Joel Makower: "The people part is undervalued, at least in the sustainability movement."

Welcome to another episode of “10 Words or Less,” in which I ask brief questions of interesting people and ask brief answers in return. Today’s guest has been a well-respected voice on business, sustainability, and innovation for more than 25 years, whom the Associated Press has called ‘The guru of green business practices.” He’s done a lot to get there, but a notable achievement is he is the founder of Remember, “10 Words” is an ethic, not a limit, so to those of you at home, please, no counting. If you think it’s so easy, let’s see you do it.

Joel Makower, cofounder of

Name Joel Makower
Born when, where  Oakland, Calif., Feb. 19, 1952
Resides now  Oakland
Family circumstance "Married to Randy Rosenberg for 26-plus years, and we have two lovely dogs."
Formative event 
“Growing up in the Vietnam War."
A strong influence outside your family 
"I was coming of age professionally in journalism school during the time of Watergate, so Woodward, Bernstein, all of the others were of influence to me in terms of journalism as a way to speak truth to power. I was also, at the same time, influenced by Ralph Nader. The consumer advocate, not the election-spoiler, who was about taking on corporations on behalf of consumers."
A historical figure you hold dear 
"I admired Martin Luther King well before he was assassinated and became the hero-martyr that he became. At 13, I made him the subject of my bar mitzvah speech, in 1965, so I guess that says something."
What came first for you, green or biz? 
"Probably biz. I started off my career as a consumer reporter, and I quickly realized that in order to understand consumer issues you had to understand business."

Your first green impulse 
"I was a senior high school on the first Earth Day, 1970. That may or may not have been my first green impulse. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, in a family and in a time that was already very environmentally conscious. My parents were Sierra Club members dating back from the '50s."
Your feelings about the word “green." 
"It’s not particularly helpful. It’s politicized in some ways, and it really describes only the environmental aspects of sustainability, which of course is much broader, including people and economics.  It’s a word we’re stuck with, for better or worse, just like 'sustainability.'"
How you spend your days 
"No two days are alike. I’m the cofounder of a company, we have 16 employees, I have two partners. They let me be me. Which means I spend a lot of time talking to people, reading things, meeting with great people, and once in a while, I actually get to write."
What do you do when you’re not working? 
"I love to walk and hike up in the Oakland hills. Like I said, I have two dogs who are rambunctious and we love to go out and run around. I also have been playing piano for most of my life, jazz and blues, and I sing."
Sustainability: Global or personal? 
“Global, by definition. But those of us in the movement often forget about our own personal sustainability. We work too hard, sometimes travel too much. We tend to get absorbed and passionate in our work, and forget to take care of ourselves."
What sustains you? 
“The people I get to know and work with and play with, and there are often blurred lines between those. I get to work with people I love and love the people I work with. This topic I found my way to, or that found its way to me, is just so connected to who I am and my belief system and what I love doing, and the variety of things I love doing. It’s not about one thing, it’s kind of about everything."
Outside GreenBiz, your favorite social medium 
"Talking to people in person. I can tweet, I can do all that stuff, but I just like being out there."
A couple of voices that shine on Twitter 
"Dave Stangis of Campbell Soup is one that comes to mind, but there are a bunch of them. … If you go to Twitterati at Greenbiz, which we rank every year, you’ll find 50 or 60 or 70 good people."
Someone who deserves more attention 
“I love the work that Melinda Kramer is doing at Women’s Earth Alliance, a fabulous group she cofounded. She’s just one of the smartest, most inspirational people that I know, in terms of the work she’s doing. They’re doing miraculous work around the world, bringing women [together], at the village level, and helping other women who are, as they describe it, in the middle of revolution that none of them even sees."
What don’t people understand 
"The complexity of making changes in a big company with an eye toward sustainability. The people in sustainability in big companies tend to be armies of 1 or 3 or 6 people inside multibillion-dollar global corporations, and these people have no resources, no head count, no budgets. They work by influence, and bridge-building, and cajoling, not command and control."
Write your epitaph 
"He made a difference, changed lives, and did it with good humor.”


Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
Video | Services | Clients