Rankings Redux

Since I posted the last entry, I have had an interchange with Newsweek that has cleared up some of the mystery. The order of the rankings in the Green Corporations table is determined by something called a z-score, not the raw impact data. The z-score is a measure of the distance a score is from the mean, normalized by the standard deviation.* It’s just something like this that may have triggered Lord Disraeli’s initial outburst about statistics. It is more work that I am willing to do to calculate these scores for the whole set, so I will just have to accept the mathematical accuracy of the data. But not… Read More

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Rankings

Lies, damn lies, and statistics is a phrase usually attributed to Lord Disraeli. With the profusion of rating and ranking schemes, the time has come to bring it up to date, as the headline proclaims. Wal-Mart has recently announced its plans to rate all of the hundreds of thousands of products it sells. We have ratings of plain colored colleges, green colleges, corporations in many shapes (Fortune 500, Dow Jones Sustainability Index. . .) and now the [Newsweek list of the 500 greenest big U. S. corporations](http://greenrankings.newsweek.com/). The idea of ranking things of all sorts is an old and frequently useful one. The truthfulness and utility of each scheme is,… Read More

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When Things Bite Back

The headline of this post is the title of a book by Edward Tenner with the subtitle, Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. This theme runs through my book. While driving today, I heard a story on NPR about a device that will prevent texting while driving. Distractive driving has become endemic especially among younger drivers, and has become a major source of automobile accidents. Many states have passed laws making texting while driving illegal. > A nationwide survey this year showed an estimated 45 percent of drivers 30 or younger are sending or receiving texts behind the wheel. Teens call it “driving while intexticated.” The story, which can… Read More

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Learning About Sustainability from Pigs and Trash

Gregory Bateson once wrote in *The Ecology of the Mind*, “Lack of systemic wisdom is always punished.” Unfortunately for those who might learn from the bad consequences of such failures, the evidence frequently comes much later and escapes notice. The relationship between ill-considered actions and the collapse or serious malfunctioning of the system they perturb is often tenuous and the delay for the response to appear too long to make the connection clear. Such is the case with climate change. It has been excruciatingly difficult to make a convincing case linking greenhouse gases and temperature rise to the general public for this reason. Occasionally we can observe a systems failure… Read More

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The Business of Sustainability

The headline of this post is the title of a[ just released report](http://www.mitsmr-ezine.com./busofsustainability/2009#pg1) published jointly by the Boston Consulting Group in collaboration with the Sloan Management Review. There is much in it worth reading and I will make it the subject of several posts. (Disclosure: I was one of the “thought leaders” interviewed by the Sloan Management Review in the development of this report.) Today I am simply going to dwell on the title, *The Business of Sustainability*. I’ll bet that most of those that read the report or news about it haven’t thought about the title. What is the “business of sustainability? Before you read on, stop and think… Read More

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Indices Versus Meters

A reader asked me about Google’s PowerMeter and how does this compare to Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index, which I have criticized on several occasions. First, I would be comparing apples and oranges. These two proposals represent very different kinds of ways to inform people. The Google PowerMeter and other similar processes are ways to evaluate energy consumption. The Google system links to a smart meter installed by the power company at a home or office, collects detailed data on energy consumption, organizes the data, and presents it to the consumer via a personal Google webpage. By observing patterns versus some separate record of what electrical services one uses during the day,… Read More

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Watching Summer Vanish

Summer is not officially over for a few weeks yet, but my personal version ended this weekend when we moved back to Lexington from Maine. This season has been particularly cruel, dousing us with rain and freezing us for the first part of the summer. Then in the middle of a great streak of gorgeous weather we had to pack up and leave. I do have to admit though, the beautiful days have followed us home at least for now. September is my New Year, not January 1st. Not just because the Jewish New Year comes at this time, but most of our yearly activities start in the Fall. That’s… Read More

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Self Storage–A Growing Way to Consume Even More

Where to put all our solid waste has been a big question for many decades now. Recycling has reduced the amount of stuff being incinerated or dumped into a landfill. We are still filling up big holes in the ground at an appalling rate. Now it seems that we are filling up a lot of above-ground space with stuff that we own, but don’t use and don’t want to throw out yet. Jon Mooallem, writing in the New York Times Magazine about the growth of self-storage dropped some fascinating data and a few stories to liven up the numbers. The numbers are pretty remarkable. > After a monumental building boom,… Read More

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The Danger of Being Partly Right

It is always a pleasant surprise to read an article by a leading economist who doesn’t claim to know all the answers. More often it’s one economist arguing that all the rest of his profession has missed some critical item. Paul Krugman, [writing in the New York Times Magazine](http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06Economic-t.html?_r=1&sq=paul%20krugman&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=all), is somewhere between these cases. He asks and answers the question, “Why economists from all parts of the theoretical spectrum missed seeing the arrival of the financial collapse and the recession?” Nobody, except for a handful of academics, foretold of the coming disaster, the parts of the article that argue for or against either of the two primary schools within economics.… Read More

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The “Ultimate” Credit Card

We’re still up in Maine enjoying a late burst of summer after a very disappointing season. The mail comes once a week being forwarded by our home post office. Today two boxes arrived with lots of throwaway items, mostly without even opening them. One letter stood out from the pack so I opened it and found an invitation to apply for a credit card. Most are easy to spot and go directly into the wastebasket. This one was carefully disguised in a sleek black envelope. My first thought after figuring out what the contents were was, “so much for the credit bubble and whatever we have learned from the crunch… Read More

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