Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, Sep 2014 - Oct 2014

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Sustainable Business Oct 30, 2014 Topic: Managing Time in Our Lives and Businesses

Comments from last week's conversation:

Resisting change:

  • We all recognize a personal discontinuity - that is, we know we need to make changes but many of us still resist change? Why is that?
  • How can we teach other generations to do things that we aren’t willing to do ourselves?
  • Feedback (data) can help change your habits. Many of us who drive a hybrid vehicle report that our driving habits have changed, improved (that is, we drive more energy efficiently) because of the dashboard screen that shows battery use vs. gasoline use.

Thinking about the carbon cycle:

  • Wood burning vs. burning gas: From a systems perspective, wood burning might be a better option than burning natural gas. When we consider the carbon cycle, we know that the earth can regenerate a tree faster than it can produce coal or natural gas.
  • But, realistically, society can’t go back to burning wood for heat and energy either. What to do?
  • All forms of fuel (potential energy) on earth have their source in the sun - all energy comes from the sun. So if we can figure out an efficient way to capture energy from the sun, then we can eliminate need for other types of fuel.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

  • Darryl reports that he saved months worth of recycling, but it only took a short time to actually get all of it to the recycling center - much less time than he anticipated. Knowing how simple it was and how little time it actually took provided him with real teaching opportunities for others.
  • Looming tasks always seem overwhelming, like they will take longer than they actually do. Just take that first step.
  • Do only what you can do, and if baby steps are all you can do, then that’s just fine.
  • Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open to learning, be willing to ask for help.
  • Find your community, make those connections.

Our disconnectedness from the natural cycle of life is one of the things that has caused real problems in our society. Many of us unaware of our relationship with the water around us, with the land and the plants and animals. We have lost an awareness of how our way of life impacts everything around us. We need to reconnect and share our experiences of this journey with others.


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Topic for the day: How do we manage (and value) time in our lives and our businesses?

Things to consider:

  • Do we manage our time in a way that makes sense?
  • Are your schedule and your values in sync? Are you scheduling time for things that aren’t important or are you making time for the things that really are?
  • Do we understand the difference between spending time and investing time?
  • Do we allow for down time to regenerate? Understand your own needs and energy level.

Passion = energy: What are you passionate about? If you’re spending time on things that are meaningful to you, you will get energy from them - they won’t drain you. It doesn’t feel like work if you love doing it.

Sometimes people lead frenetic lives because there is an underlying problem that they don’t want to deal with. Do you overbook yourself because you are trying to avoid something?

Everyone has their own way of experiencing time in a positive way, in designing their schedules in a way that feeds their soul. For some it could be meditation, yoga or prayer. An outside observer might think you’re doing nothing, but giving yourself time to rest, reflect and recharge is just as important (and productive) as giving yourself time to accomplish tasks.

"Some of us feel the rain. Others just get wet."


Sustainable Business Oct 23, 2014 Topic: Measurement in Your Life or Business

Comments from last week's discussion on Using Measurement to Enhance the Environmental Bottom Line:

  • Measurement is a mixture of science and art. How you collect data, how you establish time frames, etc…
  • We regulate what we can measure: Point Source Pollution (i.e., something being discharged from a pipe) is easy to measure and is regulated. But for Non Point Source Pollution (NPSP), like runoff from farm fields, for example, there is no practical way to measure this. So, even though we know it’s a problem, it is not regulated.
  • Measurement can be expensive. NPSP is difficult and expensive to measure. Who bears that cost ultimately? What is cost effective? How do these kinds of improvements get paid for? It’s either the customer or the tax payer. The city of Toledo is bearing the cost of NPSP coming from other parts of the Great Lakes (algae bloom in Lake Erie). The problem will not go away because the root problem is not being dealt with.
  • Business vs. science: Big agriculture looks everything through a certain lens - to maximize yield. So this business framework is in conflict with science. The business wants to continue, despite the damage being done to the environment. There is a gap between people and their points of view. Businesses talk money, environmentalists talk environment, but what connects the two groups? Where can they come together?
  • Does measurement lead to an action? What is actionable?
  • Even well-intended regulations can have negative consequences. Michigan plumbers code, for example, requires that if you use grey water in your toilets that you put dye in it. But what’s in this dye? Is it safe? If a regulatory system punishes you for polluting, are they also going to punish you when you make an honest mistake while trying new things, while you’re on a learning curve?
  • How can we create a whole community view - “we’re all in this together” - rather than taking up sides?
  • We sometimes encounter people who really don’t want to change - regardless of the information, data, bottom lines you give them.
  • Changes occurs out of relationships - you can’t motivate someone to change who you don’t have a relationship with.


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Topic today: How is measurement involved in your life or business in ways that are helpful? In ways that are not helpful? What important things in your life cannot be measured?

Where do you use measurement? In personal life? In business? In things that are hard to measure? Have you used measurement for your own change? Have you found it to be unhelpful, misleading?

Tom’s example: They keep an eye regularly on their electric bill, where are they at on a month to month basis. They see when their children leave and then come back; we all carry with us a footprint of energy, waste, water use, etc. They are at about 30% energy use of the average house. One month they found that their energy use had suddenly increased and they needed to figure out why. By turning the fuses off and on and watching whether or not the meter was spinning, they were able to identify the problem - that the sump pump was stuck running.

How actionable is the information that you acquire? Can you use it to solve a problem?

You can use measurement data as long as you have a relationship with it, that is, you know when there is a change, or no change, going up or going down. Even if data is imperfect, you can still gather information from it.

Measuring Water Use:

  • Neal’s suggestion for measuring water use : Look at where your water meter is at night. As long as you don’t have any water running during the night, it should not move. If the meter has moved, then you know you have a leak somewhere.
  • Next, understand where the most water use occurs in your home or business (toilets, washing machines, etc)
  • Water leaks - 15% of leaks occur in homes and businesses.
  • It’s easy to save water by shutting it off when you’re washing your hands or brushing your teeth. Also, wipe out the sink instead of using a lot of water to rinse it out.

Many of us pay attention to measurements related to our bodies. Doctors measure our weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. Guidelines are important, but our bodies also let us know their limits.

All measurement is personal:

  • When we get into our own personal lives, do we have the same capacity for measurement (of our impact on the environment) that we want to impose on others? We want them to do all this measurement, but it becomes very personal to them, and we don’t even do this kind of measurement ourselves.
  • We all focus our attention on different things; perhaps your water bill or electric bill - someone might realize they are using less water because of notice that they used less laundry soap than last month.
  • We seem to put effort into measurement when we want to make improvements but not as much when we look at data on a regular basis. Steady state stuff is not worth your investment of time
  • People tend to resist change because it has consequences that they then have to deal with and may not want to or know how to deal with.

Is there a reason that we don’t pay attention to measurement in our lives? Do we even look at our bills or do we just pay them? Do we pay attention to how much waste we produce? How much gasoline we use each week?

  • Part of the reason could be that we don’t understand systems and don’t know how to identify a problem.

Whatever we haven’t spent the time to understand or to put a structure around can result in waste. If you don’t think about your water bill or pay attention to detail, you could have a leak for years and never even know it.

People tend not to change their behavior just because information is presented to them - making a shift from attitude change to behavior change is huge. If structures are in place, measurement systems in place, it makes it much easier to make behavior changes. If you don’t have recycling in your neighborhood, you probably won’t try to recycle (even if you could cart your stuff to a recycle center yourself). Things need to be available.

In order to change a behavior, you need information, tools, and relationships to support you.


Sustainable Business, Oct 16, 2014 Topic: Using Measurement to Enhance the Environmental Bottom Line

Comment from last week’s conversation on relationships between the bottom lines:

  • Things related to environment often get framed in a “payback” way, linking environmental bottom line to economic bottom line. There seems to be a need to make a business case for something that has a positive environmental impact - why is that? Other products are not required to do that.


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This week’s topic: Using measurement to enhance environmental bottom line.

Tom’s thoughts:

  • What do we mean by measurement?
  • Why do we measure anything? To report to someone? To become aware yourself? To learn?
  • Is measurement good?
  • How do you go about getting consistently good information or data? What processes do you have in place? Is the person trained to capture information actually trained to do so?

Comments from the group:

  • To get good information and develop accurate processes, you have to work hard and do some hard thinking. Collecting data in the “usual” way is easy, but doesn’t produce good results.
  • Metrics need to be reproducible, repeatable - it should be a science, not an art.
  • Designing data collection processes needs to be collaborative - you can’t have people with differing agendas.
  • Our culture tends to value speedy results. But doing things efficiently doesn’t necessarily mean quickly. Spend the time to get your measurement processes right. If you don’t, you can run into all kinds of problems.
  • Having good data can prove a point. There are so many issues that people debate today (agricultural runoff, global warming) that having accurate and reliable data is vital if we are to convince others of the reality of these issues.
  • What information of value does data give us? If you are taking measurements, what value do we derive from them? Sometimes is can be hard to make the connection between the measurements we take and the value that comes out of them.
  • Measurements have to make sense to people - they have to understand why they are important, why they matter to them and to all of us. Translate measurements into something that people understand.
  • Can we assume that everything can be measured? Do we have enough information to produce real meaningful measurement? Math is a precise science in an imprecise world.
  • SWAG - sophisticated wild a** guess. Sometimes you don’t have real data, so you make a guess with partial data and perhaps use an algorithm to produce an estimate? You rely on your experience to make a guess. Estimates will have a set of assumptions around them. They could produce a range of answers for you.
  • Law of diminishing returns: This applies to how much effort you put into getting really accurate information. How is that data being used and how important is it for the data to be exact?
  • Understanding the measurements you make is important because you want to be able to make improvements in how you conduct your business. You have to know where you are starting from to know if you are making positive progress.
  • Understanding the quality of your measurement is important. No data set is ever perfect, so what is your tolerance for imperfection? Less information (or at least less reliable information) can result in more risk to a portion of a project - how can you in the future eliminate the more risky portions of your work?
  • What are your intentions - are you iterative in your approach? Do you regularly go back and look at what we are doing, why? Are you continuously looking at how you measure, what you measure, what meaning your measurements have, etc?
  • How do we measure social value? Nothing could be more imprecise, but it is very real. How can I assign a number to something like social improvement, that is very real, but so hard to put real data around?
  • Measuring social and environmental margins, we need to use a different language; it’s hard to quantify these. We have to identify our values and measure from there.
  • Sometimes the better decision goes against the measurement; other times the decision dictates the measurement.
  • Gathering data is just as much about asking the right questions and asking the right person the right questions as it is about anything. If you don’t ask the right questions, you will not get valuable answers. Do you trust the people giving you information? Is this within the realm of their capabilities?
  • Understand other people’s points of view. “Barns and Birkenstocks”, describing the tension between farmers and environmentalists. Big agriculture leads famers to think only about the bottom line so the environmentalist is perceived as an adversary.

Bob's how to: Assume that data is expensive to collect because it takes a lot of work to insure that the quality of your data is good. Try to minimize how much data you need. Ask yourself:

  • What decisions do I need to make?
  • What information do I need in order to make those decisions?
  • How much will this cost?
  • Am I collecting data that I really don’t need? (that would be just noise)

Our economic system can be loaded against environmental responsibility: Ex: We should be using less energy, not more, so the goal should be that the utility companies sell less energy, not more. We should be building fewer houses, not more, because we have so many empty homes. But that would negatively affect homebuilders and the new home starts figures that we often rely on as an indicator of a healthy economy.

Time as a factor: Putting metrics around something as broad as environmental margins is tough because some changes/improvements can only be observed over longer periods of time. We tend to want quick answers and speedy results, but this is not always possible - patience…

We have a much larger appetite in this culture for future estimates and forecasts, but little interest in actual numbers. Media showed up at the beginning of the GG project and our projected numbers, but none showed up to hear what the actuals were one year in. LEED doesn’t require buildings to measure actual numbers.




Sustainable Business, Sept 4, 2014 Topic: Taking Action to Reduce Toxicity: What's the First Step?

Observations from last week’s conversation on Toxicity Awareness:

Awareness about toxicity is so important - awareness leads to better choices.

  • Tom has lawn and garden products (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) that are 20+ years old. They are clearly dangerous and he must get them to SOCCRA for safe disposal. He looks at these products and wonders, “what was I thinking??” His awareness is so much greater today than it was 20 years ago. , When you grow your awareness, it is often surprising when you look back and see what you used to do. Companies have made a lot of money selling these products and convincing us that we need them.
  • Baking soda works really well for cleaning and some people use it instead of toothpaste. But be aware - it can damage your teeth over time, so be careful not to use it too often.
  • Why are there so many different soaps for all parts of your body? Do we really need shampoo and body wash and face wash, etc? Are these scented products good for us?
  • Pesticides and fertilizers - why do we think it’s ok to put poisonous stuff all over our yard and expose ourselves and our neighbors to toxins? Some people even use “bug bombs” in their yards to rid them of mosquitoes, but are they aware of what these products do besides killing mosquitoes?
  • Did you know that the materials used for gloves and masks are rated as to how permeable they are?
  • Number of farmers with cancer is very high due to lifelong use of chemicals on their farmland. Even organically grown foods can be affected by nearby non-organic farms and their use of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • We have to pay more for organic foods because they cost more to produce, but we are in a transition period. The prices will eventually come down and, additionally, we can expect to have lower costs in health related issues when people begin to eat more organically grown food.
  • New ideas and new technologies are often, at first, perceived as a fad. People thought that hybrid cars were a fad, but now they are becoming more and more prevalent and in demand.
  • Many people resist change. For change to happen, it takes community and strong relationships because change can be difficult without support.
  • Consumer culture is very powerful. Going against the conventional chemical products to return to non toxic older ideas goes against that culture; we think would be putting people out of business if we stopped using those kinds of products. Also, it is hard and requires more effort to dispose of toxic cleaning stuff.


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Today's Topic: What can you do to take toxins out of your life? Where would you start? What would your first step be?

Here are some of the thoughts from the group:

  • Start with cleaning products (Denny’s Simply Clean products)
  • Replace anything with teflon. Use good quality cookware - it’s worth the investment.
  • Read labels on everything before using it (food products, cleaners, etc). If there are more than 3 ingredients, and you can’t pronounce them, don’t use it.
  • Use natural products for cleaning: A mixture of vinegar, lemon juice and water for a cleaner, borax to clean toilet, hydrogen peroxide to whiten clothes.
  • Replace scented products: Any scented product (like air fresheners and candles) have a chemical in them, and you are breathing that chemical in.
  • Rethink the necessity of body products like deodorant, shampoos and soaps. Can water and a good washcloth be sufficient?
  • Try to live close to work so you don’t have to be in a car so much. Walk, bike to work or use public transportation where available.
  • Find landscaping products that a good for your lawns and gardens and not toxic to yourself, your pets or any wildlife. Resist the mindset that you must use chemical fertilizers and pesticides and treated mulch. There are many healthy, non-toxic products available, and you can use fallen leaves for mulch. Also talk to a tree company - they could possible deliver non-treated wood chips to you for use as mulch.
  • Find out how to unclog plumbing without using harsh chemicals. One idea is to mix baking soda + vinegar, then use a plunger. Most importantly, check with a plumber first to make sure drains and pipes are installed correctly.
  • Listen to your body. It will tell you when it doesn’t like something. Burning eyes, coughing, rashes… your body is trying to tell you something!
  • Think about choosing furniture that is made with non-toxic materials next time you go to replace a chair, or sofa or rug.