Do LOVE the idea of restoring our world as your career?
Are you interested in 🟢revitalizing and 🟢 regenerating?
Storm Cunningham, a green leader, is passionate and on purpose with his 🟢 Reconomics Process as the path to Resilient Prosperity.
About the Guest
Author, speaker, and Green Leader, Storm Cunningham, the Executive Director of RECONOMICS Institute: The Society of Revitalization & Resilience Professionals in Washington, DC. The Editor of REVITALIZATION: The Journal of Economic & Environmental Resilience.
Books by Storm Cunningham:
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Intro: You're listening to Life and Leadership: A Conscious Journey. The podcast that shares wisdom and strength. Join your host, Dr. Michelle St Jane's conversation on how to have a positive impact for people, the planet, and the wider world. If you want to live a life of intention, to be proactive with your time, and bring your vision for the future to live one today at a time, you’re in the right place at the right time. Let's get started.
Michelle St Jane: [00:00:40] The road is full of experts across different disciplines. The opportunity arises within interdisciplinary and intergenerational collaborations to understand each. The field of a polymath, that being one whose genius spans multiple fields means we can bring together the understandings of multiple spheres, like economics, music, psychology, physics, politics, and let's gain a higher vision.
By bringing all these multi-talents and multi expertise together, we can collaborate and design a world based on finding the fulcrum point between the sacred money market, people, and planet. Joining this conversation, Storm Cunningham, the executive director of Reconomics Institute, the editor of Revitalization, a journal for urban, rural, and environmental resilience focused on regenerative economies, heritage farms, and nature. Storm Cunningham, former Green Beret, special forces diver, socio-environmental Imagineer who is focused on water, housing, job growth transportation, just to name a few. Natural resources, downtowns, brownfields, heritage, and climate, social justice education.
Have I said enough? No? Well, I've got more?
The storm is a speaker, and author of the restoration economy, re wealth and Reconomics. In his current role, he’s the executive director of the Economics Institute. He is involved in the Society of Revitalization and Resilience Professionals in Washington, DC.
Michelle St Jane: Storm, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
Storm Cunningham: [00:02:22] Michelle, thanks for having me on your show. Whatever it was I wanted to be, I can't declare success or failure. Since I'm still waiting to grow up. If I had to guess, then my primary passion since I was a kid, and has stuck with me to this day, is for reptiles and amphibians.
I've been an amateur herpetologist all my life. If you’d asked me at the age of five or six, I would have said I wanted to be in professional herpetology.
Michelle St Jane: [00:02:53] How brilliant! New Zealand is home to the Tuatara, a wonderful, beautiful, ancient being that still exists on the fringes of society and is probably a lot more balanced than most of us.
I’m with you on wondering what I want to be when I grow up too. I'm on the fourth chapter of trying something different.
What are your top core values?
Storm Cunningham: [00:03:18] Leaving places better than I found them. That's the essence of everything I do professionally and privately. Virtually everything I do starts with R E. It's all about
🟢restoring 🟢repurposing 🟢renewing 🟢reconnecting.
Michelle St Jane: [00:03:38] Yes, definitely a theme for sure. Do you have a favorite hero and or heroin?
Storm Cunningham: [00:03:48] My primary hero would be Gandhi, the most courageous person who ever lived. He achieved global level change with no resources.
Michelle St Jane: [00:04:08] Absolutely. I have to confess he's one of my heroes. I stumbled across him when I went to law school and thought, wow! Here’s a legend to lean into. His story, his ability to make change with few resources, inspires many across major diverse divides.
If you, Storm, were to become the CEO of planet earth what would you address first?
Storm Cunningham: [00:04:38] If you'd asked me that a few years ago, I wouldn't have had a ready answer, at least not a concise one. As a result of the research, I put into my most recent book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity 2020.
I actually have a concise answer there because I've spent the last 20 years. In my whole professional focus has been on revitalizing communities, restoring natural resources, creating resilience. And I've mostly been doing that as a speaker and workshop leader. I've shown up in literally hundreds of events all over the place.
All of them focused on some aspect of RE. For every talk I gave, I usually heard at least a dozen and I've probably heard more stories of success and failure in terms of improving places than anybody else on the planet. I spent that time looking for commonalities, looking for universal truths.
🟢What was always present in the successes?
🟢What was always missing in the failures?
🟢What was universally applicable?
No matter what kind of political or economic system. You might have. I distilled that into what I call the economics process. It's a minimum viable process that brings places back to life.
If I were president or CEO of the planet 🌏, I would apply that Reconomics process.
Michelle St Jane: [00:06:03] I really celebrate the fact that you've been in enough places and spaces, heard enough, and clearly had your eye on the dashboard of all the evidence to now bring all that amazing life, wealth, and knowledge to the fore.
Knowing who's doing what, that's invaluable for sure.
You're the executive director of the Reconomics Institute. Can you define reconomics for the audience, please?
Storm Cunningham: [00:06:34] Basically, it is the study of how an economy grows when it's based on:
🟢restoring natural resources,
🟢 revitalizing communities,
🟢 building resilience.
In other words, it's a RE. Just what it sounds like it's a refocused economy. Which means it focuses on the end of the life cycle.
All the other economics tend to focus on the first part of the life cycle, which has all the sprawl and the extraction of version resources, all the non-sustainable non-renewable stuff.
Or it focuses on the middle of the life cycle, which is the maintenance of the built environment and conservation of what's left of the natural environment.
Most people tend to ignore, to a large degree, even though there's over $2 trillion worth of this activity going on and don't really report on all of the end-of-life cycles. All the stuff that is based on revitalizing the places we've already developed and on repairing the damage we've already done to our natural resources.
Michelle St Jane: Yes. And with our beautiful blue planet, it is a Harbor of finite resources. For sure. I was quite taken with your stand on historic preservation. Why is this important?
Storm Cunningham: It's often the key to downtown revitalization. Which is one of the more common challenges communities have all across the planet. As a result of all of the sprawl and fragmentation that's happened in our communities over the past half a century, at least.
Most of it is due to, bad urban planning, poor architecture, you know, poor layouts of all kinds and single-use zoning, and all kinds of things that fragment societies, fragments the natural environment, separate the built environment.
We need to be:
🟢 repurposing this infrastructure and our buildings, renewing them,
🟢 reconnecting neighborhoods, reconnecting ecosystems, and the downtowns.
In that whole process with sprawl taking place on the outskirts, many, most communities are really focused on the downtown revitalization as we call it in, in the US or high street regeneration as they'd call it in the UK.
Everybody's got a different city center regeneration as they'd call it in Australia and maybe New Zealand.
What you find in city centers to a large degree is a historic village, repurposing, renewing, and reconnecting. Those buildings are often key to downtown revitalization because they expand the capacity of the downtown. At the same time, they make the downtown more appealing visually. Something that's got fairly universal appeal. It doesn't really separate the conservatives from the progressive's, the greens from the browns or anything. Everybody loves their heritage and wants to see it come back.
Michelle St Jane: [00:09:35] Bermuda is over 500 years old. I was born and raised in New Zealand, which is a very new country. Living in Bermuda, a very old country, it's amazing to see the depth of history here and stone buildings are just amazing.
I'm passionate about history and focused my master's research on 200 years of evolution of secret societies and voluntary associations. There was plenty of wisdom and things to learn.
I heard you've been here and included a Bermuda case study involved in one of your books.
Storm Cunningham: [00:10:09] As a matter of fact, while we're talking about historic stuff before I get into the focus of the case study, I really enjoyed the time I spent in St. George's the UNESCO site. My wife and I stayed at Aunt Nea's Inn. One of my favorite places. Beautiful Bermuda hospitality and an old building. I think it's one over 200 years old. I absolutely love that. Then on the other end of the island, you've got the whole Naval yard area where I met Dr. Ed Harris.
Michelle St Jane: I served as a trustee for over 10 years with what was the Maritime Museum now National Museum.
Storm Cunningham: Dr. Ed Harris is a great guy. We spent quite a bit of time together talking about not just the historic restoration work that he's been doing there, how he tries to integrate the restoration of the heritage with a restoration of the natural environment and revitalization of the local economy. He was one of the more enlightened historic preservation people I've ever met.
Michelle St Jane: [00:11:22] There are amazing wrecks going back for centuries as well. You can easily dive down to them. Often in less than 30 feet of water. If you're not a diver, you can snorkel above and see everything.
Bermuda was intrinsic to the success of the American Revolution, sending a hundred thousand of gunpowder from St. George's thanks to the group of Freemasons and Island leaders.
A World War II story about the Naval dockyard, HMS Malabar, tells that Hitler had announced the sinking of HMS Malabar, not realizing it was the Naval Dockyard. Another thing that people don't know about Bermuda was the capture of one of Hitler's encryption machines and a submarine as well. Flights from Europe to the US would actually fly into Bermuda and to refuel supposedly. While landed teams would go through mail looking for the microdots and all that kind of thing on Darrell's Island, which was the airport at the time.
Flemings, Spy 007 was based on Sir William Stephenson [1897-1989 who worked and lived in Bermuda. I believe has widow still here.
Storm Cunningham: [00:12:49] One thing most Americans don't realize is that all those forts that are all over Bermuda were primarily built to protect Bermuda from invasion by the United States.
Michelle St Jane: [00:12:58] Well, actually first it was the Spanish. The first I think went up in the late 1600s before 1700 anyway. Of course, in the cold war, they had the underground sounding systems here. Bermuda has played an intrinsic part in underwater listening devices.
NASA what was here.
Tell us about your 2008 book, ReWealth!, and how Bermuda with the case study on Nonesuch island fits in.
Storm Cunningham: [00:13:27] There are thousands of ecological restoration and species re-introduction stories taking place all over the planet. I was especially interested in the Nonesuch island story. Partly because it was getting headlines at the time I was researching and writing my book. The fact that it started off being an attempt to revive the Bermuda Petrel, which everybody had thought had been extinct for decades.
[00:14:01] Then all of a sudden, they found a small breeding colony on Nonesuch island and decided to revive an entire species based on that. That became this ongoing, very comprehensive ecological restoration of Nonesuch, a great case study. As is always the case when you're doing ecological restoration, you're discovering all of your areas of ignorance.
[00:14:24] I guess a lot of people complain about ecological restoration as a discipline because they're saying it's hubris, you know, we're playing God. Of course, those people don't complain when we destroy the planet. I mean, say we're playing God then, but somehow when we restore it, it's hubris.
[00:14:43] Dr. David Wingate and I spent a lot of time together. A wonderful fellow.
[00:15:02] He was just discovering all of these unusual, unexpected relationships, you know, getting rid of that invasive crap would help restore the grasses, which help restore the birds and all these chains and cascades of relationships here.
One of the stories he was telling me was how the turtles had stopped nesting on Nonesuch island because of all the invasive predators. When they got rid of the goats and the rats the turtles started coming back.
[00:15:36] He was saying that his daughter, when she was very young, saw the first turtles nesting again. Every year she went back out to see the turtles return. That was what they were looking for, to actually see that the process had restarted. What he did was bring in some eggs from another island, plant them there.
[00:15:55] When the babies hatch, they'd get imprinted on Nonesuch as their goal every year. He and his daughter would stand on the cliff waiting to see the first turtle return and actually nest on Nonesuch.
Michelle St Jane: [00:16:07] Yes, that would be Dr. David Wingate and Jeremy Madeiros. They do an amazing job down there.
Storm Cunningham: Is Jeremy running the place?
Michelle St Jane: [00:16:18] He is. The Cahow or the Bermuda petrel had a very successful breeding session. Fledged in June. For the audience's purpose, the Cahow is the national bird of Bermuda or a Bermuda petrel?
Michelle St Jane: [00:16:33] The island is the only place in the world that it nests, it burrows into the volcanic rock to nest and only has one chick. I think at one point they were down to like about 12 pairs. A very low population. The Cahow spends most of its life at sea. When the first settlers came in 1609 the Cahow was literally a major food source. The Cahow wouldn't have had any idea that these people were predators. They were night birds as well.
Michelle St Jane: [00:16:57] The Cahow was almost went extinct. I think it was rediscovered again in 1959. I wrote a song, Cahow: Bermuda’s Own, using the Cahow as a metaphor for raising awareness around social and environmental degradation. That song was presented at a UN PRIME meeting in 2013.
Michelle St Jane: [00:17:25] Bermuda had the first environmental legislation and turtle preservation in 1623. Now positioning itself as a green country and blue economy. That's one of the things they're very proud of, for sure.
Michelle St Jane: I see that you sit with public and private leaders in terms of broadening their understanding around the community, regional economic revitalization process, and strategically positioning their career, organization within that process.
☝️What surprised you in doing this work?
☝️More of a shock than a surprise?
Storm Cunningham [00:18:13] I spent some time in the military in an outfit, the Green Beret.
The Green Beret is heavily focused on strategy and tactics. The average soldier doesn't have to worry about strategy. That's all taken care of by the generals. The Green Beret work in 12-man teams behind enemy lines. They have to invent their own strategies and tactics on the fly.
Storm Cunningham [00:18:32] We got a lot of training in that and what I've found when I started working with all these public and private leaders is they’re they used the word strategy all the time. 90% of them don't even know what it means. Almost a hundred percent of them don't actually have a strategy. They even published strategic plans that have no strategy. It's amazing
Storm Cunningham [00:18:53] I'll ask a mayor, who's just announced that he's launching a revitalization program and I'll say, “wow, that's great. What's your strategy?” Now they'll reach up onto a shelf and pull down a 300-page comprehensive plan and say “here.” I'll have to tell him, “well, no, that's a plan. What's your strategy?”
Storm Cunningham [00:19:11] They'll say, “well, our strategy is to improve our quality of life and attract new investors and residents.” And I'll say, “no, that's a vision. What's your strategy for achieving that vision? How are you going to overcome the obstacles to achieving that vision?” About that point, they give up in frustration. at was one shock.
Storm Cunningham [00:19:31] The other shock is that virtually every button on the face of the Earth knows that to reliably produce something. You've got to have a process. It doesn't matter whether you're a farmer or a manufacturer. Or a government worker collecting tax revenues. If you're going to do something, produce something on a regular basis, you've got to have a process. That's the essence of being a manager.
Storm Cunningham [00:19:52] The essence of being a leader is being a strategist. The essence of being a manager is being processed, focused, and there again when these communities and regions launch revitalization and resilience initiatives, they have no process for actually producing.
Storm Cunningham [00:20:09] That's become the whole focus of my training sessions with public leaders is helping them understand strategy and process. Yes, a lost art, definitely a lost art. I'm interested in moving on to philanthropy now, because you see that you lean into a legacy where you serve colleges and universities, raising public and private dollars.
Michelle St Jane: [00:20:31] I appreciate that you are endowing new chairs, launching new institutes related to community revitalization, climate resilience, and natural resource restoration. What are you most proud of Storm?
Storm Cunningham Well, it's really a. The raising of expectations. When I've done talks at, you know, dozens and dozens of universities from Harvard to universities and China and Poland and everywhere, it's the same. When the university puts up that poster saying, I'm going to be doing a talk on how to restore the planet for a living.
Storm Cunningham: [00:21:09] The lecture halls are just packed. Young people love the country. Most of the younger generations today have grown up in this constant barrage of bad news about what their future is going to be like. When someone comes along and says, they can actually devote their lives professionally to revitalizing communities, restoring the climate, restoring natural resources, they just go crazy with enthusiasm.
Storm Cunningham: [00:21:33] I've raised the expectations and let people know that they can do much more with their lives. It's literally thousands of students. I'm proud of that. It's probably the most satisfying aspect of my work in many ways.
Michelle St Jane: Wow. Seeding that leadership journey is a very powerful stand. I appreciate that you stand in that space and direct your energies that way Storm.
Storm Cunningham: [00:21:59] Thank you. I didn't really have a choice once I hit on these concepts and discovered these trends. I really didn't have a choice. That's what I had. I understand.
Michelle St Jane: What do you wish you knew at the start of this journey?
Storm Cunningham: I wish I'd had a better understanding of how resistant places and people are to change.
Storm Cunningham: [00:22:21] the funny thing is that everybody wants what I'm promising. That if they do this, this, and this, your place will get revitalized. Everybody wants that, but many public leaders are concerned that if they introduce anything new into the system, it'll interrupt or threaten what they're already doing.
Storm Cunningham: [00:22:42] They're willing to give up on a grand promise just to avoid any kind of discomfort. The fact is that you can do all this stuff without disrupting what you're doing right now. But they're terrified of interrupting a project or some funding source or whatever that they just kind of closed their minds to anything.
Michelle St Jane: [00:23:00] Much wisdom in those statements. What do you wish you had done differently Storm?
Storm Cunningham: I guess I wish I had built a stronger and larger network of friends and colleagues with resources before launching all of this. I didn't have to do it all by myself.
Michelle St Jane: If you were to whisper in your ear at the turn of the century, what do you wish you had known earlier?
Storm Cunningham: [00:23:30] Basically, it would have been nice just to have started earlier. I'm turning 70. I planned to do this for at least another 30 years, but I could have made many more positive changes if I had started 20 years ago.
Michelle St Jane: [00:23:52] Storm, you're an example of a living legend. A vivid visionary. A person actively leaning into living his legacy. I certainly appreciate your contributions to this conversation and certainly to the conservation of our precious Earth. Would you like to share any last words with my listeners?
Storm Cunningham: [00:24:09] Remember this! What we restore, what we revitalized revitalizes us.
Outro: Dr. Michelle St Jane is a conscious steward of meaningful leadership in the world and the wider cosmos. Tune in for real talk around life, leadership, and your conscious journey. Be ready to create and cultivate your dreams and wholehearted desires. Your support is valued. Please follow, subscribe, leave a review and a rating. More importantly, share with your connections.
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Dr. Michelle St Jane
Podcast Host: Life & Leadership: A Conscious Journey
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Author, speaker and Green Leader
Executive Director of RECONOMICS Institute: The Society of Revitalization & Resilience Professionals in Washington, DC. The Editor of REVITALIZATION: The Journal of Economic & Environmental Resilience.