21 September 2010

Growing Problems on the Road to Recovery

Excerpt from International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) via SWTR, 4 March 2010

'Economic growth is unquestioningly assumed to be a ‘good thing’.

Mainstream economic theory, developed world political leaders, the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, financial markets and the majority of the public back the view that economic growth is essential for economic stability. And in the short term they are right.

If economies don’t grow there is likely to be growing instability in financial markets, mass unemployment and the end of the economic and political order as we know it. It’s undeniable that this would be worrying to live through.

In the long term, however, prolonged economic growth might be the cause of far more instability than meets the eye. It is no secret that growth has always entailed ever-increasing consumption of resources and energy. We might become more efficient – more output for each unit we put in – but efficiency gains have always been more than offset by more growth. Relative resource use (the ratio of inputs to outputs) may have fallen over the years, but absolute resource use has never stopped growing. Economic growth has always entailed physical growth of the economic system in the form of ever increasing flows of matter and energy. Economic growth and resource use are now, and will remain for the foreseeable future, firmly coupled.

...and the Limits to Growth

The problem is, as ever, the fact that we’ve only got one Earth. The economy must be housed within the physically finite limits of the planet’s ecosystems. Since it can’t expand to be greater than this, economic growth is going to have to stop at some point. So the real question is not whether economic growth will stop, but when and how.

In fact, there are strong arguments to be made for a controlled transition to a zero growth economy in order to keep within planetary limits. The Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy has been advocating this as a more appropriate government economic strategy target for developed economies for several years.

Another commentator exploring the possibility and desirability of a zero growth economy is Tim Jackson, professor of sustainable development at the UK-based University of Surrey. Jackson headed the team from the government’s Sustainable Development Commission who produced the report Prosperity Without Growth. He followed this up last year with a book of the same name, in which he discusses what such an economy might look like, and the steps we might take to get there.

Some of the pressure for adopting an economy that functions within natural limits is coming from researchers in the physical sciences. A recent paper from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, also published in UK science journal Nature, Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity suggests that there are nine boundaries (for example, climate change and biodiversity loss) that if breached for extended periods would be likely to cause sudden changes highly detrimental to the continuance of life as we know it. The paper estimates that humanity has already overshot at least three of these boundaries.

On a more positive note, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has commissioned Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning US economist, to lead a starry team of fellow economists in investigating measuring economic success beyond the growth-centric GDP. A draft report was published last year and the French premier was very supportive of the report at its launch...

An End to Growth?

The end of economic growth seems to be less of a question of if than of when and how. The recession has undoubtedly caused great suffering for many in both Northern and Southern countries. But does the problem lie with the recession itself or the fact that our economic and belief and social systems are poorly set up to cope without constant and steady growth?

The recession has usefully highlighted some of the global economy’s more dysfunctional aspects. Should we not use this as an opportunity to re-examine some of these aspects and try to fix them? And the more so, if we accept that the current recession is seen not as an isolated event but a taste of things to come if we stick to the ‘business as usual’ path.

Re-engineering the global economy to work without growth is not just a sensible precaution against breaking key planetary constraints and the inevitable consequences. It is also an ethical necessity if we believe the current Northern economic dominance to be unjust and that Southern economies have a right to develop.

Continued growth is not possible indefinitely. Ecological and economic shocks should be expected to increase in frequency and magnitude as we push the boundaries of earth’s capacity to house and sustain the economy and our abilities to distribute the products of the economy efficiently and fairly. It would therefore seem prudent for stability and survival to re-engineer economic systems to cope without growth.

Nevertheless, even for the most ardent of ‘steady statists’, the task of building a zero growth economy is daunting. Perhaps the scariest part is not a world without growth but the transition to such a system. Like any addiction, getting ‘clean’ can be painful even when it´s clearly necessary.

In the same way that national governments delay making necessary cuts to reduce their deficits, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to put off the inevitable day of reckoning for as long as possible. Yet an end to growth must happen. We’re sitting on the only planet we’ve got. Surely it is better to have some proactive control over the transition rather than passively wait for the limits to be breached?

All this begs the question; are we hoping for the right kind of recovery?'

Robert Rapier on Peak Oil

Everyone should listen to this man, Robert Rapier (not just for his great accent!), and all like him who are working hard to raise the alarm on peak oil...

Sourced from YouTube

The World's Deepest Bin - Fun Theory

Sourced from YouTube

An Inconvenient Sandwich

Sourced from the new economics foundation, 25 June 2010

'The British appetite for quick, cheap, convenient food that we can eat wherever we happen to be has hidden costs to society, public health and the environment. This report investigates the economic pressures facing independent cafés and sandwich bars which often forces social justice, sustainability and health off the menu.

Being casual about what, when, and where we eat is both a cause and a symptom of the hectic, mobile lives we lead. It helps to shape our aspirations and our sense of identity.

Although casual food is everywhere, the ‘casual eating’ subdivision of the catering sector is overlooked. So diverse that it can seem to defy classification, it has no shared voice or body of knowledge. Nevertheless, it requires closer scrutiny.

Casual food tends to be cheap, is often highly processed, and generates a lot of food and packaging waste. Although it is hugely popular, it is criticised for being unhealthy, and information about where it comes from or what it contains is rarely available when you buy it. Work in the sector is poorly paid, precarious, and sometimes illegal.

The whole food system is under widespread pressure to become more sustainable. Broadly speaking, the challenge is to produce more and better quality food, more ethically, from less land, using fewer resources, and with fewer negative impacts, and to share it more equitably. Efforts to make the food system more sustainable will have to take the social, environmental, and economic impacts of our casual eating habit into account.

This report is based on a series of interviews with the owners of small independent takeaways and cafés.'

20 September 2010

Warning: Your Reality is Out of Date

Important and fascinating post on meso-facts - those that do not change quickly or slowly...

Excerpt from The Long Now via
The Boston Globe, 28 February 2010

'When people think of knowledge, they generally think of two sorts of facts: facts that don’t change, like the height of Mount Everest or the capital of the United States, and facts that fluctuate constantly, like the temperature or the stock market close.

But in between there is a third kind: facts that change slowly. These are facts which we tend to view as fixed, but which shift over the course of a lifetime. For example: What is Earth’s population? I remember learning 6 billion, and some of you might even have learned 5 billion. Well, it turns out it’s about 6.8 billion.

Or, imagine you are considering relocating to another city. Not recognizing the slow change in the economic fortunes of various metropolitan areas, you immediately dismiss certain cities. For example, Pittsburgh, a city in the core of the historic Rust Belt of the United States, was for a long time considered to be something of a city to avoid. But recently, its economic fortunes have changed, swapping steel mills for technology, with its job growth ranked sixth in the entire United States.

These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale. Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school! While this might not affect your daily life, it is astonishing and a bit humbling.

For these kinds of facts, the analogy of how to boil a frog is apt: Change the temperature quickly, and the frog jumps out of the pot. But slowly increase the temperature, and the frog doesn’t realize that things are getting warmer, until it’s been boiled. So, too, is it with humans and how we process information. We recognize rapid change, whether it’s as simple as a fast-moving object or living with the knowledge that humans have walked on the moon. But anything short of large-scale rapid change is often ignored. This is the reason we continue to write the wrong year during the first days of January.

Our schools are biased against mesofacts. The arc of our educational system is to be treated as little generalists when children, absorbing bits of knowledge about everything from biology to social studies to geology. But then, as we grow older, we are encouraged to specialize. This might have been useful in decades past, but in our increasingly fast-paced and interdisciplinary world, lacking an even approximate knowledge of our surroundings is unwise.

Updating your mesofacts can change how you think about the world. Do you know the percentage of people in the world who use mobile phones? In 1997, the answer was 4 percent. By 2007, it was nearly 50 percent. The fraction of people who are mobile phone users is the kind of fact you might read in a magazine and quote at a cocktail party. But years later the number you would be quoting would not just be inaccurate, it would be seriously wrong. The difference between a tiny fraction of the world and half the globe is startling, and completely changes our view on global interconnectivity...

The fact that the world changes rapidly is exciting, but everyone knows about that. There is much change that is neither fast nor momentous, but no less breathtaking.'

Securing Human Well Being in a Resource-Constrained World

Sourced from YouTube

Mathis Wackernagel, Founder and Executive Director of the Global Footprint Network, challenged attendees of a November 24 lecture to consider the ecological consequences of current consumption and development patterns.

Kumamoto Prefecture Helps Make Effective Use of Substandard Local Vegetables

Reposted in full from Japan for Sustainability, 5 May 2010

'The government of Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan has launched a project that introduces substandard agricultural products produced in the prefecture to box-lunch shops in business districts in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan. Kumamoto Prefecture's Osaka office has led this project, called the "Mottainai Project" ('mottainai' literally means 'not wasting what is valuable'), and started it in earnest in 2010.

The prefectural government began this project on a trial basis in 2008 in cooperation with a shop that sells box lunches and set meals in the same building as its Osaka office. In this shop, vegetables and fruits that used to be discarded, mainly due to scars on them or irregularities in their size, were experimentally sold at display counters that had been clear after lunchtime. These agricultural products were better received than expected, because of their low cost, tastiness, and novelty. As for tomatoes in particular, as much as five tons were sold in less than a four-month period, with sales of about one million yen (U.S.$10,870).

In this project, farmers can distribute substandard vegetables and fruits to shops in small amounts, while shops can make effective use of vacant counters, and also can use vegetables and fruits for box lunches and other meals if they are left unsold. The project is well-received, as it involves little risk for the farmers and shops and brings additional profits to both. So far, 15 local food stores and farmers have distributed such farm products to Osaka, and 38 farmers have showed an interest in doing so.

The prefectural government's Osaka office also plans to hold a food exhibition for box-lunch shop owners to allow them to see and taste-test substandard vegetables, with the aim of enhancing the network with Kumamoto Prefecture and acquiring new vendors in the Osaka metropolitan area.'

Japan Launches Point Awards Trial to Promote Domestically Produced Foods

Reposted in full from
Japan for Sustainability, 10 May 2010

'The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) conducted a giving-point experiment for the purchase of domestically-produced foods during the period between January 5, 2010, and February 28, 2010, in order to promote its consumption. The campaign was held in cooperation with retailers, local governments and producer's associations.

Dobbed as "Eat Japanese Delicious Foods! ", the campaign was carried out at 80 supermarkets owned by the Tokyu Store Corporation, Ito-Yokado Co., and the Daiei in the Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Chiba areas. During this period, consumers who purchased domestic foods were given purchase points, which they were then able to trade in for prizes.

There were three ways for people to claim their prizes: exchanging a number of points for a fixed prize, entering a draw at the store, or applying for a prize by postcard or via the Internet. The prizes included seasonal foods produced in Japan, gift certificates, and meal tickets, as well as farming experience tours for families.

Through the campaign, MAFF aims to encourage consumers to buy domestically produced foods and improve food self-sufficiency in Japan.'

The Sustainable Side of Job Sharing

Reposted in full from GreenBiz, 16 September 2010

'"It sounds great but it would never work for me."

This is the initial reaction many people have when they hear about job sharing. However, upon further exploration, this could be an option that would overall increase work life balance, loyalty to the employer and job satisfaction.

In this article, I explore and encourage job sharing as an option. Job sharing achieves positive outcomes and is consistent with sustainability. I believe job sharing should be offered by a company as one of the human resources-related social responsibility programs available.

As a sustainability recruiter, I am intrigued by the intersection of sustainability and human resources. Job sharing is one that makes a lot of sense but is rarely considered.

First Off, Job Sharing is Sustainable

"Job sharing supports work force sustainability," says Paige Bayer, a job sharer at Hewlett Packard (HP). "I am afforded the flexibility to work three days a week and because of that I am even more deeply committed to working for HP; HP benefits by having two loyal employees who are committed to high performance in their job and to the company. A work scenario like this keeps HP from burning out or replacing workers who leave the company in search of more flexibility, allowing HP to capitalize on the investment it made in hiring and training us."

What Job Sharing Is…

To clarify what job sharing is, it is not two people doing a part-time job. Job sharing suggests one job description, one job, and really one identity created by two people. Because the two perform one job, their identity often morphs into one identity. One job sharing team shared that during phone calls with clients, the client often did not know which of the two was on the receiving end of the call. And the job sharers regard this as a mark of success.

While it is not always women who job share, that is certainly the vast majority; and go figure, they are moms too. For the most part, two people choose to share to better achieve work life balance, to better manage their family and the home.

Meet Three Job-Sharing Pairs

Let me introduce you to the three job sharing duo's that provided input to this article. I refer to them by the single name that others have come to use:

• PaigeDonna: Paige Bayer and Donna Hokama, analysts at HP who are on the team responsible for HP's carbon footprint calculator now in their 3rd year of a job share
• Meghanna: Meghan Gosk and Anna Millar, Senior Associate Director, MBA Program, Kenan Flagler Business School University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill in their 7th year of a job share
• Nora/Sarah: Nora Bloch and Sarah Kitterman, Vice President of Community Development Lending, Wainwright Bank and Trust Co., Boston now in their 8th year of a job share

Overcoming Obstacles

Job sharing takes a leap of faith and a willingness to overcome obstacles. The decision to take this route comes with fear amongst all stakeholder groups- fear that you won't get along with your job share partner, fear that your peers won't be supportive, and fear that others will doubt this can work, get confused, and will have to repeat everything twice.

Meghanna explained that the greatest challenges are up front. Any couple in a job share needs to take the time to figure it out for themselves. They develop a system of communicating and sharing information. Because there are so few models of how to do this, it takes initiative and keenness to go against the norm.

Over time, the fears dissipate.

To the job sharer, one of the fears is actually an obstacle. There is a sense that taking a job share is equivalent to taking the "mommy track," that it slows down one's career. Certainly it does not halt one's career like it would for a parent who decides to quit working, but job share will likely get someone off the fast track. Meghanna and PaigeDonna touched on this. However this is not the case for Nora/Sarah who feels this choice has not slowed their career.

Benefits of Job Sharing

The duos agree that the benefits outweigh the obstacles and challenges. As Anna Milar said, "I never want to do this job on my own again."

Maggie Chotas and Betsy Polk Johnson, a pair of job sharers themselves who started Mulberry Tree Consulting, are currently writing a book covering the subject of job sharing. Drawing on their research of more than 80 women business partners and job sharers, they say job sharing "isn't for everyone but if both job sharers are willing and able to invest in the communication, trust and accountability that makes it work, it really works and is a win/win for all."

What I learned from talking to these three pairs is that they are hard workers with a very strong work ethic. They feel accountable to their job share partner and all the other stakeholders to demonstrate that job sharing works. They are mega-productive ensuring that their time at work is 100 percent working; whereas before they were constantly apologizing for missing work due to family needs. They are extremely loyal - loyal to each other and loyal to their employer for allowing them to have this opportunity (as PaigeDonna put it).

A Matrix of Benefits and Challenges to Job Sharing

Given that sustainability strategy is frequently approached using a stakeholder analysis, let's explore the benefits and challenges of the job share from the perspective of the key stakeholders: job sharers, their bosses, the organization as a whole, clients, and peers. At the end of this article, you will find insights into the logistics and tips to get started.

Below is a chart summarizing the benefits and challenges from a stakeholder perspective:

Benefits Challenges
The job sharing duo • Enhanced work life balance
• Bouncing ideas off of each other achieves greater results, innovation, inspiration and confidence
• Accountability to another person
• No longer have to apologize for missing work time for family related issues; doctor appointments are scheduled during their non-work time.
• Situation is a great role model for their kids
• Work is more enjoyable and fun
• Figuring out how to make it work takes time up front.
• Risk about whether it will work.
• Career advancement slows down or is harder to move forward when you are perceived as doing half a job.
• HR benefits (ie: 401K contribution) are compromised or lost.
• Being in a jobshare requires a lot of work to stay aligned, so that you can operate seamlessly as a team. And yes, you have to work harder to do that.
• Not easy to disagree with your job share partner. Although debate can lead to greater outcomes, it can also take up more time.
Boss / manager • Promotes retention
• Two minds think better than one
• Greater productivity
• Complex jobs may achieve greater results with a job share team
• Offering a work/life balance option motivates employees.
• Accountability to each in the pair implies less oversight required by the boss
• Better coverage for sick and vacation days when one can cover for the other
• Trepidation at the beginning
• More complicated than the norm
Clients/customers • Clients are ensured 100 percent coverage
• Role model for how this choice can work
• Loyalty to employers
• Greater retention
• Initial hesitation that it will be confusing and that they will have to repeat themselves; but after they experience it they see that it works well.
The organization as a whole • Retains great employees rather than losing them to their demands outside the job • The pair work very hard and efficiently • Great institutional memory – greater documentation of their work • HR might not know how to approach a job share.
• Requires additional work for Human Resources.
Peers • Jobsharers can take-on some extra projects
• Vacation backup coverage.
• Envious

The Nuts and Bolts Logistics of How It Works

Job sharers develop a process for sharing information and communication. The technology of today makes job sharing a greater possibility. For example, PaigeDonna share one voicemail and one email address. Both women work from home two days per week and overlap one day a week at the office. The voicemail messages are emailed as audio files to their shared inbox, which both are able to access on their work computers in real-time from home.

Job sharers work 50 percent to 75 percent of a full-time job and always build some overlap time into their week. They need to figure out what the availability of employee benefits are. This can be yet another challenge about the job share. Depending on the employer, going 50 percent could imply a 100 percent loss of benefits. For PaigeDonna, they chose to work 75 percent of the time (3 ten hour days) to have access to the majority of benefits. A socially responsible employer should offer benefits at the percentage of time such as 50 percent benefits for 50 percent time.

Nora Bloch noted the importance of support from her boss/supervisor in ironing out any bumps along the way. "In my experience, a thoroughly supportive supervisor is crucial for a job share. Our boss has been fantastic - especially when we first started the job share, she was very protective of our arrangement so that our days off were really off, and helped our coworkers and clients adjust to the job share structure."

How to Explore Job Sharing Yourself or for Your Employees

I encourage you to explore job sharing - either for yourself, others, or your company as a whole. Meghanna shares "It is surprising how many positions really are suited to job share and the roadblocks aren't as big and many as you may think. Many folks would have said that our job would never lend itself to a job share given the confidential nature of our work but this couldn't be further from the truth.

Simply identify a partner and explore together how it might work. If it seems like a good fit, write up a proposal. PaigeDonna suggested it took about 10 hour to write theirs. The plan should includes details of how it will work logistically (email, desk, phone, employee benefits, hours), Then submit it to management. As both PaigeDonna and Meghanna shared, they had never seen a proposal so quickly accepted by the powers that be.'