Sustainable Business Conversation, Jul-Aug 2017

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Sustainable Business Conversation, August 3, 2017 Topic: Access to Sustainability Practices

The language of sustainability is listening. The food industry is split over issues related to labeling and language related to food. Organic certification is so expensive that it has almost become a barrier to entry for smaller farmers. Some companies create their own terms. For example, Panera is marketing their food as “clean”, a term that they created and define. Lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is generally more expensive but some believe that the quality of the lumber and the forests where it grows is the same as other lumber and forests. Everyone should have access to sustainable practices. Barriers to this access include age, income, and how you were raised. If you had direct connections to nature as a child, your values as an adult reflect this. A family that was thrifty and never threw anything away makes an impact. I grew up in a Buddhist family practicing voluntary simplicity. We owned as few things as possible and cared about states of being. When I was a kid we were always outdoors playing. I played with turtles and crayfish. My family went hunting and fishing and we all have a love of the outdoors. Now we may criminalize natural play. Tree houses may need to meet building codes. Free range kids are able to be in nature to play and make mistakes. In suburbia, everything is cleaned up and you don’t see much that’s natural. You also don’t see the waste dumps. Older folks in Korea had natural foods, but had less to eat. Younger folks have more food (quantity) and grow bigger but they may be less healthy. Financial security may be a barrier to valuing the environment. As we get older and more cautious, financial security may become the most important thing. From ages 0 to 7 we are in a state of wonder. Later in life we have money and can make our own choices, but we are still influenced by early experiences. Can you change your own habits? Composting is a habit and a discipline that involves a lot of factors. Does your community care about composting? A lot of people don’t care that much. Detroit is a city of activists who are willing to challenge the status quo. There’s a difference between the ability to challenge things versus the desire to challenge things. I was once afraid of bees, but now I’ve learned a lot and I think they’re really cool. Systems thinking and stewardship can get you closer to sustainable solutions. Stewardship means leaving things in better shape than when you found them. Going to Beijing and seeing the pollution levels was a turning point for me. It’s important to understand the consequences of what we do. The book Silent Spring showed toe consequences of overuse of pesticides and spurred interest in alternatives like organic farming. Barriers to entering into a sustainable business include education, money, litigation, and culture. You need to have basic needs met, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs before you have the luxury of thinking about higher needs. What is the step that can get you to a higher level? A man in New York called himself No Impact Man and lived for one year on only local food and rode a bike everywhere. Is it more important to impact the community – or just your own life?


Sustainable Business Conversation, August 10, 2017 Topic: Applying Sustainability Principles to Non-Typical Businesses

Question: How we can apply language and principles of sustainability around the kinds of businesses that we don't typically associate with environmentalism and sustainability? Everyone comes to sustainability on their own path. The earth is a fragile place. The distance from the soil to the top of the atmosphere is only 11.3 miles – not very far. We need direct experience of nature. A video of the forest is not the same as a walk in the forest. What does sustainability mean? Is it enough to minimize one’s own environmental impact? Should we do more than that? When the Green Garage started we thought we’d house only sustainable businesses – but that’s not who came to the door. It took a deep understanding of place and community and lots of listening to find the right businesses. The most important quality seems to be businesses that are seeing community. Lots of stuff turns out to be not that important. How do we measure social capital? Someone said that no urban agricultural business is making money in Detroit. Is this true? There is so much unclaimed land, there is a real need to use the land. Growing food creates lots of community benefits. However it’s really hard to make a living by farming, even in a rural area. Lots of farm families rely on a second or third job outside the farm. We tend to frame conflict between pro-development folks and anti-development folks. Early food coops and housing coops viewed the business community as the enemy. There is a lot of opposition to a new hotel planned in Ann Arbor – but has anyone from the opposition talked to the developers? Keeping ideas in opposition is not helpful to a sustainable future. My son was a student at a college and was very motivated to work on a diversity initiative for the campus. There was a lot of opposition and it became very adversarial. I needed to step outside of myself and go into his world and speak his language. We also looked hard at the history of the college, which has a history of pioneering on social issues. They were the first college in the area to admit women and are working to advance global social issues. When we framed the diversity initiative in terms of the college history and purpose, it became easy to get support. You can’t reach people unless you go to where they already are. You can create a bridge that takes them from where there are new possibilities. A good teacher creates an environment where people are comfortable and willing to share. The teacher also learns from the students. Sometimes we need to be vulnerable and ask for help. People you would not think are interested will get onboard to help. Sometimes you need to reframe information so that its more accessible. Humbleness and vulnerability can be bridges. There is no such thing as sustainability law. Lawyers working in big firms experience lots of burn out. It can be possible to create sustainable agreements which are not winner takes all. Who you work with matters. What type of clients do you want? Attorneys can look at the interests of others and find ways to get something done. Some say that 80% of communication is non-verbal. It can be hard to learn from those who are different from you based just on social media. Do people really want to change and learn? Sometimes a culture is resistant to change. We need to be dancing with change.