Parkour: Do No Harm

I have been under the gun for several important deadlines in the business this month, auditing financials, environmental audits, and managing the huge increase in volume.  I'll probably post some more when in San Francisco (APEC meeting) and Washington DC (Peace Corps 50th Anniversary) this weekend.  It's a cross-country parkour of airports, hotels, conference calls, and bank deposits.

The previous post (Part I) has bugged me for months, and I finally just posted the bugger.  There is something important about horizonal and vertical lobbies, and how interested expertise plays upon cognitive risk perception in the public policy.  E-Stewards is definitely trending towards vertical lobby standards - establishing a standard which keeps out riff raff.  R2, on the other hand, is the first standard to be made mandatory law (Vermont regulations).   I can be arrested and put in jail for not meeting R2 standards.  It has some kind of a burden not to implement a standard based simply on the fact that not everyone meets the standard.  Facts are called for.

In my specific field, facts have been scarce.  In the vacuum, poster child photos, narcissistic environmentalists, trade barrier professionals, and genuine concern about "toxics" and environmental degradation have spawned a brand new, untested, set of "standards" to define best practices in recycling used electronics (misnomer "e-waste").  Many good things have evolved, financial rewards to best actors, and increased quality.  There is a consensus that SOME kind of regulation or standard is needed, something is better than nothing.   But as highlighted in the Sacramento Bee 15 months ago, unintended consequences stem from reactionary cures, whether we want to admit them (or make money selling them).

To the degree that ISRI and R2 Solutions choose to define or develop R2 as a "gold standard", Vermont could be forced in or out as a player in e-waste.  Servicing our own Vermont accounts could be very lucrative as the standards increase - but only until someone moves the jobs out of state, where the R2 standards aren't mandatory.   Bringing NY, NH, MA, RI, CT, ME, NJ etc. material across the border into Vermont could become a niche business, servicing clients who demand R2 or E-Steward standards, but unable to offer services to clients who don't care about those standards.  I am willing to fight for standards I believe are right and just - like not mixing in "toxics along for the ride", and being honest and accountable for my trade.  I am not willing to accept an ignorant concensus that a woman cannot repair a cell phone because of her race, color, or proximity to obsolescence in hindsight payola.

How did I get here?   This isn't just philosophical for me, though it is that.  As an investor and businessman, I have a particular interest in a standard set by peers.   If a competitor in NH wants to outbid me in Boston, he may actually advocate for an R2 standard he cannot meet, knowing my business will be obligated to meet it.

I went from environmentalists to international volunteer to non-profit recycler to state regulator to recycling investor.   What I have to say will be about as important as the history of leaded gasoline in another decade. Meaning - not important at all once it is moot.  Leaded gasoline was incredibly important, the most important environmental law (to human health) ever passed.  Bill Bryson has a very important chapter dedicated to it in "A Short History of Nearly Everything", a book which should be required reading in American high schools.

My trek across mining reform, planned obsolescence, solid waste / RCRA, and international grey market refurbishment has been the most interesting career I could possibly have wished for.  When an old college chum  (widely admired) asked me one question, it was how I knew what I wanted to do as a career.  He seemed to remember I had plotted this career by my senior year in high school (without knowing the details, or how electronics would play).

Anyway, I will return to trying to edit the remaining half of the "horizontal and vertical lobbies" post, because I think it is very interesting how industry can either change leaded gasoline or not, and how people can trust industry or not.    Philosophically, I am beginning to see economics as part of mother nature.  Playing with the free market can result in more mining and less recycling, more new product and less product life / lifecycle.

Primum non nocere

First, do no harm.  This latin mantra of medical ethics appears to originate from consensus of medical practitioners.  I think that regulators, watchdogs, and activists must design a "Hippocratic Oath" for environmental activism which recognizes natural (economic) processes and restrains marketing of cures which are popular before they are vetted.

My dream at this point would be to play a role like Hippocrates, but I know I'm more of a Socratic philosopher, who will probably wind up drinking hemlock in front of my peers.  It's an exaggeration to call Vermont law "hemlock".   But the smaller the state, the more susceptible it may be to rhetoric leveraging logic.  We will see how the different lobbies respond to Vermont, and whether my company is able to "parkour" our way out of the environmental, regulatory, economic, and monopolistic barriers to free and fair trade recycling, doing well by doing good.

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