Josh Dorfman, An Interviewfounder, Vivavi

Posted on 16. Oct, 2007 by in Design & Culture

Josh Dorfman

You probably already know Josh as the author of the excellent The Lazy Environmentalist and the creator, executive producer AND host of the popular show of the same name. But did you know he’s also the founder and CEO of Vivavi, a company focused on making stylish, sustainable furniture?

OG: What do you hope to gain from the Opportunity Green Conference?

I’m psyched to connect with professionals who share a similar outlook on the power of business to effect positive environmental change.

Which speaker(s) are you most looking forward to hearing? Who would be your dream speaker?

Can’t wait to hear Joshua Onysko of Pangea Organics. He uses his company as a laboratory for sustainable innovation and is way beyond almost every other company in terms of green product design. If you want to grow organic herbs, just buy his company’s personal care products and bury the biodegradable packaging. It has plants seeds embedded in it. How cool is that! As for dream speaker, I’d probably have to go with Bono but I’d really prefer it if he were to sing instead.

What was your inspiration for starting Vivavi? How is it helping to spread your vision of “sexy sustainability”?

I lived in China during the mid 1990’s where I worked as the business manager for Kryptonite Bicycle Locks. The more I traveled throughout the country to set up our product distribution channels, the more I saw with my own eyes how China was rapidly transforming from a nation of a billion bicyclists to a nation of a billion car drivers. I knew that China was pursuing the American model of economic growth because it’s the most successful model ever for a large country. But I also felt in my gut that a billion more cars on the planet is not going to be sustainable to the degree that we all aspire to lead the highest quality lifestyles possible. So I started Vivavi to offer consumers eco-friendly choices that are visually stimulating and very well-designed. If you make the green choices the best choices then it becomes very easy for people to participate in change.

What would you say makes you a “lazy environmentalist”? Why choose to embrace this take off environmentalism?

The fact that while I care about the planet and know that environmental challenges are real, I’m not always inclined to change my behavior just to do “the right thing.” For example, I still take long showers because it’s where I do my best thinking. Rather than reduce my shower time, I’ve installed a low-flow showerhead from Oxygenics that delivers great water pressure and reduces my water usage by 40%. This approach to the environment is about recognizing the reality of how we conduct our lives. We can talk all we want about all the things we should do and must do to save the planet. Very few people are willing to listen to – let alone act upon – that kind of dialogue. In fact, the great majority tend to tune it out. Americans don’t like to be guilt-tripped or morally manipulated in the name of the environment. It’s a major turn-off. The lazy environmentalist approach is about determining what’s going to turn-on Americans so they’ll be attracted to environmentally smart choices. It’s about framing environmental action as the hip, cool, cost-saving thing to do. It’s about appealing to our enlightened self-interest that is very willing to do “the right thing” provided there’s something else in it for us. I don’t necessarily think this is laudable, but I do think it’s reality, and I prefer to work within reality in order to be effective and reach the widest possible audience than engage in a campaign of wishful thinking.

What are some concrete steps our government and the rest of the world could take to begin addressing the impact of global climate change? What is the role of the business community in making that happen?

I suggest government bring out the carrot and stick. First, create major incentives for energy companies to invest in renewable energy sources and eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel development and exploration. Second, increase tax credits for businesses and residential homeowners to both install renewable energy sources and invest in energy efficiency upgrades. Third, serve notice that all new federal, state, and local government buildings will be built to the LEED standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council and that all government suppliers of good ands services must meet rigorous environmental standards. Fourth, get the CEOs of the major auto companies in a room and slap them silly until they renounce their utterly ridiculous points of view on automobile fuel efficiency. Fifth, create new “green collar” job training programs that equip disenfranchised populations throughout society with skills to install solar and wind energy capacity, retrofit buildings for energy efficiency, maintain and operates fleets of alternative energy vehicles, and install green building products and materials.

Once this is underway, government should let the free market and business community get to work. In fact, the foundation is already being laid for a sustainable economy that operates in balance with nature’s capabilities to sustain it. You can see it in the billions of dollars of private equity and venture capital flowing to renewable energy projects and startups. You can see it in basements, garages, and dormitories where whiz-bang engineers are inventing new recycling systems and organic building materials. It’s also fully evident in competitions like the Auto X Prize that are harnessing the ingenuity and inventiveness of the brightest minds around the world to invent and bring to market to the first 100 mile per gallon car. There’s no shortage of environmental solutions or will to create them. We just need a market that’s tilted in favor of green innovation instead of business as usual.

What is the future of sustainable entrepreneurship? What new business models or technologies do you see emerging within the next few decades?

The future of sustainable entrepreneurship is the future of entrepreneurship. We are moving toward a sustainable economy, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in our enlightened self-interest to do so. So the future belongs to those who figure out how to reduce, reuse, and recycle in massively appealing ways. One of the biggest things I see coming are new product lifecycle business models. Patagonia, for example, has begun a program to take back, recycle, and create new garments from long underwear layers that its customers have purchased but no longer want. Suppose this model extended to the entire fashion industry. Suppose you could buy your Prada dress, wear it for a while, and then give it back to Prada to turn into a new fashion garment. Suppose Prada paid you for the used garment, probably not a lot, but at least enough to incentivize you not to throw it in a landfill. This kind of model might lower Prada’s operational costs and significantly reduce its need to rely upon raw materials to create its clothing lines. You get to have the latest fashion every season and the environment gets to remain more pristine. Not bad. This kind of thinking is being extended to every industry from cars to computers. It adheres to William McDonough’s mantra that waste=food. This is an essential concept that all sustainable entrepreneurs and businesses are going to act upon.

Are you hopeful about the long-term viability of the sustainability movement? How hungry do you really think the world community is for change?

Absolutely hopeful. I think the world community is hungry for change if by change you mean entering the most exciting phase of discovery and innovation known to mankind and participating in the mission to build a thriving, sustainable economy in which everyone can participate and benefit.

What does a green L.A. mean to you?

I can envision a green L.A. that serves as the urban model for a distributed energy grid based on solar energy. Every home could be powered by rooftop solar panels. New buildings could be built to green specifications. Old buildings could be retrofit for energy efficiency and employ thousands of laborers with living wage jobs in the process. Municipal buses and other vehicles could run on clean, alternative fuels. Public/private partnerships could be formed to create green business incubators that tap L.A.’s entrepreneurial talent base. Then, of course, a robust light rail system could be implemented to alleviate traffic congestion and the corresponding carbon footprint of the city’s inhabitants. This is probably the greatest challenge for Los Angeles – how to move its inhabitants around the city in a sustainable manner. It can be solved.

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