In addition to the indomitable nature of the human spirit, history has also borne witness to the ways in which moments of crisis present opportunities for innovation, reinvention, improvement, and transformation – at the personal, enterprise, and community level.

Along with the more obvious (and worthy of support) Nonprofit relief organizations putting their shoulders to the wheel during this challenging period in world history, a number of commercial enterprises and other private ventures, less accustomed to tackling this sort of circumstance, are rising to the test and inspiring their peers and partners to seek out new models in collaboration, community, and constructive social action. 

Médecins Sans Frontières, the World Health Organization, the Red Cross, and others are doing the admirable work for which they were founded: providing services and support to the neediest among us, while also offering vital research and data to help enlightened nations accelerate their journey toward community, social, and fiscal health. Other entities are meanwhile also studying and leveraging their unforeseen circumstances in a noteworthy fashion. As we continue to travel along this unpaved path, possessing only a folkloric sense of our destination, and with no knowledge of the distance or time that we will be traveling, the responsiveness and visibility of many brands and entities will become case studies in corporate social responsibility, stewardship, brand positioning, sustainability, customer relations, and even profitability.

Sometimes a small risk is worth it, if the intent is good, and the initiative is thoughtfully manifest.

The simple yet important early actions taken by numerous grocery brands ( Trader Joe’s, Giant Food, Costco, Target, Whole Foods, to name but a few) to accommodate the higher risk members of our population by establishing special “seniors and immune-system compromised citizens” shopping hours set a tone of thoughtful accommodation that deserves mention. The goodwill garnered was a great bonus, in addition to any maintained or even increased sales volumes. While many questions were still being formed as to transmission, safety, and other considerations, many brands made decisions to welcome, accommodate, and protect those at higher risk, rather than wait and see. Of course, hindsight being what it is, emerging data might have shown the actions to have been somewhat dangerous or foolhardy, but that was not the case this time. Solid protective measures were taken (social distancing, masks, wipedowns, etc), and it was a win-win for all. Sometimes a small risk is worth it, if the intent is good, and the initiative is thoughtfully manifest.

 

An elderly gentleman, wearing gloves and mask, prepares to enter a grocery store

 

In the absence of clear and timely support action from the Federal Administration, commercial brands such as Crocs, Starbucks, Garnet Hill, and The Company Store  are donating their products to frontline workers, while brands including New Balance, Fanatics, Hanes, Razer, and others have shifted production to making masks for frontline workers. Numerous other companies have donated funds to the cause. This is the best of corporate social responsibility, but it has been necessitated largely because of national government failure to proactively and persistently address a crisis that was foreseen years ago.

 

As and when nations begin the laborious climb out of the present quagmire, it will be important to watch and learn from those infrastructures initiating methodologies that prove most successful at lifting up the social and fiscal health of their citizenry.

Innovation is often manifest at times of highest urgency, and always best realized at moments of purest intent.

Educational systems have meanwhile not been idle. While public and private schools alike scramble to find new models to minimize the disruption to student curriculums in 2020 (and beyond?), some standouts deserve mention: Logitech  is giving k-12 teachers free webcams and headsets as they transition to virtual teaching. Audible  is making hundreds of their audiobook titles available to students for free. Google, Zoom, and Microsoft  are all offering their online meeting and communications tools for free. This is perhaps where we can best see how stewardship and social responsibility can convert fluidly into opportunity. The move by Zoom to take the lead in offering free online learning and meeting facilities to K-12 institutions, notwithstanding privacy and security concerns that they aggressively addressed, skyrocketed the company’s valuation, and it remains strong. At the same time, competitor brands were inspired to not only step up and offer the same deal, but their go-to-market strategies for feature and function improvements were also accelerated and improved. The challenge laid down encouraged a whole fleet of online communication brands to rise together. Innovation is often manifest at times of highest urgency, and always best realized at moments of purest intent.

 

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Schools are scrambling to develop new lesson plans, leverage heretofore peripheral toolsets, and accommodate previously negligible considerations, as they seek to shepherd their students through this challenging period, and give them the best education possible, under the circumstances. Very recently, some school districts have given up  on the experiment, citing overwhelming logistical challenges for both teachers and parents.

Meanwhile, around the world, institutions and programs are refusing to let this crisis compromise their commitment to the highest standards in education they are capable of offering. In “better” times, many institutions struggled somewhat passively under the edicts of bureaucratic regional, State, and even national governments. Today, teachers and administrators alike are demanding the best possible support for their students, and many parents are stepping up to help in ways not seen before. Organizations such as Girls With Impact  and Coursera  are offering their curricula free of charge, and educators are collaborating with impressive transparency and a commitment to high standards in learning and social health alike. Faculty at my daughter’s school, The Ethel Walker School, have been internally sharing best practices and discoveries with enthusiasm and impressive thoughtfulness, and I suspect many other institutions are doing likewise.

 

 

It becomes clear, the more I study the varied brands, industries, and markets impacted by this epidemic, that progress and prosperity will be realized first by those entities (professional or otherwise) that embrace a culture of service and community. Transparency and collaboration will be stepping stones that elevate us from our current difficult situation; cooperation and fact-based responsibility will be the guideposts.

Companies that find themselves in suspension can either close down or leverage their skillsets to innovate and enrich their sector and, by extension, our world. In Australia, enterprises such as Passions of Paradise, Wavelength, Ocean Freedom, Sailaway and Quicksilver Cruises are nurturing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, during the tourism industry’s absence. SodaStream  is donating to global NGO WaterAid  which provides clean tap water for drinking and washing hands. The sparkling water company, based in Israel, also recently announced its commitment to eliminate the use of 67 billion single-use plastic bottles by 2025 and to switch the packaging for all of its flavors from plastic to metal bottles beginning early next year. Meanwhile, a Los Angeles company, Orly  has reconfigured its factory to produce 75% alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and 10,000 bottles will be donated to the City of Los Angeles  for distribution throughout the city’s at-risk homeless population. These are just a few examples amidst a growing collection of case studies in community leadership and industry innovation.

What case studies have you come across that demonstrate laudable examples in stewardship, cooperation, and creative innovation, during this time when many might otherwise trend toward apathy and surrender? Is your organization doing some interesting and inspiring work? Do you have a community-building and uplifting idea that deserves to be realized? Let us know!

Transparency and collaboration will be stepping stones that elevate us from our current difficult situation; cooperation and fact-based responsibility will be the guideposts.

I was recently invited on a fascinating inspection visit to a couple of sites operated by the largest supplier of treated water in the United States: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

We first visited the Weymouth Treatment Plant, an impressive 150-acre site built in 1940, just before WW2 (thus its noted Mission Revival-style architecture).

The plant has a treatment capacity of 520,000,000 gallons per day: blending water delivered a combined 700 miles via the Colorado River Aqueduct and the California Aqueduct. It is also home to one of the world’s largest machine shops, housing some awesome toys.

We next visited the adjacent Water Quality Lab, which performs more than 320,000 water quality tests annually on samples gathered throughout the vast distribution systems, for the detection of bacteria, viruses, protozoan parasites, chemical contaminants, and toxins – thereby safeguarding the drinking water delivered to more than 19 Million Southern California residents every day.

An hour or so away, we entered the Advanced Purification Center: a high-security half-million gallon per day test facility, built as a proof of concept for near-future construction of a full-scale recycled water plant.

A unique application of membrane bioreactors significantly increases water recycling efficiency. If approved, this innovative system will have global applications, and greatly reduce dependence on imported water. The full scale initial planned construction can produce up to 150 million gallons of drinkable water daily, enough to serve 500,000 homes.

I was surprised that the MWD staff knew nothing about the Gates Foundation Omniprocessor initiative, given the inherent opportunities for cross-collaboration and mutual benefit. Then again, I was equally surprised how little attention has been paid by MWD to the opportunities for IP development and protection. Public utilities tend not to think of their own inventions and innovations as opportunities for IP and licensing growth. It is important, however, for publicly funded entities engaging in pioneering R&D to explore channels for revenue generation beyond taxpayer funding, which is subject to legislative redirection at any given time. The State of California has a history of developing globally impactful innovations, be it in water management, earthquake detection, or fire protection. Some of these innovations merit protection and consideration as foundations, upon which future R&D might be funded.

The inspection team on this infrastructure trip comprised some of the brightest and best of California leadership. Admittedly, some of the more complex engineering parlance flew over my head, but I learned an enormous amount, most notably that – once again – the State of #California is leading the way in finding and building new ways to distribute, treat, conserve, and maximize one of our planet’s most valuable resources.

 

Greetings from Sunny California!

Now is an ideal moment to take stock of our performance, and reorient ourselves in the direction of peace, renewal, introspection, and togetherness.

However challenging this past year may have been for you or your business, we hope that the net effect has been a positive one, not only to your bottom line, but to your and your colleagues’ personal sense of wellbeing. We work to live, and may we all live to make our world a little better – whether through art, commerce, social service, or whatever pursuit gets you out of bed at the beginning of your day!

As always, our firm’s marker for success is how much we were able to learn and grow, in any given year. 2019 was no exception, though it had some unforeseen moments!

Our recent engagements have taken us into a variety of new markets and fields, for which I am grateful. Whether working with the UN Foundation on their “Girl Up” initiative, restructuring a nationally syndicated radio talk show for the podcast era, or celebrating the opening of a new local business venture. Our company’s focus remains on people, sustainability (environmental and fiscal), and innovation.

 

 

Grand Opening of Los Angeles’ Artesano Tamaleria

 

Attendees at the UN Foundation Girl Up Summit

 

Personal commitments prevented me from spending my usual couple of months with our London and Lisbon teams, but more time in the Los Angeles area allowed for greater participation in some local initiatives.

We continue to enjoy supporting the great work done by the film and TV industry’s Green Production Guide team, and I enjoyed spending a day at the Produced By Conference in early June, roaming the Warner Bros lot, challenging the thousands of industry professionals in attendance to rethink and upgrade their approach to sustainable production. Personal engagement remains the foundation stone upon which fruitful change is built.

 

Leaders of the Producers Guild of America Green Initiative

 

Our firm continues to work with and advise a variety of political and educational initiatives and organizations, including the City of Burbank, where we are based. We are passionate about improving the transportation infrastructures and community health of this beautiful city – no small undertaking in an area so slavishly devoted to the automobile! We were thrilled to participate this year in some milestone events and initiatives, including the groundbreaking ceremonies for a bikeway we’ve been working on for a number of years, the continued development of a regional rapid transit system (BRT), and ongoing improvements to the intersections between our regional and local traffic infrastructures (more access for bicycles, pedestrians, and public transportation!). There has been a lot of success in 2019, but, as with all such projects, the movement is glacial and there remains much to be done!

This was a great year for improving the city’s fiscal and functional health, and it’s been a pleasure to welcome new City Manager Justin Hess, while thanking outgoing City Manager Ron Davis for his service. Each person, though cut from different cloth, brings a standard of excellence and service worthy of appreciation. The inimitable Emily Gabel-Luddy, nearing the close of her term, will shortly be succeeded as the City’s Mayor by our other admirable friend Sharon Springer, and I look forward to a period wherein her infectious enthusiasm, love of community, and intelligence will continue to inspire and uplift not only City Staff, residents, and businesses, but the municipalities around us, as California continues to lead the way in facing the challenges and opportunities of our myriad communities.

 

Burbank City Council and Community Leaders at Los Angeles Bikeway Groundbreaking Ceremony

 

A summer opportunity to travel back to Seattle, Washington allowed me to catch up with a previous client, OneRedmond, and the numerous technology and entertainment companies with whom we collaborated during our most recent project in the area. Some very interesting progress has been made, including the establishment of a very promising Public/Private partnership serving the Greater Seattle Economic Development area. This region includes not only Seattle itself, but also the wonderful cities of Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue. We were also able to spend a good amount of time with another cherished client, one of the Northwest’s top event and hospitality firms with whom we are developing a growth strategy, as they expand into more strategic and global ventures relating to their already impressive core capabilities.

The Northwest region remains a favorite one, and I’m excited to see its continued growth as a hub of innovation and workforce development. The area’s renowned commitment to sustainability and community makes it an excellent breeding ground for the next generation of purpose-driven enterprises.

 

Back in Los Angeles, I was recently invited to participate in a long-overdue Mobile World Congress workshop session entitled “Women4Tech”. It was inspiring to see and talk with such a diversity of women leaders in the fields of tech, marketing, engineering, government, and creative production. Some of next year’s most compelling innovations from around the world will be coming from women-led enterprises, and we can only benefit from their contributions, guidance, and insights.

 

Women4Tech Conference at Mobile World Congress USA

At the end of last year, I was invited by Al Gore to become a Climate Reality Leader, helping to inform and inspire communities to become more actively engaged in combating the undeniable climate crisis we all face. In addition to giving presentations to schools, local governments, corporations, and community organizations, it was an honor to be asked to establish and chair one of the newest Chapters of the global Climate Reality Project. This proved a mighty and worthwhile challenge! During the course of this past year, we recruited more than 40 passionate advocates for responsible stewardship, and together we have made a marked impact on local, state, regional, and national policy and action. We look forward to helping the organization further consolidate and maximize the energy, knowledge, and commitment of these leaders.

 

 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been a favorite organization, ever since I was a student at Duke University, helping to set up a chapter of the Center’s then-new “Teaching Tolerance” initiative. I’ve long enjoyed supporting the great work done by this laudable organization, and this year we were offered a marvelous opportunity to spend some time with co-founder Joe Levin, as we reviewed the extraordinary efforts undertaken by the SPLC, on behalf of the disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed members of our nation’s family. I remain in awe of their passionate zeal and commitment.

 

With SPLC Co-founder, Joe Levin

 

While 2019 provided a diversity of opportunities and discoveries, it also unhappily took away important treasures. I was greatly saddened this year to participate in memorial and funeral services for some great people, including my friend, Blake Byrne; an important mentor, David Picker; a previous boss, Michael Lynne; and former colleague and icon, Cokie Roberts. It would be pitiful to attempt here any sort of In Memoriam for such admirable people, so we will instead commit ourselves anew to conducting our professional business in a manner reflecting their integrity, passion, and service. We are sure that each of our friends, colleagues, and clients has experienced the pain of loss this year, in their own unique but equally important way, and we offer each our sympathy. Life is indeed a fleeting gift, the value of which we seem to fail to take full measure, until we find ourselves being ushered toward the exit. To borrow the latest aphorism: KonMari the year ahead, and share the joy you keep!

 

 

The future must always be seen with optimism. We are looking forward to continuing our work with our newest client: an exciting tech & creative startup venture focused on increasing access for the visually impaired to content otherwise out of reach. We’re eager to see what other opportunities and innovations present themselves next year, in markets and industries that will assuredly teach us new lessons and show us new wonders!

My thanks go not only to my colleagues, but to clients and friends alike who have welcomed us this year into their offices and labs, as well as onto the many studio lots and sets! The opportunity to learn from and watch you invent inspires me on a regular basis!

 

 

Wishing you the peace, renewal, and togetherness to which I alluded at the beginning of my post, I close, grateful for a year where the positives outweighed the negatives, and in the hope that this trend continues robustly in the year to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicholas de Wolff

 

I often get push back from a few urban residents and business owners, whenever I speak at events and propose the idea of widened sidewalks, increased tree canopy, and raised, marked, and/or buffered bicycle lanes. My campaign is not merely in support of a changing streetscape, but for an evolution in how we coexist.
A mixed-use sidewalk in Lisbon, Portugal – comfortably accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists alike.
The resistance to my proposals is almost always borne of an innate fear of change. There exists in many of us an unconscious aversion to change, perhaps founded on a sense, however mistaken, that the status quo is always safer. Let’s be clear: it is only safer for those who benefit from that structure, and that structure is always perilous if it sits on unstable foundations. The pillars of fear, untruth, greed, and violence are made of the weakest mortar.
 
While it is true that the “evil we know” may be more predictable than an unknown and unquantifiable alternative, our evolution is based on a drive to innovate and disrupt. How do we reconcile these instincts that seem so diametrically opposed? We must become living testaments to the notion that oil and water can coexist. It seems a silly suggestion, until you look around at the turmoil that is escalating in otherwise developed communities.

So long as we respond to the “other” with fear and aggression we will never advance our society. We won’t evolve. We must, therefore, offer proposals for change and improvement that are tenable. Proposals tend to work best when they offer opportunity and options.

  • It might be something as relatively innocuous as getting a town to accept a plastic bag ban; offer them compelling and creative alternatives, such as reusable bags branded with their favorite store. The consumer gets a quality freebie, and the store gets the best sort of marketing possible: free grass-roots brand evangelism!),
  • convincing your community to finally accept that urban infrastructures require multimodal transportation options, and the streetscape is no longer the exclusive domain of the single-driver combustion fuel vehicle, but rather a vital part of our urban landscape that must be shared and managed with thoughtful consideration for all (develop a well-planned and comprehensive network of multimodal transport options, including pedestrian, bicycle, and public; ensure these options function efficiently and are well-signed; enforce the law for *all* stakeholders; and provide follow-up metrics to prove the merits of the model: social, safety, environmental, and economic);
  • or encouraging society to accept and adapt to the often complicated but unavoidable complexities and nuisances of the present world in which we live, with a view to improving the future *together*, as opposed to yearning for a yesteryear that only existed for an entitled few.

How do privileged individuals such as myself support positive change, without injecting our own ignorance or arrogance? How do POC, women, the disabled, and other underrepresented constituencies secure their overdue rights, without feeling that they must do it all alone? Societies do not advance by fragmentation. Lasting change works best when we are all invested. How do we acknowledge the nuances that comprise every individual, so we each feel empowered and represented? How do we, ourselves, practice this inclusivity when we’ve perhaps never had to exist in a constant state of powerlessness and underrepresentation?

The questions will be many, and embedded with complexity. I worry that the portal to a stronger society, which can only be unlocked by the many keys of a truly enlightened and unified community, will remain locked longer than we hope. I fear we’ll struggle: pushing angrily against each other, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, confronting the obstacle together.

I don’t have the answers. Our politicians believe they are supposed to provide solutions, and we reinforce that sense with our demands and complaints. Perhaps our political system and its representatives are only supposed to provide thoughtfully crafted legislation and infrastructure. Then, We The People, are obliged to manifest the sustainable solutions that will advance our society, through our daily actions and interactions. Whatever the best option may be, it will not be discovered, let alone developed or deployed, unless we work together. At this juncture, this may seem an unrealistic and possibly untenable option. Do you have a better option? One which recognizes the humanity in each of us? One which respects and supports our equality, even though it may not yet be realized? One which refutes hate, social fragmentation, oppression, and exclusion? If we are only willing to listen to or read opinions that conform to our pre-existing beliefs and values, the status quo will be maintained, until it falls apart – a victim of its own internal frictional forces.

The challenge is in putting that change into action in a way that recognizes the urgency of the need, the diversity of given circumstances, and the enormity of the baggage we each bring to this journey.  How do we bring about positive change – inclusively, enthusiastically, intelligently, sustainably, meaningfully, realistically?

 

 

Watching this video, I found myself ambivalent: on the one hand, this is an impressive display of control and skill and, as an urban bicycling advocate, I am always happy to see content that promotes bicycling as an activity. On the other hand, I am dismayed that nobody seems to consider the ecological implications of this particular sort of activity. In much the same way that I see so many snowboarders “carving” down mountains, effectively pushing snow down the mountain at far greater volume than their skiing counterparts, I watch this video and find myself unable to avoid the reality that the cyclist is tearing up the ground with his antics, unquestionably uprooting nascent plantlife, and otherwise treating the fragile area (especially the marshland featured in a couple of scenes) as his own disposable playground. For one person to do this is just ignorance, with little real damage done. However, posting this video is a tacit encouragement for others to do the same. What happens when hundreds, or thousands, of off-road cycling enthusiasts watch this, and opt to go tearing through their countryside in the same manner? Already this video has been viewed, on this one platform alone, more than 150,000 times.
 
Should we be concerned, or am I overreacting? I feel it is always important that we balance our exploitation of our environment with our responsibility to the sustainability thereof. This does not imply a blind devotion to sitting on a moor, wearing nothing but a burlap sack and health sandals, while I sip peat bog water through a biodegradable straw. It means that we have an obligation to consider the impact of our actions, large and small, upon the world which we share with our children. Sometimes such consideration will lead us to the conclusion “no harm, no foul”. Sometimes we realize there exists the potential for harm previously not duly considered.
 
What do you think?

The Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and one of its initiatives is to provide members with fancy new gold credit card style membership cards, replacing the former paper-based version. My reaction, when I heard this, was one of disappointment. Every initiative taken by an organization today has consequences and implications that reverberate across multiple sectors. In this case, the AEA failed to take advantage of a priceless opportunity to enhance member services, increase member engagement, and exhibit a very simple but impactful degree of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

More than 7 years ago, the Census Bureau determined that there were nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. A stack of all those credit cards would reach more than 70 miles into space — and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests. If this number of credit cards were thrown away every three years, the stack of credit cards would reach almost 43 Everests high after a decade. These plastics do not biodegrade in landfills. Not so fancy.

Actor’s Equity is not a lone offender, though. When SAG and AFTRA merged, the new union had an opportunity to revisit its longstanding use of plastic credit card member IDs, but opted to stick with the short term functionality of plastics, long-term sustainability be damned. The Producers Guild and other industry organizations are equally guilty. My frustration would be less justified if there existed few alternatives. However, companies such as Discover Financial services are offering cards made of BioPVC™ and other biodegradable alternatives; well-established technologies such as mobile apps present a plethora of creative and operational opportunities; and other technologies such as NFC offer yet more potential, as their adoption becomes more widespread. So why the lack of innovation or sustainability best practices? Is it an absence of imagination? Aversion to change? Financially motivated obduracy?

As current Chair of my city’s Sustainability Commission, I have benefited from the past four years, learning about the negative consequences of unsustainable practices (both in business and personal life), as well as about the positive implications of Green and other more sustainable commercial and community options, be it through renewable materials sourcing, alternative energy programs, commercial district redesigns, and many other areas. Many initiatives in sustainability offer up more than a single-pronged benefit or solution. It’s not just about environmental conservation, or clean air, or recycling. It’s about positioning ourselves, our businesses, and our communities for a more environmentally, socially, and financially robust future.

Had the AEA decided to explore options for member identification, other than the current plastic card tradition, all sorts of exciting avenues to member engagement and empowerment might have been revealed. Imagine a mobile app (what actor does not have a mobile phone?) that represents not only the individual’s union identification, but also a resource for direct connection to their credit union, membership affiliate discount programs, health insurance tools, personalized pension and 401K insights, dues status (and mobile payment processing), and much more, besides. The cost savings to the AEA and their members alike would be enormous, the raw materials no longer needed (plastics, papers, etc) would be mountainous, and the ability to connect more dynamically with membership would elevate the usefulness, value and – by extension – collective bargaining power of the AEA.

To those who would argue that they would not wish to entrust such data to a mobile device that might lose power, break, be stolen, or otherwise be compromised…I suggest they note that more wallets are stolen and lost than mobile devices. The Baby Boomer generation may not be able to acclimatize themselves to the notion of a cardless society, but I personally am quite excited by the idea of saving money, time, and materials – simply by aggregating the contents of my wallet into a well-protected, institutionally insured, cloud-based ecosystem that poses no more risk to our identities than we currently face today. The promise that lies in such innovation far outweighs the risks, and I can think of no better collective to act upon this promise than Actors themselves. This opportunity seems to have been missed, but I sincerely hope that other organizations might think a little more expansively about each initiative they take, going forward. The smallest tweak might offer far greater rewards (and savings) than they might imagine.

As Apple Computer seems to lose a little of its luster (perhaps only temporarily), it’s heartening to see products in other market sectors pick up where the late Steve Jobs and the conspicuously silent John Ive left off. Indeed, some products have picked up the baton and taken it even further, when it comes to out-of-the-box user experience. One such example is the impressive Nest Learning Thermostat, the latest version of which I just installed today. The product works wonderfully, a pleasure enhanced tenfold by the exquisite care taken by the product development team to ensure that my introduction to, installation of, and experience with their creation be nothing short of brilliant.

I kept running back and forth from the living room and the hallway, where I was installing the thermostat – eagerly sharing with my wife each and every childlike discovery: “there’s a cute screwdriver included in the kit!”; “it automatically determines what wires I have, and whether it needs to jumper the connection!”; “they included little sticky labels to identify each of the wires coming out of the wall!”; “the digital display comes on automatically as you walk up to it!”; “we can manage it all from my computer, iPad, or phone!”; and so on.

I did feel a twinge of concern, when I realized that use of this thermostat included communicating when I was home and when I was away. This fact, combined with the requirement to enter my home address and other personal information, makes me wonder what sort of fun high-tech burglars might have, were they able to hack in to the Nest servers, and remotely track the comings and goings of homeowners…

Extant that challenge to my otherwise usually enthusiastic embrace of new paradigms in social transparency, I was thrilled by this update to an obviously well-conceived piece of consumer electronics genius. More often than not, startups are trying to practice alchemy: attempting to fashion something priceless out of nothing, or something very close thereto. When an innovator comes along, recognizing the shortcomings of something so ubiquitous as a thermostat, and leverages advances in networking technology and product design, the result is far more exciting than it ought to be.

Some might say that Tesla Motors has achieved the same result with automotive innovation, while Amazon’s Kindle has shifted the landscape of literary hardware, and ARM and Intel continue to duke it out in the technology battle for supremacy in combined processing power and energy efficiency. Innovation abounds, moving our society forward, not so much by leaps and bounds in to the unknown, but rather (I’d like to think) in an inexorable arc toward improvement, so long as we – the consumer – continue to demand integrity in sourcing, sustainability, and workforce management.

What recent product release do you feel has most startlingly advanced an otherwise mundane or hitherto predictable market?

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It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted anything here (I have no interest in blogging for the sake of blogging, and I’m sure you have no interest in reading self-important daily ruminations on the state of social media, society, or Steve Jobs (RIP)).

So, beginning today, I will be compiling – in keeping with my commitment to publish only when I have something worth publishing – recaps of a few of the various things I’ve discovered and shared during the previous month, be it via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or whatever other social brand made sense in the moment. I won’t be recapping ALL my postings and discoveries (saints preserve us!), but only those that I think still merit review, one month later. As noted above, I’ll be calling this regular entry “In Case You Missed It…”, and I welcome any feedback or input, as always.  So, without further ado, here is the first installment of this regular publication for your enjoyment, information, education, and perhaps even inspiration! (this first posting will cover a little more than the past month, just to get us all caught up):

Fundraising in the New Economy

As many of my readers know, I have been dedicating a big chunk the past couple of years to supporting a small variety of Not-for-Profit Organizations, helping them to strengthen their brand and financial positions during this economic downturn. Many NPOs are still wasting a lot of time pursuing legacy funding channels that no longer deliver the returns they used to bring, at the cost of other revenue generation opportunities. Crowd-sourced and network funding channels abound now, including ProFounder, Kickstarter, Razoo and others. NPOs need to have a dedicated New Funding Director, well-versed in emerging channels (from text-based through Social, and beyond). In July, Mashable published an interesting article offering some tips for NPO mobile campaigning. It was a little simplistic, but a great way to help NPOs start thinking along the right lines.

21st Century Pop

Later that month, I came across a very compelling site called thesixtyone, where “new artists make music and listeners decide what’s good”. Why it took me so long to check this out, I’ll never know, but I’m glad to see it still going strong, and now there’s another offering, exclusively for the iPad, called Aweditorium, which is similar, yet just different enough to make it worth looking in to. While Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, Mog, and Last.fm are hands down the best purveyors of mainstream music over the Net, it’s great to see intuitive, crowdsourced music experience such as thesixtyone and Aweditorium. Kudos to Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito for supporting such truly grassroots musical adventures as thesixtyone, and I’m eager to see what sort of UX the iCloud offers, to mitigate the lousy experience that is currently iTunes.

Gee, Plus or Minus

Also in July, I began using Google+, and I must say I am still struggling to adopt it as a preferred social network. I can see some potential, but it is so specifically reliant on the input of users that one wonders whether “we” are enough to ensure ongoing and continually expanding usefulness, beyond the fraternity of early adopters. This network may end up becoming little more than a glorified techie BBS, which is not a bad thing, just not perhaps what everyone had initially expected or hoped for. I yearn to be proven wrong, though, and see this evolve into a deeply enriching experience for a vast cross section of society, sufficiently differentiated from Facebook that it moves beyond being an “either/or” proposition. Other niche social networks are growing strongly, meanwhile, including photography site 500px (an alternative the increasingly messy deviantart).

Incremental Change

I’ve been waging a more than 2-year battle to have a major residential street in Burbank calmed sufficiently to allow for bicycle lanes, a center turn lane, upgraded signalization, and safe pedestrian crossing experiences. Just a few weeks ago, with the help of many friends and professionals, the battle was won, and we now move on to the next street, in this war (at least, that’s what it often feels like!) to make urban living safer, more manageable, and more sustainable.  My efforts were quiet and diplomatic (for the most part!), compared to the impressive actions of people like Vilnius Mayor A.Zuokas and Ed Begley Jr. While we may not all have the discipline, vision, & commitment of Mr. Begley, wouldn’t it be nice if we each moved an inch further in the right direction? Standing still on the issue of sustainable living isn’t going to improve air quality, landfill overflows, urban heat island effect, & the host of other challenges bearing down on us. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was a fool (Hello, Thomas Gray). As for the tank stunt: Is it all staged? Perhaps. Does it momentarily fulfill the fondest wish of many a pedestrian, bus driver, and bicyclist around the world? Definitely. The streets of our urban areas are supposed to be for ALL forms of transportation, not just cars. Does your city have the legislative tank commanders necessary to ensure you are able to get around a cleaner city, however you wish, and safely? Think about it, and maybe one or two more of us can act upon it…

In the meantime, while we fight to make our cities more inclusive, many among us are worrying about how our privacy is becoming compromised online. Facebook is certainly not to blame, if you are stupid enough to post drunken/naked/awkward pictures of yourself on your profile, or otherwise upload sensitive data. That’s all on you, bubba! However, your phone number, real estate records, social content, name, age, and so much more are easy to find on the web, regardless of your Facebook activity, thanks to a host of sites you may never have heard of. Clearing the data can be a bit of a headache, but finding all those sites has recently become a whole lot easier: Unlistmy.info is a free service that helps you identify those sites and remove your personal data from their records.

Speaking of records, the results from the 2010 Census came online last month, and they’re interesting to wander around, during your coffee/tea break… (some intriguing questions arise, such as: if all designated races experienced population decline in Los Angeles County, how did the overall population in that California county INCREASE by nearly 300,000 people?). Explore the 2010 Census here (courtesy of CNN).

Keeping The Fire Alight

More recently, Lots of new techie toys have been coming out: iPhone 4S, Amazon Fire Tablet, Kindle Touch, Samsung Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile and others, a couple of new Android tablets, some more Windows phones…Despite high unemployment, and a gasping economy, our almost unconscious desire for the newest consumer tech bauble remains as healthy as ever. At some point we will suddenly wake up to the fact that all these devices are nothing more than toys or tools, and as such need to be either mightily entertaining or extremely useful…and, in both cases, firmly reliable.

Let that day come sooner, rather than later.

The speculation surrounding the Amazon tablet release was perhaps the most feverish, with claims being made that the “Fire” was a potential “iPad Killer”. Despite press reports supporting this dramatic contention, nothing could be further from the truth, IMHO. As I said in one of my Quora answers last month, the new device from Amazon certainly opens up the market, with a price point ($199) that will bring fiscal fence-sitters into the arena. However, the feature-set on the Kindle Fire make it more like a juiced-up iPod Touch than an iPad. The Kindle Fire has no camera, no microphone, and no 3G connectivity. That said, it has two things that the iPad does not have: Amazon Silk and a vast content library (remember, Apps are not content, per se, they are applications!). The iPad will continue (for now) to dominate the upper end of the tablet market, with its dominant app collection and solid device performance. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire represents a price and feature challenge to the rest of the market (Android and Windows8, essentially). To go out on a limb, just for the heck of it, I’m going to predict that that Kindle Fire does very well in the short term, while the new Kindle e-readers do astonishingly well, once they come out in November. Amazon may well take 2nd place in tablet market share, but not for long, as I have to believe the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet OS will force the Android Tablets and applications communities to mature at an accelerated pace. Amazon will take 1st place in mobile content delivery, and will keep it, so long as they maintain focus on their existing core capabilities.

I don’t think Mr. Jeff Bezos and Co. are looking to secure early advantage in the tablet race. Their objective is loftier. Amazon is in the multiplatform content delivery market for the long haul, as evidenced by their Kindle ecosystem. While the HTCs, Dells, Samsungs, RIMs, and Motorolas of the world (sorry, HP, but a jailbroken tablet can no longer be considered viable competition) fight it out in their respectively scrappy fashions, Amazon would do well to stick to its proven methodologies: manage and enhance a world-leading library of diverse content; produce competitively priced, robust, yet simple-featured devices; tying it all together with a superior (if still prone to outage) cloud infrastructure,

Market analysts have claimed that everyone who was going to buy a Kindle has already bought one, but the new touchscreen functionality and very affordable price point now position the Kindle e-reader as the only game worth playing in town. The Nook is in serious trouble (trapped between the Kindle Touch and Fire, yet costing almost as much as both combined). Watch for massive sales of this new line of Kindle e-readers, assuming the interface is solid, and the Whispernet deal (free wireless content delivery) stays equally secure.

The Kindle Fire represents a widening of the market for tablet users, not so much a direct challenge to the iPad (although it may convince Apple to lower the price on their current model, and keep it on the market when the next iPad iteration comes out, all depending on whether there is sufficient differentiation between their current model and the next release. Most signs point to this not being the case).

The new line of Kindle e-readers positions Amazon to garner such a massive and insurmountable lead over all other book distributors, digital or otherwise, that the Big 5 publishers are going to have to come back to the table soon, with their tails between their legs. Although Apple’s iBook may have better UI, the Kindle App gives readers a degree of mobility and flexibility that is unmatched.

Amazon is pursuing software and hardware innovations in full support of their core competencies, and the company will prosper mightily as a result. If AWS can reduce outages, and their Cloud infrastructure is able to handle the load that might come to bear when 50 million (or more) tablets and e-readers and other devices call for content at the same time, then Amazon will be the new leading entertainment studio of the 21st century: in charge and in control of distribution more content to more people, in more places, on more devices, than any other entity.

That brings me to the end of September, and I haven’t even mentioned my Twitter postings (tweets). So I’ll just post a few from the beginning of July below, to give you a taste of what you can usually find there! In the meantime, I look forward to next month’s recap and, if you prefer to connect in a more timely fashion, I encourage you to follow my regular (almost daily) tweets on Twitter, and/or my weekly short posts on Facebook.

A few Twitter tweets of note for early July:

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I may disagree with one or two of the recommendations made here below by Derek Markham (for instance, promoting a website as the number one green marketing solution is somewhat “last year’s thinking”, when one considers that website-based interactive communications is experiencing a fast rate of decline, as application-based (mobile, desktop, TV, etc) interconnectivity ramps up exponentially), but the overall message and insights are impressive and worthy of sharing. As ever, your thoughts and comments are welcomed!

25 Ways to Go Green Marketing, Without Blowing Up Your Marketing Budget

Marketing might seem synonymous with advertising, leading some green business owners to run out and get print ads in industry magazines or local newspapers, print up a bunch of postcards or flyers for direct mailing by mail, or perhaps even lease a billboard. While some of those might work for some businesses in some markets, there are ways for businesses to use green marketing to increase their reach without investing large amounts of cash.

 

Don’t Blow Up Your Marketing Budget, Green It Up Instead With These 25 Green Marketing Tips:

  1. Take your marketing to the web with your own website: The internet has radically changed the landscape of marketing by enabling business owners to have a virtual home for their paperless advertising – their own website. For only a minimal investment of money, your green business can have its doors open 24 hours a day.
  2. Use geolocation apps to reach local customers: Reaching the right customers at the right time is a key component of any green marketing campaign. Use popular geolocation apps like Gowalla or FourSquare to boost the effectiveness of your paperless advertising programs.
  3. Pursue social media marketing: With the huge surge in social networking and bookmarking, your business can take advantage of the new media landscape as a part of your paperless advertising efforts. Set up social media profiles for your business and start making connections to customers, suppliers, clients, and your competitors.
  4. Choose a green web host for your site: All hosting companies are not created equal. Does your web host use renewable energy purchasing? Do they buy carbon offsets? It might mean paying a little more to know that your web host is as green as possible, but any extra above the normal rates can be considered part of your green efforts and used in your marketing messages.
  5. Offer a digital mailing list option: If you use direct mail to reach current customers, create a digital version and offer that option via email to all new and current subscribers.
  6. Clean up your mailing list: How often do you update and clean your mailing list? With so many people on the move each year, you’re bound to end up with duplicate or wrong addresses, which translates to wasted resources during mailings. Use a service or software to regularly clean your list, and make it easy for customers to update their contact information with you. The potential savings here for businesses with large lists is quite high, especially when considered in conjunction with having a digital mailing list.
  7. Offer digital downloads of marketing assets: Make digital versions of all of your marketing materials and be sure they’re easy to find and download. An electronic version of your catalog can be easily shared by customers, and can be updated much quicker and cheaper than a printed one. Plus, it’s virtually cost-free if you already have the files ready to upload.
  8. Upcycle your advertising materials: Look into upcycling or repurposing your advertising and marketing materials, such as having your old billboards turned into shopping or messenger bags. Use those products as great green swag for events or contests.
  9. Green your giveaways: What kinds of gimme items do you pass out? If they are meant to be disposable or only single use, it just creates more waste. Products such as cloth shopping bags with your logo are not only a useful item for customers, but they serve as mobile billboards for your business. Consider the environmental effects of your promotional items before committing to them, and instead of giving away four throwaway items each year, focus on one quality free item.
  10. Use a green printing service: Going truly paperless isn’t really an option for most businesses, so when you have printing jobs, choose an eco-friendly printing service. What kind of recycled paper do they offer? What kind of inks do they use? Are they powered by renewable energy?
  11. Choose 100% recycled content paper: When printing promotional flyers, mailers, business cards, brochures, or other paper products, opt for a paper stock made from 100% post-consumer content. Not only is the cost only a little more than other paper choices, but recycled paper only uses half as much energy to make as virgin pulp. To make up for any extra cost, consider printing only what you need, or print fewer than your usual amount and make it clear that a digital version is also available.
  12. Go with green clothing: Do you have company t-shirts or uniforms? Make the choice to have them produced from organic cotton or an alternate fiber such as hemp, bamboo, or even recycled PET bottles, and let people know why it’s better for the planet.
  13. Get green certification for product: Does your product qualify for a green label? Get it certified and add the certification logo to your marketing materials, along with an explanation of what it means to your customers. Do some research to find out which certifications would be best for you, instead of taking on the cost and paperwork for labels that your customer doesn’t recognize and understand.
  14. Set goals and document your green progress: Public accountability can add loads of credibility to your green marketing, so assess your business’ current “state of green” and set goals to further your sustainability efforts. Track your progress on your website and in mailings to share with your customers.
  15. Rethink your packaging: Does your product even need packaging? In general, the less packaging you need, the cheaper it is on a per-unit basis, so losing the packaging might be a savvy financial decision as well. If it does need a package of some sort, can you continue to make it greener? Packaging that can be repurposed or recycled adds to your green credibility, and if you can use 100% recycled materials, you’re doing even better. Make a point of informing your customers of these points.
  16. Green delivery: If your product gets delivered to customers, how can you lower the environmental impact of the transportation? Alternative fueled vehicles or bicycle delivery are two ways to address green delivery of products. This may not be a viable option in some areas due to availability or a big cost difference, but for those with the option, it can become another selling point for your products.
  17. Send electronic proofs or use bicycle courier: Does your business have a need for sending documents across town on a regular basis? Bicycle courier service is quick, green, and usually cost-competitive with other delivery services. Or consider using all electronic proofs instead of physical copies.
  18. Eco-friendly business cards: Even if you choose recycled content paper for your cards, what happens to it when someone no longer needs it? Print your business card info on seed packets or paper containing embedded seeds. Print something extremely useful on the back, like a reference chart for your industry or niche, so it gets kept and used. To offset any cost difference, don’t print thousands of cards that will get tossed away, but instead print fewer ones of higher quality and impact.
  19. Feature your green efforts prominently: Use your environmental efforts as a selling point in your advertising, packaging, and other promotional activities by featuring them along with any green certification you’ve qualified for.
  20. Join eco-organizations such as 1% for the Planet: Partnering with environmental stewardship organizations and pledging a percentage of your profits to support them can help to further your company’s commitment to preservation and conservation. Joining one of these instead of the usual industry associations or chamber of commerce might be a better use of your money, especially for your company’s green image.
  21. Follow the guidelines for environmental marketing claims: Are your green marketing claims valid? Make sure you’re not trying to greenwash, and that you’re within the FTC guidelines for environmental marketing claims.
  22. Make the green aspects of your product easy to understand: By being clear about the eco-friendliness of your product or service, you’ll give customers another reason to choose your business over a competitor.
  23. Join a local living economy group: Band together with other local independent businesses through organizations such as the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) to help build lasting, profitable, green partnerships. Local networking can pump up your green marketing at the cost of time, not money.
  24. Use digital coupons: With the trend toward going digital in many media outlets, digital coupons are an eco-friendly way to give discounts and promote your products without having to print and distribute any paper products. Mobile advertising is also rapidly expanding with the rise in smartphones, so mobile coupons can give potential customers a reason to shop with you, right from their phone. And as with most things digital, the easier it is to share with others, the farther your reach will be with these types of promotions.
  25. Ditch print advertising: Do you really want your business associated with media made from dead tree? It’s also much more expensive than digital advertising, so try banner ads, PPC, or Facebook ads. These options offer better demographic targeting, with near-instant campaign metrics at a fraction of the cost of print.  Split & multi-variate testing allows you to fine tune your ads and landing pages. Don’t forget directory listings as another form of online advertising. Be sure to get listed in green business directories, as well as local directories, like Yelp, Best of the Web Local, and local search listings. This will boost your local SEO for your green business website.

Going green with your marketing isn’t necessarily about a huge change in your current campaigns – taking your marketing efforts green doesn’t have to be a one-shot approach. By implementing just a few of these green tips on a regular basis, the budget for your marketing campaigns won’t get blown up, and the cumulative effects on the environment can further be used in your marketing messages. Coupled with the huge leverage available to businesses in the digital sphere, going green with your marketing just might be the key to jumpstarting your business’ sales, no matter what the economic forecasts might say.

Derek Markham is a writer, a father, a WordPress addict, and social media butterfly who loves to share what’s new and interesting in his world in under 140 characters.