Tag Archives: Reynolds

Moving Beyond Sustainability to Environmental Effectiveness

by Colin Beavan

The task at hand — to create a new reality; a new way of living with fewer
resources while providing a prosperous life for every member of our growing
population — is going to require more than even the best technology that money
can buy. It’s going to require imagination, open-mindedness, a willingness to
live and to understand life differently. With that significant challenge ahead
of us, is “sustainability” the best weapon we can bring to the fight?

To illustrate my point, let me ask: is sustainability an inspiring call to
action? Do you dream of a life that’s simply “sustainable?” Or do you
hope for something better, say, a happy life? One that’s full of meaning?

Who among us would be satisfied with living a life that can simply be sustained?
And if that’s not what we want for ourselves, then why is it the word we use to
pitch this lifestyle to the still-unconvinced? Sustainability, the way many on
the most recent wave of popularization have tended to think about it, is nothing
more inspiring than business as usual — adapted so that we can do it forever.
As usual.

I am aiming a punch straight for our “green” solar plexus. I want
to knock the wind out of our guts. I want us take a deep breath and think of
something better.

What I’m saying is that there are a lot of products and processes out there
that could be made in a way that’s arguably sustainable when, in fact, they do
no good for humankind at all. To my mind, even if resources are used
“sustainably,” if they are not being used to improve human life, they
are still, essentially, being trashed.

A new means of evaluating products and services in terms of their improvement
to human life will be a necessary step in the evolution of
“sustainability” — if we want to use that term — as an enduring

When our measure of sustainability asks only if a given activity is
something we can get away with doing — and fails to ask whether that activity
is worth doing at all — we fail to see the larger picture.

Imagine a soda can. Sure, it’s better for the planet if the can is both
recycled and recyclable; it’s even better if the local recycling program
ensures that the aluminum used to make the can continues to loop through the
process of use and re-use. At that point, the process of packaging soda becomes
arguably sustainable.

But when we view that product in the interconnected world in which it lives,
we still end up with obese kids buying sugary sodas from machines in their
schools. Another example: No matter how green a car we drive, unless the system
changes we
are still stuck with
suburbs and highways and spending 13 percent of our
incomes to service those cars.

Business. As usual.

“Sustainable” implies something can be done, but it says
nothing about whether it should be done. It says nothing about whether
our precious resources are being used for our betterment.

In order to change the paradigm, I believe that we need to begin to include
“life enhancement” as a measure of a product’s overall worth in the

Consider, first, that reduced resource use and ecological lifestyles, on both
the cultural and the individual level, need not mean deprivation. Let’s assume,
in fact, that there are synergistic solutions that can help solve both our
lifestyle and our environmental crises.

Indeed, let’s assume that such solutions are better than what we call
“sustainable” because they have the added benefit of enhancing human
life. I’m going to call these solutions, for the purposes of this post,
“environmentally effective.”

Environmental because it is less harmful to the environment. Effective because
resources are effectively used to enhance human life. In other words, we get
joy or life, quality or health. Or something else good. That’s better than
boring old “sustainable,” right?

One simple example of environmental effectiveness on the individual level:
cycling. Studies show that bicycle commuters are happier than car and transit commuters.

Research also shows that, at the cultural level, people who live in
pedestrian-friendly areas tend to have more friends.

In both cases, the scenario that uses fewer resources results (directly or
indirectly) in better quality of life. The happiness of people, therefore, does
not depend on energy and material use. It depends upon whether materials and
energy are used effectively to improve well-being.

You can argue, therefore, that a transportation system based on biking is
not just sustainable, but actually environmentally effective.

In this next-gen version of ecological thinking, I’d like to propose that
the ecologically responsible designer of products and systems go beyond the
question of identifying the lowest possible energy and materials input. The
real question is whether use of those valuable ecological resources can be
justified in terms of quality of life improvement.

In mathematical terms, the “environmental effectiveness” (E) of a
product or system might be represented by an equation that looks something

E = life enhancement / ecological resource use.

The more life enhancement (pleasure, health, contentment, security,
community, connectedness) delivered per unit of resource, the higher the
environmental effectiveness, and the more ecological the product. In other
words, even a conventionally-grown apple has a higher environmental
effectiveness than organically-grown tobacco.

And if you think about it, products like sugary sodas wouldn’t score so well
either. Carrot juice, even in the same throwaway container, would score better.

Here’s another example: a coal-fired power plant. If we were to build one
here in New York, say, where I live, we might be able to turn our air
conditioners up and keep our buildings a degree cooler. But if we built the
same power plant, say, in India, we could deliver electric light to villages so
kids could learn to read at night.

The same power station is more environmentally effective in one case than
the other. Though both examples have the same ecological resource use, the
Indian case delivers more life enhancement.

We have become so short on environmental resources that we can no longer
afford to be wasting them on things that don’t even improve our lives.

Environmental effectiveness goes beyond sustainability and challenges us to
ask whether or not we’re using our resources to enhance life; because if we’re
not, isn’t that the true definition of waste?

It challenges us to look deep into the environmental crisis not only for
opportunities to use less, but also for ways to use better. It
challenges us not to squander our limited resources on things that harm us or
others but to value our resources enough to insist that they are used for our

That’s vision. That’s opportunity. That’s a chance to get better lives as
well as solving the environmental crisis.

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Making is Hard To Do

By Dale Dougherty Co-founder of O’Reilly Media, Founding editor and publisher of Make magazine, Co-creator of Maker Faire

At the core of the maker movement is the idea that we are more than consumers; we are makers. We are producers, creators, builders and shapers. Makers are enthusiasts who love what they do and want to share it with others, as seen in Make Magazine. Makers are mostly amateurs.

Makers “scratch their own itch,” to use the phrase that Eric Raymond coined to describe what motivated Open Source developers. Making technology do what we want it to do and adapt it to our creative and personal goals is very satisfying. This desire to satisfy ourselves and our interests is at the heart of a growing DIY (do-it-yourself) culture. Yet this is a culture that is very personal and intensely social. Makers are builders of communities that organize around shared interests. We’ve seen the growth of maker communities, both online and local.

There’s no better place to meet makers than this weekend’s at the NY Hall of Science in Queens. You’ll meet hundreds of makers who exhibit their creative projects that use technology in innovative ways. You’ll be among thousands of others who we hope get their first hands-on experience making something and meeting others who are makers.

If consuming is meant to be easy, making is hard by comparison. While a lot of DIY projects may be easy to do, many of the projects that makers undertake are hard. Hard as in hardware. Working with hardware isn’t as hard as it used to be. Hardware is now benefiting from the same forces that allowed open source to reshape the software industry and create the web economy. Makers are part of a prototyping revolution that is inviting a new audience to design and develop products. Open technologies and new collaborative processes just might change the way we make things at work and home.

Yet if the maker movement is to continue to grow, we must understand the importance of community building and broadening participation. Maker Faire has served as a catalyst for community building. There are over 60 Maker Faires worldwide this year. Maker Faire helps to identify makers so they can find each other in a community. It also helps to invite others to participate and learn to become makers.

The growth of hackerspaces and makerspaces is crucial to the success of the maker movement. These physical workshops organize tools, materials and expertise for people. They help to prepare makers and train them to do things that many of us would think are hard to do. It’s also important that these workshops be available for young people. Many existing spaces cannot serve young people because of liability reasons. We need find ways to include young people in the existing spaces or by setting up unique spaces that are focused on the needs of young makers. That’s become a personal goal of mine – to extend the maker movement to schools and reach more young people.

We need more places in our community where young people can go to learn and gain the experience of making. And we need more mentors and other volunteers to provide expertise and personal support. We have two key initiatives: the MENTOR Makerspace program and the non-profit Maker Education Initiative. The Makerspace program is a DARPA funded program to establish physical workspaces in up to 1,000 high schools over the next three years. We have just launched our initial round of pilot schools in the Bay Area.

We’ve also set up the non-profit Maker Education Initiative to work with partners to develop model programs that provide more opportunities in our communities for young people to engage in making. One of its programs is Maker Corps, which will help organize volunteers in communities to help develop young makers.

We want everyone to understand that they can become makers. While it’s not necessarily easy, it is possible. For those makers who develop and share their own creative projects, it can be very satisfying.

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Democracy is coming to the U.S.A, and Craigslist is coming to Ramallah

by David Russell

But I’m stubborn as
those garbage bags
that Time cannot

Craig Newmark, who spoke at the NYU Reynolds Programme in
Social Entrepreneurship
 as part of the Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Speaker Series on
Wednesday joked that he was revealing his age by sharing this, one of his
favourite lyrics. The relevance though is not his stubbornness in keeping to
his original conception of a free online classifieds and listings service with
no banner or pop-up advertising – despite the large sums of money that have
been offered to him through the years from the likes of Microsoft. Some may see
him as stubborn, but as he revealed in referring to the lyric, it is democracy
that is his driving force.  

Founder and Customer Service Representative of Craigslist
– Craig is a social entrepreneur with a difference. A self-confessed nerd, he
is a man who enjoys not having to arise from his seat. But as he is showing, it
is possible to change the world and start a revolution without necessarily
leaving one’s computer in this internet age.

Cragislist evolutionised the ability of people to
connect online – a full decade before facebook was even a twinkle in Mark
Zuckerberg’s eye. The secret of the site’s success – which clocks up over 10
billion page views a month – is its simplicity and dedicated focus. As Craig
revealed “we know what we do well, and we treat people like we want to be

Humble and modest, he spoke honestly about his ineptitude
in managing people – and his realisation that it would be best for all
concerned if he were to just concentrate on what he knows and does best, and
enjoys most, responding to and helping Craigslist users. And as he admitted, with
the site carrying his name, he has a vested interest in doing the job well..!

Craig admitted that it was partly by accident, rather
than design, that he has created a concept that perfectly matches the Reynolds
definition of a social entrepreneurial venture. It is scalable – now in 570
cities worldwide and continuing to spread, recently to Ramallah as Craig
explained, due to the request of the mother of the owner of the coffee-shop at
which he is a regular. It is sustainable – overheads are covered by the
revenues generated by the only sections that charge for postings, brokers that
post flat listings and businesses that post job vacancies (to which “erotic
services” will soon be added, though with revenue raised going to non-profit
organisations). And it is pattern breaking – democratising the paid-for
classifieds section of newspapers.

It is this last point that has led to the often hostile
reception that Craig has received from traditional media. He is now supporting
the burgeoning field of citizen journalism – naming NYULocal, the venture of
Reynolds Scholar Cody Brown, as a great example – but which no doubt will
endear him even less with the old guard.

But the world is changing, for which Craig can claim some
credit in his role as a technology advisor to Team Obama. As is media. And it
is Craig that is helping to pave the way.

As Leonard Cohen went on to sing, which no doubt Craig
wanted us to recognise….

I’m junk but I’m
still holding up
this little wild
Democracy is coming
to the U.S.A.

Social Entrepreneurs Prioritize Changemaking First

by Trabian Shorters

Are Social Entrepreneurs indeed Earth’s next best hope for survival, prosperity, utopia? Sure, why not. Believe what you choose to believe about it. It is just a term. It doesn’t ultimately matter what you call the people who would rather do it than define it.

As someone who has been labeled a social entrepreneur, and then was asked to find social entrepreneurs for Ashoka, and now is asked to coach emergent social entrepreneurs for NYU’s Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship, I am most surprised by two things:

  1. How fast one goes from 20-something aspirant as I was, to mentor material. That time flies much faster than you would imagine.
  2. How calculated, cautious, and afraid the current generation of “changemakers” appears to me.

So maybe, as a mentor, I can earn my chops by having an opinion on that.

The desire to simultaneously “make a difference” and “earn a living” is admirable and good – but you do have to prioritize one over the other. There is no “program” for social change nor a meaningful life. You must already have that desire kindled inside of you. It is the root of courage. For some, the desire to make a difference smolders and for others it burns. The rest are faking. Like any true love, it is impossible to embrace “social change” from a safe distance.

So let’s talk about “risk-management.”

Your willingness to risk normally decreases as you age. That’s why all those people who tell you that they will make their money first and then commit to changing the world are proven wrong 99% of the time. If you are too afraid to risk it now, that usually means that you plan to have far more to lose in the future.

I know that the many people who want to make social entrepreneurship a “field” say that we should have many levels of tolerance – from charismatic prodigy to nonprofit paper shuffler. Fine by me but let’s not confuse wage-making with changemaking.

Social change is NOT a field. It is a calling – a profession in the original meaning of the word. You may be called by your faith, your conscience, your ancestors, or your circumstances but the optimistic belief and integrity of a zealous changemaker (by whatever label) is vital to human progress. That makes it sacred.

I like the way that John Gardner described it.

“[People] of integrity, by their very existence, rekindle the belief that as a people we can live above the level of moral squalor. We need that belief; a cynical community is a corrupt community.”

I often encourage young people to fail big as soon as they possibly can because learning how to get back up is far more useful than learning how to never fall down. You would still be crawling if this were not inherently true. Think how limiting that life would be.

Time flies so how long should you crawl? Are you a changemaker by any name?


How many socially entrepreneurial acts make a social entrepreneur?

By David Russell 

There are as many questions raised, as answers I have found,
in social entrepreneurship.

As a Reynolds Fellow at NYU, I am fortunate to have the opportunity
to explore some of these questions as they pertain to the projects on which I am
presently engaged.

How does one optimally prioritise scarce resources? What are
the most effective means to secure support for a cause? Where can greatest
value be added?

Such questions are not unique to social entrepreneurship,
but they are just some of the issues that I am addressing on work with the Rwandan
Survivors Fund (SURF) and HelpAge International (HAI).

With the 15th Anniversary commemoration of the
Rwandan genocide next year, the needs of the estimated 400,000 survivors in
Rwanda are still great. SURF’s approach to the support it delivers to survivors,
through raising awareness and funds internationally, is defined by a holistic
philosophy. It recognises that it cannot address any need in isolation –
whether that be shelter, healthcare, education, employment. There is a
necessity to develop programmes that are integrated to provide the
comprehensive support that many survivors still require.

For SURF, how does one optimally prioritise scarce resources?
By listening to the needs of the survivors, and prioritising resources
dependent on the issues that are most pressing as determined by them. What is
most effective to secure support? Giving a voice to the survivors, empowering
them in the process to speak out for themselves. Where can greatest value be
added? Through channelling funding through local grassroots survivor’s
organisations, to enable them to own and deliver the programmes.

With the UN International Day of Older Persons approaching
on October 1st, the challenge for HAI is how to engage the international
community to address
our aging society. The approach I helped to develop is an adaptation of
community organising, to
older persons across countries to empower them to meet with their respective
Governments and call for improvements in national policies on aging – through a
programme called Age Demands Action.

For HAI, how does one optimally prioritise scarce resources?
By developing a programme of direct action, which for a minimal cost can
deliver a maximum impact. What is most effective to secure support? By
identifying and engaging those in policymaking positions, and empowering the
older persons to demand action directly from them. Where can greatest value be
added? By leveraging the Government to deliver services that otherwise would
not be met by the private sector.

But often answers lead back to further questions. And when
the questions relate to social entrepreneurship, they ultimately lead back to
how the work is sustainable; scalable; pattern breaking?

And therein lies another question: How many socially
entrepreneurial acts make a social entrepreneur? And another: Does it matter what the work is called, as long as it doing good?