Archive for May 2009

Media and NGO reaction to the climate bill

May 25, 2009

Last Thursday (May 21)  the Waxman and Markey cap and trade climate bill was passed which should see new environmental legislation come in to effect by the end of the year.

Here are what some of the media and ngos think of the legislation.

Time – Greens Celebrate Cap-and-Trade Victory — Cautiously

WSJ – Pollution politics and the climate bill giveaway

BBC – Interview with Steven Chu – US CO2 goals to be compromised

NY Times – Climate Bill Clears Hurdle, but Others Remain

NRDC – “An historic step to unleash clean energy and rein in global warming pollution”

Greenpeace – Democrats pass bogus climate bill

Sustainability 2.0 Award

May 25, 2009

Sustainability 2.0 Award – highlighting innovation in the use of social media for stakeholder sustainability engagement

Is your company using social media to engage with stakeholders on sustainability issues? Are you using facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, blogging or other social tools to engage with stakeholders? Tell us your story and your company may be eligible for the Sustainability 2.0 Award, honouring the most innovative use of social media for corporate sustainability stakeholder engagement. The winner will be selected by a prestigious group of social media and sustainability experts participating in our Stakeholder Sustainability Engagement event on July 15-16 in NYC. The award will be presented at the event’s drinks’ reception on July 15 and our three finalists will be invited to present their stories at this exciting event examining best practice in corporate sustainability engagement. Enter now by contacting Adrienne Baker at adrienne.baker@greenpowerconferences.com or 604-569-1752

May 20, 2009

Citizen journalism, open government, status updates, community building, information sharing, crowdsourcing, and the election of a President.

Editor’s note: This is first guest post from Max Gladwell.

Our children will inherit a world profoundly changed by the combination of technology and humanity that is social media. They’ll take for granted that their voices can be heard and that a social movement can be launched from their laptop. They’ll take for granted that they are connected and interconnected with hundreds of millions of people at any given moment. And they’ll take for granted that a black man is or was President of the United States.

What’s most profound is that these represent parts of a greater whole. They represent a shift in power from centralized institutions and organizations to the People they represent. It is the evolution of democracy by way of technology, and we are all better for it.

For most of us, social media has changed our lives in some meaningful way. Collectively it is changing the world for good. Given the pace of innovation and adoption, change has become a constant. Every so often we find the need to stop and reflect on its most recent and noteworthy developments, hence the following list.

Please note this is not a top-10 list, nor are these listed in any particular order. It’s also incomplete. So we ask that you add to this conversation in the comments. If you’d like to Retweet this post or take the conversation to Twitter or FriendFeed, please use the hashtag #10Ways.

1. Take Social Actions: The nonprofit organization Social Actions aggregates “opportunities to make a difference from over 50 online platforms” through its unique API. It recently held the Change the Web Challenge contest in order to inspire the most innovative applications for that API. The Social Actions Interactive Map won the $5,000 first prize. The result is a virtual tour of the world through the lens of social action. “People are volunteering, donating, signing petitions, making loans and doing other social actions as we speak — all over the world. To capture the context of the where, this project uses sophisticated techniques to extract location information from full text paragraphs.” You can also join the Social Actions Community, which is powered by Ning…which now boasts more than one million individual social networks.

2. Twitter with a Purpose: This list could be exclusive to Twitter. The micro-blogging sensation was featured on our first two lists (a three-tweet), and it’s certain to be a fixture. From Tweetsgiving, the virtual Thanksgiving feast, to the Twestival, which organized 202 off-line events around the world to benefit charity: water, it’s become the de facto tool for organizing and taking action. Tweet Congress won the SXSW activism award, and celebrity Tweeps Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Rose Tweeted their two million followers about ending malaria. Max Gladwell recently initiated the #EcoMonday follow meme as a way to connect and organize the Green Twittersphere.

3. Visit White House 2.0: Inside of its first 100 days, the Obama administration has managed to set the historic benchmark for government transparency and accountability. The President’s virtual town hall meeting used WhiteHouse.gov to crowdsource questions from his 300 million constituents, complete with voting to determine the ones he’d have to answer. All told, 97,937 people submitted 103,978 questions and cast 1,782,650 votes. The White House continues to raise the bar with its official Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter channels. In so doing President Obama is not just setting the standard for state and local government in the U.S. He’s establishing the world standard. The Obama administration is spreading democracy not by force but through example. Because you don’t have to be an American citizen to be a friend or follower of White House 2.0.

4. Claim your Zumbox: What happens when all mail can be sent and delivered online to any street address in a paperless form? That’s the big question for Zumbox, which has created an online mail system with a digital mailbox for every U.S. street address. And while the answer to that question remains to be seen, it promises to be as liberating as it is disruptive. A key quality for Zumbox is that it’s closed system much like that of Facebook, only instead of true identity it’s true address. This will enable people to better connect with their communities including their neighbors, local businesses, and the mayor’s office. The primary agent of change, though, might not be that this uses street addresses but that it enables direct and potentially viral feedback, which is a virtue that e-mail and the USPS do not offer. The first methods are to request exclusive paperless delivery and to block a sender, but others are certain to evolve such as real-time commenting and ways to share mail with friends, family, and colleagues. Welcome to Mail 2.0. (Disclosure: Zumbox is a client of Rob Reed, the founder of Max Gladwell.)

5. Host a Social Media Event: This is the year of the social media event. No meaningful gathering of people is complete without an interactive online audience, especially when it’s so easy and cost effective to pull off. Essential tools include a broadband connection, laptop, video camera, projector, and screen. Add people and a purpose, such as entrepreneurship. Promote it through social media channels, and you have a social media event. A recent example in the green world is the Evolution of Green, which was hosted by Creative Citizen, a green wiki community. It celebrated the launch of a new Web property, EcoMatters, while also establishing a new Twitter tag. By posing the question, “How can we go from green hype to green habit?” and including the #GreenQ hashtag, it sparked a conversation between attendees and the Twittersphere in real time. Thus was born a new mechanism for getting answers to green questions via Twitter.

6. Travel the World: More than anyone else, Tim O’Reilly knows the potential for social media to change the world. In his opening keynote at this year’s Web 2.0 Expo, he called for a new ethic in which we do more with less and create more value than we capture. This provided the context for SalaamGarage founder Amanda Koster, whose presentation followed O’Reilly’s. The idea is that social media has enabled each of us to have an audience. Whether through Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, or a personal blog, each of us can have influence and reach. What’s more, it can be used for good. SalaamGarage coordinates trips for citizen journalists (that means you) to places like India and Vietnam in conjunction with non-government organizations like Seattle-based Peace Trees. The destination is the story, as these humanitarian journalists report on the people they meet and discoveries they make. Their words, images, and video are posted to the social web to gain exposure and because these stories just need to be told.

7. Build It on Drupal: You may not have noticed, but the open-source Drupal content management system (CMS) has quickly become the dominant player on the social web. While we still prefer WordPress as a strict blogging application, Drupal has emerged as the go-to platform for building scalable, community-driven Web sites. It powers Recovery.gov, a key part of President Obama’s commitment to transparency and accountability. PopRule uses it as a social news platform for politics. And Drupal will soon become the platform for Causecast, a site where “media, philanthropy, social networking, entertainment and education converge to serve a greater purpose.” This is especially significant because Causecast CEO Ryan Scott is transitioning the site off of Ruby on Rails because Drupal has proved more efficient, user friendly, and cost effective. (Disclosure: Max Gladwell founder Rob Reed is co-founder of PopRule.)

8. Green Your iPhone: Looking for an organic diner within biking distance that has a three-star green rating? There’s a app for that. It’s called 3rd Whale, and you can download it for free. (Except that the star rating is actually a whale rating.) Complete with Facebook Connect, this iPhone app locates green products and businesses in 30 major North American cities. It uses the iPhone’s dial function to select a category (food), sub-category (restaurants), and distance (walking, biking, or driving). In Santa Monica, this might give you Swingers diner for its selection of veggie and vegan fare. You could then get directions from your current location using the iPhone’s built-in Google map, rate your experience on the three-whale scale, and write up a quick review. 3rd Whale recently released a new feature that integrates green-living tips, which can show how much energy or waste you’ll save by taking a given action.

9. Unite the World Through Video: Matt’s dancing around the world video inspired many to tears. Today, more than 20 million people have viewed his YouTube masterpiece, where he performs a kooky dance with the citizens of planet earth. The most recent example of this approach is Playing for Change, which connects the world through song. The project started in Santa Monica with a street performance of the classic Stand By Me and expanded to New Orleans, New Mexico, France, Brazil, Italy, Venezuela, South Africa, Spain, and The Netherlands. The project was superbly executed via social media, complete with a YouTube channel, MySpace, Facebook, and Blog. It’s received tremendous mainstream media exposure and also benefits a foundation of the same name.

10. Rate a Company: The conversation about corporate social responsibility (CSR) takes place across the social web on blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, but a central hub for this information and opinion is still to be determined. SocialYell seeks to address this by building an online community around the CSR conversation, where users can submit reviews of companies together with nonprofit organizations and even public figures like Michelle Obama. The major topics are the Environment, Health, Social Equity, Consumer Advocacy, and Charity. The reviews are voted and commented on by the community in a Reddit-like fashion with both up (Yell) and down (shhh) voting. The site is relatively new and still gaining traction, but there’s no question that a resource like this is needed to shine a bright light on CSR and and other related issues.

11. Publish a collective, simultaneous blog post on a universal topic: As Nigel Tufnel might say, this list goes to eleven. Let the #10Ways conversation begin…

Final note: This is Max Gladwell’s third list of “10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media.” The first was posted a year ago today on Sustainablog.org, and the sequel followed five months later. If a single headline can capture the Max Gladwell raison d’etre, this is it.

Transforming The African Brand Through Sustainability

May 11, 2009

by Richard Seireeni

I’m flying back from Nairobi. I had the privilege of making a presentation to a group of African sustainable business leaders. There was a passion in this small, but engaged meeting, a passion that makes one think of a positive future, rather than obsessing about AIDS, poverty, war and corruption, which are the overwhelming images we in the West associate with Africa. Bono and Bob Geldof, despite their inspiring good works, tend to perpetuate this impression that Africa is a basket case, an opinion that Melissa Davis expresses in her article, “Is Africa Misbranded?” and that economist William Easterly opines in the Los Angeles Times, “What Bono Doesn’t Say About Africa“. The people who attended this meeting hosted by The Environmental Press were thinking about a different basket, a breadbasket of opportunity that can sustainably and efficiently lift the lives of ordinary Africans.

There was no disagreement among attendees that Africa needs, even requires a sustainable future. The extraction industries have run wild here with no regulation that cannot be bought or bent to their will. The issue of Blood Diamonds was brought to the world’s attention, but oil, mineral and timber extraction continues to fuel tribal conflicts that lead to the unraveling of communities and environmental destruction on a massive scale. The raw materials used to make your cell phone? They are fueling a ten-year war in East Africa. The piracy off the coast of Somalia? Its root cause is exploitation of Indian Ocean fisheries and toxic dumping. Clearly, the current system of resource extraction must shift to a more ecological and sustainable one.

Africa also needs better infrastructure, affordable sources of power and confident trading partners. Africa needs sustainable economic growth, but there is much disagreement on how sustainability should be achieved.

There are powerful forces at work in Africa driven by resource-hungry nations like China, the US and those of the EU. This is further encouraged by the World Bank that defines progress by the number of dams, highways and bridges it funds. Modern high-output agriculture with its dependence on water, fertilizer and GMO seed stock is also defined as progress, but never mind the downstream pollution and shrinking lakes. Improved sanitation and vaccines have contributed to increased health, but also increased population; and, all of this puts a heavy burden on Africa’s ability to grow in a sound and sustainable way.

Progress also means profit. Large-scale progress produces vast amounts of cash that flows through the hands of multinationals and government officials with little trickle down to the average African. So, it’s no surprise that one view of sustainability is driven by these forces. In these circles, sustainable solutions are discussed on a grand scale, like harnessing the vast wind and geothermal resources of East Africa or tapping the enormous water reserves in Congo. Large-scale carbon trading schemes are also part of the mix. These plans, some of which are needed, are huge and require huge, mostly foreign investment. The problem is that foreign investors and foreign aid programs often promise more than they deliver, leaving these projects chronically short of funds. When corners are cut, the environment suffers.

But there is another view. It is an opinion that the most progress can be made by direct assistance to the poorest and most populous Africans through micro-financing and clever inventions. It’s simple things like the high-efficiency Berkeley Darfur Stove that reduces long journeys into the bush to collect firewood that in turn reduces deforestation, or the Q Drum that makes it easier to transport water in rural areas, or Professor Wangari Maathai’s program to pay women and rural farmers to plant and maintain watershed trees.

One of these amazingly simple ideas enables sons and daughters who move to the city to transfer money to their parents who remain in rural communities. This is a homegrown Kenyan idea that is enormously successful and provides money to Africa’s poorest citizens.

2009-05-07-MPESA.jpg

The idea is called M-PESA, a Safaricom system that uses mobile phones to transfer money instantly via SMS. No bank account is required. In Africa, they never had the luxury of a wired telephone system, so mobile wireless leaped ahead. Even poor country villages have wireless service and many rural people have cell-phones. A Kenyan cooked up the idea of M-PESA, and it makes a lot of things possible – including a sustainable future for Africans. Poor people in rural areas can buy high-efficiency stoves with M-PESA or receive deposits for chickens and vegetables sold to city markets. They can also receive money from children who leave the village to find employment in the city. Funds deposited to phones can be turned into cash at village shops.

Building on this and similar platforms is the ingenious idea of a San Diego businessman, David Palella, to provide direct payment to rural people who offset their carbon production with high-efficiency stoves.

“The cell-phone-based Carbon Micro Credit system employs SMS (simple message service) and unique identifiers to allow millions of families in the Developing World to claim on a bi-weekly or monthly basis the carbon offsets they produce by using more efficient cooking methods such as a modern charcoal stove or solar cooker, instead of an inefficient open-pit fire burning biomass. As a result, each family is able to monetize directly its own contribution to mitigating global warming, while also reducing nationwide rates of deforestation and desertification.”

The concept is promoted by David’s non-profit, Carbon Manna.

In addition to Carbon Manna, there are a number of other organizations working toward a model of African sustainability including the Partnership For African Environmental Sustainability, Conserve Africa, Fair Trade In Tourism South Africa, All Africa, and the Kenya Organic Agricultural Network. The Green Living Project is currently documenting sustainable projects throughout Africa. For those who have read my book, you will see the beginning of an African gort cloud in this list.

So, how can David Palella’s idea and that of thousands of other business leaders transform the world’s view of Africa? The key is sustainability. Sustainability is a brand driver that has the power to change the conversation from ‘basket case’ to ‘land of opportunity’. Just as sustainability has been used to change the nation brand of New Zealand and the city brands of Curitiba, Brazil and Portland, Oregon, sustainability can completely change our impressions of Africa. An African brand driven by sustainability can reassure investors and produce lucrative markets for organic food, eco-friendly textiles and properly managed natural resources. An African brand driven by sustainability can establish new rules for participation in African growth, one that extends its rewards to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. A commitment to sustainability can demonstrate that all Africans – the stakeholders in the African brand – have a vision for a future that provides economic growth and environmental protection.

Many nation-branding experts have been pondering how to change the West’s negative impression of the African brand. I think the solution is sustainability.

Richard Seireeni is president of The Brand Architect Group, Los Angeles (www.brandarchtiect.com), a strategic brand consultancy with affiliated offices in Tokyo and Shanghai. Richard Seireeni is the author of a new book on the marketing experiences of over two-dozen US green companies published by Chelsea Green Publishing. The book is titled The Gort Cloud (www.TheGortCloud.com) and describes the invisible network that is powering today’s most successful green brands. He is speaking at Sustainability Stakeholder Engagement on July 15-16 in NYC.

Manufacturers remain bullish on sustainability but need more clarity on climate regulation

May 1, 2009

US manufacturers who participated in our Sustainable Manufacturing Summit this week are bullish on sustainability and are continuing to invest in green strategies despite the economic downturn. What’s missing for companies is clarity on the timing and substance of carbon regulation. Certainty over a national cap-and-trade system is necessary for manufacturers to make projections of carbon costs over time and develop long-term sustainability plans.

Attendees gathered at Chicago’s Navy Pier for this second annual event looking at best practices in sustainable manufacturing. Participants were a combination of technical professionals (engineers, facility/energy managers, EHS) and strategic sustainability executives (vice presidents, CEOs, directors) all looking for news they could use. Industry was clearly excited to get together and exchange ideas.  Right now sustainability professionals are  being bombarded with environmental news and some find it a challenge to filter information – and do their jobs.

The session on carbon regulation provided some clarity on Climate Bill and mandatory GHG reporting. Experts estimated a December timing for the Climate Bill (before Copenhagen) and a October/November timing for final GHG reporting rules with companies expected to report 2010 emissions in 2011. Manufacturers were also advised to contact their state energy departments about federal funds flowing for energy efficiency projects included in the stimulus package.

But as with any social or economic revolution, the real change in sustainable manufacturing is coming from the companies that are voluntarily investing in broad sustainability plans during this recession. Sustainability experts from Herman Miller and Shaw Industries talked about the importance of their CEOs’ commitment to sustainability and that they are continuing to broaden their green strategies despite the economy.

Industry is excited about the opportunities for energy efficiency projects and renewables investment coming from climate regulation and new technologies. One manufacturer discussed setting up separate capital funds to pay for energy efficiency projects so that they don’t have to compete with other projects for investment.

Despite the positive outlook for sustainable production, attendees also identified common sustainability hurdles including employee motivation, regulatory uncertainty and budgetary constraints. Ken Alston, CEO of MBDC, suggested the need for a fundamental change in corporate mindset for some companies. “There is a fundamental paradigm shift that has to change from where we are going from being less bad to being more good,” he said. Letitia Webster of the North Face also brought up the need for a more systemic, holistic approach to sustainability planning – which is the basis of our ASA series and our Seattle event.

Overall it was exciting to hear how enthusiastic manufacturers are about continuing to push for new levels of sustainable production and to share best practices. The timing seems right for companies to develop the green strategies that will deliver long-term profitability. “I am bullish on sustainability – I think the time is now,” said Ira Feldman, President and Senior Counsel for Greentrack Strategies. “I want to congratulate the Green Power people for bundling these sustainability events under the Action for a Sustainable America banner.”