Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reflections of Self...

I engaged in a friend's [insert social network here] conversation about the air rage associated with people's rights and responsibilities to use the power of the reclining seat. (image from dbagjournal)

The article summary: it's interesting to note that the author presents the "for" and "against" recline opinions. What I did not see in the article was a summary of seat purchase "terms & conditions" from various airlines; is the unfettered use of the seat pocket and tray table in front of you part of your "seat space" right? If so - depending upon the spacing of the rows - this is clearly in conflict with the reclining ability of the person seated in front. In the article, etiquette expert Lizzie Post concludes:
The courteous person will choose to not recline their seat for the entire duration of the flight. ... [But] I do think that the person who, unfortunately, has the seat coming back into their lap has to get over the fact that that's just the reality of the situation.
A comment made in the ensuing conversation stuck with me, something about there being no moral requirement that an individual sacrifice personal comfort for the sake of someone else's comfort - the implication being that one may recline at will and be free of any responsibility for said reclining's affect on those seated behind you. Interesting.

Does this comment provide any insight into how societies treat each other in the global community? What I'm wondering is if individual actions "trickle up" through our local, regional, and national elected officials to be made manifest in our international relationships. If we're OK with this, do we elect people that are OK with it too?

What I'm getting at is the thought that we're collectively responsible for the well-being of those that share our global community through our individual actions reflected in the actions of the societies we inhabit.
Is this far too simplistic a conclusion?

For me, the key portion of Ms. Posts comment above rests in the word courteous (connecting to the comment about shared responsibility & moral responsibility). Perhaps my simplistic conclusion that the lack of courtesy displayed in small daily interactions leads to a lack of inter-societal courtesy may be reversed by heeding Ms. Post's admonition; those less privileged need not be saddled with a global seat back in their face.
So, going back to my question, is there a shared responsibility for "comfortable" societies to forgo some of those comforts for the sake of others?

Perhaps something as simple as an International Call for Courtesy between people and Nations is required (how naive is that?!). How about we change our Facebook avatars to include Emily Post's Blue Book of Etiquette (or something) in the background and open doors for people, wave people into traffic, and perform other random acts of courtesy for a week (hopefully longer) and share the stories in our feeds. It is The Holidays after all.

What would that accomplish? Would it "trickle up" through communities and governments in a few years? Would it end up as another in a long line of slacktivist acts?

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Were Natural Products Expo East Participants Sharing?

Thanks to a friend of mine with a small start up in the healthy snacking space, I had a free pass to the Natural Products Expo East earlier this month. I was most curious about how brands present themselves in the physical space of the show and how (if) they connect this image to online social media interactions. Despite the fact that the show is for producers, distributors, retailers, and others in the natural products industry (not consumers) my assumption was that I'd see "follow us on twitter!" and "connect with us on Facebook!" signs in many booths...that was not the case (image from

I'd also heard that there were product samples galore at this event, so I packed a spare bag for what could be a good haul of new & familiar products to try.

I had good conversations with a few companies about social media, though my assumption about neon signs blinking "follow us" and "connect with us" was clearly misplaced. With so many companies and limited time I am sure I missed some interesting people and engagement projects. Of the conversations I did have, I appreciated the ones with ECOS Products, Champlain Orchards, and Crofter's Organic.

What was interesting to me was the variety of strategies (or lack thereof) for these brands' social media efforts. From having someone on staff as the Director of Social Media to someone wrapping the function into their existing responsibilities. It was clear that they understood that there was value in their social media efforts, but not clear about what that value is.

Integrating social media efforts into a customer relationship management strategy, marketing campaigns, and measuring the results is the interesting space. The measurement piece is what most companies are interested in, and the area that must be approached cautiously; it is crucial to establish relationships with customers & stakeholders maintaining the authenticity of the brand without turning social media into a PR channel.

Given the importance of word of mouth in purchasing decision-making and the speed with which WOM may travel in social networks, I was surprised that seeking to connect offline and online actions was seemingly not a priority.

For those social media advocates, professionals, and users that attended the event, what do you think? How much did I miss?

Monday, October 11, 2010

M. Gladwell to Social Media...'re not all that

If you're wondering how social media might help you change the world by spreading the word about your cause or the brand(s) you represent, I am sure you've seen Malcolm Gladwell's article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted in the New Yorker and, more importantly, the barrage of responses to the article. If you read the article, which I think you should, you know that Mr. Gladwell posits that social media's potential to incite social change is overblown by its advocates and promoters.

I decided to wait a week to see what would be written in response to this apparently drastic supposition before wading in and adding my own voice to the conversation (image from Donklephant).

So, the revolution will not be tweeted...

So what?

Look, I'm not trying to be flip (well, maybe a little), I'm pointing out that this opinion by itself doesn't matter that much. The thoughts it's provoked and the conversations that ensue are what's important because it's about what social media can and cannot do (We won't really know for a while anyway).

Mentioning that the "next big thing" may not be all its cracked up to be might raise some good questions about its potential, and avert a headlong rush into a gleaming over-promised future.

Whether or not social media sharing will help change the world (and here we need to ask the question, what does "change the world" mean and whom will benefit from the change?) it presents a new way to connect and spread ideas. This is why online social networks matter.

Sure, as Mr, Gladwell points out, activities like clicking's "like" button on Facebook or buying a pair of "green" shoes online in support of their 10/10/10 Day of Climate Action is easy, and calling it "climate change activism" might be overblown. But it is action. Maybe that Facebook "like" or that purchase will lead to the next step of active engagement. Maybe not, and that doesn't mean they're meaningless acts (though the cynic in me might think otherwise).

Using social media tools for your cause depends primarily upon whether the people interested in
the topics you're seeking to affect, change, contribute to, infiltrate, etc. are there. If they are, why wouldn't you want to be?

If Facebook & Twitter went away tomorrow:

Would many of the connections be lost? Yes.
Would some stay on? Yes.
Would we be better off for it? Probably

Additional Reading: Here's a short list of reactions to Mr. Gladwell's piece (or related articles) that I thought were interesting (in no particular order):

  1. Twitter and Facebook cannot change the real world
  2. Sorry, Malcolm Gladwell, the revolution may well be tweeted
  3. FMC Wire: Malcolm Gladwell wins argument with self edition
  4. The Real Social Network
  5. The Great Brand Dilution
  6. Is digital activism an effective medium for change?
  7. Will social media take us to the barricades?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Stories We Love Are All Social

We all love stories, right? We've been saddened, annoyed, frightened, angered, perhaps even petrified, inflamed, and/or incited to action.

I recently finished "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel...and found this passage worth bookmarking:(image from
I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you, that will confirm what you already know, that won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.
Combined with a friend's recent post about the Internet of Things (which reminded me of SourceMap, something I learned about at TEDxCambridge in the spring) I started thinking about how social media broadens access to tell the stories of people, organizations (and things) that might encourage us to see things differently. "Dry, yeastless factuality..." simply won't due; we long for stories that encourage us to stretch our reality, tell us something different, that challenge our perceptions, assumed plots, and endings in a way that's approachable and relevant.
In Pi's example, his story - though as true as any truth can be to him - was so fantastical to his interviewers that he changed the nature of the players, ending up with the same outcome that was believable to that audience.

So, assuming your story's the greatest story ever told (which it clearly is) and may be outside the realm of a person's acceptance of reality (their perception) might the story be told such that one's perceptions are challenged and yet respected? We're attempting to:

Tell the right stories to the right people at the right time where they are (media form & channel) in a way that prompts action (sharing).

It boils down to:
  1. Write your story
  2. Determine who you want to hear your story
  3. Listen for people that want to hear your story
  4. Note the difference between 2 & 3
  5. Tell them your story
  6. Help them tell your story
  7. Track the story
  8. Skip to 1 and continue to...
That was easy, er...except for points 1-7. They need some unpacking as well.

Oh, and if you have not heard of slacktivism, there's that sticky part about connecting what's happening online from your story the "real world".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Social Media in Rural Massachusetts...Did I Connect?

I decided to attend the final day of the inaugural Berkshire Forum in Pittsfield, MA last week. I've been seeking ways to connect & reconnect with the western part of the state and this looked like a perfect way to do it. For those of you not familiar with the geography of Massachusetts (or the Northeast for that matter), Pittsfield is the economic hub of Berkshire County, the western-most county in Massachusetts with CT, VT, and NY its borders to the south, west, & north. The city's seen a bit of a resurgence over the past few years, and the county is well-known for its cultural institutions like Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Jacob's Pillow (International Dance Company), the Berkshire Int'l Film Festival, Mass MoCA, The Clark, Shakespeare & Company, and William's College (I am sure there are others I'm missing). Areas of the county still suffer from the mass exodus of manufacturing jobs that started in the 1970's with the Mass MoCA as an interesting example of adaptive reuse; what to do with one of the old mills vacated by a large employer.

But I digress...

I decided to use twitter to log my impressions of the forum as it went along, and to draw upon the other posts using the conference's hashtag of #berkforum for reflection. The forum's organizers had defined the hashtag ahead of time, something of great value for those interested in sharing what they saw and heard. This extends the reach of the event in small chunks for people that could not attend. The stream can also be a great way to mine data about the event after the fact for insights that may have been missed as the event transpired. I took good ol' fashioned written notes as well...just couldn't help it.

I was interested in the content of the Forum (always seeking stimulating ideas) and I was curious about how many people would be utilizing social media technology to generate the secondary information flow from the people on the stage.

From the sessions I had the opportunity to be a part of, covering topics like creativity in education and our everyday lives, cleantech's role in sustainable communities, Bob Dylan, Cowboy Yoga, career development, and running a successful business in rural America here are my key observations from each:
  1. Educational reform: Caught in the quagmire between political, social, economic, and moral issues. There were some cynical comments about the educational system being the place where students are prepared for the current economic system by helping businesses determine who will follow orders. Standardized testing was berated, and people informed that boycotting is within their right. It was an interesting panel.
  2. Creativity is as much the result of practice than anything else. As Kevin Sprague commented, "Why is creativity referred to as a gift instead of a skill we develop?"
  3. We're still not thinking about the over-arching systems that influence the challenges of renewable energy, one of which is our cultural short-termism. Also, I heard a bit too much techno-babble optimism; it is important, we need energetic and optimistic minds at work, and we need to rethink the "more is better" way we think.
  4. I had no idea that many of Bob Dylan's songs have roots that can be traced to biblical stories. The examples I heard was "Blowin' in the Wind" and "All Along the Watchtower". I like Jimi Hendrix's version of Watchtower.
  5. I laughed at the Cowboy Yoga video...and then wondered what the satire was telling me, if anything
  6. Depending upon one's age, there are many decades of employability left, that's the key phrase "employability" not employment. See Carole Hyatt for details
  7. For some reason the one phrase that stuck out to me when the panel of Berkshire County business owners/luminaries were asked what they would do with a magic wand to make it easier to do business was "build a bypass". Nothing would do more long-term harm to the very quality of life they so enjoy and would like to preserve than building a highway bypass. (Note: I have NO background in this local issue, I recoil at the same old thinking about development - build a road)
  8. Go to events that intrigue you, that have the potential to help you look at things differently. I did not experience an epiphany, but connected and reconnected with new concepts, optimism, and people
  9. This tweet gave me something to think about from the session on media that I missed. I want to learn about "consensus curation".
A few quibbles:
  1. Moderators should moderate, if they have expertise in the subject, that's great and they must seek to control their passion and and share the stage. If they use it as a platform to spout off, they should not be invited back.
  2. If you say you want to engage the crowd, engage the crowd. Of course, the crowd might be more engaged virtually than is readily apparent.
  3. Where is the online access to the content that was presented?
From the secondary information flow, I looked back and saw about a dozen people tweeting or retweeting content from the event (including myself). How might you measure the participation in an event like this from the social media perspective?
  • Number of tweets
  • Number of blog posts
  • Number of twitterers
  • Number of online conversations
  • Facebook mentions and likes
  • Human connections initiated through virtual interaction?
Here's what socialmention had to say about "Berkshire Forum"

Not quite Greenpeace's Unfriend Coal Facebook campaign, but better on the passion and sentiment measurements.

As an interesting take-a-way, I completely blew it on attempting to meet the people using twitter in person. Reasons:
  • Avatars were sometimes difficult to translate into a real person (NOTE: I'll be changing mine to make them a bit more comparable to real life since I wrote this):
  • I didn't raise my hand and say, "Hey! tweeters! Let's connect f2f."
  • Some folks were not at the event and chiming in remotely
For brand owners/managers your avatar is something to pay special attention to. What do you want it to say? What's the mission of the account? Does the avatar support that mission?

So, Did I connect? I'd have to say and offline.

For some additional comments on The Berkshire Forum check out this great local blog from Kaitlyn Squires.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Curse of Short-Termism

The headline reads Dow Industrials Fall to Seven Week Low. What? Is that really important? In fact, is reporting the daily fluctuations of the stock markets something that we should pay attention to? Whether we should or shouldn't pay attention to something is not the point of this post; what I'm interested in is how that headline illustrates our cultural obsession with the short-term. (image from springabove)
"What does this have to do with sustainability and social media?" you might ask.


If we can't look past seven weeks, how the heck are we expected to look past seven months, seven years, or seven generations? We struggle to look past the ends of our cultural/societal noses when making decisions that will affect generations that have yet to be born. Sure, unemployment sits at near 10% and there are numerous reasons for people to feel short-term anxiety about making mortgage payments, putting food on the table (fortunately, I am in neither of those boats), and ecological destruction. The underlying systemic reasons for where we are now stemmed from short-term thinking 5, 10, 20, 30 years ago. Lax lending standards, policies that encouraged borrowing for people that probably would have been better off NOT borrowing, poor regulatory oversight, and business decision making led to these situations.

Social Media:
As a social media user, I am constantly battling the urge to check the data stream and see what interesting snippets are out there. For the most part, I skim something and rarely make it through an entire article jumping ahead to the next thing. Worse, I may simply want to post something that seems interesting at that moment for the sake of posting it and not pausing to reflect on what the post says about me, what I'm all about, and what I'm trying to communicate to anyone that might be paying attention. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of filling the air for the sake of filling it and ignoring what the content may or may not contribute to the long-term points and mission you may be trying to fulfill.

Might the wholesale thoughtless adoption of a communication mode that has the potential to engage people in positive social change yet revels in short-termism exacerbate the "sustainability problem"?

It's something to think about.

If you're a person (or a brand/organization) interested in leveraging social media to engage communities and generate sustainable social change, it's imperative that you remember how your messages maintain your commitment to your long-term mission. Is that tweet about the crazy traffic jam in China really relevant to the people connected to you or the people you'd like to be connected with? What value are you adding by spreading that meme? How might the message be interpreted in the long-term, looking back on a stream of communication?

Pause a moment, look beyond seven minutes or seven hours, and think about what you're saying...for the long-term

Monday, August 16, 2010

All Media is Social... it's faster.

There's nothing new here...and many have said the same thing before. The information's always been there, what's changed are the formats, delivery mediums, and speed. We can interact with content and stories being hurled at us from all directions much, much faster.

The PanMass Challenge wrapped Zipcar...that's social media too...right? We just interact with it differently...because it's a car and not a tweet or a text message, but we can make it into a tweet or a text message pretty darn fast (with the right mobile device)

Imagine the Sears Roebuck catalog in 1899, a key advertising/marketing/sales publication that paved the way for the westward expansion of our nation (and a brand that's still around and well recognized). People interacted with it, bought stuff from it on faith & trust (mail-order was a new form of commerce) but the interaction (the feedback mechanism) was ssssllllooowww...if there was something a person reacted to, and felt the energy to generate, they had to send a letter...that may have been no small feat, with paper, writing utensil, stamp, etc. needed...and depending upon where one lived (class & location) easy access to delivery service. The interaction was there, the pace was glacial....and that was fine...for the time. The way information about the catalog or the catalog itself was in person, physical word-of-mouth; the people that lived in a small rural village knew each other quite well and would talk favorably or unfavorably based upon their singular two-way delayed interaction with Sears. Spreading the word only went so far.

NOW...some piece of content, whether a pop culture happening like Levi Johnston's rumored mayoral candidacy, that funny ad from the Superbowl, the job quitter whiteboard hoax, or a socially significant press release from a mission-driven organization can be blasted around the interweb through innumerable feeds, posts, tweets, texts, stumbles, or tumblrs, etc. Almost instantly thousands if not millions of impressions may be made...if you're a brand or a company, you'd better be paying attention to what those impressions make on the people that receive (and read) them about your brand/company. Oh, and if you're thinking it's about tighter controls for the content you generate and the channels it travels through, you're wrong, it's about engaging in the spaces where the people you want to create relationships with generate the messages that are propagated, promulgated, and amplified - or dampened.

What's in common is that to be successful, organizations must send messages to the person receiving them in a way that sparks them to action at the time they're ready for action. One could argue that the spark would need to be mighty large in 1899 to generate an order or some kind of interaction with the brand as well as the connections that person may have.

The key is the way your customers, employees, stakeholders, members, neighbors, patients, clients, bosses, elected officials...all citizens of something...interact with your brand, messages, information, science, etc. is constantly shifting and cannot be controlled.
Given the speed with which information about you, your organization, or your brand may be shared, it is imperative that you know where the conversations about your brand and topics related to your brand are happening, engage in those conversations, provide value, and offer ways for people to take action as desired.
This was made abundantly clear to me as I watched the Frontline Episode: The Vaccine War. I found it fascinating that the Internet was trotted out as the enabling villain in the public skepticism about the wisdom of public health officials when it comes to vaccination, and that in the face of some compelling scientific evidence refuting (whew...I did not type refudiate!) claims that certain ingredients in vaccines were linked to autism, people clung to the decisions they made after viewing YouTube videos like this, later revealed to be a hoax. So, my question to the CDC, NIH, etc. is, are you monitoring the conversations about vaccines and their side effects and engaging?

If the public is getting their information elsewhere than your web pages and publications then you better be there.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Generational Stewardship: Debt

I blurted out the "generational stewardship" phrase at the It Takes a Region conference organized by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) that took place back in the fall of 2009. I was in a working session discussing the challenges associated with marketing messages for "regional food systems"; how we might better educate consumers and members of the retail channel about why a regional food economy matters. There was something in the phrase that I thought might make people think outside of their immediate future. (image from
The phrase (and the concept) popped into my head again today as I read the latest Economist special report on debt, Repent at Leisure. As we've learned with the latest financial crisis, debt fueled growth and debt levels have reached (or will soon reach) untenable levels. There are a few phrases in the piece that ignited some thought on generational stewardship and sustainability. The first came at the end of the introduction [added]:
...the debt-financed model has reached its limit...The battle between debtors and creditors [generations in some economies] may be the defining struggle of the next generation.
From an environmental perspective, we have been stealing from the future for the past few hundred years (probably longer than that, and it's accelerated as we've tapped the earth's stored solar energy). From a financial perspective, we're doing the same to support growth, and the maintenance of our "lifestyle". If we're setting up a generational battle, isn't it time to seriously reassess what we're "growing" and maintaining as a lifestyle? Given that ever increasing debt necessitates growth to service the debt, is it conceivable that growth can be environmentally & socially sustainable at the rates required? Here's the trickier question, what legacy will the current generation(s) leave for the ones that follow - Boomers, are you listening?

This one crystallized the current situation when it comes to financial reform:
As debtors and creditors, banks and governments are locked in a tight embrace.
So, given that a system seeks to maintain its own stasis (as I was correctly reminded by a classmate and Founder of Trilibrium, a B Lab certified B Corp focused on triple bottom line accounting) how is it possible that any reform will fundamentally alter what we currently have?

Finally, here are the list of solutions:
Stagnate, default, inflate - they all seem equally grim. The best solution for rich countries is to work off their debts through economic growth. That may be harder for some than for others, given that many countries' workforces are set to level out or shrink as their populations age.
So, given that growth is the only feasible option (I am dubious that an increase in the retirement age to allow capable workers to continue contributing to their own future and the next generation's future - remember stewardship - and a reduction in other entitlements is politically feasible, until things get really bad ) how might this be accomplished while maintaining the future's ability to meet their own needs?

A few thoughts:
- What if sovereign debt were measured not only in dollars but also in natural resources and human development quantities. We would then be compelled to grow sustainably to repay those debts.

- Imagine if some of the finance industry's 35% of US domestic profits were instead earned by businesses creating real economic value through the provision of products and services that actually met human needs?

- Is it conceivable that growth of human quality of life can be maintained by steady-state resource flows in the biosphere?

- Is there a way for us to start thinking systemically, to recognize the feedback mechanisms in our systems that we currently miss with our linear/extractive models?

The path forward involves a reassessment of what we're growing. Quality of life seems like a good what that means...maybe another post. Certainly, there are pockets of progress, visions and actions of hope and interdependent development that seek to maintain and restore social and environmental capital while increasing quality of life. I suppose the real challenge then becomes scaling non-standard solutions in a system seeking to maintain the status quo.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reflections: TEDxCambridge 2010

I've been stewing on TEDxCambridge for about 24 hours so I figured it's time to put into writing what's been swirling around my head all day. I applied to attend because the topic was of interest to me, "How do you eat?" and I was curious about the whole TED & TEDx thing; was it really that cool or was it a lot of hype? It was cool, not really hyped, and I learned some new things and connected with new and interesting people. Did I leave with an epiphany...not really, and I did recognize this theme (through my lens):

The performers sought and continue to seek the places that allow them to pursue the knowledge that supports their passions - they're following their bliss.
Given that there were 20-odd performers (poets, business-people, activists, economists, writers, critics, chefs, etc.) I decided to dedicate one sentence to relay the valuable tidbits from each performance; here we go...

  1. Dan Ariely: Economist - the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University - Our future selves make good decisions for the long-term, in the present we are impulsive, irresponsible, & "irrational".

  2. Edgar Blanco: Researcher - Research Director at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics - Helping create SourceMap to tell us that a banana sold in Boston contains ~120g CO2e; 36% transport, 11% distribution, 29% farming, 15% disposal, & 9% packaging - and then to tell us what that means.

  3. David Gracer: Entomophagist - Founder of SmallStock Food Strategies LLC - We should be eating more bugs and we don't because it's culturally forbidden, NOT because it's bad for us.

  4. Adam Simha: Knife Designer - Principal designer at MKS Design M.I.T. graduate and James Beard award winner - A well-fitted knife enables the holistic relationship with the art & practice of preparing food; invest in a wise choice.

  5. Alissa Hamilton: Author & Activist - recently published Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice - We drink orange juice because of a surplus of oranges that made using more oranges to get us the orange fix through juice instead of eating the fruit better for the producers [and we bought it].

  6. Julia Glenn (violin) & Rainer Crosset (cello): Musicians - Julia is an undergraduate student at Harvard University, where she majors in linguistics and Mandarin Chinese, Rainer attends Phillips Academy, where he is co-principal cellist of the Academy Symphony Orchestra - This was the only part of the day when I got goosebumps.

  7. Richard Chisolm: Film Maker - directing and shooting A Recipe for Change documenting the attempted radical transformation of Baltimore’s public school food system - Radical reform of entrenched bureaucracies requires multiple stakeholder groups' engagement and an undying commitment to the mission; even when everyone knows the change is for the better.

  8. David Waters: Community Servings - Involved in the food community for 35 years as a restaurateur, caterer, nonprofit leader and food activist - Food is medicine, food is love, food is community; using food to help heal people.

  9. Jennifer Hashley: Farmer - Director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy - Sometimes it takes a while to find your place; perhaps if agriculture were considered a viable career path, she would have arrived at her's more quickly - a farmer.

  10. Ayr Muir: Entrepreneur - CEO of Clover Fast Food via Burger King & McKinsey - Pragmatically meeting people where they are with fresh, affordable, convenient fast food; fast food is not the problem, it's the poor values underpinning it.

  11. Glynn Lloyd: Entrpreneur/Activist - Founder and CEO of City Fresh Foods via Teach for America & owning a lawn care business as a teen - Helping communities achieve self-sufficiency through food; seeking to scale the distribution & production of "real" food w/o losing the "reality".

  12. FiddleFoxx: Musicians - Andy Reiner on fiddle, Steve Foxx - the Beatbox, lead by vocals & guitar by Stash Wyslouch (bassist Evan Marien was absent) - Think Rusted Root with a Beatbox, Ben Harper & maybe throw in some Charlie Daniels fiddle...good things.

  13. Kenji Alt: Recipe Developer - via Cook's Illustrated, No. 9 Park, Clio, Uni & MIT - Cooking is chemistry, understanding how food ingredients interact & react frees us from the tyranny of recipes.

  14. Francisco Migoya: Pastry Chef - Associate Professor at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, teaching the Café Operations class for the Baking and Pastry program - Foie gras, grapes, maple, bacon, french toast, added to chocolate? Why not? Mold it like clay and it tastes better.

  15. Dan Barber: Chef (video) - New York's Blue Hill restaurant, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester, NY; practices a kind of close-to-the-land cooking married to agriculture - 'Parable of Foie Gras' with Eduado Sousa, 'The Goosewhisperer"; the ecological choice for food is the most ethical choice, and the best tasting.

  16. Wylie Dufresne: Chef - Founder of WD~50 in Manhattan - Never stop asking 'why?' and and don't accept an answer that smells like BS; continue seeking knowledge.

  17. Don Katz: Professor - Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brandeis University, studying how context and experience affects taste preferences and neural coding - Across the animal kingdom sweetness rules, bitterness avoided its not all about the taste buds, it's about the social cues associated with the taste [did I like beer the 1st time I tasted it?].

  18. Coco Krumme: Wine Economist - studies human behavior and economics at the MIT Media Lab. A member of the American Association of Wine Economists - Words used in wine reviews & bottle wrappers leads to wine price perceptions; MRIs prove we like pricey ones (whether they're 'better' or not).

  19. Chandler Burr: Scent Critic - The New York Times’ perfume critic and writes the Times’ Scent Notes column. Author of The Perfect Scent - Showmanship & presence are important for communicating the depth and breadth of your passion; smells can be deviously midleading.

  20. John Gersten: Mixologist - Drink Bar Manager John Gertsen is recognized locally and nationally as an expert on the history of cocktails - cocktails are about getting together, socializing and talking about "what's outside the glass".

  21. Vanessa German: Poet - Her work is inspired by a desire to create living, utilitarian rituals for present day life - If my hands were anything other than hands, they'd be shooting stars spreading their light across the galaxy.

There were a few videos too, Kelly Dobson - Machine Therapy, PES - Western Spaghetti, Peter Menzel - Hungry Planet. I liked the Western Spaghetti the best, childhood memories connect to innocuous items made into food.

Thank you to the organizers, the volunteers, the sponsors (I liked Pretty Things Jack D'Or beer - brewed in Boston, Wheeler's vegan coconut bon-bons, and Chive's hors d'oeuvres..of course the chocolate covered crickets), the attendees, and the supply chain that supported it all.

See you at TEDxBoston?

What passion would YOU talk about if you were given the TED stage for 10 minutes?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Gauging Progress; Inspired by CERES 2010

I made it to the CERES 2010 Conference opening reception on May 4th. Since I was unable to attend the entire event I figured mingling with some of the attendees would undoubtedly bump me into people I know and introduce me to some new ones. Both these things happened, as I connected with friends from Trucost and Trillium Asset Management and made some great new connections with CERES staff and a member of the Winslow Management Company. It was a pleasure to see Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management receive the Joan Bavaria Award for his tireless work in shareholder advocacy supporting environmental sustainability and social justice.

I attended the event back in 2005 when I worked with Beacon Power and remember being fairly impressed with the level of conversation happening in the corporate world around sustainability. What I mostly started to think about at this year's reception was how much progress toward a business community more in tune with the real needs of our economy has been made. The cynical and impatient side of me, despite the positive attitude of the people I met, is convinced that a whole lot about public companies hasn't changed one bit (the financial collapse of 2008, our developing "jobless" recovery, and the recent BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill reinforces this thinking). So I decided to pause and look at some global indicators I've become familiar with and compare their values from 2005 to 2010 to help me (and perhaps others) assess how we're doing. Now, I realize that five years is not a whole heck of a lot of time, especially geologically, and if we are to believe that a large part of the solutions to the challenges facing our global community that need to happen quickly lie in the fleet-footed and fast-acting entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs of the corporate world then we should see some tangible progress in five years, right?

Here's what I came up with:
Here are links to sources and some comments about the data:FTSE4Good listings: Data in 2005 column is from 2004Carbon Disclosure Project: Sent to FT Global 500Global Reporting Initiative: They had a GREAT spreadsheet from 1999-2010 sortable with tabs!UN Human Development Reports: NOT the easiest to find info, could take a lesson from GRIUN Global Forest Resources Assessment: Data in 2005 is from the decade of the 1990s, 2010 data is decade of 00sGlobal CO2e Emissions - EIA: Again, easy to use spreadsheet
Cleantech Venture Investment: North America, Israel, Europe, China, & India

There's been some progress, and there's been some setbacks. With the overall pressure on environmental and social capital increasing, are we making the large-scale changes needed to steward what we have for those to follow? I'm not sure, and feel that some of the incremental thinking around CSR is getting in the way.

What are some other measures I should be taking into consideration?

Special thanks to @AshleyJablow, a friend of mine from Net Impact Boston, who wrote a blog post at The Changebase reflecting on what she learned at this year's CERES event. Her exploration of the issues important to her inspired me to take a step back and look at some of my assumptions about CSR.

Check out some of the video interviews from the CERES Conference made available on the CERES site.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nourish me with Sustainable Fish

I had the privilege of attending Nourish Restaurant's Sustainable Local Fish Dinner on April 20th. Karen Masterson, Nourish's Owner collaborated with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance to "Celebrate the earth, its ocean and those who bring us food from the ocean". Six local fishermen & women shared dinner to help us learn about why they fish, what inspires them, what fishing means to them, and how they are working to make sure they put food on our table while leaving the smallest possible impact on the ocean.
The guests of honor were:
- Ed Barrett of Marshfield, Massachusetts
- B.G. Brown of Gloucester, Massachusetts
- Shareen Davis of Chatham, Massachusetts
- Carolyn Eastman of Seabrook Beach, New Hampshire
- Paul Metivier of Salisbury, Massachusetts
- Lou Frattarelli of Bristol, Rhode Island
I shared the table with "Mom, Educator, & Fish Lady" Carolyn Eastman of Eastman's Local Catch Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in New Hampshire and Carole Ferguson of Organic Renaissance (another new organization working on some great things for the Northeast Regional food economy).

I'm terrible at remembering the specifics about dishes served at events like this, but I do know that we had monkfish, which for some people is not a favorite...I found it quite nice (though once I saw a picture of what they actually look like...yuck!). I was more interested in the ideas that we'd chew on relative to commercial fishing...and there was plenty to digest.

I do not claim to be in any way, shape, or form well-informed on fishery management and ocean stewardship. My preconception was that we're over-fishing and (like most other natural resources) depleting the resource. What became clear to me from listening to the conversation that evening was the wholehearted belief that in the fisheries these fishermen & women are familiar with that is not the case. There is a wide disconnect between the people doing the fishing and the people doing the regulating. The people doing the fishing think there's plenty to go around and the people doing the regulating think differently. I'm wagering that the "truth" lies somewhere in the middle. I couldn't help but admire the passion for their vocation, their communities, and their responsibility for maintaining the fisheries. It's hard work, and adding a new CSF on top of an already tough profession is something I respect.

I remember some comments about the fact that the people doing the regulating of fisheries have never even cast a line into the surf, never mind clambered aboard a fishing boat for the day. In other words, they do not seek to understand the market they affect with their decisions, and in many cases treat the fishing community in off-putting fashion..."lording" a bit with their smarty-pants PhDs and tweed jackets (OK, I added the tweed jacket comment for effect). It appears that they're on very different sides of the table. Of course, no regulators were there (that I met anyway) to "defend" themselves or contribute to the conversation. I wonder what that would have been like.

I'm sure the angst between the "regulated" and the "regulators" happens in many industries...though they each have their unique idiosyncrasies. And, no matter the best intentions and whole-hearted belief in an industry's/market's ability to self-regulate, I believe it is an exceedingly rare occurrence.

I'm glad I attended and supported the work of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and the growth of Nourish. If you make it to Lexington, MA, try the falafel sampler appetizer and then go across the street for a cup of coffee and a custom bike fitting at the newly opened Ride.Studio.Cafe; a collaborative effort between the founders of Diesel Cafe and Seven it'll be good.

Full disclosure: I'm an unabashed fan of Nourish and Diesel and a former employee of Seven that so wrong?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Frankenstein Fix: L3Cs (Part 3 of The Frankenstein Series)

In the previous two parts of The Frankenstein Series, I wrote about Dr. Frankenstein's Creature as an analogue for our economy; something we created as a benevolent contribution to the World but became something damaging. I also wrote about one of the potential cures for the The Creature's effects, B Corporations. Today I'll turn to another type of organization seeking to re-cast business/philanthropy, the Limited Profit Corporation or L3C. (image from vivavisibilityblog)

The official stuff (with special thanks to the contributors on the L3C Connect Group of LinkedIn): The L3C is a form of limited liability company (LLC) and possesses many characteristics of a typical LLC.
  • The L3C is a for-profit entity
  • The L3C offers a flexible ownership structure, wherein each member’s management responsibility and financial stake may vary according to individual needs
  • The L3C’s members enjoy limited liability for the actions and debts of the company
  • The L3C is classified as a “pass-through entity” for federal tax purposes.
Where it gets interesting is the underlying purpose of the entity; what did we create it to do? Although both and LLC and L3C are profit-making entities, the primary purpose of the L3C is not to earn a profit, but to achieve a socially beneficial objective, with profit a secondary goal. A traditional LLC may be organized and operated for any lawful business purpose, the L3C must be organized and operated at all times to satisfy the following requirements:
  • The company must “significantly further the accomplishment of one or more charitable or educational purposes,” and would not have been formed but for its relationship to the accomplishment of such purpose(s)
  • "No significant purpose of the company is the production of income or the appreciation of property” (the company is permitted to earn a profit)
  • The company must not be organized “to accomplish any political or legislative purposes.”
For philanthropic investors, the L3C’s organization deliberately mirrors the requirements in the Internal Revenue Code governing Program-Related Investments (PRIs). The L3C is designed to meet the IRS requirements for qualifying as a recipient of PRIs, however, the IRS has not ruled on whether investments to L3C's will qualify as PRIs.
A recent story about the reorganization of organic dairy farmers in Maine illustrates how this L3C organization can help in ways that traditional businesses may not have been able to. Here's what they're all about:
With a mission to “keep farmland and make farming profitable for farmers,” The Maine Farm Bureau teamed up with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the idea of operating as an L3C was born. As [David] Bright [Secretary of Maine's Own Organic Milk Company] tells me, the founders have a social purpose of “providing an environment in which diary farmers can make money farming.”
Seems like a good mission to me, and what "intangible" value does having working farms in communities provide, in addition to their strictly economic & nutritional impact?
Special "thank you" to Nancy Gallant for her energetic twittering about L3Cs, seeking to make her own impression in this space with Time Well Spent, and recommendation for additional resources:

interSector Partners
Americans for Community Development
I really can't help but throw this curve ball (in honor of the start of the baseball season) and something that one could chew on about B Corporations as well; who defines what is socially beneficial?
Whether we answer that question or not, new ways to organize businesses seeking outcomes beyond financial gain is something worth pursuing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fixing Frankenstein: BCorporations (Part 2 of The Frankenstein Series)

I ended the previous post with the comment that I would delve into some of the business concepts that might help "fix Frankenstein" and take us forward sustainably. To be clear, I'm using the Brundlandt Commission definition of sustainability to guide my thinking; meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Note that I will NOT be defining "needs" in any great depth beyond simple assumptions about the basics of Maslow's heirarchy, which we have yet to secure for humanity in its entirety.

For the sake of this part, I thought I'd mention something I've been reading about lately, B Corporations. I'll talk about L3Cs (limited profit organizations) in the next post.

I wrote a post not too long ago mentioning some of the B Corporations I'd been exposed to and the energy I felt around their work.

Registered B Corporations (registration provided by B Lab) integrate stakeholder interests into the operating charter of an organization and provide a third party verification of the organization's social and sustainability performance. Topics related to environmental and social performance stand alongside the fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders; they are not necessarily subjugated to shareholder interests as in traditional corporate entities. By integrating these tenets into the operational DNA of the organization, and providing a thorough third party verification of the B Corp's environmental and social performance, B Lab hopes to distinguish between sustainable/green marketing and performance; they strive to help companies that walk-the-talk be recognized for their efforts.

One of the drivers for this new form of business is to protect companies' values in the event of a sale, management change, or investment of capital. Since the social and/or environmental values of the company are an integral part of the company (not just the ideology of the management) those values are carried along with the company's sale. The sale of the famously socially progressive White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia illustrates the potential value of this arrangement, The values of the White Dog will remain despite the lesser management role taken by its founder and local economic development visionary, Judy Wicks.

I found this video with B Lab co-founder Bart Houlahan and B Corp Icestone's co-founder Miranda Magagnini informative, helping explain the creation of a "new sector" between corporations and non-profits.

There's been some news from the State of Vermont recently about progress toward passing a law that would recognize B Corps. I'd like to see it pass. Similar legislation has also been proposed in Colorado, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

One of the ways I believe B Corporations might help us change the way we think about business was illustrated in the WSJ's special section, ECO:nomics, published a few weeks ago. It became clear to me just how ingrained our current view of business and its role in our society is, note the use of language in this passage [emphasis mine]:
"...don't dally in trying to dominate the new energy market, because the spoils will go to those who exploit the uncertainty the best."
Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but the use of the words "dominate" and "exploit" seem to reinforce our view of business as a way to extract instead of create. We've viewed business this way for the past 200 years or so (maybe much longer), which, in my mind, means we're not changing the way we think about business and its relationship to humans and the planet. B Lab's desire to help companies bring their social values into the business for the long-term may help us change our language, perceptions, and practice.

About halfway through writing this post, I came across a post by Louis Galdieri with a response by B Lab co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert. I found it interesting, and though I tend to lean toward liking the ideas of B Lab, Mr. Galdieri's point about the public yielding more control to corporate entities (of any form) is thought-provoking.

How would you fix Frankenstein?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Frankenstein & Sustainability (Part 1 of The Frankenstein Series)

What? A passages in this time-tested novel caught my attention in terms of its relevance to sustainability.

Victor Frankenstein, while relating the story of his horrific creation of the Creature that would go on to terrorize him and his family and lead to his perpetual misery, lets loose (Page 38 of the Bantam Classic Edition printed in 1991):
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.
There's an element of humanity's fear of the unknown, that knowledge (especially scientific knowledge) in and of itself is dangerous. Given that science was part of philosophy at the time of Ms. Shelley's writing, perhaps there is a knee-jerk reaction against scientific knowledge in her philosophy. Science threatened beliefs in ways that some were uncomfortable with (just ask Galileo). I propose that knowledge in and of itself is not the enemy, but the application of said knowledge without a moral or ethical framework from which to draw guidance.

A person's potential for happiness being greater if s/he focuses on the hear-and-now of an immediate world is a simplistic analysis. I'm interpreting this as a thinly veiled message from Ms. Shelley warning us (mankind) of the dangers of meddling with Nature, with things we do not understand.

"...he [mankind] who aspires to become greater than his [Nature] nature will allow."

Dr. Frankenstein grasps the knowledge he sought, the ability to spark life into inanimate flesh, yet he did not have the wisdom to understand the consequences of his actions and the power of the Creature over him mentally and physically. Victor also believes that the application of his knowledge will yield benevolence, that it will lead to greater discoveries and move all of humanity along. Of course, he's horrified by what he's wrought, and quickly disowns it (and the memory of it for quite some time). The Creature comes back into his life as it begins to take vengeance for its creation on Victor's family, seeking to drive Victor into the utter wretchedness the Creature experiences in the lonely life made for him by his creator.

From a sustainability perspective is the Creature the globalized economy we've developed, one bent on constant growth to create a future of plenty for all despite ignoring the rules of Nature that we are in fact a part of? There's a belief that our technologically advanced method of living is the right way to go (benevolent), that we've separated ourselves from Nature and have the knowledge to mold our environs to our desires. But, do we understand the long-term consequences of our actions and have the cultural wisdom to apply the vast stores of knowledge we've accumulated in ways that preserve and nurture social and natural capital?

Are we only reminded of the unnatural operations of our economy through shocks; recessions, wars, The Great Depression, and the current unraveling of global debt? These are the times when we pause to reflect on what we've deem important and question our trajectory. Is the Creature we've all helped build and animate over the past 12,000 years (I'm going back to the birth of agriculture) with our crops, mortgages, trips to Disneyland, 401ks, and high-end outdoor equipment coming back to haunt us?

Dr. Frankenstein's self-inflicted melancholy, the result of the Creature's threats to his happiness (as Dr. Frankenstein interprets it; his life) illustrates his focus on self. The Creature's threats to rain misery down upon Dr. Frankenstein is through slowly taking away Victor's friends and family, the ultimate way to drive a person to despair. It is only with the murder of Victor's friend Henry Cherval in the wilds of Scotland by the Creature that Victor understands, it's not about him, it's about the people around him; he can no longer ignore the threat of his is time to take action.

Is the latest financial meltdown and the looming threat of energy scarcity our murder of Henry? Will that break the spell of navel-gazing, of seeking to maintain our way of life at the expense of those around us and of the generations yet to be born? It is not only environmental degradation I'm referring to, but the financial debt burden we're passing on.

So, if this 200 year old story may be applied to the analysis of our current state of affairs, what does it mean going forward? What will the Creature of the next 100 years look like? What do you think? In part 2 I'll risk thinking about a Creature that is indeed benevolent.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

B Corporations: For Benefit of Society.

I've been doing a lot of reading about B Corporations and the organization responsible for their creation and certification, B Lab (Yep, it was talked about at PopTech) over the past few weeks. I first heard about the organization when still a student at BGI (it's hard to believe that I graduated in June of last year) and remember thinking that it certainly seemed like a fabulous idea; an organization dedicated to digging deeply into companies' "green" and "sustainable business" claims to provide some level of transparency as well as seeking to gain favorable regulatory status for such entities. Why not seek to create an incentive for companies that work to benefit the society they function in beyond mere economic gain? Seems like a no-brainer, right? (image from AuthenticOrganizations)

I was fortunate to have met some people familiar with B Lab and B Corporations while studying at BGI; seemed that people passionate about changing the way we do business were somehow associated or connected with BGI. They visited our school to share their experiences, their ups-and-downs, existential crises, experiences, you get the picture. When I pause to think about it (this is from memory, so I hope I do not overlook anyone!), it's quite an honor roll; I was fortunate to have been exposed to their light and wisdom:
As I reflect upon this list, what's striking to me is the broad range of sectors they represent; consumer products to financial services to office products. In my opinion there are not enough companies in the b-2-b space paying attention to the same trends B Lab reflects. This will change as consumer demand moves up the supply chain. There is movement toward a socially aware business model in more places than I think (overcoming my own cynicism). I also remember being impressed and humbled with the thoughtfulness these business leaders brought to their businesses, they were not content to start a business, a challenging undertaking by itself, rather they seek to inculcate their businesses' future with values that reflect the humanity within their businesses and the people they serve.

When we pause to think about it...why haven't we been doing this from the get-go?

I suppose we accepted the concept that by focusing on profits and maximizing shareholder returns companies would benefit humanity by generating jobs and wealth. Perhaps we're reaching the point (with unemployment "officially" hovering at ~10% in the US and profligate sovereign spending of natural and financial capital endangering future generations) where our belief in this singular business purpose is teetering on the brink of oblivion.
B Corporations represent part of the way forward for our society, encouraging and empowering businesses to respect the societies in which they operate.
As I finish this post I am seated at a business that would is a strong candidate for B Corporation status, Nourish Restaurant (@nourishlocal) in Lexington, MA. If you live near Boston, pay it a visit.