Friday, December 28, 2007

"Green" Cell Phones


I started this post over one month ago with the high-minded intention of buying a replacement cell phone that was perhaps "less bad" for the world than others out there. Fast forward to a week or so ago and I bagged the research and went with what the IT guy said a few of the people in the office had already purchased, a Blackberry 8830. After searching Research in Motion's website for "e-waste", "product take back", and "recycling", I found something akin to a recycling program from 2003, the HopeLine program. Reality; I bailed on the research and just went with the easy choice someone else made for me.

I am not sure how I lost the Motorola Q, but it's gone. I think I left it on top of my car and drove away. Either it was smashed when it landed, smashed when it was run over by another car, or picked up by a passer-by and...who knows what.

Before I gave up on my green cell phone quest (one does not exist), I did find a few mentions of phones that may have been a little better.

LG Cyon, RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) compliance makes it "green"

A recent article in National Geographic reinforced the societal problems e-waste is generating. The rapid obsolescence of electronics along with societies becoming more affluent and demanding more gadgets is creating mountains of toxic electronic debris to be dealt with. Guess where much of it ends up? You guessed it, poor and developing countries.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Sustainability Advantage


Christmas has come and gone, and one of the gifts I received was a copy of Bob Willard's DVD "The Business Case for Sustainability". I just watched the 55 minute video and found it to be well-made, interesting, and organized to help activists interested in promoting sustainable business to speak the language of business to business people. (image from Swinburne University of Technology)
Mr. Willard starts off by admitting that we are overwhelmed with the terminology around "sustainability"; terms like CSR, sustainable development, sustainable business, etc., are used interchangeably within the community of people that "get it". The problem; many people do not "get it". Mr. Willard goes onto address the three-legged stool of sustainability in terms of managing a company's assets. He breaks company assets into five categories, Manufactured Capital, Natural Capital, Social Capital, Financial Capital, and Human Capital. When we start using terms to describe sustainability that involve the management of assets, we are speaking the language of balance sheets and income statements, the language of business. We are getting away from "soft" terms like environmentalism and social responsibility that make some business executives quake.

Mr. Willard's description of the iceberg of company value is quite interesting, as are the statistics he provides on the percentage of a company's value tied up in intangibles. What we're talking about here is the premium the market pays for company ownership above and beyond the company's book value. This can be thought of as a company's goodwill or brand premium. From 1981 to 1998 the percentage of a company's value tied up in intangible value increased from 17% to 71%. The market is placing a higher premium on what a company represents in terms of image and future earnings than what their net worth is from the balance sheet. (I suppose one way to look at this is that there are many overvalued companies).

What does this have to do with sustainability? Everything. Since most of a company's value is placed in the market's fickle perception, there are tremendous risks associated with losing that perception and premium. Outright malfeasance or a lack of forward-thinking leadership that leaves the company exposed to risks that might otherwise be avoided can certainly destroy this value. If the future earnings of the company are threatened by climate change and management does not have a strategy to hedge those risks, what are investors likely to do? Flee to other investments that have hedged those risks and stand to benefit from market changes bringing opportunities they are prepared for.

Investors represent only one stakeholder group the company is accountable to. What about employees (imagine a time when an employee refuses to partake in a business activity that may comply with existing regulatory requirements, but contributes to climate change or environmental degradation. Could the employee take a stand on moral grounds and say no?), governments, customers, vendors, (with Wal*Mart's pressure on their supply chain to reduce packaging and be more efficient, you can bet others will as well), bankers, insurers, NGOs, etc. Climate change is on all of their radar screens...it just makes sense to be investigating it's potential impact on an organization.

In the DVD, Mr. Willard illustrates this with the example of the Enron disaster. He does not talk about Enron itself, but the collateral damage to the accounting form that no longer exists, Arthur Anderson. The consulting business was re-branded as Accenture in 2001, but the accounting and auditing arm ceased to exist. It destroyed the trust it had in the marketplace and payed the ultimate price.

Investors have become increasingly vocal about business risks associated with climate change. The Investor's Network on Climate Risk (INCR) comprised of 65 institutional investors with $4 trillion under management has requested Congressional action on GHG emissions and is asking the SEC to require listed companies to disclose climate change risks. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), started in 2003 with 35 institutional investors with $4.5 trillion under management and now up to 315 signatory investors with $41 trillion under management in, has helped companies quantify their risks associated with climate change in an open and transparent process. The realization from the CDP; manufacturers could lose 40% of their market value.

So, there are clearly risks associated with climate change, what about the opportunities? Mr. Willard highlights 7 areas that companies stand to benefit if they take action on climate change and sustainable business:
  1. Reduced recruiting costs - more graduates are making decisions to join companies that have a higher social purpose. Company is viewed as an innovator in a field of identical companies.
  2. Reduced attrition costs - employees are engaged in a higher mission and are less likely to leave
  3. Increased employee productivity
  4. Reduced manufacturing expenses - energy efficiency, recycling, products designed for reuse, resource productivity
  5. Reduced expenses at commercial sites
  6. Increased revenue & market share - competitive advantage, customers will start to demand clean & green products
  7. Lower insurance and borrowing costs - Lower risk premiums for borrowing
Companies are facing increasing pressure globally to operate efficiently and maximize their profitability. To ignore the activities that lead to a potential increase in profitability, whether climate change is the reason or not, may not be the best idea.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Green Patriots


Living in Massachusetts, I cannot avoid the fact that I am a New England sports fan. Rabid, no. Interested, yes. That Patriots are 14-0, and looking destined for another Super Bowl appearance. I am not a sports writer, nor am I pretending to have any clue about their chances of really making it there, I am just repeating what I have heard on various media outlets around the country.

What caught my eye was this article from the latest issue of Mass High Tech, Patriots pursue perfect 'green' record at Gillette. Seems that the Pats are complimenting the green in their playing surface and the green that comes with any successful sports team franchise with Green-e certified renewable energy credits to power Gillette Stadium for the Pats' home games (to extend through the playoffs). The pertinent info:

The Kraft Group, owner of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium, has partnered with Constellation NewEnergy to offset the stadium's power usage with wind-energy renewable energy credits (RECs). The contract, which has been running during the course of the Patriots first 12 games, will continue for four years.
Financial details of the energy credit purchases were not disclosed, but according to Carrie Cullen Hitt, vice president of product management for renewable power at Constellation, all home games will be covered, including playoffs.
The first sentence of the second paragraph raise the alarm bells; where is the money they are investing in wind power RECs going? Are these legit RECs? Are they really funding renewable energy projects? Constellation New Energy has been chosen as a REC partner by the Center for Resource Solutions' Green-e program from California. Green-e is one of the leading GHG emissions certification organizations out there, so I suppose this bodes well for the legitimacy of the Kraft Group's investment. It would be even better to see a few hundred kilowatts of photovoltaics installed on the stadium (plenty of room with no shading issues!), perhaps even extending to the sprawling mall being build around the stadium. It may make a small dent in the overall CO2 emissions that will come from all the people driving to events at the stadium and the new shopping center.

Sports owners are of the competitive sort, will the Red Sox (how green is Fenway Park?), the Celtics (c'mon, their uniforms are green!), and the Bruins (green with envy at the attention the other teams receive?) step us as well?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

First Green MBA Quarter Complete


It is hard to believe that I am not going to be in class for the next few weeks. The first quarter of BGI is over (unless I hear otherwise) I'll not be staring at the computer screen while slides flash in front of my eyes and chat messages flitter along the lower left hand part of the screen (many of them mine). They gave us the really cool glasses Sus 3-D glasses to make the BGI experience more "real" (photo courtesy of fellow BGIer Mickey Lee). Seriously, the glasses magically make the dark and gloomy real world disappear into a warm haze of brightly clad cities that generate their own power. By the way, the folks from Seven Cycles will recognize the shirt.

...OK...back to reality...

The disjointed voices of teachers and students, mingled in some strange web-enabled mesh, sometimes cut off only to resurface with a Mickey Mouse accent as the web's delay catches up, are gone for a while. The constant level of anxiety that I have been dealing with over the past 2 1/2 months has yet to completely dissipate; I feel like I should be doing some school work. Should I already be reading the material for next term? Should I be reviewing the materials I glossed over too quickly in a dazed rush to complete what needed to be turned in? What about "co-creating" the institution; shouldn't I be working on that too? Maybe I really need to take the week off and chill out.

One of my office walls is adorned with an assignment we had in "Intro to Sustainable Business", a course that introduced us to the various sustainable business reporting metrics, tools, protocols, guidelines, etc. that are out there. We took a fictional company and created a sustainability report storyboard based upon the criteria given to us by our parent company. Our team of five people were given about an hour, one big sheet of paper, and some colored magic markers...away we went! Folding the paper into eight sections, working simultaneously, we came up with an outline that made sense:
  1. Title Page & Table of Contents
  2. Welcome letter from the CEO (wow!)
  3. Manufacturing Performance
  4. Transportation Performance
  5. Product Performance
  6. Community Performance
  7. Supply Chain Performance
  8. Summary (where we are & where we're going)
It's amazing what a small team of creative and energetic people can come up with.
W e even did a short Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) exercise in one of the classes. Honestly, I am not sure I remember how to do one, and the real process is quite expensive, time consuming, and leads to reams of data that may cause brain explosion. But I have the foundation...

As I reflect on the other elements of the term, I am continually amazed at the collective creativity and energy among the students. We're a self-selected bunch that have made the commitment to attending an institution focused on changing business-as-usual to business-as-unusual. It's refreshing to be part of this unique community.

I'm of the cynical sort, and I've left myself outside of the circles due to creeping suspicion that we're a disingenuous lot, more interested in ourselves than the greater whole (projecting here!). Oh yes, I am guilty of the hypocrisy of living beyond the means of the planet. I'm not following my own inner beliefs about using less. The gap between where I am and where I want to be is wide indeed, but recognizing it is part of the process. The work to close the gap has just begun.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Boston Area Green Biz Wins Forbes Prize


This is taken right from Recycline's web site:

Thanks to you, we won the Forbes.com Boost Your Business contest! On 12/12, Recycline's founder and president, Eric Hudson, went to New York City to accept the $100,000 prize from Forbes.com and Hewlett-Packard. While it was many months of pulling out all the stops, the contest was quite enjoyable for us, largely because so many folks rallied for us with votes and encouragement. We are very thankful for all the support we received from everyone who voted and asked their friends to vote. The grand prize will help us take on more environmental initiatives and introduce Preserve products to more and more people across the U.S.

Forbes "Boost Your Business" Contest

Guilty Holidays


The season of excess continues, the billboards of Santa gleefully chugging Coke is a nice reminder of that fact.

A fellow classmate at BGI passed on this article from the NYTimes, Guilty Green?; does buying a green Barney's handbag make you less of a polluting American? Do organic jeans shipped from Malaysia "cost" less than regular ones from Mexico? Can we really consume our way to a green Utopian state of collective consumption and closing the loop...probably not.

Related? Scientists: Global warming could kill coral reefs by 2050. So, you read this article and what does it tell you? Not much. The Starbuck's coffee you bought as a gift for Aunt Beru will help kill the coral reefs? Maybe. Seriously, I am a concerned citizen about the global climate and community, I read about the new CO2 emissions standards, pending legislation, what it means for energy, heck I'm going to a "green MBA" program, but what does losing the world's coral reefs really mean to the guy working to make ends meet at the local hardware store or the over stretched suburbanites on two incomes with 2.5 hour commutes both ways? I am NOT getting into judgments on any lifestyles or life choices, just trying to get comfortable with current reality. Whew!

I read it, felt depressed, made some leaps and superficial connections to loss of fish stocks and biodiversity which can undermine local and international economies, lead to attempts at industrial solutions and perhaps cause a global meltdown in sea life and even a lower absorption of gases from the atmosphere and since everything follows the laws of thermodynamics (entropy) and degrades into chaos...the atmosphere will simply blow away with the solar wind when the magnetic field shifts after the last fish dies...! That was some pent up doom-and-gloom energy.

Is the ultimate in guiltless activity the use of a biodegradable coffin (from NYTimes Magazine)? Is there an LCA that compares the different methods of burial to see which one really is the best? What if it turned out that the "greenest" way is cremation? Would all the hippies (corporate or otherwise) pick that method? I bet there are regulations that vary from city-to-city and cemetery-to-cemetery regarding burial standards. I remember hearing from a friend that embalming fluids are hazardous waste (how true this is, I do not know) hence the requirement for concrete vaults the coffins are entombed in. I find it interesting that we can pollute after were dead and gone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas "Greening"

It's that time of the year again, when rampant commercialism is so obvious there are few that can ignore it. As I anxiously increased my carbon footprint, flying from Boston to Baltimore in icing conditions (the rate of climb on take-off was steeper than normal...getting us above the potentially ice causing conditions at low altitude clouds) to Baltimore, I decided to leaf through the normally vacuous (insert airline here) Magazine. I was not disappointed. An article called "Green Santa", see photo from Delta's Sky Magazine, took some pretty low level swipes at Santa as being unsustainable. It's somewhat amusing...and, as simplistic as it was, maybe it will get a few people thinking about what gifts are suitable and reflect both the values of the giver and the desires of the receiver. I must admit, I like receiving gifts, but generally I prefer to receive items I can use. The fact that I do not tell anyone what I want makes this an interesting exercise.

No sooner did I shove the LOHAS version of Santa from my mind, did I see another article from the USA Today on the risks associated with giving with a purpose (some would say an agenda). Oh, you shouldn't have - really!, I am fairly certain I have done this...whoops! I think I sent my god son some carbon offsets from NativeEnergy a few years ago...what a guy! Apparently it's bad manners to decide that your greedy, selfish, avaricious, and climate destroying relatives should receive some guilt-riddled contribution in their name of carbon offsets to be named later instead of the asinine video game or framed painting of Bob Ross. I suppose there are better ways to ignite healthy debate among family members about our role in the collapse of our collective ecosystem.

In the spirit of alternative fuels, winter, beer, cycling, and comedy...check this out...Cycling High Life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Adjusting from the Bubble of BGI


Returning from the wonderful experience that is BGI's monthly Intensives, part of the unique hybrid teaching experience that makes BGI what it is, is VERY hard and emotionally charged each and every time. I return from the bosom of a community of like-minded, committed, creative, intelligent, and incredibly passionate people with myriad backgrounds to a work situation that does not echo this. It's like I'm beamed from the land of enlightenment to the land of repression. I am most certainly biased. I am overjoyed to return and see my wife; being away and not having her there to share in my awe of what I am experiencing is not easy. I want to take BGI with me. I have people with me in spirit, but that's not enough. I want the whole darn thing to be transplanted somewhere in the Northeast. Sure, Marlboro's program is starting in January (at least that's the last I heard), but it wasn't soon enough for me.

The alumni were there this weekend. It was fabulous to see them in all their enthusiasm. Four people that were instrumental in my decision to attend BGI were there, and it was wonderful to meet two of them that I had not met before. It is also wonderful to note that BGI is gaining more attention "out there". Apparently Amory Lovins likes to wear his BGI baseball cap at various events; what an endorsement. At a Boston NetImpact dinner meeting with Peter Kinder of KLD Analytics on December 3rd, I mentioned that I was attending BGI as I asked some questions about SRI. He said something to the effect that the folks that attend BGI are not afraid of the heavy lifting, of asking these hard questions and working to figure them out. That felt good.

As I reflect on what the experience has been for me so far, I see that it is the continuation of the personal transformation I started in November of 2001 when I quit my job and started working in bicycle retail. I now have a place where we are being taught how to become the people we want to be, how to recognize the gap between current reality (both personal and external) and where we want to be. As I commented to a friend of mine met through NetImpact, peeling back the onion of one's self can be quite traumatic; realizing just how far I am from what I would like to be is painful, and owning that gap is hard and easy to ignore with the aid of diversions.

On the academic front, I have most definitely progressed. I can look at balance sheets and make some general observations about the company's performance. I am getting my head around sustainability reporting and what "sustainability" means (a process, not necessarily a destinations). I am becoming more comfortable with the gray areas that make up triple bottom line thinking; it's different for everyone. I have stretched myself (a bit) to look at "me", look at my contribution to the systems within which I function and therefore contribute to, and how I can be a leader in changing business and society in the long run.

December 10, 2007 is a day of two great events...Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize speech (not so much Mr. Gore, though I respect his leadership, but the fact that he has been banging the drum for climate change action for so long, and it was recognized as necessary and important) and the first concert by Led Zeppelin in 15 years at the O2 hall in London. More than 1 million people globally registered to have access to only 15,000 seats. Imagine if could harness that market draw to push for climate change action.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Carbon Notes

OK...it's not today, I'm seated at a picnic table at IslandWood with one of me new classmates and we're clacking away and talking about blogs, climate change, and Youtube. What could be better.

I have been thinking about the "carbon footprint" concept for a while in concert with looming GHG emissions regulation, my own travel for business and personal reasons, and the project I am working on for school. There appears to be quite a bit of activity in this area over the past year or so. Two GHG Emissions tracking protocols have been launched based upon the WBCSD/WRI GHG Emissions Tracking Protocol. The California Climate Registry was introduced in 2001 with an in 2007. The latest update has integrated the WRI/WBCSD Protocol standards to provide homogeneity across the globe. 39 states have signed on the the newly released National Climate Registry, including California. Does that mean the CA Climate Registry will roll into the national registry? What about companies that take action without any official federal regulation in place? Will they receive credit? There are many unknowns in the near term associated with CO2 tracking and regulation. it will be interesting to see what comes out, especially in the US after the presidential election in 2008.

How 'bout a little comic relief from the good folks at carbonfootprint.com?

News flash from Bali: All nations must join climate fight-Bali draft.
The draft lays out three options for how to proceed after Bali -- ranging from non-binding talks over the next two years to a deadline for adopting a new global pact at a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009.
Rich nations should consider ways to step up efforts to curb emissions of greenhouse gases by setting "quantified national emission objectives", the draft says.
Poor countries should take "national mitigation actions ... that limit the growth of, or reduce, emissions," it says. It adds that "social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities" for poor nations.
What's amazing to me is that we are 15 years after the Rio summit and the language seems to be just a non-committal and ambiguous.

Can you imagine this ad in the USA sponsored by the government? If Nancy Pelosi has her way, maybe we'll see it in 2009.