Green Meme: Do good *and* do well

This makes me nuts:

“You have to choose between doing good and making money. That’s just how the system is set up.”

In other words, you’ll get dinged for doing good.

It shows up in articles like this, with a convenient strawman of theoretical lawsuits and an entrenched misunderstanding of governance laws.


Can Firms Aim to Do Good If It Hurts Profit?

Blake Jones of Boulder, Colo., is one of the many modern entrepreneurs who say their goals extend beyond increasing the bottom line to such pursuits as reducing child poverty or protecting the environment. But he worries that embracing a mission other than maximizing profits could open the door to shareholder lawsuits because of decades-old corporate governance laws.

Utter nonsense.

It’s a false choice to say that it has to be one or the other.

(As a side note, Professor Lynn Stout has definitely staked the heart of the “Boards have a fiduciary requirement to maximize returns” belief. No. They don’t. See her book The Shareholder Value Myth. Why won’t this meme die?)

Responsible businesses do both today.


Saving the world or getting healthy returns is a false choice in finance

So, which is it for you: whales or your wallet? Do you want to save the world, or do you want financial success? Anna Laycock from Ecology Building Society is on hand to prove that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

The long-term game here is about living and working responsibly today so that future people have the same chance. And yes, that means living and working profitably.

This is what responsible business have always done. Maximizing short-term gains is the newcomer to the table, courtesy of instantaneous trading and revolving door CEOs.

So when someone says that you can’t do well by doing good, walk the other way. They don’t have your–and your children’s–best interest at heart.

In fact, I’d question if they have a heart at all.

Green Communications: Simple CO2 Story

A picture’s worth a thousand words.

Here’s a lovely use of an infographic to tell the CO2 story.

It covers the what, how much, by when and so what questions compellingly and with imagination.

Via the beautiful minds at

How many gigatons of CO2?….









Double click for bigger.

Green Shift: Life is complicated. So tell simple stories

Simple stories help us understand.

The more complex your issue is, the more you need a simple story.

Which might be why Storytelling is so hot in Sustainability communications right now.

As well it should be.

Climate change is the quantum physics, the Abolitionist Movement, the Moon Shot of our time.

Think it can’t be done? Einstein and Lincoln figured out how to boil things down for their audiences.

Even with outlandishly complicated topics. Think E=mc2. And Lincoln’s second inaugural.

So did President Kennedy:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Notice how simple they are?

And yes, I know that life is complicated and sometimes there’s more than one right answer. I get that.

That’s precisely why it’s all the more important that we tell the most important stories simply.

So people know why something is important, how they are part of it, and what they should do.

Simple stories pass the gut check. People can tell that you are telling the truth. (Liars use simple stories too, but that’s another post.)

If you want to learn about really good Sustainability storytelling, check out the creative people at Story of Stuff. Here’s their story:

Changing the way we make, use, and throw away Stuff so that we have a happier and healthier planet.

I heart the heck out of this twitpic they posted recently:


Simple, right?

Story of Stuff  is powered by storytelling firm Free Range,who I heard at the NYC Greenbiz Forum earlier this month.

This is Free Range’s story:

Great stories make great things possible.

Couldn’t agree more. They ran a workshop where we were all encouraged to come up with our own story.

Here’s mine (in process):

Writing for a bluer, greener world.

When you can tell a very simple story, you know who you are, and why you are here.

What’s yours?

Green Shift: Message, Meet Messenger

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.


Take our planet’s climate crisis. Terrifying.

As in:

“Unless We Take Action On Climate Change, Future Generations Will Be Roasted, Toasted, Fried And Grilled”

(This from a banker, no less.)

On the bright side, the coming on of wind and solar energy, of smart grids and resilient planning, is exciting.

So how we talk about climate change, energy policy, and everything else in the sustainability conversation, really matters.

As a communications person, this is my job:

Help people understand. So they take action.

Surprisingly (or not, if you’ve been there), the first hurdle is getting everyone on the team working together. Muddled messaging wreaks major havoc.

A new article talks about this very issue.

Adam James at American Progress wrote a thoughtful piece about resolving differences of opinion and approach in the new energy community.


Energy Innovation vs. Deployment: Addressing Differences on Communications and Policy

He breaks the problem and solution down into three steps:

1. Get clear about messaging

What can be done? First, separate the communications debate from the policy debate, and try to have a real conversation about the merits of each messaging approach given the outcomes we are trying to achieve.

2. Get clear about messages

Second, discuss the policy agenda outside the context of this conversation about messaging, to isolate the items where there is substantial agreement.

3. Rally around agreement

Third, galvanize around the agenda items where there is significant agreement, and push for those policies based on whatever strategy can be salvaged out of the communications discussion.

As an illustration of the above in action, I’d probably swap the first two points (#1).  So the message drives messaging (#2). But that’s just a quibble (#3).

I firmly believe that when people know better, they do better. As a messenger, it’s my job to help that happen.

Green Politics: Provo Mayor Edits the S-Word

Time to stand up for the S-word.


Most people I talk to still don’t know what this word means.  I have to say, “Like green. But bigger. Everything a company or community does to stop messing up the planet.”

That generally makes the light bulb go on. In my experience, there is still a pretty low awareness of Sustainability as a profitable business approach.

So we know there’s a gap in understanding. That’s why there is real, honest debate about the S-Word in the corporate and environmental communities.

Like this: Joel  Makower’s Why Sustainability Execs Should Shun the S-Word

And this:  Matt Polsky’s Do We Still Need the S-Word?

And even the “let’s come up with something better”: Kathrin Winkler’s An idea for 2013: Crowdsourcing Sustainability

For myself, I land on the S-word side. Sustainability is a perfectly good word.

Imperfect, perhaps, in explaining the full spectrum of doing right the right things for people, profits and the planet. But generally positive and moving in the right direction.

Which is why it makes me nuts when a political group grabs hold and twists it into something else.

Get this. The major of Provo, Utah, John Curtis, has acquiesced to Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists’ concerns and said he won’t use the S-word anymore.

Provo Mayor Accused Of Participating In Agenda 21

(KUTV) Tonight the mayor of a Utah County city is editing his words after accusations that Provo might be under the control of a sinister plan by the United Nations to take over the world.

Mayor John Curtis wrote a blog, mostly tongue in cheek, saying he will no longer use the word “sustainable” when talking about the city’s budget

When Curtis says sustainable budget he says it means not spending more money than the city has. But there is a world out there, lead primarily by glen beck who says sustainability is just a code word for a United Nations environmental scheme to take over the world by eliminating property rights. The program is known as Agenda 21.

Curtis was perplexed by accusations of Agenda 21 agents infiltrating Provo and he says many residents have told the mayor to watch his back.

Curtis began researching Agenda 21 and he stumbled upon a list of 100 words to watch for to see if your city council is under UN control and at the top of the list is sustainability.  The list contains many other words city governments use all the time.

Curtis says Provo leaders are only influenced by Provo voters but sometimes he says getting some people to believe him isn’t always sustainable.

“The moment you tell them you don’t have to worry about Agenda 21,” Curtis says, “they worry about agenda 21.”

Mayor Curtis seems to have his sense of humor intact and his priorities straight. In essence, he’s saying: Fine. You don’t like me using a certain word because for you it has connections to a conspiracy theory? Then I won’t use it. Problem solved. Now on to the People’s Business.

He says as much on his blog.


Sustainability is Officially Out in Provo

Merriam-Websterdefines sustainability as “using a resource so that the resource is not depleted.” For three years we have been using the word sustainable in reference to our budget. The intent is that we want a budget that is based on principles that endure. In other words, if our budget is sustainable  we are not spending more than our revenue. I know what your thinking – government never worries about how it spends its money. Right?I’ve sadly learned coming into elected office that too often elected officials spend money they don’t have. It’s the easy thing to do to kick the can down the road and let the next group of elected officials deal with problems. One of the aspects I admire most about our City Council members is that they get it. They are willing to make the hard decisions today to protect the fiscal future of our City.None of that has changed but I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to have a better name. I could live with the fact that some thought of the green movement when they heard us use the term “sustainability” but now something called Agenda 21 is convincing people that the word is evil and that anyone who uses it is working with the United Nations to overthrow civilization as we know it! (cue the Darth Vader music) If this is the case, they’re really good because no UN official has EVER contacted me – very stealth!So if you hear I’m in league with the United Nations to destroy Provo because I use the term “sustainability” you’ll likely first scratch your head and then understand why I think I need to find a better word to describe our efforts.

Mayor Curtis is quite rightly (in my book) using Sustainable to mean governing sensibly for the City’s fiscal future.

So the problem here isn’t with the word. The problem is with the people who are twisting it.

I suspect that Mayor Curtis is doing a bit of face-saving here. I admire and respect Mayor Curtis’ attempt to thread the needle. If it makes people happy that he won’t use “that word,” and it means he can get on with running the city, that seems fair enough.

But when we appease bullies, they keep pushing. Don’t be surprised if they come back and tell you there’s another word you can’t use. I’m not worried at all about Mayor Curtis. He seems more than up for the challenge.

Green Shift: Morals or Money? Let’s Talk About Climate Change

Morals or Money?

The Sustainability conversation hinges on these levers.

What’s the best way to convince people to change how they live? What they buy? To be more sustainable?

On one hand, we can urge people to take care of the earth because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s the morals case.

This includes appealing to peoples’ sense of fairness and rightness and desires to leave a good healthy world for future generations.

While that is a compelling draw in many arenas, the moral case doesn’t fly in the business world or with all groups of people.

The other hand says that the way to sell Sustainability is to demonstrate that there will be cost savings and revenue opportunities.

That’s the money case.

Convince your CFO that making the supply chain more efficient (and reducing carbon emissions) will save money and speed time to market.

Or show your neighbor that swapping out incandescents for CFLs will lower his energy bill.

So which approach is more effective?

Guardian writer Adam Corner examines the morals-or-money research in this new article and comes out on the morals side.


Moral case for sustainability more effective than economic?

A recent Dutch study suggests that engaging the public in the moral rather than economic case for sustainability might be more effective, with lessons to be learned at policy level

He followed up a few days later another article that applies this research to the real-world roll out of the UK’s new Green Deal energy efficiency program.


The Green Deal: What happened to climate change
The dangers of using an overly-economic framing for cli­mate change and sus­tain­ab­ility mes­sages are well doc­u­mented.

For one, pro­moting the Green Deal to people in this way will do abso­lutely nothing to make the next big ini­ti­ative – per­haps a big push on public trans­port – any easier. No-one is being encour­aged to think about what cli­mate change means, or how dif­ferent beha­viours (around the home, and when com­muting, for example) might be related. No-one is being encouraged to think about cli­mate change at all.

The exclus­ively eco­nomic framing of the government’s flag­ship public engage­ment policy sends a clear mes­sage: we should take part in the Green Deal because we might make a few quid – or at worst, not lose any.

As Corner points out, the research shows that when incentives disappear, so do the new behaviors. By focusing too much on the money, he argues, the UK government might be missing a huge opportunity to start a game-changing conversation about Climate Change.

The practical, rubber-meets-the-road answer of course, as with any complex problem, is that we need to use all the persuasions available to us. Not morals or money. Both.

The morals case asks us to change our behaviors for the future, and the money case helps bridge the gap to get there.

I believe–and incentives research backs me up–that when you give people the chance to do the right thing, with a full understanding of what’s at stake and how much things cost–more often than not, they will.