The impacts of Technology and Ethics on Sustainability and Business

What impact do businesses and other organizations have on the Environment?

Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren developed a formula for examining environmental impact stating that I = f(PAT) where I is impact, P is Population, A is Affluence, T is Technology. In other words, if we increase global population, which is inevitable, in order to maintain environmental impact, we must reduce either the Affluence, or create Technologies that reduce individual and collective impact. Brown and Garver changed the formula to I = f(PATE) and added the influence of Ethics. They also conclude that each of these variables have an influence on the others. Without going into a deeper description of the variables, we can generally agree that from a world population view, this view of human impact of the planet seems fatalistic because we know that the planet is already stressed beyond limits and on average, Population and Affluence are both increasing.

This would seemingly leave the entire hope of humanity resting upon the ability of Technology or a sudden swell of Ethics to decrease our net impact on the planet. Recent flooding in Pakistan disrupting the lives of 12 million people and leaving 4 million with food shortages, the worst in 80 years, mudslides in China, and a massive block of ice (260 square km and half the height of the empire state building) which recently fell off the ice shelf in Iceland into the water suggest that our climate is still shifting in uncontrolable and potentially dire directions. Ice falling off a land based shelf, by the way, does contribute to elevated ocean levels, cooling of oceans in the immediate vacinity of the ice, and vast amounts of fresh water (i.e. desalination) being dumped into the ocean and affecting ocean flows.

So here’s the question: Can we solve the issues facing us with only Technology and Ethics before our planet is irrepairably damaged and forces our hand on the factors of Affluence and Population?

The short answer is “probably not”! But there are ways in which Technology and Ethics can have an a positive impact on affluence and ethics and here’s how one idea of how a solution could unfold from an individual, business and global perspective. » Continue reading “The impacts of Technology and Ethics on Sustainability and Business”

Comments off

Sailing! An interesting tack on achieving Sustainability

My extended visit to British Columbia has enabled me to enjoy many of the blessings of the Vancouver Island. It is a place of tourism, boating and every sort of adventure, caving, sailing, kayaking, swimming, crabbing, whale watching, you name it. An island paradise to be sure. That having been said, there is a tremendous amount of traffic and obvious contributions to the CO2 levels which impact climate. After having taken part in some of these adventures, I have to ask myself, besides paying for carbon offsets, what would actually get me, never mind anyone else, to stop traveling up and down island between my parents home, my sisters homes and the many other points of interest the island has to offer. No question that, at least in my family, we are driving smaller 4 cylinder cars thus reducing fuel consumption over larger vehicles and we drive slightly older cars (my parents car is a 1992). Maintaining vehicles extends their life and reduces manufacturing and resource requirements. But even with many smaller cars on the road, their is a pollution problem in certain congested spots especially along Highways 1 and 17 and, even with the tremendous number of trees, the island traffic still contributes to the global CO2 problems.

It’s fairly clear that people are just not ready to give up their holidays, their retirement freedoms or their independent modes of transportation. Even those of us who are aware of the severe issues have difficulty giving up our carbon habit. A book called “Right Relationship” by Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver discusses how we have, for the most part, failed to maintain a right relationship with the planet and suggests how we might re-establish such relationships. But if we are going to maintain “Right Relationship” with our planet while maintaining “Right Relationship” with our friends and our families (who often live some distance from us) and our own sense of well-being which requires exercising some level of freedom, we will need to take a different “tack” than just sitting at home. For those not familiar with this use of the word “tack” it is a method used by sailors when sailing against the wind, whereby they zigzag diagonally across the line of the opposing wind in order to reach their up-wind destination. Ironically, the other way of going up-wind is to motor. Even though sailboats for the most part are powered by the wind, most have on-board diesel motors for travelling in harbors where using wind power is unreliable. Yet another source of CO2.

If we imagine Sustainability as our up-wind destination (i.e. the wind of our personal freedoms seems to blow in the opposite direction). What are the “tacks” we might take in order to reach our desired destination? We want to arrive at a place where we are in “Right Relationship” with our planet and where we have the freedoms we desire. We want to get their without having to motor all the way and creating a problem for the planet and for future generations. » Continue reading “Sailing! An interesting tack on achieving Sustainability”

Comments off

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”

Comments off

The Argument for Global Governance (and why businesses should ecourage it)

Creating World Leading Business

Initially, my goal in putting this blog together was to help business leaders in developing sustainable workplaces, providing tips on how to encourage a change in the culture of the organization that would support such efforts, and sharing concepts of communication and psychology of the work place that would help workers adopt sustainable goals, become more productive and be more passionate about their work. It’s still about that, but in the process of studying the many issues related to creating sustainable businesses in a sustainable world economy, I’ve come to believe that there are other considerations that are perhaps even more important.

All the traditional business arguments still exist that sustainability is really about eliminating waste and reducing expenses and that this is ultimately good for the business and the environment. So keep up the good work if you are deploying LEAN processes, adopting LEED standards for your buildings, using renewable energy sources, developing green teams, encouraging recycling and doing what you can towards water and energy conservation. You’re on the right path.

But let’s look at the bigger picture!

The goal of our economy » Continue reading “The Argument for Global Governance (and why businesses should ecourage it)”

Comments off

Sustainable International Development

I was recently invited to Vietnam to participate as an Investment Consultant on behalf of potential large scale North American investors to review a development project in Yen Tu, Vietnam, a place of pilgrimage for Vietnamese Buddhists. My consultancy work in the area of investment and development is based on a simple philosophy: If it isn’t good for the world, it isn’t good for the courtry either. Coupled with a recent course on sustainability the whole effort had me pondering the best ways to encourage and increase sustainable international development which aids a country in reducing poverty without taxing the planet’s resources.

Development has the potential to do harm but can also be used to do good if it addresses the local needs in a sustainable way. But even high standards such as LEEDs doesn’t guarantee that the results will be positive. On the other hand, using investment opportunities such as Yen Tu to encourage Sustainable Development and the use of LEEDs standards will certainly help to create skills for the future. It increases local expertise related to sustainable building practices, especially when the work is performed primarily by local developers. And it ensures that newly acquired expertise stays local and gets used on future building projects.

From an investment perspective, one way is to encourage sustainable development is to share methods and approaches through active program participation, collaboration and educational programs which allow for project participates to learn new sustainable techniques, always bearing in mind that we can also learn something from the local participants. Some investors are interested only in getting a good return on investment and less interested in how the development work actually gets done. Savvy investors recognize that sustainable building practices bring higher returns, especially when looking a long term value of the project. (If you happen to have access to a few hundred million you’d like to invest, feel free to call me and I’d be happy to direct you on how to invest in this or other projects in Vietnam. After all, there is a very satisfying feeling when you invest in a project that makes a difference in the world while earning you a reasonable rate of return.) Given a secure revenue stream, which the Yen Tu project certainly promises (see details below), long term profits will always be higher when operating expenses are reduced, a natural outcome of lower energy and resource costs. It’s simple math.

» Continue reading “Sustainable International Development”

Comments off

David Berman’s Do Good Design

I’ve recently had the pleasure of connecting with David Berman, a professional designer, author and speaker regarding the possibility of working with him on future projects, if not directly, at least in spirit, as we are both interested in designing and developing a world which is sustainable. David’s recent book Do Good Design (with the word Design crossed out leaving us with just “Do Good”) is an inspired and well informed work that shares not only the principles of why sustainable and ethical design is important but shares excellent examples of design work that doesn’t promote a sustainable or healthy future. Listed as “Do Good’ at your local library or Amazon book store, it’s definitely a worth while read. » Continue reading “David Berman’s Do Good Design”

Comments off

Sustainable Business and Global Innovation Networks

Have you ever noticed how world of business increasingly depends on concepts such as Business Clustering (geographically grouped businesses that work together to provide functions that one business alone can’t) as well as the growth of Global Innovation Networks (GIN – businesses that connect together globally to provide innovative products more efficiently by utilizing the local strengths and unique competative qualities of each country and market). Both trends continue in spite of the fact that, particularly from a GIN perspective and especially in weak economies, there is a continuous outcry to stop outsourcing and create jobs locally.

Have you ever noticed how much the structure of Business Clustering and Global Innovation Networks resemble the formation of neural nets in the brain? Just as there is a certain randomness in the brain’s learning process where dendrites create random spikes to other neural paths, some of which survive and other of which don’t, businesses create collaborative ventures and, likewise, some of these serve the needs of the market and others don’t. Just as the brain has compartmentalized functions and specific neurons that play different roles in the functioning of the brain, businesses have specific roles which they play and each cluster serves a different market segment.

So what does this similarity teach business leaders about the creation of Sustainable Businesses?

» Continue reading “Sustainable Business and Global Innovation Networks”

Comments off

How to move Investment Capital to Sustainable Technologies

Upon reviewing an article from the WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development) and based on studies from the (IEA) International Energy Agency on the needs for energy in global development, one issue became crystal clear; that without investors feeling the need to move their funds toward Sustainable Technologies and Sustainable companies, there would be insufficient capital to keep up with growing global energy demand. While this causes a major problem for “developing” countries, it also causes a major challenge to move towards sustainable energy in “developed” countries. Note that I have added the quotes because, in a world that is being injured by much of the development we have experienced, one may question the long term efficacy of the whole notion of “development” as we currently know it. The term “Developed” in the fullness of time will more likely be something like “mature” and mature has a very different implication. What mature country would continue to destroy it’s own environment? Well, that’s a different topic so let’s move on.

In a quote from the report the author states that “Today private sector investments constitute the largest share (86%) of global investment flows and are expected to be essential to addressing climate change. A large additional flow of tens of billions of dollars will also be needed for adaptation.”

One of the most effective means of a government to weild it’s financial power is to influence the direction of Private Investment Capital. Rather than trying to “be” the investor as in many of the current government incentive scheme’s which directly invest, wouldn’t it be possible to take a different approach? » Continue reading “How to move Investment Capital to Sustainable Technologies”

Comments off

Thoughts on Creating a Sustainable Capitalism

An interesting news item made me ponder on the how optimum the current market is for creating and acting on new ideas.

The news item was about Canadian research on obesity and how the researcher was regarding obesity as an auto-immune disease which impacts T-cell production by reducing the so-called “Good” T-cells and increasing the “Bad” T-cells. The researcher indicated that already they had found ways of normalizing T-cell production in mice and that potential treatments for humans are on the horizon, the implication of which would be a potential for reducing obesity, type 2-diabetes, and the plethora of diseases associated with obesity.

From a health perspective, such a discovery has amazing potential for reducing the costs of health-care, especially in developed countries where obesity is prevalent. But that same discovery could be devastating for the long term and potentially even short term profits of drug companies that have invested billions in research for treating symptoms.

At this point, it is a hypothetical problem but leads to the old question: Do drug companies hide cures, do oil companies buy up technologies up like cold fusion, do auto companies crush electric cars to protect current investments? Do large multinationals buy up threatening new technologies in order to protect their original investments in outdated technologies at the peril of greater human interests?  What does or should a top executive pay the most attention to when they make decisions: personal reward, company profits, shareholder dividends, their own sense of power to make decisions, building a legacy or ethics?

Asked the opposite way: Can we make a better system of economics for propagating new ideas which uses profit potential in different ways? Can we create incentives in our economic system that would consistantly encourage executives to make decisions based on any one of the above motivations and still come up with the same decision, ideally the one that benefits human society the most?

» Continue reading “Thoughts on Creating a Sustainable Capitalism”

Comments off

Reaching the future together (Leadership, Conflict, Sovereignty and Organizational Culture)

An on-going theme in the world is how countries tend to argue about land claims, especially when resources are involved. Businesses have similar disputes over intellectual property, defense of minerals rights, and other competitive matters. Individuals have disputes over ideas, who is right and who is wrong. Whenever one person or one institution violates the claim or values of another, disputes arise. 

Conflict, by it’s nature, signals a need for change. But underlying the existance of conflict is a deeper and more distressing issue. The fact that we accept conflict as a tool and allow conflicts to flourish signals a lack of maturity in human creativity and development. If not handled with extreme care, conflicts are destructive, either physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, socially or environmentally. The larger the dispute, the more destructive.

What’s worse is that conflicts tend to be destructive long after the disputing parties find a way to stop the dispute. They continue to cause challenges as long as bad feelings linger, until learning occurs, mindsets change and reparations are completed. Some disputes unfortunately last centuries.

But there are better and more creative solutions that using conflict to find solutions. Let’s look at a few impacts of conflict and consider alternatives. » Continue reading “Reaching the future together (Leadership, Conflict, Sovereignty and Organizational Culture)”

Comments off