Monday, April 30, 2007

CSR Initiatives in the UK

David Grayson, Director of Business in the Community, visited the Kennedy School this afternoon. I was lucky enough to have some flexibility today to make it there for his seminar. BITC has been active in the CSR arena for 25 years, one of the true pioneers in the CSR movement. I have to admit, though I know the UK is far ahead of the United States when it comes to CSR/ESG activities, I had not heard of BITC until today.

David went on to speak about the role of business in society, from UK and global perspectives. One contributor to the increased interest in CSR/ESG is the continued privatization of many institutions that used to be government owned. That makes an incredible amount of sense when profit-driven entities control what are necessities of life. Businesses comprise a much larger segment of society than they used to, meaning their reach and influence is that much greater as well. Perhaps many of the middle-income people in cultures around the globe will start realizing this and pay more attention to businesses' activities.

According to David, there are five critical success factors to creating successful corporate responsibility programs:

1) Leadership: engaging the highest level managers in a CSR/ESG program
2) Entrepreneurship: Be prepared to experiment
3) Showmanship: Show-off what you have accomplished
4) Apprenticeship: Create tools to engage various constituencies
5) Partnership: Work with organizations from all sectors and all levels

I look forward to reading the final version of David's paper, with preliminary title, "Engaging Responsible Business - Learning From the Example of Business in the Community in the UK".

When I spoke with David after his talk about my desire to integrate sustainability into my career (meaning the company I work for) his response was to inquire gently with people that may be interested. In other words, start easily and gently; probe the lines before launching the full frontal assault.

Then, as I made a routine stop at Staples to pick up HP ink cartridges, what did I notice but the April issue of Fast Company with the article, Measured Progress, focusing on the growing interest in ESG issues and their impact on company performance. As more attention is given to ESG issues, investment professionals smell the market opportunity and create analytical companies to capitalize on it. That's good, it is the market working and supporting the investor demand for these services. It will be interesting to see how these companies shake out in this emerging market as competing analytical methods are bought and followed.

This short excerpt illustrates the distance we still have to travel before ESG/CSR is a standard part of investment decisions:
About 75% of institutional investors believe that ESG issues can affect investment results, according to a recent Mercer survey. Yet fewer than half of those institutions plan to assess whether such factors are considered as part of their investment process.

That finding signals the reality that still governs Wall Street: For most investors, it's still all about the numbers--and mostly, it's about the short term. Even contemplating the measurement of human impact implies an investment horizon far longer than the average I-bank analyst is trained to contemplate.
It would certainly be nice to be part of this process, and I will.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

More News on CO2 Offsets

I started this post a few days ago an then forgot about in my rush to write about other things. I was reminded of the article today as I read a Terrapass blog post on the apparently doom-bringing activity of cycling instead of driving. Karl Ulrich the UPenn professor that helped spawn the idea of Terrapass analyzed the potential carbon reduction factors of switching from transport by car to transport by bike. Seems that a deeper lifecycle analysis of the activity indicates that the increase in both food consumption (and all the energy that goes into food transportation) and life expectancy offsets (pardon the pun) the first order benefits of producing less carbon through cycling for transportation. I'll not rehash the entire post, go ahead ad read it and make your own opinions out of it. Seems the best we can do is go live in a cave a forage for food or just remove ourselves from the biosphere.

In any case, the article I saw in the NYTimes, Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green? , is what i wanted to mention. I love the graphic that accompanies the piece and the author goes on with a healthy bit of skepticism about carbon offsets. Here' a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:
But is the carbon-neutral movement just a gimmick?
On this, environmentalists aren’t neutral, and they don’t agree. Some believe it helps build support, but others argue that these purchases don’t accomplish anything meaningful — other than giving someone a slightly better feeling (or greener reputation) after buying a 6,000-square-foot house or passing the million-mile mark in a frequent-flier program. In fact, to many environmentalists, the carbon-neutral
campaign is a sign of the times — easy on the sacrifice and big on the consumerism.
As long as the use of fossil fuels keeps climbing — which is happening relentlessly around the world — the emission of greenhouse gases will keep rising. The average American, by several estimates, generates more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide or related gases a year; the average resident of the planet about 4.5 tons.
At this rate, environmentalists say, buying someone else’s squelched emissions is all but insignificant.
“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”
“This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther,” Mr. Hayes added.
The analogy between pre-Reformation Catholic Church indulgences and carbon offsets is right on. Though offsets are not the "silver bullet" everyone would like to see come along to solve all of our problems, it is on the right path. I see the good offset programs outliving the poorly run ones and the outright dishonest ones and flourishing in the long run. Of course, if this happens along with source reduction, we'll all be better off.
Starting CSR from Scratch?

I have been fortunate to have made connections with many people involved in sustainable business and socially responsible investing over the past few years, especially here in the Boston area. Instead of starting my effort to create a "sustainability" office in my current employer from scratch, I have the knowledge and experience of these professional friends and acquaintances to help guide my activities.

One of those people is Timothy Smith of Walden Asset Management. I had the pleasure of meeting Tim early in my investigation of socially responsible business and sustainability, at one of my first RBA meetings back in 2001/2002. Despite the fact that he is insanely busy with his own efforts to leverage investors' capital to influence corporate behavior, he has always taken the time to reply to my inquisitive e-mails and phone calls with information I can use and learn from. His work and his willingness to help me keeps me motivated to stay the course that I believe is important.

Most recently, as I thought about how to create a position for yours truly internally, he referred me to Medtronic's Sustainability Report Resolution and The Roberts Environmental Center article on Baxter's continued leadership in sustainability in the medical device sector. Medtronic and Baxter operate and compete in the same sector. Is it possible that investors seeing Baxter's prominent and consistent sustainability reporting and noting their strong performance (talking stock price here) over the last few years would like to see the same results from Medtronic?

It was appropriate that I received Tim's note on Baxter and Medtronic as Baxter was recently touted as the first ever two-time winner of the Shingo Prize, named for the Toyota engineering firebrand Shigeo Shingo that helped bring Lean Manufacturing to the United States. What does Lean Manufacturing have to do with sustainability? A lot. Lean's goal is to identify and eliminate waste. Isn't that one of the core thoughts when it comes to thinking about sustainable business? I also found it interesting is that the article I read appeared in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, a publication serving an industry my company counts as an important customer segment. This made me think about the high level connections between suppliers and customers. If a company is dedicated to sustainable business, and integrates it into their corporate DNA, does a supplier that also embraces sustainable business have an advantage? In the case of companies creating tight relationships with suppliers, I believe the answer is "yes".

In other words, if industry players that embrace sustainable business are customers of my company, will it help make the case for us to embrace sustainable practices as well?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Businesses Should Care About Water Issues

Whether or not a business is in an industry that works and or serves the water industry, each and every business in the world is affected by water. Buildings companies own or lease are charged for their water use. It is used in heating, it is used in industrial processes (to produce and average automobile, something like 10,000 gallons of water is used). Imagine what the struggling domestic auto manufacturers would think of higher water prices? To their credit, there have been some major strides made in resource productivity with regards to water use in many industries.

What about the effects of water scarcity on food supplies and human health? Can you imagine the pressures on the labor force in developed, "first world" nations that would appear should we have serious water shortages? The millions of blue-collar laborers' working away right now would be less productive and less inclined to work if they are worried about how they will pay their water bill and get water for their families.

I am making some fairly general statements about what might happen, and clearly there are more compelling and well researched academic articles that will make a clearer case for why companies should care about water. In the long run, companies should care because it will have a detrimental affect on their business operations. It will increase costs, reduce access to labor, reduce their customers' buying power, increase regulatory and stakeholder pressure, and in the end reduce profitability. What corporation shouldn't worry about water?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Water, Water Everywhere...

You probably know the rest from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The fact of the matter is that the global outlook for our growing population's access to water for drinking and sanitation is gloomy. Three articles in the last week on this topic caught my eye. When multiple media outlets with vastly different targeted readers are writing about the same thing, it seems like a topic that crosses a few boundaries.

The first article, part I of a series examining challenges and opportunities facing the water industry appears in the industry publication serving one of Thornton's markets, Ultrapure Water Journal. UPW focuses narrowly on the professionals working in water related industries. The second, appearing in Vanity Fair's Green Issue entitled, "The Rise of Big Water", looks at the global trend toward privatization of developing countries' drinking and wastewater treatment industries, and the third at, examines the investment opportunities in the water sector. There are three publications, one of which is clearly talking from and speaking to the left, one that is left-leaning (only because it covers "environmental topics"), and one on the right (since it is a business publication), addressing world water issues.
Here's an excerpt from the article that summarizes the situation:
A third of the world's population live in water stressed areas (expected to increase six times in 20 years) and over a billion people lack access to water supplies (expected to double in 20 years). one billion people drink unsanitary water; three to four million people die each year from waterborne disease - the single largest cause of illness and death worldwide.

In the U.S. and other industrialized countries, 15-20% of the water is lost to leaks in the pipe network. In developing countries, the figure rises to 20-40%, due to illegal withdrawals as well as leaks.

Agriculture is the world's largest water consumer, using 70% of the world's water supply, extremely inefficiently. Industry is the biggest consumer in developed countries, but is more and more moving to the developing world, which is already water stressed.
What I take from this cross-cutting topic is that the yawning difference we are lead to believe exists between environmental issues and sustainable development are perceptions based on outdated beliefs. We have for so long equated economic growth and prosperity with pollution and environmental degradation that it is considered conventional wisdom. We are intellectually lazy when we accept these old assumptions. With the creativity released in the industrial world daily to sell everything from gourmet dog food to automobiles, you would think (and hope) that we would come together to solve a much bigger issue that threatens us and future generations.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Earth Day April 22nd!

What kind of a sustainable business advocate am I if I do not mention something about Earth Day coming up this Sunday?! With all the press about the Virginia Tech shootings, which is of course a tragic event and something that can easily occupy all of our minds, and the continuing saga of Iraq, I have seen little mention of Earth Day in the press.

Well, it's "only a day", but perhaps one that will make more people think about the environmental impact of their actions. There are plenty of pretty and glossy pictures and articles in Vanity Fair's 2nd Annual Green Issue to help us along. Hey! If the beautiful people are doing it, we can do it too!

I received a note that Oprah and Martha Stewart will be featuring (of course they will!) Green Lifestyle tips on their shows today. It's all good. The more people are exposed to green/clean/sustainable, the better.

The Beginning of a CSO

Chief Sustainability Officer? Really? That's a bold statement. It may seem that way, but in 10-20 years it might seem like someone stating the obvious. I've been bouncing the idea of creating a position within my company that is focused on sustainability/CSR/ESG (there's one of our challenges, calling it something managers' will understand) off of various people in "the know". The reception has been good, as one would expect since the professionals I am talking to share my interest in green business (whoops! there's another term for it).

I just returned from the latest Netimpact Boston Professional Chapter social at John Harvard's in Harvard Sq. The place was packed. not only was it Thursday, in general a night to go out for the youngsters, but there was a Harvard specific event going on. I found myself cradling a pint like I was navigating a fraternity party back in college just to have a conversation. I am too old for that.

In any case, there were good conversations to have, with folks ranging from soon to be MBA graduates from Babson, Marketing VPs, and Fair Trade banana sellers to web search engine consultants. I managed to reconnect with someone that volunteered with AltWheels back when I was an organizer. One thing I enjoy about these events is the potential to meet new people in completely different businesses that share the same interest in improving the society and environment we share. We may not have all the answers, but we're trying, and it is reassuring to know some people think about it.

A conversation with a member of a small business in the medical device industry made me think about the decisions businesses make. Small companies sometimes feel compelled to make either-or decisions when it comes to environmental sustainability. Either they take $15k and invest it in marketing to grow their business or they use it for a raw material that is non-polluting. I am over-simplifying here. The best outcome, and the one we are all working for, is the one in which the choice to pay more for an environmentally benign material is moot; all the materials are benign, and economically priced.

Of course, after reading about the interview with Tod Murphy of the Farmer's Diner in the latest issue of Orion Magazine (the article is not online yet), I wonder if we can save capitalism from ourselves?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Opinion about Business will reach a 'Tipping Point' Worldwide

I pulled this directly from CSR Wire, April 9, 2007 (I added the links). I agree with it, in fact I hope and pray (to no particular "god") that we are indeed approaching an era where businesses' missions are aligned with social good.

People's deepest assumptions about both business and work could be changing in cities around the world, with major implications for future competitiveness. A more subtle shift than the widely reported growth in entrepreneurialism across Asia, it is nonetheless significant. It is a shift towards moral markets. This is the suggestion from Lifeworth's 6th Annual Review of Corporate Responsibility, published today.

In the foreword, Professor Michael Powell explains how "the dominant paradigm for business success is changing to recognize the absolute necessity of social and environmental sustainability in tandem with financial viability." Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor of Griffith Business School, Professor Powell is leading the Australian university's effort to play a leading role in this new approach to business in the Asia Pacific region.

The Review argues this shift is partly the result of changes in technology and industry that are leading to greater 'work-life blending' which erode barriers between what we aspire to in our lives, who we work for and what we work towards. It is also the result of growing awareness of the scale, urgency and depth of the challenge posed by climate change. "Last year views on Climate Change 'tipped' in much of the Western world," explains lead author of the review, Dr Jem Bendell. "It used to be a nerdy issue of scientific interest and environmental concern. Now it is a personal issue, of political interest and humanitarian concern."

The Review, entitled 'Tipping Frames', introduces a strategic model for people working on social change, which combines the concept of a 'Tipping Point', involving the rapid dissemination of ideas, with that of 'Cognitive Frames', involving the assumptions and ideas triggered by key words and terms. Other frames identified as on the verge of tipping concern finance and international development.

A plethora of initiatives such as The Marathon Club, Enhanced Analytics Initiative (EAI) and UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) are reshaping what finance professionals understand as material and relevant to their fiduciary duty. Also important is the emergence of a positive connotation to the environmental challenge of consumption. As the social and environmental impacts of economic growth intensify, new visions of sustainable development may be emerging in China and India. As Rajesh Sehgal, Senior Law & Policy Officer at WWF-India explains in the Review, “Indian companies can become leading exporters of and investors in sustainable goods and services, whilst emerging as key actors in promoting a proactive international sustainable development agenda." Whether this will lead to a tipping point in the way Asian nations generally view and pursue 'development' is currently unknown. A counter process of reframing has been underway for sometime, with the shift to individualism and materialism most clearly illustrated in 2006 by the economic boom in Vietnam, which is chronicled in the Review.

Therefore Dr Bendell argues that "although important, the trend towards moral markets is not the dominant one in many parts of the world, such as the rapidly emerging countries. If we want to end poverty and protect the planet we must make it the decisive trend. Although we can't legislate for personal morals, we can legislate to create market frameworks, enabling conditions and incentives that support moral behaviour."

Bendell suggests business leaders should both track and become involved in progressive changes in cognitive frames, for strategic reasons. "Changes in basic assumptions about the nature and purpose of business and work will have major knock on effects for the behaviour of consumers, staff, investors and regulators." Consequently he calls for more research and analysis of these assumptions in societies around the world.

The Lifeworth Review "illustrates well how many assumptions and values in society are shifting as the scale and urgency of the challenges we face finally sinks in," concludes Professor Powell.

Boomers' Self Interest Lead to Action on Climate Change?

I am not trying to bash Boomers. I am not a demographer or an economist. I know what I hear about the Baby Boom Generation in various media outlets. There are a lot of them, and they are beating a wide path through the nation.Written about Boomers for Boomers by Boomers.

Now that they are entering their empty nest and retirement years, will the same harsh gaze many of them cast upon Vietnam be directed at their retirement accounts? Will they mobilize their billions in investment potential to influence the behavior of the corporations of which they own parts of to preserve the future for their grandchildren? The Boomers get credited with carving their own way through society, changing things (simply because there are so many of them) to suit their personal needs. Perhaps they'll take all that energy that went in to working and acquiring the lives they now have to help fix the planet. How is it in "their best interest" (or all of our best interests)?

What does Warren Buffet have to say about it?

Entrepreneurs Drive Eco-Innovation

Struggling WebGen eyes IP asset sale This story link may not seem positive, but it is part of the process when speaking about entrepreneurship.

From what I know of Webgen Systems (I spoke with members of their staff about working there back in 2006), their web-based energy management software was launched as a way for commercial building managers and operators to reduce their energy consumption. With energy prices climbing and companies always eager to reduce costs, you'd think they were operating in a good space. Perhaps their technology is not that good, or they do not have the correct personnel to take the company where it needs to go. Either way, they created IP, what small, new, and innovative businesses bring to the game, potentially revolutionary ways of doing something. Even if Webgen Sytstems does not continue as its own entity, the IP that someone may buy could go on to make tremendous contributions to energy management and economic development. I wonder if EnerNOC is interested in WebGen's technology?

There seems to be articles about small companies playing in clean tech, sustainable manufacturing, renewable energy, resource reuse, etc. in every issue of Mass High Tech. I suppose it makes sense, since energy and environmental issues are on more minds lately. Nextworth, a Babson spinout, and a company mentioned in Fast Company and the Boston Globe appears in the latest issue. They are providing a second-hand marketplace for consumer electronics, focusing on the iPod. What's cool about it, from my perspective, is that they help keep used electronics out of landfills by providing a place to sell them. As far as I could see, there is no mention of the initial "green" focus of the company on the website, though the print version of the article quotes the founder and CEO David Chen:
What we originally founded the company on - being responsible about recycling consumer electronics and helping the consumer maximize their investment - is still the same.
No mention of "green", that's fine. As I was quick to blurt out in the session with Prof. Stuart Hart last week, mention a green product or service to an average consumer and they think it costs more, performs poorly, and appears crude when compared to a conventional, and one would assume polluting, product or service. Why limit the audience?

Secondary markets for consumer electronics is a great idea. Assuming it is proven in the lucrative iPod market it could easily be expanded to PDAs, laptops, cell phones, and the like and then on to industrial products. With the increase in products that fall under RoHS and WEEE regulations, here's a service that could be sold to corporations.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stuart Hart's Book "Capitalism at the Crossroads"

I moseyed (OK, I drove) to Harvard Sq. earlier this week for another evening with the Kennedy School's Corporate Responsibility Council to hear Stuart Hart talk about his take on sustainable business. His book, "Capitalism at the Crossroads" has been on my reading list for a while, but I must confess that I have not yet read it.

After the glowing introduction of Professor Hart, when I learned that he initiated the sustainability programs at the University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, and now Cornell, we started reviewing the process of industrialization. Oh wait, before we launched into that, Prof. Hart talked about the similarities in the world now and 100 years ago in 1907. It was a time when people thought war would be completely irrational given the interconnectedness of the global economies. There were some intellectuals that saw signs of WWI on the horizon, among them the inequities between the haves and the have nots. No one listened, WWI and WWII came and went, and we are still dealing with the inequities that existed 100 years ago. Is climate change the looming WW of this era?

Industrialization: For many years, prosperity was equated with pollution, especially in the late 1800's and the early 1900's. As industrial activity increased, consumers bought more stuff, energy use went up, and more "waste" was exhausted into the air, the ground and the water. Prof. Hart recounted a childhood story of the need to wipe soot off the porch chairs each day at his home in upstate NY before taking a seat. The slightly acrid tinge to the air, depending on which way the wind was blowing, was described as "the smell of money". It was not until the late 60's, as Vietnam raged and free love coupled with the release of Rachel Carson's seminal Silent Spring that we realized that businesses were not going to self police relative to environmental preservation. A clean environment was an inalienable right. The EPA was created with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts following in the early 70's. The era of environmental regulation was upon us.

The Quality (I am not talking Quality as described in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) movement of the 80's and early 90's (ISO 9000, Six Sigma, TQM, etc), spawned from our manufacturing failures illuminated by the foreign influx of goods, specifically cars, was what started us thinking about reducing waste. Is Cradle-to-Cradle manufacturing, Eco-manufacturing, Zero Waste Manufacturing the next logical progression on the quality movement? Sure. After all, waste means that the process is not optimized and therefore not as profitable as it could be and therefore poorly managed. What a tremendous business opportunity to make companies environmentally and socially restorative in their economic activities instead of extractive. We face a struggle; the business perspective is still that of the EPA as an enforcer, and that is still the case in many instances. We need to move to a collaborative model, such that stakeholders from business, gov't, NGO's, etc., work together to solve problems.

The element of Prof. Hart's material that I had not given much thought to from a sustainable business perspective was the growing social inequity in the global economy and the 4+ billion people that are completely ignored by the market. What good is it to have sustainable businesses that are geared toward the wealthiest 1+ billion consumers that make up the first world? Yay! Pat ourselves on the back. Whoops! There are 4-5 billion people on the outside looking in that are not happy. Political unrest anyone? How sustainable is a clean and happy first world with billions screaming to get in? Guess what, they'll figure out how to get in, and pollute and wage war on the way.

Why not come up with solutions that engage and serve the under served while using clean technologies? They are the ones that need it and it's a huge market! An example of a product aimed at this market that Prof. Hart talked about was a small, portable solar powered system using LEDs for light. This system, with a price tag target of $50.00, combined with another disruptive technology, microfinance, could vastly improve the lives of millions of people that do not have access to a utility grid. Is this technology really needed in the first world?

I have wandered a bit here in my reporting and commenting, and there are many other points Prof. Hart brought up that provoked ideas I could relay to you. I suppose the wandering is something that is part and parcel to discussions about sustainability, since it means different things to different people and crosses many segment boundaries. What I believe Prof. Hart was driving at is that there are tremendous business opportunities in developing leapfrog technologies to serve the disenfranchised while reducing our environmental impact.

I learned about the Base of the Pyramid, something I had not thought much about in the context of a sustainable economy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston Eighteenth Annual Conference
I have not been to a Responsible Business Association of Greater Boston, oops, I mean the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston in quite a while. Perhaps this year I'll make it to this meeting. I encourage those from other networks like NetImpact, Green Drinks, KSG's Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative that may not be familiar with this organization to check it out. You may make some good connections.

When and Where
May 17, 2007
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
The Lenox Hotel Back Bay Boston

SBN Business Members: $70 ($95 after April 30)
Non-SBN Business Members: $95 ($120 after April 30)

Click here to register and pay on-line
Click here to register and pay by check

Sustainable Business: Redefining Success !

We invite you to join us in the longest running local conference on sustainable and socially responsible business. Our first conference was held in 1989 and each year this event brings together business leaders from the Boston area and other parts of New England to share best practices and learn about how our businesses can help build a sustainable world.

Keynote Speakers
The 18th Annual SBN Conference will feature three well-known and respected leaders in the movement to help build a culture of sustainability in our communities. These excellent speakers will raise important issues which will serve as a platform for others interactive parts of this event.

Greg Watson is a long-time environmental activist who recently was appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary for the Department of Clean Energy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He will be speaking about the plans of the administration of our new Governor, Deval Patrick, and how small businesses can participate in these initiatives.

Juliet Schor is a professor of sociology at Boston College and a highly respected author. Her research over the last ten years has focused on issues pertaining to trends in work and leisure, consumerism, the relationship between work and family, women's issues and economic justice. Schor's latest book is Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.

Hazel Henderson is an author, worldwide syndicated columnist, and a consultant on equitable sustainable human development and socially responsible business and investment. She will be speaking about her latest book Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy.

Topics include:
Plenary Panel: Growing Local Value
Small Group Discussions on Greater Boston Local First Campaigns, Business Summit for a Sustainable Boston, Best Practice, Carbon Offsets and Global Warming, & Zero Waste
Plenary Panel: Best Practices: What Large and Small Businesses Can Learn from One Another

Check out the full Agenda Here.

Results of People's Carbon Emissions Tracking Part III

I received comments regarding Sonia's experience attempting to track carbon emissions (left over from the March meeting of Green Drinks in Central Sq. Cambridge).
Unfortunately, my experience tracking carbon emissions was rather a non-event as got rather overwhelmed by the idea of it all. Keeping track of carbon while flying and driving (which I didn’t do in March) while not straightforward, is still easier than calculating food miles, greenhouse heat, and fertilizer application for each thing you put in your mouth.
The trouble is that I’m not really sure it should be simplified though as it is a very complex issue but it puts people off (like me) who prefer an easy way of answering it.
Succinctly put...we are in the very early stages of tracking carbon emissions, at least at a consumer level.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


There is so much attraction to a constantly growing economy (we need jobs), bank account, revenue stream, innovation economy that I wonder if we are missing the simplest element of what a "sustainable" existence really is? Simplicity. That means many things to many people. Personally, I am attracted to a simple life in a small community with locally based businesses and a tight network of friends and colleagues and I am attracted to the techno-speak of the innovation economy. Are they mutually exclusive? How cool would it be to receive a "carbon cost" on a PDA/phone when contemplating a purchase? Of course, this assumes there is a value affixed to the carbon emissions that went into the product at some point, and that consumers are paying for it. Would this provide an underlying simplicity cost?

The reality is that we have inherited this economic system and people are not about to make wholesale changes (toss the flat screen, the cell phone, and the wireless) unless there is an external event that compels them to do so. Assuming we would like to avoid that event, what do we do next?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Chief Sustainability Officer

Is this the title of the future C-level executive that will bridge the management gap between fiscal performance and social & environmental performance? Will the CSO climb along side the CFO, CTO, CIO, and CEO as a vital part of the leadership and management structure of corporations? As the impact of climate change continues to make headlines and shareholders continue to press for corporate reporting on risks associated with climate change, it certainly seems like a possibility if not a guarantee.

What initially attracted me to sustainable business is exactly what Rich Walker describes in The Business Case for a Chief Sustainable Officer. The CSO connects the multiple constituencies and the cross-disciplined requirements of making a company "sustainable". It sounds like a challenging, rewarding, and entrepreneurial position

Seems I am a bit behind he curve on making comments on the CSO. Good ol' Google yielded a post from Sustainable IT on March 21st about the same topic. The poster and I are on the same page.

I wonder what it takes to be in a job like this?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Results of People's Carbon Emissions Tracking Part II

The weekend is coming to an end and I am happy to report that another of the March Green Drinks attendees decided to pass along her thoughts on her carbon emissions. Not to make too much of this, because the sample size is so small, but is it interesting that the only two people that have followed through on the "Carbon Challenge" are women? I know at least one male did some work on it, but I have seen none of his writing on it to share.
I've extracted a few comments from Kim's two pages of narrative on her experience tracking carbon emissions.
"According to an average of several tests online that I took, I emit 1519 pounds of CO2 per month. I drive 300 miles per week-far more than I would choose to ever drive, my oil bills are high, and my electricity bills could be lower. These are all aspects I would like to change, but being able to change them is a whole other thing."
This may seem like a lot of carbon, but I bet it's lower than the average American consumer.
"The most frustrating part of this ordeal? The most frustrating part was not discovering my CO2 emissions, but the most frustrating part is discovering that my CO2 emissions could be even higher if the online tests were more inclusive. See, these tests only include the most tangible factors in our ever-growing fast-paced, convenience-friendly society. Sure, some tests included whether or not you use plastic, paper, or canvas bags, but failed to ask questions which probe into our consumer-driven lifestyles. Out of the tests that I found online, and bear in mind that I did not exhaust all search possibilities, I could not find a single test that was easily accessible that included factors such as how often one goes out to eat or where one’s food comes from or what one purchases. All of these factors have a huge impact on the overall threat of global warming, yet every test that I found in my not-so-extensive search failed to mention the impact of our choices as consumers on global warming. One test asked how often one recycles, but that same test did not even ask how often one purchases post-consumer recycled products."
The fact that she put in the effort to think about her activities' impact on our world reflects an awareness of her surroundings most people are not going to have. As with anything that involves businesses or consumers, "carbon counting" has to be easy, convenient, understandable, solve the consumers' problem, and if possible make people money.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Time Magazine Chimes in on Global Warming

I stopped by the good ol' Jiffy Lube to change the oil of my terrible fossil fuel burning means of transportation and noticed the April 9th edition of Time Magazine, The Global Warming Survival Guide, in the waiting room. Of course I picked it up and started reading. The article was quite long, and reminded me of the Inc. Magazine article quite a few months ago, Do Good, Get Rich in its layout and contents, especially the short section sponsored by GE on innovators tackling Global Warming (oddly, I could not seem to find a link to this Special Section. Oh yeah, it's an ad, and I am sure GE has an interest in all or most of the people featured in it. Hey, that's what advertising is for.)

In any case, it's worth the read, and, if you are especially concerned about lowering your consumption of "stuff", read what you can online, eschewing the purchase of that nasty creation of acids and tree fiber we call a magazine.

51 Things We Can Do. This section highlights "simple" activities we, the general consumers, can do to help reduce our impact on the environment. Buying carbon offsets are mentioned at number 42 (I have no idea if these are in any order) as Pay for your carbon sins. As with other mentions of offsets in this blog, there is a fair hinting of the inexact nature of buying offsets and the work by Ecosystem Marketplace, the Center for Resource Solutions, and the Climate Group to establish verifiable and "trusted" carbon offsets. Though not mentioned in the article, I am certain that NativeEnergy is working on this as well. I liked the simple ones like turning off the lights and office equipment and changing light bulbs. I am in the market for a home, so maybe this is the right way to go?

On The Front Lines of Climate Change covers areas like Bangladesh, London, Tokyo, New Orleans, and The Netherlands and their ongoing battle to preserve their way of life. The Netherlands have been battling the North Sea for more than 800 years. You think they'll stop now? Venice and Stockholm are not mentioned, nor are numerous other coastal and low-lying areas. I have to ask an obvious question; how many billions, if not trillions of dollars have been invested to preserve these cities? OK, knowing what we know now, that having millions of people living at or below sea level is a bad idea, how many billions or trillions of dollars would it take to recreate these places in areas where they do not face the long-term destruction potential associated with climate change? Simple question, complicated answer(s).

What Now For Our Feverish Planet? This one takes on the usual topics of how we should deal with climate change. Reducing emissions associated with the use of fossil fuel, increasing the use of alternatives, investing in projects that offset carbon emissions. I'll not bore you with all the sound bites and jeweled comments that you will probably end up reading yourself. The one small quote that stood out that related to the carbon emissions challenge I issued to the Green Drinks folks for March is,
Buying carbon offsets can reduce the impact of your cross-continental travel,
provided you can ensure where your money's really going.
Again, what we really need is reductions at the source and focusing on smaller scale, local commerce. I think Bill McKibben is onto something.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Results of People's Carbon Emissions Tracking Part I

The meeting of Green Drinks Tuesday at The Times in downtown Boston was a good one. There must have been 30-40 people at the peak. The fact that the Conservation Law Foundation sponsored it by buying some tasty pub treats and that the location was convenient to the masses that work in the city were good things to boost attendance. Thanks CLF!

I have started to receive people's comments about their quest for understanding their carbon footprint bu calculating their carbon emissions for the month of March. As expected, when it comes to taking the time to actively complete an exercise like this we are mostly all talk. It's what I expected. In fact, the first respondent's motivation came from guilt (as quoted below). We are all "guilty" of contributing to GHG emissions, but we all have to start somewhere to initiate change. I am hoping that the real comments I get from consumers trying to calculate their carbon emissions.

The first report comes from a recent MBA graduate of the Sloan School at MIT and founder of the Going Green on line community, Doerte Sennecke. I have included her comments verbatim with her permission. I have to admit that I HAVE NOT investigated the sites she mentioned...yet.

April 2007

Finally, my bad conscience was strong enough to trigger me to take on Wayne’s challenge from March’s Green Drinks Happy Hour. He was generously sponsoring our drinks in exchange for asking us to track our carbon emissions for the month of March.

Therefore, I went to Google and Typed in carbon footprint. Wow, a neat list of related links popped up. That was easy. Why did I procrastinate? :-)

Please find below my experience with the various carbon footprint calculators on the Internet:

Website #1
It is a detailed calculator on an annual basis. Well, it is asking for numbers like annual electricity and car mileages that I don’t really have easily available since I have changed my housing multiple times since summer 2006. I did not move on.

Website #2
Pro: This is a very straight-forward calculator. It took me less than a minute.
Con: It does not take factors like meat consumption into consideration...
My result: 2.5 tons (the national average was given as 7.5 tons for the US). I don’t own a car which really helped me out here ;-)

Website #3
British Petroleum
Pro: This is a straight-forward calculator. It took me about 2 minutes. It shows the results graphically and updates you on your progress while taking the survey.
Con: It does not take factors like meat consumption into consideration...
My result: 7 tons (the national average was given as 18.58 tons for the US). I don’t own a car which really helped me out here ;-)

Website #4
Safe Climate
My result: 44 kg per month
In summary, I spent about half an hour on Wayne’s task and ended up more confused about my actual carbon footprint than before using the above calculators and seeing the conflicting results. For now, I will stick with using Earthday's calculator. I am proud to report that I have gradually reduced my consumption of meat to reduce my ecological footprint since taking the quiz last year.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

EPA Successfully Sued over Carbon Dioxide Regulation

WASHINGTON, April 2 — In one of its most important environmental decisions in years, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases in automobile emissions. The court further ruled that the agency could not sidestep its authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it could provide a scientific basis for its refusal.

This is another indicator that CO2 will be regulated on the federal level. California (and other states named in the article, including Massachusetts), helped start this process, as they usually do. It will be interesting to see how this moves through the bureaucracy of the EPA and what kind of regulations (assuming the ruling does end up standing) will come of it.

I came across this article last week that mentions the growth potential on the carbon market. Carbon market to grow 50% in 2007. My comments are a bit sparse on these two today. I hope to come back and readdress what I may think their implications are.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Home owners' Efficiency Options

As I leafed through the latest issue of Mass High Tech, I was pleased to see another article highlighting a start-up company planning to offer energy efficiency solutions to home owners, Energy efficiency tech is aimed at homes, offices. A small company based in Andover, En-home will be targeting the single family home, a place of endless energy efficiency opportunities. I like to hear this because, as a consumer who happens to be thinking about buying a home, I find it fairly difficult to determine the relative energy performance of homes we look at. Other than looking for adequate attic insulation, an updated and insulated heating system, and the rare sighting of solar hot water (that's working correctly) or photo voltaic panels, how do I know how a 1947 Cape with 1200 sq-ft of space with oil and steam compares to a 1982 Colonial with 1400 sq-ft of living space with gas and forced hot water? I have not investigated this deeply, but the Energy Star Homes program may be helpful.

I was also happy to see that Webgen Systems and EnerNOC were mentioned in the article as well. I had conversations with members of both of these organizations back in the early part of 2006 when I was learning about online energy management and demand response. I like what these companies are doing because it is all about source reduction, reducing the initial demand for energy such that we do not need to produce it in the first place. The great thing about both these companies is that they are reducing the need for energy in a way that works in the marketplace. EnerNOC's demand response technology reduces industrial customers' energy bills, saves the electrical utility money, helps EnerNOC sell its service, and reduces emissions. Sounds like a winner to me.

Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Energy Efficiency

I was happy to see a featured article in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing about sustainability, energy efficiency and the business pay-off these initiatives can make, Energy Efficiency: The Gift That Keeps on Giving. Roche, Merck, Baxter (a usual suspect in anything sustainable), Novo Nordisk, and Genzyme are mentioned in the article, and named in Innovest's Global 100 of the world's most sustainable companies. I have had the pleasure of visiting Genzyme's LEED certified facilities in Cambridge and Allston. The one in Cambridge is particularly interesting with plenty of natural light and a sense of being outside when you're inside.

I suppose it's an easier sell for pharma companies to invest in sustainable activities since they are manufacturing drugs that are suppose to help cure diseases. I am sure there is a public perception that they are trying to do good, though there is the other side that is complaining that pharma companies are making too much money. With public perception of companies playing in this arena weighing on stock performance, let the solar panels reign.

Pharma manufacturing is an industry my company serves, and I feel a bit more optimistic when customers are touting their efficiency projects.

Prius All It's Cracked Up to Be?

A friend of mine sent along this article from Central Connecticut State's The Recorder Online touching upon the "true cost" of the Toyota Prius. The article highlights the energy and environmental costs associated with the mining, refining, and transportation of the nickel that goes into the batteries. I found it interesting since it starts thinking about the overall lifecycle costs of an object.

The element that is not addressed is the downstream impact of the vehicles, though it may be encompassed in the “Dust to Dust” study referred to in the article. I am thinking mostly about CO2 emissions. These emissions have yet to be regulated and priced, but if they are, their costs will be borne by the operator of the vehicles. Of course, in addition to the CO2 emissions, what about the end-of-life of the vehicles? Will they (or can they economically) be recycled? Will they be added to the scrap heap?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

March's Carbon Emissions

It's that time of the month, to take a look back at my business travel and calculate what I believe I contributed to carbon dioxide emissions. Of course, the mileage is not 100% accurate, and some of the mileage was in a four cylinder turbo while other miles were in a V-6 or a V-8 or whatever. Perhaps I'll work to get more accurate as I continue with this exercise, since that is what this whole experiment is for, figuring out how to do this correctly.

Business Auto mileage:
571 driving alone + 199 from 397 actual passenger miles. I use my scientific "fudge factor", dividing passenger miles by 2, to obtain my contribution.

Air Travel:
Boston to Baltimore on Delta and Newark to Boston on Continental

I'll run this by my friends at CarbonFund and NativeEergy and see what they come up with.


I am thrilled that the outcome of my last visit with the people of Boston's Green Drinks group has led to some sharing of information on the emerging carbon offset market(s). I received e-mails from a member of NativeEnergy as well as a business locally based in Waltham, MA called Clean Air Lawn Care. I am hoping to have some more in depth conversations about carbon offsets and trading at the next Boston Green Drinks event this Tuesday April 3rd at The Times Irish Pub in Boston.

The gent from NativeEnergy pointed me to this article from BusinessWeek, Another Inconvenient Truth; Behind the feel-good hype of carbon offsets, some of the deals don't deliver. Where do the "offsets" come from? How are the counted and accurately applied? Where is the central governing boy that certifies "carbon offsets"? Good questions. As an aside, the moniker "Checkbook Environmentalists" is used in the article. As with "Corporate Hippies", it's a label I like since it succinctly describes what most people (with the means) would like to do; buy something that helps the planet and makes them feel good.

No sooner did I receive the note cluing me in to BusinessWeek's article on the inexact and potentially dubious nature of offsetting carbon emissions, do I see Ethical Corporation chiming in on the same subject, Offsetting emissions – The carbon con?. This quote from the article sums it up nicely, wrapping up the desires of the Checkbook Environmentalists
This is carbon offsetting. Of all the possible solutions to climate change none is perhaps more desirable, or less well understood.
And it goes on!
Many projects are still not externally verified. Some off setters have no way of guaranteeing the reductions achieved by a project are in fact additional to energy savings that would have happened without the project taking place. And the selling of a single credit two or three times to different buyers – a process known as double counting – is not uncommon.

Jasmine Hyman, spokesperson for the Gold Standard certification of offsetting projects, says: “The voluntary market is a no-man's land.” Companies need to know what they are venturing into.
Great, just what I am trying to understand, but that's the point, isn't it? We are in a young and emerging market for voluntary emissions, and there will be leaders, laggards, and scofflaws out there. The market will speak and the good ones will survive, the poorly managed ones will die, and the law-breakers will eventually be arrested (once there are some laws re: carbon dioxide emissions).