Monday, December 20, 2010

Paris: Electric Car Sharing Pioneer

Going beyond its already successful bicycle rental program, the city of Paris will launch a new electric car sharing program next year. It's great to see the idea expand from bikes to cars. Paris will be the first major city with such a program. The new program, called Autolib ("automobile" "liberte") is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 22,000 tons a year. The program will build 1,400 rental and re-charging stations in Paris and surrounding communities. Autolib is set up as a government/private industry partnership with Avis, the French National Railway company (SNCF) and the Paris Transit authority (RATP).

As the wave of electric cars is mainstreamed, and the suburban/metropolitan traffic congestion increases, I can envision this car sharing model becoming more popular and widespread in other cities. The convenience and cost (likely cost is approx. $6 to $9 per half hour) will likely appeal to tourists and residents who need a transportation solution that is free from car ownership.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Presidio's MPA Program and Sacred Activism

Yesterday aI had an opportunity to speak to a terrific group of students from the Presidio Graduate School's Masters of Public Administration (MPA) in Sustainable Management program in San Francisco. What an amazing group that is studying ways to integrate sustainability policies with programs in government, NGO's and the private sector. These types of programs are at the vanguard of shifting the perspective for seeking effective initiatives that can make a different in people's lives. Our discussion turned towards what we can do as individuals and the importance of aligning our values with our work.

This brings me to the book by Andrew Harvey, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism and the Institute for Sacred Activism and Networks of Grace. How to combine compassion and activism. The new institute lists a number of groups doing work in the sustainability field that embraces "compassion-in-action." What a great way to highlight grass roots efforts that are making positive changes by aligning ourselves with our purpose.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bioneers and Beyond

Last weekend was the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, CA. For over 20 years the Bioneers conference has been spearheading the people and organizations leading the charge for environmental, social and economic change worldwide. Profiling the individuals and their work helps to ground these ideas with practical applications.

I participated in a new bioneers program titled, Backstage@Bioneers-- a live webcast interview program with host Terrence McNally. I was on the program with Sherry Boschert, founder of Plug In America which supports the expansion of electric cars. Our topic: climate change. Although neither Sherry and I are climatologists per se, it made it all the more relevant since we each covered how we became interested in sustainability topics and the role of climate change in our work. Since there are very few climate 'experts," we can each do our part to reduce greenhouse gasses by taking steps in our daily lives related to driving cars with cleaner emissions, conserving energy in our homes, supporting our local economy, etc.

I also had an opportunity to host a panel: "Unleashing the Entrepreneurial Spirit in the New Economy." The panelists included Michele McGeoy from Solar Richmond, which trains youth in installing solar panels, Adam Davis from Solano Partners, a conservation finance firm, and Jeff Marcus from Ecospan, a bioplastics company. As with the plenary sessions, getting to hear the stories of how these entrepreneurs launched their firms and handled the challenges in creating a successful organization was remarkable. These are their stories inspire and spark new ideas in our own work. The Q/A segment brought really interesting points and highlighted the tremendous experience of the attendees.

Bioneers is also adapting to the times and is now experimenting with a Bioneers conference in Europe-- the first one was in Holland and apparently went quite well. It is definitely time to scale up and mainstream these ideas. The TED conference began their scaling process a few years ago and appears to be very successful. Last summer on a flight to Boston, I saw videos of speakers from TED who were part of the airplane's media program. By offering its video of presenters for free, TED has shown its commitment to spreading these ideas far and wide-- A winning formula that others will likely follow soon. Bioneers and TED have provided a wonderful template for expanding their reach for the exchange of ideas and practices that are improving the world. Beaming Bioneers, with 20 worldwide sites this year and TED Global are important steps in that direction.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More on Resilience: Adapting to Change

The concept of resilience is back as a hot topic for the last several months. Yes! Magazine just completed its August issue focusing on resilience; Ode Magazine and other publications have also focused on this idea. After the recent massive floods in Pakistan and Ladakh, and other natural disasters, resilience comes to mind as a way to cope with these extreme disruptions. There's also the resilient aspect of managing the economic downturns and building economies that better withstand downward cycles.

Coming from a scientific roots resilience speaks to the notion of bouncing back. How to recover, adapt, create flexibility so that a system can change as it confronts adversity. Nature does it in how it recovers from wildfires, floods, droughts; species are resilient in how they adapt to cold temperatures, scarcity of food, water, etc. And when it comes to humans... how resilient are we?

At the personal level, our bodies are remarkably resilient in fighting disease, healing from trauma, and adapting to change. At a community level, the resiliency of our food, energy, water, infrastructure becomes more vulnerable. We become less dependent when we rely on a regional power grid, water systems that source water from long distances and food that travels thousands of miles on trucks running of fuel with price fluctuations. Perhaps resilience is closely related to localization: home grown skills from growing local food, local energy and water sources and building a strong social capital base that taps on the local labor, experience and expertise.

Resilience is also about awareness that change is a constant-- that challenge is how we adapt to change. Strength to cope with change comes from working with our neighbors and identifying the skill sets to become more flexible in, for example, insulating our homes, developing an efficient transit system or schools that are rooted in knowledge about their local communities.

All these factors balance place-making, community building and sharing social and natural capital.


For more info. about resilience, check out:
The Resilience 2011 conference takes place March 11-16, 2011 at Arizona State University.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Slow Movement

I recently heard about the Slow Movement.
In their words:

"This website supports a growing cultural shift towards slowing down. On this site we discuss how we have lost connection to most aspects of our life and to the natural world and rhythms around us, and how we can reconnect – how we can live a connected life. The Slow Movement is a worldwide movement to recapture Meaningful Connection this state of connectedness. The movement is gaining momentum, as more and more people recognise their discomfort at the fast pace and disconnected nature of their lives."

There is also a book, In Praise of Slowness: How a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed, by Carl Honore on this topic of slowing down.

Our choices include how much technology that often speeds life up do we want to interact with?Making these choices gives us more time to digest, incubate and respond after evaluating the options presented. Also, what are the priorities on what to focus? Being more in tune with the natural rhythms (be it seasons, day, growth and decay) would seem to be an approach into slowness.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Resilience: Personal and Community Levels

The term resilience seems to be coming up frequently in my readings, dialogues and in literature about sustainability and preparing for climate change, etc. With roots in the scientific community, the science of resilience has a systems perspective that gives it a valuable framework. In daily life, we can think about how we make our communities, our networks and ourselves more resilient to navigate the challenges ahead.

Since change is inevitable, resilience deals with how we can adapt and regroup from changes--natural disturbances may include fires and floods. Nature responds to these changes by adapting and evolving--- examples include the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, the fires at Yellowstone National Park, and the coastline destruction from Hurricane Katrina; other disturbances to natural resources include scarcity of water, food, or energy.

What about our social networks? How do we increase our resiliency and effectively respond to disasters and shortages in our communities? During Hurricane Katrina, for example, the Vietnamese community fared remarkably well because of their close community relations--- neighbors knowing their neighbors and helping each other. At the social level resiliency begins with education about the source of our water, food, energy and economic vitality. Then, we extend this knowledge to acting on behalf of our community-- instilling a sense of ownership-- caring about what keeps our communities thriving.

At a personal level, resilience involves what I describe in the final "S" of the SPIRALS Framework in my book, Thriving Beyond Sustainability, namely, Self-care. We "bounce back" and adapt to change by recognizing what nourishes us-- it may be exercise, hobbies, connecting with friends... There's also an element of re-examining our belief system and questioning our assumptions so that we are open and resilient to change.

For more info about resiliency, check out:
Resilience Thinking, by Brian Walker (People and Place (Vol. 1 Issue 2, 2008)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

LBL, Wood Stoves and Ethiopia

I just received a really interesting link to a piece about a new wood stove design developed at Lawrence Berkeley Lab in Berkeley, California that's having a positive impact for Ethiopians in reducing deforestation and pollution.

Full article:

What does the European Climate Exchange in London have to do with the rural Yaya Gulelle district in Ethiopia?

Everything—if all goes well in some test chambers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory this summer.

Ethiopia has experienced severe deforestation in the last century. Its natural forest cover has plummeted from 35 percent at the start of the 20th century to just 3 percent today. While agricultural practices, including coffee production, are one of the main causes, collecting wood for cooking fuel is also a major contributing factor. About 80 percent of the population still uses traditional three-stone fires to prepare meals, a highly inefficient and polluting method of cooking. The average household uses 11 kg of wood-equivalent per day, or 4 metric tons annually, according to World Vision. And Ethiopia is hardly unique in this regard: according to the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, more than half the world’s population—or about 3 billion people—cooks with open fires or rudimentary stoves.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sustainability Across the Curriculum Workshop

Last week I attended "Sustainability Across the Curriculum for Campus Leaders" workshop offered by AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). There were 35 of us including attendees from Iceland, Tasmania, and United Arab Emirates. Led by Geoff Chase and Peggy Barlett, (editors of Sustainability on Campus), the stories from this gathering gave a great insider's view of the challenges and opportunities of incorporating sustainability education in college and university courses.

From the two days we spent at San Diego State University, I take away the importance of giving the "stakeholders" (i.e., professors, staff, and students) the tools for developing their own materials, rather than feeling compelled to provide content expertise. Many of the exercises we did both individually and as a group delved into gaining new perspectives on sustainability topics and the importance of place as a way to provide context for sustainability topics. Another key aspect is the importance of reflection-- to have the time to digest new information and to "incubate" ideas for later implementation. In working with colleges and universities to develop sustainability plans, timing and pacing are essential in order for initiatives to be received and eventually implemented.

This is a great workshop for those interested in exploring ways of incorporating sustainability education into courses and to explore ways of establishing alliances both on campus and with external organizations.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Prescott College: Sustainability Education Symposium

I recently returned from Prescott College's Second Annual Sustainability Education Symposium in Prescott, Arizona (May 19-21, 2010). I had an opportunity to present to the Prescott community including Ph.D. candidates, faculty, and members of the public (Prescott was the first college in the nation to offer a Ph.D. in Sustainability). Among the keynotes included Dr. Gibran Rivera who discussed the impact of social change and Dr. Devon Peña who talked about the environmental justice movement with enlightening examples from his experiences with South Central farmers in Los Angeles and the acequia communities of the Rio Arriba, Upper Rio Grande. The Ph.D. candidates also had an opportunity to present their dissertations.

I was inspired by the commitment and research on sustainability topics that were shared. Presenters also showed the value of connecting their educational theories with on-the-ground practical applications. The Prescott College educational model--- a cohort approach in which students who live throughout the US come together for colloquia during their semesters of study--- attracts self-directed students and a great mix of perspectives. The Ph.D. students also helped to launch the online Journal of Sustainability Education which is a welcome addition to the on-going sustainability education literature.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

DO and Living Future

I'd like to share two conferences (or un-conferences) that are experimenting with changing the one-to-many format typical of conferences-- Trying to find innovative ways of sharing ideas and projects that are making changes in the world. And changing the format for gatherings whereby participants and presenters collaborate in the exchange of new ideas and attendees play a key role in the gatherings.

The first is the DO Lectures, which take place in West Wales, UK. A colleague recently mentioned this conference that is all about making change happen... it appears to be a variation of the TED Conference (Technology Education Design). Like TED, DO has lectures available online. As the DO website points out: "The idea is a simple one. That people who Do things, can inspire the rest of us to go and Do things too. So each year, we invite a set of people down here to come and tell us what they Do." I have not attended DO, but would like to hear from others that have...

The second is the Living Future (the un-conference for deep green professionals) put on by the Cascadia Chapter of the US Green Building Council. (It's happening this coming May in Seattle, Washington). I attended Living Future last year in Portland, Oregon and really enjoyed the way there were so many opportunities to connect with the attendees (gathering was limited to about 500 attendees).

These un-conferences are breaking the mold on how we share ideas with groups-- including having great talks available online.

Check them out!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I just viewed The Girl Effect video... A simple, inspirational, elegant way to understand linkages...
An example of non-profit and for profit groups aiming to educate and create positive change...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Monitoring Greenhouse Gasses: One Region at a Time

"California is preparing to introduce the first statewide system of monitoring devices to detect global-warming emissions, installing them on towers throughout the state." Thus begins an article in last Wednesday's February 3rd's New York Times entitled: California Sets Up Statewide Network to Monitor Global Warming Gases. What's particularly encouraging about this program is that it's the first time that a network has been set up to monitor specific sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and will help the state verify compliance with its greenhouse gas emissions targets. Each of these analyzers can cover several hundred miles including, for example, the Los Angeles basin.

These devices, known as Picarro analyzers, are pioneering what will become a national (and eventually international) network to monitor greenhouse gas emissions. They are made by a Silicon Valley company and provide real-time measurements of greenhouse gases. American ingenuity and technology at the vanguard of a critical step to curb greenhouse gasses and develop the jobs and technologies of the green economy.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Launch of Two New Journals: The Solutions Journal and The Journal of Sustainability Education

A couple of new journals about sustainability topics are adding new ideas and resources to the global dialog on green topics: The Solutions Journal, founded by Robert Costanza, Paul Hawken, David Orr and John Todd, and Prescott College's, Journal of Sustainability Education (JSE).

The Solutions Journal aims "to showcase bold and innovative ideas for solving the world's environmental, social and political problems." To this end, I am thrilled to see them launch their premier issue by publishing Donella Meadow's article "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System."-- This is a classic piece that does a great job of presenting the importance of a systems approach to solving the challenges we face. The journal also includes articles by Robert Costanza, Bill McKibben, Frances Moore Lappé and others... All geared to solutions... to thinking beyond the basic approach... a glass half-full approach much needed in these times. Their website invites ideas and solutions from their readers.

The Journal of Sustainability Education (JSE) provides "a forum for academics and practitioners to share, critique, and promote research, practices, and initiatives that foster the integration of economic, ecological, and social-cultural dimensions of sustainability within formal and non-formal educational contexts." The peer reviewed JSE is in its launch phase and should be a great resource for advancing the ideas related to sustainability education.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reliable Prosperity

Ecotrust, a Portland, Oregon based nonprofit doing some excellent work for over 20 years in support of viable local economies in coastal regions of western North America has taken a breath to look back.. and to look ahead... To this end, they asked for feedback from their members and have adopted "Reliable Prosperity" as a guiding principle.

The term, Reliable Prosperity comes form Jane Jacobs, who in her last book,
The Nature of Economies wrote, "human beings exist wholly within nature as part of the natural order in every respect. . . This is difficult for many ecologists and economists to accept. . . . readers unwilling or unable to breach a barrier that they imagine separates humankind and its works from the rest of nature will be unable to hear what this book is saying." Ecotrust has adopted these values as part of their mission to "inspire fresh thinking that creates economic opportunity, social equity and environmental well-being."

What an elegant, simple and inspiring approach to embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Beyond that, there are concrete organizations Ecotrust links to that support this vision. The Reliable Prosperity website does a great job of illustrating what the new green economy that is now in the mainstream news will look like (this website builds and expands from the original Conservation Economy website... with some practical applications that add to its relevance).