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

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

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

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

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

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