Pacific Citizen, News feature, Nalea J. Ko
Emily Sugihara’s eco-friendly business started out as a “green” dream to reduce waste in landfills. The 27-year-old and her mother, Joan, wanted to make stylish, affordable reusable shopping bags.
As a new business Baggu (meaning bag in Japanese) orders were filled and shipped by Sugihara’s brother, Peter. Now Sugihara said her 3-year-old company has grown, selling millions of reusable shopping bags.
The part Japanese American entrepreneur said she has a Baggu warehouse, factory and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based office. Baggu is now her livelihood.
“I feel really proud about being a woman entrepreneur,” Sugihara said. “I think the future of the green movement is not in people spending more money to make green choices, but in people being able to profit from green technical.”
Sugihara, a native Californian, is one of thousands of Asian Americans in that state who identify as environmentalists, according to a 2009 poll commissioned by the California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, or CLCV Ed Fund.
The poll found that “Asian American voters in California are a prime — but untapped — constituency to help develop and support environmental policy.” Over 1,000 AA California voters were surveyed to determine their views on environmental issues.
While 52 percent of California voters identified as environmentalists, 83 percent of AAs polled in the CLCV Ed Fund study described themselves as environmentalists.
Korean (88 percent) and Chinese (96 percent) American participants had the highest percentage of people who labeled themselves environmentalists. Sixty three percent of Japanese Americans identified with the term.
Environmentalists say although AAs may not be perceived to be at the forefront of the movement, many care about living green.
“Although they don’t [get] involved in the environmental movement directly, most of them [consider] themselves as ‘environmentalists,’” said Amber Chan, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) lead organizer. “They know about the root causes of climate change, and act environmentally-friendly at home, at work, and support [the] green movement individually.”
Others say they believe more AAs will in the future become visible in the green movement.
“The Sierra Club, in addition to many other environmental organizations, is committed to increasing the diversity of its membership and leadership,” explained Allison Chin, Sierra Club board president. “Inclusion of people from all communities is vital to addressing the challenges in the face of climate change.”
Chin, who joined the Sierra Club in the 1980s to help protect national parks, added that the success of the environmental movement depends on “collaborative efforts.”
Those polled in California agree that individual efforts to help the environment are needed to make advancements in the green movement.
According to the CLCV Ed Fund poll 55 percent of AAs think individual action is more effective in helping the environment than political action, which 22 percent supported.
Many AAs like Sugihara say they try to take individual steps to live greener lifestyles. Sugihara made her “green” resolutions for the year on Earth Day, which was April 22.
“It’s like Christmas part two,” said Sugihara about the significance of Earth Day. “I guess to me personally I try to sit down and make my new year’s, green resolution. [I] look at my lifestyle and look at where I could be more eco-friendly.”
Last year on Earth Day, Sugihara said she gave up using paper, coffee cups in an effort to reduce her disposable waste.
Others can make an individual effort to reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating or reducing their plastic bag usage, said Sugihara. The entrepreneur says reusable bags like those available at the Baggu Web site are a good start at living greener.
Baggu figures estimate that someone can save 300 to 700 disposable bags by using reusable bags throughout the year.
“To us we’re really interested in diverting waste from landfills.” Sugihara added, “So we want to make stuff that’s really durable and will last a very long time.” She said Baggu also has a recycling program where staffers will take old Baggus back.
There are many other ways to live green other than reducing one’s consumption of disposables, say environmentalists.
“To me this means to live in a sustainable manner.” Chin explained about what living green means. “Practically speaking, it is being mindful and intentional about what I consume, how I conserve, and what I can give back.”
Chin said to live a more sustainable lifestyle she recently planted her first vegetable garden at her northern Virginia home. “I am so excited to be growing our own food again,” she said.
Not every green effort may be suitable for every lifestyle. Living green, some environmentalists say, is about finding what works for each individual.
“Most of the Asian Americans are immigrants and they have to work very hard to integrate to the new country, get new jobs, raise their kids, etcetera,” Chin said. She added that AAs are often “too busy to focus on” getting involved in the green movement.
At Baggu, Sugihara said she has seen the environmental movement grow. In 2007 when Baggu was founded Sugihara said she had to explain the function of a reusable bag.
Now her company and products have been featured in publications like “Lucky,” “Teen Vogue,” “InStyle,” US Weekly,” and more. Being eco-friendly, she says, is now trendy.
“I think it’s changed in good and bad ways,” Sugihara explained about the changes in the green movement. “It’s definitely much, it’s a much bigger thing. Everyone is much more aware of it, which I think it’s great.”
The green movement could get more support some say. Chan said she strongly believes that more AAs will support the green movement in the future by becoming more deeply involved in green activism.
“There may have some cultural differences now, but if the Asian Americans are not involved, their concerns and issues will be ignored,” Chan said. “And the solutions will only come from the traditional environmentalists, which is not the real solution and can’t solve the real problems.”