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Archive for the ‘corporate sustainability’ 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.
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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.

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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.”

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This post first appeared in Grist.

As we know, one of the few beneficial side effects of the Great Recession of 2009 was the decline in global greenhouse gas emissions as our consumer-centric economy sputtered. But that also sent the voluntary carbon markets into a tailspin, according to a new report released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Ecosystem Marketplace.

Voluntary carbon markets, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange, allow companies to trade carbon credits, usually as part of corporate sustainability programs where they pledge to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions by buying offsets tied to forestry programs, the capture of methane gas from landfills, and other efforts. (Such markets should not be confused with mandatory, regulated markets such as the European Trading Scheme.)

The value of greenhouse gas emissions credits traded on the voluntary markets plunged 47 percent in 2009 to $387.4 million, while the volume of greenhouse gas emissions traded fell 26 percent to 93.7 millions of tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e).

“The economic recession had a marked impact on the number of companies offsetting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” wrote the report’s authors, who compiled data provided by more than 200 carbon credit suppliers and the carbon exchanges. “In response to the global financial crisis, companies cut back on discretionary funding for corporate social responsibility initiatives, including offsetting emissions. At the same time, the prospects for new compliance demand remained uncertain.”

Still, even in a recession the volume of greenhouse gas emissions traded in 2009 was 39 percent higher than in 2007.

Interestingly, the regulated carbon markets powered through the downturn, growing 7 percent with 8,625 MtCO2e traded at a value of $144 billion, according to the report.

The United States became the world’s biggest supplier of voluntary carbon credits for the first time last year, followed by Latin America and Asia.

Methane-related projects accounted for 41 percent of offset credits while forestry programs were tied to 24 percent of credits and renewable energy to 17 percent.

“Survey respondents were highly positive about the prospects for the global voluntary markets and collectively believe transactions will increase to approximately 400 MtCO2e in 2012, 800 MtCO2e in 2015, and 1,200 MtCO2e in 2020,” the report concluded. “Whether this growth will actually be achieved remains to be seen; it does demonstrate a strong sense of optimism for future activity in the voluntary marketplace.”

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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.

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In my new Green State column on Grist, I write about GreenRoad, a Silicon Valley startup that uses technology to change drivers’ behavior to cut fuel use — and greenhouse gas emissions — as well as accidents:

I recently took the Chevrolet Volt for a spin near San Francisco’s ballpark, checking another item off my electric-car life list. (Getting to drive pre-production EVs is one fringe benefit of covering green tech.)

Then the other week, I took a drive in another car that promised to help cut greenhouse gas emissions. The car itself was unremarkable — a Lexus RX hybrid that anyone with a spare $42,000 can buy. What was potentially revolutionary was the little black box sitting on the dashboard to the left of the steering wheel.

The box had three lights and when the car’s driver makes a fuel-wasting or dangerous move, such as slamming on the brakes, making fast, sharp turns or weaving through traffic — the LEDs go from green to yellow to red.

See, the problem, dear reader, isn’t just your carbon-spewing car, it’s you.

“There are habits that people fall into that they get away with all the time and by making slight changes in those habits you crash a lot less often and you burn less fuel,” says Dan Steere, chief executive of GreenRoad, a Silicon Valley startup that installs that little black box and other technology in commercial vehicle fleets. GreenRoad is backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Green Fund and Al Gore’s Generation investment firm.

The road to a sustainable future, in other words, will be paved not just with shiny new gadgets that help cut fossil-fuel consumption, but also by new technology designed to change people’s planet-unfriendly behavior.

“Most of the focus around safety and fuel consumption has been about making a vehicle less lethal when it crashes or inventing entirely new systems like the Volt to try and make the vehicles better,” says Steere. “Ninety percent of crashes are caused by a bad decision the driver made, and the EPA has said that 33 percent of fuel consumption is due to driver behavior.”

GreenRoad attempts to change drivers’ fuel-wasting ways by giving them constant feedback — the little black box — and by sending them weekly emails that analyze their driving and offer tips for improvements.

The payoff for GreenRoad’s corporate customers, according to Steere, is fewer accidents and a lower bill at the pump, all without having to make capital investments in new vehicles.

You can read the rest of the column here.

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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.

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photo: Todd Woody

In Thursday’s New York Times, I write about the latest trend to come out of Southern California — sustainable surfing:

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif.

A few blocks from the beach, the pungent smell of polyester resin wafts from the surfboard factories that crowd an alley known as the surf ghetto in this Southern California town. Inside warrens of rooms painted ocean blue, young men wearing face masks shape slabs of snow-white polyurethane foam into surfboards, the cast-off chemical dust covering floors and filling trash barrels.

Despite its nature-boy image, the American surfing industry often relies on toxic manufacturing processes and generates tons of waste to make surfboards and other products. While surfers have long fought polluters that befoul beaches and oceans, the surfing industry — which has annual revenue of $7.2 billion, according to the Surf Industry Manufacturing Association, a trade group — is also focusing on cleaning up its own backyard.

“The dirtiest thing about surfing is under our feet — a conventional surfboard is 100 percent toxic,” said Frank Scura, a surfer and executive director of the Action Sports Environmental Coalition, an organization that promotes green retailing.

In San Clemente, a start-up company called Green Foam Blanks is out to change a half-century of surfboard-making tradition. Its founders, Joey Santley and Steve Cox, have created what is thought to be the world’s first recycled polyurethane blank — the foam core of a surfboard.

They collect polyurethane cuttings from surfboard factories and, using a proprietary process, mix the trimmings with virgin foam to create a blank that is 60 to 65 percent recycled waste. The goal is to reduce production of new foam, which is typically made with a carcinogenic compound called toluene diisocyanate, or TDI.

“Every day in Southern California, about 800 boards are being shaped and as much as 40 percent of each blank, which contains toxic materials, ends up being put into landfills,” said Mr. Santley, who is 44 and a veteran of the surfing industry.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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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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