Archive for June, 2010

The Weekly Green: Juice for the Journey #3

Eden Project

Week 3

When the winds of change begin to blow, some people build walls. Others build windmills. ~ Chinese proverb

Change is an inevitable part of life. Yet, a part of us always wants to cling to the old, familiar ways. We resist, deny, and construct elaborate scenarios to stave off change. At the same time, we are perfectly equipped with the vision and creativity to turn change to our advantage. Most, if not all, advancements in our evolution have followed this pattern. Where can you make lemonade out of lemons this week?

More: Watch biomimetic architect Michael Pawlyn show how he builds windmills.

Read the Weekly Green from Week 2 here.

We always love to hear from you! How juicy is this quote for you?

Shift your mindset from hell to heaven

How does the BP oil disaster affect our businesses? Its effects on businesses in the Gulf are obvious. As a savvy business owner, do you see its effects on your own? Sometimes the answer is so close, we just can’t see it.

As one way to light a candle, rather than curse the darkness, I offer this mindset shift.

In Ian McEwan’s book, “Solar,” a physicist tells the story of a man living in a rainy forest. The man is terribly thirsty. He has been cutting down trees to get at the sap, so he can quench his thirst. The destruction all around him is evidence of his desperate quest to find something to drink. Sure, he could just tilt up his head, open his mouth and let the rain in. Or he could make a bowl to catch the rain. But he’s just so good at cutting down trees. So that’s what he continues to do.

It’s an allegory of our quest for energy: we go to greater and greater lengths to dig up ancient trees and sunlight in the form of fossil fuels. And yet, the earth receives more energy from the sun in just one hour than the world uses in a whole year. But we are just so good at pulling up fossil fuels. So that’s what we continue to do.

One great distinction I’ve heard recently (in Tom Friedman’s book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded“) is between fuels from hell (fossil fuels from the earth’s fiery crust) and fuels from heaven (solar, wind from the sky). We are living in such an interesting time; this shift from hell to heaven is taking place NOW.

To help you take advantage of this shift and contribute to your business success, here are:

Three tips to shift from hell to heaven

Tip #1: Measure Thyself. There’s that old adage, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Awareness is the first step towards positive change. Your local utility very likely has a program to support businesses in reducing energy use. An audit is the best first step, as it gives you a baseline to measure progress.

Tip #2: Get Smart. Reduce your energy use as much as possible. Two suggestions: 1) Go around your office and plug everything into smart strips. Turn off strips with equipment that’s not in use. This goes for cell-phone chargers and anything with a bulky box at the plug end. These items use energy even when the device is turned off. 2) Lighting retrofits can save buckets of money. Contact a company like Alliance Energy Solutions for turn-key service. They package tax credits and other incentives, even zero-interest loans if you qualify, to make it very affordable. Then, you get to sit back and enjoy the savings from your new, highly efficient lighting.

Tip #3: Welcome the Sun. Two suggestions: 1) Buy Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s), either via your utility or through a third party like Clean Currents or WindCurrent. RECs go to fund wind turbines and solar installations that sell clean energy to the grid. 2) If you own your building, look into putting solar panels on the roof. Most solar installers offer pricing packages that roll in the various incentives from local, state, and federal programs. In some states, this makes the price of solar very attractive.

Were these tips helpful? Let us know. We’d love to hear what else you’re doing to welcome the sun.

The weekly green: juice for the journey #2


Week 2

The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying that we might see beyond our own time. ~ Terry Tempest Williams

This one always gets me right in the heart. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility since I am awake to both the devastation and the emerging positive mindset that can carry us forward. How can you see – and act – beyond our time this week?

More: Watch Terry’s riveting talk at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network‘s Artists for the Climate

Read the Weekly Green from Week 1 here.

We always love to hear from you! How juicy is this quote for you?

What is a green business?

A colleague recently asked me, “What do you mean by “green business,” anyway?” Well! No wonder she was confused; there are so many conflicting and fragmented messages out there, each with its own definition of green business.

So, in order to clear up the question once and for all, here is my official definition of green business:

A green business is ANY business that pays close attention to its relationships – to the natural world (planet, resources), to the communities in which it operates, to individuals within the business and that are served by that business.

It is a business that looks both downstream AND upstream – that measures its impacts and creatively reduces the negative ones while profitably increasing the positive. Finally, green businesses have a vision of themselves as being GOOD in these relationships, not just “less bad.”

With this sense of itself, a green business can and does:

    • Increase profitability by slashing waste;
    • Attract media exposure and serve more people;
    • Super-charge employee attraction and retention; and
    • Build solid customer and brand loyalty.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? As I quickly discovered when I began promoting green architecture, the difference between green and non-green is primarily about quality. A shoddy, poorly-designed building will simply not be as efficient, healthy, or appealing as a green-designed building.

And business is the same way! A business that has little or no sense of mission, is haphazardly managed, and lurches from crisis to crisis will not be as profitable or as beloved as a green-mission-driven business. It’s all about awareness, vision, and taking decisive, purposeful action.

The weekly green: juice for the journey #1

Dymaxion Car: Patent drawing figure 1

Today begins a NEW weekly feature on GOforChange.

The great strawbale building pioneer Matts Mhyrman has said, “The road to good intentions is paved with hell,” and that feels about right to me. The journey of someone who cares deeply about the earth and is working like hell to do something about it can be a bumpy one indeed.

We each have our coping techniques. The very talented David Eisenberg, founder of the Development Center for Appropriate Technologies (DCAT) writes poetry and arranges it artfully on his gorgeous photographs of wild places. I know many folks unplug and spend weeks at a time in those wild places.

One of my ways is to collect quotes. It hasn’t been a conscious practice until very recently. I just appreciate the way a good quote or aphorism sums up the entire world so elegantly.

Each week, I will offer one of my favorites as inspiration to support you through the challenges you are bound to encounter along your path as an advocate for the earth. I’ll include a brief meditation on what the quote means to me, and a question to take into your week. Now, let’s get started!

Week 1

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new reality that makes the existing reality obsolete. ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

This has long been on my touchstone. It’s an elegant way of saying, “don’t curse the darkness; light a candle.” In many ways, the green building movement demonstrates the truth of this. We have all the technology and know-how we need to create zero-energy buildings, so let’s just get going and do that. What can you do this week to build a new reality?

More: Buckminster Fuller Institute

We always love to hear from you! How juicy is this quote for you?

Are you using only half your mind?

7 tips to get in the flow

You know the expression that begins, “I’ve got half a mind to. . . ?” Well, guess what? Most of us really are using only half our mind when tackling the tough challenges of greening our business. That’s the equivalent of trying to go three rounds with Mohammad Ali with one hand tied behind your back!

Yes, the focus of the green movement is almost exclusively on a linear, left-brain, problem-solving approach. Give things up, use less, eat your kale. While this has its place, it isn’t very inspiring. It is far more rewarding to engage our whole mind – including the often overlooked right brain.

I am more convinced than ever of the power of creative expression to catalyze new thinking. Brain science confirms this: we have two hemispheres, right and left. By holding only to the rational, linear, and analytical left brain, we treat the right brain as a poor step-child. We need to get over thinking of right-brain pursuits like art, photography, film, poetry, music, and storytelling as mere “entertainment.”

As Albert Einstein observed:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

Relying only on the seen and rational, to the exclusion of engaged intuitive leaps, is one reason why more entrepreneurs aren’t already seeing the green in their own business. It also makes working sessions seem long, tedious, and – dare I say – boring. Since change is often challenging, using half our mind makes things way harder than they need to be!

I was reminded of this recently, working with a successful energy-efficiency consultancy to benchmark their sustainability practices. An early leader in the green building movement, they aspire to be a world-class company. It’s important to them to lead by example, and they want to focus their energies to do even better as they grow.

Our benchmark tool helped them to go deeper and look at operations, community engagement, and employee policies, as well as the more obvious impacts from energy use, transportation, and waste and recycling.

In our debrief after two sessions with them, we realized we had defaulted to a very left-brain focused, detailed, and exhausting mode. Luckily, these were engineers, so they weren’t fazed by the technical language and the linear, logical approach. Certainly, we all made plenty of discoveries and had a satisfying number of “a-ha” moments.

Still, we came away wondering what was left undiscovered. Next time we will structure the sessions very differently, to engage both left and right brains. Why can this help? Remember, our old friend Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. We can get so dazzled by the facts and figures, by the data and the right-wrong mindset, that we can miss all the nuance.

Here are seven tips to making your next collaborative session more fun and productive. How can you open to new possibilities by honoring the gift of intuition this week?

1.  No right or wrong. Start your session by reminding yourself and everyone that you are creating something new. You are not keeping score.

2.  Be a beginner. Even if it’s something you do on a regular basis, think back to when you were brand new. How might a beginner approach the situation? What would a novice ask?

3. Tell a story. Our brains love analogies. A good story can be an economical – and inspiring – way to convey complex ideas and meaning.

4.  Lighten up. Who says meetings have to be dull and serious? Laughter and play are inherently creative.

5.  A picture is worth 1,000 words. Use images to help people brainstorm and make creative leaps. Pictures engage our right brain and help open us to greater possibility in the moment.

6.  Roll up your sleeves. Rather than structuring a meeting with an expert up front giving everyone the Truth, get everyone around the table engaged. Invite them to get to work, rather than sit passively waiting for the answers.

7.  Questions rather than answers. Encourage people to express their ideas only as questions and see what happens. Misunderstandings are treasure!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How did this information help you? Post your comments below.