Thursday, January 12, 2012

B Corporations: Driving a New Ecology of Commerce

There’s a growing buzz with a new kind of business - Benefit Corporations! 
building better business, social enterprise and corporate policy

Benefit Corporations (a.k.a. B Corps) are leaders in a new type of commerce that uses business as a leverage to solve social and environmental problems. B Corp, bottom-line, is about changing or rather growing corporate law, standards, systems (capitalism) and society - evolving capitalism to incorporate greater value for society and all stakeholders.

B Corp asks the question: “How do we use business as a tool for social change?”

How can this happen - by harnessing the growing market and stakeholder demand for a ‘new capitalism’ or ‘creative capitalism’ backed by a solid certification, standards and metrics underpinning each unique business story of becoming more ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’.

“Governments and non-profits are necessary but insufficient to solve today’s most pressing problems. Business is the most powerful force on the planet and can be a positive instrument for change.”

This was Jay Coen Gilbert’s thought back in 2007, when he initiated the Philadelphia-based nonprofit B Lab. Now, four years later, B Lab has certified 506 B Corp companies; corporations, organizations, and LLCs and counting that together —boasts more than $2.9 billion in revenues. They include businesses in some 60 different industries, from bakeries and artists to plastics and capital investments contributing to over $2 million in annual savings.

B Corp History
B Corps have been growing in number across the country for years, building momentum and leading the way in social responsibility and higher standards of performance. They are now pushing towards a tipping point in how ethical business happens - by setting more socially based goals rather than pure economic ROI (return-on-investment).

“Certified B Corporations” are among the new entrepreneurial leaders paving the way for a new ecology of commerce. Blending commerce and community, profit and social responsibility, the Certified B Corp program creates a new platform for what business and economy really means and how people can build economies based on real value.

Behind B Corp is B Lab, which drives systematic change through three initiatives:
  • o   Building a community of Certified B Corporations to make it easier for all of us to tell the difference between “good companies” and just good marketing; 
  • o   Accelerating the growth of the impact investing asset class through use of B Lab’s Global Impact Investment Rating System (GIIRS) Ratings & Analytics by institutional investors; and
  • o   Promoting legislation to create a new corporate form that meets higher standards of purpose, accountability, and transparency.

So what does it mean to be a B Corp?

By registering as a Benefit Corporation, a company is committing itself to:
  • ·      Creating a material positive impact on society and the environment
  • ·      Expanding its fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests when making decisions
  • ·      Reporting on its overall social and environmental performance using recognized third party standards

To become a B Corp, a company must go through a rigorous B Impact Assessment, which involves an audit step and a guided process to become more resource efficient and socially responsible. Once a business undergoes this assessment, anyone can check on its performance data and better understand the business’s practices behind its products and services. The certification must be renewed every two years.

A business has to score at least 80 points out of 200 to become B Corp certified and can continue to push their limits and strive for greater resource efficiency, social responsibility and community investment if they choose to do so. And these folks will keep striving for more because there is no doubt that the growing green market favors entrepreneurial sustainability. The changing market is demanding businesses need to do good for society and the environment if they want business.

Once B Corp certified - a business is able to solidly offer its clients, members, or constituents “value creation” and value-added products and services—”feel good” ingredients that are additional to what they traditionally provided. Some businesses might feel an alignment with certain environmental or social justice principles, or they may simply see the business case in crafting a more a socially responsible model. Either way, there is increasing incentives for businesses to do better business - B Corp provides a coherent standard and certification to demonstrate and communicate this.

Consumer research from the Natural Marketing Institute tell that 58% more customers are likely to support services and products of companies that are transparent and proud about being mindful of their social and ecological impacts. Even more, NMI found that 68 million adult American make purchasing decisions (whether product or service based) based on their personal, social and environmental values. They found that consumers are willing to spend up to 20% more for environmentally sound products and services.

Why do companies want to be B Corps?

Even in a time of economic slowdown, more and more companies are seeking sustainable business paths because of the growing demand for better business - the consumer market is changing with more and more people demanding green certified products and services, standards, ratings and certifications backing their consumer goods.

Benefits of driving better business include: meeting comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards; meeting higher legal accountability standards; and building business constituency for good business.

Not just business: How B Corp is changing the corporate playing field

The State of California, just like the States of Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, and New Jersey (among other States pending legislation), has adopted B Corporation legislation as a new legal status for businesses. These states have adopted the new legal structure to provide businesses with a way to integrate and maintain considerations for social and environmental efforts into their operations while also lending legal protection from shareholders concerned solely with protecting their financial interests.
Benefit corporation legislation creates the legal framework to enable mission-driven companies maintain sound ethics, standards and commitments through succession, capital raises, and even changes in ownership, by institutionalizing the values, culture, processes, and high standards put in place by founding entrepreneurs.

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder sums up the B Corp revolution:
“I hope that five years from now, ten years from now, we’ll look back and say this was the start of the revolution. The existing paradigm isn’t working anymore—this is the future.”  

Meet the B Corps: From Patagonia to small mom-and-pop entrepreneurs

Friday, September 9, 2011

the CLEAN movement

A case for community-based energy generation

After one electrical worker singly knocks out electricity to 930,000 users in Arizona, Southern California and Mexico by removing one piece of monitoring equipment - how can we not question centralized energy generation? Read more about this recent power outage event, here.

How is our current mainstream system of centralized energy generation really working for American community members?

There are endless examples and reasons why communities are starting to move towards more localized distributed renewable energy generation instead of relying on the often unreliable and corporate centralized energy generation, but the big ones are:

  • Harnessing the community benefits associated with localized renewable energy generation - economic, social and environmental
  • Increased energy security 
  • Multiplier effect of local money remaining in the local economy
  • Making a connection to personal energy consumption and being more in control of personal energy use by being part of the localized energy generation process

These are inherent benefits of localized renewable energy generation, but can only really be realized
through commitments and collaborations with local municipalities and local electricity providers to ensure these benefits. Without an agreed upon commitment from these parties - community members do not have the surety that the electricity that they are generating, to support their needs and some of the community, are going to be:

  1. Fed into the shared electricity grid system 
  2. And purchased at a fare rate for a certain period of time (typically 20 years) from local utilities provider

New national programs like the Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) are helping communities leverage and ensure these types of commitments and agreements with local utilities provider to support cleaner and more reliable localized energy generation.

Want to learn more about how to initiate distributed renewable energy generation in your community? Visit the CLEAN Coalition's website to read about other communities taking action and how to start a CLEAN program in your community. There is a CLEAN program in my community, CLEAN La Plata, who is also working towards the same goals.

Or visit the Clean Energy Collective to get a quote on how much money you, as an energy producer, could save with you local utility by submitting your zip code and answering a few questions.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Developing a Food Policy Council

Everyone eats!

And sadly, on average, most communities do not have access to the most healthy and locally produced food. Some communities are actually 'food deserts' where there is no access to locally grown produce or even shipped in healthy food.

If there is one aspect critical to community development, it would be access to healthy local food and water. By establishing a food policy council in your community, you create the leverage that needs to happen in order to ensure access to this vital resource, demand accountability and improve the local economy- due to shifting economic support from out-of-town big-business industry to your local farmer's and market worker's pockets. Establishing a food policy council also encourages the spread of awareness and consumer education and inspires the same to happen in other communities. You would be part of the growing movement sweeping across the US.

So, how does a community initiate a food policy council?

Our Durango community recently had the opportunity to become more educated on this topic with a visit from Mark Winne, Community Food Activist from Sante Fe, New Mexico. Mark was the keynote speaker at the local Homegrown Retreat presented by The Growing Partners of SW Colorado in collaboration with Fort Lewis College's Environmental Center- a local group working towards sustainable food systems in the greater community. This retreat serves as a great example for what other communities can put on to educate the masses and also gather citizens together to start a food policy council!
Starting a Food Policy Council (FPC) all depends on what your community needs and what type of capacity is present to support your council. A FPC can be anything from a very structured politically-active council to a loose coalition. It is important to see the fundamental underpinning of Food Democracy- we all have the ability to make decisions and vote with our money for what we want to see happen in our local food system. For example, either you can go to Wal-mart and buy food- it may appear cheaper, but the ripple effects of that action in the community is a major detriment. Whereas, if you take your money and 'vote' with it at a local farmer's market or local food co-operative, then that money is 'multiplied' in the community by at least 5... meaning that money spent there is worth five times as much, if not more.

Maybe start by asking:
  • What does our community need?
  • What type of structure would work best to begin?
  • Who's already doing what we want to do- who has a model community FPC?
In our workshop, our question of need was based on the following:
  • More educational programs
  • Increased visibility in the community (current projects and new projects to begin)
  • Increased transparency in community politics, school systems and organizations working
  • Increased collaboration between groups doing food-related projects
  • Encouraging the creation of local government and business incentives
  • Increased demonstrations of bottom-up- grassroot action to show success
We also looked at the levels (local, State, Federal) of policy action needed in our community:
  • Working with USDA regulations (especially around organic poultry)
  • Colorado Department of Health and Environment
  • Food Safety Monitorization
  • Connecting welfare to work and business- integrating services
The purpose of a FPC is to engage policy and leverage policy in whatever way a community can do that. An FPC acts as an advisory to local politicians and decision-making bodies. Whatever level of action your community chooses, there's five strategic steps to follow:
  • Define your need of action (what is your community needing most)
  • Act on your need (coordinate a core FPC group and initiate projects and programs that fit)
  • Monitor your FPC's action in the community
  • Adapt as needs of the community evolve and more people become interested in helping
Also remember that a community consists of a collective knowledge with expertise in numbers. Everyone is an expert in something and a FPC could be dynamic in highlighting this intrinsic nature.

Start the leveraging in your community today by purchasing local healthy food from the right places- vote smart!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reaping local benefits

We all know that we're in a time of economic strife- nationally and locally. A lot of us are wondering, "How can we turn this around and how can I earn a living?" and moreover, "How can I earn a living while also doing something I am passionate about in my community?" How do communities encourage economic recovery that encompasses community and environment, and strives to encourage and utilize local talents, expertise, innovation and creativity?

These are the questions being asked in communities across the country and around the world. Movements like Transition Towns, ICLEI- Local Governments for Sustainability, the US Mayor's Climate Agreement, to just name a few, demonstrate the breadth of what is happening on the local level around the world, in response to this growing concern.

Here, in SW Colorado, I am taking part in a regional Resource and Energy Action Plan (the REAP) where diverse representatives from our five county region (Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan Counties, as well as the Southern Ute and Mountain Ute Indian Reservations) are coming together to create a plan that responds to these needs and desires expressed in our community by collaborating to formulate the REAP.

REAP, a model for REAPing Economic Recovery

The REAP's Advisory Board consists of community representatives, including elected officials, ranchers, farmers, utilities, businesses, oil and gas representatives, non-profits, bankers, planners, educators, economic development, subject matter experts, and other sector representatives of SW Colorado and our regional counties. This process demonstrates true collaboration- bringing multi-stakeholders from different sides of the table- to the table.

REAP's Mission
is to ensure Southwest Colorado uses resources and energy effectively and efficiently to create economic opportunities and improve quality of life by developing and implementing the Resource and Energy Action Plan.

REAP's Vision
is that Southwest Colorado will REAP the benefits of effective use of resources and sustain a thriving region of rural, agricultural, and mountainous communities.

REAP's Guiding Principles
  • Energy and Conservation Ensure significant progress toward more efficient, safe and healthy resource technologies in order to enhance, promote, and diversify the local economy and job market; support and strengthen the region’s agriculture and building sectors; and engage and integrate the existing energy industry.
  • Economic Vitality and Diversity Encourage local economic development and consumption that preserves and protects our heritage, natural resources, agriculture and energy production, thus providing opportunities for our diverse population to thrive in Southwest Colorado.
  • Infrastructure Improve, expand and diversify community systems and services, such as transportation, public utilities, and resource recovery options.
  • Vibrant and Involved Community Increase communication between all sectors and cultures throughout our region; promote education and involvement in existing and potential energy and economic opportunities.
  • Environmental Stewardship Protect, conserve, and ensure the quality of our ecological resources
A REAP-type project take shape any where and can tackle the same the question- "How do we REAP local expertise, talents, creativity and innovation?" and "How do we REAP new jobs that support our community and environment?"

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 Green Resolutions for 2011

Tis the season to look back on our past year and look ahead to an even greater year. Wanting to make your 2011 even better than 2010? Maybe think about incorporating more healthy and money saving habits into your 2011 resolutions... and also more sustainable. Here's my top ten resolutions.

1) Shop and eat local. Pick seasonal and local fruits and vegetables. Do some research into what is naturally grown in your area in the season, and prefer these instead of out-of-season foods grown on the other side of the world from where you live. This way, you'll also rediscover the pleasure of meals changing with the seasons, local growers and producers.

3) Walk and bike more. Not only are you reducing your carbon footprint, spending less money of gasoline, but also exercising, exploring and enjoying your community. Unless you live in a very mountainous area, like myself, this could be the most relaxing resolution you take!

4) Use public transportation more. I like biking, but right now there’s at least a foot of snow everywhere so it’s a little easier to think about using public transport to go to work and the supermarket instead of trying to bike.

5) Make your home more energy efficient. By now, I assume most of you have switched to CFL lightbulbs - so it's time to take home efficiency to the next level. Check your house for heat loss (there are companies specialized in this if you don't feel expert enough, like the Governor’s Energy Office and Durango’s 4CORE). Do you have appliances not in use plugged in and contributing to “phantom energy loss?” There are some simple solutions like just lowering your thermostat during the night or when you are away during the day.

6) Become a toxics-free household. This might take a while in research, so plan to do it over the whole year. From beauty products to clothes detergent and computer parts, we have become used to toxics products in our daily lives. There’s really no reason why we should live in toxic environments when there are numerous environmentally and human friendly products on the market. When buying new products, check what they are made of, and pick the one that will have the least toxic residues.

7) Keep your electronics for the year. New cellphone? Computer? Television? Where does your old one go? The dump or is it recycled? Our electronics consumption is reaching records. Make a break, and promise not to buy new electronics this year, unless the one you already have breaks down (and when it does, ensure it is recycled properly!).

8) Take recycling to the next level. You probably have two different bins in your kitchen, sorting your waste to have it recycled. It doesn't end here though. In 2011, try to reduce the amount picked up by the garbage truck. If you have a garden, start your own compost. When you're at the supermarket, prefer products that are not overpackaged. Maybe shop more at local stores that offer products and produce in less packaging. Also, don't forget to bring your own market sack and your to-go mug for coffees and teas!!!

9) Get outside more. Learn to enjoy nature again. Make a habit of taking a weekly walk outside and connect with your local environment and community. The more we connect with our local community and environment, the more we want to do better for all that we depend on daily.

10) Support clean energy. Purchase green power from your local utility company if possible or support neighbors, businesses and organizations that do so. Any support for renewable energy helps encourage more clean energy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Designing Local Currency

I heard an interesting story on National Public Radio the other morning driving to work about Anthropologists studying an "Island of Stone Money." The tiny Pacific island of Yap provides an interesting look at what 'money' can really look like.

Yap islanders today use dollar currency, but hundreds of years ago the islanders made huge limestone discs their local currency. Like many other developing civilizations, sometime in history, the Yap islanders had to agree on a common unit of 'wealth' and 'money' for trading and buying of things. Due to not having any of the common shiny and alluring rich metals around like silver and gold (the springboard of most currencies)- Limestone was the next best 'pretty' thing. So the islanders began harvesting their new currency on another island and shipped it to Yap by bamboo boats.

Now this is when it gets interesting. Envision that instead of the dollar in your pocket- it is a huge limestone disc set-up in town square.

"One key thing about this money: It was really heavy. A big piece could weigh more than a car. A piece of stone money was really valuable; you wouldn't use it for some everyday purchase. You'd use it for something big — a daughter's dowry, say." excerpt from NPR's story.

So the next inventive idea was finding a way to give, trade and use this currency without having to move it, because it's like having to move a car that doesn't run. This is when Yap islanders began thinking abstract... trading and buying on abstract agreement. Much like how we write checks and use credit cards- there's no real exchange of money, just an abstract and invisible agreement.

Driving and listening to this story, I really started to think about the great range of possibility surrounding what a local currency can really look like. I started to reflect on a visit to Transition Town Totnes, England where the first initial Transition Town originated and where I felt such a strange energetic and uplifting buzz in the air there. There is something similar happening in Totnes as was happening on the island of Yap- a different local currency has been invented and is being used successfully, the Totnes Pound.

This same thing seems to be happening in Durango with the Local Food Dollars campaign and the "Be Local Coupon Book" from the non-profit Local First. These initiatives are building up a strong local economic foundation and creating a system where we are all participating in a recycling of our local currency.

How to take part and help support our local economy:

  • Buy a Be Local Coupon Book
  • Shop locally, especially for the holiday season
  • Eat locally grown and produced foods
  • Support local artists, businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Get involved in local initiatives, projects and programs, like the Quest, which is part of Sustainability Alliance of SW Colorado

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Communicating Community Values

Human Needs and Finding the Right Words

People and collectively- communities are greatly diverse. And in so, trying to find collective agreements amongst multi-stakeholders are not always easy. However, considering the very humane nature of people- what we all share, our universal ‘human needs,’ we can maybe easily find a middle-ground, and draw attention to the common thread that binds us all together- our human needs. Afterall, we all are people who generally want the same things. Here I list the nine universal, fundamental human needs from Human Scale Development established by Chilean Sociologist Manfred Max Neef (recipient of the Right Livelihood Award):

  • Subsistence (food, shelter, clothing)
  • Protection (safety)
  • Participation (our social nature of wanting to ‘belong’ and have relationships with others)
  • Idleness (the ability to rest and recuperate)
  • Affection (experiencing care, love and nurture)
  • Understanding (being understood and understanding the world around us)
  • Creation (to be creative and exploring the ability to create things)
  • Identity (identifying with people and the world around)
  • Freedom (being able to act and live with freeness)

This post was instigated from facilitating, in part, a recent public input forum for introducing our community's climate and energy action plan, which heavily communicates the effects and importance of regulating our local GHG emissions. This initial forum was to introduce our community's action plan including GHG emission reduction targets, strategies and actions to help us enhance our community, local environment and support a new energy economy.

Well, I found out fast that some people do not respond well to certain weighted words like "climate" and even "sustainability." These are the new buzz words that carry a lot of different meanings and sometimes can scare people in their multitude of meanings. And depending on your political stance, they may instigate resistance out of misunderstanding and fear.

However, instead of focusing on 'climate' or 'green' anything, it may be more effective to communicate "community values," as in a 'strong economy,' 'thriving community,' 'self-reliance' and 'healthy and productive environment'- even more 'clean water' and 'healthy people.' These may be a little easier to hear and understand- because, after all we all want those things and they come across pretty straight forward, not weighted with mysterious political agendas.

We all do want the same things for ourselves, our families, our community and hopefully the world, we just often get caught up on verbage- rhetoric and linguistics. Trying to define and communicate the importance of climate change, adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development is difficult, however, if we can identify and simplify in rhetoric those things we all want and cherish in life- it becomes a little easier to find our commonalities and agree to disagree on all other things.

Friday, September 24, 2010

the potential in my backyard

I just learned of the great technology the National Renewable Energy Labratory has as open source- In My Backyard (IMBY). By using IMBY, one can find their location on Google Earth and then establish the right RE technology, size and degree of appropriate development.

So if you or anyone you know are thinking of installing an on-site RE (solar or wind), check this software out to better understand the potential for generating energy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

the banning of bags

A town to the North, Telluride, Colorado has stepped up to banning plastic bags. One more town to jump on the progressive do-better ban-wagon.

At first council members in Telluride, Colorado thought that an approach to weening the community from plastic and paper bag use could begin by charging customers who use plastic and paper bags, yet came to the conclusion that they should- just ban the bags!

The idea or realization to ban bags began when Aspen, Colorado's Office for Resource Efficiency set a competition between the mountain towns of Telluride, Mountain Village and Aspen to see what community could cut its per capita consumption of plastic bags and encourage more community members to shop with reusable bags. Great initiative that took off and inspired the banning of bags totally- both plastic and paper.

It wasn't just about banning plastic, and not just paper too... “The whole point is that the consumer needs to understand the true cost of taking a bag,” said Councilmember Brian Werner, who asked if council has the ability to require retailers to charge a fee on paper bags." from the Telluride Watch

Banning bags at supermarkets and stores is not an easy thing for a city council to decide. There's a lot to consider when demanding community members have to pay for the use of bags. It's easy to assumer that everyone should just always have a reusable bag on them, but even as much as I try, it is hard to remember and walk into a store with a bag to use. As a council member of Telluride said: “We need an ordinance that makes sense, that is easy to work with, that has the support of a majority of the community and retailers, and that will work well with tourists andlocals."

I think starting with a small fee to use bags, that often are overused excessively, is a good place to start, yet accompanied with initiatives at the local level to educate consumers and provide creative and effective ways to encourage reusable bags- like an annual bag design competition to get community members and youth involved in using, supporting and advocating for reusable bags, as well as local artwork like they do in Frisco, Colorado with their annual contest and in Austin, Texas with 'Keep Austin Beautiful's' "design-a-bag" initiative.

If you are interested in hip and cool recycled material bags, great for the markets, visit my other website and Etsy shop.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hunting Season

... fruit hunting season, that is.
Now is the time that I start my annual urban foraging for fruit hanging from trees, overflowing from local farmer's beds and even wild produce from the mountains, like Chantrell mushrooms.

I live in a mountainous valley that was once a heavy fruit-producing valley, with a large river coming down from the San Juan mountains that still feeds the remnants of this once fertile fruit baring land. This year is not as good of a fruit year as most, due to a hard frost this past spring, yet one can still find plums and apples ripening. An old landlord just called to tell me to come harvest some concord grapes as well. The canning begins.

In most places I have lived and visited in the autumn, I have found fruits for the picking. It just takes an adventurous will and maybe even some networking to find people with unwanted fruit and produce. Some places like Hood River, Oregon have a Fruit Loop Map as well as Portland, Oregon that has a 'pick your own fruit' map.

How can your community design a local urban/rural food map to help people find wanted/unwanted fruit hanging from the trees and overflowing from some farmer's beds that just can't be harvested fast enough? Is it possible for communities to map these local food sources to help direct free food to food pantries and maybe even schools or just help community members access free local produce?

How to get started in creating your local food map?
Start by looking at other communities working with food maps, like those in Hood River, Portland or how Making Local Food Work in England has established a step by step approach to establishing food web mapping.
1. Hold a community meeting or workshop at your local library, coffee house or park.
2. Build a hot core of people dedicated to creating a food map.
3. Bring in people on board from the community- put on a community ride/rides to map out local fruit and produce in your area.
4. Advertise for some local artists to volunteer their talents to design the food map.
5. Distribute and post on local social platforms and city website.
6. Maybe even carry on with your local food campaign by holding canning and preserving workshops, bringing community members together for local food preservation

Monday, September 6, 2010

Encouraging Local Energy

So we all know, by now hopefully, how promising renewable energy development is, how needed it is and how fast the field is developing. Yet, living in the South West of the US (where it is practically raining sunshine 320+ days of the year), RE development- especially on a local, distributed, scale is sluggish and barely seems to exist. How is this possible, that what is needed and pretty much just as easy to implement and develop as other non-renewable dirty and finite industries are? Is it because most renewable energy development in the US is still on the centralized level- a big development situated far from the consumers using it? I like to think the local capacity is there, to support such development, yet there is not the same governmental support here in the States as there is in other countries leading in RE development, like Germany and Denmark. I won't go into this debate, yet draw attention to a solution on the horizon that will hopefully encourage more RE development on the local level- feed-in tariffs.

After traveling through Germany and Denmark and witnessing so many small towns and cities producing their own heat and electricity (combined heat and power), and actually profiting from their RE- it is crazy to come back to the US and see how slow we are in establishing this win-win situation. The thing that has helped countries like Germany and Denmark succeed in their development on a local level is due, in part, to the establishment of the Feed-In Tariff or 'renewable energy payments' at the local and Federal level. A Feed-In Tariff is a policy mechanism to encourage RE development by establishing an adequate, fixed rate for the power generated by the producers, especially in favor of small and/or private producers, like a household or cooperative. So producers, who invest in the technology and take that leap of investment to get RE rolling in their locality can first actually 'access a grid' (the system for storing and distributing energy), have a long-term agreement for the use of energy produced and are not left behind if the cost of energy drops.

I'm very excited that my city's electric company in Durango, is starting to introduce this policy to the community. They will begin by holding an informative meeting with the public and get the ball rolling towards more localized energy production.

Getting Involved in the City

Until recently, I wondered often how I could get more involved in my community's planning and development and yet never thought to look into what was actually happening around the City Council. I'm not sure how I never heard of 'City Boards and Commissions' until now, but what an eye opener for how to get more actively involved in the shaping of my community.

City Boards and Commissions are basically a collection of different boards and commissions, each with their own specific responsibilities that relate to the City Charter, City Codes and other city-specific resolutions and aspects of their long-term action plans. Each Board and Commission makes recommendations to the City Council, with the hopes of maintaining a diverse representation from the community when it comes to planning.

If you want to really get involved in your community, look into sitting on either a board or commission to partake in the integrative and collaborative democratic process, helping your City Council plan, shape and grow your community.

Visit your local City building or website to inquire into what openings may exist with the various boards and commissions.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Slow Food

While in the Tuscany region in the quaint and beautiful town of Lucca I stayed with a wonderful woman, Ana, who lives in the square where Puccini was born. She told us how the only way she knew the history of his life was from living on the second floor with her windows open hearing all the tour guides of many different nationalities tell the life story of Puccini. Anyways, I tell this story because my stay in Lucca was an unforgetable 'slow' one. We woke slowly, went to the market slowing, walked the walled town of Lucca slowly, sat at a cafe slowly and ate slowly. 'Slow' seemed to be in the air and maybe staying with Ana helped us acclimate to the new pace of things. I remember being in Florence eating a cafe for breakfast and just watching the people, who seemed to be the usuals, come in on their way to work. No one got anything to go, but if in a hurry stood at the cafe bar and drank some espressos, chatted or looked at the paper and then went on their way. I never saw any 'to-go' containers or Italians ever ask such a question.

So, having returned to the US a couple months ago, I am still adjusting to the differences lived abroad versus here in the States. It is strange coming back with somewhat new eyes to all the customs I grew used to living with in the US, like always getting my coffee or espresso to go. I wont go into all the things I would like to change about American culture and will stay on the positive side to rave about now living in a town with a great farmer's market and growing support for local sustainable food production. Having just been in Italy, I see my little town's initiatives leading towards a Slow Food Movement here and am very excited to support it in any way. That means getting to the market soon for some veggies to last me the week.
What is Slow Food?
Food is the other thing that seems to be revered quite different here in the US compared to Italy, France and Spain. It's slower there, faster here, but it seems that we Americans are slowing down, digging in and getting more involved in the things that nourish us.

So what does Slow mean? The Slow Food movement started in the city of Bra, Italy with community members wanting to support and promote healthy living, consciousness and appreciated agriculture and well, eating.
"The slow food movement is a revolt against standardization and mass production. The aim is to protect the environment, promoting local goods and production as well as sustaining the uniqueness of each individual city (from Sustainable Cities)."
So how can us Americans advocate Slow Food here in the States? Well, it is already happening in many places and it is probably already happening in your locality. Anywhere you can find a local farmers market, is a step in the right direction- the best direction- towards sustainable localized agriculture, community resilience, mindfulness and better living. So the way to advocate for Slow Food is be part of it, instigate it or support it in any way possible.

What's growing around you? Look for fresh local produce, free-range happy and healthy meats and local artisan homemades to make your life a little more fulfilling, while taking an active role in shaping a better future for you and others around the world.

Check out The Habit of Being for some great ideas and inspiration on harvesting wild foods, living 'slow' and sustainably.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Being a LEEDer

If you are in any part involved in sustainable building or community development in the USA, you've probably heard something about LEED.

LEED is part of the U.S. Green Building Council, an internationally recognized green building certification system, which helps to ensure that 'green building' (commercial or residential) or a community is actually 'green' by providing a third party assessment of the development and a certification. LEED more specifically helps give credit to design and development that is working towards "improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts" (as quoted from the LEED website).

As I carve out a career in sustainable community development, I see the LEED certification as an essential educational process to explore and a smart tool to possess for proactive planning and consulting. I'm interested to find out how easy it is to get this certification and wondering what other benefits having a LEED certificate provide, like networking with communities, organizations and businesses using LEED or moving in the direction towards more progressive and assured sustainable development.

Central questions:
What does LEED do? It helps measure

One may become a LEED Green Associate or possess other LEED Professional Credentials (LEED APs) by taking the LEED Exam. If you are interested visit the LEED Professional Credentials page and download the Study Guide for the exam. But first, visit the GBCI Candidate handbook to check out what type of credential you are seeking.

You can check out what type of LEED certifications may be right for you...

A side note- the Green Building Certification Institute is looking for volunteers. Your help may be counted as hours towards a certification!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Slow Housing

I am currently trying out a different living situation- shared housing. I am renting a renovated apartment in an older home with other tenants. This is not anything new to most people. I imagine a large population of Americans live in some sort of shared housing, whether condos, apartments or intentional housing. But, for me, I have not really lived in too many situations where I share a building with other people. I am more inclined for singular homes promising quiet and privacy, preferably in the country. However, I have been thinking about how much more sustainable shared housing is then individual housing and about how many people around the world often live in buildings sharing walls and roofs with other people.

In regards to sustainability, it makes sense to at least try this style of living out because it is centrally located so I do not need to commute, I am sharing space that already exists with other people and making relationships. Now I just have to turn the whole building onto edible landscaping or at least a shared garden, utilizing local renewable energy and increasing energy efficiencies and energy conservation... the challenge begins with 5 Steps towards more Sustainable Shared Housing:
Step #1- find out how to utilize electricity generated from renewable energy sources... maybe even convince the landlord to invest in solar panels in which all tenants would find reduced electricity bills due to generating a portion of our own electricity needs.
Step #2- already into July, look into what type of foods can we still grow and harvest into the autumn? create raised beds or planters to share
Step #3- designate a composting corner in the shared backyard to enrich local soil and not throw away nutrient-rich food scrapes and install an easy-to-use recycling area for all tenants to use
Step #4- education on weatherization as the autumn approaches with cooler temperatures- turn the landlord of the building onto more weatherization projects for the entire building and also educate tenants on energy conservation.
Step #5- really audacious, but create a living roof to 'green-up' space or install living walls in the building to help circulate heating and cooling (depending on the season) throughout the space and create healthy atmosphere
I have been on a 'slow' kick lately, looking into slow fashion, slow food, and now slow housing. The Sharing Solution is a great informational blog speaking to this evolving movement, as more and more people consider how to live and promote sustainable living. Check out a list of what participants at a Bioneer's Conference wrote for what they thought was a "Slow Homes Movement" at: "Bioneering" Ideas for Sharing, Part 4: The Slow Homes Movement"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Initiating a Transition Town

While traveling through Europe and especially England, I visited a few Transition Towns. Totnes Transition Town , in England, is the stand out (which I have posted information about earlier on this blog) due to it being the original Transition Town where the founder lives and continues to spearhead and inspire collaborative programs and initiatives related to the Transition Town movement that ripples out through communities wanting to do the same around the world.

As mentioned before, while walking the streets of Totnes, I could sense there was something quite special about the town and was amazed and delighted to see the variety of community-owned shops; artisans galleries, speciality shops, bakeries, quaint cafes and resturants, independent bookstores, little groceries selling local foods, natural health stores, handcrafted wears and body shops and more. In a way it did remind me of my community, Durango, Colorado but on an even more localized, down-home, humbled wavelength. After visited Totnes and reading up on all the community initiatives happening, I also ended up viewing the In Transition: The Transition Town Movement Documentary at the local Sustainable Living Film Festival in Karlskrona, Sweden where I was studying Sustainability at Blekinge Institute of Technology. The documentary is great and I recommend you see it and even more get a bunch of community members together to watch it and get inspired to start your own Transition Town in your town!

And this is what I am interested in doing here in Durango, Colorado. I am in the process of researching the steps in which other towns have initiated a Transition Town movement in their own communities and I hope to share the steps and process of doing it here with you. I know in theory it seems like an easy thing to do- talking to people, getting a steering committee together, joining the network and connecting to other Transition Towns to share stories and processes about success aspects and such, but the initial stage of communicating to the community and getting support, involvement and momentum seems a little daunting. However, I realize, here in Durango, similiar initiatives are already happening with great non-profits like Four Corners Office for Resource Effieciency, the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado and Turtle Lake Refuge, just to mention a few, as well as a weekly local farmer's market and great locally-owned and supported businesses, orgnizations and programs... yet it all needs some glue it seems. It seems, often, in a lot of places that there are great things happening, but they are not glued together in some sort of overall momentum building towards a shared vision.

A shared vision- the secret to success...

Visiting communities in Denmark and Germany that were initiating and establishing community renewable energy projects, it seemed that the key to their success- producing community supported renewable energy and profiting from it with good return on investment, was heavily related to them having a shared vision which built an image and town branding, like "Clean City..." or "Green City..." or "Fair Trade City..." that attracted tourists and residents and helped retain the young people that would continue to make that town or city a great place to live.

So what is Durango's vision? What does Durango want their image to be- their branding as a model city? I think this may be a first step that either leads to a transition town movement or maybe the transition town movement would help Durango discover???

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zero Waste?

So what exactly does Zero Waste mean? Is it possible? These were my questions when I read that Telluride, Colorado has a Zero Waste Action Plan for the Mountain Village of San Miguel county. And looking it over, it seems like a no-brainer that I want my community to think about too!

The Action Plan is laid out in these basic, but extensive areas:

Clean Production: More resource efficient, recoverable, less toxic production

Retail Stores: Consumer education and take-back programs (where products can be returned to the provider to recycle)

Consumer Buying Power: Creating consumer demand and eco-market & manufacturing standards

Producer Responsibility: Manufacturers are part of the solution, taking back their products or supporting recovery infrastructure

Resource Recovery Parks: Community center for total recovery, reuse, recycle, composting, material exchange and recovery

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Redesign and recovery. Create more jobs than resource destruction- Green Market

Changing the Rules: Removing market barriers and inequalities to support sustainable industry.

Shifting Subsidies: Stimulating green practices rather than favoring waste and pollution

Design for the Environment, Not the Dump: All products must be recoverable through reuse, recycling and composting.

That's it. Simple, common sense- right? All of these areas highlight thinking upstream, employing an iterative process, and using Cradle to Cradle design or darn near close. I believe this is the vision of tomorrow- it will become mandatory, necessary and favored, because it advocates for a better EVERYTHING.

However, with any long-term vision, there are hills to climb and some initial obstacles to change.

There are many areas that Telluride is working on to make this Action Plan a reality in fulfilling their vision of Zero Waste. Here are the areas which need serious consideration, which is probably a similar situation for all communities wanting to work towards Zero Waste:

"After review of the local solid waste, reuse and recycling system, there are a number of services that stand out as critical to moving forward with the Zero Waste goal in this region:

Composting - A composting facility is needed to compost all organics, including yard trimmings,

food scraps and food-soiled paper

Resource Recovery Park - More efficient recycling operations are needed to process reusables and recyclables from the region, including recyclables from construction and demolition debris, ideally in a Resource Recovery Park design

Solid Waste System Redesign - Garbage contracts, rate structures and services provided need to be revised to provide incentives to all involved to move to Zero Waste (as detailed above)."