Sustainable Business Conversations, Sep-Oct 2017

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Sustainable Business Conversation, September 14, 2017 Topic: Measurement and Data

Measure as little as you can to make a difference. Too much data does not help and takes up a lot of energy. Green Garage recently did a study of airflow inside the building. It’s important to balance airflow correctly to optimize comfort and efficiency. The recent study found a mystery – out of a total of 800 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of airflow, measurements could not account for 300 CFM – a significant proportion. What could be the explanation? Dampers not working? Something wrong with ductwork? It’s really hard to figure out, but important to understanding these issues. The next step will be to put a video camera in ductwork to investigate further. Without looking at data, we would have not asked these questions. W. Edwards Demming has long been a deep thinker on the use of measurements. He said that the unintended consequences of measurements will be larger than the benefits in the majority of cases. He said that incentives will distort measurement systems and outcomes. The problems coming to light at Wells Fargo are an example of this. Upper management provided incentives to employees for opening new accounts, and over time this resulted in employees opening over a million unauthorized accounts that the owners were unaware of and did not request. One example of incentives going very wrong. How can you measure the success of a hotel or bed and breakfast? Maybe report the percent occupancy or the number of 5-star reviews. But if you dig into how various hotels measure and report percent occupancy – there is no standard to how it’s done. It is almost impossible to compare these measurements between different hotels. Do you count just paid room-days, or do you include complementary room days? If some rooms are unavailable due to planned maintenance – do they count as vacant? The hotel industry has no agreement on how to report occupancy rates and local visitor bureaus have no guidelines on how to report this data. Many companies have two systems of measurement – one for what they report publicly and another for their internal use. High school dropout rates are also widely reported – but there is no standard about how to calculate these rates. One school system reports the number of freshmen entering high school and then compares that to the number of graduates in that class four years later. If students move into or out of the district or go to special programs at another school, that’s not counted. Measurement is almost always flawed and difficult to manage. The upshot is to measure as little as possible that gives you something useful. Many people come to this with an agenda and selectively look for data to prove a point. Don’t get bogged down in too much measurement. Life is never perfect and there is no perfect time to take action. You can always learn and grow. It’s much better to use measurement in a fully mature process that you understand. Watch what emerges. How to set a rate to charge as a consultant or therapist. You can start by figuring out the minimum amount of money you need realistically to keep afloat. Then work back to benchmark a rate per hour and how many hours you need to work to earn that much – and build a business around it. Don’t base your rate on a scarcity mentality and don’t diminish what you offer. A business plan is not the first thing to do. You need to realize that all early business plans are fiction. You need to engage in the reality of your work to start out and find ways to grow it. If you have a sound foundation, growth is possible.


Sustainable Business Conversation, October 19, 2017 Topic: Community Aspect of Profitability

Social impact investors are out there with money to invest – but there are not enough projects for them to invest in. How to connect social enterprises with funding sources? Michigan Women’s Foundation is looking for woman-owned social enterprises. Their “Dolphin Tank” can provide seed money and support. Getting funding can be a good thing or a bad thing. You can wind up managing the restrictions of the funding group instead of managing your business. You need to have clarity about your business and purpose. How do you measure the impact of putting on events? After a vegan pop-up event will people really change their diets? If vegan foods cost more, will customers feel that the extra cost is worth it? How do you measure health impact on the community? Things like improved health, learning new skills, support for local growers, building relationships and connections. It may be harder to measure impact from a one-time pop-up. Working with an established community location can foster long-term relationships. There is value in connection your new enterprise to an established community with good networks. The Remember Me quilt project is designed to connect with strong partners. These include Crime Stoppers, church groups, quilting groups, and police organizations. The Remember Me project does not have its own physical location, but works to create partnerships and do community outreach. The loudest voice may not accurately represent a community. Need to have good communications to understand the actual priorities of a community. In one instance a church leader liked one style of development and talked a lot about it, but the members of that community actually disagree with the leader and strongly preferred other development types. Environmental impacts of a plant-based diet include a lower carbon footprint when compared to a meat-based diet. Growing hops can take abandoned land and make it productive again. We make connections with brewers which may include social enterprises. For example, Batch Brewery has a “feel good tap” which sends proceeds from each sale to a selected non-profit. We also support a business designing and making trellises and make Hoppy Holiday ornaments. In the future we may make wreaths from the hop vines after harvest. We don’t want to waste anything. Figuring out a community bottom line is completely different from networking. Think about wrapping a community around the components of your business.


Sustainability Discussion October 26, 2017 Topic: Profitability in environmental terms

Build a community around each component of your business. Openness is important - a community cut off from new ideas dies eventually. Don't accept funding that does not match your purpose. Respect yourself and don't just go for the money. Money is stored energy. If you agree to something that you're not, it becomes an energy drain.

The right plant will not grow well in the wrong place.

By looking for ways to use waste materials, Susan formed a relationship with a florist who can use hop vines to make wreaths. Otherwise the vines would be discarded. This creates more community, more connections. Bring people together and see what happens. Be aware of whether or not you are in an environment that meets your needs and is healthy for you. To improve your environmental footprint, thinking about waste is a great place to start. Waste can be defined as resources in the wrong place. Other key issues for the environment are: energy, water and toxicity. Theater companies can think differently about how to dispose of waste materials from shows, such as sets, props or costumes or paint. You can donate paint to the community. Get to know your neighbors. Banks did not get interested in environmental impacts until there were economic consequences to pollution, based on Superfund regulations. When banks got hit with expensive cleanup costs for properties they foreclosed on, the Phase I environmental assessment industry got started. Environmental awareness can be based on avoiding a negative ((liability). Re-development of a steel mill complex in Germany created a new community with industrial flavor and tourism. Contamination had to be cleaned up and designers used the old buildings as possible.

When you're in an unhealthy environment, how do you know when to stay and fight or to flee?

Detroit is a small town. Things happen differently here. New folks need to learn how things work.


Sustainable Business Conversation, Oct 31, 2017 Topic: Data and Sustainability

There is a big difference between being a writer and managing a writing business. Completely different sets of skills are needed. Too often in this world, financial advancement comes only when you jump into management. That’s not right. For some people its best to stay working as a designer or an engineer and there should be career tracks for that. Data: Can everything that is important be measured? Is everything that can be measured important? Does it work to communicate using data? If you say it has been a wet summer in Houston – does that say the same thing as – in some areas 51 inches of rain has fallen in 5 days? What we measure is often what we manage. The unintended consequences of measurement are often greater than the intended consequences. When and how to use measurements and data is an art, and should be done thoughtfully. Good data takes work. If you can see a set of 12 months of data per year over three years, you can start to see patterns and ask good questions. It takes more than 3 data points to spot a trend. Green Garage tracks data in charts. It stood out when the monthly electrical use (in kWh) went up much more than usual. Investigation found that an inverter for emergency lights was going bad. Without careful review of monthly data that inverter failure could easily have been missed. Mark Twain once said that “there are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Just because there are numbers and a chart does not mean that something is credible. Be sure to look at where the money for this study came from….. What is the monetary value of ecosystem services? Is it possible to value nature in numeric terms? How about plotting the urban tree canopy vs the asthma rate in that city? What are the costs/value of trees vs the costs of asthma care? It takes work to move from raw data to information and then to knowledge. Even more work to move from knowledge to intelligence. A lot of folks try to do life cycle analysis of certain things, but this is not yet an exact science. It’s good to try – data gets better as we go on working with it. Many companies value short-term profits over scientific knowledge. It’s easy to quantify money and harder to evaluate qualitative aspects. When I need to measure the quality of this year’s crop of hops, I send samples to the lab and get numeric results. But I have enough experience with ripe hops to know the look and smell of a good crop. Jane Jacobs book has a chapter titled What Kind of Problem is a City? She tells us that very large-scale plans can be deadly because there is no room for small-scale mistakes that you can learn from. She believed that a healthy city needs to have healthy microbes. Small level details have a big impact on how a city works. How do you measure social capital? How do you measure