The world’s largest green building conference rotates locales across the U.S. annually, and we’ve followed it to all regions of the country over the years, painfully aware of the ironically high carbon impact associated with the flights taken to a conference about saving the planet.
As environmental warriors attending an environmental conference, we wanted to “walk the talk” by demonstrating sustainable conference travel and figured a selected same-state spot was a perfect chance to walk—er—drive the talk, test driving using four wheels instead of two wings to get there.
A taste of zero waste
Though aviation vs. driving carbon impacts aren’t always plane and simple, fitting 10 passengers in one vehicle down to LA at least halved our carbon emissions and was certainly less wasteful than had we all flown down (not to mention it saved us some big bucks!).
Beyond choosing a mode of transportation less impactful than air travel, we wanted to use our trip to raise awareness about one of the largest environmental issues in America: waste.
Food waste statistics in America are mind-boggling. 40% of food produced in the U.S. ends up in landfills, less than 3% of food waste is composted, instead left producing greenhouse gases in landfills, and one in five fruits and veggies is rejected from grocery stores solely based on the way it looks. This amounts to 33 million tons of food wasted annually while 48.8 million Americans live in food-insecure households.
And what’s this idea of waste, anyway?
As Terracycle puts it, “Garbage doesn’t exist in nature.” We can mimic natural cycles with closed-loop production to get rid of waste all together. 90% of a product’s environmental impact comes from resource extraction, so using recycled content to make new products instead significantly reduces the environmental impact associated with a product.
We had to bring awareness to this waste issue (and its solutions!) in America. So we loaded up an RV with 10 people to drive 427 miles and committed to sending zero waste to landfill. And sure, a carload of eco-nerds driving down to LA is a tiny drop in the sustainable bucket. But we hope our decision to go the carpool and zero waste route will drive others down the road to follow suit.
But how RV going to do this?
We rallied rock stars from the environmental sphere to embark upon the road trip, including eight stokers and our friends Lauren Swezey, Sustainability and Community Outreach Manager at Facebook, and Terrel Hoagland, Director of Sustainability at Jones Design Studio. Though we’d found a way to reduce our carbon impact via carpooling rather than flying, we do realize that all travel is carbon intensive. Accordingly, we bought carbon offsets for our trip.
Before departing from our SF Headquarters, we did a little zero waste shopping. Our list consisted of compostable plates and silverware, bulk big bin granola, trail mix, and peanut butter in compostable bags and containers from Rainbow Grocery, and a fresh box of the most beautiful ugly fruit diverted from the landfill by Imperfect Produce. We also gathered supplies for a “sandwich bar” on the RV to reduce packaging and allow people freedom to craft the sandwich they craved, thus cutting down on unwanted, wasted food. Finally, we put our TerraCycle Zero Waste Box on board to ensure that anything we discarded went into a recycling bin, not a landfill.
And we were off, tweeting away from the #stokzerobus about our excitement for Greenbuild without having to pay that extra fee for wifi on the plane.
Wasting nothing but time
When you’re on an RV with all of your friends heading down to the biggest conference of the year in carbon offset and zero waste fashion, you don’t just floor it down I-5.
As environmentally focused professionals striving to protect our stunning planet, we are driven by the beauty of nature, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see some of California’s stunning rugged coastline. We stopped for a dip in the ocean along the PCH before sampling some local small-batch beer at brewLAB in Carpinteria. In keeping with the theme of our road trip, we didn’t let any beer go to waste.
Due to a tight schedule and a late start, we were forced to bypass our tour of the Patagonia Headquarters in Ventura, but we made it back later in the week for the premier of their documentary “Fair Trade: The First Step.” An enriching panel discussion of fair trade principles followed, led by the co-founder of Fair Trade USA and the General Manager of a Fair Trade factory in Sri Lanka that manufactures Patagonia clothing.
We finally rolled up to our Airbnb right before midnight, exhausted but exhilarated and ready for an incredible conference.
But I work 2000 miles away…
We realize that the location of this conference in relation to our office was a big player in our ability to embark on this sustainable road trip, and we’re not saying you don’t care about the environment if you hop on a plane a couple times a year. We just hope our uniquely stok road trip inspires others try it out for themselves in whatever setting works. And you don’t have to go on a road trip across the U.S. to employ zero waste principles. That can be done in your office, your home, and any purchase decision you make.
So next time you and your friends are thinking of buying those pricey plane tickets, consider taking a road trip instead. And plan ahead to reduce waste by avoiding fast food and individually wrapped items that cannot be recycled or composted. We hope you enjoy your drive!