Archive for December, 2008

A New Year’s Gift To Myself–Part One

December 24, 2008

It is the holiday season, and it is the time for gift giving. This year, I have decided to give myself a gift. For my gift, I’ve decided to attempt to define sustainability for myself. What do I mean what I say I am interested in “sustainability”? Inquiring minds including mine might want to know (and not just those inquiring minds who read tabloid media). So I gave myself a deadline of Christmas day to create a personal definition of sustainability. This also allows a full week for my personalized definition to sink in before the New Year of 2009 begins for real. That way I can start with New Year looking for ways to implement my brand new definition.

It turns out that I actually need a personalized definition because there is no standard definition of sustainability. I guess a standard definition is one that everyone agrees on, kind of like red traffic lights mean stop.

A good place to start is the “triple bottom line” concept. The Triple Bottom Line concept is People, Planet, and Profit. A growing number of businesses are evaluating their ability to not just maximize their own profits. They are also measuring their impact upon the planet, and also on how they support their various stakeholders—customers, employees, investors, suppliers, communities, etc. That is a very good model, and if more businesses did that I think we would be much better off. There is more to life than money, and the triple bottom line idea reflects that. Ask any entrepreneur if they derive satisfaction from their business beyond the profit/loss number and I’ll bet that a great majority would respond with a resounding yes. If entrepreneurs can, why can’t their organizations also?

However, I also wanted a broader definition of sustainability. I found one in a surprising place—Whistler Canada—the home of one of the best ski resorts in the world. They have a Whistler 2020 sustainability plan, which I paraphrase from here:

The Earth is a system, and natural cycles are essential to the health of this system. Sustainability is about natural cycles running in perpetuity. We can help maintain these natural cycles by 1) reducing the amount of natural resources we need to extract from the Earth in the first place, 2) using less artificial substances and chemicals as we can, 3) preserving the open land and natural environment which is left, and 4) proactively attempting to refrain from exploiting the providers and suppliers of our goods and services. (Website:
http://www.whistler2020.ca/whistler/site/genericPage.acds?context=1967874&instanceid=1967875 )

I like both of these perspectives individually. I also like the combination of the economic and human perspective (the triple bottom line) paired with the implicitly spiritual one (System Earth). So my gift to myself has become a way to not only incorporate environmental and community impacts into my buying and lifestyle decisions, but also to experience some potential for spiritual understanding while doing so. Who knew?

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The Fifties, the Nineties, and Sustainability

December 18, 2008

Perhaps you have heard of David Halberstam. He was a famous writer who died recently in a tragic accident. I have read many of his books—none of which were about sustainability. However, one of them was entitled The Fifties. A primary argument of the book, as I recall, was that the huge changes of the 1960’s had their roots in the supposed placid and deeply conservative 1950s. The most obvious example is the Pill—released in 1962. And the sexual revolution began in the 1960s. But much of the medical research took place in the 1950s. The 1950s are not exactly known as a time of free and open sexual expression compared to the 1960s. But once women could have sex and NOT get pregnant, the world changed.

But this blog is about sustainability, not sexual history. The connection is this—“sustainability” does have the potential to change the world in a manner not unlike the sexual revolution did. It gives us the opportunity to tie environmental values into our daily routines of life in ways simply not possible as recently as 5 or 10 years ago. In 1955, a woman could rarely have sex without worrying about getting pregnant; in 1965 she could (and how many millions of men were thrilled about that?) In 1998, I could not imagine that I could buy good insulation and support the environment at the same time. In 2008, home insulation made from recycled jeans is available. (I’ve priced it). I have more means to live my life according to sustainable values than I ever did before.

Sustainability did not just explode upon us like a supernova in the past year or two (even though it seems like it did). Rather, it grew, well, organically. It arose out of a general concern for the environment, a broader understanding with issues involved in economic globalization, and an increasing experience of the benefits of sustainable products (last longer, more efficient, taste better, more beautiful, etc). The globalization piece in particular is very important. The American economy has become much more obviously tied to the rest of the world. People understand very clearly that there is a global, worldwide dimension to our economy—the most obvious examples are the jobs that used to be in America, but are now gone. The threat of jobs going to another country is clearly tied to our current economic experience.

So it is not a great leap of the imagination to understand that there is are global connections to the environment as well. But all of us have the opportunity (should we choose to) to build our own connections to a global environment. Being environmental today is not limited to “activists”. It also includes an opportunity to live one’s environmental values (whatever they are) with a broad array of purchases and decisions about how to live our lives.

Perhaps an environmental perspective is the prism through which you view the world. Perhaps being green seems like a cool thing to do someday but not really important in the scheme of things. Perhaps you are somewhere in between. Wherever you are, you can still make sustainability part of the your life (if you choose to) by the daily decision and purchases you make or do not make.

Sustainability–A Different Introduction

December 13, 2008

With this post, I am introducing my new blog, SustainableWritings. I am impressed by how much the idea of sustainability has expanded from the environmental community into the general population. The definition of “sustainability” has many components. The most important one is that buying and producing goods and services are not just economic events, but have broader implications. The most obvious of these implications is environmental. The environmental connection (between us and the planet) is the most visible side of sustainability, and the most important.

I am happy the new Obama administration will view the environment as something to protect, not something to just exploit. And my state (Pennsylvania) has some good policies in place as well. However, the long-term success of sustainability rests not with governmental policies (although they will most certainly help). What provides long term sustenance to the concept of sustainability is the collective results of millions of individual (consumer and business) buying decisions. These will ensure the long-term success of sustainability. Ultimately customers and business have to buy and produce these types of products and services. Otherwise, they are not very sustainable economically.

I was reading one of the trade magazines I get, BtoB Marketing (I used to be a marketing consultant in my past). I tend to prefer the business press for this kind of thing because when a business publication does a feature on green, or sustainability or a related topic, it generally reflects marketplace activity, not the dreams of environmentalist advocates. Anyway, the Dec 8th issue had a feature called Green Pays. It was a report on Green Marketing, that is, integrating environmental messages into your marketing. Aside from the key point for “green marketers” being the (what should be) obvious fact that a company needs to actually some environmentally friendly things to trumpet, I was struck by a quote in the article.

A man named Dave Young (a lawyer in Washington DC) was quoted in part as saying, ”You’ve got to be thinking about your product’s entire life cycle—from cradle to grave.” Notice the phrase “product life-cycle”. Mr. Young was saying that customers are caring about not just the product as it is now, but about how it was made, what is in it, where it comes from, who made it, etc. That is, customers are asking more and more questions about the product beyond “does it work?” and “how much does it cost”.

So sustainability is also tied to a broader growth in product transparency Product transparency is also being increased by the new information technologies that are available today. These enable people to acquire more detailed information about the goods and services they buy, communicate with others about what they find, and interact with the companies that produce these goods and services. These kinds of connections create communities that parallel the environmental connections we can feel as we try to emphasize sustainability in our daily lives.

Hello world!

December 13, 2008

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