Matt Niswonger

Green is the Color of Integrity
It’s OK to care about the planet

IMG_6462A few years ago I was invited to participate in a weekend training called the Landmark Forum. A close friend warned me that it was “very intense, but also great training for anyone involved with business.”

Curious, but not wanting to spoil the surprise, I signed up for the course and went in with a completely open mind.

What followed was a very powerful experience that went far beyond what I’d call “business training.”

About one hundred people showed up to the weekend seminar in San Francisco, and together we were asked to examine nearly every aspect of our lives, with a special emphasis on areas that needed improvement.

I wanted to get my money’s worth so I dove headlong into the curriculum, which was a series of exercises examining some basic assumptions I was carrying around with me on a daily basis.

The people who, like myself, committed 100% to the process and made themselves vulnerable in front of a group of total strangers were rewarded with valuable life lessons and insights.

Personally, perhaps the most powerful realization was that somewhere along the road I had given up on something I truly believed in as a young adult, and that was environmentalism.

In other words, I had given up on the idea that I could make a difference for the planet.

What the Landmark Forum revealed to me was that by robbing myself of a personal heartfelt belief I was choosing not to fire on all cylinders as a person. In other words, the integrity that results from connecting actions to beliefs is what I was lacking.

So the fact that I had “given up” on something I still really cared about deeply – the planet – was actually a major obstacle in my life. Who knew?

My takeaway from that weekend was that I needed to reconnect with my earlier idealism and somehow become an environmentalist once more.

But how does one become an environmentalist when you have convinced yourself that the planet is pretty much doomed and most environmentalists are arrogant hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach? Clearly this set of assumptions needed to be reexamined.

What was revealed to me through the Landmark Forum was that this cynical assessment was just a story I was telling myself, with no connection to the actual truth.

“So what now?” The instructor kept asking when each of us had identified a set of assumptions that were holding us back.

My response was to let go of my cynicism that I thought was protecting me from sadness and frustration, but was really only keeping me from reaching my potential.

That weekend I started calling myself an environmentalist again. It seems a bit cheesey, but a great weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Instead of worrying about all the ways I am hypocritical (there are many), I have decided to just be comfortable
in my own environmentalist skin and move in whatever direction inspires me.

Lately what has been really inspiring me is green and social entrepreneurship, businesses that give back to the planet. That’s why I’m excited about ASJ #80 – our annual green issue.

Neil Pearlberg’s profile on Jeff Denholm takes a look at how losing a limb set him on a path that changed his life forever, ultimately becoming a Patagonia athlete and the CEO of his own green company.

Jess Smith profiles Cotopaxi, a company that was inspired by the Andes and gives back to the people of South America. We also take a look at a similarly structured company, Isula Nature, donating a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of maca back to the region where the highly nutritious root is produced – Peru.

Since environmentalism can also take the form of human powered sports that leave you dirty, exhausted and happy, Matt De Young takes a look at women who race enduro on mountain bikes. Enduro is a hardcore and fun format to race, and these ladies are leaving it all on the racecourse.

Longtime ASJ editor Pete Gauvin takes a trip down the Tuolumne River one year after the Tahoe Rim fire, and beer editor Derrick Peterman weighs the impact of the drought on some of our favorite California breweries.

So what does environmentalism mean to you? Are you connecting the dots between beliefs and actions? Does all of this sound like new age malarkey to you? Send me a note and let me know.

Thanks for reading!

— Matt Niswonger