Friday, December 21, 2007

Easy Earth Day Action...

They say everyday is Earth Day, and the Earth Day Network is working around the year to make that the case.

Here's an easy petition they run, to keep the importance of clean energy and global warming in front of our representatives:

You know how we always talk about how politicians aren’t doing anything to stop climate change? NOW is the time for us to make them change their ways. Earth Day Network has drafted a petition demanding that Congress act to solve this crisis, and to solve it fairly.

Join me in signing up Earth Day Network's online petition, at:

Just takes a second, and gives you that patriotic feeling, knowing your participating in our democratic system...and trying to keep it alive. Stay going...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Earth it!

About a year ago, we were presenting at a conference in Amsterdam and one of the main panel speakers kept pounding the table that everyone should read the Earth Charter - a document that was called for by the Bruntland Commission in 1987, took root during the 1992 Earth Summit, but was not followed through on and completed until the late 1990s. It is a foundation of the sustainable development movement, and I had a good sense of what it said, but I had never read it. I've been meaning to ever since, and finally got around to it - I suggest you take 15 mins and have a look, it's available here on the Earth Charter Initiative website.

It's sort of a next level of detail for what sustainability means - if we start with meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, and move to how we ensure we do that, namely by not systematically undermining social and ecological systems and then move to another level of detail with not violating the 4 sustainability principles, i.e. identifying and eliminating our contributions to the 4 basic ways in which we systematically undermining social and ecological systems ... we can look in more detail at the more specific ways we violate the 4 SPs - the Earth Charter delves into those elegantly, as the result of an in-depth, cross-cultural iterative process over years to reach consensus on the language. Here's a core point to keep in mind, especially as we roll into Christmas ;)

"We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more."

Anyway, it's worth the read and worth endorsing. Have a great holiday week... Merry Christmans and Happy New Year... stay going.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Forecasting vs. Backcasting...Feasibility vs. Necessity

We've been working on the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment for the past year. This has been incredibly exciting to see the awakening, learning, and tremendous vision and leadership by these chancellors and presidents to commit their institutions to pursuing climate neutrality. This is an Apollo Mission-esque commitment that will marshal the brainpower, energy, resources, and focus needed to accelerate our shift to a low-carbon economy. The structure is classic backcasting - envisioning a future state of climate neutrality and then looking back to the present to determine what we needed to do to get to this future state.

Our colleague Julian Dautremont-Smith just wrote a great post on the AASHE blog on this topic addressing one of the major objections that schools that have not yet signed express: "climate neutrality isn't feasible." Check out the response, as it walks nicely through the reasons why backcasting is necessary for success, again the link is here.

As we know a major drawback of forecasting is that it tends to bring the problems of the past and present into the future, as they are inherently part of the planning. It also limits creativity with regard to what's possible. Finally, the beauty of setting goals that might seem audacious is that if you fall short, you're still way ahead of where you would be if you didn't set those goals. In this case a school that commits to 15% reductions below 2005 emissions rates by 2020, might make it, they might even make 16%, they might fall short with 14% - but the school that contextualizes its planning and prioritization around the ultimate goal of climate neutrality will blow through those incremental targets - and yes they might even fall short with cuts of only 85-95%, but would you rather be a "failure" with 95% reductions in emissions or a success with 15% reductions?

Check out this clip of Joe Laur speaking eloquently on the power of being audacious.

Stay going...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bali… the final hour

While it’s received some press – certainly more than Nairobi last year – the negotiations in Bali still have not held the spot light here in the US the way they should be. I haven’t heard much from any of the candidates, although one of them (whoever wins) was central to these negotiations, which resulted in a 2-year timeline for establishing the follow-up to Kyoto, which expires in 2012. That 2-year timeline of course opens the door for post-Bush representation by the US, after a potentially costly 8-year delay. The details of the plan are available here:

Throughout the 2-weeks US delegates were disruptive to the process, and it was only in the last hour – and only following a full minute of booing and hissing from the world community that we agreed to come to the table with the rest of the world. Here’s a more in-depth description from the Solve Climate blog:

Some excerpts:

And then the moment of truth: India presented the alternative text from the G-77+China. The essential point about this alternative text is that it takes into account "differences in national circumstances" amongst developing countries.

Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, let the other shoe drop. "We support the proposal made by....India." …Even the Saudis rose to say they could live with the G-77 text.

And then it was the turn of the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, with only the absolute bare minimum of diplomatic language, stated flatly that the United States rejected the changes. It was not prepared to accept the G-77 text.

Then occurred one of the most remarkable sounds that has perhaps ever been heard in the annals of international diplomacy--like a collective global groan--descending then to a murmur, then increasing in volume to a full-throated expression of rage and anger and booing and jeering, lasting for a full minute, so that finally the Minister had to call the meeting back to order.

(The Americans, with almost unspeakable rudeness, issued invitations to the next 'major economies meeting' on the first day of the Bali COP. Sort of like making a big show of announcing your engagement while at someone else's wedding.)

Casting all diplomatic niceties to the winds, the representative from Papua New Guinea stood up and said: "if you're not willing to lead, please get out of the way."

Meanwhile, we hear little about this, we are fed an insane logic that addressing what the science tells us would be “unfair” if China, struggling out of poverty, does not act first (ignoring for one thing the 100+ years of emissions already in the atmosphere that we’re responsible for), and led to believe that addressing this problem will necessarily have negative impacts on the economy and our standard of living. I think the opposite is true, and that we can improve our standard of living through better, more sustainable lifestyles, by driving the growth of value in our economy through a strategic shift to sustainable systems. We are seeing leadership in this regard from many sectors – business, municipal and state government, higher education, not-for-profit – and increasingly from the federal legislators (in large part in response to demands from business). As the world moves forward in this shift, the delays we’re suffering on the federal level and in the international sphere are going to be costly. So stay involved, vote with the ballot, your wallet, your actions and intentions, and stay going…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Speak up Americans

With the annual climate negotiations winding down in Bali, Al Gore is about to present to the delegation of ~10,000 and has a petition to show that the people of the US are ready to take some leadership, and harness our innovative, creative, spirit for the betterment of the world. Our representatives there have again been unwilling to move the dialog forward about the need for us to accept caps on our GHG emissions like the rest of the industrialized nations have, and we point at China and India saying they must take the lead before we will take any responsibility. For me, this is embarrassing.

If you agree, please take a second to add your name to the list of those of us who feel we are not being well represented in Bali at this critical time in human history. Even if you think Gore is terrible, please put aside partisan feelings, as this is probably the most effective way for the American people to show our support for international cooperation on this issue that affects us all.

Thx, and stay going...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Blind spots

"When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one's ignorance... gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine."

- Michael Pollan - The Omnivore's Dilemma

Monday, November 26, 2007

Green washing... the future is later

My mom informed me over the Thanksgiving holiday that she learned a new term on NPR - greenwashing. It was in a piece about Auden Schendler - the sustainability director for Aspen Ski Co, who has been shaking things up saying that going green necessarily costs more - in businessweek:

(The article isn't really the point of this post, but I'll include some comments I emailed to a friend who asked if it was true or not - is going green really more expensive??)

This post is about this hilarious piece from freeloveforum - - "the future is later..." Clearly people are becoming more aware of the threats of greenwashing, and understanding the complexities of it (and the sometimes obvious, pandering tones that greenwashing ads can use in attempts to connect with you). At the same time, there are a lot of shades of gray in this, and as Hunter Lovins says, often "hypocrisy is the first step to genuine change," so as part of companies' and society's movement towards sustainability, we're going to have some gray areas - the encouraging thing is that it is becoming front and center and we all have the opportunity to wrestle with and move through these gray areas in our own lives, while at the same time demanding that companies and governments do the same and support us in these efforts.

(On a related note, a blog I recently discovered, SenseUp, has a piece on another take on greenwahsing: soap. Clever...)

Response to BizWeek article on Aspen:

"Schendler explains his confessional mood as the result of cumulative frustration: with foot-dragging colleagues, with himself for compromising, and with the entire green movement frothily sweeping through corporations in America and Europe."

I would say that he has just had challenges applying what he learned at the Rocky Mountain Institute. If applied in a conventional way, many green initiatives can represent additional costs. What we (and RMI) stress is the importance of a whole-system approach. The easiest examples are in buildings. If you had an energy efficiency technology, or solar panel, just tacked on to your average building, you can easily calculate the pay-back period, and depending on energy prices, etc, it either will or will not be attractive given the length of the payback time (even if it’s longer than standard pay-backs some companies do it for PR reasons). But if you design a building to be oriented towards the sun in such a way, insulated in such a way, using natural lighting, the most innovative and efficient fixtures, etc all right up front, you can dramatically reduce energy demand, and dramatically increase the payback and effectiveness of something like solar panels, so they do make sense, and aren’t just a sexy, expensive add-on.

There are many examples of this thinking in action, and the place most people point to is RMI’s famous book –Natural Capitalism. But these are also very difficult – they take incredible creativity, and extremely well-functioning teams that get the concept and are committed to it. It requires understanding systems-thinking – ie understanding the entire system you’re operating in, as well as the system(s) it exists within (e.g. a ski company, in the town of aspen, in CO, in the USA, in the biosphere), the various components of that system - internal (world-views, cultures) and external (structures, rules, norms) - and the relationships and interactions between those components. This is very complex stuff and most people, even if they have this understanding (like Schendler) don’t necessarily have the tools and skills to foster that in everyone their working with – and as the quote above indicates, it looks like he hasn’t been able to do that. When this does happen the whole ROI picture changes from kWh saved per dollar invested to a much more interesting equation that can show dramatic increases in productivity, employee morale, and brand goodwill – things that absolutely dwarf energy costs in an ROI calculation.

This is not surprising from a pioneer working in relative isolation like himself. As he indicates, it's easy to start compromising, and being overtaken by the institutional culture they find themselves within, which can be incredibly difficult to change. But at the end of the day, that is what ‘going green’ really requires – and that’s why it’s so hard. It is dramatic, transformational change.

He took an approach of selling and convincing, which clearly hasn’t totally worked. Focusing on the ‘art and practice’ of organizational learning has shown more success (but definitely not 100%) in getting people engaged on these issues, finding meaning in them and then acting accordingly. In the hotel example, of course the guy didn’t want to just slam in CFLs he knew nothing about – and it’s clear Auden didn’t know much about managing 5-star hotels – this is a classic example of needing everyone. If he instead took the time to help the manager and all the staff learn about the importance, and then gave them the tools with which to evaluate their own situation, using their own expertise, and find the appropriate, innovative, creative solutions, they might have had better luck.

I do agree with this: Much corporate environmentalism boils down to misleading statistics and hype.

But that doesn’t mean it all does, or that it necessarily has to be the case.

This last paragraph is the only one that really gets to the heart of the issue: "His former mentor Lovins says Schendler could find further cost-saving energy efficiencies with more support from his superiors. But this mind-set, Schendler warns, could influence companies to pursue exclusively projects with quick payoffs: 'The idea that green is fun, it's easy, and it's profitable is dangerous. This is hard work. It's messy. It's not always profitable. And companies have to get off the mark and start actually doing stuff.'"

Lovins is right – but it’s more than just his superiors (he’s very close to the top already, and they’re obviously supportive of him – they just don’t quite get it – and that’s probably in large part a result of his approach) – it’s also his ‘inferiors’ – EVERYONE in the company down to the lifties and janitors have to be behind this and stoked about it for it to work in a way that truly is profitable and effective.

In addition to having that engagement and creative energy from people throughout the organization, this whole case underscores the need for a long-term, strategic perspective when tackling sustainability from an organizational stand-point, and a common, practical framework to make that context more tangible and useful for all of the people involved with the organization.

This is clearly the best quote from the whole thing: Schendler replied: "Relax, brah. I enormously appreciate all the support.... We're on the edge of this thing, figuring it out. If it were simple and easy, someone would have done it already."

Stay going...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Big Bill helps the ACUPCC tackle existing buildings

We had an exciting day for the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment yesterday with Bill Clinton publicly announcing a partnership we've been developing between the ACUPCC and the CCI (Clinton Climate Initiative).

Check out the full report from Inside Higher Ed -

The announcement was made at GreenBuild - the conference of the US Green Building Council - in Chicago, which was a great event with about 20,000 attendees, reflecting the tremendous development of the greenbuilding industry.

Watch his speech here:

As part of his talk, Clinton made an excellent point that as this space develops and the economics are better understood, things will only accelerate and in about 18 months the focus will be on zero-carbon and energy-positive buildings. This is the sort of development that dramatically changes energy forecasts, driving down the need for large, centralized coal and nuclear plants and driving smaller distributed clean renewables. In conjunction with the demand-side management this sort of path has dramatically lower costs to society.

This is a powerful example of how backcasting - in this case from climate neutral campuses - can drive the innovation and create the synergies needed to move towards sustainability.

Exciting stuff... stay going.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

SP3 Shark Attack

I just got back from watching Shark Water – an incredible new documentary that has been cleaning up at film festivals for good reason. The website ( has a good trailer that gives you a sense of the destruction going on.

Bottom line: shark populations have declined 90% in the last 50 years in a barbaric attack on this species. Sharks have been around for 450 million years, surviving at least 5 major extinctions, and as top predators in marine ecosystems, they are a vital part of the balance in our global marine system, which is crucial in maintaining the stable climate that makes human civilization possible.

This is a perfect, dramatic example of violating SP 3 – a systematic degradation of natural systems by physical means. A lot of the slaughter is being driven by shark fin trade, which is hugely lucrative and made possible due to the lack of enforcement of international treaties. I doubt many of you eat much shark fin soup, but it is a huge issue and one to be aware of. It also speaks to larger trends and exemplifies the systematic destruction of our life-support systems.

The film also does a very good job at addressing a strong mental model that most of us hold: that sharks are scary and evil. The power of mental models – the unrecognized assumptions and habits of thought that we all have – and their importance (as barriers and/or catalysts) in creating a sustainable society.

Check out the flick, and stay going…

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Introducing... Sustainable Life

There was such a positive reaction to the 'little things you can do' post I did for blog action day that it has motivated Michelle to finally launch her long planned and talked about "sustainable life" blog. And she's been busy. Check it out:

Stay going.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day: walking the talk

So, apparently, it's Blog Action Day. My sister, author of the infamous Flametree blog - which incidentally I just visited to get the link... and then I read her Blog Action Day post... and I really urge you to do the same.

Mine will not be as powerful, but it will be intimately related... So Blog Action Day calls on all bloggers to write a post about the environment. Writing a sustainability blog, I obviously do this quite a bit, though not specifically about the environment - more about the interplay of social and environmental systems. But I think that's what they mean. And this interplay is present every moment of everyday and every decision we make affects it.

On that note, I thought I'd go for a personal post about how we try to "walk the talk" with our every day choices, with a bit of a photo-log:

Here’s our back porch with the worm bin in the foreground - all of our kitchen scraps go in there and a crew of red wrigglers break 'em down in no time. It doesn't stink, unless it gets out of balance, which usually means there's too much moisture or "green" material. I throw in some saw dust, dried leaves, or shredded newspaper to get it back in harmony and we're good to go. In the background, a good ole fashioned clothes lines takes a big chunk out of our electricity budget, and some late-season leftovers of the veggies we grew on the porch - a cheap and fun way to get the good local organic grub.

Bringing it inside, we’ve got the living room with some good daylight. So many of the actions we take to reduce our impact are just incredibly simple behavior changes that don’t represent any kind of sacrifice in comfort or lifestyle – they’re mostly just becoming aware of and consciously working on changing old habits. It’s harder than it sounds – but just not flipping the light on when walking into the bathroom during the day can make a big difference (when added up with everything else!).

The bedding’s all organic cotton – it took quite a bit of research to find it all without breaking the bank, but it’s very cozy now that it’s all set up. I think we ended up getting it from Gaiam and Viva Terra.

The furniture we got lucky with – due to a concurrent move in my family, we basically inherited an apartment-full of beautiful old wooden furniture. But even without the helpful circumstances, furniture is a great thing to get used – you can go fancy antiques, or cheap second-hand shops, but it’s a great place to “reuse” to lighten the impact. Beyond that, for all of its big-boxiness, IKEA has a great sustainability program, working extensively for years with The Natural Step framework, which has driven a lot of their product innovation, including the development of low-mercury compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Speaking of… we’ve got CFLs in all of our fixtures. These things are a no brainer – they last forever, and use a forth of the energy – they’ve also come way down in price, and when you’re talking about something as cheap as light bulbs, the “upfront capital costs” really shouldn’t be a serious deterrent - spending a couple of bucks instead of a couple of quarters is well worth it. You may also be wondering why we’ve got two right next to each other – the fixture actually has spots for 4 bulbs, but we just use 2 – it’s pretty common, and usually you get plenty of light without filling all the spots – you don’t have to do it just because they’re there!

Other furniture options – build your own. For these I cut 2 boards in half with some funky curves, the off-cuts serve as the braces. The towels – have hand-me-downs, half fluffy new organic cotton.

Some more veggies on the inside – everyone loves house plants, why not go for the kind that produce food. We heat these spaces anyway, may as well experiment with cold climate indoor agriculture. At the very least, fresh herbs are easy and a total treat.

Speaking of space-heating, the first and most obvious is keeping an eye on the thermostat, and keeping it at 65-67 F when hanging out and down to 55-57 F at night.

Our building has oil heat, so go with Mass Biofuel – a blend of 10% soy-biodiesel, and 90% ultralow sulfur diesel. While the 10% isn’t a whole lot, it is something, and more importantly sends the signal to the market that there’s demand for the stuff and supports the development of the market.

On the topic of biodiesel we put it in our whip as well – we’ve got a Volkswagen Jetta TDI (turbo diesel injection). TDIs get 45-50 mpg, but aren’t sold in most states. We haven’t really figured out why this is. We had to get ours used from Ohio. But we’re very happy with her now that she’s a Sox fan.

The biodiesel scene for the wheels is much the same as it is for the heat – we usually get B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% regular diesel) especially in cold weather.

Some places only have B5, but quite a few have B100, which is great. has a great map of filling stations that have biodiesel pumps. The one pictured here is in Chelsea, just a few blocks off 93.

Back to the homestead… we are not immune to the gadgetry inundation – all of these little electronics are a huge source of growth in electricity demand. Beyond rethinking what it is we really need, we plug everything into power strips, and try to (again, another habit) turn the switch off whenever we don’t need the juice flowing through it. All of those chargers and ‘standby’ lights eat up billions of dollars of electricity a year in the US – again, it doesn’t seem like much but with everything else it is huge. We’ve avoided altogether a couple of the biggest energy-hog gadgets: AC units and flatscreen TVs (bummer, I know).

We do have a regular TV but are diligent about interpreting everything that it throws at us, and we do mix it up with the books – obviously good on its own, but what’s in the library that speaks to the sustainability attributes – a partial list can be found in the column to the right down under “reading list.”

To keep it all clean we go with the natural, biodegradable, organic products as much as possible. This is getting easier and easier with all of the good stuff coming on the market. It works just as well or better, it’s cost competitive, and it’s just another no-brainer.

Also in the no-brainer category for us is local, organic food. Again, the market is growing, and it’s easier and easier to get. With all of the horrendous impacts of industrial agriculture it’s also one of the more important things we can do. As for the question: which is more important, organic or local? I don’t think it’s a great way to look at the issue – for many things it should be both, and when it’s not available in ‘both’, ask for it. We also keep the seasons in mind and try to eat appropriately, and just changing our expectations slightly to realize we don’t need to be gorging on strawberries in February.

And of course, all the while remembering why we’re doing it all – to live happy healthy lives – a huge part of which for most humans is getting outside and enjoying a little nature. This one’s from a walk this afternoon in the arboretum in our neighborhood. Of course most of us in the US could live happy lives without worrying about the impacts of every little action, but the trick is not to do it at the expense of others, or future generations. Our emissions, land-use patterns, and production and consumption practices impact everyone – even those pastoral families in Kenya my sister wrote about. Hopefully some of these actions inspire you to evaluate your everyday activities or gives you some cool ideas if you’re already all over it. Another great resource to take it a step further and start spreading the action around, check out the Cool Communities Campaign and the Low Carbon Diet book – an innovative, old-fashioned neighborly approach to social change. So kudos to the Blog Action Day people, and stay going…

Friday, August 31, 2007


A quick interesting report from PointCarbon:

Countries that have ratified the Kyoto protocol are this evening in Vienna
discussing setting "indicative" targets for rich countries to reduce
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020

This is out of a preliminary meeting ahead of the next COP (conference of the parties) which is in November. Kyoto is sometimes criticized for not being stringent or meaningful enough, missing the bigger picture that it is merely a first step to set up the system, get on the same page, and get going with a target of ~5% below 1990 emissions by 2012. Now they're finally talking about the next steps, and cranking down the cap. This range seems about right to keep us on track for 80% reductions by 2050. Just having some sense of the numbers after 2012 should give governments and companies a better sense of what's in store, and help make better investment decisions. Once the constraints are set, and uncertainty reduced, the full power of our creativity can be deployed, and we'll be able to achieve much faster and more economic GHG emission reductions - a situation that will be amplified when the US joins and adds its weight, which will in turn prompt China and India to do the same...

Here's to staying positive. On that note, the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment is up to 356 signatories, and gearing up for the new school year. Fall is starting to creep into the air in New England, the Sox are still in 1st (despite the travesty that was their series this week against the Yanks - ouch), and it's Labor Day weekend... stay going.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Presidential greenery

I think it's pretty absurd how early the presidential campaign stuff has gotten underway, and because sustainability is apolitical, I don't get into it much here, but Grist has a good series of interviews with candidates getting right into the green issues. They're starting off with the Dems but will be moving on to the Republicans soon.

I got a huge kick out of Mike Gravel's interview - he doesn't pull any punches - and his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach is refreshing.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

Stay informed, stay going...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RMI’s 25th, and Amory Lovins’ Clarity

Natural Capitalism was a highly influential book for me. Throughout high-school I struggled on my own to makes sense of the complexity surrounding our market economy, and why it was failing us. As I discovered solutions-based, proactive means for addressing the social and ecological unsustainability we face, like organic agriculture and green building – better ways of doing things that made economic sense when done properly – I knew there had to be a way to scale them up. When I got my permaculture certification, and engaged in systems thinking in an intentional way for the first time, I was closer to being able to articulate how this could be done – the solutions were there and were so elegant with smart design of the systems we use to meet our needs. I felt like I was on the cusp of figuring something out, when I read Natural Capitalism and discovered that it had already been done – and far from a theoretical fantasy, the whole book is case studies of effective, profitable, solutions-based activities that result from taking a whole-system approach to design (of buildings, cities, water systems, products, etc…)

I reminisce because this year is the 25th anniversary of the Rocky Mountain Institute and Grist just ran a great article with Amory Lovins. I highly encourage you to read the whole thing:

Some highlights:

On the economics of nuclear vs. micropower:

We see this now in the electricity business. A sixth of the world's electricity and a third of the world's new electricity comes from micropower* -- that is, combined heat and power (also called cogeneration) and distributed renewables. Micropower provides anywhere from a sixth to over half of all electricity in most of the industrial countries. This is not a minor activity anymore; it's well over $100 billion a year in assets. And it's essentially all private risk capital.

So in 2005, micropower added 11 times as much capacity and four times as much output as nuclear worldwide, and not a single new nuclear project on the planet is funded by private risk capital. What does this tell you? I think it tells you that nuclear, and indeed other central power stations, have associated costs and financial risks that make them unattractive to private investors. Even when our government approved new subsidies on top of the old ones in August 2005 -- roughly equal to the entire capital costs of the next-gen nuclear plants -- Standard & Poor's reaction in two reports was that it wouldn't materially improve the builders' credit ratings, because the risks private capital markets are concerned about are still there.

On the competiveness of liquid coal:

I think a good way to smoke out corporate socialists in free-marketeers' clothing is to ask whether they agree that all ways to save or produce energy should be allowed to compete fairly at honest prices, regardless of which kind they are, what technology they use, where they are, how big they are, or who owns them. I can tell you who won't be in favor of it: the incumbent monopolists, monopsonists, and oligarchs who don't like competition and new market entrants. But whether they like it or not, competition happens. It's particularly keen on the demand side.

On the relative (in)effectiveness of government:

People will vote with their wallets as well as their ballots, in a way that will affect the political system and even more the private sector, which is quite good at selling what you want and not selling what you don't buy. The interplay between business and civil society is even more important than between business and government, and that is where I want to continue to focus most of my effort. I admire those who try to reform public policy, but I don't spend much time doing that myself. In a tripolar world of business, civil society, and government, why would you want to focus on the least effective of that triad?

On the absurdity of the level of the biofuels “debate”:

You're treating biofuels as generic and I don't think that's appropriate. There are much smarter and much dumber approaches to biofuels, and biofuels do not need to have the problems you refer to.

Stay going…

Thursday, July 19, 2007

GoodSearch for StratLeade

A request: if you’ve gotten any value out of this blog, and/or want to support education for strategic sustainable development, please start using GoodSearch for your internet searches and designate Stratleade as the charity you support – about 1 cent will go to Stratleade every time you search using

Go to and enter “Stratleade” in the second field where it says “Who do you GoodSearch for?” in the field should appear: “Stratleade Sustainability Education (Jamaica Plain, MA)” – and then use this whenever you search the internet. It uses the same technology as Yahoo and gives great results (if you can’t get off Google, at least use this for basic stuff!). Also download the toolbar (it takes 2 seconds) if you use that feature on your browser.

For those of you who haven’t heard, or forget, Stratleade is a not-for-profit that raises money to support programs and activities that deliver education for Strategic Sustainable Development. It is a close partner of the MSLS program at BTH and plans to provide funds to support staff, scholarships, visiting lectures, internships and program activities. See for more.

This could raise a lot of money for the program, so please take the second to set Stratleade as your cause, use it whenever you search and spread the word!! Put it on your blogs, encourage family & friends to use it – it’s a great way to help the program without having to reach into your own pockets (although it would be great if you did that too! paypal donations accepted at

Skål, tack så mycket, and stay going.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes

We went to see Manufactured Landscapes this afternoon - a powerful documentary about Edward Burtynksy's photography of industrial landscapes. His work in this area started off with photos of mines, landfills in the like in North America, but most of the work lately has been in China. It is a great illustration of what we all know, but often forget, and can rarely truly grasp: the scale of China's growth, which is being driven in large part by our consumerism.

The film does a great job of communicating one of the key characteristics of they system "global society within the biosphere": interdependence. The film does a nice job of showing this in a such a way that it is not obtuse.

It's often hard to think about China's development, following in our footsteps, and not get depressed. The issue is complex, as clearly this development is also benefiting hundreds of millions of people in certain ways. It is not easy to say "don't develop like we did" - especially when all of the corporations are licking their chops waiting for the Chinese market to mature to the point where they can consume like us. To help understand it all, I find the Threshold Hypothesis to be very useful. The jist of it is as follows:

“For every society there seems to be a period in which economic growth–conventionally understood and measured-brings about an improvement in the quality of life, but only up to a point-the threshold point-beyond which, if there is more economic growth, quality of life may begin to deteriorate.” (Max-Neef, Ecological Economics, 1995).

Clearly, China's going through that first period (though on an unprecedented scale) - and it's quite clear that we are in the second stage, although we are slow in realizing that and adapting accordingly. Still, more and more people are waking up to this reality, stepping back and asking themselves why a few times, with regard to our careers, plans, dreams, life in general. To paraphrase Janine Benyus, more and more we're creating eddies along side the massive river of unsustainable growth, reflecting and looking for ways to create a steady-state, circular, sustainable global economy.

An incredible recent example of this is the Tallberg Forum going on in Sweden right now - that link will bring you to great videos of each day's events - very inspiring. On the China front, an Chinese interviewee from day 2 gives some great hope with a simple statement picking up on JFK vibe: it's time to stop asking what the world can do for China and start asking what China can do for the world. Great question for all of us, especially here in the US, as we come into my favorite holiday of the year, meant to celebrate the principles upon which this great country was based, and from which we unfortunately often drift too far. Stay going.

The film's website:

Edward Burtynsky's photography:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


So, the reflective, thoughtful life of a grad student ends, and the flow of blog posts slows to a trickle…! But the excitement of creating a sustainable society certainly has not. I’ll likely turn to writing more on the Greenland Enterprises site once we get a better blog set-up going, but I’ll continue to post here from time to time.

Aside from staying busy with business development, networking and exploring new project ideas, most of our time has been dedicated to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. It’s been going very well, with over 312 presidents so far pledging their institutions to a path towards climate neutrality.

We had a very successful public launch of the initiative in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago at the ACUPCC Leadership Summit. It was incredibly inspiring to hear some of these presidents speak about what they’re doing on their campuses and why, what it means for the future of the US and the world, and how it will benefit their institutions and stakeholders now and in the long-run. We were also treated to some talks by rock-stars in the space, including James Hansen (NASA Goddard Space Institute), Eileen Claussen (Pew Center), John Kerry (MA), Bernie Sanders (VT), Jay Inslee (WA), and Steve Johnson (EPA Administrator).

But in my opinion the presidents stole the show – Michael Crow (Arizona State), Tim White (U of Idaho), Kathy Schatzberg (Cape Cod Community College), David Hales (College of the Atlantic), David Shi (Furman), and many others – are all doing amazing things. A quick Google search will bring up some good info on them if you’re interested – especially Crow and ASU, they are shifting the paradigm in a big way, and as a result are going to be well positioned to meet the coming demands from applicants, employers, funding bodies, etc.

I also got a chance to facilitate a dialogue session amongst the presidents about implementing the commitment, sharing a definition of leadership I heard recently, which says leadership is stepping into that which you have not yet mastered. It’s safe to say that no one has yet mastered a long-term shift to climate neutrality on a large scale, so in that sense, and in many others, making this commitment is a tremendous show of leadership by these presidents and their institutions.

Our fantastic partners at ecoAmerica wrote up a summary for their blog, if you’re interested in more details (they also have some links to the excellent press coverage the event received). And we finally got to meet the rest of the team in person, after months of emails and conference calls - a great group to work with:

All in all, it’s been an interesting to see the reactions to this initiative as we go through this amazing time when the US is waking up to the global warming challenge. The resistance to signing has for the most part come from misunderstanding what the Commitment actually entails, or getting hung up on details (for example, it includes picking 2 short term actions from a list of 7, and people will take issue with one of the options on the list). Also, as with anything new, some believe it cannot be done, but I think they’ll sign on as they see the successes of the others. Another piece that’s often overlooked is the power of collective action – some schools figure they’ll be better off going it alone – but they’re missing a tremendous opportunity to send a powerful message to the rest of society about the need to collaborate for this common cause (they’ll also miss out on some great technical support, the development of a common framework and standards, and opportunities to learn from each other along the way).

Finally, and most importantly, a common reason for resistance is not seeing the larger picture, which is that ACUPCC is not just about reducing GHG emissions from campus operations, but much more about (1) educating our next generation of leaders so they’re prepared to solve this problem, by being able to deal with the complexity and communicate with each other across disciplines and (2) promoting research to develop the solutions we will need – both the physical and social technologies we are lacking. As ASU’s Crow said at the Summit, “The higher ed. community may only have about 3% of the carbon footprint, but we have 100% of the educational footprint.” As I’ve discussed before on this blog, creating a sustainable society will require not a magical new technology or set of laws, or by improving efficiencies or making incremental improvements, but with a change in our thinking, an evolution of consciousness. As Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Stay going.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

5 things for global warming

Check out this recent piece by NASA Climate scientist James Hansen - it touches on (once again) the gap between what the scientists know, and what the public and policy-makers understand.

This gap lies at the heart of why we need to move away from reductionism, where we study and address everything in isolation in separate disciplines /departments /silos / sectors / drill holes, to a whole-system approach where policy makers and scientists, engineers and biologists, economists and consumers, businessmen and school teachers, can understand eachother because they have a shared, relevant view of the whole-system. This is the first step in taking a strategic appraoch to sustainability.

But I digress, Hansen's article offers 5 things we need to do, now, to address global warming. I think there are more inspiring ways we could go about addressing the challenge - and people are starting to do that, finding synergistic solutions through sustainable urban planning, green building, sustainable product design, permaculture, and the like - but these would certainly help, and are straight forward, necessary actions, regardless if they come about through transformational change of global society or through regulation:

1) Put a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until we have the technology to capture and sequester the CO2
2) Put a price on emissions
3) Establish and enforce energy-efficiency standards (buildings & vehicles)
4) Study and report on ice-sheet stability (not sure how knowing more about the symptom helps us cure the root cause, but it's certainly important research, especially as we are forced to focus on adaptation as well as mitigation)
5) Reform of communication practices (so we can avoid the disasters of reductionism)

The full piece is brief, and available here:

Stay going.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Changing Fortune

Picked up the Fortune 'green issue' on the way to Atlanta last week for the SoL Sustainability Forum (more on that soon), and I highly recommend it. There is some good stuff in there & it represents another big (though still very preliminary) milestone for the movement toward sustainability - last year Vanity Fair this year Fortune....

The issue covers 10 companies and their sustainability initiatives, leaving out the already heavily covered GE and WMT stories they look at Honda, Continental, HP, Tesco, Suncor, Alcan, PG&E, S.C. Johnson, Goldman, & Swiss Re - for the most part usual suspects for people following the scene (with the exception of Continental, I didn't realize how much they've been doing) - but still a great rundown for the mainstream business types. Also focus pieces on the good, bad, & ugly at DuPont, the inspiring passion at Patagonia, and the muscle of the Governator.

Check out the stories here:

But one of the most intriguing pieces in the issue is not in the 'green section'. It is a one-pager called "Opening the Capitalist Mind" and it lays out a scenario for shifting the $500 billion per year health care burden from corporate America to government It would be financed with a carbon tax - thus relieving business of big burden without taxing them directly for it (all carbon consumers would share the burden), without increasing the deficit, and all the while sending a huge signal for a carbon-free economy and helping Americans realize the dream of universal healthcare. It has the potential to make both Republicans and Dems happy and apparently has the support of some of those conservative think-tank analysts. I think it has the potential to be another small but powerful example of how pursuing sustainability can bring disparate forces together for our common good and that of the biological systems upon which we all depend. Stay going…

Sunday, March 18, 2007

SoL Foundations for Leadership

Last week I attended the Society for Organizational Learning’s (SoL) Foundations for Leadership course. It was three days long, run by Peter Senge and Robert Hanig, and incredibly effective at promoting a lot of deep learning in a very short time.

The concepts of organizational learning are a core aspect of the MSLS program, and we worked with them a lot last year – they were essentially the backdrop for everything we did. Still, it was really helpful to spend three intensive days delving deep in the concepts with a new group of people and facilitated by the folks that developed and articulated the ideas.

What organizational learning is, exactly, can be difficult to put into words. Essentially it describes an ongoing process of profound change within an organization (business, school, NGO, government agency, etc.) Senge’s The Fifth Discipline is a central book in the field, exploring five disciplines of a learning organization: team learning, mental models, personal mastery, building shared vision, and systems thinking. These are interrelated concepts, each with a lot behind it. Most are to some extent self explanatory – mental models refer to the “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and take action.” Systems thinking I’ve talked a lot before – it is “the fifth discipline” and also the basis of the framework for strategic sustainable development (SSD).

One of the basic tools in the field of systems thinking and systems dynamics are causal loop diagrams (CLDs). The field also identifies some common patterns, or archetypes, that often play out in various ways in different systems. These archetypes are quite intuitive, as they are common patterns we have experience with, and the CLDs help clarify these patterns, bring them before us so we can get a better sense of what’s happening.

Here are two basic archetypes – Shifting the Burden and Limits to Success – as well as an example of each:

Another central theme in the field of organizational learning, which is also an integral part of the framework for SSD, is the concept of building a shared vision amongst a group of people, giving an honest analysis of the current reality. The gap between the vision and the current reality results in a creative tension. This is the basis of backcasting and enabling a strategic approach to sustainable development.

In the 5th Discipline, Senge points out that MLK Jr. once said: “Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind, so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths…so must we... create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism.” The same is true for creating a sustainable society, and navigating the enormous transformational change that is accompanying that creative effort.

The book and the program explore the two basic motivators for sparking change: aspiration and desperation. The latter is responsible for the phrase “no change without crisis” and in the context of sustainability it is a motivator we see a lot, when organizations hit the funnel walls. When Wal-Mart feels the pain of consumer boycotts, or when Greenpeace campaigns against PVCs, dumps old washing machines on Electrolux’s parking lot, companies are motivated to make some changes towards sustainability.

However, when the conditions that created the desperation are no longer there, when enough has been done to relieve the outside pressure, the change toward sustainability often subsides. This can lead to frustration within the organization and from outside groups, as well as to many books and papers on why sustainability efforts fizzle out.

When organizations are motivated by an aspiration, on the other hand, when they are pulled towards a compelling vision of a successful, healthy, sustainable future, they often have a better chance of sustaining their efforts, and making more dramatic progress towards eliminating their contributions to unsustainability. It’s usually only through a real aspiration to move towards sustainability can a company reap all of the benefits like greater employee attraction and retention, increased productivity, meaningful innovation, dramatic cost savings, etc.

Bob Willard’s concept of 5-stages of corporate development with regard to sustainability highlight this concept:

Put into the context of the funnel, this idea shows how as companies move up through the stages they can reduce risks associated with unsustainable behavior:

We’re getting excited to head down to Atlanta for the SoL Sustainability Forum, where we’ll keep the learning going as we meet with those pioneering the shift to a new way of doing business and using organizational learning concepts to move towards sustainability. Stay going.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment

Greenland has been busy gearing up and helping out with the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (PCC). This is an exciting initiative galvanizing college & university presidents in the US and Canada to commit their institutions to the goal of climate neutrality. We hope to have 200 institutions sign the commitment by June 2007, and at least 1,000 by 2009.

Working closely with Second Nature, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and ecoAmerica, Greenland is facilitating the process of making the commitment for Presidents and others at their institutions.

To date 54 institutions have made the commitment and 34 have agreed to join the Leadership Circle. Members of the Leadership Circle will assist in recruiting more signatories, and will send out an invitation to over 4,000 institutions.

Higher Education is a key leverage point in the move towards a sustainable society for many reasons. First, they are large institutions, and as such, like most organizations today, emit a lot of greenhouse gases, both directly and indirectly. Also, in the US it is $320 billion per year industry, which means it is a potentially market-moving force. When these institutions make the commitment, and put their purchasing power towards more sustainable alternatives, this will bring down the costs of these technologies for everyone.

More importantly, research institutions use this commitment to leverage new innovations, create new solutions, and put into practice many of the theoretical ideas that are already being explored.

But it is on the educational side that I think this initiative has the most potential. The problems around greenhouse gas emissions, and unsustainability more generally require transdiciplinary learning create solutions and move towards a sustainable society. By infusing these ideas into the curriculum at higher education institutions, where our best and brightest can dig into them, we give ourselves hope that the next generation of societal leaders will be able to carry on and improve upon the good work that has been done to date in the effort to create a sustainable society.

The framework for strategic sustainable development is designed to facilitate transdisciplinary learning and co-creation of solutions across sectors, industries and specializations. Hopefully, the PCC is another early step in the process of breaking through the thick walls of disciplinary compartmentalization, so we have a better chance of understanding one another and the root causes of unsustainability in an increasingly complex world.

Check out more about the Presidents Climate Commitment here:

For more info on sustainability in education (mostly higher education), check out the expanded list of links and resources to the right under “Sustainabiilty Education”. Stay going.