Just don’t call him an environmentalist

I was recently in Queensland visiting family and caught up with my Dad and step-mum for a few days. My Dad’s a straight-talking feller. He’ll tell you in no short terms that he doesn’t agree with those environmentalists and greenies. He doesn’t really like them much…

While we were there he reminded me how the three large water tanks they have on site provide all the water they need, year round pretty much. He complained that he was still having to pay council for “the pipes that run past my front door”, as he’s now off the grid for water supply.

Whenever we go fishing he’s very careful to make sure our catch meets the size limits set by government. If something is even close to undersize, it goes back in. He laments the big fishers’ impact on his local fishing grounds, and gets antsy when he spots local fisherman flaunting the rules. He’s friendly with the local patrols, while quietly cursing the Government for introducing Marine Protected Areas.

He’ll often suggest we go for a drive in his Toyota 4WD (on it’s third engine rebuild) around the local area (the Redlands Shire) and talk us through the changes he’s seen as this once rural farming area, with rich, volcanic red soil, is converted into suburban estates, townhouses and apartments. He’ll tell you about the farmers of the area, past and present, and how this productive, now peri-urban, land is being lost to developers. (He’ll also quip that they can’t afford to run the car as much as they used too…)

We’ll walk around his property and he’ll show us with (justifiable) pride the vegetable plot, the fruit trees, the mangoes coming into season, the massive avocado trees, the pineapples, the strawberries. Each season he notes he doesn’t have enough friends with which to share the abundant produce that comes off the land. (Thinking about this I’m lamenting not taking more photos when we were there…)

He shares an anecdote about how a friend got the water in the local creek, which runs through the bushland to the back of his property, tested for pollution and sent the results to his local member. He’ll mention how the recently released government report failed to mention his creek in it’s “report card” and how he and his friend took it to the local media resulting in pressure being applied and the figures being followed up by the local member.

While we’re sitting watching (his 80″ LCD behemoth1 of a) TV he’ll explain how they turn everything off of standby using a remote switch device, and explain with pride how efficient the consultant found their kettle. He explains how they’ve saved a lot on their energy bill (which is about 1/3rd what is being touted in the mainstream press as an “average” bill).

He demonstrated the in-home energy monitor that helps them to work out where their energy usage has gone. He’ll lament how the compact fluoros he installed don’t dim, and how the Government’s impending ban on new electric hot water heaters has forced him to go out and buy one now for when this one reaches its end of life. And don’t get him started on that carbon tax.

My life partner Angela ascribes many of my aspirations and environmental awareness to my Dad’s influence. I have to agree (and something that I’m proud to say). My Dad has more “environmentally friendly” features to his property than I could even dream of achieving. And, as is probably apparent, he’s full of contradictions (as we all are).

Just don’t call him an environmentalist. Or a greenie. He just wouldn’t stand for it…

  1. I actually don’t know what size it is, but it’s bloody huge…

Career directions…

Over the Christmas break I’ve been thinking a lot about my career direction. This past year (2011) has been on the rough side, with some significant cashflow challenges which have kept me up at night and impacted my personal relationships. While things are looking more positive coming into the new year, I have been seriously questioning whether the direction of the business is taking is the right one — is the outcome worth having another year like last year?

I remember reading (or hearing at one of the many social innovation events) last year that if you’re interested in pursuing social innovation you should seek out a societal problem that you would like to see fixed and start to innovate around it. I wondered what social need my business — a professional services company that ostensibly is focusing on the corporate sector — was really addressing?

I soon came to the conclusion that the social need is that the corporate sector is the cause (directly or indirectly) of many of the environmental, and in some cases social, issues we face as a community. And that, by and large, the business community is not moving quickly enough to address these challenges — especially when we consider carbon emissions and environmental over-consumption.

I see a lot of great ideas in the social innovation community (and more widely) that are starved for funds and support. Where tens of thousands of dollars are all that’s needed to get something off the ground and test a new, innovative concept. Conversely, in my professional experience I have also seen significant sums of money wasted on ill-thought-through campaigns, products and services. What if some of that poorly invested money (which is small fry in the context of the kinds of projects I’ve witnessed go awry) was instead directed towards these projects that create social good?

So, there are two parts to the challenge — one is how can we innovate to bring a meaningful number of the business community to a new perspective? The second is how we can effectively direct capital to projects (and the people behind them) to create social good? And, more powerfully, how could we do both at once?

One approach is to consult to business to assist them in the transition to what I’ve previously called the “Economy of Meaning”. Leveraging the interest and commercial promise of things like social media to start a dialogue about creating more meaningful innovation. Framing a message around innovation, or reduction of risk etc. that is resonant with the broader social goals. I can’t help but think, though, that this is trying to sell something to a group that are, by-and-large, not really all that interested. That the drive for profit and financial reward is the wrong lever to be pulling to get meaningful and lasting change.

This is also a challenge for me as it requires me to explicitly outline and communicate what is an intuitive sense for the most part, that the concepts, models, methods and approaches that I have in mind, based on my professional and personal experience, are the way of the future. Unfortunately, there are very few hard-nosed case studies that demonstrate this at present.

Another approach, then, which I’ve started down the path of in the past, is to create an exemplar business that embodies these principles and practices — to become the case study. This requires a very different way of looking at the problem space, and instead identify business opportunities that are more public-facing (rather than business-to-business). Such opportunities also require a significant degree of capital, especially during the early stages of development where cashflow is unlikely to cover the investment of time and $$ to get a concept off the ground. And it requires a tonne of energy (which I must admit, I don’t really have right now…)

Even just finding the time to build the business case and prototype some ideas without adequate capital to cover the cashflow hit is a challenge. And to do this would require a strong commitment to the concept to get over what Seth Godin calls the dip. I’m yet to come across an idea that I feel so strongly about that I can unequivocally commit to it. And the few ideas I have in mind would require some time to develop initial prototypes, concepts and business plans to get to that point (or at least determine that they’re not viable/something that I’m willing to commit to).

I’m not sure that a professional services company is the right vehicle for achieving these goals. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not (at least not in the traditional model). But in the short-term it seems the most appropriate option, until I can find that concept that really resonates, that I believe in strongly enough to grow.

Hopefully in clarifying the purpose and aims (as outlined above) I can start to think more creatively about what form that business might take and begin to work towards that bigger vision…

HSM — final thoughts

This is a cross-post from my Hello Sunday Morning blog.

Well, I’ve reached the end of my Hello Sunday Morning stint at the start of this week.

I have a confession to make: I ‘slipped’ in the final month. At a family event, my uncle and aunty brought along a bottle of wine, unexpectedly, to a family dinner. I had found myself in the preceding days hankering for a drink — a glass of wine, or a beer, or something. I’d attended two drinks-centric events at a conference id attended, plus a few nights at a dear friend’s place, and a night with family in Queensland. It was the end of a long week, and with a desire not to have to explain myself (yet again), I simply accepted their offer of a glass of wine with dinner.

So, in essence, I failed to make it through the HSM.

I have to admit, I’m glad to be free of having to think so hard about my alcohol consumption. I’ve probably thought more about alcohol in the past 3 months than I have in the previous 12. What used to be something that commanded very little attention became something that I had to ‘deal with’ every time an event or situation came up in which alcohol was involved. Now, this wasn’t a terrible impost, but still, it was noticeable.

This past 3 months hasn’t been all that easy, and certainly (at least by my friends’ and family’s definition) been a tough time to have given up on the “release” I associate with alcohol consumption. Some of it has been celebratory (my birthday, the sale of our apartment, significant events related to my business, family dinners, time away with my wife, university submissions and results). Some emotionally challenging (a relative passing away, significant business challenges). Some just plain stressful (moving house, business and uni again). Sometimes I just wanted to unwind, with friends and family, but felt limited in my ability to do so when alcohol wasn’t part of the activity.

During my HSM I’ve put on a lot of weight — in dealing with these stresses I’ve turned to ‘comfort food’ as a means of dealing with stress. Which begs the question: have I actually just replaced one vice with another? I asked the same question when I one night I resorted to buying non-alcoholic wine as a ‘placeholder’ so I could enjoy an evening with friends. I really questioned the whole exercise — whats the difference (if youre not getting blind drunk, which i wasnt) — isn’t that just the same thing?

Over on my personal blog a commenter remarked that my comments suggested that my quality of life had diminished as a result of not having alcohol. While that’s perhaps stronger language than I would use, there is a degree of truth to the statement.

At 36 years of age, the social structures and norms and personal patterns I’ve formed do include alcohol as a pretty central part of my celebratory and social practices — more than I realised. It is, perhaps, a sad indictment that I do feel that I need alcohol at some level to fully enjoy and appreciate life. That it is deeply enough embedded in my social practice as to be essential. But there it is…

I’m returning to enjoying alcohol in my social practices, starting with a dinner with my wife this weekend. Our plans for dinner with a nice bottle of wine feels like, in some way, a means to “make up” for the fact that we haven’t had the (perceived) opportunity to fully celebrated or acknowledge some of the really significant events of the past 3 months.

I will be doing so, however, with a much more acute awareness of the role alcohol plays in my social world. Has my HSM changed my practices and relationship to alcohol? I certainly feel it has already, and suspect it will continue to do so into the future. Of course, HSM isn’t asking us to do more than self-examine our relationship with alcohol (at least that’s my understanding of the initiative). And that is surely the case for me, and I’m uncomfortable with what I’ve learned.

As an aside, I’m not sure how (HSM founder) Chris Raine came up with 3 months as the length of time for an HSM, but I found it pretty interesting that the first two months were pretty easy, but that the third month was very tough to maintain (and in fact was the period in which I slipped). There’s definitely something to that…

Long time, no post

I’ve been very slack in posting here of late, mostly because I’ve been very busy with a whole bunch of life stuff, like:

Selling our apartment: Ang and I successfully sold our 1 bedroom apartment in Newtown at auction. It was a bit hairy as clearance rates plummeted in the weeks leading up to the auction date, but we had a really great agent in Nick Moraitis at Ray White Inner West and we ended up reaching our target. Needless to say we’re very happy with the result…

Moving: in preparation for the sale, we worked out that we’d be best to move out and rent furniture during the period of open houses etc. It was all very last minute — about 3 weeks between appointing our agent and having to have everything packed and moved! Thanks to the generosity of Ang’s family we’ve got a place to stay in Merrylands until we find our next place. It’s taken a bit to get used to commuting again, but we’re feeling reasonably settled now and back into some semblance of routine…

House hunting: so now we’re looking for a new place to live. We decided to move because we wanted some separate living areas (e.g. an office space, music room etc.) as well as a (small) yard for a dog or two. That means that we’re looking at the lower mountains and Penrith area for our next move. We have to wait until settlement (mid-July) before we can start making offers, but we’ve starting checking out a few places already, and there’s been some good ones on offer, so hopefully we’ll be able to get somewhere that we’re happy with soon.

Uni: This weekend just past I handed in my last essay for my 3rd semester of uni. I’m still really enjoying it, and despite this last semester being the most stressful in terms of juggling everything, I am still very energised to be doing the course. I’m really happy with my progress to date — so far I’ve been able to achieve HDs for my elective subjects (my core subject is a pass/fail subject), and my core subject has been awesome in terms of the structured sessions (which I head down to Melbourne for). I’m also really enjoying working on FlavourCrusader and my other essays too — been very rewarding. I now have 4 weeks off, then back into it to co-authoring a book chapter with my good friend and colleague Penny Hagen reflecting on and extending the work to date on FlavourCrusader (provided timings all work out). I’m also looking forward to attending the Communities and Technology conference in Brisbane next week, in part due to my involvement in the book chapter.

Hello Sunday Morning: during all of this, a friend and I signed up too Hello Sunday Morning (HSM) — we’ve committed to not drinking alcohol for 3 months. We started on 1 May, so will be finishing up at the end of July. Of course, that means I’ve not been able to enjoy a drink to celebrate the apartment sale, the State of Origin, nor will I be celebrating my birthday with a drink. So perhaps not the best timing 😉 You can find out more about why I signed up, and my reflections on the experience to date, over at the my blog on the HSM site.

I’m hoping that the second half of this year is a little less eventful!

Follow-up: TripIt confirmed bug

Just a quick update on the whole TripIt debacle.

The TripIt support team were very good in responding to the problem. While I didn’t get any money back, they didn’t throw me any legalese/boilerplate response, and took the issue seriously. Kudos to Ruth, the support rep who was my primary contact, for handling this well.

They responded by offering me an upgrade (worth $49 in $$ terms, but pretty useless to me in the context of what has happened, as the primary issue is the fact I no longer feel like I can trust the application) and looked into the matter.

The first suggestion was this was a daylight savings issue with my phone, (as a few folks have suggested to me personally or via Twitter) but I pointed out this didn’t seem to make sense because:

  1. The earlier flight on the same day is also displayed as AEDT and this is displaying correctly as 6:15am (as per the web-based application).
  2. The support team asserted that “in Australia and on April 3, 2011, Daylight Savings Time ended and I believe because the last flight (Virgin Blue 885) coincided with that date”, which was incorrect. The flight was for April 2 at 7:15pm and flight time was 1 hr and 15 mins, meaning I would have arrived in Sydney before 9pm on April 2. DST didn’t end here in Australia until 2am on April 3, well outside the range of that particular flight.
  3. Even if the flight did cross timezones, the departure time should reflect the timezone of departure, not the destination, so this still should not have happened.
  4. I confirmed the bug in both Melbourne under daylight savings (when the error occurred) and in Sydney (upon arrival the following day) outside of daylight savings — which suggests that it was not an issue with the settings on the phone, as the problem should not have exhibited before or after the timezone change, according to this explanation, but it clearly occurred in both timezones.

After this response, the team looked into it further and found:

It appears that in our system, for Melbourne, Australia, our system had the April 2 date listed as the end of Daylight Savings Time for EST.

I’ve immediately filed a ticket with our engineers to make sure that daylight savings time is properly picked up for Melbourne to fix this issue going forward. I’m also having our engineers double-check all timezones in Australia.

So the issue was confirmed as a daylight savings issue, but not related to my phone or setup.

While I still don’t think that particular finding fully explains the issue (if it clicked over on April 2 instead of 3, why was the first flight time on the same day correct?). But at least I’m glad that identifying the issue may avoid future issues for other TripIt users.

Warning: how TripIt cost me $300

NOTE: an update on TripIt’s confirmation of the bug and response.

A word to the wise — don’t rely on TripIt for your travel details.

Up until yesterday I was a big fan of TripIt. Their sign-up process was awesome, and it’s been a great way to keep track of my flight and accommodation details. It syncs with LinkedIn, which helps me keep in touch with my network. I know a number of people that use this service regularly.

Last night I was due to return from Melbourne (another uni trip). I was all set — I’d checked in prior, selected my seat, and was about to head off from one of my fave cafes when I checked the details of my flight in TripIt on my iPhone and realised that I actually had an hour to spare. So I dropped into Degraves for a lovely dinner and wine before heading out to the airport.

I only had to print my boarding pass and jump on the plane to get home. Or so I thought. Upon arriving I went to the mobile check-in and was informed I had to see the service desk. I’ve had seats reshuffled before, and assumed that there was some small thing like that. Alas, I found out that I was an hour late for my flight.

I rechecked the details and went back to my original itinerary only to find that I had, in fact, missed my flight. The first available flight was first thing this morning, so I had to arrange last minute overnight accommodation as well. Total cost: just over $300.

Thinking that I’d incorrectly entered the details, or that TripIt’s famous auto-entry feature had got the details wrong, I checked into the TripIt website. Going to the main TripIt website, my flight details are shown correctly:

TripIt website displaying correct details for my flight

So then, looking into it further, I rechecked the iPhone app and confirmed the time was incorrectly stated (note that the morning flight displays the correct time):

TripIt iPhone app displaying the incorrect flight tim

I acknowledge that perhaps I missed something to do with timezones and the like, but the only conclusion that I can come to is that it’s a bug there…

In hindsight there are a number of things I could’ve done to avoid this problem. If I’d checked my itinerary when I noticed the discrepancy. If I’d looked into my booking details on the airline website, or checked flight delays, perhaps I would have picked up the problem. But the whole point of using TripIt, and especially the iPhone app, is to have one trusted location for travel information. That trust has well and truly been broken.

I’ve reported this bug to TripIt and have asked them to clarify their position with regards to errors like this. I don’t expect to get much of a response (something along the lines of “our terms and conditions state that you use this at your own risk). But needless to say, I won’t be using TripIt in future.

I just hope this can serve as a warning for anyone else that’s using the app to avoid the same scenario.

Political Compass (2011 edition)

In November 2003 I posted about a little online test I did called the Political Compass, which I thought was interesting. Last night in conversation with a friend the topic came up again, and I thought it might be interesting to have another crack at the test, to see how my views had shifted (or not) in the 7+ years since I last did it. Seems I’m growing in my lefty tendencies — in 2003 my figures were:
Economic Left/Right: -5.50
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.51

Today, I sit in roughly the same position in terms of economic views, but I’ve shifted significantly closer to the libertarian end of the spectrum:
Economic Left/Right: -5.90
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.38

My political compass values as at 20 Mar 2011

I have to admit, I was surprised to see such a significant shift, even if only in one dimension. Will be interesting to try again in a few years time…

Project on local markets and social technologies

As part of the core subject of my uni course each semester each student undertakes a self-directed project.  The projects can be of varying shapes and sizes, ranging from more theoretical (such as my report on design thinking and sustainability) to the more practical.

This semester I’m undertaking something in between — part research, part practical — centred around this semester’s “theme” of sustainable food production.

Sharon Lee’s “FlavourCrusader” concept (then called “What’s for dinner”) was selected as one of the projects to be explored at the Australian Social Innovation eXchange (ASIX) Social Innovation Camp held in March 2010.

The long-term vision for the project is to:

  • connect urban food-lovers (“foodies”) with the origins of their food
  • increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables (with improved health outcomes)
  • strengthen local economies threatened by supermarket chains

It hopes to achieve this by using social technologies, such as mobile phone applications and Twitter to either promote in-season, fresh, locally-grown, and sometimes organic produce.

In the short-term — and as a first step — the project is seeking to develop a local in-season food guide with a mobile application form-factor.

Such a system has the potential to make purchasing in-season, local produce more convenient, with multiple flow-on benefits:

  • Provide additional marketing/selling opportunities for local producers
  • Reduce food miles
  • Create direct connections between the urban community and local growers, with social, economic and sustainability education benefits

The emphasis of the service, from the end-user perspective, is convenience and good, quality food, rather than the sustainability outcomes.  In this sense it differs from some existing products/services that are out there.

In keeping with my philosophy of human-centred design, I believe the service’s success is dependent on an understanding of motivations, barriers, needs and context of use for producers, local markets and customers.

My project this semester is designed to provide some additional insight into each of these participant groups, including exploration of:

  • What are the key drivers for existing customers (e.g. those that attend farmers markets) taking advantage of farmers markets
  • What are the barriers to existing customers buying local produce (e.g. of those motivated participants, what stops them from buying more regularly)
  • What level of interest exists in such a service among the existing customer base
  • What is the current level of use of social and mobile technologies with customers, producers and markets (e.g. @PrahranMarket on Twitter)
  • Similarly, what drivers/barriers/interest exist for such a service for potential customers — e.g. those that are interested, but for whatever reasons aren’t as active as they would like
  • What are the needs of producers (including local markets)
  • What level of interest/capacity is there to utilise such a service
  • How, if at all, would such a service link with other digital platforms such as FoodConnect

I’m posting all this as I could use some assistance.  Firstly, if you have any resources/pointers/contacts etc. that you think would be useful for the project, I’d love to hear about them.

Secondly, I’m looking for participants for some interviews related to purchasing locally produced food — either people that shop at farmers markets etc. and buy locally, or those that would like to, but for whatever reason aren’t able to do it as regularly as they’d like.  I’m also interested in folks that are using social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.) that fit this profile.

The interviews would be about an hour long (at most) and could be done via phone or in person, at a time that suits the participant.  I’m happy to pay for a meal if the interview happens around lunch or dinner 😉

If you are someone, or know someone, that might be interested, please leave a comment or email me on gyoung AT pobox DOT com.

 

SMEs and environmental management

I’ve just completed my first “official” assessment item for my uni course, and I wanted to share it here for my own future reference, and because it may have potential interest to readers as well. It’s called Opportunities and challenges related to SME implementation of EMSs (PDF 176 KB) – and fair warning, it’s not exactly bed-side reading 😉

The format of the assessment restricted the length to 3000 words, though I could have gone into a lot more detail on a number of the points raised in the paper.

In particular I’m disappointed I couldn’t go into more detail about some of the thoughts I had relating to the implications of the findings and their application to encouraging SME uptake of sustainability practices. That said, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more opportunities throughout the course to do so.

As this was my first assessment, I think I overdid it on the reading front which was reflected in the ridiculous length of the first draft! All the same I really enjoyed all that extra reading – it’s more that I need to balance that with actually getting the writing done. Lesson learnt for next time I suppose.

Anyways, I hope it’s of interest and use. Now onto the next one…

What’s going on?

So what has been going on? In short:

  • I’m about 6 months into a personal training program with Vision Personal Training at Stanmore. So far I’ve dropped from 98kg to 84kg and am feeling better than I’ve felt in a long time. I’ve found the hardest thing is managing my food – especially keeping my carbohydrate intake balanced. Surprisingly the exercise side of things has been pretty easy. I finish up in a month, so then will be on my own – hopefully I’ll be able to keep the good habits going…
  • I’ve moved into an office in Elizabeth street – sharing a space with the crews from Saasu and Datarati. We’re on Level 1, 111 Elizabeth Street in the city (CBD – between Market and King street). I’ve been enjoying riding into work and it’s great to be working in a more lively environment than the study alcove at home.
  • I’ve started uni, studying the Master of Sustainable Practice at RMIT. No, I’m not moving to Melbourne (although I’m really enjoying the place) – the course is structured with one intensive mode study day per month (usually a Saturday) so I’m flying down for that and doing the remainder remotely. Ironic in a sense to be flying for a sustainability course – but I offset both through Virgin Blue (to let them know I care about carbon reduction, but they use credits from forestry-based sequestration projects which I don’t believe are sufficient) and also Climate Friendly for good measure and to ensure that there is a real reduction in CO2 to offset the flights. So far the course has been going ok, though I am a little behind due to work commitments – I have my first official assignment due tomorrow – so reminding myself what that’s like.
  • I’ve joined the Executive Committee of our apartment complex strata plan as Secretary – and the experience has been, shall we say, challenging… Trying to implement measures to increase transparency and accountability into decision making processes, in part by using online tools like Basecamp, is part of my goal. But frankly, I’d just like for us to have consistent hot water! So small steps first…

That’s the “big ticket items” I can think of right now. The remainder of my time has been spent rebooting Zumio and with family & friends. Been a bit hectic on the work front – so looking forward to things settling down a tad over the coming weeks (and perhaps being a bit more vocal here…)