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


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.