Don’t Take a Single Breath for Granted

Posted on: May 26th, 2013 by
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Liam's Day of Service

Last week, I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker with our Urban Water team at Ford Community Challenge.  It was such an honor to explain to other change agents our design and how we used our $50,000 grant from the Ford Motor Fund.

While there, I learned how other groups used their Ford grants, from designing puriflumes to creating to clean water solutions for their community.

The project that opened my mind, stole my heart and still provokes me every day when my goals and dreams of “changing the world” feel impossible, was started by Liam Rattray.  Liam was a Georgia Tech student who started Arkfab in Atlanta.  Arkfab uses aquaponics with biotechnology in create innovation in urban agriculture.


Liam's Day of Service

Liam’s Day of Service

What is so exceptional about Liam is that he stood for his dreams of feeding Atlanta organically until the day he died.  Liam was killed by a drunk driver before he saw his project being fulfilled.  Thanks to Georgia Tech and great friends like Justin Chaddick, the project was completed and is expanding to other areas of Atlanta.  As you can see in the video:  Arkfab Video

I never met Liam, we weren’t friends on social media, but I can say based on conversations with his friends that he stood for his cause until the day he died.  There are so many of us, who have passions that fade with time. How many people can say that they stood for what makes a difference when only their spirit remains?

Thanks Liam for inspiring me to remain focused on my heart and inspiring me every day.

Until next time…in California that is!!

Lines for Days…The Importance of Volunteering

Posted on: April 12th, 2013 by
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When I think of people standing in line for long periods of time, I think of Black Friday (the day before Thanksgiving).  Why else would people wait if not for a great deal?  Never in my wildest dream would I have imagined volunteers standing in line in the midst of high winds; sometimes lines longer than those you would see waiting for popular rides at amusement parks.

This was my view from the volunteer sign up table on Saturday at Cary Home for Children, Sustainable Planting Event.  Despite many months of preparation, through hundreds of emails, after a focus group composed of Cary Home staff and students, and following many design attempts; we had a beautiful complex design of 8,700 plugs for our native savanna.  Like most engineers, we strategically calculated that it would take volunteers 15 seconds to plant every plug therefore we would need approximately 100 volunteers.  I don’t think any formula could plan for our gratitude for our community.   By 11:20 on Saturday, we almost doubled our goal of volunteers. cary home

Reaching out and having the community reach back is an unspeakable feeling.  Not only did families with young babies come and assist but also grocery stores who donated cases of food to make we were all well fed.  More than anything, I think this project taught me, every person was important.  From Home Depot who supplied the spray paint to the children who strategically stacked the leftover planters as domino art to give us a break from planting from time to time.

Lines draw attention, this time for an important cause.  I believe the cars that drove by that day and continue to drive by as I write see the important work that is growing and will be remembered as the savanna matures year after year.

*A native savanna is made up of plants, trees, etc instinctive to their habitat.  They usually have longer roots to reduce erosion and have a higher uptake of minerals.  Great for improving water quality!!!cary home pic

My Sustainable Community…

Posted on: March 27th, 2013 by
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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

People who know me the best, know that I have a hard time closing things, like cabinet doors.  Growing up, I could never sneak and get something out of the kitchen because my mother could always tell when I was around.  I am happy this shows in intangible ways in my life.  My goal when going back to business school was to leave the school a better place than when I found it; I hope in many ways that I have.  My classmate and close friend (hopefully he sees me the same way) brought to my attention last week of some of the things that were accomplished in my tenure.  Not only have I shown that an ally can be a co-founder the first ever GLBTQ group in our business school, but also host the first religion and diversity forums just to name a few.  Oh, and hopefully bringing Friday Night Lights to Purdue from my alma mater Penn State!!!!

But the project I am most proud is the Impact Scholarship.  After having a candid conservation with someone about the disparity between salaries of social sector/non-profit internships and others, I knew something had to be done.  So a dream was produced.  I just didn’t know how to fund it.  So the idea of a Service Auction was born.  Thanks to the great folks at Benefit Events, and Jim for being patient with my design skills, my dream is now reality!!  Words cannot express how much gratitude I have to all my friends and family who believed in me as a person.  Who donated their skills and services from telling a joke to full food tours of DC.  Even before I sold you on my pitch, you got out your checkbooks or made me laugh with your ideas.  I am very thankful of your sense of community.  You have all sustained me!


ALL proceeds of the service auction support the Impact Scholarship.  The Impact Summer Internship Program provides funding support for graduate business students seeking to apply their business skills to the social sector through a summer internship, enabling Purdue students to learn about the rewards and challenges of social sector/non-profit management without making a significant financial sacrifice. In addition, the program enables organizations that otherwise could not afford to hire student interns to benefit from students’ expertise in areas such as operations, human resources, finance, management consulting, strategic planning and marketing.

Door almost closed….

Sustainable Planting Event

Posted on: March 20th, 2013 by
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An Open Letter: My Personal Journey to Sustainable Development

Posted on: March 17th, 2013 by

I spent the weekend at Sustainability Workshop at the University Michigan.  During this process, I was able to think about my journey to where I am today…ENJOY!!

Everyone has a story.  I am no different.  But the difference between me and another candidate is that I actually practice what I preach when I go home every night.  Growing up, I had a pretty normal childhood (minus the picket fence), but the times that affected me the most were the times we spent helping others.  My family did a lot of volunteer work, from delivering meals to cleaning out the bathrooms of a homeless shelter near a landfill.  For the past twenty years, my family has spent every Christmas helping others instead of exchanging gifts; this has defined my character and the character of my family.

Getting to know the citizens of the shelter really changed my life.  Not only were they considered the “un-loved” (illegal immigrants, members GLBTQ community, people with HIV, etc.) but somehow we were all connected.  During their stories, I would notice trash heaps at the public landfill and I felt instantly guilty of the candy wrapper I threw away moments before.  Little did I know, my life would come full circle to this moment.

I went to Penn State and studied Supply Chain and went to work for some of the largest companies in the world.  I learned a lot about the full life cycle of products from cradle to grave.   The projects that changed my life included: reduction of truck idling in large cities, designing alternative transportation plans, and cutting a simple raw material in one of our best-selling products that saved cardboard from entering the landfill.  In all of these experiences, I was able to add growth while making an impact.  However, these were only side projects, and sustainability wasn’t involved in my personal life(yet).

Being the researcher that I am, I realized that no hybrid car would make a larger impact than changing my diet.  A vegan diet not only saves a hundred thousand gallons of water a year but also helps with the treatment of animals and employees and (don’t forget about the emissions!).  But this wasn’t enough,  I learned that children who live close to landfills have a higher risk of asthma and certain cancers; these students are usually absent from school more than other students, so I learned to live a simpler life by making my own cleaning and laundry products, and only living with a recycling and compost bin.  Through it all, thiese experiences have made me more cognizant of all of my actions and how they effect others.  Now, I blog about my crazy experiences to about an audience of 700 viewers a week.

Because of my experience in consumer products, I know I can make a difference in the sustainable development world.  My experience in water conservation through urban water projects in our community and building sustainable farming sites in Haiti would prove invaluable for the global movement by knowing the need of people of all walks of life.  My creative but controversial idea on waste reduction on Purdue’s campus through a large display of trash in the common area of our business school, rightly named Mt. Trashmore, showed that about ¾ of what was actually thrown away could have been recycled, not going to the landfill.  Possibly, the same landfill near the homeless shelter that changed my life.  My life journey has been rich because I was able to express my true passions every step of the way, I can honestly say, with me, what you see is what you get.  I live the sustainable life from the time I go wake up and walk my vegan dog with biodegradable poop bags to before I go to bed and feed my 3,000 worms in my vermicompost.  This sets me apart from other candidates, I am not afraid to accelerate my own personal impact and change the status quo (thanks Net Impact!); to save the future generations of those who lived in that shelter that changed my life forever.

Can Business Really Have a Heart? My story on wind turbines.

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 by
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wind turbine 2Growing up, I was a visually creative child; I could verbally design and explain what should be created but the actual drawing was left to my sister.  She inherited the artist gene and would make my thoughts come to life.

However, I was a great paper windmill (windmills actually don’t generate electricity but help with a function like lifting grain or water) maker.   Cutting the sheets of paper for the plastic straw or popsicle stick and then running through the wind entertained me for hours as a child.  Today, when studying different forms of energy, I think about my childhood days, how easy it was to create (so I thought).

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the second largest wind turbine farm in the world in southern California.  Most of the wind turbines are owned by various corporations (GE, BP, etc.) but most of the energy is sold off to Northern California or other parts of the world.  Some of the citizens in the Palm Desert region saw the large white beings as an eye sore, but most saw the 3,000 turbines as a work of art.  The design and evolution of the wind turbines over the last thirty years have made the industry more efficient but also safer for wildlife.  But if you attend a city council meeting in regards to the installation of a new wind turbine you might hear otherwise.

with solar panels

with solar panels

Compared to alternative forms of energy, wind power has a significantly less effect on the environment.  Finding a common ground between environmentalist and corporations is complicated.   Installing a wind farm on new land destroys and disturbs the native habitat for certain animals causing a rift in the eco-system in the area; a solution to this problem, installing turbines in an already developed area or impacted by land clearing.

Another big concern, points to our flying friends.  The first turbines were designed with a pyramid base that also served as a nesting ground for bats and some birds. wind-turbine Because of concern from environmentalist and researchers alike, this has changed to a simple white cylinder. In recent years, wind turbines kill the least amount of birds per year with the largest source coming from you guessed it, outdoor cats and building windows.  To stay on the low end of the statistic, researchers have studied the migration patterns of birds/bats and have advised to not run turbines during slow wind periods and to slow down the FAA red light so birds can break their daze before reaching the turbine.

Currently, the United States is launching on a project of the implementation of a 4.8 mile wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts.   So far, there has been little push back from environmentalist since it the research has shown no adverse impact of sea geology.

Wind energy is one area where I see true compromise between environmentalist and corporate tycoons.  Since I have a toe in both wading pools, I understand the importance of this.  Hopefully, the wind industry can be an example for other industries to work together with your biggest critic.

The Pursuit of (Im)perfect Fruit

Posted on: February 11th, 2013 by
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There is no secret.  I am a vegan.  As a friend put it today, “the produce section is safe for you” and has always been my first and sometimes only stop in the grocery store.  But yesterday during my weekly shopping spree of goodness, I picked up what I thought were just a bag of oranges.  When I got home: I happened to scan the bag and read the following: “coated with food-grade vegetable, beeswax, and/or lac-resin based wax or resin to maintain freshness.”  orangesFor those of you who don’t use “lac-resin” in your daily vocabulary, it is usually imported from India and is used in waxes for citrus fruits, apples, and pears.  It is a product derived from the secretions of the tiny lac insect.  Wow.  All this time I thought my diet was plant-based and now most of my fruit is coated in insect droppings.  Why is this?  I started digging…

A survey conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council of farmers showed that nearly 30% of produce picked does not even leave the source.  The biggest reason: the produce is not pretty enough.  This is even a concern for produce now.  For most chains, the produce has to have a certain size, color, weight, and blemish percentage.  But, there are some great programs out there like Farm to Family who rescues close to 120 million pounds of produce and sends to food banks.  Are Americans really that picky?  Do we really expect everything in our lives to be perfect?  Foodstar, a company that is taking a chance with grocery partners to see if consumers will buy imperfect fruit (article is my links).

This is a very complex issue but I wanted to bring some light to it.  The next time you pick up a piece of fruit and inspect it, make sure it is as (im)perfect as you are. :)


Farmer Jess:Buy Local, Think Global

Posted on: February 6th, 2013 by
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There is something that I must confess.  I am a foodie.  I love the taste, smell, feel of fresh whole foods, especially if the food in my plant-based diet didn’t travel more than hundreds of miles to get to my plate.  This is especially hard to find in Middle America in the winter so when I see locally grown signs at my local grocer I get super excited and plan my weekly meals around them (this week: kale, collard greens, and turnips).locally grown   Not to worry, my coastal friends and family wake me up from my green haze and revel of their year round farmers’ markets as I daydream of my visits to Portland and the three block long vegan food heaven, then a step before I become envious and ungrateful, I think of a time when I had no fresh foods at all.

When traveling internationally, I try very hard not to be the “naïve American”.  Haiti was the second developing country that I had visited but this time I didn’t want to have a pre-conceived opinion of the country.  I wanted to go in with an open mind.  So I studied what you would on any trip: the language, weather, history, etc.  Being an island, I assumed I would be able to find a lone banana or a mango on a tree (naïve American talking) traveling through the villages in Northwest Haiti delivering Tom’s shoes to orphanages.  After a couple of days eating only beans, rice, canned peaches, and Coke (there was rarely fresh water); I realized my treasured fruit was nonexistent.  Looking back, it is kind of comical, when a group mate bartered for a mango for me every few days.

Halfway through our trip, I stumbled upon a project of building a sustainable farming system called aquaponics.  Aquaponics uses sea animals (in this case fish) with hydroponics (growing vegetables in water) working together for a cooperative food environment.  This system is a great alternative to regular farming because of the constant reuse of water when established.    Because I knew the need of fresh food was real, I had to be a part of it.  This simple structure in the United States would take less than two weeks if all the parts were on site, but in Haiti would take months or even a year.  For simple issues like cement, In the US we would just run to Home Depot, Lowes or rent a cement truck but in Haiti every bag of cement had to be mixed by hand, sometimes using all the water needed for the orphanage.   This is just one of the many hurdles that had to be crossed but the benefits were great, when completed this system will feed thousands of people in Northwest Haiti.

What a wakeup call.  Even though I might not have locally grown vegetables year round at least I have other options.  Aquaponics is just one example of sustainable farming being used all around the world, even in the United States to give people options for better food.

dirt aquaponics aquaponic pool aq3 aq1

Why this MBA is taking engineering classes in her last semester

Posted on: February 2nd, 2013 by
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Attending one of the best engineering schools in the country has its perks, from the underground tunnels so I can walk from the parking garage to all of my classes throughout campus without going out in the snow to feeling inspired every day by the Neil Armstrong (a Purdue grad!) memorial.  But the biggest perk to me is being on the cutting edge of a new engineering concentration at Purdue University.


Environmental and Ecological Engineering (formerly known as Environmental and Natural Resources Engineering) has become my favorite mistake.  This major is focused on the study of ecosystems and how the actions of humans affect sustainability while still focusing on designing solutions and engineering values.  While I have enjoyed taking grueling MBA core classes, some wonderful electives like Sustainable Operations and more law classes than any normal person would enjoy (my mother almost had a lawyer!), a part of me wishes there was this degree when I went to undergrad ten years ago (I am getting old!)


I have learned so much being in such a hands-on environment.  In business school, reading cases and pretending like you don’t really know the answer is always fun but actually designing and implementing plans that you can see in your community is so much more fulfilling for this hands-on girl.


Yes there are cases in engineering, but our cases are real life examples like the case study for my Environmental and Ecological Compliance class is Purdue University itself.  In this class, we tour the grounds facilities and learn the importance of a compliant and regulated boiler system (true boilermakers) and how important it is to balance the relationship between our Purdue airport and wildlife groups because of the wetlands so close by.


I think I was a little naïve enrolling in three engineering classes at one time.  The first day of class was a big smack in the face.  I have struggled, I have been frustrated, but I have not given up.  Above all, my engineering classes have made me more humble.  I will never forget the first day in Urban Waters Projects, a class where a trans-disciplinary view is needed to build rain and edible gardens and native savannas to educate youth and improve the water quality in our local river, the professor explained that the students would present and facilitate classes in the near future.  The sound of this made most of the engineering students petrified, I silently laughed to myself, thinking of all my business school friends who could do this with their eyes closed, usually not being able to shut up in class.  Nevertheless, my EEE classmates are so brilliant and full of the inspiration that I needed that is lacking in a sometimes jaded business world.  I realized then that most engineers are doers and not sayers or (BSers as some might put it) and this was just fine with me.

In one class, the professor made everyone write our name with our opposing hand.  Some might have seen this as a childish exercise, but she wanted us to see the value in letting go, accepting the imperfect and being you.

It has been a rigid but rewarding journey to understanding the full view of sustainability from design to implementation.  I am so thankful to the admissions team and the dean of my business school in believing in my passions and knowing that I knew what was best for my degree; also to my engineering professors and my group mates Kaitlyn and Brenda for being patience with me, explaining the ins and outs of topography, different ph levels of soil and AutoCAD a hundred times! 

Emissions Trading vs. Environmental Justice

Posted on: January 31st, 2013 by

Recently, a friend who does sustainability work for one of the largest defense companies (she will remain anonymous for this piece) brought up the ethical dilemma she faces regarding emissions trading in her industry.  Yesterday, in my environmental and ecological regulatory compliance lecture, this issue was seen as one that could not only help companies balance prices overtime without buying new equipment to measure up to new emission plans (buy credits instead!) but also has helped the nitrogen oxygen levels in the United States over the last 15 years.

For those who don’t know, emissions trading is a market based method used to regulate pollution by allowing companies, groups, and individuals (you as well!) to buy and sell emission credits.  In the US, the EPA (Environment Protection Authority) decides on the amount of total acceptable emissions and then divides the credits among participants that emit pollutants.  If a company or organization emits more pollution over their credit limit they can buy credits from other companies that stay under their credit limit and vice versa.

Why this works

The overall goal of emissions trading is to lower the cap over time towards a reduction target by retiring credits hence lowering emissions.  Also, many environmental groups (Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council, etc.) buy credits and retire emission permits, driving up the price of remaining credits.  Emissions trading offers significant advantages over regulatory approaches (mainly cost) and most people see this cap-and-trade market as significantly reducing overall emissions.

Why this doesn’t work

Some might argue that companies who have a higher emissions and need more credits are usually in low-income areas, creating pollution in concentrated areas creating a bigger disparity (racially and financially).

While I can see both sides, I still feel that alternate forms of emissions reduction should be measured that consider the community before buying more credits to increase pollution in the surrounding areas.