Episode 131 – Unstoppable Sustainability Director with Shea Cunningham
Our guest in this episode is Shea Cunningham. I met Shea on LinkedIn way back in July 2022. We recorded our time together in early February 2023 and both commiserated about the cold Southern California weather. She is an extremely busy, productive, and visionary woman. Currently, among other jobs, she is the director of Sustainability at ASGN. She will tell us all about ASGN and other organizations with which she works and has worked.
Shea studied and majored in International Relations and minored in Latin American Studies at San Francisco State University. Through an internship, she received the opportunity to work in Thailand for two years working on a number of international-related issues. As she says, that wasn’t a part of her plan for herself, but “it was a wonderful opportunity”. After Thailand, she went to UCLA’s School of Public Policy where she obtained her master’s degree in urban planning with an emphasis on Sustainability.
Shea will tell us a lot about the subject of “Sustainability” and why it is so important. She uses her life story to discuss how she got so involved in addressing sustainability issues and will show you why it can be an important subject for all of us to ponder and address.
About the Guest:
Shea Cunningham (she/her) is the Director of Sustainability of ASGN Incorporated. She is a sustainability planning and ESG strategy expert with over twenty years of consulting experience across multiple industry sectors, from the community to international levels.
Ms. Cunningham established several sustainability-focused organizations including the Balanced Approach, Focus on the Global South (Bangkok, Thailand), the Culver City Sustainable Business Certification Program, and the US Department of Education Green Ribbon Award-wining sustainability program for the Culver City Unified School District.
Ms. Cunningham was also an analyst for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (Paris, France), and a consultant for Sony Pictures, Athens Services and the Malibu Foundation, amongst numerous other businesses, municipalities, and academic institutions.
She is the lead author of “Our Climate Crisis: A Guide for SoCal Communities in the Wildland Urban Interface,” and co-author of many other articles, reports and books. In 2021, Shea was awarded the Women in Business Leadership Visionary Award from the Culver City Chamber of Commerce.
She holds an MA in Urban and Regional Planning from the UCLA School of Public Policy and is a LEED Green Associate.
Shea’s recommended links on climate change:
The Nature Conservancy’s Chief Scientist (and evangelical Christian) Katharine Hayhoe’s Ted Talk
Katharine Hayhoe’s article How to Talk About Climate Change across the Political Divide in the New Yorker
A Washington Post article on the US Army’s Climate Strategy
Methodist Church’s Resolution on a Response to Climate Change
1% for the Planet’s 10 Viable solutions to climate change
Article from NASA on Scientific Consensus on Climate Change
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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Michael Hingson 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:20
Well, hi, and yes, we are here once again for another episode of unstoppable mindset. Shea Cunningham is a sustainability expert with over 20 years of experience, and we’re going to talk about that she works for a company now. For the company she works for is ASGN. She’s the director of sustainability and we’re going to have to talk about that and see what all that means. But first, che thanks for being here. And welcome to unstoppable mindset.
Shea Cunningham 01:52
Thank you so much, Michael. I’m really happy to be here with you.
Michael Hingson 01:56
Well, we’re we’re excited now, where are you located?
Shea Cunningham 02:00
I am in Culver City, which is basically, yeah, it’s LA County, West LA adjacent to Santa Monica. That sort of area.
Michael Hingson 02:10
So from up here in Victorville. I could just kind of Chuck a rock down the past and maybe it would find you and pound on your window.
Shea Cunningham 02:18
Yeah, we’re not too far apart. That’s right.
Michael Hingson 02:20
And we have reasonably decent weather.
Shea Cunningham 02:24
Yeah, today is gorgeous. I actually just took a bike ride i just i That’s one of my passions is bike riding road road biking. So it was a lovely, lovely day this morning.
Michael Hingson 02:36
Much better place to do within going and trying to do it in Oh, Buffalo, New York.
Shea Cunningham 02:42
That is true. Yes. I have some friends in Chicago right now. There. Yeah, it’s like four degrees. So yeah, I’m very grateful.
Michael Hingson 02:50
Yeah, not quite this pleasant is here. It was 31 degrees this morning when I got up in Victorville. And like yesterday, I think it was or Wednesday, it was down to 22. So but we’re a little bit up in the mountains, we’re in the high desert. So we get a little bit more of the cold weather, but not nearly as much as the precipitation. As you all saw down there. The the water doesn’t tend to drop in Victorville very much. We’re in a valley. So clouds have to go up over mountains and other things. So by the time it gets here, it loses a lot of its moisture.
Shea Cunningham 03:24
So you didn’t get to experience the atmospheric rivers that we were having around my area, then.
Michael Hingson 03:30
Not so much. I think we maybe got three quarters of an inch of rain, but that was about all.
Shea Cunningham 03:35
Yes, that’s good. Because yeah, there was quite destructive not in my community, but around around the larger region.
Michael Hingson 03:44
So yeah, well, I I know, right now, they’re saying we have in the Sierras, what about 250% of the normal snowfall for this time here? And it’s just going to be a question of how soon it melts. And hopefully it won’t too quickly.
Shea Cunningham 03:59
Correct. Yeah. And yeah, it’s been hasn’t rained this much and produce this much snowpack for over a decade. So it’s it’s definitely welcomed. But I know, we’re also not capturing as much as we need to. And then because our infrastructure is still inadequate. So I’m hoping I’m optimistically hopeful, then that there will be our cautiously optimistic that that there’s going to be progress in that regard.
Michael Hingson 04:27
Oh, I hope so. Well, I want to get to a lot of the things that you do and so on, but I’d like to start by you telling us kind of your your roots where you came from going to school and all that and what you what you studied and learned and anything else like that that you want to tell us about the earlier che
Shea Cunningham 04:45
Okay, sure. Well, I I got well, actually, before I went to graduate school, I was at San Francisco State University where I studied international relations and I minored in Latin American Studies, and I had the great fortune too, to actually be my my internship and end my undergrad program basically turned into a real job, I was the research assistant to the executive director. And I got the opportunity opportunity to actually live and work in Bangkok, Thailand for a couple of years, which is not obviously not Latin America was not really on my, my, the planned path that I had. But it was a fantastic experience, I helped to build a sort of a think tank at Chulalongkorn University focused on looking at the impacts of Trade and Development on communities, economies, and the environment. So I basically started working in the sustainability world, before the buzzword sustainability kind of came into the picture. And I was working at the Institute for Food and development policy in San Francisco as well. And then I went to graduate school, at UCLA in the School of Public Policy and got my master’s degree in urban and regional planning with a focus on sustainability. And, and I have always been sort of a nature lover at heart, like as a young girl, I was already like, I would be upsetting to see trash on the ground. And, you know, I just I very much have always loved to camp and hike and be in the ocean, that sort of thing. So I’m sort of naturally, you know, became a sustainability. Professional
Michael Hingson 06:36
Chulalongkorn University, is that an outgrowth of the king? And I?
Shea Cunningham 06:41
Well, it is actually the oldest university in, in Bangkok, the very first university ever built right in the center of the city. And it is it is basically named after the king. Yes.
Michael Hingson 06:56
Cool. Well, that I’ve heard of it before never had a chance to ask the question. But it, it is certainly something that comes to mind. So that’s pretty cool. But you spend time there. Well, you you in undergraduate work, you did Latin American Studies and so on. Growing up what got you interested in that, that you decided to go to college and study that?
Shea Cunningham 07:19
That’s a good question. Well, I definitely had always, we I had gone with my parents a few times to Mexico for holidays, and, you know, sort of summer vacations. And, and I really was always very curious about learning Spanish, because I wanted to be able to understand what people were saying. And I also had friends who were actually farmworker families in grade school. And so I was just always fascinated with learning Spanish, because that was the second language that I heard in my, in my young life. So and I also just started to really pay attention to the disparities in wealth between my family and the other families, that farmworker families as well as obviously, in Mexico, in some of the places that we stay, we know we’d stay in a resort, and then we’d go into town and was very obvious that there was a lot of poverty. And that was upsetting to me. So that’s something that I wanted to sort of learn more about, and see how I could be somehow, you know, improve the situation to, you know, in my own way. So that’s kind of where I came into this is because as I mentioned, sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s also about the social aspects, social well being as well as, as the economics.
Michael Hingson 08:43
And I would assume that at least to a degree, your parents encouraged the concept and the the idea of those kinds of studies.
Shea Cunningham 08:51
You know, I was kind of like a free range kid, quite frankly. My dad, I live in my parents, sadly divorced at a young age and my I ended up living with my dad and my brother, and you know, so he was kind of like, Mr. Mom. And, and so, you know, he was kind of hands off and my mom as well. So I just sort of just kind of created my own path. And they’ve always been supportive. Both of them have always been supportive with everything I’ve chosen to do.
Michael Hingson 09:23
It is so good to have parents who are supportive, no matter what the circumstances like that. It’s great that they were what did they do for work?
Shea Cunningham 09:32
Well, I am actually the first person in my family to get a master’s degree. And so my mom, she is she actually is an amazing interior designer. She doesn’t she’s never really done it for money. But she’s like, jaw dropping capabilities in that, in that regard. She also got a real estate license and she was As a realtor for quite some time, and my father, he did go and got he got his a degree and then ended up, you know, back in the day when it was not that unusual for people in their early 20s To get married and have babies. That’s what they did back in the day. And so he did not enough finished college. And but he did. I’m very proud of him. He started in the mailroom at IBM, and worked his way up to regional manager over the years.
Michael Hingson 10:28
Wow. And that’s a pretty good feat. It company like IBM to do that.
Shea Cunningham 10:34
I think so, too. He did. Yeah. He’s a smart guy.
Michael Hingson 10:38
He’s still doing that. Nope. He retired. He retired.
Shea Cunningham 10:41
Yeah, he was kind of forced into retirement. Actually, he was given the, the sort of the Golden Handshake. When they’re, I think when you know, when 2008 When things were falling apart, the wheels were coming off the economy.
Michael Hingson 10:56
Yeah. happens all too often. So did he? Did he find something else to do? Or is he just enjoying retired life after now? What 15 years almost?
Shea Cunningham 11:07
Yeah, he’s he’s enjoying retirement. And he did a little bit of, of, sort of what was it was like, delivery of legal documents, in a kind of in his car driving around town. He kind of had fun doing that for a couple of years. And then he realized he didn’t really need to do that. So he’s just just enjoying his life.
Michael Hingson 11:28
Well, that’s cool. Well, so you went off to do things in Bangkok, and so on, got a degree and started to deal with public policy? And then what did you do? So what did you do out of college when she got your master’s degree?
Shea Cunningham 11:43
Yes, I actually I first Well, first, I did a little exploring in South America. I did you. Thank you. I did I actually lived in, in my, in my undergraduate I didn’t mention this. And when I was in my undergraduate program, in my senior year, I did live in Mexico for for like, not not quite a full year in Wahaca, which was amazing. So if you ever get a chance to go to a haka, Mexico, I think it’s one of the most special places on earth. So, after graduate school, I did take a little bit of time to do some exploring, and South America, which was an amazing, amazing trip. Being in the Andes, for instance, was just incredible. And just the different cultures, the different cities, I’m especially enamored with Buenos Aires in Argentina. But I, so I kind of brushed up on my Spanish and whatnot. And then I, I was very fortunate, I had the chair of my thesis committee started teaching at last or bone and in Paris, and wait, see, see ASBO I think actually, it’s which is an another, like a science based university in Paris. And, and so I got the opportunity to be introduced to the OECD, which is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris is sort of a I liken it to a mini think tank or not, it’s really not that many sort of a smaller version of the United Nations. But it’s, it’s really a think tank between between the Western world countries. So it’s like a, it’s like, membership. You know, there’s member countries basically, so, and it’s headquartered in Paris. And I was offered a position there. So I ended up working there for about a year and living in Paris, which is a magnificent opportunity, as well. And I was focused on looking at social innovations across the, across the European region, specifically looking at sort of community community based projects that focused on improvement of both, again in sustainability, looking at the environment impacts on the environment of certain sorts of projects, and impacts on the community. And just also spotlighting just innovations, innovative community projects.
Michael Hingson 14:10
When you were you said in your senior year, you spent most of the year and Wahaca. How did how did that work from a studying standpoint? Was that just part of the university assignment? And did you sort of work remotely? Or how did that work?
Shea Cunningham 14:22
It was really wonderful. It was through the School of International Training. So it was a it was an abroad program that that we didn’t have coursework. And we did have field work as well. And so my, so we did have classes, we had a lot of guest lectures, everything from culture to politics to history. And then I had I did a we had to do like a focus project. And so I selected looking at the sea turtles of Wahaca Nick problem, it’s actually called Laguna state chicawa, which is where two different types of sea turtles come to lay their eggs. And the and as you probably know, the sea turtles got on the endangered species list. And so that had to stop. And so this was a project run by marine biologists. And so I basically live with them for about six weeks and experienced their project. And I helped it was it was magical I, I was able to help you know, bring the little little, the well the, the eggs that were being laid, and then we would transfer them into a safe area. And then in the evenings, we would liberate them into the sea and watch them watch a little babies crawled down to the sea was incredible. And at night, we would watch the, the moms coming up, the female turtles coming up onto the shore, and then making their nest and laying their eggs. And the reason why that project was happening was because the community there was reliant upon the sea turtle sea turtles for you know, making lotions and, and using their shells to create combs and all sorts of things like that. So then, there was also a project focused on helping to create a new economy, you know, new economic options for the community,
Michael Hingson 16:22
to not so much doing the turtles.
Shea Cunningham 16:25
Exactly. So it became a more sustainable, you know, operation for the community. And obviously, for the turtles.
Michael Hingson 16:33
How big were the adult turtles? Or are they How big are the adult turtles?
Shea Cunningham 16:38
I don’t remember exactly in terms of measurement, but I would say, I mean, they’re huge. The the green turtles are they get to be like, at least four feet long. Okay. Yeah, yeah, they’re pretty big.
Michael Hingson 16:53
So they’re big, like some of the Galapagos turtles and so on. Well, not
Shea Cunningham 16:56
as large as those because those the Galapagos are the largest turtle, I believe on Earth, but, but there, there are some moral big ones that kind of take your breath away.
Michael Hingson 17:05
I’m more used to desert tortoises and we don’t see them nearly as much now I grew up in Palmdale, we had a pet tortoises growing up. And then later, after I was married, my mother in law went out of her house in Mission Viejo one day, and there was a tortoise just walking up the driveway. And clearly it had been someone’s pet. But no one could ever claim it or find it. So we ended up deciding that we would take him and putting him in our yard. And later we got another another tortoise. So it was kind of fun. So we had a male and a female, very sweet bar, like desert tortoises were fun, and we could pet them. And we would give them rose petals and lead us and things like that. And they would also just stick their necks out if you’re going to scratch under their necks. They would love it. Oh, yeah. So we made good friends. And actually, it got to the point where they decided that one day they wanted to come into the house. And our screen door or screen door was closed but not locked. And they just popped it open and came in to the consternation of our cat at the time, but everyone got along.
Shea Cunningham 18:19
That’s really cute. I love it. I love any kind of turtle.
Michael Hingson 18:25
Yeah, I like turtles and tortoises. I saw one Galapagos turtle, but I was pretty young, only seven or eight at the San Diego Zoo. Oh, wow. But yeah, I like turtles and tortoises in there. They’re kind of fun. Well, you so you eventually went off and went to graduate school. And then what did you do after graduate school?
Shea Cunningham 18:46
Well, then, I mean, after working at the the the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, I ended up coming back to Los Angeles area. And I started to do some consulting actually for the Thai Community Development Center. And another the Community Development Center, which my goodness, I’m forgetting the name of it, but there are I basically started to consult as a sustainability planner for some different organizations. And I also was invited back to UCLA. I was a graduate student researcher at the North American Integration and development center. So I continue to take on some research projects there. I also worked as, as the research director for the Service Employees International Union, focused on the the public sector and actually worked with one of the projects that was especially rewarding and interesting was with people with developmental disabilities. So it was working with people there called people first I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that organization, little David I think they’re based in Sacramento. So that was that was an interesting project and you know, working also with the with the, with the helpers that you know that the in home care workers and then I, you know, so I bopped around a bit i i also had a full day and I still I still practice it yoga, I started teaching yoga I was I had two children. So my first one, I was really into yoga, and I ended up ended up being asked, well, I just found this really interesting and cost efficient program. And I ended up becoming a teacher through it. And I really just wanted to do that, because I was interested in learning more about the roots of yoga, and you know, just not not just the actual poses and postures. And, and, and then I started teaching and I as a young as a mom with young kids, that was that was a nice sort of side path. And then it took, and then after, after my kids got a little bit older, and I started going to, to elementary school and in my first kid and in elementary school in kindergarten, that’s when I noticed that there was not any even recycling happening at the school. And so I kind of kicked it into high gear and said, Okay, we need to, we need to change things here at the school district. And I connected with some like minded parents, and some like minded teachers and the principal. And we, we sort of piloted a waste reduction and recycling program at the elementary school. And then from there, we raised some money through CalRecycle. And then we, I was asked to be a part of a new sort of committee for sustainability for the school district. And then I ended up leading that, and I really went all in with it. So we we raised a couple of large grants and created composting recycling bins across the entire 10 School 10 site school district. And then we worked with we started with that, but then we we really got into building our sort of co curricular awareness program and worked with the with the the janitorial staff and brought in green cleaning supplies so that they’re moving. So it’s basically healthier for them as well as the teachers and then students, we brought in solar to offset the you know, the fossil fuel burning, and to reduce the carbon emissions and to provide Sun shading for the parking lots and and playground areas. And we also worked on water reduction or water conservation. We we worked in brought in some new landscaping. So it was like for about five or six years, I was really I was very focused on that while doing other sort of consulting projects on the side. I also worked for help Sony Studios, which is also in Culver City, become a become a zero waste studio, because it’s really neat. They they, they being the studio, they have friendly competitions with other studios across the region. And so they’re they’re really into becoming more green and more sustainable. And so I was brought in to help them create a zero waste studio at the headquarters, which was fun. And I mean, I could go on I have a few other projects that I actually because of the work I was doing at the schools, I gave a speech at a green schools Conference, which is an annual conference that happens in Pasadena. And from there I was invited to work. There’s a proposition 39 That was created kind of a loophole that there was found for funding, energy efficiency and renewables in public schools. That money is sunsetted. This is bad for about six years, there was a really good amount of money for different schools for LED lighting retrofits and solar panels. And so I basically helped with that program. And and then I and then my sort of biggest, longest term project that I have that’s continuing. And I think I haven’t mentioned yet that I developed my own business called balanced approach. And it is a certified woman owned business. It’s a sustainability doing sort of a micro sustainability planning firm. And I collaborated with a colleague of mine who who is the co director of sustainable works. And we pitched a Culver City sustainable business certification program to the city council took a couple of years to get it going. But now we’re in the sixth year of the program. And we have certified over 70 businesses now as sustainable and kind of on the same model of what we did for the or what I did for the school district with my my other colleagues, which is, you know, from working on green cleaning, you know, taking out toxics working on energy efficiency, working on bringing it bringing in renewables, water conservation, and awareness building. And also transportation. That’s another aspect because that’s a big transportation is a large factor in terms of carbon emissions.
Michael Hingson 25:58
When How long ago was it that you discovered that the school needed to deal with recycling and so on your kid your child was in kindergarten, how long ago was at
Shea Cunningham 26:08
dating myself? Now? My, my son is 18. Now, okay, yeah, that was like 13 years ago.
Michael Hingson 26:17
It is sort of surprising. And that’s This is why I was asking the question that that late in the game, well, maybe not. But it’s sort of surprising that they hadn’t gotten very conscious about doing recycling and so on. So 13 years ago, would have made it about 2010, you would have thought that they would have done more to address the issue, but then you’re getting you’re dealing with the innocence the government.
Shea Cunningham 26:45
Yes, I would like that’s why I was like, Okay, with this is not okay, we need to teach our kids how to be environmental stewards. And it’s not it as we know, recycling is not you know, what’s, well, there’s like the you’ve heard of the three R’s, right? Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Right? And it really isn’t that priority, like first we got to focus on reducing our waste and reducing our our plastics and our disposables, and then it’s reusing whatever we can, and then, you know, recycle what we can’t, you know, reduce and reuse. But yes, too, as to your question, or, yeah, I, I agree with you, it was really surprising that they didn’t have that in place, you would think that that would be something that that is everywhere, universally, but it still isn’t, I mean, it just still isn’t. So we still have a long road to the hall that Culver City Unified now. Thankfully, there, it’s become part of the culture. And we actually received a state level and federal level Green Ribbon Award for the work that we did in Culver City. So I’m pretty proud of that.
Michael Hingson 27:50
And you talked about solar and creating shade for parking lots, and so on. So you put the solar panels above the parking lots and so on. So that created shade, but it also generated power through the solar energy process.
Shea Cunningham 28:04
Exactly. Yeah. And then we also in one of the elementary schools, we have also shading the playground. And as you know, we have how, you know, we’re having more heat waves, and it’s gonna continue, unfortunately, until we, you know, really slow the ship down on terms of our fossil fuel burning. But, yeah, so that’s really been helpful, because we’ve had a lot of hot days out on the playground, so it’s nice to have that additional shade.
Michael Hingson 28:28
Oh, is all of that surviving in the winter with the heavy winds and all?
Shea Cunningham 28:33
Ah, so far, so good. It’s pretty solid. Thankfully, yes.
Michael Hingson 28:38
Which is cool. And I suppose you could say, in a sense that maybe helps a little bit in sheltering from some of the winds because they’re up there, but they’re, they’re sort of flat. So I’m not sure that it shelters all that much, but it must help a little, yeah, helps
Shea Cunningham 28:51
a little, and it helps reduce also the bills, the costs. Energy,
Michael Hingson 28:58
where does the where does the solar power go to the school? Or how does that work?
Shea Cunningham 29:03
It goes back to the grid, you know, so it goes to the grid, but then, you know, what happens is the because it is a, at least as of when I was, you know, really in the weeds on the program, it was over 50% of the energy needs were met by by the solar panels. So yeah, but yeah, so that’s yeah, because it is on the grid, it’s not an off grid system, but that is you know, that’s something that resilience, climate resilience is is really would be the next step is to have like a battery backup system. So when the when the blackouts happen as we know, they do happen, especially in heat waves and whatnot, then the school will be able to stay and keep the lights on basically. So I was gonna
Michael Hingson 29:55
actually ask you about batteries. I know that the technology hasn’t probably progressed as nearly as much as we would like, but has battery backup technology advanced to the point where it makes economic sense to to get batteries. So for example, in our home here, my home, we have solar, we sell back to the grid, and we don’t have battery backups. And when we bought solar and set it up six years ago, when the house was built, the person who did it said, batteries are still not worth it. They don’t get warranted long enough. And they’re very expensive for what you actually get. What do you think?
Shea Cunningham 30:34
Well, I mean, I’m not a full on expert and up on up on that. But I would say this, in general, it’s the technology just keeps improving rapidly, the costs keep coming down. And when I was I actually also worked for a couple of years in the city of Malibu and, and battery backups, were going in very rapidly across the, you know, the residents. And I know that’s a little bit more affluent. community, but but there are more and more certainly, sort of government agencies and buildings that are that recognize the importance of the battery backup for for sort of public safety. So you might want to weigh it out. I mean, I would just keep I would keep looking out. And also, the other thing I meant to say, is they also have a lot of rebates and what not, because they’re, you know, there is government programs that are encouraging people to do this. So I would just say Keep it keep an eye out.
Michael Hingson 31:38
What do you think about the new rules in California, the Public Utility Commission just adopted some new rules that I guess are gonna make a significant change in how much people get back from solar and so on. Are you familiar with those?
Shea Cunningham 31:51
You know, I’m not super up to date on it. But I know that there’s stuff going on. And and I think some of it is not in a good direction. Yeah. So yeah. So I think that, yeah, there’s that is something to stay abreast of. But I think in the end, you know, it’s got to get move in the right direction, because we I can just, I mean, in terms of emission reduction targets, yes, tonsa municipalities have made them, certainly the state has made them a lot of cities have made them, you know, going net zero by 20 2040, I believe is Los Angeles, by 2050, for the state of California. And also, if I’m not mistaking, I think that’s also the case for the federal government has made that commitment as well. And then corporations are publicly traded corporations are actually going to be mandated to do so beginning January 1 2024. Because the SEC, the Security and Exchange Commission is going to be there any day. Now, q1, when this this first quarter here in this this year, 2023. They’re supposed to be publishing their new regulations, which will be effective January 1 2024. And that’s going to that’s going to include greenhouse gas inventories, they need to be third party certified, there needs to be target emission reduction targets made and there needs to be progress made upon those targets on an annual basis through reporting. So things are definitely moving in that direction.
Michael Hingson 33:35
Well, we said at the beginning that you were a sustainability expert. And so I’d love to get into some of that what it really is sustainability.
Shea Cunningham 33:45
Sustainability, the the UN, I believe the United Nations calls, defines it as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs a future generations. So that’s it in a nutshell. But it’s also seen there. There’s also a term called the three P’s, which is people planet and profit. So it’s definitely not just about the environment. It is also equally about the impacts on the community, you know, community well being social well being, as well as the finances of it, like is it? Is it financially sustainable? There’s another sort of visual of the three legged stool. So you need each pillar because they won’t stand up if it if, if if you have a pillar that’s missing. So it’s the environment, it’s the social aspect, and it’s the, like I said, the economy or the financial aspect of it.
Michael Hingson 34:46
So, the the idea, though, is that we do need to look not only for now, but we do need to look for the future. And it just seems to me that when I hear a lot of the debates, and I hear are a lot of the discussions coming out of Washington and other places. There’s a cadre of people who just tend to not seem to be thinking much about the future at all. How do we change that? How do we get people to really look more toward the fact that we are all responsible, and we have to take an active effort and all this
Shea Cunningham 35:22
very good point, you really hit it on the head, but it is, it is perplexing to me that there are so many people that are not not really taking the responsibility and not really accepting the fact that that we all need to work together to sort of do our part, because the signs are all out there. I mean, we are we are living in the reality of climate change at a much more rapid pace than the scientists predicted. By but at the end of the day, it Yeah, it’s not political. And I think that it’s become politicized, sadly. And I think we got to, I think it to really answer your question, I think everybody, everybody wants to live in a clean world, everybody wants, doesn’t want to see, you know, a garbage and pollution. Nobody likes that stuff. I think everybody is, is shares that, that desire. And I think that, you know, we, I think that’s part of the message that we need to get across is like, you know, we’re not, this is not a blame game, we just, you know, we just need to work together on this. And it’s not about I mean, the earth is going to be fine. I mean, quite frankly, if humans humans go, the earth is going to repair itself, because we know Mother Nature is amazing. So it’s really more about like saving ourselves, quite frankly, and saving our, you know, our, our grandchildren, our children, our grandchildren. So and it’s, again, it’s not something I want to emphasize, it’s not something that’s in the future, we’re already living in this situation, as you know, the extreme weather events, like very massive storms, elongated storms, larger fires than ever long, long term droughts. We’re in a 20 year drought. Now, even though we already have this. Tons of precipitation happening now, that’s probably not going to continue. That’s, so we have, you know, it’s kind of like Global Weirding. I’m not sure if you heard of that term, but I think I really feel like that encapsulates it, there’s just crazy weather patterns going on. It’s very destructive. And, and that’s why businesses are really waking up. In fact, the US military has woken up to this, you know, a couple decades ago, they’ve been building climate resilient systems because of that. So and then corporations, larger corporations are really, they’re out in front of the SEC regulations already, because they’re seeing that their supply chains are starting to go wonky, because when you have flooding happening, when you have fires happening, you know, it destabilizes the supply chain, it, you know, obviously cuts into productivity cuts into the cost the revenues. And, and it makes things much more in, you know, it’s it’s, it’s not a shirt, you know, and I’m saying it’s, it’s, it makes it much more challenging, basically. So they’re waking up. And they’re, it’s, and I think they really, especially with the United Nations, and the Global Compact, which is the sort of corporate member corporate kind of club for engaging in the United Nations and their sustainable development goals and whatnot. They’re working together with corporations to, to achieve, you know, to work on progressing and to work on getting more renewables out there. So we have the options to start really bringing down the carbon.
Michael Hingson 38:53
Yeah. And you said that this isn’t really a political issue, or shouldn’t at least be a political issue. And that makes perfect sense. But unfortunately, it’s become so much of a political issue, let’s say, at least in this country, you’ve got people who say, Well, this isn’t really set, there’s no such thing as climate change, because it’s really just nature. And it’s the way it’s always been, it’s the way it’s always going to be, how do we get people to recognize that there really is a difference?
Shea Cunningham 39:23
Well, I think it’s really there’s so much evidence, you know, so I think it’s, it’s really boils down to education. I think we need to have more kind of roundtable discussions. I think we need to, you know, meet people where they are and and sort of focus in on what what’s impacting them personally, and what might be impacting their family personally, but also the coming back to it’s really the sciences there. The evidence is there, I think and I’d be happy I don’t know if we if this is a possibility, but I’d be happy to, to to I’m give you some links that you can share on your in your program, please do. Okay, so I’ll do that. But I think at the end of the day, it’s really the education piece.
Michael Hingson 40:12
And people need to be open to be educated, before it gets too late, because this is it’s not a new concept that there are things happening. I mean, you can go back to the Silent Spring with Rachel Carson years ago. That’s right. So we’re not dealing with anything magical here. And the more some people protest, and the more things happen, it’s pretty clear that there really is an issue that we have to deal with.
Shea Cunningham 40:41
Absolutely. And so So for you,
Michael Hingson 40:43
you, you did a lot of work and public policy and so on, but what really then drew you to get so incredibly involved in sustainability and so on, was it what happened in kindergarten? Or is it just that you always notice those things are what?
Shea Cunningham 41:01
Yeah, you know, it’s, I think it’s just in my DNA, Michael, I just, it just really was a no brainer for me that this is what I wanted to do with my, you know, professionally with my life. So I very much, you know, I feel very fortunate actually, to be in this to be in this field. Because it’s, it’s, for me, it’s just deeply meaningful. And I sort of live and breathe it, like I try to be as sustainable as I can in my own life. And, you know, so I make sure that I am, you know, I tried to reduce my own carbon footprint. So I’m, I’m also walking the talk, but it just was a natural fit for me. And, again, as I mentioned, like, I’ve, I’m a big nature lover, I’ve always felt better when I’m outside and, you know, taking a walk in the forest, or, or, you know, watching the sunset on the beach. And I mentioned, I loved them or ride my bike, and, you know, go through in being different, explore different routes, you know, and, and I just feel very compelled to do my part to help preserve and conserve and repair and restore our, our environment.
Michael Hingson 42:18
Well, it’s, it really is, I think, relevant and important to step out and look at things that are different from what we’re used to. I love, for example, going to, when we were in Northern California, places like near woods, and forests, and so on, I love forest, just because the sounds are so different, or in the environment is so different. It was so much fun to be able to be in there and experience a different environment like that. And I’ve kind of always thought to myself, I can live here. But it’s so important that we understand different places then we’re specifically used to and as a public speaker, who has been traveling for now, the last 21 and a half years, I’ve always been so interested and excited to explore new places and just experience different environments, caves and other things like that as well.
Shea Cunningham 43:19
Yeah, I’m with Yeah, I definitely feel the same way. And it’s just, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s a way for us to repair ourselves when we when we’re out in nature.
Michael Hingson 43:31
You haven’t lived until you’ve been in the middle of New York City just after a blizzard, and you’re walking down Madison Avenue, when there are no cars around, and it’s so quiet. And nothing is going on. Because there’s just way too much snow it was it was so much fun to get to do that once.
Shea Cunningham 43:49
Right on. It’s awesome. And there’s also nature, you know, I think it’s so important to bring nature to the cities to, you know, in terms of like, you know, there’s urban forests, for instance. I mean, when we have a lot of trees in the city, it just makes everybody feel better.
Michael Hingson 44:10
Yeah, absolutely. It’s, it really is important to, to, if you can’t bring people to it, then bring it to people, at least as much as you can.
Shea Cunningham 44:21
Michael Hingson 44:22
So you talked earlier about what you did when your son was in kindergarten and really noticing the whole issue about recycling and so on. Overall, I guess two thoughts. One, how is it effective and why is it effective to explore and bring sustainability into elementary schools?
Shea Cunningham 44:49
Very good question. I think it is imperative to do that. To bring it to young really young kids, because they are like sponges, you know, so they’re are, they’re able to pick up these new habits and make them just habits that they don’t have to think about in terms of, you know, being good at and reducing their waste, for instance, not bringing, you know, reuse are like water, plastic water bottles, for instance, in plastic bags. And like, in saying, No, I’m going to bring reusable as I have a reusable water bottle, and you know, that’s better for the environment, it’s better for me. And, and, and being careful about recycling and that sort of thing. It when, when you teach the young kids they are like, like I mentioned, they’re little sponges, and so it just becomes habit for them. And then it’s not something that they really have to learn and, and whatnot. So that’s really, you know, when you get to like, high school, as we all know, something happens to the teenage brain. And, and they are, you know, sometimes it’s, they’re a little defiant, and, you know, they don’t necessarily want to do with what the adults are saying and whatnot, so. So it’s harder, it’s harder. And as we all know, it’s also it’s always hard, hard to change, especially for adults. You know, not everybody, it’s usually change is hard. I mean, you’ve heard that term before. But that’s one only one thing you can ever, ever really be sure of in life is change, because everything changes. And so we might as well go with the flow, and learn how to be skillful at riding the waves of change. Right. So that Yeah, I mean, I just think that the younger, the better. And if we all did that, if it was universal, you know, within a within a half a generation we’d be we’d be, you know, doing great.
Michael Hingson 46:45
What’s ironic, of course, is that, however it happens, we’re taught to fear change. Yep. You know, we all say yeah, change is all around us. Change happens. But when it really comes down to it, we’re afraid of it.
Shea Cunningham 46:59
Yes, chain. Well, that yeah, they talked about change being hard. And yeah, we kind of go into that reptilian brain of like, oh, yeah, no fear. We gotta watch out for this. And I think it’s, I think that makes it the biggest challenge, you know, and it’s, and I do think that he is a politician and Al Gore. And if you remember his Inconvenient Truth, Inconvenient Truth. Yeah. I think that’s a brilliant phrase, because that’s really what it is. Yeah, it’s not it’s not, you know, we we have built especially in in this country, as you mentioned, it’s it’s more political in this country than anywhere else in terms of climate action, and, you know, and the awareness of climate change or lack of awareness, but it is it is something that you know, we what am I trying to say, Where am I going with my thoughts? I’m having a moment
Michael Hingson 47:53
well, we continue to fear change, it’s yes. And it’s it it shouldn’t be an inconvenient truth the change happens but you have it on the hand. He’s right. I was a while before I actually saw it. I was actually flying to Japan after my first book thunder dog was published and that’s where when I actually watched the movie, it was on the on the airplane, but it was so enjoy I watched it twice. But I I really appreciated what he had to say and he is absolutely right. Yeah. And it’s it shouldn’t be An Inconvenient Truth but we make it something that’s inconvenient we just don’t like to deal with all of that
Shea Cunningham 48:36
good point and that’s what I the the word convenient is what I was get trying to get back to that we have created this culture and in America I think it really started in the 1950s of convenience creating a culture of convenience Yeah, so you know like Oh, TV dinners and fast food and disposable water bottles and you know does everything is to go coffee to go with with a disposable you know, cup and lid and we’ve we we are we are literally swimming and like we’re you know way over our heads and waste now we have a serious waste problem, which of course is also carbon emission problem as well. And we have so much waste in this country and it’s and it’s all because of like oh you know creating this sort of like it’s a mirage really of like, oh we’re better off because we have all this stuff that we can collect and we can you know just enjoy once and throw away and you know and so that’s the kind of stuff that it is hard but we got to change that that we can’t keep living like that. Are there
Michael Hingson 49:42
any water bottles so they throw away water bottles that actually are recycle and Will are biodegradable and so on? Have we done any of that?
Shea Cunningham 49:51
There are there are bio plastics, but that’s actually a whole nother problem. Because our infrastructure, our recycling info structures inadequate, and to handle those bio plastics, they have to be basically heated up to a really high degree. And very, very few municipalities have that capacity at this point in time. But, you know, there is something about like being up, you know, in terms of the source is better, because it’s not fossil fuel driven, or, you know, it’s not made by fossil fuels are made from fossil fuels. But, but, you know, standard plastic bottles can be recycled, but at the end of the day, you know, only about I mean, it’s really, it’s really kind of like, oh, like, only about like, 10% of total recycling stream really gets recycled. And it’s because they’re, you know, so I know, there is some hope in California, there is a bill that finally got passed. It’s been like up for passage for many, many, many years. But all I forget exactly the year, I think it’s not till 2025, maybe 2030, which is too far into the future, from my perspective, but that all packaging has to be actually recycled or composted by that date in in, in California. And you know, when California when something as big as the California economy makes a change like that, then it will, it will have reverberate reverberations across other states as well. So I’m somewhat hopeful that we’re moving in a in a good but very slow direction, in the right direction. But, you know, besides just like the disposable, sort of packaging and whatnot, it’s, it’s just, you know, like a fast fashion, I’m sure you’ve heard of that term of like, you know, Textiles and Apparel, that sort of thing, and, you know, purchasing of stuff, we don’t really need, that. That’s the kind of stuff that I think we just need to be more reflective and mindful in our in our society.
Michael Hingson 51:57
Yeah, we, we need to recognize that we need to be the solution and not the problem are not part of the problem. And we’re just not collectively doing nearly as much of that as we should. And another example of some of that we hear about a lot is greenhouse gases, where where do they come from? And where do greenhouse gases fit into the whole equation of what we’re talking about? Right.
Shea Cunningham 52:23
Good question. So greenhouse gases, I have been mentioning emissions, and I was referring to greenhouse gas emissions. So that is basically what is what happens when fossil fuels are burned. So fossil fuels are, you know, mined or are extracted from the earth. very, they’re very, very polluting. And they, they’re basically through the through the energy industry. That’s one of the major sources of fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions in our country, and actually, mostly around the entire world. Industry. And transportation is another another source of the greenhouse gas emissions, it’s up to depends on you know, it’s kind of any, there’s different ways to slice and dice the pie of in terms of where the emissions come from. But I’ve read many, many different sources that say about 40% of our emissions come from fossil fuel burning of in cars, and trucks. So that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to move away from fossil fuel burning cars and move into electric cars. I know that there is gap greenhouse gases that are emitted in the making of the cars, but in terms of in terms of driving the electric vehicle vehicles, especially if you are charging, you know, in a house or a home that is that is has solar energy, right? Yes, then you really are making a big impact and big positive impact.
Michael Hingson 54:06
Yeah, and that, that makes a big difference. And I know we’re going to get there. I do hope it happens sooner than later. I I’m absolutely, totally supportive of the whole concept of electric vehicles. Although I do think that we need to be responsible. And there have been laws passed about this. But too many electric vehicles still Don’t make a noise. So those of us who don’t see those cars coming are put in danger. And it’s now been 13 or 12 years. And since the law was passed the pedestrian enhancement Safety Act that said the cars need to make noise, and they’re still playing with standards and trying to deal with it and the reality is that the best ironically, from at least my perspective, maybe scientifically, someone will come up with something different but I happen to hurt it. At the best way for me to deal with a vehicle and making noise is the sound of an internal combustion engine. And they ought to be able to emulate that sound in cars because I can tell the difference between a bus and a car and a truck. And I can tell more about whether the car is speeding up or slowing down because of all the different nuances of an internal combustion engine sound. So one tone isn’t going to do it. But they haven’t done that yet, really. And at some point, once again, it’s going to have to be addressed because even NITSA has said that when cars are quiet, for the total population, there’s 1.5 times as likely hood of an accident happening and the pedestrian doesn’t just blind people anymore. Right? You know, that that’s what got the law passed in the first place?
Shea Cunningham 55:59
How interesting. Thank you for telling me that, because that’s something I never thought about that’s really opens my mind to that?
Michael Hingson 56:05
Well, it is it is something that needs to be dealt with. And but I love the concept of electric vehicles. And you know, I have I’ve actually driven a Tesla down i 15. And the driver was the the normal owner and driver was in the car and said you want to drive it? I said, Sure. So I drove about 15 miles and appreciate what it can do. And I realized that we’ve really are on the cusp of the whole concept of autonomous vehicles. What we have now is not anything like what we’re going to have in 20 years, and the viability and the the foolproof nature of what they can do is going to come. But we have to start somewhere.
Shea Cunningham 56:49
Absolutely. Yeah, that’s, that’s gonna be fair. I mean, I’m a little nervous about it. But you know, again, change is hard.
Michael Hingson 56:57
Well, I think there’s reason to be nervous. Because we can’t move too quickly or otherwise, we’re going to push the cars beyond the limits of what they can do today. But we’re seeing constant improvements in the whole concept of autonomous vehicles. And the time is going to come when they really will be as safe and as foolproof as we would like them to be. Or as we read about in science fiction books, that’s coming.
Shea Cunningham 57:25
Michael Hingson 57:26
I know, isn’t it? Well, how about carbon, a measurable carbon emissions and so on measuring them. And dealing with all the reporting and studying of such such things? That’s obviously important. And I would assume that one of the values of that is it really helps us get to a better understanding of whether we are we’re not having an effect on the environment in a positive way.
Shea Cunningham 57:53
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So that’s the greenhouse gas inventory that we you can do, you know, on a personal residential level? And of course, you know, municipalities do it. And businesses do it. And a lot of businesses are not doing it yet. But as I mentioned, many corporations are doing it and are demanding that their suppliers do it. And and the Security Exchange Commission will be mandating it. So that is, you know, in a nutshell, it’s basically, you know, for for business, it’s looking at the different sources of greenhouse gases, which I’m not sure if I mentioned, it’s really the major cause to global warming, which is like, which I think is it’s more aptly called Global Weirding. Because there’s, there’s extreme cold, that’s snaps that happen, as well as extreme heat. And as you know, glaciers are melting ice, and sea levels are rising the whole business. But But so, in terms of the greenhouse gas inventory, and we look at the different sources, which of course, buildings are a major source, you know, using the energy in the buildings, and then we calculate, you know, what, what is that in greenhouse gases, in terms of energy, and we look at the transportation, we look at business travel, we look at, you know, so airplanes, as we know, our jet fuel is very polluting, thankfully, we’re seeing the aviation industry start to starting to move toward making commitments at least to have electric planes, at least starting to phase them in by 2030. Because 2030, by the way, is sort of the year that the United Nations has focused on and to like, we need to have really measurable reductions and like half of our emissions need to be reduced by 2030 globally. And then, in terms of going back to like the business travel, you know, there’s more hotels as well that are just starting to make commitments as well to be net zero hotels by a certain date. So, you know, and it’s really the the proof is gonna be in the pudding like, we need to see the progress. We can’t just say, Okay, we’re gonna do that and then share best practices and 2030 No, every year, we need to win, you know, we need to redo the inventory, we need to put programs into place to incentivize people to, to take alternative transportation to work, including public transportation, carpooling, you know, if you’re going to buy a new car, go, Evie. You know, if you can ride your bike to work, if you’re not that far away, choose to do that do active transportation, that sort of thing. So we need to get those sorts of things in place and incentivize people tend to make it fun, because Because change is hard, you gotta kind of gotta be smart about it, and be creative about it, and make it something that is going to be engaging, and is going to, you know, people are going to open their minds to it. So and So basically, we take all the different sources of the data, where the greenhouse gases are coming from, and then we crunch the numbers. And then we like we, you know, we have our, our carbon emissions, sort of portfolio, so to speak. And then we know where, okay, this is where we are this year, this is where we need to get next year. So we have to do short term, medium term and longer term planning for year after year for, you know, reducing the carbon and in terms of the corporations as well, there’s, at least in terms of like office based work, I think it’s very important that we maintain, and it’s looking like it’s feasible to maintain sort of hybrid work schedules and flexible work schedules. So we are not, you know, needlessly driving back and forth to the office every single day,
Michael Hingson 1:01:43
I think we’re starting to grow to realize that there’s value in so many ways to allow people at least to have a hybrid schedule and do some work at home, helps family helps mindset, it helps everyone to sometimes be able to do a little bit more on your own schedule, rather than, Oh, there’s just one process to do it. Right. And so you are the director of sustainability for ASTN
Shea Cunningham 1:02:12
ASGN incorporated in and what is ASGN. ASGN is a is a company that is it’s a publicly traded firm in the Fortune 600. And there and they are an IT consulting and staffing firm. And as Jan’s main clients are really the top sort of 25 of the Fortune 500 Club. And so Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, IBM, and others are the main clients. And so that’s where the and especially Microsoft have to give a shout out to Microsoft, they’re the ones who are really the most sort of at the at the forefront of of making target reductions, and also requiring suppliers to follow their lead.
Michael Hingson 1:03:01
All well, it’s going to be exciting to see how things evolve over time. I really appreciate what you’re doing. And I hope the people who are out here listening will learn from it. And definitely please send me links and maybe links to things you have written and so on. And we will ensure that those are in the show notes so that people will have access to all of
Shea Cunningham 1:03:25
that. We’ll do we’ll do thank you so much, Michael. Well, this
Michael Hingson 1:03:28
has been really fun. Well, I definitely want to thank you Shea for being here. How can people reach out to you or get in contact?
Shea Cunningham 1:03:36
Well, you can either go on LinkedIn and look me up Shea Cunningham, S H E A Cunningham. And also, as I mentioned, I still have my certified woman owned business balanced approach. And my email is just Shea S H E A at balanced approach.net.
Michael Hingson 1:03:53
There you go. Direct contact all the way. Well, absolutely. This has been fun. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to us today in this conversation. I’d love to hear your comments, feel free to email me at Michaelhi at accessibe A C C E S S I B E.com. And while you’re thinking about access to be go to the website and do a free audit of your own website and see how accessible it is, which is another whole story. But you can also go to Michael hingson.com/podcast hingson is h i n g s o n and we hope that you’ll give us a rating wherever you’re hearing the podcast and that you go back and listen to some of the other podcasts. We really appreciate it. But a five star rating and your comments are absolutely invaluable and we hope that you’ll give us any thoughts that you have. Shea for you and anyone listening. If you have any thoughts of other people we should have on his guests on unstoppable mindset. Please let us know please email me. Let us know about guests. Give us introductions. We’ll bring them on.
Shea Cunningham 1:04:57
Michael Hingson 1:04:58
I appreciate that? Well again, Shea, thanks very much for being here with us and doing this today.
Shea Cunningham 1:05:04
Thank you so much, Michael. Take care. You too.
Michael Hingson 1:05:12
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com. accessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.