Jennifer Thompson

This segment of “Got H2O?” features Imelda Padilla, Youth Program Coordinator for Pacoima Beautiful and Citizen Forester with TreePeople.



I’m pleased to announce that that Green21 was awarded a grant from the Compton Foundation to support the filming of the pilot episode of Green21 “Got Water?”

This episode will examine California’s Central Valley as a microcosm of national water issues, and will feature Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute on the “soft path” for water, and Rita Sudman of the Water Education Foundation on how to take action. We’re very excited to move into production this summer!




The Bauer limo on the way to the expo

Recently I attended the Cleantech Open Expo and Awards Gala at the Masonic Center. Thousands of people turned out including an all star cast of speakers: Bill Weihl, Green Energy Czar at Google, Steve Westly, former CFO of the State of California and Gil Friend, CEO of Natural Logic.

This event is considered the Academy Awards of Cleantech. There was no red carpet or paparazzi but the audience got to have their American Idol moment by voting for the winners for a $100K prize of start-up services. The grand prize, valued at $250,000, including $100,000 of seed capital, was to be awarded to the business plan competition winner who had been selected in secret by judges the previous day.

The finalists were in the audience, and the stakes were high.

To get to the event, I took BART to Civic Center to catch the shuttle bus. I was looking forward to my second ride ever on the famous Bauer shuttle bus that transports Google employees (and raises San Francisco real estate prices along its routes). I was the only person when I got to the pick-up spot but the driver assured me I was in the right pace. He said I was free to help myself to coffee or bottled water in the back. Huh? I’ve never been to a Green event that offered bottled water. On the bus, I took a seat and looked around. I was the only person on the bus.

A few minutes later, the bus took off and I was still the only passenger leaving me to wonder: how did everyone else get to the event?

I arrived at the Masonic Center and was impressed with the turn out. Lots of people where there, and it was a different crowd than most Green events. The men were wearing suites, even some ties, and women were wearing heels, gowns and jewels. Well, not quite, but it was a different crowd. No one was carrying a Clean Kanteen water bottle.

I checked-in and walked through the lobby. There I came face to face with a surprise, a Chevron booth. I’ve never been to an event where Chevron was the sponsor. I didn’t know what to say. I stood face to face with the booth for a few moments, then made my way into the dark theater to gather my thoughts.

Inside the theater, videos of finalists were screening. Based on the videos, the audience voted on companies, and in between, speakers made presentations. It was hard for me to determine the most deserving project. I tried to vote on the underlying ideas rather than on the quality of videos, which varied dramatically. There was no scientific review. I felt unqualified to vote, but I did.

For the rest of the afternoon, I sat in the dark and I watched the Cleantech pageant in all its glory. There was a lot of excitement and positive energy in the theater, especially when the finalists made their pitches. Others have reviewed these presentations. (For example, see Reuters and Sustainable Business.) I’d like to focus on the experience of being in the theater.

I felt a disconnect between the Cleantech world and the Green or sustainable world of permaculture, conservation, recycled materials and watershed management. The A-list speakers discussed social change, changing the arc of human history and a revolution in our lives.  To me, however, most of the technologies presented didn’t map on to these big picture ideas. Many of the technologies presented seemed like band-aids to existing problems, others seem like they will enable us to maintain our current standard of living using less energy. Is this the revolution?

I believe that technology is an important part of the solution. I also believe that there needs to be a bridge between technological innovation and social innovation in order to realize some meaningful change. This is where I hope Green21 can play a role. At the end of the day, when I took the Bauer shuttle bus back to BART, I was encouraged to see that I wasn’t the only one on the bus – there were about seven or eight other people. And no one was drinking bottled water

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"Rosie the Riveter" using hand drill

Library of Congress public domain archive

Last week I attended Next Agenda – the event hosted an all-star attendee list in a un-conference format. The gathering brought together people uniquely positioned to take action as well as get the message out: co-founder of Wes Boyd, founder of 1Sky Gillian Caldwell and Lead Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission Dian Grueneich, to name just a few.

I had heard much of the information that was presented before, but in this format, with people actively questioning and engaging with the material, it struck me differently, and made me feel hopeful.

Founder of Squid Labs and MacArthur genius grant winner, Saul Griffith was the keynote speaker. Saul explained that he takes an engineer’s approach to climate change, “tell me what you want, and I’ll show you how to get there.”

Working backwards from 350 (the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in “Parts Per Million” in our atmosphere), Saul detailed exactly what is needed to change the direction we’re headed – how many wind turbines, how many solar panels, etc are need to be built and installed. During Saul’s presentation, I felt optimistic as he laid out a clear, if ambitious, plan of action in concrete terms.

During the break-out sessions, I learned from scientists and technologists that perhaps the greatest challenge to addressing climate change is social innovation. My enthusiasm for Green21 was validated and renewed. An effort analogous the U.S. mobilization in World War II—but on a global scale, and against a much more abstract “enemy”—is needed to get us back to 350.

I had a vision of a “green” Rosie the Riveter. The question is: will the “Yes We Can” spirit live up to the “We Can Do It!” generation? I realized we need an icon and single strategy to unite people. And now, we have social media. For me, it raised the question: can social media accelerate social change? I believe the answer is, yes. The question is how.


Green21 is excited to connect with  sustainability advisors and leaders who share our mission and support our efforts.  Please contact me ([email protected]) to add your signature to this letter.

[click here for the full text version]
[click here for the full pdf version]

Mayors’ Letter of Support We the undersigned support the goals of Green21 and value the importance of sustainability literacy and public engagement on the following issues: • Sustainability, conservation and climate change are among the most significant challenges of the 21st century. Through community initiatives, legislative action, technological advances, economic innovations and lifestyle choices, the American public today will play a crucial role in determining our global future. We bear a great responsibility to ensure that our decisions are well-informed and wise. • The mission of Green21 is to raise awareness and inspire change on a personal and societal level. Green21 is a multiplatform series that combines the excellence of public television with the power of online media. Storytelling is part of the solution – we must put a human face on the issues. People need to know viscerally that, in spite of the scale of the challenges, they themselves can make a difference. • In addition, Green21 addresses an urgent need for sustainability literacy: an integrated, systemic framework for understanding how sustainability works across different societies, technologies and spheres of human activity. Green21 takes a whole systems approach to the issues, inspiring people to reimagine the world. • Green21 recognizes that cities, towns and other local municipalities are key agents of current innovation and future change. On issues such as transportation, recycling, water use, housing and energy, local government is often closest to the reality on the ground; with a unique combination of agility, connection to communities and ability to implement new ideas. Green21 will highlight these efforts and the large role that local government plays in determining how people manage resources and services, and ultimately their quality of life Peter Drekmeier Mayor, City of Palo Alto Heyward Robinson, Ph.D. Mayor, City of Menlo Park


This weekend I saw “Slumdog Millionaire.” It’s an amazing movie that’s often hard to watch but has a happy ending. However, what struck me the most was the trash. I mean the actual trash on the ground, the trash in the background and the enormous trash heaps. I loved that the film didn’t pause the storyline to talk about trash – the filmmakers wove it into fabric of the characters’ lives. One of the best examples was when the main character, a homeless orphan, talked to his brother as he filled a discarded plastic water bottle with tap water and resealed it for resale. The film treated this act just like brushing teeth, part of an everyday routine.

The visuals in “Slumdog” startled me because I thought I knew trash. In 1994, I spend a year in Asia as a college student and as an intern for a film about Vietnam. During that time, I often talked to people about trash because there was no place to put it. I would carry it around with me, and every so often I would ask someone what to do with it. Once in Nepal, when I was living with a family, I asked the father what I should do with some old candybar wrappers and fax papers. He authoritatively took these bits of wrappers and paper, walked to the other end of the house, opened the window and threw them across the Himalayas. I froze. I waited several weeks before asking the next person what to do with the various scraps of debris I had accumulated. Now, fifteen years later, the trash in “Slumdog” still caught me off guard. Maybe my memory of trash has faded, or maybe there’s actually visibly more trash.

Working on Green21, I’ve realized that our understanding of trash has evolved and become more systemic. We’ve gone from focusing on the visible symptoms of waste to looking at “lifecycles” as detailed in Cradle to Cradle. Now it seems we need to move beyond exploring waste management systems to trying to understand our need to consume. The Story of Stuff is a great place to start.

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Green21 is a media project that I’ve been developing for the past two years. My goal is to bring a narrative to the environmental, sustainable and social justice movement. Green21 started out as an idea for a public television series, and my business partner Cynthia Zeiden has secured broadcast distribution with American Public Television.

In the process of developing the content for the 13-part broadcast series, I needed input from experts. I contacted a number of people and finally got a meeting with Dr. Stephen Schneider at Stanford University. When I first met with Dr. Schneider, he said Green21 is an ambitious project — and that’s why he agreed to get involved. He introduced me to a number of our board members including Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and Richard Moss of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

While the content of the series was being vetted by scientists and thought-leaders, Green21’s online and social media strategy took off. With the help of Kevin Kanarek, Michael Holzer, Ken Ikeda and Andy Volk, we developed a multi-platform media initiative which bridges broadcast television and Web 2.0 — and all its implications such as geotagging, Creative Commons licensing, Twitter and YouTube. Thank you to everyone who has worked to get Green21 to this stage, especially our graphic designer Frank Dufay.

We welcome your suggestions and comments regarding the project or content proposed in the series. Currently we’re in the fundraising stage and hope to start filming in the Summer of 2009.

(Photo Credit: Omar Uran under Creative Commons Attribution license)