Test Book Review
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.
Humans are storytelling creatures, spending our lives both waking and dreaming in what the author refers to as Neverland. His premise is summed up in one paragraph:
"Humans are creatures of Neverland? Neverland is our evolutionary niche, our special habitat. We are attracted to Neverland because, on the whole, it is good for us. It nourishes our imaginations; it reinforces moral behavior; it gives us safe worlds to practice inside. Story is the glue of social life--defining groups and holding the together. We live in Neverland because we can't not live in Neverland. We are the storytelling animal." P 177.
In this assertion, Gottschall does not rule out other species from having their own Neverland. He defines story as
Story = Characters + Predicament + Attempt at extrication
and in that, there is room for dog dreams about rabbits and cats about dogs.
In this book, Gottschall explores what evolutionary benefit story gave us, what the purpose is, and how it manifests in both our waking and dreaming life.
"The human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story." As social animals, we can benefit from others' experience and explore potential outcomes of different actions.
Interestingly, he cites research showing that people who are avid readers of fiction actually possess better social skills; having explored different characters minds, they have greater empathy. Violent stories lead to more violent behavior while pro-social characters lead to collaborative behaviors.
Our stories are categorically moral. Even those where the protagonist is the bad guy, the endings show the consequences of anti-social behavior. Bonnie and Clyde; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; they all come to a bad end.
Much of the night we dream stories. How could it help a species to paralyze it and show it scary movies most of the night? For dreams are mostly about trouble, showing us on average 5 scary episodes per night. While we tend to remember the most fantastical dreams, the worst nightmares, most dreams are fairly realistic. They give us practice in resolving the big dilemmas of life, acting as flight simulations to above the potential crashes in life.
But our penchant for tying circumstances together in story is not an all-together benefit. In an attempt to find meaning, we sometimes invent conspiracy theories and demonize others not of our tribe or religion. And the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives --our memories--are as fictional as our dreams. We edit our life story to make our own protagonist better fit our hopes and dreams.
Rowe, Jonathan. 2013. Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy that Makes Everything Work. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco. ISBN: 978-60994-833-7.
Book Review Prepared by: Bob Kollm
Our Common Wealth is an absolute joy to read. Jonathan Rowe insightfully articulates feelings held deep within many of us that an essential part of our human experience is being co-opted and stolen. Rowe discusses why such feelings exist as well as actions that can regain these pieces of our humanity.
Rowe’s writing focuses on the ‘commons.’ The commons refers to resources that are accessible to all members of society. Thus they are held in common and are not privately owned. Such resources include air, water, land, software, airwaves, and more.
This book is not a history lesson about the negative consequences of privatizing common resources nor does it urge returning private property to common ownership. Instead, Rowe advocates for this hidden economy that quietly supports society by detailing its function, providing current, relatable examples, and inspiring action. In a very concise and understandable way, Rowe shows the importance of the commons and the consequences of its dismantling. An example from the text highlights this point:
- “Today the privatization of common wealth has reached historic heights, and it’s not coincidental that, as these taking have accelerated, so has the gap between the rich and everyone else.” (pg. 69)
The idea of the commons fits well within the philosophy of sustainable development. It relates to social, environmental, and economic sustainability as well as inherent intergenerational considerations. The commons creates social space and the opportunity for people to interact and respect one another. It promotes environmental stewardship, as protecting the integrity of air, water, and land ensures continuing benefits for its stewards. The commons also provides a setting where long term economic planning is paramount to managing for quarterly performance. Finally, anything held in common, such as grazing land or clean air, can be held and maintained in common from generation to generation.
In a posthumous publishing after Rowe’s unexpected death in 2011, close friend of Rowe, entrepreneur, and author (Who Owns the Sky, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons), Editor Peter Barnes was able to capture Rowe’s thoughts, spirit, and style in finishing the book Rowe had begun. Barnes notes that the book was pieced together from Rowe’s writings between 1993 and 2011.
Rowe convincingly makes the case that the commons is the ultimate source of our well-being, is taken for granted, is undervalued, and is disappearing. The commons rightfully belongs to all of us and Our Common Wealth makes a rousing case for defending, revitalizing, sharing, and preserving the wealth that these common holdings provide. Rowe is able to do this in a sober manner and with rare realism:
- “Commons are a form of social lubrication. Some things must be free or cheap for the rest of life – including markets – to function smoothly. Free sidewalks bring customers to the merchant’s door. Free information feeds invention that becomes new enterprise. The commons feeds the market and the market feeds the commons. Pure symbiosis.” (pg. 80)
- “Put commoners in charge of the air, let us charge polluters for using it, and we’ll see a lot less pollution than we do now.” (pg. 17)
Our Common Wealth is accessible to all. Practitioners, policy makers, students, and everyday citizens will connect to ideas presented within a number of short chapters discussing individual ideas and using the thread of the commons to weave them all together.
Rowe’s book is engaging like a conversation and difficult to put down. Many will read the entire book in an afternoon or morning. Most will return to the shelf to pull this book time and time again to be reminded of an idea, to reconnect with a feeling that produced a smile, and to find motivation that stirs the soul. The greatest joy of this book is uncovering ideas like gemstones, ones that you hold up to the light and exclaim with immense exuberance “Yes!”
Mohin, Timothy J. 2012. Changing Business from the Inside Out, a Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations.
Book Review by Christy Nordstrom, ISSP Education Program Manager.
Title: "Changing Business from the Inside Out, a Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations"
Author: Timothy J. Mohin
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Length: 280 pages
To the acclaim of many, Timothy Mohin delivers what he promises, a "manual on how to steer the corporate supertanker toward doing good for people and our planet." If you have achieved a corporate social responsibility title, or are strategizing to gain that sustainability position, and want to make a difference, Mohin will mentor you through the steps he honed working for Advanced Micro Devices, EORM, Apple and Intel.
First he helps those who remember the advent of superfund cleanup sites, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the discourse on corporate social responsibility, showing the links between them and the more ethical norms now. Forty years ago, if you pursued your dream and your values to advocate for social and environmental justice to protect the planet, then you might have been tagged only as a treehugger. Or if you pursued a living and worked within a corporation, there were few ad hoc sustainability initiatives to express your values. It seemed as if you were either in or out.
Today there are more opportunities to contribute to society and work in business supported by the three pillars of sustainable development: environmental, social and economic. With the evolution of corporate responsibility, a company's honest position on sustainability and social justice differentiates it from its competitors. This is the part that you play.
In Changing Business from the Inside Out, a Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations, Mohin outlines, from his experience, how you can (as Liz Maw, CEO Net Impact, exclaimed) "work for societal good from the inside." CSR departments are new to the corporate hierarchy, and Mohin observes there is a "common set of skills and duties that apply." Mohin's practical strategies on how to set up and run a successful corporate responsibility program from a corporate responsibility manager position includes:
- Designing a CSR program - set the strategy and keep it simple, look for emerging issues and establish a benchmarking program.
- Measuring data will drive your CSR program as well as clear objectives.
- Environmental sustainability: build a framework to integrate environmental sustainability into corporate sustainability.
- A Supplier-Responsibility Program: review supplier behavior on labor and environmental issues; then establish a code of conduct to reverse the race to the bottom.
- Communications: often overlooked, the single most important skill to create is "compelling, understandable, memorable, and even inspiring messages." A CSR manager works across all company functions and business units.
- Stakeholders and investors: identify, prioritize, and engage with external stakeholders and socially responsible investors.
- Employee engagement: how to engage employees in corporate responsibility.
These are some of Mohin's observations offered to you to create a Department of Good Works. To learn more and to chat live with Tim Mohin, join us Thursday December 6 at 11am PST / 2pm EST for ISSP's monthly online webinar. We look forward to seeing you then! Register here: http://ow.ly/eMv2b
ISO 26000: The Business Guide to the New Standard on Social Responsibility
Lars Maratis & Timo Cochius
Greenleaf Publishing, 2011
Reviewed by Ira Feldman, ISSP Board Member
I approached this book -- the first guide to the ISO 26000 standard to appear after its publication in late 2010 -- with great trepidation. Any book seeking to provide a complete and balanced overview of the new standard on social responsibility ("SR"), given its broad scope of seven core topics and its genesis in a fractious multi-stakeholder process, faces a daunting task. And the authors, Moratis and Cochius, while apparently seasoned CSR consultants, were not players in the international-level ISO/SR process. So, as the leader of one of the ISO/SR stakeholder groups (Service, Support, Research & Others or "SSRO") and as the co-chair of one of the core topic drafting teams (Environment), I must admit that I was a bit skeptical. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded as I have found the Moratis and Cochius book to be remarkably useful both in terms of summarizing the key aspects of the standard and in identifying some of the more contentious issues.
Before commenting further on the book itself, let's first cover a few basics about ISO 26000:
- ISO 26000 is voluntary, and includes no specific requirements; therefore, there is no third party verification and it is not a "certification" standard like ISO 14001.
- ISO -- the International Organization for Standardization -- opted to use the "SR" terminology rather than the more common "CSR" or corporate social responsibility theme. By dropping the "C" in CSR, a somewhat controversial decision at the time, ISO hoped to underscore that the standard applies to all organizations not just businesses.
- ISO 26000 is not a "management systems standard." ISO 14001 and ISO 9000 are both management systems standards structured around the Deming cycle's "Plan, Do, Check, Act" framework. Over vigorous objections, ISO 26000 was consciously drafted to NOT be a management system; instead guidance is offered in each of the seven core topics.
And, how has the market reacted to these basics as we reach the two-year mark for ISO 26000?
- Several countries (Austria, Sweden, China, among others, according to trade press reports) are developing versions of ISO 26000 to which organizations will be able to certify.
- There is no evidence that the "SR" terminology will supplant "CSR" in the scholarly or practitioner lexicon. Clearly, CSR is not a management fad, but is now a considered to be good business practice embraced by the world's leading companies.
- The resistance to a management systems structure during the drafting process failed to take into account that the uptake of various aspects of ISO 26000, even on a voluntary basis, would likely occur via incorporation into management systems (such as EMSs, QMSs, etc.) already in place.
Nonetheless, to voice my clear support for ISO 26000 in its present form, it is simply the best available roadmap for organizations to follow in enhancing its commitment to CSR. Sustainability practitioners should be aware that ISO 26000's "bundle" of core topics (see below) is coextensive with "sustainable business practices" or the "ESG" (environment, social, governance) formulation favored by the financial sector.
Moratis and Cochius state that ISO 26000 "can be a highly useful guide in determining an organization's social responsibilities and helping it implement a proper SR strategy." The authors acknowledge that "despite its short history, a number of myths and misunderstandings regarding ISO 26000 have already surfaced." Among these, there is confusion about the scope of the standard; its application to different types of organizations; and its relationship with other standards." The authors promise upfront to describe what ISO 26000 is -- and is not. Their pragmatic starting point is: "Every organization should interpret CSR in a way that fits its activities, impacts and sphere of influence."
The meat of the book covers the four main clauses of ISO 26000. Clause 4 deals with SR Principles, the general principles on which ISO 26000 is based, and the starting point for any organization's SR policy. "A principle," the authors assert, "can be seen as a cornerstone for decision-making and behavior." The fundamental principles identified in ISO 26000 are:
- Ethical behavior
- Respect for stakeholder processes
- Respect for the rule of law
- Respect for international norms of behavior
- Respect for human rights
In the discussion of SR principles, the authors demonstrate that they are not "strict constructionists" in their interpretation of the standard. Indeed, in several places in the book, the authors chide the drafters of the standard for certain oversights. Here, they suggest that a few additional principles -- intergenerational, continual improvement, and sustainability impact -- should have made the final cut.
Clause 5, which is concerned with stakeholder identification and engagement, gets a full chapter treatment. The authors discuss "stakeholder mapping" approaches and other techniques. They observe , for example, that an analysis of the organization's value chain and dependency relationships will aid in identifying relevant stakeholders. Moratis and Cochius point out that stakeholder engagement is not an exercise drawn on a blank sheet of paper, since "some stakeholder expectations have been institutionalized within the law, culture or societal norms."
Clause 6 of the standard addresses in turn the seven core topics, but no book on ISO 26000 can hope to comprehensively deal with all the subjects in ISO 26000. The core topics covered in ISO 26000 are:
- Organizational governance
- Human rights
- Labor practices
- Fair operating practices
- Consumer issues
- Community involvement and development
The authors correctly observe that each of these subjects warrant -- and already have -- separate books dedicated to the task. Instead, in this relatively short (186 pages) guidebook, the authors provide a nice mix of background material, real-life examples, reflections, practical tools and "experiential implementation tips" that can be used in practice by different organizations. Under each core topic, the standard lays out several "issues" that organizations may need to address, if deemed relevant. Most helpfully in this chapter, the authors provide numerous boxes to illustrate each issue with a real world example.
Finally, Clause 7 of ISO 26000 explores the integration of SR throughout the organization. In part, this raises the question of how organizations should select SR priorities. In this chapter, the authors nicely handle important considerations such as "proportionality" and "sphere of influence." Beyond that, the authors posit the "deep integration" of SR into the organization. Moratis and Cochius have their own take on "CSR 2.0" or the next round in the evolution of CSR. "SR is not only integrated in systems, structures and procedures," say the authors, but "also wide support within the organization and its organizational culture."
Overall, Moratis and Cochius have presented us with a clear and concise guidebook to ISO 26000. Companies and organizations new to CSR activities will certainly find the book useful as a basic reference guide. Organizations with existing CSR initiatives will also benefit from this volume, since, as the authors suggest, ISO 26000 will likely be applied to increase the credibility of specific CSR claims. Before investing a large sum in the ISO 26000 standard itself (for example, it is available for $223 from ANSI, the national standards body in the US), a better initial approach for sustainability professionals may be to acquire the Moratis and Cochius book, which is available on Amazon.com for $55.
Soyka, Peter A. 2012. Creating a Sustainable Organization: Approaches for Enhancing Corporate Value through Sustainability.
Review prepared by ISSP member, Faye Sinnott.
Soyka, Peter A. 2012. Creating a Sustainable Organization: Approaches for Enhancing Corporate Value through Sustainability. New York. FT Press. February. ISBN-13: 978-0-13-287440-3, ISBN-10: 0-13-287440-7.
Peter Soyka’s book, Creating a Sustainable Organization is a very thoughtful and well-researched book designed to help businesses and their management respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by today’s emerging environmental issues. In a nutshell it shows us that:
- Well-chosen eco-efficiency initiatives improve corporate returns
- There is a strong correlation between strategic sustainability management practices and firm value
- Solid environmental management practices and execution lead to lower costs of capital
- Improved employee relations, strong environmental policies and performance and products with benign environmental health and safety characteristics reduce risks, thereby reducing corporate costs of capital.
Soyka shares his perspectives on what is needed to realize these gains with documented studies. He writes from a deep sense of values, and states his view: “sustainability is a value set, philosophy, and approach rooted in the belief organizations (corporations and otherwise) can and must materially contribute to the betterment of society” and must recognize the “larger interests of the societies in which they operate.”
Reflecting on the conflicting challenges facing today’s executives, Soyka builds the case that sustainability offers an effective framework for aligning the entire firm to achieve a culture dedicated to value creation. This has the power to increase the revenue stream and underlying customer base, improve earnings and/or cost controls, and to adequately understand and manage risk. He identifies multiple trends suggesting that adequate access to capital will increasingly be contingent on the quality of a company’s commitment to and implementation of sustainability, although much has to happen for this to be actually realized.
This is both an excellent reference and a pragmatic manual. I recommend it highly.
More detailed content description is below:
Soyka succinctly summarizes the overall thrust of the book in the first chapter. Each chapter following begins with an explanation of its content and ends with a thoughtful analysis of trends and implications for the future. The last chapter pulls everything together. As such, the reader can constructively focus on a few areas of key interest. However, most will want to read it in its entirety. Knowing where Soyka is going adds to the understanding of how he builds his case, chapter by chapter
The book gives a brief history of the regulatory movement, clearly showing the reason why Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) and sustainability were at first departments for compliance at least cost rather than investments for advantage. While identifying legal compliance and worker safety to be a performance baseline, Soyka specifically addresses how sustainability should be a player at the corporate strategy table because sustainability has a role in the development of strategic value creation for the firm. To get there, and to be maximally effective, the conversation starts with the firm’s mission and core values and long range objectives. Sustainability opportunities and challenges are then mapped to them. Top executives must be visible in sustainability planning and follow-through, and supportive of developing aligned corporate infrastructures and all-functions engagement. Ideally there is on-going Board level involvement. Soyka notes, “if constructed well, a sustainability framework flows from, rather than conflicting with, an organization’s strategy, priorities and values.” He also notes that, assuming all legal requirements are met, the sustainability team’s talents should be harnessed to help create strategic, value creating opportunities for the firm. The value-creation lens is also useful for prioritizing sustainability projects, and those kinds of projects historically have been correlated with positive investor and analyst ratings and valuations. Soyka recognizes that this orientation will clearly ask current sustainability and ESH/ES&G directors to “step up their game” to play in the policy and strategic levels. (He also recognizes that integration into strategy may have an adverse effect on the open sharing of successful practices across firms, as is currently prevalent in the EHS/ES&G profession.)
He has a very thorough discussion on integrating sustainability into a company’s DNA, and some excellent guidelines, checklists and organization-wide considerations that should be addressed.
He’s very good at capturing the executive perspective on costs, assets, revenues and profit, and uses his deep understanding of organizations to suggest how a sustainability lens can help protect current revenues and find new revenue opportunities, as well as help improve products and processes.
Soyka then moves to some of the business and public related trends in our world society. He reviews concepts such as the social “license to operate,” harkening back to the generally understood obligation in English common law that everyone avoid doing harm to others, as well as regulations arising from Congressional actions. He reviews the rising public expectations for corporations to “play by the rules” and minimize harm, the role of NGOs and social media in amplifying issues and voices, and the clamor for more transparency. He points out the percentage growth of company assets in the intangible asset class compared to capital assets and its implications for investor consideration and for management’s. This discussion of various stakeholders’ perspectives lays the groundwork for a deeper treatment of the power of markets and why investors have an interest in the sustainability of their corporate investments.
In Chapter 6, Soyka explains that an investor is looking for future returns from his investment, and value general comes in three ways:
- Revenue must grow, so the company is worth more in the future
- Earnings must also grow
- Risk must decline or remain steady
Therefore, effective sustainability information should tell the investor something about the future. The practice of sustainability investing involves determining the financial value that each firm’s sustainability/ES&G activities creates (or destroys), and evaluating this impact along with the other customary financial and industry/sector criteria. Soyka then reviews key financial and reporting documents – from the 8-K to Sarbanes-Oxley to the FASB’s issuance of FAS 143/FIN 47 mandating a probabilistic analysis of future environmental liabilities – and suggests how the role of ES&G information should continue to grow, especially in the area of appraising resource and liability risks. He also takes a fairly deep dive into the role being played by voluntary disclosure under the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in developing relevant sources of information (much still remains to be done), and the significant growth of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) and ES&G (and sustainability) investing.
There is a discussion on the definition of fiduciary duty for investment fund managers, and the 2005 and 2009 Freshfields Reports which determined that ES&G issues must be considered in the discharge of fiduciary duty, especially in the area of managing risk. The 2009 report noted that fiduciaries “will increasingly come to recognize the materiality of ES&G issues and the systemic risks they pose, as well as the long term costs of unsustainable development and its impacts on their portfolios.” This report, commissioned by the UN Environmental Program – Finance Initiative, holds more sway in non-United States markets than it does in the United States. This could change, especially if the U.S. Department of Labor issued a supportive interpretation of ERISA, or if there is action from the SEC to require or strongly encourage regular sustainability reporting by publicly traded corporations.
Soyka presents several detailed analyses of trends in sustainability reporting, the growth of large financial analysis organizations offering proprietary analysis including sustainability indicators, and the advent of financial reporting organizations – such as Bloomberg – including a set of consistent ES&G criteria, and in this case, based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting guidelines and including additional indicators by client request.
He then delves into studies designed to determine whether investments using sustainability criteria outperform those that don’t. His findings include:
- Positive investment screens and best-in-class approaches are most effective; rigid negative screening does NOT outperform, and may lag the market
- Climate change and regulatory concerns link to corporation default risks, and generally mean higher interest rates and costs and lower returns
- Investors are pricing in GHG emission intensities as if they will cause future cost escalations, resulting in lower returns
While credit market data is more limited than equity market data, the data that exists does suggest that the results may be parallel, that is, “sustainability posture and performance affect the return potential and risk of company securities.”
Most of Chapter 8 delves into issues related to defining, measuring and reporting sustainability performance. Soyka notes there are many data and reporting deficiencies and gaps that limit a firm’s ability to make their responses to sustainability issues as effective as possible. These same limitations hinder investor ability to comprehensively grasp and act on the factors that will separate the firms best positioned to adapt to sustainability challenges and opportunities from those less prepared. Soyka delineates the kinds of indicators that he believes will have the greatest effect for helping analysts assess companies. This includes such items as consistent, comparable, credible data on sustainability in the firm, and clear evidence of senior management control and engagement. The thread throughout is that there needs to be tighter integration of sustainability information and other more clearly financial and operating impact information. This presumes a tighter focus on sustainable value creation as a lens both for prioritizing sustainability projects and to drive the firm as a whole. The chapter recaps some of the efforts toward integrated reporting to date.
Soyka’s final chapter summarizes the challenges involved in understanding and effectively managing corporate sustainability. Central is his belief that effective sustainability management in the future will require a much more interdisciplinary, cross-functional, and strategic approach than has generally been the rule. This chapter describes a generalized approach, which Soyka believes can be applied to almost any company. He further describes several ES&G issues and the growing public concern about them that could result in significant regulatory activity, such as material/product restrictions under the REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) regulation of the EU, or mandatory ES&G disclosure imposed by the SEC, and a few others. This means the business environment may be much more dynamic and demanding than it has been. It raises the bar for the capabilities and personal characteristics of those who would lead sustainability efforts, either within companies or as advisors. Above all, Soyka believes that sustainability is rapidly becoming a core business imperative.
Lappe, F M (2011) Eco Mind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want. Nation Books: New York.
Reviewed by Marsha Willard, ISSP ED
The books I enjoy the most are those that make me question my beliefs and mental models and help me look at the world in a different way. Frances Moore Lappe’s book, Eco Mind, does just that. Her thesis is that the emotional power of our own ideas can either trap or free us. She maintains that our current mindset of scarcity promoted by well intentioned environmentalists (like you and me) creates a fear of being without that keeps us in an endless competitive struggle and undermines our capacity to come together and collaboratively solve today’s problems. We need to choose, she maintains, to think differently and shift our focus to enable us to break out of the old paradigms. To spark this shift, she organizes her book around seven “thought traps;” mental models that inadvertently perpetuate our fear and inability to act. The seven thought traps are:
- Endless growth is unsustainable so we must shift to a no-growth economy
- Consumerism and growing population drive endless exploitation of the earth
- We have to “power down” and live within the limits of the planet
- We have to learn to over come our inherently human characteristics of greed, selfishness and materialism.
- We have to coerce people into doing the right things because otherwise our message looks like an erosion of personal freedom
- We are so disconnected from Nature that people no longer have a love or respect for the environment
- It’s too late! We’re so far gone there is no hope.
That list should have gotten your attention. What? Is she saying growth and consumerism is good? No, not at all. Lappe puts a different spin on each that will leave you thinking differently about these things.
I’ll illustrate what I mean with her chapter on what she maintains is the misdirected “no growth” attitude. Her contention is that what we have been historically calling economic growth has really resulted in very little growth at all of anything of value. What we have actually ‘grown’ is waste and destruction and the wealth of the 1%, while in the process throwing millions of people into poverty and power and authority concentrated into the hands of a few. The flaw, she says, is not the concept of growth per se, but in what we have chosen to grow - primarily short and immediate returns on the financial investments of current wealth holders. In the end we actually create scarcity out of plenty and are losing our hold on transparency and public participation and distorting public decision making in the process. I encourage you to read the book to open your mind to the other thought traps we are carrying around and hopefully contribute to a different kind of conversation.
Twist, Lynne (2003) The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources. WW Norton: New York, NY.
This is a book about the excessive impact money has on our lives and also how we can realign how we use money to our values. She tells some interesting stories. I was especially moved by the stories from the Women’s Conference, including that of an Indian woman who came to tell her story of being burned by her family (an all too common practice associated with the dowry) before she died so that her life could have meaning.
One story captures the essence of the book. Lynne helped start the Hunger Project and acted as fund-raiser. She was speaking in the late 1970’s in Harlem to an audience who barely had two cents to rub together. The basement of old church was filled with the plink-plink of drips from leaking ceilings hitting buckets below. After talking about the Project’s commitment in Africa, it came time to request donations, an ‘ask’ filled with misgivings in that setting, hers the only White face in the room.
After dead silence, Gertrude, a gray-haired woman stood up. “Now, I ain’t got no checkbook and I ain’t go no credit cards. To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks it rushes through their life like a raging river. Money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It is also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman’s wash and I want to give it to you.”
Twist talks about the need to foster a culture of enough, of sufficiency. While our culture is steeped in insufficiency (never enough time or money), which leads to mean-spiritedness and competition, we can foster a culture of sufficiency and focus on appreciation, which fosters pride, self-sufficiency and collaboration. She tells the story of the Magnificent Seven, a handful of people in an area Bangladesh, Sylhet, where the citizens had all but given up on their homeland. It had been degraded and flooded and overrun with poisonous invasive plants. They bought into being needy, waiting for the UN to bring aid. But through a series of asset-based meetings, the people began to envision what they wanted for their community, and seven men formed a concept called the Chowtee Project: A Bold Step for Self-Reliance. They took back the land, involved the young people who had turned to crime. They uncovered an unknown lake and stream loaded with fish. They now had all they needed: produce, fish, the vision, the muscle and the creativity to succeed.
The last concept that stuck with me was the importance of making a stand. Their Project was in Tamil Nadu in India where it was still a secret practice to kill baby girls. A small group of women gathered to talk about their shame and guilt. Each had killed at least one daughter herself and had helped other women do the same. In this safe enclave they talked about the experience and broke the taboo. After purging their pain, the committed to stop this practice of infanticide and to help other women stop it as well. They committed never to participate in the practice again and if they heard of a planned infanticide, they would do what they could to stop it. . They would be the generation to stop this terrible practice. Later they told Lynne that they could not have been able to take this strong stand without the eyes and ears of outsiders. They had wanted to speak out before but could not within their own culture. They were ready to change the dowry system at the root of this evil. A famous set of movie stars joined the campaign and made a short film promoting reverence for baby girls. A popular singer followed suit. Journalists began to report the story. And today, the practice of paying a dowry is no longer assumed and girls are becoming significant wage earners. That is the power of 16 women getting together and publicly refusing to go along with an insane and inhumane cultural practice.
While many of these stories stem from the developing world, the messages are all the more poignant set in our society of plenty, some might say excess. We certainly have enough and our society would be happier and healthier if we tapped into gratitude and the power of self-sufficiency.
Thanks to my membership in the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), I learned about Street Smart Sustainability by David Mager and Joe Sibilia. The book’s sub-title is “the entrepreneur’s guide to profitably greening your organization’s DNA.” And while the authors’ explicit aim is to provide small and medium business owners and CEO’s with the information and tools needed to successfully adopt sustainable practices into their products and workplaces, I found a wealth of material that is transferable to government settings and larger organizations.
Briefly, Mager and Sibilia are two of the most knowledgeable and experienced sustainability professionals anywhere. David Mager, President of Major Solutions, helped organize the first Earth Day, consulted with more than 300 companies to help them become greener, and worked with the federal government and EPA. Joe Sibilia is founder and CEO of Meadowbrook Lane Capital, a social responsible investment bank and CSRWire.com, a digital news service on corporate social responsibility and sustainability.
I like this book a lot. It covers the fundamentals—leadership for green starts at the top, the mission statement, employee input (including a sample survey instrument), engagement and incentives, among other things. It also dives headlong into that territory that is the real work (and reward!) of implementing sustainable policies and practices—metrics and measurement, audits, and certification. The authors hold the readers’ hands, thank you very much, and show the way. I also appreciate that the authors tackle topical issues—product design, facility/worksite, energy consumption, carbon footprint mitigation, purchasing (including a question checklist for vendors), and recycling and so-called waste. Throughout, there are numerous and encouraging examples of companies that faced challenges similar to those working to green their organizations and how they successfully met them.
(Note: This review and links to more information and how to purchase the book are available at http://greenworksgov.org/street-smart-sustainability)
Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. New World Library: Novato, CA.
This is an antidote to the despair many of us in the sustainability profession feel about the state of the world. The authors provide concepts and tools for us to find satisfaction in our efforts beside the challenges. It includes stories and also exercises and in this way is similar to doing one of Joanna’s workshops, although doing it alone will not be as impactful.
The problems we face are so daunting that many people turn away or get burned out. But the authors maintain that hope has two meanings. The first is related to hopefulness, that you think the outcomes you want will come to pass. This form of hope in the face of climate change and species extinction can lead to despair. But hope is also about desire, what you’d like to have happen in the world. “Active hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have.” The steps of active hope are:
--Take a clear view of reality
--Identify what you hope for (direction and values)
--Take steps to move the situation and ourselves in that direction
“Since Active Hope doesn’t require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless.” (p3)
We are encouraged to see our striving as similar to the many hero’s journey stories (Odyssey, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.) where an apparently ill-prepared protagonist embarks on a journey where there is no guarantee of success. They face many obstacles on their path, engage others in the quest, summon unknown inner resources, and develop along the way.
The authors also encourage us to see ourselves and our efforts in a larger context. We may only be doing a little piece but we are part of the Great Turning. I loved how rainforest activist John Seed described his efforts:
“I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am the part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.” (p 94)
The book lays out three different types of actions needed: holding actions (to preserve what we have); life sustaining systems and practices; and shift in consciousness. You may be more drawn to one type of action or another or you might evolve from one to another. In any case, this book and the concepts in it are useful tools to take on your hero’s journey.