December 20, 2012

This blog is moving to a new location (This location will hibernate...)

We've moved this blog to the Natural Logic web site. (And, for those who care about such things, from Movable Type to WordPress.)

You can now find it at http://www.NatLogic.com/blog/.

Please visit us there. You'll find all past posts (albeit with different URLs), and all new posts to come--including a major one in the next hour or two. I don't plan on making any more posts to this site.

If you've subscribed to this blog, please note that I'm in the process of transferring your subscription to the new site. (But I'm not sure the transfer is working, so if you don't get notice of another posting within the next 24 hours, I suggest you head over to http://www.NatLogic.com/blog and [re]subscribe directly.

Thanks!
Gil

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December 16, 2012

Metrics that Matter

La lutte continue. Without context, numbers are just data. With context, they have a chance of being information.

I fondly remember a talk by then EPA Administrator Steven Johnson some years ago. Last year, he bragged from the podium, we recycled 600,000 tons (or some large number) of municipal solid waste. He beamed. I fretted. Was that a lot, or a little? Don't know. Was it better than last year, or worse? Don't know. Have we learned anything. Clearly not. Accurate data that's absolutely useless. It's everywhere.

Same problem with graphs in newspapers -- even the venerable NY Times. You've seen it: a view of the top of a tall column chart, with the context of the full chart, so a 1% change looks like a 60% change. Sure, the detail's there in the legend for those who look, but who looks?

(I laid out some of the principles in 2008 in Environmental Quality Management: EcoMetrics: Integrating direct and indirect environmental costs and benefits into management information systems [924k PDF] and explored their application in 2004: Key sustainability KPIs: The simple, the sobering, the significant.)

Prompted by Sprint vs. AT&T: Dialing up the metrics that matter by Marc Gunther, and an ongoing conversation about "sustainability context" with Bill Baue, Mark McElroy, Allen White and others.

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November 22, 2012

Gratitude (a Thanksgiving meditation)

Be sure to think this day (every day?) about what you are thankful for. And who you are thankful for. And be sure to tell them.

Let me start: I'm thankful for you - friends, family, colleagues, coaches, mentors, teachers, guides, clients and readers. Dancers and party animals. Chefs and dinner partners. Poets and pundits (well, poets).

For the blaze of sunlight, and the web of life that coils sunlight into flowers and slugs, peacocks and lions, sharks and ants and symphonies.

For acceptance. And resistance. And compassion.

For obstacles. For abundant possibility.

For the infinite mystery at the heart of all being.

For my breath this day.

For the one breath. Of all life. Every day.

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November 5, 2012

My thinking about Prop 37 (GMO labeling). In case you were wondering.

[This post is by far the most liked & shared thing I've ever posted on Facebook. I'm happy to share it with you too. ]

One of my personal idiosyncrasies that that I prefer to actually read ballot initiatives for myself, rather than depend on the summaries and positions of either proponents or opponents. Oh, and that I tend not to like poorly drawn initiatives, even for causes I support.

I've finally read Prop 37 (California's genetically engineered food labeling initiative), which has been criticized by its opponents as being poorly drawn (among other things). I've got absolutely no problem with how the initiative is written, and support it fully. I hope you will too. Let's ensure our right to know what we put in our bodies.

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September 19, 2012

Going With The Flows (What Metabolism Shows)

Every business, regardless of sector-in fact every industry, process and human activity-can be characterized by the energy and materials that flow though that system. (Actually, energy flows; materials cycle. But we'll get back to that in a bit.)

Every business takes in only two things -- energy and materials -- and puts out only two things -- product and non-product.

For nearly 20 years, I've use this simple schema as the starting point for disclosing sustainability-linked business risk and opportunity, and for understanding how business processes work, how they add value, and how well they do that.

MetabAtom.gif

These four flows (and their sub-flows) can be used to characterize any enterprise at any scale - company, facility or process; region, city, community or household. Individually and in combination they provide the basis for selecting - and calculating - small sets of powerful, insightful performance metrics, including key productivity ratios like return on resource intensity, return on carbon, and the always sobering Throughput Pie. MetabAtom-Pie

Last year, I realized something new about this schema, based on a concept I learned years ago from Howard T. Odum: that every flow has an actual or imputed backflow. Energy flows in and money flows out. Materials flow in and money flows out. Product flows out and money flows in. NonProduct flows out and...wait a minute!...money flows out!

MMetabAtom-BackFlow.gif

This makes starkly visible the inescapable logic of zero waste. Not only does it make no sense to invest resources, capital and production capacity to produce stuff that adds no value to either customers or shareholders. It makes even less sense to spend more money to get rid of the stuff you've made that you can't sell. And it even more strongly welds together the sustainability imperative and the business imperative.

This year, as we've used the metabolic "atom" in the value leakage analyses that I described last month, we've added some additional flows to the basic model in an attempt to more fully represent the options available at each element in a value stream:
• the always degraded energy flows that leave a system, and that can potentially be cascaded to benefit lower intensity uses.
• the alternate disposition of material flows to reclamation (internal or external recycling) as well as their output as product or nonproduct.

MetabAtom-Enhanced.gif

These flows graphically summarize the options available to businesses that mind their metabolism.

Why is this important to you? Because it provides a simple template that enables your team and your stakeholders to build a common view of the physical reality of your business that will help you understand where you add value, where you leak value, and where you can capture new value. It's the basis for what I named "reality-based accounting" many years ago-and for the new ecological profit and loss statements generated last year by Puma (and pledged by 24 more companies at RIo+20!).

This [r]evolution has been a long time coming, and may take a long time to become the new standard of practice. But don't wait; put these perspectives into practice at your company. You may be very pleasantly surprised at the scale of the massive value that I predict you'll uncover.

(If you'd like to learn more about how to use this approach to disclose and add value for your company, call me and let's explore how to put "natural logic" to work for you!)

[Metabolism images © Natural Logic Inc. If the images don't appear in your browser, please see an earlier version of this article in Natural Logic's newsletter archives.]

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August 20, 2012

Is Your Value Stream Leaking?

Value stream mapping (thank you, Wikipedia) "is a lean manufacturing technique used to analyze and design the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer. At Toyota, where the technique originated, it is known as "material and information flow mapping." It can be applied to nearly any value chain."

And it's a powerful tool for systems design for sustainability, one which Natural Logic has been applying to great effect with a growing number of clients -- and one which can uncover the massive potential economic value of well-design sustainability strategies.

A typical value stream map "shows the current steps, delays, and information flows required to deliver the target product or service." A sustainability focused Value Stream Map also shows the energy and materials that flow into and out of each process along the way.

(Some of you may recognize here the "metabolic atom" that's been the kernel in our approach to ecometrics and sustainability indicators and our seminal sustainability dashboard software. I'll dive into that in more detail next time.)

A typical value stream map looks at which processes add value, and which don't. In our maps, we identify the value leakage at each stage -- the loss of physical materials and energy quality, as well as economic value, at each stage. These could include, for example, excess energy use and spend, insufficient product yield and excess non-product output, hazardous products or non-products, lost sales, unrecovered resources, and more -- anything that doesn't add value to customers, shareholders, stakeholders and/or the earth's living systems.
 
Then we quantify, prioritize and look for synergies -- the strategies and tactics, spanning everything from product design and manufacture to sales offerings and contract terms that can reduce or eliminate value leakage and, if the wind is right, generate substantial new value.

It's a new level of life cycle thinking that in conjunction with footprinting, life cycle assessment and appropriate querying of accounting and ERP systems can start to identify the scale of opportunity that could be represented by stopping those leaks. (In one instance, the value leakage was the same order of magnitude as the company's current revenues. Nothing quite like that to focus the executive mind! (Even without considering the unmonetized externalities that Puma and others are starting to capture with their ecological P&Ls.)

The value stream exercise also supports the selection of relevant performance metrics, and the development a of comprehensive strategic roadmap to guide your organization to capture all that potential value.

Of course this is easier said than done. It takes inspired leadership, an engaged multi-stakeholder team, and the experienced, integrative and, yes, provocative approach that we bring to all our engagements. I'll go into metabolic atoms in more detail next time. Meanwhile, call me if you'd like to explore how these approaches can help your company find out how much value you're leaking, and chart a course to capturing that value.

[This post originally appeared in News From Natural Logic, a more or less monthly newsletter from Natural Logic, Inc. You can subscribe to News From Natural Logic here, and subscribe to this blog using the RSS link at the upper right of this page.]

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July 4, 2012

My Summer Reading List

I'm deep into some of these, just begun on others, and re-reading a few. Many are by people who I am glad to call friends. All are worthy of your attention. (And in these days of online everything, there's still something fine about curling up with one of these analog, random access, feels so good in the hand, symbol carrying packets of coiled sunlight. And yes, I'm sure you can get 'em on your iPad or Kindle too. ;-)

The latest from ever-fresh and inventive John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility and Volans (and coiner of term "triple bottom line"), The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier tells the story of the the "inventors, entrepreneurs, intrepreneurs, investors, managers and educators who promote wealth creation while driving adverse environmental, social and economic impacts toward zero." While I'd argue that zero impact isn't a worthy enough goal compared to, say, enhancing human well being, and the regenerative capacity of the living systems that sustain the human economy (which John no doubt would agree with), this very creatively constructed book will challenge you to look beyond...

Winning the Story Wars is a marvelous and terribly important read from Jonah Sachs, the man who gave us the viral video hits The Story of Stuff, The Meatrix, and Grocery Store Wars. Subtitled "Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future," Story Wars uses the "hero's journey" -- the framework that Joseph Campbell asserted is at the heart of the core myths of most human cultures -- to encourage marketers and change agents (and those who are both) to "change a media landscape that has done great damage to people and our planet"... and show them how.

Many of you know that Buckminster Fuller has been one of my main inspirations and mentors in my 40 years in the sustainability revolution. In A Fuller View: Buckminster Fuller's Vision of Hope and Abundance for All, Steven Sieden has built a masterful, three-layered story: potent, prescient, insightful quotes from Bucky; rich context and exploration from Steven; and often personal essays from dozens of notables, from David McConville to Lynne Twist, who share their experience of the man. Other than Bucky's own Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, this is one of the more accessible introductions to this astonishingly creative "earthian."

If Bruce Piasecki's Doing More with Less: The New Way to Wealth borrows its title from Bucky's famous maxim, design goal and observation of the trend of technology, it draws its heart from Benjamin Franklin. A seasoned management consultant and head of AHC Group, Bruce sees the riches that frugality can grant (far deeper than "a penny saved is a penny earned") and shows a path to prosperity that is closely linked to purpose and meaning, and that nourishes both.

In The High-Purpose Company: The TRULY Responsible (and Highly Profitable) Firms That Are Changing Business Now, Christine Arena researches this "purpose" meme, examining 75 major companies to understand the relationship between purpose, responsibility and profitability. Founder of Aiko Agency (and who I'm proud to have on Natural Logic's board), Christine was one of the first to provide such an abundance of evidence for the insights and challenges that so many of us now bring to our corporate clients.

I only discovered The Ecology of Eden: An Inquiry into the Dream of Paradise and a New Vision of Our Role in Nature this year, and have no idea how this treasure eluded me since 1998. Evan Eisenberg (a scholar of philosophy, classics and biology who has been a music columnist, a synagogue cantor and a gardener for the NY City Parks Department) has done a remarkable job of weaving scientific, cultural, religious, political and artistic perspectives into a deep and deeply challenging, multi-eon exploration of the human dance between the Mountain and the Tower... or the place of wilderness and civilization... or the challenge of how to live wisely and well as humans in the living world. It's one of the richest works I've read on the essential questions that underlie all the work we all do.

And, if you'll permit me a little shameless self-promotion, I invite you to visit -- or re-visit -- my own first book, The Truth About Green Business. I like to think of it as a "green business for dummies" that's not for dummies -- simple, clear, accessible, bite-sized, and yet with depth and durability that make it value for the newbie and the seasoned executive alike. (I'm not re-reading it, but we are rolling out an eLearning suite based on it.)

So, a few new, and a few not so new. As the venerable Seth Godin wrote this morning, "A book like Permission Marketing could be updated weekly, in a vain attempt on my part to keep it shiny. But that makes no sense, as the ideas in it are important because they've been right for a decade, not because they're new."

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June 17, 2012

Good enough? Bold enough? Not enough?

[This post originally appeared in News From Natural Logic, a more or less monthly newsletter from Natural Logic, Inc. You can subscribe to News From Natural Logic here, and to this blog using the RSS link at the upper right of this page.]

Call it random, call it synchronous, call it selective awareness, but sometimes it seems the gems come in clusters. Some days the tweets just seem to set themselves up for a more meaningful cluster of retweets.

Lately, it's a series of events and encounters that have brought me back to first principles -- and to the question I often ask my clients: "What are you really here to do?"

Let me walk you through the events and then tell you -- in the next post -- where I wound up.

Hint: we're upping the ante.

How Good Is Good Enough?

Last month I spent two days with Dr Michael Braungart and a number of clients and allies of the Cradle To Cradle design process. Michael reminded us, as he always does, what a poor word "sustainability" is for the enterprise upon which we have all launched ourselves. "You wouldn't brag that your marriage was 'sustainable'," he declares. "How boring!" Nor is the common focus on making things less bad or slowing the rate of damage and decline a sufficiently compelling or meaningful goal -- compared to making things, well, good. And beautiful -- especially when you consider healthful functioning an aspect of beauty. What if, he asked, we came to see products than can cause harm to living things as fundamentally defective, of unacceptable quality?

Some of you may be old enough to remember when "safety" was considered a luxury, or a performance dimension to be traded off against cost and other factors. Or when "quality" goals had to be "balanced" and cost and other considerations. But Philip Crosby wrote Quality Is Free, Detroit learned from Japan, and production quality standards for automobiles and other manufactured goods rose worldwide, and all our expectations rose as well. What would happen in a world in which "environmental" quality was expected in much the same way?

Two weeks ago I shot a new video introduction for my coaching services, which I opened by saying "I've got to level with you: I'm not really interested in sustainability -- because we don't need to sustain things as they are. We need to create a new world..." [click for more]

The next day I made my twice a year visit to the Design Fellows program at California College of the Arts. My topic was "Design = Sustainability = Innovation." Design, I suggested, is the process of innovation in the context of specific constraints; the constraints that are selected (or ignored) in turn constrain -- and nurture -- the possibility of innovation. Since the constraints we set for "sustainable design" are of utmost importance, let's make it interesting: Reducing waste is no longer interesting; eliminating waste might be. Reducing toxics is no longer the cutting edge; eliminating toxics (or keeping them completely contained within "technical cycles") might be. "Sustainability" may not get at what we really mean; "regeneration" might get closer.

Last week, Barrett Brown and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens of MetaIntegral hosted 30 students from University of Victoria at Natural Logic's office, and Barrett got as close as anyone has since Bucky: "the ultimate flourishing of humans and nature." (It's not perfect, since it speaks of humans and nature as separate, and I don't think of them that way, but close enough -- and reminiscent of Bill McDonough's design challenge to "love all the children, of all species, for all time.")

Reminiscent, too, of Buckminster Fuller's commitment to "a world that works for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological defense, or the disadvantage of anyone" (which, as many of you know, has been a strategic beacon for me these last 40 years.) I stopped off last week (in a small detour from the Sustainable Brands '12 conference), to visit the Word Resources Simulation Center in San Diego, where, in an immersive, seven-big-screen planning center we brought some of Bucky's vision and legacy alive for the next generation of World Gamers.

And at SB'12, a surprising number of the main stage speakers continued the theme, challenging 1300 attendees from large and small brands, consultancies and NGOs to think bigger, bolder, deeper about what they are up to, about what they're trying to do. Companies as diverse as Chipotle, Clarke and Ford raised the bar, and raised it again. Chipotle providing the market pull to scale sustainable beef and pork production. Clarke rebranding from mosquito killers to environmental managers. Ford evolving from a car and truck manufacturer to a mobility company, now partnering with ZipCar, and committed to lowest CO2 emissions in every car category they compete in. (Not at the conference, but noteworthy in this dimension: British retailer Kingfisher, committing to "net positive," not less bad performance.)

I used the occasion to lead a panel (with Jeff Mendelsohn of New Leaf Paper and Bonnie Nixon of BonnEco) on the theme of "disruptive innovation," and the challenge of "Why -- and how -- to cannibalize your own business -- before someone else does."

Meanwhile, with all that percolating, we're finding that Natural Logic's clients having been coming to us with requests that are increasingly about systems design -- the complex task of reinventing everything: procurement and materials choices, design and production, sales and marketing systems, value propositions, business structures and compensation systems; engagement and learning ;and more. All together, all inter-operating, all essential. Its very, very hard work -- probably the hardest we've ever done. It's also uncovering more brand and business value than we've ever seen before.

[To be continued...]

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May 23, 2012

What Bucky said to me

R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER 3508 Market Street Philadelphia, Pa. 19104 (215) EV 7-2255 Cable: "BUCKY"

University Professor
Southern Illinois University

World Fellow in Residence
University of Pennsylvania
Bryn Mawr College
Haverford College
Swarthmore College
University City Science Center

March 1, 1974

Dear Gil Friend:

I think your project is worthwhile and earnestly undertaken. I wish you very greatest success.

Your success will integrate with other to the advantage of all humanity.

Thank you.

Faithfully yours,
R. Buckminster Fuller


Gil Friend
Communitas
1717 18th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009


[Now if I can just figure out how to upload the actual image...]

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CFOs & Sustainability - Again!

[This post originally appeared in News From Natural Logic, a more or less monthly newsletter from Natural Logic, Inc. You can subscribe to News From Natural Logic here, and to this blog using the RSS link at the upper right of this page.]

I moderated the panel on "CFOs and sustainability" at Silicon Valley Leadership Group's Sustainable Corporation conference May 2.

This is a matter of considerable interest. For the last few years, I've been writing about the indispensable role of CFOs in sustainability strategy, and the fact that CFOs are missing from the sustainability conversation at most companies -- either entirely absent, unreasonably skeptical or missing the tools they need to guide their companies to the best possible decisions on managing risk and harvesting value.

The buck stops right at the CFO's door. The CFO "owns" risk and value -- and in most companies, the understanding of "sustainability-related risk" is conducted with incorrectly drawn boundaries and flawed analytic models, and overlooks materially significant factors and hidden subsidies. If it is conducted at all. As a result, most companies will sub-optimize at best, leaving money on the table - and potentially violating fiduciary responsibility in the process - in completely avoidable ways.

In addition, CFOs also hold -- or potentially hold -- a weakly understood coordination role; according to Pritzker CFO Kevin Lynch, the CFO "touches more of the organization than any other executive, and serves as a balance point between short-term and long-term interests, between the innovators and stabilizers in an organization."

We had a panel of rockstars -- Chuck Boynton, EVP & CFO of SunPower Corporation, Mark Hawkins, EVP & CFO of Autodesk, and Lauralee Martin, EVP, COO & CFO, at Jones Lang LaSalle -- to provide a perspective from CFOs who get it, from companies that get it. A few highlights:

  • Hawkins defined sustainability as preserving value and eliminating waste. "If a person is not thinking that way, they're accepting false choices. There's a lot of opportunity -- top line gains, better customer experience -- to get get stuck in false choices."

  • Martin also sees great opportunity to create value, but observed that "you have to think the way CFOs think. We think dollars. Talk the way we talk -- and don't get confused by leading w passion and we get a lot done." Her case in point: JLL seeks to deliver its clients energy and carbon savings equivalent to 10 times JLL's own footprint. But wait, there's more, since that $125m saved for client cash flow translates into an additional $2b in capitalized real estate. People can get very excited about that."

  • Boynton talked of the need for metrics like direct ROI; "sometimes we'll require positive ROI, sometimes we'll accept negative with other substantial benefits. It's not purely financial; we live and breath sustainability as a core value, and there are impacts on employees & costumers that are very material & growing."

  • All agreed that it's essential to avoid the trap of short-term thinking that so many companies are driven into by them demands of Wall Street. Long term at the expense of the near term is no better of course; companies need both, just as people can see better with two eyes. JLL has handled this as well as any I've seen; they've stopped providing quarterly guidance, challenging Wall Street to judge them on performance, not prediction.

  • Much to my surprise and delight, each of them spoke about an animating purpose at each company that run far deeper than mere financial goals.

If you are interested in further exploring this intersection, please consider joining the small working group of CFOs we are convening to explore these issues. We'll meet monthly - and privately - over the next six months, and in a public colloquium in early 2012. If you'd like to be considered for participation - or if you would prefer a private, no obligation consultation on how these matters might impact your firm - please contact me immediately on 510-248-4940. CFOs only, please.

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April 22, 2012

A love story for Earth Day

Ecology is a love story. A play scripted between the sunlight’s tender dappling on the forest floor, the elegant drapery of the vines that climb a cliff-face, the tickle of the squirrels and birds holding society in the treetops, and the sultry sway of the purple kelp the otters cannot resist. The touch of life on life, met in the tension between unshaking trust and heartbreaking vulnerability is a kiss of light and love and heat, and earth. It is fierce and sweet, and rages with the same passion it births a wild rose.
- Nora Bateson

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April 4, 2012

Everything That Rises Must ConVERGE

The VERGE conference last month was a heady mix of both inspiration and rapidly accelerating best practice at the intersection of energy, buildings transportation and IT.

You can find complete coverage (and videos) at greenbiz.com. Here are some of the things that stood out for me -- not just because they're interesting (though they are), but because they also hold important strategic challenges for business -- perhaps your business.

Collaborative consumption is the leading meme taking on the ecological imperative but generally daunting business challenge that I've long talked of as "More value. Less stuff.":
- If, all things behind equal, more throughput means more impact; and
- if, all things being equal, more throughput means more profit; and
- if most businesses think their purpose is to maximize profit (It's not, but that's a story for another time); then
- how can a business make more money selling less stuff?

How? Some businesses are reinventing their value propositions around value delivered, not stuff delivered, while other businesses lose share in the face of that competition. Consider: the world's major hotel chains built global networks on the order of half a million beds in 50-70 years. The collaborative consumption networks of couchsurfing, AirBnB and their ilk built a network of 1.5 million beds in less than seven years.

"Unused value = Waste," according to Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh and host of meshing.it. LooseCubes & Honest Buildings arbitrage that unused capacity. Since we only use our cars (our second largest asset) eight percent of the time, they're perfect for sharing. Robin Chase of BuzzCar noted that the average ZipCar is used by 30-50 people; 40% go on to sell their own car or not buy another; all drive 80% less. Great news for ZipCar, WhipCar, BuzzCar, CityCarShare, GetAround, et al. Possibly not such good news for Detroit et al.

The interesting question of course: what are the potential risks and upsides for your business?

Energy was the thread running through everything at VERGE. ("Energy is eternal delight." Wm. Blake) Amory Lovins, ever the phrasemaker, made sure we understood that the future of energy is "Netted Islandable Microgrids." (the EnerNet? the InterGrid?) Drawing from his newest book, Reinventing Fire, he observed that we can triple the energy productivity of US buildings at a 33% internal rate of return, and double industrial productivity at a 21% IRR. His recommendation: "If you can't solve a problem, make it bigger." The secret: "Big savings can be cheaper than small savings, through integrative design." But does your CFO know that? [I still encounter companies that should know better referring to susty investments as costs, and cap costs as investments...]

Amory noted four key elements to energy futures: Policy. Design. Strategy. Technology. "Focus on outcomes, not motives," he advised. "And don't wait for Congress." To which I'll add this: while many people are frustrated by the energy policy logjam in Washington, others are investing now in the new energy economy, since it doesn't all depend on policy.

Jon Koomey of Stanford University predicted that we'll not only see more & better mobile computing, sensors, controls -- with customized data collection -- but we'll see more cool gear running on ambient energy flows. A lot of this is about changing people, according to Dave Pogue of CBRE. I'm not so sure. My mentor Bucky Fuller, used to advise "Don't try to change people; reform the environment." One of the most effective ways to do that, in my experience, is with well designed feedback, and Pogue seems to concur, noting, for example that separately metered buildings 21% more efficient than single meter buildings. In fact, according to IBM "building whisperer" & VP Industry Solutions Dave Bartlett, there's 40% savings to be gained by listening to buildings "holistically."

Many of these opportunities hinge on Real Time access to Open Data linked through Smart Grids. (Remember "Netted Islandable Microgrids?" That's what we're talking about.) "Decentralized or centralized? Steve Case pondered. "Distributed!" he responded. "Build speed and scale from excess capacity and common platforms." (An echo of Gansky's "Unused value = Waste.")

Tim O'Reilly, who observed that data science job growth is "going vertical," posed an equally important question, but left it unanswered: "How to ensure that the emerging global brain does good, is moral?" As my physics professors used to say, that exercise is left to you to work out.

Jennifer Pahlka's brilliant approach at Code for America is to see government as a platform; CFA recruits development teams that compete to work with participating cities on projects that "can benefit from web-based solutions." Brilliant, I say, because what is government, after all, if not us, all of us, working together to address our common concerns.

AMEE's Gavin Stark took the platform approach as well. His question: "How might we footprint everything on earth?" His approach: a common reference platform for energy and carbon data. This, I think, is where the action will increasing be, as companies like AMEE, Open Data Registry [disclosure: I chair the board] and others transcend the limits of massive data warehouses and onerous standards processes for the more powerful and agile worked of open, interoperable, real time data. (About which I'll have more to say at another time.)

In sum, Don Reed of PWC had it about right: "What's needed for sustainability success: systems mindsets, innovation processes, business model breakthroughs."

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April 1, 2012

If feedback loops are the basic unit in Universe...

If feedback loops are the basic unit in Universe, how can the variety of ways those loops can be arranged and juxtaposed give rise to the infinite forms of varied vitality and emergence?

[Originally blogged 2/15/11, but w/o a title. Nice to stumble across some other juicy posts from that month...]

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March 26, 2012

How Vulnerable Are You? Then Get Into Action!

No, I don't mean the "sensitive guy" thing. I mean, "How vulnerable is your company to the risks associated with your sustainability strategy?" -- or, more to the point, that strategy's gaps, shallowness or lack of integration with your business.

Consider this list -- which is either on your CFO's mind, orshouldbe:

How much are you wasting on materials, energy, labor, occupancy, management and opportunity that wind up as non-product -- the stuff you produce that you ship to a smokestack, sewer line, landfill or hazardous waste site, instead of to a customer? InterfaceFlor found nearly half-a-billion dollars in extra profitby asking that question. How does your Product-To-NonProduct Ratio compare with your competitors'? Don't know? You should.

What's your financial risk in a possible future in which there's aprice on carbon? (As with all risk analysis, you have to consider the potential scale of the risk as well as its likelihood.) Riskmetric's (now part ofMSCI) Carbon Beta calculates that monetized risk, divides it by EBITDA, and compares that ratio between companies in a sector, and between sectors. The gap can be 10:1 or more. Would you consider that "material"?

What's your financial risk in a possible future in which there's a price on water, biodiversity, and other "nature's services"(as well as carbon)? Puma's Ecological P&L was the first to attempt this analysis, and estimated a potential impact equivalent to nearly 50% of net income. How exposed would your company be?

What's your most important asset? Most of you are smart enough to say "people" -- but where are people on your financial statements? R. Paul Herman of HIP Investor Inc has discovered a handful of companies in India -- from infosystems to oil & gas -- that account for human capital as an asset, not a liability, and calculate Return on Human Capital. Yet no company in the US or Europe reports this metric. Will you be the first -- and gain the acclaim?

How much of your business depends on public subsidies? Yes, I know that one man's subsidy is another's social investment, and I'm not arguing that all subsidies should go away (though I would say that public subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries have long outlived their societal benefit) -- but what if they did? What impact could that have on your business? How much are you investing in eliminating your dependence on subsidies vs lobbying to preserve or expand them?

The list could go on -- license to operate, brand/reputation risk, resilience, just to name a few. (And I'll address those another time) But it's probably sufficient to get your juices flowing -- to recognize that there is significant business value on the table here, that can either make you a lot of money, or cost you a lot of money.

Don't you owe it to your management, your shareholders and yourself to consider the bottom line impacts of these all-too-plausible possibilities?

Some of the links I've offered above can help you understand these issues, and perhaps help you begin to address them. None can give you the comprehensive, integrated, rigorous, business-based approach you needfor dealing with them.

We can. That's what we do.

How?

  • Full Cycle Sustainability engagements that help you design, implement and measure profitable sustainability strategies.
  • Executive Coaching that helps you elevate and accelerate your personal & corporate sustainability commitments. 
  • On-demand eLearning that gets your entire organization engaged, aligned and effective.
In the words of one of our recent clients,"Natural Logic takes complex problems and makes them simple!"-- so they can actually get implemented, effectively and profitably.

(This post originally appeared in Natural Logic's monthly newsletter. For a free subscription, click here and enter your email and preferences in the form. (Our privacy policy: no one gets your data. Period.)

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February 22, 2012

Here's what I don't understand about Gleick-gate

Here's what I don't understand about Gleick-gate.

(See Romm on Revkin on Gleick on Crossing the Line as Civilization Implodes, and Revkin response, and DeSmogBlog's dissection the of Heartland Climate Strategy that they say shows it's no fake )

Was his "unethical" act that he pretended to be a specific person with an established relationship with Heartland? (Which I'll concede was both duplicitious to Heartland and exploitative of that person.) Or that he pretended to be "not Peter Gleick"? (Which I'm having a hard time distinguishing from a journalist going undercover, or 60 Minutes sending a hidden camera into a doctor's office or auto repair shop to capture and expose fraud.)

Perhaps someone can explain?

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