Re: Back to the Well–One More Time

Kent Fairfield writes:

Thanks a lot, Matt, for sending this prodigious piece of work. Yes, there is still reason to go back to the well.  I’m so impressed that you have been able to draw on your 40 years of experience in NJ, with background on our state’s environmental history that goes back further than anyone I know. Your current contacts around the state enable you to adroitly reach out to and refer to today’s politicians and others in a highly credible and pragmatic way.

I love the way you enabled your students to do such an in-depth study and to honor them by sending it to a broad audience.  Few professors can make such a claim.  I love that you can draw on comments from Gov. Murphy as an engaging grounding for the work.  Who knew that MRS. Murphy has even spoken out on the issues and will do it again next week?  She may be a hidden ally in the whole attempt to motivate the Governor and much of Trenton.  I find the scope of your 37 recommendations to be impressive.

I haven’t had time now to go through the whole document in depth, but I did want to offer a few comments. I find your thoughts on externalities to be valuable, and I haven’t run into incentives for positive treatment of externalities.  I’m pleased that our earlier survey on sustainability in NJ was a useful source, along with Jonathan’s and Victoria’s subsequent work.

One stream of thought I think might be germane to this audience comes from Bob Willard and his colleagues who produced Future Fit.  You know that they base their approach on a pragmatic message to business that “you’re just not fit for the future unless you get smart about managing for sustainability.”  That defines away the questionable dilemma of more sustainability leads to compromise in financial results.  I think your future work might be similarly deepened by addressing the complement to the Future Fit idea by citing Socially Responsible/Impact Investing.  After my years in the financial world, I find this approach to be a refreshing reminder that short-term objectives get you only so far.  While still a small portion of the investment world, I still find it a realistic reminder that long-term payoffs will actually result from green thinking.

I was pleased to see you devote significant space to the mindset that serves as a barrier to genuine progress.  I had hoped to get to a conference on those barriers being held at the Harvard Business School tomorrow, including John Eherenfeld, Otto Scharmer, and others.  I hope to get some of their materials after the fact and will pass them on if desired.

My most stimulating source on mindset comes from Isabel Rimanoczy, especially her book Big Bang Being: Developing the Sustainability Mindset.  Growing out of her qualitative research with executives now embedding sustainability in their work, she brings out how they have changed their very identity over time to consider their current impact and their legacy.  I tried to knit these ideas into my sustainability class this spring and have just published a paper on educating for the sustainability mindset.  My special interest draws on my background in social psychology that looks at underlying reasons for cognitions and emotions.  I see this as a foundation congruent with your own treatment in the section on mindset, as you emphasize the New Jersey-specific issues of politics and local history.

I very much like way you itemized the range of occupations that can be lived out in “green jobs” way.  I love to see photography included in the list.  It so happens that I’m going on a shoot tomorrow to capture the extensive sustainability actions of Cox Printers in Linden.  One of my student teams interviewed them to fulfill the requirement on a social entrepreneur to submit to AIM2Flourish.  He has solar panels and wind turbines on the roof, along with beehives that pollinate his roof-top garden and the neighborhood (giving out honey to visitors in the fall).  Growing milkweed there feeds the butterfly population.  No paralyzing tradeoffs of green versus business results here!  I can be available for other pro bono engagements if you know of others who might desire a professional-level portfolio of their good work.

Finally, I see this document as a very complete document of your thoughts.  It deserves the attention of many people responsible for  business and policy.  I think to achieve that goal, though, you might consider a companion piece that is a more concise, punchy version of what you regard as the truly crucial observations.  I’d love to see it get the exposure that can change a lot of minds.  It surely has that potential.

Congratulations on fine work,


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