Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Going Local: (Part Deux)

Thanks again to @greensmith for issuing the guest blogging invitation to the twittersphere. (What might saying "yes" lead to?) I have been forced to bring my thoughts on local/regional business (I started including "regional" after attending the It Takes a Region food conference a few weeks ago) into some semblance of organization; I realized there was a lot floating around inside my head. I am sure there is more in there, and more opinions that must be tested.

In any case, Part 2 is up at Greensmith Consulting's blog, and I have now committed myself to Part 3 since all the "stuff in my head" referred to in the previous paragraph spilled into another post.

In the meantime, start thinking about "generational stewardship".

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Going Local: (Part 1)

Paul Smith of Greensmith Consulting asked for possible guest bloggers on twitter and I decided to throw my hat into the ring. So, many thanks to Paul for accepting my offer for some musings on local economies. As an aside, it's interesting to me that this thing called "twitter" has introduced me to many interesting, friendly, and helpful people. Would I have connected with Paul and had the opportunity to organize some of my thoughts about local economies? Who knows... (image from sonomacounty.golocal.coop)

In any case, I'd been thinking about the re-localization (what is local, eh?) of economies for quite some time, mostly as a result of thinking about the dependence of our global supply chain on fossil fuels. I've also been wondering about our sense of "place", and how globalization has (or has not) contributed to the erosion of social capital...amongst other things.

So, my thoughts on the issue starts here:
Time to Stop Talking About Going Local, and Doing It. Here's How. (pt 1 of 2)

I hope you give it a read, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comments on a Worldchanging Post

I wrote this in the comments field of the recent Worldchanging Post, Transition Towns or Bright Green Cities?.

For some reason this post really pissed me off, or maybe just irritated me, or drove me to action. I’m not sure why, and I decided to let it sit for a while figuring that it would “go away”…it’s not. Then I read some of the replies and thought “everything’s been said already, what can I add”, but THEN I realized that I needed to participate because I was stewing. One of the points of the article and the replies was to participate, right? (image from i.bnet.com)
In any case, I can’t help but think that there’s some sort of ax to grind with someone/thing in the Transition Movement. Otherwise, why pull out a few quotes that clearly illustrate one side of someone’s belief set. Seems like playing with sound bites to me. In the conclusion we hear about all these great ideas to participate and take the system back, or whatever we’re calling it, with the word “transition” used a few times and some of the points related to, if not aligned with, Transition’s mission. Personally, I do not equate people’s involvement in Transition as a tacit endorsement of a post oil apocalypse...maybe that’s the level of commitment they feel good about, that fits their beliefs and their capabilities. What’s the harm in that?

Ultimately, after reading the post I was left with the feeling that this was something of an academic exercise on who can have the most compelling mission to save the world and enlist followers. Bright Green, Dark Green, Olive Green, they’re all green, and are just more buzzwords we can use to draw distinctions and create labels.

I’m reminded of the Simpsons episode in which Bart’s followers in a war-torn future have split into two warring armies, both worshipping the same god but with different interpretations of the Bartman’s message leading to conflict.

Does it really matter whose manifesto (someone else in the comment list used that word) we adhere to if we’re ultimately interested in creating a similar future? I guess it depends upon how literal the interpretation is (see Bartman reference above).

I guess it accomplished one thing for me; I took the time to write something that may or may not contribute to the continuing dialogue about what we do next.

I was reintroduced to this quote at The Bioneers by the Bay conference in New Bedford, MA over the weekend. Maybe it’s overused, and it still seems appropriate:

"To build a new system, you don't compete with the old one, you build a new system that makes the old one obsolete" - Buckminster Fuller

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rules of the Road (Courtesy?)

I'd like to apologize to the gentleman I flipped off over the weekend. I was on my bike and he decided to pass me dangerously on a blind corner with a car coming the other direction. He managed to endanger me, himself, the boy in the car that may have been his son, and the oncoming driver. I yielded to the adrenaline shot that arrives when something dangerous happens, and the anger at his irresponsible behavior came out. He decided to take offense to my visual curse and stopped to engage in a friendly dialogue that was more than likely completely counter-productive. Somehow it was my fault - even though between me and my bike I weigh ~225 lbs and the car weighs oh, a ton-and-a-half maybe - that he passed this way, that I was "impeding the progress of a motor vehicle" and that was against the law. Do you think he could have used the brake pedal? Clearly it was more important for him to save the ~30 seconds it might have taken to clear the section of road with poor visibility we were sharing and pass more safely. I noted that I have every right to be on that road and I believe he mentioned something like "no you do not"...I am sure it was phrased differently, and I am sure I was not necessarily even-toned. We both exchanged pleasantries about "looking it up." Regardless, throwing a visual curse was ill-advised, and I realized that I hold certain beliefs about what the rules of the road are when I'm bicycling and that I have never really read the Massachusetts State Laws regarding Rules of the Road. (image from www.businesstravellogue.com)

I decided to "look it up", reviewing Chapter 4 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Driver's Manual and it appears that my assumptions are correct, there is no mention of "impeding the progress of a motor vehicle", other than when a vehicle is passing you are required to slow down and stay to the right (this is true of any vehicle on the road). I took out the sections I could find that seemed to relate to the situation we experienced.

Page 97: Rules for Passing
"...You should pass a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motor vehicle only when it is necessary and safe to do so. You may not exceed the speed limit when passing. If you have any doubt, do not pass..."

Page 98: Being Passed
"If you are being passed by another vehicle, you must slow down and stay to the right. Allow the other driver to pass safely. Do not speed up."

Page 101: Slow-Moving Vehicles
"Most farm vehicles, construction rigs, and other slow-moving vehicles have orange warning
signs mounted at the rear of the vehicle. If you approach such a vehicle, reduce your speed and use the same caution you would with bicyclists and pedestrians. Allow plenty of space around the vehicle if you plan to pass."
Page 105: Rules for Bicyclists
When you are riding a bicycle on public ways, state law subjects you to the same basic laws and regulations that apply to motor vehicle operators.

• You must obey all traffic signs and signals, ride single file with the flow of traffic, and yield
to pedestrians.
• You must ride on the right side of the roadway, unless you are turning left. To turn left,
signal, look, and move into the lane closest to the center line.
• It is strongly recommended that you avoid listening to headphones while riding.
• Before entering or crossing a roadway, you should stop, look left, look right, and look
left again for traffic—even if it is a one-way street.
• When preparing to merge, stop, or turn, use hand signals to communicate your
intentions to other roadway users. You may use either hand to signal.
• Use an audible signal bell, horn, or your voice to warn pedestrians.
• For nighttime operation, your bike must be equipped with a white headlight, red taillight,
and/or rear reflector, pedal reflectors, and side reflectors. In addition, you must wear
reflective ankle bands.
• You may use sidewalks outside business districts, unless there is a local ordinance prohibiting
• When operating on a sidewalk, you must yield the right of way to pedestrians.

After reviewing these sections of the manual, I can see nothing that instructs me as a cyclist to make sure the way is clear for motorized vehicles. In fact, much of the wording seems to provide instructions for motorists to yield to others using the road. Of course, we all know that how we drive depends upon how these laws are enforced, and that cyclists (motorized and non-motorized) are minorities on the road and have responsibility for their own safety as well. I drive a car as well as ride a bike, I KNOW I have violated the rules of the road occasionally when using both modes of transportation. I also know that when you're encased in a car, you're less aware of what's happening around you, helping lead to the 37,261 traffic deaths recorded in 2008.

Mo Rocca had a story on CBS's Sunday Morning over the weekend about the Future of Traffic, it was illuminating an amusing, and sheds some light on the behavior of us as drivers.

I suppose what's most frustrating to me is the sometime careless disregard we have for those around us. The gentleman's reaction to his dangerous maneuver was to blame me and not take responsibility for his action, something that seems all too common in many facets of our culture/economy.

I am sure my view on this is subjective, so perhaps someone will read this and point out what I've missed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Speaking at BAH

I spent a portion of Wednesday evening with some interesting people at Bakery After Hours (BAH) held with the support of the Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord, MA. Kim Novick (this is his creation) invited me to be part of the inaugural BAH-Slam, something akin to a poetry-slam but featuring people speaking about their passions (and without dim lighting and a smoke-filled room) instead of reciting verse. By the way, if you're in Eastern Massachusetts, Nashoba Brook Bakery's bread is available at some local retailers, and it's darn good.

I arrived in full cycle commuting regalia, complete with spandex, blinky lights, and my Seven Cycles messenger bag to add to my bike commuter "legit-ness". After performing my presto-chango into more fitting attire, I proceeded to blend in with the gathered people and talk a bit about what we were all there for.

I chatted with one of the other speakers, Gwen Acton (sharing a name with Concord's neighbor to the west) CEO of Vivo Group. It was nice to talk a bit and ramble on about what I was there for. I'm glad that my interest in what the "real economy" is all about v. the "shadow economy" of finance id not make her eyes glaze over. Thank you. I did not have the chance to chat with Vinnie Sestito, the closing speaker before we started other than a cursory "hello". That was OK as I was up on the stage and had an up close and personal experience of his passion for connecting people through conversation. I also had the privilege of meeting Harry Bartlett of Bartlett Interactive, one of the co-sponsors of the event and part of the entertainment, laying down some smooth blues riffs on his Fender Strat before we started. Harry's comments about the evening's events are in his Grow Blog.

It was fun to be invited to speak as the "sustainability/green" representative, considering my recent matriculation from recently accredited BGI. It was fun to think about what it is I would like to do with the education I just invested time and money in. More importantly, I said "yes" in an instance when I might have said "no", opening the possibilities associated with meeting new people.

I winged it. I talked a bit about my excitement about the interest in local food and local economic development, touching upon the concept of peak oil as an influencer of my belief that strong regional economies will be a necessity in the coming decades. I was quick to qualify my comments about peak oil; I was not there to be the bug-eyed alarmist seeking to scare them into action, but wanted to at least mention the concept. I was happy that some of the people started to talk amongst themselves about the concept of local economies, revealing deeply held assumptions about what local economic development is, and what level of development we hope to help the world attain. I did not have the chance to connect with this conversation...something to be remedied at another time.

I did have the pleasure of meeting Art Wu of Archimatica. He lives in the area and has a passion for determining how to create systems or suburbanites to connect and share car rides from 'burb to 'burb. Leveraging mobile technology is part of the plan, and considering the towns surrounding Boston between 128 and 495 are relatively affluent, odds are a high percentage of people have iPhones and Blackberries. I hope to see it develop into something with impact.

The ride home was great; longer than I thought, quite sultry for September, and a great way to decompress from the evening's activities. As I passed by the edge of the Cambridge Reservoir on the Lincoln/Lexington line, a small fox saw me coming with my bright headlights and trotted down the street in front of me for ~20 yards or so...I could hear the toenails clicking rapidly on the pavement. I bet the lack of noise associated with the lights was confusing.

The running fox capped off a wonderful evening of conversation and connection.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Your World...is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller

I decided to dive right back into reading about important issues related to energy, ecology, social maintenance pretty quickly after finishing school (image from flickr). I finished Jeff Rubin's "Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller" a few months ago and quite frankly have not been motivated to plop in front of the computer and compose anything "thoughtful" for a while. It's been mostly 140 character snippets via twitter...maybe indicating I need to slow down.

With the recent vacuous and "don't-worry-it'll-be-OK-stick-your-head-in-the-sand-and-keep-buying-stuff" Op-Ed piece by Michael Lynch in the NYTimes 'Peak Oil' Is a Waste of Energy, and the resulting discussion with classmates more intelligent than me at BGI, I felt it was time to...well...write something.

The book was good.

There it's done. Well, maybe there's a little more to it. The fact that Mr. Rubin was the Chief Strategist/Economist for the CIBC World Markets for a number of years, has correctly predicted some of the most recent oil price spikes, has provided insightful analysis on the influence (cause) of recessions related to oil price spikes, and does not come at this from an "extremist" point certainly lends credibility to the work. I found the writing approachable and based on factual analysis inasmuch as I may confirm (since I am NOT a geologist). What I'm getting at here is that my sense is people of nearly any political/ideological background would get something useful from reading it. Here are the points I highlighted as I read:
  • "Peak water will hasten peak oil" (I'm not going to get into peak water) p. 76
  • "Long after triple-digit oil prices render the internal combustion engine...obsolete, oil will still have value as a petrochemical feedstock." p.77
  • "What we need to do is to impose a carbon cost on emitters at home, then impose the same standards on imports." p.169. This is interesting, though politically I am not sure how it'll be done and how you'd track the CO2 (discussion for another day).
  • Local everything will become the norm. Chilean Sea Bass will be more expensive and some of the cheap food coming from far away will not be so cheap anymore. Chapter 8.
  • Where is the food of the future going to come from? Your own backyard." p. 221
  • "Peak oil may give us peak food." p. 225 (dependence on petro-chemical fertilizers)
  • JIT & Lean manufacturing operations (all the rage) dependent on global supply chains that are themselves dependent upon cheap transportation fuels will be dramatically affected. (That reminds me we did not talk about that in our Operations class in school)
  • Travel now. "...for most airlines in the world today it [rising fuel pricing] will be a losing battle to stay abreast of soaring fuel costs even if they ultimately try to pass them on to customers ." p.232
Most of this seems pretty intuitive to me; the world's finite, and so are the resources contained therein. Let's be a little smarter about how we use them.
The following excerpt seems fitting for a post about peak oil it appeared in a guest post by Richard Heinberg a Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute and author of five books on resource depletion and societal responses to the energy problem. He can be found on the web at http://www.richardheinberg.com/ and www.postcarbon.org.
If we step back and look at the industrial period from a broad historical perspective that is informed by an appreciation of ecological limits, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are today living at the end of a relatively brief pulse—a 200-year rapid expansionary phase enabled by a temporary energy subsidy (in the form of cheap fossil fuels) that will inevitably be followed by an even more rapid and dramatic contraction as those fuels deplete.
On the lighter side, here's a funny and insightful blog post responding to Mr. Lynch's NYTimes piece, http://www.manbunnymatrix.net/.

Many thanks to Stanley, Ari, and Zach, some BGI peeps for their insights, guidance, and humor.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bainbridge Graduate Institute is Awarded Grant of Accreditation!

Right from the CSRWire Press Release. This will certainly help the school move ahead and flourish. I think it makes it much easier for students to obtain financial aid as well.

Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) in Washington, the first graduate school in the U.S. to offer an MBA in Sustainable Business, announced Tuesday August 18, 2009 that they were awarded an initial grant of accreditation through December 31, 2012 for the MBA in Sustainable Business, Certificate in Sustainable Business and Certificate in Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).

President and co-founder, Gifford Pinchot, III remarked "We are deeply grateful to all the students, graduates, faculty and donors who had the courage to work for and study in and support a small, unaccredited school with the ambitious goal of transforming business in the direction of sustainability and social justice. Becoming accredited is a big step in the evolution and the growth of the school."

BGI was founded in 2002 as a non-profit independent school and is in its eighth year of delivering a pioneering curriculum in Sustainable Business that infuses environmental and social responsibility throughout every course. BGI's mission is to prepare students from diverse backgrounds to build enterprises that are financially successful, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. BGI's hybrid delivery model of distance learning and weekend intensives is ideal for working individuals. BGI already has over 200 graduates creating change in the business world.

In a time of economic uncertainty and the immediate need to address issues of climate change, there has never been a more critical time to provide business education that emphasizes creative and innovative solutions that address social, environmental and fiscal responsibility than now. BGI is a leader in creating that education.

Ranked #1 in Net Impact's "Business as Unusual 2008" - A Student Guide to Graduate Business Programs and selected by BusinessWeek last year as one of the top design and innovation schools in the world, BGI’s enrollment has been growing along with its reputation.

ACICS, with offices in Washington, D.C., is the largest national accrediting organization of degree-granting institutions. ACICS reviews the institutional quality and integrity of more than 760 colleges and schools throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and seven foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia. ACICS accredited institutions serve nearly 600,000 students enrolled in professional, technical and occupational programs through the doctoral degree level, including programs offered via distance education. ACICS is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as a reliable authority on the quality of education provided by the colleges, universities and schools it accredits. ACICS will celebrate its Centennial anniversary in 2012.

The mission of Bainbridge Graduate School is to prepare students from diverse backgrounds to build enterprises that are financially successful, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What is a Sustainable MBA?

A freelance journalist recently contacted me (thanks to my Net Impact Boston buddy Asheen) and asked me a few questions about my experience at BGI. Since I have not written in a while and would like to get back into the groove (a book review for "Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller by Jeffrey Rubin is overdue) I thought I would post the comments here (image from allgreen.com). These are my comments/opinions as a recent graduate from the program...that's it.

How does a sustainable business program allow students to see beyond a company’s stock price and focus on becoming a long-term economic steward?
In my experience the course-work of BGI was all about long-term and holistic thinking. We routinely discussed the impacts of corporate decisions on stakeholders that included shareholders, but did not disproportionately weight their importance. The BGI student body has a diverse professional background, with non-profit employees and executive directors sharing space and conversation with CSR and other professionals from small & large, public and private companies. These various perspectives brought additional topics into the room for discussion and consideration, things beyond quarterly earnings. Our coursework tended to emphasize content that illustrated long-term economic, social, & environmental success over short-term "turn & burn" models. Ultimately, the students at BGI are self-selected and interested in changing the way business is done, including the integration of long-term and sustainable business practices within the mission of the company. The program created space for analysis of different forms of business, with visitors to the school providing insight into their successes in these new forms (B Corporations come to mind).
Do you use a combination of regular and specialized coursework, or are sustainability lessons integrated throughout the program?
At BGI, sustainability is integrated into all the courses; sustainablility is not a "bolt-on" elective, something core to BGI's teaching of sustainability. In addition to the standard curriculum, students may choose to pursue an industry concentration by focusing their project work throughout their two or three years in the program to align with their personal passions and career aspirations. BGI's curriculum included a unique class called "Leadership & Personal Development" that was part of coursework throughout the program. This unique element taught us to understand our own motivations, strengths, & weaknesses and prepared us for leading the change required to move to a sustainable business world. There are also ample opportunities for students to help create the BGI experience, with committees, clubs, and task forces that directly impact the schools strategic planning available to them. Creating one's own is highly encouraged.
Why is an emphasis on social and environmental issues, ethics, and managers’ obligations to society integral to students making their mark on the business world in a positive way? [I edited this question as it was phrased awkwardly and tried to tie in to the current recession. Honestly, I did not have the energy to go there.]
In my opinion a conscious business person, one connected to the place they live and the places their business impacts will act in a more responsible manner, thinking critically about their business actions instead of merely taking them unconsciously in a "business-as-usual" environment.
How long does it take to receive a degree through your program? Are there any special pre-requisites an undergrad must fulfill in order to apply to the program?
BGI's MBA program has both 2 and 3 year options. As for pre-requisites, when I started in the fall of 2007 I had to take basic accounting and economics before classes started. Additional details on prereqs would be better sourced from the admissions staff at BGI.
Where can a graduate from your program expect to be employed?
The potential really is limitless. We have graduates starting their own businesses in energy, food, and business services (among many others). Graduates also work in the heart of corporate America, managing environmental efforts or even working as an "intrapreneur" to change the organization from the inside. BGI grads go on to non-profit leadership roles or start their own, or perhaps they just take their new-found business skills and stay where they are, growing within their existing organizations. From a "trend" perspective, CO2 accounting/tracking is hot as well as alternative energy. BGI graduates, especially if they focus on an industry, are well prepared to make an impact in those areas.
OK then, some comments about sustainable MBAs through the BGI lens.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sustainable Value Portfolio

For those familiar with "sustainability" and business, there's nothing new here, just a quick review of another of the many frameworks/tools to gauge an organization's (corporation's) adoption of sustainability principles. Maybe It'll be a good reminder.

I've been reviewing Stuart Hart's Capitalism at the Crossroads the past few days and thought the Sustainable Value Portfolio was something worth adding to the fray here. The figure may be hard to see and consists of four segments divided into "today & tomorrow" on the vertical axis and "internal & external" on the horizontal axis. The upper left is Clean Technology, upper right Base of the Pyramid (BoP), lower left Pollution Prevention and lower right Product Stewardship.

I'm not so sure that the upper right is the same (BoP) for all companies, I suppose it depends upon the size and the markets the company/organization serves. It must be said that true BoP efforts do not just treat "the poor" as customers, they are part of the economic value creation exercise, integral to the creation of a venture that benefits them in their geography, keeping capital invested locally.

I'm wagering that the vast majority of companies are in the lower left quadrant (if anywhere), just starting to get their operations in gear to prevent pollution in the first place, driven by risk reduction and operational leaning to shave costs. That's OK, and we have some work to do to get to the upper right quadrant.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My Manhattan Project - Blowing Up Wall Street

How I helped build the bomb that blew up Wall Street.

One of my (former) classmates at BGI turned me on to this article from The NewYorker. I found myself on the one hand questioning the writer's scruples and on the other hand thinking systemically about what Wall Street environment was like when he did his work. It's an interesting thing to think about; if the "system" is working in such a way as to support such activities, does that make it OK to go along with it? I don't think so. I mean, I'm part of the "mainstream" economy...it's not like I'm tossing it all and moving to a farm (maybe I'll do that soon!), yet I am asking some pretty hard questions of myself and my lifestyle that I try to share (in a non-threatening way) with those around me.

Of course, we all collectively created the system in which we function...

A short excerpt from the end of the article:
Last month, my neighbor, a retired schoolteacher, offered to deliver my oysters into the city. He had lost half his savings, and his pension had been cut by 30 percent. The chain of events from my computer to this guy’s pension is lengthy and intricate. But it’s there, somewhere. Buried like a keel in the sand. If you dive deep enough, you’ll see it. To know that a dozen years of diligent work somehow soured, and instead of benefiting society unhinged it, is humbling. I was never a player, a big swinger. I was behind the scenes, inside the boxes. My hard work, in its time and place, merited a reward, but it also contributed to what has become a massive, ever-expanding failure. For that, I must make a mea culpa. Not a mea maxima culpa, mind you, but some measure of responsibility, a few basis points of shame. Give my ego a haircut.

Monday, April 27, 2009

End the University as We Know It

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning.
Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”

Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. In my own religion department, for example, we have 10 faculty members, working in eight subfields, with little overlap. And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.
The emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning. Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

The other obstacle to change is that colleges and universities are self-regulating or, in academic parlance, governed by peer review. While trustees and administrations theoretically have some oversight responsibility, in practice, departments operate independently. To complicate matters further, once a faculty member has been granted tenure he is functionally autonomous. Many academics who cry out for the regulation of financial markets vehemently oppose it in their own departments.

If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured. The long process to make higher learning more agile, adaptive and imaginative can begin with six major steps:

  1. Restructure the curriculum, beginning with graduate programs and proceeding as quickly as possible to undergraduate programs. The division-of-labor model of separate departments is obsolete and must be replaced with a curriculum structured like a web or complex adaptive network. Responsible teaching and scholarship must become cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural. Just a few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of political scientists who had gathered to discuss why international relations theory had never considered the role of religion in society. Given the state of the world today, this is a significant oversight. There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises. It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems. As the curriculum is restructured, fields of inquiry and methods of investigation will be transformed.
  2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water. Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs. A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.
  3. Increase collaboration among institutions. All institutions do not need to do all things and technology makes it possible for schools to form partnerships to share students and faculty. Institutions will be able to expand while contracting. Let one college have a strong department in French, for example, and the other a strong department in German; through teleconferencing and the Internet both subjects can be taught at both places with half the staff. With these tools, I have already team-taught semester-long seminars in real time at the Universities of Helsinki and Melbourne.
  4. Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.
  5. Expand the range of professional options for graduate students. Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained. It is, therefore, necessary to help them prepare for work in fields other than higher education. The exposure to new approaches and different cultures and the consideration of real-life issues will prepare students for jobs at businesses and nonprofit organizations. Moreover, the knowledge and skills they will cultivate in the new universities will enable them to adapt to a constantly changing world.
  6. Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure. Initially intended to protect academic freedom, tenure has resulted in institutions with little turnover and professors impervious to change. After all, once tenure has been granted, there is no leverage to encourage a professor to continue to develop professionally or to require him or her to assume responsibilities like administration and student advising. Tenure should be replaced with seven-year contracts, which, like the programs in which faculty teach, can be terminated or renewed. This policy would enable colleges and universities to reward researchers, scholars and teachers who continue to evolve and remain productive while also making room for young people with new ideas and skills.

For many years, I have told students, “Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it.” My hope is that colleges and universities will be shaken out of their complacency and will open academia to a future we cannot conceive.

Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Field Notes From Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living.”

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What's Litter Worth?

I've developed something of a habit over the past few years; bringing along an empty bag to fill with recyclables whenever I walk around the neighborhood. The photo here are a few things gathered about 15 minutes ago on a walk to and from the local supermarket. Some fairly well known brands, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Pepsi-Cola, and Cadbury-Schweppes, as well as some fairly well known containers, a glass beer bottle, a plastic (yes, that's a generalization, and most folks'll think of it as "plastic") soda bottle and an aluminum soda can.

So, what's been gnawing at me for a while is the "value" of these containers to the consumer that ultimately uses the product. What is it? And, if there is a value, why throw it away? There really is no value whatsoever to the container, to the consumer. Maybe there's something to be said for the container as a delivery mechanism or storage container, something that the consumer may desire. The way I see it, the container is ultimately a means of delivering the value of the product to the end user.

What am I getting at here? If the container has no residual value to the user, and the producer decides what kind of container to use, how to get it, and how to deliver the product filled container to the user, why is it that the consumer (and therefore the public) is responsible for its end of life disposition?

I guess what I am wondering about is why we've collectively agreed that organizations that manufacture products (and services to some extent) can externalize the end-of-life costs of those products (and services) to the public?

This really isn't a new realization.

I can't help but think that if we had a tangible and obvious way of tracking the resource intensity and costs of the containers to the users, we'd have the public clamoring for ways to reduce those impacts and costs. Imagine some way to connect the taxpayer price of a tossed aside soda bottle directly to the consumer's purchase. Maybe it's something like the push for home energy monitors; when people see what's happening, they start to pay attention.

So, how might we encourage manufacturers to think about closing the loop with the non-value added components of their product offerings?

Of course, TerraCycle (the subject of an April Fool's prank) mines companies' waste streams to capture the forgotten and unseen value there. They've recently partnered with Mars to reuse packaging from Snickers, Altoids, Big Red and other brands.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Interconnections We Forget

From The Oil Drum:
"[Secretary] Chu noted that solar PV will play a major - if not the major - role in energy 100 years from now. He also noted that we really need cheap solar cells with polymer backing. Of course most of our polymers are oil-derived, which is just another example of how we take for granted the role that cheap oil plays in enabling some of these renewable technologies."
This quote (I started this post last week) is a perfect segue into some comments about John Warner's talk at Babson last week. I was fortunate enough to be invited to sit in on Asheen Phansey's (founder of Quaking Aspen) MBA class targeted at students interested in learning how to integrate Nature's design wisdom into their businesses. I twittered (I'm still not sure what twitter will get me in the long run...here are some funny videos about it) about the class so I'll not go into too much detail; we talked about ecosystem succession, the different types of organisms, and what they do. If you're twitter person and are interested, search for #babson and you'll find my comments.

So, John Warner is the founder of The Warner-Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry located in Woburn, MA (pretty appropriate given the history of chemical pollution in that town, remember A Civil Action?) and what some might consider the Godfather of the Green chemistry movement. His billing was not undersold. I thoroughly enjoyed his story, and found myself muttering agreements to myself, nodding, and generally resisting the temptation to leap up and yell "Amen brother!".

So what was I so excited about? He recognizes the flaws in the system.

What struck me most, tying back into the comment about forgotten connections, was John's realization after working in academia & industrial chemistry making cool molecules, publishing papers, and becoming a bit of a chemistry rockstar he had not once been taught about the potential impacts these compounds might have on nature (including people). A personal loss (something that took the air out of the room when he told us) related to a rare birth defect sparked this realization; he said (I'm paraphrasing a bit) "what if a molecule that I touched, that I worked on, was somehow responsible for this?" How would he know? This is when he started to see the flaws in the educational paradigm that created chemists.

In the academic discipline of chemistry, no part of the curriculum addresses the potential for toxic consequences. It reminds me of my own undergraduate mechanical engineering education at WPI; there was absolutely no mention of the social and environmental impacts of our design decisions had. What does it mean environmentally if you choose aluminum alloy A over alloy B? What happens at its end of life? How much energy goes into its manufacture? Where was it sourced? What did its creation do to the native habitats from whence it came? [I can give some credit to WPI, John said he taught an evening class in green chemistry and WPI did launch a sustainability initiative in the spring of 2008 - only a little behind the curve]

What John reaffirmed for me was that we, and everything else are connected, that decisions we make have far-reaching and often unintended consequences that we are bound to start taking into consideration. He noted (and I believe) that collectively we have made the choice to accept economic practices that create pollutants, that create hazardous materials that have known toxic properties. He challenged us to think about why this is...and then think about ways to change it. Of course, this requires the asking of difficult questions, and remaining conscious of the challenges we face while maintaining a resilient posture in the face of those challenges.

Choosing to create toxic substances for the improvement of the human condition is an oxymoron.

I suppose one of the things we have going for us is that younger generations have a different perspective on industry (The days of The Organization Man are long gone). They have not been taught by the scientists and engineers that were born of the Apollo Project. In many ways, the hard work that our parents and grandparents put in to create these institutions and values that have inadvertently placed us on an unsustainable course have allowed us the luxury to take a step back and look at the system and say "Hey, you know what? This is great and everything and we appreciate your hard work. Let's look at what we can improve and move ahead with building a just and regenerative society." We do not have to settle for business-as-usual. In fact, that's probably the biggest danger we face.

Here's to the future...

Oh, and I just could not help but come back to The Oil Drum, some interesting analysis on the influence of oil prices on our economy (bubbles lead to recessions). Remember, it's all about connections.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Economic Graphs that Make No Sense

I really can not believe that the WSJ published this graph. It appeared in a story entitled Global Slump Seen Deepening on April 1st. Maybe I am locked in my engineering mind where discontinuous graphs (especially with acceleration) usually indicated a severe problem with a design; severe spikes nearly always signal something drastic happened...not always good.

Does anyone believe that nearly complete 180s in national GDPs will happen in late 2009? Seriously, it's like someone was looking at the data and decided it was too depressing (and we all know how psychology & emotion contributes to "rational" market behavior) so they made it go back up in their dream world.

OK, I am not trying to be Chicken Little here, but this does not make any sense (what really does?).

Given that some energy analysts are now forecasting an energy price spike potentially coinciding with a global economic "recovery" (due to a steep drop off in energy investments as the price of oil plummeted) that rosy jump upwards looks even more unrealistic.

In the long-term, is restarting the economy we have the best solution? What might we make instead?

On another note, some articles I read from various sources (thanks Justin) that help trace some of the systemic changes that contributed to the current situation. If only it were so easy to pin the blame on something or someone. Systems thinkers?

NYTimes: September 30, 1999 Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending
NYTimes: November 5, 1999 Congress Passes Wide-Ranging Bill Easing Bank Laws

Interesting reading...especially looking in the rear-view mirror.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Farm Fresh Rhode Island & SBN Greater Boston

Two Fridays ago, the 13th to be exact, I attended an event organized by the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston (that name is way too long) at Boston City Hall entitled Think Local, Eat Local: Growing Local Food Systems with special guest Noah Fulmer, Executive Director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island. I looked forward to the event to learn more about the work happening in the New England region around local food as well as to continue to connect with people engaged in the work. The Boston Redevelopment Authority hosted the event at City Hall (with all due respect to the designers and the experts who lauded its design, that building is depressing). I expected a dozen or so people, and was pleasantly surprised to see closer to 30 attendees; people ranging from small business owners, restaurateurs, Boston city employees, and generally interested people. Of course, I bumped into Jessie Banhazl from Green City Growers. Jeff Barry of Boston Organics and Michael Kanter of Cambridge Naturals were there as well.

The event was enlightening, and it appears that Noah and the small staff of Farm Fresh RI have made some incredible progress increasing the connections between local eaters (not "consumers", it's an important distinction) with local producers. In the Providence area, they have a 50% awareness penetration rate; I cannot remember how they calculated that number, but it's impressive. Right off, I liked the fact that they invited the participation of farmers, buyers, and eaters outside of RI's borders, after all, when it comes to food, local is not just about political boundaries (and it is already pretty ambiguous). As Noah went on, we learned that at any given time we have between 2-3 days of food supply within the area, including what's in transit. I heard a comment that something like 5% of the food consumed in Massachusetts is produced here. Again, it may be better for greater Boston to get something from southern NH than western MA, yet it's still a startlingly small percentage.

I loved his anecdote about seeing potatoes in the local supermarket with Idaho stamps on them instead of the ones produced right there in Rhode Island. It led him to start asking "what's going on here? This makes no sense."

Something that Noah mentioned that I'd never thought of was the work schedule differences between buyers and sellers; farmers get up early and go to bed early, chefs (one of the groups searching for fresh local produce) arise late and work late. There is little time when they overlap, making it difficult to connect them. He's created an online ordering system to take advantage of excess truck space in delivery vehicles to connect chefs with the local food they want. That's a refreshing effort; one of the things I've learned in my brief interest in local/regional food is that the delivery infrastructure is one of the key problems to address. Seems that coordinating deliveries from many small forms could help in that regard.

The demand for (and interest in) local food continues to grow, and Noah mentioned that through October of 2008, they had 60,000 unique site visitors, growing from 1,000 in 2005 and 12,000 in 2006. That's pretty amazing, and clearly and indication that they are doing something important and doing it well.

Large gaps in the local supply and delivery infrastructure remain. It is great to see interested people thinking about closing these gaps and energetic young people taking action. It's interesting that the subject of infrastructure comes up over and over again. At the creative session on local food I coordinated back in December with the help of Seven Cycles, we spent a good deal of time talking about infrastructure (there were a few people in the room that had some experience in this area).

How might we continue to rebuild the local food supply & delivery infrastructure with New England?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Livestock Regulation Favors Agribusiness

So, here we are, facing another regulation that effectively supports the business that are contributing to the problem in the first place. CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations - just sounds bad doesn't it?), where animals are kept in close quarters and fattened up for the slaughter are NOT natural. These operations allow disease to sweep through populations, necessitating the administration of antibiotics and this new tracking system. OK, I am no farmer, nor have I become a vegetarian (yet), and I cannot help but think there's a better way to do this...something like regionally appropriate localized farming operations that meet our needs sustainably? Maybe less meat consumption, something good for the environment and good for our health? (image from www.dpi.vic.gov.au)

I must be crazy...anyway, onto the NYTimes piece.

Tag, We're It

Warnerville, N.Y.

AT first glance, the plan by the federal Department of Agriculture to battle disease among farm animals is a technological marvel: we farmers tag every head of livestock in the country with ID chips and the department electronically tracks the animals' whereabouts. If disease breaks out, the department can identify within 48 hours which animals are ill, where they are, and what other animals have been exposed.

At a time when diseases like mad cow and bird flu have made consumers worried about food safety, being able to quickly track down the cause of an outbreak seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, the plan, which is called the National Animal Identification System and is the subject of a House subcommittee hearing today, would end up rewarding the factory farms whose practices encourage disease while crippling small farms and the local food movement.

For factory farms, the costs of following the procedures for the system would be negligible. These operations already use computer technology, and under the system, swine and poultry that move through a production chain at the same time could be given a single number. On small, traditional farms like my family's, each animal would require its own number. That means the cost of tracking 1,000 animals moving together through a factory system would be roughly equal to the expense that a small farmer would incur for tracking one animal.

These ID chips are estimated to cost $1.50 to $3 each, depending on the quantity purchased. A rudimentary machine to read the tags may be $100 to $200. It is expected that most reporting would have to be done online (requiring monthly Internet fees), then there would be the fee for the database subscription; together that would cost about $500 to $1,000 (conservatively) per year per premise. I estimate the combined cost for our farm at $10,000 annually - that's 10 percent of our gross receipts.

Imagine the reporting nightmare we would face each May, when 100 ewes give birth to 200 lambs out on pasture, and then six weeks later, when those pastures are grazed off and the entire flock must be herded a mile up the road to a second farm that we rent.

Add to that the arrival every three weeks of 300 chicks, the three 500-pound sows that will each give birth to about 10 piglets out in the pastures twice per year (and that will attack anyone who comes near their babies more fiercely than a junkyard pit bull), then a batch of 100 baby turkeys, and the free-roaming laying hens. Additional tagging and record-keeping would be required for the geese and guinea fowl that nest somewhere behind the barn and in the hedgerows, occasionally visiting the neighbors' farms, hatching broods of goslings and keets that run wild all summer long.

Each time one of those animals is sold or dies, or is trucked to a slaughterhouse, we would have to notify the Agriculture Department. And there would be penalties if we failed to account for a lamb quietly stolen by a coyote, and medical bills if we were injured when trying to come between a protective sow and her piglets so we could tag them.

For my family, the upshot would be more expenses and a lot more time swearing at the computer. The burden would be even worse for rural families that don't farm full-time, but make ends meet by keeping a flock of chickens or a cow for milk. The cost of participating in the system would make backyard farming prohibitively expensive.

So who would gain if the identification system eventually becomes mandatory, as the Agriculture Department has hoped? It would help exporters by soothing the fears of foreign consumers who have shunned American beef. Other beneficiaries would include manufacturers of animal tracking systems that stand to garner hefty profits for tracking the hundreds of millions of this country's farm animals. It would also give industrial agriculture a stamp of approval despite its use of antibiotics, confinement and unnatural feeding practices that increase the threat of disease.

At the same time, the system would hurt small pasture-based livestock farms like my family's, even though our grazing practices and natural farming methods help thwart the spread of illnesses. And when small farms are full participants in a local food system, tracking a diseased animal doesn't require an exorbitantly expensive national database.

Cheaper and more effective than an identification system would be a nationwide effort to train farmers and veterinarians about proper management, bio-security practices and disease recognition. But best of all would be prevention. To heighten our food security, we should limit industrial agriculture and stimulate the growth of small farms and backyard food production around the country.

The burden for a program that would safeguard agribusiness interests would be disproportionately shouldered by small farmers, rural families and consumers of locally produced food. Worse yet, that burden would force many rural Americans to lose our way of life.

Shannon Hayes, a farmer, is the author of "The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook" and the forthcoming "Radical Homemakers."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bicycle Parking (Regionally Appropriate Design)

Two-wheels have become more important in my life (again!) lately, and I find its self-sufficient metaphor applicable to something my friend Asheen twittered a few weeks ago from the Biomimicry event in San Diego. Seems Ms. Benyus (I desperately want to read her stuff, maybe when I graduate) mentioned something about regionally appropriate design. A synapse must have closed in an odd way as I started thinking about thermodynamic economics, bio-regionally determined political boundaries, and the connection with maintaining an overall energy (and therefore material) balance within regions. Imagine if we accounted for the energy in and energy out of these regions, and the net outflow must be countered by a net inflow?

So, beyond talking about cycling as one of the basic solutions to our unsustainable economy (in terms of localized transit), I read Thomas Friedman's latest Op-Ed in the NYTimes called the The Inflection is Near. There's an underlying message in it, one that wonders if we have indeed reached some sort of a limit. In it, he references an article from the Onion, here's the excerpt he included:

FENGHUA, China — Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of [garbage] Americans will buy. Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these.’ ... One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless [garbage]? I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”
As Mr. Friedman goes on to say, the folks at The Onion were pretty much right. Satire is great isn't it?

So does all this stuff I've written tie together? I think so. As we sit here looking into the maw of a wounded and still falling economy, I can not help but feel confused and a bit befuddled that the behaviors that got us into this mess, over-consumption, debt, overproduction, etc. are the ones we, and the leaders we've elected are advocating to reignite.

Back to growth without the acknowledgment of limits..sounds like a great plan...

Monday, March 09, 2009

Good News for Green Livery Service

I met Seth Riney, the founder of PlanetTran back in 2003 when I was more involved with the RBABoston. I believe PlanetTran was just getting started and I was excited to learn of what he was doing. I appreciated Seth's energy and his "just do it" attitude when it came to starting a business seeking to change what is a fairly stodgy and conservative business. It was great to receive this announcement about their recent funding success:
On New Year's Day, 2003, while reading a book about environmental entrepreneurship, I wondered why hired vehicles were based on traditional platforms such as the Lincoln Town Car. Livery fleets are the largest class of public vehicles on city streets, yet they are comprised mostly of large, inefficient gas-guzzlers.

At that time I saw an opportunity to create an urban transportation system that utilizes the most efficient transportation technology available. Thanks to your support and patronage, we have turned that vision into a reality and have established a stronghold as the nation’s first livery service to operate exclusively with hybrid vehicles. Since 2003, we have grown our fleet from one Prius in Boston to over 50 vehicles covering much of New England and the San Francisco Bay area.

Over the past two years, I have carefully evaluated a number of potential outside investment partnerships that would allow us to continue growing from a two-market small business into a real enterprise. The goal is to improve our services with cutting-edge technology, expand our geographic reach, and continue delivering a valuable service in an environmentally responsible fashion.

To that end, I am pleased to announce that we have closed an institutional round of financing from Cue Ball Capital, a Boston-based private investment firm. Our new partners provide a special blend of finance, operations, and marketing experience, as well as capital, all of which are crucial for PlanetTran to take it to the next level. I will continue at the helm of PlanetTran as President and CEO, and am delighted to work with Cue Ball’s team of professionals to refine our offering, deliver outstanding service, and charge on with my mission to provide more environmentally responsible transportation options to individuals and corporations.

You’ll see a lot more of us this year as we grow, and as always, I welcome your feedback and look forward to continuing to serve you.
All the best Seth!

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Long Now

A friend of mine from BGI (of course) passed along some info on an organization seeking to change our perception of time through the creation of a 10,000 year clock; The Long Now.

What a cool idea.

I am just as guilty of the short-term imperative as anyone else out there. Heck, throughout my corporate life it's bee all about "just ship it", especially if it's the end of the month (I think that's management-by-objective v. management-by-means, but that's a different post). I have a hard time planning my meals for a week (from a guy that's trying to think and act locally when it comes to food & business) never-mind thinking about laying something fallow next growing season.

Seriously (well, the next post will be more serious...trust me), we are in the thrall of corporations, let's just be honest about it. It's illustrated vividly in what's happening now with manufacturing & finance globally. OK, OK, it's a systems issue...absolutely, we buy the stuff they sell, whether it's non-existent "assets" or cars (note the date on the "cars" article), or soft drinks, Pop-tarts, or beer (my local favorite, Harpoon IPA)...where was I going with this? Oh Yeah!

If we are in thrall of corporations, and their time frame in quarterly, how might we start thinking in 1000 year increments?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Litter: Blooming

I'm not sure what drew me out to my old walk around the park this morning. The Sunday routine usually involves watching Sunday Morning on CBS...there are usually some good stories (it's funny that the target demographic for the show must be 55+ as most of the ads are for medications to "ask your doctor" about...I'm 36). Maybe it was the fact that, despite my rational New England upbringing telling me that spring will not be here until sometime in April, most of the snow is gone and I swear there were spots of green appearing and more vibrant bird song. Ah...delusion...love it.

There was something else that drew me out, along with a large clear plastic bag left over from the purchase of a small pot of kitchen herbs at Russell's Garden Center yesterday; it's trash picking season! Yep, that in-between time of the year when snow melts away to reveal the detritus of our passing and the lushness of spring and summer has yet to hide it. The bottles and cans hidden by the lush greenery of the summer, then the oranges & browns of the fall, and finally the pristine whiteness of the winter snow start "blooming" as the snows recede. What joy! The first sign of spring is the trash we've decided to leave behind.

I'm not sure why I feel the responsibility to hike around and pick up some of this stuff. Maybe I'm seeking some karmic reparations for the bottles & cans that I tossed into the woods as an under-aged drinker in high school. Maybe I'm looking for an immediate boost to my own self-image, kind of like an environmental Stewart Smalley ("I'm a good person for picking up trash!) , or perhaps I'm thinking that the other folks around the park will see some random guy picking up trash and feel motivated to do a little themselves. The more likely observation may be that I'm some vagrant looking for some extra money (how's that for a dim view?). More than likely it was reading the articles in the latest issue of Orion Magazine, about walking around Mt. Tam in CA, the economic & environmental impact of factory farmed shrimp, and the "right" of children to spend time in Nature.

Maybe I just want to leave things better than I found them.

There was the usual mixture of beer bottles, beer cans, plastic water bottles, Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee cups (with their insulating Styrofoam covers attached!), and a few juice bottles. I found a bottle of Budweiser near the remains of what must have been thirty or so lottery tickets, clustered at the base of a tree near a rip in the fence between the MBTA's commuter rail line and the neighboring land. It made me wonder if someone had a routine that involved the regular purchase of lottery tickets and their subsequent ditching in the same spot if they were losers. Elsewhere, I stooped to pick up a Poland Spring (Eco-friendly bottle with 30% less plastic - that means it's OK to leave it in the ground!) and noticed a small burn hole in the bottom and a piece of tin foil over the mouth with tiny holes (made it look like a pepper shaker). I think that was a pipe of some sort. Nice.

The path crosses the tracks and then hugs the side of a small hill abutting a nondescript brick apartment building. I always find plastic water bottles, glass beer bottles and other such items here. Is it the people living in the apartments that "accidentally" allow some of their trash to fall from the parking lot down to the trail or is it the people using the trail? Either way, there are always new things to pick up.

The trash collects where the people travel, either along the paths in the woods or along the roads or in the common areas. The pool area was remarkably clean...that's because it's been closed for many months and no one is using it. Give it a while and the trash will bloom there, easily visible as concrete and pavement rule that area.

Most of the time, I gently fume as I go about picking up other people's garbage, cursing our lack of responsibility and nonchalance. This time, my mind was quiet in that regard, perhaps realizing that I am part of the society that defines how we treat the places we live and share.

Remember the comment about leaving places you visit better than how you found them? Perhaps I've stumbled across a core value that I'll need to integrate into any new business I start.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Interesting Customs Story

The following is from a friend of mine, someone with an incredibly positive outlook on life and someone I am honored to know. JT gave me permission to post her e-mail update her as it relates a story that is comedic, ridiculous, and a bit frightening. Of course, her ability to make lemonade out of lemons (w/o sugar!) is the key takeaway. Also, I share her pain as I experienced a similar incongruity on one of my sales trips to Canada...I still await my duty refund!

My Italian colleague, Paola and I were planning our launch of the Fall/Winter Campagnolo Sportswear and we always meet somewhere in the USA to begin our visits. This year, we were meeting in Denver, Colorado. We had a fun and interesting trip---mostly out East, with
fashion Shows and Trunk shows. A different way of presenting the collection to not only the retailers, but also the consumers. We were excited.

I landed in Denver about 40 minutes before Paola and so I went to get the rental car and then headed back to the airport to meet her at the International customs meeting place. I saw her plane had landed (at least I thought it was her plane) and so I expected her in about 30
minutes. After an hour, I was a little worried. "Where R U?" I texted to her phone. Nothing. Europeans are as good at texting as my nephews and so when I got no reply, I was surprised.

Was I at the right airport? Did I have the right time? I had no idea. 2 hours later and nothing. I don't have a fancy cell phone that has email, weather reports and does the housecleaning and so I was just left waiting. Her plane wasn't even on the arrival screen anymore. Finally my phone rings.

"Ciao Joni, I am cutting the collection and should be out in 30 minutes". I thought perhaps there might be an Italian word "cutting" that I didn't understand and was just happy to know she was fine. When she finally arrived at the greeting place, She told me the story.

She had checked the customs form that she was bringing in samples. Honest. We've done this many times before. She had her proforma invoice and all the back-up paperwork. But the TSA rep stopped her on her way out the exit, searched her bags and told her she had 2 choices: She could leave the collection there or she could cut it. Each piece. Probably $30K retail's worth of high-end clothing. We needed the collection or it would have been a pointless trip. So now we were stuck with a ruined clothing. Long sleeves, were now 1 long/1 half sleeve. Tights were now knickers, gloves had a pinkie missing, jerseys were cut up the back. Ruined.

When she asked the TSA agent if she could call me to let me know that she was here and OK, he told her that "in this situation, only I am asking questions. You are answering them. I am checking your bags for fruit. If you have an apple in your bag it will be a $100 fine..."

Luckily we both have a sense of humor and we introduced the collection as a new Italian trend of missing pinkie's on the gloves and half knicker/half tights and half long sleeve/half 3/4 length jerseys. For the fashion shows I had pre-shipped the new spring/summer and so we were safe there. We are laughing about it now...but it was a nightmare at the time. But I wanted ya'll to know that we are safe from any high-end Italian bike wear. Rest assured!

Off to California for the next couple a weeks with Mike. I have an "un-cut" collection with me. Hope they don't stop me at the Truckee entrance into California!

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Cheap" is It...and Other Musings

OK, it's "thrifty" to you blue bloods and wordsmiths out there.

I read this article today, and it got me thinking (which is always a dangerous thing); I need to be cheaper...

I have been acting like Homo Economicus, when the economy tanks, I pay more attention to where my money goes. For all my rhetoric re: local business, local food, locavorianism, reuse, closing the loop, biking, investing in alignment with values, etc., I am not performing very well. (I've been doing better on the biking front) So, if budgets are moral documents (again a shout out to Bill Grace) what is my budget telling me? What can living cheaply do for the morality of my expenditures?

And...I am switching gears here...some new ideas popped in that need venting...

I read GreenSkeptic's post today, and it continued the trend of getting out of the mental model that we are dependent for our happiness and success on this intangible thing called the "market". I've slowly been moving in the direction he's proposing; heck, I'm thinking back to the times when I was in college and the economy was in the doldrums (OK, the early 90's got nuthin' on what we're seeing now). I completely ignored what was going on outside the walls of WPI. I was happier and optimistic. I'm not advocating putting heads in the sand, yet, at the same time, becoming a deer-in-the-headlights of the failing economy is not going to solve anything.

Maybe it's time to turn off the mainstream news sources and think about what we might create, what we might reinvent.

Switching gears a bit (again), one of the articles GreenSkeptic (thank you!) referred to was, Ruined financiers committing desperate acts. I read it with a combination of rage & pity. For the people that felt their life was worth living in the context of being financially wealthy; I feel pity. For those that amscrayed, that bailed on their responsibility, that bilked people and thought they were too smart to get caught; enraged am I. Here's a thought...imagine if we punished financial fraud as strongly as felonies. I read that the former AIG CEO received four years in prison. Big friggin' deal! It seems to me that punishing people that destroy or hamstring people's lives in the same way that we punish "common criminals" would deter these crimes in the first place. Ah, but then we'd be hindering capitalism and "economic growth", right? Bah!

The graphic now has more meaning...we have the soil to plant the seeds of a new real economy...what will it be like? Will it be simple and reflect what we truly value? Will it respect all forms of capital (I think of social & environmental as the roots, and financial growing from them)? Will it lead us down the same path again?

I went a little off the rails on this one, and each paragraph could be a missive on its own. I feel better for putting it out there. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Market Research (Call to Action!)

This text is cross-posted from the Green City Growers blog, with some minor edits.

So, for those of you in the Boston area (or elsewhere for that matter) that are interested in what Green City Growers is doing and would like to assist in their business development efforts, do we have the job for you! Seriously, some crazy & creative sustainable MBA students at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle, WA (as I have babbled about before, i am one of those students) are working on an entrepreneurship project in tandem with Green City Growers. We've put together a short survey on people's food buying habits, perceptions about food, and even some info on yard-care. So, click here to take the survey, take a few minutes (5-10 to be exact) to let us know what you think. I am certain your insight will be very helpful as they ramp the business up heading into the spring of 2009. Oh, and at the end of the survey, you have the chance to stay connected as well as enter to win some tasty treats from Dancing Deer Bakery from Boston, MA

In case you missed it, here's the link to the survey.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Organic Food Delivery

I decided to "take the morning off" and attend a SBNBoston "field trip" at Boston Organics last Friday morning. Boston Organics is a 6 year old company delivering organic produce (and other items) to ~2300 customers in the metro Boston area. It's great to see that there is such a demand for organic and local produce. The challenge is that there just is not that much local production going on any more. The owner, Jeff Barry, commented that they extend the tern "local" to encompass the east coast, extending down to Florida. They have the responsibility to supply their customers with what they are asking for, and since the items are not available "here", they go where they can get them. It made me think that the defunct and decrepit greenhouses ignored by the state here in Waltham might be a solution; imagine in Boston Organics could help underwrite the rehabilitation of the green houses, they have a built in demand from their existing customers for the fall and winter. Of course, the Waltham Community Farm that uses the land where the greenhouses live have already sold out their shares; maybe they'd prefer to have the greenhouses gone so they could grow more veggies?

As an aside, I had an interesting conversation about the way people use twitter, Facebook, Second Life, LinkedIn, etc. Seems some use Facebook for friends and Linkedin for professional, though others combine the two pretty closely. One woman, a bit older than my assumption about second life, said she uses it for business purposes...how cool. I'm not sure if any of us knew what twitter was all about.

Considering the topic of "food", this article from the Wall Street Journal was interesting to me

These paragraphs stuck out to me...
"When times get tough, restaurants are one of the first places where people economize. In its quarterly surveys, research firm WSL Strategic Retail of New York has found that more people are preparing food at home, eating at lower-priced restaurants when they do eat out and picking less pricey items from the menu."

"Other consumers are opting for home cooking. In Bellevue, Neb., stock broker Kevin Vaughan and his wife cook chicken to make broth from scratch instead of buying it in cans, and use all of the resulting meat for multiple dishes."
Maybe there will be more looking locally for food?