Last week TreeHugger blogger Jaymi Heimbuch stopped by our San Francisco office to discuss the environment, green washing, social media green technology and how businesses and people can become more environmental conscious in everyday life. Afterwards she was kind enough to answer a few additional questions for our blog. If you’re not already following Jaymi on Twitter you can follow her at @JaymiHeimbuch.
RaceTalk: We have seen interest in green technology continue to grow through the first half of this year. What should trends should we expect to see over the next 6-9 months?
Jaymi Heimbuch: I think that platforms for home energy monitoring are going to really proliferate and that’s pretty consumer orientated as well as for larger corporations. There are pretty amazing companies that are doing cool things – including start ups – it’s important to the economy and everything, like linking utilities to consumers and consumers to a broader understanding of energy consumption. The way that these platforms are designed, it’s going to be interesting to watch in the next six months, because it’s going to be important to make the information that the consumers can see is relevant, as well as have it be automated so that consumers don’t necessarily have to say, “Okay, well I see that I’m spending more carbon right now than I want to because of my energy consumption so I’m going to change my thermostat.” Instead they can set the level that they want it to be, or have it automated based on what the utility wants to see, that kind of thing. So that’s what I see for platforms for home atomization.
In terms of gadget stuff, I see a switch to smaller, lighter, more energy efficient devices. The netbooks are kind of a big deal right now, and over the next six months they’re going to continue to be a big deal, and having people become really comfortable with not having this big bad laptop or desktop but actually this highly functional, highly portable, useful device. I’m hoping that people will think that it is a cool thing to have and think, “I don’t need all of that stuff! What else don’t I need?” We will see where that goes, but I’m hoping that in terms of netbooks, something that we look at is disposability. So making it be this really cool, lower energy consuming device, but also not disposable where people think that it’s just like “Oh, well it’s so cheap that I can just use it for now and just ditch it in a year because I’ll get something better,” or whatever it might be. So that’s a worry that I have.
Another trend is getting gadgets off grid where you can. Solar integrated into chargers might become more consumer-friendly. Right now the trend is to just slap a solar cell on something and call it useful, even if it really isn’t. When someone puts a solar cell on the back of a phone and says “Here, charge it,” nobody’s going to put their phone in the sun for an hour to get five minutes of talk time. It’s ridiculous – but it’s a trend. So trying to figure out off-grid charging capabilities that people will actually use, that’s something that I want to keep an eye out for.
RaceTalk: What are some of the most impressive green technologies that could have a real impact on the environment over the next year or so?
JH: I would say carbon accounting. So whatever is happening in the clean-tech sphere in terms of helping businesses – as well as the general population – track and accurately account for carbon. For businesses through the supply chain the big issue is, “How far down the supply chain do we go?” If you’re consuming it you do need to account for the ‘XYZ’ part of your supply chain. Having it be accurate and having it be measurable (is important) and we should have software that allows you to track water, energy, office products that you’re consuming, how that affects your carbon footprint, that sort of thing.
I also think that virtual technologies and virtual conferencing is really cool. I know that over the next six months people will realize that telecommuting is a pretty legit thing for businesses to look into. What technologies surround the ability to teleconference is important. Skype is one of the most invaluable tools I could possibly have in my artillery and it’s almost free. I pay $30 a year in order to have phone calls, but essentially it’s a free service and it allows us so much flexibility in working with this group of people spread out across the nation and across the world, and to be effective as if we were in an office together, so that’s a really big deal one. And then accurate carbon footprint calculators for people to do quick references are great, so that that they can know it’s accurate and can determine really quickly, “Okay, what’s my carbon footprint for this flight that I want to take? What do I offset? Is that an accurate amount to offset?”
RaceTalk: Do you use Skype for your editorial meetings?
JH: Yes, we use Skype all day, every day. We even have a special chat room that, the name of it changes constantly, but it’s essentially our water cooler and we hang out all day long, and we’ll swap links and other things. We’ll just chit chat and it makes it feel like we’re in an office setting.
RaceTalk: So you’re communicating with your colleagues all the time?
JH: Yeah, constantly.
RaceTalk: What are some of your favorite topics to cover?
JH: I get really excited about big deal subjects like water issues and technology around water issues. I get excited about when technology will and won’t help, and talking about that. I get very excited about gadgets and the way consumer gadgets can be greener such as consolidation. I think about cool ways to do that, how can we fix them, how can we make them obsolete, how we can (get to a point where we don’t have) devices anymore, or just get away with one device. (I look at) How are they being built, how are they being manufactured, how can that be improved, or what cool designs are going on to be able to green up what we are doing. I get pretty excited about the big deal topics in clean tech which includes the smart grid – that’s revolutionizing how we consume energy. And once we have a smart grid in place, how that can get us off of coal energy and onto renewable energy.
RaceTalk: How do you think social media can play into creating green activism?
JH: It’s huge! It can’t be understated how important online social media is to green activism. There are tools that we use all the time. For instance, within Twitter hash tags or something to help people filter in green information (is important to) having it spread really rapidly. We use Facebook to (connect with) people who are using it on a daily basis. The way that social media connects people instantly and connects them to (additional) people down the line instantly allows you to access really high profile people. You can just be twittering and all of a sudden you can get connected to someone who’s way high up on the influential chain. It’s huge. Charity Water is a really good example of how Twitter can help out with green activism. They had a “twestival” back in March and it was basically getting people, via Twitter, to get together and tweet about events and go to these events and donate. They were able to raise tons of money to help start Wells in Africa – direct results from social online media.
RaceTalk: Do you see Twitter and Facebook having the largest impact, at least right now?
JH: Probably, just because so many people use it. Twitter is really for networking people who already care and have an eye out for it anyway. Sometimes it will reach other people, but sometimes not so much. Digg is a really good tool for getting stories out to people. Facebook is kind of a hybrid of the two, so you can get stories out to people and you can get it to be a little bit more viral, but you also have a stronger connection to the people who can leave comments about a story or who can fan something or who can spread it and track it. From a media side, being able to track what people are saying about the stories you’re putting out there and how it impacts them is really important.
RaceTalk: Do you use the Twitter trends to see which topics “green” people are discussing most?
JH: I don’t use it terribly often. It helps sometimes, but I have a beat so it doesn’t really do much for me. It would need to be honed down into the trending topics for my specific area. Other people in our organization do pay attention to that, they’re like “Hey, this is what people seem to be really interested in. Let’s write about it, let’s talk about it. Let’s put some value-added into the conversation, somehow.” So we will grab things. Also, Google (can tell us) whatever word is being searched, so we have people who will monitor that and say “Hey! Everyone’s talking about this. We’ve got something important to say about it, let’s talk about it and have that be something that pops up on searches.”
RaceTalk: So your editors definitely pay attention to it?
JH: Oh, we pay very close attention to whatever the heartbeat of green is, or how we can take what’s popular right then and show people how it can be green, because our whole thing is making green feel very accessible and practical and inviting to everyone. We don’t want to say “Oh, that’s awful, that’s not green,” but we point out when it’s not. We like to say “Hey, look at this crazy concept! Yeah, it’s crazy, but it could be kind of cool.” And then everybody loves crazy concepts and they latch on to this weird concept idea, and then through us see how that can be green or how it could be improved or however it is.
RaceTalk: What online green communities do you find most valuable?
JH: For me, Twitter is pretty huge. I used to think that Twitter was the weirdest thing you could possibly get involved in. I had no idea why anyone would care about me and what I’m cooking for dinner. Now that I use it as an actual tool to network with people I work with, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve met wonderful people, I have been able to solidify good relationships with peers within the industry, you can keep track of what’s happening really easily and people know about what you’re doing really easily, so it’s been a great social networking tool for me personally. Facebook I keep for my friends and family, but other people I know use it as a way to really spread and network with people and have thousands of friends so that they can spread information. That could be an important tool for a lot of people as well. Personally, that’s my one private area online.
RaceTalk: What should PR people know before pitching a story to you?
JH: Okay, there are probably a couple of things. One, please, please, please know what’s green and what’s not! I got something in my email today that was about an electronic cigarette or something and it’s green because “people won’t throw away their cigarette butts!” I said, “Well, no, it’s not. It’s a thing, but it’s not necessarily a green thing. You’re trying to find this green angle to it and it doesn’t pull it off.” They could’ve pulled that off with really light green websites, but they obviously weren’t savvy to how serious we are about genuine green stuff. So that didn’t get past my delete button.
(It’s important to) know what my beat is and what I tend to cover. I am super impressed when a PR person has read what I’ve written before and has a legitimate opinion about it. When they can say “Hey, I read this and I thought it was interesting because of XYZ. This thing that I’m promoting ties into that, and I think that you would be interested.” Then (I like) when they have a really great press release and make it really quick to scan with the really important information up front. Sometimes they do these really flowery intros and it’s like, “What’s your point?” I need to know very quickly what your green angle is, what your product is, is it legit, and then let’s move on. So those are really important, and I really don’t like when they get too efficient so that it seems very impersonal. Sometimes people will say “I think this is of interest to you. Please see below.” Then it’s the press release pasted in. I will see below because I want to know what it is, but it doesn’t make me want to cover it for you. So (it’s important to) know that balance. There are some PR people that I’ve worked with who I think are amazing at what they do because they have that balance between being really friendly and wonderful, but never in my face, and they always bring me cool stuff. And part of it is, that’s who your clients are, but part of it is that they just know how to show it to me.
RaceTalk: So I’m guessing email is the best way to pitch you, but are you also into the pitching via Twitter?
JH: I’ve never been pitched via Twitter!
JH: Yeah, which is very interesting! I wonder why I haven’t? Email is a big deal to me, because I’m online. I’m sure that there are other people who are used to being on the phone and stuff. Personally, I really hate phone conversations, they just are annoying. All I can think of is that I’m using my cell phone minutes, and I don’t hear well so I don’t even want to be on the phone, so I tend to be very short. Email is great because it gives me the time to see the information and prioritize it throughout the day. I might think it’s interesting but I can’t get to it right away, I’ll get to it at six o’clock tonight, so it gives me that flexibility and gives me time to read it. So when I do pick up the phone and PR person calls and says “I have something that I think would be interesting,” my reaction is always, “Okay, send it to me in an email and I’ll look at it, and I’ll see what we can do for you and if it’s something we want to promote.” But I always want to see it and to have some time to myself to know it’s legit. When you’re on the phone, you can pitch something that sounds awesome, and then you see it in writing and you’re like “Crap, I said I’d cover that, and I don’t really want to.”