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Consider it an unforeseen consequence of our rapidly advancing ability to control the elements of our natural world – phosphorus, a key building block for life, is facing a shortage. Used as a key component in the production of fertilizer, it may not have the star power of other prized elements (such as gold, silver, or platinum) but considering how crucial it is in providing the world’s food supply, the ramifications of a global phosphorus shortage could be disastrous for life as we currently know it.
Prized by the agricultural industry for its ability to rapidly boost plant production – phosphorus is also an essential element in the creation of DNA, RNA and cell membranes. As our global population grows, the demand for phosphorus is also increasing. From biofuels to the meat industry, crops are being grown at a rate that is unsustainable in the not-very-long term. Without significant changes to current practices, our reserves could deplete within a century. And unlike other commodities (like oil), there is no replacement for phosphorus.
In the natural cycle, rain releases phosphorus from rocks into the soil where it enables plant production and enters the food chain, eventually emerging as waste. Prior to the creation of fertilizer, farmers used both animal and human waste to grow their crops, and phosphorus was replaced to the soil at roughly the same rate it was removed. Today, as the population grows and agricultural methods have adapted to meet this increased demand, phosphorus isn’t being returned to the soil. Instead it is leached from the earth through run-off and diverted into lakes, streams and eventually the ocean. (Additionally, phosphorus is released in human waste. In many developed countries, this waste is also diverted to bodies of water with a minimum of treatment.) Once there, phosphorus creates large blooms of cyanobacteria (blue algae) that starve fish and aquatic plant life of oxygen. These blooms result in ‘dead zones’, responsible for the decreased output of fisheries.
The Phosphorous Cycle
Our planet is a closed system – so while the phosphorus remains, it settles into marine sediments that we have no way of mining. It is, for all intents and purposes, lost to us. But we have the ability to slow – or potentially stop – this depletion. Adopting sustainable agriculture practices such as no-till farming will limit erosion, keeping more of the element in the soil. Additionally, recycling human, animal, and organic waste for use as fertilizers will decrease pressure on our limited supply. (Potentially, phosphorus could be extracted from urine – but due to the high levels of toxic metals found in our plumbing systems, the cost to do so is – as yet – too high to be attractive to industry.)
It sounds dire – and it is. But like most of the environmental problems we are facing today, there are methods to reverse the damage done. From technological advances in phosphorous mining, allowing us to access reserves that are currently unavailable, to improving waste recycling – it is only up to us to demand change. Or future generations will pay a high cost for our ignorance.
What does real wealth look like? Is it a vacation home in Tahiti? An always-reserved table at the city’s finest restaurant? Or maybe it’s a ‘trophy spouse’ and extravagant weekends in Vegas? Well, author Thomas J. Stanley doesn’t think so – and he’s one to know. Having studied the affluent for over 30 years, Stanley has published seven books on the subject – and his findings uncover some surprising truths about how millionaires become, well, millionaires. And it’s not just about the money.
In Stanley’s view, money is merely a by-product of a far more valuable commodity – The Millionaire Mind. In his best-selling 2001 publication (of the same name), he interviewed over 1300 American millionaires to ascertain just what made them wealthy. His research reveals a comprehensive understanding of the traits shared by the rich – and in so doing, uncovers how those in a lower tax bracket keep themselves from true prosperity.
The Educational Myth: Millionaires are intellectually gifted, Ivy League graduates.
The Reality: Yes, an Ivy League education is a benefit. (It must be said, so as not to dissuade anyone from pursuing higher education.) But statistically, those who have achieved wealth are not always the highly-educated. Just as often, it is students of mediocre performance that are able to adapt a millionaire mind, using abilities that are rarely taught in even the finest of business schools – their personal communication skills. A trait shared by many in Stanley’s survey was an ability to connect with people on a fundamental level.
The Lazy Myth: Millionaires are inherently lazy, preferring that others do the work for them.
The Reality: Patently untrue. In truth, millionaires stand above the rest of the population because of two distinct personality traits – tenacity and determination. Even when the ‘going gets rough’, the affluent will continue to forge ahead.
The Entitlement Myth: Millionaires are most often ‘trust fund babies’, who have inherited their wealth, rather than earned it.
The Reality: Nearly two-thirds of the millionaires Stanley interviewed were entrepreneurs and/or business owners. They created their affluence by filling a void in the market – not by having their assets given to them.
The ‘Big Spender’ Myth: Millionaires spend money like water.
The Reality: Millionaires are conscientious about their spending habits. From finding a trustworthy financial adviser to buying a home, the affluent don’t spend money without knowing what they’re getting in return. And as boring as it may sound to some, the old maxim of ‘quality not quantity’ comes into play.
The Miserable Myth: Millionaires will work at a job they loathe – as long as the big bucks keep rolling in.
The Reality: Stanley’s subjects found success by following their interests, not by getting into the corner office. By finding a job that suited their talents and abilities, the wealthy were able to commit the necessary emotional energy and focus to succeed – and to do so happily.
From Daddy Warbucks to Paris Hilton, millionaires can often seem like a lucky, lofty few. But as Stanley proves, it’s not the money – it’s the mentality. Adopting a millionaire mind can improve your bank account balance – but the most important returns can’t be spent. Personal happiness, a sense of achievement and providing a service to others are attributes that money can’t buy.
It’s been over two decades since Gordon Gekko (played to eerie realism by Michael Douglas) uttered the now famous phrase ‘Greed is good’ in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street. The idiom has since become a cultural tag – one that personifies the material excesses, dog-eat-dog business tactics and wealth mentality of 1980′s America. As the country still reels from the past year’s economic disasters and corporate failings, it may seem like more than a few executives took Gekko’s words to heart. But all is not lost. Given the growing public demand for more socially responsible business practices, it is likely that the next generation of entrepreneurs may be asserting a slightly different ideology – green is good.
With so many factors at play, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint how exactly we’ve changed – from over-consumption to environmentalism, from closed-door dealings to transparency. But while the causes may be ill-defined, there is one thing that has not changed – the American entrepreneurial spirit. Our combined potential for progress has recently gotten a new advocate in graduate business schools. For students pursuing a MBA degree, there are now a growing number of programs designed to teach the essentials of successful business, coupled with courses in sustainability, responsibility, and social justice.
One school to offer this type of program is Bainbridge Graduate Institute, located a short ferry ride across Elliott Bay from downtown Seattle. The school’s aim is to prepare students to create enterprises that adhere to the concept that being profitable and being responsible aren’t mutually exclusive. The program is divided into four distinct categories which cover the typical business school fare of management and leadership, but mixed with courses on the human impact of business and how to affect change from the inside out. By approaching the subject matter from a ‘Gaia’ perspective, students will understand at a fundamental level how the actions taken by any business – for better or worse – will affect the environment, and the world in which we all live.
Bainbridge Graduate Institute
This new methodology couldn’t come at a better time. Growing public awareness of the climate crisis has fueled a sea-change in how we act as consumers. Starbucks now offers fair trade coffee blends, and mega-supermarket chains now sell reusable tote bags to replace their ubiquitous plastic bags. But even as large corporations are realizing the importance of ‘greening’ their practices, there is still a significant void to be filled. And that void will mean big business for sustainable entrepreneurs.
Developing technologies in electric cars, durable material goods, and renewable energies will likely be at the forefront of the next wave of profitable industry. But for these to truly take effect on a mainstream level, customers will have to be convinced – a difficult task for a public leery of ‘business as usual’. By learning these concepts in the classroom, students will be better prepared for the corporate world of tomorrow – and the conscious consumers that will drive the markets.
The future is almost here, but are we prepared for it? After years of research and development, several of the world’s largest automakers are preparing to deliver the next gen electric car to showroom floors in 2010. But they’re going to have to contend with a lot more than simply changing the mindset of a public addicted to the gas pump. Delivering upon the promise of all that clean, efficient motoring will necessitate significant adaptations to our current infrastructure – from smart grid technology to charging stations to communications networks. And for the companies that can provide workable solutions to these roadblocks, it’s gonna be big business – but only if they can meet the projected needs of an as-yet-untested technology.
Israel’s Electric Infrastructure
Ironically, one of the industries that stands to gain the most from widespread adoption, also has the most to lose. As electric cars hit the blacktop, the resulting strain on the nation’s utility companies could have customers seeing red. Without significant upgrades, analysts predict that even a moderate electric adoption could lead to regional brownouts, power shortages and added pressure on an unprepared power grid. Additionally, if the utilities are not converting to renewable sources of energy, the potential environmental boon from switching to an electric vehicle could be all for naught, as companies race to meet the growing need by burning more fossil fuels.
To lessen the impact of these likely problems, electric car-makers are hoping to take advantage of smart grid technology – allowing drivers to know not only how much they’re consuming per charge, but the best times (i.e. off-peak) to plug in. However, with the first car expected to arrive in less than a year, there’s not a lot of time for utilities to wise up. Small-scale smart grids have already been embraced in select cities around the country, but in times of economic uncertainty the new can often take a backseat to the known.
It’s not just the how of charging, but also the where. And with a marked lack of vehicle charging stations, it will take a substantial financial investment to reassure drivers who are used to the convenience of corner gas stations. (Though it is still undecided as to who will be footing the bill for the surely exorbitant expense of “volting” America.) The technology used in creating the necessary lithium-ion batteries has developed to the point that cars can offer up to 300 miles per charge – but travel beyond that will require the availability of charging stations to ensure drivers won’t face ‘range anxiety’ and the fear of losing power in inclement weather.
Better Place, a Silicon Valley startup, is currently testing a design that will allow a quick battery replacement option. Instead of hooking the battery up to an outlet, owners would be able to drive into a ‘swap station’ and have the running-on-empty battery replaced with a fully charged one. The concept is garnering attention in foreign markets, but U.S. automakers are concerned that the proposed solution won’t be able to address the unique intricacies expected in the new vehicle designs. (And likely would not want to share the engineering specifics of each car, a requirement for such a specialized system.)
For a greener future, the dream of electric seems to be the answer to our oil-dependent problems – but the reality may be more difficult than anticipated. Following the demise of the mid-90′s EV1, General Motor’s first entry into the electric car industry, automakers are understandably cautious about how these vehicles will fare in the market. And with a public who has grown to expect convenience, the electric car could be a tough sell. Fortunately, government incentives and investments in upgrading infrastructure could set the stage for electric vehicles to finally come into their own.