Archive for December, 2011

December 14, 2011

Eric Corey Freed on “Innovations That Would Freak People Out”

By Brandon G. Sprague, Brightworks Communications Team

Eric Corey Freed, organicARCHITECT

Eric Corey Freed

We at Brightworks are frequently in conversation with clients, partners and the media about what’s new and what’s next in sustainability. Heading into 2012, we sat down with architect, innovator and thought leader Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT to get his perspective on the future of green building. A frequent speaker and author of four books on sustainable design, Eric shared his views on the limits of “sustainable design”, the three most critical issues for the building industry in 2012, and the next waves of innovation.

Brandon G. Sprague: Organic Architecture is an approach to the design of buildings that has guided your career. How do you describe Organic Architecture?

Eric Corey Freed: For decades now, we’ve had this thing called “green building” or “sustainable design” which dictates that the designers, builders, owners, and operators of buildings orient them in certain ways and take responsibility for the energy, water, and materials used in them. Defined this way, sustainable buildings are pretty straightforward. Make “better” siting and material and building system choices and you make a “better” building by focusing on the nuts and bolts of the building’s assembly. Organic Architecture – which is the term Frank Lloyd Wright used for designing the way nature designs – looks beyond that, into how the form and structure is shaped by these natural principles.

10 Principles of Organic Architecture

Photo via organicARCHITECT

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December 14, 2011

Developing Your Talent for the Business of the Future

Nate Young Backpacking on Washington's Olympic PenninsulaBy Nate Young, Brightworks Education Coordinator

It goes without saying that conducting business “sustainably” requires a new paradigm of operations. Given that, it should also go without saying that businesses will need a different employee skill set as well. Unfortunately, companies that pursue sustainability are often hesitant to equip their employees with the necessary knowledge and tools to realign their operations.

Gap in Corporate Sustainability Initiatives and Staff TrainingA recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted this disparity. “American companies don’t seem to do training anymore,” it declared. While the U.S. unemployment rate is almost 9 percent, 52 percent of employers reported having difficulty filling positions because of talent shortages, according to Manpower. By offering “just a bit” of employee training, these companies could develop the talent they need.

Instead, in-house training opportunities have all but dried up, the article reported. “Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand.”

And yet, opportunities abound for professionals to develop the skills that make sense for progressive companies: from ongoing workforce education programs (like we offer at Brightworks) up to a graduate business degree with a sustainability focus.

To get a better idea of the benefits of burnished sustainability skill sets, I chatted with Scott Marshall and Alison Dennis of the Portland State University (PSU) MBA program. Given that PSU’s MBA program was recently ranked by the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes as the best small business school in the world, I figured they understood what skills companies should and would look for in new and existing employees.

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December 13, 2011

Clear is the New Black

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOby Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEO

A couple of weeks before the 35th celebration of Earth Day in April 2006, the New York Times declared “Green Is The New Black.” The article reported on how environmental friendliness had reached into consumer trends, business and fashion, and stated, “Eco-awareness is becoming a hot topic and a growing business.”

Five years later, an Obama has replaced a Bush in the White House (and finally done something for the planet); the economy is showing tentative signs of life after suffering a meltdown; and green has gone from trendy to what the MIT Management Review calls “table stakes” for doing business. As companies and industries move from compliance to strategic investment in sustainability throughout their value chain, the new watchwords are disclosure and reporting.

We’re now in the age of transparency: Clear is the New Black. Hiding sustainability exposures behind the veil of corporate secrecy is shifting from common practice to a sign of weakness. Today, leading companies – in sectors ranging from consumer goods to major extractive industries – are producing public reports with greater detail and transparency than ever thought possible.

Public Reporting Requirements Grow

In the U.S., two recent developments have hastened the shift toward greater public reporting of sustainability risk, opportunity and progress:

  • Under a federal rule (referred to as “Part 98”) published in October 2009, all “large source” greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters in the U.S. are required to track and report their emissions. The rule, under what is also called the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), covers more than 10,000 facilities in the U.S. and accounts for more than 85 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In January 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission – the federal agency charged with determining what business risks publicly traded companies must document in their quarterly or annual reports – for the first time included climate change on the list of required disclosures.

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December 12, 2011

Move the Market, Don’t Let the Market Move You

Josh Hatch, Director of Sustainability Analytics, BrightworksBy Josh Hatch

For those of you impatient with progress on sustainability in our society, I have wonderful news: Sustainability is here. Today.

OK, we haven’t literally solved it. But it is possible, within reach even. This is encouraging, right? Most of us worried about sustainability are concerned we aren’t moving fast enough — and we aren’t. But not because renewable energy isn’t cheap enough, worldwide climate protection policies are insufficient, or Whole Foods’ Organics aren’t organic enough. Nor does sustainability cost too much, require additional technological breakthroughs or need further study.

Progress is being held back by the widespread, self-defeating business mindset of “waiting for a good time” to consider sustainability — when the best time is always now.

Why Standing Still is the Greatest Risk of All

Truly innovative and leading organizations make decisions with imperfect or partial information, or in spite of immature or uncertain technology. And they use creativity or partnerships to work around financial obstacles. They are successful independent of these limitations — perhaps even more successful because their competitors stand flat-footed, unwilling to challenge assumptions that prevent action.

Unfortunately, sustainability won’t be “easier” to address in the future when solar energy is cheaper and ecological impacts are fully valued and integrated into reporting. Why?

  • Sustainability problems – such as risk of climate disruption and increasing prevalence of toxins in our air, water and soil – are becoming increasingly severe.
  • Available options and resources – such as time to act, collective willpower and financial resources – are becoming increasingly limited. Inaction or complacency based on deferred action is a human behavioral phenomenon. Decisions by society or corporations to defer or de-prioritize action on sustainability represents a mental barrier more than a consequence of technology, information or financial resource limitations.

Forward-Thinking Decisions That Pay Off

The Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius, Forward-Thinking Success. Photo via Consumer Reports

Many companies have defied predominant business norms or customer preferences and transformed their industries for the better. A modern classic is, of course, the Prius. For automakers, developing a hybrid-electric vehicle seemed niche at best and suicidal at worst. Previous electric car efforts had gone poorly for other manufacturers. And there was a very small market, at best, for these expensive, fuel-sipping vehicles when Toyota began their designs. But when the company released the first Prius, they had a multiple-year lead on the entire automotive industry and are now the de facto “brand” of hybrid electric vehicles.

Who in your company has the analogous good idea that is being prevented from implementation?

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December 8, 2011

Four Trends in Corporate Sustainability

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Sustainable Systems Groupby Dave Newman, Senior Strategist

This two-part post is the result of more than a dozen in-depth conversations with leading sustainability practitioners, most of them within Fortune 500 companies. We wanted to understand the sustainability trends these practitioners see to help us convey where, why and how leading companies are engaging sustainability to achieve their business goals.

This piece will explain the trends themselves. Part two will focus on how leaders are accomplishing their work and the first steps others can take to stay competitive.

In the last four months of conversations, we saw consistent sustainability themes emerge as companies move through the cycles of their business: from procurement and resource use to measuring and marketing. Leading companies are:

  • Acknowledging their supply chains
  • Examining their relationship to nature’s systems instead of single elements
  • Improving their data quality
  • Telling customers simple, memorable stories with that data

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