Friday, August 24, 2012

Chú hé - the Drudgery of Wasting Food - a message from jin



When I was young, my mother insisted that I memorize old Chinese poems. I hated it. I’d rather wear my blanket around my neck and hide under the bed pretending that I was immersed in a castle defending my kingdom from the evils of my studies.

Sometimes, I would chew beside the dinner table, with my legs swinging back and forth to indulge my boredom, while having no escape from my father’s lectures about the importance of knowing these ancient verses—verses that seemed so distant, irrelevant, and compulsory. Later I would equate the feeling I had then with military’s “mandatory fun time”—reciting verses seemed as irrelevant as being told I must report to battalion social functions.   

Oh how I hate growing up.

But there is wisdom in doing things that we do not like; there is insight in the things we do not know. If we’d ever stop wanting to learn, to embrace the unknown, forcing ourselves to discover, then we’d stop ourselves from progress; it would be a sad day indeed.

Fortunately my parents would not let me entertain such an idea: learning—like it or not—is pleasure, is it not?

I still remember the day I had to recite one poem in particular to a room full of relatives. It was dinnertime and my grandparents and uncle were in town to visit; we had rice that night and sweat.

Strange, yes I know; what delicious dish could you cook up with grimy and salty sweat?

We had rice that night, I don’t remember much else but I’m sure we had a feast to welcome my relatives. I ate quickly because there was something on TV I wanted to catch. My father stopped me and asked if I was really done.

“Of course,” I said.

“But you still have a few grains of rice left in your bowl.” He answered.

“It’s just a few drops of rice. I can’t even pick them up with my chopsticks anyway.”

That was when I knew I was in trouble.

“Don’t you remember the poem you had to memorize? Chu he ri dang wu?” My father asked. “Recite it for your grandpa and your uncle.”

“Chú hé rì dāng wǔ. Hàn dī hé xià tǔ. Shuí zhī pán zhōng cān. Lì lì jiē xīn kǔ.” I performed perfectly, mechanically.

“And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know.” I didn’t care. I was told to memorize them, no one ever told me I had to interpret them. “I want to watch my show now.”

What followed was the equivalent of  when my wife tells our dog “shame.” Our dog, Moe, has now learned to turn his head away, eyes on the ground, pretend to deeply think about why he had dug a hole in the ground in someone else’s yard, but I doubt he knows why the word "shame", so infrequently used, has such power over him.

To this day, I can’t remember what exactly my father said to me after I recited the poem. Vividly, I still tasted the sweat as I finished the last few drops of rice left in my bowl that day. I don’t think I got to watch my show. Even though I still recite the verses today, I have forever associated the poem with sweat and rice with a jarring projection of farmers working in the field, sweating each drop of sweat into my rice bowl; if I did not finish each last drop of rice, I would have shamed their labor, my father’s teachings, and my family’s honor. With so much at stake, I loathe the act of wasting food these days. My wife often wonders why I get so agitated when I have to toss food that is in the refrigerator because they have gone bad, but these days, she is as much disturbed about wasting food as I.

And by our powers combined . . . we sometimes eat questionable leftovers and so far, we have survived.

Food is simply too good to waste. Even the most sustainably farmed food does us no good if the food is never eaten. Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all of that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Nutrition is also lost in the mix -- food saved by reducing losses by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables. Given all the resources demanded for food production, it is critical to make sure that the least amount possible is needlessly squandered on its journey to our plates.

The NRDC recently released a study on the inefficiencies in the U.S. food system from the farm to the fork to the landfill. The information is rather alarming, but NRDC made recommendations and gave examples of emerging solutions. You can findthe report here.

NRDC also kicked off a blog series on wasting food. You can find it here.  

To end this short story, I give you the Drudgery of Wasting Food:

Chú hé rì dāng wǔ.
Hàn dī hé xià tǔ.
Shuí zhī pán zhōng cān.
Lì lì jiē xīn kǔ.


Hoeing millet in mid-day heat,
Sweat dripping to the earth beneath,
Who should know the food in our bowls,
Each grain is born of trying endeavors.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Build a Door - by Jin

GfK’s most recent survey of global green purchases shows that China and Brazil are two of the world’s leading markets for eco-friendly products. This survey, unlike most “green” surveys, focuses not exclusively on North American consumers (hence not an isolated study), is the largest survey on green consumption with over 35,000 participants in 25 key markets, and is a continuing survey with the most recent one being the third of its editions (thus with historical data for comparison). 

This survey, along with the 2012 National Geographic’s GlobeScan Consumer Greendex, shows the concurrent trends of eco-friendly products and emerging dominance of green markets coincide with developments of the economic superstars such as Brazil and China in light of European instabilities and a sluggish U.S. economy. 

So what can we learn from the latest Green Gauge Global? As mentioned, the first interesting finding is that consumers in emerging markets like Brazil and China are purchasing more green products. According to the survey, the proportions of consumers who factor environmental protection into their purchase decisions grew 6 percentage points in China and 5 points in Brazil. In addition, Mexico and South Africa also recorded significant increases in the past year. These findings coincide with the 2012 National Geographic/GlobeScan Consumer Greendex, where the top-scoring (green) consumers of 2012 were from India, China, and Brazil.
Raz Godelnik, Will Emerging Markets like China and Brazil Leadthe World in Green Consumption?

I have argued before that while we Americans may have enough land per capita to pollute and enough resources per household to waste, it behooves us to take advantage of our current situation and develop a robust “green” market condition so we can compete down the road. Well, the GfK survey and NG’s Greendex suggests we may be already too late to the game.Or is it?

Worrying for the U.S. future prospects aside, there are things we can learn from the survey and the Greendex to help improve however infant green market we have. First, most of the consumers world-wide still believe “green” products are too expensive. The studies show this kind of sentiment is currently on the rise, which gives us an incentive to create innovative solution to lower the cost of production so we can compete when the consumer sentiment topples the existing “green” products. There is a connected but indirect issue of “greenwashing.” Mr. Godelnik argues that many consumers express their concerns for cost is because they are uncertain of the actual “greenness” of the product claiming to be green. It’s a relatively new market and the regulatory schemes have not reached a tipping point where consumers have reached the confidence level. This gives the U.S. market an added opportunity to develop a robust and reliable certifying and labeling system. While markets like China and Brazil are plagued with counterfeit problems and fraud, perhaps our more "legit" products will sneak into their large consumer base with minimum competition from their domestic products and minimum resistance from their market demographics.      

The survey also provide a list of rather useful consumer segmentation, defined by consumers’ environment-related beliefs and behaviors. These segments include:
Glamour Greens (30 percent of consumers worldwide) – have an average level of environmental concerns, but see a green lifestyle as a status indicator.
The Jaded (23 percent) – skeptics who feel green issues are less important. This segment grew by 2 points globally since last year.
Green inDeeds (percentage not available) – people who show the highest concern for the environment and are the most likely to take the environment into account when buying products.
Carbon Cultured (NA) – have higher environmental awareness but can lag in their behaviors.
Green in Need (NA) – have the desire, but lack the tools and know-how, to be greener.
While marketing folks would have a field-day with these kind of market segmentation, consultants would love to get their hands on various ways they can recommend to a company to take advantage of such diversity of the market place, the real importance of this kind of segmentation is in its form. It is more useful to understand the changes that has occurred in these segments and compare the demographic shifts in these segments relative to market influencers. Understanding how market influencers are able to shift the market indicators, thus shifting the segments, surely will give anyone an advantage in market entry.  

Mr. Godelnik also recommends that we look beyond the green consumption to characterize the “green” economy. He mentions adding survey elements such as the DIYers, emergence of co-op farms and other sustainable practices. I wholeheartedly agree. Merely measuring a “green” economy ignores the other legs of a transformative economy: the people participating in the transactions, the communities that are impacted, and the business ecosystem that is at the engine of these transformations.  

So while China and Brazil are marching ahead of us in the short run in a limited "green" market, the U.S. market sure does have a lot of opportunities to really get things right and continue to dominate the global economic, political, and social landscape in sustainable ways. 

American exceptionalism is not dead, we just have to wake its ass up that’s all.  

The Preplex Perspective of a Space Cadet - by Jin Kong

Describing his nostalgia for the Arctic, Barry Lopez wrote in his wonderfully moving odyssey: 
At the heart of this narrative, then, are three themes: the influence of the arctic landscape on the human imagination. How a desire to put a landscape to use shapes our evaluation of it. And, confronted by an unknown landscape, what happens to our sense of wealth. What does it mean to grow rich? Is it to have red-blooded adventures and to make a fortune, which is what brought the whalers and other entrepreneurs north? Or is it, rather, to have a good family life and to be imbued with a far reaching and intimate knowledge of one’s homeland, which is what the Tununirmuit told the whalers at Pond’s Bay wealth was? Is it to retain a capacity for awe and astonishment in our lives, to continue to hunger after what is genuine and worthy? Is it to live at moral peace with the universe?
It is impossible to know, clearly, the answer to this question; but by coming to know a place where the common elements of life are understood differently one has advantage of an altered perspective. With that shift, it is possible to imagine afresh the way to a lasting security of the soul and heart, and toward an accommodation in the flow of time we call history, ours and the world’s.
That dream . . . is the dream of great and common people alike.

Truth is relative to the human experience. Not that we are not capable of telling or knowing absolute truth, but that we have incomplete contexts to describe or understand the perspective of truth. What is truly red and beautiful to one is perhaps not true red nor beautiful, but merely something odd—something indescribable. In the mist of this shifting of contexts, we try our best to do just things and to uphold a civil discourse. We try our best to co-mingle with different views and different ways of life.  

Since our perspective is limited, our contexts shift and we come to know truth by an unyielding desire to search for more, to understand better, and to get to know a place where the common elements of life are understood differently; one has the advantage of an altered perspective. In our one and only precious life, we quest for awe and astonishment and we hunger after what is genuine and worthy.

We like to live at moral peace with the universe.

Yet we cannot live at peace with the universe if we do not know it from its complete whole, if we do not shift our perspective of seeing the universe from its own point of view. In our haste to create or chase awe, we created and chased empty dreams. 

We refuse to embrace our landscape. We refuse to embrace a new perspective of a sustainable future where we can grow and laugh at each other’s imperfections while knowing that what we don't know is what makes us human and our human experience sustainable. Yet we chose to embrace the ultimate and absolute truth, all for the sake of not being wrong in some strange way so as to please our own egos.

We lose sight of our dreams, we lose our arctic to our aimless goals. 

We embrace this flow of time we call history, ours and the world’s.   

Sir Martin Rees has issued a clarion call for humanity. His 2004 book, ominously titled Our Final Hour, catalogues the threats facing the human race in a 21st century dominated by unprecedented and accelerating scientific change. He calls on scientists and nonscientists alike to take steps that will ensure our survival as a species. One of the world's leading astronomers, Rees is a professor of cosmology and astrophysics at Cambridge, and UK Astronomer Royal. Author of more than 500 research papers on cosmological topics ranging from black holes to quantum physics to the Big Bang, Rees has received countless awards for his scientific contributions. But equally significant has been his devotion to explaining the complexities of science for a general audience, in books like Before the Beginning and Our Cosmic Habitat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Undervaluation of a Dreamer II

Child soldier in Burma (Asia Now)
Burma’s military-backed government has one of the worst human rights records in the world. The Burmese army rape, loot, burn, torture and kill, and there is a widespread problem of forced labor. According to Burma Campaign UK: over 1 million people are forced from their homes; there are hundreds of political prisoners routinely tortured; there is widespread use of child soldiers in the country; rape is often used as a weapon of war against ethnic women and children and the military regime was spending nearly 25% of its budget on defense and just 1.3% on health care for its people.

The famous Aung San Suu Kyi spent over 15 years under house arrest since her party won the 1990 election. Finally, in 2010, she was released from detention and in 2012 she won a seat in the by-election and began her visits outside of Burma calling for support for human rights in her country from the international community. 

In July of 2012, the U.S. government recognized the hope of a lawful democratic emergence of Burma under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership. The U.S. eased sanctions on financial services and allowed new investments into Burma. At the same time, the U.S. government is requiring any U.S. persons or entities with cumulative investments in Burma exceeding $500,000 to report on the processes they have in place to address social and environmental impacts.

This is the first time that the United States has explicitly used a sanctions regime to encourage responsible business practices. Despite the general easing of restrictions, sanctions imposed on conducting business with specially designated nationals -- including a number of large Burmese “crony” companies -- and the military or military-controlled enterprises remain in place.

According to Ms. Lehr, The Reporting Requirements on Responsible Investment in Burma require that U.S. companies submit an annual public report on their overview of operations in Burma; human rights, labor rights, and environmental policies and procedures; arrangements with security providers (if applicable); property/land acquisition, including processes to identify land rights and address resettlement practices, if the property is worth more than $500,000 or over 30 acres and payments to the Government of Burma, sub-national authorities, and state-owned enterprises if the aggregate annual amount exceeds $10,000.

In addition, U.S. companies must also report to the U.S. State Department regarding the contact information of the individual preparing the report and whether the company or individuals representing it have held meetings or had other communications with the military or other armed groups and if so, with whom they met. In addition, they must report any risks or impact with due diligence on human rights, labor, and the environment that they identified as well as steps that have been taken to mitigate them; however, the reported information is confidential and will not be made public.

Moreover, the Reporting Requirements specify that U.S. persons with new investments based on an agreement with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Company (MOGE) must notify the State Department of the agreement in writing within 60 days of entering the investment. The MOGE is infamous for its corruption and its use of forced labor with the help of the military. Aung San Suu Kyi has recently recommended that foreign governments prohibit their companies from doing business with MOGE until the company adopts responsible and transparent business practices.  She noted (emphasis added):

The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), the state-owned company under the Ministry of Energy with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint-venture arrangements, lacks both transparency and accountability at present. The Government needs to apply internationally recognized standards, such as the IMF’s Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency. Other countries could help by not allowing their own companies to partner MOGE, unless it was signed up to such codes. This would also ensure that their own companies would subject to the above codes themselves, and to the various requirements of publish what you pay.

Statement by Aung San Suu Kyi at the 101st International Labour Conference.

It should also be noted that the companies required to report on their business in Burma are not required to actually have human rights, labor, and environmental policies in place. They are merely required to identify whether or not they exist.

Nevertheless, the public nature of the reporting creates some pressure on companies to demonstrate that they take seriously the substantial social and environmental risks of operating in the long-isolated country.

Amy K. Lehr, Foley Hoag LLP.

The rest, is up to the marketplace.

Burma presents Western businesses with a mostly untapped market, according to Ms. Lehr. There is an elevated risk doing business in Burma due to internal conflicts and a weak rule of law, but who is to say the rewards do not outweigh present fears? But here is a people so vulnerable and controversial, its market presence must be transparent; its social and environmental concerns clearly measured. Here is where consumers ought to be most educated about the topic and vote with our purchases to show how we wish the Burmese people be treated.

Burma is both an opportunity to demonstrate the efficiency of capitalism and an opportunity to extend the goodwill of a responsible capitalist market, Burma is a place where human rights, environmental concerns, and market incentives join as one—where we are able to implement the four aspects of sustainable growth balancing the interests of people as self-governing individuals, the interest of a community formed by the people in willing consent, the environmental interests, and the market incentives that must move all of these parts. 

The imposition of the requirements indicates that, although the Administration wants U.S. companies to invest in Burma, both the government and civil society are deeply concerned about the ability of companies to operate responsibly in that context. Due to such worries, U.S. companies have a significant incentive to enter this market in a manner that follows international best practices regarding the environment, human rights impacts, and corruption – and a chance to demonstrate that U.S. businesses indeed are partners of choice.

. . .

Western multinational companies entering Burma will therefore be in a “reputational fishbowl” as the organizations that strived to maintain sanctions against the Burmese government turn their attention to the role of companies inside the country.

Amy K. Lehr, Foley Hoag LLP.

This condition thus creates an advantage for socially responsible entities, but Ms. Lehr warns of the risks: ongoing corruptions and military intrusion into politics, lack of communication and basic infrastructure, regulatory barriers, antiquated laws, and public discontent. Yet despite these risks, Ms. Lehr elicits hope: Burmese people demanding better environmental protection and conservation, better wage and labor conditions, and general increase of standard of living. These are by-products of a well-managed constructive capitalist regime.      

Therein lies the opportunity. If Western companies operate according to international environmental and human rights standards, such as the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, they will differentiate themselves and become partners of choice both in Burma and the region.

Amy K. Lehr, Foley Hoag LLP.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Undervaluation of a Dreamer - by Jin Kong

I start my last year in law school today. I look forward to this part of my journey coming to an end in a year’s time. Not that I didn’t like law school; the intellectual stimulation was exciting at times, the ever presence of free pizza was a joy even though I do not like pizza unless it was my own making or a New York style slice. And in law school, I did learned more about the working of this country than I ever had in college or in the Army.

Funny, you figure if they were going to send me to war and ask me to die with a Chinese passport, they’d at least teach me more about the United States so I know what it is I’m being asked to sacrifice for. But I guess I didn’t see it as a sacrifice nor did they see it as important to risk a foreigner’s life. A mutual understanding forged and Uncle Sam allowed me to witness a better part of my life entwined with life and death, hope and revenge, violence and peace—all of which were mingled with the still sense of confusion I had in college.

What exactly is this country all about? Had I wasted my time sleeping with a M-4 at night and finger on its trigger all day?

But that wasn’t the way things worked. The Army taught me a few general order of things and then a whole lot of hard skills to deal with the wounded and the dead. Other than that, my appreciation for this nation was, as it had been since I immigrated, kept to a very selectively minimum. 

Yet the military did give me one useful thing: to be terribly resilient and to take initiative without fear or knowing why. Simply do is the motto, and always prepared were chants that kept us sane on those 20-mile hikes or knocking on the doors of potentially cruel conditions in a foreign land with many misunderstood folks who thought we the infidels.

To be resilient and to prepare is the only thing I knew how to do and I did it well. I had to adapt and overcome when I came to the States in 1992. As far as I know, I was the only Chinese guy from the Communist mainland in my high school. Barely speaking the language then I managed to fumble through year-books, chemistry classes, and embarrassing gym periods. Later, I fumbled through basic training and AIT and then a war.

I survived all of it because I was resilient and I knew I was in control of my own life and if there was anything good that will come from it, I needed to be the one in charge of its direction. So no matter how or where, I marched on with myself.

A few years after I was honorably discharged, I was lost and needed direction. I needed to know where it is that I’m marching, even though I do not know how to get there. I landed in law school thinking that I would learn to be a good writer and to learn the law. Maybe writing and learning the law would force me to focus on the things I needed to know. Yet, a few short years later, although I managed to learn a few laws and my writing is improving, I also learned that the profession of law is one unlike college or the military. Here, I would not find where it is I am going, but at least I found ways to get there and signs to tell me where to turn.  

The profession of law requires a real sense of sacrifice. A sense of devoting your whole life to living with boundaries and principles, to living with the idea of upholding and defending the Constitution as I had promised to do all those years ago without proper indoctrination. To be part of this profession, one is asked to facilitate social progress through one’s initiatives and preparation. There are few checks and balances and the only real thing that keeps the profession from corrupting are the model ethical rules that may vary from state to state, nation to nation. Of course there are the laws that lawyers vow to perpetuate, but those laws integrate the greater society and is therefore expansive in its sense of direction.       

The general public does not understand this aspect of being a lawyer—an officer of the Courts.

Lawyers’ representation by popular culture has undergone a transformation in recent years. The Perry Mason days are replaced by Boston Legal, lawyers' reputations these days rank below or just above a used car salesmen.

But is it the profession that corrupts or is the person who corrupts the profession?

That is the question I still struggle with at times. I would like to believe it’s the person and not the profession that is susceptible to corruption, but I know better to believe in perfect laws and to believe in fair tales.

Yet the law itself does aspire. Take the Sarbanes-Oxley Corporate Accountability Act for example. It mandated SEC regulations for all lawyers doing business with the Commission to comply with certain ethical obligations. It requires attorneys to report evidence of material violation of securities law or breach of fiduciary duty of anyone, including corporate officers, to the company that she or he is representing. If such reporting fails and the very top of the company is committing the violation themselves, the lawyer is expected to resign and then properly acknowledge agencies and organizations to act.

This means, as either in-house or outside counsel, a lawyer is bound to report any wrongdoing that is material to the corporate mission. But a lawyer’s duty to report wrongdoing does not stop with the company. According to professional rules of ethical conduct for lawyers, attorneys may resign and then report on corrupted company practices that the lawyer reasonably knows to have serious harm or may cause injuries to even just the corporate property interests.

Under both the fiduciary duty one owes to the company and the ethical duty to the public at large, a lawyer is bound to operate within the profession. What makes the lawyer's job hard is the conflicting duties to a client's confidence is betrayed to an extend when a lawyer decide to resign and spit in the wind. Even if under the new amended American Bar Association Mode Rule 1.6, where an exception to the lawyer’s confidence is made when the attorney has reason to know that revealing the information will prevent the client from committing an act (not just a criminal one) that is likely to result in death or substantial harm to person or damages to property interests. The lawyer may face lash backs from the corporate interests and hiring managers. Deciding to do the right thing may just end a lawyer's professional career.

Under the old lawyer’s professional conduct rules, there has to be a criminal act causing imminent death or substantial bodily harm in order to invoke a lawyer's protection if he should decide to breach his confidence with the client. This gave the lawyers a great excuse to perch their silence of the things they know are wrong on the duty of confidence. While laws are passed in the spirit of social changes to protect the environment, the people, and public companies' obligations, lawyers acting in corporate capacity are limited to risk assessment on cost avoidance.

The new ABA rule eliminated both the “criminal act” and “imminent” requirements.

This means if a lawyer knows of something, like the amount of toxic pollutants a company is pumping into the drinking waters, even though is not enough to cause immediate harm or injuries or property damages but may lead to long term problems, then the lawyer is duty bound to report up to the chain of the company; if the company refused to resolve the situation, the lawyer then is duty bound to resign and report the problems to the public.

The new ABA rule also does not require the culprit to be the client directly. In fact, the client does not have to have directly acted in causing the harm for the lawyer to throw up the red flags. The new rules only require that the harm is reasonably certain and it is the lawyer’s duty to “prevent, mitigate or rectify substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another” either directly by client’s actions or indirectly as the result of client’s actions or employment of lawyer’s service in furtherance of those actions.

As an attorney, one also has a duty of candor to inform and educate clients not only on the basis of the law, but also on the considerations such as ”moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client’s situation.” This means if an attorney has reasonable knowledge about the practices of the industry, emerging trends of demand on sustainable products, and any host of environmental or social responsibilities that is mandated not only under domestic laws but also international treaties and norms, then the attorney has a duty to let the client know.

The lawyer is required by law to give candid and competent legal advice to the client and keep client confidentiality, but this legal duty is now at the mercy of corporate accountability, shareholder activism, market demand pressure from more and more socially and environmentally aware shareholders.

What the client does is her business, but what the lawyers do is bound by the ethical duties of confidence, informed consent, and candor among other things. But you see how this can put a lawyer in a very difficult position: s/he is getting paid by an employer who may not want to do the right thing; the lawyer knows there is a duty of confidence and unless there is serious death or injuries, the lawyer is not obligated to report. He must balance the facts he has with doubts in his mind, comply with the client's wishes to the extend allowed by law, while risking his livelihood if he should choose to do what he think is right.

The lawyer is asked to draw the line where he sees his difficult ethical duty ends and his obligation to a client begins; he is asked to walk that very fine line to ensure the social good is served as well as his family protected. For the lawyer, under the risks of the circumstances, his billable hours is nothing compare to what their business counterparts are making in profits.

But this isn't about money, is it? Professionalism tells us that lawyers owe a higher duty; the call to profession should weigh heavy within a lawyer's heart--each choice impacts lives of others and it matters what and how we chose. Why is this important? It is to me.

A while ago, I wrote about the law profession’s past and expressed my sentiment about making a difference in the world. Today I am more the wiser to know there is more than just the law that matters. Life comes in many shapes and is of many dimensions; the law profession is one that serves to better those lives--not destroy them. Lawyers are meant to be facilitators, of conversations and of interactions; the law is meant to provide us with protection, lawyers are to safeguard that duty to protect.

Without laws we would have tyrants.

As a medic I learned I had an equal duty to all injured on the battlefield. We triage and heal no matter who is injured; we obeyed orders, but our ultimate duty was to the profession. Lawyers are expected of the same; obey the laws, but dedicated to a profession that creates a safe environment for the public at large to conduct themselves in a broader discourse of social progress.

Lawyers are not judges nor are they businessmen or businesswomen; lawyers are there to make sure our members of society can interact safely and in a civil manor.

Lawyers are expected to separate their personal opinions and concerns from their professional engagements. It is a service of candor, competence, and confidence, owed to the profession and to society at large. The lawyer is selfless; the client is a lawyer's primary obligation, but a client is part of an ecosystem of social interactions. The lawyer's profession obligates him/herself to those open skies but the lawyers may not fly.

'Dreamer' by Hutch

Flying is for dreamers; a lawyer's hope is for others to dream big and to dream amazing flights. As for me, I have not decided if I want to dream and fly or if I have the will to make the sacrifice and help others to fly and dream even bigger dreams.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Power of Making a Purchase - by Lauren Campbell Kong

My mom came over the other day to help me clean. We were in need of a good deep cleaning and my mother offered to help granted that I help her do the same for her house.  It never feels like cleaning when my mother is around; we got to catch up on the family and spend time together. As I get older, I am beginning to understand spending time with my mother becomes more important with each passing day. It is also during these times that I get the opportunity to share my passion of sustainability with her.

Since Jin and I have jumped on the sustainability train, there has been a huge learning curve in both of our lives. We both learn new things and attempt to relate that knowledge to the all-encompassing cloud of sustainability. We enjoy sharing that information with as many people as possible (hence the blog) even if that means at times, others don’t want to hear what we have to say. Becoming a ‘greeny’ has been a transformative experience for both of us and sometimes those closest to us have a hard time relating to our new found passion.

This is how I know that I have the most loving mother in the world, because no matter what I am passionate about, she is willing to learn as much as possible so that she can relate to me. It is during these times that she will ask me questions or just listen to my ramblings about sustainability and it was during this specific cleaning extravaganza that I began talking to my mother about some of the statistics I came across.

As I have previously disclosed on this blog, the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) took a multitude of climate and environmental measurements in 1992 as a baseline for observing climate and environmental change. This year was the 20 year report and some of the facts were very disturbing. After reading the 110 pages on our environment and climate, I was surprised by many things: the sheer amount of deforestation that is still occurring, the large increase in meat consumption globally, the evidence that our oceans are more acidic than what they have been in 400,000 years, and the fact that the Amazon basin doesn’t really exist anymore. (Many scientists believe it has already reached a tipping point and would not, even if allowed to, continue to grow rainforest. Instead they theorize that a savannah like environment would flourish.)

I was also taken back by the amount of greenhouse gases that are still emitted into the atmosphere. The number has been on a steady rise, increasing by 36% (from 22,000 million tonnes to 30,000 million tonnes) since 1992; 80% of those tonnes are created by 19 countries. The report blatantly states that carbon emissions must decrease or the planet will continue to heat up, reaching a 2°C increase by 2100. This will be catastrophic to our ice sheets as well our livelihood. The report also mentioned that the global mean temperature has increased by 0.4° C since 1992, that quarter increase happened in only 20 years, which means that the 2° increase may come sooner than 2100.

One reason that emissions have continued to increase is developing countries such as Brazil, China, and India is because they are investing heavily in infrastructural and manufacturing developments. Everyone knows that development of any kind requires the use of energy and often it requires building materials; but I think the majority of people, myself included, fail to recognize the toll that this has on the environment.

Take cement for example:

Cement requires an enormous amount of energy to make and also releases CO2 directly into the atmosphere due to the heating of calcium carbonate, which leaves two by-products: lime and carbon dioxide. Because of the huge demand for cement in developing countries, cement has experienced an increase in production and has become the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions, increasing by 230% since 1992; that’s huge! And it’s a problem; especially when we begin thinking about other countries wanting to join the development frenzy.

After reading those statistics, I threw up in my mouth a little…then…

Realized that the cement industry, and industry as a whole, must make some serious large scale changes and we, as members of society, as intellectual and creative creatures of this earth, and as CONSUMERS, must recognize that we have the ability make these changes happen. It is up to us to begin seeing the necessity in changing our behavior and then to act on that necessity.

But how do we begin making such a huge change?

Well, I think a great place to start in America is by addressing our incessant need to purchase and to own things.

·         If we are going to use our money to buy stuff regardless, (because it is a global obsession to own material items), let’s buy the things that are made in an environmentally responsible way and support those companies with our purchasing power. If we begin supporting pro-environmental companies we then have more of a chance of pushing the not so environmental companies out of the picture. And I know, those products sometimes (but not always) can be more expensive, but look at that extra money you’re spending as an long term investment on our planet. Those paper towels may be a dollar more a roll, but that dollar is going toward helping our planet bounce back giving our children a chance to have a place to breath and grow.

·         If you can’t afford to purchase items that are made from recycled material or in an environmentally friendly way every time you shop, then purchase them every other time; and begin thinking about how you could consume less of that item so that you can afford it when you need it. Jin and I really wanted to begin supporting cage free eggs, which cost about 3-4 dollars more a dozen than the non-cage free eggs at the grocery store. So, instead of consuming a dozen eggs a week, we now consume a dozen eggs in 2 or 3 weeks. We are spending the same amount of money on eggs each time we shop, but we are just consuming less. There is nothing wrong with consuming less, even though our society tells us differently…

·         Don’t be afraid to ask a company if they offer environmentally friendly alternatives, if they reply no, let them you would be happy to look into their services again once they start and then look for a company that does. Jin and I just experienced this when looking for a landscaper for our yard.

·         Keep the stuff you already have and reuse it. Jin and I wash our aluminum foil and our plastic sandwich baggies to reuse them again.

·         If you know that a company or corporation is operating in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, then go out of your way to purchase their products or buy their stock.

Now, I know that this advice isn't the ‘end all cure’ to our sustainability crisis and it is far removed from the cement problem in developing countries. But the point is not how do we solve the isolated symptoms of our sickness. What I'm recommending is only a place to start. It's where I am starting and Jin is starting, maybe my mom will start there too. I hope that with more awareness of our consumer power, we can begin to use our purchases to make a difference in this world and begin supporting the GREEN industry, not just THE industry. Maybe then we can show the Chinese or the Africans that it's not so important to own that new car or have that new factory to produce the next useless gadget; maybe we can convince them to make more fair-trade indigenous goods and share their culture instead of sharing our greed. Maybe together, we can make a change in this all consuming culture; pun intended.

I will leave you with a thought from Food Inc:

“Every time you scan an item in the checkout lane, you are placing a vote. A vote on what you want …”

What do you want for this common planet of ours?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tales of Travel: Part 2- The Map is not the Territory- by Lauren Campbell Kong

(This is a continuation of another post I wrote a few days ago: click here to read Part 1 of this story.)

Traveling to Texas to visit on old friend was quite the experience. While visiting, I noticed that the sustainability movement doesn’t really have any steam, at least where we were staying in Texas it didn’t.

I didn’t see any signs or advertisement for any ‘green’ companies or environmentally friendly options. I was surprised to see such a lack of environmental awareness, but nonetheless my cup and I had a blast. It was hot, so my cup was very useful and for the most part, I was able to fill him up in most locations, keeping my hydration levels up after arriving.

I’m sure my reusable cup's experience was a bit different than mine:

Lauren and I had a wonderful time in Texas. It was great to experience the Texan culture; it is so different than Indiana.
Lauren's friend Jennifer was sweet and welcomed me with open arms and it was because of her that I got to experience a dishwasher for the first time. Lauren and Jin do not own a dishwasher, so I was a little scared.  I was clean as could be, but my straw got bent a little bit. I think the hot water was just too much but my straw is working fine. Thank you for caring.
There was one day Lauren and Jennifer went to an amusement park. I went along for the ride, but when we got there I wasn’t allowed in the park; I had to stay in the hot car. When they came back a few hours later I heard Lauren complaining about how many plastic cups they used for water. It was extremely hot that day with the temperature reaching 107 degrees and there were a lot of people who needed water. When Lauren thought about how many plastic cups she and Jennifer used, multiplied that by half the amusement park population, and then multiplied that by other amusement parks in the country. . . well, you can imagine for yourself the number of plastic cups used that day was enormous; even Jennifer was surprised. Lauren also said there were only a few recycling bins in the park and that more should be available, especially with so many soda machines dispensing 20oz bottles all day long.

She and I noticed a lack of environmental awareness in the area where we stayed. Sustainability and other green philosophies were not popular. We took a trip to Wal-Mart there. Lauren noticed there weren’t any people using their own bags and the plastic bags available weren’t made from recycled plastic like back home (you can tell because the gray bags are made from recycled material, while the white ones are not). While walking through Wal-Mart, I did see some shelves of other reusable cups. We tried to convince her friend Jennifer to purchase one and to use it frequently, but alas, she wouldn’t. They were all pretty though, with bright colored grips and matching straws! Lauren had to talk herself out of a second one. I was happy with this decision, I like having Lauren all to myself.

After Wal-Mart we stopped at a gas station, a 7-11, to get gas. Lauren took me in to fill me up with water, but the soda machine didn’t even have an option for water. It did have an option for all different types of flavored sugary syrups though. Lauren couldn’t believe it. If you wanted water, you had to purchase bottled water. She filled me with ice and then left the gas station grumpy.

The next morning we were headed back to Indiana. I felt more comfortable traveling this time around. At the airport I did notice that there weren’t any recycling bins. Lauren went to empty me, so that I could get through security, and there were several plastic bottles in the trash can. They were all lying there looking so sad and there was no recycling bin in sight; Lauren couldn’t help them even if she wanted to.

Once we got through security and after that awful x-ray machine, I realized that I was looking forward to getting back into my routine. I forget how much I enjoy sitting with Lauren while she writes on her computer. I also like the company of the cats and the dog. I know we don’t interact often, but the dog will occasionally give me a good sniff or two and he is really good about knowing if we are going to leave and go somewhere; his excitement is contagious.

After having some plane travel under my belt, I feel more confident in my traveling skills. I know that I can now handle sitting in different cup holders during car rides and don’t mind being smashed into the magazine holder while on a plane and I survived the Atlanta airport, which from what I hear is a feat in and of itself.  Lauren is talking about another trip in a couple of weeks. Jin will also be going, which means his cup will be joining us. I always enjoy the time I get with my companion cup and Lauren is always happier when Jin is around. I am looking forward to having another adventure and assessing the approach that local communities take toward the sustainability movement. I will be sure to keep you all posted!

Good-bye for now!

It was because of traveling this summer and taking my cup everywhere that I created our adventures through his eyes. Many of my friends have begun to reference my cup as “Lauren’s Wilson” (from the movie Cast Away). I should probably find a name for him because it seems he will be around awhile. I hope that through the years, as I begin the small steps to lower my environmental impact, my cup and I have many adventures and that we are both able to step out of our own experiences and enjoy each other’s; it is by looking through a different lens that we are able to change and to grow and I want to accomplish this by changing the way we look at a sustainable world.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What is a social entrepreneur? - a message from Jin

Before dawn is the darkest of what I know
That twenty more centuries of waking fling
Will whisk the dream by a gentle cruise of howl,
And what beauty, its day come forth at last,
Proud treads the once New World to be born.
                                                                                         - jin, 2012


There are two parts to the definition of “social entrepreneur.” The first is the meaning of “entrepreneur”; the second is the meaning of “social” build on the foundation of what is understood to be an entrepreneur.

Colloquially, entrepreneurs are taken to be someone who starts a business. I resist the definition.

Entrepreneurship is more than just starting a business to sell a widget or service; there is nothing entrepreneurial about perpetuating a business model in an established fashion just to take advantage of consumer ignorance.

Being an entrepreneur means more than that; it encompasses a richer context, a tougher climb, and a much more rewarding experience. Being an entrepreneur means undertaking something to leverage opportunities in Change, which is the only constant we come to know, so the market place is reformed in a way to become more efficient.

Social entrepreneurs are then those who undertake an ever tougher task, a much more steeper climb, to solve social problems and create value to resolve social ills so that the market place is not only more efficient but more responsible. Social entrepreneurs face a tougher challenge because there is very little value incentive built into solving problems for the poor, the underprivileged, the neglected—these are men and women who rarely participate in the great capitalist scheme and are often the same ones who would burden the “value” created by the so called “business” folks—the same folks who would make widgets and pollute the poorest neighborhoods, who would sell to the most uninformed, who would suckle on the fruit of the many vices of social ills.

NO! Social entrepreneurs are not someone who just starts a business.

Social entrepreneurs are the ones who would adopt a mission to create and sustain social values; who would change accordingly to how social values change and leverage those changes to benefit even more underprivileged. Social entrepreneurs are those who would recognize and relentlessly pursuit new opportunities; who would engage in a continued process of innovation, adaptation, and learning.

Social entrepreneurs will act boldly, without the fear of limitations, and will act with a heightened sense of accountability to the constituents served and for the outcome created.

Social entrepreneurs will act for the better of the whole, for the world and everyone encompassed—selflessly and for the broader scope of the sustainable human ecology.

_________________________________________________ The beauty of the American system, as I see it, is not of capitalism or democracy as often tokened as the American strength. The real beauty of the American system noted by Alexis de Tocqueville some 170 years ago is that we empower each other through our individualism for the common goal so that we can build something together that is unimaginable—something outside of the systemic spiraling down. This is a virtue despotism could never compel its people to perform; this is the American strength. In this we find our revitalization.

              Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Spiraling gyring the center does not hold
The falcon does not need to hear the falconer;
Things fall apart but there comes another spring;

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Before dawn is the darkest of what I know
That twenty more centuries of waking fling
Will whisk the dream by a gentle cruise of howl,
And what beauty, its day come forth at last,
Proud treads the once New World to be born.