Friday, December 28, 2007

"Green" Cell Phones


I started this post over one month ago with the high-minded intention of buying a replacement cell phone that was perhaps "less bad" for the world than others out there. Fast forward to a week or so ago and I bagged the research and went with what the IT guy said a few of the people in the office had already purchased, a Blackberry 8830. After searching Research in Motion's website for "e-waste", "product take back", and "recycling", I found something akin to a recycling program from 2003, the HopeLine program. Reality; I bailed on the research and just went with the easy choice someone else made for me.

I am not sure how I lost the Motorola Q, but it's gone. I think I left it on top of my car and drove away. Either it was smashed when it landed, smashed when it was run over by another car, or picked up by a passer-by and...who knows what.

Before I gave up on my green cell phone quest (one does not exist), I did find a few mentions of phones that may have been a little better.

LG Cyon, RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) compliance makes it "green"

A recent article in National Geographic reinforced the societal problems e-waste is generating. The rapid obsolescence of electronics along with societies becoming more affluent and demanding more gadgets is creating mountains of toxic electronic debris to be dealt with. Guess where much of it ends up? You guessed it, poor and developing countries.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Sustainability Advantage


Christmas has come and gone, and one of the gifts I received was a copy of Bob Willard's DVD "The Business Case for Sustainability". I just watched the 55 minute video and found it to be well-made, interesting, and organized to help activists interested in promoting sustainable business to speak the language of business to business people. (image from Swinburne University of Technology)
Mr. Willard starts off by admitting that we are overwhelmed with the terminology around "sustainability"; terms like CSR, sustainable development, sustainable business, etc., are used interchangeably within the community of people that "get it". The problem; many people do not "get it". Mr. Willard goes onto address the three-legged stool of sustainability in terms of managing a company's assets. He breaks company assets into five categories, Manufactured Capital, Natural Capital, Social Capital, Financial Capital, and Human Capital. When we start using terms to describe sustainability that involve the management of assets, we are speaking the language of balance sheets and income statements, the language of business. We are getting away from "soft" terms like environmentalism and social responsibility that make some business executives quake.

Mr. Willard's description of the iceberg of company value is quite interesting, as are the statistics he provides on the percentage of a company's value tied up in intangibles. What we're talking about here is the premium the market pays for company ownership above and beyond the company's book value. This can be thought of as a company's goodwill or brand premium. From 1981 to 1998 the percentage of a company's value tied up in intangible value increased from 17% to 71%. The market is placing a higher premium on what a company represents in terms of image and future earnings than what their net worth is from the balance sheet. (I suppose one way to look at this is that there are many overvalued companies).

What does this have to do with sustainability? Everything. Since most of a company's value is placed in the market's fickle perception, there are tremendous risks associated with losing that perception and premium. Outright malfeasance or a lack of forward-thinking leadership that leaves the company exposed to risks that might otherwise be avoided can certainly destroy this value. If the future earnings of the company are threatened by climate change and management does not have a strategy to hedge those risks, what are investors likely to do? Flee to other investments that have hedged those risks and stand to benefit from market changes bringing opportunities they are prepared for.

Investors represent only one stakeholder group the company is accountable to. What about employees (imagine a time when an employee refuses to partake in a business activity that may comply with existing regulatory requirements, but contributes to climate change or environmental degradation. Could the employee take a stand on moral grounds and say no?), governments, customers, vendors, (with Wal*Mart's pressure on their supply chain to reduce packaging and be more efficient, you can bet others will as well), bankers, insurers, NGOs, etc. Climate change is on all of their radar screens...it just makes sense to be investigating it's potential impact on an organization.

In the DVD, Mr. Willard illustrates this with the example of the Enron disaster. He does not talk about Enron itself, but the collateral damage to the accounting form that no longer exists, Arthur Anderson. The consulting business was re-branded as Accenture in 2001, but the accounting and auditing arm ceased to exist. It destroyed the trust it had in the marketplace and payed the ultimate price.

Investors have become increasingly vocal about business risks associated with climate change. The Investor's Network on Climate Risk (INCR) comprised of 65 institutional investors with $4 trillion under management has requested Congressional action on GHG emissions and is asking the SEC to require listed companies to disclose climate change risks. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), started in 2003 with 35 institutional investors with $4.5 trillion under management and now up to 315 signatory investors with $41 trillion under management in, has helped companies quantify their risks associated with climate change in an open and transparent process. The realization from the CDP; manufacturers could lose 40% of their market value.

So, there are clearly risks associated with climate change, what about the opportunities? Mr. Willard highlights 7 areas that companies stand to benefit if they take action on climate change and sustainable business:
  1. Reduced recruiting costs - more graduates are making decisions to join companies that have a higher social purpose. Company is viewed as an innovator in a field of identical companies.
  2. Reduced attrition costs - employees are engaged in a higher mission and are less likely to leave
  3. Increased employee productivity
  4. Reduced manufacturing expenses - energy efficiency, recycling, products designed for reuse, resource productivity
  5. Reduced expenses at commercial sites
  6. Increased revenue & market share - competitive advantage, customers will start to demand clean & green products
  7. Lower insurance and borrowing costs - Lower risk premiums for borrowing
Companies are facing increasing pressure globally to operate efficiently and maximize their profitability. To ignore the activities that lead to a potential increase in profitability, whether climate change is the reason or not, may not be the best idea.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Green Patriots


Living in Massachusetts, I cannot avoid the fact that I am a New England sports fan. Rabid, no. Interested, yes. That Patriots are 14-0, and looking destined for another Super Bowl appearance. I am not a sports writer, nor am I pretending to have any clue about their chances of really making it there, I am just repeating what I have heard on various media outlets around the country.

What caught my eye was this article from the latest issue of Mass High Tech, Patriots pursue perfect 'green' record at Gillette. Seems that the Pats are complimenting the green in their playing surface and the green that comes with any successful sports team franchise with Green-e certified renewable energy credits to power Gillette Stadium for the Pats' home games (to extend through the playoffs). The pertinent info:

The Kraft Group, owner of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium, has partnered with Constellation NewEnergy to offset the stadium's power usage with wind-energy renewable energy credits (RECs). The contract, which has been running during the course of the Patriots first 12 games, will continue for four years.
Financial details of the energy credit purchases were not disclosed, but according to Carrie Cullen Hitt, vice president of product management for renewable power at Constellation, all home games will be covered, including playoffs.
The first sentence of the second paragraph raise the alarm bells; where is the money they are investing in wind power RECs going? Are these legit RECs? Are they really funding renewable energy projects? Constellation New Energy has been chosen as a REC partner by the Center for Resource Solutions' Green-e program from California. Green-e is one of the leading GHG emissions certification organizations out there, so I suppose this bodes well for the legitimacy of the Kraft Group's investment. It would be even better to see a few hundred kilowatts of photovoltaics installed on the stadium (plenty of room with no shading issues!), perhaps even extending to the sprawling mall being build around the stadium. It may make a small dent in the overall CO2 emissions that will come from all the people driving to events at the stadium and the new shopping center.

Sports owners are of the competitive sort, will the Red Sox (how green is Fenway Park?), the Celtics (c'mon, their uniforms are green!), and the Bruins (green with envy at the attention the other teams receive?) step us as well?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

First Green MBA Quarter Complete


It is hard to believe that I am not going to be in class for the next few weeks. The first quarter of BGI is over (unless I hear otherwise) I'll not be staring at the computer screen while slides flash in front of my eyes and chat messages flitter along the lower left hand part of the screen (many of them mine). They gave us the really cool glasses Sus 3-D glasses to make the BGI experience more "real" (photo courtesy of fellow BGIer Mickey Lee). Seriously, the glasses magically make the dark and gloomy real world disappear into a warm haze of brightly clad cities that generate their own power. By the way, the folks from Seven Cycles will recognize the shirt.

...OK...back to reality...

The disjointed voices of teachers and students, mingled in some strange web-enabled mesh, sometimes cut off only to resurface with a Mickey Mouse accent as the web's delay catches up, are gone for a while. The constant level of anxiety that I have been dealing with over the past 2 1/2 months has yet to completely dissipate; I feel like I should be doing some school work. Should I already be reading the material for next term? Should I be reviewing the materials I glossed over too quickly in a dazed rush to complete what needed to be turned in? What about "co-creating" the institution; shouldn't I be working on that too? Maybe I really need to take the week off and chill out.

One of my office walls is adorned with an assignment we had in "Intro to Sustainable Business", a course that introduced us to the various sustainable business reporting metrics, tools, protocols, guidelines, etc. that are out there. We took a fictional company and created a sustainability report storyboard based upon the criteria given to us by our parent company. Our team of five people were given about an hour, one big sheet of paper, and some colored magic markers...away we went! Folding the paper into eight sections, working simultaneously, we came up with an outline that made sense:
  1. Title Page & Table of Contents
  2. Welcome letter from the CEO (wow!)
  3. Manufacturing Performance
  4. Transportation Performance
  5. Product Performance
  6. Community Performance
  7. Supply Chain Performance
  8. Summary (where we are & where we're going)
It's amazing what a small team of creative and energetic people can come up with.
W e even did a short Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) exercise in one of the classes. Honestly, I am not sure I remember how to do one, and the real process is quite expensive, time consuming, and leads to reams of data that may cause brain explosion. But I have the foundation...

As I reflect on the other elements of the term, I am continually amazed at the collective creativity and energy among the students. We're a self-selected bunch that have made the commitment to attending an institution focused on changing business-as-usual to business-as-unusual. It's refreshing to be part of this unique community.

I'm of the cynical sort, and I've left myself outside of the circles due to creeping suspicion that we're a disingenuous lot, more interested in ourselves than the greater whole (projecting here!). Oh yes, I am guilty of the hypocrisy of living beyond the means of the planet. I'm not following my own inner beliefs about using less. The gap between where I am and where I want to be is wide indeed, but recognizing it is part of the process. The work to close the gap has just begun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Boston Area Green Biz Wins Forbes Prize


This is taken right from Recycline's web site:

Thanks to you, we won the Forbes.com Boost Your Business contest! On 12/12, Recycline's founder and president, Eric Hudson, went to New York City to accept the $100,000 prize from Forbes.com and Hewlett-Packard. While it was many months of pulling out all the stops, the contest was quite enjoyable for us, largely because so many folks rallied for us with votes and encouragement. We are very thankful for all the support we received from everyone who voted and asked their friends to vote. The grand prize will help us take on more environmental initiatives and introduce Preserve products to more and more people across the U.S.

Forbes "Boost Your Business" Contest

Guilty Holidays


The season of excess continues, the billboards of Santa gleefully chugging Coke is a nice reminder of that fact.

A fellow classmate at BGI passed on this article from the NYTimes, Guilty Green?; does buying a green Barney's handbag make you less of a polluting American? Do organic jeans shipped from Malaysia "cost" less than regular ones from Mexico? Can we really consume our way to a green Utopian state of collective consumption and closing the loop...probably not.

Related? Scientists: Global warming could kill coral reefs by 2050. So, you read this article and what does it tell you? Not much. The Starbuck's coffee you bought as a gift for Aunt Beru will help kill the coral reefs? Maybe. Seriously, I am a concerned citizen about the global climate and community, I read about the new CO2 emissions standards, pending legislation, what it means for energy, heck I'm going to a "green MBA" program, but what does losing the world's coral reefs really mean to the guy working to make ends meet at the local hardware store or the over stretched suburbanites on two incomes with 2.5 hour commutes both ways? I am NOT getting into judgments on any lifestyles or life choices, just trying to get comfortable with current reality. Whew!

I read it, felt depressed, made some leaps and superficial connections to loss of fish stocks and biodiversity which can undermine local and international economies, lead to attempts at industrial solutions and perhaps cause a global meltdown in sea life and even a lower absorption of gases from the atmosphere and since everything follows the laws of thermodynamics (entropy) and degrades into chaos...the atmosphere will simply blow away with the solar wind when the magnetic field shifts after the last fish dies...! That was some pent up doom-and-gloom energy.

Is the ultimate in guiltless activity the use of a biodegradable coffin (from NYTimes Magazine)? Is there an LCA that compares the different methods of burial to see which one really is the best? What if it turned out that the "greenest" way is cremation? Would all the hippies (corporate or otherwise) pick that method? I bet there are regulations that vary from city-to-city and cemetery-to-cemetery regarding burial standards. I remember hearing from a friend that embalming fluids are hazardous waste (how true this is, I do not know) hence the requirement for concrete vaults the coffins are entombed in. I find it interesting that we can pollute after were dead and gone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas "Greening"

It's that time of the year again, when rampant commercialism is so obvious there are few that can ignore it. As I anxiously increased my carbon footprint, flying from Boston to Baltimore in icing conditions (the rate of climb on take-off was steeper than normal...getting us above the potentially ice causing conditions at low altitude clouds) to Baltimore, I decided to leaf through the normally vacuous (insert airline here) Magazine. I was not disappointed. An article called "Green Santa", see photo from Delta's Sky Magazine, took some pretty low level swipes at Santa as being unsustainable. It's somewhat amusing...and, as simplistic as it was, maybe it will get a few people thinking about what gifts are suitable and reflect both the values of the giver and the desires of the receiver. I must admit, I like receiving gifts, but generally I prefer to receive items I can use. The fact that I do not tell anyone what I want makes this an interesting exercise.

No sooner did I shove the LOHAS version of Santa from my mind, did I see another article from the USA Today on the risks associated with giving with a purpose (some would say an agenda). Oh, you shouldn't have - really!, I am fairly certain I have done this...whoops! I think I sent my god son some carbon offsets from NativeEnergy a few years ago...what a guy! Apparently it's bad manners to decide that your greedy, selfish, avaricious, and climate destroying relatives should receive some guilt-riddled contribution in their name of carbon offsets to be named later instead of the asinine video game or framed painting of Bob Ross. I suppose there are better ways to ignite healthy debate among family members about our role in the collapse of our collective ecosystem.

In the spirit of alternative fuels, winter, beer, cycling, and comedy...check this out...Cycling High Life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Adjusting from the Bubble of BGI


Returning from the wonderful experience that is BGI's monthly Intensives, part of the unique hybrid teaching experience that makes BGI what it is, is VERY hard and emotionally charged each and every time. I return from the bosom of a community of like-minded, committed, creative, intelligent, and incredibly passionate people with myriad backgrounds to a work situation that does not echo this. It's like I'm beamed from the land of enlightenment to the land of repression. I am most certainly biased. I am overjoyed to return and see my wife; being away and not having her there to share in my awe of what I am experiencing is not easy. I want to take BGI with me. I have people with me in spirit, but that's not enough. I want the whole darn thing to be transplanted somewhere in the Northeast. Sure, Marlboro's program is starting in January (at least that's the last I heard), but it wasn't soon enough for me.

The alumni were there this weekend. It was fabulous to see them in all their enthusiasm. Four people that were instrumental in my decision to attend BGI were there, and it was wonderful to meet two of them that I had not met before. It is also wonderful to note that BGI is gaining more attention "out there". Apparently Amory Lovins likes to wear his BGI baseball cap at various events; what an endorsement. At a Boston NetImpact dinner meeting with Peter Kinder of KLD Analytics on December 3rd, I mentioned that I was attending BGI as I asked some questions about SRI. He said something to the effect that the folks that attend BGI are not afraid of the heavy lifting, of asking these hard questions and working to figure them out. That felt good.

As I reflect on what the experience has been for me so far, I see that it is the continuation of the personal transformation I started in November of 2001 when I quit my job and started working in bicycle retail. I now have a place where we are being taught how to become the people we want to be, how to recognize the gap between current reality (both personal and external) and where we want to be. As I commented to a friend of mine met through NetImpact, peeling back the onion of one's self can be quite traumatic; realizing just how far I am from what I would like to be is painful, and owning that gap is hard and easy to ignore with the aid of diversions.

On the academic front, I have most definitely progressed. I can look at balance sheets and make some general observations about the company's performance. I am getting my head around sustainability reporting and what "sustainability" means (a process, not necessarily a destinations). I am becoming more comfortable with the gray areas that make up triple bottom line thinking; it's different for everyone. I have stretched myself (a bit) to look at "me", look at my contribution to the systems within which I function and therefore contribute to, and how I can be a leader in changing business and society in the long run.

December 10, 2007 is a day of two great events...Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize speech (not so much Mr. Gore, though I respect his leadership, but the fact that he has been banging the drum for climate change action for so long, and it was recognized as necessary and important) and the first concert by Led Zeppelin in 15 years at the O2 hall in London. More than 1 million people globally registered to have access to only 15,000 seats. Imagine if could harness that market draw to push for climate change action.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Carbon Notes

OK...it's not today, I'm seated at a picnic table at IslandWood with one of me new classmates and we're clacking away and talking about blogs, climate change, and Youtube. What could be better.

I have been thinking about the "carbon footprint" concept for a while in concert with looming GHG emissions regulation, my own travel for business and personal reasons, and the project I am working on for school. There appears to be quite a bit of activity in this area over the past year or so. Two GHG Emissions tracking protocols have been launched based upon the WBCSD/WRI GHG Emissions Tracking Protocol. The California Climate Registry was introduced in 2001 with an in 2007. The latest update has integrated the WRI/WBCSD Protocol standards to provide homogeneity across the globe. 39 states have signed on the the newly released National Climate Registry, including California. Does that mean the CA Climate Registry will roll into the national registry? What about companies that take action without any official federal regulation in place? Will they receive credit? There are many unknowns in the near term associated with CO2 tracking and regulation. it will be interesting to see what comes out, especially in the US after the presidential election in 2008.

How 'bout a little comic relief from the good folks at carbonfootprint.com?

News flash from Bali: All nations must join climate fight-Bali draft.
The draft lays out three options for how to proceed after Bali -- ranging from non-binding talks over the next two years to a deadline for adopting a new global pact at a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009.
Rich nations should consider ways to step up efforts to curb emissions of greenhouse gases by setting "quantified national emission objectives", the draft says.
Poor countries should take "national mitigation actions ... that limit the growth of, or reduce, emissions," it says. It adds that "social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities" for poor nations.
What's amazing to me is that we are 15 years after the Rio summit and the language seems to be just a non-committal and ambiguous.

Can you imagine this ad in the USA sponsored by the government? If Nancy Pelosi has her way, maybe we'll see it in 2009.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Options to Address Energy Issues

Where should we be spending our climate change dollars? Generally, the energy generation systems we use are woefully inefficient. A steam-based subcritical fossil fuel power plant can achieve 36–38% efficiency, with supercritical designs reaching efficiencies in the low to mid 40% range, and new "ultra critical" designs using pressures of 4,400 psia (30 MPa) and dual stage reheat reaching about 48% efficiency. Of course, most plants are in the lower ranges of efficiency, with minimal gains since the late 60s. So, most of the energy that goes into the plant in terms of coal, natural gas, biomass, etc. does not end up hitting the distribution network, it goes up the smokestack. That certainly smells like an opportunity to apply systems thinking to recover some of that energy.

The latest issue of Orion Magazine has a short piece by Bill McKibben on the potential for waste heat recovery to combat climate change in centralized power plants, The Unsung Solution.
Here's an excerpt from Bill's article in Orion that illustrates one of the challenges facing recovering waste heat as part of an energy efficiency effort nationally:
For instance, in almost every state it’s illegal for anyone but the utility to run wires across a public street. So if Casten’s company generates more electricity from the smokestack of the coffee roaster than the factory can use itself, his company can’t sell the surplus to the guy making coffee cans across the street. They have to sell it to the utility, which wants to pay the lowest price possible for it. The utility argues that it still bears the cost of maintaining the network of wires that constitute the grid, and if it’s not selling to the coffee-can plant, that cost will have to be passed on to, say, residential customers.
So, due to the existing regulations, there is little the energy recycler can do to engage in the sale of the power they're producing? Bill goes on to say that environmentalists will need to include technologies like this (un-sexy as they are) in their efforts, instead of completely focusing on windmills, solar panels, and biogas digesters exclusively.

It certainly makes sense to work on the efficiency elements of the equation instead of the creation of new energy sources. The folks at the Rocky Mountain Institute have been lobbying for efficiency improvements since the mid-70's, here's an excerpt from a report written in 1990, The Negawatt Revolution,
Energy efficiency ultimately represents a trillion-dollar-a-year global market. American companies have at their disposal the technical innovations to lead the way. Not only should they upgrade their plants and office buildings, but they should encourage the formation of negawatt markets. And they should let the United States Government know that the best energy policy for the nation, for business, and for the environment is one that focuses on using electricity efficiently–for it's the only policy that makes economic sense.
What we're getting at is looking at our existing systems and optimizing them. This just makes sense. The barriers are certainly large, especially since power producers are in the market of selling kW-hrs. They may have energy efficiency programs, encouraged by government regulations, but are they really interested in selling less power?

Another player in the effort to create a more efficient energy infrastructure is demand response. If energy use is driven by demand, why not reduce the demand? Turn off the lights when they're not needed, switch to more efficient motors, optimize use in real time. One company that has attacked this opening on the industrial side is EnerNOC. Based here in Boston, EnerNOC currently manages about 900 MW of "demand". In the event of a high demand event, say a very hot day or a very cold day, EnerNOC, through its network of customers managed with its technology, can reduce demand in as little as 30 minutes. Their clients agree to allow parts of their business (things that will not affect the operations of the company) to be turned off, throttled back, or even turned on (like back up generators) under EnerNOC's management to help the utility meet the region's demand. What does this mean? Less power is needed, and potentially, when tied into the smart grid of the future, the need for many thousands of megawatts in new generation facilities could be avoided. It works because the clients earn money by supplying power to the grid, EnerNOC makes money as the matchmaker, and the grid operator saves money (potentially lots of money) by avoiding the purchase of high priced peak power. Winning all around.

All of these tools contribute to the reduction of climate changing CO2 emissions, reduce costs associated with electricity generation, transmission, and use, and moves us ahead in our thinking of what our energy systems should be.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cradle to Cradle "Stuff"?


Well, it may not be perfect, but the BioMoGo shoe from Brooks Sports is pretty darn cool. It was interesting to note that the news made it around the web pretty quickly, with the post on CSRWire coming up first yesterday, but now not even on the same page with the premier listing from SocialFunds on the Google search. of course Social Funds is just passing along the CSRWire Content.

Toyota took a bit of a knock from the Economist this week, A wobble on the road to the top. The magazine did not appear enchanted with the publicity stunt at the Tokyo Auto Show last month. The interesting undertone of the article was Toyota's commitment to being socially responsible becoming a bit of a liability. Yes, the article called out the quality problems with the new Camry and the Tundra, but what struck me was the way the author called them on the carpet for not being as green as they could be. The main point being that some Prius owners joined demonstrations to protest Toyota's "betrayal" for aligning with the Big Three to resist the proposed raising of the CAFE mileage standards to a fleet average of 35 mpg. Guess what? They still want to sell their big trucks in the US, with GM and Ford are on the ropes (GM is showing glimmers of innovation with the Volt and is managing to fool some of us with their FlexFuel Ethanol ads). I suppose we still want to do the "A Ha! Got you!" to the Corporations...and why not?

Recycline has made another addition to their line of recycled plastic housewares, focusing on kicthen and bath. I had the opportunity to see these items as they were hitting the street at the local Boston Cleantech Netimpact dinner earlier this week. I'm not much of a cook, but I did note that the items "felt" good. They were not flimsy nor were they too heavy. The strainer appeared to be well designed to include handles as well as tapered sections for pouring out the contents. The Preserve line now includes cutting boards, strainers, and resealable bowls of recycled plastic and environment friendly resin-coated post consumer paper cutting boards. Visti Whole Foods Markets to check them out (sorry! No Pacific NW yet).

With a nod to last weekend's BGI internsive at which we discussed Tsinghua Unisplendour Taihetong Envirotech as our accounting case study, along with our online class discussion about social justice and base of the pyramid business models, I found this article, How to make the perfect compost lavatory, interesting. There is so much opportunity for local community growth in developing countries if we look at people differently, perhaps taking off the pity lens and using the encouragement and opportunity lens.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's a Big Problem, MIT Enterprise Forum


I am not really sure I have the time for this, nor am I sure what I was expecting as I attended the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge's event entitled, How Innovative Businesses are Combating Global Warming. I was hoping to gain some insight into what businesses are doing to measure and manage their CO2 footprints, perhaps helping me along with the project I am working on with my ALP team at BGI. That was an incorrect hope, and if I had bothered to read the bios of the speakers attending the event, I probably woulds have picked that up. Here's who was there;

Keynote address: Ian Bowles - Secretary, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

Panelists:
So, first off, all the good policy news from the representative of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Massachusetts is back in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) I never knew we were out!
  • There are new (pending) regulations for GHG assessments on large (whatever that is) real estate developments
  • The state is promoting the development of cellulosic ethanol production. Mr. Bowles took a mild swipe at corn based ethanol for its pathetic energy equation. It's a way to send $$$ to the corn-belt states and big agribusiness. Of course in Iowa, they'll swipe at the coasts.
  • Evergreen Solar is building a new plant in Devens, MA.
  • Great Point Energy is building a clean energy demonstration center at Dominion's Brayton Point generation station in Somerset,MA.
  • There was something innocuous said about encouraging the installation of 250 MW of PV in 10 years (there is currently 4 MW)
Enough of the fluff. Professor Schrag got up and proceeded to blast us with a miniature version of The Inconvenient Truth. We watched a video clip of the Arctic Ice sheet in its spring time seasonal changes from January to September 2007. Guess what? 2007 was a new low point in the overall ice volume. What does that mean? If all the ice is gone from the Arctic Ocean, Greenland's ice is very vulnerable...could lead to a 5m rise in sea level...when? I don't know. Then, we were regaled with various CO2 concentration graphing scenarios, including the graph of the CO2 analysis from the Vostok ice core, covering 400,000 years of CO2 concentrations. We're headed WAY OFF the scale of what came before us.

The amazing part of this was the collective psychic sigh, a palpable rise in the anxiety of the room. It was as if someone had fitted each of us with a vacuum that sucked hope and optimism out of the room, yet, as quickly as it was gone, as the topic moved on, we recovered and listened intently to the people at the front of the room. It was an intense moment. The problem is massive, and we are not off to a good start making any sort of dent in the continued rise of atmospheric CO2.

There was one point when I nearly leaped from my seat to announce that I am hearing no new thinking here. I believe I am paraphrasing Einstein when I say that we are attempting to solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that got us here...that cannot work.

In an effort at levity, Monty Python may help out.
Random "green" news snippets from around the web:

Barney's Goes Green for the Holidays
Hollywood Goes Green
Ecozone TV
Distributed Energy Resources - The New Internet? In fact, would it be accurate to say the distributed generation is more democratic than centralized generation?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

BGI Intensive #2


The last weekend was spent with 100+ of my fellow BGI green MBA compatriots at IslandWood on Bainbridge Island; it was Intensive #2. It's all a bit of blur, a total of four days with a group of experienced and creative people, feeding off of the collective creativity and energy, and continually marveling at what people bring to the community. Flying to Seattle (carbon footprint?) Wednesday evening and then taking the red eye back Sunday night makes for a bit of a fatigue producing event, but I think I am surviving. Add to that a bit of carrying-on with the youngsters on Friday and Saturday night made for a nap-filled Sunday afternoon. I suppose I would prefer to stay there ad infinitum; coming home is like leaving a comfortable and protected place (photo courtesy of classmate Patrick Torres).

In any case, the weekend's main event was an assignment to make the business case for a sustainability to a company. It could be a completely fabricated company, or it could be one that one of the students worked for (or maybe wanted to work for). We broke up into small groups and had one faculty reviewer along with our classmates. I found myself incredibly anxious leading up to the event; one main reason, I did not prepare as well as I could. I regurgitated a presentation I created for a job interview in NYC with Interface more than two years ago. I did not get that job...perhaps that was an indicator of how "good" the material was. While I believe the main points I had identified for the discussion were good, my analysis of their impacts on the company as well as the financial bottom line benefits of attacking the issues was weak. The good news is that I recognize the short-comings, accepted the feedback constructively, and learned from the experience; use the graphics and the material to support the message, don't force the message into the format.

From my reading this week, Leading Teams;

Team Coaching:
  1. Motivation (at the start)
  2. Consultation (half time!)
  3. Education (after the close)
Focus on the team's ability to get tasks done, not on their interpersonal relationships.
Comments from Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline Chapter 11; Dialogue v. Discussion.
In dialogue there is the free and creative exploration of complex and subtle issues, a deep "listening" to one another and suspending of one's own views. By contrast, in discussion different views are presented and defended and there is a search for the best view to support decisions that must be made at this time. Dialogue and discussion are potentially complementary, but most teams lack the ability to distinguish between the two and to move consciously between them.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Understanding the Audience "Green Week"


So, NBC and CNBC are in Green Week. This is way cool. Has it reached such a fever pitch that the networks are hanging their hats on being green? Joel Makower of GreenBiz is way ahead of me, and has a full blown interview, but he does this for a living, right?

Watching Jim Cramer's Mad Money on CNBC last night as I flew to Seattle for round two at BGI, I caught the tail end of his interview with David Crane (what appeared to be) a classmate of his from Harvard and CEO of NRG Energy. This is the same guy that just wrote the Washington Post Editorial on the need for a federal cap-and-trade system to help us reduce our carbaholism. Clearly, he is out on the PR path banging the drum for NRG's strategy, including the construction of two new nuclear power plants in Texas. He gave more of a nod to photovoltaics as an alternative (Jim mentioned First Solar, of which I actually own a few shares) but did not seem to high on wind because of it's intermittent nature and cost due to the weak dollar killing the imports of wind components shipped from Europe.

The good thing about the integration of green themes into the week of NBC programming is just that; integration. Interweaving sustainable thinking into our everyday actions is what we ought (that's a tough word) to be doing. Perhaps their efforts at integration will be absorbed by those glued to the television.

When the Street traders are getting excited about energy stocks, then green & clean energy must be gaining more momentum.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Our Perceptions Create Reality


The leaves no longer flitter in the trees, they crunch underfoot as a stroll in the early morning chill through Beaver Brook Reservation. I like the autumn, though once we get into mid-late November and the leaves are long gone and the cold rain starts, it is not so much fun. The loss of ground cover also serves to uncover more garbage that passers by have tossed aside for someone else to worry about. This depresses me, and all too easily rekindles the deeply held cynicism that has developed in me over the last 6 years regarding our relationship with the natural world. Talk about making a leap in assumption, a few people decide to throw cans and bottles in the woods and I am writing off the entire population!? That does not make much sense.
I have nearly completed listening to “True to Our Roots”, the story of Fetzer Vineyard’s journey into sustainability starting in the late 80’s early 90’s from Audible.com. There are many points that I can take from Paul Dolan's narrative about this journey, most of which involve my own attitude, perceptions, and mental models of the world I inhabit. Generally, I think people "don’t get it” about climate change, toxic substances in the environment, sustainable business, and social equity. I all too easily write people off as having no clue about our contribution to climate change, no awareness of what we are doing to the planet that our next generations will inherit. Mr. Dolan repeatedly notices his own preconceptions and judgments about the people he works with and interacts with; he is the one creating the negative space about a particular individual that may inhibit the person’s ability to fully contribute to the organization and to the mission. If I somehow feel that I "get it", am I not obligated to structure the message in a way that engages others? Am I not also obligated to offer my beliefs and assumptions to those around me to uncover blind spots? What if some of the things I "get", or I believe in are patently false? Shouldn't I know that?
In my life and my work, I do the same thing to myself; I label myself as my job function; my job is to search out revenue. In the past six years I have looked for sales & marketing jobs; that is what I am. I sometimes find that I think this way about the people i interface with, they're a purchasing agent or a manufacturing technician or a customer service representative. No, they're brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. Labels become so limiting and restricting.
I know that the products and services I have sold over the years will some day end up in a landfill and the CO2 emitted from my travels are greater than the average. I am more than likely making more of an impact than I profess to want to make. Certainly there is hypocrisy in this life, and it grates on me. Yet, even as my reality is not in alliance with the future I see for myself, I have the power to take action now, in small ways, and make the effort in other areas to move myself and people around me in a sustainable direction. I recognize the gap between reality and the desired state, and have only to manage the creative tension it creates to work to close the gap.
As Peter Senge says near the end of The Fifth Discipline, ”get started.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

BGI Intensive...Wow!


It's been nearly two weeks since I started this post on my first Intensive experience with BGI. I have been thinking about a number of things, from my course work to the new relationships with my classmates to the lingering doubts about the value of the education to the leadership and personal development teachings that have already nearly blown my mind. Am I ready for this? Photo at right here.

The weekend was a blur, with familiar faces from the Channel Rock orientation to see and reconnect with and new faces from other sections of the same sixth cohort. The energy coursing through Island Wood over the weekend was quite intense, and I wager that despite the fact that we are all over 20, some of us double that age or more, we emanated something akin to the energy from the children that normally inhabit Island Wood's halls and grounds.

and Classes were good (though there are still come bumps with this small and growing institution). Despite the frustrations I experienced with the early phases of accounting, I found that I enjoyed reviewing the cases with my new classmates. I especially enjoyed sharing some of my new understanding with my team. There are many different perspectives brought to this community, and I believe that this diversity of opinion and points of view will provide something that I do not have. Intro to Sustainable Business (SusBiz) got off to a good start, and my first grade since 1994 was a good one...something like an "A" (or at least that's what I tell myself). I might as well congratulate myself while I can. Management I: People & Teams is shaping up to be a good class too, as there is much crossover between SusBiz and Mgmnt. I have a great team for my SusBiz "ALP" year-long project

If the amount of notes taken is an indication of the impact of a class or event, then the morning and afternoon we spent with in the presence of Bill Grace of the Deep Hope Institute was clearly the leader. The topic of the discussion was Ethics; how Ethics can be used as a tool for leaders to make good decisions in tough times and become the leaders the world needs. There were many insightful comments and thoughts Bill brought to the conversation, things that made me ponder my role in this global community and what I am here for.

Bill's message consisted of many kernels of wisdom, delivered in alternating doses of emotionally charged narration, producing sniffles and tears throughout the crowd to light-hearted jokes to bring us back from our introspection. His communication style was spellbinding, and whether it comes to him naturally or not, it was amazingly effective.

We discussed Ethics and what Ethics really is, a tool for good people to make tough decisions, for us to recognize the gap between where we would like to go and where we are. Leadership is then the ability to close that gap. Leader's jobs are to "tell the truth and point toward hope". He challenged us to reduce our values to a core of three; three words that symbolize what is most important to us, and then remind ourselves daily about those values and remember (put back together) what they mean to us. What are the values trying to teach us on a daily basis? What can we learn from them? If we pursue that which engages our passions, that which makes us weep, we will move into our core values more fully. If we know who we are and are genuine about who we are and what we are passionate about, people will follow.

Here are a few paraphrased comments and quotes that I took from my notes:
  • Surround yourself with the people who you want to be like. They will help you make good decisions.
  • "Speak the Truth in love to power", Dr. Cornell West
  • What time is it in America, on the planet Earth, in our home?
  • Leadership is not a popularity contest.
  • Be skeptical; look for rhetoric.
  • Budgets are moral documents.
  • Don't spin yourself; it's lying.
  • Be gentle with yourself; you're human.
  • Ethics is a tool to help us recognize the gap between where we are and where we want to be.
  • It is not about guilt, it's about awareness.
  • "Ethics help people make the decisions they think are good in the world they think they live in."
  • What makes us weep is close to our passion.
  • We are not responsible for the "All".
  • Leadership ship is 50% showing up and 30% core values; the rest are the details.
  • Do not underestimate the influence of small bands of committed individuals.
It will be interesting to see where we end up.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

American Electric Power...


...reaches "agreement" with various environmental groups regarding Clean Air Act provisions.

AEP reaches settlement agreement in NSR case

American Electric Power faces the acid rain music

This editorial from the CEO of NRG Energy is interesting. Clearly, he has a vested interest since NRG is filing permits for the construction of new nuclear reactors in Texas.

We're Carboholics. Make Us Stop from the Washington Post 10/15/07.
An excerpt:
A federal cap-and-trade system would push the power and coal industries toward deployment of CO2 capture and sequestration technology, which is essential to reducing our domestic emissions and, ultimately, to weaning China and the rest of the fast-growing (and emitting) developing world off traditional coal technology. Effective incentives for these new technologies could easily and readily be included in cap-and-trade regimen. Lawmakers need to provide both the carrot and the stick to get the CO2 out of coal.
I disagree, a policy toward CO2 reduction would be more effective as a tax. Corporations should pay for what they produce. A cap would provide a limit, yes, and the buying and selling of credits would create a market and help reduce emissions, but only to a point. The cap would need to be reduced over time. A tax would provide an ongoing incentive for companies to continue reducing emissions. Of course, the word tax carries a lot of baggage.

Monday, October 08, 2007

School of Choice?


I went to bed with thoughts of combining short term debt and long term debt for cash flow analysis dancing in my head, along with the Jolly Green Giant's FIFO Fum! I woke up with the same thoughts, and maybe a clue about what i should take on next. I did manage to get some reading done, though i am unsure how much stuck since I was preoccupied with accounting. The main points from "Leading Teams" Chapter 2:

Essential Features of real Teams:
  • well defined task
  • well defined boundaries (who is in the team and who is not)
  • delimited authority
  • stability over time
The most exciting thing I learned over the past few days is the inclusion of BGI in BusinessWeek's stories on integrated design schools globally. Seems that the folks at BGI may be on to something with their integration of business and sustainability. That's why i wanted to go there. Here are the stories as forwarded to me by a BGI faculty member:
Here's the main story link, Top Innovation & design Schools
1) Design-Schools Special Report – Global List Bainbridge Graduate Institute is internationally ranked as one of the top 60 best design schools

2) Designing Sustainable Leadership
An unconventional B-school in Washington, with sustainability at the core of its curriculum, encourages students to search for creative solutions

3) The Talent Hunt
Design programs are shaping a new generation of creative managers: The Second Annual BusinessWeek survey ...what is it about?

4) Talent Hunt: The Methodology Story: The international panel of 22 experts and 6 executives that chose BGI as one of the top 60 best design schools ---Who are they?
How our panel of experts arrived at the list of institutions that made our list of the most forward-thinking design schools.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Knee Deep in Accounting


I'm knee deep in Accounting 101 as my BGI experience begins to ramp up. The image from bvallc.com seems appropriate. I've always known that understanding finance is an important part of any business career, and it's something that I've always been meaning to study independently, but now that I'm paying for a new graduate experience and being held accountable, I seem to be more motivated to learn it. Though I sometimes struggle with the terminology and the recording of transactions in the correct way (was that a debit to A/R and a credit to Allowances along with a debit to bad debt expense?), I am starting to see how understanding the basic accounting statements helps one analyze and understand a business. Not to mention the fact that finance is one of the basic elements of an MBA, meaning I gotta "get it".

On a completely different note, as I watched the news this morning to catch up on the Red Sox's playoff performance, I saw a story on The Today Show about the KillaCycle, the World's Quickest Electric DragCycle. Interesting. Imagine getting all the fossil fuel guzzling racing sports into alternative fuels. Would that effect the nation's attitude? Given the billions poured into sports marketing globally, and the popularity of motorized sports, why not get them to help lead a shift in mindset?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Foggy Morning


There's a muggy mist hanging over the land today. For October 3rd, it's a bit odd. The tendrils of the low clouds mingle with the tops of the trees in a way that enhances the constant small crashes of acorns falling to the ground. It's practically raining acorns, the seeds of future oaks, some grabbed greedily by the squirrels that seem more active than ever, preparing for the winter ahead.
The sprawling spiderweb covering about 15% of the shrub near my front door caught my eye for a number of reasons. The entangled fibers, looking haphazard, but probably placed carefully by the designer and builder, reminded me of the interconnectedness of people and societies, especially some of the connections that are indirect and may not be readily apparent. We're all in one big system, isn't that cool?

Oh, and a blurb on New Source Review CO2 regulation from the Power Engineering e-newsletter:
New source review for carbonThe EPA may begin regulating CO2 emissions from power plants and other stationary air pollution sources under new source review requirements of the Clean Air Act, according to an sources in Washington DC. Michael Ling, associate director of the office's Air Quality Policy Division, says the EPA will propose a rule setting a threshold for greenhouse gas emissions. Speaking at a meeting of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee last week, Ling said the agency will propose the threshold in conjunction with another proposal, due by the end of the year, to set limits for emissions of greenhouse gases from mobile sources.
What will this really mean? More nukes? CO2 scrubber technology? Algae everywhere? The web thickens...

A quick scan through the latest ISA magazine InTech illustrated new ways to use old technology, The Simple Power of Ice.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Virtually Teaming and Green Redevelopment


I managed to stop by the Davis Square Lofts (see logo at right) yesterday afternoon to check out one of the latest green redevelopment efforts in the greater Boston area. Though I did not delve into the technical aspects of what makes the redevelopment "green", I did notice a few things that certainly make it better than a 3,000 sq-ft colonial in the 'burbs; 5-minute walk to the Davis Square T stop (I'm not exaggerating this, as is sometimes done in real estate ads, where "steps to public transportation" could be 10,000 steps or one mile, whichever comes first) ans easy access to a small fleet of Zipcars parked in the building's lot. I don't know if living in the development includes a Zipcar membership, but that would certainly be enticing for urbanites.

The scale of the development, somewhat smaller than the 800 unit development under construction in Lawrence called Monarch on the Merrimack, seemed more "home-like", not quite so starkly former industrial and isolated. Though lofts may appeal to younger and older couples without children, what do the schools' status mean to the people potentially buying the units?

The first online session for my business school experience came and went last night. It was a bit of a trial since the teachers discovered that there was a fair amount of confusion about assignments due to technological challenges. Apparently there was some errors uploading information to the site for student access that caused assignments to be switched around. I found it to be interesting just to listen to the questions from my other classmates and type inane references (just like in third grade...hmm..is there a pattern here?) on the classroom bulletin board. Given some of the comments that I heard, perhaps I am more proactive and prepared than I give myself credit for. There was also a bottleneck to access the session through a portal; I am no techie, but I imagine that the site did not have the bandwidth to handle the influx of people accessing it. Overall, since the session was an introduction, having hiccups now was a good time to have them.

There was something very cool about having people from all over the US and Canada collected together in this small virtual group. I thought it would be somewhat stale and technologically distant, but I have to say that when I logged in I found it exhilarating to be somehow connected to these folks. Given the development of the web of information connecting all corners of the globe (something that can certainly help reduce the need for business travel and the related CO2 emissions) my ability to learn to navigate virtual teams and effectively participate in them will be extremely useful in my career.

Heck, Microsoft is stepping up to offer something to compete with Google's online document sharing services. I have not used either of these services, but their usefulness may be something I investigate in the next few weeks.

News flash re: climate change invsting indices, HSBC Launches Climate Change Investment Indices

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Prerequisites for Zero Impact


I'm not sure what the title of this post really means, other than I am recognizing some connections between the prereq materials I studied for my foray into graduate education and the fact that I did not feel like typing "sustainability" for the millionth time. Digression - I will now start using the term "susbiz" for sustainability, at least in the context of sustainable business. All righty then! You'll notice the logo of the Global Reporting Initiative plastered on the top right. One of my first projects for BGI will be an overview and analysis of the GRI as one of the many methodologies used to rate, judge, measure, analyze, meter, and gauge businesses' efforts at susbiz and CSR. Does anyone have any tips? All those susbiz wizards out there that that may know this blog exists, feel free to chime in.

As part of the course work for the first term, I started reading "The Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge (comments about this later), and a Schumacher Briefing by David Cook called "The Natural Step: Towards a Sustainable Society". I have also been listening to a CD lecture series when I have the time from The Great Courses called Economics. I've only listened to the basic topics, but I find it fascinating, recognizing disconnects between what I perceive to be classical economics and some of the tenets of The Natural Step and other scholarly ideas about sustainability. Listening to the section of Timothy Taylor's lecture on the environment and externalities, I was struck by one small comment in what I thought was a great summary of the problem of pollution and public policy in the modern world. He said something to the effect of (this is a paraphrase) "...saying there will be no pollution is like saying that there will be no humans..." What? There was a time when humanity was a small enough user of the planet's resources that the natural cycle could reabsorb our waste products. It may have been a few hundred or even a few thousand years ago, but it did.

Is it a worthwhile goal to have zero pollution? We can accept where we are now, and know that we are emitting substances that the natural world can not deal with, either now or in some distant or near future, but our goal should be to create systems that mimic and complement the natural world we inhabit, right? After all, as one of my new classmates reminded me a few weeks ago, we are part of the natural world and it is the source of all the wealth we have accumulated as societies.
A passage I read in the Schumacher Briefing by David Cook caught my interest for what it omitted, specifically related to the academic pursuit listed above. This is taken from the section describing the earth as a system closed to matter, and that all we do is transform it from one "thing" to another, adding or releasing energy in the process. In any case, here's what he says,
There is nothing particularly radical in this explanation of the system earth. It is fundamental science that has been known about for a comparatively long time. This is the starting point, the bread and butter, for environmentalists and ecologists.
I find that the omission of economists and engineers (or all professions for that matter!) from the common "starting point" interesting. I learned the basics of a closed system at WPI, but it was not integrated into a systems thinking model of a design process. How can continued growth (as seemingly demonstrated with the steadily rising production potential in economics) mesh with a finite system?

What's becoming clear; I am just starting to understand how much I don't know. No, I don't know what I don't know.

Speaking of production potential, a front page article from today's NYTimes caught my eye as it appears to illustrate what can happen when government regulation combines with poorly planned investment to create a boom and bust cycle. Ethanol Boom Stalling as Glut Depresses Prices; Ethanol foe energy independence? Nope. Ethanol for corn producing states to generate jobs and help someone get reelected. If only they could be combined. Now I see why Warren Buffett avoids industries that depend upon government regulation for their success.

Wouldn't some form of an energy tax be much more effective? Did you say TAX! Dear God man! Don't you know there's an election coming?!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

AltWheels 2007!



It's hard to believe that AltWheels is here again. I helped organize this eclectic mix of veggie, hybrid, natural gas, bio-diesel, solar, and human powered vehicles when it was still being held at the Larz Anderson Museum in Brookline. Ah, those days when I was the "bike guy" so many years ago in 2003. Many thanks to Alison Sander for keeping her vision moving forward.

— Friday—Saturday 28-29 Sept. 2007 —
( FREE — Fri. 9a-7p / Sat. 10a-6p)


Wide Range of Exciting and Fun Activities
See the full list of Exhibitors/Sponsors
  • Unique one of a kind alternative vehicles from several million
    dollar fuel cell cars to cars that run on used vegetable oil.
  • The Energy Freedom Trail with a chance for each person to
    calculate their personal "Carbon Footprint" and learn 2
    4 ideas and resources or going on a carbon diet/reducing
    their carbon footprint. Includes 150 free Compact Fluorescent
    Light Bulbs to first comers each day.
  • Awards for 20 Green Pioneers Friday 3-4 with Mayor Menino.
  • Awards for 20 Regional Green Heros Saturday 2-3.
  • Watch biodiesel being made.
  • Learn how ordinary hybrid cars can get 70 mpg.
  • Many activities for kids including onsite interactive exhibits from
    the New England Aquarium and The Museum of Science,
    face painting and more.
  • REI Free bike repair tent and bike exhibits.
  • Browse the onsite Borders sustainability bookstore.
  • Two Live Bands: Cocabanana Band and Kevin Connelly.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Design, Design, and More Design


There are just too many things to read and learn about in this world. Perhaps that is why I feel like I am pulled in 15 different directions at the same time. I felt this exciting, and in some ways frustrating, feeling as I stared at the periodicals rack at the local Barnes & Noble in Burlington, MA. I stopped in to peruse their wide selection of old-fashioned writing journals; I was in need of a new one and have become quite particular about what I like (blank pages, place for a writing utensil, manageable size, etc.) though I have yet to find the perfect one. Perhaps that's why I keep writing, to fill them up over and over again so I can keep looking for the elusive perfectus libri. As usual I digress.

As I said, staring at the periodicals rack at B&N, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of magazines that offered topics that I am sure I would find interesting; current events (NOT People and that crap...geez!), science & technology, media, design, business, government, knitting, you name it. I found myself drawn to the latest issue of Fast Company, with the cover exhorting me to dive into the Masters of Design. My interest in something holding the promise of insights into great industrial design comes from my engineering education and my quest for knowledge about systems thinking and eco-effective creation. As I first learned when reading Cradle to Cradle a few years ago, many of our environmental challenges are rooted in habitually poor design methodologies. In any case, the article touches on a few "hot" designers and their keys to success when designing a product with the input of the people that will be using it, but not depending upon their "user generated content" to create the products. A brief point that stuck out to me follows, one that sheds some light on my previous comment regarding engineers & systems thinking,
...rosy thinking overlooks the tensions that arise when design gets factored into a big business. "Marketing people are incented to come up with great ideas," says Mitch Pergola, fuseproject's vice president and general manager. "Engineers are incented to drive out costs." To resolve those conflicts, somebody at the top has to make the Solomonic calls. "If you want to be design-driven," BĂ©har says, "the question is, Who's driving?"
Who is driving? Us? Corporations? Governments?

On that note, perhaps there will be even more opportunities for well-designed, green, and natural products since we now know, Consumers Face The New "Fear Factor" of climate change.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's All About the Waste


(not that -> Thornton!)
So, I am seated at a table with my boss (ahem, manager), and we start talking about strategies to help speed up the transition of an older product into the dustbin of history while simultaneously spurring the sales of the replacement. "Let's do XXXX." someone says. Sounds like a plan. Then, a switch went off in my head. Given the level of tooth grinding I have been engaged in over the past few months, there was an audible 'click'. The switch got me to thinking of producer take-back and design for reuse. OK, the product that has been out in the market for 13+ years was not originally designed to be disassembled and reused/recycled, but isn't it possible that it has some salvage value? How does a company go about determining the value of an obsolete part?
Well (comments of the unenlightened) :
  1. Given the price increase in raw materials over the past few years, what materials are salvageable from the product?
  2. How much will the salvage cost?
  3. What is the market price of the salvaged material?
  4. How mush effort ($$$) will the customer commit to sending the material back?
  5. Is the end-user concerned about the responsibility for the product's disposal?
  6. How would one quantify the value of removing obsolete products from the market?
  7. From a carbon emissions perspective: (not today!)
  8. Will employees care about - be motivated by - the idea of conservation?
  9. How much will it cost to disassemble (hire local HS kids through Craigslist)?
  10. Is there government $$$ for this (spur aggregate demand)?
That's enough. I am headed to a NetImpact Boston social, perhaps someone there will have an idea for me.

Oh, by the way, Where in the World is Corporate Responsibility?, not Carmen Sandiego.

Looking Back to Look Forward


As the Dean of BGI said at orientation (paraphrase), "Going to grad school can bring out all sorts of unexpected emotions and reactions". I am experiencing them.

I am re-examining my decision-making process that brought me to BGI. Combined with the activities I participated in at Channel Rock last week, recent personal events have turned my attention to where I am, where I would like to go, and what is truly important to me. The consequences of attending a school located on the other side of the country, despite it's sustainable business leadership, is sinking in. Will the network transfer to the Northeast? Will the "brand recognition" carry enough weight here? Am I contributing to more complexity in my life than I can handle?

A comment Gifford Pinchot made when we were discussing entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship as a group addressed the importance of timing; there may be a better time to launch something than "right now". Makes sense. Launching a new home decorating service in a downward trending housing market may not be the best idea. Given that this undertaking is a bit of an entrepreneurial activity (a stretch?) on my part, does the timing make sense? Have I deeply evaluated the effect this decision will have on the other aspects of our lives? Is what I am looking for in my future career dependent upon an advanced degree at all? I love the idea of an academic pursuit, but the right environs could make it easier.

I decided to leaf through some of my old journals a few nights ago. They have been sitting on the shelf on my bedside table for a few years, dating from the start of 2004. It was fascinating to read what I wrote; 1) some of my narrative was quite well-written, and 2) I have been saying the same thing to myself about what I am looking for for at least three years, probably longer.

What have I been saying re: career/life that has kept me in knots for the past 5 years or so?
  1. I'd like to integrate my interest in sustainable business in my work, and share it with others
  2. I have isolated myself from friends and family; this is unhealthy
  3. My social needs (sharing with people of like mind) are not being met
  4. I love exploring and learning about new things (business, social concepts, etc.) and applying them
  5. I want to work/live in the same place
  6. Working passionately instead of working for something else (vacations, "stuff", etc.)
  7. Innovative, holistic, and forward-looking people charge me up!
OK...BGI certainly has these elements. But, are there things in my current situation that I am overlooking that would allow me to integrate these elements? I tend to throw up my hands and say to myself, "That's it! I'm leaving outta here." Does that really make sense? Have some of the drastic changes I've made in the past six years just exacerbated my confusion? I bet they have.

I wonder what it's like to think through a decision rationally and thoroughly, not in hindsight?

By the way, the photo is from a small field of corn near the center of Lincoln, MA. I rode my bike yesterday and snapped it whilst pausing to see who called.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Writing about What I am Learning


Perhaps this will help some of the Macroeconomic concepts "stick". I thought the graph here (again taken from Krugman & Wells textbook "Economics", published in 2005) was interesting in the breakout of what goes into the CPI. There is certainly a resemblance to Maslow's hierarchy of needs (funny, I keep finding good definitions on Wikipedia?), with food related and shelter related expenditures making up over 50% of a household's total expenditures. Interesting.

The following is taken from Chapter 24, page 6, Section 2 of the Paul Krugman & Robin Wells textbook "Economics" published in 2005. It offers up a bit of a clarification of what economists have been accused of doing; using GDP as the only measure of a national population's quality of life.
Although real GDP per capita can be a useful measure in some circumstances, it has well-known limitations as a measure of a country’s living standards. Every once in a while economists are accused of believing that growth in real GDP per capita is the only thing that matters—of thinking that increasing real GDP per capita is a goal in itself. In fact, economists rarely make that mistake; the idea that economists care only about real GDP per capita is a sort of urban legend. Let’s take a moment to be clear about why a country’s real GDP per capita is not a sufficient measure of human welfare in that country and why growth in real GDP per capita is not an appropriate policy goal in itself.
One way to think about this issue is to say that an increase in real GDP means an expansion in the economy’s production possibility frontier. Because the economy has increased its productive capacity, there are more things that society can achieve. But whether society actually makes good use of that increased potential to improve living standards is another matter. To put it in a slightly different way, your income may be higher this year than last year, but whether you use that higher income to actually improve your quality of life is your choice.

The United Nations produces an annual document, the Human Development Report, that tries to rank countries by measures other than real GDP per capita. These measures include data on infant mortality, life expectancy, and literacy. It compiles these measures into the Human Development Index, which is an effort to determine how well societies are doing, aside from how much they produce. The index suggests that real GDP per capita is one of many important determinants of human welfare — but by no means the only one. Countries with high real GDP per capita — like the United States, European nations, and Japan — also score very well on just about every other indicator of human welfare. But there are some relatively poor countries — like Costa Rica — that have remarkably high literacy and life expectancy along with low infant mortality. And there are some relatively rich countries — especially countries with valuable natural resources — that score quite low on these criteria.
This passage addresses my preconceptions about the study of economics, voiced in the preceding post. I suppose it's not what the economists care about (unless they are being paid by whatever industry they may be analyzing), but what government policy wonks and industrial leaders decide to do with the information. It's up to US to hold them accountable.