Thursday, October 30, 2008

More on Driving Electrically

The following is ripped directly from the pages of the latest Rocky Mountain Institute newsletter. I wrote about some recent news stories covering the creation of electrical recharging infrastructure in Israel, Germany, San Francisco, and Boston a few weeks ago. I also saw something recently about a similar effort taking place in Australia by the same Better Place company working in Israel. Perhaps the centralization of power (pun intended) will shift from petroleum to electricity generation. Maybe Better Place realizes that people are really buying mobility services, not automobiles.

From RMI:
Imagine driving a car that can be plugged in and connect to the grid while you shop for groceries, while it sits in your office parking lot, or even in your own driveway!
RMI's Mobility and Vehicle Efficiency Team (MOVE) is working to bring together electrified vehicles, energy-positive buildings, and a smarter, cleaner electricity grid. According to Michael Brylawski, VP of MOVE, these are essential new developments that will generate jobs and wealth, while decreasing our dependence on oil and greenhouse gas emissions.
RMI's Smart Garage Summit was held on October 8-10, 2008 and united experts across several industries for three days in Portland, OR in order to identify both barriers and breakthroughs needed to develop a fleet of electric vehicles in the US, and do so in a manner that reaps environmental benefits and opens up new business opportunities. The Smart Garage concept has become RMI's means to describe the integration of the grid and the electric vehicle. Attendees included leaders from the utility and auto industries, innovators of clean energy solutions, IT systems providers, consumer products, metering, advanced battery technology and even retailers. Among the companies represented were names you may hear everyday: auto manufacturers like Nissan and GM, utilities such as PG&E and Duke Energy, IBM, P&G, Wal-Mart and Google, among many others.
Important Developments
The collaboration and discussion at the Smart Garage Summit allowed industry leaders to identify essential elements that are needed to move forward. It is promising to see that consumer demand, industry preparedness and government leadership are coming together, setting the stage for a great leap forward in the next five years. According to Laura Schewel, MOVE team consultant and manager of the project, "what proved most surprising was the concept of the Smart Garage is a lot closer to realization than we previously thought. We found there were many misconceptions, including that technology to make all this possible was not available -- when in fact the opposite is true."
We are all excited to see Smart Garage move forward at an amazing pace, but we can't do it without your help! Please click here to make a secure, online donation to the Smart Garage Initiative. RMI looks forward to keeping you updated as the MOVE team continues to pursue their follow up initiatives and this concept gains momentum with the media. You can take a look at some of the coverage that the Smart Garage Summit has received here.
So, once we have this set up, we all just need gardens in our own backyards...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

I decided to go down a rough road (for me anyway) today. One of my classmates at BGI is doing his research project to attempt to explain how people who claim to care about the environment still mange to eat meat, travel, and drive all over creation (image from the situationist). Hence the title of this post.

This is something I have pondered (and pondered, and pondered, to the point of occasional paralysis, similar to how I felt after reading Brave New World) over the past few years as I have learned more about the challenges we face in the social, economic, and environmental realms.
  • How is it that I can purport to have great concern for the environment and work in a job that requires extensive travel both by air and by land?
  • With the recent large-scale betrayal of trust by our financial institutions (and regulatory agencies), is the time ripe for the massive change to localized economies we claim to want?
  • If our trust in the financial system has been threatened (or destroyed) why do we still have assets invested in some of these institutions?
  • How is it that concerned people manage to travel to "green" themed trade shows (I'll be at the Net impact Conference in Philadelphia in a few weeks)?
Are the changes we need to make too big? Perhaps we have not evolved to the point where we can consciously and willingly shift our behaviors in ways that appear to be drastic. We are social creatures and creatures of habit, if our social circle is one that embraces the current status then we run the risk of alienating ourselves from the very people we rely on for support.

Holding two competing worldviews simultaneously is exhausting, and something that may slowly be chipping at my resistance to the calling of my "right livelihood". From an employment perspective, I will be assuming a different role within my company that will allow me to address some of my personal sustainability needs. The conversations leading to this agreement were interesting including my desire to pursue sustainability related activities professionally. This was a non-starter in this organization; at this time and maybe for a good deal of time to come. I was reminded encouragingly by the gentleman that inspired me to start this blog that the number of "official" positions that include sustainability are few and far between. In thirty years, our progress toward a regenerative economy will have depended not upon a few hundred thousand officials working for sustainability, but on the millions who took action independently.

As Peter Senge warned us in The Fifth Discipline, we are NOT our jobs. My functional requirements will not include sustainability; I will be working to influence my coworkers in the dialogue about sustainability, about bringing our values to work, about authenticity, empathy, and compassion by my actions and my daily interactions with them around the water cooler, coffee machine, etc. Perhaps I'll reduce the magnitude of my dissonance with these actions. My first act will be bike commuting, a political, social, & economic act that will have interesting consequences. As I read in Orion Magazine recently (by David J. Perlman),
Becoming attached to anything outside the norm, you run the risk of being ostracized, labeled a flake, for not fitting the social are expected to commute by car - to be another polluter commuter, as I call them. Driving is considered the most efficient use of time (although not of energy) and if you tolerate wasted time, the general opinion is that you are not committed to your career. You become the perfect target for a critical boss or ambitious colleague."
So perhaps my dissonance is partly brought on by a desire to challenge the status quo, the assumptions about how we live that has yet to be manifested. Or, it could be a desire to bring my values more fully into my work and life. Will bicycling to work help? We shall see.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tree Meditation

Here's an excerpt from some of my work at school this term. Yep, it's a business school and it makes sense (image from my camera).

I knew exactly where I was going for this assignment before I knew what the assignment was about. There is a grove of magnificent, majestic, and wise oak trees near my current home called the Waverly Oaks. Apparently, these trees were well known in the 1890's around the Boston area for inspiring artists and writers. I stroll through their park quite often, many times early in the morning. There is one tree that stands out amongst them, though it is somewhat hidden by the contours of the land around it. I have walked by it hundreds of times over the past three years, and nearly always glanced at it and wondered just how old it is and how much it has seen. It is clearly ancient, with branches that dwarf nearby trees. Moss grows on it, covering in various thicknesses the knurled and crumbling bark on its crooked branches. Scars pay testament to the ravages of Nature and the well-meaning maintenance of its human care-takers. I was drawn to it this time.

I was somehow inspired to simply rest my hands upon a branch that reached indirectly from the trunk, wending its way out, up, down, and down some more until it was chest high for me. Before I ended up there, I looked closely at the trunk, wondering if I should sit up against it...that did not draw me. It's as if I wanted to be in touch with it in some way, yet at the same time have the ability to observe it.

I felt the cool rough bark and the drying moss on my hands. It is a cool day, a chill gusty breeze reminding me of the winter to come. With my hands on the branch, not leaning and not hanging, I felt the small movements caused by the breeze; I gently moved with it. It was an amazing experience, feeling my body almost imperceptibly sway with this massive living organism, both of us yielding slightly to the greater force of the wind.

Immediately, I was at ease, with a faraway feel in my eyes as they peered at the tree's trunk and the surrounding underbrush. I did not feel as if I were meditating; it was more of a reverie. I was there, and aware of how connected I felt, as if it were a lucid dream. I heard the passing cars, the rustling and falling leaves. I was present...mindful.

I did not ask the tree what I was thinking, the questions I jotted down in preparation for this meeting, nor did I ask the tree for its permission to touch its limb and spend some time there. I felt comfortable and invited; as if my arrival was not unexpected (does this mean I feel I deserved to be there?).

The simplest thought occurred to me as I swayed there gently with the tree, a thought that the tree may have gifted me with or merely helped me discover in myself...

No matter how massive, old, wizened, and sturdy one may be (or appear to be), flexibility, the ability and will to sway with the winds of change while maintaining one's commitment and vision is the key to a flourishing and exuberant existence.

This is relevant to what's happening in my life now; maintain perspective, maintain hope, maintain vision, and sway with the vagaries of will bring me back.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Local Food Supply

I was happy to see a fellow classmate post this article from the NYTimes magazine by Michael Pollan, Farmer in Chief. Given the current crisis facing the global economy, elected officials and the general public have taken their collectives eyes off of the issue of energy, and by extension, food. Ultimately food touches everything that our potential leaders are campaigning about, energy, climate change, health care, and national security.

I like the author's recommendation that federal policy encourage agricultural practices based on stewardship and solar energy (photosynthesis) over maximizing commodity production using fossil fuel.

Ultimately, we are charged with recreating local and regional farms including some innovative and futuristic concepts. It is heartening to know that farmer's markets and CSAs are going strong here in Massachusetts, with organizations like The Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets and the Massachusetts Dept of Agricultural Resources working to spread the "eat local" mantra.

Once I start taking an interest in something, it's hard to stop looking for information, especially when the 'net is always on.

While traveling on business in Quebec a few weeks ago, I see this article on listeria in cheese, Cheese raids showed more panic than prudence, and realize that there are things to be concerned about. Yet, if the retailers all purchased locally, and knew the "bad" companies' practices, would this have been avoided? Is it about recreating local business relationships that are not just transactional?

Then I come across the story about the problems with melamine in some powdered dairy products originating in China, China's Milk Scandal Now Seen as Risk in Europe. Need something sweeter? Just add a pinch of a fire-retardant ingredient and you're good to go. Remember how well it worked in pet food? This is now a few weeks old, and I am certain the full extent of the problem has yet to be determined.

To me, this has huge potential, especially in a slowing economy when American consumers turn inward to their families and homes; Your Backyard Farmer & Green City Growers.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Priori Pessimism

I have circled back to thoughts I shared in the second post I made in this blog back in June of 2005; a comment by what has turned out to be a great friend and mentor over the past few years,

"I cannot intellectually justify a priori pessimism"

In other words, it is intellectually lazy to assume a negative outcome based on little or no data. Take a moment to let that sink in, let it wander around in your mind; keep repeating the phrase. It starts to make a lot of sense at least to my rational side. For some of the optimists out there, this is no great revelation.

I took that phrase to heart as I decided to have a conversation with my manager to reveal my passion for sustainable business and desire to integrate some of its tenets in my work, fueled by my desire to make some changes that would improve my potential for personal sustainability. To my surprise (in hindsight it makes complete sense) the conversation went very well and I was thanked for my honesty. My decision to talk about it instead of hiding and potentially leaving unexpectedly (as someone recently had) was a good one. From that initial positive experience I moved on to other conversations within the organization to explore the possibilities; to ask the questions I have always thought about but assumed would go nowhere. What was revealed was the need to fill a position that may offer some of the short-term stability I seek as well as learning about product management, yet may fall short of "officially" integrating susbiz duties in my work (what does "officially" really mean?).

Consistent with the title of this post, the conversations I had provided valuable insight to the situation. From a personal perspective, bringing my authentic self to the conversation was a powerful thing. I have not done that in the past, feeling that "work related" conversations are to be made with shielded emotions. Yet, I found when I brought more of my emotions into the conversation, something that carries some risk, I felt more powerful in the conversation and I believe the people I spoke with respected my honesty and integrity. The fact that the concept of "sustainability" as something "new age" and beyond the scope of the organization at this point (I wonder what assumptions are built into their language?) is something good to know. Perhaps I am falling into the same trap, assuming that these conversations somehow reflect the sentiment of the entire organization. That does not make any sense; our division represents something like 6% of the overall revenue for the corporation.

There are many more inquisitive conversations to come, with customers, fellow employees, and members of other divisions of the company.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Driving Electric(ally)?

It seems that when you pay attention to something, you tend to see more of it. It's like when you have some new gadget, device, or something and suddenly your spider-sense is set abuzz by them as they float by in other people's sphere.

In any case, I read this great article from Wired about Shai Agassi's vision of creating a completely new electrical fueling infrastructure for four-wheeled mobility. It still relies on a centralized power (pardon the pun) though it could be powered by distributed renewable energy generation stations as well. Driven: Shai Agassi's Audacious Plan to Put Electric Cars on the Road. Of course, the CO2 emissions involved in jetting all around the world will be paid for later (kind of like the over-leveraged banks now...).

What I found interesting was that the Wired article mentioned a meeting between Agassi and members of Daimler in Germany. Seems that they liked the idea, and decided to partner in their own way on their own turf with RWE in Germany. Heck, he already has a taker in Israel so he's just spreading his vision for a new way of doing things.
Daimler, RWE Announce Berlin electric car project

Then, the whole plug-in concept shows up in Masshightech, Simmons spinout sees a charger in every garage.

And, of course the west coast of the United States is in on this innovation (or would like to be), what with all the progressives in the Bay area and the Silicon Valley VCs. This appeared back in July and seems like a pretty cool project. San Francisco is soliciting interested parties to pitch projects to prepare the city for plug-in hybrids (dare I start calling them PIHs, pronounced "pies" or maybe PiHys, pronounced "pie-highs"?). Sounds good...where's mine? Preparing the Grid for Plug-in Hybrids.

About the same time, Time Magazine published this article, Is America Ready to Drive Electric? Are we? I'd prefer to see small renewable energy charging stations dotting the cities, perhaps powered by methane from food waste gathered from local neighborhoods. The key is to get away from the massively centralized and inefficient generation model and replace it with smaller closed loops of energy. It can be done.

Oh, and one more TH!NK.