Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, Jan 2016 - Feb 2016

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Sustainable Business Conversation, Feb 18, 2016 Topic: Spirituality in Business

We started out talking about water and the cost of water in various cities. Andy did some research on water and sewer rates in different places. It was hard to do comparisons because some used cubic feet and others used gallons as a metric plus other factors (monthly vs quarterly billing, tiered pricing and more). Andy tried to compare the monthly cost of water and sewer services combined for a family of 4 using about 400 gallons of water a day. Water+sewer rates ranged from a low of $76/month in Dearborn to $156/month in Detroit to $192/month in Royal Oak. For comparison, San Diego would charge $160/month and Phoenix rates would be even lower than Dearborn. It was unclear what the rate in Flint would be based on online information – although someone saw a newspaper report that said the monthly water cost in Flint was $160/month as compared to $40 to 50 in Detroit. (Note this includes water only, not sewer and source of this info is unclear). David Zetland, a water expert from the Netherlands, has stated that total infrastructure costs are almost never factored into water rates, which is not a sustainable way to pay for water systems. (link to a detailed podcast on water by David Zetland is ) Some of us want to understand where we’re using so much water in our households. We tend to use a lot more water than we think. It can take a long time to get hot water up to the 6th floor of an apartment building. Running a full dishwasher is probably more efficient use of water than handwashing all those dishes. It seems that municipal water departments don’t want people to conserve, they want to sell more water to cover fixed system costs. Spirituality in business. Your work is part of being human. In theater you need to acknowledge the spiritual element – the history of people, the rituals. There is a spiritual element in every culture. We come together to invoke our ancestors for a performance. Sometimes we light a candle, have a bowl of water and call the names forth. We need to connect spiritually with the audience. Actors learn that you need to heal the dark places in yourself, because acting will inevitably lead you to those hurt places. I sing in a choir and this makes me feel tied to the rest of the human race. Some songs are 1,000 years old. Amazing! I like being able to pick the people I want to work with, based on the kind of energy they have. If someone is only interested in making money – I won’t want to go forward. That just doesn’t sit well with me. If you lie to me at the outset – I don’t really want to do business with you. I find spirituality in physical labor. Practicing something and getting better at it is rewarding. Yoga helps me become more grounded and more aware of my body. Being creative, working with wood is nurturing to my spirit. Horses have evolved as prey animals and react to people’s emotions. If you’re feeling stressed from a bad day, they will mirror it back to you. Prey animals are always alert to danger. Natural horsemanship teaches that that we must be attuned to ourselves in order to work with horses. Horses have a natural system of communicating each other starting with subtle clues. They gradually communicate their needs non-violently. Fighting is the last resort. I started out doing competitive horseback riding – which had lots of troubling aspects. In contrast, non-western equine traditions teach that you must be an equal partner with your horse. A good film to watch is Buck, a documentary on Buck Brannaman, a leader in natural horsemanship. Ray Hunt is also a master in this way of thinking. I’ve done work as a therapist helping people heal from abuse and neglect. I need my faith to do this work. One time I needed to work with a young man who was very angry and upset. He was using foul language and was bigger than me. I told him to sit beside me and talk. We leaned into each other. He opened up and kept talking for quite a while. This work is difficult. You have to find some spiritual grounding – maybe meditation. Within a corporate workplace you need to have mutual respect for other workers and for the goals of the company. It’s like school spirit – which can be very positive but also can go wrong and become broken. Morale is needed to do good work with a group. Ethics are also a part of the spiritual focus. Spiritualty is the main component of anybody’s true character. It’s the true you that understands what you really want to do in life. We need spirituality to get past each other’s faults. Thomas Berry’s book, The Great Work, tells us that everyone has a journey. The intersection of your spiritual journey with your work is where you can find your Great Work. Our natural energy is there to feed this work, although it may involve tremendous struggle. Your Great Work is your gift to the community. It is a thrill for me to share it. There is a connectedness to the world – on earth and beyond earth. A flow of creative energy that can bring health.

Sustainable Business Conversation, Feb 11, 2016 Topic: Water, Part 2

Water conversations, part 2. What can we do to improve our relationship to water? Brewing sake is a hugely water intensive process. Sake is made from water, rice and microorganisms and uses about 15 times the amount of water as compared to the amount of rice. There is a waste product (mash) that is sold in Japan as an edible product. We are still learning the art of brewing sake – there is much to learn. In Japan, breweries usually locate near springs or streams coming from mountains. The quality of the water is important. We want to have a green Japanese restaurant and good water is basic to the concept. I first became aware of Green Garage through my interest in the Green Alley, which I found aesthetically beautiful. Then I learned more about its role in the water cycle. There is a trade-off in choosing to use disposable plates or ceramic plates that need to be washed. Do we use water freely because we have a lot in Michigan? Or do you minimize water use by doing fewer dishes and using more disposables? Organic waste is organic – nature is designed to decompose organic materials. Salt can be very damaging to water. We dump a lot of salt on roads in winter. There were speed bumps of salt where the truck dumped a lot by accident. In northern Michigan, it seems that they use more sand than salt on roads. Can we do that here? They have abundant sand up north, but little salt. In this part of the state, we have lots of salt but less sand. We use what is close by. Beet juice is said to work better than salt, but it turns the roads purple. There are new high-tech road tiles that have solar panels and LED lights. They can be used to mark lanes in roads (lanes can easily be changed), give messages or melt snow. Sounds great – but how much toxic material is used to make the tiles? What impact do industrial toxics have on water? Load limits in Michigan are very high and concrete keeps getting damaged. I-275 has been patched and repaired repeatedly. Now they’re planning a major re-do this summer. In Germany, major roads like the Autobahn have concrete that is 3 feet thick and lasts a long time. I-375 was constructed to German standards over 25 years ago and it lasted well, although it needs fixing now. This type of construction has not been done elsewhere in Michigan. One concept of pattern language is de-centralized wastewater treatment. Also good to keep residential waste apart from industrial waste. When the sewer system was designed in the Detroit area, building big was the thing and all sewers were combined. Now we have problems related to the combined sewers that carry both sanitary waste, industrial waste and stormwater. If it rains hard, the combined sewers may overflow directly into a river, spilling untreated waste (combined sewer overflow). The Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant was the biggest in the world at one point. Rain barrels work great and make you more aware of natural systems. It’s basically free water. You can use a soaker hose with one, but basically there is little or no water pressure. We thought our neighbors would object to our new rain barrel – but instead they were excited when it rained and they could watch the barrel fill up.

Sustainable Business Conversation, Feb 4, 2016: Topic: Water

We started out talking about last week - Managing Scarcity and Abundance within Limits. Our language about abundance mentality or scarcity mentality may not work for everyone, especially when some terms get hi-jacked. In theater, the clarity of a message involves knowing the audience and how they understand the language. Important to clarify terms and don’t make assumptions. Communal ownership of a commons rests on abundance mentality – there is enough for everyone. But it also involved understanding how things work in nature (like the importance of fish nursery areas) and that resources are not unlimited. A healthy commons needs a healthy community. Faith teaches that there is enough for everybody. However, it may not seem like enough if you’re too greedy. Also there may be less to go around if someone is hoarding and pulling out more than a fair share. A scarcity mentality encourages competitiveness and greed. For many spiritual paths the main component is love. We need to have care and concern for the people around us. My grandfather was a natural leader who was good at business. He was a hard worker who never stopped. When a serious car accident left him paralyzed, everything changed for the family. Grandfather was still in charge from a wheelchair, but other people had to do more. He had to learn to delegate. He had a light about him – a big personality. His energy fueled the business. Our relationship to water: over 80% of a human being is water. How we care for water is how we care for ourselves. Most of our relationship to water (about 98%) is related to water being used to carry waste away from you. This includes for example, water from a shower, dish washing, laundry, washing hands, and flushing a toilet. In this area storm sewers are combined with sanitary sewers and heavy rainfall leads to combined sewer overflow (CSO) events. Over 300 CSO events took place in 2014, resulting in raw sewage flowing to Lake Erie. Few businesses recognize their reliance on water. This area used to be made up of swamps and wetlands before the city was developed. Creeks and rivers have been covered up and run underground now. Water used to be honored from a spiritual perspective, but much of that connection has been lost. Some live near polluted parts of the Rouge River and think of water as a toxic thing. It’s amazing to look at the water problems in Flint that have happened surrounded by the Great Lakes, which contain 20% of the Earth’s fresh water. We hear so much in the news about how much our water costs, but to me the water bill is a minor part of my expenses. How much should water and sewer service cost? What are the actual costs of pumping and treating water? What do people pay for water in other parts of the US? Copenhagen has been doing innovative water management – using rain gardens and retention basins. Is a green alley cheaper than putting in separated sewers? We have a lot of aging water infrastructure (pipes, valves) that may need to be replaced. DWSD is starting to charge businesses that have large impermeable paved areas. This has led to a store on Jefferson putting in a green (permeable pavement) parking lot. Making beer uses a lot of water. Some breweries are moving away from the west coast due to the lack of water. People in the Los Angeles area seem to be more aware of smog and air pollution issues than they are of water issues. You have to do a regular smog check for your car which raises people’s awareness of air pollution. People still want to have swimming pools and green lawns. They don’t seem to understand the critical water shortage.

Sustainable Business Conversation, January 28, 2016: Sustainable Planning & Estimating

Comments from last week's discussion on Scarcity/Abundance:

  • Ronald Coase was an economist who made the case that well defined property rights could overcome the problem of externalities (negative social or environmental impacts caused by businesses). He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1991 for the Coase theorem and his work on the problem of social costs.
  • The term scarcity mentality can be mis-applied. One group member talked about working as a barista in a restaurant - his only pay was in tips. Then the owner hired two more baristas for his shifts and the tips were seriously reduced. When he complained, the owner said he had a scarcity mentality. That didn’t seem right. It was probably not legal that he wasn't paid a salary, and really that was the problem.
  • It’s human nature to take a good idea and hijack it. We’ve seen “green” products that aren't, in fact, environmentally friendly or energy efficient. Any idea we think is good can be used to do bad. There is a culture of paying under the table which some people embrace – but there are perils doing that. Plus it’s not good karma.
  • Managing scarcity and abundance within limits. My friend’s parents had a scarcity mentality and wanted a lot of control of her decisions in college. She listened to herself and changed fields from physical therapy to psychology – although her parents predicted failure. After she graduated she got a great job at a major accounting firm as a leadership coach. She became very successful. Persistence and not giving up was crucial in the face of her family’s scarcity mentality.

Scarcity in a personal situation: When my brother-in-law died a group of us came together to go through the house. My sister had died years before and I was still grieving. At first I was full of grief and had a scarcity mentality. I thought of all the things I needed to have. In the end, connecting with family filled me up and I left with just three things to remember my sister. The relationships were the most valuable things and I realized what a sensitive time this was for my two nieces. Walking in nature, by the lake also helped me shift things. I walked away with the greatest gift – sharing time with family.

Sustainable Planning & Estimating:

  • Planning and estimating are crucial for large, complex projects. This ties into the abundance/scarcity dilemma.
    • If you give a time or cost estimate to a customer, do they want to hear a hopeful scenario or do they want to hear the truth?
    • What does top management want to hear?
    • Does the plan for this project require a perfect world?
    • What could go wrong?
  • Understanding statistics/understanding risks:
    • If you have 10 independent factors upon which a project depends that all have a 90% probability of happening, statistics tells us that there is a less than 10% chance of the project working out according to plan. The reality is that the plan is likely to fail.
    • But if you educate yourself about reality and include risks in your plan, then risks can be your friends. You can include contingencies, slush funds and order crucial parts early.
    • When people create unrealistic plans in large corporations, it can ruin lives.
    • Executives sometimes try to do the impossible. Human nature means that ego seeps into a lot of forecasts.

How do you work with people whose thinking comes out of scarcity rather than abundance? By the way, that squirrel - he's not sharing!

Sustainable Business Conversation, January 21, 2016 Topic: Dealing With People Who Come From a Scarcity Mentality

  • Stephen Covey writes that most people are deeply scripted in a scarcity mentality. If one person gets a big piece of the pie, there’s less for everyone else. Such people have trouble sharing things; recognition, power, profits, and have trouble being genuinely happy for other people.
  • An abundance mentality comes from a deep sense of personal worth and security. The world is full of plenty and there is enough to share with everyone. However, it is important to be careful with money and be in touch with reality. It makes sense to get the most value from what we spend. Having prudent limits is a part of an abundance mentality.
  • How to deal with someone who has a strong victim mentality? It depends on the depth of the relationship and how much time one is willing to invest. There are people who have not been loved well. One has to work hard to heal and get better – not everyone is willing to do that.
  • Some very successful people are complete perfectionists and are oblivious to people’s feelings. Bosses need to learn to honor the human side of employees and still get the job done.
  • The 1/3 rule: One option when dealing with a scarcity mentality is to leave that relationship. Is that person in the scarcity bunker and not coming out? Rule of thumb is that 1/3 of folks are with you and 1/3 of folks are against you and 1/3 of folks are trying to make up their mind. Focus on those making up their minds. Remember 1/3 + 1/3 is a landslide in an election.
  • How does change happen? We’ve had cycles of boom and bust – but some companies, like Toyota take a long-term (20 year horizon) approach making it easier to ride out these cycles. In talking to U of M students – they just said that sustainability is so obvious to them. For example, many millenials aren't interested in owning a car.
  • In some family businesses there is an expression: shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 4 generations. The first generation becomes successful and the 2nd and 3rd generations follow that lead and are comfortable. Unless the 3rd or 4th generation decides to innovate and re-invent, the business may die out by the 4th generation.
  • Zingermans does not have the highest margins. Their philosophy includes seeding new businesses and keeping quality high. In the deli you can taste anything.
  • Growth that comes too fast can blow up. It’s better to grow naturally.
  • Developers often focus on what they can take from a community. It’s better to start from what you want to bring to the community. Ask why you are doing something. What is your motivation? You need a seed, a purpose and an idea. You’d better really like the project – it’s going to take a lot of your time! Know what you’re doing and where you’re going. Do you care about your customers?
What if we worked from a mentality of abundance rather than scarcity?

Sustainable Business Conversation, January 14, 2016 Topic: Abundance and Scarcity

Stephen Covey and the Abundance Mentality:

  • What if all of the win/lose situations in our lives were an illusion?
  • Covey’s fourth habit involves a win/win philosophy.
  • A Scarcity mentality is based on fear and the idea that there’s not enough to go around.
  • Abundance teaches that there is enough for everyone.

Sharing the abundance mentality: The El Moore Lodge and the Inn on Ferry Street are both small hotels in midtown. You might expect them to compete but they have decided to cooperate. We want to work together to make both venues successful and to help a client get the room(s) that best meet their needs. What we can achieve together is more than we can do alone. The culture of competition is based on false ideas.

What if all the resources we need are here all around us? We need to be open to the world and be ready to receive help.

Abundance of resources: Working on the new retail spaces at the El Moore project – there are so many ideas. It’s hard to sort them out – we’re going forward anyway. We are surrounded by great people. I don’t need to have all the answers to start to go forward. The more fear, the fewer answers. Trust the process, keep having conversations. The answers will come.

Voices from the group:

  • I need to step up and not be afraid to succeed. People tend to think narrowly. You may need to expand your ideas and talk to more potential allies. It can’t be just your idea – others need to buy in as well. 90% of the work is showing up. You need to put yourself in position for abundance. Don’t kill your own ideas. There often is an answer that does not involve sacrifice. This is different from the world I grew up in. It’s OK to need other people. The whole idea of the Commons is based on abundance. If competition sets in (building fences where not needed), that can destroy everything.
  • I have had a long career as a finance guy – and that was always about scarcity. I’m trying to get out of that mentality. Does it make more sense to spend more money for special roof tiles that are beautiful and authentic? Maybe it does, but financial issues are also real.
  • I worked my way through school; bachelors and masters degrees. I think how lucky I am to have been able to do that. Everything I needed came to me. I never planned. This is abundance. You need to keep yourself up. Mindset is so important. Look at all the good in your life, not the one thing that is a loss.
  • I find it hard to pass along the abundance thought process to my children. Life has changed. Grandma raised 12 children in a 3-bedroom house with one bathroom. At one point 8 kids and 10 grands were in the house. You shared everything. Every corner was used and shared. If you had one plate of food, you shared with everyone in the room. Kids today have trouble understanding and valuing this kind of sharing.
  • When I moved to Detroit I had a plan I believed in, even though I didn’t know how the finances would work. People asked, “Why are you going to a city that’s dying?” They didn’t see what the city has to offer. It’s worked out. Everything I needed has been provided. Sharing is a central part of abundance.
  • Limits within a mindset of abundance: All living systems have limits. A cactus just won’t grow in a Michigan wetlands – that’s the wrong place. You have to understand who you are and what you need. Trees have limits. One oak tree supports 5,000 species of living things. The seasons matter. You need to find a balance between limits and limitlessness. You can’t be available to receive abundance if I don’t have limits. Other people are not responsible for your limits. Also your limits may shift over time.
  • Is it self-indulgence to stay home and read a book? Or is it a good way to take time for yourself?
  • It’s better to share your ideas for a food business start-up. No one will come to help you if you don’t tell the story. People told me to patent my business idea before starting. I didn’t do that – it could still be stolen during the patent application process. So what if someone else is first to market. Does that matter?

Sustainable Business Conversation, January 7, 2016 Topic: 2016 - A Look Forward

Looking to future.png

We asked the group what they saw for themselves and their business in the coming year? Here are some of their thoughts:

  • Reinventing work and finding ways to stabilize income.
  • Several ideas in the hopper. Not sure what to commit to….
  • Choosing between low-paying jobs for a good cause or high-paying work that’s not so idealistic. I need to earn money, but I also want to do good in the world.
  • Learning to use my new tablet – Microsoft Surface.
  • A year ago I was making the decision to leave a well-paying corporate job. Seemed like a crazy idea – but I made the leap. Now I’m in the middle of renovation projects aimed at living sustainably. Lots of great connections at Green Garage – I’ve been changed by the conversations here.
  • We all have passions – we should go after them. In the past, I lost a lot of sleep worrying, but that’s behind me now.
  • Value your art: Artists are taught not to value their work in money. We love our work and must do it to sustain ourselves and feed our souls. Many of us need a day job to pay the bills. I’m applying for full time faculty positions again this year, but I’m less stressed about it. I don’t care as much whether they call or not.
  • We lived well below our means when I had a big corporate job. We saved up and have a cushion now to try something new.
  • Work takes work! There is often sacrifice involved in setting a new direction.
  • I’m serious about limits this year. I need to set priorities. What if there are 10 projects that all look right? If it’s too much - you need to say no sometimes. I’m sending shorter responses to emails – and it seems to work just as well.
  • Need to go with the flow but not overload myself. When one house flip became three houses to flip; we decided to hire a contractor since it’s too much for me to take on.
  • I quit a corporate job a year and a half ago – and it’s taken me that long to decompress. I was miserable – too much travel. I was spending too much time with high maintenance people and they sucked energy. Two colleagues committed suicide – which shocked me. We saved a lot when I was working. Now I’m de-cluttering my life. Saving is golden.
  • Blind consumptive thinking is destroying the planet. Having and acquiring stuff is not the best mindset. If we’re miserable and its killing us, you’ve got to look at that.
  • I was laid off in 2009 and it was a problem finding a new job. I was in a world I didn’t know. I applied for a lot of jobs and heard nothing back. I learned to just show up and introduce myself. I walked up to the second floor of a commercial building near me, and found a “room for rent” sign. The owner was shocked – no one walks up to the second floor – I guess I was meant to be there. I rented the room and started my own practice. This worked well for some years, but being a therapist is draining and a new balance became needed. Just showing up is 90% of life. I’m working on faith and trust again.
  • In starting a new path, you need to allow yourself to fail sometimes. Most new ideas start out with failure.
  • People get flooded with emails and crave soul contact. Be grounded in who you are and what you are seeking. A handwritten note mailed with a special stamp can make an impact.
  • Money is a tool to get better outcomes. I’m getting over my bean counter mentality. Money is just energy and a means to an end.