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Archive for the ‘corporate sustainability’ Category

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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header_cngAT&T said Wednesday that over the next decade it will replace 15,000 vehicles, or about 20% of its fleet, with cars and trucks powered by compressed natural gas, electricity and other alternative fuels.

“AT&T is making the largest-ever commitment by any U.S. company to purchase alternative fuel vehicles,” AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson said Wednesday morning in a speech in Washington.

He said the $565 million initiative will cut AT&T(T)’s gasoline bill by an estimated 49 million gallons and reduce carbon emissions by 211 million metric tons over ten years as its alt fuel fleet grows from about 100 vehicles now on the road. “That’s good for the environment and it will reduce our reliance on foreign oil – my new neighbor Boone Pickens and I have talked a lot about that,” Stephenson said.

Pickens, the Texas oil wildcatter-turned-wind magnate, advocates using natural gas as fuel for cars and trucks rather than to make electricity, which would be supplied by massive wind farms.

“Smart American companies can be green and profitable and they don’t have to trade one for the other,” Pickens said in a statement Wednesday.

The communications giant will spend $350 million to buy 8,000 compressed natural gas, or CNG, vehicles and $215 million on electric hybrid cars made in the United States. That could be a small boost for battered automakers General Motors (GM) and Ford (F). (Of course, it could also be good news for those other leading “domestic” alt fuel manufacturers, Honda (HMC) and Toyota (TM).)

A U.S. car maker will build the chassis for the CNG vehicles and AT&T will have them converted to run on compressed natural gas. The company will also build a network CNG fueling stations. All told, AT&T said 5,000 jobs will be created or saved through the program in the first five years. About 7,100 AT&T passenger cars wi
ll be retired in favor of electric hybrids and other alt fuel vehicles.

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tendril-iphone-appHere’s an iPhone app that really could help save the planet while saving stressed consumers’ money: Boulder, Colo.-based startup Tendril this week unveiled a mobile software program that lets people monitor and control their home’s energy use while on the go.

Say you’re sitting in the unemployment office listening to some bureaucrat drone on, so you pull out your iPhone to update your Facebook status and then check on whether that next unemployment check will cover the utility bill. When Tendril tells you that your electricity consumption is spiking and so will your estimated monthly bill, you remember you left the air conditioner set on Arctic. Flick your finger and shut that energy hog down.

That scenario won’t become common for awhile it as relies on a widespread rollout of smart utility meters that will bring the interactive smart grid and real-time electricity pricing into the home. That is happening, albeit very slowly (though the pace is expected to accelerate with billions in the stimulus package being poured into smart grid-related projects. The ability to remote-control your appliance, however, is some years away).

For instance, Tendril, is rolling out a home energy management system for Texas utility Reliant Energy (RRI) that allows customers to monitor and control their electricity use through a video display that sits in the living room. When Green Wombat visited Reliant’s smart house project in Houston last September, the utility’s tech guys showed me their own home-brewed iPhone app.

As anyone with an iPhone knows, Apple’s (AAPL) app store makes it ridiculously easy to turn the gadget into Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver – a gizmo that does everything but put out the trash and feed your pet bunny. But earth2tech’s Katie Fehrenbacher questions how widespread Tendril’s app would be used given the difficulty in putting any third-party software program on a BlackBerry or other smartphone. But that’s changing by dint of Apple’s growing share of the smartphone market and the advent of the app-friendly Google (GOOG) phone.

Green Wombat is most intrigued by the potential of such apps as the Tendril Mobile Vantage to tap into people’s inherent competitiveness, keeping-up-with-Jones mentality and, in the Facebook era, compulsion to share, share, share. The data generated by smart meters and home energy management systems like Tendril’s will let consumers compare their energy use – and thus contribution to global warming – with their neighbors and friends.

In fact, Tendril is planning to add a carbon footprint feature to its mobile app. Funnel that data into a Facebook newsfeed and let the peer-to-peer pressure go to work to see who can claim Twittering rights to a low-impact lifestyle.

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clintonbill1Another reason Green Wombat will be spending Earth Day in Southern California this year: Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote speech at Fortune Magazine’s Brainstorm Green conference on April 22.

Clinton will be joining a gathering of business and environmental leaders, including Ford (F) executive chairman Bill Ford, PG&E (PCG) chief executive Peter Darbee, SunPower (SPWRA) CEO Tom Werner and executives from Fortune 500 companies like IBM (IBM),  Wal-Mart (WMT) and General Electric (GE). On the green side of the aisle, execs from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and Greenpeace will be attending the confab in Laguna Niguel.  Former California State Treasurer Phil Angelides, now chairman of the Apollo Alliance, and green jobs guru Van Jones will also be present.

We now end the shameless self-promotion and return to our regular Green Wombat programming.

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cemex-eurus-wind-farm1

photo: CEMEX

The cement industry’s contribution to global warming is pretty concrete – it’s responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, fueled by demand from the rapidly industrializing economies of China and India.

Now CEMEX, the Mexican building materials giant, has taken steps to green up its operation. Not by changing the way it makes cement but how it powers the process. Late last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderón inaugurated the first phase of what will be a $550 million, 250-megawatt Oaxaca wind farm – Latin America’s largest – that will generate the equivalent of a quarter of the electricity CEMEX consumes in Mexico.

The EURUS wind farm is a joint development between CEMEX (CX) and Acciona, the Spanish renewable energy powerhouse. The first 25 turbines will go online by March and the final phase will be completed by the end of 2009. A CEMEX spokesman said Acciona will retain ownership of the wind farm and sell the electricity to CEMEX under a 20-year contract.  The electricity from EURUS will go into the power grid and CEMEX will receive “electricity credits” for the power produced.

Mexico has become the next frontier for the wind industry. The same day Calderón presided over the opening of EURUS he also dedicated a nearby 80-megawatt wind farm built by Spanish company Iberdrola Renewables.

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