Can yYou Are What You Eatou identify these foods from their list of ingredients? This should be an easy test, but the ingredients below make it much more challenging. Take the test and see if you can guess the food item. Many nutritionists would argue these are not really food. If we follow Michael Pollan’s advice In Defense of Food,  the processed items below would not meet the criteria for “food”.

  1. WHEAT FLOUR, BARLEY MALT, NIACIN, IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID, WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SOYBEAN OIL, SALT, YEAST, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, CALCIUM PROPIONATE, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, AMMONIUM SULFATE, CALCIUM SULFATE, SOY LECITHIN.
  2. CHICKEN STOCK, WATER, COOKED RICE, COOKED CHICKEN MEAT, CARROTS, SALT, CHICKEN FAT, POTATO STARCH, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, CELERY, COOKED MECHANICALLY SEPARATED CHICKEN, CHICKEN FLAVOR, ONION POWDER, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, FLAVORING, DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, BETA CAROTENE, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, LACTIC ACID, DEHYDRATED GARLIC, CHICKEN POWDER, CHICKEN FAT.
  3. WHOLE GRAIN OAT FLOUR, SUGAR, CORN FLOUR, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, RICE FLOUR, SALT, CALCIUM CARBONATE, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE, REDUCED IRON, NIACINAMIDE, ZINC OXIDE, BHT, YELLOW 5, YELLOW 6, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID.

Were you able to identify the “food” here? Check out the list below to see if you guessed correctly, and to determine why each food item has a boldfaced ingredient.

  1. SUPERMARKET WHITE BREAD (STOP & SHOP WHITE BREAD)
  2. CAMPBELL’S CLASSIC CHICKEN WITH RICE SOUP (GUESS HOW MUCH SALT IS IN THIS PRODUCT)
  3. LIFE CEREAL FROM QUAKER OATS  (HEALTHY LIFE CEREAL SEEMS LIKE AN OXYMORON)

Notable Notes:

The boldfaced ingredients are common on the top 10 lists of important food additives to avoid.

Campbell’s classic chicken with rice soup has 820mg of sodium for a ½ cup serving, though many people would likely consume a cup. 1,640mg of sodium is all or most of the daily recommended sodium intake, which ranges from 1,500 to 2,300mg.

As consumers become more aware of the benefits of single ingredient foods, and the issues with fast food and the western diet, it’s important to take a look at what many adults and children ingest on a daily basis. Processed foods like the examples above can commonly include 20 ingredients or more.

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Postal Service To Cut Saturday Mail

  • Posted on February 6, 2013
  • by Alan Blume

On September 14, 2009, I wrote a blog entitled Going Postal. The first two sentences seemed an obvious observation at the time, “It seems pretty strange that the U.S. government still delivers mail six days a week. After all, the postal service has been running at a deficit for years, in some cases, multibillion dollar deficits.” Over three years later, I was happy to read the following headline on AP, “Postal Service To Cut Saturday Mail”. We have to start somewhere, and cutting back to 5 day delivery is a good beginning. The wheels of change turn slowly, but at least they are turning. In an age of instant electronic communication, pervasive social media, free international VOIP Skype calls, instant messaging, on demand web meetings and texting, watching a mail truck stop at nearly every house in America six times a week seems rather absurd. So the next question is, how long will it take to cut at least one more day off the USPS house to house mail delivery, and how many billions in losses, and how much wasted fuel will be racked up until that time?

 

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US Postal Service posts $3 billion loss – warns of default

  • Posted on August 8, 2011
  • by Alan Blume

A few days ago Emily Stephenson of Reuters reported that, “The U.S. Postal Service posted a net loss of $3.1 billion in its third quarter and warned again it would default on payments to the federal government if Congress did not step in.” No surprise here, just look back to my blog on May 27th, 2010 http://startupselling.com/blogs/alanblume/tuesday%E2%80%99s-mail-%E2%80%93-should-your-tax-dollars-subsidize-direct-mail/, or May 19th of this year http://startupselling.com/blogs/alanblume/us-postal-service-reports-quarterly-loss-of-more-than-2-billion-snail-mail-issues/ where I made the easy prediction of a continuing and worsening USPS debt crisis.

Mail volume continues to drop, almost 3% from the same period last year, and will almost certainly continue to drop. Though the post office doesn’t use tax payer funds, guess what is likely to happen if the USPS defaults. If Congress does not intervene, USPS is unlikely to make their next multibillion payment (sound familiar?). So why are we still delivering mail 6 days a week? Surely 3 or 4 times a week would suffice. Even if the decision represents a slow payback, think of the fuel savings and positive impact on oil imports and the environment.

As was evidenced in the debt debacle, the government has been slow to move on these obvious issues, something all voters, both Republicans and Democrats can likely agree upon. But the USPS is painfully obvious. So here is a simple action plan to help resolve the USPS crisis:

Action items:

  1. Cut delivery to 4 days a week
  2. Stop advertising on TV, etc.
  3. Charge more for junk mail – you’re the only one delivering it (after all it is “junk mail” and environmentally irresponsible)

According to eHow, the average American receives 41 pounds of junk mail per year, of which almost half of the junk mail received annually ends up in a landfill. It costs almosts $320 million in local tax money to dispose of junk mail: http://www.ehow.com/how_5072539_stop-usps-junk-mail.html#ixzz1URp3Z0Kr. I liken the current USPS, 6 day per week delivery with junk mail as a primary cargo to the days of the Pony Express. The time has come and gone for delivery by pony, and the same holds true for the current delivery program. And, the USPS actually offeres a complimentary webinar training program to help small business learn about direct mail advertising, encouraging them to send more direct mail. Perhaps the thought here, is that even though they’re losing money, they can make it up in volume.

This three step plan would be a good start – and before anyone says this program will actually cause more problems or cost more in the short term – the short term pain will result in long term gain – and simply has to be done. Perhaps the day will come where mail will only be delivered once a week, as all government checks go electronic, most payments move to online venues and junk mail becomes a thing of the past.

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On May 10th, 2011 the Associated Press reported that the Postal Service is hemorrhaging money, reporting a loss of more than $2 billion over the first three months of the year and warning it could be forced to default on federal payments. The only surprise here, is if this came as a surprise to anyone.

In May 2010 I posted a blog entitled, “Tuesday’s Mail – Should Your Tax Dollars Subsidize Direct Mail?”  It expressed concern that the US Postal Service was spending time and money in pursuit of an antiquated business. My suggestion in that blog was to immediately move to a maximum delivery schedule of five days per week.  In that blog, I displayed a photo of my mail for that Tuesday, somewhat representative of my mail on any given day. The only important mail I receive are client checks, which probably should, and certainly could, be paid electronically.

Snail Mail - An Anachronism

Snail Mail - An Anachronism

Perhaps the Postal Service is a quick and easy target for savings and an opportunity for our government to show they are serious about reducing wasteful spending. What if we reduced mail delivery to five days per week and cut down on the 200,000 USPS trucks visiting millions of households every day? Even better, can we physically deliver snail mail four days per week? Think of the fuel savings and pollution mitigation from these changes. Perhaps the labor force changes can be accomplished through attrition and reassignment. Perhaps the government can use this as one example of how the US plans to cut fuel waste by encouraging an electronic and greener mail delivery system. Certain agencies are already doing so. The Social Security Administration has already announced the end of paper checks effective on March 1, 2011 for new recipients, and on March 1, 2013 for current benefit recipients. The Treasury estimates the transition to electronic payment will save an estimated $300 million over the first five years, and $120 million each year thereafter. That’s a huge amount of snail mail, important snail mail, that will disappear off mail trucks. More importantly it’s a compelling signal indicating change is needed, and needed now.

The agency says the $2.2 billion Postal Service loss covers the period from Jan. 1 to March 31, 2011. Shall we round it and call it about $8 billion, up from about $6 billion last year? Though the Postal Service doesn’t receive tax money, the US government will become responsible if the organization defaults, or in other words, tax payers will be holding the bag. I realize the wheels of government turn slowly, but seriously, do we really need to take half a decade to decide we no longer need junk mail delivered six days per week?

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The 1973 oil crisis started in October 1973, when the members of Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) including Arab members of OPEC, plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, launched an oil embargo against the U.S. The impact of the embargo resulted in prices quadrupling from approximately $3 per barrel to $12 per barrel. This resulted in fuel rationing, long lines at gas stations and even a reduction in the speed limit across the US. The crisis also prompted a call for individuals and businesses to conserve energy, including a campaign with the tag line “Don’t Be Fuelish”.

Hummer vs. Hybrid

Hummer vs. Hybrid

Though prices leveled off after 1974, there was another huge price spike in 1979 and then again with the onset of Desert Storm. Oil prices have seen great volatility, most notably due to unrest in the Middle East, as is evident today with prices recently eclipsing $112 a barrel. During the last couple of decades we’ve seen the advent and explosive adoption of SUV’s and minivans including the Explorer, Suburban, Navigator, Escalade and Hummer, to name a few of the larger models. Though there has been widespread adoption of SUVs, there has been relatively modest acceptance of Hybrids or dramatic improvement in fuel efficiency for that matter. Alternative fuels for transportation vehicles still remains something closer to science fiction than near term reality.

In retrospect, with the volatility in oil prices and the political uncertainty with the oil producing countries in the Middle East, one might have thought there would be an all out effort to dramatically curb our appetite for Middle East oil, and the gas guzzlers which consume this oil at an accelerated rate. Even the “Drill Baby Drill” supporters, must suspect the limited supply and expected supply duration of oil would prove the need to support alternatives regardless of the interim source. Though vehicles have seen incremental improvement in mileage, it is not significant enough to dramatically curb oil and gas consumption. (Go to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for more consumption information, they collect, analyze, and disseminate energy information and statistics at: http://www.eia.doe.gov/).

But here we are again, with another spike in oil prices correlating to increased pricing at the pump. In the US, gas is now approaching $4.00 per gallon, and in Europe and many other countries it is considerably higher. One important question which continues to remain elusive is, how high do prices have to go, and how much volatility must there be, before we see explosive adoption of hybrids and alternative fuel sources? Will our backs be against the wall before doing so? Can consumers demand, or at least demonstrate a willingness to purchase vehicles with dramatically better fuel consumption to send a message that we are ready to make the change? Can government show a willingness to lead us to a better and faster path to improved fuel economy and adoption of alternative energy options. This is no easy task, but then again, we’ve had an ample opportunity to do so since the oil price spike warning shot was fired in 1973.

Let’s say there were approximately 11 million cars sold in the US in 2010, and about  275,000 were hybrids. I use this metric with all due consideration to the fact that defining exactly what constitutes a “car” is no easy feat, let’s just consider this a general estimate. The best selling hybrid was the Prius with approximately 141,000 sold. This remains significantly below SUV sales levels in the US. For example, recent sales figures show the Honda CR-V netted sales of over 200,000 units and Lexus RX sales increased to almost 100,000. The Chevrolet Equinox ranked in the middle with sales of about 150,000 vehicles. All three of these might fall under a vague category called “fuel efficient SUVs”, the question remains, is that good news or bad news? Is the term fuel efficient SUV oxymoronic, or is it an indication that we are moving, or perhaps creeping, toward more fuel efficient sentiments? Hybrid SUVs would perhaps be more worthy of a fuel efficient SUV title, nonetheless, even a Hybrid SUV is consuming oil.

So where does that leave us? Most should agree that fuel consumption will increase over the coming decades, and will do so rapidly. With China and India emerging as the largest auto markets in the world, they can dwarf the number of vehicles in use by the US and EU. Thus it is almost a certainty that gas consumption will rise dramatically. On the other side of the coin, the supply side, many experts agree that world oil production is in the process of peaking. Some say it has already happened, others predict it will happen by 2018, some say it won’t be until 2050. Everyone seems to agree that the day will come when we will hit the bottom of the oil well, and that day isn’t too far off, be it  50, 100 or even 150 years.

Perhaps we’ve been conditioned to think that scientists and engineers will bail us out of this problem. Perhaps viable alternatives will appear with a precipitous increase in gas and home heating fuel prices. There have been many alternatives discussed from hydrogen to biofuels, from eclectic cars to methane power. It is obviously challenging as little has been accomplished from a behavioral standpoint since 1973, 40 years later we’re still driving gas fueled vehicles, some of them much larger than their predecessors and only incrementally better when it comes to fuel consumption. One thing we can say for certain, for many there is a love affair between people and their cars and changing consumer behavior when it comes to making sacrifices won’t be easy. Styling, acceleration, comfort, roominess, reliability and performance are always on the minds of consumers. Fuel efficiency ranks somewhere on that list, though it is difficult to ascertain where. It would seem one of two changes will cause a drastic change in driving behavior; dramatically higher gas prices, or a new fuel source that offers consumers stylish vehicles with good acceleration, comfort, roominess and performance at a price point comparable to what they are paying today. If hybrid vehicles (or other alternative fuel vehicles) offered good acceleration, comfort, roominess and performance and reliability at a competitive price point, many consumers would adopt sooner. Regardless. at $6 per gallon it is likely we’ll see a significant change in automobile purchasing behavior, and at $10 per gallon we’ll see truly significant changes in alternative fuels for vehicles, and home heating, and  manufacturing and other oil consumptive activities. In any case, I’m betting that we’ll see a much more dramatic change over the next 40 years than we’ve seen over the preceding 40. Though no wager is guaranteed, I’d say it’s a very likely bet.

PS  Virtual businesses rarely use any type of vehicle – For more on virtual go to: http://startmarketingtech.com or http://www.alanblume.com or read Your Virtual Success (Career Press).

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Borders Group Falls Victim To Internet Rivals

  • Posted on February 16, 2011
  • by Alan Blume

Brick and mortar infrastructure will make it progressively more difficult for companies to compete with Internet based rivals. These days the imminent casualties are pretty easy to spot, but in the future there will be many casualties which might seem surprising today. The most recent victim is Borders Group, which is the second-largest U.S. bookstore chain. According to Reuters, Borders filed for bankruptcy protection, after years of sharp sales declines that made it impossible to manage its crushing debt load, and it plans to close nearly one-third of its stores. Borders has not been able to capture market share in the online world, making it difficult to compete with Amazon and other rivals.

I’ve posted several blogs on this topic since March 2010:

Was this a moment of clairvoyance, should I quit the day job and become an Internet soothsayer? These predictions are pretty simple, just look for the cheaper and better distribution system and you’ll find the winner. Think of the Eerie canal compared to transit by horse and buggy. How about steam powered ships versus sail powered vessels? The telephone as opposed to snail mail, and email as opposed to fax. And today (and in the imminent future), Internet based or leveraged businesses will continue to win over brick and mortar businesses. Where are the next battles? Blockbuster versus Netflix, BestBuy versus Amazon and traditional publishers versus ePublshing are a few obvious matchups. Perhaps less obvious might be Walmart, shopping malls and libraries. These may seem an incongruous group, but they all face Internet based challenges, their existence predicated upon the ability to compete with cheaper, swifter and digital rivals.

Last week I purchased a new Dell XPS from Dell’s website. Upon receipt of this laptop (shipping was free), I noticed that it only had HDMI output (after all – VGA is getting old) and I needed a new nine foot HDMI to DVI cable to connect my external Samsung monitor. Online at Amazon and other e-tailers, prices ranged from $10 to $20 for many of them including shipping. Upon my arrival at BestBuy, my options were to buy a six foot cable for $40, or a longer HDMI cable with DVI converter for $90. The latter was the generic BestBuy brand, if I went with the name brand it would have been $130. This isn’t a matter of price gouging or unfair retailing by BestBuy, rather it’s a cost of doing business issue. Retail infrastructure is expensive, e-tail infrastructure is much, much cheaper. Time will tell who shall be the next brick and mortar victim, but I don’t think we’ll be waiting too long.

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Office Buildings Are Obsolete – Big Box Stores Too?

  • Posted on February 5, 2011
  • by Alan Blume
Internet Marketing

Internet Marketing

Last year I wrote a blog stating that office buildings are obsolete, and this year I’m thinking the same conjecture might also apply to big box stores. I recently noticed a Yahoo post entitled, The Coming Collapse of Commercial Real Estate is Already Here, by Stacy Curtin. Stacy aptly notes that BestBuy and Target missed their expected earnings targets, and as of this writing, Wal-Mart has seen 6 consecutive quarters of negative same store sales. Further, this happened to BestBuy even though a key competitor, CircuitCity, had moved into bankruptcy. Though this has occurred in a tough economy, many of their online competitors have seen significantly better results.

Stacy’s article states that more people are buying, they are just buying online. This seems true globally and anecdotally. About a year ago, I tried to purchase a receiver from BestBuy, only a couple of miles from my home. Unfortunately the receiver was out of stock. In fact all the receivers that might have been of interest to me were out of stock. A couple of years ago, I would have driven across the street to the now defunct CircuitCity (speaking of brick and mortar retail challenges). Instead, I drove home, went online to Amazon and purchased a better receiver for less money, which was delivered a day later. Obviously, I’m not alone. Many of my friends and colleagues now make routine purchases from Amazon as progressively more consumers become comfortable with online searching and shopping.

My CPA buys all his books on his Kindle, as do I, a faster, easier and more cost effective alternative to the brick and mortar bookstore. The challenges for BestBuy, Target, Wal-Mart, Blockbuster and Barnes & Noble are obvious, perhaps most evident by the huge electronic book display in the premium retail location at the front of the Barnes & Noble stores. B&N appears to be working hard to transition to a Kindle type operation with their new Nook. Better late than never, or simply too late for the date? Only time will tell, though their extensive brick and mortar costs may result in too much ballast for them to successfully navigate from retail to e-tail.

But retail isn’t alone in the commercial real estate challenge. Traditional office buildings will face a virtual workforce shift, as progressive companies opt for less costly and more efficient work from home staffing. This is happening with small virtual companies like StartUpSelling, Inc. and giants like IBM. Working virtually has amazing advantages, from resolving the commute related issue with today’s snow storm in Boston, to using highly cost effective tools like Skype which allows multistate, multiparty video conferencing for pennies a day.

Do these changes spell the imminent destruction and removal of office buildings and big box retail? I think this is too strong a statement. There will likely be a need for many types of retail establishment, from groceries to lumber, from household items to convenience items. And there will be office based businesses that require some or perhaps many employees to congregate. That said, the changes to brick and mortar retail and offices are upon us, gaining speed every day, as the convenience and cost efficacy of virtual business and e-tail offers a more convenient path for the rapidly increasing, interconnected internet world.

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Your Virtual Success - virtual sales, marketing and business - photo from Flickr

Office Buildings Are Obsolete - "GoVirtual, Baby, Go Virtual"

These days, office buildings simply seem like an outdated concept, a horse drawn carriage in the age of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet, a stereo turntable in an iPod era. Of course towering skyscrapers and massive office buildings composed of brick and mortar, conference rooms and cubicles made sense at one time, but with the advent of pervasive internet connectivity and virtual meeting tools, these office buildings are rapidly becoming obsolete, resulting in unfortunate collateral damage like massive oil and gas consumption, unnecessary expense and wasted productivity. Office buildings, though seemingly innocuous, are one of the key catalysts causing us to use 350 million gallons of gas per day, and waste millions of hours of valuable time and productivity. Does is make sense for millions of white collar workers to spend an hour commuting into a city, searching for parking, scurrying across crowded streets to then spend 99 percent of their time working from their PC, talking on the phone, and communicating through email and on-line Web meetings?

Reducing the national commute is no longer a want; it is a clearly defined need as is evident by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling a mile down under the ocean illustrates the extreme lengths we as a society are willing to go to fuel our need for oil and gas. Why do we need so much oil, and why are we importing over 60% of the oil we need? Figures vary, but some, including the NRDC, estimate that passenger cars use up “40 percent of the oil consumed in America”. Many organizations are calling for improved fuel consumption, smaller cars, hybrid vehicles and carpooling. But I look at these suggestions, albeit good ones, as treating the symptoms but not the disease. We could easily cut passenger car fuel consumption in half (or perhaps by as much a 75%), if companies adopted a virtual approach to business, abandoning the tiring and tedious commute and embracing a home office based, internet model.

According to Wikipedia, “Estimates suggest that over 50 million U.S. workers (about 40% of the working population) could work from home at least part of the time yet, in 2008, only 2.5 million employees (not including the self-employed) considered home their primary place of business.” Yes, there are millions of telecommuters and home office based businesses now operating out of their respective homes, but this could and should be increased tenfold.

There are three major factors which need to be addressed to foster a dramatic increase the numbers of home based workers.

1. A new management style will need to be embraced by companies; management needs to be focus on results and not on the close daily supervision and behaviors of individual employees.

2. Workers need to learn how to work from home and get comfortable with the home based office concept.

3. A shift in tools toward cloud computing and away from traditional enterprise applications may be required.

Of these three factors, the first two represent a change management paradigm shift which as we all know can be very challenging and time consuming. The latter is a technology shift, more readily and rapidly addressable, almost everything this writer does is now cloud computing based. My days are now comprised of a handful of Skype calls, several web meetings, eMarketing, SEO (search engine optimization), website makeovers, blogging and Social Media Marketing and Networking, all done in the internet cloud.

Are office buildings and all they represent the underlying cause for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico? Can we rapidly curb our appetite for oil by adopting a virtual approach to business and commuting? Will the echoes of the Michael Steele and Sarah Palin slogan “Drill, Baby, Drill” someday change to “Go Virtual, Baby, Go Virtual”? I think virtual business and management will be an evolution rather than a revolution, behavioral change lags technological change. This change, however, is happening and it is a change for the better, a more eco-friendly and lifestyle friendly model, and certainly a change for increased productivity and decreased fuel consumption. As this evolution unfolds, what will happen to all those office buildings? I believe they will simply be repurposed, whether they morph to condos, research facilities and light industrial (yes there will still be jobs which require onsite venues), warehouse space, and community, athletic or recreational facilities. Or perhaps they will slowly evolve to some purpose beyond our current scope of understanding or speculation. Regardless of what shall happen to these office building obelisks, encompassing both impressive and generic icons of an anachronistic business model, I think many would agree that it seems like an inherently bad idea to continue to foster a commuter centric model which requires millions of white collar workers to burn oil, time and money in this virtual age.

OK, I’ll say it, “Go Virtual, Baby, Go Virtual”.

For more information, read Your Virtual Success (Career Press), available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble or Indie bookstores (or online). Or go to one of my websites: http://www.yourvirtualsuccess.net, http://www.startupselling.com. Has your company, agency, or professional services firm started the transition to a more efficient and productive virtual sales, virtual marketing or virtual business model?

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We certainly like our mailman who faithfully delivers our mail, or to be politically correct perhaps we should say mail person or postal worker. Yet on most days, we should simply say why is he coming at all? Though we do receive physical checks each week, these could be delivered twice a week, or we could simply ask clients to pay via PayPal or online transfer. On occasion we receive a letter from a friend, but 99% of the time friend and family communications is now provided through email or social networking. My children’s grandparents, as they near 80 years old, have now moved to email as their primary method of communication.

Last Tuesday, our diligent and timely mail person delivered 11 mail items to our house. All of them were solicitations of one type or another including (see photo): Asian Food, Pool Supplies, Electronics, Cosmetics, Replacement Windows, Credit Card Offer, Window & Gutter Cleaning, University Fund Raising, Household Items, Religious Fund Raising and a Technical School Brochure.  All of this went into the recycling bucket, with the exception of the 20% household item coupon my wife might use. Of course, this store already has our email and could have emailed us the coupon. The University fundraising mailer makes no sense to me, as they have my email and my phone number, and email and call frequently. Even the window replacement vendor has our email as we had conversed in the past.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect the right of these companies to market their products and services, I just don’t think we should subsidize it, or expend time, money and gas to deliver it. Candidly, I’d like to see less trees, energy, cost and waste that is associated with the creation and delivery of paper in general. Direct mail, now known as snail mail, is an anachronism, a phonograph type solution in an iPod age. The post office, which has been running losses of over $1.5 Billion per quarter, recently offered the following statements in their 10-Q quarterly report.

  • “The recent losses are primarily attributable to unprecedented declines in mail volumes that began in 2008.”
  • “The Postal Service projects debt outstanding at year-end to increase over the September 30, 2009 balance by the maximum allowable $3 billion, to $13.2 billion. The $15 billion debt ceiling will become insufficient in 2011.”

Though taxpayers don’t fund the loss directly, the USPS borrows from the treasury to pay for the deficits. The net result is dollars out of taxpayer pockets. Should Congress move quickly here, after all, $1.5 billion in losses per quarter to deliver direct mail does seem a tad unreasonable? Recently, it was proposed that six day a week mail service should end. This is a ridiculous interim step. Discussions should revolve around reducing deliveries to three days a week, and we should increase the fees to direct mail marketers to encourage companies to offer more electronic marketing. There are now many choices available that are more efficient and environmentally friendly than direct mail: eMail, Social Media Marketing, SEO, and Web Seminar Marketing to mention just a few. All of these alternatives are less oil consumptive and less labor intensive than the “596,000 workers and over 218,000 vehicles” the post office uses according to Wikipedia.  Wikipedia continues on to say, the USPS “is the second-largest civilian employer in the United States (after Wal-Mart) and the operator of the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world.” That’s a lot of brick and mortar infrastructure to deliver my 11 pieces of direct marketing “junk mail”, and I doubt we want to run a $6 Billion annual deficit to accomplish this. Is there still a place for the United States Post Office? I think a scaled down version is still called for, there undoubtedly remains a need to deliver paper based documents which are still necessary and important. With the dramatic increase in virtual solutions, email, social networking and digital documents, perhaps three a day per week postal services is more reasonable and more cost effective. Will this scaled down version result in a dramatic reduction in deficits? One would certainly hope so, but at a minimum, it would result in a dramatic reduction in gas, oil and overhead. Regardless, my credo remains, go virtual, don’t go postal.

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$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better by Christopher Steiner is a fascinating read as the author predicts in a somewhat linear price centric manner what the future will look like with rapidly rising oil prices. Like most predictive works, there are some things which seem plausible and are firmly rooted in a reasonably assumptive view of the future, and others that require a huge leap of faith and do not seem to pass my litmus test of an evolving world with technology to match. His basic premise, the inevitable depletion of oil reserves and incremental rise in gas prices seems very likely. After all, there are many scenarios in which the cost of gas can and will rise. Oil is a limited resource and production capacity actually peaked many years ago. Hurricanes can impact offshore rigs and cause prices to rise. Problems in the Middle East, which these days seem relatively certain, can cause a significant jump at any time. China and India, on the precipice of massively increased consumption is another major factor. Surely, there is a compelling case for significant price increases, which in turn, would create a cascading impact across our current lifestyles. But how would that impact manifest itself on our lifestyles?

Steiner takes the reader chapter by chapter, illustrating the changes to our lives as gas increases incrementally from current levels to $20 per gallon. He offers some fascinating prognostication including the demographic shift from suburban to urban living, changes in purchase habits, travel habits, consumption and of course driving. He also examines some very interesting innovations in fuel conservation evolution. Some of his conjecture is quite thought provoking, but in a few cases, some fundamental questions of mine remained unanswered.

For example, there are two key factors that are not truly addressed in $20 Per Gallon. First, the author presupposes that there will be no cost effective replacement for oil before gas hits $20 a Gallon, if ever. He argues that oil is so cheap, there is no alternative that could provide for this cost effective replacement. I’m not ready to buy into that argument; I believe that a combination of greed and technology (is that contemporary capitalism?) can still provide a viable solution. How about a chicken in every pot and wind turbine on every roof campaign slogan? Perhaps America will become home to 300 million consumer based wind turbines that power up each and every efficient electric vehicle, eliminating automobile gas consumption. This may sound far-fetched today, but clearly we have seen some impressive gains in this arena. Secondly, and more applicable to my ongoing theme, is the extremely positive impact of virtual business on energy consumption. Imagine the reduction in consumption if half of the current workforce worked from home instead of commuting to an office. The reduction in energy consumption would be staggering. Combine this new commuting behavior with solar, wind, hydro and emerging green technologies, and we could see a dramatic change in consumption. Will this happen overnight? No, but it certainly could happen before we see gas hit $20 a gallon. Nonetheless, $20 Per Gallon is an interesting and fun read. I particularly enjoyed Steiner’s outlook on Walmart! There are many interesting winners and losers in Steiner’s rising price scenarios, and I can certainly recommend $20 Per Gallon as a winner. And yes, I did read it on a Kindle.

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Posted in: business, Business Book Review, green, Virtual Business
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