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Episode 184: Coca-Cola’s packaging pledge, Organic Valley gets creative

Week in ReviewTune in around 10:53 for commentaryFeaturesCooperation was central to Organic Valley's clean energy milestone (23:18)Organic Valley, the U.S. dairy collective, got creative to meet its goal of being powered by 100 percent clean energy thanks to a series of community solar deals it helped spearhead through municipal utilities. Sarah Golden, GreenBiz Senior Energy Analyst and chair of VERGE Energy, recently spoke with two people involved with Organic Valley’s unique arrangement: Stanley Minnick, Organic Valley’s energy services and technology manager, on the company’s priorities, and Darcy Schiber-Knowels, the senior quality, sustainability and innovation manager at Dr. Bronner's.Carbon 180's mission to cultivate carbon-removal tech (29:25)Carbontech Labs is a startup accelerator initiative nurtured by Carbon 180, the nonprofit dedicated to advancing the field of carbon removal technology. "The carbontech products that we support have to be better, faster, stronger than their incumbents and ideally cheaper," said Dvorit Mausner, who co-created the labs but is moving onto another role. Tune in for more about the types of products and technologies it's nurturing.Dasani goes aluminum, talks up water coolers (34:45)Coca-Cola's water brand Dasani disclosed several packaging innovations this week, including HybridBottle, which mixes plant-based renewable and recycled PET. Dasani also will introduce aluminum cans this fall, and it's expanding on pilots with water dispensers in places such as universities on corporate campuses or institutional food service organizations. We spoke with Bruce Karas, vice president of environment, sustainability, safety and technical information, about the developments.*Music in this episode by Lee Rosevere: "Knowing the Truth," "And So Then," "Thinking It Over," "Curiousity" and "Here's the Thing"What's new at GreenBiz?Carbon conversation. How can companies add carbon-negative products to their supply chains? Which technologies have the most potential to capture and store the most carbon dioxide? What‘s the potential of the carbon economy? These questions and more will frame our discussion at 10 a.m. PST Aug. 20. Sign up to hear from experts with Carbon180, Opus 12 and XPRIZE.Electrify that fleet. Learn more about how a collaboration between UPS, Cross River Partnership and UK Power Networks is transforming urban delivery and logistics in London in this free, interactive webcast at 1 p.m. EST Sept. 5.Energy resilience meets climate change. Technologies such as behind-the-meter energy storage and intelligent software are emerging to help companies and communities anticipate outages, and keep the power flowing. Featuring speakers from energy services firm Faith Technologies, the former assistant secretary for energy with the U.S. Navy and a microgrid specialist from Rocky Mountain Institute. Register for this free session at 1 p.m. EST Sept. 10.Do we have a newsletter for you! We produce five weekly newsletters: GreenBuzz by Executive Editor Joel Makower (Monday), Transport Weekly by Senior Writer and Analyst Katie Fehrenbacher (Tuesday), VERGE Weekly by Executive Director Shana Rappaport and Editorial Director Heather Clancy (Wednesday), Energy Weekly by Senior Energy Analyst Sarah Golden (Thursday) and Circular Weekly by Director and Senior Analyst Lauren Phipps (Friday). You must subscribe to each newsletter in order to receive it. Please visit this page to choose the newsletters you want to receive.Check out our Center Stage podcast, which features the best of live interviews on sustainable business and clean technology, conducted on stage at GreenBiz and VERGE conferences.The GreenBiz Intelligence Panel is the survey body we poll regularly throughout the year on key trends and developments in sustainability. To become part of the panel, click here. Enrolling is free and should take two minutes.Stay connectedTo make sure you don't miss the newest episodes of GreenBiz 350, subscribe on iTunes. Have a question or suggestion for a future segment? E-mail us at [email protected].Let's block ads! (Why?)

These rock climbers are approaching a new summit: energy for all

"There’s no point supporting environmental causes that don’t support standards of living to help people." Adventure rock climber Alex Honnold came to that realization in 2010, when he traveled to Chad on an expedition. Struck by local communities’ lack of access to power, Honnold began to think about how he could affect global inequality while addressing climate change.Two years later, when Honnold and fellow climber Maury Birdwell founded the Honnold Foundation, they came to another realization: Solar power is the solution. Today, the foundation addresses inequality by supporting solar energy initiatives worldwide. It awards grants to bold and ethical organizations driving innovation in the solar industry.Bard MBA alum Sam Monkarsh spoke with Honnold Foundation's executive director, Dory Trimble, about the foundation’s mission, how the organization has evolved and why it focuses on solar.Sam Monkarsh: How Has the Honnold Foundation changed since its founding?Dory Trimble: Until about a year ago, the Honnold Foundation was essentially a small family foundation. [Founder] Alex [Honnold] initially contributed a third of his income, and other folks, many who knew him personally or were fans of his, contributed to the foundation as well. He and the former executive director figured out which projects sounded cool and give them grants — it was pretty minimalist and it worked really well. Many of the people we’re funding today are people we funded during that time period, and they’re doing incredible work. Since we’re a small organization, it can be hard to keep abreast of all of the projects that come our way and in locations where we don’t have geographic expertise. Today, we’re transitioning to operating as a grown-up, publicly funded foundation that will exist in perpetuity. That means that our grant program’s changing. In the past, a lot of the folks we funded were recommended to us. Today, we’re developing a formal request for proposal process to launch in early 2019 that refocuses geographically for each grant cycle. Since we’re a small organization, it can be hard to keep abreast of all of the projects that come our way and in locations where we don’t have geographic expertise.  Monkarsh: How is the foundation organized for impact?Trimble: One of the reasons I love working for a grant making organization is that it lets us fund folks who have grassroots ties all over the world. It would obviously be hard for us to know what’s going on with folks in the Navajo Nation and rural Ethiopia and suburban Sacramento. These are very different places, the communities are different, and they have very different needs. Our structure allows us to give money to the people who know what’s going on in those places and help them have an impact and be experts in that local space. Alex likes to talk about meeting homeowners through Grid Alternatives, one of the partners we work with domestically. Usually, the folks they support are elderly homeowners on a fixed income who are struggling to pay their power bills. For them, getting a solar install from Grid has environmental impacts for sure, but they’re also seeing a shift in how they’re spending their money. That can make a big difference when you’re on a fixed income — being able to reallocate those funds can change their quality of life.Monkarsh: Why are you so excited about solar?Trimble: It’s such a versatile solution. If you care about energy access, it’s a really, really cool tool. I think about it like a diversified portfolio. When you fund a whole bunch of different non-profits that are doing solar energy access work and take a big step back, what you see is both environmental impact and social impact. When you fund a whole bunch of different non-profits that are doing solar energy access work and take a big step back, what you see is both environmental impact and social impact. When you mix that together, you get this comprehensive positive impact on the world, using solar as your conduit. Monkarsh: Tell us about your partner, SolarAid.Trimble: In Ethiopia, our partner is SolarAid, which also works in Malawi and Zambia. Its programs train local agents to sell inexpensive solar lanterns in place of the homemade kerosene lamps that many families rely on. Replacing kerosene has a huge impact on indoor air quality, which in turn has an impact on women and children, who are disproportionately likely to be indoors doing things like cooking and cleaning. And it also has a really big impact on education.When I first joined the team, I don’t think I totally understood how much we rely on light. If you live in an equatorial country, it’s dark 12 hours a day. If you have four kids, and you’re scraping together enough money to send them to school, and then you have to decide whether to light a kerosene lamp at night so they can study, that’s an impossible decision. That’s money you don’t have to spend. Providing those families with solar lanterns allows kids to do their homework. It sounds like a little thing, but it adds up to a lot.This Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s Aug. 16 The Impact Report podcast. The Impact Report brings together students and faculty in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Living homes for all

Editor’s Note: The Affordable Housing Pilot Program at the International Living Future Institute, made possible with initial funding by the Kresge Foundation and current and ongoing funding by the JPB Foundation, includes the development of industry-specific resources, such as The Living Building Challenge Framework for Affordable Housing, as well as working with pilot projects that are registered under the Living Building Challenge. Why we need affordable housingAfter this year of bleak climate reports and unprecedented wildfires, the need for a regenerative built environment has never been clearer. The need for affordable housing is similarly clear and dire. At least ten cities and the entire state of Hawaii have for years been in a formally declared State of Emergency over homelessness and affordable housing, yet rates of homelessness continue to trend upward in many cities. For example, Seattle saw a 15 percent increase in unsheltered individuals in 2018, while overall homelessness in California increased 14 percent.Compounding the issue of affordability, low-income households routinely have far higher utility cost burdens than moderate and high-income households. The issue is not only a matter of income; affordable units tend to be older and less energy-efficient, meaning that low-income households pay more for utilities on a square foot basis — up to twice as much as median-income households and three times as much as high-income households. One of ILFI’s new affordable housing pilot projects is located in the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, where nearly 50 percent of the community lives below the federal poverty line and residents face utility bills of up to $600 per month. Nationwide one in five families miss utility payments each year, 70 percent of which have their utilities shut off. Researchers in Milwaukee even found that eviction rates tracked seasonally with utility bills. Compounding the issue of affordability, low-income households routinely have far higher utility cost burdens than moderate and high-income households. While water costs are relatively low in most cities, they are steadily rising, with one study indicating that water costs are projected to increase by 41 percent over the next few years, largely due to deferred maintenance needed on centralized water systems throughout the country. A preview of this has played out in Detroit where more than 100,000 homes since 2014 (10-20 percent of all residences each year) have had their water shut off, a practice which the UN has called an “international human rights violation.” Local researchers have linked the shut-offs with an increased incidence of skin and soft tissue diseases. The shut-offs have resulted in additional turmoil in communities as Child Protective Services has removed children from homes when the resident was unable to restore running water within 72 hours.As we spend more than 90percent of our time indoors, the built environment has a significant impact on our health and wellness. Neighborhood and built environment are one of five social determinants of health defined by the CDC (along with education, health care, economic stability, and community), which together account for 80-90percent of modifiable contributing factors to health outcomes. (Medical interventions are responsible for just 10-20percent.) For the 43 million people living below the poverty line in the United States, the built environment has for too long had a deleterious effect on health. Low-income households are more likely to live near freeways and industrial sites and less likely to live near a recreational area or healthy food options. They are also more likely to have been exposed to mold, mildew, pest infestations, and lead-based paint in their homes. The CDC has estimated that 1.1 million low-income homes with children under age six (the age most sensitive to the effects of lead poisoning) have significant lead-based paint hazards. As a result of all of these factors, low-income families have substantially higher rates compared to families at other income levels of diseases such as asthma, allergies, and obesity, as well as significantly lower life spans.History of ILFI’s Affordable Housing Pilot ProgramThe mission of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is to create a future that is ecologically restorative, socially just and culturally rich. One key aspect to achieving this mission is ensuring that everyone benefits from and can live, work, learn and play in Living Buildings and Communities. With this in mind and heart, in 2013 ILFI initiated an Affordable Housing Pilot Program.Over the last five years, there have been three major phases to the program. Phase One, funded by the Kresge Foundation, included collaboration with three affordable housing projects (The Rose in Minneapolis, MN; South Second Street Studios in San Jose, CA; and Capital Studios in Austin, TX) and the formation of The Innovator’s Network, a diverse group of sustainability-minded professionals engaged in affordable housing. The lessons learned from this work were published in 2014 in “The Framework for Affordable Housing.” The mission of ILFI is to create a future that is ecologically restorative, socially just and culturally rich. One key aspect to achieving this mission is ensuring that everyone benefits from Living Buildings and Communities. In 2015, with funding from the JPB Foundation, ILFI launched Phase Two of the program by expanding the pilot program to eight more affordable housing teams working on ten Living Building Challenge projects across the country. These projects are showing that Living Affordable Housing is possible and produces critical benefits to residents, communities, and the environment. One of these projects, Lakeline Learning Center in Austin, Texas, became Zero Energy Certified in October. Not just focused on energy performance, Lakeline Learning Center is designed so that 95percent of water needs are met with harvested rainwater and HVAC condensate. The project also utilized salvaged wood and a “structure as finish” design aesthetic to pare down the materials palette in order to install a nearly 100percent Red-List Free interior.Three other projects from this group are occupied and in a performance period: Cedar Springs in La Verne, California; Silver Star in Los Angeles; and Muldoon Gardens in Anchorage. In addition to targeting the Energy Petal, Cedar Springs and Silver Star both installed greywater reuse systems that save an aggregated 1.5 million gallons of water per year. Muldoon Gardens also pursued a pared-down materials palette and is anticipating achieving Materials Petal Certification. Using indigenous Alaskan design principles, the project reduced the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) from the Anchorage average of 115 kbtu/sf/yr to 30 kbtu/sf/yr. The project was also completed under budget and at a lower price per square foot than a conventional affordable housing project across the street built on a similar timeline. Work with these and other projects involved in Phase Two of ILFI’s Affordable Housing Pilot Program has resulted in resources and education available to the affordable housing industry at large.With continued funding from the JPB Foundation, Phase Three of this work began in Summer 2017. This phase includes an expansion of the number of pilot projects, as well as work to develop a buyer’s club, handprinting program, materials vetting tools to make healthy materials more readily available to all affordable housing projects, and work with state QAP programs to incorporate sustainability requirements. Twelve new pilot projects were brought on this past summer. See sidebar for list. The goal of all of this work is to broadly share the best practices, tools, and resources for achieving the Living Building Challenge in affordable housing with the entire industry; to help make incorporation of healthy materials mainstream practice in affordable housing; and collaborate with groups like National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Fannie Mae, and Enterprise Community Partners to develop policies, programs,and funding mechanisms to facilitate incorporation of sustainability into affordable housing.Climate and Typology of Pilot ProjectsThe twenty-five pilot projects from all three phases are located around the country in a variety of climate zones. They represent different building types from high-rise SRO apartments to townhomes, project sizes from six units to 400 units, and resident populations including multi-generational families, previously homeless, veterans with special needs, youths transitioning out of foster care, and immigrants. It should be noted that all of the projects within ILFI’s pilot program are or will be affordable as defined by Housing and Urban Development (HUD).While a handful incorporate market-rate units, the vast majority of units are restricted for rental by those making less than 60percent of area median income (AMI) and ownership for those making less than 80percent AMI. While these projects vary in scale and typology, they share a goal to create long-term stability and increased opportunities by providing housing that is affordable, healthy, and sustainable. For these compassionate and forward-thinking project teams, sustainability and affordability go hand in hand to form a more holistic approach for housing with lasting benefits for the people they serve. A glimpse into a few of these projects helps illustrate why and how these projects are creating Living Affordable Housing.The future of affordable housingAlder Place in East Chicago, Indiana, and Broadway Lofts in Gary, Indiana, are within seven miles of each other and 25 miles of Chicago. The siting of these projects is very deliberate, providing critically-needed healthy and safe housing in an area plagued with health and environmental concerns. The West Calumet Housing Complex that used to be located in this area was evacuated and demolished in 2017 after the EPA found significant lead and arsenic contamination in the soil and declared it a Superfund site.The 1,000 residents living in the buildings, who had been exposed to these dangerous substances for years, were then faced with the choice of leaving their community altogether or trying to find a scarce affordable unit in the area, many of which also had significant environmental toxins. The Alder Place and Broadway Lofts projects will provide approximately 80 units of critically needed housing with possible additional single-family and townhouse units dispersed throughout the community. Because these projects are a part of ILFI’s pilot program and the Moving Forward program run by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and Energy Systems Network, future residents will be provided with net-positive energy homes with diverse mobility options.These developments will also be designed with a focus on health and wellness, with the intent to increase quality of life and decrease cost of living for low and moderate income individuals and families in Indiana.While the indigenous peoples of the Gila River Indian Community thrived in the Sonoran Desert area of what is now Arizona for much of their history, in recent decades the community has been plagued with extremely high utility bills and poverty levels. Housing built for tribal members by HUD ignored practical, contextual design solutions the tribes had developed to live in harmony with their harsh climate for thousands of years. Using the Living Building Challenge as a framework, the Gila River Indian Community Sustainable Housing Project is a collaboration between the tribal members and Arizona State University students. Using the Living Building Challenge as a framework, the Gila River Indian Community Sustainable Housing Project is a collaboration between the tribal members and Arizona State University students. This collaborative design process is part of a nationwide movement to reestablish tribal sovereignty by enabling members to reclaim ownership over the design and construction processes within their own communities. The Gila River project is exploring Living Certification using indigenous building materials and methods suited to the climate and culture, such as adobe. Intended for multi-generational housing, as is the traditional living arrangement in the community, the project will result in four to six prototypes for future housing to be built in the community.At five stories, Othello Square is located in an urban context in Seattle and is denser than the other projects mentioned above. The Developer, Homesight, has a mission to provide low-income homeownership opportunities in a city where housing costs are 8 times the national average and that has led the nation in home price increases for nearly two years. The Othello Square project is prioritizing healthy building materials.Along with Muldoon Gardens from the second phase of the pilot program, they are helping to push the industry forward and demonstrate that Red-List Free affordable housing is financially feasible. To cut down on materials research time, the project team has been able to utilize the Red2Green tool developed by Integrated EcoStrategies (IES). IES has allowed this team and several others in ILFI’s Affordable Housing Pilot Program to access Red2Green for free in order to help aggregate product research for affordable housing. From this research, databases and lists of cost-comparable, Red-List Free materials will be available to the affordable housing industry at large.ILFI is also developing a Handprinting in Affordable Housing Portal to facilitate collaboration between the materials manufacturing industry and affordable housing projects. The Handprinting Imperative within the Living Product Challenge calls on manufacturers to not only mitigate negative impacts of their manufacturing process (i.e. the footprint), but also to leave a positive imprint on the world (i.e. the handprint). In order to become net positive, manufacturers need to create water, energy or climate savings that are greater than the annual amount needed to manufacture the product.One way this can be achieved is by donating either money or products to affordable housing projects. For example, the donation of lighting fixtures to an affordable housing project could free up funds in the budget that allows for lower-flow plumbing fixtures or photovoltaic panels. There is a natural synergy between these two different ILFI programs that we are excited to begin to explore. A key goal of ILFI’s Affordable Housing Pilot Program is to create resources and tools that can be used broadly by the industry in order to transform the way affordable housing is built. Manufacturers pursuing the Living Product Challenge are seeking to leave a positive impact on the world, while (mostly non-profit) affordable housing developers (particularly ILFI’s pilot projects registered under the Living Building Challenge) are aiming to construct the most durable, healthy and sustainable buildings possible, yet operating with a constrained budget. While we are pioneering the idea of handprinting in affordable housing between manufacturers and affordable housing projects right now, we are also building a portal on our website that will allow manufacturers seeking handprinting opportunities to easily search among registered affordable housing projects.A key goal of ILFI’s Affordable Housing Pilot Program is to create resources and tools that can be used broadly by the industry in order to transform the way affordable housing is built. Healthy, sustainable, beautiful, and culturally-relevant homes with low to no utility bills, abundant access to healthy food and nature, proximity to services, and a rich community should be the norm.Through the efforts of mission-driven and innovative affordable housing project teams, as well as the dissemination of information and lessons learned through the tools, resources, and programs created in this pilot program, this vision is coming to life.Because the affordable housing industry faces unique challenges and offers the opportunity to significantly address equity and quality of life issues, ILFI is actively working to help facilitate a pathway to living affordable housing. See our newly updated webpage to find all the current resources and information on each pilot project. We will follow this article with a 5-part blog series throughout 2019 that will highlight issues and strategies in affordable housing and sustainability.Let's block ads! (Why?)

The next generation of disruptors

It’s one thing to understand conceptually that the world is changing in rapid, complex and unpredictable ways. It’s entirely different — and equally, if not more, important — to position your company for those changes, especially if some of them are poised to disrupt your business and industry and, perhaps, the global economy.This week, I find myself called to hone in on one particular strategy for changing with the times before the times change you: Engaging directly with the innovators that are uniquely poised to disrupt the status quo. This isn’t a new concept, of course, but it’s one that’s gaining new urgency in a climate-changing world. Consider some story lines we’ve been following in recent years: Big Auto has embraced that the future is about mobility, not just car ownership — with Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen and others making major investments in ride-hailing companies, e-bikes, autonomous vehicles and other technologies. Big Oil is making moves into the new carbon economy, too, such as the recent announcement of a joint investment by Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures in Carbon Engineering. Apparel companies are finding circularity fashionable, partnering up with companies such as Yerdle to jump on the recommerce marketplace bandwagon.Behind all these is the next generation of clean-economy startups. That’s where we come in — and you, too.  Behind all these is the next generation of clean-economy startups. That’s where we come in — and you, too. We’ve just posted the latest tranche of contestants for our VERGE Accelerate pitch competition — all vying for the right to show their stuff from the main stage at VERGE 19. We source these companies via nominations from our readers as well as our own network of partners, such as Plug and Play, Techstars and Prospect Silicon Valley, all of whom have programs designed explicitly to connect large companies with early-stage startups through industry-focused initiatives. (My friend Ryan Kushner (a.k.a. The Accelerator Guy) authored this super not boring guide, in partnership with New Energy Nexus, to demystify the landscape of incubators and accelerators, including who they are, how they differ and ways to participate in their programs.)With that, I am incredibly excited to shine a spotlight on the 38 semifinalists for this year’s VERGE Accelerate. The community voting window is open, which means you can peruse their inspiring and compelling 60-second video submissions and cast your votes to help determine who gets to pitch at VERGE 19 in October. We’ve organized the semifinalists into three categories:Beyond VERGE Accelerate, we’ve got other showcases in the works for VERGE 19 designed to connect entrepreneurs with investors, corporate partners and the broader VERGE community, featuring startups working in carbon removal, the future of food and our broader Startup Showcase.I encourage you to watch the VERGE Accelerate semifinalist pitches and cast your votes, but also to step back and ask yourself the bigger-picture questions: In what ways are these turbulent times poised to disrupt your own company and industry? Where are there opportunities to invest in or partner with startups to get ahead of those disruptions? Who are the potential allies, within and outside your organization, to drive this?And what role do you want to play?Let's block ads! (Why?)

Facing contradictory demands? Use them to launch exponential progress on climate change

Climate change is arriving faster and harder than expected, and our sustainability strategies are not equal to the challenge. Why? Our well-meaning sustainability decisions commonly make only incremental improvements or backslide to business as usual. Current trajectories won’t sustain most organizations for long — let alone save the planet.We must make course corrections that accelerate progress exponentially. That will happen only when organizations in every sector work smarter to make sustainability a business-enhancing necessity, rather than a supplement to mainstream business strategies.Seemingly conflicting demands for business results and sustainability place decision-makers smack between rocks and hard places. The far-from-optimal effect is that people succumb to a common cognitive bias: feeling they have to choose one clear option, to the neglect of the other.Making an either/or choice resolves the conflict temporarily, but it avoids the high-valu­­e alternative: to find better options sitting beyond the obvious ones. This is where sustainability efforts often fall short, and where vast potential awaits discovery.Win/lose and even win/win thinking bring disappointing, inefficient harvestsAuthor James Collins uses the phrase "tyranny of the or" to signify the tensions and constraints of either/or thinking in the face of conflicting demands. Business vs. environment is a long-standing example, as is long-term investment vs. short-term results. Short-term numbers still drive most choices. But even "both/and" decision-making efforts often yield cursory and fleeting results, plucking mostly just low-hanging fruit.  Such win/wins fall short of potential for many reasons including:1. After initial disagreements, people avoid further conflict by settling for mediocre compromises that no one opposes vehemently.2. Finding an alignment in which a business case can support a modest sustainability option is satisfying, and that ends the discussion, saving the extra time and effort of seeking even better alternatives.3. Favoring one competing element over another relieves the immediate conflict because the decision is made and done with.Inevitably, the underlying issues resurface later. The net is that we could’ve done better, and the conflicts and inadequate environmental performances continue. These solutions arise via stimulating conversations that wrestle explicitly with the conflicts and tensions inherent to complex challenges. Sadly, untapped are the upsides available to realizing Collins’ "genius of the and"— successfully pursuing both purpose and profits. Third options, and even better fourth and fifth options, are discoverable via more complex, nuanced and creative thinking. These solutions arise via stimulating conversations that wrestle explicitly with the conflicts and tensions inherent to complex challenges.So — if not conventional either/or thinking, then what?Use a paradox mindset to build an ambidextrous organizationOnly smarter both/and thinking will gather the prolific harvests we need. Managers and organizations can achieve this by adopting a paradox mindset, which knows that contradictory elements or tensions signify integrative potential. Even though the conflicts are uncomfortable, decision-makers acknowledge, confront and relish the challenge.Actively and strategically working through competing pressures creates a culture that values and effectively pursues a paradox approach to uncovering the genius of the and.  Bigger wins start with explicitly identifying sustainability’s inherent tensions, and then applying paradoxical thinking to create maximum ambidexterity. To be ambidextrous is to competently pursue, merge and attain two inherently conflicting goals. Organization theorist James March immortalized this concept for management scholars, describing the need for firms to simultaneously exploit what they know best while also exploring for new knowledge and possibilities. To be ambidextrous is to competently pursue, merge and attain two inherently-conflicting goals. Without ambidexterity driving exponential course corrections, we don’t sustain single organizations, let alone the planet.The paradoxical thinking inherent to ambidexterity is not just for lone decision makers. Far easier, more effective and higher-leverage is to generate new options by discussing with other people. Together, explicitly state the various tensions people feel, and exchange different perspectives, relevant expertise and ideas.  Hit a lot of singles by finding sustainability actions that can be supported with a reasonable business case, but also collaborate insistently and over time to hit more home runs. Some innovations are incremental, and some are radical; accelerating the sustainability curve requires both/and, as created via paradoxical thinking.  The extra time and effort can pay off handsomely because the process will generate smarter decisions and better results, and become embedded in the culture.  More profound problem solutions create more sustained progress, and future challenges grow smaller, relative to what otherwise would lie ahead. This is easier said than done, of course. But it is doable by engaging collaboratively in paradoxical thinking, and by creating and sustaining a culture that worships the smartest possible decision processes. Thoughts and comments such as "We have just two options" and "We have no choice" can serve as useful prompts in a smarter search for the best possible scale and scope ideas. Keep working the problem by asking again for better solutions until the well honestly runs dry. It is doable by engaging collaboratively in paradoxical thinking, and by creating and sustaining a culture that worships the smartest possible decision processes. Over time, such decision-making processes enact ambidextrous strategies capable of optimizing financial and environmental, and short- and long-term, outcomes. Sustainability conversations move from shallow, peripheral one-offs to a legitimate strategy contributing to both desirable business outcomes and positive social impact.Sustainable impacts accumulate and escalate over time through multiple both/and decisions. Actions that contribute to sustainability can reveal new strategic reasons and tactics for expanding mainstream business activities. The strategies begin merging and feeding off one another. Learning along the way, lessons move down, up and across the organization, and spread through inter-organizational collaborations.Pushing ambidexterity top-down is a powerful driver. Meanwhile, mid- and lower-level operational decisions driven by paradoxical thinking can coalesce over time into ambidextrous business and corporate strategies.   Remember the bigger picture   Andrew Hoffman, scholar of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, sees sustainability as an accelerating change in competitive dynamics that demands strategic repositioning. Managers who prefer to can remain agnostic about climate science and politics, but they must recognize realities and consider sustainability a core element of — not peripheral to — mainstream business.The challenge currently is to work smarter and accelerate our sustainability trajectory. Technological solutions are readily available and improving, but the key now is for more innovative leaders in all sectors and at all levels to collaborate within and across organizations.Driving the decision processes that drive ambidexterity, from the top and middle and below, is a type of leadership that can propel exponential improvements in sustainability cultures, practices and impact.Let's block ads! (Why?)

How many hours-of-safety do our homes have in extreme weather?

How many people in your community are at risk during extreme weather events? The heat waves wracking the nation right now can cause heat exhaustion, heatstroke, dehydration and even death. Last year over 90 people died in Quebec (over 50 in Montreal) due to a heat wave. During Chicago’s famous 1995 heat wave, over 700 people died. When the power goes out — which often happens with extreme temperatures — the problem becomes dramatically larger.With fans, air conditioners and refrigerators unable to provide any relief, the question is clear: How long can a home maintain the last comfortable temperature it had before conditions inside the home match the extreme conditions outside the home?This is what we’re calling hours-of-safety, which can determine the difference between safety and danger.Critical hours to understandThe difference between 20 hours of safe and comfortable in-home temperatures and only five could be the difference between life and death for vulnerable populations. It makes the difference between staving off heatstroke until the power is returned, allowing time for family or neighbors to arrive and provide support, or buying time to evacuate. We need to understand our homes in terms of the hours-of-safety they can provide when the power goes out to reduce the amount of time people are exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures. We need to understand our homes in terms of the hours-of-safety they can provide when the power goes out to reduce the amount of time people are exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures. While there has been considerable work to define metrics (PDF) for the resilience of the electricity grid, little work has been done on how long buildings are able to maintain healthy temperature levels. Homes vary widely in their ability to maintain comfort during these events, and we need to start making our homes better prepared. Fortunately, making homes more efficient and safer can be accomplished while providing other benefits such as lower energy bills.The growth of extreme weather eventsToday we’re seeing extreme temperatures happening more frequently across the country, and the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events will grow over time. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) projects (PDF) that by 2100 the United States will experience almost 30,000 heat-related deaths every year if current levels of carbon dioxide emissions persist.Last weekend, 50,000 New York City customers lost power and 6,000 still did not have power more than 24 hours later. In 2016, outages tended to average around four hours during major events — in some states between eight and 20 hours — and that’s the average, meaning some events last longer. Between January and June, over 2.9 million customers were out of power for a total of 684 hours as a result of outages caused by severe weather.Extreme temperatures are particularly a problem for lower-income housing, vulnerable populations and people living in social isolation. This is exacerbated by the fact that low-income housing is often poorly insulated and very drafty. Extreme temperatures are particularly a problem for lower-income housing, vulnerable populations and people living in social isolation. Hours-of-safety is just as relevant during cold weather events as during heat waves: When it’s hot outside, leaky and poorly insulated homes can’t keep out the heat; when it’s cold outside, they can’t keep out the cold. Last winter many regions were struggling with polar vortex after polar vortex that hammered communities with extreme cold conditions. As temperatures plunged in the Midwest up to negative 31 degrees, at least 21 people died and many more were affected by frostbite and hypothermia. Thus, hours-of-safety is a year-round problem.Smart building strategies can make a differenceCity governments and other policymakers should consider how to support better community resilience and safety by addressing this need. Fortunately, the building industry can play a role in equipping our cities to be more resilient against extreme heat and cold through a variety of strategies. The Resilient Design Institute (PDF) defines passive survivability as "a building’s ability to maintain livable conditions when sources such as electricity, water, or heating fuel are cut off."Considering hours-of-safety can help improve the passive survivability of a building and help save lives. The main thing that determines how many hours-of-safety a home has in extreme weather power outages comes down to two things: how well insulated the home is; and how much air leakage the home has between the inside and the outside. Passive design strategies such as a tighter envelope and more insulation also can help make buildings more efficient and resilient in both cold and hot temperatures. Passive design strategies such as a tighter envelope and more insulation also can help make buildings more efficient and resilient in both cold and hot temperatures. Implementing features such as cool roofs and thicker walls can contribute to buildings that stay comfortable for longer in the event of a power outage.A study from Passive House Institute U.S.(PDF) found that lower window-to-wall ratios and natural ventilation are helpful in maintaining favorable conditions during summer outages. In warm climates, simple changes such as adding white paint could lower roof temperatures (PDF) by as much as 86 degrees and indoor temperatures by 3.6 degrees to 9 degrees. Having thick walls can help buildings maintain moderate indoor temperatures. For example, residents of Brooklyn living in a house with highly insulated walls maintained an indoor temperature of around 60–72 degrees although outside temperatures dropped to almost 0 in the 2014 polar vortex.A more efficient building envelope can be combined with other resilient design strategies, such as islandable solar PV systems and battery storage, that can keep systems going during power outages even at times when the sun isn’t shining.These components provide a significant added value during extreme weather events that will become only more common over the next century. Society needs a way to consider that value alongside energy cost savings. This will help us understand if our buildings are prepared for the extreme weather events that unfortunately are becoming more frequent. Understanding the hours-of-safety that our homes provide can give us peace of mind or at least clear parameters on how we need to respond to emergencies.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Opportunity zones could provide major boost for clean energy, sustainable development

When Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, a $13 billion foundation guided by a vision for social justice, and Steve Mnuchin, President Donald Trump’s treasury secretary, agree that the Opportunity Zones program is the biggest economic development opportunity in 50 years, it’s worth taking a closer look.A provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the Opportunity Zones (OZone) program seeks to spur investment of patient capital in low- and moderate-income communities across the United States. The program allows investors to delay or avoid paying capital gains taxes if they invest in Qualified Opportunity Funds that then invest within Census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones.Market watchers are predicting $200 to $300 billion in investment in the nation’s 8,700-plus OZones. And federal rules have made it clear that green economy projects — such as local power generation, microgrids, EV charging stations and energy storage — are eligible for OZone investment. The OZone program is a good fit for clean energy and sustainable development. First, the tax benefits — capital gain tax deferral, partial forgiveness of tax on capital gains and forgiveness of additional gains on investments in OZones — make it easier to include sustainability features because the projects can deliver higher returns and be structured with simpler capital stacks. The higher return on Opportunity Fund investments, for example, could allow sponsors of clean energy projects to add features to projects or partner with energy customers that are considered more risky, as proposed by Jon Bonanno, CXO of New Energy Nexus. New Energy Nexus provides assistance to global energy entrepreneurs. Market watchers are predicting $200 to $300 billion in investment in the nation’s 8,700-plus OZones. Already, OZone projects are being completed with simpler capital stacks that lower costs. For example, about 80 percent of the Tappan workforce housing project in Cleveland is funded by an Opportunity Fund. Funding so much from a single source is new for development projects in Cleveland, according to Josh Rosen of Sustainable Community Associates. JD Supra, the online platform for legal content, has reported that sponsors of renewable energy projects may be able to rely on Opportunity Fund investors enough to not need traditional renewable tax credit investors. Opportunity Fund capital not only could reduce transaction costs, but also expand the investor base for clean energy projects.Second, the program allows for more comprehensive and holistic projects. In fact, the lack of restrictions on investments in the Opportunity Zone program creates an opportunity for integrated, interdisciplinary development plans. With the clarifications in the federal rules for OZones making it clear that clean economy projects are eligible, every project can be a clean energy and a clean jobs-producing project.Third, the program allows for a deeper commitment to neighborhood success than many past economic development incentives. That’s why Bo Menkiti of the Menkiti Group has teamed up with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to pursue OZone funding for its Neighborhood Investment Model, which includes LEED buildings. Because OZone investors must keep their capital invested for a full decade to realize the maximum tax benefits, they have a stake in a neighborhood's long-term success. In this way, the OZone program creates space to combine clean energy projects with initiatives to train local workers and nurture new local clean economy businesses. Because OZone investors must keep their capital invested for a full decade to realize the maximum tax benefits, they have a stake in a neighborhood's long-term success. This last point is key. Many community-centered and impact investors are concerned that the Opportunity Zone program will spur gentrification and displacement, and that current residents will not benefit from neighborhood improvements. Indeed, the program currently lacks requirements to report on or achieve benefits for those now living in OZones. But if structured with purpose, investments can produce significant benefits for current Opportunity Zone residents.For example, clean economy projects can be designed to lower local energy costs, provide job training for the relatively high-paying jobs in the solar sector, nurture new businesses for people of color and increase community resilience through local power production, microgrids, EV charging, batteries and broadband. Chart House Energy Opportunity Fund in Michigan and Norfolk Solar Qualified Opportunity Fund both have as part of their design a commitment to hiring local residents and providing them with job training.The urgency to address climate change, shift to renewable energy, and deepen community resilience is resonating with investors in Opportunity Funds, according to Julia Shin, VP at Enterprise. Enterprise is exploring creation of a Sustainability Opportunity Fund to meet demand from impact investors. There will be a high level of demand for renewable energy projects from investors, according to Chris LeWand, of the global business advisory firm FTI Consulting. Both Bonanno and Cody Evans of Homecoming Capital have seen this demand in action. They agree that more capital gains investors are seeking clean energy projects than clean energy projects in OZones ready for investment.Clean energy and resilience projects also are attractive to investors because they can enhance project value. For example, Arctaris Impact Fund included a solar field in its Opportunity Zone-based industrial park project in Flint, Michigan, because the savings on electricity and rent will attract businesses to the park. Arctaris Impact Fund intends to raise $750 million for projects in OZones. Thirty percent will be for investments in alternative energy, broadband and real estate infrastructure projects.   Clean energy and resilience projects also are attractive to investors because they can enhance project value. Decennial Opportunity Fund, hoping to make $1 billion in Opportunity Zone investments, is including clean energy in all its projects both because of the value it adds and the potential to reduce the cost of capital by unlocking tax credits and PACE financing. For example, Decennial Opportunity Fund plans to invest in a 100 percent net zero redevelopment on the former Michael Reese Hospital site in Chicago, a brownfield site that has been shuttered for 10 years. The clean economy opportunity could all come together in Puerto Rico, where 95 percent of the island is a designated Opportunity Zone. Puerto Rico’s government plans to use the OZone program to rebuild from the devastating hurricanes of 2017 while enhancing resilience and advancing a clean economy. The Global Resilience Institute of Northeastern University, which has developed a decision-support system to guide the prioritization of resilience investment needs, is working in selected communities in Puerto Rico to leverage OZones to advance community and infrastructure resilience. It also is advocating for the deployment of $120 billion of federal disaster recovery and other federal funds in OZones. It is unclear whether the Opportunity Zone program will deliver on its larger promise of jobs and development for current residents in low-income communities. But the program does offer a significant opportunity to accelerate clean energy and sustainability projects in struggling communities across the U.S. and in ways that produce local economic development benefits. Today, key players are gathering. New interest, innovation, and leadership are catalyzing a growing pipeline of deals. Leveraged successfully, the Opportunity Zone program could produce gains for communities, investors and the planet.Parzen and Richard recently co-authored a report, "Tapping the Opportunity Zone Program to Accelerate an Equitable Clean Economy (PDF)," from which this article is adapted.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Innovator BanQu builds blockchain and bridges for traceability, small farmers’ livelihoods

Businesses can’t ignore the growing consumer interest in the origin of their purchases. From food and beverages to electronics to luxury items, more people want to know if the products they are buying are sustainably sourced and what labor activities went into making them. This demand calls on brands to trace what happens at any given point in their product pipelines, especially in the bottom tier — workers in third-world countries who toil every day to grow, mine and sell raw materials but can’t even open a bank account for the lack of verifiable economic identity.What if there is a way to kill two birds with one block? Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, could help companies improve supply chain traceability and lift end producers out of economic limbo.BanQu, a non-crypto blockchain software platform, seeks to give impoverished farmers and producers a digital economic "passport" while helping companies acknowledge their contributions to the supply chain. Customers of the startup include beermaker Anheuser-Busch InBev and food manufacturer Mars, which are tracking farmers that supply the raw materials used in their products.The BanQu storyWhen BanQu founder Ashish Gadnis worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a volunteer CEO for the U.S. Agency for International Development, he met a mother unable to secure a loan to pay her children’s tuition. She had been growing high-quality barley for years, but banks didn’t consider the scratch paper receipts from her broker valid proof of sale. "The fundamental flaw in this whole system is that if you can't prove your existence, then people don't take you seriously," Gadnis said. The ability to digitize these supply chains is the largest transformation in technology we will ever see in our lifetime, bigger than anything that happened in the 1990s. It was 2014, and the world was enamored with Bitcoin. As a tech entrepreneur, Gadnis saw the potential in the digital currency's underlying transaction technology, blockchain, to increase end farmers’ visibility in the global economy.Blockchain is a decentralized ledger that stores data on "blocks," keeping an immutable digital record of activities. Unlike centralized systems that are vulnerable to hacking or corruption, blockchain won’t allow any tampering without the consent of everyone on the distributed network, which makes it safer and more transparent.Gadnis founded BanQu in 2015 and made it run entirely on a mobile site, so that anyone with either a cell phone or Internet access could use it. He opted not to design the platform as a smartphone app so that even those who only have basic SMS phones can sign up for the free service.After each sale, the BanQu service sends a text message to farmers with details of the transaction, validating their economic activities and creating digital trails that will live forever on the blockchain. Those records can help them access financial services such as banking and lending. At the same time, those records help companies pinpoint who produced their cacao, barley and diamonds, Gadnis said. When explaining BanQu to corporations, Gadnis presents it as a technology that can improve supply chain traceability and transparency, making transactions more efficient, which then can generate better margins as well as positive social and environmental impact.Companies have been rising to the opportunity, too. BanQu has a roster of high-profile customers that pay an annual subscription fee to access its services, such as Mars and Shell. It has raised $4 million in funding over three rounds, including a Series A round from AB InBev in June, according to Crunchbase.The beer giant partnered with BanQu in 2018 to provide blockchain-powered economic identities to over 4,000 direct farmers in Zambia, Uganda and India. This new round of funding aims to deepen that partnership and help AB InBev achieve its 2025 Sustainability Goals, one of which is making sure 100 percent of its over 35,000 direct farmers will be "skilled, connected and financially empowered."Blockchain to improve supply chain sustainabilityGadnis is not the only entrepreneur exploring the potential of blockchain as a traceability tool for companies eager to verify the source and sustainability of the food, goods and commodities they buy from supply chain partners.Daniel Jones, founder of Bext360, another SaaS blockchain platform that makes it simpler for consumers to understand the environmental and social impact of their purchases, likened his software to a "Salesforce for sustainability and traceability." Bext360's blockchain can store data about the time, date and location of transactions, amount of payment and metrics for sustainable sourcing. It even can store satellite images that show if certain producers are polluting water, he said."The ability to digitize these supply chains is the largest transformation in technology we will ever see in our lifetime, bigger than anything that happened in the 1990s," Jones said. He brought up the importance of interfacing with key financial institutions such as the World Bank and traditional banks such as HSBC to get capital in the hands of producers, so they can interact with consumers more directly and not be exploited by "bad actors," he said. Why businesses are paying attentionToday, businesses are taking notice of the market potential and social imperative for open and sustainable supply chain management. Nestlé also has committed to providing better supply chain transparency through blockchain after being repeatedly berated for labor issues in its cocoa supply chain over the years.In July, the multinational food conglomerate announced a collaboration with blockchain platform OpenSC to create a service that helps consumers track their food back to the farm. Nestlé previously worked with IBM Food Trust to trace certain products using blockchain. (Nestlé could not comment in time for this story.)Blockchain's ability to provide a transparent digital trace of origin answers another consumer demand: providing proof of legitimacy and authenticity, especially for products such as diamonds, aerospace and automotive parts, and organic and fair trade food items, said Nadia Hewett, blockchain project lead at the World Economic Forum. "There is a strong interest in the deployment of blockchain for product provenance, often referred to as pedigree," Hewett said.Some consumers are also willing to pay a premium for the transparency, which could help producers earn more for their labor and incentivize businesses to quickly adopt blockchain technology, she said. Risks and rewardsThe enthusiasm for blockchain must not mask the potential pitfalls of its widespread adoption. The nascent technology is still relatively unstable. Now is a good time for real-world experimentations, but blockchain is not yet ready to support full-scale production of all supply chains, Hewett said. Even if the technology is ready, large-scale adaptation across industries still could take a long time due to the complexity of deployment.  The enthusiasm for blockchain must not mask the potential pitfalls of its widespread adoption. "When deploying a blockchain solution, careful consideration should be given to the design of the solution and ecosystem governance, including security, data privacy, integrity, interoperability and business paradigm shift considerations," Hewett said. To ensure data privacy and security, Gadnis runs BanQu on a "permissions ledger" instead of a public ledger. That means only those with permissions can access and alter information on the chain. It helps maintain the identity of each participant on the network and allows farmers to own, access, monetize and permit their data, Gadnis said.The information stored on the chain doesn't necessarily need to be public. People can do anything they want with their own data, which is the most important aspect of blockchain, Jones said. Gadnis describes this absence of centralized control in blockchain as a "data democracy.""There's a lot of data that is now being captured in the name of helping poor people, but who makes all the money?" Gadnis said. "It's people who actually capture your data, own your data — they make the money. So I call it more of a data dictatorship." Done right, blockchain has the potential to solve one of the world’s most dire issues — poverty. More than 700 million people still live in extreme poverty today, surviving on less than $1.90 a day, according to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. That’s one in 10 people in the world. Therefore, the first United Nations Sustainable Development Goal is dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty for "all people everywhere, currently measured as those living on less than $1.25 a day," and BanQu is eager to do its share. "Our goal is to reach and enable 100 million people to get out of extreme poverty, and $100 million in profitable revenue by the end of 2023," Gadnis said.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Companies are already decarbonizing shipping without electric fleets — here’s how

This article is adapted from GreeBiz's newsletter, Transport Weekly. Subscribe here.Electric vehicle fleets might be the future, but for most fleet managers, the present is focused on lower hanging fruit: fuel efficiency; mode-switching; and route optimization. Why? Companies and organizations can use these three tools to save serious money and reduce basic carbon emissions without investing in entirely new vehicles and fueling infrastructure. Don't get me wrong. Vehicle fleets need to transition to zero emission technologies as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that's not always the reality for companies and organizations that are under-funded, slower-moving or based in regions that lack policies and incentives to help the transformation.And the aggressive fleet managers and companies that are moving quickly to electric no doubt already have been using these three tactics to cut costs and decarbonize. Fuel efficiency: All big companies focus on tracking fuel use and using software and driving methods to reduce fuel consumption. That's because fuel is a major expense. Walmart, the company most well-known for using its huge scale to slash costs, doubled the fuel efficiency of its 6,500 semi-truck fleet in 2015, and saved $1 billion in fuel costs. Since 2015, Walmart has improved truck fuel efficiency by 11 percent more, saved $140 million and avoided releasing 87,000 more metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Mode switching: This is a tactic specifically for companies that ship goods. Last month I chatted with Ingrid De Ryck, vice president of procurement and sustainability for beer giant Anheuser-Busch, and she said switching beer shipments between trucking and rail substantially can reduce carbon emissions. De Ryck said: "We want to ensure that at every single point in time, we are utilizing the most efficient mode of transportation that is available to us in our network. If that’s not the case, we switch it. " If you can plan more effectively, and have a supply plan, then you can mode-switch to slower options, but use more cost-effective and also more sustainable modes of transport. Oracle makes software that enables companies to manage their shipments and mode-switch between options (among many other things). Oracle Chief Sustainability Officer Jon Chorley explained to me: "One of the things that we believe in is that if you can plan more effectively, and have a supply plan, then you can mode-switch to slower options, but use more cost-effective and also more sustainable modes of transport."Route optimization: Planning and running the most efficient fleet route is generally all about software. Anheuser-Busch's De Ryck says the beer maker has worked with software companies such as Uber, Transfix, Convoy and SmartHop to optimize the most efficient routes, but also to make sure that trucks aren't running routes empty or underfilled.Oracle's Chorley says: "The No. 1 thing if you're driving a truck somewhere is you want the truck to be full, and full in both directions." Oracle's software offers route optimization but also "cooperative routing," which engages companies, even competitors, to collectively use their truck loads more efficiently. Pallet maker giant CHEP, the shipping and logistics arm of Australian giant Brambles, has started working with companies to use their empty fleets to transport its pallets — cutting down on empty trucks (and emissions). The company also plans to work with rival companies to help them share transport miles. For example, CHEP has been working with beer giant Mahou San Miguel to cut emissions from transport emissions and under the partnership, San Miguel's transport-related CO2 emissions fell 12.4 percent in 2018 compared to a year earlier. If you're managing a public or private fleet, make sure you're utilizing all of the digital options available to use data to help make your operations run more efficiently, and thus more environmentally friendly.[We'll cover things such as fleet efficiency, but also sustainability metrics, financing options, policies, Clean Transit Regulation, circular fleet fueling and more at a special "low carbon and electric fleet workshop" at VERGE 19 (access to just the workshop is $95 exclusively for fleet managers). Confirmed speakers (so far) at the workshop include PepsiCo's VP Supply Chain Mike O'Connell, City of Oakland Public Work's Richard Battersby, Volvo Group of North America's Dawn Fenton and Nikola Motors' Elizabeth Freithem. Many more to come.] Let's block ads! (Why?)

From Woodstock to sustainability — a journey

Adapted from GreenBuzz, a free weekly newsletter. Subcribe here.I’m having a Woodstock moment this summer. And no, I wasn’t in Max Yasgur’s alfalfa field in the summer of 1969. At least, I don’t remember being there.But I have my own special connection to the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, as it is officially known. In 1988, in the run-up to the event’s 20th anniversary, I conducted an oral history of the festival, interviewing dozens of the people who made Woodstock happen: producers; performers; doctors; cops; neighbors; shopkeepers; carpenters; electricians; lawyers; journalists; filmmakers; and an assortment of just plain folks who, by design or circumstance, became part of the event.The interviews were the basis of a book and audio documentary, published in 1989 for the 20th anniversary. Both were re-released in 2009 for the 40th. And this year, they were key ingredients of a PBS documentary, airing this month. The original audio interviews reside in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives in Cleveland.This week marks Woodstock’s 50th anniversary, and it’s full of reflections on the event, what it meant to the young generation of the time and its implications for today. I just had to weigh in, so I hope you'll indulge me.Moreover, I’m often asked how my interest in Woodstock relates to the work I do now. After all, Woodstock happened just eight months before the first Earth Day, in 1970, marking the dawn of the modern environmental movement. There must be some connection.The Woodstock story is a remarkable one, and much of it has little to do with the music, and some of it indeed connects with sustainability and the quest for a better world during challenging times. More on that in a minute.A disaster?By all measures, Woodstock should have been a disaster. Legally barred from its planned location just a month before its scheduled date, the promoters had to quickly regroup and relocate — to Max and Miriam Yasgur's dairy farm in upstate New York. In haste to build the festival site, there was little time for planning certain facilities and amenities, some of which fell by the wayside. Among the missing items were fences and gates, which never materialized satisfactorily, and tens of thosuands who showed up were admitted for free.The crowds caused traffic jams that paralyzed miles of highways, rendering them useless and requiring alternative measures to bring in food,  medicine and supplies, and to evacuate the injured and ill. The National Guard and the U.S. Army got involved, as did a wide range of community, business and religious organizations, from church groups to the nearby Catskill resorts. The radical left tried to turn the whole shebang into a political protest against the Vietnam War, something the festival promoters were hellbent to thwart. It was, after all, 1969.And then it rained. The grounds, already muddy from weeks of summer showers, turned to muck as the skies opened repeatedly, often violently, during the festival weekend. Few who came to Woodstock were adequately prepared to camp out for three days even in comfortable climes, let alone in the hot, humid, intensely overcrowded and soggy conditions of that East Coast summer. The fierce storms also put the infrastructure — electricity, water, sewerage, the stage, the sound system, light towers — in jeopardy, along with thousands in harm’s way.Needless to say, none of this aided the well-being of the countless individuals who had drunk, smoked or ingested ungodly amounts of licit and illicit substances, many of whom had to be ministered to, one of whom died. (But, contrary to the Woodstock myth, no babies were born there, as I’ve previously noted.)It is ironic, albeit not surprising, that many liken being at Woodstock to having been through a war. Think of it as a dry run for a dystopian climate-change future, but with a rousing soundtrack. And yet Woodstock was not a disaster. Far from it. There was much joy and humanity, and heroics galore. Starting with a rag-tag crew of idealistic and energetic youth — Woodstock essentially was financed and produced by those in their mid- to late 20s — the festival’s staff mushroomed into hundreds of hippies, hucksters, handymen and hangers-on. As the festival unfolded, these people met the troubles they encountered — the weather, drugs, radical politicos, demanding musicians, irate neighbors, even fake news — with high levels of ingenuity and integrity.Resilience and self-relianceIndeed, Woodstock was a prime exercise in resilience and self-reliance, and in the ability to adapt in real time to a broad range of challenging circumstances, including extreme weather, food and water shortages, overcrowding and the potential for social and political unrest. Think of it as a dry run for a dystopian climate-change future, but with a rousing soundtrack.As I said, the 400,000 or so participants came through it relatively unscathed. Why? It was definitely a reflection of the times, notably the peace-and-love hippie culture of the era. But it was also the beginning of a generation’s sense of self-reliance — that we could survive, even thrive, on our own terms, rooted in collaboration, sharing, adaptation and innovation.So, what did we learn? I’m hardly the first to offer lessons from Woodstock, but here are seven that have direct implications for sustainability:  1. There’s incredible power in community. When like-minded people come together to share and solve problems, the sky’s the limit. And when the problems are big and complex — think climate change — collaboration is the only viable path forward.2. Reflect the behavior you want to propagate. The Woodstock producers needed to calm massive crowds that were at times anxious, impatient and excited (not to mention stoned). Creating and modeling the right vibe would ensure the audience’s cooperation during challenging moments, of which there were several.3. Critical moments need out-of-the-box ideas. As I said, ingenuity was rampant. One small example, of many I could share: When Woodstock’s security chief learned that the Hell’s Angels were coming en masse to the festival, an ominous sign with vast potential for trouble, he hired them individually as messengers, sending them off in multiple directions, to be swallowed up and effectively neutralized by the crowd.4. Create a positive echo chamber. As the news media reported that Woodstock was a disaster — that tens of thousands of hungry hippies were stranded and starving — the organizers fed the audience those headlines and stories from the stage, making it clear to the attendees that the world was watching. That helped bring people together to prove the media, and the world, wrong.   5. Scarcity can engender generosity. The lack of food helped create a spirit of sharing — again, encouraged from the festival stage. What could have been a mad stampede to grab available burgers and sandwiches turned out to be a communal experience in which attendees shared what they had with others. Nobody starved.6. Adaptivity and resilience are critical. The situation at the festival site kept changing, as hordes poured in, supplies ran low, lawyers filed lawsuits and the weather kept shifting. It was one long fire drill, a series of rolling disasters in the making. It required constant pivoting and triage, but also the ability to roll with the moment.7. You can survive adversity with humor and humanity. At Woodstock, much credit goes to the Hog Farm, a New Mexico commune hired to help in a number of ways. They created a free kitchen that fed tens of thousands, assisted city dwellers unaccustomed to sleeping under the stars, ministered to drug-addled attendees and generally engendered a spirit of humor and light-heartedness that was critical in getting through challenging moments.(See also the reflections of my friend Bob Langert, former sustainability chief at McDonald’s, about his learnings from Woodstock.)Of course, Woodstock was a reflection of the times, which, suffice to say, have changed. But those were turbulent times, too — civil rights, the Vietnam War, divisive politics, rampant drug abuse, generational clashes and more. Nineteen sixty-nine was, among other things, the peak year for troops deployed in Southeast Asia, many of them conscripted involuntarily. It was a society in conflict. And yet.Woodstock reminds us that as we lean into some of the critical environmental and social challenges in today's divisive times, that there’s a spirit that says, "We can get through anything if we pull together with humanity, generosity and grace."We’ve done it before.Let's block ads! (Why?)