Archive for February, 2010

Thankful Thursday: What Are We Here For?

watercolor by: Julie
Today’s Thankful Thursday is a tribute to the Creative Force. We are all here to create a better world, first for ourselves, then for everyone else. Growth and change underpin every experience we have.

This force is the main driver of everything in our world. It is undeniable, irresistible, and ever-present. You may know it by one or more of these names: the Creative Force, Nature, Life, Love, Spirit, God, Goddess.

Each of us is a channel for the Creative Force. Our job in this life is to be creative. That’s it. Humans are designed for this: we are fundamentally a miraculously versatile, multi-talented, feeling, intelligent structure through which the Creative Force expresses itself.

It gets better. Since every single person has a unique body, mind, and abilities, the Creative Force expresses itself uniquely through each of us. As a child, were you taught to conform, to be like everyone else, or to meet an unrealistic standard of perfection? Were you made wrong in subtle – and not so subtle – ways for standing out? Even worse, were you told, “You’re just not very creative?”

This is a violation of what the Creative Force wants for us. We are here for one reason: to allow Creation to come through us beautifully and uniquely. This also means that it is pointless and destructive to make comparisons.

Far better to become more and more conscious of what is creating through you each day, what you most deeply desire to do, to be, or to have. Take time to practice allowing and expecting your desires to manifest. When I stop to notice how creative inspirations come to me, it’s really entertaining!

An oft-overlooked aspect of all of this unfolding, growth, and change is this: It’s not happening “out there.” This rich world of power, possibility, and promise is within us. That’s right. Your mind is the creative cause of all that you experience.

Think about it. We never make a move of any kind without first forming an image of it in our mind. Call it daydreaming, imagination, planning, getting an idea – it all originates in your mind. Ideas have the power to direct tremendous energy.

So that means that life proceeds THROUGH us. It doesn’t happen TO us. As an architect, I did this unconsciously all the time. I followed a process of imagining something in my mind, drawing it, and enlisting the help of others to build it. Creation = imagination + materials + effort.

The cool thing is that this works in every instance, all day long, throughout our lives. It’s not just a technique of someone in a creative profession. We are ALL creative – that’s how humans were designed!

This principle is found in all the world’s wisdom traditions. In Proverbs, it says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Since you’ve read this far, I’m going to reward you with a few of my favorite quotes:

From the Sufi mystic Rumi: “In fact, God does not regard your outward form and wealth, but does regard your heart and good deeds.”

“My heart holds within it every form,
it contains a pasture for gazelles,
a monastery for Christian monks.
There is a temple for idol-worshippers,
A holy shrine for pilgrims;
There is the table of the Torah,
and the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love
and go whichever way His camel leads me.
This is the true faith;
This is the true religion.
It is a very long way to go.”
-Ibn al-Arabi

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is transferred through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly.” – Martha Graham

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart…. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”
Carl Jung, Letters Vol I

“It seems to me a powerful message, worth repeating and repeating, that people want peace, simplicity, beauty, nature, respect, the ability to contribute and create. These things are much cheaper and easier to achieve than war, luxury, ugliness, waste, hate, oppression, manipulation. Some day, when everyone understands that nearly all of us truly want the same kind of world, it will take surprisingly little time or effort to have it.”
Donella Meadows

Napoleon Hill: “If you can conceive and believe it, you will receive it.”

“How we live our days is how we live our lives.” Annie Dillard

I would love to hear from you if any of these thoughts strike a chord.

7 Questions to Find Your Green Biz Blind Spot

photo by: Julie
I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with business owners about the benefits of applying a green mindset to their organization. Did you know that green businesses have outperformed their traditional counterparts throughout the recent economic downturn by 15%? Not to mention that, since green is so hot right now, green-focused businesses routinely get increased media attention.

Many self-reliant business owners have started businesses on a shoestring and kept going through long hours and years of dedicated toil. So it’s not surprising that they tend to take this approach: “We’re can start a green program on our own. We don’t need ‘outside’ help.”

Yes, it is important to build a strong internal capacity for any structural change within a business. It’s never successful or lasting to simply hire an outside gun to come in and tell everyone what to do. It just will not be integrated or authentic to your company.

So, growing a green program organically from within is a practical approach. At the same time, it can be very powerful to enlist the right mentorship at the beginning. As Raymond Holliwell observed, “I always advocate that it is better to get a good start, when possible, by getting help, rather than to come over the slower and more arduous path of self-education. Then, the student . . . will be able to make rapid progress.”

Many of my clients are already deeply committed to a green path, and have taken action. They come to me feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or lacking broad support in their organization. All of these are symptoms of an uncoordinated green program – lots of small tactics, but lacking a coherent vision that sustains and inspires everyone.

How do you know if you are headed in the right direction? These seven questions will help you find any blind spots you may have:

1. Where is this goal on your list of priorities?

2. How will embarking on a greening program benefit your organization?

3. How important is it to know where you are starting from and where you want to go?

4. Do people on your green team need training in sustainability principles or effective tactics?

5. Are you selecting people based on certain qualities that you know are needed in order for this to be a successful movement in your company? Or, simply because they are enthusiastic about green?

6. Will people need ongoing leadership and accountability? Milestones, check-ins, troubleshooting?

7. Imagine if, at the end of 6 months, you’ve designed and embarked on a strategic greening program, what would that be like for your organization? How might that impact your reach, your finances, and your creativity?

Your answers to these questions will help you diagnose where you may be encountering challenges in your greening program. Are people wheel-spinning? Do you detect apathy or a general lack of buy-in? We can help. Schedule a GreenVersation with Julie. We’ll roll up our sleeves, come up with some strategies to help, and explore how you can accelerate your results. Just send an email to chris(at)serenityva.com with subject line “Green me!”

Constellation Energy Commits $90 Million to Solar

photo: Business Wire
One way that businesses can implement green projects is to partner with entities offering incentives. Not just government, but also industry — in particular, utilities — have been getting into the act. The Mid-Atlantic has been long overdue for such programs.

Constellation Energy (NYSE:CEG) announced February 16 that it will support the development of commercial photovoltaic power systems with a $90 million solar capital commitment. To maximize the value of government renewable incentives, the $90 million set-aside will be available for customer-sited solar installations of 500 kilowatts or larger which begin construction before mid-year 2010.

“Constellation Energy’s solar capital commitment provides the resources to make photovoltaic power a simple and economical proposition for commercial and governmental customers who want to support clean, renewable energy at their facilities,” said Michael D. Smith, senior vice president of green initiatives for Constellation NewEnergy. “Our solar business model gives customers a single source for every step of the process, from financing to planning and permitting, construction and long-term maintenance of the system. By working with Constellation Energy, customers can make meaningful and immediate impacts on their carbon and sustainability goals.”

The capital commitment enables Constellation Energy to finance, design, construct and own solar installations for customers and supply the power generated on-site to the customer. This structure makes it possible for customers to deploy on-site solar and meet sustainability goals without incurring upfront costs. Approximately $18 million of the capital commitment has already been committed to projects soon to begin development in Maryland and New Jersey.

Constellation Energy has committed to expanding solar project development over the next several years. The company currently has approximately 25 megawatts of solar power systems installed or under way in the U.S., ranging from customer-sited rooftop installations to a 17.1-megawatt large-scale project in Emmitsburg, Md., that will be among the largest in the U.S.

Constellation Energy has developed photovoltaic installations for retailers, manufacturers, government facilities and universities nationwide, with a focus on projects in Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California where solar incentives and credits make development particularly attractive for customers financially. Solar renewable energy credits (SREC), which are granted to solar projects for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced, help make on site solar projects economically attractive. With SREC values scheduled to decline over time as states require the development of more solar generation, the next several months represent the optimal time to begin construction of on-site solar with the strongest project economics.

Structured correctly, today’s photovoltaic power systems can generate electricity that is priced at or below the cost of power from the grid. Qualifying projects of 500 kilowatts generally require at least 100,000 square feet of roof space or two acres of open ground. Organizations interested in developing solar projects can contact Constellation Energy at Sustainable-Solutions(at)constellation.com or 1-877-427-2005.

Thankful Thursday: Alabama Eco-Couture

photo by: Julie
Last fall, I attended a workshop at Alabama Chanin, an eco-couture house in – not New York – northern Alabama. Why did I go all the way down there? I read about this company and its founder, Natalie Chanin, in an issue of Ode magazine last summer. Something about their mission, their aesthetic, and their story just drew me; I simply could not resist!

Alabama Chanin is a welcoming, creative feast for the eyes. Everything in the place is sorted by color, neatly organized, even the scraps. They don’t really consider them “scraps” in the way someone else might. They think of ways to re-use every piece of fabric, to have a zero-waste operation. Not only does it save precious resources and money, it gives them opportunities to exercise their prodigious creativity. They even have a sofa made out of bales of cotton scraps! All their cotton is organically-grown, and their garments are stitched by hand.

This creativity extends to every aspect of the business. Every roadblock or challenge, big or small, has become an opportunity to revisit the mission and go at it another way. At the workshop, Natalie told us some stories of setbacks that would have brought most other businesses to their knees. These challenges were like a test of her resolve and faith. Each time, she kept at it, trying a slightly different angle, one that actually improved the business and took her closer to her vision of a truly sustainable enterprise. Her unwavering commitment to the dream is so powerful and inspiring.

Alabama Chanin has been profitable from the beginning. They work with independent stitchers from around the region, mostly women who are continuing long traditions of quilting and handwork. Interestingly, Alabama Chanin is headquartered in an old T-shirt factory, in the town that used to consider itself the T-shirt Capitol of the World. That is, until NAFTA took all those good jobs away.

Alabama Chanin is proof that when you are living your life purpose, unexpected things happen to nurture your success. Natalie had some great stories about ah-ha moments and serendipitous events that have helped her carry this vision forward. Buyers, groupies and fans have consistently shown up to support her, once she was out there doing her thing. These are high-quality, beautiful garments made with care that will last generations. What a perfect embodiment of sustainability.

Three Rules to Avoid Greenwashing & Achieve Market Success

graphic by: Ida Cheinman

My friend, Ida Cheinman, founder of Substance 151, is a leader in branding for sustainability. She graciously agreed to write a guest article for us. Enjoy!

“Green” marketing presents unique challenges – we live in a time when the word “sustainability” is topping the buzzword charts and a wave of greenwashing is flooding the mainstream. But we also live in a time when sustainability and social responsibility are the forces driving many buying decisions. While being a “green” business already creates a competitive advantage, simply being “green” is no longer enough. Marketers and business leaders are faced with the challenge of creating differentiation by developing an empowering and memorable brand experience for their audiences in the increasingly crowded sustainable marketplace.

Why is it important to talk about your responsible business practices?

People want to feel a connection to the companies they do business with and they want to feel good about their choices – environmental stewardship is an increasingly persuasive motivator. Based on existing market research, over 40% of buyers have a strong preference, and are willing to pay more, for products and services from companies that use socially and environmentally responsible business practices. This is a significant market share! Communicate wisely about your environmentally responsible business to ensure that it doesn’t go to your competitors.

Here are three rules to create a successful and sustainable market position:

Rule 1 – Authenticity: Aligning Promise with Practice

Your commitment to sustainability has to be authentic and come from within. It has to be a part of your mission, your business strategy, your operational process and your employee engagement programs. As consumers demand that companies address their environmental concerns, they’re also demanding higher levels of accountability and transparency – “walking the talk” matters more than ever before. Avoid being labeled a “greenwasher.” When your company communicates its environmental commitment through a consumer-facing brand story, make sure that its green promise has authentic proof behind it.

Success = complete integration of sustainability strategy and brand strategy, aligning external consumer promises with internal company practices.

Rule 2 – Commitment to Quality

While environmentally conscious consumers represent a significant market share, for a company to achieve maximum success in the marketplace and create an opportunity to stay competitive through the economic downturn and into the future, its offerings have to be not only greener but also perceived as better.

A company is not the sole owner of its brand. It shares this ownership with its customers, partners, vendors and other stakeholders – all engaged in shaping the brand’s perception in the marketplace.

Success = creating opportunities for continued improvement of what your company offers and your ability to successfully communicate the benefits of your products and services.

Rule 3 – Brand Experience: Telling a Compelling Story

Sustainable brands are not about the logo, print collateral or the website driven by the latest technologies; they are about a powerful idea framework and brand experience that transforms, moves and creates a meaningful dialogue.

We all care about our future and the future of our children and want to be moved and empowered to do the right thing. We also care about our individual success and prosperity. How can a brand deliver both? Fortunately, we have come to the point when doing the right thing is economically viable. Now is the time to position your company to stand tall among other leading brands like Interface, Aveda, Autodesk, U.S. Green Building Council, Nike, SunEdison, Seventh Generation and many others. What’s your story?

Success = empowering your audiences, creating a community, leading a movement, affecting change – all while delivering on the triple bottom line economic model: achieving business growth and economic prosperity that is good for people and the planet.

Substance151 is a brand design + strategy firm focused on building sustainable brands for companies with environmentally and socially responsible products, services and corporate values. Their expertise includes every step of the branding process – from strategy through design, across print and digital media, and including all aspects of marketing communications.
To engage them in helping you build a stronger brand and tell your story, please contact them at 410-732-8379 or contact(at)substance151.com.

Thankful Thursday: Creative Colleagues

photo by: Doug Retzler

Today, I am feeling very grateful to be blessed with so many inspiring friends and colleagues. Artists have a unique, passionate way of seeing the world around them. They bring us unexpected and surprising creations that help us to wake up to the beauty and wonder that’s all around us. In honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, this is my valentine to all of you.

My artist friend, Doug Retzler, is a force in the Baltimore arts scene. I always see him at street fairs and events, like the Baltimore Eco-Festival, doing amazing things that delight kids and adults alike. Whether it’s a community-constructed bamboo shelter or an Art Car for the American Visionary Arts Museum, Doug brings delight, vision, and a sense of fun to his work. In a recent email to me, he noted, “Luckily, I never let reality get in my way.”

Chris Armstrong is a client and a great photographer. She recently send me this image. Isn’t it stunning?
photo by: Chris Armstrong

I loved working with Chris and her husband and partner, Jess, because they were so fearless and tireless in their quest to realize their dream. Renovating an old barn into a photography studio is one of the most romantic architectural briefs I can imagine. We used to give out projects like this in architecture school. They walked the talk in all ways possible — from salvaged materials, to solar-heating (and cooling- really!), to working with local Amish craftsmen, their studio truly is of its place. Treat yourself by spending some time with their portfolio. The engaging images of Amish country and of their many animals (including the Alpacas) are my personal favorites.

In the spirit of these artists’ passion and vision, here’s a Valentine’s Day thought for you, from “You(squared)” by Price Pritchett:

“Quantum leaps won’t happen if you’re living life with a lukewarm heart. Passion is a very important part of the process. It fires the soul and fills the spirit. . . .Passion also keeps you going when you’re hit with problems and uncertainty. But passion itself must be fueled, and you feed that flame with visions of a dream that is dramatic. The emotional intensity inside must burn hot enough to protect you against the chilling effects of doubt, uncertainty, criticism, and failure. Only deep desire can generate such heat.”

Here’s to a white-hot Valentine’s Day and to the power of your dreams.

Warning: Argue About Climate Change At Your Own Risk

photo by: Julie
Recently, I had a conversation with a green business colleague, who is absolutely convinced that the recent brouhaha about a so-called global climate-change conspiracy has set back the green movement ten years. His concern is at least one branch of the movement – notably green building – has hitched its wagon to the climate-change star of late, rather than sticking to their more successful message that green buildings save money, attract higher-paying tenants and get media attention.

What to make of this? I’m fascinated by the passion on both sides of this argument – and, in fact, that there IS an argument at all. I happen to accept the science that climate change is real and caused by human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels from the earth’s crust (where they were deposited over eons, because they are toxic to life in the biosphere). But I’m not going to argue with someone who disagrees with me. I choose not to lead with climate change, because it is too controversial and turns people off.

I’ve been studying belief change lately. The best way to get someone to harden their position on something is to try and talk them out of it. Think about it. When we believe something, we tend to see evidence of its truth all around us. We also ignore any and all evidence to the contrary – and you can bet there is such evidence. We just don’t see it, because we are too busy noticing the proof. Instead of arguing, the more effective course is to subtly play with people, asking questions to shift their perceptions and awareness. (More on belief change in future articles.)

There’s another reason I abstain from the climate change debate. There’s a universal law that what we focus on, expands. I have long turned away from the “doom-n-gloom” environmental messages. Why put out that anxious, fearful energy? Instead, look at how advantageous it is to adopt a green mindset: it’s smart business to reduce or eliminate waste (which equals money down the drain or up the smokestack); connect to new markets of people who DO care; and get free PR. (More on benefits of green business in future articles.)

Can’t resist passing this along. Since my belief is that climate change is real, I see all around me evidence to support that! For instance, NOAA has a new website covering climate change, which I investigated this morning. It’s full of the latest information, with sections on education, data, and understanding climate.

Also, Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist that has been warning about this for decades, has a new book that I haven’t read yet: “Storms of My Grandchildren” which looks to be a gloves-are-off call to action. (Not for the faint-hearted: the words “last chance” are splashed all over the website.)

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know!