Archive for September, 2009

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

The Power of One

On Yom Kippur we examine our actions.  The scrupulous review of our deeds that the day calls for teaches us that everything we do, however small it may seem matters a great deal, often far more than we can even imagine.

Maimonides writes in The Laws of Teshuvah:

Therefore a person should see himself throughout the year as if his life is half good and half bad and likewise see the whole world equally poised in the same way.  One bad deed can tip himself and the whole world towards destruction. One good deed can tip himself and the whole world towards salvation….therefore all Jews have the custom of doing as much Tzdakah and as many Mitzvot as possible between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”
Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:4.

Global climate change is caused by billions of everyday actions of hundred of millions of people. It is so tempting to say, “what difference will it make if I change my lightbulbs/drive a Prius/….I’m only an infinitesimal part of the problem.  My actions won’t make a difference.”

Billions of people telling themselves this are tipping the world towards destruction.  The power of Teshuvah is the power of one; the knowledge that each of our lives and our deeds matter and can have incalculable significance.

Sir John Houghton, one of the world’s leading climate scientists put it very beautifully when I asked him why individuals should feel that their puny actions can  make a difference to the climate:

First Sir John quoted Edmund Burke, the British Enlightenment thinker who declared: “No man ever made a greater error than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” Then after a moment’s reflection he added,

“But I think there’s a deeper answer than Burke’s. You know, I live overlooking the estuary of the river Dovey. Once a year, the sky above my house becomes a staging post for migrating starling. They create the most spectacular formations, tens of thousands of them, banking ,wheeling, whirling, swirling around a vortex , and separating and regathering while replicating the same order; I don’t think anyone really understands how they do it; certainly not the starlings themselves, yet out of the actions of all of those many individual birds come coherent and beautiful patterns of organization. We’re like that too, though mostly we don’t realize it; we view our acts and choice as individuals as if we lived in a vacuum, we don’t understand how we are participating in much larger social organisms.”

Yom Kippur is the time to make a commitment to small but real changes. When each of us decides that we are going to make changes and walk more gently on the planet –  we start to tip the world in the direction of salvation.

Jonah and Loving a Tree

At Minchah on Yom Kippur we read the book of Jonah. It marks a shift in the day from a mood of solemnity towards mercy and also from Jewish particularism towards universalism.

God tells Jonah that He will bring destruction on the city of Nineveh and commands Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh to change its ways. Jonah refuses to accept the task and flees from God.  God catches up with him, Jonah prophesies to Nineveh and the city repents and is saved. At the end of the book Jonah is still resentful. God sends him a Kikayon tree and Jonah gratefully enjoys its shade. The tree dies and Jonah is very aggrieved.  To which God says:

You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow; and should not I care about Nineveh, that great city…” Jonah 4: 10-11.

Many of us switch off and close down when we hear prophecies of impending climate change destruction. They may be scientifically well-grounded, but apocalypticism can be paralyzing. Like Jonah, we turn away and try not to listen.  It is often a tree that we love, a landscape, a beautiful butterfly which is endangered that awaken in us an inkling of how much God loves creation and arouse us too to have compassion for the world.  The inspiration we need to make the changes we must, need not come not from fear but can well up from love and gratitude.

gmar hatimah tovah.
Sign the pledge: www.JewishClimateCampaign.org

Read Full Post »

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

A couple of years after former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach founded  ActNow, a sustainable business consultancy, he signed up Walmart as a client. This brought Werbach considerable notoriety in eco-activist circles. Walmart’s record of

Adam Werbach, Global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S

Adam Werbach, Global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S

environmental responsibility had previously been spotty, to put it mildly. Werbach retorted to his critics that Walmart, with almost two million employees and 127 million customer visits per week, had the potential to do far more to save the world than the Sierra Club ever had.

I had the opportunity to visit Werbach’s company (now named Saatchi S) in San Francisco, and attend a staff meeting. The participants sat on the floor and passed around a plate of organic banana bread. Yet despite the trappings of informality, the conversation had a focus, drive and ingenuity about it that I had rarely experienced in the non-profit world.  The Saatchi staff certainly looked like the young, idealistic types whom I knew from environmental NGOs. But dropping a profit incentive into the motivational mix seemed to release a different level of creative zing.

Subsequent encounters with other leaders of cutting edge green companies strengthened this sense of the potency in marrying idealism with the scale and dynamism of the business world. Jonathan Rose, CEO of a large US sustainable urban development consultancy, Arnold Goldman founder of Brightsource Energy and Yosef Abramowitz of the Arava Power Company all combine strong ethical vision with a rigorous ambition to build successful businesses that will help solve large, real-world challenges.

Two valuable recent books have helped expand and sharpen my understanding of the potential for green business to do good while doing well – and also its limitations.

First the ‘Harvard Business Review on Green Business Strategy’ brings together the best articles on the subject from HBR’s archives over the past decade. They cover areas from “What Every Executive Needs to Know About Global Warming” through analyses of developments in green building and international sustainable business strategy to “How to Maintain Competitive Advantage on a Warming Planet.”

The essays concisely survey the main areas of impact and opportunity with which climate change confronts business, including dealing with regulatory policies frameworks (e.g. cap and trade), developing climate friendly products and technologies, reputational factors, impacts on the company’s supply chain and liability to litigation or to direct physical damage.

Several of the authors confront the issue of greenwashing versus real change, coming down unanimously in favor of the business benefits of moving towards genuine, long term sustainability.

The book includes Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken’s seminal 1999 essay “A Roadmap for Natural Capitalism,” and is worth buying for that article alone.

The authors lay out four guiding principles for transforming our modes of economic production that are both visionary and practical: dramatically improve the productivity of natural resources; shift to biologically inspired modes of production; move to a solutions based business model (as opposed to an product ownership based model, e.g. provide floor-covering services rather than sell carpets) and reinvest in natural capital.

They persuasively show the huge energy and resource saving potential in innovative design across large areas of today’s economy (”Only 1% of the energy consumed by today’s cars in actually used to move the driver: only 15-20% of the power generated by burning gasoline reaches the wheels and 95% of the resulting propulsion moves the car, not the driver.” Good morning Detroit.) The article is a powerful argument on grounds of ethics, aesthetics, efficiency and profitability for embedding industrial production into the naturally sustainable systems of the physical world.

The book “International Business and Global Climate Change” has a narrower focus.

Pinkse and Kolk, both professors at Amsterdam Business School give an impressively detailed account of the dilemmas and opportunities that climate change poses for large companies.

They focus on two areas: compliance with national and international regulatory frameworks and developing innovative technologies and capabilities. On the way Pinkse and Kolk cover the economics of carbon mitigation, a comprehensive history of carbon emission regulation and an unsparing analysis of the strengths and failures of the frameworks currently in place.

They show, for example, how the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme over-allocated emissions permits which utilities then sold for huge profits, and how the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism’s credits ended up going overwhelmingly to projects reducing emissions from an obscure, but highly potent greenhouse gas called HFC-23 that could be mitigated using a cheap, readily available end-of-pipe technology. The scheme therefore did almost nothing to stimulate clean technology innovation as its creators had envisioned it would.

Pinske and Kokse’s book, though scholarly and comprehensive is written in the impeccable but lifeless English prose at which Northern European academics seem to excel.

If you are either a policy maker designing a Greenhouse Gas regulatory framework, or a senior business executive figuring out how to comply with (or exploit) such a system, the book is a must-read. If you are anyone else, you’ll probably find the style and density off-putting.

The Harvard Business Review work, though less detailed, is a much racier read, employing HBS’s trademark case-study approach to illustrate the messy real-world complexity of transitioning toward sustainable business methods.

A common message that emerges from both works is that business needs a coherent, credible, predictable and global framework for carbon emissions mitigation if it is going to go green on a large scale.

The current chaotic patchwork of voluntary and mandatory, short and medium term, local and international schemes inhibits many companies from making major long-range investments in clean technologies.

Business cannot create this framework; it is a task for governments and intergovernmental bodies, chivied along by civil society – NGO’s, the media, religious groups and businesses themselves. December’s climate summit in Copenhagen is expected to take a crucial step down this road.

As Arnold Goldman of Brightsource has written, green business is not a new invention. He points out that according to the

Arnold Goldman, Founder of Brightsource Energy

Arnold Goldman, Founder of Brightsource Energy

Talmud, the first question each of us will each be asked on judgment day (before any enquiries about our “religious” life) is “did you do business b’emunah” – faithfully or honestly (Shabbat, 31a.) Business b’emunah surely requires not raping the planet, not profiting from fleeting and destructive wants, but creating products that add real value to people’s life and to the life of the biosphere.

Read Full Post »

By Yannai Kranzler

Breaking news, from Dayton, Ohio: Attitudes don’t predict behavior. Economic incentives don’t usually work. And sweet corn tastes best the day it’s picked.

I’ll explain:

I’ve spent the last week in Dayton, with my wife, Chana’s grandparents and cousins. I expected a quiet week- great times with Chan’s family and a nice break from the intensities of Jerusalem.

But it turns out that tucked between miles of corn and soybeans lies a lively and very special town. One night, I went with Uncle Danny to a minor league baseball game, getting in for free when the ticket attendant gave us the tickets of two people who couldn’t make it themselves. Another night, I played ice hockey for the first time in ten years with Chan’s cousin Mitch (Boy does my lower back hurt!). And in the nearby town of Hamilton, I attended environmental psychologist Doug Mckenzie-Mohr’s daylong seminar, “Fostering Sustainable Behavior: Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM),” organized by the local Butler County Storm Water District. And that’s where I learned about attitudes and behavior, and the futility of financial incentives. (I learned about the sweet corn that night for dinner).

Founder of Community Based Social Marketing, Dr. Doug Mckenzie-Mohr

Founder of Community Based Social Marketing, Dr. Doug Mckenzie-Mohr

Dr. Mckenzie-Mohr’s formula, “Community-Based Social Marketing” (CBSM), utilizes research methods like surveys and focus groups to understand behaviors in their social contexts. CBSM strategies leverage friends, mentors and neighbors to encourage changes on a communal level. Programs focus more on social norms than on numbers, more on getting communities of people to commit to doing small things, than on telling them how badly they need to do big ones. A CBSM slogan might read, “Help us improve the air quality for the children at this school: Turn your car off whenever idling for more than ten seconds,” with a campaign handing drivers a free sticker that says, “We care about our kids’ air: This car will not idle for more than ten seconds,” making sure it gets placed on the front window, so that not only passers-by, but the driver inside the car will see it too. That’s instead of producing and handing out informative materials explaining how “Turning off your car when idling for more than ten seconds will save you X amount of gas, Y dollars per minute, and reduce your CO2 emissions by Z tons.”

Given that most attempts I know of at changing people’s behavior try either to change attitudes or offer financial incentives, I found Dr. Mckenzie-Mohr’s assertions striking. But throughout the seminar, he presented study after study debunking these and more basic assumptions about how to convince people to act differently. He compared these with the results of CBSM programs, and the results were unequivocal. Turns out that knowing that my neighbors, who I trust (and by whom I want to be respected) perform a particular action, let’s say composting, it will have more of an impact on me than knowing the reasons behind composting. At the very least, it will get me to ask if I too should be composting, certainly a more likely way to get me composting, than being given a brochure.

Through CBSM, Dr. Mckenzie-Mohr has implemented successful campaigns on water-management, electricity-usage, transportation, conservation and composting, throughout Canada, Australia and the US. Green auditors who have learned CBSM have been three to four times more successful than those that haven’t in getting clients to implement the changes they recommend. Dr. Mckenzie-Mohr has sat on some of Canada’s leading panels on climate change and the environment, and was recently awarded the Canadian Psychological Association’s  “Psychologists for Social Responsibility Research and Social Action Award.”

I’ll share some practicals from the day in future posts, but for now, I’ll suffice to say that I was incredibly impressed by what I found in Dayton. An old Midrashic statement comments on the Psalms 29 passage, Kol Hashem BaKocoach, “The voice of God is in strength,” by adding, B’Kocho shel Kol Echad v’Echad, “In the strength of every individual.” Divinity is in everyone, the Midrash explains (Tanchuma, Parshat Yitro). In Dayton, I experienced a place that might not have the eco-chic of New York or the eco-fervor of Berkeley, but that certainly did have Godly spirit enough to fill up a huge auditorium with local environmental employees dedicating their lives to improving the quality of life in Ohio and doing their part in creating a sustainable future for everyone. And along with family, a game of hockey and the perfect cob of sweet corn, it’s hard to get more divine than that.

For more on CBSM, and for some great resources on fostering sustainable behavior, visit http://www.cbsm.com.

Read Full Post »