"If you're in a bad situation, don't worry, it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry, it'll change."
-- John A. Simone Jr.
For hundreds of years we have been living, working, consuming and discarding without much concern for the consequences of our actions. The dominant paradigm has been one of individual, corporate and national profit making and taking. The costs of these pursuits has been consistently and conveniently “externalized”, meaning, simply, that we’ve been ignoring the systemic reverberations of our actions. If you haven’t done so already, watch The Story of Stuff, now.
Generally speaking this is resulting in largely unintended and increasing patterns of environmental degradation, 5 nation-sized gyres of plastic soup in our oceans, a growing number of extinctions or near extinctions, climate destabilization, crippling trade imbalances, the ongoing accumulation and concentration of wealth and health in small minorities, and the proliferation of re-enforcing systems and structures that, as populations increase, are accelerating these patterns. As populations grow and resources dwindle the consumptive force of this negative spiral is poised to increase exponentially. Accompanying this tsunami-like increase we’re already seeing rather undignified grabs for resources (think oil–and, more recently, tuna).We call this the scarcity dynamic. We all know how this works. We perceive (correctly or incorrectly) that there is not enough to go around, so we hoard, consume more quickly, things fall apart and we realize the tragedy of the commons.
Recently, though, new patterns have been emerging that demonstrate the transformative power of widening our scope of action, intention and awareness. When we do this consistently and systemically we begin taking ownership and accountability for the impacts and influences we exert beyond the immediate scope of our work, commerce and consumption. We begin to realize that, instead of contributing to the negative spiral outlined above, we can create ripples of positive value in the world around us. We call this the abundance dynamic. And, it begins with a shift from “me” to “we.”
Through our work facilitating leadership development and helping those leaders develop their organizations in sustainable directions we have realized that it is not enough to just learn a new set of tricks, skills or competencies.
In our work with individuals, teams and organizations, the best results emerge when we engender and embed holistic development and change. This means helping clients to “onboard” the skills they need while developing the capacity to sufficiently hold them and effectively employ them in their current and future work contexts.
This requires helping our clients actively cultivate a worldview that is highly inclusive and tolerant of the benefit that multiple perspectives bring and is capable of leveraging them. To accelerate this change, we work with our clients to create an adaptable sense of scope and context allowing them to see and understand patterns at play from the personal to global levels and begin looking at opportunities for leverage and synthesis.
Finally, for people to really engage the world of complexity around them they need similar development within them. Thus, a key element of our work is to generate and hold time and space for reflection that allows people to look within themselves at the changes taking place, and understand and appreciate their own inner complexity.
The shorthand version of this process is BE – SEE – DO – GET. To GET the results that will sustain your organization your need to be generating results that sustain that which sustains us. Simply, we need to DO differently. To DO differently means to SEE differently. We need to develop the capacity to SEE our selves and the world around us as interconnected, interpenetrating systems. To develop that capacity we have to BE differently. We need to become adept at embracing and understanding our inner complexity as well as the complexity that surrounds us and into which we are embedded.
This is hard work. It takes discipline. And, it is definitely not business as usual. Are you ready to…just be it?
U is for use and what we give back. Bono: And you give, and you give, and you give yourself away. 40% of all food produced in the US ends up in the trash. 32% of all municipal waste in the US is packaging. The percentage is nearly 50% in Japan. We consume for many reasons and most of what we consume we don’t use. Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs provides a tidy summary of these reasons. At the bottom of the pyramid is survival. At the top is self-fullfillment. In between there are things like status, belonging, recognition and reward. Nearly all of what we consume is tied to our sense of self, our identity. Like caddis fly larvae we accrete bits and pieces of the world around us to create a protective, self-gratifying shell. Except, then we do something funny. We throw away something like 80% of what we buy.
This Christmas pay attention to which pile is larger: the piles of paper and packaging or the presents. We are “recycling” more – which is good – except that most of what is “recycled” is actually down-cycled where it is used one more time and then discarded. We are throwing, wasting our selves away.
Instead of perpetuating this crazy samsara loop what can we do to give more of our selves back? Can we consume in a way that, rather than creating waste, actually adds value? Rather than consuming “stuff” can we spend our time and money in a way that not only enriches us but directly benefits our communities without all of the waste?
T is for Trust That We Now Sorely Lack. Peter Gabriel: You can blow out a candle but you can’t blow out a fire. Alone, and many of us feel more alone than we care to admit, no matter how brightly we burn we are still a single flame, an isolated candle. I love Ignite Portland, an event where an unpredictable array of individuals assaults, entertains and inspires us with a non-stop onslaught of 5 minute presentations. It’s brilliant. It truly shines. Thank you Raven for making it so. Yet, it is a collection of bright spots, a series of separate flames, a parade of fireflies.
Most of us in our work, often even in our home lives, remain disconnected. Work has demanding deadlines and we sacrifice the human quality of our teamwork to function mechanically. We sacrifice “trust” for “alignment.” I’ve been in a number of meetings where the detente of alignment censors discussion of deeper, later very destructive issues. At home the distractions of PS3, computers, smart phones, cable TV-technologies that are supposed to connect us-actually make us experts at remaining apart.
One of the catalysts for our over-consumptive ways is a lack of connection. We substitute stuff for substantial relationships. The foundation of strong, healthy relationships is trust. The source of Abundance in our lives is trust. Trust in our selves, trust in relationships with others, trust in the power of community, trust in the wisdom of the systems that support and sustain us.
Trust demands an openness, an intermingling of mutual vulnerability. Somatically, energetically it is supported by a strong core of self-awareness and feels and acts a lot like love. Ask people who were part of high-performing teams. The adjectives and descriptions they use to describe their experience could easily describe a good marriage. High-performing teams emerge from deep and enduring trust. Strong communities are sustained through webs of relationships woven with threads of trust. Together, we burn brilliantly, much brighter, than a collection of disconnected individuals.
To quote Eric Clapton: “It’s in the way that you use it.”
The Wal-Mart sustainability index is measuring whether suppliers are measuring their impact on energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, resource depletion and the communities in which they operate. Essentially it’s binary with annotation. Are you or aren’t you? If you are, please describe what you are doing.
Wal-Mart is gathering data. The key question is “What for?” Wal-Mart has sustainability targets and standards. They can be found here. They are doing good work. Of particular note are their Sustainability Value Networks. In these networks they’re bringing together “leaders from our company, supplier companies, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” to work in categories that are core to Wal-Mart’s business. It is a matter of course that they will compare what they are learning from their suppliers with their own progress, most likely incorporating best practices along the way.
So, how will they use it with the suppliers? In the answer to this question lies the answer to the question in the title of this post. And, to really uncover the meaning in that answer requires us to look at the quality of relationships Wal-Mart forms with the suppliers and the quality of relationships the suppliers form with their network.
What do I mean? First, sustainability is something we do together. Fundamentally local and place based, sustainability depends on the quality of our relationships with the world around us. Reducing impact is good, however, relationship-wise this creates a less bad quality of connection. Imagine a spouse telling you that to strengthen your relationship he/she was still going to be bad but, from now on, less bad than before. A start? Yes. A strong foundation for a long-term relationship? No.
Second, sustainability is long term. What are we trying to sustain? Us. How do we do that? By sustaining what sustains us. One way to conceptualize this is a Value Web. Incremental reduction, though currently necessary is not sufficient. We become the slowly-boiled frog. The quality of relationships in our value web slowly erode, the web disintegrates and less bad leads to very, very bad. Simply, we need more good.
So, back to Wal-Mart and their suppliers. Moving forward, the better they are able to build networks of Collaboration that strengthen and enhance the Value Web the more sustainable the Wal-Mart sustainability index becomes. This is where those Sustainability Value Networks could really become value-abling. And, the more coherent their approach, the more effective the networks become at being sustainable. Again, it’s in the way that they use it.
So, now, think about this: For a retail giant like Wal-Mart this is a big hairy audacious undertaking that will touch pretty much all of us for generations to come. This matters. So do we.
So much depends on how we are, what we see and what we do now. As we do as we do we get what we get, becoming what we become. These are interesting times…
The survey is divided into four categories: Energy and Climate, Material Efficiency, Natural Resources, People and Community. In essence, it will function as an baseline measurement tool that sorts suppliers by having them demonstrate they are in control of their energy (GHG), waste (solid/water) management and reduction initiatives, material sourcing (production/certification), and community engagement (awareness of impact). At best, it points toward Cooperation. Basically, though, it sets a bar of Compliance for companies that want to do business with Wal-Mart
Though the first category is titled “Energy and Climate” a more appropriate heading would be “Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” The four questions in the category are focused completely through the lens of reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The second category, “Material Efficiency”, is dedicated to reduction of solid waste and water use. Linked closely to Wal-Mart’s Packaging Scorecard and their Zero-Waste initiative, it is asking companies to demonstrate how they “reduce waste and enhance quality.”
Category three, “Natural Resources” focuses mainly on sourcing and certification, asking companies to report on origin of materials, purchasing guidelines and 3rd-party certification.
The fourth category is “People and Community” and centers on corporate awareness of and engagement with the communities in which they operate. The first question is telling. It asks if companies know where all of their production and manufacturing facilities are. It’s a start…
Relatively unexceptional in its content it still has very strong potential to be a game-changing move. The reason is simple: as a supplier, to do business with Wal-Mart means doing business their way. Though they are not setting any baseline requirements at the moment, nor are they auditing suppliers (answers to the 15-question survey are received in good faith) they are asking suppliers to complete the survey. To do so means you want (and really need) to have policies and controls in place or risk getting pushed out by companies that do.
Ultimately, this points to the development of an embedded system of and processes for sustainable business. The question suppliers for Wal-Mart have to answer is: “How far do we want to go?” Simple Compliance or Conformity? Cooperation? Collaboration and Coherence? Or, systemic Constellation?
Up next: How sustainable is the Wal-Mart Sustainability Index?
Tags: Climate, Coherence, collaboration, Community, Compliance, Conformity, Constellation, cooperation, Energy, GHG, greenhouse gases, Material Efficiency, Natural Resources, Packaging Scorecard, Sustainability Index, Wal-Mart, waste, zero waste
Imagine you’re looking at a gauge. The left half of the gauge has black hash marks with numbers that go from “-10″ to “0″ at the top. The background color on this half is red. The right half of the gauge has numbers that start from “0″ at the top of the gauge and go to “+10″ on the lower right. Let’s say the background color for the right half is green.
The goal is simple. As much as possible, keep the needle in the green. Keep things positive.
In Cradle to Cradle Will McDonough writes that eco-efficiency (aiming for “-2 instead of, say, “-8″) really isn’t an option. It’s like being the frog in the pot of boiling water. The water warms slowly. The frog sits comfortably. By the time the water is too hot, it’s too late to jump out. We’re already half cooked. We’ve boiled ourselves to death slowly.
“Life creates the conditions conducive to life” – Janine Benyus. This is true except for when we’re in the red, the negative half of the gauge. When we’re in the red, we’re burning through resources, devouring capital, depleting our savings. When we’re in the red we’re actually creating conditions that make life hard. We’re degrading the systems that support life, that support us. We’re creating our own Hell, cycles of suffering and destruction. From a mindset of scarcity (use what I can, when I can, to maximize my short-term benefit) we create scarcity.
The other half of the gauge is abundance. When the needle is in the green we, ourselves, businesses, communities, cities, nations and the economies that support us are creating conditions conducive to life. We’re strengthening the systems that support life. Well-being emerges from well-being. We’re creating and sustaining life-generating, life-giving cycles. From a mindset of abundance (use what I can to create long-term prosperity for myself by sustaining and enhancing that which supports and sustains me) we create abundance.
The goal is simple. Keep things positive. Making the changes in the ways we think, see, and act in our lives, communities and our work are difficult, daunting. Sustainability is something we do together. Abundance is something we create together.
Red or green? You make the call.
As I talk with prospective members of Abound about their businesses, the business of sustainability and the challenges of being a leader in sustainable business, one of the recurring themes we encounter is that of value.
This theme of value was echoed at the Triple Bottom Line Investment (TBLI) conference I attended in Tokyo. A number of speakers admitted and were confounded by the fact that, from a conventional assessment paradigm, sustainable businesses were often not the best choice for ROI.
A recent conversation with Stephen Aiguier from Green Hammer, a sustainable building company in Oregon, led us to the under-developed notion of relational capital. As it is currently understood relational capital is a subset of the valuation of “intangibles”. This begs the question of what is “tangible?”
Well, assets are tangible but what is their value? The value of assets depends on their valuation-a process of assigning an amount to them. This amount is a shared understanding, an agreement.
Traditionally, a business has been valued by it’s bottom line and top line performance. Cash flow is also a popular indicator. For a publicly traded business this becomes a much more complex process as all sorts of arcane formulae are applied to a business to describe its value to various stakeholders. The business has different values depending on the interests of the stakeholders. Again, we are looking at shared understanding, agreement.
We need to expand our shared understanding and agreement around this concept of value. Legally businesses are people. Actually businesses are complex open systems subtracting and adding value in the markets, communities and environments in which they operate. Both spiders and web, they weave and are nodes in a Value Web. The more resilient the web, the more value it provides. The more skillful the spider, the more resilient the web, the stronger the nodes.
The value of business is its capacity to sustain that which sustains the business-the Value Web. This is relational. In these relationships is the real value of sustainable businesses. Skillful engagement with the Value Web is the pathway to abundance. Abundance is a healthy, highly resilient Value Web.
What is the value of your business?
Check out this article at the Wall Street Journal. I’ve been hearing this a lot lately. Company heads are waiting for governments to give them clear signals on where they should be placing their R&D, development and marketing bets. In essence, they’re asking for regulators and policy makers to tell them the future. It’s a tall order
Still, that is exactly what regulators and policy makers need to be doing. Yet, signals remain mixed. The reason seems to be that our government leaders are looking for signs as well.
Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, the Japanese government, facing a seemingly intractable showdown between business interests (cap GHG emissions at +4% above 1990 levels) and environmentalists (reduce GHG emissions to -25% of 1990 levels) asked the public to help decide. The Japanese public, not surprisingly, chose the middle path option they were offered (-7% from 1990 levels). Let’s remember that under the Kyoto Protocol Japanese GHG emissions rose roughly 6%. Things are not what they seem. Ah, where is the Oracle at Delphi when you need her?
We are at a time where our conventional decision-making capacities are failing. Too many choices, mounting and multiple risks, way too much uncertainty. Business leaders want to move but are looking for direction. Governments wants to act but, they too, are looking for direction. Public opinion is all over the place.
So, what to do? Let’s begin with another question: What sustains? We need to take a look at what holds us together. What supports us? What do we need? What sustains?
We need to look at the Value Web and begin boldly designing from and for abundance. Big business, small business, venture capital, entrepreneurs, NPO’s & NGO’s, school principals, teachers & professors, doctors & nurses, housewives & househusbands, village councils, state, provincial & prefectural assemblies, mayors, city directors, governors, presidents & prime ministers–all of us need to be doing this together. NOW.
Otherwise, we will end up like the three middle school girls’ I remember from my English teaching days in Japan. They were members of the softball team and I was watching their team practice. The coach would line a ball to the shortstop and she would deftly field it and sling it over to first in accordance with her teammates shouts. The girl minding third base did the same. When the coach hit the ball deep to left field, the left fielder chased it down and relayed the ball to the shortstop who then, at the behest of her teammates spun and slung the ball home, to the catcher.
Then, there was this pop fly. A little Texas leaguer that either the girl at third, the shortstop or the left fielder could have called and caught. Instead they all tracked the ball on it’s upward arc and, as it descended, they formed a neat triangle into the middle of which dropped the ball. There was no tried and true response for this situation. The three girls looked at each other. Their teammates stood in confused silence. And, in that moment, nothing happened.
Sound familiar? Who wants the ball?
We are pleased to announce the launch of our global sustainability leadership organization: Abound.
Commitment Connection Opportunity
Who We Are
We are leaders in businesses, non-profit organizations and institutions with a mission for sustainability who want to accelerate the pace of change. We believe it is time to re-imagine, re-design, re-organize and re-align to create a present that carries us through sustainability to a future of abundance.
We are all over the world. Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, we have chapters developing across the US and Canada, Japan and the Asia Pacific region. Our global mission is to:
- Strengthen and enhance sustainable leadership
- Develop powerful and deep connections between leaders
- Create sustainable abundance
What We Do
Abound is a membership supported, driven and defined non-profit organization. We provide:
- Leadership Circles: Peer to peer learning groups committed to helping members deepen their individual, organizational, community and national leadership capacity.
- Learning Events: Integrated into the Leadership Circle experience, these learning sessions provide participants with the hands on expertise and learning they need to take their organizations beyond sustainability to abundance.
- Individual and Organizational Assessment: Every member will receive free initial assessments of their leadership capacities, strengths and styles. After a year, follow up assessments will be made so each member can account for their growth and development. Abound will also provide assessments of the member organizations to determine the level of sustainability the organization has achieved upon joining and over time.
- Knowledge Net: A repository of individual member, sponsor and supporter capabilities and knowledge which any member can access and harness for support.
- Research & Publishing: Thorough, relevant and leading edge research into sustainable practices and their connection to helping member organizations grow and thrive.
- Projects: Supporting members and gathering member support for community, educational and sustainable development projects.
Stay tuned for more…or check out our the Abound website at: www.aboundglobal.org