The tangled mess of money and saving the planet

Here I sit in my local café, inspired by yet another online course, this time on making the business case for sustainability. The course takes us step by step through the calculations needed to prove the value of sustainability efforts. We carefully convert watts to kilowatts and then to dollar savings so we can then discount them into present value.

An important caveat: we can only include non-monetary benefits in our net present value analysis if we are to convert things like a healthier workplace, family-friendly employment policies, etc. into monetary value.

But how?
And, perhaps more importantly, should we be putting them in monetary value in the first place?

Many corporations of large scale, and certainly those listed on the stock exchanges, are reporting their impacts on the climate etc. via the ESG reporting lens.

They have committed to bold goals in the short- to mid-term future. These are separate to their P/Ls and other financial reporting. Some might say, it is even more impressive to prove your results in terms of people helped, tons of CO2 reduced and level of transparency than attaching a monetary value to them.

In this day and age, for those who have money, making more money is ridiculously easy. What’s harder is to make a demonstrable difference.

So here’s my challenge to the instinct to quantify everything in terms of money: try not doing so and see what happens.

Criticism of ESG investing usually cite greenwashing and the inability to connect financial support of highly-rated ESG stock with actual environmental, social and governance benefits.

Those who take these criticisms seriously should then be prepared to take as much responsibility for the actual results of ESG programs, not just the financial aspect of them.

Ironically, while society benefits more from the actual achievement of ESG programs rather than the financial values placed on them, even the most “forward thinking” of our current capitalistic systems to incentivize this achievement comes back to money.

CEO compensation is increasingly being hinged on their company’s “ESG performance.”

May I suggest that this is akin to rewarding your child for good behavior with one chocolate chip apiece (a real-life tactic!) only to find that your child comes to expect them for any and every good deed, and won’t budget without them? It might even make them diabetic. I hope you see my point.

(Now that you’ve read this far, please let me connect this crazy loop by pointing out that the gap in CEO pay and employee pay may in the future be used as a factor in ESG indices!)

So the pattern becomes: ESG efforts → corporate and personal profits ↺

Will this whirling dervish bring us closer to the goals promulgated by national governments and the UN? And how will inflation, the continuing pandemic, necessary reskilling of the workforce, supply-chain problems and geopolitical instability contribute to this?

Only time shall tell.

Top photo by Pascal van de Vendel on Unsplash


The Deeper Bessage Behind “In The Heights”

I have a 9-months-pregnant tradition: watch one movie in a movie theater while eating a little too much pay-by-the pound candy. This might seems insignificant. After all, some of us see multiple a month. But for me, a “doer,” resigning two to three hours of my life to the dark confines of a movie theater is a rather major decision.

That a pandemic is raging around us makes this no less significant for me. I can’t even remember the last movie I saw in a theater. Despite this, I maintained the tradition this week seeing “In The Heights” (directed by none other than Jon M. Chu, who just so happened to direct my first 9-months-pregnant movie: “Crazy Rich Asians”).

Happenstance led me to this particular movie. My pregnancy-hampered brain mistakenly reserved a ticket for a different movie for two days before, forcing a sudden change of plans at the theater. Recalling that a friend recommended “In The Heights,” I sprung for it.

Admittedly, I have a musical allergy. This is what keeps me from watching the highly-rated “Hamilton,” which helped place “In The Heights”‘ Anthony Ramos in the spotlight. But the promise of Latin music, a diverse cast and the magnetic city of New York drew me in.

Photo by Oliver Niblett on Unsplash

“In The Heights” places you right on the block from the very start. Happily, I realized it was set in Washington Heights – the very barrio I stayed in when attending the New York Salsa Congress in pre-children and pre-pandemic 2015. As a White West-Coast native, I am very much not the type of American depicted in this movie. Yet I felt so much nostalgia and connection to the characters and the setting. A good deal of my emotion throughout the two-hour movie was prompted by longing to connect to Latin culture and diverse neighborhood. The pandemic has kept me squarely in Japan for the past two years and the withdrawal is palpable.

But this movie is more than just a good time set to music.

It’s practically a kaleidoscope of immigrant experiences. How, when and from where one enters the country plays a huge role in one’s identity, experience and experience.

(Spoiler alert)

Photo by Brianda Maldonado on Unsplash

Underlying their shared experience, each character deals with their own inner conflict:

  • Feeling stuck running the bodega, Usnavi makes the difficult decision to move away from Washington Heights to inherit his father’s bar in the Dominican Republic
  • Nina, the hope of her block, comes home from Stanford hiding her intention to drop out due to feeling “othered” and and more blatant forms of discrimination
  • Determined to “get out,” Vanessa struggles to get her foothold in Manhattan, where she is determined to prove herself as a fashion designer
  • Still a child but seemingly more mature than Usnavi, Sonny makes the devastating discovery that he is a “dreamer,” and his lack of papers will keep him from attending college
  • Abuela (grandma) Claudia remembers her struggle to adapt to the demands of life in New York just after moving from her beloved but work-poor Cuba

Without revealing too much about the climax, its tapestry-like plot shows us that immigrants cannot be lumped into one category or stereotype and yet, when they gather and unite, they are very, very strong.

At the risk of sounding naïve, I felt a bit of my own story in many of the characters. An American immigrant to Japan who immersed themselves in almost-completely-Japanese environments from 2011 until now, I keenly feel the dull and sometimes intense pain of being othered.

When you came here, and mom came here, you all had a Latino community ready to welcome you, open arms, babies and abuelas, and teachers and lawyers, first generation, fifth generation. There’s no community for me at school.

Nina Rosario explaining her experience at Stanford to her father

As kind and accommodating as some can be, there is a deep sadness in knowing you’ll always be put in that box – always treated differently – because of how you appear and where you come from. As a minority, your opinions and needs are devalued and categorized as such – “minor.” And always in the background is that quiet but patient longing for the comfort of your family, familiar traditions and hometown culture.

Immigrants are inherently torn between two places (or more): the place that formed them and the place they live now. This can be painful and sad, even if they, like me, made the clear choice to leave their homeland behind.

As life in the new land progresses and roots there grow ever deeper, so too do memories of what we left behind and a bittersweet longing for the old life. As much as we try to recreate the best of our homeland in our new land, it’s never quite possible.

We are stuck between the two – forced to make hard decisions and straddle the chasm that is our dual identity, our dual allegiance.

Usnavi: Best days of my life were there.

Sonny: That’s the corniest thing I’ve ever heard. You came here when you was eight. You got “island memories”. Not me. I was in Pampers on that plane. NYC’s my spot. I got my island, okay? Go get yours. Don’t forget how you got your name.

Usnavi and Sonny talk about go back to the DOminican Republic, their homeland

Out of this deep sadness comes an intense and palpable desire for connection. This is how the vibrant lifeforce of immigrant communities like Washington Heights originates, I think. “If I can’t bring the old life here and the new land won’t embrace me, I’ll make it myself!”

In this sense, “In The Heights” is a powerful story about the heavy responsibility and repercussions of decisions – decisions we make to better our lives, but that come with bitter compromise. At the same time, it is also a story of the freedom and joy of self-determination.

Any choice has its benefits and drawbacks. At least in the choosing we can be satisfied that our life is the life that we, ourselves, chose.

This I tell myself and the little life inside me who will, no doubt, also encounter the same or a stronger dichotomy in their own life. May he find his “home” wherever he determines it to be.

On the frontlines of the fake news war: Trojan horse tweets

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773)

A prominent senator, Matt Gaetz, and two other politicians retweet a photo of the famed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, with praise.

An outspoken vaccine naysayer, Naomi Wolf, tweets a photo of a well-known adult film actor presenting him as a doctor advising on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ironically these errant retweeters have a history of accusing media of fake news.

So what’s behind these gaffes?

It’s a new tactic emerging on Twitter, a platform where any information, including fake news, can spread like wildfire. And the man behind both incidents isn’t a figure shrouded in mystery as you might think. He’s an investigative journalist for The Intercept, Ken Klippenstein, with a side hobby of pranking prominent accounts. Using a verified account, no less.

So how does it work? First, find a target with a clear agenda. Then provide them with user-generated content that supports that agenda and wait for them to bite. But the content is a trojan horse ― inside the enemy is waiting in silence.

A self-proclaimed patriot retweets an enemy of the state on Memorial Day. A vaccine naysayer that regularly casts doubt on scientific information presents an adult film actor as a reliable source of medical information.

Neither has vetted the source nor the veracity of the information. Their itchy trigger fingers, fueled by a desire to pursue their narrative, betray them, ultimately revealing them as the propagaters of “fake news” and, ultimately, hypocrites.

These incidents crystallize the current American zeitgeist: “gotcha” tactics, strong antagonism between political camps, and the itchy trigger fingers behind Twitter accounts ― a platform that moves at the speed of light.

Public relations was born out of the American democratic political process, which relies on swaying public opinion through ever evolving strategies and tactics. Trojan horse tweeting is just the latest development born in the skirmish of the social media wars.

Social media managers and PR professionals alike would be wise not to fall victim to the same tactics. That’s easily done. Just hold social media to the same standards of the PR profession: only relay information that you can verify and know who’s behind it.

Sounds simple, right? Make sure to remember it during your next tweet.

So you’ve mastered Instagram? Gaga, Selena, John and have some tips for you

Say what you like, Instagram has reached unforeseen heights in terms of users and user engagement. Its users make up nearly 13% of the world’s population. You might scrunch your nose at the exorbitant amounts earned by influencers such as Kim Kardashian and others, but Instagram’s influence over a certain demographic is undeniable.

But even as the platform matures, its influencers aren’t necessarily resting on their laurels. Take Selena Gomez, queen of the millennial pop ballad. Her most recent music video release “Past Life” is a cute nod to the “new normal.” Posted on Instagram, and filmed on Instagram Live, the video simultaneously shows us even celebrities are “working from home” while also giving fans a prominent part in the production.

Who do you keep looking at off screen, Selena? What’s that just out your window, Trevor?

You’d be right to think the audio is overlayed from a professional recording session. Neither Instagram Live, Zoom or other live streaming services can completely eliminate lag.

Jacob Collier, hailed as a multi-instrumentalist wunderkind, has gained some attention lately for seemingly having devised a work-around for lag when live streaming. Apparently this is a sort of holy grail for the music industry as it struggles to find ways to reproduce the live experience digitally.

You know how awkward it is when you talk over someone due to lag? Well imagine that on a mega-celebrity diva scale. Yeah, some innovation is needed. Especially as Jacob Collier is conducting weekly Instagram Live sessions. That would get awkward very quickly.

But that’s not all. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez recently opened up their Instagram accounts for takeovers by anti-racist leaders and organizations.

While some might doubt the sincerity of their motivations, these celebrities have given control of a very powerful part of their personal brand over to a cause they believe in. That, in and of itself, means something.

At the end of the day, social media is a necessary evil, becoming more and more necessary as we are are forced to stay distant from each other. Any smart communicator would be wise to keep an eye on social media innovators, and hey, maybe even make some bold moves of your own.

*Note: I’m sure I’ve missed some great examples of innovative social media use. Feel free to tip me off via my contact page. I’m always looking for more inspiration.

So I got a PCR Test in Japan (lucky me)

In Japan, PCR tests are as precious as gold and much, much rarer. If you don’t have above 37.5 degree temperature, contact history with someone who has tested positive, you have to do some serious arm twisting to get one.

Sunday night. After a good, hard work out I started having some muscle pains. Okay, so I’m approaching my mid-thirties, not too surprising? But the muscle pains spread to my whole body and my throat is sore. Monday morning. Muscle pains still live and well and now my body doesn’t want to get out of bed. After the obligatory Google search of my symptoms, I conclude it could be a lot of different things, but I can’t rule out COVID-19. Not to mention that Minister Nishimura has just publicly asked anyone with discomfort in their throat to stay within their prefecture.

Unluckily, I had lost my thermometer (I’m tempted to blame my toddler) so I had no idea of my real temperature. Weakness number one.

Faithfully, I called the Tokyo COVID-19 Consultation Hotline to report my symptoms. “Have you been in close contact with someone who has tested positive?” “I don’t know.” “Hmmm, and your temperature is how much?” “I don’t know, maybe 37.3?” “And your regular temperature is?” “36.8?” “Your Japanese sounds like you are from a different country, where are you from?” “Why is that important?” “Well, you might have travelled outside of the country recently…” “Maybe you’re not aware, but foreigners cannot come back into Japan right now so that is impossible” … etc.

My next step, in any case, was to visit the closest designated clinic and be examined there.

At the clinic, I was directed to ring the bell, then guided into a partitioned-off section of the clinic which had a bench, hand sanitizer, and some kleenex. The doctor and nurses, all three wrapped up in PPE, asked me the same questions, but this time I took my temperature and it was 38.5. Well over the guideline of 37.5. Still, it took some pushing.

“So you said you haven’t been in close contact with someone who tested positive? Hmmm” “I don’t think so. But actually, XXXX.” (Information withheld for privacy reasons) “Ah, and so you are worried about that?” “I think I should be?” “…Well, we are being told not to test right now, but okay, we’ll see what we can do.”

After a check with a large hospital two stops away, the doctor found out that there was a 3-day waiting period. Thankfully, I was given another option of a university hospital a 20-minute walk from my house. “Tell absolutely no one where this testing site is,” I was cautioned.

The next morning at 10am, I arrived, showed my letter of introduction, and sat in a partitioned area with emergency tape enforcing social distancing in the seats. An elderly couple sat in front of me, the woman with an ice pack wrapped in a scarf and applied to her neck. “What could have brought them here,” I wondered. On my left was a middle-aged man. A well-dressed and sprightly man distributed forms confirming our agreement to receive the test, coming and going with a waft of cologne. Finally , it’s my turn.

I’m guided quickly into another room partitioned off and ushered behind a DIY-ed plastic shield of sorts with holes for the medical practitioner’s hands. “I’ll swab both of your nostrils, so please lift your chin up.” Jab. The swab was stuck deep in my left nostril into soft tissue I had never been aware of. “We’ll keep it here for 5 seconds and then do the right side.” My eyes teared up. It was over, and I left the hospital crying and a little shell-shocked.

According to the documents, I’ll have my results in a day or two. Fingers crossed it’s just a cold or something.

Update: 6 hours after my test, the results are in, and I am negative. Phew.