Earth Day is around the corner, so this month we’re spotlighting a few media sites and bloggers that are focused on the environment. We’re starting with Mother Nature Network (MNN), whose mission is to “improve your world.”
Although the name Mother Nature Network brings to mind the environment, the site is about more than that. It covers all manner of social responsibility issues for everyday people who just want to make the world better. The site features sections on health, lifestyle, technology, business and money, food and drink, home and family and, of course, the environment.
ProfNet interviewed Matt Crenshaw, president of MNN, to find out a little more about what he does and what he sees as the future of the green movement and environmental media.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role with Mother Nature Network? What does it entail?
As president of Mother Nature Network, I focus on building the audience for our content and setting the strategy for growing traffic and revenue to our websites.
Over 10 million people from around the world visit our sites every month — people who find our content through search engines like Google; through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest; and through partnerships like the one that puts our stories on CNN.com’s homepage every Friday.
Has there been a change in the “green” movement in recent years? It seems to have gone beyond just preserving the environment to focusing more generally on socially responsible living.
I think it’s fair to say that we’re witnessing several different “green” movements going on at once. From the top down, there are all sorts of individuals, organizations, and companies who are working to shape public policy and strengthen green causes. It’s impossible not to recognize those efforts.
At the same time, however, we’re seeing a grassroots movement bubbling up through the mainstream where more people are starting to think about “green” issues, even if they don’t refer to them that way. That’s the trend we’re capturing on Mother Nature Network.
Not too long ago, health food businesses were small mom n’ pop stores in a strip mall that were considered “alternative.” Now, the same ethos lives under one roof at Whole Foods and it’s very much mainstream.
In the old world, healthy living was equated to fitness and neatly divided between cardio and strength training. What was once an “alternative” view of mind-body wellness, yoga, and vegetarianism is all going mainstream now as well.
In other words, sustainability started out being about the planet, but the recognition of what it takes to make the planet healthy is manifesting itself in how we think of keeping ourselves healthy.
How is social media affecting the green movement?
It is impossible to make sweeping statements about social, because we all curate our social feeds based on who we’re connected with and who we follow. So, at its worst, social media is nothing more than an echo chamber. But I like to think that social has been positive for the green movement in a number of ways.
More than anything, social media provides a platform to share the stories that have the greatest emotional impact upon us.
On MNN, we post photos to Facebook every morning of sunrises from around the world to connect people to nature and the broader world before they get consumed with all of the other things that occupy their day.
Whether it’s alarming scientific research, or feel good stories pertaining to simple living or an animal that has been rescued, both types of stories generate strong emotional reactions, and find huge audiences through social media.
We have developed a strong pulse on what “green” ideas resonate with people most on an emotional level, which is how we’re able to consistently generate engagement rates of 15-20 percent on Facebook — which is considered through the roof by industry standards.
What’s the next big thing for the green movement? What will we be hearing about in a year or so?
As the world’s population moves more into urban environments, I believe the next big thing is urban design and development. The next big thing may not be a real “aha,” so much as seeing lots of small ideas come together in new creative ways. That means low impact buildings, more green space, and more environmentally friendly ways to get around.
Even in our own backyard here in Atlanta, a city known for being “the Sultan of Sprawl” — spread out and heavily dependent upon cars for transportation — people are buying electric cars at a faster rate than any city in the country.
One of the largest in-town renovation projects, Ponce City Market, is being built with green principles at its core, not as an afterthought. They’re putting gardens on the roof and building a small transit system to connect with MARTA, the city’s public transportation provider. And it’s safe to say that more of the people who won’t be on public transportation will be taking electric cars to get there.
These are just a few examples, but I can look out my window and see them, and there are more and more people who live in big cities who can say the same. Are any of these on their own a major breakthrough? No. But when they coalesce, you can sense a real movement is underway.
What’s next for Mother Nature Network? What are you working on now?
We have two big sites in our network — our flagship site at MNN.com, as well as TreeHugger.com.
MNN appeals to more of a mainstream audience who is interested in making “green” decisions for their families.
TreeHugger reaches a slightly younger audience who is more opinionated and more outspoken about environmental ideas, “green” design, and products that appeal to these values.
We’re looking at ways to bring these two audiences together more closely, so that mainstream readers get a wider array of ideas and content, and thought leaders in the space have a bigger stage for sharing their ideas.
If anything with the “green” movement, we’ve seen ideas that were once considered edgy move quietly and fairly briskly to the middle. We view our network of sites as a catalyst to making that happen.
Ok, tell us: Have you jammed with [MNN co-founder] Chuck Leavell yet?
Let me tell you, I have sat three feet away from Chuck while he was playing his piano and belting out the words to Ray Charles’ “Georgia.” It was mind-blowing. Do you think I’m going to pick up my guitar to interrupt a moment like that? Not a chance.
Maria Perez is Director of Online Community Relations and connects journalists with subject matter experts on ProfNet. Click here to view Crenshaw’s ProfNet profile or search our database for more environmental experts.