Money, Money, Money

Growing up, my family and I were very involved in our community theatre, which was probably my first close encounter with the term “non-profit.” As a kid, I wondered why selling tickets was so important if they weren’t looking for a profit. Of course, I soon learned that non-profit is far from meaning non-revenue-generating. Even if the prerogative of your organization isn’t to make a profit, you need money to operate and to further your vision. This fall, I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve been working on the national resources team for Grand Aspirations. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the sources from which we get (or seek to get) funding.

Throughout November, we’re involved in an online voting competition to get a $50K grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project. While the organization has determined this is funding that is well worth seeking and I agree, it provides an opportunity to think about how non-profits are funded, and how wealth is created. In an environmental geography class this semester, there was a discussion on sustainable development and the notion (partly propagated by the environmental Kuznetz curve ) that wealth is necessary for environmental preservation. I found this problematic as it’s so frequently discussed in terms of wealth created through (the very unsustainable variety of) industrialization and consumption. So we’ll pollute and deplete and then we’ll have the cash to plant some trees?

Obviously, that’s a pretty brief and incomplete version of an extensive and complex issue, but that’s basically the conundrum I’ve been contemplating. Pepsi is an obvious example, since that funding is pretty directly branded. However, I’m sure that many foundations that would give grants to organizations like GA are at least partially funded by corporations with maybe less than desirable labor or environmental practices. I mean, I admittedly haven’t don’t research on this, but I think it’s a distinct possibility.

In the national teams there has been concern raised about getting stuck in grant cycles, and besides the fundamental problem of dependence, I would consider the factors discussed above another concern. It doesn’t bring me down though, it makes me really excited about opportunities we have for social entrepreneurship methods of revenue generating. Social entrepreneurship changes the story about how wealth is created, and can provide a good funding source for non-profits as well. If we’re trying to encourage such changes in our economy and society, shouldn’t we be getting the money to operate from activities that constitute acting out this vision?

That said, I really hope we do win the grant from Pepsi Refresh, so we can jump start a lot of this, and I encourage you to start voting daily if you haven’t already.

[Note:I did totally jack the title from this:] 

More Using Less

I came to environmental issues initially from what seems to me to be a very middle class standpoint. My family had always been frugal, adverse to waste, etc., but these were choices that we made from some sense of social responsibility and personal financial responsibility, not absolute necessity. Moving my things out of my dorm room after my first year of college, I realized how much arbitrary stuff I’d kept throughout the year because of my socialized (and possibly genetic?) aversion to throwing things away. But this also meant that I had accumulated plenty of stuff, which made me think about the fact that despite the fact my family and I may have opted to not live excessively, we never went without, and certainly have always had small luxuries.

Therefore, as I gradually came to engagement in environmental issues growing up, I faced what I feel is, at least in my experience, a somewhat common paradigm that “doing stuff that’s good for the environment” means sacrifice. However, I always had this idea – that always felt vaguely idealistic due to current well-entrenched systems – that it shouldn’t mean sacrifice, that there were common sense ways, for example that more localized food production should be able to be environmentally sustainable and build local economies. However, I never felt particularly empowered to be able to make this happen.

My thoughts in the last few months about Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF) have been gradually informing this idea, and tonight Timothy told his story of growing up (which I don’t really want to delve into here because I feel it’s still his story to tell) and I felt like the way in which I perceived his observations and experiences in a way complemented mine. To describe what I took from his story tonight, I’m going to go with something else I’ve heard Timothy say, over a month ago: “Let’s see lack as an asset.” I see this as a way that can (maybe in different ways depending on background, but maybe not, I don’t know) engage people from many class backgrounds (both the “haves” and “have-nots”, let’s say) in ventures that are both environmentally and economically sustainable.

The model being tested by CEF understandably seems unusual: capitalizing energy efficiency can also be described as creating something out of less, which runs opposite to most modern notions about wealth creation. While this is not an entirely new concept (see the ’70s cookbook, More With Less), carrying it out on any scale and with distinct entrepreneurial intent is definitely not a widely-thought-about idea, but it has lots of opportunity as we’re getting to the point at which continued excess is seeming unfeasible. However, less excess doesn’t mean the end of “business.”

Tonight I was told that CEF has been described as “a different kind of more,” which I see as very well capturing what the future will look like in a myriad of sectors. This is a different type of business plan, and it allocates value differently in some ways, but it’s still a business plan. Such a business can still create value and support people.

[Note: Our community conversation I reference was under the understanding of confidentiality, and I got Timothy’s permission to reference him and his comments.]

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Note: This post cross-posted from Discovering Solutions by Christina Getaz.

Have the alternatives been exhausted? (After being exhaustively explored?)

Xcel Energy has one reasonable rationale for their proposed high-voltage power line through South Minneapolis, specifically the Phillips neighborhood, near Lake Street, at first glance: there has been growth, especially in institutions such as hospitals that use large amounts of energy and indisputably require reliable energy. Blackouts in hospitals are obviously a bad thing.

However, is putting through a new power line that’s just a continuation of the current energy-production regime the only option to provide reliable energy? In the face of climate change and fossil fuel depletion and economic challenges, is that the best system to perpetuate? What about being able to use less energy through efficiency measures, many of which are relatively easy, inexpensive and can be done by the large organizations as well as by individual households all around the area? What if there were a few solar panels on homes and small businesses? These options aren’t impossible, are they?

This might not provide all of the community’s energy, but could it possibly be a method in which the energy demand gap could be made up – and provide a basis so that more of the community’s energy could be produced in such manners in the future? Could it engage the community in working individually and collectively on their own energy? Are families,panaderias, groceries, hospitals, banks, churches, mosques, YWCAs and Scandinavian gift shops limited to being consumers of energy, disconnected from its mysterious production? Or, could they be a part of taking ownership of even a small part of what daily powers their homes and places of business, recreation and worship?

More fundamentally, what are the details of the increase in energy usage? What do the various individuals and organizations in the community think about their energy usage? Are some of them already employing energy efficiency materials? Is there any hidden interest in more energy efficiency and renewables that just haven’t found the opportunity to manifest itself? Could this be that opportunity?

Essentially, do we really know if the new power line is necessary if all these questions haven’t been answered? Can we find answers to a lot of these questions? What might those answers tell us about the necessity of the transmission line?