Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Corporations Continue to Awaken

The Statement on Climate Change issued by the Global Roundtable on Climate Change in late February is another example of a group of "thought leaders" asking for concerted and global effort to regulate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Statements like this seem to be popping up more regularly by institutions populated by companies that one would not think would encourage regulatory interference. As I have mentioned before, they are concerned with the risks climate change presents to their businesses. They are also concerned that the lack of a consistent regulatory framework around their businesses will make long-term investments increasingly uncertain and therefore more expensive.

I was encouraged to read the recent Power Magazine Editorial, Birds in the hand for CO2. The power generation industry would not be considered the most forward-looking industry in the world, heck, they are concerned that in a few years most of the people that know anything will be retiring leaving a knowledge gap that will be debilitating to the industry. In any case, I was pleased to see the editor mention revitalizing demand side management to reduce the amount of energy needed in the first place. Referring to Amory Lovins' term negawatt, the editor urges industry and government to come up with ways that better encourage power generators to reduce demand. After all, they are paid to sell energy, not conserve it.

Two companies with operations here in the Northeast working in this space are EnerNOCFat Spaniel. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the next few years.

Hey, it looks like another company, Johnson Controls is expanding it's reach in the sustainability game. They must be smelling the market opportunity regarding efficient building systems and renewable energy management. It smells like money.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

SRI Investing Continuing to Grow

I stopped by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government for an early evening seminar entitled Investing in CSR: From Wall Street to Main Street presented by Graham Sinclair, formerly of KLD Research and Analytics and founding member of the Boston Professional Chapter of NetImpact. I met Graham at a few NetImpact meetings around Boston over the past year and appreciated his pragmatic approach to SRI and honest assessment of "green" investing.

I have been reading about SRI, CSR, sustainable business, etc. for the past six years, even managing to read the entirety of various reports by Innovest, WBCSD, UNEP, etc. and did not expect many surprises. There were a few kernels that caught my ear, and made me think again about the future business opportunities in renewable energy and SRI investing over the next few years. In fact, I started thinking (yet again) about an MBA with a focus on sustainable business. That topic may be better left to another post.

Graham led off with a 3 minute Sustainability DVD. Nothing spectacular there. What was spectacular was that it was produced and distributed by Wal*Mart. I saw Jim Stanway, one of Wal*mart's VPs, talk about sustainability at a Harvard Business School event back in 2006. Wal*Mart does have the potential to make an impact on carbon emissions with its immense supply chain reaching down into countries all over the world. Time will tell if Wal*Mart remains committed to sustainability, especially as rumblings of trouble start.

A point Graham made that I found interesting and useful was his comparison of the current struggle to value environmental and climate change risk with the same challenge for high yield debt in the 80's. I am not a finance person, so please forgive me if my terminology is incorrectly applied. Back then, the money managers were able to come up with ways to assess the risk associated with political instability, helping set the cost of capital. It's been done before, we can do it again.

I found myself nodding my head in agreement as he described the placement of approximately 2 paragraphs of SRI/CSR text in the THREE YEAR curriculum for the industry's highest qualification, CFA. That means students learning right now are not learning about SRI, continuing the matriculation of "traditionally schooled" money types. I found myself thinking about my engineering education. Engineers design and build the world around us, the gadgets and gizmos we use, the planes we travel on, and the bridges and roads we take for granted. All these things are immensely energy intensive and will, for the most part, end up in the trash heap at the end of their life.

Sustainability depends upon engineers' and designers' knowledge of life-cycle costs, yet there was nothing, nada, zero in my studies that hinted at that.

The most fascinating thing about "sustainable business" to me is the cross-cutting of everything it involves. I mean everything. Finance, operations, design, construction, consumers, travel, etc., etc., etc. It is a truly multi-disciplinary effort. Perhaps that it why it is so difficult to pin down.

Monday, February 26, 2007

$5.50 a ton!?

That was my reaction to the cost of offsetting the CO2 I emitted in my business travels last month. Here is what my associate at Carbonfund had to say;
"Your distance of 1,183 is good for about 0.42 metric tons of CO2. The flying totals another .16 metric tons, so you're up to 0.58 metric tons so far...that's $5.50 a ton, so $3.19."

Given that there are about 158 billion pounds or 7.18 (did I do the conversion correctly?) million metric tons of CO2 emitted globally per day, according to a nifty article published by the Sierra Club last fall, I am small potatoes.

Of course, what (or who) is valuing the carbon? Good question, one that bears additional research.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Solar Energy Bill Update

I snapped this photo of a 50,000 watt light bulb at the Museum of Science in Boston a few weeks ago. I cannot remember the specifics, but the informational piece next to it said something about it operating at 5000+ degrees. Wow. With a few of those installed fire up the generators and let's cook some sausages!

How does this lead to an update on the Securing America's Energy Independence Act? Perhaps the collective mental energy of the people working to advance renewable and sustainable forms of energy would create the click of an idea and vision of this bulb's scale.

In any case, the extension of the solar energy and fuel cell tax credit through 2017 can do nothing but help these industries. One thing that investors are looking for is reduced risk. A long-term bill like this will reduce investor and consumer risk by helping create a sustainable and definable market for small businesses and driving down the cost of capital for PV and fuel cell manufacturers.

Renewable energy may make up a small percentage of the energy generated in our country and globally. It has the potential to explode in the next 10 years as the realizations about our tenuous energy supplies and climate change dawn on the population at large and the political leaders we elect.

Follow this link if you would like to send a message to your representatives in Congress urging them to support this bill.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Water (Business Travel Tally from January)

After all, this blog was created for the purpose of logging my business related travel and chronicling my efforts to offset the CO2 associated with that travel. Here it is, February 14th, and I have yet to report January's total. Here we are. I will be much more diligent in the following months. Why the photo? I help sell pure water analytics and I liked this photo. It's meaningful in its simplicity.

Auto mileage: 989
Trips to eastern PA, NJ, and various eastern MA locations

Air Travel
Boston to Washington National (Reagan), Richmond to Boston

Passenger Mileage (miles when I was riding along): 194 (est.)
Whilst tagging along in northern VA

Of course, what I realized as I reviewed the month is that I neglected to track the business mileage of vehicles in which I was a passenger. Now, I could get more accurate and factor in the equation that I was one of "X" people in the car and the type of car along with tire pressure and average speed on the highway; Maybe I will - in the future. Give me ideas! For the sake of this effort, I tracked on mileage from DC to Richmond, plus a "secret business adder" for the added stops along the way.

Various energy related articles:
As a wrap, check out this article a friend of mine forwarded me about the potential ban of incandescent light bulbs in Australia.

Another one, showing the skepticism associated with an emerging market, one that has been hurt in the past. The Heated Debate Over Citizenre:
How an emerging company has created a storm of controversy in the world of solar energy