The top 10 sustainability stories of 2012

Last year I summarized the Top Sustainability Stories of 2011 and offered my predictions for the Top Sustainability Stories of 2012. Here are my reflections on some of those predictions—I think I was pretty close—and a few big stories I missed.

Climate heats up and hides out

. Climate denial is well-funded, anti-scientific, self-interested, crazy…and understandable, given the massive assets buried in fossil fuel reserves, and the lengths to which their owners will go to prevent those assets from being stranded.

Climate silence is, well…in a way more troubling, more dangerous and harder to understand. President Obama shied away the subject during the campaign—perhaps a political calculation that ultimately served him well—and broached the phrase once elected. But the bleeping NYT? Ultimately Superstorm Sandy proved more potent than any political logic…and it’s only a question of how many more $30-100 billion “events” it will take to move to get the elephant in the room onto the middle of the table.

U.S. falls behind in solar. 
As Der Spiegel wrote in December, “China has increased its share of the global solar market from 6 to an impressive 54 percent. Less than two decades ago, the United States was still making more than 40 percent of solar technology sold worldwide. Today it’s just over 5 percent.”

EPA battle royal. 
EPA won in court on emissions regulations, faced ongoing challenges from the House on everything from authority to regulate coal ash to its fundamental legitimacy as a shared public function. (There, I’ve said it: I’m one who believes that government is basically to collaborative expression of the shared will of the people; nothing could be more legitimate. But more on that another time.)

The battle will continue. What is beginning to change is the political alignment; as we saw in the defeat California’s 2010 Prop 23 ballot initiative (which threatened to block the state’s innovative climate policy), what used to be a battle between “business” and “environmentalists” will increasingly be a battle between “fossil” (in more ways than one!) business and everybody else (including most other business sectors, as well as environmentalists).

There was good news in 2012 too.

Green Chemistry & Biomimicry. 

These two gems continue to move forward, though they still seem a bit “out there” to some of our clients, despite the opportunities and the growing examples of business value. OneSun, Inc., an energy company focused on ultra low-cost solar based on green chemistry and biomimicry. One of the pressures driving these innovations: the rising challenge against legacy, take-for-granted toxic chemistry Just one example: effective January 1, 2013, chlorinated tris, which Arlene Blum‘s research helped remove from baby pajamas back in 1977, will no longer be produced for use in consumer products in the United States. The promise of green chemistry: we can design molecules to do what we need them to do, without undesired consequences. The promise of biomimicry: Nature may have already figured it out.

Next page: A widening green gap