Sunday, November 30, 2008

A New Triple Crown?

We’re nearly at Day 30 P.E. (post-elections) and most people are over the hump when it comes to griping one way or the other. Now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work. Yet, overcoming divisions (insert your polar opposite of choice here -- red/blue, right/left, pro-this/anti-that) always seems to be the hardest thing. It’s quite the bottleneck of what could be an efficient, productive, forward thinking supply chain of people, ideas, and action.

Newsflash: Sitting around complaining is wasted time and energy -- period. One of our favorite kids' books, "Zen Shorts" by Jon J. Muth, includes a classic Zen story about “carrying” things with you. When you “put things down”, you free yourself to be more. I find this so applicable to our collective situation whether it is at the local or global level.

In thinking about progress that is sustainable and prosperous (“rich” but not necessarily in a fiscal way), there are many platforms in which to build upon. After much rumination, I have arrived at three that I believe create a synergy that allows for both short- and long-term sustainable progress and prosperity: Economy, Environment, and Education.

Alone, they are each important. Together, they create an almost symbiotic ├╝ber-sustainability machine capable of churning out win-wins at every turn (and every generation). Not that the folks elected into local offices have asked for help (from me, at least), here are a few ideas under each of those buckets that I think could allow Sakonnet to BE more. (Caveat: I claim no intimate knowledge of the details of town workings, but for me, an outside perspective is always fresh and useful.)

For existing businesses:
  • Facilitate the creation of a business alliance organization that allows small businesses to join forces for the purpose of “buying in bulk” whether it is for raw materials, supplies, services, or insurance
  • Review and modify where applicable local law and regulations that inhibit a successful small business environment
  • Review contracts and agreements for quid-pro-quo opportunities resulting in net gains for everyone

For new businesses:
  • Seek innovative ways of incubating new businesses such as creating a local forum for idea and innovation sharing
  • Partner with non-traditional entities (academic, professional trade groups, etc) to explore opportunities to seed new business development
  • Consider the creation of a farm incubation program allowing for hands-on training and education for a new generation of land stewards – and helping to bolster our local food security in the process

Create connections between local businesses and schools to enable both an employment chain and an opportunity to learn how business works

Explore the creation of a local currency or rewards program that creates incentives for supporting local businesses

Ensure the integrity of our natural environment for future generations through:
  • Implementation new municipal planning and services strategy (commercial and residential) that creates a sustainable suburbia model
  • Top-down review of town operations for opportunities related to sustainable operations that result in long-term fiscal wins
  • Create new curricula at all our schools that inspires future generations of inquiry, critical thinking, and problem solving when it comes to the environment

Capitalize on our natural resources through:
  • Exploration and implementation of renewable energy projects that benefit the community
  • Enabling and expanding our local agricultural industry through low-cost access to land, farm/farmer incubation projects, and improved market development


Make the Tiverton Public School System a model for the state through:
  • Identifying opportunities to streamline operations and redirect funding to enhancing educational programs
  • Ensuring adequate funding for curricula that will enable our students to excel in more connected, “flatter” world
  • Building bridges with the broader community through enhanced public relations with a goal of sharing the positive “story” of our educational system

Enable life-long learning through:
  • The establishment of a continuing education center (the old Ranger School perhaps?) where new skills, trades, and hobbies can be learned and enjoyed

Of course, there is so much more to be said about all of this. I’ll come back to these with time. But for now, I – and I hope others within the community – want to hear from our elected and appointed officials what the PLAN is. Something, anything. And that brings up one last point for now: Our local government needs to be more accessible, transparent, and communicative (beyond the minimum required by law). The vast majority of people in town have no idea what is going on. And therefore cannot be part of the process OR solution.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sign of the Times

I know this is off the mark in terms of what I like to talk about at Sustainable Sakonnet, but on the heels of the last post I had to do this. This is so tragic, so wrong, so... What a commentary on society.

Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down

Black Friday takes on its true meaning. Pointless. The market price of Life is now less than a television or toy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Silliness of Buy Nothing Day

It’s coming. Only one more day: Black Friday. And its bizarro twin: Buy Nothing Day.

I always get a kick out of BND and even more so, how much effort organizations like Adbusters throw at it. “A” for effort, but frankly it falls short. Trying to raise the red flag of over-consumption one day out of the year is pointless. For me, it’s like America Recycles Day. It’s like trying to stop an out of control freight train with some kite string, duct tape, and three-hour-old chewing gum. Sorry MacGyver.

Humans consume. Western, developed societies gorge. Mmmm, consumer gluttony at its finest. The pace is unsustainable; we all know that. Yet, we go on trucking, feeding (filling) the desire (void) for more (an escape).

What I really get a kick out of is all this talk about stimulus packages. What’s the cure-all for this financial version of pandemic bird flu? A check from Uncle Sam. Spend your way out of what ills you. But heck, if the federal government is feeding their debt machine, why shouldn’t you and while you’re at it, fill your life/homes with more stuff? I do not want to be around when the Federal Debt Reaper comes-a-knockin'...

So let’s take a step back and reconsider a more prudent approach to over-consumption and pointless, superficial spending. While we need to dial back the Stuff Meter on all fronts throughout the year (and I think I’ll be talking about this more with time), there are some more apropos things given the season:

Just (Don’t) Do It. Cherish quality time with friends and family; catch up with them; talk, laugh, and maybe even cry if you want. It’s each other, not the stuff we give, that people really want down deep inside.

Stick to Your Core. If you’re going to spend the money anyway, avoid the headache and hassle of buying all those little things for the extended family and friends. They don’t want or need it (and we all acknowledge this on some level, don’t we?). Consider pooling that money instead and donating it to a worthwhile charity. Then give all those people a card letting them know you did just that. We’ve done that for the past few years and people really like it.

Suggest the Same to Friends. You could be blatant and just drop the message in an email, but there’s a new, more cordial way to ask friends and family to donate what they might spend on you. Redefine Christmas is a site that connects you (and your loved ones) to over 1.5 million charities that could use your money to help others.

Go Homemade or Local. You just can’t beat this one. If you can do it yourself, even better. Sara (my wife) loves to cook so we’ve done cookies, treats, flavored oils, etc. in the past. She is handy with the sewing machine too, so one year we gave everyone pajama bottoms. Sure, not everyone has the time or talent to do that, but consider supporting one of our local merchants in town for your gift needs. You’ll feel even better supporting our local economy.

Honestly, I don’t know about you, but we’re taking a hard look at everything we spend money on and looking at ways to keep everything simple. But you know what, we’re not feeling deprived. It’s all about attitude and getting back to what’s really important. And our kids – they don’t know the difference. They are just happy playing with each other and us. Excessive want of material things is a learned behavior.

I like to think that the silver lining to our current economic free-fall will be the way it causes us to once again look inward, slow down, and get back to more of the basics; be more frugal in our daily consumption; and balance out the need vs. want factor. One small (but important) step at a time.

(Image Source: Adbusters)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tube for Tuesday: Hunger In Rhode Island

Yesterday, the RI Community Food Bank released its annual report on the status of hunger and food insecurity in the state. Not surprisingly, with everything going on both are up this year, continuing a terrible trend. Now, one in six children live in a home where getting adequate, nutritious food is a problem.

The Food Bank distributed 10 million pounds of food last year through its network of nearly 300 agencies. Now I haven't looked at the list, but I'm sure that those networks extend in to our neck of the woods.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it's reports like this that make you pause and be truly thankful. I know we are. More info on the report here and what you can do to help.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Chapter for New Library

I wanted to extend my congratulations to all those involved in pursuing the new library for Tiverton. Securing the land on which to build upon is a worthy milestone and I'm looking forward to starting the next chapter.

Our family relies on Essex Library for so much. From books to CDs to DVDs to getting the scoop on events in town, we're there at least once a week. The kids just love bringing home mountains of books to read and look at. (Full disclosure: There are more piles of books in our house than I know what to do with!)

I used the Library ROI calculator at the State Office of Library & Information Services website to figure out just how much Essex is worth as a resource. While the overall value of goods used per month is $451, the more interesting number is the "Personal ROI". This determines the value you get for every $1.00 in taxes you spend on public libraries in Rhode Island. Our tally: $148.52.

It just goes to show how valuable a library can be. It's a cornerstone of learning, of exploration, of community. And we need a new one. The reasons are many (see the video here). Essex is great; the new library will be even greater. It is an investment in the future of our town and the people who call it home.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nature Makes You Smarter

Yet another reason to protect open space. Courtesy of The Takeaway.

I don't think we needed a scientific study to tell us this, but whatever helps makes the case.

Learning to Read

Today was an important day for our son, Will. Today, it clicked for him and for the first time he was able to take a new book and read all on his own.

With an impeccable memory (for a five-and-a-half year old) he typically memorizes and regurgitates stories back to us after a couple times through. We've been working on stringing sounds together and sounding words out for a while and today it paid off. As a parent, watching your children learn in real time is a humbling experience.

So what's this have to do with sustainability? Everything.

As a country it's no secret that we continue to fall behind the rest of the world in academic performance, particularly in math and science. Closer to home the focus -- at the surface anyway -- is blurred by a seemingly perpetual conflict over funding and contracts. What gets lost are the kids and what we are doing to prepare them for a "flatter" world that will be vastly different from the one we know now.

We need to keep that focus on perpetual learning. We need to find ways to fund programs at all our schools that are innovative as well as invigorating, satisfying to both the brain and the budget. We need to seed our schools with new curricula that reflects our 21st century world and the inherent challenges that it brings; prepare our kids to find cures for the almost insurmountable number of ills that are and will continue to besiege us.

Tiverton is making investments in the physical infrastructure of our school system. Yes, buildings that are bright and clean and outfitted with lots of new things are a good thing. But it's only have the equation. The other half involves stimulating all those minds and inspiring them to connect dots, take the lead, lend a helping hand, and see their role in our future as one of the utmost importance. We must believe in them and their potential at every step of the way.

So with that, I thank all those people and institutions that have helped our son take this first step: Sakonnet Early Learning, the new Ranger School, and especially Essex Library and their supporters for the steady supply of books. Keep up the good work!