Writer: Perry Beeman
Photographer: Chris Boeke
Sustainability guru and world traveler Adam Hammes grew up in Richland, a conservative farming community in southeast Iowa that most wouldn’t consider the state’s epicenter of environmentalism.
His father raised chickens, goats and even ostriches. Hammes found it difficult to channel Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold that close to the barns.
Still, he immersed himself in the environment, playing outside every chance he got. The family farm overlooked woodlands, and the South Skunk River was nearby.
“The summers were humid and lush green—full of chirping crickets and hungry mosquitoes. The winters were frigid and powder white with snow—deathly quiet,” Hammes wrote in his self-published book, “Stress Free Sustainability: Leverage Your Emotions, Avoid Burnout, and Influence Anyone.” The 118-page volume came out last April.
That probably sounds familiar to many Iowans. But Hammes took the experience far beyond memories of playing outside in the way author and enviro-thinker Richard Louv praised in his book, “Last Child in the Woods,” in which he decried many children’s “nature deficit.”
“Picture me, an ornery 11-year-old, who loved being outside and playing in the dirt,” Hammes wrote. “I would camp by the river, hike in the woods, and walk the fence rows and stream beds around our family’s property.”
Eventually, through his college years and early professional life, Hammes, now 34, converted his childhood love of playing outside into a dedication to exploring the environment, meditating, rock climbing and scuba diving. Those activities made it easy to think of the Earth holistically. He started riding his bike and walking to get around, ditched his car, and examined his personal habits to make sure they were environmentally friendly.
Hammes’ book outlines his advice on the journey to sustainability, from not taking yourself too seriously to understanding that the trek is long, and not necessarily with family and friends who agree on every point. His goal was to avoid dry academic writing. “The other books are boring,” he says. “Well, I like them, but I’m a nerd. Others won’t read them.”
The book lays out concepts “so people won’t burn out,” Hammes says, such as emotional intelligence, environmental psychology, community organization and green marketing.
Hammes’ associates say his dedication to sustainability drives him. “When someone like Adam has the passion and drive, it comes from within,” says Derek Nelson, sustainability manager at DuPont Pioneer. “He believes wholeheartedly in sustainability, and that is how he has become successful. When someone can visibly see the impact they are making, it is very rewarding. Personally, I think this gives Adam solace and peace of mind at the end of the day.”
Hammes earned a bachelor’s degree in human services from the University of Northern Iowa with minors in business and environmental science. He was the valedictorian at Maharishi University of Management, where he earned an MBA with a sustainability focus. Over the past dozen years, he has worked in seven countries on four continents, including stints in Okinawa; Hawaii; Catalina Island, California; Germany; Costa Rica; the Galapagos Islands; and the Florida Keys.
He moved to Des Moines in 2007 to be closer to family and a year later created Urban Ambassadors, a Des Moines-based nonprofit that helps people launch sustainability projects. That group created a microlending program for women in poverty, school gardens, a green CEO speaker series and pop-up parks in parking spaces. He became corporate manager of sustainability for the Kum & Go convenience store chain in 2010; by the time he left because he wanted to work for nonprofits, the chain had 80 locations that were LEED-certified for energy efficiency, and more than 100 stores with recycling containers near the fuel pumps.
Today, Hammes directs the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a member-driven association that holds roundtable discussions and workshops to help companies mold their work in energy, waste management, purchasing and other arenas. “It’s great for people to turn off the water while they are brushing their teeth, but corporations use exponentially more water,” says Hammes, who also runs his own consulting firm, ecofluence.
Hammes recently was named co-chair of the natural resources work around the Capital Crossroads visioning process. A self-described workaholic, he spends time with his girlfriend when he’s not traveling or in a seemingly endless string of meetings and strategy sessions.
“Stress Free Sustainability” has sold more than 3,000 copies through Kindle and is averaging a copy a day between Kindle and paperback. It usually sells for $20, but the price varies. Hammes is donating $1 a copy to both Net Impact, which helps students and professionals push for sustainability, and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
At the end of his book, Hammes encourages readers to form teams to achieve goals, and to remain inspired: “Envision a world where passion and caring are constantly being translated into powerful action. Picture socially and environmentally conscious people around the world having high-impact conversations that produce amazing results in their communities.”
Perry Beeman, senior staff writer for the Business Record, has been covering environmental issues in Greater Des Moines for nearly 35 years, mixing in case studies in Belize, Panama, Africa and Brazil along the way. So he welcomed the chance to catch up with Adam Hammes, whose march toward sustainability (with no car!) has caught the attention of nonprofit organizers and CEOs alike.