Worms to the rescue!

I was absent from my blog because I was finishing up grad school.  My apologies.  But now that I have that box checked, onward with the original plan: tieing together business and social and environmental sustainability.

When it comes to environmental issues, there is a general consensus that human activity is adversely effecting our ability to survive on the planet.  One of the many areas in which we are seeing significant degradation is food production, namely fruits and vegetables.  Population growth and rising demand for staple crops like cotton and wheat are two often cited factors that push farmers into an unfortunate negative spiral.  Farmers use some very toxic chemicals to turbo-charge plant development and to ward off crop damaging weeds and insects.  Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer and negatively affect the health of farmers, field hands, and people in the communities surrounding farmland.  These chemicals also destroy the health of the soil and prevent it from providing the nutrients and minerals crops need to grow.  So, farmers add more chemicals the next year further compromising the soil which encourages applying more chemicals and so on.

The spiral continues when you consider the agricultural products of  companies like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM).  They bioengineer weed and insect toxins into crop seeds and, in so doing, have sparked a maelstrom of controversy.  Opponents are concerned about these seeds, known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, because we do not have enough data on the total affect these new genetic strains have on an ecology.  An interesting debate, yes, but I’m more interested in the medium in which seeds, GMO or not, grow.  In this case, soil. (Note, plants can also grow in water or air.)

Earthworms in organic waste

Did you know that the poop of earthworms is an amazing natural fertilizer?!  Earthworms eat decaying organic matter and something magical happens as they digest the waste: it is converted into beneficial nutrients and minerals that help plants grow.  This is known as vermicomposting!  By harnessing the natural proclivity of earthworms, we can rejuvenate the natural health of farmland (CNN link) and increase crop yields in a more environmentally sustainable way.  More to come!


Lightbulbs ain’t the big leagues

When it comes to sustainability and insuring humanity’s continued existence on the planet, every little bit helps.  In my opinion, though, all bits are NOT created equal!

It is ridiculous that a corporation receives significant recognition for doing the simplest act.  Changing the lightbulbs is so junior varsity.  In this post, I’m calling out Intradeco Apparel for peacocking the fact that in March of this year they won an award for changing some lightbulbs.  Worse yet, they were given the award by a company called P.E. Energy that appears to be so insignificant they can’t maintain a web site (checked 10/04/2009).  Now, to their credit, they’ve taken more significant steps toward sustainability by obtaining organic certification for their manufacturing facility in El Salvador.  Unfortunately, they forgot to mention who certified them.  That’s kinda important.

Companies should be held to a higher standard when it comes to sustainability.  For starters, we should expect they’ve done the basics like change lightbulbs and recycle printer and copier paper.  They can start bragging when they generate a good chunk of their own electricity from alternative sources or assume responsibility for the sustainability of their entire supply chain.

One of my favorite examples of a company playing pro ball is Ford’s River Rouge plant.  Once a toxic waste dump, Ford rehabilitated their truck manufacturing facility into an impressive nature reserve.  A 454,000 sq. ft. rooftop garden?!  Even Nature is impressed: the birds have found the garden sufficiently suitable to raise their young.  There’s an award!

So, I submit the following for your consideration.  Which is a better award?

Intradeco's Energy Conservation Award


Ford's River Rouge Plant Award

P.S. If anyone knows someone from Intradeco Apparel, let them know I’m available to help them elevate their game.

Poof! Water from Thin Air

My apologies for the hiatus in writing.  I’ve been busy learning about textiles.  (More on that another time.)

Elements Four's WaterMill

Elements Four's WaterMill

Today, I’d like to talk about a very cool idea from a company called Element Four.  They have developed a product called the WaterMill, which sucks moisture out of the area and produces up to 12 liters of drinking water per day.

I really like this idea because I’ve seen something like it at work, IMBY…that’s “in my back yard.”  Well, not my yard, but in my girlfriend’s back yard.  In Arizona, the air conditioning units sit on the roof.  I noticed one day that there was an unusual wet spot on the patio (no jokes please).  When I investigated, I discovered that the A/C unit was indiscriminately spitting out the moisture it sucked from inside the house.  Hmmm, I thought.  Can’t something be down with that?  So, I put a 5 gallon water bottle under the unit’s hose and now capture enough water to help in yard work and washing the car.

I digress.  The WaterMill has built-in water purification technology like carbon filtration (think Britta) and UV light disinfecting to insure a clean and healthy drinking experience.  Element Four definitely gets the Period E sustainability rating for using cool technology as an innovative and environmentally friendly solution.

Windy City’s Green Leadership Forces a Rethink

I am continually amazed at the amazing things happening in Chicago in terms of sustainability!  I first learned of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s plan to turn the Windy City into the greenest city in America while watching Design e2: The Economies of Being Environmentally Conscious about two years ago.  Admittedly, that PBS series was a tipping point motivating me to actively participate in making the world a healthier place. I digress.

Both HBS strategy professor Michael Porter and Rotman School of Management economics professor and urban theorist Richard Florida have described the importance of like-minded people clustering together and creating a dynamic and robust economy and social culture.  One such cluster that is developing in Chicago is around sustainable fashion.  The city is already home to green designers Lara Miller and Abigail Glaum-Lathbury as well as several unique sustainable lifestyle businesses including Uncommon Grounds, a local cafe adorned with an organic certified rooftop garden, and eco-minded event planner Shannon Downey of Pivotal Production.  In support of the fashion industry in general, the city is hosting Fashion Focus Week running October 22-25  and has joined with Macy’s in sponsoring six up-and-coming fashion designers mentored by renowned fashion maven Tommy Hilfiger at the Chicago Fashion Incubator.  Also, Chicago’s 375 retail boutiques will soon be joined by a LEED-certified retail property concept called the Green Exchange which, among other features, boasts an 8,000 SF organic sky garden.

Chicago. Sustainable Fashion Hub.

Chicago. Sustainable Fashion Hub.

In trying to place Chicago on the Sustainable Value Curve, it dawned on me that as a non-commercial entity, Chicago is probably most similar to a non-profit organization.  And, through favorable policies in support of socially- and environmentally-minded businesses, the local government is well-past the Commerical Awareness Point.  Clearely, the city of Chicago is pursuing a Period F opportunity and, as such, has caused me to rethink how the period is defined.  I am now expanding the period to include municipalities and other governmental bodies that, through their forward-thinking policies, are promoting Sustainable Value and accelerating us towards the momentous point of Unified Achievement.

Healing Soap

I am a LUSH addict!  I love the stuff!  I think their products are fantastic.  My first encounter with the company was in London about 9 years ago when I enjoyed a bath drawn with one of their bathbombs.  Back then I wasn’t very conscious, so I didn’t appreciate LUSH’s social mission, but earlier this past summer, I rediscovered them after reading Daniel Goleman’s most excellent book Ecological Intelligence (expect a book review shortly).

The LUSH imperative is to use only organic fruit and vegetables, essential oils, and safe-synthetic ingredients (i.e., non-toxic and non-bioaccumulative) in their “homemade cosmetics.”  The Dorset, England-based company started by husband and wife Mark and Mo Constantine sells a range of personal care products for your hair, face, and body as well as bathing products like soaps and shower gels.  My personal favorites are the Olive Oil Soap (discountinued), Hybrid Solid Shampoo (discountinued),  Jungle Conditioner, and Buffy Body Butter.

Now, I had read reviews by pregnant women who stated that for some reason their nausea and morning sickness seemed to magically fade away after using LUSH products in the shower.  Though happy that they felt better, I didn’t really consider the medicinal properties of these personal cleansing agents.  Well, that’s all changed.  Recently I got a bit careless in my poorman’s pedicure and clipped the skin near the nail.  Ouch.  I applied hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, and a band-aid, but awoke the next day to a throbbing big toe.  Amazingly, after taking a shower, no more pain!  I’m not saying that a healthy shower was the remedy, but I’m left wondering about the coincidence.

LUSHs Charity Pot

LUSH's Charity Pot

LUSH is an amazingly concious and conscientious company that aggressively pursues the triple bottom line.  You purchase their products free of packaging to avoid contributing to landfills, they produce a product called Charity Pot whose entire retail price is donanted to one of 14 international charities, and they continually update their products based on social and environmental findings.  For instance, my favorite Olive Oil Soap was discontinued because LUSH discovered that the palm oil used to make the soap was a culprit in destroying orangutan habitats around the world.

I would say that LUSH is a company that hits the bulls-eye of the Social Awareness Point on the Sustainable Value Curve. And, after the development of their new soap base, leaks into the Period E opportunity profile.

Let the Sun Shine In

This week I was introduced to Sunflower Corporation.  This Boulder, Colorado company produces a really cool lighting product called the Sundolier which can channel sunlight into windowless rooms.  The light emitted from this sophisticated mirroring system is nicely diffused and brightens the entire space rather than spotlight a particular location.  I imagine the Sundolier works best during sunny days, so it would need to be supplemented with another lighting solution, but for anyone working indoors during the day in places like Phoenix where I go to school, the Sundolier provides  an ingenious and environmentally conscious way  to substantially lower electricity bills.  It makes sense that the company’s target market includes educational institutions like elementary and high schools and businesses like banks and grocery stores rather than restaurants or fitness centers.

I see Sunflower as the kind of innovative company creating a Period A opportunity on Sustainable Value Curve and placed close to the Social Awareness Point.

OPM. Social style.

When I started business school last year, only a few of my classmates were talking about sustainability.  When I told them that my sole purpose for getting an MBA was to help further the “cause,” some thought I was a little idealistic.  After all, where’s the money in doing good?!  It’s a nice idea, but being nice isn’t going to help pay back school loans.

I think I have to be one of the few people last November who was actually excited about the economic meltdown!  The system we were using was too ingrained to transition by itself.  It needed a swift kick in its dangly parts to evolve.  Now that the shock has receded a bit, more people are starting to consider ideas of sustainability as a viable option for what’s next.

I was able to see on-the-ground implementations of  triple bottom line ideals last spring on the San Francisco CSR TREK I helped organize.  TREKs are themed excursions sponsored by Thunderbird’s Career Management Center (the CMC).  Through a competitive process, a small group of students is selected for an all-expense paid trip to visit companies, organizations, and institutions in a particular industry or based on a particular subjectmatter.  There are marketing TREKs to Seattle and Cincinnati, another for finance to New York, and one for international development to Washington, D.C.  For our TREK to the Bay Area, one of the companies we visited was Good Capital.  I mentioned GoodCap in my last post and wanted to give them another shout out because of an amazing conference they run which is going on this week.  SoCap09 “brings together a unique mix of the world’s top social innovators, investors, donors, entrepreneurs, and thought-leaders, today’s leading catalysts of change from across the globe.”

Though you can’t be there, be sure to follow the conference online via their blog or Twitter and learn more about social capital markets. The new economy is about using Other People’s Money in a much more conscious and conscientious way!

CSR TREK group pic at Google2009 CSR TREK to San Francisco. Visting Google and Google.org.