Chelsea Green Publishing

The Blogging Community at Chelsea Green

Leveraging Business For Change: It Ain’t About the “Where”

George S. invited me to have coffee with him the other day. George is a young real estate developer in town (Savannah, GA), passionate about strategies to reduce our carbon footprint. He and his wife and two young daughters have been in town about five years. Foremost in his mind, the reason he wanted to chat over coffee, was the idea of moving elsewhere, where the ground was more fertile for sustainable business practices. “It’s just so hard, here,” George said. The refrain was familiar. A conservative state legislature that seemed largely deaf to conservation. The overweening influence of the Southern Company and its persistent steamrolling lobbying tactics to preserve its coal and nuclear monopoly. The lack of a statewide climate action plan ─ the only state on the east coast still lacking the political will to push such an agenda. And so George was ready to pull up stakes and move elsewhere. Maybe to a place like Portland, Oregon or Boulder, Colorado that had the foresight to create a zero growth boundary. Or to an Austin, Texas, with its own citizen-controlled utility company. Or to a Washington, DC or Chicago, cities with strong green building programs. Richard Florida has become a household name with his demographic research into the so-called “creative class,” that innovative, youngish, restless segment of the American population desirous of “loose-tie associations” and with the capacity to pick up and move from one hip place to another. The phenomenon is certainly real. Americans change job every four years ─ though most changes are lateral ─ and move with similar frequency. A college graduate today can anticipate holding 11 different jobs before he or she retires. A 20- or 30-something year-old is half as likely as his or her grandparents to join a group. Numerous studies (Putnam, Bowling Alone; Suarez, The Old Neighborhood; Wachtel, The Poverty of Affluence) have variously bemoaned the devolution of community set in motion by the pursuit of loose-tie associations. But the most striking message to my mind comes from a brilliant monograph by the sociologist Richard Sennett (The Corrosion of Character), who picks up on the silver underside of it all: “One of the unintended consequences of modern capitalism is that it has strengthened the value of place, aroused a longing for community. All the emotional conditions we have explored in the workplace animate that desire: the uncertainties of flexibility, the absence of deeply rooted trust and commitment . . . most of all, the specter of failing to make something of oneself in the world, to ‘get a life’ through one’s work. All these conditions impel people to look for some other scene of attachment and depth.” Sennett helps frame a response to my friend George: The foot-loose sensibility George articulates bespeaks something quite opposite and more profound: The yearning for a strong sense of community. Sure, each place will face its obstacles. But in taking stock of the particulars of a place, a bubbling up of change-minded assets can be found: certain government officials and agencies that are open to ICLEI guidelines and grey-water ordinances; forward-looking academics and researchers working on clean-tech solutions; environmental groups shaping holistic strategies to nurture our lands; faith-based organizations that link spirituality to walking more softly on this earth; and businesses whose sense of purpose is to leverage its activities to be better stewards of our communities. To pick up and move on down the road every four or five years is to squander an unparalleled opportunity to put deep roots down into the community, to enable the rich nutrients in a community to nourish one’s own growth, and to return that enrichment by creating a business that is sustaining and provides sustenance for all who come into contact with what you do and what you care for most deeply.

Ray Anderson: Oh Captain, Our Captain

Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, Inc., author of two books on sustainability and a tireless champion for re-inventing business to service the environment, passed away last Monday at the age of 77. Ray was vice-chairman of my company for eight years, a mentor, a guide, and a dear friend. I write this in […] Read More..

In Praise of Late Bloomers

It’s already spring in my hometown of Savannah, GA. Partiers have already blown in and out of town to celebrate a raucous St. Patrick’s day. The tourists are in full swing, enjoying a three-week music festival and the annual tour of homes. And, of course, there’s the early bursting onto the scene of azaleas, the […] Read More..

A Tale of Two Banks

Several hundred billions of dollars in commercial real estate loans are up for expiration in the coming year, with a multiple of that ($1.7 trillion) coming in the ensuing 12 months.. Reports of vulture capital in the $500 billion + range are reportedly poised to pounce on anticipated flea-market pricing. And the question on the […] Read More..

Doing the Scapegoat Thing – Not So Profitably

During the past nine months, virtually every board I serve on has gone through crazy tumult. A few execs have lost their jobs in the process. You could say that each situation is unique, and that these terminations were called for. Perhaps that’s true. But I think there are systemic forces at work that call […] Read More..

Restoring the Business of Government

One of my favorite quotes from the social critic H. L. Mencken: “Living with a dog is messy ─ like living with an idealist.” The same could be said about democracy living with big business. It’s messy. And the clean-up is a bitch. In the past few days, a number of newspaper articles and editorials […] Read More..