TechKnowledge: A Conversation with Joel Babbit, CEO of Mother Nature Network

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TechKnowledge: A Conversation with Joel Babbit, CEO of Mother Nature Network

We are seeing a real tipping point today as "green news" becomes truly mainstream.   Just last year, the number of unique visitors to green websites went up over 80%  and blogger discussions on Sustainability increased by more than  160%.  I view this as great news and I was particularly intrigued to see the launch of a new site, called Mother Nature Network or MNN, that is already starting to make a major contribution to reaching the tens of millions of people interesting in learning about our earth.  I recently caught up with Joel Babbit, the CEO of MNN to learn more about their approach.   

 

Q: Joel, you started Mother Nature Network (MNN) in the same city that started CNN.  Coincidence or is it symbolic?

A: Well, I happen to be one of the very few native Atlantans left in the city, so I wasn't about to start our new venture anywhere else.  And yes, there is no question that Ted Turner has had a huge influence on our city and on me personally.  I actually just got a very nice letter from him to congratulate us on the launch.  But don't forget that WebMD, Coca-Cola, The Weather Channel, and The Home Depot were all also started here in Atlanta-so we have lots of good role models in our hometown-including CNN.

 

Q: We are seeing a tipping point in Green where the mainstream public is becoming increasingly interested in learning about the environment and what they can do.  What trends are most important and how are they influencing the development of MNN?

A: Many folks don't want to admit it but a lot of the growth in the green movement is not a result of people coming to their senses and wanting to save the planet.  A lot of it is being driven by other factors.  Many of the buyers of hybrid cars are making that choice more to save gas money than for environmental reasons.  That's especially true of the shift you're seeing  in large corporate fleets.    A lot of it is also  being driven by regulations-LEED certification increases in both commercial and residential building is a good example of that .  And, I think its very safe to say that the new President has and will continue to put a tremendous amount of  focus on the environment-which will only continue the dramatic increases we have seen in media coverage-and in turn, consumer awareness.   A main component of his plan, for example,  is the creation of millions of new green jobs.  Not all of those people who take those jobs are doing it because its good for Mother Nature-the bottom line is they need a job. Finally, a lot of people are now doing it for image reasons-they see a lot of the celebrities involved and think its cool.     But I don't think the reasons behind this  interest and these actions are really that important.    I like to say its like a charity dinner where companies buy tables.  Why do they buy a table??-maybe for business reasons-maybe for networking reasons-maybe for reasons of friendship-very few buy it because they simply want to support whatever charity is involved.  But does it matter??  They still bought a table.

 

Q: You have some very noteworthy backers, such as Chuck Leavell, long-time keyboardist  for the Rolling Stones and an avid tree-farmer and environmental champion.  What did they see that led to their involvement?

A: Yes we have a tremendous group of investors and board members-most have served as CEO's of Fortune 500 companies.  And we have a great Board of Advisors as well-including leaders from the science, academic, media, and business sectors.  The main attraction I believe was the realization that, while the number of people who now have an interest in the environment has soared, there wasn't a resource on the internet that provided environmental news and information in a way these newcomers could understand.  These tens of millions of people who have recently come onboard are not scientist or experts-its now a mainstream movement ,as you said.  But prior to MNN , the resources available on the internet have been very academic and technical and usually very narrow in their scope.  And that is the void we hope to fill.

 

Q: Imagine you are speaking to the Fortune 500 right now, why is MNN important to their company, their employees and their customers?

A: One, for all of the reasons provided in the question above.  But-from a business standpoint-I can tell you that nobody offers the marketing opportunity that Mother Nature Network offers.  99% of marketing on the web is banner ads that pop on and off along side those of many other companies.  Its still sold like newspaper ads were a hundred years ago-by the inch, by the day, and on the same page as a hundred other ads.  And,  now of course, most sites have commercials that you have to watch before any videos.  This system is so ineffective for the company-there is no real communication delivered-no real connection is made with visitors.  And-for the visitor-its intrusive and irritating.   Our model is totally different.   We have 30 categories and each is sponsored by one single company-24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The sponsor is the only marketing presence for all landing pages, story pages, and video pages in that category.  Finally, each sponsor has 6 video screens on their sections landing page-providing them the opportunity to offer in-depth communication on a variety of topics.

 

Q: You have created an amazing amount of content so far.  What are a few of your favorite stories to share?

A: I'd like to think most people have better taste than I do,  but-since you asked.    My favorite stories so far are "THE 10 BEST ECO-DISASTER MOVIES OF ALL TIME"  and our stories covering the Detroit Auto Show last month.  Next month we start airing  the Captain Planet cartoon series that Ted Turner developed in the 1990's-and hasn't really been available on the internet-in spite of a huge cult following.  I'm very excited about that.

 

Q: Who does your team want to interview the most?

A: Michael Dell.  Think you can arrange it for us?

 

Q: What's around the corner?  Can you give us some hints on what's ahead?

A: Well, you know we just started 2 weeks ago-so there is a long list.  We are looking at international expansion.  We are looking at dramatically increasing our content .  We have an incredible section we are introducing in March-called MNN LOCAL REPORTS-which will offer state by state coverage from college correspondents.  As I said, there is a long, long list.

 

Thanks Joel, appreciate it.  Good luck and I'll have to check on your interview request..:)

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  • This is great to see how responsible and reasonable the people of America are.

     

    You wouldnt beleive what is happening in Canada.

     

    For example in British Columbia, we daily melt down 1000's of computers, monitors and laptops without anyone checking if they are still working or not.

    According to the people that run the program, not even 1 power cord they have received is reusable, out of the some 100,000 computers they have melted down already. We find that a little hard to beleive. Here is more info, I am really looking for some help to resolve this issue.

     

     

     

    I am looking for comments from Dell users and people in BC, Canada on this issue. The BC Government has setup a recycling program, and put it into private hands. Now 1000's of computers and laptops are melted down under the pretense or recycling and being green. 

    Supposedly not even 1 power cords is reusable, not to mention not even 1 laptop or computer.???

     

    Read more :

     

     

    January 26, 2009

     

    Barry Penner

    Minister of the Environment

    Parliament Buildings

    Victoria, BC, V8V 1X4

     

     

    Dear Mr. Barry Penner,

     

    I sincerely appreciate your letter in response to me. Unfortunately the letter does not address the issues I have outlined in a satisfactory manner.

     

    Firstly, you talk about their legislative obligation to “reuse” first prior to recycling, and that it is mandatory to reuse material prior to recycling. I am convinced and 100% certain that is not taking place. I invite you to jointly tour Encorp’s warehouse where thousands of computers are stored, Teck smelter, and a few of the busiest bottle depots, so I can personally show you the useful and working computers and components which are getting melted down unnecessarily.  Items such as power cords, printer cords, network cables that are never too old and can always be reused, on top of hundreds of laptops and computers.

     

    I am very disappointed that you didn’t invite me for the tour with you, and that you didn’t visit the Encorp warehouse where the goods are stored prior to being shipped to the 3 recyclers (1 of which is Ecycle, the smallest of the 3). I hereby invite you to come and visit Encorp warehouse, Teck and a couple bottle depots together so I can personally show you the breaches in the legislation.

     

    In regards to the Western Canada Computer Industry Association, they have been greatly discredited for shipping items to China, due to their inability to pay for the work their recyclers do, so they are forced to do the only profitable thing. This is all also due to Encorp’s “monopoly” and their “we own it all“ attitude when it comes to this program. I blame them for material going to China 100% as they are unwilling to even pay us the collection fee that every bottle depot and Salvation Army receives. For example if ERA ships 100 tons per month to Encorp, we get $0. If our next door bottle depot ships the same 100 tons they get $20,000.

     

    This type of behavior and monopolistic practices are forcing companies in our industry to ship material to China where at least they are willing to pay for it, and therefore Encorp has to be held responsible for that. ERA has already shipped over 200 tons to Encorp, more than any bottle depot or collection depot Encorp has setup, and ERA has received $0 for its efforts, and Encorp has even refused to provide services to us, on top of warning our neighborhood bottle depot, that if they share any of the recycling revenues with ERA, they will get shut down.

     

    These are very serious issues that need to be addressed immediately. Encorp cannot be allowed to break its legislative obligations by not reusing material; it cannot be allowed to punish companies that reuse material, while financially rewarding bottle depots and other collection depots that do NOT reuse material.

     

    As you can see this is a serious contradiction of the legislative obligation they have to you, me and every resident of British Columbia.

    ERA is attempting to implement a real reuse system within this electronics recycling program, which brings me to the next issue.

     

    You talk about Recycling Council of BC, and ESABC creating a website to promote reuse?  Can you honestly tell me that you consider this good enough? Have you seen the website? It has 2 postings; 1 old monitor and 1 old keyboard. I can’t believe that in the entire province there are only 2 reusable items. The Recycling Council also does not allow nonprofit organizations or any computer stores to post their ads on there that they wish to receive these items. The Recycling Council receives huge financial contributions from Encorp and it is my personal opinion and knowledge that they are purposely denying the public of BC and ERA and similar organizations the opportunity to receive these computers.

     

    I have called the Recycle hotline to be told the only place to take my computer is a bottle depot.  The Recycling Council receives too much money from Encorp to be entrusted with a task of reuse which goes directly against the best interests of the “Industry led program” and the directors of this “ESABC”

     

    I ask of you, sincerely and with the best intentions in mind, to please meet with me personally to discuss these grave issues that I have outlined above,

     

     

    Bojan Paduh

    Electronic Recycling Association

    (604) 215 4483

    www.era.ca