After speaking at the Sun Valley Forum earlier this year, Susan invited Aimée Christensen to discuss how we can influence decision-making in a capitalist society to better protect the Earth and its ecosystems.
Aimée Christensen is Founder and Executive Director of the Sun Valley Institute and CEO of Christensen Global Services. She has 25 years’ experience in policy, law, investment, and philanthropy including with Google, the World Bank, Baker & McKenzie, the United Nations, the U.S. Department of Energy, where she negotiated the first bilateral and regional climate change agreements (Costa Rica 1994, et. al.) and the Virgin Group where she helped shape several of Sir Richard’s major initiatives. She serves on several boards such as the National Forest Foundation, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute on Sustainability, and the Andrus Center for Public Policy. Listen to the full episode below.
A video of Susan’s presentation can be found at SunValleyForum.com.
If you’d like to see the video Susan mentions in this conversation about an Earthfire wolf receiving craniosacral therapy, you can watch it here.
Susan: Hello everyone, it is my absolute pleasure to have a conversation with Aimée Christensen, founder of the Sun Valley Institute. I met her speaking at her conference this last July, and I was just really impressed. I was impressed with the quality and the depth of the speakers, and how cleverly they were put together to impact one another. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the conference and what inspired you, and what the intent was?
Aimée: Thank you, Susan. It’s such a pleasure to be here, and thank you for speaking at the forum this summer. You really added so much—a different perspective and level of depth that we often don’t get to in conferences on these topics of resilience and sustainability, so thank you. So, we founded the Sun Valley Institute four and a half years ago here in Sun Valley, ID, to be a model for resilience. We saw that we were being impacted by climate change here with fires in the summer and snowfall changes in the winter. And being a tourism-based ski resort economy, we recognized that having trouble in the heart of the winner and in the heart of the summer was really putting us at great risk for continuing to have quality of life here. Prosperity. We felt that we had the human resources, intellectual resources, and hopefully the financial resources to build more of a model, and to leapfrog from lagging a bit on sustainability and resilience to becoming—hopefully—a pioneer in what we called an innovation laboratory of resilience. So that was the local inspiration for creating the Sun Valley Institute. Then we launched the Sun Valley Forum just a few months into our operations. We had our first Sun Valley Forum in July 2015, and the goal of that was really twofold. One, to bring together global innovators to connect to each other and accelerate their learning, launch new partnerships, catalyze new projects, and connect global innovators to our local efforts so that we could uplift our local innovators. We also wanted to find new partnerships where these global innovators might want to pioneer and pilot new approaches with us here in Idaho. Given our state regulatory framework, we say if we can do it in Idaho, we can do it anywhere. So, we felt that we had an opportunity to be a real pilot for folks that would be potentially replicable in other places.
Susan: One of the words that stuck out for me was “catalyzed.” Because among other things, in these times, so many people are feeling lost and helpless. The idea of being any kind of little nucleus to begin to catalyze support and hope and change seems to me a critical element in what you do. It’s also something that I try to do. I think of Earthfire Institute as a seed center, in the sense that it’s the same thing: helping to catalyze other people and ideas and inspiration and having that spread around the world. In my case, it’s about the relationship between humans and nature. In your case, it’s that plus much more. You’re including a huge amount of the human element, which is kind of critical. So is the nature element. Both are kind of critical.
Aimée: And the nature element is what has always been the starting point for me. I grew up with my mom as a nature educator. She was a teacher who did some advanced studies at our local community college in the 70s in biology and across the sciences, and she became an environmental and nature educator—including teaching things like seventh grade science but also teaching children’s nature classes. Things called Ants and Plants and Bugs and Slugs. So I grew up in this household, and being in the jerry pack growing up and going to nature sanctuaries in California and just listening to her docent teaching about the nature sanctuaries and what we were seeing, I fell in love with nature, thought it was amazing, and wanted to protect it through my career. And so for me, nature is fundamental. The connection to the creatures—the animals, the plants, all of it that we’re part of—that for me is fundamental.
And here in Sun Valley, more practically, nature is the underpinning of our quality of life, our economy, and everything that makes everyone want to be here in Sun Valley. Our community started more of a conversation about our economic future and had our second economic summit in 2013. We were planning it, and I had been working with Bhutan and the whole idea of gross national happiness and what do we value? What do we prioritize? So we called it Beyond GDP: Investing for Quality of Place. And what does that really look like in our community? We identified four major categories of what we would call “assets” that we value in our community. Environmental recreation was one of those. We had three others around business infrastructure; social and cultural, including school systems, healthcare, nonprofits, and the arts; and then we had one around transportation because we’re so isolated. So for us, recreation and environment as an asset class—we ranked them with about 400 people at that summit in 2013, and that was the number one asset people really recognized in our community. So we definitely start from that same place, just coming at it in a different way.
Susan: Yes. And an essential way. It’s essential that we come together.
Susan: As many possible angles as we can, because life is complicated, the situation is complicated, all angles help.
Aimée: Definitely. And, I was just going to say, I think the healing that we can experience—obviously out in nature, and the whole idea of the Last Child in the Woods and the role of nature—but directly, the connection to creatures and to the animals and the wildlife. And that potential role, too, as we go through this very difficult transition that we’re seeing, and the changes that we’re seeing in the work that we do. I’m just curious if you could speak a little bit, also, about your experience of nature through your lens, and the animals that you’re working with in that role of healing the human through healing the animal.
Susan: I can. At length.
Aimée: Sorry. I didn’t mean to jump into such a topic, but I just think it’s really powerful.
Susan: Don’t let me forget there’s a question I want to ask you about your connection with nature when we finish this. Because it’s so interesting to me how you went from a heart to basically all of the financial stuff and practical stuff, but that’s a second question. For me, there’s the main part of your question: how do we heal?
Aimée: Yes, and how we can heal ourselves through healing the animals you’re healing and through healing nature.
Susan: Well, ultimately we are of the earth. We are born of the earth, we are from the earth. That’s where our nourishment lies. We have specific nourishment, as from a mother, and specifically, like through food. But in a very fundamental way, the very energy of the earth is in us. As we walk upon the earth, we feel her energy. She is what gave birth to us. We arose from her. And to disconnect from that, we’re disconnecting from our very roots and our very sustenance. I think the research is going to show this more and more, in a physical way and also in a spiritual way and in an emotional way. I think one of the reasons people are so disconnected—apart from all of the obvious things of technology and all that other stuff… I shouldn’t say we’re so disconnected. We feel empty, and we’re desperately seeking because we’ve lost our roots. Our very roots from where we came and what sustains us.
So any connection with nature—now that’s an interesting thing, to say “nature,” because as soon as you use the word nature, you’re suggesting it’s something other than us. But it isn’t. We are automatically disconnecting us when we talk about the environment, or environmentalism, or nature, or the earth. What do you mean “the earth?” We’re walking upon it. You’re breathing its oxygen. Every single moment you and I are talking, we are interchanging the environment. It is in us and is us. The very oxygen from the tree in front of me is in my blood right now. How can we be separate? And that connection is so rich, because it’s vibrant and alive and nurturing and nourishing. I work closely with animals, but when we say “nature”—until we fix how we talk about it—it doesn’t really matter at all what it is we connect with. It’s another living thing. It’s like an energetic electrical flow gets started, if we connect with it. And then there’s this interchange between us and whatever it is—a tree, a bear, and it can also be a human. But when there’s a profound connection, something happens that flows, and we nourish one another. We enrich one another. And that makes us healthier. If you want to talk on a practical level, it helps immune system, it makes us healthier and happier, and the whole reason for living, the richness of life. And that’s what we don’t have if we disconnect. It’s like there’s an underlying sense of desperation. So from there, the idea of healing—we have immune disorders, we have stress disorders and all the diseases that come from that—so there’s a physical healing. But there’s also soul and spiritual healing whenever we truly connect with any other living creature or plant or tree.
Aimée: Thank you.
Susan: In particular, with some of the animals here—we run a sanctuary—some of the animals become ill for various reasons, and when we work with healing with the animals, we learn so much. We had a wolf who was supposed to die of distemper, but she didn’t—but she had neurological symptoms, and I didn’t want her to live like that. And I invited someone to try to heal her who does craniosacral work with human nervous systems. To my utter amazement—and there’s a video on YouTube of this—she immediately understood what the strange woman she’d never met before was doing, and started to suck the energy in, and ultimately became healed. So, yes, I was helping her heal, but look at what I learned. What I got to share with the world. How responsive a wolf was.
Aimée: Amazing. My sister is a craniosacral therapist. And she does it on animals, too— her dog, her cats, our dog, her cat, yeah.
Susan: And it shows the connection between all of us. In humans, it works because we’re fundamentally built—at least mammals—we’re fundamentally built the same. Plants have their own nervous system that you can work with in a different way, a different type of nervous system. So, does that answer your question?
Aimée: Yes, thank you.
Susan: And I wanted to ask you, because to me it’s so interesting, you’re a brilliant woman—
Aimée: Thank you.
Susan: And what you put together is amazing. The quality of the speakers. The status, if you will, of the speakers that you’re able to pull in and bring together. You’ve got the highest levels of the government, highest levels of business, highest levels of finance, of the human world. And you’re doing that out of love for the natural world—I’ve got to come up with the right word… And you’re doing that out of love for the natural world from the perspective of such very human institutions. When I go to a conference, in general, I try to go to all of the presentations. You had one on insurance, and I thought that’s not really interesting, but you know, I’m committed to go. It was fascinating. So how creative of you! It was fascinating because it was talking about the insurance companies around the world having a front line. There could be climate change deniers, but the businessmen and the insurers cannot deny it. They see all the claims happening, see what’s happening precisely. So that type of thing is so imaginative of you. And goodness, I could go on and on about this wonderful presentation on the soil and people who are totally in love with the soil. It’s a really good thing to be in love with. And then the kids you had there, the young kids—14, 15, 16—who are suing the government. So you had this wide range. It was just incredible.
Aimée: Thank you. You know, I do the Forum in part because I see these incredible connections among the different issues and all the different levers that we can push on to make an impact. In the advisory work that I’ve done in the past as a consultant, working with Virgin Group or Microsoft, or especially early stage—for instance, when we first started working with Richard Branson and Virgin—and that question of here’s what the world needs on climate change. And really looking at the science and where the big sectors are for emissions, for sequestration, how we can do this. But then, what is that client, person, organization, company bringing to the challenge? There are so many different ways that we can solve, that we can restore the planet, that we can solve these issues. So I try to share my perspective of seeing from insurance to military leaders, saying this is causing conflict and therefore it matters that we address climate change. It’s the number one threat multiplier, as Sherry Goodman, who spoke at the Forum, shared with us. She and I served in the Clinton administration together, and I just think it’s so powerful. And then to have finance and insurance saying this is a financial and an insurance issue.
It ties to your question that you said you wanted to get to, which is how did I go from kind of a heart of love of nature to more of the cerebral, capital approach? It’s so interesting, because when I was little—I don’t remember how old, I want to say somewhere around six, but maybe a little younger—I took an aptitude test. Something like that was done, and they called me a sponge of information, of what I was seeing and learning. And I feel like when I moved to Washington, DC, to really embark on my career post college undergraduate, and I saw how the world worked—and I’d been at the Art Summit in Rio in ‘92, and I moved to DC right after that—and I just began to see how the big decisions within the system of influencing government and business, how they were taken and what mattered, and what got the right decisions for the environment to be made. So of course it was the science, but very practically, it was, “Could business solve for this? Did you have a lot of pushback from business or industry? And was this going to hurt the economy and jobs?” And weighing that versus nature and air and water quality and our health. And so being in the White House—that very first job I had as an intern in the Office on Environmental Policy, watching that decision making process, and then I went to the Department of Energy for four years—and I just wanted to change the system. So I was learning what could change the system, what was compelling to decision-makers to make the right decision for nature.
So that’s where I followed my career—understanding how do we get people to want to protect nature. And of course, given we’re in a capitalistic framework—a capitalist framework, a capitalist system—money plays a big part of that in business and finance. And so what’s been so fun to watch is from the early 90s when I started my career, the economics were not necessarily there for environmental leadership by business, by industry, by cities or even by homeowners. If you put solar on your roof, it was more expensive than the power you could get from the grid. If you bought a more efficient car or a hybrid, there was a premium to be paid. And what we’ve seen since the early 90s when I started my career—I can’t believe it’s almost 30 years ago—is that we’ve had this dramatic shift in the cost equation and now solar is actually cheaper than coal, than a lot of the more polluting solutions. Actually, renewables just became the larger sector of the UK electricity system. Just in the last week, they announced that renewables are bigger than fossil fuels in the UK system. And that was purely the financials, the financial bottom line, even with about $6 trillion in subsidies for fossil fuels globally every year. And it’s a combination of direct subsidies and indirect subsidies. Direct subsidies, where they give you a tax break to build an oil pipeline. They give price supports and subsidies for energy in certain countries to help, because they’re more impoverished. There’s a wide array of these $6 trillion energy subsidies on the fossil fuel side versus on the renewable side. And so even with that thumb on the scale, the economics of renewables are incontestable, and that’s what we’re seeing across India, China, the US, the UK. It’s happening, and the only thing that’s holding us back are the regulatory barriers. So the subsidies, yes, we should be getting rid of those. Countries have been negotiating under the World Trade Agreements, getting rid of those for years. And fishery subsidies, same thing. These are financial incentives to undermine our planet and our health and well-being. We need to get rid of fishery subsidies and fossil fuel subsidies, because we’re incentivizing things we don’t want—which is depletion of the oceans in the fisheries and undermining our climate—and incentivize the things that we do want. And how many decades have we heard economists talk about incentivizing work, right? Not taxing work, your income. So we’ve got to fix that financial system. That’s where we get back to the question of Beyond GDP: Investing for Quality of Place and looking at models like the Gross National Happiness model of Bhutan and understanding what our assets and values are and working toward those—valuing those, incentivizing things that we want and not incentivizing the things we don’t want.
For those of us who are so passionate about nature and who care about the state of our planet, and stability, and health and well-being—and the harm that were seeing already on the most vulnerable, who did hardly anything to be part of the problem of climate change—it’s a moral question. A moral responsibility. I could go on and on, but for me, the fundamentals of the capitalist system right now has some guard rails of environmental laws and human rights laws. But fundamentally, it’s about short-term financial returns, and that’s what’s undermining. And we don’t value nature, even though we all know that nature is the most effective solution to preventing impacts from storms. Mangroves are the ones that are housing the fishery production cycle of the baby fish. And when the tsunami came, the parts of the islands in Indonesia that had their mangroves intact were much less impacted. Many fewer people were killed in those areas than in places that didn’t have those. And the same with storm impacts. We see it here in Idaho with the fires. When the trees are burnt down and we have a big snowfall year, and then we have warm weather or rains in the spring, you have massive flooding. And that’s because the trees aren’t there to play their role of holding the soil in place and absorbing the water.
So, it’s just these follow-on affects of poor decisions. The fire is exacerbated by climate change. But there are these human-made decisions to get rid of mangroves, because they want to develop a hotel resort. Because the financial incentive isn’t there to protect mangroves, even though they provide an incredibly valuable role to fisheries production, storm impacts, etc. We fundamentally have a faulty system in place. I saw that and wanted to change that system, but I really needed to understand how to make the economic case for better treatment of nature. That was a long answer.
Susan: Talking with you is not a problem. That’s fascinating. I have so many thoughts from it. It’s not just fascinating—it’s profoundly clear, what the situation is. My own work, say with the mangroves—not that I work with mangroves, but if I were—is complementary to what you do. I would want to show the exquisite beauty: the life forms in it, how people connect to the life forms. So there is an emotional reason. They’re all critical: the emotional, financial, etc. That’s just where I come from in my own work, probably because I can’t think as clearly as you about these other things.
Aimée: No, Susan, that is so powerful. I think that perhaps in my life, I’ve overcorrected a bit to be so influenced by the system and limitations that I saw by the force of capital that I forget sometimes how vital it is, the love of the creatures, and the admiring of the beauty, and—nature is incredible. I had this incredible conversation with Tom Lovejoy, who is sort of a senior mentor person. I just think the world of him. I think he was one of the inventors or maybe the inventor of the idea of biological diversity. Tom was at the Smithsonian for years and had an Amazonian Research Center. I was talking to Tom about just… nature walks? I don’t know what we were talking about, but I remember Senator Barbara Boxer saying that Senator Inhofe had had quite an experience with sea turtles on a vacation—I think it was in the Caribbean—and all of a sudden was passionate about protecting the sea turtles. So they could come together around requiring turtle extruder devices in shrimp nets to allow them to escape. And so again, getting back to the heart of what happens when you have an interaction with those incredible hundreds of thousands, millions-of-years-old creatures like sea turtles. So I try not to forget the heart. I don’t want to have capital at the expense of the heart. We have facts and I’m a lawyer, so making those compelling, fact-based arguments of course are vital. But we can’t forget. My mom was a nature educator, and the children fall in love with nature and then they want to fight for it and protect it. We have to remember the compelling power of that.
Susan: You have one of the things that’s really missing. And I associate it with the feminine—not necessarily the female, because guys have it too—but the feminine of combining heart and brain. That’s what’s critical. Heart alone can be wonderful, but doesn’t get you very far. We need to combine it with our mind and our intellect so that we use our heart to direct and use the abilities of our mind, but we tend to do one or the other. Cold, abstract facts without the heart connection leads only to destruction, heart alone leads not to too much in terms of helping things survive. It’s the two that are essential. And maybe you overcorrected, that’s for you to decide, but you have it.
Aimée: Thank you.
Susan: I probably overcorrect in the other direction: I have a PhD, but I don’t love academia because to me they go too intellectual and they’re missing something critical. They’re doing a lot of damage with it, actually. And wildlife conservation, the same thing; the animals are species instead of beings, and all of the terrible decisions that come because of that.
Aimée: And livestock.
Susan: Livestock is a living being.
Aimée: Exactly. I remember Sylvia Earle talking about how we talk about fish stocks and fish by the ton, you know. No, these are not products; these are beings.
Susan: There’s so many wonderful books coming out now that are so exciting. A lot of people read The Soul of the Octopus or The Hidden Life of Trees showing all of the interconnections. One of them is What a Fish Knows.
Aimée: Oh, great.
Susan: And how intelligent and sentient they are in their own way. Of course, you can’t survive in the world without having any intelligence, an adaptive intelligence, it’s obvious. Anyway, What a Fish Knows.
Susan: And now coyote is starting to howl in the background.
Aimée: I love that. I hear it, I love it.
Susan: It’s going to get louder in a minute. It’s going to start them all going.
Aimée: That’s so perfect. I have my own little coyote in the form of my dog right here.
Susan: I’m going to start talking. Hopefully they won’t override me. You talked about what’s important and what we value. The way I talk about it is we don’t give it enough weight. Yes, nature is important, but at most of the conferences I go to, nature is just on the side, or from the human point of view. But it’s the source of life. What are we talking about? It’s the source of our life. It’s like we need to begin to do a 180° flip in terms of what we think is important. We don’t give it weight and meaning—real weight and meaning. We give weight and meaning to our cars, our jobs, or—appropriately—to our families, but we don’t give real weight—not real weight and real meaning—to trees and the soil—except for maybe the people who talked about their passion for soil at your conference. We don’t give real weight, and so we need a 180° flip on our values.
Susan: They use the word “paradigm shift,” but it isn’t. It’s a total flip. Can we do it? I don’t know. It’s possible. It’s what’s needed, because from that value system or the weight of what a coyote is worth, or a dog is worth, or a tree is worth—and not in terms of money—if we do that automatically, we’re going to make good environmental decisions. And if we had done that from the beginning, we wouldn’t have any environmental problems. So, it starts from the heart and what we give weight to.
Susan: It gives us such terrible training in how to use our brains and not connect to our hearts. And such terrible training in what’s important. And the other thing we can do is to contribute to that tipping point where we begin to realize—and I actually think it’s happening. I don’t know if it’s happening large enough or fast enough, but actually, it’s happening.
Aimée: I agree. I agree that it’s happening, and people are realizing what we’re losing and how important it is.
Susan: I was going to ask you, if you’re willing to answer, if there’s an experience that you had as a child—I know you listened to your mom and fell in love with nature—but was there an experience or two that you had that really went deep, and from there came all of the stuff that you are contributing to change?
Aimée: You know it’s so interesting, because the one memory that comes up for me is… We had a small ranch up here, north of Sun Valley in the Stanley Basin. The tributary to the Salmon River called Valley Creek went through the ranch, and a steelhead had gotten stuck in one of the irrigation ditches. It was coming up Valley Creek to spawn and had gotten caught out into one of our irrigation ditches. My mother and I found it and we called Fish and Game to rescue it. And just learning about this incredible salmon that had come 900 miles up to ultimately 7,000-8,000 feet from sea level, over eight dams, to go back to where they were spawned—I mean, where they were born, the exact spot. And just the incredible story of that and the power and, as you said, the intellect of that. It’s just a miracle. They’re amazing, miraculous. I just get overwhelmed by how incredible they are.
Right now, my mom has been collecting signatures to breach the lower Snake River dams, four of the eight dams that block our salmon from coming home to Idaho. They’re in Eastern Washington and there’s been political pressure to keep them in place for some barging of some goods, like timber and grain, and some use of the water in those reservoirs. And Lewiston is considered an inland port here in Idaho, which gets tax benefits for them to truck their stuff through that port. Down to the Columbia, from the Snake River to the Columbia and out. And we’re almost there, but the salmon are barely holding on. We’re being told by the scientists 10 to 20 years maximum. It’s amazing. We had, one year, one Snake River sockeye make it back to Red Fish Lake. One. And so we have a number of species—the sockeye, the steelhead, the Chinook, spring and fall Chinook—who are just barely holding on. And these incredible, incredible creatures have been around for millennia and through four dams that were put in place. And those four dams provide three percent of the northwest’s power. There’s just no excuse anymore. They’re just not valuable from a financial perspective. They’re called “deadbeat dams.” So I feel like leveraging both my heart and my mind, and the facts and the data. They in no case compared to the benefits of getting rid of the dams, and what they will do to bring those back. And what it will do for communities like Riggins right near you. When the salmon come, when they actually have those runs, and when we had our best runs in the last 20 years—we actually had great ocean conditions, a combination of things that started to come back—and they could actually have a fishery season. What it meant economically, and flourishing for the life in this places that used to have the salmon. It was just a taste of what could happen. We’ve watched it work in other places like the Elwha Dam, the Edwards Dam, and the Kennebunk in Maine. We know it can have a major impact. We just have to give it a shot. And so, for me, saving that amazing steelhead very early in my life—the summer when I was eight or nine years old, ten years old, somewhere in there—and then now, to work. There are just better ways of doing things.
Aimée: And this is such an obvious one. Gosh, can we just get out of our own way and make the better decision? And compensate the people who might be challenged by it—whether it’s the growers who need to ship their grains in another way, through trucking—and let’s subsidize that or help them do something else, incentivize what we want. That’s a story that’s still very relevant to what I do.
Susan: We can make good decisions. That’s the insanity of it all. None of this is necessary. For money or happiness, it’s completely unnecessary. It’s a complete lose-lose all around. I do want to ask if you were able to save that fish.
Aimée: We did.
Susan: Oh good.
Aimée: Fish and Game took it to Valley Creek, and yes. He got back on track. And since then, of course, everybody’s put in the fencing that protects them from going into the irrigation ditch, so everybody has learned over the years.
Susan: And you know now a lot of grizzlies are starving to death because there’s not enough salmon.
Aimée: Yes. The orca and the bears, yes.
Susan: And all because of a few barges and the grain and politics.
Susan: But what’s really important, when we talked earlier, is to also have compassion for people, and to have compassion for the panic. Unless they’re greedy, very greedy people. A lot of them honestly don’t see another alternative to logging, say, or grains, or whatever it is. When I say I value all life, it’s all life, including human. And respecting the needs for all life includes human. I love that you were talking about how important it is to have compassion involved as we make these changes, and there’s no reason we can’t be creative and help them have other good lives.
Aimée: Absolutely. Like what’s happening in coal country. So many folks are working on bringing alternative livelihoods to the coal towns that relied forever on digging out the coal, and all of the jobs that were associated with that, and the income—even though it was incredibly difficult from a health perspective. This was very valuable. These communities gave us our energy system, our quality of life for decades. We can’t leave them as coal no longer is financially viable because the cost of natural gas and renewables is so cheap. So I love when I see companies go into eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia, West Virginia, and the western part of the state of Virginia, to help with alternative livelihoods and what we call that “just transition” approach. I just saw an article about training them to do beekeeping. There’s just all sorts of great stuff.
Susan: Humane and fun. It’s just completely positive.
Susan: What are you planning for next year’s conference?
Aimée: Definitely, nature will be central to it. I’ve been working on the theme, and it’s about systems change—a lot of what we’ve been talking about here, around the money questions, changing what we value, gross national happiness, different approaches to fixing systems that aren’t working for us anymore. And circularity: the whole concept of circularity. And that’s nature, right? Nature has no waste. So that circularity concept. I had the honor of joining Bill McDonough, who created the concept of cradle to cradle and wrote the book Cradle to Cradle. It’s all about getting rid of all toxins, and cradle to cradle certification of goods. I was with him in August in Iceland, actually—it was incredible. And a company he’s working with is coming out with clothing that’s cradle to cradle certified. 100% zero toxins. So it’s good for health, good for the environment, good for everything. And blue jeans, cradle to cradle certified. C&A, the European retailer, is coming out with those. So it’s Bill, the concept of circularity, circular economy, the whole question around what we value and how we shift our incentives and money. And we will have more nature and heart and art. We had a bit of that last year, around the wildlife. But also our connection, and some of the other great folks that we had last year. Making connections is a concept that I’m thinking about for next year’s theme, making the connections to have the systems change. We have to change these systems. That’s just some early thinking, and I can’t wait to share. Once I have some speakers confirmed, I’ll let you know. But we’re inviting Bill McDonough, we’re inviting sustainability folks on the corporate side, and a friend of mine runs Amnesty International—so an incredible human rights advocate, long-time climate human rights, civil rights advocate. I ran into him in New York during the climate march on the 20th with the youth, and he was like, “Why haven’t you invited me?” and done! Because he’s incredible. So we’ll see if it works for him. I’ll let you know. But I’m excited about having these really inspiring big thinkers about the human side of this, the natural side of this, the financial, again. Fewer speakers this year—probably kick it to about 40, so about half the number.
Susan: You didn’t let me go to the bathroom last time.
Aimée: Exactly, we’ll fix that. And more interaction.
Susan: Is there anything else that you’d like to share before we end this?
Aimée: Probably just that I’ve really been struck by how my evolution has been from the global to local. I’ve been working globally in my career—started in Washington to change the system and then came home to Idaho and felt like we could be an opportunity to leapfrog, to hopefully become a place of innovation. I just think that no matter where you are in the world and your role in your life, you can make a difference through the decisions that you make about what you eat and where it comes from and who grows it and the energy and the time you spend. I just feel that there’s—no matter where you are and who you are—there’s such a way to make a difference. I just think it’s a really inspiring and exciting time for all of us to be able to access information thanks to the Internet—get actual information, facts. But its’ a really empowering time, where all of us can learn and do something to be a part of it.
Susan: A very exciting time. A nice opportunity for the human journey. To do something different.
Susan: Thank you, Aimée.
Aimée: Thank you, Susan. Such a pleasure.
Susan: Same here.
Aimée: Keep up the fantastic work.
Susan: And you, too.
Aimée: Thank you.