Friday, June 24, 2011

Throw it "out", take the trash "away", garbage "pick-up"

Notice a trend in "trash-talk"? Nearly every way of saying trash (and recycling) disposal involves a form of "getting it away from here". So what?

When something is constantly "in your face" or readily apparent: trash on the street, graffiti on the walls, a messy room, it's a top priority to deal with it. We relish organization and cleanliness, so naturally, getting rid of these disturbances is highly valued. But, unfortunately, our satisfaction is achieved when it is no longer in our perception. Sure, the graffiti may be gone, literally, but the trash on the street, well, it was just taken somewhere else...away.

NIMBY: Not In My Backyard is a common refrain when speaking of things that are desired by society, but only if they can be kept out of our awareness. Cell towers, wind turbines (though I personally think they are awesome), and nuclear power plants all fall under NIMBY.

"You want it?"
"What if we have to put it here?"
"Hmm...maybe not so much then."

This same principle is how we treat waste. As long as it is taken away, most people don't give it a second thought. Twice a week, the trash truck comes by and hauls the contents of the waste bin...well, somewhere...somewhere else. That's good enough for most, until we realize that on our joint planet Earth, there is no true "away". Away for one is "here" for another.

Back to the point. By thinking about undesirable things being taken "out" or "away", we lose the importance of their conservation. Take this extreme example: If the local landfill was situated directly across the street from your home, would you make a stronger effort to reduce your waste production, and encourage others to do the same? Sure, because it is IMBY, "in my backyard". Add the N, "Not", and suddenly, we cannot valuate it as clearly.

Apply this to all aspects of your life. From water pollution and conservation to waste/recycling, to consumer spending, there is no away, and a negative taken from your sight is now within someone else's.

Remember that the next time you "take the trash out".

Monday, June 13, 2011

The True Cost of “Deals”

Being of the Baby Boomer generation, I remember when America was the uncontested economic beacon of opportunity and power in the world. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, good jobs were plentiful and companies proudly toted their “Made in the USA” tags. Millions of independent farmers provided Americans and the world with an abundant source of healthy food, and small businesses played a key role in driving that economic engine. Unemployment was very low, our good health was almost taken for granted, and even immigration was welcomed. Yes, life was good.

So what happened? Why have we now become a second rate economy? Could it be all about the “deal”?

Sure, we can lay blame upon the rise of the fast food industry, which saw the corn incentives promoted by the government during WW2 and thanks to their lobbyists, still subsidized to this day. They created a factory system controlled by a select group of companies which eventually swallowed up almost every independent farmer, and ensured a never ending flow of cheap foods filled with fats, sugar and calories. A fast food burger is much cheaper than broccoli.

Or we can point our fingers at Walmart, the mega retailer who took on the giants Sears and K-Mart and whose favorite slogan in the 1980’s was “made with pride in the USA”. When Deng Xiao Peng opened the door to foreign investment and a market economy in the Peoples Republic of China, Walmart jumped in and started a massive exodus among American business seeking cheap labor. Millions of jobs were lost to China, (where our trade deficit now surpasses $270 billion), and the trends towards outsourcing spread to many other developing nations which were eager to provide the jobs at a quarter of the cost.

And of course, if we’re pointing fingers, we can’t forget about our own government. Supporting trade agreements which help multi-national companies keep their profits and stockholders happy, while forcing millions of field workers in Mexico and other Latin American countries out of work, seeking jobs outside of their home countries or in illicit activities.

Yes, there have been many stories of corporate greed and influence which have negatively impacted our country since those glory days, and correspondingly, even our environment and social systems have suffered. However, when we take a closer look, who is truly to blame?

Look in the mirror. Yes, it’s us. Unless we were born with the proverbial "silver spoon", from the time we were little, we have been trained to search out the “best deal”. Competition is generally good, but we now have built a mentality that paying “full price” is a fool’s game. Think about it. Deals pervade our media. Whether on TV, newspapers, websites, social media, text messaging, or whatever new technology comes along. There’s even a sense of pride and competitiveness among shoppers (and we are all shoppers) to find it “cheaper”.

The demand for cheap goods has created economic havoc here in the US, which is now a “service economy”. Most people have little idea what that actually means. Suffice it to say, that our once fully independent economic model is now almost totally dependent on products produced in other countries. Combine this dependence with new technologies constantly being developed and implemented, the trend is for fewer job opportunities. Not quite the American dream envisioned by our forefathers.

Unseen by American consumers seeking a deal, are the social, health and environmental costs. Here in the U.S., millions are still unemployed. Due to this persistent unemployment crisis, tax revenues are dramatically down, which has elicited a cascading effect of budgetary cuts, causing even more layoffs, and more people, many without health insurance, eating cheaper fast foods. Our health system, while perhaps the world’s most technologically advanced, is now rated 38th in the world by the World Health Organization, behind Ethiopia. Obesity and other health issues related to poor diet continue to increase dramatically.

These negative effects extend far beyond our borders. In order to meet our demand for cheap goods, millions of children, some as young as 4, are now working in factories around the world. Forests and land areas are being “clear-cut” by multi-national companies, such as the palm oil industry, which has created unsustainable mono-cultures by eliminating all native flora and fauna while usurping lands of indigenous peoples. Giant factory fishing fleets, led by the Japanese, travel the world’s oceans, sucking up every living organism in their paths, whether edible or not, leaving nothing behind. Due to the environmental degradation, entire villages of people have lost their means to support their families, and many have turned to criminal activities. Witness the rise of the infamous Somali pirates which started out as a group of fishermen whose source of food had been decimated by these foreign fleets.

Our obsession with the deal has fueled the world’s fastest growing company, Groupon. Growing from a modest 32 employees in 2008 to over 8,000 today, this company has built an extremely successful business formula on encouraging and offering deep discounts from merchants. Great revenues for Groupon, and great deals for consumers. But not always so for the merchants who are just trying to survive.

I guess that’s the point. In every great deal, there’s someone paying well more than full price. Hey, as long as it's not us...oh, wait.

Keith Winn - Chief Visionary Officer
Greater Good Alliance

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Goals, Deadlines, and Waving As They Go By

If you haven't noticed, we're really excited about launching the Greater Good Alliance. With all these "daily deals" sites popping up, it's thrilling to know we have something based on that premise (ease of understanding by populace), but with a significant ace up our sleeve.

Make that a pair of aces.

Just to refresh your memory, we are aiming to create greater communities, ones that are more intertwined, environmentally-aware, and socially dedicated. Businesses will be directly connected to local non-profits. Citizens will have easy opportunities to frequent those places of business and volunteer for the organizations. And every purchase (to be called a "connection") goes directly back to the local community.

Yeah, it's pretty awesome.

But those are our goals, and not our deadlines. While we are 100% committed to meeting or exceeding deadlines set for work with our clients, we made the mistake internally of not following our own advice. Our milestones were not rigorously followed, and if one slips by, another is likely soon to follow.

We are learning from that mistake.

I feel obligated to pass along what we've gained so you don't make the same slip-up in your organization or business. First, be excited about anything you're doing. That happiness shows through any marketing materials, event announcements, and even standard customer interactions; it is contagious. Contrived "excitement" is seen immediately by your clientele, and it leaves a very poor taste. Second, make internal deadlines just as important as one you would set for a customer. Hey, if it's missed, you can't deliver your product or service properly, so it still affects them! Third, know the difference between your goals and deadlines. They are not the same. Goals are what you hope to get done by a certain time. Deadlines are what you will get done.

Finally, you will miss some goals. Don't sweat it!

Lucky for you, you met your deadlines, so your customers were never affected in any way. In case you were wondering, this also connects directly with sustainability programs as well. Make reasonable benchmarks and work hard as a team to achieve them, but don't get discouraged if something takes longer than expected. Like any other business strategy, you may have unexpected setbacks. That's good. It means you are trying something new.

And what better way to differentiate than to do something no one else is doing?