Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘corporate green’ Category

photo: Todd Woody

In The New York Times on April 12, I wrote about San Francisco International Airport’s new “green” terminal:

SAN FRANCISCO — If the prospect of flying holds all the appeal of a cross-country bus trip, the $6,500, lipstick-red leather Egg chairs at San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2 are intended to return some long-lost glamour to air travel.
Enlarge This Image

More Standard Hotel than standard airport gateway, T2, as it is known here, is one of the few terminals renovated top to bottom since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and represents an ambitious attempt by the airport and airlines to take both stress and carbon out of air travel. The $383 million renovation gutted a drab 1950s-era building that last served as the international terminal before being shuttered more than a decade ago. Even compared with more contemporary terminals at San Francisco International, T2 represents a new approach to airport design. It opens on Thursday.

“It’s about the intersection between passenger delight and bringing back the joy of flying with the high-performance building aspects,” said Melissa Mizell, a senior associate with Gensler, the San Francisco firm that designed the renovation. “That really guided a lot of our decisions, even with sustainability.”

The words delight, joy and flying do not usually appear in the same sentence. But airport officials, airlines and architects said that they put as much emphasis on redefining the travel experience as on lessening its environmental impact.

“We wanted this to feel like a San Francisco terminal and not a terminal anywhere else in the world,” Raymond Quesada, an airport project manager, said as he stood in the soaring, light- and art-filled ticket lobby shared by Virgin America and American Airlines, the terminal’s two tenants.

Those San Francisco values include a city mandate to achieve at least LEED Silver status for the renovation. LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is a rating system administrated by the United States Green Building Council that ranks structures according to points earned for energy efficiency, water conservation and other environmentally beneficial attributes.

Airport officials intend to apply for LEED Gold certification, and if it is awarded, T2 will be the first airport terminal in the United States to achieve such a ranking, according to Ashley Katz, a spokeswoman for the building council.

Drivers of hybrid and electric cars get preferential parking in the nearby garage, and there are vehicle-charging stations for the electric cars. Cool air seeps from perforated white wall panels in the terminal rather than being forced down from the ceiling.  The system, called displacement ventilation, cuts energy use by 20 percent because the air does not need to be cooled as much since it displaces the rising warmer air,  Mr. Quesada said.

Reclaimed water is pumped into the restrooms, reducing water consumption by 40 percent. The abundant natural light through walls of windows makes most daytime artificial lighting unnecessary.

Passengers are encouraged to carry reusable bottles and fill them at blue “hydration stations” in the terminal rather than buy throwaway bottled water.

“Originally, we were considering banning the sale of bottled water, but we got a lot of pushback from the concessionaires,” Mr. Quesada said. “But they are required to sell more environmentally friendly plastic bottles. But again, we’re hoping they won’t have to do that and people will bring their own bottles to the airport.”

Under their leases, food sellers must use utensils and packaging that can be composted, and compost bins are prominently displayed in the terminal. The airport scores more LEED points for making the green experience educational through signs and even a mobile phone tour.

But passengers will probably pay most attention to the terminal’s food, fashion and flow, all of which reflect the esthetic of Virgin America, which has its headquarters in San Francisco.

The neon mood lighting found on Virgin planes is mirrored in the lobbylike ticketing area, where pods of those high-backed, Danish-designed Egg chairs are clustered around sculptures and paintings by local artists.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

Talk about sporting greens: On Wednesday, all of the United States’ professional sports leagues said they would distribute a guide on how to switch to renewable energy and urge their teams to solarize their stadiums.

The guide was prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and marks a new alliance between environmentalists and the nation’s baseball, football, hockey, and soccer teams.

“It’s not a league mandate, it’s not a requirement for stadiums and arenas to install solar panels, but it indicates an important cultural shift recognized by professional sports that all arenas and stadiums in the country should at least consider and evaluate the opportunity that solar power might provide,” Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the NRDC, said during a conference call Wednesday.

“Frankly, sports matter. Sports matter a lot,” he added. “Sports is one of the most iconic and influential sectors of our society and frankly we need to have a cultural shift as well as a technical and economic shift if we’re going to advance and move to sustainability.”

In other words, if Jill Six-Pack sees that the Yankees have gone solar she might consider doing the same.

“We really have the ability to shift the dial,” said Darryl Benge, the assistant general manager of Qwest Field in Seattle, home to the Seahawks and Sounders. “We basically bring together small cities on game day.”

Representatives from the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and other stadiums said that economics as well as the environment were pushing them to go green.

Benge noted that Qwest Field’s electricity rates had jumped 18 percent this year, which played a part in the stadium’s decision to solicit bids to install a 600-kilowatt solar array.

In Los Angeles, the Staples Center flipped the switch on a 345.6-kilowatt photovoltaic system that has so far saved $100,000 in electricity costs, according to Lee Zeidman, executive vice president for operations for the facility.

The Staples Center has gone beyond solar to install waterless urinals that save seven million gallons of water annually, and switched to non-toxic cleaning products.

Other teams have tackled the waste issue. Scott Jenkins, the vice president of ballpark operations for the Seattle Mariners, said the team has saved $1 million over three years by recycling 80 percent of the waste generated at games.

Gary Betteman, commissioner of the National Hockey League, said 30,000 shopping bags were replaced with reusable totes during the Stanley Cup, and he noted that several NHL venues have installed solar panels.

Stadium managers acknowledged that sports’ biggest carbon footprint comes from fans driving to and from games. The challenge, they said, will be to get more fans to take public transportation as well as to build arenas in urban areas with accessible mass transit.

For his part, Hershkowitz said he was astounded that it has taken the environmental movement 40 years to forge a strong alliance with professional sports.

“If you want to change the world you don’t emphasize how different you are from everybody else,” he said. “You focus on your similarities.”

Read Full Post »

This post first appeared on Grist.

Green tech is back in the green.

Global venture capital investment in green technology companies reached $4.04 billion in the first half of 2010, exceeding – slightly — the record set in the boom year of 2008, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by the Cleantech Group and Deloitte.

Venture investment in the second quarter rose to $2.02 billion, up 43 percent from the year-ago quarter. Investments in the first half of the year spiked 65 percent from the same period in 2009.

“There’s been a very clear resurgence in solar activity and that is largely responsible for the strong quarter,” Richard Youngman, the Cleantech Group’s head of global research, said on a conference call Thursday.

Solar captured $811 million, or about 40 percent, of green technology investment in the second quarter, according to the Cleantech Group, a San Francisco-based consulting and research firm. It defines the global market as consisting of North America, China, India, Israel and Europe.

Solyndra, a Silicon Valley thin-film solar panel maker, scored a $175 million investment while solar power plant builder BrightSource Energy took in $150 million.

It’s no coincidence that both companies have been the beneficiaries of the Obama administration’s push for renewable energy. Solyndra received a $535 million loan guarantee to build a new factory in the San Francisco Bay Area (which the president visited in May) and BrightSource was granted a $1.37 billion loan guarantee to get its first solar thermal power plant online.

Despite the recession, corporate America poured a record $5.1 billion into green tech companies in the first half of 2010, a 325 percent increase from a year ago.

“The significant strengthening of corporate and utility investment into the cleantech sector, relative to 2009, is very encouraging, given the key role they will play in enabling broader adoption of clean technologies at scale,” Scott Smith, partner, Deloitte’s U.S. clean tech leader in the United States, said in a statement.

Youngman warned not to read too much into the success this week of Tesla Motor’s initial public offering. Though the Silicon Valley electric carmaker’s share price accelerated some 40.5 percent on opening day, he pointed out that high-profile IPOs from Solyndra and Goldwind, a Chinese wind turbine maker, were pulled recently.

In fact, head east if you want to get in on a booming IPO market –12 of the 19 green tech offerings in the second quarter came from Chinese companies and raised $1.73 billion, or 75 percent of the total IPO take, according to the Cleantech Group.

The flip side, of course, is that the anemic IPO market in the United States also is driving venture capital investment as green tech firms are forced to raise private money.

Read Full Post »

This post first appeared on Grist.

I generally don’t write much about big business, but in light of the implosion of BP’s  “green” oil company image — it’s looking more Exxon than eco — I went to a dinner Monday night in San Francisco attended by dozens of Fortune 500 executives committed to corporate sustainability. (There were reportedly a few BP execs in the audience but not surprisingly they seemed to keep a low profile.)

The occasion was the Corporate Eco Forum, an organization that brings together multinationals ranging from AT&T to Yahoo to hash out strategies for sustainable business.  The occasion for the gathering at the Asian Art Museum was to give an award to Walmart Brazil’s chief executive for the company’s efforts to stop the illegal logging of the Amazon rainforest to grow soybeans and raise cattle.

More on that later. Usually at these events, there can be expected to be a fair amount of feel-good cheerleading among the corporate tribe. But most of the speakers Monday were more gently chastising than congratulatory.

“Being British here, I speak sensitively at the moment as I only have turn on an American channel to see a British brand struggling with public resonance,” said Lord Michael Hastings, global head of citizenship and diversity for KPMG International, the giant consulting firm. “The reality is that such exceptional deepwater drilling only comes about, in the words of President Obama in a speech last week in Phoenix, where he said because of America’s desperation to continue the fight for fossil fuels.”

“And we have to face the fact that we play heavy risks with the natural environment, with the sustainability of our planet and the reality actually of water ecosystems, which are now so signficantly threatened by the oil spill because we have lifestyles that necessitate extreme exploration.”

“We have to actually face the responsiblity of the lifestyles we’ve chosen and be ready to change them,” he added.

Hastings said the oil spill underscores how water shortages as much as peak oil will be a defining challenge of the 21st century.

He talked about attending a recent event at a hotel in China where bottled water from France was on offer. “Come on, let’s just stop this,” he said to an audience that included executives from Coca-Cola.  “There are thousands of children and adults that simply have no access to clean water. And if we think this pressure on oil is giving us hassle and stress, it’s nothing like the issues on water that will drive us to fight one another, to argue with one another and to war with one another as we’ve never done before.”

Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, an organization that works on corporate sustainability issues, told the executives that on a scale of 1 to 100, even the most enlightened big companies rate only a 7 or 8 in their efforts to green up their operations.

She did note that Walmart Brazil was pushing ahead. The company last year pledged not to sell products sourced from illegal logging of the Amazon and obtained agreements from companies in its supply chain to take action to protect the rainforest.

When Walmart Brazil’s chief executive, Héctor Núñez, took the stage to receive his award he sounded more Greenpeace than Wall Street.

“The environmental situation of Brazil, the planet, is not sustainable,” he said. “As you know, there’s a real chance that the planet’s temperature will increase 2 to 3 degrees by 2050. Think of the direct financial impact on global warming on the environment and human health….Consumers will demand social and environmental action.”

The conundrum, of course, for all these companies and their customers is how to create a sustainable business model and a sustainable planet in a global economy dependent on ever-increasing consumption to fuel prosperity.

Read Full Post »

photo: BrightSource Energy

In last Thursday’s New York Times, I wrote about French industrial conglomerate Alstom’s $55 million investment in BrightSource Energy, a California-based solar power plant builder:

Alstom, the French energy giant, has taken a $55 million stake in BrightSource Energy, a solar power plant builder backed by Google, Morgan Stanley and other investors.

The investment is part of a $150 million round raised by BrightSource in one of the biggest renewable energy deals of the year. The California State Teachers Retirement System also joined the latest funding round as did the existing investors VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Based in Oakland, Calif., BrightSource has now raised more than $300 million. Alstom becomes one of the startup’s largest shareholders and will take a seat on the board, according to John Woolard, BrightSource’s chief executive. The French company makes turbines and other power systems for fossil fuel, nuclear and hydro power plants and operates a division that builds high-speed trains.

BrightSource has signed contacts to build solar thermal power plants in California that would generate some 2,600 megawatts. In February, the company obtained a $1.37 billion loan guarantee from the federal government to help finance the construction of its first project, a 392-megawatt power plant to be built in the Southern California desert by Bechtel.

Mr. Woolard said Alstom would help the company as it sought to develop more efficient solar power plants.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

Photo: IBM

In a story in The New York Times on Wednesday, I write about IBM’s new initiative to green up its $40 billion global supply chain:

I.B.M. said on Wednesday that it will require its 28,000 suppliers in more than 90 countries to install management systems to gather data on their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste and recycling.

Those companies in turn must ask their subcontractors to do the same if their products or services end up as a significant part of I.BM.’s $40 billion global supply chain. The suppliers must also set environmental goals and make public their progress in meeting those objectives.

“We will be amongst the first, if not the first, with these broad-based markers on our supply base and we’re going to have to spend an appropriate amount of time and money to help our suppliers do what we’re asking them to do,” John Patterson, vice president of I.B.M. global supply and chief procurement officer, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong.

“It’s clear that there’s real financial benefits to be had for procurers across the world to get innovative with their suppliers,” Mr.  Patterson added. “In the long term, as the Earth’s resources get consumed, prices are going to go up. We’ve already seen large price increases and problems with water.”

The initiative follows Wal-Mart’s announcement in February that it would require its suppliers to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the lifecycle of the products it sells.

I.B.M., one of the world’s largest technology companies, is not setting numerical targets for its suppliers to achieve. Rather, the goal is to institutionalize data-gathering systems that will collect information on a variety of measures of environmental performance, according to Wayne Balta, the company’s vice president of corporate environmental affairs and product safety.

“Our overall interest is to systemize environmental management and sustainability across our global supply chain so it helps our suppliers build their own capacity in a way that’s not only good for the environment but their business,” said Mr. Balta.  “It’s about creating a system that works regardless of who is in leadership and what’s in green vogue.”

You an read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

photo: IBM

In The New York Times on Tuesday, I wrote about how scientists at IBM and Stanford University have developed a new process for making plastic that could have major environmental implications:

Researchers at I.B.M. and Stanford University said Tuesday that they have discovered a new way to make plastics that can be continuously recycled or developed for novel uses in health care and microelectronics.

In a paper published in Macromolecules, a journal of the American Chemical Society, the California researchers describe how they substituted organic catalysts for the metal oxide or metal hydroxide catalysts most often used to make the polymers that form plastics.

Chandrasekhar Narayan, who leads I.B.M.’s science and technology team at its Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., said the presence of metal catalysts in plastics means that they often can only be recycled once before ending up in a landfill.

“When you try to take a product and recycle it, the metal in the polymer continues to degrade the polymer so it gets increasingly less strong,” said Mr. Narayan. “If you use organic reactants, you can make certain types of new polymers that are quite different and have other properties plastics don’t have.”

That could give new life to the 13 billion plastic bottles that are thrown away each year in the United States.

“Plastic bottles can be converted to higher value plastics like body panels for cars,” said Mr. Narayan.

Organic catalysts could create a new class of biodegradable plastics to replace those that are difficult to recycle, such as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, used in a variety of consumer products, including plastic beverage bottles.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

In The New York Times on Monday, I write about IBM’s new smart grid lab in Beijing that will develop technology for the global market:

In another sign of China’s emergence as an epicenter of green technology, I.B.M. has opened a lab in Beijing to develop smart grid software for the global market.

“We’re developing solutions for around the world but we’re looking to China to see how the pieces integrate across the value chain,” said Brad Gammons, I.B.M.’s vice president for sales and distribution for the company’s Energy and Utilities division.

Mr. Gammons himself has relocated to Beijing, where he will continue to oversee worldwide sales for the unit.

“The company made a decision that China is a very, very important growth market and to put some executives here,” he said in a telephone interview from Beijing. He said I.B.M. expects the new Energy & Utilities Solutions Lab to drive $400 million in revenue over the next four years.

It is operating out of I.B.M.’s 5,000-person China Development Laboratory. The new lab is working with the State Grid Corporation of China on pilot projects to integrate wind and solar power with the grid, manage grid operations and increase the efficiency of nuclear power plants.

The Chinese government has budgeted $7.3 billion for smart grid-related energy projects this year, according to ZPryme Research & Consulting, a firm based in Austin, Tex.

Mr. Gammons said electric cars will be one focus of I.B.M.’s new lab.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

In Monday’s Los Angeles Times, I write about the migration of renewable energy firms from California and the Southwest to the nation’s industrial heartland to tap the down-and-out region’s manufacturing might:

At a recent solar energy conference in Anaheim, economic development officials from Ohio talked up a state that seemed far removed from the solar panels and high-tech devices that dominated the convention floor.

Ohio, long known for its smokestack auto plants and metal-bending factories, would be an ideal place for green technology companies to set up shop, they said.

“People don’t traditionally think of Ohio when they think of solar,” said Lisa Patt-McDaniel, director of Ohio’s economic development agency. But in fact, the Rust Belt goes well with the Green Belt, she said.

In years past, Sunbelt governors recruited Midwestern businesses to set up shop in their states, dangling tax breaks and the lure of a union-free workforce.

Now the tables have turned as solar start-ups, wind turbine companies and electric carmakers from California and the Southwest migrate to the nation’s industrial heartland. They’re looking to tap its manufacturing might and legions of skilled workers, hit hard by the near-collapse of the United States auto industry and eager for work.

For all of green tech’s futuristic sheen, solar power plants and wind farms are made of much of the same stuff as automobiles: machine-stamped steel, glass and gearboxes.

That has renewable energy companies hitting the highway for Detroit and Northeastern industrial states, driven in part by the federal stimulus package’s incentives and buy-American mandates.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Read Full Post »

IMG_0021
photo: Todd Woody

Ford executives brought a battery-powered Focus sedan to San Francisco on Thursday (along with a plug-in hybrid Escape). It was clear from the presentation by Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification, that the automaker is aiming for a mass market and is spending a great deal of effort on helping create an entire electric car infrastructure. As I wrote in The New York Times on Friday:

At a press event in San Francisco on Thursday, Ford showed off a prototype of what might be called the Model T of the automaker’s electric car strategy: the battery-powered Focus sedan.

“This is about affordable transportation for the masses — this is not about a small niche,” said Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of global electrification.

To keep costs down, the Focus and plug-in electric hybrids will be built — in small numbers at first — on what the company calls its global “C” platform, which produces two million cars a year.

“The assembly line in Michigan will produce the battery-electric Focus and also, with minor modifications, the gas Focus,” Ms. Gioia said. “We can change production as the market shifts.”

The Focus will hit the market in 2011 followed the next year by a plug-in electric Escape sport-utility vehicle, which Ford also showed off in San Francisco. Ms. Gioia said she expects electric and plug-in hybrids will account for 10 to 25 percent of the market by 2020.

You can read the rest of the story here.

But the cars seemed almost beside the point as Ford executives focused on their strategy to work with utilities and other groups to create open standards for electric cars and ensure that a charging infrastructure is in place when buyers hit showrooms.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.