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Sustainability. Green. Renewables. Resilience. These buzzwords seem to be popping up everywhere.

That’s because global climate change is here and now. As a coastal state, we’re already feeling the impacts of climate change because we’re vulnerable to storms, flooding and sea level rise. And, we know more is coming, based on research not only from global organizations like the IPCC but NJ’s own Climate Change Impacts Report.

Big businesses are already getting ready, spending millions of dollars on hardening their infrastructure and reevaluating where their raw materials come from and how they get produced.

But what about smaller businesses, especially right here in the Garden State? Here’s five great NJ sustainable business resources for small business owners.

1. Got 5 Minutes? Grab some ideas from this “Go Green” guide just for small businesses from the NJ Small Business Assistance Program.

3. Got 15 Minutes? Sign up for free webinars, resources and networking opportunities from the American Sustainable Business Council.

3. Got a few hours? Schedule a free NJ Clean Energy Program energy assessment. Attend the next New Jersey WasteWise Business Network meeting on Nov. 13.

4. Got some time after work? Drop in to you town’s Environmental Commission or Chamber of Commerce to talk with people in your community about energy efficiency, recycling, renewable energy, and whatever else is on your mind.

If your hometown or the town your business is in is part of Sustainable Jersey’s program, check out their programs to go green, save money and make your community a great place to live.

5. Got a day+: Join the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s new Sustainable Business Registry that provides resources and recognition for businesses that adopt sustainability practices.

If you aren’t sure where to start, you can meet with a NJ Small Business Development Center sustainability consultant for free, one-on-one Pollution Prevention and Sustainability help.

These resources can help you make sure your business stronger than the (next) storm, but that’s just a beginning. Really, being a “sustainable business” is just what small business owners have always done: save money on energy, make less waste, create new ways to serve customers better than your competitors, and contribute to your community’s wellbeing.

Being a sustainable business owner is all about doing business today so all of us can thrive tomorrow. It’s about helping people, places, and businesses be better in every way, for all of us.

This guest post is by my friend and colleague Matt Polsky.

Matt Polsky is a sustainability change agent, a Montclair State University professor and a Senior Fellow at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise.

What I find immensely valuable about this post is Matt’s list of sustainable development successes and failures in our state.

The initiatives that are going well deserve our support.

The failures deserve our attention because most of them were great programs that failed because they weren’t in the right place at the right time–politically, economically, or because of a lack of vision.

I believe that all the hard work that brought them into being once can be re-vitalized once we’re in greener political, economic, and social pastures.

One specific example is the report Matt mentions that offers guidance and recommendations for a sustainable business-oriented economy.

It got shelved. And it can be un-shelved.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And we won’t be starting from scratch.

* * * * * *

A Look at Sustainable Development in New Jersey: How Have We Done & What Are the Opportunities–If We Want Them?

Part 1

By: Matt Polsky

“Achieving sustainable development is the overriding challenge of the 21st century,” according to the United Nations General Assembly President, Vuk  Jeremic, although to this day most have never heard of it or know little about it.  Here in New Jersey, we have had a blotchy past with it, with some success stories, but with many I’d have to say blown opportunities.

This may be due to a widely shared and thoroughly bi-partisan attitude: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”  This mindset precludes curiosity among policy-makers to learn about emerging global threats, as well as new ways to address them, such as green economic development.

It could be that the stream of always-ready-to-take-the-stage, attention-absorbing controversies such as “Bridge-gate;” the perceived need for continual updates to changing political horseraces; as well as some serious events like 9/11, the financial melt-down, and Sandy–by their nature, drown out more subtle and nuanced topics.

Or it could be that the growing number of citizens actually interested in and involved with sustainability have just given up on government and public policy as a means to get there, and prefer to work things out in quieter corners.

I offer this three-parter hoping we (government included) have it within ourselves to be able to break through the “we don’t know what we don’t know” mental trap,  are willing to tackle some serious longer term global and other difficult issues (and some no longer so long term) to which we’re not as immune as we might like to think, and take advantage of some of the beneficial properties offered by sustainability.

If we could at least suspend those cynical outlooks, find a little time to be reflective, and are willing to remember that most of us probably once enjoyed learning new things and being challenged, we just might find some useful directions for the future.

Benefits of a Sustainability Approach
Sustainability offers insights from newer fields with which we might not be familiar, including hybrids of traditional fields we tend to miss, such as social entrepreneurship; and the deepening convergence between the economic and environmental sides of what might seem the oxymoronic sustainable business sector.  We could take better advantage of promising ideas from around the world, and certainly could be more creative in encouraging and looking for new approaches in places where we might not think to find them.  But these are only available to us if we are willing to go outside our collective comfort zones.

This Series
Most of the rest of this piece describes the often one-step forward-one-step backwards pattern of our state’s historical involvement with sustainable development.

Part 2 will describe the emerging sustainable business field, a major part of and development within sustainability, with an increasing number of companies now ready to hear more than the constrained message: “I’m willing to do something sustainable but only if it saves me money.”  This supports this field’s larger potential, which could be taken advantage of and made the theme of our overall state economic development strategy.  But, as things stand, it won’t be.

The series will end in Part 3 with a discussion of the soon-to-to be publicly launched NJDEP Sustainable Business Initiative.  This Initiative, while improved from its early conception through stakeholder participation and a considerable willingness of agency staffers to listen, could be expanded further and made the centerpiece upon which to build this integrated environmental/economic strategy.

The Checkered New Jersey Past
A history lesson shows both the successes and self-inflicted failures of sustainability efforts in New Jersey.

The failures list is, unfortunately, more heavily weighted, and shows the sheer number of opportunities and initiatives we simply gave away.

At the risk of appearing negative, as I could get hit by a bus tomorrow it is important to generate this historical record for those becoming interested in sustainability, and possibly as a way to capture “lessons learned,” in order to accelerate the learning curves of any future do-overs.

For instance, I was recently asked by a Rutgers student for the lessons from a failed eco-industrial park project in Trenton several years ago. This is the idea, pioneered in Denmark, of a near-Zero pollution-generating cluster of co-located businesses, that link each participant’s waste with another’s raw material needs, in order to save at both ends.  While it was a little bitter to reflect on a “failure,” I was happy to be able to inform students how they might avoid some unanticipated and annoying problems should they wish to try again.  Perhaps even historical “failures” don’t have to stay that way.

Sustainability Successes
Probably the largest sustainability success story in New Jersey has been the involvement now of 410 municipalities in becoming certified by Sustainable Jersey, including emerging and now emerged stars such as Montclair, Woodbridge, Highland Park, and Morristown.

I was initially more skeptic than proponent, but they won me over by:

*their development of an increasing range of activities from which towns could choose in their pursuit of certification;

*the use of tiers to distinguish a minimum level of sustainability actions from the strivers;

*its unarguable immense popularity; and

*their reach-out to teach and learn from another country, Taiwan, demonstrating the feasibility of overcoming a common limitation of a sustainable communities mindset that only the local municipality is relevant to sustainability.

More recently, they displayed a willingness to go into the unknown and try to figure out what “Gold-level” certification would mean in practice.  That is, what would a truly sustainable municipality look like-a very difficult if necessary stretch if we truly take sustainability seriously.

There certainly have been some other successes, such as:

*the Dodge Foundation’s support of Sustainable Jersey;

*the longevity of, and green buildings manuals produced by, the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability, and some of its member college’s relatively new educational offerings;

*the cutting edge lectures on sustainable business ideas at my institution, Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise (ISE), and the occasional conferences by Ramapo College;

*the more localized efforts, such as Transition Jersey’s lectures in Newton;

*the growing number of farmer’s markets throughout the state;

*the interfaith group, GreenFaith’s, efforts to bring sustainability to houses of worship;

*the re-missioning of  Duke Gardens to become a showcase of sustainable practice;

*the efforts of some K-12 educators, architects and planners and their organizations to add their orientations to the field; and

*the better-known overall solar power performance of the state.

Sustainability Failures
The self-inflicted tragedies include:

*The demise of the pioneering Office of Sustainable Business within state government, which had begun to help very green businesses and develop policies to support them.

*A past NJDEP Administrative Order, and then a Governor’s Executive Order to make the agency’s, and then the State’s policies, consistent with sustainability.

*These led to a series of recommendations generated by staff and some outside stakeholders, and subsequently accepted by senior management, first within NJDEP, and then by all state agencies, for new or revised sustainability policies and actions.  These were published, but subsequently ignored by succeeding NJDEP Commissioners and Governors, respectively.  The press missed the story, and neither the Legislature or the environmental community showed any interest in their traditional roles of ensuring government accountability.

*The establishment of a Sustainable State Institute at Rutgers to guide state-wide sustainability thinking and issue updates of the state’s performance on a range of sustainability indicators, which Rutgers, for some reason, ended a few years later

*A White Paper and Report by ISE for state government which provided guidance and recommendations for a sustainable business-oriented economy, which have been ignored.

*My own Institute’s discontinuance of a new graduate Certificate program for managing sustainably lauded by the pioneering (as well as final) class.

*The near-ending of thinking about how New Jersey could be both a model for, as well as learn from worthy international sustainability actions, such as Netherlands-style covenants between government and businesses, which involved long term very ambitious environmental goal-setting, to which both  would mutually commit.

*Environmental/business partnerships, such as the Green and Gold Task Force, to try to cooperatively address some regulatory issues.

*State actions to mitigate climate change, itself with a looping start-stop-start-now stop historic pattern.

*Repeated efforts over the years to alert Legislators of both parties, including some of the environmental leading lights, succeeding Governors’ Offices and NJDEP Commissioners of the possibilities have been ignored-to this day. Most have not even responded.

*This lack of interest is unfortunately shared by the media (with very few exceptions, such as the “GrassRoots” section of The Daily Record), possibly not seeing any of this as newsworthy.

*Even the environmental community has not been overly interested in integrating green economy ideas into their work, or perhaps continues to see it as impossible. They have not, by and large, undertook the ambitious partnerships with businesses seen elsewhere, including working with companies to understand and value the latter’s economic dependence on healthy ecosystems, thus missing out on opening an entirely new front in protecting the environment.

I’m surely missing some in both the successes and failures columns.

In the next Part I will look at “something new under the sun” possibilities for a green economy, and discuss some opportunities that could still be seized-if that’s what someday we choose to do.

Regaining real leadership won’t be easy, will require rare vision, and won’t be feasible at all with fleeting attention spans.

Little-better isn’t going to cut it. Nor will less-than-last-year.

No. If businesses want to survive the changes coming down the pike from climate change, it’s time for something bigger.

Here’s my review of Andrew Winston’s new book:

The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World (Hardcover)

* * *

It’s quite the balancing act to talk about humanity’s coming catastrophes with a rational, business-minded focus, but strategist and author Andrew Winston pulls it off.

That’s because he knows what he’s talking about. As he and others have said, “Business can’t succeed in a world that fails.”

To start, Winston briskly and clearly lays out the science. Failing is what awaits us if businesses don’t start getting ready for climate-change fueled weather disasters, resource scarcities and a radically transparent global marketplace. What’s needed is for businesses to make The Big Pivot to low/no-carbon, climate-resilient practices and strategies.

Then, on to examples. Winston knows The Big Pivot–rapid and radical business transformation–is possible because he’s seen and helped companies do it. He shares stories to prove that change can come from decisive leadership rather than just the stick of regulation or crisis. These up-to-date case studies are perfect, sharable examples of what leading companies are doing today.

And finally, he offers 10 strategies that show why and how your company or organization can make big, bold moves for equally big returns on business stability and profitability. I’m inspired by Winston’s call for businesses to buck the short-term safety of a quarterly profits-obsessed status quo. It’s time to pivot to a focus on long-term, science-based realities.

With a certain climate-challenged future ahead of us, The Big Pivot gives us a realist’s path to making sure it’s a prosperous one too.

New rule: One solutions post for every teeth-knasher.

Here’s a positive, upbeat, solutions-focused article on what UK-retailer Marks & Spencer is doing to make the world better.

And a list of circular economy ideas that can be applied across other industries.

Via The Guardian:

The 10 ways sustainability professionals can scale up the circular economy

I’ve never met a sustainability professional who doesn’t agree that the circular economy is critical to our future in a resource constrained world. It’s not a new concept, 10 bob for your old pop bottle was big when I was growing up in the 1970s, and there are countless examples that prove the business case.

 

Green Links: Friday Round-up

October 18th, 2013 | Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Links - (0 Comments)

So much good stuff.

DVR Alert! A new “Climate Tipping Points” TV series starts Sunday at 9pm EDT http://wxug.us/18tli 

If you want great cities, grow good citizens. Cogent truth from future-thinker Alex Steffen http://www.alexsteffen.com/2013/10/reboot-the-civic-sphere/ …

Super piece on perverse outcomes of pay & price transparency, for corporate responsibility and metrics folks
http://www.thelowdownblog.com/2013/10/open-season-on-ceo-pay.html …

Incongruity meet sustainability: Sustainable business leaders call on Obama to approve Keystone XL pipeline?
http://goo.gl/fb/72A6K

Meme tracker: Carbon Tracker says that climate communication memes like “unburnable” and “stranded assets” are showing up in sell-side conversations. http://shar.es/EEMKp

Air pollution causally linked to cancer. What are the implications for the U.S. EPA, climate action and sustainable business? http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/17/2795791/air-pollution-cancer/ …

Fuzzy and unclear no more. A new Green Building certification puts rigor to Net Zero Energy certification http://fb.me/10D8PuPMc 

Financial astrologers? Surely it’s snark? http://on.ft.com/GSItEp  Or a re-tread of this 2007 article?: http://on.ft.com/1hZJWEG

 

Big Data is a big deal. But it’s not the Be All and End All.

Just because you can analyze everything, doesn’t mean you should.

Or that it will help you solve your problem.

Here’s Part 7 of my co-authored series on Sustainability Metrics Pitfalls for Greenbiz.com.

Dodging Big Data’s big problems

Many people are very high on Big Data. Perhaps they are right to be. Like many of the earlier pitfalls, but even more so here, are there things this super-powered use of numbers might be blocking us from seeing? As Big Data lets the forest become more understandable (both metaphorically and literally), will we miss more lessons from the trees?

The increasing emphasis on data, technology and efficiency will not make it any easier to ignore the still commonly downplayed social and equity side of sustainability. But perhaps, if privacy and the other above concerns with Big Data are faced with foresight, creativity and an enhanced sense of fairness, we might find that they actually help us move towards sustainability, surprising the skeptics among us.

And then we might possibly avoid the common fate of earlier breakthrough technologies: one step forward, followed by a half step back — at the least.

Just when you think you’ve got a system, life throws you a curve ball.

Here’s Part 6 of my co-authored series on Sustainability Metrics Pitfalls for Greenbiz.com.

We dive into how Sabremetrics has changed the business of baseball, and come up with practical resources for Sustainability practitioners to keep their eye on the ball.

What “Moneyball” can teach us about sustainability metrics

One theme of this article (and to a degree, the entire series) is to consider what you’re not measuring and the possible relevance to sustainability. Other than the education field, probably nothing shows this more starkly than sports.

Life’s complicated. That’s the simple part.

Here’s Part 5 of my co-authored series on Sustainability Metrics Pitfalls for Greenbiz.com. We dive deeper into Complexity scholarship and offer some practical resources for Sustainability practitioners to make things simpler.

Why Sustainability Metrics Need to Mix Simplicity With Complexity

Over the course of this series, we’ve described pitfalls where steps that look like the right course sometimes backfire. Life cycle analysis, for instance, may lead to a surprise about the assumed high priority of recycling for every item.

But systems thinking is hard. So in this piece, while we continue to provide additional reasons why it’s essential, we add some “practically idealistic” ideas to make it more feasible.

 

The devil’s in the (complicated) details.

You know the old joke that if a problem can be fixed with money, it’s not a problem?

Same goes for measuring Sustainability. If a measurement problem can be fixed with numbers, it wasn’t much of a problem to start with.

Real problems are complex.

Here’s Part 4 of my co-written series on Sustainability Metrics for Greenbiz.com:

Why Complexity Matters When Measuring Sustainability

We note that systems thinking is starting to come up in sustainable business conversations, but remain concerned about persistent mindsets that ignore complexity. Without it, sustainability practitioners are unequipped to grapple with a point that should come up early in metrics work: “Did we just miss something very important?”

Too many articles implicitly distill big problems into linear, simpler solutions. While the latter have an important place, the large reliance on them fails the global test — in all senses of the term — that our world’s challenges demand.

Catastrophic weather events are bad for business.

Everyone agrees.

Which prompts New York Times economics reportor Eduardo Porter to ask:

If there were one American industry that would be particularly worried about climate change it would have to be insurance, right?

And if insurers are worried, then the reinsurers–the people who back up primary insurers–have reason to worry too.

The whole article is interesting, but I struck by the potential for alliance-building across politicized lines.

Here it is:  For Insurers, No Doubt on Climate Change

But take a look at how the headline is slightly different in the browser bar and link:

Insurers Stray from Conservative Line on Climate Change

See that? This alternate headline zeros in on the point in the article that there are growing interests on the Conservative side of American politics for dealing with climate change. People who think, like I do, that human-caused climate change is the top issue for humanity. And business.

Now, this is still the “Money” argument for climate change action. “It’s in our best interests financially to do something about it, sooner than later.”

My preference is for the “Morals” perspective. “Let’s work together on climate change because it’s the right thing to do for humanity and the species we share Earth with.”

But honestly, I don’t care how we get to climate change common ground.

It’s a pretty good idea, actually to have people in the room who know how to assess, calculate and monetize risk.

Bring on the bankers and insurance professionals and let’s work together.