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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sustainability in Austerity

Sustainability in Austerity: How Local Government Can Deliver During Times of Crisis

By Philip Monaghan
Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
ISBN 978-1-906093-57-0
This review was first published on on 19th January 2011

Sustainability in Austerity has been written to provide local leaders with a lifebelt in these turbulent times. It empowers local authorities to address challenges they now face - by offering a treasure chest of cost-neutral and powerful ways for leaders in local government to advance sustainability as nations emerge from the global recession. The book sets out the required rules for leadership and proposes a myriad of innovative strategies for self-help achieved through habit-forming behaviour change among council members, staff and local communities alike. Packed with international case studies, anecdotes and management tips derived from a wealth of learning by like-minded peers across the world - all of whom have faced and overcome serious sustainability challenges - the book will be a touchstone for professionals working in areas such as: democracy and decision-making; corporate assets and resources; economic development and planning; waste and environmental services; fleet and logistics; and community management.

"Can you be a responsible citizen and have a pet?" This is just one of the many issues addressed by Philip Monaghan in his fascinating book, Sustainability in Austerity. Apparently, in San Francisco, the estimate is that up to 5% of landfill waste comes from pet waste. Apparently, the energy required to feed a cat is about the same needed to build and drive a car 6,000 miles a year. Apparently, this is one of the issues local councils may want to consider as they explore opportunities for their communities to live more sustainably and reduce the environmental footprint of towns and cities. Perhaps the pet waste issue is not the most important one that councils will deliberate over, but it does open our eyes to the degree of complexity that local councils face in trying to move entire communities towards more sustainable lifestyles.

Philip Monaghan's book is an authoritative and inspiring guide for those holding local office. As the author writes, "For many, local councils are pivotal to the delivery of sustainability as every aspect of their role shapes how people live their lives - from democratic elections to education and planning to waste collection." Philip was inspired to write this book as a response to the Global Financial Crisis and the expectation that local councils would have to manage with much reduced budgets and navigate the "crippling impact on local government spending" in order to meet the needs of national governments and local constituents. Every time someone throws something away, for example, it increases the burden on waste management and local resources. The focus of this book, therefore, is getting things done in a cost neutral way.

The author lists 102 cost neutral interventions that local councils can leverage to drive the achievement of greater collective sustainability. They are in the form of case studies, anecdotes and management tips, with examples from many different cities as far flung as Baoding, China; Krakow, Poland; Caracas, Venezuela; Brisbane, Australia; Oslo, Norway; and Flanders, Belgium, to name but a few. The range and scope of these interventions address all aspects of local life including: pedestrianizing downtown city areas at weekends and transforming them in to walking, roller-skating or playground areas (Craiova, Romania); a Foodshare community coalition to improve access to food, with wholesale bulk buying clubs and a "Field to Table" schools initiative where students receive cooking training and develop schoolyard gardens (Toronto, Canada); incentives for installation of stormwater management controls for businesses and private residents (Montgomery County, Maryland, USA); creation of 8,000 microgardens in city areas (Caracas, Venezuela); a program for 45% reduction in local council water usage (Nillumbik, Australia); whole-life costing methods to improve health and safety with use of recycled materials for kerb edgings (Wakefield, UK); low-carbon trade zones incentivizing energy-saving businesses and clean energy development (Baoding, China); a pay-as-you-throw scheme that bills residents according to how much household waste they generate (Flanders, Belgium); a "greenest city in America" plan, which includes planting 500,000 trees, revitalizing parks and encouraging rooftop gardens (Chicago, USA); banning non-recyclable plastic bags at supermarkets (San Francisco, USA); and home composting - including the composting toilet (Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador).

Conscious that the drive for change is not just about solutions, but also about mindset transformation, the author clearly explains the business case for local councils to drive sustainability behavioral change and the processes for "making change desirable." The author proposes a five step "Excellence in Austerity Framework," based on a new paradigm for local government, which he calls the "Green Concentrate: focused, cost neutral interventions on sustainability during a time of reduced spending, made possible by freezing choices to enforce positive changes." Philip Monaghan offers a "management dashboard" for local councils, similar to a balanced scorecard approach, to serve as a template for advancing and tracking effective progress. Perhaps all local councils should follow the example of Vancouver, Canada who has developed a 100-year plan for sustainability?

Most business literature about sustainability and social and environmental responsibility tends to address national or international government policy, business actions or personal lifestyle change. This book is a refreshing approach from the perspective of another and no less a significant critical agent - the local council - in leveraging both the ability and opportunity around sustainability of all other players in our communities in creative and potentially revolutionary ways. If the image of many local councils is that of sluggish, unresponsive and bureaucratic officialdom, then this book offers to revitalize that image and show how councils can be a dynamic, thriving force with a mission that is much broader than collecting local taxes and handing out parking fines. It could even be the key to sparking a burst of energy at local municipality level, thereby transforming a much underestimated link in the chain of sustainability and survival of the planet into a new source of possibility. Local council leaders who see sustainability as key are the next generation of global heroes. It is my hope they will take the lead from this book, so the 100-year plan for sustainability in Vancouver can actually run to term in a world where its own local sustainability is dependent on broader supra-local systemic change with other localities making equally enlightened commitments.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World 
By Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

Publisher: The Penguin Group
ISBN 978-0-670-06516-5

This review was first published on on 4th January 2011


A follow-up to Wikinomics, the best-selling management book of 2007, Macrowikinomics offers nothing less than a game plan for all of us to fix a broken world.

Drawing on an entirely new set of original research conducted with countless collaborators in fields such as healthcare, science, education, energy, government and media, Macrowikinomics tells the stories of some of the world's most dynamic innovators, from a global citizen’s movement working to reverse the tide of disruptive climate change to for-profit startups that are turning industries ranging from music to transportation on their heads.

The authors argue that collaborative innovation is not only transforming our economy, but all of society and its many institutions. Now the onus is now on each of us to lead the transformation in our households, communities and workplaces. After all, the potential for new models of collaboration does not end with the production of software, media, entertainment and culture. Why not open source government, education, science, the production of energy and even health care?

As this book shows, these are not idle fantasies, but real opportunities the new world of wikinomics makes possible.


Macrowikinomics is an essential education for everyone on the planet. Its scope, breadth and overall coverage of developments in our interconnected society provide insights substantially backed up by examples of an emerging new reality that opens our minds to incredible possibilities of collaboration we had never dreamed possible. This book is a life-changer. After reading Macrowikinomics, you will not think in the same way.

An oft-quoted saying by Albert Einstein, "problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them," is apt for this book. Authors Dan Tapscott and Andrew D. Williams do a splendid job, continually astounding the reader with their depth of their research, scope of material covered and the innovative connections they describe, effectively demonstrating that a new way of thinking can truly exist and lead to new ways of behaving as a society, as governments, as businesses and as concerned and responsible individuals.

Wikinomics, published by the authors in 2007, set the scene for peer collaboration and cyberspace-connected citizenship, in itself an illuminative provocation to a different kind of action. Macrowikinomics goes further by suggesting that the Wikinomics way, based on five key principles (collaboration, openness, sharing, integrity and interdependence) "for achieving a world that is secure, prosperous, just and sustainable," is a compelling imperative, and not merely a nice option for techno-geeks. Macrowikinomics, then, is a "way to rethink and rebuild all of the old approaches and institutions that are failing," or as per the book's subtitle, a way to "reboot business and the world." The collaborative age is here, say the authors, and those who do not get on board risk being "ever more isolated."

In the book, we learn about the application of macrowikinomics principles in the financial services industry, in addressing climate change, remodeling higher education, reinventing the media and entertainment industries and in creating value at government level. The first of these explorations looks at "opening up the financial services industry" in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, and the "fresh and radical thinking" that is required to make financial modeling more realistic and more equitable. This involves doing away with "toxic assets" by moving to open, collaborative peer-reviewed valuation of financial products such as that made possible by the OMC platform, which enables improved financial valuations to be created collaboratively by academics, industry experts, analysts and financial professionals rather than relying on the traditional behind-closed-doors approach of the financial sector.

Equally, the principles of open crowd-sourcing can apply to Venture Capital, as demonstrated by the Vencorps initiative, which uses the crowd to determine levels of funding to new initiatives - which had might not made the VC radar using traditional methods. This contributes to growth and new economic possibilities for all.

Finally in this chapter, peer-to-peer banking is also discussed, with Zopa (whose advertizing states: "where real people sidestep the banks, and everybody wins, except the fat cats"). Prosper, Smava and Qifang (a way to give students in China an equal opportunity to fund their education), all presented as social banking models which create a new meritocracy in the virtual economy, opening up routes to financial opportunities for many who cannot find equitable solutions in the traditional banking industry.

In what other ways can Macrowikinomics move us forward as a global society? Enter the chapter that deals with climate change, and the way mass collaboration can save the planet. Tapscott and Williams talk about the "erroneous assumption underlying conventional wisdom… that politicians and other powerful interests can manage climate change with new regulations issued from a patchwork of national capitals around the world," urging us to push for an approach that requires less central control and more self-organized mass collaboration.

Already today, there is a new generation of energy prosumers that are entirely off-grid. Companies such as Nike and Best Buy are using a GreenXchange database to collaborate for clean innovation. The authors mention Google lobbying for open standards, Apple's iPhone and the apps explosion, Zipcar and other businesses that are building a new model of reindustrialization. Also of interest is the prowess of the Danish market's use of renewable energy in part by encouraging massive local ownership of wind turbines, made possible by collaborative networked intelligence and the exploitation of digital possibilities.

However, addressing climate change alone is not enough to make our society entirely sustainable. Security, social justice, an inclusive global economic agenda are all aspects of sustainability, which solutions to climate change won't address. The macrowikinomics approach supports advances in these areas too, not least by providing collaborative platforms for governments, supporting social innovation, reducing bureaucracy and inviting citizen influence - such as in the German city of Hamburg where participatory budgeting exercises using an online budget app enable the submission of "citizen budgets" for discussion in local parliament.

Business is part of a holistic whole and cannot be seen as separate from the global sustainability agenda. As such, the opportunity for businesses to exploit the new digital age becomes a way to manage risk and even a matter of survival. This is where macrowikinomics meets corporate social responsibility and sustainability, as the stakeholders of every business are part of a networked economy in which all can and should be encouraged to collaborate, providing new ways of addressing global issues for the benefit of all.

The business applications in this new, networked world may be daunting but nonetheless preferable to the alternative which is more of now. The authors do a good job in presenting and countering the arguments opposing networked intelligence (Is online collaboration killing privacy? Is social networking ruining true relationships and destroying communities? Etc.) and lead us to the conclusion that we have no choice but to "reboot business and the world using wikinomics principles as our guide."

Ultimately, macroeconomics is about ethics, human rights, social justice, stakeholder engagement, innovative responsible business practices and a new kind of corporate role in society. If this is not the heart of the corporate sustainability agenda, then it's hard to know what is.

It's convincing. It's scary. It's exciting. Macrowikinomics is a masterpiece of a book that I strongly recommend to all who think "wiki" is just about collaborating to produce an online encyclopedia. I also recommend it to all those who would welcome hundreds of examples and ideas to inspire them in becoming a part of the new networked world.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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