Archive for February, 2010

February 19, 2010

What On Earth Is ‘Social Sustainability’?

We Say It, But Do We Mean It?

That's Scott alright! by Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO




We hear it all the time, and we repeat it just as often:  “The Triple Bottom Line.”  “People, Planet, Profits.”  “Ecology, Economy, Equity.”


Talk is cheap, methinks.

Action speaks louder than words.  And I think the words to actions ratio is way too high.

term coined by John Elkington, for those who want to know...

And when I look for the real truth of the People/Equity piece of this equation – what has come to be called “Social Sustainability,” I hear a lot of resounding silence.

We all – and I don’t see Brightworks as any exception – need to do a better job at attending to the human dimension of sustainability.  Else sustainability will remain the province of what detractors  gleefully call the work of latte drinking elitists.

SBL Briefing Paper

The Social Bottom Line Briefing Paper (click to download)

Yes, we at Brightworks have had the privilege of working on two LEED-certified affordable housing projects (here and here).  And we spend a lot of time internally exploring how we can meaningfully integrate social sustainability considerations into our work more effectively.  And we have a long way to go.

In fairness to ourselves and others striving to make real inroads into the arena where social equity and ecological conservation align, this is one of the newest fields within the broader sustainability landscape, and the thought leadership is really just beginning to take meaningful shape.

Fortunately, here in Portland (our company home town), some of the leading work is emerging from Portland State University and the work of a terrific innovator and scholar named Janet Hammer.

Download Janet’s latest work on the social bottom line and deepen your understanding of the issue and the tools to address it.  Three more resources here, here and here.

And let us know what you think.  And let’s move this forward together.  Or we’re not going to make the meaningful lasting change to which we aspire.

February 7, 2010

Thought Experiment

Worked for Einstein, so why not?…

That's Scottby Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO



Let’s play a game. It’s called a thought experiment.

No, not Scott Lewis, but we can understand why you'd think so...

Einstein, Thought Experimenting

Legend has it that Einstein used a thought experiment to get the idea for special relativity, and also to challenge a physics concept called quantum indeterminism.

Way beyond me...

Einstein's though experiements on quantum indeterminism

So if it worked for him, perhaps a similar exercise – a game played with our imaginations – can help us solve a less technically challenging but perhaps more politically daunting question:

is it possible that our elected officials could, conceivably, someday, do what it takes to help us solve the climate crisis?

Is it even possible?

Seems like great material for a thought experiment.  So here goes…

Suspend Disbelief.  Use Your Imagination.

Suppose for a moment that every member of congress, and the president, all had a family member (or, since we’re talking politicians, a lover in Argentina) whom they loved dearly, held hostage. (Remember, this is just a thought experiment, not a suggestion. So keep Homeland Security off my phone lines, okay?)

Imagine, if you will, that all these elected officials  – and let’s throw in appointed officials like the Secretaries of Energy, Commerce, etc., a few supreme court justices, as well – knew, without the slightest doubt, that if they didn’t execute a strategy within 12 months that would have us on 100 percent renewable energy in a decade, they’d never see their loved one again. (Or, if you want to make it more believable, assume the threat is they’d never get re-elected again, something they REALLY care about.)

Lewis' thought experiment on Congressional indeterminism. Senator 1: "Hey, let's come up with a solution to global warming and that Lewis dude will let us out of here." Senator 2: "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's invest in renewable energy and conservation!" Senator 1: "That's a GREAT idea; why didn't I think of that before?!"

How many of you doubt for a second we’d have 100 percent renewable energy in not only ten years, but five years?

We certainly have the technology.  The real single point of failure (SPOF), as my risk analyst friends would call it, is political will.

What To Do About It

We have to let our voices be heard over the din of the fossil fuel industry and its paid lobbyists.  Let your senator, congressperson, local and state officials know that this is a priority issue for you, you will vote for anyone who is committed to a crash program to get us off fossil fuels, and against anyone who won’t!

If you don’t know who your elected officials are, or how to contact them, you can find that information here.

And keep thinking…

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