An Interview with Rob Greenfield, Bicycle Traveler and Sustainability Advocate

  • Wes Zolecki
  • 9 July 2013

As members of the international traveling community – an informal group of wanderers, adventurers, culture enthusiasts and lovers of the planet – we must accept as imperative our social responsibility for the sustainability of the places we travel. A desire and an ability to leave the countries and people we visit better than when we found them are what separates the conscious and aware global citizen from the average vacationer.

Rob Greenfield is one adventurer, traveler and environmentalist who has decided to do more than just talk about being “green” and “sustainable.” Instead, he has chosen to do something tangible and measurable by spreading the message of responsibility for the planet to the American people.

1. Rob Greenfield Adventures off the grid

Rob Greenfield has been supporting himself “Off the Grid Across America” by bicycle to advocate sustainability. Photo courtesy of Rob Greenfield Adventures

Founder of The Greenfield Group, Rob is presently on a mission to make the world a better, more sustainable place for today and tomorrow. He has always believed in hands-on approaches, especially after having traveled and served in 25-plus countries on six continents. In his current home of San Diego, California, for example, he started a community bike program and a CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light bulb) exchange. He has also hosted trash cleanups.

An entrepreneurial man of many ideas, Rob’s current undertaking, called Greenfield Adventures, is to ride a bamboo bicycle “Off the Grid Across America” and raise awareness for sustainability and money for not-for-profits along the way.

I caught up with this one-man force for global change in Denver, Colorado, and interviewed him about his journey.

Wes Zolecki: Rob, you’ve set yourself some lofty goals. What would you say are the easiest and hardest parts of your journey?
Rob Greenfield: Cycling 4,500 miles across the USA is the easy part. The hard part of this three-month journey from San Francisco to Vermont is living completely off the grid.

WZ: Completely off the grid? Is that one of your sustainability goals?
RG: My goal is to complete this journey having used less than a kilowatt of electricity from the grid, without turning on a faucet and without burning any fossil fuels. I’m committed to minimizing my waste to the extreme of carrying any non-recyclables with me for the entire trip. I eat local, organic food, and I plant things, such as native wildflowers, in every state I visit. The goal is to do all of this while maintaining a positive attitude.

Rob Greenfield Adventures off the grid

Rob Greenfield arrives in Chicago, Illinois, with a few fellow bicycle advocates. Photo courtesy of Rob Greenfield Adventures

WZ: What’s the endpoint of your journey? Tell me more about 1% for the Planet.
RG: The adventure is scheduled to end on August 1st in Waitsfield, Vermont, at the headquarters of 1% for the Planet, an organization consisting of 1,200 businesses that donate 1% of their revenue to environmental causes. The Greenfield group is a member of this amazing community, as well as Patagonia, New Belgium Brewery, Clif Bar and Jack Johnson. By the time I get to their doorstep, my goal is to have raised US$10,000 for non-profits such as Guitars in the Classroom, Below the Surface, Worldbike, Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter, Reuse Alliance, Growing Power and Solar Sister.

WZ: What about Iowa? I heard that you crossed it without a seat on your bike. Is that true?
RG: Yep. In a special campaign called “Standing For Sustainability,” I rode my bicycle across the state of Iowa literally standing up the whole way. Private donors pledged an amount per mile ridden without a seat. When I left Denver, I rode nearly 700 miles barefoot for the same purpose. You can follow my daily exploits at Rob Greenfield on Facebook.

WZ: I know that reaching out to people along the way is very important to you. How are you doing that?
RG: En route, I am hosting zero-waste events and bicycle rides, visiting environmental causes and businesses that practice corporate social responsibility, promoting sustainable products, working with community gardens and raising funds. My game plan for changing the world is simple: By reaching and engaging one person at a time I can make a steady, measurable difference.

Rob Greenfield Adventures off the grid - Wisconsin

The best stop on the journey so far has been Rob Greenfield’s homeland of Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Rob Greenfield Adventures

WZ: What’s been your favorite stop along the way so far?
RG: Most definitely my recent time in Wisconsin. My love for my homeland and its people will never wane, but I was able to visit with a ton of family and friends in Wisconsin. After so much time on the road it was heartwarming to see loved ones who support my “crazy” ideas. I also spent some time with an amazing not-for-profit in Milwaukee called Growing Power, which is making massive strides in the way we source our food.

WZ: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve encountered on your journey?
RG: Probably the absurd amount of healthy, high-quality food I’ve commandeered from dumpsters outside of our nation’s supermarkets. Everyday literally millions of pounds of packaged, non-expired food is thrown in the trash. It is difficult to wrap my mind around this inefficiency, but raising awareness of the problem is the first step to solving this gross waste.

WZ: What can we look forward to from Greenfield Adventures in the future?
RG: I have many ideas for making the planet a happier, healthier place to live. One of them is a social media network for doing good. We have reached a critical mass for changing the way we produce, eat and dispose of our waste. I believe the internet is our greatest asset for making this change.

Off the Grid “Across America” Statistics

2600 miles ridden
703 barefoot miles
375 standing up miles biked
6 flat tires
102 miles = longest day of biking

<1 kw electricity used on the grid
5 pounds of trash created
14 packaged food items
7 food items eaten that were not locally produced
0 light switches turned on
6 total hours plugged in

366 pieces of fruit eaten
4 farmers markets visited
2 roadside stands visited
199 ounces of honey drunk

50 gallons purified from lakes, rivers, streams, rain
4 gallons from wells (pump or windmill)
6 gallons powered by electricity
7 gallons diverted from waste (water bottles on side of road)

US$1,600 and counting

See updated statistics from Rob’s ride

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Wes Zolecki

Originally from the Chicago area, Wes Zolecki is a graduate of International Business/Marketing from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has spent the last 10 years working, traveling, teaching, and volunteering in many different parts of the world, both on land and at sea. A partner of the sustainable living organization The Greenfield Group, he is publishing his first book, a travel memoir entitled "Rail Dogs," available in July at Amazon.com.
Wes Zolecki
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adventure travel, ecotours, health, interview, North America, Northern America, outdoors, responsible transport, sports, USA,

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