Did you see the headline? Court OKs dumping gold mine waste in lake – AP, if you missed it, I am not surprised. I didn’t hear a peep about it on TV news nor did I read it in the papers. When I DID find out about I was outraged. “How could they do that?” How could they allow this mining company to dump the waste into a lake when everyone, including the mining company says it will kill every living thing in the lake? Surely, the Justices are not that cold and callous and anti-environment, there HAS to be more to the story than that, doesn’t there?

I searched online for an answer. Let me tell you, I found a lot of outrage, I lot of opinion in the “blog-o-sphere” on both sides but I wanted more answers. So, I did something I have never done before, I downloaded the entire Supreme Court Decision to read it for myself, every word, all 49 pages of it. Now let me be totally transparent with you, I am not a lawyer, but let me summarize.

Basically, Coeur Alaska, Inc. plans to reopen a gold mine that has been closed for over 80 years. Due to changes in technology (froth-flotation) they can now economically extract the gold that prior has proven to be too cost prohibitive to mine. The problem? The remnant of froth-flotation is a rock and water mixture called “slurry”. The company was faced with the problem of what to do with gallons and gallons of the slurry, produced at a rate of 200,000 gallons A DAY. Anecdotally, this slurry also contains copper, aluminum, lead and, my favorite, mercury. So after contemplating this dilemma, they decided, let’s dump it in Lower Slate Lake. The fish in that lake aren’t special, they are just “common fish”, we know it will kill them. In fact, operations of the mine and the dumping of the slurry will raise the bottom of the lake 50 feet. Folks, the lake is only 51 feet deep! Essentially, they are going to fill it in, divert the streams that feed into it, around it, kill every living thing in the lake, then when they are done, (now this is my favorite part), they are going to dredge it all out, clean up the lake, and restore it to better than before. Really? So this company is going to create a man-made lake that is better than the one nature created in the first place? This I gotta see! I have seen a lot of man-made lakes in my life and they all have one thing in common…they look man-made!

Coeur Alaska (coeur is French for heart, by the way, isn’t THAT ironic?), filed for permission to dump the waste with the EPA, no wait a minute, that’s not right, they filed for permission to do this with the Army Corps of Engineers. What? The Corps of Engineers? Well, the Corps granted the permit and plans proceeded. A collection of environmental groups sued under the Clean Water Act stating that the EPA should issue the permit, not the Corps and that the slurry discharge would violate the Clean Water Act itself. The District Court decided in favor of the mine, so the environmental groups appealed. The Ninth Circuit Court overturned the lower court decision, so the mine appealed. Enter, the Supreme Court.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court found that the Corps did have permission to issue the permit under the Clean Water Act. Section 404 gives the authority to the Corps to issue permits for the discharge of “fill material”. The definition of “fill material” includes slurry. (Can you guess which administration amended the definition of “fill material” to include slurry? Let me give you a hint, they were in office after the Clinton Administration and before the Obama Administration). The Court also found that the performance standard of the Clean Water Act does not apply to “fill material”.

I could go on, but you can read it for yourself if you’d like. I must say though, I agree with the dissenting opinion of Justices Ginsberg, Stevens and Souter, while they agree that a permit for fill material could be issued by the Corps, they contend the discharge is a pollutant and therefore covered by the performance standard and must be authorized by the EPA, stating in part that the Clean Water Act reads “The use of any river, lake, stream or ocean as a waste treatment system is unacceptable.”

Are you still with me on this one? Let’s go back and look at the due diligence done by Coeur and by the Corps. As part of the due diligence they are required to look at alternatives. In this case, according to both killing of a lake is the better alternative, the lesser of two evils, if you will, than the option of piling the 4.5 million tons of slurry up on the land surrounding the mine. The Supreme Court decision even speculates that the resulting pile will be larger than the pentagon and would destroy the wetlands surrounding the mine.

So these are the only two choices? Kill a lake, or destroy a wetlands? Is there nothing else that can be done with the slurry. The mine argues anything else would be too expensive, so if we won’t play be their rules, they aren’t going to re-open their mine, and they’ll just take the 200-300 jobs with them and go home. Well, that’s one way to get what you want in this economy. Threaten either the loss of jobs, or the loss of a promise of jobs that don’t even exist in the first place. If you can create jobs it’s ok to rape the environment? If the new technology is only economically viable if you destroy a lake, then I don’t think the new technology is economically viable, do you?

I don’t know about you, but I am still outraged. Write to Coeur Alaska expressing your outrage, write to the Corp of Engineers with your opinion, write to your Senators and Congressmen asking them to eliminate the ambiguity in the Clean Water Act as pointed out in the Court’s decision.

As I stated when I started writing “Rivers of Thought” several months ago, I intend to write about a wide variety of topics from the environment, to sustainability, to history, to whatever. So today I am writing about Hip-Hop, yes, Hip-Hop…a pretty strange topic coming from a classic rock junkie to be sure.

A year ago I knew nothing about Hip-Hop, never listened to it, never cared for it. I can remember telling my sons what back in the day that rap and Hip-Hop burst on the scene that it is a fad, just like disco, and it would disappear. I probably even told them that if they were still listening to it in 10 or 15 years, then come tell me how great it is. I, like a lot of people my age, had a preconceived notion about the music and frankly about the performers. I probably had the same view of this genre that my parents had of rock back when the Beatles and the Stones invaded America.

I never thought I would become an adult that would judge people based on appearance. My generation was looked down upon because we wore our hair long, grew beards, wore bell-bottomed jeans, and had our own way of communicating with each other, from “hey man”, or “dude”, to “groovy” and “peace” to the even more obscure. Our songs had meanings that only we could understand. To our parents it was too loud, all about drugs, or sex, anti government (ok they WERE all about drugs and sex and anti-government but don’t tell my folks!)

I can remember several years ago taking my son and a couple of his friends to a Jay-Z and DMX concert. I never felt so out of place. It was too loud, I didn’t understand any of the words, and everybody was dressed funny. I can’t remember now if it was Jay-Z or DMX or Redman or Method Man, but one of those guys wore his pants so low he spent the entire show grabbing them and hitching them back up. Don’t know if any of the songs were anti-government, but I know that sex and drugs were covered. At least I think they were, even when I could understand the words, I couldn’t understand the words.

Just about a year ago my son, Brad, launched his career in Hip-Hop. Through his various gigs I have had the opportunity to meet a number of local Hip-Hop performers and have gotten to learn a little about the business of Hip-Hop, yes the business of Hip-Hop. These guys (and gals) are working incredibly hard at pursuing their dreams of expressing themselves through music. Most of them are working full time at other professions, while spending the remainder of the waking hours performing, writing, producing, marketing, selling, networking, negotiating, and promoting their music. Watching Brad navigate through the business side has been a fascinating experience. He’s had some wonderful experiences and some “learning experiences”.

Underneath the sideways, oversized hat, the baggy shirt and pants, underneath the necklaces and “bling” are business men and women tirelessly working for the love of the music. Shame on me for falling into the trap of generations and judging based on the clothes, or based on the music.

So to Jaecyn, Rusty Redenbacher, Son of Thought, Ace One, Saint Recon and of course, Brad Real thank you for letting me hang and for the honor and privilege of sharing your music with a 51 year-old former long-haired hippie freak.

Peace,

Papa Real

Something about the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act (aka The Stimulus Package) has been bothering me for several months now. Until recently I was not able to really put my finger on what was bugging me.

It started with the initial discussions surrounding it. Yes, it is a staggering amount of money. Yes, the country is incurring huge amounts of debt. However, many of those that came out in opposition were using the “we are mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s future”, “we are piling debt on their backs”, or “our children will not be able to pay off our debts”. These are the same people that want to continue to burn oil, gas and coal to power our daily lives. If that is not mortgaging our children’s future, I don’t know what is. Every mile we drive, every lump of coal we burn, creates a huge burden of debt on our children’s head. Even if you don’t buy into global warming or climate change, you cannot argue that our addiction to fossil fuels is creating a huge health burden for the future. Coal is a cheap fuel only because we are not paying for its full cost.

Almost immediately after ARRA was signed into law, I would sit in meetings with other business professionals and invariably the discussion would be splattered with comments like “I want to get a piece of it”, “we have to figure out how to get a hold of our share”, or “where can we find a project to submit”. One website that was gathering project information had over 9,000 projects for the state of Indiana alone. This was before one dime was released or even before we had any understanding of what was in the volumes of text of the bill.

Recently, I participated in a workshop helping to provide information regarding the stimulus package. I sat at a table with one gentleman that admitted he was embarrassed to be there. When I asked why, it was because he was so against the Stimulus Package and the Obama Administration that he didn’t really want to take the money. Almost as if it was tainted or blood money. But yet he was there trying to get his piece of it for his new business venture. Unbelievable to me. This was a man who had been laid off from his company after 10+ years of service, was so against the Stimulus (which was written to create and save jobs) that he felt guilty even attending a workshop, yet was there to get funding for a new business. If ARRA had not been passed, it makes you wonder where his business would look for funding. Of course, this same man informed me that alternative energy was a joke and we would never solve the energy crisis that way (his company was building a new fuel efficient engine). We needed to rely on nuclear. When I admitted that I struggle with the nuclear question because of the toxic waste, his answer was that we bury it and sometime in the next thousand years we would find a way to dispose of it by blasting it into the sun.

Now, really? First of all, isn’t that kind of like hiding your head in the sand and letting our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren solve a problem that we create. (Kind of like borrowing from the future isn’t it?) Then, seriously, we are going to blast it off to the sun? When are we going to learn that trashing the natural world is only going to cause problems in the future? Who knows what kind of problems that would cause? We already have to worry about space walking astronauts getting clobbered by junk we sent up hurtling through space.

Ok, I digress, back to the Stimulus Package. Most businesses will not receive funding directly, especially small businesses. Yes, there are some provisions for small business like the elimination of the SBA Loan Fees, however the majority of businesses will benefit from the stimulus by providing goods and services to businesses or government agencies that ARE receiving funds. I heard some excellent advice last week that made me realize what was bothering me so much about what appeared to be almost panhandling. Ed Dougherty from B&D Consulting in Washington, D.C. had this piece of advice for businesses looking to gain from ARRA. Look first at your own business strategy, and then look to see where your strategy aligns with the goals and objectives of the stimulus package. Once you have identified where your strategy aligns with the goals then you can begin to identify the projects and the companies that are being funded by the stimulus and initiate your sales and marketing methodology to target those projects and companies. This really made sense to me. In a sense he was saying to remain true to your business strategy. Don’t change the focus of your business to chase the stimulus money, but rather, seek the areas of alignment. I’d be willing to bet a significant number of those 9,000 projects are those that don’t really fit the strategy of the company or companies that submitted them.

Mention Green IT to most CIO’s and they will talk about reducing the energy consumed by their data centers through strategies like virtualization, data de-duplication or cooling alternatives. Some may talk about energy settings on the desktop, LCD monitors vs. CRTs or maybe even desktop virtualization. Fewer still will go beyond the traditional role of IT and talk about things like building lighting systems, HVAC systems or building plug loads. In fact, very few CIOs get involved in facilities management or building operations. 

 As a former CIO, I think it is time we ventured beyond the accounting systems, order management applications, and website software, roll up our sleeves and learn about the buildings we work in every day. Technology can have a significant impact on the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building. Let me rephrase that…Technology can have significant impact on the reduction of the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building.

The popular quote, “If you can measure it, you can manage it,” certainly holds true in the area of energy consumption. This is where IT comes in! Building Management Systems (BMS) have been around for many years now. Typically, they are a single PC connected to the HVAC system that lets the technicians control the operation of the equipment. Some systems take it a step further and connect the building systems back to a central server that gathers the data, sends out alerts, and provides some reporting on the information. This has given birth to middleware applications that warehouse the data and provide analytics and additional insight into the information. Many of these systems have roots from the equipment manufacturer themselves. This has led to multiple standards, multiple formats and disparate systems that don’t communicate well with each other. As more devices become IP-enabled (lights, window shades, water systems, and yes, even paper towel dispensers) this issue will continue to grow.

This provides an incredible opportunity for IT help the business harness all of these systems and their data and drive costs out of the business. Every dollar saved through energy reductions has a direct impact on the bottom line results of the business. Whether you are a tenant in a building, the building manager or the building owner energy reductions can generate substantial savings, and, in the case of the building owner, increase the value of your asset.

CIOs and IT departments everywhere recently received a huge assist from networking giant, Cisco. They recently announced the launch of a new application, EnergyWise. EnergyWise will reside on Cisco switches and provide the capability to capture energy data from devices connected to the switch and, more importantly, they will be able to control the energy used by the devices connected to the switch. Initially, the management and control will be for devices that are powered by the switch using Power Over Ethernet (POE) technology. Subsequent phases will extend to Non-POE devices and building management systems.

This puts the CIO on center stage and gives him or her the ability to remove thousands of dollars of cost from the company. Remember the IBM commercial about green IT? How much did we spend on energy last year? The opportunity is enormous!

I was watching a local news segment the other day about the announced closing of the Macy’s store at a shopping center here in Indianapolis. The reporter was interviewing a woman, who had not realized the store was closed and had obviously attempted to shop there that day. When asked about her feelings seeing the store closed, she replied (and I paraphrase), “Well it’s really sad, another store abandoning the area all because they can’t make enough money.”

Really?

Really?

Does Macy’s have a moral or social obligation to keep a store open that does not meet their profit guidelines? They are in business after all to make a profit, aren’t they? And, if Macy’s does have that obligation, then don’t we have the obligation to shop there? I wish the reporter had asked the woman where else she was shopping that day. Wal-mart? Or perhaps some other discount retailer? Or maybe they should have asked how many times she comparison shopped and bought the same item from another retailer because they had it for a few dollars less than Macy’s.

It raises some interesting questions and it creates a vicious cycle.

As consumers we are always shopping for the lowest price, many times willing to give up brand loyalty, store loyalty and even quality to get it. This drives the small retailer from business, the larger retailers are constantly cutting costs to keep margins, and manufacturers also are forced to cut costs to make a profit. This can lead to lower wages for employees, jobs sent out of the country, reductions in quality, and ultimately to the elimination of the brand altogether. This, in turn, leads to workers making less money or losing their jobs, therefore needing to shop for the lowest price. We have met the enemy, and they are us!

On the other hand, businesses that continually raise prices as a way of increasing profit margins, or continually cut their costs to the detriment of their employees or their supply chains or the planet to increase their profit margins also contribute in large part to the cycle. (Yes, I believe businesses should make a profit!)

It raises some interesting questions, does it not?

For those that are wondering, yes, I know how to spell awareness (and so does my spell checker)!

I recently read the book “Awearness”, by Kenneth Cole, yes, that, Kenneth Cole, the fashion designer. (Thanks for the gift Jane!). I must admit, I was not AWARE of Mr. Cole’s involvement in social, environmental and political issues. He truly leads his company with a triple bottom line approach of People, Planet and Profit.

 It was my reading of this book that inspired me to create the “Rivers of Change Action Alert” that many of you received. (If you did not receive it and would like to receive a periodic email highlighting areas in which you can become involved, or you would like to see a sample, please drop me an email or post to this blog).

 The chapters in the book are divided into issues confronting the world such as: Political Activism, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, AIDs, the Environment and more. Each chapter begins with an introduction of the topic by Mr. Cole. Following the introduction are articles written various people, some who have reached celebrity status and some who may not be household names. These articles zero in on specific aspects of the issues. One of the things that set this book apart in my mind is the way each chapter closes.

 Each chapter ends with a section titled “HOW TO…” which details several ways an individual can get involved with the issue covered in the chapter. These actions are categorized by “Time”, “Items”, “Expertise”, and “Dollars”. Following that is the “WHERE TO…” section which provides descriptions and web addresses for a multitude of organizations working on that particular issue.

 This book has something for everyone from Robert Redford writing on free speech to Rachael Ray on nutrition for kids. The list of authors is incredible: Melissa Etheridge, Martin Luther King III, Ashley Judd, Russell Simmons, Jon Bon Jovi, Lauren Bush, Lance Armstrong, Dr. Victoria Hale, President Bill Clinton, Sir Elton John, Ludacris, Sarah Brady, and many, many, more!

 The Environment chapter, titled “Is It Us, or Is It Warm in Here?” begins with an article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. about kicking our carbon addiction, moves through Avery Hairston encouraging youth involvement and Woody Harrelson on sustainable living and ends with Alicia Silverstone on the impacts of our diets on the environment and Lance Bass on how to spread the word. The “HOW TO…” section has suggestions for using our Time to become politically involved or encouraging involvement at work or school, and thinking green at home. The Items category recommends BYOB (Bring your own bag) shopping or building a rainwater-catching system. It goes on to encourage using our Expertise to produce a website, become a public speaker, or start a community garden. We can also put our Dollars to use by buying local, or save money by saving energy, or sponsoring and endangered animal.

 I am certainly not doing the book justice here. I encourage you to check out KennethCole.Com or Awearnessblog.Com and of course read the book! And please, let me know your thoughts after you do!

A friend of mine from Paris sent me an article that recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times (no, I normally don’t receive my U.S. news from France… just another indicator that the world is flat!): “Flat-screen TVs to Face Energy-Efficiency Rules” (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-tv3-2009jan03,0,2869589.story). The article describes the reaction of the consumer electronics industry to the proposed regulations to limit the TVs retailers are able to sell: only those sets consuming power under a certain limit will be allowed to be stocked. While these regulations have not been adopted by the state of California, it is very likely that they will be before mid-year. The industry is opposed… it will lead to higher consumer costs, it will lead to lower sales, it will lead to fewer jobs, it will lead to lower sales tax revenue for the state.  Sounds like a familiar argument? They go on to say that consumer demand will drive the innovations anyway, so why regulate it? Anyone remember the gas crisis of the 70’s? 

Another example is the movement toward green building concepts. Buildings are one of the largest consumers of power in this country, and rank above the automobile on the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere. Yet, there are still many builders today that build to the building codes and nothing more. Some of the excuses are the same ones given by the consumer electronics industry, or the auto industry or the energy industry.

This energy crisis is real. It doesn’t matter if you are a disciple of Al Gore or a follower of T. Boone Pickens. The problem is here to stay and business strategies should address it. Your business may be strictly a consumer of energy or your product may consume energy throughout its lifecycle. In both cases, you or your customers will be looking for ways to reduce that consumption.  Whether the changes are legally mandated or consumer driven the impact to your business is the same.

This does point out a very valuable lesson, and underscores the importance of a sustainable approach to business. A truly sustainable business operates on not just the financial bottom line but at the confluence of the triple bottom lines of people, planet AND profit. People meaning all of your company’s stakeholders, including your customers, your employees, your stockholders, your community and in this case government agencies and regulators. If you are like most businesses, incorporating these strategies into your business will be much less disruptive than waiting until it is legally required of you to do so.

The point is that these are complicated issues that are not going to be solved by only looking to the financial bottom line. It has to be an integrated approach that uses input from all stakeholders. In this difficult financial economy, looking out beyond the next payroll feels like science fiction. But we have to continually project ourselves 3, 5, 7, 30, even 50 years ahead as we plan strategy. We need to continue to evolve our businesses. Those that can and do will sustain. Those that don’t will simply cease to exist.

How many like to give money away? I don’t mean charitable giving; I mean paying for something and getting absolutely nothing in return.  Across the country and around the globe we spend millions each year for electricity that we never use. Called phantom power or vampire power, devices all over our homes and businesses are sucking electricity even when they are “turned off”. In the average home this can account for 5-10% of your electric bill. In businesses the power used at “the plug” can be the third or fourth highest user of electricity in an office behind the HVAC and lighting.

In some cases, this phantom power is used to keep a computer or TV in stand-by mode so that it starts in an instant. Other devices use the power to run clocks. From my kitchen I can see four or five different appliances that have a clock…and they never display exactly the same time! Still other devices use the power to do, well, nothing at all.
One of the gifts my wife gave me for Christmas this year was a Kill-A-Watt. (http://www.p3international.com/products/p4460.html)

The Kill-A-Watt comes in two models. I have the Kill-A-Watt EZ which has some additional features. The basic operation of both models is very easy. They plug into any wall outlet, then the device or devices that you want to measure plug into the Kill-A-Watt. It then measures the amount of electricity being consumed and projects the usage over a day, week, month and year. The longer it measures the usage the more accurate the projections become.

On the EZ model, you can also enter the rate your electric company charges for electricity. The EZ can then calculate costs of the electricity over the same time periods. Now, entering the rate sounds easier than it might actually be. After receiving the EZ, I grabbed our latest electric bill and was amazed to find out the actual rate appears nowhere on the bill. In fact, from the invoice itself, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of the charges.

Not to be deterred, I called our local electric company. After waiting on hold for a few minutes, I was greeted by a very friendly customer service clerk, who told me that the rates were “too complicated to describe over the phone” and instead, directed me to their website.

I jumped on the web, browsed to their site and proceeded to try to decipher the THIRTY SIX pages of disclosures and descriptions of how my electricity is charged. In the mean time, my wife called back to the electric company and got a supervisor on the phone. He was very nice and tried for 30 minutes to explain the calculations. He was especially proud of the fact that they had not raised residential rates in over 10 years. While, I guess that is true of the base service rates, but did not take into consideration the rider for Demand Management Programs (which I take to be the utility’s costs to promote residential electric efficiency, really, we have to pay extra for that?), nor does it include the Fuel Cost rider that is now being assessed, although it was calculated when oil was almost $150 a barrel rather than the $40 some a barrel today; nor does it include the rider for Environmental Compliance, which means we get to pay the utility for doing something they should have been doing all along, and oh, by the way, we also pay for the Green Power Initiative (and I am very happy to do so) which means our power comes from 100% renewable sources, so we pay for them to clean up from the coal and we don’t even use coal power (don’t even get me started on “clean” coal).
 
But, I digress. I was really writing about the Kill-A-Watt and phantom power. I have been surprised, not only by the amount of phantom power we use, but how easy it has been to begin to make changes. Admittedly they are small changes, but old habits are hard to break, and old lessons are hard to relearn. For years, we were taught to leave our computers on…all the time. How many hours a day does it sit idle? 15? 20? More? Our televisions are in standby when not in use, still consuming power.

Changing these behaviors and relearning these lessons in our offices can have even more of an impact. Walk through your office after hours some time. Count the number of office lights, conference room lights, and hallway lights still burning bright. Then look at how many computers are still turned on, monitors either in full display or with screensavers running. How many other devices are plugged in and using power? It could run into the thousands of dollars a year in utility costs for even an average sized office. Simply turning off the computers at the power strip could make a significant impact to the bottom line!

It’s about the People people!

Of the three bottom lines of People, Planet, Profit, I think People is listed first because it is, by far, the most important.  Have you ever stopped to think about the number of “mouths” your business feeds? It is an incredibly humbling exercise to go through. Start with the employees, then their spouses, add in their children, but don’t stop there. Count the vendors whose products go into yours, their employees, their spouses, their children. Look at your customers or clients. Hopefully, they are buying your product to enhance their life or business in some way. Soon, you have a very big number (and probably you counted Kevin Bacon somewhere in there).  Look to the wider community and the impacts your business has on them. Whether you are a business owner, executive, middle manager or front-line worker, each and every one of them is depending on each and every one one of your decisions and/or actions.  Its an awesome responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly.

While I don’t think it is  feasible to consider each and every stakeholder in every day-to-day decision, I am continually amazed how little thought is given to the impact of a decision or of an action has on one or more of them. Just in the last few weeks I’ve talked someone who has been waiting a week for an employment offer that was said to be forthcoming immediately. No communication, yes, no, or still in progress. Another employee has an annual review that is three months late. Again, no communciation, yes, no, or otherwise. I’ve talked with a small business owner who has been waiting months for an invoice to be paid with no indication as to why it hasn’t been or even better as to when it might be paid.  I could go on, but you get the point.

Part of the triple bottom line approach to management is to identify these stakeholders, understand what strategies, policies and procedures impact them (both positively and negatively), and determine ways in which to measure those impacts. Next put in place strategies to reduce or eliminate the negative impacts and report the progress.

It is not an easy process and quite frankly can be painful. However, I think two words go along way in making this process easier: communication and respect. If we show respect to our stakeholders, even those with whom we disagree, and communicate openly and honestly with them, I believe we can identify strategies to resolve most impacts and issues.