Being Green – Connections

Hi Folks:

Happy Friday!  Happy Earth Day, +1!  Actually, as the saying goes, “Make Every Day Earth Day“.  I saw an ad for a T-shirt once that said, “Love Your Mother.  Good Planets Are Hard to Find.”  It looked something like this:

Anyway…

The title for today’s Being Green post is ‘Connections’.  It was inspired in part by this article: Riders on the Storm.  I’ll give you a minute or two to go and read it…

Welcome back!  Okay, as implied by the article, before Web 2.0 and social media, I was one of those people who didn’t read newspapers, didn’t watch TV news, didn’t listen to the news on the radio.  Frankly I didn’t see much point in it, and for the most part all it did was depress me.  I did have a six-month subscription to the Globe and Mail when I was younger, and during those six months I dutifully cut out articles related to environmental issues and saved them in a file folder.  Some years later I recycled the entire folder, never having gone back to it.  In the years I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment Canada and others, reading scientific papers and articles on the environment was part of my job, but the day-to-day news for the most part passed me by.  The internet changed that for me, and as I’ve mentioned before in some blog post or another I’ve collected over 14,000 bookmarks for different web sites on a myriad of topics.  As the web became more interactive, with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and the like I have found that my ‘inter-verse’ (if that isn’t a word I just created it) has gotten much larger.  E-mail was great, and I still use it, largely I reserve it for people who aren’t on Twitter, the same way I reserve letter writing and paper cards for those (gasp!) who aren’t online.

I’m going to pause here and relate a story that may seem unrelated at first but isn’t.  It’s an idea I first got from a woman at a conference; I don’t remember her name, but I’d like to thank her as I’ve used her idea several times with workshops for students and others.  Basically I gather everyone together into a circle and produce a ball of string from my pocket.  I tell them that we’re going to create a simple ecosystem and hand the string to one of the participants.  S/he takes the end of the string and begins by ‘becoming’ one part of our little ecosystem.  For example, “I’m a white-footed mouse.  I eat berries, nuts, seeds, and insects, and in turn I provide food for foxes, owls, snakes, skunks, and most things bigger than me.  I make up for this by having large families.”  Holding the end of the string, s/he tosses the ball across the circle to someone else, who continues.  “I’m an oak tree.  I grew from an acorn here in this forest, having been buried by a squirrel or a jay and forgotten.  My nuts provide food to many of the animals of the forest, from mice to bears, my branches provide nesting places for birds, and along with the other trees in this forest I help to provide shade in the summer, regulate the water cycle, etc.”  Holding on to the string, s/he tosses the string across the circle to someone else.  This continues until everyone is holding onto the string.  First, we can all see that we’ve created a web of life within this circle, with everything connected to it.  We also find that if we disturb this connection at any point (I pat someone on the shoulder and s/he pulls on the string), the entire web is affected.  The fun part is winding up the ball of string without entangling it.

Yesterday was Earth Day, to some this is Earth Week, and even Earth Month.  When this idea began 40 years ago I imagine the founders hoped and dreamed it would become the movement it is today, but without imagining all of the various threads that would spin off from it.  Yes, we still have a long way to go, but more and more people are making new strides, new connections every day.  And with the ‘net I’m making more and more connections with those people who are interested in those things that interest me as well.  The world suddenly becomes very small in terms of the psychological distances that separate us.   But it’s more than that.  Every link in the list below comes from either an e-mail I’ve received or a website I’ve visited this past week.  Many of the links come from connections to other people.  It’s more than that, too.  There are an incredible amount of resources available online on ‘green’ ideas. For example, earlier this week I watched a web presentation on ‘Creating Value Through Sustainability’ that was broadcast live from the MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta, GA.  I have several more webinars scheduled to watch in the coming weeks.

It’s more than that, too.  One of the speakers at the MIT webcast was Matt Kistler, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, at Wal-Mart.  He was talking about their supply chain among other things, and it got me thinking about that whole process.  An example he used was a company that decides to add less water to their laundry detergent.  The direct result of this is that the consumer has to use less detergent per load because it’s more concentrated.  That’s a good thing.  It also means the bottles are smaller, lighter and easier to handle.  Also good.  Further, it means that less plastic is used in the manufacture of each bottle, so there is less plastic to toss away or recycle – even recycling takes energy.  But what about the fact that a case of __ bottles now uses __% less cardboard because the bottles are smaller?  A lot fewer trees are cut down to make this paper.  Because of having smaller bottles less space is required to transport each case, so more cases can be fit onto one truck, train car, ship, etc.   The weight per case is also much less.  Fewer trips are required to move the same amount of product.  Less storage space is required in the warehouse, so more product can be stored in the same space.  The amount of energy required to heat and light the warehouse and to transport the detergent, per bottle, is also much less.  The list goes on and on, and that’s only one example.

If we erect a building that has more insulation, we reduce the energy required to heat and cool it.  That’s obvious.  It also means that the heating/cooling unit and everything that goes with it can be downsized proportionately.  It means that less ‘fuel’, be it oil, gas, electricity or whatever will be required as well.  Start spinning those benefits off using the detergent example above.  Now add in other ideas, like Energy Star appliances for example.  Connections…  Again, the list goes on.

I’m continually amazed and excited by this growing global awareness because when the first Earth Day was held forty years ago (20 years ago in Canada), almost nobody was thinking in these terms.  I know, because I was.  I still remember reading a government report in the mid-1980s about an (economically viable) way to turn sewage sludge into burnable fuel oil.  I’ve never seen it utilized.  I think I still have a copy of that report somewhere.  For those of us who were environmentally and socially aware decades ago, the ability to connect with each other in any coherent manner was almost non-existent.  Virtually everyone who lived through the Great Depression knew all about sustainability, but the world was much different then.  We’re remembering, and that’s a good thing.  I was quite pleased to discover at the webcast mentioned above that the founder of the Herman Miller Corporation was thinking of ‘the triple bottom line’ (corporate/social responsibility, environmental sustainability and profit) when he started the company in the 1950s.  He was quite a ‘forward thinker’, although it’s not likely his compatriots saw him that way.

Okay, I’m starting to ramble, so I’d best quit.  I trust you invested yesterday’s Earth Day wisely.  Do the same again today.   And tomorrow. Everything you do makes a difference.  Plant a tree perhaps.  If you don’t have the space for one, consider one of these: The Green Belt Movement International, Vakan’Ala: ” Pearls of Forest” or Avatar: Join the HomeTree Initiative (to plant 1,000,000 trees).

Okay the links for this week are below, but I’m going to start with a link to an audio file that’s worth considering.  It’s by Seth Godin, author of ‘Linchpin‘.  Oh, one more thing.  I started these Friday blog posts by talking specifically about green building, but over the past months I’ve expanded them to include other aspects, including corporate responsibility and sustainability in a larger sense.  Today I’m adding in some new links (new for you, not for me), including sustainable tourism and sustainable social ventures.

That’s it for now.  And remember, as the Lakota people say, “Mitakue Oyasin” (roughly translated, it means “we are all related” – and not just humans, either).

Have a great week!

Hugs,
Mike.

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And the last word today goes to Ezra.

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