6 Simple Steps from Anna Clark

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6 Simple Steps from Anna Clark

Anna Clark is an experienced eco-activist, eco-preneur and author of the book Green, American Style: Becoming Earth-Friendly and Reaping the Benefits.  She lives in one of the first residences in Dallas to earn a Platinum LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and recently launched a new site for her sustainability communications company, EarthPeople.

With her permission, I’ve re-posted her 6 Simple Steps to Growing Your Eco-Influence from February 4, 2010.  


Influence. It’s the secret that sets the leaders apart from the doers. It’s the ingredient that turns ideas into action. It’s that je ne sais quoi that separates the tastemakers from the followers. And it’s the reason why you may not be making the difference you could be. Do you want to create a sea change but find yourself stuck in the shallow end?  Do you have a world-changing vision but keep falling down on execution?  Getting heard requires more than high ideals, good ideas or even cold hard cash. It requires influence. Here’s the good news. Influence can be learned. This I know from experience.

When I started the trek from eco-activist to ecopreneur and author, I had to start from scratch. I had no platform, no environmentally-based education, no sustainability-specific experience, no green credentials and no real contacts to speak of. Or so I thought. Only after spending the past four years studying the most successful leaders in the world did I come to realize that I had everything I needed to make a unique contribution. And so do you.

Here are six simple steps that I’ve observed for gaining the influence to get your green plan off the ground. But “simple” doesn’t always mean easy. Then again, who ever said that changing the world would be?

1. Specialize. Unbridled eco-enthusiasm is better than apathy, but unless you channel it into something concrete, you can drive yourself and others crazy. You cannot save the world by yourself so don’t bother trying. Instead, choose a corner of the world and do your best to make a difference there. Try narrowing your focus to a particular field, such as alternative energy, environmental education, corporate sustainability, community gardening or creation care. Or, try focusing on a particular audience or geographical location. Within any given area you choose to focus, continue drilling down until you get to a manageable starting point. As a former IBMer, I know the kind of expertise a company like that demands of its vendors. I wasn’t going to be able to walk back in there and tell them how to green up their business after taking one informal course on sustainability. Instead, I focused on consulting for micro-businesses and built up credibility from there. The same could apply for any role in any field. Consider yourself an eco-apprentice and before too long you will discover that in your own way, you’ve become an eco-expert.

2. Become affiliated. Join clubs.  Green Drinks and Sierra Club offer great networking opportunities with like minds. Several great examples of organizations mobilizing a combination of companies, consumers, investors and even governments are Cleantech Group and Rocky Mountain Institute. Organizations such as these and many others welcome people at all levels of membership to help them work towards a cleaner planet.

3. Know when to go it alone. You can’t blend in when you’re meant to stand out. Leaders must get used to sticking their necks out and breaking from the pack when necessary. Richard Cizik, the former vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, did this when he became America’s premier eco-evangelist. While this move didn’t make him the most popular person at NAE, it did give Cizik the unique opportunity to bring together two worthy causes, thereby dispelling the myths that environmentalism and Christianity don’t mix. Cizik demonstrates the simple (though not always easy) principle that becoming influential can pose a risk to your reputation, but only if you are addicted to being liked by everyone.

4. Create relationships via social media. Anonymity is a luxury that change agents can’t afford. You must build an online presence to have a platform worthy of spreading your good green ideas. This doesn’t mean racking up followers on Twitter just to feed your ego. It does mean seeking out like-minded people in various online forums to create an expansive network. This will boost your name recognition, which is essential to opening doors for writing projects and speaking engagements. For some
fantastic advice on the benefits that social media brings to building green brands, read Richard Seireeni’s The Gort Cloud.

5. Passionately campaign for your cause. I realized the potential of a campaign after my interview with T. Boone Pickens, Texas oil tycoon and author of The First Billion is the Hardest. Far from your prototypical eco-activist, Pickens has nevertheless made momentous strides in raising support for alternative energy policy and increasing participation in the legislative process. Boone’s campaign, called The Pickens Plan, is fueled by $50 million of his own money and a growing virtual army numbering over 1 million people. And consider Shai Agassi, the CEO of Better Place, who has built a $400 million company from private investor funding for the purpose of building electric vehicle infrastructure. To further his mission, he’s campaigning for support from governments ranging from Hawaii to countries like Israel and Denmark.

In case you’re wondering, you don’t need millions to start a campaign. You don’t even need to be old enough to drive. Consider
12-year-old Savannah Rose Walters. As a sixth-grader, she stood on the White House West Lawn near Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, and explained (as reported in TIME) why she opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: “The people who want to drill in the Refuge talk about all these fancy tools and technology they can use to get a little oil ten years from now,” she said “I have a tool that costs about ninety-nine cents that will save us four million gallons of gas a day, starting today. A tire gauge.” When Walters was nine years old, she founded Pump ’em Up, a campaign encouraging the drivers of the world’s estimated 600 million cars to properly inflate their vehicle’s tires and improve their car’s efficiency by up to 3 per cent, or, for U.S. drivers, 9 cents per gallon. As successful as the campaign itself has been, the campaigner has become important in her own right in demonstrating that anyone can become influential. It’s not the age of the person or size of the crowd that matters, but the passion of the leader. Inspiration breeds participation.

6. Live it. Don Imus, the nationally-syndicated radio show host, is a big talker, but together with his wife Deirdre, he’s become an even bigger doer by co-founding The Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre was a green believer long before the Ranch or even her ground-breaking Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology. “I’ve been a vegan for 25 years,” said Deirdre. “Back in high school as a runner, I discovered I could perform better and feel better with a vegetable and plant-based diet. So I’ve been living this way for several decades. That is how it was so natural to weave it into the business,” she told me in our interview. That is also how it is so natural to weave into her family. “My son Wyatt said he wants to be a green rancher someday and set an example for other ranchers,” said Deirdre. It reminded me that the most profound difference that we can make is passing eco-consciousness on to our kids. That is the most potent kind of eco-influence there is.


I wanted to distinguish a subtle difference between the way she uses the word “eco-influence” in an excellent blog post, and they way we use “eco-influence” here on this site.  Both are useful, and neither is better than the other.

Here we use “eco-influence” to mean one-on-one conversations that we have every day with people in our lives.  Parents, siblings, cousins, friends, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, etc.  I am specifically referring to how we, as environmentalists, use language when we approach a specific person in reference to our passions.

Anna’s 6 simple steps, are also specific aspects of “eco-influence.”  #2 Get Affiliated, #4 Create Relationships Via Social Media, and #5 Passionately Campaign for Your Cause all refer to expanding your circle of influence – more relationships.  #1 Specialize, #3 Know When to Go It Alone, and #6 Live It all refer to positioning yourself to influence – getting noticed.

The way Anna is defining “eco-influence” is well-served by first mastering the skill-set that this site refers to as “eco-influence.”

When you expand your circle of relationships (2,4,5) my hope is that it’s because you’ve already learned effective communication influencing your current relationships.  Growing anything only gives you more of what you already have.

When you positioning yourself to get noticed (1,3,6) my hope is that you can capitalize on the attention by communicating in a way that produces results.

I am reminded of a Ram Dass quote, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

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