April 2011 Archives

Teach a Child to Shop . . ."

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RL gang

The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for life.” Some marketer has discovered that this applies to children. Get them shopping as young as possible and you have made them a consumer for life. Today’s Boston Globe has an op-ed piece about a new gimmick offered by Ralph Lauren, the maker of fancy clothes. Their web home page pulls you in with this slogan, “Explore and shop our romantic Western-style inspired collection, straight from the runway.” Anticipating that early readers won’t bother to find their website, Lauren has come up with a novel way to get their attention. Here’s what the Globe says, “If the commercialization of childhood isn’t widespread enough, here comes the Ralph Lauren company with a sly new mutation: ‘The first ever shoppable children’s storybook.’” It comes in both printed and online versions.

“The RL Gang: A Magically Magnificent School Adventure’’ is a 32-page volume, aimed at preschool-age children. Its slim plot involves a group of eight impossibly cute classmates, all dressed in Polo Ralph Lauren finery, with names like Willow, Oliver, Hudson, and River. The junior fashion icons use magical paintbrushes to draw themselves a garden party that comes alive, complete with ice cream and kittens.

Woozy yet? Reading along in the online video version — narrated by Uma Thurman — parents and kids can take a break to “look inside Oliver’s closet,’’ for example, and buy the twee outfits. “The RL Gang’’ is touted unblushingly as “an innovative way for parents and children to explore style, literature, and digital technology together.’’ . . . No, it’s an online clothing catalog disguised as a book. And you thought Angry Birds was a threat to children’s literacy.

Wow. This one is right up there with tattooing ads on foreheads as finding yet another once sacrosanct medium to exploit. In what might be the height of hypocrisy, Lauren promises to donate 15 percent of the profits (but not to exceed $25,000) from sales the clothes in the catalog to a charity named by Uma Thurman, who narrates the online version. Why a limit? The charity is Room to Grow, whose mission is “to enrich the lives of babies born into poverty.” Maybe Ralph Lauren thought it was doing Robin Hood’s work, robbing the rich to help the poor. Snideness aside, how far have we fallen into the depths of pure, unadulterated consumerism? Literacy is a cornerstone of civility and the fulfillment of our humanity. Teaching reading to pre-schoolers should introduce them to the wonders of the world, but I hardly think shopping is one of them.

The whining complaints of those in the book business miss the point. This is not at all about whether the book is a good book or not.The Globe article continues:

“It’s the worst sort of self-published writing, no plot at all,’’ said Terri Schmitz, owner of The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, adding words such as “appalling,’’ and “just awful.’’ Schmitz finds the whole concept of a shoppable storybook insulting to legitimate children’s literature — she notes “The RL Gang’’ series doesn’t even have an author. “Its just one giant ad in the guise of some kind of lovely story,’’ she said.

It’s not about the plot in the book; it’s about the plot behind the book. Even if the author was named and the story not, “just awful,” it would still be a travesty. The circumstances are entirely different from the Joe McCarthy days of my youth, but Joseph Welch’s outcry, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” would apply to this misadventure.

Tornadoes Postscript

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Just after I published the last post, I read this quote from President Obama, made at the opening of his press conference to announce his new national security team.

“We can’t control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it,” Mr. Obama said, promising to do “everything we can” to help local officials.

As I wrote just a few minutes ago, he's not quite right. Recent scientific findings do show evidence of a connection between human-activities-based contributions to global warming and severe weather patterns. If so, we may be able to reduce the frequency and severity of tornadoes and other extreme events by modifying our behavior.

Tornadoes and Tournedos

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twister The latest news from the South is dreadful. Reports of hundreds of twisters is almost impossible to apprehend. It is too simplistic to say that Mother Nature seems angry these days, but it seems an apt metaphor. The devastating earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and the recent one near Japan that created the massive tsunami are clearly part of the continuing geologic change in the Earth’s structure. Earthquakes occur randomly in time and severity, and although we understand their cause better, we cannot control or avoid them. The tornadoes may also be a random event, but they may not.

They may be due to global climate change. One of the features about global warming is the possibility of a higher frequency of extreme weather events. Yes, it is only a possibility, but that means we should acknowledge that possibility and act accordingly. If we believed they were only random events due to natural fluctuations in the climate system, the only response would be defensive, preparing ourselves for the worst. Prudence would argue for protective building codes, shelters, emergency planning, and so on.

Here, as is the case for many very rare, but dangerous events, like cancers and big floods, we tend to either wish them away or act if they were not so rare. This finding was the result of work by 2002 Nobel prize winning researcher Daniel Kahneman and his by-then deceased collaborator Amos Tversky. They wrote, “Because people are limited in their ability to comprehend and evaluate extreme probabilities, highly unlikely events are either neglected or overweighted, and the difference between high probability and certainty is either neglected or exaggerated.” (Tversky, Amos and Daniel Kahneman. (1992). “Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty,” Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 9, p. 283.)

U.S. history shows related responses, for example, allowing people to settle in floodplains even after their homes have been swept away, in some cases more than once. The settlers act as if these events will never happen. This response might be suitable if the bill for repairs came only to the property owners, but a large portion often gets paid by the public because political bleeding hearts can’t say no to requests for recompense. Presidents have a habit of touring the disaster sites, but not of acting to prevent them. Building nuclear power plants in high seismic action zones seems the height of imprudence and willful ignorance. In a country like Japan, there may be little choice, other than not building the plants at all, given that much of the entire country is earthquake prone. Technological hubris, in the case of addressing such probabilities, has caused much misery and raids on the public coffers.

Unlike the earthquakes over which we have no control, we have an additional route for severe weather events to avoid the possibility of widespread damage to life and property. Tornados may be caused in part by our own economic activities. Climate change models show that, along with increases in the average global temperature, extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency of occurrence. Now, besides taking defensive or adaptive measures, we have an additional option, start to adopt practices to reduce the amount of climate change in the first place. I’m not saying anything new here, certainly not to those who regularly read this blog, but I have seen little or no evidence of others making similar statements in the wake of the current or recent extreme weather events. The news I have read or listened to focuses on the plight of the human victims of these horrific twisters as it should in the immediacy of the disaster, but without any mention of the possibility of its human cause. What a missed opportunity for a wake-up call.

When faced with the possibility of rare events, a common practice is to buy insurance. We pay someone a fee in return for a contract to repay us for damages covered by our contract. There are other ways to reduce the risk: vacating the risky domain: moving to high ground, for example, or changing practices, like stopping smoking. We have not done anything significant, however, for reducing risks connected with climate which is unquestioningly changing, although the extent and timing are uncertain to some degree. The response in the United States has been to ignore the issue either implicitly or explicitly, opting to fix things up after the damage occurs. The bill is likely to be very high, as it is in Japan in terms of lives lost and property damaged.

tournedos

There are so many actions that could be taken, but I will only mentioned one that was suggested by the word play in the title of this post: eat less beef. Beef is the most environmentally demanding source of animal protein. Estimates of its footprint vary widely, but here are a few numbers I believe are reliable. A pound of beef at the supermarket represents the consumption of 2500-12000 gallons of water and produces 20-40 pounds of carbon equivalents. That’s the same as driving an average car roughly 100-200 miles. The mid-range water use is equivalent to taking a daily 7-minute shower for a year.

Other meats have smaller footprints. Beef consumption has been steady for some years after health scares caused a large decline but we still consume more beef than other nations. Except for France and Brazil, we consume more than twice as much per capita as any other country. By taking action we would not eliminate the risk of weather-induced damages, but this could be one of many small steps to take. I expect that giving up the 6-ounce fast food hamburger at around $2.00 will be much harder than foregoing an occasional filet mignon or tournedos at $42.50 a pound (including shipping) at Costco, but we must begin to make the connection between those twisters in the South and the burgers we eat at the neighborhood BurgerKing, MacDonald or Wendy’s.

A Pale Green World

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pale green sq

In the last few days, I have read several reports about the state of green consumption, which seems to have dropped since the recession led consumers to look more closely at their wallets and pocketbooks. The New York Times reported a few days ago the “green products are losing their allure.

But America’s eco-consciousness, it turns out, is fickle. . . . “Every consumer says, ‘I want to help the environment, I’m looking for eco-friendly products,’ ” said David Donnan, a partner in the consumer products practice at the consulting firm A. T. Kearney. “But if it’s one or two pennies higher in price, they’re not going to buy it. There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they do.”

“Bottom line, if it’s green and it’s a good deal, I’ll buy it,” said Ms. Pooler, outside a Jewel-Osco store.

Ms. Pooler doesn’t understand that green products, if they are really greener that the alternatives, are the real bargain. The few cents saved on the other products may be far less than the costs they lay on the Earth through greater impacts. I have often written that consumers do not understand what they are buying in spite of all the minuscule information on the label. They do not understand or acknowledge the costs of damage to the environment or the cost of unfair labor practices. Putting green labels and scores doesn’t remedy this at all, and may make the customers even more unknowing. The story continues.

At Church & Dwight, its Arm & Hammer Essentials multisurface cleaner, glass cleaner and laundry detergent are no longer being produced for the United States market, less than three years after they were introduced. . . “Arm & Hammer Essentials cleaners may have been ahead of their time,” said the chief marketing officer, Bruce Fleming, in an e-mail. Its concentrated cleaners, for instance, were sold with an empty spray bottle, and consumers had to add their own water to make the cleaning sprays. . . “We haven’t given up on launching innovative, earth-friendly products, we’ve just taken a step back to think about how and when consumers will be ready,” he said.

Maybe it’s time to give up on the concept of consume sovereignty if this is how producers and retailers think. It’s far past, not ahead of, the time that consumer goods must reflect the real costs, not just the costs in the accounting P&L, but in the environmental P&L as well. These costs are just as real as the cost of the ingredients in the detergent on the shelf. They simply are unaccounted for in standard financial reporting.

The troubles with green products go beyond the recent economic woes says a report “Mainstream Green," a report published by Ogilvy and Mather based on polling data. The authors, Graceann Bennett & Freya Williams, see the problem as one of an error in marketing strategy.

Topline: We’ve been getting the message all wrong Our research shows that when it comes to motivating the American Mainstream, marketers, governments, and NGOs have been approaching messaging and marketing around sustainability all wrong. Indeed much of what we’ve been doing has actually been cementing the Green Gap by making green behavior too difficult and costly from a practical, financial, and social standpoint.

The “green gap” they mention is the difference between people who say, “‘green’ is important,” and those that act accordingly. Some 16 percent of the US adult population are what the authors call “super green.” They walk the talk; there is no green gap here. About 18 percent are at the other end of the spectrum, the “green rejectors.” They make no bones about their attitudes; they neither care for or act toward the environment. There’s no green gap here either.

It’s the great middle, about 66 percent, that is interesting. Half act on their intentions and half do not. When you put this all together, you get a green gap of 30 percent. Thirty out of one hundred adults claim that environment is important but fail to do anything about their feelings. I suspect the number is probably higher because people tend to overstate their actions toward a cause.

Being marketing consultants, their interpretations of the data are not surprisingly directed toward the need for better marketing as if peoples understanding of the world is created through marketing. There are 12 separate recommendations in the main report. I picked just one for this post.

Eliminate the Sustainability Tax: We’re taxing people’s virtuous behavior. The high price of many of the greener products on store shelves suggests that we are trying to limit or discourage more sustainable choices. We must dismantle the informal luxury tax placed on green products if we are to close the Green Gap for the mainstream American consumer. Eliminating the price barrier eliminates the notion that green products are not for normal citizens.

This shows me how far the world of marketing is from the real world. There is no “sustainability tax.” Perhaps, in this case, virtue comes with a price tag attached. If anything, we are eliminating the “unsustainability subsidy,” the costs to the natural system that are not included in the normal price. Green products, on the whole, are going to be more expensive because they internalize the costs that never showed up in the products already on the shelves. That has to be the marketing message. We have been led to believe that Walmart’s costs are the right ones, that gasoline should never cost more than about $3.00 a gallon, or that any difference in the price of “green” soap is not worth it unless you're one of the elites (the super greens).

If the green marketers and the companies they consult with are serious about “green,” they have to start paying attention to the Earth, not their polls. They need to find a way to tell the customers that you can pay now or later, but you or your children are going to pay for the costs of environmental and social damage. And if you delay, the future costs are going to be much higher. We cannot inflate our way around this hard fact as has been suggested as a way to deal with the budget deficit.

Marketing can, I know, be very powerful, but the “Mainstream Report” has it all wrong. The message should be to educate people to understand that any extra cost of green goods is justified and real. The way to make these products mainstream is just that, to send the message that it is the products that are not “green” that are the more costly and should be avoided.

More later as I study this report in more detail. A quick look tells me that there are at least 12 blog posts there--one for each of the recommendations. I labeled this post, pale green, the right color to use for describing the state of the world today. The swatch in the upper corner is as pale as I could get without losing any tinge of green.

Sustainability by Design Redux

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big sunflower.

It's been quite some time since my book was published and even I get a little fuzzy about what's in it. I have been using it as a text in a course, Exploring Sustainability, I teach at Marlboro College in their graduate Sustainability MBA program. The course extends over five of the six trimesters in their program. This is the first in the series and serves as an introduction to the alternate vision of sustainability I offer. The students were allowed to pick their topics for the final paper assignment as long as they were consistent with the syllabus. One choose to do a book review of Sustainability by Design. I wish this had been written about two years ago. It might have boosted sales. I think the student, Galen Guerrero-Murphy, captured the essence of the book. Here is his review:

Sustainability by Design by John Ehrenfeld provides a critical perspective on the state of sustainability and the oxymoronic nature of sustainable development. Ehrenfeld grounds the reader with a brutally honest portrayal of modernity, the challenges We collectively face, and the deep-rooted, personal changes we must seek if we are to ever arrive upon something resembling sustainability. Despite the precariousness of our modern life, the book is altogether hopeful, pragmatic, and optimistic. Ehrenfeld elicits the reader to embark upon a journey of self-reflection and to evaluate the roots of unsustainability present in our cultures and our lives, and he challenges us to alter the way we interact with and care for the world.

The book first deconstructs our current consumptive patterns and “shifting the burden” cycles (addictions), as well as the dogmatic, scientific, technological and cultural histories that contribute to our current state of unsustainability. Ehrenfeld then presents an elegant and original definition of sustainability: “the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the Earth forever (p. 49).” He posits this possibility is only achievable through significant individual and cultural change, not through piecemeal environmental protection, social responsibility, or other forms of “sustainable development.” A quote from Chapter 6 nicely summarizes Ehrenfeld’s position, “Sustainability is an existential problem, not an environmental or social one. . . I believe that we cannot and will not begin to take care of the world until we become whole ourselves (p. 60).” I couldn’t agree more. He further elaborates that sustainability is an emergent property that arises from our culture when the nested, complex systems of our reality—society, governments, cultures, and so on—fully embody nature and his notion of “Being.” This notion is fully developed and defined in a practical and achievable sense. It is the authentic expression of our self and our cultures when we embrace “care” structures over “need” structures—in other Words, coming to understand our self, others around us, and the entire world as objects of our care, rather than objects to satisfy our needs.

The book was quite instructive in describing how to promote such a transformational shift, both personally and collectively. I found it offered a uniquely comprehensive and interdisciplinary tone, philosophy, and problem “dissolving” approach that I have not found anywhere else in the sustainability literature. Ehrenfeld’s vision—sustainability by design—is thoroughly investigated from many angles. Design is introduced as “a process in which new action-producing structures are created and substituted for old ones such that routine acts change from the old, ineffective patters to new ones that produce the desired outcomes (p. 73).” Ehrenfeld’s preferred model to explain how design affects the collective is through Anthony Gidden’s theory of structuration—the cycles of action creating structure creating action, which explain how our social context (culture, technology, science, history, etc.) creates our actions and how our actions shift the social context. Giddens and his structuration theory were new to me, and I thought this set a fine stage for locating and evaluating the “levers of transformation.”

Several key areas for change and transformation are examined toward the latter half of the book. This includes the design of products, design of institutions, design of adaptive governance, and the role of business. In each arena, pragmatism is a priority—this cannot be emphasized enough and I think this book really drove it home in my mind. We cannot predict [the future behavior of] complex systems, no matter how sophisticated our systems of measurement and science and understanding are. Thus, the result of every action should be monitored, and if the result is not what we want, we must modify the action. This may seem simplistic and obvious at first glance. But when one considers what widespread reflection and adaptive response would do to our dominant “charge blindly into the future and never look back” approach, the results would indeed be transformational. After some real meditation on this topic, I am ever more convinced of the profound depth and power of pragmatism if it were really, truly employed on a broad scale.

As someone fascinated by technology and our relation to technological artifacts, I really enjoyed the section on product design and “presencing.” Product presencing involves scripting products to promote reflection, examine authenticity of the action the product promotes, illuminate the domain of care that is relevant to this action, and instill a sense of responsibility to the user; it requires intimate involvement in the routine use of products (e. g., tuning); and it promotes participatory design. While I want to believe that this sort of product design can quickly impart Being on the user (perhaps on those users who can’t find it any other way), I also recognize this will be a slow, uphill battle. I am reminded of my new cell phone, which alerts me every time I remove it from its charger that I should unplug the charger to conserve energy. Given my background, I should be receptive of this type of presencing, yet I still fail to unplug the charger. This small example gets me worried about the feasibility of broad transformation through presencing (but perhaps this is really an example of presencing working, evidenced by my writing of this passage, and I will now begin to unplug the darn thing. . .). I would have liked to see more examples of product design that embodies this type of presencing, but I suppose this indicates a lot of work and possibility lies ahead.

Inspired by the book to evaluate my own patterns, I am conflicted by the satisfaction I feel in domains of “care” (care for myself care for others, and care for the world) juxtaposed with my (normal) level of consumption that is far from sustainable. Certainly, Ehrenfeld doesn’t shy away from his criticism of technology, sustainable development, and consumption. But rather than embrace a doomsday attitude, I was truly inspired by his ability to offer a conceivable way forward. The epilogue provides an important perspective on balance, which I think prevents a mental paralysis. Rather than completely dismiss the present reality despite its detrimental shortcomings, the pragmatic approach requires balance with the present and the future. Ehrenfeld states, “Sustainability rests on the possibility that the system of the present will maintain its structural integrity while the details change (p. 113).” We need not be immobilized by the monumental urgency of our problems, nor should be proceed down dead-end paths of quick fixes and shifting-the-burden. Rather, we must tread onward with balance and care in our hearts, transforming the details of our paradigm step by step until the whole thing shifts and the emergent properties we seek are unveiled.

Thanks, Galen.

Big Lies and Little White Lies

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Pinochio

The redesigned Newsweek started coming a few weeks ago amid promises of combining the best of print newsmagazines with their cousins on the Web. They broke their promise. I presume it was a case of misleading PR rather than an outright lie. I wouldn’t have thought about lying if it were not for an article in this latest issue about that very subject. The article I refer to is a book review by Tony Dokoupil of James Stewart’s Tangled Webs. Stewart writes about some of America’s greatest living liars, defined by court judgments of perjury and the like. The names are very familiar: Barry Bonds. Martha Stewart (no relation), Bernard Madoff, and Scooter Libby.

I do not know the work of Stewart the author, not Stewart the felon, but the review presents his pedigree.

Through three decades, eight books, and countless articles, the gentleman scribe has made exposing liars the leitmotif of his career. Just don’t ask him to explain why. “It’s in the Ten Commandments!” he exclaimed recently over a plate of candied-almond pancakes. “Do you want to see what a society looks like where everyone lies? It’s horrendous! It’s corrupt!” It’s also America, at least as Stewart presents it, sounding the alarm on “a surge of concerted, deliberate lying” at all levels of society.

Stewart has settled on a few of the most blatant of headline gathering cases. He has limited his book to criminal lying, skipping over what I see as a much more dangerous form of lying, the lies we tell ourselves about the state of the world. It’s lies like Bush’s claim of “Mission Accomplished.” In one sense this falls into the category of little white lies, not quite true, distorted so as not to dash the hopes, expectations, ego, dreams of those to whom the lie is aimed. Another, more nuanced, more insidious form of lying, in this case to oneself, is the denial of reality--a common occurrence that has great social, public implications.

Climate change deniers are an obvious example here, but so are those that claim that inequality either does not exist or is good for us. In these cases it is not necessarily a character flaw as it is for Madoff or Bonds. It may be true dissembling (a politically correct term for lying) or the distorting work of ideology at play. Ideology has a strong tendency to filter the truth found in reality to fit the needs of some argument framed to convince or persuade. All forms of lying from those Stewart writes to the little white lies that go for news and PR erode public life.

What concerns Stewart the most isn’t the everyday street criminals who blinker cops but white-collar royalty, those at the pinnacle of media, politics, sports, and business, who are supposed to be role models, not rogues. Although there are no data on this clean-handed corruption, Stewart believes it’s on the rise, threatening to swamp the legal system, stymie the courts, and sow cynicism nationwide. Ultimately, he argues, “it undermines civilization itself.” That’s a grand statement. Limited to the kind of blockbuster cases that Stewart examines, however, it’s hard to deny its essential truth. Lying under oath is poisonous to a society rooted in fair play and rule of law. And when the most public of liars aren’t pursued and punished, more lying ensues, reducing the chance of any one person getting caught and encouraging still others to deceive.

Another form of lying comes in the way science is used to tell stories about the world. I take the grand pronouncements of economists (arguably not true scientists) as a prime example. It’s not that economists are liars in the sense of Bernie Madoff; they are accidental liars, but liars all the same. The lies comes in the “truths” about the economic future that their models predict, and which then are used to set policy and make decisions that have grave societal implications. The elevated status of the Nobel prize-winning economists blinds us to the inevitable falsity in their work. Their models cannot capture the full reality of the complex world and always work in a cloud of uncertainty. Uncertainty is a nice, neat technical word that means that the information being produced is not precise. Stated more crudely, it means that the models tell lies; little white ones for sure, but untruths about the reality of the systems they apply to.

Madoff got away even as some people grew suspicious of his promised returns. This dangerous consequence of lying comes from an underlying trust that is part of the glue that holds societies together. We want to believe that people are telling the truth, even when we have an inkling of the opposite. The famous White Sox baseball scandal of 1919 spawned an apocryphal story of a little boy going up to Shoeless Joe Jackson, a fabulous hitter and uttering, “Say it’s not true, Joe--please!” We want to believe in our heros.

We want to believe in the truth about everything. All meaningful human relationships depend on it. All relationships depend on it, even those with non-humans. When our actions are predicated on lies, a more pejorative word for untruths but categorically the same, the outcomes may not turn out the way we expected. We are taking a big chance on our future by mixing up uncertainty, white lies about climate change, with downright big lies claiming that nothing is awry. It is the same about every aspect of unsustainability. Whatever has become unsustainable is always in part a consequence of these little white lies. Now that I am driving a hybrid, everything is going to be all right. High-fructose corn syrup is not harmful. Nuclear plants are safe.

These little white lies about the state of the world and how our actions affect it are unavoidable. Our knowledge about the world will always be incomplete. If we accept that it always lies to us, but unavoidably and innocently, we can act appropriately through the frame of pragmatism. Pragmatism is a way of acting deliberately and consciously within the untruths of analysis, always watching the results and adjusting to maintain the course toward the ends being sought. Even pragmatism fails to work well in the face of deliberate lies. If we are to cope with the huge social and environmental breakdowns of the moment, we have to start by telling the truth, as closely as we can.

ps. I'm thinking about canceling my Newsweek subscription.

Every silver lining has a cloud.

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cloud

James Carroll, one of my favorite writers and columnists, took on cloud computing today in his Boston Globe op-ed piece. He was examining the possibility that computing would disappear from the machines in our hands to a mysterious machine up in the clouds. Cloud is the metaphor used to describe the world of large servers located all over the Internet. These servers contain all the data you access when you go to a web page, search for anything, connect to people via Facebook, send an email, or process documents using Google docs, and more. A few days ago I wrote that the combined processing capacity of all of these plus all the real machines on desks is just about equal to that of a single brain. That’s an interesting statistic. Carroll mentions the idea of a collective consciousness: a sort of single brain or mysterious cognitive entity reflecting the thoughts of everyone on Earth.

This idea is found in the work of such diverse thinkers as philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, whose notion of spirit (Geist) refers to a sort of general consciousness--a single mind encompassing all humans; the sociologist Emile Durkheim with his idea of “collective consciousness” or shared beliefs; Teilhard de Chardin who coined the phrase, “noosphere,” meaning a single related mind and Ken Wilber who has expanded upon de Chardin’s notion; C. J.Jung who believed that there is a single “collective unconsciousness” shared by all people; H. G. Wells with the idea of a “world brain”; and whoever thought up the movie, The Matrix, where all reality is created by a single conscious machine, and perhaps more. Each of these is distinct, but all suggest some form of global linking or a seamless global entity containing all or part of our cognitive functions.

Carroll is concerned that Cloud technology with its universalizing potential may come to dominate us. The connection between us and the machine becomes more opaque than it already is as the information and way it is handled vanish from the computing device in front of us. If we ever had an inkling of what going on inside the machine, it would be lost from view. I can remember my first Macintosh computer. I understood how it worked and could handle glitches and unforeseen evens. Today my Mac is so complicated and the innards hidden away so that I cannot do much more than stare at it when it goes bad.

As individual tech users surrender both control and understanding, even of their most intimate communications, to that new reality, does there come a point when its abstract supremacy takes on character and agency — something like personhood?

The loss of control is clear and palpable to me. In this sense the Cloud is no different from any form of modern technology which comes with the same potential. I am less concerned that some Frankenstein monster will miraculously appear than I am of losing more of our humanness than we have already given up.

Computer scientists have, in effect, made such preoccupation real in pursuit of artificial intelligence. Others observe that an over-arching, human-created but independent power dominating affairs is implied in the way traders speak of the market, operating with totalitarian rules that no one understands. Has the Internet ushered in such a slyly domineering force? Language fails, so old categories of metaphysics and mysticism are appealed to, even as mundane metaphors are coined, all in the effort to articulate this altered state of the human condition

The answer to Carroll’s question above is yes! When technology intervenes in human affairs something is always lost in translation. Putting on spectacles changes the way world is for myopic people. In this case the effect is usually thought to be positive. When young people lose the meaning of friendship by unthinking and unreflective use of Facebook, the impact is opposite; something important is lost. Human (and much animal) life is fundamentally social. Everyday life depends absolutely on coordinating action at work, home, on the athletic fields, and in every relationship. Language is the means of coordination. Without language we could not have gotten to where we are after a long period of evolution, but language is not enough. Communications must be understood to produce the desired results.

This is where technology comes in. It is difficult to be understood when standing a few feet from someone to whom you are speaking. We make a mistake in thinking that the words we use plus perhaps the tone of voice are all it takes to be understood. When action fails to produce the desired results, we often hear someone say, “You are not listening to me.” It would be more correct to say, “You don’t understand me.”? Listening is always an interpretive activity. Music to my grandchildren is completely different from how I hear it. Where I hear noise; they hear a coherent sound. A message takes on meaning through the already present filters in the listener that convert meaningless sounds to something that is familiar. The immediate context also affects the meaning. Now separate the actors by some form of communication device--cell phone, Skype, or Facebook--and the context disappears. Critical nonverbal signals are missing or distorted. We lose the ability for meaningful interaction and can increasingly do only what the technology allows us to do. I believe that is what Carroll was saying. Without meaning in what we do, we become more like machines than human beings.

H. G. Wells foresaw the development of the Cloud. He wrote about a “World brain,” that would contain all the information the world possesses. He was struck by the emerging forms of information storage that make encyclopedias obsolete. Like the much earlier Enlightenment thinkers, he believed that by making knowledge (expressed in the printed word) universally available, the human species could use their rational powers to overcome dominating forces. The Cloud has potential to become the storehouse of all information, but lacks the structure to guide its use to the ends Wells envisioned. It is only information without the context to convert it to understanding.

Carroll saw a different positive side.

But the Cloud carries a positive connotation, too — an invitation to value the mystery, paradox, and ambiguity that remain forever foreign to machines. An anonymous genius of the 14th century wrote “The Cloud of Unknowing,’’ in which the obscuring and elusive mist offered an image of breakthrough understanding that awareness of life’s ultimate unknowability, far from being mere ignorance, is the permanent precondition of the knowledge that makes us human

I disagree, although his point is appealing. Access to the spiritual is a part of flourishing and that is very important to me. I do not think that the Cloud, either as a real system of boxes and wires or as a metaphor, will awaken the care for the spiritual that is an essential part of what makes us human. It will perhaps add to list of mysteries encountered during one’s life, but this is the wrong kind of mystery. Mystery is not “foreign to machines”; it is produced by them and in so doing pushes away the spiritual mysteries Carroll and the unknown mystic who wrote the "Cloud of Unknowing" refer to. One of the main themes in this book is to seek the ineffable God through contemplation, love, and some form of unthinking, placing all one’s thoughts beneath a “cloud of forgetting.” Try as hard as I can, I cannot see any connection to cloud computing. I would agree that much of the work done in the Cloud is mindless and unthinking, but not in the way the mystic meant.

Finding Methuselah at Walmart

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old man shopping

What would you think if you came across a scientific study carrying the headline: “Frequent Shopping Prolongs Life, Study Suggests”? Would it be, “I can now persuade my spouse to join me at the Mall?” Or, “Finally George Bush is exonerated for making his famous imprecation to go shopping on the heels of 9/11.” I can think of many other hypothetical responses reinforcing the consumer ethic of today’s society, but would these be justified by this study?

I went to the story of the study to find out. I could only download the abstract without paying $30 for the whole article. It seemed a little steep for a story that didn’t quite bowl me over. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from the abstract. The study was done in Taiwan and is based on a survey of 1841 “representative free-living elderly Taiwanese people.”

Results: Highly frequent shopping compared to never or rarely predicted survival (HR 0.54, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.67) with adjustment for physical function and cognitive function and other covariates HR was 0.73 (95% CI 0.56 to 0.93). Elderly who shopped every day have 27% less risk of death than the least frequent shoppers. Men benefited more from everyday shopping than women with decreased HR 28% versus 23% compared to the least.

Conclusion: Shopping behaviour favourably predicts survival. Highly frequent shopping may favour men more than women. Shopping captures several dimensions of personal well-being, health and security as well as contributing to the community's cohesiveness and economy and may represent or actually confer increased longevity.

ScienceDaily, which appeared to have had the $30 to buy and read the entire article, added a few more details from the journal article.

The authors acknowledge that shopping could be a surrogate for good health to begin with, but suggest that shopping itself may improve health, by ensuring a good supply of food, to maintain a healthy diet, for example.

Frequent shopping among the elderly may not always be about buying things, but about seeking companionship or taking exercise, which is easier to do than more formal exercise that usually requires motivation, they say.

The conclusion, above, seems shaky given the nature of the study. I am not an epidemiologist, but I have always understood that epidemiological surveys of this type could establish a meaningful correlation, but not reveal the cause of the correlation. The authors waffle in the end by saying that the frequency of shopping “may represent or actually confer increased longevity.” They want to have it both ways--a surprising conclusion in an article appearing in a scientific journal. I wonder how they accounted for all the confounding factors that would bear on the conclusions: wealth, health history, proximity to markets, genetic make-up, and many others.

One of their possible explanations for the correlation was that shopping, as a form of social engagement, is conducive to health. I would agree that a rich social life is a factor in overall health. There is data behind this statement, but I cannot quite believe that shopping is a richer experience than whatever would have been foregone during the time behind a grocery cart or cash register at some boutique.

The real concern I have is the way this study was publicized. I came on it through a message from a group of colleagues running an email listserv on sustainable consumption. The sender noticed an article in Cosmopolitan (not known for its scientific acumen) with the headline: “Why You Should Shop Every Day.” The trail then led to the ScienceDaily article with the headline shown at the beginning of this blog post. It ended with the article itself from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health with the title, "Frequent shopping by men and women increases survival in the older Taiwanese population.”

I can see this misleading, unfounded message showing up in many ads and websites produced without spending the $30 to verify the headline’s implications. In normal times, such a story would probably not turn many heads because people, young and old, would not have time to notice it in the short intervals between their trips to the stores and markets. In the current downturn, merchants are using every bit of ammunition at hand to bring customers back into the stores. The squib in Cosmopolitan is particularly troublesome as this magazine survives on advertising and epitomizes our consumer and celebrity culture. As I approach my eightieth birthday, I would love to find some magic formula that would lengthen my days still to come, but I can’t imagine that a few more trips to the store is it.

Incidental information

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brain I don't usually stray far from the theme of sustainability, but a friend sent me a recent article from Science about "The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information." It's in the April 12th issue. [Sorry I can't give you the link as I am not a subscriber.] The last paragraph summing up the article is very striking. Here it is.

To put our findings in perspective, the 6.4 × 10E18 instructions per second that humankind can carry out on its general-purpose computers in 2007 are in the same ballpark area as the maximum number of nerve impulses executed by one human brain per second (10E17). The 2.4 × 10E21 bits stored by humanity in all of its technological devices in 2007 is approaching an order of magnitude of the roughly 10E23 bits stored in the DNA of a human adult, but it is still minuscule as compared with the 10E90 bits stored in the observable universe. However, in contrast to natural information processing, the world’s technological information processing capacities are quickly growing at clearly exponential rates.

Don't obsess on the numbers. All those PCs, Supercomputers, and other computing devices together can't match one human brain for processing power. I can stop worrying about IBM'S Watson doing much more than winning at Chess or Jeopardy. This data raises questions for me about the precision of current neuroscience's brain scan. Yes, people can locate the portion of the brain that lights up when stimulated, but there are still gazillions of possibilities in that part.

After a little reflection, I can see a connection to sustainability, however slight it is. With all that computing power of our brains and all the possibilities available in the ways we connect the switches, how come we keep on acting in hurtful ways to ourselves, others and the Earth? Maybe much of that power is in an inactive mode, waiting to get turned on. We better find a way to do that quickly.

Calling the Kettle Black

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kettle black

It’s usually I who criticizes the efforts of businesses to claim some sort of sustainability leadership. This time the blast comes from within the business community. The first act in this scenario is a recent PR release from the parent holding company that owns Puma.

Puma Could Be First Brand To Measure Impact on Ecosystem Services

Sports and lifestyle brand Puma has instituted a new accounting methodology that it says will lead to the first-ever Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) statement. The EP&L statement will attempt to measure the full economic impact of the brand on ecosystem services.

Ecosystem services is the term given to the valuable, natural functions of the planet’s ecological systems, such as water and air filtration. For years, sustainability advocates have called for corporate accounting systems that recognize the value of these services in an effort to protect and preserve them.   Puma commissioned Trucost and PwC to assist in developing the EP&L methodology, but it did not say when the first statement will be released. The company also said it will encourage others within the industry to work towards fully-integrated reporting.  

My first reaction was ho-hum as it is to virtually all announcements promising to tell all about a firm's contributions to unsustainability (that's what all LCA's or indices measure) while, at the same time, advertising their greenness or social responsibility. Similarly to Walmart’s initial announcement of their so-called Sustainability Index, this one’s name is disingenuous and mischievous. I searched for more detail on what was meant by environmental profit and loss but the details have not been released yet. The financial rhetoric being used is unfortunate because it suggests that we can set a value on the environment. The index is to be developed by Trucost, a firm that makes a business by setting values on environmental impacts and risks. Here’s what they say about themselves.

Trucost data enables organisations to identify, measure and manage the environmental risk associated with their operations, supply chains and investment portfolios. Key to our approach is that we not only quantify environmental risks, but we also put a price on them, helping organisations understand environmental risk in business terms.

You should recognize where I am going. Any accounting system that rests on monetizing the environment will always underestimate the “true” value of the current state of the environment and on the losses due to degrading impacts. Converting any natural (or man made) asset to a dollar value must include some form of discounting--accounting for the loss in monetary value of an asset at some point in the future. Using standard discount rates, anything--computers and trees alike--will have no value after a few decades. The Brundtland definition of sustainable development--the one most businesses use--predicates that, in our current use of the resources the world provides (environmental services), we will not degrade or diminish them such that future generations will be deprived of these same benefits. This way to account suggest that we might as well use everything up today because it will be worthless sometime in the future.

I have to give Trucost the benefit of the doubt, as the accounting method to be used is not yet finished, but there is no way they can dismiss the discounting and other fundamental flaws in the way we turn the value of the environment into a utilitarian equivalent. Trucost is careful to make their systems transparent, but transparency cannot hide the arbitrariness of any such attempt to develop an environmental P&L statement. I will guess that the “profit” side of the ledger will be restricted to carbon offsets. It’s interesting that this particular response to the damage we are doing to the climatic system goes by the name of “offsets.” I am curious about the way the quantity of offsets will be calculated. Will the contribution due to the shopping trips for the latest Gucci bag be based on a Hummer or Mercedes or, rather, on a Prius or Volt?

Then of course I have to express my usual cynical view of any pronouncement like this from the business sector of which Puma is a part. The PR piece goes on to point out that:  

The accounting initiative is part of a larger sustainability program instituted by parent company PPR Group—the French company behind brands like Gucci, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent. . . The Group said the overarching program, dubbed PPR Home, will go beyond the traditional Corporate Social Responsibility model and set a new standard in sustainability and business practice in the Luxury, Sport & Lifestyle and Retail sectors.

This time, however, I have company in the person of Jeff Swartz, CEO of Timberland. In the second act of this colloquy, here’s a part of what he has to say. His statement is worth reading in its entirety. it's the job of damning with faint praise i have seen in quite a while.

Too bad that the communications department at PPR, the parent company of Puma and Gucci, doesn’t seem to be held to the same standards of original design and creativity that the product design departments are. Their recent announcement about a new sustainability agenda focused on the social and environmental impacts of PPR’s business reads a lot like an off-the-rack knock-off of existing thinking, re-packaged as important business leadership. Tant pis; the world needs better.

Later he gets more specific:

Second, if you are serious about sustainability, consider some understanding of existing best practices.  Given the hurdles of consumer confusion, and government inaction, there is no time for anyone to reinvent wheels that are already rolling in the pursuit of sustainability. So it is disappointing to see you embrace buying carbon offsets as a best practice, rather than dedicating your creative energy to pursuing real, concrete emissions reductions in your operations and value chain.

He hits a key point. Offsetting carbon emissions is a remedy for the damages already done, and, as Swartz says, is a practice that every business should be doing as a matter of course. Maybe PPR will use a generous fudge factor in determining how many trees to plant to account for the huge uncertainty bounds for any computation of the gain (rare) and loss of environmental services.

My underlying concern, which I repeat to the verge of monotony and beyond, is that virtually or maybe all the practices businesses tout as contributing to sustainability do not do that. They can, at best, only reduce the impact on the world, natural and human, caused by what they produce over its entire life cycle, compared to some base case of business-as-usual. They should do this to the highest degree they can which Swartz implies is far beyond what PPR promises to do.

Sustainability is a positive vision of what we hope the world will bring to life in the future. It is not here today. If it were we would not be worrying about sustainability. Hope, only, because we can never guarantee that our activities, inevitably perturbing the complex system we call the Earth, will produce the flourishing we dream about and envision as the goal of progress.

We know in every heart-of-heart--laypersons and scientists alike--that the way we are living is reducing that possibility. Talking about sustainability in the way PPR and even Timberland does hides this reality and sends the wrong message to citizens, consumers, CEOs, Senators, Presidents, Teachers and all those who make some commitment to act to make the world a better and flourishing place. It is wrong because it argues for the wrong kind of action and the wrong way to think about sustainability. Aldo Leopold said it best in his land ethic, written some 60 years ago.

The 'key-log' which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

Back to Basics 6: Complexity (and Gardening)

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kids-gardening

Complexity is more than a scientific construct and has significant implications for sustainability. I’ll get to discuss that later, but first I need to set the stage. Complexity can refer to a real system whose parts are so multiply interconnected that it is impossible to predict how it will behave when subjected to perturbations. It is also used to describe systems that can move toward order from chaos, that is, they are self organizing. This characteristic is basically the same as the first. Chaotic situations will remain chaotic until something perturbs the system creating order, but we cannot tell in advance what the ordered system will look like. Schools of fish and flocks of birds exhibit complex behavior when they form ordered collections.

In recent years, complexity is slowly being welcomed in the world of science, but the welcome is not particularly warm. Complexity study is the antithesis of classical scientific work which is based on the search for laws that will predict the behavior of various parts of the world. This tension must be very frustrating to many scientists who are not yet ready to drop the “scientific method” of revealing truth for a method that can only describe. Complexity is amenable to some analysis; it’s possible to understand the rules that bring order to a flock of birds, but not to map the actual behavior. The errant behavior of a single member of the flock can turn the orderly movements back to chaos in a moment.

Complex behaviors fall into the class of what you know you don’t know and, also, into the one where you don’t know that you don’t know. Donald Rumsfeld used this concept for the title of his recent memoir. I think it would be more accurate to describe his story as one about not knowing what you should know. Fish schooling fits the first of the two classes above. If you understand complexity at all, you know that you don’t know what the system is going to look like from one moment to the next. But if you mistake a complex system for a merely complicated one, you don’t know that you don’t know how it works. It’s important to distinguish between complex and complicated. A complicated system takes a form of a machine where the whole system can be broken down into its parts and the relationships between all the parts can be reduced to a closed set of analytic expressions.

If you know that you don’t know, you can adopt a scheme of governance or control that accepts that you will have to adapt your rules as you learn what is happening. Gardening is a classic case of operating in this fashion. The gardener plants in the spring and then watches very carefully as the plants sprout, employing understanding gleaned from experience with the garden. Good gardeners know that their plot is unique and that they cannot count on the rules used by the neighbor across the street. Everything they do is contingent. Their methods go into the bag of tricks if they seems to work, but become suspect when they fails the next time. The theories found in the textbooks at the local agricultural school may serve as starters, but more than not have only short-lived utility. Good gardeners are pragmatists, not scientists.

Now what does all of this have to do with sustainability? Everything! The world we inhabit is the epitome of complexity. We are merely a node in the web of life. Our scientific method has led us to believe that we exist outside of that system and can get to know it in the same way we learn to design and fix automobiles, or at least we used to be able to do this. Modern automobiles are becoming complex as computers attempt to control a very large number of interconnections. Toyota’s recent troubles, in part sprang from the inability to understand how a car really works on the highway, as opposed to some engineer’s computerized simulation model.

We speak about sustainability without understanding or ignoring our place inside of this complex world. We wish desperately to keep it running and pouring out everything we need from all the spigots of the economy. That’s what most people think about when they use the word sustainable. Please keep the machine going so I can keep getting a new iPad every two years. For most people, they risk getting what they are asking for--an inauthentic, unsatisfying life of having, but not being. The being mode of life that Erich Fromm wrote about and I cite extensively in my own work now, perhaps, falls into the realm of what we don’t know we don’t know. We think we know what life is all about and so don’t bother to look for what I call flourishing.

Sustainability is the possibility of flourishing for all life on Earth. Until we accept that humans are only a part of the complex system we call Earth, that possibility will be nil. I have been teaching a course seeing sustainability through the lens of spirituality. The picture that keeps coming forth is that of the sacredness of the web of life. That it is sacred means we should give it the highest level of respect and avoid doing violence toward it. Early cultures, including the Native Americans, understood this and built their spiritual systems to reflect their place in the web. The meaning of Mother Earth fits naturally into such a system of belief.

It seems to me that we have a new opportunity to recover our consciousness of the interconnected nature of the world and our place within (not outside) of it. The increasing attention to complexity keeps a fire burning under our intellectual kettles. Natural and man-made catastrophes remind us that there is much we don’t know we don’t know. Understanding of the complexity of the Earth’s environment is diffusing from the scientists’ supercomputers to the everyday thoughts of many lay persons, but that is just the first step toward creating sustainability. We also have to recover the sense of the sacredness of the world, even of the cosmos, that envelops us. That’s no easy task given the opposite thrust of modernity as Max Weber wrote, “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world.” It takes humility, not hubris, and attention to Candide’s rejection of the misplaced optimism of Dr. Pangloss. “Neither need you tell me," said Candide, "that we must take care of our garden." Maybe Voltaire was a gardener on the side and understood more about complexity than we might imagine.

Still Sending Misleading Messages

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eco-labels

As I may have noted recently, the subjects to blog about that I look for somewhere in cyberspace are, as my grandchildren say about many things, boring. The volume of words (both in loudness and quantity) keeps growing, but the speakers still do not get the point: sustainability does not have same meaning as what virtually all messages carry. No matter how many times someone talks about what they are doing for sustainability, using green or sustainable or even sustainability to describe a new product or new program to inform their customers, they are still in the reducing unsustainability world of business-almost-as-usual.

It’s not quite business-as-usual because awareness of the unintended consequences of the way they went about their business in the past has finally sunk in. If it hasn’t sunk in, it is being talked about at higher levels in the firms than it used to be. The number of books and consultants that tout sustainability as the new way toward profits and market share is enormous. I use the pejorative term, tout, purposely because I believe that the authors and consultants know (or should know) at some level that the profit part of their spiel may be valid, but the sustainability part is bogus.

Almost without exception what firms advertise as their sustainability strategy and set of resultant offerings will not and cannot restore the Earth to a condition that could be called sustainable. All that they are doing is slowing down, maybe, their burdens compared to the impacts they produced in the past. The kicker is hidden in the implicit goal of growth and a more commanding position in the marketplace. We see stories of climate change deniers everyday, most frequently associated with the political right. Executives of the firms pushing sustainability are deniers as well, but without so much political coloration. They are unaware or denying that the global economy is already consuming more than the Earth can continue to provide. The excess is, like climate change, subject to much uncertainly, but the best estimates start with about one and one-half Earths and go up from there. No matter what happens in the United States and Europe, the burden will increase as the rapidly growing economies of China and India and elsewhere strive to attain the same levels as we “enjoy.”

Don't read this as meaning I am opposing these efforts. They are very important. Without them, the velocity we are approaching a system collapse would be much faster. It is the suggestion that they have anything to do with sustainability that fires me up. They are part of the fundamental market strategy of a liberal, free market that always tries to hide from the public the externalities (the unseen unintended consequences of the economy) tied up with the goods and services. Whether intentional or not, the road to high profits has always been to push the hidden costs onto the public. Sustainability strategies do exactly this. They ignore the systemic effects of what they do to produce and market their goods. Further, the way they advertise and publicize their programs lulls the public into believing that they are taking care of their future.

Sustainability, as used in all these corporate contexts, conveys some sort of promise to protect the future, but never carries any explicit message of what future is being envisioned or how their products will do that. The promise, whether implicit or explicit in the messages the consuming public receives, absolves the consumers of responsibility in the matter. I am reminded of President Obama's intention to win the future made in his last State of the Union speech. The future cannot be won; it can only be created through the well informed, purposeful actions by everyone, consumers and producers or citizens and politicians.

For illustration, I picked a handful of headlines and story-lines I selected from the several hundred items that collect on my RSS reader everyday. This is not a scientific sample, but I tried to be unbiased in my selection.

Four Steps to Improving Profits through Sustainability

Nike, the world's largest sportswear manufacturer, plans to make data relating to the sustainability of its operations publicly available via the web.

PPR Group — the parent group behind high-end labels like Gucci, Puma, Yves Saint Laurent, and Stella McCartney — is fast on its way to becoming the sustainable trendsetter of the future. The group recently launched PPR Home, a major sustainability plan in order to offset its entire 2010 footprint, an estimated 98,729 tons of carbon. With an annual budget of more than $14 million and a multinational platform, PPR Home has the potential to change the way we think of sustainability and fashion.

Using a new product scorecard, IKEA hopes to make its stock greener so that by 2015 the retail chain can classify 90 percent of the goods it sells as being "more sustainable."

Method, a leading innovator in cleaning products, lays out the backstory of its success and sheds light on why it's important to make soap more sustainable.

With Sustainability Report, BP Seeks Permission to Resume at Gulf of Mexico--a sustainability review for the year 2010 has been officially released by the BP that is primarily focused on earning back trust and building a sustainable BP for the future.

This last one was a few lines away from this one with a totally different message.

Less than 50 Years of Oil Left, HSBC Warns.

The two items, mentioning IKEA and Method, were careful in labeling their efforts as a relative improvement, consistent with reducing unsustainability. In general, however, it is very difficult to get any sense of what kind of sustainability these items point to. The confusion spills over into the marketplace and discourages consumers from thinking more than superficially about the meaning. We have witnessed long and bitter fights over the terms used to label product. What is organic? “Humane” food is another current issue. It is more than time to begin to clarify the terms used to convey the sense of sustainability in play. The consumers deserve to understand what they are being told. There is much more at stake than market share. The health of the Earth and its life, which is really what sustainability is all about, depends on both the producers and the consumers understanding at least what direction they are going: toward a sustainability, away from it, or just holding steady. Continuing to use any of the terms connected to sustainability without regard to the misinformation and confusion they cause is both irresponsible and dangerous.