Socially Responsible Business and Better World Books

A lot of people who know me through WordPress don’t realize that I used to be a hippie activist who worked for non-profits and wanted to save the world. Socially responsible business is something I care a lot of about, stemming from when I took my first web job (and first real non-non-profit job) in 1998, which was at a socially responsible business that sold renewable energy. Using business to be an agent for good and for change, while a bit anathema to that younger hippie self who thought capitalism was gross, is one of the most important things to encourage if we want to see real change; non-profits can only do so much (says the girl who worked for a bunch of them). Anyway, older and less likely to see things in black and white, I was really psyched to see this announcement about a new Maryland law for socially responsible business on the Better World Books blog.

Previously, there had not been a legal framework specifically designed for social enterprise – you either had to be a for-profit company, legally beholden to maximizing shareholder value, or a non-profit organization. Now there is a legal framework for companies that do well by doing good and who strive to generate both social and shareholder returns.

via Maryland Passes Benefit Corporation Legislation | Better World Books.

I hope that other states and ultimately the federal government will enact legislation that recognizes this business segment and provides incentives for businesses to be socially responsible. All my bleeding-heartism aside, if businesses start pumping more money into charities and social efforts, that’s less that the government might spend.

If you haven’t heard of Better World Books, allow me to introduce you. I love them. Love them love them love them. Sadly, I am often more inclined to use Amazon just because of prime shipping, electronics, etc., but this past week when I needed to get two books for a class, I headed over to BWB to nab them. It’s an online new and used books store. It works similar to Powell’s (which I also love, but for different reasons), where you can send them books to buy from you etc, but Better World Books, operating as a socially-oriented business, funnels money toward literacy efforts around the world. They’ve raised over 8 million bucks so far.

Those used books stay out of landfills. The shipping materials are minimal, with vacuum packing rather than packing materials. Their site offers book reviews, interview podcasts, information on starting your own book drive, book club materials and more. They have a special program for library discards (seeing a library discard the books they couldn’t get rid of in a sidewalk sale is gut-wrenching to me), where they sell the books and then share the profits with both the usual literacy programs and the library itself.

Honestly, if you are a book-buyer, I couldn’t recommend any online retailer more. Plus, their blog is on WordPress. :)

NYC, Tenements and the Environment

My apartment in the east village is in a tenement building. It’s on the top floor (5th, walkup), and I’ve been an environmentalist since my teens, so I’ve often felt intense guilt about my place. The way the radiators work, heating the empty hallways to broiling but leaving lower floor apartments in the cold due to their old windows and the construction that lets all the heat rise to the 5th floor, means my apartment is generally in the high 70s in the winter, even with both of my radiators turned all the way off.

In contrast, for hot water to make it all the way up to me, the water has to run for a few minutes. Not a few seconds, like Adama testing the shower’s temperature during A Disquiet Follows My Soul (one of the best images of the whole series IMO in terms of making him seem like a regular person), but solidly running water for anywhere from 2-15 minutes. To get around the water guilt in this situation, I suggest taking showers at the gym, and saving the water at home for baths.

Every time I ran cold water for a shower, turned on a fan in December, or started sweating when I walked into the building hallway, I wished New York City would pass legislation that would encourage property owners to upgrade their heating and hot water systems, including things like insulation, windows, etc. I was hazy on how this could be accomplished, in our private-property-is-an-inalienable-right kind of society, but visions of tax breaks and subsidies danced in my head like a child’s Christmas sugarplum dreams. (I had no need to dream of sugarplums, since Veniero’s is right on the corner.)

I was pleased, then, to read that New York is finally maybe hopefully almost going to start taking this seriously.

“Elected leaders in New York City will propose a suite of laws and other initiatives on Wednesday aimed at reducing energy consumption and related emissions of greenhouse gases by requiring owners of thousands of older buildings to upgrade everything from boilers to light bulbs.”

While this particular attempt may not make it, it’s a step toward the city taking more responsibility for its environmental impact, which I appreciate. Read the full article here: City Plans to Make Older Buildings Refit to Save Energy – NYTimes.com.

*This post created with Press This.

Absentee Voters, Unite!

I know, I know, they hardly ever count the absentee votes because there’s enough of  a lead by one candidate to make the ballots irrelevant. This year might be different, though, so if you, like me, don’t stay in one place that long and are registered to vote somewhere other than where you’ll be on November 4, 2008, *please* take the time to either register as an absentee voter or change your voter registration to your current location (especially if you’re located in disputed territory!).

If you are unregistered: you still have time to register to vote. It’s fast, it’s easy, and not voting isn’t the most effective way to protest the system. Most states cut off voter registration in October to be eligible for the November election. If you need to register, check this list to see when your state’s cutoff date is. Or better yet, just go register to vote right now.

I know the electoral college seems silly sometimes, but given that an Ecotopian-style revolution seems unlikely anytime in the immediate future, voting will have the biggest impact right now. Do you want Sarah Palin running the country when McCain kicks the bucket? Do you want girls and women to die of back-alley abortions after more justices who want to make abortion illegal are appointed? Do you want us to continue wasting and depending on fossil fuels rather than investing renewables? You know the rhetoric, you might even spread it yourself. So get off your ass and vote this year.