Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Going Green

A Boston-based company that manufactures plastic gift, loyalty, membership, and other cards, Arther Blank & Co. had an interesting little article in the latest issue of Mass High Tech. They have been making their cards using recycled materials for a few years, integrating old, ground up credit, debit and other cards into their products. The author, Eric Blank, an Executive VP at the company, quoted a statistic from a report issued in 2005 by the US Small Business Administration; 65% of the environmental regulatory costs were shouldered by businesses in 2004. Companies paid an average of $4,850 per employee.

Regulations affect many aspects of business, from proper disposal of hazardous waste to proper internal handling of hazardous substances and employee safety regulations. Why not design products from the ground up that will eliminate the hazardous substances in the first place? This is what the author is suggesting. As compliance costs rise, designing toxic materials completely out of products make solid business sense. If the hazardous materials are removed from the outset, there are no issues to worry about, reducing risks substantially.

I remember hearing Ed Costa of HP speak about this at the Harvard Business School last year. He commented that businesses operate in a "compliance" mindset when it comes to environmental performance. Companies do the minimum to comply with existing laws and regulations. That's what they think is expected of them. The next step is a forward-thinking mindset recognizing that hazardous materials should be avoided at the outset, removing them and their associated costs from the product completely.

How is this done? Design groups must constantly be researching and looking for ways to remove toxic substances from products and avoiding their use in new products. Surely there are tremendous knowledge gaps in designer practice. A tool kit of design conventions that worked 20 years go may not be applicable in today's world. Therefore, organizations must be proactive in seeking out information on new, better, and benign materials and technologies, staying ahead of the regulatory curve.
Engineering and design institutions of higher learning should be part of this conversation. Sustainable design principles and parctices must be embedded in engineering curricula. Why not have students that are learning about design and material choices learn about their environmental and regulatory costs? We have the unique opportunity to implant a bit of systems thinking in the engineers and designers that will shape our world for the next 100 years.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Who's Dreamliner and Will We Pay Attention?

The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner has entered production. I caught the news blast on the Nighty Business Report, your friendly neighborhood business news report that sticks to the facts. Apparently, orders are coming in at a nice clip, helping buoy Boeing's stock 1.94% in today's trading. What I found interesting about the story was that Boeing originally set out to build a plane that would fly higher and faster when it started the process 6 years ago. Due to customer input (the airlines) they changed their design mission to a smaller, more efficient plane that can fly 250-300 people to more places more often. In a unique partnership arrangement, Boeing partnered with GE and Rolls-Royce on engines that are slated to be at least 8% more efficient. Combined with the groundbreaking use of composites for the skin of the plane (until recently composed of aluminum) to reduce weight, the overall plane stands to be 20% more efficient than the model it is replacing. That's not an insignificant number.

Clearly, Boeing's customers were concerned with rising fuel prices and public concern about noise around airports. What I am not certain about is how climate change figured into the equation. With global CO2 regulations looming on the horizon, the future remains unclear for how airlines will be affected. Hedging against future fuel price increases as well as CO2 regulations is just good business. The airlines that buy more fuel efficient planes may even be in a position to generate some extra revenue if they emit less carbon than they are allotted. This is assuming they are subject to a CO2 emissions trading scheme.
Given GE's Ecomagination initiative, this certainly makes for good PR for them. I am curious; will the airlines that buy these more fuel efficient planes market the fact to consumers to help differentiate them in the extremely competitive and "zero loyalty" marketplace? Talk about greenwashing...but at least it is a small step in the right direction.

Amory Lovins discusses the hypercar in Natural Capitalism as one of myriad solutions to our energy gluttony. One of the key elements of the hypercar is the use of carbon fiber that can be reused and recycled many times after the initial design for the car. Perhaps Boeing has plans for reusing the carbon fiber at the end of the plane's life, or at the very least remanufacturing it and reselling it as a raw material to other companies.

Here's one that relies on consumers paying attention, which is always a challenge. Proctor & Gamble is introducing smaller more concentrated detergents. The products will be introduced soon in parts of the southern US and Puerto Rico with a full roll-out slated for next year. I am certain that they are starting in smaller markets to gauge the reaction and tweak their marketing to educate consumers, who generally think that bigger is better, that they are getting essentially the same service for their money. Consumer specialists are concerned that Joe and Jane Shopper will not notice the same number of loads in the smaller container and continue to use the same amount per load, potentially becoming annoyed with the perception that they are getting less.

Now lets get real. Manufacturers do whatever they can to make their products stand out on retailers' shelves. Snazzy graphics, POP displays, and of course BIG packages. Oh, but guess what? Wal-Mart has been promoting smaller, concentrated cleaners along with their smaller packages. P&G is motivated by fulfilling a huge customer's need as much as a sustainability mission. Great.

Do they have both? Yes. No. Maybe? Are any of the companies here "sustainable"? Not yet. They're trying. Efforts like this must be driven by value to the customer (a key stakeholder), the environment, and the bottom line. These seem to have that, to some extent.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Businesses Continue to Toy With Climate Change Strategies

I snapped this photo while wandering along the typical strip of route 62 in Amherst, NY (outside of Buffalo) earlier this week. It seemed like an appropriate photo for a continuing stream of discussion about energy use and sustainable business. How nice the high voltage towers look, backlit by the setting sun as cars whiz past. How long can we support the existing infrastructure that feeds these systems?

The Sustainable Company has passed through my hands and been added to the book shelf as a good reference for me to help build a business case for sustainability activities. I am greatly simplifying Mr. Laszlo's book by relating only the Eight Disciplines of the Sustainability Tool Kit. I do recommend picking up the book if you have not been exposed to much in the way of the business case for sustainability or if you are already working in the field and would like to see all that is out there. Of course, the book has been out for about four yeas now, so I am certain that there have been tweaks and modifications to this methodology.

The Eight Disciplines of Sustainable Business:

1) Understand the Current Position
2) Anticipate Future Expectations
3) Set Sustainable Value Goals
4) Design Value Creation Initiatives
5) Develop the Business Case
6) Capture the Value
7) Validate Results and Capture Learning
8) Build Sustainable Capacity

Points 1-3 fall under the heading of Discovering Value Opportunities, points 4-6 fall under Creating Value, and points 7 & 8 connect the sets of 1-3 and 4-6 together with a feedback loop. The book goes into greater detail with keys to success in each of the stages as well as some case studies including Patagonia and Bulmer's. What I have not done yet is check in on the progress of these companies to date. It should be an interesting exercise.
A few recent articles caught my eye, most of them courtesy of the WBCSD newsletters.

Both articles highlight company concern over energy. One with executives expressing their concerns about energy price instability and the need for making plays to reduce their exposure to this volatility. What does that mean? Investments in energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. The second one, playing off of previous articles about the potential for a C-level Chief Sustainability Officer, mentions the potential for a Chief Energy Officer or CNO. Their may be enough specialization and permutations in procuring energy cost effectively in the future that companies need a special position. Interesting.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Consumer and Employee Complicity

After a sleepless night with thoughts about the "honesty" of the Chicago Climate Exchange, one person's experience with a month long McDonald's binge in Supersize Me, and echoes of Milton Friedman, Michael Moore, and Ray Anderson's comments from The Corporation clouding my head, I may have come to some small realizations about where we are.

Consumers and employees are complicit in whatever environmental and social problems we have. There is nothing extraordinary or earth-shattering in that statement, but it is one that we often forget in the face of enormous challenges. We'd prefer to place the blame somewhere else, to blame the system or the government or "them". We are as mush to blame as anyone.
Milton Friedman made a comment in the interviews contained in The Corporation about what the corporate entity can "feel". It cannot feel anything, it's a legal construct designed to create profits for its shareholders. In that regard, it's amoral. The key part of Mr. Friedman's comment was this, the people that make up the corporation have morals and values. We cannot hold the corporation accountable, yet we must hold the people that make up the corporation accountable. I am convinced that people working in influential positions within corporations can all too easily hide from their moral responsibility in the name of the corporation's charter to generate profits. As employees of corporations, are we not morally responsible for the actions we take in the name of the corporation?

Mr. Moore made an interesting comment about the disconnects in his own life between actions and consequences. He recounted the fact that his parents were auto workers in Flint Michigan, one of the areas that have lost factory jobs over the past 20 years. While he is an outspoken critic of global corporate greed and misanthropy, he is quick to note that his parents built cars, some of the most environmentally polluting products throughout their lifecycle. Their work building cars helped them support their family, yet it also contributed to resource depletion and the shifting of wealth from one group of stakeholders to the corporate shareholders. He was quick to point out that disconnect, and it is one that many of us deal with on a daily basis.

In fact, I sit here in the airport, using the power of mobile technology to write this. Was this computer made to be reused? Is the Verizon card made to be reused or recycled? How about the bright white cup of Starbuck's I purchased this morning? Aren't they taking wealth from one set of stakeholders and transferring it to the shareholders? I am now part of that chain. Starbuck's is one of the more progressive companies when it comes to CSR and managing a just supply chain, so perhaps I am acting in a way that reflects my values more than I think I am.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Sustainable Company

I am about 2/3 of the way through The Sustainable Company by Chris Laszlo. Mr. Laszlo provides good background for the business case to integrate sustainable thinking into core elements of corporate governance. The old way of thinking, of extracting value from stakeholders for the benefits of shareholders is quickly becoming dangerous to the long-term health of corporations. Perhaps the increase in the number of shareholder resolutions asking for corporate revelations about their risks associated with climate change reflects the realization of the shareholders that they are also stakeholders that may be having value taken from them in the form of externalities. The book was written in 2003, and I am curious to follow-up on the businesses used in the book as case studies.

I made the mistake of watching An Inconvenient Truth followed almost immediately by The Corporation. I say mistake because the information contained within the films fed into my occasional hopelessness regarding the future of our planet. On the other hand, once the despair sinks in and moves on, there are glimmers of hope within me that still shine through. Perhaps the most depressing part of all this is our complicity as citizens in the situation we are in. Our own lack of attention has allowed companies to act irresponsibly and dangerously. The very fact that Mr. Gore illustrates so compelling an argument for the existence of global warming, including the scientific community's agreement on the influence mankind's activities on climate change, is part of the problem. Given the influence corporate funded advertising and shell organizations funded by businesses to help discredit the science behind global warming have on the general consumer, I suppose it's understandable that people feel paralyzed or refuse to believe that their daily activities contribute to this massive problem; We're collectively still in the denial phase.

Ray Anderson, Interface's CEO, was again featured as a representative of companies that have come to understand that they are plunderers of the planet. His comments in The Corporation are strong, committed, and impactful. Though he calls out corporate leaders as complicit in the extraction of the next generation's resources, he provides a hopeful vision of a future where companies do not exist merely to transfer wealth from one constituency to another, but are driven by a moral responsibility to their place in the world. After all, those of us that work in the "corporate world" are stakeholders in the environment that companies affect. Shouldn't we care deeply about what those affects are and work to eliminate negative ones?

Perhaps ExxonMobil is showing some cracks in their armor of denial around climate change. Did someone in a leadership role watch the same documentaries?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

World Mayors to Act on Climate Change (from Champaign, IL)

I managed to get out for some exercise during my trip to Champaign. I ran through part of the U of I campus and marvelled at the scale of the place. It dwarfs WPI, where I matriculated in 1994. I am sure the entirety of my college could fit within U of I's basketball stadium. The university has their own power plant, using coal, natural gas, and oil to provide up to 70MW of electricity for the campus. The plant also provides steam to serve the 252 buildings on campus. We visited the plant on Wednesday morning. I was a tag-a-long on this visit, and did not have the opportunity to ask questions about the technologies involved in maintaining environmental compliance and what looming CO2 emissions regulations would have on their plant. They are small enough that they may have quite some time to adjust.

The NYTimes and the Agence France Presse both covered the recent meeting of the C40 Large Cities Climate Group Summit that took place in New York City this week. Mayors of 500 cities from around the globe attended the event to illustrate their commitment to reducing GHG emissions globally. The number of cities that are members of the C40 more than doubled from the 18 that marked the inaugural C40 event in London in 2005. Cities are expected to see a massive influx of population over the next few decades, especially in poor and developing countries with little in the way of environmental regulations. Part of the C40's mission is to develop policies aimed at helping these cities cope with and reduce their emissions potential.

The NYTimes took pains to draw attention to the link between the C40 group and former President Clinton. Given the potential for environmental issues to be a key element of both parties' 2008 presidential campaign, it makes good sense for the Clintons to mark the environmental territory in the event that Mr. Gore decides to pick of the ball and run with it. After all, he cannot own the issue. There have been no indications that Mr. Gore is planning to run, but one never can tell. With the coverage of the 2008 campaign seemingly at a fever pitch so soon, mainly because we would prefer not to think about the nastiness in Iraq, I am sure we will hear of any tiny unsubstantiated rumor about Mr. Gore's intents.

It is good to see more "green" topics making the news. We all would like to save the planet, we would just rather not be inconvenienced by it in any way. Will we manage to find some way to mass market environmentalism to make it a consumer product? Is the exploding interest in greening capitalism real, or is it a way to make as all feel good about working the way we do in what is essentially a system impossible to fix? Certainly, making these statements is no excuse to throw up one's hands and quit. I suppose I would rather work toward changing the way we view and participate in our corporations and our economy than sit back, complain, and do nothing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Corporate Response and Chance Conversation

My manager replied to my initial inquiry about the company's attitude toward sustainable development and CSR/ESG. The response was not a "go get 'em tiger" that I had fantasized about (not really what I expected), but it was open to the idea. Run it up the flag pole, but odds are it would be received with a shrug. I have yet to receive an answer to my initial inquiry with HR regarding the existence of a sustainability report for our company. I know the question was been sent up the chain to the Treasurer/Investor Relations/Corporate Communications person last week, but I have not heard anything. I am certain I will need to ask again.

On another note...something I find encouraging when I travel; a chance conversation with another professional interested in sustainable development.

My flight to Champaign, IL for the 27th annual Electric Utility Chemistry Workshop was a good one. Despite the howling winds I saw thrashing the trees as I landed in Chicago from Boston, the small plane we all shared to Champaign did not feel as if it experienced the same treatment. There was a brief moment when I questioned my faith in the technology of flight (realizing that my faith was actually placed in the people that designed and built the plane I occupied).

I started up a conversation with the gentleman seated next to me. He works for a small company called Lason that specializes in the digitization of microfilm and microfiche. We had an interesting conversation about the challenges facing organizations that have large amounts of data on old and in some cases crumbling microfiles. Colleges, Universities, insurance agencies, government entities, they all have many thousands of microfiles that need preserving. Why not make them digital? They'll last longer, be more easily accessible, and take up less space. I wonder what the LCA of microfilm scanned into a digital file would be?

In any case, we quickly found that we shared similar opinions about energy use and sustainable development (maybe because we're both cyclists). I cannot help but mention energy use in a random conversation with a complete stranger. I find that just about anyone I speak with will be interested in the concept, and understand that our economy is tenuously based upon artificially inexpensive energy, but they struggle with how they can have an impact. Their level of comprehension varies; many grasp the basic issue, but they would prefer not to think about the fact that their activities are contributing to climate change.

Bob, the gent I was speaking with, made the point that the American consumer has to have an economic reason to act in the best interest of society and the planet, it cannot merely be some sort of moral imperative. I was glad to hear him say that. The entire movement of CSR/ESG/sustainable development hinges on engaging capitalists in the greening of their products, services, and the delivery of said products and services. There is an argument for a moral imperative to drive our policy making. The right political leader should be able to appeal to our inherent desire to preserve the future for the generations to come, but I know I am still waiting for one. The individuals that take action on climate change or environmental issues may be acting under their own personal imperative, but to make it something tenable to our mass consumption culture, there must be policies in place that promote the correct price signals.

Some companies are taking action on the packaging front. Consumers free themselves of excess hassle from occasionally impossible to open packages and companies reduce material costs and maybe even transportation costs. The NYTimes ran an article entitled Incredible Shrinking Packages last weekend. Gwen Ruta of Environmental Defense and Bob Langert of McDonald's are mentioned in the article, referring to their landmark partnership in the early 90's to end McDonald's use of Styrofoam clam shells for their sandwiches.

There is waste associated with products that have absolutely no impact on the value delivered by the product. Let's get rid of it from the beginning.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Business and Society

I sent a message to my manager this evening including the HBS article, Strategy and Society, I mentioned in a post I made about a week ago to indicate my interest in sustainable business. I asked for his input on the article and what he believes our company's corporate management might think of an effort like this for us. I must admit that composing this message was a bit of a challenge. After all, my "functional" role within the company is to manage a region to meet revenue targets. What am I doing spending time contemplating the long-term strategic implications of climate change and responsible business on my employer?
On the one hand, I can see a potential reaction to a "rank-and-file middle manager" proposing a complete rethink of the corporation's focus and its role in society as ludicrous. One the other hand, if a "rank-and-file middle manager" has the audacity to spend his free time studying and thinking about the potential for sustainable business to make the company more competitive (and therefore more secure as an employer) , perhaps he's a more valuable asset to the company. Dare I say, and "change agent"? Perhaps an intrapreneur?
The reality is that I feel a deep commitment to determining how we can guide business to become restorative forces in our culture. I fear for the future generations' inheritance of the natural world, and though I often wish for a simple rural life, opting-out of our capitalist society, I feel some sort of responsibility to help change it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Humble Beginnings

Taking the advice of people that have worked on this before, I decided to start with some simple inquiries about sustainability in our corporation. I sent the Harvard Business School Article from December 2006 entitled "Strategy & Society; The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility" to my manager and inquired about corporate sustainability initiatives with my HR department, referring to reports by Baxter and REI for context.

I expressed my long-term interest in sustainable business during the hiring process. The person that was largely responsible for my hiring, a long-time professional friend and former coworker, and the one I expressed this interest with, left the company about one month after I was hired. I may have initially underestimated this change would have on my attitude toward this new opportunity, feeling initially abandoned. Fortunately, my new manager and I have a good, natural relationship, keeping me positive about the possibilities for me to grow professionally. He has a background in environmentally related jobs (from his youth) may help us communicate about my interest in sustainability.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I have been fortunate to connect with many passionate and knowledgeable people that are working in the field of sustainable business. I contacted Kevin Hagen, REI's Program Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility and main author of REI's Stewardship Report to tap his working knowledge in the field. Kevin and I were introduced by a mutual acquaintance back when I was working for Beacon Power and Kevin was attending the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. When I mentioned that I needed to learn how to introduce sustainability to my company, Kevin recommended the following books:

Dancing with the Tiger – Learning Sustainability Step by Natural Step, Brian F. Nattrass, PhD
The Sustainability Advantage, by Bob Willard
Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

The good news is that I have read 2 of the 3. In the immortal words of Meatloaf, 2 outta 3 ain't bad. Now what do I do?

I will wait for a bit to see what kind of response I get from the people I have asked about sustainable business.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Comments on Social Enterprise

I discovered a new CSR source recently, CSR Chicks, a Yahoo! Group started in London by professional women working in CSR. Though the name includes the word "chicks", the group is open to people of all sexes and backgrounds and has become a global clearing house for CSR information. The group is new to me and I have found some interesting information posted from their members.

A post of a transcript of a speech by Tim Smit, founder and Chief Executive of the Eden Project caught my eye recently. As I read along, stumbling over some of what I assume are English (should I say "British"?) colloquialisms, my eyes popped when I read this comment from Mr. Smit:

I went to speak to the Schumacher College last year for the 40th anniversary of Resurgence magazine and Satish Kumar, who’s the boss, asked me to be controversial. So I got up and said, to the audience: who here believes that everybody on earth ought to have access to clean drinking water? And everybody put there hands up. And then I said: who here supports water aid, which is a fabulous charity that does that, and almost everybody put their hands up? And I said who here believes that water aid could provide clean drinking water to everybody on earth? Nobody put their hands up, and I then laid into the audience. I said the problem is you’re in love with hippie shit.

The truth is that the very organisations that actually make your tummy turn, because your politics suggest you shouldn’t be supporting them, are the only people capable of it. Shell, Mobil, Exxon: these companies have the project management, the drilling skills to actually do this stuff. And that’s where we are. That’s our battle ground. It’s to grow up and not take the baggage of the Sixties - the radical chic of being pro-business or anti-business - with us into the next phase of our development. We need to understand that there is a new configuration developing and if we can’t bring business together with the sort of value-driven systems that
we have, that will be our failure.

Right on! We cannot compartmentalize organizations/corporations as good or bad if we hope to make progress on the global issues we hope to conquer. Reading his entire speech helped keep me motivated to continue my personal work understanding how to bring CSR into my life. my communities, and the companies I interact with.

Social Innovation Forum 2007

I attended the 3rd edition of Root Cause's Social Innovation Forum last week. The event is unique in its focus on bringing innovative leaders in the non-profit sector to the attention of funders and supporters that have the resources to help these organizations succeed. The Social Innovators are organizations that have a new model to address a social issue, show leadership in their field, and are results oriented. This year's Social Innovators are:

Strong Women, Strong Girls
Actor's Shakespeare Project
Boston Urban Youth Foundation

From a sustainable business perspective, I was not sure what to expect. There is something "different" about non-profit focused events compared with corporate events. The people there are looking for organizations to invest in (meaning donating money), though I tend to think that they may or may not assess the organizations' potential to pay-off on that investment by affecting social change. There is the small problem of measuring social change, one of the things that Root Cause is trying to help address. I suppose the same challenge, assessing CSR / ESG activities on shareholder and stakeholder value, faces the corporate world.

The passion the participants have for their missions and their organizations was amazing and energizing. They displayed in abundance the entrepreneurial spirit we all have inside us somewhere. Throughout the two presentations I attended, Building Impact and Strong Women, Strong Girls, I was supremely impressed with the founders' knowledge of their organization's purpose and vision and their articulation of their vision. Both sessions experienced small technical glitches, which can all too easily derail a well rehearsed presentation. The founders continued on without a hitch, continuing to tell their story and share their passion.

In a brief conversation with Lisa Guyon, Founder and Executive Director of BuildingImpact, I was reminded to be disciplined about my own assumptions. We quickly found that we shared a passion for sustainable business, and discussed home composting and living in yurts. In fits of cynicism tied to our current energy gluttony, I have thought about living in a yurt, but I am 98% sure my wife would not go for it. I expected to talk to Lisa about her organization, but as with many compulsive entrepreneurs, she has many more ideas for saving the planet. It was fun to share her energy.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Power Generation Folks Gather at CERA 2007

Dr. Daniel Yergin, founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and author of the Pulitzer Prize winning "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power", chose the theme "Strategies for a High Stakes World: Innovation, Investment, and the Future of Energy" for CERA's 25th annual conference held in (where else?) Houston, TX. I am a little behind the times on this one, as the conference took place in February.

As with much of the discussion in the power generation industry lately, carbon dioxide regulation was a hot topic. Given the regulatory environment in Washington D.C. lately, with leading generation companies requesting well-defined and market-based CO2 regulations, companies playing here are interested in doin whatever they can to reduce their emissions. Mr. Jeff Sterba, CEO of PNM Resources and Chairman of EPRI, reminded the audience that the generation sector contributes roughly 1/3 of the United States' CO2 emissions, or about 2,400 million metric tons. In a carbon constrained world, with a "business as usual" scenario, that will increase to ~ 3,300 million mt in 2030 (see graph below); not what we are looking for.

The speakers covered various strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and though they are in the business of selling electricity, they all addressed technologies to prevent the neeed to build more power plants (or at least reduce the urgency to build). Mr. Sterba suggested the following actions:

> Increase the efficiency of appliances and lighting to reduce annual demand growth from the current 1.5% to 1%. This step alone would reduce CO2 emissions 9% by 2030.
> Build 50 GW of wind farms and solar power plants by 2020, and an additional 2 GW/year thereafter.
> Add 24 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020, and another 4 GW/year thereafter.
> Target raising the efficiency of new coal-fired plants to 46% by 2020 and to 49% by 2030.
> Make 90% of the new coal plants carbon capture–ready by 2020.
> Strive to have electric cars constitute 10% of all U.S. vehicles by 2017, and 30% by 2027.
> Increase distributed generation's share of U.S. installed capacity from
less than 0.1% today to 5% by 2030.
Mr. Sterba followed these recommendations with calls on Congress to take action on climate change to provide a more stable regulatory environment to ensure adequate investment.

Thiery Vandal, CEO of Hydro-Quebec, enthusiastically recommended the continued development of plug-in hybrids, encouraging the combination of R&D innovation between two large carbon dioxide emitting industries. Charge up the car in the evening when power is inexpensive (and power plants are "taking it easy") and use them during the day, taking advantage of the infrastructure we already have. The cars could also remain connected during the day, potentially becoming a multi-million unit electricity injection system (if they are not needed that day). The emerging ubiquity of wireless technologies will make this future easier to achieve.

David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, sees the need for reducing CO2 emissions as an opportunity for the industry to expand into other areas. His enthusiasm for plug-in hybrids included the fact that there would be a greater need for the power they produce, especially in "off-peak" times. In other words, replace CO2 emissions from transportation with CO2 emissions from electricity generation? I do not know enough about the engineering analysis to understand intuitively what mode would be more efficient overall. I'll ask one of my friends from the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, Mr. Steve Connors, to read this post and fill me in on what I am really talking about.

I came to a realization later in the day that the suggestions mentioned by the CERA attendees were all outlined in S. Pacala and R. Socolow's paper "Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies". Pacala & Socolow introduce "stabilization triangles", as illustrated below:

The authors suggest that the business as usual upward trend of CO2 emissions can be stabilized in steps by adopting current technologies for energy efficiency, etc. that will lessen our emissions. A few examples are:
1. Efficient vehicles - Increase fuel economy for 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 mpg
2. Reduced use of vehicles - Decrease car travel for 2 billion 30-mpg cars from
10,000 to 5000 miles per year
3. Efficient buildings - Cut carbon emissions by one-fourth in buildings
and appliances projected for 2054
4. Efficient base load coal plants - Produce twice today’s coal power output at 60%
instead of 40% efficiency (compared with 32% today)
Now, from a capitalist perspective, these are all tremendous business opportunities! All these efforts (and these are only a few) provide immense entrepreneurial potential. New companies are already springing up by the hundred, motivated as much for saving the planet as they are for the renewed billions pouring into "Cleantech" start-ups by venture capitalists around the country. Existing companies will also require a raft of new service providers to help them reduce their energy consumption to play in the future CO2 emissions marketplace. Commercial building owners are already entering into agreements with companies like SunEdison and EnerNOC to reduce their carbon footprint and become better corporate citizens. There are limitless applications and opportunities to recreate our energy landscape to generate jobs, reduce pollution, and help move our world into the next millennium with confidence and hope

Am I becoming an optimist?

Friday, May 04, 2007

April's Business Travel for CO2 Emissions Tracking

April was not too crazy on the biz travel scene. I drove down to Pennsylvania and took a trip up through NH for some client visits. The Interphex trade show took place from April 24-26 at the Javits Center in NYC (I internally marvelled at what the energy bill must be for that place). I decided to take the Acela Express High Speed Rail service from the 128/Westwood station to Penn Station. Taking the train was a great option, and I would love to see an investment in rail travel in heavily populated regions (like the Northeast). As my boss said, "rail is a very civilized way to travel". There were no security hassles (though I could see that changing in the future), no baggage issues, no restrictions on electronics use (except if you're in the quiet car), and instead of arriving dried out and stressed, I walked out of the station relaxed and excited to be in another city. The only minor complaint I have is that the quality of the ride was so-so at best. I remember trekking around Europe with college friends courtesy of the Eurail Pass and their wonderful (and prompt) rail system, and for the most part, the tracks were smooth and regular.

Business Auto mileage:
877 miles
798 driving alone + 79 miles as a passenger (from 158 "actual passenger miles"; I use my scientific "fudge factor", dividing passenger miles by 2, to obtain my contribution).

Air Travel:
Not this month

Rail Travel:
~434 miles
Acela Express round trip from 128/Westwood to Penn Station, NYC round trip.

I have been remiss in my carbon tracking, and I am hoping that the folks at NativeEnergy will help me figure out the best way to offset my emissions over the next few months.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sustainability in Action

I changed a printer cartridge on my HP 5610 multi-function thing-a-ma-jig this morning and spent a few minutes studying the cartridge, the packaging, and the envelop conveniently included to mail the used cartridge back to HP. I took the time to do this because I was interested and I remembered meeting Ed Costa, representing HP's Global Technology Value Solutions Group at a Harvard Business School event last year addressing sustainable business. I enjoyed Ed's comments on moving companies from an environmental regulatory compliance mentality to a model where regulation is nearly irrelevant because the product is environmentally benign. We are a long way off from that, but the fact that people in industry are thinking about it is a good sign.

The overall package was quite reasonable, though the outer box was bigger than it needed to be. I am not a packaging engineer, but I did call on customers that designed packaging machinery back in the late 90's. There are lots of design inputs for packaging, not the least of which is aesthetic appeal on retailers' shelves. Remember the giant CD cases? I am sure there are many, many articles on the contribution excessive packaging makes to the destruction of our society (tongue in cheek).

Back to the HP cartridge. To my untrained eye, the plastic wrapper around the cartridge was thin and adequate to keep it sealed. I am sure they need it to keep the cartridge from drying out or getting damaged by moisture in transit. For all I know the plastic is made from vegetables. The envelope included to send it back to HP for reuse was well proportioned, easy to use, and free (well, the price is somehow included in the purchase price). In fact, two cartridges could have fit into the envelope.

What's my point? If I had not met Ed, did not care about sustainable manufacturing, and did not know about HP's environmental effort, I would not have noted anything special about this packaging. Exactly!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Where to Start?

Happy May Day.

Since I am embarking upon a mission that others have embarked upon before, I should take advantage of their experience. I have a habit of trying to figure everything out on my own. This drives me to investigate, analyze, and form my own opinions. It also results in an occasional stubborn commitment to those opinions as well as a refusal to seek counsel to help in my analysis of my opinions. Asking for respected and experienced colleagues' assistance is a step in the right direction, a necessity.

I called David Gustashaw, Interface's VP of R&D. The logo above is from InterfaceRAISE, Interface's sustainable business consulting group. David is a hardcore engineer, in fact, check out the article on his project using landfill gas to provide power for Interface. He's been in the design trenches practicing sustainable design before I knew what sustainability was. He understands mass and energy flows and knows that the laws of thermodynamics rule in all of our high-minded discussions of sustainability. He's a great believer in sustainable business and a great supporter of people working to integrate it into their businesses. Heck, he's a pretty nice guy too. Our conversation crossed many topics including, waste handling (post industrial, post consumer, & post customer), selling services not products, changing customers' perceptions of a product from linear to circular (return to producer/supplier), the EPA as the "Environmental Compliance Agency" (good point), industry hoarding profits and not sharing with society, etc., etc. There were more topics, but these two stood out relative to starting a sustainability movement:

1) Practice where you are
2) Start locally and build expertise

To use an old cliche, a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. Of course, I'd prefer to skip to the end and have it all done and set up. I guess it's not that easy.

I am taking local action to investigate a potential project with EnerNOC to help the company reduce energy costs at peak times and contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This then leads to the potential corporate involvement in RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative covering 10 northeast states (Maryland joined only 10 days ago). Why be a laggard when we can be a leader and reap the benefits of stakeholder perception of innovation?

I joined some of the regulars at the Greendrinks event in Central Sq. this evening. With the better weather, people are coming out for the evening and I am meeting new people and feel hopeful that there are those out there yearning to integrate stewardship of the planet for themselves and those around them. I had a good conversation with Melissa Tritter of NetImpact fame about the change in the workforce from long-term employees to "free agents" that need to maintain brand you first referred to by Fast Company back in 1997. In fact, I added Melissa Tritter's blog to the link list, Capitalism4Good to help maintain the "brand". I met a sustainable engineer (there is an entire division of sustainability that should address educating engineers, but I'll leave that for later), Kelly Collins of Haley & Aldrich working on Office Kaizen to maximize client value, and the newest member of the Green Depot, soon to open in Stoneham, MA.

I hope to see more people come to meet and discuss how we can collectively save the planet. I also hope they'll read my blog, subscribe and make comments...I need all the help I can get.