Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, Sep 2015 - Oct 2015

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Sustainable Business, Oct 8, 2015 Topic: The Commons, Part 2

Boston Common, 1848

Elinor Ostrom studied a variety of successfully managed common-pool resources in places around the world. Her work lists several principles found in many sustainably managed commons in a variety of settings.

These principles include:

  • Common-pool resource boundaries need to be clearly defined.
  • Group of resource users also needs to be defined.
  • Rules governing the use of the resource are adapted to local conditions. Rules are often developed locally.
  • Strong monitoring and enforcement mechanisms are needed.
  • Participants need a clear sense of right and wrong.
  • Communities with social cohesion are most successful.
  • Dispute resolution system is important.
  • Locally established rules and property rights need to be respected by higher tiers of government.

The commons are not just land or buildings – people are part of the commons too and need to be part of the discussion.

Public safety is a kind of commons.

In Mexico an informal community has self organized on the grassroots level to take care of basic needs. This community is not wanted by the government – and laws have been passed to forbid extending public services to that area. The government would like this informal community to go away. Is there a way to organize politically and try to get services extended?

Social capital is very important. Jane Jacobs says that through our actions we create the commons. A local zoning board in Vermont is having a hard time getting local people to volunteer to serve on the board. It’s also increasingly hard to get folks to turn out for town meetings. Community building is a lot of work. The world of business and government tend to be so enmeshed that it can be hard to the community to have a voice.

Detroit may be the most racially segregated city in the world, but also has one of the biggest populations of black folks. Chocolate city is a valuable commons – can we maintain it?

Many local residents don’t realize the value of what we have here in Detroit– maybe they haven’t traveled much.

With Detroit growing and gentrifying – is it possible to improve things but maintain accessibility for people already living here? We need to get people together at the table to talk about the future. When an area becomes more wealthy, the things held in common are often neglected.

What if we had a commons leadership model? This implies that all businesses have social responsibilities – rather than simply the pursuit of more profit.

What makes a good neighborhood? Education and transportation are important. Driving cars makes people too isolated and its hard to meet other people. Are existing Detroit neighborhoods sustainable?

Effective government helps you make things happen. Scandinavian communities give up some individuality for the benefit of the community (commons). We’ve moved away from religious and ethnic groupings – so how do we re-create connections needed for community?

Commons have a macro-scale and a micro-scale.

We need a new paradigm for the economy in general. A major paradigm shift can take generations. We must define success as more than just money. Many in Detroit are just concerned about survival.

Sustainable Business, Oct 1, 2015 Topic: The Commons and Polycentricity

The commons.png

Harriet gave an introduction to the Tragedy of the Commons as described by Garrett Hardin in a 1986 essay. This youtube video gives a brief version of that essay.

The classic responses to the tragedy of the commons (overuse of a common pool resource) are either:

  1. government regulation of the resource, or
  2. private ownership of the resource with reliance on the free market.
  3. A third option has been studied by Elinor Ostrom who studied community–based rules and management of common pool resources (such as fisheries, pasture land, or water for irrigation), with local enforcement. Here is a youtube video where she discusses her ideas about ending the tragedy of the commons.

The Future of the Commons, and the City of Detroit:

  • One of Ostrom’s big ideas is Polycentricity – complex nested systems, where community based rules are nested within and respected by other levels of government such as city, county, state or federal governments. Elinor and her husband Vincent Ostrom spent their careers studying and writing about these topics. A good book is The Future of the Commons: Beyond Market Failure and Government Regulation by Elinor Ostrom et. al, 2012.
  • These ideas seem interesting for Detroit. There are unique things about Detroit – our history in large-scale manufacturing and creating a strong middle class and the music industry.
  • Has Detroit experienced the "tragedy of the commons"? Are there local groups (neighborhoods, community groups) that have been successful in managing the commons? Is this a way that those on the political left and the political right can come together? Is it possible to develop a city and make it better without the negatives of gentrification?
  • Detroit is so big – 139 square miles – that it’s impossible for city government to keep up with everything. Jane Jacobs says we need more eyes on the street for public safety. The no-snitch attitude doesn’t work. We need to take our neighborhoods back. We need complex systems of people helping the police.
  • Some people have stepped up and signed on to maintain parks that were neglected. The mower gang cuts grass in common areas that need it.
  • The intangible fabric of a healthy neighborhood is a kind of commons. However sometimes money takes priority over community; one park may be sold and developed even though residents want to keep it as a park.
  • Can ordinary people have power over commons issues like air pollution? Does the government have to step in? The Libertarian point of view values the power to bring a lawsuit to correct a problem (Chicago was ready to file a lawsuit against Milwaukee for water pollution but was stopped when the Clean Air Act passed). Chicago lost the ability to sue in this case and had to rely on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instead of the court system.
  • In colonial times, the British didn’t respect indigenous knowledge in Africa and pushed native people out of their way. For Potawatomie people in the Great Lakes region, ownership of land does not make sense. They believe that the Earth is our Mother – we need to take care of Mother.
  • Commons is all about community and doesn’t have any meaning without community. If you have more, you should give more. Community is a mutual relationship.

I am because we are. We are because I am. Susu proverb

Sustainable Business, Sept. 17, 2015 Topic: Delegating Responsibilities

Comments from last week's conversation, What is Green?:

  • Many activities are taking place under the umbrella of being “green” – but maybe they’re not.
  • Do you need a data driven approach – or should you meet your audience where they’re at?
  • People are eager to install solar panels – but what makes sense is actually energy efficiency and insulation.
  • Solar is sexy right now - was insulation ever sexy?
  • Green Garage approach: first action is to analyze the demand, reduce the load (perhaps insulation or efficient appliances) and only then consider renewables such as solar.
  • Non-profits may have an incentive to build things. They can raise money for capital projects, but not for operating expenses.
  • Whole systems thinking is uncommon. Some companies or municipalities just want a windmill – it looks good.


Today's Topic: Delegation: What do we mean today by delegation in the sustainable business environment?

  • Delegation is more than just asking for help. It involves responsibility and accountability for getting something done.
  • You can ask a boss for help under certain circumstances – if you can’t get someone’s attention or have an issue with a peer.
  • Some of us have been told to delegate more – that we can’t do it all ourselves.
  • Delegation is not dumping a problem. You still own responsibility. Maybe you’re responsible for a choice of who to hire to do a project (painter).
  • The owner of the project may care the most about the outcome and quality of the work, but there also needs to be a shared sense of accountability. The owner needs to supply adequate support, resources, clear goals and schedule, regular communication and rewards.
  • The director of a play has a concept or theme for a production and needs to communicate that and make sure that actors/set designers/techs have what they need. The director does a lot of research and thinking behind the scenes to get to the concept and the seed. Not everyone needs all the details (can be too much).
  • The Great Game of Business – you must define a job and how it fits with the rest of the company. Others depend on this job being done well.
  • When we transfer responsibility we must set it up to give feedback (positive and negative) – check in regularly to ensure we’re on the same page. Honest two-way communication is key.
  • There should be rewards for a job well done, such as salary or recognition.
  • Are there also intrinsic rewards for doing a good job?
  • The theater producer needs to clearly define the work, the budget and other constraints. Good to put it in writing. This can help with accountability down the road. If a director is too controlling (insecure?) and is not open to new ideas, the show suffers. Everyone goes on auto-pilot and the passion is gone. However if there is trust, discourse and shared ownership, the creative energy is amazing!
  • People need to understand the tone and mission of a team. Trust can be built by working together over time.
  • Good to understand how people think and where people get energy in work (different for different people).
  • Shared responsibility demands forthright and honest discussions – but these are not always welcome.
  • You can ask someone what they’re good at – or what they love to do – two very different questions. It’s super fun to work with someone who loves what they do.

How can you delegate in an open system where people are leaving and transitioning all the time?

Sustainable Business, Sept. 10, 2015 Topic: Getting to the Truth of What is Really Green

Solar panels on house.png

Green! Sustainable! Eco-Friendly! Wouldn't it be great if that were true?

We don’t want to dwell on the negative, but how do we deal with claims like this?

Many people are moving forward with projects labeled “green” or “sustainable” with no real basis in science at all. Or, well-intentioned people try to move forward by making more sustainable choices, but they don’t have the information necessary to evaluate and are met with false claims of sustainability.

  • Tom’s example of a project and ongoing conversation that is based on no real information: There is a 26,000 square foot building in Detroit with no insulation, windows pried open, open to elements. Two organizations have approached the city about doing a solar project with the building. Tom took the number of BTUs that the building used last March and he calculated the number of solar panels that would be required to meet that BTU measurement. Answer: Over 15,000 solar panels, or between 5-7 acres of property for all those solar panels. There is talk of creating a solar district in the city, and people working for a non-profit are being told to spend their time and energy to figure this out. But they have no experience or ability in this area.

We have to understand the natural environment in which we live.

  • An all glass building at 42 degrees latitude? There’s no way that can be energy efficient.
  • There was a person interested in building a rammed earth home here in Detroit. The technology originated in England where they don’t have as wide temperature variation as we have here in Michigan. Also, there is too much moisture in the midwest and people that started the rammed earth building fad in here are now finding mold in the walls. That kind of building material is simply not suited to our climate. Very often builders don’t change how they build depending on the location.
  • So, we have people selling stuff for projects that won’t even work. People don’t do the research, they don’t have a good understanding of the natural environment we live in.

Is real information, scientific data enough?

  • Mike’s story: Mike has been part of a citizens commission tasked with improving recycling in a suburban Detroit community. But residents (particularly older residents) were wincing about going the the larger 64 gallon single stream recycling bins. There seems to be a resistance to change - a kind of inertia. In the end the idea was rejected by the local residents. Many times people make emotional decisions rather than decisions based on real information.
  • So how do they go forward? How do they make a community attractive and relevant to the younger generation who would generally support measures to reduce their environmental foot print? Perhaps if we can get people to see the connection between our children, the environment, public health and the future, they might be more willing to accept change.
  • Proven data shows that millennials really value strong recycling systems, and want to live in places that have them, which means they won’t want to live in a backward community. Result: population drops, home values drop. It’s an economic reality that might convince the naysayers. Young people don’t want their community to have a reputation of being retrograde - guess what, you CAN change things and you don’t have to move out of this community. You can make it better for you and for the future.
  • There needs to be a certain level of community involvement; we must encourage young people to get involved and engaged. Also, they have to vote, especially in local elections. Less important to try the change the minds of the naysayers than to engage those who are behind your efforts.
  • Where’s the data? Many times there is a lack of information available that people need to make an informed decision. People often don’t see the numbers, or the data simply doesn’t exist. Cars and appliances have stickers on them that let you know what your gas mileage will be or how much energy you will use. But buildings and homes don’t come with a sticker to let you know how much it costs to heat/cool the place.
  • Understanding whole-systems building is not something being taught in our universities. We struggle because we come out of a world that never taught whole-systems kind of thinking. Each expert works only in his area, and they are not looking at the whole system of a building - it’s very fragmented. The best thinking on energy efficiency in buildings, heating and cooling systems that respect climate and use little energy as well as passive design, is being done in the private sector, outside of universities. The Passivhaus Institute in Germany is doing very good work in this area.
  • There are many examples of buildings designed without regard to their environment. LEED’s standards have resulted in an architect pursuing points, not energy efficiency. If an architect’s compensation were tied to the energy numbers of the building, then we would be having a serious conversation about sustainable design and construction - it would change the game.

Sustainable Business, Sept. 3, 2015 Topic: Leadership, continued

How is leadership nurtured?

Topic: Nurturing leadership

Comments from the group:

  • I was taught not to think of myself as a leader – but I’ve always had a lot of empathy for people. At work there are always people who struggle in those systems. Sometimes I find myself a leader.
  • I did not grow up in the most positive environment. I had leadership potential but it was dormant in that authoritarian family system. At school a teacher saw possibilities in me- suggested I take piano. Another teacher told me I was a good writer – I was surprised because I did not trust my voice.
  • It really helps to be around good leaders who will not rescue you and allow you to do your own thinking. You must have responsibility for your own choices. As a woman you must push yourself to go for it.
  • I now know thousands of ways not to manage people. I had career success and managed a department of 50 people but was too wound up in management politics. Now I know it’s really about relating to people – the person you’re working with in that moment.
  • I follow the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Does empathy mean rescuing someone? No – give that person tools and assistance but don’t rescue.
  • Once I had to fire someone and empathy did not seem possible. However, there may be a way to fire someone with empathy. Say “you would be better off working somewhere else” – and they know that it’s true. A leader needs to be trustworthy, disciplined and notice if people do well, but most of all must have empathy. When you’re considering firing someone ask, “Have I supplied them with everything possible for positive results?”
  • I was sent in to fix a dysfunctional team. I told them that I will back my team to the wall – but you must do your job. I want you to grow at work. As a manager I shared information, celebrated successes and birthdays. There had to be regular communication.
  • Competency comes from learning something and practicing it. Let people grow – don’t micro-manage.
  • There are quiet leaders, behind the scenes – deep thinkers who see the big picture and who lead by example. Are you able to be vulnerable and exposed as who you are?
  • As a leader I do not have all the answers. I’m very solution-oriented and some might think that’s not empathetic. Be committed to growing yourself, and to help others grow. Everything is a balance – there is such a thing as too much empathy. Organizations get in trouble if too much empathy allows disruptive behavior to persist. The ship has no rudder. Everything goes to weeds.
  • The leader of a hacker space in San Francisco (Noisebridge) has one rule – “ be excellent to one another.” That open community has lasted for a long time.
  • Are there successful leaders with no empathy? Maybe Steve Jobs – a leader with a passion for the highest standards. But you shouldn’t demean people who don’t get it.

Question: How were you nurtured as a leader?

  • I observed others as parents and looked for successful parents.
  • I landed in a supervisory job (drafting) as a young person – I had fresh energy and was able to see people’s abilities authentically.
  • Someone who believed in me made a big difference. I learned that I usually have the right answers. We take our own gifts for granted.
  • How do you hold creative people together on a team? This type of person may not honor the process and may disrupt the team. A leader can pull them out and create a space where they can add value. There needs to be a clear focus for the work. There is a pattern to how/where people gain their energy – different for different kinds of people.
  • W. Edward Deming said that 85% of team problems boil down to the leadership. We have to put people on the right task or in the right system. A woodworker who has meticulous attention to historical details is excellent at some restoration work where there is ample time and budget – but is the wrong fit for other construction projects on tight schedules. A leader needs to effectively delegate to the right people.