Chris Baskind is the kind of writer you start reading and before you know it, you've joined in his thinking. That's because in a crisp and clean prose, he is moving you through a story to a compelling closing; so you keep coming back for more. And that's precisely what I invite you to do on his new project: LighterFootstep.com.
Early on in my blogging days, I came upon more minimal, a blog Chris authored to talk more about less. I promised I would report back to you on any latest developments from my predictions from the stars: LighterFootstep.com has all the makings of a winner. Since we're sitting here in the quiet intimacy of this conversation, I confess I hold this project near and dear and have been supporting its birth.
Welcome to ConversationAgent.com, Chris. I would like to begin by asking what brought you to LighterFootstep.com?
Chris: Thanks, Valeria. I was already thinking about an online publication having to do with sustainability issues in 2004. The timing wasn't right, though: the environmental movement was back on its heels -- particularly in the United States -- and I wasn't sure how to contribute without duplicating someone else's efforts.
By 2006, with the release of "An Inconvenient Truth," I realized people were beginning to face up to the inevitability of change and would be looking for answers. By that time, I'd come to accept climate change and the very finite supply of energy and resources as part of the same issue. I sat down with Lisa Cagle, who is now our Business Manager, and Lighter Footstep was born.
Why use those words/terminology? Is there a specific meaning you associate with sustainable living in the name of your project?
Chris: In sustainability terms, a "footstep" is the imprint a household, a nation, or some enterprise makes on the earth's resources. The more resources you consume and waste you discard, the bigger your footprint.
What I like about "footstep," though, is that it reminds me of that old axiom, "A journey starts with a single step." If you read anything about last week's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, you know we've got a long way to go if we'd like this planet to remain livable a century from now. It will come down to come down to committed, incremental, steadily improving change.
So what you're saying is that this is an outcome. How do you envision the development of LF?
Chris: We're going to provide as much actionable information as possible: ways to reduce a household's energy bill, ways to approach a more sustainable diet and lifestyle, and so forth. We'll also provide a forum for business not only to demonstrate the changes they're making, but to talk directly to their customers. And that's an important point: change begins with dialogue. There's only so much the staff of a single publication can do. What I hope is that readers become contributors, sharing ideas and what is working in their lives. That sort of two-way flow works well on the Internet, so we'll establish the means to make that happen.
I often talk about how conversation is a space where our thinking focuses and expands to progress onto what's next. What is the scope of your conversation?
Chris: I can't know that yet. We'll work to start the conversation, but where it goes will be deeply influenced by the contribution of our users. I suppose we can say some general things: the task before us is so large it won't be decided by our generation, and the issue can't be owned by any particular political ideology, by the public sector, or by the private sector. It can only be owned by collaboration.
Can you give me an example of the tone and focus of your stories?
Chris: Well, we're just getting started. As far as focus goes, we're looking for the practical and actionable. Take one of our current features, for example, Ten First Steps. Nothing revolutionary there -- just proven, inexpensive ways of getting started toward a lighter lifestyle. It's a good starting point, and that's where most people are today.
I hope our tone is always direct and non-technical. We're not here to impress anyone. There are some great resources out there, but a lot of them are written more like research papers than what you'd find in a modern magazine. We'll keep things light and readable.
How do you plan to sustain this project?
Chris: In some traditional ways, certainly, such as direct advertising sales. Sustainability is good business, and the sort of people who will come to are site are looking to educate themselves, make informed decisions, and take action. We'll also develop partnerships with select businesses and produce content and promotional opportunities that add value for all parties.
We're also going to practice what we preach and run our business in a responsible and sustainable manner. Our site, for instance, runs almost entirely on free, community-supported Open Source Software. I'm proud of the fact that the same people who will be doing the writing are the same folks who assembled and administrate the site. We did practically everything ourselves, and that was highly cost effective. I think it was also consistent with the overall practice of sustainability.
If you could ask for any three things that would make LF successful, what would those be?
Chris: The first one is easy: having people come to Lighter Footstep, read, and join the conversation. We're here to serve the readers.
Second, we hope to attract writers who share our vision. We've been blessed with some talented writers for our launch. But the broader our contributor base, the better-rounded Lighter Footstep will be. We'd like people in different business and public sectors to share their stories. Tell us what works.
Finally, we want people to act on what they see at Lighter Footstep -- and take it to the next level in their lives. This is really what we're all about. Yes, we expect Lighter Footstep to become a sustainable interest in its own right, but the main reason we're doing this is that we feel strongly it must be done. I have five -- count them, five -- kids. If things play out as science tells us it must, they will live to see a world very different from what we know today.
Things will be even more difficult for their children and the generation after that. Places which are now marginally inhabitable will no longer be able to support populations. The climate will become more brutal and unpredictable. Food production will be effected, and that will bring about regional warfare. The easy oil will be gone, and economies which rely on vast amounts of energy will find themselves in crisis. And this isn't being alarmist -- it's being realistic.
Nobody wants this, of course, and there's much we can do to moderate the fallout of climate change and shrinking resources. But it all starts now, with a trip to pick up a carton of low-wattage CFL light bulbs -- while it still matters. And by managing our shared future in a collaborative fashion.
One of the things you said earlier really resonated with my own DNA around collaboration -- and there is evidence that the future of work is heading more surely that way. Who would you select to help you on this project?
Chris: Ha! We've talked about this. The kind of people I want to work with are the ones who understand that the true capital of the next few decades will be collaboration. This principle underlies a lot of what we envision for Lighter Footstep: businesses actually working with their customers, readers becoming contributors -- and, of course, the sort of transnational collaborations which will be necessary to bring about a sustainable society.
Technology is making it easier for collaborators to find and work with each other, even across great distance. We got a tiny taste of that as we were building out Lighter Footstep. We're in Pensacola, Florida, but had tremendous support from people on both coasts. We transfered files while chatting on Skype; shot quick ideas across work groups via Twitter; and planned and whiteboarded via 37 Signals' Backpack. Old-style capital -- money -- will flow behind collaborative capital. But collaboration, both inside and outside our present business structures, is how things will get done efficiently in the future.
One final thought you would like to leave us with?
Chris: I remain tremendously optimistic about the future. Climate change is a fact. Traditional resources are under pressure. But we also have the tools -- and, I believe, the will -- to adapt. Humanity is stubbornly resilient. We're going to find the tools to flourish in the coming years. And we'll do it together.
Thanks for your support, Valeria.
You've often read about Web 2.0 as second generation of Web-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users.
I believe LighterFootstep.com qualifies under a whole new category: the one where talent and love combine to serve our most precious platforms of all -- our living with the natural environment and resources we were endowed with. Thank you, Chris for providing a space to continue this conversation.