23 December 2011

An Email from Santa to Climate Skeptics: An Annual Green SkepticTradition

A few Christmases ago, I published this email from Santa, which arrived on the night before the night before Christmas. Readers had so much fun with it, it's become an annual tradition. Enjoy!

And have a Happy Holiday.

Scott, aka The Green Skeptic


TO: Global Warming Skeptics
FROM: Santa Claus
DATE: A few nights before Xmas
SUBJECT: My Christmas List

This is Santa, writing from the North Pole. Soon I'll be gathering all the toys for all the good little girls and boys and packing them in my sleigh to begin our journey, our night of nights.

The reindeer, however, are starting to complain about hoof-rot. Apparently, they've been standing around in too much slush. This has put me in a decidedly prickly mood this Christmas.

You know me; I'm not a single-issue guy. I believe that as long as you are good, and I mean good for goodness' sake, you deserve some slack on the other stuff. I'm an equal opportunity distributor. I know whether you've been bad or good or just plain evil. You also know I'm not one to discriminate against one group of people or another, believers or non-believers.

But this year is different. This year, I'm making a few changes to my list. I'm checking it twice and have decided that the naughty include any one of you out there who do not believe in global warming. All you climate change skeptics out there, you are on the naughty list this year.

Oh, you know who you are. And I've got one special gift for you: Nothing but COAL. You like the stuff so much -- and it's such a big part of what's leading to climate change -- you might as well have bags and bags of it and nothing more.

Make no mistake. Global warming is happening. You don't have to show me any scientific reports, although some nifty ones have shown up in my email box lately, sent to me from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

No, you don't have to convince me; I'm a believer. All I have to do is look out my window to my back yard, what's left of it! It's a soupy mess out there.

We usually have a good bit of ice up here at the North Pole -- and early. That's important, too; you see, every year the elves and I construct a temporary workshop up here where we make the toys and assemble the other goodies. The earlier the ice, the sooner we get started.

Although I have figured out a way to deliver the entire shipment of gifts on my list in one night, I still haven't perfected the manufacturing process. I can't speed it up. (Some of that I blame on the unions.) We need all the ice we can get up here for there is no solid ground.

But this year, the ice cover was the lowest it's been in almost 30 years. And at least one of those science groups studying this stuff tells me that, according to their models, by 2040, we'll have mostly open water up here. (They sent me this short animation clip, which sends chills up my spine: Arctic Ice Melt.)

Mrs. Claus has even started looking for Houseboats on Craig's List!

So, dear boys and girls, you better not pout or cry or whine or deny climate change any longer. And I'm telling you why: because climate change is coming to town. Time's a wasting. We need to do something about this now, before it's too late. Or before I have to move all of my operations to the South Pole!

Here's wishing a carbon-neutral Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

S. Claus, North Pole

Enhanced by Zemanta

22 December 2011

Wind Industry Just Hot Air? The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

On Tuesday I sat down with Stuart Varney & Company on FOX Business to talk about wind power and the relative merits of distributed generation versus big wind farms, including the need for transmission and grid infrastructure improvements to make big wind viable.

Here's the video:

And here's a link in case the player doesn't work in your browser: Green Skeptic on FOX Business

21 December 2011

What Energy Efficient Light Bulb Regulations Mean: The Green Skeptic on WSJ.com

GE Lighting Institute's Mary Beth Gotti and The Green Skeptic's Scott Edward Anderson join Wendy Bounds on WSJ.com's LunchBreak to discuss new energy efficient federal light bulb regulations that take effect on January 1, 2012.

Here's a link to the original: LunchBreak

15 December 2011

The Energy Collective Podcast: Cleantech, the Venture Capital Climate, and Policy

We had a lively and informative discussion about Cleantech Investing on The Energy Collective a couple of weeks ago, with Will Coleman of Mohr Davidow, Dan Shugar of SunPower and Solaria, and yours truly, moderated by Jess Jenkins, director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute.

Here's how Amelia Timbers described it on The Energy Collective blog:
Will began with "cleantech investing 101", and explained how the macro economic situation and IPO backlog is affecting the venture capital world. He points to the patterns in cleantech venture capital as it matures as an industry of its own. He also points to the importance of large organizations getting involved in cleantech startups. Coleman discussed the complexity of technology risk and financing when startups are scaling from demonstration scale to commercialization.
Scott gave an example of corporate partnerships as a means of acheiving scale, and details the sophisticated 'balancing act' required by management teams in these situations. Scott also offers his insight on operating in China. 
Dan Shugar explains his experience in solar, from Sunpower to Solaria, and who remains a strong advocate of renewables. Dan emphasizes the need for growing companies to operate leanly and to operate on as much a cash basis as possible. 
And here are the slides and audio recording (about 1 1/2 hours long). You can also download the Podcast here: "How to Save the Planet on a Budget, Part 3"

How to Save a Planet - On a Budget: Cleantech, the Venture Capital Climate, and Policy
View more presentations from Social Media Today

And here is a video of the slides with audio recording:

Let me know what you think about our conversation.

13 December 2011

My Interview with Ingrid Vanderveldt, Dell's Entrepreneur-in-Residence

While speaking at SXSW ECO back in early October, I was interviewed by Ingrid Vanderveldt, Dell's Entreprenuer-in-Residence. We talked about being a skeptic in a green-enthusiast world and about looking for the killer apps in cleantech that are here today rather than waiting for the game-changing platforms of tomorrow.

Here is the interview:

And here is a link to the interview on YouTube, in case the player doesn't work in your browser: Green Skeptic on EIR at DELL

12 December 2011

A Data Tonic for Impact Investors: GIIN's New Metrics

The quest for common language and metrics may not be the Holy Grail, but for impact investors it's pretty close.

Now, the folks at the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) have provided, if not the grail, at least a tonic for the growing community of impact investors.

Broadly defined, impact investors deliberately set out to invest for social and environmental impact. (Yes, really.) Until now, it's been difficult for such investors to fully evaluate their investments by financial performance data alone.

The new report is called Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS) and it supplies the first holistic performance analysis for the impact investing industry.

A number of organizations have tried to develop their own metrics for social and environmental performance -- at Ashoka we long had one set of impact metrics in development -- but typically these have been inconsistent, inefficient and don't allow for comparisons across the board.

The new report coming out of GIIN's IRIS initiative presents early findings from nearly 2,400 organizations, ranging from microfinance institutions to mission-driven organizations. There is still a long way to go, but the hope is adoption of the IRIS methodology by a wider audience of companies, organizations, and funds will strengthen the market intelligence of this growing asset class.

And more and better data with proper comparative analysis should lead to better informed investments across the impact investing community and make for a more efficient and effective use of capital. Now that sounds like good gin to me.

You can download the report here (PDF): Data Driven: A Performance Analysis for the Impact Investing Industry

30 November 2011

A Tale of Two Cleantech Companies: My Presentation from IMPACT 2011

Today I presented "A Tale of Two Cleantech Companies: A case study of what leads to a successful exit or a stunning failure" at the IMPACT 2011 Venture Summit Mid-Atlantic in Philadelphia, PA.

I told the stories of Solyndra and CPower and how they failed and succeeded, respectively.

Here are my slides from the presentation:

And here is a transcript of my notes/talking points on Scribd: A Tale of Two Cleantech Companies

23 November 2011

7th Inning Stretch: A Note of Thanks from The Green Skeptic

One of my favorite quotes about the writer-reader relationship is from Walter Lowenfels. I keep it at the top of my poetry blog as a reminder. Lowenfels wrote,
"One reader is a miracle; two, a mass movement."
I try to keep those words in mind every day as a writer.

On this the seventh anniversary of The Green Skeptic, I want to thank you, dear readers. I am grateful for your support, your comments, and your readership. I hope you are finding some sustenance here.

Seven years ago I wrote in the first post for this blog,
"As 'The Green Skeptic' I propose to create a web voice that is at once environmentally concerned, while remaining skeptical about our methods of communication and action. My blog will explore current environmental issues in a pragmatic fashion, debunking environmental myths, while supporting market-based solutions that compliment actions taken both locally and globally."
While this blog is about "challenging assumptions about how we live on the earth and protect our environment," it is also about the practice of writing.

Two bloggers I read regularly wrote eloquently about writing this week, Fred Wilson and Joshua Brown.

Fred wrote on A VC that through blogging
"I have learned to love writing. It's creative. It's a puzzle. How do I tell the story? How do I get my point across? How do I do it crisply and clearly? How do I end it on a strong note?"
Joshua, who writes the excellent blog, The Reformed Broker, suggested,
"It is in the writing that I discover what I actually think.  It is in the writing and the communicating of ideas and concepts that they truly become mine.  This is a cognitive learning thing that is very widely understood in the education world.  When I'm blogging there are two things that are happening - you, the reader, are being exposed to something I think might be important and I, the writer, am crystallizing my own beliefs and understanding of the topic at hand."
Writing is important to me. As I've written elsewhere on this blog,
"I have always been a writer -- it's all I've really ever wanted to be. Sure, I do a lot of other things, always have, much of which I've stopped doing over the years. But I'll never stop writing. It's who I am. I'm a writer."
As we mark this seventh year of The Green Skeptic together, I want to thank you again for reading. I hope to keep up my end of the bargain moving forward with good, informed writing about the issues, a healthy skepticism about both hyperbole and hysteria and, most of all, a respect for you, my readers.

Happy Thanksgiving.

22 November 2011

IMPACT 2011 Venture Summit Mid-Atlantic to Feature Cleantech

IMPACT 2011 Venture Summit Mid-Atlantic, the annual conference put on by PACT (the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies), will take place a week from today and tomorrow (November 29 & 30) at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Crystal Tea Room.

On Wednesday, the 30th, I'll be telling a "Tale of Two Cleantech Companies," offering perspective on a success story and a failure (hint: one of them is Solyndra) and Monday Night Football's Ron Jaworski, known to his fans as "Jaws," will be the keynote over lunch. Timothy C. Draper, Founder and Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, will close the 29th as keynote speaker.

A rich cleantech track has been developed for this year's conference, including panels offering investors's perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of investing in clean energy technology and fund managers's perspectives on energy efficiency finance.

Panelists include representatives from Meidlinger Partners, SJF Ventures, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Blue Hill Partners, New Venture Partners, DB Climate Change Advisors, Transcend Equity Development Corp and the City of Philadelphia.

14 cleantech companies will present, including

AHI Technologies
Alencon Systems, Inc.
e2e Materials, Inc.
FieldView Solutions, Inc.
Holganix, LLC
LED Saving Solutions
Liberty Hydro, Inc.
Local Food Systems, Inc.
Organica Sustainable Water, LLC
Rho Renewables, Inc.
WhiteOptics LLC

See the full agenda here, including non-cleantech related agenda items.

Hope to see you there!

18 November 2011

Create Value, Don't Trade Value

"The problem society faces is that the best way to become rich is to trade value, not create value."  

--Roger Martin, Dean of The Rotman School and author of Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, and What Capitalism Can Learn from the NFL, in interview with Steven Goldbach of Monitor Group

What is it about this statement that pisses me off? I mean no disrespect to Dean Martin (sorry, I couldn't resist), he's just the messenger, and I know he bemoans the truth of his statement as much as I do. But the fact that he's correct makes it even more troublesome.

We have completely forgotten what value is as a society. Winning is great in sports and in business, but it isn't great if it is at the expense of values and creating values.

Take Penn State as an example. 

Officials at Penn State may have covered up the hateful and abhorrent crimes allegedly purported by one of its coaches over a decade because acknowledging and doing something about it might harm the mega-million dollar cash cow of its football program. 

That's trading value not creating value.

Trading value creates harm because its driver is greed and its time horizon is temporary.

Creating value creates something lasting and beneficial, not just for stakeholders and stockholders, but for customers and all of society.

Apple creates value. 

Mortgage-backed securities traded value.

We need more people creating value, lasting value, if we want our economy and our lives to thrive.

Enhanced by Zemanta

15 November 2011

Will Wireless Vehicle Charging Become Like EZPass?

A rather poor diagram of inductive charging.Image via Wikipedia
A rather poor diagram of inductive charging.

Qualcomm, long a leader in the wireless and mobile space, is expanding into in the electric vehicle (EV) charging market with its acquisition last week of HaloIPT.

The acquisition, reportedly $70 million, has some in the EV charging space scratching their heads. Not because of Qualcomm's interest, but because they went after such a small player in the space.

HaloITP developed its wireless electric car charging technology out of the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Wireless inductive charging, a process explained here allows an electric vehicle to drive over or near a mat that provides a charge without plugging in.

I've written about the need for and benefits of wireless EV charging technologies previously on this blog and, in the interest of full disclosure, I've done some advisory work with one company, Momentum Dynamics of Malvern, Pennsylvania.

According to sources close to Momentum, the company has already bested Halo, which had been doing 7,200 watts, achieving 30,000 watts. That's the level of power needed for commercial vehicles, which is Momentum's target market, and almost 10 times more powerful than WiTricity and Evatran can transmit 3,300 watts (more or less the capability of a low-powered Level 2 plug-in charger).

Momentum has been regularly getting 10,000 watts with greater than 90 percent efficiency. They are so efficient, my source tells me, "you can keep your fingers on them and barely detect that they are warm."

Toyota and GM are investor-partners in WiTricity and Powermat, respectively, and Nissan, meanwhile, is reportedly working on its own wireless charging technology. And Google tested Evatran's technology earlier this year.

With a big wireless player like Qualcomm moving into the space, is it only a matter of time before wireless EV charging becomes EZ and as ubiquitous as wireless toll collecting?

Enhanced by Zemanta

11 November 2011

Can #poetryday Save Our Souls?

Seamus Heaney Seamus HeaneyOn Thursday Umair Haque, self-described author, blogger, thinker, and reformer, suggested #poetryday on Twitter as an antidote to the usual "endless series of tweets about (no offense) trivial stuff" that ordinarily fills his stream.

For some of us -- poets and readers -- everyday is poetry day, but the more I thought about it and saw how others were responding to it, the more I started to think he may be onto something.

I'm not convinced that "poetry is the opposite of the profit motive," as one responder wrote, but I do believe with Seamus Heaney that poetry is "an anthropological necessity because if you didn't have poetry, everything would slip back into media speak."

We need poetry and the attention of the poet because, in Heaney's words, it "helps us to live our lives in the face of destruction."

"I keep getting this funny feeling that our degeneration and the fact that we treat great poetry like stupid rambling might be connected," Umair wrote in another Tweet.

Poet and lecturer David Whyte has been talking about the need for reconnecting with poetry for nearly two decades.

"Corporate America desperately needs the powers historically associated with the poetic imagination not only to see their way through the present whirligig of change, but also, because poetry asks for accountability to a human community, for rootedness and responsibility even as it changes," Whyte wrote in The Heart Aroused, his 1994 book about poetry and the need for more soul in the workplace.

We may never get the news from poetry, as William Carlos Williams posited, but turning away from poetry may prevent us from achieving what Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky called "the goal of our species."

(Disclosure: The author is an award-winning poet who also blogs about poetry at seapoetry.wordpress.com.)
Enhanced by Zemanta

10 November 2011

Acumen Fund's 10 Lessons Learned About Getting Beyond Poverty

Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen Fund
Five years ago I sat down with Jacqueline Novogratz to talk about Acumen Fund. She was just about to leave for a trip to Africa and I was just beginning to think about leaving The Nature Conservancy.

To my mind at the time the Conservancy had moved away from its core strength of supporting work on-the-ground and in-the-water -- we were more focused on large-scale global planning.

We had moved to the side of the "Planners" versus the "Searchers," to use William Easterly's nomenclature from his critique of Western efforts to "Aid the Rest," White Man's Burden. 

"Planners determine what to supply; Searchers find out what is in demand," Easterly wrote. "Planners apply global blueprints [emphasis mine]; Searchers adapt to local conditions. Planners at the top lack knowledge of the bottom; Searchers find out what the reality is at the bottom. Planners never hear whether the planned got what it needed; Searchers find out if the customer is satisfied..."

Acumen Fund was on the side of the Searchers, the entrepreneurs. I wanted to get back to working with entrepreneurs who were doing real work.

There were three things I really liked about Acumen Fund:

1.) They were investing not donating -- and they were all about results.
2.) They thought like a Venture Fund, only with a more patient, long-term view.
3.) Jacqueline. She was direct and didn't beat around the bush.

I need to explain that last bullet.

I was coming from a big, non-profit corporation, which operated in many ways like a Fortune 500 company.  Five years into its life Acumen was still more like a small and nimble start-up fund.

As entrepreneurial as I was -- I'd started several print and online media ventures over the years -- and despite how intrapraneurial I had been in my time with the Conservancy, Jacqueline saw that I wouldn't fit into Acumen at that time.

"Have you thought about starting something on your own?" Jacqueline asked.

(I ended up going to Ashoka as their vice president for global development before moving on to start my own endeavors.)

I continue to follow, support, and be impressed by Acumen's progress.  They have an impressive record of success.

Tonight and tomorrow Jacqueline and Acumen Fund are celebrating 10 years of creating a world beyond poverty by investing patient capital in social enterprises, emerging leaders, and breakthrough ideas.

Since 2001, the fund has invested more than $65 million in enterprises providing access to water, health, alternative energy, housing and agricultural services to low-income customers in South Asia and Africa. Their global community of emerging leaders combines the tools of business and philanthropy, making the world a better place.

Here are 10 Things Acumen Fund has learned over the past 10 years:

1. Dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth.
2. Neither grants nor markets alone will solve the problems of poverty.
3. Poverty is a description of someone’s economic situation, it does not describe who someone is.
4. We won’t succeed in the long term without cultivating local leaders, local money, and strong local communities.
5. Great people, every time, no exceptions.
6. Great technology alone is not the answer.
7. If failing is not an option, you’ve ruled out success as well.
8. Governments rarely invent solutions, but they can scale what works.
9. There is no currency like trust, and there are no shortcuts to earning it.
10. Patient capital investing is built upon a system of values; it is not a series of steps to be followed.

You can learn more about Acumen Fund here and download their Lessons Learned here.

Congratulations Jacqueline and Acumen Fund on ten years of success -- and here's to the next ten years!

09 November 2011

Alaska and United Make For Greener Friendly Skies

This Eskimo has reason to smile.
As one of the worst storms in the last 40 years heads for the Alaska coast, Alaska Airlines prepares to storm the future by launching the first of 75 scheduled biofuels-powered flights.

The first will depart from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEATAC) heading for Washington Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC.

The second will head from SEATAC to Portland, OR. Both will be powered by a blend of jet fuel and 20 percent biofuel derived from used cooking oil.

Using social media to promote this flight, Alaska will host a Twitter-based discussion onboard the first flight, which the airline is calling "#FlyGreen Chat," to talk about the future of aviation, sustainability, and environmental awareness.

United Continental made history on Monday when the first commercial biofuels-powered flight completed a trip from Houston to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

United announced Monday that it signed a letter of intent with Solazyme Inc., which provided the biofuel for Monday's Continental flight, to buy 20 million gallons of algae-derived biofuel annually.

Solazyme is one of the US Navy's partners supplying jet and other fuels for its fleets in the air and water, as I wrote about in The Energy Collective in September.

You can learn more about Alaska Airlines Greener Skies Initiative and its biofuels program at Greener Skies Initiative and join the conversation on Twitter by following #FlyGreen.

Enhanced by Zemanta

08 November 2011

Remember When Boxing Was King? RIP Joe Frazier

Somewhere in my house I have a postcard signed by Jack Dempsey.

The card is just like the one depicted here and the signature is virtually the same, although I think it says, "Hey, Scott --" over his name. My father got it for me while on a business trip to New York.

As a kid, I was a boxing nut. Of course it was hard not to be in those days -- the 70s -- with Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, the "Thrilla in Manila," the "Rumble in the Jungle," and all that "float like a butterfly and stinging like a bee" poetry.

I followed every fight, read every book I could, from Joe Louis's autobiography My Life to A.J. Liebling's The Sweet Science, and watched every boxing film from "Rocky" to "Raging Bull" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" to "The Harder They Fall."

My brothers and I used to don socks stuffed with socks and have three-round fights on the "ring" of our parents' king-sized bed until we broke the box spring.

Boxing was king back then. But as the 70s came to a close and Frazier and Ali retired and then Ali's battle with Parkinson's shed light on the brutality of boxing, I lost interest.

By the time Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear, I was long over my obsession with boxing.

Watching Muhammad Ali deteriorate over the years proved a knock-out for me and the sport.  (Don't even get me started on cage fighting.)

The death of Smokin' Joe Frazier brought me back to those days when boxing was king this morning.

"Life doesn't run away from nobody," Joe Frazier once said. "Life runs at people."

Rest in Peace, Joe.

Enhanced by Zemanta

03 November 2011

Beacon Power and Other Gov't VC Bets: The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

I sat down yesterday with Stuart Varney, Elizabeth MacDonald and company to talk about Beacon Power's bankruptcy and what the government should and should not be doing in clean energy.  Hint: It's not playing venture capitalist.

Here's the video:

And here is a link if the player doesn't work in your browser: Green Skeptic on FOX Business
Enhanced by Zemanta

01 November 2011

Falling Up: The Choices We Make May Be Our Own

Letchworth Gorge by J. Stephen Conn, used by permission.
When I was 15 years old I was hiking in Letchworth Gorge in upstate New York. (Here is a picture of the gorge, left.) A beautiful place.

Despite the warnings or perhaps because of them -- I was a teenager after all -- I got too close to the edge. And I fell. I fell for what seemed like a long way and a long time, but in reality it was perhaps just a matter of seconds.

Time dragged, however, like a cartoon character falling off a cliff – think of Bugs Bunny falling, eating a carrot, reading War and Peace, and filing his nails. I was remarkably calm, at peace, really. One with the fall, it was a true Buddhist moment.

And then it was over. Somehow there was a branch or root and my arm reached out to grab it – I remember the jerking feeling like a parachute opening…I was safe. I'd fallen but I didn't die. I had a second chance. 

After a few seconds of stunned silence, I climbed back up to the top of the gorge.

That memory has been haunting me lately.  I shared this story in my talk at SXSW last month and again with a group of leaders at a retreat last week.

Why am I reminded of this story now?  Well, as I wrote in an earlier post on this blog, I think our economy is in free-fall and we seriously need to change.  

The latest example of a society in free-fall is the news of a "celebrity marriage" failing after 72 days.  

According to Twitter sources that include some celebrities allegedly close to the situation, the wedding earned the bride $17.9 million.  Really?  $17.9 million for a marriage that lasted 72 days? 

No wonder people like Lawrence Lessig think our society could fall like Rome.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can change the outcome. We can adopt a new game plan. 

But we can't change the world if we aren't first prepared to change within ourselves and live the lives we know we can live, be the people we know we can be, and take the actions we are compelled to take.

The choice is ours, but we must be conscious as we make our choices. We need to stop compromising in our lives, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. And we need to deliver lasting value, to innovate, and finally, to inspire and be inspired.

When you're free-falling, you have two choices: keep falling to the bottom or grab the first available branch, scamper back up to the top and create a new path forward. Call it "falling up."

Which do you choose? And what are you waiting for?

Enhanced by Zemanta

27 October 2011

From The Green Skeptic Archives: Caring, or A New Conservation Ethic

My son Jasper tagging a saltwater croc, Mexico, January 2005

[Note: While on hiatus this week, I'm re-posting gems from The Green Skeptic Archives. This post originally appeared on 7 October 2005.--SEA]

Over the past several weeks, in the conference centers of Monterey, the wilderness of Yosemite, and the halls of my company's offices in suburban Washington, our talk has been about drawing a closer connection between conservation and people.

We've come a long way, but still have miles to go before we can say we've expanded the boundaries of our own conservation ethic.

I've been thinking a lot lately about conservation ethic. One phrase that keeps coming back to me is Robert Michael Pyle's statement that "People who care conserve, people who don't know don't care." It's a powerful truism and one to which we should pay heed.

Our movement is often accused of being elitist and defeatist and, frankly, those criticisms are far too often accurate. Beautiful photos of pristine places beg the question, "What about the people?"

(Pyle's words came back to me during tonight's playoff battle of the Sox. It was late in the game, my beloved Red Sox had bases loaded and blew several chances to tie the game or take the lead. Johnny Damon was up, surely ready to play the hero. My nine-year old son, who learned to care about baseball -- and my team -- during the 2003 ALCS, was on tenterhooks: would Damon do it? When the Caveman struck out, stranding three base runners and turning the BoSox into WoeSox once again, my son was apoplectic. "Now I know you are a true fan," I told him. "You really cared." I haven't seen him that upset since he learned that polar bears were losing habitat to global warming!)

We need a new conservation ethic that clearly redefines the human + nature equation: that human beings are not apart from, but rather a part of nature. We need to articulate the real connections between conservation and restoration of the earth's natural functions -- also known as ecosystem services -- and their real implications for the people of the earth.

Moreover, that we care about people as much as the earth's other species. Without this, we will sink in a downward spiral of our own making.

Whether we're talking about food, fuel, fiber for clothing or paper or a myriad of other goods and services nature provides, we need to stop "seeing the natural world as a resource for the economy," as James Gustave Speth writes in his book, Red Sky at Morning, "rather than seeing the economy as nested in the natural world."

We have obligations to the world that go beyond our self-interest, to paraphrase Aldo Leopold, and until we own up to this our conservation ethic will ring false for the majority of the world's people. Our new conservation ethic must be as inclusive as it is pragmatic, and as interconnected to the other issues of our time -- poverty alleviation, terrorism, AIDS/HIV -- as to the natural world we hold dear.

We need to remember this whether we're on higher ground in one of this nation's important National Parks, the sterile corridors of an office in northern Virginia, or the cozy confines of that little bandbox of a ballpark that is Fenway.

25 October 2011

From The Green Skeptic Archives: Philanthropy & Environmental Change: Should Social Capital Markets Take Over?

Deep SEA. Photo by Mickey Rosenau
[Note: While on hiatus this week, I'm posting selections from The Green Skeptic Archives. This one was originally posted on 23 October 2007.--SEA]

I'm taking up a friendly challenge here.

Lucy Bernholz, who writes the excellent blog Philanthropy 2173, and I started a blogalog (Did I just coin that term?) between our blogs about the state of philanthropy and environmental change.

It began in response to Lucy's listing of green blogs in the wake of Blog Action Day last Monday, and her noting the lack of discussion of philanthropy on the sites listed (including mine).

My defense stemmed from a concern about philanthropy and its effectiveness as an agent of change in the environmental sphere, which actually was the origin of this blog. I have grown increasingly concerned about the ability of traditional philanthropy to effect lasting change at a pace commensurate with the global challenges we face.

I expressed this concern in my essay for GreenBiz, "Confessions of a Green Skeptic," several years ago about the Earth Charter.

Back then (March 2003), I wrote, "we need to demonstrate how profitable being green can be, and how essential it is to a truly global sustainability. If we can turn the greed motivation to green motivation, effectively turning it on itself, does the means justify the end? Hard to say. But if greed isn't going away anytime soon, we are left with trying to redirect the motivation any way we can. Guilt has worked, but only gets us so far. 'Envy trumps guilt' every time."

This sentiment was influenced by Thomas Friedman's thoughts on the subject expressed in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, that "if conservationists are going to get ahead of the greedy we need to move faster. 'For now, the only way to run as fast as the herd is by riding the herd itself and trying to redirect it,' Friedman writes. 'We need to demonstrate to the herd that being green, being global, and being greedy can go hand in hand.'"

And it was echoed by Gretchen Daily and Katherine Ellison in their book, The New Economy of Nature, from which I quoted, "the record clearly shows that conservation can't succeed by charity alone. It has a fighting chance, however, with well-designed appeals to self-interest."

Things have changed quite a bit since I wrote that essay -- the world has gotten flatter, green has become the new black, Al Gore won an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize for his work on climate change, and the herd has started to move to greener pastures.

But a lot hasn't changed. In Philanthropy, as Susan Raymond points out in a two-part piece called "Does Philanthropy Scale?," the "vast majority of American nonprofits are small; 60 percent or more...have less than $100,000 in annual revenue." And, Raymond notes, "the average foundation grant to nonprofits is on the order of $25,000."

Raymond also points out that "the number of nonprofits with $10 million or more in revenue has increased by 73 percent in the last decade," and asks, "when $25,000 is the average grant, is philanthropy the answer to organizational growth? Indeed, is it even relevant as a source of capital?"

I'm going to quote one more thing from Raymond's essay: "The evolution of microfinance teaches that, when what had been a philanthropic initiative matures and proves its worth, alternative capital sources step in and redefine the opportunity. Is achieving scale, then, the clue for philanthropy to either evolve or exit? And, if so, do we need to rethink what we mean by 'philanthropy' for large organizations or proven initiatives in social markets?"

I quote Raymond's piece at length because it corroborates some of my own thinking on this subject. She rightly points out that the biggest advantage of philanthropic capital is its "ability to take significant risk, to seed a promising idea and recognize that all promising ideas can be failures."

So risk tolerance or tolerance for failure, playing on the field of ideas and at the edge of problems "where the probabilities of success are unknown, is the key playing field for philanthropy."

For many ideas, perhaps chief among them those addressing environmental issues, it may be time for other types of capital to be brought to bear. I'm particularly interested in what Raymond describes as "a multiplicity of approaches to organizational finance in the nonprofit sector...for self-reliance, sustainability, and (yes) profit" to come to the stage.

This is not far from what Lucy refers to as "tri-sector solutions," such as the B Corporation she has described or the bond purchase strategy Raymond describes in her piece. (In the latter, Raymond explains, "'Donors' took on the role of guarantor rather than funder, and the resources flowed at levels that donations would never have been able to sustain.")

Elsewhere in the web pages of onPhilanthropy, John Bloom of RSF Social Finance, posits that "social finance holds that the purpose of money and finance is to support human initiative and to foster the evolution of new community."

And, Bloom suggests, social finance recognizes "the human and environmental consequences of economic activities...[and] presents a picture of a healthier sustainable future -- and one that leaves behind the industrialist model of philanthropy..."

I will continue this dialogue here on The Green Skeptic, because I think it is an important one, and part of an ongoing, evolving thought process for me that started over four years ago and which led to this blog. Thanks to Lucy for calling me out about it and fostering this dialogue.

24 October 2011

From The Green Skeptic Archives: Roberto Clemente: A Howitzer for an Arm, An Ocean for a Heart

[While I'm on hiatus this week, I thought I'd post some gems from the Green Skeptic Archives. This post originally appeared in December 2005.--SEA]

In an earlier post on John Lennon, I said that he was one of three people who taught me about caring. The other two were my Aunt Gladys Taylor and Roberto Clemente.

It seems appropriate to write about him on this, the 33rd Anniversary of Clemente's tragic death, when he and four others crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while flying relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.

"Some right fielders have rifles for arms," said Tim McCarver. Clemente "had a howitzer." He also had an ocean for a heart.

Roberto Clemente was born on 18 August 1934, in Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He played baseball in the major leagues from 1955 until 1972, the year of his death, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The first Latino Hall of Famer, Clemente finished his career with a .317 batting average, 440 doubles, 166 triples, 240 home runs, and 1,305 RBI in 2,433 games. He hit exactly 3,000 hits, knocking a double in his very last at-bat. I have a framed photograph of this hit in my house.

I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and grew up between there and Boston, along the Route 1 Corridor, 45 minutes from anywhere. I am a lifelong Red Sox fan, followed them religiously throughout my life, which encompassed three World Series losses before the 2004 season.

So how did I become a fan of Roberto Clemente, who played his entire career in the National League on a team in a city nearly 600 miles from my hometown?

I'm not sure what it was that first attracted me to number 21. I started reading about him in the peak of his career, maybe it was the writers' adjectives. Late at night, I could pick up a Pittsburgh station on the radio and listen to his feats in the "green fields of the mind."

The old television series "This Week in Baseball," showed me Clemente's "howitzer arm." He easily threw runners out as they tried to stretch a double into a triple, which was always a mistake against Roberto. Curt Gowdy on NBC brought me the All-Star Game and the 1971 World Series against Earl Weaver's Orioles. Clemente batted .414 in that World Series.

However, something else drew me to Clemente. I am part Portuguese on my mother's side, and in southern New England at the time, probably still, this came with a certain sense of insecurity. "Pork'n'cheese," my Scotch-Irish father used to joke; I had the dark olive skin, black hair and dark eyes of a "Portagee" kid.

The ribbing and insults caused me to be ashamed of my Portuguese heritage for a long time. Yet the more I learned about Roberto Clemente's difficulties on and off the field dealing with prejudices against Hispanics and African Americans, the more I felt a kinship with the right fielder.

For one entire summer, I wore only a t-shirt someone (an Aunt or Uncle?) had given me from a trip to Puerto Rico. It bore one of those economic maps displaying what products came from which area, where the big hotels were, and baseball fields. I knew Clemente had played for the Santurce Crabbers, so I circled the city with a pen.

My mother finally had to throw out the t-shirt I had worn it out. I stormed off to my room and wouldn't speak to her for days.

On New Year's Eve 1972, Roberto Clemente boarded a small DC-7 to deliver food, clothing and medicine to victims of a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua. Clemente, who led the Puerto Rican relief effort, and four others died when the four-engine plane, with a questionable past and an overload of cargo, crashed into the Atlantic. This was a major league baseball player, mind you, putting his life on the line to help others. He cared.

I wanted to name my second son Roberto, after my boyhood hero. Their mother didn't think "Roberto Anderson" worked too well, so we went with her suggestion, Walker, after the Walkers Percy and Evans.

One day, after our son Walker was born, I showed him the framed photograph of Roberto's 3,000th hit, which is mounted with two Clemente baseball cards from my childhood and a postcard of his plaque from the Hall.

"I wanted to name you after this guy, one of my heroes," I told him. It was then I looked at the plaque saw that my hero's mother's maiden name was Walker.

An astounding coincidence? My Walker and his twin sister were born on 18 August 2003, which would have been Roberto's 69th birthday.

Roberto Clemente Walker was 38 when he launched his ill-advised relief mission in that DC-7. No one could persuade him not to go. He cared that much.

18 October 2011

Michele Beschen, Steve Jobs and The Creative Life

I was scanning channels last night when I happened upon one of those DIY shows where a woman demonstrated how to make handmade paper from shredded recycled paper and natural elements.

Craft shows are not usually the kind of thing that grabs my attention. But there I was, mesmerized by this woman's creative act and the fact that she was sharing it intentionally, re-purposing old things to make something new and beautiful.

Turns out the woman was Michele Beschen, the brainchild behind "b.organic," which bills itself as "an educational how-to television program that embraces all things creative while keeping a conscious mind," and founder of her own multimedia company, Simply Michele, Inc, with a "mission to empower people to explore, express and exchange fresh ideas through rousing content platforms built around originality and grassroots efforts."

Very cool.

I've been thinking a lot about creativity lately. Part of my talk at SXSW ECO was about how we need to reconnect with the creative parts of ourselves and get back to making things. Michele Beschen embodies that.

So did Steve Jobs. In his famous 2005 commencement speech, Jobs told the Stanford graduates that "much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on."

Jobs talked about connecting the dots. In his case, one dot was stumbling into a calligraphy class at Reed College after he dropped out that later resulted in his creating multiple fonts for the Mac. He never could have known the influence that class would have.

"If I had never dropped in on that single course in college," Jobs noted. "The Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts."

Jobs knew that "you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

Great work is about being creative, making things, and generating value.

"And the only way to do great work is to love what you do," Jobs told the Stanford grads. "If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle."

Jill Sylvia, Untitled (Month2), 2008
Then I saw poet Christian Bok's tweet: "They cut apart ledger papers into artwork-(very envious of this level of intensity...)." He linked to artist Jill Sylvia's web site. She does indeed cut ledger papers into things of quiet beauty. People do amazing things when they let their creativity loose on the world.

In Hugh McLeod's book, Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination (which I reviewed here) he has a chapter titled,
"The 'Creative Life' Is No Longer One of Many Economic Options; It's Now the Only Option We've Got."
That's it. The whole chapter. There is nothing more to say.

What are you creating?

Enhanced by Zemanta

17 October 2011

The Coming Disruption: Lead It or Lose It

I feel like our economy -- our very way of life -- is in a simultaneous state of suspended animation and free fall.  Like a cartoon character that has run off a cliff and hasn't yet realized there is no ground beneath it.

As I said in my talk at SXSW ECO a couple of weeks ago, I don't know whether we're going to go all the way down or we're going to catch ourselves and scramble back up top.

It seems clear we're headed for a major disruption. The question is, will we instigate that disruption or will we let it happen to us?

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests are indicative of this coming disruption. In many ways, it's a welcome and refreshing sign that Americans are no longer complacent, apathetic, hedonists whose sole purpose is to consume.

My fear is that OWS gets co-opted and becomes a kind of anti-Tea Party movement for the left.  I fear that when I see folks like MoveOn.org, the unions, and extreme environmentalists jumping on board and trying to grab the reins.

Partisan ideology on both sides is getting in the way of facing the systemic problems of our way of life.

Our country is failing because we reward people who fail, cheat, and game the system.  We bail out institutions that fail to add value to the world.  And we let others create the world they want for us.

It's a perfect storm of deeply entrenched special interests, leadership incompetence, and redistribution of wealth. (Yes, that's right, I'm against redistributing wealth -- to either the one percent or the 99 percent. Wealth needs to be earned the old-fashioned way: by creating value and hard work.)

Some are calling for stronger regulation, which would inhibit financial institutions being innovative. Meanwhile, banks sit on their money and make big payouts to incompetent managers who are asked to leave and start charging fees for purchases made with debit cards to squeeze more revenue from customers.

How is that going to grow our economy?

Unfortunately, innovation in financial services is getting a bad name.  The innovations of the past decade or so -- much of what got us in the mess we're in -- were driven by regulatory or credit ratings arbitrage, and were increasingly complex, opaque, and focused on quarterly results or success for those who could manipulate the game.

Now it's time for financial innovation that is conducive to sustaining economies – to value creation rather than value destruction, and that drives a new kind of prosperity.

I've been thinking about financial services as an engine of change because we're not going to make real and lasting change – or build a new economy – if money can’t be made while doing it. Altruism is great, but it won't trump greed.

So what if financial services firms clearly demonstrated their community, social and environmental impacts?

What if banks told their customers what they did with their money?

What if customers were rewarded for making sustainable choices?

What if there was a greater connection between money and values, and management was compensated for maintaining or growing that connection?

What if profit and purpose were more equitably connected?

What if sustainability wasn't an add-on, but was part of the DNA of our enterprises?

What if, instead of a triple bottom line, we talked about a single, redefined bottom line that encompasses all three: profitability, environmental health, and social well-being?

Is it even possible for us to make this shift without regulation or with better regulation or, better yet, with self-regulation?

Whatever the answer to the above questions, it's clear a disruption is coming.  We need to decide whether we will lead it or lose it.

Enhanced by Zemanta

14 October 2011

Is It Time for Clean Energy Investing to Go Online?

Longtime readers of The Green Skeptic will recall that back in 2008, I was working on a start-up venture that became the unfortunate victim of the market collapse coupled with, as Andy Swan kept reminding me every time it dipped, the plummeting price of oil after an all-time high of $147 per barrel in the summer of '08.

The idea, which was called "Seat 28B" for a time and VerdeInvesting towards the end, was to build a web marketplace to reduce the barriers to entry for retail investors wanting to help fund green energy projects and companies.

It was an idea that in the fall of 2008 was "too soon to start."

Luckily, we were also too small to fail, to use StockTwits co-founder Howard Lindzon's phrase, and I finally laid the idea to rest about a year after we started.

From its ashes, however, emerged VerdeStrategy, a consulting and advisory firm that has helped dozens of companies articulate their value proposition, prepare for investor pitches and capital raises, and better market their products and services.

But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking my original idea was still valid; it's just that the timing sucked.

So when Spring Ventures's Nick Allen, speaking at SXSW ECO, mentioned Solar Mosaic, I was delighted to see someone implementing one component of what we were thinking -- community-based solar projects with financing provided, in part, by peers and neighbors.

Solar Mosaic is creating what they call "a revolutionary new way for communities to come together and create solar projects on the roofs of local community centers, schools and places of worship."

They hope to "democratize" solar energy development and reduce projects costs through their online peer-to-peer lending system that allows individuals to invest in solar projects in their communities at as little as $100.

I think of them as a Kiva for solar projects.

This week, Solar Mosaic held a groundbreaking ceremony for its first big project: the Asian Resource Center (ARC), in the heart of Oakland's Chinatown, is the first site in Oakland to go solar by raising money on the Solar Mosaic platform. ARC, a non-profit business center, is building a 28.8 kW solar installation that will save the building an estimated $112,684 over the lifetime of the lease.

If Solar Mosaic is the Kiva for community solar projects, OnGreen, is the KickStarter or AngelList for a wider variety of cleantech deals.  OnGreen lists deals of varying sizes and persuasions in its Marketplace section and hopes to become "the world's largest clean-tech social marketplace - brokering deals all across the globe."

Other online marketplaces for social, green, and sustainable goods and services have been popping up as well, including Mission Markets, Microplace, as well as personal peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper.com.

It remains to be seen whether clean energy investors will flock to crowdfunding opportunities or whether the projects and capital needs can actually be met through such vehicles, but I'm delighted to watch and see whether my "too soon to start" idea for a cleantech focused web marketplace finally has some legs.

Then again, perhaps it's time to dust off the old VerdeInvesting business plan and get back in the game.

Enhanced by Zemanta