3p Contributor: Lonnie Shekhtman

Lonnie Shekhtman Lonnie Shekhtman is a Massachusetts-based writer covering sustainable business, food systems, social enterprises and impact investing. Stay in touch by following Lonnie on Twitter: @kuurlyq.

Recent Articles

How Bike-Loving Mayors Make Bike-Friendly Cities

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Tuesday October 8th, 2013 | 6 Comments

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Mayor Emanuel on Divvy bike

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel takes a bike-share program cycle for a spin.

The amount of driving per person in America has held steady since 1996, and even declined among younger generations, according to a recent report by advocacy organization U.S. PIRG.

If these trends continue, they will impact transportation policy at all levels of government. In fact, they already have at the municipal level, where U.S. mayors are diversifying their cities’ portfolios of transportation options in the hopes of looking to attract and retain startups and their employees, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.

In order to make his city the most bike-friendly one in the country when he took office in 1989, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley formed a Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, developed a cycling master plan, and secured funding for his vision from the federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program.

He was re-elected five times. When he left office in 2011, Chicago had more than 100 miles of bike lanes, thousands of racks throughout the city, and a bike-friendly reputation.

His successor, Rahm Emanuel, continues to carry Daley’s cycling torch.  His administration’s cycling plan has proposed to create a 500-mile network of bike routes by the end of this decade, “establishing a bikeway within a half-mile of every Chicago resident,” according to the plan.

In 2012, Emanuel got rid of a car lane in Chicago’s business district to make room for two-way, protected bike lanes, along with their own stoplights. Emanuel, like many other mayors, believes that more bike lanes will attract more technology startups.

To date, at least perception-wise, he might be on to something.

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No Surprise: Monsanto Beats Farmer in Supreme Court Patent Case

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Thursday May 16th, 2013 | 2 Comments

supreme court_scottlengerOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in the Bowman v. Monsanto case, which dealt with issues surrounding patent exhaustion—limiting how long patent holders can control the use and sale of an item—and the patenting of living organisms.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of Monsanto, concluding that patent exhaustion does not apply to this case and that Vernon Hugh Bowman violated Monsanto’s seed license.

In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Elena Kagan wrote:

“Under the doctrine of patent exhaustion, the authorized sale of a patented article gives the purchaser, or any subsequent owner, a right to use or resell that article. Such a sale, however, does not allow the purchaser to make new copies of the patented invention. The question in this case is whether a farmer who buys patented seeds may reproduce them through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission. We hold that he may not.”

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William McDonough’s ‘The Upcycle’ Knows No Bounds

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Tuesday April 23rd, 2013 | 0 Comments

ImageWhatever beautiful religion William McDonough is preaching in his new book with longtime business partner Michael Braungart, I’m a believer. McDonough, of Cradle to Cradle fame, is undoubtedly sustainability’s sage, advising in The Upcycle, released last week, that it’s time we move beyond designing and creating things that are less bad (traditional sustainability principles) to creating things and systems that are actually beneficial (The Upcycle’s utopian vision).

The new book is a continuation of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which McDonough and Braungart published in 2002. In that book, they proclaimed that humans don’t have a pollution problem; we have a design problem. They introduced a holistic framework for the design of products and systems that are efficient and waste-free.

Today, they say let’s do better; let’s shift our thinking from designing for less waste to designing for abundance, using only materials and ingredients that are nutritive. If we designed intelligently from the get-go, the authors explain, we wouldn’t have to operate from a perspective of sustaining the status quo and mitigating waste and toxicity via “reduce, reuse, recycle.” We could replace that idea with “redesign, renew and regenerate.”

After all, “Who would want simply a ‘sustainable’ marriage?’” the authors ask. “Humans can certainly aspire to more than that.”

Yes, we can.

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Seventh Generation Founder Jeffrey Hollender Develops Sustainable Condoms

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Monday March 25th, 2013 | 0 Comments

JeffreyHollenderPortraitTwenty years ago, Jeffrey Hollender trademarked the name “Rainforest Rubbers” with the idea that he would produce a condom made of rubber harvested in the Amazon. Instead he co-founded and ran Seventh Generation, a now ubiquitous line of natural cleaning and personal care products.

In 2010, a year after Hollender stepped down as CEO and served as the company’s executive chairman, Seventh Generation’s board of directors cut his ties with the company.

When Hollender became a free agent, he decided to revisit his condom dream, now planning to launch an organic and Fair Trade line of rubbers by the end of the year, he reported recently in a presentation at SOCAP:Soul, held at MIT.

“Condoms are incredibly important for health reasons, but because the product is a good and important product and serves a critical function, people have not asked the question of ‘Where did it come from and how is it made?’” said Hollender on a recent phone call from India, where he was working on the supply chain for the new business.

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How One Activist Diverts Food Waste to Soup Kitchens

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Friday March 8th, 2013 | 3 Comments

Food_wasteWith 7 billion mouths to feed around the world, and at least 1 billion of them mostly empty, it’s astounding that 30 to 50 percent of food produced globally is never consumed, according to a report released last month in the U.K.

In the U.S., we throw away 40 percent of our food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The blame for this atrocious level of waste can be equally distributed among the entire food supply chain, from the farm to the supermarket to the restaurant to our homes.

And it’s costing us an arm and a leg. Specifically, 25 percent of our freshwater, 4 percent of our oil,  $165 billion per year for purchased food that’s never eaten, $750 million per year to dispose of that food, and 33 million tons of landfill waste, which, by the way, decomposes and produces methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Fortunately, we’re all starting to take this inefficiency seriously, with cities and states introducing, or considering, policies to curb or ban food waste, and social entrepreneurs working on creative solutions to recovering perfectly fine, yet-soon-to-be-discarded foods and redistributing them to the hungry in their communities.

The latest young sensation on this scene is Dana Frasz, founder of Food Shift, a nonprofit currently piloting a food recovery program with several partners in Oakland.

Before launching the pilot program recently, Frasz spent more than a year speaking, showing films, and hosting events to raise awareness and offer solutions to the food waste problem, which, she believes, does not get the public attention it deserves.

“This problem has been nagging me for 11 years,” Frasz said. “I’ve been so perplexed by this paradox of so many people going hungry when there’s so much wasted food.”

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The GMO Fight Rages On: Implications of Bowman v. Monsanto

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Friday February 22nd, 2013 | 18 Comments

SoybeanOn Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme court heard arguments from defenders of a 75-year-old Indiana farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, and agricultural biotech giant Monsanto. The issue at hand centered on a principle in patent law known as patent exhaustion, which limits how long patent holders can control the use and sale of an item.

The trouble for Bowman started when he harvested soybeans grown from common grain he purchased from a local grain elevator, which is legally limited to selling grain to farmers only for non-planting purposes. What they do with the seeds after they purchase them is nobody’s business … or was, that is.

Bowman’s grain turned out to be mixed (not uncommon) with Monsanto’s patented “Roundup Ready” seeds, which are genetically modified to resist the company’s herbicide, or weed killer, “Roundup,” by killing weeds while sparing the crop.

By the time Bowman harvested his crop, he realized he had been growing Monsanto’s patented seeds because he had used Roundup, which didn’t kill his crop. He decided to keep the grain from his harvest to plant another generation of soybeans the following year, which is not allowed under Monsanto’s contract with customers. Since Bowman bought the grain from a grain elevator, which Monsanto hadn’t indicated wasn’t kosher, he says he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong.

But according to Monsanto, he was.

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Is Sharing Illegal? In Many Cases, Yes.

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Friday February 15th, 2013 | 0 Comments

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handcuffs Governments have their work cut out for them in keeping pace with innovation, especially as mobile, social and cloud technologies allow for new business models that, in the eyes of regulators, threaten consumer safety and incumbent industries.

The most poignant current-day example of the tug-of-war between government and technology entrepreneurs is the legal quagmire many “sharing,” or “collaborative consumption,” companies face in the cities they operate.

The problem, at least for home- and car-sharing services, is multifaceted: they’re agitating dozens of stakeholders, operating in uncharted territories, and legally indefinable. And indefinable is hard to regulate.

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Coworking at The HUB, Where Ideas Come to Meet

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Monday January 21st, 2013 | 1 Comment

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San Francisco sushi chefs teach the HUB community how to make sushi.

San Francisco sushi chefs teach HUB community members how to make sushi.

Coworking may not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking about the “sharing economy,” but it ought to be, particularly if you consider the statistic from the Freelancer’s Union that one in three of us in the U.S. is an independent worker. If it wasn’t for workspace sharing, creative ideas would be cooped up at home, missing the chance to intermingle with one another to create innovation.

Office sharing—and everything that comes along with it—has grown dramatically in the last several years of economic funk. According to Deskmag, a site that tracks and promotes coworking, there are more than 2,000 coworking spaces globally, up from 600 in 2010.

Coworking spaces come in all shapes and sizes, but what many have in common is a hip, modern design that aims to encourage collaboration through a wide open space full of workstations (instead of offices), ample natural light and an ambient décor.

Most coworking spaces encourage collaboration among members, but some make it their priority to foster serendipitous innovation by bringing together people from specific industries or with complamentary skill sets.

One such example is The HUB, an international network of independently run coworking spaces designed specifically for mission-driven businesses, or for “people who want to build a better world,” as Jeff Shiau, a program manager at The HUB Bay Area, puts it.

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Farmigo Launches Online Farmers Market

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Wednesday December 19th, 2012 | 0 Comments

Farmers market bountyBenzi Ronen believes that when it comes to getting more consumers to buy directly from local farmers, technology and an optimized consumer experience are key. He has a good sense for both as CEO of Farmigo, a three-year-old company that provides online software for farms to manage their CSA subscriptions, and as of last week, runs an online farmers market.

With an $8 million Series B cash infusion from Sherbrooke Capital, RSF Social Finance and Benchmark Capital, Farmigo aims to create more locavores by bringing the farmers market experience to the computer screens of those who can’t make it to the weekend markets. It’s based on the CSA model, but with Peapod-like choice and flexibility that CSA subscriptions can’t offer.

For instance, whereas the CSA model works by signing up shareholders who pay a subscription rate based on a set amount of food they receive, the Farmigo model gives people the flexibility to order as much or as little as they want each week.

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Pipeline Fellowship Churns out Women Angel Investors, Funded Startups

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Friday December 14th, 2012 | 0 Comments
Women Angel Investors

2012 Bay Area Pipeline Fellows Kathy Salmanowitz (left) and Jenn Viane Riese (right), with Yasa Sourcing co-founder Yating Yu (center) at last week’s Pitch Summit in San Francisco.

On a recent Friday morning in a classroom at San Francisco’s Golden Gate University, 10 women entrepreneurs shuffled to a podium—one after the other—to present their business plans to 10 angel investors, all of whom were also women. The entrepreneurs were vying for a $50,000 investment from the group.

Many of the presenters were first-time entrepreneurs, which was convenient, as many of the audience members were first-time investors.

After each presentation, the investors took turns grilling the entrepreneur on issues concerning her company’s customer acquisition costs, product pipeline structure, management team and market size. This was all part of the due diligence process the investors had been studying for several months as part of the Pipeline Fellowship, a program that aims to expand the pool of women angel investors, and thus, funding for women founders of triple-bottom-line enterprises.

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Will the New Social Impact Bond Right Society’s Wrongs?

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Friday December 14th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Social Impact Bond

There’s a new kid on the impact-investing block: young and full of promise, yet easily susceptible to bureaucracy. I’m referring to a “Social Impact Bond” (SIB), a new financial instrument that straddles the public, private, and non-profit worlds, with a market-based approach to righting society’s wrongs.

For now, the SIB is geared towards programs that serve vulnerable populations like the chronically homeless, juvenile and adult offenders, and low-income seniors, financing only effective nonprofit programs that can’t scale through philanthropy alone.

This approach is getting a lot of attention, or maybe hype, because it targets core inefficiencies of social programs: siloed government agencies with no incentive to collaborate, ineffective and non-accountable nonprofits, wasteful use of taxpayer dollars, and expensive programs that are driven by crisis instead of prevention.

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Walmart Attempts to Halt Black Friday Strikes

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Wednesday November 21st, 2012 | 0 Comments

Looking for an alternative? Explore the sharing economy

In response to numerous strikes at Walmart stores across the country in the last couple of months, and in anticipation of nationwide protests on Black Friday, Walmart filed a complaint last week with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), claiming that the union is in violation of federal labor laws as it attempts to disrupt Walmart’s business.

“We are taking this action now because we cannot allow the UFCW to continue to intentionally seek to create an environment that could directly and adversely impact our customers and associates,” said Walmart spokesman David Tovar to The Christian Science Monitor on Monday. “If they do, they will be held accountable.”

The UFCW backs a couple of the organizations—OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart—that are leading the protest in an attempt to push Walmart to provide better wages, benefits and working conditions to its employees.

Walmart said the workers’ ongoing actions of protest violate the National Labor Relations Act and asked the NLRB to halt the strikes. Although the NLRB typically has 72 hours to respond to such complaints, the agency said on Tuesday that because this issue is so complex, it is unlikely to make a decision before Thursday on whether or not to seek an injunction to stop the activity. 

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Walmart Warehouse Workers Striking; Many More Planned for Black Friday

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Friday November 16th, 2012 | 17 Comments


Looking for an alternative? Explore the sharing economy.

Workers in a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Mira Loma, CA went on strike yesterday morning, calling attention to poor working conditions and retaliation from the company against labor-related complaints from workers. Today, workers from six stores in the Seattle area did the same. These strikes follow a handful of others in California and Chicago in September.

The last six months have brought an unprecedented number of strikes throughout Walmart’s U.S. supply chain, intended to pressure the retailer to boost wages and improve benefits, two areas of major controversy for the company and the subject of a 2005 documentary on the subject.

But Walmart’s problems don’t end there. Besides a class action lawsuit filed by female Walmart employees in California in October — with many more expected to come in the next six months — the retail giant is facing potential walkouts at 1,000 stores nationwide on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year for many retailers.

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Zappos CEO Turning Vegas into a Tech and Culture Hub

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Wednesday November 14th, 2012 | 0 Comments

With a grand vision, plenty of moxie and a pocket full of cash (so to speak), Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is working to turn downtown Las Vegas into . . . well, San Francisco. The CEO of the e-commerce giant famous for its speedy delivery, unconditional returns and exceptional customer service — is using $350 million of his personal fortune to make Las Vegas the most “community-focused large city in the world.” He explained how he will do this to hundreds of tech and sustainability devotees gathered at the Verge conference in San Francisco yesterday.

Downtown Las Vegas is the original gambling district of the city, before it moved to the Strip. It’s also home to city hall, which is currently the seat of local government, but will become Zappo’s new headquarters in 2013, housing up to 2,000 employees. Currently, the company is spread across three buildings in the suburbs of Las Vegas. Since the city hall move was announced two years ago, Hsieh has been trying to figure out how to fix up the place. He’s polled employees on what they want to see on their dream campus (doggy daycare) and studying campuses of companies like Apple, Nike, and Google, famous for providing perks like free gyms, bars, and massages. 

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Clorox Adds Blog to CSR Reporting Efforts

Lonnie Shekhtman
| Monday November 12th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Corporate blogging is all the rage. Marketers swear by it. Blogging, it is believed, is more personal and less intrusive than press releases and e-mail marketing. Plus, it’s good for SEO and a more casual forum for connecting with stakeholders.

It’s no surprise, then, that Clorox finally bit the blogging bullet, launching its first corporate blog in October, called CR Matters. The new blog joins seven others in the family of Clorox brands, and will cover company news related to its five pillars of corporate responsibility: People, Products, Performance, Planet and Purpose.

CR Matters is governed by Clorox CR Communications, its Eco Office, Community Relations and Regulatory Affairs, and will pull in contributors from the rest of the company and, potentially, externally. “People who are ‘experts’ in particular areas will write these posts,” said Simone Seeley, manager of the new blog.  “So far we’ve had great response from people that they’d do it.”

To date, Seeley has been the sole contributor, posting once per week, which is the planned schedule going forward. The content is a little bland and self-promotional so far, reading more like an employee newsletter than a public forum. But there have only been five posts to date, so it’s a work in progress.

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