Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Glass of Chocolate Milk with Two StrawsEvery time I hear about the sharing economy, I think it’s an idea so great it has to catch on like wildfire. What could make more sense than eschewing rampant consumerism in favor of sharing? It’s clear we need to stop buying stuff we’ll rarely use and instead move to sharing, so we can access that stuff just when we need it.

But I live in San Francisco, where I’m surrounded by like-minded people. Is the sharing economy really the next big thing that’s already happening?

The truth is, we already do a lot of sharing. Think about it this way. Have you ever bought a slice of pizza? When you did that, you didn’t pay for the whole pizza, did you? Bingo — you were sharing! Have you ever ridden a bus or subway? Again, sharing! Come to think of it, even driving your own car involves sharing — of the roads we all help pay for.

But while buying a slice of pizza or riding a subway have become so acceptable that we don’t even think of them as sharing, other similar activities just aren’t as accepted yet. Sharing taxis is a case in point: not only does sharing make it easier to get a cab when they’re scarce, but you can also save money by splitting the fare. Yet most people are reluctant to share a taxi.

Recently we’ve seen some breakthroughs to this reluctance, and last week, a panel of four prominent members of the sharing economy explored how this is happening.

Superstorm Sandy put sharing in the spotlight, at least for a while. As a panelist from Weeels described, because his company facilitates ride sharing, they were called in to help after the storm. When taxis were scarce, their service helped both drivers and riders make the best use of the few vehicles that were available.

Well, we all know that during disasters people are more likely to share and help one another. But while recessions and natural disasters help make sharing palatable, we need to get beyond that for sharing to prosper.

And that will mean changing our perspective about what’s okay to share. The idea can’t be forced on people — they have to see what’s in it for them.

The panelists contributed great examples of the benefits. In addition to Weels, there was representation from SolarCity, which sells solar leases to homeowners, making it much easier for many Americans to go solar; BrightFarms, a company that provides a kind of “produce purchase agreement” to supermarkets, ensuring that both the stores and customers will get fresh produce; and Krrb, an online peer-to-peer marketplace that differs from Craigslist in operating more like a store, with accountability to customers for the products sold there.

We’re seeing added benefits to sharing when it comes to crowdfunding, which lets people pool their resources to make all kinds of projects happen. A great example is Mosaic’s new online marketplace, which is making it possible for people to invest in community solar projects and earn solid returns.

Despite the benefits, some barriers remain — perceptions being a major one. Another is the built environment. Sharing on a large scale is far more popular in urban areas, where it’s also more of a necessity and provides more obvious benefits. It’s a challenge to promote the idea in more rural or even suburban areas, especially in a culture built on the ideas of space and individualism.

Of course, our culture is also increasingly urban, and that will help advance the sharing economy. So too will the fact that so many resources are becoming more scarce, which leads to a real need to share them.

The conclusion of this panel? At the moment, getting people to participate in the sharing economy is still a challenge. But whether or not we want it to, sharing is bound to become the norm.

This post was originally published at Mosaic.


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It’s clear that sharing can improve our lives, and that we can save or make money by sharing. That plus the significant social and environmental benefits are combining to make sharing a new way of life for many.

The spirit of sharing is visible nowhere more than after a natural disaster. As devastating as Superstorm Sandy was, it has brought people together to help one another. And while poor environmental stewardship has promoted the recent upsurge in natural disasters, good environmental practices can help bring relief to their victims.

A great example of this is The Solar Sandy Project, which provides mobile solar generators to communities hit by the storm. People can use the generators to charge phones, laptops, or other equipment, or even to heat food. The idea began with an individual, Chris Mejia of Consolidated Solar, who had generators to share. He joined forces with Solar One and Solar City to make the project happen. This led to solar installers, individuals, and community centers partnering to share their resources and skills.

If you live in the New York area, here’s what you can do to be part of this sharing:

  • Individuals: You can donate blankets, flashlights, AAA batteries, mops, masks, gloves, duct and scotch tape, hydrogen peroxide, and personal hygiene and baby supplies. You can also volunteer your time.
  • Solar installers and equipment providers: You can share mobile generators, or your solar or electrical skills.
  • Community organizations: You can provide spaces for the generators, especially if your organization is already a gathering spot for the community.

And even if you don’t live in New York, you can participate in the sharing. Just click here to donate to the project.

We’re likely to face more superstorms in the near future. We need to share our ideas and resources to prevent them — but when they do happen, sharing can help ease the burden on those affected.

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Hundreds of volunteers joined together to install solar on 13 houses.

A big thanks to over 100 friends and family members who sponsored me for the 2012 San Francisco Bay Area Solarthon! Thanks to your help, I was the top individual fundraiser for the third year in a row and broke my own record at a fab $4,800! Excuse all the exclamation marks, but it’s exciting to me.

Even more important than being the top fundraiser is what we accomplished that day, thanks to YOU:

  • We installed 13 solar electric systems (a total of 262 solar panels) for low-income families.
  • Over their 30-year life span, the 13 solar systems will save more than $450,000 for these families.
  • In the same time period, the systems will prevent over 1,500 tons of carbon emissions.
  • This is equivalent to taking over 300 cars off the road for one year!

I was part of the Women’s Build, which installed a mere 9 panels for our super-energy-efficient homeowner, Lilli, pictured here in the green shirt (and yes, there is a man in the photo — one of the volunteer team leads). Luckily, we didn’t have to turn her power off for long to install the system, because as Lilli informed us, she can’t live for very long without Facebook. Here’s a rundown of what we accomplished with just these 9 panels:

  • Kilowatts installed: 1.785
  • Lifetime energy savings to the family: $16,674
  • Tons of carbon emissions prevented: 56
  • Equivalent number of trees planted: 1,323
  • Equivalent number of cars taken off the road for one year: 11

It was hot work in sunny San Jose, but we did it a lot more quickly than we could have planted 1,323 trees!

For those of you who donated early (thanks!) and therefore missed my fundraising videos, you can view them here. I just wrote and performed. Thanks to Rafael for producing, directing, creating artwork, editing, and uploading!

More photos follow, and you can see even more at the GRID Picasa album. Thanks again for your help and support!

This roof wasn’t very high, so we could just hand the panels up. I’m in the yellow hard hat, toward the right of the roof.

Up on the roof, tethered by a harness

Tightening the screws to hold a panel in place

I never drink Gatorade, but in this heat it felt necessary!

Leaning out on the tether, with a view of the dry California hills in the distance

The happy homeowner flips the switch to turn on the system!

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We all get many requests for donations to causes, and there are so many good ones out there. Just recently, I’ve donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, to a bonobo sanctuary in the Congo, and to Narrative Magazine.

What do all those, and every other cause, have in common? None of them will continue to exist if we destroy the earth.

This may sound dire and insurmountable, but it turns out there are things each of us can do to help preserve our planet. And some of those are even easy, simple things.

That’s why I choose to give most of my volunteer time and charitable donations to GRID Alternatives. Through the simple act of installing solar electric systems for low-income families, GRID accomplishes so much more:


  • An average GRID solar installation saves a family $28,000 over its lifetime and prevents 95 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to planting 272 trees.
  • To date, GRID has installed solar for over 1,800 low-income families, providing 5.1 megawatts of power. That prevents nearly 160,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and is the equivalent of planting nearly 460,000 trees.
  • GRID provides training for people who need hands-on experience to get into the solar industry.
  • GRID’s installations spread awareness of solar and show that solar can be practical and affordable.
  • All of this helps improve the environment, the economy, public health, national security, and global politics — which helps you, too!

So, want to get a lot of bang for your buck, while helping to do all of the above? As you probably know by now, each year GRID holds a “solar barn-raising,” the Solarthon, at which volunteers help install solar on homes in a low-income neighborhood. This year, I’ll be participating in the Bay Area Solarthon on July 21, and I’m asking for your help in sponsoring me.

Just click here to sponsor me — any amount helps:

Thanks again to all of you loyal supporters who sponsored me for last year’s Solarthon! To read about that inspiring day, see my blog post.

I realize these are tough times for many people, so no pressure at all — but if you can give, I greatly appreciate it!

Thanks so much for your support!

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Last weekend, I saw this amazing film about the plight of the Maldives — and the whole world (check out the trailer!). If global climate change continues at its current pace, this island country could soon disappear. And it’s not the only place in danger. Many coastal areas — think San Francisco, or Manhattan — will be affected.

This may seem like an overwhelming problem, but the film shows the power of one person to make a difference. You, too, can help, right here in the U.S.! How, you ask? It’s simple!

GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit based in Oakland, helps slow global climate change by providing solar to low-income families. In doing this, they help all of us: an average GRID solar installation prevents 95 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to planting 272 trees.

Each year, GRID holds a fundraising block party and “solar barn-raising” called the Solarthon. I’ve been participating for a couple years; you can read all about it in previous blog posts. This year, the Bay Area Solarthon is on July 21. Once again, I’ll be helping install solar panels for a low-income family. So I’m asking for your help in sponsoring me. (I’ll only ask for this once a year!)

Just click here to sponsor me — any amount helps, really:

What’s in it for you:

  • Feeling good that you’re helping GRID empower low-income families, show that solar is affordable, and build communities.
  • Knowing that you’re helping improve the environment, the economy, public health, and global politics — all of which helps you, too!
  • A way out of getting me a birthday present this year — a contribution to GRID is the best birthday present you could get me! (Yes, my birthday is not till September, but do this now and you won’t have to think about it again!)
  • My undying gratitude!

I realize these are tough times for many people, so no pressure at all. But if you can give, I greatly appreciate it!

If you can’t give but would like to participate in the Solarthon, you can sign up here for a fun and satisfying way to volunteer.

Thanks so much for your support!


For more on what GRID does, see this short video (can you spot me in the photo?):


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Can you spot all the roofs with solar in this photo? I hope ours will join them soon!

Have you ever thought about going solar? Maybe you rent, live in a condo, can’t afford solar, have a shaded roof, or plan to move soon.

Some states are now making it possible to go solar even in these situations. In those states, people can subscribe to solar power from a common array called a solar garden, supplying their homes through the existing power grid. Next year, a bill will be before the legislature in California to make this possible here. Please urge your representative to vote for SB 843, which would enable solar gardens to happen in California.

And for now, take advantage of this opportunity to learn about solar gardens:

When: Sunday, November 20, 2011, 4:30 pm
Where: Farley’s Cafe, 1315 – 18th Street, in  Potrero Hill, San Francisco
What: Community Solar Day is a worldwide Meetup sponsored by, among others, Solar Mosaic, Vote Solar, Community Power Network, the Solar Panel Hosting Company, and the Solar Gardens Institute to kick-start solar projects in people’s communities.

If you can, bring a photo of yourself with friends and family at a site where you’d like to see solar power.

Together, we can help get solar to everyone in our communities!

Please RSVP at my Community Solar Day Meetup site for San Francisco.

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