Fueling Food: The Facts

Water, Waste & Energy

It starts first thing in the morning – our daily waking ritual, the morning coffee stop. Enough of the United States has become accustomed to a mid-commute drop in or drive through pick me up to start the day that the impact of this one purchase is massive to consider. This one beverage in and of itself is a prime example of the hidden footprint some of our most celebrated conveniences when it comes to water used in the product’s lifecycle. The water cost of products in general is a down-the-rabbit-hole concept but is especially pertinent to consider when it comes to food and beverage, and it is this aspect I hope to explore here this quarter. Take for example your average cup of to go coffee:

*2.24.12 webinar, “The Business of Food Transparency” – Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo

Jumping from the beginning of products to the end of their lifecycle, we encounter another shadowy epidemic:

“Americans are used to sending their trash away.” ~ Dr. Ruihong Zhang, UC Davis Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department

Nowhere is this more true than with food:

In addition to awareness advocacy and habit change to lessen the amount of waste, a variety of local organizations are doing needed work to form partnerships that divert product with a useful life left to different end users than the trash. Seattle has instituted mandatory curbside compost and the statewide conversation regarding its role in soil management is encouraging. Urban Gleaners work in Portland, Oregon is connecting edible surplus with school food programs.

Harnessing the food waste stream for purposes of alternative energy generation has exciting potential as well.

“Anaerobic digestion as a means of food waste disposal is preferable to landfill not just because of this kind of power generation, but also because when methane (CH4) is burnt, the carbon in it binds to oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a much less potent greenhouse gas. One recent study estimated that avoiding landfill could save emissions of between 0.4 and 1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent per tonne of food waste.” ~ Tristram Stuart, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal 


Q2: Occupy, Then

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~ Maya Angelou

           Formed out of a stand against oppression and segregation, Beacon Hill’s El Centro de la Raza is a modern testament to the power of peaceful occupation and united voices. Established in 1972 as the result of Latino and Chicano actualization of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, today the center is a web of cultivated support to the surrounding community, welcoming all.

A vibrant mural originally painted during the three month occupation still graces the main floor hallway of the historic former schoolhouse. The living history has been accentuated and added to to depict changes that the ensuing centuries have brought.

The bountiful additions that each can bring to the table for all to share is captured in this section of the canvas’ story. El Centro strives to live this out via 12 founding principles19 core outcomes enacted through various social services, civil rights advocacy, educational and cultural programs.

The legacy of El Centro as a powerful voice unafraid to effect change is a vibrant current model of an organization’s founding in a time of turmoil and achieving sustained growth through succeeding eras of evolution. With continued commitment to the unwavering passion of its founder, who actively sought dialogue with Seattle populations across all sectors, El Centro’s current staff carries on this mission.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Q2: Intervention & Empowerment

“Farming issues rarely make the news.”

~ Bill Gates, 2012 Annual Letter

Lending a strong voice of attention to some of the world’s most crucial issues of our era, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a interesting case study on strategy. Bringing attention to global development, global health & domestic concerns, the newly opened vistor center depicts the varied perspectives and processes that compile to create the partnerships the Gates Foundation funds.

While many ways the funds are implemented are contentious to varying degrees, spotlights granted on unspoken realities such as these are key, coming from the world’s largest private foundation. The ingenuity unleashed and innovation catalyzed is as diverse as its grantees but the driving principles and mission of its founders speaks clearly to the strategic goals they have set sights on partnering to accomplish.

The vistor center space involves not only facts and figures but the opportunity to express individual options and cultivate creativity. Various interactive exhibits invite participants to chime in with thoughts on issues or responses to action being taken. The last room of the gallery is an innovation incubator, posing questions, challenges and platforms for live prototyping. It is a technologically beautiful smorgasbord already teeming with user generated uniqueness. The question remains as to how the foundation will incorporate this content into its operations  – the official answer is that it is being achieved. The power of asking the questions and sparking conversations will hopefully be effective in and of themselves for now, because yes:

Q2: Make It Visible

Cheerful smiles abounded during the volunteer hours of our day spent touring Seattle’s central Goodwill donation site. Before diving in to lend a hand we got to take a behind the scenes look at donation processing and internal distribution – a key diversion at the disposal stage in The Story of Stuff and astonishing in its daily scope.

“99% of the stuff we run through this system is

trashed within 6 months”

~ Annie Leonard

On a slow day this one donation site accepts an average of two semi trailers of items – in the busiest seasons up to nine containers will be filled by day’s end. The intervention Goodwill leverages in the cycle of stuff became all the more apparent thanks to our conversation with the recycling & salvage staff person. From stories of single shoes sent to countries in need to continuous salvage of materials able to be commodity traded, the opportunities he spoke of for continuous innovation and solution seeking were vast. Among them, at present no viable method for repurposing or recycling pressboard furniture (compliments of IKEA & others) is available.

Especially when it comes to the enormity of our present consumption (food waste specifically is keeping me up at night these days) this question keeps rattling around in my mind: How to make these system visible yet still hold hope? Little messages of truth & action like this are a step in the right direction:

Q2: Strategy, to scale

How do we strategize & take lean to scale in one of the biggest, most vital, desperately challenged systems the world has ever known?

“The first step is admitting we have more than one problem.”

~ Jonathan Foley, Environment 360

With a crisis-laden, global food system facing the need of doubling to tripling production in our lifetime, time is of the essence for systems thinking to be applied to this problem, skillfully and immediately. Jonathan Foley is one force for change in the pursuit of doing so I had the honor to hear guest lecture at the University of Washington this week. The challenge he posed: The Other Inconvenient Truth.

Weaved into his narrative were elements of each of BMG‘s environmental drivers –  key trends, market forces, macro-economic forces & industry forces. He paints a compelling picture of a broken system, convincing yet hopeful, in also presenting steps to take towards solutions:

Five calls for global action:

  • Slow agricultural expansion in fragile, inefficient, unsustainable ecosystems
  • Improve yields and close regional yield gaps
  • Improve agricultural efficiency while managing inputs & outputs

  • Close diet gaps: meat and dairy as supplements not dietary spotlights
  • Reduce food waste – 30%+ of all food is lost due to spoilage during production, transport or storage

The task is daunting but the consequences are crucial.

(J. Foley, Nature)

“A magnificent future is up to us” were among his summary remarks, in leaving us with these words:

“Here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallways and touching the walls on both sides. I can’t tell you how good it feels.”

~ Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

What can you do today?

CollaborateEat mindfully & cultivate awareness (Burke Museum, Hungry Planet):

Q2: Context & Constraints

As we continue to work through Business Model Generation, each layer of inquiry and application keeps getting better. This week, moving into the section on Strategy, I was struck with a juxtaposition though – the powerful tool this book is for conceptualizing business creation moves quickly to an application tool for assessing growth of already established models. The blind spot I kept expecting to be discussed is where small businesses fit into the process. Yes, the springboard for intentionally crafting initial structure is thoroughly applicable but the leap to assessing Amazon, Swatch & Nespresso size companies seems to leave a lot out in between.

Just as we discussed redesign of the canvas to incorporate sustainability principles and triple bottom line, perhaps the continued processes could be geared in more specific ways to be approachable to small businesses. Role playing the canvas segments and gaining increasingly fluidity with its concepts has kept me wanting to apply its learnings to my former small business experience.

Meet KnitabiliTea, the North Central WA tea and yarn shop I co-founded in 2008 with a dear friend. Adventures in business creation and ownership at a young age was a tremendous growth experience and major marker along the path that has lead me to business school.

More on shop life, yarn & tea and how its unfolded the canvas context for me to come!

For now, my hope is that the forthcoming book by the canvas creators will begin a series of conversations that keeps building upon this tool and continues developing its scope and reach further.

Conversations are beginning around these themes: The canvas & sustainability and even hospitality innovations by way of London & Amsterdam. May we continue to carry them on and grow the potential of this tool in its each application!

Q2: Canvas Creativity

Business + Creativity = Business Model Generation!

Quarter Two, Intensive One began with each of our year long project teams starting with three business concepts which by the end of the weekend transformed into one business model thanks to the ingenius flow of the Business Model Canvas:

Yes, it gets better: there’s an app for that! (Web version coming soon too.)

We walked, typed & talked the canvas for days straight:

My team took a hands-on approach to applying our newfound canvas modeling skills and puzzle pieced in the segments as we told our story. (More to come soon.)

Who says business school can’t be FU(HH)N!

An exciting example of the application of the canvas mapping process is currently in the works by New City Market in Vancouver, BC (thanks to Alexa for the find!):

To see this tool put to use for a multi-purpose sustainable food venture is so inspiring. This process, research & great content galore has me giddy like a kid in a candy store lately. Possibilities, passion & purpose combining makes for a great life!

Q2: Team Time

Teams! A word as synonymous with business school as it was with being a Communication Studies major in undergrad. Most classes once I declared my major were structured around collaborative papers, group projects, and team presentations. Thankfully, there were more highs than lows, but more importantly I made some of my best friends and most lasting learning through these experiences.

Cue BGI Q1 – our kickoff of virtual, topical speed dating to determine with whom and about what we would be investing a large part of our time and efforts to collectively for the year following was interesting to say the least. That said I was excited, expectant and enjoyed the process from the beginning. As the then unknown names and voices began to chime in and add words to what I am here to study – our food systems gone awry –  the synergy in our ongoing conversation was evident. Discussions of favorite food & ag books & films easily flowed and soon links of recommended resources were flying back and forth.

As our team solidified from a place of shared passion our “meaningful common purpose” emerged, maybe not quickly or easily, but eventually this key essential discipline noted by HBR’s “The Discipline of Teams” became a compass that drove our interactions. From there other noted disciplines came naturally: “specific performance goals that flow from common purpose, a mix of complementary skills, a strong commitment to how the work gets done, and mutual accountability” (Katzenbach, 1993). Each of these evolved over first quarter and various deliverables, but being rooted in the heart of the problem communally keeping us up at night encouraged us through navigating the necessary variables of group process.

Along with this team mainstay  of “[setting] a compelling direction,” we also embedded an “embrace [of our] own quirkiness,” mentioned in HBR’s “Why Teams Don’t Work” (Coutu, 2009). I have never experienced more laughter and levity with a group that, despite all, manages to be productive too. With fu(hh)n as a team value, that has set the tone for not ever taking ourselves too seriously, whether that means openness to a crazy idea or willingness to go back to the drawing board multiple times. Knowing that we will enjoy the process as much as any outcome has made investment invitational in each step of teamwork.

In looking ahead, HBR’s “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams” names some factors contributing to success. Among them our team selected the goals of cultivating a “gift culture” and “strong sense of community” moving forward (Gratton & Erickson, 2007). Through being intentional about using the language of ongoing regard and building in time for regular, meaningful feedback we hope these aspects will add continued dimensions to our combined energy.

power of place = week nine

“If you spend much time in the Northwest these days, you see a world that is changing faster than anyone can imagine. It is ‘lonesome and crowded.’ It is ‘subdivided and conquered.’ It is overwatered. And it is about to be paved under. This film focuses on the arid lands of the mid-Columbia Basin, but in that landscape you find patterns that repeat themselves in communities all across the country.” ~ Grant Aaker & Josh Wallaert, Directors of Arid Lands

Hanford: the notorious ghost of a controversial past. Arid Lands traces its beginnings to current dynamics in an engrossing conversation with a myriad of parties involved. The award-winning documentary film was shown in a free screening this week in Seattle and the relevant discussion was a fascinating exploration of interconnectedness and systems thinking at work. From descriptions of the Yakima tribe losing their fishing grounds to fights of modern day agriculture over local water rights, rootedness in place is the key thematic backdrop. In 1943 the government invoked the cause of the war effort and evicted all original inhabitants of the area: the top-secret laboratory and production site of Hanford was birthed.

“That town went from a couple hundred people to fifty thousand people in less than a year. In less than eighteen months, Hanford workers produced and delivered the plutonium for two atomic bombs.”    ~ Bill Wilkins, original resident of Hanford as a child

What was initially a catalyst for active wartime destruction became a continuation of defense supply, extending its production over several decades through the Cold War, leaving behind grave radioactive waste in exponential amounts, most of which was improperly stored. This externality has impacted the landscape and surrounding community in innumerous ways. Webbed connections abound within both the biological realm – from water and air contamination to habit and wildlife effects – and the economic dimension, with the draw of funds and personnel to the area for the world’s largest environment cleanup creating an ecosystem and economy that would not have existed otherwise.

“Very few communities have ever had their primary source of their economic well being centered in one area. And when people ask you what’s going to happen next year, you don’t know what’s going to happen next year.” ~ Dean Schau, Columbia Basin College economist

The trepidation over this ambiguity, while dealing with a disastrous environmental necessity that drives their local economic growth, is a juxtaposition best examined in systems terms. The 25 different players in the film voice distant perspectives of concerns and values, pointing to the reinforcing patterns still existant due to the continued hazard of leakage and resulting investment in cleanup.

“I can’t imagine all that acreage . . . just sitting from now to eternity. There’s nothing out there. It’s sagebrush and cheatgrass, and a few old concrete hulks of reactors.” ~ Walt Grisham, former resident of White Bluffs, evicted in 1943

This narrative illustrates a real life application of using a systems lens to examine a complex problem and in doing so successfully tells a compelling story. Sobering, thought-provoking, yet inspiring!

“We hope the film encourages viewers to think about geography—a dry, academic subject—in a way that is personal. When you start thinking that way, you see that geography is not just a catalogue of mountains and rivers. It’s a cultural force that affects all of us in our daily lives. The people we interview in the film define the word ‘wasteland’ in different ways. For some, wasteland is an acre of sagebrush. For some, it’s a nuclear site. For us, a wasteland is a place that has lost its identity. We wanted to make a film about someplace that hasn’t. Not yet. This is the story we found.” ~ Grant Aaker & Josh Wallaert, Directors


Interactive Map