What’s Next After the Campaign?

Hillary Clinton Celebrates Puerto Rico Primary Victory

To put it mildly, this presidential election has been a nonstop migraine. But today, America has a doctor’s appointment to check if we have a brain tumor (Trump) or just severe light sensitivity (Clinton). Either way, we have a problem, but one’s a lot more manageable than the other. Of course, America is also dealing with the effects of a flesh-eating bacteria (climate change), but for some reason none of the doctors or patients are discussing it, and the one doctor who pointed it out (Sanders) was disbarred for making “impossible” diagnoses. As such, we’re slowly dying from the inside out.

So what’s next? 

Regardless of whichever diagnosis Dr. Democracy provides us tonight, we’re facing a serious global threat that needs to be addressed head-on and immediately. But how are we going to do that, when even traditional news sources have defaulted to providing “information” that sells, not educates? (Note: For those interested in the evolving role of the media, I’d highly recommend Alain de Botton’s The News: A User’s ManualMindblowing.)

Breaking Political News

Change The News

First, we have to accept that major news sources are capitalist endeavors, and as such have a vested interest in pursuing topicality (over quality) in order to stay attractive to advertisers. The media has focused myopically on personality cults during this campaign cycle, lifting heavily from social media’s playbook and emphasizing style over substance. But by giving credence to every ridiculous statement or potential scandal, the media has failed its role as the gatekeepers of knowledge, and have instead turned into active bettors in a vicious dogfight. Sure, there have been policy pieces on Clinton’s extensive experience and Trump’s… ideas, but many “think pieces” in this cycle have limited shelf lives – meaning, come this evening, most of the stuff we’ve read over the last few months is obsolete. Do we feel better or more informed for reading them, or simply more absorbed into a political game for which the buzzer has just run out?

Meanwhile, coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the rapid deforestation of Sumatra for the production of palm oil, and the unmanageable air quality in the world’s largest cities – i.e. pressing and ongoing problems – is relegated to niche publications with audiences who are already, for the most part, aware of these issues. One important way that we can flip the script on this practice is by speaking up about climate change, calling our representatives, marching on the streets, and using our voice to demand recognition of these eco-crises. If the media isn’t going to do it, it’s up to us. Eventually, when there’s enough public support and outcry, it’ll be impossible for major publications to push these stories to the back pages.

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Change the Politicians

Second, we have to push the politicians who have campaigned on a platform of environmental protections (on a municipal level; what a disappointment the national stage has been on this issue) to stick to a timetable on delivering those promises. One of the most commonly cited criticisms of Obama is his inability to close Gitmo, despite heavily campaigning on this point. While he has been an advocate for the green movement and the transition to clean energy, those who supported him because of his expected efficacy with Gitmo were sorely disappointed and frustrated, and aren’t as satisfied with his other achievements. That being said, neither of the current presidential candidates have said anything exciting regarding their stances on environmental protections, with Clinton refusing to comment on the #NoDAPL movement but privately emailing that protesters should “get a life” and Trump Tweeting that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” …Okay.

So it’s up to Senators, Representatives, the Attorney General, the Secretaries, and local politicians to take up the fight and stick with it. But, of course, it’s not going to be easy. After watching Before the Flood, I was shocked to learn that a third of Congress is composed of climate deniers. 182 delusional Congresspeople – 144 in the House and 38 in the Senate – hold legislative power over critical, long-lasting actions that will fundamentally affect how our country responds to what is essentially an impending apocalypse. Therefore, even though both chambers only require a majority vote to pass laws, it’s important to get the remaining 66% voting in unison – both as a message to the remainder that the only myth is climate denial, and as a coalition that will push through filibusters and horsetrading to enact the type of regulation and change we need. In order to mobilize this support, we as citizens must be pressuring our representatives to prioritize that fight. If not, we can’t be surprised when a lack of unified vision results in weak or incomplete environmental laws.

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Change the Political Process

Third, we have to rethink the campaign cycle itself. As a conservative estimate, presidential candidates spend about 500 days on the campaign trail, preparing for 1460 days in term. Congresspeople and local politicians spend closer to 4 – 6 months, a full-time operation that distracts from their other responsibilities. There’s a lot that has been said about this, so I won’t go into detail, but it’s irrefutable that our political system requires a fundamental change. Ironically, it’s the rise of new wave white supremacy in the form of Donald Trump and the revolutionary “socialist” tendencies of Bernie Sanders that has inspired the majority to embrace that view. So how do we refocus our attention on the issues, and not the candidates?

We can have stricter guidelines on who can become president. For example, climate deniers should not be allowed to run for office. Rapists and molesters should not be allowed to run for office. Advocates of violence, terror, and bigotry should not be allowed to run for office. (How is this not a requirement already?) We can also eliminate the primary system, which was originally created to prevent the “tyranny of the masses.” Considering that the primary process has not succeeded in protecting minority voices, and in the elimination of Sanders has actively repressed alternative viewpoints, I don’t see the primary as a net positive, though I’d be curious to learn your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Change the Medium

Fourth, we have to shorten the election cycle to reduce election-related waste as well. The length of current presidential campaigns makes them uniquely cultural events, with voters proudly displaying bumper stickers, signs, and banners of their favorite candidate. There’s just so much stuff to print on, and marketers are eager to get whatever they can into the hands of whoever will promote it as often as possible. But from a strictly intellectual perspective, shouldn’t the election be more focused on what those candidates will do, and less so on their brand?  Of course, that’s not how most of the country thinks. Today’s decision isn’t merely a vote for a candidate – it’s an expression of one’s identity, hopes, and dreams for the country. Therefore, outward signifiers, particularly if they’re free and/or culturally relevant, are highly utilized to communicate these larger ideas. If we had a shorter election cycle, those buttons, stickers, etc. would still be in use, but I predict in smaller quantities as we would be deemphasizing the election itself.

To conclude, I’ll quickly touch upon the issue of mailers and event-related waste, which originally inspired me to write this post. While print media is quickly becoming obsolete, older voters still rely on physical collateral to inform them of local initiatives and politicians. As a result, single-use marketing assets are produced by the thousands, then oftentimes end up unread in trash bins or floors. Now compound that with all of the confetti, balloons, table clothes, and related event materials that each campaign stop involves, as well as the inundation of fliers, posters, and paraphernalia about the candidates, propositions, and measures that each voter receives. I alone received around 40 cardstock fliers (that I don’t plan to read), and combining my two American roommates plus mail sent erroneously to past residents, I estimate our household has received about 200 mailers. None of the marketing spend has impacted my vote, and now I bear the guilt of throwing them out. Campaign operations need to be more strategic with their outreach, ensuring at the very least that they don’t send duplicates to the same address, and should find tech solutions to transition from paper to digital for voters who are confirmed social media users. 

I’m nervous for tonight’s results, but am excited to know the outcome so we can best prepare for what comes next. If this election has shown us anything, it’s that a revolution is brewing, and neither of these candidates can stop it – now it’s up to us to make sure that environmentalism comes out on top when the dust settles.

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Coworking Spaces: It’s Your Responsibility to Go Green

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Happy Earth Day! Click the photo to access my free Green Guide! (by Vidya Kaipa)

Happy Earth Day! Today, I decided to finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to address something that has been bothering me for years: the blatant disregard for immense waste within office spaces. I’ll be focusing on Prestigious Bay Area Startup Accelerator (PBASA)* here, but the message extends: if you manage a coworking space and haven’t made any effort to green up your office, you’re not only incredibly behind the times, but you will also soon find that your lack of foresight represents your Achilles heel in other aspects of business. (And let’s be honest: if society can build hover boards, augmented reality glasses, and self-driving cars, we should be able to find a solution to ensure that recycling goes in the recycle bin.)


For five months, I worked out of PBASA’s Mountain View headquarters. And for five months, I asked these same questions:

  • “Why are there no washcloths?”
  • “Why are these bins unmarked?”
  • “Why aren’t people using mugs instead of disposable cups?”
  • “Why are people using three paper towels to dry their hands?”

And most importantly:

  • “What is PBASA as a company doing to reduce their carbon footprint?”

I never got a satisfactory response. My one victory, forcing the space to buy a dishrack so we could at least eliminate the daily ream of paper towels used to dry dishes, was only achieved after speaking to at least three separate people on staff, the first two who acted like I was a radical hippie for even suggesting it. (Thanks, Chandini, for taking this issue seriously and making it happen!)

Take it from Clif Bar’s “corporate ecologist” Elysa Hammond, who helped the company become the first certified organic energy bar as well as shed 90,000 pounds of shrink wrap every year by a smart redesign of their packaging.

“Any time an office creates waste, it is not using resources as efficiently as possible. ..It makes good business sense to reduce waste.” – Elysa Hammond

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Photo courtesy of Pexels

Having helped run a coworking space myself, I know that it’s not easy to manage the various demands on your time, capabilities, and resources. But if you’re only doing what’s minimally permissible to call yourself a space and aren’t willing to put in the extra mile to apply startup best practices to your own facilities, you need to stop what you’re doing immediately and return to the basics.

I can already hear it. “But the basics of our business is investment! Our primary goal is to get our financial goals met; everything else is secondary!”

On one hand: Fair enough. Stop running a space, and focus on your investment firm. There’s no need to do both, and believe me, the companies involved would appreciate their $25K in “program fees” back.

But on the other hand: Forty companies are paying $25K each to participate in a quarterly accelerator program, meaning the organization is making $1M per batch, or $4M per year. With this investment, they should at least be able to:

  • Buy a power dryer (so bathroom paper towel use is reduced).
  • Hire a laundry service (so they can cycle washclothes daily).
  • Print a sign that indicates which bins are for what purpose (so that all bins don’t automatically become trash).
  • Call a plumber the minute a leak is discovered (so water isn’t leaking for days, causing a hazard).
Startup Stock Photos

Photo courtesy of Pexels

The Nature Conservancy reports that “Over 16 billion paper cups are used for coffee every year. This translates to over 6.5 million trees cut down, 4 billion gallons of water wasted, and enough energy used to power nearly 54,000 homes for a year.” The point of the article is to encourage readers to bring their own mug to the coffee shop, and it’s assumed that within an office environment, employees would default to using mugs naturally. What does it say about a space when members are disposing two or three cups a day, and the staff hasn’t done anything to curb that behavior?

The startup mantra is to “move fast and break things” – or in other words, experiment frequently and question the status quo. But where’s that same attitude towards encouraging reducing, reusing, and recycling in the real world? When the status quo is to dismiss the concerns of the physical in exchange for the acceleration of the virtual, it’s the responsibility of connectors – the spaces that bridge the offline and online – to remind residents of their earthly impact.

For example, a common problem coworking spaces face is getting residents to do their dishes. But without the tools necessary – sponges, dish racks, handtowels – busy entrepreneurs will either leave their dirty mug in the sink or opt for a plastic cup if available. It’s up to the space to address these issues organically, not to consider the issue done when the cups are thrown in the trash. Not only is this behavior cheap, tacky, and disrespectful, it’s ultimately unsustainable – both as a business and environmental practice.

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Photo courtesy of Pexels

Successful entrepreneurs become successful by being super focused on their business. PBASA – you know this! Give them the tools they need and the quality of service that they’re paying for so that everyone can be sustainable without losing sight of business goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve or build out your coworking space, please contact me using the form below. I also recommend you download my free Green Guide, which provides helpful pointers on quickly and efficiently greening your coworking space.

Why Every Cafe Should Schmear Your Bagel

Have you ever ordered a bagel and schmear and been handed a flimsy plastic spoon and a tiny plastic tub? Have you then had a burning desire to throw the un-schmeared bagel back at your bored, bespectacled barista and yell “FINISH THE JOB?!” If so, you might identify with this story.

(Spoiler Alert: This story is not about bagels.)


My anger has nothing to do with bagels (nor baristas), and everything to do with the concepts of waste and corporate social responsibility. 

Compare these two scenarios.

Scenario 1: You order a bagel. The bagelier slices and toasts the bagel, then uses a dedicated knife to apply cream cheese from a large vat. The knife is then replaced in the vat, and you’re handed the warm, cut, and schmeared bagel wrapped in a paper sleeve and a single napkin.

Scenario 2: You order a bagel. The bagelier asks you, “for here or to go” and you confirm that it’s “for here.” The bagelier slices and toasts the bagel, then puts it on a paper plate along with a plastic tub of schmear and a plastic knife. By the time that he’s called you, the bagel has begun to cool, and between the time you pick up the bagel, pop open the top of the tub, and apply the cream cheese, your bagel is nearly room temperature. You then throw away the knife, tub, and plate all within eyesight of your bagelier.

Not only is the first example more efficient time-wise (note that the bagelier treats every order as a to-go, increasing the speed of delivery), but it also makes more sense environmentally, economically, and experientially. Let’s break that down.

Environmentally: Imagine 100 people ordered a bagel with cream cheese. At the first cafe, the byproduct would be 100 paper sleeves – not a big waste considering the necessity of the sleeve in preventing a mid-meal schmear smear, and actually saving water by serving the dual role of plate. At the second cafe, the byproduct would be 100 plastic tubs (which have to be cleaned before recycled), 100 plastic knives (same as above), and 100 paper plates (which are usually completely untouched but are by and large thrown out). Even compostable utensils are useless compared to the first scenario, as reduction is always more sustainable and less resource-intensive than recycling. Also, despite decades of recycling, people still don’t know how to separate, so compostable and recyclable items oftentimes join the journey to the landfill.

Economically: The true pain point for effecting change is the low price of resources. Based on a quick scan of WebstaurantStore.com, we can roughly estimate that restaurants spend only $0.02 per knife, around $0.04 for the lid and tub, and $0.05 per plate. For $0.11 a customer, it seems unlikely that any cafe will change its policy based on price, especially with the considerable markup of the food items covering the excess. However, the restaurant business already operates on very thin margins, and $11 lost per day on 100 inefficient bagels can stack up over the year. If a cafe operates 350 days out of the year, that’s $3,850 lost revenue – maybe that’s enough of an incentive for a small business to consider alternatives.

Experientially: When do you buy a bagel in a cafe? If you’re like me, it’s when you’re already on your way to somewhere else and want a quick bite to eat in transit. Operative word: quick. If I wanted to schmear my own bagel, I would buy all of the materials at home, and it would take me the exact same amount of time as waiting for the bagel maker to toast it in store. The immediate experience of buying a bagel is diminished by the work that I now have to do to complete the transaction, and that makes me not want to return to the cafe. UX (user experience) design is not limited to tech – it’s critical that every establishment evaluate what outcome they’d consider optimal and what steps are necessary to achieve that ideal objective. (Jeff Axup’s blog, aptly named Restaurant UX, provides more examples.) If I’m turned off by this wasteful practice and blasé attitude towards customers, I’m not going to eat at that cafe again, which costs the cafe future profits.

As consumers, we have incredible power to affect supply-chain economics, through boycotts, product recalls, and simple behavioral changes. However, for the most part, we default to a price-comparison when choosing everyday goods. This is a normal function of being a cost-conscious consumer, particularly in a society of widening inequality.

Therefore, it’s the responsibility of the business – of all of those in the supply chain, really – to think deeply about what resources they offer and how often they’re made available. There’s a big difference between handing someone a bagel with a knife, for instance, and pointing them in the direction of the accoutrement kiosk. When companies take a deeper look at the lifecycle of their products and identify even one area of improvement, they are taking a step towards reducing society’s so-called “dependence” on finite resources and reimagining a process in which human-centered design reigns supreme.

As a human, that’s a future I’d like to see. Now schmear my damn bagel.

 

Sustainability Series - Bagel #2