Up Homes: an exciting new venture in sustainable housing

We are proud to announce a new company started by our founder called Up Homes.

Up Homes offers architect-designed manufactured homes that are light on the earth, and your wallet. Our homes reflect decades of experience with sustainable and cost-effective building materials and systems.

To learn more, visit them at http://www.uphomes.me

Water Meadow along the Camel Trail

Inspired supply chain strategies driving sustainability forward

It’s easy to think about sustainable business in big, broad terms.  With such a huge need for new technologies and business models that lower our collective environmental footprint while creating new economic opportunities for the world’s citizens, it’s tempting to see this as a matter of building the Next Big Thing when there are often solutions much closer at hand.

One such solution can be found in the City of Cleveland, where a consortium of local partners is helping to generate new jobs and wealth in six low-income neighborhoods through an effort known as the Evergreen Cooperatives.  Consisting of three individual cooperative businesses (all green, employee-owned, and for-profit), and led by an umbrella corporation that provides structural guidance and manages a separate revolving loan fund, the Evergreen Cooperatives are a bottom-up approach to community empowerment and economic development.  Although the businesses themselves are owned by the workers, thus retaining more wealth within the neighborhoods where they are located, the cooperatives also have the support of many large institutions including the nationally-known Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, the City of Cleveland Department of Economic Development, and University Hospitals, a leading regional healthcare center.

Along with other supporters of the project, these partners contributed essential start-up money and technical expertise to help the cooperatives get off the ground.  But where rubber really meets road is in the way that these big local institutions have used their purchasing power to support the co-ops now that they’re up and running.  The three cooperative businesses include a laundry company, solar panel installer, and hydroponic greenhouse.  Although each company must also have many additional customers in order to remain viable, the hospitals and university are a major source of business.  As the Evergreen website states:

The intent behind establishing ECC is to create a new kind of “anchor institution” in Cleveland – an ongoing and sustainable vehicle that will partner with the City’s major anchors (such as hospitals and universities) to assist them in conducting their business activities in ways that will benefit Cleveland’s residents and neighborhoods.

While it’s important to note that something like the Evergreen Cooperatives doesn’t get started without a lot of time and dedicated support from a multitude of local partners, their initial success points to the massive untapped sustainability potential in supply chain and procurement, particularly amongst large place-based institutions in every community.  Nationally, hospitals alone carry over $750 billion in combined annual purchasing power.  Surely that number is similar for colleges and universities.  How can these big entities work with strategic community partners to direct their operational spending in a way that creates economic opportunities and positive environmental impacts?

The Buy Local movement has really taken off in recent years, and resonates strongly with a lot of people.  But so far its been mostly focused on individual decision-making.  What would happen if more local and regional anchors followed the same lead as those in Cleveland?

The supply chain tends to exist out of sight and out of mind from most people who don’t deal with it directly.  For those who care about promoting green business and social entrepreneurship on a large scale, however, it’s a golden opportunity.  None of this will happen overnight.  But that shouldn’t stop every economic development agency, community development corporation, office of public engagement, and local government from pursuing it right now.

Our new hydroverlords

The image below is one of four precipitation models published by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) that together forecast extreme global drought less than 50 years from now as a consequence of climate change. What follows illustrates predicted global precipitation levels in 2060-2069 assuming a moderate greenhouse gas emissions scenario as defined by the International Panel on Climate Change. Moderate.

Climate prediction map 2060-2069
Precipitation Model with Climate Change: 2060-2069

Take a moment to let all the purple, red, and yellow sink in. These are Dust Bowl conditions and worse. Take another moment.

It is difficult to emphasize enough the gravity of this predicted drought. We should all keep the above image in mind when we consider the value of water. Water is fundamental to the existence of life as we know it. Not just human beings. All life on Earth. For obvious utilitarian and deontological reasons, by the land ethic and the difference principle, by the precautionary and proactionary principles, and by our natural moral sense, water is of the highest non-arbitrary value and it is our responsibility as constituents of the human world and of the Earth itself—if we even entertain such a distinction—to do everything in our power to prevent and prepare for this possibility.

Pause to consider what it would mean for governance, for geopolitics, for the world if we fail to curb climate change beyond this moderate GHG emissions path and simultaneously 1) fail to implement and enforce the universal human right to water as recognized by 122 countries of the UN in 2010, and/or 2) consent to the privatization of water resources by multi-national corporations. I, for one, would not welcome our new hydroverlords.

What’s worse, the map shown above is only the third of four models. The fourth model extends from 2090-2099. Brace yourself for the purple: Precipitation Model with Climate Change: 2090-2099

Water resource management, conservation, and preservation will likely fall into their own compartmentalized regime complexes—as discussed by Keohane and Victor—fragmented from other initiatives focused on mitigating and adapting to the various impacts of climate change. According to Keohane and Victor, there’s reason to be optimistic about the capacities of this regime structure. But simply adapting to new conditions of water scarcity equates to treating the symptom rather than the disease. While adaptation is absolutely necessary, we must simultaneously confront climate change at its source: human greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, etc.) and the several positive feedback cycles that global warming entails.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations alone are currently around 397 parts per million (ppm), which essentially guarantees an increase in average global temperatures of ~4 degrees Fahrenheit (~2 degrees Celsius). What’s more, unless we reduce GHG emissions by ~80%, we can expect the increase in average global temperature to be even more dramatic.

Confronting climate change means one of two things (and maybe both, but probably not—the former would render the latter largely unnecessary and the latter would likely preclude the former). We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions through 1) an immediate significant reduction in energy consumption or 2) a techno-scientific revolution in renewable energy, energy storage, energy transmission, transportation, agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing, and architecture.

Coupling either approach with reforestation and afforestation projects would be a good idea too, especially considering the Brazilian government’s recent report that deforestation in the Amazon has actually gotten worse since May of 2012.

In all likelihood, the future holds an increase in energy consumption, not a decrease, so we must—at some level—prepare ourselves to rely on faith in Julian Simon’s infinite resource of the human mind to spark the large-scale techno-scientific advances that the climatic consequences of our industrial behavior demand. We must have faith in progress, despite the paradox therein. A daunting task, to be sure, but we have little choice as we have collectively agreed, both implicitly and explicitly, that the Good Life is an energy intensive one. The climate challenge is upon us. If we are to progress, we must progress toward sustainability—and hopefully to a future with more water than NCAR has predicted. Let’s get it together, humans.


Reblogged from http://www.tothesungod.com

Buying and Selling: A Visit to the Brooklyn Flea Market

A few weeks ago I was in New York City for the weekend and had an opportunity to meet up with an old friend at a place with real implications for how we think about economic development and community renewal.


The Brooklyn Flea Market in action

The Brooklyn Flea Market has been around since 2008, and now serves large crowds every weekend in three rotating locations.  In growing to its current size the market has come to feature a diverse set of artisans, craftspeople, and other small-scale entrepreneurs selling everything from vinyl records to furniture and vintage clothing.  There are a fair amount of food purveyors, as well; the food portion of the market actually became so popular that Brooklyn Flea also operates a separate, food-only market that takes place at two locations along the Williamsburg waterfront.

The image above is taken from the inside of the historic Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, one of New York City’s few iconic skyscrapers outside of Manhattan.  From November through March, the market moves indoors to inhabit the ground floor of the historic former banking center, the upper floors of which once housed dozens of area dental offices and were converted in 2006 into luxury condo space.

The Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower (click for original image)

Now, in addition to the re-purposing of its upper floors, the lobby and basement levels of this landmark building have become a local attraction, providing space for entrepreneurs and small businesspeople to sell their wares, along with a cavernous environment for weekenders to explore.  Former teller booths now house pop-up shops with trendy clothing, shoes, and handmade goods.  The basement is a series of narrow hallways that feels more like a maze than a place where people are buying and selling food and assorted secondhand items.  It probably wasn’t used for much other than storage during the building’s former life, but it’s now a lively hub of neighborhood commerce.

Turning a historic old space into a community attraction and a place where entrepreneurs can find willing customers?  Better yet, a place where real people can interact and sell real things to each other?  Places like the Brooklyn Flea Market are the highest ideal of free market capitalism; a place where the proverbial butcher and baker meet and succeed on their own merits.  There’s a lesson to be learned here, and it’s one that can be applied to communities with a fraction of New York City’s population or historic assets.

To that last point especially, it would be easy to write the Brooklyn Flea Market off as a big city story; a place that can only be sustained by large markets with wealthy residents and lots of purchasing power.  But this is both dishonest and misleading.  At the end of the day it’s really about scale – in New York City, it might be the bottom floors of an ornately decorated skyscraper, but in smaller communities it could be an underutilized civic center, side street, or vacant lot.  There are certainly plenty of the latter scattered across America’s urban and rural landscape, and there’s no reason that the heyday for these places should be thought of as any time but now.  Every community has its own unique assets, and if the existence and success of something like the Brooklyn Flea Market represents anything, it’s the fact that if people are willing think creatively and act boldly, there is always the chance to take something and make it better.

What this is really about is finding innovative ways to build community wealth and opportunity for those who are willing to seek it.  Not everyone will be an artisan, nor should they be.  But not everyone should have to work in an office park or retail outlet, either.  It’s about creating a healthy mix of jobs, which comes from ensuring a healthy mix of opportunities.  Whether attracting a large outside enterprise or thinking of new strategies to build up the local business landscape, economic developers and community leaders must be creative about how they facilitate opportunities for people in their communities to accumulate wealth. Humans have used trade and exchange to better themselves and their societies since the dawn of civilization.  What can today’s communities do to help make sure more of this sort of activity takes place under their jurisdiction?

Money is often referred to as a necessary evil, but there is something beautiful about the process of buying and selling, particularly when it involves things that people genuinely enjoy making, and places where folks genuinely enjoy spending some time on a Saturday.  Economic Development has historically been thought of in very narrow terms – how to create a lot of jobs, quickly, and sometimes to the exclusion of other important community priorities, or any real thought about whether those jobs are good jobs, rewarding and gratifying jobs, or just 40+ hours per week of numbers on somebody else’s balance sheet.  Maybe it’s about something a bit more fundamental: buying and selling, human exchange, and how to build communities that provide the opportunity to buy, sell, and exchange nice things.  Maybe it’s about promoting local interactions as a way for us all to live more sustainably.  Emphasize these priorities and maybe the jobs will follow.

There’s no magic bullet, and in the end communities must employ many development strategies successfully in order to succeed.  But maybe just maybe there’s something that can be gained from an emphasis on what makes a place like the Brooklyn Flea Market successful.  At a time when many communities are crying out for new sources of prosperity and renewal, maybe this is one place to turn for guidance.

If nothing else, it’s a great place to spend a weekend afternoon.

The National Day of Service and the Challenges of Doin’ it Big

It’s been awhile since we’ve posted but I’ve had a piece simmering in my head for a few weeks and finally am getting some time to sit down and write it.  Have a look and give us your thoughts in the comments:


Like millions of my fellow Americans, I participated in the National Day of Service this year, which is held annually in conjunction with the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend and which President Obama has tried, through each of his inaugural celebrations, to establish as a quadrennial presidential tradition as well.  Across the country on Saturday, January 19, groups of citizens large and small volunteered with a range of organizations, each different in its particular mission but contributing in its own way to the Greater Good.

After finding that a smaller event we had tried to sign up for was filled to capacity, my girlfriend and I ended up at the DC Armory, where thousands of volunteers helped to pack care kits for US military troops.  It was a huge event, sponsored most prominently by Target, and it even included a visit from Vice President Biden and his family.  There were DJs, musical acts by school bands and other groups who had traveled from locations across the country to be there, and a stage to accommodate all of this entertainment for the morning’s eager volunteers.


The scene inside the Armory

So many people showed up, in fact, that there was a 30 minute wait to even get inside the building, followed by some additional waiting indoors as all of the volunteers were funneled through metal detectors and given wristbands.  Once inside, volunteers stood in rows organized by letters and numbers, waiting another 15-20 to be ushered to the front of the crowd, where each volunteer picked up a plastic pouch and held it open while event coordinators stationed behind a series of carefully marked boxes smiled and deposited various personal care items – soap, toothpaste, etc. – inside.

It was, in many ways, assembly line volunteerism.  As one of the country’s largest retailers introduced its factory-style efficiency to the community service experience, volunteers waited in line to do their part, and if they felt as if they had more time when they were finished, waited in line and did it again.  When we left after about 2 1/2 hours, my girlfriend and I had been through the line twice and helped pack about 8 kits each.  In total, 100,000 kits were packed on the day.

The following is not to diminish what was accomplished on that Saturday, but merely to ask some questions.  Among them:

How many people does it honestly take to assemble 100,000 military kits?  Was there something more useful that the thousands waiting in line at the Armory to hold a pouch open could have done instead to better their communities?  Is waiting in line really volunteering?  Am I just being curmudgeonly? 

The answers to these questions will, of course, depend on who’s answering them, but here’s an honest reading of the situation that I think gives credit where it’s due: Target and other major sponsors put on an event that was intended to be big, it was successful in its mission, the event organizers did a great job running everything as smoothly as possible, and US troops got 100,000 care kits that they didn’t have previously.  A-plus all around.

Still, this leads us to a more complicated and fundamental question – was such a large, industrial-scale event the best way to get people out and volunteering on a brisk Saturday?  What else could all of those people packed into the DC Armory have done if they were dispersed instead of consolidated?

We live in a big country, and much of the national discourse revolves around our big institutions.  Big business dominates the economy, big banks hold most of our assets, big government is seen as hero or villain depending on who you talk to, all while big foundations increasingly present themselves as the saviors of those who fall through the cracks.  We live in big cities.  Most of us shop at big stores.  And when it comes to the political and economic decisions that affect the country and the communities within it, most subscribe to the logic of big.  A big federal program here, a big business recruitment success there, big new generating capacity and transmission infrastructure to account for our future energy needs, big companies that can operate at large economies of scale and offer big savings to the consumer.  A big service event on a cold day in January to help keep us all humble.

But what if this wasn’t the way forward?  What if the blatant inefficiency of all those people spending 80 percent of their volunteer time waiting in line was actually the ugly truth lurking behind most of the big assumptions we passively accept?  What if this was more or less a proxy for what we get when we trust that big, corporate-scale solutions are what’s needed to solve problems best dealt with in a smaller capacity?  A job-starved community spends countless time and resources to recruit a big outside company that promises to create hundreds of new jobs, offering a lucrative package of tax incentives to help seal the deal, while vesting all of its economic hopes with one business in one industry that will reinvest its profits elsewhere.  An environmental activist chooses to invest their time dreaming up big, utility scale energy projects in faraway parts of the country, seeking transformative solutions and seeing few alternatives.  The average consumer takes their business to a big box retailer, convinced that no one else can offer the same level of convenience and savings.  Are these the actions that will re-invigorate our communities and help us rebuild for the 21st century?

Big will always play an important role.  Some big businesses will remain large employers.  Some tasks are best done by large-scale entities.  Regardless of whose politics win the day, the federal government will remain big, because in a country of over 300 million, there really are few other alternatives.  And on Saturday, January 19, 2013, many of the thousands who showed up at the DC Armory needed somewhere to go if they wanted to help out; several of DC’s great service organizations had such a supply of volunteers that they simply had to say no to anyone else who asked.

But what if we could imagine the results of thinking smaller – and saw these not as feeble attempts to chip away at a problem that is beyond our solving, but as small pieces to a larger, more meaningful solution?  Thousands of rooftop solar installments.  Local support not for big businesses trying to locate but for small ones trying to compete locally – the source of a much larger economic multiplier when they are successful.  Policies to help leverage the economic impact of home-based businesses and self-employed professionals.  Education initiatives tailored to the needs of kids in specific schools rather than those determined by public bureaucrats and big private benefactors.  What if millions of these actions, undertaken by communities across the country, could collectively have a greater impact on our country than waiting for our big institutions to act?  What if acting locally were the only way to bring about positive change within many of the places most desperate for it?

As a country, we’ve been through the boom and bust cycle of big.  It sounds like it was a great ride while it lasted.  Either way, its aftermath has a name befitting of the scale at which our nation has chosen to operate: The Great Recession.  And as our big companies downsized and our big government saw its tax receipts drop while its obligations and deficits rose, it may have become even harder, for a brief moment, to see a way out of this mess that wasn’t as big as the way in.  But with big crises come new thinking, and with big longstanding challenges come the necessities of drawing up new solutions.  Mix in the internet, the most decentralizing force the world has ever known, along with an emerging recognition that many local problems will never be solved without local solutions, and there is a recipe for an entirely new model of development and prosperity that puts our existing political and economic institutions to far better use.

What if on a chilly Saturday morning, I could spend 2.5 hours truly maximizing my impact, rather than just waiting around hearing thank-yous that I may or may not have earned?  I contributed something on this year’s National Day of Service, but I think that everyone who was there in the Armory knows that we all could have done more.  When it comes to the decisions we make about our communities, we should be just as discerning.

The value of things unseen

On a family vacation as a child, I once accompanied my parents on a tour of a house they were considering buying on a timeshare basis. I followed the adults around the entire time and didn’t say a word. Afterward, my father complimented me on my good behavior and gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me:

“Sometimes kids should be seen and not heard.”

Today I imagine all of the exhausted parents out there nodding their heads, one of them maybe mouthing a sarcastic “amen” if they could have heard my dad at that moment. I seemingly did my parents a lot of good that day by finding a way to calmly and quietly go about my kid business. Sometimes, the most important thing is what’s unsaid.

But what does kid business have to teach us about green business?

Screenshot taken from www.uponor-usa.com

Screenshot taken from http://www.uponor-usa.com

GOOD Magazine has the answer. In this case, it’s actually about what is unseen. Continue reading

Moving past predictions and towards robustness

Our climate future, much like our economic future, is very uncertain. This is something that we can all agree on, even the skeptics. Climate models typically input the entire globe, where interactions and feed backs are so complex that we can never promise any future condition with confidence. What is well known is the tendency of our climate system to be variable and change over time, even without increasing ambient temperatures. This is why experts are now suggesting that we move past arguing about scenarios and predictions and move toward preparing for variability and extremes (Hallegatte, 2009). Instead of planning around a given climate scenario, we should plan robustly for resiliency. Continue reading