Thursday, January 24, 2013

In Plain English...What is it You're Doing?

Inspired by Steve Easterbrook and the the wonderful XKCD's recent attempt to explain the parts of a Saturn V rocket (the "Up Goer Five”) using only the most common one thousand words of English...

Now there is  a web-based editor that let’s everyone try their hand at this, and a tumblr of scientists trying to explain their work this way.  So I thought I'd also try to explain my work... and here it is... a little awkward in places...but hey... it's not so easy when you can only use the most common 1000 words!

I've just added a few links in case you want to know more specifics... and used the word science once (its unfortunately not one of the top 1000 commonly used words)
Our one amazing world is full: of people, the stuff we've made and of the things we've done!  Some of all this is good but much of it is bad: for us and our children.  So now in the well-off places people are not happier than they were 5, 10 or 30 years ago. People may have more money but they are not happier. 

Business is a very big part of both the good and the bad.  So what can business change so that they only do good for people, our towns, and all other life in our world while still doing well?  This is the question my work starts to answer.
But most businesses go out of business very quickly!  This is bad for the people in the business and the people with the money that started the business.  So nearly 10 years ago a student and his teacher figured out the 9 big questions that needed to be answered to make it more possible for a business to stay in business and make money. Then 4 years ago they worked with 470 very bright people to make a book that a lot of people like a lot.
Now I am taking these questions and adding 5 more questions, using what we know from science about people, our world and how it all works. If a business figures out good answers to all the questions, new and old, it makes it more possible for them to make money, do good for everyone and everything on our world, and to keep doing this for a long time.
In my studies, that are almost finished, I have built and checked an easy-to-use way for all kinds of people to make plans for businesses that can do good and do well for a long time.
The next step is to get another group of very bright people to make a book so everyone can use these ideas to make more of these businesses so the world can be a better happier place for everyone.
 Will you join us?  Contact us here

P.S. Part of the reason for doing this is that I'm entering the International "Three Minute Thesis" competition (flyer) and needed to write a 300 character summary of my research that previously looked like this!  

Here is the 300 character version that uses scientific, future, tool and an ampersand!
Our world is full. Some of this is good but much is bad. Business is a big part of both. How can we use scientific knowledge to help business make things better?

I have designed & tested an easy to use tool to reliably plan businesses that do good and do well for a long time into the future.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Food Eco-Industrial Park and Incubator - The Plant Chicago

How to describe "The Plant" in Back of the Yards on Chicago's South Side which I visited in late December 2012?

It is a net-zero energy and waste food business incubator and has at various stages of development:
  • Two breweries (one for tea, the other beer)
  • Two bakeries
  • A mushroom farm
  • Two fish farms
  • Two leafy greens farms
  • A jam producer
  • Demonstration and development kitchens
  • Training facilities
  • Rooftop, ground-level, and greenhouse Kitchen gardens
  • Shared office space and support services
  • Retail shop and visitors centre
  • Farmers market

The Plant: As it will be in ~3 years
But as befits a project which John Edel, Executive Director describes as being planned using systems thinking, it's not just a list of businesses in a single building.  It far more integrated and multifaceted, though definitely not complicated.  Indeed there is a beauty to this business model...


 Outside In...
Looking from the 'outside' the project:
  • Is a start-up eco-industrial project creating high quality local sustainable food and jobs with zero net-waste and zero net-energy use
  • Is a business incubator for food producers, processors and retailers, including something like the Finnish "Open Kitchen" project
  • Has a collaborative, integrated and mutually supportive business model involving not-for-profit, for-profit and charitable organizations, the community, food entrepreneurs and consumers 
  • Aims to educate the local population about healthful food choices (in what many would describe as a food desert)
  • Is a proof of concept for an urban vertical farm
  • Is a green building project which is re-purposing a former meat processing facility through creative on-site reuse of all existing materials 

       Inside Out...
      From the inside, the business model is described by John Edel using a system dynamics like causal loop diagram - showing the cycles and flows of energy and materials through and in and out of each of  the various organizations and businesses involved:
      A View of the Flows and Materials and Energy in The Plant's Business Model
      In this short talk by John Edel he explains much of the above and more with many more pictures! (Although John doesn't dwell on it there is some serious science and engineering behind this project).
      For a video which includes a good walk through of the first of the acquaponics (fish + leafy greens) farming operations (walk-through starts at 3m49):
       A Work in Progress...
      When I visited the foundations for the German Anaerobic Digester, similar to the ones installed as part of the Toronto Green Bin program back in 2004, were being actively excavated with installation and commissioning due for mid-2013.
      Eissenman Anaerobic Digester similar to the one being installed at The Plant
      The combined heat and power unit was installed, and the space for the chillers being actively prepared.  The tea brewery was in operation.  One of the bakery tenant's ovens was finished and awaiting final inspection and the 2nd aquaponic operation, a commercial tenant, was also just ramping up.  Mushroom production was underway and much evidence of other works in process! During the tour, which was led by John, he estimated that the space would be fully occupied by tenants within 3 years.
       So What...
      This is a wonderful example of the new art and science of strongly sustainable business model design!  It recognizes equally the need to simultaneously generate and integrate economic, social and environmental benefits while minimizing "costs" in all three dimensions.  At the same time it recognizes the context for all this activity and understands the necessary relationships between and with contexts for this business model.  Yes, it is more complex than traditional profit-first business models; but it is also far less risky in the short, medium and long term.  It recognizes the fundamental limits and needs of the environmental and a broad range of stakeholders - not just stockholders.  It will be effective at generating desirable outcomes for all.  Further by re-purposing waste as raw materials its operating costs for energy and raw materials will be lower, offering efficiencies higher than existing businesses in the same industries. BTW this is John Edel's second venture into strongly sustainable business: the first the highly successful Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center (CSMC).   The CSMC project, over 5 years, took a former manufacturing plant which had become a biker den and returned it to a profitable collaborative centre for small scale manufacturing! (John talks about it at the start of the video above). The continuing success of the CSMC bodes well for The Plant. From what I can tell this is a ground-breaking and unique project in North America - one that paves the way for many more.  Kudos to John and everyone else involved... may the Plant become a huge success and prove out its commercial, social and environmental viability...
      I will be following along with great interest! Now...how can we get one of these started in Toronto?
       More Detail
      For a great write up of the Plant see this recent article in the University of Washington's Conservation Magazine: The Inside Job by Canadian Jennifer Cockrall-King. The following are two panels which provide some more details which I photographed during my December 2012 visit to The Plant (right click to open in a separate window to view larger)