Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chinese yuan and American Solar - where do I defend my allegiance?

There were two pieces of news I cannot ignore today: U.S. Solar panel producers are preparing to file a complaint against China for violating global trade rules; and Congress, despite Whitehouse’s opposition, may soon pass a bill that will likely punish China with trade tariffs and sanctions for allegedly being a currency manipulator.

This puts me in a odd place of having to defend my loyalties one way or another: Do I side with U.S. companies and politicians and ask that China reduce its subsidies to the green sector and slow down the amazing progress made in terms of sustainability? Do I join the chant that China allows the yuan to free flow and let the market be impacted accordingly?

The choices are complicated; any haste in the matter would prove improper for both U.S. interests as well as China’s emerging dominance and yuan’s eventual status as one of the world’s basic reserve currencies.

I fear Congress is passing the bill calling China a currency manipulator is much a political maneuver than anything – showing their unemployed constituents that the problems of a bad economy is inevitably due to some foreign evil – not Congressional incompetency and corporate irresponsibility.

Last week, I met a friend for coffee and talked briefly about the Chinese currency. His advice is to focus not on protectionism and immovable Chinese politics, but instead, he asked that I look at any variable opportunities that may exist. His focus is on using Hong Kong as a focal point for foreign economic interactions with the PRC and allowing a slow but stead growth of yuan’s influence. Fearing that overnight changes may destabilize the already volatile global economy, I think his words carry a lot of wisdom. I too feel that an overnight transition is not the answer to the imperfections we see in the yuan. Along this logical progression, then, a Congressional bill that openly condemn the Chinese monetary policies and remedies with sanctions and tariffs contributes nothing positively.

In connection with the large subsidies Chinese government is pumping into their green industries and solar companies: if we had such a bill that makes it easier for protectionism, we are essentially building a wall around ourselves and cutting the U.S. off from the next phase of global development. We are already behind China and the rest of the world in investing in renewable energy. Cutting off the already existing competition would only give nonrenewable sector more incentives and profit opportunities here in the state side. We may do well in the next fifty or a hundred years, but what will happen after that? I get the eerie feeling this is another sort of the cold war, and we – the Americans – are building the walls and cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world.

Of course I don’t think it’s right that there should be uneven competition between the Chinese solar sector and the U.S. sector. But I ask who is to blame? Obama is trying really hard to pump subsidies into our own, but China has a larger savings reserve and more authoritative power to do as the central government pleases. It is the inherent difference of development strategies and politics since WWII. We can’t change history, but there is no reason we can’t build a cooperative future rather than a standoff one.

So I chose not to take a side. I think the Congressional bill is a load of horseshit and it’s a distraction to hold our politicians accountable for their lack of competence. The unemployment rate has very little to do with the yuan and the Congressional bill commits a straw-man fallacy. I do think the Chinese investment into its own solar sector is slightly unfair against the kind of money we can pump into our own, but I don’t fault the Chinese because they have a real incentive to help its own economy switch into a renewable model so the rest of the world won’t suffer from its continued consumption of fossil fuel and its massive polluting potential. I only ask that our politicians have a little bit more foresight and work with the Chinese on this and use their huge advantage to help boast our own solar industries and help ourselves switch over from the fossil dependencies.


At the end of the day, I think neither country is right or wrong but there is a common and sensible solution in all of this. Let’s not let politics get into the way of global progress.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's for lunch at Sodexo?

A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today - and in fact we have forgotten.

John F. Kennedy


Sodexo Inc., a leading global provider of Quality of Daily Life Solutions, released its first performance-based sustainability report for North America yesterday. The report includes baseline data and progress for fiscal year 2010 and it is available online. The baseline is designed to measure three key areas: Environmental Performance, Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems, and Communities.

Under Environmental Performance, Sodexo reports baseline measures for energy and carbon, water and waste. In the area of Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems, it addresses Fair Trade coffee, sustainable seafood, local produce, vegan and vegetarian options, point of selection nutritional information and healthy food marketing programs. Finally under Communities, Sodexo looks at matters related to employees, supply chain, and charitable outreach. In each of these three key areas, baseline data is accompanied by anecdotal program highlights to paint a more complete picture.
PR Newswire 

Not only does the report measure baseline and established a starting point, it also noted some areas where the company has improved its sustainability efforts: its purchases of fair and responsibly traded coffee increased from 8 percent to 14 percent in the U.S. and from 47 percent to 49 percent in Canada; its purchases of MSC(1) or BAP(2) certified sustainable seafood increased from 31 percent to 43 percent in the same period.

_____________________
Sodexo in North America

Sodexo, Inc. ( www.sodexoUSA.com ), leading Quality of Daily Life Solutions company in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, delivers On Site Service Solutions in Corporate, Education, Health Care, Government, and Remote Site segments, as well as Motivation Solutions such as Esteem Pass. Sodexo, Inc., headquartered in Gaithersburg, Md., funds all administrative costs for the Sodexo Foundation ( www.SodexoFoundation.org ), an independent charitable organization that, since its founding in 1999, has made more than $15 million in grants to fight hunger in America. Visit the corporate blog at http://www.sodexoUSA.com/blog



Monday, September 26, 2011

In wildness is the preservation of the world. - Henry David Thoreau

God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art.

Dieu se manifeste à nous au premier degré à travers la vie de l’univers, et au deuxième degré à travers la pensée de l’homme. La deuxième manifestation n’est pas moins sacrée que la première. La première s’appelle la Nature, la deuxième s’appelle l’Art.

Victor Hugo - William Shakespeare (1864)Part I, Book II, Chapter I [5]

At some point of our human experience, we thought to conquer nature. We thought ourselves the masters of what God has created and we demanded the world around us to be subservient to our goals for life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.

In the name of such arrogance, we conquered native lands, “discovered” continents, sold slaves, and polluted oceans, rivers and lakes.

As we grew, reaching our capacity for expansions of imperialism and capitalism, we suddenly come to light of a new kind of thinking, one that is consistent with nature and not counterintuitive to it. At first we realized the inconsistency of our superiority with inherent rights of all men. Civil Rights moved to abolish discrimination amongst all and we became equals.

In a more recent decade, we realized the inconsistency of our superiority with inherent rights of the planet; Sustainability began to take roots. And in light of our new knowledge of the ancient – a 13 billion year-old world, we sought to understand nature better and we began to use its wisdom to expand ourselves ever further, maximizing our efficiency for becoming human amongst its creatures, and we seek to reconcile with nature as our friend, our confidant, and our teacher.

We began to combine our a priori knowledge with pragmatic methods:

Fibonacci met the tree in the wild imaginations of a boy, we saw how to capture solar energy in the most effective way as foretold by the forests giants we once cut to build;

Biomimetics combines intelligent design to promote civil advancement, we learn to hope the holy words are employed for the betterment of our global peace and sustainable prosperity;

Landscape is no longer about having the most exotic grass or plants, but more about leveraging nature to preserve nature. Architects now are working to maximize the synergies between the health of the environment and our communities, and ultimately benefiting ourselves.


And now, we see ourselves tap into our collective motivation to do well for our future generations, and I am eager for the days to come when peaceful cooperation will bring cultures and nations closer, our people together.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.

John Muir

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mr. Obama addresses the U.N. (a speech encompassing of a sustainable world).

President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly yesterday. I did not get the chance to watch the address live but I received a transcript of his speech. From what I can tell, his speech encompassed the idea of a sustainable world rather unintentionally and exclusively. Maybe I am reading into his intent, and I have heard critics say we have not made much progress or paid much attention to sustainability, but I rather read into what I see and let the works of our leaders stand on their own ground in the sustainability context.

Sustainability is about people, planet, and profit. Mr. Obama addressed these in various places of his speech. He began by a brief mention of human rights absolved from social and economical or civil and political ideas, but he emphasized this concept of human dignity in the context of peace and security of the global status.

… today, we stand at a crossroads of history with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace. To do so, we must return to the wisdom of those who created this [U.N. General Assembly] institution. The UN’s Founding Charter calls upon us, “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” And Article 1 of this General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ Those bedrock beliefs – in the responsibility of states, and the rights of men and women – must be our guide.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. I have been thinking about the differences in Eastern and Western philosophical thinking and tradition; and I have dwelled on the idea that Confucian ideas may be inconsistent with the concept of equal dignity. I accept this now fully and completely – not that Confucius is wrong to advocate for social order and birth rights of authority, it may have worked for the time and the context but in an age of global communication and recognition of universality of human rights, I’d say Confucius thoughts ought to be reevaluated.

Mr. Obama then goes on to address economic issues.

To bring prosperity to our people, we must promote the growth that creates opportunity. In this effort, let us not forget that we have made enormous progress over the last several decades. Closed societies [China] gave way to open markets. Innovation and entrepreneurship has transformed the way we live and the things that we can do. Emerging economies from Asia to the Americas have lifted hundreds of millions from poverty. Yet three years ago, we confronted the worst financial crisis in eight decades. That crisis proved a fact that has become clearer with each passing year – our fate is interconnected; in a global economy, nations will rise, or fall, together.
Preside Obama acknowledges the fact that China has brought over 300 million people out of poverty. I’ve long tried to address this significant achievement and its incomprehensible scale. China has less than 7% of the world’s cultivatable land and is obligated to feed more than 20% of the world’s population. From the days of the Great Famine in 1958 – ’62, China has come a long way in economic and equity growth. I can honestly say all of this progress would not have been possible but for the socialist nature of the country’s political system. I do not advocate for the change of regime in China, I only advocate for responsible and peaceful unification of China to transition to a global standard within the context of Sustainability

Outside of China, President Obama is leading the U.S. foreign policy in a positive direction. He goes on to commit our assistance to places where children are in desperate need of food. The “freedom from want” is a basic human rights and I am glad that Mr. Obama has recognized this right independent from civil and political ones and perhaps a superior right that predetermines our ability to prosper within a fundamental social and economic right.

To combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right. The United States has made it a focus of our engagement abroad to help people to feed themselves. And today, as drought and conflict have brought famine to the Horn of Africa, our conscience calls on us to act. Together, we must continue to provide assistance, and support organizations that can reach those in need. And together, we must insist on unrestricted humanitarian access so that we can save the lives of thousands of men, women and children. Our common humanity is at stake. Let us show that the life of a child in Somalia is as precious as any other. That is what our commitment to our fellow human beings demands.
Mr. Obama then directed his attention to our environmental concerns.

To preserve our planet, we must not put off the action that a changing climate demands. We must tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce. Together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all of the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made. Together, we must work to transform the energy that powers are economies, and support others as they move down that path. That is what our commitment to the next generation demands.
I am not surprised to see his devotion to our civil and political rights in a global context. China may be quick to point to social and economic rights under its socialist regime, they have yet reconciled with the possibility of a robust civil and political freedom in their policies. I don’t fault China as much as I don’t fault the U.S. for not having a universal health care or a robust economic equity program – it is simply the nature of the political system and we are hopefully walking to the same direction with the same focus of positive progress in mind. Here is to high hopes.

And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs. No country can afford the cancer of corruption. Together, we must harness the power of open societies and open economies. That is why we have partnered with countries from across the globe to launch a new partnership on Open Government that helps ensure accountability and empower their citizens.

No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere. And no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs. This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. That is what our commitment to human progress demands.
In his conclusion:

It is the nature of our imperfect world that we are forced to learn this lesson over and over again. Conflict and repression will endure so long as some people refuse to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Yet that is precisely why we have built institutions like this that bind our fates together – because those who came before us believed that peace is preferable to war; freedom is preferable to suppression; and prosperity is preferable to poverty. That is the message that comes not from capitals, but from citizens.

When the corner-stone of this very building was put in place, President Truman came here to New York and said, “The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man’s aspirations.” As we live in a world that is changing at a breathtaking pace, that is a lesson that we must never forget.

Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. Together, let us resolve to see that it is defined by our hopes and not our fears. Together, let us work to make, not merely a peace, but a peace that will last. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The best ideas of the world according to Katerva.

Katerva is a UK based charity organization whose mission is to “accelerate ingenious ideas that will enable the global community to live sustainably with the planet.” Katerva recently announced their global sustainability ideas and it is worth taking the time to look over the brightest sustainability thinkers and their innovations.

The categories of review includes: behavioral change, economy, energy & power, food security, gender equality, human development, material resource, protected area, transportation, and urban design. Aside from some minor time frame requirements from Katerva, these innovations are evaluated based on their activity and flexibility to scale, primary purpose encompassing sustainability, and their overall inventiveness and potential impact. I’ve attached a list of the finalist from each category below, let’s take a look at each category closely and see if we can identify some synergies amongst them.

Behavioral Change

The finalists here focus on global grassroots organization and collective public actions via technology. The Internet has brought the world closer and with incentives, the world is acting more in unison. Collective efforts as well as collective knowledge sharing became the vehicle of problem solving. Aside from the traditional systematic approach, some of the finalists here also utilized game and immersion theories to actualize alternative thinking and bring about ontological challenges to the status quo. The finalists are:

350.org
350.org is creating a global movement to stop the climate crisis through online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions that are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.

Avaaz
Avaaz is an online community that aims to find and communicate a way to build a better world. Their work on the Global Climate Wake-up Call showed what can be done through the commitment of concerned citizens working together.

EVOKE
Alternative reality computer games aim to provide better and more immersive alternatives to reality. The EVOKE game aims to make the world a better reality.

Scientists Without Borders
Addressing poverty, environmental degradation, food security and disease epidemics demands scientific and technological expertise shared across geographic borders. Scientists Without Borders provides a web-based platform as a means for sharing expertise and collaborating to address the world’s major problems.

Verdeate
VERDEate.com is an online movement that uses social media to promote greener habits by allowing participants to accept or create Green Challenges—specific acts to reduce their CO2 emissions as part of a collective effort to combat climate change.

Economy

The focus under this category is equity and infusion. Old banking ways are combined with new social responsibility models to create economic incentives for positive change. The finalists are:

Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves hopes to save lives, empower women, improve livelihoods and combat climate change by re-examining the way food is cooked in developing countries.

KNIDS Green
KNIDS Green is a project that reorients vegetable production and sales for the benefit of farmers and vendors.

Recyclebank
Recyclebank believes mobilizing a large group of people to make small lifestyle changes can have an astounding collective positive impact on the environment.

Sustainable Stock Exchanges
Aviva Investors, UNPRI, UN Global Compact and UNCTAD have teamed up to promote sustainability reporting in the world’s stock exchanges.

worldofgood.com
EBay’s WorldofGood.com is the world’s largest multi-seller marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible shopping, which features thousands of products from around the world and combines trust and transparency with the online shopping experience.

Energy & Power

The theme here is also about equity but substitutes economic incentives with environmental impacts. Reduction of nonrenewable dependency is the focus and adaptation of natural processes are trending. The most exciting idea to note here is that we have finally accepted the superiority of natural phenomena and begin to learn from nature as opposed to controlling nature.

Barefoot Power
More than $10 billion is spent each year on kerosene for lighting the homes of the poor in developing countries. Barefoot Power helps poor families stop spending their scarce cash by providing a safer and cheaper option.

Innowattech
Researchers at Innowattech and Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel have discovered a new way to generate clean energy by converting the mechanical energy from highways and railroads into electricity.

Nanosolar
The Nanosolar Utility Panel is the industry’s first solar power panel specifically designed for utility-scale deployment. Its power plants don’t require high voltage transmission and feed green electricity directly into the power grid.

OPX BIO
OPXBIO is a Colorado-based company manufacturing renewable bio-based chemicals and fuels.
Sun Catalytix (Nocera)

In mimicking what plants do best, a group of MIT chemists led by Dr. Dan Nocera has developed the first artificial leaf that can feasibly convert sunlight and water to energy in an affordable and accessible way.

Food Security

Education and comprehensive information studies are the underlying current in this category. Global food security combined with business process thinking drives the healthy trend. Here we also note grassroots documentation and development along side of peace and security issues. There is obvious synergies here with emerging economic incentives and models seen in the previous category.

CoFed
CoFed trains and educates student leaders nationwide to establish food cooperatives that offer healthy, locally-grown, fair and sustainable alternatives to the fast-food options usually available on college campuses.

The China Study
The China study is the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. This exhaustive presentation of the findings from the China Study conclusively demonstrates the link between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Crop Trust
The Global Crop Diversity Trust seeks to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide.

Sustainable Food Lab
The Sustainable Food Lab (SFL) aims to employ new business models to accelerate the global shift toward a healthy and sustainable food system that can feed the world’s growing population.

Two Degrees Food
Two Degrees nutrition bars link consumer purchases with the achievement of on-the-ground development objectives with the idea that only two degrees separate us from helping the 200 million children who suffer from hunger and malnutrition around the world.

Gender Equality

This is the category that specifically addresses equity and our human condition. Health issues, rights issues, both civil and political freedoms as well as social and economic freedoms are combined with the power of social technology to help develop an international standard of human rights. Although the specific focus here is gender equality, the implications are wide and profound. Only time will tell the broad implications of rights development under this category.

DNA Foundation
The Demi & Ashton Foundation (DNA) hopes to end child sex slavery by raising public awareness and finding innovative solutions to free and rehabilitate victimized children around the world.

GirlUp
Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation initiative, channels the energy and enthusiasm of adolescent girls in North America into providing help – and hope – for girls in developing countries.

Maternova
Maternova is a web-based innovation portal: one part long-range media company covering innovations focused on saving lives in childbirth, one part marketplace for lifesaving ideas and tools.

mWomen
The GSMA mWomen Programme, launched with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in October 2010, addresses the key barriers to women’s ownership of mobile phones.

Pixel Project
The Pixel Project is an innovative virtual volunteer-led non-profit organization using social media and online strategies to turbo-charge global awareness about violence against women while raising funds and volunteer power for the cause.

Human Development

This is a more generalized category for the human condition focusing on human rights. Health care issues prevails in this category as well as emergency management and global security.

HPTN 052 HIV Treatment as Prevention Study
HIV-infected individuals who undergo immediate antiretroviral therapy (ART) significantly reduce the risk of infecting their sexual partners by 96%, according to a breakthrough clinical study by the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN). Known as HPTN 052, the study examined whether HIV-infected individuals who started immediate ART treatment versus those who delayed ART would reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their non-infected partners while also improving their own well-being.

Satellite Sentinel
To stop war atrocities in Sudan, George Clooney and John Prendergast of Enough Project launched the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) to monitor the region for human rights violations.

Solar Autoclave
The Solarclave is a low-cost, solar-powered device used to safely and reliably sterilize surgical instruments in developing country clinics that lack the necessary infrastructure and tools to perform much-needed surgical procedures.

Tsunami Detection
The massive destruction caused by the recent tsunami in Japan and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean show the need for better tsunami detection methods that can provide early warnings to coastal residents and thereby save thousands of lives. Tony Song of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California found a way to use NASA’s existing global positioning system (GPS) networks to track ocean floor movements immediately after an earthquake and estimate the resulting tsunami’s size and magnitude within a few minutes.

Twin Sat Earthquake Detection
Developed by a team of British and Russian scientists, the TwinSat project hopes to accurately predict where and when earthquakes will occur.
 
Materials & Resources

This category takes a keen focus on the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle in the context of innovation. Again, the theme that we are learning from nature and developing from natural processes as opposed to man-made ones and exhaustible ones is a positive sign.

Ecovative
Ecovative has discovered a way to grow a sustainable replacement to Styrofoam and other plastics by using mushroom “roots” to bond together plant byproducts like seed husks into strong bio-composite materials.

Genomatica
Sustainable chemical company Genomatica have developed a GREEN BDO in which living bacteria replace fossil fuels in the production of a common industrial chemical Butanediol (BDO).

Innovation in Aerogels
A team of researchers led by Dr. Lei Zhai and postdoctoral associate Jianhua Zou at the University of Central Florida have discovered a way to create a larger conductive area in a smaller space through the use of nanotechnology.

MIT/Belcher
Inspired by an abalone shell, MIT scientists have found a way to program viruses to construct powerful new batteries, clean hydrogen fuels and record-breaking solar cells.

Sanergy
Sanergy, which was founded by MIT alumni, provides low-cost, sustainable, franchised sanitation centers throughout Kenya to address one of the biggest problems in developing economies today—poor and inefficient access to clean and safe sanitation.

Protected Areas

Clean the Ganges
The Ganges River is India’s largest river, and is considered one of its most sacred by the Hindus, but now ranks among the five most polluted rivers in the world. The Clean the Ganges Project, a consortium led by the Government of India, is making an unprecedented effort to clean the Ganges up.

Ecuador Yasuni Rainforest Conservation
Putting social and environmental values before profit, the Ecuadorian government set up the Yasuni Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) Trust Fund to protect one of the world’s most valuable and diverse biological reserves by promising to keep oil permanently underground.

Nature Conservancy Improved Fisheries
In Port Clyde, Maine, the Nature Conservancy is working with fishing communities to test nets with holes of different shapes and sizes in order to better manage catches and restore the health of fish populations.

Rwanda Forest Conservation
The leaders of war-torn Rwanda plan on taking a bold step to rebuild their country by restoring its natural support systems.

Stibrawpa
Sustainability is not just an idea for the women of Yorkin, Costa Rica. It is a guiding principle they have chosen for ensuring the well being of their families and community. Stibrawpa is an organization of women working towards improving the lives of their families, protecting natural resources, and strengthening indigenous culture.

Transportation

I regret not seeing any infrastructure proposals and rethinking about our dependency on the urban sprawls of the past.

Edison2
Rethinking every element of current vehicle design, Edison2 has developed the Very Light Car (VLC), an ultra-efficient, light vehicle with low aerodynamic drag, which was recently named winner of the Automotive X PRIZE.

Nissan Leaf
The Nissan LEAF is zero-emission, all-electric vehicle with an ambitious mission. The LEAF acronym promises a vehicle that is a Leading, Environmentally-friendly, Affordable, Family car.

VW-XL1
With a fuel consumption of 261 mpg, the Volkswagen XL1 aims to redefine the automobile industry by becoming the world’s most fuel-efficient hybrid car.

WaterIsFuel
By simply using water, you can improve your car’s mileage, reduce emissions and clean your engine at the same time. GreenFuel Lab has developed Water is Fuel (WIF), an innovative device that converts water into hydrogen.

ULTra PRT
Passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport can now board their personal ULTra PRT pod and go straight to their destination without worrying about long waits for an airport bus, gridlocked traffic or their carbon footprint. ULTra is an innovative personal rapid transit (PRT) system, which can provide a fast, emission-free transport service between urban destinations.

Urban Design

Reduction by design is the highlight of this category. Net zero achievements and progressive gains of spaces are the focus from these innovations.

Architecture 2030
Architecture 2030 is a non-profit organization with the goal of achieving a dramatic reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions of the building sector by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed.

Freshkills Park
A former marshland and landfill, New York City’s Freshkills Park (FKP) is being transformed into a productive and beautiful landscape, exemplifying the ability to restore our natural environment.

HOK Vanderweil
The HOK/Vanderweil ‘Process Zero: Retrofit Resolution’ is the winning net zero energy proposal for redesigning a 46-year-old federal office building in downtown Los Angeles for the 2011 Next Generation Design Competition by Metropolis Magazine.

Hylozoic Ground
Walls and surfaces that literally breathe, swallow, and wave to gently create a healthy building environment are just some of the many aspects that make Hylozoic Ground anything but static architecture.

Bjarke Ingels Group Waste to Energy/Ski Resort
Besides creating energy from waste, a new waste management plant in Copenhagen will also be providing local residents with a year-round ski resort.

On synergy: Sustainability is about People, Planet, Profit. From these various finalists in each category, we note the commonalities of innovation that drives a particular subset of synergy development. Civil political rights, economic social rights, along with the implicated social technology and grassroots; breaking down national borders and gender and racial identities, making the best of our conditions as given by nature and not to conquer it; finally, the ability to conserve, protect, and innovate to rebuild our world into a sustainable one. I'd say the future is hopeful.

_______
Katerva is a UK-registered charity organization which serves to identify, award & accelerate ingenious ideas that will enable the global community to live sustainably with the planet. The Katerva Awards are the pinnacle of global sustainability recognition. The name Katerva (Ca-tair-vah) is derived from the Latin word Caterva—meaning “crowd.” Katerva serves to harness the wisdom and passion of the crowd to make necessary global change.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Buying Spree?

I sense the Obama Administration is backing off their talks about boosting the Green industries. Lately it's all about jobs and construction. My two cents? construction jobs are necessary because it puts people to work immediately and they will rebuild a crumbling infrastructure - both of which are good for politics and for this country.

Aside from building new bridges, fixing the roads, putting bike lanes in places where there once was a railway, what can we do to sustain the long term economic infrastructure? What happens once we have a sparkling new infrastructure and all of the temp construction workers are looking for different jobs to pay the bills?

We can't be serious about building forever. We can't just build our way out of a bad debt crisis and rescission. Well, at least I don't think we can. The next phase of our continued economic development may have to come from globalization. This may piss-off many Tea Party construction workers - globalization is a evil scheme plotted by the secret evil empire to take over America, where is the Justice League when you need them?  

Unnecessary paranoia aside, I think the next phase of our economic development involves the Green industry and foreign investments. It's still not the kind of sustainable development I hope for day after day, but it may be a stroll in the right direction. Many Asian and European conglomerates are buying U.S. funded start-ups in the renewable energy sector (mostly solar). SK Innovation, Korea, bought HelioVolt, a Texas based trying to bring its copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells to the mainstream.

Samsung plans to invest and grow its solar manufacturing significantly by 2015 and it has hired Steve Fludder,  a once leader of GE’s Ecomagination group. In August a Chinese construction and real estate firm, TFG Radiant Group, along with their Singaporean investors, announced it would invest up to $450 million into Colorado’s Ascent Solar; and more recently, a company in Taiwan invested $50 million into Stion and obtained a license to manufacture CIGS panels at its factories.

DuPont is an American company, but it has recently joined the shopping spree and bought Innovalight, to boosts the efficiency of solar cell manufacturing; Innovalight’s customer base is conveniently rooted in China, India and South Korea, and it has not yet sold to any American customers.

LG, a Korean based company, recently licensed battery technology from Argonne National Labs, a U.S. Department of Energy Lab managed by UChicago Argonne; the batteries goes into vehicle productions for the likes of the Chevy Volt.

A France’s nuclear power company, Areva, recently bought solar thermal vendor Ausra whose past manufacturing was mostly based in Las Vegas. Total, another French oil company, recently bought a controlling stake in SunPower.

All together, Swiss and French companies have bought several billion dollars worth of U.S. companies over the last 18 months. In addition, a host of Japanese companies are working with Los Alamos National Labs on smart grid technologies as of current.

I think it's fair to say that globalization is no longer just about the U.S. going to places in Asia and finding cheap labor. Globalization these days is more about reevaluating the future demands of markets and investing in innovative sectors that will meet that demand. In the recent Bilateral Investment Treaty talks between China and U.S., the negotiators realized the huge potential powers of a new China consuming base and its impact on the rest of the world. I think these companies investing in U.S. green companies are smart to anticipate a shift in future consumption power: China will rise and demand, and the rest of the world will follow that demand. The market is being created right now and the only sad thing is we do not have enough capital to keep ownership interests in these companies and the profits will have to be shared with other investors.

That is the realistic picture of future globalization. We can no longer put up walls and believe in U.S. superiority. We still hold firm of our innovative strategies and the Obama administration is right to pour money into research and development into the green sector. But what will we do with those new innovations is critical to the business growth of our future generations. At the moment, we seem to be in apolitical gridlock instigated by the existing companies who do not wish to enter the green sector economy. Special interests are laying down roadblocks for these investments and innovations, and the rest of the world is taking full advantage of our ignorance.

Globalization is coming to us ladies and gentleman. As China was once the land of cheap labor, we are today's cheap intellectual labor. Seeing the way our education is taking a hit by the slash of budgets, I wonder how long we can keep our title. Soon, we may not have any claim to fame, and America is just another land of the many exploits.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sleeping Giants.

The Green Economy may be a bandwagon for some, but it doesn’t look like anyone is getting off the wagon anytime soon. Some rightwing fundamentalists want to close EPA’s door and let free enterprise reign and let lassie-faire relive its glory days; but seeing the news about EPA adding Superfund sites for redevelopment and looking at the bickering between industries about electronic recycling, I doubt we would just let everything set back to the time when we can pollute and let someone else’s children suffer for our lack of care and compassion for other’s health and the environment.

I think Bill Clinton said it best on Face the Nation yesterday:

“. . . it's not just in America that the green tech jobs are growing at twice the rate of overall employment. That's true around the world,"

There is also international backlash from the business community for nonparticipations. Recently, ASEAN criticized the Philippine government and businesses for failing to attend the World Business Council’s Thailand Sustainable Development Symposium 2011. I wonder how long it will be before we see news articles about the global community criticizing the U.S. for our lack of participation and motivation.

The global trend is slowly shifting to more Corporate Social Responsibility accounting and it’s time for the U.S. to realize that playing the leader on the world stage doesn’t mean we can be the exception to their rules, but that we have to start playing by the global standards that is emerging.

China made this mistake in the early 1900s. From the 14th Century to almost the conclusion of the 19th Century, China was the fertile and imaginative land of the East. It was the trading capitol of the world and the innovation center for generations of entrepreneurs. China in the late 19th Century and at the beginning of the 20th Century thought itself still the dominate global power and refused to adopt and play by international standards. Foreigners took gunpowder, a Chinese invention, against China, and the Industrial Age took China by surprise. It was not until a war ravaged the Chinese of their pride did the people of China saw incentives to play the global game and emerge as the new socialist market economy of today.

These days, I fear the U.S. is repeating the same vicious cycle of mentality as China once did. We feel that we are on top of the world and other nations ought to play by our politics and economic standards. Increasingly we see a different story. The global Green economy is slowly becoming more sophisticated and better funded that that of the U.S. From the 1st Oman Sustainable Urbanisation Conference 2011 to India’s promise to spend over $70 Billion by 2015 on the Green IT sector, it’s hard to ignore the rest of the world in this rapidly growing industry. If we don’t act soon and immerse ourselves in the sense of urgency, we may wake up one day at the dawn of a new age feeling like China once did, isolated; our pride taken away.

Wake up America.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Made in the U.S.A. - a BIT between China and the U.S. ??? (Updated 2/17/2012)

( For more on this topic, see my working paper on "Confucianism and CSR - Working Paper, Comments Welcome")

It struck me today that I have not thought too much about U.S. and China trade for green tech goods and services. Federal loans came under scrutiny recently and the discussion will sure to emerge again. Last year, the Obama Administration initiated Section 301 investigations into China’s policies affecting the competitiveness of their Green sector. I heard NPR mention the argument again this morning in defense of the failed solar panel company citing that one reason may be due to unfair competition from China.

I looked briefly on Google to see if there are any current news items about the Section 301 investigation - nothing.

Perhaps a deeper inquiry is necessary, if nothing because I’m curious if the kind hardliner approach is really effective or is it merely provocative of a Chinese response.

China is very good at doing nothing and bouncing the sovereignty check; we are too weak to speak now because of our apparent economic dependency. I have read recently that our debt numbers to China is not as detrimental as we thought. Good news! But it is still curious that I find no recent updates to the Section 301 investigation.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the U.S. used the same tactic against Japan and Korea’s subsidies and trade barriers, commentators have argued that this hardliner approach “led to more balanced trade relationships, and even encouraged foreign investors, like Asian auto companies, to build plants in America.” But these days, we don’t have the political will or the leap of military superiority to rely on to get the same effect. I wonder if now is a good time for a softer approach including an ideological focus on China’s new direction in the Circular Economy Law and Sustainability. If U.S. businesses still hope to find export outlets in China for green tech goods and services, team up with Chinese businesses in alliances, and invest in Chinese operations, then just heighten barriers will not work – China will only compete with us to see who can build the highest protectionist mentality. I think NPR suggested this very thing this morning; let’s face it Mr. Obama, if you hope to boost your investments into the U.S. Green technology sector, you really have to open the dialogue with China about exporting these things under fair and equitable terms for us. The only way we can do that is to agree on currency convertibility, which China won’t like, and agree on China’s agenda to pursuit a circular economy and national identity.

This is not just about the Chinese government’s need to exercise its authorities; it should also encompass the will of the Chinese people. I believe the only way for China to enforce its new Circular Economy Laws is by integrating its NGOs, its new media power, and the power vested in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

China has undergone great economic changes in the last twenty years. It was once a Communist nation of failing State Owned Enterprises (SOE); now it is the world’s second largest market economy over taking Japan by a thin margin in 2010. United States still dominates the market place almost tripling China’s GDP, but it stills owes a good part of its debt to China and faces serious ongoing economic crisis today. In this symbiotic and delicate global economic climate, convertibility of currency is desirable for all parties’ interest in sustaining the process of our civil and economic discourse. Before we achieve this kind of harmony or any kind of meaningful environmental, social and political progress in a judicial sense, however, we must first overcome some serious cultural fixations in our views about one another’s legal traditions.

In light of the recent Chinese Circular Economy Law (CE), I believe there are some observable judicial process inefficiencies resulting from the cultural entrenchments of Confucius thoughts. Western legal scholars have argued that a specialty environmental court is the answer to China’s legal compliance issue in light of CE. I believe this view is incomplete; it stems from a Cartesian biased ontology. To successfully implement CE and make an impact on correcting China’s environmental, social, and political problems through the Rule of Law, China needs not only a specialty court to enforce CE, but also a uniquely Chinese doctrine of social legalism of natural process law with the cooperation from NGOs, citizens, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)--a Confucian aesthetic order of things if you will.

This is inherently apparent in the thousand years of meditation tradition and the nature of Chinese process law. Enforcing a entirely Western style law is impossible in China, the learning curve for the people is simply too steep.

So in addition to using trade remedies to heighten barriers to Chinese imports, we also might try talking to China about its infrastructure and expertise needs and establish some contained currency exchange for these things under a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). This would be the first BIT between China and the U.S. Under a sufficiently contained currency exchange market for only Green Technology and expertise, we remain the capital exporters and China has incentive to allow currency to equalize. China would get the benefit of enforcing the Circular Economy Laws with the help from a nation that knows innovation and social media technology.

Mr. Obama, I sure hope you are negotiating this kind of deal in order to preserve your own investments into the American People and the Green Economy. Should China raise the argument that we are subsidizing our green technology in violation of fair trade practices, we simply put the burden on China to ask that they control their subsidies; or we agree on equitable currency exchange in the sector only (for experimental purposes). Either way, we have a win; both countries walk away satisfied partially.


Today is not the 1980s or the ‘90s. The world is a different place. Counting on the same result under different conditions ought to constitute insanity. It’s time for the U.S. and China come to a BIT, and put the green growth and a sustainable global economy in their common sight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A letter from the Super Committee


I've ranted and raved about the recent ideological attacks on the EPAfrom the likes of Rick Perry. The kind of outcry against the EPA inspired some academiccritics as well and I’ve tried to express my unwarranted opinions as well. I had hoped the kind of fundamental conservative swing from the far right would subside as the election gets underway as the GOP candidates faces a more moderate national voting body. 

We shall see if I am right. I would spend a birthday wish for a more moderate political climate in this next election and I hope we will still have an EPA to help regulate the ever impetuous industries.

It appears that the Congressional Super Committee aimed to break political gridlock saw the same fundamental political mistakes and the dangers therein as I did. 
The Committee reasoned that      
  “. . . the nation will pay a far greater price in future health costs and crumbling infrastructure if it accepts misguided thinking focused on short-term cuts to the cost of these environmental safeguards.”

EWG President, Ken Cook. 

Cook addressed the fundamental responsibilities of our government to the panel a few days ago and he argued that the government's primary job is to ensure a clean and healthy environment and “ the current frenzy of ideology- and profit-motivated demands to severely limit the funding and powers of the Environmental Protection Agency . . . .” Closing the EPA’s door, as Rick Perry and many of his GOP likens would wish for the sake of wining over the rightwing political base, is misguided. I applaud Cook's audacity and honesty, I admire his ability to see progress as a end goal, not just mere political gains.

I am also surprised to see Cook mention the limitation of children’s access to healthy food and making the connection to the increasing healthcare cost of this country. From his letter, I got a sense of vindication. I’m not a leftwing nut job screaming “save the dolphins”; I’m somewhat reasonable after all… and there are like minds in Congress who would defend the moderate ideals I hold. I am also glad to see our political process shine in its glorious reasoning and say clearly what I've wanted to say to the American People. This is the nation I defended and this is the process I treasure, let these words endure.


The full text of Cook's letter is attached below:

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org
September 12, 2011

To the Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction:

As you undertake the difficult task of framing a new budgetary policy for the nation, we at the Environmental Working Group, representing more than one million supporters across the country, wish to offer some timely suggestions for fiscally prudent changes that will benefit the health and well-being of all Americans and the environment. 

The decisions you make will have a profound impact on the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and on many other environmental factors that can either keep us healthy or make us sick, with major consequences for the economy. We hope that you will take the long view of the current crisis and take great care to ensure that your decisions enhance the long-term fiscal, environmental and public health of the country – three goals that are not mutually exclusive.

In particular, we strongly urge you to resist shortsighted calls to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and to restrict its authority. Instead, you must ensure that the EPA has the necessary resources and powers to protect human health and the environment. As you work to identify budgetary savings, we ask that you target those programs and incentives that perversely harm our health and the environment. Prominent among these are tax breaks for the environmentally destructive – and very profitable – oil, gas, corn ethanol and mining industries. Currently, taxpayers are subsidizing the fouling of our land, water and air, paying to clean up the messes left behind, and finally paying a third time for the health care costs associated with these polluting industries and practices. This is impossible to justify, either in moral or fiscal terms.

One of the primary functions of a government is to ensure that its people enjoy a clean environment, as free as possible from harmful pollutants that degrade the quality of life and cause premature death. Careful environmental protections safeguard human life and improve health even as they save taxpayers money and stimulate technical innovation. Numerous studies have shown that environmental regulation has paid great dividends over generations, dwarfing the up-front costs to industry. Jeffrey Hollander, CEO of household products maker 7th Generation and cofounder of the American Sustainable Business Council, and David Levine, cofounder and Executive Director of the American Sustainable Business Council, made this point recently in The Huffington Post: 

“While over-burdensome government regulations may be harmful, those which Congress is currently focusing on will not strangle job creation. This is a myth repeated by politicians and CEOs who stand to increase profits while decreasing safety if standards disappear – standards that ensure product and food safety, protect our environment, and guarantee the proper regulation of our financial, medical, and legal industries. The anti-regulation mania that's swept Washington conveniently ignores the positive impact that common sense regulations have on all of our daily lives, while threatening to harm the basic protections that we have come to expect.”

In the face of continued inaction by Congress on legislative reform, the EPA for the first time in more than 20 years is currently using its existing, though severely limited, authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to prioritize, test and determine the safety of numerous toxic industrial chemicals – including some that are showing up in the bodies of nearly all Americans. The agency is also increasing transparency by denying spurious claims of confidentiality used by companies to evade full disclosure of chemical exposures and risks. These involve many toxic chemicals that millions of Americans are exposed to through everyday use of consumer products, most of which have never been assessed for safety. EPA is undertaking these efforts in a well-considered way that listens to all stakeholders, including chemical industry representatives and the NGO community. The agency deserves praise and support for these and similar initiatives – not to have its legs cut out from underneath it.

Good food is as essential to our health as clean air, and food and farm policy is another area that is ripe for correction, as the obesity epidemic demonstrates. We must ensure that all Americans – particularly children – get enough of the right kinds of food to lead healthy lives, that food is produced in ways that protect and improve the health of soil and water and enhance long-term agricultural sustainability. We must provide an appropriate, fiscally responsible safety net to keep working farm and ranch families on the land and provide economic opportunities for them and their communities. Finally, successful food policy means doing all we can to ensure a safe food supply. Just this summer, 60,000 pounds of ground beef and 36 million pounds of ground turkey have been recalled because of microbial contamination. The illnesses caused by these and other tainted foods slow economic productivity and raise healthcare costs. We urge you to fully fund the new Food Safety Modernization Act as well as programs that support healthy diets, greater access to healthy food and beverages in schools and communities, improved conservation practices on farms, and not least, thriving local, sustainable and regional food systems. 

In contrast, current misguided food and farm policies cost too much and direct too much money to highly profitable farms that do not need public support. The outdated farm subsidy system is broken – plain and simple. Rather than helping struggling family farms in times of need, it delivers unneeded handouts to the largest, most profitable producers and landowners. The top 10 percent of recipients receive 74 percent of all subsidy money, while two-thirds of farmers get absolutely nothing. This needs to change.

Cutting out this wasteful spending will help bring down the deficit while protecting other priorities. Direct payments that go out regardless of market conditions or actual land use must be eliminated, or at least targeted only to farmers who demonstrate a clear financial need. The outdated price support programs are irrelevant in today’s marketplace and should be eliminated. The Supplemental Revenue Enhancement program (SURE), problematic from the beginning, should be terminated. New limits should be applied to crop and revenue insurance, and administrative support for private insurance companies should be cut further. The Average Crop Revenue Election program (ACRE) should be consolidated with the private revenue insurance option to prevent duplication. Finally, meaningful income eligibility limits and payment caps must be applied to all farm subsidy programs to ensure that a reasonable level of help is being provided only to those who most need it.

Enacting these changes would yield billions of dollars in savings, a small fraction of which must be devoted to shoring up programs that most benefit a healthy, responsible food system. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition (WIC) and school meals – which help the neediest among us. 

Poor diets cost the nation billions in diet-related disease and health care costs. We urge you to invest in better nutrition for all by funding programs that promote domestic production and consumption of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. These include Specialty Crop Block Grants, the Fruit and Vegetable School Snack Program and the Department of Defense Fresh program. The landmark Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 must be fully funded to give children the best nutrition possible. 

We also must provide strong funding for programs that provide new market opportunities for sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers and create jobs by strengthening the local food economy. These include the Farmers Market Promotion program, the Value-Added Producer Grant and Sustainable Agriculture Research Education programs and the Organic Extension and Research Initiative.

Funding for conservation and research must also be maintained in order to blunt the damage that modern agricultural practices increasingly inflict on the landscape and to keep America’s farms viable into the future. Conservation, research and extension programs are crucial in supporting farmers’ and ranchers’ efforts to protect and enhance soil resources, improve air quality and conserve water and wildlife habitat. In the coming years, producers will face significant natural resource constraints as a result of rising temperatures, periodic flooding and drought. Maintaining and strengthening conservation and research programs is essential for improving water conservation and food production, adapting to climate change, promoting food safety and ensuring healthy rural economies and ecosystems.

Investing in water infrastructure, like food safety, nutrition, conservation and local food programs, has upfront costs but broad economic benefits for the job market, human health and the environment. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s drinking water infrastructure a grade of D minus, noting that leaky pipes lose approximately 7 billion gallons of drinking water every day. In 2009, EPA reported to Congress that utilities need $334.8 billion in infrastructure investments over the next 20 years. The evidence shows that these investments pay off in jobs and improving infrastructure – which means cleaner water and more efficient delivery. The Government Accountability Office reported that the $6 billion appropriated to the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped pay for more than 3,000 water quality projects and at its height helped employ 15,000 full-time employees. According to EPA, in many cases state programs increased the amount of money they award to projects and did so in half the usual amount of time. Unless the nation makes these upfront investments in drinking water infrastructure, we will pay the price with increasingly frequent water main breaks. And unless we fund source water and drinking water protection, Americans will continue to be exposed to elevated levels of potentially harmful contaminants.

It is clear that the EPA’s actions save lives and provide economic benefits. A report by the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year found that while EPA rules had the highest costs of compliance over the past 10 years, they also had the highest benefits. For example, EPA’s rules and resulting improvements in public health from reducing particulates in the air yielded a benefit of $82-$551 billion in economic and health benefits at a cost of $23-$28 billion. That is a tremendous return on investment. 

There are clear, easy ways to reorient budgetary policy to reduce the deficit, meet the needs of today’s America and improve the fiscal legacy and lives of future generations. Without clean air, clean water and good nutrition, illnesses and related health care costs will continue to rise, with dramatic negative effects on the economy. We look forward to working with you as you confront these important challenges.

If you have questions or would like to discuss these ideas further, please contact our government affairs staff – David DeGennaro (202-939-9128/ddegennaro@ewg.org), Sheila Karpf (202-939-9153/skarpf@ewg.org) or Jason Rano (202-939-9125/jrano@ewg.org).

Sincerely,

Kenneth A. Cook
President

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A sustainable, and LEED possible, 9/11 Memorial.

The [9/11] Museum will be about each of us, about what it means to be a human being, and what it means to live in a complex, global community at the start of the 21st century. It will, we hope, be a place for understanding ourselves and the world in which we live, a place for promising the kind of world we want to bequeath of our children and grandchildren.

Alice M. Greenwald 
Executive Vice President for Programs 
Director, 9/11 Memorial Museum 

I know I’m a little late to the party, but this is news/information I have to pass on. I am sure you, the ever attentive reader, have already been informed of the new 9/11 Memorial and its glories; but the sustainability aspects of the Memorial deserves some dwelling – please excuse my philosophical babel. Since Ms. Greenwald asked that we reflect on the significance of the 9/11 Memorial, a place where we can stare into the waterfalls and make promises for the “kind of world we want to bequeath of our children and grandchildren”, I intent to imagine what this world is like for the sake of my children, your children, our children’s children.

First, there are empty promises and there are promises we must keep – I hope we know the difference here. A few days ago I wrote about my frustration with the public outcry against a Muslim architect and the irrational focus on lives lost and the attack we, as Americans, suffered. In these momentary insane moments, I feared that we have lost sight of the meaning of remembering 9/11 – remembering a world of complex and diverse opinions and demographics. There will always be those who are different from us; if we cannot accept that fact and accept that they too are human beings capable of compassion and tolerance, I fear that we will never reach the mentality necessary to sustain our civil discourse. We would always resort to war and atrocities to figure out who is right and wrong, and whose religion is better.

Hence, we have 9/11.

But my opinionating recently took a positive shift. I want to focus on the success of the 9/11 Memorial and its future now. I leave the pondering about the Muslim designer to your imagination. I only ask that you not dwell on the negative and try to focus on what we must do as a people of one planet to move our civilization forward.

The new 9/11 Memorial, as I come to learn, is seeking LEED Gold certification. It also meets the environment-conscious New York State Executive Order 11 (PDF) and the WTC Sustainable Design Guidelines. 

The Memorial offers the view of two reflecting pools in the footprint of the Twin Towers; mirroring two waterfalls into reflecting pools, designed as water-conserving irrigations system to save energy and resources. In addition, there are bronze panels inscribed with the names of those who died on September 11th and the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, surrounding the two 60-foot deep pools -- described as "large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence."

There are more than 400 swamp white oak trees planted creating a green roof for the museum, the train station and other facilities 70-feet below street level.

These trees were harvested from within a 500-mile radius of the World Trade Center site, with some from locations in Pennsylvania and near Washington, D.C.-- areas also impacted on September 11th. Growing to different heights and up to 60-feet, the trees are reminders that they are living individuals . . . . The selection of these durable deciduous trees are meant to represent the renewal of life in their natural cycles, from full foliage to turning various colors in autumn to leafless in winter. 
Roberta Cruger, treehugger.com

There is also a suspended paving system supporting the trees with soil-filled troughs and pavement for walking. There is also a new structure, in place of the fallen towers, designed to generate off-peak electricity and composts paper waste onsite.

Despite the drama with our intolerance and bigotry, I'd say I am at least as proud about the Memorial as I can be. I hope your children and mine will grow old under the trees and will stare into the reflecting waterfalls, remembering the fallen ones, and ask:

"why did we hate each other so much that we must resort to violence to resolve our misunderstandings?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

Interfaith service and food bank needs.

Lauren and I are not religiously Midwestern; we are curious about other cultures and their belief structures. Having no solid foundations of my own, I respect the differences and am fascinated by the misunderstandings. Lauren indulges me because she loves me. In the process of our inquiries, we learn about ourselves and grow.

Yesterday we went to an interfaith service in Indianapolis. It was hosted in the local food bank warehouse. I wanted to go because I wanted to donate some time and help the food bank. Gleaners operates almost entirely on volunteers and they can use the help.

I saw the “interfaith service” pamphlet then, but I never imagined a full length, hour long, prayers and songs. The whole thing is pretty cool. We heard different faiths speak their peace with 9/11 and the Tibetan monk’s chant blew me away. He was the last to address the crowd and he transported me back to my childhood. I was deeply entranced and Lauren cried, she cries at a lot of emotional things.

Afterward, Lauren and I spent a hour sorting out the donated food in the warehouse. Our job was to make sure food that leaves the food bank is sufficiently qualified "within date" and are not too damaged. We regret to have to toss certain items for "best by" dates and we were shocked to learn some companies rather not have their food donated. I guess they wish to avoid liability issues, but what a waste.  

Nostalgia and complaints aside, hunger is a real issue worldwide. Locally, it is astonishing to learn how many are affected.

“More people die each year from hunger and related diseases than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined . . . one in four children around the globe are underweight . . . likely to die from infectious diseases . . . their long term physical growth and ability to learn is compromised . . . .

While the prevalence of poverty dropped by 20 percent worldwide in the 1990s, the number of hungry people actually grew by 18 million in the second half of 1990s, so the situation is getting worse, not better for those who don’t get enough to eat . . . .

The problem does not lie in food availability: the world has produced more than enough food to feed itself since the 1960s. Just one week’s worth of the subsidies that rich countries pay their own farmers would meet poor countries’ food aid needs for a full year. Worse still, great stockpiles of food lay idle – costing millions of dollars for storage and disposal if they rot – while hundreds of millions of people go hungry.

They’re not just homeless people, they include the elderly, mentally ill, single parent households and children. According to [Gleaners] food bank, there are 738,000 people right here in Indiana that regularly don’t get enough to eat.” 

The Economic Impact of Hunger, James T. Morris, Executive Director, Indianapolis Economic Club, 9 February 2004

. . . each day around the world 16,000 children [from around the world] die of hunger and related causes and here at home 18,000 are frequently hungry in Indianapolis. 

Interfaith Hunger Initiative 

WE had fun yesterday and we promise to come back to Gleaners and help more often. Our 9/11 was well spent.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Today and yesterday, twenty years of ignorance and a brief moment of enlightenment.


They say the older you get and the more you learn, the less you are sure of your once convictions. 

I know less today about sustainability than the day I began to appreciate the complexity of doing some good for the world. A decade ago, I was knee deep in existentialism and ontological deconstruction; I’ve since served in a war, gone back to school, got married and started a family; I hoped that was enough to guide me to be a more responsible human being and help shed some lights on this sustainability thing. 

Sustainability to me today is much of a mystery and more of a necessity, there will be my own children one day depending on my choices and actions now. Suddenly, the reason for me to reduce impact and refocus on a more equitable economy while lessening our environmental impact has a context – a personal context and a distinct urgency. 

As for the guidance I seek, it is no more palpable but I am more certain the pulse is there. If this is what growing up feels like, I welcome the change. 

I used to be a college kid liberal and anything to do with the “system” was considerably evil. I could not believe anything that is accepted by the masses, by the grown-ups, could be good; all things counterculture was, to me, just. 

The college kid in me would think Dow Jones is the evil of my world, along with a host of byproducts of Capitalism, Marxism, Utilitarianism, moral Positivism, or whatever "-isms" we come to believe. Now I see these "ism" manifests a pattern of the human condition. These are the principles of a civilization and are each with its own strength and weakness; their byproducts are a necessary part of the engine that runs the bus, we are all on board following a sensible path. 

I wasn't surprised to learn today that Dow Jones has a Sustainability World Index (“DJSI World”). I am ashamed for not having to know this twenty years ago, I would've looked at the world in a whole new perspective. 

According to Wiki, the DJSI launched in 1999 and is the world’s longest running global sustainability benchmark for investors. I graduated high school in 1997 and that makes my ignorance evident only two years into my wild journey to learn about the topic. While I was busy distrusting authority and rebelling with every intellectual tool I can find, the world’s finest minds already got together and began their work.

How foolish I was to think I knew everything and no one is doing anything. If this is what growing up feels like, I welcome the knowledge and I hope I am less of a fool today.

Let’s cut to the chase: yes, I got married a few days ago. You may have noticed the less frequent posts on The Green Elephant; I am trying to catch up with a week worth of absolute non-productivity so please apologize for the lack of attention to my rants and opinions that may amounts to nothing more than mere narcissism.

But getting married made me think of numerous things in my life and why I have chosen the path I have. I immersed in my game of choice as of late: what I have done and what I will do, what choices I make. 
Don’t get me wrong. Getting married to Lauren is one of the best choices I’ve made in my life. I’ve committed myself to a journey that will take my life to accomplish. In Iraq, I learned the value of this choice – things happen in life without warning and without justice, we must make what best we can to help others strengthen the humanity bond and move our collective existence in a positive and sustainable way. Getting married made me think about the right choices I’ve made and the timing of which I made these unavoidable choices. It is never too late to do the right thing and it is never too late to know I am a novice. The important thing is to take steps to move forward, know when I am wrong and change what I can to make amends.

I saw news today about the DJSI World. The article named a list of large global companiesdropping off the list and some that emerged with dignity. My first reaction a year ago would’ve been to criticize Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, FedEx (North America), and the host of their companies no longer listed in the sustainability index. My reaction today is to learn more about the ones that just made the list. Sprint Nextel, U.S., CSX (North America), Mitsubishi Corp. Hang Seng Bank Ltd (Asia Pacific) and Alcatel-Lucent (Europe) ought to be on my short list of companies to research.

If this is what growing up feels like, I enjoy the optimism. I also sense a difference today in that I am less of a radical. I thought the reason Microsoft may have dropped the list is the progressive sustainable practices by its worldly competitions. The bar is simply higher that’s all; or at least that what I would like to assume.

Yes, I do believe this is a bit of growing up for me: knowing that I know less about my opinions but more about my convictions; I know that I am on the right path and making sensible decisions. From the looks of the companies listed on the DJSI World, I’d say I am in good standing; I've always liked Sprint. The rest of my journey will have to be written but I look forward to the learning process and how I may contribute to the progress the world is making towards a sustainable future for my children. 


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