Now that I’ve simplified my framework down to 3 main principles — Stack the Odds, We Aren’t As Smart As We Think We Are, and Use Checks and Balances — it’s time to flesh out each of the principles. To get that started, here’s a quick brain dump of the pieces rattling around in Stack the Odds.
Level the Playing Field: Sometimes banning certain types of behavior isn’t just about saying no, it’s also about giving the good guys a leg up. Someone running a janitorial service may want to pay their employees a wage they can live on and give them decent benefits, but if they do they’ll go out of business because the competition will undercut them on price. But if we create a floor – either through laws or through union organizing – then Good Guys will have a fighting chance because they’ll be able to compete on quality of service instead of just price.
Create/Nurture Markets: Sometimes the best way to help the Good Guys is to help nurture or create new markets. Want to help companies who want to switch to producing electric cars? Give rebates and increase fuel economy standards, and it’ll generate enough demand to create economies of scale to push costs down to the point where they’re affordable. Or, as we saw in the case of Starbucks’ difficulties in recycling coffee cups, according to BusinessWeek,
The solution for the paper coffee cup may lie not with building coalitions and markets — or with corporate social responsibility at all. “Landfills in Europe charge an average of $250 a ton. In America, it’s $40,” says Eco-Cycle’s Lombardi. “Ireland created a compost industry overnight by doubling landfill fees and creating a zero-interest loan for any composting business.” Economical technology exists today for 80% to 90% resource recovery through recycling and composting (including harvesting of methane for energy). There’s a lot of money to be made from an essentially zero-waste economy, but only if the right incentives are in place.
People and Organizations Aren’t Calculators, or the Practitioners’ Perspective: As we saw in Auden Schendler’s Getting Green Done, simpleminded models are going to fall flat. If we really want to understand how to give the Good Guys a leg up, we need to dig in and understand the nitty-gritty of how folks in their world make decisions:
Return on [green] investment matters in the real world, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. If you’re trying to go Green or make any fundamental change in an organization, you need to figure out the hidden rules and the complex relationships that govern how that organization actually make its decisions…. Opportunity costs, a.k.a. the availability of capital. If a mid-level manager only has so much money available, they may decide that spending it on another project is a better deal — especially if their mental model says they make money by selling, not saving.
Some techniques that follow from this approach:
Make It Easy: Sometimes the best way to give a leg up isn’t a tax break, it’s making it easier to figure out what to do — unlike calculators, people have limited bandwidth, Or giving a break like creating a fast approval track for developers who’re creating a Smart Growth development, because for developers, time is money.
Make it Visible: so it’s easier for others to hold accountable folks who aren’t playing by our values.
Stack the Odds and Checks & Balances: Such as how Greenpeace acts as a check on corporations by helping companies interested in protecting the environment and smacking upside the head companies that aren’t, and as unions act as a check on corporations that force the Good Guys to compete based on who’ll pay the lowest wages. Checks and Balances is also a way of ensuring that the Good Guys get heard. If we want to Stacks the Odds in favor of banks that care about their communities – and we want to ensure the stacking isn’t undone — we need to make sure community-oriented banks have a powerful seat at the table. Aka the virtuous circle.
Stack the Odds and We Aren’t As Smart As We Think We Are: As the first piece on Stacking said:
If small businesses in an ecological niche can’t afford the current cost of health care benefits, we can’t just insist they pay for it. Either we need to reshape the healthcare ecosystem so small businesses can comfortably afford it, or we need to reshape the ecosystem so everyone gets high quality, affordable healthcare and they don’t get it through their job. And Stacking the Deck isn’t a panacea. We can’t magically create a world where the Good Guys always win. But here and there, we can do what we can to give them a leg up.
The Tensions: How do you know who speaks for the Good Guys (the Chamber of Commerce problem)? And how do you tell whether the Good Guys know what they really want? For example, the importance & power of real-world examples such as Norway in expanding our understanding of what’s possible. Or using pilot projects as a way of figuring out what folks really want.
That’s a decent list of pieces. In the next week or so, I’ll see if I can start pulling them together.