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Punk Science

Categories: Activism

As I was preparing this blog post, a news item came across the “crawler” at the bottom of my screen indicating that U.S. President Trump had just “unveiled a controversial plan Thursday to permit drilling in all U.S. continental shelf waters, including protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic”.

This news just underlines the main point of this post, which is this: when governments remove funding for research, nonchalantly and haphazardly relax regulations, and in general ignore scientific facts (or – even worse - the seeking of those facts in terms of research and analysis), it may be incumbent to us as individuals to take on some of the burden ourselves.

This is why I was fascinated by an article called “Punk Science” in the 23-Dec-2017 edition of The Economist.

The article starts with the story of Max Liboiron, a Canadian geographer, who was working on monitoring the plastic debris content of the waters off of the coast of Newfoundland – when the government passed legislation that weakened environmental protection and specifically cut the budget for this monitoring.  Ms. Liboiron developed a tool she called “BabyLegs” which is a pair of baby stockings  which can be affixed to a cut plastic bottle and towed behind boats as a way to collect debris samples.  Below: a photo of the inventor and her BabyLegs, the unit in service, and the inexpensive ingredients/tools to create them.

 Using these BabyLegs, and using Liboiron’s Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research, the data can be gathered for literally .08% of the cost of using the Manta Trawls that were being used by scientists via the funded program.  The point is that this makes science, data, and interest in this effort more accessible and public.

You may not live near the ocean or be interested in plastic debris off the coast of Newfoundland.  But everyone drinks water and/or wine, and/or beer…  and that brings me to the next part of this post.

Included in the article was a section on how ‘crowd science’ determined the true scope of the damage from the Deepwater Horizon incident, via PublicLab, a New Orleans NGO which helps individuals come together to investigate environmental concerns.   Here is PublicLab’s mission statement:

Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns. Using inexpensive DIY techniques, we seek to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

 In this case they used software called MapKnitter to assemble photos from helium balloons, old digital cameras and smartphones (see photo below) into photographs more detailed than those available from Google Earth

Another example of a PublicLab effort is the ability to create spectrometers for pennies.  A spectrometer can be used to determine the chemical composition of light – including light passed through a liquid, such as drinking water, wine, or beer – and to find pollutants or contaminants in that liquid, such as lead or mercury.

Inspired by the article, I actually created a small project for myself – build the referenced spectrometer in the article and test it out.  The project was on time (15 minutes) under budget (effectively 0) and met scope (working spectrometer)!

Below is a picture of my spectrometer, and an example of a reading on a CFL bulb (the ones that look like a soft-serve ice-cream cone), which shows that the CFL’s main chemical signature is mercury.  You can compare my reading (look where there are very bright spots) with the chemical signature of mercury.

Individuals could use such a spectrometer to ‘crowdsource’ data on (for example) drinking water, to look for lead in their water, for example.  Instructions for making the spectrometer can be had by clicking on the image below.

Reading this as a citizen of planet Earth, perhaps one with an interest in science, I hope this ‘tickles’ the creative side of your brain… maybe you will take on one of these mini-projects, or do it collaboratively with your science-minded kids or nieces or nephews.

Reading this as a project manager, I hope that you’ll take away the idea that your stakeholders may be a source of ‘crowdsourced’ data for you in ways you may not have imagined before.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 04, 2018 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Beware of Robots and Millennials (Part 1 of 2)

Well, at least be aware of them.  Read on to understand.  One of the pleasures of writing books on different topics (or at least different within the field of project management) is to find unusual connections between them.  I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Loredana Abramo, PMP on the new book, Bridging the PM Competency Gap.  One of the things on which we focus in this book is the role that generational differences plays in the way that people gain knowledge.  In turn, this required us to dig in and find out what drives Millennials.  In one of the tables of the book, we look at Motivating and Enabling Factors, Deterring and Blocking Factors, and Engagement Strategies.  One of the Motivating Factors was ‘strong ethical leaders’.  And that is the connection from the Bridging the Gap book to the books on sustainability in PM (Green Project Management and Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success) and indeed to this blog.

Today’s post is about how Millennials are driving change to the way that wealth is invested, with their propensity to insist that ethics, and along with it, social, economic, and ecological bottom lines are considered and balanced.  By the way, let’s not ignore Millennials.  Why?  Their spending power is estimated at US$170B per year.  I highly recommend that you spend a moment looking at this infographic (in small form here, linked to a larger size image for your convenience).

This is why a small story in The Economist’s most recent issue caught my eye.  It’s called Generation SRI and the subtitle is “Sustainable Investing Joins the Mainstream”.  SRI is “Socially Responsible Investing”.

From the article:

Fans of “socially responsible investment” (SRI) hope that millennials, the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, will drag these concepts into the investment mainstream. SRI is a broad-brush term, that can be used to cover everything from divestment from companies seen as doing harm, to limiting investment to companies that do measurable good (impact investing). The US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, a lobby group, estimates that more than a fifth ($8.7trn) of the funds under professional management in America is screened on SRI criteria, broadly defined, up from a ninth in 2012 (see chart).

 

The numbers are hard to ignore. 

From the Green Money Journal:

Sustainable, responsible and impact investing assets now account for $8.72 trillion, or one in five dollars invested under professional management in the United States according to the US SIF Foundation’s biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2016 which was released in mid-November 2016.  See chart below:

According to a survey in America by Morgan Stanley, 75% (of Millennials) agreed that their investments could influence climate change, compared with 58% of the overall population. They not only believe in the triple bottom line, they have confidence that they can be change agents.  They are also twice as likely as investors in general to check product packaging or invest in companies that espouse social or environmental objectives.

The Economist article cautions us that we can’t fool Millennials.  They have too much savvy, and their’s too much data available to them (and they know how to use it) to ‘greenwash’ this group.  From the article: “money managers who pay only lip-service to SRI are unlikely to get away with it for long: sooner or later the robots and millennials are bound to call them out”.  And there is the rationale for the title of this blog post.

Let’s get back to the Morgan Stanley survey. 

“As widespread attention to sustainability continues to increase, consumers and investors alike are now more than ever factoring sustainability issues into their investment decisions,” said Audrey Choi, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Morgan Stanley.

Because it’s important for us as project managers – with an increasing number of Millennial stakeholders – to understand this generation, we provide this extract from the survey.  Note the connection to long-term thinking.

•     Values Matter. Consciousness around sustainability has leapt from the consumer space to the investment space. According to the latest survey, investor attention to sustainability factors is now growing faster than that of consumers as a whole.

•     Environmental impact. Increased interest in sustainable investing occurred despite a heightened sense of market volatility, implying perhaps that in uncertain times, companies and funds with sustainable attributes may be viewed as more stable over the long run. 71% of investors polled agreed that good social, environmental and governance practices can potentially lead to higher profitability and may be better long-term investments. 

•     Focus on Customization. The poll showed a strong desire for the ability to customize sustainable investments; 80% of individual investors and 89% of Millennials are interested in sustainable investments that can be customized to meet their interests and goals.

•     Sustainable Investing in the Workplace. With Millennials projected to make up 75% of the American workforce by 2025, it’s interesting to note that nine out of ten Millennial investors (90%) expressed interest in pursuing sustainable investments as part of their 401(k) portfolios. This implies that offering sustainable investment funds as 401(k) options may be an additional way for companies to attract and retain Millennial talent in competitive job markets. 

Millennials continue to fuel growth. Nearly nine in ten Millennials surveyed (86%) are interested in sustainable investing, compared with three-quarters of individual investors overall (75%). This heightened interest is likely tied to Millennials’ strong belief that they can make a positive difference with their own investments. Related findings from the survey include:

•     Influence. 75% agree that it is possible for “my investment decisions to influence the amount of climate change caused by human activities," compared with 58% of the total individual investor population.

•     Impact. 84% agree that it is possible for “my investment decisions to create economic growth that lifts people out of poverty," compared with 79% of the total individual investor population surveyed. 

In summary, you get a feel here for the mindset of these Millennial investors, who are also project sponsors, team members, leaders, and customers.

What does this mean to project managers?  Well, if investors, who are (or should be) long-term thinkers are increasingly thinking about long-term impact, and projects are launched by investors, then by the tried and true property of transitivity, project managers should be thinking about long-term impacts as well – thinking through the project’s outcome to the benefits – and other side-effects of the project’s product in the long-term.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss the particular ‘outcome areas’ that are the focus of sustainable investment, and how you can use this information to (A) make better decisions on your own project that serve the longer term, and (B) better understand the thinking behind the investment choices made by Millennials.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: November 29, 2017 07:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Seychelles Buy the Seashore

We have blogged before about Sustainable and Responsible Investment.  We’ve discussed the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and its ilk.  Since then (about 6 years ago), it’s getting increased attention now – look at the increase in SRI, especially in the most recent years:

So what is SRI?

According to The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, SRI is:
Sustainable, responsible and impact investing (SRI) is an investment discipline that considers environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) criteria to generate long-term competitive financial returns and positive societal impact. Examples of ESG criteria can be found here.

Wall Street investors (at least some of them) and NGOs are working together to consider sustainability, conservation, and social responsibility into great-performing financial products bankers sell every day.  Examples of these are “Green bonds”, sustainable commodities, ecosystem services, carbon credits attempting to attract mainstream capital to invest in and shore-up (excuse the pun) large-scale efforts related to sustainability.

What drew my attention to this, as we watch Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, and Maria form and storm in the Atlantic, is the apparent increase in threat to island nations.

Case in point – the devastation in the Caribbean from Hurricane Irma, and at the time of this writing, what looks to be the ominous arrival of Maria in the same area.

Turns out, there is a very interesting story at the intersection of SRI and the threat of sea-level rise and a greater number and intensity of severe weather.

And it’s centered on Seychelles, an archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean (and part of the African Union) which is made up of not 10, not 30, not 100, but 115 islands. 

99 percent of its territory is ocean, and more than half of its GDP depends on fishing – in particular, tuna, and on ocean-based tourism.  Seychelles is an example of what some people are calling a Large Ocean Developing State (LODS).  By some estimates, there are 58 LODS on Earth, and 65 million people call them home – and the populations of these nations are increasing, even as they find themselves facing the first impacts of rising sea levels and bigger, badder storms.

As climate concerns and other environmental anxieties mount, Wall Street and NGOs are working together to hammer the complexities of conservation into the kind of mature, repeatable financial products bankers sell every day. Green bonds, sustainable commodities, ecosystem services, carbon credits — some sectors of the conservation market are nearly ready to attract mainstream capital to bankroll large-scale restoration and conservation.

The story at this intersection was called Debt for Nature Swaps Let Impact Investors Finance Climate Resilience.  It’s a short and to-the-point article, and I suggest you have a look for more detail.

Mostly, though, it’s the story of a deal.  It’s a deal that will launch lots of meaningful projects, in the Seychelles, and that’s why you’re reading this story on projectmanagement.com.

Here’s a very short (and probably clumsy, but close enough) version of the deal courtesy of another excellent article which came up in my research on this topic - this one from The Economist, called Debt Relief For Dolphins.

It’s a debt restructuring in which The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an American NGO, ‘consumes’ $21.6m of debt owed by the Seychelles to the Paris Club of international creditors, and in exchange, the island nation promised to protect 30% of its waters by 2020—half of this area will be off-limits to fishing and will create a giant (400,000 square kilometer) reserve, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The idea: Seychelles has a longer time to pay back their debt at a lower interest rate over a longer period, and TNC triggers funding for conservation projects that the island would otherwise be hesitant to take on. Examples of the projects:

  • training fishermen to use more sea-friendly techniques
  • conducting research on fish populations
  • gearing up to monitor the new reserve

Here’s what TNC has to say about the deal:

“I think it’s a good example of what we’re trying to do in NatureVest,” says Rob Weary, the Conservancy’s senior director of product development, of the Seychelles debt-for-nature swap. “We’ve created [something akin to an in-house bank] in the Conservancy, using all the tools that an investment entity would, but instead of using it [solely] for profit, we’re using it to fund conservation.”

Although it involves "only" $22M, this could be considered a pretty small deal.  But it’s a template for application by other NGOs and other nations which stand to gain from such an exchange.

“Although we are small, we can make a real difference,” President James Michael of Seychelles said about the debt restructuring. “A difference that brings the best outcomes for Seychelles. And a difference that offers examples in terms of sustainable development, in terms of innovation, and in terms of options for all small island states.”

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: September 18, 2017 10:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Sustainability Manifesto for Projects

Categories: Activism, Goodness

Today, four project practitioners who feel strongly about PM and Sustainability -  practitioners from Italy, Portugal and the USA -  are proudly launching The Manifesto for Sustainability in Projects. We urge you to read it, download it, support it, and share it with your teams and connections. They're our projects, it's our future. Let’s make it a sustainable one!



Click here to view the Manifesto...
http://pos.li/tWF

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 08, 2016 09:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Be Proud!

Categories: Activism

Have a look at this stock price chart.  Noting where the price is today and the general trend you can observe over the past 3 years or so, it looks like a pretty enviable position to be in.  Right?

Well, if that’s true, why would an officer of the company be quoted recently as saying, “we’re not proud of where we are right now”?

The answer, as well as an exceedingly well-done parody video, can be found here:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2015/01/28/379395819/coffee-horror-parody-pokes-at-environmental-absurdity-of-k-cups

This is a story from NPR’s “The Salt”.   As mentioned above, It contains a horror-film parody video that you really must see (mild obscenities and violence).  Really.  You should go to the link and play the video – it’s worth it. 

As for the text part of the article, here’s a key extract:

Concerns about the K-Cup's environmental impact have been brewing for several years. "It's a warranted criticism," says Monique Oxender, chief sustainability officer for Keurig Green Mountain. She says the company has been exploring recyclable alternatives since Green Mountain acquired Keurig in 2006.

"We're not proud of where we are right now, and we're committed to fixing it," she tells The Salt.

Several competing coffee pod makers offer recyclable options. Nespresso, for example, makes its pods out of aluminum. But K-Cups are made from No. 7 composite plastic, which isn't recyclable in most areas.

The company says its newer coffee pod systems are made from recyclable plastic: the Vue, K-Carafe (which holds multiple coffee servings in one pod), and the Bolt (designed for workplaces). But those models are just 5 percent of the beverage packs Keurig Green Mountain produces; the rest are K-Cups.

So why not simply adopt those new materials in the far more ubiquitous K-Cups? The sticking point is backward compatibility — there are already millions of Keurig brewing machines out there, Oxender explains. "It has to work on all models," she says.

So – the reason for the lack of pride, despite the economic success, is that there exists something called a triple bottom line.  And there exists something called long-term, or life-cycle thinking, and things like Life Cycle Assessments.  A project manager needs to be aware of these things.  We may have to be the one to raise the flag and look at the company’s mission, vision, and values and ask the question – despite the potential economic success of this product, what does it do when it’s in use?  By the way, here is Keurig’s value statement about sustainability:

 “At Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., we are passionate about our business and look for ways to be more sustainable in everything that we do.”

That’s laudable.  But has this value been applied in decision-making when launching projects, programs, and portfolios?  One could certainly question it – and it appears that in stating “we’re not proud”, the company itself is questioning whether they’ve acted in line with their values, and whether or not they have considered the triple bottom line.

We took a shot at compiling the information available to show just how many K-Cups® have been placed into landfills, using the measurement of K-Cups, placed end-to-end around the world.  Turns out, the number of circles they can make around the earth is quite impressive.

 

Now, do us a favor.  Contrast this with the stock price chart.  The attributes are both going up, but one is in line with the company’s goals (to make money) and the other is at odds with their values (be sustainable, responsible, etc.).  We’re not advocating abandoning the desire to make money.  Quite the opposite – as project managers, we crave economically successful projects – they provide great financial opportunities for us.  But we also know that the objectives of a project must be aligned with the program, portfolio, and enterprise in which they belong.

That’s why we push so hard for project managers to accept their role as change managers and the ones who might step up early on (here, when we had only a couple of rings around the planet) and ask some very, very tough questions: “Do we really want people making nasty videos about our company?  Do we want to be the ones responsible for billions and billions of non-recyclable plastics going into landfills and doing who-knows-what to water supplies as the chemicals leech out?  Do we want our officers have to say to interviewers that “we’re not proud of where we are right now”?

We know some of the project managers out there are shaking their heads, saying that this is out –of-their control, not in scope, and so on.  We feel you.  We know.  We don’t think that’s enough of an excuse to NOT be a change agent, but we do have empathy for that attitude.  This is why we have raised the level of our focus up to the Portfolio level.  Our new book will focus on the Portfolio and Enterprise level.  We think you’ll find several cases like this one of interest.

In the meantime, watch out for giant coffee pod monsters!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: February 05, 2015 10:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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