Category Archives: Uncategorized

We can act Now

Winter is upon in the East, and this weekend will be lots of snow and cold. Many complain at this time of year, but I wonder, winter for me, is a time to slow down, to think more about whether or not I want to drive, and just to be.

A dear friend sent me this article in the New York Times on Kristianstad. The city has crossed a crucial threshold: the city and surrounding county, with a population of 80,000, essentially use no oil, natural gas or coal to heat homes and businesses, even during the long frigid winters. It is a complete reversal from 20 years ago, when all of their heat came from fossil fuels. It generates its energy from biogas, a form of methane, using all of its waste products from agriculture, its landfills and so forth, to generate its energy. Kirstianstad didn’t create a new industry, it closed the loop, although a significant infrastructure investment was initially required, Kristianstad has gone further, harnessing biogas for an across-the-board regional energy makeover that has halved its fossil fuel use and reduced the city’s carbon dioxide emissions by one-quarter in the last decade.

The start-up costs of the centralized biomass heating system cost $144 million, including constructing a new incineration plant, laying networks of pipes, replacing furnaces and installing generators. The payback has already been significant: the city now saves approximately $4 million each year to heat its municipal buildings rather than it would spend if it still relied on oil and electricity. If the costs of GHG emissions was factored into its savings, they would be even more each year, as we are still far away from having the real costs of production included into the costs of doing business.

So what is stopping us, why do the United States and Canada at the national level drag their feet and resist embracing what is clearly the emerging new economy and social innovation of the future? Reduce your input costs, control your output costs, both of which are going to become increasingly more expensive, now and get a jump start on your competitors.

Crowd Accelerated Innovation

This amazing, empowering video shows how web video is changing and can change the world, using the ideas of crowd, light and desire. Desire is the critical key and together they form a lethal combination (medium) to attracts people to new ideas, simply invite the crowd, turn up the light and build the desire. Based on a new paradigm of openness, millions of people could be empowered to change the world. The speaker reminds us that the dark side of the world allergic to the light, so how can we use this concept of crowd accelerated innovation for sustainable community development? I throw that challenge out to all of us. Innovation comes from groups, social innovation does not happen without collaboration, a picture, music file, software, under-reported significance of the rise of on-line video, share talent digitally. Its conclusion is one of the powerful visions of how we can remake our world sustainably.

Social Capital and Network Formation

When I started my social capital research over four years ago, my purpose was to try and discover how to use network formation before a crisis to try and mobilize action around environmental issues. We humans are an odd species, in spite of our language, our ability to predict, we seem to respond best to crisis, especially when we can’t see, feel or smell them until it is too late, climate change being one of the big ones. This video is a wonderful in terms of explaining how network formation could be used strategically for social change. It also relates to my theme of how to communicate in a meaningful way, what is happening to our world. I would very much appreciate your ideas on how to advance this as a meaningful strategy.

Third Places

Catch this video that talks about redesigning third places, retrofitting the suburbs. Interesting facts, in American suburbs, households spend over 32% of their budget on transportation, their housing is less, ends with three challenges for the future. Excellent research and hope.

Environmental Communications and New Media

I just learned that we didn’t win our recently submitted SSHRC research proposal on integrating new media into my e-Dialogues work. I was passionate about this proposal as I thought the integration of new media with our on-line work would result in new research dissemination tools and techniques. We don’t have the money nor the human resources of large companies like IBM, thus, we have to be more nimble and creative in our approaches, however, I would like to be more elegant in our platform.

This website is excellent in terms of its analysis of social media inforgraphics. I particularly liked the spectrum of online friendship–passive interest, active interest, sharing, public dialogue, private dialogue, advocacy and investment. My work in real time on-line dialogues is all about public dialogue and my dream (still) is to try and get people to tune into the discussions as you would with the CBC Ideas program. I found it interesting that Twitter is evolving into the most frequently used medium.

I do wonder about the amount of time spent on-line and how connected or disconnected a person feels from their community, and how actively they engage in their community?  And yet, many groups are now using on-line campaigns to great effect, perhaps reconciliation of space is becoming more and more important?

Ethical Consumption

I just read a posting on the website,, and clicked on the environment section which talks about the failure of environmental movements to engage the general public. One of their proposed solutions is the idea of ethical consumption, where products are stamped as being more ethical, as a result of fair labour practices and so forth. But then I started thinking about a wider concept based on the individual, what if there was an ethical consumption movement, that challenged each and every one of us to deconstruct ‘wants’ and ‘needs’, before we bought something to ask is it ethical for me to buy this, do I need this, and why do I want this? Will it increase my happiness for more than a moment and how much of my life energy goes into buying this? Is there any way to build a movement based on ethical purchasing that builds on a person’s agency and self-esteem? Has anyone heard George Carlin’s routine on ‘stuff’?

Obesity and Design

I remember when I was teaching undergraduate commerce students in my first year at Roads and we had an interesting discussion around rising obesity rates and many of my students associated obesity with negative personal traits. I asked them to ‘deconstruct’ the issue, where there structural reasons for higher rates today than in previous generations? One can quickly look to the rise of fast food outlets, and now with drive through ordering, and calories from fast food tends to be less nutrient dense and contain more calories. A researcher, Elizabeth Kristjanson, in the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, has shown that there is a definite link between the number of fast food places in a neighbourhood and obesity, and people who live in a neighbourhood with small, specialty food stores are slimmer. And there may be a correlation between walkability, access to year round local food markets, green space and diversity of recreational spaces. So, it is all a question of deliberative design for health, are our municipal governments capable of this kind of leadership?

Innovation and Design

Have been asked to speak about ‘policy and social innovation’ next week at the University of Waterloo, so have been trolling around on Ted Talks on innovation on this wonderfully sunny Sunday afternoon. A close friend of mine (Tim Penner) defines innovation as an outcome of facilitating collaboration, ideas that work and grow and prosper organically if given a communication-rich ecosystem that supports idea-sharing and open-minded testing. There are three TED Talks worth noting, one by Charles Leadbeater, Howard Rheingold, and the other that talks about how institutionalizing innovation–think tanks, centres of excellence–are anathema to fostering behaviours that lead to innovation, by Clay Shirky. If this is indeed the case, what new structures, what kinds of government policies are needed to foster a culture of innovation, and particularly, for me, social innovation. Rheingold talks about the relationship between communication, media and collective action, and that new forms of cooperation can create new forms of wealth. Should government policy in the 21st century be aimed at strengthening social infrastructure in new ways? What are the new models of governance? Finally, Paul Bennett, discusses how design and reframing the ordinary can inform new policy, by putting oneself into the other’s perspective. At the end of his video, there is a brilliant shorter video on climate change that ironically answers some of the questions that first motivated me to begin this blog, that we should move the communications from what we have to give up to what we have to create to reduce our impacts on the environment.

A Wave of Change

I have talked a lot about the failure of the environmental movement to create a cohesive social movement that both informs and influences the political agenda consistently over time. Another failure, and one we academics should own, is the failure of sustainable development discourse to widen its discussion to embrace poverty, power and conflict. This video reminds me we have also neglected culture and how culture and social processes create our reality and shape what we see as normal. We all live in a cultural reality, our culture can make it seem quite natural to live as consumers. For example, it is ‘natural’ for us to be able to identify hundreds of brand logos while few of us can identify the majority of plants in our communities or where our waste goes. Watch this video from the Worldwatch Institute’s on how we can harness the world’s leading institutions–education, the media, business, governments, traditions, and social movements–to reorient cultures toward sustainability.


Well, today is brilliantly sunny, the last two days and temperature have been wonderful, a mild winter so far. Was thinking about how much fear rules our lives, and what a powerful motivator it is to do nothing, rather than take action. It certainly reduces human ‘agency’, the will or the intent to act. And besides the storm warnings, the red alerts, there is an added twist, all the magazine articles, newspaper discussions about how to live longer, take this vitamin, try this therapy, power exercise, exfoliate, what is wrong with just being. Maybe by trying to live as long as possible, we miss the joy of simply living? And the third variable is how serious everything now seems to be, what about just going for a long walk, something I miss so much, since I broke my leg in September. I never realized how important walking every day with my dog is to my emotional well-being and without, even my thinking. Being outside and moving keeps my heart and my head reconciled.