31 July 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Games for Health Competition

I've been interested in the concept of using video games to explore solutions to social problems since the mid-90s, when some colleagues and I were exploring ways to use video games to do scenario thinking around the challenges of biodiversity conservation and complex planning.

Games for Change, led by Suzanne Seggerman, is one of the innovators in this space that has become a leader in expanding the platforms into a variety of social arenas, from education to climate change. They have their own (or associated?) competition happening: Games for Health.

Now Changemakers, an initiative of Ashoka, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is seeking creative solutions that merge computer and video games with health and health care.

Why Games Matter: A Prescription for Improving Health and Health Care is a new competition designed to attract game developers from around the world into this emerging area.

All competition finalists will go to Baltimore, Maryland in May 2008, to present at the Changemakers Change Summit held in conjunction with the RWJF-sponsored "Games for Health" Conference.

Submit your entry by September 26, 2007 3:00 pm EST (21:00 GMT) (Requires sign-up.)

Read the current entries: Games for Health

(Disclaimer: While I am joining Ashoka in September, I have no direct affiliation with Changemakers.net or its programs.)

30 July 2007

Clean Tech: The Clean Tech Revolution, Reviewed

"Remember President Jimmy Carter by the fireside in his cardigan sweater in 1978, urging Americans to turn down their thermostats?" asks Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder in Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity, published last month by Collins. "Wipe that image from your memory banks."

Today's clean tech is not about "cutting back and 'going without'," but about "doing everything we already do, but doing it cleaner, smarter, better," argue the authors, who also write the popular Clean Edge web site and manage the leading research and publishing firm of the same name. They argue that this revolution is less about going green than about building the biggest potential multi-billion dollar industry on the horizon.

The book is a resource for gap investors (if you're not into clean tech already, you're behind the curve), potential entrepreneurs, recent business school grads, and consumers who want a quick study of what's been going on in this space.

While the audience is broad, Pernick and Wilder do a good job explaining the basics and setting the stage for what they see as the most promising ideas and businesses out there.

The trouble with a book like this, however, is that the industry is moving at the light speed and printer's ink still runs slow as molasses. The clean tech landscape is changing so fast that a traditional book quickly goes out of date. The authors' Clean Edge and Clean Tech Revolution sites, along with Tyler Hamilton's Clean Break blog, will continue to be essential. They are closely watching this space and have learned how to spot the trends and pitfalls.

Pernick and Wilder have an easy, engaging style that has adapted well from web to print. While at times it seems their enthusiasm for this space gets the better of them -- my "booster" alarm went off more than once -- in the end, the book is well organized and useful for its insights.

The various sectors in the clean tech space -- wind, solar, biofuels, etc. -- are given their own chapters and companies to watch are listed at the end of each, which proves a handy reference.

In addition, the authors identify what they see as "Breakthrough Opportunities" throughout, such as "Building-integrated Wind," "Integrated Photovoltaics," "LED Lighting," and "Automated Meter Readers." And each chapter ends with a consumer-focused sidebar highlighting a couple of next stage products or services to watch.

"We'll look back at the beginning of the 21st Century and see it as the tipping point for clean technology," the authors write Let's hope the authors are right.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a primer on the clean tech space, look no further than Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder's Clean Tech Revolution.

26 July 2007

Innovation: Worldmapper Ecological Footprint Map

Worldmapper, a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest, has developed an "ecological footprint" map showing the area needed to support a population’s lifestyle.

Variables include consumption of food, fuel, wood, and fibers. Pollution, such as carbon dioxide emissions, is also counted as part of the footprint.

No surprises here: The U.S., China, and India have the largest ecological footprints.

Worldmapper offers a caveat: "Without knowing population size we cannot understand what this means about individuals’ ecological demands. Large populations live in China and India. In both territories resource use is below the world average. The per person footprint in the United States is almost five times the world average, and almost ten times what would be sustainable."

Check it out: Worldmapper Ecological Footprint

Also, there are 366 maps to choose from...have fun, poke around...check out the Botanical Gardens map or the map of Population or Access to Electricity.

The world as you've never seen it before, indeed.

24 July 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: Moving from Dialogue to Action, Part Three

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you may have noted a few recent references to Ashoka. I’m about to move from The Nature Conservancy, where I’ve spent the past 15 years (read my reflections on that anniversary from last month: Conservation Mission Success), to Ashoka, the global association of leading social entrepreneurs.

Ashoka was named for the Indian leader who unified the subcontinent in the 3rd century BC. He renounced violence and dedicated his life to social welfare and economic development. The organization was founded in 1980 by Bill Drayton.

Ashoka was built on the simple premise that the most effective way to promote positive social change is to invest in social entrepreneurs, individuals who are devising innovative solutions to the most pressing social issues of the day.

For the past few years I’ve been tracking social entrepreneurs and the growth of this approach to social change. Indeed, it’s one of four focus areas for The Green Skeptic. A year ago, I wrote about the need to move from Dialogue to Action and proposed to step up my efforts to promote social entrepreneurs on this blog. So, now I'm going to take more direct action.

I’m convinced social entrepreneurism is the next big thing: mobilizing individuals with system-changing solutions for the world's most urgent social problems.

There's still a strong environmental component to my interests, obviously; but this move allows me to expand my impact in a more triple-bottom line fashion: economic, environmental, and social.

I’ve also been exploring some of my own ideas for potentially systems-changing action on climate change and energy distribution. Ashoka is the right place for me to explore these ideas for tackling climate change impacts on the poorest of the poor through small-scale, distributed alternative energy options.

It’s a bittersweet farewell, as you may imagine; sort of like leaving home. The Conservancy’s mission is in my DNA, however. I will continue to stay in touch with the Conservancy and many of my colleagues there.

And in some ways, there is a symbolic continuity in this natural growth move for me: I’m trading TNC’s oak leaf logo for Ashoka’s oak tree logo.

Both organizations are dedicated to “innovative solutions that are sustainable and replicable, both nationally and globally.” Ashoka is built upon the idea that individuals can effect social change by being empowered to act at the local level while promoting social change on a global scale.

I’ll be joining Ashoka after Labor Day and will keep you posted on this and other developments in the social entrepreneur space here on The Green Skeptic.

23 July 2007

Global Climate Change: TNC's Bill Stanley in "Plenty"

My Nature Conservancy buddy Bill Stanley is one of the smartest climate guys I know. Now he's been featured in Plenty magazine (love their tag line: "It's Easy Being Green") in an interview following on his recent bicycle trip across Montana, a kind of working vacation that allowed Bill to take the climate change pulse of real people.

Along the way, he explains why the Conservancy is focused on climate change and what they are doing about it.

And, while you're at it, check out the Conservancy's Climate Change calculator, recently featured on NBC's Today Show.

Read the interview: Plenty of Bill

The Top 12 Hottest Environmental Issues

I'm a solutions guy and have started to swear off the moaning, groaning, and hand-wringing most greenies get mired in. (Did someone say Henny Penny?) Kevin Bryan of the Meridian Institute and I pushed hard to make the recent ELP/NJIT climate conference be focused on solutions. It was a great success and (almost) everyone felt hopeful coming out if it. I know I did.

But when a colleague asked me for a list of "the 12 hottest environmental, conservation and sustainability issues facing our planet today," I felt obliged to answer.

Here is my list, which was off the top of my head this afternoon, not necessarily in order of importance (other than climate change, which affects or exacerbates all of the others):

1. Climate Change (the uber issue).
2. Clean fresh water (for drinking, industry, energy, pharmaceuticals, technology).
3. Deforestation, especially in tropics.
4. Rising sea levels and warming ocean waters.
5. Collapsing fisheries and destructive fishing practices.
6. Energy (continued dependence on fossil fuels and switching to alternative resources).
7. Diminishing connection and access to nature among children ("Nature Deficit Disorder").
8. Poverty, terrorism and environmental refugees.
9. Maritime safety and pollution.
10. Biodiversity and ecosystem loss and degradation.
11. Agriculture and food security.
12. Global infectious diseases and vector-borne disease proliferation.

Surprising what remains from a little over a year ago -- and what's changed. Here's my last post on the subject, from Earth Day 2006: My 10 Thoughts for Earth Day.

Wish I could Plexo this so you could vote on each and move them up and down. But until then, I'd like to know what you think -- all of these are open for discussion.

Tell me what you think.

Global Climate Change: Bush Weighing Emissions Caps

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that George Bush and other top officials from his administration, including Treasury Secretary Henry "Hank" Paulson, are exploring a range of options to address climate change. These options may, according the WSJ article by John D. McKinnon, include "some form of economy-wide emissions caps."

The administration has long been opposed to caps, which helped lead to its position on the Kyoto Protocol, citing their opinion that emissions limits would hurt the U.S. economy while giving greater emissions freedom to developing powerhouses such as China and India.

Mr. Bush and his administration seem to be coming around. In May, the President promised to seek an agreement on greenhouse gas reductions on the international stage. Increasing pressure from industry, Congress, and pending international negotiations may be behind the conversion, along with growing concern about what some see as the inevitably of a cap-and-trade system.

Read the full article (registration may be required): WSJ Bush Cap

19 July 2007

Social Entrepreneurs: TOMS Shoes - Buy One Pair, Give a Kid Some Shoes

The other day, Seth Godin pointed us to TOMS Shoes, an innovative shoe company with a social cause: Buy One Get One

“Inspired by a traditional Argentine shoe and challenged by continent’s poverty and heath issues, I created TOMS with a singular mission: To make life more comfortable,” says Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS "Shoes for Tomorrow."

For every TOMS shoe sold, the company sends a pair to a child in need. It's that simple.

TOMS was born in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie out of a commitment to produce stylish, comfortable, and practical footwear while improving the lives of children around the world.

Available in eighteen colors and combinations for both men and women, TOMS debut collection is inspired by Alpargatas, the trusted utility shoe of Argentine workers.

“I was overwhelmed by the spirit of the South American people, especially those who had so little,” Mycoskie says. “And I was instantly struck with the desire – the responsibility – to do more.”

The shoes are composed of high quality, durable materials including lightweight, breathable canvas, resilient soles and soft leather in soles for maximum comfort.

After losing on the reality show, "The Amazing Race," Blake Mycoskie "put his life on hold and took a well deserved extended vacation," according to a press release on TOMS web site. A whirlwind tour of South America ended in Argentina, where Mycoskie "immersed himself in Argentine culture: sailing, tango, competitive polo. Nice life.

But Mycoskie soon "became aware of the difficulties of the impoverished people in Argentina. He was challenged emotionally as he visited villages without fresh water and where few, if any, of the children had shoes. The lack of basic needs contributed to many health issues, infections, and in the most extreme circumstances, even death."

So, he came up with the idea to found a shoe company and give back by sending shoes to children from families who can't afford them. Last October, he returned with a bunch of volunteers to distribute 10,000 pairs of shoes.

Check out TOMS Shoes, enter their "design a shoe" contest, and buy a pair online at: TOMS Shoes

More on Blake from TIME Magazine.

And an interview: Quick Stop Questions

18 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Business Leaders Call for Action

According to an article by Scott Malone at Reuters, "a major U.S. industry body said on Tuesday that human activity is changing the Earth's climate and urged Washington to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationwide.

"But the Business Roundtable, representing 160 of the largest U.S. companies with $4.5 trillion in combined revenue, stopped short of advocating a specific policy to accomplish that, saying its members did not yet agree on methods.

"'The thinking of U.S. CEOs on climate change is evolving significantly,' said Charles Holliday, chairman and chief executive of U.S. chemicals group DuPont, and a Roundtable member. 'A growing number of CEOs view it as a major issue for their companies.'

"In recent years, corporate America has dropped arguments that there is no proof human activity causes warmer patterns across the world, putting some business executives at odds with the Bush administration which rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the main U.N. plan until 2012 for curbing greenhouse gases.

"Many scientists say rising emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, are linked to rising world temperatures. Many fear the warming trend could lead to more droughts, floods, heat waves and more powerful storms.

"'Some of our members like the idea of a cap-and-trade,' said John Castellani, president of the Washington-based organization, referring to programs in which companies could buy and sell the right to emit carbon dioxide.

"'Some members like a tax approach, we don't know which works best. So at this point we're calling for flexibility,' Castellani said in a telephone interview.

"The Roundtable's members include some of the biggest names in U.S. business, such as General Electric Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and General Motors Corp.

"Environmental group the Sierra Club dismissed the Roundtable's statement as an attempt to appear environmentally sensitive while actually seeking to ensure any new regulations accommodate its members.

"'Businesses understand that any regulation that is going to pass this Congress and get signed by this president is going to be something very weak,' said Sierra spokesman Josh Dorner. 'It's no coincidence that a lot of huge emitters are tripping over themselves to call for some action on climate change.'"

Read More: Business Roundtable Climate Action

17 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Live Earth Poll Results Are In!

Readers have spoken! The results of my Live Earth Poll are in:

I asked, "Do you think Live Earth was a Success?"

70% of you thought that it was "Great entertainment, but won't move the needle."

The rest of the votes weresplit evenly between

"Dude, awesome success!" (10%)

"I'm blowing up my Hummer now." (10%)

and, sadly,

"What's Live Earth?" (10%)

One reader suggested an alternative question about "waiting for my neighbor to blow up his Hummer."

Thank you all for standing up and being counted. Look for more polls in the future on The Green Skeptic!

16 July 2007

Microfinance: Does Microfinance Really Miss Its Mark?

"Are people going to be better off sitting all day in a pineapple canning factory?" asks Liam Collins of Green Microfinance, LLC, in response to my questions about Aneel Karnani's article in this summer's Stanford Social Innovation Review, "Microfinance Misses Its Mark."

"Not everyone is," Collins asserts. "And those of us who aren't deserve access to capital in order to pursue our dreams no matter how big or micro they may be."

Karnani, professor of strategy at the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business, examines some of the failures of microfinance to argue that creating jobs not self-employment is the best way to alleviate poverty.

Criticism of microfinance is not new. The debate has been going on for decades within the development community. And no doubt some of the criticisms, especially about charging high interest rates to poor customers and questions about tracking and reporting loan repayment rates, are valid.

But is the question of scale missing the point?

David Bornstein, author of The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank, writes, "The most common criticism aimed at the bank was that its loans were used primarily for small-scale, low-yielding activities that would ultimately lead to diminishing returns for villagers...borrowers were not 'scaling up' their activities."

Karnani suggests that funders should "reallocate their resources and energies away from microfinance and into supporting larger enterprises in labor intensive industries."

"A surer way to end poverty is to create jobs and to increase worker productivity, rather than turning to microfinance," Karnani posits.

Karnani makes some broad claims, but I'm not convinced he's made his argument.

For instance, he claims that the impact of microfinance on women may be overblown. "Overall," Karnani writes, "microcredit does empower women, but only in noneconomic ways."

But, as Bornstein notes in The Price of a Dream self-employment is advantageous because it brings "women into the income stream without the usual sacrifices required under wage-employment situations."

Karnani argues that creating jobs offers a better solution to alleviating poverty, illustrating "two alternative scenarios: (1) A microfinancier lends US$200 to each of 500 women so that each can buy a sewing machine and set up her own sewing microenterprise, or (2) a traditional financier lends $100,000 to one savvy entrepreneur and helps her set up a garment manufacturing business that employees 500 people."

I have concerns about these solutions, however. Is a wage-earner really better off than the independent entrepreneur? What happens when the woman can't show up for work because of a family illness or medical emergency? What happens to her spot on the assembly line when she must stay away from her job to tend to an issue at home? Will she need a union to help her keep her job? What about building equity versus the stability of a job in a factory?

Collins, who has over a decade of experience in development and microfinance in five continents, likens microfinance to the mortgage industry in the United States.

"Wouldn't it be easier for banks to give loans to large corporations to buy houses and then rent them out," Collins offers. "Instead we have an economy that makes getting a loan for a home easy for a large segment of the population."

For Collins, the debate really goes deeper, into economic theory. It's about "keeping things small [and] local, taking advantage of comparative advantage versus large, economies of scale and protecting industry through unfair trade practices."

So, does microfinance miss its mark? The jury is out.

As I was preparing this post over the past few weeks, I sought comments from Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and others from Grameen. They were preparing their own official response on Karnani's article and were unable to provide comments in a timely fashion. (I may continue this thread in future posts.)

I think it is safe to say that microfinance is a flawed system, but one of many effective, direct responses to help alleviate poverty. And it's too soon to be tolling the death knell for what is more than just an economic movement, but a social one as well.

"It is easier to give larger loans to larger companies to create jobs," Collins notes, asking, "does this mean a better quality of life?"

12 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Seizing the Day on Climate Change

What do we need to do to take action on climate change in the current climate of heightened awareness? A session I organized at the ELP/NJIT Climate Change Conference, "Emerging Leaders, Emerging Solutions" tried to address that question.

The panel, "Seizing the Day: What We Need to Do to Take Advantage of Climate Change Awareness and Move to Action," fostered a robust conversation moderated by Eugene Linden, whose book Winds of Change is one of two essential books on the issue (the other is Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers).

Baruch Fischhoff from Carnegie Mellon kicked off our discussion after Eugene's insightful remarks. He identified a clear need for more social science research on the issue and its frame. He also reminded us that it is more difficult to achieve cognitive mastery over the "solution space" than the awareness of the problem. In addition, I found his remarks on the personal nature of choice to take action very insightful, as was his reminder that if people feel they are being manipulated or taken advantage of awareness of the issue may be hard to sustain.

Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate.org suggested that we need to pay attention to the way the issue is framed and avoid allowing the frame to be changed from a science discussion to a "freedom of speech issue." This was one of a number of valuable insights Gavin offered from the trenches of the science "debate."

Trina Chattoraj Mallik of The Climate Group offered her perspective on the nature of conversations and innovative solutions coming out of the corporate sector. Especially valuable were her insights on how corporations are now viewing this issue as a strategic growth opportunity and the importance that will play in the future.

Gary Guzy from Marsh took a look back at the "radical enterprise" of "environmental and public health protection," drawing on his experience at the EPA under Clinton and his coming of age during the era of proliferation of important protections and laws. He also took stock of the corporate environment where the climate change has moved from compliance issue to a C-suite opportunity.

Finally, Jacky Grimshaw highlighted the impacts at the municipal and national level as cities and communities seek to set baseline data to measure progress on reductions. In particular, the Center for Neighborhood Technology's efforts to develop technology to help cities collect and track their data.

The bottom line? We need a variety of approaches from a variety of sectors and partnerships to define and implement solutions, we need to demonstrate how choices don't have to be onerous, and we need a more scientific approach to how we make choices about solutions for which we need more research and less intuition.

11 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Emerging Leaders, Emerging Solutions Conference, Day One - The Debate About Carbon Trading

Day One of the ELP/NJIT "Emerging Leaders, Emerging Solutions" Climate Change Conference, for which I served on the planning committee. After the initial worry over whether all the panelists would show up for my morning plenary, "Seizing the Day: What We Need to Do to Take Advantage of Climate Change Awareness and Move to Action," and a fire alarm bringing the Q&A to an abrupt end, the day settled into a stimulating series of dialogues. (More specifically on my panel in later post.)

I'm particularly interested in how business and market-based solutions can be applied to address climate change, including such mechanisms as clean tech investments, innovative financing such as green mortgages, alternative energy credits, and energy efficiency.

But the liveliest discussion was around carbon trading and carbon offsets, as Professor Michael Dorsey of Dartmouth squared off with Neil Cohn and Eric Carlson, of Natsource and Carbonfund.org, respectively, on the issue of whether trading and offsets are flawed, failing, or just might solve the climate crisis. While the debate was lively and entertaining, it seemed Dorsey took it to an unfortunate personal level, which degenerated into a "he said, he said" debate, with Cohn and Carlson defending their body of work and attacking Dorsey for calling it into question. (It got pretty nasty.)

I love healthy debate. And, as readers will know from my questioning of the Live Earth concerts, I don't believe that questioning the tactic is the same as attacking the goal. Dorsey, who offered his criticism of the EU program earlier this year in the LA Times has some valid points, including the need for what he called a "Carbon Rescue Fund," which would tax key sectors. And there is no question that cap and trade is flawed. It needs better and consistent regulation (although I'm not convinced the UN is the best entity to serve that purpose) and more rigorous standards for baseline data.

I also don't necessarily agree with Carlson who said that 2-3 million people buying nothing but green power can change the marketplace, change how Wall Street operates and solve climate change.

For this dialogue, however, I would have preferred that the group move quickly from a debate about failure and accusations of fraud to what can be done to improve the system, make it better, and ensure the projects funded by offsets are community based and consider impacts on local people. In short, to make it work.

09 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Take My "Live Earth" Poll

Do you think "Live Earth" was a success? Take my new poll and weigh in. See sidebar under My Twitter at right...

Social Entrepreneurs: Social Venture Network Innovation Awards

Think you've got an idea that will change the way the world does business? Social Venture Network wants to hear about it -- they may even want to fund it.

They've created the Social Venture Network Innovation Awards. Award recipients will be selected through a new contest: "Imagine What's Next: Ideas that Will Change the Way the World Does Business."

Their goal is to "empower the leaders of emerging enterprises to benefit from SVN's network and resources, connect with our highly accomplished members, and elevate their impact at work and throughout the world."

To qualify, applicants must currently hold positions as leaders (CEOs, executive directors, founders, or equivalent) of a business or nonprofit based in the United States or Canada (excluding Quebec);

The new idea being entered into the contest should have been implemented (or started being implemented) less than five years ago;

The idea must have the potential for creating a positive social impact on the business sector.

Read more about it and download an application here: SVN Innovation Awards

But hurry, deadline for entries is 15 July!

06 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Fuzzy Math? Al Gore on "The Big Idea"

Al Gore appeared on Donnie Deutsch's "The Big Idea" last night to promote tomorrow's "Live Earth" concerts. He was passionate, funny, and direct. (Where was that conviction 7 years ago?)

Does anyone know whether Al's answer to Donnie's question about the human costs was accurate? He said "A one meter rise in sea level will create 100 million climate refugees."

I'm not in a place where I can confirm or check his math, but it seems worth checking...can anyone confirm?

04 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Why Can't I Get Excited About "Live Earth"?

Two summers ago I was bemoaning the fact that the environment wasn't cool, not as cool as "Rock Star," the reality show to pick the new lead singer for the band INXS. Now that the environment is hot, especially climate change, why can't I get excited about "Live Earth" the first global concert for Planet Earth?

The 24-hour, 7-continent concert series taking place on 7/7/07 will "bring together more than 100 music artists and 2 billion people to trigger a global movement to solve the climate crisis."

I hate to be a party pooper, but it just feels like the "Concert for" format is tired and distracting. Make no mistake, there's some awesome artists performing this Saturday and if I had tickets I'd be more excited. Sure I can listen on XM satellite radio or watch on one of the various outlets. Some of the bands may actually bring their best chops.

But what then? It seems like ever since George Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" over 30 years ago, holding concerts is the best response to crises we can muster.

The sponsors suggest this will be part of a year-long campaign to focus on solutions to the climate crisis. That remains to be seen. Thus far, I've heard one of the sponsors say they want to create a pledge that partners, supporters, and participants will sign onto. Great. Another proclamation.

If that's all the "Live Earth" concerts bring us, then this is just another exercise in hot air.

What we need now is to focus on solutions -- and quick. We don't need more awareness building, we need investments in innovative solutions. The time to act is now. Let's save the party for after we solve this problem.