Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Horror of it All

This is a bit of a departure...

Breaking down in tears in my workplace cafeteria is not something I expect to happen.

Then I saw this photo is today's Wall Street Journal.

Something about this hit me remarkably hard, like a sucker punch from the World.  I'm not pretending that senseless, brutal, accidental, and random things don't happen daily, they happen all the time, this one just hit me and hit me hard.

Maybe it's the look of anguish on the man's face.

Maybe it's the limp and bloody figure he's carrying - extinguished out far too soon.

Maybe it's the feeling of helplessness as I sit comfortably at my office computer.

More than anything, I think, it's a feeling of utter despair - whether or not the photo is of a father-and-son, I place myself in a scene where I carry my son's limp and lifeless body and I wonder if I could go on.  It's not a good thought to sit with, and I am happy that it will pass and fortunate that, for now, I am not in a situation where I fear for my family's safety.

I'm not pretending to judge who is right and who is wrong in the Syrian conflict. What I know is that this image is one in a long line of images, some physical, some mental, dating back to time immemorial, of the cruelty mankind can inflict upon others.

But, mankind can be thoughtful, caring, empathetic, and loving too - I need to remember that.

Now, back to my life - changed in some way that I certainly do not recognize.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Locally Focused Gift Registry Launches

I have had the good fortune to meet incredible people in my 10+ year journey of seeking to understand "sustainability".  One of those people is the Founder and CEO of a new company that has the potential to "scale" the interest in putting our dollars to work building resilient local businesses.  Her name is Allison Grappone, the company is Nearby Registry, and I'm thrilled to be a member of her advisory team.

The most exciting news for the organization was their November 7th appearance on MSNBC's Your Business.

Watch the MSNBC Segment
I learned something new in the segment. While I'm familiar with the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses to keep dollars circulating locally - building economic resilience - what I had not thought of was the potential for NR to connect seasonal visitors with the places they frequent and love, as one of the interviewees envisioned.  Imagine, someone living in New York City that summers in the Finger Lakes Region could create a holiday wish list comprised of items both from the neighborhood in NYC where they love as well as the funky bookshop or craft boutique they love to visit in the summer.  What a great idea!

Here's what they have kept in the local NH economy since their launch.  At first glance, it may not seem like much, but when you factor in the local business multiplier effect, These 8000 individual dollars (through November 15th) are working hard to support resilient local communities.

So, take a few minutes and visit their site and think about the stores in your neighborhood that you'd like to be a part of Nearby Registry.  Create a wishlist.  If you're more excited about bringing them to your city or town, join their Instagram campaign - snap a photo of your favorite store that simply has to be part of Nearby Registry, tag it with #joinnearby, and send it to @nearbyregistry - let your local voice be heard!  Heck, share it on facebook, twitter, G+, whatever you like.  You can always email them too, at happtohelp@nearbyregistry.com.

Nearby Registry will be, well, nearby, before you know it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Dose of Wholesome Business Goodness - in Vermont

Check out the "Making Dough and Making Change" event pageWhen you have the opportunity to see leaders from Ben and Jerry's, Ashoka, The Guardian Sustainable Business, VBSR, Echoing Green, B Lab, and Calvert Investments share a stage to share big ideas about social entrepreneurship - it's best to take it.

That's how I found myself about 3.5 hours away from my home late last month (with the latest IPCC draft report due out in a few days) hosted by UVM's new Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA Program surrounded by sustainable business, social justice, alternative economy, and local-advocates.  I could practically feel the goodness (or good intentions) all around me - and I liked it.  I felt, if only for a few hours, that I was with my tribe, a tribe I first found and connected with for the two years I attended BGI.

I was ready for my dose of Wholesome Business Goodness Kool-Aid...and I got it.

So, here's who was there (I've included links to the event page on the VBSR website as well as to the participant's BIOs for those that would like more information):
Wow! On top of this stellar line up, I noticed people in the audience from organizations that I've had the good fortune to learn about over the past 10 years or so (some more recently) -Suncommon, Preserve Products, VT Resilience Lab, Vermonters for a New Economy, Shelburne Farms, AllEarth Renewables, Renewable NRG Systems, and many more.

So, what did I learn?  Good question.  With all the tweeting I was doing (multi-tasking), and not sitting still, I noticed that my listening, though-synthesizing, and note-taking suffered.  Regardless of this fact, here are a few tidbits I gleaned from the panelists that I found interesting, if not revelatory:
  1. The people on the ground experiencing a problem and the repercussions of the problems, are the ones most passionate about solving them - and possibly the best able to solve them (with the right resources). While I am sure there are passionate people solving problems they have not experienced, direct experience provides a level of engagement and systemic understanding that someone just a few steps removed will not understand.  There are other people or organizations that can surely support this person in solving the problem - since it will align with their own interests.  Cheryl Dorsey prompted this thought as she shared Echoing Green's "Darwinian qualification" process for evaluating early-stage on-the-ground social change initiatives for investment.
  2. We've come a long way, and there is still a long way to go Daryn Dodson mentioning the 50th anniversary of the Walk on Washington, and asked for a show of hands for how many people paused to remember it.  I felt the air go out of the room - did we forget?  Have we solved the social justice problem of racism?  I don't think so - and it's gotten better...right?  
  3. The high-minded mission statements and values charts so many leadership teams agonize over may go misinterpreted, sporadically followed, or simply forgotten when filtered down through the organization to the people "getting things done".  That's not to say that organizational leaders don't get things done - it's different.  We witnessed a great example when a - some would tweet "brave" - long-time supplier of Ben and Jerry's quizzed Mr. Solheim, "How do you define "shared prosperity" for your suppliers; 10% gross margin, 20%?"  It was a great question, illuminating the reality of a purchasing department's goal to reduce costs colliding with a company mission of sharing success. 
  4. Wit and laughter is a good way to deal with what seem to be insurmountable problems.  Jo Confino and Jay Coen Gilbert demonstrated this well, with what could have been deemed "cutting" banter in the typical across-the-Atlantic-UK-v.-US way as they talked about species extinctions, weather extremes, and sea-level rise.
  5. If you have a belief - stand up and advocate for it because nobody else will.  Andrea Cohen, VBSR's Executive Director reinforced this as she addressed business leaders in the audience.  If a business has a "personality", perhaps echoing that of its founder(s) and/or employees depending upon its size, does it therefore hold "beliefs"?  And if so, why wouldn't it advocate for things aligned with those beliefs?
  6. Is "scaling" anything a symptom of our current thinking and therefore counter to solving the problems we're working on?  I can't help but think that we're missing something when we seek to "scale" a solution.  Yes, we need big ideas and world-changing actions, but just "going bigger" seems misguided.  I was glad to see a member of a COOP ask the panel about COOPs' place in our brave new sustainable and socially just world.
If you're curious about the play-by-play as interpreted by me and many other interested parties in the twittersphere, take a look at the #SocEntSummit twitter hashtag.

Oh, one more thing - this would have been a good way for me to try PickUpPal.  Next time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Human and Environmental Sustainability Summit

It had been quite some time since I attended some sort of "sustainability confab" - I was in need of a few big ideas. The inaugural edition of the Mount Desert Island Biological Institute's Human and Environmental Sustainability Summit took place in picturesque Eden, ME on August 9th. We just so happened to be visiting the island for our annual vacation and family visit so I decided to attend.

Reading the event's description - a gathering of voices from the public, private, and academic sectors showcasing collaborative real-world solutions for our most pressing environmental issues - gave me hope that I'd come away energized and maybe even optimistic.  I found myself most curious about what Chris Mooney, a well-known science writer and public speaker, and Rebecca Henderson, a Professor at the Harvard Business School and Co-Director of the HBS Business and Environment Initiative would have to say. Larry Langebrake, Director of the Marine Technology Program of SRI International and MDIBL's Director of Community Environmental Health Laboratory Jane Disney were slated to appear as well. I found the twitter hashtag and began interacting with others tweeting about it.  This led to a small, informal tweet-up over lunch prior to the event.  I love twitter for this - making connections with people that otherwise may not be made.

After a brief introduction by Lab Director and Professor Dr. Kevin Strange, Mr. Mooney set the stage for us by highlighting the fundamental problem associated with environmental issues - that "science" is mistrusted and misunderstood and that this mistrust is rooted in ideology stemming from our psychological makeup. Whoa.  We hold dear the idea that we arrive at our political beliefs rationally and objectively, well, that's pretty much complete bunk.  A more accurate assessment is that our political beliefs are closely aligned with our psychological make-up - we believe what makes us feel good and aligns with who we are.  Makes intuitive sense, right?

After many great charts and graphs illustrating the psychological and personality differences between liberals and conservatives including their diverging trust in science since 1970, the difference in their feelings when asked about moral issues (some of them feel physically repulsed by things), I was thinking differently.  I recall one chart in particular with character traits along the horizontal axis and the strengths of those traits plotted vertically.  The one characteristic that was highest in respondents considered liberals and non-existent in those considered conservatives was "openness".  That struck me - mostly because of how I perceive myself and my beliefs.  Where was I on that spectrum?  Almost as an aside he made a comment about the term "follow the money", something often used when criticizing partisan think tanks for the information they push out. He offered that the term is too simplistic, it's about "following the psychology".  That made a lot of sense, and explains why some messaging works and some does not.  Language is powerful, and groups seeking to influence opinions and behaviors must use words that tap into the feelings of the people they're trying to reach.  The challenge becomes understanding the psychology of the people you're trying to reach.

Rebecca Henderson had the unenviable task of taking the mic immediately following the lunch break on a gloomy, rain-soaked day to tell us about those mythical private sector partnerships that work.  Her review of what the key elements of successful partnerships was illuminating, citing the need for mutual trust and respect, without which a partnership has a much lower chance of succeeding.

We learned about the connection between Unilever and The Rainforest Alliance to help Unilever source its tea sustainably.  Unilever owns multiple brands that use tea leaves as a primary ingredient.  It's in their best interest to prevent environmental degradation and improve small farmers' economic conditions as both these things could affect their supply.  It is factors like this that will drive businesses to move themselves along the sustainability spectrum - and the rising social demand for it.

I found her anecdotal tale of Eastman Kodak's demise at the hand of the digital photographic age compelling.  It was a sober reminder of how businesses perceive change and a practical example of why change in the face of overwhelming evidence of the need for change (denial, no money to make, no faith in the ability to change) does not happen.  They saw the digital train coming (as did Polaroid) and did not believe that they could make the necessary changes to catch the next wave.

The thought she left me with was how easy it is to de-carbonize our economy - simply price externalities accurately for enterprises and consumers. Now go do it.  Does anyone have enough political capital to do this? Not yet?  Soon?  Remember that comment about tapping into psychology from Chris Mooney?

The afternoon culminated in a ticketed dinner for the lab's Richard M. Hays, M.D., Memorial Lecture featuring Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer, aquanaut, and author. She was the chief scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1990 to 1992 and Time Magazine's first "Hero for the Planet."  Take a look at her TED Talk and tell me if you either come away inspired or overwhelmed by the challenge

I focused on two elements that connected with me of a packed afternoon. To get a bigger picture of the event, check out what other people had to say by reading the tweets tagged with #EnviroSummit.  There are great thoughts from Karen James, Sylvia Earle, D.J. Brooks, Jerilyn Bowers, Chris Mooney, MDIBLRegina the Lobster, and others.

More information:
The Mount Desert Island Biological Institute
Harvard Business School Business & Environment Initiative
Citizen Science
SRI International
Frenchman Bay Partners (what Jane Disney spoke about)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tagging Litter - Part 2

Do you litterati?
I recently learned about a project leveraging the popularity and power of Instagram called #litterati.  The purpose? Engaging people in the un-glamorous activity of litter clean-up by digitally capturing, tagging, and sharing what they find with artsy photos. I've become a fan with the handle litterang (yeah, the logo's a take on the Nerf Boomerang - get it - litter + boomerang = litterang, because there is no "away"? Thought so.) and can only see good things coming from it.

Take a look at this video from the Litterati founder about what it is and what they're seeking to accomplish.  The piece that spoke to me was his comments about walking around with his two-year-old and wondering about how to make the world a better place for her.  I now have a two-year-old, and find myself pondering the same question.  The action he's taken...it's...shall I say...inspiring.

So, the idea, in a nutshell, is that people take photos of litter, glamming them up with the cool features of Instagram, and tag them by what the item is along with as much brand and company identifying information as possible.  The bonus is sharing them with their followers in the social media universe connected to their Instagram account.  For example, here's a photo I took last weekend and posted (before I opened the litterang acount):



The text reads #litterati #polandspring #plastic #water #bottle which, assuming I have a clue about the coding that goes into this, flows through to the Digital Landfill and Impact Map on Litterati's site:


Maybe I'm a super-geek (no - it's not a maybe), but I think this is way cool.  Why?
  1. Map litter.  Bring the power of location tagging to gather information on hotspots of litter - helping cities and towns plan their garbage collection and recycling placements
  2. Product Stewardship. Bring brands and their owners into the conversation about what happens to the packaging their products come in.  Packaging is the delivery mechanism for the consumer (you want a bottle of water for the water, not the bottle right?) and producer - oh - and a marketing tool as well.
  3. Build a "cool" factor for tagging litter.  Maybe this is a stretch, but if all your friends are #humblebragging about the litter they're tagging because they're such "good people", you might want to as well - think endorsements on LinkedIn
  4. Energy analysis.  If you could tie embodied energy for the items listed, you might generate interesting data that would be useful to conscious consumers, policy wonks, and energy-minded folks.
  5. Brand reconnaissance.  Brands and their owners could start to see patterns of use - where their products are used and end up.  It might help them understand their customers' habits, where they might place another outlet, perhaps engage with their customers to encourage recycling and proper disposal to strengthen brand loyalty and identification?
Is there a danger that this could make litter "sexy", that people would stage their litter photos to make themselves look good and to earn more hearts?  Wow.  That would be lame, and sure, there is always that possibility - but jeez...super lame.

What about people that are not interested in sharing location data associated with their photography?  This is something I have to say that I struggle with.  I am new to Instagram, and the only activity I am using it for at this moment is #litterati - that is my choice.  For others, it may not be so easy, or desired. 

What else could we learn from this? If you don't have an Instagram account, does some social good activity like this make you want to open one?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tagging Litter - Part 1


I started writing this back in March of 2011, building upon a few thoughts I captured in a 2009 post I wrote about picking up litter in a nearby park.

At the time, we were entering the spring, the time of natural (and perhaps spiritual) renewal.  I found myself increasingly annoyed with litter, to the point of finally doing something more than picking up what I could.  The seasonal revelation of what's been cast aside carelessly in public spaces over the past winter as the snow melts was becoming too much to handle.

This is what I was thinking back then...

Over the past few months I've thought about a project to leverage the power of social media to encourage "cleaning up" and also to help us hold the brands that we all use accountable for their products throughout their lifecycles.

The Social Media Litter Project (it did not go...anywhere)

So far, there are two components of this project, twitter and Facebook. I figured that with the number of people on Facebook combined with the microblogosphere of twitter and the geo-location/image capability of mobile devices, we might have something interesting to work on together.

By connecting with old and new friends on Facebook and twitter along with the immense growth of mobile technology adoption, I've become aware of the potential for mobile technology to help us track litter to determine where it came from and how we might prevent it from becoming litter in the first place. When I see people dabbling in Farmville and MafiaWars (are these still relevant?) , I think to myself, is there something as fun and habit forming that makes a difference in our world - that serves a higher purpose - that we could do together?

So, I created a twitter handle @litterproject and started taking photos of litter I've collected in various places and posting it with geo-location enabled. I've been posting using the @litterproject account, and would like to get people to post to @litterproject to participate in this "litter tracking" adventure and see what we can accomplish. Here's a sample post:
@litterproject #mcdonalds in the mix always @dunkindonuts some #polandspring
various #styrofoam & #plastic  http://tweetphoto.com/19560433
With the help of friends from BGI (as well as anyone else that might be interested) we'll create a continuously updated map of the litter people pick up, and thanks to photos and what people post, we'll also know what brands are getting left for others to pick up.

In my brief experience around the Beaver Brook Reservation on the border of Waltham and Belmont I've noticed a high level of Dunkin' Donuts paraphrenalia. I've started a special collection of items with the Dunkin' Donuts logo on it (2013 update - it's since been sent to a landfill). They have a store located in Waverley Square not far from where I live. For those of you in the Northeast, you know what I'm talking about. Seems that there is an inordinate amount of litter around this area comprised of DandD stuff. What I'm curious about is how we as a culture assign responsibility for the "disposal" of something at the end of its useful life - is it the user's or the producer's?  Maybe a bit of both?

What if we created a map with brand identifying characteristics to make people aware of just how much "stuff" is out there and to start bringing in the providers of said "stuff" into the conversation so we might prevent the "stuff" from getting there in the first place.

I'm curious to find out what will emerge from this effort (2013 update - for me, not much). Perhaps the folks at Terracycle or Save that Stuff will note this little experiment and have an idea about extending the useful life of the products recorded here or some other ideas about what to do with them that do not add to our injection of post consumer waste in to the biosphere.

In Part 2, jumping ahead to the present day, there is inspired action by Litterati

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Fixing it Yourself Matters

Confronted by Rust
What does spending 3 hours on a hot afternoon contorted under a 1997 Toyota Camry with 215,000 miles on the odometer do for you?

Here's what it did for me:
  1. Engaged my problem solving muscles
  2. Two words - Neural Plasticity
  3. Saved money
  4. Kept a depreciating (-ed) asset on the road
  5. Helped me be "sustainable"
1. Problem solving - Practice, practice, practice.  If you're not using a skill, it's probably atrophying (or, completely atrophied), so, with that in mind, I decided to figure out how to do it.  No lift? No problem.  Hydraulic jack, sawzall, exhaust clamps, aluminum wire, tiger patches, lengths of pipe - it took multiple weeks, the borrowing of tools and various implements of destruction from multiple family members and driving to too many places - and I figured it out.  

2. Neural Plasticity - the concept idea that we can continually alter our brain, essentially rewiring it to increase its health and our intelligence.  One of the ways to do this is to do things the hard way - I learned by reading a Scientific American blog post I found through @AndreaKuszewski.  I was happy to see that the little things I try and "fix" on a day-to-day basis (waxing my own shoelaces, making a funnel out of a soda bottle, trying to figure out the best way to alter a container to make a drip irrigation system for a container that I'm growing tomatoes in) are not merely obsessions, but activities that might make me a bit smarter (or waste way too much time).

3. Saved money - Depending upon how you value your time...  In this case, the intermediate pipe that this portion of the exhaust's noise cancellation system is part of cost north of $300.  Add installation, and the hours I spent associated with point #1 was worth it...well, the sense of accomplishment at least.  

4. Kept a depreciating (-ed) asset contributing - I'll probably never buy a brand new car (unless something drastic changes about me and or my life), and, I don't view a car as much of an asset, it's more of a mode of transportation that makes our life a little more convenient at the moment, despite the costs associated with it.  The point?  This is a way to get us around in some semblance of comfort - as part of our net worth, it's a piddling contributor (if I really crunched the numbers, possibly a liability) so let's leave it alone. 

5. Helped me be "sustainable" - Did it?  According to this 2007 article from Treehugger, it does not.  Damn.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Musings on "Made in Bangladesh"

One of my shirts
When I learned that the death toll of the Bangladeshi garment factory collapse topped 1000 - I started writing.  A few months ago this would have put me into a steep tailspin. I'm still saddened, though instead of throwing my hands up, casting blame, and tilting at the windmills of "race-to-the-bottom" capitalism, I found myself thinking of the systemic causes and possible solutions in the context of our global economy and sprawling supply chains and possible actions to take to incite change.

A short digression...

Back in March I wrote about my personal responsibility for a long list of global environmental catastrophes and miscarriages of justice.  It was a dark time for my faith in humanity, and, if I am completely honest, listing things out made it easier for me to mentally disengage from them - on top of that, my intent was to instill a sense of responsibility for these challenges with anyone that might read the post - depending upon the readers' socio-economic background, responsibility should (a loaded word) be shared, correct? 

Before I published that post, I ran it by some friends that share my sustainability ideals.  They suggested that instead of focusing on a laundry list of problems and the guilt associated with them, it might be more useful to think about how I contribute to solutions.  Makes complete sense.

...back to the topic at hand.

With that in mind, relative to the Bangladesh building collapse, what might I do to make an impact?  Here are a few ideas that came to mind with questions and comments about potential impact(s):
  1. Buy garments made in another country
    • Reward those with better labor regulations, though there were regulations and policies in place in Bangladesh that were enforced poorly
    • Does this then unfairly punish the laborers that have improved their lives despite their dangerous working conditions?
  2. Buy garments made by brands with the highest level of supply-chain scrutiny working in Bangladesh
    • With the complicated supply chains of today, does this mean anything?
    • Where does one find this information?  Looking at my closet of recent clothing purchases, I know I did not look.
    • Note: the photo above is from a shirt I bought recently - with no thought to where it was made.  At the time of this writing, I could find nothing about the brand's responsible business practices in Bangladesh.  I've sent them a message and asked about this - we'll see where this goes.
  3. Buy garments from the brands that said they would be compensating victims' families
    • What impact will this make in the long term?
    • Is this slacktivism at its finest, taking an action that easy and ultimately not very effective?
  4. Buy garments from local / regional sources
  5. Buy no new garments at all
    • There are a wealth of thrift stores and other ways to find gently used items to cover oneself and extend the useful life of an item.
    • In the world of (assumed) requisite economic growth, where would this cause pain? 
  6. Make them myself
    • This would be a useful skill to have, and, in the world of neoclassical economics, is my maximum value in society manifested in making clothing?  Maybe.
I am sure important actions, ideas, and insights are missing.  What would you add?

I am indebted to friends Kevin Hagen, former REI Sustainability Leader and now on his own helping organizations start and continue their sustainability journeys, Asheen Phansey, Babson MBA, Bio-engineering undergrad with biomimicry expertise currently changing the world at D'Assault Systemes, Caleb Bushner, self-proclaimed philosopher of sandwiches, BGI MBA, and Associate Director at Digitas, and Paul Diegel BGI MBA and Executive Director, Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center for providing invaluable insights into these topics.  I am grateful for their help as I continue to challenge my mental models and unconscious assumptions about sustainability and my battle against a priori pessimism.  Follow them on twitter at @asheen  |  @kevinhagen  |  @calebbushner .

Monday, April 29, 2013

Rediscovering Optimism

Image by Samantha Celera
It's come in fits and starts - my optimism peeks through the dark veil of pessimism that slowly crept up and took over my sustainable thinking over the past few years.  It dawned on me as I re-read my last post that pessimism was winning - handily - creating an overwhelming sense of hopelessness at the state of the world when it comes to environmental sustainability and social justice.  The plane on which I functioned had tilted steeply to the negative...and...I concluded...once it's tilted that way...it can be tough to bring it back.

Tough...and I am.

I paused and reflected a bit on the people and organizations I know of that are doing great things, whether building a company with a social mission or believing in their artistic pursuits and making it happen.  Taking the time to think about these positive actions re-framed my internal debate at our collective trajectory  - calling my pessimism into question - again.

Dwelling, mulling, stewing, on the negatives just sucks the energy out of anything and everything

Lesson learned - for now.  So, that means that whatever you see here going forward will be focused on solutions.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Waking up to Responsibility

Image from Moonty used under Creative Commons
Image from Moonty used under Creative Commons
The germ of this post sprouted sometime in 2012, I'm not sure when and I'm not sure what it was, it's not important.  With my previous post on spirituality and sustainability, teasing out the theme of "connectedness" along with a few recent articles shared by friends I respect with themes that relate to these ideas it was time to reconnect with the idea and see where it goes.

So, here we go.

I've known it for a long time.  It's one of those things that we know and bury beneath our existing identity and worldview because it raises big questions about who we are as individuals, what we believe in, and our role in our local and global communities.

What is it that I know?

I'm responsible for Fukushima
I'm responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
I'm responsible for reality television
I'm responsible for type 2 diabetes in children
I'm responsible for pink slime
I'm responsible for lead paint
I'm responsible for the plastic in the oceans
I'm responsible for the production of carcinogens

The list could go on, and I'm not sure that's helpful.  We could argue about the term "responsible" being replaces with complicit, culpable, or some other less in-your-face word.  Again - not helpful.  The point is that this list of social problems (some might categorize them as "environmental" and/or "social" as well but I'm not sure that the distinction is relevant) are all symptoms of my activities as a consumer of, and investor in, products and/or services that contribute to them.  Ultimately, if we see the news about any of these issues, do we not have a shared responsibility to do something about it?  Otherwise, I must come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I am, indeed, personally responsible.

"What's the point?" you might ask - rightfully.  How do my actions in my ______________ [insert city, town, company, family, community, etc.] affect things happening at these scales or other countries or even other parts of my own community?  The question is, how do they not?  We're all connected in the same socioeconomic system that at its core seeks to extract and amass wealth.  We do this by extracting raw materials from the biosphere, investing energy in the process of manipulating it (this involves many, many steps) to increase its value in the marketplace and then slowly extracting that value in the form of financial capital as it flows through the distribution chain to the end-user.  The challenge is that the value extracted is not proportional to the net effects of the damage caused by its production.  In other words, the people living near the oil wells in Nigeria and adversely affected by the pollution associated with the oil's extraction receive a small portion (if any) of the overall value of that resource.  Where does then rest of it go?

We take some of it when we buy the item and use it. The rest goes to various organizations along with way, businesses that may or may not have a desire to use what they've earned (extracted) in restorative activities.

So...what's the solution?

It's time to take a step back from the day-to-day and ask serious questions about what our role is in this world and what we're willing to do in the short and long term to right the wrongs listed above.  It's daunting, absolutely daunting, sobering, and massive.  Most of the time when I think about these issues I fall into despair - feeling completely helpless in their depth and scope.  But...I am sure there are others out there, others watching the news or reading the paper and feeling the pang of sadness and/or responsibility and then burying that feeling below the myriad activities that keep us busy.  After all, we all have our own lives, families, and communities to look after.

Here is one of the articles that I referred to that might make us think a bit differently about our impact, responsibility, espoused values, and actions.

Want to save the planet? Shrink your habitat — not just your apartment

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Is Spiritual Connection Necessary to Save the Planet?

From CC nasrulekrom
One of the great mysteries I continue to wrestle with is the contribution of individual spirituality and spiritual institutions to creating an environmentally sustainable and just world economy.

Pretty minor topic, right?

This has come up for me at a very personal level as I seek out my own spiritual connections.  I define spirituality/religion as - wherever there are deeply felt connections between people that share a concept and/or belief.  This desire sneaked up on me over the past few years as I sensed I had  become distant, disconnected, and pessimistic about the state of the world and my ability to contribute in a positive way.  I painted the whole of "developed world" humanity (myself included) as base organisms seeking enrichment through material wealth with nary a care about the social and environmental injustices these actions inflicted upon the rest of the world.  Let's just say that this world view was not working.

With that as background, I'd steeled myself to emotional and empathetic connections, yet found myself moved to tears in situations involving spiritual gatherings (as I defined them) and wondering what I was missing in my intellectual Cave of Agnosticism. The last time I felt connected to something was when I attended BGI a few years ago, only now do I appreciate what that connection meant to me.

Considering that many definitions of sustainability involve the concept of systems thinking and earthly interconnections - I wondered "how does my individual spirituality connect with sustainability"?  Or, more directly, how can it NOT?

I started reading on the topic again looking for answers (that's dangerous!) to my questions. I picked up "Spirituality and Sustainability" by John Carroll a few months ago.  I immediately connected with the writers ideas - what we pursue as "environmental sustainability" is woefully inadequate - more of a quarter-measure to make us feel better about maintaining a growth-centered economic model that tolerates social injustice even though we know something is wrong but we can't collectively deal with the massive shift needed in our thinking. The author posits that there is something missing in our conversations about what a sustainable business needs to be, and the something is spirituality.

Imagine the Pope coming out and saying that members of his Faith are damaging the Lord's Creation with their actions and that they are bound to take action to make amends.  What would happen? Anything?  Would individuals of this faith take action?

The next question becomes - if we experience a desire to build a sustainable and just world through our individual spiritual pursuits, why is it that these desires are "checked at the door" of most businesses (that are comprised of individuals)?  Is the business world operating in a sphere that we have collectively agreed is in its own space devoid of our shared morality and values with the overarching goal of increasing monetary wealth?  If so, how might it be shifted to encompass the values we profess in our personal spirituality reflected at a societal level?

Do B Corporations, hybrid non-profits, L3Cs, and social enterprises hold the key?  Do they go far enough?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Finding Inspiration for Creative Expression

top from hummus container lid and various bitsIt happened in the most innocuous way.  I read somewhere - I cannot remember where and I'm not going to pretend I do by looking it up now - that "successful people" take time every day, usually in the morning, to pause and reflect on what they are thankful for.  It seemed like worthwhile advice, pausing to be with my thoughts about things I take for granted.  Since I was struggling with my vision of a sustainable future (maybe "struggle" is the wrong world - I gave up on it) it seemed like a good activity to help change a pessimistic outlook.  I'd been somewhat of a regular journal writer since the mid-90's, though what started out as a way to record significant events in my life had morphed into a repository for (mostly) rants of a recurring theme (see pattern comment above) - I had this. So inspired, I started jotting thoughts in my journal every morning...easy enough.

That lasted a day...

A few months later, I happened upon a tweet about why keeping a notebook near your bed was important - I liked it and ended up in a short interaction with @geoffliving and @ErinMFeldman (thanks to both of you!) on the benefits of writing...by hand, the old fashioned way.  [Need a reason to maintain cursive writing skills? In the not too distant future it might be sought after since it's slowly dying as a form of writing] Since then (re-inspired), I write daily - maybe not first thing in the morning and maybe it's not well-crafted, but it's happening.

Most importantly, I have spent that last three days caring for my young son.  It's been an enlightening, rewarding, and - dare I say - inspiring time.  I'm not sure what happened, what he said or did that altered my view quite so suddenly - but it happened.  Do I need to know?  Maybe that's what it was - renewing my appreciation for simple enjoyment, letting my lack of understanding sit there - alone - dispensing with the need for an explanation and just "doing".  I kept writing...

"So...what' the big deal about writing?", you may ask.

It's not about the writing.  The big deal is that I'm listening to The Maker trapped inside of me again for the first time in a few years.  I've squelched it in the name of "practicality", with defeatist pleas of  "I don't have time", or "I'd rather sit here and watch a movie", or "what I'll create won't make a damn bit of difference", or "how can I contemplate this while [insert global catastrophe] or [family health problem] is happening?"  Yes, the Internal Critic was kicking my ass.  IF, we are living in what I perceive to be a world of consuming and taking v. generating and making AND I participate in the former over the latter far too much AND bemoan that state of affairs...

...how am I helping move from taking to making if I do not try making?