- Sustainability for CPAs: What it means to you, your clients and the profession
- Advising the Startup Business
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
Last week I had lunch with a salesman from XYZ Company seeking TriLibrium's business. XYZ Company is probably ranked third in an industry dominated by two giants.
As I was looking at his card while getting ready to send a thank you note, I was thinking about XYZ Company as a business and my thoughts were:
1. Why should I care about XYZ?
2. It must be a tough and competitive market battling the two giants, especially when you compete on price.
3. What are you doing to be sustainable?
I sent my thank you and included the following note:
“… I was thinking about XYZ and your business strategy and how a company like yours could benefit by embracing sustainability as a strategic business driver.
The market place is rapidly changing and I believe the future will NOT resemble the past.
· Your next generation of employees (Gen Y) care deeply about who they work for and the values of the company
· Your customers care about this as well and will be increasingly, at least partially, basing their decisions on these factors
· Sustainability is an excellent differentiation strategy. Do it now and be a leader, do it later and you will inevitably play catch up forever.
· Managing carbon emissions and the cost of polluting will be rising and is likely to be regulated.
· “True” sustainably driven organizations have the highest relative market values
In many ways, sustainability and traditional business and management approaches are as different as night and day. Appending the strategic plan with “green” practices is helpful, important and appreciated, but ultimately doesn’t go far enough.
I think every business has an opportunity to embrace sustainability as a strategy. Sustainability has the ability to be a disruptive business innovation and in that environment, you are either a leader or you risk being left behind. …”
As readers and visitors to this blog, I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I attended The Natural Step breakfast meeting this morning. The topic was Peak Oil and John Kaufmann, Senior Policy Analyst with the Oregon Dept. of Energy gave an amazing presentation.
If you are not aware of Peak Oil, then I highly, highly recommend you get yourself educated about the science and the implications. I believe we may have already peaked, or that the peak is imminent. He said the consensus is that we reach Peak in 2-5 years if we haven’t already. Here are some resources for more information: www.hubbertpeak.com, www.peakoilportal.com, www.theoildrum.com.
One of the key things I’ll share is that this crisis is urgent and that we ought to be using the precious liquid gas resources we do have to bootstrap our way to the next system. It takes lots of fossil fuel to build electric trains, retrofit and build buildings for zero energy use, and put in the grid and generators that will provide clean and renewable energy in the future. We have really squandered the last 25-30 years and we cannot afford to squander the next.
Every type of non-renewable energy source will peak and decline this century: Petroleum, natural gas, coal, uranium. We currently get 4 percent of our energy from renewable sources (wind, hydro, solar, geothermal, bio, etc.) and almost none of that fuels our transportation. 96% of our energy supplies will peak or be exhausted this century. Ninety-six percent!
I’ve never really thought about how much energy we use or what life might be like without it. I recently heard a couple of examples that put our energy use in context.
How much energy does it take to run a single 100 watt light bulb? Have you ever been on one of those bikes hooked up to a light bulb? It takes a very physically fit person biking at nearly full speed to power a single light bulb. Multiply that by all the lights and electrical devices in your home and you probably have the equivalent of at least 50 human slaves working for you in the form of energy.
How much energy is in a gallon of gas? Try this, fill your tank with a gallon of gas and drive until you run out. How much energy was in that gallon? Try pushing the car home to find out. Similarly, fill a chainsaw with a gallon and cut wood until you run out. Now repeat using an axe or saw. You’ll find that a gallon of gas can do the work of more than 100 men. I had someone tell me today that 3 tablespoons of gasoline will do the equivalent work of one person working an 8 hour day.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I’ve been writing about the A.T. Kearney report that discussed their findings that the market rewarded “companies who show a ‘true’ commitment to sustainability.” What is a ‘true’ commitment to sustainability and what does that look like?
To me, using sustainability as a strategic driver means you make that focus primary. Making money and being financially sound are also important but if they become the primary focus or raison d’etre, I believe you’ll make short-term decisions and when the two conflict, you’ll likely make the wrong choice.
Another sign of “true” commitment is leadership and a continuous drive for improvement. I toured Rejuvination's manufacturing facility this week and learned that they sit down each year and evaluate all areas of their business to ensure they are using the current best practices. Is there a better chemical, process or material they should be using, if so, they change.
One thing I’m beginning to use as a criteria between a deep and real commitment to sustainability and a lesser, questionable commitment is the greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory.
No GHG inventory and no plans to do one = Questionable commitment. Are they just greenwashing?
Taking action to minimize your waste stream is important. The largest and arguably most dangerous waste streams are your unseen and unmeasured carbon emissions.
Dr. James Hansen, the NASA scientist and climate expert, recently wrote that “our planet really is in peril” as a result of our carbon emissions.
Will 2009 be the year you do your GHG inventory, or are you prepared to be accused of greenwashing and lose your brand and market position?
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Yesterday I wrote about the A.T. Kearney report that discussed their findings that the market rewarded “companies who show a ‘true’ commitment to sustainability.” What is a ‘true’ commitment to sustainability and what does that look like?
Let me start with a true story about a ‘fake’ commitment.
I was recently introduced to an executive for a ‘green’ online website. I was excited to meet her based on her business card and initial ‘image’. I visited their website before our meeting and could immediately smell a fake.
Visiting their website I could instantly tell they didn’t get it. While it was an aesthetically pleasing site with the appearance of some good branding, it was clear they didn’t get sustainability and I predicted failure.
- They were promoting consumerism
- Their online articles were fluff
- There was no information about who they were, where they were located or an easy way to contact them
- There was nothing about their story
- Nothing about their commitments or goals to social justice or sustainability
- There was nothing there to make me care
I met with the executive and shared my thoughts in a polite manner. I sent her a mini report after our meeting and here is part of her email response:
“I Know, I know, we aren't transparent and all the other stuff you mentioned...but in this economy it is all about making money.”I stand by my prediction.
While a company like this may temporarily grow, it won't be sustained as savvy consumers really figure out the motivations, and how sustainable is that? A failing company takes lots of people down with it including vendors, employees and investors.
More to come tomorrow.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A recent report by the consulting firm A.T. Kearney found that “companies who show a ‘true’ commitment to sustainability appear to outperform their peers in the financial markets.”
Two key takeaways for me were the advantages derived from long-term thinking and that this premium value is only created by a “true” commitment to sustainability.
Long-term thinking was 5+ years for public companies. I guess that is an improvement for business leaders who have been primarily focused on quarter to quarter results. But is this really the appropriate time horizon for sustainability? No way!
I caution people about the use of the term sustainability. It is a goal to strive for, but I believe true sustainability needs to be determined over the course of at least a few generations, if not centuries or millennia, and it is therefore misleading to say ______ IS sustainable.
Canada and many other countries actually have standards related to environmental claims. Here is the standard for Canada:
The concepts involved in sustainability are highly complex and still under study. At this time there are no definitive methods for measuring sustainability or confirming its accomplishment. Therefore, no claim of achieving sustainability shall be made.
CAN/CSA-ISO 14021, Clause 5.5
According to Arie de Geus in his book the The Living Company, the average lifespan of Fortune 500 companies he studied was 40-50 years. From birth to demise, whether the end comes in the form of failure, merger, being acquired or broken into pieces, the average was under 50 years. It is well known that start-ups have an even higher mortality rate. One study of Japanese and European firms, regardless of size, indicated an average life of just 12.5 years. How sustainable are those numbers?
The book went on to highlight the attributes of companies who have been around for over 300 years. There are actually companies operating today who have been around for over 700 years! Now that is starting to look sustainable.
In studying these long-lasting companies, four common traits emerged as important factors:
1. They were sensitive to their environment
2. They were cohesive, with a strong sense of identity
3. They were tolerant
4. They were conservative with their financing
That last one seem particularly important right now.
Tomorrow I’ll comment about the report’s findings on the commitment to “true” sustainability.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
"Our global climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear, and there is a potential for explosive changes with effects that would be irreversible - if we do not rapidly slow fossil fuel emissions over the next few decades.""If we do not change course soon, we will hand our children a situation that is out of their control, as amplifying feedbacks drive the dynamics of the global system."
Monday, February 16, 2009
"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered . . .
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, "This could be a good time!"
"There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.
"Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.
"The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
"We are the ones we've been waiting for."
-- attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder
The cornerstone of the CPA profession is independence, integrity and objectivity. I wish I could tell you that our financial system was going to be okay and that President Obama and our elected and appointed leaders in Washington were going to save the day. Unfortunately, I'm highly skeptical and I have obligations to my friends, clients, family and readers to share my concerns. Your future depends on understanding these matters.
“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion.
The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as a result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.”
- Chris Martenson's Crash Course. The first sentence on the home page reads, "Ready to learn everything you need to know about the economy in the shortest amount of time?"
- David Korten's Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth
Saturday, February 14, 2009
I have two things to share this morning. First, is a link to Chris Martenson's Crash Course. The first sentence on the home page reads, "Ready to learn everything you need to know about the economy in the shortest amount of time?"
I will remind readers that where you bank matters. Not all banks are created equal. A scholar (forgot his name) gave a lecture while I was at BGI and asserted that the most powerful leverage point for a consumer to bring about sustainable change was the decision of where to bank.
I can't recall the entire list but I do recall where you buy your gas was #2 (Exxon Mobile = BAD) and that where you get your food was somewhere in the top 5.
Do you still keep your money in global corporate banks? Aren't they part of the problem?
Friday, February 13, 2009
That is David Korten's message and you can read his short essay over at Yes! magazine. (That's a picture of the Wall Street bull as seen from the backside in case you are wondering.)
"we should create and subsidize more jobs in childcare, education, healthcare, eldercare, and other “caring industries” through the Job-Creation and Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan. This will quickly stimulate our economy, help families, radically reduce poverty and violence, reward women’s economic contributions, save billions in crime and prisons -- and is an essential investment in the “high quality human capital” needed for our post-industrial economy."
Dr. Eisler is the only woman among 20 great thinkers including Hegel, Adam Smith, Marx, and Toynbee selected for inclusion in Macrohistory and Macrohistorians in recognition of the lasting importance of her work as a cultural historian and evolutionary theorist. She has received many honors, including honorary Ph.D. degrees, and is included in the award-winning book Great Peacemakers, as one of 20 leaders for world peace, along with Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King."
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Yesterday I mentioned that a TriLibrium stakeholder requested information about our GHG claims. Here is our response.
TriLibrium will use the GHG Protocol developed by World Resources Institute. We will include both direct and indirect emissions in our footprint and will report on the scope of our boundaries at that time. We intend to include all employee travel. We will probably exclude customer travel. We will probably exclude embedded carbon in purchased items due to the cost/benefit of gathering that data. We intend to offset 150 percent of our measured GHG footprint and believe this buffer is more than sufficient.
Our company began operations October 1, 2008. Our current office uses 100% renewable electricity purchased from Pacific Power and we pay additional money with each bill for Salmon Habitat Restoration. We recycle 100 percent of materials that can reasonably be recycled in Portland including glass, metal, cardboard, plastic, and paper. We buy in bulk and reduce, reuse and recycle where we can. We currently put out just one small garbage can per month of solid waste.
Since inception, we have logged all employee travel whether by car, bike, train or bus. Based on our experience, this is likely to be 80 percent or more of our GHG footprint.
We will include natural gas consumption in our footprint inventory and will offset that accordingly. We have not selected our offset provider. I have personally used The Climate Trust to offset my personal GHG footprint.
We intend to do an annual CSR report complete with a GHG inventory sometime this summer and then each subsequent summer. We will select an offset provider at that time based on best practices. Colleagues at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute developed COPEM (Carbon Offset Provider Evaluation Matrix) which we will use to guide our selection.
As noted above, we will not include customer travel in our GHG footprint. We have excluded it from our inventory because it is hard for us to capture this data and believe it is primarily our customer’s responsibility and not ours. We are aware of this issue however and provide our customers with ways to reduce their travel when engaging with us through the use of secure, electronic data sharing portals, mail, fax and other means.
Every single business needs to be taking action.
Upon review of your website you mention that you will be "offsetting" your GHG emissions. I have a few questions/comments: How are you determining your GHG Emissions? What Scope are you defining and what are your boundaries? As a matter of transparency, it might be advisable to define how you are calculating your GHG Emissions. Also, it may be advisable to indicate how you are offsetting your GHG Emissions. What company you intend on buying offsets from, etc.
I'll share my answers with you tomorrow.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I would suggest that all of our current economic indicators are highly suspect guides to a sustainable economy since the source and justification for the metrics comes from the Wall Street economy. Even the employment numbers are suspect because they lack any qualitative values.
The New Economics Foundation has created the Happy Planet Index which measures our well-being divided by our ecological footprint. Well-being is measured as the product of Life Satisfaction x Life Expectancy.
- Voter participation rates
- Divorce rates
- School attendance and graduation rates
- Open park space
- Community service
- Percentage of home ownership
- Percentage of locally owned businesses
- Number of clean streams and rivers
- Youth involvement
- Suicide rates
- Percentage of organic food
- Incarceration rates
- Obesity rates
- Etc., etc., etc.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
First, it measures negative events as positive additions to GDP - Car accidents, divorces, and oil spills all add to the GDP.
Second, it fails to include or account for positive activities if money doesn't change hands - taking your neighbor to the doctor doesn't count while hiring a stranger to drive a cab does. Which do you think makes a better society?
As an accountant, I'm keenly aware that what we measure matters. In my MBA program, I really appreciated the work of Mark Anielski, an Adjunct Professor at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute and the author of The Economics of Happiness. Mark has developed a "Genuine Wealth Indicator" that can help any community measure its wealth across a number of indicators in order to measure those things we actually want.
We need new measurement tools if we are going to achieve sustainability. It is high time we stopped using GDP as a tool to measure our economic progress.
Even before the latest crisis, it is a Wall Street myth that the old economy worked. Sure, it made some people fabulously rich and it did supply many needed goods and services, but even more glaring is the fact that it failed on so many levels (Think of unmet NEEDS and environmental and social havoc). Spending trillions of dollars to restore the economic system to its previous condition is a reckless waste of time and resources.
Have you gotten your copy of David Korten's new book Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth? Here is a link if you need one.
I'll leave you with two good links today. First, is a real nice review of David's book so you can get a taste of what is covered.
Second is an excellent article by Prof. John McMurtry from Global Research on the current problems and the choices we face. Near the end he concludes:
The most instructive moments in America’s history have been forgotten - for example, the 1776 American Revolution itself which Benjamin Franklin said was most of all to wrest back control over the issuing of money from the private Bank of England; Abraham Lincoln’s issue of “greenbacks” to go over the head of the New York bankers’ demand of 17% compound interest to fund the war for the Union; and FDR’s historic New Deal which guaranteed minimum economic security and put people back to work in rebuilding the real economy. Yet not even the Depression has demanded the economic reset now required to resolve the coinciding energy, environmental, employment and financial crises confronting America and the world.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Let us be honest. We don’t need to fix the old economy – We need to create a new economy.
David Korten’s new book, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, has been in bookstores less than 10 days and I implore you to get this book and read it immediately. We have a unique opportunity to change this system and create a sustainable, life-affirming economy. We must rid ourselves of the Wall Street menace.
Last night I attended the first of a 4-session workshop to explore David’s new book. There were at least 30 people in attendance which seems huge given the fact the book was launched January 23rd, 2009!
We started by watching David give a presentation at Trinity Wall Street, a church in the heart of America’s financial district on the 23rd, which coincided with the launch of his book. If you do nothing else this week, watch this presentation. You can fast forward to 6:15 to see the introduction of the presentation, followed by a short video bio. He concludes at 59:30. There is a Q&A that follows.
I’ll be writing more about this in the future but let us take this opportunity to get to the root cause of our problem. It is time to treat the system, not the symptoms. The system solution is to fix the system so the problems go away. Isn’t that what we learned in business school?
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
This one simple action would:
- Increases the number of jobs.
- Provide more time off for this overworked, over stressed nation.
- Provide more family time for parents and children.
- Decrease overall commuting which both reduces our dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Should decrease rampant consumerism as overall incomes decrease.
Monday, February 2, 2009
We are all part of a system that is devouring the world. We know this to be true yet we deny it.
I saw an interesting quote the other day regarding truth:
There is the truth of authority and there is the authority of truth.
Which one do we believe when they conflict? Unfortunately, I think most of us follow the truth of authority.
While we know continued economic growth is a problem and that our consumer based take-make-waste culture cannot be sustained (authority of truth), we all listen to authorities (Governments, President Obama, mainstream economists, bankers, media moguls, corporations, etc.) who tell us otherwise and offer us more of the same solutions. Do we really believe we can grow our way to peace, prosperity and sustainability?
Morpheus, in the movie The Matrix, offers Neo a choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The red pill will allow Neo to see the truth while the blue pill will allow him to continue his life in ignorant bliss (Ignorant of his own slavery). When given the choice, do you live on in ignorance (and potential bliss) or do you lead what Aristotle called 'the examined life'...
If we keep doing what we are doing inside the same system, we will continue to get the same results. This is the truth. Are we being honest with ourselves?