Q&A With Shea Gunther

I caught up with eco-blogger and entrepreneur Shea Gunther, who currently blogs for Mother Nature Network, and he was generous enough to share his insights on the state of the green blogging ecosystem. He was also gracious enough to give props to good reporting, which I personally found encouraging. Gunther is a proven online-business starter, and professional blogger -- he knows what's up with the green web. Check it.

Q: What drives you as a blogger?

Shea Gunther: I like sharing things that I find. Pretty much for as long as I've consumed media I've been the guy sending off an email to someone saying, "Hey, I thought you might like this." I started blogging before it was called blogging, back in 2001 or 2002. You can actually go to Archive.org and search sheagunther.org and you can still see some of the posts-- random thoughts and links and whatnot. Blogging just suits the way that I'm wired, and the fact that I've been able to find a way to make a living blogging is miraculous. Being a blogger is awesome.

Q: What are you working on right now?

SG: I write for Mother Nature Network, two posts a day, Monday through Friday. And about month ago I started working with a company that's kind of like a green Costco. There will be an online club, and you'll be able to browse through different categories and search, and buy green products, and members will get a 20-40% discount compared to regular retail. I'm writing the social media plan, so it's my job to figure out how we're going to use blogs, Facebook, and how we're going to create relationships with bloggers. It's kind of like building a marketing department.

Q: When did you to become an "eco-entrepreneur"?

SG: The first green company I started was in 2001--I started Renewable Choice Energy, which is now one of the bigger wind credit companies.

Q: What inspired that company?

SG: When I was 21 I started a dot-com at the end of the bubble, and a buddy and I raised $16 million for a project that was basically like Youtube too early. That was at the end of the 90s. After two years of working on that, a couple friends and I moved to Colorado. We knew we wanted to start something, but we weren't quite sure what. So we spent 9 months thinking about that, and we came up with this idea for a wind credit company. And this was only about 6 months after the whole concept of wind credits came about. The protocol was really new, so we just started the company.

Q: What did you do after that project?

I spent a year working as a freelance graphic designer, and then I started a green design marketing and ad agency. I spent a year doing that, and made about every mistake a person can make running a business, and ended up driving it into the ground. Then I moved back to Maine and co-founded Green Options, which is a green blog network.

Q. What was the original intent of Green Options?

SG: Well, originally I was contacted by David Anderson, the other founder, who had come across a blog post of mine and decided to contact me. He had an idea of building an online application that makes it easy for people to figure out how solar panels would work in their house. You could just punch in their address, and it would tell you things, like, you have this much sunshine, and this is what your rebate would be, and stuff like that--it told people how long it was going to take make a return on their investment. My idea was to build a green blog around it to give it credibility. Originally it wasn't a network, it was just Green options. I just hired all of my friends, all the prominent, top green bloggers, so it wasn't that hard to build a strong stable of writers.

Q: How would you describe the green blogging landscape right now?

SG: Right now it's interesting. Treehugger was always the considered the big green blog. And it spawned so many different blogs that did the same thing -- maybe a little different this way or that. And in that environment, all of these one-man shops and small blogs were able to find a niche and grow. For example, if you look Ecogeek, by Hank Green. He blogs about Greeen Technology, and no one does it better. Or take a look at ecorazzi.com, run by Michael d'Estries, which is green celebrity news. So over the years these types of bloggers have been able to build these really cool, well traveled sites. But in the last year, some of the bigger corporate money has entered the scene--like Hearst media with The Daily Green. The Discovery Channel owns TreeHugger, and now they have Planet Green. And the company that I work for, The Mother Nature Network, they're in an acquiring mood. They bought the web content of Plenty Magazine, which went under. So, in a couple years there's definitely going to be more consolidation, and a lot of these one-man shops are going to be swept up by bigger fish.

Q: Do you think some of these media networks might start featuring some real reporting, to supplement the blogging?

SG: I would hope so. I know if I were going to start a media site right now, real reporting would definitely be part of the mix. There's always going to be blog networks because it's so easy. It takes a lot less time to produce a couple posts per day than it does to do a bunch of in-depth reporting. But real reporting is able to get you above the echo chamber fray.

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