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Moving Towards A Sustainable Future: Interview With Shoko Sekiguchi

Sustainability

I had the pleasure of meeting Shoko Sekiguchi after an inspiring group of presentations by SheSays about building online communities. While Shoko has worked as a global account manager for various major technology companies over a decade, recently, she has been focusing on supporting sustainability efforts in New York City. She is about to launch a company called "Ampleen" and is currently busy planning to have a launch party on Thursday, 10/11 at Greenwich House in West Village, NYC. With her global background, she has some unique insights to offer about the sustainability movement on an individual and corporate level.

In your current job, you help multi-national corporations develop their IT strategy. How did this job lead to supporting sustainability practices?

The multi-national corporations are looking into cost reduction by being efficient. Going green should really bring an efficiency to the corporations when it is planned well. So, many corporations asked me how to be green and efficient in their IT solutions and that is how I started looking at sustainability very seriously.

Sustainability on a corporate level can cover everything from LEED certified buildings, to energy efficient server management and increased recycling. What sustainability efforts can have the most positive impact on the environment?

That is a great question. I believe that starting with the sustainability projects that can be easily translated into cost reduction would most likely have the biggest impact on a CEO's decision to get further involved in the sustainability effort. As a result, it will lead to the most positive impact on the environment.

What companies have served as examples to the sustainability movement?

There are several such as Google and Whole Foods. I am particularly impressed by the effort of Patagonia, an out-door clothing brand. I wrote about them in a post on Ampleen, "What's the Responsible Company?"

Although caring for the environment has gone mainstream, I'm sure it can still be difficult to convince companies to be sustainable especially if there are extra costs involved. How do you do this?

As mentioned earlier, companies, especially public companies, are looking into being efficient and need justification for every spending. But, like the new Bank of America Tower, if the green initiatives can prove great savings over time,  the key stake holders are more likely to be receptive about the projects.

What keeps you motivated to become more involved in the sustainability movement?

When I see some positive changes, rather than negatives facts, I feel compelled to get more involved in the movement. For instance, I started seeing more people coming to the Union Sq. green market in last a few years and being interested in what it's all about. I am excited to see the change and like to see more of that.

As we approach the upcoming election, the general sentiment is that Republicans are less likely to support policies that protect the environment. Should we be worried about current sustainability efforts if Romney is elected or is that a misperception.

Yes, I am concern about a shift in the environmental policies. I, however, hope that Romney will see the sustainable issue beyond the political agenda and take it as a universal issue that we face today. For instance, he can't be so blind as to ignore the obvious climate changes happening all over the U.S. We just have to continue our effort to raise the awareness of general public on the real risk of ignoring the issue.

How sustainable are American companies compared to those abroad?

Not speaking strictly to companies, but general American attitude towards sustainability seems to be behind among other developed countries.  For example, you have to buy the government approved garbage bag that costs over $20 per bag in Korea - and that helps enforce people to reduce their daily waste.

Despite having a well connected public transportation system, many American cities surpass New York in their sustainability. What change in New York would make the biggest impact?

I wrote a couple posts on NYC's transportation and I believe the implementation of a good rental bike program will impact NYC such as we see in Paris.  I am concerned that New Yorkers' individualist mind-set is dangerous since I see many bikers in the city pay very little attention to traffic rules and pedestrians.  NYC needs to redesign the traffic path and enforce the rules while we develop the mindset of what it means to be a good community member.

You've created a site and community called Ampleen. What does it mean?

It is a made-up word with ample and green - I envision that my beloved city will be filled with green.

What is your ultimate goal for the site?

I set up this site since I realized that each individual organization is doing wonderful things but, they are dispersed and have a limited exposure to the general public.  So, I want Ampleen to be a depository for green information about various organizations and their effort for people who are interested in getting involved with them.

And finally, there are so many groups and resources for those interested in environmental causes in New York City. What is one way that people who are interested in sustainability can get involved and make an impact?

Well, (smile) come to my launch party on Thursday, 10/11, and get connected to the green communities in NYC by emailing info@ampleen.com for more information. Check out Ampleen and find out what's new and exciting.

Some final thoughts about the interview - I found this interview to be particularly interesting because it touched on America's culture of individualism being a hinderance in the environmental movement. While the Korean government can use harsh behavioral economics to convince people to produce less waste, the same tactics in America would be seen as encroaching on individual rights. In Asian countries, people grow up valuing order, propriety and fitting in. In Europe, there may be more emphasis on the individual, but Europeans are constantly reminded of how finite their space is. They value family meals and regular vacations over obtaining more stuff. So how do we change a culture where we are taught to nurture ourselves first. Where one can fly across the country over what seems to be 3,000 miles of uninhabited land. And where our economy is structured around buying more stuff? One can only hope that the slew of heat waves, draughts and extreme weather effecting all Americans will be enough to get each individual on board with realizing they are part of a greater whole.