The ForeFront Mission

ForeFront CSL is dedicated to helping communities and individuals work, play, and live in a more sustainable way, by sharing new technologies and initiatives, and developing innovative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle the materials we use on a daily basis; championing renewable energy resources, waste management and local production as methods for living in a more sustainable manner.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Connection Technology / Technology of Division

How is technology impacting social and economic divisions in cities?
(This post is a response to a group blogging event organized by Meeting of the Minds and Tumml.)

Fundamentally, new tools and technologies reinforce existing behaviors and tendencies. A group or strata of society that has a tendency to isolate itself from other parts of society will likely use technologies to reinforce this isolation or insulation. Despite these tendencies, however, the nature of new connection technologies and social media trends is too create a more integrated network of communication, with an inevitable end result of increased transparency across socioeconomic groups. As a result, groups seeking to hide illegal, unjust, or immoral behaviors are likely to face increased obstacles to keeping such activity secret, with a proportional (or even exponential) increase in likely exposure as the number of individuals negatively affected grows. Conversely, behavior or initiatives that positively impact society through expanded social discourse and inclusive policies are likely to find that improved connection technologies will result in dramatic growth in the opportunities for exposure and dissemination of their message.
Naysayers who are skeptical about the ability of marginalized groups (e.g. the homeless, youth, the elderly, and poor or isolated populations in developing economies) often point to a lack of willingness, access, or resources for these groups to participate in open dialogue about the issues that contribute to their isolation or lack of opportunity for engagement. Relatively simple cellular technologies, including SMS text messaging and expanding access to wireless networks are rapidly improving the capacity of marginalized groups to benefit from trends towards increased transparency. One simple example is the expanded use of cell phone technology to help homeless populations streamline the daily process of finding a bed in a shelter for the night. These trends towards improved access are supporting:
  • The democratization of decision making through the development of basic technology tools for election monitoring and the reporting of political corruption;
  • Improved mechanisms for supporting environmental protection through expanded education, monitoring, and polluter reporting;
  • Expanded accountability for human rights abuses afforded from exposure on social media platforms and the global dissemination of information about offenders through photos and videos on the internet;
  • Public outreach and participation in the municipal, regional, and federal decision making process through internet outreach.
There is no question that some groups and elements of established power structures will try to use new technology to consolidate power and marginalize disenfranchised parts of society. But expanded access to these technologies will ultimately favor tendencies towards increased transparency and open dialogue.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Green Economies & Shared Economies; Strategic Integration in the Age of Social Innovation

Functioning as a new counterpart to traditional economic paradigms, the Green Economy is a rapidly evolving economic model in which public and private initiatives help support business practices, public policies, and social programs for stimulating economic activity, while yielding returns that extend beyond the measure of traditional growth metrics which are typically based on per capita GDP. Instead of only measuring direct financial returns, a Green Economy model incorporates the tangible and intangible benefits related to environmental quality, resource conservation, and social welfare, while supporting the tenets of sustainable development. Despite criticism by advocates of traditional economic models that a green economy is doomed to financial failure, innovative business owners and government agencies are demonstrating that incorporating these priorities into the structural DNA of a growing venture can ultimately result in higher profits and extended growth. This is due in part to changing trends in consumer preferences and the corporate landscape, evidenced by companies’ growing efforts to demonstrate to the public that they are behaving as responsible corporate citizens. These companies have realized that this behavior will be rewarded with a loyal and expanding following of like-minded investors and customers, bolstering the likelihood of long-term success.

Participating in the New Green Economy panel discussion at the San Francisco Earth Day celebration was a valuable opportunity for me to engage in a dialogue about policies and trends in sustainable development with a group of leaders in the field. The panel included Alan Tratner & Lielle Arad, authors of Green to Gold; Greg Wendt, author of Responsible Investing; Maggie Winslow of Ecological Economics and the Presidio Graduate School; and Kevin Danaher of the San Francisco Department of Environment. As part of the panel, I explained the work of the Bay2Rio+20 Initiative, which is spearheading the San Francisco Bay Area's efforts to build collaborative bridges between the Green Economy innovation centers of Brazil, the United States, and beyond. The Bay2Rio+20 team is a group of entrepreneurs, activists and innovators working to promote city-scale leadership around global green economies, sustainability, and social innovation, creating opportunities for collaboration between governments, private corporations, NGOs, and individuals engaged in global dialogue about environmental stewardship, social justice, and poverty eradication.

Earlier in the day, I attended a panel discussion about the Sharing Economy, which addressed the rapid evolution of web-based platforms networking consumer-to-consumer cooperation for the sharing of products and services. Panel participants from companies like RelayRides, Getable, and ZimRide underscored how the practice of sharing resources is evolving among consumers as a means to reduce consumption, build community, and develop alternatives to traditional consumption-based models of economic growth. From a profit standpoint, the success of this new economic trend is indicated by the fact that it has drawn the attention of government officials who are now exploring ways to develop a system of taxation for what is often otherwise an informal market activity. The discussion demonstrated how Sharing Economy trends have a key part to play in the new Green Economy. The Sharing Economy has a number of advantages that are consistent with Green Economy objectives:
  • Sharing everything from tools, to recreational equipment, to vehicles, reduces the need to purchase these items, saving consumers money while efficiently maximizing the utility of the item in question and thereby reducing production resource consumption;
  • Sharing products within local communities reduces the use of resources related to packaging, transportation and storage that are integral parts of traditional production models;
  • The communication and social interaction that is part of the Sharing Economy reaps intangible benefits related to improved social cohesion, networking and a sense of community stewardship;
  • Ride sharing and other transportation oriented sharing models help lower the total number of vehicle trips by creating viable alternatives to owning a vehicle, thereby reducing road congestion, air pollution, and our dependency on fossil fuels;
  • The growing mainstream appeal of sharing resources is helping shift our consumer-based culture towards a conservation-based culture where pooling our resources to reduce consumption is a tenet of our daily lives.
Aside from the conservation and social benefits of sharing consumer products, the services portion of the Sharing Economy is having a direct impact on innovation in the Green Economy by helping nascent startup companies to minimize operation and logistics costs so that entrepreneurs can instead focus on growing their customer base and scaling their business. Companies like TaskRabbit and SkillShare offer alternatives sources for labor and knowhow on a task-by-task and skill basis. Coworking spaces like TechShop and The Hub offer inexpensive alternatives to leasing office space or purchasing costly manufacturing equipment for building prototypes and early production runs. The viability of the Shared Economy is demonstrated by the fact that in each case, these companies are one of many in their sector, competing for the expanding opportunities in the sharing marketplace. Companies like Kickstarter are even using shared funding models to directly finance startup ventures. But, because Green Economy returns are not always measured in financial terms, getting seed funding for a promising social venture or green technology can often be extremely difficult. In these cases, the cost saving offered by shared resources can mean the difference between a truly innovative green technology idea making it to the market place, or dying on the vine from a lack of early stage financial support.

Everywhere we look, innovative thinkers are combining their individual creativity with connection technologies, in the form of internet platforms and applications, to respond to the economic challenges that we are currently facing. As the tools and techniques of the Sharing Economy and the Green Economy grow, established business owners, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and consumers alike are finding new opportunities to collaborate and cultivate new economic opportunities, demonstrating that as we shift towards economic models that place an appropriate value on the tangible and intangible benefits that traditional consumption-driven and GDP-based models fail to recognize, economic growth and financial prosperity can be achieved while still protecting our environment, reducing natural resources consumption, and growing our sense of community.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Getting Connected for Sustainable Development

My recent participation in the USRio+2.O Conference, Bridging Connection Technologies and Sustainable Development, opened my eyes to the power and potential of social networking tools and IT in the realization of sustainable development agendas. While I had realized that software and internet platforms are often critical parts of technologies for the monitoring and management of energy, water and waste systems, I hadn’t fully realized how crowd sourcing and the collective brain of the internet make valuable contributions to conservation, data collection and remote monitoring efforts.

New software programs and handheld technologies are expanding common users’ access to data networks and forums for participating in sustainable development efforts. Wide spread G3 connection access in even remote parts of developing nations means that individuals with little or no special training can participate in:
  • Interactive educational, training and awareness programs that increase transparency and encourage participation in sustainable development efforts at an incremental level
  • Crowd sourcing of information that can be processed by management, conservation and research groups (e.g. collection of data on local flora and fauna with GPS tags to monitor and protect natural resources; real-time reporting of traffic, weather and seismic phenomena; photographic records of behavioral phenomena and/or complex visual data)
  • Real-time reporting of toxic offenders and/or events that may threaten local environmental resources and/or human safety (e.g. illegal use of pesticides, discovery of illegal dumping sites, chemical spills, natural disasters, habitat destruction)
  • Active and passive real-time monitoring of behavioral data and resource use (e.g. trip distance and energy consumption monitoring, carbon footprint calculations)
  • Game-based platforms that encourage good deeds, data collection and monitoring with the use of social media-based recognition and/or rewards (e.g. coupon awards for identification of eco-friendly businesses, on-line public recognition for virtuous behavior)  
  • Networking, payment and monitoring software that facilitates the wider use of ride-share and vehicle-share programs, contributing to the reduction of overall vehicle trips; minimizing traffic congestion and reducing air pollution.
At a local scale, new software and sensor technology are giving us the tools to perform real-time building monitoring (e.g. energy audits) so we can understand and adjust user behavior before ever investing in costly facilities retrofits. Automated energy, water and HVAC systems are creating “smart buildings” that reduce resource use during peak hours by taking advantage of off-peak pricing and resource availability; saving money and balancing resource allocation at a regional and/or community level.

Social media networks, and the platforms and software that support them, are not just trite tools for learning that your cousin Louise just had a really delicious gelato, or letting the world know that you “like” the latest viral chimpanzee video on the internet. These IT tools are part of an expanding network of instruments that allow us to employ the collective brain of the internet in order to make significant strides forward in the development and implementation of technology and awareness programs that can reduce the use of non-renewable resources, monitor waste management, encourage and reward virtuous behavior, and expose those who choose to engage in activities that are illegal and/or damaging to the environment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beyond Green Buildings; Practical Tools for Sustainable Living

What practical changes can I make to my residential living environment to reflect my commitment to being more sustainable?

To answer this, and other questions about the tools and techniques for living greener, ForeFront Creative Solutions Laboratory is proud to present the inaugural event of our Sustainability and New Technologies Seminar Series.
Practical Tools for Sustainable Living will focus on:
  • Strategies for implementing successful residential additions and remodeling projects that incorporate the latest innovations in green building technology;
  • Cohousing as a means for reducing environmental impact, sharing neighborhood resources and addressing the special needs of seniors.
We will be focusing special attention on practical issues related to real estate value and processes for realizing property owners’ sustainability goals. The seminar will feature presentations by three experts in related fields:
  • Rudolph Widmann, AIA, of Rudolph Widmann Architects; Expert in sustainable residential architecture and a Certified Green Building Professional with an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School.
  • Raines Cohen; Cohousing expert and Community Organizer at Planning for Sustainable Communities
  • Ericka Jennings; Realtor and EcoBroker at Green Key Real Estate, for healthy homes, greener living and smart investment
  • (moderator) Greg Delaune; Urban & regional planner, founder/director of ForeFront CSL

The presentation will be  followed by a round table discussion based on questions from the participants, as well as time for informal networking and discussion among the participants.
The seminar registration fee includes a full lunch: A build-your-own sandwich buffet with a choice of a side salads and non-alcoholic beverages. Please contact us with any comments or questions (at

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Pachamama Alliance; Changing Attitudes to Changes the World

On November 8th, I had the chance to attend the Pachamama Alliance Luncheon and Fundraiser. I was deeply moved and inspired by the commitment and energy demonstrated by the organizers and participants at the event. The movement sprang (in the 1990s) out of a simple, but profound idea: That in order for the Achuar (an indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest) to survive the onslaught of development and influence from the modern world, this small group of people would simply need to change the way the rest of the world thinks about our relationship to the earth and the preservation of the environment. In 1995, a group of people, including John Perkins, Bill Twist and Lynne Twist, traveled to the rainforest at the invitation of Achuar leaders to learn more. From this meeting, a global movement of enlightenment and action has grown, inspiring professionals, academics and people of all ages to make a new commitment to stewardship of our planet.

Working at a global, regional and local level, the Pachamama Alliance is generating a critical mass of Conscious Commitment. Empowered by their partnership with the Achuar people, The Pachamama Alliance inspires and galvanizes the human family to generate a critical mass of conscious commitment to a thriving, just and sustainable way of life on Earth. Consistent with this larger vision, they generate and engage people everywhere in transformational conversations and experiences that:
  •     Weave together indigenous and modern worldviews
  •     Connect human beings with their inherent dignity
  •     Reveal the magnificence and opportunity of this moment in human history
  •     Transform human relationships – with ourselves, with one another, and with the natural world.
I am committing myself and ForeFront CSL to follow the example set by the Pachamama Alliance. I look forward to finding ways to work with the Alliance and the related 4YG group, which is a campaign to shift humanity’s course toward a just, fulfilling and sustainable future by the end of 2014. I invite you to find out more about these powerful and proactive organizations:

The Pachamama Alliance:
Four Years Go:

Monday, November 14, 2011

ELP Prepares Tomorrow’s World Leaders in Sustainable Environmental Management

The application period is now open for the 2012 Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) at the University of California, Berkeley. The program offers a unique learning opportunity for mid-career practitioners and decision-makers to broaden their knowledge and perspectives on environmental and natural resource science, policy, management, and leadership.   Through exposure to innovative sustainability approaches and dialogue, ELP participants develop the tools and skills necessary to meet environmental goals that also reduce poverty and social conflict.  Established in August 2000 with seed funding from UC Berkeley alumni Carolyn and Richard Beahrs,  the ELP offers an annual three week summer certificate course at UC Berkeley, and coordinates the Berkeley ELP Alumni Network with nearly 400 members from over 90 countries.  The ELP also supports post-training  conservation and sustainable development collaborative projects with alumni, their organizations and the UC Berkeley community of faculty, staff, and students.
ELP alumni have gone on to win awards, like the prestigious The Goldman Environmental Prize, and become key international players in projects and policies that are impacting environmental restoration and preservation efforts throughout the world. To find out more, visit the website for the program and download the application for the 2012 edition.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Saving the Planet One Garden at a Time

Leaving Plant Litter in Place
by Ira Johnson, Principal of Rainscape Design (featured contributor)

The common landscaping practice of mulching under and around plant material to conserve water, help maintain consistent substrate temperatures, and as a weed inhibitor, can also play a role in carbon sequestering and global warming. Of the variety of mulches used in landscape maintenance, the most important and least used is litter from the landscape itself. The biomass generated by trees, shrubs, perennials, and ground covers (high in Carbon content) is typically blown off and hauled away, adding unnecessary expense to usually tight maintenance budgets. If the collected plant litter is placed in landfill sites, then the 45%-50% of carbon contained in the material is slowly converted to methane gas (Smith and Heath). Methane gas is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas (Keppler and Rockmann 54). Alternatively, if plant litter is left in place then the carbon it contains is sequestered for extensive periods of time while the material decomposes and is absorbed by the soil (Hu). In addition, while covering the soil surface, plant litter slows down emissions of CO2 from the soil to the atmosphere (Si-Qing et al).
We recommend in our maintenance specifications to leave all but large, hazardous, and unsightly plant litter in place to help establish a sustainable nutrient cycle.

Visit Ira at Rainscape Design
Keppler, F. and Rockmann, T. 2007. Methane Plants and Climate Change. Scientific American, February.
Hu, Shuijin 2001. Nitrogen limitation of microbial decomposition in a grassland under elevated CO2. Nature, January/409. 188–191.
Si-Qing, C., Xiao-Yong, C., Guang-Sheng, Z., and Ling-Hao, L. Study on the CO2 release rate of soil respiration and litter decomposition in Stipa grandis Steppe in Xilin River Basin, Inner Mongolia. Journal of Integrative Plant Biology.