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Should we "green up" dirty energy technologies?

Published August 25, 2014
Should we "green up" dirty energy technologies?

The world of environmentalism is complex, to say the least, for both companies and their stakeholders. Despite the propensity of pundits, activists, investors and others to identify “good” and “bad” products and companies, it’s never that easy. “Bad” companies can be “good” in many ways, and “good” companies can do “bad” things. That flies in the face of those who want to boil things down to a few well-honed sound bites and certifications.

In that light, how does one think about recent efforts to improve the efficiency and reduce the impacts of “bad” energy technologies and techniques such as tar sands oil, natural gas fracking, “clean coal” and nuclear energy? All four are almost uniformly reviled by environmental activists. And yet none of these energy technologies, and the massive, multi-billion-dollar industries that have grown around them, is likely to disappear anytime soon.

Given that, what is our responsibility to minimize their impacts? Or should we hold the line, insisting that these technologies simply shouldn’t exist?

I’ve been pondering that lately as I’ve seen announcements from both companies and environmental groups seeking to make the best of what we’ve got while we continue to ramp up the next generation of cleaner energy technologies. They are well-meaning efforts to reduce the energy, water and other resources needed to produce fuels and electricity for the planet’s needs, and to minimize the pollution these technologies cause.

Are they the right things to do? Warning: If you’re looking for pat answers to that question, stop reading now. At best, I’ll only begin to illuminate the nature of the challenge.

First up is GE, whose ecomagination marketing strategy is now in its 10th year. Earlier this summer, it launched an open innovation challenge aimed at improving the energy efficiency, decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions and reducing overall the environmental footprint of tar sands oil (the company refers to it as “oil sands production”).

Extracting, refining and burning tar sands oil has been criticized for the potential to unleash gobs of greenhouse gases. The oil, contained in a mélange of sand, clay and water along the Canadian Prairies, is saturated with bitumen (sometimes called “tar” due to its appearance and odor), an extremely viscous form of oil. Extracting it requires burning natural gas to generate enough heat and steam to melt the oil out of the sand. That, combined with burning the actual oil, generates a lot of greenhouse gases. NASA scientist James Hansen, writing in the New York Times in 2012, said that if Canada is allowed to extract its tar sands oil, “it will be game over for the climate.”

Still, tar sands extraction could be less destructive. In announcing its recent innovation challenge, GE said it was “calling for the best global minds, within and outside the industry, to help develop solutions that can be scaled and commercialized within the industry.” There are two challenges, with an award of up to CAD$1 million in seed funding to develop and commercialize the proposed solutions. Winners will also be eligible to become a supplier or contractor to GE on future projects.

The technologies won’t reduce the impacts of refining or burning the tar sands oil, only of getting it out of the ground. “The approach we’ve taken is to look at technologies that will help [drillers] improve the efficiency of some of their operations by reducing the amount of natural gas that they are consuming to generate steam,” according to Brian Gregg, Manager, Global Research, Canada, at GE.

“The industry’s still rapidly growing and it’s been making good strides in reducing their GHG footprint over time, and we want to accelerate that,” he explained. “By targeting a couple of the really high-interest areas where natural gas is consumed, we think that’s how we’re going to have an impact.”

Some, like consultant and author Andrew Winston, have looked askance at GE’s efforts. “By stretching ecomagination into areas that many people clearly don’t consider very green, GE may be risking a valuable business and brand asset,” he wrote recently on the Harvard Business Review website.

I asked Deb Frodl, who heads ecomagination, whether the tar-sands initiative was, as Winston put it, a stretch. “This is not a departure at all," she said. "It’s always been about solving the world’s toughest environmental challenges.”

The tar-sands project is part of a natural evolution for GE. Since ecomagination’s high-profile launch in 2005, the company has certified a wide range of technologies under that moniker. It began with wind turbines and high-efficiency locomotive engines, things that comfortably fit with most environmentalists’ idea of clean technology. By 2009, when the company gave ecomagination certification to an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor nuclear technology and, later to clean-coal and fracking technologies, environmentalists’ collective eyebrows shot up. Even the Wall Street Journal noted in 2009 that, “The products GE has certified as part of the ‘ecomagination’ group include plenty of things that at first blush don’t sound very green, and the definition gets broader every year.”

But that’s almost beside the point. Ecomagination has long been a marketing vehicle for the company’s more efficient technologies. GE describes ecomagination as its “commitment to build innovative solutions for today's environmental challenges while driving economic growth.” GE products are certified by the company if they “significantly and measurably improve customers’ operating performance or value proposition and environmental performance or services that substantially enable such improvements.” In that light, a more efficient tar-sands technology fits.

Next up is the Environmental Defense Fund, which last week named five finalists in its Methane Detectors Challenge, an effort to bring to market “cutting-edge, new methane monitors that can help the oil and gas industry better detect, and ultimately reduce, methane emissions” in hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. That’s the controversial process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth.

Fracking involves drilling into deep-seated layers of rock beneath the earth, then injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock, allowing the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels.

Environmentalists have linked fracking to a number of environmental problems, including contamination of the local water tables. Another significant problem is that gas wells leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a long-term effect on global warming greater even than that of carbon dioxide.

EDF’s challenge is aimed at “surfacing, testing and then getting to scale the most promising approaches for low-cost, continuous detection of methane emissions in the oil and gas industry with a focus on well pads and associated equipment and compressors,” Ben Ratner, the group’s Corporate Partnerships Manager, told me. Through the challenge, he said, “We found some companies who are willing to help send a demand signal to the innovator community that there can be a market for more cost-effective.”

All Hail the Market?

So, how should environmental-minded souls think about the efforts of GE and EDF to “green up” dirty technologies? Should we beat them up or cheer them on?

It's a nontrivial questions with complex answers. It involves weighing the realities of climate change and unchecked greenhouse gas emissions with the need to provide the electricity and fuels demanded by a growing global economy. It means assessing how quickly cleaner technologies — efficiency, renewables, storage and others — can be brought to market; the government policies that provide incentives and disincentives to various energy technologies; the signals from the marketplace — business, institutional and consumer markets for vehicle fuels, electricity, natural gas and other things — that can shift demand.

And what of the immediate alternative — doing nothing to address the environmental impacts of fracking and tar sands? Does working to lessen those impacts somehow legitimize them? (And given that these are multi-billion-dollar industries, aren’t they already pretty legitimate?)

Should we let the market decide? As Winston aptly notes, “If through taxation or regulation, the world makes carbon-based energy more expensive, the economics of carbon-heavy energy sources get much worse.” And the growing conversation about “stranded assets” — what happens to shareholder value when market forces and climate regulation make some portion of a company’s carbon reserves (such as unmined coal and oil) unburnable — could play a major role in determining these technolgies' fates … some day.

For now, market forces are creating a seemingly insatiable demand for energy and fuels, and alternatives like renewable power and biofuels are only just beginning to garner market share. While it's easy to criticize GE or EDF for seemingly aiding and abetting climate-intensive technologies, it isn't as easy to tell them not to do it.

As I said, I don’t offer solutions, only questions. These are challenging and important conversations about our energy, economic and climate future — ones from which companies and their critics shouldn’t shrink.

Image by kimberrywood

Also in The Two Steps Forward Blog:

How business can keep clean water flowing

Published August 25, 2014
How business can keep clean water flowing

Toledo, Ohio, made international news earlier this month when local authorities advised the roughly 400,000 residents — including my in-laws — that their water was too contaminated to use: no bathing, no drinking, no laundry, no cooking. Boiling the water wasn't even an option because the water's toxicity only increased with temperature.

The news coverage has sparked a promising dialogue about the need to improve water quality. Conversations have been ranging from tightening Clean Water Act standards to quantifying the cost of improving our nation’s infrastructure.

These conversations are needed and necessary. As The Nature Conservancy has pointed out, we spend billions around the world in order to clean water but do little to prevent it from getting polluted in the first place.

The cause of the water-quality crisis in Toledo — and in many other communities around the world — is the growth of large algal blooms “fed” by fertilizer runoff from industrial, agricultural and residential wastes, sewer overflows and leaking septic systems. Rain carries the nutrients from their source to our lakes, beaches and eventually our taps. Development along waterfronts and the flat lake plain further has exacerbated this problem by stripping our floodplains’ capacity to absorb, filter and mitigate runoff. With climate-change research predicting bigger and more frequent rainstorms across the Midwest and northeast United States, this problem will get worse if left unchecked.

Frankly, we can’t afford to let that happen: algae blooms such as Toledo's cost the United States an estimated $2.2 billion annually. Millions of dollars of lost revenue vanished from the Toledo economy in just a few days, as the water shutdown closed all food establishments and lakefront recreational areas. The New York Times estimated that a similar bloom in 2011 crippled the Lake Erie tourism industry, which contributes $10 billion annually to the Ohio economy. More broadly, the Great Lakes provide the backbone of a $3.7-trillion regional economy as well as drinking water for 40 million people.

How do we go about changing the focus of our conversation from problem to solution? How do we procure cleaner water from our agricultural and urban watersheds for drinking, swimming and fishing? What role does private capital and business play in securing clean water?

Agricultural watersheds

Toledo’s water quality, like that of many other cities adjacent to farmland, directly is affected by agricultural practices. In order for city residents to co-exist with the farmland upstream, we need a proactive approach to land management that deploys conservation practices at the right place and scale. Luckily, farmers are some of the world’s best land managers. Their ability to adopt new technology can work to our advantage as we work with them to manage agricultural watersheds for clean water, or, if you will, to “grow clean water.”

The Nature Conservancy protects water quality in three major ways. One, driving adoption of in-field practices that improve nutrient stewardship and soil health such as nutrient management, conservation tillage and cover crops. Two, investing in improved water management (public ditches and farm field sub-surface tile drainage systems) to improve water flow for farm production and reduce nutrient runoff. Three, restoring floodplains and wetlands, and stabilizing stream banks to slow water movement and reduce nutrients and sediment in the water — also known as natural infrastructure.

We are working with leaders across industry, government and academia to encourage farmers and fertilizer vendors to adopt proven best practices in the Lake Erie watershed. The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program provides a consistent, recognized standard for the entire agricultural community in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Third-party audits ensure compliance.

TNC also has developed an outcome-based conservation information system that soon could move into the agricultural supply chain, allowing farmers to inform their management options. They can do this through downloading satellite photographs of their fields and mapping their management practices. The management system will tell them the environmental impact of their practices, and suggest alternatives for better conservation outcomes at comparable or improved crop yields.

This information then can be used across the supply chain — upstream to the fertilizer suppliers and certified crop advisors, and downstream to the food and beverage manufacturers and retailers who are increasingly concerned about sustainability-conscious consumer demand.

Agriculture is changing fast. Traditional conservation through government agencies and conservation districts, even with heroic efforts, are constrained by reduced funding, fewer staff and an increasingly influential private-sector marketing force. With the help of precision agriculture data and targeting practices for maximum effectiveness, agribusinesses better can manage for clean water, and governments can make smarter policy. By aligning consumer demand, corporate sustainability claims and conservation, we can achieve the scale necessary to drive real, lasting change.

Urban watersheds

The Nature Conservancy is also working on practical applications of natural infrastructure in the urban context. Its NatureVest program, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council and EKO Asset Management, has formed the Natural Infrastructure Financing Laboratory (or NatLab). NatLab assists municipalities in solving problems of runoff through investments in natural infrastructure — in this case, natural sources of water retention and filtration such as green roofs, rain gardens or wetlands.

The vision of our collaboration is to empower cities to solve challenges of water pollution, drinking-water protection, air quality and climate resilience by drawing on a toolkit of natural infrastructure solutions and financing mechanisms that can drive those solutions at the lowest possible public cost.

Just as is true in agriculture, a growing body of evidence suggests that natural infrastructure solutions in the urban context can be less expensive than traditional infrastructure — and can provide a host of economic, social and environmental co-benefits, including economic revitalization and green job creation.

Both Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia (PDF) have created policy environments that encourage private investment in natural infrastructure. By using market-based mechanisms such as stormwater credit trading and reverse auctions to find the cheapest natural infrastructure sites, they demonstrate the feasibility of more financially or environmentally sustainable solutions than another wastewater treatment plant project worth hundreds of millions of dollars. By incentivizing natural infrastructure on private property, they properly have spread the risk (and opportunity) to the private sector.

Our nation’s water infrastructure is in dire need of an overhaul, yet its scale outstrips the capacity of the public sector to address and finance it. As the Toledo event revealed, many bear the costs of polluted waters — from hospitals to restaurants — who have little control or influence over the source of it. To solve this problem we’ll need an open conversation with a diverse group of committed participants.

For now, we can look to cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., or to the power of consumer choice, to illustrate how a substantial portion of the billions of private investment in traditional infrastructure productively and profitably can be diverted toward investment in natural infrastructure.

TNC is not alone in advocating for this approach. The work of some of our peers in this space, including the World Resources Institute, also is breaking new ground.

Our job at TNC is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends — and there is no more immediate threat to our health and wellbeing than the quality and security of the water for people and nature. For the future of my family in Toledo and all families subjected to poor water quality, we can and must find creative solutions to this ever-growing problem.

Top image by David Hawgood.

In energy, which comes first: products or behavior change?

Published August 25, 2014
In energy, which comes first: products or behavior change?

Earlier this month, I attended the Association of Energy Services Professionals Summer Conference, where it seemed nearly every session got into behavior change.

1. How do we encourage more of it — and how do we encourage it beyond an initial uptake with a big backslide?

2. How can utilities count and claim the savings generated from behavior change?

3. What's next — what are the new ideas/platforms that will solve points 1 and 2?

Energy efficiency for consumers

For those of you not in the middle of the Utility Energy Efficiency game, here's how it works at a very generalized, broad level (it's a little different in every state).

Roughly 30 states have mandated that the utilities in their state must offer energy efficiency programs to help customers reduce their energy consumption by some specific percentage. If they fail to meet the mandates, utilities often face big fines or the loss of big financial bonuses.

Utilities typically offer a suite of rebates for efficient products, such as lighting, water heaters and HVAC systems.

They ascribe kilowatt hour savings to each rebate redeemed and then use the total number of rebates redeemed times the kWh savings ascribed to equal the total savings they report back to the state and claim credit for toward their goals.

The sticky wicket long has been behavior. How do you count the savings impact of behavior changes (changing thermostat settings, unplugging things, turning off lights)? Various programs have been introduced to roll out specific behavior change marketing efforts to a select group of customers, and their savings are compared to a similar control group who didn't receive the marketing materials. If the group who got the marketing materials used less energy, poof! You have savings the utility can claim.

Finding the real question

Here's the challenge. There's now evidence demonstrating that, much like dieters who put back on the weight they lose, we're great at changing our behaviors — for a little while. Then we hit the limits of our self-control and backslide into old behaviors.

So the real question the utility industry is asking is, "How do we create a culture of energy efficiency where being energy efficient is The Way We Do Things Around Here?"

To that end, I cannot encourage utilities enough to stop thinking of product rebates and behavior change programs as two totally separate silos. Our Utility Pulse and Energy Pulse studies have documented Americans' likelihood to buy efficient products and then use those purchases as "moral license" to behave badly ("They're energy-efficient light bulbs, so I can leave them on all the time, right?"). We've been pushing products without pushing how to operate the new products in the best way to see the savings benefits. And then we market behavior change — turn off the lights, unplug stuff — as if it's a totally separate effort when, in fact, they're all intertwined in most people's minds.

What the utility industry — and the entire energy efficiency industry — needs to do is create wholesale change, including both major shifts in mindset and energy usage behavior. Rebate programs and behavioral programs can accomplish this, but only with integrated program designs and marketing efforts.

I floated this notion during the Q&A section at one of the AESP sessions and got looks from the panelists as if they thought I was from Mars — so please, jump in and challenge me. I'd love to hear from you!

Top image by Tshooter via Shutterstock. This article first appeared at Shelton Insights.

Also in The Speaking Sustainably Blog:

ConAgra joins movement for deforestation-free palm oil

Published August 25, 2014
ConAgra joins movement for deforestation-free palm oil

The destructive effects of global deforestation have been well-documented. The leveling of rainforest in order to build plantations for the production of palm oil — the world's most widely used vegetable oil, found in thousands of the most commonly used consumer products — threatens the way of life of indigenous communities and the very existence of many of the most endangered species as well.

Deforestation is also a significant contributor to climate change. “Tropical forests play a crucial role in stabilizing the earth's climate, storing vastly more carbon dioxide than forests in the world's temperate regions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists: “A 2011 study estimated total carbon stored by the earth's tropical forests at 271 billion tons — that's about seven times the total carbon emissions from fossil fuel use in the year 2008.”

Currently, about 11 percent of global greenhouse gases are emitted through deforestation and other land use. The dire state of the world's rainforests may be most pronounced in Indonesia, which “ranks third in total global greenhouse emissions — behind China and the United States — due to the uncontrolled clearing and burning of its rainforests and peatlands,” according to the Rainforest Action Network.

The high price of convenience food

The failure of large corporations in the packaged food, personal products and fast food industry sectors was documented by UCS earlier this year. Its Palm Oil Scorecard awarded only five of 30 corporations with a positive score. Not one of the 10 leading fast food companies received a positive score.

But the Scorecard was published before this year's proxy season got underway. Last week, Ceres reported that “20 major international corporations have committed to set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sustainably source palm oil.”

The most recent corporation to join the growing movement toward deforestation-free palm oil sourcing is ConAgra, whose brands, the company stated, can be found in 99 percent of American households. Engagement following a shareowner resolution filed by Green Century Capital Management and the New York State Common Retirement Fund resulted in the company agreeing to eliminate from its supply chain any palm oil supplier engaged in deforestation.

“The rampant deforestation for palm oil has captured public attention, creating real reputational risks for companies that use the ingredient in their branded products,” Lucia von Reusner, Shareholder Advocate at Green Century, said. “With this commitment, ConAgra has sent a strong signal to its investors, suppliers and the market at large that destroying tropical forests for palm oil is unacceptable business practice.”

Cargill ups its commitment to better palm oil

Shortly before the investors' engagement with ConAgra ended successfully, Greenpeace International announced that Cargill — the largest importer of palm oil into the U.S. — announced its commitment “to break the link between its palm oil and deforestation, peat destruction and social exploitation.”

Credit: David Gilbert/ Rainforest Action Network via Flickr“Cargill's policy, which is effective immediately, comes on the heels of the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto announcement last week,” Greenpeace reported. “But while a number of the big palm oil producers that are part of SPOM held off on real actions, Cargill's policy is explicit in its pledge to implement the existing High Carbon Stock Approach (PDF). This is a critical step to ensure that Cargill's supply chain will break its links to deforestation, as it adds carbon stocks as one of the criteria that must be considered when planning the use of the land.”

Noting that Cargill's agreement “lacks clearer targets for compliance, along with plans for independent verification,” Greenpeace stated that it would continue to monitor the company's progress.

Top image of Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix by m01229 via Flickr. This article first appeared at Social Funds.

The Future MBA, week 7: Monitor student mood and campus food

By Giselle Weybrecht
Published August 22, 2014
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Tags: Business Models, Business Operations, More... Business Models, Business Operations, Career Tools, Food & Agriculture, Leaders, Organizational Change, Retail, Small Business, Social Responsibility, The Business Case
The Future MBA, week 7: Monitor student mood and campus food

For 100 days I am posting 100 ways that we could rethink and reimagine the MBA, to transform it into a tool for creating the sustainable leaders that our organizations and the planet need.

I’ll explore all aspects of the MBA, ranging from curriculum and research to partnerships and campus activities. Some ideas could be put into practice tomorrow while others would require a complete rethinking of the way we view the MBA.

This brainstorming of ideas is meant to encourage discussion, so please share your thoughts and comments and elaborate on the ideas you find the most interesting.

Day 43: Questioning Assumptions

The business world is full of assumptions about the way that we do things, that the way we always have done something is the best way to do it. But what if it weren’t, and what if a new way would not only be better for business but for the planet and society as well?

The Future MBA would have a class called Questioning Assumptions. This class would identify and explore a series of widely held assumptions in the world of business, both small ones we make on a day-to-day basis as well as large industry-held assumptions that guide product development or the way business is run. During this class, students will explore these assumptions in order to better understand where they come from and then proceed to take them apart and provide alternative viewpoints that could be used to build up new, more effective models.

Day 44: Retired MBA

At about age 60, many individuals retire. These individuals are extremely knowledgeable, have an incredible skill set, a lot of experience as well as a calmness and maturity that often comes from having seen a lot of things and knowing which battles to fight and what is really important. But once they retire, more often than not that knowledge and those skills are lost. We do not put enough value on the more experienced members of our society even though they really are a key to moving sustainability forward today.

The Future MBA would include a short program specifically aimed at individuals who are thinking of retirement, or already have retired. Students would have access to a set of courses specifically focused on the questions and concerns that this group of students has, but they also would have access to everything else happening on campus, campus events, clubs and electives. In this way, in addition to preparing themselves for this new phase of their life, they also would be actively contributing to the education and knowledge sharing happening on campus with the other students, faculty, staff and community.

Note: I’ve been talking about this MBA since before my father retired many years ago. Anyone can take this idea as long as they offer him a full scholarship.

Day 45: In the mood for learning

Most students already carry some sort of smart technology around with them on campus. In the future, these phones or other smart devices will collect constant information about these individuals' moods, whether they are stressed or relaxed, overwhelmed or engaged. Other students and teachers will have access to this information and will be able to gauge the state of their team members or the student body as a whole and adapt messages, support and experiences accordingly. Faculty in the classroom would be able to adapt their lessons and messages based on real-time feedback about the level of engagement or interest from a particular class. Educational content itself could become reactive to the students' moods or states of mind and automatically could change or adapt.

Day 46: Flagship store

More businesses are opening flagship stores where they invite the public to be part of their brand and to interact with it. Business schools, on the other hand, are often locked buildings only accessible to students, staff and future business leaders. How do we facilitate interaction between the business school and the community?

In the future, business schools will have a storefront on campus or elsewhere in the city, and even in other cities around the world, where the school can interact with the community. This center, staffed by students, staff, faculty, researchers, alumni and even business partners, would be a space for the public, local businesses, community groups and individuals to interact with the school and vice versa.

The "store" could have a variety of elements including interactive information on programs the school offers. It would have presentation of past, current and future research topics, in a format and language easily accessible to the general public. An area similar to the well-known “genius bar” at Apple stores would be a space to sign up for one-on-one sessions with experts to discuss topics of their choosing (see Day 41). Advisory services on sustainability topics would be available. Even admission interviews could be given in these spaces.

Day 47: Making sure everyone is fed — well

There are a lot of ways that universities are bringing more sustainable and more local food onto campus. Farmers markets are increasingly popular, as are fair trade and organic offerings. In an earlier idea (Day 33) I presented having a campus harvest. But how could you take it a step further to ensure that students and staff have healthy, good quality and sustainable food on campus while still supporting the local business community?

In the Future MBA, food on campus would be provided by a series of short-term pop-up caterers or businesses. These businesses would provide everything from coffee to catering for meetings to lunch service for a short duration. These could be established businesses or chefs and individuals just starting new food-based businesses. The focus would be on local and sustainable cuisine. Groups selected would have a chance to test new ideas as well as get feedback from the student body. In return, the student body gets access to high-quality, diverse and constantly changing sustainable food offerings.

Day 48: An MBA tax

On Day 34 I introduced the idea of making business school more accessible by lowering the cost. The thinking behind this was that if the MBA of the future is not just training more sustainable and responsible leaders, but that these leaders through their time at school are having a positive impact on the business sector as a whole through their activities, then if you add to that research and other contributions of business education, business schools play a crucial role in a sustainable future for us all. If this is the case, perhaps society, or more specifically the business sector, should cover some if not all costs of this education?

The Future MBA program fees could be paid for using money collected through a range of taxes collected from companies aimed at strengthening the sustainability environment moving forward for companies as well as through charges given to companies who have not complied with sustainability laws and regulations.

Day 49: The bigger picture

The number of concepts and tools that schools need to teach business students within a one- or two-year program is increasing. Program officers and faculty work to try to fit it all in, but is all of it really needed? How do we ensure that what students are taught is useful and relevant, but also encourages them to think about business in different ways instead of just teaching new generations to do things the same way they always have been done? How do we teach them to look at the bigger picture?

The Future MBA will have a space both online and offline to question the concepts brought up in different courses, in particular core courses. These could be theories, frameworks, rules or established practices taught to MBAs year after year without any thought as to whether they are still useful, relevant or even right.

Students would have the opportunity during their programs and after they graduate to comment on specific tools and their validity and usefulness. Inputs by students could be in the form of comments, a score out of 10 or a general feel of usefulness indicator which may change over time. The platform then would provide a measure of the general mood around a particular tool — if it is fundamental, if it was inspiring for students but not so useful after, etc. The platform would encourage students to question these concepts and comment on whether they helped clarify their thinking or complicated it further.

This information would allow lecturers and program offices to be able to refine what is being taught in the classroom to ensure that time is allocated to those skills that students want now and need later at all stages of their careers. The platform also could provide a fascinating insight into widely held management beliefs and whether they are as useful and relevant as they are widespread. It also will enable students and faculty to see trends around the new kinds of skills and knowledge that students increasingly need and tailor programs to include these.

Top illustration by Ellen Beijers via Shutterstock.

Also in The Future MBA: 100 ways in 100 days Blog:


Don't even think about it: Why we are wired to ignore climate change

By George Marshall
Published August 22, 2014
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Tags: Climate, Consumer Trends, More... Climate, Consumer Trends, Energy & Climate
Don't even think about it: Why we are wired to ignore climate change

Some Personal and Highly Biased Ideas for Digging Our Way Out of This Hole

Climate change is a scientific fact. Scientists have become so bruised by their political battles that they have come to use much weaker language, declaring that climate change is "very likely" or "unequivocal." Let's just call it a fact, because that is what it is. There is plenty of uncertainty around how the climate is responding to these enormous changes, but being uncertain is not the same as being unsure.

Scientists are remarkably sure that climate change is bringing major impacts — they simply cannot with absolute certainty disentangle the web of cause and effect. The word certain is one of those many false friends of words that scientists use in a particular and unusual meaning. In regard to climate change, we are frequently divided by our common language.

Our psychological obstacles are also a scientific fact. The large body of rigorous research-based evidence suggests that climate change struggles to overcome numerous biases against threats that appear to be distant in time and place. We need to make these explicit and recognize that many may be subconscious.

To create proximity we need to EMPHASIZE THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS HAPPENING HERE AND NOW. In particular, we should BE WARY OF CREATING DISTANCE by framing climate change as a future threat for people far away and, especially, as a threat for nonhumans, however cute they might be.

Our sense of loss looks backward rather than forward, and research suggests that people are more motivated to restore lost environmental quality than improve current environmental quality. There is therefore a potential to express climate change as an opportunity to RESTORE PAST LOSS, whether it is social (lost community, values, purpose) or environmental (lost ecosystems, species, or beauty). The rapidly growing movement for the rewilding of degraded landscapes is an interesting response to the uncertainties of future loss.

Cover of Don't Even Think About it: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate ChangeWe are very well adapted to respond to immediate threats but slow to accommodate moving change. Climate change is a process, not an event, so it requires that we RECOGNIZE MOMENTS OF PROXIMITY that can demand attention. These may be moments of political decision making, collective action, or generated conflict. In my view, the Keystone XL pipeline is a legitimate attempt to create a historic moment. Those critics who argue that the pipeline will only ever be a small part of overall U.S. emissions are missing the point. Their complaint is like saying that the locations of seats at the lunch counter of the Greensboro Woolworth's or on the Montgomery buses were trifling examples of racial segregation.

Sometimes the act of CREATING THE SYMBOLIC MOMENT is far more important than its overall relevance.

Extreme weather events create a moment of proximity and heightened awareness, but also of the increased in-group loyalty and anxiety that can readily exclude consideration of climate change. Even when confronted with direct evidence of climate extremes, the main influence on people's attitudes will still be the views of the people they know and trust.

The interference of outsiders will very likely be counterproductive in such situations, and the best option for building conviction lies with providing the information for trusted local communicators to OPEN UP A CONVERSATION ABOUT LONG-TERM PREPAREDNESS.

Preparedness and adaptation are routes for people to accept that climate change is real and already under way — and, as I have shown, it is possible to build a discussion around these topics even when it is politically taboo to talk about the wider issues. However, these approaches will always be specific to each context.

Whatever the findings of psychology experiments with their WEIRD experimental subjects, we need to remember that not everyone wants to protect the status quo, especially if they are already struggling against economic and social injustice. So we need a NARRATIVE OF POSITIVE CHANGE, in which our adaptation to climate change does not just protect what is already here but also creates a more just and equitable world.

Climate change is a narrative, shaped through social negotiations and transmitted between peers. People form their response to the narratives, not the science, and so it always needs to FOLLOW NARRATIVE RULES, WITH RECOGNIZEABLE ACTORS, MOTIVES, CAUSES, AND EFFECTS. People will be inclined to follow the most compelling narrative, so be careful: DON'T LET THE NARRATIVE TAKE OVER the way we think or talk about it.

We interpret climate change through frames, which focus our attention but limit our understanding — they allow us to exclude or ignore meanings that lie outside the frame. Most of the factors that enable us to ignore climate change derive from attempts to limit its meaning; that it is an environmental issue, a threat or an opportunity (but not both), a wellhead problem or a tailpipe problem (but not both). So, RESIST SIMPLE FRAMINGS and BE OPEN TO NEW MEANINGS.

Because climate change is a wicked problem, it can easily become defined entirely by its own framings and the solutions we propose, and policy makers can easily become locked into the simple one-off solutions that solve tamer problems. We all need to ENSURE THAT A WIDE RANGE OF SOLUTIONS IS CONSTANTLY UNDER REVIEW — a process that planners call iterative risk management.

Frames define battlegrounds, and so limited frames can lead to false debates. Arguments that renewable energy brings greater energy security encourage the expansion of domestic fossil fuels. Arguments that the low-carbon economy will bring jobs become vulnerable to evidence that the high-carbon economy might bring more jobs. As the cognitive linguist George Lakoff says, NEVER ACCEPT YOUR OPPONENT'S FRAMES — "don't negate them, or repeat them, or structure your arguments to counter them."

The presence of enemies with the intention to do harm engages our moral brain and energizes our outrage. However, climate change lacks clear enemies: We all contribute to this problem and all stand to suffer its impacts. This is an incomplete and uncompelling narrative, and activists on all sides seek enemies that can fill these missing roles of good against evil, David against Goliath, might against right.

We need major change, and change requires social movements. Some argue that movements need enemies, and this may well be true for generating rapid change. However, there is also a price to pay. This is an in-group, out-group game, so BE CAREFUL THAT ENEMY NARRATIVES DO NOT FUEL DIVISION or agitate deep-rooted and distracting animosities at a time when we need to be finding common purpose. My view is that campaign narratives could experiment more with alternative narrative traditions, for example CREATE A HEROIC QUEST in which the enemy may be our internal weaknesses rather than an outside group.

Overall, we need to BUILD A NARRATIVE OF COOPERATION that can bring people together around a common cause. This should STRESS COOPERATION NOT UNITY — we do not have to become the same people, and conservatives in particular require well-defined differences rather than a merger. ACCEPT THE SPECTRUM OF APPROACHES with radical protesters, lobbyists, policy makers, and multiple different sectors, all pushing in the same direction if not with the same detailed objectives.

In the way that we tell the climate change story, we need to BE HONEST ABOUT THE DANGER — but remember that this will only motivate people if they hear it from trusted communicators and can see opportunities for action and change. ENCOURAGE POSITIVE VISIONS, but remember that these may carry social cues that may repel others. The bright side technocratic future vision, for example, is elitist and materialistic, and alienates those who already feel disenfranchised.

Credit: fotoaloja via ShutterstockWhen people say that climate change requires a values change, they invariably mean that other people need to change to their values. In fact we all hold the right values, and humans have an extraordinary capacity to empathize and care about the welfare of others. The problem is that we have not all engaged the right values with this issue. The challenge is how to best ACTIVATE COOPERATIVE VALUES RATHER THAN COMPETITIVE VALUES. STRESS WHAT WE HAVE IN COMMON: a better life for our children, health, security, thriving communities.

By contrast, attempts to motivate people though appeals to personal self-interest are unlikely to be successful. Contrary to the assumptions of conventional communications, extensive research confirms that people are poorly motivated by money. Money is important, but it is a proxy for other ends: security, caring for your family, and social identity, which could be addressed in other ways. It is far more effective to RELATE SOLUTIONS TO CLIMATE CHANGE TO THE SOURCES OF HAPPINESS, and the connections we feel with our friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

People are best motivated when an action reinforces their identity and sense of belonging to their social group. EMPHASIZE THAT ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE MAKES US PROUD TO BE WHO WE ARE, and reinforce this with the social cues and social proof that people like ourselves are seen as concerned and taking action. Most communication around climate change and low-carbon behaviors is anti-replicating, based around loneliness, isolation, and despair. So ENABLE COMMUNICATIONS WITH BUILT-IN INTERACTION that can be passed between peers and create visible social norms. We need to stop regarding climate change as an isolated intellectual exercise and CREATE COMMUNITIES OF SHARED CONVICTION within which people can share their doubts and fears and draw on the strength of shared commitment.

Climate change is a science and a conviction. Following the division built into our own brains between our rational and emotional processing systems, it is entirely possible to know about climate change and yet not to fully believe in it. Conviction is the critical process by which we incorporate climate change into our moral framework and accept the need for action.

A conviction is not a blind faith: We should continue to KEEP AN OPEN MIND. There is an excessive level of closed-mindedness on all sides, and two-thirds of people say that they will never change their minds about climate change. Because climate change is ambiguous and multivalent, it is open to multiple interpretations. So BE ALERT TO YOUR OWN BIAS and to your own innate tendency to select the information that confirms your existing views.

Credit: altanaka via ShutterstockREMEMBER THAT EXPERTS CAN ALSO BE BIASED by their own specialism or worldview. Clever people indulge in clever confirmation bias. Experts are human too and are also coping with their own internal conflicts, which they may be projecting onto the way that they interpret climate change. So always SEEK OUT A WIDE RANGE OF VIEWS.

Listen to people who disagree with you, and recognize that they can sometimes be a source of insight and alert you to your own bias. DEBATE IS USEFUL so LEARN FROM YOUR CRITICS.

And, for the benefit of conservatives and skeptics, I would add that you, too, should listen to the other side and RESPECT ENVIRONMENTALISTS, who have worked for three decades to keep this issue alive. If you do not like what they say, then you should become more involved in building positive solutions around your values rather than fighting a losing battle to undermine the science.

We should BE PREPARED TO LEARN FROM RELIGIONS and the thousands of years of experience they have in creating methods to sustain socially held belief. This does not mean that climate change is a religion, any more than a declared belief in the right to personal freedom, sound finance, or the strength of the military are religions — these are statements of commitment to personally held ideals (taken, as it happens, from Republican presidents).

Learning from religions, we can PRESENT CLIMATE CHANGE AS A JOURNEY OF CONVICTION which will contain periods of doubt and uncertainty as well as moments of personal revelation and sudden awareness.

Encourage people to explain, in their own words, these moments and the process by which they came to terms with the science, recognizing that conviction is sometimes hard to maintain and needs to be reaffirmed.

We should also CREATE MOMENTS OF COMMITMENT and FRAME CLIMATE CHANGE AS AN INFORMED CHOICE between desirable and catastrophic outcomes, in which people can understand that inaction is itself a choice in favor of severe climate change.

To break through the self-interest of our cognitive biases, and fully activate our emotional brain, we need to INVOKE THE NON-NEGOTIABLE SACRED VALUES that would enable people to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term collective good — for example, values that prohibit destroying a precious cultural asset, inflicting harm on the weak or innocent, abusing God's creation, and being cruel to our parents or children.

In the formation of conviction, trust is more important than information.

Communicators, especially scientists, should learn to EMPHASIZE THE QUALITIES THAT CREATE TRUST (their independence, values, accountability) and especially TELL PERSONAL STORIES. Communicators should talk about their personal journey, especially if they have come to their conviction from a position of doubt.

They should BE EMOTIONALLY HONEST, talking openly about their hopes, fear, and anxieties.

Moral consistency is especially important for trust. If you wish to communicate climate change, you need to RECOGNIZE THE ROLE OF YOUR OWN EMISSIONS, not least because a high-emission lifestyle will inevitably corrupt your own judgment, and you should share your own struggle and success in reducing them.

Campaigners and politicians love to fantasize that a huge top-down communications projects will finally knock it into people's heads. They are unlikely to work. Instead we need to ENABLE FRESH, REAL VOICES, and not depend on the glib slogans of advertising agencies. And this means that the people who currently communicate climate change, especially environmentalists, must be prepared to BACK OFF AND ENCOURAGE NEW COMMUNICATORS — not as the guests on their podium but as new speakers in their own right.

Actually, let's go a step further. Climate change does not belong to environmentalists and is not even environmental. Of course, it includes environmental concerns and impacts, but it is so much bigger than that.

As soon as we label it, we restrict our understanding of it. Obviously, environmentalists can talk about it however they like in their own networks, but for wider presentation and to the media, I plead, DROP THE ECO-STUFF, especially polar bears, saving the planet, and any other language that stakes out climate change as the exclusive cultural domain of environmentalism.

Credit: Rawpixel via ShutterstockAbove all, it is critical that we CLOSE THE PARTISAN GAP between left and right by opening up climate change to conservative framings and ownership. This should start with AFFIRMING WIDER VALUES, which, it is well established experimentally, makes people far more willing to accept information that challenges their worldview. This requires communicators to reverse the normal flow that converts the science into people's values and begin by understanding and validating their values first and then come up with the ways that climate change can speak to those values.

Testing suggests that new framings of values could include respect for authority, personal responsibility, and loyalty to one's community and nation, avoiding intergenerational debt, and reducing societal dysfunction. I warn environmental liberals that the measure of success will inevitably be the emergence of some new ways of talking that you find unpleasant. Similarly, NEVER ASSUME THAT WHAT WORKS FOR YOU WILL WORK FOR OTHERS. Indeed, the fact that you strongly like something may well be an indication that people with other values will hate it.

We also need to BE HONEST — THIS IS TOUGH. Psychotherapists argue that the real challenge is that climate change generates strong feelings that can, unless recognized, lead us to disavowal and outright denial.

We need to RECOGNIZE PEOPLE'S FEELINGS OF GRIEF AND ANXIETY, and acknowledge and provide space for contradiction, ambivalence, loss, and mourning.

The starting point could be providing the space for people to openly acknowledge their feelings and share them. We need to MOURN WHAT IS LOST, VALUE WHAT REMAINS. And not just the natural world; we need to MOURN THE END OF THE FOSSIL FUELS AGE, which, for all of its dirt and danger, was also exceptionally affluent, mobile, and exciting.

The low-carbon world will have new pleasures, but no longer the sweet roar of the Ford Mustang V8.

We should all BE GLAD TO BE A POLLYANNA. She has become synonymous with dim-witted optimism, but in the original books by Eleanor H. Porter, the character is clearly shown to be coping with immense grief and suffering through her gratitude for what she does have — her friends, community, and the joy of being alive.

What is clear is that this is a fast-moving issue and everything will change. At present, climate change exists largely as a narrative of anticipation shaped by familiar experience and existing frames. But momentous shifts are under way in the world's climate systems and carbon cycles, which will, within a single lifetime, make climate change entirely real, salient, and unavoidable. This will be a new world in which past certainties will disappear and our inbuilt social and psychological biases will become increasingly influential on our judgment.

This is why current responses are so important. REMEMBER THAT HOW WE RESPOND NOW WILL PROVIDE THE TEMPLATE FOR FUTURE RESPONSES. Acceptance, compassion, cooperation, and empathy will produce very different outcomes than aggression, competition, blame, and denial. We hold both futures within ourselves and, as we choose whether and how to think about climate change, we are choosing how we will think about ourselves and the new world we are creating.

This is an excerpt from the book Don't Even Think About It: Why We Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, released Aug. 19 by Bloomsbury Press. Reprinted by arrangement with Bloomsbury Press. Copyright George Marshall 2014. Top image of girl by Gelpi JM via Shutterstock.



How sustainability leaders hold steady over the long haul

By Anna Clark
Published August 22, 2014
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Tags: Employee Education & Training, Employees, More... Employee Education & Training, Employees, Organizational Change
How sustainability leaders hold steady over the long haul

Pioneering a sustainability initiative is a lot like buying a boat. Sooner or later, the realities of maintenance overshadow whatever aspirations first inspired the investment. After the brainstorming sessions, public proclamations and other outpourings of enthusiasm fade, the day comes when you have to face facts: This is going to take work.

Without the resolve to weather a few storms, your sustainability program is at risk of puttering out or blowing up in your face — that is, if it ever gets going in the first place. (In fact, if you are perpetually stuck in launch mode, you may even be ready to unload this sucker onto somebody else.)

Fortunately, the steady erosion of your green dream is not inevitable or even unpredictable. A growing body of research now reveals key traits and processes that differentiate leading sustainability programs from the rest.

McKinsey recently conducted an online survey garnering responses from 3,344 executives representing a spectrum of regions, industries, company sizes, functional specialties and tenures. The "Sustainability's strategic worth" study results show that sustainability leaders are approximately three to five times more likely to:

1) Set aggressive external targets or goals for sustainability initiatives

2) Have a unified sustainability strategy with clearly articulated strategic priorities (no more than five focus areas)

3) Set aggressive internal targets or goals for sustainability initiatives

4) Involve a broad leadership coalition in shaping or co-creating the sustainability strategy, goals and milestones

5) Understand the financial benefits of sustainability within the organization

What's more, reports McKinsey, much larger shares of executives at the leader organizations say their top leaders prioritize sustainability and report higher employee engagement on sustainability at every level, including CEOs, board members and sustainability advisory committees.

According to McKinsey, leading companies also face fewer barriers to realizing value from sustainability because they report better overall performance on the practices that underpin a healthy sustainability organization.

Success stories for smoother sailing

"Building a Culture for Sustainability," a recent book by Jeana Wirtenberg, takes a close look at the sustainability efforts inside nine companies to uncover what sets apart those with staying power. Wirtenberg's case studies offer some rich analysis for understanding the internal and external practices that get results.

Wirtenberg bolsters over 100 best practices with specific examples and cross references them into categories including people, community, customers, planet, supply chain and profit. Here's a snapshot of lessons learned at the end of each chapter:

(For a deep dive into sustainability programs from Ingersoll Rand, Sanofi and Wyndham, read exclusive excerpts from Wirtenberg on EarthPeople Media.)

Turning your battleships

As Wirtenberg and other experts attest, there is still no single template for companies to follow. Codification of activities is slowing occurring in all functional areas, but champions are vital for putting tools into practice.

"To truly embed CSR within an organization requires engaging the people inside the organization," said John Muros, an industrial-organization psychologist with AT&T.

Muros emphasized the importance of talent management activities in creating a robust, comprehensive program. These activities run the gamut from designing workplaces and recruiting to evaluating, on-boarding, training and engagement.

"CSR efforts that are executed without engaging in the full spectrum of talent management activities run the risk of ending up as notable, but still peripheral, initiatives, at best, or transparently inauthentic public relations ploys, at worst," he said.

Muros contributed to "Managing Human Resources for Environmental Sustainability," a prodigious volume of qualitative and quantitative research that goes deep into methods for embedding sustainability into human resources. Unfortunately, HR practitioners are leaving much of it on the table (if the research is reaching them at all) due to the fact that many of them lack a strategic role or voice in their organizations.

Managers that expound on the "triple bottom line" while failing to engage people are setting their programs up for mediocrity. Successful programs require an authoritative champion, a motivated interdisciplinary team, and an appreciation for process. Green stewards must learn to embed, not just bolt on, sustainability into the organizational culture in order to get the buy-in and returns necessary to sustain their programs for the long haul.

Top image of ship's wheel by Paul Fleet via Shutterstock.

Also in The Eco-Leadership Blog:


Demand response keeps energy use low at Chicago high-rise

By Karan Gupta
Published August 22, 2014
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Tags: Energy & HVAC, Energy Conservation, More... Energy & HVAC, Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency
Demand response keeps energy use low at Chicago high-rise

Demand response — an energy-saving tool that encourages customers to shift their electricity use to times of day when there is less demand on the power grid or when more renewable energy is abundant — has been at the core of my work this summer as an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps fellow. My host company, Jones Lang Lasalle, is the property manager for 77 West Wacker Drive, a 50-story office building in downtown Chicago. Here, I focus on maximizing the benefits of demand response, which already have been implemented through multiple technologies.

Currently, 77 West Wacker is enrolled in the PJM demand response capacity market through a demand response service provider. As discussed in a previous post, there are standby payments for demand response commitments, meaning that the building is paid for simply making itself available to reduce energy demand when called upon to do so. In addition to these standby payments, the building is paid for with actual energy conservation as real demand falls below baseline demand during emergency events. The building also participates in voluntary price-based demand response, whereby energy conservation is performed in non-emergency events to take advantage of opportunities when real-time energy prices exceed the fixed rate that the building pays for energy.

Load-shifting makes it easier to bear

The software platform provided by the demand response service provider allows engineers to view the building's baseline demand, real-time action alerts and forecasts for weather and energy prices. When the grid is stressed due to extreme weather or system lapses, the engineers receive notification, usually the day of, to enact demand response protocols. While extreme weather may or may not result in an emergency event, it almost always presents earnings opportunities through economic demand response.

For this reason, the team here is proactive and monitors weather forecasts throughout the Midwest and East Coast, and usually has taken action by the time emergency notification is received. In the summer, the primary form of action is "load shifting," a process works by pre-cooling the building during early morning off-peak hours and reducing cooling demand during peak hours.

Credit: Karan GuptaIn this snapshot, the red line represents the baseline and the green line represents actual building use. Actual use exceeded the baseline in the morning hours when building equipment ramped up to pre-cool the building (there is no penalty for going above the baseline during non-peak hours), and then around 10 a.m., the equipment ramped down for the rest of the day as it had to work less hard to maintain the lower temperature. During the period where the green line is below the red line, real-time energy prices are paid back to the building for the difference between baseline energy consumption and actual consumption.

BAS + VFD spells 'comfort'

When a non-weather event occurs, load shifting may not be an option, and instead a series of minor operational adjustments must be made to achieve the necessary reductions. Tenant comfort is an important consideration when making these adjustments, as reasonable temperatures and minimum levels of ventilation have to be maintained. Excessive ramping and cycling of equipment also should be avoided to prevent undue stress and shortened life. Where base building equipment adjustments alone are not sufficient, the building may send out notices for tenant involvement. Effective communication is critical for tenant satisfaction, but to that end, building management has performed exceedingly well, making efforts to educate occupants about the value of demand response.

The two primary technologies that have enabled demand response capability at 77 West Wacker are the building automation system and variable frequency drives. The BAS allows for monitoring and control of the various equipment from a central command center. This control is necessary to quickly enact demand response protocols while guarding the health, safety and comfort of the building occupants. In the past, motor-driven equipment such as fans and pumps either would run at full load or not at all, and when at full load, would be modulated by dampers or fans. A common analogy is using the brakes to control the speed of a car while pushing the accelerator to the limit. VFDs basically provide throttle control and allow for the modulation of such equipment.

Aiming higher

The next step in fully implementing demand response at 77 West Wacker is enrolling into ancillary services, which are used to support the transmission of electric power from seller to purchaser (scheduling and dispatch, electric grid protection, etc.). While BAS and VFDs are a strong first step, further hardware and software investments will be necessary to make frequency regulation possible. To some extent, real-time control will have to be relinquished to the system operator, but the primary objective still will remain to maintain tenant satisfaction. Automated scripts that guide operational parameters within predefined limits occasionally will have to override signals to ramp loads up or down.

Cracking the code for successful implementation hopefully will release a new wave of revenue for property managers around the country while enhancing grid reliability.

Top image of 77 West Wacker Drive by Chicago Architecture Today via Flickr. This article originally appeared on the EDF Climate Corps Blog.


Karan Gupta

Karan Gupta is a high-performance building consultant based in North Carolina.

George Marshall

George Marshall is the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, based in Oxford UK, and over the past 25 years has worked at all levels of the environmental movement, including senior positions for Greenpeace US and the Rainforest Foundation. He is one of the leading European experts in climate change communications, is a lead advisor to the Welsh Government, and counts major environmental organizations, politicians, faith groups, businesses, and trades unions among his clients. He lives in Wales.
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