Tales from our Chicago Staycation: The SilverLEAF Chronicles 10

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

This year on our family summer vacation, the SilverLEAF got to join us– on our staycation. The SilverLEAF happily brought us to downtown Chicago, to the streets of the south side of Chicago, and to the Skokie Lagoons. Usually the all-electric SilverLEAF gets left behind while we rent a conventional gasoline-powered SUV for a road trip, or take a plane. But the SilverLEAF served us well on this year’s urban adventures.


Our plan this year was that each of us— the two dudes, my mom, and me— would plan a day, including the all-important meals. My 11-year-old dude chose a trip on the Chicago Water Taxi to Chinatown. We’d done the trip some years ago and enjoyed it, so it was time for a reprise. I chose kayaking. My 13-year-old dude chose a history tour.  My mom chose an outing to see the new-ish Stony Island Culture Bank, created by the great designer and urban thinker, Theaster Gates.

Here are some photos from our ride on the Chicago Water Taxi to and from Chinatown. The pagoda that serves as the entrance to the park where you get off the water taxi in Chinatown:IMG_8487

We really enjoyed the dim sum at Three Happiness. We way over-ordered, and ended up bringing home about 10 pounds worth of leftovers. No pics, sorry!

I personally really like this artistic rendering of a map of the Chicago river on the river-facing side of a downtown building as we rode back from Chinatown:


The coolest thing— in my opinion— about the water taxi to Chinatown? You get to see parts of the city that you literally can’t see from anywhere else.


The 11-year-old DudeSter’s assessment: “10 out of 10. Would do it again!” Spoken like the tween he is.

My mom’s pick— a visit to the rundown South Side bank that urban re-designer Theaster Gates’ turned into a lovely cultural center— was preceded by a meandering trip in pursuit of soul food. With Yelp as our guide, we decided to check out Five Loaves.  Our trip was so circuitous that we got there just after it closed. Thanks again to Yelp, we found our way to Daley’s, where the dudes loved the fried chicken and the fries, and my mom enjoyed the chicken noodle soup so much that we took extra home for her.

We then made the short hop over to the fabulous, rustic-yet-classy Stony Island Arts Building.  Very accessible from Lake Shore Drive, not far south of my old stomping ground, the University of Chicago campus.

Take a look at these photos of the current exhibit and the building which convey the roughness of the old structure while capturing its renewed elegance.

For backstory on this exciting urban culture project, see this article in Slate.

In a non-urban vein, my 11-year old and I went kayaking at the Skokie Lagoons, off the North Branch of the Chicago River. We got really up close and personal with a gray heron who was slowly, slowly stalking a fish.

When my 13-year old dude’s day came, instead of touring historic sites in Chicago, like the site of the Haymarket riots— his original idea— he just wanted to hang out with us, and mostly with me, so he said. He can be a little excessively sincere at times— which makes me doubt his sincerity— but I took it at face value. On his day, we did hang out, mostly at home, he rode his bike quite a bit (per usual), and we ate pizza— his pick.

We spent one night at The W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive. The decor was a little too “Las Vegas” for us, but there was a great view from one of our rooms:


We didn’t make it to the National Mexican Museum, which had been on our tentative wish list. Next time!

My take on the staycation concept. This was our first. One challenge was that as a self-employed professional, it was a bit hard to fully disengage from work. The calls and emails kept coming in… However, I really liked not having the stress of hauling ourselves over some long distance. And of course, as a committed eco mom, I loved how low our ecological impact was. Oh yeah, and it’s a lot to cheaper do a staycation. We’d do it again!


August 6, 2016 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

Protecting Our Hot, Sour, and Lawless Oceans

Contributed by Julia Sanders

A meeting of the minds occurred June 1, 2015 between Ian Urbina and Brad Warren, addressing some of the most serious threats facing the ocean today. In an hour-long discussion moderated by Dr. Sarah Warren, Founder of Spheres of Influence, participants learned about the lawless world on the seas, and were offered a new way to tackle some of the ocean’s biggest threats.

Ian Urbina is an investigative journalist for The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of The New York Times series “The Outlaw Ocean.” In the series, Urbina witnesses and reports on the savage lawlessness of the high seas, where slavery, human trafficking, abuse, murder, deliberate pollution, and many other shocking abuses happen daily — with impunity. He describes the rural men of the Philippines who are drawn in by false marine recruiters promising high wages working on foreign vessels, and instead find themselves facing grueling 20 hour days, constant beatings, and sometimes death. Even when they survive those conditions, and complete a lengthy “contract,” they find themselves unpaid, often deep in debt, and abandoned in a foreign port. Other stories follow stowaways thrown overboard by ruthless captains, scofflaw ships that dump oil slicks 100 miles long, and floating armadas of armed men and weapons caches, ready to come to the aid of ships facing what have become commonplace attacks from pirates, spawning an industry of on-call armed protection.

Urbina’s work paints a picture of a jurisdictional mess, in which a ship buys a country’s flag, and that country is nominally responsible for policing the vessel, while other agencies or countries who may want to investigate criminal activity are legally denied access. Responsibility is handed off in a circle, with each agency (the flag country, Interpol, the International Maritime Organization, etc.) passing responsibility to another — while long-time sources within maritime law enforcement admit that there is no person or agency capable of truly investigating and punishing these often horrific crimes.

On the other side of the discussion was Brad Warren, Executive Director of the National Fisheries Conservation Center, a non-profit devoted to helping people understand, adapt to, and mitigate the changing ocean conditions caused by climate change — especially by man-made carbon emissions. About 25% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, lowering the pH and creating a crisis for many marine animals. This is known as ocean acidification, and it has already had a devastating effect on the West Coast oyster industry, causing wild baby oysters (known as oyster seed) to die in the first 72 hours of life, because the calcium carbonate they rely on to build their shells has become unavailable, transformed by the absorbed carbon emissions into bicarbonate. Since about 2008, Northwest oyster growers, many of them deeply multi-generational family operations, have been unable to rely on wild oyster seed from the ocean, but instead must buy it from hatcheries. And the harm doesn’t stop with oysters: all shelled organisms and many other types of ocean life have proven to be vulnerable to ocean acidification: mussels, shrimp, crab, lobster, coral, finfish, and countless others are under threat. That’s food we eat. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the pH of the ocean has already experienced a 30% change in acidity, at a speed the world has never experienced before.

In addition to this threat, there are several others caused by CO2 emissions. Hypoxia — at lack of oxygen— causes vast “dead zones” such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico where all life dies, and harmful algae blooms (which thrive in today’s higher temperatures) become even more toxic in a high CO2 environment.

In the discussion, Urbina focused on the perilous “blue/green” divide that exists among organizations working to combat environmental human rights problems, while Warren focused on the largest waste stream in human history, and how to tackle it.

Want to learn more? Listen to the archived discussion and see the webinar slides below!

About Julia Sanders
Julia Sanders, Deputy Director of the National Fisheries Conservation Center, also serves as Editor and main author of the Global Ocean Health program’s Ocean Acidification Report, a quarterly email publication of unique Ocean Acidification content which reaches over 7,500 subscribers across the globe.  She also writes on ocean health and seafood sustainability in other outlets.

June 16, 2016 at 7:05 pm Leave a comment

Our NissanLEAF has been “tested.” So have we. The SilverLEAF Chronicles 9

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

The SilverLEAF got tested. As did I. As did my kids.

We were displaced from our home for 3-1/12 months by a neighbor’s construction dust. (Yes. It’s true.)

We have an outlet at home that allows me to charge every night when I get home from work. When you have to evacuate your home, you grab a few things and find a place to stay. Fast.

If you’re me, you don’t necessarily think about where you’re going to charge your all-electric car.

The first hotel we checked into didn’t have any charging stations or outlets available.

About a day in, I realized I had to move us. To a place with a swimming pool (for the kids), and access to a charger for The SilverLEAF.

Thankfully, I found a hotel that offered overnight parking in a lot with a charging station. Problem solved.

If the parking lot with charging stations hadn’t been an option, I would’ve had to rent a car. Which have been an additional expense, but would still have been cheaper than owning and operating a gas-fueled car year round. Glad I didn’t have to go the costlier, polluting rental car route…

While in the hotel, we did our best to live green.  IMG_6819-1

We recycled. We didn’t use paper plates or plastic-ware– where is that photo of the pile of dishes I had drying in the bathroom?? We declined to have our sheets and towels changed for as long as possible–there is an outer limit when you’re in cramped quarters with two tween boys.

After three weeks of expensive hotel bills, we moved into an apartment close to our permanent home. This solved the problem of unsustainably high living expenses. It also got my kids out of a cramped hotel room, a way of living that rubbed their nerves raw. It was especially hard on my struggling, introverted 13 year-old. And it solved the problem of being able to charge the car–I could park at home and charge overnight as usual.

After 3-1/2 long months of displacement, sharing a bathroom with two messy boys, and day-to-day creative problem-solving, we finally got back to our permanent home. Our patience and resilience was tested.  My empathy has grown for the many refugees from natural disasters and political unrest. We had it easy by comparison. But it wasn’t easy. Phew. Onward.



May 1, 2016 at 9:31 pm Leave a comment

The SilverLEAF Would’ve Made Friends in CA: The SilverLEAF Chronicles 8

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

Our SilverLEAF would’ve been right at home among all the Priuses and all-electric Teslas and NissanLEAFs in charming Ohai, CA. But alas, our the SilverLEAF had to stay home while we flew to sunny Southern California for spring break.

My sister recently moved her family from the shores of the Atlantic to the desert of California to take a position at (super-green retailer) Patagonia’s headquarters. So I took the kids to see their cousins.

This was our first chance to see them in their new digs.  And it was my kids’ first trip to CA.


These palm trees in their back yard are amazing to eyes that are habituated to life in the north.

Highlights of our trip included:

  • A cerebral #toocoolforthat thirteen-year-old dude discovering that he actually likes hiking. That he likes anything other than his girlfriend is a bit of a miracle.
  • Finding fossil-rocks that had bunches of fossils all fused together.
  • Seeing a sign on the freeway that announced that there was an electric car charging station at the next exit! (#OnlyInCA)

Perhaps the eleven-year-old DudeSter’s favorite moment: Finding hemp cookies in the grocery store. I don’t want to even imagine what they taste like. (#OnlyinCA)


One of my favorite moments was touring the grounds of my niece’s school, where they have mindfulness classes and eat in this “cafeteria.” Makes me rethink where my kids go to school…


Here’s what happens when an eleven-year-old DudeSter gets hold of your iPhone while you’re driving:

Turns out this photo is only a (well composed!) semi-random pic. This building is home to the designers of one of my son’s favorite games. Other photos taken by my son while I drove: totally random.

One last photo. The view from my niece’s bedroom at dawn on our last day. (Think of the window screen in an artistic light!)



About the emissions we generated by flying instead of driving our zero-emissions SilverLEAF: Sometimes you gotta fly. As Stephen Dubner has said on the Freakanomics podcast, it’s all about trade offs. This is what I call eco reality.

And those emissions from our flight to CA can be offset by purchasing carbon offsets at my favorite source, Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

While we were in CA enjoying the scenery and the camaraderie of so many people “driving green,” Tesla announced it is taking pre-orders for a new model that is priced to compete with the modestly priced NissanLEAF. The SilverLEAF may have some competition for my heart. Stay tuned!


April 10, 2016 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

Collective Leadership: A New Way To Lead in the Age of Sustainability

Contributed by Susan Camberis

Just as we’re seeing the emergence of new business models to address social, environmental, and economic challenges, so too are new leadership models beginning to emerge.

One such model was discussed on the Our Spheres of Influence Fall 2015 Virtual Fireside Chat. Collective Leadership: Harnessing “Human Systems” for Innovation featured three global experts who spoke about the model, its origins, and how companies are putting it to use with impressive results.

What is Collective Leadership?

Collective leadership refers to empowering individuals to step forward and lead when their strengths are most needed by the team. Very different from a traditional ‘command and control’ approach, collective leadership is more agile and seeks to connect people through shared purpose.

The original creative impulse for collective leadership grew out of Roelien Bokxem’s experiences in the financial sector in 2008 in the Netherlands, after witnessing government bailouts of institutions that no one ever imagined could need rescuing. Roelien and PresenceAtWork co-founder, Jane Weber (Autstralia), realized that one leader acting alone couldn’t have changed the outcome, and what was needed was a leadership paradigm shift, geared more toward teams and organizations.

As described by moderator Melissa O’Mara (U.S.), Founder of i3Activate and a collective leadership practitioner and trainer, leveraging the strength of the collective is especially relevant for sustainability work – where all functions have a role to play and important ideas can come from anywhere.

Collective leadership is based on three key principles:

1. Balance the ‘Doing’ and ‘Being’ of Leadership. This first principle is really about balance. According to Philippe Wits, former CEO of Ardanta (Netherlands) and current Director of Life Insurance at ASR, a global insurance company and pioneer of collective leadership, balance in leadership “doing” and “being” means bringing out the best in people.

2. Capitalize on Collective Leadership through System Dynamics. According to Roelien, the second principle is about leading from the whole versus the old ‘command and control’ paradigm, which wastes a lot of time. Systems awareness is key. In order for everyone to feel comfortable stepping forward, sometimes the formal leader needs to step back and simply offer support and encouragement. It’s a very different way of leading.

Philippe added, with collective leadership, it’s okay for the leader to say, “I don’t know,” but this can be difficult at first – especially when others don’t want to step forward. What’s critical is creating an environment where people know they matter. “People think they don’t matter. If you think that, you have no impact.”

3. Leading from the Emerging Future vs. The Past. For Roelien this principal is about “connecting the dots together versus being on a straight-line path.” Practically, this means balancing strategy and milestones alongside agile, unattached thinking.

How is collective leadership working in practice?

Philippe has led the adoption of collective leadership at ASR. The journey began with his leadership team committing to three 3-day retreats. Initially people were anxious about collective leadership and what it meant, but when leaders really “got it”, people started to realize who they really were and what they could contribute. Some of the biggest benefits of collective leadership are deeper connections, increased interpersonal safety, and greater independence.

According to Roelien, in a recent case study with Ardanta, in which the team interviewed all levels in the organization— including the CEO— implementing collective leadership in conjunction with lean principles has yielded productivity increases as high as 66%. The pervasive feeling expressed at all levels in the organization was a recognition that, “I’m okay and I feel confident stepping forward to lead.”

“Often people have forgotten how great they are,” according to Philippe. It takes a lot of confidence to really step forward. “When you feel okay with yourself, you tend to want to put yourself out there.”

What can sustainability leaders do to begin implementing the collective leadership principles? 

Work with your natural strengths. One of the tools used in collective leadership is a body-based strengths system – a shortcut to think about your own strengths during change. Melissa asked participants to consider the question: What role do you most naturally play in a change initiative?

Melissa suggested looking at that question through the lens of the following strengths:

I pilot ideas quickly
I connect people in a way that’s fun
I energize and inspire
I validate what’s feasible
I analyze all options and facts
I bring the vision of what’s possible (“stir the pot”)
I bring lots of practical ideas
I deliver on time
I keep harmony on the team

We each have skills and strengths in these various roles. When we’re more aware of where our strengths lie, and our environment supports bringing our strengths forward, we can lead more easily when the group needs us to ‘step up.’

Go slow to go fast. According to Roelien, one of the biggest things you can do is to allow yourself to slow down when making connections. The idea is to ‘go slow to go fast.’ For example, you might take the first hour of a 2-hour meeting to check-in and really connect with how people how are feeling, but the hour that follows is much more productive because everyone is present and fully engaged.

Focus on connection. As described by Philippe, “When I come into the office, I take a deep breath. I ask people, ‘How are you? How are you, really?’ I ask with no agenda, just be curious.” Philippe also spends more time just noticing and reflecting what he observes. For example, if he notices someone talking very quickly, he may say something like, “I notice that you are talking very fast. Are you okay?”

From an HR development perspective, I see collective leadership as a compelling combination of philosophies that leaders may recognize from participative and servant leadership models. In a day and age when we need to collectively engage with and solve harder problems through teams, it’s a model that sustainability leaders will benefit from understanding and integrating into their own practices. It also aligns with what employees say they want more of from their organizations, specifically greater purpose at work.

To listen to the full audio— with video for the first time (!)–  of our Winter 2015 global conversation, click here:


To learn more about collective leadership, connect with Melissa and PresenceAtWork on Twitter @melissaomara or LinkedIn:  http://www.linkedin.com/in/melissaomara/

PresenceAtWork is also kicking-off an Allies training program for Collective Leadership in February 2016. Here’s a link where you can learn more and register: https://registration.presenceatwork.com/.

About the author:

Susan Camberis is a talent management and HR leader, recognized for her passion for learning and sustainability. She currently serves as the Vice President of Learning and Organizational Development for Executive Coaching Connections, a Chicago-based firm specializing in leadership solutions, team development, and organization effectiveness. From 1999 to 2013, Susan held various HR roles with Baxter, whose commitment to sustainability spans more than three decades.

Susan is completing a Leadership in Sustainability Management certificate from the University of Chicago’s Graham School. Her capstone research is focused on ways to enhance cross-functional communication between HR and Sustainability teams.

Susan created and moderates the open LinkedIn Group Leading Talent Sustainability, and her writing has been appeared in GreenBiz, Forbes.com, and PBS Next Avenue. Follow Susan on Twitter @susancamberis or connect with her on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/susancamberis

December 16, 2015 at 12:06 am Leave a comment

Join Us 12/2 – Collective Leadership: Harnessing “Human Systems” for Innovation

Spheres of Influence
Fall 2015 Virtual Fireside Chat

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015
noon-1pm ET/11am-noon CT/ 9am-10am PT

Collective Leadership:
Harnessing “Human Systems” for Innovation

Featured Global Guests:

Melissa O’Mara
Founder, i3Activate
Previously a sustainability leadership catalyst at Smart Cities and IBM

Roelien Bokxem
co-founder of PresenceAtWork (Netherlands)

Philippe Wits
Former CEO of Ardanta (Netherlands)
CurrentDirector of Life Insurance at ASR
a global insurance company & pioneer of collective leadership


About Melissa O’Mara:
Melissa O’Mara’s mission is to maximize institutional and cultural response to environmental and economic challenges through activating teams and communities of purpose, accelerating public/private collaboration and innovation, and enabling collective leadership. She founded i3Activate, LLC, as a platform for transforming the way we lead organizations and address today’s complex challenges.

Prior to founding i3Activate, LLC, Melissa was an intrepreneurial corporate leader with 28 years of experience at US Smart Cities, Andersen Consulting, Schneider Electric, and IBM.

About Philippe Wits:
Philippe Wits of the Netherlands is former Director/CEO of Ardanta, a global life insurance company and a pioneer of collective leadership. He currently serves as Director of Life Insurance at ASR. Philippe is focused on continuous improvement through lean and collective leadership to empower employees to reach their full potential, as well as reach the company’s and their own goals. ​

About Roelien Bokxem:
Based in the Netherlands with background in the Financial Sector, Roelien Bokxem​ is co-founder of PresenceAtWork. She is a certified coach and systems consultant with broad experience delivering experiential learning for executives and teams. She finds pride and joy in co-designing PresenceAtWork’s co​llective leadership​ curriculum.
Listen to Melissa and Roelien here on this podcast. Check out the first 15 minutes in particular. (The start button is on the upper left.)


We hope you can join us for this participatory event!

November 26, 2015 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

The VW Betrayal: The SilverLEAF Chronicles 7

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

“I feel tainted” says my beau, who owns a VW diesel Golf. He’d been proud to drive that car. He enjoyed it’s sportiness, but appreciated its (promised) clean-burning engine.

He bought the car shortly before he and I got involved. His pride in the green-ness of the car increased when he got involved with me– my passionate investment in reducing our collective ecological impact for the sake of our children has rubbed off on him a bit.

Now, my beau does not anger easily. In fact, he’s an exceptionally even-tempered person. And he’s not obsessed with all-things-environmental– unlike me!

But he feels that he’s now branded by his polluting car as someone who doesn’t care about the ecological impact of his car.

Millions of VW diesels have been sold around the world to unsuspecting people. Some of them– not all– cared a lot about the purported low emissions of their cars.

It’s about excess global warming pollution, and immediate harm to our health as well. An AP study estimated that as many as 94 people in the US alone may have died in the last 7 years as a result of the VW excess emissions. In Europe, where most of the diesels have been sold, the health impacts and deaths are estimated to be greater because of the greater population density. Our health has been damaged.

More than once since the VW fraud story broke, I’ve been glad that I drive a car for which the emissions can’t be faked– because there are no emissions.

I don’t feel branded as a polluter when I drive TheSilverLEAF. But it’s not fair to VW diesel drivers that they should be tarnished.

The Volkswagen betrayal goes beyond deceiving car buyers– and the EPA. It’s a betrayal of our social contract to protect the natural world so that future generations can thrive. Our children have been betrayed.

October 12, 2015 at 7:23 pm Leave a comment

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