The big slick. What a mess, eh?
So many opinions about what we should do. So many fingers wagging. But unless you are completely off grid, growing all your own food, weaving your own fabric to make your own clothes, and have basically removed yourself from any consumer situation that takes in any way from the planet, you are guilty of this crime. Just like me.
We are all guilty of this crime against the planet, and like the titans of Washington and Wall Street, we will not prosecute ourselves. We humans love to outsource blame to others – because other people are the problem and are the ones who should change, right? 7,000,000,000 +/- humans on the planet, all with fingers pointing at one another. Craaaaaaaaaaaaazy. And yet so funny.
This explosion in-our-faces will not go away. It is a major wake up call, but people want to hit the snooze button and go back to watching CSI. Just like how all the networks went back to entertainment programming immediately after President Obama’s address to the nation, pleading and praying for change.
But when your economy depends on consumption, you can’t ask for conservation. It’s the paradox I testified about years ago when Portland was exploring disaster scenarios and how to mitigate the effects. Back in 2007, I wrote a blog post about advertising in the age of peak oil, and the problem of institutions clinging to antiquated models. (Check out the video on that post from a presentation I made at Clear Channel, at 45:00 in…)
And as much as businesses want customers to keep buying their stuff, income destruction will of course lead to less consumption. It’s just that people like to buy stuff. We built Bright Neighbor as a sustainability network that allows people to lend things to one another rather than consuming new things from stores, and it works great. But perceived Independence is an American value, and many people feel they are independent in choices by shopping at stores. The idea of dependence on neighbors they don’t know yet is a leap for sure. After all, you can’t deeply know or trust everyone. There are predators out there, yes. But a system to build social glue through resource sharing at the neighborhood and hyper-local community level is in place. We are doing what we can to expand Bright Neighbor to more cities right now.
So, in the long run, we all die. That bugs me! I like living, and want a good planet to pass along to my kid and other people’s kids as well. I find that the only way to maintain my own sanity in this crazy crazy world is to accept that it is indeed a crazy crazy world. It always has been. That’s why I have as much fun as I can every day trying to reduce my own personal impact. And I have a long way to go as a recovering oil addict, even after trying for years. There is no self-righteousness, just an attempt to do what I feel is right to try to liberate myself from dependence on oil.
How about you?
June 19, 2010 at 10:37 am
The following is a guest column written for The Oil Drum. Randy White is a municipal sustainability expert, was a member of Portland’s Peak Oil Task Force, and is the Founder of Bright Neighbor, LLC.
It’s no secret that Portland is a pretty radical city. While mainstream America is still learning how to make the leap to full-time sustainability activities, Portland, Oregon is a major hot zone and leader in the human revolution. The intent of this article is to offer an opinion and insight into strategies, collaborations, and technologies that are occurring in our city to solidify life-supporting social constructs.
We All Have Our Problems
Portland is dependent on energy and money just like any other city. With over 500,000 people, we have the 23rd largest economy in the US at $88.6 billion dollars. We have crime, poverty, homelessness, and hard-working people who would love more time off to pursue more joys in life if only they didn’t have debts to pay.
The fact is, not enough people here have the skills, resources, or contribute to the system to say Portland can become a completely self-sufficient city. While science has determined the amount of calories and nutrition needed for human bodies to survive, only each individual can determine what is needed to satisfy each of our own living requirements. Right now, people around the world are searching within themselves to determine what this mother-of-all-market-corrections means in the context of their own life. In countries around the world, people are reflecting on survival, whether it means scrambling to meet basic needs such as food and shelter, or committing one’s life to helping others survive as we dismantle nuclear weapons.
Indeed, finance industries and governments continue to try and figure out how they can game the now collapsing currency market, and around the world thousands of loose-knit social movements and groups are acting together, radically altering the balance between commercial and non-commercial economies. Portlanders are trading sink repair for firewood, worm castings for books, and organizing into sustainability groups, meeting to discuss a multitude of survival strategies. The cool part is that it is in the most relaxed manner I could have imagined. You know something cool is happening when the art community gets involved. To see scholars, artists, chefs, teachers, farmers, faith leaders, bureaucrats and other various communities coming together to discuss survival in a civil manner is surreal. It is also the beauty of the Portland conversation, because empathy, understanding, and cooperation are now winning out over personal greed.
Let’s examine some of the conversations taking place, and how people are organizing to do what we can locally:
Food, Food, Food
Portlanders will practically strip naked and make love to the soil. Our city is full of a diverse ecosystem of people and cultures who love and worship local food, soil, and farmers. The cool thing to ask at parties is “So what do you grow”? Little kids wear shirts that say “I Love My Farmer”. They worship apples – and I’m not just talking about their phones and computers.
As mobile as the city is with its fantastic bus and rail system, we have no problem getting around to all the amazing restaurants that showcase seasonal, locally grown vegetables in their menus. Our chefs strive to use local ingredients, as long as the cost doesn’t put them out of business. Our citizens have one of the highest percentages of CSA subscriptions. The fact is, we love food. So when it comes to loud-mouthed know-it-alls, you can bet Portland likes to brag about it’s success with food.
Using a variety of technologies to list events, food experts are leading the conversation. If you know how to grow food, fix soil, and install edible landscaping, you are all the rage. Take a look at this quick video and you will see what the job of the future looks like.
Presently, Bright Neighbor offers a “Lawns to Gardens” service, helping match people to homeowners willing st share their lawns. We are connecting Gerding Edlen’s newest building CYAN/pdx to Portland land owners to help create more garden activity and boost our local local food system.
Our April 17th kickoff of the Bright Neighbor Community Revolution Tour will include boosting lawn farming production, water harvesting, and permaculture practices throughout the city.
This one is real easy. Portlanders either walk, bike, drive, ride, or rail it to and from where they need to be. If you need to get there, you can get there cheap, you just have to consider whether you will be exposed to the elements and how much time it will take. But we know we will get there somehow.
When it comes to fuel supply solutions, some Portlanders have electric vehicles, and many are discovering that you can make ethanol from hundreds of non-food supply threatening feedstocks other than corn. As for ride-sharing, people are getting to know their neighbors to work on cooperative projects and partake in resource sharing. For instance, if you need a ride right now, you can just call up your friends or discover your neighbors via one of the many Internet technologies. You can always use the Internet and phone to find a ride and share resources. The question is which technologies to use will make it easiest for communities.
Fixing our local commerce system
One high-brow conversation among Portland communities is talk of fixing our money system and the restructuring of the economy based on a non-fiat based local currency. The challenge with this movement is an assumption that outstanding debts can or will be canceled or repaid using any new system. The beauty of this movement and conversation is that even if we don’t solve the new riddle right away, the conversation is fascinating and the beer is great. Even thinking about the idea of replacing the world’s current broken money system is exciting in and of itself. The questions being asked have to do with real value, the meaning of real wealth, and property rights. It is being talked about by all political parties, all religions, and all citizens.
We are asking:
Who grows my food?
Who supplies my fuel?
Are my water need secured?
What is worth more, a knife or a variety bag of seeds?
How does the community determine each person’s value?
How do we know who is trustworthy and who isn’t?
How long will dollars matter?
Am I capable of doing what it takes to survive?
What is my purpose if not to make money?
The conversation in Portland revolves around a common realization that our community is quickly developing an entirely new system of accepted social values, logistics, and supply chains. I will end this postcard from a transition hotzone with the opinion that emerging businesses are using a variety of technologies to bring new food supplies into pop-culture at maximum velocity. More of our citizens are contributing real value to the community through hyper-involvement at the neighborhood level, and Portland will continue to lead the way in defining modern community survival trends.
What’s cool that is going on in your city?
March 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm
Co-authors: Randy White & Cedric Justice
November 27, 2007
Financial choirs around the world are finally singing that the US is in a recession. If you operate a business, you didn’t need to wait to hear that, you already know it. It arrives every month in the form of rising bills and smaller profits. As your operational expenses keep rising, you find yourself wondering how many more payrolls you can tolerate in these financial conditions.
Here’s the good news: You can quickly trim some fat right now without cutting or gutting your employees. Here are five fast ways to save your business thousands of dollars a month during the recession:
1) SOURCE LOCALLY
Sourcing local products and services improves implicit costs, such as delays in business, transportation costs, and depending on the industry, freshness. The sustainability benefit is three-fold: economically it potentially saves your organization money; socially, it improves dollar velocity, improving the local economy. This improves the potential work pool your organization can draw from as well as the local infrastructure and ability for local customers to afford your product or service. Environmentally, it shortens supply chains, which uses less fossil fuels in transportation of goods.
TIP: Small businesses can barter with one another. Big Box stores do not have as much luxury in that department.
2) DITCH THE WASTERS
Here are three common wasters you can cut immediately:
Water coolers refrigerate your water and also heat up the water. It is a redundant system that is an expensive luxury that is unnecessary. In areas like Portland, OR, the tap water is some of the best in the country. At worst, one can buy a Brita filter and have a pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator. Hot water can be obtained through the microwave or the coffeemaker. Additionally, office water heaters are available for purchase or subscription, whereby the service of hot/cold filtered water is sold to you, and the cost of the water is usually absorbed by the building. One client was spending $130/mo on bottled water and now spends $35 for the service of the water heater/cooler (Buying one of these units is about $600 with $35 for filters that need to be changed every 9-24 months depending on the model). It has saved them time, money, resources, and real estate. Environmentally, producing plastic and shipping water in trucks makes little sense, especially when our society has plumbing as a fundamental infrastructure. Water purchased in bottles is in the dollars per gallon order of magnitude, water that runs through plumbing is in the cents (less than $0.10) per gallon cost. Additionally, it takes out the element of employee passive-agressivism prevalent in offices where employees get upset because someone didn’t change the water bottle out.
Turn off the electricity when you leave and turn down the thermostat:
“Are you trying to heat the neighborhood?” “Didn’t anyone tell you to turn the lights out when you leave the room?” These are utterances from a grandfather (that and “I walked to school uphill in the snow both ways”), but they came from a time of scarcity. Heating a room that isn’t being used, leaving on computers when no one is using them, and lighting a building with no one in it simply doesn’t make any sense. In fact, I’ve worked in a building where there was a small break room with the light on and it was locked from the outside. What’s the point of that? If you use less energy, chances are, the lease terms you have next period aren’t going to have an energy premium set on them. In fact, why not work with building management to give you a share of the savings you implement? Set policies that encourage and enable people, don’t be an authoritarian or make people feel guilty, it doesn’t work.
Get a double-side printer and use recycled paper:
Many companies have a double-sided printer, but it isn’t set to default. Have your IT staff set the printer to default to double-side printing and you can save up to half of your paper costs. If you don’t have a double-sided printer, you can also set up a second tray of leftover paper to print to the back side of drafts you’ve already used. The idea here is to default to what is least resource intensive, and have the super-white virgin paper be a premium, not a default. Recycled paper is currently more expensive than virgin paper, but that’s due to the market and to externalities. If you demand recycled paper, it will become cheaper as more demand it… economies of scale. Plus, if you’re using leftover paper scraps, you’ve cut your budget for paper by nearly 50%, so you can afford a 20-30% surcharge. Paper creation is an energy intensive process that pollutes the environment with nasty chemicals (plus, paper mills stink!). Using recycled paper cuts the emissions for these chemicals as well as energy.
3) PROMOTE ALTERNATIVE COMMUTING OPTIONS
Telecommuting may not work for everyone, but it may work for some. A lot of productivity is lost when people have to leave early to get their kids from school and it could be a cost center for them to have their kids in daycare. Besides the child angle, people who don’t commute in grinding traffic for 1-2 hours today will be much more amiable and rested when coming to work. Paying for a parking spot is about the worst thing you can do for productivity, for the environment, for reducing taxes, and for your bottom line. Instead, give your employees options: some companies are starting to give employees a transit budget. To qualify, they have to take an alternative form of transportation. The incentive pays for public transit, and if the employee bikes to work, they keep the allowance. It is a taxable expense to the company (check with your accountant before going through with it, as laws are different everywhere) in optimal situations. This reduces your carbon footprint (which, if you could track, you could sell the carbon credits), increases employee health (less stress, more exercise), and increases productivity. Additionally, goodwill is extended to your labor, which pays off in innumerable ways: employee retention, corporate knowledge, productivity gains, decreased utility costs and real estate pressures (if you only have 200 employees in the office instead of 1000, you’re probably going to need fewer desks, square footage, and heating/lighting). You may even be able to pay less because your employees won’t be saddled with the costs of commuting in time, energy, and fuel costs, they can accept a bit less. Bicycles are much cheaper than cars to maintain, and usually the cost of one car payment to buy; daycare is the cost of most one-bedroom apartments. Making your employees aware of this can create some huge gains, both for you and for them.
4) WHEN BUILDING, GO LEED (OR BEYOND)
Green buildings have been shown to increase employee productivity, reduce energy inputs, cost less to maintain, and benefit society as a whole. Mark Edlen, clearly the most progressive LEED builder in the world, says “It is up to the new generation of Portland’s business leaders to take social and environmental responsibility to the next level, and in times of uncertainty, people must show bold leadership and not be afraid to take risks that seemed easier when times were flush and there was more room for failure.”
Holistic systems tend to work when they’re thought of together, and the added costs, if any, will definitely deliver a fantastic return on investment through your decrease in risk exposure to spikes in energy prices, fuel costs, political strife in faraway lands, etc. Your employees are the most expensive part of the building per square foot. Ask your employees what you can do together to spruce up the work place while making the space greener. And make sure you measure it. Metrics are everything. If you know how much energy your cell phone charger uses by being plugged in or how much your computer uses by not being on standby, then you can make the conscious decision to unplug or turn off. But you need the data first. Consulting firms and electronic gadgets can help you with this, measuring everything from waste outputs to energy consumption to carbon emissions. Most people care, but without having any numbers, they can’t make informed decisions. Get your bean counters involved; but remember productivity is by far the most bang for your buck.
5) TAP INTO YOUR INNER LEADER
Companies who employ the golden rule and who create inspired teams or tribes have a real advantage over hierarchical, authoritarian, ‘draining’ workplaces. One of the simplest things you can do to save money is treat others well. Re-read Dale Carnegie’s “The Leader in You”. If your employees hate working for you, they’ll do everything in their power to exploit the benefits you give them. If they love their job, it will show in the work that they do, and it will show in your organization’s bottom line. People who love their job don’t call in sick as often, which means that you can depend on your teammates and that meeting you call will be fully staffed with the expert you need to make the sale. Inverting your management structure is instrumental to doing this. Managers are support staff for production people. Once that mentality is implemented, there’s a grassroots shift in how the company operates. Drama, strife, and other interpersonal relations are smoothed. Asking your employees what they want/need will help you to better meet your clients’ needs, as anyone ‘under’ you is closer to the front lines than you are.
With the arrival of Peak Oil and a fast warming climate, we are entering a hard period of time. As the dollar continues to decline in value and consumers struggle to pay their debts, it is imperative your business be stunning. Now is your time to shine, and if you adopt these five practices, you will see improvements in your bottom line, employee attitudes, and general business health.
Randy White is the founder and CEO of Bright Neighbor.
Bright Neighbor was founded on the idea of the hyper-local. What are you doing that is affecting your neighborhood or street? We measure and report on the success of community adaptation to rapid planetary changes.
Bright Neighbor is:
* A free public tool that encourages sustainability, food system security, and thriving community practices for neighborhoods by encouraging green behavior through participation, evaluation and sharing.
* A Private Layer for collecting information on green behaviors by companies, as well as a tool to communicate special initiatives, private resources and information to a
group. Like how the Portland Trail Blazers want to use it for ride sharing.
* A advertising platform that supports large businesses to participate in the same way owners of Private Layers do, but who just want to have their name attached to “something green” without all of the work.
* A platform that can, in time, collect and report information relevant to emergency services and governments.
For our customers like the City of Portland, Portland General Electric, and Gerding Edlen Development, even people who join Bright Neighbor through private layers, are Bright Neighbor users first, participating in their neighborhood, and Private Layer members second. This is done to allow the continued participation of users in their own neighborhoods as the continue to improve their hyper-local community so we can track the results. This allows Private Layer customers to take credit for “sponsoring” the good works of their members while allowing them to track the results of their organization-centric efforts.
By focusing on a specific region per Bright Neighbor, we track activity or actions and their involvement in making their hyper-local community better. Though we do the work of a non-profit, we are a for-profit eco-fixing market development company. Local businesses are served through their participation in Bright Neighbor, and they shouldn’t necessarily need to pay for it. Bright Neighbor understands the collapsing economy and how to navigate it, working within the existing financial and political system until they realize money is not going to solve their problems.
Our paying customer markets include:
* Major sports franchises and arena-owners. Interested in keeping eco-costs low and lessening their carbon footprint through ride sharing and a way of communicating large-scale green initiatives to their sporting audience, employees and guest of their facilities.
* Corporations with a green agenda (PGE). Same as above, but with the ability to get more relevant reporting to encourage shifts in corporate culture.
* Municipalities interested in uniting their city-wide neighborhood outreach.
If you are interested in sponsoring Bright Neighbor’s October 2009 launch across North America, please contact us through http://www.brightneighbor.com
November 27, 2007 at 9:13 am