Garbage Out

Unless you’re willing to toss something in the garbage within about five minutes of getting it, without ever having really used it, you pretty much can’t get anything.
— Colin Beavan, on Day one of the No Impact Man experiment

Early in the 2009 documentary No Impact Man, the subject shows how much trash his family has created in the first week of the yearlong experiment to create zero impact on the earth; barely enough to cover the bottom of a standard wastebasket.

And now I can’t stop paying attention to everything I throw in the trash can. Plastic wrap. Paper towels. Straws. Gum wrappers. Candy wrappers. Diapers. Deli counter ziplock bags. Yogurt tops. Takeout containers. Leftovers. Before we started composting a few months ago, all our table scraps went in the trash as well.

It’s just so depressingly easy to make trash. I hardly even think about it; things pass through my fingers for moments, and then boom – in the garbage can. We probably produce a full bag every 1.5 days, and that’s after recycling as much as we can get into our city-issued bin.

Part of my motivation for starting SmallForGood was selfish; I wanted to educate myself on sustainable living, and the ways we negatively impact our world. It’s certainly been eye-opening.

I promoted the documentary on SmallForGood today. It’s funny, approachable, challenging without being preachy, and it’s immensely inspiring. I also love that it’s controversial (people have called it elitist, unrealistic, and misguided) because that usually means you’re on to something. Watch for yourself and see what you think. I guarantee you won’t look at your consuming habits the same way afterwards.

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Being the Client

When I initially set out to launch Small For Good, I made a show-stopping mistake: I stopped thinking like the client.

Instead of getting oxygen to the idea as quickly as possible, I started kicking around ideas for layout, a logo, color choices, imagery, and so on. I’m a designer, I thought. Of course I’m going to do this custom.

It’s the curse of having no client. I had no budget to keep in mind, no timeframe, and no one telling me “no”.

As a result, the project quickly languished. With a busy family life, I told myself I’d get to the site later. And of course ‘later’ started to become ‘never’. Two years went by. I occasionally thought about the site, and how much I liked the idea. I’d promise to start designing soon, and I never did.

A few months ago, the idea popped up in my head once more. I wondered where the site would be today if I’d actually launched it when the idea first came to me. I knew I’d never launch the site if I hung on to my self-imposed requirements.

So I started acting like the client again, prioritizing the site’s needs. Yes, a custom design would be great — I’d love to see Small For Good develop it’s own recognizable brand.

But I also wanted to launch as quickly as possible to see if the idea would catch and – ultimately – grow. What good is a site that took months to produce if no one visits?

After an evening’s work customizing a spare, sturdy WordPress theme by Automattic, I was ready to start focusing on the content of the site. You know — the content? The site’s reason for being?

After another few weeks of populating the site and adding some social-ness and interactive-ness, I launched.

From two years to two weeks.

Now I’m actually managing the site and thinking of new ways to spread the word and — hopefully — live out the site’s goal. And that’s the most critical thing.

Do I wish the site had a custom design? Sure. Is there time for that? Absolutely. And if the site truly takes off at some point, I’ll revisit. In fact, the custom design will help signal that momentum is building. For now, I’ll just see if I can blow on the kindling and get a roaring fire going.

It’s been an invaluable lesson. I’m all for investing time and treasure in your life’s passions, but the timing of that investment deserves careful consideration. Why put up roadblocks to the realization of an idea? Can you start with less? Odds are, you can.

Introducing: Small For Good

When I first heard of Earth Hour, I was captivated by the idea of collective behavior at an individual level. If all of us did one thing at one specific time, what could happen?

I find the spirit behind the question endlessly inspiring. As such, I’ve created smallforgood.com, a site that seeks out those small, simple ideas so they can be performed by anyone every single day. The goal is to care for our world at an individual — yet global — level.

The idea for this site has been rattling around in my brain for years, and I’m thrilled to finally get oxygen to the concept. It’s also refreshing to approach a project as the client, as opposed to a designer. More on that later.

We wield great power as individuals when we work collectively. Few of us have the chance to change the way our businesses handle waste or how our communities provide energy. But we can take small steps each day to cut emissions, reduce the amount of material we put into landfills, save water and energy, and so forth. Through simple steps, we can live more sustainably within the framework of our lives, in ways that tangibly effect change.

I’d love to see ideas flow in to the site; by no means am I an expert on the sustainability front. Rather, I’m just looking to centralize this kind of information for myself and others who might be interested. I hope you’ll bring ideas and opinions — or simply stop by on occasion to see what’s new.

Freelancing in Retrospect

After a successful two years working for myself, I left the freelance world last December for a full-time job with this crew here.

The decision was surprisingly easy; having contracted with the company for awhile, I liked both the folks I’d be working with and the work itself. Plus, I relished the idea of being part of a team again. I really enjoy working collaboratively, and that was missing when I was on my own. I suppose I’m a social beast at heart, though I still work from home and use IM for most of my communication with my coworkers.

Looking back over those years on my own, I’m struck by a few things:

  1. If you have the chance to work for yourself at some point, you absolutely should. Two sizable freelance projects simultaneously knocked at my door, convincing me to take the leap. It was the best thing that could have happened. I was forced to build out  my skill set, learned a bit about business, and met a ton of people (including my current employer). It was freeing to know I could work for myself; my decisions became focused more on want to’s vs. have to’s (though of course there was a healthy dose of the latter).
  2. Working for myself was easier than I expected. I say that to underscore the reality that there’s a lower barrier to entry to self-employment than I initially thought, not that I’m a savvy entrepreneur. I’m sure it depends on the industry, and there’s plenty of web work out there. But I did little marketing beyond my online portfolio and business cards; every project or client I took on came through friends, clients and a trusted network of fellow freelancers (who also fall under the friends category). Anchoring project-based work with regular clients made things a bit more predictable and sustainable.
  3. Meeting other self-employed folks was huge. I got involved with IdeaXchange in Chicago, a fantastic group of writers, artists, designers and PR folks, most of whom worked for themselves. We met monthly to talk shop and share ideas, and it didn’t matter that we all worked in different industries (though I got mixed up with crew of local web design freelancers shortly thereafter, which was/is great for talking nerdery that no one else understands).
  4. The benefit of setting your schedule when self-employed is only partially true. There’s a glaring catch to this concept; time off actually costs you double, as you’re paying for travel expenses while not working, and thus not billing. I probably took a total of two weeks off per year, partly because I enjoyed the projects, but also because every hour was billable. My experience was definitely not cocktails at 2pm every Friday afternoon.

By and large I felt challenged and engaged by my work, and that’s fortunately still the case with my new role. Now if only the company would move to Indianapolis so I could fully enjoy the team lunch on Fridays…

learnedonwomen.com Redux

Women’s marketing expert and author Andrea Learned hired me last fall to combine her website and blog into one easily updatable site. I quickly realized the company I was keeping; Andrea is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and eBrandMarketing.com, and was very recently quoted in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal within the span of a week. Yow.

We pulled back the curtain on her new online home just in time for the media blitz. The new learnedonwomen.com runs on WordPress as a CMS and blogging platform. I imported 4 years of posts from her hosted blog and used mod_rewrite to preserve permalinks to the existing posts and categories.

The switch from Typepad to a self-hosted blog also saves Andrea money; Typepad requires a tiered monthly subscription fee.

All in all a fun project; I really enjoy nerding out with a good WordPress customization. Also, a fun client; attending Feist concerts makes Andrea possibly my coolest client. Oh, and that whole New York Times thing helps, too…

Greenside Up! Productions

Greenside Up! Productions screenshotI’m very pleased to pull back the curtain on the new web site for Greenside Up! Productions, a brainchild of the tireless Craig Jung.

Greenside Up! promotes sustainable, “green” lifestyles through the creation of educational materials, and also helps craft marketing messages for companies and organizations that develop environmentally-friendly policies and procedures.

Craig needed the site to promote the fledgling non-profit organization’s mission and projects, including the creation of an “Outdoor Classroom” on the campus of a Montessori school in St. Louis, Missouri. The site also provides some educational information about sustainability, and pending the IRS’ blessing of tax-exempt status, it will allow visitors to make a donation.

Visit the site »

craigjung.com

craigjung.comThe side work has been keeping me busy lately, and though I’m certainly not complaining, it’s nice to have one item checked off the to-do list. Introducing craigjung.com, the professional site of a St. Louis-based entrepreneur.

Loaded with energy, Craig undertakes new projects on a routine (sometimes weekly) basis. Every time we talk there are new plans planned, new efforts launched, new companies founded. I’d previously created the web site for his first company, but clearly one business isn’t enough to keep him occupied for long. From an organizational and self-promotional standpoint, Craig needed to centralize his endeavors, both current and future.

Craig’s work is heavily focused on sustainable ‘green’ living, so the color palate for the site is nature-y (yes, that’s a technical term). Thanks to Craig for humoring a few photo shoots in order to find the picture that really communicates his affable nature, and infuses the design with his personality.

I can only hope the navigation stays short enough so that we don’t need to redesign in six months.