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Personal Sustainability: The hardest kind.

March 21, 2010

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. The reason is that I have, like so many other people out there, been a little under water lately. I live in Sacramento and everyone I talk to has that panicked, marginally terrified look on their face, as if to say, “I did everything right, why am I unemployed/bankrupt/losing my house/spouse/friends/life?” And I have to admit, I probably have the same look some days. I mean…. how do I devote myself to teaching environmental sustainability and life balance when everyone around me is just barely trying to keep their head above water? It just seemed so lefty-condescending to me. So, instead of putting the message out there, I have retreated. I have found other goals for myself and pursued them in a more personal and singular way.

That said, I woke up this morning with an overwhelming feeling that I had gotten that wrong; that the reason why sustainability fails over and over is because we ARE willing to put it in the back seat when it gets really hard. I realized that I was being a wimp. That I was letting the press and the hype of all the doom and gloom get under my skin and make a nasty little goal-defeating summer house there.

Now is not the time to retreat. Now is not the time to put all your energy into staying afloat! Now is the time to find REAL balance. Now is the time to find out what you truly NEED for a personally sustainable life. Most likely, recycling and composting is the last thing on you mind…. frankly, it has been the last thing on mine for a while now, but now is the time for that to change. There has never been a better moment in this world to do what we can as businesses and as humans to reach out and see how we can help each other, and help the world around us.

My commitment today is to reach out. What’s your commitment?

How a tennis star made me feel ok about my occasional use of zip-lock baggies.

September 25, 2009

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I’m sure Arthur Ashe had no idea that his statement of simple positivism would reach so far into the future, into the sustainability movement, and into the minds of so many frustrated change-makers. I’m sure Mr. Ashe just meant that when the chips are down, try your best. right? But that’s the thing about the power of words….once they are out there, they grow and bloom and expand and wiggle their way into our consciousness. They can turn into something so much more powerful than we ever imagined.

Start where you are.

You know those moments, when you are standing at the grocery store, and you realize that you need something else, but you have to go to the other side of the store to get it? Somewhere right after realizing you need that eggplant, just before kicking yourself for not remembering it when you were over there to begin with, is that brief moment when you take stock of where you are right then and how to get to where you need to go. It sounds simple enough, but when was the last time you really thought about where your business is, and how you can get to where you need to go?

Use what you have.

So, you’re back at the grocery store, wracking your brain, trying to remember if you have fish in the freezer or not. You finally realize that you really won’t know for sure until you get home. So, you take stock of what’s in your cart that you could magically turn into dinner (because you really just want to go home and eat, and you are tired of shopping for more stuff, and you had a long day, and you would probably be perfectly happy eating popcorn and leftover rice anyway). Then it hits you….stir-fry, voila! I don’t need fish, I have peas and carrots and broccoli and soy sauce!

Think about it. Take stock. You probably have more in your cart than you realize.  That old can of tomato paste could be tomorrow’s brilliant spaghetti sauce. Use what you have. You probably have more than you realize.

Do what you can.

Remember, doing what you can doesn’t mean the same thing as doing what you are capable of.  Just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean it is a good idea for you. Especially if that thing will preclude your ability to do more/better later. Doing what you can means being comfortable with saying no, so that you always have the time and energy to do the things that light you up and make you the brilliant leader that you are!

When is your business more than a business?

July 11, 2009

Have you ever thought about what your business would be if it wasn’t a business? I don’t mean what would happen if your business failed. No, I mean something much more existential. What animal/mineral/plan/ object would your business be? 01aaapuppy

Would you be a wildcat? Stalking your prey…risking it all for your next kill? A new puppy perhaps? Finding your way through the world, nipping at the heels of the bigger dogs? Or maybe you’re a sailboat…. alone on the water… facing the storm with nothing but your wits.

Why does it matter, you ask? Businesses fail all the time because they don’t know who they are, and if you don’t know who you are, how can you determine who your customer is? Beyond that, if you don’t know who your business is, how will you know when you have taken it to the next level?

So, when is your business more than a business? Your business is more than a business when it’pic-37197s a Kia Sephia that desperately wants to be a cherry-red ’65 Mustang convertible.  Your business is more than a business when you decide that you want it to be more than a business. Better than a business. A better business. A ‘More Business’.

‘More Businesses’ are not just money-making/ service providing/ product producing entities.  ‘More Businesses’ provide fuel for their community, stewardship for the planet, and education for their customers.

So, are you an elephant or an orphan, a Mustang or a mouse?

1965_Ford_Mustang_V8_Convertible

….And how can you be more?

Less of Less…More of More.

June 26, 2009

What if sustainability stopped being about ‘less’?

We’ve all heard it…less gas, less toys, less gadgets, less water, less meat, less, less, less. What if we stopped thinking about how we have to stop doing everything we enjoy? We are Americans, right?!? We like gas guzzling musApple Piecle cars and Mom’s apple pie. We like hot dogs at the ballpark and purple iPods. Why on god’s ‘Green’ earth would those of us in the sustainability field choose to tell everyone that they must have less of all the things that we fill our lives with, that have become our collective identity, as a way to get us all to care more about the world around us?

If someone told you that you must give up your house, the house your great grandfather built, that you grew up in, that you want to raise your children in, because it was better for the greater good? Wouldn’t that just make you want to throw in the towel? It seems to me that life is not worth living without a quest for more of all the things we truly love. I don’t want there to be a shell of a world, a shell of a culture left for my children. I don’t want them to grow up never knowing the joys of baseball, and fast cars and fresh apple pie. Giving these things away, sacrificing in the name of the greater good, why would anyone want less to be our legacy?

I want my children to grow up in a thriving, abundant world, full of life, and art, and culture, and nature.

full handsSo what if sustainability stops being about less and started being about more? More gardens, more healthy food, more days at the river instead of the pool, more walks in the woods than the golf course, more time with the people we love, more to give to your community.

Here is a list of the ten things you can do today to cultivate sustainable abundance in your life and your business:

1. Get comfortable with more: More = New, we like new. New means fresh, lively, abundant. Do you want less, or do you want more?

2. Do more: Start by doing a little more of something Green you have been meaning to do, but haven’t gotten around to, like using only recycled paper, or refillable ink cartridges.

3. Let the outside in a little more: Try opening your windows a little more often in the mornings when it’s nice and cool. It’s kind of amazing how much fresh air can help you get the day started.

4. Reach out more: Call a few of your best customers a little more…tell them you appreciate them (them, not their business…tell them you appreciate them), ask them how you can do more for them.Organic Veggies

5. Love more: Carve out a few minutes today to spend more time with someone you love.

6. Eat more: Next time you go to the grocery store, buy one more organic item than you did last time. Pick one thing that you had never thought of buying in the organic version. Next time you go, add one more. Go as far as you can.

7.  Communicate about Green a little more. If you write a blog or a newsletter, pose a ‘more’ question to your readers. Ask them what ‘Green’ means to them, or what they would like you to do more of to be Greener.

8. Learn more. Search online for a Green blog (like this one!). Commit to reading every post for a month. Worst case scenario…you’ll know more than you do right now.

9. Grow more. Get a plant…or plants. Stop telling yourself that you killhouse-plant plants. That is a problem that five minutes of asking care questions from the guy at the nursery can easily fix. Plants improve the air quality in your home or office, and are a lot more refreshing than posters of kittens hanging from branches.

10. Give more. Time, money, old stuff, whatever you have excess of. It feels good, and means that someone else gets a little more too. If you are a professional, find someone who could use your skills and give away a few hours of your brainpower (SCORE is a great place to start). If you have cash, use a to help something begin or grow (like a new start-up business). You get the idea.

Wouldn’t you rather have more of more, and less of less?

Business as Art, Art as Business

June 16, 2009

Have you ever watched business people on a busy downtown street from the window of a tall building? They look like some magical costumed play happening just for you. Everyone is dressed the same; blue suits, gray suits, black suits….all artfully twisting and maneuvering around each other like a dance, all pretending they are the only one on the street. They move with signals and colored lights and they follow the rhythm and pace set by their directors. NSAP1231_LARGE

8:00am: Act One… Set up the story for the following acts…

12:00pm: Intermission… Time for a quick bite….

1:00pm: Act 2…Wrap up the story, or perhaps leave it hanging for another tale?

5:00pm Curtain Call….Take your bows, hope no one noticed that you missed a bit in Act One

….after party….meet with friends, discuss Act One’s flubs….hope for better tomorrow….

Tomorrow: Repeat.

What is business if not a vast, endless blank canvas waiting to be filled with beauty, with life, with profit? What if we stopped ‘starting businesses’, and started ‘creating businesses’? How could this subtle change move our collective needle from what we know works, to what we had no idea was even possible?

So, why can’t business be art? Beautiful, lively, creative? And more importantly, what does this have to do with sustainability?

Think about it. What are the most lasting indicators we have of bygone eras? They are not the spreadsheets and the human resource manuals, they are the brilliant and expressive works of artists, designers, and magical, creative people who were able to capture a mythbusters-mona-lisa-paintballmoment in time with the stroke of a brush, the slant of a shoulder pad, the snip of a perfect coif, or tip of a pen. This is REAL sustainability. Indelible images of color and hope, there to show us where we’ve been and what (or what not) to do next.

So what if your business was designed, not started? What if your customers were opportunities to create great andbrunopietersplastique wonderful things that will last a lifetime because of their splendor?….and not simply another revenue stream?

To clearly understand how art, sustainability, and business fit together, first you have to get your head around what each means individually. Since all of these are very subjective terms, I am going with what my personal definitions are.

Art: The color we paint the world with. The blues of the gray areas between black and white. The sound of a perfect song, the smell of a perfect meal. Art is the thing that makes you soul sing and your heart dance.

110_Bear River Lodge Main photoSustainability: Living your life (or running your business) in such a way that you do not prevent future generations from doing the same.

Business: The wheels on the bus that takes us to the place where all things are possible. Our livelihood. The way we spend most of our life, and the thing we understand least.

So what if your business was designed not only to take you where you want to go, but also leave and indelible imprint on the planet and our culture that continued to be a valuable, enriching,  and thriving force for generations to come?

True sustainability must be beautiful, delightful, and creative, or it will just become another lost idea that we collectively leave behind.

So I ask….what’s beautiful and creative about your business?

-illana

MBA’s helping to Green the corporate world… What could an MBA do for you?

June 2, 2009

When I was a freshmen in high school, I had an English teacher that assigned my class to find a piece of writing, then copy the structure using my own words. The idea was to understand and internalize how the masters do it, but with our own personality and creativity. It was a great exercise that I have used over and over in all kinds of areas of my life, not just writing. Any time I have wanted to learn a new skill, stepping in to the shoes of those that do it REALLY well has always helped me to understand where I want to end up.

So, the topic today is:

How do the masters in your field implement and define sustainability, and how can you use their frameworks and your own fantastic and creative ideas to leapfrog miEarthhands3les ahead?!?

According to Environmental Leader, there is currently an initiative by the Environmental Defense Fund  called the Climate Corps that pairs MBA students with large corporations for ten week projects to help them improve energy efficiency and sustainable practices.  Last year’s group of seven MBA’s reported savings of $35 million in net operational costs over five years while cutting 57,000 tons of carbon pollution annually. In addition, group identified ways to conserve more than 119 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. All in ten weeks!

302613589_bc1acf69bb_oMakes it hard to say that Green costs more and isn’t worth investing in, doens’t it?

So, how could your business benefit from the expertise of a Green MBA? Could it save you money? Could it lower your carbon pollution footprint? Could it lower your electric bill? Yes!!! But what this program didn’t cover was communication! This it where your real opportunity comes in. When was the last time your business did something that was so great —and I don’t mean a big sale or a new website– I mean something really, really great, so great that you wanted to shout it from the rooftops?  This is Green marketing. This is why you hire a Green MBA (like me). We have the expertise to help you figure out how your business can be so great that you will have to shout it from the rooftops, and people will want to listen!

Check out my website at: http://www.illanaburk.com.

What does SUSTAINABILITY really mean?

May 26, 2009

This is the fundamental question, isn’t it? What does the word SUSTAINABILITY really mean? Three years ago, when I was in Grad School (for a Green MBA) the word ‘sustainability’ still got a little red 466391857_8e18ccedf4_osquiggly line under it every time I typed it into Word. This word that has come to be so meaningful to so many, wasn’t even a word (at least in Microsoft’s world) until last year!

If someone asked you to explain what sustainability means to a child (or an adult, for that matter), could you?

Unfortunately, you don’t often hear about what sustainability really is, and why the term itself is important. Instead, everyone wants to know:

What should we do?

How much money will it save me?

I recycle and buy organic food, isn’t that enough?

Green(washed) marketing will tell you that, ‘Simple choices will save us!’ and ‘Every small gesture matters!’ NBC is currently airing public service announcements with prime-time B-list celebrities making statements like, “I’m trying to use cloth bags at the market!” and, “Taking unused stuff out of your trunk will save you gas mileage!” NBC is seriously spending money telling people that taking your pet rock collection out of your trunk is all you need to do to go Green.

Instead of all the chatter, shouldn’t we be really talking about what it 2984714360_452d203350_bmeans, not what we did wrong (and how little we can do to fix it)? Sustainability is a simple concept. In 1987, the UN Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.)

In business terms, that translates to, “Doing business in such a way that does not compromise future generations’ ability to do the same.”

How do you feel about that? What’s the first thing that runs through your head after reading that statement? Is your first reaction to be wracked with guilt over the fact that you didn’t buy the recycled paper because it was $1.00 more? Or, do you think about whether it even matters? Do you wonder if we are even supposed to keep on truckin’ for another twenty thousand years?

There is no right answer.

There is only one way to look at sustainability:

We must be fearless.


We must not get bogged down in guilt, and we must not put our head in the sand and hope for brighter days. That means t hat today is a new day. Every day we have new choices to make and new opportinities to be leaders, along with new and inevitable opportunities to fall short.

As I climb down off of today’s soapbox, I would like to ask everyone reading a simple question:

What does SUSTAINABILITY mean to you? Please give it some thought and post a comment with your response. There is no right answer here…if sustainability means nutritious food for your family, or ending world hunger, I invite you to share why it’s important TO YOU to do your best to be green.

-illana

p.s. – Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog (button on left)….how else will you know when I have more genius material for you to read?!?

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