Monday, December 14, 2009

TriLibrium's Sustainability Report



On Friday, we released our Sustainability Report based on the Global Report Initiative's G3 framework. You can download our report at the TriLibrium website.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Global Reporting Inititative


TriLibrium, the firm that I founded, released its first sustainability report yesterday. We used the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework to report on our economic, environmental, and social performance. Follow this link to download a PDF of our report.

Sustainability reports based on the GRI framework allow an organization to benchmark their performance with respect to laws, norms, codes, performance standards and voluntary initiatives. It also allows a company to demonstrate commitment to sustainable development and, to compare organizational performance over time.

The GRI is a standardized approach that can be used by any size organization regardless of geographic location. Has your company prepared such a report? If so, what would it say?

If your organization is promoting its "greenness", it ought to complete or be planning to complete a Sustainability Report as well as a greenhouse gas inventory. In my opinion, a company must do these things or it risks being labeled a greenwasher and with it, its reputation and brand value.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Health Insurance - A burden on business


I don't understand why we burden businesses with the task of providing health insurance.

My company, TriLibrium, is in the process of adding this employee benefit and we've probably spent a collective 20-40 hours of our staff time discussing our needs, creating an employee census, shopping for an agent/broker, supplying information, evaluating options, etc. etc. None of which relates directly to our business as accountants and business advisors.

I have no problem paying the money but wouldn't it be nice if this was simplified? A business tax on all employers in order to provide universal health insurance would level the playing field and eliminate their administrative burden. This administrative burden is a hidden cost of our insane, for-profit private health insurance system.

Like everyone, we all want comprehensive insurance. All of us need access to health care and worry about catastrophic problems that might not be covered due to coverage gaps or maximum coverage provisions.

From an economic standpoint, it makes so much sense to create a single, large insurance pool with everyone in so we can equally spread the risk, lower administrative costs and reduce the fear and anxiety we all have around health insurance.

We need universal health care. I believe the best system is Single Payer. We could solve all these problems by adopting Medicare for All!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Power to Purchase


Now that "Buy Nothing Day" has passed and we're all back to consuming, we still have the power to vote with our dollars. How are you spending yours?

I am pretty conscious about my spending, both at home and work. I take pride reducing the supply chain when I buy quality products from local vendors.

As you'll note from my blog, I advocate for a different economy. Our global economy is broken, despite the illusions and mass deceit necessary to keep the game going for the near term and to serve the interests of those at the top of the pyramid. An economy based on greed is the worst kind.

The good news is that there is another economy rising up and it cherishes your support. Every dollar you invest in the new economy makes a difference. I repeat, every dollar you invest in the new economy makes a difference.

One way to support the new economy is to support Certified B Corporations. Whether your role is investor, advocate, policy maker, worker, partner, or consumer, your support of B Corps makes another world possible.

Some of my B Corp colleagues are offering holiday specials to the B Community and our friends. Click here to check out the B Community discounts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Buy Nothing Day



Let's be honest. There is only one way to avoid a catastrophic collapse of this human experiment here on Earth - We must consume less.

Every one of our problems is exasperated by continued growth, yet the only solution offered by pundits and elected leaders is more growth.

Is there any evidence that we can grow our way out of the maldistribution of wealth and resources? Grow, grow, grow is the capitalist mantra yet these are the same forces killing the planet. Today, over 100 species will vanish from the planet forever, most as a result of our growth.

So what can we do?

Consume less.

Buy Nothing Day is the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States. Typically this day is one of the busiest shopping days of the year which is why we co opt this event in an attempt to change the current paradigm.

The creative folks at Adbusters have been sponsoring this event for over a decade now and I hope you'll take the day to reflect on consumption and how it impacts our world. There are actions all across the globe on November 27th and 28th. I hope you'll join me in reducing needless consumption this holiday season. You can start the day after Thanksgiving by enjoying some time with family and friends and just saying "NO", to shopping and mindless consumerism.




Monday, November 16, 2009

Green Office Space


TriLibrium is growing and that means we need to move our office. Of course we're doing everything to be as sustainable as possible and so I thought it would be fun to engage my readers in the process.

What are some of the leading edge ideas for professional office space?
What should be included? What should we avoid?

We are looking for suggestions, ideas and recommendations on every aspect of moving a business and readying the space from equipment suggestions, to materials, build out, furnishings, etc.

It is likely that we'll have new offices by February 1st. I look forward to starting a dialog and blogging about it as we move forward.

P.S. I like the "HELP" in the picture, not the paper. TriLibrium used less than three reams of paper in our first year of operations.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My 350.org action


I had a great day on the Willamette River Saturday joining approximately 200 kayaks and canoes as we wrote 350 using our boats. This was part of 350.0rg's International Day of Climate Action.

It was challenging as we had to navigate the river's current while organizing ourselves into a shape that was impossible to see from our position on the water. The action was a perfect metaphor to the climate change solution.
  • It took the collective action of many.
  • There was no single leader yet their was leadership from many people.
  • The people, assisted the leaders by listening and responding to their guidance.
  • We didn't get it right the first time but kept innovating until we figured it out.
You can watch a great video of the action here.

350.org Kayakers Action in Portland from Epicocity Project on Vimeo.


Finally, I owe a big shout out to the law firm of Roberts Kaplan for inviting me to participate. I'm looking forward to the day TriLibrium has the resources to invite clients and colleagues to such an event.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Corporate taxes in Oregon


The Oregon legislature passed a bill this last session increasing the minimum corporate tax from $10 to $150. The $10 minimum fee hasn't changed since 1931! Faced with massive budget deficits, the legislature enacted a combination of spending cuts and increased taxes to address the problem.

The bill was challenged through the referendum process so the issue will be voted on by Oregon voters in January. A "Yes" vote will keep the tax increases and the services these funds provide, a "No" vote will stop the tax increase forcing a deep cut in human services.

The legislative spending cuts were deep and real. I've talked to teachers who now have 3-5 more kids in every class increasing their workload. My teenage daughter has mentioned both the increased class size and the decreased school district support for athletics, music and other extra curricula activities like debate, dance, and more.

The tax increases were responsible and targeted. The tax increase on individuals only hits those earning $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples) or more, and then, the tax increase only hits their income ABOVE $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples). For corporations, they increased the minimum tax as noted above, and, also added a gross receipts tax of .0015 for corporations with $500,000 or more in Oregon sales. Both of these groups (corporations and wealthy people) can afford these very modest increases. Without the increases, the service cuts would be even deeper.

I had an "In My Opinion" piece in the morning's Oregonian. Check it our if you'd like to read more.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Importance of Accounting


I see far too many businesses and startups minimize their accounting investment. An accounting system should be a strategic asset, yet it works more like an anchor or a sinker for many organizations because they don't understand or appreciate the value of a strong accounting system.

There was a great story recently on BikePortland.org some financial problems at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA). It seems they didn't know what was going on and they ended up with a series of errors that left them showing a nearly $100,000 loss on $1.3 million of revenue. They weren't aware of the problems because their books weren't in order.

I'm a founding member of the BTA and appreciate all their hard work and advocacy on behalf of biking. I'm not picking on them but just want to show a real example of what can happen when your accounting system fails.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

International Day of Action


I'm excited about Saturday, October 24th. That is the International Day of Climate Action being promoted by the folks at 350.org. As I write, there are nearly 2,500 actions planned in over 150 countries to help build international awareness and momentum around the scientific consensus that the CO2 our atmosphere should not exceed 350 parts per million (ppm).

On October 24th, I will be joining a group of human powered boats on the Willamette River to write the numbers 350 with our boats. What a fun and creative action this will be. If you visit the 350.org site, you can join an existing action or create your own. The point is to be engaged and involved because none of us can do this alone.

This is really a wonderful opportunity to re orientate our world with a sustainable economic system. The Chinese symbol for crisis is a combination of Danger + Opportunity. Both are present and I'd like to see us seize the opportunity and avoid the danger.

The current CO2 concentration is 387 ppm and climbing by 2 ppm per year. Scientists tell us that we must reverse this trend, reducing our global emissions to bring CO2 levels below 350 ppm.

While this poses challenges, I am proud that Portland has decreased per capita emissions 17 percent below 1990 levels, while the rest of the country has increase CO2 emissions by nearly 20 percent in the same time frame. We've done this through a variety of measures including land use planning, zoning, tree planting, hybrid autos, improved public transportation, multi-model transportation support, and more.

What are you doing on October 24th? I hope you'll join me in changing the world.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fully Self-Directed Retirement Accounts


As I mentioned earlier, Americans currently have $14 trillion in their 401(k)s and IRAs (Retirement Fund = RF). These are investments that could be directed towards a green, local and sustainable economy although 97 percent of these investments are currently invested in Wall Street.

In a fully Self-Directed RF, the beneficiary can direct the trustee to purchase almost any investment that wouldn't be disallowed by the prohibited transaction rules. These rules generally disallow investments involving personal use, self-dealing, related-party transactions and investments in collectibles, life insurance, antiques, works of art, etc.

RFs are essentially trusts, established for a beneficiary and held by a trustee. Most RFs are held by trustees that limit investment options to a narrow menu of choices. These may be called "Self-Directed" RFs because the beneficiary "directs" the investment, but options are limited by the trustee to predetermined menu of investments.

It is however possible to create RF trusts with trustees who allow investments in alternative assets like real estate, private lending, VC investments, private placements, precious metals, LLCs, international holdings, etc. These trusts are fully self-directed. Just like any RF, the investments are held by a trustee for the beneficiary in the RFs name.

Let's say you wanted to invest in a LEED-certified commercial infill project in your neighborhood to provide positive cash flow and capital appreciation. There are numerous advantages making that investment inside the walls of your RF including tax deferred or tax-free earnings (including any gain on sale), bankruptcy creditor protection, and pretax deductions on your contributions.

A trustee of a traditional, Roth, SEP, or SIMPLE IRA can allow these types of investments although most don't. Employer provided plans like pension and profit sharing can also be placed with a trustee who allows these types of investments though it may be necessary to amend the plan documents.

I'll come back to this discussion because it provides great opportunity to fund the green revolution and it is too complex to handle in a single blog post. Feel free to contact me at my office if you need immediate information.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

EcoNvergence


Just a quick reminder that this weekend, October 2nd-4th, Portland will host EcoNvergence, a northwest regional gathering on the economic and ecological crisis/opportunity. All the events will be hosted at the First Unitarian Church (12th & SW Salmon).

Speakers include keynotes by Noam Chomsky on Friday night and Derrick Jensen on Saturday night. Both of these are a few of my favorite thinkers and writers. Both provide deep and thoughtful analysis and solutions that get to the root of our problems.

Thursday night at 7:00pm is the world premier of the the movie Plunder, by award-winning producer Danny Schechter. This movie is free of charge so I hope to see you there.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Funding the Green Revolution


I believe in Main Street and am philosophically opposed to Wall Street and what it has become. The financial sector’s purpose should be the reduction of risk and the efficient allocation of capital. Wall Street has failed at both tasks.

Finance is a means to an end, but the financiers of capitalism have turned finance into a profit center that essentially skims more and more out of the Main Street economy and into the pockets of a few. They often add no value yet have manipulated the game for their benefit. Those folks care about money and money only. Don’t expect them to understand the green revolution. I personally don’t believe a publicly-traded company can be sustainable anymore than a rock can fly.

Everywhere you turn, you see rules created by corporate lobbyist and their politicians that protect Wall Street to the detriment of Main Street.

As a result of the rules, Americans have $14 trillion invested in IRAs and 401(k)s with 97 percent (97%!) invested in Wall Street’s stocks, bonds, CDs and money market funds. Just 3 percent of individual retirement funds are invested in alternative assets like real estate, private lending, VC investments, private placements, precious metals, LLCs, international holdings, etc.

How many of us green minded folks would like to defund Wall Street and refund Main Street using our retirement funds? I certainly would and this isn’t an all or nothing proposition. But many people have six figure retirement accounts with their money invested in the very companies who are destroying the planet. Does that make any sense?

In my next post I will disclose an approach we could use to help fund the Green Revolution.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reemergence


Wow, it has been a busy month since my last post. I apologize and am going to try to be more frequent. I was doing a pretty good job and then came August and now September. Vacations, lots of work, great weather …. I think you get the idea. It is also hard for me to get back into the rhythm once I stop. This is going to be a short post just to get the blogging juices flowing again.

Last week I got the opportunity to hear Paul Hawken speak in Portland at the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum. I’ll share with you a few things I picked up and/or found interesting.

First, did you know the U.S. Green Building Council is now the largest environmental NGO in the world? What an accomplishment for an organization just 16 years old. Hawkens asked the question, “Where are the other U.S. Green _____ councils?” This got me to thinking about the need for a U.S. Green CPA Council. We need leadership from every profession and CPAs could play an important role. Accounting is nothing more than storytelling with numbers and the story we’ve been telling has been woefully misleading.

Being in Portland, Paul also mentioned the green energy boom both here and around the country. How we are transforming our cities to be places where one can get almost everything they need without driving a car. One point I wrote down that seems super important is the fact that the future lied in a radical reduction on the demand side of the equation. We can’t achieve sustainability without addressing the demand side and this requires transformational social and policy change.

Mayor Sam Adams spoke briefly and addressed the city’s commitment to sustainability. Portland has committed to a 90 percent reduction (from 1990 levels) in CO2 by 2050. 90 percent! Thank you Mayor Adams. What is your city doing?

Dave Williams, CEO of ShoreBank Pacific, also spoke at the Forum. He mentioned how the top 4 banks control 60 percent of total deposits if you include the largest 25 banks. These giant banks control 40 percent of all deposits. Would the banking disaster have occurred were there a law to limit the scope and size of any bank to say 2.5% of total deposits? Because of the corporate domination of our political system, nothing has changed since the big meltdown. In fact, things have actually gotten worse and more concentrated.

It feels good to write again. I won’t take so long between posts. Now go out and change the world!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Another way to view the Triple Bottom Line


We often imagine the Triple-Bottom Line (TBL) as a three legged stool. While that metaphor works on one level, it really isn’t all that helpful. A TBL organization needs to think about and manage all three-legs successfully but it must be noted that each of the three legs are unique with different goals and objectives.

It is my experience that most business organizations tend to focus on the profit and ecological legs of the stool with a lesser focus on the people side. I think this is partially due to the pressing and well known ecological concerns as well as the relative simplicity of measuring, monitoring and making changes to the environmental forces. Dealing with people is always more complex and challenging.

When I think about the TBL, I think of each leg uniquely.

I think about the profit leg as fuel. Like a rocket, we go nowhere without fuel in our current capitalistic society. Revenues and profits are only relevant because they provide the necessary resources. In the future, when we’ve figured sustainability out and are living in a different paradigm, I’m not convinced this leg of the stool will still exist.

I think of the people leg as the reason d’etre for a business organization. Why else are we here and engaged if it isn’t to make lives better. Ideally, the purpose of any human endeavor would be the advancement of human wellbeing while creating zero to little negative environmental impact. That is how a sustainable society would operate. Humans have always had an economy and the purpose of a human economy is to meet the social, spiritual and material needs of people. Why operate a business if it isn’t to improve the lives of your employees, the community and other stakeholders?

I think of the environmental leg as the constraint leg. Our society must operate and live within the ecological limits of the planet. The planet is just fine by itself and doesn’t need anything from us except for us to stop doing damage. This should be the goal of every person and business: No damage. The economy must operate within the physical constraints of the Earth, which is a closed-system (except for sunlight).

Therefore, the goal of a TBL firm is to use profits and revenues to meet the social, spiritual and material needs within their community while minimizing any negative environmental impacts. What can your firm accomplish while holding environmental impact at zero?

In my next post I’ll share some examples of how we implement this at TriLibrium.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

TriLibrium becomes a B Corporation


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

TriLibrium becomes Certified B Corporation

Portland, OR – July 25, 2009TriLibrium, perhaps the first triple-bottom line Certified Public Accounting firm in the nation, was recently certified as a B Corporation. TriLibrium becomes the seventh B Corporation in Oregon, joining nearly 200 nationwide.

TriLibrium was founded in 2008 by Brian Setzler, MBA, CPA and Andre’ Furin, MBA, to deliver tax, accounting and business advisory services to values driven people and organizations. Both Furin and Setzler have MBAs in Sustainable Business, who along with Eric Hasham, MBA, CPA, work to deliver triple-bottom line results to TriLibrium’s clients.

B Corporations are a new type of company which use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corporations are unlike traditional responsible businesses because they:
  • Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards.
  • Institutionalize stakeholder interests.
  • Build collective voice through the power of a unifying brand.
Besides measuring its traditional bottom line like every for-profit entity, TriLibrium also measures its impact on the environment as well as stakeholders within the community and works to find balance among the triple bottom lines of people, planet, and profit.

“We decided to become a B Corporation since we see that as the current gold standard for sustainably driven organizations” said Setzler. “Being a B Corporation helps us achieve even greater contributions towards creating a sustainable economy.”

Contact:
Brian C. Setzler, MBA, CPA
Brian {at} TriLibrium.com
2000 NE 42nd Street, Suite D – PMB 213
Portland, OR 97213
Ph: 503-546-2050
###

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sustainable Systems at Work


The Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) has been around since the early 90’s when it was founded by Dick and Jeanne Roy, now with the Center for Earth Leadership. NWEI creates discussion courses which small groups can use to easily dive deeply into subjects to impact awareness, appreciation and change.

NWEI offers courses on global warming, food choices, voluntary simplicity, healthy children, deep ecology, discovering a sense of place, and choices for sustainable living. Most of these courses are designed so small (<12) self-directed groups spend 1 hour each week on the course readings and another hour in a group discussion. The courses are great for church groups, work places, community groups and neighborhoods. I’ve taken three courses over the years and they’ve all made an impact on my life.

Last night, NWEI launched their newest course offering: Sustainable Systems at Work. This is a 5-week course specifically designed for use in the workplace, designed to further organizational sustainability initiatives. Weekly sessions include:

• Seeing the Big Picture
• Taking a Closer Look
• Framing Sustainability
• Seeing it Through
• Focusing on Action

This looks like a fantastic course to impact change in your workplace. I am actually working with a new client who is looking to adopt sustainability as a business strategy. I think this course might be an effective way for them to begin a dialog, educational and visioning process.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sustainable Business Resources


I was recently interviewed by Jennifer Woofter, the Founder and President of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, for the free podcast series they offer on sustainability. In my interview, we discuss a number of issues including how accounting fits into the sustainability field.

Strategic Sustainability Consulting is building a very nice library of bite-sized podcasts on a wide variety of topics pertinent to sustainable business, including renewable energy options, carbon regulation, sustainable design and more. I’d especially like to direct you to the podcasts on Green Business Travel with Kim Allen and Green IT with Jessica Vreeswijk, both Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) alumni. Jennifer and the team at Strategic Sustainability Consulting add a new podcast every week or two so check back frequently for new topics from sustainability experts.

As you know, sustainable business is the new and emerging paradigm. The folks over at ISSP (International Society of Sustainability Professionals), of which I am a member, are offering a Professional Certificate in Sustainability. You can take the individual courses ala carte, or select the appropriate courses to obtain the certificate if you’d like. Many of the instructors are top professionals in their field. People like Darcy Hitchcock, Marsha Willard and Tom Gloria, to name a few of the ISSP instructors, are both practitioners and teachers. I bring this up because there is a course on Life Cycle Assessments beginning in August that one of us from TriLibrium will be attending.

Monday, July 13, 2009

We need campaign finance reform


I’m opposed to the Cap-and-Trade scheme making its way through Congress as the Waxman-Markey bill. I strongly support greenhouse gas reductions but the 1,400 page Waxman-Markey bill is a corporate boondoggle that only Wall Street traders and speculators could love.

My preference is for a Carbon Tax with 100 percent dividend refunded directly to citizens on a per capita basis. This is simple to administer, revenue neutral for the government, would flow through to all activities and industries, and provides appropriate incentives and market signals. Those who pollute less than average would actually be subsidized by those who pollute more than average. While this is a simple solution, you can count on Washington to overlook this in favor of their lobbyist ridden legislation.

My strong opposition to Cap-and-Trade is due to the fact that I don’t think it goes far enough and we don’t have time to waste on half measures. It’s a scam that is going to transfer billions of dollars to speculators and polluters and because it fails to accomplish much, other countries don’t see the US response as meaningful or credible. As Dr. James Hansen points out in his recent entry on The Huffington Post, this measure will create a decade or more delay before we’ll get another chance to create an economically and ecologically sound climate change policy.

I have the same sick feeling about health care reform. While the best shot at getting a comprehensive, affordable and universal health insurance plan is HR676 (Single Payer Health Care system), it isn’t even being discussed due to the pervasive influence of corporate lobbyists. My fear is we adopt some weak and ineffective system that sets back real reform another decade or two.

I’ve been a Single-Payer supporter since I first learned about the idea of universal health care back in 1991. I’ve been waiting 18 years now. I’d love to see the US solve this problem but we won’t get there if we allow corporate lobbyists to set the agenda like we have with carbon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Connection, experience, meaning


It can be hard to keep up with blogging. I hit a peak back in February but then slowed. Summer in Portland is not the best time to be sitting at a computer writing. I apologize for not posting more often but my inspiration/time ratio hasn’t been there, until today.

I just got another piece of junk mail from Office Depot. They purchased our name from the business license list after we opened TriLibrium and we’ve gotten bombed with their catalogs ever since, despite repeated requests to stop mailing to us. We are primarily a paperless firm and it is discouraging to consume more paper in their worthless catalogs then we’ve put through our printer in a nearly a year.

I hate Office Depot and other advertisers who bombard me with their junk mail. I don’t want it and yet they continue. Is this how they win over customers?

Permission based marketing is the rule these days. If your prospects don’t want to hear from you, don’t continue pestering them. You’ll waste your money and might actually create an “enemy.”

Here in Portland, I would venture to say there is a significant percentage of the population who despise getting junk mail and other unwanted and intrusive solicitations. If you are responsible for marketing, you must figure out a way to reach people in ways that don’t offend.

Jelly Helm, a casual friend and the former Creative Director at Wieden + Kennedy, gave a talk on advertising and the consumer culture back in December for the Oregon Council for the Humanities “Think & Drink” series. It was a great event and the one thing that really stuck with me was Jelly’s contention that advertising was dead and no longer worked.

People are essentially immune to advertising at this point he said. Advertising used to move products but no more. Given the current state of technology, people expect control over what reaches them.

Jelly claimed that consumers now make decisions based on meaning, connection and experience. If your company isn’t delivering on those intangibles, you will lose customers as someone does.

Finally, if you want to get off mailing lists and reduce the amount of junk mail you receive, this blog post had the addresses and websites so you can make it happen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Misplaced Priorities


I was listening to a story on NPR this morning about the financial crisis in California. Their state budget gap is $24 billion and as usual, kids and the truly needy among us will be the hardest hit. In these situations, the government ends up making decisions that are pennywise and pound foolish.

For example, California is considering closing its poison control center for a savings of $6 million. The center gets over 2,000 calls per day, mostly from parents, concerned about something their child just ingested. Most calls end with simple wait and see or do it-yourself advice. Without this service, ALL of these parents will likely end up in an emergency room somewhere at a HUGE cost to parents and society. The government saves $1 on one side of the equation and the citizens will spend $20 on the other.

In the midst of this fiscal crisis, what really irks me is the 10,000Lb gorilla that no one ever discusses: Our insane military budget. We spend over $1 trillion per year on “defense”. Global military spending hit a record high in 2008, led by the US. Our annual military spending is roughly equal to the rest of the world combined, while the US and its close allies account for 2/3 of global military spending. No wonder we don’t have money for anything else.

One of my saddest days as an adult was at a tax update class for CPAs back in the 80s. It was sad because at the time, I didn’t have the guts to speak up. I was young and there were 40-50 other CPAs in the class. The instructor was giving an update about the fiscal situation in Washington DC and said something to the effect that there was no funding available for any domestic needs because the government was broke. I remember thinking how dishonest all of us were accepting this pathetic nonsense. All of were financial experts. The government had plenty of money but was spending half of all our funds on weapons and war. The same is true today.

It is time for us to speak up about this awful waste. No one disputes the need for a strong defense but we could do that with ½ the budget freeing up $500 billion annually for domestic services. Maybe a little of that can keep California’s poison control center open.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pedalpalooza, biking and more




I love Portland. We are in the midst of Pedalpalooza, a 2-week long bike festival with over 200 events. Every day there are classes, events, parades and lots of special rides (pub rides, pizza rides, chocolate rides, naked rides, endurance rides, and many, many more). Last night I went on the Epic Pizza Ride.

I've been riding my bike more often. Today I rode my bike to a lunch appointment a little over 1 mile away, then hit the bank and the post office on the way back. I don't think it is a coincidence that I started riding more, especially for work, at the exact same time we started our carbon footprint analysis at TriLibrium. We are preparing our initial GHG report and I am certain travel will comprise over 80 percent of our emissions footprint. Riding a bike adds nothing to our footprint.

What gets measured gets managed.

This is yet another reason to do a GHG inventory report.

Preparing our greenhouse gas inventory report made me more conscious.

Biking is an easy and effective way to decrease carbon emissions, increase exercise, have more fun and unplug from the car culture.

Bike culture is so refreshing.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Best Congress Money can Buy


I've long supported the Green Party because they refuse to take corporate money as a matter of principle. I also appreciate the unwaivering commitment to peace, sustainability and democracy.

The Green Party has also been a long-time proponent of universal, single-payer health care system. Unfortunately, Americans aren't getting a fair and unbiased hearing on this proven approach. I believe that is due to the corporate domination of our political system.

Amy Goodman from Democracy Now did a story today on Senator Max Baucus (D) and some of the key people drafting health care reform. The original reporting was done by Max Dennison of the Montana Lee Newspapers Montana State Bureau. Here is what she reported in her story:

  • Senator Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee. In the last six years he's raised nearly $15 million of which 23 percent came from insurance and health interests.
  • Senator Charles Grassley (R), ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee received 23.5 percent of his financial support over the past six years from insurance and health sectors.
  • Senator Charles Dodd (D), who is essentially running the Health Committee in the absence of Senator Ted Kennedy got 23 percent of his funds from the insurance and health sectors.

The Washington Post recently reported that almost thirty key lawmakers have personal investments totaling nearly $11 million.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a healthcare index.
  • Senator Judd Gregg (R), a senior member of the Health Committe has up to $560,000 of equities in major healthcare companies including Bristo-Myers Squibb and Merck.
  • The family of Congresswoman Jane Harman (D) held at least $3.2 million in more than twenty health care companies at the end of 2008.
  • Senator John Kerry (D), and his wife Teresa Heinz kerry hold at least $5.2 million in companies such as Merck and Eli Lilly.
  • Senator Johnny Isakson (R) holds at least $165,000 in pharmaceutical and medical stocks.
  • Senator Kay Hagan (D) holds at least $180,000 in more than twenty healthcare companies.
  • Senator Chris Dodd's (D) wife serves on the board of four healthcare companies and received more than $200,000 last year in salary and stock for her service.
  • Eight of the twenty-two member Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have financial interests in the healthcare industry. This committee was to hold a hearing today on healthcare reform.

Doesn't that look like a conflict of interest? Do you doubt their corporate ties and personal investments influence their decisions? This is absurd.


Power


I’d like to be writing about business but feel the health care situation is dire and that we have a unique opportunity to really solve this problem. I also know firsthand how the healthcare mess impacts TriLibrium, my colleagues, my family and our clients. This problem must be solved to bring America in to the 21st century.

I used to be fairly oblivious to class power. I’ve always felt kinship with the underdog and have always been in solidarity with labor and the people who do the work. I think saving and investing has value, but the Wall Street mentality of large and fast returns to investors who in reality do nothing, is absurd. That mentality has lead to the current crisis which is creating so much turmoil in our communities.

The reason I was oblivious to class power was the myth I’d been taught that portrayed a level playing field for all people where one’s efforts, skills and luck determined one’s fate. What I failed to appreciate was how the rules of the game influence the outcome of the game. And in America, the game, the rules and the outcome are largely controlled and determined by the investing class through their political contributions.

When I talk about the owning/investing class, I’m referring to the top 1-10% of Americans who own and control a majority of the private assets and financial wealth in our country.

When you examine our system through the lens of class, you can see where the rules of the game define class power.

A social safety net helps the working class while diminishing the power of the owning class. Without a social safety net, workers are particularly fearful of job loss and accordingly, will do anything to keep their job since they know that job loss would mean economic ruin. Job loss without a social safety net means no food, no shelter, no health care and no education.

The owning class is vehemently opposed to a social safety net because (a) they don’t need it and (b) it gives power to workers to walk away from being exploited. This is one of the reasons corporate America and the owning class is opposed to universal health care. Job based health care gives those who control the jobs (owners and corporations) power over workers. Universal health care takes that economic weapon away from the owners.

I believe universal health care is vital to our future and that the only system that will work is a not-for profit, universal, single-payer system. I believe it is being blocked by rich and powerful forces who more than anything, want to keep this powerful control lever over American workers.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the money that might be influencing the people charged with deciding our future health care system.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Single Payer, not public option


What health care reform proposal is supported by a majority of doctors, an overwhelming number of nurses, has over 70 co-sponsors in the house but is off the table due to the corporate control of our economy and political system?

Single Payer Health Care.

The cost of health care is destroying businesses. In 2008 it cost a small business $12,700 to ensure a family of four. That is expected to rise by nearly $900 in 2009. Who can afford that? This is what the for-profit, private insurance system has delivered.

Add to that the administrative burdens to the employer, the out of pocket cost to employees plus the constant fear of being dropped, denied, or let go and other psychological cost as well and you have a system that is harming this country.

This must change and single payer is the solution. The so called "public option" being discussed by corporate supported Democrats doesn't go far enough to address the root problems in our health care system.

I believe the "public option" will fail to solve our problem and will actually be a major set back for those of us who simply want this problem solved.

Nick Skala, an expert and advocate for single payer recently was in Washington to speak to Democratic Progressive Caucus about single payer. Here is a story about his experience and a link to his video report.

The unfortunate problem is a federal government controlled by corporate interests and lobbyists. The industry spends far in excess of a $1 million per month and all the people making decisions about health care reform have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industry.

We need campaign finance reform as much as health care reform but that is another discussion for another day.

Corporate control of our system is one of the root causes of our collective predictments. Corporate media, corporate lobbysists, corporate agendas, corporate control. If you want to learn more about corporate domination, I recommend the movie "The Corporation" and/or When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Water for Humans




Water for Humans is a non-profit social venture created and launched by fellow Bainbridge Graduate Institute colleagues Stan Brown and Rick McKenney. Their mission is to provide low-cost, clean water solutions to underserved populations while ensuring that water remains a local, public resource. They have two communities in Mexico where they will begin their fieldwork in early July.

Water for Humans has been working for over a year to get everything lined up. They are seeking $25,000 over the next four weeks to help fund and support their work as they ramp up their operations.

Water is expected to be the next scarce resource as we pollute and overexploit the very limited fresh water we have. It is predicted that 21st century wars could be about water. I'm proud of Stan and Rick for their efforts, commitment and vision. Check out their website and help Water for Humans with a contribution if you are inclined.

If you want to know more about the water issue, check out the following movie trailer.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Local banking, David Korten and more


I want to remind my Portland readers that David Korten will be speaking tomorrow night (Saturday) at the First Baptist Church at 12th and SW Taylor.   There is a community celebration starting at 5pm, David’s presentation at 7pm and we step outside for the Starlight Parade after the talk.  It should be a fun evening.  Please bring your family and friends to learn about, discuss and implement the new economy.

The Sustainable Business Network of Portland (SBNP) is beginning a campaign to get people to move their money from multi-national banks designed to serve shareholders to local banks designed to meet community needs.  I recently moved my daughter’s college fund CD from WAMU/Chase to Albina Community Bank and ShoreBank Pacific.

SBNP used three simple questions to help you gauge how your bank relates to your community.

  1. Is your money rooted in your community?  (The more a bank operates in multiple communities, the less commitment they have to yours).
  2. Who owns your bank? (Where do the profits go and who controls it?)
  3. Do your deposits create good loans in YOUR community?  (This can range from progressive lending policies to help underserved communities to predatory/subprime lending.)

Needless to say, the major banks all scored low on this assessment.  Moving your money to a community rooted bank will help your business community thrive.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How is Your Local Economy?


I just returned from the 7th Annual BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) conference in Denver.  I love collaborating with good folks who are working to change the system.  As I’ve written previously, the greatest leverage point in any system occurs when you change the system goals. 

As a BALLE supporter, our goal is the creation of a vibrant, verdant and sustainable local living economy.  We believe a local economy is more resilient, sustainable, human, fair and workable than the alternative.  For a million years of history, humans relied exclusively on a local economy to meet most of their needs.

In Denver, I had the chance to speak with Hunter Lovins who as usual, never fails to provide a great quote.  She put it succinctly when she said,  

“We don’t have a broken system in need of repair, but rather a failed system in need of replacement.” 

The current economic driver is to make money regardless of the environmental or social cost.  The paradigm we are working for is an economic system that meets our social, spiritual and economic needs within the constraints of our biological, finite world. The local economy is the perfect system.

Why is the human brain wired the way it is?  Our minds get stuck on certain beliefs (mental models) and we believe our beliefs are reality.  For example, why do most people think that if we can just return our economic system to the way it functioned a few years ago, all our problems would be solved.   As Hunter pointed out, the system our government is working to fix brought us this mess. 

BALLE promotes a different economic order.  Over 60 communities have BALLE chapters (Portland’s is the Sustainable Business Network of Portland) and these communities all feel they’ve benefited from a thriving local business community.

Since the global, corporate economy has left such a mess all over, I hope you'll join me in creating a sustainable living economy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Storytelling


Accounting is the language of business.  As a CPA, one of my skills is the ability to read and interpret financial statements.  While most people look at just a couple numbers, to a trained expert, the financial statements are like topographical maps telling a complex and multidimensional story.

While thumbing through The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, I came across the following:

"Accountants are the architects of an organization’s nervous systems.  They design the way the organization will sense what is going on inside and outside itself.  They create a context that determines the relevant questions to ask.  They search for ground where the organization can position itself for maximum strength and flexibility."

I love this paragraph.  Our firm designs and installs a significant number of accounting systems and this really captures the essence of my work:  The architecture of a firm’s nervous system.

The accounting system design will differ depending upon the values and goals of the system.  A triple-bottom-line mentality requires different reporting systems to capture and respond to the data and feedback.

An accounting system provides feedback to the organization and as they say, what we measure matters.  The current financial reporting framework reflects what matters to investors without saying much if anything to employees, customers, the community and other potential stakeholders. 

What if we redesigned the central nervous system to provide feedback on sustainability?  How would that influence behavior?

As you may recall from my earlier blog posts about system thinking, the key leverage points in any system are:

  1. Change the dominant mind-set out of which the current system arose
  2. Rearrange the parts of the system
  3. Alter the goals of the system
  4. Restructure the rules of engagement of the system
  5. Shift the flows of information and communication of the system
  6. Correct the feedback loops of the system
  7. Adjust the parameters of the system

What story is your accounting system telling?  How would your company be different with a Triple-Bottom Line monitoring system?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Random thoughts


David Korten will be on KBOO Monday morning at 8am PST.  David Korten’s most recent book is Agenda for a New Economy, which I highly, highly recommend.  KBOO is a community radio station in Portland located at 90.7fm on the FM dial.  You can also find them here.

David Korten will be in Portland, Saturday, May 30th at the First Baptist Church (12th and SW Taylor) starting with a 5pm celebration and a 7pm lecture.  More information is here.

Congratulations to my friend Joel Garbon, and his co-author Jeane Manning, for winning the Silver Award by the Independent Publishers in the category “Most Likely to Save the Planet.”  Their book is entitled “Breakthrough Power: How Quantum-leap New Energy Inventions Can Transform Our World” which you can learn more about here.

Finally, I’ve been invited to join the BGI faculty next year to teach accounting and finance.  I’m honored and excited at this opportunity and look forward to helping the incoming graduate students learn the language of business.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Can we afford to cure cancer?

I read an op-ed some 20 years ago that really changed my vision.  The author was discussing how the bottom line consideration for so many policies and actions was jobs.  Jobs, jobs, jobs. 

With all this importance placed on the need for more jobs, she wondered whether our society could handle putting an end to crime as millions of jobs in enforcement, prosecution, defense, prison construction and operation, probation, security, etc., would be lost.  The cure for cancer would also eliminate millions of jobs in research, treatment, pharmaceuticals, insurance, etc.  What would happen to our economy if everyone gave up smoking? 

The author also highlighted our preoccupation with the phenomena by pointing out that Native Americans didn’t even have a word for job. 

While everyone and every being has to make a living, and I believe that most people appreciate meaningful work, are jobs the ultimate reason for our being?

I realize unemployment is really high yet I proposed a systems changing solution that would immediately solve the unemployment problem as well as slow our ecological catastrophe. 

I believe we need to slow down our economic engine to solve our ecological and human social problems.  How might we increase happiness, joy and fulfillment without consuming more of the Earth’s overly burdened resources?  This really isn’t too hard to imagine.

The Brundtland report first articulated the concept of sustainable development as the sweet spot between the three E’s of Economy, Environment, and Equity.


However, the economy and society are really subsets of, and dependent on the environment.  A better graphic looks like this.




I'll let you think abou that and remind you that nature bats last and of course, there are no jobs on a dead planet.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time is of the Essence


My friend, Darcy Winslow, just returned from a trip to Antarctica.  Sponsored by BP Energy, she and Peter Senge took 50 young leaders to the remote continent to inspire and educate them about saving this place.  Darcy shared her slides and talked about her experience to a small group of friends last night.  The pictures and video were amazing, the message was ominous.  We are on the brink of peril.

So far, all the worst-case scenario predictions from a decade ago have been exceeded.  There is more carbon, more warming, stronger storms, greater sea-level rise, etc. than any of our early models predicted.  If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was to break off, and there is a significant possibility of that occurring, sea-level would rise an estimated 12-21ft.  That is amazing!!! 

It is estimated that a 1 meter rise in sea-level rise would create 100 million refugees based on the fact that 20-25 percent of the global population live in coastal areas.  Can you imagine the chaos of a 12'+ rise?  The number of US residents alone living with 12’ of sea-level is staggering. 

So what do we do?

Business as usual is not acceptable.  Fundamental change is required.

The mental model most of us have is that our society is the absolute peak of human existence.  That any change means stepping off the peak and somehow represents going backwards.  This is a myth we must reject.

Rather than viewing these changes as giving something up, maybe we should view them through the lens of getting what we want.

In our current system, the primary driver seems to be making money.  We’ve developed a beautiful system for making rich people richer.  Just like in the times of the Pharaohs, those at the top of the pyramid live lavishly, those just below them live pretty well and those at the base, the largest section, suffer.

Is our purpose on this earth service to the modern day Pharaohs?

We have a human birthright to clean air, water and unpolluted bodies; To lifelong education and fulfillment, to meaningful work, to healthy food, health care, and a spiritual life.   We have EVERYTHING we need right now to do that. 

My guess is that everyone reading this right now has a higher standard of living than the wealthiest Kings and Queens from 150 years ago.  How much is enough? When do we change the goals of the system?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spreading the Word


I spoke last week at the Western Regional Conference of the American Accounting Association. This was a group of accounting educators and researchers, most of whom hold PhDs and teach accounting to college students.  My talk was on Sustainability and the Triple-Bottom Line.

Since you are reading this blog I suspect you have an interest in sustainability.  Living in Portland and working in my regular circles, I usually assume a fairly high base level of sustainability knowledge in the people I meet.   Maybe you do as well. 

However, when I lecture or teach classes on sustainability, I’m typically shocked at how low the level of understanding is regarding the issues driving the need for change.  For example, I typically include something about peak oil as one of the phenomena driving change.  At this point, I usually ask the audience if they’ve heard of peak oil in order to gauge how to proceed with the discussion and I’m usually shocked that only 5-15 percent of the people are aware of peak oil.  No wonder change is happening so slowly.

While simply knowing this information isn’t usually enough to drive change, it is an important first step.  Accordingly, we must find ways to engage with more people, outside our normal boundaries.  I am going to schedule more classes and presentations so I can get out and engage more people.

Please contact me if you would like me to give a presentation or teach a class in your area or to your firm, or if you need help developing your own presentation so we can go out and help business leaders understand the urgent need for change.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Systems Thinking


“If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory.  If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves. . . . There’s so much talk about the system.  And so little understanding.”
–Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I am reading Thinking in Systems by the late Donella Meadows.  I highly recommend this book to change agents. 

Donella defines a system “as an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something.”  Accordingly, a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnectedness and purpose.    

So what is our purpose as humans? What is the purpose of our economic system and our businesses? What is your purpose?  While these are existential questions, they greatly impact the world we see.

My friend, Sharif Abdullah, will sometimes ask groups to imagine a world in which children are the most valued treasure.  He invites participants to share what that world might look like – outstanding and varied educational opportunities, economic security for families, parents with time to engage, safe and healthy communities, rich age appropriate activities, time to be a kid, etc., etc, might be group responses. 

Sharif then invites people to imagine a world where our elders are the most valued treasure and the participants create a similar, albeit different list of an idyllic world.

Finally, Sharif invites people to imagine a world where making money is the most valued treasure.

As long as the dominant system goal is to make money, then all our other problems will be subjugated to this higher power.  

What if the bottom line isn’t the bottom line?

I saw Dr. David Suzuki last week and he suggested the real bottom line for a human economic system should be the ecological, social and spiritual well-being of all.  

What might our economy look like if that were in fact the goal of our system?