Sustainable Business Conversations, May-June 2017

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Sustainable Business Conversation, May 25, 2017 Topic: Relationships Through the Media

How can our businesses use social media in a constructive way?
  • What does a relationship with the media mean? Media is a collection of channels. The danger is that media can become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.
  • When you work with the media, have your objectives in mind and be clear about what you want to achieve.
  • The steps to building a team are awareness, understanding, interaction and then a commitment to work together.
  • It used to cost a lot to disseminate information. There was the print media (newspapers, magazines), television and radio. You had to work with one of these channels to get your message out. Now we are overrun with internet networks like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Networks are overtaking the traditional kinds of media. Many people are no longer watching cable TV preferring access to shows online.
  • Traditional news organizations (newspapers, TV newscasts) are being fragmented and blown apart by new networks. All of this is ripe for restructuring. It’s time to pioneer new thinking around the relationship between sustainability and media.
  • Tom is selective about how much energy to invest in media. An online magazine about Detroit recently wanted to do an article about El Moore with lots of pictures. At first this did not seem like a good idea. Then he realized that the article could focus on the sustainability features of the building and convey real information. This could be a real positive.
  • Big companies approach this differently. Ford spends a lot of money on advertising its products and less on public relations. Tesla spends almost nothing on advertising and puts all its efforts into media relations, public relations and additionally, Elon Musk tweets. It’s very effective for them. A huge shift is underway.
  • With radio programs or news it is possible to settle into a pocket that contains only certain kinds of information and opinions.
  • How can you convey information about sustainability to people who don’t want to know about sustainability? You need a strategy about how to use media.
  • Google uses social media to create rankings for information on your business. Is it fair? Is it accurate?
  • What about keywords? Your message on networked media needs to be based on who you are and what your priorities are. Some questions: What do you believe? What are you working toward? Are you trustworthy? How do you behave in the world? Your business needs a clear identity – who you are and what you are providing. Are your values and mission aligned with your identity? When alignment is good, you draw people to you when there is a fit.
  • It’s easy to create falsehoods on the internet. Photoshop can be used to alter facts. You can’t control everything – partnerships, relationships, product claims (is that really vegan?).
  • Is Wikipedia more or less accurate that Encyclopedia Britannica? Some studies say it’s more accurate. Academics tend to not let students use Wikipedia as a primary research source. The information on Wikipedia is always subject to change. Social media is dynamically being created in front of you.
  • Some people use product reviews online. If there are 49 good reviews and one bad review, we tend to think the product is good. But we know that vendors can still find ways to game the system. Word of mouth referrals from a trusted network of people can be much more valuable.
  • How much value can you get from a Google search? One group member googled "Detroit sustainability" and found both the Green Garage and Ecoworks.
  • Listservs are also useful. The AASHE Stars program is a listserv that provides a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. The organization has an annual conference that is quite valuable. Listservs are also used a lot in the museum community and have been a game changer for collaboration and finding information about specialized services. Communities of practice form naturally.

Sustainable Business Conversation, June 8, 2017 Topic: Maintaining Relationships with Web and Social Media, Part 2

This section is still being edited

Your community and social media are connected. How do you get started in social media before your business is even open? We use Facebook to help people be aware of our business, so is it premature to have a website before much is happening in the business?

  • A simple Facebook page may work for a start. The purpose may be to collect email addresses from those who visit the site and to start to establish a business identity.
  • Facebook can be used to say "This is who our company is," to establish an identity, instead of letting others do that for us.
  • Choosing two good social media platforms may be better than being stretched too thin on seven or eight platforms.


I was involved in putting on an event for artists and fashion designers around the theme of bravery. We started with a Facebook community page where people have to know each other to enter the group. It was a successful event, highlighting people’s values. People really want to be connected. We set the community culture first and then opened a more public Facebook page. What the group was meant to do was unclear at first, it developed gradually, naturally.

AirBnB now offers experiential classes for visitors. This can reach a new group of folks and they pay event providers well.

We offer some free events about foraging for food, but many folks who come for free do not want to pay for subsequent events. Maybe we should ask them for online reviews to help the business.

If participants post photos on social media, that also helps the business, especially high-quality photos. Your business needs to be in a context where people expect to pay for things. It’s not sustainable for everything to be free.

El Moore found a niche that fits us as a smaller bed and breakfast inn. You need the right social media image and platform that aligns with your business.

  • Are you trying to reach local residents – or people who live far away?
  • A Facebook campaign with frequent updates may work better for local folks.
  • A website may work better for visitors from far away – and is definitely needed when you need a way for site visitors to pay for something in a transaction.
  • It’s possible to have parallel Facebook pages which connect to a website. People are guided through various media.

There should be a call for action. There is enormous competition online for people’s attention – so you need to stand out. People are seeking experiences. You are selling the idea and the story of beer – not just the beer. Add a meal at the end to enhance the experience. For example, the experience can include shopping in the market and making a meal together in a group. Go for pictures – really good photos can attract attention to your product. Also consider asking thought provoking questions. Instagram is a good medium if emotions are involved. You could post pictures of the process of making your product (such as a pillow) and give updates on the progress. Then link up to other media such as Facebook or Etsy. You need to have a strategy for social media. One can easily get overwhelmed by trying to manage too many things. Some folks have an aversion to social media. It’s an instinct and you have it or you don’t. Being inauthentic does not work. A small amount of high-quality communication is better than a large amount of low-quality communication.

Sustainable Business Conversation, June 22, 2017 Topic: Deciphering your Water Bill

This section is still being edited

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has a remarkably poor billing system, going way back. There are a lot of good people working there, but they are using a badly flawed system. The way billing systems for water have evolved is complicated and related to politics and past power struggles. In the early 1900s, Highland Park had its own water department which was started by Henry Ford. Ford insisted on drawing water from the river under an independent water authority and not using water furnished by Detroit. In recent years that changed and Highland Park needed to connect to the DWSD system, but it was complicated. David, who lives in West Bloomfield, pays water bills issued by the Charter Township of West Bloomfield. It is unclear why the water authority is located in that way. Geoff is questioning how his two-person household could be using 3,000 gallons of water per month. He checked and the meter is working OK. Looking at benchmarks, a typical American uses 3,000 gallons of water per person per month, so it seems that his household is using half of the typical amount. People are usually surprised by how much water they use. Using sprinklers to water lawns is a particularly high water user. As much as 80% of the water evaporates in most sprinkler systems and does not actually reach the plants. Water departments are typically a blend of water systems, legal systems and political systems. These are blended with commons made up of the natural water cycle and a commons comprised of water and sewer infrastructure. Some native cultures put great priority on keeping water clean. Unfortunately, our culture does not. Water and sewer systems are combined and in the USA, we avoid talking about waste, especially sewage. Waste disposal is often an area ripe for corruption, since no one pays attention. If we had accountability for our own waste, things might be different. Are people aware of the importance of water? Do most people know where their tap water comes from? Our consumer society distracts us from many vitally important things. In the early 1900’s the Detroit water works was constructed as a beautiful structure and people placed more value on clean water. Now we take clean water for granted and pay little attention to risks related to water. We should study things like water and sewer systems in school. Those subjects were covered in at least one past civics class. The infrastructure in Detroit is quite old. One brick storm sewer in this area was built in 1877. Lots of water is lost and wasted through leaks. All customers wind up paying for these leaks. The water billing system is based on account numbers, with no link to people of places. It’s easy to cut off water if a bill is not paid. Workers don’t know how it impacts people. Tom recommends looking carefully at your water bill and asking questions. If water usage has gone up suddenly there may be a leak you are not aware of. The sewer charge is usually based on the water use numbers, assuming it all winds up going to the sewer. If you are watering a lawn or garden, that may not be true, but you will still pay the sewer charge for the water used outdoors. Does it make sense to plant wild flowers or a prairie instead of a lawn? It can take some work to get native landscapes established and there will still be some maintenance needed. But the water savings and benefits can be great.