Stefanie Penn Spear is a small business owner, mother of three and Founder and Executive Director of the soon-to-be launched 24/7 print and online news outlet about the environment, EcoWatch. Stefanie details both the spark that ignited her dedication, and steps all of us can take to kindle the sparks and create sparks in others.
MCAF: What was the initial spark that got you attracted to issues related to the environment?
SPS: It was the culmination of a couple of things. When I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, solid waste issues first made me realize, Wow – we haul this stuff away…and where does it go? It dawned on me: Here is a progressive university, but students seem completely unconscious about their contribution to the earth. The inclination was toward throwing everything away and a lack of recycling.
One summer, I did an internship in Berkeley with the Sierra Club, where I worked on their publication, The Yodeler. I enjoyed educating people by pushing out news. When I got back to school, I took on a directed study project to launch a newsletter that educated students about the environment. The grassroots movement needed a venue like that to get their information out because they were so busy doing their work, they didn’t have time to engage with the community and get them involved.
I launched Affinity [ first environment-focused publication] a few months after being home after graduation. I did that for nine years, until I was pregnant with my second child, and something had to give. But I knew I would publish again someday.
EcoWatch published its first issue in 2006 and hasn’t stopped since. About a year ago, we decided that we needed a stronger presence online. We also wanted to expand nationwide.
Just before that, about 18 months ago, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. came to a green gala. He loved the work we were doing and, many months later, we mentioned to him our thoughts about expanding coverage. He was excited about it, joined the board and wanted us to think about collaborating with his group, Waterkeeper Alliance. That collaboration has gone so well that it feels like we’ve been working together for a decade.
MCAF: How do you explain the positive connection between business and the economy to non-believers?
SPS: There’s a need for job creation and there are obvious opportunities available in working to better the health of humans and the environment. Sustainability is all about taking into account people, planet and profits. I believe all companies should take those three into account when determining what path to lead.
There is no doubt, we can rely on cleaner sources of power and create jobs. We have some of the best wind in the central corridor of our nation, but unfortunately, where our best wind exists is farthest from our largest electricity consumption. So we’re in need of upgrading the power grid in order to get the power generated by wind and sun to where there is a need. Those projects would be excellent job generators and would allow us to rely on cleaner sources of fuel while also bringing back to our industrial cities their manufacturers but for renewable energy industry parts.
MCAF: What role do you see for parents in protecting clean air, clean water and the overall environment?
SPS: Parents have the best sense about the importance of creating a sustainable future, where the air is clean and healthy to breathe, and the water is healthy to drink. If we step back and ask questions like, Why are our cancer rates so high? Why are instances of learning disabilities and autism at an all time high?…Then I think it’s very easy to understand how the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink, affects our body.
Parents have a responsibility: we feel a great need, we want our children to have a prosperous future, one that they’re able to enjoy with the same opportunities that we had. We also have a great opportunity and responsibility to educate our children about the importance of protecting our environment and our health.
MCAF: What actions would you recommend to mothers who know that protecting the environment should be high on their list, but might not know exactly what actions to take?
SPS: I always tell people, “Pick one thing – adopt a sustainable practice that is measurable.”
A good first one is to use cloth bags. You can say to yourself, “I am not going to use plastic bags.” Then get yourself a couple of really fun reusable bags. You may forget them, everyone does. But, after a few months, you’ll realize how much plastic you were using. Can you imagine if everyone on your street used cloth bags? Each individual can make a difference. I find people who take one of these steps are often excited to take another one.
Other practices you can then try include:
- Buying local produce when you can.
- Think about where you spend your dollars so you can support local businesses and have the money stay in your community.
- Make sure that you recycle in your home. People may say that they “don’t know what to do with that!” City halls have information on how to recycle just about everything.
- Talking with your kids about making a difference.
Finally, take responsibility and realize that you can affect things--you just have to want to.
Read more about October 27, 2011 launch of EcoWatch’s 24/7 news service, share it and “like” it here.
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