170: Colonel Mark Read, part 2: His Family’s Best Christmas Ever (transcript)

April 18, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Colonel Mark Read

A lot of people say, “Josh, easy for you to act on the environment. You don’t have kids.” First, I could point to a former guest to this podcast Bea Johnson who with her husband and two sons produced less than a mason jar of trash per year whom I see as role models and I aspire to follow. I could point out former guest Jim Harshaw who immediately on starting his project here found that his four children and wife loved the process and it brought them together as a team building problem solving effort. Now I can point out Colonel Mark Read whom you’re about to hear talking about joy, fun and bringing his family together and not in small ways and really big things as you’ll hear. He finds ways to connect across generations that his daughters and sons really like which he then brings to his West Point cadets. I make things work for my life because that’s my life. I don’t try to make my life work for someone else’s life. If I lived your life, I’d probably make it work with kids too. You can too. Family’s only one aspect I could focus on with Colonel Read’s results. And once you find emotional most rewarding something results are just a matter of time. I had no idea when I started out throwing up roughly one garbage bag per week that I’d reached the level of taking 16 months to fill a load of garbage. I could not have seen that. But looking back I found that once I started results like that were inevitable because once it’s fun, delicious and rewarding as it was for me you just keep doing it. So let’s hear Mark’s experience reducing waste for his family and you tell me if you think they’re done or just starting.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I am here with Colonel Mark Read here at West Point. How are you doing?

Mark: Great. Great. I just want to make sure I’m clear everything we’re going to talk about are my own personal views and not necessarily the views of the army or West Point or the government. It’s a beautiful rainy day in the Hudson Valley.

Joshua: It’s a beautiful. I mean it’s stunningly beautiful here. And as I mentioned I walked here it’s like a warm winter day but rainy. So you’ve been since last we spoke… We spoke before we started the recording and you seemed very chipper. You seemed very enthusiastic and I think you want to talk about stuff with your family. So do you mind reviewing for the listeners what did you commit to since the last time we spoke and then how did things go?

Mark: Sure. So I had committed to reducing the amount of garbage that our family produces. And I honestly can’t even remember if I said a specific like I wanted to reduce it by certain percentage. I think I said I’d just have a goal of reducing the amount of waste that goes out in our garbage can every week. We have a weekly pick up here of a family of five or six depending, we have one in college. So we have lots of people over so there’s you know we have a lot of cadets come over to our house. We live right here on the base so we have you know probably dozens to more cadets. We do a lot of entertaining so lots of people…

Joshua: And for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Mark: Absolutely. So the holidays. So that was interesting. I’ll talk a little bit about that. So we have the holidays in our rearview mirror now with a lot of visitors and folks but I’d committed to reducing the amount of garbage that we send out to the landfill from our house every week.

Joshua: OK. Now we’re all at the edge of… How did it go? What’s the play by play?

Mark: So you know again this is very unscientific. As a scientist you know I feel kind of dirty actually like not being very precise with you know measuring if I really had wanted to do this right I would have had my before and measured probably by mass you know the amount so this is a very… I use bags of garbage as my unit of measure. So it’s very imprecise.

Joshua: I don’t know if that’s a metric system or no.

Mark: No. I don’t think it is. Yeah, yeah. So these are standard kitchen garbage bags. So again this is estimate. So I think in the past before we committed to this so I’d say early fall last summer probably for years prior to that you know we would produce I would say on average of two to three garbage bags plus some extra stuff a week and then we also we do recycle here, have a sort of a mixed recycling pretty broad spectrum of recyclables that we can recycle here. So I didn’t touch the recycling. We continue to recycle. We’re talking about the reduce, reuse, recycle. So really this didn’t focus on the recycle part. This focuses mainly on the reduce and reuse in terms of what we consume as a family.

And so I think before this we took on this challenge about two to three garbage bags a week. And I estimate now we’re down to just over one a week. So we’ve gone I would say some weeks it’s one, some weeks it’s if we have a lot of folks in the house you know during the holidays a lot of you know family and whatever we may be had a couple of weeks where we are at two that we sent out but other weeks it’s kind of a less than a garbage bag and a half. But we’re continuing to find ways that it’s not so we’re not like, “OK, we’re there. We reduced.” We’re continuing to challenge ourselves and the kids are really excited about this too. So especially my high school age daughter she’s kind of leading the charge on some of this and really innovative ways to purchase things in bulk and do some things that really actually pretty significantly reduced the volume of waste that we produce.

Joshua: There’s a lot of new things you’re talking about but it feels like it’s caught on so quickly and so rapidly as you describe it that… Were you doing any of these things before? Did it unleash something that was there, that was latent?

Mark: A little bit of both. So we were doing… She had, and I don’t know what really inspired her, she watched some Netflix documentaries and she’s…

Joshua: As a result of this or she was…

Mark: No. Even before this. She’s taking AP environmental science this year so it’s a topic that they talk about in that particular high school class she’s taking. And so she was already sort of leaning forward on some of those say let’s reduce the amount of mainly in the food that we eat, let’s reduce the amount of packaging. She got really interested in our carbon footprint and in some things that you know that actually I’ve taught about and I teach about it but you know probably perhaps wasn’t practicing it is as much as I am glad I’m trying to now. So some of it was previous but then I think this challenge added sort of hey, let’s get real about this and let’s see what we can do as a family and have fun with it at the same time.

Joshua: It sounds like it activated or unleashed or maybe liberated. Do any of these words…?

Mark: I think activated. I would say that it activated us as a family to there’s sort of a challenge, there’s some innovation that goes with this, there’s some accountability and then there’s sort of I think the next piece of it is OK, as we’ve had people through our home and we talk about, “Hey, you know actually don’t bring paper plates, we’ve got our own ceramic plates or porcelain plates that we’re going to use.” And I mean just an example I have this old box of China from my grandmother that we’ve had. We’ve moved it around, we move a lot in the military, and we’ve moved it around for the 26 years that my wife and I’ve been married we’ve moved my grandmother’s China.

Joshua: Is it the box that never gets reopened?

Mark: Kind of. Yeah. It’s one of those boxes that sits in the basement and never… Well, we finally decided hey, we’re going to… In the job that I’m in the location and what we do we have a lot of people in our home. So we actually we had a pretty big New Year’s reception and Jen has unpacked that finally and put it in a place where it’s accessible and we use sort of this mix and match of… We used you know nana’s China and we didn’t use any disposable… Nothing. It was fine, it was great. And people were like, “Oh, this is really cool China.” I’m like, “There’s a story behind it.” So yes, it’s kind of fun.

Joshua: It’s kind of funny to not use beautiful heirloom stuff in favor of disposable…

Mark: That’s ironic, isn’t it?

Joshua: It’s kind of living a different heirloom for our kids when we use disposable stuff like we’re leaving them…

Mark: Yeah.

Joshua: And you know you said something earlier that you said, “We committed to this.” There’s a “we” and now you committed to it. That doesn’t mean everyone else did. If I remember right last time I did meet your wife just after we recorded.

Mark: You did.

Joshua: Yeah. Let the records show that you brought me to see Ruth Beta Ginsburg last time.

Mark: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.

Joshua: Yeah. Wow. [unintelligible]. That was amazing.

Mark: Yeah. What a treat to see her now because I mean who knows how long she’s going to be able to travel. I mean she’s already even… Since we spoke she’s had some medical issues. Yeah.

Joshua: Well, I remember when the general… I believe it was the general who was doing the fireside chat with her on the stage and she asked her something and there was… I figured what she asked and there was this pause and I thought, “Oh, no this is like an old woman and she’s going to be really like this… I’m going to get hit with like this is who’s representing you know doing this major role for our country.” And then she started off with, “Oh, was that joke?” It was so funny. She nailed this thing about…

Mark: I can’t remember the joke but she was totally… I had the same is like this uncomfortable… Did she hear the question? Is she going to answer the question? And then she just nailed this joke. That was great. Yeah.

Joshua: It was something about being on a military base in Oklahoma. Anyway. OK. So I met your wife then but still you committed to it. Now one of things I often ask mainly because for a lot of people before they do this, before they commit to something other people are a major impediment because they think… Lots of things they could think, “What are other people going to think? I don’t bother the barista to get a mug or you know it’s just easier to do it the old way.” And then I find it when people do it to get they get responses like you, they engage the other people. So how did this affect your relationships with the other people who were involved? You hinted at it but let’s hear you more, if you don’t mind.

Mark: You know like I said I have four kids, my wife and I have four kids and our oldest is at Penn State so she doesn’t live at home most of the time although she was home for a good chunk over the holidays and home also for Thanksgiving because I think we met actually prior to Thanksgiving even I think it was. So she’s been home a couple of times since and she’s already doing this and live in this and so it’s fun to have her back in the fray so to speak.

Joshua: Was she like, “Welcome aboard.”?

Mark: Kind of yeah. I mean she’s… Yeah, yeah. She’s just excited to see… So you know when you have someone like that who’s away and then they come back they notice the changes a lot more because you know they’re not here all the time. You know some of those more subtle changes. So she’s excited that we’re doing this and she’s all about it. Anna, our daughter who’s the junior in high school she’s kind of leading the charge on it frankly. She’s the one that kind of you know challenges us and brings new ideas and we have some really good debates and discussions around the dinner table. Jen is on board, my wife is on board. Easy sell for her. This is not… We lived in Germany and in Germany we learned just how little waste you can produce and it’s just not a big deal. And that was almost two decades ago actually. I was, gosh 20 years ago. And so you know the Germans are in many ways way ahead of us and have been for a long time. The ones who are sort of this is kind of new or my sons who are 13 and 9 respectively. And you know it hasn’t been a hard sell with them although you know they’re kind of kind of in and out I guess.

Joshua: Was that something you had to sell or is it something that…?

Mark: I didn’t. No. I didn’t have to sell it. I mean you know I kind of threw it at us hey, there’s this… I mentioned you and Jen had met you and I said, “We’re going to try this challenge and let’s have fun with it, let’s see what we can do with it.” And I mean I didn’t get really any pushback within the family.

Joshua: Normally, I have a couple of questions I want to ask but now I have a personal question. A lot of people say, “All right, Josh it took you 60 months to fill a bag of garbage. You don’t have kids.” And so I point out Bea Johnson who was a guest on the podcast and she’s been doing this for longer than I have. And she and her family of four, her husband and two sons. They produce, the garbage fits in like a mason jar for year. She’s a role model for me but I can’t speak from experience on a household of more than just me. So what can I say to people when they say, “Oh, you don’t have kids. If you have kids, there’s nothing you can do. It’s going to be a lot of garbage.”

Mark: Yeah. I mean I understand that and I think… So with us it’s not just kids, it’s all the other people. We have a lot of people through our home and they’re in there often eating and doing things or sometimes they bring food in and entertaining things like that. But I still think you can make it fun, challenging, interesting and I guess part of what we’ve done and I really haven’t talked much about it but I rely on my daughter who’s a budding environmental scientist. Hey what’s some of the science behind this? And she’ll sometimes pull up part of a documentary and go, “Look, you know this is what’s happened into some of this plastic that is making its way into our waterways and our oceans.” And so then you know it’s not just dad saying, “Hey, we’re going to do this because we’re going to do it. It’s “Hey, here’s kind of the reason why. And then the boys are kind of you know they’re like “Oh, OK, well it kind of makes sense.” All right. I see now in a way why you won’t accept straws anymore. It’s not just this fad it’s like there’s you know there’s some science behind it and there’s… You know by the way, there are some alternatives that they’re really not hard. They’re kind of almost you know just good sense.

Joshua: Your response I describe it as like that’s leadership talk of involving other people and because what you talked about was not what they did, there was what they did but also the emotions, the motivations and if you work on those, that’s what motivates people, people are motivated by their motivations and telling people what to do isn’t as engaging as… What I heard was how it involved your family was, it was fun, it was engaging, it was people like interacting with each other and that’s… Now that I’m thinking when someone says, “Oh, what you say doesn’t apply because we we’re family.” and I think would say, “Well, it can be fun independent of how much you reduce it’s fun.” If it’s fun, why not do it?

Mark: Well and not only fun but I guess to get at the leadership piece whether you’re talking a family or an office or you know a group of co-workers somewhere. So I mentioned part of what I’d done in the family is everyone kind of has, not everyone but their different roles. Like my daughter, my high school daughter has sort of taken on a ham. I’m sort of the innovator and I’m the one who’s sort of into the science of this. And that’s great. And you know I don’t have time to really do that. It’s right in the lane with a class she happens to be taking at school. And the boys have certain chores where you know they can help hold us accountable on you know whether it’s taking out the trash or what we’re putting into the trash so involving everyone sort of from a different perspective and having a different role in it. And I think that does help make it fun and it is an ownership piece there I guess.

Joshua: So yeah I can’t help but think as a project based learning professor teacher when I hear of a student getting into this I think, “Oh, man, I’d want to give that person… I’d like to do what it takes to help them form a project.” because it feels like the sort of thing that would look really good on college applications. You know we did this thing at home and then I applied it to my school and transformed something and then the Ivy League is, “Well, that’s better than just a Peace Corps.”

Actually it reminds me of… There’s a group I volunteered with Generation 180 and had this project to put solar on schools and so I was going round to New York City public schools to see about getting solar put on the schools. And so Generation 180 provides a lot of support. The guy who found it was a guest on here Sandy Reisky and we had this presentation about this student at a school and it’s like the school’s going to really slow about getting solar installed on their school. So he took it on himself. He designed some letterhead that looked like official school but it wasn’t so he wasn’t misrepresenting anything. If you didn’t check, it would look like it was from that school and he got a bunch of bids and then he got all the way up to it happening like he got which one was going to do it and how much was going to cost and all that sort of stuff and he’d ended up graduating and his little sister ended up finishing the project, they got solar in that school and they keep talking about how much money you save and how much blah blah blah. I was like that’s kind of cool like the hard facts, hard and fast facts. And I said, “This kid went into college. Where did they go?” And they said Stanford. I said, “Was that part of him getting in?” And they were like, “Yeah.” I don’t know what parents valued and what the schools value I mean I’m not one so I can’t say but I think that they value the kid getting the Stanford. I feel like that’s the selling point. It’s like if you do this, if you go through this process and some of the kids are a part of it, you give them a role in this. And I think we all know we need a lot of leadership in the area of the environment. There’s plenty of leadership opportunities around because basically as far as I can tell there’s no one doing it. No one who’s living by their values and sharing this and the opportunities are tremendous. [unintelligible] for your daughter getting Stanford as a result of something here.

Mark: Well you know so she’s taken this to a level where she is very entrepreneurial, she’s passionate about the environment and she’s actually reducing it as part of that and for just not any specific health issues, she has good health in general she’s reducing the amount of meat that she’s eating but she’s interested. She’s looking actually is there some way to apply these interests of mind to a future career. So she is, I don’t know if at Stanford but you know she is looking for ways that she can pursue this interest that’s more than an interest, I’d say, it’s growing into a passion for her into her college years and beyond. So yeah.

Joshua: I am getting way off topic for the podcast but because I advise so many students who come to me from my classes they’re college students but you know when they talk about for my future career I think now like you don’t have to wait for some future career because I dislike about school about… The institution… How it’s institutionalized here now is that people think there’s like commencement is when life commences. But it’s now. That’s why my students are… Like one of my students for project he was beginning in my class he gave a TEDx talk before graduation. There’s no need to wait. And in fact with all the IPCC stuff coming out it’s like waiting until a few years from now it’s like half the time they say we have to wait where’s if she makes a difference now, she could make a… There’s a young girl in Sweden right now. Greta, look up Greta. Greta of Sweden. I forget their last name. One of my guests on the podcast, Swedish, told me about her before she got really big and she’s protesting like she’s not going to school sometimes because she’s like, “Your generation messed up my world.” And that voice is making a difference. And who knows what other opportunities there are because as someone who is promoting my podcast I can’t compete with like 14-year-old girls putting on makeup on YouTube and they get 14 million views. That’s… I don’t know. It feels like there’s opportunities out there.

Mark: Sure. Sure, sure. Yeah.

Joshua: So I talked about relationships within your family and there’s all these people visiting. How did things happen…? How did people feel when they were there? Okay, so they saw the China. That’s one thing.

Mark: Yeah. So I would tell you many people who if they’re just passing through they’re not sort of regular you know they’re just kind of there for an event and gone. You know they may or may not even notice it. And we don’t make it a point to bring it up. We don’t want to sound like, “Hey, look what we’re doing.” You know we don’t want to be prideful about it at all. But plenty of people we do have an opportunity to like, “Oh, this is nice China. Well, you know here’s actually a reason why we’re using it. There are many reasons why…” And actually after the New Year’s reception it was mainly people from my department here and we actually we are… There are 13 academic departments here and one of the things we do pride ourselves as a department is that we own a set of reusable flatware and dishes and things that we use for social events, for tailgates in the fall football season and we actually use some of those at this reception as well. And we always it’s kind of this little challenge that we have as a department that that like well how little waste can we… Pretty often after a tailgate you know 40 or 50 people at a post football game tailgate and you’ve just got bags and bags of trash and we don’t. And a lot of that is the plates and the packaging. So we it’s one of the things we really as a department here we… So but some people aren’t familiar with that. And so there are opportunities to talk with people as it came through our home with cadets who come over and hey, you know they will come in with a big Starbucks cup you know paper cup or something and like, “You know you actually can use one of these and it’s like a reusable one.” And you know it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” and it kind of gets us on topic and talking about it. Of course, for our high school age daughter she’ll jump right in and she loves to talk with cadets about this and the environment and you know a lot of them just don’t think about it. And so yeah there definitely as we’ve had people through our whole family extended family who’ve been here to visit we have I don’t know if they’ll take the challenge but at least they didn’t reveal that they thought we were crazy for doing this. I mean they seem to be encouraging about it and interested.

Joshua: It’s amazing how you are saying people weren’t… They weren’t aware that they could have done something different, they didn’t notice that they had a plastic cup and so many people I talked to when I talk to them about changing their behavior say that they want to have an intermediate goal of raising awareness or being more conscious and over and over again I find that, and this is like a big kick in mine if you search my podcast for the ones with awareness in the title as people describe awareness it’s more often a delay tactic I think because they realize that if they actually do something that will raise their awareness way much more than just thinking without doing. And I think that they recognize it when they become aware that once they become aware, once they act then they’ll become aware that they could’ve acted earlier and they were putting it off and the guilt or something comes up inside and they’re like, “I don’t want to feel that.” And so actually they don’t want awareness. And so when they say they want awareness that they’re actually putting it off.

And now I’m curious when you started doing this did you have any feelings… Was your feeling of like, “I could have done this earlier. Crap that was a big missed opportunity.”? Or were there cycles of emotion with it?

Mark: I wouldn’t say there were cycles of emotion. There’s certainly, “Gosh, why didn’t we do some of this earlier? This really it’s not hard.” In fact, in some cases it’s easier and it’s fun and we feel good about it. You know I’m not that kind of person, nor are most of our family to sort of have great guilt about what we have or haven’t done sort of, “Let’s move on and look forward and let’s do this, let’s be glad that we’ve got this challenge, we’re having fun and we’re making a difference a small difference but a difference.” And so now I wouldn’t say it was like sort of this guilty feeling that as we are doing and become aware that we’re regretful about you know I mean it is there. I mean do I wish I’d done? Yeah, sure I do but I don’t really dwell on that. I don’t think we really do. We kind of move forward.

Joshua: Speaking of moving forward, what’s next if anything? Let me start with the easy ones. Are you going to keep doing this?

Mark: We are absolutely, yeah. Oh, yeah we’re all in on this. I mean this is not a short term challenge. This is a long term. Let’s see if we can continue to bring the volume down and I think we can.

Joshua: You said this is not a short term. Was it possible that it might have been short term when you first started? Is it possible that the family didn’t buy in?

Mark: I guess so. I don’t think I ever thought of it as short term I always thought of it hey let’s make a change like a permanent change in the way we consume and the amount of waste that we produce. Are there times when we take backup? Absolutely. But let’s on average let’s continue to try to bring it down. You know obviously there’s a minimum. I don’t know what that minimum is. We’ll see. I mean we’ll continue to try to reduce in some ways I think you know it’s well our current culture, our sort of culture of consumption puts up some pretty good barriers to making it easy particularly in…

Joshua: The outside world.

Mark: Yes, yes. You know I think in a suburban way, what is West Point it’s not really a suburb but it’s kind of I guess for folks who are in an urban area they would think of this as more of a rural/suburban area. In some ways it’s a little bit more challenging. You know we don’t have access to markets really close by and things like that. But I think, I do, I think there are barriers coming down. I think awareness as a whole is ticking up gradually and so I think it will be something we can continue long term. I don’t if I answered all your questions there. It seems like there is one part that I didn’t answer.

Joshua: It does feel like it’s bigger than you expected. Within your family it could have been less and I think even, if I’m reading, tell me if I’m wrong, they’re pleasantly surprised at how much it’s caught on like you knew it would catch on by some amount but this is like more than that. Do you plan on expanding it? Is there something more to come?

Mark: Let me give you a story. This is not really an expansion but since we just went through the holidays this was an example of a way that we really were all like, “Hey, okay, we need to stop doing this wrapping paper.” Holy cow. That wrapping paper can create lots and lots like a big volume of waste. And it’s not recyclable, most of it’s not recyclable and it’s just like you know you put it on, you use it, it sits there, it looks nice and then you rip it off and then so… So actually we challenge ourselves over the holidays and specifically for Christmas to not use wrapping paper. And we used cloth that we can reuse year to year. My wife stitched up some bags like some gift bags that you can put things in and sort of synch up and you know maybe put a smaller tag on or maybe not even put a tag at all and just say, “Hey, you know Sarah, this is yours.” or whatever. So that was an area that set of a very narrowly focused specific area but an area that I know in the past has produced a pretty significant amount of waste for us related to holidays anyhow. Well, into the future. That was your question.

Joshua: I have to give a story, not a story but like a little vignette of I mean there are plenty of stores like this but there happens to be a store near me that has like a lot of trinkets it’s like Pokemon type stuff like little gift toys. And as you described the wrapping paper these are toys that will probably get a smile for about 30 seconds and probably forced to smile at that and then we’ll never be played with again and it will be in a landfill for five hundred years or longer. And I feel like we could just save people a lot of… Every time I pass by the store I think “30 seconds to landfill.” We could save everyone a lot of effort if we just put the factory next to a landfill and pump the stuff directly into a landfill and just spent time with people and gave gifts of like make some dinner and just spend time together.

Mark: Yeah. So I can’t say that this was inspired by the challenge but in some way it was. I mean my two daughters have really you know again learning about minimalism and just not that they’re becoming true minimalists but just trying to reduce the amount of stuff that we buy, that we have, that we need. And so my wife and I thought well, we love to travel as a family, we really enjoy that some of our great memories are road trips and things that we’ve taken. And so this year we thought well, instead of you know for Christmas instead of getting the kids all gifts let’s make a memory, let’s go as a family somewhere interesting. So we did. So we told the kids, “Hey, you’re not getting any gifts from us this Christmas.” and all of them, except the 9-year-old were fine with that. We had to work a little with Ben because he’s you know Christmas means gifts for him. The kids did a gift exchange so just one kind of a Secret Santa among the four of them which is really cool, for sure we’ve tried that and that was it. You know there were some extra little extended family who sent gifts but within the family you know we took a trip and spent time together instead of giving each other things that some of which probably would have been 30 seconds to the landfill.

Joshua: Okay, so you went on the trip. How did the trip go? What was the result? Were they glad afterward?

Mark: Oh, absolutely. We went to Canada. We went to Quebec City. It was absolutely fantastic. I mean we absolutely had a fantastic time. It was wonderful.

Joshua: Did you spend more or less money on it? I’m kind of curious if you don’t mind sharing. Because I want to say less money, more togetherness, more share.

Mark: It’s hard to say.

Joshua: Comparable. [unintelligible].

Mark: Yeah. I would say it was kind of comparable.

Joshua: It’s the scientist in me is like if it’s within a factor of 10, it’s about the same.

Mark: Yeah and it is comparable.

Joshua: So was it a total win? Was there any loss in this? [unintelligible] with the young one?

Mark: None, none. I guarantee you if you could call all four of them in here independently and said…

Joshua: Sequestration of the witnesses.

Mark: Would you trade your trip to your family to Quebec City over Christmas for a bunch of gifts? I can ninety-nine point nine percent guarantee you what everyone would say.

Joshua: Oh, cool.

Mark: So yeah, they had a wonderful time. It was great.

Joshua: It reminds me of whatever replaced my flying with is last summer I started taking sailing lessons and I spend a lot of time on the water and within five miles of home… I haven’t worked out the math. I haven’t sat down and mapped it out but I think from my home too I guess the farthest I can go with the sailing club that I belong to which is like way cheaper than a flight is that the whole year with the sailing and I were allowed to go as far as the Verizon and Ellis bridge and we’ve gone that far. That’s as far as I’ve gone. It’s a whole other world. I mean being on a sailboat… Maybe next time you could take the family on a sailboat. It’s another world. It’s right under my nose. How many things are right under my nose…? But you talk about how the prevailing culture makes some things difficult. And so you feel like you’re swimming upstream a lot of times because someone comes over there, gives a gift and you’re like, “Oh, I got to accept this. I got to be nice.” and so forth but really I also want to tell them “Thanks but no thanks.” but that’s hard sometimes.

The flip side is when you put the effort in you find out you could’ve done this all along. I could have been sailing so much more and I could’ve been learning… Then you learn about tides and you learn about the like sunrise and well, obviously I know what sunrise and sunset are but I mean the currents and there’s something natural right there. Most cities are on rivers or by bodies of water. And as an astronomer I know a fair amount about the stars but then you start picking up more. I mean we’re not navigating by the stars in the Hudson River the bay, the New York City harbor, still there’s something to it, there’s a lot to it because you’re learning about how wind makes sails work and it’s not pushing, it’s more like a foil and then you feel it because when you are operating the till and you’re trimming the lines you feel the wind moving the boat and it’s very different than what you expect. And you can tell people all about it but when you feel it and plus when I took the lesson the sailboat we’re heeling which means tipping over and like water is coming onto the boat and I’m like, “This is really bad.” but that’s what the boat is designed to do. That’s just me being scared out of inexperience. And then you learn so much. And it was always there. It was always there and…

Mark: And you just became aware of it by doing it.

Joshua: Yeah. I activated it.

Mark: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joshua: So this is all and I interrupted you and we went off on tangents about what’s coming next if anything. I don’t know if you plan anything or if things seem on the horizon that weren’t in the horizon before.

Mark: So one of the things that I get to bring it to work… We’ve had some challenges we have a new recycling contract here and it’s just really looking for… And I have some faculty and one of them you met who they have some background and skills in the area of sustainability. And I’d like to see the work, I’d like to see the community get better at it. And I think there are enough of us here who I think agree that you know we have a critical mass of us. We’re kind of senior leaders in the community here. And I think we can work on that. You know the community of West Point could do better in a lot of ways in terms of back to the reduce, reuse, recycle. I think we can get smarter, more effective, more efficient and probably with not a lot of effort. I think just maybe with some redirected efforts. Do I have anything specific in mind? I don’t for the community, for my department here. But I certainly am thinking and looking and have some folks I’m going to leverage to help do that.

Joshua: You make me think of something. When you talked about the garbage at tailgating things… Since we last spoke I was on L.A. at the Summit this I called greenwashing is they had lots of bottled water available but it was like Jaden Smith who was Will Smith’s son was involved in some water bottling thing except it’s a cardboard sign like that because I’m not using this stuff. I don’t need bottled water. I need water to live. And in fact I went to an event and walked past a water fountain -bone dry because no one’s using the water fountain. And the greenwashing is that they talk about how this just water company uses less packaging than others. So they calculate how much packaging these relative to more packaging. I’m comparing it relative to zero packaging. They didn’t save any bottles, they didn’t save any packaging. They produced a lot. So I’m talking to them. I’m trying to… They don’t realize that like talking about sustainability is not the same thing as sustainability because talk is cheap. And so one of the ideas that I have. Well, actually I went to a lot of people and I asked them if the next year they said, “We’re not going provide any cutlery or bottles and if you want that stuff, bring your own.” Would you be more likely, less likely or neutral about coming next time? No less likely’s, a couple neutral’s and everyone else was yeah, great. There were like we’re getting all these freebies, all the swag stuff and it’s a lot of garbage. And so one of the things I want to do on horizon is have one garbage can for the entire event and say all the garbage has to go on here and not fill it up and that would activate everyone.

Mark: I like that.

Joshua: It’s really hard. Yeah. The first year but maybe the second year you know have it like each year. And then I thought that’s kind of challenging. And then I thought, “You know what? Summit is….” In their world it’s like there’s Davos and there’s Burning Man and there’s TED and there’s a few of these like world class things and they’re the youngest one and they’re kind of still growing but they’re in that group. Imagine they took leadership in this area that basically 7 billion people matters to them and crave, I believe crave leadership in this area. If they said, first of all, if they said, “We put one garbage can.” and we said, “Put everything in there and let’s try to keep it done one.” And I predicted the first year they’re going to fail miserably, fail but not miserably, fail in the sense of learning experience. Now they’re in a leadership position. They’re going to be ahead of Davos, they’re going to be ahead of TED and so forth. So then we had Burning Man. Burning Man which is like no trace left behind and like they’re burning jet fuel all over the place and just because you can’t see the greenhouse gases doesn’t mean you didn’t produce them. And I think it’s a big leadership opportunity for them to take a leadership role that everyone’s advocating.

And so you start talking about you have less garbage. It feels to me like that’s something to point out like this is our one garbage can and we plan not to fill it so that everyone can see… Other people can be like, “Oh, crap. Ours is producing a lot of garbage. What are they doing that we could do?” And then you’d have a leadership role. I don’t know the context and so forth but you mentioned that made me think of this other thing. Oh, man. And then they do this the Summit, they have this… First of all, compared to most… I’ve been to a lot of trade shows and things like that. Of course they are way far ahead of most but most other places aren’t claiming that they’re that far ahead. So there’s the will and they’ve gotten somewhere but there’s lots of potential left. Oh, yeah. So they have this summit at Powder Mountain. They somehow got ahold of some land in Colorado, Utah, I think. And they’re trying to make it a sustainable ski resort. I can buy that. I just got e-mail from them “Largest heli-skiing operation in the world” like it’s pretty tough to make heli-skiing sustainable.

Mark: That’s a stretch. Yeah. That’s a stretch.

Joshua: And now I’m going to go way off tangent but I think that when people see someone saying, “I’m sustainable.” and they’re doing that everybody says, “That’s not sustainable. I don’t have to do it either.” I think it’s like anyone who tries to take on a leadership role and does not live consistently with the values that they espouse especially if they are telling other people what to do and if they get sanctimonious about it, it’s over. I hope people aren’t listening to me like, “Josh, you’re sanctimonious.” because I don’t how I sound to other people. But maybe I describe myself. I hope… If I am, please write into me.

Mark: Yeah. Call me out right now. And I tell that to the folks who I work with, I tell that, I tell it to my family, my wife and kids. I mean they know the values that I live by and if you see me violating those… I mean sometimes we’re aware we do it intentionally or you know we think we might not get caught. Sometimes but it’s unintentional. And that’s why teams are great that you have people who you give permission to sort of call you out in a gentle sort of you know loving way generally, especially among family. But yeah, let’s hold each other accountable and if you see me doing something that you know is contrary to my values, then say something to me.


Joshua: I think it as a kid growing up I want I didn’t want accountability and I didn’t want responsibility and maturity, the biggest part of maturity for me is taking responsibility and wanting accountability on the things that matter to me. I can’t do some of the things I used to do and I have to do some things I didn’t like to do. And everyone’s free to live how they want but for me that’s better to consider how my actions affect others. I’m kind of curious do you want to go for another one, another commitment to revisit another time?

Mark: Can I take the same one and take it to a lower level like continue on this glide path like a new goal?

Joshua: A lower meaning more details?

Joshua: Yeah, well I can think of a couple of things. So I want to continue to reduce the volume of waste…

Joshua: That’s lower that you mean. It’s to break it down to [unintelligible].

Mark: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Exactly. So I want to get down to a bag or less and I might actually start weighing it, we’ll see. I don’t know. I think it’d be interesting.

Joshua: Sorry to interrupt, you said earlier about not being scientific with like not weighing. And a big barrier to science is that people think it has to be super numeric, you have to have a white lab coat. This is science to me. And science in the sense of like appreciating nature and involving yourself in nature and studying nature. And if it’s casual, it’s still scientific. Like I think some of the great scientists in history if they were alive today, this is what they’d be working on. It wouldn’t be like measuring stuff in a lab. It would be like, “What do we got to do?”

Mark: Well, there’s an element of social science in it too. I mean it’s you know it’s almost what we’re talking about here so. So kind of an intersection of science and social science. Well, social science is science. I’m a social scientist myself so…

Joshua: Sorry to interrupt. Okay so you’re talking about getting lower…

Mark: Yes. So continue to reduce the volume of waste. Something else that I guess… It kind of goes hand-in-hand with that but with us reducing the amount of food waste that we… And you and I were talking about this earlier about food waste and stores that just like put out boxes of food to…

Joshua: Yeah. I want to share this. So before we start recording I was telling you about how… I was actually taking the bus to DC. I was walking from my home to Port Authority and as I’m walking there I pass by Whole Foods and there’s a huge bunch… Okay this is the regular garbage but next to it in boxes just sitting there is a bunch of like a lot of apples, oranges, bananas, eggplants, there’s these boxes and boxes of still sealed pies. I didn’t get into pies because they had sugar, I don’t want the sugar added and besides I fill up my bags completely. I’m swimming in eggplants, apples, oranges, bananas. What else? Oh, a whole bunch of the bulk foods stuff like nuts and seeds and things like that all these pepitas which are pumpkin seeds, I think and a whole bunch of almonds. And so I’m going to DC, I’m on the way walking north and I see that I filled my bags completely because I’m thinking I’m going to kind of hoity toity kind of affair, a VIP sort of thing. Actually, it was a big book lunch and on the bus down there like I’m thinking, “Am I going to show up at this thing with like all these bags full of stuff?” And I’m like, “Yeah. And if someone asks, I am going to tell them.” So anyway on the bus down I pack the stuff up more like I have more time so I’m packing the stuff up and then there’s a whole bunch of empty space now because I’ve packed it more dancing my bags so the stuff I took all down to DC, I come back out and when I walked back home I walked by the same place it’s still there. And it was like freezing cold so I’m like it’s been refrigerated. So I filled the extra space. The next morning I was going to meet someone. That meeting gets canceled. I’m like, “You know what? I bet it’s still there.” So I walk up, it’s still there the next day. So I got three loads of stuff and I’m like we live in a world where we devalue the stuff so much and we overproduce, we don’t think about what we’re doing that we’re just… We’re bulging at the seams. I’m looking at cultural obesity of just like… What’s the word? The muffin top. It’s like just bulging out and that’s the stuff that we like of the stuff that we don’t like, these 30 second things. I mean the other garbage was like overrunning and much, much more. And oddly that’s what we should do… I’d rather we overproduce food if we under produced all the other stuff.

Mark: Yeah. Right.

Joshua: We should produce a lot less of all of that. Sorry I couldn’t help it. It was like… I haven’t shared with many people because I don’t know. It’s not like I go out and talk about how I pick up other people’s throwing away their food. Anyway. Yes, a lot of waste. And there’s like homeless people that are passing away hungry.

Mark: Yeah, disconnect. How do we connect that? How do we…? Yeah, yeah. So I think we’re going to try to reduce the amount of food waste as a family which is hand-in-hand with the amount of garbage we produce. But I still think we can be more efficient about what we produce, what we consume and how we store it and just be… I think I may make some gains there so I don’t know exactly how to quantify that. You know I’d say just we’re going to reduce the amount of food waste.

Joshua: And it’s funny, one of my solutions… I made sauerkraut and then I put a whole bunch of eggplants into the sauerkraut and now that I got… So I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff but when you’re flooded with vegetables when you are [unintelligible] and suddenly if you are not going to let anything get wasted like…

Mark: You learn about preserving and preparing. Yeah.

Joshua: Yeah. And I’m curious, you mentioned doing stuff in the office. Is that something where you could apply what you got from the home life and apply it to the professional side?

Mark: Yeah. I think I can. And again I’ve got a team here that our department sort of prides itself on being sort of the… I mentioned the term green team. But we could do better at that and some people outside the department roll their eyes. Perhaps some people in department that they’re kind of like, “What is this green team thing?” But you know sort of pushing and trying to… I don’t know if I mentioned but we’re getting a new recycling contract and you know what does that do or is it actually being recycled, how’s it been recycled and what’s their process for sorting and what’s getting recycled, what are we producing, do we have to print all the tests, can we print them on front and back or are we just being wasteful in printing? So little things like that but when you talk about the thousands of students that you know we have four thousand four hundred students here and many of them pass through our classes. There are some things we can do as a department. We’re in the process of a major redesign of our facilities here and we’re talking 15-20 years out where we’re at… And so are we designing those facilities to take advantage of some of the technologies and practices that are really cutting edge efficient and safe and making sure we’re incorporating some of those into our design process? So lots of opportunities both short term and long term to have an impact in the department here. And I think we have a culture that buys into that sort of thing here. But are we actually doing it? I think that’s the question that we need to be asking ourselves.

Joshua: So what I propose that I think we’ll answer that more, more accurately than you would’ve expected is still to… You’re talking about departmental action. I think if you do personal action but in the office so that you’re not requiring others to do it. I mean I love hearing all the thousands of cadets over decades’ time scale, that’s big lever arms but it’s not like a SMART goal because it’s tough to make that specific and measurable but you can change your behavior. And I wonder if you’d be up for taking on something, changing behavior here in some way whether it’s official or not whether other people notice it or not.

Mark: Good question. Nothing’s coming to mind and I’m kind of stumped right now. I can think something simple like reducing the amount of paper that I use.

Joshua: Yeah. Oh, let me go back and say something I didn’t say this to you time but I said it to you last time which is this is not about solving the world’s problems although it is about living by your values, it’s about doing something because… The way I’ve been saying it lately if you want to play at Carnegie Hall, you got to start with scales. I don’t know if you have to but it’s probably what most people do if you’re going to play piano at Carnegie Hall. Scale’s not even music. It’s a mechanical thing that is sort of… It is not expressing yourself. And yet it emerges into that. And so this is really about the scale, it is about doing something… It’s about developing skills that I believe that once the skills are developed then it’s inevitable that you start applying them to the next thing. If you’re acting on something you care about, that you value. If you’re doing scales on something you don’t care about, it will probably go away. But it’s not how big the first thing is. It’s if you develop a skill in it which can be applied to the next thing. So if all you would do was… If it was just like use one last piece of paper if that was something that got you to the next thing, I think, again, people make science inaccessible by thinking it has to be so big. Likewise, they think that acting on the environment… The key thing to me is acting, not at the beginning how big it is because it’s difficult to do the big things if you haven’t done the small things or if you have done the small things, the big things are no longer big.

Mark: So here’s something that comes to mind as you’re talking about this and it’s in terms of volume it will be a small thing but I think it would be something that I can do, that others would probably notice that I’d be doing particularly my staff and that’s really just reducing the amount of paper that goes across my desk and really trying to migrate more of that just to electrons to keep it digital there. You know it’s easier to digitally sign things, I sign and approve a lot of things. And I have meetings that I go to where sometimes you know and in the past I’ve tended to you know print slides although you know try to get multiple slides on a page or print them out so I can take notes but that’s easier now with new computer systems I can actually do it, actually easier now digitally so not having my staff print those out for me. So I think there’s some room there for improvement where I can reduce the amount of paper that I’m personally consuming and I can certainly see that something that could catch on. So yeah.

Joshua: Or dare I might suggest you know your office best but sometimes saying it’s not necessary for the digital version either.

Mark: True.

Joshua: Because I mean it’s paperwork in terms of the physical paper that’s a pain. It’s a pain like…

Mark: Time. It’s time. Every piece of paper you have to look at and sign.

Joshua: Yeah. The result is… Now I am thinking of when I coach leadership coaching with one of my clients delegating is hard to do but once you delegate it like it frees you from so much and this is how I talk to them and they start getting enabled, then you get promoted because they start doing things you used to do because then they don’t have to go to you for approvals and so forth. And so the leadership coaching me is like well, here’s an opportunity to start like enabling them to do stuff without coming to you all the time and then they get promoted, you get promoted. I guess army promotions it’s like hard and fast rules I’m sure. I don’t know but that’s I talk to others.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s good but yes, I’ll take that on try to reduce primarily the amount of paper that I produce but also certainly looking for ways to reduce the amount of digital things I have to touch as well.

Joshua: OK. So then that tells me we’ll talk again and that tells me to go to wrap this one up.

Mark: Okay.

Joshua: And so I like to wrap up with two questions. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask that’s worth bringing up? And is there anything you want to say directly to the listeners?

Mark: Nothing that comes to mind that you didn’t think to ask. I think we’ve covered some great ground and have been exciting. And for the listeners, yeah, let me just say and this is totally unrelated but if you’re ever in the area of West Point come visit your military academy. It’s a beautiful historic fascinating place with 4400 cadets and a lot of staff and faculty to make this place run and it’s I think a national resource, a national treasure and it’s accessible. I mean just a great visitor center as you saw and it’s not too difficult to get on the installation and take a tour or walk around yourself and learn a little bit about the tremendous history and not just the history of the place but what we’re doing now to educate, train and inspire these cadets to be future leaders in our army and our nation.

Joshua: Yeah I took the bus from… So if you’re in New York, you take the bus from Port Authority and it’s a bit of urban stuff at the beginning but then once you’re up near here, it’s beautiful, it’s Hudson Valley and the river’s really beautiful here.

Mark: Yeah. It is.

Joshua: I got a colonel signing me in. If that’s not there, you take a tour… Just to make it easy for the listeners.

Mark: The easiest way… So anyone can get to the visitor’s center that’s in Highland Falls you can walk right in. You can actually generally if you have an official like a driver’s license or some passport or some sort of official government ID, you can get an installation pass unless they… Occasionally security levels will increase. But you can check in at the security desk in the visitor’s center and you can gain access to the installation. For non U.S. citizens it can be I think a little more difficult sometimes. But generally speaking… But I do recommend the tours are great. If you can catch a tour bus and take about an hour, I think it’s about an hour, hour and a half tour and that you’ll have a tour guide and it costs a few bucks to do that but a great way to get an overview of the installation and then you can come back or walk around if you want to do that.

Joshua: Can people come up and watch games?

Mark: They can. Yeah, absolutely, great. We’re a Division One school, there are always games going on. I mean this is I think ESPN or someone rated us as one of the top football game experiences in the country. You know it’s a beautiful setting in the fall to come watch an army football game and the team’s doing great so. But any of the events – hockey, basketball, rugby I mean those are fun to do as well. And it is absolutely open to the public.

Joshua: Well, Mark Read, thank you very much.

Mark: Josh, it’s been a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it.


As I asked before listening to this conversation, do you think Mark’s family’s done with their environmental action or just starting? How far do you think they’ll get? I was curious sort of felt like the jump from his acting in his personal life to applying the skills and experiences to his professional environment that that jump seemed bigger to him than I expected which makes me curious to hear the results. West Point has long traditions. It might be that changing how they do things is hard. They won’t be able to make much of a difference. It may be that the changes fall within their very basic values of service and stewardship. Maybe something else. Well, we’ll have him back and we will see.

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