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I’m going to be honest with you, the main reason I got into reporting is because I’m intensely curious about the world but lack nearly any skill at surviving in it. One of the perks of the job is that I get to talk to people who are a hell of a lot cleverer than I am. Case in point, did you know you can train hawks to clear pesky birds from your property? Maybe you do, but it blew my mind.

Men Who Stare at Hawks (though the technical term is "falconer"). (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Men Who Stare at Hawks (the technical term is “falconer”) on Day 2 of Earth Day Texas 2016. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

On Day 2 of Earth Day Texas, Planet Experts CEO and founder David Gardner moderated a panel on corporate social responsibility. It took place in the “Automobile 2” building early Saturday morning amidst the bustling exhibit hall – and if you’re wondering what this has to do with hawks, you begin to understand how difficult it is to concentrate on sustainable leaders like Garrett Boone and Erin Meezan while a man with a living, breathing, flapping hawk is standing behind them.

So let me just geek out about hawks for a moment and then we’ll get back to business.

Patrick Johnston with his hawk, Talon. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Patrick Johnston with his hawk, Talon. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

The man in the photo above is Patrick Johnston, a falconer, and his Harris’s hawk, Talon. Johnston and his intimidating buddy work with Fal-Tech, which primarily uses hawks to get rid of “nuisance birds” like grackles, starlings, cowbirds and crows. They also do pigeons.

Another Harris's hawk from the Fal-Tech team. I did not get this one's name because he kept staring at me like this and that beak looks even sharper in real life. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Another Harris’s hawk from the Fal-Tech team. I did not get this one’s name because he kept staring at me like this and that beak looks even sharper in real life. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Essentially, Fal-Tech is a natural pest-control for when you have huge flocks of birds roosting around shopping centers, airports and refineries. Hawks, as you might imagine, scare the splay out of their smaller cousins and, when operating at night, Fal-Tech falconers will herd flocks towards their hawks with the use of green laser pointers. This sounded like a kooky mashup of medieval and sci-fi genres to me, but Johnston assured me it’s quite serious. When flocks of birds roost near airports, they raise the potential for birdstrikes, and that is certainly no joke.

Harris’s hawks like Talon are particularly popular for falconry because, unlike other species of hawk, they’re pretty good at working together. They’re also highly intelligent, which is alarmingly apparent the closer you get to their eyes.

I am now afraid of hawks, by the way.

Sustainability in Business: Linking Profits and Purpose

Back at the panel, David moderated a discussion amongst four leaders in sustainable business practices: Garrett Boone, Chairman of TreeHouse and co-founder of the Container Store; Cheri Chastain, Sustainability Manager at Sierra Nevada; Thomas Day, Chief Sustainability Officer at the United States Postal Service; and Erin Meezan, Vice-President, Sustainability, at Interface.

The panel engaged in a moving discussion about how common corporate responsibility has become. Once relegated to a few “hippy-dippy” outliers, sustainability officers are now cropping up in big brands across the nation. As for those companies that claim sustainability cred without actually backing it up, severe punishments are in store.

“Look at Volkswagen,” David told the audience. “They promised the world their diesel cars were low on emissions. They lied about it and now they’re looking at $18 billion in fines.”

You can catch highlights from the panel in the video below, shot by Planet Experts photographer Rick Baraff:

As Fred Walti, President and CEO of LACI, would tell Planet Experts later that day, the “green” sector is undergoing the same transformation that the “internet” sector went through decades ago. Once upon a time, there was such a thing as an “internet sector,” and companies didn’t consider a website necessary for their businesses; people were reluctant to put their credit cards online, social media wouldn’t exist for several years. But as the internet became a token part of life, the “internet sector” melted away as it was integrated into the overall business sector.

Planet Experts CEO and founder, David Gardner. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Planet Experts CEO and founder, David Gardner. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

So, too, will green practices become the norm for businesses, predicted Walti, and probably in less than a decade.

On the panel, Cheri Chastain explained that environmental impacts are becoming more important to business’s bottom lines as climate change grows more severe. For Sierra Nevada in particular, hops and barley are the core of their business. As the climate warms, their crop is put in jeopardy – and as their product suffers, so does their bottom line.

“We need to get back to the core and the root of what sustainability is,” said Chastain. “Sustainability is your ability to ‘sustain’ something – a lifestyle, a culture, a business – so you have to think about all of the impacts that your business has. You have to look at your inputs, your outputs, what’s leaving your operation, how can you bring those things back in and close loops. Really, sustainability is about balancing your environmental impacts with your social impacts with your economic/business bottom line.”

Garrett Boone added that, at the end of the day, making less waste and practicing energy efficiency is just a smart fiscal decision. “All over America, all over the world, money is running out of the doors of every house, every business, all the time,” he said. “And all we’ve got to do is realize if we become more efficient, if we use different materials and processes, we can stop that from happening.”

It’s interesting to watch this movement from the outside in, as Boone’s words echoed what Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said at the SBC Awards in LA last week. “Business is responsible for 75 percent of the pollution in the world, and we need to fix it,” she told an audience of eco-entrepreneurs. “And you know what? We’re going to make a lot of money doing it.”

Both a time- and money-saving device, the SolSource solar cooker can heat food without the waste or emissions of a charcoal grill. One of the tastier booths at Earth Day Texas. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Both a time- and money-saving device, the SolSource solar cooker can heat food without the waste or emissions of a charcoal grill. One of the tastier booths at Earth Day Texas. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

The Sights, the Sounds, the Free Beer!

Inside Centennial Hall, the 5 Gyres exhibit had their hunk of camel junk prominently on display. This 50-pound wad of plastic was pulled out of the carcass of a dead camel.

The lumpy gross thing on the pedestal was pulled out of a dead camel. Think about that, and think about all the plastic the fish you're eating ate in its lifetime. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

The lumpy gross thing on the pedestal was pulled out of a dead camel. Think about that, and think about all the plastic the fish you’re eating ate in its lifetime. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Camel, like albatross and just about any animal swimming in the ocean, will munch on brightly-colored plastic thinking that it’s food. That’s not an unreasonable thing to think, given that they’re used to munching on whatever they find in their environment and plastic is now filling up their environment.

The Earth, as projected on NOAA's Science on a Sphere. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

The Earth, as projected on NOAA’s Science on a Sphere. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also had a fascinating presentation on global atmospheric trends. Led by Scientific Communications and Data Specialist Beth Russell, the talk utilized NOAA’s Science on a Sphere – literally a giant sphere upon which real-time weather patterns are projected.

One of Russell’s technicolor projections showed the flow of aerosols over the planet. Color-coded for our convenience, the various streams were differentiated between natural and unnatural wind-borne particulates (aerosols), such as dust and industrial sulfates respectively.

“Some aerosols are natural like sea salts,” Russell explained. “We see sea salt aerosols from the winds whipping over the oceans. We get really strong winds going around Antarctica, so we see lots of sea salts in the air around Antarctica. […] Some aerosols, though, like sulfates, when they’re coming from major cities, those are not natural aerosols.”

Beth Russell (NOAA) with a real-time projection of the solar surface. (Photo Credit: Pierce Nahigyan)

Beth Russell (NOAA) with a real-time projection of the solar surface. (Photo Credit: Pierce Nahigyan)

Some sulfates in the air come from volcanoes, but those are occasional and relatively brief emissions. Meanwhile, major cities in the U.S. and China regularly emit industrial particulates (colored a sickly green on the spinning model).

To wash the taste of pollution out of our mouths, Planet Experts then headed to the EDTx beer garden, inside which our complimentary sample tickets allowed us a diabolical serving of 2oz samples from the many, many finely-crafted pilsners, lagers, ales, porters, stouts, IPAs and double-IPAs on draft.

Cheers at the EDTx beer garden. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

Cheers at the EDTx beer garden. (Photo Credit: Rick Baraff)

The beer was generally good. I have nothing else to add to this experience, other than to warn you to stay away from hawks at work. Woe betide the slightly-buzzed festivalgoer who ventures back into the raptor’s nest for “one last look before I head back to the hotel,” for that way only a botched selfie and lifelong nightmares lies.

Earth Day Texas 2016 Series

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