Tue, Aug 19, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Community Compass : PROFILE: Being the change we want to see in the world

MAKING EVERYBODY’S EYES GREEN Robin Winkler envisions a greener world that starts with opening our eyes to the problems around us, then making changes



It’s a hot, summer morning at the office of Winkler Partners in Taipei. At the reception desk the air conditioning is barely on and a floor fan churns on low. A few meters away is a bicycle and helmet. Staff walk around busily in casual clothes and house slippers.

Robin Winkler (文魯彬) — long-time environmentalist, lawyer and former Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) committee member — emerges in a T-shirt and shorts, his feet bare, and says: “Let me give you a tour around the office.”

The office is divided into two sections: one for Winkler Partners, a legal office that serves “Fortune-500 type clients,” and the other for Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association (WaH), a group that offers legal assistance in cases involving development projects that threaten the habitats of wildlife and people.

In his 12th floor office on Chong-qing S Road, Winkler opens a glass door and reveals a rooftop garden complete with shrubs, herbs, a vine trellis, an outdoor compost toilet and three metal barrels that collect rainwater to flush some of the toilets inside the office.

In addition to protecting the environment, Winkler is a strong advocate of “greening” our offices, something he calls “reverse engineering.”

“The process of office greening consists of observing what nature tells us and then trying to apply that information in the context of a modern law office,” he says.

We take the stairs from the 12th floor to the ground floor — with Winkler turning off the staircase lights along the way — and catch the subway to a meeting of the Taipei Bar Association’s environmental group, where attorneys discuss environmental issues from a legal standpoint.

Along the way, Winkler takes out a towel and hands it to the owner of a baked-yam stall, who wraps up eight yams for his lunch and possibly dinner.

Both Winkler Partners and WaH were founded by Winkler in 1993, but his involvement in Taiwan started long before that. Winkler first set foot in Taiwan in 1977, when he came to learn Chinese. Twenty-six years later he traded in his US citizenship to become a naturalized Taiwanese.

Asked what inspired his dedication to environmental issues, Winkler rebutted the notion that he first became passionate about nature after surviving cancer almost five years ago.

“We see the world based on our experience,” he said. “I had the good fortune to spend a lot of time the first six years of my life on a farm” in Wisconsin.

Those years were the foundation for his love of nature, he said. His upbringing by very environmentally conscious parents and his ravenous appetite for books cemented that passion.

Born to parents who loved the great outdoors and enjoyed the work of Rachel Carson — a renowned US nature writer and biologist whose works in the 1950s were pivotal to the environmentalist movement — Winkler said that more than a decade ago, he began going through mounds of books that seemed “to confirm a lot of things I’d observed, but wasn’t able to articulate.”

The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn and The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken were especially insightful, Winkler said.

“There are things that most people would be upset with if they noticed — like locking dogs in wired cages, slapping children around or having road lamps turned on in daylight ... The problem is that, people just don’t,” he said.

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