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On World Water Day, we ask: What's in a name?

March 22, 2013

Scenic picture of Rivanna River


From time to time, people ask me about the genesis of the name of our company, Rivanna Natural Designs.  Native Virginians and far-flung fans of Thomas Jefferson are generally familiar with the Rivanna River, or the River Anna, as it was called in Jefferson’s day.  The 42-mile river is tributary of the mighty James.  The waters of the Rivanna flow from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay.  Those in the know say, “oh, you named your business after the river,” and I usually nod and leave it at that.  I did name our business after the river.  But there’s a back story – an embarrassing one.

In 2001, I had the good fortune to sit in on a couple of graduate courses in sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship taught by Andrea Larson at UVA’s Darden School.  Soon I was up to my ears in the works of Paul Hawken, Karl Henrik Robèrt, Ray Anderson, Herman Daly, John Elkington, and Bill McDonough. One of the first things I learned was this:  most Americans were so disconnected from their ecosystems that they did not know the source of their own drinking water.  Drinking water comes from the tap, most people said.  Appalling, I thought, as I headed for the kitchen to grab a glass.

Before I even got to the faucet, I had to stop.  I realized that I had been living in Charlottesville for over a year and was, embarrassingly, one of those people who did not have a clue about the source of my water.  I had a hunch, but I had never made an effort to find out.  It turned out that my hunch was correct – my drinking water came from the Rivanna River – but that did not make the moment any less mortifying.  What else about our natural world was I simply taking for granted?

Later that year, when I was searching for a name for my new business, a company deeply committed to minimizing its environmental footprint, I quickly settled on the name Rivanna Natural Designs. I wanted to remind myself every day about where my water came from.  I also wanted to remember that quiet moment in the kitchen when, with humility, I held that precious glass of water in both hands and started looking at the world, and myself, differently.


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