Sunday, December 20, 2009

Building a Solidarity Economy

"Other Economies Are Possible!": Building a Solidarity Economy
Published on Grassroots Economic Organizing (
By Ethan Miller, GEO Collective

Consider this: thousands of diverse, locally-rooted, grassroots economic projects are in the process of creating the basis for a viable democratic alternative to capitalism. It might seem unlikely that a motley array of initiatives such as worker, consumer, and housing cooperatives, community currencies, urban gardens, fair trade organizations, intentional communities, and neighborhood self-help associations could hold a candle to the pervasive and seemingly all-powerful capitalist economy. These "islands of alternatives in a capitalist sea" are often small in scale, low in resources, and sparsely networked. They are rarely able to connect with each other, much less to link their work with larger, coherent structural visions of an alternative economy.

Indeed, in the search for alternatives to capitalism, existing democratic economic projects are frequently painted as noble but marginal practices, doomed to be crushed or co-opted by the forces of the market. But is this inevitable? Is it possible that courageous and dedicated grassroots economic activists worldwide, forging paths that meet the basic needs of their communities while cultivating democracy and justice, are planting the seeds of another economy in our midst? Could a process of horizontal networking, linking diverse democratic alternatives and social change organizations together in webs of mutual recognition and support, generate a social movement and economic vision capable of challenging the global capitalist order?

To these audacious suggestions, economic activists around the world organizing under the banner of economia solidaria, or "solidarity economy," would answer a resounding "yes!" It is precisely these innovative, bottom-up experiences of production, exchange, and consumption that are building the foundation for what many people are calling "new cultures and economies of solidarity."

Origins of the Solidarity Economy Approach

The idea and practice of "solidarity economics" emerged in Latin America in the mid-1980s and blossomed in the mid to late 90s, as a convergence of at least three social trends.

First, the economic exclusion experienced by growing segments of society, generated by deepening debt and the ensuing structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund, forced many communities to develop and strengthen creative, autonomous and locally-rooted ways of meeting basic needs. These included initiatives such as worker and producer cooperatives, neighborhood and community associations, savings and credit associations, collective kitchens, and unemployed or landless worker mutual-aid organizations.

Second, growing dissatisfaction with the culture of the dominant market economy led groups of more economically privileged people to seek new ways of generating livelihoods and providing services. From largely a middle-class "counter-culture"-similar to that in the Unites States since the 1960's-emerged projects such as consumer cooperatives, cooperative childcare and health care initiatives, housing cooperatives, intentional communities, and ecovillages. There were often significant class and cultural differences between these two groups. Nevertheless, the initiatives they generated all shared a common set of operative values: cooperation, autonomy from centralized authorities, and participatory self-management by their members.

A third trend worked to link the two grassroots upsurges of economic solidarity to each other and to the larger socioeconomic context: emerging local and regional movements were beginning to forge global connections in opposition to the forces of neoliberal and neocolonial globalization. Seeking a democratic alternative to both capitalist globalization and state socialism, these movements identified community-based economic projects as key elements of alternative social organization.

At the First Latin Encuentro of Solidarity Culture and Socioeconomy, held in 1998 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participants from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Colombia, and Spain created the Red latinoamericana de la economía a solidaria (Latin American Solidarity Economy Network). In a statement, the Network declared, "We have observed that our experiences have much in common: a thirst for justice, a logic of participation, creativity, and processes of self-management and autonomy." By linking these shared experiences together in mutual support, they proclaimed, it would be possible to work toward "a socioeconomy of solidarity as a way of life that encompasses the totality of the human being."

Since 1998, this solidarity economy approach has developed into a global movement. The first World Social Forum in 2001 marked the creation of the Global Network of the Solidarity Socioeconomy, fostered in large part by an international working group of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural, and United World. By the time of the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, the Global Network had grown to include 47 national and regional solidarity economy networks from nearly every continent, representing tens of thousands of democratic grassroots economic initiatives worldwide. At the most recent World Social Forum in Venezuela, solidarity economy topics comprised an estimated one-third of the entire event's program.

Defining Solidarity Economics

But what exactly is this "solidarity economy approach"? For some theorists of the movement, it begins with a redefinition of economic space itself. The dominant neoclassical story paints the economy as a singular space in which market actors (firms or individuals) seek to maximize their gain in a context of scarce resources. These actors play out their profit-seeking dramas on a stage wholly defined by the dynamics of the market and the state. Countering this narrow approach, solidarity economics embraces a plural and cultural view of the economy as a complex space of social relationship in which individuals, communities, and organizations generate livelihoods through many different means and with many different motivations and aspirations-not just the maximization of individual gain. The economic activity validated by neoclassical economists represents, in this view, only a tiny fraction of human efforts to meet needs and fulfill desires.

What really sustains us when the factories shut down, when the floodwaters rise, or when the paycheck is not enough? In the face of failures of market and state, we often survive by self-organized relationships of care, cooperation, and community. Despite the ways in which capitalist culture generates and mobilizes a drive toward competition and selfishness, basic practices of human solidarity remain the foundation upon which society and community are built. Capitalism's dominance may, in fact, derive in no small part from its ability to co-opt and colonize these relationships of cooperation and mutual aid.

In expanding what counts as part of "the economy," solidarity economics resonates with other streams of contemporary radical economic thought. Marxist economists such as Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, for example, have suggested that multiple "modes of production" co-exist alongside the capitalist wage labor mode. Feminist economists have demonstrated how neoclassical conceptions have hidden and devalued basic forms of subsistence and caregiving work that are often done by women. Feminist economic geographer J.K. Gibson-Graham, in her books The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (1998) and A Postcapitalist Politics (2006), synthesizes these and other streams of thought in what she calls the "diverse economies perspective." Addressing concerns that are central to the solidarity economy approach, she asks, "If we viewed the economic landscape as imperfectly colonized, homogenized, systematized, might we not find openings for projects of noncapitalist invention? Might we not find ways to construct different communities and societies, building upon what already exists?"

Indeed, the first task of solidarity economics is to identify existing economic practices-often invisible or marginal to the dominant lens-that foster cooperation, dignity, equity, self-determination, and democracy. As Carola Reintjes of the Spanish fair trade association Iniciativas de Economia Alternativa y Solidaria (IDEAS) points out, "Solidarity economy is not a sector of the economy, but a transversal approach that includes initiatives in all sectors." This project cuts across traditional lines of formal/ informal, market/non-market, and social/economic in search of solidarity-based practices of production, exchange and consumption- ranging from legally-structured worker cooperatives, which engage the capitalist market with cooperative values, to informal affinity-based neighborhood gift networks. (See "A Map of the Solidarity Economy," pp. 20-21.) At a 2000 conference in Dublin on the "Third Sector" (the "voluntary" sector, as opposed to the for-profit sector and the state), Brazilian activist Ana Mercedes Sarria Icaza put it this way: "To speak of a solidarity economy is not to speak of a homogeneous universe with similar characteristics. Indeed, the universe of the solidarity economy reflects a multiplicity of spaces and forms, as much in what we would call the â??formal aspects' (size, structure, governance) as in qualitative aspects (levels of solidarity, democracy, dynamism, and selfmanagement)."

At its core, solidarity economics rejects one-size-fits-all solutions and singular economic blueprints, embracing instead a view that economic and social development should occur from the bottom up, diversely and creatively crafted by those who are most affected. As Marcos Arruda of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Network stated at the World Social Forum in 2004, "a solidarity economy does not arise from thinkers or ideas; it is the outcome of the concrete historical struggle of the human being to live and to develop him/herself as an individual and a collective." Similarly, contrasting the solidarity economy approach to historical visions of the "cooperative commonwealth," Henri de Roche noted that "the old cooperativism was a utopia in search of its practice and the new cooperativism is a practice in search of its utopia." Unlike many alternative economic projects that have come before, solidarity economics does not seek to build a singular model of how the economy should be structured, but rather pursues a dynamic process of economic organizing in which organizations, communities, and social movements work to identify, strengthen, connect, and create democratic and liberatory means of meeting their needs.

Success will only emerge as a product of organization and struggle. "Innovative practices at the micro level can only be viable and structurally effective for social change," said Arruda, "if they interweave with one another to form always-broader collaborative networks and solidarity chains of production-financedistribution-consumption-education-communication." This is, perhaps, the heart of solidarity economics-the process of networking diverse structures that share common values in ways that strengthen each. Mapping out the economic terrain in terms of "chains of solidarity production," organizers can build relationships of mutual aid and exchange between initiatives that increase their collective viability. At the same time, building relationships between solidarity-based enterprises and larger social movements builds increased support for the solidarity economy while allowing the movements to meet some of the basic needs of their participants, demonstrate viable alternatives, and thus increase the power and scope of their transformative work.

In Brazil, this dynamic is demonstrated by the Landless Workers Movement (MST). As a broad, popular movement for economic justice and agrarian reform, the MST has built a powerful program combining social and political action with cooperative, solidarity-based economics. From the establishment of democratic, cooperative settlements on land re-appropriated from wealthy absentee landlords to the development of nationwide, inter-settlement exchanges of products and services, networks of economic solidarity are contributing significantly to the sustenance of more than 300,000 families-over a million people. The Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum, of which the MST is a part, works on an even broader scale, incorporating twelve national networks and membership organizations with twenty-one regional Solidarity Forums and thousands of cooperative enterprises to build mutual support systems, facilitate exchanges, create cooperative incubator programs, and shape public policy.

Building a Movement

The potential for building concrete local, national, and even global networks of solidarity-based support and exchange is tremendous and yet barely realized. While some countries, notably Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Spain, and Venezuela, have created strong solidarity-economy networks linked with growing social movements, others have barely begun. The United States is an example. With the exception of the Rural Coalition/Coalicion Rural, a U.S.-Mexico cross-border agricultural solidarity organization, the United States has been nearly absent from global conversations about solidarity economics. Maybe it's harder for those in the "belly of the beast" to imagine that alternatives to capitalism are possible. Are alternative economic practices somehow rendered more invisible, or more isolated, in the United States than in other parts of the world? Are there simply fewer solidarity-basedinitiatives with which to network?

Perhaps. But things are changing. An increasing number of U.S. organizations, researchers, writers, students, and concerned citizens are questioning capitalist economic dogma and exploring alternatives. A new wave of grassroots economic organizing is cultivating the next generation of worker cooperatives, community currency initiatives, housing cooperatives and collectives, community garden projects, fair trade campaigns, community land trusts, anarchist bookstores ("infoshops"), and community centers. Groups working on similar projects are making connections with each other. Hundreds of worker-owners from diverse cooperative businesses across the nation, for example, will gather in New York City this October at the second meeting of the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (see p. 9). In the realm of cross-sector organizing, a broad coalition of organizations is working to create a comprehensive public directory of the cooperative and solidarity economy in the United States and Canada as a tool for networking and organizing.

It takes no great stretch of the imagination to picture, within the next five to ten years, a "U.S. Solidarity Economy Summit" convening many of the thousands of democratic, grassroots economic projects in the United States to generate a stronger shared identity, build relationships, and lay the groundwork for a U.S. Solidarity Economy Alliance. Move over, CEOs of the Business Roundtable!

Wishful thinking? Maybe not. In the words of Argentinian economist and organizer Jose Luis Corragio, "the viability of social transformation is rarely a fact; it is, rather, something that must be constructed." This is a call to action.

Ethan Miller is a writer, musician, subsistence farmer, and organizer. A member of the GEO Collective and of the musical collective Riotfolk (, he lives and works at the JED Community Land Trust, a land-based mutual-aid cooperative in Greene, Maine.


Marcos Arruda, "Solidarity Economy and the Rebirth of a Matristic Human Society," World Social Forum, Mumbai, India, January 2004, www.

Jose Luis Corragio, "Alternativas para o desenvolvimento humano em um mundo globalizado," Proposta No. 72, 1997

J-K Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006

J-K Gibson-Graham, A Postcapitalist Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006

Ana Mercedes Sarria Icaza, "Tercer Sector y Economia Solidaria en el Sur de Brasil: caracteristicas y perspectives,"

Latin Meeting on a Culture and a Socioeconomy of Solidarity, "Letter from Porto Alegre," Porto Alegre, Brazil, August 1998,

Euclides Mance, "Construindo a socioeconomia solidaria no Brasil," Report from the First Brazlilian Meeting on a Culture and Socioeconomy of Solidarity, Rio de Janeiro, June 11-18, 2000

Ethan Miller, "Solidarity Economics: Strategies for Building New Economies from the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out," Greene, Maine. May, 2002,

Carola Reintjas, "What is a Solidarity Economy?" Life After Capitalism Talks, World Social Forum III, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2003,

Harriet Fraad, Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, Bringing It All Back Home: Class, Gender and Power in the Modern Household, London: Pluto Press, 1994

Workgroup on a Solidarity Socioeconomy, "Exchanging Visions of a Solidarity Economy: Glossary of Important Terms and Expressions," November, 2005,

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Imagine Green Future

What Are Sustainable Communities?

"Sustainable communities are those communities which support the dignity of families and individuals and in which the quality of life is renewed and enhanced within the context of responsible environmental practice through collective decision-making and action. Sustainable communities depend upon the existence of a social infrastructure which provides for the basic needs of shelter, jobs/income, health, education and social support."

"Sustainable development can be defined as development that delivers basic environmental, social, and economic services to all residents of community without threatening the viability of the natural, built, and social systems."

You are probably aware of the condiments company, Newman's Own. Newman's Own ( is a company started by Paul Newman that donates all profits and royalties after taxes to educational and charitable purposes. I believe that this concept --using private enterprise for public good-- can be applied to many other applications. Before I explain how I propose we utilize this concept, I will offer a view of the landscape as I see it.

Wall St wobbles waiting for Main St. to find it's footing and Main St. is scared. Noted conservative journalist and commentator David Brooks put it this way in a New York Times article;

"If there’s a thread running through the gravest current concerns, it is that people lack a secure environment in which they can lead their lives. Wild swings in global capital and energy markets buffet family budgets. Nobody is sure the health care system will be there when they need it. National productivity gains don’t seem to alleviate economic anxiety. Inequality strains national cohesion. In many communities, social norms do not encourage academic achievement, decent values or family stability. These problems straining the social fabric aren’t directly addressed by maximizing individual freedom."

It seems that everyone is treading water waiting for meaningful positive change. Meanwhile, firms are laying off, businesses are failing, families frayed, communities are stressed, and people are suffering. The ebbs and flows of economic cycles always involve some pain, free markets are constantly weeding out marginal players, this is par for the course. Yet, we may be in uncharted territory as we face severe challenges domestically and from abroad. Because of war commitments, huge and growing entitlement programs and a citizenry hammered by a low tax mantra, policy makers have extremely difficult choices to make. Education budgets are being cut even when studies show that investments early on save expenditures down the road. Public safety costs are escalating and recidivism as well. We are increasingly paying more and getting less.

Essentially this is a method to use the power of the free market, volunteerism and self-help to build beauty, self-sufficiency and sustainability from the ground up in areas of society that are now a drain on public resources and often resistant to current remediation methods. The impulse to do good works, the need for social justice and the quickening wave of excitement about green energy creates an elegant community project generating a synergy greater than it's parts.

This project will not raise our taxes. This project will not force government regulation on overburdened business or people. This project will facilitate our working together to create a green Delray, bringing capital and income to areas of historic deficits. Please keep an open mind and have a look. As presented it functions in a municipal context. I can show how the framework can be utilized in for-profit and non-profit organizations as well, including your own business. Using this method business owners may enhance recruitment, retention and job satisfaction for their valued team members and support Social Ventures through an innovative funding mechanism.

Adam Smith saw the invisible hand of the marketplace as using selfish motives to work to the greater good. This is good as far as it goes but as my dear 'ol dad used to say in answer to my libertarian rants, "Billy, in the long run the free market solves all problems. But in the long run, we are all dead." We currently have a global economy that can produce far more than consumers have money to buy. In the past several years our economy has been running on paper profits, home equity, credit cards, Chinese financed debt, Internet and Real Estate bubbles, smoke and mirrors and fumes. We are also spending our natural capital, our children's inheritance, with our devil-may-care, winner-take-all policies. Wages have stagnated, benefit costs, most especially health benefit costs, are rising along with the cost of food and other essentials.

The path to a green future is from the ground up. If we are to meet the goals of a sustainable future, then we must find ways around the inertia, politics and left/right conflicts of government, and, the real or perceived, heartless, short-term, bottom-line focus of business. We need to find ways of engaging and exciting the bottom half of society and providing tangible benefits to them for joining efforts to mitigate climate change.

The methods that we use should allow a broad cross-section of people to work together in building a mutually beneficial green future. Organizations and individuals working on behalf of social and economic justice and green initiatives, need to create vehicles for cooperative ventures between their communities and enlightened entities in the private sector. By building communities of practice and cooperative networks around shared goals and using the network to create funding mechanisms, we can bypass the pitfalls of being dependent on taxpayers to fund critical needs in our community. Working together we can accomplish much.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
~Upton Sinclair

"If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst."
~Thomas Hardy

Let's be honest. Alternative Energy is the ultimate Disruptive technology. The primary impediment to wider implementation of climate friendly technology is the same impediment to many needed social advancements; powerful corporations and the decades of carbon-based wealth behind them and over our government.

American society is a consumption-based economy. We are a get rich quick at any cost society. We are a live for today and "who gives a hoot about tomorrow" society. We are a "me first" society. For our type of social system, "all of nature is not enough". We need systemic change but the power and influence of status quo money makes meaningful political change that truly empowers people and honors the Earth a difficult if not Quixotic goal.

Systemic change in the political realm will happen when we strengthen the social bonds between our divided people. When the people lead, the leaders will follow. When individual people move beyond our comfort zones and build common ground with those beyond our ideologies, races, cultural grounding, personal orbit and life experiences, we will find the means and the answers to meet our most difficult challenges.

Much of everything else we do is further dividing us, destroying any remaining hope, wasting our treasure, burning up our time and spinning our wheels. We have the appearance of progress because we vote for candidate A over candidate B, or demonstrate against the war or for climate change legislation, or when one lower-class group moves forward at the expense of another or when our words sound so noble and impressive and we excite and inspire our "team", but if we can not see the road towards common ground, if we can not find unity of purpose between our divided people, we implicitly support the status quo. We can do better.

Discretionary incomes are flat if not falling and we are in a slash and burn jobs spiral with consequent family breakdown, loss of much middle-class wealth and increases in crime and other unforeseen consequences for our society. I believe that purpose and profit can work to the benefit of each other. I believe that people have the capability to craft cooperative structures that allow for the unleashing of our collective civic energies. I believe that if we are able to use our imaginations, willing to take small risks and trust one another we can together do some amazing things.

Possible positive outcomes include;
Green our Neighborhoods
Create Green Jobs
Increase the municipal tax base
Lower the costs of crime and social disorganization
Mitigate the foreclosure crisis
Create a green consumer base
Build a green political constituency
Increase racial reconciliation
Strengthen our non-profit sector
Raise levels of trust between citizen and government
Increase trust between business and consumers/workers
Cure cancer and turn sand to gold

Well, maybe not the last one. At least not this time around. LOL

Let's look at a concrete example of how our project will work in the example of an architect. We will need architects to create design elements that can be retrofitted onto existing structures that will allow for maximum use of prevailing winds, and other innovative architectural applications to conserve energy thereby lowering energy costs to struggling homeowners and reducing our carbon footprint.

Working with habitat for Humanity, our local CDC's, the TED Center, Workforce Development, private staffing agencies, and forward thinking architectural, construction and building supply firms, we can retrofit existing homes, build new high efficient, off-the-grid, housing stock and mitigate our rapidly masticating financial crisis with this project. The magic is in the fact that we will be mounting a project that is beneficial community-wide, it runs on voluntary energy financed by market forces and it targets it's resources in areas of most need and maximum ability to stimulate the moribund economy.

Furthermore, since the capital aggregated and the income paid out will be funneled through TBL (Triple Bottom Line) metrics, we will build a sustainable and durable foundation for the future. More magic is found in the novelty of the idea and the way we are turning on it's head a business model more known for enriching folk with superior sales and marketing skills and the stamina, initiative and moxie to make those skills pay. Once public perceptions of the motivations of many in the business are turned upside down and the capital generated is used in ways that are clearly and demonstrably socially useful, then the image of the Network Marketing business model will also evolve and the conventional business model as well. In a best-case scenario, we will maintain the capital aggregation power of free markets within a consumer driven context of social justice and environmental sustainability.

Working Together for a Green New Deal

By Van Jones

The article excerpted below appeared in the November 17, 2008 edition of The Nation.
October 29, 2008

This article is adapted from The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones with Ariane Conrad.

Society faces some huge challenges. The individuals, entrepreneurs and community leaders who will step up to make the repairs and changes are going to need help. They require and deserve a world-class partner in our government. The time has come for a public-private community partnership to fix this country and put it back to work. In the framework of a Green New Deal, the government would become a powerful partner to the problem solvers of the world--and not the problem makers.

Now, we cannot achieve the goal of a Green New Deal just by wishing for it. The first step in getting the government to support an inclusive, green economy is to build a durable political coalition.

To change our laws and culture, the green movement must attract and include the majority of all people, not just the majority of affluent people. The time has come to move beyond eco-elitism to eco-populism. Eco-populism would always foreground those green solutions that can improve ordinary people's standard of living--and decrease their cost of living.

But bringing people of different races and classes and backgrounds together under a single banner is tougher than it sounds. I have been trying to bridge this divide for nearly a decade. And I learned a few things along the way.

What I found is that leaders from impoverished areas like Oakland, California, tended to focus on three areas: social justice, political solutions and social change. They cared primarily about "the people." They focused their efforts on fixing schools, improving healthcare, defending civil rights and reducing the prison population. Their "social change" work involved lobbying, campaigning and protesting. They were wary of businesses; instead, they turned to the political system and government to help solve the problems of the community.

The leaders I met from affluent places like Marin County (just north of San Francisco), San Francisco and Silicon Valley had what seemed to be the opposite approach. Their three focus areas were ecology, business solutions and "inner change." They were champions of "the planet"--rainforests and important species like whales and polar bears. Many were dedicated to inner-change work, including meditation and yoga. And they put a great deal of stress on making wise, earth-honoring consumer choices. In fact, many were either green entrepreneurs or investors in eco-friendly businesses.

Every effort I made to get the two groups together initially was a disaster--sometimes ending in tears, anger and slammed doors.

Trying to make sense of the differences, I wrote out three binaries on a napkin:

1. Ecology vs. Social Justice

2. Business Solutions (Entrepreneurship) vs. Political Solutions (Activism)

3. Spiritual/Inner Change vs. Social/Outer Change

People on both sides of the equation tended to think that their preferences precluded any serious consideration of the options presented on the opposite side.

Increasingly, I saw the value and importance of both approaches. I thought, What would we have if we replaced those "versus" symbols with "plus" signs? What if we built a movement at the intersection of the ecology and social justice movements, of entrepreneurship and activism, of inner change and social change? What if we didn't just have hybrid cars--what if we had a hybrid movement?

To return to the metaphor of the slave ship Amistad, the question in my mind has become, What if those rebel Africans, while still in chains, had looked out and noticed the name of their ship was not the Amistad but the Titanic? How would that fact have affected their mission? What would change if they knew the entire ship was imperiled, that everyone on it--the slavers and enslaved--could all die if the ship continued on its course, unchanged?

The rebels suddenly would have had a very different set of leadership challenges. They would have had the obligation not just to liberate the captives but also to save the entire ship. In fact, the hero would be the one who found a way to save everyone on board--including the slavers. And the urgency of freeing the captives would have been that much greater--because the smarts and the effort of everyone would have been needed to save everyone.

For the sake of the ship--our planet--and all aboard it, the effort to go green must be all hands on deck.

We can take the unfinished business of America on questions of inclusion and equal opportunity and combine it with the new business of building a green economy, thereby healing the country on two fronts and redeeming the soul of the nation. We must.

What is the CSP?
The Community Sustainability Partnership is a coalition of businesses, community members, and city administrations to facilitate the sharing of information, combination of strengths, and to take advantage of opportunities.

Building Social Capital

What is it worth to have employees who feel fulfilled? What is the value of healthy communities? Of the three legs in sustainability, social capital is the most difficult to define and measure, and therefore has a tendency to be placed on the back burner.

From a business perspective, it is costly and time-consuming to attract, train and retain quality employees. A business committed to the triple bottom line will provide an environment for their employees that welcomes diversity and innovation, and provides a sense of fulfillment and pride. A sustainable business will treat their employees with respect, and offer a livable wage, fair health benefits, and a work environment that improves productivity, safety and well being. These types of organizations have a competitive advantage, as worker retention and productivity are certainly measurable improvements to the bottom line. In addition, investors and consumers are increasingly valuing this type of social responsibility

A business' employees are part of a community and they carry sustainable values with them, allowing social equity to spill into the other component of building social capital: building healthy communities.

Sustainable Community Design

To create a sustainable world, we must live in sustainable communities. People will need to decrease or eliminate their reliance on cars, fossil fuels, cheap goods from China, and vegetables grown in the deserts of California with the application of billions of gallons of water. Sustainable urban and community planning will produce a new symptom of healthy people living in walkable, bikeable communities. Community design that allows people to walk, bike or utilize public transportation to arrive at their local grocery, bank or workplace is the ultimate goal of sustainability.

The return to regional economies will systematically rather than technologically reduce transport miles, time wasted in traffic jams, unemployment, and environmental degradation. Imagine being able to once again purchase high quality goods that are manufactured within your community by your neighbors. Local resources will be utilized in the processes and the nutrients returned back to the earth upon disposal. Renewable energy will be generated on site or within the community, so as to decrease energy loss from transmission.

Sustainable communities are all about species 'belonging' to a community, with every sense of that word. Many people today believe that we can just leave our cities, states, country, or even planet if the environmental destruction becomes too severe. This way of living cannot be sustainably maintained into the future.

"Lets not make a big mess here and go somewhere else less hospitable even if we figure out how. Let's use our ingenuity to stay here; to become, once again, native to this planet" (McDonough & Braungart, Cradle to Cradle, 87).

The Next Green Revolution
How technology is leading environmentalism out of the anti-business, anti-consumer wilderness.
By Alex Nikolai Steffen

For decades, environmentalists have warned of a coming climate crisis. Their alarms went unheeded, and last year we reaped an early harvest: a singularly ferocious hurricane season, record snowfall in New England, the worst-ever wildfires in Alaska, arctic glaciers at their lowest ebb in millennia, catastrophic drought in Brazil, devastating floods in India - portents of global warming's destructive potential.
Green-minded activists failed to move the broader public not because they were wrong about the problems, but because the solutions they offered were unappealing to most people. They called for tightening belts and curbing appetites, turning down the thermostat and living lower on the food chain. They rejected technology, business, and prosperity in favor of returning to a simpler way of life. No wonder the movement got so little traction. Asking people in the world's wealthiest, most advanced societies to turn their backs on the very forces that drove such abundance is naive at best.

With climate change hard upon us, a new green movement is taking shape, one that embraces environmentalism's concerns but rejects its worn-out answers. Technology can be a font of endlessly creative solutions. Business can be a vehicle for change. Prosperity can help us build the kind of world we want. Scientific exploration, innovative design, and cultural evolution are the most powerful tools we have. Entrepreneurial zeal and market forces, guided by sustainable policies, can propel the world into a bright green future.

Americans trash the planet not because we're evil, but because the industrial systems we've devised leave no other choice. Our ranch houses and high-rises, factories and farms, freeways and power plants were conceived before we had a clue how the planet works. They're primitive inventions designed by people who didn't fully grasp the consequences of their actions.

Consider the unmitigated ecological disaster that is the automobile. Every time you turn on the ignition, you're enmeshed in a system whose known outcomes include a polluted atmosphere, oil-slicked seas, and desert wars. As comprehension of the stakes has grown, though, a market has emerged for a more sensible alternative. Today you can drive a Toyota Prius that burns far less gasoline than a conventional car. Tomorrow we might see vehicles that consume no fossil fuels and emit no greenhouse gases. Combine cars like that with smarter urban growth and we're well on our way to sustainable transportation.

You don't change the world by hiding in the woods, wearing a hair shirt, or buying indulgences in the form of save the earth bumper stickers. You do it by articulating a vision for the future and pursuing it with all the ingenuity humanity can muster. Indeed, being green at the start of the 21st century requires a wholehearted commitment to upgrading civilization. Four key principles can guide the way:

Renewable energy is plentiful energy. Burning fossil fuels is a filthy habit, and the supply won't last forever. Fortunately, a growing number of renewable alternatives promise clean, inexhaustible power: wind turbines, solar arrays, wave-power flotillas, small hydroelectric generators, geothermal systems, even bioengineered algae that turn waste into hydrogen. The challenge is to scale up these technologies to deliver power in industrial quantities - exactly the kind of challenge brilliant businesspeople love.

Efficiency creates value. The number one US industrial product is waste. Waste is worse than stupid; it's costly, which is why we're seeing businesspeople in every sector getting a jump on the competition by consuming less water, power, and materials. What's true for industry is true at home, too: Think well-insulated houses full of natural light, cars that sip instead of guzzle, appliances that pay for themselves in energy savings.

Cities beat suburbs. Manhattanites use less energy than most people in North America. Sprawl eats land and snarls traffic. Building homes close together is a more efficient use of space and infrastructure. It also encourages walking, promotes public transit, and fosters community.

Quality is wealth. More is not better. Better is better. You don't need a bigger house; you need a different floor plan. You don't need more stuff; you need stuff you'll actually use. Ecofriendly designs and nontoxic materials already exist, and there's plenty of room for innovation. You may pay more for things like long-lasting, energy-efficient LED lightbulbs, but they'll save real money over the long term.

Redesigning civilization along these lines would bring a quality of life few of us can imagine. That's because a fully functioning ecology is tantamount to tangible wealth. Clean air and water, a diversity of animal and plant species, soil and mineral resources, and predictable weather are annuities that will pay dividends for as long as the human race survives - and may even extend our stay on Earth.

It may seem impossibly far away, but on days when the smog blows off, you can already see it: a society built on radically green design, sustainable energy, and closed-loop cities; a civilization afloat on a cloud of efficient, nontoxic, recyclable technology. That's a future we can live with.

Alex Nikolai Steffen ( runs and edited the book Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century.

How can I be more green?
Three questions from the enviro frontier.
By Brendan I. Koerner

Should I ditch my old Toyota Corolla and buy a Prius? Hybrids get better mileage, but it takes energy to build a new car, right?
Right - but the green choice is still the Prius. Manufacturing accounts for approximately 10 percent of the energy consumed by an automobile during its life cycle. Gas burned by the engine makes up almost everything else. So if a 1993 Corolla gets 27.5 miles per gallon and a 2006 Prius gets 55 mpg, you should earn back the energy "investment" that went into making the hybrid in about four years.

Additionally, by purchasing a Prius, you help tilt the economies of scale in favor of hybrids. Toyota's hybrid technology is still relatively expensive, but production costs will come down as more Priuses are sold. And the more Priuses that fill the roads, the more consumers will view them as a legitimate option for their next car, rather than just trendy eco-boxes for Hollywood do-gooders.

What percentage of our nation's energy currently comes from so-called alternative sources?
Officially, 6.1 percent of our 2004 energy consumption came from renewable sources. But half of this energy is provided by hydroelectric power, which environmentalists usually don't regard as "alternative" (rare is the eco-warrior who loves the idea of damming up rivers).

Strip away the hydroelectric, then, and you're left with a less impressive figure that encompasses geothermal, solar, wind, and biomass (which includes everything from switchgrass and ethanol to "sludge waste") sources: a piddling 3.4 percent. Solar energy accounted for less than 0.1 percent of our 2004 total consumption.

Is eating organic food good for the environment, or am I falling victim to the hype every time I pay 79 cents extra for organic grape tomatoes?
The latest data from the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial, a 22-year comparison of organic-versus-conventional farming, firmly supports going organic: The chemical-free approach yielded the same amounts of corn and soybeans as the conventional method but required 30 percent less energy and produced less soil erosion and groundwater pollution. (The jury is still out on whether organic farming is better for crops such as cherries and grapes, which suffer from graver pest-control issues.)

Before you go patting yourself on the back, however, keep transportation costs in mind. A 2005 report in the journal Food Policy calculated the energy expended to truck produce from farm to market and concluded that consumers would do less environmental damage by buying locally grown conventional food than organic produce from across the continent. The ideal is to buy organic food from within 12 miles of your dinner table. For most of us, though, this is impossible, and inadequate labeling makes it difficult to know if a box of tomatoes came from a local orchard or from Chile.

- Brendan I. Koerner

Grading the Old Guard
By Josh Rosenblum

Here's a Wired scorecard rating the major green groups.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Natural Capitalism?

New Internationalist 329 November 2000

Sustainability / CAPITALISM

Can the free market be used to jump-start the switch to
Mary Jane Patterson has her doubts.

In the packed ballroom of a glittering downtown hotel, Amory Lovins is working his magic. Calmly and confidently, the mustachioed guru of eco-efficiency explains how ‘natural capitalism’ can save money and the planet both at the same time. An enthusiastic standing-room-only audience of businesspeople, environmental activists, municipal politicians and university students is lapping it up – hook, line and ‘powerpoint’ presentation.

Along with everyone else, I am swept up in the logic and common sense of it all. But I wonder why we haven’t been doing this before? And why aren’t we doing it now?

After the presentation there are questions and comments from the audience. The head of a national NGO exults that finally she won’t have to feel guilty about driving a car. A local councillor steps up to the microphone to share the city’s own efficiency success stories. The buzz in the air is palpable. It is an Amory love-in.

There is no denying the appeal of Lovins’ message. In his recent best-selling book Natural Capitalism (co-authored with his ex-spouse L Hunter Lovins and eco-entrepreneur Paul Hawken) he describes how an enlightened form of capitalism, retuned to seek eco-efficiencies, would save the environment, stimulate the economy, increase employment and bridge the gap between rich and poor.

What’s not to like? Similar concepts calling for ten-fold or four-fold gains in resource efficiency (‘Factor Ten’ and ‘Factor Four’) have been embraced in Europe as ‘the new paradigm for sustainable development’. It is an attractive vision of the future that is rare in its appeal to environmentalists and the business community alike.

There is no denying the credentials of the messengers either. The Lovinses are co-founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, a nonprofit think tank. They are also among Time magazine’s ‘Heroes for the Planet’ for Earth Day 2000. A dynamic speaker and writer, Amory Lovins has been a prominent critical voice in energy policy and resource use for more than 20 years. Co-author Paul Hawken is both an entrepreneur and an environmental activist – and a thoughtful writer on the nexus between the two worlds. Together these three have set out to save capitalism from itself – to ‘harness the talent of business to solve the world’s deepest environmental and social problems’.

The central premise behind ‘natural capitalism’ is that we have the technical capacity to use the planet’s resources much more efficiently, allowing us to maintain and even enhance our material well-being while sharply reducing resource extraction, waste discharge and associated damage. Businesses would operate more like biological systems, recycling waste into new raw materials and providing services rather than products. The motivation for ecologically sound ways of doing business would be economic rather than altruistic because efficiency measures would also save money. In effect, we could have our cake and eat it too.

Lovins illustrates his hypothesis with many real-life examples from the business world, where companies found that ‘greening up’ was good for the bottom line. His public presentation and the book abound with success stories: $2.8 million saved here, 81-per-cent reduction in resource extraction there. The stories are numerous and attractive.

But they are more the exception than the rule. Eco-efficiency is not what drives most of real-life capitalism. ‘Natural capitalism’ may be reasonable and desirable. And certainly it is a refreshing notion for environmentalists weary of being the continual bearers of bad news. But it is not the way the world runs at the moment. In general business has blithely ignored and vigorously denied its role in degrading the environment.

So how do we get the market to favour eco-efficiencies? How do we achieve a ‘natural capitalism’ that is also equitable, given the free market’s tendency to deepen the gulf between rich and poor? And given the rampant consumerism that dominates Western culture and is quickly spreading around the globe, how do we ensure that the savings from eco-efficiencies are not simply spent on more consumer trinkets?

The market is undeniably powerful and it does seek efficiencies. Traditionally the ‘efficient’ way of dealing with wastes was to dump them, cost-free, into the air or water. But if efficiency could be harnessed to reduce resource use and waste, capitalism could be made to work in the service of the environment.

Lovins and company are not alone in exploring this possibility. Eco-sensitive economists have long advocated the use of market mechanisms to encourage anti-pollution measures. And activists have for years lobbied for removal of the subsidies that support unsustainable energy projects and industrial agriculture. There is also a growing international movement for ‘green’ taxes. These would remove taxes from ‘goods’ (things like jobs and income) and instead put them on ‘bads’ (things like pollution and resource extraction).

Factory Pollution,Natural Capitalism
Photo: Ray Pfortner

Grains of sand
The question is not whether such steps are desirable or whether they could work, but whether the necessary political will to make it happen can be mustered. Can this be accomplished under the Lovins’ banner? Not everyone is persuaded.

‘It’s a mystification,’ says Joel Kovel, professor of Social Studies at Bard College in New York. ‘They are using a popular, easy-to-assimilate and apolitical definition of capitalism. The whole weight of evidence is that this is not what real capitalism is about.’

Kovel argues that virtuous small businesses can exist but that they play no role in the overall workings of society. ‘A couple of grains of sand on the beach’ is how he puts it. One should not imagine that the realm of exchange is neutral. ‘The real forces of society are dictated by the accumulation of capital. The inherent nature of capitalism is to expand, and it sucks everything into its orbit.’

There are examples of businesses saving money while operating in a more environmentally friendly manner. But this doesn’t mean that most businesses could follow suit. For most, absorbing the ecological and social costs of their operations would be expensive and perhaps suicidal, unless their competitors did the same.

To counter this, ‘natural capitalism’ boosters advocate ‘a fundamental rethinking of the structure and the reward system of commerce’. Only by overhauling the entire system can we ensure that it is competitive to be environmentally friendly. But where does this overhauling begin? And how far does it extend?

Photo: Ray Pfortner

Virtually any country would find it difficult to make these changes on its own. If Australia, for example, were to attempt such a turnaround it might conceivably find a way to equalize the increased costs for Australian business competitors in the domestic market. But an integral part of the present market system is the globalization of trade. With the increasing reliance on exports to international markets, encouraged by the World Trade Organization, Australia would find it impossible to attempt economic reforms such as these in isolation. Australian corporations would be immediately outbid in foreign markets by competitors from other countries with lower costs and fewer restrictions. Such a transformation could only be successful on a global scale, through international treaties and agreements imposed on the now virtually lawless world of global corporate finance.

Silent politics
This does not mean that reforms such as green taxes, appropriate subsidies and internalization of costs are not worthy goals. In fact, they may be the only way to turn around our self-destructive economic system. But the changes would require substantial political intervention into the market and extraordinary political will at all levels from the municipal to the international. And this is not something that the natural capitalists address. They are largely silent on the subject of politics, preferring to paint themselves as proudly and deliberately apolitical. The Rocky Mountain Institute website describes their work as ‘independent, nonadversarial, and transideological’. They’re careful not to rock the boat, trying to appeal to the widest audience (mainly North American) possible.

Maybe they do understand the US public well. And maybe they’re right to assume they’ll have more success if changes are wrapped in the cloak of neutral economic logic. But the reality is that the conditions for Lovins’ brand of ‘natural capitalism’ are unlikely to arise from the market itself. They will have to be imposed by co-operative, collective action – by governments and other organizations of civil society hip-deep in politics.

And that’s not all. If the market won’t deliver eco-efficiency without substantial political intervention, it certainly won’t deliver an equal distribution of the benefits or ensure that the savings aren’t squandered on more consumption. These changes won’t happen without strong government intervention in the workings of capital. Self-regulation, based on the record to date, just won’t do it.

An appealing package
There is much to admire in the ‘natural capitalism’ approach. It’s both innovative and positive, a more attractive image than the negative, we’re-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket messages that come so often from environmental groups. It has the potential to galvanize the business and technology communities in a way that no other initiative has – if only because it affirms their modus operandi. And it pulls together some sorely needed economic and environmental changes into one appealing package.

That said, ‘natural capitalism’ is a programme for change that is at best partially developed. Very little that it advocates will emerge from capitalism as it’s currently structured. Both the core of its agenda – aggressive pursuit of eco-efficiencies – and the associated objectives of equity and overcoming consumerism, demand ambitious political action. When Lovins and company avoid discussion of political or cultural change they are not telling the whole story.

Maybe their restraint on the political aspects is strategic. Quite possibly the Lovinses and Hawken are trying to get North Americans to buy into the concept first. Then they will slowly introduce the scarier parts about political and cultural change.

Whether this strategy is appropriate or not is an open question. As Joel Kovel says, ‘natural capitalism’ presents lots of good technocratic ideas but ‘we shouldn’t think of it as a substitute for genuine political engagement’.

( is a masters student in environmental studies. This article was produced in consultation with Robert Gibson, an associate professor of Environment and Resource Studies. They are both at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Green Housing For the Rest of Us

Green Housing For the Rest of Us

Real estate developers at Full Spectrum NY had been told that sustainably designed buildings are only for the rich. The company's response? The Kalahari, a green high-rise with all the latest features but a reasonable price tag.
By Nitasha Tiku | Nov 1, 2007

Not so precious
The Kalahari, located on 116th Street in New York's Harlem neighborhood, has almost all of the accouterments of luxury green buildings--solar panels, vegetated green rooftops, wind-powered electricity, low-flow water fixtures, energy-efficient appliances, and bamboo floors. But nearly half of the 249 condos at the Kalahari are set aside for families earning as little as $56,000 a year--something unheard of in the usually precious world of green architecture.

The Design
The Kalahari is named for the southern African desert. The building's unusual façade is inspired by designs from the region's Ndebele tribes.

Another kind of green
In 1996, Full Spectrum set out to build its first green housing complex in Harlem, called 1400 on Fifth. But officials at New York's Housing and Preservation Department, which had to sign off on the project, were skeptical. "We wanted at least some evidence it was going to be cost-effective," says the department's commissioner, Shaun Donovan. Full Spectrum spent $700,000 gathering research to make the case that green housing was a sound investment. It eventually raised $40 million from a hodge-podge of investors. When 1400 on Fifth finally opened its doors in 2004, it had cost just $135 per square foot, roughly what it costs to build a standard affordable housing complex.

Clean Air Act
Before breaking ground on the Kalahari in 2005, Full Spectrum held a series of focus groups with Harlem residents and potential buyers from throughout the region. "Everyone in each of our groups had family members with asthma," says co-founder Carlton Brown. In fact, a 2003 study by Harlem Hospital Center found that 25 percent of children in central Harlem suffer from the condition, compared with less than 10 percent nationally. That inspired Full Spectrum to install high-efficiency MERV 13 air filters, which remove the particulate matter that aggravates asthma.

Rooftop Garden
On green rooftops, plants, grasses, and mosses are used to help insulate the building and filter pollutants out of air and rainwater. They also look pretty. But in New York City they're even more vital. That's because the city's antiquated sewer system is not equipped to handle storm water runoff during heavy rainstorms, which results in untreated sewage getting dumped in the East River. The unplanted parts of the rooftops use an inexpensive coating that deflects sunlight, thereby cutting down on energy costs.

The Walls
In many residential developments, insulation is installed next to the exterior walls rather than the interior ones. The problem: Condensation in the walls, which leads to mold and mildew, another contributor to asthma. With the Kalahari, Full Spectrum placed the insulation next to interior walls instead, keeping the condensation on the outside of the building--something few builders of affordable housing opt to do.

Friends of Brad
By 2006, Full Spectrum boasted revenue of $20 million. It has developments under way in New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi, and is talking with community groups in Biloxi, Mississippi, that are hoping to take advantage of the $1.2 billion in tax credits available to build green commercial and retail space in the struggling gulf region, where Carlton Brown was raised. All the activity has dropped a little stardust on the developers. Brown was featured on the Sundance Channel's Big Ideas for a Small Planet in April, and Full Spectrum recently signed on as a consultant for the Holy Cross Project, a large residential development in New Orleans's Ninth Ward. The project is being funded in part by actor Brad Pitt via his involvement in the nonprofit Global Green.

We Are Hard-Wired to Care and Connect

The good news: The changes we must make to avoid ultimate collapse are identical to the changes we must make to create the world of our common dream.

The story of purple America is part of a yet larger human story. For all the cultural differences reflected in our richly varied customs, languages, religions, and political ideologies, psychologically healthy humans share a number of core values and aspirations. Although we may differ in our idea of the “how,” we want healthy, happy children, loving families, and a caring community with a beautiful, healthy natural environment. We want a world of cooperation, justice, and peace, and a say in the decisions that affect our lives. The shared values of purple America manifest this shared human dream. It is the true American dream undistorted by corporate media, advertisers, and political demagogues—the dream we must now actualize if there is to be a human future.

For the past 5,000 years, we humans have devoted much creative energy to perfecting our capacity for greed and violence—a practice that has been enormously costly for our children, families, communities, and nature. Now, on the verge of environmental and social collapse, we face an imperative to bring the world of our dreams into being by cultivating our long-suppressed, even denied, capacity for sharing and compassion.

Despite the constant mantra that “There is no alternative” to greed and competition, daily experience and a growing body of scientific evidence support the thesis that we humans are born to connect, learn, and serve and that it is indeed within our means to:

Create family-friendly communities in which we get our satisfaction from caring relationships rather than material consumption;

Achieve the ideal, which traces back to Aristotle, of creating democratic middle-class societies without extremes of wealth and poverty; and

Form a global community of nations committed to restoring the health of the planet and sharing Earth’s bounty to the long-term benefit of all (see YES! Summer 2008: A Just Foreign Policy).

The first step toward achieving the world we want is to acknowledge that there is an alternative to our current human course. We humans are not hopelessly divided and doomed to self-destruct by a genetic predisposition toward greed and violence.
Culture, the system of customary beliefs, values, and perceptions that encodes our shared learning, gives humans an extraordinary capacity to choose our destiny. It does not assure that we will use this capacity wisely, but it does give us the means to change course by conscious collective choice.

The Story in Our Head
The primary barrier to achieving our common dream is in fact a story that endlessly loops in our heads telling us that a world of peace and sharing is contrary to our nature—a naïve fantasy forever beyond reach. There are many variations, but this is the essence:

It is our human nature to be competitive, individualistic, and materialistic. Our well-being depends on strong leaders with the will to use police and military powers to protect us from one another, and on the competitive forces of a free, unregulated market to channel our individual greed to constructive ends. The competition for survival and dominance—violent and destructive as it may be—is the driving force of evolution. It has been the key to human success since the beginning of time, assures that the most worthy rise to leadership, and ultimately works to the benefit of everyone.

I call this our Empire story because it affirms the system of dominator hierarchy that has held sway for 5,000 years (see YES! Summer 2006: 5,000 Years of Empire). Underlying the economic and scientific versions of this story is a religious story which promises that enduring violence and injustice in this life will be rewarded with eternal peace, harmony, and bliss in the afterlife.

To reinforce the Empire myth, corporate media bombard us with reports of greed and violence, and celebrate as cultural heroes materially successful, but morally challenged politicians and corporate CEOs who exhibit a callous disregard for the human and environmental consequences of their actions.

Never mind the story’s moral contradictions and its conflict with our own experience with caring and trustworthy friends, family, and strangers. It serves to keep us confused, uncertain, and dependent on establishment-sanctioned moral authorities to tell us what is right and true. It also supports policies and institutions that actively undermine development of the caring, sharing relationships essential to responsible citizenship in a functioning democratic society. Fortunately, there is a more positive story that can put us on the road to recovery. It is supported by recent scientific findings, our daily experience, and the ageless teachings of the great religious prophets.

Wired to Connect
Scientists who use advanced imaging technology to study brain function report that the human brain is wired to reward caring, cooperation, and service. According to this research, merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brain as when a mother sees distress in her baby’s face.

Conversely, the act of helping another triggers the brain’s pleasure center and benefits our health by boosting our immune system, reducing our heart rate, and preparing us to approach and soothe. Positive emotions like compassion produce similar benefits. By contrast, negative emotions suppress our immune system, increase heart rate, and prepare us to fight or flee.

These findings are consistent with the pleasure most of us experience from being a member of an effective team or extending an uncompensated helping hand to another human. It is entirely logical. If our brains were not wired for life in community, our species would have expired long ago. We have an instinctual desire to protect the group, including its weakest and most vulnerable members—its children. Behavior contrary to this positive norm is an indicator of serious social and psychological dysfunction.

Happiness Is a Caring Community
These neurological findings are corroborated by social science findings that, beyond the minimum level of income essential to meet basic needs, membership in a cooperative, caring community is a far better predictor of happiness and emotional health than the size of one’s paycheck or bank account. Perhaps the most impressive evidence of this comes from studies conducted by University of Illinois professor Ed Diener, and others, comparing the life-satisfaction scores of groups of people of radically different financial means. Four groups with almost identical scores on a seven-point scale were clustered at the top.

Consistent with the Empire story that material consumption is the key to happiness, those on Forbes magazine’s list of richest Americans had an average score of 5.8. They were in a statistical tie, however, with three groups known for their modest lifestyles and strength of community: the Pennsylvania Amish (5.8) who favor horses over cars and tractors; the Inuit of Northern Greenland (5.9), an indigenous hunting and fishing people; and the Masai (5.7), a traditional herding people in East Africa who live without electricity or running water in huts fashioned from dried cow dung. Apparently, it takes a very great deal of money to produce the happiness that comes with being a member of a caring community with a strong sense of place. The evidence suggests we could all be a lot healthier and happier if we put less emphasis on making money and more on cultivating caring community.

The purple American desire to create a society of healthy children, families, communities, and natural systems is no fluke. It is an expression of our deepest and most positive human impulses, a sign that we may overall be a healthier and less divisive society than our dysfunctional politics suggest.

Beyond the minimum level of income essential to meet basic needs, membership in a cooperative, caring community is a far better predictor of happiness and emotional health than the size of one’s paycheck or bank account.

Learning to be Human
If the properly functioning human brain is wired for caring, cooperation, and service, how do we account for the outrageous greed and violence that threaten our collective survival? Here we encounter our distinctive human capacity to suppress or facilitate the development of the higher order function of the human brain essential to responsible adult citizenship.

We humans have a complex three-part brain. The base is the “reptilian” brain that coordinates basic functions, such as breathing, hunting and eating, reproducing, protecting territory, and engaging the fight-or-flight response. These functions are essential to survival and an authentic part of our humanity, but they express the most primitive and least-evolved part of our brain, which advertisers and political demagogues have learned to manipulate by playing to our basest fears and desires.

Layered on top of the reptilian brain is the limbic or “mammalian” brain, the center of the emotional intelligence that gives mammals their distinctive capacity to experience emotion, read the emotional state of other mammals, bond socially, care for their children, and form cooperative communities.

The third and, in humans, largest layer is the neocortical brain, the center of our capacity for cognitive reasoning, symbolic thought, awareness, and self-aware volition. This layer distinguishes our species from other mammals. Its full, beneficial function depends, however, on the complementary functions of our reptilian and mammalian brains.

Most of the development of the limbic and neocortical brains essential to actualizing the capacities that make us most distinctively human occurs after birth and depends on lifelong learning acquired through our interactions with family, community, and nature. Developmental psychologists describe the healthy pathway to a fully formed human consciousness as a progression from the self-centered, undifferentiated magical consciousness of the newborn to the fully mature, inclusive, and multidimensional spiritual consciousness of the wise elder.

Realizing the fullness of our humanity depends on the balanced development of the empathetic limbic and cognitive neocortical brains to establish their primacy over the primitive unsocialized instincts of the reptilian brain. Tragically, most modern societies neglect or even suppress this development.

A depersonalized economic system with no attachment to place disrupts the bonds of community and family and makes it nearly impossible for parents to provide their children with the nurturing attention essential to the healthy development of their limbic brains. Educational systems that focus on rote learning organized by fragmented disciplines fail to develop our potential for critical holistic thinking. Leaving social learning to peer groups lacking the benefit of adult mentors limits development of a mature, morally grounded social intelligence. We are conducting an unintended evolutionary experiment in producing a line of highly intelligent but emotionally challenged reptiles wielding technologies capable of disrupting or even terminating the entire evolutionary enterprise.

The Power of Conversation
Getting out of our current mess begins with a conversation to change the shared cultural story about our essential nature. The women’s movement offers an instructive lesson.

In little more than a decade, a few courageous women changed the cultural story that the key to a woman’s happiness is to find the right man, marry him, and devote her life to his service. As Cecile Andrews, author of Circles of Simplicity, relates, the transition to a new gender story began with discussion circles in which women came together in their living rooms to share their stories. Until then, a woman whose experience failed to conform to the prevailing story assumed that the problem was a deficiency in herself. As women shared their own stories each realized that the flaw was in the story. Millions of women were soon spreading a new gender story that has unleashed the feminine as a powerful force for global transformation.

The voluntary simplicity movement organizes similar opportunities for people to share their stories about what makes them truly happy. The fallacy of the story that material consumption is the path to happiness is quickly exposed and replaced with the fact that we truly come alive as we reduce material consumption and gain control of our time to nurture the relationships that bring true happiness.

We must now begin a similar process to affirm that those of us who choose to cooperate rather than compete are not fighting human nature. We are, instead, developing the part of our humanity that gives us the best chance, not merely for survival, but for happiness.

The process of changing the powerful stories that limit our lives begins with conversation in our living room, library, church, mosque, or synagogue. By speaking and listening to each other, we begin to discover the true potentials of our human nature and our common vision of the world. It is not a new conversation. Isolated groups of humans have engaged in it for millennia. What is new is the fact that the communications technologies now in place create the possibility of ending the isolation and melding our local conversations into a global one that can break the self-replicating spiral of competitive violence of 5000 years of Empire.

As this conversation brings a critical mass of people to the realization that the Empire story is both false and devastatingly destructive, we can turn as a species from perfecting our capacity for exclusionary competition to perfecting our capacity for inclusionary cooperation. We can create a cultural story that says competition and polarization, whether the red-blue political divide or the rich-poor economic one, is not the inevitable result of being human. It is the result of suppressing the healthiest part of our humanity.

There are no trade-offs here. The institutional and cultural transformation required to avert environmental and social collapse is the same as the transformation required to nurture the development of the empathetic limbic brain, unleash the creative potentials of the human consciousness, and create the world we want. It is an extraordinary convergence between our reptilian interest in survival, our mammalian interest in bonding, and our human interest in cultivating the potentials of our self-reflective consciousness.

David Korten wrote this article as part of Purple America, the Fall 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. David is co-founder and board chair of YES! His latest book is The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. His website is

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Save The World, Inc.

For Love or Money?
VIEWPOINT April 3, 2009, 3:00PM EST
For Love or Money
Is forming a nonprofit the way to solve social ills, or is it more efficient for business to do it?

President and CEO
National Council of Nonprofits
Washington, D.C.

As a nonprofit you have an opportunity to get foundation dollars. Foundations are required to spend at least 5% of their assets every year on either internal operations or contributions to nonprofits. But with asset values down so much, it's becoming harder to get funding.

Sometimes there's no direct link between the issue and a sustainable business model. Take human rights in China, for example. I don't see a way to take that on through a for-profit model. Whereas I can see setting up a nonprofit where you get a foundation and some individuals to invest their dollars knowing they will not get a [monetary] return on it.

As a nonprofit you have the ability to wear the white hat. I started a nonprofit center on leadership ethics and public service. If it had been a for-profit consulting firm or law firm, there may have been pressure to give the client the answer they want instead of the right answer.

Founder and CEO
Root Capital, a nonprofit investment fund
Cambridge, Mass.

If you can use a for-profit model, you should. There's going to be a Darwinian flush on the nonprofit side as the financial meltdown causes funding to be reduced. So if you don't have to be out with your hat in hand, you are in a better position.

Business has the ability to scale. If you can bring the engine of business and real capital to bear, you can really move the needle. You can unlock billions and even trillions of dollars to address problems that are so huge. There just isn't that kind of money in the philanthropic world.

You have to be a starry-eyed romantic to think you won't have the dilemma of profit vs. the public good [if you use the for-profit model]. But the answer is to build awareness so that you have real consumer demand and shareholder pressure for ethical sourcing and environmentally responsible production.

—As told to Amy Barrett

BusinessWeek Magazine
Making a Profit and a Difference aren't mutually exclusive. Five entrepreneurs show how it's done

As the economy reels, enterprising individuals who apply business practices to solving societal problems are gaining support from public and private sectors
By Stacy Perman

Social entrepreneurs—enterprising individuals who apply business practices to solving societal problems, such as pollution, poor nutrition, and poverty—are now 30,000 strong and growing, according to B Lab, a nonprofit organization that certifies these purpose-driven companies. Together, they represent some $40 billion in revenue.

The idea of blending a social mission with business is not new. One of the founding forces behind the movement, the Ashoka Foundation, since its inception 1981 has granted multiyear living stipends to support more than 2,000 fellows dedicated to finding answers to a host of social ills through business ventures. Indeed, the concept of building a profitable business model in which doing good is an intrinsic part of the business and not just a philanthropic sideline has been gaining ground in recent years. Sally Osberg, president and chief executive of the Skoll Foundation in Palo Alto, Calif., another guiding force within the social venture community, says the number of institutes, universities, and organizations that are now tapping into social entrepreneurship has mushroomed since former eBay (EBAY) President Jeff Skoll established the foundation in 1999.

Now, as the economy reels, both the government and the private sector are looking for inventive ways to bring back prosperity, and many are counting on these entrepreneurs as a powerful tool for change. "Social entrepreneurship correlates to this growing realization that entrepreneurs are the key to a vibrant economy and to solutions that are badly needed," says Osberg. It's not all pie in the sky, says Bo Fishback, vice-president for entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo. "Many social entrepreneurs have shown they can accomplish their mission," he says. "They can deliver on the social good and report a cash flow."

Not surprising, then, that they've caught the attention of such venture capitalists as those at Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that invests in companies that try to alleviate poverty, and Bay Area Equity Fund, which backs businesses aiming to make social or environmental improvements to San Francisco's needier neighborhoods. (See these additional resources for entrepreneurs seeking funding sources that back social ventures.) President Obama has even suggested starting a new government agency to help socially conscious startups gain more access to venture capital.

In January, we asked readers, staffers, and members of the social venture community to nominate candidates whose trailblazing companies, in operation for at least a year, aimed to turn a profit while tackling social ills. The 200-plus nominations we received included such entrepreneurs as Alex Mittal, whose Philadelphia-based Innova Materials makes antimicrobial products for private industry, then uses revenues from these efforts to develop water purification systems for the developing world. Kirsten Tobey and Kristin Richmond, founders of Revolution Foods, deliver nutritious lunches to more than 100 schools (that's 20,000 meals a day) in low-income areas in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Rachel Sterne, another social entrepreneur, encourages those living under repressive regimes to post their own reportage at her profit-sharing Web site, You can take a look at each of the 25 ventures we profiled in our slide show, then vote for the business you feel holds the most promise.

Some attribute social models pioneered by small outfits to the social responsibility efforts espoused by large corporations. For instance, about three years ago, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), the world's biggest retailer, launched a program to promote sustainability, urging its many vendors to produce ecofriendly products while encouraging its consumers to buy them. General Electric (GE) made its green mark manufacturing high-efficiency incandescent light bulbs, and such manufacturing giants as Clorox (CLX) have begun to roll out their own lines of "green" cleaning products. In March, Cadbury (CBY), manufacturer of England's top-selling chocolate bar, announced a deal to use 15,000 tons of Fair Trade certified cocoa from Ghana by the end of this summer for its popular Dairy Milk bar. The company said the move would improve the standard of living of thousands of Ghanaians by tripling the sales of cocoa farmers there.

One of this year's finalists, Daniel Lubetzky, founder of $25 million Peaceworks, which works as a catalyst for peace by encouraging joint snack-food ventures among people of different backgrounds in volatile regions around the world, says it is not enough to impose an artificial business model on a social issue. Lubetzky, who was awarded a $1 million grant from the Skoll Foundation in 2008, says that doing good alone will not ensure success. "I had an earlier company that totally tanked," he says. "I didn't understand the product line well, but I was passionate about the mission. The failure taught me that one can't advance a social mission if the business model doesn't sell. You can't just sell a social mission. You still have to come up with the best product with the best prices." Given the current economic climate, that rings particularly true.

For a look at all 25 businesses, flip through this slide show. More elements of this special report are available here.

Perman is a staff writer for BusinessWeek in New York.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The California Experiment

Busted budgets, failing schools, overcrowded prisons, gridlocked government—California no longer beckons as America’s promised land. Except, that is, in one area: creating a new energy economy. But is its path one the rest of the nation can follow?
by Ronald Brownstein
The California Experiment

AMID ALL THE starpower assembled in the White House Rose Garden on a crystalline afternoon last May, the unassuming gray-haired woman who sat beaming in a prime first-row seat went largely unnoticed. But if not for California state Senator Fran Pavley, none of the other people who had gathered might have been there at all. In 2002, as a first-term member of the California Assembly, she had steered through the nation’s first law requiring automakers to reduce the tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming. Fourteen other states indicated they planned to adopt the California law. But George W. Bush’s administration refused to provide the federal waiver the state needed to proceed, and the major auto companies added new hurdles by challenging the state law in court. In January 2009, when Bush left office, the California plan was as stuck as a commuter caught behind a rush-hour pileup.

With the change of administrations, though, the road suddenly cleared. Candidate Obama endorsed the California initiative, and once he became president, his aides negotiated an agreement between the state, environmentalists, the auto-workers union, and the leading auto companies to use the California law as the basis for nationwide regulations to dramatically improve the fuel efficiency, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, of all new cars and trucks. The result was the unprecedented, almost unimaginable, scene that unfolded, fittingly enough, under perfect California weather that May afternoon in the Rose Garden. On the podium, President Obama stood flanked by senior executives from 10 global auto companies (including eight that the U.S. government did not own). In the chairs arrayed across the lawn, environmentalists mingled with auto-industry lobbyists, and Californians who had led the fight for stronger fuel-economy standards, like Pavley and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, wedged in beside Michigan legislators who had fiercely resisted them. Obama didn’t acknowledge Pavley by name, but he made clear that without California’s “extraordinary leadership,” the landmark environmental agreement he was announcing might never have been reached. Californians “have led the way on this,” Obama said, “as they have in so many other efforts to protect our environment.”

In politics and policy at large, the time is long past when the nation routinely looked to California, as it did in the 1960s and the ’70s, as the most fertile incubator of new ideas. On many fronts, the state government appears almost dysfunctional, hobbled by constitutional constraints and partisan polarization. The collapse of the state’s (latest) real-estate bubble has sent California’s economy into free fall. A short list of the state’s current problems would include surging unemployment, struggling schools, and a budget deficit larger than the entire budget in almost every other state.

But on energy and climate change, the story is very different. Ever since the first Arab oil embargo, in 1973, California has consistently defined the forward edge of energy-policy innovation in America. In 2006, California’s per capita energy consumption was the fourth-lowest in the country. The state emits only about half as much carbon per dollar of economic activity as the rest of America. It generates significantly more electricity than any other state from non-hydroelectric renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and biomass. California registers more patents associated with clean energy than any other state and attracts most of the venture capital invested in U.S. “cleantech” companies exploring everything from electric cars to solar power generation.

“I unequivocally believe we are a model for the rest of the country,” says F. Noel Perry, the founder of Next10, a nonpartisan Silicon Valley–based think tank, whose “California Green Innovation Index” studies have tracked these trends.

Some of California’s edge can be traced to the state’s natural advantages, particularly a temperate climate that does not require as much heating in the winter or cooling in the summer as do many other parts of the country. But the difference is also rooted in conscious policy decisions. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a leading nonprofit research group, recently ranked California first among the states in promoting energy efficiency.

“California has fouled up plenty of things,” said John Bryson, the former chairman of both the California Public Utilities Commission and Southern California Edison, the major Los Angeles–area utility that is a national leader in energy efficiency. “But on this set of issues—the clean-energy issues, the kind of things that need to be done in terms of the risk of climate change—I think California is getting it right… More than any other state I know of, California has done already most of the things that need to be done.”

California hasn’t solved all the puzzles associated with replacing fossil fuels. And its successes cannot necessarily be easily replicated. But the state is grappling with every major energy-related issue that currently faces the country. Its experience doing so is also likely to shape an intensifying national debate, because so many key players have roots in the state, from Barbara Boxer and Henry Waxman, who chair the Senate and House committees that are considering climate change, to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. California’s story illuminates some of the obstacles the nation will need to overcome as it seeks cleaner forms of power. But more broadly, California demonstrates how sustained political leadership can reshape how we produce, sell, and use energy—can “bend the curve,” as they say in Silicon Valley.

The epicenter of California’s energy revolution might justifiably be considered a roomy, dimly lit office in the bunker-like Energy Commission building in downtown Sacramento. There, behind a long conference table, surrounded by an untouched cup of chili and plates of apples, bananas, grapes, and tomatoes, sits Art Rosenfeld, at 83 years of age compact and contained, with thinning gray hair and a slight hunch. Looking natty in a hunter-green wool sport coat and a plaid shirt, Rosenfeld has hearing aids in both ears and a BlackBerry on his belt. Nothing about Rosenfeld is imposing, except his ideas, which for decades have earned him an audience at the highest levels of government. Former Vice President Al Gore, for one, described him to me as “a national resource. He’s quite a thinker. I like him a lot.” Then Gore laughed. “I also like that he starts to get more innovative as he gets older.”

In 1973, Rosenfeld was working as a particle physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. That September, the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a bill creating a commission to manage California’s energy policy. Ronald Reagan, then governor, vetoed it as an intrusion on free enterprise. But after the first Arab oil embargo caused energy prices to spike, two things happened. First, Reagan switched his position. Stung by popular discontent in car-conscious California, he agreed in 1974 to create what eventually became known as the California Energy Commission. Second, Rosenfeld shifted his focus toward energy efficiency, organizing a working group (which eventually became the Center for Building Science) at the laboratory. “I thought,” he told me dryly, “we had better do such things as learning how to turn out the lights.”

California’s new commission was born with something of an identity crisis: environmentalists hoped it would promote conservation, while utilities wanted it to fast-track production (particularly of nuclear power) to close a potentially crippling shortage in electricity generation. Rosenfeld, who had initially come to the commission’s attention when he critiqued its first energy-efficiency standards for residential buildings, quickly proved instrumental in setting the agency’s direction. In 1976, San Diego Gas & Electric Company asked the commission to approve a nuclear-power plant called Sundesert. Jerry Brown, the eclectic Democrat who succeeded Reagan as governor, didn’t want to authorize the plant, but he faced pressure to close the anticipated gap between electricity demand and supply. Rosenfeld squared the circle for him, telling Brown that if the state imposed efficiency standards on refrigerators (which then consumed about 20 percent of a typical home’s power), it would save at least as much electricity as Sundesert could produce. The state went on to block the Sundesert plant, and in 1977 the commission approved aggressive efficiency standards not only for refrigerators and freezers but also for air conditioners.

“Efficiency just gradually took over,” Rosenfeld said. In the next decade, the Energy Commission followed with efficiency standards for furnaces, dryers, swimming-pool heaters, household cooking appliances, heat pumps, showerheads, and fluorescent-lamp ballasts, among other products. Those rules became models for use in other states and, eventually, for federal appliance standards. In 1978, using a pioneering computer program developed by Rosenfeld and his colleagues, the Energy Commission opened another front by approving more-sophisticated energy-efficiency standards for new buildings. Other states, and even other countries, followed.

Around the same time, an even more obscure California regulatory agency produced another landmark innovation. Utilities traditionally make more money when they sell more electricity, especially since the fixed investment of building power plants and transmission lines comprises such a large part of their costs. As a result, their natural inclination is to encourage their customers to use more. With the state trying to save energy through its efficiency standards, that incentive seemed increasingly perverse—especially after energy prices again soared after the second oil shock, in 1979. John Bryson, a founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, whom Brown had appointed as chairman of the California Public Utilities Commission, began looking for ways to enlist the utilities in promoting efficiency.

“I thought it was evident that [they] could make a big difference,” Bryson recalled. “But there was the fundamental fact that you were asking utilities, under the regime that existed at the time, to forego returns for their shareholders, because their returns were meaningfully based on increasing electricity sales.”

The solution was a policy known as “decoupling” because it severed the link between consumption and profits. Here’s how it worked: the commission first set a revenue target for utilities by calculating how much money they needed to make to recover their fixed costs, plus an approved profit rate. Next, the commission estimated how much power it expected the utility to sell. Then, it established an energy price that would allow the utility to meet its revenue target at the expected level of sales. If the utility sold more power than it needed to meet its target, the difference was returned to consumers. If it sold less, rates were increased to make up the difference. Applied to natural-gas sales in 1978 and electricity in 1982, decoupling had a profound effect.

“Utilities were rendered indifferent to sales,” says Ralph Cavanagh, a senior NRDC attorney and central figure in California energy policy since the late 1970s. “They couldn’t make more money by selling more; they didn’t lose money by selling less. Their addiction to increased sales was eliminated.” In September 2007, the state utility regulators shifted the incentives for utilities further toward conservation by allowing them to split the savings with customers whenever energy use falls below state targets.

How much those twin rules—decoupling and decoupling-plus, as they are known—have changed the motivation of utility companies became clear when I visited Peter A. Darbee, the chairman, CEO, and president of Pacific Gas & Electric. Darbee works on the 24th floor of a San Francisco office tower in a glass-enclosed corner office that looks like a ship’s bridge. The office has panoramic views of the Embarcadero, and on the windy, sunny day we spoke, boats silently glided through the water in the distance, as if a painting had somehow been set into motion.

“I think the biggest key to the success in California was putting in place the right incentives for California utilities,” Darbee noted. Echoing Cavanagh, Darbee said that decoupling made the utilities “neutral or indifferent” to sales; then decoupling-plus provided utilities “an incentive to sell less power rather than more.” With those economic signals nudging the utilities, he continued, “all of a sudden you’ve unleashed the power of these huge organizations to work with you rather than against you.” Darbee said that sometimes when he’s out sailing with customers, they will say to him, “‘Peter, you would love us, because we have all sorts of lights and air conditioning and we are using a lot of your power.’ And I look at them and say, ‘Well, actually I’d prefer that you use a lot less.’ And they look at me like I’m crazy. And then I say to them, ‘We actually make more money if we sell you less power, and we make less if we sell you more power.’”

Efficiency and decoupling have helped California to consume electricity far more thriftily than the rest of America. At the time of the 1973 oil shock, California used about 17 percent less electricity per person than the country at large. Since then, as Rosenfeld likes to point out in a chart that has been dubbed “the Rosenfeld Curve,” per capita electricity use in the nation has increased by about 50 percent to about 12,000 kilowatt-hours annually. Meanwhile, over that same period, per capita electricity use in California has remained absolutely flat at about 7,000 kilowatt-hours per year. That means the average Californian today uses about 40 percent less electricity per year than the average American.

James Sweeney, who runs Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, has calculated with Anant Sudarshan, a colleague, that much of that difference can be explained by factors such as California’s temperate climate, less heavy industry, and even smaller-sized households. But, Sweeney says, the state’s policy decisions still account for a substantial amount—roughly one-fifth to one-fourth—of the gap in electricity usage between California and the nation. The focus on efficiency has produced huge savings: though per kilowatt electricity rates are higher in California than in most other places, consumers pay lower electricity bills because they use so much less power than people elsewhere. A few years ago, the California Energy Commission calculated that the state’s efficiency efforts had preempted the need for 24 large-scale power plants and saved state consumers $56 billion.

Rosenfeld says the past generation’s gains indicate the state can improve its energy intensity (the amount of energy required to produce each dollar of GDP) by about 30 percent every decade. “Efficiency,” he says with a twinkle, “seems to be a renewable resource.”

And there is the initial lesson from California’s energy experience: efficiency is the foundation of any effort to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. As California has learned, the most cost-effective way to replace coal or natural gas or petroleum isn’t to rely on solar or wind or biofuels; it’s to squeeze more work out of less energy.

After the state’s early breakthroughs, the 1990s were largely a lost decade for California on energy. The state detoured into a failed experiment with utility deregulation that produced price spikes and rolling blackouts, forced PG&E into bankruptcy, and helped to make Enron a household name. But even that disaster, which ended when the state legislature suspended the deregulation experiment in 2001, fueled another burst of energy innovation in California.

In July 2002, the legislature passed Fran Pavley’s bill establishing the precedent-setting requirement for auto companies to reduce the tailpipe emissions of the gases linked to global warming, a standard the companies had been expected to meet primarily by improving the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. Since the Clean Air Act in 1970, California—alone among all states—has had the authority to impose pollution-control standards more stringent than the national rules, so long as the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the regulations were not arbitrary or unreasonable. But the lawsuits from the major auto companies, and the Bush administration’s refusal to provide an EPA waiver, had prevented California from implementing the Pavley law until President Obama announced the breakthrough with the auto industry this May.

Those anticipating that the name Pavley is some clever policy acronym like CAFE or COBRA are sometimes surprised to find attached to the legislation the actual Fran Pavley. “It’s really quite hysterical,” she says. “I’ve been at some conferences and there will be legislators from different states and they will go around the room and they’re like, ‘We’ve adopted Pavley.’ ‘They killed Pavley.’ ‘I can’t bring up Pavley.’ And I’ll go, ‘I’m Pavley.’ And they’ll go, ‘What?’ I don’t know what they thought.”

Disarmingly informal and chatty, Pavley is in her spare but somehow homey office in the California Capitol in Sacramento, talking as if we were sitting across a kitchen table. Though we were deep inside the dusky Capitol building, a pair of sunglasses was improbably perched in her hair. Before going into state politics, first in the Assembly and now in the Senate, she had spent most of her career as a middle-school teacher. Even though she had accumulated some political and environmental background as a local mayor and a member of the state Coastal Commission, Pavley might have seemed an unlikely architect of such important legislation. In fact, she benefited from being underestimated (“First-term freshman, middle-school teacher—the opposition didn’t show up in droves,” she recalls), and ultimately she assembled a broad coalition.

Pavley also benefited from another factor she had not anticipated: California’s legacy as an environmental pace-setter. That work dates back to the 1940s, when concern about smog in Los Angeles led the state to establish the nation’s first county-level air-pollution-control districts. Rather than being intimidated by the prospect of setting a new national standard, legislators seemed to welcome that role, particularly after George W.Bush in 2001 renounced the global climate-change treaty. “They weren’t going anywhere [in Washington],” Pavley said. “We had pushed the envelope on unleaded gas and catalytic converters. This was sort of the same.” Governor Gray Davis signed the tailpipe bill into law in late July 2002.

Just weeks later, in September, Davis signed another landmark bill. This one required the state’s three investor-owned utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2017. This wasn’t the nation’s first so-called Renewable Portfolio Standard for utilities, but it was among the most ambitious. After Schwarzenegger arrived, the state raised the bar on the utilities’ renewable-power requirement twice more: the utilities must generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and fully 33 percent by 2020.

The state approved its initial renewable-sources standards law soon after the collapse of the dot-com bubble. The new mandates on utilities to buy renewable power reinforced the nascent sense among investors and entrepreneurs that clean energy might be the Next Big Thing. From 2005 through 2008, the amount of venture capital flowing into cleantech start-up companies in California exploded from about $456 million a year to $3.3 billion. By one estimate, California was home to nearly three-fifths of all the U.S. venture capital invested last year in clean energy. With the investment spigots opened, the number of clean-energy companies in California increased by nearly 30 percent between 1995 and 2007.

All of this activity points to the second lesson from California’s energy experience: regulations can create markets. “It’s much easier to make a big investment knowing that there will be a market and an opportunity to participate in it,” says Ellen K. Pao, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading Silicon Valley venture firm. Initially, neither the utilities nor the investors seemed convinced that state regulators would enforce the renewable standards. But once the legislature and Schwarzenegger sent a clear message by toughening the requirements, the pace of activity enormously accelerated. Solar energy today provides less than 1 percent of the state’s power, but over the past few years, PG&E and Southern California Edison have leapfrogged each other in signing contracts with start-up companies for what is planned as the world’s largest solar production facility. (The California utilities find solar more attractive than wind because the sun’s energy is available on the hottest days, when demand is greatest, but hot days in California are usually still; the wind in the state blows mostly at night, when demand is lower.) Both SoCal Edison and, more recently, PG&E are also seeking approval from state regulators to operate their own large-scale photovoltaic arrays, many on the roofs of warehouses and other big commercial buildings.

The slow start, and the long lead time needed to construct large renewable facilities and the associated transmission lines, mean the utilities are unlikely to reach the state’s 20 percent threshold by 2010. But most experts believe they will meet the goal not long thereafter. And the tilt in the utilities’ priorities toward alternative energy now appears irreversible.

“There is a smattering of activity in other states… but not what you’d call a marketplace with a recurring flow of opportunity,” says Mike Ahearn, the CEO of First Solar Incorporated, which is manufacturing thin-film solar panels for SoCal Edison’s rooftop project. “California is the solar market in the United States.”

Storm clouds, both literal and metaphoric, were buffeting the Capitol building on the blustery day when I met with Schwarzenegger to discuss the state’s energy strategy. Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the state legislature were still locked in a budget standoff with legislative Republicans. (The immediate impasse was finally broken two days later, but the state didn’t reach a final resolution on the budget until this summer, after voters rejected all but one of the ballot initiatives central to the original agreement.) We met in a tent Schwarzenegger has had constructed, complete with Astroturf flooring, in an interior courtyard of the Capitol building, where he can smoke cigars without violating the building’s no-smoking rule. When I arrived, Schwarzenegger, in a blue suit and cowboy boots emblazoned with the California state seal, was contentedly puffing a stogie. For a man facing fiscal meltdown, he appeared remarkably relaxed, though the weather seemed to be offering its own commentary: the torrential downpour lashing Sacramento that day drummed on the tent so loudly that at times it was hard to hear him talk.

Schwarzenegger had pledged to advance environmental causes during his initial gubernatorial campaign in 2003. But when he arrived in Sacramento, environmentalists and legislative Democrats were skeptical about the commitment of a Republican governor whose most prominent previous association with energy issues had been to encourage General Motors to adapt the Humvee for civilian use. “They felt … when I came here, ‘Oh, here’s a Republican, he is going to set us back seven years, so let’s not hope for much,’” Schwarzenegger told me. Legislators may have heard all his campaign promises, but “they thought it was just stuff that you say in order to get elected.”

In fact, Schwarzenegger would bang heads with environmentalists and their legislative allies on some regulatory issues. But on questions surrounding the transition toward a new energy economy, no governor would prove as visionary or determined. Ambitious new initiatives have cascaded out of Schwarzenegger’s office—including the two measures raising the renewable-power requirement on utilities, a state subsidy program to encourage the installation of electricity-generating solar panels on 1 million California roofs, and in January 2007, an executive order establishing the nation’s first “low-carbon fuel standard,” which requires a reduction of at least 10 percent in the carbon emissions from transportation fuels by 2020.

“People make decisions in this building, a lot of times, based on what is their term,” he told me, gesturing with his cigar toward the offices around him. “So they make a decision, what can be done in the next four years … I always look 50 years ahead, because to me, I cannot think just about what can I accomplish while I am in office. The thing that is important is, what should the state look like 20, 30, 40 years from now.” The search for a new energy strategy also spoke to Schwarzenegger’s desire to define California (and undoubtedly himself) as the forward edge of innovation. “My idea [was] that you shouldn’t just do it for California, that everything we do, we should use as a way of pushing the rest of the world, because I am a big believer in marketing,” he said.

Schwarzenegger’s interest in big, course-changing initiatives, and the continuing desire among Democratic legislative leaders to challenge then-President Bush’s energy policies, converged to produce yet another landmark initiative in 2006. After some occasionally tense maneuvering, the legislature passed and Schwarzenegger signed a Pavley-sponsored bill imposing the nation’s first mandatory statewide reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. The bill required the state by 2020 to roll back its emissions to the 1990 level—a reduction of about 15 percent from the current level. (By separate executive order, Schwarzenegger also committed the state to an 80 percent reduction by 2050.) Environmentalists had been promoting exactly those goals as national policy without success under Bush. Once again, the stalemate in Washington emboldened Sacramento. California acted, Schwarzenegger told me, “because we saw no hope on the national level.” It was, he continued, “very important to let Washington know, ‘Look, you are not the one making all the decisions.’”

Once California had passed its greenhouse-gas-emissions law, Schwarzenegger deputized Terry Tamminen, his key environmental adviser, to encourage other states to follow. That effort has been a striking success: six states, and four Canadian provinces, have joined with California in the Western Climate Initiative, which has pledged to impose mandatory greenhouse-gas-emission reductions comparable to California’s 2020 goal through a market-based regional cap-and-trade system.

The passage of California’s climate-change legislation captured a third major lesson of the state’s experience: just as regulations create markets, markets create constituencies. Much of the state’s business establishment opposed the bill. But the legislation drew countervailing support from the state’s cleantech community, which was growing partly in response to the state’s earlier alternative-energy initiatives. At a critical moment, a delegation of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs led by John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers visited the Capitol to declare that the greenhouse bill would, in the group’s words, “stimulate innovation, efficiency, and economic benefits.” “It changed the whole dynamic,” Pavley said. “Before, all the papers were [saying], ‘This is an environmental bill,’ and businesses were opposed. After that… It changed the whole discussion.” Schwarzenegger meanwhile helped coax support from more-traditional business interests, including PG&E.

Peter Darbee, a self-described conservative, has become an ardent proponent of mandatory carbon-emission reductions. After assuming PG&E’s top job in 2005, he convened a series of meetings for senior executives with scientists on both sides of the climate issue. The conclusion he reached was unequivocal: “The Earth was warming, mankind was responsible, and the need for action is now.” And partly because of the utility’s experience at meeting the state’s energy-efficiency goals, he said, he also concluded that while there will be “some cost” to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, “that cost is very small, compared to the cost of not doing something. If people approach this, as we have, as an opportunity, it could actually have zero or little cost, or [produce] a net benefit.”

Darbee’s optimism reflects a larger truth about the politics of energy in California: unlike in most states, enough industries in California have found ways to profit from the state’s first waves of reform to create a durable constituency for continued change and innovation.

As a result of the climate-change bill, the state is several years ahead of the country again, this time in exploring what reducing carbon emissions will actually take. “There was no model to work from,” said Mary D. Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which has been tasked with administering the climate bill. Last December, the board approved a “scoping plan” that offered the most detailed road map any government agency has yet charted for reducing greenhouse emissions. It pointed to a fourth major lesson from the California energy experience: moving toward a low-carbon economy will require attacking the problem from almost every conceivable angle.

The plan anticipates that the largest reductions will come from the major reforms the state has adopted in recent years, including the Pavley emissions law, the renewable portfolio requirement, and the cap-and-trade system itself. But it also envisions renewed efficiency efforts, improved regional planning to reduce sprawl, more installation of distributed solar power on rooftops, changes in forestry and water-distribution practices, and so on.

For all of the changes required, Nichols is confident the state is on course to launch its cap-and-trade system one year early (in 2011) and to meet its 2020 carbon-reduction goals. Still, California’s experience highlights several obstacles the country may face in any transition toward a lower-carbon economy. Foremost among these, ironically, may be the environmental challenges of producing more renewable power. Large-scale solar arrays consume substantial amounts of land. As plans move forward for new facilities in the Mojave Desert and elsewhere, environmentalists are uneasily monitoring the potential impact on sensitive habitats. Even more daunting are the extended permitting and regulatory processes for building the transmission lines required to carry wind and solar power to population centers.

“Transmission is the biggest constraint,” says Michael R.Peevey, who is the president of the California Public Utilities Commission. Typically, he says, it takes eight to 10 years to plan, permit, and build a high-voltage transmission line. The commission has projected that California will need to build five such lines to meet its 2020 renewable-power goals. The likelihood that that will happen is even lower than the likelihood that Los Angeles will ban Botox.

Another challenge is the precarious financial condition of some of the start-up alternative-energy companies that the California utilities are relying upon to deliver wind and solar power. Even before the credit crunch, skeptics questioned whether the new energy companies possessed the financial, engineering, and logistical capacity to fulfill their agreements with state utilities to build huge generation plants. The difficulty in obtaining credit will likely make it harder for some suppliers to reach the size required to deliver their technologies at an industrial scale. Some analysts think many of the alternative-energy start-ups may instead need to license their technology to the utilities, which can more easily raise the money to build generating facilities themselves. But while more direct ownership by the utilities (or, for that matter, oil companies) might speed the deployment of alternative energy, it would also raise concerns about concentrating control over the next century’s energy supplies in the same behemoths that dominated the fossil-fuel era.

Other technological challenges also loom—from upgrading the electricity grid so it can handle the intermittent nature of solar and wind power, to developing the battery capacity required to make electric cars more than a niche competitor. But the greatest unknown may be whether the state’s energy agenda will eventually provoke a backlash among voters. To meet the greenhouse-gas reduction targets, the state may need to consider measures that average families might consider too intrusive, like imposing fees on the owners of cars that emit the most carbon dioxide. Energy prices are another wild card. If household utility bills noticeably rise, the political calculus might change, particularly if the economy remains weak.

Yet, for now, the key to energy politics in California is that the state has transcended the assumption, common in many other regions, that sustainability requires scarcity. The California perspective reflects the fusion of the state’s long-time environmental ethos with the techno-optimism of Silicon Valley. “We look at this as an economic opportunity,” says Doug Henton, an economic consultant to Next 10 and the chairman and CEO of Collaborative Economics. “What’s been holding back other states and [the nation] is this fear that we’re going to lose more than we gain.”

Clearly, some structural advantages have encouraged that attitude in California. It is easier for California to shift toward renewable sources of electricity, for instance, because it never relied as much as most states on low-cost coal (even including its imports of coal-generated power from neighboring states); it also has an unusually favorable climate for generating solar energy.

“This isn’t something you can design as an exact blueprint, a cookie cutter that is applicable everywhere,” says Mary D. Nichols. But in moving toward a low-carbon future, California has its own unique challenges, starting with its excessive reliance on cars. On balance, the state’s energy successes have been shaped less by the state’s underlying circumstances than by the public policies California has pursued.

The big lessons of the California energy experience—rely on efficiency first, use regulation to create markets, use markets to create constituencies, attack the problem from all angles—might be implemented in different ways, but their basic principles can be applied everywhere. California’s experience says the evolution to a lower-carbon, more energy-efficient economy is possible and compatible with economic growth, but that the change requires endurance, consistency, and flexibility. Schwarzenegger captures the point with a characteristically personal metaphor:

“The key thing with everything is not to concentrate so much on the process but to concentrate on the goal. When I said I am going to be Mr. Universe, and I was 15 years old in Austria, I had no idea how to train and how to get there. But I had the fire in the belly, and I had the will to say that I will be the world champion even though it was not an Austrian sport, and no one had ever done it in Austria … The will was there. So the same is here. We have the will to get there by 2020 …and therefore we are going to … make decisions based on getting there.”

No one exemplifies that spirit of persistence more than Art Rosenfeld. He has been around long enough that as a graduate student he studied under Enrico Fermi. The wall of Rosenfeld’s office is covered with awards that stretch back decades. Yet, at 83, he has a new passion. Rosenfeld is crusading to replace dark roofs, which trap most of the sun’s heat, with white or “cool” roofs that are far more reflective, and thus save energy by keeping the building below cool. California has accepted his logic by requiring all newly constructed commercial buildings with flat roofs to use white. In 2010, Energy Commission rules will encourage new homes and remodeling projects in the state’s five hottest regions to use “cool color” roof surfaces in green, brown, or other shades that reflect more heat than dark roofs.

Rosenfeld finds those rules a little disappointing, because the cool-color roofs reduce energy use by only about one-third as much as white roofs, but he understands the need to ease homeowners into a new approach. And even those requirements could yield substantial reductions. Rosenfeld has calculated that a global conversion, over the next 20 years, to white flat roofs and cool-color sloped roofs as far north as Chicago and as far south as Buenos Aires would reduce carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to taking about one-half of the world’s passenger cars off the roads. Rosenfeld is content to start small but, as always, he’s thinking big. To him, after all, it seems an eminently reasonable proposition that one American state can prompt the entire country, if not the world, to save massive amounts of energy and combat climate change, by reconsidering a central pillar of how buildings have been designed for centuries. Based on California’s experience over the past 35 years, I wouldn’t bet against him.