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Archive for the ‘corporate green’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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2009 CC Fellow Group Shot

photo: EDF

In my new Green State column on Grist, I catch up with the Climate Corps, a group of green MBA students sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund. The Climate Corps recently finished 10-week internships with Fortune 500 companies, saving them an estimated $54 million through energy efficiency measures the students identified:

Back in May I wrote about the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps, a cadre of 26 MBA students who were then prepping for summer internships at Fortune 500 companies. Their mission was to green up corporate operations to save money and cut carbon emissions.

With winter on the way and school back in session, I checked in to see how successful the Climate Corps was at combining the students’ financial smarts, technological know-how—half are engineers by training—and environmental ethic.

Pretty successful, it turns out. According to EDF, the interns identified energy efficiency measures that will collectively save an estimated $54 million at 22 companies (and one university), including eBay, Dell and Sony Pictures Entertainment. That translates into 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases avoided a year with an annual energy savings of 160 million kilowatt hours.

A couple of caveats are in order. Energy efficiency programs were already under way at many of the companies. And whether the projected $54 million in savings will actually be realized won’t be known until the energy efficiency efforts are completed—actual results may vary.

Still, anything close to $54 million is quite a return on investment, given that the companies altogether spent only $260,000 on intern salaries during the 10-week program.

But the long-term payoff is likely to be the emergence of a new corporate class- – the green financial engineer—and future CEOs—who reflexively view environmental performance as a bottom-line concern.

You can read the rest of the column here.

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37659756My latest Green State column on Grist is an interview with Adam Werbach about his new book, Strategy for Sustainability:

Adam Werbach’s career is something of a lodestar for the trajectory of the 21st century American environmental movement. A student activist tutored at the knee of the Archdruid himself, the legendary David Brower, Werbach was elected the youngest president of the Sierra Club in 1996 at age 23.

Then business beckoned and he launched a startup, Act Now Productions, to advise companies like Wal-Mart on going green. Global advertising and marketing goliath Saatchi & Saatchi acquired Act Now last year, rebranding it as Saatchi & Saatchi S (for sustainability) and installing Werbach as the CEO.

“To be successful, you need to peel off the green blinders and start thinking of sustainability as a new tool set, like information technology or globalization, that can help you reinvigorate a business,” Werbach writes.

In fact, Werbach would like to take the environment out of environmental sustainability.

“The battle I’m trying to fight in the business world is to adopt a broader definition of sustainability that is not just about environmental sustainability,” says Werbach, who at 36 sports a touch of gray in his hair. “That’s a limiting factor to sustainability. What are the tools you need to be around for the long term? What is your long-haul strategy?”

You can read the rest of the column here.

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ibm-smarter-planet

While the U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday issued nearly $8 billion in loans to Ford (F), Nissan and Tesla Motors to manufacture electric cars and batteries, IBM unveiled an initiative to develop a next-generation battery technology that would allow those vehicles to travel 400 miles or more on a charge.

Big Blue will investigate the potential of lithium air technology to replace current state-of-the-art lithium ion batteries. Lithium air potentially could pack 10 times the energy density of lithium ion storage devices by drawing oxygen into the batteries to use as a reactant. As a result lithium air batteries would weigh less than lithium ion batteries, C. Spike Narayan, manager of science and technology at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, told Green Wombat.

So besides powering cars, lithium air batteries could store electricity generated from solar power plants and wind farms, turning them into 24/7 energy sources.

But don’t expect to see the super-charged batteries anytime soon.”This is a five-to-10-year project,” says Narayan. “The first phase is to go after the big science problems. Then we’re ready to engage with automotive companies and battery manufacturers.”

The technological hurdles are high and even IBM (IBM), with its expertise in nanotechnology, green chemistry and supercomputing, won’t try to go it alone. It’s seeking partners at research universities and government laboratories to crack the tech challenges, which include developing a membrane that will strip water out of the air before it enters the battery and the development of nano materials to prevent layers of lithium oxide from interfering with chemical reactions.

IBM intends to limit its role in the battery business to R&D. “We have no desire to make batteries,” says Rich Lechner, IBM’s vice president for energy and the environment. “We will license the IP.”

In another sign that climate change and the imminent imposition of carbon caps are creating opportunities for Big Business and rearranging the competitive landscape, IBM also announced “Green Sigma,” an alliance of erstwhile competitors that will offer solutions to companies seeking to shrink their carbon footprint.

Green Sigma includes business software giant SAP (SAP), Cisco (CSCO), Johnson Controls (JCI) and Honeywell (HON). Dave Lebowe, an IBM executive with the Green Sigma program, acknowledged the potential for conflicts of interests among these frenemies but said such problems were outweighed by the upside of bringing together a broad range of expertise to help customers cut their CO2 emissions and save money.

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photo: Alan Horsup, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

In the ultimate in green corporate branding, Swiss mining conglomerate Xstrata is spending millions of dollars to save one of the world’s most imperiled large mammals, Australia’s northern hairy-nosed wombat. It’s the first time a corporation has agreed to finance the recovery of an endangered species, and in return Xstrata gets its name on everything from wombat websites to educational DVDs to the shirts worn by wildlife workers. Not to mention lots of green goodwill.

My story on Xstrata and the northern hairy-nosed wombat appears in the March 23 issue of Time Magazine. (See “Wombat Love” and the accompanying photo gallery.)

Only about 115 northern hairy-nosed wombats — a nocturnal, bearlike burrowing marsupial — survive in a single colony at Epping Forest National Park in a remote part of Queensland. The Xstrata money is paying for the creation of a second colony some 700 kilometers away as an insurance policy against a calamity at Epping that could wipe out the species.

I’ve been following the efforts of a small band of dedicated wildlife officials, led by conservation officer Alan Horsup, to save the northern hairy-nosed for the past couple of years. I have been privileged on a few occasions to encounter the extremely reclusive critter, which has rarely even been photographed. (Warren Clarke, who took the photos for my Time Magazine story, captured some of the best shots of the northern hairy-nose ever taken.)

Below is a video I shot of a wombat grazing during my most recent visit to Epping in January. It’s not the best quality but is notable for the fact that once we spotted the wombat it did not disappear down a burrow but let us get an extended glimpse of its behavior.

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