10 September 2019

Today is Pub Day for My New Book, FALLING UP: A Memoir of Second Chances

"Steve Jobs is dead," I said.

So begins my new book, Falling Up: A Memoir of Second Chances, which drops today from Homebound Publications as part of their Little Bound Book Essay Series.

When I spoke those words, I was speaking to an audience at the SXSW Eco festival on that fateful morning in October 2011. Jobs had just died and many in the crowd had not heard the news. He was fifty six. (Readers of this blog may recall I wrote about it here and here and here back in 2011.)

"Fifty-six," I write in the book. "As I stood on the stage that October morning in 2011, a couple of years shy of fifty myself, I couldn't help thinking--as perhaps many in the room were thinking, too, in the wake of the example of Jobs--what have I done with my life?"

(You can read more from the opening of the book here.)

Falling Up, my most personal book to date, tells the story of several "second chances" I've had in my life, starting with a fall at Letchworth Gorge as a teenager in upstate New York through my most recent change of life, leaving EY after my job was eliminated despite the successful launch of a global technology-as-a-service solution that I led.

Along the way, I explore my original second chance in the wake of that fall in the gorge, my pursuit of art and writing throughout my life, learning to experience nature through the eyes of my children, as well as the story of several entrepreneurial endeavors--successes and failures--and, finally, how I found real and lasting love late in life and learned to embrace it.

Falling Up is about the struggle to become authentic, vulnerable, purpose-driven man in the 21st century and, ultimately, about making one's dream a reality.

Mark Tercek, the former CEO of The Nature Conservancy--an organization for which I worked over fifteen years and that serves as part of the backdrop for several stories in the memoir--called the book, "An inspiring read for anyone seeking meaning in their work or in their life."

I hope my little book--only 84 pages and around 10,000 words--lives up to the promise of that advance support and that it helps readers find a way to "fall up" in their own lives.

You can order the book directly from my publisher, Homebound Publications, or through Amazon, and wherever books are sold.

And if you do, please let me know what you think of Falling Up and share your own story of your second chances.

27 June 2017

How My Simple Purpose Statement Stays Fresh [Hint: It's Real]

My sons, Jasper & Walker, in Alaska, July 2008
“My goal is to catalyze innovation and investments that generate a new prosperity by improving our world, sustaining our environment, and generating profits.”

These words are posted at the very top of my LinkedIn profile and, come to think of it, these same words appear on the top of my resume as well. 

Yesterday, a new contact on the site noticed my words and commented on it, wanting to hear more. That got me thinking about its origins and relevance.

I remember writing this goal statement twenty years ago in a workshop led by one of my mentors, the consultant and philanthropy guru Simone Joyaux. I lived in Alaska, where I worked for The Nature Conservancy, and my first son had just been born. I sat on the board of a professional association there and we invited Simone to speak at our annual conference.

Envision the world you want to live in and the impact you want to have, Simone instructed us. Then think of your goal – in life, work or life and work – and how you might achieve that vision.

This is what I came up with, “to catalyze innovation and investments that generate a new prosperity by improving our world, sustaining our environment, and generating profits.”

I don’t remember editing it much after putting it to paper. Perhaps I tweaked it a little and smoothed out any rough edges, but it’s pretty much intact. And it stuck.

Every few years I revisit this goal statement, taking a fresh look. Should I rewrite it? Does it need updating? The goal is twenty years old. Does it still express who I want to be in the world?

Reviewing this purpose, however, I always end up recommitting to it. It’s still my goal, and has been on my journey since it was written -- from The Nature Conservancy to Ashoka to VerdeStrategy and, even at EY, where what I’ve done over the past five years touches several aspects of that goal.

Surprisingly, even at a big four accounting and advisory firm, I’ve been able to find work with purpose.

My work at EY over the past five years includes working with cleantech CEOs on their growth journey and developing a digital grid solution from a single smart metering engagement in South Africa to a partnership with Microsoft that will soon scale the solution around the globe and help utilities extend power to more people.

In the workshop Simone led, she also asked us to follow up our goal by stating how we get to the what; how we achieve our goal. Here’s how I put it:

“I do this by working with people committed to collaboration and breakthrough innovation, linking vision to action with people, and attracting and deploying capital to achieve results and lasting impact.”

Seems like a tall order, but when you break it down, it becomes clear:

1.) We’re better working together than at cross purposes, so finding others committed to collaboration and innovation is essential to move forward;

2.) Creating a vision is one thing, linking it to the action we will take ensures the vision has a chance to be realized; and finally,

3.) We can’t do anything without capital, so we better be able to attract it if we want to achieve results and lasting impact.

I’m proud of the fact that my goal statement – my purpose – hasn’t really changed in 20 years. It still represents the vision I have for the world and how I’ll show up in it. The vehicles I use and the people and organizations with whom I collaborate may change, but my purpose remains the same.

I’ll follow up this post with some real-world examples -- and thank my new contact for prompting me to think about my goal and purpose again all these years later.

03 June 2017

Top 5 Reasons US Pulling Out of Paris May Not Be a Bad Thing After All

Snowflakes were melting all over the Internet. The sky was falling and people forgot all about secret messages encoded in typos from the Tweeter-in-Chief.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump did what everyone suspected he would, despite the advice of some of his closest advisers, corporate heads, and even a family member, he pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

Did President Trump Intend to Poke the Polar Bear?
I'm not convinced he really knows what he did or even what's actually in the Paris Agreement.

Like many of Trump's decisions, this one seemed knee-jerk, ill-informed, and spiteful.

He wants to renegotiate to get a better deal?

The agreement is non-binding, each country gets to set its own targets and decide how to get there, and almost every country is involved.

What more do you want?

Look, I'm not convinced these big global agreements do much good. I've long argued that there's more hot air and fewer teeth in these types of global pacts than a nonagenarian who's just eaten a bowl of chili. 

But with the Paris Accord, at least everyone was participating -- everyone, that is except Syria, which is too war-torn to commit to anything, and Nicaragua, which didn't think the agreement went far enough.

Renegotiate? Come one, Donny, even some of the best deal makers in the world could see this was a pretty sweet deal, considering how much polluting we've been able to get away with over the past 257 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Under the Paris Accord, developed countries will contribute towards the so-called Green Climate Fund, intended to be the main fund for financing global climate change projects in the context of mobilizing $100 billion by 2020. The fund is designed to help poorer countries reduce their emissions and address the impacts of climate change. 

The price tag for the US is a meager $3 billion -- $1 billion of which was already paid by the Obama administration.

Folks, that's less than $10 per person to help fund such projects as "development of irrigation and groundwater replenishment systems in northeastern India, where climate change has made monsoon rains less reliable; a hydropower plant in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific to eliminate diesel generators; and restoration and protection of Ugandan wetlands that are used by subsistence farmers," according to the New York Times.

(To put this in perspective, Business Insider reported last year that people around the world spent over $10 billion on beverages at Starbucks in 2015. At Starbucks alone!) 

In any event, what's done is done. Well, there is that nasty business of the time it takes to actually withdraw from the agreement. By some estimates, the process won't be completed until the day after the next presidential election in 2020.

The reaction to this threatened withdrawal, however, has prompted some unintended consequences --perhaps Donny really is a genius and his decision was meant to encourage states, cities, companies, and individuals to act, and spur private investment to address climate change. 

Here are my top 5 reasons the US Pulling out of the Paris Agreement may not be a bad thing after all:

1.) Climate change "ratings" went way up. Okay, well, Google searches on "Paris Accord" hit an all-time high on Thursday around 3PM Eastern, and then quickly dropped back down to normal. However, "climate change" tracked along with it on the uptick and, arguably, got more attention in the media in any 24-hour news cycle since Superstorm Sandy hit.

2.) Rather than prompting countries to abandon the Paris Accord, Trump's withdrawal seems to have strengthened the resolve of many of other countries. Some, such as China, see the US withdrawal as an opportunity to increase their share of the pie when it comes to addressing the issue. As Reuters reported on Thursday, China and the EU pledged to come together to fill the leadership void created by the president's decision.

3.) US cities, States, and companies are stepping up their game in response to Trump's trashing of the agreement, as the Times reported Thursday.  

4.) Captains of the private sector, including leaders of Goldman Sachs, Disney, Tesla, and Apple have recommitted to tackling the issue. Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein even joined Twitter to voice his disappointment, and billionaire Michael Blomberg pledged $15 million to help tackle climate change.

5.) Trump's pulling out of Paris may have poked the polar bear. By doing so, he may have awakened a force to be reckoned with -- the many organizations and individuals already committed to finding solutions to the climate change issue, especially those who have been on the front lines of the environment, social justice, and renewable energy for decades. It may also serve as a wake-up call to many others to take action.

In the end, the decision to withdraw may be heralded as a catalyst to finally getting the world to rally around the climate in an unprecedented way. Perhaps not what the Donald intended with his reality-show build-up and reveal in the Rose Garden, but potentially a pretty good ending.

31 May 2017

Pulling Out of Paris Agreement is Bad for Business

Should we stay or should we go?

President Trump is following the advice of entrenched, vested old-economy interests that would turn our backs on a bright economic future. If his vision to make America great again requires further dependence upon fossil fuels like coal and oil, then we are headed back into the Dark Ages. 

The Paris Agreement isn't a lock on the bridge.
It is the bridge.

Explain to me how ceding the economic prosperity represented by energy innovation, and climate mitigation and adaptation to China and India makes us great? 

Leaving the Paris Agreement throws our climate and future economic success under a bus. In doing so, Trump ignores the pleas of his Secretary of State, his daughter, several conservative Republicans, and many of the most successful high-growth company leaders in the US. This isn't just sad, it's a bad decision.

Staying in the Paris Agreement is good for business, as CEOs of 30 companies with major operations in the United States, including Dow Chemical, Proctor & Gamble, Goldman Sachs, and Coca-Cola (not exactly greenies!) argued in a 10 May letter to the President. 

Why? Because, as an ad that ran in major U.S. newspapers, including the New York Times, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere, which was signed by technology giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, Gap, HP, along with energy and utility powerhouses National Grid, PG&E, and Schneider Electric, explained, the Paris Agreement spurs economic growth in the United States by strengthening competitiveness, creating jobs and markets, and reducing business risks.

When even ExxonMobil (and its former CEO, Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State) supports the Paris Agreement and believes the oil company "has a constructive role to play in developing solutions," it's hard to understand what is motivating the President to pull out at this stage.

The Paris Agreement provides a level playing field for all countries -- except Nicaragua and Syria, which are the only two countries refusing to sign (great company, huh?), provides certainty for businesses and investors, which in turn allows for long-term planning and investment, and encourages market-based solutions and innovations that can benefit our economy, build a new manufacturing base, and create a future-focused industry.

Pulling out of the Paris Agreement is bad for business, bad for the planet, and a bad deal.

15 November 2016

My Talk at Riverbend: Aware, Responsible and Caring Citizens

My son Walker, then 2, in his "one square yard."
"Aware, responsible and caring citizens." Yeah, we can use some of those right about now.

Back in June 2016, a colleague at EY reached out to ask me to speak at Riverbend Environmental Education Center, just outside of Philadelphia. 

I jumped at the chance, in part because I love a stage, but also because Riverbend has an important mission: teaching environmental principles to children...through a direct connection with nature, inspiring respect for our natural world and action as aware, responsible and caring citizens. 

Here is the talk I gave, which included a few poems that I added for color:
I want to share with you three stories tonight, each of which is paired with a poem or part of a poem that illustrates a point I’d like to make about why we are here, why we need to know about this place and others like it, and why we should care. Care not just about Riverbend Environmental Education Center and the people it serves, but why we should care about this big blue marble we inhabit.

There was a popular book a number of years ago called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. For me, I’ve always said all I really needed to know I learned from Gladys Taylor. Gladys was a surrogate Aunt for me, a retired English and Physical Education teacher, who taught me about nature and art and poetry and being active, and also about how to look at the world and begin to make sense of it – years later I realized she was training me to pay attention to the world around me and it has come to inform a lot of what I’ve done in my life and work.
Work that has taken me from the halls of a publishing house to protecting forests, grasslands, rivers, and seascapes with the Nature Conservancy, investing in social entrepreneurs trying to solve the world’s pressing problems, and to helping developing countries provide greater access to electricity that can help improve lives and economies.
I’m not alone in having a pivotal figure in my life that helped me find a path or multiple paths. It could have easily been a parent, teacher or a mentor from another part of my life. But for me, it was a woman who looked after me during my formative years in Rhode Island and summers at her family house in Vermont. I wrote a poem about her influence on me – it’s too long to read here in its entirety, but you can find it in my book, FALLOW FIELD – the poem is called “The Postlude, or How I Became a Poet,” and it opens with this passage, 

I am a child, crawling around in the leaves
With Gladys Taylor while she names the trees,
Parts the grasses, digs into the earth with a gardener’s trowel.
She picks out worms and slugs, millipedes
And springtails, which we see with a “Berlese funnel.”
Busy decomposers working their busy tasks,
Turning waste into energy, leaf litter into soil again.
Gladys names things for me: “That oak,
That maple there, that sassafras, smell its roots.”
“Root beer!” I exclaim,
Her laughter peeling away into the hills. Later,
With Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study
On the table next to the unending jigsaw puzzle,
Gladys opens to “The Oaks,” reading or reciting:
“The symbol of strength since man first gazed
Upon its noble proportions…” Then she sings Virgil,

         Full in the midst of his own strength he stands
         Stretching his brawny arms and leafy hands,
         His shade protects the plains, his head the hills commands.

Leaves and acorns spread across the table,
Each divided to its source, as if cataloging specimens:
The white and chestnut oaks, red and scarlet,
Every oak in the neighborhood, sketching the leaves,
Tracing and coloring them. Then questions, such questions:
“Where did we see this one growing?” “How tall?”
“Are the branches crooked or straight?”
“Round leaves or pointy?”
And then a game of matching
Acorn to leaf; a most difficult lesson — as difficult
As those jigsaw puzzles for a boy lacking patience
Or attention… 

Now Gladys was a unique person and I, as her protege, was as well. But like I said, each of us can probably think about someone in our lives that had a profound impact on us. It may be one of the things that brought you here, I suppose, because by being here – even if you’re just here for the food – you are showing that you care. By being here you may learn a lesson I hope is not as difficult as matching acorns to their leaves. 

When I had children of my own, I really wanted to impart in them that sense of wonder Gladys had enlivened in me, to pass on her lessons in a way. In my work for many years with The Nature Conservancy, which took me from the Hudson Valley in New York to Alaska, to the desert southwest and the tall grass prairie of Oklahoma, to back here to Pennsylvania, as well as to Indonesia, Ecuador, the islands of the Caribbean, and many other places in between. I was always impressed by the local knowledge, the indigenous knowledge of the people with whom we were working to protect some of the world’s great places.
We’ve all read the reports about nature’s impact on our psyche. We need nature. I need nature, even though I live in a city. As my kids were growing up, I realized that while treks out to the wilderness, camping, hikes in the mountains, etc., were all great experiences for them (and me), it was equally important they learn about the nature in their own backyards, their own city block.
This “one square yard philosophy, that learning about the nature in one square yard, really learning it and paying attention to the connections between species and the ecosystem as a whole, instills a sense of the importance of our own backyards and, in turn, will help us care about the natural world and our place in it and protecting it.
Today, all of us, but especially our children, are consumed by screen time. The average user spends 50 minutes on Facebook a day, according to recent data – and our kids are faced with numerous other social media distractions from Snapchat to Instagram to Periscope, whatever that is. Not to mention Candy Crush, Minecraft, and Angry Birds.
A few years ago, my sons were hooked on a mobile phone game where you rapidly identify corporate logos. I was horrified that they were so good at the game and disappointed I’d apparently failed in my mission to impart Gladys’s lessons. Nothing against corporate logos – some of them are quite good design – but that they could recognize more corporate logos than birds or trees really bugged me.
Yet, one day, walking in Carpenter’s Woods over in Mt. Airy, on the edge of Wissahickon Park with my twins, they got excited about the fallen trees on the forest floor and how they were decomposing. They noted the differences between the bark and the color and the consistency of the “saw dust” as the trees were returned to the Earth. It was a small victory – they still know more corporate logos than birds, I suspect, but what can I do?
I wrote this poem, called "Owl in the Gloaming," after a walk in those woods a couple of years ago that illustrates I’m not immune to apps myself…

 Although real birders frown on it,
I play back songs of birds
trying to lure them out of the wood:
"scree-chee-chee" of song sparrow,
mashing notes of catbird, "what-cheer,
what-cheer, what-cheer" of cardinal.

This irritates the birds.
They fly reconnaissance
over my head. Catbird looping
furtive patterns above me,
crossing the path from tree to tree.

 Sparrow chasing catbird,
thinking he's got too close,
although the interloper was me
in the unquiet afternoon 
sloughing into evening.

 Suddenly, a monotonous trill,
tremulous horse-whinny 
of the screech owl--
unmistakable, hideous laughter.
Then, overhead, something large,
gray, all wing beat and bodily hum.

 All other birds go silent, 
in the owl's shadow.
Hidden in the trees, 
his scaly, bark-like feathers,
can't be made out in the gloaming.

 Now there's a distant thrumming,
not from the bird app on my phone.
Rather, from within my chest,
vibrating on this turning earth,
under an owl's wing. 
Several years ago now, I was in India, working for Ashoka, which is a kind of social venture capital organization. One of the Ashoka Fellows I visited there was Kalyan Paul, who had started a very successful environmental organization called Grassroots, in the Indian Himalayas. Kalyan introduced me to some of the people from the village of Ranikhet, where he is based, including the Artisan’s Guild, a group men who were building and installing biogas stoves to repurpose cow dung and eliminate charcoal fires inside their houses for cooking.
And I met craftswomen who had created a profitable business making jams and preserves from local fruits, as well as hand-crafted sweaters and other garments for sale in local shops and around the world through online sales. Kalyan and Grassroots had helped set up this economic activity long before they tackled a single “environmental issue,” such as deforestation, erosion, and invasive species.
When I asked Kalyan what made him successful, he said, “I paid attention. I walked around and listened to the people. Their issues were economic and health-related, and I realized that until I helped them address those issues, and set them on a path towards greater self-sufficiency, I was never going to be able to address the environmental problems – the issues were linked.”
Today, I want to share a bit about my work with EY, which happens to be a sponsor of tonight’s event, so I may as well put in a plug for our work – because I think it’s pretty cool.
Electricity is a big issue on the African continent, as it is in many developing continents and countries, especially access, availability, and reliability. Working with a municipal utility in South Africa, our team helped design and implement a pre-paid smart metering program that addresses three problems the utility had: 1.) collecting revenue from their customers – some of whom wouldn’t pay their bills because they didn’t trust the billing systems; 2.) reducing electricity theft, not just in small villages, but in “gated communities” and even some commercial operations; and 3.) attracting investment to allow them to expand their network and improve reliability.
Now we’re looking at taking this same solution and exporting the idea out of Africa to other countries -- to India, Brazil, Mexico -- wherever there are similar problems this idea can address.
Both the Grassroots and EY solutions were about paying attention to what is going on around and creating opportunities out of the situation, which in turn creates greater value for others. Which reminds me of my poem,
A wasp wrestles all day
with the false freedom
of a window pane.
Scaling the glass, then slipping
down, buzzing the cracked paint
of the old window frame.
As if thrumming wings faster
will pull it closer to the blossom,
just beyond its reach.
So determined in its struggle
to get in, to wrest pollen from
the exotic flower on the other side.
A spider sets its dinner table
in the corner of the pane—

My mother-in-law once commented about that poem, “I’ve witnessed that scene many times…only you noticed the spider in the corner.” I can probably thank my Aunt Gladys for that.
We can be single-focused, like the wasp, beating our heads against the glass until we’re unconscious or we can be patient and attentive like the spider to make things happen when the opportunity presents itself.
In my experience over the years, I’ve seen the environmental movement make progress being more inclusive regarding people and nature, reaching more diverse communities, and beginning to change the face of conservation by giving others the opportunity to be a part of the solutions.
Places like Riverbend help broaden the horizons of children and bring them into an understanding of the natural world around them – whether it is a nature preserve, a city park or their own back yards.
Make no mistake about it, this is important work, as important as big land conservation or global climate agreements, for it is our children, as caring citizens of the world, who will be tomorrow’s stewards of the lands and waters we need to sustain life on Earth.
And this is important because, as Robert Michael Pyle wrote in his book, The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland, “People who care conserve; people who don’t know, don’t care.” 

I don't know if I created any "aware, responsible and caring citizens" that night, but I hope so.

Back at the Helm...Because the Planet Needs The Green Skeptic

The Green Skeptic back at the helm.
I've been away too long and look what happens? The lunatics are running the asylum.

Well, my hiatus is over. I'm ready to start blogging again and calling out horse dookey (as Mary Karr calls it) about the environment wherever I see it -- and hoping to learn some new things along the way.

Now more than ever, it's clear to me the planet needs the skeptical view -- on both sides of the coin. So, I'm pledging here to rededicate myself to the mission of The Green Skeptic: "challenging assumptions about how we live on the earth and protect our environment."

Watch this space.