There is growing evidence that many American businesses are attempting to become more environmentally responsible. Some of those businesses are represented on the board of directors of the US Chamber of Commerce. This suggests that the Chamber should eventually move toward supporting…
One hundred years ago, no one spent time thinking about where their food came from. That’s because they all knew. There were no mystery ingredients, meals didn’t by and large travel great distances before getting to the table, and farm animals weren’t injected with growth hormones. Today, you only need to stroll down the inside aisle of any grocery store, pick a package at random, and try to decipher the ingredients listed on the back to see that it’s not that simple anymore.
That unknown is what has driven much of Michael Pollan’s research over the years, including his famous and bestselling 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Bothered by the fact that he really didn’t know the origins of his food…
Dolphin Blue, Inc., is just one small business among millions of small businesses, but it is unique. It is the only online supplier of 100% environmentally responsible office supplies. Supplies that are not environmentally responsible are simply not available from Dolphin Blue.
Dolphin Blue is unique in another way. It has challenged the national US Chamber of Commerce to…
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An early trailblazer in the concept of reducing, reusing, and recycling, Carver was born into slavery, likely in the early to mid-1860s.
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I recently returned from a Western Caribbean cruise, where I spent one week on a ship weighing 130,000 tons and measuring 1,004 feet in length. I was among 4,500 other human beings, all being fed food requiring refrigeration, powered by petroleum. Each cabin, of which there were approximately 200 on most decks, had furniture, cabinetry, and various other materials including wood, plastics, and metal. Despite having a TV hanging on the wall of most cabins, the uppermost deck had a 40-foot by 20-foot big screen TV. Why? Because cruise lines use such enticements to get people to leave home, so they can experience ALL the comforts of home.
Upon returning from my cruise, I participated in a euronews forum asking, “What would it take to really speed up the transition to a carbon neutral, sustainable planet?” First and foremost…
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The whole concept sounds like our grade school experiments with avocado seeds and toothpicks and a glass of water . . . or a bit of slow-sleight of hand. What is seed paper? It’s just what it says – paper embedded with seeds. Put it in the ground and with luck and good weather you’ll have a small garden of annuals or wildflowers.
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Studying the world’s injustices is nothing new for Riane Eisler. As a young child, the Vienna-born social scientist, author, attorney, and macro-historian watched a gang of Gestapo men break into her home and capture her father. Bravely, her mother defied convention and stood up to save him, and the family escaped to Cuba with one of the last ships allowed to land there.
The Nazis had taken everything they owned; Eisler’s family lived in the slums of Havana. Her determined parents sent her to the best schools. Each day on her streetcar commute, Eisler couldn’t help but notice the shocking disparity that existed between the neighborhoods where she lived and went to school.
Eisler wasn’t always treated as the extremely bright and capable student she was, even while attending the University of California. Like the disparity between the rich and poor in Havana, she noticed a gender disparity in the recognition students received.
Eisler’s personal witness to so many injustices ultimately became the basis of research that’s led to worldwide acclaim, including a spot alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King as one of 20 leaders for world peace in the book Great Peacemakers.
To understand inequality, Eisler looked at how the concepts of “masculine” and “feminine” explain hierarchies in homes and societies. What she found is that a more peaceful, equitable world requires a change in the traditions of domination that exist between men and women, as well as parents and children.
How does sustainability tie into all of this? In Eisler’s latest book, The Real Wealth of Nations, she argues for a sustainable and equitable economy that gives value to caring for our greatest economic assets: people and the natural environment. Eisler writes that much of what ails us in modern day is largely fueled by economic systems with the wrong priorities. She points out that when basic human needs aren’t met, social tensions give way to major issues like war, poverty, and environmental ruin. By supporting traditionally female activities such as caring and care giving, we can transcend categories like “capitalist” and “socialist” to reap the benefits of a more humane — and more effective — economic model.
Eisler also believes that in raising the status of women across the globe, overpopulation rates will curb, easing the burden on the earth. In environmental meetings around the world, she explains how the “dominator” mentality that the land is something to plunder and conquer has led to degradation and depletion of our resources to crisis levels. “Caring economics,” as it’s called, not only means caring for ourselves and each other, but also for Mother Earth.
After all, we can’t make the world a better place — ridding it of atrocities like the kind Eisler faced during the Holocaust — if there’s no world on which to live.
For more information about Eisler and her work, visit www.rianeeisler.com.
Bob Willard, Corporate Straight Shooter
Some people talk the talk about sustainability — Bob Willard talks it, walks it, and drives it (he has two hybrid vehicles). A longtime businessman, Willard spent 34 years at IBM Canada before becoming a leading expert on corporate sustainability.
With three books under his belt – The Sustainability Advantage (2002), The Next Sustainability Wave (2005), and The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook (2009) — Willard is among the best at laying out a clear, actionable plan for business leaders to follow in order to institute more-sustainable policies within their companies.
“Sooner or later, there is a tough message that sustainability champions need to deliver to harried business leaders — the business game they are playing can’t continue,” Willard writes. “It’s been fun, but if they keep playing the game the way they are, everyone will lose.”
Delivering that tough message is what Willard has made his mission, and to support it, he’s developed hundreds of keynote presentations, numerous webinars, two DVDs, and a Master Slide Set to drive home the point that if we want to have clean air, potable water, nutritious food, and adequate shelter, something has to change in the way corporations do business — and fast.
Willard’s talent is in quantifying and selling the business value of corporate sustainability strategies to CEOs and other C-level personnel. “Executives might think you are trying to convince them that sustainability is a nobler goal than contending with gnarly business issues like complexity, resource scarcity, and talent shortages,” Willard writes. “It’s sometimes better to back off and reframe sustainability strategies as enablers of executives’ priorities, rather than as another nagging goal to worry about.”
To communicate effectively, Willard uses sales techniques widely successful in business: He talks the language of the decision-makers, meets them where they are, and makes the connection between what they’re already doing and what they could be doing. He has a personal commitment to sustainability, having been turned on to the importance of the issue when, after plans surfaced in his community to build a water treatment plant downstream from a nuclear power plant, he realized that those in charge weren’t looking out for the well-being of the community members. Since then, environmental issues and taking personal responsibility for making a difference have been at the forefront of his life and work. But even those who haven’t caught the sustainability bug the way Willard has would do well to follow the advice he lays out. “The bottom-line payoff comes from increased revenue, innovation, and productivity, as well as risk-mitigation and eco-efficiency cost-savings,” he writes.
For more information about Bob Willard, visit www.sustainabilityadvantage.com, and read an excerpt from The Sustainability Advantage here.
Only One Bus: The Story of Paul Hawken
The list of what Paul Hawken hasn’t done is probably shorter than the list of what he has.
Book author? Check. He’s got six of them. Magazine writer? Yep — his credits include the Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and Mother Jones. He’s also been on the Today show, Larry King Live, and Talk of the Nation, and he’s been presented with seven honorary degrees. Oh, and business owner? He’s got several under his belt.
A Lifelong Commitment
Since age 20, Hawken has had one overarching focus: sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment. His long résumé includes founding ecological businesses, educating others about the impact of commerce on living systems, and consulting with governments and corporations on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.
Part of what makes Hawken stand out is that he doesn’t play it safe. He’s traveled throughout insurgent-held territories of Burma to study tropical teak deforestation, and he took a trip in 1999 to war-torn Kosovo and Macedonia. Back at home, he worked with Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, leading up to the historic march to Montgomery. That same year, Hawken was in New Orleans as a staff photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, focusing on voter registration drives in Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida, and photographing the Ku Klux Klan in Meridian, Mississippi, after three civil rights workers were tortured and killed. These pursuits, of course, weren’t without risks — Hawken was seized by KKK members, but was able to escape with the help of the FBI.
Will Social Justice Meet Environmental Justice?
This social justice work is intertwined with his environmental goals. “What is most harmful resides within us, the accumulated wounds of the past, the sorrow, shame, deceit, and ignominy shared by every culture, passed down to every person, as surely as DNA, a history of violence, and greed,” Hawken writes in his 2007 book Blessed Unrest. “There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But it is the other way around; the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus.”
Respect and Achievements
Hawken’s research and views are respected by world leaders far and wide. Case in point: During the Battle in Seattle in 1999, President Bill Clinton called Hawken for advice, and has said his book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution is one of the five most important books in the world today.
On the business front, Hawken has founded several companies that rely solely on sustainable agricultural methods. His 1987 book Growing a Business became the basis of a widely viewed 17-part PBS series he hosted and produced that explored the challenges of starting and operating socially responsible companies. Today, he’s head of OneSun LLC, an energy company focused on low-cost solar power, and Highwater Global, an equity fund that invests in companies providing solutions to environmental and social challenges.
His many activities are a lot to fit in a day, but Hawken wouldn’t have it any other way. “My hopefulness about the resilience of human nature is matched by the gravity of our environmental and social condition,” he writes.
To learn more about Hawken, visit his website at www.paulhawken.com.
Recently, the staff at Dolphin Blue began questioning the buying practices of our government, and evaluating their overall impact on sustainability. As more corporations continue to manufacture their goods in foreign countries, many tax-supported agencies have jumped on the “low-cost” bandwagon, creating a governmental bidding system with little regard to sustainability. To answer some of our questions, we consulted with our in-house expert, Dolphin Blue Founder & President, Thomas Kemper.
How does corporate outsourcing hinder the environmental health and welfare of our economy?
When we support the manufacturing of low-cost goods originating from distant places (i.e. China, Malaysia, Vietnam, India), the costs we ultimately incur are numerous, and detrimental to our natural world, local economies, and to the long-term health of our economy. Every time a tax-supported entity procures an item provided by giant conglomerates, we continue to chip away at the sustainability of our planet (incurring a heavy carbon footprint), our communities (by eroding the local, regional and federal tax base), and our economies (local, state, and national). Have you ever wondered why our roads, bridges, highways, school systems, county and state hospitals and park systems are in such disrepair, while the tax-supported jurisdictions responsible for their upkeep and maintenance are screaming that they are broke? How much longer can we continue to provide Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and favorable treatment to our largest corporations, so they can continue providing inexpensive foreign goods to the very tax-supported agencies that are responsible for maintaining the infrastructure and systems that are paid for, by us, the tax payers? As we, the payer of the taxes, continue to see unemployment rise, factories close due to unfavorable treatment, and the degradation of our natural resources’ health (clean air, fresh water, soil quality, forest and food stocks), while our very own taxpayer dollars continue buying cheap, resource-depleting foreign goods, creating a huge burden on the sustainability of our planet.
Corporate outsourcing clearly damages our nation’s infrastructure, but how do low-cost supplies produced in foreign countries harm our environment?
Products being procured with no understanding of our environment, affect our human health and global ecosystem in ways we are only beginning to understand. The use of chemicals, such as chlorine and chlorine-containing compounds, affect the human endocrine system, and compromises the immune system’s ability to do what it was biologically designed to do. The havoc being wreaked upon the health of our children is a cost seemingly hidden in our out-of-control healthcare system, which continues to grow as the fastest sector of our economy. I saw this issue arising back in 1994, and made a personal and business decision to provide papers that are processed chlorine free, as well as being derived from 100% post-consumer recycled fiber and made in the USA with Green-e certified renewable wind energy. Thus, it is incumbent upon all of us, as citizens of our local communities first and foremost, to get involved in the decisions being made by our tax-supported government representatives, and demand that they purchase only socially and environmentally responsible products.
Many governmental agencies purchase their supplies at a low-cost from large corporate conglomerates. How does this practice create an unfair advantage for small businesses of all types?
Many of the corporate giants (whose supplies produce an annual revenue of $15 BILLION and upward ), have the financial ability to provide a catalog with as many as 45,000-50,000 items, of which only 5-10% of those products are actually certified as “green”. Although Dolphin Blue has the capability to provide a catalog containing approximately 4,000 items, ALL made in the USA, and ALL made with post-consumer recycled materials, other small businesses are unable to offer such a catalog when a tax-supported entity (municipality, county, state, or federal government) requests pricing from the vendor community. Consequently, if a small business responds without providing a full catalog, that small supplier is deemed non-responsive to the government agencies’ Request for Quote (RFQ), giving the large giants a tremendous advantage in the marketplace.
When governmental agencies purchase products and services from corporate giants moving goods globally, with little regard to anything but profitability, the tax-supported entity is doomed and destined for failure. In my experience, very few government agencies leave the door fully open for those who qualify through the GSA contracting system, where buyers can select goods and services through a “best value” contracting criteria. While it is regrettable that some agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have granted monopolistic exclusive contracts to some suppliers, a true environmentally conscious buyer will go shopping elsewhere, seeking the products and services truly aligned with the EPA’s stated, charted mission.
Is there a “Watch Dog” system in place to monitor and measure the environmental degradation, loss to society, or economic erosion of such “full service” catalog purchasing relationships?
Unfortunately, there is no program in place to monitor these relationships, and if governmental agencies continue to support the taxpayers who fund its existence, the tax-supported agencies will continue to thrive in the marketplace, while we continue seeing our planet’s health degrade.
Yes, but don’t some of the larger corporations offer “green” products?
Many “green” items being offered by the giants are not certified for the environmental attributes being claimed, and many of the so-called “green” products are not green at all. They are usually being shipped many thousands of miles to gain business at a very low invoice expense, which further degrades our planet’s sustainability by imparting a very heavy carbon footprint on the health of our planet. What might that cost be, to our society, our planet, and, to future generations? We’ve already keenly aware of those costs. We see them around us every day. The longer we bury our heads in the sand, the more devastating the costs.
Additionally, many of the purchasing contracts do not require the products to be made in the USA, thus sacrificing American jobs for a few nickels. While these large “full service” catalog transactions are rampant among many levels of our government, there are many buyers within these agencies that truly understand the meaning of sustainability (meeting the needs of our generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs), and practice responsible procurement methods. For these buyers, I applaud and acknowledge your pioneering spirit. Thank you. You understand that we are all in this together, and without us working together to achieve a sustainable planet, we will only be continuing to paint ourselves into a very precarious corner. As citizens of our neighborhoods, local communities, country, and planet, we must be good stewards, and be responsible with all items, goods, and services we purchase. We owe it to our children.
Tom is founder and CEO of Dolphin Blue, an online retailer of environmentally sustainable green office supplies and green printing products.