Creating Value Through Sustainability

April 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm | In business, green, innovation | 1 Comment

“You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”

That’s how Eric Hespenheide put it at this afternoon’s MIT Enterprise Forum event, live-streamed at UVic. …And I have to admit I felt a deep admiration for – perhaps jealousy of? – numbers crunchers who can make this real. Me? I’d probably get too absorbed by the numbers font on the measuring tape, and whether it was cloth or plastic… 😉


Here’s what it was: an MIT Enterprise Forum broadcast, Creating Value Through Sustainability, hosted by the Atlanta chapter and streamed to various campuses, including the University of Victoria, courtesy of UVic’s Innovation and Development Corporation in partnership with iGEM Victoria, advertised on LinkedIn, …but very sparsely attended by our local innovators.

On hand in Atlanta: Matt Kistler (Senior VP, Sustainability, at Walmart Stores, Inc.); Paul Murray (Director, Environmental Safety and Sustainability, Herman Miller, Inc.); Ajeet Rohatgi (Founder/ CTO, Sunavi: Ajeet stood in for James Modak, who was stuck in Europe due to travel cancellations); and Eric Hespenheide (Global Leader, Climate Change and Sustainability, Audit and Enterprise Risk Services, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu).

Each man described how his company has adopted the triple bottom line (“people, planet, profit”) to – you guessed it – create value through sustainability. While everyone had lots to contribute, Mark Kistler of Walmart stood out just for the sheer scale of what his company can do.

For example, each executive stressed the importance of engaging employees in finding value through sustainability – which means, actively seeking employee input for ideas on how to save the planet. It’s not a new idea: everyone is smartening up, getting on that clue train, to realize that your staff and employees are your company’s biggest resource.

But when it’s Walmart, it’s just a little …different.

So, for example, when one bright Walmart manager called Pepsi to ask if it would be ok to shut off a particular light on the vending machine in the staff room, that move turned into an almost $1-million saving for Walmart. Turns out it was ok to turn that light off, the idea got passed along, and then every Walmart staff room vending machine’s light was turned off, leading to the windfall in savings.

Ok, you don’t have to be Walmart to save money, energy, and the planet by turning off the lights, but the enormity of the sums involved gives you an idea of what’s at stake when a company of Walmart’s size says, “we want to do it better.” It’s not trivial. (Yeah, you can be a sour puss and say, “Well, the reason they can save so much is because they waste so much in the first place,” but seriously: is that constructive criticism? No? Didn’t think so. After all, if they don’t set an example, who will?)

There was plenty more in Kistler’s presentation, as well as the others. Presumably, the broadcast will be archived and available for viewing later. (Click on links, above.)

In the discussion that followed at UVic, one university-affiliated person (and I didn’t get her name, sorry!) came up with a bright idea. What if, she suggested, organizations put it out there that employee-generated savings would go into a fund, and that employees then had control with regard to how it was used/ disbursed? Wouldn’t that be a great incentive! If the organization (say, the university – or a government department) saves X-number of dollars on account of a sustainability initiative propagated by the employees, the money isn’t simply “disappeared,” er, absorbed, by the organization, but is instead “paid forward” to help another cause. Whoa, triple bottom line win…

As Eric-the numbers-cruncher guy-Hespenheide said, “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”


Rug Badgers rule

March 29, 2010 at 11:56 pm | In business, just_so, local_not_global | 2 Comments

So, here’s a first for my blog: I’m endorsing a local rug-cleaning company that provides an absolutely stellar service: Luv-a-Rug, headed up by Steve “Dusty” Roberts, has perfected a device called a Rug Badger, which cleans rugs like nothing else.

I found Luv-a-Rug through the company blog, written by Ruglover Mary. Without the blog, I’m not sure I would have paid more attention to this rug cleaning company than any other. But because of the blog, I thought, “Hmm, I think I’ll take a closer look at this.”  (And I found Ruglover Mary‘s blog in the first place because I make it my business to be on the alert for local area blogs to include in MetroCascade, our blog and news aggregator.)

When I called the store, I got Mary on the phone. (I felt like I already knew her!)

And then of course there’s Steve “Dusty” Roberts.

That’s a photo of Steve (“Dusty”) on the right, taken from an Australian Clean Expo site.

Steve and his Rug Badger have “badgered” their way across North America and beyond – it’s another one of those “little” Victoria BC success stories that make you go “wow!” Here‘s a page on the Rug Badger site full of testimonials – it spans many different locales.

When I was little, my mother used to beat rugs “out back.” You had to get out of her way when it was time for this onerous chore, which happened about twice a year.  When we lived in Duesseldorf, the twice-yearly rug beating meant going to the courtyard behind our apartment building; when we moved (briefly) to the sticks, it happened behind the house. In either case, the work (and it was hard labor) involved hanging the rug over an iron bar and then beating the crap out of it with a wicker rug beater.

This is what the “machine” of the day looked like – human-powered, and just awful to do.

When “Dusty” came to my house to pick up the rugs I wanted cleaned, he told me that when he was a little boy, his grandmother had let him try beating her rugs clean with one of those wicker rug beaters. But not only was the work impossibly hard, he was also covered in dust in no time, choking for air. “There’s got to be a better way,” he thought.

Many years later, he studied the existing rug beater-style machines out there and decided to build his own. BADGER stands for “Bugs, Allergens,Dirt, and Grit Extracted from Rug,” and it works. (There’s a video demonstration here.)

If you live in Victoria, you can use Luv-a-Rug and meet “Dusty” himself (internet fame as Rug Badger promoter notwithstanding, “Dusty” still cleans rugs, personally picking them up at your place and returning them). If you don’t live here, do yourself a favor and make sure your rug cleaner uses a Rug Badger. Or else hand him one of those wicker rug beaters. Anything else just won’t do as good a job.

(Full disclosure: I’m not getting paid in any way to write this, no discount on my cleaning bill or anything like that. I’m just really happy with how well my rugs turned out – they look fantastic. And I’m not turning this blog into a product or service endorsements site either, but I just love this Rug Badger story and that Steve Roberts is taking his invention/ modification around the world like this. Way to go, Steve!)

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

February 21, 2010 at 1:30 am | In business, cities, links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Interesting strategy: artists using billboards to counteract billboards and direct attention in other ways…

    tags: art, public_art, billboards, los_angeles

  • This is part two of what will be a three part series, by Wes Regan (article originally published on Third i website). Regan delivers a close reading of Vancouver’s position and potential as a high tech center. In particular, I was startled to see government (which is located in Victoria) put on par with big private corporations. That is, as an employer and as a training ground for talent, provincial/state government is similar to a big corporate employer. That Vancouver’s start-up climate might benefit if it were also a government town was something I hadn’t appreciated before. Obviously, though, imagine what would be if the provincial seat left Victoria and moved to Vancouver… Things would not look pretty for Victoria, although Vancouver obviously would benefit. It’s also interesting (and, for someone who lives in Victoria, weird) to see that there are similarities between Victoria and Vancouver in terms of handicaps – except that in Victoria they’re compounded by low density and an even greater “splendid isolation” (can’t beat that island status, especially as we don’t have a bridge). Overall, interesting article; looking forward to part three (part one is available here).
    “This is the 2nd post in a series of 3 that look at Vancouver’s position relative to other major centres of innovation and development. In it I draw from the perspectives of experts at Vancouver’s economic think tank the VEDC (Vancouver Economic Development Commission) and from a growing software development and internet marketing firm based in Yaletown, Thirdi. The first installment looked at availability of office space and inter-city economic competition as factors in firm location. Today we look at the broader implications of our business climate as it relates to our overall geography.” UNQUOTE

    tags: techvibes, wes_regan, vancouver, entrepeneurialism

  • “Masdar City gehört ebenso wie das vom Schweizer Urbanisten Franz Oswald für die Entwicklung energieautarker Siedlungen in ländlichen Regionen Afrikas entwickelte Lowtech-Modell «New Energy Sustainable Town» (NEST) und die grenzübergreifend vernetzte urbane Struktur «Taiwan-Strait-Inkubator» von Raoul Bunschoten und seinem Londoner Büro Chora zu den neuen Entwürfen und Projekten, die im Januarheft der Zeitschrift «Arch+» unter dem Titel «Post-Oil City. Die Geschichte der Zukunft der Stadt» in grössere entwicklungsgeschichtliche Zusammenhänge gestellt werden; eine zugehörige Ausstellung haben die Redaktoren für die Galerien des Instituts für Auslandsbeziehungen («ifa») in Stuttgart und Berlin kuratiert. In die sich mehrfach überschneidenden Abschnitte «Nachhaltigkeit», «Stadtverkehr» und «Stadtsystem» gegliedert, beziehen das inhaltsreiche Heft und die ausstellungstechnisch improvisierte Schau heutige Lösungsvorschläge auf Vorläufer wie die utopischen meta-urbanen Strukturen von Yona Friedman aus den 1950er und 1960er Jahren oder die 1975/76 von Christopher Alexander konzipierte partizipative Stadt Mexicali.”

    tags: post_oil_city, masdar, architecture, urbanplanning, nzz, oil

  • “Cisco signed a deal on Wednesday with Holyoke, Massachusetts to transform the onetime mill town into a “Smart+Connected Community” over the next six-to-twelve months. Cisco has moved aggressively into the smarter city business in the last year as it chases IBM, which started the vogue for wired cities just as the world’s governments were earmarking billions of dollars in stimulus funds for infrastructure. (…)

    The Holyoke deal is significant in that it represents Cisco’s first attempt to rewire an existing city rather than simply build one from scratch, as it’s doing across Asia and the Middle East. “

    Holyoke Canal System

    Holyoke Canal System

    tags: cisco, holyoke, smartcities, cities, technology

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Toward a new medievalism?

June 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm | In business, comments, futurismo, ideas, media, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Toward a new medievalism?

I just left this comment on It’s me going off on a typical theory bender, but the idea of Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL) sparked another “here come the Middle Ages” image/moment for me. (As I note in the comment, they’ve been popping up for me since the late 1970s: my first one happened in the south of France, in a literally medieval town on a street with lots of commerce: pop!, a vision of what we could go back to – and I didn’t like the distinctly anti-modernist feel of it.)

That’s an interesting exchange between you and John Battelle, Fred. Now I’m going to go totally off-topic here and get all abstract, but I have to say that to my mind there’s something Medieval in some of the emerging business models and how they’re changing the nature of markets.

In the feudal Middle Ages, powerful patrons – either the Church or the Feudal lords – determined the markets. Markets weren’t free, they weren’t determined by market forces (as we think we understand them since the various emancipations) or really shaped by the “little people” (who in the modern period developed into powerful consumers).

When I read (as per transcript): “…if you think about what businesses and celebrities and brands need on Twitter and what they’re not getting today, there’s a whole set of premium services that are there,” I’m *understanding* something that reminds me of feudal medievalism where markets are determined by the needs of powerful patrons (church and/or lords). (John Battelle repeats the point further down when he says, “You said something about brands on Twitter, sort of like celebrities having the ability to sort of build an official presence.”)

I didn’t understand recent controversies about Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL). I saw Dave Winer’s tweets about the SUL, but didn’t understand why he questioned the concept. Maybe I do now – albeit in my own weird way (Dave probably would roll his eyes at my interpretation…).

The SUL concept nudges markets back into a feudal framework where forces other than actual market forces determine the market landscape.

Maybe I’m crazy – I’ve had occasional bad dreams for nearly 30 years now about how feudal Medievalism is clawing back bits of Modernity. (Blame Umberto Eco, whose writings encompass Modernity and the Middle Ages.) The idea comes to me in pictures, which is maybe why I struggle so much to get the words right (the anti-icons, the iconoclastics). Me no likey what I see with SUL-type aspects of the business model and how it has the potential to alter markets.

I love the internet and all the great stuff out there, I plunge right in, sound off, play along. I love pictures and emblems and icons, but at heart I’m a daughter of the Enlightenment (words, words, words). Pictures, specifically icons, are Medieval. Yet in the new world that we’re making, even words – such as passed links – are turned into image, into something that’s consumed like an image (in a glance, or uncritically). Exegesis – trying to understand and interpret words – is still important it seems, as per the comment that reading the transcript of the video is better than watching the moving image…! But you could chalk that up to Medievalism, too. They did a lot of exegesis back then. 😉

Ok, I’m generalizing (wildly?), and I’m going off into my own little theory-land here. But as you said yourself, “Social media together is going to be bigger than Google.” Google and the internet certainly changed our thinking about everything, including thinking about thinking itself. Tell me it’s not rewiring our brains – of course it is. Now social media are poised to rewire the market. I just happen to think that bits of it are kind of medieval, and every time the notion of the tribe (certainly an important idea in the new market place) is celebrated without critical reflection, something in me dies a little bit.

If my favorite enlightened Marxist, Groucho, were still alive, I wonder how he would position himself, market-wise, in the social media landscape, and if he would want to be on the SUL? 😉

Originally posted as a comment by Yule Heibel on A VC using Disqus.

Reblogged to here as mnemonic / string around the finger.

Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

June 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm | In arts, business, canada, comments, ideas, innovation, writing | Comments Off on Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

I came across Brendon J. Wilson’s excellent blog post, Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? last week and felt compelled to comment.

Brendon’s post addresses a response to Macleans Magazine’s article You can’t buy that here, which, as he wrote, mirrored concerns he already expressed in a March 2009 post, Borders keep out innovation, too. If you’re Canadian (or maybe thinking of doing business in Canada) Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? and Borders keep out innovation, too are both excellent must-read pieces.

The Macleans article Brendon references had prompted a defense of the Canadian condition by another writer. Brendon’s Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? addresses both positions. He ends in favor of Macleans’, however, and writes that its “attempt to point out how Canada is missing out on the future, however small a piece of it, seems like a valid tactic despite the weakness of its execution.”

I agree, and also left a long comment on his post. I’m using my blog to remind me of what I wrote in response (most of which I excerpt, below), but really encourage people to check out Brendon’s original post(s). My comment (abridged):

I think you get at something very essential with your observations, Brendon, for example when you write about missing “the experience of using the device in your daily life, of truly understanding the implications, applications, and untapped potential of the device” (and while you were talking about the iPhone in that example, I think the point translates across the technology landscape.

It’s conditions like the ones that exists around technology and innovation in Canada that make the issue of Canadian culture so difficult, too, because the words “paternalism” and “tutelage [from authorities on high]” come to mind, not independence, liberation, freedom. And that, too, contributes to the niggling sense of inferiority.

Do you know what the wealthy establishment fathers of Canada told young artists in the Group of Seven (now recognized as the founders of national Canadian landscape painting) back in the early 20th century? “It’s bad enough having to live in this country. Why bother hanging pictures of it up on one’s walls?”

They preferred to collect Old European Masters instead – Dutch landscapes in shades of brown with brown cows. Instead of embracing the innovation that the Group of Seven artists offered, they turned to the past and haughtily told those innovators to learn to paint like the *Old* Masters instead. The innovators wanted to look to other innovators in Europe instead – Cezanne, cubism, futurism, abstraction. But the paternalists knew “better” – and with their “wisdom” helped stunt Canadian culture instead of furthering it. Take a look at the museums built on private collections in the US and you’ll see that contemporary American captains of industry collected European and American avant-gardists, not brown pictures of brown cows. Consequently, American culture benefited from their support, and – as a spin-off many decades later – there are now many seminal collections for the public to enjoy. Canadian collections from that period are small miseries in comparison, and viewing them isn’t nearly as satisfying. That’s how a culture of old-fashioned paternalism (with its flip side of “made in Canada” solutions – the Group of Seven worked often in isolation) has ripple effects that are felt for generations.

Bonspiel leather goods rawk!

April 6, 2009 at 9:00 pm | In business, victoria | No Comments

Ok, time for a big shout-out to Ellen, aka Bonspiel Creations. We met earlier today and I bought the Falconista bag. It’s beautiful, soft, expertly stitched and well-thought-out. Love it.

Here’s a very small picture (it doesn’t capture the generous – and adjustable – strap, or the terrific contrasting colors and the great lining):

Falconista bag

Bonspiel sells her wares locally in Victoria (find locations on her stores page), and if you’re not lucky enough to live here, find her work on Etsy and on Artfire.

Victoria’s Susan Low to host Young Business Leaders’ Summit

March 14, 2009 at 6:26 pm | In business, victoria | 2 Comments

Normally, I would just re-tweet a local news item on my Twitter stream, but what Susan Low proposes is so important (and so in synch with my thinking) that I’m re-blogging it, the whole darn announcement, A to Z.

In her own words:

Young Business Leaders’ Summit

Join me in this special event to explore how to make Victoria’s business economy more resilient and diversified.

Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
–Margaret Mead
Victoria’s a great place to live. We have the weather, the natural environment, and the people to make this a world-class city. However, we seem to be overly reliant on the public sector and tourism to keep our economy alive. When there is a public sector cutback, or events abroad harm our tourism sector, Victoria hits the “panic button” and begins to take on an air of doom and gloom.

Young people grow up in Victoria and then leave to pursue careers because there are few opportunities to make it big here. Despite our highly educated population and desirable quality of life, Victoria has very few corporate headquarters – meaning that to “make it big” our best and brightest leave the city for Vancouver, Calgary and further afield.

What Can We Do About It?
I’m bringing together young professionals and business leaders from a variety of sectors to participate in a discussion about Victoria’s economy. I want to create real, actionable solutions for how we can bring about change in our city.

During the event I’ll be using graphic facilitation to capture our ideas and make the discussion fresh, creative and productive. What’s graphic facilitation? As our discussion progresses, I’ll be capturing the key ideas and energy of the moment by creating a mural in real-time using colored markers and pastels, drawing on 4’x8′ chart paper taped to the wall. See my blog, for more about this amazing way to transform meetings!

Who should come?
I’m targeting young business people (under 40) from all sectors as participants in the session – we have the most to gain from transforming Victoria’s economy as we are the ones who will take leadership roles in the coming years. If you have an interest in this topic and want to throw in your two cents (even if you’re over the “recommended playing age”), feel free to join us!

Observers are quite welcome – perhaps you’re curious about what’s going to come out of this, or you’d like to see graphic facilitation in action! You don’t need to speak up – just come along!

The Details

Date: March 31, 2009
Time: 8:30am to 11am
Place: Maximum Furniture Showroom, 3-576 Hillside Ave
RSVP: By email or phone (250-479-8303) by March 24, please.

Please feel free to invite others who you think would be interested!

Yours in action,

Susan Low
Directis Consulting Group

Please pass this on to other Victoria-area folks – it’s a great idea that deserves a great turnout.

Notes on Jennifer Kostuik’s talk at VISA

March 1, 2009 at 12:15 am | In arts, business | Comments Off on Notes on Jennifer Kostuik’s talk at VISA

Vancouver gallery owner Jennifer Kostuik gave a talk at VISA (Vancouver Island School of Art) on Thursday (2/26) evening. Despite a technical glitch beyond her control (the projector stopped working, mysteriously, about 5 minutes into her presentation), and irrespective of a really laid-back, unstructured presentation style (yours truly sometimes prefers tighter, thesis-oriented talks), Kostuik offered some real insights into both the gallerist’s life (why do it?) and the artist’s relationship with the gallery.

I took a few notes. They are impressionistic, but without additional polishing, here they are…

Kostuik began by affirming the importance of promoting living artists. Sure, you can open a gallery and sell the work of dead people, but it’s really important to stake a claim in living culture – and then promote it. She talked about how she’s a hard worker, but that she ended up owning her own gallery because she’s not terribly well-suited to working for other people. She has her own vision of what art is good, what to promote, and while she initially thought she might be an art consultant, she couldn’t – in the end – promote artists she didn’t believe in.

So: opening her own gallery was the only way forward.

[Editorial aside: This is interesting because of a theme she brings up later, that of entrepreneurialism. Kostuik is an entrepreneur – a cultural entrepreneur and a business entrepreneur. It’s great that she began her talk with a discussion of her own willfulness, her desire to be in charge, and how that relates to her own creativity and artistic/ aesthetic sensibilities.]

She emphasized that you take on people because you believe in them, but also because you believe you can sell them.

[Editorial aside: how refreshing to hear someone in BC or in Victoria talk about selling and business like it was a noble thing to do and not something akin to spreading smallpox infested blankets….]

Kostuik emphasized something that artists should be able to understand readily: business, she said, is all about relationships.

She expects artists who pitch her to have done their homework – to know in advance whether or not their work would be a good fit for her gallery. She was quite clear about what she likes and what she looks for, and her emphasis on building the relationships between her and her artists (and her clients) was something that the audience (I’m guessing over 90% artists) needed to hear. Know who you are, what you have to offer, and pitch to someone who can help you and who will be helped by you.

I couldn’t help but think of some of the comments regarding “the pitch” that I’ve read by various venture capitalists: do your homework, know who you are (what you’re offering, and who you’re offering it to), and understand that in business it’s all about relationships.

Great title for my letter-to-the-editor

November 28, 2008 at 1:16 pm | In business, green, innovation, times_colonist | 1 Comment

I missed this when it was published on 11/13, but my letter in response to Les Leyne’s Times-Colonist column on the carbon tax (see my blog entry about it, Cracking cement: Industry and municipalities could work together) did make it into the paper.

The editor came up with a witty title for it: Cast a solution for cement pollution, and it was minimally edited (for brevity, I guess), so that’s nice.

Why am I blogging about it (again)? Because it’s important to keep solutions like this in the public realm, in front of people. Otherwise, we all climb back into our cozy (not!) boxes and carry on as usual.

Here’s the letter, as published:

Cast a solution for cement pollution
Times Colonist

Published: Thursday, November 13, 2008

Re: “Cement industry fears carbon tax squeeze,” column, Nov. 8.

Kudos to the B.C. Liberals for putting industry under pressure — not to destroy it, but to force it to innovate. It really is time for more creative thinking when it comes to environmental issues. Municipalities and industries need to step up, perhaps to collaborate.

Finding ways to sequester the carbon dioxide produced by cement production continues to be a contested holy grail for the industry. The “squeeze” of a carbon tax might actually make sequestration a more realistic goal.

A Nova Scotia company, Carbon Sense Solutions, recently claimed it has a process that sequesters all emissions from cement production by storing them in precast concrete products.

Our cement factories typically don’t also produce precast concrete products, but consider a scenario where there is more creative co-operation between industry and municipalities. In such a world it might make sense to add facilities that produce precast concrete products, if municipalities (which also need to meet carbon-neutral goals) found ways to use precast concrete (vs. concrete mix) for public works (roads, sidewalks, etc.) projects.

There will have to be a lot more innovative thinking, literally to disrupt traditional supply-chain setups. If the carbon tax “squeezes” industries and municipalities to embrace that disruption creatively and constructively, it’ll be a win-win for us all.

For more on the still-contested methods of carbon sequestering in cement making, see

Yule Heibel


I’m also happy to know (via an email I got from Les Leyne in response to this letter) that he’s on the case, here and in other areas concerning the environment. Good to know!

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