What’s More Important?

I recently was asked: “What’s more important, people or the planet?” For me, the answer was obvious. Our beautiful planet, birthplace and cradle of all the known life in the universe, is more important than the wants and needs of humans, who have become the dominant species to the detriment of the rest of the natural world. But some say that in the celestial game of Pinochle that controls our destiny “People Trump Planet.”

Of course, with our current state of technology, no planet = no people. But that isn’t the point of the question. I would frame the issue as follows: “Is humankind just one life form on a planet teaming with many other living beings, from plankton to elephants? Or is our planet more like a petri dish, containing the ideal ecosystem to support the growth and evolution of mankind?”

What does the Bible say about the relationship of man to animals? While Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, God instructed them to eat fruit and vegetables, Genesis 1:29-30: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be food for you. And to the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.”

Laury Hammel’s Birthday

Before I met Laury Hammel, I had many heros.  People like Wangari Maathi, Mohammed Yunus, Mother Teresa (yes, I know they are  all Nobel Peace Prize winners.)  Not that I was friends with these people.  In fact, I have never met any of them personally.

When I first met Laury, it didn’t occur to me that he would become one of my heros.  I thought he was more of a character, a rebel, and an idealist.  He showed up at meetings dressed in gym clothes, even when they were held in formal settings.  He would say injudicious things. Like the time he clashed with someone over a green justice issue before he had really made the connection between the problems of the inner city and the degradation of our environment.  And I thought he talked too much at our Sustainable Business Network board meetings.

But, I was wrong.  Laury did not talk enough.  So it took some time for me to learn that there are hundreds, no, thousand of people whose lives he has enriched.   Laury’s inspiration and hard work built the Longfellow Tennis and Sports Clubs, and many other vibrant organizations, including the New England Business Association for Social Responsibility, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the International Symposium for Spirituality in Business, Cambridge Local First and other Local First campaigns.

Laury is one of the very few people in this world who successfully combines passion for his ideas with compassion for the individual.  Like me, Laury wants to save the world.  And he has allotted himself another 60 years to succeed or die trying!  Yet he never sacrifices anyone no matter how antithetical to his views, on the alter of his idealism.  He believes in people, he cares about people, and he puts his heart on the line every day.

Laury is the ultimate coach.  How many people have received the gift of encouragement from Laury, both on and off the tennis courts?   If you need an example of Laury in action, here’s one:  The message Laury left on my cell phone voicemail after I represented the SBN for the Boston launch of the Sustainable Business Leaders Program.

Hey, Susan.  Woo Hoo!  Congratulations to all of us.  A great job on a great talk.  I thought that the morning just went great. It’s a breakthrough moment justifying all our good work over the years and your investment in time, energy, resources and inspiration.      

It’s a blessing to know you, Susan, and to work with you. It just feels so good. And, watch out world, cause here we come! We’re  going to save the planet!

I listened to that message at least ten times.  It’s a punch in the arm.  It’s like having Lance Armstrong praise your bike riding or Tiger Woods praise your game of golf. That’s why Laury is one of my heros. 


Inner City 100 Awards

The Inner City 100 Awards were created as a way of recognizing thriving businesses who create jobs in low-income urban areas.  For several years, Tech Networks has been one of the thousands of businesses applying for this national award.  This year, I was thrilled to learn that we were selected as an award recipient.

During the two days of activities that preceded the awards ceremony, I met fellow urban business owners.  Some of them were born in the areas where they started their businesses.  But many others were like me.  They came from outside the community to start their businesses. Conventional wisdom would suggest that it is unwise to start a business in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood. Yet the organization that created the award, the Institute for a Competitive Inner City, had conducted research to show that there are three good reasons to locate your business in the inner city:

  1. Proximity to Downtown
  2. Convenience to major transportation hubs
  3. Highly available workforce

Certainly convenience to major transportation hubs was foremost in our minds when Yves Dehnel and I hopped on the Red Line almost 15 years ago to find a location for our retail store.  We had reached the upper limit of how many used PCs we could sell out of my living room in Somerville.  We wanted to be on the Red Line because we were currently shuttling potential customers back and forth to the Sullivan T station and we preferred the Red Line to the Orange Line.

When Yves and I disembarked at the Andrew Station, we immediately noticed a For Rent sign on the building across the street.  The 1,000 foot retail space, formerly the location of “Pick-a-Pasta,” had been vacant for over a year before we arrived on the scene. Our new landlord was extremely generous. Our first year’s rent was pegged at just one-half of the full rent, while the second year was pegged at three-quarters. We signed the lease, purchased some used store fixtures, and had our grand opening on January 2nd, 1996.

Fast-forward to last week. The two days of festivities that were part of the Inner City Awards were wonderful. We had a mentoring breakfast with participants in another ICIC program, “Growing Up CEO.” These kids, the oldest of whom was 20, had tremendous savvy. Some of my mentees were giving me advice, instead of vice versa.

Other activities included case studies and lectures at Harvard Business School, including a piece on strategy from Michael Porter that emphasized the importance of segmenting the market and emphasizing uniqueness instead of trying to compete head-to-head.

But the most spectacular moment of the conference was the awards dinner held in the Grand Ballroom of the Boston Convention Center. The hall was filled with tables decked out in black velvet and huge dogwood branches illuminated by candlelight. What a lovely backdrop for an awards dinner. It was only at the dinner that we learned our ranking on the list.  I was extremely gratified to be named 83rd. Thank you, everyone, who helped make this moment possible.  Next year, if I’m nominated, I’m going to buy a few tables and invite my entire staff