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Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index, unlike other forms of measuring of the health of a country, measures the relative happiness of the people in that country irrespective of most other measures that countries are normally subject to such as GDP, trade  surpluses or infrastructural considerations. We might ask then why the list is topped by Costa Rica and Vietnam.  The Happy Planet Index is calculated as follows:

Experienced happiness is measured by a poll of people in each country, Life expectancy is from the UN Development Report and Ecological footprint is from the WWF.

When the people of Costa Rica were polled, they were actually found to be quite happy in comparison with most other countries. They were not the highest by any means. Vietnam, on the other hand, came somewhat further down the list than countries like the US and Canada in terms of how they ranked purely based on happiness. So why did they rank second on the global Happy Planet Index?

The author of the index includes one other major factor in the rating, specifically, the index includes the resource usage of the country, which in theory should give a measure of the sustainability of that nation based on the fact that it uses few resources and will therefore be able to sustain its level of happiness over a longer period. Based on these two factors combined, Vietnam did well because its’ current level of resource usage is very low on a per capita basis.

There are obviously factors that the HPI does not take into account which might make this index incorrect. For example, countries like Vietnam, in their effort to achieve greater “success” for the people, are tending towards an open market economy. While not necessarily a bad thing, it also means that the ecological footprint of today is most likely not the footprint of tomorrow. In China, as an example, a more open economy has meant that  it generates more wealth overall, at the same time importing pollution from and exporting resources to more wealthy countries such as Canada and the US where the absolute level of happiness as citizen polls indicate, are higher than in China and Vietnam. This is precisely because we benefit from their footprint increase while at the same time decreasing our own footprint. Unfortunately, this can’t be adjusted by a mathematical re-allocation of footprint, because the impacts are real. So while Vietnam’s happiness polls are likely to go higher with increased wealth, it’s ecological footprint is likely to soar, thus lowering it’s happy Planet Index.

What is the answer to this dilemma? Thankfully, the government of Vietnam has some awareness of its need to grow sustainably. It’s Ministry of Environment asks the right questions and, at least on the surface, it is striving to manage this process of growth and sustainability.  Provided that the government is able to manage the corruption found in the political realm and enforce strict standards to significantly limit environmental impacts, it may have a chance of maintaining it’s good standing on the index. But there are pressures on the Vietnamese government as with any other country. People do not want to be poor and they do not want to be only partly happy. Businesses, likewise, want to take advantage of available resources. Even major projects in other countries may impact Vietnam’s well-being. For example, water flowing through China supports much of Vietnam’s river economy. As water is stressed by a growing industrial base, so too will be Vietnam’s environment . The increasing demand for light metals such as aluminum for automotive and many other applications have resulted in mining operations which threaten to strip the rich bauxite resources from Vietnam primarily for export while leaving behind lakes polluted with Red Mud and coffee crops poisoned with heavy metals downstream. A growing number of coal fired power plants from their vast reserves of coal will provide power for the millions of people and the growing industrial base while turning the coal into  CO2 which impacts climate and airborne pollution similar to that which has so severely impacted the cities of China. While there will be jobs created for some Vietnamese, like China and every other newly industrialized country, they will begin to suffer the impact of automation. While theoretically having the potential to benefit the people by reducing costs and increasing availability of many goods, it may also leave the country stripped of resources, while  significantly curtailing job creation, destroying some industries such as localized agriculture which provides many people with a meager but reliable income, and leaving the people possibly even worse off than they were before. Ensuring that industrial benefits and wealth are fairly and wisely distributed will be one of the greatest challenges.

The Happy Planet Index is a good start. It is a measure which tells us where we are and gives hints at where we need to be heading. On the other hand, it is not an exact measure and it is not a recipe for success. For that, we need to look deeper at the political, business, agricultural, familial, social, spiritual and other systems that contribute to our well-being.  As much as I would like to have faith that people will do the right things to make a better life for the vast majority, the evidence in most countries suggest that we are prepared to sacrifice future happiness for current desires. This appears to be even more true for those who have most benefited from the wealth and those in positions of power who are willing to exploit all resources to benefit themselves with very little regard to the impact they are having on others. Let us hope that the majority learn from our mistakes and strip the power from the most egregious offenders.

A read of the World Happiness Report is extremely enlightening. The report outlines the sources of happiness and discounts the view that wealth and happiness necessarily go hand in hand. It also measures happiness differently than the happy planet index, relying on methods defined by the Gross National Happiness index developed in Bhutan which puts Denmark at the top and yet it identifies some of the same policy related issues. The Bhutan index identifies four major pillars for happiness.

1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development
2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage
3. Conservation of environment and
4. Good governance which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent.

While we can never guarantee the benefits of any national policy, politician or political system, it is certainly worth having a closer look at those countries which top the happy planet index as well as the World Happiness Report index, especially those that have  happy people and a more sustainable lifestyle to see what they are doing right. It the case of Vietnam, voting for your government representatives is impossible unless you are involved with government. Those of us who live in democracies should never be fooled into believing what our government representatives want to tell us unless there is hard evidence. Before you vote, if you truly want a happier society and a happier life, read these reports and study these indexes and allow them to inform your thinking before voting. We will all be better off if our governments and government representatives take us in more humane and gentle directions.

Keep happy,

Garth Schmalenberg

 

 

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The Case of the Missing Development: Chapter 3 : “Where has all the money gone? Long time passing”

I had left off in the last chapter (“North to Gulu”) having described some of the challenges leading to the missing development in Uganda. But to be fair, development is not really missing, there’s just not enough going on to offset all of the challenges. Many NGOs are working towards solutions and, as mentioned earlier, most are staffed with local people who know the culture and who have the capability to help solve the problems. In addition, most of the credit has to go to the people themselves, who struggle day to day to fix their problems, to get back to living a normal life, to rebuild their homes, re-establish their farms, re-start their education, find jobs and make their lives a little easier. These are, for the most part, hard working people who are open to being assisted, not people who are addicted to being assisted.  The challenge for them is that without the tools and facilities that we take for granted, life is naturally difficult. But to find solutions, it was necessary to dig deeper into the challenges.

In this chapter, I’ll look at a few of these challenges in depth.

  • Impact of Disease
  • Education Systems
  • Where has all the money gone? 
  • Who are the perpetrators in this case?

The answers may surprise you…

  » Continue reading “The Case of the Missing Development: Chapter 3 : “Where has all the money gone? Long time passing””

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Debt relief of Africa and Impoverished Nations

After studying more about the issues of debt in many impoverished nations, the question that kept coming to mind was,

Where is all the wealth?

A healthy world would undoubtedly have sufficient resources to feed every person, to provide health care and to give each individual a decent living. But success continues to elude the global community.

The situation of poverty in many countries is deplorable. Expecting impoverished countries to get themselves out of poverty is unreasonable because the impoverished are trapped in a causal loop. Poverty removes the possiblity of adequate education, health care and proper nutrition for billions. Each of these factors reduces the probability that children of the next generation will have incomes sufficient to allow them to pay taxes. WIthout taxes, the governments are unable to pay back billions in loans that have accumulated over the years. While they strive to provide security and a minimal form of governance, they are saddled with crippling  interest payments on loans of prior generations.

How should wealth be re-distributed?

» Continue reading “Debt relief of Africa and Impoverished Nations”

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Partners for Prosperity

Since moving to Vancouver Island, I’ve had many great privileges and opportunities. The first, without question, is the opportunity of being closer to my family. My parents are recognized by many as celebrated community members who have provided many years of constant service, music and friendship. The second is that I have moved to a community where interculturalism is experienced and celebrated. The third is getting to know community and regional leaders who are involved in creating a more sustainable community. The fourth is enjoying the music, the arts and the beauty of the island. And last, but certainly not least, is the opportunity of getting to know many First Nations friends, attending their events, learning of their suffering and challenges, benefiting from the wisdom and the experiences of their elders, feeling embraced by their warmth and friendship, and witnessing the love and compassion that many friends are sharing with them in the healthy development of capacity and culture in their youngest generation. These children are, without any doubt, learning to be both the spiritual and intellectual the leaders of future generations.

Since arriving here, I have also had the great privilege of participating with and offering my assistance to a wonderful organization called Partners for Prosperity which I’ll speak more about later and provide a link to for those who are interested in learning more. » Continue reading “Partners for Prosperity”

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Individual (Legal?) Responsibility and Liability for Global Economic Justice

Over the weekend, I had the great privilege of attending a conference on “Rethinking Human Nature”, an incredible array of scholars and activists who, rather than protesting in the streets, demonstrated, by their examples of dedicated service, through their studies and their occupations, their deep and abiding concern for humanity. The conference theme was about evolving and developing the capacities of the higher human nature.

Among the many brilliant presenters was a young lady who is working on her PhD thesis whose presentation was entitled “What Can Justify Duties of Global Economic Justice? Individual Responsibility, Human Consciousness, and the Oneness of Humankind”. Her name is Shahrzad Sabet. In asking the question, she began by sharing with us the globally accepted UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. She the began to dissect the responsibilities for the implementation of these rights. To be fair to Shahrzad, I will state that the remaining text is my perhaps feeble understanding of the arguments she so simply and brilliantly presented and perhaps, at some point, I will have a chance to speak with her further to clarify or to refer on-line to her thesis work, but I can only say that after hearing what she had to say, I was completely overwhelmed by her convincing arguments recognizing that there really isn’t a minute to lose in beginning to bring this argument forward on a wide basis, and I am also quite convinced that someday this young lady will be amongst the Nobel Peace Prize winners because these same arguments will force all nations and all people of conscience to take action. Such action will come in the form of adopting laws and practices which will require all citizens of the world (or at least those who have the freedom to vote or make buying decisions), all business leaders and all government leaders to act forcefully in upholding these Human Rights by taking practical, direct and personal responsibility for implementing Global Economic Justice through their votes for responsible government representatives, those who will make the necessary revisions in government institutions, and in turn, through laws which will require all people to make these Human Rights a reality.

In nations such as Pakistan, Haiti, India, Indonesia and many others, billions suffer under the oppression of poverty, the lack of a suitable infrastructure, and through catastophic environmental impacts, while much of the world continues to enjoy their freedoms without paying much attention and governments pay immense amounts of money towards military spending and the expansion of environmentally destructive practices which only serve to further human suffering.

Her arguement goes something like this: » Continue reading “Individual (Legal?) Responsibility and Liability for Global Economic Justice”

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Beautiful British Columbia

For the past 10 or so years, I’ve come annually to British Columbia to visit members of my family. I’m writing from Victoria, which for those who don’t know is on Vancouver Island.

My current home is in Bolton, Ontario which, for those who have not visited,  is a great place to live. Ontario has been a wonderful home to me and my family most of my life after starting off in Saskatchewan. In fact, if you have lived in any part of Canada, you know that you’ve been blessed.

But British Columbia, for many reasons, is where my heart is. This is where my parents are, as well as my sisters and their families, and it is difficult to express with the limited words of the English language the intense love I feel for them all.  B.C. is also where my entire family, including my brothers (one from China and the other also from Ontario) gather when we have family get-togethers. One of my brothers is also here right now. And I have some very dear friends here as well.

But there’s much more to British Columbia than family, as the many hundreds of thousands if not millions of annual visitors will attest. British Columbia is rich in resources; forests, mountains, clear glacial waters, fisheries, minerals, and the most spectacular scenary you will find anywhere on earth with it’s blend of rich green forests, majestic grey snowpeaked mountains and jagged coast lines reaching into the green-blue oceans all filled with life. The Okanogan region is a fertile ground for growing fruits of many varieties and the climate is temperate and ideally suited for vegetation and farming. It’s incredibly rich with green growth everywhere along the coastlines and in the valleys. They have old growth forests that boast some of the tallest trees in the world and rainforests in the northern regions of Vancouver Island that are rich in wildlife and biodiversity.   » Continue reading “Beautiful British Columbia”

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Reducing Company CO2 the easy way, Carpool, Flex-hours and Telecommuting

Many cities and companies are promoting carpooling as an easy way to reduce carbon emissions. There is little doubt that their are enormous benefits to carpooling but from a commuters point of view (i.e. someone trying to get to work in the least amount of time) it seems like carpooling will take additional time. However, if we do a little commuter math, we can determine that, on average, carpooling actually saves time. Why? Let’s say, for example, that every commuter made an effort to car pool. An average communiting time to downtown Toronto during rush-hour from surrounding community is about 1.5 hours. If we were able to reduce the number of cars by even 1/4th there would be a significant decrease in average commute time, possibly 30 minutes. And even if we don’t succeed in that amount of reduction, there are carpool lanes for cars with more than one person. The time saving becomes more significant over time because congestion is increasing with even more severe impacts on commuting time. There is a certain volume of traffic that the road ways can easily handle. Up until that point, there is very little impact by adding traffic. But after that limit is reached, the congestion increases considerably for every additional car. So removing even 5% of the cars would reduce commute time by more than 5% on average. It only stands to reason then that every car we get off the road will make a positive difference in reducing commute time and CO2 emissions. For the individual commuter, sometimes there is a trade-off if they have to stop and wait for a carpool or go out of their way to drop someone off, but as more people opt for carpooling, there will be better matches. Imagine if 25% of the vehicles were taken off the road. Commute times may be reduced by 30 minutes which would easily make up for any inconvenience.

Benefits of Carpooling

What are the other benefits of carpooling? First, you make friends, get to meet someone new and get to know them well because you see them on a regular basis. Second, you get to share costs of commuting. If you still have a car, at very least you save on gas. If not, you may get to save on repairs, insurance and other costs. Third, if you’re riding with someone else, you may get a little more time to sleep before getting to work. Fourth, in many cities you save time because you get to use designated carpool lanes. Fifth, if your company supports carpooling, you get to leave at a regularly scheduled time(and for reasons I’ll explain later, this is also good for the company). Sixth, you help to save the planet. In the battle against climate change, you get to reduce carbon emissions by sharing a ride directly (more riders is better) and by reducing average commute time for everyone, you help every vehicle on the road because all of them enjoy a slightly shorter commute time. Yes, as even one car comes off the road, there is just a little less congestion and every other car benefits a little and contributes a little less carbon.

Getting your Company Involved

There are many ways to participate in car-pooling and there are many direct and indirect benefits to the company for doing so, not the least of which is your company’s contribution to reducing CO2. But before you roll-out a carpool plan, it is like many other projects, you need think about how to inform staff and management on the benefits to them and to others. Following are a few steps to consider: » Continue reading “Reducing Company CO2 the easy way, Carpool, Flex-hours and Telecommuting”

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Creating a Learning Culture

After returning from an open house at the office of Berteig Consulting, I’m having an opportunity to reflect on the depth of conversation held with members of the Berteig team and the learning derived from these conversations.

Bertieg Consulting is run in a way that is more sustainable and quite different than most organizations.  It is based on a methodology called Open Agile, developed by the company, and which is implemented and continuously evolving within their organization.

Open Agile is a new method of Organizational management based on Agile principles but which are adapted for Organizational activity. One part of the process which is very different from traditional Organizational methodologies is the systematization of reflective learning which is much deeper and more consistent than with traditional approaches.

Learning about the methodology is one thing, becoming a skilled practioner is something else.

As an advocate of continuous and systematized learning, I congratulate the Bertieg team for their accomplishments and have offered to contribute to them in their efforts to evolve their process.

For business leaders interested in creating sustainable organizations, reflective learning followed by pragmatic value based actions are practices which ensure that goals are established, acted upon and learned from.

Open Agile promotes concepts of transparency, truthfulness and consultative decision making all of which are essential elements in building a truly sustainable organization. While holding these principles as core to the process, it also incorporates a framework for holding and sharing the learning. The result is a continuously improving organization.

For more information on Open Agile and Bertieg Consulting, see http://www.openagile.com or http://www.berteigconsulting.com

Garth Schmalenberg
416-919-6598

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Eco Patent Commons and other sustainability sharing initiatives

An interesting project for promoting a culture of sustainability is one initiated by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development who, along with participating companies, has created an Eco-Patent sharing project called Eco-Patent Commons. This project encourages companies wishing to participate to share patents which are beneficial for the environment. These patents are free to use and may be used by any company which might benefit from them.  Among the participants our companies such as Ricoh, IBM,Taisei Corporation, Dupont, and others.  Each of these companies has shared a number of their patents for the benefit of the environment.

As the severity of the earth’s situation becomes more apparent and the benefits of sharing are recognized, more and more companies are participating in this project knowing that they stand to benefit from utilizing each other’s intellectual property. Rather than starting from scratch, they are able to more quickly find solutions to some of their challenges add their own intelligence to ideas which have already been patented by another company.  A similar concept has been used in the IT world through open source.

Creating a culture of sustainability will require new ways of thinking for all of us.  As the requirement for answers to our shared the dilemmas becomes more critical, companies will have less time and less resources available for their own individual research. It will be those companies who are willing to work together to find solutions, that will ultimately dominate the market. 

Similarly, within companies, the need for cooperation between individuals and departments is at an all time high.  Organizations who have developed cultures of unbridled internal and external competition will suffer the consequence of falling behind to who have developed a culture of consultation, teamwork, sharing, joint venturing, knowledge management and continuous learning. 

Municiple, regional and national governments who have learned to work effectively with other government organizations, NGOs and Businesses, who have learned to foster cooperation and respect, who have mastered consultative decision making and who share the responsibility of decisions made, will ultimately lead those who are underdeveloped in these capacities.

The call to action for all of us, is to learn and discover new and better ways work together, to recognise that the solution to many of our challenges, both economic and environmental, are  global in their nature. Let’s view our shared dilemma as an ideal opportunity to learn how to work together. 

Whether we like it or not, much of our fate on this planet will ultimately be shared.

Till next time,
Garth Schmalenberg

PS: Web-sites related to sharing initiatives
WBCSD Eco Patent Commons – http://www.wbcsd.org/web/epc/
HBI Leadership – http://hbi-leadership.com

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