Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, May 2015 - Jun 2015

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Sustainable Business, June 25, 2015 Topic: Sharing

Bike sharing in London

Comments from last week's conversation about expectations:

  • Sometimes you get so involved in the details of a project that it’s hard to see the whole; after so much work on the El Moore building, it’s amazing to step back and just experience the whole thing.
  • Something there is a Gestalt - bigger than just the elements.
  • Some people have a very warm feeling, like the El Moore is holding you in its arms. Good design matters. Things need to look good and also be comfortable.
  • Some businesses (such as meat packing) have a very masculine style for workers, but everyone has both a masculine side and a feminine side. Masculine can be like an amplifier and feminine can be like a pre-amp with tuners and levels.
  • Balance is needed. We need to recognize other people’s strengths and find the best ways to work together.

Topic for today: Sharing

  • We are in the middle of a sharing revolution.
  • Ford plans to be an active player in car sharing. Many millennials have no plans to own a car. There are other ways to get around.
  • The sharing economy also includes knowledge (Wikipedia, software), crowdfunding (sharing money), MOOCs (massive open online courses).
  • Most sharing is based on mobile technology, but not everyone has access.
  • People are finding new ways to make money. The concept of having a salary is fading.
  • Some trades have a tradition of sharing knowledge. In the Great Lakes Building Association a master plumber teaches apprentices. They don’t hold back knowledge, but share freely – all need to succeed.
  • Laurence Lessig is a proponent of creative commons and Free Software.
  • Can there be a choice of types of copyrights, with various levels of sharing allowed?
  • Sharing on the internet is different. If I share my toy in person, I can’t use it while the other person has it. If I share something on Facebook, I don’t lose access to it.
  • Sharing physical things includes bicycle sharing, sharing a co-working space, dog sharing and borrowing from neighbors (a cup of sugar?).
  • We borrow the earth from our children. Could we care for things better?

Sustainable Business, June 18, 2015 Topic: Managing Expectations

Comments from last week's conversation on end-of-life of electronic products:

  • We started out talking about human dignity and a Japanese ethos where all work is honored.
  • We tend to be very unaware of how things are made – but we should know the story of making things. Who made this skirt? Where did the materials come from? Who will wear it? Stories about these things need to engage people.
  • We have gotten away from knowing each other’s stories. Telling other people’s stories can give context and bring life to otherwise dry statistics and facts.

Today's Topic: Managing Expectations

  • One of the core things for sustainability is relationships. Many people think you can get a relationship with someone by sending an email – but that rarely works. It takes work and time to build a relationship. The future will not happen without good relationships and community.
  • Project management success is based on meeting or exceeding a client’s expectations. Your client may not know what they really want at the beginning. Unstated expectations create a tension you can feel.
  • How do we manage unrealistic expectations? Where is a person coming from? What do they bring to this interaction? How long is something going to take? We need to build a level of trust.
  • Some clients won’t verbalize their expectations and it’s hard to get feedback. When writing a plan of action you may guess at your client’s expectations. At the last minute they finally look at your work and say “That’s all wrong. Scratch that and do this instead.” Frustrating. You may need to spend 80% of the time building relationships and earning respect. Your job may be to help people figure out their expectations. Where is the gap between people’s expectations and reality?
  • Be intentional but be flexible. A rigid, inflexible mindset is unsustainable in the long term. You need to build a mechanism that can adapt to changes.
  • We don’t have all the answers. Adult learning involves getting a group of people to come to shared expectations. Communication is key. Images and symbols may be the best way to communicate with many people.

Sustainable Business, June 4, 2015 Topic: End-of-life of Electronic Devices, Part 2

Reduce. Reuse, Recycle

  • Eliminating some electronic devices: At first there was a rush to buy lots of new gadgets, but now fewer people are buying everything. Someone decided not to replace an ipad when it broke. Maybe we don’t need a TV set. Many households have no land line telephone. A smart phone can replace lots of things – 54 things (camera, GPS, book, calendar, plane ticket and so on) by one count.
  • Use of electronics can cause problems; muscle problems such as “text neck”. Does it affect your eyes to look at so many screens?

Repair, Recycle:

  • Some replace their phone every 2 years (Apple recommends this). You can send an old phone to, which pays you and refurbishes the old phone for resale. Some of us have a drawer full of old phones.
  • The Michigan Humane Society accepts old electronics for recycling. A scrap yard in Royal Oak accepts large screen TV sets. There are businesses that repair iphones and ipads. Federal Prison Industries or UNCOR operates businesses in prisons that disassemble electronics for recycling.

  • Some of us are slow adopters of new technology and don’t rush out to buy new stuff. How about sharing electronics or vacuum cleaners – like a tool library?
  • Is there a difference between playing games online and old fashioned board games played in person?
  • How much does it cost to run a dishwasher? How does this compare to throwing away disposable plates and cutlery? Recycling needs to be more convenient than throwing away.
  • Things change – a thesis stored on an old hard disk may not be easily readable any more. Paper copy may survive longer. But electronic copies of documents save paper and have a positive impact on the environment. What happens when the power goes out? Electronic signatures save time.
  • Libraries may have less book usage – but are still important. Lots of people use library computers for broadband access. Publishers are now taking more care to create beautiful books – and many people love paper books. However many books have been scanned and are available online.
  • What is the one thing that made the Green Garage possible? The Internet was key. It is possible to interact with and learn from people all over the world.
  • Chaordic – is a combination of chaos and order. Talking to people about a problem, following curiosity, grew into the Clinton Foundation.
  • Will Wikipedia gain more credibility in academia, based on new standards of care?

Sustainable Business, May 28, 2015 Topic: End-of-life of Electronic Devices

Recap of last week’s trip to El Moore:

  • Interested in how communities are formed in Detroit. Sue Mosey has worked for years in the Midtown area and has valued getting many other voices involved.
  • Is the new development in this area Gentrification? Are people buying houses to flip and make money – or do they plan to live there themselves?
  • The very rich and the very poor usually live distant from each other now. Developing Detroit mixes many kinds of people together.
  • Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) has lots of rules for projects they fund. They seem to have a culture that encourages separation of low income people. We need a new model to bring change. You need to know people to get ahead. The El Moore team has tried to work with people one-on-one to deal with issues related to income or access. Much to learn. This work can be a model for different kinds of re-development.
  • The city of Detroit has so much space – but we’re fighting over it.
  • Shinola makes watches that cost $1.000. Is this needed? Lots of people making things in China can’t afford to buy the things they are producing. Jewelry maker Rebel Nell employs homeless women, promotes saving to buy a house, teaches skills. Entrepreneurs are good – but you also should value the businesses already there. How should we measure business success – money? Community impacts?
  • The cost of repairing and preserving historic buildings is often high. This conflicts with a desire to offer low rents.
  • Could this area be more affordable for students? There is nowhere to go after 9:00 near Wayne State. Could Wayne partner with smaller businesses? Detroit is a major urban city which lost most industry and many residents moved to the suburbs.
Electronics recycliing.png

Today's Topic: End-of-life of Electronics:

  • Huge amounts of electronic devices are thrown away. 429,000 cell phones are disposed every day in the US. Approximately 200 million people dispose of electronic devices every year.
  • The culture tells us to throw away and buy new. We fear being left out, not communicating fast enough.
  • It’s hard to find a place to repair a TV. Lots of old electronics get put on cargo ships and sent to China where children are exposed to toxins in the waste. Thinking about this is a downer to some people.
  • Staying connected is vital. A virtual world is becoming more important.
  • Things are now being designed to be manufactured at low cost but not to be repaired.
  • Is this an opportunity to have less – not more? Does buying more make me happy? Lots of waste is created from people’s unhappiness. There is value in buying less.

Sustainable Business, May 7, 2015 Topic: Sustainability and the M-1 Rail, public transportation and walkability

  • Construction of the M-1 rail system will take 2 to 3 years.
  • Businesses on the route are being impacted. Some restaurants have shut down. Customers can’t get there – there may be little or no parking during construction. Big construction projects should budget to help local businesses that suffer because of construction. Could the community help? We could make an effort to patronize businesses impacted by M-1 construction. Organizers of M-1 have met with impacted some businesses (if they attended public meetings, some years ago) and worked to help with access and parking. If owners did not attend meetings, they missed out.
  • Sue Mosey at Midtown Detroit, Inc., puts on an event with short updates on what’s going on in Midtown.
  • M-1 rail project was very important to out-of-town developers deciding to invest in Detroit projects. Unfortunately some older pre-existing businesses that have held neighborhoods together for years are bearing the burden of negative construction impacts.
  • Whole Foods did a lot of education and put on community sessions to prepare for their Detroit store. Good example of planning well. They made an effort to tailor the store to Detroit’s needs.
  • We need to move forward toward a walkable city with mass transit. There are lots of tradeoffs. People should decide whether to own a vehicle or not.
  • Some say that M-1 rail goes from Nowhere to Nowhere. It’s a 3 mile street car system, not a 9 mile light rail system. But some of us live at Nowhere – and it will be a great connection to places we want to go.
  • Don’t forget the bus system. You meet people and build community riding a bus. Can rail and bus be combined? Atlanta has done some interesting things.
  • Biking is fun; it’s easy to make unplanned stops to get a pizza or check out a store. Slow roll bike ride is great but getting big and changing. Bike shops are popping up – and they’re busy.
  • Are ever bigger road systems (such as I-94 expansion) still needed in this area? Auto travel has gone down over the past 5 years. Will the trend of less auto use continue? Urban planning should be re-evaluated every 7 years or so as things change.
  • There has been a feeling of stagnation in Detroit. Some people are so stuck in the way things have been that it’s difficult to see things differently. We hope people will do the right thing – but those with the most capital to invest tend to get what they want.
  • However, many neighborhoods are doing well. Palmer Park is coming along. Developers are interested in Highland Park. Leaders in the Osborn neighborhood see opportunities. Seeds of good things are being planted.
  • Change takes time. We need good schools, programs for kids, diversity and lots more.
  • Some areas are just located so far from each other. Sprawl is a huge issue in the metro area. The whole region needs to come together for common interests.