Welcome to Jera’s New Site!


Jera Sustainable Development

A Pragmatic Approach to Sustainability for Smaller Manufacturers


Jera Logo white with caption centeredWelcome to Jera’s new blog-centered website. New essays are posted weekly, as in the past. All of the 250+ essays posted during the past five years are still available. Scroll down to see past posts, most recent first 

… Chuck Harrington

On Globalization Immigration and Pragmatism

Globalization and its effects are simply facts of 21st century life. The pragmatist looks first at those effects that most urgently affect the pragmatist’s life and business, then seeks a pragmatic solution – a solution that can actually work for all involved.

Viewed from here in the southwestern United States, illegal immigration is one such issue needing resolution. The following, reprised from two earlier post to this blog, proposes an approach that offers a real chance for a lasting solution. The pragmatist also knows that band-aids and stop-gap measures may be necessary as a lasting solution is implemented. But the pragmatist does not confuse the temporary with the lasting.    — C.H.

A Tale of Two Borders

Benito Juarez, a five term president of Mexico in the mid-19th century, famously lamented “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States”. Today, many in the U.S., especially here in the southwest, complain about illegal immigration from Mexico.

Finger pointing didn’t work in the 19th century, and it will not work now – in either direction. Canada is just as close to the United States as Mexico is. There are no significant immigration issues between the U.S. and Canada. The difference is the approximate economic parity between the U.S. and Canada. The solution to the illegal immigration issue lies in addressing the cause of that issue — the economic disparity between the U.S. and our neighbor to the south.

Those demographics and trends suggest that reducing the economic gap between Mexico and the U.S. / Canada is possible over the coming two or three decades. With the active support of its neighbors to the north, Mexico could build a large, globally competitive economy that exports worldwide and builds big new markets within Mexico. With a cooperative arrangement that catches the demographic tide, Mexico’s economic growth need not be at its northern neighbors’ expense.

The prize is a U.S. – Mexican border that works like the U.S. – Canadian border.

Lose the Sombrero

serape and cactusLose the sombrero, the serape and the siesta. Those old stereotypes hardly fit the modern country that Mexico is rapidly becoming. Two recent news items put this into focus:

(1) The World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Vision 2050 report [i] projects that, in 2050 — 37 years from now — Mexico will have the fifth largest economy in the world, as measured by GDP. That’s right, #5 — behind China, the U.S., India and Brazil; but ahead of Germany, Japan and everybody else. That may shock the stereotype. However, Mexico is already #12 and growing at about 4% annually, while most of the larger economies are currently growing at considerably slower rates.[ii]

(2) Fifty years ago, the fertility rate — the number of children per woman — here in the U.S. was about 3.2, while the rate in Mexico was a whopping 6.8. That’s right, on the average, each Mexican woman had about 6.8 children. Today, the rate in the U.S. is about 2.0, while the rate for Mexican women is about 2.2. And, the projection for 2020 for the U.S. is closer to 2.1, while the Mexican rate is projected to drop below 2.0. [iii] As Mexico’s population growth rate drops, conditions exist for economic growth per person to increase sharply.

The Giant Sucking Sound

Ross Perot received 18.9% of the vote as an Independent candidate in the 1992 U.S. presidential election, a huge percentage for an Independent candidate. Perot was strongly opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He famously warned of a “giant sucking sound” as manufacturing jobs in the U.S. went south, into Mexico. [iv] Perot lost the election and the manufacturing jobs went. But they went to China, not to Mexico. Why? Labor costs in Mexico were lower than those in the U.S., but labor costs in China were much lower yet:


But that Was Then

As you can see, the difference between labor rates is shrinking because rates in China are increasing much faster than those in Mexico. Add to that the costs of transporting goods from China to the U.S., the logistic costs associated with long lead times from China, currency fluctuations, and the hassles involved with doing business in China. Mexico is becoming more competitive every day.

But wait… there’s more: [v]

>> Mexico graduates more engineers every year than Germany.

>> Mexico has free trade deals with 44 countries, more than any other nation.

>> Minimum wage in Shanghai and Qingdao is now higher than in Mexico City and Monterrey.

>> Mexico produces substantially more petroleum than it consumes, and Mexico’s petroleum reserves are sufficient to allow Mexico to remain energy independent for a long time. 

As a consequence of all this, five years from now, Mexico is projected to have passed China as a supplier of manufactured goods to the U.S.:

Mexico exports to the US


Certainly, Mexico has problems, big internal problems, that must be resolved if Mexico is to take advantage of these opportunities for economic development. The Economist referred to Mexico as “Latin American’s perennial underachiever” — if the political will to manage those problems comes to pass, as appears increasingly possible, Mexico may well lose the “perennial underachiever” tag, along with the sombrero.

What This Means for Smaller Manufacturers

Mexico is a big country, 11th largest in the world by population, with an average age 27.4 years (as compared to 37.1 years in the U.S. and 41.2 years in Canada). [vi] And, Mexico is right next door to the U.S. American manufacturers should remain aware of Mexico and its potential across their entire Value Chain:

>> As a Competitor: As discussed above, Mexico enjoys several competitive advantages over many other nations. Expect Mexican manufacturers to become increasingly strong competitors.

>> As a Market: Economic development requires capital goods and infrastructure – related products and services. As Mexico’s per capita GDP grows, demand for consumer products will also grow. U.S. manufacturers are just as close to Mexican markets as Mexican suppliers are to U.S. markets.

>> As a Supplier: The competitive advantages that Mexico enjoys as a competitor also apply to Mexico as a supplier, especially in comparison to Asian suppliers.

Chuck - SedonaThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome

Photo credit: Man with Sombrero and Serape licensed through www.dreamstime.com.

[i] Here, the Vision 2050 report cites data from Goldman Sachs. Learn about Vision 2050 at the WBCSD website, www.wbcsd.org. The entire Vision 2050 document and/or a summary are available for free download in about 10 languages. There are also PowerPoint presentations and visual aids available.

[ii] Statistics from the World Fact Book, www.cia.gov

[iii] These figures, and many others in this post, are from The Economist, 24 November 2012 issue, Special Report on Mexico. Reprints of the Special Report are available at www.economist.com. In instances where figures are not footnoted in this post, refer to the Special Report.

[iv] Information on Ross Perot are from Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.com

[v] Information from The Economist, ibid

[vi] Statistics from the World Fact Book, www.cia.gov



On Trucks, Fuels and Cost

Transport and Your Value Chain

Value Chain Diagram

A manufacturer’s value chain usually begins in the natural world, where ultimate raw materials like iron ore, pulp wood or petroleum originate. The value chain then proceeds through some number of processing steps (often with branching steps and recycling loops) all the way through the final disposition of the finished product at the end of its useful life. Between each processing step, there is a transfer — usually a physical transport – of the work in process or finished product.

Heavy TruckThis post examines transfers between facilities, especially transfers using highway trucking. It is useful — and sobering – to construct a rough diagram of your Value Chain, starting with the origin of your ultimate raw materials and passing through the many steps through ultimate disposition. The distances involved can be mind boggling, and even a rough guess at the rolled costs of all of the transports involved even more so. Those costs are directly or indirectly reflected in your costs, and the ultimate customer’s cost. Clearly, the costs of trucking matter.

Transport Costs – Fuel Consumption and CO2 Emissions

Transportation represents about 27% of America’s primary energy consumption. The overwhelming majority of that energy comes from petroleum. Access to petroleum (crude oil) has been a major constraint to the American economy and a key determinant of American foreign policy for over four decades. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere from the combustion of fuels derived from petroleum are believed to be a primary driver of climate change.

CO2 Emissions - Transportation

The chart labeled “Carbon Dioxide: Transportation” projects CO2 emissions from transportation sources through 2040. To good approximation, CO2 emissions can be taken to be proportional to petroleum–based fuels consumed.

The blue line indicates that light-duty vehicles (automobiles and small trucks) are the largest source of emissions (hence petroleum consumed). As you can see, the blue line crests around 2018, then declines rather smoothly. This projected decline is primarily attributed to improvements in vehicle fuel utilization efficiency.

The green line represents emissions (hence fuel consumption) by freight trucks – the vehicles primarily used in schlepping your raw materials and finished goods across your Value Chain. Unlike the blue line, the green line projects rather uniform annual increases into the future. This increase is largely attributed to increasing freight volumes.

Accordingly, for 2016, emissions from light vehicles are about 2½ times those from freight trucks. By 2040, that ratio drops to 1½ times. So, the relative importance of emissions (and petroleum consumption) by freight trucks increases rapidly.

Then What?

The projections behind the chart just discussed represent the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s “Reference Case”. The “Reference Case” is based on demographic, economic and technical projections. These projections assume timely compliance with applicable laws and regulations, such as the CAFE fuel consumption requirements for light vehicles. On the other hand, the projections do not include compliance with laws and regulations not yet finalized by the time the projections were made. Nor do the projections anticipate future technical developments, apart from those incorporated into existing laws or regulations.

So, there is a lot of good news here for manufacturers:

>> The U.S. government is projecting sustained increases in freight shipment volumes in the years to 2040, entailing increasing manufacturing activity.

>> The Government has recently finalized a second phase of its CAFE regulations on fuel consumption efficiency that will reduce fuel consumption in freight trucks by about 45% by 2027, compared to 2010 figures.

>> Possible future technical innovations, such as the use of natural gas as truck fuel, hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles or electric (or hybrid) vehicles may prove to be practical.

All in all, manufacturers may look forward to increasing freight volumes and falling per ton-mile fuel costs (with corresponding CO2 emissions reductions) in the coming years.

Chuck & Joan in ParisThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

Truck image licensed through www.dreamstime.com

The Triple Bottom Line – Up Close and Personal

3P GraphicThe Triple Bottom Line model for Sustainability emphasizes the interdependence of the natural world, productive industry (which includes manufacturing, mining and agriculture) and human society. “Triple Bottom Line” sounds almost trite when read or said. However, when I look out my bedroom window, I have a vivid example of that interdependence literally right in front of me — the Verde River Green Zone.

The Edge of the Wild, a post to this blog from nearly two years ago, takes an up close and personal look at the Triple Bottom Line. – C.H.

The Edge of the Wild (from 9 December 2014)

The Verde River and Its Green Zone

My house is on a bluff, above and overlooking the upper reaches of the Verde River in the high desert of central Arizona. The Verde isn’t very big. However, its source is on the Mogollon Rim (a long stretch of stark cliffs marking the edge of the Colorado Plateau), fed from the 12,600’+ heights of the San Francisco Peaks. So, unlike many rivers and streams in Arizona, it rather reliably has water in it. (About 90% of all streams in Arizona are “ephemeral”, meaning they are dry except after heavy rains – which are rare.) Not surprisingly, the Verde is Arizona’s only federally designated Wild and Scenic River.

Sycamore Canyon RailwayThe Verde supports a narrow riparian green zone, typically spanning a hundred yards or so. The green zone, with its trees and foliage, stands in sharp contrast to the rocks and scrub of the adjacent desert. Riparian zones are quite rare in Arizona, constituting only about 0.4% of the land. Development within the riparian zone is hindered, since almost all of the land within the zone is subject to flash floods. Also, much of the land adjoining the river is within national forests, or is otherwise public property.

In Arizona, a few, thin riparian zones support an abundance of wildlife – coyote, javelin, waterfowl, eagles, hawks, hummingbirds and much more, including a significant number of endangered species. Riparian zones, to beg the obvious, are critical to biodiversity in arid Arizona.[1]

Little Daisy

Arizona is nicknamed “The Copper State”. The Little Daisy mine, extensively developed just in time to supply copper for the First World War, had a lot to do with that. The Little Daisy is on the slope of Mingus Mountain. Copper ore was moved down the mountain to be processed and smelted near Clarkdale, on the banks of the Verde. Mine tailings went along with the ore.[2]

There are a fair number of photographs of copper mining and refining operations here, many from a century ago. Suffice it to say that early 20th century copper mining was an environmental calamity.


Tuzigoot National MonumentTuzigoot National Monument stands near the Verde, about two miles downriver from Clarkdale. Tuzigoot is an archeological site where ruins from the Sinaguan Native American culture have been unearthed and partially reconstructed. The Sinaguan culture dates from about 550 C.E. – 1425 C.E. There are several more unexcavated sites like Tuzigoot along the Verde, including one about a quarter of a mile downriver from my house.[3]

The Sinaguan sites along the Verde were likely abandoned around 1200 C.E. The reason the sites were vacated is not clear. A period of severe drought is a reasonable guess.

Getting to the Point

This blog is about Sustainability. This post offers three examples, all within a few miles of my home that help clarify what Sustainability, in the Triple Bottom Line sense, is all about.

The Verde and its riparian zone >> I like to think of Common Wealth, that is, of worth held mutually by the inhabitants of some place or nation – or by humanity in general. This is a form of mutual inheritance that the current generation holds in trust for future generations. Each generation is entitled to the fruits of the Common Wealth, in return for protecting and extending the orchard.

Mining operations >> Early 20th century mining operations placed enormous stress on the environment, including waters like the Verde. The photographs are really striking. And the Verde, then as now, is a major water source for Phoenix, over a hundred miles downstream. Containing the effects of mining and industrial operations is a primary management responsibility, ethically as well as legally.

The Sinaguan people >> Apparently, the Sinaguan people lived along the Verde for several centuries. Then they left. The reason for their departure may well have been a collapse of the natural environment they depended on due to a prolonged drought.

This is a rather vivid illustration of the dependence of peoples and cultures on the natural environment. It applies to everybody. And it applies to human – generated pressures on the environment, as well as natural cyclic phenomena. The natural environment is your business – and your business’s business.

Chuck - Red RocksThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] For more on riparian green zones, see http://arizonaexperience.org/land/riparian-areas

[2] For more on the Little daisy mine and early 20th century copper mining, see http://azstateparks.com/Parks/JERO/

[3] “Sinagua” means “without water”. For more on the Sinaguan culture, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinagua


A Pathway to Performance Excellence

For an organization, the term “performance excellence” entails achieving relevant results – results that align with that organization’s view of what it is, why it exists and what it intends to achieve. Given well communicated clarity as to these basics — often expressed through statements on core values, vision and mission – it becomes possible to plot a coherent pathway to achieving outstanding results. A Clear Sense of Direction, a post to this blog from a year ago, outlines that pathway.   — C.H.

A Clear Sense of Directionfrom 5 September 2015

On Values, Vision and Mission

It has been my privilege to serve as a Baldrige – based performance excellence examiner in two states, and to serve on the Board of Overseers for the Arizona state program. National Baldrige performance excellence awards, along with their state – level counterparts, are based on written applications which respond to a comprehensive set of queries on an organization’s operating processes and practices, as well as corresponding outputs (results). Examiners are trained to seek a high degree of alignment within an applicant’s responses, tracing from statements on Core Values (who you are), Vision (the future you seek to create) and Mission (how you intend to pursue your Vision), through operating processes and practices, to demonstrated results.

In practice, however, statements on organizational Values, Vision and Mission are often little more than hype or platitudes. This is unfortunate, since earnest statements of Values, Vision and Mission provide a sense of direction and a basis for strategy, and execution for the entire organization.

Core Values [1]

Businesses awakened to the importance of core values almost twenty years ago, when Jim Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ Built to Last [2] was published. Since then, Built to Last has sold over a million copies. Built to Last sought to discover the factors that distinguished companies that enjoyed long (multi-generational) histories of sustained success by comparing clear successes with less successful rivals. The research methodology is both interesting and compelling. Bottom Line: the book’s major conclusion is that an emphasis on core values, cultivated throughout the organization’s culture, is a distinguishing hallmark of the successful companies studied. Guess what? A profusion of Values Statements ensued.

Core Values and Organizational Culture

I find it important to distinguish Values from Vision and Mission. Vision and Mission are strategic concepts regarding the organization’s approach to the marketplace. Both are situational and subject to prudent amendment as circumstances evolve. Core Values are, on the other hand, constitute “… the bedrock on which all foundations are built”.  Values reflect the beliefs of the defining senior leadership, often the organization’s founders — they are not determined democratically. Values, like solid rock, change slowly over time (earthquakes excepted, geological and organizational). Values are also restrictive, in that many of them amount to thou shalt nots [3].

Core values are foundational to the organization’s culture. The culture, in turn, defines the environment for execution. Execution means effective actions in alignment with direction. Strategic concepts provide direction.

Core values are likewise reflected in how the organization is perceived by others. This applies whether or not an organization’s values are publicized — or even recognized — within the organization. The values may be strong, or they may be weak — but they are there and they do matter.

Dr. David Hawkins provides some insight to this in his distinction between power and force [4]. Hawkins holds that individuals (and, by extension, organizations) can, due to strong core values, accrete a silent power that others find compelling. He likens this power to gravity: it is intangible and perceived only by its effects. Reasonably, this power is perceived as a virtue that the Romans called gravitas. Gravitas elicits respect, manifest as harmony within an organization and as credibility without. Harmony within supports execution. Credibility without provides an intangible boost in the marketplace — the marketplace for your goods and services, the marketplace for the talent you need, and the marketplace for the materials, services and supplies you buy.

The Vision Statement [5]

 Capture - Alice Excerpt

Stephen Covey taught a generation to “start with the end in mind” [6]. Better yet, start with a clear idea expressed clearly and communicated effectively. The Business Dictionary defines Vision Statement [7]  as:

“An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action”.

Change “would like to” to something stronger — perhaps “intends to”, “commits to”, or, better yet, “will”. Limit your statement to a few memorable sentences. Be explicit about your time frame for realization — something like “by 2020” or “within five years”. Then you will have an outline for a useful Vision Statement, not just fluff or hype.

One example of a useful Vision Statement is that of Interface Corporation, the carpet manufacturer:

“To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the world what sustainability is in all of its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profit — by 2020 — and, in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence.”

Interface’s Vision Statement spells out what they intend to accomplish and when they expect to do so. It is clear how this Vision Statement can lead to rational goals and quantifiable objectives. At last report, they are on schedule to make their 2020 commitment!

Mission Statement

The Business Dictionary defines “Mission Statement” as: [8]

“A written declaration of an organization’s core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time. Properly crafted mission statements (1) serve as filters to separate what is important from what is not, (2) clearly state which markets will be served and how, and (3) communicate a sense of intended direction to the entire organization.”

“A mission is different from a vision in that the former is the cause and the latter is the effect; a mission is something to be accomplished whereas a vision is something to be pursued for that accomplishment.”

Take Green Soul Botanical’s Mission Statement as an example: [9]

“Green Soul Botanicals’ mission is to provide Spas, wellness professionals and fellow travelers on the path with unique herbal products that are effective, luxurious and natural without artifice. In doing so, Green Soul Botanicals operates in an ethical and responsible manner, while providing right livelihood for those associated. [10]

 As you can see, Green Soul’s mission statement specifies three target customer groups: Spas, wellness professionals and fellow travelers on the path (individuals that value the Spa lifestyle). The Mission Statement goes on to differentiate Green Soul’s products, its mode of operations and its responsibility to those engaged in the business. Consequently, the bases for constructing an executing a Business Model are in place.

The Pathway to Performance Excellence

Given a well communicated sense of direction, an organization can follow through by building a Business Model and setting a coherent set of goals and objectives that align with that sense of direction. Deploy those objectives throughout your organization and track those objectives through to relevant and measurable results:

Capture - Values to Results


Chuck at ReneThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.


…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] The paragraphs on Core Values are borrowed from On Values Culture and Gravitas, this blog, 24 January 2013: http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2013/01/24/on-values-culture-and-gravitas/

[2] Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last, HarperCollins (1994, 1997)

[3] Patrick Lencioni, Make Your Values Mean Something, Harvard Business Review (July 2002). This HBR Tool Kit article provides useful insights on core values.

[4] David R. Hawkins, M.D. Ph.D., Power vs Force, revised edition, Veritas Publishing (1995, 1998, 2004, 2012), especially Chapter 11

[5] The paragraphs on Vision are borrowed from Better Vision, this blog, 11 September 2014: http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/09/11/better-vision/

[6] Covey, Stephen, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Revised Edition, Free Press (2004)

[7] http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/vision-statement.html#ixzz2GT4tPgcN

[8] http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/mission-statement.html#ixzz3kRXauQKY

[9] For more on Green Soul Botanicals see The Green in Green Soul, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/05/21/the-green-in-green-soul/

[10] “Right livelihood” is a Buddhist precept. “To practice right livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self” — Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Parallax Press (1998), p. 104, cited on-line at: http://buddhism.about.com/od/theeightfoldpath/a/rightlivelihood.htm


The People Puzzle – Part 2

Education and the Future

Robot businessman imageThis essay is Part 2 of The People Puzzle, a continuing discussion about finding (or creating) a future where “life is still good” for everyone, in the post – industrial economy. Part 1 of The People Puzzle presented a few of the pieces to this puzzle. Those pieces seemed to fall into three primary areas: demographic changes, advances in technology and education. In this essay, we look at education.

Part 1 offered three puzzle pieces especially related to education: (1) a report that over 99% of the 11.6 million jobs created (or recovered) by the U.S. economy in the years 2010 – 2015 went to people with t least some college education, (2) a question about what people whose jobs are eliminated by technology or economics should be re-educated to do, and (3) author Daniel Alpert’s contention that globalization has unleashed a hoard (literally billions) of under-educated people, all looking for a better life.

Here are two more puzzle pieces, all specific to education:

Girls and Boys >> The U.S. Department of Education has reported that 4 out of every 7 American college degree recipients in 2014 were female. [1]

The Cost of College >> The cost of attending college has skyrocketed. A CNBC report advises that tuition and fees in 2014 ran about $9,139 at public, four year schools, compared to less than $500 in 1971. The high cost of college has resulted in more than $1.2 trillion in student debt! [2]

Tomorrow’s Jobs Outlook [3]

This is how American workforce is employed now:

Farming, forestry and fishing –                                           0.7%

Manufacturing, mining, transportation and crafts –       20.3%

Managerial, professional and technical –                         37.3%

Sales and office –                                                                24.2%

Other services –                                                                  17.6%

Looking ahead to the next 35 years or so, it is difficult for me to imagine that employment in farming, forestry and fishing will increase. “Manufacturing, mining, and transportation” jobs will continue to be under heavy pressure from automation and lower wage workers elsewhere, as will “sales and office” jobs. Competition for “managerial, professional and technical” jobs will continue to increase globally as emerging economies produce more and more educated people (South Korea, for example). “Other services” jobs should be OK, to the extent that they serve protected niche markets (hair stylists, for example, serve a local customer base).

Putting the Pieces Together

It seems clear enough to me that tomorrow’s personal occupations are similar to today’s businesses, to the extent that differentiated talents, know-how and skill sets are increasingly necessary. It is education’s task to prepare an entire population for the employment that the emerging 21st century global economy demands.

For the U.S., that means rethinking education from first principles. America’s educational systems have evolved from providing basic literacy for everyone to primary and secondary education for almost everyone. 21st century occupations will require highly individualized – and highly relevant – primary, secondary and tertiary education (or skills acquisition training) on a continuous, life-long basis for everyone, all provided at a much lower cost to those being educated (or trained). Emerging technology will need to play an important role. Existing educational institutions will face extensive change or, in many cases, extinction. Fierce and persistent resistance to the necessary changes can be expected, if not guaranteed.

In Monet's GardenThoughtful comments and ideas on the structure and content of occupations – oriented 21st century education are invited and appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

Image: Robot and Puzzle – licensed through www.dreamstime.com

[1] https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_301.10.asp?current=ye

[2] http://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/16/why-college-costs-are-so-high-and-rising.html

[3] CIA World Factbook, www.cia.gov (yes, that CIA). Figures are from 2009, the latest available. Should be close enough for our purposes here.


The People Puzzle

A Master Plan

“… so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good. That’s what ‘sustainable’ means. It’s not some silly hippy thing – it matters for everyone.”

That’s how Elon Musk defines “sustainable” in Tesla’s recently released Master Plan, Part Deux. [1] The Master Plan goes on to outline Tesla’s approach to making a sustainable (solar) energy economy a reality. A solar powered economy is a key component of a future where “life is still good” – for everyone. But it is only one component. This post looks at another component – the future of employment, meaning how people might produce their livelihoods as the future unfolds over the coming decades.

Pieces of a Puzzle

Robot businessman imageUntil the middle of the 19th century, the great majority of Americans worked in agriculture. Then, the advent of railroads and the American Civil War marked a profound change — from a nation of farmers to a nation of industrial workers. A couple of decades more than a century later, the smoke stacks stopped belching and America began morphing, then rushing, toward a post – industrial economy, whatever “post – industrial economy” means for the American workforce.

Frankly, “post – industrial economy” isn’t very well defined, especially from the perspective of the millions of diverse individuals that constitute the American workforce – all of whom want a “future where life is still good”. While that future is far from clear, there are some pieces that, like a jigsaw puzzle, can be examined and fit together.

Here are a few of those pieces:

>> The Age of Oversupply: Daniel Alpert’s 2013 book, The Age of Oversupply, posits that the economic emergence of formerly iron curtain countries and of export oriented Asian countries has resulted in a global glut (billions!) of under-educated workers and of capital looking for higher returns.

>> Demographics: There are dramatic changes evident in the demographics of economically developed countries, including the U.S. Birth rates are declining and populations are aging. In Japan and a few western European countries, populations are actually shrinking. Changes of this magnitude have significant social, economic and political repercussions.

>> Jobs and Education: A recent Bloomberg article entitled Educated Americans have taken almost every job created in the recovery [2] maintains that the U.S. economy has added (or recovered) about 11.6 million jobs since 2010. Of these, about 99% of those jobs were filled by people with at least some college education. Only 80,000 – less than 1% — were filled by people with a high school diploma or less. (Note: The population of the U.S. increased by about 12.3 million between 2010 and 2015).

>> Coal Miners and Re-education: There has been much talk about the demise of coal as a fuel. Of course, that means displacement for those who make their living in the coal mining industry. Re-education comes up frequently. Exactly what these people might be retrained to do does not come up so often.

>> Poorer Kids: A recent McKinsey & Company article informs us that:

“Most people growing up in advanced economies since World War II have been able to assume they will be better off than their parents. For much of the time, that assumption proved correct: except for a brief hiatus in the 1970s, buoyant global economic and employment growth over the past 70 years saw all households experience rising incomes, both before and after taxes and transfers. As recently as between 1993 and 2005, all but 2% of households in 25 advanced economies saw real incomes rise.”

“Yet this overwhelmingly positive income trend has ended. A new McKinsey Global Institute report, Poorer than their parents? Flat or falling incomes in advanced economies [3] finds that between 2005 and 2014, real incomes in those same advanced economies were flat or fell for 65 to 70 percent of households, or more than 540 million people.”

>> Robotics and Automation: Tesla’s Master Plan, Part Deux, mentioned earlier, provides other insights on employment and the future. The Master Plan suggests that advanced manufacturing techniques could accelerate production rates between 5 and 10 times on a roughly 2 year iteration cycle. That means many more vehicles per employee. The Master Plan also mentions vehicles without drivers.

Closer to home, my local grocery and hardware stores are installing more self – checkout aisles. The bank that I use now has ATMs inside as well as outside. Retail stores (and their employees) are being thumped by on-line shopping. The beat goes on.

Robotics and automation, fueled by advances in artificial intelligence, are proliferating rapidly. Good for product costs and (presumably) prices. Not so good for people needing jobs.

What Next?

This essay is about finding (or creating) a future where “life is still good” for everyone, in a post – industrial economy. What that entails is, indeed, a puzzle. The few pieces of that puzzle mentioned here seem to fall into three areas: demographic changes, advances in technology and education. The next post to this blog, The People Puzzle – Part 2, will begin to fit together the pieces of this puzzle and attempt to draw some insights as to what that future where “life is still good” might consist of. Stay tuned.

Chuck - VancouverThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

Image credit: robot / puzzle graphic via www.dreamstime.com

[1] https://www.tesla.com/blog/master-plan-part-deux

[2] www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-30/americans-with-more-education-have-taken-almost-every-job-created-in-the-recovery

[3] www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/poorer-than-their-parents-a-new-perspective-on-inome-inequality

Energy Notes from the EIA

The Energy Information Administration (EIA)

The EIA, part of the U.S. Government, compiles and projects statistical data on energy production and consumption. Among the EIA’s many regular publications, the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) and the International Energy Outlook (IEO) are probably the most comprehensive. The 2016 editions of both publications have recently become available (for free). This post draws on both.

Both publications project data out to 2040. The basic set of projections is labeled the “reference case”. The reference case is a “business as usual” case that projects current trends in view of government demographic projections (like population projections), financial projections (like GDP and inflation rates) and laws / regulations already in place. The reference case does not anticipate technical break-throughs, other than those necessary to meet established laws or regulations. For example, the reference case projects that new automobiles will meet the fuel consumption levels required by the existing C.A.F.E. regulations in the years to 2025, never mind how, technically, that is accomplished.

Fueling Our Past – and Future

Energy Consumption in the US

The graph labeled “Energy Consumption in the United States (1776-2040)” is from the home page of the EIA’s website (www.eia.gov).  Comments:

>> Energy consumption is measured in quadrillion BTUs (“Quads”). One quad is a heck of a lot of energy. As the graph indicates, all of the hydroelectric dams in the U.S., taken together, produce only about 3 Quads annually. Over recent years, the total energy consumption in the U.S. has been around 100 Quads per year.

>> As you can see, the AEO 2016 reference case projects that, over the next 25 years, about 12 Quads of energy from coal will be replaced with an almost equal amount of energy from natural gas. This would cut the use of coal as fuel in this country by about half between now and 2040.

>> Energy production from petroleum is projected to remain almost constant through 2040.

>> Renewable energy (“other renewables”), especially solar energy, is projected to increase rapidly, to almost 10 Quads by 2040. Still, 10 Quads are projected to be less than 10% of the U.S. total energy consumption in 2040.

Energy Consumption Trends

The green line on the graph labeled “Total Energy” projects that total energy consumption in the U.S. will increase slowly between now and 2040. Total energy production (blue line), however, is projected to increase somewhat faster. That means that the U.S. will swing from being a net importer of energy to becoming a net exporter of energy about ten years from now. This, if it happens, will be great news.

US Energy Balance

In my view, the America’s chronic international trade deficit in petroleum has been a huge burden on the U.S. economy. The improvement in U.S. petroleum production rates over the last few years has dramatically lowered world petroleum prices. Those lower prices have resulted in many fewer U.S. dollars going abroad to pay for fuel, and in a nice chunk of change for everybody with every tank full. Moreover, I regard these improvements as the major causal factor in the recovery (such as it is) in the U.S. economy over the last two years.

But wait, there’s more. America’s international relations and foreign policies over the last several decades have been excessively influenced by the need to assure safe access to imported energy, especially petroleum.

So, better global and domestic economics, plus considerably more latitude in foreign relations (including military affairs) – would be great news indeed for America!

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Projections

Concerns about global warming / climate change / carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been at the forefront of Sustainability issues in recent years. This graph uses figures from the IEO to project reference case annual carbon dioxide emissions through 2040. As you can see, carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise over the coming years.

 This is in sharp contradiction to almost everything we hear from the media and elsewhere. To be clear: given the “business as usual” conditions upon which the reference case is constructed, carbon dioxide emissions are not going to decline in the coming years. Net reductions in CO2 emissions will require significant changes in policies and / or technologies, in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.

Chuck at the Pacific



Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.


Manufacturing in 21st Century America

The global economy, which includes the U.S. and its manufacturers, is in a whirlwind of transformational change. The scope and dimensions of this is difficult to grasp. We’re Not in the 20th Century Anymore, Toto, a post to this blog from a year ago, offers some thoughts on where to start. … C.H.

We’re Not in the 20th Century Anymore, Toto – from 1 May 2015

An Emerging View of Manufacturing in the 21st Century

Dreamstime - Crystal BallThe Industrial Age in America – a time in which the mass production of goods provided the economic focus of the country – declined during the final decades of the 20th century and swooned as the 21st century began. This isn’t a cyclic matter: 20th century manufacturing isn’t going to come back. Instead, the end of the Industrial Age in America is part of a transformation that is as sweeping as the Industrial Revolution was, when industry replaced agriculture as this nation’s economic focus.

Keep in mind that, in 1870, 70% – 80% of America’s working population was employed in agriculture. As of 2008, less than 2% was directly employed in agriculture. [1] Never the less, America’s farms today produce much more than ever before. America will continue to manufacture tangible products – lots of them. The way that America manufactures those products will change as dramatically as farming has changed.

“… right now we are going through a once-in-a-century transformation in business that is throwing out all of the existing rules.” [2]

This transformation is powered by a confluence of potent change agents, which might be loosely grouped as Globalization, Sustainability, Technology and Demographics & Trends. Globalization, Sustainability and Demographics & Trends provide insights as to the rapidly expanding context within which even quite small manufacturers must operate. Technology provides the means for transformation.

A few thoughts on the globalized context within 21st century manufacturers must operate:

>> Competition – Competitors and potential competitors exist worldwide, with more coming every day. So do suppliers and potential suppliers. Likewise, customers and potential customers. And these competitors / suppliers / customers are quickly becoming increasingly sophisticated in all aspects of globalized business.

>> Population – Since the advent of truly viable birth control, birth rates have dropped significantly, especially in economically developed nations. As a result, populations are aging. At the same time, the participation on women in all aspects of commerce has increased dramatically. Per capita GDP is increasing, notably in developing countries, resulting in more global middle class buying power.

>> Commerce is global / Politics are local – While competition is global, governments everywhere have incentive to favor their own. Issues including jobs, access to resources, taxation, entitlements and property rights continue to be contentious.

>> Financial System – The global financial system, as it exists today, is a hodge-podge of remnants from the Bretton Woods accords, socialist notions from the soviet era as well as from western nations, fiat (rather than hard) currencies, instantaneous globalized trading in currencies and financial derivatives, not to mention a diverse array of banking institutions. All of this is hardly a recipe for international financial stability.

Some thoughts on 21st century manufacturing operations:

Atomic physicist Niels Bohr once said that “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”.  Actually, it’s the being correct part that is difficult. The following are extrapolations from American manufacturing’s current situation. We’ll all see what actually happens as the 21st century unfolds.

>> Products: To beg the obvious, labor related costs in economically developed countries are much higher than in less developed countries. To be globally competitive, products manufactured in developed countries will require significantly greater intangible aspects, as opposed to the simply tangible. Above all, products need be clearly differentiable.

>> Emphasis on Return on Capital Employed (RoCE): Manufacturing is capital intensive, especially concerning fixed assets, when compared to other modes of enterprise. Accordingly, financial viability depends on sustainable RoCE, taken across the business cycle, rather than on profits per se. This change in point of view fosters longer term thinking in many respects. Organizational structure and financing are not least of these.

>> The Electro-Mechanical Spectrum: A recent essay [3] discussed a trend in machinery from the mechanical to the electronic. The Tesla automobile serves as a familiar example. Unmanned space vehicles offer another. The more electronic machines offer obvious advantages, including reliability and Moore’s Law initial costs. Perhaps the most important advantage is that electronic machines have a significant software component. For this reason, machines can be improved, or even retasked, through software changes. Such machines can actually improve over time, rather than just depreciate.

>> Innovation: There is nothing static about the future. 21st century manufacturers must consistently offer differentiable products that please customers while generating satisfactory returns. This requires continuous and systematic innovation in products, operating processes and, especially, business models. A prior essay looks at all three of these modes of innovation. [4]

There is a lot more to manufacturing in the 21st century than a single essay can even hint at. The changes involved in this “once-in-a-century transformation” are of almost seismic magnitude. And change will beget more change, even more rapidly. Stand by.

Chuck ReadingThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

Photo Credit: © Shutter999 | Dreamstime.comCrystal Ball With A Bar Chart Photo

[1] Figures from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_the_United_States

[2] Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, quoted in Fortune magazine. http://fortune.com/2015/04/27/tien-tzuo-starting-your-own-business/. Zuora is a start-up business that is pioneering subscription based business models. For more on Zuora, see www.Zuora.com.

[3] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/11/15/the-electro-mechanical-spectrum/

[4] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/11/29/three-modes-of-innovation/



Whither Sustainability?


Sustainability, as that term applies to manufacturing, owes its origin to Limits to Growth, [1] which was published in 1972. Limits to Growth describes a systems 3P Graphicanalysis of trends in the earth’s population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion, with projections into the future. In essence, Limits to Growth emphasized that humanity’s increasing demands for economic development are overwhelming the natural world, and that industry is the primary agent for doing so. So begins the quest for sustainable economic growth and for the technology and practices that enables economic development without destroying the natural world upon which all of us rely.

Mission Zero

In 1994, some customers were asking Interface Corporation, a manufacturer of carpet tiles, about Interface’s vision regarding the environment. Ray Anderson, founder and CEO of Interface Corporation, recognized that the usual response – that Interface was in full compliance with all applicable environmental laws – just wasn’t good enough. His response was to redirect his billion dollar company toward a goal of zero environmental impact.

“I wanted Interface, a company so oil intensive that you could think of it as an extension of the petrochemical industry, to be the first enterprise in history to be truly sustainable – to shut down its smokestacks, close off its effluent pipes, to do no harm to the environment, and to take nothing from the earth not easily renewed by the earth.” [2]

Moreover, Ray Anderson proposed to accomplish this by the year 2020, and to make a profit while doing so. Consequently, Interface established a system of yearly milestone objectives toward Anderson’s vision. Today, 20 – odd years later, Interface remains roughly on course.

Climate Take Back

However, the recent global financial crisis severely impacted the construction industry, Interface’s primary market. In 2011, Ray Anderson passed away. As a result of hard economic times and the loss of their visionary leader and founder, Interface lost some of their some of its edge. The direction continued, but the audaciousness faded.

Now, Interface is renewing its initiative by redefining what Sustainability means in industry. Interface’s new mission — Climate Take Back – builds on and goes beyond Mission Zero’s “do no harm” initiatives: Climate Take Back is proactive. Climate Take Back includes four bold commitments:

>> To bring carbon home and reverse climate change – That is, to remove carbon compounds already present in the atmosphere.

>> To create supply chains that benefit all life – That is, to insist on proactivity from entire supply chains.

>> To make factories that are like forests – That is, to create manufacturing processes and entire factories that mimic nature.

>> To transform dispersed materials into products and goodness – That is, to recover and reuse widely dispersed refuse materials on a global scale.

On 6 June 2016, Joel Makower of GreenBiz published an insightful article on Interface’s new initiatives. It is well worth reading for anyone interested in both manufacturing and sustainability, and well worth careful study for those who want to make a difference.

Here is the link:


For Smaller Manufacturers

Interface has long been a champion of, and roll model for, Sustainability in manufacturing. The switch from “do no harm” to “make the world a better place” significantly raises the bar. Beyond that, Interface’s actions and corresponding results dramatically demonstrate the power of visionary leadership.

Chuck - Red RocksThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

[1] Donella (“Dana”) Meadows, et al, Limits to Growth, Signet Books (1972)

[2] To learn more about Ray Anderson and Interface, Ray’s book is a good read:

Ray C. Anderson, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, St. Martins Press (2009)

Solar Energy’s Solstice Problem

The Global Solar Power Explosion

By any count, solar electric generation is a huge success. Solar cells, like the ones on the roof of my house, are being installed in accelerating numbers by residences, public buildings, commercial facilities, industries and electric power utilities around the world. The cost of solar installations continues to decline, while environmental concerns affect the operational viability of existing fossil fueled electricity generation.

AEO 2016 ER Solar Power GenerationThe graph to the right, from the U.S. Department of Energy, [1] projects that solar generation capacity will increase by about ten times from 2015 to 2040, without considering any new technology, laws, regulations or other factors that may well accelerate the rate of solar installation further over the coming years. Solar power generation capacity in countries other than the U.S. – including less economically developed countries – is likewise increasing.

Closer to Home

My Home Viewed from Space

My home, as viewed from Space

My home is in the high desert of central Arizona, about as far north as Los Angeles or Atlanta. Climate here is sunny and dry almost year around – almost optimal for solar power. Here is a Google Earth picture of my house, as seen by a satellite. The solar panels, which you can see in the picture, have been in service for three years now.  My solar power system has on-line data collection, so I now have some pretty reliable performance numbers.

The graph below, from my actual experience, demonstrates solar’s “solstice problem”. The blue curve indicates the total electric power consumed at my house, by month. The red curve indicates the amount of solar electric power generated at my house, by month. The green curve indicates the net amount of electricity I purchase from my local electric power utility, again by month.

Home Solar Power Graph

My solar power system is designed to produce 70% of my electric requirements, taken over a full year (which it does). However, as the blue curve indicates, my total power consumption varies widely from month to month, with strong peaks in mid-summer (air conditioning) and mid-winter (electric heating).

However, my solar power generation (red curve) also varies strongly from month to month, with high peaks during the long days of mid-summer and low peaks during the short days of mid-winter.  As you can see, my solar system produces about half as much power in mid-winter months as it does in mid-summer months, near the solstices.

The Solstice Problem

To appreciate the impact of the solstice problem, it is useful to zoom out from considering a single solar installation (like my house) to thinking from the perspective of a power utility or the perspective of the power grids. Solar power is going to continue to grow as a fraction of total electric generating capacity. But, solar power facilities only generate electricity while the sun shines. At the same time, residential customers like me and you, as well as commercial and industrial customers, expect all of the power they need to be available whenever they need it.

Obviously, the sun doesn’t shine at night. But nights only last a few hours. Batteries and other technologies are available to manage the overnight problem. The solstice problem – generating capacity varies dramatically over weeks and months from solstice to solstice – is another matter. The solstice problem is just that – a problem that needs to be solved for solar energy to become truly practical on a massive scale. There are lots of possible avenues toward a solution, or sets of solutions for different geographic areas. These avenues might include demand management and innovative large scale energy storage technologies. Or, there may be approaches that nobody has thought of yet.

For Smaller Manufacturers

The electric power industry is in a state of transition. Manufacturers, especially those with substantial electric power requirements, need to remain aware of your utility’s situation and your own options. You might consider producing some or all of your own power (solar, of course). In any case, develop and maintain an on-going rapport with your utility’s customer service engineers.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

[1] This graph is from Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016, Early Edition, published 17 May 2016. Available for free download at: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/index.cfm