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.