Archive for August, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO AND LONDON – As the Beijing Olympics swung into gear and captured the attention of the entire world, Bright Greenies in London and San Francisco demonstrated their own athleticism and environmental enthusiasm in the inaugural Bright Green Olympics. The competition between Bright Green Talent’s two sister offices took place remotely in city parks last week. The Greenies’ goal was to raise awareness about the environmental issues associated with China and the Olympics – both the progress made by China in preparing for the Games, and the work that’s still to be done when all the athletes and fans return home. Bright Green Talent is an environmentally-focused executive placement firm that helps connect talented people across the world with great green careers.
China has been on the minds of the Bright Green Team for several months now. Shocking statistics abound: China is now the world’s largest emitter of CO2, 70% of Chinese rivers are polluted, 16 of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China, and so on. However, all the scrutiny has provided a platform for cleantech investment and the entrance of green business into Chinese markets. The three events of the Bright Green Olympics each focus on a single issue that Bright Green hopes will be addressed as China’s green economy grows stronger – the recycled can toss, symbolizing the natural resources required for all the manufacturing that occurs in China and the need to create quality, durable and reusable goods; the recycled paper shot-put, signifying the environmental costs of shipping and hauling goods across the world from China; and the bike race, to highlight the environmental impact of transportation demands among China’s rising middle class and the need to set stringent mileage standards in China and around the world.
San Francisco’s Bright Greenies collected in Dolores Park in the first round of the games. The San Francisco Superstars were the heavy favorite, as their squad included three former collegiate water polo players and a current Stanford soccer star. The team gathered with high hopes for a US victory, despite extreme San Francisco weather conditions (including blindingly bright sun reflecting off the green field of lush grass, high winds laced with the smell of California strawberries, and a small white puppy running through the pitch, interrupting the Greenies’ concentration). The London Lovelies also faced some significant barriers (even beyond the brute strength of their American opponents), including the sickness and absence of two of their star contenders, Oli Watts and Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, which left them with only two athletes. In a controversial move, London pulled on a wringer, Toby Sawday, a friend who just happened to be in the office at the time.
In the first event, the recycled can toss, Community Engagement Associate Carolyn Mansfield sank seven — yes, seven! — crushed soda cans into a recycling bin from a distance of 12 ft (4m). When the UK games took place a few days later, however, the Lovelies responded with a volley of their own: Managing Director Tom Savage landed 11 cans in an even smaller bin. Some officials have called into question the UK’s practice of having another competitor hand the cans to the thrower, as the US team worked hard and lost seconds off the clock in picking up their own cans to toss. Photographic evidence of the shady UK practices is still under review by the International Bright Green Olympics Committee.
In the recycled paper toss, competitors shot-put (shot-putted?) a 20-lb. bundle of soon-to-be recycled newspaper as far as possible. On the American side, Development Strategist Andrija Vasiljevic gathered himself after a humbling 1-can toss performance to rebound and shot-put the 6-inch high stack of recycled paper 27 feet 10 inches (~9.3m), just beyond All-Star Intern Evan Morgan’s powerful push of nearly 20 feet (6.2m). Asked where his super-human strength came from, Vasiljevic flashed a half smile and shyly replied, “I’m Serbian.” In the UK, Rookie Toby Sawday quickly took the wind out of Vasiljevic’s sails, as he stepped up to the plate and launched his stack a staggering 29 feet 6 inches.
The final event was a bicycle relay in which the teams competed to make the most laps around two recycle bins set 36 feet (~12m) apart in two minutes. Director of Talent Erica Gerard carried the team to new heights with her tight turns, while Managing Partner Nick Ellis pedaled his heart out and squeaked the bike’s turtle-shaped horn to fire up his team. With the final seconds winding down, Director of Development Melanie vonHartitzsch came screaming around the final bend for her third Tour de Triumph and the team’s 13th lap, legs pumping hard into the finish line with a smile blazing as she sailed into a row of high fives from her teammates. London put in a valiant effort, with Sustainability Expert Eva Bellamy putting in a personal best split time. Despite their shorter legs and affinity for eating cake, the British team pulled out an admirable 12 laps.
London was thrilled with their overall victory, and team captain Tom Savage dismissed the US team’s indignation at Mr. Sawday’s participation, commenting: “You yanks were never great losers.” The US, disappointed with the loss, did gain some consolation when their matching green outfits and smiling faces were featured the following day in the SF Examiner. They are already in training for the 2010 Winter Games, which will feature such events as the Gray Water Ice Luge and Figure Skating on recycled tinfoil skate-blades.
Contemplated by Nick
7th Generation recently published its own index of market trends, observations, and responses. One last statistic, in particular, caught my interest:
- Number of jobs created per 10,000 tons of waste incinerated: 1
- Number of jobs created per 10,000 tons of waste landfilled: 6
- Number of jobs created per 10,000 tons of waste recycled: 36
The 36x return on employment that waste recycling creates seems to make good business sense on nearly every level. In some ways, it raises the question of whether we could profit off such a trend–my suspicion is yes. GE’s ecomagination initiative–so popularly featured throughout the Olympics right now, seems to suggest yes–investment is clearly following a growing trend of consumer interest in green alternatives to conventional ways of doing business. Call them ecoprises runs by ecocapitalists, these Green Entrepreneurs and Leaders are redefining business as we know it, and in many cases, finally doing good by doing well.
Encouraged to read by Tom:
I’ve just re-read a fantastic book that I first read when I was 17 (precocious, moi?!) called Maverick! by Ricardo Semler – go buy a copy. It’s a manifesto for the democratic workplace and is, I believe, more relevant today than it’s ever been.
With the rise in interest in employee engagement, CSR and social enterprise and the frustration with hierarchical organisations, Semler’s ideas present a fresh, innovative and (most importantly) commercially advantageous alternative to the ‘traditional’ organisation.
Here are some notes that I made (as well as others that I’ve borrowed from an Amazon review, which are worth repeating)!
* Make each business unit small enough so that those involved understand everything that is going on and can influence the outcomes.
* Allow employees to set their own quotas.
* Demonstrate trust by eliminating symbols of corporate oppression as well as the perks of status.
* Share all information and eliminate secrets. You can’t expect involvement to flourish without an abundance of information available to all employees.
* Every six months bosses are evaluated by their subordinates and the results are posted.
* Salaries are public information unless the employee requests that they not be published.
* Encourage employees to rotate jobs regularly in order to encourage holistic understanding of the company, as well as to ensure employees remain ‘fresh and interested’.
* Enable employees to set their own travel arrangements and encourage employees to treat expenses as they would their own money.
* Allow employees to set their own salary. Consider these criteria: what they think they can make elsewhere; what others with similar skills and responsibilities make in the Company; what friends with similar backgrounds make; how much they need to live on.
* Share 23% of pretax profits. Employees vote how the pool will be split. They must vote to determine the manner of each quarterly distribution. In practice they always vote for equal dollar shares.
* Substitute the survival manual for thick procedure manuals. Eliminate policies and rules wherever possible.
* Job rotation; 20% of managers shift jobs each year.
* Set up workers in their own businesses as suppliers to the company.
* Encourage memo headlines and subjects so that people can understand issues quickly. Never send memos that are longer than one page.
* Eliminate the wearing of wristwatches whenever and wherever possible. It is impossible to understand life in all its hugeness and complexity if one is constantly consulting a minute counter.
* Either you can create complex systems so as to manage complexity, or you can simplify everything.
There are certain things in life worth pursuing at all costs: meaning, love, harmony, happiness.
And there are some things that are not. Thomas Friedman, long a free-market fanatic, has recently focused his thoughts on the environmental policy implications of a gas-free state. Quitting oil is, in Friedman’s opinion, one of the most productive decisions America can make. And one of the most important.
What’s fascinating from an American point of view is that America, though in spots surging forward (see SF’s mandatory recycling proposal for slightly authoritarian inspiration), is largely paying lip service to environmentalism. American’s rarely equate environmentalism with change–it’s more about adaptation. And what’s frightening is that we’re not adapting as fast as circumstances may dictate.
America needs change now. Change in our politics, priorities, and plans. Only then will we enjoy the fruits that Denmark has–those that sound so sweet, it’s confusing why we haven’t already bitten the apple.
Interviewed by Tom:
I met with Jonathan Winter of Career Innovation last week. Jonathan and his organisation’s mission is to improve the way people work within businesses and I greatly enjoyed the, albeit all-too-brief, chat we had in the fleeting English summer sunshine.
Here are some of Jonathan’s enlightened answers to some of the big questions I fired at him:
1) You mention you had a ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ for Career
Innovation. Tell us a little bit more about that and why you think it’s
important and how it will change the world.
We need a step-change in the way organisations and workers connect.
Our research shows that over half of all highly-educated workers feel
their skills & abilities are not well used. This is a huge waste of
talent. It suggests to me there is not a shortage of talent at all -
just a shortage of motivation! So our goal is not only to help some of
today’s best known companies to adapt, in our role as a research-led
“innovation lab”, but also to model some of the new structures for
tomorrow’s best companies. Ultimately our goal is to “be the change”.
2) Your organisation has studied people in the workplace for over a
decade, if you could pass on 3 pieces of advice to a new manager, what
would they be?
I think there would be only one piece of advice: Never mind the
structures and processes for managing people, just make sure you invest
the time to listen to what your team members are really looking for in
life and work, and then have an honest conversation about what’s
possible, and act on it uniquely for each person. Contrary to popular
belief, fairness is not about doing the same thing for everyone, it’s
about listening to everyone and treating them uniquely.
3) What world issue keeps you up at night and how might an
organisation go about mitigating this sleeplessness?
What a big question! For me, poverty comes first. This means poverty
of spirit and relationships as well as body. But the priority has to be
on the obvious places where – on a huge scale – people are suffering
materially. Each of us has a different role to play in addressing this.
My own passion and commitment is around business and enterprise, and the
role of enterprise (including both private and “social” enterprise, and
blends of the two) in creating wealth, raising levels of education, and
offering purposeful work. So what do I think all organisations can do? A
good start is to do build a good business, a healthy organisation, and
make sure our products & services (and by-products) do more good than
harm. Those are the kind of organisations tomorrow’s best (and
greenest?) talent will want to work for. That’s why Career Innovation
invests our time and energies helping companies to “make work more
inspiring” through our research, innovation events and interactive
Mused upon by Tom:
I’ve just finished a great little book by Eric Fromm called ‘To have or to be‘. It examines the ‘having’ mode of living, as opposed to the ‘being’ mode and is a ‘manifesto for a new social and psychological revolution to save our threatened planet’. So many of his arguments rang true.
As Fromm rightly states, when we in the West see a beautiful flower, our inclination is to want to have that flower, so we pick it. In the East, there is a desire to enjoy the flower as it is, to contemplate it’s beauty. (Please excuse the geographical stereotypes – his example).
If we can slowly shift societal desires from this having mentality towards one of being, he believes we’ll solve many of the environmental problems that we face. Imagine a world where people buy goods and services on the basis of quality and utility, rather than brand and status… where advertising doesn’t make an impact because we make rational choices, rather than irrational, when it comes to consuming… where people consume (where they have to) in order to ‘be’ better rather than ‘have’ more.
Earlier this year I made an effort not to buy anything new for a few months. It was even more pleasurable than consumption and made me realise the way in which advertising subliminally bullies you on a daily basis. It was only when I couldn’t buy that I could see clearly the continual pulls this carefully crafted ‘having’ mode of consumption had on me. I was freed from the pursuit of new and focusing instead on enjoying the things I already had – I’d highly recommend trying it!
Fromm finishes his book with a rallying cry for a ‘New Man’. Here are a few of his (c.1976) calls to action:
- Willingness to give up having in order to be.
- Security, sense of identity, and confidence based on faith in what one is, on one’s need for relatedness, interest, love, solidarity with the world, instead of one’s desire to have, to possess, to control and thus become the slave of possessions.
- Being fully present where one is.
So how and when can we start to ‘be’: that is the question!
It’s 8p PST, and I’m still at the office. The halogens and CFL’s are burning bright, casting an eerie glow off the window as the sun sets deep on the western horizon. What’s curious is that most of the office lights across the street are off. I find it interesting not because it means people aren’t working, but because San Francisco is one of the first to threaten to penalize (read: fine) buildings for leaving their lights on at night. From a first-hand perspective, it seems there’s no need–most of the lights are already off. And then you crane your neck around the corner and open the view (we’ve got a rather narrow one at the moment), and suddenly you see it: a cornicopia of energy consumer lights patch worked across the night sky! Hundreds, if not more, of these little kilowatt zappers humming uselessly in the night air! I’ve never quite understood it, and certainly don’t support it, but for Gaia’s sake, can we all agree that we don’t need to leave lights on when we’re not in the room! Americans have much to learn from Europeans (and I’m sure the rest of the world) when it comes to energy conservation…perhaps the most important of which is don’t work so late you find yourself contemplating things like this?!
Penned by Nick
A recent article on the supply-demand dynamics of the green labor market caught my attention–it was exceedingly on point. Rarely has the economic climate and the labor market been at more tested extremes. The global economic slowdown stands in sharp relief to the growing threat–some dare say opportunity–that climate change presents, all at a time when the environmental leaders necessary to defuse the climate meltdown are in short supply. Stated simply, the world needs environmental leaders now more than ever–and they’re hard to find.