All Posts Tagged With: "sustainability"

Turning conflict into community

We don’t always remember that social justice plays a key role in sustainability. One of the underlying assumptions of the modern world is that we can throw something we no longer want “away.” Well, there is no “away.” This planet is designed as an exquisitely intricate, interconnected web of life. And we are as much a part of that web as eagles and mushrooms.

As Van Jones, founder of the green-jobs advocacy group Green for All, has observed, there are no throwaway people, either. Our modern criminal justice system has not exactly gotten this message. One of the unexamined assumptions in this complex system is that some people are just too bad to be in society; they need to be locked up and forgotten. Essentially, thrown away.

Lauren Abramson, founder of the Community Conferencing Center, doesn’t buy it. Their work is based on the simple premise that people have the wisdom and compassion to resolve their own conflicts, given the right setting and subtle guidance. In fact, as you will see from watching this video, Conferences have a very high rate of success and the parties involved have quite low rates of re-offending. Conferences are also profound for the participants, binding them together through shared experience.

Carbon accounting: restoring the credibility of green business practices

Guest post by Hunter Richards, Accounting Market Analyst at Software Advice.

Greenwash (verb, \ˈgrēn-wȯsh\) – to market a product or service by promoting a deceptive or misleading perception of environmental responsibility.

Businesses have been launching major marketing campaigns to promote eco-friendly products, but many of their environmental claims end up being questionable at best. Green products are beginning to lose their credibility as consumers become more suspicious of greenwashing. To restore the reliability of environmental marketing and prevent greenwashing from getting out of control, we need to increase corporate transparency and adopt a clearly measurable method for determining the environmental record of a business. It turns out that new accounting technology could be a major part of the solution.

The U.S. is a leader in financial accounting, but we need similar strength in environmental accounting to prevent misleading green marketing campaigns.  The recent development of Enterprise Carbon Accounting (ECA) software enables companies to track their carbon emissions and identify opportunities for waste reduction. The full development and mandatory adoption of ECA software will make it much more difficult for businesses to cover up their environmental records. As carbon footprint transparency becomes more widespread, carbon accounting could become the new measure of a company’s environmental impact. When the information is released to the public, green marketing campaigns can cite concrete evidence to regain consumer trust.

But for ECA software and environmental accounting adoption to effectively make greenwashing obsolete, we need constructive action in five main categories:

  • Clear government action on regulations – like increased coverage of the EPA’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, which requires companies that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gases annually to disclose their emissions figures to the EPA;
  • Adoption of carbon accounting principles – stricter requirements for disclosure of standardized corporate emissions for a precise way to examine a company’s environmental record;
  • Expansion of Scope 3 emissions accounting – mandatory inclusion of suppliers’ emissions and other indirect sources (Scope 3) in environmental reports would prevent under-reporting <>  of emissions and more quickly spread general adoption of carbon accounting throughout the supply chain;
  • Better green business incentives – using ECA software to identify more eco-friendly savings opportunities – like tax incentives – can make it cheaper to truly go green, making greenwashing less tempting and putting real sustainability initiatives in the best economic interests of a business;
  • Demanding, informed consumers – demanding the numbers, while boycotting the greenwashers, forces businesses with green marketing campaigns to prove their sincerity. Greenwashers won’t be able to hide any longer when consumers take this final step.

To learn more about ECA software and greenwashing prevention, read the full article, Software to Hold “Greenwashers” Accountable

Thankful Thursday: the Legacy of John Gutierrez

photo courtesy Gutierrez family

A man who works with his hands is a laborer.
A man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman.
But a man who works with his hands, his brain, and his heart is an artist.

Last week, Baltimore lost a beloved artist, business colleague, mentor, and friend to many. John was the founder, chief visionary and soul of Gutierrez Studios. I first met John 20 years ago, when he was just starting out, but I got to know him better when I moved my office to the Clipper Mill complex, where his studio is located. John did a lot of the great metalwork and other custom architectural details around Clipper Mill. It was fun just to drop by his studio, see what they were up to, and be treated to one of his famous cups of espresso.

Many who knew him much better than I spoke at the celebration of his too-short life (he died at 45). It was held, fittingly, in the workshop, a 19th-century cathedral of industry, complete with a brightly-painted gantry crane. So many inspiring stories and memories were shared, and I want to capture a few that moved me the most.

John was a generous, loving, outgoing, bigger-than-life man who, better than anyone I know (except my own father), lived by the Toltec Four Agreements. Those are: be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; never make assumptions; and always do your best. I’ve studied, memorized, and recited these daily for many months, but John is the one person I know who so beautifully lived those truths. He effortlessly embodied those Four Agreements, just going through his day, every day.

John always lovingly challenged people to be their best, not at all in a judgmental way. But he had a special vision; he could tell when someone was holding back, being unclear, waffling, or not living up to their potential. He held people in their power, and you could feel that in his presence.

Several of his friends and co-workers quoted their favorite “Guti-isms,” phrases that John always used, and usually with gusto. Spike Gjerde, owner of Woodbery Kitchen, itself a model of sustainability (he started the local food movement here in Baltimore), gave us this phrase. John said to him, “I’m a fabricator. But I’m also a fabric-lover.” That gives just a sense of his wonderful humor, and his tremendous self-knowledge.

Another gem: We’re the best. We’re expensive. But, we’re slow.

John also said, I’ve got the greenest business in the world. Our stuff is so beautiful, no one in their right mind would ever throw it away. And, if they did, someone else would just come and pull it out of the dumpster.

The last person to speak was one of his brothers, Glen. He left us with this lovely thought: There are two ways to shine. You can be light or you can reflect light. John was generous with all of us. He allowed us to reflect his light.

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)

Thinking is Acting

photo by Julie
Have you signed up for “”How to Overcome Green Overload” yet? During a FR*EE teleclass on Nov. 12, I’m going to reveal the power of a green mindset. Not to be missed! (More details at the end of this post.)

I had to chuckle when I came across this sign the other day. Such a relief! I am by nature a thinker, and sometimes succumb to an inner battle between the thinker and the doer. Am I a dreamer only? Or someone who takes action as well? Is it possible to find an ideal balance? There’s that old adage: Vision without action is a daydream, but action without vision is a nightmare.

Lately, I’ve been studying with mentors who emphasize that it’s not WHAT we think, but HOW we think. This appeals to me very much, even while it seems impossibly daunting. That same distinction can be applied to action as well, can’t it? It’s not WHAT we do, but HOW we do it.

All this boils down to a fundamental care taken in all that we do. What is that care? It’s compassion, respect, love, and truth. No matter what challenges face me, whether they be the most practical concerns about my business’s profitability, where my next client is coming from, or how to communicate my message most effectively, I can always tap into an expansive sense of possibility by remembering why I am doing all this in the first place. If I am not acting out of compassion, respect, love and truth – for myself, my clients, and the earth – my work will not be as meaningful and rewarding as it can be.

Today, ask yourself, How can I embrace thinking as a form of action with a problem that’s currently taunting me? Don’t be surprised if it leads you to wonder afresh, why do I do what I do?

I’d love for you to join me on my upcoming FR*EE teleclass, “How to Overcome Green Overload in Your Small Business: 5 Steps for Cutting Through the Clutter.” This call is on Thursday, Nov. 12, at 4:00 p.m. EST. This is your chance to learn all about:

• The essential questions you MUST ask yourself before you go green
• The 4 must-haves of creating a sustainable green vision for your company
• My ground-breaking 5-step model for creating a green business

AND I’ll work with you to create your first green business plan right on the call! Register now.

Green Your Supply Chain: 7 Questions and 7 Tips

painting by: Peter Seidel

7 Questions to Ask When Considering Purchasing a Product or Material for Your Business:

1. Apply life-cycle thinking. This includes:

a. Does the product contain toxic materials?
b. Where do the raw materials come from and where is the product manufactured?
c. How much energy is used to extract and ship components or parts of a product?
d. How much energy, water and resources are used to create and package the product?
e. How can it be disposed of or recycled at the end of its useful life?
f. Are there any environmental or health impacts of its use?

2. Do you even need to purchase the product new? Sometimes a used item is just as good.

3. Exactly how much of it do you need? Don’t buy more than you need; this wastes money and resources.

4. What type of packaging does it come with? Environmentally-conscious companies are doing all sorts of creative things to green their packaging. This addresses the materials that packaging is made from, as well as the amount of it.

5. Is the product well-designed for its intended purpose? Often, cheaply made goods fall apart and are thrown away within 3 months of purchase.

6. Does the use of this product require special ventilation? If so, don’t buy it! There are plenty of alternatives for low- and no-VOC cleaning products, paints, and adhesives.

7. Depending on how far you want to take it, ask about labor practices. Does the manufacturer pay a living wage, do they give their employees benefits, do they have a diverse workforce? Do they contribute to their community? The social aspects of sustainability / green are sometimes overlooked, but have huge potential payoffs.

7 Tips:

1. Look for locally-produced and sourced products. This helps support your local economy, and reduces transportation-related environmental costs. Continued

Measure Thyself

photo by: alyssa

When you see the word, "audit," what comes to mind? A pleasant, fact-finding experience? Or, sheer terror that some heartless IRS agent could rummage around in your financial records and wreak havoc in your life?

Thought so. By their very nature, audits seem destined to pull skeletons out of closets, dredge up facts about you that you’d rather not see the light of day. For some reason, green business consultants persist in using the dreaded a-word to describe their initial baseline measures. Putting "eco" or "green" before it is just like lipstick on a pig – it doesn’t soften the blow at all, does it? Would you volunteer to have an eco-audit done on your business?

And yet, it’s essential to know where you are, if you are to map out a plan to go in a new direction. The way I see it, change involves three key steps: measure your current impacts, receive a new vision, and map out a plan of action to get there. Well, here’s a confession: I have had the vision and the action, but I never measured.

Truth be told, metrics has always been my greatest challenge. I’m highly intuitive, so I don’t usually need "proof" of things. I took a seat-of-the-pants, I-have-a-feel-for-it approach all these years. But by avoiding key measures, I’ve also relegated myself to stumbling around blindly. I have a great map and I know where I want to go, BUT, I don’t know where I started from! Technically, that means I’m lost.

By never taking my own baseline, I also had no way to track my progress over the years. That’s like starting out with a personal trainer, but not weighing in or taking your measurements at the beginning. How would you know if you made any progress?

So, the shoemaker herself has no shoes. What now? I’ve decided to undergo not one, but two, green business audits over the next few weeks. I am using it as a fact-finding experience to determine which measures are the most relevant to small, entrepreneurial businesses.

I have been designing a program for small businesses to strategically embrace a green path, and the baseline assessment is indeed Job One. Once I take this formal step myself, I will have a much better idea of how to help other business owners use the information in powerful ways.

My own business has gone through tremendous transformations over the last 10 years, as I developed my green expertise. Much of it has been conscious, and a lot has been unconscious, serendipity, accident, call it what you will. I don’t expect that to change, but now I’ll see clearly the impacts I’m having – within my own business, and in my networks and circles of influence. I’ll finally be on the map.

P.S. Had to add this thought, after having coffee with Geoff Stack (Integrative Design Team Coordinator) this morning. Geoff pointed out that audits start with asking, "what’s wrong?" They are also somewhat limited in that they tend to look only at the usual suspects — energy use, materials streams, water use, travel, etc. As a result, you only see what you are looking for. A much more powerful approach is from a systems perspective like Natural Step , which opens us up to possibility more effectively. It’s a delicate balancing act, since both approaches have their merits.