Wednesday, August 31, 2011

EPA and DOT regulations could cost a pretty penny; but it's worth the cost.

Yesterday I saw an opinion article written by a IU professor claiming the new EPA regulations on GHG emission and coal ash will be “[o]ne of the most significant reasons for the lack of investor confidence in the economy . . . .”

I reacted quickly because I felt the professor made some rather sweeping statements that is not warranted. I woke up this morning to a flurry of news and opinion pieces about the anticipated EPA and DOT regulations that may cost billions in terms of economic investment. I sat for a few seconds and pondered if I should retract my statements yesterday and give the professor back his due respect.

I decided that my earlier intuition was right: that even though we are making some economic sacrifices, and rather heavy sacrifices in light of our recent recessions, we are making the right choices.

First, our nation’s health care bill is running out of control. Childhood obesity is a huge problem and obesity related diseases are burdening everyone whether we have a socialized health care or not. Yet industries are not looking at preventive medicine; rather they continue to push drugs that treat not the root of the problems. So when commentators and opinionists bicker about regulations against unhealthy food, I say let the regulations stand and let’s have a healthier generation of kids.

Second, when EPA is trying to regulate GHG emissions, they are not just trying to cure and curtail the problems of global warming. Leaving that issue aside, there is also a serious health effect on our citizens, especially those who are poor and have no choice but to live near these coal industries. They are dealing with respiratory problems, various cancers, liver and kidney diseases. Regulating the emissions and dumping may be an upfront cost, but it will serve as preventive medical cost and help us reduce our ever-increasing health care bill. Sure there will be a few jobs lost to the closing of the coal industry, but I welcome that change. We needed to speed up our renewable efforts to anticipate the next generation of the energy market.

As for the DOT standards, same economic incentives apply. Innovation will have to be focused on renewable ones and sustainable ones; not the ye-old fossil burning ones.

At the end of the day, I look back at the political squabbles on capitol hill and the influential professor from IU speaking against the forward looking policies; I realized many of the politicians and established industries are like ostridges with their head in the sand – unwilling or even afraid of looking at fifty years from now. They are just worried about their short-term profits and the next election cycle. They really don't care about what our nation will look like down the road, they just want to know Obama is not elected again.

What s shame. Politics should be the highest form of Art according to Plato, but I'll bet he's turning around in his grave now.

I stand corrected in that the EPA and DOT regulations will bring some serious economic impacts and some job losses; but I am hopeful that we are making the right decisions and making the right kind of sacrifices for our children’s healthy future. Paying it forward as opposed to paying it back I guess.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dear Professor Haydn Murray from IU Bloomington,

I will try and be nice since you are: 1) a Professor, 2) an IU Professor; but I can’t promise anything because I know not all professors care for their mission of teaching our youth and being good stewards of our future. Since you have opened your attack on environmental regulations, I will consider that as a declaration of challenge – from which I shall hold my respect until further notice.

You claimed that “[o]ne of the most significant reasons for the lack of investor confidence in the economy is the enormous cost of environmental regulation.”

I have looked at your bio and it does not seem you have any credentials or expertise in economics to make such a broad assertion. In fact, I don’t see any of your published material or your teaching career remotely involved in the studies of economic incentives and its many interconnected impacts in our social, environmental, and political discourse. You are a noted engineer and geologist, please share with us your economic ontology so I may understand what exactly do you mean when you say the “most costly regulation” is the EPA’s tougher limits on smog-forming ozone?

Are you defending the so called “trickling down effect” when you say “[e]ven though 25 million Americans are looking for full-time work, the pending standard would limit business expansion and impair the ability of companies to create jobs.”? But have you considered the kind of economic creation in the long term when the U.S. will have no other choice but to compete with the Chinese, Japanese, German, and many other’s circular economy model and the whole new industry that is emerging from Sustainability? Even if we can create incentives for the coal business to lead the pack for now, how long will that last and how much of that dirty profit will these 25 million Americans see a few years from now when they are suffering from lung disease and various forms of cancer due to their employment with the digging companies with no adequate healthcare?

I thank you for the information that “some 175 business organizations, including many based in Indiana, have asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson not to go forward with the plan to set the ozone standard at 60 to 70 parts per billion.”

But this is a scary thing. Have you seen the citizens and NGOs and even many business leaders with a reasonable foresight calling for tougher ozone standards and cleaner air? They are many and I am one proud to join their calls for action. My opinion is biased and perhaps so is yours?

You stated that may Indiana counties “already are struggling to meet the current standard of 75 parts per billion . . . [and] Lowering the ozone standard again would push 565 more counties into non-attainment status under the Clean Air Act . . . .” Are you suggesting that we lower the standards and race to the bottom and see who can pollute the most for the least amount of money (hence the most profit)?

You claim manufacturers who uses the largest amount of electricity from coal will be impacted the highest. Are you suggesting that we help these large dirty industries continue their dependency and their dirty ways? In light of your impeccable logic, then, we would lower the standards for murders and thieves – if you kill one person, that opens the job options for another and lowers the unemployment numbers, so let’s allow you to kill two people before we consider prosecuting you for murder.

You rightly pointed out that “our state obtains more than 93 percent of its electricity from coal-fueled power plants, Indiana would be squarely between the crosshairs.” Well, can we be proud of the fact that we are so heavily depended on coal and demand that we not face the judgments from our peers or should we accept the fact of our past transgressions and try to improve and meet the tougher standards set for the whole nation, the whole planet?

When those 80 coal plants are forced to shut their doors because of their dirty practices, the energy market will create a demand and opportunities for alternative energy to take off. This will create incentives for innovators to create technologies that we can later export to places like China and Japan. Have you consider the economic opportunities there?

You said: “Put simply, the Obama administration has consistently sold out America's economic future in return for political gain with the environmental lobby.” The same claim can perhaps made against you: “the teabuggers and their cronies have consistently sold America’s economic future in return for political gain with the right wing nutjobs.”

I respect the fact that you are a professor emeritus at Indiana University in Bloomington, but I am reminded of the many religious scholars deemed the esteemed authorities in the dark ages and during the many inquisitions. Who are you professor?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to get to the Sustainability wall: about People, of the Planet and its Profits.

Sustainability is about people, planet, and profit. I’ve spent much time recently pondering about the environment and our economic outlook; I’ve avoided talking about justice beyond the mere environmental impacts on the poor.

I avoided the topic because I still don’t understand it well. I am deeply troubled by what I consider as inconsistencies in the western philosophical base about human rights in general. Metaphysically I am cautious about the fundamental basis of human rights in a pure western sense. I’ve spent a lot of time studying western philosophy trying to understand this point, but perhaps in pursuit of this process I’ve lost track of my Chinese hardwired brain.

Lauren tells me that a child’s brain is hardwired around the age of eight. I came to the States when I was twelve and I am just now discovering the beauty of that “initial programming.” I tend to notice the more subtle areas of metaphysics and tend to be more sensitive to ontological reasoning that came form the likes of Zeno. I fought hard against these intuitions in college and my philosophical inquiry days, but now I know better than to fights it – I accept them as they come to my rescue.

It seems obvious now that my Confucius infused Taoist worldview makes me susceptible to think differently about the law. This makes law school both fun and challenging: fun in the sense I get crazy ideas and can see the connections others have trouble with; challenging in the sense that I just can’t seem to grasp some of the ideas deeply rooted in the western tradition.

The topic of Human Rights is one of these and constitutional law also presents problems; yet I love a challenge.

Through learning about the law in the western philosophical tradition, I come to appreciate the freedom I enjoy in things like writing a blog, pursuing learning whatever I want, trying to do whatever I deem beneficial to society. If I feel I must write to help change the world then I must write. In China, if I must write to help change China for the better I cannot. I value my place here in the States, and I long for the day when China will respect intellectual pursuits in light of personal liberty as the west would. Until then, I am bound to the studies of this tradition and I must make the best of its approaches to reconcile with my hardwired brain.

I therefore accept the first generation of Human Rights that each of us inherently posse the rights to Life, Liberty, and Serenity and Happiness, on the condition that we enjoy these rights in relation to another and our communities. We should be free from discrimination, involuntary servitude, cruelty; free from government interference without due process. This is the American in me and I’m finally learning the complexity of Life, Liberty, and Happiness in school!

I also accept the second generation of Human Rights that government interference is necessary where equitable participation and distribution is involved. Diversity is a positive thing; inherently tolerating differences contribute to the spirit of innovation and progress; but I must put my emphasis on the third principle of Human Rights – innovation and progress must be regionalized and Solidarity respected.

Solidarity is a loaded term, typically used to argue that developing countries are now entitled to exploit the environment, the people, and thus maximizing their profits. Their contention is that if colonial period allowed the west to exploit them in the early days, then they should be allowed to exploit until tomorrow. But two wrongs does not make it a right, arguing that it’s their turn is overlooking the totality of the context and progress. China is making this argument to content with their environmental impacts up until now, but it has recently changed course since it recognized it can no longer burden the crash-and-burn race to the bottom mentality. Now the only residual of this solidarity argument resides with the human rights issues. Other developing countries and continents (Africa, Southeast Asia) also rally around this point.

But I get the feeling that the issue is much deeper than just the “you’ve done it and now it’s my turn.” China is entrenched with a relational metaphysics where the individual is defined by the social system; parts of Africa also retain similar ontology. This is perhaps at the deep end of our Solidarity problem: inherently how we relate to each other is how we shall define “human rights.” We would not have rights without the need to interrelate with one another, so rights in a strict logical sense is depended on the interrelatedness of our people, our communities, our nation states – to comprise of a whole planet earth.

This is where I start with my inquiry into Human Rights within the context of Sustainability. We shall see where I end up.

On a side note, ADD diversion alert, Zeno’s paradox goes something like this:

You have to get to the wall from where you are standing; but before you get there you must arrive at the half-way point (Aristotle).

You will never get there.

Think with me, if you only have ten feet left to travel, you have to travel five first; to travel five, you have to travel two-and-half; to travel two-and-half, you have to travel one-and-a-quarter; so on and so forth. You will never get there because you would’ve never started. Logically this work in reverse as well, so you will never get there.

But the thing to do to over come that paradox is to take the initiative, the first act if you will, to get to the wall. But then we are faced with the original act question that directly hinges on the concept and defense of GOD. I won’t go that far just yet.

Isn’t philosophy and metaphysics grand!?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What’s wrong with our politics?

I’ve been seeing a lot of news lately about the Tea Party’s assault on the EPA. The Republicans are led by their noses and repeating the message like a good lapdog. I am uncomfortable about the Tea Party politicians’ lack of foresight, but I am more embarrassed by the Republican presidential candidates for their lack of will power.

I can understand the upcoming election is driving the topic and the masses have not had the opportunity to get educated on the global shift to more environmentally friendly business practices and a developing regulatory landscape. But isn’t it our politicians’ job to take the lead and inform the rest of us the best course of action? Or is their job to get elected and suck up air in Washington for a few years of power and fame?

I guess the D.C. strip clubs does have its appeal, but are we electing representatives to become idiots or are we electing them to make the tough decisions?

The new bunch claims that the economy is being smothered by regulations designed to keep our air and water safe; they have yet to offer any sort of evidence to support their claims.

In fact, there seem to be record profits recorded in the big energy industry, albeit the wrong kind of energy is being bought and sold in the U.S., still record profits!

I recently heard Rep. Michele Bachmann's promise: "I guarantee you the EPA will have doors locked and lights turned off, and they will only be about conservation. It will be a new day and a new sheriff in Washington, D.C."

What kind of sense does that make?

Back before the EPA was formed, toxins by the ton were being pumped into our rivers, bays and oceans; dirty airs were blown through smokestacks into the air.

Let’s not forget we had a rive caught on fire once, we had whole towns getting sick from the polluted air, we had whole schools of fish die and local economy destroyed, all in the presence of no regulation – all because companies were too greedy to spend money to clean up their own messes, they simply moved to a different place if the problem got out of control.

I’m not too worried about Bachmann. I don’t think she has a chance in hell to make it to the party’s final nomination. But Rick Perry worries me.

Perry still thinks global warming is fiction. He even filed lawsuit to stop the EPA from enacting rules to limit greenhouse gasses from oil refineries, power plants and other industrial sources.

"EPA regulations are killing jobs all across America," he says, but he failed to realize that majority of Americans are worried about air and water pollutions, and think the EPA is doing a good job regulating the problems.

When it comes to killing jobs and destroying the economy, sure; if you count the jobs created from all of those clean up efforts – Gulf Coast anyone? But think about the amount of economic loss from accidents in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida North Carolina, etc., in the recent years. Who is accounting for the losses there? Where are the bean counters for Rick Perry or does he use stick and stone?

I’m not a democrat nor a republican, I want to associate with the Tea Party even less. I am a proud American and I want to remind you that one of the responsibility of our government are to protect us in a national crisis. Our economic crisis is partly attributed to our lack of foresight and the crash and burn profit driven business mentality. It has nothing to do with the EPA. We need our EPA to fight and prevent domestic emergencies just as much as we need an Army to fight and prevent global crisis.

So, let’s get this straight. I don’t care who is running for office, or who gets elected in the next round of the political rumble. I just want my children to grow up in a safe, clean environment. I want my children to be health and I want everyone’s children to share that good fortune.

I ask that you become educated voters in this next election cycle. Know that Perry’s strategy is only to fire up the wingnuts from the extremes and know that you must come to the middle and work with others on your views so this country can get the right things done.

Let’s not forget the political squabble that cost us our AAA rating. It wasn’t because we couldn’t pay our debt; it was because our politicians can’t come to terms to work with each other. That’s mostly because the constituents are so easily influenced by bad information.

So that’s wrong with our politics – our leaders can’t lead and are taking cues from where the campaign contributions are coming from, our citizens aren’t informed and are fed with bad information. While we can’t cure the campaign-funding problem at the moment and it will be a while before Corporate Social Responsibility really catch up with our problems, let’s be at least informed voters.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From small to large, New Hampshire to Beijing - a new hope in light of DNDC

Recently the University of New Hampshire and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing announced a joint project to study the environmental impact of large-scale agricultural productions.

I’ve always thought the way industrial farming and CAFO practices are unsound if not dangerous. But in the U.S., we have more land per capita and more resources per industrial expenditure; we are not so worried about impacting the land, air, and polluting our waters. The threats from large-scale agriculture productions are diluted by our distinct advantage of vast land mass and limited population.

In China, it’s a different story. China is almost as large as the U.S., but it houses over 20% of the world’s population. Our water is plentiful; well, at least when you step away from the western states. Our land is fertile and petro-chemicals priced reasonable and subsidized. Our air is breathable and with the Clean Air Act, we are feeling better about ourselves with each passing day. We don’t feel the need to innovate at the level of competitiveness brought by our Chinese counterpart, not yet.

How long will our good fortunes last?

Perhaps our environmental problems will never reach the level felt by the Chinese. As China struggle to feed its people with less than 7% of the world’s cultivatable land, and at the wake of its long standing crop yield focus, severe environmental harms surfaced. Air pollution is unbearable, water is unusable even for irrigation, and the land is depleted while densification rate is alarming.

"In China, agricultural studies have long been focused only on crop yield, but since Chinese agricultural practices have caused severe environmental pollution, including water eutrophication, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the government finally decided to think not only about crop yield but the impacts on environmental health and safety . . . ."

Changsheng Li, research professor in the Complex Systems Research Center at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, UNH. (Professor Li has developed over the past 15 years an internationally recognized biogeochemistry model known as DNDC, or denitrification-decomposition. The DNDC mathematical model is used by nations worldwide to help assess agro-ecosystem carbon, nitrogen and water cycling in a global climate change environment.)

Aside from being led by our noses in the sustainability innovation from our lack of incentives, I applaud the efforts by UNH to create such an effort. I had written a few days ago about the need for this kind of Sino-U.S. cooperation. I just hope American farmers will open their minds to the findings of this kind of research. But seeing the recent attack on scientific research by right winged media, I have my doubts.

Worries aside, I am excited for the University of New Hampshire creating the CAAS-UNH Joint Laboratory for Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems Research in a joint effort with China. From my understanding, the DNDC model can be applied to small organic farmers as well as large industrial farming. Professor Li explained the model’s ability to scale up as sort of a grassroots filtration system, where the best practices are pushed upward towards industrial sized farmers while innovative practices are tested at the small-scale family operations.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The land of the Rising Sun Power

Yesterday Reuters reported on Japan’s new effort to overhaul its energy policies and replace its lost capacity from the atomic industry. Japanese lawmakers have enacted a national scheme to focus their energy investments on solar, wind, biomass, and other green energies. The bill is expected to pass sometime next week but there are some minor details in dispute that could take the teeth out of the bill. One of these contentious points is the subsidized pricing for the different types of green energy; another is the institutional risk in the Japanese political structure. Unlike the European or the Chinese politics surrounding the green sector, the Japanese investors are not so confident in their long-term prosperity under a stable guiding force from the government.

"Investors say they find no institutional risk in investing in the renewable energy sector in Europe, but they say there is such a risk in Japan given uncertainty of the scheme's prospects and there is also a risk in the country's politics,"

Shinichiro Takiguchi, executive senior researcher, Japan Research Institute.

Another fear is the bubble effect from hard fixing the price per KW energy instead of letting market to control the price point. Currently, the law sets to price solar energy at 40 yen per KW with overage of investment cost subsidized by the government. Takao Kashiwagi, professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology predict that this incentive could drive solar capacity growth of about 3,000 MW a year in the first three years. That is about triple of solar panel shipments of 992 MW in Japan in 2010.

But there is a powerful next-door neighbor, China, that would gladly purchase the over produced panels, if there should be any. Given China’s new Circular Economy policies and its tax incentives to install solar panel, I doubt there will be a danger of bubbling effect as we have seen in the likes of the U.S. Internet business in the 90s or the housing bubble of recent.

Other worries involve the need for heavy investments to improve the ability for the Japanese grid to absorb the massive solar and wind energy that could be generated. This kind of initial risky investment can only drive innovation in terms of energy distribution that is also an interest to the Chinese infrastructure. I believe there is very little Japan has to worry about in terms of making their money back from exporting technologies that will come out of this kind of investing and developments.

While there are other worries, the country seems to be united in pushing forward the research and development of green technology. Even critics of the new bill are asking for more aggressive involvement from the existing energy companies.

"I think the scheme is one-sided as it is focused only on new power suppliers, taking advantage of end-users . . . . We need another plan. We need policy steps to make conventional power companies realize how lucrative it is to invest in the sector and sell green electricity to users . . . ."

Akihiro Sawa, executive senior fellow at the 21st Century Public Policy Institute and a former trade ministry official.

Here in the U.S., the critics of green energy seem to just want the opposite. They are calling for more coal and natural gas drilling. They market the abundance of our natural resources; they tell us how many years our coal will power our nation and how many more will natural gas supply our needs. But the question I always think about: what happens when we come to the end of those years? Japan and Germany will have developed a robust technology sector to supply the demand to power buyers like China. We will be left behind with a century old technology of fracking and drilling. I doubt we will be able to maintain our superpower status if we continue to think our way is better and we don’t need to pay attention to the growing global concerns for resource scarcity.

While the rising sun from the east takes center stage, it’s time for us to seriously consider our position on green energy. What can we do to rally our nation and march in step with the rest of the world so we are not left behind?

Monday, August 22, 2011

High hopes for sustainable farmers.

A few days ago, Associated Press reported that dozens of universities now offers courses, certificates, or even degree programs focused on sustainable agriculture. AP noted as U.S. farmers age and retire, this new generation of sustainable farmers should have no problem stepping up to the challenge. Growing trends of farmer’s markets should fuel the growth in demand even further. This is an exciting emerging market right now and I can only imagine its popularity sore high as we learn more about the benefits of sustainable practices.

“Now is the time to learn,” the market seems to be screaming, “now is the time to change our ways and learn how to sustain our planet one farmer at a time.”

Why am I so optimistic about this in light of our recent doom and gloom economic outlook? Why am I happy and chipper about a few added “bandwagon” courses in a failing education system? I recently saw a FOX news report questioning the whole “Green” movement, questioning if this bandwagon can carry America out of its debt and back on top as the super power it once was. I dismissed FOX’s skepticism. Their ideal is to go back to the old way of doing things, squeezing the life out of my precious planet for their profit. Let them do that, I say, I shall find ways to convince you that a more sustainable way is better and that you should enroll in those college courses and learn how to make your own corner of the planet more sustainable and healthy for your community.

Why am I so optimistic about this new trend despite some news analyst’s dubious reasoning?

Because I still believe Americans can invent their way of their debt crisis and reclaim the top spot on the international stage. Our economy may be failing, but that’s because our old model of profit first is meeting its limit set by the scarcity of our planet’s capacity. Our debt crisis is not a problem of will power, we will pay our debts; our debt crisis is a problem of capacity, people are panicking that we may have reached our limit and consumer confidence is shaking. In this kind of weak commercial climate, no wonder our stocks are wild rides and our social programs seem so much more burdensome.

At time of crisis, our spirits should be high. We should have the confidence to carry ourselves forward. America is still at the forefront in scientific research and great innovations. China has called for tax incentives and research grants to innovative farming techniques that reduce the use of fertilizers and other scarce resources such as water. Their new Circular Economy Law seems more like a friendly battle cry; let the competition begin, they say.

If I know anything about this generation of Chinese innovators is that they are fiercely competitive. I went to grade school and middle school with some of the now innovating forces in China. Having endured the top ranked k-12 programs in Beijing, I know these are folks who will not take anything less than perfection. Getting a 98% on a test was shameful to my peers. I suspect they have carried their competitiveness to the table today.

But having lived in America for the last 20 years, I know Americans first loves a challenge but is also not afraid of failure. There is a bit of adrenalin junky in every American innovator that their Chinese counterpart lacks. While the Chinese may be willing, they are still learning form us the innovation how’s. I’ll venture to guess these dozen or so new university sustainable farming programs will attract many of these Chinese students, but let’s not forget we are the creators of these courses and we are behind the innovations. Let’s take advantage of that and stay one step ahead of this race to save our planet. If China is to rise as the next new market force, let’s not neglect that market and enter the realm of its demands. Our supplies will fill our coffers to pay our debts.

One thing I want to caution: I have been seeing a lot of finger pointing recently as China emerges as a dominating power. China is turning a finger to point at the West’s inefficiencies, “look, get your acts together in Congress and calm your pointless riots in your own streets before you come and lecture us about some superfluous human rights problems.”

Let’s not get caught up in this who’s right and who’s better business. Let’s be the better man, woman, and nation, to say “you may be right in some places, we may be right in others, let’s learn from each other and work together to improve all aspects of our sustainable planet – people, planet, profit.”

Confucius tells us that the world is a relational thing. One’s existence is necessarily depended on the welfare of another. The harmony of coexistence is the true pursuit of human knowledge, let’s not forget that healthy competition is the best way to facilitate the emergence of that harmony – thus a sustainable planet.

Roger Pepperl, spokesman for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, the nation's largest organic tree fruit producer, told AP:

"We're always looking at the university for our future ag workers . . . . Organic and sustainable specialists don't just bring their unique skills to the farm, but can make our conventional farming better, too."

High Hopes by Doug Hyde
My hopes are these sustainable specialists are also globalists and collaboration-ists, leading the pact to export intellectual properties to China for a return profit. I hope there are enough philosophers in the bunch to help spread the good will of sustainable thinking through healthy competitions and market growth – either socialist or capitalist market place, let it be a healthy market place.

Here’s to high hopes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Back from the past.

I’ve been on a mental break from The Green Elephant. It’s not necessarily writer’s block, I hope not; it’s more of a thinker’s reset.

The reason being I recently discovered some interesting connections between Social Entrepreneurship (SE) and traditional Confucius thinking that influenced the Chinese mercantile culture prior to the People’s Republic of China (PRC, not to be confused with the Republic of China). I was digging for law review articles about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and I came across a few references to the Chinese “family style” business expansions. Under the strict Confucian influence, pure profit model is prohibited, yet the Chinese also recognized the critical role business enterprises played in their social stability. Many merchants established themselves as “family businesses” so to incorporate a sense of duty to their communities. The business adopts the community as part of its extension therefore the business operation owed a duty to the welfare of those around it.

Inexplicably, I’ve been drawn SE as I began to explore entrepreneurship and progressive environmental impacts. Looking back, I now realize it’s due to my inherent sense of Ren, Li, and Xin.

But before I discovered the intimate connection, I’ve never bothered to formally define SE. I’ve always considered it self-evident. To me, SE is about thinking business in a socially reconstructive context, putting mission before profit and balancing our environmental impact, our social responsibilities, and our business objectives in our ventures. That’s why I’ve accumulated my professional body of knowledge revolving around sustainable design and implementation, process improvement, and environmental policy research. I see invariable connections between LEED, Six Sigma, grassroots technology and environmental advocacy.

I founded a one man consulting business, Rethink(i3) – iCube, Integrity, Innovation, Influence, hoping to do just that: advocating for people, planet, and profit through new media and emerging markets. My current projects are new market emergence driven, deeply involved in the mission of conservation and efficiency. My hope is to change the way people think innovation and social influence with their entrepreneurial spirit. I see this as the only way our nation, our planet, our civilization can achieve real progress in the unpredictable future.

My consulting services are extremely selective: I have to feel comfortable about the clients I take on; their missions have to be SE driven, environmentally and socially responsible. If I don’t feel comfortable about the business or the project, I won’t get involved and I won’t take on the client. Sadly, there are very few opportunities for me to develop a client base since more of the business folks do put profit first and mission second. I think just the opposite.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m going about this the right way. Many business mentors I’ve had told me to abandon the life style business model and concentrate on making money. I fight the current and I reject their advice. At times, I feel like Confucius himself, a wanderer of my homeland, aimlessly advocating for something that may never come to fruition.

But where there is a need, there is a struggle; and all good things come with patience. To this day, I hold true to the principles I started with: People, Planet, Profit. Now I add three more coexisting principles to my model: Ren, Li, Xin - righteousness outweighs profits; collective benefits and spiritual values outweigh individual benefits and material values.

Ren is the central doctrine of Confucianism. Ren means goodness, benevolence, humanity, and kind-heartedness. It occupies a prominent role in balancing ethics with the pursuit of profits. The Confucian Hans sought to eliminate excessive profits by eliminating the acts of cheating, manipulating supply and demand to bring about higher prices, and corrupting public officials.

Rén relies heavily on the relationships and represents inner developments toward an altruistic goal. Ren is the realization that one is never alone, and the tragedy of the commons ought to give way to the harmony of an ordered society. Over the centuries, Chinese society have developed complex sets of behavioral expectations amongst the basic relationships, business practices are deeply entrenched in these relationships.

Confucius believed in the constant of change. He believed that the key to long-lasting integrity, in business for example, was to constantly think. In the SE context, this demands that we constantly innovate solutions to our social problems. No one business model is ever perfect, and no one model is ever the solution since the world is continually changing at a rapid pace.

Moreover, Confucius was especially concerned with peoples' individual development, which he maintained took place within the context of the invariable human relationships. Ritual and filial piety are the ways in which one should act toward others from an underlying attitude of humaneness. Confucius' concept of humaneness, rén, is probably best expressed in the Confucian rule: What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.

Li, literally meaning propriety, also exerted great influences on business activities. One of the virtue's earliest meanings was "ceremonies," in the sense of rituals and structures that people went through at specific times and for specific reasons. From there, the word developed a more general meaning that could mean a set of ethical principles guiding interpersonal relationship in a hierarchical society. Later in Chinese business practices and political engagements, the concept of GuanXi developed. I will reserve this topic for another day.

Li was important in directing people to behave ethically and politely. It has played an indispensable role even in modern business activities where quality services and politeness to customers are priorities. Li is the outward expression of ideals while Ren is the inward expression as described above.

In order for society to truly follow Li, one must also adhere to and internalize these practices. The mentality involved in performing these rituals in society must not exist only there, it must be a part of the private life of the person. This is known as rén.

Xin can be translated to benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom and faithfulness. Xin requires people to keep their words according to the rules of courtesy with the hope of mitigating the conflicts. This concept is illusive in the philosophical sense, but it is extremely important in the balancing act of People, Planet, and Profit. I will come back to this concept at a later date to expand on my understanding of the word. For now, it is important to note that Confucius held "faithfulness" to be an indispensable virtue for a human being. Only a man of faithfulness would be appointed to some task; otherwise survival would be hardly possible. Xin, in essence, would be the stewardship we assume to the manifestations of Sustainable development. It is our faith of future generations of responsible SE and business thinking.

As I dig more into my law review topic on Corporate Social Responsibility, Chinese Circular Economy Law, SE, and Sustainable business developments, I will continue this topic. Stay tuned and thank you for your patience. 

EPA Partnering with State Capitals on Green Design and Economic Revitalization


August 12, 2011
EPA News Release:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that through its Greening America’s Capitals (GAC) project, it will help the capital cities of Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Nebraska and the District of Columbia to create healthy communities through green development. GAC will help to stimulate economic development, provide more housing and transportation choices, and reduce infrastructure and energy costs. Through this project, EPA will provide design assistance from private-sector experts to help these capital cities demonstrate sustainable designs that create vibrant neighborhoods with multiple social, economic, environmental, and public health benefits.

The five selected cities are:

· Montgomery, Ala.
Montgomery will receive assistance to redesign a one-mile segment of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail to improve the streetscape for walking and biking, include natural solutions to manage storm water, known as green infrastructure, and create better connections between neighborhoods for pedestrians in an area crisscrossed by major highway overpasses.

· Phoenix, Ariz.
Phoenix will receive assistance that focuses on revitalizing Lower Grand Avenue, a key commercial strip that has the potential to become an area of economic growth by reusing historic buildings for a new mix of uses. The project will also provide examples of how to use green infrastructure in arid climates.

· Washington, DC
The District of Columbia will receive assistance to make three intersections at the Anacostia Metro Station safer and more effective for cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. The project will also develop design options for the surrounding streets and open spaces to improve the area for pedestrians and increase connections to nearby homes, stores, and the new St. Elizabeth’s campus.

· Jackson, Miss.
Jackson will receive assistance to redesign a downtown segment of Congress Street, which runs past the Mississippi State Capitol and Jackson City Hall. Assistance will include retrofitting the street and adjacent public spaces with green infrastructure to manage storm water, improve pedestrian access and safety, and encourage economic development.

· Lincoln, Neb.
Lincoln requested assistance to create a green infrastructure pilot project in the South Capitol neighborhood. In this residential area, just two blocks from the state capitol, improved streetscape design could better manage storm water while supporting more walking, biking, and transit options.

GAC is a project of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities among EPA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The interagency collaboration coordinates federal investments in infrastructure, facilities, and services to get better results for communities and use taxpayer money more efficiently. The partnership is helping communities across the country to create more housing choices, make transportation more efficient and reliable, reinforce existing investments, and support vibrant and healthy neighborhoods that attract businesses. HUD and DOT were involved in the review and selection process and will provide technical expertise on each project. This is the second year of the GAC program. The capital cities selected last year were Boston, Mass.; Jefferson City, Mo.; Hartford, Conn.; Charleston, W.Va.; and Little Rock, Ark.

The five capital cities were selected from 23 letters of interest received through a solicitation of interest by EPA. The agency will organize teams of regional urban designers, planners, and landscape architects to provide customized technical assistance as requested by each community. In addition to helping the selected state capitals build a greener future and civic pride, the assistance will help create models that many other cities can look to in creating their own environmentally and economically sustainable designs for growth and development.

More information on GAC:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Break in service

I will be traveling in the next two weeks and I will only have limited connection at times. There will not be a daily post from the Green Elephant, but I will try to post as much as I can.

I will resume my regular postings after August 20, 2011.

Thank you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

EPA Releases Draft Policy for Ensuring Scientific Integrity

New Release from the EPA:

Agency seeking public comment

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today is releasing its draft Scientific Integrity Policy for public comment. The draft policy reflects the Obama Administration’s commitment to the ethical standards and transparency necessary for ensuring the highest quality science.

The draft Scientific Integrity Policy was developed in response to a December 2010 memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The memorandum charged federal agencies to develop policies in four areas: foundations of scientific integrity in government, public communications, use of federal advisory committees, and professional development of government scientists and engineers.

EPA’s draft Scientific Integrity Policy was developed by an ad hoc workgroup consisting of senior staff and scientists from the agency’s programs and regions. The draft policy addresses the promotion of scientific ethical standards, including quality standards; communications with the public; the use of advisory committees and peer review; and professional development, as well as the roles and responsibilities of a new Scientific Integrity Committee.

Public comments will be taken through September 6.

EPA’s draft Scientific Integrity Policy is available at:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Healthy Land and inter-agency synergy

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson traveled to Lititz, Pa. on Wednesday. She toured a local dairy farm and held a roundtable discussion with local farmers and leaders about Obama’s commitment on strong and healthy rural America.

Sounds like a propaganda tour but I will give her and Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt. Local farm productions and methods are close to my heart and I wanted to see what the EPA and the President are proposing to do. From my past research, I know industrial agriculture pollution is almost never regulated. Their method of operation leads to unhealthy choices we make at the market. I’ve seen an increase demand in the recent months for healthy and locally produced food. This demand is outpacing “Organic” and any other food fads. I think the American people are finally coming to their senses about the totality of their food experience.

According to Ms. Jackson, the EPA wants to work closely with rural communities to improve and protect their air and water. They want to improve the health of the rural residents. One thing she seems to forget is the soil quality and the long-term CO2 depletion from the topsoil from industrial farming. But I guess that’s not really an EPA matter, more of a Dept of Agriculture thing. Well, it looks like there could be some inter-agency cooperation here and the synergy towards a sustainable culture is astonishing.

Ms. Jackson seems to hint at the idea of Sustainability.

"In recent years Warwick Township and Lancaster County as a whole have served as models for conserving natural resources and building sustainable rural communities. We're here to talk with the area farmers, business owners and local leaders about how we work together to strengthen their environment, their health and their economy . . . . The livelihoods of the people here depend on clean air, safe sources of water and healthy lands. Hearing directly from farmers and the people who work with them about commonsense solutions is essential to ensuring the viability of farming operations and protecting soil and water quality."

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

So the healthy land idea is in her peripheral. But I wonder how long it would take for the majority of the rural farmers to start learning about the downgrades of their land due to their aggressive farming techniques? With the corn prices riding high, and lack of an aggressive national or grassroots campaign to educate farmers, I doubt the concept will take off. Let’s hope Ms. Jackson gets around to talking to the Department of Agriculture, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Who knows what will happen in the next election cycle, and who knows where the Republicans will take us in the future. 

Jody Butterfield, Sam Bingham - Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits
Island Press | 2006 | ISBN: 1559638850

For more information on EPA’s work with the agricultural community:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

LEED related market news

From the PRNewswire -- Carrier announced that it has acquired a controlling interest in Shandong Fuerda Air Conditioner Equipment Co., Ltd., a leader in China's water source and geothermal heat pump segment.

As a business unit of United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX), Carrier is the world's leader in high technology heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration solutions and is committed to improving the world around us through engineered innovation and environmental stewardship.

With 2010 revenues over 30 million dollars, Fuerda has more than 300 employees, a manufacturing facility and 23 sales offices covering 20 provinces in China. Heat pump technology is a key offering in the HVAC industry that is utilized to achieve energy efficiency for cooling and heating applications. The technology employs natural resources, including geothermal, surface water, waste water or industrial exhaust heat as a renewable source to generate cooling and heating.

"This joint venture will enhance Carrier's sustainability product portfolio in China and accelerate Fuerda's growth in the marketplace by leveraging our combined strength in technology and distribution,"

Geraud Darnis, president, Carrier.

With the addition of Fuerda's water source and geothermal products, Carrier China expands its sustainability offering, which also includes green building design and consulting, energy efficient air conditioning systems, cutting-edge building automation systems, and energy management services for new and existing buildings.

About Carrier Corp.

Carrier Corp. is the world's leader in high technology heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration solutions. Carrier experts provide sustainable solutions, integrating energy efficient products, building controls, and energy services for residential, commercial, retail, transport and foodservice customers. Founded by the inventor of modern air conditioning, Carrier improves the world around us through engineered innovation and environmental stewardship. Carrier is a unit of United Technologies Corp., a leading provider to the aerospace and building systems industries worldwide. Visit for more information.

Shark-fin soup and my bluntnose friends.

I’ve been posting about my Chinese eating fetishes lately - from chicken brains to no-packaging rice and beans.

The Chinese worship food. Every aspect of the culture revolves around food. If you are doing a business deal in China, you don’t sit around a boardroom and exchange ideas and reservations; you go to the restaurant, rent a private room, order a thirty course meal, and you talk business after everyone have had ample amount of baiju and exotic dishes.

Growing up, I’ve always heard the holy trinity of Chinese cuisine: bear’s claws, bird’s nest, and shark-fin soup. Leaving the first two to your imagination and research, I want to discuss the third – shark-fin soup.

I’ve never tried shark-fin soup. Everything I know about shark-fin soup came from my mother’s story telling. It’s suppose to be really good for your health, but then again the Chinese believed everything rare is good for your health - tiger’s bones, bat’s wings, and yes, even chicken brains.

Even though I place a large amount of faith in traditional Chinese medicine and I still follow certain folklores about what I’m suppose to eat in certain seasons – Mung bean soup for the summer to lower my “heat,” for example; but I doubt the legitimacy of tales of the shark’s fin. I also lived in the great northwest for a few years, dived the Puget Sound and chased the infamous sixgill sharks. Those experiences left me even further from my Chinese roots of wanting to taste the delicacy of shark’s fin.

It was on a night dive that I had the chance to meet my ugly bluntnose friend. It glided smoothly beneath me in the eerie luminescent shadows from my underwater flashlight. In a quick second, before I could comprehend what had just happened, it simply vanished leaving me in a fretfulness of disbelief.

Ever since then, I follow Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and I dream of the day when I can return to the cold blue water again.

“Sharks are one of our oceans' top predators, keeping the entire ecosystem balanced and in check. They are an essential component of the food web – simply put they are vital to the health of our oceans. Studies show that a reduction in one species affects others, and sometimes these effects are not only unexpected, but long-lasting and detrimental to local and regional economies.”

Francesca Koe, This Shark Week - Save a Shark, NRDC Switchboard. 

Shark fins can fetch $600 per pound, making the catch lucrative for some. Because of this demand, 26 – 73 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. I’ve seen reporting that fishermen often will only cut the fins and toss the dead shark overboard. This is because fins are less of a load for the ship, and tossing the shark meant more room for storing fins.

“Anyone who has seen videos or photos of shark finning knows that it is an absolutely cruel and horrific practice. Not only is it barbaric, but it is terribly unsustainable.”

Fortunately, many states and nations are taking protective measures.

“Chile, one of the biggest fin exporters, just banned shark finning in their waters, joining the Bahamas, Honduras, the Maldives and Palau. In the U.S., Hawaii passed a first-of-its-kind law banning the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins in the state (similar to what’s pending in California) last year, and similar measures have passed in Washington State, Oregon, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.”

NRDC is also working in California to pass pending legislation in the same capacity. You can read this letter from from Leonardo Di Caprio, Yao Ming, Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Anthony Keidis, about their thoughts.

I feel it’s more important to address the demand problem. A world-wide campaign must be underway to educate consumers about sharks. While I treasure many of my Chinese traditions and customs, I believe some old tales will have to yield to the sustainable future of our generations.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

 - when Darwin meets Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot

Back in February of this year, David Vidal asked a hard question at a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and NYSE Euronext hosted breakfast:

What are the top three reasons for your company's reluctance to embrace sustainability—and to adopt sustainability reporting?
Aman Singh Das, 11 Challenges for Corporate Sustainability.

Before I explain the Q&A further, it’s only fair to address the demographic to which the question was proposed. The audience is the already converted Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) advocates representing companies that have recognized the link between sustainability and their bottom line. They are the farsighted people who recognizes the consumers and the producers both benefits from a sustainable conversion of their systematic operational thinking. They want to lay down the bet that the first to this circular modality of sustainable and social business thinking will win in the long run, albeit they acknowledge the short term squeeze from the idiots making last minute profits from the current model and betting the world will self-destruct in the year 2012.

I will leave my criticism of the kind of “race to the bottom” thinking for another day. The reality of those advocates is echoed by their senior leadership’s refusal to step in too far by combining social and environmental interests with their corporate interests. There may be plenty of media events and PR material in print to advance their market agenda in this direction, but most have yet to take the pledge for serious sustainable reporting and practices. Perhaps there remain ample amount of good lawyerly advice informing them of their fiduciary duties to the stockholders to maximizing profit at all cost. But as I noted yesterday: China, the largest and fastest growing market is demanding a circular economy and proactive business practices. While enforcement is an issue, I’ll bet China will be quick to enforce this kind of sustainability laws against foreign owned interests and operations.

So be warned, to compete in the coming years of the global market place, serious environmental and social compliance and reporting along with proactive voluntary actions will yield significant benefits for your company.

That is beside the point. Vidal’s question drove to the heart of the matter for the advocates of today. The answers provided a glimpse of insight into the fierce defense of linear models and profit margins. This is the ugly face of our adversaries, the enemies of the people, planet, and future profits. The defenses to a fundamental sustainable transition under CSR type advocacies include: doubts about the unknown, liabilities, resource costs, lack of global standards, and simple fear and denial.

I run into this list of worries everyday. When I try to explain to people about social entrepreneurship, their reactions include confusion, criticism, and lack of trust. “Lifestyle” company is what they call a social driven company and there is a slight undertone of illegitimacy. At the same time, the social practices are liability to their investments – they fear they cannot explain properly why we should make a few dollars less while helping advance social causes a bit more. These people often raise a Darwinian defense: let the weak perish.

But the kind of evolutionary thinking fail to take into account for the laws of thermodynamics - the system will balance itself, either violently or peacefully. The people will protest, and these protests will be effective as we have seen in China. Let this be a lesson to the American manufacturers and producers: make amends now with the changing market place or be replaced by an operation under the full force of CSR model.

As for other legitimate doubts for lack of global standard, resource costs, or liability issues under some fiduciary laws, my thinking is that if enough businesses lead the effort and start the practice of corporate social responsibility, then a global standard may emerge, costs will equalize, and laws will change. (There are many L3C type legislations on the table in the U.S.) I remain hopeful; in fact, I am betting my career on this.

For more on CSR,  See Archie B. Carroll, Corporate Social Responsibility: Evolution of a Definitional Construct, International Association for Business and Society, 1999).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Doing business in China? Strict compliance and rigorous documentations.

Sustainability has been around for a while now in many cultures at different levels of social awareness. It’s debatable whether environmentalism is ever the collective form we see today, so I give credit to humanity’s progress in shaping a holistic sustainability plan so far.

Leaving archeology aside, it is fascinating to observe sustainability emerge as a new global-grassroots phenomenon - a world’s environmental problems rallied local actions. In an electronic-multi-media-citizen-reporting blogger age, this has created a network of activists who share a collective burden with different ideologies that transcendent politics.

China, for example, intolerable to most public activities or media freedom, has given a “green” light to the loudness of Sustainability folks. Civic environmentalism has put pressure on the State to act against poisonous lakes and toxic airs. Responding to frequent protests over pollution problems, (especially protests for the children affected by lead poisoning), China’s legislators have been busy passing laws such as the Clean Production Laws and the Circular Economy Laws to cure its problems.

Regardless the cause, the actions are noble and results are not yet clear. Passing a Circular Economy Law is one thing, enforcing it is another.

Enforcement is a critical issue of law in China due to lack of accountability and development goals. While the development balance is one thing to be worked out by this proposed circular economy, the accountability issue can certainly be cured.

In working within the State’s “harmonious” plans, the civic environmental groups in China has adopted new media technologies to relay their information. Citizen driven, they have created an effective information system and adopted a new set of language to encode environmentalism, and distinguishing it from the revolutionary days of “grassroots” ideologies. Some scholars have argued that this civic environmentalism is at its infancy only worthy consideration when fully matured; some argued that it is from a long and “harmonious” Chinese tradition and should be analyzed accordingly; even more would have us believe its politically correct intent of creating a “harmonious society.”

But an advantage of the Chinese civic environmental movement is that it has provided the State with a crowd-sourced citizen monitoring system that can quickly spread the news about offenders. To any foreign investments or foreign owned operations, this combination of National laws and grassroots civic environmental actions is dangerous.

First, foreign operations are prime targets for compliance quotas local governance may have to report to the State. Chinese local officials may not be quick to enforce against their own cousin’s shop, but they will raid yours in a heartbeat. Mostly because they think your operation has deep pockets and they stand to benefit from inflating the locally imposed penalties.

Also keep in mind most of the effects of pollution is generalized to a population, sources are often shared. If your Chinese operation does not keep strict compliance and records, in the eyes of the public, you are the guilty party standing next to a local business owner. You are the one they want to stand trial for the death of their loved ones. No Chinese judge will have sympathy for your mistake, neglect, or just plain ignorance. 

On the other hand, if you do keep strict compliance and keep a rigorous accounting and documentation practice, you may just add market incentives. Because the civic environmental movement in China is intractable linked with a global environmental network, any positive reporting from them will get your business noted quickly. But I hold true to the belief that you have to get 10 pieces of good news out the door to counteract a bad press reporting – there, you now have double the incentive to comply with these Chinese laws to the best of your abilities: be free of unwanted foreign litigations and your own international market gains.


If you are a current stake holder of a Chinese operation, or are interested in doing business in China, you should familiarize yourself with this model of the Circular Economy Model according to the State Council.

click to enlarge