EcoApprentice Member Spotlight ~ ThinkEco²

It’s always great to see a sustainable solution turned into business success! EcoApprentice business member ThinkEco² has done just that by repurposing used cedar in San Diego. The Co-Founder of  ThinkEco²,  Jules Lavallee, shares about her business:

Think Eco for the Holidays

Holidays are approaching. Eco-friendly gifts are truly unique and thoughtful. ThinkEco² is making good use from aged and rustic fence by handcrafting creative eco-friendly gifts.

The Founder of ThinkEco², Brian Behncke, owns and operates Briven Construction during the day and handcrafts 100% recycled cedar products at night with his crew.  The wood is taken from Behnckes fence job sites. In his decision to use recycled,  Brian saw a local company reclaiming and reusing glass, and thought the same could be done with wood. He noticed a lot of wood being thrown into the landfill and wanted to start his own recycling business.
ThinkEco² gifts include rustic wine racks, 6 pot garden planters with tray,  wine and liquor gift boxes.  Cedar is a great choice for wine racks and garden planters, since it is naturally resistant to pets and rot. ThinkEco2 handcrafted wine racks are offered rustic or in a variety of color frames including black, white, green, and red. They fit nicely onto a countertop. For garden lovers, their handmade garden planters are perfect for a balcony or small space. In addition to beautifully handcrafted gifts, ThinkEco² specialized in wedding trays,  uniquely crafted flower pots, and Groomsmen gift boxes.
Creating handmade purposeful products from recycled cedar has it’s rewards. It is not only good for the environment, but it is profitable. We enjoy making a difference and building fun and creative products.  Our plan is to hire Veterans in San Diego.
To find out more about ThinkEco2 visit
Jules Lavallee, Founder of ThinkEco² combines eco-conscious living with philanthropy.  She donates her wine racks to charities including TNT Memorial, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, and Mama’s Kitchen. ThinkEco² products are proudly handmade in the USA.


Got a sustainability success story or an EcoChallenge at work or in your community?  We’d love to post it! Our community is filled with think-outside-the-box innovators. Membership is free. Go to EcoApprentice.

EcoInterview ~ Jacen Green with PSU’s Impact Entrepreneurs

On 5/15/13 I interviewed Jacen Greene, Ames Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship with Portland State University’s Impact Entrepreneurs. They are putting together the Elevating Impact Summit on June 21 at The Gerding Theater in Portland Oregon.   What a great event to meet & network with bold thinking social entrepreneurs and learn about exciting projects in the works. We are really looking forward to this!

Executive Director, Carolyn McKnight, leading a field study program in India.

What is the Portland State University Impact Entrepreneurs program?

Impact Entrepreneurs  is an initiative of the PSU School of Business. We believe in the power of business to create positive change, and we work with local and global partners, entrepreneurs, students and faculty to strengthen organizations, develop leaders, and catalyze social entrepreneurship for a more just world.
Can anybody join PSU Impact Entrepreneurs? (i.e. do you have to be a student, business major?)
We’re not a membership-based organization; instead, we provide a number of programs tailored to support social entrepreneurs at every stage of their personal and organizational growth, regardless of their affiliation with PSU. We offer a field study program for students and community members to study social entrepreneurship in Cambodia, an incubator for local social entrepreneurs to develop the skills and connections to succeed in business, and run leadership development and management training programs for partners such as Mercy Corps.
Tell us about the Elevating Impact Summit coming up in PDX on June 21st
The Elevating Impact Summit  is a celebration of new approaches to generating social impact across business, social, public, and academic sectors. The event features a dynamic day of interactive discussion and learning sessions, inspiring speakers, first-hand accounts from social entrepreneurs and innovators, and opportunities to connect with a diverse audience of professionals, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and students. We’re also hosting a pitch competition with slots reserved for the public (learn more or apply at and announcing the recipients of the first annual Impact Awards.
The Summit is a great way to learn about social entrepreneurship, get inspired by the amazing work of innovative local and global organizations, and discover how you can use business tools to create positive change! Register by May 21st for $75 (goes up to $100).
For more thinking-outside-the-box, go to EcoApprentice to post or solve an EcoChallenge.  We would love to share compelling challenges from social entrepreneurs!

EcoInterview ~ University of Oregon Net Impact Founders

On 4/25/13 I interviewed University of Oregon Net Impact Co-Founders Garrett Dunlavey and Ryan Seo. They are super busy getting ready for this very cool conference coming up on May 2 in Portland titled The Future of Sustainable Business.


U of O Net Impact team changing the world for the greater good!

 1. What is Net Impact?

Net Impact is a Non-profit organization that attempts to solve worldly challenges through the power of business. Our headquarters is in San Francisco, but there are hundreds of chapters all over the world: undergraduate, graduate, professional, and corporate. Our chapter at the University of Oregon aims to educate, collaborate with, and positively influence both the campus and local community within the triple bottom line: Profit, Planet, and People.

2. What motivated you to start it and how do you see it impacted your future career? 

As it turns out, we both met in the International Business and Economics Club after finding out that there was no sustainable business group on campus. Since we felt like something was missing, we decided it was time to change that and started creating the organization.

3. What is the most valuable thing you have learned by being part of Net Impact?

I don’t imagine many undergraduates are able to gain very much experience running a non-profit organization. Plus, without any way of paying working members we had to rely exclusively on motivation, passion, and encouragement. While chiché, we truly had to learn to revere a much less familiar set of values than what business school alone will teach.

Additionally, we learned the importance in observing and allocating work exclusively by someone’s strengths and interests. In that way campaigns are not only done more quickly and effectively, but it is also preferable to those that work under this strategy.

4. Tell us about the SPRNG Conference on May 2 in PDX

SPRNG (Sustainable Practices Raising Net Growth) is a student-driven conference that is put on by the UO Net Impact chapter. We’re trying to enhance the shared network of professionals to help catalyze collaboration towards sustainable ends. From policy to consulting to development, our three speakers and five panelists are all coming from all different backgrounds to address the role collaboration plays. Moving forward, it is apparent that progress will require sectors to team up towards the triple bottom line.

5. The challenges on EcoApprentice encourage experiential learning (by doing), what types of career/work experiences are Net Impact students most interested in?

Students from just about every discipline join with the intent on doing something “real.” While in college, everyone is deciding what roles they want to play in the world and by the time they come to Net Impact they have felt a call to do something more than just earn grades. I think as long as they feel that they are working on something tangible and they are happy. Our role is simply to help them harness that passion and energy.

EcoApprentice is looking for (close to) impossible EcoChallenges! Got one?

EcoApprentice is looking for compelling, ambitious, even close-to-impossible EcoChallenges for our re-launch later this spring!  We are most interested in challenges that, once solved, benefits the most people.

What’s an EcoChallenge? Any problem that seeks a more sustainable solution.

Since 1987, the standard and most generally used definition of sustainability is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (per wikipedia)

Please see our current list of EcoChallenges and EcoSolutions that were generated during our test drive.  For our next launch, we are adding exciting incentives in the form of significant cash bounties to come up with the best EcoSolutions.

If you have an EcoChallenge idea, please email:

The posting organization will gets lots of cool publicity and advertising.  This is an innovative and engaging way to promote your brand directly back to your customers.  Companies can also choose to sponsor an EcoChallenge bounty for a non-profit organization.  We would love to talk to you about it.

You can still sign up for free as a member of EcoApprentice, but we are not adding new EcoChallenges until we re-launch.  Signing up gets you in our data base, so we can keep you posted!

Thanks in advance for keeping your eyes out for an EcoChallenge (and solution) that could change an organization, community, or the world for the better good!


There is rumbling underneath…

Mount Ngaruahoe New Zealand

EcoApprentice has been pretty quiet the last couple of months.  That is, on the surface. Yet much like a volcano, there is lots of rumbling underneath.

A while back, my Advisory Board gave me some great advice: “Stop building EcoApprentice and start building a team to build EcoApprentice.” I had taken it as far as I could as a sole proprietor, not to mention I felt and looked like I just ran an ultra-marathon.  Our “beta” version was successful in demonstrating the concept. We are at well over 250 members; a diverse mix of biz, non-profits, schools, and sustainable-minded individuals.

I found a very talented business partner (press release soon) and we are in the process of navigating a path forward to develop version 3.0.  We are excited about adding lots of features, social media connectivity, and our revenue model. v3.0 will include lots to incentivize EcoChallenge participation + build community.

For now,  the seismograph readings are growing more active even if the volcano looks quiet. The steam is building…

Stay tuned for our re-launch in spring of 2013!



What is Garbology?

Did you know the average American produces 102 tons of garbage in a lifetime!  This mind-blowing stat is from author Edward Humes. Check out his new book, “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash”   He was interviewed recently in a story entitled Talking Trash - Republished from Real Change News,  Seattle WA.

In your book “Garbology,” you mention how the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has underestimated the amount of trash that Americans produce. Some 140 million tons go unaccounted for in their calculations. Why do you think this is, and where did you find more accurate statistics?

E. H.: The reason for the underestimation is the method the epa uses to generate a figure for our municipal waste in the United States. It’s not by actually measuring the amount of trash coming in. It’s a more indirect method called “indirect flow analysis.” They get data from manufacturers about how much material they’re making that goes out to consumers. Then, through various byzantine calculations, they come up with a figure of how much trash is theoretically being made.

They came up with this method decades ago, when there were many more dumps (legal and illegal) and no one was measuring how much was going into them. The current method was the best they could come up with, and they’ve stuck with it ever since. The problem is, we have far fewer dumps now, and these dumps are meticulous about measuring how much garbage they take in. Their business model requires that they charge by the ton. There are scales when the trucks enter and leave, and they compare the weight of the full and empty trucks so they know exactly how much has been dumped. Because of this we have very good data.

Columbia University recently partnered with a trade journal called “BioCycle,” and they started doing these biannual “State of Garbage in America” reports that actually uses the real data. They found the missing trash! We’re throwing away a lot more than the epa estimates. We’re also recycling much less. We’re sending about twice as much garbage to the dump as the epa suggests.

In centuries past, methods such as piggeries (in which trash was fed to pigs) and incineration were common methods of waste disposal. When and why did landfills become the way to dispose of trash?

E.H.: The first landfill and anti-litter campaign was in ancient Greece about 2,500 years ago. It’s not a new idea. Shortly before World War II, some refinements were added. Specifically, the idea of a “sanitary landfill,” where you cover the waste with dirt every day to suppress the odor and vermin. It’s been further refined since the 1980s and early 90s by placing plastic liners underneath to prevent the seepage of toxic waste into groundwater supplies.

Of course, this was a big improvement over throwing garbage just anywhere. Cities were a mess for centuries. People would just hurl trash out their windows into the street or alleys. New York City was notorious at the turn of the last century for being such a sty, and that’s why some of these advancements such as recycling and the municipal dump were pioneered.

We like landfills in the U.S. more than in other countries because we have so much space. There’s always another hole to throw your garbage into. Perversely, that encourages us to be more wasteful. It doesn’t make it a good model, but it’s become our model because we have the space to do it. Japan doesn’t have landfills because they’re on an island, and they don’t have the space.

Cities like Copenhagen, Denmark, use almost 100 percent of their trash as a renewable energy source (through incineration). Do you think that something like this could catch on in the States?

E.H.: There’s a lot of potential for using our trash for energy (when it can’t be recycled or repurposed in some way). Denmark succeeds on this score because they decided that their waste is a local issue. They built relatively small, low-cost facilities, and they produce the heat and energy in the communities that produce the trash. They’ve chosen a more community-based model. They don’t have these huge utility-scale power plants that leave such a big footprint and have such a high cost.

It’s been a big challenge for American communities to pursue the waste-to-energy model as a solution. One successful example, though, is in Massachusetts in the Cape Cod area.  A series of small communities have banded together to enact this model.


For a fun and easy way to gauge your own “Garbology” wisdom, check out this cool interactive site – My Garbology via NatureBridge.

EcoApprentice offers offers a great option to figure out what to do with garbage! Post your question as an EcoChallenge and get answers from our community. Becoming a member is fast and free!


EcoApprentice connects people and businesses who team up to solve compelling EcoChallenges, all towards creating more sustainable communities.  In that spirit, we would like to do a shout out on a great new resource for connecting children and adults to nature. Author Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network.  The following collection of resources is presented as a limited sampling of organizations and inspirational actions from his most recent book, The Nature Principle.  A much longer list of how to apply the Nature Principle where we live, work, learn and play is available here.

Pic credit Children & Nature Network!

Becoming a Citizen Naturalist

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers the Celebrate Urban Birds program in English and Spanish, focusing on species often found in urban neighborhoods.
  • In King County, Washington, the Native Plant Salvage Program sponsors “plant salvagers” who save native plants threatened by development.

Knowing Who You Are by Knowing
Where You Are

  • Exploring a Sense of Place provides the means by which people anywhere on Earth can reconnect to the natural worldwhere they live. ESP offers leadership training and local courses in several bioregions around the U.S. and abroad.
  • Planet Drum Foundation, sponsors publications, speakers, and workshops to help start new bioregional groups and encourages local organizations and individuals to find ways to live within the natural confines of bioregions.

Creating Restorative Homes & Gardens

Creating a “natural health care system”

  • The Prescription Trails program was launched in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in an effort to fight the high rate of diabetes there, and is partially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • International Community for Ecopsychology serves as a link for those interested in this topic. The organization’s journal, Gatherings, is a good starting point.

Developing Restorative Neighborhoods and Cities

  •  Biophilic Cities Project, an international research initiative organized by Tim Beatley at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture.
  • The Center for Whole Communities aims to create a more just, balanced and healthy world by exploring, honoring, and deepening the connections among land, people and community.
  • The Natural Learning Initiative works to naturalize early childhood neighborhood play and learning environments, as part of the Institute of Medicine Task Force policy strategy on preventing childhood obesity.

Becoming New Agrarians

  • The Quivira Coaltion brings together ranchers and environmentalists to foster ecological, economic and social health on Western landscapes through education and public and private land stewardship.
  • Your Backyard Farmer, an innovative approach to community-supported agriculture through urban backyard farming.

Creating Restorative Schools

  • C&NN’s Natural Teachers Network offers a connection point, as well as updated research and tools, to educators of all kinds who connect their students, parents and other teachers to the natural world.
  • Green Teacher magazine, available in English, Spanish, and French. Also, the Learning with Nature Idea Book, published by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Strengthening Families Through Nature

Applying the Nature Principle in Business

  • The Biomimicry Institute promotes learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs.
  • Green for All works nationally to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

These are samples from a more extensive Field Guide to the New Nature Movement which includes over 120 resources drawn largely from “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods.” The resource guide will be updated from time to time. It’s a work in progress. Naturally.

The Children &Nature Network also provides hundreds of additional examples of how to get involved, with tools to help you do that.


One super easy action you can do today is post an EcoChallenge on EcoApprentice! This would be anything from home, school, or work you would like to reuse or recycle, but not sure how. We will send your challenge out to the world for an answer.  Membership is free.  Join here.

EcoInterview with “Petey” ~ a Green Dog

“Petey” is a mixed breed dog who shops at Green Dog Pet Supply, the first environmentally friendly pet supply store in the USA. Green Dog specializes in environmentally friendly pet supplies and gifts for dogs, cats & their people. The inside of the store was built almost entirely from reclaimed materials, and products include those that were locally made from sustainable materials, organic ingredients, non toxic materials, recycled materials, or things that are exceptionally durable so that they are less likely to be land-filled.


How long have you been a “green dog”?

Since forever. Okay, really only since I was 11 weeks old, which is technically a “green puppy.” Green Dog Pet Supply is my second living room. THE FLOORS ARE AWESOME. Green Dog was one of the first places I ever went, and they helped me to learn about how to be a green dog.

I thought dogs were color blind, do you know what the color green looks like?

It looks like bully sticks from pastured beef, super stinky training treats made from organic ingredients, and new toys made from recycled materials, and GRASS! GRASS IS GREEN! Grass is the ultimate aperitif (as long as it’s grown without yucky chemicals).

What can humans do (from a dog’s perspective) to make the world a greener place?

I love to ride in the car, but walks are the best. More walking, less driving? More hanging out with me outside, less spending money places where I’m not allowed inside? I mean, if I’m not invited, it can’t be very green. I eat meat, but I also love raw carrots, apples and green beans. Maybe humans could eat those? They don’t have any wrappers. You can get them at the farmer’s market. I LOVE THE FARMER’S MARKET. I met my last girlfriend there. She doesn’t know it, yet, but she’s totally my girlfriend. I wish she would call.

Do you know any green cats? Ever chase one?

Yes! Gigi is a green cat (she likes locally made organic catnip toys) and I don’t understand why her affection for “tag” isn’t as great as mine. It’s actually a very classy game.

Any ideas what to do with what dogs do — after going potty outside?

It’s not that big of a deal. Have you seen those green bags? They’re green, so they must be good, so just use those and stop acting like you don’t go potty too. I KNOW YOU DO.

Does green dog food taste as good as less green dog food?

I have never had non-green food so I wouldn’t know, but my food OH MY GOSH. MY FOOD IS SO GOOD. I would eat Sock Flavor if they made it. Could you make that happen? If you do, I’ll kiss you. On the mouth. (Wait, was that too forward?)

If your green dog or cat has a cool EcoChallenge, or you want to join a community of people, businesses, (and pets) that care about sustainability, become a member of EcoApprentice for free.

 Stay tuned for more green dog advice from Petey!

Chelsea Peil asks: What are we here to do?

Chelsea Peil is a freelance sustainability centric creative advisor and project manager. She has worked on social marketing and PR campaigns, educational programming, and content development for innovative businesses in Portland, OR as well as projects on EcoApprentice. You are welcome to connect with her on LinkedIN.

What are we here to do?

Well, it’s up to all of us to make the answer to this question meaningful for the precious lives we share in everyday life. Being a part of everyday work with organizations that want my unique skill set to develop their projects and assistance to make them happen is part of the answer of why I am here. Let’s make it fun, beautiful and authentic to our values!
Through international studies, traveling, and growing up in the United States; I see creating a lifestyle and connection to the earth’s natural resources more difficult because of the materialism that surrounds us.  I believe the business community can help to influence people to stop this disconnection. This has inspired me to be involved as a cultural practitioner to integrate sustainability into programs, such as fashion shows with Junk to, web show content, thought leaders videos, curriculum and organizational development. We have a choice to participate in the global effort of restoring healthy relationships to earth and doing it like pros.

Humor, art and imagination go along way in developing practices and messaging not only worth telling the world about, but appealing and beautiful. Currently, I am excited to be apart of EcoApprentice’s collective intelligence efforts and personally collecting cross-cultural wisdom for addressing the challenges we must face together. Now is the time to seize the opportunities to create ways of being that can support thriving existence for all life for many generations.


Are you a business with an EcoChallenge? Post it on EcoApprentice and invite your customers (or community) to come up with an answer good for people and planet.  Plus, it’s a great tool to drive your brand in a positive way! Join here for free.


Small Town Sustainability ~ Making it Work off the Beaten Path

The Historic Balch Hotel is located 1 hour and 40 minutes east of Portland Oregon in the small farming community of Dufer. EcoApprentice member Samantha Irwin (and her husband Jeff) own this beautiful hotel. Read how they made sustainability work for their business in a town of 500.

Rural America. It’s beautiful, open, has a touch of the wild, and attracts those independent types. That might be one of the reasons we’ve landed here in Dufur Oregon, restoring and operating a piece of history – the Historic Balch Hotel. We did trade in things people in the city take for granted like curbside recycling, composting options, and a grocery that is open past 7 p.m. Now we borrow from our neighbors, keep a tab at the grocery (just receive the monthly bill!), and don’t have to lock our doors. Not such a bad swap. What we’ve lost in convenience we’ve gained in opportunity to be resourceful!

So how does our business integrate sustainability in a small town where curbside recycling is not in the community vernacular and instead burn barrels are commonplace?

In the beginning educating staff on recycling that paper, or putting kitchen waste into the compost bin was a struggle. Changing habit can be slow. However, now four years into the future, I’m not the only one picking the can or paper cup out of the garbage. I feel an odd sense of motherly pride when I see some staff fishing something out of the garbage can. Am I normal? Have I created fanatics? Let’s hope so!

When we opened our doors in 2007 it took a great deal of effort to teach our team how to recycle. For many reasons, mainly education and convenience, it’s not done a heck of a lot in rural spaces. We were making strides but I wanted a visual to show staff exactly the impact that they were making. So, in 2010 we loosely began to keep track of our recycling and composting efforts. I think staff might have thought me slightly off my rocker but now I’m convinced they see a method to my madness. We created a fancy Tally System (a paper and pen taped to the kitchen wall).

Of course we kept track of the regular recycle items like paper, tin, glass etc. but also include food and yard debris. We coordinate trips to The Dalles recycling to take in our contribution and one of our staff members who lives off the grid (future blog post!) takes all the yard and kitchen waste to make some killer compost for themselves.

In 2010 our Balch Hotel staff saved over 38 dumpsters from being added to the landfill! That equates to $1216 in money we didn’t have to spend on garbage fees. It adds up! In 2011 we upped our ante to 65 dumpsters, thereby saving $2080.

Rest assured our recordkeeping is improving year to year and as our business grows it’s become a challenge to see how much better we can do. We even expanded our horizons and posted one of our housekeeping recycling challenges on EcoApprentice! Our staff is thinking differently now. That is good!

There is still no curbside recycling. We still do not need to lock our doors. Dufur is a special community where there are many things I would like to keep the same. Sometimes though, changes are needed. These changes are for the betterment of the community, and future generations.

I’m very proud of our team. When I hear of them taking these practices into their homes I know it’s reaching the next generation – as it should.


In the country, city, or someplace in between – we would love to hear from you and share your EcoChallenges + success stories.  Become a member on EcoApprentice for free.