Liberty x Landfills
February 11, 2021

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Land of the free. 
Land of opportunity. 
Land of polluted water, rampant wildfires, and the second highest levels of carbon emissions (trailing only China). 

When privilege leads to devastation, does freedom remain? When our counterparts abroad lap us in environmental innovation, do we watch from the sidelines or immediately join them? 

A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the ability to easily join retail conferences and webinars overseas to learn more about the innovations and struggles taking place in countries such as Sweden and Bangladesh. This has been both eye-opening and disconcerting – but also a call to action for our small but mighty team. 

Our founder Jess recently met with Dr. Dale Medearis, a senior regional planner for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) and adjunct professor at John Hopkins University. Dale is committed to the unique effort of making global engagement by local governments more purposeful and outcome-oriented. They chatted about America’s approaches to local-level sustainable development, and ways that they could be strengthened — by implementing policies and technical innovations led by pioneering cities in countries such as Germany. 

Dale has spent most of his professional career transforming his learnings from other countries into actionable takeaways for the United States — especially at the local level. By leveraging his expertise and relationships abroad in regions such as Stuttgart, Germany, Dale finds and applies environmental, commercial, and educational innovations to help the communities of Northern Virginia.  Why Stuttgart? The city is a manufacturing hub (firms such as Mercedes-Benz, Bosch and Porsche are headquartered there) and yet the city is filled with greenspaces and lush gardens. Do gardens come to mind when you picture Detroit or Houston? 

Jess and Dale talked German policies, his bold vision for Northern Virginia, and his teenage daughters’ shopping habits. 

Signing ceremony with the Stuttgart regional council in 2019, right above the Daimler factory.

What inspires your work and how did you get started?

My work with the environment and learnings from regions such as Stuttgart is literally in my DNA.  My mom is originally from Germany and my father was a builder in Northern California. He was part of the creative culture that helped introduce sustainable practices to the region.  Their union profoundly shaped who I am and what I do.  The combination of studying and living in Germany/Austria, contact with family and friends from Germany, and growing up in solar homes in Menlo Park, California moved me into this world of sustainability.

You talk a lot about Stuttgart. What is so impressive about this German city? 

The region is recognized as a global leader in balancing environmental protection and economic development — especially through its remarkable reliance on green infrastructure.  The Stuttgart region prioritizes protection and care of large tracts of open space.  Home to Germany’s largest automobile manufacturing hubs and supply chains, Stuttgart is surprisingly and profoundly shaped by green rooftops on top of car plants, and a regional greenspace and green infrastructure plan that literally facilitates “cool air flows.” The Stuttgart “Climate Atlas” is an exceptional contribution to environmental planning at the local and regional level.

Over the past 20 years, our region has learned a lot from Stuttgart (and others in Germany) about low-impact development stormwater planning, watershed restoration, urban heat island mitigation, solar and renewable energy planning, transportation and urban design and planning.  But we have not yet ventured into the “green” industry or “green” business” sectors , but that is something to which we aspire.

What is your vision for Northern VA? 

First and foremost, I see Northern Virginia as globally engaged. This is apparent in the work of our businesses, universities, research institutes, civil society organizations and people.  But its global engagement is very rarely strategically planned and operationalized.  I aspire to formally institutionalize international work at the local level in a way that is purposeful, strategic and structured to introduce economic, environmental and social benefits to the communities of Northern Virginia.  I believe that local governments would greatly benefit from the creation of a publically-developed and transparent plan of global engagement that filters priorities and outcomes from non-priorities.  Sadly, too much international work at the local level is seen as event-based activities that result in very few (or sometimes no) outcomes benefitting the county, city or town economically, environmentally or socially.  Worse, it is often attacked as frivolous or wasteful. I want to change that by highlighting not only the benefits but also the necessity of this important work.

What do you like about the greenlist concept? 

As the father of three teenage daughters, I think greenlist looks great!  The environmentalist in me applauds the commitment to keeping clothes out of landfills and the father in me is drawn to the fashion concept that appeals to my kids.

What is your favorite clothing store? 

Good question.  I am hardly a clothes-horse.  Most often, I just slap on any pair of threads that I reach most easily in my closet in the morning! I am, however, very impressed with the environmental strategy at Hugo Boss and think they would make an excellent partner for greenlist. (We agree!)

Do your teenagers like to shop online for clothes? 

I have the impression that my teenage daughters don’t shop much online.  Pre-pandemic, I saw them venture out to garden-variety retail stores in Alexandria.  But I have noticed that they very much enjoy going to thrift stores.

How can people learn more about and support your efforts here in Northern VA? 

Arlington County has started an exceptional effort that I believe will help inform the people of our region about the importance of international engagement. They have begun mapping the flows of investments from overseas “within” Arlington County.  It is stunning to read that between 2015 and 2020, 75% of all new capital investments in Arlington County emanated from Germany and Switzerland — to the tune of $190 million.  This is a great way to introduce people to the important global economic ties and justify working to learn from countries such as Germany or Switzerland.

As we set out to change how returns have been processed since day #1, we are thankful for folks like Dale who like to help out with these causes.  This has been an unexpected gift of entrepreneurship; one that will lead to impactful change. 


Jess L. Owens
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we believe planet > clothes (and we *really* LOVE clothes)
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Written by Jess Owens

Founder & CEO at Greenlist