Wednesday, April 27, 2005
MONKEY GLANDS AND WORLD TOUR
Since getting back from San Francisco, I have mainly been absorbed in two things: working with SustainAbility’s board on our future strategy (with the SF trip having had a similar re-energising effect on me that ageing millionaires and rock stars used to get, apparently, and pre-Green-Monkey-disease scares, via injections of monkey glands in Swiss clinics), and preparing for my impending tour of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and China. Since a key emphasis of SustainAbility’s new strategy is likely to be on emerging markets, the trip is timely – and will be the first time I have visited South Korea and China.
SYRIA PULLS OUT
Not front page news, perhaps, but I have been watching the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in peripheral vision. The last forces crossed the border yesterday. The possibility would have seemed outlandish when we were there a few years ago, but the assassination of Lebanon’s popular former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri catalysed trends that have brought to an end three decades of occupation. The longer term implications for the Syrian regime are unclear, but things are very unlikely to stop here.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
MONTEREY & CARMEL
On our last day, Ian and Alda drive us south to Monterey. I had wanted to visit the Monterey Aquarium (www.mbayaq.org) for pretty much as long as I can remember, having taken Elaine and the girls on a coast-to-coast tour of US aquariums 20 years ago or so. Fascinating to see the old canneries, prettified fossil remains of a more or less extinct industry, which was responsible in large part for destroying the regional fisheries. Steinbeck has long been a favourite of the Elkington family, particularly Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.
Though time is pressing, we make our way further south along the coast to Carmel, where the beachside homes, trees and detailing are about as highly distilled a version of the Californian dream as one is likely to find. Then – after a whistlestop visit to one of the area’s orginal missions – we head back home and out to the airport for the long trip home.
Girl and shark, Monterey Aquarium
Elaine and Ian
I vote for Charlton Heston
Jesus and birds
Saturday, April 16, 2005
BAY BRIDGE & PAINTED LADIES
Mark drives us – in their Civic hybrid – across to open-air breakfast alongside farmers’ market at the Ferry Building, from where we watch the Bay Bridge gain and lose a long white scarf of cloud. Ongoing conversation about where we should drive SustainAbility in future.
Under the bridge, on the far shore, we can make out massive port cranes. I muse that they look like the giant white dinosaur-like armoured vehicles from Star Wars, which prompts Mark to say that the cranes originally gave George Lukas the idea for the monsters. On the way back, we take a walk around the Presidio and Golden Gate area, and take a peek at the ‘Painted Ladies’, the wonderful Victorian homes of Alamo Square.
By the time we get back, our friends Ian Keay (our best man many moons ago) and Alda Angst have arrived. We pack our bags into their BMW and, after stopping off to see energy efficient NOW House, we drive up to a high point to look back over the city. We also take a tour of some of the houses that Ian and his team have painted in the city, including some zillionaire homes where the cost of the painting alone was equivalent to that of an average London home.
Then we head south towards Palo Alto. On the way, we cruise through the grounds of Stanford University, walking around the Rodin exhibition and a serpentine wall construction by my favourite artist, bar none: Andy Goldsworthy. Then back to Ian and Alda’s new home, out for a Thai meal, and bed.
A serpentine Goldsworthy
Headless woman by Rodin
San Francisco in perspective
Friday, April 15, 2005
SOCIAL FUSION & ZUNI
Elaine and I meet Amber Nystrom for lunch, agreeing that both Elaine and Amber would be wearing items of red. We turn out to be well matched in a number of ways – indeed, when I get back to London, I shall tell the team that these meetings with social entrepreneurs are pretty much akin to what millionaires apparently used to get when they flew decades ago to Switzerland for their annual injections of monkey gland extracts!
We meet in the Ferry Building, which has been massively revamped since we were last here. A great lunch and a really invigorating conversation. Amber, who had been suggested by a friend of our San Francisco colleague Mark Lee, is the founder and Director of Social Fusion (www.socialfusion.org), a business incubator that builds the resources and knowledge to launch and grow highly innovative nonprofit and for-profit social ventures. The basic idea is that “sustainable innovation requires an ecosystem of support that bridges business expertise, proactive investment, and a community of social entrepreneurs advancing new solutions for systemic social change.”
Later in the afternoon, after a Yunnan Black tea at The Slanted Door restaurant, Elaine and I trundle through various bookshops. Among other things, I buy Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, Joel Kotkin’s The City, Kerri Sakamoto’s One Hundred Million Hearts, and Gary Snyder’s Axe Handles. Snyder has been my favourite poet since the Sixties. Buy a second copy for Gaia, partly because she likes him too, but also partly because Part Two of the book is entitled ‘Little Songs for Gaia’. Then on to the San Francisco MOMA art museum, before catching a cable car back towards Fisherman’s Wharf, to pick up our bags from the Sheraton. The cable car system breaks down, so we decide to walk most of the way, which actually turns out to be a treat, with glorious sunshine coupled with a cool breeze.
Then across to the Folsom area of the city to stay with Mark and Val (Lee). They live in the most extraordinary home, in the midst of a light industrial area. Wonderfully hospitable, and in the evening the four of us wander across to the Zuni Cafe, on Market Street. Great sense of occasion, but delightfully informal and with wonderful service – in this case from a young Canadian woman. Elaine and I work our way down the west coast with 20 oysters in groups of four, representing different regions from Canada down to California. Mark chooses a stunning Syrah wine from Spencer & Roloson (www.punched.net).
San Francisco MOMA
Thursday, April 14, 2005
BSR BROWN BAG
Elaine and I head across to Business for Social Responsibility (www.bsr.org) to do a brown-bag with many of the team. Great session: many similarities, but also some significant differences in approach. Then a nice afternoon session near Union Square in Maiden Street (or similar) with Sara Olsen, who specialises in social return on investment (SROI). Among other things, the conversation helped me map out the overlapping space between corporate sustainability, social entrepreneurs and bottom-of-the-pyramid markets.
We walk back to Fisherman’s Wharf via Chinatown. On the way we stop into the extraordinary City Lights bookstore (www.citylights.com), where I buy George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant!, subtitled “Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.” Recommended by Aron and Berit Cramer earlier in the week. Ever the magazine-aholic, I also buy an armful of US publications such as Entrepreneur, Fast Company and Technology Review, the latter highly recommended by Kevin Kelly yesterday.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
KEVIN KELLY AND DRIVING OFF AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER
We visit the Pier 39 aquarium, not knowing we would be at the Monterey aquarium a few days later. The highlight here was the pulsing of the Moon Jellies. We grab lunch in the Virgin record store, with Roger-Dean-esque twins and dragon over the door. Then we take BART out to Colma, to see Kevin Kelly in Pacifica. He was involved in the Whole Earth Catalog/Review business, then was editor of Wired, and wrote two of my favorite books: Out of Control (Addison Wesley, 1994) and New Rules for the New Economy (Viking Penguin, 1998). His extraordinary website is at www.kk.org
We are driven from Colma by a semi-blind taxi driver who has no idea of where he is going. In the end, we are rescued by a Good Samaritan in Pacifica: she gets in her car and drives ahead of us to the head of the valley where Kevin’s wood-clad house is to be found. Most of the house seems to be library, with one entire wall covered in images for new graphic novel or comic?, as Kevin puts it. He gives us a copy of his book Asia Grace, published by Taschen. Among the initiatives he is involved in: The Foundation for the Long Now (www.longnow.org) and the All Species Foundation (www.all-species.org). When I ask him about the conversion experience in Jerusalem which set him on a new path, he reaches into the shelves and hands me a CD of a radio interview on the theme. The man’s seems to be prepared for everything, including – in some way – Armageddon.
In the evening, back in San Francisco, we head across to Portrero Hill to see Denise Caruso, of the Hybrid Vigor Institute (www.hybridvigor.org), a member of SustainAbility’s Faculty. She is racing to finish a book on risk and genetic engineering – by Monday. Huge great model neurons stride like mega-spiders across her staircase walls. We arrive courtesy of a Latvian taxi driver, who loses his way and even switches off his meter, driving all the while like his life depended on it, as do ours. A perfectly fabulous meal, surrounded with views of the city lights and Bay.
We bring a white wine, but when asked opt for red – at which Denise pulls out an extraordinary selections of wines, from which we choose a Rabbit Ridge red. A fabulous wine. Later she drives us home, turning the corner of her street to plunge over the edge of a hill towards the broad scape of the city, very much like plunging off the leading edge of an aircraft carrier.
Pier 39 aquarium shark and fish
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
CHINESE DIG, IRISH BLAST
Day starts with, of all things, creme brule, French toast and chicken sausage, half of which we refuse immediately, half of which we leave on our plates. Some American cuisine seems like an attempt to get a bit of structure into sugar.
Later in the day we visit the Beringer winery, including their caves, largely dug out by Chinese labourers, though our guide Tom says the Irish probably did the blasting. Started in 1876, this is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley, mainly because it continued to produce wine through the Prohibition era, ostensibly for medicinal and sacred purposes. As we leave, we buy a copy of Sideways. Then on to another winery whose wines we have bought, Ravenswood. Something of a disappointment: all the wines taste the same and quite raw.
As we move deeper into the Napa, so the traffic pressure builds. Eventually we decide to drop the car off in Berkeley and take a taxi across the Bay Bridge to SF. Find ourselves in a smoking room, one of the hazards of internet hotel booking. Then across to the Blue Mermaid, which is quite pleasant, though their idea of New England clam chowder turns out to involve a good deal of bacon – which I spend much of the evening picking out and piling up on the side of my plate. But the draft Anchor Steam beer is great.
Napa vineyard (JE)
Monday, April 11, 2005
RAINBOWS, STEELHEAD TROUT AND PHOTOVOLTAICS
Wake to cries of the rooks, ravens. In the Vignonier room of the Grape Leaf Inn, Healdsburg, with morning sun coming through restrained stained glass, splashing rainbow effects. Reminds me of my attempts to reproduce San Francisco in my attic bedroom at Little Rissington in the mid-1960s. Outside, the sound of street cleaning. Inside, the hum and throb of all the pumps needed for people’s showers and Jacuzzis.
We take a picnic out into wine country settling at the Quivira winery, where we drink a delicious Petite Syrah under the trees. The winery is covered with huge arrays of photovoltaic cells and there is a sustainability scheme for the local steelhead trout, linked to a wine, Steelhead Red (www.quivirawine.com). Vines along the river banks have been ripped out and replaced with willows, woven together to slow soil erosion that has been sedimenting the fish spawning grounds. (When later in the day, we drive a huge circle through the mountains to the coast and then down to the mouth of the Russian River, we are struck by the vast amount of silt coming out into the Pacific.)
Later, we happen on the Raymond Burr winery, set up by the actor who played Perry Mason in ‘Ironside’ in the long-running TV series. Their port, originally planted for family and friends, has apparently got on to menus at upscale San Francisco restaurants and in 1996 took Double Gold at the Harvest Fair there. Well, maybe, but I can’t say we took to the wines, though they were served by a delightful woman.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
ECHO BOOMS IN SONOMA
We rent a car from Avis, then drive out on the 580 and 101, across the Richmond Bridge. The car is a Ford Taurus, a bit like driving a middle-aged sea-cucumber on wheels. The roads have also seen better days, but it’s great to be free for a while. As we head up towards Sonoma, we are both struck by the number of vineyards that seem relatively newly planted. Will Rosenzweig tells us later in the day that much of the planting was driven by New Economy money, with a perhaps inevitable echo boom and, to a degree, a perhaps inevitable bust.
Following Will’s hand-drawn map, done the previous evening because I had lost the detailed instructions he had sent by e-mail, we find both the Russian River and his magical home, the IdeaGarden (www.ideagarden.com). A Victorian house, with wrap-around porch, extraordinary garden, spiral wind mobile and Paolo Soleri bell at the entrance. Parked in the drive: a black hybrid Prius. The San Francisco area seems to be awash with Priuses, partly – someone tells us – because Toyota decided to focus its marketing efforts on a few key cities in the US.
Great lunch with Will (once known as Bill, and a serial entrepreneur, who among other things was President, CEO and Minister of Progress at the Republic of Tea and Director of the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conference), his wife Carla and daughter Lily. Will is a member of SustainAbility’s Faculty, and something of a stepping stone for me as I venture into the world of social enterprise. A blue jay enjoys splashing in the bird bath as we lunch, while we enjoy a couple of wines from the Belvedere winery, immediately below. Will was also CEO of Hambrecht Vineyards & Wineries, which is how he came to find this house in the first place.
Later, as we walk around the IdeaGarden, we see many lizards and a pretty lively snake. There are rafts of herbs, trees thick with orange blossom and delicious oranges, California poppies, a date palm, olive, almond and pear trees, and a great many roses. A wonderful afternoon, with Louie Armstrong playing as Will drives us around local wineries in the Prius. A really great wine tasting at the Gary Farrell winery (www.garyfarrell.com), with Lily energetically taking photographs with my digital camera.
Then on to the Armstrong redwood reserve, the first time Elaine and I had been into a redwood grove: awe-inspiring. After a winding drive back to the IdeaGarden, we head off to our hotel and dinner at Willi’s Seafood Bar, where I try and enjoy a Vision Cellars Pinot Noir, licorice, and Elaine a cabernet sauvignon from Michel Schlumberger. It really is turning into something of a Sideways adventure, albeit a great deal more civilised than the book.
Buddha and leis
Lily and Colonel Armstrong
Will in Prius
Saturday, April 09, 2005
SIDEWAYS INTO SUSTAINABILITY
We take part in a number of interesting sessions on social performance metrics and social return on investment (SROI). Gavin Power of the UN Global Compact does a brilliant lunchtime speech. The final session is chaired by Will Rosenzweig, who we are due to visit tomorrow. Late in the day, we have a wonderful dinner with Aron Cramer of BSR (www.bsr.org) and his wife Berit, at a delightful restaurant called Oliveto.
The wine was extraordinary, a Russian River pinot noir by Merry Edwards (www.merryedwards.com), one of the very few women wine-makers in the region. Haven’t yet seen the film Sideways, or read the book [Note 1: we will buy it next week at the Beringer winery, and Elaine – reading it first – will tell me that it’s too raucous for me], but it feels as though we’re starting the sideways slide into the winery world. Whether that has anything to do with sustainability remains to be seen. [Note 2: apart from sheer pleasure of most of the wines, we find sustainability projects at several wineries, particularly Quivira, www.quivirawine.com.]
Friday, April 08, 2005
HAAS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
I get up a number of times in the night to try to fix a radiator which – despite not being on – makes sounds like gnomes hammering, distant forges of the mini-Vulcans. The hotel sends up an engineer in the morning, but apparently this is normal.
Start day with an interview for Wall Street Journal on the new Nike sustainability report, which comes out in a few days. Today sees the beginning of the conference on social performance metrics, organized by the University’s of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and, more particularly, by the Center for Responsible Business (www.haas.berkeley.edu/responsiblebusiness/). Launched in 2003, and led by Kellie McElhaney, the Center is developing a series of conferences with the Boston University School of Management and London Business School.
My keynote begins by comparing measurement across the triple bottom line as somewhat akin to broccoli: we all know it’s good for us, but I for one find it difficult to get passionately excited about metrics. Even so, measurement and performance metrics are becoming increasingly important, and I focus in on the four areas that have been preoccupying me for a while: Balance Sheets (accountability, accounting, reporting, assurance), Boards (the cross-connects between sustainable development and corporate governance), Brands (the conversations between companies and their consumers, customers and investors) and Business Models (the basic processes of wealth creation).
Lots of conversations afterwards, plus an invitation to write a paper for a special edition of the California Management Review.
Gavin Power, Kellie McElhaney, John Elkington
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Elaine and I fly to San Francisco. We first went there on our honeymoon in 1973, five years after we met. That, too, had turned into a mix of work and pleasure, with visits to interesting people right across the United States. As usual, I use the flight to plough through books. Finish off The World Is Not Enough and then turn to Why Blame Israel? Read the first hundred pages and learn a good deal I didn’t know about the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
When we arrive at San Francisco International, the PhD student who was meant to be picking us up wasn’t there, so we hopped a cab across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley. Sign of the times: Apple’s big “Life is Random” ad hoardings for their new mini-iPod.
When I go online from the Hotel Durant, there are far fewer e-mails than usual and I wonder whether maybe the world has forgotten me? No, as it turns out. Instead, SustainAbility’s new spam filter is now working effectively, knocking out huge numbers of spurious mail that I once had to trawl through each day. One interesting e-mail notes that the new SustainAbility website is attracting three times as many CVs as the previous one, and from a wider range of people.
In the evening, Elaine and I walk around the Berkeley campus, with the Bay glittering in the background. Although I have been to San Francisco a number of times, this is the first time I have made it across to Berkeley – even though events here in the late 1960s made the place feel almost like a parallel alma mater. We are quite surprised by the extraordinary number of Asian students. When Elaine finds two very healthy and quite vigorous caterpillars in her salad at supper, the hotel gives us the meal free – even though we had only mentioned the caterpillars in passing and had tried to insist that we wanted to pay. Thanks, Crystal.
California poppies (©JE)
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Spent an interesting day in Reading, chairing a digital inclusion roundtable for Microsoft. I often note that the human rights agenda has mutated strikingly in recent years, increasingly taking in a range of ‘access’ issues: for example, access to clean water, access to affordable energy and access to drugs for HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, with huge implications for the relevant industries – and for their underlying business models. The digital inclusion agenda increasingly raises similar issues for the ICT hardware, software and service provider sectors. An extremely constructive session.
Monday, April 04, 2005
Multifaceted day, kicking off with a visit to OYBike in Hammersmith, a social enterprise aiming to bring high-tech cycle hire to London and other cities. Idea, as explained to me by OYBike Director Gordon Keenan, is that you will use your mobile phone to unlock cycles for hire. Hammersmith, bounded on three sides by motorways and on the fourth by the Thames, was chosen as a testbed.
I definitely wish the initiative well, but was struck by the number of challenges they still have to overcome, not the least of which will be loosing at least some innocents onto London roads. Having twice been left unconscious while cycling in London, once with three broken ribs, I’m slightly sensitive to the risks that they would face. That’s why SustainAbility has supported the London Cycling Campaign (www.lcc.org.uk), which aims to turn London into a world class cycling city.
Then back to office, on to Soho for a meeting with Ford, and back to office for meeting and teleconference with Nike people on their impending new report. Wish I’d been able to cycle home: the Piccadilly Line had signal problems, which meant that we sat there alongside a man who was playing his personal hi-fi at Concorde levels. I’d rather risk life and limb in London’s roads than put up with that sort of acoustic aggression.
Gordan Keenan with OYBike cycle stand (JE)
Saturday, April 02, 2005
STELLATA PERFORMANCE, BUT …
Couldn’t resist shooting the Magnolia stellata that has erupted in the front garden. Real sense of Spring breaking loose, with cascades of cherry blossom streaming down from the trees around the corner as I walk home. And my favourite perfume of the moment: the flowering blackcurrant on the other side of our block, albeit interspersed with the peppery odour of fox. And, overhead, the wild screech of the parakeets. How long before they turf the pigeons out of Trafalgar Square?
6 April cautionary note from (Sir) Geoffrey Chandler, among other things a member of SustainAbility Council: “The Magnolia stellata is correctly identified and admirably photographed, but I suspect your ‘flowering blackcurrant’, unless it has insipid yellowish flowers and is therefore Ribes americanum, is in fact the flowering currant (no ‘black’) Ribes sanguineum, its flowers either pinkish, red, or possibly white. With any luck no one visits [your] site and their education will therefore not be blighted. But you never know.”
He’s right, of course. The flowers are pinkish, mauveish, whiteish. I stand, or currently sit, corrected.
Friday, April 01, 2005
SKOLL FOUNDATION ANNUAL SUMMIT & AWARDS
Awards ceremony, including Sir Ben Kingsley (fifth from left), Jeff Skoll (sixth) and Sally Osberg (seventh), who heads the Skoll Foundation (©JE)
Just back from three fascinating days at the Skoll Foundation summit on social entrepreneurship, held at the Said Business School, Oxford. Chaired a session on governance, but mainly got a chance to catch up with social entrepreneurs and fellow travellers from around the world.
Last night we had the latest set of awards from the Foundation, which can be accessed by clicking the title of this item. Award winners shown in the photo. One of the highlights of the event: a showing of part of the film Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley who now presented the awards, dubbed into Palestinian Arabic – for showings in Palestinian refugee camps. The sequence shown was where Gandhi, abed, told a Hindu he could atone for his murder of a Muslim child (in revenge for the murder of his own son) by adopting a Muslim child – and raising him or her as a Muslim.
Today started with a small, invitation-only breakfast session with people from Participant Productions (Jeff Skoll’s new Hollywood film production company, www.participantproductions.com), and from media organisations like the BBC and PBS. Left me thinking we should do more with the media.
For more on the event, go to either www.skollfoundation.org or to www.social edge.org. After the summit ended, Geoff Lye and I did a session for MSc and PhD students from the Environmental Change Institute in Oxford (http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/). Great fun.