Sustainability moves from competitive edge to collaborative tool

Contributed by Ilsa Flanagan

One of the most exciting developments in the sustainability movement is its evolution to encompass a broader vision for how we think about and conduct business. In January 2015, three thought leaders on the Spheres of Influence Virtual Roundtable shared provocative and groundbreaking advances in this space. These advances suggest that organizational sustainability initiatives and partnerships may teach us more than we ever thought possible.

Competitors to Collaborators. Nancy Goldstein, MBA, Founder and Chief Strategist of CompassX Strategy in Chicago, highlighted surprising new partnerships among corporations that tackle sustainability issues, particularly among emerging B Corporations (B Corps). As the owner of a B Corps and the leading spokesperson for B Corps in Chicago, she sees this as evidence of movement toward something bigger than the self-interest of companies, who typically view each other as competitors rather than partners. By collaborating to build a movement, B Corps are using a “business savvy” attitude and sharing socially responsible best practices to solve the world’s biggest social and environmental problems.

Prospective B Corporations must complete a rigorous 200 question assessment on employees, the environment, and community. This assessment, asserts Nancy, “measures what matters” and reflects progress toward better standard practices and accountability for business. The emerging B Corps movement is one in which all stakeholders matter—including the planet.

Nancy gave an example of three different web designers in Chicago, all of whom are B Corps competitors by day, but nonetheless have chosen to work together on addressing environmental issues in their industry. Imagine the disruptive power if this kind of collaboration happened on a national or global scale. What if Coke and Pepsi agreed to transform plastic bottle packaging? Or if Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase worked together to create standards for sustainable finance?

Shaking up the status quo. David Wilcox, MBA, Founder of ReachScale Consultancy in Boston, is all about scale and networks—two levers that when activated will increase the rate at which we can solve societal problems. Because we are over-invested in organizations and underinvested in networks, we’re just running in place when it comes to solving the world’s environmental and social problems. He suggests we reconsider the nonprofit model (which relies on unreliable private and federal funding) and instead scale up social enterprise, which is a more sustainable and stabile model for delivering services and doing business. Yet societies and corporations funnel most of their “do good resources” into NGOs, a sector with limited innovation and collaboration. If we move resources out of those unsustainable models into sustainable ones, we can then reinvest resources as problems are solved, creating a revolving loan fund of sorts for sustainable solutions, a funding source that is self-sustainable.

This shift also presents an important opportunity to target resources for what David calls “purpose-built networks aligned with the purposes of other people.”

Invite everyone into the conversation. Global leadership thought leader Nadine Hack, MBA founder of beCause Consultancy in Switzerland, found that when launching a new initiative or plan, each person involved must have a genuine stake in the process and outcome. They have to care before they can commit. Sustainability leaders, then, need to build in a process by which each and every one of our stakeholders is fully on board. This takes time and patience. Nadine suggests that “as decisions are being made, invite people from all levels of your organization and network to be part of that dialogue—from the mail room to the board room.” To ensure that the process has meaning and depth, there needs to be space for honest and candid feedback. If our co-workers and collaborators feel they are being listened to and valued—even if what they offer is not ultimately incorporated—they will have a sense of ownership, a sense that they were part of creating the new plan or project. As Nadine has experienced, by “constantly exploring how we can genuinely be more honest, we can establish a transparent two-direction conversation.”
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These practices of nontraditional collaboration, creating networks, and total engagement are at the heart of the next wave of sustainability initiatives. Sustainability has always been about inclusion, partnerships, promoting trust and transparency. Now, these are becoming key values for any successful organization.

About the author

Ilsa Flanagan is the director of the National Reframing Initiative, mobilizing a network of human service professionals, practitioners and policy makers to create a new narrative for human needs. You can learn more about this and her other projects at iflanaganconsulting.com. Previously, Ilsa founded the Office of Sustainability at the University of Chicago.

February 19, 2015 at 7:31 pm Leave a comment

Miss the Roundtable on Sustainable Collaborative Leadership? Listen Here!

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

If you missed the rich conversation on January 21st, 2015, with master global bridge builder Nadine Hack and collaborators in the social enterprise, corporate sustainability and collective leadership space, fear not!

You can listen in to Nadine Hack, Nancy Goldstein, David Wilcox, Dean DeCrease, and Melissa O’Mara shared their wisdom, struggles and insights on how we can move the sustainable leadership needle:

(Pay no attention to the misleading zeros, press play on the left to hear the audio)

We are exploring the possibility of a second event to allow for more in-depth analysis into the complex and challenging topic of Sustainable collaborative leadership. Stay tuned!

January 29, 2015 at 3:50 am Leave a comment

Top 5 Ways Our Family Went Green-er in 2014 – Part II

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

In the last post (Part I) about how our family continued the process of going green in 2014, I talked about several lifestyle changes we made, from getting a new water filter system to buying an all-electric NissanLEAF (aka The Silver Leaf). In Part II, I share the top two ways we went green-er in 2014.

All of our lifestyle changes are well and good. We need to alter the way we orient ourselves to the day-to-day actions that impact– and often deplete– the natural world that sustains us.

And we need to use the power of social influence to create a new normal that respects the limits– the “limitedness”– of natural resources like water, and create a sense of “enoughness” so that we can appreciate all that we have– not just our stuff, but the people in our lives.

That said, we need to go beyond individual lifestyle changes in order to achieve the scale of change required to ensure future generations a world that we can be proud to leave them.

Hence, the top two changes I made in 2014.

#2. Expanding My Spheres of Influence

The Spheres of Influence platform now has over 10,000 followers, across this blog and social media outlets such as Twitter (@drsarahsviews for the lay public and @sarahbwarrenphd for the professional audience).

We all have various spheres of influence– our homes and families, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our purchasing power, and the all-important voting booth.

I’m continuing to expand and use both my face-to-face and virtual spheres of influence to engage the “un-enlisted” as well as my sustainability colleagues in dialogue about how we can most effectively ensure a viable, sustainable future.

The Spheres of Influence Virtual Fireside Chats continue to bring together national and international experts and thought leaders with the lay public to share insights and inspiration about how we can move the needle.

Yes, I believe that using our spheres of influence has greater cumulative impact than any single lifestyle act– even driving a green car.

#1: Using My Voice as a Voter for Our Kids’ Sake

Using our voices and our votes is the single most important, powerful action we can take. Maybe I should have used caps there. That’s how crucial using our voices to policy makers is if we want to protect the quality of life for the children and grandchildren we love.

When the KeystoneXL Pipeline vote came up in November, 2014, Illinois Senator Durbin was the lone undecided vote in the Senate. I called his office that day, along with many others. He voted against KeystoneXL.

It took about one minute, maybe two, including looking up the number.

KeystoneXL– and other crucial matters– are far from over. We will have a chance to use our voices again!

I know you’re probably overwhelmingly busy. I know I am. I’m a self-employed, divorced mother of two young kids who had two major orthopedic surgeries in 2014. But I made that phone call to my US Senator’s office.

The photo that says it all appears again in Part II of the two-part series on how we went green-er in 2014.

The photo that says it all appears again in Part II of the two-part series on how we went green-er in 2014.

When President Obama was in the US Senate, I wrote a letter via his Environmental Legislative Assistant about climate policy. Then-Senator Obama’s Legislative Assistant called me, an ordinary citizen. We had a series of conversations. I was amazed.

Turns out our elected officials are listening– which I didn’t know until I used my voice.

Since then I’ve learned that often a legislator’s vote can be tipped by personal contact from as few as five or six concerned voters. I have a friend who is a former legislative assistant who said just one compelling story can affect how a legislator votes. Just one voter!

It’s worth taking the time to be an engaged eco voter, because the scale and urgency of our ecological problems require changes at the policy level.

And I’ve discovered that using my voice is empowering. Who knew?

Looking ahead to 2015

Let’s see… In 2015, I plan to get our household composting.

I will continue to convene the Spheres of Influence community, and to use my voice as a voter because it’s the most important action any of us can take. I hope you will join me in reaping the rewards of being an engaged voter.

Won’t you join me in using your spheres of influence to protect the natural world for the children we love fiercely?

Share your story in the comments area!

January 13, 2015 at 1:03 am Leave a comment

Top 5 Ways Our Family Went Green-er in 2014 – Part I

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

photo 1-2A fellow eco citizen’s car– and bumper sticker– says it all.

Going green is process, which is why I’m sharing our family’s ongoing efforts to reduce our eco impact and use our spheres of influence to protect the natural world for future generations.

From water filters to cars to voting– from lowest to highest impact green actions– in Part I, here are three of our family’s top five eco actions in 2014. Part II to follow!

#5. Buying a New Water-Efficient Water Filter

Over the past few years I’ve gone from wasting water without thinking– at all– to appreciating its preciousness to life.

When I learned that our under-sink kitchen “reverse osmosis” water filter wasted 4 of gallons (0r more) of perfectly good water for every gallon it gave us at the tap– I looked into water filters that clear out the toxic junk such as heavy metals without wasting water.

On Amazon I found the Value Line 2 Stage Water Filter. It was more expensive than the reverse osmosis filter system I’d previously bought at Home Depot, but it lasts a lot longer. And it cleans out the toxic stuff from the water that I don’t want to put in my body– or my kids’– without wasting gallons of precious water every day.

And I learned that water filter cartridges are recyclable through some programs: http://www.filtersfast.com/articles/Recycle-Water-Filters.php

Learn more about the pros and cons of different home water filtration systems here: http://www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide#step3 (www.ewg.org is a great organization for both information and eco advocacy.)

#4. Using a Real Green Dry Cleaner

I got snagged by dry cleaners’ advertising their “green” or “organic” cleaning. It took me several years to wonder and then ask “What are you using?” I learned that it wasn’t toxic perc, but it was a hydrocarbon. As in petroleum. Not in fact eco-friendly. At all.

I don’t like to spend a lot of time being angry, but green-washing scams of any sort make me angry. So I used that anger to propel me to find a real green dry cleaner.

It’s a bit hard to find dry cleaners that are using genuinely environmentally responsible methods such as “wet cleaning” or C02 cleaning, but they exist. There’s one at the forefront — it just happens to be in my neck of the woods in Chicagoland– The Greener Cleaner. They pick up and deliver for free, too.

Learn about their green methods: http://greenercleaner.net/green-cleaning/

Learn more about the dry cleaning green-washing scam : http://thegreenlifeonline.org/dry-cleaning-greenscam-greenwash/

#3. Driving Green

I committed to purchasing the greenest car I could afford.

In 2014, I leap-frogged from a conventional gasoline powered car over a hybrid car, straight into an all-electric NissanLEAF.

No, buying an all-electric car is not the highest impact action we took because it’s an individual lifestyle action, not an action on a collective scale. But it still counts.

To be precise: My conventional 4000 lb. Toyota, which we drove about 8,000 miles a year, generated about 8200 tons of CO2 year. If we accept that an electric car is “zero emission”– the non-renewable electricity source notwithstanding– that means my family is putting 8200 less pounds of global warming pollution into the air.

To put that in perspective, the average U.S. household “carbon footprint” is about 50 tons CO2 a year. The single largest source of emissions for a typical household is from driving gasoline cars.

Not only is the NissanLEAF quite affordable (as low as $200 a month), there’s no maintenance cost, and no cost for gas. Ever. The numbers pencil out amazingly– even with gas prices at their current low.

And my ten-year old son says the lines of the headlights as “cool.”

Calculate and learn more about the contribution of your car– and household–  to global warming pollution here: http://store.shrinkyourfoot.org/carbon-footprint-calculator (This calculator is hosted by Bonneville Environmental Foundation, b-e-f.org, a credible source.)

Follow the chronicles of our family’s adventures with “The SilverLeaf” here on this blog!

Next Up in Part II

In Part II we’ll talk about the highest impact (collective impact!) actions we took in 2014.

Part II of this two-part post on how we went greener in 2014 will be posted soon!

January 10, 2015 at 6:56 am Leave a comment

Leadership Education for Sustainability: Balancing Confidence and Humility

Contributed by Molly Gilligan

As a Master’s student in Environmental Policy, I am entering the field at a time of great challenge and opportunity. In order to rise to this challenge, I will need strong leadership skills to tackle the urgent “wicked” problems we face. Along with technical competency in our varied fields, future leaders in sustainability must develop the skills to move communities in the direction of constructive change. How do future leaders develop these crucial leadership competencies?

This was the question addressed in the Fall 2014 Spheres of Influence Virtual Fireside Chat, moderated by Spheres’ Founder, Sarah Warren, PhD. Sarah Warren was joined by Michael Shriberg, PhD, the Education Director of the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan, and Eban Goodstein, PhD, the Director of Bard College Center for Environmental Policy (CEP) and Founder of Bard College MBA in Sustainability.

Shriberg recently co-authored an article about his empirical research on best practices in programs designed to educate future sustainability leaders. Shriberg shared key sustainability leadership skills:

  • Communications skills— the ability to communicate effectively on thorny issues to diverse stakeholders
  • Systems intelligence—the capacity to work across multiple domains and analyze complex problems
  • Self-assessment and self-awareness—people who can both reflect on themselves and tell their own story
  • Balance of strong sense of confidence with a strong sense of humility
  • Ability to be a problem-solver

The skills necessary for leadership in sustainability differ from traditional leadership theory because, Shriberg asserted, we need “deeper levels of collaboration” and “a deeper stakeholder process.” Based on my experience of conventional leadership training, I would agree. Through my involvement in programs with titles such as “Leadership Options for Tomorrow,” I have developed many useful skills; yet this mold must be altered to meet challenges in the sustainability field where our best option is often to develop many solutions simultaneously while working collaboratively to promote innovation.

Both the Graham Institute and Bard CEP focus on similar pedagogical best practices in their programs: peer-to-peer learning, experiential learning, and systems thinking. The Graham Institute offers programs for first-year students to post-doctorate students, and extends out to staff and faculty. Bard CEP includes two programs: an MBA in Sustainability and an MS in Environmental Policy. Both include strong leadership components, said Goodstein, so that “[graduates] can step into leadership positions in a hurry and start to change the world, because there isn’t a lot of time.”

As a student in Bard CEP’s M.S. program, I appreciate the value placed on combining academics, real world experience, and leadership development. After one academic year of multi-disciplinary coursework and seven months of internship experiences in Washington, D.C., I am looking forward to utilizing my leadership skills and technical expertise to make a difference for communities disproportionately impacted by the deleterious effects of climate change.

Listen to the entire conversation.

 About the author

Molly Gilligan is a candidate for a M.S. in Environmental Policy at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. Molly is currently a Policy Intern for the Global Gender Office of the IUCN. She also served as a Legislative Intern in the D.C. Office of a U.S. Senator, working on agriculture, energy, and environmental policies. She earned a degree in Environmental Geology from Colgate University.

 

November 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

What? A Green Car Booth at the Farmers Market? SilverLeaf Chronicles 3

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

A neighbor goaded me into addressing the question: Does an electric car booth belong at the farmers market? He asserted definitively that it does not, because the car has nothing to do with food.

As I was driving to the farmers market–in the SilverLeaf– to volunteer at the Autobarn NissanLEAF booth, I thought through my response to the question, a question others might raise as well.

My answer is that an electric car booth at the farmers market does make sense– from the standpoint of an eco-system in which cars and farming coexist in an interdependent manner. Auto emissions impact the weather, which in turn impacts crops, the farmers’ livelihoods, and ultimately our ability to enjoy the food they grow and share with us at the farmers market.

At a booth that sells Michigan Red Haven peaches, I overheard one of the farmers say that they’d lost almost half their crop this year because of weird weather. Every year for the past few years, I’ve heard the same kinds of stories from the farmers– farmers struggling with late frosts, too little rain or flooded fields from which there is no way to recover during that growing season. It’s not just a hassle for them. They are struggling to make it.

And if they can’t grow their crops because of global weirdness, we can’t enjoy the fruits– literally– of their labors.

What I call “global weirdness” is what climate scientists call climate disruption. The normal weather patterns on which farmers rely have been thrown out of whack by our global warming pollution– a third of that pollution comes from our tail pipes.

So if we connect the dots between farming and cars, yes, the zero emissions electric vehicle booth belongs at the farmers market.

Because it’s all connected. And we’re all connected.

 

 That’s me at the farmers market with Martin, the LEAF-driving salesman, and Richard the LEAF-driving manager of the Autobarn.  They believe in the car, and they love the car. As do I.

 

 

September 24, 2014 at 9:41 pm Leave a comment

The Case of the Missing NissanLeaf in Our Green-ish Vacation: The SilverLeaf Chronicles 2

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

photo 1-2

Our destination this year on our annual green-ish family vacation. The Mohican River as seen from the deck of the lodge in Mohican State Park in Loudonville, Ohio.  This really is Ohio. Who knew?

It’s about 350 miles from Chicago.  How did we pull that off in an all-electric car?  Well, we didn’t.

Our Nissan Leaf is notable for its absence in the second installment of the SilverLeaf Chronicles.

People often ask: What about road trips? How far can you go before you need to charge?

The truth is that with the current state of battery and charging station technology, the NissanLeaf is a local car… I’ve made it about 70 miles on a single charge. So, we rented. For about the cost of a month’s worth of gas in my old car.

Usually we go on our annual green-ish vacation to a beautiful little island in Maine where there’s no electricity– lovely and unplugged. This year, we converged in the middle of the country.

Along the road trip, we encountered the most vast and graceful wind farm I’d ever seen, near the border of Indiana and Ohio. Right in the heartland. That’s eco progress.

A note from my mom who accompanied me and my kids: We relied on smart phone technology for directions. And got lost. A case for old-fashioned paper maps in the road trip mix!

We may not have driven in an eco-friendly car, but we were thrilled to learn that the Mohican Lodge and its parent company offer green lodging.

Perhaps my favorite green initiative at the lodge:

photo 2-1

Why is this my favorite?  First, you can’t miss it in the restaurant. The servers all wear buttons that say “Straw Free.” We need “green” to be visible in order to create momentum. Second– and more important– this is an initiative adopted by all of the Xanterra Resorts that was launched by a kid. Learn more about Milo and his program. He’s using his spheres of influence to protect the planet, and he catalyzed Xanterra Resorts to use their spheres of influence. One cool, inspiring kid.

I also love these solar powered trash compactors and recycling cans called SolarBelly. We have them in Chicago, among other cities. They’re also hitting college campuses.

photo 2-2

Have you ever seen a recycling bag in a closet where the laundry bag usually hangs? This saved us from the hassle of having to haul our recycling home as we usually do.

photo 3-2

The lodge is also using its spheres of influence to educate guests about the value of recycling:

photo 1-3

And finally, another view of the Mohican River. A reason to go green for the sake our children?

photo 2-3

July 13, 2014 at 3:11 am Leave a comment

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