Rupert Murdoch's News UK is leading media against climate change

Jessica Shankleman

When it comes to tackling climate change, the media has "an innate" responsibility to pratice what it preaches, and should not rely on the growth of digital publishing to curb its carbon emissions, the chief operating officer of News UK has said.

Speaking to BusinessGreen after News UK last week became the first media company to secure the Carbon Trust Triple Standard for reducing CO2, waste and water use, Chris Taylor, said all businesses should be aware that they are "custodians of the environment for future generations."

"I think if we are writing and commenting on these matters as we do regularly, then it's only fair that we try to practice what we preach," he said.

News UK has slashed its carbon emissions by 50 percent since 2008, and its new offices next to London Bridge's Shard building now recycle 80 percent of their waste, up from 10 percent at the old Wapping offices.

The new complex also has no car parking spaces except for disabled drivers, in order to encourage employees to use public transport or cycle.

"The Times is very famous for its cycling campaign as an alternative to driving to work," said Taylor. "To do these things ourselves only adds to the level of credibility. I think it's just something in the company that everyone buys into, so as a joiner you feel a bit out of place if you were trying to rail against that."

News UK's strong commitment to green best practices may come as a surprise to some environmental campaigners, who have accused The Sun and The Times of promoting climate skeptic arguments and being highly criticial of decarbonization policies and investments.

Arguments against efforts to curb emissions do not appear to have been embraced by the company's management, but Taylor insists it is not within the remit of the News UK management to dictate editorial policy on environmental issues. "The Times and our other newspapers have comprehensive editorial independence from the leadership of the company itself," he said. "It doesn't have to be the case that the newspapers have to report what the policy of the company is, and in fact there are many high profile cases in the industry where that's not been the case."

Securing the Carbon Trust standards has required initiatives right across the business, and Taylor explains how steps have been taken to ensure the measures embraced by News UK are compatible with a busy newsroom. For example, the management decided to make it easy for employees to recycle by sorting waste off site rather than asking people to separate waste in different bins.

However, some of the biggest environmental wins have been achieved outside the newsroom, in the print production facilities, where News UK also prints The Telegraph, The Financial Times, The Evening Standard and The Metro as well as its own newspapers.

Printing facilities require supercharged air conditioners to deliver the precise humidity levels that ensure the ink sticks to the page. But News UK cut its air conditioning demand by 70 percent, through scheduling and engineering improvements that has saved a total of 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the Euroscentral print site in Glasgow has reduced its water use by 44 percent, while the Broxbourne print site in Hertforshire has curbed all non-paper waste going to landfill by three-quarters.

Taylor maintains that its efforts are having a wider impact on the newspaper industry too, with the "real wins" coming from publisher to publisher collaborations.

For example, since September 2013, News UK and The Telegraph have combined their distribution programs, reducing the need for 15,000 van journeys a year and cutting mileage for distribution vans by 1.2 million miles. Taylor said he hopes to roll this collaborative approach out with other papers in the future in a bid to further reduce mileage.

But should News UK really be focusing its efforts on reducing the footprint of print when some argue the platform rapidly is becoming outmoded?

Taylor said in fact the opposite is true, that it would be easy for a publisher to claim that a shift to digital naturally would fulfill its environmental commitments, when in fact active steps to improve environmental performance still need to be taken. This is in part because News UK's digital subscription services for online content have not led to the same widening gap between digital and print distribution that other outlets with free online sites have seen. "We here firmly believe that in an environment where you charge for all of your products as we do, it's really about consumer choice and we don't see people moving away comprehensively from print," Taylor said.

Instead he argued that all newspaper outlets should be taking practical steps to develop more efficient processes that improve both the environment and their balance sheets. "Our view is that the printed product is here to stay certainly for the next 20 years, so it's about having the two things to co-exist side by side," Taylor added.

As the newspaper industry continues to face challenges in monetizing online publishing and managing declining printing sales, perhaps News UK's approach to delivering a more efficient printing and distribution model could help improve both its financial and environmental performance for years to come. Rupert Murdoch's Twitter account may have confirmed that the media magnate is somewhat sceptical about the need for action on climate change, but at least one of his companies appears to remain fully committed to curbing its environmental impact.

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen

Here are the 2 biggest challenges to the future of energy storage

Christine Hertzog

The recent Energy Storage North America (ESNA) conference in San Jose, Calif., can be summed up in one word: optimism. The sanguine outlooks on market opportunities and trends were unanimous. Several vendors can't manufacture their equipment fast enough to meet demand.

California is making the market for energy storage. The ninth largest economy in the world recognized energy storage systems as important technologies in electricity value chains with last year's passage of AB 2514. The California Public Utilities Commision's Decision 13-10-040 (PDF) set the regulatory expectations about utility-interconnected and behind-the-meter energy storage. States such as California view energy storage as a critical tool to firm up intermittent forms of renewable generation.

State policies in the Northeast encourage energy storage systems to deliver resiliency for grids and critical infrastructure. Of course, it's a credible argument that Tesla is making a market for energy storage with its gigafactory in Nevada. The company plans to build 50 GWh in annual battery storage starting in 2017. These combined influences are driving the growth of new storage technologies, services and financing mechanisms.

The comparisons to solar trajectory trends are well known. Energy storage technologies are expected to rapidly decrease in price in response to increased economies of scale and expertise. Deployment numbers forecast fast growth — particularly in behind-the-meter solutions that focus on reducing electricity costs due to high demand charges.

But the energy storage ecosystem has to overcome two challenges that could have negative impacts on adoption rates.

1. Profusion leads to confusion

First, energy storage technologies are diverse. There are chemical and non-chemical categories of storage. Many subcategories are based on different elements such as lithium, zinc, sodium or iron; and non-chemical storage ranges from pumped hydro to compressed air to flywheels.

There is significant variety in number of charges, stability in different environmental conditions, and form factors. You can select an energy storage solution to ensure that your mission-critical devices or operations are not disrupted by power outages — a resiliency function. Storage can help maintain stable grid operations, a reliability function. Storage can reduce electricity use at peak time periods or avoid those demand charges mentioned above — a cost-savings function.

[Learn more about distributed energy systems at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

The market places very different values on the potential uses for energy storage by function. There's a lot of confusion that needs to be addressed with education to ensure buyers are making sound decisions that meet and exceed their expectations.

2. Secrets slow adoption

The second challenge is that early stage energy storage technologies and services usually are proprietary and customized engineering solutions. Deployments may include features that aren't supported on a commercial scale, or may not exist in the future. All of these qualities increase the balance of system costs that go beyond the storage equipment purchases. There is no equivalent to a USB standard for physical connections of different energy storage solutions to the grid.

The Byzantine variety of permitting processes and fees is a problem that bedevils the solar industry too, but it's a brand new learning curve for the energy storage system integrators and installers. In essence, there's too much complexity in the entire design, development and deployment process for energy storage systems, and it's an area that's ripe for innovation.

Time to roll up our sleeves

The good news is that vendors are working collaboratively to solve some of these problems. A new industry initiative called the Modular Energy Storage Architecture standard initiative can help promote more of a plug-and-play environment. It would be interesting to see similar collaborative efforts between utilities to standardize on interconnection processes. Likewise, the irrationalities of municipal permitting processes should be replaced with national standards — just as we use the NEC (National Electrical Code) to define the safe design and installation of electrical systems in a uniform way across the USA.

The energy storage ecosystem has to rapidly mature, or suffer self-inflicted pain evident in inflexible, non-scalable and proprietary solutions slowed down with non-standard processes. These challenges could reduce overall investment paybacks for grid scale and behind the meter deployments. Industry optimism must be tempered with pragmatism to create the right technology and policy frameworks that enable continued success to this important segment of smart grid solutions.

Top image of bottled energy by Artifan via Shutterstock. This article first appeared at Smart Grid Library.

5 ways to whet consumers' appetites for sustainability

Tove Malmqvist

Sustainable consumer behavior has improved only incrementally, and remains stagnant or has become less sustainable in areas such as transportation, housing and consumer goods, according to the 2014 Greendex survey.

Let's examine some ways that consumers can change their behavior to increase their sustainable consumption.

The fifth edition of this Greendex survey detects increasing concern about the environment, together with increasing awareness of human activity as the cause for climate change coupled with growing concern about how a changing climate will worsen people's way of life in their lifetime. It is clear that consumers are largely unable to translate their personal values and worries into meaningful action beyond incremental improvements.

On a slightly brighter note, however, the survey shows that consumers' food habits have become more sustainable in 11 of 18 countries tracked as consumers have started to embrace the local and organic food movements.

So, how is all of this relevant for business?

To better understand how we as individuals, including global corporate organizations, can accelerate the adoption of more sustainable habits among consumers, we took an in-depth look (PDF) at the dynamics of consumer behavior change in the area of food.

These insights may well be applicable beyond the realm of food and should be of interest to all who want to see a concerted drive to increase sustainable consumer behavior overall.

Here are five ways that can help to unlock sustainable consumer behavior.

1. Focus on emerging markets

A new index of behavior change potential based on current food habits versus willingness and capacity to change shows that consumers in emerging markets such as Mexico, Brazil and China have the most potential for change, while those in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan are the most set in their current habits (see accompanying graphic). The countries with the top-five change potential scores contain 1.8 billion people.

 GlobeScan

2. Target the right consumers

Based on advanced statistical modelling, we identified five distinct groups of consumers that differ in terms of their intent and capacity to change their current food habits. The analysis (PDF) reveals the "Moveable Masses" segment to be the largest one across the 18 countries surveyed, and also the most easily influenced type of consumer with a lot of room to improve. Individuals in this group are also highly affected by obstacles to change — removing these obstacles and leveraging the key motivators for this group potentially can unlock large-scale change towards more sustainable habits.

3. Focus on peer-to-peer communications

Our analysis indicates that the strongest driver of change for most consumer segments, including the "Moveable Masses" segment, is encouragement by friends to consume more sustainably, and also the act of encouraging others to do the same. Results suggest that peer-to-peer encouragement is statistically the most effective motivator for consumers to change their habits and that grassroots peer-to-peer activism has the potential to unlock behavior change around food.

But the study also found that only small proportions of consumers are strongly encouraged by their friends to eat more sustainably. Social media is, of course, a formidable tool that enables peer-to-peer influence to flourish, and any corporate strategy that attempts to influence consumer habits should prioritize its social media approach.

4. Be transparent

Our research on attitudes around food reveal that consumers care deeply about the food that they eat and about how it is produced, with most saying food is an essential part of their culture. At the same time, however, most feel alienated from the food system and do not feel empowered to influence what food is available to them when shopping or the way that food is produced.

Results show that when informed about the environmental impact of different types of food, consumers tend to shift their intentions toward more sustainable food choices. Businesses need to inform, engage and empower consumers to help them translate their values into more sustainable consumer habits.

5. Link sustainability with personal health

Results suggest that consumers are more receptive to information about making more sustainable food choices when this information is linked to their own health and provided by sources with medical or scientific credibility. Other GlobeScan research also indicates that scientists are far more trusted by the public than other institutional authorities, including government or business.

Top image of rogan josh by stocksolutions via Shutterstock.

How DuPont and P&G plan to make detergent from agricultural waste

Stephen Kennett

According to the companies, Tide Coldwater will be the first brand in the world to blend cellulosic ethanol in a scalable and commercial way.

Ethanol is a key ingredient in the detergent's formulation, allowing for stability of the detergent formula and better washing performance. The cellulosic ethanol, which is made from harvest by-products, emits less greenhouse gas compared to petroleum or the currently used corn-based ethanol it will replace. Over 7,000 tons of agricultural waste will be re-purposed a year to meet the needs of the Tide Coldwater brand.

DuPont will produce the renewable, cellulosic ethanol at the company's new U.S. biorefinery, currently under construction in Nevada, Iowa. Once completed, the plant will be the world's largest bioethanol refinery, producing 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year — a process with zero net carbon emissions.

Gianni Ciserani, Procter & Gamble group president of global fabric and home care, said, "We believe that actions speak louder than words in the area of sustainability and this partnership with DuPont demonstrates we are doing just that. As one of the world's largest laundry manufacturers, we have a responsibility to lead renewable sourcing in products. We do this by ensuring consumers still get the great Tide laundry performance they want, while further reducing the impact on the environment. In January, we committed to removing phosphates in our laundry products."

DuPont Senior Vice President James Collins added, "With this collaboration, DuPont is also taking the first step to diversify its markets for cellulosic ethanol beyond fuels. As we build on our integrated science capabilities, we will continue to seek out new opportunities and new collaborations to transform value chains with more sustainable solutions."

 2degrees

Top image of Tide bottles by Mike Mozart via Flickr. This article first appeared in 2degrees.

When climate 'wins' only lead to other clean energy battles

Ryan Gerlach

As the adage goes, following every action is a reaction. As elsewhere, this is true in politics, where every move is followed by a series of countermeasures. Lately, climate and energy have increasingly been at the political fore. It follows then, that climate policy “wins,” such as the federal Clean Power Plan, could intensify debates around other clean energy issues. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, or CPP, is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by about 30 percent by 2030. The rule, which currently remains in its comment period, is highly complex and a long way from being finalized, let alone implemented. Consequently, any projections on its impact — environmental, economic or otherwise — are highly speculative. However, we can assume that if and when it is implemented, it will have the general effect of reducing reliance on carbon-intensive fuels, coal in particular. 

As with so many other facets of present-day American life, energy politics are highly divisive. Some opponents of the rule have claimed it is part of a larger “War on Coal.” Leaving aside any argument as to whether the framing is fair or accurate, let’s consider the metaphor further. 

Digging in their heels 

Wars are composed of  smaller battles where victory may or may not be predictive of the larger outcome, and while the full range of issues with energy politics obviously goes well beyond predicting counterpunches in a “War on Coal,” considering all possible outcomes of federal efforts such as the CPP allows those implementing the rule to do so in a way that takes into full account the desires of states, as well as any unintended consequences such efforts may present. 

With this in mind, in one metaphorical battle the CPP could actually hinder the near-term deployment of rooftop solar in some parts of the country. Its passage in states whose utility commissions are opposed to the rule could lead to stronger pushback in regulatory battles governing distributed solar power. Factor in the equally direly named “Utility Death Spiral,” (a potential phenomenon where utilities lose customers to solar and other distributed generation technologies, raise rates in response, and thus drive more customers to DG options), and it shouldn’t be surprising if there is pushback from those who feel they are being significantly burdened by the passage of the CPP. 

The most ominous predictions, foretelling the end of utility companies, are almost certainly overblown. However, it is clear the landscape in which utilities operate is changing. Solar and other technologies are becoming increasingly competitive with conventional power. Meanwhile, some form of carbon pollution limits are almost certain to be implemented. Together, these factors have the effect of creating a highly uncertain competitive and regulatory environment for existing utilities.  

Response to this uncertainty is falling on a wide spectrum. On one hand, the New York State Public Service Commission is contemplating a total rethinking of its grid’s engineering. It is considering a proposal, Reforming the Energy Vision, that would transform the grid into a multidirectional network and turn the state’s utilities from energy providers into “distribution system platform providers.” 

More often, however, we see legal and regulatory disputes pushing back against laws and policies regulating DG technology. Throughout the country, many utilities have worked to oppose net metering laws or impose steep interconnection charges upon home and business owners who install photovoltaic systems on their properties. Utilities claim this is simply an effort to recover the costs associated with maintaining the grid and protect other ratepayers from subsidizing the solar arrays for the customers who install them. Critics counter it is an unfair attempt to kill solar deployment in their regions and maintain a monopoly on the sale of electricity.

Compliance with the CPP may serve to exacerbate these fights. While there is ongoing debate regarding the costs both DG proliferation and CPP implementation will impose on utilities, there are guaranteed to be some, presumably significant, costs involved with CPP compliance. And this has many utilities digging in their heels. 

The big three 

Three primary factors influence the economic viability of a photovoltaic system: 1) amount of sunlight, 2) existing electricity prices and 3) incentives. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residents of all 12 states involved in a lawsuit against the EPA that challenges the agency’s jurisdiction to impose CPP regulations pay below the national average for electricity on a kilowatt-hour basis. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into cheaper utility bills, because lower rates can be offset by substantially higher consumption. 

Compliance with the CPP would likely drive bills higher and dull one of the key competitive advantages (low rates) utilities in coal states have against solar. Because many coal-reliant states also have abundant sunlight, implementing the CPP may tip the scales such that at least two of solar economics’ “big three” favor solar. 

Again, it should not be surprising if states in which the CPP imposes a significant burden feel attacked and as though they have lost a key battle on federal regulations. Furthermore, it should not be a revelation if in the short term they seek to counter by imposing policies and rate structures designed to discourage solar implementation and other DG technologies. 

However, with state-level battles over solar policy popping up all over the country, understanding which states are going to be most affected by the coming carbon regulations might hold some predictive weight in determining where these debates figure to become most heated. While those most concerned with climate change and carbon emissions will likely laud the direction and impact of the federal policy, the counterbalance may be that a handful of states, many with strong solar potential, actually make solar adoption more distant and difficult.

Therefore, instead of taking policy such as the CPP at face value as climate “wins,” it would behoove supporters to look at the full implications and possibilities of such rules in order to create a smoother path forward for adoption of all clean energy measures.

This article originally appeared at Ensia. Chess image by Leon Von Gaul via Flickr

How ConAgra sets the table for climate resilience

Ann Goodman

Is there an American who hasn’t tried Chef Boyardee’s ravioli? Hunt’s tomato sauce? Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn? Probably not.

And that’s why it’s so important that ConAgra Foods, the $16 billion, Omaha-based company that owns the brands, ensure it keeps producing and providing enough healthy, sustainably sourced food — without stoking climate change.

To accomplish that goal, the company is executing a four-pronged resilience approach:

1. Implementing energy efficiency strategies throughout its facilities to achieve a greenhouse-gas reduction goal of 20 percent per pound of product by 2020, drawing heavily on employee engagement and strategic capital investments in facility infrastructure, such as boiler control system upgrades, heat recovery projects and lighting retrofits;

2. Working with supply chain partners to assure sustainable, long-term sourcing of ingredients through sustainable agriculture practices and transport efficiency;

3. Fine-tuning a corporate climate change policy; and

4. Eliminating food waste in its facilities, thereby reducing the amount sent to landfills and cutting resulting GHG emissions.

Climate risk and resilience: Manage, mitigate, monitor

ConAgra recognizes that climate change is expressed both by sudden, sporadic, extreme weather events — such as Hurricane Sandy nearly two years ago, or the Missouri River floods in 2011 — and also by ongoing extreme conditions, such as the California drought.

Both sorts of climate events affect the company’s business, although differently. With Sandy in 2012, the company had to act quickly to protect its people and facilities, while implementing business continuity plans to minimize interruptions in production and service to customers.

“Both [Sandy and the Missouri flood] required some flexibility in how we operated, within our own facilities and with suppliers,” said Marcella Thompson, director of sustainability in ConAgra Foods’ Environment, Health & Safety department.

As for ongoing climate conditions, the resulting stress on agriculture places other pressures on the company.

“For us, this situation has underscored the importance of having long-term relationships with farmers who grow tomatoes for our two fresh-pack and canning facilities in California,” explained Thompson. “We have and will continue to look to these farmers to adopt best practices to conserve water while maximizing yield.”

Food waste

“We can’t ignore the connection between climate change and food waste,” said Thompson. “Agriculture, through crop cultivation, accounted for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. Combine that with the fact that 30 to 40 percent of food grown and prepared is never consumed, and there’s a big opportunity to make progress just by eliminating this waste. It’s a challenge that extends up and down the supply chain — starting at the farm and extending all the way to plate waste at home and restaurants.”ConAgra foods

Once in landfills, waste produces greenhouse gases, further exacerbating the problem.

That tension likely will increase as the world is faced with feeding 9 billion people by 2050, she added. In this context, “Resiliency means everything is on the table — beginning with how and where food is grown, to what and how much people eat.”

Which is a key reason ConAgra focuses on solutions to climate change. “Adapting to [it] is much more about what we do than what we say. We have to change how we operate in light of how the climate is changing around us,” Thompson said.

That’s one reason the company, in 2010, included in its first set of sustainability goals diverting at least 75 percent of waste from landfills to better purposes, such as donations, animal feed, energy recovery or composting (for organic materials), and recycling (or energy recovery for packaging).

“In very short order, we realized that we needed to have a strategy to manage these material streams not as wastes but as byproducts that still had value,” said Gail Tavill, ConAgra’s vice president of sustainability. “Shifting our attitudes about these materials left over from manufacturing really helped several of our facilities take action.”

In an effort to reduce greenhouse gases by eliminating food waste at landfills, the company put systems in place in 2012 to track landfill and material diversion from its facilities, identifying 15 waste categories in line with the EPA’s waste reduction model (WARM). The results include improved understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions from the company’s management of waste materials, as well as the ability to quantify benefits from diverting them from landfills to find "higher-value homes" for them.

ConAgra estimates that in 2013 it diverted 93 percent of waste materials from landfills, avoiding more than 165,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas Scope 3 emissions.

“Today, we send less than 5 percent of organic materials to landfills as waste and continue to work to reduce that amount, so [we] have clearly exceeded our initial goal,” Tavill said. “In an effort to keep moving forward and looking ahead, we recently announced our 2020 Vision for sustainability, which includes a goal to reduce the amount of waste generated by 1 billion pounds.”

Employee engagement

Employees are key — to changing operations, to implementing new procedures and policies, to solving problems. Improving the company’s energy efficiency policy to reduce its own GHG emissions is one critical example.

Active Green Teams in most locations are a central part of the company’s employee engagement strategy. While often supported by plant management, the teams actively engage hourly employees across multiple disciplines and shifts. “Our employee Green Teams bring our sustainability ambitions to life,” said Thompson. “They are the heart and soul of our program, and they’re best positioned to identify opportunities in our facilities.”

Some basic training came first. “Initially, we had to educate our team on what GHGs are and our past performance, so that they could understand and communicate to others about our goals,” said ConAgra’s senior EHS specialist Debbie Stanley. “After understanding GHGs, [employees] were excited to help develop solutions that could impact the goal.”

The hardest part was actually putting in the time and resources to ensure employees understood GHGs, she said. And the reward? “Several times a week, I have team members come up with energy saving ideas and solutions and bring them to Green Team members, and I’ve had Green Team members lead projects to reduce GHGs,” Stanley said.

To get employees on board with energy efficiency, ConAgra’s frozen food facility in Russellville, Ark. held a Green Day during Earth Month. The local Green Team led activities to raise awareness and engage employees, hosting games such as "Spin the Wheel," to help them learn about energy facts, and a dice game, to answer questions on all three key resources — electricity, water and compressed air.

The rewards are many, from lowering utility costs for the facility, to boosting employee enthusiasm for the measures. “We’ve made [it] a big deal by really recognizing those who helped implement sustainability projects,” said Stanley. “Generally they’re eager to make a bigger difference.”

Supply chains

One issue of critical importance to ConAgra’s climate approach, as for many others in the food sector, is how best to work with its supply chain, which — from farming to packaging to transportation — is highly diverse and complex.

“It is important for us and other companies to understand our supply chains to assure long-term access to materials and minimize risks,” said Tavill. As an example, she cites the company’s sustainable agriculture programs that focus on those crops “where we have direct relationships with farmers,” including potatoes and tomatoes. “It’s the direct, long-term relationships we have with these business partners that enable us to collaborate effectively to really drive change.”

For instance, the company has helped its potato growers put into practice more water-efficient irrigation practices, which also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the farm by cutting energy use from pumping water. Many growers have implemented water-conservation best practices by using soil moisture probes to ensure irrigation only where needed, identifying dry spots with aerial infrared technology and employing low-flow, drop-down sprinkler nozzles to apply precisely the right amount of water.

“Our farmers and Ag Services team have taught me that there’s both an art and a science to farming,” said Thompson. “Innovative application of technology in agriculture enables farmers to grow more food on less land — with far fewer resources.”

The company has thousands of direct suppliers, sourcing everything from grains and nuts to vegetables and proteins. Plus, the company’s supply chain is many layers deep, reaching all the way to the farmer growing crops or raising animals that eventually reach the consumer as ConAgra products.

That complexity “forces us to prioritize and focus, balancing the relative climate impact and risk of an ingredient with our ability to influence change,” explained Thompson.

Adding to this complexity is “the frequent intersection of social and environmental issues” in the supply chain, she said. “Take palm oil, for example. Southeast Asia is indisputably the most efficient growing area for palm plantations contributing to the economic development of the region, but the area also has high natural capital value [that competes with demand for] greater transparency and pressures into supply chains for agriculture to continue to gain momentum and may change how we source ingredients longer term.”

To ensure that its palm oil purchases don’t add to deforestation of rainforests, further exacerbating climate change, the company recently pledged to source all of its palm oil from responsible and sustainable sources by December 2015.

And if that move is any indication, ConAgra likely is poised to continue forging a sustainable path to climate resilience — ensuring availability of sources and food, all while reducing carbon.

Top image from ConAgra's Food 2020 Sustainability Vision video

How Starbucks and Green Mountain serve up shared value

Cheryl Baldwin

A shocking dichotomy exists in our food system. The more than 70 percent of the global population that is food insecure are the very people we rely on to produce about 70 percent (PDF) of the world's food supply. They are typically small farmers living in rural areas across the globe.

Today is World Food Day, the opportunity to highlight the call for action to end hunger for the 1 billion currently hungry (PDF) and to fulfill our future population's food needs. This year's theme of family farming acknowledges the crucial role these farms play. Building the capacity of smallholder producers is necessary to empower them to move out of poverty and to eradicate hunger.

Leading food and beverage companies have taken the challenge. They are addressing hunger and poverty in their suppliers' communities while also delivering value for their companies.

Coffee leads the way

The United Nations Global Compact, the U.N. platform to engage with global business, established six Sustainable Agriculture Business Principles to guide progress on building a resilient food system:

 

Active ahead of the U.N. guidance, Starbucks and Keurig Green Mountain demonstrate how these principles work in practice.

Starbucks is building the capacity of smallholder coffee producers through loan programs, technology transfer and market access. The company plans to loan $20 million to underserved farmers by 2015. Part of the funding provides smallholders with financing for market access and technical assistance through the Fairtrade Access Fund. The company also established a network of six Farmer Support Centers in key coffee-growing regions. These centers provide expert assistance directly to farmers, including best management practices and improved coffee varietals. Starbucks' commitment to purchase only ethically sourced coffee by 2015 underpin these and other initiatives by providing a market for smallholder producers.

Viewing hunger in its producer communities as a supply chain threat, Keurig Green Mountain is focusing on providing tools and training to reduce hunger and poverty in the communities where it sources coffee. Projects have included: supporting coffee farmers in growing staple crops and nutritious fruits and vegetables at home or local schools; helping build metal silos for farmers to store and protect grains from humidity and pests and provide year-round access to food; ensuring diverse sources of income through activities such as producing eggs or beekeeping to help stabilize income throughout the year; providing training and market access for these additional crops.

Keurig undertook this range of activities after reaching out directly to those affected in order to understand what would help them the most. These efforts have reduced hunger in the target communities, enabling them to be productive supply-chain partners.

Shared value in the supply chain

Programs that build the viability and capability of smallholder producers are widespread across the food sector with efforts underway at Walmart, Unilever and recent commitments from Kellogg's and others. Such investment is critical to the long-term resilience of the food system and to ensuring food security for the world's growing population.

Companies should use World Food Day and the examples of these leaders as an opportunity to evaluate how they could strengthen their producer partners while improving the long-term food security of the communities they touch.

This global event and these successful approaches also should inspire companies to understand and address other social needs (PDF) in their supply chain and markets to deliver critical value. Those companies that can address unmet societal needs such as a lack of food, water, health care, education or employment in a way that also benefits their business will have helped evolve our common understanding of the corporation of the future. As businesses reach beyond their four walls and work collaboratively with their supply-chain partners and communities, we can expect exciting innovations and creative collaborations with far-reaching results.

Take a look at our blog on hunger and corporate responsibility, The Hunger Games Are Not Sponsored by Responsible Corporations, and last year's World Food Day blog post, A Sliver Lining with Sustainable Sourcing on World Food Day. coffeefarmer_DFID_wikimedia

9 innovations to slash food loss

Mike Hower

It’s no secret that food waste is a mounting problem in the United States. In 2010 31 percent — or 133 billion pounds — of the 430 billion pounds of the national food supply went uneaten, according to a report released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This equates to around $161.6 billion, based on average retail prices.

Before you go reprimanding your children for wasting their vegetables, keep in mind that food waste is only responsible for a portion of overall food loss. Food waste is related to consumer and retailer behavior, while food loss speaks to the diminishing level of edible food throughout the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing stages of the supply chain.

Besides consumer and retailer behavior, other culprits contributing to food loss include the perishable nature of most foods (technical factors); the time needed to deliver food to a new destination (temporal and spatial factors); and costs to recover and redirect uneaten food to another use (economic factors).

Clearly, there is a practical limit to how much food loss the United States or any other country realistically could prevent, reduce or recover for human consumption. But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook. Luckily, several companies and organizations are innovating to develop new tools and approaches to solve our food loss problem. Here are nine of the most notable ones:

1. Reusable shipping vessels

After working with design consultants at RKS to create a more efficient solution for made-on-demand, direct-to-consumer food delivery, FreshRealm developed a first-of-its-kind temperature-controlled and reusable shipping vessel. Unlike other available shipping options, the vessel delivers food two days after it’s made and keeps that food cold at 40 degrees F for 40 hours without any electricity or consumables. Another sustainable aspect of the vessel is that it complies with existing FedEx requirements so as to not put more trucks on the road.

2. Redirecting food in-store

Capitalizing on consumers’ love for a good deal, Food Star partners with retailers to redirect food in-store before it will be wasted. Through flash sale emails, shoppers are notified of limited-time produce sales events where they can buy at extreme savings. After the event, any unsold perishables are directed to composting instead of landfills.

3. Automated food-waste tracking systems

Founded in 2004 by a team of Portland, Ore.-based entrepreneurs, LeanPath seeks to replace the food industry’s inefficient “paper and clipboard” approach to waste management with industry’s first fully automated food-waste tracking system. Although the company’s initial goal was to help organizations with financial sustainability, this later evolved to include environmental sustainability. LeanPath has been helping foodservice organizations fight food waste for 10 years, working with more than 150 operations.

4. Using anaerobic digestion to turn food waste into energy

A firm called Feed Resource Recovery has designed and implemented a zero-waste solution for the food industry that leverages customers’ existing transportation and distribution systems to generate clean, sustainable power for onsite operations — reducing emissions and saving millions of dollars on waste-removal costs. In nature, wetlands use anaerobic digestion to purify the earth’s wastewater. Feed uses this natural process, along with technology and optimization advancements, to cleanly and efficiently convert the carbon in organic waste into a renewable natural gas. This results in zero odors, a net surplus of energy and a nutrient-rich fertilizer. Similarly, a company called Waste Management, Inc. collects food scraps from restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and food processing plants, takes them to a company facility in Carson City, Nev., and grinds them into a slurry. That liquid is taken to a Los Angeles County wastewater treatment plant, where it is mixed in with sewage — one part food waste to nine parts human waste — and processed in an anaerobic digester. This results in a biogas that can be burned as fuel.

5. Leveraging food waste for fertilizer

California Safe Soil provides a full-cycle process that helps supermarkets recycle their organics, improve store hygiene and reduce costs, while also helping farmers save money, increase crop yield and reduce nitrate runoff. Harvest-to-Harvest, the company’s flagship fertilizer product, mechanically grinds and heats food collected from supermarkets, then processes it through enzymatic digestion to obtain a liquid that is pasteurized, screened, stabilized and homogenized to an average particle size of 26 microns. Farmers can use Harvest-to-Harvest to add organic matter to their soil and stimulate soil fertility through existing irrigation equipment. It is certified pathogen free and safe to use on all crops.

6. Cutting food waste with consumer apps

Simple apps such as Green Egg Shopper allow consumers to save food and money in three steps. First, users create a shopping list starting with a new or archived list. They can plan the quantity of food by viewing previous lists, as well as check prices at which items previously were bought. Second, users "tick off" items in the list while shopping, or set "Use by" date for perishables. Setting "Use by" automatically ticks off the item in the list. Third, users can view a list of items near expiry, and check the "Use Me Now" list before planning meals. They also can view reports on expenses to see how much, where and on what they are spending.

7. Delivering groceries via drone

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has outlined his company’s plans for a fresh grocery business called Prime Fresh, which has been offered for five years in Seattle and expanded to Los Angeles and San Francisco. For $299 a year, members receive same-day and early-morning delivery on groceries and other items such as toys, electronics and household goods. Bezos said the goal is to expand to more cities, and eventually use drones to deliver packages. It will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations for this to become mainstream, but this could prove to be a great technology for reducing waste by rapidly delivering groceries.

8. Targeting post-harvest waste

The Post Harvest Project looks at food waste before it hits the supermarket shelves by working across the public, private and non-profit sectors to improve harvest-to-plate food preservation in low and middle-income countries. The organization selects a commodity or small group of commodities and begins a holistic assessment of food waste throughout the supply chain within a country or region. It then identifies problem areas where industry, technology and/or training could reduce waste and ensure partners meet the needs identified in the assessment.

9. Helping charities reclaim food waste

Wholesalers and distributors throw away thousands of tons of perfectly edible food every day. Although many would rather donate the food than waste it, they often have trouble finding charities before the food perishes. Despite the fact that the food supply chain is longer and more technologically interconnected than ever before, many food charities haven’t progressed beyond spreadsheets and e-mail. Food Cowboy helps charities look and act more like supply-chain companies by helping truckers and other donors search for them by location, operating hours, storage capacity and even loading dock type. It also can handle scheduling and communications so transfers happen as efficiently as possible, as well as streamline charitable donation paperwork so donors can get valuable tax benefits.

Food loss and food waste will continue to become a growing global concern as the population grows and food-production resources become even more limited — but forward-thinking companies should view this as a business opportunity. Firms can add to their bottom lines by reducing waste-disposal fees, generating savings through improved inventory management, gaining tax deductions for donations or selling organic matter to others. Cutting food waste also can help companies achieve their greenhouse-gas reduction goals — food decomposing in the landfill produces methane gas, which is more potent than carbon dioxide. Companies can even improve supply-chain stability by reducing the demand for ever more food production and the related need for the resources and inputs to grow, process and transport food. 

How Apple, IKEA and Tesla redefine climate change practicality

Sissel Waage

"Be practical" is a common theme in discussions about future energy sources — even in light of climate change. The rationale usually is that we all need to "face the reality" that fossil fuels will provide the majority of global energy for decades, unless truly game-changing technological breakthroughs emerge and can be scaled.

Yet it's clear that the "be practical" approach is anything but.

In light of climate science and alarming reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, now is the time to focus on driving radical energy efficiencies and low-carbon energy sources throughout business operations, power infrastructure and more, as outlined in recent BSR reports translating IPCC climate science for transport, agriculture and extractives and primary industries, as well as our work on data centers. It is time to max out all known low-carbon options while also reaching for a "man on the moon" moment by scaling and innovating further.

As I look around among corporate leaders, it is clear that some are making important changes.

Consider the new RE100 initiative, which aims to have 100 of the world's top businesses committed to 100 percent renewable power by 2020. It is currently supported by BT, Formula E, H&M, IKEA, J. Safra Sarasin, KPN, Mars, Nestlé, Philips, Reed Elsevier, Swiss Re and Yoox.

Consider Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent assertion that the "long-term consequences of not addressing climate are huge." Apple's environmental commitments reflect this notion, including that 100 percent of the company's data centers are powered by renewables.

And consider Tesla Motors' new Gigafactory, which seeks to propel the company toward its goal of producing the first mass-market electric car in three years by manufacturing cheaper lithium-ion batteries.

It is no longer immediately clear who are the pragmatists and who are the wild-eyed radicals. The game has changed and so strategies are changing — because it is no longer practical to embrace any energy source that produces large amounts of carbon and greenhouse gases.

The only pragmatic path is to create a low-carbon future, with far greater energy efficiency and far more low-carbon energy sources. A body of clear recommendations exists that support both elements, including those of We Mean Business (of which BSR is a founding partner), the E3G or IEA and Amory Lovins, as well as many others who have been working on these issues for decades.

Looking forward, being practical is clearly a matter of "avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable." Therefore, the only practical question now is how to accelerate progress toward a low-carbon future. And so, let us reconsider what we tag as "practical" versus idealistic as we consider and work toward low-carbon energy sources for the future.

Top image of dictionary by Angel Simon via Shutterstock. This article first appeared in BSR.

5 strategies to make L.A. graywater-ready

Tracy Quinn

Los Angeles has crossed the rubicon by implementing unprecedented citywide water reduction goals. L.A.'s compelling decision comes in response to the devastating drought affecting the entire state of California, projections for another dry winter and the concern that, with climate change, we could be experiencing a "new normal."

Implications of the drought — fierce wildfires, water shortages and restrictions, and potentially staggering agricultural losses — on the 38 million people who call California their home are daunting, especially to those living in the arid southern region.  Currently, Los Angeles consumes an alarming 685 million cubic meters per year of potable water. That's enough water to fill 274,178 Olympic-size pools. Roughly 68 percent of that is used in our homes and yards.

The mayor therefore has called on various departments within the city to take action, from reducing irrigation at city-owned facilities to developing plans to convert street medians to no- and low-water use landscaping. The mayor also has requested that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power report on the potential to establish additional cost-effective commercial, industrial and residential rebate and/or educational programs for reducing water, such as graywater systems.

This is an important step for Los Angeles; increasing the use of residential graywater — the water from our washing machines and bathroom faucets, showers and baths — for non-potable demands such as flushing toilets or landscape irrigation will result in dramatic water savings throughout the city. According to a recent study (PDF), onsite graywater recycling can reduce potable water demand by 27 percent and 38 percent in single-family and multi-family homes, respectively. And if just 10 percent of the city's residents participate in graywater recycling, L.A. will be able to reduce:

• water supply and treatment-related energy by 43,000 MWh per year
• potable water demand by 2 percent
• wastewater treatment load by 3 percent

Los Angeles shouldn't stop with graywater in homes. Up north, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission recently launched an ambitious non-potable water program that creates a streamlined process for new commercial, multi-family and mixed-use developments that wish to collect, treat and reuse alternative water sources for toilet flushing, irrigation and other non-potable demands.

So, what's standing in our way? Historically, the biggest barriers to more widespread use of graywater systems in Los Angeles (and elsewhere in California) has been:

• public awareness about how graywater can be used in our homes and yards to reduce water consumption
• the confusing, time-consuming and costly permitting process
• the expense of the graywater systems themselves

However, many cities such as San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa are overcoming these barriers by implementing more proactive and innovative policies. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission developed a graywater design manual (PDF) to promote safe and effective graywater use, as well as providing important rebates and incentives. And the city of Santa Clara provides rebates that combine incentives for graywater use with other outdoor conservation measures to encourage customers to create truly efficient landscapes appropriate for the needs of their household.

Here are five recommendations for increasing graywater use in Los Angeles. These suggestions will help lower the cost to Angelenos and encourage adoption of graywater recycling systems.

1. Home graywater education

Create a user-friendly website to help educate the public on graywater (and other water saving tips), provide information about the permitting process and host workshops on water efficient technologies. The Internet is an important resource for proliferation of information and a user-friendly website on the city's sustainability efforts would help popularize graywater and water-efficient technologies through community engagement, social media, community workshops and partnerships with local environmental groups. Sydney, Australia hosts a great website that is both attractive and informative.

2. Streamlined permitting and permit rebates

San Francisco offers a streamlined program for graywater projects that require permits. The SFPUC program includes helpful tools such as a non-potable water calculator and a step-by-step guidebook for the permitting process. Additionally, the SFPUC offers a rebate up to $225 toward the costs of the Department of Building inspection permit. Adjustments to the permitting process also should include education for permitting authorities to ensure consistent messaging to the public about permit requirements.

3. Rebate program for graywater systems

Decreasing the high upfront costs of retrofitting and system capital costs would decrease the greatest barrier to graywater sytems for property owners. There are multiple ways for implementing a rebate program for graywater systems. Santa Clara, mentioned previously, is one example of a good program. Santa Clara homeowners may qualify for both the graywater laundry-to-landscape rebate program (up to $200) and the landscape rebate program ($2 per square foot) for converting high water-using landscape into a landscape more suitable for graywater systems, such as planting fruit trees. An alternative program is a direct install pilot program. Long Beach experimented with a similar program, where 35 homes were selected through a lottery system to have laundry-to-landscape systems installed in their homes.

4. Modify the building code to require new homes to be 'graywater-ready'

"Graywater-ready" homes include dual plumbing to collect graywater separately from blackwater in new single-family homes. Currently, Tucson, Ariz., requires residential construction to provide plumbing for facilitating onsite graywater use. Other cities in California are considering similar requirements.

5. Adopt a non-potable water program for new commercial buildings in Los Angeles

For example, SFPUC offers a streamline permitting process for graywater systems for new commercial, multi-family, mixed use developments and other non-potable uses.

The key is that all the pieces need to be in place to ensure a successful graywater program. The rebates and incentives are no good if no one is looking for them or the permitting process is too confusing.

What can we do at home to help L.A. reach this new water use goal? Considering that about 45 percent of the city lives in single family homes and nearly 70 percent of all water use occurs outdoors, one of the easiest things homeowners can do is to install a laundry-to-landscape graywater system, or use the wastewater from your clothes washer to irrigate your landscape. In California, you no longer need a permit for this type of system as long as you meet basic requirements — so consider diverting this water now. Click here to learn more about how to install a laundry-to-landscape system.

This article originally appeared at NRDC Switchboard. Top photo credit: Los Angeles Waterkeeper.

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