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Recycling Plant & Recycling a Plant (Part 2)

Part 2: Recycling a Plant

Ok here we go. A “Part 2”. This is a very adventurous and presumptuous endeavor on my part to attempt a Part 2 of anything. Part 2 suggests that I have some loyal audience that meticulously follows my work and was left trembling in anticipation at the end of my Part 1. I think George Lucas had it right in his Star Wars chronology. Next time I’ll start a blog post at Part 4 and leave readers scrambling to find the previous contributions. When they discover these do not exist, perhaps they will appreciate the creativity and eagerly await the missing posts. Ok, enough of this meta blog analysis. On to Part 2:

In Part 1 of this series, I praised the efforts of a for-profit recycling plant in Chicago, IL. Now with the insertion of “an” indefinite article, I have the opportunity to share a story of Chicago creativity and innovation that elevates modern recycling into the stratosphere (or onto the 5th floor of a Chinatown loft to be more precise). Consider this story of “Recycling a Plant”.

In an earlier post on this blog, I introduced the site, “a social networking site designed to connect travelers around the universe,” to generous hosts. The site also offers a local events page that sustains and enhances community involvement. On that page, I discovered this event for “Funky Chinatown – A Funk, Soul, and Disco Loft Party.” The page included this notice about the event:

For exact directions, please RSVP to CHINATOWNFUNK@GMAIL.COM
– include Name + # of Guests so I can get a good headcount.”

My mom once mentioned something in passing about avoiding secret, funky, CouchSurfing, Chinatown parties staged in abandoned lofts with “a ton of beer and cocktails for free.” On the other hand, my mom often offers advice so sometimes I have to pick and choose when to comply…

I’m glad I followed my gut (even if my liver is slightly peeved) because the evening illustrated how a group of creative individuals can convert an abandoned loft into a productive community music and art space. In between funky dancing that put my Bar Mitzvah to shame, I connected with travelers from around the world and exchanged gripping stories of Couch Surfing exploits. Instead of wasting my evening consuming money, time, and space at a neighborhood haunt, I recycled stories and a stunning loft space and converted them into an unforgettable evening.

I started this series with the question: what is the difference between a recycling plant and recycling a plant? The answer is that they offer distinct and innovative ways to enhance sustainability and create community. The recycling plant promoted environmentalism through pragmatic corporate action while the loft party enhanced community while using an abandoned industrial space.

I guess the essential difference is then that the recycling plant did not play funky tunes. Maybe that would increase efficiency?

To read (or re-read) Part 1: Recycling Plant, click here.

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Bidding Alone

In Bowling Alone, Sociologist Robert Putnam investigates a trend of declining civic and social engagement in the United States and blames, in part, “the effect of electronic entertainment…in privatizing our leisure time” (Putnam, 2001, 283). While Putnam identifies television as the primary mechanism of electronic isolation, the internet is certainly a potently secluding drug. In fact, right now I sit at my desk and hungrily knock back shots of .coms and .govs (with a rare .net on special occasions) as a substitute for social participation. If my office had a TV, I might even extricate myself from this web sarcophagus and join my coworkers in an animated Judge Judy viewing. With no TV, though, I happily seclude myself behind URLs like

Last week as I tried to spelunk down into the nether regions of my internet cave, I regrettably encountered a pocket of rampant social activity. Now, despite what my internet usage may indicate, I am not a habitual hermit. Unfortunately, though, on this particular spelunk I craved social isolation like I crave an episode of Judge Joe Brown. On the prowl for North Coast Music Festival tickets on eBay, I had somehow stumbled on a submerged auction offering 3-day passes for $20, over $100 below face value. It was like discovering a diamond in a rough store selling celebrities’ tweezers and Jesus-embedded mango peels. With only 20 minutes remaining on the auction, I cancelled my lunch appointment with George Foreman(‘s Grill) and set up camp next to this isolated treasure.

As minutes melted off the eBay timer, I celebrated my fortune and Putnam’s thesis on civic disengagement.  Previous generations would have to assemble as competitors outside a box office window. Sure, they could discuss their shared interest in the music festival and their favorite acts. They might exchange stories of raucous Rusko dance parties or smooth evenings spent with Thievery Corporation. Some might even make plans to meet-up at the festival.

Not me, though. I had the fortune of internet anonymity and a clock ticking toward payday. As 15 minutes became 10 and then 5, I ignored the sizzling grilled cheese rumbling in the jungle of my George Foreman. With 60 seconds remaining, I proudly entered my bid of $21. At 50 seconds I was outbid at $30. Ok, so there was someone else in this cave. Not surprising but no match for my online dexterity.

I fired back successive bids of $40 and then $50 as the cave walls began cracking. With 33 seconds remaining more online pests left their shadowy alcoves with bids of $56 and $64. Clambering up the walls, I tossed down $68 and $73 at these masked rivals. At 8 seconds (and approximately 8 minutes after my bid for a delicious sandwich expired), my fingers frantically tumbled onto the keyboard. The cave was compromised, though, and my digits could not compete with the faceless masses. With a whimper the auction expired with 35 eleventh hour bids inflating the sale price to $121.01. While I later scalped a ticket outside the festival, I spent that afternoon alone munching on burnt gluten free bread and watching Judge Joe Brown.

So Putnam was correct; an electronic forum foiled social engagement. I lost my ticket to more adept, online recluses and evaded social attachment in the process. Even as I struggled against potential friends, I preserved complete social isolation. Of course, anonymity is the foundation of these online recesses and is especially important in online markets. Yet, I wonder if there is a way to illuminate some of these shadowy internet caves and turn competitors into concert mates. And who knows, maybe I would like watching the People’s Court with other people.

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Sweet LEAF

Ozzy Osbourne famously croons in his Black Sabbath anthem, “Sweet Leaf” that “[Sweet leaf] gave to me a new belief and soon the world will love you sweet leaf.” While Black Sabbath faithful will scoff at this exercise, let’s divorce this song from any implicit or embedded connotation, both provocative and innocuous and shift to an environmental conversation.

While it may surprise some readers to read, I do not live within a BacharachBlog vault where I spend my days churning out blog posts while saving the world from destruction (à la Source Code). In fact, while this blog and our Blog Editor, William J. Briggs, are both based in the Big Apple, I actually hail these days from Chicago where I work on sustainability and energy policy for the Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn. When I’m not busy juggling environmental bureaucracy in the Windy City, I compose a blog and send it through a series of intricate networks before it ends up on this page. Confidential and exciting I suppose.

Occasionally, though, I find a serendipitous overlap between my policy job and my blogging work and, more infrequently, I am fortunate enough to have Black Sabbath provide the soundtrack for this linkage. Last week, as Governor Quinn presented the new electric Nissan LEAF to Chicago and Illinois, I found a blue moon, (green) linkage roll into my life.

The Nissan leaf is a 100% electric, no gas, zero emission electric vehicle (EV) that runs purely on efficient electric charge and is scheduled to appear on Illinois roads and driveways this fall. I work for the Governor and am in no way a representative for Nissan, but due to a productive private-public sector partnership, we are celebrating the Nissan LEAF and encouraging healthy market competition down the road.  From my experience attending the Governor’s event and later test driving the LEAF, I think the response will be positively charged.

After the Governor’s event Nissan staged three days of test drives so anyone who was interested in trying the electric car would have an opportunity. Attending these test drives, I watched as bleary eyed families and citizens from all contexts and walks of life walked away in reverent awe from the electric car.

So, as Ozzy explains as he sings to his own LEAF, “you gave me a new belief.” My new belief is that comprehensive and productive environmental reform can begin by engaging the public in thrilling sustainability efforts. Even if only 2% of attendees purchase a LEAF, I watched crowds leave (pun intended) inspired to reengage with environmental efforts because of pure, re-ignited interest. This is the future of sustainability efforts and exactly where we must lead sustainability policy.

Especially if we lead these efforts in EV cars, the response will be electrifying with zero emissions.

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Sofa Snorkeling

Picture Credit: wnstn

Two weeks ago I met a stranger on the internet and last weekend I slept over at his place. My parents are aware of the situation and seem comfortable. I’ve done it several times before in countries ranging from Canada to Andorra and it’s always been a rewarding experience.

Ok before sullying the good names of Sam Bacharach and Cornell University let me explain how this was in fact a benign and platonic experience that informs leadership theory. Of course, if I do get in trouble I’ll just blame it on my ghostwriter. is a social networking site designed to connect travelers around the universe (although surfers in outer space are encouraged to pack Velcro in order to stay fixed to their futons). The site is funded through karma and donations and fueled by the surprising willingness of people to host and introduce nomads to their cities. The self-policing service maintains safety and integrity through a rigorous system of user-provided references. If someone even suggests your couch was uncomfortable or your personality was unappealing, you’ll likely receive few requests. If someone calls you a smelly mooch, you’ll have a difficult task securing a host. It’s an impressively successful network.

While I’m still waiting for my first hosting attempt, my CouchSurfing hosts have included a Brazilian IT professional, a Disney Channel actor, and an NPR producer. Each has introduced me to a new city and a network of their friends. Even with limited time to form a couch groove in these host’s living rooms, I now find myself in coalition with diverse and talented partners around the globe. We’re each independently engaged in mobilizing a collective agenda, albeit a slightly romantic one.

Just like any organization, we actively support and host each other when necessary and passively support with positive references when that suffices. We expand our networks by identifying engaging and enthusiastic coalition partners. We sustain momentum by organizing community CouchSurfing meet-ups that preserve community and participation. We shove our egos into the dark crevices of our couches and reject hubris and narcissism. It’s an organization that embraces uncertainty and functions with perpetual fluidity.

I’m not suggesting that you infuse a little pragmatic fun into your organization and start surfing on your colleagues’ couches. That probably crosses the line. Just remember, if a generation of couch potatoes can mobilize a proactive global coalition, imagine what you can do in your organization.

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Crusty Public Relations

I cringed when Rupert Murdoch was pied in the face in Britain’s Parliament at the peak of his News of the World scandal. As frosting projectiled toward the media tycoon’s face, jaws dropped in both offended horror and journalistic hunger for a rich news story. The gears of a media landscape Murdoch helped construct began turning against him as reporters baked the event into a delicious tabloid commentary on the mogul’s precipitous fall from grace.

I cringed because I saw a leader’s struggles compounded by the judgmental gaze of media. Leaders often incorporate media training into their management arsenal. Politically savvy executives understand that the internet generation affixes a steady lens on people in positions of power. You may try to establish a contained audience of coalition partners and interested parties, but you must realize your statements and actions reach an alarmingly diverse audience.

Everyone receives the same HR orientation that warns you to seize your internet identity and protect your external image. However, leaders invariably find this lesson conflicting with the impulse to promote accomplishments and campaign your agenda to the past. A leader is a public personality so how does one hide from flying pastries when fortunes go south?

There is no clever maxim that frees the proactive leader from the 24 hour news cycle. Human resources logic suggests that a leader adopts a cautious paranoia that shields them from an antagonistic external world. This caution may work for Willy Wonka but leaders from Richard Nixon to Julian Assange have discovered the perils of mobilizing a paranoid agenda.

The truly proactive leader co-opts the media into its coalition as an active participant in mobilizing an agenda. Like all coalition partners, the media is not always your ally. Journalists and public observers can range from active supporters to weak supporters to committed antagonists. While factions of the public may applaud your agenda, others may actively disparage your efforts. Don’t view the media as a monolithic organism but rather as a diffuse network of critical observers.

You will inevitably confront your pie-in-the-sky moment and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to duck out of the frosty public spotlight. Just pack some napkins and a sense of humor and you’ll receive your just deserts.