Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Just finished the second in a pair of speeches, the first in Calgary, the second in Edmonton, as part of the 9th annual Sustainable Building Symposium (http://www.sustainablebuildings.ca) . The event is now hosted by the Alberta Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council (http://www.abcagbc.org). The Edmonton event was held in the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, which is an extraordinary pile, with gargoyles, apparently – though the thing’s so high it would be hard to see them. But they protect the entrances, it is said. The ‘Mac’ once had a modern extension built, that led to the two buidings being unkindly described as “the Mac and the box it came in.” The extension was later demolished. Still find the built environment fascinating – and a lot has happened in the field since last I looked. One of the most interesting sessions, which followed mine in both instances, was by Chris Corps, who aims to green the valuation professions (http://www.rics.org/Builtenvironment/Sustainableconstruction/biz_greenvalue1105.html). Highly thought-provoking.
Thanks to a last-minute intervention by Jed Emerson, I also got to meet up with Stephanie Robertson, who I last saw when she was working on social return on investment (SROI) at London Business School (http://sroi.london.edu). She now has her own firm, based in Calgary, working in the same field (http://www.simpactstrategies.com). She also had me invited me to sit in on a lunch celebrating the Top 100 Women in Western Canada, organised by the Women’s Executive Network (http://www.wxnetwork.com/). Slightly afrighting, since there only seemed to be two or three of us men in a sea of hundreds of women – and the table I was at was talking about how they had auctioned off the men at a recent meeting. Happily, it proved that they only auctioned off the bachelors.
Mounted policemen, Calgary
Equine sculpture and shadow
Spot the gargoyles: Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, where the second GBC event was held
View from hotel
Friday, May 26, 2006
LOOKING FOR AN ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
Every so often, SustainAbility takes a big jump forward. We did it with our name in 1987, we did it with green consumerism, we did it with reporting, we did it with the triple bottom line. We did it when we started recruiting international team members (Peter Zollinger and I had dinner last night with Shelly Fennell, one of our two American directors in the days before we had a US office), we did it when we expanded into the US (with offices in New York, Washington, DC and San Francisco, now consolidated in DC), and we are doing it again with our growing range of activities in the emerging economies space. I think we will also do it with our new Skoll Program (http://www.wwf.org.uk/news/n_0000001811.asp) – for which we are currently looking for an Associate Director (http://www.sustainability.com/insight/article.asp?id=481). And now, after a two-day strategy meeting with six colleagues, I am increasingly confident that we may be on the verge of taking a big leap forward once again – hopefully in time to coincide with our twentieth anniversary next year. Sense of an accelerating realignment in the stars …
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
WWF COUNCIL OF AMBASSADORS 1
Across this morning to 1 London Bridge for my first meeting as a member of the WWF UK Council of Ambassadors. Professor Norman Myers, a long-standing friend and colleague, kicked off with a review of progress (not much of it) on removing the perverse government subsidies that fuel many ecologically devastating activities around the world (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1559638354/002-3079020-3832868?v=glance&n=283155). Among the other presentations, one that really sticks in my mind was that by Emily Lewis-Brown on one terrifying possible impact of climate change that has been getting a growing amount of coverage in the scientific press recently: the role that carbon dioxide plays in acidifying the oceans, potentially destroying the world’s coral reefs and many calcium-based life forms on which most marine food-webs depend (http://www.wwf.org.uk/news/n_0000001811.asp).
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
After a busy day, I trundle across to Southwark police station for an identity parade. Getting into the place is like getting into Fort Knox, as though they’re expecting the IRA to have a crack at them. Or maybe it’s the Yardies. Four of us have to (separately) watch a video of nine different suspects, to try and identify a criminal. When I was told that we would each see nine different men, all chosen to look very much like the suspect, and given that I only saw the man for a few minutes in the dark last December, I felt it was going to be an impossible task. Weirdly, I recognised him as soon as his picture came up.
His modus operandi is to approach people in the street and ask for money in a variety of ways. When I came across him, he had stalled his car across the traffic in Barnes, and told me that his wife – there was a girl in the car – was pregnant, on her way to hospital, had left her purse at home, and they had run out of petrol. He offered to give me her earrings as surety, but – pretty much suspecting that this was a fraudster – I gave him what I had in my pockets and told him where to find a gas station. Then I watched as he started stopping people in cars (I had been walking home) and repeated the trick. I waded in and told them what was going on.
What really got under my skin was that he was trading on people’s good will – and, in the process, eroding social capital, reducing the chances that people would help out others in future. Initially, I thought the trip across to the police station was going to be a waste of time, but when I heard other people’s stories – when finally we could talk to one another – I was happy to have taken part.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
One of the paintings my sister Caroline (http://www.carolineelkington.net) had done since last we were in Little Rissington was of Elaine on Cape Cod – here she signs it. Captures Elaine’s spirit nicely, receding into the blue. It returned with us to London.
Still life on Caroline’s window-sill
Elaine on Cape Cod
HILL HOUSE IN THE RAIN
A wonderful weekend with my parents. Herewith a few incidental images of Hill House, Little Rissington, as the rain fell steadily today. One of the things we did yesterday was watch a recently made film on the Russian exploits of Tim’s 134 squadron in Russia in 1941, during WWII – something that both the Russians and the Department of Defence have on occasion said – for reasons best known to themselves – never happened. However, there is plenty of evidence, for example see http://lend-lease.airforce.ru/english/articles/sheppard/hurricanes/index.htm. Also saw a fair amount of the next-door-neighbours, my sister Tessa, her husband John, and their sons, Gil, Rory and Gabriel.
End of Hill House reflected in Volvo rear window, with geranium en route to London inside
Elaine in the beyond-the barn garden
Reflection in the glass of one of Caroline’s paintings
Wilted peonies 2
Two of three nephews next door: Rory and Gil
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Took part in a small dinner (20 people) this evening in Soho, organised by Fortune magazine, which I have read for well over 20 years. The event was hosted by 4-5 senior Fortune editors and was part of the build-up to Fortune’s Brainstorm meeting in Aspen (http://www.timeinc.net/fortune/conferences/brainstorm06/overview.html). Others there included Stelios Haji-Ioannou (founder of easyJet and easyGroup), Laura D’Andrea Tyson (Dean, London Business School), Vindi Singh Banga (who runs the Unilever foods business), and Louise Blouin MacBain. Among other things, her foundation (http://www.ltbfoundation.org/) is focusing on is the ‘new biology of mind’. Found myself sitting alongside her, and it all ended up with her offering to sell me her brain …
But the really interesting thing was the way the sustainability issue came up time and again, e.g. around jet fuel taxes, with climate change and current US politics a continuous leitmotif. My increasingly strong sense is that the whole sustainability agenda is coming up the mainstream agenda like gangbusters – a fact likely to be reinforced by next year’s 20th anniversary of the Brundtland Report.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Back late from a dinner hosted by the Malaysian palm oil industry, which is increasingly nervous about campaigns targeting it for habitat destruction, including putting at risk orang-utan populations. Key question, given that the Malaysian industry is working fairly hard to address the relevant issues, is whether Malaysia will feel able to diffentiate itself and its products from less-well-performing countries, such as Indonesia. Seems little or no appetite for that, but unless the consumer can distinguish and choose between products on an informed basis, everyone in an industry gets tarred with the same brush.
The international industry has a sustainability initiative, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (http://www.sustainable-palmoil.org/), though my sense is that a great deal more needs to be done if the industry is engage successfully with the wider world. It’s a long time since I was taken around an oil palm plantation, courtesy of long-time friend and colleague Teoh Cheng Hai, then of Golden Hope Plantations. They had just stopped burning old palm trunks, switching to composting. A real pioneer – indeed, I first met them when they, like us, found themselvs winners of UN Global 500 awards. The thing I best remember from that visit, apart from some extraordinary elongated fish swimming around a huge glass tank (but still far too small for them) in a plantation manager’s home, was the ‘winkling’ – a term used for fishing around with hooked lengths of wire in holes in living palm trunks, hunting for grubs that damage the palms – and which would once have been dealt with by the spraying of chemical insecticides.
During the evening, I enjoyed a conversation with Lord (Dennis) Rogan, a textiles entrepreneur, about flax, jute and Northern Ireland. He was energetically involved in the business of making jute sacks until polymers came along and stole the market. I well recall, as a child, playing in and around the old, disused but still flooded flax ponds near the farm where we lived in Northern Ireland. Odd sense of the large-scale rise and fall of great industries, of the processes of creative destruction. At one stage, the evening’s convenor, Roger Hayes, brandished today’s newspaper front pages declaring Britain (accurately) to be in the midst of a gathering drought crisis. All the while, the rain thumped down outside the French windows in the Reform Club.
GE, PEAK OIL & ROLLING STONE
As the mainstreaming of sustainability thinking begins in earnest, with a rapid acceleration likely on issues like climate change once President Bush leaves office, US companies like Wal-Mart have been making public announcements and commitments that would have been inconceivable a few years back. Was talking to a US supplier of Wal-Mart’s yesterday who said that the giant retail company is pulling key suppliers into a growing number of ‘sustainable value networks’, and squeezing them for everything they know about the subject.
As it happens, I had bought the book Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1932857249/002-8165416-0433651?v=glance&n=283155) a few days back, in Docklands, but haven’t got around to reading it yet. Suspect it will have little good to say about the retail colossus, though some might just see Wal-Mart as a longer term means of getting affordable green products to the poor – and, simultaneously, of driving sustainability-related thinking through supply chains.
Meanwhile, I had begun to suspect that General Electric’s much-vaunted ‘Ecomagination’ initiative was more puff than substance, based on the company’ reactions to our queries, but today’s news in the Financial Times was more encouraging. Sales of products and services grouped under GE’s Ecomagination brand rose from $6.2bn in 2004 to $10.1bn in 2005, and the company’s backlog of advance orders has more than doubled to $17bn. As GE CEO Jeff Immelt put it: “With oil prices and other energy costs surging and water scarcity concerns spready, Ecomagination makes even more sense for our investors than it did a year ago.”
The market demand for such technologies and services can only grow. The sort of drought conditions now affecting south-east England represent only part of the story. On the flight back from JFK the other days, I read The Long Emergency, by James Howard Kunstler (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0871138883/002-8165416-0433651?v=glance&n=283155). Very frightening, if you believe – for example – his forecast that we will see the collapse of suburbia in the US as oil prices climb inexorably. Possible to imagine generations of suburbanites becoming embittered, fractious enemies of the state in the same way that the people attracted out into states like Montana by the promise of railway-led property booms became stranded and, in some cases, joined the sort of militias that provided the context for things like the Oklahoma City bombing.
Kunstler first caught my attention when he covered the theme of ‘Peak Oil’ and its likely impacts last year in Rolling Stone (http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/7203633/the_long_emergency/). I also bought the magazine’s 1000th issue while in the US, partly because of the extraordinary holographic cover this time around, part Beatles and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, part Stones and Their Satanic Majesties Request. Hard to imagine the Sixties happening without the electricity produced by all those oil-fired power stations that were busily helping us gobble up – to date, according to Kunstler and others – half of the oil ever formed on Earth. And, as demographic and lifestyle trends drive ever-higher energy demand, the next half of that oil will be infinitely harder (on average) to get at and extract, making the net energy value much lower. Fasten your seat-betls.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
FOX RED, PARAKEET GREEN
Working away on the book, my eye was repeatedly caught by movement at the bottom of the garden. As a flight of some 20 brilliant parakeets did a southward flypast, a slightly grizzled vixen suckled and played with her three cubs on our somewhat rampant lawnlet. The runt of the litter then spent 15 minutes or so trying to vault off our compost heap onto the wall to follow the rest of the family, failing repeatedly, mainly falling on its head – and looking increasingly dazed. I know the feeling. Now seems to have made it. Small dramas as I write about the risks of WWIII …
Through a closed window, not darkly but certainly fuzzily – maximum zoom on tiny Canon
CAM ship and Hurricane
Somehow, Russia is in the air at the moment. For example, I received an application from a Russian earlier today for one of the new posts at SustainAbility, this one an Associate Director role designed to help carry forward our Skoll Program on social entrepreneurship. And no doubt the Russians have plenty of words for snow and icy conditions (see ‘I STAND CORRECTED IN THE SNOW’ entry, below). Freezing conditions were a key part of the challenge for RAF units fighting in Russia during WWII, a fact of which I was reminded this week when Gaia and my youngest sister Tessa accompanied my father, Tim, to the annual event at the London memorial to the Soviet war dead – some 27,000,000 people.
The main reason for his turning up: among other things, Tim served on the WWII CAM ships that helped protect the convoys taking munitions and other supplies around to Murmansk and Arkangel (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/exhibitions/boa/camships.asp). The pilots’ role: to fly Hurricanes off the merchantmen to defend the convoys in waters where the life-expectancy of downed pilots could be counted in seconds, owing to the freezing conditions.
Another reason for his attending: Air Commodore Philip Wilkinson, RAF Retired, and ex-Defence Attache in Moscow, was launching his film on the Russian Wing’s exploits, on the back of the ceremony. Among other things, the low-budget film features a sequence of computer animation showing Tim’s Hurricane taking off from an aircraft carrier and flying inland over the northern coast Russia – see September 14 2005 entry.
And a couple of the photos Gaia took:
Tim (left), Peter Fearn (ex-RAF; Director of Broquet International Ltd, which markets fuel catalysts developed in the Russian campaign; and Trustee of the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund) and Percy Durham (Hurricane ‘fanatic’ and archivist).
Tim (left) and Peter Knapton, an NCO pilot in Tim’s flight in Russia, subsequently commissioned, serving in Middle East and Burma (where they met again). Later a Group Captain and Air Attache, Moscow.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
ENTER THE AVOCADO
It’s odd how powerful the memories surfaced by tastes and smells can be. Tonight it was avocados. I still remember when we were small – apparently it was 1961 – and my father, Tim, flew in from the independence celebrations in Nigeria, where the British contingent had been headed by Princess Alexandra. The reason I remember this now, since he was often flying in and out, was that he brought back a crate of ‘avocado pears’ – something I hadn’t seen before. My mother, Pat, consumed a substantial number the first day, partly because she was pregnant with my sister Tessa, and partly because the flight had been delayed on the way back, while a new engine was flown out, and they were in urgent need of polishing off.
Exotic then, avocados are now mainstream, though those we had at supper this evening with Adam Ford (who taught both Gaia and Hania at St Paul’s) and his partner Ros were particularly delicious. Tiny: the quail’s egg version of an avocado, from Tesco, apparently. Which had us discussing Adam’s sister Anna’s recently announced appointment to the board of rival J Sainsbury. Last weekend, when I was still in the US, the Sunday Times had done a piece colourfully titled ‘I’m a Celebrity – Get Me on the Board.’ In contrast to the implication of the title, the article underneath noted how valuable such widely experienced people can be on boards as non-executive directors. I particularly liked the quote attributed to the Chairman of one supermarket rival: “She’ll be a great director, representing success and stewardship. I wish I had thought of it first.” How long, I wonder, before such appointments – like the avocado – go mainstream? Much, of course, will depend on how this round of appointments works out.
I STAND CORRECTED IN THE SNOW
I’m not sure whether I stand corrected exactly, having used the phrase, “But as people like the Inuit have long known and acknowledged via their kayak-loads of words for ice and snow, language can powerfully shape thinking – and perhaps even influence our species’ chances of survival.” But I did receive a fascinating comment today from Ritika Nandkeolyar on the assertion, which appears in our latest piece in Grist (http://www.grist.org/biz/fd/2006/05/09/lee/). “While reading your otherwise thought-provoking piece on the corporate responsibility movement,” she says, “I noticed that you unwittingly perpetuated a linguistic legend.” She goes on to say that the notion that the Inuit have 50, 100, 150 or whatever words for snow is erroneous. She also sent the following links, just in case you’re interested …
The argument seems to be that instead of having 50, 100 or 150, they potentially have zillions – which puts one in mind of the old adage that every one of the zillions upon zillions of snowflakes is different. So we probably do need rather a lot of words to do them justice. The second link will take you to a fascinatingly detailed analysis of some of the words the Inuit do use, plus the following as a starter-for-10 of some of the words and phrases Tony Woodbury hears us Anglos using:
– blowing snow
– ice lens
– igloo (Inuit iglu ‘house’)
– pingo (Inuit pingu(q) ‘ice lens’)
But that’s just child’s play. Not surprisingly, the skiing folk also have huge numbers, it seems. Indeed, one piece I saw on the Web (http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/journal/2002/snowwords.htm) suggested they have recently coined at least 70, including ‘sugar powder,’ ‘champagne powder,’ ‘mashed potato’ (mushy, wet snow so heavy a shovel stands up in it), ‘boilerplate’ or ‘bulletproof,’ and – weirdly – ‘frozen chicken heads,’ “which forms when spring slush freezes.”
So, I’m older and slightly the wiser.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
DELTA: AIR CHAFF
If my flight from Boston’s Logan airport to New York’s JFK yesterday was anything to go by, Delta will go bankrupt – and deserves to do so. No-one envies the airlines the challenge of recovering from their post 9/11 travails, but difficult times weed the wheat from the chaff. It turned out that I was flying Air Chaff yesterday. We actually ended up in Atlantic City, because the failure of the aircraft’s ice-removal systems meant we couldn’t fly through the clouds over JFK. Once in Atlantic City, it seemed that Delta – or their agents – were determined to do everything possible to make things difficult for their customers. After waiting around five hours in figurative darkness, we were bundled into vans and buses (a gas-guzzling Sherman of a limo in my case, alongside three others, including a woman who is involved in developing AWACS-like aerial espionage systems and should have been on her way to NATO in Brussels) and driven for three hours, at breakneck speeds, to New York – with the radar detector chiming pretty continuously. Once in JFK, the Delta staff, again, showed their default inclination: they could not have been more unhelpful. Unusually, stranded in JFK for 24 hours, I wish them ill.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Dropped in on Bob Massie (see March 25 entry), who had also made it to the Harvard event, and his wife Anne Tate, at their home – which was undergoing an energy audit as I arrived. Extraordinarily generative discussion with Bob, then memorable lunch with them both. Among other things, we talked about Al Gore. Later, as I walked through Boston’s Logan airport , I once again saw displays of the Gore cover of Wired, which I had bought a few days earlier. Not too sure about what to make of his positioning cheek-by-jowl, or by-whatever, with what I – perhaps mistakenly – took to be Britney Spears. Then boarded the jet for JFK. And a journey which turned what should have been something like a 12-hour affair into more like a 36-hour affair. But still wildly worth the trip.
Mask in the Massie/Tate household
Love, lies, betrayal and Gore
Atlantic City? Weren’t we meant to be at JFK?
Our latest Grist column, on corporate economic responsibility, is posted at http://grist.org/biz/fd/2006/05/09/lee/index.html
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Well, I did my bit for slime molds at Harvard on 8-9 May. I was one of the speakers at a conference held by the Kennedy School of Governance’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative (http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/cbg/CSRI/) on the subject of ‘Business and the Millennium Development Goals: New Models of Leadership and Partnership.’ Organised by Jane Nelson (the Initiative’s Director, and a long-standing member of SustainAbility’s Council) and professor John Ruggie (Director, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, KSG and Kofi Annan’s Special Representative on Human Rights), the event drew together leading academics and practitioners from the worlds of business, government and civil society. A wonderful event.
Our session involved my being interviewed by David Gergen (http://www.davidgergen.com/), with responses from Gib Bulloch (Director, Accenture Development Partnerships) and Fernande Raine (Executive Director, Carr Center for Human Rights). All very grown up, and I probably spoiled everything by revealing, once introduced, that thanking Gib publicly for warning me as I was about to take to the stage that I had a blob of cream (from the strawberries and cream served at the lunch that we had hastily gobbled to ensure we were ready for the debate) on my ear-lobe. Happily, this generated a degree of hilarity in the audience, as did David’s quickfire response – when I invited the audience to let us know of any other flaws in the panellists – that I had peanut butter on the other lobe …
When, some time later, we were ending, with the discussion focusing on styles of leadership, I recalled that David had earlier referenced the success of film-makers in making penguins sexy, with the film The March of the Penguins (http://wip.warnerbros.com/marchofthepenguins/). He slyly used this as a way to suggest that Hollywood might even contrive to make Al Gore sexy. But I noted that most of the political and business leaders I met probably didn’t think of themselves as penguins, but as lions or eagles. By contrast, I suggested, an appropriate metaphor and model for 21st century leadership is the slime mold, an old favourite of mine (see, for example, http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/protista/slimemolds.html).
Slime molds spend much of their lives as independent cells, but periodically come together and self-organise into strange fruiting bodies that collectively sporulate, and then disengage and go their separate ways again. That is a single species at work, I commented, whereas what we need now are multi-species variants, with business, government and civil society actors learning how to work in this way.
Later still, summing up the event, John Ruggie happily came back to my slime. He followed Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who had delightfully argued that corporate social responsibility is little more than “lipstick on a bulldog.” He noted that we had heard a number of metaphors during the course of the day.
The first he mentioned came from Travis Engen, President and CEO of Alcan – and also Chairman both of the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Engen had told the story of a blind horse, Betsy, that had to tow a car out of a ditch. The gist of the story was that the farmer who owned Betsy went to one side of the blind animal and said (I paraphrase), “OK Dobbin, get ready to pull,” then went around to the other side and said, “Get ready Silver, and off we go.” And old, wobbly-kneed Betsy dragged the car out – because she thought she was doing it as part of a team.
The second metaphor Ruggie mentioned came from Herman Mulder (Co-Chairman of the Group Risk Committee at ABN Amro Bank), who had spoken of how people switched on to the corporate responsibility and sustainability agendas. Again I paraphrase, from memory: “They go in as pigs and come out as sausages – converted.”
And then, finally he strung Rosabeth and I together, noting that the audience had also heard about “slime molds and lipstick on bulldogs.” And, he said, “You heard it here at Harvard!”
Oddly, it felt like progress, of a sort.
Monday, May 08, 2006
THE STREETS OF CAMBRIDGE, MA
Peter Kinder, who I have been staying with in Cambridge (MA), long ago told me that the streets of Cambridge – one of my favourite towns – were laid out along sheep and cow tracks. And Indian trails. Certainly it feels much more convivial than many US grid-based cities. One evening, Peter (a founder of socially responsible investment analysts KLD, http://www.kld.com/) played me a concert of around an hour of some of his extraordinary record and tape collection. One track in particular sticks in my mind, Rivers of Babylon by the Melodions. As, thinking about it, does a Johnny Cash track in which the story ends with various people singing happy birthday to a 20-year-old man as the hangman’s trap cracks open beneath his feet.
As I wandered around the streets of Cambridge, I came across an exhibit celebrating the life of Margaret Fuller, an extraordinary woman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Fuller). Had no idea that she was the great-aunt of Buckminster Fuller, on of the big influences on my own thinking – who I met in Reykjavik in the late 1970s. Had a wonderful time in and out of stores, before heading acros to meet Mindy Lubber of CERES in Boston (http://www.ceres.org). Also met up with Allen White of The Tellus Institute (http://www.tellus.org/).
In addition, made it to two Cambridge clothes shops I always try to visit in Cambridge (The Andover Shop and J. Press) and The Harvard Book Store, where – among other things – I bought a new book by Nancy Jack Todd, Safe and Sustainable World (http://btobsearch.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&btob=Y&isbn=1559637781&itm=2). The Todds – John and Nancy – were another profound influence on me in the 1970s, via their New Alchemy Institute.
Part of the home-from-home block in which Peter lives
Graveyard in the centre of Cambridge – some of those who helped lay out the city, laid out
‘Boneshaker’ – a photo I received by email this morning from Fran van Dijk in Edinburgh. Just bought by her husband, Ken. Promptly told various people that I wanted to ride the thing around Harvard, showing Americans what they could have had if only they had not got involved in the Boston Tea Party and stayed as part of the British Empire.
A photo inspired by Fran’s boneshaking image above
Ivy-covered Harvard balls
Ritu Khanna, a member of our London team, just returned from a wedding in India – and her hands struck us all, even me some 3,000 miles away in Cambridge, MA. I think the picture was taken by another team member, Tell Muenzing.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
A blast from the past. Was called today by Kate Cooper of the Lunar Society (http://jquarter.members.beeb.net/morelunar.htm), which I had thought had shut up shop nearly 200 years ago. They were hugely influential in their heyday in driving the Industrial Revolution, with those attending their meetings having included people like Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood. Among those that Wikipedia says corresponded with the Lunar folk were Antoine Lavoisier and Benjamin Franklin, who currently lies beside me as I sleep – in the form of Walter Isaacson’s biography.
The original Lunar Society failed to refresh its membership, ceased to be very active as its members aged, and was eventually closed in 1813. The interesting thing about the call today was that the Society is now plotting to turn the West Midlands, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, into a carbon-neutral zone. Quite like the idea – and the historical resonance, as in converting the source of a climate-destabilising economic life-form into a sustainability incubator. At a time when cities such as London, Melbourne and San Francisco are switching on to this sort of thing, it will be fascinating to see if the West Midlands still has what it takes to make the right sort of world history.
Interesting lunch today, where Annelisa Grigg (Director of Corporate Affairs) briefed the SustainAbility team on the work that Fauna & Flora International has been doing with business. They are the longest-established international wildlife conservation group, founded in 1903 (http://www.fauna-flora.org/). Fascinating how many NGOs have moved into the engage-with-business space, though the biodiversity area is still under-served. Like a growing number of other NGOs, F&FI have been evolving guidelines to steer their engagement with companies, a trend we investigated a while back in our report The 21st Century NGO (http://www.sustainability.com/insight/research-article.asp?id=51).
As the sustainable development agenda has moved – like a snowball – to embrace wider social and economic issues, it sometimes seems that environmental issues (other than climate change) are being buried. Over the years, our triple bottom line logic has been a key driving force in all of this. Ironic, really, since it was wildlife that brought me into this space in the first place – but we are now doing our best to re-engage with the world of biodiversity, one reason why I accepted a recent invitation to join the Council of Ambassadors at WWF UK (http://www.wwf.org.uk/core/about/aboutwwf.asp).
Monday, May 01, 2006
Having always adored obituaries, was delighted to receive from Philippa Moore (until recently a member of our US team) a copy of Marilyn Johnson’s The Dead Beat (HarperCollins, 2006), a week or two back. Due to travel and writing pressures, I have only just begun reading the book, but it’s a stunning read, an insider’s view of the obit biz, sub-titled Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasure of Obituaries.
Today, the papers covered the death of J.K. Galbraith, aged 97. Still remember reading his The Affluent Society all those years ago, as I struggled with economics, perhaps a decade after it was published in 1958. Not really sure how much of it I really took in, despite JKG’s wonderfully clear writing. The obituary in The Times today recalls his memorable response to proposals for tax cuts in the US during 1965: “I am not quite sure what the advantage is in having a few more dollars to spend if the air is too dirty to breathe, the streets are flthy and the schools bad.” On reflection, maybe he had more influence than I remembered – since it was the failure of economics as then taught to address such issues in 1967-68 that persuaded me to give up and switch to other subjects.