March 13, 2010

A Natural Products Expo West Virgin No Longer.

The coming together of MONEY and ENVIRONMENTALISM.

Okay, here’s the short Jack Kerouac-y first-thought-best-thought stream of consciousness version ’cause it’s nearly 3 am and I gotta get up early and this is my first and only time online today…

…there’s no public wifi at this entire conference, a self-defeating positive-press and social media-dampenng embarrassment and shame that oughta be corrected next year.

Complaint number two: [update apparently it’s single stream, sorted later, hard to imagine considering the state it’s in, but hope so!] I’ve seen more recyclables in the trash here than anywhere in my life. There’s hardly any recycling, and the few cans I’ve seen are full of trash, not recyclables. It’s a dirty rotten shame—even the great ladies at Fresh Ideas Group were innocently saying, what do I do with this bottle or can? I can’t throw it away? They decided to pack it out, take it back to LA.

I’m at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, for the first time. It’s amazing. It’s huge. The welcome sign is literally maybe 100 feet by 100 feet. The view from the press room is such a long far drop down to the entrance that you feel like you’re in the Himalayas, instant vertigo. There’s more eco schwag, a contradiction in terms (?), here than at any conference I’ve ever been too. It’s all food, health supplements, buyers for grocery stores, men in ill-fitting suits, gorgeous women hired by men in ill-fitting suits to attract other men in ill-fitting suits to their booth, where sales are made (this was explained to me this morning over bfast by a good young colleague buddy of mine who is in his fifth year and his business is exploding. Over coffee, I asked him to give me NPEW 101—what happens and how it works. It’s all very Mad Men, here, backwards, though there are many strong women entrepreneurs, thankfully, and talented PR agents, luckily it’s far from black and white. Still, there are an awful lot of pot-bellied balding men talking to other pot-bellied balding men while they pay a 22 year old buxom beauty dressed like she’s going to a club to sit there and watch them talk shop, mutely.

Okay: So, first things first, I woke early at 6 am in Venice, I’d been in LA the night before on one of the best dates of my life, went to Gjelina, had previously walked along the ocean and then, after date, hung with a good green business entrepreneur pal and talked until 2 am. So, tired, I woke and hopped in rental hybrid of my buddy Mathew Gerson, who has an amazing new startup. We set off for Anaheim.

Problem: he’d agreed to pick up his lovely yoga teacher/businesswoman pal, Jackie, who was staying 40 minutes out of our way.

So I arrived late for Fresh Idea Groups’ amazing media breakfast, a panel of natural products stars speaking to media: XXXX – People Magazine, there were big names set out all along the table. Empty, my seat read Waylon Hart Lewis – Elephant Journal. It would have been an honor to make it. As it was, I missed the whole bit but arrived in good time to schmooze and meet and invite leaders in the industry to write and cross-link on elephantjournal.com…and Sylvia Tawse, Ms. Fresh Ideas Group herself, was very gentle in remonstrating me for my having missed the opportunity to video the whole media breakfast, esp considering she’d generously offered to cab me down to Anaheim, from Venice, in which case I woulda been on time. My bad.

After having some coffee, getting the NPEW 101 from my green entrepreneur pal, I registered at the Press Room, third floor, then took the escalators down and down and down, passing Chef Ann Cooper coming up the Up escalator, we gave one another five. I admire her greatly.

Then, feeling a bit like a cocky Dorothy walking into the Emerald Palace, I walked the floor of the Expo for my first time. While we at elephant have covered NPEW and NPEE in past years, I’ve never been able to attend, as I’ve been back home running the staff and magazine. Now that we bit the bullet and went online, I’m free to travel and represent.

The floor of NPEW is vast and endless, ran into maybe 50 folks I knew on my first walk up and down, including the good folks at New Hope Media, who have a pretty darned eco-responsible booth set up, as well as an interview set up (which induced inspiration/jealousy; we gotta get our talk show to NPEW). Ran into longtime pal David Sorley of Larabar, had an unexpected powerful heart-to-heart. Quite a year it’s been for a lottttt of people. John Meyer, an advertiser/supporter of elephant for many years, ran across us, and I took off.

Half of Boulder seems to be here. It’s rather a source of pride, I’d say, for Boulder—the number of green, natural products tycoons and businesses and agencies and consultants that come out of our little green mountain/plains valley.

Then went late to the State of the Industry press conference. Boring, and they refused to name names, no one here wants to offend anyone, or say what they think unless it’s off the record, and since the whole terrible magic of the Expo, set directly across the street from Disneyland, is in the coming together and tussle hustle and bustle brought about by the confluence of MONEY and ENVIRONMENTALISM, there’s a lot of great discussion about greenwashing, GMOs, organic certification…but then at the same time no one calls each other out on anything, because everyone is sponsored by everybody, or wants a job, or is buddies with everybody.

Are we in this to better the world, or get rich? Or both? Only a few can say options one or three. I go with number three, personally.

So then I get a personal press tour via Sarah, who’s Brit-ish but lives in Alabamy, now, and meet and talk with a bunch of companies: I’d met with Myra, founder of Earthbound Farms, at the press breakfast. Now, I talked with another family member involved in the biz. Earthbound is one of the highlights thus far; their new clamshell plastic box for their salad is made out of PCR, post-consumer recycled content. It’s their hope that their box will inspire other companies who use plastic packaging to follow suit. I interviewed and met with the founder of a healthy version of Ensure, Optigain or something? I have the card somewhere. [Orgain] Hopefully my grandparents, and athletes and those hoping to lose weight, will start using the stuff instead of the conventional sugary corn syrupy conventional crap. The founder had had cancer at age 18, learned about health and has made a full recovery.

Then stopped by elephant’s Walk the Talk Company of the Year, my friends at Guayaki, whom I hadn’t seen since we visited with them in Washington DC. They’re some of the rare fun young folks here who want to change the world for the better, don’t mind getting up early and working late—’cause they’re living the dream. They don’t want to sell out, and they plan on making bucketloads of money while maintaining the integrity and relative independence of their business operations. Their story is inspiring.

Then I was hustled by my media tour guide off to a bunch of other businesses, all great. It’s hard to find companies you don’t admire at least a bit at NPEW, I’m glad to say. We popped by Udi’s, who I know well from Boulder, as well as Evol, one of my favorite new brands at NPEW. They had one of the cooler booths, too. I went by a great jam company that has very little sugar and is staffed by 6 foot 5 and up Germans. I learned about a company that markets a seed that’s full of healthy stuff. I stopped by Evol Burritos, my Boulder buddies.

So then I walk the floor some more, I guess, I don’t remember.

In any case at some point my video lady, Miss Eco Vegan Gal, yup, arrives and we run about doing videos. First, we video some of my mentors/idols: Doug Greene, Steve Demos, Todd Woloson, Mark Retzloff.  Then we run off to cover the unveiling of the first real organic standard for bodycare products in North America—up to now, makeup or moisturizer or shampoo could say “organic” without being organic. I interviewed the CEOs of Weleda and a few other companies who’d helped push for the standard along with the movers and shakers behind QAI and the new organic certification, and drank some organic bubbly in toast to the momentous moment. Sylvia Tawse of FIG had again put the event together.

It was by far the most signficant moment of NPEW, from an eco-responsibility and wellness/health pov.

Then I got into a half hour argument/discussion, I was outnumbered, with my friends at White Wave / Silk Soy, who headlined one of the biggest, darkest stories of the year: Silk Soy’s changing from the world’s largest organic company over into, for the most part, a “natural” company. I’ve writ that issue up in depth before. They’re friends of mine, so it was civil and in-depth and sincere, I sincerely believe. We then decided to film it as part of our video highlights of NPEW, and they’ve become one of the sponsors of our 10 minute NPEW video highlight that will get wide play across dozens of green sites, Huff Post, elephantjournal.com. I asked them one question, which was tough and critical: basically, “WTF?”, and you’ll see the conversation here as soon as the video is posted. As with most sad, bad stories in the natural products industry, the more I learn the less black and white it all is, the more you realize that folks are trying to do the right thing generally, and I come away not quite knowing what I think.

At some point I ran into Peter Glatzer, green producer of TV etc., cool good guy. And the editor of Whole Life Times tracked me down, we walked about a bit. I talked with some nearly-six foot tall model who turned out to be Doug Greene’s stepdaughter—and not even in college yet. Some people have all the luck: she’s gorgeous, her pa has ka-millions in the bank, and he’s a good guy, she’s had a happy upbringing.

A number of strangers on the floor stopped me and said “Waylon Lewis? elephant?” which never failed to surprise, well, me. Despite mountains of samples on offer, I barely ate all day. My voice is now nearly shot, and my head is full of words I’ve taken in.

At some point I had a foodless lunch break in the hot sun, pants and shirtsleeves rolled up, with the founder of Vitamin Angels, longtime colleague Howard Schiffer. He’s agreed to come on as a regular columnist. He invited me to two hoity-toity old boys’ club events.

Vitamin Angels has got to be the most inspiring story at NPEW, by a mile. They make TOMS look selfish. VA is so giving. 20 million children get vitamins through them now—next year, 40 million (it’s scalable). Whole Foods, Pharmaca are among major supporters.

At some point I went to the Organic Center dinner, tickets are $175 or $75, I don’t remember because Neighbor, the PR agency who put it all together, had invited me as press. I didn’t want to sit down at tables, boring? So ran about with Anthony Zolezzi, the man who greeted me first at the Expo by remarking re my EAT ME I’M ORGANIC elephant tee shirt (organic cotton, fair labor) by saying “I’d add a line: And I got money” to which I replied, I’m working on that line!

And I played with the lovely Melissa McGinnis of Greenopolis, who interviewed me in a motel off Venice Boardwalk last time I was out here in a vid that’s at 15K views already, only a few months, not bad for “Green yoga tips.” She was doing some video coverage, and generously included me a little. I re-introduced myself to the lovely idol of mine, Sara Snow, who is the only “green” TV star to spread the message to the masses…and her idol father, founder of Eden, who, with all his millions, told me to make the tough choices. I told him my dog recently cut his foot, and I didn’t have money to take him to the vet, and he got solemn.

And I intro’d myself to Jeffrey Hollender, the man behind Seventh Generation, long one of my favorite companies, though I hear different things about their sourcing. I hung out with Godfather Bill Capsalis, one of the best consultants anywhere. And I hung with the Manitoba, Guayaki and Sambazon crowd, Mr. Sambazon Jeremy Black greeted me and it took me a full five seconds to recognize him, it’s been so long. Longtime erstwhile pal Jeff Mendelsohn, on whose ecopaper I printed elephant magazine for five years, was running about with Marci Zaroff, “Ecofashion” Queen herself. They’re a trip, always. Dr. Weil gave a rousing talk, which was a bit unpatriotic, which I didn’t appreciate: I’m a liberal and a patriot. We can and must criticize, dissent, without throwing the baby out of the bathwater. I want to get rich, run for Congress, and serve the greater good from within. I told Zolezzi so, and said that’s as high as I could get, and he said “don’t say that.” I said, “well, I’m Buddhist, which is a bit weird for the mainstream.”

Still, Dr. Weil walks his “grassroots is the only way to effect change” talk—just look at what he’s accomplished.

A few final notes from this tired boy: Zolezzi intro’d me to Walter of WholeFoods, and Bryan of Nude. I grabbed Zolezzi and told him we’d be at 800K/monthly uniques in a year, 5 million in two years, talk show on major tv in three years, help us out Godfather. He looks like the million dollar that he is: a real man to learn from, and fun, and goes out of his way to help the newbies.

Frustratingly, having been named #1 in country for #green twitter content, I saw that a social media talk was headed up by peeps who don’t rock it. I’ll match your Facebook Page to ours any day, wannabe geeks!

Now I’m in nice Mission-style hotel with PR lady (reps Vivaprime, Clementine Art) buddy Sandja, she’s fast asleep. I have 40 business cards spread out on my bed, won’t get to ’em tonight.

I pitched Green Fests on hosting our Walk the Talk Show. They seemed mildly interested. I pitched our talk show to a producer who’d connected us for interview with Julia Butterfly Hill, he seemed mildly interested.

I walked out of the craziness after hanging with Mathew’s friend Jackie, we did some random yoga and silliness after hanging at VIP party with lotsa bigwigs, including buddy Ted Ning of LOHAS and Juriaan Kamp of ODE Magazine, who wants to work with elephant in direct way, we handle social media and online perhaps, they continue to rock paper (scissors).

I walked out with Sylvia Tawse of FIG and Chef Ann Cooper, into the cool night with the night-flowering jasmine and crazy palm trees and things that, to this Colorado boy, look like plants out of the Jurassic age.

Tomorrow: more of the same. But now I’m a vet. It’s been that much.

Waylon Lewis was just named one of four ambassadors for green by Treehugger. Vote for him here, ftw. We won number one in the country for Green on twitter. Our Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis has been named top 10 in green in the country, and will be featured at five conferences this summer.

– founder: http://www.elephantjournal.com – host: Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis featured on 20+ green sites including Huffington Post, Shambhala Times, Intent, Simple Earth Media, Care2
Treehugger: “Changemaker” – Discovery Network’s Planet Green: “Green Hero” – Shambhala Sun: “Prominent Buddhist” – Naturally Boulder: “’07 Entrepreneur of Year” – 5280 Magazine: “Top Single ’09” – MNN: Top 10 US Green Video Blog – Beliefnet: Top 10 Buddhist Blog – Shorty Awards: #1 Green Twitter in US
Twitter: @elephantjournal has been named to 18 Top 10 US Green, Yoga & Buddhist lists – @waylonlewis: personal tweets.
We’re huge on http://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal

Read 31 Comments and Reply

Read 31 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Waylon Lewis  |  Contribution: 1,405,975