What Social Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the Birds and the Bees

| Sunday July 1st, 2007 | 2 Comments

The Economist magazine website has a nice little feature called “What’s in the Journals?” The page profiles a small number of recent articles from top-notch business journals with links to view the articles online (registration sometimes required). For those of us who are reluctant to shell out for pricey subscriptions to journals we don’t actually have time to read, this is a great service!
One of the articles reviewed in the latest column is called “The New Principles of a Swarm Business,” published in the Spring ’07 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. The “collaborative innovation” principles described in the article may be particularly interesting for social entrepreneurs:

…members of a swarm typically reject the traditional business notion of building shareholder value as the basis for their decisions and actions. In its place, the swarm works toward the collective interest of stakeholders, which is broadly defined as any party that can affect or is affected by the innovation….shareholders but also employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and even competitors…

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A Mighty Wind

Sheila Samuelson | Saturday June 30th, 2007 | 0 Comments

Hold on to your hats! If you live on at least 1/2 acre and the wind blows at speeds of at least 10 mph in your backyard (find out here), then harnessing the wind for power may now be an affordable renewable energy option. The Skystream 3.7, available for $5,400 (US), can produce 240 KWh per month at 10 mph and 380 KWh at 12 mph according to the EERE‘s Wind Turbine Buyer’s Guide (here).
The Skystream has been called “the iPod(r) of wind power” due to its simplistic, modern design, ease of use, and capacity to monitor and download energy performance data on your home computer (including optional remote control). Thanks to a low RPM and advanced blade and vibration technology, the Skystream – unlike your iPod(r) – “is as quiet as trees blowing in the wind”.
The 1.8 kW system – developed in a partnership with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab – is said to provide from 40-100% of power for a home or small business.
For wind-specific grants, rebates, tax incentives and interest-free loans available in your state, visit the American Wind Energy Association here.
Article via One Shade Greener.

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California Cleantech Open Submissions Due Tommorow

| Friday June 29th, 2007 | 0 Comments

ctopen.jpgIf you’re thinking about entering the California Clean Tech Open business plan competition, now is the time to get your three page executive summary submitted – tomorrow’s the deadline. Click here to learn how.
Whether or not you’re interested in the contest, there are some great resources on the CCO website worth checking out.

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AskPablo: CO2 from Beer

| Monday June 25th, 2007 | 11 Comments

duff.jpgHave you ever wondered about the carbon emissions generated from making your favorite brewsky, bottle of vino, or 15 year-old Talisker Scotch? Never mind the impact from producing the bottles, shipping the product, or the farm impact–I’ve written about those before (See: AskPablo: Exotic Bottled Water, AskPablo: Glass vs. PET Bottles, and AskPablo: Foodmiles) But what about the fermentation process? That is what we will explore this week on AskPablo.

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Summer Knowledge: What’s in That Sunscreen?

| Monday June 25th, 2007 | 1 Comment

sunscreen.jpgEver wondered what the difference was between the myriad varieties of sunblock on the market? There’s more to it than simple SPF factors. More chemicals than you can shake a stick at, some unregulated, abound in the many brands and varieties. To make sense of it all you need a massive database and a lot of research. Fortunately, the folks over at Cosmetics Safety Database have not only done that work, but they’ve ranked them in terms of safety and effectiveness. The bottom line is that, according to their work, some sunblock may be worse for you than doing nothing at all, and a handful of brands truly live up to their claims while being non-toxic at the same time. Check it out.

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Is Microfinance Really Effective in Alleviating Poverty?

| Friday June 22nd, 2007 | 4 Comments

A provocative article from the summer issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, titled “Microfinance Misses Its Mark,” is available for free on the SSRI website. The author, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, states that, “…my analysis of the macroeconomic data suggests that although microcredit yields some noneconomic benefits, it does not significantly alleviate poverty.” The article’s subheading summarizes his conclusion:

Despite the hoopla over microfinance, it doesn’t cure poverty. But stable jobs do. If societies are serious about helping the poorest of the poor, they should stop investing in microfinance and start supporting large, labor-intensive industries. At the same time, governments must hold up their end of the deal, for market-based solutions will never be enough…

Comments have been posted there by readers raising some good questions and objections to the viewpoint expressed in the article. Worth checking out for those interested in microfinance and global development. And while you’re there, consider subscribing! The Stanford Social Innovation Review “is a quarterly journal that brings the best in research and practice-based knowledge to individuals and organizations working for social change around the world.” You may also be interested in their Social Innovations podcasts offered for free online at http://www.siconversations.org/.

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Hotel Room Eco Audit (One Shade Greener)

Sheila Samuelson | Friday June 22nd, 2007 | 1 Comment

hotel-room.jpg(by Sheila Samuelson – originally on One Shade Greener)
As soon as I stepped in, I smelled the “new building” scent. That’s the smell of VOCs (indoor air pollution) from the vinyl plastic shower curtain, paint and carpeting. The fan was running on “auto cool mode” and the mini-fridge was quietly humming away, cooling – on the “coldest” setting – nothing but the 2 cubic feet of air inside.
We’ve all been here, in the generic, timeless, placeless, kind of hotel room you can wake up in and not know where in the country, or the world, you might be – and you might as well be anywhere, really. I happen to be in Wichita, and I can’t help but wonder how a budget priced hotel can afford such wastefulness as an empty mini-fridge that runs 24/7, three lamps with incandescent 60 Watt light bulbs, a shower that uses probably 6 gallons per minute or more – half of that going straight from the tub faucet into the drain, not out the shower nozzle, and a room fan that was cooling the room with no one in it from the time it was cleaned, until I arrived to open the window at 7pm.
Each of these things represents waste. Changing the light bulbs to CFLs, fixing the shower and installing a low-flow shower head, unplugging the mini-fridge until it’s needed (there’s always free ice if something needs immediate chilling) and leaving the fan off would all save money and increase the bottom line of this, and all hotels.

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The New “Brand” for Socially Responsible Business?

| Wednesday June 20th, 2007 | 6 Comments

As more businesses claim to be “green,” “sustainable,” and “socially responsible,” will true social entrepreneurs find it difficult to stand out in the marketplace? An organization called B Lab has recently launched a new ratings system to help skeptical consumers and investors to distinguish between truly responsible companies and those who simply run good PR campaigns. Companies who are certified as “B Corporations” must meet comprehensive social and environmental standards as well as agree to build stakeholder interests into their corporate governing documents. Companies must supply documentation to support their applications and are subject to random third-party audits. The organization plans to spend millions of dollars each year to promote the B Corporation brand as a trustworthy “seal of approval” for responsible businesses.
In recent years, a number of certifications and ratings systems have been developed by associations, independent consumer groups, and socially responsible investing firms. Could B Corporation be the one that breaks through to wide acceptance and recognition? A few things seem to make it uniquely positioned for success…

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Book Review: Cities in the Wilderness by Bruce Babbit

| Wednesday June 20th, 2007 | 1 Comment

city-wild.jpg(Review by George Wuerthner) I just read an excellent book–Cities in the Wilderness by former Sec. of Interior Bruce Babbitt. It’s an insider’s view of some of the issues and politics that took place while he was govenror of Arizona as well as Sec. of Interior. Babbitt is surprisingly well versed in a lot of conservation history, conservation biology principles, basic ecology, and of course politics. I was impressed with his breath of knowledge. He discussed in his book everything from protection of the Everglades to restoration of tall grass prairie in Iowa to water development in Arizona, wolf restoration in Yellowstone, and dam removal across the country. I was surprised to see he had read the Monkey Wrench Gang and seemed to agree with the general premise that some dams should come down.
He minces no words about livestock grazing and says it’s one of the biggest impacts on the environment in the West. He correctly asserts that it has minimal economic importance to the nation and argues that it should be ended–at a minimum on all public lands where there is less than 10 inches of precipitation and he also endorsed the idea of permit buy out from willing sellers as a creative solution.

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Biofuel Driving up the Price of Gas? So What?

| Monday June 18th, 2007 | 12 Comments

pricesgass.jpgThere’s been talk lately about the price of gas remaining high for the foreseeable future as oil companies choose not to expand refining operations in the face of a bio-fuels boom. It’s hard to appreciate the tone of articles like this one for example when they shout out headlines like “Going Green’s No Good for Gas Prices “.
So what? The current price of gasoline has finally started to change consumer awareness of vehicle choice and is driving a bonanza of greener alternatives (some better than others). The current price of gasoline has also not caused any noticeable economic hardship. If the boom in alternative fuels and better vehicles continues, then anyone with a brain knows we’ll all be better off. This is exactly the kind of price rises the country needs to stimulate progress – if prices were lower, then we’d be in for a much ruder awakening sometime down the line.
It’s downright lousy journalism to point fingers at bio-fuels and paint oil refiners as some kind of victims. I’m hoping though, that readers of these types of articles are smart enough to say, “well, it’s a good thing in the long run”

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AskPablo: Lighten the Load

| Monday June 18th, 2007 | 7 Comments

I recently listened to one of my favorite podcasts, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, and heard an interview with Bob Lutz, General Motors’ Vice Chairman. In this interview he expressed dismay that Toyota is thought to be the fuel efficiency leader in the industry. This week I will run some numbers to shed light on the subject.

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Is Duraflame a Green Product?

| Friday June 15th, 2007 | 22 Comments

duraflame.gifI don’t have fires very often, living in a warm climate, but I have to admit I’m a sucker for some burning logs on a camping trip or on a cold winter’s night – despite the obvious environmental externalities. For those aesthetic reasons, and for what I thought were environmental ones, I was always opposed to using gimmicky fire-starters and fake “logs” like the Duraflame – assuming that whatever those things were made of couldn’t be natural…
I still think the Duraflame is a bit tacky, but evidently they’re a lot greener than I thought and a lot greener than burning logs (although they used to contain petroleum products). Basically, they are made of discarded agricultural biomass and commercial wood waste (shavings and sawdust) mixed in with a wax that’s also derived from vegetable material. The result is about 50% less carbon monoxide and 40% less particulate matter than burning logs.
Curiously the company’s environmental page does not specifically mention the impact on CO2 emissions and I’m always a little skeptical of ingredients listed as “all natural” without much additional explanation. Nor does it say precisely what’s in that wax, but for the most part I think it’s a pretty innovative idea – one uses almost 100% waste material to do something useful. What do you think?

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Survey of Social Entrepreneurs Highlights Opportunity for Business Partnerships

| Thursday June 14th, 2007 | 0 Comments

The consulting firm SustainAbility, in partnership with The Skoll Foundation, has produced a fascinating 52-page report called Growing Opportunity: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Insoluble Problems. It was released in late March, 2007. The PDF is available for download from both Greenbiz.com and the Sustainability website (registration required). Highly recommended summer reading!
The report springs from a quantitative survey of 100 social entrepreneurs around the world. It attempts to assess the current state of social entrepreneurship and the possibilities presented by new mindsets, the challenges entrepreneurs face in scaling their organizations and the opportunities for greater collaboration with corporations and others. In particular, the discussion of funding challenges and options could be of great value to anyone starting or growing a social enterprise. The report also offers “deep dives” in the areas of clean energy and healthcare.

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Peas Of Mind Founder Jill Litwin Interviewed Tonight

| Wednesday June 13th, 2007 | 0 Comments

Eco-Entrepreneur and personal friend of mine, Jill Litwin will be interviewed tonight (Wednesday) on the NBC nightly news – check your local times. Peas of mind is an all-organic frozen meal for toddler-aged kids. You can read Jill’s TreeHugger interview here.
It’s always great to see a friend get recognition like this, but even if you don’t know her, consider her story a piece of inspiration toward your own entrepreneurial potential!

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Kite Power – Potential to Save 7% of WorldWide Energy Use?

| Tuesday June 12th, 2007 | 0 Comments

kite-power.jpgThat 7% is probably wishful thinking, but if this guy in Wisconsin is halfway right, then there’s certainly a future for this unusual technology originally designed to pull kiteboarders at high-speed across lakes and oceans. It’s very simple – if you can engineer a kite to pull on a cord with some degree of consistency, then you can use that energy to pump irrigation water – a task that currently accounts for about 7% of worldwide energy use (according to the article).

The aim is to market low-cost kits that charitable foundations would provide to poor farmers in India, China or other developing nations. Those foundations already are spending millions on systems to help farmers…

Interestingly, this inventor didn’t have “green” in mind when he originally started working on the project – he wanted to use it to pump oil. I wonder what sparked the change of thought.

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