Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category
Friday, January 20th, 2012
In a democracy, bounded by place and geography, we vote for constraints on capitalism and corporate activities so that everyone, on balance, can live a better life, a decent life.
We vote for things that enhance the commons and the long term prospects of our culture, like environmental protections, child labor laws, workplace safety, toxin labeling, mandatory education. These constraints increase short term costs and may either increase prices or decrease profits. Citizens in a democracy are willing to accept that tradeoff- because while they like to make money, they ALSO want a country with good infrastructure, vibrant culture, research that will benefit the long term health of the population, a level economic playing field, clean air and water, a way to take care of the people who fall through the cracks in the society, and opportunities to thrive in their life in other ways. (more…)
Friday, January 7th, 2011
The Power of Showing Up Right Where You Are
We may not be able to address what’s happening in congress, but we can show up today, build our own community, build our own business, make something beautiful and just and true and creative in our own corner of the world, and watch it spread from there.
In the past few weeks, our holiday travels took us zigzagging across America- from California’s central valley and its overmortgaged desperation, to the struggling towns of upstate New York, with their indistinguishable empty store fronts, decrepit unpainted ladies and armed forces recruiting offices on the main drags. We then stopped over to visit Highland Park, IL, a little city (or suburb, depending on who you ask) on Chicago’s famed North Shore.
Highland Park (“HP”) is very rich in spots, with estate homes gracing the ridges of hardwood forested ravines along Lake Michigan’s shoreline- and at least solidly prosperous inland to its western borders. It boasts the summer home of the Chicago symphony, incredibly demanding schools, even more demanding parents, a commuter train directly to the financial district, and a city planning commission with vision and foresight. (more…)
Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
Simplicity and ease used to tease me from just outside my grasp. I was constantly seduced by the new idea, the new friend, the next big thing, and just wanted to be in motion – that felt like really living. I said yes to almost everything out of enthusiasm and exploration, or maybe even out of a misplaced desire to belong. Now it seems that it was all an exercise in seeking clarity on what I really valued, trying everything on the menu so that later I could choose.
This had its cost: I struggled in keeping up with forms, compliance, maintenance. I have been known to run out of gas, run out of money, and pretty much constantly run late. Moreover, my day was often interrupted with emotional ups and downs, complex relationships, and distractions- an internal level of clutter that wouldn’t go away. Deeply frustrated with the inherent noise of modern life (such as time in traffic), I often felt alienated and diffused- like I was scattering my mental seeds across the planet and not tending them, not reaping healthy nourishing harvests.
In all of the busy-ness, there was a constant drumbeat- a longing for personal and professional simplicity: the easy effortless line on paper, principled living, clean forms, the swing of the bat, the long stride, the deep breath, the ordered home, the sense of things in place.
So I embarked on an exploration of what creates the elegant arc, and since then, have derived my own rules for simplicity, the things that have worked for me.
I know there are some long term movements to simplicity that are part of a larger cultural phenomena (such as the Voluntary Simplicity movement, a concept that has been evolving since the 1930s, and includes material simplicity, human scale living, self determination, ecological awareness and personal growth), but my exploration has been outside of any movement- solely the product of desire of wanting to feel better, to live a more beautiful, meaningful life.
I offer this in the thought that it may connect with someone, somewhere and make a difference.
1. Master your Mind: Simplicity is Fed By Awareness
Many years ago, I started a yoga practice, and a sporadic meditation practice came along with that. Over the years, I had those moments of awakening that come with great beauty, grace or even loss- hearing poignant music, feeling real love, seeing what words can do to people and shifting tiny bits at a time. Learning what feels good and what feels crappy. Meditation lets you come to understand who you are in no uncertain terms, and puts a buffer between actions and reactions, so that you can bear witness to and change unhealthy patterns. As a foundation, I have come to believe that mind mastery is required for the rest of all this to work.
2. Know What You’re About: It Simplifies Every Decision
To live simply, you must know what your cosmology is. What matters to you? What’s your go-to philosophy? You must know the few things that you are here to do now, and allowing that those may change over time, this clarity allows you to only say yes to the things that are tied to the important stuff. You can then put your time where your values are. If something’s not tied to that, and it keeps coming back again and again to your consciousness, then you might consciously raise its importance.
The corollary to this is to cultivate The Art of No, as your time is your most valuable commodity. Now that I know what I am here to do, It makes it easy to say yes or no to a project or opportunity. As in, “No, I won’t be able to stuff envelopes this Friday night.” “No, I’m not available to work on your gadget company’s project.” “No, although I love you, I’m not interested in supporting a charitable event to fund space travel.” That is SO hard sometimes, because I really like people, and am super curious about the world, but there’s only so much time in a day.
This also lets me think about time in relationship to values: if I say I love being with my kids but the last time I had a one on one outing with my son was 3 months ago, is my time where my mouth is? When the what I say doesn’t match the what I do, then its time for a reality adjustment.
3. Numbers 1 + 2= Straight Talk and Saved Time.
If you know your own thoughts, you can communicate clearly and directly, without blame or shame, even in conflict situations. This saves enormous time and avoids huge amounts of misunderstanding.
4. Make your Motion Meaningful.
Oh how this will grate on those that knew my frequent flyer ways. And I still love to travel, but I don’t run off on a moments notice, and I don’t run away. I trip combine, I get Gilbrethian (as in Frank and Lillian, motion study pioneers). I move because something matters, not because something is beckoning or demanded of me.
5. In Simplifying, Use Awareness to Turn Habit to Ritual.
The risk of knowing is that you might stop seeking to know- and then maybe you get stuck in a rut. Maybe you end up making your coffee exactly the same way every morning or brushing your teeth with the same strokes and walking an infinite loop in your home, beating the rug with footstrikes in the same places. Keeping things that really do work in your life is definitely a successful simplification strategy. But to keep habits that serve you from becoming rote and meaningless or unexamined, turn them into ritual, conscious of the motions, so that when they no longer sit well anymore you will be aware of it an thus you can move on.
6. Surround Yourself with Living Things and that which is Beautiful to You.
Keep green food, fresh water, blooms, circulating air and sunshine around you no matter where you are. Connect to the living planet, living foods, living creatures and community. Move like you are alive, too! Dance for no reason, walk out in all kinds of weather. It makes all the living in a society kind of stuff just fall away.
7. Follow Steve’s Rule of Stuff
My friend and branding guru Steve Beshara has adopted a new plan for stuff (another post on simpifying in business coming soon frm the both of us). It’s something we started doing around our house a few years ago out of both intention and necessity. Steve states it elegantly, though. Whether for you or a friend, simply cut out frivolous purchases. Steve says, “It’s just junk that adds no value or meaning to your life.” Steve’s 1st rule of thumb: don’t buy anything. If that’s not possible, then he asks, “Will I, or the recipient, cherish this artifact years and years from now?”
While I still have lapses, I am please to report that these practices are bringing ease, the internal conflicts have diminished, life is lighter, I have richer friendships, the quality of work and love is more satisfying and stronger then ever.
Where things are still clumsy and messy or full of friction, it’s because my practice of these personal rules of simplicity has lapsed and old habits have taken the hill again. Mostly, life feels like the easy arc I longed for at 25 or 35: many green things, big open heart- and the daily motion feels like a vigorous, rhythmic, uncluttered freestyle stroke in an 80 degree mineral pool under the Sonoma sun.
Hey younger me, can I tell you that it’s really cool?
Wednesday, February 10th, 2010
Jamie Oliver is being granted the 2010 TED prize. TED prize recipients get cash and recognition, but more importantly, they get monumental assistance from the TED community around the world (which includes CEOs, Presidents, Philanthropists and creative types of every genus and species) to make their one wish a reality.
Oliver joins a growing chorus of people (Michael Pollan of Omnivore’s Dilemma and What to Eat fame, Alice Waters, the people behind Food, Inc.) highlighting the systemic breakdown in the way we feed our selves: how populations in one place starve , while in others obesity and diabetes are epidemic; how the commercial food chain has engineered nutrition out of the system, and made enormous amounts of money pushing humans’ ancient biological cravings for the things that used to be in short supply (sugar, fats, meats) at the expense of our health; how in our egoistic view of dominion over the earth, we stopped asking if the way we were engineering things was right, instead of just possible.
The data also highlights how the modern food chain, and food supply in general, is a class and race issue, tied in with poverty– cheap, subsidized, processed food is the only kind of food available and affordable to a large chunk of the population, while fresh and local is out of the question. This means the poor get poorer and sicker and their monetary resources go to meds not other things, and they can’t perform at peak levels on a purel biological level. This further bifurcates our culture.
The food that is cheap in the moment is very very expensive in the long run in terms of health care costs, loss of quality of life and other things.
The data points are there now. For example, 1 in 3 children born after 2000 in America will have Type 2 diabetes, and 1 in 2 black kids will develop the illness. 8% of the US population has the disease already. Or, the rising incidence of kidney and liver cancer (the cleansing organs). Our bodies simple can’t take in what the industrial food chain is delivering- whether the disturbance is brought on by GMO foods, harsh chemicals or hormones, or e coli brought on by the handling of foods in the supply chain.
While the food industry tries to respond through more healthful products and higher safety standards (see the program at the 2010 Food Safety Summit) , there’s a larger set of issues- on the one hand, we’ve gotten out of whack in how we plant, harvest and subsidize the food chain. On the other, we’ve gotten out of synch with nature in how we shop, cook and eat.
We’re looking forward to Mr. Oliver’s wish. It will be webcast for all to see on www.cnn.com at about 8:45 Eastern Time on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010. Tune in, see if you can help. Also, if you get a chance, please watch Food, Inc., or go to www.takepart.com/foodinc to find out what you can do to help get our way of life back in balance.
Thursday, September 10th, 2009
Grant from Rogue Biodiesel, Production Tour at Liskey Farms, 8/09
Thanks to the Geothermal Energy Association, we had a great visit with Liskey Farms up in Klamath Falls, Oregon last week. The Liskey’s have geothermal resources on their property, and are making full direct use of the heat and power: they rent space to all kinds of ventures powered by geothermal- organic farming in the green houses, tropical fish grown in natural hot water, predator mites- and Rogue biodiesel.
Grant, the production manager, shows us how it’s done- in 5 easy steps.
1. Make clean (or take used) vegetable oil
2. Use heat to refine (separate) into oil and glycerine (and use geothermal power to do it)
3. Add Methanol and Caustic Soda in small parts
4. Rinse and Dry (ditto on that geothermal)
5. Test and Market
What could be simpler?
Friday, July 24th, 2009
Checkout Bikes in Paris, Summer, 2009
1) Walk and Bike almost everywhere, no matter what your age–at 60, 70, 80.
2) Buy small refrigerators and freezers and purchase only what you need to fill them.
3) Use drying racks instead of dryers.
4) Turn down the heat and snuggle up under super soft comforters- and also feel the refreshing quality of cool air, or the way your body responds to heat and don’t resist it.
5) Use solar everywhere- on 200 year old farms and new housing starts.
6) Rethink nuclear power.
7) Get most of your fruits,vegetables, flowers and eggs at Farmer’s Markets (here, every Wednesday and Friday)- don’t view it as an outing, but as a shopping habit.
Buy less stuff, and use what you buy for more years.
9) Take the train.
10) Always compost- put it in the “biotonne”.
And, for balance, what not to do:
1) Drive up to 200 kph
2) Wrap every freaking thing in unrecyclable plastic
3) Move as quickly as you can to copy the US consumption habits!
Friday, May 8th, 2009
Real life rancher Hunter Lovins is an ancestor to this current revolution in sustainability. She was co-founder and a long time leader of the Rocky Mountain Institute, prolific author of books like Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, and a Time Hero of the Planet. Hunter has presented her thoughts in many venues- from the Bioneers conference to the most unlikely boardrooms, to the Googlers during their famous Tech talks- and today right here in Sonoma at “Climate Protection/ Everybody Profits” conference organized by Richard Dale and the good people at the Ecology Center. When asked if she gets tired of all the traveling, she says (in true cowgirl fashion), “Hey, we called this party- better show up.”
Lovins’ pragmatic thoughts on energy policy, sustainable business, and the need to shift our accounting practices to incorporate former externalities (like carbon) into the true cost of doing business are compelling.
In her most recent book, she lays out 4 principles for reinventing business: 1) radically increased resource productivity, 2) redesigning industry on biological models with closed loops and zero waste; 3) shifting from the sale of goods (for example, light bulbs) to the provision of services (illumination); and 4) reinvesting in the natural capital that is the basis of future prosperity.
Her non-profit is hired by big corporations to come in and give advice on retooling the culture as well as the supply and demand chain (here’s a taste of the more folksy advice: “you need real carrots, not sticks painted orange”). She worked with Ray Anderson at InterFlor when he was beginning the shift, and with WalMart on their global change to sustainability. Sure is a lot of impact- she has my gratitude for that!
In the course of talking with her, I was also struck by the clarity and openness of her dialogue around economies and governance. Specifically, she spoke about the misinterpretation and misapplication of Adam Smith style capitalism, in an environment that Smith could never have imagined. We’re no longer working with the local markets of the 1800s with their relative transparency, but in a world where money moves across the planet at a keystroke. Even if a single government tries to protect the planet, or the commons, or establish a framework for fairness in which businesses may operate, in a global market with inconsistent rules, we don’t approach a free, much less a perfect, market.
Her line of thought- reminded me of the arguments of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Stiglitz explains his position in his book Making Globalization Work:
- Whenever there are “externalities”—where the actions of an individual have impacts on others for which they do not pay or for which they are not compensated—markets will not work well. Some of the important instances have been long understood—environmental externalities. Markets, by themselves, will produce too much pollution. Markets, by themselves, will also produce too little basic research. (Remember, the government was responsible for financing most of the important scientific breakthroughs, including the internet and the first telegraph line, and most of the advances in bio-tech.)
- But recent research has shown that these externalities are pervasive, whenever there is imperfect information or imperfect risk markets—that is always.
Not quite Noam Chomsky, or modern economic theories of mutualism, but very thought provoking- from someone who advocates healthy reinterpretation of industry.
Wednesday, March 25th, 2009
“If someone asked you “How’s your relationship with your spouse?”, and you answered “Sustainable”- would that be enough for you?”- Bill McDonough, after receiving the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development in 1996
Sustainability as a semantic choice to define the green movement is decidedly inadequate. Maybe Harmonic would be preferable to Sustainable- people, plants, animals, ecosystems harmoniously coexisting. But, we are here now, and this word seems to have taken hold across the world.
We’re committed to creating a more sustainable way of living- that includes how we produce and consume, how we live and work, how we allocate resources.
To that end, there are three areas we work in:
1) Direct to the people: We advocate for better choices and new habits, by communicating directly with individuals and householders and promoting conscious consumption in the areas of energy, transportation, water and packaging/waste- as well as better product and service decisions- primarily through GoGreenOnline.com, but also by writing and syndicating content across the web and print media.
2) With companies committed to change: We work with companies that are interested in redefining or redesigning the way they run their company or create their products- we help frame the challenge, craft a vision and create culture change in an organization around greening the business. We help companies understand how the new green American is thinking, and put together resource teams to redesign operational processes, metrics, sourcing and product decisions.
3) Online through Social Media: We look at the intersection of social media and sustainability to run campaigns that can change the way people think, and encourage and empower them to collaborate take action.
Here’s a survey we did in 2008, that looks at Americans attitudes about the amount of Green information coming at them- and why they do and don’t make the decision to go green. If you’d like to know more, please email your inquiries to ChristineATsweetmedia.us
Download the Green Attitudes Survey/ Summer 2008.
Monday, March 9th, 2009
Can’t Touch This:
The 2 Topics in Global Sustainability that No Political Leader has the Nerve to Call Us On
Renewable energy, cradle to cradle thinking, reinventing business: we love all of this stuff and commend the leaders who are taking those issues on. BUT there are 2 big fat elephants in the room in the fight against climate change: 1) the fact that a global economy based on massive personal consumption is not sustainable, and 2) the sacred cow of National Sovereignty. These are unpleasant structural challenges which no one wants to address (can you say “political suicide”?)- too many people in power have a perceived stake in keeping things the way they are to really step aside and prepare for a fundamental shift.
Attention: There will be no rebooting of the Consumption Economy as we knew it
The intersection of our massive personal credit hangover, our dramatically increased environmental awareness and the definitive findings by happiness researchers (not to mention personal experience of disillusioned boomers) that more stuff doesn’t make us happier …. can only lead to one conclusion: there will be no rebooting of the consumption economy as we knew it. It would be better if we didn’t drive our policies around the assumption that there will be. Even if we move to 100% renewables and make everything recyclable we will still have to just plain consume less- and it’s going to be a shock to the structure of our current economies. But you can see the problem- are you going to be the politician that says retail sales may be in permanent decline? That contrary to the retailers’ December lament, a 17% drop in sales is not a catastrophe- Katrina is a catastrophe, not the fact that people are making do with what they have.
If you aren’t one of the 4 million people who have you seen the 20 minute online film Story of Stuff it’s worth your time- it’s an informed cartoon. This, along with Inconvenient Truth, and media like Grist, Discover, Sundance, National Geographic— has changed the awareness of our cultural impact on the planet and what our daily decisions mean. We’re waking up- and once you wake up, you can’t go back to the old way.
Once Upon a Time, in a World Far Away, there was this Thing Called “National Sovereignty”
Nations solve national problems, but our problems today transcend borders. Are we willing to subsume to a global will on issues of atmosphere, oceans and ecosystems, as well as the uniquely contemporary challenges of a mobile global population, including things like international crime and pandemic? The persistence of nationalism eliminates the potential for swift coordinated global action. In the vacuum of coordination, we abdicate decision making to global corporations and their shareholders, who are making choices for how we evolve our collective standards through their policies- sometimes pushing faster than governments are willing to move, and sometimes putting the breaks on reforms they don’t like and moving their business elsewhere. For example, WalMart can have more impact on Global Sustainability standards through its purchasing policies, than the collected voices of the nations of the world under the current structure- and move a LOT faster. With good leadership, this can be of tremendous positive force- but it’s by no means democratic. (note: 51 of the top 100 economies in the world are corporations)
Further, sticking with our own nationalism offers a banner under which all manner of national bad actors can stand, and from that justification undermine the commons- whether its the Norwegians and Japanese on overfishing , or the United States stubborn refusal to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, these countries are basically saying screw the commons- we’re not in it together- our individual interests supersede the collective. The UN is trying to provide a forum but is hamstrung by its charter to not intervene within a country’s borders, as well as its old school top-down structure. The G-7 and the many Davos-like summits in so many venues can only go so far.
Who’s Going to Make the Call?
In the name of the common good, are we in the west willing to live joyfully on this planet with a lot less STUFF to form the exoskeleton over our fragile mortal bodies? Are we willing to be localized implementers of a global agenda, and let our collective national egos fall away? All that’s in the balance is human sustainability; the Earth will be fine-as a friend of mine like to say, “Mother Nature will always bat last.” Who’s got the nerve to call us on this game?