A Sustainable Mind – Our Interview with Marjorie Alexander
“I wanted to hear stories about everyday people, just like me, taking action on environmental issues in their community, and I got tired of waiting.”Posted Jul 12, 2016
Marjorie Alexander notices, appreciates and documents the examples of individuals who have contributed to the ideal of sustainable living. She has developed a personal and inspiring format to share their stories through interviews presented as podcasts on her site, A Sustainable Mind.
Originally developed as a project for her Master’s thesis, A Sustainable Mind is the result of a dedicated effort by a single person with little experience in the technical challenges of building and populating a website. While Marjorie sees the building library of interviews with ‘change-makers’ as the core value of A Sustainable Mind, we see another story – how one person has become an influential agent of change through her intention. Marjorie overcame her challenges with technical, and personal, obstacles to exceed her goals (yes, she was awarded her Master’s) by developing a project with unlimited potential for inspiring others to champion sustainability.
Today we ‘turn the table’ on Marjorie Alexander by interviewing the interviewer. Here is our conversation with a modest yet inspiring woman who is setting an example worth noting.
EE: Marjorie this idea started out as a project for your Masters thesis, but fortunately you kept on going with it. Why a Podcast and what brought it from “Hey I have this idea,” to “Wow, I’m going to keep doing this”? You have mentioned that you are terrified of public speaking and yet something keeps making you press the publish button that sends your voice and your message out there; what is it that keeps you doing it?
MA: I got into podcasting a few years back and as I learned more about environmental issues through my classes and volunteering with local conservation organizations I simply could not understand why there weren’t more shows out there addressing sustainability issues. Podcasting is still very new and full of opportunity; it’s the fastest growing medium for independent shows to gain seriously huge attention…so I thought it was odd that no one was really discussing climate change in an accessible way. Don’t get me wrong there were shows out there when I started. They were mostly news-based or hit you over the head with industry jargon and boring statistics; some were well made but were short series by government agencies and others had stopped recording years ago.
I wanted to hear stories about everyday people, just like me, taking action on environmental issues in their community, and I got tired of waiting. I was looking for a podcast that was inspiring, educational, and sparked intelligent conversation about the topics I was interested in; so I decided to do it myself. Now, in 2016, a couple other shows have popped up, but they are still very news-centric or are from the voices of experts and don’t do the best job of making the topics understandable for the average listener.
My podcast, A Sustainable Mind (ASM), had to be enjoyable and easy to digest while still teaching and inspiring the listener to take action. I put a lot of effort into bringing in the human element as well, so that people can relate to what is being said.
And yes, public speaking still terrifies me. Always has. From a more selfish perspective ASM has given me an opportunity to teach and inspire others as well as myself, and I know that to cause the impact that I want to make on this planet, I need to step up and put myself out there. This allows me to work right at the edge of my comfort zone and build some self-confidence. Also, I’ve been told over the years that I have a good voice for radio and voice-overs, so perhaps this is where I should be.
But pressing ‘publish’ has not been easy. Two months after I launched ASM my grandfather passed away. To be frank, I have not felt like doing much of anything since then, including recording my podcast. He had a significant influence on my career and my life overall, and I think that is why I’ve taken it so hard. I even recorded a special episode just to explain where I’d been for the three months following his funeral.
I receive emails all the time — lengthy ones — from fans telling me how their mindset around sustainability is so different after listening to the show; or tweets saying they’ve binged on every single episode in two days; or paragraphs sent via text from someone considering getting their master’s degree in environmental studies and wanting some advice. I feel a responsibility to these people, especially because A Sustainable Mind is still very much one of a kind. But his death made me question everything, including this show and it’s purpose in my life and in the lives of others.
EE: What was the spark that got you interested in living a sustainable lifestyle? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was it more subtle?
MA: I think it’s been a slow evolution of self. My grandfather was a general contractor and built and remodeled hundreds of homes during his career so designing and building my own home has been a dream of mine since I was a child. I drew a full-blown mansion floor plan for a middle school project because at the time that’s what I thought I wanted my life to look like. At some point in college, probably aided by my Semester at Sea trip — seeing people all over the world living well but with few possessions — I realized not only do I not need “stuff” to be happy, but that the ‘American dream’ is one of the root causes of many of the environmental issues the world is facing today.
My mother says that I’ve always been ecologically minded, but it wasn’t until after college that I became aware of it. I started designing much smaller dwellings out of recycled shipping containers, complete with rooftop gardens and passive or off-grid elements…then I got into tiny houses. Things seemed to be getting smaller and simpler as time went on.
After having moved myself many times here in LA, I know that all my stuff (minus a bed and side tables) can fit into my Jeep all at once. Somehow that is comforting to me.
EE: Are your listeners primarily a younger generation, or do you find there is a mixture of ages?
MA: I find that the listener base is evenly spread, but those listeners who interact with me the most, whether on social media or via email, all tend to be women in the 25-35 range. And many have emailed me mentioning that they are also in or are considering a degree in sustainability. Perhaps it’s because that is the demographic I belong to and they identify with me more.
EE: This fall, you will be recording live shows, where listeners can call in and talk to the guests you’re interviewing. You also ask your listeners what they want to hear about. By involving your audience like this, you are creating a community that is essential to the evolution of sustainable values.
MA: This is an element that I addressed in my thesis paper. There doesn’t seem to be a platform for the average person who is passionate, but not necessarily skilled or knowledgeable when it comes to the environment, to be in the same conversation with experts, veterans, or decision-makers in the field. The latter group goes to lectures or expensive conferences out of state, while the former joins meetup groups and local volunteer events. I’m right in the middle of these two groups so I’ve had the pleasure of attending all types of events and I can tell you that rarely do their paths cross. Recording live shows in order to add a participation component for the listener is my attempt to remedy this issue.
EE: Is there anything which has surprised you that listeners want to hear about, and that you are excited to delve into?
MA: Nothing has really surprised me but there are a few topics I have yet to address because I haven’t found the right guest.
Listeners always seem to want to learn more about food — how to eat more sustainably, how to waste less food, and how to not go broke or crazy doing it. This is something I will be addressing with a separate project in the coming months.
Like I say on the show when I interview someone in the food world, “everyone’s gotta eat,” so this is a great area for people, no matter their financial means or knowledge level, to help combat climate change.
EE: Speaking about engaging with listeners you ask the question, “ What are your biggest challenges right now in creating your ideal environmentally conscious lifestyle?” It’s a great question. What are the most common challenges people are sharing?
MA: Again, food comes up a lot more than any other issue. We must constantly be feeding ourselves, so it is always at the forefront of our minds and the impact of how and what we eat should be as well.
The fact that this is the listener’s biggest challenge is actually really great for a couple reasons. It means that people are starting to realize that we are part of the problem and are taking responsibility. It also means that they realize they can do something about it and that they WANT to do something about it.
EE: Of all the areas of concern that you highlight, is there a cause that is closest to your heart?
MA: Food is big because I like that people from all backgrounds can get involved in it. So intellectually, that is the concern I spend the most time thinking about. But this question is actually really timely because now that I’ve finished my degree I’ve been thinking about my career path and water issues have been coming up a lot for me. From stormwater capture and water recycling for residential use to coastal and wetland restoration, being involved in something that has to do with water gets me really excited.
Being in Southern California with all of our water challenges, both drinking water and habitat related, this seems like a good place to be to get in on the action. Interestingly enough, after all the stereotypical jobs that a kid dreams about like being an astronaut or a firefighter, the first actual career I considered was marine biology. I loved manatees and dolphins. So somehow it’s all coming full circle.
EE: So you are really getting back into things!
MA: I am, the last several months have been about grieving and figuring out what I want the rest of my life to look like, but I know myself, I’m happiest when I have a lot of irons in the fire. And I think it’s really important that I feed my desire to be in the outdoors while still addressing global issues by sitting in front of a microphone and computer, so it will be interesting to see how I manage to balance it all moving forward.
EE: If you could give 3 pointers, easy and accessible things that the average person can do today that you think will help make a change, what are they?
MA: First, consider where your food comes from and where it’s going. You can stop eating beef (the largest source of methane gas worldwide), choose to eat crops that are grown locally, responsibly and sustainably (especially considering the amount of water that goes into growing them), or reduce your food waste, which impacts the entire supply chain and cuts back on what goes into the landfill. One change here makes a HUGE difference and it’s something everyone can do.
I’m not going to tell anyone what to eat, but at least learn about what your food is really made of, where it comes from, and what impact that has on the planet.
Michael Pollen’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I’m only halfway through right now, is really teaching me a lot on this topic.
Second, exchange things for experiences. The manufacturing, shipping and waste stream of stuff takes a huge toll on the environment. I would rather spend money on a plane ticket and have more time with the people I love. Also, memories don’t require storage space, cleaning, repair or replacing…which means they’re free as well as nice to have.
Last, get involved by supporting the environmental causes you feel connected to. Think about what issues really get you fired up and donate or volunteer your time and services to those. And vote for public officials who are going to stand up for principles that promote a healthy environment. To make our individual voices heard, it helps to join the entities that are already creating change and speaking up on our behalf. We can all make bigger, longer-lasting impacts by pooling our efforts and I think we should all do this in ways that make the most sense for each of us.
Marjorie Alexander is the founder of A Sustainable Mind. http://asustainablemind.com/