Posts

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.