Monthly Archives: December 2009

Would You Change?

I was recently forwarded an email written by a woman shortly after losing her husband to a long battle with esophageal cancer.  The man at the center of the email was Forrest Church, the former Senior Minister of All Souls Church in New York City.  While I never met Forrest, judging by the email, he was an incredible man.

What has really stuck with me from the email is the description of his final moments.

We were able to get Forrest home five hours before he died. We had celebrated his birthday the night before. Forrest had been very quiet, conserving his strength as he knew the end was near. He listened to the sound of our laughter; we sang him many of his favorite songs. When I told him the kids were leaving for the night, he slowly raised his hand and gave them a salute. When we got him home and settled, we gathered around him, held him close, put on his favorite music and told him it was time. We were ready for him to go. I was playing Tracy Chapman’s song, “Change”:

If you knew that you would die today
Saw the face of god and love
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you knew that love can break your heart
When you’re down so low that you cannot fail
Would you change?
Would you change?

Forrest shed some tears, and then was gone. He wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Hindsight is 20/20.  It is easy to look back and see all the big and little things you might have changed.

While most of us are not facing our own death, we are all facing a new year and decade.  For many, 2009 was a difficult year, and I am sure most of us would like to have a few “do-overs”.

However, at this time meant for reflection (which coincides here in the northern hemisphere with the winter solstice), I hope we can all look back and see the good, big or small, that happened in 2009. Let’s be grateful for that good and seek to learn from the rest.  And in closing, I thought it appropriate to end this blog with a quote from Reverend Church, which I’ve been told was a refrain often repeated to his congregation:

“Do what you can.  Want what you have.  And be who you are.”

–Forrest Church


The Not so Great Waste Making Machine

Every once in a while, I give the readers of the Story of a Red Shirt a break from my ramblings and rants by featuring a guest blog writer.  You are all in for a treat and a early holiday present!  My life and business partner in crime, Rebecca, was recently inspired to write the following while reading Ray Anderson’s new book.  Enjoy!


I stand convicted by me, myself, alone, and not by anyone else, as a plunderer of the earth….By our civilization’s definition, I am a captain of industry…. It (the market) will allow the externalization of any cost that an unwary, uncaring, or gullible public will permit to be externalized–caveat emptor in a perverse kind of way.  My God! Am I thief, too?

–Ray Anderson, 1998

Eleven years ago Ray Anderson, then CEO of Interface, Inc. published these surprisingly emotional words (pg 5-6) in his first book, Mid-Course Correction.  It was part of my required reading in the University of Michigan’s first strategic corporate responsibility business school class taught by Professor Kellie McElhaney (now at Berkley).

In the past year, I shared Mid-Course Correction with my virtual book club, a group of girlfriends (doctor, lawyer, consultant, and engineer now risk guru) who are book lovers from my undergrad alma mater.  I worried a bit about my choice given the range of our professions.  However, I knew it was not the typical business book and felt everyone would find it as engaging as I did.  The comments I received from my fellow book lovers verified my belief.

Stated my consultant friend after reading; “I have already recommended this book to 3 people. I found it really interesting and tangible re: what companies can do to be sustainable….The next question is, how to get companies to change even when their leadership lacks the personal vision/ motivation to do so?”

Another wrote (on the back of her child’s daycare notes), “I was not super-psyched initially b/c it looked all B-schooled out, but I found that part of it pretty interesting, though not as interesting as all of the environmental info.  I would like to know how his company has fared in the years since he wrote the book.  Have they met their goals?”

Well my friends, Mr. Anderson is back out on bookshelves with Confessions of A Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose – Doing Business by Respecting the Earth, which serves as an update on Interface’s progress to the summit of “Mount Sustainability” and a continued call to others to join him.

After all, don’t we industrialized countries (Americans, in particular) pride ourselves on our productivity and efficiency?  Then try this stunning fact on for size, shared by Anderson in chapter 4 of his new book: “Ninety-seven percent of all the energy and material that goes into manufacturing our society’s products is wasted….Only about 3 percent ends up as a finished product that has any value 6 months later.  Three percent.  We are operating an industrial system that is, in fact, first and foremost, a waste-making machine.

Anderson goes on to wryly observe, “If you had a division in your company that wasted nearly everything it got its hands on, how long would you allow it to continue?…And yet this is happening throughout industry, and is seen not only as normal, but successful.”


I believe it is time for us to change our definitions of normal business practice, as well as what it means to be a business leader, a “captain of industry.”   This won’t happen overnight.

What can be done today?

First, if you work in business and have not read Anderson’s latest book, go read it and be inspired to take action, one step at a time!

Second, as customers, we can support companies that are hiking “Mount Sustainability” in a meaningful way.  Remember, talk is cheap.  Support the companies blazing the trails.

Finally, as fellow humans sharing this Earth, we can do our own part to reduce the amount of wasted materials and energy in our lives (see resources below).

Other ideas? Please share!


For our British friends:

For our Kiwi friends:

For our NYC friends, a room-by-room guide: