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Author: Ganado Two stars, 250 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 1656  
Subject: Defining SB Date: 11/16/1999 11:21 AM
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Ok, I've read all the stuff you recommended. Frankly most of it is a bunch of words for me. I am an extremely practical person in many ways. I like the idea of a sustainable business but here again it is just a set of words put together.

When I talk about organic gardening or farming then sustainable has meaning for me. Recycling.

When I talk about a business with a product then a whole can of worms opens up.

For instance, Nike. Is it sustainable to use cheap labor. I am not even going to get into the issue of is this exploitation because then you are talking about imposing American values and moreys on a different culture.

Is sustainable business where you recycle everything?
OK so then is the electricity Nike uses and the copper wire reusable? We then get into the whole issue of mining, electric generation etc.

Quite frankly I am not willing to give up electricity. So many of the things I use every day are by the definition of recycling not sustainable. This includes my computer and all its components and devices.

I know I am rambling a bit here but I am trying to make a point. I don't understand the concept of sustainable in a high tech world. And that is where we live, in a high tech world.

Please have a dialog with me about this!!!
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Author: DeadheadFool Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1471 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/16/1999 12:47 PM
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I don't understand the concept of sustainable in a high tech world. And that is where we live, in a high tech world.

Please have a dialog with me about this!!!


Hey Ganado,

I've been crazy with work and school lately so I haven't been able to post much (not moving at a sustainable pace, but thankfully school's almost over).

A short reply is...

Check out The Rocky Mountain Institute www.rmi.org and read Natural Capitalism www.natcap.org. The ideas these guys have is to use technology as an enabler of sustainability. Electricity can be generated sustainably, for example, with Solar technology.

It's a huge, mind boggling set of issues, in one thought, but quite simple at the core in another thought (IMHO anyway). The Natural Step framework is also helpful for characterizing sustainability www.naturalstep.org.

Chris

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Author: krygeris Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1472 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/16/1999 2:33 PM
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Hi, Ganado.

The point on Nike, from you and Frecs, is well taken. No, I don't think abusing a work force is sustainable, and even if it were, it's not right. I tend to be overly focused on the environmental.

So before we talk about "sustainable business", let's talk about what we mean by sustainable.

Electricity is not unsustainable in itself, but the ways we usually produce it are. Solar cells, windmills, and water turbines all sustainably collect the constant input of energy from the sun; our use of fossil fuels instead burns up a legacy of millions of years of solar collection by plants. All of our ecosystems ride the free energy of the sun, and our economies should, too.

The other categories to be aware of are sources and sinks. (I take this terminology from Beyond the Limits by Donella and Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers.) Sources are those supplies we pull from our environment, sinks are those aspects of our environment that we use up through dumping (for example, our atmosphere is a carbon dioxide sink). Together they're called resources, and can be divided into renewable and non-renewable.

Renewables can be used at their replacement rate and, in this sense, be sustainable. So we can call a timber harvest sustainable if our harvesting plan accounts for the time it takes to grow new trees on the land (but this doesn't account for the fact that we've hauled a lot of resources off the land with the tree, and for literal sustainability, these need to be replaced).

The waste from renewables is often, but not always, able to be reabsorbed into the environment, but again we have to account for the time it takes the sinks to process this waste. Also, many of our pollutants are organic (but not necessarily natural) poisons.

Our saving grace with renewables is that there are so many systems in place to work with them. The carbon dioxide from the paper and food composting in our landfills gets carried back to the forests and fields by our atmosphere. Our soils contain the microscopic life that enables our compostable wastes to be turned into new plants for our use (if we make the effort to get those wastes back to the land).

In his book The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken talks about creating systems like these for our modern economies. In these systems, the waste from one operation becomes the input to another operation. (The first index entry on "industrial ecology" in the book refers to an example.) So the company Kafus that I mentioned in my last post becomes the dung beetle of a new economic "ecology". (I wonder what that'll do to the stock price if it gets around.)

One other concept from Beyond the Limits: none of this will happen overnight, so while sustainable resources and systems are being developed, we need to make sure that our current unsustainable resources are used at rates that can carry us to the transition to a replacement.

So, then, what do we mean by sustainable business?

I'd call sustainable a business that:
<UL>
<LI>limits energy use</LI>
<LI>uses sun-based energy</LI>
<LI>finds a use for any substantial waste energy</LI>
<LI>limits its intake of raw materials</LI>
<LI>uses organic, renewable materials where possible</LI>
<LI>uses waste-stream resources where possible</LI>
<LI>limits its output of waste material</LI>
<LI>dumps into the ecosphere only non-damaging materials which the ecosystem can process</LI>
<LI>maximizes the reuse of waste materials</LI>
</UL>

Or more concisely:

For energy, sources, and sinks, a sustainable company should (1) use as little as possible, (2) use renewables, and (3) use waste sources.

That's my ideal. I don't imagine there are many (any?) businesses that currently embody this ideal, but some are starting to work toward it.

Thanks for asking, Ganado. This was a great opportunity to get my thoughts on this subject in order. I look forward to your response, and those of others.

-Allan

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Author: Ganado Two stars, 250 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1473 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/17/1999 3:05 PM
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Allan,

That was a well thought out reply to my question about sustainable business.

You've given me more stuff to read and think about.

About the Nike/human rights/exploiting poor nations idea. I still have some misgivings on this.

When we advocate human rights issues are we trying to impose a western idea of "justice and right" on cultures that don't seem to have this idea? or have it as strongly ingrained as we do?

Or are we comparing our life style to theirs and feeling guilty?

And the thing that bothers me the most is that when we impose our lifestyles on other cultures (this includes manufacturing and goods acquisition) are we diluting a culture with our values.

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Author: LynnHerron Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1474 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/18/1999 8:45 PM
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>When we advocate human rights issues are we trying to impose a western idea of "justice and right" on cultures that don't seem to have this idea? or have it as strongly ingrained as we do?>

Ganado - just a response to this point made in your very thoughtful post.

I agree with the point you are trying to make but there is another side to it. 'Western', 'First World', 'Developed(?)', countries/companies often justify bad behaviour on their part by appealing to what they claim to be the cultural traditions of the country in which they are manufacturing, trading, or whatever.

I'll give just one example of a circumstance encountered by the Clipper Tea Company which is a UK specialist seller of high quality teas. Clipper set out to bring high quality 'speciality' teas to the UK market, but right from the start it was also a 'Fair Trade' company in that it was concerned that the working conditions and wages of both 'Third World' suppliers and its UK workers should be fair.

Clipper gives the example of a tea estate in a remote area of India. Not only were pay and conditions pretty dire but the newly married wives of tea workers were required to labour at tea picking. Worse the wages of the women were paid not to them but to their husbands. Staggering - yes but also true! The custom of the country? So claimed the UK owners of the tea estate, but as soon as the estate was taken over by an Indian company, the women - to their astonishment - were paid their own wages for their own work. Food for thought?





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Author: Frecs Big red star, 1000 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1475 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/19/1999 9:20 AM
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<<About the Nike/human rights/exploiting poor nations idea. I still have some misgivings on this.

When we advocate human rights issues are we trying to impose a western idea of "justice and right" on cultures that don't
seem to have this idea? or have it as strongly ingrained as we do?

Or are we comparing our life style to theirs and feeling guilty?>>

I would think that the least we could do is obey the laws of the nation we set up shop in. Nike is not obeying the minium wage laws or human rights laws of Bangledash. Nor, are they obeying the human rights laws of the United Nations. Dispicable if you ask me.

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Author: Ganado Two stars, 250 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1476 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/19/1999 1:03 PM
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Good point!!

There was also some mucking about in Africa on the same issue where women owned the land but companies delt wit h the men.

I don't know what the answer to this is. I am a very strong capitalist but I also see some lifestyles and values lost in the name of capitalism.

This is a complex issue. Thanks for your response!

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Author: jnick One star, 50 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1477 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/19/1999 7:52 PM
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The ideas these guys have is to use technology as an enabler of sustainability.
Electricity can be generated sustainably, for example, with Solar technology.
********
I wasn't invited into this dialog but Ganado put words to what I have been thinking for years. What IS sustainable business supposed to mean?

I submit that electricity can NOT be generated "sustainably" if the definition of sustainable is that there are no unrecyclables. Solar generation has plenty of problems. Solar cells require some very difficult to deal with heavy metals. The panels don't last forever. Recycling them is very problematic. Thermal solar methods (using mirror or lens concentration for instance) require sophisticated metalurgy in the turbines, and there are always wear parts of rotating equipment.

I think that to discuss it or move toward it, we need a better definition of the goal, and recognition that something that moves in the right direction, and is cost effective, is the socially responsible choice.



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Author: jnick One star, 50 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1478 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/19/1999 8:04 PM
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For energy, sources, and sinks, a sustainable company should (1) use as little as possible, (2) use
renewables, and (3) use waste sources.

********************

And still the hard part comes down to the definitions of each word. Nearly every business and industry and country and person would tell you that they are using as little evergy as "possible". (afterall, we pay for that energy, we sure don't waste it on purpose!)

Use renewabless (your definition in the post was VERY helpful to me, at least with respect to energy) but still, everybody claims that whatevery they use is renewable (its just a matter of time and rate see, you eat corn that has been storing up solar energy all year for ya, you burn oil that presumable was storing solar energy over some period of time..of course we are using it faster than we're puttin it down now, just like government spending, we borrow on the future, but we're gonna catch back up, get ahead, and leave this planet with more than we started, yeah, thats the ticket)

I enjoy these posts and often get a little closer to useful definitions, but I remain unclear how to tell the good guys.

but i think i'm learnin something anyway


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Author: krygeris Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1479 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/19/1999 10:03 PM
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Hi, jnick. Glad to have you join the conversation.

>>>And still the hard part comes down to the definitions of each word. Nearly every business and industry and country and person would tell you that they are using as little evergy as "possible". (afterall, we pay for that energy, we sure don't waste it on purpose!)

Yes, my terminology is vague, but I'm a computer programmer with an English degree -- I can't bring much more than general comments to the debate. Maybe this is what Chris (Deadheadfool) is learning in school.

>>>I submit that electricity can NOT be generated "sustainably" if the definition of sustainable is that there are no unrecyclables. Solar generation has plenty of problems. Solar cells require some very difficult to deal with heavy metals. The panels don't last forever. Recycling them is very problematic. Thermal solar methods (using mirror or lens concentration for instance) require sophisticated metalurgy in the turbines, and there are always wear parts of rotating equipment.

Wendell Berry warns us against looking to the technological innovations that got us into this mess for solutions for getting out, but I'll do it anyway: maybe we just haven't found the right thing yet. Maybe solar panels can be produced without letting those heavy metals into the environment in unnatural concentrations. Maybe a combination of biofuels and fuel cells could be sustainable. And surely the alternatives we've got are better than burning fossils and splitting atoms.

Short of the end of western civilization whatever that means these days), I don't see electricity going away. Hopefully there isn't the need.

>>>I think that to discuss it or move toward it, we need a better definition of the goal,

I think The Natural Step conditions (www.naturalstep.org/what/index_cond.html) provide a great goal, but I'm not sure they're concrete enough for business people, and it's certainly not easy to use them to assess a company from the outside.

>>>and recognition that something that moves in the right direction, and is cost effective, is the socially responsible choice.

Absolutely.

Take care,

Allan


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Author: DeadheadFool Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1482 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/20/1999 7:50 PM
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I submit that electricity can NOT be generated "sustainably" if the definition of sustainable is that there are no unrecyclables. Solar generation has plenty of problems. Solar cells require some very difficult to deal with heavy metals. The panels don't last forever. Recycling them is very problematic. Thermal solar methods (using mirror or lens concentration for instance) require sophisticated metalurgy in the turbines, and there are always wear parts of rotating equipment.


Very interesting jnick, I did not realize that the materials and manufacturing processes involved with solar panels was unsustainable (or difficult to hold sustainable). Thanks for the heads up on that. I'll have to do some more research before I jump. Are there some panels that are better than others?

I agree that sustainability, while simple at the core, can be very difficult to acheive while maintaining our style of living.

Chris

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Author: DeadheadFool Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1483 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/20/1999 8:08 PM
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>>>And still the hard part comes down to the definitions of each word. Nearly every business and industry and country and person would tell you that they are using as little evergy as "possible". (afterall, we pay for that energy, we sure don't waste it on purpose!)

Yes, my terminology is vague, but I'm a computer programmer with an English degree -- I can't bring much more than general comments to the debate. Maybe this is what Chris (Deadheadfool) is learning in school.


Unfortunately, I'm only getting a high level perspective on a lot of this taking only one class this semester, but a lot of our discussions are around the idea of sustainability. The text books that we are using in class reference Hawken, Lovins and others as experts in the field (folks we've metioned here several times), which is reassuring to me, but the discussions are still in their early stages. The other people in my class all work in "environmental" jobs and NONE of them have much more of a clue about sustainability than I do. They spend their days on inspections and remediation projects, and ISO14000 work that is all well and good, but is also all bandaid work that will never amount to effecting real sustainable change.

We are being taught that prevention is the key, not treatment. That's great too, but again, that realization is still in the early adopter stages of implementation. There's so much money needed for clean ups, that prevention gets low priority except for proactive companies or heavily regulated and watched companies.

I'd be interested to hear how many of you guys here on this board know if Environmental Awareness is being taught in schools (K-12) where you live. It certainly is here, but this is San Francisco, and we're all a bunch of tree huggers anyway ;-)

My hope is for the next generation of corporate leaders to have more environmental awareness and therefore more of a personal environmental ethic, so it won't take intense government regulation to ensure compliance, and encourage sustainability.

Kind of rambling here on a Saturday afternoon. Nice to have some discussion back here again.

Chris

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Author: LynnHerron Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1484 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/24/1999 8:20 PM
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>and recognition that something that moves in the right direction, and is cost effective, is the socially responsible choice.>

jnick, thanks for your short but profound post. I'm totally committed both personally, and professionally (as the owner of a business dedicated to Fair Trade, Environmentally Friendliness - or as many of us would say 'Friendlier' which is an important distinction - and Sustainability (or 'more sustainable'?). But life is complex and there are few simple answers!

Every breath we take, every move we make, we affect somebody, something, for good or for evil. We could only cease to affect our environment (or the lives of other people or other species)if we ceased to exist. By the same token however even the smallest application of positive principles can make an enormous difference to other humans, to other species and to the eco-systems of our world. So many people won't even try because they are waiting for the perfect system to come along - the business which is totally sustainable, the trading system which is totally and absolutely fair and egalitarian.

Two quotes which I love: "The longest journey begins with a single step" and even more "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness".'


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Author: LynnHerron Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1485 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/24/1999 8:32 PM
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Chris,

Mild protest. I ain't a 'guy', I am female and I like being female but that doesn't mean I don't have valid carefully thought through ideas on Sustainable Business nor indeed on other Fool topics. I know you probably didn't mean it as it came over but please don't limit this very interesting discussion to just half of the human race!

Lynn

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Author: DeadheadFool Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1487 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 11/29/1999 9:52 PM
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Chris,

Mild protest. I ain't a 'guy', I am female and I like being female but that doesn't mean I don't have valid carefully thought through ideas on Sustainable Business nor indeed on other Fool topics. I know you probably didn't mean it as it came over but please don't limit this very interesting discussion to just half of the human race!

Lynn


I hope you're only joking here Lynn. I use the word "guy" in as gender-neutral a way as possible. If anything, "your half" of the human race is far superior in my book.

As the song goes...
"The women are smarter, that's right!"

I think we just had a minor dialect miscommunication here.

Chris

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Author: stephan1000 Three stars, 500 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1500 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 12/10/1999 7:37 PM
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Frecs wrote:
I would think that the least we could do is obey the laws of the nation we set up shop in. Nike is not obeying the minium wage laws or human rights laws of Bangledash. Nor, are they obeying the human rights laws of the United Nations. Dispicable if you ask me.


Frecs,
Your underlying premise, that Bangledesh has a minimum wage, is that an assumption or a fact?
Stephan


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Author: Frecs Big red star, 1000 posts Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 1503 of 1656
Subject: Re: Defining SB Date: 12/13/1999 8:49 AM
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<<Frecs,
Your underlying premise, that Bangledesh has a minimum wage, is that an assumption or a fact?
Stephan>>

Well, according to 20/20 (I think that was the one I saw this on) its a fact. Bangledesh has a national minium wage which Nike and others are ignoring. How would we like it if a German company came here and ignored our national minium wage???

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