How to Change the World

A chance comment over dinner leads a state employee to start using E85 biodiesel in her fleet car


The other day I visited Madison, our state capitol, to meet with Maria Redmond, the Biofuels Sector Specialist for the state's Office of Energy Independence, because I wanted to learn what my state is doing to address the fuel crisis. Our Governor, Jim Doyle, had recently issued an Executive Order directing state fleets to increase their use of renewable fuels, especially biodiesel and E85 ethanol. One of Redmond's jobs is to work with state fleet directors to make sure they are meeting the Governor's goals, both in terms of adding alternative fuel vehicles to the state's fleet and making sure that state employees are actually using alternative fuels in those vehicles. It's a big job, but I was very impressed by the way Redmond addressed the challenge, by providing her fleet clients with all the tools and resources her budget would allow. That night I had dinner with friends in Madison, and our hostess, Kristen, a state employee, mentioned in the course of conversation that she often uses a state car in her work. I asked her if she drove a flex-fuel vehicle, and she said yes. Then I asked her if she ever fills it up with E85 ethanol, and she said, "I don't know where to find it." My eyes lit up. "I can help you with that," I said, and I proceeded to tell her what Redmond and I had been discussing that afternoon. The next day I sent Kristen the link to the website Redmond has set up to help state fleets and drivers to locate E85 and biodiesel stations along their routes, and she is sold. She wrote back: "Thanks, Mark. I love the trip planner tool! I'll definitely start mapping out all my work trips based on these station locations (it will help shave a big expense from my project budget)." Now, obviously, the fact that Kristen's bosses hadn't communicated this to her points to problems with the state's bureaucracy, but you would expect that. Redmond definitely has her work cut out for her, as her message is not reaching everyone it needs to reach, but it's not due to any lack of effort on her part. In any case, just because of a chance comment over pizza, one more state employee is using the tools that Redmond has created; she is filling up with a renewable fuel, and she will tell her colleagues, and they will tell their colleagues, and it will grow and grow. Sometimes it's really that easy to change the world.