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

12 October 2011

Global Cleantech Cluster Association's Top 30 Companies Announced

As readers of The Green Skeptic know, I co-founded the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, a business network for cleantech professionals working from New York to Northern Virgina.

Earlier this year, we joined the Global Cleantech Cluster Assocication (GCCA), which is comprised of 30 cleantech clusters and networks around the globe from Switzerland to Singapore and San Diego to Syracuse.

Together the GCCA members represent 4,000 Cleantech Companies Worldwide.  And now the GCCA has an award to recognize some of the best of the best of those companies, nominated by its member organizations.

A Global Top 30 semi-finalists for the 2011 award were announced today and will now be judged by 28 cleantech venture capitalists, investors and serial entrepreneurs who collectively manage $3.5 billion in clean technology investments.

From this group ten winners will be picked in each of ten categories.  The award winners will be announced on November 14th in Dublin, Ireland, at the Dublin Cleantech Forum and GCCA Later Stage Awards.

Co-hosted by An iSli Ghlas – The Green Way, Ireland’s cleantech cluster, the full-day event will feature CEO presentations and high-level discussions on the most critical topics for emerging clean technology companies and investment opportunities.

The Global Top 30 Companies are:

Imperative Energy
An tSlí Ghlas – The Green Way, Ireland
Finnish Cleantech Cluster
NYC Acre
Energy Efficiency/
Green Buildings
Colorado Cleantech IA
Chicago Clean Energy Alliance
New Materials
CleanTech San Diego
Finnish Cleantech Cluster
OPX Biotechnologies
Colorado Cleantech IA
Other renewables
AWS Ocean Energy
ecoConnect, U.K
Open Hydro
An tSlí Ghlas – The Green Way, Ireland
NovaThermal Energy
Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, U.S.A.
Alencon Systems
Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, U.S.A.
Clean Technology & Sustainable Industries
Chicago Clean Energy
Storage/Smart Grid
CleanTech San Diego
MaRS Discovery District, Toronto, CA
ICE Energy
Colorado Cleantech IA
Achates Power
CleanTech San Diego
Rapid Electric Vehicles
Green Tech Exchange, Canada
SAM Group
NYC Acre
Chicago Clean Energy
CleanTech San Diego
EcoTech Quebec
Finnish Cleantech Cluster
Finnish Cleantech Cluster
EcoWorld Styria, Austria
Flanders Cleantech Association

For more information about the Global Cleantech Cluster Association, go to their website: GlobalCleantech.org  
Enhanced by Zemanta

11 October 2011

ECO-nomics: Re-envisioning Financial Services; My Talk at SXSW ECO

Last week I gave a talk at the first SXSW ECO in Austin, Texas. 

Here is the slide show from my talk, available on SlideShare:

and here is a transcript of my talk on Scribd:

ECO-nomics: Re-envisioning Financial Services for the 21st Century

A video of the talk will be available at a later date.

Enhanced by Zemanta

07 October 2011

The Greening of Defense: The Green Skeptic on WSJ's LunchBreak

I was on WSJ.com's LunchBreak with Wendy Bounds today talking about how the Department of Defense has become a true energy innovator and the potential benefits of an energy efficiency makeover of the Empire State building.

Here is a link to the video on wsj.com: The Green Skeptic on LunchBreak

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Green Skeptic on FOX Business: EU Emissions Permits Won't Fly

I sat down with Stuart Varney & Company in the FOX Business Studios this morning to talk about the EU proposal to require airlines to pay to offset carbon through its carbon credit scheme.

This flies in the face a long-standing global effort, which would have more consistent impact.

In other words, this permit scheme won't fly, in my humble opinion.

Here is is the video:

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

03 October 2011

Andy Rooney, Schlub Reporter, Says Goodbye

Photo by Stephenson Brown 
Everybody's favorite curmudgeon Andy Rooney signed off last night after 33 years having the last word on 60 Minutes.  I was grateful that a dear friend sent me a link to it (here), knowing how much I'd appreciate it.

"When I was in high school I had an English teacher who told me I was a good writer so I set out to become a writer myself," Rooney said, or wrote, he made it clear that he reads what he writes on TV. "I've made my living as a writer for seventy years now.  It's been pretty good."

That's not a bad run as writer's gigs go.  Only perhaps Studs Terkel outlasted him as a writer-broadcaster.

"A writers' job is to tell the truth," imparted Rooney, as he told the truth about his loathing of celebrity.

"I spent my first 50 years trying to become well known as a writer," Rooney offered. "And the next 30 trying to avoid being famous.  I walk down the street now or go to a football game and people shout 'Hey Andy!'  And I hate that."

I remember Andy Rooney's early 60 Minutes commentaries.  The show was a regular Sunday night staple in our house coming as it did right after football and right before Carroll O'Connor stole my father's lines on "All in the Family."

Sometimes I liked what Rooney said, even agreed with him. Other times I wondered how such a schlub got on television.

I agreed with much of what he said in last night's final word, however, especially about writing.

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.

And, as Andy Rooney wrote and read into the camera last night, "Writers don't retire and I'll always be a writer."

For those of you who never saw Andy Rooney in action or want to relive some of his classic commentaries, here's a link to "The Best of Andy Rooney" courtesy of CBS.

And one final note to Jeff Fager, if you're reading this and you're looking for a skeptic to take Mr. Rooney's place, give me a call.

Enhanced by Zemanta