Friday, December 16, 2011

Back to Basics: Taxes

Here's a great and relevant TEDx talk by Chuck Collins at Hampshire College - clearly timely in light of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the raging tax-cut debates in Congress - about his work to support the inheritance tax with Bill Gates (senior).

"We're nothing without each other" - an elegant way of noting that we are an inherently social species, and when the social fabric is systematically undermined, it's unsustainable.  We're all connected and no one acts in complete isolation.  Taxes have been demonized over the past 3 decades since Milton Friedman's free-market fundamentalism took hold of our economic thinking, and this video makes a compelling case for why that's bad for America and global society.

For more millionaires who agree with this point of view - see this interview about "Patriotic Millionaires"

Stay going.

Redefining The Good Life

Just in time for holiday shopping season... here's a great animated video diving into the interplay of consumerism, happiness, and meeting human needs.

Sustainability is about meeting human needs - in ways that don't undermine the capacity of others to do so, now or in the future.  Check out this old post about distinguishing between human needs and satisfiers of those needs.

Stay going.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Become the Next Sustainability Leader

Karl-Henrik Robert describes the greatest challenge to creating a sustainable society on the timescale needed: leadership.

Applications are now open for the next class in the Masters in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability program - apply today.

Stay going.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Occupy Economics

Check out the video below from economists voicing their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, and acknowledging some of the failures in the discipline to avoid the recent economic collapse.  See also the statement of support and list of about 250 economists that have added their names so far.

Occupy Economics from Softbox on Vimeo.

The OWS movement is an excellent example of what happens when the ways in which we go about meeting our needs is socially unsustainable.  In the language of the sustainability principles, our economic system has "systematically undermined the capacity of some people (many people) to meet their needs" - eventually there will be consequences.

The video only touches on the ecological risks our current economic system poses to the continuation of a healthy, thriving global society, but it is a big step towards opening up the dialogue to a much wider audience. I hope this will help bring the work of ecological economists to the conversation in a much more meaningful way, so the discipline of economics can help us avoid the "big collapse" of broad, irreversible ecosystem failure, which will make our current economic woes look like a field day.

Stay going.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Become a Sustainability Leader - MSLS Applications Open Dec 1

The challenges facing our global society are apparent on many levels. From a lack of social trust, climate change, poverty, pollution, species extinction, institutional failure and our inability to continue consuming at current levels, the change that needs to take place on a global scale is massive, compounding and complex. In order to combat these challenges, we need both strategic planning that adheres to the limits of the Earth's carrying capacity and leadership that inspires and creates systemic change in a collaborative manner across sectors, borders and disciplines.

I had the very good fortune of attending a graduate programme in Sweden, called the Master’s in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) programme. We focused on the skills and knowledge necessary to create a sustainable 21st century. This experience taught me that the challenges facing our world require a systems thinking and scientific-based approach, and the ability to work collaboratively with diverse people.

And while this programme taught skills in team-work, facilitation, presentation, project management, communication and strategic planning it taught me so much more. This programme taught me that when you get a group of people together that want to make the world a better place, amazing things become possible. People begin to really listen to one another, enjoy working together and become more authentic. My class had students from over 30 countries and the alumni networks encompasses over 50 countries. Here, I learned the importance of community building, sharing common goals and how working together is not only a lot of fun, but provides the foundation for a sustainable society.

I am writing about this programme to let people know that applications for the MSLS cohort of 2012-2013 are opening December 1st, 2011 and close mid-January. I hope that you will read this and realize you too have an amazing opportunity to work with a dedicated international network that wants to change the world for the better.

Please visit the website to see the full programme brochure and application procedures. If you are an EU citizen, the Swedish Government pays for your tuition. Outside the EU, tuition is 100,000SEK (just under $15,000) for this 10-month program. Scholarships are available and if you are a fee-paying student, you are welcome to visit to find out more about the free services available to assist you in the application and funding process.

Do yourself and the world a favor - go on the adventure of a lifetime and join the amazing network of alumni in the Master's in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change

An interesting video on how it's easy not to understand the climate crisis -- and to improve one's understanding!  Worth watching Dr. Bickmore's whole presentation. The article is from Red, Green & Blue:

A Republican ex-climate skeptic explains how people avoid the truth about climate change
By Barry Bickmore
Professor of Geologic Sciences, Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University prof Barry Bickmore talks climate skepticism

I gave a talk called How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change for the College of Science and Health at Utah Valley University.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with me, I am a Republican and a geochemist who, until a few years ago, was quite skeptical about the idea that humans are causing significant climate change.

In the presentation, I briefly talked about how I had made the transition from being a climate change skeptic to being an outspoken advocate of mainstream climate science.  I then discussed how it is that people like me can so effectively avoid the truth about climate change.

My sticking points
  • I thought there was lots of scientific controversy about human contributions
  • I thought climate projections are based solely on complex computer models of physical systems, which (I know from experience) are easy to screw up.
  • I know there is always uncertainty in science.

The Truth:

  • There is almost no scientific debate over whether humans are largely responsible for the temperature rise over the last 50 years or so.
  • There are other ways to estimate climate sensitivity (e.g. from paleoclimate data) that give about the same answer as the models.
  • The uncertainty is mostly on the high end, given the data we have now [e.g., it's not whether there will be warming, but how bad it will be].

How we avoid the truth:

  • We tend to believe what we want to hear
  • There are always truth-challenged individuals who will tell us what we want to hear to promote political goals
  • The media makes little or no effort to determine who is right
  • Most people (including many scientists) have naive ideas about the nature of science

Stay going.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

IEA: 5-Years to Avoid Locking-In Climate Disaster

A new report, released last week by the International Energy Agency provides a stark reminder of the urgency of the climate crisis - we have 5 years to avoid irreversible, run-away climate change that will lock us into a scenario where it will be impossible to keep global average temperature increases under 2 degrees.  This article in the Guardian states:
The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be "lost forever", according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure. 
Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this "lock-in" effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world's foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

Colleges and universities have been increasingly aware of this "lock-in" effect as they plan and manage their campuses.  Signatories of the ACUPCC have forced themselves to address this reality by imposing the goal of net-zero emissions on themselves -- raising tough questions in planning and development meetings like "do we really need this building?"

Any fossil fuel infrastructure built in the next five years
will cause irreversible climate change, according to the IEA.
Photograph: Rex Features
This type of thinking is now necessary for all types of organizations -- but it is particularly important for colleges and universities as our primary institutions for creating new knowledge and educating so many of our leaders and professionals in every industry.  How campuses are designed, built and managed has a profound impact on students -- as do the conversations and ways of thinking that administrators bring to the community.

Today's graduates need to be prepared to hit the ground running in terms of creating the low-carbon solutions -- not only low-carbon buildings, factories, and power plants, but also economic indicators, product design, policies, cultural norms, city planning, new technologies, and other strategies that transform the ways we go about meeting our needs and leading healthy, prosperous, fulfilling lives.

This report puts a finer point on what we know - we must face up to the physical reality of serious constraints on carbon emissions and take serious action now:
Yet, despite intensifying warnings from scientists over the past two decades, the new infrastructure even now being built is constructed along the same lines as the old, which means that there is a "lock-in" effect – high-carbon infrastructure built today or in the next five years will contribute as much to the stock of emissions in the atmosphere as previous generations. 
The "lock-in" effect is the single most important factor increasing the danger of runaway climate change, according to the IEA in its annual World Energy Outlook, published on Wednesday.

Last week, Australia took an important step in helping the world move in that direction by passing a law to put a price on carbon.  Many voluntary efforts in the US are working in this direction, with efforts in higher education among the leaders. Luckily, imposing these constraints can drive innovation, open up ways to re-think well-being, and create a real, fundamental economic recovery based on real value.

Stay going. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sustainable Economy 2040

Forum for the Future has produced a great report for Aviva Investors called sustainable economy in 2040: a roadmap for capital markets (pdf)

In focusing on a key leverage point -- capital markets -- and taking a backcasting approach, the report gets around the usual stalemate of investors seeing the way things are and investing accordingly, while many in civil society cry foul as those investments accelerate our progress down an unsustainable path; and provides actionable steps for the investment community to take in creating a sustainable society.

It provides the rationale for why and strategies for how investors can be more proactive in creating the kind of economy we need in the long-run, with a focus on 5 key areas: energy, health & wellbeing, mobility, food, and finance.

The report also serves as a call to action ahead of the Rio +20 summit in June 2012.

A great resource, and worth the read.

Stay going.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Global Green - I Am

A new video from Global Green about rising sea levels from climate change via Fast Company:

Check out Global Green.

Stay going.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Sustainability Bubble

A couple of weeks ago, Yale e360 published a great article by Christian Schwägerl titled "A Planetary Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste." It's a nice straightforward piece highlighted the similar dynamics in the failing economic system and failing ecological system.

The two of course are inexorably linked - or I should say, the economic system is a subset of the ecological system, the former doesn't exist without the latter (ecological systems of course would go right on truckin' in the absence of a human economic system).

Image: Erik Madigan Heck for 
The New York Times
This recent article about Jeremy Grantham - "Can Jeremy Grantham Profit from Ecological Mayhem?" - reinforces this basic tenet of sustainability.  As we approach "Peak Everything Else," we are inflating the biggest bubble of all time - but it's not prices that will fall when it bursts, it's our complex modern society.

Image: Chelsea Green
Given the size of the 'sustainability bubble' it inflates more slowly and there are factors that periodically let air out or enable it to grow bigger without popping, but eventually we know it will pop if we don't make dramatic changes to the way we do things.  Just like there were plenty of people who were brushed off for years as they pointed out the housing and credit bubble would burst, people who have been bringing attention to the sustainability crisis have had trouble really breaking into the mainstream - dismissed as alarmists.  Forty years ago the authors of Limits to Growth faced this dismissal.  Many often point to the famous bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon that the article references as proof that technology and innovation will save us when the price signals demand it; they picked 5 commodities and bet if their prices would be higher in the next 10 years.  Simon bet innovation would bring the prices down and he was right, 5-0.  But, as the article points out, today Ehrlich's winning 4-1.

Image: Chelsea Green
Alan AtKisson's Believing Cassandra does an excellent job of articulating this dilemma.  Of course, those of us who are shouting from the rooftops that there's trouble ahead want to be wrong.  We work every day to ensure that we are wrong.  The changes we need to make -- in our policies, our lifestyles, our technologies, our economic systems, our worldviews -- will enable us to create a sustainable future.  When we're successful in doing that, by definition, we will be wrong about the sustainability bubble bursting.  We will have avoided it.  And if we're not wrong - if we don't enact the shift to sustainability fast enough; well, it will make our current bubble-burst woes look like a holiday.

To systems-thinkers the parallels between economic bubbles and sustainability are obvious.  As a system is pushed beyond certain thresholds, it collapses or jumps to a new state.  We will cross that threshold as a global human society.  Our great challenge is to ensure that we do so by jumping to a new state - a sustainable society - and avoid devastating population collapse and further wholesale destruction of the life-support system upon which we depend.

It's encouraging to know there are investors like Grantham out there - sharing this perspective with a voice that is respected and credible with the mainstream investment community.  And it's heartening to see that his foundation is making such smart investments as well.

Stay going.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tar Sands: Have Your Mind Blown

"Damage will be irreversible."

"Uses more water than a city of 2 million people."

"36,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide per day" (1.3 million cars)

"A literal hell on Earth."

If you're not familiar with Tar Sands oil - or even if you are - watch this video to get a quick understanding of the many interrelated, devastating impacts of accessing this oil - before it ever even gets burned.

Nearly 300 have been arrested so far in DC protesting the proposed XL Pipeline that would require a huge investment to pipe this nasty stuff from Canada through the US to the Gulf of Mexico.  Obama can stop it - please sign this petition to encourage him to do so.

Stay going.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beyond Coal

Mike Bloomberg throwing some weight behind the Beyond Coal campaign.  Check out the video, and click here to add your name to the pledge to move beyond coal.

Stay going.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Moving Planet - Sept. 24, 2011

Mark your calendars and get your bike geared up for Moving Planet on Sept. 24, 2011 -- raise awareness about getting atmospheric concentrations of CO2 back down to 350 parts per million:

Stay going.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Climate Change Threatens National Security

Great video from Pew on security threats posed by climate disruption.  Found this one via Planet Forward - a great media platform, well worth checking out and browsing through the videos.

Stay going.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Truth

"Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act."

Read the rest of Gore's latest article in Rolling Stone

Stay going. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

For the love of Baramaasis…

This is a re-blog of a post by Ashka Naik, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Second Nature as part of a weekly series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.  See the original post here

One late evening, around dusk, my mother and I were walking into our house, making a beeline through my grandma’s garden. While we were passing by some neatly laid flowerbeds, I saw a pink Baramaasi (a perennial flower, which literally means “perennial” in Hindi, Bara=twelve and Maasi=months) on the side of the brick path leading to the patio. My mother was holding my hand to balance my little figure as I paused and started to bend my knees to pluck that beauty from its stem. My mother, not a very vociferous person, watching me do what I was about to do, very lovingly said, “Ashkee, do you know her mother puts her to bed every night, just the way your maa does? Imagine how she must feel when she doesn’t find her baby in the bed tomorrow morning.”

I often saw my grandma worship random shrubs in her garden. One specific day of the Hindu calendar she would worship one plant, and on a different day she would worship another. I always wondered why one needed to venerate rather unattractive shrubs to understand the mysteries of the universe or to please the Gods above. However, I did understand why we worshiped Ganesha (the Elephant God) and Naagraaj (the Snake God), as I was informed that these creatures were embellished with bizarre powers to wade off evil forces and misfortune. Looking back at the time when I truly believed that a species other than of Homo sapiens could ever have such power over others, I find myself succumbing to the naïve imagination of a child’s mind.

Anyways, as Hindus, we were also to follow vegetarianism. We were to give bird food to birds even though they smeared our verandah with their mucky droppings, because it was drilled through our brains that one of those could be our brother or a sister from a past life. We were to take a few morsels out of our dinner to offer to the wandering cow or a street dog (same logic about past lives, brothers, sisters, etc.).

We had a different cuisine for each season, and sometimes even for each month. We had and still have hundreds of festivals, days on which one can only consume certain things, each festival having its own menu of delicacies and rituals. How else could all this have evolved, if not in respect of and in response to the rich diversity of crops and life in general in the Indian subcontinent! We even have a million and a half Gods, pick one that suites your taste the most. One size fits all just wasn’t the way.

All in all, we didn’t need Greenpeace to tell us that whaling was bad and Food Inc. to tell us that monocultures were unhealthy.

One day in school, and there were indeed many such days, when I hadn’t finished my homework, the teacher punished me by asking me to sweep the classroom floors for two consecutive weeks. Nothing unusual about the punishment though, since every student had to sweep and mop the floor for one week in a year in spite of an impeccable homework record. I must have been in the 5th grade then, so you could argue how a 12-year old could be punished in such an uncaring manner. I can imagine repercussions of such punishment in the US of A! Anyways, a little background on my school, I received my K-12 education in an institution that espoused the Gandhian thought – the institution was founded during the British Raaj by a small group of freedom fighters. Self-reliance was Gandhi’s mantra, and asking a child to sweep the floor wasn’t an inconsiderate act. As part of our education, we were to clean our classrooms, we were to sow the seeds and follow their growth in the hundred acres of farmland that encircled our school building, we were to spin cotton on a spinning wheel – the spool with the finest thread was used to make garlands for guests and the rest were taken to the loom to make our uniforms – we were to bow down to our teachers with a formal gesture of Namaste (“I bow to you”) every time a teacher entered the classroom.

That was then, when it was difficult to distinguish where spirituality blended with daily chores to concoct a wholesome life.

In the past two decades things have changed. Everything, good and bad, rich and poor, old and new, was somehow interwoven before India opened its door to globalization – the trees, the school uniforms, the education, the Elephant Gods, the Baramaasis – all seemed connected. Now the trees are gone, clothes come from Bangladesh, education is for sale to help one compete in a high yield job market of developed countries and Baramaasi, this perennial flower blooms very rarely (mainly due to severe water shortage and changing weather patterns).

However, the irony is that today more people use the word “sustainability” in India, just like everywhere else in the world, than ever before. If you had asked us then, we wouldn’t have known the meaning of it. It wasn’t discussed in the way we refer to the subject today. There were many different nuances of it, but no names. It could have been thrift for some, and religious practice for someone else.

Sustainability was a novel word to us as students of country’s premier architecture school, when the first time I heard the term being used in the context of buildings – Sustainable Buildings. These were not the LEED certified, Energy Star buildings. They were vernacular dwellings of indigenous peoples of the desert regions of Kutch and the forests of Daang and the mangroves of Sundarbans; buildings built by communities that have evolved to build, sustain and flourish with the land, and not off it.

Once I went through higher education, especially after my education in the UK where I studied Sustainable Product Design, then I understood what sustainability actually meant. The absurdity was that by then I had been pushed as far away from a sustainable lifestyle as I possibly could’ve been.

However, I returned home to India after two years, when reality hit me head-on.

This was the first time I was seeing what I had seen for twenty-five years, but in an entirely different light. Hunger stricken children with skeletal bodies begging on the streets, plastic bags clogging sewage, concrete forest replacing my school’s farmlands… Though nothing seemed that new, since the poverty had been in India’s veins for ages, and the physical transformation had already begun a few years ago. However, what was new was me suddenly finding every brand of luxury SUV on those same tiny streets where children still begged for food, school kids not being able to ride bikes to school because to let them loose in the maddening swarm of cars and trucks was nearly fatal, McDonalds and Starbucks being erected where once stood the street vendors who served scrumptious seasonal delicacies, monstrous shopping malls replacing the greens of the town, and my Grandma going to Wal-Mart like chains to buy her groceries? Until then the change that some call “progress” had stopped at my doorstep, but now, it had reached the heart of my home. It was unacceptable for me not to find the snack-vendor and to actually see my Grandma walk into a Reliance-Mart to buy vegetables that she had been buying at a local farmers market for last seventy years. Not only that, everyone, and I mean everyone, I knew now had a cell phone. But when I went to the fruit market to buy seasonal fruits, I wondered how a middleclass family could afford those? (But of course, they could afford the cell phones.) Even worse, I only found kiwis and strawberries on the shelves, hardly any babugoshas and chikoos. Kiwis and strawberries?! In Ahmedabad? There was certainly something wrong with this picture.

The interconnectedness was lost.

Sanskrit, the classical language of Hinduism, from which many Indian languages have evolved, has 65 words to describe various forms of earth, 67 words for water, and over 250 words to describe rainfall; each word depicting the myriad of nuances of that specific element of nature, each word capturing the context, the importance, the beauty, the usage, the geography, the climate, the ecology, and even the personality of that element. The way water would mean differently to a man of the desert than to someone living in the flood zone, these words emphasized the relevance and interconnectedness of objects. But now, that context has vanished, rather, there is a new context; the context of how eminent, lucrative and globalized a company that manufactures water is. And, based on this logic, we have a new set of words for water, “Dasani,” “Evian,” “Fiji,” “Aquafina.”

So, I may say that I work to make people forget about Aquafina.

As a society, we may just need anterograde amnesia to overcome the ways of life popularized by industrialization in the last hundred years and reminisce what we once already knew. Instead we have the retrograde type, where we have forgotten the very lessons our ancestors had learnt after living with the nature for eon after eon.

So, I see my responsibility as first reminding myself that there could be another reality and then sharing that vision with others. Vision of an alternate reality where the fabric of life is woven in veneration of mother earth, with the warps of natural principles, and wefts of sustainable choices, and embroidered with the splendor of diversity and preserved by the species with the intellect to get the job done.

What Second Nature offers in this journey, is a strategy to help the society realize this vision. I have heard a few times how the organization gets its name, and in my mind its mission, hence our mission, is to second nature… to re-connect the pieces to create a beautiful portrait of a life that I was fortunate to live as a child and am confident that my children will live one day.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Making Connections

We know the human brain isn't great at conceptualizing time.  Events can simultaneously "feel like yesterday" and "like a lifetime ago."  With our busy day-to-day extreme events can fade from memory altogether - headline news, millions of people's lives forever changed.  This video helps remind us of what we've seen in the past few years -- the expected impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from years ago, decades ago, accumulating and now resulting in more frequent and extreme record-breaking weather events.

As a result of our inaction and lack of global leadership to reduce emissions over the past 20 years, more and more people in the scientific and sustainability communities are increasing their attention on adaptation - that is, recognizing that we've locked in significant impacts, how can we change our systems - agricultural, transportation, cities, energy - to handle the unpredictable impacts of climate disruption in the least painful way possible?

ICLEI's had an adaptation program since '06 and hosts an annual Resilient Cities event. Clean Air - Cool Planet's "Climate Preparedness" program also aims to help communities survive for more climate impacts.  The National Academies of Science has more resources and reports on adaptation.  The federal government recognizing the threat to Americans this poses, and requested an interagency report last year.     The threat climate disruption poses to the global economy and rich and poor people alike is clear to the Economist.  Business managers are increasingly being called on to evaluate how climate impacts will impact their business.  On Monday Fast Company ran a story titled "The 'New Normal' Weather."

That last piece is authored by Curt Stager, whose president at Paul Smith's College, John Mills, is serving on the Higher Education Climate Adaptation Committee - a group we've convened through the ACUPCC, made up of college and university presidents, scientists, and other experts to evaluate how our institutions of higher learning should be preparing society to be more resilient in an unstable future - through their education, research, operations, and community engagement.  (Stager's also got a new book out - Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth - which I'm about to dive into.)

With dangerous heat advisories in effect in NYC and the tristate area, in early June, it's not hard to keep the need to adapt this front-of-mind.  In fact, if you're paying attention, it's impossible not to.

Stay going.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I'm a Climate Scientist

Sustainability folks often talk about the need to improve scientific communication to the general public; well, here you go.  Parental discretion advised.

Stay going.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oct. 31, 2011 - 7 Billion

Remember in math class how our teachers would always try to find ways to get the concept of exponential growth to really sink in?  Apparently, most of us didn't really get it.  I don't think its our math teachers' fault - our minds have a tough time conceptualizing that kind of growth.  As the video below from Population Action International also shows, most people really don't understand the systemic implications of this kind of growth when it comes to population, sustainability and an integrated global economy.  Don't forget that population is only one component of the "double explosion" of population and economic growth in the developing world.  These are huge underlying drivers in the urgency for us to move towards sustainability as quickly as possible.

We hit 1 billion in 1804; 2 billion in 1927; 3 billion in 1960; 4 billion in 1974; 5 billion in 1987; 6 billion in 1999 and now 7 billion in 2011.  Of course it's very difficult (technically impossible) to forecast population growth; but in general the rate of growth is expected to slow.  Policy measures, demographics, disasters will all likely play a part.  But regardless if we hit 9 billion or 11 billion, we already now need to re-think how we meet our needs in ways that are equitable and effective if we're going to navigate the coming century with any measure of grace.

How Many People Are In the World Today? from Population Action International on Vimeo.

Read more on this topic at this related article on Grist.

Stay going.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Capital Institute

The Capital Institute is exactly the kind of organization we need to start putting the concepts of ecological economics into action in the real world.

The videos below show a wide-ranging conversation between John Fullerton -- an ex-JP Morgan executive and the Founder and President of the Capital Institute -- and Robert Johnson, Executive Director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Fullerton touches on a broad array of inter-related sustainability topics, including ecology, ecological economics, systems thinking, reductionism, transdisciplinarity, biomimicry, complexity science, interconnectedness, resiliency theory, social sustainability, happiness, and the purpose of capital.

It's clear that he's read and learned from the best, and has a lot to add to this field - I highly recommend working your way through each of the short clips below.

The Profound Ecological Implications of a Perpetually Growing Economy

Inspirational Authors Who Challenge the Growth Economy

Is Growth Becoming a Scarce Commodity? 

Rethinking Finance as a Part of the Whole

Systems Theory: Balancing Efficiency with Resiliency

Social Sustainability: Does Wealth Equal Happiness?

How Detroit Did Everything Wrong

A Challenge for the Next Generation

Mobilizing the Top 1%

Stay going.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

IKEA's Social Sustainability Risk

IKEA is in many ways a sustainability poster-child.  They were one of the early companies to work with The Natural Step and have a good looking list of projects aimed at reducing their negative social and environmental impacts.

Photo: LA Times - Workers prepare pieces of Ikea furniture for packing at the then-new factory in Danville, Va., in 2008. (Steve Sheppard, Associated Press / April 10, 2011 
But this recent news on complaints about poor working conditions and racial discrimination in one of their US factories is a stark reminder about how the funnel walls are everywhere and closing in -- with such fierce demand for low-costs, manufacturers too often find it tempting to put the squeeze on their own employees.  From the LA Times story:

The dust-up has garnered little attention in the U.S. But it's front-page news in Sweden, where much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a cherished institution. Per-Olaf Sjoo, the head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, said he was baffled by the friction in Danville. Ikea's code of conduct, known as IWAY, guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.
"Ikea is a very strong brand and they lean on some kind of good Swedishness in their business profile. That becomes a complication when they act like they do in the United States," said Sjoo. "For us, it's a huge problem."

There are many interesting undertones in this story of course - chief among them the fact that Sweden seems to be treating the US like the US treats China, taking advantage of lower labor standards.  And the obvious cultural differences between Sweden and the US, and what that means in terms of leading a shift towards sustainability (they're way ahead of us, and I think in large part because Swedes have a more collaborative, community-focused, rule-following nature than the individualistic, cowboy Americans).

But for me the interesting thing is that it underscores just how tough it is to set that vision of truly sustainable future and continuously, diligently, repeatedly monitor and adjust activities throughout a large organization, so that the vision is clear and everyone's invested in avoiding missteps like this one.

Thanks to @NilsJK for the heads up on the story.

Stay going.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

PowerShift 2011

I wasn't able to make it down to DC for PowerShift 2011 - but have had a great time following the action via livestreams and various twitter accounts.  Here's a quick sampling of some of the great videos and photos coming out of this movement:


Taking it to the Streets:

Press Coverage: 

Coverage in the Washington Post, LA Times, New York Times, HuffingtonPost, CNN, Politico,The Nation.

Bill McKibben's Speech:

Al Gore's Speech: 

Van Jones's Speech:

Shutting Down BP Station: 

Stay going.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Friday, April 08, 2011

350 Takes on the US Chamber of Commerce

I picked up the video below via GOOD.  It's about's "The US Chamber Doesn't Speak for Me" campaign, and getting people amped for PowerShift.  Enjoy:

Stay going.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Most Important Company on Earth - Happy Birthday Interface

The latest video from Ray Anderson, founder of Interface, shared a powerful message with his team yesterday, on the 38th anniversary of the company's founding.

All of our thoughts and prayers are with Ray - stay strong and enjoy the view from the top of Mount Sustainability.  Thanks so much for all you've done for so many - in the current and future generations - through your commitment, leadership, courage and inspiration.  And thanks to all the good people of Interface working hard day after day to climb that mountain.

For more on the Interface story, check out Ray's latest book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist.

Stay going.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

2010 ACUPCC Annual Report

The 2010 Annual Report of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) was released yesterday.  Click on the icon below to flip through the e-version.

It's hard to believe it's been four years we've been working on this - and it's amazing to see how far these institutions - 677 of them to date - have come in managing their carbon emissions, raising awareness, engaging their local communities and providing the education and research needed to lead the transition to a low-carbon economy as safely as possible.

To see which schools have joined this network, and to check out the details of their emissions profiles, and their climate action plans for reducing those emissions, go to the ACUPCC Reporting System at  There you can search by school, or institution type, or state and click through to all of the greenhouse gas inventories and climate action plans.

Check out the press release announcing the report - there are some great quotes from the co-chairs of the ACUPCC Steering Committee, like this one from Mary Spangler, Chancellor of Houston Community College:
Across the country, colleges and universities of all types and sizes are rethinking what it means to prepare graduates for the 21st century economy. We are working with partners from the private and public sectors to ensure our students gain the necessary skills and experience to help create the green economy.

I'm very proud of the team at Second Nature who worked to pull this beauty together, and so appreciative of all the people at the ACUPCC institutions who provided the content and are working diligently every day to fulfill this commitment.

Please share this far and wide and support your alma mater in their education for sustainability efforts!

Stay going.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Natural Step Canada - 2011 Sustainability Courses

For all of our Canadian friends, check-out the upcoming courses being offered by The Natural Step Canada:

Sustainability for Leaders Course - Level 1: Foundations

Sustainability for Leaders Course - Level 2: Practitioners

  • Banff, AB July 11-13, 2011 (in-person session)

Integrated Community Sustainability Planning Course

All the information can be found here.

Of particular interest, the Level 2 course will be offered for the first time!  This will be led by Chad Park and Pong Leung, two principal advisors and two of the founders of TNS Canada.  They each have a wealth of experience applying the framework in various settings, and I recommend checking it out if you’re looking for professional development specifically linked to application of the Framework.

For more information, please contact Kim Larocque at or 613.748.3001 x228.

Stay going. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wal-Mart & the Green Death Star

People often think sustainability is just about the environment.  The picture below is probably one of the best illustrations of why social sustainability is really at the heart of the matter.  It's not about "saving the planet" - it's about saving the humans, and recognizing that a healthy, vibrant, resilient biosphere is a prerequisite for a thriving human society.

We need to ensure ecological sustainability if we are to achieve social sustainability; but if we if systematically undermine our social sustainability, it doesn't really matter if we achieve ecological sustainability  (in terms of creating a sustainable human society; I'd argue it still matters given the inherent value living systems, human or not).  Running the Death Star on solar power doesn't do much to help the light side.

Renewable Power of Destruction
Photo credit: Stéfan Le Dû 
Wal-Mart is again running into this conundrum in the real world.  A class action lawsuit, Dukes v. Walmart goes to the Supreme Court today to see if the class certification stands, which would make it the largest in history - 1.6 million women claiming gender discrimination.  Regardless of the outcome, the damage has been done (for both the employees and the WMT brand).  It's another example of Wal-Mart hitting the funnel walls - like it has time and again due to its labor practices and community impacts.

Wal-Mart has great "sustainability" goals - and due to its sheer size and influence, has done an incredible amount to drive positive ecological solutions - but their sustainability goals are environmental, and don't sufficiently integrate social impacts.  A concerted effort on social sustainability by Wal-Mart - supporting fair labor practices, fair trade practices, healthy living products, and local economies - could have a huge positive impact globally, much the same way their environmental goals are.  I'm not convinced the big-box business model could ever be truly sustainable without a radical rethinking, but I certainly commend their efforts to move that direction.  I hope they continue to do so, and focus more on social sustainability.  Hopefully this class action suit will help make that happen.

Stay going.

Monday, March 28, 2011

7 Billion

National Geographic is running a series on population this year, as we're expected to top 7 billion by the end of 2011.  Clearly population is a big factor in sustainability.  Population growth, and the increased consumption, demand, and stress on natural systems that comes with it is a fundamental driver of the funnel metaphor.  Some people get too caught up on population and want to treat it as the only driver.  It's not - for some of the reasons highlighted in the video below.

In sustainability-academia, one of the classic formulas for representing the interplay of major drivers is the IPAT equation: Impact = Population * Affluence * Technology.  (this equation has some limitations, but is a helpful way of conceptualizing the interplay between some of these major drivers).

I'm looking forward to National Geographic's coverage on this - and think these two videos do a great job relaying some sense of the scale of our population, and some of the expected demographic trends:

Stay going.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Join the journey of realisation at Open Planet Ideas

Guest Post by Susanna Halonen

What do you get when you fuse together an open platform, a panel of industry experts from Sony, WWF and IDEO and the fantastic minds of many? I’d say a very exciting, fast moving project! As community manager at Open Planet Ideas, I’ve been blown away by the creative suggestions that have been shared in response to our brief: how would you repurpose today’s technology to help address environmental challenges? Now though we face the biggest challenge of all – after selecting one final creative idea we need to make it a reality. And this is where we need your help.

There have been some superb ideas put forward. It’s incredible to think that so many items can be given a new lease of life if you simply think about how else they might be used. This Sony project demonstrates that the ‘review, re-use, recycle' ethos is alive and well – with the enthusiasm to our brief suggesting that the sustainability mindset is advancing, capturing the minds of many. Throughout the challenge we were impressed by the ingenuity of ideas and the interactions within the community.

After exciting deliberations and investigative research, the expert panel chose Greenbook as the final concept for realisation! Greenbook is an app that uses geolocation and gaming technology to make volunteering quicker, easier and more social. It matches local people with local projects, bringing many new people to volunteering and changing our communities and environment for the better.

Together with Paul Frigout, the creator of Greenbook, we are now coming up with a project plan but we need your help to refine the concept further.  So why don’t you join the journey and give us your valuable input on the final concept and what would encourage you to use it?