Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jack Norris, co-founder of Vegan Outreach, an organization committed to advocacy for a lower carbon and more compassionate diet. At the age of 41, and after 15 years of advocacy, Jack could be forgiven a little fatigue, but you’ll find not a single hint of anything of the sort. I didn’t ask, but I bet Jack would attribute his energy and work performance to a low-carbon diet, free of guilt. Jack can still play a mean game of Ultimate Frisbee, too, as I found out on the wrong end of a 12-4 defeat to his team in a recent tournament. What secret could he offer to social entrepreneurs about keeping the passion after the initial excitement of starting a green business wears off?
SC: As for running your organization, even though it’s a non-profit, there’s a lot of similarity to the corporate world. What advice do you have for social entrepreneurs looking to start a group like yours?
JN: You have to find something that is really needed and that other people want to donate to make happen. I see a lot of people start projects that are really difficult to get funding. You have to find something that people are really passionate about.
SC: And people are truly passionate about veganism and vegetarianism. Now, I find it interesting how people respond to their personal approach to sustainability. Many are willing to give up the SUV for a Prius, but fewer are willing to give up their burgers for vegetarian options. It’s a matter of marketing, I guess. So what do you tell people concerned about their personal footprint about their diet, without turning them off to the cause?
JN: There’s just so much information and evidence out there that a vegetarian diet or vegan diet is better for the planet than a meat-based diet. A recent study by the University of Chicago compared the amount of global warming gasses (GHG’s) in a vegan diet versus a traditional American diet of mostly processed foods heavy on meat and dairy. And it was similar to giving up a big SUV and switching to a Prius.
SC: Many people would not understand exactly why, as seeing a tailpipe is more obvious in its pollution than a chicken.
SC: Methane, which cows produce both in gaseous form and as a by-product of their cow patties decomposing, is 25x more powerful a GHG than carbon dioxide, but most people focus on carbon. What else about the diet is eco-friendly?
JN: There’s a lot of waste, as you mentioned. Pig waste, especially, in pig lagoons that are fairly liquid, that frequently overflow to waterways and lead to polluted rivers and fish kills. Grazing causes a lot of degradation of land in the western US and loss of forests in the east, and consumes a great deal of water out west where we’re all very worried about our current drought. There is also the problem of raising ten times the amount of grains we need, which we feed to animals rather than growing grains and legumes directly for ourselves, which would be a great savings of water, land, GHG’s, etc.
SC: Keep up the good work, Jack. And please give us young bucks a chance next time we play your team, ok?
JN: No promises.
Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on Google Plus
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