Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

As humans, we have always known we produce waste.  Every time we eat food, there are two visible types of waste (immediate trash and longer term liquid and solid outputs). We also talk about wasted time, wasted effort, wasted energy, wasted money., wasted opportunity….In industrial terms, we found crafting and tradesmanship (artisanry) to be too scattered for rapid production so we turned to assemblage and mass manufacturing governed by scientific management techniques (Frederick Taylor).  Now artisanry commands a price premium but that is another topic all together.  Once we had standardized processes, we had data to see that there was a lot of variation in quality.  Eliminating this variation became paramount to remaining competitive (W Edwards Deming). Combining quality and efficiency at a mass production level is an art that was mastered by Toyota.  Lean production (aka just-in-time production) focuses on maximizing the amount of resources directed towards value creation and eliminating non value related activities. (additional information on Lean Thinking)  While Lean has transcended manufacturing (see below), it is only part of the Toyota Philosophy.

The Lean philosophy can be summarized as focusing on the people doing the work and finding ways to improve the processes and level of performance of the work itself.  Continuous Improvement and Continuous Learning are inherent in this approach.

Lean is happening at the government level. The state of Wisconsin adopted a statewide lean initiative both for efficiency and continuous improvement reasons http://walker.wi.gov/wisconsin-reform/lean-government

Other cities and states are doing the same

Non-profits are showing the same benefits industry has

Lean can also be applied to the Service Sector

This article provides a theoretical framework for societal process areas that lend themselves to Lean interventions

The methodology for eliminating waste is known as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).

LSSI DMAIC methodology2

It often helps to have a tangible example beyond savings in dollars or time.

Toyota has helped the Food Bank get donations packaged 80% faster (when you’re hungry, faster food is a good thing!)

However, the Toyota Philosophy goes deeper than just Lean.  Toyota’s founder, Sakichi Toyoda, put forth 5 tenants:

  1. Always be faithful to your duties, thereby contributing to the company and to the overall good.
  2. Always be studious and creative, striving to stay ahead of the times.
  3. Always be practical and avoid frivolousness.
  4. Always strive to build a homelike atmosphere at work that is warm and friendly.
  5. Always have respect for spiritual matters, and remember to be grateful at all times.

The company has expanded these into 7 guiding principles (i have added alternative words to principle 7):

  1. Honor the language and spirit of the law of every nation and undertake open and fair business activities to be a good corporate citizen of the world.
  2. Respect the culture and customs of every nation and contribute to economic and social development through corporate activities in their respective communities.
  3. Dedicate our business to providing clean and safe products and to enhancing the quality of life everywhere through all of our activities.
  4. Create and develop advanced technologies and provide outstanding products and services that fulfill the needs of customers worldwide.
  5. Foster a corporate culture that enhances both individual creativity and the value of teamwork, while honoring mutual trust and respect between labor and management.
  6. Pursue growth through harmony with the global community via innovative management.
  7. Work with business partners in research [learning] and manufacture [production] to achieve stable, long-term growth and mutual benefits, while keeping ourselves open to new partnerships.

Using these principles as a basis, what DMAIC steps can we take to eliminate the waste in how we educate children, how we create jobs, how we practice work/life balance, how we establish romantic relationships (yes, there is lean dating)?

Feel free to post comments and/or links!


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In today’s global markets, one gets immune to seeing “Made in….” labels on retail goods.

Yes, there are domestic employment arguments to be made in favor of buying goods that are produced in-country. There are also numerous environmental arguments (esp. lower transportation emissions). On the flip side, a lot of countries that export manufactured goods do not have the in-country consumer demand to sustain global production levels.

However, a Taiwanese friend of mine gave me a wake up call this weekend. We were doing the chic thing – browsing through stores (both clothing and home furnishings) and I noticed she kept checking the labels on everything.  I finally had to ask why she was so interested in the labels. She said, because I’m frustrated that they all say “Made in China.”  I traveled all this way because I wanted to go back home with some authentic American products not Chinese products. I can’t find any!!

Needless to say she was not at all amused when I joked she might need to go to China to find Made in the USA….

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Scientists: Gulf spill now far bigger than Valdez (Associated Press)

  • Exxon Valdez 11million gallons
  • Gulf Spill 19million to 39million gallons (and counting)

Exxon Valdez impact


Dead animals: 100,000 to as many as 250,000 seabirds, at least 2,800 sea otters, approximately 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, and 22 orcas, as well as the destruction of billions of salmon and herring eggs

Slow system recovery: Almost 20 years after the spill, a team of scientists at the University of North Carolina found that the effects are lasting far longer than expected.[20] The team estimates some shoreline Arctic habitats may take up to 30 years to recover.

21 years later: Incomplete oil removal & devastation of herring fish stock (previously an economic staple for the area)

Total Impact of Gulf Spill (both short term and long term) = TBD.

The little we do know can be seen in this underwater video from ABC’s Good Morning America

Quote from Repower America: ABC News went underwater in the Gulf with Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of famous explorer Jacques Cousteau, and he described what he saw as “one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen underwater.”

We are resisting alternative energy sources and fuel efficiency mandates because….?????

Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!

Here is a resource if you want to be pro-active about preventing such problems in the future: http://www.climateprotect.org/


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There is nothing like listening to Futurists. Established conventions of what must be are shattered, obliterated, forgotten.  This doesn’t mean that everything Futurists propose is immediately practical.  I’m still waiting for Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons (not to mention a car that folds up into my briefcase).

Despite all the talk about sustainability, one has seen very little Futurist proposals.  You can imagine my delight when I came across this concept of a future city in Busan Korea.

The concept: what would happen if we applied Moore’s Law to sustainable technology?  They started with existing materials and concepts.  One of the materials (still cutting edge) is ETFE foil.

I don’t know much about the material.  First learned about it in a vertical farming presentation. Prof. Despommier (Columbia Univ. microbiologist). Most of what he told us is contained here http://www.verticalfarm.com/presentations.html

I wrote down that it is as refractive as water, self cleaning, clear enough for astronomy observations without causing distortion, and insulating.

Here are applications

The Eden Project (southern England)

Eurofresh Farms (Wilcox, AZ)

ETFE specs http://www.k-mac-plastics.net/etfe-sheets-film.htm

The concept of movable buildings is not new. Tents are movable buildings. In a very different manner so are cruise ships. So why am I so excited? This concept proposal suggests we create buildings that move around in order to maximize solar energy during the day and conserve energy at night.

Yes there are practical reasons we don’t want our buildings moving about – mostly because we don’t want the pounds of stuff we keep in them moving about. However, what if the building could move without any internal vibration?

Also, we are currently obsessed with the equipment we use. We search for energy efficient light bulbs, low energy appliances, etc. What about thinking of a building like a mini-cell eco-system? An eco-system in which everything including the exterior membrane modulates and adjusts to conserve resources. Right now we use building exteriors as insulation but what if they could be generators as well?

As for The Jetsons, well, take a look at the video and perhaps your faith will be restored…


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This 18min video is a must see TED talk!



Bad News:

  • 27 million people (in 2010) facing same conditions as during height of the slave trade (i.e. forced to work under constant violence/threat of violence and with no pay).
  • This is double the number of slaves that came out of Africa during the entire transatlantic slave trade.
  • Problem is found everywhere except for Greenland and Iceland.
  • People are not usually kidnapped but rather living in very poor conditions and recruited with the promise of a paying job.
  • Locations with high concentrations of slaves are also locations with extreme environmental destruction.

Good News:

  • This only occurs in places where the rule of law is absent.
  • Slavery is illegal in every country and has been pushed to the edges of our global society.
  • 27 million people = smallest fraction of the global population to ever be in slavery.
  • The $40 billion that they generate into the global economy every year also equals the smallest proportion of the total global economy (smallest proportion also in historical terms).
  • We have the resource capability to completely eradicate slavery from human history within our lifetime.
    • Cost = $400/slave = total of $10.8 billion = what people in the US spend in 1 year on blue jeans or tech gadgets or what a City like Seattle will spend on its light rail system or Intel’s 4th quarter earnings
  • This money would not be spent to buy people out of slavery because this would reward the enslavers.  Money would be spent on the process and technical assistance providers who help slaves achieve liberation and rebuild their lives.  The process usually takes between 2 to 5 years.
  • ROI (Return on Investment)
    • Those who are liberated become empowered over their economic futures and local economies begin to flourish because they are now working for their own benefit.
    • Moral rectitude and peace of mind/human dignity.
    • (Not mentioned in the Talk but, arguably, if the worst environmental degradation is being accomplished through slave labor then by ending slavery we are also ending the environmental degradation).

Lots more interesting facts and issues raised in the video….


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There is a lot of talk about global warming, environmental sustainability, climate change, etc.  It can get confusing and hard to understand.  As always, a picture tells 1,000 words:

Ecological Debt http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/a-planet-in-ecological-debt

Who gets the trash? http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/who-gets-the-trash

50 million climate refugees by 2010 http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/fifty-million-climate-refugees-by-2010

Graph of national savings adjusted for environmental depletion (selected countries) http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/net-national-savings-in-2001-adjusted-for-investments-in-human-capital-natural-resource-depletion-an

Be sure to check out PDF posters in lower left corner

Hazardous waste 2001 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=305

Greenhouse gases 2000 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=299

Carbon Emissions Increases 1980 – 2000 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=297

Biocapacity 2002 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=321

Ecological Footprint 2002 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=322


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I was alerted to this excellent report by Melinda Smale and Timothy M. Mahoney who created a report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Agricultural Productivity in Changing Rural Worlds


The report highlights negative effects the Green Revolution has had as well as discusses solutions/ways to avoid these mistakes moving forward. A strong case is made for what they call agroecology (organic farming methods in common parlance).

It is the first report I’ve seen which takes into account geographic, climate & cultural differences between sub-Saharan Africa and Asian countries. The authors advocate for systems which allow farmers to share their knowledge & expertise amongst themselves instead of extension/”expert” based systems which tell farmers what to do.  However, agricultural researchers are still needed to formalize the knowledge which farmers share/create.  ICT is viewed as essential to making this happen, esp. to enable farmers to overcome institutional barriers (e.g. establishing information sharing networks, reducing the cost of searching for/acquiring information, linking farmers to markets & credit).

There is also a very interesting panel discussion which focuses on US/USAID policy in facilitating transition to market driven approaches to agriculture:

Public-Private Partnerships to Develop and Spread New Agricultural Technologies in sub-Saharan Africa http://csis.org/event/public-private-partnerships-develop-and-spread-new-agricultural-technologies-sub-saharan-afric (the third audio clip below the video highlights the authors of the report)

There are a lot of highly pertinent sub-topics brought forth in the discussion so it is well worth listening to, in addition to reading the report.

Entities mentioned in discussion which I hadn’t heard of before (see speaker agenda/bios for more details):

Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa http://www.partnership-africa.org/

African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) http://www.aatf-africa.org/ (focused on licensing technology from the private sector)

Arcadia Biosciences http://www.arcadiabio.com/

Fertilizer Development Research Center http://www.ifdc.org/

CIMMYT (International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center) http://www.cimmyt.org/

Development Credit Authority http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/economic_growth_and_trade/development_credit/

Global Impact Investing Network http://www.globalimpactinvestingnetwork.org/cgi-bin/iowa/home/index.html

Terragua project http://www.globalimpactinvestingnetwork.org/cgi-bin/iowa/council/terragua/index.html

Root Capital http://www.rootcapital.org/

BizCLIR (Business Climate Legal & Institutional Reform) http://www.bizclir.com/

Report Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development http://www.ifpri.org/event/millions-fed-proven-successes-agricultural-development

Terminology “Soft Infrastructure” http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTURBANDEVELOPMENT/EXTLED/0,,contentMDK:20198974~menuPK:404390~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:341139,00.html

Commentary (not mentioned in discussion but reflective of general sentiment) on impact privatization is having on land ownership http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=23003 (based on a brief mention in John Lamb’s talk, the World Bank appears to be working to address these concerns by establishing investment standards )

World Bank’s Investment Across Borders project



John Lamb’s research (mostly focused on food standards)

Food Safety & Health Standards http://vle.worldbank.org/bnpp/en/publications/trade/food-safety-and-agricultural-health-standards-challenges-and-opportunities-develo

Agriculture for Development discussion http://info.worldbank.org/etools/BSPAN/PresentationView.asp?PID=2236&EID=1007

International Agro-Food Standards http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/TRADE/0,,contentMDK:20334931~isCURL:Y~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:239071,00.html

Not mentioned in the discussion but came up in search results while I was looking up information that was mentioned:

African Agricultural Opportunities Fund http://www.aaopfund.com/

Next Billion http://www.nextbillion.net/


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