Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pulling it together: from the EPR paradox to The China Study – a holistic approach.

I had been a failed PhD candidate a little over ten years ago. My focus was the philosophy of science, logic and language. My proposed theory was to examine the EPR paradox (one that kept Einstein busy for the later part of his life) from a linguistic incompleteness point of view.

I had many challenges to that proposal. The one that drove me crazy and sent me to enlist in the Army was the notion that I was arguing a pointless point: one that does not advance any significant progress to the body of human knowledge, but a mere acknowledgment of our limitations to understand nature.

(For a more comprehensive scope of this topic, you will need to review Godel’s Incompleteness Therom, Theory of Thermo Dynamics, Chaos Theory, Theory of Counterfactuals, Set Theory, Fuzzy Math, Artificial Intelligence, Pattern Theory, etc. Please don’t because you will be lost as I was . . ..)

Another problem I had was a methodology debate. I can recall an argument I had with a professor about pulling all of these different fields of investigations together to unified the missing parts to understand why there isn’t a grand Unifying Theory in Physics. My professor had told me to focus on just one part, isolate the problems and address that topic. I knew then that it was counter-intuitive, but I did not know why. To my professor, it was about getting results that will get grants and funding, but to me it was about UNDERSTANDING things.

Holistic thinking: food, sustainability, and society.

The China Study made my frustrations apparent.

Dr. Campbell wrote in one of his chapters that he had been criticized for his “shotgun approach.” I too have been criticized with the exact term: “shotgun approach.” Academia did not take me seriously and thought I was wasting time. I knew they were wrong!

Dr. Campbell wrote in his book:

“I had put forth the idea of investigating how lots of dietary factors, some known but many unknown, work together to cause disease. Thus we had to measure lots of factors, regardless of whether or not they were justified by prior research.”

His colleague had thought that what Dr. Campbell intended to do was a waste of time just as my professor had thought ten years ago. These are scientists who thought

“[S]cience is best done when investigating single – mostly known – factors in isolation.”

These are "Doctors" who thought

“An array of largely unspecified factors doesn’t show anything . . . [that] it’s okay to measure the specific effect of, say, selenium on breast cancer, but it’s not okay to measure multiple nutritional conditions in the same study, in the hope of identifying important dietary patterns.”

But I tend to agree with Dr. Campbell that it is necessary to examine 

“the broader picture, [to] investigate the incredible complexities and subtleties of nature itself . . .. Everything in food works together to create health or disease. The more we think that a single chemical characterizes a whole food, the more we stray into idiocy . . .. [T]his way of thinking has generated a lot of poor science.”

A lot of “poor science” and a lot of bad food trends. An un-sustainable CRISIS. 

That is why I advocate for a holistic approach to Sustainability, Environment, Society, Food, etc. I may be taking an shotgun approach, but I sincerely believe this is the only way we can adjust for decades of poor science and help us back on course to a sustainable future.

Monday, March 28, 2011

From New Orleans to Indy, a tale of two cities (Act II)

Sometimes it’s easy being a veteran and having a cause. People tend to listen and they are more receptive.

But sometimes it’s hard being a veteran and having a Green/Sustainability cause. Veterans are not suppose to be Green, are not suppose to care about the environment. Veterans are all suppose to be gung-ho trigger-happy simpletons.

Well, not this one!

Neither are the veterans in New Orleans, or the rest of the world for that matter.

Veterans are idealists, leaders, defenders, and team players. Most veterans are admittedly hotheads, but that’s why they are the first to volunteer to fight and defend what they perceive as worthy.

When Katrina devastated New Orleans, it was the veterans who committed to the city and came back to work with everyone on rebuilding New Orleans. They saw it as an “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a new life for veterans and a new hope for the city.” If you haven’t seen what New Orleans is doing, you are missing out on a truly amazing transformation and a grand vision. The entirety of their efforts is focused on sustainability in all aspects. For veterans like Bill Detweiler, this is what he has to do for his country and his community.

So I ask that every veteran pick up the initiatives and think how we can help transform our nation and our communities by innovation, leadership, constructive knowledge sharing, and active participations. I ask that you think of these things in sustainable ways, not just as the trendy foodies have thought, but as true citizens would care. I don’t want you to be just another person screaming about the “Organic” labels on food. I hope you see the need to shape your communities with solid foundations of a sustainable society. Not every city has the once in a life time opportunity as New Orleans has had, but every city can use a Bill Detweiler to champion a worthy cause.

Thank you for your service and your leadership.

Kaku, Sagan, and everyone else – a transformation and the necessary faith in humanity.

A redesign of our culture and society based on carrying capacity of the Earth: not the carrying capacity of politicians, businesses, not of any religion or nation.

Lately I have been down. My writings reflect that mood. I bitch, I gripe, and I am counter-productive. All because it is so hard to find people who can see what I see and understand what I am trying to do.

The projects here at The Green Elephant and iCube are not just about food, or just about mobile applications. We are not focused on profit. We are focused on a SOLUTION, a process improvement thinking, a holistic approach to our Sustainability Crisis. I cannot stress that enough.

When I explain my ideas to others, I lose them in the technical jargons of Six Sigma (an industrial method to improve process and production), development cycles, and content and constituents resource managements. I lose the business people because they don’t see why this has anything to do with Green or Social Problem Solving. I lose the non-profits because they think of themselves as catalysts, not the actual agents of change. So I continue to bash my head against the walls on both ends . . ..

I am not crazy. I checked. There are others who think like me and they are all over the world. They are scattered, but have managed to come together in major metropolitans like New York, Toronto, London, Paris . . .. They are creating many creative common projects just as I am, and they are rallying around the necessity for a social change.

We are the stewards of LightSource, a vision to innovate the process by which we innovate... We will do this by "transparently-engaging", "recursively-focusing",and "holistically-uniting" the core tools, practices and approaches that help people lead fulfilled and sustainable lives.

This morning it struck me: I have all of the tools I need to make this happen. They may be thousands miles away, but the Internet has made that distance irrelevant. I can still make an impact here in Indiana, and I still believe that it does not matter where you are but what you do to make a difference. In the mean time, I just simply have to believe:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hunger and obesity, how food could make or break an empire.

A few days ago I promised to share some of my thought about The Economist’s Special Report on The 9 Billion People Question. There is a lot of good information from this report and it’s hard for me to get a handle on how to tell you about the complexity of our food situation. How do I help you start in this conversation without committing you to the mistakes that so many, including myself, have committed?
I don’t pretend to be a scientist, and I wish to leave the scientists to tell their stories. I want to share how I observed the information, and hopefully this will inspire you to think about your own relationship with food. I will start with a famous Roman historian, Livy.
What chiefly makes the study of history beneficial and fruitful is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience as upon a famous monument; from these you may choose for your own state what to imitate, and mark for avoidance what is shameful....

On the first few pages of The Economist’s Special Report on food, the editor referenced a potential outcome as the Romans have seen.

“The food industry has been attracting extra attention of other kinds. For years some of the most popular television programmes in English-speaking countries have been cooking shows. That may point to a healthy interest in food, but then again it may not. The historian Livy thought the Roman empire started to decay when cooks acquired celebrity status."

I was immediately drawn to this passage. I had always suspected there is something wrong with shows like Iron Chef and Chopped. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those shows immensely because chefs give me ideas. Chefs are inherently philosophers who practice their art for the benefit of others. Chefs are expected to utilize what they have and provide us with a pleasurable experience. There is an old Chinese movie about a father’s deep passion as a chef and how he hopes to teach lessons about life through food. But in the end, he lost his battle and lost his sense of connection because he had immersed himself too deeply in food. For food, he had given up his sons and daughters. That’s how I see chefs, as people who would take what resources we have and transform other’s relationship with life itself, but without getting lost in food.

Shows like Iron Chef and Chopped puts the characteristics of what Livy would think to be “shameful” on a pedestal. There goes the empire.

Take for example, the judges on Chopped would regularly lay down their thunder on a contestant who had left the fat on a stake, or failed to remove the stems from a plant. When I was growing up, my grandma would force and coerce me to eat the fatty parts because it’s a “shameful” thing to let that go to waste. I also remember a line from a poem I had to memorize in Chinese, “each drop of rice is a drop of sweat from the farmer’s hands.” To me, leaving even a single grain of rice in my bowl is beyond salvation. But shows like Iron Chef welcomes cooking methods that waste gallons of milk to just boil a single piece of fish.

I hope we are not doomed to Livy’s advice. I searched the web and found this entry on The Atlantic: The Moral Crusade Against Foodies. I highly encourage you read through this article. Don’t buy everything they are selling, but at least reason through some of it on your own.

Then, I want to remind you our goals here at The Green Elephant: we are not here to advocate for some food fads. We are not here to tell you about trendy recipes. We are here to talk about food, our environment, humanism, and Sustainability. We hope to bring as many solid resources like The China Study to your attention and help facilitate a process to bring quality information to you.

A few weeks ago I wanted to see if I could blog for a local food website in Bloomington. They responded by thanking me for my interest. They politely told me their interest is with organic farming and food recipes. My Sustainability focus does not fit with their missions as “Indiana Public Media.” I explained that there is a holistic conversation about our relationship with food that defines our choice “for [our] own state what to imitate, and mark for avoidance what is shameful.” I received no response.

I hope you have caught my point by now. I want us to think of food in terms of Sustainability. I want you to help me define how we relate to food and how that impacts our relationship with others (Human Rights), our consumptions (Business), and our production (Environment). This is not about just food, it is about FOOD. There are food deserts, food inequalities, injustices and problems we set out to remedy with technology. How we do that is by building and facilitating that conversation in ways to make the right kind of choice. At the end of the day, fancy $100 meals do not make us any more sustainable. But eating sensibly, locally, and honestly will give us an alternative.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Before and After: Hardcore Pawn Stars, who are the Celebrities of Reuse.

(Pawn Stars and Hardcore Pawn)

We hear it all the time these days.

I forget sometimes that aside from reducing to recycling, reusing goes beyond just washing our zip-lock bags and saving glass jars. But what keeps me from reusing are some deep rooted false belief that I'm somehow better than the concept of pawning. But I realized I am one of those "I don't care" people and think I should buy things new. I realized I was wrong after Lauren had threaten to set up lawn chairs and serve popcorn at a local pawn shop after watching the new pawn stars from Detroit on TV.

She was excited for all of the drama that happens, fashionably decorated with memories and stories embedded in items we could reuse. She looked at me and said seriously, “reduce, reuse, recycle; right?”

I agreed. The thought of setting up recliners at a pawn shop with some popcorn intrigued me. It also made me wonder if I would actually enjoy finding out what items are being reused, and why. May be I can figure out what other items can be reused by the community, and how we can lower the overall economic and environmental impacts of making these things by just REUSE THEM.

Around the world in one voice.

A few weeks ago I received a message from another Green Blogger, Sara Allan. She wrote the following:

I am emailing you to propose a project that would bring together environmental bloggers to discuss relevant issues.
The project was inspired by the McLaughlin Group Discussions started this year by gymnastics blogger Blythe Lawrence of The Examiner (her blog Gymnastics Examiner). Thoughtful and knowledgeable bloggers from around the world were chosen to occasionally answer relevant questions. The bloggers then posted their results at a predetermined time. This simultaneous action helped bring together the entire gymnastics community to discuss one important question – it stimulated a discussion. And that is the goal of the project: to create an informed, multidimensional discussion among environmentalists.

Sure enough, a few weeks later she sent me a list of questions to answer. The first of which is about 2010 in Review:

1. What was the biggest political upset of 2010?
2. What was your favorite book of 2010?
3. What was your favorite documentary of 2010?
I thought her idea was fantastic and I wrote back with the following answers: 

I refrain from speaking about politics because I believe this is beyond any one person and beyond politics in general. I believe this Sustainability, or Green movement is about a life style that affects other human beings and other life. I consider it a humanistic question. Although politics is very much part of the issue, but I feel it often clouds the real questions.

But I am glad to answer the two other questions.

My favorite books in 2001 were:

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma;
Jonathan Nash’s Environmental Law and Policy; and
Dr. Colin Campbell’s The China Study.

These three books gave me the knowledge base necessary to appreciate the complexity of the Green issue, the immense knowledge gap we have about the Sustainability topic, and the invariable connections between how we see ourselves, how we see the world, and how we see changes, that shapes our Sustainability crisis. Of the three authors, each brings a sense of professional quality to what they can contribute to the overall Green Conversation. I see them as my teachers and their writings the lighted guideposts on my journey to changing my own behaviors. Aside from these books, I want to also mention The Economist’s Special Report on food, the 9 Billion People Problem. The editors at The Economist really put the problem in perspective and gave the context necessary to frame my own thinkings.

As for my favorite documentary is ZeitGeist: Moving Forward. Beware, the whole thing is close to three hours long, but even if you just watch the first three minutes of the video, you will be inspired!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A break in service

I apologize for the lack of content lately. I have had a rather busy week and it will only get worse. I want to give you a quick run down of the things you will see on this blog in the next few months.

First and foremost, our rethink(i3) project with IU officially kicked off last Friday. I will keep you informed of that progress and our efforts to unify the sustainability movement here in Indy.

I am preparing content for an initiative started by another blogger. Her idea is to create a conversation nationally. I will post that conversation here in the next few months as well.

I am also currently planning some community outreach projects to help in ways I can for my own city. At the same time, I want to start collecting some data about our knowledge gap in terms of nutrition and food. I will get that result published here as they become available.

So I hope you stay with us and check back frequently to see what we are doing and what we have to offer for the community.

Thank you.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclar meltdown of the man named Nate Dogg.

Everyone is watching Japan.

Lauren and I had been talking about what is happening in Japan. When we learned the Bank of Japan (BOJ) is planning to buy its own debts from the citizens, and reinvesting in rebuilding, we realized an inevitable bright future for Japan. I do not intend to offend, but I thought we look on the positive in this situation and dare we suggest a hope.

A few days ago I had posted about a Bio-Medical district in New Orleans. It is the stereotypical rise-from-the-ash story, but is a story that moved me. The whole project is entirely focused on sustainability. I briefly scanned the information on their site and I thought the city’s vision is the most sensible and comprehensive sustainable planning I’ve seen in the US in a long time. I am sure it won’t be perfect but I suspect it is high quality planning. It had all made sense because if the American People is willing to reinvest $350 million dollars into the project, they are sure to have put together a dream team of engineers, entrepreneurs, philosophers, and investors to safeguard that investment. If we are to spend it, we may as well spend it wisely.

I am eager to see how New Orleans’ sustainability planning deals with their unique geographical disposition. They are wise to see disaster planning and emergency management as a part of the Sustainability problem.

I do not intend to offend the Japanese People, but from the rebirth of New Orleans, I can see Japan's opportunity to seriously develop sustainable technologies and talents just as New Orleans is trying to do. As China rise to demand that technology and talents, I have no doubt Japan will find a warmer relationship with China – a hopefully more cooperative relationship. As our world develop climate problems, no doubt island nations will be interested in how Japan’s sustainable building and energy technologies will help them cope.

I have hopes that the BOJ will focus on Sustainability development. Their rebirth will give us, as a specie, significant advances into believing in a sustainable future. I have no reason to believe otherwise. The Japanese People is inherently kind and keeping with Eastern philosophies, I know they will develop new ways of living in harmony with nature. I hope to see Japan pull through this as a proud nation, and as a people I hope they innovate solutions for the problems they face.

From this hope I see a reminder to Americans: nations are getting into the Sustainability and intellectual capital race in a huge way. China has been working hard turning their national propaganda towards “Green” hoping to encourage their students to innovate. But the socialist environment does not foster innovation, so they are heavily depended on importing that intellectual capital. It is about time that WE as a people and a nation recognize that the opportunity and the challenge. If we are to continue dominate in the social development that fosters democracy, we have to compete and protect our economic and environmental survival. I believe in this country’s ideologies. It has its inefficiencies but at the price of our individual freedom. I rather this society dominate global economics and politics so that the rest of the world would enjoy the level of human rights we enjoy here. That’s why we want your attention and your involvement. We as a people must rise to the occasion and help reshape this nation as New Orleans have, and continue to dominate global economics and politics so we can continue the message of fundamental human rights and democracy. I don’t think a New Orleans is feasible for every American city, but every American city ought to look at its Sustainability planning as a whole: including emergency management, responsible consumption, and energy efficiency and independency. I hope those are just the beginning of the list of things we will achieve.

In my life, I have come to see there are a few ways of dealing with disasters:

we run away;
we confront the problems head-on;
we fail and we understand why and we grow to confront the problems yet again.

I prefer the last option - it is the reality. I wish for New Orleans’ success and Japan’s rise from the ashes.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blind leading the blind, seeing with the eyes of Dr. Colin Campbell.

I recently picked up a book to read for some background knowledge on food and nutrition. I had felt that after being an expert eater for 32 years, I am still a novice in the art of eating well. I maintain a rigorous exercise plan yet I am puzzled by why I, with a resting heart rate at 52, still deal with health problems like high cholesterol.

The book I picked up is called “The China Study.” I highly recommend it to anyone. Not just people who cares about food, but EVERYONE. This book gives us a totality of the circumstances account of our national health care system, food choices, and other social, moral, and political problems. It is sort of what the Elephant in the room looks like (since we all seem to be too afraid to talk about the elephant in the room).

In one of the first few chapters, Dr. Colin Campbell acknowledged that

“we scientists focus on details while ignoring the larger context. . .. Often, investigating minute biochemical parts of food and trying to reach broad conclusions about diet and health lead[s] to contradictory results. Contradictory results lead to confused scientists and policy makers, and to an increasingly confused public.”

This scientific problem Dr. Campbell has identified is prevalent in our social conversations as well. In our civil discourse, whether it be the law or news or otherwise, we are focusing on the details and ignoring the larger context. Lawyers focus on fighting for topic social injustices or defending large corporations on those fronts; the media focus on what is relevant to that day; we as consumers focus on what we choose to believe best adopted to our life styles. We are all too busy to listen to what the others have to say and we are all deeply immersed in our own worlds. Our choices in food has failed us, and our choices otherwise are equally confused and failed. Hence we have a huge sustainability crisis, a health care and human rights problem world-wide, a crash-and-burn economic model.

A few days ago I wrote a blog about the Elephant in the room and claiming that I want to “turn on a light” for everyone to see the Elephant for what it is. I want to clarify that statement: I too am blind. I too do not know what the Green Elephant looks like. But no one can gain a comprehensive concept of the context by themselves. That is why I am working on creating a knowledge-base to capture what we already know and weed-out what is bad information. At times I do feel while I’m trying to find the light switch in the room, others are still feeling around for what the Elephant looks like. Those are the times I get frustrated and write pointless things about "The Green Elephant." To end that tragedy, I HIGHLY encourage you share Dr. Campbell’s The China Study with me. It will enlighten you and maybe you can help me find the switch and help me see what our world is all about.

Help Japan.

Japan was hit by the largest earthquake ever recorded. Please support the relief efforts.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blind men and The Green Elephant

When I was little, my grandparents would tell the story of five blind men and an elephant. The story goes something like this:

Five blind travelers gathered at a lodge one night for shelter. They sat around, and to pass the time they shared stories of their adventures. One man mentioned something about an elephant and somehow they began to argue what an elephant looks like. Of course they were all blinded from birth and none of them has ever seen an elephant. They argued and argued and could not reach an agreement as to what an elephant looks like.

The next morning, they continued to argue. A by-passer heard their arguments and told them that there was an elephant at the nearby village, and that they should go check for themselves to 'see' who was right.

The blind men went to the village and were guided to where the elephant was.

The first blind man walked up to the elephant and felt along her leg. He shouted: “Elephants are like pillars, round and solid and supporting the sky above them. They must be the gods that keeps us safe from the falling sky.”

The second man walked up to the elephant and felt along her side and her ear. “You are wrong,” he said, “elephants are like a giant canvas carrying the stories of our lands. Feel along her presence and you will find a map to our rivers and valleys.”

The third man held the elephant’s tail and muttered quietly, “Elephants are like serpents, but with a lion’s mane. It must be descendants of great dragons.”

The fourth walked up to the elephant’s trunk and petted her gently. He felt the moist and soft nostrils and stated as-matter-of-fact, “Elephants are like a mother’s touch. She is a noble animal and a nurturer of our lands.”

The fifty man walked up to the elephant and felt the tusks and their pointy ends. He screamed, “Elephants are the gods of wars. Feel these fearsome lances.”

Recently a few people asked me about the name “The Green Elephant.” First I would like to state that this blog is in no way affiliated with the Republican Party’s “The Green Elephant” Newsletter. I had discovered their trademark registration not too long ago. It was a rather pleasant surprise to find that the Republican Party has been publishing an environmental newsletter since the 90s. But I may have some legal problems using the name and the domain under “The Green Elephant.” I contacted the 501c4 organization that is running the Republican’s newsletter. Their President gladly stated the following:

Hi Jin- This is to confirm that our trademark for “The Green Elephant” is only for a newsletter, printed or digital. We did not register the name for a blog. Our staff contribute to a number of blogs, and we don’t anticipate establishing one anytime soon. And, if we do, we’d find another name for it.

Best wishes.

Robert C. Sisson, President
Republicans for Environmental Protection
971 S. Centerville Road, #139
Sturgis, MI 49091
PH: 269.651.1808
So I want to thank Mr. Sisson for helping clarify this for us.

Lauren and I had decided on the name “The Green Elephant” for a number of reasons. The elephant is a mystical creature in eastern religions and philosophies. We also wanted to hint at the elephant standing in the room that no one seem to care for.
But that’s not the point of this blog. The point is if you had originally thought this is a political blog, you may have committed a similar fallacy we set out to correct. This is not about politics. This is about health, economics, human rights, justice, and everything that compose the totality of the situation of our Sustainability Crisis. I recently had a brief email exchange with a professor about food security and health standards. From that conversation I realized that our social heroes who champion the causes are like the blind men in a room guessing what the elephant looks like. I am trying to turn on a light and help us think of ways of looking at this elephant in light of the human experience. I want us to be united by this topic, instead of divided for political reasons. This is not about who is right or wrong either. It's about what can we do and HOW!?

So that is the story of The Green Elephant. 

Note: This story is updated by another blog post titled Blind leading the Blind: seeing with the eyes of Dr. Colin Campbell. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

From New Orleans to Indy, a tale of two cities. (Act I)

Running a blog on Sustainability is difficult business. All of the content we generate seem to focus on deconstructive criticisms we have towards current practices and regulations. We rant to please and our rant reeks of pleasure in the company of misery. Rarely do we have anything good to report and more frequent are our seemingly irreversible course towards a doomsday tipping point.

There are also rather curious social barriers to creating a unified positive Sustainability Movement through conversation since most of us are so detached form the holistic affairs of the issue. Different people are talking about Sustainability in different ways and they seem to just plainly ignore the each other sometimes.

“I’m too busy fighting for public transit and limiting pollution to care about social entrepreneurs trying to make money.”

“Social injustice, equal opportunity, basic human rights is about the poor and oppressed; food fetishes are for the rich and the bored.”

Or, my favorite:

“What does education has anything to do with Sustainability? We want higher wages for teachers and better how-to’s, nobody cares about exactly what we should be teaching.”

There seems to be an unspoken truth about the inter-connections between these different societal nodes but very few people are talking about how they are inter-related and what we can do with that totality perspective. Yet once in a great while comes an idea re-born form the ashes of a disaster.

BioDistrict v2 from F.Godwin James on Vimeo.

I remember watching what had happened to New Orleans on the Armed Forces Channel in Mosul. I was too busy to care and I did not have the awareness of its future impact on the totality of our situation. Yesterday I had lunch with my old boss Jeff, hoping to gain a little bit of wisdom in aid of our current initiatives. He told me about how the New Orleans’ bio-medical corridor became the visible “under-pinning of the economic future of the city.

I was excited. The first thing I did after sobering up from drinking with Jeff, was checkout the New Orleans’ project. There are amazing amount of information on their site about the whole project. A lot of things we can learn from. The theme of their development is Sustainability.

This got me thinking. A project like this will no doubt attract research money, talents, and business opportunities. Combined with a practical social entrepreneurial philosophy, this type of development can generate creative solutions for our own communities. It will also yield innovations and intellectual property we can export to developing countries to spread the Sustainability technology and social developments.

When I visited China last Summer, I sat down and had dinner with a young lady from one of the four State-Owned Energy Companies. During the conversation, she bluntly told me that China is interested in the US for two reasons: money and innovations. China has been seriously focused on Sustainability, but they are disappointed by the technology development and capital commitment the US currently has on this topic.

That made me realize that if we are to compete in the next phase of this global economy, we have to adopt and develop our cities and communities the way New Orleans has risen from the ashes. New Orleans took special care to tailor their project and Sustainability to fit their unique history and culture. I can only admire and envy the persons who thought of this idea for their city first. But I don’t care to come in second, I just want things to get done. I feel that Indiana can do the same and are perhaps in a better position to do so. Indiana is an agriculture state. Indianapolis has a few solid research institutions that are already shifting their focus onto Sustainability. There are large numbers of abandoned properties we can use to redesign urban farming projects and research food related health and social problem. Food is the next critical market issue and we are in a great position to be the leader of that market sector. We should take pride in that and help develop sustainable solutions to the 9 billion people food problem. This is big business and can help create countless new jobs here in Indy. The benefits do not stop there . . .. Not only do we attract and retain talents and solve Indiana’s brain drain problem, we can also establish a profitable structure for the city to become the next global R&D hub. This is exactly what India and China is doing and we should get into this competition. It’s about time we take pride and innovate united.

I believe in this idea. I think Jeff feels the same way. He wanted to help me research into what New Orleans has done. We've made some plans to visit there during the Summer and I will compile a series of reports and documentations to share with you. I hope to get a conversation started here in Indy and I want to make this happen for the people here. But before we start this conversation, I want you to really take some time and dig through Bio-District New Orleans' website. I hope to hear from you on your thoughts about this idea.

In the mean time, I will be reporting back on the topic of food and the 9-billion people problem. I hope this conversation will continue and eventually be incorporated into a Agricultural R&D District Indy discussion.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How well do you know your attitude and motivation towards Sustainability

I recently began to look into ecological behaviors, environmental attitudes, our sense of responsibility towards our planet and our food. I wanted to use some academic data to define and structure the process and scope of our effort to reallocate business and social capitals into the local economy and drive our Sustainability Movement.

To my surprise, there is very little research (well, none that I've found) done in the US. Most of these studies on behavioral patterns, attitude comparisons, and Self-Motivation studies were done in Canada or Europe. Out of the few studies Lauren help me locate, only one, conducted by a Swiss researcher, involves a comparison study between a Swedish student population and a small UC Berkeley student population. Under the scope of understanding the determinants of environmental conscious behaviors, there is only one study that involved a US institution - University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

This got Lauren and I talking: part of our effort is to capture consumer data and apply behavior prediction and motivation models to drive market expansion in the Sustainability sector. Without solid data to digest, we won't have meaningful theories to apply.

This is where we need your help! In the following months, we will post small survey questions on this blog. Please take a moment and answer the questions and help us generate some data. We will publish all results here on The Green Elephant as part of our ongoing Knowledge-Base.

The survey is posted on the right side of this blog. We will post a new question every few weeks or so. Please check back often and help us generate some meaningful data to drive this Sustainability Movement. 

Thank you in advance for your support. Oh, and please tell your friends to come and help us with these surveys. This is a collective effort and we cannot do it without your help.

-jin and lauren

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Being lazy

I've got a major writing assignment due in a few days and our iCube project to develop a viable technology solution for Indiana's Sustainability Movement is kicking into drive, so I will probably post less frequently for a few weeks. To start my Green Elephant lazy weeks, I want to share with you something that really got me thinking: the Economist's Special Report on our Sustainability Problem: The 9 billion-people question. Be sure to also read through all of the articles:

Also make sure you read this blog entry from Grist: The Economist dismisses organic ag, while also making the case for it

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

“Do you want to make the world a better place?” - by Leontiy Korolev

Yes, duh.
“No, I don’t have time to lobby legislatures and am too apathetic to stage a protest.”

That is a sentiment many of us can in one way or another relate to.

But, can we go through our day to day lives without being “activists” and still contribute positively to the world around us? Some people see the world as either black or white, a world where - “you’re either with us or against us.” Realistically, most of us are in the grey, but consumer activism can help us move into the green. Consumer activism-sounds important, but really it’s just the idea of being aware of where your products come from and their affects on the world you live in.

The Village Experience is the exemplary example of a business that has made and will continue to make a positive change in the world.

Anything I write won’t do them justice. So go check out their website and stop by their store. Or, plan your next overseas trip with their socially responsible tourism projects.

There are so many ways to tell you about “The Village Experience.” I could focus on some of their products and trace a beer mug from a Ugandan village to my desk in Indianapolis. Or I could focus on the many environmentally friendly products that “The Village Experience” sells in its Indianapolis store. Or, maybe I could tell you about how this company, run by two sisters (Anne and Kelly Campbell), started out of the back of a car three years ago and has developed into a profitable business that has helped village economies all over the world, literally.

The Village Experience interacts with villages in Uganda, India, Thailand, Kenya, Haiti, Guatemala and parts of the Middle East. I could write about their micro lending, socially driven travel adventures or their efforts to help women rescued from human-trafficking. I could write about the school that they helped open in Mbita, Kenya, the Party Rental Company run by Kenyan locals which rents goods for wedding, school, funerals, etc to its community, or the Mission of Hope Tailoring Project which gives HIV+ women a way to generate income to pay for, among other things, their medicines. I could also focus on one of their driving philosophies, which, paraphrased goes something like this: if you give a person a chicken, you feed them for a day, if you show them how to run a coop, you create a sustainable development project. Of course I could spend an entire article on how businesses such as the Village Experience help combat terrorism by helping communities in developing countries become self sustainable, thus removing much of the motivation that turns people to violence. I guess I kind of just did all of those things. I hope you can understand how hard it is to focus on just one of their efforts, let alone try to put into words the passion, motivation and innovation behind the scenes. The positive affect The Village Experience has had on the world it has interacted with is inspirational, even for the most cynical of us.

Here’s a quick overview of how it works. First, The Village Experience identifies a struggling community overseas. They do this through their own travels and through cooperation with other like minded businesses and organizations. They then identify the most pressing problems faced by that community and decide on the best way to alleviate some of those problems.

Example 1: As Kelly Campbell traveled through Kenya in the midst of post election violence, she came across a camp for internally displaced persons. An assessment of the area showed that the necessary resources needed to create some of the fair trade goods sold at the Indy store were lacking. Consequentially the sisters decided that the best way to help would be to donate money to help displaced Kenyans build homes and learn agricultural techniques. As of today they have been able to raise enough money from Indy donors, the UNHCR, and Friends of Lake Nakuru to help build 250 homes and set up a medical facility.

Example 2: Once upon a time, The Village Experience learned about another struggling Kenyan community. This community however had access to post industrial consumer waste. Amongst the waste, which otherwise would have been burnt, the Village Experience saw an economic opportunity both for itself and for the community. The members of the community were shown how to take that waste and make it into recycled paper necklaces. These necklaces are now sold in Kenya and in the sisters’ store in Indy. They hope to distribute begin distributing this product through larger distributors such as

The majority of the goods sold at the Village Experience are fair trade certified and those that are not are moving in that direction. Those goods that are not certified yet are made by overseas groups that The Village Experience has recently started from scratch. The certification process is expensive and takes several years to complete. Consequentially, the Village Experience would rather get “money into the women’s hands first.” Certification is not a priority, but it is on the agenda. As for the goods that are not  “certified,” I think it’s fair to say that they are well above what most people would consider fair trade:

Cost to make necklace: 25 Cents.

Price per necklace paid to producing community: $5.

On top of the payment for the good itself, the community receives lessons in personal financial management. The Village Experience and the organizations they team up with make sure that half of the money goes into a savings account or investments that will further help the village. For example communities have been able to buy sewing machines which allowed them to diversify the products they produce and bring in more revenue. They also teach the locals how to sell within their community as well as in nearby cities. Finally, they make sure that some of the wages go towards agricultural sustainability within the community, not limited to but including things such as chicken coops, fish farms and gardening projects. projects. (You know how we love local and sustainable food culture here at The Green Elephant.) The earnings from the agricultural products are then used for teacher salaries, medical supplies, etc.

Anyways, to not diverge too far away from the environmental theme, here are a few of their more environmentally driven products: Here are some of the other things they help villages around the world make for our consumption:

bamboo salad bowl from Thailand
blue recycled paper necklaces hand made in Kenya
 tree free journals from the pulp of the lokta plant in Nepal

Both of my parent’s birthday’s are coming up, I know I’ll go back there to pick up a Ugandan made beer mug for my dad, and I’m sure that with some help, I’ll be able to pick out something for my mom.

We all shop. Every product we buy is a choice we make. Every choice we make has consequences. I ask you to make the right choice, do the right thing, help a local business, help the rest of the world!

Find out about some of their projects here

Also, here is good article that provides a more in depth view of the founding sisters

I hope to regularly post information about socially proactive businesses-businesses that are concerned about more than just the bottom line and that make positive social/environmental contributions. In doing so, I hope that people will become more aware of the fact that there are other places to shop besides your typical solely profit driven chain stores. Even in Indiana.