you are, no matter how many times you repeat yourself, there’s no answer back. And so there can be this real sense of loneliness and a desire to belong to community and all the while with this whale we keep sharing stuff in its way. So instead of it literally just like striving, it’s just trying to survive because we make it louder besides the glass thing and increased shipping traffic we make it dirty, hot. We’re [unintelligible] it and now we’re throwing plastic in its way.
And so when Adrian Grenier and Lucy Sumner, our co-founders, started telling the story about this lonely whale we had an Instagram following of almost 30000 people overnight and they were all asking the question of “How do I help solve for this? How do I get involved and how can I help his existence be better?” And so they decided to [unintelligible] the Lonely Whale which is a foundation dedicated to originally it was bringing people together to create a healthy ocean. And what we’ve realized we’re really good at over the last three years is we’re really good at taking risks. We’re really good at being courageous and trying to find a gap in ocean health particularly through the lens of plastic pollution to solve for it at scale so we can all really get engaged and stay engaged in this issue.
Joshua: So it was no one’s goal at the beginning. They just found out about the whale and started sharing about it and it turns out that that tapped into something.
Dune: That’s right. It was not a goal of Adrian and Lucy to start a foundation. They didn’t wake up one day and say, “You know what we should do today? We should start another foundation. We should add to the more than 20000 environmental organizations globally and add one more.” Nobody started out with that goal. What they really wanted to do was to uncover the story of this whale and to tell the whale story on its behalf. And when they did that people really flocked to the whale and they thought, “Well, there’s something here.” And now we have this responsibility to actually give the people what they want which is “Tell me what to do, help me become part of this whale future and help me lean in to helping to make the ocean a healthier place for him.”
Joshua: So when you talk about the whale going up or down the coast you talked about acidification and plastics and warming and all these different things and I guess the whale kind of captures that maybe all life, pick any life form and it’s going to… We’re impinging it all. And actually, you also had a lot of background. You didn’t come out of nowhere and your story is as interesting. How did the Lonely Whale find you and what were you doing at the time?
Dune: So when I met Adrien who I met first through a mutual friend, through our dear friend Susan Rockefeller who knew me when I worked for Mr. Paul Allen who was the co-founder of Microsoft and sadly has since passed away which is a great loss for all of us globally. He’s a big thinker and really passionate and really cared deeply about making the planet a better place. Really optimistic. And so I had the great fortune of developing he and his sister Jody’s global environmental philanthropic portfolio while I was at [unintelligible]. Ocean Health was one of my programs. We also focused on climate change, wildlife trafficking. We led the Ebola campaign when Ebola was such a crisis a few years ago and arts and education. And you know what I really took away from Paul and working with him, a billionaire, one of the richest people in the world who realized that it doesn’t matter how much money he’s threw into the problem. At the end of the day, until you and I start caring about the ocean it’s never going to change. We actually have to fundamentally be connected to the ocean. We’re from the ocean, we’re from the water. But we have to find a way to get connected to the ocean and in doing so connect back to each other and actually really began to care about our existence on this planet. And then his films are big money where they incorporate engagement can really make a difference. And so when I met Adrien and then Lucy we found that we shared this common interest in trying to find a way to connect people to the ocean. It’s so critical for our survival and yet none of us really even think about it on a daily basis.
Joshua: Your accent there was on the ocean. I felt the accent on the ocean although the connection part to me is also really big that a lot of people talk to me about, “Hey, I know someone who works at this organization. I know someone who works at that organization.”, like an environmental organization. You should have them on. They’re doing some compost and things like that. And oftentimes I decline not because I don’t support them but that a lot of people are spreading facts and knowledge and… There’s a lot of people telling people what to do and not so much on the connection part and not so much on the leadership in my language, the leadership part of not just you know the Earth is going to fall apart if we don’t do our part and you better do your part. And that’s not the message that I hear from you. The message I hear from you is there’s a connection to be made and to me there’s a joy in connecting with the environment not being so disconnected as we are. Am I reading too much into you guys or you personally and you guys?
Dune: You’re not reading too much into us at all. I don’t know that we’re unique in understanding that connectivity matters so much. We can’t be anonymous to each other. We actually have to look at each other. We have to know each other, we have to talk to each other, we have to care about you know whether or not our neighbor even you know things like can they actually afford to buy diapers for their children. We should know that as a species. We should actually really care about our neighbors. And yet most of us go through our daily existence and we never even say hi to our neighbor. And so when we think about this common pool resource which is the ocean and even air and land and trees there is such a thing, a strong desire to think short term. That’s how we’re kind of wired. We’re raised to think short term and what’s mine and what’s right in front of me and what [unintelligible] of first day with so many issues that we have to deal with as an individual – I’m a mom, I’m a sister, I’m a daughter, I’m a friend, I’m a human, I’m an individual, I’m alive. And on a daily basis there’s so many big things to try to tackle and I can’t tackle any of them by myself. And I think when you have that that level of understanding and that ability and I think desire to lean in with humility I think you can be really open to other people’s perspectives and opinions and thoughts and ideas… I mean you’ll never hear us at Lonely Whale tell anybody what they should or shouldn’t do, ever. My husband always tells me, “Nobody likes to be shit upon.”
Joshua: I think it’s a huge disaster. How do I put it? I think it’s really kind of productive that a lot of people do. I think there’s a strong message of “You but not me should change.” And I think it’s…
Dune: OK. We don’t have a top 10 list. We don’t have a top 3 things for you to do. We don’t even have the top 30 things for you to do. Our ask of people and where we try to make space from an environmental standpoint is to tell us what inspires you. Help us learn from you. We’re going give you a platform and we’re going to make it available to you to lean in with us. But we don’t want to dictate for you how you stop sucking. We just want you to stop sucking but you have to define that on your own it’s not up to us to define that for you.
Joshua: That’s one of your hashtags.
Dune: It’s one of our hashtags. It’s #StopSucking which really you know over start. But it was always intended to say you know there’s an ocean out there. First and foremost, we should be aware that it exists. Let’s just start there. Let’s just start there. I don’t need to tell you that you need to do beach clean-up. I don’t need to tell you that that’s the only thing that’s going to work in this world to create a healthy planet. Well, let just start by understanding there’s an ocean and that you and I depend on that ocean for survival and you and I are screwing it up also. And then how you choose to express that is up to you. But what we want to do is we want to support you. And it’s a lot of what we tried to do often in this concept we have called radical collaboration where every single thing we do have to have at least one NGO partner or other partner. It’s one of the reasons why we did the initiative Next Wave where we have nine global corporations working together to try to solve this plastic pollution crises. It’s not what we as an individual organization are doing with IKEA separately or Dell or HP or interface. It’s what they can do together and they get to define it. And we’re really there to support and nurture and guide it. It really drives us on a daily basis.
Joshua: You’ve tapped into something that I haven’t talked about for a while on this podcast which is that over and over again when I find effective leaders it’s always about the others. It’s you know I think people have from movies and stuff they think of leadership as being about telling people what to do and it’s what the leader wants. But the more effective the leader, I find the more that it’s really about helping others. It’s really about supporting others and which is something of what you just said. There’s a couple of questions I want to ask you. One is about the story of you getting started with the Lonely Whale and also how Lonely Whale has evolved into lots of other things. And another question. I am going to start with this one. Plastic straws, on the one hand, I know what my answer for this is. I’m curious what is yours. Straws are kind of small. I mean yeah, there’s a lot of them but how much of a difference is if you’ve got all the straws, all the plastic straws? It’s not that big of a difference. So what’s the point?
Dune: That’s the point.
Joshua: The reason I’m asking is…
Dune: That’s the point.
Joshua: What do you mean?
Dune: So my favorite articles are the ones that start by saying, “Hello. Didn’t you know the plastic [unintelligible] problem?” And we say, “Aha. We did. Tell us what’s the problem. Tell us.” And so part of the straws campaign for us was we really wanted to… We just really wanted to create a space for people to talk about plastic pollution. It wasn’t about the straw. The straw is not problem. The straw is the gateway. The straw allows you and I to have this conversation. And for us to pick something it’s the only single use plastic item out there that we could find that had a readily available easy to implement on day one alternative and that was just to refuse one. You don’t have to use one. That’s it. You don’t have to like remember to bring your straw. A restaurant doesn’t have to buy a bunch of straws that are better for the environment. None of that has to happen. You could say, “No, I don’t want to have a straw today.” And in doing that and taking that very, very small step forward you can be successful. Everybody can be successful. You can have success on day one. You don’t have to feel bad that once again your reusable bags are at home or once again you forgot that coffee Tumbler or it spilled in your bag again or you like me you lost your reusable water bottle again. You don’t have to feel bad about it. You can just be successful.
But the other thing that we wanted to do is is we wanted to provoke a conversation about Is it the straw? No, it’s not the straw. Yes, it’s the straw. Yes, of course it’s in the top 10 items in a beach-cleanups on an annual basis globally. Yes, there are a lot of single use plastic straws use on a daily basis and zero of them are recyclable. Yes, it’s a problem. We shouldn’t be using them unless you have to have them for medical purpose and we get that and we respect that but it’s not the straw. It’s about our relationship to reuse plastic and the straw allows us to diffuse the tension associated with plastic pollution and to have a conversation. Something as simple as a little straw can start a movement.
Joshua: How does it feel to see it grow into such a big thing?
Dune: It’s so shocking on a daily basis. I just got an email today and somebody said, “I’m in Cambridge right now at this leadership forum and we’re talking about things that wowed us in 2018. And while your straw campaign came up.” Or somebody was at that summit in L.A. and they said, “Yes, people have said strawless and stop sucking three times in the last hour.” And for us you know we’re a tiny team, we’re just a team of three people. That’s all we are. We’re just tiny and we’ll probably stay tiny for a long time and we feel really good because you know we have worked seven days a week. We have worked every single day for the last two and a half years and sometimes we laugh, we’re like, “Oh, we’re going to take… I’m going to take Saturday off. Don’t come here on Saturday.” You know it feels really good too because we really poured our heart and soul into it and there were a lot of people who really open up their networks to us and really made this possible and we’re really thrilled that we can deliver this on their behalf and with them. So we’re grateful and we’re shocked. We’re shocked to see the meme. The funniest one was this one for Halloween where apparently I [unintelligible] to a Halloween party someone walks in a turtle costume walks over to somebody that has a Class, the beverage, with the straw in it, takes the straw and throws it on the ground and says, “That’s one is for my homies.” I guess it won’t stop, the straw thing won’t stop so we’re humbled by it. We’re very humbled.
Joshua: It’s amazing. I’m going to tell you my view on straws because I get that a lot too. It’s like, “What difference does it make?” And here’s my view is that doing the small things gives you the skills to do the bigger things and if you’re stuck on the straws, it’s tough to do the other things like say if you get coffee a lot, the cup is harder to handle than the straw. If you don’t play scales, it’s hard to play musical pieces and so you got to start with the scales but if you say there’s no point in playing scales because that’s not really music, you’ll never going to get to the real music. And so I think of these learning skills and the more that you learn the skills, the more that becomes automatic. And once it’s automatic to do the straws, then it eventually becomes automatic to bring the bag with you when you go shopping. And once that’s automatic you don’t even think of taking… I mean you go to public transportation automatically and you don’t… All the other things because…
Dune: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
Joshua: People look at me like I took this train across the country instead of flying. And they are like, “How could you do that?” For me it’s actually easy. It’s actually beneficial like I prefer it but I couldn’t have gotten there without the avoiding packaging food and I couldn’t have gotten there without avoiding these other things. And you worked your way up the ladder and I’d like the way you put it. It’s a success. You get a success like, “No, thanks for the straw.” Done.
Dune: That’s right. And everything is so big and so heavy in our lives. You know it’s on a daily basis we’re dealing with relatives that have cancer or not having enough money or the car breaks down again or you know whatever. There’s always something in our lives that’s really big and heavy and hard. And I honestly, I really feel like we make these environmental issues too heavy and too hard, they’re too heavy and they’re too hard. And so we’re really constantly challenging ourselves to say, “Can we lighten it up a little bit?” How much more humility and humor can we build into that so that we can at least just engage somebody in a conversation about it? I think it’s really important to do.
Joshua: So when you say we are having hard time, we humanity, not necessarily we the Lonely Whale because I feel like your goal is to make it more lighthearted.
Dune: Humanity makes it heavy and hard. Yeah. I mean when I joined the Lonely Whale I was about six months into the existence of the organization I guess maybe four months into the existence and the other thing that Lucy and Adrian and I really were you know we saw eye to eye on was that NGOs and scientists and this is my former experience too working for Paul, we like to just state the fact, we’d like to get the fact exactly right. You know it’s so important that I can stand up to the test of time and to a peer reviewed process. But that’s how you and I talk to each other. And that certainly isn’t how brands talk to us. If you think about what motivates you in your life to do things that you do, to buy whatever you buy, to take the train versus the plane whatever it is, there is some marketing message somewhere that is helping you make that decision. I guarantee it. A marketer knows us better than we know ourselves. They know before we want to buy something that we are like all we need is that new car or that jacket or those shoes or the phone, give me a new phone.
And so the other thing that we decided to do at Lonely Whale early on was to try to think and act like a brand. So how are the brands going to sell a healthy ocean to you in a way that has stickiness and lastingness? How do we do that? We don’t do that by creating our own campaigns internally. We actually hire the best firms out there that global brands will hire. It’s expensive but I think that’s one of the reasons why our Stop Sucking campaign was so successful. I mean it was a grit determination. Well you know we put a lot of effort into it and we got lucky in a couple of situations. But we also realized that if we’re going to sell a healthy environment and healthy planet as a brand, as a concept even and get people to engage in it, we have to talk to people the way that brands talk to people. Otherwise we’re like pushing a wet noodle at the helm. It’s not going to work.
Joshua: Yes, it is an interesting challenge of something that somebody pointed out to me recently was that I haven’t presented a vision of the future and it really helps people see it’s not just not doing X, it’s also going toward something different. And yeah, brands are really good at that, brands are really good at creating a vision of communicating and glad that you’re doing it. How is it working? Was that a difficult decision? I mean now that you say it, it makes a lot of sense. But I can imagine you saying, “Well, if we’re doing what they’re doing maybe, it’s not so effective.” Or something like that. What’s the story behind that decision?
Dune: The decision was easy. What we found a little bit of challenge is who we tried to get bought in the beginning. For as much as we say radical collaboration is the core of how we operate, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do. In fact, collaboration is really difficult. It’s really tricky and it takes a lot of patience and a lot of openness and a lot of humility. And with Stop Sucking you know we shot that name around to NGOs because we really wanted to be the new kid on the block. It was really important to us that we got feedback and input from folks. By and large, everybody hated it. People were like, “You can’t say that. You can’t say stop sucking.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know. Like I think we can because I want to tell people to stop sucking all the time. Why can’t we use that? I feel like we can use it.” Or they would say, “Boomers won’t say that or you know Gen X probably won’t say it.”
What was difficult for us, it wasn’t the decision, it wasn’t the process to get there. We knew it when we heard it. We knew when we landed on Stop Sucking as a team we knew that was it because it can go all sorts of different directions. We didn’t know where it would go but we knew that was it. What was difficult was giving ourselves permission to take the risk and not listen to the voices of other organizations but really being willing to live on the edge and to play it out and maybe we failed. But we didn’t want to play it safe because I feel like if all the organizations that are out there focused on environmental stewardship, our ocean keeps declining, species keep declining, insects keep declining, the timber stands, the health of our land or soils, air keeps declining. So we have to be willing to take risks. But that was hard for us to give ourselves permission to do it. That was the hardest part.
Joshua: Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s not working and a lot of people are doing what doesn’t work. And yeah, you’re going to make mistakes. I don’t have to tell you that. Everyone listening knows if you take risks, you’re going to make mistakes but how else, when things stagnate, how else are you going to get off the stagnation? I like that you’re talking like leaders, not necessarily like just… Because a lot of people out there like they’re passionate and they’re more venting than being effective. I’m curious if you take risks, are there any other risks that you took? Any stories behind them?
Dune: Well, I’ll tell you the feedback we got from somebody who I respect greatly. His name will remain unnamed but he’ll remember this story when I play back the podcast for him. But I was at a dinner and I was chatting with a colleague of mine and I mentioned you know I got some early feedback actually from Premal Shah who is the founder of Kiva which I really admire and greatly respect that organization. And he said, “Dune, you know in your first three years don’t even create a strategic plan. Your job is to try 100 things, a thousand things and see what works. Just test, test, test, test.” And I said to my friend, he asked, “How is it going?” I’m like, “Well, we haven’t failed yet.” And he looked at me and he goes, “Well, then you’re not trying hard enough.” So really great feedback. And what it did for me is that it made me like I stopped like I am never… It’s very difficult to find a situation where I have a shortage of words or I don’t have something to say or come back. Those who know me well will agree with what I just said. I was at a loss for words. I looked at him and I was like, “I need you on my board. I need you now. You’re the only one who’s ever told me that and I need for you now to push me harder because you’re right. If we’re not failing…” And what I would say we haven’t failed yet. We haven’t done anything yet that hasn’t… I mean it’s turned out differently than what we expected. It’s actually turned out to be a lot better and bigger and more impactful than we had envisioned. But honestly maybe we’re not thinking big enough. Maybe we’re playing it safe even in this space where we are allowing ourselves to take risks and we’re not actually trying hard enough to solve the real issues and the systemic issues. So that’s what we’ve been really wrestling with that this last year is how do we actually have the kind of impact and the staying power that we know we need to have. We’re not satisfied.
Joshua: Now you talk even more like a leader because the leaders that I talked to they are more vulnerable, the more effective they are as leaders, the more vulnerable they are in sharing like, “I’m not living up to my own potential. I made these mistakes.” You know a lot of people don’t say what you just said. I’m curious of [unintelligible] your operations or your ideas but only go back a step.
You mentioned the summit which I just came from. And I want to share with you a frustration. There was a lot of pollution going on there. There were all that sponsors just like a lot of plastic and you’re giving us water bottles like not one of these is necessary. So for a while I was really annoyed because if I talk to anyone there, if I don’t talk about… If I don’t just say what I just said, if I just say, “Are you environmental?” They are like, “Yes.” I’m like, “What about you and the environment?” And they, “I’m very conscious about that. It’s something very important to me.” But they’re behaving like everybody else. So they had these water bottles that were like somehow 70 percent less material than others or recyclable and something like that. And I am like not one of these is necessary. I had to take a picture is what I found which was bone dry while people using all these water bottles. So anyway. So I don’t want to just complain. So I met the founder Elliot and his mom and we’re talking a bunch and I say you know, “I’d like to be a part of next year because look you guys have come farther in a lot of other organizations. I’m sure if I went to I don’t know TED or Burning Man or something like that, then there’d be a lot more garbage.” Well I guess Burning Man, people take their own garbage out. CO2 would be insane. But people flew to this thing like one connects their flying to it. And so I said, “I’d like to be part of being involved next year.” I don’t know. Are you connected with them at all or do you just happen to hear from someone from there?
Dune: It was one of my board members who went to summit. We’ve never been to a summit and for a variety of reasons I do agree with you. I went to a meeting and I won’t name the name of the organization but it was a bunch of environmental people coming together and it was in Flint Michigan, so water crisis in Flint. So I woke up in Flint Michigan with my reusable water bottle, you can’t refill it anywhere. Like I don’t even know what to do, I don’t even know… I’m thirsty. I’m so thirsty I don’t know if I should drink coffee and you know people are drinking water like there’s nothing wrong and I’m confused and I my reusable water bottle goes empty bone dry for two days. And I’m on this panel talking about plastics. And right in front of me is a single use plastic water bottle and somebody asks, one of the members, audience members asks, “What do we all think about having these plastic water bottles in front of us while we’re here in Flint Michigan that has a water crisis?” And talking about plastic and my response was, “I’m extremely thirsty. I haven’t opened it.”
But it allowed a conversation with the organizers that you can’t have the styrofoam cups for coffee and you can’t have a polystyrene lid and you just can’t have single use plastic water bottles. I think people are so awakened now to this that it’s weird. Like when you go to a summit it’s weird the plastic but I don’t think anyone has really had a chance to kind of stop and say, “Well where does plastic exist in our life like fully?” When they do they do things like Dell so Dell Computer which started the Next Wave program with us, they eliminated single use plastic water bottles, cups, straws from all of their venues and their events since last year. Sixty-five thousand of them at an event that they held in Las Vegas in the spring because now they’re looking. Once your eyes are open…
Dune: Once your eyes are open, you’re like, “Oh, my God, it’s everywhere. I can’t go to the grocery store. Why is that English cucumber wrapped in plastic?” Why? Let it free.
Joshua: That’s where I am and that’s where you are. I have to see we would’ve been a tiny minority at the summit because… Actually, I take it back because when I talk to people and I was saying you know if next year if I were involved and the e-mails in preparation for it said, “You’ve got to bring your own water bottle and you got to bring your own cutlery”, would that make you more, less or neutrally interested in coming next year? And few were neutral, but most were like, “Oh, I would be more interested. That would make me more likely to come. It’s not a hardship for me to do that.” And yeah, I think people kind of get it.
Once I was doing an event in New York and the event organizer we’re meeting in a coffee shop and she’s talking to me and she’s saying, “You know people they’re not even aware of how they use stuff that pollutes.” OK, as she’s saying this, she’s holding a single use coffee paper cup that she’s going to throw away after one use. And it’s next to her face like she’s sitting in her elbows on the table and the cup is next to her. And I am like, “How is this not on your radar?!” I didn’t say this to her because I don’t want to make her feel bat at the time. I couldn’t think of a way of saying it without making her feel bad. And later I brought it up and she was mortified. But then she said she went the next several…. She knew I had podcast and she said, “All right. I’m going to go for, I forget how long, like a month without getting any plastic bags.” And so the next time I saw her I think she’d used three where normally she would’ve gone through about 50. So I guess you know people do seem to want to become more aware. I think a lot of people are caught thinking they’re aware. Well, this is a post I made a while ago. People are aware of what they’re aware of and everyone is aware of what they’re aware of and no one’s aware of what they’re not aware. So to say “I’m aware” is actually like everybody could say that and it doesn’t actually mean anything because everyone is aware of what their of and everyone is unaware of what they’re unaware of and therefore it’s a statement like it doesn’t mean anything.
Dune: Well, then let’s go back to the straw campaign. So we knew that where our straw campaign originated from is every time I went out with Adrian for coffee or dinner or lunch in the early days every single time he would walk in and he would immediately say, “Please, don’t bring any straws to this table.” And I was always like, “What is it with this dude? What is this straw? Like what is this thing that he keeps like… Why the straw?” And then what started happening and what we started to see is that it created a conversation. I mean one because he’s a celebrity, in certain areas like people just know him. I never saw entourage so I didn’t understand at the time. So people you know sitting next to and say, “Well, what about the straw?” [unintelligible] over here and they would literally ask him, “Now what about the straw?” And so it gave him an opportunity and then he gave all of us an opportunity to talk about straws.
And when you’re sitting at a table and you’re the only one who takes a straw and everybody else around the table looks at you like you’re from planet whatever you’re from Pluto… I can’t remember if it is a planet right now. I hope so. But you’re from Pluto. Then there’s definitely the social re-norming that happens but it’s also a conversation and it’s not just interpersonal. It’s on social media. One of the coolest things that happened as part of our campaign was when Kim Kardashian got called out on social media by one of her friends. I think the quote was that her friend said, “The world’s plastic pollution is in the Kardashian household refrigerator.” So they went from the straw to everything they could purchase in a home pretty quickly and then it started a conversation among the Kardashian clan and their audience. And that’s why I think the straw is so powerful, something so tiny like maybe we make these environmental issues too big and too heavy. It’s everything you have to give up. You have to take public transportation. You have to buy reused clothes. It’s the solar panels on your house. You’ve got to buy the right car. Or don’t buy a car, don’t even have a car. Just bike and walk your children to school. Like buy organic food. Go to the farmer’s market like there’s all the stuff that you have to do and all the stuff you have to give up. But we have to start simply if we’re going to engage people and we have to give them something that’s really fun where they can have success and then they’ll naturally take their next step on their own because they’re so excited to share what they’ve been successful at.
Joshua: So you’re sharing something you’re giving them like an on ramp to an access to doing something succeeding and then they can succeed at the next thing and you’re also touching on something that I think is what’s driving my podcast is that I think the number one predictor… I read somewhere that number one predictor of someone having solar on their roof is not their environmental position, it’s not how much money they’re going to save. It’s if their neighbor has it. And community motivates more than all the facts of the world and for reasons it makes a lot of sense. There’s been a lot of science and spreading facts and doom and gloom that you could see why that would be the case but in actual effective that will influence a lot of people because a lot of people want to be influenced but these are merely 90 something percent. That’s just my estimation. What’s going to motivate them is not the stuff that hasn’t worked for them more of the same is going to work for them. And the reason I have Leadership and the Environment like I’m trying to get leaders, I’m trying to get people who are effective and people follow because Adrian is in… He’s a neighbor for a lot of people and when he does something, they it’s difficult to maintain, “If I act but no one else does then what I do doesn’t make a difference.” When someone in your community is acting and that’s why I try to bring the most influential people, the most well-known people because then people in your world are changing. It’s not just you. I also think there’s a big hole, there’s a big gap of well-known people… It’s very rare. I think Adrian’s in a small minority of people who are actually changing their behavior.
And another piece that you didn’t mention but… I’m sorry, you did mention but not just now. I thought by avoiding packaged food it would be deprivation sacrifice and it was the opposite. My food is more delicious than ever and I used to go to the farmers market and I was like I don’t know… My sister worked there. I was like I don’t know what this stuff is. I don’t know what a kohlrabi is. But once I started, I love them. Oh, my God, kohlrabi. I can’t keep…
Dune: Kohlrabi is the best.
Joshua: Oh my God.
Dune: [unintelligible[ a little Baba Ghanoush. What do you make with those eggplants that you buy at the farmer’s market? Or better yet you grow in your backyard. No, I mean I think you’re right about that there are some… The other person that I’ve experienced that I think has a very similar I think ability to kind of own their space and look for everything that they can possibly do to improve their house and their livelihood is [unintelligible]. I was going to I was on stage with Alec in East Hampton this summer for a panel on plastic pollution and while he’s on stage his wife is in the audience, Larry is in the audience texting him, “No. no. Talk about the [unintelligible] plan. Talk about this, talk about all these other things we’re doing.” Because they’re so committed. I think one of the defining characteristics is when you have children you can’t help but want… I kind of get choked up when I talk about this. I have a four-and-a-half-year-old son and I have a 26-year-old daughter and it kills me, it kills me that my son will probably never see a shark whale diving and it kills me too that those two will never see the beautiful colors of coral that I’ve been blessed to see and never see that pelagic 15-foot wing [unintelligible] spotted eagle ray come out of the depths.
And so when I when I think about the work that I do I’m very realistic. I’m very realistic about it. I’m not saving the world. I’m not saving the planet. I’m not changing everything that needs to be changed but I want my son and I want my daughter to see how hard I’m trying. I want them to know that their mom is out there every single day. Everything I do is really to try to make, try to make the most difference I can possibly make. And so I spend a lot of time on the road. I spend a lot of time away. I spend a lot of time at work and I’m not going to stop that. I know I’m not going to solve the problem but you know I’m going to fight as hard as I possibly can. And if there’s something that we can do at Lonely Whale that sparks a place of joy and hope and spirit in the heart of one individual that they want to do something and then they want to invite a friend and they want to do something else but I feel like we’re winning the battle. You know I feel like actually we can make a difference. And so we try really hard to do the right thing. And we’re also very realistic about how hard it is. And we just keep going. You know we keep going and we keep pressing ourselves and we keep inviting people to join us.
I mean if you were at Lonely Whale gala a few weeks ago to see the kind of people who came together. It’s a really, it’s a really diverse group. I mean we had people walk away going wow, interesting characters and like people from all different walks of life because we know that we need [unintelligible] Baldwin just as much as we need Adrian, just as much as we need that high school student, just as much as we need B Corps corporations and [unintelligible] influencers and [unintelligible] schools and [unintelligible] organizations and we have to just let the barriers down and be willing to be vulnerable, willing to admit when we don’t know the answer so that we can get more and play and we can get more people joining forces.
Joshua: And once people join, correct me if I’m wrong, once they join, they don’t want to go back and they wish they’d joined earlier over and over again. Because I have people on this podcast I ask them to do something they haven’t done before and almost across the board they come back and like either this was easier than they thought and they wish they’d done it earlier or the challenge was a challenge that they wanted to do and they wish they would have done it earlier.. You don’t want to go back. So a lot of people associate this stuff with guilt and blame and I don’t feel guilty for something that happened before I was born. The world has a lot of problems in it. I felt guilty when I didn’t do anything. Once I started doing something, I know I can’t do as much as I’d like to. I can’t do everything. I can’t fix all the world’s problems all by myself but once I’m doing what I can the guilt it’s not part of the game. It’s like enthusiasm and opportunity. I mean if I’d messed everything up, I’d probably feel pretty guilty but I was born into a world with lots of these systems that work the way they do and I didn’t create them and even the people who created the systems who expected that humans could affect the whole planet it’s reasonable for them to not have thought about it. And even decades into it it’s still like as much as people talk about denial and skepticism, misplacing stuff, up until very, very recently I don’t think you blame that many people for being skeptical about it and now that to me the evidence is overwhelming, there’s a little too much plastic in the ocean, a lot too much plastic in the ocean, a little too much mercury in the ground water, sea levels rising I am like this is an opportunity. This could be one of the greatest turnarounds ever. Look at what we could do. I mean yeah, there’s going to be trouble. The trouble’s already there. Just look at the headlines but there’s been trouble before. And a lot of people think, “Well, it’s already too late to do anything.” Even if there’s some big collapse. There’s levels of collapse. There’s a lot of people like the population dropping a lot. The population dropping a little. I want to be part of that of making a difference. Sorry, I’m just… What you said resonated…
Dune: No, what you’re saying…. Yeah. What you’re saying is what I feel on a daily basis is why we work so hard. I think about it. I don’t mean to be morose at all but I think we’re entering into a very, very, very different phase of our existence as a species than we’ve ever experienced before. And you know I get excited when I see a volatile butterfly twice this summer. As a child I remember seeing them all over the place. You know the bees and the butterflies and the dragonflies and so I make sure that I bring my son and he sees it and we talk about it because those little moments are fleeting. And I do think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. But I also firmly believe what you’re saying that this is an amazing opportunity. Never before have we had the technology at our fingertips that we do now and our understanding of how the universe works and our understanding of how we interact with the environment and when we do that what happens. We’ve never had this level of understanding before. And so what we do with that is the question. Are we going to come together and are we going to do that for ourselves as a species, for our kids? And it’s that it’s not a short-term perspective that we have take. It is a long-term. Over the course of the next hundred years what am I doing today that’s going to improve the situation? And I think what I’m doing with my children is I’m showing them how to fight. I’m showing them every single day how do you have intention, how do you set that intention and how do you be as good of a human as you possibly can and how do you work towards a hundred year vision that you have not for yourself or for your child but for their existence.
Joshua: And I find that the route to get to where you are from the beliefs of “If I act but no one else does, then what difference does it make?” Or “All these little things are so small. What differences does it make? I’m not going to bother.” Or “But this business is a big. It’s too much work.” All of which leads to it’s a palliative feeling belief that gets you to inaction. I would much rather talk the way you’re talking. I’m doing everything I can. I’m involving my kids in every way, in a deep meaningful purposeful way. And the way to get there is through action to me because a lot of people go on talking like, “Well, but what about you know…” I don’t know. They talk about academic abstract stuff. Whereas if you pick up a bunch of straws off the ground and put them in the trash can even though that’s not lowering the amount of plastic, it’s just moving it from one place to another but at least landfill I guess is marginally… It’s still is better than in the ocean.
Actually, I am going to tell you a story about making a difference, if you don’t mind.
Dune: No, I would love to hear it.
Joshua: John Lee Dumas was on my podcast and his challenge he took on was picking up garbage from the beach once a month. He lives near the beach in Puerto Rico. I don’t know if you know him. He is a big podcaster. And he really enjoyed it. And I’ve been thinking about plogging for a while but had never gotten around to it. So plogging, you probably know it.
Dune: Mhm. Plogging – picking up trash while you jog.
Joshua: Yeah. The name came from the Swedish. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while. When I heard him talking about that, I was like, “I got to start plogging. If this very successful man will bend over and pick up garbage by himself.” So I started plogging. In New York it’s a challenge because if you pick up every piece of trash you pass, you’re not going to get one block. But if you plan of how to do it, you’re never going to get started. You just got to go. And so I made a rule, I made a set of rules to make it possible. So some of the rules are that I don’t have to go out of my way to pick stuff up. If it’s on my path within like a foot or two from my path, I’ll pick it up. But if it’s, not I’m not going to pick it up. Then if it’s like small and a cigarette butt, cigarette butts are just too numerous. I’m not going to pick them up because I’m never going to get a block. And if it’s wet, if it’s a tissue, forget it, I’m not going to pick that up. Someone else can pick it up. I mean some people plog with gloves. I don’t want to do that. And if it’s in a puddle, I am not going to pick it up. I can but usually I don’t. And usually I do it only if there’s a trash can nearby within a block or two because I don’t want to bring a bag with me. I just drop it off in the trash can. I try to balance doing it in a showy way so that people see me while looking like I’m not trying to show what I’m doing because I want to, I guess in your language, I want to start a conversation.
Anyway, so one time I go and I run from my house down to the river. Then I run on the river and run back up and I run down the bike path on Christopher Street. And when I’m running like what difference does it make. I know that within a couple of hours after I run it’s going to be back to the way it was before but when I come back up… This was like the second time I did it. As I’m running up the hill that I had run down I’m running exactly on the path that I had ran down and as I’m running I notice there’s garbage to my left and garbage to my right but not directly in front of you because I cleaned it like the [unintelligible] in front of me. And I was like I made a difference. Even if it goes away after a little bit, I made it different like I cleaned my world. I’m running in a clean environment. It felt so good. Like it was right there in front of my face the difference that I made. And it actually wasn’t even taking time out of my life. I was substituting running with some lunges throwing in from running without lunges throwing in. And [unintelligible] throw it in the trash can when I get to this corner. And it’s not fun. It’s rewarding.
Anyway. So as I mentioned before we started recording. I ask people why work on the environment? There’s other things you could work on. What does the environment mean to you?
Dune: I agree. I’m part of the environment I grew up. So my background which very few people know is I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. My mom went up to Alaska when I was tiny to work on the pipeline. So she worked for [unintelligible] She helped build it. And I grew up in a one-bedroom cabin without water or electricity. We had a little garden at the back with a turkey, a couple of geese and chickens, rabbit. But being in Alaska like life is hard you know especially if you don’t have electricity or running water or like it’s really, really hard and I think for me I was always in the environment. I always had a healthy respect for the environment. I knew the environment could kill me.
Joshua: The grizzly.
Dune: Like that. Anything, the cold, the grizzly, I mean you name it like it could just kill you. And I think I’ve always had a really healthy respect for it but I’ve always been really connected to it. I was also a girl scout. I spent a lot of time doing clean ups when I was a kid and a lot of time at outdoor camps and you know doing things that made me be outdoors. And so I’ve always been outside. I’ve always enjoyed the environment and the outdoors and I think I just always had a natural inclination for it. I’m a psychologist by training. I worked in corporate America for a long time. I worked for Arthur Andersen. I worked out at Microsoft but I always keep coming back to the environment. I always keep coming back to you know how do we do more with what we have and how do we leave a really light footprint. And I honestly, I have to say I think it’s because I really love hot showers. I think if we want to boil it down why the environment is because I don’t ever want to go back to not having running water or indoor plumbing. Like never again and not having electricity. Like I love, I love hot showers. I love taking a long hot shower. I don’t ever want to go back to not having it. Like now that I have it I’m going to fight for it. I mean I’m maybe really selfish. But I think that’s what it is. I think that as an individual level. At a mom level I’ve a very different answer for you. You know for me as an individual I want to make sure that we’ve got the resources that we need to be able to sustain life and life for me means a hot shower. You know it means something very different for a lot of other people.
Joshua: Yeah. Actually this is one of my favorite parts of this podcast is that answer, not your particular answer, but for me it’s rewarding to hear what people say because everyone what they say is so unique and meaningful and based on what you said about your connection with Alaska, with your childhood and what nature means to you now, I wonder if you would be willing to take on a challenge as something to live by those values. You don’t have to change all the world’s problems overnight or fix all the world’s problems overnight but something that makes a difference and not telling other people what to do. So something that allows you to act on this. And for a lot of people that have acted a lot already it’s hard because sometimes there’s less than that on a plate for them. But I wonder if there’s something you could act on that would make a difference.
Dune: When I think about our life as a family there is a lot of things that we’ve done already to decrease our impact, our footprint on the Earth. And there are things that are harder to give up especially being the mom of a young child. But one thing that drives us crazy and we have not even started to tackle it so I’m putting it out, I feel like it’s one of the harder things for us to do but I want to do it. It’s tackling all of the all of the wasted food that we have in our family. So we do a good job of shopping for what we need. We go to the farmer’s market. We don’t buy in excess. But then because we get so busy in our lives, we go out to eat a lot really. You know instead of making broccoli pizza we just go to the restaurant because it’s easier. And then that broccoli gets nasty and rotten. And then we end up composting it. And while that’s good you know composting is good, I would say probably on every other week basis for probably throwing away like 10 pounds of food easily just from our little household of three people. So I want to tackle food waste in my own family. I think that’s the big challenge for us for me. Look at how I just abuse that to me and my husband, no it’s me. I want to tackle food waste in my household.
Joshua: So if I understand you right you buy the right amount of food and then you eat out and suddenly the right amount of food ends up being too much food and stuff that would have been good to eat ends up in the compost.
Dune: That’s right. That’s right. So I’m just wasting great food that was meant for the plate that week.
Joshua: Okay. So can we make it into a SMART goal where it’s something specific, meaningful…
Joshua: Miserable. Measurable. Measurable. Actionable, real, time-based. What I’d like to do is to have you second time and describe how the experience was and so enough time for it to take root.
Dune: Yeah. I think so. I mean I think you know when I think about it like just saying to decrease food waste I think would be an impossible task for me because I work very much and that feels really big and there’s always going to be waste you know no matter how good of a job I do I’m sure I will fail every single week. But if I think that we are probably disposing of 10 pounds-ish you know give or take a carrot, ten pounds I think is probably realistic for us to you know before the end of November, before the end of the month within like a three-four week period is to cut that in half. So if I can compost no more than five pounds of food every two weeks, that to me feels like attainable realistic, time bound, it’s smart. Overall, I think a smart. I think it is specific, it’s measurable. Yeah, no more than five pounds every two weeks.
Joshua: Now do you weigh it or you just kind of eyeball it? It’s fine with me…
Dune: I am just going to eyeball it. I mean my child weighs about 35 pounds. And so I’m pretty good at figuring out like what 10 pounds. So it’s about the eyeball but it’s also you know this is like a fifth of my child.
Joshua: Okay. I hear laughing about it so even though you describe it for…
Dune: That’s fear. That’s fear based laughter. Don’t let that fool you. That is fear based… That is “Oh my God. I just put something out there publicly.” And then I really have to do it.
Joshua: I think I read that you wanted to do it.
Dune: I want to do.
Joshua: It is something on your mind that was like in the back. I said it probably because I think a lot of listeners have something on their mind that I’m not there in their ear to say like “What’s the value of yours and what’s the way you could act on that value?” But I bet if people, now I’m kind of talking to them, if they look inside and think of “What’s the value, what does the environment mean to me? Is there something I can act on?”, I bet they will come up with it and they’ll have that same fear. But maybe they’ll also get to that laughter as well.
Dune: I have that same fear. I have that same here. Yeah but I’m confident I can do it.
Joshua: Well, cool. So we’ll set an appointment for two weeks if that’s okay with you so the listeners can hear how it went.
Dune: So let’s do three weeks. Let’s do three weeks and I’m going to [unintelligible] little bit. And Thanksgiving is just two weeks from now. I mean [unintelligible]. And let’s see if I can actually consume all of that Thanksgiving leftovers. I’ll take photos.
Joshua: You mean consuming… This is me just thinking out loud but I think it’ll be a mix of consuming what’s there but also not buying…. I don’t know. You know your shopping.
Dune: Which is like the impossible task for Thanksgiving, right? Like how much food are you supposed to have? I know it’s crazy, right? That’s a big challenge. It’s like a triple whammy is what this challenge is. And if I can do it during Thanksgiving, I can do it always.
Joshua: This what leaders say. This is how leaders talk. I hope people listening think, “I want to be like Dune.” So I like to close with asking is there anything I didn’t think to ask? Is there any message you want to leave the listeners before the next time?
Dune: So the message I’ll leave the listeners with [unintelligible] that there’s one thing that I have really learned from my time with Paul and now working with Adrian at Lonely Whale is that it doesn’t matter what you do. Everything every single person does on a daily basis makes a difference. The important thing is just to do something and just lean into whatever the issue is that environmental issue, is it a social issue they care deeply about. If it is, then just do something. Don’t make it too hard. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t worry about the checklist. Don’t worry about what comes first or what comes second or last. Just do something and have some fun with it and invite a friend like it can be kind of boring to do it by yourself. So do it with somebody else and have fun doing it. But the important thing is like lean into the issue that you care deeply about and tell us about it at Lonely Whale. We want to know what you do because it will inspire our audience to do more of what other people can do as well. So just do something you know don’t be afraid to try and to lean in and when we are all leaning together, then we can make a difference and it takes every one of us to do something. So just try it. Try one thing.
Joshua: I love that that message is so… It leads to fun through the opposite of what holds so many people back of like “What differences do I make?” Yes. I agree that everything that everyone does makes a difference. Dune Ives, thank you very much.
Dune: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
How refreshing it is to have someone takes such a heavy hard subject for so many other people and make it lighthearted and still effective. I’m glad that scientists and journalists have got us this far but other branches of society and institutions have learned to lead a lot more effectively than science has. I’m glad that Lonely Whale’s picking things up. I’m a fan of doing what works. So for yourself, if you haven’t already and straws or plastic waste mean something to you, start with straws. Talk about them. Once you master handling straws so that no more come your way, then take the next step – cups or something bigger. Or if straws and plastic don’t resonate with you, what does? What are your values? What’s the equivalent of straws in that area? Can you act on that? If you can, act on that or if you think about starting your own initiative, take a lesson from her that starting will lead to more success than just thinking about starting.
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