Ecological Thinking

Transforming the Financial System: Perspectives and Ideas

Monday, December 16, 2013 by

By Don Shaffer, RSF Social Finance

When you are looking for the new or emergent, you usually have to look off-the-grid. In many ways as RSF Social Finance has grown, we too have had to go off-the-grid to develop our unique approach to finance.

In 1984, a school burned down in New Hampshire. RSF organized a group of investors to rebuild it. Since then, we have made over $275 million in direct loans to social enterprises. Our track record has been excellent, with just 2 percent in cumulative loan losses over 29 years, and a 100 percent repayment rate to investors.

The key: bringing investors and borrowers closer together. We have found that if the individual investors who are providing capital and the social entrepreneurs who are borrowing capital can be more visible to each other – if they can understand each others’ needs and intentions, and sustain a personal connection whenever possible – then risk decreases and fulfillment increases.

Participants in a transaction become participants in a relationship. We believe this is nothing less than the antidote to modern finance, and can be applied on a substantial scale. It is the opposite of high frequency trading.

Specifically, four years ago RSF adopted a new approach to loan pricing for our $100 million flagship senior-debt fund. Each quarter, we convene representatives from our staff, our investors, and our borrowers to decide what annualized return rate investors will receive the following quarter, and what interest rate borrowers will pay – a radical form of transparency.

We call it community-based pricing. The response from participants has been overwhelmingly positive – and our interest rate, referred to as RSF Prime, has been very stable. We are now off-the-grid of the global financial interest rate system and no longer directly affected by the vagaries of Wall Street.

But of course the vast majority of all 401(k) programs, pension funds, and endowments are tethered to Wall Street, so it is naïve to believe we are fully off-the-grid.

This circumstance leads to questions many of us in the social finance field think about:

•  What is it going to take for the number of socially and environmentally-focused investors to grow substantially?

•  Can it happen fast enough for those of us who acknowledge the urgency of climate change and natural resource depletion?

•  Are there enough sound investment opportunities for investors who want to go off-the-grid?

•  How will we address the perennial issues of risk, return, and liquidity when there are so few established intermediaries in which to place funds?

•  What are the long-term implications for those of us who anticipate needing funds for retirement and who want to embrace off-the-grid investing?

A Generational Voice

I believe the very definition of wealth will change in my lifetime (I’m 44), where measures like GDP evolve to measures of well-being. These indicators will put spiritual, community, and ecological health at the center of the human experience and pull us toward an economy and supporting financial system that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships.

This article continues on Green Money Journal.

Developing a Lexicon for Ocean Preservation

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by
Water covers more than 71 percent of the earth's surface, yet we have no international ocean police. (Photo, Kevin M. Gill, flickr)
Water covers more than 71 percent of the earth's surface, yet we have no international ocean police. (Photo, Kevin M. Gill, flickr)
Almost a year ago to the day, I found myself diving in the Cook Islands with Conservation International’s Sylvia Earle, Greg Stone and Peter Seligmann.  Perhaps you recall my article “Diving with the Dream Team”?  This was my first immersion, literally and figuratively, into the recently raised – and critically important – issues surrounding ocean conservation.   A lot has happened in the last year to make this a topline agenda item for NGOs, members of the business elite, and conservation societies alike.   To use an appropriate metaphor, ocean policy and preservation is the next big wave of environmental consideration and concern.
Think back to Teddy Roosevelt’s initiatives to promote nature and encourage land conservation in the 1920s – we are at that same point in time with regard to the oceans.  As in, the first inning.  No, make that top of the first inning.  It is an exciting field to study but one that resembles the Wild Wild West.  I hope to shed some light on what important new and existing preservation projects mean to the public, the fish, the coral reefs, and our future.  We are past the point of prevention but rather, we must undo some of the damage we have done – caused mainly by ocean acidification, overfishing, and bottom trawling.  There are many new and vague terms that leave the average swimmer, diver, and/or surfer, palms up.  This will serve as an introduction to the vernacular being used to describe these projects.
Let’s start with ocean acidification.  Basically, this refers to the increased carbon dioxide that is now in our atmosphere.  Thus there is more carbon, and less oxygen, directly contacting the oceans at sea level than in the past.  This is negatively affecting the health of coral reefs and other flora and fauna underwater.
Now about overfishing.  Think about this in a different way: On terra firma, vehicles are generally limited to paved roads.  And we have a huge infrastructure of local, state and federal police who patrol our roadways.  Now think of the skies, which are carefully supervised by the FAA, designated airspace, and a large network of control towers in major cities throughout the globe.  Both on land and in the air, penalties for not following the rules of the road can be quite punitive.  Simple enough.
Currently, without a network of satellite monitoring AND collection of significant fines in place, there is essentially no punitive way to stop overfishing and other detrimental activities. (Photo, wikimedia)
Currently, without a network of satellite monitoring AND collection of significant fines in place, there is essentially no punitive way to stop overfishing and other detrimental activities. (Photo, wikimedia)
Now, think about the oceans.  Water covers more than 71% of the earth’s surface.  Yet we have no international ocean police, no “ocean FAA” if you will…only a relatively infinitesimal handful of Coast Guard and related non-military vessels, worldwide, to guard the seas.  So what’s a mother to do about less-than-trustworthy fishing boats – mostly carrying the flags of European and Asian nations – that are overfishing, bottom-trawling, shark-fin-hunting and other extremely damaging activities?
Over 100 million sharks are killed every year -- mostly for their fins, as in shark fin soup. Unconscionable. (Photo, fastcompany)
For this answer, I sought out a few of the world’s leading experts, including none other than Sir Richard Branson.  He is a member of a group called the OceanElders, which consists of 14 dignitaries who are committed to protecting and preserving the world’s oceans and the wildlife therein.  Other members include Queen Noor, Ted Turner, Neil Young, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jackson Browne, and Dr. Sylvia Earle, among other luminaries.  Anyway, I asked Branson if by using technology, is there any way to successfully monitor the oceans for commercial fishing vessels, polluters and other maritime villains?  His comments:
OceanElders, a group of 14 dignitaries who are committed to protecting and preserving the world's oceans and the wildlife therein. (Photo, oneworldocean)
“Remote sensing of shipping from satellites is already a reality. Vessels that carry the required transponders can be tracked and identified in real time. The flaws in the present systems are that vessels can turn off the transponders and that they are not mandatory for all vessels. International agreements and treaties can fix that. The UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the best agency to organize and execute an improved ship location program.”
Out of the UN’s 193 member states, 170 are currently members of the IMO – including both large and small players alike, such as China, Japan, US, UK, Thailand, Madagascar, and Mozambique.  “This means that once an action is approved by the [IMO], that action has force of domestic law in the member states. So a more vigorous ship tracking program can have teeth,” Branson explained.  But what about enforcement?
“One option that is technically feasible today is unmanned vehicles (AUVs) that are constantly on patrol and prepared to call for assistance when needed. Another enforcement idea that really appeals to me is to develop a global directory of fishing vessels which habitually fish in distant waters from their home ports.  As trespassers are identified, they go into the database and are flagged.  A similar scheme is used by many of the major maritime nations to identify problem vessels. Those in the database that have poor safety and/or operating records can be denied entrance to seaports or will not be allowed to depart unless certain remedial steps are taken.”
Map of Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) in the Galapagos.
Branson provides a realistic and honest appraisal here of where we are on this pressing issue.  And clearly, we are indeed in the first inning.  What happens when a less-than-honest fishing vessel enters a protected zone and dredges the area for sharks, killing everything else in the net’s wake and disturbing the coral to boot?  If the ship’s transponder is turned off before committing the crime…nothing.  And currently, without a network of satellite monitoring AND collection of significant fines in place, there is essentially no punitive way to stop this activity.  Which is why 100 million sharks are killed every year – mostly for their fins, as in shark fin soup.  Unconscionable.
So are there any parts of the ocean that are being protected?  There are a number of marine protected areas (MPA) throughout the world.  One small but significant example lies in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, called PIPA for (Phoenix Island Protected Area).   PIPA is located in the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-BAS), an ocean nation in the central Pacific approximately midway between Australia and Hawaii. PIPA constitutes 11.34 percent of Kiribati’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and with a size of over 150,000 square miles, it is one of the largest marine protected areas (MPA) in the Pacific Ocean.  (For more info on PIPA, listen to this TED Talk.)
Conservation International’s Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist, Gregory Stone, was the driving force in conception and creation of PIPA.  Kiribati has declared that three percent of this EEZ is a “no catch zone” and fishing is strictly prohibited.  Three percent may not sound like much, but this is still a large area – 4,500 square miles – and it is home to high value reefs, bird nesting islands, and tuna fishing grounds.  There is a sensitivity here because poor countries such as Kiribati derive significant income from taxing the fishing vessels. Thus they must be compensated from other sources to make up for the lost revenue in return for their cooperation.
Covering over 150,000 square miles, PIPA is one of the largest marine protected areas (MPA) in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo, Conservation International)
I had an opportunity to catch up with Dr. Stone on how Conservation International (CI) is trying to craft a way to monitor the PIPA area, among other protected waters. “We are talking to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) about how we can use satellites to monitor the waters.  Extremely sophisticated aerial cameras are available, and these could be used for ocean surveillance and enforcement.  If we can create a way to document the presence of a vessel and, through licensing and electronic observation, obtain the name and home base of the boat, we would then be able to track and ultimately enforce severe fines and other penalties,” he explained.
Indeed, enforcement is easier when there is a government that has rights to the water space in question.  What happens when this is not the case, for example, in the Sargasso Sea?  The Sargasso Sea is the earth’s only sea or ocean without a land boundary. This extraordinary open-ocean ecosystem is bounded by currents circulating around the North Atlantic sub-tropical gyre.  The Sargasso Sea provides habitats, spawning areas, migration pathways and feeding grounds to a diverse ecosystem, including a number of endangered yet commercially important species.  Dr. Earle has called it “the golden rainforest of the ocean.”
I consulted Sargasso Sea expert David Shaw, a respected business and social entrepreneur who is also a National Park Trustee. Shaw put into proper perspective the challenges the environmental world faces when trying to educate the public on the threats to ocean health. “A big issue is trying to create a consciousness about the world’s largest habitat.  Unlike the terrestrial world, ocean health is often not part of our daily thoughts in the same way that unhealthy air, rivers or land may be. We need to understand that world oceans are not infinitely forgiving…we cannot see all the damage. And we are best served if debate about ocean health and other environmental issues is based on fact-based science versus emotional arguments,” Shaw explained.
Shaw is founding chair of an alliance formed to study the ecology of the Sargasso Sea and to create a range of stewardship measures to conserve its health.  The Sargasso Sea Alliance is led by the government of Bermuda, working with other nations as well as NGOs.  So far, among other results, the Alliance has developed a robust “Summary Science and Evidence Case for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea” with over 74 collaborators.  Under executive director Dr David Freestone, the Alliance is planning to bring the governments of the countries around the Sargasso Sea – including the US, Dominican Republic and Portugal – together with the European Union Commission to Bermuda in 2014 to sign an international declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea and to establish a permanent Sargasso Sea Commission, based in Bermuda, to oversee the health of this unique high seas ecosystem.
Dr. Sylvia Earle has called the Saragasso Sea "the golden rainforest of the ocean." (Photo,
The urgency to protect ocean wildlife is not strictly the fantasy of environmentalists and watermen.  We are talking about a far more serious question: How will we feed the world 20 years from now? Indeed, if we do not stop the systematic destruction of our ocean resources, we could have a serious seafood shortfall; this is on a collision course with simultaneous population growth.  It would seem the key is to create a way to monitor overfishing, and soon.  The concepts that Branson and Stone talk of, using GPS and related technology for this purpose, would seem to be our best chance for monitoring the oceans successfully.  Question is, who will organize the nations of the world in this effort, and how do we effectively police two thirds of the earth’s surface?  If we don’t collectively address and solve this pressing issue, the phrase “plenty of fish in the sea” may turn into a deadly falsehood.
Read more by Jennifer Schwab on her Inner Green.

BOOK REVIEW: Chocolate Nations

Thursday, August 29, 2013 by

Chocolate NationsOrla Ryan is a well-travelled financial and investigative journalist who lived in Africa for four years (Uganda and Ghana). Currently writing for the Financial Times in London, during the time of this book she was commissioned to Reuters and this project came out of a special grant for investigative reporting.  During her time in Ghana, she was specifically focused on the cacao industry.

The fundament of her book is about exposing the realities of the daily work program and calling on better education and a less corrupt government, and she really writes this for conscious consumers. The book is a good eye opener for those who love chocolate and want to inform themselves more about the complexity of the environment of cacao farming in West Africa. Given that there are almost two million small producers in West Africa, who farm and produce about two thirds of the total world cacao crop these are highly significant stories to tell. Not just from the economics, but the human aspect.

For perspective fifty percent of the world's cacao beans come from Ghana, the world's second-biggest producer, and its neighbour Ivory Coast, the world's biggest.

You want to read her work because she’s not emotional, but rather factual about the description. Giving a fair say to everyone involved. You might find it difficult to read as it looks at the causes of farmer poverty, and you’ll see an almost helpless role within the context of global commodity trading and the simple farmer’s daily battle to just live from his crops. Economic and geopolitical analysis with the human touch, it gives you a clear view of what is going on with the majority of chocolate.

It is a quick read, eight chapters in 160 pages. Weekend reading, where you will probably clean your cupboards out thereafter and look up more about sustainability reporting in chocolate.

You’ll read that for every £1 chocolate bar, just 7p is spent on cocoa ingredients, while 43p goes to the manufacturer. You’ll look for justice. And hopefully, start within yourself. What gifts you give, what snacks you enjoy, and just start looking at the back of pack a little more.

Typical cacao farmers receive just 4 per cent of the final price of an average bar of milk chocolate in Europe.

Ryan’s book gives you a background on Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire cacao farming histories, and then highlight where and how child labour is used on cocoa farms (specifically child and slave labour). Stories of government and cacao board corruption, the role of international traders who come to town to try and help. She shows how unfair Fair Trade is and that in current economics, there is dwindling futures for chocolate, by simply no-one wanting to go into the business anymore.

  ‘Orla's Chocolate Nations is a captivating read, painting a lively picture of the West African cocoa trade from a variety of perspectives. It casts a critical eye over the role played by governments and multinationals, while also putting fair trade and child slavery campaigns in perspective. It gives us all a good deal more to think about when we eat 'the food of the gods'." - Daniel Balint Kurti at Global Witness

"A courageous and thoughtful account of a murky industry." - Times Literary Supplement

"Chocolate Nations is a fascinating account of the struggles of cocoa producers in West Africa, almost all of them smallholders, and what it takes to turn a crop of cocoa into a warehouse full of Ferrero Rocher." - Jeremy Harding, The Guardian

"Paints a disturbing and subtle picture of an industry few chocolate consumers think about." - Sydney Morning Herald

Read an excerpt from the book:

Buy the book here in Amazon

Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa (African Arguments) [Paperback]


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Thinking Outside the Bottle

Thursday, July 18, 2013 by

In the fall of 2012, green cleaning company Ecover purchased Method to become the largest green cleaning company in the world. For the first time since the acquisition Adam Lowy, Co-Founder of Ecover and Tom Domen, Head of Innovation for Ecover shared details on why this occurred and what they see in the future for the cleaning industry at the LOHAS conference.

Ecover was the first green cleaning brand that was created in Belgium in 1979 to eliminate phosphate pollution. Since then they have continued to pioneer innovations and demonstrate ecological benefits while providing a quality product. They grew to be the largest green cleaning company in Europe. Method was developed 1999 because the founders were frustrated with the way business was being done and there was an opportunity to create change in cleaning. The category of cleaning was untapped in the 90's and there was a trend with LOHAS consumers with a demand for better products. They became successful by bringing together style and substance and sustainability is built into the design of the product. The product is about making sustainability desirable and grew into a 100 million dollar company in 8 years.

Green cleaning is 4% of the cleaning category. Although Ecover and Method have a dominant position they feel that this is a failure. Their goals with the merger are to radically change the at a scale that can have greater impact. They feel there is no such thing as a green consumer. “You need breadth to cater to many needs and wants. With 2 brands focusing on 1 mission we can bring green to mainstream rather than pull consumers to think green.” Says Lowry.

Adam shared that the average person does 300 loads of laundry a year. Method created a concentrate to replace large jugs commonly used. They were able to change behavior of the consumer to adopt these smaller concentrates which are now common in stores today. This is an example of bringing green to mainstream.
Ecover and Method created an innovation roadmap to go beyond what is possible today to explore solutions for tomorrow. The roadmap dreams include growing cleaning products in the garden, washing machines that incubate cleaning products. They looked at these dreams and are building a roadmap to reality.

Key areas they plan to focus on together are:
•    Eliminating fossil fuels. Ecover is using bio plastic derived from sugar cane.
•    Provide sustainable sourcing. Ensuring sources are not competing with food, and farming is environmental.
•    Natural formed products how can we grow a product instead of manufacture one. Ecover grows surfactants from yeast and other materials that are radically low in environmental impact.
•    Be resourceful in user space and teach people proper usage behaviors.
•    Create cleaning products that make your home more healthy.
•    Partnering with cleaning appliance manufacturers to improve washing processes and be more efficient.
•    Change from selling cleaning product volume to new business models.
•    Create micro location manufacturing.
•    Improve manufacturing facility waste management.
•    Ultimately be a company that works symbiotically with both society and nature.

This model is capable of evolution and behaves like an organism rather than an organization. This has an opportunity to lead to a better world but needs business to change how they play the game. Market leaders breed a bias against progress and more of a focus on position maintenance. This It is easy to focus on incremental change rather than create a business to become a force of change. The hard truth is that business committed to sustainability must be committed to uncertainty which runs against common business practice and shareholder value. Ecover and Method both believe that this is biomimicry at an organizational level and is what is needed to make the world a better place and are committed to breaking business as usual.

You can watch their full presentation here:


Looking Forward – Relevance Achieved

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 by

socially responsible investingLooking Forward – Relevance Achieved By Amy Domini, CFA, founder, Domini Social Investments ( Article from Fall 2012 - Special 20th Anniversary issue of GreenMoney Journal and )

Looking forward ten, even twenty years, what will Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) have become? What will it have accomplished? What will the field look like? Today, I build a case for a good future. In a word, it will largely be marvelous.

Roughly 15 years ago, I spoke in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is a spectacular setting, one that makes a person proud to be in a great nation like ours, one that protects such places. Yet, as I reminded the audience that day, it had not been the public that had kept the Grand Tetons pristine. It was one man, John D. Rockefeller, who had purchased the land and given it to the nation.

This is the classic dilemma we in SRI struggle with every day. It is great that the Grand Tetons are a public treasure, but they became so on the backs of crushed labor forces, pollution and selfishness. One man made his money and then gave it away, but he set in motion the international oil industry, an industry that is robbing us of a climate, a future.

That day I challenged SRI to become relevant. Today, I can see clearly that it has. Over the next twenty years, the positions we have taken and the battles we have fought will lead to a universal understanding that what we have been saying, the way you invest matters, is absolutely correct. We will see our guiding principles integrated into the mainstream. We will be astonished at the acceptance and the impact that we have had.

How We Became Relevant - Performance Matters

Perhaps the most devastating argument we faced early on was the Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT). It argues that the previous “prudent man” idea of buying good stocks alone, created risk. Introduced in 1952 by Harry Markowitz, the original premise was simple: investors should focus on overall portfolio risk. Simply put, even if you love software, you still shouldn’t build an entire portfolio of software stocks. Astonishingly, this revelation won Mr. Markowitz a Nobel Prize in Economics and caused the entire financial services industry to argue that the individual risk characteristics of a company mattered little.

Against this backdrop, SRI seemed hopelessly old fashioned. We argue that each company, by virtue of the industry within which it operates, faces a series of risks that we label as risks to people or the planet. We then argue that taking too large a risk is not necessary and further, that it perpetuates an acceptance of these risks. Wall Street pundits stated with great authority, but with no basis, that our form of analysis flew in the face of Modern Portfolio Theory and so would fail. Our largest barrier was that, to use the vernacular, every smart person knew SRI was stupid.

The evidence proved otherwise. The MSCI KLD 400 Social Index has not only debunked the premise of MPT, but also shown that risk avoidance works. The index has outperformed -- and has done so with a lower standard deviation. Clearly, examining the risk of corporate behavior tells us something about a company that is useful to investors.

Why We Are Relevant – An Increase in Reporting

SRI practitioners have pushed for “extra-financial” data and have gotten it. At first, true comparative data on companies was extremely scarce in some areas of keen interest to the concerned investor. Any good researcher understands that the newspapers are a lousy place to start. The fact that we know that Apple sourced from Foxconn does not tell us what Hewlett Packard does. What is needed is data that is universally ascertainable, without the company answering a questionnaire (which allows them to self-define), and the data must be quantitative in nature, e.g. I don’t care as much about a statement that a company seeks diversity as I do about how many minorities have been hired.

Today, thousands of companies self-report. Whereas the one or two companies that issued Social Responsibility reports thirty years ago were real outliers, today it is so mainstream that Forbes magazine maintains a blog to follow them. Accounting giant PWC makes available the 2010 survey of CSR reporting on their website. The highlights: 81 percent of all companies have CSR information on their websites; 31 percent have these assured (or verified) by a third party. Their 2012 update contains examples of what to look for when writing (or reading) them.

Who was pushing for this disclosure? It wasn’t civil society, it wasn’t Wall Street; it wasn’t government. It was a loose confederation of concerned investors who consistently pushed for greater and more standardized “non-financial” information.

Why We Are Relevant – An Increase in Regulation to Disclose

Regulators are beginning to expand on the data corporations are required to disclose. Remember, there was no God-given definition of the right way to report financials to investors. In 1932, when reforms to protect investors began, regulators looked at some of the pre-existing methods and evaluated them. This led to audited annual reports on income statements and balance sheets. It led to quarterly unaudited reports. These had, in the past, come to be viewed as important in judging the financial soundness of a corporation.

However, the regulators did not stop with accounting issues. Given that the 1930s were a period of high unemployment, the number of company employees was considered important, and so its disclosure became mandated. There is no reason that more robust social and environmental reporting shouldn’t be in the financial reports. We already disclose a company’s hometown, without companies complaining of the inappropriateness and burden of so doing.

The Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University maintains a database of Global CSR Disclosure requirements. In it we find 34 nations are taking steps. In 2009, Denmark, required companies to disclose CSR activities and use of environmental resources. In 2010, the United Kingdom required companies that use more than 6,000MWh per year to report on all emissions related to energy use. Malaysia, in 2007, required companies to publish CSR information on a "comply or explain" basis. Regulators, recognizing the societal costs of less than full cost accounting, are moving in to mandate disclosure.

Mainstreaming - With this solid base, here come the “big boys”

Conventional asset managers and the academic community have brought SRI to the mainstream. I began by saying the future for SRI is marvelous. Consider a world in which every major financial asset management firm demands that its staff study the social and environmental implications of the investments they make and bases recommendations upon it.

But this has already begun. Consider MEAG, the American portfolio management branch of Munich Re. Their team buys only publicly traded bonds which then back the insurance the firm issues. They use ESG criteria to give their research the edge and to avoid risk. When I met with their research team, I found that they use several of Domini’s Key Indicators. No, we don’t publish the indicators. It also was not a coincidence. The two firms independently discovered the same indicators to be telling because they both use the same logic in approaching the issues. Or there is UBS Investment Bank, where analysts specifically address the social, environmental or governance risks of a company they are recommending.

Finally, look at the all-important realm of academia, where MPT began. Just three recent examples are telling:

The Impact of a Corporate Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior and Performance by Professors Robert Eccles and George Serafeim, Harvard Business School. “… we provide evidence that High Sustainability companies significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of stock market and accounting performance. The outperformance is stronger in sectors where the customers are individual consumers, companies compete on the basis of brands and reputation, and in sectors where companies' products significantly depend upon extracting large amounts of natural resources.”

Corporate Social Responsibility and Access to Finance by Beiting Cheng, Harvard Business School, Ioannis Ioannou, London Business School, and George Serafeim, Harvard Business School. “Using a large cross-section of firms, we show that firms with better CSR performance face significantly lower capital constraints. The results are confirmed using an instrumental variables and a simultaneous equations approach. Finally, we find that the relation is primarily driven by social and environmental performance, rather than corporate governance.”

An FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for Financial Innovation: Applying the Insurable Interest Doctrine to Twenty-First Century Financial Markets, by Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl, Law School, University of Chicago. “We propose that when firms invent new financial products, they be forbidden to sell them until they receive approval from a government agency designed along the lines of the FDA, which screens pharmaceutical innovations. The agency would approve financial products if they satisfy a test for social utility …”

The Next Twenty Years

This article limits its scope to only one leg of the SRI stool. It does not discuss the growth of shareholder activism, which is vibrant. Nor does it address the mainstreaming of selling products with narrow and specific social purpose, also a burgeoning field. Rather, by looking at the application of social criteria to an investable universe alone, we see that barriers have been removed, and that now both a mountain of money, and the force of government and academia, will work with us and introduce our goals into mainstream investment thinking.

We know we can make money, government is increasingly with us, and academia is swinging our way. Now, the rapid acceptance of more robust and integrated accounting has done away with the last barriers. This brings us the assets to have impact. As society sees the full cost of traditional business behavior, SRI will be embraced as the single most important lever towards building a better world than the planet has ever seen.


Article by Amy Domini, who has worked for decades to advocate that financial systems must be used to create a world of universal human dignity and ecological sustainability. She authored or co-authored several books. Her most recent, Socially Responsible Investing: Making a Difference and Making Money, was published by Dearborn Trade in 2001. She writes on the topic frequently. Her articles have appeared on the Huffington Post, the OECD Observer, GreenMoney Journal and the Journal of Investing. She is a regular columnist for Ode Magazine.

Time magazine named her to the “Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people” in 2005. President Clinton honored her at the inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, citing her role in making socially responsible investing a global trend. The Dalai Lama, during a Town Meeting on Ethics, heard her presentation and urged his audience to give it credence.

Ms. Domini works with high net worth individuals at the Sustainability Group in Boston; she also founded Domini Social Investments, LLC ( ), a no-load mutual fund family for socially responsible investors. Between the two firms, she manages roughly $2 billion in assets, all invested with environmental and social objectives in mind.

She holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation and received her B.A in International Economics from Boston University. In 2006, Ms. Domini was awarded an honorary Doctor of Business Administration from Northeastern University. In 2007, she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Ms. Domini is a past trustee of the Church Pension Board at the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.). Among others, she is also a past Board member of the Governing board of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the National Community Capital Association, and the Social Investment Forum.


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From Growth Capitalism to Sustainable Capitalism: The Next 20 years of Sustainable Investing

Monday, December 3, 2012 by

By Joe Keefe, President and CEO, Pax World Management  (From the special 20th Anniversary issue of the GreenMoney Journal and )

Twenty years from now, we will have either successfully transitioned from our current economic growth paradigm to a new model of Sustainable Capitalism or we will be suffering the calamitous consequences of our failure to do so. Likewise, sustainable investing will either remain a niche strategy or it will have supplanted mainstream investing. This is the critical point we must embrace: sustainable investing can no longer simply present itself as an alternative to traditional investment approaches that ignore environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperatives; it cannot simply be for some people; it must actually triumph over and displace traditional investing.  

The current model of global capitalism - call it growth capitalism - is premised upon perpetual economic growth that must ultimately invade all accessible habitat and consume all available resources.[Footnote 1] Growth capitalism must eventually collapse, and is in fact collapsing, for the simple reason that a finite planet cannot sustain infinite growth. Moreover, the dislocations associated with this infinite growth paradigm and its incipient demise - climate change, rising inequality and extreme poverty, resource scarcity (including food and water shortages), habitat loss and species extinctions, ever more frequent financial crises, to name just a few - will increasingly bedevil global policy makers in the years ahead. The public sector is already experiencing a high degree of dysfunction associated with its inability to confront a defining feature of this system: the need for perpetual growth in consumption spurs a corresponding growth in public and private debt to fuel that consumption, which has roiled financial markets and sovereign finances across the globe. 

Meanwhile, the environmental fallout from this infinite growth paradigm is becoming acute. All of earth’s natural systems – air, water, minerals, oil, forests and rainforests, soil, wetlands, fisheries, coral reefs, the oceans themselves – are in serious decline. Climate change is just one symptom. “The problem is the delusion that we can have infinite quantitative economic growth, that we can keep having more and more stuff, on a finite planet.”[FN 2] The problem is an economic system that makes no distinction between capital investments that destroy the environment, or worsen public health, or exacerbate economic inequality, and those that are aligned with earth’s natural systems while promoting the general welfare. Under growth capitalism, a dollar of output is a dollar of output, regardless of its side effects; short-term profit is valued regardless of the long-term consequences or externalities. 

It is therefore discouraging that, in the U.S. at least, there is no serious discussion in mainstream policy circles about alternatives to the present system. Nor do I think there will be for some time given our current political/cultural drift. Political and economic elites, and the public itself, remain committed to growth capitalism, accustomed to “having more and more stuff,” for a host of economic, social and psychological reasons. As Jeremy Grantham has written, “[t]he problems of compounding growth in the face of finite resources are not easily understood by optimistic, short-term-oriented, and relatively innumerate humans (especially the political variety).”[FN 3] Our campaign finance system, wherein policy makers are essentially bought off by and incentivized to advance the very interests that stand to profit most from the current system, is no help. Making matters worse, large segments of the public do not even accept what science teaches us about climate change, or natural systems, or evolution, or a host of other pressing realities. The late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. Today, it seems that a growing number of people, aided and abetted by special interests that stand to benefit from public ignorance, are increasingly opting for their own “facts.”

So, neither the public sector nor corporate and economic elites, as a result of some newfound enlightenment, seem poised to consider alternatives to the current system. To the contrary, their first impulse will be to resist any such efforts. This is the critical problem at the moment: while there is an array of powerful forces aligned against the type of sweeping, systemic change that is needed, there is no organized constituency for it. There are individuals and groups who support this or that reform, or who are focused on critical pieces of the larger puzzle (e.g., climate change, sustainable food & agriculture, gender equality, sustainable investing), but there is no movement, no political party or leader, no policy agenda to connect the dots.

That is a shame because there is a clear alternative to growth capitalism that has been articulated in recent years by a diverse body of economists, ecologists, scientists and other leading thinkers - including leaders in the sustainable investment community.[FN 4]

Although there is as of yet no unified theory or common language, let alone any sort of organized movement to speak of, what has emerged is essentially a unified vision, and that vision might best be described as Sustainable Capitalism.[FN 5]

Sustainable Capitalism may be thought of as a market system where the quality of output replaces the quantity of output as the measure of economic well-being. Sustainable Capitalism “explicitly integrates environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into strategy, the measurement of outputs and the assessment of both risks and opportunities…. encourages us to generate financial returns in a long-term and responsible manner, and calls for internalizing negative externalities through appropriate pricing.”[FN 6] Essentially, business corporations and markets alter their focus from maximizing short-term profit to maximizing long-term value, and long-term value expressly includes the societal benefits associated with or derived from economic activity. The connections between economic output and ecological/societal health are no longer obscured but are expressly linked.[FN 7]

There is no question that growth capitalism must give way to Sustainable Capitalism. It’s as simple, and as urgent, as that. Over the next 20 years, the sustainable investing industry must play a pivotal leadership role in ushering in this historic transformation. We will need to connect the dots and catalyze the movement. Why us? For the simple reason that finance is where the battle must be joined. It is the financial system that determines how and where capital is invested, what is valued and not valued, priced and not priced. The sustainable investment community’s role is vital because the fundamental struggle is between a long-term perspective that fully integrates ESG factors into economic and investment decisions and our current paradigm which is increasingly organized around short-term trading gains as the primary driver of capital investment and economic growth regardless of consequences/externalities.

The notion that sustainable investing can simply keep to its current trajectory - a few more assets under management here, a few more successful shareholder resolutions there, a few more GRI reports issued, another UN conference, an occasional victory at the SEC - and achieve what needs to be achieved on the scale required is, frankly, untenable. We need to be more ambitious in our agenda.

We will also need to take a more critical stance, not only advocating for ESG integration but against economic and investment approaches that ignore ESG concerns. We will need to consistently critique the notion that externalities associated with economic output are somehow collateral, or that financial return is sufficient without beneficial societal returns, or that markets are inherently efficient and self-correcting. We will need to unabashedly offer sustainable investing not as an alternative approach but as a better approach - as the only sensible, responsible way to invest.

I believe the sustainable investing industry will also need to align itself with a more explicit public policy agenda - while remaining non-partisan - and work with like-minded reformers to advocate for that agenda. For example, sustainable investors should be sounding the alarm about resource scarcity and advocating for a massive public/private investment plan in clean energy, efficiency technologies and modernized infrastructure.[FN 8] The age of resource scarcity and the need for efficiency solutions is upon us.[FN 9] At Pax World, we offer a fund - the Global Environmental Markets Fund (formerly the Global Green Fund) - whose investment focus is precisely that. Our industry needs to fashion such investment solutions, and I believe there will be opportunities to do so collaboratively as well as competitively.

I also feel strongly that the greatest impediment to sustainable development across the globe is gender inequality. Advancing and empowering women and girls is not only a moral imperative but can unleash enormous potential that is now locked up in our patriarchal global economy. Sustainable investors need to press the case that gender equality needs to be a pillar of Sustainable Capitalism. At Pax World, we also have a fund - the Global Women’s Equality Fund - whose investment focus is exactly that.

In my view, the sustainable investing community should also be advocating for public funding of federal elections, either through a constitutional amendment or, absent an amendment, through a voluntary public funding system. The notion that we can tackle any major public policy issue, let alone undertake the epochal transition to Sustainable Capitalism, while politicians and regulators are captive to the very interests they are supposed to regulate, is beyond naïve. We will not be able to reform capitalism if we cannot reform Congress. 

Finally, asset management firms like my own will need to find ways to craft new, more persuasive messages, launch new products, form new partnerships, and fashion new distribution strategies and alliances that are focused on lifting the industry as a whole, because a rising tide will lift all boats. Pax World has taken a step in this direction in launching our ESG Managers Portfolios, where many ESG managers and strategies are now available under one roof in one set of asset allocation funds. There is more to be done - together, as an industry. 

The times call for leadership. The transition to Sustainable Capitalism is necessary and urgent, as is the triumph of sustainable investing over investment approaches that effectively prolong and exacerbate the current crisis. Twenty years from now, our industry will be judged by whether we have met this burden of leadership. Our impact either will be dramatic or inconsequential. We either will succeed or we will fail. We should resolve to succeed, and to work collaboratively toward that end. 


Article by Joe Keefe, President & CEO of Pax World Management, headquartered in Portsmouth, NH. Pax World manages approximately $2.5 billion in assets, including mutual funds, asset allocation funds and ETFs, all of which follow a sustainable investing approach. Prior to joining Pax World, Joe was President of NewCircle Communications (2000-2005), served as Senior Adviser for Strategic Social Policy at Calvert Group (2003 – 2005), and was Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Citizens Advisers (1997-2000). A former member of the board of US SIF (2000 - 2005), Joe was named by Ethisphere Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics” for 2007, 2008 and 2011, and in 2012 was recognized by Women’s eNews a one of “21 Leaders for the 21st Century, where he was the sole male honoree. 

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[1] See, William E. Rees, “Toward a Sustainable World Economy,” Paper delivered at Institute for New Economic Thinking Annual Conference, Bretton Woods, NH, April 2011, p. 4.

[2] Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption, Bloomsbury Press, 2011, p. 186.

[3] Jeremy Grantham, “Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever,” April 2011 GMO Quarterly Letter.

[4] I am thinking of such writers and thinkers as Wendell Berry, Lester Brown, Paul Gilding, Herman Daly, Thomas Friedman, Paul Hawken, Richard Heinberg, Mark Hertsgaard, Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, Bill McKibben, Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers & Dennis Meadows, James Gustave Speth and, of course, E.F. Schumacher. Contributions from the sustainable investing community include Steven Lydenberg’s Corporations and The Public Interest, Robert Monks’s The New Global Investors, Marjorie Kelly’s The Divine Right of Capital, and The New Capitalists by Stephen Davis, Jon Lukomnik & David Pitt-Watson. See also the work of The Capital Institute,

[5] Credit Al Gore, David Blood, Peter Wright and the folks at Generation Investment Management for putting a stake in the ground and endeavoring to define and popularize this concept.

[6] “Sustainable Capitalism,” Generation Investment Management LLP, 2012, p. 2.

[7] This notion of Sustainable Capitalism is not unlike the concept of “shared value” s advanced by Michael E. Porter and Mark E. Kramer. See, “Creating Shared Value,” Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2011.

[8] See Daniel Alpert, Robert Hockett & Nouriel Roubini, “The Way Forward: Moving From the Post-Bubble, Post-Bust Economy to Renewed Growth and Competitiveness,” © 2011, New America Foundation,

[9] See Jeremy Grantham, “Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever,” supra; See also, “Resource Scarcity and The Efficiency Revolution,” Impax Asset Management,


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Innovating Up River

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 by





Photo courtesy of Bigadventures

Unlike this lucky bloke,  green innovation is starting to feel pretty dam hard.

Many out there are struggling to develop new sustainable strategies, products, processes and implementing them all by pushing against the current flow.  Most are attempting to look at this world with green tinted glasses and reform almost all of the products and processes we live by.  The opportunity is certainly abounding and yet the reality can be sobering.  
Innovators are being asked to be more even more compelling, operate with less resources, and eek-out more value to each respective need.  A greater responsibility to improve current models, under the lens of sustainability, is falling on the brave and courageous few people to change the world.  The true goal may be to actually recruit "green" marines, the few and the proud… Hooo-Rah!

Pick any challenging real world issue and look closely… you can find just a handful of truly passionate social entrepreneurs working for change in that arena.  Whether the innovation is in food, agriculture, energy, technologies, products, or waste... we are being asked to redesign them all.  Only a few out there are truly developing system-wide changes to save time, resources and precious money, all in the greater name of sustainability.  When did the fate of so many lay in the hands of so few? But are we all trying to rebuild a ship after is has hit the iceberg and taking in water? Let's hope not.

At some point it all begins to feel like paddling upstream against the current while having "conventional" rocks appear in your path.  One can imagine the timeless innovators felt this great resistance… maybe we are no different now.  Oddly, most what we are transforming makes a product, service or process- simpler, easier, cheaper, with have less impact.  Consider clean technologies such as electric vehicles; simple to use (no gas), effective operations (gets you there) and easy to power (plug-in). Yet in today's ecological thinking, we must still prove the business case for them. Who is being asked to prove the business case for pollution, obvious waste with the harsh negative impacts we see daily... no one!

A collective grand vision for the green movement is to get all parties involved into the millions of innovations, as our evolution is seeking the best collaborative solutions to our varied modern problems. If we leave these crucial tasks only for a few to solve, making major inroads may simply take too long.  The conventional model is to work in a resource constrained systems that are functioning under old corporate cultures of; time equals money, bigger and better, and of course... not "my" problem.  

Our greatest task as innovators is now recruitment of conscious leaders... yes I do mean you! If you have made it this far, then you too could decide that now is the time to rally and gain momentum. Whether it be for noble ideals, lofty aspirations, personal gain or for the greater collective good of future generations... does it really matter anymore?  What matters now is what you do, how you live and what you support. We are all gifted with constant access to new communication channels, reliable information and available resources.  Even though there are few valid excuses left to claim… some certainly will.

If we wait, if we dilly-dally, if we decide not to give these bold efforts 110% now... where will it leave us all exactly?  Will we be able to move our own evolution forward fast enough to make real progress? Can we recruit others fast enough to the grand vision, so they can grasp it for themselves and realize this is our only way forward.  It may simply come down to values and a few questions to ask.

Trust- Do we have enough to move forward together?

Integrity- Similar to trust, can we commit to do what we say we will?

Responsibility- Can we find our own and help others see theirs?

Creativity- Can we look at the real issues with freedom and inspiration?

Motivation- Will what we are building move others to action?

Interested to hear your ideas, solutions and opinions?  Please share them here, it is a first step towards change. 

Jared Brick recently attained an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School in SF.  He is developing the first ever reusables tracking platform, rewarding consumers everywhere in their retail experiences.  Follow the journey at or on twitter: traxactions

Making Banks Work for the 99%

Friday, March 30, 2012 by

….”[earth] has, or had, a problem which was this: Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper… which is odd, because on the whole, it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy…”
— Douglas Adams

the 99 percentThe recent financial crisis has been a credit crisis, and in response the government and the Federal Reserve have taken an active role in increasing the money supply to manipulate business cycles. The surges and contractions of the business cycles cause fluctuations in the economy, and thus in employment. In this way these fluctuations are felt in every aspect of society. We take these cycles as a given. However, in Ecological Economics Herman Daly and Joshua Farley (2008) put forward an interesting idea: the fluctuations in the economy are caused by the design of the monetary system, and not by law of necessity. By decoupling business cycles from the circulation of money these ups and downs can be avoided.

Currently the worldwide money supply is tightly linked to investment cycles. Business has its natural cycles, but the linkage of these cycles to the money supply by means of lending and borrowing causes a self-reinforcing feedback loop: when investment goes down, spending goes down, causing a decrease in the money supply, which will further decrease investments, and so on. Daly and Farley have a novel proposition: ‘there is no reason why the monetary system must be linked with the private commercial activity of lending and borrowing’.

Let’s imagine a world where the monetary system is decoupled from the activity of lending and borrowing. Money will be treated as a public good that facilitates exchanges within the economy. The government can match the supply based on for instance, consumer price indexes. A beneficial side effect is that inflation will be easier to control. The reserve requirements of banks will be 100%. Banks will make money by charging for services they provide and by borrowing and lending real money instead of by creating it.

What effects will such a decoupling have? Currently, the financial sector has a disproportionate size compared to the real sector: the size of the real sector is roughly $30 trillion per year, whereas the trade in money, with no intervening commodity is almost $2 trillion per day. The financial sector should be in service of the real economy, and a decoupling of the money supply from investments will support this.

With investments recoupled to the real economy – making economic profit based on increased production capacity by means of investments- the focus on how to make economic rents will shift.  Currently profits are made by moving paper around. With the financial sector recoupled to the economic sector it will become more important to make profits in the real economy. Introduction of a 100% reserve requirement will bring investors closer to their investments. It is only make-believe, but it is interesting to think of what implications this will have for business. With rents primarily to be made in the real sector instead of the financial, how will this affect the organization and management of business?

The current design of the economy and its institutions, banks and business, make up a system that is unstable, unpredictable and uncontrollable. After the crisis in 2008 most agreed that things needed to change. Yet most has returned to business as usual. The necessity for change has not eroded. Exploring this possibility of decoupling the monetary system from private lending may be a perfect solution to many of our economic problems.

Based on:

Daly, H., & Farley, J. (2007). Ecological Economics. Principles and Applications. Dehli: Island Press.

Ecological Thinking in Economics

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 by

Classical economics as a discipline can be traced back to the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776. It is no coincidence that economics as a science emerged in the Era of Enlightenment, or ‘Age of Reason’.

Coming from an era where religion and concern about the afterlife dominated the lives of people, during the Enlightenment people started to explain and understand their world from a rational standpoint. This resulted in a flourishing of scientific discoveries. As a result the worldview changed: instead of God as the primary goal and end, reason was now seen as the source of ultimate knowledge. This new worldview was causal, mechanistic and deterministic.

Classical economics resonates with these ideas: humans are seen as rational actors, and the movements within the economy can be understood, explained and predicted by causal theories and mathematical formulae. In the last twenty years these assumptions have been challenged: economic theories have not been able to predict, explain or prevent any of the economic downturns we have been through. The theories seem to be less applicable to an understanding of an increasingly complex reality.

In the last decades various perspectives have emerged that have affinity with this increased complexity: complexity theory and systems thinking. It seems as if we cannot understand reality by understanding separate elements. Meaning emerges from the interactions between different elements within a system and between systems. The relatively new branch ‘ecological economics’ is congruent with the new complexity and systems paradigm, and takes a break from the mechanical worldview: it does not accept the pre-analytic version of the world assumed by mainstream economics. Within classical economics parts of reality, like the social or ecologic reality are excluded for the sake of theory. The basic tenets of classical economics, rational thinking and the market mechanism, do not stand firm when tested in reality. The comprehensive systems worldview of ecological economics is much better equipped to do so.

For instance, the market mechanism is supposed to produce efficient prices. However, in reality we seldom find perfect markets, resulting in various kinds of market failures, such as externalities, public goods, dilemma of the commons, and monopolies. A near sacred belief in the organizing power of markets has brought the global ecology to the edge of. Ecological economics places the economy within the natural environment, thereby searching for solutions for the abovementioned market failures.

Another example: The assumed rationality behind peoples’ choices found many antagonists, such as Herbert Simon. As a sociologist and economist, he instead proposed a theory of ‘bounded rationality’. The economist Neva Goodwin contests that people make individual choices: as social beings, much of our behavior and choices are governed by our social environment. Ecological economics relates economic theory to social perspectives – coming to a theory of economics that is much more credible and in line with reality than the ‘rational choice’ perspective.

Ecological economics will, just as classical economics, not be able to predict the future. However, because it has a more realistic perspective, it will be better able to understand the current developments in the economy. Placing the economy in relation to social and ecological realities puts boundaries to the shapes the economy can take, especially its size. Ecological and social laws are taken into account within this economic paradigm. More importantly, it is better equipped for addressing the problems that the rational and market view have caused.


Recommended further reading:

Daly, H., & Farley, J. (2007). Ecological Economics. Principles and Applications. Dehli: Island Press.

Hawken, Paul. (1993) The ecology of commerce : a declaration of sustainability.

Why it’s Important to Recycle Your Content

Sunday, February 5, 2012 by
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that your corporate culture doesn’t see plastic bottles and paper bags as disposable items with a limited shelf life. You wouldn’t toss a soda can into the garbage or throw a milk jug in the dumpster. So why would you spend valuable time and effort creating purposeful, inspiring content and let it go to waste? Like all good products, the content you develop can have a second life. Be a conscious leader and recycle your content too.

3 Reasons to Recycle Your Content

  1. Increase Engagement – Everyone connects differently. One customer might prefer reading blogs while another lives for Twitter.  Reusing your content helps you connect to people where they are and increases the chances that they’ll see the information and take interest.
  2. Improve SEO - Search engines love new content and continually scan your website for updates.  Repurposing content lets you increase your web pages as information flows from an e-book to a landing page to a blog post. It also gives you the ability to send keyword rich links back to your site as you publish the content to different platforms.
  3. Reduce Clutter – Nobody likes waste.  Don’t churn out useless or uninteresting information. Invest the time and resources to develop several solid pieces of content and recycle them.

3 Ways to Recycle Your Content

Businesses create content for many reasons (to inform, educate, engage, get leads, etc.). But, a single piece of content should never be just that. Ecological thinking applies to content too.

  • Reposition a Presentation - After giving a presentation, write a blog post highlighting the key messages, and post the presentation on Slideshare.
  • Recycle an e-Book – After you publish an e-book, break the chapters out into a series of blog posts and share them through social media.
  • Repurpose a Press Release – After submitting a press release, write a blog summarizing the news and repurpose it once again in an e-newsletter.
The Content Life Cycle


Content can and should be repurposed, repositioned and reused.  Just remember to customize your recycled content for each audience. Let your content come full circle and take on a new life of its own.  


To see an example of recycled content in the making, check out the original post on our content marketing blog.


LOHAS and Systems Thinking

Thursday, February 2, 2012 by

What does mind/body wellness have to do with environmental concern? What is the glue that holds the broad Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability umbrella together? What do the practices of yoga and meditation have to do with environmental awareness? Systems thinking shows the folly of disembodied mind, disconnected individuals and deracinated culture, while providing glue that cements together the disparate LOHAS threads. 

First off, what is, systems thinking? Systems thinking goes beyond linear thinking and a mechanical view of the world that does not recognize connecting linkages. Linear thinking reflects a simple cause/effect relationship, for example measuring the independent variable’s effect upon the dependent variable. A system is an ecology of relationships all interacting with unpredictable results. Systems thinking describes emergence; which means the collective properties of the whole are not found in the parts. There is no discrete cause and effect between two isolated variables. Everything is connected within the ecological system. Whole systems are driven by the logic that when you remove particular parts, the system falls apart and you lose explanatory power.

Recognition of three systems; the mind/body system, the self/society system and the culture/nature system shows how systems thinking forms the foundation of the Lohas philosophy. It reinforces the importance of yoga and meditation for harmonizing body and mind, the importance of social relationships in forming our individual identity and the importance of nature in the formation of culture.

Beyond the fact that nature is a prerequisite for our survival, humanity has spiritual needs to connect with the environment on a deeper level. Throughout history and throughout the world, we see the human urge to connect to something greater than themselves is universal. Rather than projecting our religious impulse skyward, now, we see the need to project that impulse to the world around us. Our connection to nature is not just a biological fact; it is a spiritual principal that colors the world with meaning. Life has meaning because we are connected to the world around us. The meaning lies in that connection and with the environmental peril we face, the meaning requires political engagement along with spiritual and social engagement because facing the environmental crisis will require policy change, policy choices and collective action on unprecedented levels. Facing this environmental crisis could provide an engine for spiritual renewal. Sustainability could become the new religion, a religion rooted in scientific fact and a religion formed in response to environmental challenges.

Three systems, body-mind system, the self-society system and the culture-nature system move our consciousness outward from our mind, to our self, to our community and finally to the natural system. This forward movement in consciousness will hopefully spur on evolutionary adaptation that will increase human nature’s capacity to deal with the growing environmental crisis. The LOHAS market is a tool for moving this evolutionary adaptation forward.

LOHAS Goes Urban

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by

Earlier this year I attended the Urban Green Summit. This was an event that focused on the inner city citizens of Denver to promote better awareness of green and sustainable business opportunities. It was definitely a crowd that I wanted to connect with and peaked my curiosity to know if LOHAS aspects penetrate different cultures and economic circumstances. I was not disappointed. The event was developed by CURE-T’s Dr. H. Malcolm who received federal funding to promote green jobs and education in Colorado. Dr. Malcolm is a mover and a shaker and you can’t help but be magnetized to his presence and his message. He is always deflecting praise and bringing in others to highlight. This is a sign of a great leader in my book. He also echoed a concern that I have myself: Why is it that the urban communities of color always appear absent in green initiatives, conferences and activities? The LOHAS market tends to target the largely affluent caucasian market. But there is plenty of opportunity unseen and untouched in the minority dominant urban markets as well.

The summit had a star studded panel that included Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All, environmentalist and author, John Francis III and founder of Green for All and current president of Rebuild a Dream, Van Jones. These heavy hitters were mixed with other local movers and shakers in the green movement. Unfortunately I was hoping that there would be more people in attendance at the event. I was told from an insider that having an event on a Saturday morning early is not so PC in the African American communities. There were indeed more people who were there as the day progressed.  I found it to be a very interesting event and demonstrated that green needs to be connected to the urban community by education and clear benefits. The best presentation for me came from Van Jones.

Here is what Van had to say to the urban based audience. See if it resonates with you:

van jones“These days people are gathering in unusual groups. Not large groups but different ones. They are the ones who grew were the sensitive children. These are the ones that wanted to save the polar bears and save the world and were disturbed by the mistreatment of others. This tribe is just beginning to find each other. There are more people entering life who are sensitive. Something happening where humanity is being tested and if we don’t pass nothing will be left. Will humanity prove to be a blessing or a curse. This the first time technology and size make up a force of nature. The creator could have made us as robots he did not. We are something more interesting. We have free will, choice and decision making abilities. All other species are set in process.

Will we be locusts or honey bees? Both work hard but one is destructive and one is constructive. Locusts wipe out everything in its path. Destroy habitat until there is none at which point they die. Bees work is a blessing. It makes life of others possible. This movement is deeper than just solar panels and part of interest is the growing sense of peril. I cannot believe that only one race cares for the earth. The U.S. colonization was just as much about land as it was about labor. Land is sacred. We need to remember to view it as such instead of a commodity. We need to remember the difference between a tree and lumber, an animal vs. a pelt, a person vs. a slave. These sacred beliefs were considered paganism. Indigenous peoples of the world have this wisdom and are outcasts in modern society. They are called witches, druids, and pagans. It turns out they are quite wise. They are also known as the highest ecological wisdom. It is only now after 500 years of colonization that the children of the colonizers are coming around to honoring this wisdom.

Do we belong to the earth or does the earth belong to us? An economy that is run by fossil fuels equals trouble in the future. We run a civilization that runs on death. Coal is 40 million years old. Oil is 60 million years old. Both are made up of dead materials. We burn death in our cars and as electricity but are shocked when death shows up as asthma and global warming. We are much better when we have a living economy. One that runs on life such as the sun, wind and water.

So how do we get there? We need to change our ways. Change has 4 drivers. There are the mystics. They see the vision of what we are to become. Then there are the artists who popularize the vision. The entrepreneurs who create the technologies and then the politicians who create the rules.  The current culture is not ready for change. The Tea Party is a buzz saw. And yet the biosphere is so small that we need change. We are a soap bubble in the universe.  What can we do? The last economy had 3 mistakes: 1. Consumptions 2. Credit 3.Ecological destruction

Production has moved overseas and our economy was based on spending. Kill it, shrink wrap it, sell it, trash it was the method. The past 18 months has seen the most wacky weather and environmental changes. Mother earth is telling us something. We need to adopt a strategy of green growth, restoration and conservation. Create local consumption that respects the earth. If I had talked to you all in 08’ it would have been very different. You would have all been smiling. Obama will take care of us. Now everyone is looking gloomy. This was only 2 ½ years ago. Do you remember where you were when he was elected? When he was sworn into office? How you felt? We forgot how we got to that moment. Obama was not the author for hope. The movement for hope didn’t start with Obama it started in 03’. When Bush went to war you stood up. More people mobilized in the 1st week than Vietnam did in 6 years. We lost but we didn’t quit. In 06’ Kerry ran and was only 100K votes short of an Indiana win and lost but we didn’t quit. In 05’ Katrina hit as did the Huffington Post and YouTube. We had the 1st speaker of the house. Obama was out there as an unknown Senator selling a book and ran into the movement and found us. Don’t insult yourself. Obama inspired us but we inspired him first. Now it is time for the movement of hope and change. This can’t be about things we are against but things we are for. We need to be willing to connect people with work that needs to be done. Soldiers are coming home to nothing. Nation building needs to be done here too. There is a saying – bankers get rich in good times, the people go broke in bad times. We need to praise and support our public employees – teachers, fire fighters, nurses and police. Now rich people don’t pay tax and communities are abandoning them when they never have abandoned us.

You were born for a reason. You are sensitive for a reason. Depression is terrible. It clouds you so you can’t see the opportunity. They tried to kill hope in 68’ when Kennedy was assassinated. We are throwing away our efforts because FOX TV is mean. We have been through much more than the tea party. In 1906 no woman could vote, no paid holidays, no weekend, no child labor laws. People fought year after year until today. You fought when they had clubs and guns. We didn’t have social media and yet we mobilized. Are you going to be locusts or honey bees to make the next century ordinary or extraordinary and beautiful.”

Love to hear what you think of what Van Jones has said and if you feel LOHAS can be intergrated into urban markets is a better way.


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit

3 Keys to Activating Your Life Purpose

Thursday, September 8, 2011 by

Written by Jean Houston

Jean HoustonAs I travel around the globe speaking and training, I have consistently found that most people ask me the same question, ‘how do I discover my purpose in life?’  In the past, who you became was determined by your family and circumstances. You didn't have much choice. But now there is an open moment in history where you have the chance to tap into the soul of your purpose. 
 Millions of people right now are experiencing a yearning and desire to awaken to their unique gifts and offer them in service to the world—while living a life of joy and fulfillment. It's a surging of the human spirit, a virtual global awakening, at a scale that no one has ever seen before. Simply put, people are longing to finally feel fully alive and to fulfill their unique purpose in life.
So then why is living a life of meaning and purpose so difficult? It is because our current social systems have not been set up to prepare us to live a life of true purpose. That's because today's culture exists not to nurture our highest aspirations, but to ensure our basic survival.

Our educational system is designed to create good workers who will slot into jobs and careers later in life—not to empower fiery, creative people who are forging the path ahead together.

Our social contracts exist to perpetuate the status quo—not to encourage our highest potentials to blossom. Is it any wonder why so many people's best attempts to evolve themselves and our culture fall short of the goal? We simply haven't been trained in how to bring the possible future into the present.

It's not that they don't have the talent or interest to live purposeful, meaningful life. The issue is far simpler. People struggle to activate their "purpose code" because they haven't woken up to--or are only partially awake to--our situation as a human race. Most people hold on to old, limiting beliefs of themselves and our human story. Overwhelmed by all the changes in the world around them, most people live their lives within a "small story," and therefore confine themselves to a "small self." That's why so many people feel that they don't have a purpose, or that they aren't able to actually *live* the life they were born to live.

     There is a saying that “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” I believe that it is butterfly time.  Just as the guidance cells in the mush that is the caterpillar in its cocoon suddenly begin to activate the transformation of mush into butterfly, so too this is the time when we realize that the guidance or imaginal cells of our bodies, our communities, and, yes, even of the cells of our planet are calling us to come together in all our parts to form something gorgeous, interdependent, living lightly on the Earth, cross pollinating cultures, ideas, spiritual forms, glowing with the light that suffuses us, becoming transparent  to transcendence.  And to rise out of the mush we have been caught in these many hundreds of years and to take flight in the air of the new story which is emerging in our time. 

 For the fields we traverse, the many flowers of mind states and soul knowings we now enter are those that belong to the whole, earth, to many cultures, to what I am calling PanGaia. And as the butterfly pollinates and cross pollinates from place to place, flower to flower, so do we also if we have the will and the willingness to discover our purpose and  be part of this extraordinary moment in time.

Three Keys to Empowering New Beliefs

 The first key to activating your life's purpose is to hold new beliefs about yourself and about your role in the Great Story of where humanity is headed.

       Living a great life, requires that you understand the challenges and opportunities of our moment in history. To understand this for myself, I've gathered information from my work in over 100 countries and 40 different cultures and what I've discovered has served as a sure guide on my path. Specifically, I have found five great shifts in our understanding of the story of our time that are affecting everything we do today.  I believe that awakening to the power of these shifts will help you cultivate your sense of compassion and of the infinite possibilities of this moment.

The five shifts are:
• Our understanding of who and what we are and what we need to become in order to be able to deal with the complexity of our time is evolving.

• Human societies are in the process of re-patterning. Social constructs are dissolving and whole new stories are trying to emerge, such as the rise of women to a full partnership with men across the globe, and many others.

• How we conduct business and governance is shifting in the midst of vast ecological and financial changes.  This is perhaps the most important social event of the last five thousand years, because these issues  impact almost everything in our lives.

• The rise and fusion of different cultures--we are swiftly moving towards a planetary civilization that accentuates the uniqueness of each culture while blending them together. Think of the great fusions of food and of music and of beliefs.

• Whole new orders of spirituality are emerging that are not about religion. The new cosmologies are giving us a view of ourselves that we never had before. For the first time ever, we find that we don't just live in the universe, but that the universe lives in us.

This journey begins by letting go of old beliefs and patterns to make room for the new beliefs and capacities that will empower you to awaken to and live your higher purpose.

 The Second key allows you to discover and realize the vast field of inner intelligences—using multiple means of knowing and being in order to gain insight into life at a level to which that most people rarely have access.  These skills are to be found on four levels of your human capacity, sensory-physical, psychological-emotional, mythic-symbolic, and unitive-spiritual. As you learn how to utilize the extraordinary capacities to be found at each of these levels you literally move into new ways of being.  For example, you will learn how to play with time in such a way as to take five minutes and experience it internally as hours—these are "hours" you can use to develop a skill or move a project forward.

You will learn to access "inner experts", willing helpers or personas that will help you navigate the complexity of life with elegance and confidence.
The third key gives you the means to break free from unconscious, habitual ways of reacting to life that were born thousands of years ago, and embrace higher ways of being for a new era.You will discover ways to move through life with ebullience in your bones and an appetite for celebration—seeing everything as an expression of the Creator. You will move through life, motivated not by guilt or obligation, but by gratitude and an abiding zest for doing the things that are called forth by living out of your higher purpose.

Dr. Jean Houston is presenting a FREE 75 minute downloadable audio seminar entitled 3 Keys to Discovering and Living Your True Purpose Available Now at .

Dr. Jean Houston is a Scholar, Philosopher and one of the foremost visionary thinkers and doers of our time. She is considered one of the principal founders of the Human Potential Movement. A powerful and dynamic speaker she has served as consultant to several agencies of United Nations including UNICEF and the UNDP. She has worked in over 100 countries training leadership at every level to enhance skills and purpose so as to bring a new mind to bear upon challenging issues. A prolific writer and author of 26 books including A Passion for the Possible and The Mythic Life, Dr. Houston has recently joined the faculty of Evolving Wisdom, today's fastest growing global e-learning company specializing in transformative education, to provide her wisdom online in a cutting edge format.


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit

Top LOHAS-ish Fall Conferences for 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011 by

LOHAS crowdHere it is mid August and already I have to start working on my conference attending schedule for the fall of 2011. It seems like I have to do this earlier and earlier each year primarily because there are so many LOHAS oriented conferences being added or are catching my attention that I did not know of before. I have done a post on what events I think are important the past 2 years and here is my 3rd installment of top green/health and wellness/social enterprise/sustainability/leadership conferences worth considering as you plan your conference schedule for the fall.

For those new to the conference scene, there are two seasons – fall and spring. There are associations and organization that provide 1 or 2 events a year usually during those months. This is primarily because summer is a time when many set up personal vacation time and winter has more holiday time and weather issues.

Conference strategy
In determining which event is best for you take a look at the speakers and topics that will be presented. It is also important to look at the sponsors and how the event is presented via the event website. This will give you a feel on the type of companies that will be attending the event and what type of audience the event is trying to attract. By viewing the agenda content you can get an idea on how in depth they plan on going on topics. Also look at the networking opportunities that are in the program. Some events consciously embed them in the program via receptions, meals and outings and others do not. It is really up to you to make the best of the time for your own networking purposes.

On site
I find attending events to be incredibly stimulating. However I also find them to be extremely exhausting. Make sure you eat right, drink plenty of fluids, keep to a good sleep schedule and maintain a steady energy balance. For the large trade shows make sure you wear comfortable and supportive shoes for those hours on the exhibit floor. There are plenty of after party events to attend at which you can have some great business talks. It is up to you to make sure you know what formula works best for you. Set up meetings in advance if you can. That way you have some anchors to build the rest of the day's plan around and not get too lost in the shuffle of things - especially if they are large trade shows.

Women in Green - August 30-31st Santa Monica CA
Focuses on women in leadership positions that promote green business. Although all the speakers are women you don’t need to be of the double X chromosome to attend. This is the second year of the event and according to people who attended last year it was about 200 people. This year there should be more.

Conscious Capitalism - OCT 12-14 Austin TX
You need an invite to attend this prestigious event that brings many CEO’s together to discuss conscious leadership within organizations. It is a relatively small event with around 200 attending. John Mackey of Whole Foods co-founded this and has people ranging from the CEO of the Container Store to Jean Houston speaking on how business can drive conscious change.

Green Initiatives Conference Sept 29-30th Ft Lauderdale FL
A new event on my radar that has some interesting presenters and sponsors. The event team that is putting this on look like they have a tech background and may be one of the main focuses of the event. There are larger corporations participating such as DOW, HP and Coca Cola. It looks like they will focus on sustainability within larger companies and case studies from experiences.

SXSW Eco Oct 4-6 Austin, TX
SXSW music festival looks to sing a new green tune this year with the addition of a green event. Former LOHAS speakers who will be presenting include Simran Sethi and Philippe Cousteau. This is thier first year and the B2B event looks interesting. A great idea tagging it onto SXSW.

Opportunity Green Nov 9-10 Los Angeles, CA
OG is in its 3rd year and brings together green business and sustainable design in LA. They have about 800 attendees from all walks of life – corporate, entrepreneurs, media and of course Hollywood. They hold a great green design competition and it is a high energy event with interesting sessions and booths ranging from LED lighting for studios to BMW to water filters.

BSR - Nov 1-4 San Francisco, CA
The big one for the larger corporations that has been around a long time focusing on the corporate responsibility of multi-national corporations. Last year they had over 1000 in attendance. If you are looking to connect with the bigger companies on CSR initiatives this is the one to check out.

Funding and Finance
SOCAP Sept 7-9 Fort Mason, San Francisco CA
A vibrant event focusing on investing into social entrepreneurship. This event brings together large funds and banks with social entrepreneurs. Competitions on business plans are submitted ahead of time for a competition for funding and there is great education on raising capital for the startup and social enterprises.

SRI in the Rockies OCT 2-5 New Orleans, LA
A flagship event for social responsible investing(SRI) that brings SRI funds together with financial advisors. They also bring in a mix of speakers who focus on humanitarian, social and environmental impacts such as Jane Goodall, David Bornstein, Hunter Lovins and Bill McDonough. If you want insights on SRI and where it is headed this is THE event to attend.

Slow Money OCT 12-14 San Francisco, CA
Slow Money is a network of food activists, investors and entrepreneurs who nurture a range of conversations in order to actively develop funding and investment channels for local and sustainable food enterprises. Like Slow Food, they have local gatherings and a larger main event promoting a slow and steady investment into businesses who are seeking an alternative to the conventional Wall Street type investor.  Speakers include David Suzuki, David Orr and Vananda Shiva.

Investor's Circle OCT 26-27 Philadelphia, PA
A membership organization that  support a great entrepreneurs that are addressing social and environmental issues. They look at 10-15 high impact deals that are seeking investment.  They also provide a due diligence process that starts once the event is complete. It is about 200 people in attendance who are angel investors, fund managers, family office managers, foundation executives and trustees, wealth, financial and philanthropic advisers and their clients and other accredited investors.

Industry Specific
EcoTourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference Sept 19-21st Hilton Head SC
With over 30 inspiring sessions, 50 leading industry partners, and impactful and engaging keynote presentations, the ESTC 2011 (Hilton Head Island, SC, USA, September 19-21, 2011) sets the platform for ongoing dialogue promoting innovative ideas and practical solutions, driving change in global tourism.

Expo East Sept 22-24 Baltimore MD
Attended by as many as 25,000 industry professionals and featuring thousands of exhibits, Natural Products Expo East is the largest natural, organic, and healthy products trade show on the East Coast. With the newest and best-selling products and branded ingredients available this show features the best in organic at All Things Organic/Organic Products Expo-BioFach America, offers an extensive retailer training program and provides an advocacy platform through a strategic partnership with Natural Products Association East. Natural Products Expo East is ranked as one of the top 200 tradeshows in the US.

Greenbuild Oct 4-7 Toronto Canada
Greenbuild is the green building industry's can't miss event. It's where we go to learn about what's new in green building practices through the extensive educational sessions, see the latest technology and innovation in the exhibit hall, and perhaps more importantly, where we go to do business.  Greenbuild is a one-stop shop for credential maintenance. From pre- or post-show LEED workshops to sector-specific summits, from green building tours to concurrent educational sessions, you will find the education you need at Greenbuild. Most sessions at Greenbuild will be approved for continuing education credits for LEED and other professional credentials, allowing you to maintain your credential with ease.

Natural Beauty Summit Oct 6-7 NYC
This is a smaller and formal event for the natural and organic beauty industry that brings together the mission driven companies such as Dr. Bronners and Weleda with the larger corporations such as Este Lauder, L’Oreal and Avon. It is more of a lecture format and a lot of presentation intake. If you are a data hound you will get your fill. If you are a networker you will need to work for it but there are good connections to be made. The group is a bit insular if you are an outsider but if you are seeking to enter the luxury skincare market it may be worth considering.

Green Spa Network - Oct 9-12 Sundance, UT
This event is made up of a group of spa resorts and products that want to go the extra mile in promoting green efforts in the spa industry. The event has about 100 passionate people who want to move the spa world in the direction of holistic and sustainable integration. They are a very open and friendly group that welcomes newcomers (and new members). Plus the events are always at pristine green resorts.

ISPA - Nov 7-9 Las Vegas
If you are in the spa industry you have to go where everyone goes which is the International Spa Association Conference. Every other year they have their annual event in Las Vegas which brings investors, products and service providers, spa techs and directors together. This is THE most well groomed event I have ever experienced with exhibitors providing facials, teeth whitening and massages. There is good data provided on the spa world and great sessions specific to spa owners and employees. ISPA provides great data on the spa market as well. 

Social Venture Network Oct 27-30 Philadelphia, PA
SVN is a membership organization of successful social entrepreneurs ranging from Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, creators of Ben & Jerry’s, to Van Jones, former Green Czar to Obama, to Tom Szaky founder of Terracycle. It mixes sustainability with community building and innovation and a ton of passion. You can’t leave this event without 2-3 bonding hugs. It is a great place to seek mentorship, collect ideas and also potential funding from successful entrepreneurs and community leaders who are interested in helping others. This overlaps with the Investor’s Circle previously mentioned.

Net Impact Oct 27-29 Portland, OR
Net Impact is a large event that brings 2500 students and corporations together. They have chapters associated with Universities all over the country with a large membership and the event focuses on social enterprise, green business strategies, and nonprofit work.

Public Events
Yoga Journal Conference Sept 18-25 Estes Park, CO
For yoga die hards and trainers interested in the business of yoga or just to improve their own yoga practice. Famous yoga instructors such as Rodney Yee, Sean Corn and Shiva Rae have taught classes here. There is a vendor area as well.

Greenfests are the creations of Green America and a designed to celebrate green and diversity in various regions. Their flagship event in San Fran pulls in 30,000 attendees and they have some amazing keynote speakers such as Dr. Weil, Deepak Chopra, Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower and many more. Companies large and small mingle together with the public selling their products and services. I think these are great not only to see what is being sold but to see who is buying and the similarities and differences each region has as it relates to green. There is always a colorful audience at Greenfestivals.
New York  10/1-2
Los Angeles  10/29-30
San Francisco 11/12-13

Bioneers San Rafael, CA 10/14-16
Bioneers is where ecology meets activism meets celebration. I could spend hours in the parking lot just reading all the bumper stickers on people’s cars (mostly hybrids). If you are into fighting injustices of the underserved, hearing the wisdom of traditional cultures and the stories of animals and unique journeys of people this is an event for you. There are workshops on business, youth, art, peace and more.  It draws about 3-5,000 who are all there because of the larger mission Bioneers embodies. Networking is great but you will need to be selective on who you connect with since there are so many types of people there.


Of course these are just a few of the many events out there of interest to me. There are many others that are international that I did not include. If there are any other events you see I am missing please feel free to comment and add.


Ted Ning is renowned for leading the annual LOHAS Forum, and LOHAS Journal the past 9 years Ted Ning is widely regarded as the epicenter of all things LOHAS leading many to affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. LOHAS’. He is a change agent, trend spotter and principal of the LOHAS Group, which advises large and small corporations on accessing and profiting from the +$300 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability marketplace.  The LOHAS Group is a strategy firm focusing on helping companies discover, create, nurture and develop their unique brand assets.  For more information on Ted visit


Monday, July 18, 2011 by
ORANGE COUNTY, CA - I spent Saturday morning at one of the world's best car museums, viewing a mind-blowing collection of classic automobiles from the 1930s--arguably the modern era's high point of car design as art.  These cars are owned by General William Lyon, an octogenarian renaissance man who has accumulated dozens of one-of-a-kind classics that are the automotive equivalent of Renoir, Pissaro, de Kooning, Rothko , you get the idea.  

Rolls Royce Owners Club
Photo Credits: Jennifer Schwab, SCGH

So what was a Clean Tech girl like me doing looking at some of the world's greatest Mercedes, Packard, Rolls Royce, Bugattis, Lincolns, Cadillacs, among many others?  After all, aren't cars the antithesis of green?

Believe it or not, I don't buy into that at all.  I studied at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, probably the world's number one institution for training car designers.  Looking at classic cars can be likened to viewing art in a museum.  If you appreciate fine art, you can understand the appeal of legendary car design, especially the "French curves," mascots (otherwise known as hood ornaments), exotic materials, colors, shapes, angles, brightwork, not to mention the engines and their industrial chic.  

On some level, preserving these rolling masterpieces IS Ecological Thinking at a high level.  Instead of finding their way to landfills, these cars have been restored, refurbished, repaired, recycled and reused over the years to keep them in the mostly pristine condition they are found in today.  Admittedly, they are polluters of the worst kind since they pre-date catalytic converters and computerized fuel injection.  They also usually get lousy fuel economy, as gas was a nickel a gallon when these cars prowled the few roads of America, which was before the modern national highway system was constructed.   However, most collector cars of this ilk are driven less than 500 miles per year, if at all.  Mostly they sit in public or private museums, starting up occasionally to be loaded onto a transporter to participate in "concours d'elegance" which are venues where they compete for prizes and give the general public a chance to view these treasures.

I will also admit to owning classic cars and participating in this hobby with my husband.  In fact, we drove our 1936 Rolls Royce Phantom III Barker Coupe (see photos) to see the Lyon Collection.  It was a meeting of the Rolls Royce Owners Club, and seeing a parking lot filled with 40 Rolls and Bentley automobiles (referred to by the cognoscenti as PMCs, or, "Proper Motor Cars")  was visually pleasing indeed.  Don't get the idea this hobby is only for the elite.  While overall it is rather expensive, there are newer models of Rolls and Bentley, for example, that can be had for anywhere from twenty to forty thousand dollars and are considered collectible.  And unlike some stocks, mutual funds and the like, they will most likely hold their value as proven over the past several years.

1936 Rolls Royce Phantom III Barker Coupe. Photo Credit: Jennifer Schwab, SCGH
1936 Rolls Royce Phantom III Barker Coupe. Photo Credit: Jennifer Schwab, SCGH

So if you're looking for a hobby that combines sustainability's basic tenets, "reuse, repair, and recycle" with compelling aesthetics and plenty of interesting people and elegant events, you might want to think about the classic car world, as opposed to dismissing this as "anti-green."

I'd love to hear from any other green car collectors out there.  As always, thanks for reading!

Follow Jennifer and Sierra Club Green Home on Facebook or @SCGreen_Home on Twitter

Why Ethics is at the Core of Everything in Business and Life.

Friday, June 24, 2011 by
The below article is brought to you as part of elephant journal’s ongoing coverage of LOHAS Forum. For our complete coverage, be sure to follow elephant on Twitter and Facebook.

The LOHAS Forum in Boulder is reminding us of what we already know: To live a meaningful life we need a compass that informs our behavior. I listened to the panel discussion on "Incorporating Socially Responsible Ethics in Your Supply Chain."  AVEDA, Eileen Fisher and the Endangered Species Chocolate Foundation sent representatives to engage with Forum participants.  Scott Leonard the Co-Founder ofIndigenous Designs moderated the panel and set the tone by asking all of us to think about what "Ethics" really means to us.

Standing as a Green Business Person

What would you do if your title for LIFE was "Vice President, Earth and Community Care." That's quite a responsibility. Can one person in one company truly care for our communities and the Earth? Well, that's Chuck Bennett's position at AVEDA. Ultimately we're being challenged to green our businesses at the same time we green our communities and our planet. The old idea that business is business and somehow separate from life is no longer acceptable to a growing segment of our culture we now call conscious consumers.

That's the point of the whole forum, suggesting that each one of us can step into that job description. After the panel I had a chance to talk with Scott the panel facilitator and we came up with this shared perspective: "As business leaders, we are integrating ethical principles, shifting the status quo economy. We are the care givers co-creating an entirely new ecology of commerce ."

Green Business Now

Through the course of the conversation, it became evident that the power of our consumer choices will drive companies to raise the bar on supply chain standards of behavior and performance. Ethical businessleaders are onto this trend and doing their best to keep up with the growing awareness that human behavior and "business as usual" is affecting all life on Earth. A favorite phrase is to Vote with your dollars in the marketplace of change! This is the core of ethical behavior, knowing that we impact ecological systems that support a healthy, balanced and harmonious life!

Bud Wilson Bud Wilson was a student-athlete-activist during the tumultuous era at Harvard University and emerged with an interdisciplinary degree combining, child development, innovative education and urban social policy.  He the Global Director of Bio-Regional Leadership and an awareness instructor and wilderness guide for Sacred Passage and The Way of Nature. Bud has devoted his passion and energy to raising awareness (including his own) and shifting human consciousness to appreciate that we are all living in an interdependent, interconnected world where there is more than enough for all of humanity to live in peace and harmony. A proud dad of 2 wonderful grown children! 

Futuretopia. Or, "Come On, Can't Humanity Do a Little Better?"

Thursday, June 23, 2011 by

A (literally & LEEDly) green building.I used to play Sim City when I was a kid, and I always named my city "Utopia." So a talk entitled "Futuretopia" really got my idealistic jazz on. Man, I was excited.  I imagined it painting a vision of the future of a harmonious union of sustainability, sufficiency, spirituality, beauty, and appropriate use of advanced technologies that could inspire humanity to get far beyond the current fu*k-everything-but-me paradigm and into an interconnected matrix of sustainable winning.

And I left feeling like..."Dammit, humans, can't we do a little better?"

I guess what it comes down to is, the talk was a lot more...practical, than I was hoping for. I honestly can't fault it for that. It's not the speaker's fault that I was on my idealistic high horse to start with.

A few highlights:

  • Blinds that can store solar energy, solar batteries, improved microwaves
  • Design for disassembly. Why don't we just pull the motherboard out and put a new one in?  Why are computers "disposable"?
  • Design for up-cycling.  Design it so that when it's done, it can be used for something else. A cruise ship that becomes a home or hotel built into the side of a hill.  (Now, that's a bit more like what I'm talking about.)
  • Stop rewarding consumption
  • Mandate strict building codes
  • Tax energy use on a sliding scale
  • Are you yawning yet? A wave of the future -- getting energy from waves.
I mean, trust me, I'm all for a little (or a lot of!) practicality and on-the-ground green realness (I am the "Where Does the Rubber Meet the Road?" queen to a lot of my friends)...but a talk entitled "Futuretopia" had my inner-idealist all puffed up and entering with expectations of the cuttingest edge of the cutting edge, and man, I expected to be unduly inspired.  I wanted to hear about biomimetic business models; green buildings that emulate the strength and flexibility of trees; wave power and seasteading. Instead I'm thinking of feed-in tarrifs, ecological living, and solar batteries. 

Yes, essential.  Yes, in everyday life I'm all about 'em.  And yes...I'mma have another cuppa coffee. 

Interview with Marc Barasch: Let's Just Save the World Already, Dammit.

Thursday, June 23, 2011 by

elephant journal is proud to be the official new media partner with LOHAS Forum. Click here for our ongoing LOHAS coverage, and be sure to follow our live coverage on Twitter. [Our editor Waylon Lewis is honored to serve on two panels during this event.]


elephant journal:  Tell me about your experience with LOHAS.

Marc Barasch:  I’ve been around since almost the beginning.  New age business had been bifurcated, and suddenly people were beginning to figure out how to put their spiritual ideas into business.  It started with good ol’ tofu companies, small granola businesses just beginning to advertise and act like real businesses.

elej: How have you seen it change over the years?

MB: It’s been a mixed blessing. You lose some of the authenticity of the core intent as companies sell to larger conglomerates.  It’s wonderful thatit propagates the meme and distributes the products at a scale that a small company never could have done.  There are tremendous benefits to that.  But from my somewhat outside observation, you also lose some of the integrity. For example, if you look at Ben and Jerry’s, when they were acquired by Unilever, I believe they intended to keep a very progressive business model, including a fixed ratio of how much top executives were paid. However, that model was not kept.

So the LOHAS community needs to ask:  how can LOHAS not replicate some of the disparities and discontinuities of the prevailing system that are collectively driving us off a cliff?  I think it’s time for companies to not just look at the sustainability and humanity of their organizational development, not just as a CSR add-on or a laudable afterthought, but something that’s included in the raison d’être of the company itself?  I think that’s the question that we need to be asking. What does the company do?  What is the product?  How can we ensure that it’s not increasing consumerism?

How does this push forward a new emergent model, without pushing forward the parameters of a dysfunctional system?  How does it value and push forward what needs to be done in the world?  And quickly?  We need to step out of the matrix and look at this from some zero point and reverse engineer it.  What does the world need, and how do these entities—businesses and corporations—directly serve that need?

In an era where money is de-realized into nothing but bits and bites, a fictive system based on number magic, the priests of the numerate have always worked abstract magic on the masses, and become the elite through magical hand gestures—in this case, tapping on keyboards.

I’m very personally interested in complementary currencies.  Look at Switzerland, for example.  One reason that they’ve been so stable economically is not just because they are neutral, but because they have some very sophisticated complementary currencies to meet social needs, as well.

elej: What do you think we need now?

MB: I think it’s time for radical experimentation, we need hybrid or fusion companies, with nonprofits using the profit system and businesses founded with a social mission first, such as Patagonia.

How do we take on the really large social mission of true transformation, and not just nibble around the edges of real change?  I think that’s not just grandiosity.  It’s necessity.

How do we model as organizations that meet emergent civilization?

elej:  How are you modeling an organization that meets the emergent civilization?

MB: This might sound pretentious, but I really took a cue from something Thomas Keating once said, something to the effect of, “I get up every morning, and I decide what will do the most good.  This simplifies things tremendously.”

6 years ago, when Field Notes on the Compassionate Life came out, I thought, “If I’m talking about compassion, I need to enact it.”  So I stopped my entire career trajectory from that point forward, and asked how I could do the most good and accept whatever answer I was given.  I asked myself, "what does the universe want?" And I’ve followed that question pretty loyally for these last 5 years.

That lead to a lot of coincidences, that eventually led me to planting trees in Ethiopia, to start.  I started the Green World Campaign, and watched it grow into a mostly volunteer-driven organization that’s now operating in 5 countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Mexico, Philippines, India).  We’ve planted close to 500,000 trees.  We’re involved in regenerating communities.  We’re restoring the economy and ecology of the world’s poorest places, doing work that serves people and planet.  In the model of agroforestry that humans and nature have been co-creating since the beginning.

The idea that our relationship to the natural world is to avoid keeping our own destructive hands off it, is inadequate, completely. We’re supposed to work in an integral way together. Renew communities as we renew the environment.

How do we take the holistic model that we all ascribe to philosophically and apply it in the real world, particularly at the bottom of the pyramid, with the people and places that our collective fate is inextricably entwined?  Collective enactment of the global village.

As a critique, we’re very good at created “enlightened, green-gated communities”.  But how does this affect the poorest of the poor?  Trickle down economics.  Everything is connected.  Everything should be seen as interactive parts of a whole.

Reforestation is a quantifiable healing strategy.  We are using interactive new media and new technologies.  It’s part of the DNA of GWC.  We have an alliance with Digital Globe, the largest satellite imaging company, to be able to show donors over time degraded areas turning green.

A tree is a deeply embedded meme in the human psyche.  We’re a tree-planting species.  We always have been.

We’re operating in many domains, whether it’s carbon credits for eco-stoves, creating social enterprises by sourcing commodities like herbs and teas, non-timber forest products, how to partner with indigenous communities in a way that empowers them and also introduces appropriate technology and new agronomic strategies that are harmonious with their traditional agricultural practices.

We are not only providing environmental education, but also working on linking that up with schools in the US, so kids can get a sense of the global village.  I’m big on creating positive feedback loops in a way that empowers global citizens. Doing good doesn’t have to be only through large corporations and large environmental groups.  How do we self-aggregate and do something that we can see that benefits all of us?

How do we all learn from each other?  I’m taking pains to pick and search partners that are mission-aligned and have a real global citizen mindset.  Some sort of understanding of the spiritual underpinnings of human existence, if you will. We’re not aiming to be USAID.  We want to work with the LOHAS community.  We’re propagating ideals in the context of the developing world that are really building global community that includes the poorest of the poor.

Our model is infinitely scalable.  With proper funding, we could scale this up almost immediately.

I call this work Green Compassion.  And the movie “I Am” also relates to this.

elej: Tell me about I Am.

MB: I got a call from Tom Shadyac, who wanted to make a film about the book.  A large part of the film is based on the book.  Here’s a guy who had earned about $2.1B dollars gross for the studios thru his Jim Carey and Eddie Murphy movies.  As much as possible, I want Green World Campaign to be congruent with the ideals presented in the movie and the book. Everything I do is informed by my own healing work and experience, and my background in Buddhism.  It all stems out from that.

Interviewer's note:  And that's what it's all about.

Marc Barasch rockin' a slanted beret FTW.

Can Opinion Leaders and Business Gurus Bring on a Sustainable Culture?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 by
That's the question the folks in the natural products industry and other big brand businesses are exploring in Boulder, Colorado this week! LOHAS is the acronym that translates to Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.  Stay tuned for the latest cutting edge ideas coming from the heart of "Organic Land".  

Changing individual human behavior is the key to our future. Improving the quality of life is often the purpose of non-profit organizations. Julia Butterfly Hill ( the courageous activist / protector of Redwood trees) likes to call those entities For Benefit Organizations! That's a really nice way to think about the essence of their work.  

In Boulder, the for-profit sector will be exploring how their business practices can affect our society for the better.  Anyone interested in the triple bottom line approach to corporate social responsibility will find many members of their tribe at the St. Julien Hotel for the next few days! Astute observers will be watching to see if they can truly green our world, once and for all.

Time to Green our World

Whole systems, ecological thinking will most definitely be in vogue.

Convincing one another that cooperation and collaboration is the key to success is the first order of business. Reinventing business for the 21st century will require a radical transformation of "business as usual". We'll see if this crowd of motivated and energetic entrepreneurs is up to the task.
Reaching out to the main stream is the next challenge! Stay tuned.


Bud Wilson Bud Wilson was a student-athlete-activist during the tumultuous era at Harvard University and emerged with an interdisciplinary degree combining, child development, innovative education and urban social policy.  He the Global Director of Bio-Regional Leadership and an awareness instructor and wilderness guide for Sacred Passage and The Way of Nature. Bud has devoted his passion and energy to raising awareness (including his own) and shifting human consciousness to appreciate that we are all living in an interdependent, interconnected world where there is more than enough for all of humanity to live in peace and harmony. A proud dad of 2 wonderful grown children! 

Downsizing -- A Thousand Square Feet Per Person, A New American Standard

Monday, June 20, 2011 by

Let's face it, the Great Recession has not been a plus for the green movement overall. Most ordinary Americans are still sympathetic to the cause, but their willingness to spend even a penny extra for environmentally friendly products has been dampened by four dollar gas, five dollar cereal and loss of equity in their homes.

On the other hand, a positive by-product of all this is a lot less enthusiasm for what used to be part of the American dream: a McMansion of your very own, and the extra cars, boats and even planes that went along with this be-careful-what-you-wish-for icon. I know many successful boomers who are now moping around their 8 to 12,000-foot monuments to capitalism (many of them rendered in classic McMansionesque Tuscan style architecture) wondering what to do with the unused acres of space. "The Brady Bunch house seems like a shack compared to the dream of the typical middle class homebuyer/builder," said New York copywriter Jenny Lazar in an email to me on this subject. Indeed, her point is well taken, what used to be considered a large house is of modest dimensions by today's standards.

This is not meant to pass judgment on a long-standing tradition and part of the American Dream as we used to know it: a large, spacious home featuring huge foyer, high ceilings, many bedrooms and bathrooms, giant dining room and eat-in kitchen, multi-car garage, and more. Instead, this is to point out that perhaps America's long-standing love affair with this type of -- not very green -- home has finally run its course?

I can think of a number of successful friends who live in houses of this description. Surprisingly, many of them are empty-nesters or have only one or two children, which is hardly enough to fill a home with six to ten bedrooms. Other than the several times per year that they host major parties, community events and/or charity functions, they just aren't getting the value out of their super sized abodes. And a lot more often than you'd think, these homeowners are saying, "boy, if I could get out of this place whole, I'd like to sell it and downsize to a smaller house..."

Why do they want out? Usually, it's not only the unused space, but the carrying costs. Heating, cooling, cleaning and maintaining huge homes is an expensive proposition. Not to mention, the property taxes. The care and feeding of a large home is a big responsibility that seemingly never ends.

Indeed, magazines like DWELL, and websites such as -- both leaders of architectural style and design - showcase smaller homes for families of up to four members. Usually these are in the 1,000 to 3,000 square foot range, built with fully sustainable materials and state-of-the-art energy efficient HVAC systems. Real ecological living spaces. Upon considering this trend versus the longer-standing bigger is better, Sierra Club Green proposes a new industry standard that balances our longtime desire for lots of space with the current and future need to downsize: one thousand square feet per inhabitant, max. So, a family of four would get up to 4,000 square feet, a childless couple would have 2,000 feet or less, and so on. Sorry, pets don't count as people (although my personal bias is that having a large dog in a very small space is not healthy for the animal).

No doubt hardcore environmentalists will think this plan is too liberal, but I believe we have to start somewhere and we have to be realistic about the ability to change long-standing philosophies overnight. Perhaps ultimately downsizing should mean 750 or even 500 square feet per inhabitant? For now, however, in this first incantation, I think the 1,000 feet per person proposed by Sierra Club Green Home makes sense.

One small problem presents itself in all this: what do we do with the multitude of huge homes that are on the market now and will be even more plentiful once the downsizing trend catches fire? Indeed, McMansions in most major cities can be bought for hundreds of thousands if not millions less today than at the peak of conspicuous consumption, 2007. This probably won't change given the dynamics of the market. Think about it, the older empty nesters increasingly want to voluntarily downsize, for sustainability among other reasons. And to their credit, the new, younger generation of successful people don't seem to want the huge homes. They are gravitating toward the smaller, hipper, more sustainable structures featured in DWELL and Which is great for sustainability in general, as these younger opinion leaders are setting a new standard for what is considered "making it" in American business.

Overall, too many McMansions on the market could be viewed as a positive. How they will be absorbed by the marketplace overall is an issue, but in general, we see a very real possibility that downsizing may become "the new black" in terms of what's considered chic, hip, cool AND sustainable. And that's a good thing overall.

Does your current living arrangement meet the measuring stick? We want to know, let us hear from you, thanks!


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Twitter: @SCGreen_Home