Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Return to Sender

Been reading the PDF version of Natural Capitalism. Wanted to buy it in Adelaide but it wasn't on the shelves. It's an old book (1998) but should be required reading for all who aspire to be "sustainable". Also managed to pick up again "The Tipping Point" which I threw aside the last time I tried to read it because I just could take it. I had enjoyed "Blink" by the same author (Malcolm Gladwell). This time around, I could relate more to the tipping point and the things which stuck to me was "stickiness" (get it?). Somehow "The White Coffin" seems very sticky. Motorola has expressed interest to "sponsor" a similar campaign amongst the high achievers of their staff's children. The Friends of Botanical Garden Penang is organising something similar for World Environment Day. The boys at Chung Ling High School Penang has expressed interest. UTAR in Kampar called up to asked how to get things done. Hong Kong University has just initiated discussions with their caterers to stop the use of polystyrene foam. I hear MU is in discussion to go green as well. UMU Melaka had contacted. UUM, UIA, UMT, UMS have all done their bit. So, yes The White Coffin is sticky. If we had just banned polystyrene foam containers without the memorable label of The White Coffin would it have created an epidemic? (borrowing words from Gladwell). I don't know - probably not. Tipping point also talks about the Law of the Few. Just a few can spark an epidemic. That's what we are trying to do. A few infecting the many.

See the picture up there? They are not junk mail but unnecessary. One was a fax of a notice of meeting for which I had already received an email. Another was a completed form which I was emailed to check but hardcopy given to my staff to pass to me. Another was notice of closure of the museum. I sent them all back to the senders with a note saying it was unnecessary. They might be hopping up and down now. It's not only the waste of paper but multiple postings actually decreases productivity. In the case of the printed notice of meeting and the form, the admin staff have to read it, chop it, probably record it and then bring to my office. And then I have to figure out whether I have already seen it, have I read it, is there any changes, have I got it on my online calendar. By merely making sure that we don't send out stuff to people who don't need it, we can improve productivity by 20% (assuming we are productive in the first place). This mass emailing to every staff got to stop or be drastically curtailed. We have to send the notice (workshops, conference, even advertisements for jobs at UNESCO) to someone (the gatekeeper in charge of mass emails) who then sends it out, pooh, easy isn't it? Can't we just put it on the website? How many people read it? How many benefit from it? How many act on it?

It's the same thing with banners. For a half-day workshop, they put up plastic banners all over the place. Apart from telling everyone that you are at least doing something, does it bring in the crowd? Students have asked me "if no banners, how to tell the people on campus we are conducting this activity?". I honestly don't have the answer. But I am not convinced it draws the crowd - yes, maybe more people know that there is such and such activity but I doubt it brings the numbers. You can see all the empty chairs waiting to be filled. We need to be more targetted. The banners on campus is getting really out of hand.

On the bright side I went to attend the Eco USM meeting yesterday afternoon (too long, 2.40 to pass 6 pm). I know the remark by the Chair lady was partly directed at me - members who "pi mai, pi mai" (meaning members who come and go). As usual, I listened a lot and then try to give my "two sens" worth. There was a discussion of the python which went into the store of the VC's residence. After various opinions by the experts, the chair (Asma) looked at me and said "how?". I said "leave them alone". And then the subject of the design of the platform of Anjung Budi (the Alumni House) was discussed. Perfect place for rats to build their nest underneath the platform. And then the snakes will come. And then Hifni (the little bird) raised the alarm that the platform which is used to sit diners (and lunchers?) is right underneath a fig tree. So? So come september when the fruits of the fig tree is in abundance, all the birds will come. Thousands, said Hifni. And all the shit will come down. Literally. And then Chow Yang (the insect man) said there's a plant with Semut Selangor, a vicious ant, nesting right near the platform. How vicious? You could end up in hospital if bitten. And the chair looked at me again -"so, leave them alone?". I said "Yah". Of course some people hold the view that "man are more important than insect or nature". If man is threatened, then we must take care of the man first - get rid of the threat. That's what got us in this mess in the first place. We think nature must be tamed for the benefit of man. We have not learned to live with nature.

But I was really happy when the chair recalled that as she was passing the Lake, she saw the students (reading and doing stuff) in perfect harmony with the water monitors (biawak). The students were doing their own thing. The biawaks were doing their own thing. Each don't seemed to be threatened by the other. Hearing that from her, I said "wow, what a change". She now appreciates the biawak. The last time I heard her talk about biawak was at the first Eco USM meeting at the beach and she was going on about her nightmare of getting bitten by the biawaks. Good job you guys at Eco USM.


Abe said...

*applause *applause
This is post is personally meaningful to me..just couldn't explain why.. i wonder!


Anonymous said...


Michael Peter Foo said...

So, the museum guys might chase you with artifacts in their hands
Good to teach them not to waste

nch said...

AS for the unnecessary letters, faxes, notices, memos, emails, whatsover as you call them, are something in the prevailing life time that we have to think hard and discipline ourselves. My tactic is simply to tell my engineers, architects, contractors, subcontractors and so on, FAX or POST, choose one. Don't send me twice (or triple with email). I can read and tolerate faxes which may appear substandard or blurr. If faxed out, DON'T POST, or, DON'T FAX when post. That is my 'house rule' every time I have a new team to work with.

For some still habitually adhere to a covering memo against a letter when fax. Why? in the 80's when fax machine was introduced to this world, it was unreliable and might missed out at the receiver end during transmission. A covering memo was therefore adopted as a tool to inform receiver end the exact number of pages in transmission. Call a stop to this old habit as current fax machine and telephone line are so reliable.

One thing out of my hand is the ISO9000's requirement, they are creating additional papers and work load in order to satisfy annual audit. To me, ISO9000 is never environmental friendly. I have been told is, a standard rule required by ISO, that every letter (a sheet or more) should accompany by another cover sheet just for a record. Too much records is unnecessary and waste of paper + manpower.