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Kathy Gerwig

Kathy Gerwig is vice president of Employee Safety, Health and Wellness and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser Permanente. She is responsible for developing, organizing and managing the organization's national Environmental Stewardship initiative, and under her leadership Kaiser Permanente has become widely recognized as an environmental leader in the health care sector. Gerwig has twice testified before Congress on the need for federal chemical policy reform, and has appeared at numerous hearings on environmental issues.

Are energy-efficient workplaces healthier? Just Google it

Published September 12, 2014
Are energy-efficient workplaces healthier? Just Google it

When people talk about the business case for energy-efficient buildings achieved through comprehensive measures like deep energy retrofits, what usually comes to mind first is lower energy bills. However, an increasing number of organizations are recognizing the value beyond energy cost savings that energy-efficient buildings provide.

Last year, Rocky Mountain Institute wrote about how deep energy retrofits can reduce the cost of health care. It turns out that energy-efficient buildings do more than just reduce energy bills for energy-hungry healthcare buildings. They also improve the quality of the healthcare services that these companies provide. For example, energy efficiency measures addressing low ventilation rates and airflow in healthcare facilities reduce the risk of transmitting infectious diseases, as high ventilation rates and airflow have been shown to greatly reduce the transmission of airborne illnesses. Studies have found that patients in sunny hospital rooms versus rooms using artificial light have a decreased length of stay, a trend also observed for patients staying in hospital rooms with windows overlooking a scene of nature. Furthermore, the University Medical Center of Princeton found its airy, sunny and calming hospital rooms led to a 30 percent reduction in pain medicine requests, record-low infection rates and patient satisfaction in the 99th percentile.

But the direct and indirect health benefits of energy efficiency improvements need not be confined to the healthcare industry. Many organizations in other sectors are beginning to account for and harvest energy efficiency’s value beyond energy cost savings, including improved employee health. Improved health and other beyond-energy benefits are changing the game in the way real estate stakeholders across all sectors evaluate prospective investments in energy-efficient buildings.

Google, energy efficiency and employee health

Google claims it always puts the user first. It should come as no surprise that the company wants to provide a great user experience for employees. This is why it values healthy workplaces conducive to employee well-being. And it is also why Google invests in energy-efficient buildings.

“Energy efficiency is a huge focus for Google — both in our productivity and our operations — and we’ve found that it aligns with our goals for healthy workplaces,” Anne Less, Google [e]Team Innovation Program Manager, told RMI. “There is a strong correlation between workplace satisfaction and temperature, and similarly with Googlers’ self-reported productivity.”

Google evaluates decisions it makes for workplaces through the lens of the company’s values for health, user experience and sustainability. These factors are considered throughout the real estate lifecycle — from concept, through design and construction to building operations — and are increasingly weighed equally with factors such as cost and energy depending upon the project at hand.

To achieve greater employee satisfaction and reduce health costs, Google makes efforts to create innovative designs with natural light and clean air, eliminate exposure to harmful chemicals and use natural resources more intelligently in its facilities. The company also experiments with ways to provide energy-efficient and comfortable office environments for employees, testing measures both at the workplace level and more broadly with HVAC systems. Google’s successful efforts, such as achieving half the national average for traditional office energy use in its test building, help push the boundaries for energy efficiency and provide examples to others demonstrating why making investments that benefit employees bears fruit to the bottom line.

The health case for energy-efficient buildings

RMI’s Deep Retrofit Value practice guide describes the substantial evidence suggesting that energy-efficient workplaces are healthier workplaces. Studies show that energy-efficient buildings can improve health by reducing psychological stress, the number of sick days, incidence and severity of asthma symptoms, respiratory illness and even chronic pulmonary disease and cancer. Why? Measures that improve a building’s energy performance can help control moisture and pollutant sources, improve ventilation and access to outside air, provide indoor thermal comfort and daylighting and offer more visible access to the natural environment. For example, one study found that modern office designs using daylighting and offering a view reduce stress levels significantly more than traditional office designs. Another study found an association between doubling the ventilation rates in offices and a 35 percent decrease in short-term absence.

Organizations have a practical yet meaningful stake in employee health, as labor costs often represent their largest cost. Therefore, a deep energy retrofit’s health benefits can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line, even if the measure only reduces the number of sick days by a percentage point or two. In fact, because organizations’ labor costs tend to be much larger than energy costs, the financial value of just a slight improvement to physical and psychological health resulting from energy efficiency measures can exceed the value of less-expensive energy bills.

A company that has healthier employees puts more of its money to productive uses. Both employer and employee therefore win from measures such as deep energy retrofits that create a healthier work environment. Investing in measures that improve employee health also enhances the health profile of companies, enabling more favorable contracts and directly reducing expenses with health insurance and medical providers. Energy-efficient buildings thereby offer a means for organizations to both show commitment to improving society and boost their bottom line.

“Investing in Googlers’ health and happiness delivers business outcomes that we care about, including innovation, retention and performance,” said Less. “And we know that happier employees are more productive and more fun to be around.”

Beyond Google

Any company, big or small, has a stake in the opportunity presented by energy-efficient, healthy workplaces. Acknowledging high-profile companies such as Google that are investing in these better workplace environments is meant to provide a source of confidence rather than deterrence. The fact that companies such as Google are pairing energy efficiency and health benefits together in real estate decisions strengthens the confidence of other real estate decision-makers about an energy-efficient building’s value beyond energy cost savings.

Energy-efficient, healthy buildings are within reach for organizations of all shapes and sizes. Achieving much higher levels of energy performance in buildings is not only a technically feasible endeavor with existing technologies and policies, but also one that presents a lucrative financial opportunity.

It's time to start thinking about buildings as a source of value creation rather than a source of costs. It's time to reflect upon the risks of missing out on the bottom line benefits that energy-efficient, healthy buildings provide. And it is time to start allocating the full suite of internal and external funds available to organizations to accelerate investments in deep energy retrofits in existing buildings.

Just Google it.

Top image of Google campus lunch room courtesy of Christophe Wu/Google

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Coffee roaster abuzz with waste prevention strategy

Published September 12, 2014
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Coffee roaster abuzz with waste prevention strategy

“We really try to live up to our name,” joked Kelly Zeissner, VP at America’s Best Coffee Roasting Company. Since 1993, the Oakland, Calif., company has sourced, roasted and blended coffees to its clients’ specifications, customizing offerings of wholesale coffees and teas including custom packaging.

A couple of years ago, the company started exploring ways to improve its waste management processes. “We recycle a lot of our waste: coffee chaff goes to animal feed, coffee jute sacks are used by a gardening company," explained Zeissner.

But what of the packaging used for deliveries to clients?

The cardboard boxes were the first to go. Fifty were used every week for all local deliveries to small customers. They usually would be reused several times but eventually would have to be discarded and replaced with new ones. Starting in the summer of 2012, the company replaced them with 66 durable, reusable hand-held crates. In addition to eliminating cardboard waste and recurring purchasing costs for new cardboard boxes, the reusable crates turned out to be ergonomically advantageous as they feature handles and can be stacked more securely than cardboard boxes.

A big sticky point remained to be addressed: plastic bags. Zeissner was unhappy with the large amount of recurring plastic waste. Determined to find a better way, she looked into recycling. "We couldn’t find a recycler for the plastic bags,” she said.

Unique challenge, custom solution

The challenge she faced is best described through the interactions with the roaster's largest wholesale client. "We would roast the coffee, package it into specially coated, food-grade plastic bags that hold 5 pounds each and pack those into cardboard boxes for delivery, 10 bags per box," she said. The client would then create the proprietary blend and repack the beans into new plastic bags. A portion of those would get shipped back to ABC Roasting Company for final repacking into smaller bags used by airlines and hotels.

The company explored the idea of eliminating the bags altogether and using reusable bulk packaging materials. After thorough research of available products, it purchased two large Ropak hopper bottom bulk containers to supplement a set of existing reusable bulk containers.

Although the purchase was a sizeable expense, Zeissner was able to offset the cost partially with grant funding from local public agency StopWaste, whose staff also provided technical assistance in choosing the containers and incorporating them into the production process.

Unexpected benefits

The new shipping system implemented last year is operating smoothly, and has yielded positive returns. Shipping the coffee in bulk eliminates the purchasing and disposal costs associated with about 1,000 plastic bags each week. Because product is transported in a closed loop between ABC Roasting Company and its client, the bulk containers are easy to track, and the risk of loss is minimal.

Labor savings, however, have turned out to be the largest benefit for both businesses. “In the past, we would spend about two days worth of labor each week to pack the coffee into bags, and then unpack it when it came back to us. And our customer had to do the same on their end,” explained Zeissner. “At $15 per hour, it adds up.”

ABC Roasting Company’s customer initially was hesitant to implement the change, which Zeissner attributed to “a general aversion to change that we see with most of our clients.” This is where relationship building paid off. “Over the years our clients have learned they can trust us to do what's in their best interest, so we were able to get them on board without difficulty,” she said.

Zeissner has been encouraged by the significant waste reduction achieved by the new shipping and delivery processes, and by the hundreds of dollars in estimated weekly savings that it has brought the company.

She is determined to continue her quest for more waste reduction and better efficiency. “In hindsight, it didn’t really take that much effort," she said. "I hope other companies feel inspired, and consider similar changes for their businesses."

Maybe a cup of coffee will help get your ideas and creative juices flowing.

Top image: Van Ho of ABC Roasting Company preps a bulk countainer for delivery to a large customer (courtesy of Justin Lehrer.)

 

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The Future MBA, week 10: Admissions bootcamp

Published September 12, 2014
The Future MBA, week 10: Admissions bootcamp

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 64: The social environment

The MBA is an intense, one- to two-year program focused on business. But the business sector operates within a much wider environment that is not fully explored or presented within the degree. How can we create a generation of graduates that have a better understanding of the world that business works within?

The Social Environment is a core course focused on providing students with a basic but sound background on what is happening on planet Earth. This course looks at the impact of the 7 billion humans on earth, where they are and what they do. This includes population and demographics, indigenous and aboriginal people, and customs including language, religion and tangible and intangible culture. It will look at the impact of humans on earth including buildings, urbanization, transportation and agriculture as well as international development. The course also will introduce students to international goals, targets and organizations working to strengthen and protect our social environment at the local, national, regional and international level, and learn why this is relevant for business.

Day 65: Minor

The good thing and bad thing about an MBA is that it immerses you in a world of business for months. Most business students have very little exposure to anything non-business-related during their degree program. If we need a new generation of leaders who have a multidisciplinary frame, how can we expose MBA students to other disciplines throughout their program?

The Future MBA will require all students to complete a minor in a topic outside of business school. If the business school is part of a larger university, they will have access to programs on campus. For other schools, students would have the opportunity to take courses at schools in their city, country or internationally. A student interested in going into fashion could do a minor at a fashion school in London, New York or Milan. Other students may choose minors in drama or engineering. This not only would give students the chance to learn different perspectives but also the possibility to interact with those working in another field and to share knowledge and learnings across disciplines.


Day 66: The job search

For most, the post-graduation job search starts the day you arrive on campus to begin your MBA. In fact, before students even have a chance to sit back and think about their future and the options they have, they already have missed recruiting for several industries. Students often don’t have the chance to explore the full range of career options available to them and recruiters' strict schedules often puts additional pressures on students that take them away from the MBA itself.

In the Future MBA, students will be enrolled in a class over the duration of their studies focused on careers and personal development. The course will introduce a wide range of career options with guest speakers and presentations from each as well as information sharing from current students and alumni with experience in those industries. It will look at career progression in and between industries and will teach students effective job search skills and how to prepare themselves through their CV, networking, cover letters etc. The course will provide space for students to explore their career and life goals in the short, medium and long term. Towards the end of the course, the students will look at what success means to them throughout their career, the kind of balance they want to have and what is important to them. It also will look at how to identify and take advantages of opportunities throughout a career, how to deal with stress and how to make difficult choices throughout a career/life.

Day 67: Admissions bootcamp

The challenge with providing one type of testing to enter into the MBA is that you inevitably attract a certain kind of person able to perform in that test. How can the MBA better attract a wider range of students who despite not having a strong background in math/reasoning would be valuable additions to the MBA community and successful alumni?

The Future MBA will have a range of ways to gain admission into the program, in addition to the traditional entrance test. Students may go through one or several ways to raise their chances of entry depending on their educational and career background. One way would be the admissions bootcamp. Potential students would come to campus for a long weekend or two during or before the admission process to be introduced to a range of basic business skills they will need to successfully complete the MBA and be put through individual and group exercises. Not only would this allow the school to assess their suitability, it also would give potential students a chance to learn more about the school and make an impression on admissions officers.

Day 68: Failures?

The lessons during a typical business degree revolve around best practices and success stories. In the Future MBA, students will have access to a course called Failures. Although examples of failures and mistakes inevitably come up in a range of courses, this course only will look at failures. It will explore examples of small, medium and large-scale failures in companies of all shapes and sizes, how they came about, how they were handled, what could have been done differently and what could be changed to ensure that they don’t happen again. It also will look at company discussions that had or could have had a negative impact, as well as examples from students’ own experiences. The course will look at how to approach failures and how to learn from them to build stronger projects, companies and careers without being afraid of failure.

Day 69: Politics

If graduates of the Future MBA are better prepared to put sustainability into practice in ways that make sense for organizations and the planet as a whole, it will be important that they make an impact across a range of sectors besides business.

The Future MBA will have a range of short courses that introduce students to non-business careers and provide them with the skills to succeed in those areas as well as bring skills and tools from those sectors into their business careers. The first will be focused on politics. This non-partisan, issue-neutral course will focus on how to run a campaign, including budgeting, polling, fundraising, public speaking, staffing, working with consultants and leadership. Students also will have the chance to work on real campaigns or even start their own.

Day 70: Teaching

It is crucial that we train the next generation of managers and leaders to understand sustainability and be able to put it into practice throughout their careers and in any job they have. The key to this happening isn’t necessarily the range of courses, experiences nor technology. The key is what they are being taught in the classroom and more important, how they are being taught. The challenge is that the teachers themselves often are not equipped with the tools, time or sometimes even desire to teach sustainability effectively. Their training and reputation usually revolves around research.

The Future MBA will give professors the choice of three tracks. They can become researchers, teachers or a combination of the two. Depending on the track they choose, they will go through additional training during their Ph.D and periodically after. Researchers will be provided with additional communication skills to be able to repackage and communicate their research to interested audiences. Professors who choose to be teachers will be provided with additional training in curriculum development and effective teaching methods. Professors can choose one track for their whole careers or change on a more short-term basis, and they will be rewarded and judged based on specific criteria relevant to their chosen track.

Top image by StockPhotosLV via Shutterstock.



Google invests in solar — in an aging oil field

Published September 12, 2014
Google invests in solar — in an aging oil field

The company's green blog announced Wednesday that Google is to provide a $145 million equity commitment to the 82MW Regulus solar project, being developed by SunEdison on a former oil and gas field in Kern County.

"Our investment in the Regulus solar project will give new life to a long-valued piece of land, and there's something a little poetic about creating a renewable resource on land that once creaked with oil wells," Google said. "Over the years, this particular site in California has gone from 30 oil wells to five as it was exhausted of profitable fossil fuel reserves. The land sat for some time and today we're ready to spiff things up."

The company added that when completed, the project would generate enough clean power for around 10,000 homes.

The deal represents Google's 17th renewable energy investment since 2010 and provides further evidence of its commitment to the clean energy sector.

"We're continually looking for newer, bigger and better projects that help us create a clean energy future," the company said. "The more than $1.5 billion we've brought to these projects to date not only helps provide renewable energy to the grid and to the public, but as they perform, they allow us to invest in more renewable energy projects. This cycle makes financial sense for Google and our partners while supporting construction jobs in local communities and clean energy for the planet we share."

The announcement came the same day as Google provided its annual update on its carbon performance, revealing its overall greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2013, even as its carbon intensity, a measure of carbon emissions per million dollars of revenue, fell 3.1 percent.

Google said its carbon intensity has fallen for five consecutive years and insisted that its policy of purchasing carbon offsets to match its emissions meant it had retained "carbon neutral" status.

The company added that it was continuing to make good progress with data center energy efficiency initiatives and had expanded its use of renewable energy to meet 35 percent of its demand. It also reiterated its commitment to signing more contracts with renewable energy providers in a bid to reduce its overall emissions.

Top image of Mt. Poso oil field in Kern County by Don Barrett via Flickr. This article first appeared at BusinessGreen.



Retail Horizons: Will wealth polarization damage U.S. business?

By James Goodman
Published September 12, 2014
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Tags: Social Responsibility
Retail Horizons: Will wealth polarization damage U.S. business?

This article is the fifth in a 12-part series about the future of U.S. retail for the Forum for the Future-led 2014 Retail Horizons project in partnership with Retail Industry Leaders Association. For more about the project and the toolkit available in October, read the first post, which also contains a table of contents for the series.

"In the years ahead, it will no longer be enough to look simply at economic growth. … We will need to ask if this growth is inclusive." So said International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde in a speech at Stanford University in February.

It's been a year of debate about inequality, generally coming at the issue from a conventional economics point of view, but it is of critical importance to sustainability. A grossly unequal society cannot be a sustainable society.

Thomas Piketty's bestseller "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" prompted the debate by arguing that inequality is an inherent aspect of unfettered capitalism.

Regardless whether you agree with that — and it's been a contentious point, to say the least — the gap between rich and poor seems to be widening right across the world.

Recent data (PDF) from the U.S. Census Bureau bears this out. It shows that while average wealth declined in the U.S. from 2001 to 2011, it increased quite dramatically for the top quintile of the population. It's perhaps not surprising that some of the lowest-paid workers are making their voices heard. And the debate is by no means confined to the States — in the U.K., anger at top executives' pay has barely diminished since the depths of the recession.

Research shows time and again that wealth polarization is associated with negative social outcomes, from poor education, poor health, higher crime levels to lower trust and social participation — even civil war. Although some businesses might be able to survive and prosper in that sort of world, most will find it challenging; business has a strong commercial interest in a well-functioning society.

Retail Horizons is a piece of joint future-gazing from RILA (Retail Industry Leaders Association), Target, Unilever and international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future in which four scenarios explore alternative futures for the retail industry. In one, named "Predictive Planet," we explore how retail radically could be changed by the mainstreaming of predictive algorithms and immersive technology, transforming our relationship with brands, marketing and each other.

This world may have an exciting, high-tech sheen, but there is a dark side to it: Automation of jobs accelerates massively, cutting out a huge swath of traditional jobs and exacerbating the rich-poor gap far beyond what we see today. The scenario is a challenge to the retail industry: If this were an accurate depiction of 2030, where would your employees come from? How could you acquire and keep new customers? If this were a possible future, what could you do now to avert it?

"Predictive Planet" is a possibility, not a probability, based on our observations of current and emerging trends and the informed imaginations of our project team and colleagues at RILA. There are many other possibilities. For example, in another scenario, incomes are lower generally but there is greater equality; a resurgence of local manufacturing and agriculture helps to shore up the middle classes. And in another, the sharing economy scales dramatically and an ever-expanding and difficult-to-regulate shadow economy sustains millions of Americans comfortably. Each scenario comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

The point of the scenarios is to allow businesses to seriously consider that tomorrow will be very different from today, to ask "What if?'" and experiment with ideas and strategies that can help them succeed in the long term, in a range of imaginable futures. And long-term success is what sustainability is all about.

Top image of goldfish inequality by stockphoto-graf via Shutterstock.

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Are global companies weighing a future without utilities?

By Suzanne C. Shelton
Published September 12, 2014
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Tags: Energy, Energy & Utilities, More... Energy, Energy & Utilities, Renewable Energy, Renewables
Are global companies weighing a future without utilities?

This week, I facilitated a GreenBiz webcast called "Surviving the Utility Revolution." We put this program together specifically for the utility industry, allowing it to hear directly from our panelists — Brian Janous of Microsoft, Jed Richardson of Johnson & Johnson and David Ozment of Walmart — about how their high-energy-consuming companies imagine procuring and using energy in the future.

Carbon reduction is a mandate at many of America's largest companies. Eighty-six percent of our country's largest companies publish sustainability reports, and you can bet "reducing environmental impact" is a goal in every single one of them.

Most companies are working to hit their carbon reduction goals via energy efficiency and renewables. That has huge implications for the utility industry, which should expect its load to contract significantly as a result of these efforts over the next 20 years.

At all the major sustainability conferences, companies are outlining the ways they're working to reduce their conventional energy consumption — yet utility people are almost never in attendance at those conferences. They're all attending utility industry conferences instead and comparing notes with each other, which keeps them insulated from the customer perspective.

The panel yielded a number of takeaways.

Of the 700-plus people registered, only about 100 were from the energy industry (traditional utilities, municipalities, renewable energy companies and consultants), even though this event specifically was designed for a utility audience. I'm not sure what to make of that. Was it that our marketing effort, which went out to utilities specifically, wasn't compelling enough? Or that the industry isn't as concerned about what the future holds as I am?

The remaining registrants largely represented other high-energy-consuming organizations. They directed a long list of pointed questions at Microsoft and J&J, such as, how do you measure your carbon footprint and how did you set your energy efficiency goals? That tells me many other companies are actively looking to figure out the right metrics related to energy consumption reduction so they can judge success or failure. And that's one more reason to believe that utilities can expect to see load contraction continue.

All three panelists gave examples of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects they've already completed. Although many in the utility industry will scoff at the EE and RE goals of some big companies and say "it doesn't pencil out," the reality is that companies are doing it. And every panelist said he's not willing to pay a premium. So somehow they've figured out how to do the projects they've done without paying more than their current utility rate.

Although I couldn't get any panelists to say this directly, it's clear they'll continue pursuing EE and RE and they'll partner with whatever organizations come to the table with the best deal. If that happens to be a utility, great. If not, great. They're agnostic, and although they all said nice things about how much they'd like to work with their utilities, my sense is that if utilities don't figure out how to offer projects that make financial sense, these companies will go their own way and figure it out with other parties.

It was also clear they're interested in potential partners coming to them. Yes, Microsoft may decide it wants to do a renewable project and send out an RFP looking for help, but it's also looking for new ideas/models and wants third parties to bring those. Walmart's Ozment gave a good example of a utility coming to it with an outdoor LED lighting program that worked for everyone. Walmart didn't ask, the utility offered, and it happened. It sounds as if utilities need to be making more overtures like this.

The business model needs to change — now. All panelists said this explicitly. Microsoft's Janous said that the company is "rethinking ownership models and want(s) to work with utilities at the megawatt scale to figure out new models that can work at the kilowatt scale." Ozment said, "Services from utilities need to change. We want clean, reliable, cost-effective options, we want third-party financing and we want the ability to buy output from a renewable project that's delivered directly to our stores."

Opportunity vs. tragedy? Based on questions from the audience, it seems as if those outside of the energy space see utilities in an impossible quandary. How can you offer what these big companies want without giving up a lot of load and control? How can you create a new business model when you're in scramble mode trying to fend off competition from other energy providers? Ozment suggested utilities look at this as an opportunity instead of as a "death spiral." He encouraged the industry to get some quick wins under its belt (such as the LED example, I presume) while working with regulators over the long haul to seriously redesign rates that reflect where the world's heading.

I think he's right that now is a time of great opportunity — for utilities and others in the energy products and services business. After the webcast, someone in my office said, "I think somebody's going to have to tell utilities exactly what to do." The panelists did an excellent job of that. The question is, will the utility industry listen?

If you missed the webcast, you can register to view/listen to it for free.

Top image of meter by MPIX via Shutterstock. This article first appeared at Shelton Insights.

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    The 2014 Dow Jones Sustainability Index: Abbott to Woolworths

    By Heather Clancy
    Published September 11, 2014
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    Tags: Business Operations, Reduce Emissions, More... Business Operations, Reduce Emissions, Supply Chain
    The 2014 Dow Jones Sustainability Index: Abbott to Woolworths

    After an annual review, 46 companies were deleted from the 15-year-old Dow Jones Sustainability World index — the three biggest (by free-float market capitalization) to be booted were Bank of America, General Electric and Schlumberger.

    The good news is that 32 were added, including Amgen, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and GlaxoSmithKline.

    Even better news, 16 companies have been recognized every single year: Baxter, Bayer, BMW, BT, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Diageo, Intel, J Sainsbury, Novo Nordisk, RWE, SAP, Siemens, Storebrand, Unilever and UnitedHealth.

    Every year, S&P Dow Jones Indices teams with RobecoSAM to update its portfolio of sustainability index services, which consider both sustainable business practices and financial performance. The assessment criteria this year covered tax strategy (to address the growing risks associated with tax optimization schemes); social and environmental reporting factors, including materiality; human capital development policies; and performance scoring related to occupational health and safety, and talent recruitment and retention.The top leaders in 24 industries

    This year, close to 3,400 companies were invited to submit information (1,813 were ultimately analyzed).

    "In 15 years, the total number of companies we assess has more than quadrupled," said Guido Giese, head of indices for RoboecoSAM. "We have also developed new sustainability benchmarks for investors such as country and regional indices."

    Those products include an index dedicated to emerging markets, along with ones for Australia, North American, Korea, Europe, Australia and Asia Pacific.

    Companies eligible to make the cut needed scores that were at least 40 percent of the highest score for their index. The world version includes the 10 percent of companies that were best-in-class for their industry. (The cutoffs were 20 percent for regional indexes, 30 percent for specific countries and 10 percent for emerging markets.)

    There were 319 "components" on the World index. (There are only 270 if you nix companies in the business of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, adult entertainment, and armament and firearms).DJSI World members for 15 years

    Aside from the companies already mentioned, the 10 biggest additions included AbbVie, Caterpillar, Bank of New York Mellon, Deutsche Post, Reckitt Benckiser Group and Toronto-Dominion Bank. Other big businesses to come off were BHP Billiton, Colgate-Palmolive, McDonald's, Nike, Starbucks and Telefonica.

    Individual sector leaders include: BMW (Autos), Westpac (Banks), Siemens (Capital Goods), SGS (Professional Services), LG Electronics (Consumer Durables & Apparel), Sodexo (Consumer Services), ING (Diversified Financials), Thai Oil (Energy), Woolworths (Food & Staples Retailing), Unilever (Food), Abbott Labs (Health Care), Kao (Household  Products), Swiss Re (Insurance), Akzo Nobel (Materials), Telenet (Media), Roche (Pharma), GPT (Real Estate), Lotte Shopping (Retailing), Taiwan Semiconductor (Semiconductors), Wipro (Software & Services), Alcatel-Lucent (High-tech Equipment), Air France-KLM (Transportation), EDP (Utilities) and Telecom Italia (Telecommunications).

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    How drones are emerging as a valuable conservation tool

    By Crystal Gammon
    Published September 11, 2014
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    Tags: VERGE
    How drones are emerging as a valuable conservation tool

    Learn more about how tech innovation is boosting sustainability at the VERGE Salon in New York City on Sept. 16 and at the premier VERGE event in San Francisco on Oct. 27-30.

    This story originally appeared at Yale Environment 360 and is reprinted with permission.

    Ecologist Lian Pin Koh is pioneering the use of drones in conservation efforts and biological research across the globe. His organization, ConservationDrones.org, was founded two years ago and already has worked with hundreds of NGOs, researchers and government officials in more than a dozen countries to collect environmental data using low-cost drones.

    In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Koh, an associate professor at the University of Adelaide, explains how drones — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — can help monitor protected areas, collect data in inaccessible regions and even deter poachers. Although his drone research was at first “not taken very seriously,” that’s changing, he said. Koh told e360 web editor Crystal Gammon that advances in aerial equipment and technology have made drones a key part of conservation strategies for marine reserves, rainforests and many other landscapes, mostly in the developing world.

    “In just the last couple of months,” he said, “there has been tremendous interest from universities and other research institutes that finally see the value in this technology.”

    Yale Environment 360: What led you to start your organization, ConservationDrones.org?

    Lian Pin Koh: The initial motivation was really about necessity. [Ecologist] Serge Wich and I — we cofounded ConservationDrones.org — have been working in southeast Asia for quite some time, and Serge has been studying orangutans in Sumatra for the last 20 years. One day we started talking about the challenges of studying orangutans in the rainforest of Sumatra, and because I had been flying remote-controlled airplanes as a hobby, I suggested to him that we try to fly these planes with cameras attached over the forest. I thought maybe we could get good photos of the forests, and potentially even snap a few pictures of orangutans or their nests. Normally when I tell people such ideas they would not take me very seriously, but Serge was very enthusiastic — mainly because he was facing real difficulty getting funding to continue his work.

    We received a small grant and started building these very low-cost UAVs out of hobby-grade, remote-controlled airplanes fitted with an autopilot system. It was basically less than $1,000 to put this prototype together. We brought the prototype to Indonesia for its first field test, and we were very successful. We didn't know what we were doing — we thought it would crash at some point, but it never did.

    e360: Why focus on developing regions?

    Koh:
    We understand the problems these scientists working in developing countries are facing, having worked in those areas for a long time. So we knew that, first of all, this tool would be very useful for ecologists working in those areas, and second, we knew that these scientists wouldn't be able to afford commercially available UAV systems that cost tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. When we realized we could build them for just a few thousand dollars, we decided that we should put this information on a webpage and share it with our colleagues in these areas.

    e360: Can you talk a bit about the benefits of using drones in conservation rather than going in on foot?

    Koh: In conflict zones or areas commonly visited by poachers, such as Nepal or parts of India, poachers would be armed most of the time. If conservation researchers were working in these areas they would be in constant risk of coming into contact with these people, and you never know what would happen — their lives might be at risk. By having UAVs collect the data, the biologist would avoid many of these risks.

    Another reason is simply that many of these places are not accessible or would be very expensive to get to because you would need to organize a huge group of people to bring in lots of equipment, food, and other logistical needs. The drones can allow biologists to survey the area just to find out whether it's worth investing the time and effort to organize an expedition. Of course, the drones wouldn't be able to acquire the same amount of detailed information you would get from walking the forest on foot, but you would at least get an overview of the landscape and, in some cases, could get very high-resolution images of the forest canopy.

    e360: What types of groups have you collaborated with?

    Koh:
    We work mostly with NGOs and academic groups. NGOs are most interested in using the drones for anti-poaching efforts, such as in Nepal through our collaboration with WWF International. They’ve invited us to Nepal several times now, and we’ve trained not just WWF staff but also some of the local government agencies on how to use these systems. It’s quite a long process because often we have to cater to their needs by developing customized UAVs for a particular region.

    Groups fly the UAVs to explore national parks and their boundaries or watch out for poachers. They can also be used as a deterrent against poachers, which actually turns out to be even more effective than running around looking for poachers. The local media often advertises that UAVs will be in the air watching out for poachers, so poachers might think twice before coming into the forest. So far we haven’t had any conflicts or contact with poachers or people who were doing any illegal activities.

    e360: What are some of the most interesting drone projects you’ve worked on?

    Koh:
    Our first project was to find a cheaper way to monitor orangutan populations in Sumatra. Traditionally people have to walk the forest on foot and count the nests in the forest canopy, and from those counts they estimate the population of orangutans. There have been efforts to fly small manned aircraft and count the nests from above, but it’s very expensive to hire an aircraft. Many times pilots wouldn’t even want to fly because it’s quite risky — there’s no way to land the aircraft in case of any emergencies. So we have been flying our UAVs over the rainforest in Sumatra and have managed to get very high-resolution images of these nests. The resolutions can be as high as 1 to 2 centimeters per pixel, which allows us to not just count the nests, but also see what kinds of twigs they are using to build the nest, what kind of leaves, possibly even estimate how long the nests have been left in the tree — all sorts of information biologists had never had before.

    We’ve been working with our colleagues from computer vision departments across different universities to try to develop an algorithm that can differentiate the orangutan nests from the other parts of each image. It’s quite a difficult task because there’s a lot of variation in how these orangutan nests look.

    We are also working in central India, in the national park called the Panna Tiger Reserve. There are about 20 tigers that were relocated from another reserve to Panna, and each of these tigers has been radio collared so they can be followed 24 hours a days, 365 days a year. As you can imagine, it’s very expensive to track the tigers around the clock, to have research assistants constantly following the tigers day and night, so we’re trying to develop a way to radio track these tigers remotely using a UAV. The idea is to fly the UAV over the reserve to pick up signals coming from the radio collars and triangulate the locations of the tigers. That application would be very useful for many other wildlife tracking projects in other parts of the world.

    e360: Earlier this summer, the U.S. banned drones in all its national parks. One concern the Park Service mentioned, among others, was that drones sometimes bother wildlife. Have you ever seen the drones you use disturb wildlife?

    Koh:
    Our only experience with that was during a trip to Borneo, when we flew one of our drones over a group of wild elephants in a rainforest. This group of elephants was being observed and tracked by a team of scientists on the ground, so the team was able to observe how they were reacting to the UAV. They told us that the wild elephants were clearly able to sense something flying in the air, even though our UAVs were flying about 150 meters (400 feet) above ground — pretty high up. Then the elephants became habituated to the noise and just carried on with their business. So I don’t think the UAVs would have a big impact on the animals’ behavior, but I do understand the concerns of the FAA in the U.S. and the national parks authority about too many UAVs flying around in the national parks.

    e360: What’s the basic process involved in setting up a conservation drone?

    Koh:
    It’s changing quite rapidly. We’ve lost count somewhere along the way, but we’ve produced over 100 UAVs by now. When we started, we basically had to build a UAV from scratch. Nowadays you can go out and buy a ready-made UAV, with an autopilot system already seated in and everything well configured. All you need to do is strap a camera onto the system, and then you have a conservation drone. Depending on what kind of application you’re interested in, you could just attach a [compact] video camera or photography camera. Some people may use a near-infrared camera to look at photosynthetic properties of the vegetation, and so on. It all depends on what kind of sensor system you need.

    e360: What’s the typical cost?

    Koh:
    A ready-to-fly UAV system is about $1,000 to $2,000. Then it depends what kind of camera system you want, but it can be as cheap as $500.

    e360: How long and how far can your drones fly?

    Koh: It’s constantly improving. The longest distance UAVs can fly now is about 100 kilometers, though that system is still being tested. People are always asking for a longer range, so that’s something we’re always working on.

    e360: What are the next priorities for your group?

    Koh: The next priority is to work more closely with academia — both Serge and I are full-time academics. When we started this project our work was not viewed as something mainstream; it was something that we did on the side, and we were frankly not taken very seriously. But in just the last couple of months there has been tremendous interest from universities and other research institutes that finally see the value in this technology. We are now trying to bring this technology into our mainstream career, and possibly introducing it as part of the teaching curriculum. Then we can really demonstrate this technology to our students, and hopefully it will just become part of the toolkit of every biologist in the future.

    Top photo of mother orangutan showing affection to adult daughter by olga_gl via Shutterstock

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