Image courtesy Waylon Lewis/Elephant Journal
Caring for Mama Earth is second nature to Waylon Lewis, whose eco-leanings trace back to being born into an American Buddhist family. It was there, where the religion's traditional concepts like mindfulness, compassion and universal responsibility were seeded at an early age.
It'd only be a matter of time and a few years in journalism school until he'd end up later creating elephantjournal.com—an online source for all things sustainable and spiritual. And we're not talking about some boring, snooze-fest. Waylon's enlightening elephant journal mixes Buddhist business with eco-pleasure—offering up daily blog posts about yoga, conscious consumerism, culture, holistic wellness, and a juicy web-based talk show called 'elevision' where Waylon interviews fellow change makers like Paul Hawken, Bill McKibben, Summer Rayne Oakes, Robert Thurman and our very own Graham Hill.
Waylon took a brief moment to set down the weight of the world from his shoulders so we could take him out of the interviewer's chair—and into the hot seat.
How did you get into this line of work?
First of all, I was born into an American Buddhist family—they call us "Dharma Brats." Then, both sides of my family are full of English majors—editors, journalists, novelists, professors. Third, when I was fifteen I read 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save the Planet, which every school in America ought to stock. Put the three together—Buddhism, journalism, and eco—and you get elephant journal.
What was your "a-ha" moment?
elephant journal was, until recently, a steadily-growing magazine. I found out the hard way that no major magazine on earth is presently distributing in an environmentally-responsible manner--the average sell-through rate is three out of ten (meaning seven out of ten Vanity Fairs, Sports Illustrated and Good Magazines are recycled after all that milling, shipping, and re-shipping). So though we were printing elephant on eco-paper, it became unconscionable to continue to grow our distribution. So, two months ago, I tossed six and a half years of work out the window and made a 100 percent shift to publishing elephant journal online. Humbling. Still, it's nice to know that I'm willing to go broke for what I believe in!
Who is your green hero?
Easy: Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. He looks at our environmental situation, acknowledges how dire it is...and then goes out there and changes the world—and has a good time doing so. His book, Let My People Go Surfing is required reading for any eco-preneur.
What is your ultimate green goal?
To get frat boys and sorority girls, suburban Republicans (like my dad) and rich folks—all those who thought they didn't really care about all this green-this, green-that, to personally embrace living a good life that's also good for other people, and our planet.
What is your motivation?
My Buddhist training. From a Buddhist's point of view, everything you do has an effect—and we're each responsible for those effects. Everything is interdependent and it's my 'Bodhisattva vow' to try and help others—even animals and blades of grass. So I've got a lot of work to do!
What is most important to you, ecologically speaking?
Climate change. Out here in Colorado, we're already seeing the effects of it. We've lost millions of acres of trees to the pine beetle, which is breeding and spreading willy-nilly since winters haven't been cold enough to kill 'em off or slow 'em down.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
As an old school-trained journalist, I want elephant journal to remain a source of quality, independent media—so we can speak truth to power, expose greenwashing, and cut spiritual materialism. That's all great, but it means I can't sell the publication to make some quick dough. So I'm struggling to pay my mortgage and it's tiring. Still, when I interviewed Paul Hawken, he reminded me and my staff, "The secret to your success is that you don't have money. It makes you creative, keeps you grounded."
What is the most rewarding?
Writing everyday about things I care about and enjoy—and may not have known about if it weren't my job to always be on the lookout.
Of the people you have worked with, who impresses you most?
Lester Brown, most of all. Bill McKibben. Deepak Chopra. Summer Rayne Oakes, who at 24 has done more than most of us in a lifetime. Graham Hill, you know him. I've interviewed hundreds of people, all of whom have blown me away more than any of the pseudo-celebrities you see on the mainstream talk shows.
What green thing do you do everyday?
I bike—everyday, everywhere. I have for years. Still, it took me until about six months ago to finally let go of my car.
What do you wish you could do?
I'd like to have a mainstream, nightly, fun yet fundamentally-serious green/spiritual talk show that could do for LOHAS what Jon Stewart has done for politics—make it hip, accessible, and beyond "the Choir."
What is your biggest eco-sin?
Frankly, if I find out, I change my habits. Giving up my car and sushi, wearing all vintage, organic or fair-trade clothes were some recent, totally-worthwhile sacrifices. I have an old downtown (so I can bike everywhere) Victorian that I live in all alone with my Humane Society pup. I've greened it through and through with solar power, natural clay, craigslist furnishings, and even a chemical-free hot tub. Still, until I have a family, it's a bit much—having a house all to myself and, by day, my staff.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I would mandate a law that all Americans vote. We need more accountability for citizens and politicians alike. It's a law to pay taxes. Can't the so-called greatest democracy on earth get more than 55 percent of our citizens to say yay or nay?
What is your best green advice?
Always come back to why you care about 'green,' about 'eco.' The sudden popularity of all things green isn't just about external forces such as climate change. It's about waking up to basic human values. That's why it's not a mere fad. We all want to leave the world better than we found it, everyday—whether we're Bill O'Reilly or Keith Olbermann. We all care about our grandchildren, the next seven generations. Human life, like our planet, is a miracle—a resilient, yet ultimately fragile one.