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??