Sustainability was entering the mainstream conversation when I started to blog, and that was my focus.

189 posts later — many of which didn’t make the cut when I recycled content from my old blog for this space here— blogging has been a laboratory for my learning, and a place to share what I’ve learned. Meandering and returning to one theme: how does our behavior at work matter?

Early on, I used my own experience to explore basics of environmental sustainability. In 2008, a few things converged in my on-line and off-line lives.

The sheer volume of media coverage on sustainability has both encouraged and disenchanted me. And I became more engaged in off-line sustainability efforts.

And my focus shifted to subtler views, particularly the ideal that sustainability means not wasting people. This past spring, I started a consulting business to help business owners and managers to engage optimally with our employees and colleagues.

Diverted by my non-virtual efforts, and encouraged that topics like water conservation will be amply covered by journalists and bloggers who have both passion and bandwidth, I’ve shifted some of the creativity and attention I once directed to blogging into developing my consulting business.

What a ride!

It has been challenging to stay out in front of people this fall. Many friends and clients are in financial firms; it has been tough to imagine how to connect with people when they are fearful of being booted, bought, or bailed out (or not).

Everyone is stressed, and I’ve started to offer workplace stress management programs. This has been an easier topic of conversation.

But with some people, and some firms, silence and compassion have seemed like the best approach.

And, brownies.

Baking is an excellent science for left brainiacs. Predictably delicious outcomes are almost assured when you use the best ingredients, measure and mix them correctly, and use the right tools.

I’m a pretty good baker, and home-baked breads, cookies and granola have been frequent gifts for my friends and family members.

In past holiday seasons, I’ve sent tins of Dean and Deluca cookies to business friends and clients. People seemed to love them. But this year, the faux homemade cookies in the elegant silver tin looked a little cold.

I intend for my business services to be handmade with good ingredients, and with care for how they are presented. So this year, I decided to bake that metaphor into brownies.

It was great fun to select and source the ingredients, tins, ribbons and cards. (Readers who know me may smile to hear that I used an excel spreadsheet as a project planning tool.)

I fell into a rhythm of baking early in the day, letting the brownies cool while I worked. In the afternoons, I’d construct the packages and schedule deliveries based on where I had other afternoon appointments.

(Knowing that recipients would have an abundance of available holiday sweets, the packages were petite, just enough for a couple of people to share a snack or two while they were fresh. And to avoid raising either the Grinch’s ire, or true ethical concern, in firms where gift policies prevail.)

After all of this holiday fun – and it was fun — it was heartening to see press coverage about home-baked gifts. The health blog at The New York Times, Well, posted at least two items.

Commenters on one NPR story shared my dismay with Claire Crespo’s suggestion that we use cake mix and canned frosting to make good looking gifts that make people smile.

Our willingness to value things that look good, but lack substance, has contributed to our current problems. And it literally feeds our health care challenges.

(Is canned frosting even food?)

I felt more aligned with Nicole Spridakis, who spoke of the pleasures of baking gifts from scratch; her results sound far more elegant than my simple brownies.

Holy Zeitgeist Batman, could home baking be an antidote to the financial crisis?

It seems that the raves I’ve won relate less to my baking prowess, and more to the power of a humble, but well constructed, bakery item to speak to a place in our hearts that can’t be touched by the markets.

That’s the kind of leadership we need — in abundance — as we approach this next and very hopeful new year. Eyes wide open.

(The photo is a few of my finished gift packages…I had a heck of a time keeping the ribbons tied onto the round tins. Sigh.)