Natural Capital – An Answer

Some of the push back we’ve received is that unless you can assure economic benefits from instituting sustainable practices, it will be a hard sell.  fishProject managers, already managing scarce resources, may be put in the untenable position of using those scarce resources for issues that may not appear to be directly related to the project’s success.  As I said, that is some of the push back, certainly not our position.  We’ve always asserted that “a project run with green (sustainable) intent is the right thing to do”…..and that “an environmental strategy for a project provides added opportunity for success of both the project and the product of the project.”

From a friend of ours at the DOE, we received some information on a website that may be able to provide some additional ammunition for the project manager to help “sell” the concept of sustainability,  the Natural Capital Project. In further investigating this site, we came across this quote from Robert Costanza, Gund Professor of Ecological Economics and Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.  Professor Costanza puts it this way, “Natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital (manufactured means of production) to environmental goods and services. A functional definition of capital in general is: “a stock that yields a flow of valuable goods or services into the future”. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future. For example, a stock of trees or fish provides a flow of new trees or fish, a flow which can be sustainable indefinitely.  Natural capital may also provide services like recycling wastes or water catchment and erosion control. Since the flow of services from ecosystems requires that they function as whole systems, the structure and diversity of the system are important components of natural capital.”  We particularly liked the example of the stock of trees and the stock of fish.

In our book, we’ve have some example of how sustainability can produce physical capital savings.  We’ve always asserted that there is other capital to be saved, and we think that Dr. Costanza echos our thoughts!

Cheeseborger, chips, Petsy, Petsy, Petsy…

I miss John Belushi and his talent, and he would probably get a kick out of Pepsi’s new project.  To encourage recycling, Pepsi in cooperation with Waste Management, named one of Forbes “Top 20 Most Responsible Companies”, has launched a facebook application to introduce new “recycling kiosks and bins at popular public venues across the country to make on-the-go recycling more convenient and rewarding. ”  We invite you to try out the application, it’s fun and educational.

Garbage Powered Garbage Truck (GPGT)

Picture1In our book, we use the example of an earthworm as almost perfect sustainability.  GIGO, only in the earthworms case, the garbage that goes in as it eats its way through the earth, comes out the other end as better “earth” than what went in.  That is sort of the way GPGT works.  A garbage truck picks up at curbside.  After it makes its rounds, the truck heads to the landfill where the garbage is dumped and covered.  The garbage decomposes and forms, among other byproducts, methane.  The methane is tapped off, processed and used to fuel the garbage trucks.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  When you put it that way, it is, however, there were lots of complex projects undertaken to make it happen.

There’s plenty of stuff to decompose in a landfill, from food scraps to lawn trimmings.  It has been happening for years and as natural gas and propane become more and more expensive, a project to recover methane from landfills became more attractive.  From the altruistic point of view, not allowing methane to escape into the air, or being burned off to contribute to green house gases improves air quality.  But face it, the incentives from the government, and the savings from not having to buy fuel on the open market are pretty good project drivers.

According to  Jennifer Andrews, Director of Communications for Waste Management Inc, there are more than 300 trash trucks (the industry likes the name trash truck rather than garbage truck) fueled by garbage, or rather the methane produced by “trash”.   Waste Management (WM) Inc, the country’s largest provider of waste management services, along with Linde North America, a world leading gases and engineering company, built a liquefied natural gas (LNG) landfill gas designed to purify and liquefy the landfill gas at WM’s Altamont Landfill near Livermore, California.  It has a capacity to produce up to 13,000 gallons/day of natural gas to fuel the WM’s trash collection vehicles.

This project is also part of the company’s environmental sustainability initiative to double its waste-based energy production from the equivalent of 1 million homes to 2 million homes by 2020. WM is also directing capital spending of up to $500 million per annum over a 10-year period to increase the fuel efficiency of its fleet by 15 percent and reduce fleet emissions by 15 percent by 2020 as well as investments in new technologies to enhance their business according to their website

WM and others are continuing to explore landfill gases as alternate fuel sources.  We’ll keep you informed of other projects in the future.  WM is certainly going to make our next “At the Top of Their Game” list for companies who are doing their sustainable best.

Our Earth-Our Future-Our Chance to Make a Difference

gardenFrom The Weekly Sentinel, I found seventh and eighth graders from the Noble Middle School in North Berwick, Maine, are recycling school cafeteria wastes.  As a result of a year-long project, the school’s “Green Team” is both reducing the amount of waste that goes to area landfills (saving money), and providing rich earth for their vegetable garden.  The vegetables will find their way into the school cafeteria next fall, completing a cycle of sustainability.  The volunteer project members collect uneaten vegetables for their compost tumblers.   The tumblers are turned 5 times a day by the same group of volunteers.  One risk the team had to deal with was that they soon ran out of tumbler space.  The contingency was to take it to the high school’s “earth tub” composter.

This is not the only project the team is working on.  Another one is to collect aluminum cans and plastic bottles for recycling.  To date, in 18 months, the team has collected 11,000 cans and 12,000 plastic bottles.  They also have an awareness campaign for those pesky non-recyclable milk cartons.  They collected them and put them on display to show how many are used.

We, at EarthPm are positive that these efforts are going on across the country and across the world.  Let us know what kinds of projects your area is undertaking to help the environment and to save money.  Who knows, perhaps one or more of those project leaders may qualify for the Shamrock 7â„¢.  Watch this site for the selection criteria coming in July 2010.



The message has been clear, powerful, and repeated.

The facts are indisputable.

The logic is impeccable.

We cannot keep taking resources from the planet – resources that took hundreds of millions of years to produce, use them for a few minutes, and discard them haphazardly.

Most people “get” that. And so, you would think that in a place like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a center of thinking, home of top colleges like Harvard University and Boston College, people would really get it.  Smart people.  Educated people.  Pro-environment.  Knowledgeable. Aware of their surroundings.  They’ll be leaders in this area, of course.  Of course they will.  Right?


The sad truth is: they don’t get it at all. Take Newton, Massachusetts. Newton!  This is a town in which 75% of the electorate voted for President Obama. So you would expect that it has a high, and increasing rate of recycling, because the folks there are aware of the environment, aware of the little things they can do to make things better. Right?

Um, no.

Look at the chart below.


I’d say that even those of us with limited mathematical skills can see that in the decade past, Newton’s recycling rates have dropped significantly.  And the picture is almost as embarrassing across the entire Commonwealth.

Here’s a chart from today’s Boston Globe (see the whole story here) which shows the stunning rate at which recycling has improved in green-aware, eco-friendly Massachusetts:


Not so good, eh?  10 years of awareness, programs, projects, and we’ve increased by 1%.  ONE PERCENT!
Put this up against San Francisco, where recycling rates are like Newton’s take on Obama: 75%.  That’s truly pitiful.

So why this rant, and why – of all places – on a project management blog?  Well, one of our points is that Project Managers should give back to the community.  And it looks like we really can make a difference.  Remember the contrast between San Francisco and Massachusetts?  Oh come on, of course you do, it was only a few sentences ago!

Have a look at this page – Project Recycle – an effort of the State of California.  It looks like if we combine the talents of project managers with leaders in the community we can increase awareness effectively and put programs in place to get people out of their bad habits and doing the right thing.

If you’re in Massachusetts, take this as a challenge and DO SOMETHING about it.  Actually, EarthPM has been getting visited increasingly by people all over the world.  So although this is incredibly embarrassing for Massachusetts, you could be in Belize or Lithuania or Malaysia, South Africa, or Belgium, India, or Argentina.  It doesn’t matter.  Find out how your own community is doing in this area and see if you can lend a hand from a project management standpoint to get some more effective recycling action.  It sure seems like words are not enough!  And when words aren’t enough, project managers are the ones who should be able to take words (ten YEARS of words in this case) into action.

Oh.  And if you are wondering about those facts mentioned up front in this posting, see this interesting article which happens to come from California.

Why Recycle?


Who’ll step up?  We’ll send you a box of Fig Newtons* if you do…

*Fig Newtons were invented in Newton, Massachusetts.