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Localizing Our Food Supply

Posted on April 22, 2008
Filed Under Social Ventures, Environment | 2 Comments

I figured Earth Day was as good a day as any to write abut a project my friend Chuck Templeton has been working on down at IIT. Chuck is a big fan of all things green and has been focusing a lot of his efforts (outside the day job) on localizing the food supplies of local restaurants.

After consulting a number of restaurants Chuck then started working with the IIT Institute of Design’s Social Entrepreneurship program on a project designed to come up with ideas on how restaurants can localize their food supply and green themselves.

You can actually go check out the results of this project on May 7th from 6:30pm - 9:3pm at 350 N LaSalle Street, room 202.

Just make sure to register so that Chuck can get a head count.  I’ll be there and am looking forward to it.

I’ll leave you with a little blurb on the event from Chuck:

Join some of tomorrow’s leading designers as they present their recommendations in strengthening the local economy between farmers, restaurants, jobs and the community. Food is obviously important to our well being, but food production has some of the biggest impacts on the environment.

The world renowned IIT Institute of Design launched a Social Entrepreneurship program and graduate students will be presenting the results of their research to increase the vitality of the local farming community (increasing the diversity in our food supply system), helping local restaurants localize their supplier base (less food miles and more money staying in the community), increase the number of local jobs and helping the community become more sustainable. The project includes carbon off-sets, renewable energy, composting and recycling, bio-fuels, energy conservation and many other aspects that are important in building a sustainable future.

The recommendations are an important step at creating a local food system that is sustainable and environmentally friendly. The project uses one of Chicago’s leading restaurant groups is the test case.


Manufactured Landscapes: The Work of Edward Burtynsky

Posted on March 19, 2008
Filed Under Movie Reviews, Environment, Sustainability | Leave a Comment

Manufactured LandscapesWhen Manufactured Landscapes came up as a suggested film on Netflix I was immediately intrigued. What was this film about I wondered. So I took a look at the description and found that it was a documentary that focused on the work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.

Burtynsky has been photographing what he calls “manufactured landscapes” for over twenty years and his work is, quite frankly, breathtaking.

It all started with a missed direction on the highway that landed Burtynsky at a strip mining operation. This got him thinking of not only what a great photograph the mine would make but also about the harm we were doing to the planet. It was then that he set off to document, through fantastic photographs, what we as humans have done and are doing to our home.

What is great about Burtynsky though is the fact that his photographs don’t hammer you over the head with their environmental message. It is a very subtle message that you begin to realize only after looking at the photographs for a while. At first the photos simply look like interesting pieces of art but then, all of a sudden, you realize what you are really looking at and you have to take a step back and think.

If you’re not sure a whole film about Burtynsky’s work is for you I would suggest checking out his TED talk. I think you’ll be captivated by it and by his work.

Looking at a massive pile of tires or a sea of used electronics through the lens of Edward Burtynsky really makes you think about our impact on this planet. I hope you will check out the movie, Burtynsky’s work and his TED talk because I believe it will open your eyes.


Death’s Door Spirits: Bringing Sustainability to Vodka and Gin

Posted on March 5, 2008
Filed Under Environment, Sustainability | 1 Comment

Brian and DanI had the pleasure of meeting Brian Ellison the other day. Brian is one of the co-founders of Death’s Door Spirits. Death’s Door is actually a side gig for him. When he is not creating sustainable spirits Brian actually works on economic positioning and regional sustainability in various areas of the country with a focus on the upper midwest.

So, why am I talking about a small vodka and gin distiller? Because the vodka and gin Death’s Door produces is sustaintable. They actually farm all of their wheat on Washington Island which is an island in Lake Michigan off the Wisconsin coast.

The story of how this small distillery came to be is a funny one. The founders, who had a small B&B on the island where cooking classes were taught, thought they should grow something on the land. They settled on wheat and hired some local farmers to grow it for them promising to buy any output those farmers could produce.

Over time the output became larger and larger and soon hit 100 acres. Not knowing what to do with all of that wheat the founders had a discussion. Initially they thought they would make sustainable flour from it but that idea just didn’t stick.

Then the light bulbs went off. Vodka and gin would be a good use for the wheat and the specialty market for those products was on the rise. Dealth’s Door Spirits was born then and there.

The spirits these guys produce are clearly artisan quality. I am not a big vodka guy and certainly not a gin guy (I favor craft brewed beers - they are my drink of choice) but let me tell you that this vodka is very good. I had a small sampling of it and was blown away by the smoothness and flavor. This is the only vodka I have ever really enjoyed on its own (as in not as part of a cocktail).

So, if you are a cocktail person, vodka on the rocks guy and sustainability fan give Death’s Door a try. You won’t be disappointed by the product and you’ll know that you are helping to get the planet back in order in a small way.


Sustainability: Services - not Products - Are the Key to Aligning Interests

Posted on February 14, 2008
Filed Under Business, Environment, Sustainability | 4 Comments

Updated on 2/15/08

As can be seen throughout the posts on this blog I have begun to look deeper into environmental issues, sustainable businesses and business practices over the past year. While I am admittedly new to the topic and still have a lot to learn I have picked up a lot fairly quickly and have had a lot of interesting ideas pop up.

In fact, I picked up another interesting idea while hanging out with a friend of mine last weekend. The topic of sustainability came up during our conversation and we started talking about business models around sustainability.

My friend brought up a great point and that was that current product based companies interests are not aligned with those of the environment.

As seen in the Story of Stuff, product companies want to design products that won’t last forever so consumers will buy more. In fact, product companies try to figure out how short of a life span products can have where the companies brand remains in tact and consumers will go out and purchase another one of their products (disclaimer: not all product companies work this way of course).

So how do we get the interests of product companies and the environment aligned? The answer is simple:

Selling services not products.

Update: Selling services instead of products is called “servicing” in green business circles.

For example Carrier - the A/C manufacturers - could do deals where they charge monthly/yearly for air conditioning services. They install and maintain the equipment and agree to keep your air at x temperature for $x per month/year.

This creates a situation in which Carrier wants to build better products that have a very long usable life and products that are super efficient since Carrier assumes the capital costs and costs to run the machines. Pretty interesting, right?

Update: The A/C idea was originally brought up in the book Green to Gold:

By offering “a service instead of a product, a company profits by reducing its use of materials and energy, and providing that service at the lowest cost possible. Lovins argues, for instance, that air conditioner manufacturers should offer cooling as a service - not AC units as a product - so they’d have an incentive to make the systems highly energy efficient. In some green business circles, the idea of recasting a product as a service, often called “servicing,” is the holy grail of environmental innovation.”

I have heard of a company employing a similar type of service model for carpet as well. This company has a carpet system that consists of a number of squares that link together. When a high traffic area is worn out, they simply come into the building, pull up the affected squares, replace them and recycle the old squares. In this situation the company does not charge for the carpet itself, they charge for the service (floor covering services) which causes them to want to create very durable and reusable products.

Update: The company is called InterfaceFLOR and more info can be found on their site.

There are many other product businesses that could employ a similar service model rather easily (in the scheme of things) by figuring out the costs and creating a pricing situation that makes sense for them and for the consumer.

What other industries do you think could employ a “service” makeover?

Update: I have a lot to learn and a lot more to read on this subject. If you are interested in reading and learning more as well please check out the comment on this post left by Peter Christensen as he outlines the best reads for the topic of green business.


Ideas: New Sustainable Retail Experience

Posted on February 8, 2008
Filed Under Social Ventures, Environment, Sustainability | 4 Comments

My friend Matt Jaunich just watched The Story of Stuff and wrote up a quick response to it in the form of an idea for a new retail experience.

Here is the idea he brings into the fold in his own words:

Imagine a new retail experience, where negative externalities from consumption are minimized, and mitigated by labeling and pricing. For example, instead of individually packaged 1/2 and one gallon milk containers, there could be big milk dispensers, where you can fill up your own plastic milk container over and over and over again. Ditto with cereal dispensers, where you use the same packaging week after week, and any other individually packaged product, for that matter.

Also, the carbon emissions from the production and transportation of products from the factories to the store are estimated, printed on the packaging, and a carbon offset is calculated into the purchase price.

The first piece of this idea is very interesting. I hadn’t thought of something like this before. What form would it take?

Would it be a new retail store/chain that operates this way or would it be more of a product that one could sell to the likes of Wal-Mart and other large chains?

Building and distributing the dispensers could be a very interesting company. Building the stores themselves could be interesting as well although you would be in direct competition with the big box guys and most likely have a higher price point. To get it to work you would probably need to locate in cities and in upper class suburbs (i.e. take the Whole Foods approach).

The second piece of Matt’s idea is something I have actually thought a lot about but have yet to write about on this site and that is creating tags for products that have a carbon emissions listing on them.

Of course gathering accurate data on that wouldn’t be easy due to a lot of products visiting multiple production facilities and getting shipped far and wide before entering the the store and ultimately the consumers hands. However, it isn’t impossible.

I think the business that could form around the carbon emissions idea looks like this:

You have a data gathering business that becomes a standards board in a sense. Companies then pay this business to tag their items with the proper carbon emissions info.

Perhaps to start the info could be more like the “whole grain” ratings in that there are simply a few “grades” (excellent source of whole grain, good source of whole grain, etc.). These handful of ratings work well and are great marketing pieces for the companies who get “certified” which means they would probably actually pay you to essentially regulate them.

What do all of you think?


The Story of Stuff

Posted on February 8, 2008
Filed Under Social Ventures, Environment, Sustainability | 2 Comments

A friend of mine just sent me a link to a video called “The Story of Stuff” which she thought I would like based on my environmental interests and my love of the book Simple Prosperity. Well, she was right. I loved the video and I think some of you may as well. Check out the excerpt below and if you enjoy it please head to the Story of Stuff website to watch the whole 20 minute video. It’s really worth the time. The video is also a nice primer to some of the ideas found in Simple Prosperity.


Global Warming and Risk Management

Posted on February 2, 2008
Filed Under Environment | Leave a Comment

Regardless of what you believe about global warming this video will get you to think about the problem (or lack thereof depending on what you believe) from a different angle. In this video you will see a simple risk analysis performed with regards to global warming.

The end result: Even if global warming isn’t actually caused by humans reducing our emissions and such won’t hurt us at all (in fact, it will help us either way). However, if we ignore global warming and take the bet that we aren’t hurting the planet and that the warming is cyclical and down the road it turns out we’re wrong we’ll be in for a world of hurt.

Simple risk analysis says we should take the bet that we’re hurting the planet and lower our footprint because the risk is much lower than any other alternative. Enjoy the video. It really is entertaining and, I think, spot on.


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