Environment Planning – Corporate style

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Today I read an article by Paul Krugman of the New York Times about his experience in Berlin, Germany. Initially I was attracted by the article because it mentioned my home country and one of the cities with lots of history.

Often when anybody writes about Berlin it’s about the past, the nasty things the Nazi’s did, or bad things the Soviet Union did while they had their hands on East Berlin, or something along those lines, all the way to the current presidential election comparisons of speeches held by Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.

You remember – one said “Ich bin ein Berliner” the other demanded “Mr. Gorbatchov, bring down this wall!”

When reading more into the article, Paul Krugman actually referred to the question of living close together in the middle of a metropolis versus working in town and living in suburbia.

He writes (abbreviated):

“I have seen the future, and it works.

O.K., I know that these days you’re supposed to see the future in China or India, not in the heart of “old Europe.”

But we’re living in a world in which oil prices keep setting records, in which the idea that global oil production will soon peak is rapidly moving from fringe belief to mainstream assumption. And Europeans who have achieved a high standard of living in spite of very high energy prices – gas in Germany costs more than $8 a gallon – have a lot to teach us about how to deal with that world.

If Europe’s example is any guide, here are the two secrets of coping with expensive oil: own fuel-efficient cars, and don’t drive them too much.

There have been many news stories in recent weeks about Americans who are changing their behavior in response to expensive gasoline – they’re trying to shop locally, they’re canceling vacations that involve a lot of driving, and they’re switching to public transit.

To see what I’m talking about, consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.

It’s the kind of neighborhood in which people don’t have to drive a lot, but it’s also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin – but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.

And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia – utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas – it’s starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.

And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia – utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas – it’s starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.

Changing the geography of American metropolitan areas will be hard. For one thing, houses last a lot longer than cars. Long after today’s S.U.V.’s have become antique collectors’ items, millions of people will still be living in subdivisions built when gas was $1.50 or less a gallon.

Infrastructure is another problem. Public transit, in particular, faces a chicken-and-egg problem: it’s hard to justify transit systems unless there’s sufficient population density, yet it’s hard to persuade people to live in denser neighborhoods unless they come with the advantage of transit access.”

At this point you might ask yourself what this story has to do with the topics of performance, organizational or leadership development, self improvement, or any of the other areas I normally touch on. Well, it gives a certain view about environmental items and issues to consider while we all begin to realize that the government published inflation rate is probably not what we experience everyday. In case you didn’t notice:

For the month of April the government measured that the prices of gas actually dropped. I don’t know which planet or country they went to for their measurement, but that’s what they officially published. In case you don’t believe it, please look it up, but make sure you sit down while you’re at it.

There is more here than an environmental or city planning issue. What we can learn from this article is the importance of environment planning for our corporations. That applies to the organizations we are in, the teams we lead and the decisions we make. For years people unfamiliar with most jobs planned the office spaces with a cubicle structure because it was space saving. Very few people ever liked it or worked particularly efficiently in all the noise and the distractions.

For years companies paid lots’ of money for the manufacturing machines and all kinds of equipment, but very little on the equipment for their workers, resulting in massive lower back pain, spinal mis-formation, carpal-tunnel syndrome, etc.

In the recent past we have seen that these environmental factors of our workplaces have huge impact on the attractiveness of our organizations. It’s not only the pay and the benefits packages, but the overall atmosphere that we create and offer to those we expect to exchange their valuable time for compensation.

If you are in charge of any of these issues, make sure you make a detailed plan about the environment you want to offer and provide for your team. The better the conditions for work and collaboration in your organization are, the better the productivity and the retention of your workforce will be. With an aging work force and ever higher demands on creative, innovative work versus the physical work of the past, the environment planning you do can decide about success or failure of your whole operation.