One of my favourite books in my late teens, was Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller, which not only gives an intriguing history on Fuller’s inventions and philosophies, but also summarises his many personal experiments in productivity. Fuller would probably have to be one of the first (if not the first) people to live what is now called the quantified self – although he used a notebook rather than an a computer to collect his data.
However I digress, there are enough blog posts on productivity to sink the largest of ships, and what I really wanted to talk about was my discovery of environmental accounting…
The [true] cost of business to the earth
CFO’s around the world work day and night to maintain the machinations of building widgets for one dollar, and selling them for (at the very least), two dollars. Every avenue is explored to reduce the build cost and increase the sell price. Yet one cost which is rarely evaluated, is the true environmental burden of production and whether from a macro scale, whether the widget is worth producing at all.
The piece of Fuller’s book which has stuck in my head after all these years, was his citing of Francois de Chardenedes’ questioning of the environmental cost of workers commuting every day to work caged in fossil fuel burning cars:
… with all the cosmic energy processing (as rain, wind and gravitational pressure) and processing time (paid for at the rates you and I pay for household electricity), it costs nature well over a million dollars to produce each gallon of petroleum.
He then goes on (admittedly in a kind of Fuller-language which is at first rather difficult to parse…) to suggest that in many cases, from a macro perspective, it would actually make sense to pay workers to stay at home instead. I could probably segue into a work-from-home blog post now, but I’ll stay on track…
When you consider Chardenedes’ fuel accounting and the embodied energy of petroleum, it doesn’t take long to find other examples. Consider the humble aluminium drink can, which has a huge cost in energy to produce. In fact, recycling just one can saves enough energy (compared to producing a brand new an) to run a 100 watt bulb for 20 hours. Other examples include the aluminium framing on a solar panel, which actually costs the solar panel (in embodied energy), several years of work to pay itself off.
When you start to look, you’ll begin to notice that most everything around you has required a tremendous amount of (often non-renewable) energy to produce. We often focus on moving objects (cars, planes, ships, etc) when we consider energy use, yet the very computer you’re looking at is probably so costly from an environmental perspective, that all the productive work you create on it will never cover the environmental cost of its production.
1% for the Planet
I spoke about the environmental cost of the Internet few weeks ago, and how we try to make some vague calculations relative to our own carbon impact at Serversaurus, however I haven’t yet spoken about our donations to 1% For the Planet.
I’ll let this video do the speaking, but essentially 1% for the Planet encourages organisations to donate 1% of their turnover to environmental charity, as a [small] gesture in considering the macro environmental effects of doing business. Essentially this becomes a self-imposed tax. The whole story:
To avoid yet another middleman, 1% for the Planet does not act as a financial clearing house or financial distribution centre for corporate donations – it simply polices companies who are part of the program, to ensure they make their annual donations, provide tax return data and donation receipts.
Learn more and get involved at https://onepercentfortheplanet.org/