Get the best of GreenBiz delivered to you -- GreenBuzz e-news


Why American Eagle, H&M, Nike and Puma want your hand-me-downs

Published July 30, 2014
Why American Eagle, H&M, Nike and Puma want your hand-me-downs

There's only so far that community or family hand-me-downs can go to address the booming issue of textile waste, so I:Collect (aka I:CO) created a global collection network to keep discarded clothing and shoes out of landfills.

The five-year-old organization, which pioneered its program in Europe and brought it to the United States three years ago, already has forged several high-profile partnerships with the likes of H&M, PUMA, Levi Strauss & Co. and American Eagle Outfitters, which is rolling out collections in all 823 of its stores in the United States and Canada. I:CO is also involved with the zero waste initiative in San Francisco.

American Eagle recyclingFrom the consumer perspective, I:CO's approach is simple. In concert with trade partners, it places collection boxes in visible locations such as stores or building lobbies where people can place unwanted apparel or shoes, no matter what condition it is in.

"Consumers want to do the right thing, but they don't know how to do it," said Jennifer Gilbert, chief marketing officer for I:CO, which has its U.S. base in Los Angeles.

Helga Ying, vice president of external engagement and social responsibility for American Eagle Outfitters, said the retailer decided to broaden its experiment in textile collection after a successful internal pilot. American Eagle sees the program as a great tool for educating people about the big impact of clothing and shoes on the global waste stream, while encouraging recycling and reuse at the point of sale when they're thinking about buying something new. 

"This is not just about the clothes that are worn out; it's about what you might not want anymore," Ying said. "You can bring in pretty much anything, and I:CO can find a way to repurpose it or redistribute it to somewhere where it can be used."

Any customer who participates in the program receives $5 off the day of their dropoff toward a purchase of American Eagle jeans. Proceeds are being donated to the Student Conservation Association, one of the retailer's national charity partners.

The implications of cleaning out your closet

Some 22.3 billion pounds of cast-off clothing and footwear find their way into U.S. landfills on an annual basis. There, apparel is often incinerated, creating about seven pounds of CO2, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. (4 billion pounds more goes to charities.)Clothes to bailerI:CO figures that about 95 percent of those items can be reused in some way, Gilbert said. Part of SOEX Group, based in Switzerland, I:CO has collection points all over the world: its 2,000 employees process around 700 tons of used items every day in more than 90 countries. From the collection points, items are transported to sorting locations. More than 365 categories are considered during this phase, most of which is done by hand, Gilbert said. Whatever is re-wearable — about 60 percent of items fall into this bucket — gets passed along to organizations that can redistribute them to people in need. The rest is sent along to be prepared for repurposing. Some is shredded, for example, to be used as insulation or carpet padding for the automotive or construction industries, she said.

Sorting shoesSome of I:CO's partners are developing ways to reuse shredded materials within their own manufacturing and production processes. For example, H&M has launched a clothing line composed of 20 percent post-consumer denim fibers.

"It's of course important that these companies are keeping clothing out of landfills, but they also actually need to think about doing something about it," Gilbert said. "We believe in a closed-loop approach. When [retailers and apparel makers] create clothing and shoes, they need to make them in a way to prepare them for the next application."

Depending on the arrangement, I:CO's partners are paid by the pound for the feedstock that they're collecting and contributing to the process.Raw material balesThe next big step for the organization is to sign more cities, such as San Francisco, that can provide support for collections at the municipal level.

"Retailers can take it so far, but really getting into a city. That sort of infrastructure will help us get there faster," Gilbert said. 

All images of apparel recycling via I:CO

Investors applaud Smucker's new palm oil policy

Published July 30, 2014
Investors applaud Smucker's new palm oil policy

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world. A commodity that is worth $50 billion per year, it is found in over half of all packaged goods. Palm oil is also “a key driver of deforestation that accounts for more than 15 percent of worldwide carbon emissions,” according to Ceres. “At least 30,000 square miles of tropical forest...has been cleared to accommodate palm oil plantations in the past two decades.”

Sustainable investors have been engaging with the consumer goods industry for years, over the issue of ensuring that palm oil is being sourced from suppliers that do not contribute to deforestation. “When it is not sourced sustainably, palm oil is known to have devastating impacts, including deforestation and forced child labor,” Sr. Sue Ernster of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration stated when the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)  announced in June the withdrawal of a shareowner resolution filed with Panera Bread.

Another resolution, filed with J.M. Smucker, was withdrawn this week by co-filers Clean Yield Asset Management and Green Century Capital Management when the company agreed to stringent guidelines on the sourcing of palm oil.

The resolution observed that Smucker’s has declined requests to report to CDP  on business risks associated with deforestation. Also, the resolution continued, “Rainforest Action Network has publicly targeted Smuckers’ for using palm oil in its products that are ‘at high risk of contamination’ with palm oil associated with human rights violations.”

The agreement, the investment firms stated, means that Smucker's will go beyond current Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards, which, they assert, “are insufficient for preventing high risk and controversial environmental and human rights impacts in the palm oil supply chain.” In response to growing criticism, the RSPO has undertaken a five-year program to quantify its metrics and create “confidence in RSPO certified palm oil for users, investors and the public.”

The company’s new policy as outlined in its corporate social responsibility (CSR) report includes, the investors said, “a time bound commitment for ensuring that purchased palm oil can be traced back to plantations that are independently verified as meeting the following criteria:

• No development in high carbon stock forest areas or high conservation value areas;<

• No burning to clear land for new planting or re-planting;

• No new development on peat lands, and the application of best management practices for existing plantations on peat lands, including restoration when feasible; and

• Including smallholders into the supply chain and respecting land tenure rights, including the rights of indigenous and local communities to give or withhold their free, prior, and informed consent to all new development or operations on lands to which they hold legal, communal, or customary rights.”

“The company has joined the ranks of many of its industry peers who recognize that they must also go beyond RSPO’s standards to ensure that their purchases do not result in mass deforestation and labor abuses in the supply chain,” said Shelley Alpern, Director of Social Research and Shareholder Advocacy at Clean Yield.

“By pledging to secure deforestation-free palm oil, Smucker is not only protecting the environment, but its brand and shareholder value as well,” Lucia von Reusner, Shareholder Advocate at Green Century, said. “We urge the company to rapidly implement its commitment to help end deforestation for palm oil.”

This article originally appeared at SocialFunds. Top image by Mikka Skaffari via Flickr

3 ways food and beverage companies can lead on sustainability

Published July 30, 2014
3 ways food and beverage companies can lead on sustainability

Few of us give much thought to where our food comes from, how it is grown or raised and how it gets from the farm or field to our table. We rarely consider, for example, the amount of water it takes in drought-stricken California to grow our lettuce, the impacts of access to water on corn production, the carbon emissions generated by flying our grapes in from Chile and our sole from Dover, or the far-reaching environmental impacts of fertilizers and pesticides.

Globally, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of all water consumption, and the run-off from fertilizer, manure and pesticides are a major source of water pollution. Agriculture also accounts for 75 percent of global deforestation and about 17 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

This means that the food and beverage sector faces enormous financial and operational risks and challenges as the need for action on climate change, water scarcity and other sustainability issues becomes more urgent. As global warming reshapes precipitation patterns and alters ecosystems worldwide, the global food production system will be forced to reckon with unprecedented and often unpredictable shifts in growing seasons, grazing patterns and the availability of water.

The sector faces other vulnerabilities, too: Human and labor rights risks abound in an industry that traditionally has relied on low-cost labor in both direct operations and throughout the supply chain.

Food for survival, survival for the food industry

To be successful in a warming and increasingly resource-constrained world, companies in the food and beverage sector need to embrace sustainability as a core corporate value and shape long-term strategic business decisions accordingly. Integrating sustainability principles isn't just a matter of corporate social and environmental responsibility; it's a survival strategy in a changing world.

Credit: CeresA recent study by Ceres and Sustainalytics, Gaining Ground, indicates that some companies already understand this and are working to integrate sustainability into their business strategies. Far too many, however, are still at the starting gate. The report — which evaluates how well or poorly the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. are preparing to meet the sustainability challenges of the 21st century — examines 24 food and beverage companies ranging from Campbell Soup Company to ConAgra Foods to PepsiCo.

A promising trend is that more companies in the food and beverage sector are starting to prioritize sustainability in at least some aspects of their business. For example, more than half of the food and beverage companies assessed have put responsibility for sustainability strategy and implementation in the executive suite or with an executive level committee, signaling that they take sustainability seriously.

Surprises about ESG, energy and supply chain

Another encouraging sign is the number of companies engaging with stakeholders on environmental, social and governance issues. Three-quarters are making an effort at ESG, a marked increase since 2012. This, too, signals more companies ramping up commitments to operate sustainably and understanding that sustainability risks are business risks.

The food and beverage sector is also demonstrating leadership in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in operations. Nearly 80 percent of those we studied have GHG reduction targets and programs in place to meet them. Paradoxically, and for reasons that are not clear, only 25 percent of these companies are using renewable energy sources as a method for meeting these GHG reduction goals.

Despite the progress made by the food and beverage sector, it is falling short in a critical area: sustainable sourcing of ingredients in its supply chain. Climate change, and its impact on water, already is having profound effects on the agricultural supply chain, and worker and human rights issues are prominent and immediate concerns requiring action. To get on the right track, food and beverage companies should do these three things:

1. Build a robust risk assessment process. Set measurable, time-bound goals and targets to source key agricultural inputs sustainably and outline clear timelines and targets for progress.

2. Improve public disclosure about agriculture sourcing. When companies publicly disclose information about their performance, whatever the subject matter, they tend to improve that performance.

3. Establish clear programs and incentives for farmers and agricultural producers to implement sustainable practices at the field level and to measure improvement.

Some companies are beginning to make progress. General Mills, for example, has sustainable sourcing commitments for its 10 priority ingredients, and outlines a four-step sustainable sourcing model that lays out a path for achieving these goals. PepsiCo, through the Sustainable Farming Initiative, sets out a framework to measure the environmental and local economic impacts associated with its agricultural supply chain and develop plans to improve performance in key crops.

No sector of the economy is more vulnerable to climate change, water scarcity and other sustainability challenges than the food and beverage sector. How these companies respond to these challenges will have major consequences for the billions of people who depend on them, and for the future of the global economy.

Top image of grocery store by 06photo via Shutterstock.

Why we need stronger, smarter electrical grids

Published July 29, 2014
Why we need stronger, smarter electrical grids

This article first appeared at Ensia.

On any given day in the United States, about half a million people are without power for two or more hours. Once hailed by the National Academy of Engineering as the most influential engineering innovation of the 20th century, the North American power grid operates with technology primarily from the 1960s and ’70s.

In recent decades the number and frequency of weather-related major outages have increased. Between the 1950s and ’80s, outages increased from two to five each year; from 2008 to 2012, outages increased to between 70 and 130 per year. Meanwhile, electricity needs are growing fast. Twitter alone adds more than 2,500 megawatt-hours of demand globally per year. It is projected that the world’s electricity supply will need to triple by 2050 to keep up with demand. That will require a significant commitment.

In the past decade, electricity risk has increased due to aging infrastructure, lack of investment and policies conducive to modernization and the threat posed by terrorism and climate change. As the climate changes, the variability of weather events has increased. We will see more extreme events, and with greater frequency. Hurricane Sandy appears to be an example of this.

In the aftermath of Sandy, questions were raised about power restoration in relation to extreme weather and climate change. It needs to be understood that a massive, physical assault on Hurricane Sandy’s scale is bound to overwhelm the power infrastructure, at least temporarily. No amount of money or technology can guarantee uninterrupted electric service under such circumstances.

It’s also important to remember that the U.S. is just beginning to adapt to a wider spectrum of risk. Cost-effective investments to reinforce the grid and support resilience will vary by region, by utility, by the legacy equipment involved and even by the function and location of equipment within a utility’s service territory.

The electrical grid must change drastically. We need a smarter grid that effectively and securely will meet demands of a pervasively digital society in the face of climate change and other extreme events while ensuring a high quality of life and fueling economic growth. Such a grid would provide sufficient transmission capacity to link new natural gas generating plants, on-shore or offshore wind farms, solar plants and other renewables to customers. It also would function as a self-healing system, using digital components and real-time communications technologies to monitor its electrical characteristics at all times and constantly tune itself so that it operates at an optimum state, anticipates problems and is able to rapidly isolate parts of the network that experience failure from the rest of the system to avoid the spread of disruption and enable more rapid restoration.

To transform our current infrastructure into a self-healing smart grid, several technologies must be deployed and integrated. The ideal smart grid system consists of microgrids — small, mostly self-sufficient power systems — and a stronger, smarter high-voltage power grid, which serves as the backbone to the overall system and makes it possible to integrate substantially increased amounts of wind and renewable resources. With a stronger and smart grid, 40 percent of our electricity in the U.S. can come from wind by 2030, which will substitute in part for fossil fuels currently used for electricity and transportation.

Upgrading the grid infrastructure for self-healing capabilities requires replacing traditional analog technologies with digital components, software processors and power electronics technologies. These must be installed throughout a system so that it can be digitally controlled, the key ingredient to a grid that is self-monitoring and self-healing.

Much of the technology and systems thinking behind self-healing power grids comes from the military aviation sector, where I worked for 14 years on damage-adaptive flight systems for F-15 aircraft, optimizing logistics and studying the survival of squadrons and mission effectiveness. In January 1998, when I joined the Electric Power Research Institute, I helped bring these concepts to electricity power systems and other critical infrastructure networks, including energy, water, telecommunications and finance. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, resilience and security has become even more important.

The cost of a smarter grid would depend on how much instrumentation you actually put in, such as the communications backbone, enhanced security and increased resilience. The total price tag ranges around $340 billion to $480 billion, which over a 20-year period would be around $20 billion to $25 billion per year. But right off the bat, the benefits are $70 billion per year in increased efficiency and reduced costs from outages, and on a year with lots of hurricanes, ice storms and other disturbances, that benefit goes even further. Currently, outages from all sources cost the U.S. economy $80 billion to $188 billion annually. A smarter grid would reduce costs of outages by about $49 billion per year, and reduce CO2 emissions by 12 to 18 percent by 2030. In addition, it would increase system efficiency by over 4 percent — $20.4 billion more per year.

The costs cover a wide variety of enhancements to bring the power delivery system to the performance levels required for a smart grid. They include the infrastructure to integrate distributed energy resources and achieve full customer connectivity, but don’t include the cost of generation, the cost of transmission expansion to add renewables and to meet load growth, or the customers’ costs for smart-grid-ready appliances and devices. Despite the costs of implementation, investing in the grid would pay for itself, to a great extent. With the actual investment, for every dollar, the return is about $2.80 to $6 to the broader economy. And this figure is very conservative.

But this is also about 1) increased cyber/IT security and overall energy security, with security built into the design as part of a layered defense system architecture, and 2) job creation and economic benefits. Indeed, in my view, our 21st century digital economy depends on our making these investments, regardless of the prognosis for more extreme weather to come as our climate changes.

As evidence for the economic argument, consider the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act government stimulus plan funding and matching support from utilities and the private sector in the Smart Grid Investment Grant and Smart Grid Demonstration Project programs. As of March 2012, the total invested value of $2.96 billion to support smart grid projects generated at least $6.8 billion in total economic output. Overall, investments supported about 47,000 full-time equivalent jobs. For every $1 million of direct spending, the GDP increased by $2.5 million to $2.6 million.

We’ve wasted 15 years arguing about the roles of the public and private sectors while our global competitors adapt and innovate. We need to renew public-private partnerships, cut red tape and reduce the cloud of uncertainty on the return on investment of modernizing infrastructure. When the nation has made such strategic commitments in the past, the payoffs have been huge. Think of the interstate highway system, the lunar landing project and the Internet.

Meeting each challenge has produced world-leading economic growth by enabling commerce, technology development and a mix of the two. In the process we’ve developed a highly trained, adaptive workforce. Now, we must decide whether to build electric power and energy infrastructures that support a 21st century’s digital society, or be left behind as a 20th century industrial relic.

Top image of power station with lightning by egd via Shutterstock.

Slow Meat: 5 eating habits to transform the meat industry

By Richard McCarthy
Published July 29, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Agriculture, Food & Agriculture
Slow Meat: 5 eating habits to transform the meat industry

Americans eat a lot of meat. In many households, meat is on the table almost every day and for good reason: it is a good source of protein and nutrients, and can be healthy and delicious. However, with increased demand, industrial farming has turned food production into a machine that puts profit and efficiency ahead of health and sustainability. It is a shortsighted approach that comes at a cost to our health, our environment, animal welfare, the nutritional value of the meat we consume and even its taste.

Last month, Slow Food USA and Slow Food Denver hosted the inaugural Slow Meat symposium in Denver. Understandably, the overarching event theme “Better Meat, Less Meat” raised a few eyebrows. We held a national event in the heart of our country’s animal agricultural hub, and asked farmers, ranchers and marketers to produce less meat?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is more complicated. Americans have a large appetite for meat, and the industrial system is good at producing it at high volume and low cost. But you don’t have to dig deep to uncover the hidden costs of that model: health risks, childhood obesity, environmental degradation and animal abuse, to name but a few.

We as eaters are limited by a narrow scope of food choices — with just one or two breeds dominating our diets. Animals are confined in spaces that prevent them from enjoying the five freedoms that guide sustainable animal husbandry (often referred to as Brambell’s freedoms for professor Roger Brambell, who formulated them in 1965 for the British government). The Farm Animal Welfare Council in the U.K. lists them as follows: 1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst — by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor; 2. Freedom from Discomfort — by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area; 3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease — by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment; 4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior — by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind; 5. Freedom from Fear and Distress — by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

At the same time, the flow of capital that goes into animal agriculture is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, resulting in wealth being extracted from rural communities rather than being created.

As a vegetarian since age 15, I have long negotiated my relationship to meat. I don’t eat it. I believe that each of us should stake out our personal stand on meat and its consequences. I have come to recognize that a growing contingent of animal farmers care deeply about the health and quality of life of their animals, and acknowledge the connection between factory meat-production and the damage it is doing to our health and that of the environment.

These smaller-scale farmers are coming up with innovative and creative ways to mitigate the negative environmental effects by returning to traditional methods of animal husbandry, and using methods of farming and grazing that mimic nature and contribute to the health of our land. These methods not only help to combat climate change, but also create better and more flavorful meat. These farmers are leading the way forward in meat production.

So how do we begin to “turn the herd” toward an animal agricultural system that supports small farms and ranches, respects the environment and cares for the animals, without slapping the hands of meat-eating Americans?

The Slow Meat symposium asked this question, and many others, of over 100 delegates from across the U.S. and around the world. Participants came from a wide range of backgrounds: farmers, ranchers, butchers, policymakers, chefs, Slow Food leaders, environmentalists and marketers. We asked them to consider the question of good, clean and fair meat production throughout the five stages of field to fork: land and water use; animal husbandry; processing and distribution; marketing and retail; consumption and child nutrition.

Our keynote speaker was Zimbabwean biologist and environmentalist Allan Savory of the Savory Institute. Savory has studied the degradation of the world’s grasslands since the 1960s, and is the originator of holistic land management. His provocative methods for increasing the numbers of animals on the land while decreasing the numbers of animals in industrial confinement are at the heart of his “Holistic Planned Grazing” strategy, successfully used around the world. His experience, research and passion for the cause are inspiring and encouraging.

After a weekend of workshops, facilitated discussions and sharing of best practices and ideas among delegates, we have identified five action items to field-test with our 150 Slow Food communities across the U.S. over the next year. Our intention is to measure change, then gather again next year to discuss what is working, what isn’t and how we can bring this knowledge to a wider audience.

Slow Meat invites you to:

Join Meatless Monday. Acknowledging that better meat may cost more, we need to provide tools to help eaters shift to consuming less meat — and doing so joyously rather than as a punishment. Meatless Monday, a global movement that simply asks people to cut out meat just one day a week, remains a powerful tool in cutting meat consumption on a national and global level. We plan on encouraging Slow Food chapters to embrace and support Meatless Monday as a way to resist “cheap” meat, and to eat the better meat in less quantity. We’ll work with our chapters to offer alternative suggestions to meat, including incorporating meat as a flavor as opposed to the main event on a dinner plate.

Broil for biodiversity. We will continue to encourage people to discover their “taste of place,” emphasizing consumption of different species and unusual breeds that support our ecosystem and local food communities. For example, our Thanksgiving campaign will promote purchasing a heritage breed of turkey versus the typical broad-breasted white breed from a factory farm that has come to exemplify the typical Thanksgiving feast. If what you’re eating “tastes like chicken,” then you’re eating the wrong chicken.

Biodiversity can be tasted at the dinner table. Of course, this doesn’t just include meats. Consider the vast array of fruits, vegetables and 17 different varieties of beans and peas — a great alternative to meats! — currently on our Ark of Taste. This catalog of foods that are in danger of becoming extinct can help you discover a world of new flavors. Bear in mind that if we do not embrace them, we may lose them. 

Bring better meats into sports stadiums. We share the Green Sports Alliance’s assertion that public sporting events provide a valuable opportunity to introduce fans to sustainable food options. This is especially timely with many newly built and existing stadiums — such as the Barclay Center in Brooklyn and the San Francisco 49ers' Levi’s Stadium — that are interested in bringing in local purveyors and foods.

Leading with taste and following with health, we will spread the word that there is a growing demand for quality meats to be served in arenas and stadiums. We look forward to local Slow Food communities staging nose-to-tailgating events outside of stadiums and forging ties with stadium chefs and management on the inside.

Start eating nose-to-tail. Perhaps the most Slow-Foodie of strategies, we look forward to partnering with many who were present at Slow Meat — Butchers’ Guild, Chefs Collaborative and more — to stage whole-animal butchery events with local Slow Food chapters. These may provide marvelous opportunities to highlight different species, breeds and little-known cuts, as well as platforms for promoting alternative purchasing models (think meat collectives) and other concrete steps that meat lovers can take to eat more responsibly and waste less. And that’s just for starters. Just wait until Slow Food Youth gets wound up with their signature Offal Soup Discos! The expressed intent will be to draw attention to food waste by using offal and other organs that rarely make it to the dinner table.    

Learn how to use labels. Eaters are crying out for tools that help them make informed decisions about how to source their meat. We recommend purchasing directly from farmers who raise and market meats wherever possible. We will also assemble and share useful and existing label navigation devices. Some well-known labels have no third-party evaluation; as a result, they mean very little. We will support efforts to identify and marginalize these labels from the marketplace. One example is the ongoing Kill “Natural” campaign.  

These five action steps will be our initial focus in the year ahead, as we try to navigate our complex relationship with the American meat industry. We will return to Denver during the first week of June 2015 for a larger Slow Meat gathering that will include seminars, workshops, ranch tours and tastings with many of our new partners. We will then expand our ongoing campaign for better meat. We will stage Slow Meat as a biennial event with a view to move meat from the center of the plate and into a more sustainable place — both for our health and that of the planet.

Top image by Scott Bauer via



After 130 years, New York rethinks its electric utility model

By John Finnigan
Published July 29, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Cities, Energy & Utilities, More... Cities, Energy & Utilities, Smart Grid
After 130 years, New York rethinks its electric utility model

America's electric grid has not been updated since World War II, when telephones, dishwashers and air conditioning were the cutting-edge technology innovations of the century.

Today, this same grid is struggling to cope with the technological advances of the last decade, a reality that hit home for New Yorkers in the wake of Superstorm Sandy when millions of people lost power for days and even weeks.

But New York is taking steps to change this. A proposal to overhaul the state's utility business model dramatically could change how people interact with their power company.

It could bring in innovative technology to help homes and businesses better manage their own energy needs, while at the same time reducing carbon emissions — changes that would have national implications.

Humble beginnings

New York played a leading role in establishing today's utility business model. Thomas Edison developed the first power plant on Pearl Street in Manhattan in 1882, serving 85 lighting customers.

The business model of Edison and his protégé, Samuel Insull, was simple: Just keep adding more customers and building larger power plants — and the rest will come.

It was a win-win for Edison's customers and for his utility companies. Customers won because the ever-larger power plants were more efficient, bringing the cost of electricity down each time he built a new plant.

Monopolies are born

As the price per kilowatt of electricity kept declining, customers used more power. To encourage growth in this new electricity infrastructure, New York, like all of the other states, protected the utilities' investment by granting them an exclusive right to serve customers.

(Credit: Earl Morter.Cedars at en.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons)In exchange for being permitted to operate as a monopoly, New York set the price the utility could charge for electricity. The prices were structured to reward the utility for successfully building a bigger and more robust system.

Needless to say, Edison's business model proved wildly successful.

We now have access to electricity 24/7, at the flip of a switch. The U.S. electric power industry fuels the world's largest economy. We rely on our heating and air conditioning, appliances, televisions, computers, phones — all powered by electricity — to meet our daily needs.

The electrification of America was the greatest engineering feat of the 20th century, surpassing even the invention of the Internet and sending a man to the moon.

Consumers today want independence

This business model has worked well for the past 130 years because it used the right incentives for what society needed. But it is out of sync with our needs today.

We now know that when people are armed with the knowledge that the cost to produce electricity varies by time of day and year, they are willing to change well-worn patterns to bring down their electricity bill.

Price-conscious customers might run their dishwashers at night instead of during the day, yielding not just lower prices for themselves, but for the entire system.

Indeed, many people want to take advantage of new technologies and falling prices to enjoy on-site electricity options such as rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles.

More efficient industries, buildings, homes and appliances allow customers to accomplish much more with far less energy. Advances in telecommunications and information systems create new opportunities for energy services we could not have imagined just a few years ago.

A smarter grid will cut carbon emissions

It also has become increasingly evident that our reliance on fossil fuels burned in large centralized power plants has created an environmental burden for our children. We need a system that is less polluting.

Upgrading to a smarter grid will allow us to fully integrate distributed generation, such as rooftop solar and combined heat and power that can operate independent of the central grid and help move us toward a clean energy economy.

New York gave birth to the electric power industry 130 years ago, making it the perfect place to reinvent the utility business model for the 21st century.

Top image of Manhattan Consolidated Edison power plant circa 1970 by Environmental Protection Agency via Wikimedia Commons. This article first appeared at EDF Voices.


Next-Gen Energy

Why we need stronger, smarter electrical grids
By Massoud Amin

How antiquated technology and increased demand may be a perfect storm of electricity risk.

...Read More

After 130 years, New York rethinks its electric utility model
By John Finnigan

Demand response, smart grids and renewables will help us leave behind a grid that's only one notch better than kerosene lamps.

...Read More

7 charts tell the story of a changing energy landscape
By Johannes Friedrich, Thomas Damassa and Michael Obeiter

How have U.S. power sector emissions changed over the last 40 years? These charts will show you.

...Read More
Sponsored Content

Driving Performance and Transparency in Green Building Products

Various mechanisms, from eco-labels and environmental product certifications to lifecycle assessments (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs), are available and act as an important part of a larger "toolkit." Download this free UL white paper that provides an overview of the various ways in which building product manufacturers can demonstrate compliance with green building certification programs and codes, and how to best utilize each available mechanism in this toolkit. Download the free whitepaper here.

Food for Thought

As food hubs flourish, CoBank sows $10 billion rural fund
By Sustainable Business News

For the first time, institutional investors will be able to invest in agricultural infrastructure and rural communities in the U.S.

...Read More

Slow Meat: 5 eating habits to transform the meat industry
By Richard McCarthy

How about Meatless Monday, lamb's sweetbreads or the near-extinct Trail of Tears Bean in your diet?...Read More

How Asda is making fresh efforts to protect produce
By Tom Idle

Walmart-owned U.K. supermarket is rethinking its supply chain with 95 percent of its produce at risk from climate change.

...Read More
Sponsored Content

Guide to Energy, Carbon and Sustainability Software

Enjoy a complimentary download of "Guide to Energy, Carbon and Sustainability Software", a report created by Groom Energy and brought to you by Enablon. This guide to energy, carbon and sustainability software presents the main drivers for companies to invest in sustainability software. The guide describes the biggest challenges, identifies key software features to look for and offers recommendations for selecting sustainability software. Download your copy of the report.

Focus on Transportation

Why SAP sees an open road for 'connected cars'
By Joel Makower

The software company aims to become a driving force in connected cars....Read More

Sponsored Content

A Benchmark Study of Current Practices and Tools for Sustainability

Find out what you are peers are up to! E2 ManageTech conducted a benchmark study of environmental health & safety professionals. Learn more about properly chosen leading indicators and how they can drive financial improvement and shareholder value. Download the free whitepaper here.

White Papers

  • 5 Common Myths About Project Financing
  • Corporate Sustainability Practices: Waste & Recycling
  • Green Careers: Unlocking Hidden Employment Potential
  • Verifying Environmental Sustainability in the Electronics Marketplace
  • A Benchmark Study of Current Practices and Tools for Sustainability
  • How HP achieves leadership in sustainable product footprinting at a fraction of the cost
  • Increasing Transparency of Environment and Health Claims for Cleaning Products
  • Creating Healthier Furniture and Building Materials by Minimizing Chemical Emissions
  • Driving Performance and Transparency in Green Building Products
  • Transparency and the Role of Environmental Product Declarations
  • The Product Mindset
  • Can You Save Millions with Sustainable Packaging Design?
  • NAEM Trends Report: Planning for a Sustainable Future
  • Guide to Energy, Carbon and Sustainability Software
  • Six growing trends in corporate sustainability

  • July 29, 2014
    Upcoming Events
    17th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency EXPO
    Thu, Jul 31
    Washington DC

    Moving Forward on Commercial Food Scraps Diversion - Policies and Processes Workshop- Register Today!
    Thu, Aug 14
    Los Angeles CA

    Bangladesh Summit on Sustainable Development
    Sun, Aug 17 - Tue, Aug 19

    First California Adaptation Forum
    Tue, Aug 19 - Wed, Aug 20

    » Post An Event
    » More Events
    Green Jobs & Careers
    Big Sky Watershed Corps-AmeriCorps Member
    Multiple Locations, MT

    Executive Director
    Mansfield, CT

    San Francisco, CA

    Contract Auditor
    Washington, DC (Nationwide)

    Electric Vehicle Campaign Assistant
    Berkeley, CA (Telecommute & Event Presence)

    » Post A Job
    » Browse All Jobs
    » Green Career Resources
    Talk to GreenBiz: Have a story idea, insider tip, favorite resource to share? Send it to us
    Become a Sponsor
    Reach tens of thousands of businesses every month by placing your ad here. Contact us to receive more information.

    © 2014 GreenBiz Group -® is a registered trademark of GreenBiz Group Inc, Oakland, CA USA
    © GreenBiz Group Inc. All rights reserved.

    Why SAP sees an open road for 'connected cars'

    By Joel Makower
    Published July 28, 2014
    Email | Print | Single Page View
    Tags: Cities, Information & Communications Technology, More... Cities, Information & Communications Technology, Transportation, VERGE
    Why SAP sees an open road for 'connected cars'

    Editor's note: Connected cars will be part of the sustainable mobility track at VERGE SF 2014.

    The notion of an Internet of Cars may seem fanciful or futuristic, but it is gaining traction and speed at a surprising rate. And as vehicles of all types become connected — not just to drivers or other vehicles on the road, but to everything from parking spaces to pizza joints — the promise of social and environmental benefits lie not far down the road.

    All of which is leading a growing number of companies to find themselves in the transportation business.

    Consider SAP, the German enterprise software and software-related services giant. Over the past six months, it has been rolling out a number of pilots and partnerships aimed at becoming a driving force in “connected cars.”

    Earlier this year, for example, the company announced it was helping BMW develop prototypes for two services: one that can help drivers navigate vehicles to available parking spaces more efficiently, and another to deliver real-time, personalized promotional offers for things such as fuel or food to drivers, based on their actual driving route. Earlier this month, SAP said it was gearing up additional partnerships — with Toyota, Volkswagen and VeriFone — that could lead to still others services offered to drivers, retailers and others.

    It’s a congested space. A sizable fleet of software and device makers are eyeing the world’s billion or so passenger vehicles as the next frontier of cloud computing and connectivity. Apple, AT&T, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon are among the big tech players already in first gear. Add to them mapping and GPS companies, app developers of all stripes, cities, retailers — and, of course, nearly every automotive manufacturer, from Tata to Tesla — and there appears the potential for gridlock.

    Competition notwithstanding, “We believe that there is a very significant opportunity for us,” Gil Perez, Senior Vice President of Connected Car at SAP, told me recently. “What we are doing is basically a multiservices, B-to-B platform around connected vehicles, where we are enable cars and their drivers to conduct business.”

    Its most recent rollout, the Toyota-VeriFone hookup and the partnership with VW, featured the introduction of relatively prosaic services: a one-touch, one-screen solution to navigate to the closest gas station, authorize automatic payment electronically and receive personalized coupons; and a service to help drivers locate parking and nearby food offers in Hannover, Germany, specifically targeting so-called quick-service restaurants (QSR in industry parlance, better known among us eaters as fast-food outlets) — “the things that you might pick up on your way to or from your destination,” as Perez puts it.

    SAP didn’t expect to find itself in this space, says Perez. Its initial foray into the sector had to do with connecting electric vehicles and utilities. “Around a year ago, it morphed from being an electrical vehicle and utility play into more of a connected vehicle and a digital experience.”

    The automobile industry didn’t expect to see SAP here, either, he added. “Initially we were not on the short list. We were not on the long list. We were not on the very, very long list. We had to explain to people why SAP is needed and our value in the ecosystem.”

    That value proposition begins with the realization that in the digital age, cars aren’t separate from other parts of our lives. While we may “get in and out” of vehicles, our needs for information and connectivity need to be continuous and seamless — before, during and after a journey.

    Moreover, says Perez, “In order to have an experience which is unique and delightful to the end user it's not only about aggregating content and harmonizing data. It is also about being able to conduct transactions.”

    That’s where SAP builds on its core assets: providing back-end services for most of the types of entities with which a car and driver may interact, such as fueling stations, electric utilities, retailers, eateries and other places along the road. A large number of these are among SAP’s current customers that use its software and platforms to run their enterprises. Perez and his team sees the potential to integrate information drivers are receiving en route with companies — for example, having food ready (say, from Burger King) and paid for (via VeriFone) by the time someone shows up. And have all that readily integrated into each company's back-end systems.

    “How do you not just collect information about the gas station and points of interest, but integrate into their business processes?” he asks. “And how do you do it in a way that is seamless?”

    It’s a rhetorical question. That’s exactly what SAP intends to offer.

    What’s the sustainability play here? Some of it has to do with efficiency for all involved, but it goes well beyond that. Consider the sharing economy, particularly car-sharing services like RelayRides or Zipcar, where individuals or companies make idle vehicles available for others to use on an hourly basis. SAP hopes its cloud-based software will be an enabler in facilitating transactions. Moreover, “Parking becomes a key element of car sharing — how people pick up a car and access it,” says Perez. “And where exactly do you leave the car?”

    And, of course, there’s traffic congestion,  the scourge of many big cities. A significant percentage of cars driving around at any given time are looking for parking — as much as 30 percent, according to one accounting. “Just think of the ability to get a red, yellow or green mark on a map telling you the parking availability on the street level or free parking on a citywide level,” says Perez. SAP currently is conducting beta tests with two U.S. cities along these lines, though Perez declined to disclose which ones. "We view parking as a very interesting market that will have a lot of tentacles," he says.

    Eventually, he says, SAP will be behind the scenes for a wide range of information and transactions that can take place during a typical car trip, whether for work or pleasure.

    Can such innovations provide what cities need to improve their sustainability and resilience? Improving traffic flows and facilitating parking access and car sharing are only part of what’s needed to make cities more livable. But it’s a pretty good start.

    Images via

    Also in The Two Steps Forward Blog:


    7 charts tell the story of a changing energy landscape

    By Johannes Friedrich, Thomas Damassa and Michael Obeiter
    Published July 28, 2014
    Email | Print | Single Page View
    Tags: Energy & Climate, Energy & Utilities
    7 charts tell the story of a changing energy landscape

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a carbon dioxide pollution standard that sets state-based targets for power sector greenhouse gas emissions out to 2030. The new EPA standard gives states flexibility in how they meet the emissions standard by letting them reduce emissions in ways that work for their power sectors.

    But where do U.S. power sector emissions come from? And how have they changed over time? WRI last week released an update of its U.S. state GHG emissions data via CAIT 2.0, our climate data explorer. These and other data can provide valuable context for the proposed standard by helping to answer questions about emissions from the U.S. power sector and other sources, as well as related historic developments.

    How have U.S. power sector emissions changed in the last 40 years?

    The CAIT 2.0 U.S. data, together with data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, show the historic trend of power sector CO₂ emissions. Between 1973 and 2005, U.S. power sector CO₂ emissions increased by almost 90 percent. However, after emissions nearly stabilized between 2005 and 2007, the United States reversed the trend of rising CO₂ emissions in recent years.

    Many drivers have contributed to this decline, including fuel-switching (PDF) from coal to natural gas, new renewable energy generation, reduced power consumption as a result of the economic downturn, new vehicle rules and state energy efficiency policies. However, these trends likely won't suffice to further decrease emissions. Current projections suggest that without future policy actions (such as the proposed EPA power plant standard), power sector CO₂ emissions are expected to increase slowly again.

    What does the power sector contribute to U.S. emissions?

    The power sector comprises the largest share of U.S. GHG emissions, contributing nearly one-third of all emissions from all sectors. For the United States to meet its economy-wide emissions-reduction pledge of 17 percent below 2005 by 2020 (PDF), cuts in power sector emissions are essential. WRI's analysis already has shown that the power sector represents the biggest opportunity to cut GHG emissions.

    What does each state contribute to U.S. power sector emissions?

    Power sector emissions vary considerably among U.S. states. To highlight some of these differences, the left map shows that states that rely largely on fossil fuels, have large industrial sectors and/or have relatively large populations — such as Texas, Florida and the states of the Midwest — contribute the most power sector emissions. In comparison, the map on the right shows power sector emissions per person. Here, states that produce power from fossil fuels but have relatively small populations are the largest contributors. Notably, however, the emissions figures in both maps only consider the production of power within each state, although that power may be consumed by out-of-state businesses and homes.

    How much does each state's power sector contribute to its total emissions?

    The emissions landscape within states can be diverse. The graph above shows the percentage of state GHG emissions that come from the power sector (in blue). Emissions contributions from the power sector vary from nearly 60 percent for Wyoming to less than 2 percent in Idaho and Vermont, which generate most of their electricity from hydro and nuclear power plants, respectively.

    How have state power sector emissions changed since 2005?

    Cutting power sector emissions is not new at the state level. According to the 2011 U.S. data available through CAIT 2.0, 42 states reduced their emissions relative to 2005, the baseline used in the U.S. GHG reduction pledge. The graph above shows the 10 states with the most significant reductions. All reduced their power sector GHG emissions by more than 30 percent in just six years. Many of these states are also part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative market-based program to reduce emissions.

    For the top 10 emitters, shown in the graph above, the results are more variable. While Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Indiana were able to reduce power sector emissions by more than 10 percent between 2005 and 2011, other large emitters, such as Texas and Kentucky, slightly increased their emissions during this time period. WRI analysis shows the existing policy and infrastructure opportunities some states can take to reduce their power sector emissions.

    How are the sources of U.S. power sector emissions changing?

    The coming years will be a crucial time for power sector decision-makers to make choices about how power will be generated in the decades to come, as a significant fraction of existing U.S. power plants are approaching the end of their useful life. At the end of 2012, around 51 percent of all generating capacity was more than 30 years old. While most gas-fired capacity is fewer than 20 years old, 74 percent of coal-fired power plants are older than 30 (see figure, above). As a result, the EIA projects that nearly 60 gigawatts — or more than one-sixth — of coal-fired power capacity will retire between 2010 and 2020.

    Explore more state-level emissions data

    The U.S. GHG emissions dataset available through CAIT 2.0, as well as data provided by the EIA and other organizations, provide critical context for evaluating and understanding the proposed EPA standard and other domestic climate policy initiatives. Good data and smart policies can help the United States cost-effectively reduce its emissions to achieve its 2020 reduction target and go even further in the post-2020 era.

    Learn more about new energy systems at VERGE SF Oct. 27-30. This article originally appeared at WRI as part of its Climate Insights blog series, which leverages data from CAIT 2.0, WRI's climate data explorer, to shed light on the many dimensions of climate change that shape society, policy and global development. Cooling tower image by zhangyang13576997233 via Shutterstock.



    In water we trust: How Quito's water trust funds succeed

    By Aleszu Bajak
    Published July 28, 2014
    Email | Print | Single Page View
    Tags: Natural Capital, Partnerships, More... Natural Capital, Partnerships, Policy, Policy & Regulations, Resource Efficiency, Socially Responsible Investing, Water, Water Efficiency & Conservation, Water Use
    In water we trust: How Quito's water trust funds succeed

    This article first appeared at Ensia.

    Below the snow-capped mountains of Ecuador and Colombia lie the páramos, high-altitude grasslands of the northern Andes threaded by frigid rivers and covered in rugged brush, cloud forests and lagoons. This landscape captures and stores a vast amount of water upon which downstream residents depend, from smallholder farmers to city dwellers.

    Today, expanding agriculture and demand for water from growing cities are putting increasing pressure on such mountain watersheds. What can be done to ensure they will be able to continue to meet the needs of future generations? One intriguing solution is the establishment of trust funds that pay dividends for conservation projects to protect ecosystems and the valuable water they harbor. Such funds already have been used to fend off threats to watersheds in more than a dozen locations across Latin America and are being explored in Asia and Africa.

    The Quito Experiment

    The first experiment with water trust funds was set up in Ecuador in the early 1990s. The Nature Conservancy had charged its director of Latin American operations, Juan Black, with finding a way to protect the Condor Bioreserve, which sits east of the capital city of Quito and provides the city with 80 percent of its water. The problem: The páramo inside and directly abutting the bioreserve was being degraded as farmers slowly were expanding their grazing lands. Black knew that Quito needed to protect the ecosystem and guarantee the continued safety of its Condor Bioreserve watershed. He also knew that Quito’s water company EPMAPS (at that time it was named EMAAP-Q) and other businesses were being directly affected by upstream activities. Working out of a small office at 9,300 feet in Quito, Black decided to take an economic approach to safeguard the region.

    At the time, conservation organizations were setting up programs devised by ecological economists called payments for ecosystem services, or PES. A buyer — likely the end user of the water — would contract with those living in fragile catchment areas upstream to reduce (or at least not increase) their impact on the watershed. It seemed simple; after all, the infrastructure for water delivery and payment already was in place. But past experience in Latin America had shown that paying farmers not to farm could spark blackmail, corruption in local municipal governments and other unintended and undesirable consequences. As Craig Kauffman, a political scientist at the University of Oregon who has studied Ecuador’s water funds and environmental governance, notes, “Basically, you’re paying farmers not to deforest but rather conserve an area that is strategic to the watershed functioning, but these incentive structures can become perverse.”

    After Black died of cancer in 1996, TNC hired Colombian environmental resources manager Marta Echavarría to hammer out a plan. Looking at watershed conservation financing schemes around the world, Echavarría figured Quito’s system would have to be independent of the PES approach to avoid the undesirable consequences of payment for environmental services and guarantee there would always be funds for conservation projects — whatever form they took. She and her colleagues came up with the idea to set up a trust fund and get local stakeholders to contribute to it. Once the fund sufficiently was capitalized, the interest it earned could be used to finance any conservation effort its water management committee deemed appropriate.

    So in 2000, with seed money from TNC and a large donation from Quito’s water company, the FONAG Fund for the Conservation of Water was created. Quito’s electrical company signed up, as did private companies such as a local brewery, Cervercería Nacional, and a water bottling company, Tesalia Springs. Aurelio Ramos, TNC’s director of conservation programs for Latin America, said the FONAG water fund is now up to $12 to $14 million. Even with a moderate interest rate, it is paying out tens of thousands of dollars per year to fund conservation and rehabilitation projects such as fencing off livestock from streams or allowing natural vegetation to grow back, as well as education initiatives to teach locals outside Quito about watersheds and water management.

    “That money is also paying for park rangers, the gasoline for their vehicles, and to work with the communities to introduce agroforestry and páramo restoration efforts,” said Ramos.

    Finding the balance

    TNC and other organizations such as Nature and Culture International have tried to replicate the success of Quito’s water fund in other Latin American cities with varying degrees of success. One major hurdle is attracting and holding the interest of stakeholders. Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, has a water fund financed by Bavaria brewery and the Colombian national parks agency Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia that stands at around $1 million. But the city’s water utility, arguably the most important stakeholder, has flip-flopped time and again about being a partner.

    “Everything was going well until there were problems with a change in Bogotá’s city government,” said Alejandro Calvache, TNC’s water funds coordinator for Colombia. “The fund was working the whole time, but it didn’t have the impact we wanted it to have.” Fund managers recently have begun funding some conservation projects such as reforestation campaigns around Bogota’s reservoirs — which means pulling money out of a fund that’s supposed to be growing as fast as possible.

    “Almost every one of the water funds makes investments immediately to show investors results. It’s a strategic move and a lesson we learned from the Quito water fund,” explained Ramos. That fund drew heavy criticism from politicians for choosing to finance the fund for five years before paying anything out for conservation projects. Ramos points to funds such as Colombia’s Valle del Cauca and Mexico’s Monterrey as examples where conservation projects were started immediately upon starting the trust fund.

    This is one of the delicate maneuvers with starting and managing a water fund — choosing how much funds to invest versus how much to pay out for conservation, rehabilitation and education projects.

    “You could capitalize these things a lot faster if you take 100 percent of donations and invest it into the fund,” said Kauffman. “But that’s politically unpopular. Having dirt fly on the ground immediately in the short term is key to the success of these programs.”

    Kauffman said that various trust funds have tried various ways to balance investment and spending. The sweet spot seems to be putting 60 percent away and using 40 percent on projects. In fact, that’s precisely the balance Bogotá’s fund has struck.

    Water for the future

    With 14 water trust funds in place and plans for another 14, TNC is counting on water funds to provide the financial backbone for protecting watersheds throughout Latin America. (It has set up three in Brazil but due to local laws, they do not function as endowed trust funds).

    Echavarría notes that a big advantage to such funds is that they are long term. “The law in Ecuador permits ours to operate for 80 years. In Peru it’s 35 years and 25 years in Colombia,” she said. That means water funds are immune from political cycles, said Ramos.

    But the challenge of attracting and satisfying stakeholders speaks to what water funds do not do. They do not address political frameworks, nor do they have any regulatory power. And, depending on the buy-in of water utilities, they do not necessarily pass the costs to the consumer. This makes it difficult to conserve the resource, because consumers aren’t made aware of its value.

    Others criticize water trust funds as a “businessification” of water. “The environment shouldn’t be turned into a business chain,” said Jaime Ignacio Vélez Upegui, a professor in the Water Institute at Medellin’s National University in Colombia. “Water funds are too speculative. Despite investing in water, they do not directly result in water.” Veléz Upegui argues that water trust funds take advantage of the public’s environmental sensibilities to build a system for business. He said this may lead to stakeholders feeling cheated and refusing to participate in future activities to protect the environment.

    Echavarría agrees that water trust funds aren’t the only way to mitigate watershed degradation. With the environmental firm EcoDecisión she directs, water funds are just one tool in a set of tactics (such as setting up carbon markets) she uses to protect the environment in Ecuador. “Each situation depends on the stakeholders and the needs of the basin,” she said.

    Whatever the approach chosen, Echavarría underscores the importance of doing something to protect water supplies for future generations.

    “In the end, protecting water is protecting nature as a whole,” she said. “If we don’t invest in its rehabilitation and conservation, it will stop being the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

    Top image of Ecuadorian watershed by sara y tzunky via Compfight.


    Syndicate content