Please visit to see the new & improved site.
Please visit to see the new & improved site.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Creating a Framework to Overcome Barriers to a Sustainable Future

The October 2009 edition of Consumer Reports features a special section on cutting energy bills by using more efficient and renewable energy sources. It includes a look at wood pellet stoves and solar water heaters and gives both what I would characterize as cautious support. Cautious because the reviews quite appropriately take into account practical considerations including: sourcing and storing fuel (for the pellet stoves), certifications, neighborhood association rules, and maintenance costs (for the solar water heaters).

I’ve now seen several houses that are using more efficient energy sources. Nearly five years ago, I visited a former boss in Germany and he very proudly showed me his house wood pellet heating system, which was working wonderfully. If I recall correctly, the basement of his house was designed to accommodate the infrastructure it required. More recently, during my trip to Israel it was hard to find a house without solar water heating.

Both of these examples illustrate that overcoming many of our barriers to a more sustainable future are contingent on having the right framework in place. If there was a framework for solar water heating then neighborhood association rules would not be an issue and I bet the cost of maintenance would decrease too.

In fact, a study came out couple of months back (sorry I don’t recall the source) where I saw this dynamic more pointedly. The study showed that if an American-made SUV was in an accident with a smaller European style car, such as the Smart Car, the driver of the smaller vehicle would be more seriously injured. It was portrayed as a reason not to move towards smaller cars. But of course, if everyone drove smaller cars then the problem of a collision with a large vehicle goes away and we settle at a better status quo.

We owe it to ourselves in the corporate world to be on the lookout for things we may rule out mistakenly because they don’t make sense within our current frame of reference. We need to develop positive visions of a sustainable future that allow us to evaluate good ideas within an appropriate framework and infrastructure.


  1. The absence of complete knowledge is one of the biggest challenges that we have. Its affected insulation, pesticides, electricity conductivity in the past, and I have no doubt that some of the practices that we think are green today will be discovered to have harmful unforeseen side effects in the future. We have to do the best we can with what we know, but I agree with the author that we should definitely be conscious about our blind spots.

  2. Very good point that we have to look outside the box to determine the next best status quo for all of us.

    And this is best done with issues at the edge of the business than those at the core of the business. So issues like sustainability, CO2e emissions reduction, energy efficiency etc. are issues that are at the edge. There is a lot of opportunity to think outside the box here and create newer frameworks.

    But most of the sustainability initiatives/offices are one man armies, so that challenge is how best can individual soldiers create best frameworks for the initiatives to succeed?