Tuesday, February 17, 2009

There is another way (whey..??)

Next week four new people will be joining our company. We advertised for entry level production people, team leads, and a Maintenance Manager.  We’re a small start up company, which means that we may not be paying the highest salaries or able to promise the most job security (although these days, it may be that a start up is actually less risky than working at an old company that’s been doing the same thing in the same way for years…).  We are providing a good benefits packaging including health insurance, 401k match, and a pristine and healthy work environment.  We are now pushing 400 applications for 20 jobs.

As we interviewed for our first crew, it occurred to me that the leaders of our country ought to be feeling a moral obligation to create businesses that can provide employment to people like these.  These were all hard working people.  Many said that it was driving them crazy to not be working, that all they wanted was a job of any kind, that their businesses had failed and now they needed any kind of job to survive, that their kids were sick and they couldn’t take them to the doctor because they had no health insurance.

I wonder about the stimulus package; it helps keep teachers and local government employees employed, which is a good thing, but doesn’t appear to do much to make it easier for businesses like mine to hire people.  Similarly, I still hear local policymakers talk about providing tax incentives for investors in early stage high tech companies, companies that the hundreds of people who applied for my jobs will never hire because they don’t remotely have the right skills.  Apparently these supposedly progressive policy makers buy into the same trickle down theory of economic policy that got us into this mess in the first place.  What are we thinking?  We may be experiencing the worst economic downturn of the past 50 years, but we are still the richest country in the world.  We can do better than this!

I founded my business in part to demonstrate that sustainability and stewardship, in terms of the environment, culture, ethics, can be woven into the very fabric of a business without compromising results. Little did I know how timely that message would be.  In a time where people fear for their future, my company is a great example of the kind of business we need to create to ensure prosperity in our future and our childrens’ futures.  It creates high tech manufacturing jobs, is rooted in the local economy and can’t be off-shored, all while being an environmental steward that is committed to improving the lives of the people who buy its products.  

 Maybe its time that we started talking about what we’re going to create instead of mourning what we’ve lost.  What would happen if we all used this time to take a stand for the earth and said we didn’t really need all of that stuff we were buying anyhow?  What if we all bought compact florescent light bulbs, drove less, planted gardens, got exercise, ate healthy foods, started sustainable businesses?  There is another way and we get to stop waiting for someone else to give it to us and start doing the hard work of creating it ourselves.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Blue is the New Green

Last month I decided right before the end of the year that it was time for me to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid.  We had 40 plus inches of snow in December, I am driving back and forth in the country a lot these days to get to my whey plant, and doing this with two wheel drive was just not working.  I wanted to buy a domestic hybrid so I can be the change I want to see in the world.  The trouble was, midwest dealers didn't get many of the hybrids and I had three days left in December to get a car if I wanted to get the tax credit in 2008.  I ended up buying one in Raleigh, NC and driving it back to Wisconsin with my daughter Lex.  I had no choice what color or what features would be in the car.  It was blue.  At the time I was disappointed because I  thought I wanted a green car (green company - green car, right?) or white (whey is white - white car, right?).  

Fast forward a month and I'm in the final throes of developing our brand and product logo.  We were working with a comp that had a blueberry on it and the logo was blue.  Not just any blue but the same silvery grey blue of my car.  I thought we were going to switch out the colors with the flavors, then learned that it was in fact going to remain the same blue as my car. So I've got a blue car, a blue brand and a blue logo, and I realized last night that its only a matter of time before blue becomes the next green.  Millions of people on the planet already no longer have access to clean water.  The situation is deteriorating on every continent on the planet.  
When the world realizes that we're running out of clean water, we're going to be talking about businesses going 'blue' instead of just 'green'. My business is already a blue business, in the sense that we are implementing a tremendous amount of water recovery and reuse in our process.  So blue, it's already the new green, at least in my life and business.

Slumdog Millionaire Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday.  I spent the day with my daughter working on Sacha Yaku, the non profit she and I started together, then we went to see Slumdog Millionaire.  I'm at a point in my life where actually having any of my kids home is a treat, so having Kendra here on my birthday was amazing.  Kendra is in between trips to the Amazon and Cuba, always working to make the world a better place for those most vulnerable.  Kendra starting including Gandhi's quote, "We must be the change we want to see in this world" at the bottom of all of her emails when she was 16.  Since then she has gone on to create more positive change in the world than many people do in a lifetime.  

Four years ago, Kendra took her personal journey to the next level by spending a semester in the Himalaya's.  She worked in an orphanage for severely malnourished children in Darjeeling, did a two week silent retreat in a monestary outside of Katmandu, trekked in the mountains with sherpas and visited Llasa in Tibet.  So seeing Slumdog Millionaire with her meant we could go to dinner afterward - Indian food of course - and reflect on the depth and the art of that movie with the benefit of her direct experience.  Nestled safely within the lame pretense of a game show and with all of the colors of india, the film powerfully addressed religious, caste, class, economic, and social dynamics that are India.  It also dove into the wellspring of fate that is so much a part of the belief system of many people in that part of the world and bundled up love with it.  

I used to be a complete pragmatist who believed that we achieve great things in the world by working hard and making sound decisions.  Now I believe that how we show up in the world for others may be even more important than all of the pragmatism in the world. When Kendra was a freshman at MIT she started work on the improbable and seemingly impossible task of making a World-bank funded, then orphaned, water project work in an indigenous community in the Amazon.  Over the years her hard work with the people has certainly been a component of her success in getting the system working and extending it to other communities.  What has clearly been more important is her unswerving faith that the community would get clean water and her clear intention to keep supporting the community until that happened.  I now believe that, like in Slumdog Millionaire, seemingly miraculous things happen when we're clear about what we want and show up as a source of positive energy and compassion for the people around us.