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Make Sustainability a Habit

July 1, 2011

Awesome resource links at the end!

If changing human behavior were easy, we’d have a carbon neutral global society, body mass indexes within normal range, and financial resilience.  We’d have wealth, good looks and a sustainable earth.

But, generally, we don’t.  Why?

The answers are many but, for starters, let’s look at the success factors behind change and how they impact our striving for personal, career, company, societal and Sustainability goals.  I’m speaking of the concept of Feedback Loops, also known sometimes as Virtuous Cycles.  Each of us is a system, nested within other systems (family, company, society, etc.). Each of these systems is comprised of multiple interacting feedback loops.  Feedback Loops work when they are fundamentally intact and well maintained.  They don’t when they aren’t.  But they can be fixed if you understand where and how they need fixing.

The Eco-consumer’s Broken Feedback Loop

Presently, the typical feedback loop of consumer thinking is: “The economy is shaky, it’s not a good time to invest in unproven enviro-alternatives, I may be okay anyway, the government’s taxation stance is fickle from year to year, and I’m just one person, so I’ll wait until I have more clear direction or can find a shining example to follow, or feel enough pain to motivate me to adapt”.

In other words, although the message is clear and it’s rather widely known that by mid-century we’ll require the equivalent of three Earths’ resources to sustain our projected 7-billion person world society, we nonetheless short-circuit our feedback loop thinking with short-term, emotional, pocketbook-level rationalizations. The predictable outcome: inadequate results, slippage, and in some views, looming catastrophe.  This is not a virtuous cycle, to say the least.

What a Well Tuned Feedback Loop Looks Like

Let’s look at the elements of a successful, intact feedback loop.  You can apply it to any situation to learn where there are leaks or breaks, make repairs, and improve results.

  1. Evidence. Measure the behavior you want to change. Sounds simple, right? But how do you know you’re measuring the right thing? Are you measuring CO2/KWH? Gallons H2O per capita? Calories burned? What?  Measure the right thing – constantly over time.
  2. Relevance. Interpret the data and give it meaning. Just knowing I can measure my carbon footprint isn’t enough.  I have to know how I rank relative to either my own pocketbook goal, or some trendline, or some legal standard, or other interpretation. Fortunately, the price of measuring just about anything is dropping to levels where we can cheaply and easily get good data.  Ask anyone who owns an iPhone, Nike shoes, or GPS.   Chances are there are free and commercially available measurement and interpreting solutions out there already, no matter what you’re seeking to measure and interpret.
  3. Consequence. Fit the meaningful data into a larger goal or purpose to properly motivate action. Let’s say I want to consume energy at some rate below the per capita average, and I get to enjoy the positive consequences in terms of pocketbook savings, energy independence, and other worthwhile consequences in which I am emotionally invested. Help me measure it, interpret it, change my behavior, celebrate success, track corrective action, and celebrate that improvement.
  4. Action.  Empower people to act on their new-found motivation, stimulating the creation of new data. Measure and appreciate behavioral improvement to stimulate habit formation.  It can take up to 2o instances of measured improvement for a habit to become ingrained in an average adult (half that number for younger people), so keep at it.  After a month of measuring anything daily, even with the occasional skipped day, you’ll be there.

To accelerate a habit, though, it helps to socialize it among your close contacts.   Remember, too, that people buy pleasure, not prevention.  This has implications for how you talk to yourself about it.

We cannot rely on the best brains and systems thinking to tune our personal feedback loops critical to personal, business environmental sustainability.  It’s an inside job.  It is up to each of us to get started.  I hope this post helps you get started.

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Marketing Green Products: Customers Weigh In

June 10, 2011

What comes to mind when you hear the “green” message in a product pitch – aside from the altruistic impression?    Don’t you also occasionally worry if there will be trade-offs in terms of product effectiveness, price, convenience, performance, or all the other usual reasons we tend to prefer one product over a competing product?   Consumers are understandably skeptical after experiencing the false-economy hypocrisy of:  

  • low-flow toilets that require additional flushes, negating water savings
  • compact flourescent (cf) bulbs that deliver suboptimal light and, if broken, expose you to mercury
  • low-flow shower heads that require longer showers to rinse shampoo away
  • energy-conserving clothes dryers that require longer cycles to actually dry clothes
  • smaller water bottle caps (70% of water bottles never get recycled)

For antidotes, visit http://www.goodguide.com

Lessons from the Auto Industry

Folks in the auto industry get this.   They readily admit that hybrid and electric vehicles are currently too expensive to compete with internal combustion autos.  They know price is a looming issue in buying decisions.  Big dollars are at stake here, and the sticking point is the cost of lithium batteries.  When the production of lithium batteries increases in volume, then the price can then drop to more reasonable ranges.  The auto industry is now focusing on ways to reduce the cost of those batteries.  They are facing the problem head-on.  Independent researchers, too, are making geat progress.

Every day we hear about “green” products that aren’t catching on.  What are all these “green” product messages doing wrong – or more politely, what could we be doing better?  Are we ignoring customer concerns?

Madison Avenue Does Our Homework

The good people at venerable NYC media agency Ogilvy Earth have taken on the task of surveying thousands of consumers to determine how Ogilvy’s clients – which include many major brands – could do a more effective job of selling “green” products.   They’ve even generously made the information available to us all.   Thanks, OE!

Here are some findings, paraphrased from their study.   These results are summarized from actual surveys of thousands of people, proving that public perception is everything; no matter how far it may seem from the truth, it’s the elephant in the living room that must be addressed.  We could whistle along hoping people buy because of our altruistic “green” message, but we all know hope is not a strategy.   You cannot succeed by ignoring objections.   So, let’s examine the objections,  OE’s findings, and the implications for us all.

What’s Wrong with Green Marketing Today

According to the survey respondents, Green Marketing fails to close the “green” gap, instead cementing it by making Green behavior seem too difficult and costly from a practical, financial and social standpoint.   Green behavior is also often perceived as a combination of elitist, feminine and hippie.

According to the survey responses, consumers would rather buy from a trusted, familiar brand name than from a seemingly specialized, so-called “green” manufacturer.  Put simply: given the choice, most people would rather fit in than stand out.

Green Marketing’s New Marching Orders

Here, at a high level, are Ogilvy Earth’s recommendations:

  • Resist the urge to make Green feel cool or different
  • Position Green products as normal purchases
  • Eliminate Green product price barriers any way possible
  • Make Green products more male-friendly (!)
  • Ditch the altruistic Green marketing message
  • Appeal to consumers’ enjoyment of the product
So, it would appear Green marketing is the wrong emphasis.  We should first compete on the usual bases – of price, effectiveness, and convenience.   Green benefits, as important as they are, should be positioned as additional differentiators, but not the focal point of the marketing message.
 There is much more to learn from the Ogilvy Earth green marketing study, so check it out when you have a chance, and if you find that the information saves you from expensive marketing mis-steps, say thanks!

ISO 31000 for Risk Management

May 17, 2011

A Compass Beats a Map Any Day

A few years ago, while working in marketing and sales at global risk management software leader Cura Software, I had the transformative experience of supporting a group of visionary thought leaders on the subject of global risk and opportunity management by helping publicize and promote the adoption of ISO 31000 as the global standard for risk and opportunity management.

By thought leaders, I mean real leaders  – people actually making a difference in how the world perceives and effectively manages the risks and opportunities of business, social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Two years later, it is gratifying to see the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has adopted ISO 31000, considered the “gold standard” of principles and standards in risk and opportunity management.

Purchase and study a copy of this terse, plainspoken, 30-odd page booklet (or search for a free, outdated draft online), and I think you’ll agree that ISO 31000 represents a singular opportunity to place a compass in the hand of everyone with best intentions of achieving a safer, more stable environment for business, society and humanity.

Like all worthwhile efforts, achieving global sustainability by mid-century will require work, but in a world where vendors sometimes offer biased maps with themselves at the center, it is advisable to have a compass.

The ISO 31000 standard is available for purchase from ANSI for around $110 USD.  Get it!

Further reading

Reboot Agriculture! (the Land Institute)

March 27, 2011

just a theory

Why are we in the wasteful habit of eating annual plants – plants that die every year?   That answer dates back over 10,000 years to the fateful day when, so the paleo-theory goes,  a prehistoric Homer Simpson noticed cornstalks growing out of his trash pile and suddenly a light bulb – or perhaps a flaming mastodon dungball, I dunno – appeared over his head.   Presto:  birth of a nasty habit.  D’oh!

Since then, every year we’ve been planting annuals –  food crops that die off completely following each Fall harvest.  Each Spring, we repeat the cycle and, in the process, inject fertilizer and pesticide chemicals into an ever-expanding clear-cut swath of jungle to keep pace with our growing World population’s needs.

Ecosystems work best when they are diverse, yet we carpet broad swaths of land with homogeneous crops.  In the process, we create chemical and nutrient run-off that poisons aquifers, rivers, oceans and their attendant food chains – which we then ingest.   Tuna steaks, anyone?

While the notion of creating disease-resistant genetic modified (GM) annual crops seems a partial answer, that approach seems like such a plate-spinning exercise compared to what follows.

Enter the Land Institute, where researchers like Wes Jackson are working on rebooting agriculture – developing and identifying perennial food sources.  What if we used perennials, rather than annuals, as our chief food sources?  We could reduce or end our use of poisonous chemicals that contaminate our plant and animal food chains and our environments.  We could conserve precious natural nutrients in our soils.  We could extend growing and harvesting seasons, all without destroying naturally balanced food systems.

Instead of rebooting our crops each Spring, we might someday have an always-on, self-refreshing agriculture base.

Do you think this could work?  What stands in the way?  How would you overcome it to help us get there?

If these questions leave you feeling small, then start small.  Think:  what can you do to support more economical use of crop resources?   Can you supplant annuals with perennials in your diet?   Check out the Land Institute and see what they recommend.

Meanwhile, in these days of high oil prices, why not buy local food in-season?  Patronizing local organic farmers’ markets might seem expensive, until you factor in the notion that less oil was consumed in growing the food, getting it to you, and you getting to it.   As the game show host intones:  Now, how much would you pay?

What else? Chime in below!

From now on, every day is Earth Day.

Business and Sustainability – the odd couple

March 1, 2011

World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Image via Wikipedia

Wikipedia’s entry for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (www.wbcsd.org) nicely frames the dynamic and complex relationship of global business interests within the discussion of sustainability.

Section 8 (reprinted here for your reference), states:

[

Pros and Cons of the WBCSD

The WBCSD is significant in its advocacy of largely market-oriented solutions to challenges of sustainable development.

The ‘Pros’ of this approach include:

  • Alerting business to the need for change to become sustainable
  • Promotion of sustainability, sharing best practice
  • Taking ‘initiative’ by making sustainability a global concern, backed by large and influential multinationals, corporations and organizations

The ‘Cons’ of this market-based approach include:

  • The potential ‘deradicalization’ of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • The depiction of sustainability agendas and business agendas as mutually compatible. This is described as a ‘win-win’ scenario; thus, the existence of ‘win-lose’ scenarios is neglected.
  • The potential for conflation of internal contradictions within business and ‘muddying of the waters’ through such means as ‘greenwash’, ‘bluewash‘, ‘astroturfing‘ and corporate agenda setting [1]

]

Having read this, what are the resources and strategems available to the practicing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) official in balancing societal and corporate interests at times when, despite all the patriotic statements, interests conflict?

How do you reconcile the two?  What experiences can you share here to invigorate others’ efforts?

Green Data Center Conference, meetup & more in February

January 19, 2010

I recently was invited by the President of GSMI, the Global Strategic Management Institute, to attend the upcoming Green Data Center Conference in San Diego during the first week of February, to speak with some industry experts and interview some of the distinguished faculty. 

We plan to make the output from that activity available (podcasts, articles etc.) on GSMI’s Sustainability forum, and I will link to it from this blog for your convenience.

If you are planning to attend the Conference, you should know that I have an arrangement with GSMI whereby readers can earn a 15% discount off your fee as an attendee, exhibitor or sponsor by entering my discount code:  [ ecocentric ] when registering at www.greendatacenterconference.com .

How else can you get engaged, whether or not you attend?

  1. Drop me a quick comment/reply below detailing any question or issue you’d like to see addressed at the conference.  I’ll do my best hard hitting investigative reporter impression for you.
  2. Start/arrange a meetup at www.meetup.com  .
  3. Forward, re-tweet or otherwise share this post URL any way you like.
  4. Join GSMI and get engaged in their fast growing community of sustainability-minded professionals.
  5. Subscribe (free) to this Blog using the Subscribe feature in the right margin to get weekly updates, articles and announcement of other upcoming events and resources.  I value your feedback and will strive to responsibly filter information based on your interests.

Hope to see you in San Diego!

~Ed

That was fast

January 12, 2010

A 3D-snapshot of the mkSolaire (or "Smart...

Image via Wikipedia

I just registered this blog in January 2010.   I promise I’ll be blogging and linking to important and timely news & resources for those interested in sustainable building, energy, earth and other themes. 

What can you do? 

Subscribe using the Subscription box at top right.

Suggest a link, blog or other resource you respect.

Contribute your own articles if you think this is the right forum (if you’re reading this, it probably is the right forum!). 

All the best,

~Ed

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