"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.”
Y is for Yes and the Power of Intention. Peter Gabriel: And the tears roll down my swollen cheek, I think I’m losing it, getting weaker…I hold the line, I hold the line. Record numbers of homeowners are walking away from mortgages that they are fully capable of paying. According to a Times Magazine article Their decision is strategic. It’s good business. As the writer says, “we are all economic pinballs, insensibly colliding for better or worse.” Financial services organizations routinely make such “strategic” decisions. Banks no longer own mortgages, why should we?
This is economic nihilism and it does make sense – if we view our lives as one thin transaction after another. If we believe we’re losing it we probably will. Disconnective thinking breeds disconnected action. It is a a symptom of withdrawal, collapse, contraction and fear. Mentally, physically, spiritually we grow weaker. We believe we can separate our “selves” from “the world.”
We hold the line. The line is a thread. A thread that connects and binds us together. We can ignore it. We can say “no” to it but the relationship won’t go away. We hold the line. We can turn our backs on responsibility. We can put our heads in the sand and refuse ownership and obligation. We remain connected, however, the quality of that connection is weakened, degraded, frayed. Or, we can say, “yes.” “Yes”, opens us to opportunity, possibility and abundance.
They hold the line. What would happen if a line of credit was also seen as a line of connection? What would happen if banks looked at us less as risks to be managed and more as opportunities to increase social and relational capital in the communities they serve?
We hold the line. What would happen if we said “yes” to spending strategically to build value in our cities and communities? What if our intention as consumers was to support and sustain the banks, businesses and services that sustain us?
Try it. Say “yes”, reach out and connect. Manifest the intention to support and sustain each other. Share what we share anyway to strengthen our connection. It is within our grasp. We hold the line, the line of strength that pulls us through the fear.
At Kiyomizudera they have chosen “shin” as the kanji most representative of the past year, 2009. Shin means “new”. The kanji “新米” means a new crop of rice, new growth and symbolizes a fresh beginning. It is easy and, perhaps, more comfortable to think of the last year as a year of loss. Over 15 million children died of hunger. Millions of people lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes, wealth evaporated, hope continues to be severely tested.
Yet in the midst of such suffering, tragedy and loss the seeds of opportunity are sown. Somehow, life perseveres. Somehow, we go on. And, somehow, we still have the capacity for happiness, compassion, joy. Somehow, we continue to work the land and, somehow, the land continues to provide.
Every day, every moment, in every breath, opportunity emerges. This place, our place,this planet, our planet this universe, our universe is impossibly complex, simply abundant. Our minds, our senses are the universe witnessing, wondering, reflecting on itself. What we perceive are our selves, in all of our inter-related, interwoven beauty. We are many. We are one. We are the dance and interplay between.
Opportunity emerges. Faith abides. As we awake to the “new” year, we strive to begin anew. To be better fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, children. We have the opportunity to be so much, even when we have so little – even when we’ve lost so much.
Let us all take a moment as we begin this new year and be silent, present, full. Of life. Of love. Of each other and the abundance the universe provides.
Now, let that moment go: on, and on, and on…
W is for Me, Becoming We. John Lennon: Instant Karma’s gonna get you, gonna knock you off your feet. Better recognize your brothers, ev’ryone you meet. Why in the world are we here – surely not to live in pain and fear. Why on earth are you there – when you’re ev’rywhere, Come and get your share.
I wonder if these were the words dancing through Obama’s mind and the collective consciousness of other heads of state as they watched, helpless, as China systematically eviscerated the Copenhagen accord. China played a key role in wrecking Copenhagen because they are still firmly rooted in a scarcity mindset – our scarcity mindset.
In a growing number of commodities and products including grains, meat, coal and steel China and the Chinese are the largest consumers in the world. And, to paraphrase the Carpenters, they’ve only just begun…China is also one of the largest producers of consumer goods in the world, a growing number of which are being consumed domestically.
In Copenhagen China, and to a lesser degree, India demonstrated that they do not intend to let limits on CO2 emissions hobble their rapid economic ascensions. The problem is their rise is linked to models of straight line consumer spending and growth. To clothe, feed and outfit the burgeoning consumer class of China and India in the “Western” tradition of the last 100 years, requires more resources than we have on this planet. Is this an argument against abundance? No. It is a demand for true abundance-oriented thinking and action.
China is adapting a model development pioneered and perfected by us. At Copenhagen they flatly and consistently refused to deviate from this model. There are other models available. Look at what was accomplished at Kalundborg. Look at how companies like Burgerville are reinventing the business of fast food. Look at what plants like hemp can do to disrupt and reorient agriculture, energy, nutrition, building and manufacturing. Look at how you can go from one can of trash a week, to one can a month, and maybe, to putting out only one can a year.
“Me” becoming “We” is not about putting on birkenstocks, joining hands and dancing in fairy circles in a pollyanna world of ponies and rainbows. It is about self-interest. Self-interest in which our sense of “self” includes and transcends the ways of doing and seeing and being that brought a disingenuous China to the Copenhagen summit.
How dare they deign to beat us at own game? How dare we become passively complicit to a future of scarcity and suffering for our children?
The words of Larry Gopnick the Job-like protaganist of A Serious Man come to mind here: “I’ve done nothing”, he says in limp resistance to the calamities that befall him. And, when he does move in a desperate act of scarcity-minded self-interest, the phone rings with ominous news from the doctor and black, funnel-shaped clouds appear on the horizon.
Instant karma, baby. Instant karma.
It begins with an awareness of breath. My breath, my wife’s breath, rain falling lightly in the fog outside the bedroom window. My son stirs, clambers down from his loft and crawls into our bed. Family, the three of us half-awake, half-asleep, still this early morning.
Memories of Thanksgivings past dance through the fog Douglass Fir tree tops emerge. Family gathering in Ohio. Friends coming down from Tacoma. Friends full, already stuffed in Tokyo. Ah, the gift of Chex mix and bright green moss on the trees.
Grace, our turkey, begins her slow transformation into dinner. Grace, the words and the intent behind the words uttered before our feast, our communion and celebration of Abundance. So much to be thankful for. So much.
My son’s blonde mane appears over his now sleeping mother, followed by, simply, the most beautiful smile. Time to wake and be, fully, part of a day dedicated to Gratitude.
Itadakimasu. We humbly and wholly accept and receive this gift of life, family & community, bountiful harvests, opportunity & prosperity, and the means to give these gifts of Abundance to others. Om Shanti Om. Amen.
S means Savings Through Which We All Win. John Lydon; Anger is an energy! Anger is an energy! So is money. It is the water cycling through our economic ecosystems, the electric currency powering the prosperity of our communities. Life is a big ‘ol square dance of energy exchange.
Money is kind of funny because it has value only because we agree that it does. It’s not food, shelter, clothing and certainly not sex. It is a means to an end. What end? In the “West” we tend to focus on personal prosperity. In the “East” there is still often a strong element of familial piety that creates large amounts of savings and distribution within large, extended families. Both models work and both can become highly dysfunctional. Their relative levels of success depend on where we stand in terms of scarcity and abundance.
Scarcity leads to contraction, hoarding, and win-lose competition for what are perceived as limited resources. Abundance demands we expand our sense of “me” to “we” and our sense of family to include community. In a scarcity driven world we save money out of fear and distrust. With an abundance mindset we save money because of its potential to benefit us and the community that sustains us. Scarcity leads us to the false choice of “either/or.” Abundance challenges us to be big enough to hold “both/and.”
To spend money we have to save money. Saving is good. It builds up a reservoir of energy. What we need to consider is, “What are we saving it for?” How can those savings be best used to sustain us and that which sustains us?
Another key consideration is value. Some of us are highly skilled at accumulating money but are terrible musicians and would soon whither in the extremes of a 1st grade classroom. Currently schools throughout the US are significantly underfunded yet scarcity minded, yet professional sports salaries continue to climb. Koyaanisqatsi, koyaanisqatsi.
Collectively we have the talent, resources and means to create communities of abundance. Our biggest obstacle? Our selves. What are we saving it for? What are we waiting for? What can we create-together?
Last post on consumerism catalyzed a considerable cavalcade of conversations. So, here are some more mangled musings in alphabetical order on the art of consumption.
A is for Appetite Grown Uncontrol’d: Michael Stipe: “…What we want and what we need has been confused…” Let’s face it. Our current consumer economy depends on us buying, accumulating, consuming and throwing away a staggering amount of stuff we don’t need. This is a recent phenomenon. NOBODY lived like this until post-war, mass production became the norm a scant 60 years ago. For most of our collective history we’ve lived quite differently. How can we rein in our super-sized desire to consume? Where to begin? Become aware of your appetite and what is driving it. What do you want? Need? Crave? Why? Sit with what you learn.
B is for Becoming-Aware of What’s Really Bought & Sold: William Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…” Buying stuff is fun. Temporary happiness. Selling stuff creates income. Income is the blood in the body of business, the water in the community well. But, what happens when our blood carries carcinogens or is clogged with cholesterol? What happens when there’s poison in the well? Or, nothing at all? Often it’s not the stuff itself-it’s the stuff in the stuff we’re buying, the stuff that went into the process of making the stuff we’re buying, the place & people affected by the stuff we’re buying and the fundamental finiteness of the stuff we’re buying that counts. Traditionally these concerns were “externalized” which is basically a fancy way to say “ignored.” Not any more. There are an awful lot of us and we are growing. It may not seem to matter for you, “now” but what about the “now” of your children or grandchildren? Feel like gambling with the future of your children? Not me.
C is for Community and the Richness Therein: Chrissie Hynde: “I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone.” There are a slew of good reasons to buy local and they all point to the same thing: community. Consuming locally produced goods and buying from local merchants create a powerful positive value generating loop that supports and sustains a key aspect of what supports and sustains us: Say it with me: “community.” Strong Community also creates alternatives to simple monetary transactions. Consumption is essentially exchange of value and there are many ways to do this, including bartering, the creation of “local currencies”, and sharing the abundance of our collective efforts and wealth (the bounty of backyard and community gardens, extra profit and time, knowledge, experience and expertise, excess production, tools, leftover food). The opposite of investing in the health of community are intriguing phenomena like burning rivers and dancing cats. The choice, as always, is ours.
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?
We’ll be giving a talk on the connections between social media and sustainability next week. As I was doing some research on the topic I came upon this slightly dated piece over at Max Gladwell.
They make a good point that there is nothing “inherently green about social media.” Indeed. Social media is exactly what it sounds like: means for conveying ideas and information, connecting people and creating and maintaining relationships.
We also need to understand that sustainable sustainability is not “green” either. Or rather, it is “green” but it also red, orange, yellow, blue, turquoise, indigo, violet, etc. Simply, if we want to sustain our selves and the potential in the human endeavor for all sentient beings to prosper, we must go full spectrum.
We live in a value web. We need to manage multiple polarities and find a way to stream value into as many of the nodes of the web as possible. The more we are able to strengthen and enhance the web the more we are able to benefit in return. It is (almost) instant karma.
This is where social media comes in. The potential in social media to deeply interconnect us and provide cross-functional, cross-divisional, cross-industry, cross-sector collaboration is already being realized in technologies like Facebook and Twitter. A recent Business Week article shows how Accenture has developed enterprise versions of these systems as well. WiserEarth, an online community, also has adapted Wiki technology to connect sustainability-oriented groups and individuals.
Social media can accelerate and deepen the connection process. Interconnection is a key success factor for sustainability, and beyond sustainability, abundance. In the end, though, it is not the technology that matters. It is the intent and capacity of the users. Designers can and will design user interfaces that can meet a wide variety of needs. If we want to get the most out of Web 2.0, I believe we first need to design Sustainability 2.0. Sustainability 2.0 is a full-spectrum, value web centered, coherent approach to doing well together.
Let’s see what we can emerge.