When Your Business Has Nowhere to Hide

Only the Paranoid Survive was the title of Andrew Grove’s candid account of the years he headed Intel, leading it from a small maker of computer chips to the ubiquitous microprocessor found in computers everywhere. Grove’s account resonates with these grim economic times, particularly his warnings about the “Valley of Death” companies can face when hit by unexpected disaster.

For Intel, two valleys included the release of a faulty product that cost half a billion dollars to recall and replace and, second, being blindsided by competitors from Japan who were quietly taking over the chip industry, Intel’s main product line at the time.»

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Leading Green: The Future of Ecological Leadership

Visionary leaders tackle great challenges with grand consequences over long timespans. How long? Well, the current crises in the global economy and the consequent reshaping of capitalism will work themselves out over a decade or two. But the threats posed by the potentially inexorable ecological meltdown of our planet will play out over centuries.

That meltdown has direct implications for business leaders. The vast majority of industrial platforms, designs, chemicals and other habits of commerce were developed blind to their ecological impacts. The discipline that reveals these impacts is but a decade or two old: industrial ecology, which measures the manifold consequences of any product with an engineer’s precision.»

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The Earth Needs a New Operating System and You are the Programmers

Paul Hawken is a personal hero, someone who has led the way in progressive thinking and action for an ecologically sound world. In terms of ecological intelligence, he’s a genius.

I was deeply moved by the address he gave to the University of Portland graduating class of 2009, and want to share it:

“…You are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation – but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement.»

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“Green” Is a Mirage

An industrial engineer’s version of the deconstruction of stuff is called Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA, a method that allows us to systematically tear apart any manufactured item into its components and their subsidiary industrial processes, and measure with near- surgical precision their impacts on nature from the beginning of their production through their final disposal.

LCAs had a prosaic start; one of the very first such studies was commissioned by Coca- Cola back in the 1960s to determine the relative merits of plastic and glass bottles and quantify the benefits of recycling. The method slowly spread to other industrial questions; by now a large and growing band of companies with national or international brands deploys the method somewhere along the way to make choices in product design or manufacturing—and many governments use LCAs to regulate those industries.»

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Is What You’re Buying Safe?

A while back I bought a bargain-bin, shiny, toy car for my grandson, a
toddler, only to learn within the next few days two disheartening
facts: First, the bright colors painted on cheap toys are often spiked
with lead dust to add luster. Worse, toys plucked from the shelves of
the very chain where I bought the car had been found to contain lead. I
knew, too, the toy car would inevitably end up in his mouth at some
point. I’ve never given him that little gift.

Read the full post at wowowow.com»

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Truth and Consequences

Now we can trace the real environmental impact of the stuff we buy. How to raise your own eco-IQ.

(Originally published at Newsweek.com)

A while ago I bought my grandson, a toddler, a bright yellow wooden racing car, for just 99 cents. But then I happened to read that lead in paint makes colors (particularly yellow and red) brighter and last longer; because lead costs less than alternates, cheaper toys are more likely to contain it. I have no idea if the sparkling yellow paint on this toy car harbors lead or not—but now, months later, that sporty racer sits atop my desk.»

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Ecological Accounting

By Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris (a version of this blog appeared as a New York Times OpEd on Sunday, April 19, 2009)

With spring in the air, our thoughts turn to outdoor pastimes, and increasingly these days, to ecological correctness. Consider, for example, that paragon of eco-virtue, the stainless steel water bottle that lets us hydrate without discarding endless plastic bottles. A fine-grained accounting of the ecological impacts of steel versus plastic reveals some surprising twists.

What we think of as “green” turns out to be less so (and sometimes more so) than we assume, when viewed through the lens of life cycle assessment or LCA, a method used by industrial ecologists – a discipline that blends industrial engineering and chemistry with environmental science and biology — to assess how manmade systems impact natural ones.»

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What is ecological intelligence?

From Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything

Ecologists tell us that natural systems operate at multiple scales. At the macro level there are global biogeochemical cycles, like that for the flow of carbon, where shifts in ratios of elements can be measured not just over the years, but over centuries and geologic ages. The ecosystem of a forest balances the entwined interplay of plant, animal, insect species, down to the bacteria in soil, each finding an ecological niche to exploit, their genes co-evolving together. At the mico-level cycles run through on a scale of millimeters or microns, in just seconds.»

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