Saturday, November 21, 2009

Passive Solar at Work

The late afternoon sun streams through a bank of south facing windows to cast warm rays across 18 feet of living room. It creates beautiful shadows amid the warming rays. Passive solar design is primarily to allow the natural heat of the sun to warm the home but the natural light is also fabulous. This is what makes an ordinary home extraordinary. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Building on Beauty

Randy Veitenheimer was a guest speaker on the final panel at our OLLI class. People were intrigued by his discussion about the "community overlay" he has developed as an economic redevelopment tool for Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

His strategy has several tenets. One is based on increasing the amount of opportunities for social interactions. This allows for an exchange of economics of course, yes, but equally as vital, giving

Another is to build beauty. A beautiful structure is not diminished by people looking at it. No one saves an ugly building from demolition, but a beautiful structure will be repurposed and remodeled for decades or centuries if possible. Beauty gives. 

Rights and Responsibilities is another tenet interwoven into his approach. Your community deserves to be beautiful AND each member has an obligation or responsibility to provide beauty by whatever means they possess. Everyone can do something.

Randy quoted the Navajo poem "Walk in Beauty" as a source of inspiration. Google it and read aloud. 

Randy's house is 1,300 square feet but lives large. Infill. Fruit trees. 9 ft ceilings. The thoughtful details abound. It has taken 3 years to build because it is build to last a century. The intentionally is what sets this house apart from others. It provides shelter, it gives beauty, it is not a burden to its future owners. "It is finished in beauty," echoes the Navajo. 

When I see cheap thoughtless new buildings erected in my community I cringe at the permanent blight being forced onto the public realm. When the only metric is the economic dollar, beauty is cut from the budget. It is no small tragedy to watch selfishness manifested in the name of economic development. The track house, the metal building, the bare structure, these all favor only one but cheat the rest. We must be proud of what we do and what we build, it is a measure of our humanity. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009


"Notice" she slowly repeated with emphasis to make sure I had heard her use her newly found word. Sage, now two, began our conversation this morning with this statement. 

"I NOTICED my bow. noticed."

All day that "noticed" stayed with me. Isn't that how we gradually change our culture and develop an environmental ethic, by noticing? 

There is distinct perception and deliberate discernment in the word noticed. It implies that intrinsic value has been assigned. She appreciated something previously overlooked.

I was overjoyed. And inspired. She noticed something tiny and lovely about her blouse today. Noticed and celebrated and shared her discovery.
This made me smile and instilled a glimmer of hope.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Osher lifelong learning institute at OSU

It has been my privilege to teach Sustainable Prosperity to the OSU alumni this fall. It has been a challenge to condense a 16-week class down to a 4 hour buffet. The final session had a plethora of multi-media clips which are now assembled in one easy-to-access place. Enjoy!

The OLLI members asked the same questions as the college students. Where is our leadership?! Why isn't anybody doing anything?! Well.... they say when you point one finger in blame three others on your hand are pointing back at you.

Our conversations circle back around to education, citizenship, and ethics. Frankly all three involve a lot of work. Yet I am hopeful because sustainability is being universally demanded by multiple generations. Do you suppose it is instinctual? I know it is contagious. I propose the motto:

Sustainability: The Good Pandemic

The photo? My 10-year-old son rocking climbing Old Central. Hanging on to education is what OLLI is all about! Click on the links in green below to connect to a 1-3 minute video clip of the topic.

Latest News in Science (also bad news): CO2 levels have not been as high as they are now for 15 million years. 15,000,000 years. We are at 387 ppm now and 350 ppm is considered a stable desirable level. We increase 2-3 ppm every single year. Like compounding interest, we are compounding carbon.

"We Call It Life" commercial by the people who want you to believe CO2 is nothing to worry your pretty little head about.

Bill McDonough of Cradle-to-Cradle Fame speaks at Wal-mart (24 minutes)

Just like the Wal-Mart store, you could spend an entire afternoon on their sustainability site:

Ray Anderson, Greenest CEO in America speaks for 15 minutes.

In summary, a 12-minute video from Patagonia with many thought leaders on achieving sustainability in organizations. Refreshingly honest.

Why I won't switch to CFLs with toxic mercury to save $10 per month on my lighting bill but instead employ natural daylighting and dimmer switches.

I hope you have enjoyed this free education brought to you courtesy of the Environmental Science Graduate Program at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kiddie Urban planning

I love 2nd grade for many reasons. Mostly though because they let me teach city planning to 7 year olds. Second graders are indignant about ugly, thoughtless development. They demand beauty. They recognize form. They "get it" more than planning commissioners do. 

They also get the importance of protecting the pedestrian and providing safe bicycle transportation. They love parks. Hell, they even get the impact beauty has on economic development. 

Our town elected a 27 year old Mayor this year. I think he might be 20 years too old. Seven year olds are brilliant when it comes to urban planning. 

Monday, October 5, 2009


Oh how I love the enthusiasm of my classes! When they learn about climate change they become enlightened and then motivated to educate the world. "We should educate Joe the Plumber!" they screamed.

In Oklahoma we don't discuss the fact of climate change in polite conversation. It is a waste of breath. People either already know it and agree with you or they are totally closed to anything that challenges their world view. 

But consider this, the official high school graduate rate is 70%, but in reality those "transfers" are usually dropouts so it is closer to 50%. So 5 out of 10 people can't comprehend any scientific conversation you may want to have with them.  But 5 can, so you try. Of those 5 maybe 2 have a natural curiosity that would allow them to explore new ideas. You also have to get through the filters of politics, religion, denial, distractions, etc. 

So let's say you have ONE person out of 10 who is reachable, but did they ask you to educate them? At least students in my classes have paid for education so I can legally shower them but strangers on the street are less receptive. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pioneer Single Mom?

This statue was erected in Ponca City Oklahoma by the oil baron Mr. Marland in 1929 to honor the Pioneer Woman. As my 9 year old son leaned against it all kinds of thoughts flooded my mind. What would his life have been like if he grew up in Oklahoma in the 1890s?  Was the Pioneer Woman a single mom? Did her other children die? 

The story of the Pioneer Woman is interesting. Over 40,000 people came to her witness her unveiling and to hear humorist Will Rogers speak. Considering the population of Ponca City in 1929 I can only assume every living being within 50 miles came to this event.

Life before fossil fuels. Hmmmm. They had a lower carbon footprint but only because of limited income I'm sure. Sustainable lifestyles are equated with lack; is there a type of rich, affluent modern lifestyle that is also sustainable? I suppose we'll have to find one, or die trying.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Some Bad News is too Good to keep secret

Weathercocks and signposts: The Environment Movement at a Crossroads is a critical re-examination of the assumptions underlying current approaches to motivating environmentally-friendly behaviour.
Simple and Painless? The limitations of spillover in environmental campaigning presents a critical examination of the evidence that urging people to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs encourages them adopt more ambitious changes.

Both these reports are readable, fascinating, and paralyzing. Download and despair with me!

Speaking as an average American energy glutton, I was able to cut my carbon emissions by about half through good choices, behavior modification, and a lot of insulation. When I think about what is necessary to cut emissions 90% I recoil at what that means for my lifestyle.

In the limbo game it is fun to sing "how low can you go?" But I'm not entirely sure I could sport a bikini and actually shimmy under a blazing limbo pole. And if I can bet I would sell tickets to see that!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Speth is someone who writes books I consider seminal. I stayed up until 2 am reading his latest book "Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, Environment and Crossing the Crisis to Sustainability." I like happy endings so I flipped to the back of the book for the answers.

Reading all these different sustainability perspectives was like looking at Michaelangelo's David sculpture in Florence. It never looses the beauty or intrigue for me. Sustainability, an art form?
Michaelango said he could look at a block from the quarry and "see" the figure that needed to be released from it. I think sustainability is like that. It is inside all of us waiting for the ignorance and apathy to be chipped away to reveal a beautiful world. At least, this is my hope.

Monday, July 20, 2009

All-You-Can-Learn Buffet

16 weeks of 16 gourmet dishes! That is how I see Sustainability curriculum. Not everyone is going to like every dish, but there are so many distinct flavors and ways to serve Sustainability that each semester becomes a buffet of topics.

I like to try new recipes and new ingredients in an effort to continuously improve. My students are like my tasters. From them I learn how to make the topics tasty. To them I am grateful.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thinking about the Future

Today was a good day for thinking. I met with my marketing advisor and together we pondered some good questions. His specialty is personality traits so we discussed if there were radio talk shows in Europe that influenced the politics and science. The one that stumped me was "can a far right wing conservative known to be low on openness ever become a sustainability advocate?" I'd like to say everyone can hold their exact beliefs, maintain their lifestyle choices, and just snap their fingers and become sustainable. But I don't think that is possible.
Can I overspend daily and build a savings account?
Can I eat like a pig and remain slim?

No, we probably can't ask people to change but I predict a gradual evolution across society will occur over the coming decades that will create a more widespread mindset rather than the polar opposites that paralyze progress today. I think our children will be as ashamed of our ignorance as we are of our ancestor's discrimination.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

CO2 per minute of fun

On Friday night I saw the new movie "Transformers" and on Saturday night I attended an outdoor wedding at the lake followed by a band and dance at the picnic pavilion. Reflecting on my weekend entertainment choices I had to ask myself how much CO2 was emitted in the production of this multi-million dollar film vs. how much the simple little country wedding created. Like MPG, maybe there should be a carbon-per-unit of fun measurement. I'm pretty sure I had more fun watching real people sing and dance and hug under the moonlight than watching computer animated robots explode for two hours.

A low-carbon economy might just be a high-fun society to live!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Edge vs. the Top

It is NOT lonely at the top, it is lonely at the edge -- the cutting edge. At the top everyone wants to be your friend, at the edge you stand alone. They also call it the bleeding edge which is the second clue it is a painful place to be. When I spoke in front of the city council tonight I was bringing mainstream global thinking to mainstreet middle America where it is viewed with great suspicion as cutting edge risky propositions. Ironically the sustainability knowledge I shared with my local government officials is not even cutting edge in other parts of the country. Opportunity doesn’t keep knocking until we are ready, it moves on to receptive people willing to open their doors.

My friends tell me I am once again too far ahead of the curve and that I should not waste my time. Dress rehearsals are important. Citizenship is rarely a waste of time; it is a privilege and responsibility. Some people confuse this as leadership, but that is not accurate. An innovator invents for the love of creation; followership is not required. The innovator sees a way to make the world a better place and expressing that vision is an absolute joy. I have special knowledge I shared with my city tonight. They may have to hear it ten times before it becomes familiar and acceptable. And I really don’t mind paving the way for that tenth person who will be heard. Who knows, I may even get back in the queue and be that tenth person. The point is to persevere toward progress because it doesn’t happen by accident or apathy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

One Room School House of Sustainability

Each semester a new class begins and offers an array of students with varied backgrounds and different levels of environmental savviness. My goal is to offer challenging topics while not overwhelming newcomers to the field. The one room school house is my favorite analogy; it is a place where everyone helps everyone else. The wise teach the new. The young eyes bring fresh perspectives. It becomes a community of sustainability. 

Everyone is still learning. Everyone. That includes world leaders, CEOs, professors, and me. Nobody was born knowing this material and no one knows it all. Trust me. Sustainability is like a door into another world. Some people walked through their doors years ago, some days ago. Some were pushed like I was. Nevertheless, eventually we all will find our door and follow the path that is right for each of us. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brand on Your Radar

Be personally optimistic and globally pessimistic... Stuart Brand

Before the Wikipedia, The Internet, Apple's Hypercard or even the J. Peterman catalog...there was The Whole Earth Catalog.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Learning Composting

I teach myself as I teach others. I have had very little experience with composting table scraps. I found this used compost barrel for $25 and considered it an expense no worse than a textbook. I am still making my first load of dirt and not sure I'm doing it entirely right. It has attracted gnats. I mistakenly included my eggs shells and that may be the problem. My gardening consultant now tells me the round style compost makers of wire that sit on the ground are better and easier. Turning this handle every day SEEMED like a good idea at the time but summer vacation plans have prevented me from turning it properly everyday. I'm not giving up. Yet. But I'm not persevering forward anymore. I stopped saving food scraps until I figure it out. I'm learning too. I would probably sell it for $20 in a heartbeat.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Corporate Social Responsibility with Kellie McElhaney

Amazing people sweep through Oklahoma. Last week it was Dr. Kellie McElhaney, a professor from Berkeley. Her specialty is corporate social responsibility aka "corporate citizenship." Her pitch to corporations is to make their philanthropic causes align with their core business mission. Sometimes the obvious just isn't.

Kellie is an engaging speaker who amazed and delighted MBA students with her fresh take on maximizing shareholder value. Her Whirlpool example was a real tear jerker. Sales also increased.

Buy the book and you'll have a first-class understanding of CSR.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Teacha Teacha

Maybe a college instructor isn't supposed to care quite so much but I am so fond of my students. I look forward to watching them learn the language of the industry, reading their papers with dozens of typos, and seeing those light bulbs go off above their heads. Sustainability is a funny field; it ranges from moments of gentle ecological enlightenment to being horrified and sometimes even morally outraged. Sadly the semester is coming to a close which means I'm also inventing extra credit opportunities to help those borderline students who were distracted by life.

Today some my students went to their first city council meeting to watch citizenship in action. We have a new Mayor who is a 27-year-old OSU student. They saw people standing up for principles. At issue was a $25 fee assessed to Senior softball players who lived outside the city limits. Dozens of citizens gave up their evening to politely protest this discrimination; it was the principle not the money. Sustainable societies springs from citizenship.

The $25 fee generated a total of $750 additional revenues, but it was a net loser because teams disbanded taking with them thousands of dollars of team fees. Teams opted not to travel to Stillwater for the day; there is a loss of economic development. Goodwill was not increased. If you take a sustainable holistic analysis of this situation, it becomes clear the community backlash coupled with revenue loss makes this $25 fee suddenly not a viable idea. I think they can find a win-win, even now, because a dialogue has been initiated.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Greenest CEO in USA

Ray Anderson Speaks in Tulsa

I very well could be Ray Anderson's biggest fan in Oklahoma. I have a deep abiding respect for all he is and does. He is the CEO of Interface Carpet: a one billion dollar carpet company with 27 plants worldwide. He read Ecology of Commerce in 1994 and became a "reformed plunderer" who publicly states his quest is to make Interface a restorative company. Ray earned the ultimate green business PHD: Paul Hawken Degree.

As a teacher of green business I have to confess, Ray is the poster child for what I want all my students to become. You can hear his famous speeches on Google video or YouTube. The first thing you'll notice is his disarming southern drawl and then you'll hear him humbly speak of integrity, responsibility, courage, and love....all in the context of profitable manufacturing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lunch with a CAFO

As chance would have it, I happened to meet a representative from a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Seaboard Foods, an integrated producer of premium pork products, is one of the top ten pork producers and processors in the United States.

CAFOs are an interesting evolution in business. Think "Henry Ford makes bacon... lots of bacon." Factory farming is a logical extension of product manufacturing invented in the Industrial Revolution. This means it comes under the scrutiny that all mass production now requires and it also brings a host of ethical questions.

Because I strive to hybridize sustainable business practices I feel it is not only appropriate but necessary to engage the people from the CAFO industry. We may agree to disagree but surely we can have conversations and learn about each other and maybe, just maybe find some common ground for the mutual benefit of those in the present and those of future generations. Sustainability begins with a conversation and that begins by listening. We all want to be heard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Our thoughts Balance the World on a Fulcrum

Holy Curves

Turning PointS
A dot, a basic building block
A point, a point of view
A fulcrum, for leveraging conception
A dot turning full circle, is still a dot
A point turning, pivots understanding
A fulcrum turning, tips the balance
A dot moving, engenders a line
A point moving, engenders another
A fulcrum moving endangers the world
Our world, a dot in the universe
Our world is, just a point of view
Our thought, a fulcrum on which to move
the world

- Sachin Phatak
16th December’01

Saturday, February 28, 2009

There's No Place Like Sustainability. There's no place like sus.. t aaan.. abiiii l ity ...

One of the richer conversations in sustainability is a circular one around quality of life and prosperity. “What are we sustaining?” is posed.

Sustainability starts with palatable dialogue about energy efficiency, which slides into green business practices and sometimes metrics, life cycle analysis, cradle to cradle, or holistic planning. It only becomes beautiful when people realize that all these dance steps we learn lead us back to ourselves. It is there, as Dorothy told us and all of Oz, right there in the private life and the inner thought realm where the complexity of sustainability suddenly becomes exquisitely elegant and simple; it is no more or no less than about maintaining the connection to the authentic self and all those life forms and nature’s services that sustain our hearts and our homes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Who Matters

The majesty of our accomplishments and of Nature are obvious but cast your eyes toward the bottom of this photo and rethink what matters. Could it be the people of the world? Your newborn child? Or that one special person who holds your soul?

Perhaps what matters is the smallest of gestures, intention of actions, and the way we treat each other? I suggest all the majesty is but a glorious backdrop for those who are precious. Let's not overlook that simple tiny truth in our quest for a sustainable world.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Grading for Openness

Students assume they are graded on grammar, facts, style, articulation, effort, etc. I grade on all those too but more importantly I look for openness, stretch, and growth. WHY?! The greenest CEOs were open for but a moment in time that is when they were able to embrace the sustainable business message. That openness comes with practice and is essential to develop a restorative economy.

Are you open? Can you aspire to be open? Can you break from the comfort of the pack where people are partially open or conveniently open and find a place on the third standard deviation to the right where you are always open? Chic Thompson (earlier post) says that people think he is just incredibly lucky in business but he told me his secret to success was to be open! Click here and find out more from Wiki: Openness

Monday, February 16, 2009

Like tornados, occasionally amazing people blow through Oklahoma. Today I stood in the path of one such person, Chic Thompson who was the OSU Creativity Festival keynote speaker. Since I was blocking the door he decided to stay and chat. What started as a casual conversation about my online teaching experiences became a pinball wizard tournament. We solved most the the world's problems in alphabetical order, no less. No, really our conversation circled around how to coax people to be more open, more compassionate and more sustainable. It was an absolutely pleasure to exchange ideas with a creativity guru.

I encourage you to wander his website and read about the world's most prolific inventor.

The bad news is that we have a design problem. The good news is that we get to reinvent everything. This is a great time to embrace innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity all under the guiding principle of sustainability. We can despair about the state of the world or we can do something about it. Sustainability really isn't an option; the alternative is rather bleak.

“What a great time to be born. What a great time to be alive. Because this generation gets to completely change the world.” - Paul Hawken 2008

Touch This Earth Lightly

For me Australian Glenn Murcutt defines what a green architect is. I heard him give the keynote address at the USGBC GreenBuild in Portland. I laughed, I cried, I held my breathe and remained mesmerized with rapt attention. I was so moved by his presentation that once it was over I hurried to the stage to meet him because I wanted to beat the crowd. I stood alone. The other 4,000 people had headed for the exit.

So I said what any unbashed fool would say "this way sir" and I escorted him off stage as if I was some kind of conference host. We exchanged a few broken sentences about architecture poetry as if complete thoughts were unnecessary. There are those rare moments in life when you can look into the eyes of a stranger and sense their essence . . . then words fall away.

He knew he had touched a core in me with his design philosophies and that I was a grateful repository. The room was full of architects but I felt like that day I alone heard him. I think he saw that too. His out-of-print book Touch This Earth Lightly is an intriguing story about sustainability that goes beyond architecture and has become a seminal work in my development.

I am fond of saying "In five years, you will be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet." This book, this person, changed me.

I see Murcutt won another award despite his low-profile.

Your It

"The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his own education." – John Gardner from Self-RenewalThe image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hijacked Heart

I received a lovely Valentine card from my zen friend David Corzilius, a kindred soul in San Francisco, and then I realized Halmark has hijacked this holiday into one for school children and lovers but left out the most vital form of social capital: friends we love.

Last night I attended a live play at the turn-of-the-century theater The Pollard in Guthrie, Oklahoma. The audience was full of people I loved: my fellow Lions club members, my parents, various Senators, a former president of OSU, my date, my mentor, etc. The play was good but the audience was divine. New couples, blind dates and 50 year sweethearts filled the place with good vibes. I took note of the "social capital" being exchanged during each intermission. Handshakes, greetings, hugs, and business cards were flying.

Dr. Halligan mentioned I was glowing with happiness and I suppose I was. I recognized the world was perfect and beautiful for that moment in time. Sometimes sustainability is like having Nemo matrix vision where you see invisible patterns and although you can't explain it, it is a source of bliss.

If there is one thing I have learned about sustainability it is that genuine collaboration in the foundation. Social capital builds the trust necessary for collaboration to flourish. There is forced collaboration (i.e. eminent domain) and there is genuine collaboration entered into with good faith that seeks a win-win.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Wanna car for no good reason. Consumerism is ingrained in our psyche whereas sustainability is a new mind shift that says buy only what you need. I catch a lot of flack for driving a Chevy Tahoe, but it is paid for, loaded with options, and in great condition. I even researched the environmental footprint of buying a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV and quickly concluded even at 12 mpg it was greener to keep the Tahoe in service.

Still, like that little guy in the mirror, that voice of consumerism nags at me. "You know you want it," it says. "Isn't the Lexus lovely?" If I bought a new car every 5 years that is 12 cars in a lifetime. Many people buy a car every 2 or 3 years; that's 24 brand new vehicles to satisfy their craving. Think of the resources it takes to construct 24 cars! Then there are those people who own only 3 or 4 cars in a lifetime.

The only thing about breakfast that was easy was the egg

Mom's Diner was packed this morning so I shared a table with a WWII marine. He was 87 years old, not terribly clean, but terribly lonely. He told as much of his life story in 30 minutes as possible. When his breakfast arrived he let it get cold so he could get in a few more stories.

Fred had been a teacher and principal in Arizona and a perpetual defender of the underdog. He talked about how he admired the fighting ethic of the Blacks in WWII even though they were treated with prejudice by the white society back home. They fought not for the racists they lived among at present but for the principles that had yet to manifest fully for them. They fought for ideals and freedom. He admired them.

Fred revisited one theme over and over during the conversation: men who father children and walk away never to know them. That was one circumstance that had stumped him his whole life; he just couldn't understand it though you could tell he wrestled with it many times.

When I am 87 I hope I am not still muttering about damaged people who try to do damaging things to others. It is a waste of better invested in understanding global causes and offering societal solutions. Those men are symptoms of sick society with a rot deep in the core. Women who worship their VISAs are just as sick. Not only is society based on unsustainable business practices, we have millions of individuals who are unsustainable at their core being. If they can't even manage their private lives, can they be expected to create or even participate in a sustainable society? (no.)

In my utopian society everyone is healthy, emotionally and physically. There is no place or reason for malice. There is no greed, no waste, and no hate. Will we ever evolve to that point? I think we have to . . . if we are to survive as a species. Evil (or fill in the blank: wrong, malice, laziness, violence, abuse, etc) is a form of wasted human capital. It is entropy. There is no waste in nature. I look at all the plants and animals that have evolved and wonder when will the humans evolve? Will technology exasperate the situation or propel us closer to a utopia? This isn't just wishful thinking, it is survival thinking.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to Us!

Happy Birthday to Sage! Now two. And Me. Now two years older than when I gave birth to Sage on my 43rd birthday.

My strategy is to take away one of my years and give it to her so she can grow up and I'll become ageless.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Watched TV today

I wanted to see how the other half lived (or the other 99.5% lived.) The noise and light instantly assaulted my senses and I had to turn it off for a few minutes before I could make another run at it.

Those first peaceful moments of the day are holy . . . evidently. I like the quiet; I enjoy my thoughts. I like the sounds of my environment, urban, rural, mountain, school, playground; they are all real. All sounds naturally generated by the place are appropriate and fulfilling. I like engaging people, I don't like people squawking at me on a box. Like bizarre Japanese food, at least I can say "I tried it."

I crossed paths with Jerry Mander a few years ago. Literally, I walked perpendicular across his path several times over the course of the day. Though not directly involved with sustainability, he is very well known in the environmental circles. I'm not quite sure why he was at The Land Institute in Salina Kansas, but he was. He has a lot to say about TV and is quoted here:

I do watch DVDs, YouTube comics, and 15-minute talks so I'm not media-deprived but mass market television is a whole other drug.

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."
- Ellen Parr
(Thank God. - Jane)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Tragedy of the Common Folks

Sustainable Business is focused on economic development, green technology, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, making money while going green, greening the supply chain, et al but the tragedy I see as the most important and the least addressed is the tragedy of the common folk that is, the everyday man and his or her shattered self and family.

Wes Jackson’s position is that we don’t get sustainable agriculture right, then all the other efforts don’t matter. We’ll starve. Okay, I’ll give him Maslow’s base on the triangle. But I’ll take it one step further. If we don’t create socially sustainable societies of people capable of compassion, all the solar panels and biofuels and locally grown food does not matter because our family structure is so utterly broken.

When half the students who start high school in Oklahoma City do not graduate the first tragedy I think of is the lost potential. I’m not referring to earning potential, although that is certainly compromised, but the human potential of becoming a fully functioning person who taps their talents and becomes a contributing member of our society, yes our society not just theirs. What happens to people we don’t know matters, whether you think it does or not, it matters. Living a sustainable life means not just getting the carbon footprint down but sustaining the family unit.

I can speak to this not from the pulpit of righteousness but from the heart that has been broken. I’ve seen berated children paralyzed with fear accompanied by their damaged mother in a domestic violence shelter. I’ve seen people make drugs and alcohol (and other addictions) their God. I've seen people bored with themselves and bored with life; this is a living death. We live in a world that ignores spousal abuse, accepts divorced families, panders to deadbeat dads, and allows child neglect in the name of adults’ rights. What is "Legal" and what is "Right" drift further and further apart. Modern society also scoffs at balance and spiritual growth, encourages debt, discourages citizenship and celebrates consumerism. No amount of sustainability research is going to find the technological fix for a disintegrating society.

Solar panels and wind energy can power our homes but will we be more prosperous or more content in our own homes when strife and dysfunction are the norm? Suburbia and isolation are not normal yet that is where most of us reside, so I have to wonder, do we even know what is normal, good and healthy? The accountability and support that came with the village concept was traded for privacy and property rights. We shortchanged ourselves.

Wendell Berry says “ However destructive may be the policies of the government and the methods and the products of the corporation, the root of the problem is always to be found in the private life. We must learn to see that every problem that concerns us … always leads straight to the question of how we live.”

As a self-appointed change agent I have had to realign my goals to accept I cannot change the world, but I can change one world – mine. And just maybe that will make a ripple that will rock some boats and make a bigger wave. Tending my own knitting certainly keeps me busy. The serenity prayer asks “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

And where does one go to learn wisdom? Beats me, but I had a friend remind me just today that they hide the darnedest things in books. I agreed and jested that if they wanted people to know they would have made a tv show.

Wisdom is no more rare than air, we just don’t recognize it.

Painting by Mark Chagall

Friday, February 6, 2009



Lovely concept. Beautiful imagery. I don't recommend repeating this word in a loud crowded bar after a few drinks. People will think you are a crazy lush. And maybe you are, but that would beside the point, if I had one.

I do think each of us has the innate ability to listen to our instincts and develop a unique business or a unique mindset in an established business. How do you find your passion? Read. Learn. Stay Open. It will find you. Your place is to recognize it when it crosses your path. Now go! Learn something new today! ...even if it just something about yourself.

Jane's Brain

I read. There, you have my secret. I read about things I don't already know about. I read when I don't have to. I read for fun. I read outside my field and outside my comfort zone. People who gravitate toward sustainability have high tolerance for ambiguity. I haven't learned my cutting edge knowledge from classes on campus; I've learned it by reading the writings of the most brilliant thought leaders of our time. My goal as an educator is to give my students exposure to those sources. Someone pointed the way for me and it is my turn to point for others.

I had an educator tell me one time that "you can lead a horse to water and though you can't make him drink but you can sure make him thirsty." Grades create thirst, but I hope that some how there is a deeper thirst in a person, that they find the drive to learn in order to improve themselves and improve their ability to affect their world for the better.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

New Life = Sustainability

Sustainability, when done properly, is extremely humbling. After 5 years of reading sustainability topics every day I really thought I knew the field inside and out. How naive. I knew the mechanics, the characteristics, the terminology.

It wasn't until this baby came into my life that I truly understood the depth of the concept of "sustaining life." I spent 10 days in silent meditation being open to the ethereal invitation to bear a child. (that is proof I am a slow learner, a quick study would have needed only 10 seconds to accept such a gift) I named her Sage meaning a "profoundly wise woman who is a gentle shade of green."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What I love about Sustainability

Sustainability covers so many topics I often struggle to describe what it is exactly that I find so utterly fascinating about it. But one day it hit me. They say to master a topic or skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. My odometer hit 9,999 finally and when it rolled over, this is what I realized:

Sustainability is endued with reverence. It doesn't marginalize the weak, it recognizes the inherent value. It doesn't externalize the problems on the silent, it takes all into consideration. Through Sustainability, discernment about what is important and what is not becomes clearer. This world is full of meaningless consumerism, shallow words, and careless actions...but Sustainability points to what is meaningful.

Sustainability is: respect for all living things, love of life, commitment to sustain life, celebration of cultures, pursuit of the truth, a reverence for science. Sustainable thinking means embracing the mysteries and reveling over all things good.

Sustainable business finds the path of "right livelihood" and provides value now but with the twist of conscious intentions. Sustainability does the right thing, even when no one is looking. Integrity. Honesty. What's not to love about that??

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lovable Climate Change Skeptics

There are many ways to interact with a global warming skeptic. One site offers "How to Talk to a Skeptic" line by line.

But I don't recall ever being approached by a skeptic who said "please tell me how wrong I am." We all have a given amount of energy and we have to decide where to invest it.

I have 3 very dear friends who are pronounced skeptics each for vastly different reasons. I have another 3,000 friends who are not skeptics, but it is these 3 that vex me sometimes because I LIKE them and RESPECT them for being wonderful, intelligent, humorous, kind people. One is an astrophysicist PhD and dean, one is a modern day medicine man who was also my doula, and one is a brilliant metal artist.

As a teacher I strive to give people the tools to development discernment of the truth. But those people have paid tuition which implies they have asked for my direction in their development. My three amigos have not asked that of me.

So how do I deal with those 3 people? I LIKE and RESPECT them. They don't have to think like me, read what I read, live like I do - they can just be themselves. They are perfectly wonderful people. Occasionally I tease them I will prepare a delicious dinner of Roasted Crow for them to eat. But then again, I may have to eat my own cooking and if that happens I can only hope they will be as gracious to me as I strive to be to them now.

There are few issues that warrant damaging or limiting relationships especially when those relationships are so highly prized.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Power to the States

On today there was an article reporting Obama had sent a memo asking the EPA to consider allowing 14 states to set tougher emission standards. I have to say, I respect states that want to be more accountable than the minimum required under federal law.

We saw this with California when they changed their building codes in response to the 1970s oil crisis. They now use 40% less energy per capita than the national average. They dared to be better and build better and they accomplished both. Impressive. I sometimes wonder if California is their own country or really part of the U.S.

Also, in my UK building newsletter, they reported that Obama is looking to UK for leadership in green building. They have the "Code for Sustainable Homes" that puts our green efforts at a distant second. As a building code, it may be a tad tough to achieve, but at least they set the bar high. It is about time we "adopt and adapt" some proven sustainability ideas from our "socialist" neighbors who figured out some of these challenges years ago.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Vancouver Miracle

What makes it a miracle is the transformation from forgotten dump to world class city in just a short 30 year time span.

I was fortunate to work for one of the original architecture/planning firms that helped facilitate this change. I chronicled the stories as told by the inner circle. They were stories about change, collaboration, humility, courage, political will, visionary foresight, and hope.

Sounds like some guy in the White House doesn't it? But Vancouver wasn't just a top down miracle, it was ALSO a grassroots effort and an economic business decision. You might call it a convergence of ordinary flawed human beings who were committed to making their corner of the world better for themselves and for future generations.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lightning in Ojo

Ojo Caliente, New Mexico is where I first encountered Sustainability on the ground. Johnny Waterman gave me a tour of his off-grid home. He educated me on solar energy, small wind turbines, passive solar, grey water, black water, composting and rain catchment systems.

His 3,000 square foot home cost him $14 per month to operate. It was mortgage free also. I knew he was a retired physics teacher so I asked him what he did for a living now.

"ANYTHING I WANT TO," Johnny replied with a smile. That was my lightning bolt.

I returned to Dallas. I paid my $2,000 mortgage, $450 electric bill, the $200 lawn care bill, the $1,200 nanny, the $1,000 car payment, the $250 water bill. Johnny lived on 9,000 gallons of water per year. My water bill showed I had used 27,000 gallons in ONE month. I used a three year supply of water in 30 days. Lightning strikes twice.

Johnny was a kind teacher. He did not belittle me for my excess and ignorance. He spoke his truth and let me convict myself. As I read about America's green CEOs I see a similar pattern. Each was approached by a trusted friend and were ready and able to hear the message without someone screaming at them. We are all always learning.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Spy

We were honored to have Senator Paul Muegge (center) speak at the Sustainable Enterprise class at OSU yesterday. Mr. Muegge was in the Oklahoma State Legislature for 12 years and won the JFK Award for Profiles in Courage in 2004 for his stand against the hog CAFO industry in Oklahoma. He also appeared in the documentary "Shall we Gather at the River" which is about the environmental consequences of the poultry CAFOs in Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.

It was a public lecture and the turn out was an interesting mix of people: a few retired professors who have followed Paul Muegge's career, a few curious Ag Econ professors, community members, and 14 lucky OSU students enrolled in the class who get to be on the front lines.

Mr. Muegge is a straight shooter. The talk was very candid. The strange part was that there were someone from Tyson in the audience. He is a paid expert witness who testifies in the court cases on behalf of Tyson. The newspaper in Stillwater did run a front page story that Mr. Muegge's lecture was open to the public so anyone was welcomed. It just seemed this person came to spy but not to dialogue or offer other opinions to explore. We try to hear all sides in a classroom and help students develop discernment. Someone mentioned the state of Oklahoma had spent $25 million in legal fees against the poultry producers (Tyson included).

A central tenant of Sustainability is TRANSPARENCY. Hidden agendas are not necessary, not appreciated, and not part of authentic sustainable business. In the lecture it was mentioned that Tyson controls 85% of our beef, chicken, and pork eaten in America and our role as a consumer is to keep American corporations honest by watching them, demanding safety and quality, and supporting the enterprises that uphold Sustainability principles. I, for one, will rethink my next chicken purchase at the grocery story.

Photo: Jane Talkington, Senator Paul Muegge, Bill Holmes during an Oklahoma Sustainability Network state board meeting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wind-Wind Situation

Harnessing the wind has propelled our civilization for thousands of explore, to trade, to hunt, to war, to pleasure. A wind turbine is a beautifully designed, elegant solution.

Photo credit A figure from Antony Gormley's "Another Place" welcomes one of the Tall Ships to Merseyside as it sails past the Burbo Bank windfarm on the approach to the Port of Liverpool on July 18, 2008, Liverpool, England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Born Knowin' Nuttin'

Knowin' Nuttin is Oklahoma-speak for "Knowing Nothing" as in we are all born knowing nothing and only through our own efforts and the efforts of benevolent teachers and parents and community do we learn anything at all. So people are often surprised that I listen to global warming skeptics. I'm curious about how they came to hold their belief system about climate change. They obviously have had a different set of information thrown in their path so I'm curious to see if their position is based on science or second-hand science or group think or their religion or their politician or denial to remain sane, et al.

Scientists state that science is an evolving field that builds on cumulative knowledge. That makes a lot of sense to me. It takes great humility to be able to adjust your position based on new facts as they become available. The opposite would be true, supreme arrogance, if scientists carved every theory in stone. The media can be unforgiving of this evolution. Even by definition a "learning process" is a process, adaptable, shifting, learning, cumulative. There is new discussion that climate change is just a risk management analysis. Being able to access which path to take is less about arguing about the validity of the science and more about being able to recognize and choose the least risk option.

Different Places

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cree Indian Prophecy

"Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."

Stevie "no wonder" Forbes

Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine spoke at OSU today. He chronicled the events and people that created the economic crisis then he listed his recommendations to fix the economy for the new administration. I was impressed by how gracious Mr. Forbes was toward President Obama, especially considering Mr. Forbes made two attempts to get the Republican Presidential Nomination. He showed deep respect and reverence for Mr. Obama as a person and encouraged all Republicans to support him which is a message this red state desperately needed to hear. He praised Obama's intellect and his collaborative approach.

I did disagree with one of Mr. Forbes' recommendations. He suggested the federal government guarantee home loans of 4% through the banks in order to jump start the housing market. At first blush this seems like a good thing. But having lived in a tower in downtown Vancouver BC as well as a single family home in the sprawling suburbs of Ft. Worth I now take a strong, yet unpopular position AGAINST single family homes. Single family homes are the BANE of sustainable societies.

Having personal expertise in these two industries (home building and sustainability) I predict with some confidence a 4% mortgage would indeed send people running to the builders demanding more single family homes in the suburbs. They would be even bigger homes that used even more energy. Fewer than 10% of all homes built in this country have been constructed to meet Energy Star standards. Why is that? Energy Star only requires that a home tests out to be 15% more energy efficient that a home built to the minimum code. How hard is that? Evidently it is daunting for the majority of the builders. More homes means more carbon dioxide spewing into the air.

More (big, energy inefficient) homes also means more sprawl because few cities have government officials who grasp the long term financial implications of sprawl. Or care. More infrastructure such as sewer maintenance, water service, fire and police protection. More sprawl means mass transit becomes even more unfeasible. Sprawl means more single occupant vehicles driving further to work so carbon dioxide emissions increase even more.

Yes, a frenzy of home building would create jobs but at what environmental costs? Mr. Forbes no doubt understands monetary policy more than I do but does he understand systems thinking and has he considered the irreparable environmental impacts of generating massive economic growth rates? I listened closely and never heard Mr. Forbes say the words "environment, natural resources, degradation, or sustainable economy." I was disappointed because I expect smart people to hold a more sustainable state of mind. Economic activity is based on natural resource extraction so basing our existence on economic growth without asking if we have the resources to support that growth is not wise. No, worse, it is foolish.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Meth in Oklahoma" TV Show Tues 6:30 pm

There are 86,000 Meth addicts in Oklahoma, a state of 3 million. I see every social problem as a symptom of some unsustainable practice. What is it about our state that drives people to be illiterate, unhappy, high-seeking, and Inhofe devotees?

The police got rid of 90% of the meth labs a few years ago so now the users just import it from Mexico. The supply will always find a way to fill a market demand. So it begs the question , why is there a demand for this life-wrecking product??

Just because you don't use this drug doesn't mean it doesn't affect you. You drive on the same streets, you shop with them, you are their neighbor, and you will likely be their victim either indirectly or directly. Over Christmas someone broke into my car in my driveway and stole $1,500 of merchandise. It was likely a drug user needing cash to fund his habit.

When you run a business you will have to find qualified, trainable, drug-free people to hire as employees. Good luck in Oklahoma. Half the students who start high school in Oklahoma City do not graduate. You may have greened the supply chain, lowered the carbon footprint of your product, recycle, and support green business in every way possible, but with a workforce with these kind of issues, you will be limited in your success at running a green company.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Learning Curve Balls

If we could read a book per class, boy howdy we would really be able to establish green business in your minds. First we have to establish what the problems are, hash out the science to understand those issues, determine what the constraints are, and finally what the solutions might look like. But no solution is perfect so then we create more problems and more constraints.

What I can do is give you 28 articles on various topics and point you toward the top resources and authors should you ever need to investigate it further.

I do consulting in Green Building. I tell clients that when they google that term they will find 23,000,000 links to investigate. If they spent one minute per site, night and day, every day of the year, it would take 43 years to investigate those links. The other option is to ask me to identify the top 20. That is what I can do for you as students - shorten your learning curve or at least your wandering curve. I have spent five years in Sustainability following rabbit trails, tracking trends, reading authors, etc. I have 16 weeks to sell you the top 20 things you should know.