Sustainability Can Be Beautiful
By: Paul Shirvastava
When considering the sustainability of energy systems, conventional thinking is largely focused on technological efficiency and economic profitability.
At the Museum en Herbe, in Paris, there is a little exhibition from the ecologist, painter, architect, and artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser who thought very differently about sustainability of energy production. Hundertwasser is famous for his theory that man has five skins: his natural epidermis, his clothes, his house, his social environment and the planetary skin – biosphere. He believed that humans had a responsibility to beautify all these skins. He believed in the power of art to enable a life in harmony with nature and individual creativity. A non-conformist to the core and advocate of self-determined alternative existence, he tried to bring beauty to the most humdrum and mundane things including buildings and even power plants.
He designed the Spittelau Waste to Energy plant in the shape of multi colored castle exuding happiness and joy.
The façade of this waste incineration plant was redesigned by Hundertwasser and given its present colorful, irregular structures following a major fire in 1989. Since then, the former utility building has combined waste, energy, and art in a fascinating way. It produces a total energy of 702,000 MWh/year, and useful energy of 528,200 MWh/year. The 850 °C flue gas arising from waste incineration process heats the boiler generating a total of 90 tons of saturated steam per hour. For power generation, the steam is reduced to 4.5 bar in a back pressure turbine. It is then transferred to the returning water of the district heating network by means of condensation in the heat exchanger bank.
Each year the plant recovers waste energy content of more than 5 MW of power for internal consumption and infeed to the public grid as well as some 60 MW of district heating energy – the space heating equivalent of approximately 15,000 80 m2 dwellings
Making sustainable products and buildings should not stop at eco efficiency. There is much added-value that art can bring to them. Adding beauty reduces the visual pollution created by ugly buildings. If an ugly waste incineration plant can be made beautiful, why not all other buildings?
Open Letter to Bernanke, Merkel and other G20 leaders: The Upside of Inequality
By: Manuel Werner
Spoiler alert, this is not a trick question. Give one human $10 (about 7.5 Euros for Ms Merkel) and another, luckier one, $1,000,000. The question is which of these two will spend a larger proportion of their gift on buying stuff? And I don’t mean the really big stuff like houses and cars and humungous diamonds. Whoever answered the one with $10 gets to make economic policy that affects the lives of billions. The others are to be rounded up and sent so far away that they can do no further harm.
My dear Presidents, Prime Ministers, Central Bankers pay close attention here as you’re betting on a losing proposition to keep the world economy from collapsing. I know that you all have serious short term dependency issues – need to look good for next election, in case I can’t buy it – but this bet on inequality to keep hyper-inflation at bay is a little like the comfort of the extra time one gets jumping from an airplane rather than a three story walkup.
So, that’s the upside of inequality. Almost all of the money being created by low interest rates and fancy central bank policies like Quantitative Easing (QE 1, 2, 3,…..) is being sponged up by Ms Whoopie-Do IveGotWayMoreThanINeed and Mr. Yahoo WhateverShallIDoWithAllThatExtraCash. The paltry bit that’s left trickles into the hands of Mr. and Ms. GreatUnwashed, the guys and gals who rush to pay bills and spend frivolously to feed and clothe themselves.
So, this unsustainable, growing inequality is happily keeping hyper-inflation at bay. It’s true that it’s also hollowing out the middle class, the great buttress of democracy, and making more people desperately anxious about paying bills and keeping a roof over their heads. But if just a little more of the central bankers’ largesse found its way into the hands of these people, wheel barrows to hold the money needed for even the most basic transactions, like buying a loaf of yesterday’s bread, would become quite scarce and prohibitively expensive (visions to make Angela tremble).
Perhaps it’s time for a new policy, one without the soothing nonsense about how a little more austerity by governments and easy money policies – for the benefit of the awesomely wealthy – will bring growth and prosperity by the end of next year (or the year after or later or just before never).
Governments that want growth and economic activity that helps most people, without the specter of hyper-inflation, will have to stop enriching the already fabulously fat cats through ineffective money policies and address the inequality problem. This will put money into the hands of those who will spend rather than hoard it in off-shore tax havens and money laundries. And it doesn’t require a genius to guess that this means resorting to the R word, the hobgoblin of the R people in America and the C people everywhere else. OK, I’ll come clean. We need Redistribution policies that are fair and we need them in spite of the Republicans and Conservatives who think Redistribution is like getting infected with the deadly Socialist virus. It will create a wave which can lift most people out of the endless financial crisis and, perhaps, even save democracy so that the really obscenely wealthy can enjoy their lives of luxury in relative safety.
How is your neighbour doing?
By: Jana Piest
Let’s start with a simple question: When was the last time you chatted with one of your neighbours? By chatting I mean not only moving your head slightly to indicate a nodding gesture, maybe a murmured “Hello”, but a real talk. – You can’t remember? Then let me ask you another question: Do you know who lives next door? Is it a family with 2 kids, with 3 kids, a young professional or a student couple? – You are not exactly sure? Then let me tell you something: You are not the only one without an answer to those questions. In fact, it seems as if the majority of our society doesn’t have a clue, at least in city areas.
Shortly after I came to Canada, a colleague invited me to his birthday party. He lived in a Sixplex on the plateau. By the time I got there, I wasn’t sure anymore what the number of his apartment was. I knew the closest street corner, though. First I tried to call him on his cell, no success. No problem, I told myself, I will simply check the name plates from each door and will figure it out that way! But name plates were nowhere to be found.
In Germany every home has names plates. It is also seen as polite to present yourself to your new neighbours after you moved into a new place. When I wanted to do the same thing in Canada, my roommates just gave me a strange look.
When my mom is lacking butter for her Sunday cake, she knocks at the neighbour’s door. In exchange, the neighbour usually gets a big piece of cake. We often had the elder lady next door coming over to watch after my sister and me when my parents went out. And there was always someone inviting the rest of the neighborhood for a BBQ during summer.
Over here in Canada I either go to the supermarket to buy new butter or I don’t bake a cake at all. Besides, neighbours aren’t watching over each other’s kids anymore, they pay a babysitter instead. And why? Because they have the means to do so. Money replaced community in so many ways, it is scary. It impersonalized relationships and transformed them into services.*
So, has the sense of community completely disappeared? No, one can argue, it simply shifted gears and changed the medium of communication! We have the internet now! There you don’t only have one community, you’ve got millions of them. You can find the phenomenon of collaborative consumption, for example. AirBnB is one of the pioneers in that movement. But even there it seems as if people are mostly in for the economic saving part. Plus, VC money is entering those social start-ups spheres and finally dissocializes them, as it happened with couch-surfing and is happening with AirBnB at the moment.**
So, where is this all going? I guess no one can really say, BUT: If we want to keep this earth a little longer, things will need to change. We will need the sharing economy, and sustainable business models, simply because we don’t have that much of a choice. And the sense of community is key to this change. – You know what? Just try it out! Go and talk to your neighbour! You might realize that it’s actually a lot of fun! And do you know what that means? That means that you can help change the world a little bit and even have fun while doing so! If I were you, I would take the deal.
* Charles Eisenstein: Sacred Economics. Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition
Personal Mastery and Entrepreneurship
This post is based in a short presentation I made yesterday at the annual YES entrepreneurship conference.
The current business context – and actually that of the world at large – is one of seemingly increasing rapid change. We find ourselves in a series of related crises ranging from health to social to economic to ecological. Depending on what sector and part of North America you are in, these come in and out of the news, in varying cycles and intensity. No one is left unaffected, fewer and fewer people deny this and more and more are starting to tune into this new state of change. The new norm is change, peppered with crisis and sometimes loss.
Out of this, it is my belief that more and more people will choose or be forced to consider entrepreneurship in some form. And in my opinion this is great news! As entrepreneurs, we can to take full responsibility for our actions, our organizations and how we relate to and in this world. Whether it is because the business or professional context we are in no longer makes sense to us, no longer brings us a feeling of purpose or actually no longer exists. And with the intention of being greener, healthier, more socially relevant, we can build a stronger society from the inside out, from the workings of our organizations. This is the call of the new entrepreneur.
So how on earth are we supposed to prepare to be an entrepreneur in this environment? What skills do we need to learn, what capacities can we develop to prepare us for this? In reflecting upon the past 5 years of my journey as an entrepreneur, I asked myself what is it that has helped most, which aptitudes are really supporting me? What are core skills needed to thrive as an entrepreneur in this context? Here is what came to me, simple and to the point.
Resilience - the ability to recover from or adjust easily to change
Empathy - the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another being; and
Discipline - the assertion of willpower over more base desires
While resilience and discipline will be clear to most, empathy might be less obvious. So picture this: as we deepen our ability to lead empathically, in contact with all those we are creating with and for, we become better at what we are doing. We can craft goods and services that the world and its beings really need while keeping our customer in mind/heart. We can be better colleagues and leaders, able to be more in tune with the needs of those around us. And given all those aforementioned crises, we will all appreciate this in the work environments and cultures we create. A whole society with more empathy and more compassion.
What is exciting to me is that these three are all capacities that we can all develop and build more of. It is not like we are born with or without them. They do not require studies or even books. These are things that will help both “at the office” and “at home.” And even more exciting is that each of us knows at least to a large degree how to improve these in ourselves. These are at the core, self-developing qualities, requiring attention, intention and practice.
I dare you to become more aware of these three, and make a few quick notes on what might bring a little more depth to each. Be bold and share your observations, mini-goals and exercises with a colleague or friend. Make a play-date and check back in with them in a few weeks and repeat. Building these core qualities will prepare you to bring your magic to the world that desperately needs it, increasingly! At if and when the time approaches for you to make a leap into the world of entrepreneurship, you will be all the better for it.
Artisanal Work, and Labor Policies – Sustainable Creative Work
By: Paul Shrivastava
Conventional industrial and office work is boring. Many students that I talk to are reluctant to enter jobs that are not meaningful to them. On the other hand, the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) is increasing globally. It is a demographic group that is tracked by many countries and is becoming a growing problem. While in most countries, tracking of this group only includes young people between the ages of 15 to 30 years old, older people in post-retirement are also becoming NEETs.
In 2012, Statistics Canada estimated that around 13% of Canadians (about 904,000) between the ages of 15-29 fell in the category of NEETs. Of this, around 513,000 were not actively looking for jobs. A 2013 study from the Institut de la Statistique du Québec(ISQ) estimated that 200,000 young people were not in any form of employment, education or training in the province of Quebec. The NEET rate in Quebec (13,5%) is similar to the Canadian average. Globally there are nearly 400 million NEETs.
So are young people entering the workforce limited to boring jobs or being unemployed? With over 100 years of automation, our modern industrial and service economies, simply does not have the capacity to absorb all the labor humans can produce. And, NEETs do not want to be placed in long-term employment.
We need to find more sustainable ways of utilizing all this excess labor. Are there “labor intensive” ways of doing things, that add value and create products and services that people would like? This requires us to reconsider the basic nature of labor and work, and develop new policies. It is true that most people work to earn wages, but work is also an expression of the human will to create. Work is psychologically and socially important. But not all work needs to be in the form of wage labor. We need policies that seek to engage people, not just through work based in wages in factories and offices. Policies need to create opportunities for people to be engaged with creative work, or artistic endeavors.
Arts and crafts were a predominant mode of production before the industrial era. Industry with its superior and increasingly labor efficient processes developed over a century, displacing artisanal work. But there are niches of artisanal production that have survived in many sectors. For example, in the food sector, there is a thriving artisanal-based production of cheeses, wines, breads, and condiments. Design thinking is also reviving artistic work in clothing, consumer products, media services, and other creative sectors.
By systematically encouraging creative work, which often tends to be labor intensive, we can develop more opportunities to work, and produce work that is creatively appealing. It is time to stop treating work like a commodity – “labor”, and start encouraging creative satisfying work that can absorb some of the excess work capacity accumulating in the global economic system.
Earth Day 2013 – Upcycling Contest!
In anticipation of Earth Day 2013, The David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise (DOCSE) at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada wants you to show us how you ‘Live Everyday Like It’s Earth Day’ by sharing your UPCYCLED ideas/ creations. Since the contest is taking place on DOCSE’s Facebook Fanpage, everyone is welcome to participate!
You might be wondering, what is upcycling? For purposes of this contest, we consider an item to be upcycled if it has been created out of old materials. Need some inspiration? There are plenty of ideas floating around on the web. To get you started, here is a fabulous Facebook Page, which has some really neat and simple upcycling ideas. Pinterest is another great resource to get your creative juices flowing.
To participate, all you need to do is post a photo, video and/or drawing of your upcycled creation on DOCSE’s Fanpage. You have until April 14th to participate! Please view the submission guidelines for important information to participate in this event!
The top 3 ideas/creations will have the chance to win one of three fantastic prizes.
And please help us spread the word by sharing the contest!
The Magic Mix: Easy Solutions to All Pressing Needs Available at…
By: Manuel Werner
Ever wonder the magic mix needed to sustain enterprises that never deliver on promises. Countless endeavor over the millennia, some just successful, others hugely so, have come and gone, built entirely on myth, scant to non-existent evidence, hearsay and, of course, outright lies. Why didn’t the masses, for example, of 10th Century Europe, as the feudal enterprise was planting roots and taking away their long entrenched system of group decision making, simply rise up against the relatively small number of thugs turning them into landless peasants? They had bought the church myth that their choice was between order under the feudal system and chaos. They chose order, oppressively brutal and grossly unfair as it was.
Then there is the vast enterprise known as Naturopathic Medicine, central to which is Homeopathy.This is an endeavour buttressed entirely by hope and thriving on willful ignorance. “There is no evidence that homeopathy works – and, given the absurd nature of the proposed mechanism of action, no scientifically plausible reason that it should work.”If you’ve been through the traditional health care grinder and have found no cure for what ails you, desperation and impatience, key ingredients for the purveyors of hope, set in and you’re off to the witch doctor.
Weight control remedies from diets to snake oil, from fitness regimes to group revival meetings and from baseless claims to Weight Watchers funded studies. Imagine the surprise of the Weight Watchers executive when their funded study found that “More people stuck to the Weight Watchers diet, lost more weight and fat mass, and also shaved more off their waist measurements than those assigned to standard care.” You’ve got to wonder about the “standard care” control program, given the repeat, and ongoing business that drives these kinds of weight loss programs which some have condemned as outright unhealthy. The only effective weight control method is also the hardest and so is not very popular. It is quite simple: Calories in should equal calories out and that means eat as much as you want as long as it all gets used as fuel to run your body. If you buy into the myth that you can eat whatever you want and not exercise then you are what the weight control industry is looking for.
Finally, the most successful, sustained enterprise of them all and the one without even a homeopathic modicum of evidence, religion. I’ve left it for last as it combines all elements of the magic mix for sustainable, successful enterprise: Built entirely on myth, scant to non-existent evidence, hearsay, forlorn hope and, of course, outright lies.
Do normal business enterprises share any of these characteristics and use the same potent mix to buttress their own success and sustenance? The answer, my friends, is yes. The Apple superiority myth; much hope in the lascivious promptings that might beset an otherwise virtuous soul if you drive the right car, vacation in the right place, wear the right clothes; a willingness to believe that Bernie Madoff can deliver superior returns without the least evidence of how he intended to do so; hearsay encourages us to go to see the latest Hollywood offering because your Facebook friends have endorsed it; voting for a government who has lied to you about its policies; and other, too numerous to mention enterprises producing that use the magic mix to foistfrequently unneeded, often dangerous products on unwise consumers.
All this makes me wish there was actually a God who could guide us in our everyday choices to make only the wisest ones. Alas, there is not and we, as humans, will forever remain susceptible to the magic mix, so effectively used to sustain dubious and, sadly, not so dubious enterprise.
Sustainable & Beautiful Everything
By: Paul Shrivastava
Last month Elizabeth Monoian from the Land Art Generator Initiative in Pittsburgh, visited the David O’Brien Centre, Concordia University. She discussed her design competition for creating renewable energy generation plants in the form of public art/sculpture. The 2012 competition was held for a site within Freshkills Park (the former Fresh Kills Landfill) in New York City. The winners of the competition offer stunningly beautiful and sustainable energy production systems.
The dual requirement of beauty and sustainability that LAGI requires in its designs, can be applied to many other areas. Can we design beautiful and sustainable bridges, buildings, highways, tunnels, rail stations, bus stops, offices, places of worship and more?
Beauty and sustainability are two types of value-added opportunities that the world needs more of. But the resistance to including them comes from the argument that they cost more to incorporate. As a result, the world is filled with normal technologically efficient solutions that are butt ugly and unsustainable. Does it really cost that much more to design in beauty and sustainability? Of course the answer is situation-specific. Estimates of additional costs for incorporating beauty and sustainability could be 10% to 20% of the cost of the project. If that extra cost is to be recovered over a 15 or 20 year lifetime of the project, we need about 1% additional positive value per year to justify those costs. Let us see where this 1% improvement in performance can come from.
Beauty or esthetic value makes the system more attractive to customers, attracts more viewers, offers creative engagement, and is a source of pleasure. The process of art value creation engages artists and can create community involvement and good will. It can have positive gentrification effects on entire blocks, neighborhoods and cities. Sustainability value can come in the form of reduced raw materials, reduced packaging, reduced waste, reuse of materials, longer lasting designs, improved image and reputation. Sustainability can also enhance usability of products, encourage healthy choices, offer healthier work and public places, and improve general well-being. Beautiful sustainable structures attract more investments into the area. All these benefits surely add up to much more than 1% improvement in performance.
Images from LAGI website.
The End is Nigh, For Sure; perhaps, could be, unless….
By: Manuel Werner
Ronald Wright in his splendid “A Short History of Progress,” makes a very strong argument that human civilization, in all its manifold forms, will collapse. That is, unless something is done to stop the accelerating environmental damage from the juggernaut of opportunistic development. That is his note of hope, somewhat forlorn, after running through a litany of unending mistakes that have brought every other past civilization to ruin, either permanently erasing them, in most all cases, or transforming them completely after severe suffering and dislocation.
The pattern of cause and effect has a dismal sameness to it in every single case. A perfectly balanced society, nicely egalitarian, only small differences in wealth among its members, suddenly surges forward in an explosion of riches and productivity. Hierarchies form, treasure becomes more concentrated, the labour of the masses is progressively devalued and natural resources become unbearably taxed as the civilization enterprise turns into a negative sum game.
The inevitable collapse of such unsustainable systems is sad but historically unimportant when the demise is local. Easter Island, Sumer, the Mayan debacle were all big events for the affected civilizations but of little, if any, consequence for all the other civilizations simultaneously developing around the planet. The fall of Rome was a much bigger event and its fallout,on a quarter of the earth’s population, at the time, lasted for centuries. But it still did not affect developing civilizations in the Americas or consolidating empire in the Far East.
Globalization has not changed the dreary historical patterns which always badly ended the civilizing process. It has, though, changed the potential fallout by orders of magnitude. From affecting perhaps 500 thousand in the collapse of Sumerian civilization to the millions in the Mayan downfall, the numbers today would jump to the billions. James Lovelock has recently estimated that the earth’s population would drop from seven billion to one billion after the climate changes by more than current agricultural technologies could tolerate. Such a decline would effectively end civilization as we know it. Is there anything that can be done to stop our accelerating slide towards the abyss?
Yes and no. To the extent, as Joseph Stiglitz emphasizes in “The Price of Inequality,” that the holders of wealth, the plutocrats, control the political process which arranges market rules in their favor they would have to be willing to make changes which would inevitably erode their own position of unparalleled prosperity, and its handmaiden, power. Will they do it? A better question may be: Have their kindred ancestors ever willingly done so in the past? The answer seems to be an unequivocal no. It seems that those who willingly and selflessly gave up stuff in the past did not pass on their genes. What can we do?
Our best hope, and I hate to invoke that word as it is like religion, the opiate of the dispossessed, is to use what remains of our democratic institutions and break apart the political power-wealth construction. The consequence would be to bring down the one dollar one vote edifice and restore the more reliable and sustainable one person one vote regime. Is there any chance of this happening? Not anywhere near certainty but there may be reason for some limited optimism. Recent social and civil unrest, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, has shown that the anyone-can-make-it illusion may finally, and happily, be coming to an end – an illusion that has always been used to cajole and anesthetize people into accepting gross inequality with the never fulfilled promise of forthcoming rewards, whether in this or the next world.
Finally, there is currently an easy way to participate in the fight against global warming through personal carbon trading atcatagori.com, all trades taking place through the sites Facebook app.
Experiences at a Green Gala
By: Kelly Laidlaw
During its inaugural year in 2011, I was fortunate to not only be invited to attend Concordia’s Sustainable Champions Gala but to be nominated for an award. Now that a few years have passed since I graduated as a proud alumnus of the JMSB MBA program, I have been asked to take a moment to reflect on my experiences at the gala and on sustainability at Concordia.
Sustainability played an important role throughout my MBA, from classroom to extra-curriculars.
I had the opportunity to represent the John Molson Sustainable Business Group (JSG) as the VP Sustainability for the John Molson MBA International Case Competition. This prestigious competition attracts participants from over 30 international schools. Weaving sustainability into the foundation of the event further demonstrated JMSB’s leadership in sustainable initiatives. The competition was held at Queen Elizabeth Hotel, one of the “greenest” hotels in Montreal. Food was locally sourced as much as possible and organic waste was composted through Sustainable Concordia. Efforts to reduce printed materials included e-versions of welcome packages on USB keys, daily competition results posted electronically via monitors, and a shift in focus towards online communication tools. These and many other sustainable initiatives were made possible though sponsorships secured from local businesses and partners including a grant from the Sustainability Action Fund.
Through the International Community Outreach Program (iCOP) I had the opportunity to spend a life-changing two months in Uganda, providing business and mentoring services to local entrepreneurs and developing a manual for a young women’s empowerment program. It was an incredible learning experience and one that I will never forget. I later took on the role of iCOP Program Director to to enable other JMSB students to participate in their own experiences abroad while transfering their business knowledge and skills towards improving capacity and reducing poverty in the developing world.
I was honored to be recognized at the Sustainable Champions Awards Gala, along with several other Concordians including two other JMSB recipients: Shelly Elsliger, Career Advisor – Undergraduate Programs and Raymond Paquin, Assistant Professor – Department of Management. Having the chance to meet and be inspired by the other nominees and sustainability supporters within the Concordia community was a fantastic experience that was simultaneously humbling and inspiring. A key learning for me was how small ideas can really add up to big impact.
Congratulations to all of the 2013 sustainable champion nominees and to everyone who participates in keeping Concordia green!
2013 marks the third annual Sustainable Champions Awards Gala, hosted by the Concordia Sustainability Hub. The event will take place on Tuesday March 5th, 2013, and serves to recognize students, staff and faculty that set an example, catalyze change and make a difference in sustainability on campus.
The Ultimate Business Model
By: Jana Piest
Imagine you are an experienced professional. You made your career in the for-profit world, working with tight deadlines and making calls long after business hours, just so that the job gets done. Since time is money and money makes a business, you have always watched out to meet the company’s ambitious objectives of growth. Growth is what the market expects and requires from a business, so that it can compete with others. Efficiency is key.
Now you decide to found a social start-up, since you want to make a difference in the world and help drive social change. However, on a long-term basis you don’t want to depend on grants, since you are of the opinion that only a financially self-sustaining organization can be sustainable. You have a large business network that you can count on to kick things off. So, you develop a business concept, you set up a business plan and you proceed to filling out the papers to register your company. – And that’s where you start thinking: Which would be the right legal foundation for my social enterprise? A for-profit entity or a non-profit organization?
As a for-profit company you could have access to private investors’ money, which would be easy enough to get if you have an interesting business model to present to them. However, they would certainly demand a return of investment at some point. So, what happens if it takes more time to develop your product than planned and the investors lose patience? Let’s not forget that your business idea is being set in the framework of not just any innovation, but social innovation, which makes it even more of a challenge and might bring along quite a few unforeseen twists and turns. Plus, making contacts in the social non-profitable world might be particularly hard, since the belief that “It’s us against them” – charity against business – is still very present.
As a non-profit you could apply for grants and seek donations from individuals and corporations. But applying for grants takes a lot of talking, a lot of paperwork, a lot of back and forth, and thus a lot of time and energy – time and energy you should actually be spending on the development of your product. Governmental and public funding also have another big turnoff: Most of the time your start-up needs to have been in business for at least 1-2 years to meet the application criteria. But what is most crucial to a young business is to have money coming in right at the beginning, so that it can get off his feet.
So, what’s it gonna be? What would be the ultimate business model for a social entrepreneur?
We might just have to invent one.
Opinions and comments are very much welcome!
Born Again Leadership
By: Paul Shrivastava
I read recently that the root of the word leadership is “leith”, which means to go forth and cross the threshold into enemy territory, and to die (usually in battle) and be reborn. In its original “reborn” sense leadership involves abandoning old ways of doing things and taking one’s life and organizations in a completely new direction. This is the kind of leadership our times demand. It is the kind of leadership needed for changing the paradigm of business towards sustainability.
The need for paradigm shift has been argued repeatedly in numerous media and scholarly publications. It is argued that past economic and business models and our life style are colliding with ecosystem limits. They have created climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, resource degradation and other environmental woes. Past economic models are also obsolete from the point of view of economic welfare of society. They created huge wealth for some, but also huge economic inequality that is becoming socially visible and politically unacceptable, as evidenced by the grassroots protests of Arab Spring, and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
We cannot continue with old ways of doing business, and our current ways of living. We need a shift in paradigm that challenges past assumptions, namely:
that all economic growth is good and we can continue to grow organizations and economies endlessly,
that unrestricted consumption is the path to happiness, and we can continue to build “throw-away” consumer societies,
that the unintended consequences of production of goods and services (pollution, waste, resource depletion) will be somehow handled through technological solutions.
The new paradigm of sustainable development and sustainable enterprises argues for a sharp turn in economic and business evolution. In the coming years, advanced industrial countries will need to manage degrowth instead of growth. Consumers will turn towards moderated or even austere material consumption while seeking more social, emotional, and spiritual satisfactions. Technologies will help improve well-being in some respects, but blind faith in technology can be dangerous for our well-being.
To move towards a new sustainable paradigm, organizations need new leadership, which lets go of old ideas and embraces new ways of thinking and being. That leadership will not come exclusively from the top or from traditional sources of power and expertise. That born-again leadership is something each and everyone is capable of. We can redesign our lives, our work, our organizations to make them more sensible, more meaningful, and sustainable. Being born again as a leader is matter of personal choice, and we owe it to ourselves to take that option.
Host yourself and draw upon collective intelligence
In the quest for a new way of being in business, I am stepping into a full paradigm shift. From a machine view to a living systems view, embracing complexity. From deterministic to co-creative and emergent. Aiming squarely for a deeply humanistic and relationship-focused worldview that rests upon purpose, sustainable, social and quality of life.
I am naming, exploring and learning methods, mindsets and ways of being that will support and guide us in this new paradigm, from freedom from control to the primordial importance of learning . Another tenet of this holistic business worldview is collective intelligence, the power of emergent intelligence manifesting from collaboration and competition of a group or groups. Beyond the realm of bacteria and other living systems, collective intelligence is harnessed in network technologies, crowd sourcing and social media, to name a few examples.
So how do we work with collective intelligence? What are the contexts and methods for which this is appropriate? How can business leaders and entrepreneurs tap into this power to solve problems and co-create thriving organizations?
Enter the Art of Hosting (AoH), a training workshop for hosting participatory group processes, which cater to tapping into collective intelligence, allow for listening to diverse viewpoints and potentially transform conflict into creative cooperation. Actually, AoH is more than a training or workshop. It is a movement and way of being in society that is applicable to community, business and all organizational ecosystems. It is a growing international community of activated global citizens.
This past January 10-12, about 110 change makers, social organizational leaders, artists, coaches, facilitators and other inspired connectors gathered in the Espace Lafontaine in Parc Lafontaine for Montreal’s first AoH training. Over the course of this three day journey we shared stories and experiences, witnessed the emergence of collective intelligence and shared a profound human experience.
In a variety of formats, we learned about hosting, approaches to design, and how to harvest rich conversations in often complex and/or challenging environments. Think social and community movements, change initiatives in organizations, dialogues between longstanding adversarial parties.
We watered the seeds of this rich Montreal community and identified and created new resources. We connected with future collaborators, shared our projects, successes, struggles, laughed with heart, and danced furiously. We opened up the process of transformation. A few links and a video to allow you to learn more can be found here, here and here.
Since the AoH, my vision continues to shift, allowing me to see the full potential in all, and all situations. I view the AoH as more of a beginning than an end in itself. The learnings are still bubbling up, and the richness and depth of the connections that were made there are likely just beginning.
Fix it Before it Becomes Unsustainable
By: Manuel Werner
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” must be the most overused aphorism in both politics and business. It should induce allergic reactions whenever spouted, as it is code for “my crowd is doing really well under the current structure and we don’t want to change.” Eventually and inevitably every system runs out of steam because it begins to consume its own fuel and when that gives out it collapses; not unlike our splendid and bountiful sun which will be no more in around five billion years, give or take a few million. The most prominent early symptom of a system destined for a disruptive fall is a rising imbalance between the winners and losers, since the former gainby a transfer of wealth from the latter without any concomitant benefit increase to the transferors. The winners begin consuming their own fuel.
This fate has befallen many seemingly once eternal companies – Kodak, General Motors, AGF (the insurance giant now owned by the American tax payer), Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac and on and on. It has also become the headline grabbing fate of many large economies on the verge of collapse – Spain, Italy, Greece and quickly creeping up on America. The model which had worked so well for these companies and economies had become distorted and only seemed to be functioning properly. It was actually broken, delivering more to the winners and less to the losers. Such a system is unsustainable. It needs a reset.
That models are broken is almost never apparent to the gainers. Outside of a few visionaries such as Warren Buffet who has been counseling more fairness, the winners usually need a jolt to bring them to the understanding that always winning defies exchange gravity and is a sure road to systemic collapse. For now the jolts have been mild. They include consumers abandoning rent seeking (unfavourably exploitative behaviour) companies and movements such as Occupy Wall Street. However, when the imbalances become so great that the system resembles more of a pyramid scheme the pushback can become less benign.
This month’s post is on inspiration
By: Jana Piest
My uncle Frank said to me once that I seem to have the tendency to go for the more complicated “stuff”… Here is why:
If there is one thing that I learned during my journey of finding a career path that I can feel comfortable with, it would be how to dance around my parents’ questions: “Have you found a stable job yet?” – “At some point the “learning” phase needs to come to an end, don’t you think?” – “Where are you heading with this again exactly?”
Don’t get me wrong – my parents pretty much support me in all of my decisions. They are the best parents I could ever ask for. But there simply are certain things that are hard for them to understand.
I grew up in Germany, a country where you turn off the shower while you shampoo, just so that you can save some water. You learn to sleep with open windows during winter, since fresh air is always the best medicine. My parents encouraged me to take the bike to school every day (10 km), so that I could better understand what they experienced when they were younger. We pretty much recycle anything that you can imagine and buy juice in glass bottles.
When I came to Canada almost 4 years ago, I learned that people don’t want to sleep with open windows during winter and that you can buy your medicine like food in a supermarket. And I learned that I would have to live with only 2 weeks of vacation instead of 5. Those were things that confused me.
What I do when I am confused is that I look for inspiration. I try to meet new people and talk to them about God and the world, I read books and articles and I go running; and by doing all that, I try to better understand my confusion. That’s how I came across social innovation and sustainability. And I became inspired.
However, that was the point when my parents’ questions started, since my career path turned into something that looked pretty much like – zig-zag.
But for this one time, I simply had the gut feeling that I was onto something really cool – complicated, but really cool; something new, something that has the potential to inspire me for a long time.
Of course, the confusion knocks on the door again, once in a while. If it’s not my parents, it is the rest of society, is seems to me sometimes, that has a lot of questions and doubts.
Still, I do think that we are on this earth to make a difference, even if society makes me think that that sounds naive. I know where to get my inspiration from and I also know what to do when my parents are on the phone. I start asking questions myself. Don’t you want to change the world?
Climate Change, Handmaiden of Inequality
By: Manuel Werner
Why couldn’t the Canaanites figure it out, or the medieval barons or the Arab leaders fallen in the great Arab Spring political meltdown? Inequality has a price and it becomes staggeringly large as that inequality grows. It is a price that must inevitably be paid by all, including those at the very top. Their fate, which they never seem to have grasped, has always been inextricably tied to the majority of the people, over whom they had complete domination and from whom they drew their wealth in a vast negative sum game. And so it is the case today and so will they again be called on to cover the costs, with their fortunes and indeed, their very lives, of ignoring tirelessly repeating history. This is particularly true when it comes to the consequences of inequality for global warming. And we are not just talking about overtly non-democratic states but also those plutocracies sneakily disguised as democracies.
As Joseph Stiglitz so aptly put it, we are in a political galaxy best described by “Government of the 1% for the 1% by the 1%,” a galaxy whose stars are states of all political stripes. The rules of the global economic game have been set by the wealthiest in every society. Theyhave set up a world trade framework whereby capital, rather than labour, is mobile so that if environmental rules in one country are too stringent they can simply enough besidestepped by moving capital and production to a more lax jurisdiction. Why pay the cost of spewing stuff, including CO2, into the atmosphere when that cost can be put off onto the more vulnerable? They, more than anyone, suffer the consequences of global warming: more extreme weather events, droughts and its consequent higher food prices, flooding and other unpleasant results.
Of course, as the pie from which to draw wealth becomes smaller, the slices for those at the very top must become larger. This means that the goods sold to the 99%to accumulate even morewealthhave to become cheaper. For that to happen the environmental rules must become slacker, and wages have to be lowered. It shouldn’t take particular genius to recognize in this sequence an unsustainable economic model. But the basic human drive to become not only wealthier but relatively wealthier seems irresistible; so much so as to blind the players to the obvious.
What is also obvious is that the 99% will have to organize and take independent action in order to exert collective pressure on their leaders to change the rules of the game. It will be difficult because the 99% are also human and driven by the same needs for wealth and income. It will take a large hammer blow of reality to shatter the myth that the 1% club is somehow open to all comers and that inequality has nothing to do with the looming catastrophe that is climate change.
Largest Gathering in Human History
By: Paul Shrivastava
80 to 100 Million people will gather in Allahabad, India over 55 days starting Jan 14, 2013 to bathe at the Sangam, the meeting point of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers, to cleanse their sins. This Maha Kumbh Mela is the largest human gathering in history, and it is held every 12 years, for the past 1400 years.
The Maha Kumbh Mela organization created a temporary city (an area of 4,932 acres) with, provisions security, housing, transportation, and subsidized food at government controlled fair prices. During the event, 80,000 Kilolitres of drinking water, 16,500 tons of wheat flour, 6,000 tons of sugar and 9,600 tons of rice, and 2,447 tons of wood will be supplied. They will build 156 Kilometers of roads, and 18 temporary bridges across three rivers.
35,000 single-seat toilets, 340 blocks of 10-seat toilets and 4,000 urinals will be built for the event. 10,500 sweepers will tackle an estimated 40 to 50 tons of garbage a day, rising to 100 to 150 tons on the big bathing days.
The Mela has built one 100-bed hospital and 12 smaller health centres, with 243 doctors, 257 paramedics and 600 other medical staff, and 75 ambulances, treating 2500+ patients a day.
12,500 police officers, 30 police stations, 40 police posts and 71 traffic police booths will provide security during the Mela which is expected to see 11 million pilgrims bathe at Sangam on the first day. More details on this organizational effort.
In organizing this large event, a number of sustainability innovations have been implemented. I was impressed by the traditional humble leaf plate (pattal) and bowl (dona) pictured above. These plates will help make feeding the 100 million visitors at Kumbh Mela more sustainable. Made of dried Banyan or Sal leaves, stitched together with grass or twigs, and costing about 1 cent, the plate is fully biodegraded within days of disposal. Millions of visitors will be eating many of their meals in these leaf plates.
Sex without Climate Change
By: Manuel Werner
Breathing becomes a concern when there’s no air, as do eating and drinking when neither food nor water is available. Otherwise, when all is in order these urges are undetectable background activity run by the brain’s “zombie” systems. On the other hand, that other irresistible biological imperative known as sexual desire, simmers away in the conscious parts of our brains. It is the genetic programming that inexorably pushes us to follow a certain path in order to increase our chances of reproduction. Curiously, it is also one which inevitably intersects with climate change and provides a powerful metaphor to highlight why it is so incredibly difficult it to get people to commit to fighting global warming.
Much has been written about sex, its functioning, its role, its pervasiveness and, most particularly, its irresistibility. Here is the briefest résumé: Those who did not like sex did not pass on their genes and those who liked it most were the ones who best succeeded in doing so. Genghis Khan was so fond of the act that his genes are said to be ubiquitous. “An international group of geneticists studying Y-chromosome data have found that nearly 8 percent of the men living in the region of the former Mongol empire carry Y-chromosomes that are nearly identical. That translates to 0.5 percent of the male population in the world, or roughly 16 million descendants living today.” Sixteen million descendants of Genghis.
While keeping our more extreme impulses in check is the cost of civilization, the almost irresistible desire for sex is the direct result of successful gene selection over millions of years, its main goal being not sexual gratification but reproduction and hence, survival. So we can thank our genes for our survival (or, perhaps more accurately, they can thank us for their survival), yet it has to be said that they have saddled us with a serious handicap. Yes, handicap, because we will do almost anything, foolish as it may ultimately prove, to get sex. We seem to deliberately impair our brain’s judgment systems, in the event they rationally tell us that sex is sometimes not such a good idea. The Petraeus-Broadwell-Kelley-General Allen-G man pentagon is only the latest among innumerable examples of the risks we will take and personal resources will we openly squander for a chance at sexual congress. The seemingly ridiculous notion of handicapping to attract sexual partners is not exclusive to our species. Think of those birds that grow longer tails to be more attractive to the opposite sex, but so long that they are slowed down and are more likely to be eaten by prey. Or those that display magnificent colors for the same end but also succeed in attracting unwanted attention from predators.
Of course, cultural memes have muscled their way into the sex-pleasure calculus. We need to have some bedrock-solid reasons for love so we enlarge the narrative and see attributes in the other, which perhaps don’t strike the rest of humanity with quite the same force. Sometimes, reality intervenes, and we’re off looking for other partners.
So, what does this have to do with climate change? A lot. It also shows us what we’re up against. Rallying active support to do something about a looming global catastrophe turns out to be a very hard task indeed. It is daunting because too many of us make up stories, just as we often do in our pursuit of those we might not sanely pursue, about why we shouldn’t worry too much about the problem, at least for now. That is if we’ve even gone as far as actually recognizing there is a problem. And there’s good reason for this denial.
At the heart of the matter is the desperate want of the stuff that is made available only through the burning of fossil fuels: electricity, cars, toys for all ages, and bigger, faster versions of almost everything. And why do we want this stuff that is well beyond anything we need for basic survival and comfort? One of the biggest reasons is that we want to be more attractive to the opposite sex, thereby increasing our chances of… you guessed it, reproduction. Better looks leads to better chances for sex. And we look a lot better in great clothes and really expensive cars than in threadbare t-shirts and public transportation. (At least, that’s been the prevailing wisdom…)
To this end some of us make up stories about how climate change is not happening, at one extreme, to why it’s not anthropogenic, to why it’s not our worry but God’s, at the other. These narratives are mostly imaginary, like the ones we often make up about the kindness, looks and intelligence of our sex partners, but they provide the justification for acts that our cultural memes tell us are not by themselves justifiable.
So imagine, with that subconscious, hard connection between the irresistible,albeit quite normal, urge to sexual gratification, and climate change, unless we can find a way for the two to coexist in a sustainable fashion, we’re going to have a hell of a time stopping global warming from becoming a planetary cataclysm. Of course, this bit of reductionism does not convey all the complexity of why our species does not seem to want to engage in the fight for our very lives. But it is a useful construct to get us to understand why this is all so difficult.
The lesson here is that we should forget about trying to break the connection. Most religions and governments with too many foundlings on their hands have tried and failed. We can only hope to manage it. Our proclivities notwithstanding, our species will have to either suffer cataclysmic decline, possibly even perish, or find a modus vivendi with our planet. The changes we are wreaking on our atmosphere is a classic example of what Richard Dawkins calls extended phenotypic effects, where our genetic impulse to overcome competition and survive through adaptive change extends beyond the gene itself to actually reshaping the environment. Although, in the case of climate change, the extended phenotypic effects may turn out to be harmful rather than helpful to the survival impulse.
A strategy must be found to ease us off our addiction to burning the wrong sort of stuff, that which spews CO2 into the air. After all, if people were required to immediately pay the full cost of the things they want, well… Let’s just say they would not find this such a brilliant idea and fall back on fanciful reasons as to why climate change is not a worry. There aren’t too many ways to do this.
Personal Carbon Trading may just be such a management tool. It is a mechanism that works to sensitize all of us by means of a flexible cost / reward system, where those who emit too much CO2 only need to worry about the excess, rather than the total amount. Trading carbon emissions between people who are over the average and those who are under, eases everyone into an awareness of the problem. It is very similar to the Cap and Trade systems now running in various parts of the world. Eventually, we can, and must, all become full participants in the fight against climate change. And once everyone has eventually moved to a sensibly sustainable playing field in the acquisition of stuff, then we can get on with what we do best: looking for sexual gratification, and sometimes even finding love.
Welcome to Catagori’s Personal CarbonTrading system.
A Simple Wish
By: Jana Piest
The end of a year usually comes along with resolutions, ideas and wishes for the following year.
I would like to talk about my wish. It is a very simple wish – noted down in a short equation:
“Less consumption = more free time”
I would like to see people spending less money on mere consumer goods, and then converting the extra dollars in their pockets into more free time by working less. That way they can spend more quality time with their family, take care of certain things themselves that they would have paid for otherwise (house repairs, etc), do volunteering, pursue hobbies they have long dreamed of or do anything else they have never had the time for.
Is this a wish other people would actually agree on? Does more free time (productively spent) bring you more happiness? Several studies say Yes, but people keep associating life quality with (over-) consumption instead. Besides, if people consumed less, wouldn’t that be bad for the economy? And which employer would agree on reducing your working hours, just like that?
As I said, a simple wish. Very simple.
Innovation at the Grassroots
By: Paul Shrivastava
For sustainable development to become reality we need to urgently address the needs of the world’s poor, who also happen to be culturally and creatively rich. However, it is not sufficient to simply make them wealthier. The bottom of the economic pyramid is a reservoir of immense creativity. Poor people are creative, expressive and capable of innovating solutions for their own conditions. Grassroots innovation is a poorly understood idea. For the most part, the role of grassroots innovators in achieving sustainable development has remained under appreciated, except perhaps in India, China, to some extent Malaysia, Indonesia and a few other countries.
Including the “excluded” in the process of development is an urgent matter, because their patience is running out. The need for harmonious or inclusive development is being articulated by the major Asian economies like China and India. With disastrous impacts from the financial crisis, OECD countries are also debating different ways of harnessing the creative potential of masses to make development more participatory and innovative.
The concept of a national innovation system includes innovation both in formal R&D labs plus innovation at the grassroots. It has undergone a complete transformation in India with the formation of the National Innovation Foundation. There is a need to bring about such a transformation everywhere. Even large corporations have begun to look for ideas from strangers, users, observers, supply chain members and other people outside the organization. Crowd sourcing of design ideas is taking root in digital services, and consumer products. Creative industries, the crafts sector, artisanal producers are well positioned to engage grassroots innovators and entrepreneurs in mutually beneficial projects. What we need is a redesign of national and regional development policies, establishment of enabling institutions, and more forums for social interactions among grassroots innovators and the rest of society.
I was exploring these possibilities at the International Conference on Creativity and Innovation at the Grassroots, TUFE, Tianjin China (Dec 3-5) and IIM, Ahmedabad Dec 7-8). The exhibition of innovative products created by grassroots innovators included a non-electric refrigerator made of clay, numerous herbal remedies, an incense-stick making machine that doubles the productivity of workers, and many more.
We also explored the creativity of grassroots artists and performers, and its potential to remedy ecological destruction and social violence. Art based healing is an old human tradition in many cultures. There are dozens of artists, NGOs, and art collectives engaged in eco improvement and social change projects. These are exemplified by Darpana, an Ahmedabad institution that uses Indian dance, puppetry, music, theatre and television to educate, empower, and raise awareness about today’s critical issues. Jana Sanskriti of Calcutta operates Center for Theater of the Oppressed based in Augusto Boal’s Forum Theater. Kala Madhyam in Bangalore empowers traditional (folk and tribal) Indian artists and artisans through systematic and sustained development efforts. Gram Vikas Parishad of Bihar paints Madhubani style religious art on trees on Highway 52 to discourage deforestation.
Innovation, art and creativity at the bottom of the economic pyramid hold huge potential for inclusive development. Our challenge is to break out of our professional and social-class isolation, to get involved with these brave initiatives.
“Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.”
Rabindra Nath Tagore
Expressing a Manifesto, from the inside out
At Crudessence, we feel very strongly about sustainability, and strive to go even beyond, to transcend the commonly held vision of sustainability. Coming from deep in our collective values is the belief that there is a new way to be in business, in community and in life. And we are out to live that vision.
The company has grown significantly in many ways over the past five years, and in good part due to our expanding diversity. Diversity in the customer base, the employee pool and even in our offering. We have grown over ten times in that period. As the reach and size of our ecosystem has grown, what was once a clear vision among a handful of employees started to become less so. We started hearing disagreements among staff and confusion from our customers as to what Crudessence was all about. There was a growing and apparent need to clarify and perhaps expand on the original vision of the founders, who had strong intentions but had not imagined the size of this endeavour. So we decided to undertake a vision quest for Crudessence, and set out to create a manifesto.
In expressing a manifesto, we hoped that there would be numerous rich benefits along the way. And that a manifesto would surely contribute in ways we did not know and could not name. We realized that an organism cannot mature into vibrant health if it does not fully know who or what it is. The calling for a collaborative self-expression of Crudessence was clear. So the journey began, firmly believing that this endeavour would kick-start a new phase in our development.
With the guidance and leadership of visionary Michelle Holliday (Thrivability Montreal and Cambium) and über-consultant/coach Jean-Philippe Bouchard (Spiralis), we embarked on what would turn out to be a nearly one-year Manifesto crafting journey. Through dialogue with multiple stakeholders, we tackled topics found in a typical visioning or mission-definition exercise, and also touched on more subtle layers, calling for an inner organizational voice to emerge. We wanted to touch basic existential questions like who we are, what we want to be, and to listen for what else seemed alive in us.
In the process design, we simultaneously founded the Crudessence Community of Stewards (CoS), a leadership group comprised of the founders, managers, connectors and coordinators. The intention behind the CoS was to create a community of learning and sharing among the leaders, or “stewards”, of Crudessence. We have met roughly every two months since December 2011. At the initial offsite meeting, we prepared “data” for the stewards to look at, asking Crudessence to express itself through the various lenses of the clients, the organization, the money, the staff and the community. We spent 36 hours ruminating on what we were grateful for, what brought us together, what held us back and shared much more. From this meeting, the seeds for the manifesto were sown.
Following this, we invited all our staff to open space meetings. This taken from the poster to staff:
Help us clarify the mission of the company to manifest our dreams: An invitation to co-create our workplace… The co-creation of the manifesto of Crudessence. Crudessence is a visionary company with a revolutionary social mission! But how is this mission manifesting exactly?
At these half-day meetings, we shared stories, played games and expressed what we loved and liked less about Crudessence. We talked about what we aspired to be and what we wanted to avoid. We shared food and laughed, inviting other stakeholders to the meetings including key suppliers and trusted customers. The harvest was sifted through, combined with information from the past, and a small group started writing. Through a number iterations of feedback from the founders, CoS, and staff at large, the manifesto slowly emerged, at a natural pace. The final draft was agreed in September.
The Manifesto now graces the walls of our Academy, the Crudessence website, our restaurant menus, and has been shared through Social Media into our ecosystem. Over the next few months, we will post it in all the physical Crudessence spaces and continue to improve it.
It serves as a rallying point, as marching orders, a flag to carry, and a clear expression of what we aim to do – and how we strive to be. It can help us recruit staff and partners better, and speak to our customers in precise language.
When something comes from deep within you, it is as if it was always there. I already cannot remember what Crudessence was like before the Manifesto.
The Life and Times of a T-Shirt
By: Aleece Germano
It’s incredible what goes into the making of a single t-shirt, let alone 2.4 billion of them!
Check out this infographic
A Plead for Creativity
By: Jana Piest
When you type creativity and definition into your browser, you get a never ending list of suggestions.
Here are only three examples:
“Creativity is the ability to find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression; thus it brings into existence something new to the individual and to the culture.” – Dr. Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.” – Einstein, quoted in Creativity, Design and Business Performance
“Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being. Creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life. The experience is one of heightened consciousness: ecstasy.” – Rollo May, The Courage to Create
Creativity is what brought us to where we are today. Creativity lies at the origin of inventions such as the wheel or the steam engine, it helped build and destroy nations, it made us discover new planets and changed our way of thinking more than once. Creativity makes the world go ‘round.
Taking the long journey into the deepest depths of your imagination can be painful at times, both mentally and physically. And it might even leave a hole in your bank account, depending on how long the journey takes. But once you have been able to see through the storm and write a new shiny idea down on paper, that’s when this unique and heart filling feeling of enormous satisfaction hits you and kicks your confidence through the roof.
I am convinced that creativity is something that lives in every single one of us. It is only a question of time, place and people that we are surrounded by.
The only problem with creativity is its unpredictability. You can be in the most ideal situation to let your creativity do its magic, but end up with nothing. Then it suddenly hits at a point in time where you haven’t expected it at all.
Creativity comes and goes, it cannot be controlled and pressed into a time schedule. Creativity is its own master.
That might be one of the reasons why creativity is in danger, especially nowadays.
The one and only way that capitalism allows to measure success is by constant growth. Everything has to be bigger and faster and cheaper, so that the market stays “healthy”. There is no place for real creativity in this jet-paced environment. Everything that leaves the production factories has to cement the status quo of a profit-driven economy.
This “fast food” attitude is why sustainability debates become more and more important. And this is where creativity comes in.
We should never forget to take a break once in a while from the tight time schedule of money-making that runs our society and go on a creative journey again. Because creativity also means to listen to yourself, and to learn new things about your inner chaos of doubts, desires and fears.
First and foremost, creativity is there to help evolve your own Self, and that cannot be that bad, can it?
When was the last time you went on a creative journey? Please feel free to leave your comments below!
By: Paul Shrivastava
I have been reading the annual reports of major companies around the globe. They claim they are reducing pollution and carbon emissions, while improving their social and environmental performance. Each year’s report shows progressive reduction in carbon emissions, pollution and wastes. I take this as evidence of progress.
Then I came across the following data: according to the International Energy Agency, between 2008 and 2010 global GDP increased by 3.9 percent (from US$71.7 trillion to US$74.4 trillion). During that same time, global Carbon emissions increased by 4.4 percent between 2008 and 2010 (from 29.3 to 30.6 gigatons). Our GDP is becoming more carbon intensive. I take this as evidence of retreat.
How can it be that companies continue to reduce pollution and waste and yet carbon emissions continue to worsen? Are we measuring the right things? Are the corporate claims truthful? Are companies green-washing? How can we tell whether we are making real progress towards sustainability? Or are we spinning our wheels and making things worse?
The science behind all this is new, complex, and uncertain. Sustainability science is spread across multiple disciplines (geography, geology, agriculture, biology, climate science, and the social sciences and humanities). But science alone is unable to settle the disputed claims about sustainability progress.
Even as we pursue deeper scientific understanding, it also makes sense to use arts and aesthetic inquiry practices to understand human-nature relationships. Art as a human instinct and as a repository of human emotions can help harmonize human nature relations. Art, as a form of knowledge, reconnects us emotionally to nature. Art fosters values that encourage sustainable living. Art includes crafts, performances and practices that beautify our environments and enlighten us, while offering progressive messages about social and environmental change. With colleagues at Concordia University, France and India, we are exploring arting for sustainability and arting to prevent social violence. We are studying over 50 arts projects around the world dedicated to ecological and social improvement. If you know of such projects, please write us, and stay tuned for lessons on how art teaches sustainability.
Perversion of Ownership
By: Jana Piest
Be honest – who of you has rented a storage place to store all those things that don’t fit into your home anymore? When was the last time you opened the door to that storage space and took a closer look at all those things that are lying there, piled up under a thick cover of dust?
At the same time, our society is the one that holds the world record in throwing away things without thinking twice when it comes to switching to the latest model of a technical device, holding up with the latest fashion trends or simply buying a coffee in a paper/plastic cup at Tim Horton’s or Starbucks because it is more convenient than to brew your coffee at home and bring it to work with you in a thermos jug.
How do those two phenomenon go together?
How can we become that attached to things, only to lock them up somewhere and pay a rental fee that probably exceeds the actual monetary value of each and every item in that storage? And how is it possible that we battle with the manual of the new TV for months, and then throw the TV out once we were about to understand its mysteries, only to get the latest model whose manual is double the size of the old one?
It seems as if those phenomenon are two sides of the same medal that has “perversion of ownership” engraved on it.
The one side of the ownership medal represents the “Eternal” category – things that we don’t use anymore and maybe never used, but that somehow made it into our closets, cabinets, basements or storages.
The other side represents the “Finite” category – things that we only keep for a very short period of time, that are part of an endless chain of renewal, so that we can always stay up to date. As high the excitement might be right after the purchase of a new phone, as fast it can turn into boredom once a new model is on the market.
In earlier times ownership went hand in hand with the necessity of use – people with access to a garden owned a spade, because they used it on a daily basis to take care of their garden. Now people with access to a garden own a spade because they think it is something you should have for a garden – even if they don’t have the time or interest in doing something with it. In earlier times you bought a sweater or a pair of jeans that lasted for several years, even if you wore them several times a week.
Now people buy several sweaters and several pair of jeans every season. They wear each item maybe once or twice, maybe once a month for half a year, before those clothes fall apart because of the cheap way they are made.
The perversion of ownership that we see nowadays has various reasons: our increased standard of living, the aggressive marketing machinery of the industry, easy access to product consumption via the internet, the general habit of “take and throw away”, the materialistic illusion of being the happier the more you own (“my house, my car, my yacht”).
This development comes with a nasty price tag. A price tag that doesn’t only sum up all of the financial costs this type of ownership results in, but also the immense impact it has on us as human beings.
Ownership comes with responsibility and time commitment (“Did I park my car on the right side of the street, so that I don’t get a ticket tomorrow?”).
Ownership puts you under pressure, because it demands constant checking and maintenance (“Have I paid for the rental storage this month?”).
Do we really want that?
Why not by asking the neighbor to lend us his spade and lend him a hand with something he needs help with?
Why not selling the car and using a car-sharing service like Communauto?
Why not having a garage sale with all that stuff from the storage and use the earned money to invest in the community?
Less ownership means opening up to what’s happening around you. It means to vary your daily routine a little day by day, and explore new opportunities. It means to build up relationships with others, to create a network of sharing that will – and that I can certainly guarantee you – enrich your life.
Please feel free to leave your comment below and tell me about your experiences with ownership!
“Wax on, wax off” – Cleaning as Practice
In the late summer, I participated in an amazing leadership development activity, something I believe to be a revolutionary approach for training business leaders – a three day cleaning retreat. You read me right, cleaning. The idea is simple: place a leader in the role of cleaner, in actual client situations, accompanied and guided by a Zenith Cleaners associate. Ensure the conditions are clear, that all parties are aware, and allow the work to take care of itself. The program aims to develop all participants – the cleaners and the business leaders – by creating an environment for them to learn from each other and grow, stripped of titles and roles.
Zenith Cleaners is not your every day commercial and residential cleaning company. Tolu, Zenith Cleaners founder and McGill MBA grad has an extraordinarily humble business-as-service-approach to his work. While Zenith does the work of traditional cleaners, they hire predominantly those who have not cleaned before, take extraordinary pride in their work, and come equipped with a Manifesto and a more creative approach to cleaning. It is no wonder that this nascent program is the brainchild of Tolu, longtime member of the Social Venture Network.
For the program, over a three day period, two of us cleaned at the locations of different Zenith clients, including in my case one residential, three commercial and one church. At the outset, we were given our own kit of supplies including a uniform and had a check-in to set expectations and share our incoming feelings. At each of the clients’ premises, we were treated as though we were new Zenith staff by both client and cleaner. Armed with an arsenal of spray bottles, cloths, gloves and other supplies, all eco-friendly of course, we set about doing at least a little of each of the main cleaning duties including bathrooms, kitchens, floors and dusting over the course of the three days.
Along the way, we were instructed and checked on by our accompanying cleaner, and if necessary told about shortcomings and things to redo. At one point, I had taken a cell phone call and was reminded that unless a real emergency, we were not to be on the phone. Apart from the initial fear of being involved in a new activity and environment, my only scare was almost knocking over a glass side table. A few times during particularly long stints at something, I found myself wondering what I was doing there, and my thoughts would drift off to other things. But each time, I corrected this and returned back to the task at hand.
I have always loved cleaning, and generally found it very relaxing and really therapeutic. I found that being out of my usual routine was rich, and being in a repetitive task environment actually allowed me to settle into a meditative zone. I had a chance to reflect upon things at Crudessence, to keep that objective distance. While not too personal, I enjoyed bonding with Zenith Cleaners staff and my fellow participant in the program, an executive from San Francisco.
A few of the key learnings for me:
Being invisible: seeing what it is like to be behind the scenes, in such a role.
Learning to follow: being on the other side of the coin for a change.
Receiving feedback: seeing my reaction internally to feedback and learning to sit with it.
At the end of the program, I felt relaxed, centered, and invigorated, and different from how I have felt at other times when leaving more traditional contemplative retreats. I was keen to go back to my day job, and integrate some of the insights I had gained. Overall, I was immensely impressed with the program and would love to see it thrive. The experience made me think that there might be other non-traditional immersive environments that we leaders might play in, in a safe way, to help us gain perspective and find flow.
Aesthetics and Sustainability
By: Paul Shrivastava
I am coming out of a Conference on “Spirituality and Sustainability” in Visegrad, Hungary, and going into the World Dialog Forum, Rhodes, Greece, panel on “Vision of a New Earth”. Both places are steeped in beauty and art and bring to mind the role of aesthetics in achieving sustainability. So let me share a few thoughts on it. We sustainability researchers and practitioners rarely include beauty and aesthetics into our conversations and practices. Yet aesthetics is a great source of value and efficiency.
Both the sciences and religions have made huge contributions to sustainability discussions, but both have failed to move humanity towards sustainability. Despite scientific consensus on climate change and biodiversity loss, the public does not fully understand these issues. Scientific knowledge is filled with uncertainty, competing claims, and complexity.
Religions on the other hand, are based on differing beliefs regarding the natural world, its origins, evolution, and role of humans as stewards of nature. Some religions support a stewardship of nature role for humans, while others are neutral or have counter-sustainable views on ecology. Some world religions also seem preoccupied with the afterlife. In an increasing secularizing world their impact on public policies remains limited.
As a result the objective conditions of our ecosystems continues to decline. We continue to pollute more, more species go extinct every year, we accumulate more carbon in our atmosphere, we have crossed important thresholds of human sustainability in areas of climate change and biodiversity and on path to crossing several others in coming decade.
So if both scientific knowledge and religious discourse have not succeeded in making much progress towards sustainability indicators, are there other realms of human endeavour that we can draw upon with hope. I believe that dealing effectively with the ecological crisis will require establishing a new emotional relationship between humans and nature. One in which humans are emotionally connected to nature and human activities are mindful of ecological impacts.
Art as a form of emotional knowing, art as a human instinct, and as a repository of human emotions can play a key role in re balancing and harmonizing human nature relations. Art offers unique opportunity to reconnect us emotionally to nature in authentic ways. Art and aesthetic inquiry can foster values, attitudes and behaviors encouraging sustainable living. Art includes those artistic and craftily made objects, performances and practices that beautify our environments, that enlighten and delight us, and offer provocative and progressive messages about social and environmental change. In this sense Art is largely secular and science-friendly at least in practical actions, and widely supported across
As John Bueys (2004) says:
“Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system that continues to totter along the deathline: to dismantle in order to build
A SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART.”
“EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST who – from his state of freedom – the position of freedom that he experiences at first-hand – learns to determine the other positions in the TOTAL ART WORK OF THE FUTURE SOCIAL ORDER.”
At DOCSE we are engaged in a project on “Arting for sustainability”, an exploration of how arts driven entrepreneurship, economic and social development can contribute to the goals sustainable living. It explores how aesthetic values, art-based methods, artistic embodied experiences can help overcome the ecological crises of our times. Aesthetic design and practices can lead to building of more resilient human systems. Stay tuned for more on this project in coming month.
Learning is transforming
My day job is stewarding two Montréal-based healthy food and beverage companies, Crudessence and its sister Crudessence Kombucha, maker of RISE Kombucha. As a family we are coming up on five years old. In our respective market places, we have already seen strong demand for what we bring, and ignited a collective passion from our staff and customers alike. This is due in great part to vision, passion for what we do, and old-fashioned hard work.
Being in this fortunate place, where we seem to have the “easy half” of the business challenge in hand, my single biggest preoccupation now is to build the business for success and sustainability – to thrive. To this end, I believe that the number one success factor will be our collective interest in and ability to continuously learn. And in this context, learning entails in great part what is traditional business learning: how to do our primary tasks better and improve our faculties, facilities, systems, processes, and communication. This is what will take us through increasingly favourable internal economics, efficiency gains, and the capacity for the organization to thrive by doing more and better.
More radical and important than this learning, however, is our ability to accept, embrace and master continued transformation, as an organization. As the buddhists and living-systems theorists both say, life is always transmuting and transforming. And if an organism is interested in longevity, it must be able to adapt, change, and evolve, while keeping its health and wits about it – surely this is no different for an entity “in business”. To this end, we are embarking on organization level design, leadership training and other initiatives, all in a manifesto that names this and makes it part of who we are and are becoming.
Over the past six months, we engaged the wider Crudessence community, from the inside out, to craft a manifesto, expressing who we are, what we are bringing, and who we want to be. It will serve us over the coming years both as a rallying point and deep expression of intention, values and goals. Around this, we have created an organization-wide Community of Stewards that include key managers, coordinators and communicators in the business. The stewards are collectively responsible for sowing and carrying the Crudessence culture and leading the manifesto. This group will soon begin a forward-looking whole-person leadership training program for the stewards to practice and learn together.
The fastest way to build the capacity for change into an organization is to empower the leaders to be ready for it. Our leaders shall conceive of the organization like an organism, adapting, changing, and evolving, in order to support learning and embrace change. We firmly believe that by leading with and investing in these “soft” initiatives, Crudessence will grow to be more resilient and adaptive from the inside out.
By: Aleece Germano
Like artists and saints, some days I have to wonder if social entrepreneurs won’t be recognized or appreciated by society until long after they’re dead. The reason? You can’t change the world without making people aware that they’re a part of the problem, and then educating, prompting and enabling them to become a part of the solution. It’s a long process, as often times, the conversions happen very slowly.
Swappers line up early outside the Place des Arts for Take Off Your Clothes,
North America’s Biggest Clothing Swap (photo: Emily Leclerc)
North America’s Biggest Clothing Swap (photo: Emily Leclerc)
To illustrate my point, I thought I’d share an interesting insight into the giant clothing swap that The SWAP Team hosted in the Place des Arts over the weekend. While it was a huge success from a marketing, impact and operational perspective that beat all previous records, there was something I noticed that made me feel a bit uneasy. The event is supposed to be about sharing and combatting overconsumption, but I saw aggressive behaviour, hoarding and theft (or SWAPlifting, if you will), as if clothing was about to cease to exist.
What is it about inexpensive clothing that whips us into a frenzy? (photo: Emily Leclerc)
The swap in full tilt. Note the armfuls of clothing being carried around by the swappers.
(photo: Emily Leclerc)
Look closely: sample sale or philanthropic event? (photo: Emily Leclerc)
Social entrepreneurs: we won’t give up without a fight! (photo: Ian Woo)
After spending an entire day moving two 20’ truckloads of clothing and equipment into the Place des Arts and loading up some 30-odd racks and tables with nearly 7,000 swappable goods, my team and I were looking forward to a satisfying weekend of swapping, e.g., sustainable consumption. But therein lies the problem: consumption. Although we had a 6-item limit in the fitting rooms, it was impossible to control the crowd. The atmosphere of the first two and a half hours of the event (which had sold out in advance), was more like a frenzied sample sale rather than a community and philanthropic event. Women were literally taking off their clothes in the corners and filling up large suitcases with clothing. Our hired security guards couldn’t prevent people from sneaking in or out from underneath the stanchions, possibly taking off with more clothing than their exchange coupons allowed.
The swap in full tilt. Note the armfuls of clothing being carried around by the swappers.
(photo: Emily Leclerc)
While many people congratulated me and our team on the event’s successes, I don’t feel satisfied. Yes, we doubled our ticket sales from last year. We swapped a record 7,105 items. There will surely be a huge donation to charity looking at all the bins of leftover items. But how do you change the behaviour that lies at the root of the problem we are trying to solve: the voracious consumer behaviour that Madison Avenue created over decades with trillions and trillions of dollars?
To add to my dilemma, while painfully unloading the truck in our semi-dark warehouse at 8PM after the event and trying my hardest to stay awake, I happen to read a complaint that came in via email. Apparently, someone was deeply offended and felt deceived that they were asked to pay the $12 admission to enter the event a second time (it was organized into 4 separate sessions which were restocked and ticketed each time) so that they could continue to consume our practically free clothes. And that is when the existential crisis hit me: why am I doing this again?
I’ve spent the past five years tirelessly promoting clothes swapping because I thought that encouraging re-use would slow down consumption and create more vibrant communities. However, this year, I’ve seen it do the complete opposite. We’ve hit the “tipping point,” and it wasn’t what I expected. Now what?
Look closely: sample sale or philanthropic event? (photo: Emily Leclerc)
I need your help. How do we change consumer behaviour? We could put a lot more time and effort into education and communication, but will it really have any effect? Is there really any way to solve #FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS? Here at The SWAP Team, we look forward to your ideas and suggestions.
Social entrepreneurs: we won’t give up without a fight! (photo: Ian Woo)