November 21, 2014

Planting Half a Million Trees through Art, Commerce & Service. {elephant Partner Amber Lotus}

amber lotus cards calendars

What do art, commerce, service, and 500,000 trees have in common?

elephant is proud to partner with a longtime mutual fanclub member, Amber Lotus, who will plant a tree with every one of our readers’ purchases. Get thee some Pema Chödrön, plant a tree! Doing good while holiday shopping? We’re in. (Deadline; coupon code below!)

They are all an integral part of the mission of Amber Lotus Publishing. We are an independent publisher of mind-body-spirit calendars and greeting cards that recently reached a significant milestone of 500,000 trees planted through our partnership with Trees for the Future (TREES). What began as a simple strategy in 2008 to offset the number of trees used to produce our products has morphed into a fundamental component of our ongoing mission. We are now carbon negative many times over as the trees we have planted will reduce enough CO2 each year to cover our current annual carbon footprint by more than 25 times. (We have already planted 155,000 trees in 2014, which exceeds the year’s usage of 2,300 trees by about 69 times.) What is most striking is that, unbeknownst to us, our tree planting offset strategy was implicit in our three values of art, commerce and service.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 4.18.32 PM

Two Nuns Laughing greeting card. Photo by Brian Harris. Published by Amber Lotus since 2003.

Amber Lotus has always been a mission-driven company. Founded in 1988 by students of a Tibetan Lama in Berkeley, California, it was an adjunct to Dharma Publishing, a book publishing company, they had started. Both Dharma Publishing and Amber Lotus were primarily focused on service. Both companies began as part of an effort to generate funds to preserve the sacred culture and knowledge of Tibet. This involved gathering sacred texts in danger of being lost, reprinting them in book form, and donating those books to the Tibetan refugee community.

Service was also emphasized for Amber Lotus’s student employees, who provided unpaid labor as a means of practicing Right Livelihood. (Our current employees are grateful that our collective understanding of Right Livelihood has evolved!) Right Livelihood is one path of the Eightfold Path in Buddhism that leads to enlightenment. It essentially entails making a living in a manner that does the greatest amount of good with the least harm.

Although Dharma Publishing and Amber Lotus shared a common parent and mission, they used different vehicles to express service. While Dharma Publishing was focused on publishing books on Tibetan Buddhism, Amber Lotus had a broader view. From the beginning, Amber Lotus was conceived to be more ecumenical and not solely focused on the Tibetan Buddhist understanding of the world. It also was much more focused on art, as calendars and greeting cards are image-centric.

Commerce was introduced as one of the main pillars when Jerry Horovitz, one of the founders of Amber Lotus, purchased the company in the mid 1990s. In fact, Jerry first expressed to us that Amber Lotus was a marriage of art, commerce, and service. My wife, Leslie Gignilliat-Day, and I purchased Amber Lotus from Jerry fifteen years ago. We were not the most obvious owners of this funky, hippie, Buddhist calendar publishing company, since I was a former Wall Street banker and Leslie ran a graphic design studio in New York City.

Although we each had skills that would lend themselves to running a calendar publisher, we weren’t Buddhists and had not been immersed in the mind-body-spirit community. Over the years, we have grown from our exposure to the various wisdom traditions reflected in our products, and we have grown in our role as stewards of this marvelous company.

Our understanding of Amber Lotus’s underpinning values has evolved over the years. We now view art, commerce, and service as overlapping spheres rather than separate silos. Each value informs the others and guides how we operate. Art is not just about images. For us, it’s the combination of images and text.

“We’re best known for calendars that support a practice of mindfulness,” says Leslie, who is our creative director as well as co-owner.

“We carefully craft each calendar, weaving meaningful text and extraordinary images together, with each element enhancing the other. Inspirational quotes from wisdom teachers like Pema Chödrön, Eckhart Tolle, and Thich Nhat Hanh bring powerful insight into our daily lives. Every time you look at your Amber Lotus calendar, you get a rush of inspiration, a profound spiritual teaching, or a centering of calmness.”

We are a business, and with payroll and expenses to meet, commerce is an important value. It is not, however, the paramount value, and maximizing our profitability or return on equity is not the goal. (If it were, I would have stayed in banking.) Although commerce is informed by our other values of art and service and our desire to express Right Livelihood, it does force us to live within our means and constrains what we would otherwise do. (I would love to be announcing that we have planted our one-millionth tree!)

In many ways, service has become the preeminent value again (everything is circular), although our conception of it has expanded. It informs everything we do: what we choose to publish; how our products are produced and distributed; how we work with artists, photographers, writers, and fellow publishers; how we work with employees and freelancers; and how we act as employers and colleagues. Amber Lotus remains a great vehicle to explore the many facets of Right Livelihood.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 4.20.53 PMThe description of one of our new calendars for 2015, Earth Is My Witness by the famed photographer Art Wolfe, sums up the connection between art, commerce, service, and planting 500,000 trees: “When asked who would testify that he was worthy of attaining enlightenment, the Buddha placed his hand upon the ground and declared, ‘The earth is my witness.’ In this simple act, the Buddha accepted the earth as it is, not possessing it but understanding his connection to it.”

We value the earth and wish to reduce or offset the harm our activities cause. Since our products directly result in the use of trees, we plant many more trees than we use. Planting trees also has other benefits. Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere on an ongoing basis, help restore degraded land, reverse deforestation, improve soil quality, and augment local living standards. We intend to continue planting as many trees as we can for as long as we can. Please join us and let the earth be your witness, too.

We’ll Plant a Tree for Every Item You Order!

Use coupon code ELEPHANT25 during checkout to receive a 25% discount on all items in your basket—2015 calendars, holiday card boxed sets, journals, and greeting cards. And we’ll plant a tree for every item ordered using this special coupon code.

Coupon code expires midnight (PT), Wednesday, December 31, 2014. Limit one use per customer. Discount does not apply toward purchase of gift certificates.


A few of our staff favorites for 2015 wall calendars:



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Author: Lawson Day, Co-Owner, Amber Lotus Publishing

Editor: Renée Picard

Photos: Buddha Face © LeshaBu / Shutterstock

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Lawson Day