Conversations

I’ve had a chance to travel and meet and talk with a lot of great people, but two of the conversations I had this summer will stay with me for a while.

The first was a conversation where I was told the benefits of Bio-Mass as an alternative energy source and why Bio-Mass was better for the environment instead of Nuclear Power. The second conversation was one where the topic of RCRA, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,  came up. The interesting thing about this conversation was that the speaker didn’t know what RCRA was or why it should be considered relevant to his business.

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. The first conversation was with a nine year old boy and the second conversation was with a senior VP of a waste company!

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Radical Industrialist and Sustainability Leader: Ray Anderson

Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface, Inc. a recognized leader in sustainable business, and a friend died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 77.

Ray was one of the most vocal proponents of environmentalism’s role in business. He founded Interface, a producer of free-lay carpet tiles, in 1973, and it grew to be a $1 billion company and the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpet. Continue reading

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What is Urban Mining?

What is Urban Mining?I’ve had my share of name calling working in the environmental field over the years. They’ve ranged from “Nut” to “Professor”. Concepts that I’ve proposed have been met with resistance and laughter. One of my favorites was when I was describing the process of thermo-chemical technology, which helps convert waste materials into biofuels such as ethanol. Its technology is able to process diverse carbon-based feedstocks, including sorted municipal solid waste. I was quickly told that Buck Rogers didn’t work here and that feedstocks were what we feed the cows back home. But, guess what? A little over a year later a leading waste company announced a strategic investment in a company with a proprietary thermo-chemical technology!

I’ll admit that I smiled when I read that press release.

For me this was another example in a long line of experiences that demonstrated how individuals react to new concepts that challenge the status quo. They can ignore the issue, change the subject, use denial or just laugh.

Urban Mining, for me, is another example of a concept that challenges the status quo. Continue reading

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Innovation is Hard to Schedule

A lot has been mentioned in the past few weeks about innovation and the importance of innovation. President Obama told us that we had to out-innovate the rest of the world, consultants and business leaders are calling on companies to step to the plate and increase innovation. But, what does that really mean?

Merriam-Webster defines innovation as: the introduction of something new, a new idea, method or device.

Does it mean that we need better products or does it mean we need better processes or does it mean that we need both?

Based on the old adage, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting”; I believe that it means, both. Not a very Ivy League definition I know, but it does hold true.

So, this brings us to where we are today. Companies are looking around and wondering what they can do that will differentiate their products or services. They know that they need to change, but the where and how, seems just out of reach. Continue reading

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Social Media and Sustainability

I had an interesting call yesterday. I was asked if I thought Social Media had a role to play within the sustainability activities of the caller’s organization. Like any good listener I replied, “Why do you ask?”

He told me that his competitors have been using more and more social media activities and he was concerned that he might be missing something.

I asked him if his company was currently using any social media platforms. He said they were on Facebook and Twitter. I asked how they were using them. He said that they posted coupons, tried to track customer complaints and posted recent company press releases.

I didn’t see a pretty picture developing here, so I thought before I told him to jump on the bandwagon and throw open the barn doors we should go back to the beginning and start by looking at his question from a sustainability perspective instead of purely a social media one. Continue reading

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Facility Management the Unsung Heroes of Sustainability

Not to long ago I was in a meeting to discuss sustainability initiatives. I looked around the table and saw representatives from marketing, environmental, legal, and corporate social responsibility. What I didn’t see was anyone from the Facilities Management group or the Architectural Design and Build group. The meeting began and we talked about all of the buzz topics; green media, social programs for young people, energy usage and of course, carbon footprint. Every time I hear the discussion of carbon footprint and someone gives a statistic about how many cars that equals that we have taken off the road I’m reminded of Joel Makeower’s comment ” I sometimes wonder whether adding up all the cars-taken-off-the road marketing claims would yield a number that exceeds the actual number of cars on the road.” Strategies For The Green Economy

I participated in the meeting and didn’t say anything about the missing potential team members, until the end of the meeting. That’s when they asked me if I had any other thoughts or questions I’d like to add…You know I did. Continue reading

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Peter Drucker on Sustainability

Everyone seems to have a unique view of sustainability, which may be one of the reasons that so many people struggle with sustainability in a business environment. Articles are written that  make the case for and against Corporate Social Responsibility. Books have been published that tout the benefits and dangers of Sustainability in a commercial corporate environment. Blogs and Magazines articles are produced with list of six, seven and ten of  the top items that you have to do in order to create a sustainable program for your organization and lists of reasons why this notion of sustainability is just a fad.

So, instead of trying to write another blog that tries to prove the benefits of sustainability or show how sustainable practices can help your organization. I sat back and asked myself isn’t their someone that could speak on the topic of sustainability and reach across both the environmental and business groups? Continue reading

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Sustainability as a Profession

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a group of college students regarding sustainability. They had a list of questions that were centered around career opportunities. Such as, what kind of jobs are available, what kind of education and experience are required and will sustainability persist or will it fade away?

It occurred to me during the conversation that these were the same questions I have been asked by companies and organizations. I told the students that many of the companies they were looking to go to work with were asking the same type of questions.

I gave an example of a company that recently directed two recruiters to me. They had told the recruiters to ask me what type of person would be needed to fill the positions and to see if I knew of any viable candidates.

I thought this was a little strange. They didn’t ask me if I was interested in the positions, but they wanted me to help them understand the requirements and find people. Wasn’t I good enough to work for the company in one of the roles? But my favorite call so far has been the one where the recruiter called and told me that she had been hired to fill a Sr. Sustainability Director position. She wanted to know if I could tell her what that was. Continue reading

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Externalities and Sustainability

If you haven’t gotten your April issue of the Harvard Business Review, then go to your local news stand or book store and pick it up! Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby have done an excellent job of presenting an article on corporate responsibility that is based on business strategy that even the toughest business leader can appreciate.

The title of their article is “Leadership in the Age of Transparency“, not one mention of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, philanthropy or green. They cut straight to the point, “Leadership”, the place where organizations want their brand! How many times have you sat through a corporate meeting and heard “We will position ourselves as the leader withing our industry.” Continue reading

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The End of Sustainability? Part II

Thank you for all of the comments and emails. It seems that my last post, The End of Sustainability, contained something that many of you could relate with and have experienced in your careers. A good many of you wanted to know more. I was asked, “You only listed a few examples, could you give more examples of areas where I can look within my company?”

So, in this post we’ll go over a few and point you to other resources that you can use to help you spread sustainability throughout your organization.

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The End of Sustainability?

I was asked recently if this sustainability movement was over. I have to admit I was puzzled by the question. I asked my friend what he meant? He said, “You know, the leaked climate change emails, the Copenhagen meltdown,the head of the U.N. Climate Chief resigned, and BP, Caterpillar and ConocoPhillips not renewing their memberships in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. With all this bad news doesn’t that make you think that this sustainability thing has ran its course?”

That’s when it hit me. He thinks sustainability is only about climate change!

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Micro vs Macro Sustainability

Remember the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? That expression came to mind this past week during a discussion on sustainability.

I was having lunch with a colleague and she was saying that the Triple Bottom line should be described as “Profit, People and Planet”. I mentioned that it was most commonly referred to as “People, Planet and Profits”.

She said that we were saying the same thing, that it was just semantics and moved on to another topic. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I didn’t think we were really discussing semantics. Continue reading

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What is Biomimicry?

I was in a meeting recently and one of the designers in the room said “I think we should use the newest approach to design, biomimicry.” I almost fell out of my chair. “Newest approach?” This approach isn’t new. Da Vinci studied birds in flight to better understand how man could fly.

I didn’t say anything, and trust me, that took great restraint.  I caught myself and realized that with all of the recent “green” and “sustainability” buzz going around some people were just now getting exposed to this and other sustainable development concepts.

Which brings us to today’s blog, “What is Biomimicry?”.

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Confessions Of A Radical Industrialist, Ray Anderson

ray_anderson_au

In 1994, Interface founder and chairman Ray Anderson set an audacious goal for his commercial carpet company: to take nothing from the earth that can’t be replaced by the earth. Now, in the most inspiring business book of our time, Anderson leads the way forward and challenges all of industry to share that goal.

The Interface story is a compelling one: In 1994, making carpets was a toxic, petroleum-based process, releasing immense amounts of air and water pollution and creating tons of waste. Continue reading

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Gallo Blanco

galloblancoI’ve written about sustainability and its impacts for and on big business and large organizations in the past. I’ve tried to keep the topics focused on how sustainability can help them adjust or modify their policies, practices and procedures.

So, indulge me for a minute here. Too often we get caught up in the “Big Picture” of corporate activities and lose sight of the millions of little companies that are out there working every day to help us keep this economy turning.

On a recent business trip I stumbled on one such company, and it made me stop and think about the importance that these guys have on helping to create truly sustainable local communities and economies.

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Setting Sustainable Goals

goal_settingTell me if this sounds familiar. You’re gathered in a conference room, the senior leader in the room says that the purpose of this meeting is to establish your company’s environmental, sustainability, or recycling goals, pick your topic. Now here’s where it gets good. The meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes and she needs the goals for her meeting with the executives tomorrow.

Don’t laugh. I’ve been there. If you haven’t, good for you. You are one of the fortunate ones. I’m still surprised that after all this time we still have the mentality that goals can be pulled out of the air and then we act shocked when we are unable to accomplish the, often publicly, stated goals.

So, how do you go about establishing goals for your programs? Is their a better way? I think so and that’s what we are going to talk about. Continue reading

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How do you define waste?

WasteLow hanging fruit…you’ve heard it before. When you are trying to get your organization started down the sustainability path, consultants and authors tell you to reach for the low hanging fruit. They want you to succeed, so they point you in the direction of quick wins. For many of them your waste stream is one of the first places they encourage you to look, and by waste stream they are referring to what you place in a dumpster. They talk about examining what it is that you are placing into the dumpster. They want you to be able to identify the items that you are throwing away and re-think how they got there. This is something you should do, but lately I’ve had several companies remark when I was introduced to them as the guy that is going to help us identify waste reduction measures say, “Oh, you’re the guy who is going to start our recycling program.” In my head, I’m thinking, “Oh, if it were only that easy!”

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Speaking the language of Sustainability

apples_orangesOver and over I have the same discussion with sustainability professionals, they want to know what they can do to enhance their presentations to fully engage their listeners, to open their audience’s mind to the possibilities that exist. Many times when they have a chance to talk about what they were doing or what they were planning to do within their organization they felt as if their message and plans were falling on deaf ears. Their audience was constantly checking their blackberry’s or looking as if they wished they were in any place other than sitting in a room listening to him or her speak.

Sound familiar? Continue reading

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Sustainability, Know when to Call the Man.

auntbeaOne of my favorite television programs is the Andy Griffith Show, and one of my all time favorite episodes is “Bargain Day”, or as some refer to it, the “Call the Man” episode. In the episode Aunt Bee, searching for a bargain,  buys 150 pounds of meat from the new butcher in town only to have her freezer go on the fritz! I love this episode so much that I designed a training class around it.

So now you’re wondering how in the world does Andy Griffith fit into business, sustainability or strategy?!? Continue reading

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Sustainability – Linear versus Circular Economic Model

garbage canGrowing up in the United States I’ve heard America referred to as “The Land of Plenty” or “The Disposable Society”. The quote “Go West young man” was often said to me as a young man, maybe jokingly or perhaps they were serious, while I was wondering what to do as I grew up. (And before you email, yes, the quote first appeared as the title to the 1851, Terre Haute Express editorial written by Mr. Soule and is often credited to Mr. Greeley.)

These expressions implied to me that we were living in a limitless country. Free to use what we wanted, expand as we wanted with no thought to where the next supply of “stuff” was coming from. Continue reading

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There is no “Away”

streetsweeperWhen starting to look at using sustainability as a business strategy it is not surprising that many organizations first start looking at their waste processes. Continue reading

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The Triple Bottom Line

John ElkingtonIn 1994 John Elkington coined the term, “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL). He has written that he was looking for a new language to express the expansion of the environmental agenda that his company SustainAbility had been focused on. John felt that the social and economic dimensions that had been presented in the Brundltland Report needed to be addressed by his firm in order to affect real change.

TBL framework allows an organization to focus on not only the economic value they create, but also on the social and environmental value they create or decrease. Continue reading

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Sustainability Frameworks

naturalcapitalismOne of the questions that I like to ask when I’m working with a company on their sustainability program is “How do you define sustainability for your organization?” This is not meant to confuse or anger the VPs, Directors and Mangers in the room, even though it quite often does. Continue reading

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Greenwashing

greenwash“Green is the new black”, “It’s not easy being green” or “Clean and Green” take your pick. It seems like we have an abundant supply of green marketing slogans and they get the mainstream press. I guess it makes sense, they are marketing materials and companies are paying big bucks to get their message heard above everyone else’s. I think that this may also be one of the reasons why so many people only view sustainable development as a marketing activity. There is even a website that is dedicated to evaluating green advertising, greenwashingindex.com.

So, what is greenwashing? Continue reading

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Why Such a Fuss?

Herman Daly

Herman Daly

So, why all of the fuss now over this thing called sustainability? You hear it everywhere, people are talking about it at meetings and conferences are being held in its name. What was the tipping point that brought this concept to mainstream America. I’ve heard it described as the perfect storm; Katrina, Al Gore’s Oscar and then the Nobel Peace Prize.

This may have given the environmental issues of the planet press coverage, but what about the Social and the Financial aspects? What caused them to be pushed to the boardroom and news desk? Asked another way, have the Social and Financial aspects been pushed to the forefront? Continue reading

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Sustainability, a Competitive Business Strategy

strategyFor years we in the business world have had an adversarial relationship with the environment. Think about it, we even call it Environmental Compliance. Compliance, doesn’t that mean that we are meeting the established rules. We saw it as a cost of doing business, something that we had to do. We didn’t look at it as a possible area of differentiation, innovation or cost reduction. It was just a problem child that we had to deal with. Continue reading

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What is Sustainability?

Mark HarmonWhat is sustainability? That’s a question that I get asked over and over. When I’m asked that, I want to give them a good-old Jethro Gibbs whack to the back of their head. You know the one I’m talking about. Mark Harmon, NCIS, whacking Tony on the back of  his head whenever he says or does something stupid.

Yes, I know. I can’t walk around whacking people on the back of the head. Not really a sustainable activity for long-term employment.

So let’s start here: Continue reading

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Persuasive Sustainability

david

“If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” – David Ogilvy

Last week I was at a conference and I was asked what was one of the main things I would suggest that people do when they start talking about sustainability initiatives. I think I surprised everyone with my answer. I got the impression that they were looking for some deep insight that would part the murky sea of sustainability. I told the moderator that I would recommend that they talk about sustainability in the same language that their coworkers and managers used. Continue reading

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Seed of Sustainability, or Just a good memory

StorytellingOk, so what does a movie have to do with the “Seed of Sustainability”? That’s the question that I got after my last post. It is a simple answer really, Storytelling!

Remember, we had done the corporate speak, we had our crisp and clean PowerPoints and pages of statistics and we had gotten no where. What I had forgotten was that I still had to persuade the audience to allow me to move forward. I had to get them to relate to what I was telling them and to make my information their information. Continue reading

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Sustainability and Star Wars

So it begins...Thirty-two years ago today, Stars Wars was released. A generation would be exposed to a new type of motion picture and the seed of sustainability was born within me. The funny thing is, I just didn’t know it yet.

I know it sounds strange, and no I am not a Sci-fi fanatic. I was however one of hundreds that where waiting in the longest line I had every seen wrapped around the Bel-Air Cinema that wonderful summer night in Mobile, Alabama.

I have wondered how I could write about sustainability and how I could share the experiences I have had over the years working with waste minimization, environmental and social causes. Tonight as I clicked through the channels I stumbled on “Star Wars”, I stopped to watch and it hit me! This was the movie that contained the scene that I had used to finally win over executives at one of the largest retailers in America. Continue reading

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