Music City, USA

November 30, 2016

musicNashville, Tennessee,  brands itself as Music City, USA. To a large extent, that is true, but it is not the entire story. I recently spent several days in Nashville at a conference, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see many instances of sustainability in practice. My first clue was the sign noting that the Music City Conference Center (where my conference was held) is a LEED Gold certified facility. That was interesting, and really something I had not anticipated. Nor did I anticipate learning of the center’s 4 acre green roof, part of which is inhabited by clusters of honey bees.

Like in many green buildings, water usage (or, the lessening of water usage) is a big deal for the Music City Center. Part of this is achieved via a 360,000 gallon rainwater collector (some of which supplies the toilets and urinals in the bathrooms). The building’s managers cite a 3,000,000 gallon reduction in water usage due to collecting rainwater. Other sustainable aspects of the building and complex include the usage of LED light bulbs in the parking garage, an extensive recycling program, and an array of solar panels.

If I had been prepared, I could have easily crossed the street from the Music City Center to grab a bike using Nashville’s subscription bicycle program. This is similar to Philadelphia’s Indego and New York’s Citibike programs where you pick up a bike at a station, ride it to another station (or the same one), and go about your way. It is a great program—except that I was in conference clothes, not bike riding clothes.

Not too long after I noticed the bike station, I saw a Blue Circuit bus come by. This is one of 2 free bus loops around various parts of downtown Nashville—emphasis on the word free. Baltimore also has similar bus circulator loops, which highly encourage people to not drive their cars around town. To complete the loop (in a manner of speaking), I was even able to catch the airport bus into and out of town.

Downtown Nashville is very walkable, and not just the music section on Broadway. There is also a large pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River, which just happens to connect downtown to the NFL stadium (Nissan Stadium). This alone eliminates thousands of car trips each NFL Sunday (and obviates the need for many parking spaces as well).

I had a wonderful time in Nashville. The conference was highly educational and the amount of easily accessible live music at anytime of the day or night was phenomenal.  The readily observable sustainability aspects were also really cool.

Better Than Average

October 31, 2016

cotton-plantIt is time to buy some new clothes, especially jeans. In addition to the usual issues I have finding a pair that actually fits, I am also dreading the idea of buying more cotton which is notorious for heavy environmental impact. Enter the Better Cotton Initiative, which is coalition of cotton producers, clothing designers and retailers sharing a common goal to make cotton production, “better”.  By “better” they mean “better’ than currently. This goal primarily focuses on lessening the environmental impact of cotton production, but also focuses on increasing the economic viability of those who do.

The group includes a good number of well known brands and retailers, These include H&M, Adidas, Baby Bjorn, IKEA, Levis, Nike, Puma, VF Corporation (many clothing brands), Tommy Hilfiger, etc. This is helpful, because these brands (and stores) are part of extensive demand systems that transform the worldwide demand for fashion and clothing into specific cotton production targets. A variety of other organizations in the cotton industry around the world are members, also.

Significantly, Better Cotton is not designed to be specifically “organic”. Nor is it designed to be specifically “fair trade” per se, even though either are perfectly fine under the principles of “Better Cotton”. The general idea is to  publicize and support the idea of cotton production that is an improvement on current methods. Environmentally, this means in large part using less water, maintaining healthy soil, land conservation, etc. Beyond these aspects, “Better Cotton” also aims to enhance the capacity of smaller producers to produce cotton in a more sustainable way.

However, “Better Cotton” is not just for the industry. It also for the consumer, as evidenced by the brands and retailers on board. The brands and retailers are ordering, transforming, and distributing huge amounts of cotton—if no one is willing to buy the “Better Cotton” products, then the entire effort will have a serious problem. On the other hand, if an increasing number of consumers are demanding cotton “better” than currently available, the “Better Cotton” will get a very important boost indeed.

Once again, it is ultimately up to the global consumer to value the “better” product, and make the entire effort viable.

One-Singular Sensation

September 29, 2016

one-graphic For Broadway fans, the title of this post recalls the famous musical, A Chorus Line. However, a new One—Singular Sensation has arisen in New York City—the One World Trade Center building, The previous North and South Towers were designed in the late 1960s; the new One was designed in the 2000s and therefore   incorporates the latest green building techniques, In fact, some of the (green) techniques used in the design of One World Trade have been incorporated into building codes in New York City and beyond

The overwhelming majority of the visitors to the building (and the World Trade Center site overall) arrive by public transportation. There are numerous train, subway, and ferry services that already existed there before One World Trade was built. Connectivity to the buildings from the mass transit services to the building was an important priority throughout the design process. The trains were kept running during the construction. The completed building now features weather protected access to the 11 subway lines and PATH lines running underneath it.

In the buildings world, the LEED standards of the US Green Building Council are a very common way to ”prove” how sustainable a given building is. These are pretty stringent, especially at the higher award levels (Gold, Platinum). Each individual building  at the WORLD Trade Center (as well as the Plaza) will have  its own LEED evaluations and applications. Some of the green building techniques used at One World Trade are pretty familiar: low energy glass, water conservation, maximizing daylight, using renewable energy to power the building, etc. Some are less familiar: using regenerative braking systems in the elevators, distributing that energy to other mechanical systems, air quality control during and immediately after construction and designing the office layouts so that 90% of the floor space benefits from natural light.

The “greenness” of the building ran into some unforeseen obstacles—not least Superstorm Sandy which flooded parts of Manhattan—-including several fuel cells that were to be an important part of the building’s LEED application. Not all of these were replaced, and it is fair to say that fact made achieving the LEED standard more difficult. However, the wide array of green building techniques used in the building has indeed resulted (as of September, 2016) in the awarding of the LEED Gold certification to the One World Trade Center building.

Just by looking at the building tells the viewer that this is a special accomplishment. The fact that was designed to be as green as possible, and has been officially designated as such, makes it even more special. As one of the Port Authority’s sustainability consultants has said, “no building is too big to be green.”

PittMoss

August 31, 2016

topsoil

I am a fan of the show Shark Tank. It is really cool when an entrepreneur with a dream is successful in getting funding, Many of the people making pitches have worked for years on making their passion come true. One man’s passion was …peat moss—more accurately, a much more environmentally friendly version of it. The founder of the company (PittMoss) had been working off and on for years to develop a product that has similar properties to peat moss, but made with a lot less environmental impact. This presenter was successful, and he received a $600,000 investment. This has now allowed the company (PittMoss) to build out some more manufacturing capacity.

In my years of gardening, I have occasionally used peat moss. I have generally only used it to reduce the pH of a particular section of garden. I actually need to use more compost than peat moss. Since I indeed use some peat moss, I found the Shark Tank presentation very interesting, The presenter noted that the harvesting of peat moss is very damaging to the environment, and that his process used recycled paper to make an essentially equivalent product.

The PittMoss method of using recycled paper more or less locally sounds a lot better than draining peat bogs in Canada. I like the idea of closing the loop by repurposing a recycled product over extracting more natural resources such as peat bogs and moss, especially from far away. PittMoss has apparently tested their product in some nurseries and greenhouses around Pittsburgh and seen good results for several years. They are now looking to expand distribution, making more sales and using more recycled paper, ultimately resulting in fewer Canadian bogs being drained. I hope they succeed.

Orion The Hunter

July 31, 2016
Orion Start

Orion’s Belt and Sword

The most successful analytics projects are the ones that are closely tied to solving a business problem as opposed to merely featuring sophisticated analytics. The highly successful Orion project at UPS (featured in a recent OR/MS Today magazine article) is a stellar example of this. It has saved UPS over $300 million. Additionally, over 100 million miles have not been driven, and 10  million gallons of fuel have not been used. Numerous UPS drivers have reported the ability to service even more customers in the same amount of time. This array of cross-functional benefits reminds me of the cross-functional benefits of many company-wide sustainability efforts I have read about over the years.

It used to be that sustainability efforts were primarily focused on narrow areas, most notably environment, safety, health and corporate responsibility. Now these efforts often involve many other areas, if not the entire company. One example from the pharmaceutical industry is designing a new manufacturing plant to be LEED (green building standards) certified as well as being compliant with applicable FDA Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines. Another one from many industries is the realization that redesigning packaging to be more “sustainable” can have additional benefits such as being easier to use, easier to produce, and cheaper over the long run.

The fact the companies are broadly implementing sustainability is really no longer news—it is becoming part and parcel of how many are doing things.

I see a similar dynamic occurring with analytics, which are quickly being integrated into a broad array of business functions beyond the “analytics department”. The explosion of available data has led to an increasing number of ways to actually use it. This has extended way beyond the “analytics group” and permeated into many levels of management. Not surprisingly, this trend has been accompanied by a vast number of universities offering new graduate certificate programs specifically in “data analytics”.

I’ve seen this before—a previously somewhat isolated focus area becoming broadly accepted and implemented across a variety of business functions. It has happened with sustainability efforts over the past 10 years. It is now occurring with analytics initiatives in a parallel fashion. Since I am keenly interested in both sustainability and analytics, I am very happy to see this happening.

Note: The OR/MS Today magazine noted above is produced by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, a.k.a. as INFORMS

Oyster Shells

June 29, 2016

Oysters

I was enjoying some very fresh seafood on Cape Cod when a nearby sign beckoned me to recycle my oyster shells. I did not have any, but I thought the concept was very interesting. I had no idea that oyster shells could even be recycled. I have since learned that that they indeed can be. There is even an organized effort to return oyster shells (sans the recently-eaten oyster) back to the ocean they are dried and aged for about a year. This is vastly superior to sending them to a landfill.

According to the Massachusetts Oyster Project, the idea is to essentially put oyster shell back into what was their native habitats. The recycled shells have chemical properties that benefit the habitats of their oceans, particularly having to do with lessening levels of acidification in the water. As extra materials on a reef, they also help build protect the shoreline by strengthening the underwater barriers that lessen the wave energy from incoming water. In addition to providing places for young oysters to grow, they also provide space for different species to live underwater. These include fish, shrimp, crab, eels, mollusks, etc.

The program has been running since 2010.

It’s Data, not Food Trash

May 31, 2016

apple trashThinking of a pile of food waste as a legitimate source of operational data takes more than a little getting used to. When I see or hear of a pile of food trash somewhere, my first thought is generally along the lines of “can that be composted?”. It has probably never been “what data can I glean from this”. A recent article from Bloomberg shows a completely different aspect of the intersection between environmental sustainability and business success. The product featured in the article is a bio-digester. Searching “biogester” in Wikipedia pulls up a discussion of “Anaerobic digestion”, which is a well known process for breaking down biodegradable wastes—well known to those of a scientific bent, that is.

Several companies have come up with biodigester systems that are web-connected. This allows the biodigester to send information about the “digested” trash back to the customer. In a way, I should not be so surprised about this. After all, I have read numerous articles about how happy archaeologists are whenever they find ancient trash in an excavation site. Why wait hundreds or even thousands of years for the information hidden in the trash if your business can gain from that information right now?

Business Week Article

 

Sharing the Wealth

April 29, 2016

yogurt-thThe news broke this week that the owner of the Chobani Greek yogurt brand (Hamdi Ulukaya) has decided to give a portion of his company’s stock to his employees via stock grants. The amount of stock granted to employees depends upon the employee’s role and seniority, with an average value of $150,000. These actually become active if the privately held company is sold or goes public.

I really like this for a whole lot of reasons. The main reason is that the employees of the company (who create the bulk of the company’s value on a day to day basis) will now be able to explicitly share in the wealth that they are creating. It will definitely give the (line) employees a powerful context for what they do each day, since they will have a slice of the company, (although admittedly, not large). It is a strong affirmation of the importance of the employees to the operation. This is very important, since many companies treat employees as unit costs to be minimized.

There are certainly good financial benefits for Chobani to do this. Tax write-offs, stock control, a friendly voting bloc of stock, decreased recruiting costs, potentially higher retention rates, etc come to mind. But no matter—this owner made a choice to share his wealth—and that is very cool. Let’s project, for a moment, that Chobani will join those (partially) employee owned companies that outperform their competition. If that happens, then Ulukaya’s somewhat smaller share of the company will be worth even more than his current share is. Everyone wins!

Out in Nature

March 31, 2016

natureAccording a recent National Geographic article (“Your Brain on Nature”, January 2016) there has been an increasing amount of research documenting the positive effects simply being in nature has. More and more studies and experiments are reporting an association between being in nature, or otherwise experiencing nature, and lower levels of stress. These studies and anecdotes come from around the world. The general theme of these studies is that experiencing nature can lead to demonstrable decreases of stress-producing hormones.  In the other words, the environment can make us healthier—if we choose to let it do so by valuing and preserving it.

This is an interesting parallel to a perspective that incorporates sustainability into one’s life or business. Sustainability implies a concern or a care for the environment. In one context, it is using economic decisions to lessen (or minimize or eliminate) stress on the environment. For example, buying a product made from recycled material incurs far less environmental costs than buying new. Or, products made with environmental sensitivity (organic cotton) use less environmental resources than others, say, regular cotton.

I think it is interesting how we can take care of our environment through our daily decisions, and the environment, in a very broad sense, can take care of us. That is a great example of mutual assured well-being!

Know the (Mid-Atlantic) Ocean

February 28, 2016

fish

I was somewhat surprised to read in my latest Nature Conservancy magazine about a joint effort to record data about usage of the ocean. The effort, called the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, is an attempt to collect a myriad of data about all kinds of uses of the oceans off the Mid-Atlantic coast. For this data portal, the Mid-Atlantic is broadly defined as Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Even the earliest stages of the data show that there is a surprising amount of interdependencies amongst the various uses of the Mid-Atlantic oceans.

Some of the specific types of data included in this are fish catches, port activity, recreational usages, boating channels, beach tide levels, reef locations, renewable energy analyses, etc. This is a list of usages that are not always in the same sentence, much less the same database—but they are in this one. Hopefully, this variety of data can help provide a wholistic look at the ocean and how it is used. This is most likely the first time that it will be possible to find such a variety of perspectives in the same database. I think this will allow for a broader conversation on how these uses interact with each other.

Aiding this conversation is the data visualization component of the data. For example, one can see how optimal sitings for wind turbines compare with fishing yields. Or, how recreational boating patterns compare with concentrations of various marine life. The net result will be more informed decisions on how to manage the MId-Atlantic oceans for the optimal benefit—of the oceans overall and of each of the various usages within them for long term benefit.

This comprehensive approach portends well for a sustainability perspective. It enables policy makers and stakeholders to make decisions based on an overall view of the oceans as a system with interdependent components. That is an exact parallel to sustainable systems thinking, which encourages users, businesses, anyone, actually, to make decisions not just on their specific interest, but with consideration of how their decisions impact a broader whole. Hopefully, it will help support the long-term viability of these oceans for many uses—economic, environmental, recreational, and more.

Mid Atlantic Ocean Data Portal


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