Walking the Walk While Big Greens Just Talk: The Yellowstone Business Partnership


I’ve just had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at a sustainable business workshop held by Yellowstone Business Partnership in Idaho, for their Uncommon Sense program – a course for businesses to bake a true sustainability model into their collective cakes. The course is comprised of eight modules, focusing on everything from waste-stream management to social and community investment. Of course, I was there to talk plastic pollution in the oceans and hopefully influence these companies’ supply chain practices by demonstrating how plastic in watersheds east and west of the Continental Divide ultimately end up in our seas.

I was excited. This is the farthest inland I’ve ever presented, speaking to a mountain audience, not an ocean one. But these folks get it – I’m in a log cabin conference room in the middle of nowhere surrounded by 30 people and there’s not a single disposable water bottle or coffee cup in the house. That’s a first for this presenter.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as one doesn’t necessarily think of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming as the epicenter of the sustainability movement. But this program is off-the-charts cool, staffed by dedicated and passionate problem solvers. The business owners who attended are smart as hell and their sense of place, and a duty to its resources, permeates every part of their practices. In short, they’re all caring people working together to achieve lofty goals.

Though a small non-profit, the YBP is a powerhouse of ideas for a sustainable future. I’ve spoken with elite environmentalists at the UN in Geneva and these folks could teach them a thing or two about how not just to talk the talk, but walk the walk. It was nothing short of inspiring.

The workshop left me with one persistent question in mind: Why aren’t there organizations like this all over the United States? Why aren’t ideas like this dominating the talk in urban environments? Sure, companies far and wide are hiring sustainability directors, but they’re not working in a collaborative manner and thus, a lot of reinventing of the wheel is going on. After doing some research, I can’t find a single group like this anywhere, with the exception perhaps of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco-Working Group. But even so, the OIA EWG was founded in 2007 and is still in its infancy.

What I like the most about this experience is its effect on my perception of the sustainability movement as a whole. Sometimes one needs to leave the navel-gazing of their big city green Shangri La and, yes, listen to the little guys.

Image: Stiv Wilson