Groking Sustainability–Part Two

November 13, 2006

I’m sitting in my favorite wireless cafe, Two Alices Coffee Lounge, in Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY. There’s just the right amount of ambient noise–the steam of the expresso machine, music of Sufjan Stevens, multiple conversations, dishes and coffee cups clattering. This is the perfect spot to continue a dialogue about sustainability, in part because the owners of Two Alices, Edda and Melinda, are doing what they can to be “ecologically correct.” No plasticware here–except for “to go” and even then, Edda has given us stainless and just asked that we return it. Floors and cabinetry are bamboo and the piece de la resitance is their recyling bin–custom made of bamboo where dishes, paper, plastic and glass each have their own place.

Right now, I hope you’ll grab a cup of your favorite coffee or tea and relax for a moment. If you haven’t done this already, take a listen to Ray Anderson on the subject of sustainability by using this link to the Case Western Media Library.

Ray Anderson is the founder of Interface, Inc., one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers. He was a keynote speaker at the Business as an Agent of World Benefit Conference in October at Case Western University and as a self-proclaimed “radical industrialist” he spoke eloquently about climbing “Mount Sustainability.”

His dreams and plans for Interface in the year 2020 are bold. He describes the seven faces of Mount Sustainability in this way:

Zero Impact
Eliminate Waste
Control/ Eliminate Emissions
Cut the Fossil Fuel Umbilical Cord
Cut the Umbilical Cord to Earth for Raw Materials
Re-tool Transportation to be Carbon Neutral
Create a Culture Shift by Redesigning Commerce

According to Anderson, “the triple bottom line done right will come together in a sustainable bottom line.”

In the same way that Interface, Inc. has created a forward-thinking plan to impact these areas at the corporate level, I wonder how each one of us can impact these areas at a personal level. What jumps out at me immediately is ELIMINATE WASTE.

About five years ago, Cornwall began picking up paper and cardboard waste at the curb to be recycled along with plastics and glass. Our household and office now generate almost two large plastic storage bins full of paper and cardboard waste weekly. This does not include what we shred. We stopped the newpaper and read the news online. The bulk of what goes to the curb is junk mail…a relentless barage of circulars and credit card offers. We fill one oversize garbage can with glass and plastic every other week and roughly one garbage can every other week with what’s left over. I am militant about using canvas bags for groceries and have not been successful in converting the rest of my family. We collect and recycle an overstuffed plastic grocery bag full of compressed plastic bags monthly. This is just a portion of our waste–the portion that we know how dispose of.

In our garage, there are shelves of outdated, outmoded electronic equipment. The idea of putting it in a landfill years ago was unthinkable. We’ve given away and donated what we can–what do we do with the rest? How do we eliminate waste?

By 2020, can you personally climb the seven faces of Mount Sustainability?

What can you do today to eliminate waste?

How can you get closer to zero impact?

For more information, check some of the links below and consider what actions you can take to move toward a cleaner, greener, sustainable world.


Groking Sustainability–Part One

November 1, 2006

I spent some of my time last week attending the Business As An Agent of World Benefit (BAWB) conference in the comfort of my own home. I love virtual conferences! A peek into the buzz and hum of multiple presentations while sipping tea in my jammies late at night. What could be better?

I’ve gone back to the BAWB Site a number of times now. I have such a mix of feelings about all of what I’ve read and heard–what’s been most difficult is the corporate concept of “doing well by doing good” and developing a mental landscape and some kind of conceptional understanding of what true sustainability means.

When David Cooperrider made his opening remarks on Tuesday, he told a story about his son discovering that we are losing an average of three species per hour and his comment, “Daddy, what am I supposed to do with that?” I must admit that I often find myself in the same frame of mind–what am I supposed to do with what little I know and understand about what Peter Senge calls, “the change in the magnitude of change?”

Appreciative Inquiry calls upon us to use our capacity to dream up and imagine a future based on our strengths…and at the same time, the reality of our personal footprint on the earth is daunting. According to Peter Senge, it takes 1 TON of raw materials per day to support my individual daily lifestyle and that overlooks the amount of waste that is produced in the process! And further, that in the United States, the average pound of food travels 2,000 miles from where it is produced to where it is purchased.

For “virtual” attendees, the conference had a rich texture of online chats cafes and blogs where we mused with colleagues from Singapore, Israel, Canada…this question arose from Maria Humphies in New Zealand…

“How, and how soon, might we invent a process of caring for ourselves (the whole human family) and the earth who sustains us, that is not based on the ideological assumptions of capitalism?”

As I sit with this question, I want to stretch it in a different direction. I want to ask other questions:

Is there a new economic model that can draw on the resources (creative, innovative, leadership, stakeholder, shareholder, financial) of corporations to respond to the true interdependent nature of ecological and social concerns?

What knowledge, skills, and actions are required to shift sustainability theory to practical application?

What are the current initiatives and best practices locally and globally?

And, of course, what can I, personally, do?

Sustainability is a complex subject–at BAWB it was catagorized as Environment, Poverty and Peace. Last year, at the Clinton Global Initiative, the catagories were: Climate Change, Religion, Poverty and Governance.
Peter Senge offered: Food and Water, Energy and Transportation, and Materials (production, distribution and sales) with the thought that any business can locate where it sits within the global system using these categories.

I think we have a lot to think about in determining how to go from being conscious of the social-ecological challenges of our time and taking actions that are aligned with all of the complexity of what represents sustainability.

I’m actually reaching out to you, personally, and asking you to help me think about this…read this Oxfam report about Unilever available at the links below:

Report Summary

Actual Report

and share your response. Explore the sustainability link to the Earth Institute at the beginning of this blog or visit

and sit with your thoughts and feelings. Raise the conversation with your friends and children and grandchildren. Become informed. Appreciative Inquiry offers the unique opportunity to face what’s difficult and not turn away or collapse into despair. There are probably many answers to the question, “What can I do?” and one thing I know for sure is that I can begin conversations around making a difference…please join me and stayed tuned for Part Two!