Monday, May 25, 2009

EPIC CHANGE: Make Loans. Tell Stories. Change the World!

It is quite rare that a program comes along out of the blue that makes me want to sit-up, take notice and take action.  Today, I came across a cause that needs my support, your support and your vote to move forward.  The beauty of the organization is they are truly designed to be a hand-up, not a hand-out, in the lives of those they touch.

Epic Change is a non-profit organization that utilizes donations to make a change for an organization.  As the loan is repaid, the funds are then diverted to the next cause, creating a perpetual flow of financial support to improve countless lives the world over.  Currently, Epic Change is a finalist in the IdeaBlob $10K contest to raise money to improve the lives of someone in the world.  Epic Change is proposing the construction of a computer lab, library and boarding facility at a Tanzania school that has already benefited from their work.

Why am I interested in this?  Is this really something that is green?  Absolutely!  First, the school is currently utilizing solar power for electricity.  The school provides education in a part of the world that needs education to help move its people forward in life.  Also, as a college student, over 10 years ago, I planned to go to Zimbabwe to help facilitate construction on a school.  However, funding for the improvements fell through and I never made the trip.  There is a great deal of need in areas like Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and we can help. 

While your donations would be welcome, the need today is support and votes for their cause on IdeaBlob.  Click on this link, review their idea and vote to support them as they bring better education to children in need. 

Their mission: "We help hopeful people in need share their stories to acquire resources that will improve their lives."

This blog post is part of Zemanta's "Blogging For a Cause" campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Teenage Years of Sustainable Business

I had one of those experiences this week that causes reflection.  While driving to church with my 3 children in the car, I got distracted and did not slow down while merging onto a state highway from the freeway.  The result was a pleasant conversation with local law enforcement about my driving and lack of attention to the local speed limit.  As I continued on my way to church, now on the verge of being late, but not wanting to push my luck in making up time, I realized how much our perspective changes with experience.

As a teenager, I lived in a small town.  My friends and I had the city figured out.  The police station sat in the middle of town and the town had exactly 6 police cruisers.  Quickly, we all learned that if we paid attention while driving, we could easily exceed the speed limit without fear of a ticket.  Most trips through town required that you pass the station, and, on average, there were no less than 4 cruisers at the station.  By counting cars, the risk of being caught dropped to manageable levels and speeding became a part of the drive through town, once the count  of cruisers reached 6.

Fast forward to today.  While I have moved far beyond counting cars and attempts to evade the law, sustainable business practices are still in their teenage years; attempting to get away with doing as little as possible, for maximum impact.  Companies today see dollar signs when they associate and assimilate green/environmental marketing into the overall strategy.  Companies participate in green with varying levels of commitment.  Some do just enough to add a green leaf to their logo, others make firm commitments to improve, while a select few actually act responsibly and improve environmental performance.

Several months ago, I shared my thoughts on transparency in business.  In order to truly adopt sustainable practices, companies need to speak openly with customers about these changes and share successes and failures.  Unfortunately, businesses continue to hide behind a guise of proprietary business practices to avoid showing the gap between what they say and what they do. 

Many organizations are popping up to help hold us responsible for our claims.  They set standards and monitor progress, but much of the reporting is still subject to human error and even intentional inaccuracy.  When no one is watching, many organizations slip back into the old ways of operation.  Some even “count the cars” to know when it is ok to return to “business as usual”. 

While my situation turned out favorable (apparently local law enforcement has a soft spot for a father of 3 on his way to church) and only a warning was issued, can we afford a warning in business?  Can sustainable efforts thrive if business continues to take the path that leads to minimal action?  Do businesses really live up to their marketing message, advertising sustainable practices?

Help your business grow up and mature past the teenage years of evading discovery.  Recognize your shortcomings.  Plan, Communicate, Act and Report.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Exploring the Food We Eat…

As a student of Sustainability, I am quickly learning there are many opportunities to learn more about the world around us and efforts to improve our lives.  Last night was such an occasion as I attend a pre-screening of a new documentary about our food production industry, Food, Inc. (By Filmmaker Robert Kenner).

Food, Inc. explores the different aspects of mass produced foods we see on the shelves at the grocery store each week.  Avoiding the sentiment and feeling of an expose, Kenner shares the truth of the current food industry and the evolution we have followed as a nation to come to a point in history where the entire food system should be explored and questioned.  Whether studying the many pesticides and chemicals used in today’s production processes or the subsidies offered

 by the government to keep the cost of food to a minimum, Kenner simply tells the story as it is, without reservation.  The film does not batter the companies behind the products, but tells the viewer what they learned in the process of making this film.

The film also shares the success of companies like Stonyfield Farms and founder Gary Hirshberg.  Most notable in the film was Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm.  Joel is a voice of reason and shared many insights into the missteps of industry as they abandoned old methods of farming for a blend of “science and technology”.  I found it interesting that the industry left life, an essential ingredient for healthy food, out of the equation.

In the end, Food, Inc. offers a list of steps each of us can take to move our food industry to a more sustainable platform.  The list did not focus on protests, marches or other political actions, but rather it encouraged each of us to get involved locally.

  • Buying products at the supermarket that are healthy casts a vote for a healthier society.  Even Wal-Mart understands that if customers don’t want milk with hormones, then they will only stock milk free of hormones.  They did it because of the feedback, through purchases, made by their consumers. 
  • Buy locally at your farmers market and local farm.  If your local grocery store buys from local farms, than buy there as well.  Support your local economy by buying what is made in your community.
  • Make more meals at home rather than out.  With a few exceptions, you know as much about your local restaurant as you do about pre-made cuisine at the store.  Making at home with fresh, local ingredients provides a more healthy meal for your family.

Thanks to Lipscomb University for hosting the event, Food Security Partners and Tayst for providing the reception following the screening. 

The film will be released at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville in late June.  I hope to see you there. Check the Food, Inc website for viewings in other parts of the country.

Links of Interest:

Monday, March 23, 2009

“Less Bad” vs. Eco-Inventive

As a society, we are standing on the edge of another revolution. In the19th and 20th century, the industrial revolution changed forever the landscape of our world through improvements in manufacturing, transportation and standards of living and business. As a world society, business evolved to go beyond the few blocks or, at most, miles surrounding a location to a truly global economy. In addition to the many positive effects, many unintended detriments accompanied the rapid industrialization of the world. However, today, another change, and change to undo some of the negative affects, is before us and requires immediate action to prepare for the next century.

In Cradle to Cradle, authors William McDonough and Michael Bruangart share the secrets of the next century and the need for not only immediate action, but also change from the current systems to something new. Several key points are shared throughout the book that are expanded below.

The first concept that seems to be a common thread in today’s society is the notion of doing something, even if it is only “less bad”. Some actions include replacing a gas-guzzling SUV for a more fuel-efficient compact car or buying a home that is 20% more efficient that your previous homes. Not to minimize these actions, but each of these solutions only partially addresses some of the issues facing the world today. A more fuel-efficient car reduces dependence on fossil fuels, but does not eliminate it and might add additional concerns over the disposal of battery technologies in the future. Similarly a more efficient home can reduce dependence on dangerous fuel sources, but it only addresses a small part of the problem, missing air quality, destruction of surrounding ecosystems, etc. The real solution is not in simply doing better today, but finding a way to change the way in which products are used in the future.

Giving new life to products that up-cycles is a key component to understanding the concept of Cradle to Cradle living. Simply recycling will not do enough for the future. Designing products that can be recycled into a better product, fully utilizing the original materials should be the goal of future product development. This is the concept that waste is not waste, but food for the next cycle. A great example of this was represented at the International Builder Show in Las Vegas this year. Several manufacturers provided detailed information about a product or service on paper that is designed to be planted after the information has been “consumed”. The papers will then breakdown into the soil, improving the soil, and activating the seeds within the paper to grow natural grasses or flowers. The paper is fully utilized by the next, and arguably, more beautiful process of creating life.

An underlying theme throughout the book is the need to re-evaluate packing, processes and products used in everyday life to find opportunities to redesign and up-cycle. At times a frustrating theme in the book is the little time is spent on solutions. However, towards the end of the text, the intentional writing is made clear. Solutions still have to be found, and as with many products mentioned in the book, there are no one-size fits all answer to these questions. Solutions to the packaging problem cannot be addressed and solved in 200 pages because the solution for one product, in one geographic area, is drastically different than for another.

By the end of the book, the concept of “Less Bad” vs. Eco-inventive changes to starting at “less bad” with plans to progress to something new. Making better decisions with the information available today is a responsible step as long as future plans include not just a re-design, but re-invention. For housing, simply re-designing current structures is only the “less bad” approach. To change housing to be a positive contributor to the ecosystem, old ways should be set aside and new concepts explored as part of a completely new design for future homes. Similar to the authors’ admonition to not just build a better car, but to build a “nutrivehicle” that goes beyond zero-effect to positive effect, homes need to be reinvented, from development forward, to create structures that work now and in the future and provide a positive addition to the surrounding ecosystem.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Crisis of Credit

I want to explore a few new topics and thought this video was well worth the time to share and view. It explains, in simple terms, what got us to where we are in house.  No solutions except the solution of learning from our own mistakes.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

National Teach-in on Global Warming

As I begin my graduate education in Sustainability, opportunities to participate in the growing community of Environmental and Green Advocates abound.  Today, I attended the National Teach-in on Global Warming, an experience I hope to duplicate many times in the future.  If you have not participated in the past, the opportunity is unique.  After a brief video presentation, ideas about global change and improvement is encouraged as like-minded individuals share feedback, ideas and pathways to move forward and implement change.

Directed mainly at the many students in campuses across the country, the presentation today focused on the need for immediate action & change and a resounding call to action for young Americans everywhere.  Kin to the rally speeches of the 1900’s for Women’s Sufferage or the 1960’s for human rights, the orator called the college students of America to take up the fight and get involved.  Call your congressman; Call your senator; Go to Capital Hill.  With images of coal plants and the future of energy, the message was clear; a shift to cleaner, renewable technology is needed to improve the world, the environment and our economy.

In our little group, we had a unique mix of business owners, executives, advocates and students all striving to find their place in the sustainable movement.  Notice I did not say global warming or climate change, but sustainable movement. Early in our discussion, we discussed the need to look at the solution being a more sustainable future; solutions based on improving the way we treat our environment, the way we do business, the way we live and the way we play.  Simply changing actions in the short term does not create long-term solutions.  Sustainable change benefits all sides of the argument (environment or economics), whether to believe or disbelieve the climate change theories.

Several key points from the discussion included:

  • The Right Thing To Do – Whether you are an environmentalist or not, we have all learned for years that doing the right thing means reducing our impact on the world around us.  As a Scout you learned to leave the site better than you found it.  In school we learned the importance of cleaning up after ourselves and reusing when possible.  In business we learn that waste is expensive and it requires action from all to reduce it.  Doing the right thing today means finding ways to reduce the damage to the world through human activities.
  • Economic Factors – To be sustainable and viable, change must be feasible on all levels.  Similar to other discussions online, encouraging everyone to do something is better than bantering over not enough action.  Everyone needs to do what you can afford today and as you reduce energy consumption and waste, you will have more capital to continue improving in the future.
  • Get Ready to Work – As “green” is pushed forward as a means for economic recovery, Americans need to be ready for the jobs ahead.  Engineers need to hone their skills and think outside of the box to design a new way forward.  Others need to swallow their pride and pickup a shovel, hammer or screwdriver and get ready to work.  In order to rebuild our country, it will require work, the likes of which the current generation has never known.
  • Spread the Word – As fellow graduate student Shana so eloquently put it, we don’t need to convert those of us in this room, we already believe.  Spreading the word and the spark that causes so many of us to take action everyday is our challenge.  Why should others care?   How can they effect change?  What is the motivation?  This is our challenge.

Much more discussion occurred than I can share in this forum today, but the key to everything is action.  Many of us, in our online communities, talk about change, share ideas and make minor changes in our small sphere of influence.  Today, we need more.  We each need to find ways to include another group in our discussion and spread the need to improve our world, not for fear of devastation, but for the hope of a cleaner, safer, healthier world for us and our children.

Visit National Teach-In at:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Environmental Actions TODAY!

About a month ago, I published a piece on the EcoHome Magazine website entitled Shades of Green. In the article, the concept was presented as a means of beginning to green your life, your work, or your world - one day, one small change at a time. Often, the media talks about the need to change everything today. For most of us, we lack the means to change everything today, so we do what we can and continue to improve each day moving forward.

Different from my Decoding Green Building Blog, Shades of Green will delve more into the political and socio-economic news that is so hotly debated in all forms of media. I will share a lot more opinion here, keeping my other blog for information about programs, products and implementation.

This discussion needs to start on a much-debated topic, found in numerous media forms in many different stories. The economic crisis continues to affect more and more families and individuals each day. Bailouts seem to be a dime a dozen as each day another industry, State or organization petitions the federal government for capital funds to continue their work. Some groups are calling for tax increase on non-renewable energy to make newer technologies viable and the theories surrounding Global Warming and Climate Change are constantly under attack.

Who has the right answer? Is it wise to increase spending, while cutting taxes? Should job creation happen in the public or private sector? How will the economy recover with increasing debt, rising unemployment and continued uncertainty in the market?

As it pertains to this forum, a great deal of information of late is centered around the subject of Climate Change, which evolved from Global Warming. A heated debate, with no clear-cut answer from either side, with one small exception. Several outlets recently have poked at the term climate change because the nature of any climate is to change. Seasons change, weather patterns move on a weekly, daily and sometimes hourly basis. Climate Change is inevitable because it is all around us. Beyond that, do we really know what affect we are having.

On the Global Warming side of the debate, the implication is that without human activity, warming temperatures and carbon levels would not be an issue. By shear existence, we are causing radical climate change. On the flip side, anyone suggesting we have no impact doesn’t understand science. I am reminded of a line some Star Wars Fans might recall. While speaking with the Gungan’s about the Naboo, Obi Wan states, “You…form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of you will affect the other. You must understand this.”

Our world is no different. All living organisms are dependent on each other. What we do affects the rest of the world. There is so much wasted energy debating over who is right and who is wrong, little time is spent on viable solutions; solutions that work in relation to cost, environmental impact and ease of use. Technologies that replace coal and crude oil exist, but many are not viable because of cost or ease of use constraints. Fixing cost through taxation and price fixing does not fix the technologies, only makes the current versions more palatable.

The answer for today is simple. Many of us need only return to what we learned as Boy Scouts, “Leave No Trace”. Change your attitude, not simply actions, to reflect a feeling of conservation and eco-responsibility. Inaction leads to nothing so waiting for resolution in the debate is pointless. Make efforts to change TODAY! Then, commit more energy and resources to responsible living tomorrow, changing your own Shade of Green.