Restoring Chitimacha: How Companies Can Serve as Agents of Cultural Preservation

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

“The artist has a special task and duty: the task of reminding men of their humanity and the promise of their creativity.”

As historian, sociologist and critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) so eloquently noted in the quote above, all art – visual, musical, literary, architectural, performing, culinary – reflects the best of humanity.  We are, after all, the culture that we create.

This month, the Smithsonian held its 46th Folk Life Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the institution’s annual celebration of American and global cultural heritage. I try to attend each year to remind myself of the richness and diversity of human expression and our collective human achievements. The Smithsonian calls the exposition “an exercise in cultural democracy,” where cultural practitioners “speak for themselves, with each other, and to the public.” I can attest that festival visitors are encouraged not merely to observe, but “to participate – to learn, sing, dance, eat traditional foods, and converse with people presented in the Festival program.” Indeed, where else can you nibble on Azerbaijani dolma, join a discussion on native Hawaiian aquaculture, and reflect on graffiti-based public murals all while listening to Mariachi music?

The fact that museums and institutions like the Smithsonian and other non-profits, NGOs and academic organizations (along with a few government agencies) would work so hard to preserve our collective culture is heartening and noble, but not surprising. For many institutions, this is part of their core mission and, for some, their raison d’être. But, as with so many other aspects of life in the 21st century, the private sector has a tremendous opportunity to assist in the vital mission of cultural preservation and celebration. In fact, many critics have argued that, through globalization, the great forces of commerce and industry have actually helped to spread and speed the homogenization of today’s global culture. They have a point. That’s why I’m encouraged to see so many companies embracing cultural preservation as part of their corporate responsibility commitment, and working to find ways to protect, celebrate and share some of the most unique and important manifestations of our global culture, particularly those elements that are threatened. 

Many of these efforts are perfectly aligned with the specific business goals, core competencies and products and services of the companies leading them. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • When China’s famous Terracotta Warriors were threatened with several strains of fungi in the late 1990s, Johnson & Johnson brought its products and expertise to bear, working closely with scientists at the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Army Museum. Following the successful development of anti-fungal solutions that have since helped to preserve the sculptures, the company established a laboratory dedicated to research on material protection, which to date has contributed to the preservation of other cultural relics around the world.
  • HP (a former client) is using its IT infrastructure to help preserve art and cultural treasures around the world. Collections at the National Gallery of London and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi are being digitized and cataloged, and in some cases, masterpieces are being restored, with the help of the company’s digital and imaging technologies. In 2002, HP launched an effort with the Vatican Library to digitize one of the world’s largest collections of manuscripts, documents and ancient texts, making them available to millions of people online. HP has also provided tools and resources to 18 Native American communities in California to help them record and archive tribal languages, histories and elders’ stories.
  • In 2004, language learning software company Rosetta Stone launched a program to preserve endangered languages. The company works with indigenous groups around the world to develop software specifically designed to help revitalize at-risk and in some cases, already extinct languages. The program aims to reinforce endangered languages with current speakers and introduce them to younger generations. A great example is the company’s effort to preserve and revive the “sleeping” language of the Chitimacha tribe of south central Louisiana, whose last fluent speaker died in 1940. Equipped with the new software, the tribe is actively working to restore Chitimacha as a spoken language among young people at school and at home, both on and off the tribe’s reservation. Rosetta Stone also instituted a grant program to address any financial barriers that might prevent groups from participating in the project.
  • Google is using its platform and technologies to preserve culture in a number of ways. Three notable initiatives are the company’s Endangered Language Project, the Google Art Project and Google Books. All of these efforts provide access to material and content, but more than that, they help foster understanding and appreciation. They facilitate research and collaboration between individuals and institutions, and encourage conversation, interaction and exchange. In this way, by sharing culture and making it accessible, they are also helping to preserve it.

There is so much need and so much opportunity here for enlightened companies to incorporate cultural preservation into their sustainability and CSR platforms. I would love to see a global food manufacturer or a major restaurant chain collecting and preserving indigenous recipes and disappearing foodways. And how fitting would it be for a major music label to record and capture for posterity endangered folksongs and tribal dances?

With ever decreasing coffers, governments at all levels are facing increasingly more difficult choices in terms of what to support and the degree to which they can support it. This reality isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Non-profits and academic institutions are equally challenged, leaving fewer resources to put behind preserving and celebrating our cultural heritage. Many companies are helping to stage exhibits and performances and to keep the lights on at museums, theaters and institutions through sponsorships, corporate donations and cause marketing. But for those able and willing to go beyond simply writing a check, saving and celebrating the best of human art and achievement presents a powerful opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

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Business… with Liberty and Justice for All (Part Two)

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

The world is more peaceful today than it has been since 2009. This is the finding of the 2012 Global Peace Index, released last week by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

As noted in my previous post, with a few unfortunate exceptions (think Syria and Sudan), this annual study of relative peacefulness and stability throughout the world is encouraging. It also reaffirms, for me at least, the role that the private sector can play in democratic development.

Once a company has sufficiently addressed its core sustainability and responsibility fundamentals, true corporate citizens can work with and support other sectors of society in promoting and advancing liberty and justice, the cornerstones of democracy.

If the Arab Spring (the subject of my last post) was about liberty, then the Special Court for Sierra Leone was about justice.

On June 5, just days after the sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes, my firm organized and sponsored a panel discussion at the National Press Club on the global impact of Taylor’s war crimes conviction.

Taylor was convicted at The Hague on April 26 by the United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which unanimously found him guilty on all counts of the indictments against him. On May 30, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel forces during Sierra Leone’s long and devastating civil war. Not since the Nuremburg trials after World War II has a former head of state been convicted of war crimes.

The panel was moderated by Hill + Knowlton Strategies Vice Chairman Frank Mankiewicz and featured special prosecutor Stephen J. Rapp, ambassador-at-large and leader of the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the U.S. Department of State; Richard Downie, deputy director and fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies; Jonathan Temin, director of the Sudan Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace; and Corinne Dufka, senior researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

The discussion concluded that a country cannot flourish if its people believe there are two disparate sets of rules being applied. Now that the citizenry truly believes that justice is possible and has been fairly administered, all sectors of Sierra Leone’s society—especially private enterprise—can prosper.  More on the linkages between transitional justice, security and development can be found in the World Bank’s latest World Development Report.

While companies were not permitted to contribute financially to the operations of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, they were able to support it in other ways. My firm provided pro bono strategic counsel, media relations and communications services. Legal and research services were also donated by other firms. No one seems to take issue with whether or not companies should be allowed to provide such in-kind donations to entities like the Special Court, but debate continues as to whether or not corporations should be allowed to provide direct financial support for their operations. Microsoft made what is thought to be one of the first such contributions when it donated $100,000 to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. I understand the concerns this may raise, but provided the right checks and balances are in place to ensure impartiality, I see no issues in allowing companies to express their support morally, in-kind or financially. Such donations seem like noble expressions of a desire for the stability, development and prosperity that can only come through justice.

As I am reminded every day, there are many dimensions of corporate responsibility. Every company has something to contribute to society, even when it comes to fostering democracy. With the continued involvement and support of the private sector, let’s hope the positive trends reported in this year’s Peace Index continue in the years ahead.

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Business… with Liberty and Justice for All

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

The 2012 Global Peace Index was released this week. This annual study of relative peacefulness and stability, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, found that in spite of some unfortunate pockets of strife and unrest (think Syria and Somalia), the world is more peaceful today than it has been since 2009.

In the face of so many challenges confronting our world, this is a positive development. It also reaffirms, for me at least, that in today’s dynamic, globalized world, the private sector has a responsibility and an opportunity to promote and advance the cornerstones of democracy – liberty and justice.

Once the more basic boxes of sustainability and responsibility are checked, corporate citizens can work with and support other sectors of society in ways, both large and small, that are mutually beneficial. After all, free enterprise is vital to democracy. And conversely, rule of law, transparent government, individual and property rights, the free flow of information—all hallmarks of true democracy—are essential to free enterprise.

The Center for International Private Enterprise said it best in their landmark policy paper, Helping Build Democracy that Delivers:

“Together with other citizens and segments of society, the business sector must play its part in democratic development. As a key component of civil society, business possesses resources, human capital, and problem-solving capabilities that can benefit society as a whole. A politically engaged private sector can improve policymaking, represent legitimate economic interests, and defend democratic rights and institutions.”

There is a lot corporations can do, directly and indirectly, long and short-term – from advocacy and moral support (alone or through trade groups or chambers of commerce), to new ventures, partnerships and direct investment. The dialogue at two recent events I attended underscores this point. A few weeks ago, I co-chaired a roundtable conference on building civil society after the Arab Spring, hosted by the Association of Americans for Civic Responsibility (AACR). And just last week, my company sponsored a forum with the National Press Club’s International Correspondents Committee on the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes.

As I noted during the AACR roundtable, from the smallest street market peddlers to the largest global corporations, there can be no mistake that businesses played a central role in spurring, supporting and shaping the Arab Spring. While experts continue to debate and discuss the specific root causes for the uprisings and escalation of civil protests, it’s likely that historians will one day point to the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi as a primary catalyst. Bouazizi was a man who felt so harassed, humiliated, repressed and defeated that he could only envision one response. From that horribly sad but galvanizing statement by a small business owner with a fruit cart to the tacit and explicit support of some of the world’s largest global corporations, including telecommunications and social media companies, business and the Arab Spring have arguably been inextricably linked.

In the months and years ahead, how will economic growth and democratic reform continue to play a role in the region? What can the private sector do to bring about positive changes in democratic governance and economic development? And what role and responsibility does the business sector really hold? These were just a few of the questions we explored in a panel session that included Joseph Siegle, Director of Research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies; Gregory Simpson, Senior Project Officer at the Center for International Private Enterprise; and Nivin Safwat AbdelMeguid, a Leaders for Democracy fellow and research assistant at the American University of Cairo, who provided a firsthand account of what she experienced during the historic events in her native Egypt. I encourage those interested to review the summary report of the entire roundtable conference.

If the Arab Spring was about liberty, then the Special Court for Sierra Leone was about justice.

More on that in my next post.

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Telling the Whole Story

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

More jobs and cheaper energy. In the lead up to this week’s Super Tuesday primaries, these have been constant refrains from the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. They have also been central messages from President Obama.  No doubt, they will continue to be among the key themes repeated between now and November 6.

Almost as if on cue, comes a new study by Deutsche Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation. The report suggests that a renewed emphasis on energy efficiency retrofits across the country could save Americans $1 trillion over the next ten years and help create 3 million jobs, all while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 600 million metric tons, roughly 10% of current levels.

It is an exciting and compelling prospect. But aside from how well this narrative plays into election year campaign themes, it underscores the connection between sustainability and a company’s financial performance. And this is only the latest of several recent studies that show increasingly stronger connections between environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and business performance and success.

Take a look at the new study by researchers at Harvard Business School and London Business School  – The Impact of a Corporate Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior and Performance, the KPMG study – Expect the Unexpected: Building Business Value in a Changing World, and the third annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group.

More evidence of this connection is found in Responsible Investment: Creating Value from Environmental, Social and Governance issues, a new study of the private equity sector by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The research found that 94 percent of respondents believe ESG activities can create value.

For years, my firm has provided counsel to companies around the world, big and small, on how to embrace corporate responsibility and sustainability, and how to communicate effectively about that commitment.  Increasingly, as more companies are seeing the connection between financial and non-financial performance, they recognize the need to integrate their communications and reporting – to tell the whole story.

To help provide this guidance, we’ve partnered with Harvard Business School Professor Robert G. Eccles, one of the world’s foremost experts on integrated reporting, and one of the authors of the aforementioned HBS study. Research by Professor Eccles finds that companies with a long, consistent track record of engaging in and disclosing efforts to operate with ESG policies in mind significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of financial performance and rate of return for investors.

As the size, reach and influence of global corporations continues to grow, so too does the public’s demand for transparency and accountability.  According to new H+K Strategies research, more than two-thirds of Americans hold corporations directly accountable for their actions.  But the same holds true for the positive impact a company can have.  A new Deloitte Touch Tohmatsu Limited study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit finds that 76% of respondents believe that the value of a company should be measured not only by its profits, but by the positive contributions its core business makes to society.

For business – whatever the product, whatever the sector – it seems there’s never been a better time to tell the whole story.

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GSA Makes Federal Case of E-Waste Recycling

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, Account Supervisor, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Washington, D.C.

Since its inception in late 2008, the Hill+Knowlton Strategies Green Team has made a concerted effort to be responsible environmental citizens. From new silverware to new energy efficient light bulbs, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on recycling and energy conservation. This exercise culminated in an extremely successful e-waste campaign with our client, United Cerebral Palsy, where we collected nearly 1,000 lbs.

On Thursday, the General Services Administration made a very important declaration that all federal agencies are now banned from disposing used electronics in landfills or incinerators. Instead, a bulletin from the GSA offered agencies explicit instructions on where to send electronics for recycling. While some agencies have been doing this for years, the mandate is critical to ensure the rest follow suit. It’s a move that probably should have been made long ago, but I’m both pleased and proud to see action taking place.

Not all e-waste recycling is created equal. Recycling electronics in one place doesn’t always offer the environmental return you’re looking for. There are operations that offer e-waste recycling, only to dump and burn it later on down the line. But there ARE credible third party recycling organizations that take great care in both the materials, and their employees. Agencies, companies and consumers MUST do their due diligence in selecting the right company.

We all need to take a page out of the GSA’s book and look for ways to recycle our old phones, computers and TVs. In the weeks ahead, H+K plans to drive another e-waste recycling program with United Cerebral Palsy. We’ll be sharing information on how you can make a difference as well.

For now, congratulations to the GSA and the Federal Government. Great move. Let’s keep it rolling!

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America “lost” the iPhone work – but maybe that’s not the worst part

posted by Tara Knight

I was forwarded a recent New York Times article about Apple’s manufacturing in China that really got me thinking about the scope of Corporate Social Responsibility and the entire ecosystem that exists around multinational companies. The intended – and unintended consequences of the choice of actions by corporate management, and ultimately, what it says about our societies as a whole.

What really got me thinking in the article though was a story of the creation of the glass screen for the iPhone.  Steve Jobs wasn’t happy with the prototype’s plastic screen, and demanded a glass alternative that wouldn’t scratch. Famously uncompromising, his insistence demanded the flexibility and instant change of manufacturing capacity and capability that could only be accommodated in another jurisdiction (China) primarily because of working expectations (both written and unwritten) that are no longer legal, expected or accepted in many other countries.

The article quotes a current Apple executive, saying “we shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers. The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” In this case, however, what Apple needed, was workers who could be roused from their dormitory beds in the middle of the night for a 12 hour shift (Apple does monitor and publish an audit report of their suppliers). Obviously, Apple is only one of many companies choosing more “flexible” and “capable” locations for their manufacturing needs.

What does it say about our society that expediency and efficiency – valuable and real requirements of business today – have a trump card over how we treat and cooperate with other societies? I know many brilliant people have tackled this question, with few palatable answers – and the cynical among us might learn towards the idea of corporate activity as inherently pathological.

I am caught – ultimately, our corporations, our institutions, our interactions are defined by someone –and how these “someones” charged with the responsibility of directing organizations choose to  interact and collaborate with the world are an example set for the people around them.  I fall more with John Locke if only that I cannot bear the idea of Thomas Hobbes’ society that puts so little faith in its members. The question remains, in our global economy, is it possible to be a healthy, ethical corporation? How do we realize a global social contract – or are we simply unable to think beyond our immediate world and consider the reality of others?

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Not Just a “Pick-Up” Line

posted by Andrew Cuneo

I think many of us who listen to the evening news broadcasts expect to hear a lot of the same thing: Fighting here, budget cuts there, unemployment is “XX” high. But every so often, you come across a story that makes you feel good about where the human race is going. And this happened to me Wednesday evening. As my daughter and I sat on the couch watching NBC Nightly News, a story at the end of the telecast came on that both made us stop and listen.

A young group of individuals called “Pick up America” is driving across the country picking up roadside trash. Traveling in an old school bus running on recycled vegetable oil, the youth group started in March 2010 in Maryland and have since traveled 2/3rds of the way across our nation picking up close to 140,000 lbs of litter left by careless motorists. They get local volunteers involved, bring a sense of accomplishment to those who participate and leave lessons for future generations to live by. Why do it? Member Jeff Chen says: “We’re young people and need to take a hold of our future.”

It’s time we all shared the enthusiasm these “pick up artists” are exhibiting. Though too young to understand, my daughter watched. It’s a lesson I hope she (and for that matter we) learn – from activities in everyday life to what you do in the office.

What do you do to help the environment?

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In addition to CSR, what about “PSR?”

posted by Tara Knight

Guest post by: Jennifer Hamilton
Account Executive, Hill & Knowlton, Tampa, Fla.

Over the past 10 years, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has grown from an admirable goal for a few companies to an almost certain requirement for many businesses and corporations. Consumers care about what companies are doing to improve society and many use a company’s CSR efforts (or lack of) to help inform buying decisions.

Many view CSR as an important and necessary part of business. In a society where people care more and more about what businesses are doing outside of their own bottom line, CSR offers a moral and ethical compass by which companies can gauge their corporate conscience against, and one that citizens can use to monitor the level of responsibility companies are taking for the environment, economy and society. People may differ on what constitutes good CSR, but most believe in its overall importance.

Mashable, an online news source on web culture, social media and technology, recently posted an article about a personal version of CSR. In the article, they discuss “PSR” and argue that commitments to sustainability are not just for brands anymore. The author poses an intriguing question about whether the same sustainability lens that’s been held to companies will soon be held up to the individual … and if it should be.

Imagine if you were defined by a score, or evaluated on a scale for what you did or didn’t do for your community or for the broader environment. As a society, we are often quick to cast judgments about others (whether they are spoken or unspoken) on their philanthropic or altruistic actions. We naturally want to surround ourselves with those who we admire and who motivate us to become better ourselves. So, is PSR just a natural extension of this? Especially given the dominance of social media and the seemingly never ending desire to broadcast ones every move?

In some ways, there are already systems in place that measure a person’s worth or credibility, such as a credit score. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we want them on display. In fact, most are quite protective of this information, and rightly so, even when they’re admirably high.

With “PSR” comes the next question of “How will it be conveyed?” Is it internalized by the person and kept private or is it shared or broadcast in some way? And if so, how? And how is the accuracy determined? Is it based on self reporting or another form that can be more measured? How would you feel about not only having a “PSR” score or evaluation, but also having it open for anyone to see, including clients and/or prospective bosses? What about future in-laws? What are the implications on our society to have those “scores” standardized and searchable for anyone to find?

Maybe the question isn’t if people should be held to the same standards as businesses, but rather, should it be publicized for all to know? After all, people already differ on how CSR is defined. I imagine that “PSR” could also create similar debate. To some, having a “PSR” commitment would mean dedicating time and money to charitable causes or being environmentally friendly. Others may define their commitment to simply being a person with high moral and ethical standards. Should your social worth be conveyed to everyone and anyone?

The concept of “PSR” may seem like a wild idea, but keep in mind that at one time, even as early as twenty years ago, CSR did not really exist and certainly wasn’t the standard business practice it is today. What if, in ten years time, “PSR” is just as widespread? Imagine where that could take us as individuals… and even more importantly, as a society…

What do you think? In addition to CSR, should we have personal social responsibility?

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How Corporate America Can Benefit from a More Sustainable Healthcare System

posted by Tara Knight

I am posting on behalf of Robert Ludke, Managing Director Public Strategies, Inc. who is contributed this posting to ResponsAbility

When people refer to “sustainability,” it is often in the context of a company seeking to improve its bottom line and the environment by doing things like using less water and becoming more energy efficient. Yet, the most unsustainable cost facing nearly every company across the world is healthcare.

The challenge of increasing healthcare costs is particularly problematic in the United States – one of the few countries in the world where employer-funded coverage is the mainstay of the insurance system and universal coverage is not guaranteed. Case in point: for American companies, healthcare coverage is the most expensive benefit paid by employers.

Despite all the flaws in the current system – including the high cost of healthcare, the inefficient delivery of care and the fact that more than 50 million Americans lack coverage – there is little likelihood of fundamental change.

This means nearly every one of our U.S.-based clients is facing a challenge. They are largely stuck in the general confines of the current system, with its many shortcomings, not the least of which is an unsustainable cost trajectory.

Some companies are seeking to address that challenge by encouraging their employees to live healthier and more responsible lives in which a greater emphasis is placed on preventive care. While some incremental success has been achieved in encouraging people to lead healthier lives and increasing access to preventive healthcare, such efforts will not produce savings sufficient enough to bend the so-called “cost curve” to the point where there is a reduction in the amount of money spent on healthcare.

In order to bend the cost curve, a fundamental shift in how society manages healthcare is needed. While that challenge is daunting, for a significant number of our clients, it presents an opportunity not only to benefit their bottom line but also to improve their reputation as responsible employers committed to a healthier, more sustainable society.

In particular, many of our largest clients have the ability to use the purchasing power they gain from the number of employees they cover with health insurance to either insist on changes to how care is delivered to their employees or to serve as a useful resource to policymakers and thought leaders who are working to improve health outcomes at a lower cost.

If the private sector wants to have a more effective voice in how the cost of healthcare can be reduced while improving the outcomes of that care, it needs to engage in and shape the public debate. Opportunities abound for points of interaction with the health policy community, to launch pilot projects to develop and implement best practices, and for leading companies to be held out to the public as thought leaders in developing and implementing policies to improve the lives of their employees and the broader public.

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Talking Sustainability and Energy with One of the Best in the Business

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington D.C.

In late March, I had the fortunate opportunity to join a few colleagues in meeting and talking energy and sustainability with one of the best minds on the topic, blogger and Fortune reporter Marc Gunther. As an avid reader of Marc’s, and a big fan of his work, knowledge and interest in sustainability, I spent the hour sharing thoughts and anecdotes about energy, sustainability, what companies are doing well as well as how Marc prepares for being an MC for panel discussions at top trade shows.

As a bonus, I joined fellow H&K DC Tech Team colleague Lauren Wilson for our regular video interview series on our sister blog, Tech & The District.  “Tech in Five” as it’s known brings some of the top reporters, thinkers and analysts in to our DC office to educate our readers on how they see technology, sustainability, issues on Capitol Hill and what it’s like to live in Washington D.C.

Last week, our team posted the latest in the “Tech in Five” series and sat down with Marc. What inspires Marc? Where will our next energy source come from?  And what does he think of the Nationals chances in 2011? You’ll be very interested and inspired (as we were) on what he had to say.

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