Thursday, January 31, 2008

Intel's Image

Ryan at Worldchanging Business posted yesterday about Intel's new "environment" site. He commends Intel for the site's design, its inclusion of detailed information about commitments, and notes that the launch of the site is an especially meaningful move given how prominently it's featured on Intel's company home page. "Intel’s new environment site makes understanding its achievements in and goals for its impacts on the environment easy."

The commitments are important, and Ryan makes a great point about the prominence of the site, but, while I do think Intel is now presenting its information in a comparably understandable way, I don't think any list of sustainability-related achievements or goals can be truly easy to understand unless those achievements and goals are put into context. As a consumer wanting to make a choice, I want Intel to tell me exactly how they're better than the competition. If they showed me what they're doing, explained why it was more meaningful than what AMD is doing, gave me some points of comparison, and invited me to check their numbers and opinions with impartial third parties, then I'd really be impressed.

Opinions about the site and its impact and potential aside, however, does it seem weird to anyone else that it's Intel that's just launched a site like this and not HP or Apple or Dell? Intel's most well known products are processors that reach consumers as components of other brands' products. Isn't their good global citizenship image significantly less important to their financial success than the images of companies that actually sell directly to consumers?

It is true that Intel has never been afraid to spend time, money, and creativity on branding. It's still worth noting, however, that even though Intel usually stands a full link removed from the consumer in the supply chain, they' think it's important to invest big bucks in letting us know what good things they're doing for the world.

Note: My personal jury is still out on whether to support Intel. I appreciate the new site. I like that Intel, like McDonalds, is taking a leadership role in engaging consumers on social and environmental issues. But the whole One Laptop Per Child partnership fiasco gives me pause. On one hand, I do want to commend Intel for building a USD 350 laptop and distributing it to children in developing countries. On the other, I feel like I have to be suspicious, given the accusations that Intel got sneaky and tried to pickpocket market share from a non-profit partner. And then there's the fact that I like the tone of Intel's Director of Corporate Responsibility in his blog post on the subject. Hmmm. I guess I'll be staying tuned as the drama unfolds.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How to Break a Trance

A few years ago, my good friend Axel introduced me to Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence. A few days ago, he sent me this link. Goleman spoke at TED last March, and TED posted the talk in December. I just watched it for the first time.

Awesome.

Goleman notes that we have difficulty recognizing that there is a real story with real impact behind every thing we buy. "The objects that we use have hidden consequences. We're all unwitting victims of a collective blind spot. We don't notice and don't notice that we don't notice."

He likens that difficulty to the self-centered focus of the "urban trance," the state of mind that keeps us from helping when we walk past an injured person on a crowded street.

According to recent neuroscience, he points out, human brains are programmed to be empathetic. Apparently there's something like a "neural wifi" that lets our neurons engage and align with the neurons of the person with whom we're communicating.

IF, of course, we're actually communicating.

And we struggle with that. We spend heaps of time in that self-absorbed trance. We not only choose the ringing cell phone or flashing inbox over the real live conversation we're having, but we accept the fact that "we're oblivious to the ecological and public health and social and economic justice consequences of the things we buy and use."

Goleman has experienced information's ability to weaken the trance. After interviewing New York City social workers for a New York Times article he was writing and learning that almost all homeless people were "psychiatric patients that had nowhere to go," he started really NOTICING the homeless. Just days after his interviews with the social workers, he came upon a slumped, shirtless, motionless man on the subway stairs, and saw hundreds of people step over the man, focused on their commutes and seemingly unaware of the obviously helpless human being at their feet. Goleman, having snapped out of his focus on his commute, stopped and stepped toward the man. His broken trance had broken a few others' trances, and a small ring of people formed. The man had fainted from hunger, and Goleman and the others gave him orange juice and a hot dog, helped him stand up, and led him out of the high traffic stairwell. Goleman knew enough to notice, so he knew enough to do the right thing.

As for the trance that allows us to go on consuming ignorantly, he notes that "right now we don't have the option to choose the virtuous t-shirt over the non-virtuous one." He also notes that we do have the technology to store t-shirts' backstories in databases and access those databases from bar code scanners at points of sale. "Ultimately, everyone will know everything. The question is will we do anything about it."

His experience with breaking his own trance has made him optimistic.

Now maybe I'm getting a little carried away here and straining to connect everything I'm reading and watching and discussing with everything else I'm reading and watching and discussing, but might Goleman's urban trance be similar to (or a part of) the too-much-to-think-about paralysis David Allen tries to eliminate when he teaches us about Getting Things Done?

Allen thinks we severely impair our abilities to get things done by relying on our minds to manage our commitments. He thinks we need to manage our commitments with systems (even the simplest systems like lists, reminders, etc.) and thus leave our minds at rest in a state of relaxed preparedness. Drawing from his experience studying martial arts, he describes that state as "mind like water," an undistracted ready presence that allows the mind to accept any input of any shape or size, react to it appropriately, and then return to equilibrium. A pebble falls into a pond; the water reacts with a pebble sized splash; the water returns to a new equilibrium, one made subtly different by the presence of the pebble. A boulder falls into a pond; the water reacts with a boulder sized splash; the water returns to a new equilibrium made less subtly different by the presence of the boulder.

So I guess this calls for a couple of questions (and maybe some psychological research)...

Would David Allen's empty, present mind be more likely than the average mind to attend to strangers in need? And would that mind be more likely than the average mind to buy virtuous t-shirts?

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Little Request for Google

I was catching up on my Google Reader a couple of hours ago, and I came across a little post from xigi.net mentioning a Wall Street Journal article about Bill Gates and his call for "creative capitalism."

I read the article, got curious, and I decided I wanted to see what all the blog people were saying about Gates, his ideas, and the speech he gave the other day at the World Economic Forum.

I Google searched a bit, and I read a Huffington Post article and an editorial from The San Jose Mercury News, but I'm sure there's much more out there. And I'm sure some of it is significantly more interesting than what Google search gave me. I want an easy way to find it.

So, Google, I've decided there's a little research tool I need. I need a website or a browser plug-in that will accept a web address and return to me a list of webpages that contain links to that web address. For example, I take the WSJ article I just read, copy the URL, paste it into a box on this hypothetical website/plug-in, push a little search button, and get a list of blog posts, articles, and discussions that contain a link to the WSJ article.

Maybe start out by sorting the search results by popularity/traffic. Maybe let users identify blogs or news sources they know they like and make sure that their favorite sites come up at the tops of their lists. Maybe leverage a community of users and let people create tags and rate content...

But maybe this would only be useful for people, like me, that have just started blogging and still don't really have a complete concept of the scope or organization of the "blogosphere" (what a ridiculous word).

Or, maybe, something like this already exists. Please let me know if you know about it.

Anyway, just wanted to get that thought out there. And mention the Bill Gates WSJ article again. And link to it a second (and third) time to game the system and artificially improve this post's chance of making the top spot on the hypothetical website/plug-in mentioned above. And tell you that the sword swallower mentioned in the article is Hans Rosling, one of the people whose excitement gets me totally excited. Here's his first TED Talk. Amazing. And a nice segue into an upcoming post on recycling and the power of visuals...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reason Enough?

Last week, my good friend Ronnie, a much more government savvy man than myself, asked me if I'd do a little volunteer work for Barack Obama.

I told him that, while I like Obama and expect to vote for him, it's going to be difficult for me to feel sincere about canvassing or otherwise actively promoting him. I'm suspicious of politicians, and I'm suspicious of campaigning. I did a lot of work with the philosophical aspects of the Daoist Tradition in college, so I worry about anyone that seeks high political office. I have a grandfather with a long political history, so I've heard stories of coaxing poor, rural downstate Delaware voters to the polls by promising them bottles of Jack Daniel's. And I've read and have big love for Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, so most of the time I can't help but look at elections through the eyes of a paranoid drunken political junkie journalist.

I said I was open to the idea, however. If Ronnie could get me truly, sincerely excited about Obama, I'd do it. In order to do that, I told him he needed to convince me that Obama was committed to taking meaningful steps toward a sustainable economy.

Ronnie sent me his thoughts. I went through Obama's Blueprint for Change. I read a few articles. We went back and forth a bit. I did some thinking. And here's where I am so far...

In terms of commitment to sustainability, I like that Obama sneaks "environmental" stuff into his core platform statements. He includes sustainable farming in his Plan to Support Rural Communities. He includes green collar jobs in his Plan to Combat Poverty. And he includes renewable energy in his Plan to Strengthen the Economy. He doesn't take "the environment" and make it a stand alone issue, and I think that integration is important.

Hillary's platform integrates too, however. She ties investment in alternative energy technologies in with Strengthening the Middle Class, and she even mentions "Green Schools" as part of her Education Platform.

Obama and Hillary don't have identical visions when it comes to moving toward a sustainable economy, but I don't sense any fundamental conflicts either. They both present reasonably cohesive plans that include, as they should, some commitment to a sustainable future.

There does exist, however, a compelling argument why Obama might be better suited to making his vision a reality.

The argument started to sink in when I read a post called Executives vs Leaders on Fred Wilson's AVC blog. He cites a Harvard Business Review article and a little Freudian theory, and he identifies Obama as a visionary narcissist and Hillary as a productive obsessive (using "narcissist" and obsessive" as value neutral psychological types). Fred writes: "If you are operating in a dynamic environment when the risks are high, rapid decisions need to be made, and patience is not a virtue, find yourself a narcissist for the job and pair him or her with a productive obsessive." Fred sees big value in Hillary the consummate executive, but his experience with entrepreneurship tells him Obama will have a much easier time hiring productive obsessives to help him get things done than Hillary will have hiring a visionary narcissist to help her lead.

I sent the post to Ronnie, and he sent a New Republic article back. Not only is Obama a visionary, it argues, but the man can attend to operational detail. The article's author, Cass Sunstein, worked with Obama at the University of Chicago when Obama was teaching constitutional law. During their time as colleagues, Sunstein realized that Obama had a rare blend of "visionary" and "minimalist" tendencies. Obama, unlike most constitutional scholars or judges, could both work gracefully with the details of tradition and, when appropriate, throw them out in favor of what's right. Sunstein argues that "real transformations require a degree of consensus," and, as a "visionary minimalist," Obama is uniquely positioned to "call simultaneously for change and reconciliation."

All this leadership theory strikes me as a little bit over the top, but I have to admit that I sense a spark in Obama that I don't sense in other politicians. Maybe it's nothing: a camera trick, some marketing genius. But maybe it really can inspire change. Maybe it can convince people not to hold on too tight to the world as it exists now. Maybe it can angle us toward an economy that promotes and protects the long term interests of the planet and the species.

Here's how Ronnie puts it:

Obama could lead something similar to the Reagan revolution. Reagan’s policies, in many areas, were far more conservative than the American public, but his personality and spirit (don’t ask me why) could build coalitions around whatever his policy happened to be. He could move the needle. Obama possesses a similar, if not greater ability.

I'm still suspicious, but I'm excited. This guy could be really good.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Obligation

A few days ago, my friend Ludovic, founder of the Social Venture Forum, sent me an article called The Responsibility Paradox. It comes from the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford, and it discusses "corporate social responsibility" practices and their failure to evolve with globalization and the institutional shape shifting that's come along with it.

Maybe one of you will read the article and tell me I'm crazy to say this, but I think it's a real bummer of an approach.

The article sees corporations as having obligations to its stakeholders. Obligations to be charitable. Obligations to set examples as upstanding social beings. It notices that, given global supply chains and international trade agreements, it's becoming unclear who hold which stakes in what. And it proposes that global regulation and global standard-setting are the surest paths to "soulful corporate behavior."

Now, since there's been little on my mind over the past few days that doesn't find a way to connect to my grandmother, I want to bring her in here and draw a little analogy about obligation.

On Tuesday night, I prepared my portion of Mimi's eulogy. I changed topics three times. I outlined. I re-outlined. I cut and pasted. I re-wrote. And I noticed one detail that crept into every structure I explored: the fact that I have never once felt obligated to spend time with Mimi. Visiting her and calling her was never a chore, never something I did because I knew it was the right thing to do, never something I did because my parents made me do it, never an obligation. Mimi got excited about the things that got me excited, told stories with me, made me laugh, and treated me like a real person instead of a little kid. Hanging with her was always something I wanted to do, something I looked forward to doing.

It's a good thing for grandchildren to pay attention to their grandparents. Good for the children. Good for the grandparents. Good for the parents in between.

Making it happen doesn't require obligation, however. It doesn't require guilt. It doesn't require philanthropic time-giving on the part of the grandchildren. It doesn't require iron fisted parental tyranny. It requires grandchildren understanding that it's in their best interests to hang with their grandparents.

So what if we looked at corporations as grandchildren and ourselves as their grandparents? How could we make healthy relationships?

Corporations feeling guilty about their relative wealth and begrudgingly giving it all away? Governments making rules, and corporations rolling their eyes, whining, and doing the absolute minimum required to follow those rules? Or corporations realizing that its in their long term (if not immediate) interest to engage in the relationship, find common ground, and work together toward a better future world.

I don't mean to say that philanthropy has to be guilt-inspired or insincere. I don't mean to say that governments shouldn't make rules; they absolutely should; they absolutely must. And I realize I'm oversimplifying. But I think it's important to remember that responsible behavior need not have roots in obligation.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Used Tissues

My granny died early on Friday morning. She hung in there against lung cancer for many more months than we thought she would, and she made the whole family smile with every unexpected day she gave us. I mention her here mostly because she's on my mind but also because she reminded me the other day of one way in which she was a quirky and maybe even responsible consumer.

Mimi spent a significant portion of my lifetime with at least one of her 19 grandchildren in tow. And, given grandchildren's propensity to sneeze, cough, drool, spill, or otherwise smear liquids and goos on their faces and hands, Mimi kept a strong supply of blow your nose tissues on her person at all times.

The source and status of those tissues, however, we never clearly understood. From a grandchild's perspective, snot would fly; Mimi would dive into her purse; a white blur would flash through your vision; and a mysterious crumpled handful would glide back from whence it came.

We did a lot of wondering about that paper. Was she reusing it? Were there different compartments in the purse? Torn, wrinkled, dirty tissues in one and torn, wrinkled, clean tissues in another?

A few days ago, I confirmed an old suspicion. Mimi was lying in bed, and a few of us were sitting with her, joking about snow and sledding and big make believe plans for the next day. The laughter and the oxygen tubes were giving her a sniffle, and she needed a tissue. Instead of leaning over to the bedside table, Mimi reached up her sleeve, pulled out a strangely familiar-looking wad of soft paper, and wiped her nose. Sure enough, sniffle solved, she tucked the paper right back up the sleeve and continued with the conversation.

Tissue reuse isn't a big, high-impact thing, obviously, and Mimi did it much more for convenience than conservation, but I like the idea of making a little connection between Mimi and A More Perfect Market. I hope you'll forgive the stretch.

I send you all love and laughs and dirty tissues from Mimi. She gave me more than I could ever possibly use, and I'm happy to share.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Truth or McMarketing?

Bob Langert, VP for Corporate Social Responsibility at McDonald's, has been blogging since early 2005. I found out about the blog, Open for Discussion, a few days ago.

In Langert's words: "We want to open our doors to CSR at McDonald’s--to share what we’re doing and learn what you think. That’s the purpose of this blog."

I read everything he and his colleagues have written in the past few months, dug into the archives to read some of their earliest work, flipped through everything in between, checked out a bunch of comment boards, and posted a comment on the most recent post. The blog feels to me like marketing, and it's a bit self-congratulatory at times, but you can feel the real heartfelt effort in there.

The fact that they're doing it and many others aren't signals to me that McDonald's feels confident that they are as good or better on CSR and sustainability issues than their competitors. If they weren't, I don't think they would be writing about themselves. Imagine being Wendy's and seeing McDonald's blog about what great things they're doing with cooking oil and biofuel when maybe you do better things with cooking oil and biofuel. Wouldn't you use the blog as a point of comparison in a marketing push, highlight how unimpressive the McDonald's claim is? You'd come out the clear choice for rushed, hungry, recycled cooking oil buffs. If I was Wendy's, I'd be all over it.

Now I don't know who's better on biofuel, Wendy's or McDonald's. And I certainly don't have any meaningful understanding of fast food marketing competition. But it just seems to me that McDonald's is showing serious confidence by publishing the blog, and I like that.

That said, I'm ready for another level of confidence. I want Langert and Co. to start blogging about the ways in which McDonald's is unsustainable. They have taken small steps in this direction in posts about McJobs, the science and ethics of pigpen alternatives, and the 100% beef controversy, but I want more.

I want Langert to tell us that he sees that McDonald's is partially responsible for the depleted fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico (McDonald's burgers are made from mass produced cows; those cows eat mass produced corn; that corn grows in overfertilized dying soil; nitrogen from that fertilizer flows into the Mississippi and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico; and, once there, it feeds algae, messes with ecosystems, and drys up fisheries). I want to see Langert acknowledge the fact that McDonald's, as a huge beef buyer, has power to influence beef producers. I want him to outline the ways in which McDonald's is going to exercise that influence. And I want him to keep us updated: let us know what the cattle farmers are doing to influence feed producers, what those corn farmers are doing to keep nitrogen out of the water systems, and, hopefully, how Gulf of Mexico fisheries are recovering.

The moment a company like McDonald's takes responsibility for being a cause of a problem, they create for themselves an opportunity. They can change the way they do things, participate in solving the problem, and take a share of the credit.

Maybe Langert and McDonald's are headed in that direction. Maybe they're still too scared. I figure I'll stay tuned: keep reading their blog (learning what they're doing) and commenting on their blog (sharing what I think). Maybe some of you should too. You never know: they might talk to us.

Note: I first linked to Langert's blog through Ryan Mickle's blog. Ryan is the founder of dotherightthing.com, and both that site and Ryan's blog are well worth visiting.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cars

I drove to a meeting today, and since I don't have a car, I had to borrow one. I asked around and tried to make arrangements. Before long, I realized that there might only be one car available for borrowing: an old Toyota Land Cruiser with a cracked muffler.

The meeting was in a big building in a suburban office park with a lot, so the chances that anyone would notice my transportation situation were pretty slim. But, even so, the thought of driving to a meeting about responsible consumption in a big, loud, smoky SUV had me feeling a little uncomfortable.

Luckily it turned out that Mom was able to lend me her delivery van. It's covered with yellow magnets reminding everyone that it belongs to Wild Thyme Flowers, and it certainly doesn't blow anyone away with its fuel efficiency, but it let me drive to the meeting feeling acceptably unhypocritical.

...

I've never had any affinity for big or fast or powerful cars. Eating food that's shipped halfway around the world I get. Blasting air conditioning I get. Flying around in planes everywhere I get. Taking long showers I get. Those things are tempting. Cars? Not at all. Dave Chappelle has presented quite a reasonable argument telling me why I should be tempted, but, apparently, I'm a statistical outlier on this one.

Maybe that's why I'm having such a strange and conflicted reaction to the fact that GM just unveiled a Green Hummer.

Should we, as concerned consumers, commend GM? Should we consider supporting them next time we buy a vehicle? Should an upgrade from 10 to 20 miles per gallon be meaningful to us? Should we care that the Green Hummer will be able to run on ethanol? Is a Green Hummer an important step in the direction of legitimately clean cars? Does this announcement show that GM is committing to leading the world in a sustainable direction?

Hmmm...

I guess this might sound ridiculous coming from someone whose idea of sexy transportation is the IBOT, but I think I'm ready to applaud GM for this move. It's small, but it's a real step. It's people wanting to feel a little bit greener, and it's GM responding to what those people want.

That's hopeful, and that's empowering. It's also a powerful reminder that we should ask GM and every other big company for much much more.

...

PS: I've owned two cars. Both old. Both pretty ratty. One, a Chevy Corsica we called the Silver Bullet, had a brief but successful film career. It plays a crucial supporting role in American Dream, a short film by the Hawkins Brothers. Fourth movie from the top.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

On Wagers

In the 1660s, a French philosopher named Blaise Pascal concluded that it was a better bet to believe in God and take action accordingly than to not believe and risk whatever horrible punishment a vengeful God might unleash.

A few months ago, a high school science teacher named Greg came to a philosophically related conclusion. In this YouTube video, he explains why he thinks it's a better bet to believe in Global Warming and take action accordingly than to not believe and risk whatever horrible punishment Mother Nature might unleash.

I think the video is great. It's simple and clear. It's silly. And it's asking us to do things we should be doing: considering the gravity of our climate change situation and acting to improve it. I think people should watch it. I think people will feel important urgency because of it. And I think it will have and already has had a positive impact.

Greg tells us we need to take Global Warming seriously because we're in danger: because terrible things might happen if we don't get our collective act together, overhaul our systems, and change our behavior. What's missing from Greg's message, I think, is that we should get excited about making changes and excited about the ways those changes will make our world happier and more hospitable. We should be afraid. Fear is powerful. Arguments inspiring fear are important, necessary even. But I think equally if not more important is communication about the joy we can derive from the creative endeavor before us.

We have the tools and the ability to bring into existence a sustainable world, and I think we should all be thrilled at the opportunity to contribute to the creation of that.

Now, as a little thought exercise, imagine for a second a world in which we can elegantly harness the energy of the sun, the wind, the tides, and the molten heat inside the planet. Think about that. 100,000 years ago, we were essentially chimpanzees. 10,000 years ago, we didn't have any experience with agriculture. 150 years ago, mail traveled on horseback and by sailboat.

As a species, these past couple of hundred years, we've wreaked serious havoc. But we CAN turn it around. And I think one important reason we should turn it around is that both the process and the result are going to be fun.

One quick final thought related to Pascal's Wager: If God or religion or the supernatural interest you, please go have a look at the TED Talk Richard Dawkins gave on Militant Atheism. 30 minutes well spent, I promise. If nothing else, you'll learn the definition of "Tooth Fairy Agnostic."

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Donut Shop

Wiley, my longtime Beijing roommate and the man behind chinabites, and I are always looking for good metaphors.

We realized we shared this important propensity when we worked together at LanguageCalls. And it was at LanguageCalls that the donut shop metaphor was born.

LanguageCalls is in the business of delivering live 1 on 1 tutoring using web conferencing and VoIP technologies. Andrew and Lloyd, LanguageCalls's founders, hired Wiley and me in the spring of 2006 because we spoke, read, and wrote Chinese, and because they wanted to set up headquarters in Beijing. The next 20 months, I'm sure Wiley would agree, were downright incredible. Just the drama of foreign founders doing startup work in China would have been educational and entertaining enough, but throw in an organization that grew from 6 to 50, a series of almost-deals with huge multinational companies, two massive IT Department overhauls, miraculously successful fundraising, romance, mystery, intrigue, karaoke, and we are forever indebted to Andrew and Lloyd.

Throughout our time there, the business faced one challenge that made all others look tiny. Some combination of VoIP's immaturity, our technical ineptitude, and the Great Firewall of China made for some intensely erratic sound quality, and since the service LanguageCalls provides is something as rooted in sound as language tutoring, we had a problem.

What do you do given a product that people want but a product that simply doesn't quite work properly?

Wiley and I offered a metaphorical solution. The donut shop. Find a space, and use whatever you have in the kitchen to start cooking something resembling donuts. Invite people to come in. Give them places to sit and chat and smell the donuts cooking. Pour some coffee. Give out tastes of misshapen or under-glazed proto-donuts. Ask people about their dream donut. Update them on the progress from the kitchen. Tell them about the new machine you bought and the powdered sugar shipment that just came in. Maybe even get the waiters and waitresses to do choreographed dances every once in a while. Basically, keep people entertained and interested while you build your kitchen, experiment, and figure out the recipe for a donut everyone's going to love.

At LanguageCalls, we did a lot of talking about donut shops (building a free online learning community, offering non-VoIP-based language learning services), but we never actually built one. Wiley and I still whine to Lloyd about this, but LanguageCalls rumbles on without us, and they have plenty of good reasons to go on doing their thing without listening to us.

I still dig the idea of the donut shop, however. And I think it'll do this next startup project lots of good to see if people like the smell of what we're cooking as much as we do.

It'll be a solid few months before we can give you the tools to compare companies and products and quickly and easily figure out what brands you should buy. It'll be a solid few months before we can send you to a totally sweet website complete with heaps of info and awesome community interaction functionality. Hopefully, in the meantime, we can attract some readers to this blog, keep everyone curious, and find out what you think we should do to make the donut's we're cooking even tastier.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Burt's Bleach?

I read a few months ago about a Washington Post-connected green fashion magazine called Sprig. The editor in chief, Jeannie Pyun, gave what I thought was memorable comment: "We're targeting this to the 95% of people who want to be 5% green, not the 5% of people who want to be 95% green." Those were obviously off the cuff numbers, but I don't think the "95% of people" number is unrealistic IF 95% of people have easy ways to turn a bit green.

Regardless, however, we can't focus entirely on those 95% of people. We have to pay close attention to that deep dark green minority as well. We need to see them as a resource. They are the innovators and early adopters, and we should look to them for leadership.

Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man, is one of them. His blog is important. And he's a motivated guy that has turned his life into fascinating work, work (life) that should inspire the rest of us.

A couple of days ago, a post of his discussed Clorox's acquisition of Burt's Bees, and, as his posts do, it got me thinking.

It's unquestionably worth worrying when a beautiful little green company gets bought by a 500 lb. gorilla. A transaction like that makes it dangerously possible that the beauty disappears real quick.

However, I think there's validity to the argument that Burt's Bees COULD make Clorox and and its whole brand family better. As the green/sustainable/responsible business movement continues to grow, Clorox must see that people want to support companies like Burt's Bees. One of the reasons for Burt's Bees impressive growth has to be that we customers think it's very cool that they can make excellent products and be clean and responsible at the same time.

So imagine a situation in which Clorox studies Burt's Bees, figures out what Burt's Bees is doing right, sets some emulation milestones for themselves, publishes the milestones, hits them, and then celebrates publicly their achievements.

My guess is that a good portion of those 95% of people that want to be 5% green will be looking specifically for Clorox next time they dump coffee down the front of their white shirt.

PS: The NYT article on Burt's Bees and Clorox is worth reading. The history of Burt's Bees is pretty wild.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Artist Formerly Known As...

This project needs a name.

You might have noticed in the last post that I made some reference to "the project," "the website," "the business." No names in there. We've been through a few ideas, own a few URLs, but no slam dunks yet.

In August, when we committed to building this thing and put together an About Us Site and our first shot at some Demo Interfaces, we needed to call the project something, so we came up with a working title: Productipedia.

It's not easy to say or spell. It doesn't tell the whole story. It's a little uncomfortable in it's lack of originality. But .com, .net, and .org were all available, so we went with it.

Here we are now, however, hopefully about 10 days away from having a prototype website that'll look spiffy enough to demonstrate, and we're still Productipedia.

We're a website that makes it easy for people to consume more responsibly. We're a website that collects expert opinions on corporations and consumer products. We're a website that compares products, brand to brand.

We ask users to ask questions. We ask users to recommend non-main-stream alternatives. We ask users to contribute to wiki pages about companies and production processes.

We ask a user: "What do you want to buy?" She tells us she's looking for running shoes. We present to her both main-stream and non-main-stream options. We show her the opinions and information we've collected. And we help her buy her running shoes from a business whose practices she wants to support.

So what do we call ourselves?

Maybe the name should involve transparency? Window. Lens. See. Light.

Maybe choices and wisdom? Sage. Mindful. True.

Maybe we get natural and metaphorical? Bee. Ripple. Mint. Spring.

Or, maybe, we listen to Mom and call the thing www.goosemother.com. Hmmm...

Monday, January 7, 2008

My First Time

I've always been a little scared of blogging. I've figured authors walk a potentially deadly fine line. The boring and irrelevant on one side. The incriminating on the other.

I'm ready to start walking that line. Maybe I'll incriminate, and maybe I'll bore. But I'll take the risk: I have at least three good reasons to write...

1. I'm working on a dot com startup project, and I want to write about being a rookie entrepreneur and catalog the crazy thoughts that run through my mind as I try to get this thing going.

2. I want to broaden the discussions I'm having about the project. We are building a website that we hope will make it easy for people to consume more responsibly. We want to change the world by helping to create an economy in which we choose to buy the things we buy based on which businesses we want to support. We want to let people know if there's a meaningful difference between buying Crest toothpaste and Colgate toothpaste. We have plans; we have ideas; and we should, by the middle February, have our system ready enough for our first trickle of users. We know we have a lot to learn, however, and I think we'll be able to learn faster if I start asking a lot more people a lot more questions.

3. Very simply, I need to start writing.

My uncle Jamie works for the Rural Fire Service in North Queensland, Australia. A couple of years ago, he and I were in a car together for 12 straight hours. We were on our way to an indigenous community on the eastern banks of the Gulf of Carpenteria. The drive started in Cairns, a small but booming tropical city; it passed through rainforest, desolate cattlelands, and dusty swaths of bloodwoods and ghost gums; and it ended on the edge of a mangrove swamp along a gray, brackish coastal creek. We covered a nearly incomprehensible amount that day: telling stories, observing inland Australia, and putting words to thoughts we hadn't ever before. And at one point in the middle of it all, Jamie told me I should start writing. He said he didn't think people realized how different their minds were year to year and even week to week. I'd be smart to keep track of my thoughts and ideas and observations, he reckoned: you never know when forgotten moments from the not so distant past might suddenly become useful.

I am amazingly lucky in that I get to talk to lots of fascinating people about lots of fascinating things, both related to the startup project and otherwise. I want those conversations to continue, and I want to open them up to a bigger group of people. So I'm going to write. Sometimes it'll be about starting up. Sometimes it'll be about incentivising responsible corporate behavior. Sometimes it'll be about dinosaurs or something. Who knows...

I hope you enjoy.