Thursday, March 22, 2007

Don't Worry, Be Happy!

I sent this to a coworker today who was having a bad day. I liked it so much, I figured I'd put it here.

I am not sure this graphic will reinforce the topics I discuss here, but I find that after contemplating climate change, environmental degradation, and my contribution to it as an American, I need to take a break and try to think about the good things in life, or Life in general.

KSG with McDonald's, EDF, and EPA

I headed over to the Kennedy School of Government for an early evening event sponsored by the CSC entitled "Green CSR: What’s the Role of Corporations in Addressing Environmental Challenges?". The panelists included Bob Langert, Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility at McDonald’s, Gwen Ruta, Director of Corporate Partnerships for Environmental Defense, and Dan Fiorino, Director of the National Environmental Performance Track at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The panel was moderated by an always energetic and effusive Jane Nelson the CSRI Director.

The discussion covered the standard fare, with examples of successful projects from Environmental Defense and the lack of a well defined policy on CSR from the EPA. Mr. Langert from McDonald's fielded many of the questions people directed at the panel, as they were mostly directed at the business person (I found it interesting that most questions were directed to Bob). Though it was subtle, there was clearly a bit of an edge to some of the questions posed to the "Big Bad Corporate" guy. There were some specific questions about McDonald's supply chain, and how they could leverage their buying power to influence their suppliers behaviors. The answers were not profound, but were pragmatic. It is "a lot harder than it seems" was the refrain that I heard repeated.

The point nailed home, that I hear again and again, is that CSR efforts must be driven by valid business reasons. In the age of discounting externalities, meeting short term earnings targets, and increasing shareholder returns an activity that poses any threat to meeting these targets will have a very hard time winning executive support.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Investors & Businesses Call for More Climate Change Action

CERES announced today that the Climate Call to Action presented on Capitol Hill was a resounding endorsement of national regulatory action on climate change. The full text of the letter can be seen here. Among the signatories are many of the states' treasurers and/or comptrollers, the usual suspects of socially responsible investment firms, and some of the large power generation companies including PG&E, ConEdison, and Exelon.

The recent week has seen the release of MIT's report The Future of Coal - Options for a Carbon Constrained World. Considering the ready availability of coal and its high carbon content, it is clear that advances in carbon capture and sequestration must be made to prevent the carbon's release into the atmosphere. The report lays out some recommendations to this effect.

I have started reading "The Warren Buffet Way", wishing to learn more about what it means to be a good investor, and wonder what the long-term thinking on climate change is at Berkshire Hathaway? Given that they own MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company and General RE, I would have to assume they are paying attention to climate change and the potential for carbon dioxide regulation.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

NESEA Building Energy 07

I took some time this afternoon to attend the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association's Buildingenergy 07 trade show and expo at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. I have attended this event for a few years, as a visitor back in 2003 (I think), when it was held at BU and then as a member of Beacon Power in 2004. Since then, I have managed to make it to some part of the event to reconnect with people I know from the sustainable business world and keep myself abreast of sustainable technologies.

In 2004, there were few carpets in the booths, and I believe the pathways between the booths were bare concrete. There was also a great deal of empty space in the hall, indicating the small number of companies in attendance (though I am sure it was more than 2003)relative to the capacity of the hall. The event had a distinctly different feel this year. Not only was the hall more populated, but the overall quality of presentation had been stepped up a notch. Displays appeared better organized and well planned. Whether we like it or not, the "earthy crunchy" image of anything remotely green limits the audience sustainable technologies appeal to. Continuing to polish the show will help the general public, business people, and investors take the businesses and technologies more seriously.

When there is an attractive model discussing the merits of Toyota's hybrids instead of a former hippie and Wal*Mart has a booth, you know something has changed.

I particularly liked the unveiling of the PowerPod (see photo above) by Powerhouse Enterprises. I met Quincy Vale, the founder of Powerhouse, a few years ago at a renewable energy event. I loved their concept of modular, hip, versatile, aesthetically pleasing, and "green" shelter. The PowerPod appears to be the realization of that vision. They are also currently based in Lawrence, MA, helping bring jobs and economic development to a distressed area of the commonwealth. I did not get a chance to speak with Quincy as he was too busy being interviewed by some sort of reporter and conducting tours of the very popular Pod. Now that my wife and I are finally looking for a home, maybe we will buy some land and install a few Pods! By the way, Powerhouse was featured in a recent issue of Wired Magazine covering new housing technologies

I managed to reconnect with members of the AltWheels team that I was part of from 2003-2005. That event has come a long way and I am sorry that I missed it last year. It will again grace the bricks of City Hall Plaza with everything new in alternatively fueled vehicles in September of 2007.

It was refreshing to see the show so well attended, with aisles full of visitors and many energetic conversations happening. It is a good sign for the future of sustainable and clean technologies.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Usual Suspects

This post will most definitely digress from anything related to clean technology or sustainable business, for the most part.

The gang of six former colleagues from the fabulous Festo New England region gathered to break bread in Reading, MA today. The names will not be named, but they know who they are. I was especially impressed by the pimp-like appearance of a NH resident sporting a long jacket of dead cow skin. Of course, when I complimented his dead cow jacket, his reply was something of a jab at my "green" leaning. There may have been a bicycle reference thrown in, but I was comfortably ensconced in my gently used 2004 Passat 1.8T, and oh so happy with myself as I coasted by on the downhill (being careful not to engage the turbo).

I am retyping some of this post since I continue to experience sporadic "issues" with Blogger. It's a real pain in the a$$. Type and lose data...sweet.

So, much fun was had by all as we chatted amiably about business, life, the economy, what was going on with kids, carbon trading, and the hypocrisy that we are all a part of leading to the downfall of society as we know it. Whoops! A little doom-and-gloom environmentalism crept in. I listened to WBUR's On Point episode with Tom Ashbrook interviewing Bill McKibben, writer and author of Deep Economy. As an aside, his book, Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously is one of my favorites.

We learned about the problems associated with dusty and filthy water tanks for species that breathe through gills, the dilemma facing an omnivore who thinks too much, and what happens when one consumes 20 espresso shots in one day. Oh yeah, the Dodge Charger rocks (the CO2)!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Continued Growth in Clean Tech

A few more recent articles from various sources continue to indicate the growing interest in clean technologies and "saving the planet". The Ideas section of the Boston Sunday Globe last week included a large article on zero waste manufacturing, A World without Waste. The UMass-Lowell Center for Green Chemistry makes the article and McDonough-Braungart's book Cradle to Cradle makes it as well.

The NYTimes created an entire Special Section, Business of Green, a few weeks ago. Topics cover dining, farming, consumer products, renewable energy, and one of the coolest phrases I've heard in a while "Corporate Hippies". Could corporate hippies be the next yuppies?

Only yesterday, the NYTimes related the growing clean tech wave in Silicon Valley, as the next round of eager entrepreneurs and world-changers look for the next big thing. Start-Up Fervor Shifts to Energy in Silicon Valley While the money flowing into the clean tech space is nowhere near the billions that flowed into the Internet bubble, it is on the way. The upside, more people spending more time and more money working on clean technology. The downside, there will certainly be pie in the sky business ideas that will crash and burn and could conceivably tarnish the clean tech space. I'll be optimistic here and think more about the intellectual and financial capital flowing into the sector and what good that will do for the future of clean tech efforts.

Even the Motley Fool chimed in with thoughts on the coming opportunity for technologies that remove carbon dioxide from coal fired power plants. Their site was acting a bit odd at the time of this post, so I do not have a link to the article. Here's an excerpt from the e-mail entitled "One Amazing Stock Is About to Clean Up On a Dirty Little Secret" the Fools sent me, an oh-so-tantalizing teaser on what the next big thing in clean tech will be.
The Profit Champion of the Green Coal Revolution!
This stock is my favorite to capitalize on this huge tidal wave trend. In fact, the switch to high-sulfur coal is so huge that this company is eyeing a mammoth 72% increase in coal production over the next four years!
The parent company of this New Energy Superstar is one of the largest coal producers in the eastern U.S. It has a stable of new mines coming online, which will help it meet its goal of nearly doubling production by 2010. It is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the trend toward high-sulfur coal. Here are a few of the qualities that make this stock a superb value:
As usual, The Economist's Technology Quarterly had a few articles on alternative energy, touching upon the potential for making ethanol from trees and the continuing growth in the solar energy sector. I copied some of the solar energy article here, since it is one of the articles that requires a paid subscription, I apologize for only including a snippet.
Energy: Solar power is in the ascendant. But despite its rapid growth it will not provide a significant share of the world's electricity for decades

LAST year Microsoft outfitted its campus in Silicon Valley with a solar system from SunPower, a local company that makes high-efficiency (and, some say, the world's best-looking) solar panels. A few months later Microsoft's arch-rival, Google, began building something on an even grander scale—one of the largest corporate solar installations to date. But all of this may yet be topped by Wal-Mart. In December the retail giant solicited bids for placing solar systems on the roofs of many of its supermarkets. Besides producing favourable publicity, the appeal of using solar power is obvious. Unlike fossil fuels, which produce significant amounts of pollution and enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, the sun's energy is clean and its supply virtually limitless. In just one hour the Earth receives more energy from the sun than human beings consume during an entire year. According to America's Department of Energy, solar panels could, if placed on about 0.5% of the country's mainland landmass, provide for all of its current electricity needs.

Yet since they were first invented more than five decades ago, photovoltaic solar cells—devices made of semiconductor materials that convert light into electricity—have generated much publicity but little energy. In 2006 photovoltaic systems produced 0.04% of the world's electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. The thing that has held back the widespread deployment of solar panels is their price. Sunshine is free, but converting it into electricity is not. At present, solar power is at least two to three times as expensive as the typical electricity generated in America for retail customers. (Because homeowners and businesses generally use solar power in place of electricity bought from utilities, the relevant comparison is with the price of retail electricity, not the lower wholesale prices from power plants.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

February's Carbon Emissions

Here's my quick take for business related travel in February. With the bargain basement prices (since I do not know any better) for offsetting CO2 I've experinced so far, I may start tracking all of our carbon emissions (home heating, personal driving, etc.) and see what that will come out too. I also owe anyone reading this information about how provides CO2 offsets, which I plan to do this month.

Business Auto mileage:

Air Travel:
Round Trip from Boston to Buffalo, Jet Blue

By the way, I had no issues flying on Jet Blue for my trip. Unlike the hundreds of passengers that enjoyed the operational meltdown Jet Blue experienced during the recent storm.

Free Drinks - with a Green Catch

I attended the latest meeting of the Boston area Green Drinks crew last Tuesday evening at Tavern on the Square in central Sq., Cambridge. As with most of the previous events I attended, there was a new group of people to meet, since I am certain people venture to those meetings that are most convenient to them (makes perfect sense). There was good mix, though it was clear that this group attracts mostly "enviro" types, whatever that means. It was fun, and I am certain that I had a few too many cocktails.

As part of the event, I decided to contribute to the greening of America by purchasing a fair number of beverages and food for the folks that attended. Of course, this charity came with a catch, I asked those that attended to track their CO2 emissions for the month of March and report their experiences attempting to do this back to me. It will be interesting to see how many actually make an attempt to do this and what their experiences are. You may even see some of their own words posted here, depending upon who feels like adding their fluid prose to this fine piece of internet reporting.

But seriously, did you see the big special section on the NYTimes website, Business of Green: A Special Section? There's a link to the WRI's carbon footprint calculator as well as well as an article on "Corporate Hippies". I like that term...Corporate Hippies...maybe that's the buzz word we need for this little community of green capitalists?

And, in the ongoing TXU saga, the perspective of the professionals that are in the power generation industry. TXU plan crumbles: What's next for North and Central Texas