5 concepts that could revolutionize 3-D printing

GreenBiz Staff

Back in the dark ages of mainstream 3-D printing — say, five years ago — the next-generation hardware was idealized as a game changer in consumer electronics.

Users could create just about any kind of plastic trinket they could imagine, so long as they came back several hours later to claim the object after it finally finished rendering.

Along with shorter print times, recent years have ushered in new competition, market segmentation and economic incentives for 3-D printing. A horde of startups and public companies have already entered the $2-billion field, but tech giants like Amazon Inc. are also now circling to plot new competing offerings or scout acquisitions.

From improved efficiency to more advanced fabrication possibilities, specialized 3-D printing subsectors are emerging that cater to an array of enterprise buyers with money to inject into the field. Machines can now produce materials with potential health applications, such as human cartilage, plus batteries, LEDs and motor components.

“These advances have brought the technology to a tipping point — it appears ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes in an increasing number of applications,” notes one 2014 report by New York-based consultancy McKinsey & Company.

In the meantime, researchers are also starting to piece together the puzzle on what the proliferation of 3-D printing technology could mean from a sustainability perspective. Generally, higher-volume production lowers the amount of energy wasted. But the amount of waste and potential for harmful environmental impacts of materials used in the supply chain still varies.

Here, a guided tour of five trends driving innovation in the 3-D printing space — and the companies angling to make the most of them:

1. Advanced manufacturing

Industrial designers have been relying on 3-D printers to generate rapid prototypes for decades. But analysts now say that the real business value of the technology lies in the production of market-ready components.

"The money is in manufacturing, not prototyping,” wrote Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at the 3-D printing-focused advisory firm Wohlers Associates, in a report on growth in the market.

That dynamic is appealing for governments and large companies (think General Electric and Tesla) committed to pursuing advanced manufacturing that could create jobs while maximizing efficiency, which is no easy task.

Well-established 3-D printing businesses, like 3D Systems, are now positioning themselves as generalists that can help customers ranging from automakers to hospitals manufacture components and materials. Then there are upstarts like Silicon Valley’s Made in Space, which has adapted 3-D printers for zero-gravity conditions to create replacement parts for the International Space Station.

The potential upside for the environment is huge, given that old-school manufacturing processes relied heavily on fossil fuels and unrecyclable materials (not to mention the toxic runoff that has resulted in some areas.)

How “green” a 3-D printing operation is still depends largely on the supply chain of the sector at hand. Some machines work with recycled plastic filaments, while others rely on new types of inks or metals that sometimes require chemical agents or generate toxic, un-recyclable waste. To that end, there are multiple efforts afoot in the world of open source, or RepRap 3-D printing, focused on recycling wasted polymers.

It is also worth emphasizing that manufacturing automation also comes with other challenges, like the elimination of middle-class jobs or a need to retrain workers on new skills.

Still, Wohlers Associates projects that 3-D printing will be a $10.8-billion business by 2021 — an optimistic forecast that has spurred some pundits to worry the field may be ballooning too fast, into a bubble.

2. The Amazon effect

As with other tech fads of the moment, like drones and instant retail delivery, one major wildcard in the realm of 3-D printing is how tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Google might come into play.

Amazon recently unveiled a 3D Printing Store offering jewelry, toys, décor and customization options branded with the tagline “shop the future.” That effort throws quite a wrench into the plans of upstarts like Shapeaways also chasing the made-to-order 3-D printing market.

Apple, meanwhile, has been quietly filing patents related to 3-D printing. Google is also rumored to be mulling its own offering in the space after signing on earlier this year to help 3D Systems build a high-speed 3-D printer. If and when that project comes to fruition, it could be a good thing for cutting down on the environmental toll of 3-D printing, since, “Anything that reduces the time spent running also reduces eco-impacts,” reports University of California, Berkeley mechanical engineering professor Jeremy Faludi.

Finally, there are older printing industry powers, like Hewlett-Packard, who are looking to regain the profit that comes with operating on the bleeding edge of a given technology. Following years of lagging revenues and missed sales targets, the company earlier this month announced that it would split into two companies: an enterprise software business and a hardware business that includes several 3-D printing initiatives.

What exactly this all might mean for sustainability writ large, however, remains supremely unclear. While there are companies working on 3-D printing techniques with applications in fields such as renewable energy (portable wind turbines), most efforts in the space among bigger tech players have focused first and foremost on making consumer goods at relatively low costs. 

3. A new material world

While more primitive 3-D printed products were usually confined to resin or plastics, evolving fabrication capabilities now make it possible to print metals, organic matter and a whole range of non-conventional materials.

ExOne, a spinoff of multinational manufacturing company Extrude Hone Corporation, is one company that attempts to lure customers with the marketing slogan “Go beyond mass production with imminent materialization,” adding that improving metal printing techniques mean that “Inventory is no longer needed.”

Though there are huge long-term implications for reducing wasted materials, the company’s stock has struggled with uncertainty about how fast buyers will gravitate toward new supply processes. 

Another concern is the potential damage caused by producing materials like photopolymers, which are produced through a chemical reaction with a toxic heavy metal. Metals, batteries and LEDs also present challenges when it comes to recycling or disposal.

One especially cutting-edge field with lots of logistical questions left to be answered relates to futuristic R&D underway on 3-D printing more finicky organic substances, like food and internal organs. Estimates vary widely when it comes to how soon that technology might be on the market, let alone what kind of supply chain might be entailed with faux-brains.

4. The maker craze

As businesses rush to make sense of the commercial manufacturing opportunities opened by 3-D printing, enterprising individuals and upstarts have also seized on unprecedented access to the high-tech equipment. The potential upside is drastically cutting down the time it takes to design and execute a new product.

Pair that with consumer shifts toward local and artisanal goods, and you have the “maker” craze fueled by demand for more transparent supply chains and a goal of supporting local economies.

MakerBot, a 3-D printing company with Brooklyn hipster credentials, was acquired for $604 million last year by Stratasys — one of the industry’s heavyweights that, like 3D Systems, was founded during the dot-com era.

Stratasys has also grown its presence in the maker scene by partnering with TechShop, a company with members-only workshops across the country targeting hands-on inventors looking to build their own products.

Those types of smaller, more consumer-friendly “FDM” 3-D printers actually can have “a negligible percent waste, if your model doesn't need any support material to shore it up,” notes Berkeley’s Faludi. Inkjet 3-D printers, which use a combination of polymeric ink and a UV-curing process, waste 40-45 percent of their ink, which also can’t be recycled, he added.

For would-be makers alienated by the prospect of hammering out product specs on their own, more consumer-friendly companies like Shapeaways offer on-demand product design and printing. 

5. Software meets hardware

You can’t use an inkjet printer without ink, and today you can’t use a 3-D printer unless you’ve modeled your product with advanced imaging software.

That’s where companies come in to create a blueprint for 3-D printing jobs.

However, that seemingly-straightforward process has become murkier in recent years as lower-cost or free modeling services become more common.

Autodesk, known for its AutoCAD design software popular with architects and builders, launched its own free demo software last year. The company also recently announced that it will branch out into hardware to sell its own 3-D printers and embark on an open source platform, Spark, to spur innovation in the space.

Longtime French competitor Dassault Systèmes also first gained prominence for its CAD software but has recently taken to acquiring social media and Internet companies. The strategy is to focus more on collaborative design.

Along with these software providers called on at the inception of a new 3-d printed product, there are several other hard-to-categorize business models popping up at the tail end of the supply chain. One example related to raw materials are trash “pickers” in developing countries like India, who are now seeking ways to establish fair trade practices for plastics they discover that could be repurposed for 3-D printing.

For now, the question is which companies and inventors in the increasingly crowded 3-D printing field can best adapt to a rapidly-changing market without succumbing to the financial ups and downs that accompany nascent technology sectors.

Top image by John Biehler via Flickr.

Supply-chain fixes are the secret sauce for three NY companies

Trish Donohue

Sustainable organizations can become preferred business partners, thanks to the demand for sustainable suppliers. Organizations that integrate sustainability into their operations likely will generate more revenue, retain and potentially create jobs, and reduce the risk of jeopardizing potential business.

Both of us work at the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, which assists companies in the state with their journey along the sustainability continuum. Through NYSP2I's "Sustainable Supply Chain" program, manufacturers learn to identify opportunities to become leaders in their industry sector by recognizing their impacts, determining a strategic certification or label to pursue and educating stakeholders on making sustainable purchasing decisions.

NYSP2I has assisted several companies with identifying opportunities to meet customer demands while reducing environmental impacts. Three are discussed here: a food manufacturer; a start-up packaging company; and an established granite countertop manufacturer. Each had an obstacle to overcome in order to gain or retain customers.

1. Baldwin Richardson Foods

Baldwin Richardson Foods wanted to be a greener supplier — and its customers demanded the same — but the company needed assistance to understand how to improve communication of its activities. BRF manufacturers and supplies custom developed products and ingredients for food service and consumer packaged goods companies. Using a supply chain sustainability assessment tool developed by NYSP2I, we performed an assessment at BRF to determine which common components of internationally accepted sustainability guidelines it was using.

NYSP2I staff conducted a review of BRF's policies, initiatives, relevant company data and production processes. Staff also interviewed members of BRF's sustainability team, as well as procurement, marketing and production department managers. The assessment identified opportunities for improvement and determined BRF's preparedness to fully report to its customers and stakeholders on its environmental sustainability commitments and efforts.

The assessment concluded that BRF is committed to sustainability and is well-equipped with the resources necessary to create a company with a competitive advantage due to its sustainability focus. As a supplier always striving for continuous improvement, BRF is able to support its supply chain and customer sustainability efforts and influence its suppliers to make sustainable choices. By retaining and growing customers, BRF expects to retain its current employees and add new jobs focused on sustainability.

Per John Cairns, BRF's director of engineering, "BRF has a better understanding of the appropriate reporting and documentation necessary for its sustainability actions as well as areas of improvement to help the company continue to make further enhancements to its sustainability practices. The assessment tool and report provided by NYSP2I has not only provided direction for BRF to supports its customers' sustainability efforts but also yielded insights for how the company can influence its own suppliers in making sustainable choices. With credibility as a supplier focused on sustainability, BRF has a recognized competitive advantage in the marketplace which makes the company a preferred business partner within the food and beverage industry."

2. Ecovative Design

Ecovative Design is developing a new class of high-performance products which serve as environmentally responsible alternatives to traditional foam packaging, insulation and other plastic-based materials. Ecovative's Mushroom Packaging is made from agricultural byproducts and mycelium, or mushroom "roots."


A large global electronics company with sustainable supply chain goals was very interested in Mushroom Packaging for protective packaging. However, this company wanted Ecovative to prove the product was compostable at industrial composting facilities. So in an effort to gain this potential customer's business, and others', Ecovative decided to pursue The Biodegradable Products Institute scientifically based label for compostable materials that biodegrade in large composting facilities. Products with the BPI label can be readily identified as compostable, which quickly allows customers to make an informed choice.

[Learn more about smarter supply chains at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

Ecovative requested that NYSP2I provide assistance in obtaining BPI certification for Mushroom Packaging. After passing disintegration testing to prove its materials are biodegradable in an industrial composting facility, and meeting other requirements, Ecovative's product qualified for BPI certification. Ecovative projects up to a 20 percent increase in customers as a result of becoming BPI certified, along with potentially creating new jobs in New York.

According to Gavin McIntyre, co-founder and chief scientist at Ecovative Design, "NYSP2I researched and managed the testing of Ecovative's Mushroom Packaging to achieve BPI certification, which is critical for meeting customer expectations for using a biodegradable package and reducing the environmental impacts of product end-of-use. These clear and quantified claims allow Ecovative to expand its market opportunities and potentially increase sales by 20 percent, leading to employee growth at our New York state facility."

3. M.C.M. Natural Stone

M.C.M. Natural Stone Inc. manufactures granite countertops, landscaping products, fireplace surrounds and accent pieces. M.C.M. is expanding its business to include the recovery and reuse of granite waste to produce 100 percent recycled granite pavers, veneers and mosaics, known as "Bella Terra" products.

M.C.M. noted that in the industry, up to 30 percent of the original granite slab is considered to be scrap after cutting for install. The scrap is sent to the landfill. M.C.M. recognizes an opportunity to avoid the landfill by salvaging these scrap pieces of granite for use as pedestrian and light traffic pavers.

 M.C.M. Natural Stone

To make this opportunity viable, M.C.M. requested that NYSP2I evaluate its Bella Terra Granite Pavers for mechanical performance and determine if they are a feasible alternative to other manufactured paver products on the market. The Bella Terra Granite Pavers successfully met or exceeded the ASTM requirements, which is information that the company can use to market these pavers to architects and construction contractors.

Additionally, because Bella Terra is a recycled product, NYSP2I determined that the pavers can contribute to credits for U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification for building construction projects because they are locally sourced and are made from 100 percent pre-consumer and post-consumer waste.

These characteristics enable M.C.M. to expand its market to environmentally conscious commercial customers looking for sustainable products, which increases sales and enhances material recovery. M.C.M. projects an increase in annual revenue of 15 percent, which will allow it to add additional employees. "By validating our granite pavers meet or exceed the standard requirements of other competing products on the market, and the potential for assisting customers with gaining LEED credits, M.C.M. Natural Stone is now able to enhance our ability to market and sell our products made from 100 percent waste that would otherwise be sent to landfills," said Mike Valle, founder and general manager, M.C.M. Stone, Inc.

Identify areas for improvement

To be sustainable suppliers, companies need to recognize where they can improve, then act to implement changes that support people, planet and profit. The NYSP2I Sustainable Supply Chain program helps companies in New York to recognize opportunities to reduce their costs and environmental impacts, expand their customer base, increase revenue and create jobs while creating a more sustainable supply chain.

Top image of ice cream with caramel sauce by Viktor1 via Shutterstock.

Why designers are on the front lines of climate change

Susan Gladwin

Now more than ever, society is accepting that climate change is upon us. From President Obama to GE's Jeff Immelt, leaders are confronting the reality we face: The global population will hit 9 billion by 2050, and we need our resources to scale and stay within our finite and dwindling carbon budget.

With scientists estimating budget exhaustion by 2032 if we continue on our current path, there is only one possible solution to avoid climatic bankruptcy: Stop spending and start bringing our systems to net-zero today. We must shift from discussions and debates to a real vision for our future — a vision of a net-zero carbon world, where net-zero solutions comprise our energy systems, cities, infrastructure and product design.

While government action and leadership are essential to reaching a net-zero carbon world, we already have seen how innovation driven by design — from solar- and wind-harnessing power solutions to radically efficient buildings — can be more the carrot to regulation's stick. It shows us what is possible and inspires confidence that we can do this.

When it comes to addressing climate change, we should be as impatient about the world being made and built around us as we are about government action. Cities can set energy-performance targets such as San Francisco's goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. Businesses can commit to higher-performing operations, such as Microsoft's companywide carbon neutrality initiative. When city and business leaders demand climate-conscious solutions, designers hear the clear call to action.

Designers embrace constructive constraints; constraints inspire innovation in design. Acknowledging our limited resources and global social issues as constraints, designers across the world are now playing a major role in solving our world's epic challenges. This design-led revolution reimagines products, structures and systems from those that deplete to those better aligned with our population and planetary needs. When it comes to tackling climate change, designers can bring to life the net-zero carbon world we envision by designing for zero.

[Learn more about smart cities at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

City and business leaders possess the power to advance the revolution. By collaborating with designers, architects and engineers, business and city leaders can have more influence than ever before on the impact of our infrastructure. Answering their call, designers can use tools that simulate carbon impact before anything is built or made. They can analyze energy performance, resulting in buildings that produce more energy than consumed. They can iterate with multiple rapid digital prototypes to develop more efficient infrastructure and involve more stakeholders.

This dynamic can be seen at The Pusat Tenaga Malaysia Zero Energy Office Building, one of the world's first carbon neutral and zero net energy commercial-scale buildings. The structure was designed to consume 85 percent less energy than conventional Malaysian office buildings through an integrated design process approach, responding to the conditions and needs of its specific site. Across the world in Fort Collins, Colo., another new standard is being set with the introduction of the Zero Energy District, or FortZED, where an entire cluster of facilities are designed to be net zero. Throughout the U.S., a growing list of 2,030 districts, representing more than 100 million square feet of commercial buildings in downtown districts, are all working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Scaling from products to buildings to cities and supply chains, designing for zero inspires a new way of thinking across many sectors. When we break down the silos among industries, we can connect and combine individual solutions to create a world where modern life doesn't have to mean planetary destruction.

Incorporating design into decision-making can help prolong our carbon budget and lead society to develop net-zero carbon systems and structures that one day will be commonplace. We need to challenge ourselves to design-for-zero together, today.



Careers in sustainability are now firmly planted in the mainstream.  The Greener Careers collection is chock-full of resources and tools to help you navigate this exciting sector. To see the latest in job listings, be sure to check out GreenBiz.com's green job board.

Ebay, Kindle and Skype rule among the greenest apps

Michael Ansaldo

Ebay, Skype and Kindle now have more in common than being three of the most widely used smartphone apps. They are also the best apps for promoting sustainable behavior, according to a recent study by the WSP Group, a U.K. environmental consultancy firm.

WSP devised a subjective scoring system to rank the top 20 apps that “bring sustainability to everyday lives.” It scored the apps on three metrics: popularity (gauged by the number of downloads), “stickability” (essentially its shelf life, determined by its average app rating, functionality and user comments) and environmental impact.

According to WSP, the apps that scored highest do at least one of five things:

• Encourage reuse and selling of second-hand goods.

• Reduce fuel consumption and promote public transport.

• Change eating habits and reduce food waste.

• Help consumers create more sustainable product choices.

• Replace material with electronic consumption.

Some results are surprising. While apps such as Seafood Watch and Freecycle were conceived to promote eco-friendly practices, eBay and Amazon’s Kindle app don’t spring to mind in discussions of green living. But reduced waste is a clear byproduct of these services, and their popularity encourages sustainable practices among mainstream consumers and offers a powerful example for other developers.

“What we learnt from this study is that the most sustainable apps are not necessarily the greenest ones, but rather the most popular programs are part of our day-to-day living and which enhance, not impede, citizens' lifestyle choices,” said Andy Porter, head of digital at WSP, in a statement. “Helping people make money, save money and live a richer life will always be the approach which has widest appeal, and this shows through in our study.”GoodGuide

These 10 apps scored highest in the study:

1. eBay

The online marketplace earned the top spot for popularizing and simplifying the resale of second-hand and unwanted goods, reducing waste and consumption. Of all the apps surveyed, eBay was the best promoter of the circular economy, according to WSP.

2. Kindle

The Kindle device may be the premier e-reader but it’s the app that has had the biggest green impact. The popularity of Kindle reduces the demand for physical books — just one of which generates 7.5 kg of carbon dioxide when produced, according to WSP. And its capability to run on a smartphone or tablet means users don’t have to purchase a separate reading device, which further reduces waste.

3. GoodGuide

GoodGuide provides sustainability ratings for more than 120,000 products, ranging from meat to makeup, and its app puts it all in users' hands when they need it most: when they’re shopping. WSP admits the app would have scored even higher if it contained more U.K.-focused content.

4. Skype

The robust voice and video conferencing app has helped cut unnecessary travel for individuals and businesses alike. Family and friends get more frequent face time without leaving home, and companies have an easy, low-cost way to work more closely with remote teams.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app

5. Seafood Watch

Which tuna is higher in mercury: skipjack or albacore? The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app puts the answer at your fingertips with its up-to-date guide to seafood and sushi. And its Project Fishmap feature lets users keep track of stores, restaurants and other businesses where they’ve found sustainable seafood.

6. Google Maps

This widely used app not only eliminates the need for paper maps, but its ability to plot the most direct route and navigate users to their destination conserves fuel: drivers using GPS systems used 12 percent less fuel than those who didn’t, according to a NAVTEQ study.

7. Freecycle + Trash Nothing

A bit like Ebay meets Craigslist, this app brings together regional Freecycling groups, making it easy for users to give away unwanted items to others in their community. The system promotes reuse and, because it’s locally focused, reduces the environmental impact of transport.

8. Airbnb

The community marketplace allows travelers to book lodging from hosts in more than 34,000 cities around the world who have turned their spare room, home or other property into an ad-hoc inn. Its promotion of resource sharing has resulted in a wealth of environmental benefits. According to Airbnb, its guests use 63 percent less energy than hotel guests, in North America alone.

9. Moovit

This app takes the hassle out of using public transportation by crowdsourcing the fastest, least crowded route on bus and subway lines in more than 400 cities.

10. CityMapper

Like Moovit, CityMapper makes it easy for people to hang up their car keys by suggesting routes around nearly a dozen popular metropolises. Users can plot their journey using multiple modes of transport including bus, subway, bike, taxi, train, ferry and their own two feet.

The complete list of apps is available here.

Top image shows Airbnb in the Chrome browser

With companies nailing disclosure, it's time to tackle performance

Emma Armstrong

CDP recently released its S&P 500 2014 Climate Change Report (PDF) — the first of this year's series of reports analyzing the 2014 climate change responses and ranking companies for their climate change disclosure and performance. But what does CDP leadership really mean — to those that are (and are not) on the leadership lists as well as to the future of our planet?

The Climate Disclosure Leadership Index recognizes companies scoring in the top 10 percent based on their disclosure score (which focuses on the extent to which they disclose climate change related information and data). As CDP shows in Figure 1 of its 2014 S&P 500 report, the bar for the CDLI continues to approach the perfect 100.

This steep increase in the minimum score for inclusion on the CDLI (from 61 to 97 in seven years) may be a result of a more mature CDP questionnaire (with fewer major changes year-on-year), companies being more familiar with answering the questions and/or companies developing more mature greenhouse gas emissions management programs. These scores reflect how much information a company discloses in its response, but not what it may (or may not) be doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

In contrast, the Climate Performance Leadership Index recognizes companies making and reporting positive actions with respect to climate change. Are they meeting their reduction goals? Are they investing in renewables? Are they achieving absolute reductions in their emissions — within their operations, from their product or in their supply chain? The number of companies on the CPLI this year is disappointingly similar to last year (36 in 2013 and 34 in 2014) but twice the number of companies on the 2012 CPLI. The number of companies demonstrating performance leadership is increasing, but certainly at a slower rate when compared to the disclosure index trend.

While CDP is right to champion that the overall performance of companies is improving (the number of companies scoring an A, A- or B has increased over the last three years, from 30 percent to 48 percent of all responding companies, as shown below in Figure 2 from the 2014 S&P 500 report), the number of companies that make the CPLI (those that receive an A score by realizing significant absolute emissions reductions, as reported in CC12.1a) is less than 10 percent of the S&P 500 respondents.

Performance as measured by CDP considers a range of activities that a company might engage in, not only whether they are achieving meaningful absolute reductions. However, most companies fall into the "B" category. While we recognize the efforts that it takes to achieve this score (and more important, the meaningful programmatic activity that this score represents), we may be giving ourselves a false sense of security: Companies are on the right track, but are they moving fast enough to achieve improvements in performance that translate to the real emissions reductions required to avoid a 2 degree Celsius degree change?

To address some of this, CDP will continue to evolve the questionnaire by rolling out a sector-based scoring approach that will add more rigor and recognize those companies that are setting and achieving greenhouse gas emissions reductions in line with science-based targets.

It is true that much of the focus and fanfare around CDP over the past 10 years has focused on the disclosure score, with performance being introduced only a few years ago and sometimes considered an afterthought by companies. But as the clock ticks closer to 2020 and discussions shift from climate mitigation to adaptation, we need to focus on achieving performance improvements over disclosure improvements and specifically setting and achieving real emissions reductions. CDP has been instrumental in driving this forward and is right to have pushed first for transparency. Now that companies have demonstrated they can talk the talk, it's time to walk the walk in a meaningful way. In 2014 of the nearly 348 responding companies, nearly 50 percent scored an 80 or better on disclosure but also scored below an A on performance. That's 174 world-class companies poised to take even more significant steps and actions that tackle even greater emissions reductions projects. And that is inspiring.

As the margin for disclosure leadership continues to decrease, companies rightly should focus their efforts, time and capital on activities that demonstrate real change and bottom line (let alone triple) value. These are the harder decisions to make and more complicated business cases to prove. They take more than just (re)telling a story; they are the components and successes of that story.

The private sector will need to play a significant role in staying below a 2 degree C increase threshold set by climate scientists. The absolute reductions at the scale needed (as outlined in the CDP-WWF 3% Solution Report [PDF]) may seem daunting, but they also represent a potential present value net savings of $190 billion in 2020 (or net present value as high as $780 billion) for U.S. corporations, excluding utilities.

Quite simply, it could save money, lots of money, to reduce emissions over this period. The longer that we wait to take these steps, the harder and more expensive it will become to avoid the 2 degree C increase. Are we (still) willing to take that risk?

This article originally appeared at the Anthesis Consulting Group blog. Main image: starstickers_matthewbenoit_sstock. Inline images courtesy of CDP.

Where is water tech when you need it?

William Sarni

There are no shortages of stories on the environmental, social and economic negative impacts of water scarcity and the drought in the U.S. in general and in California in particular. Stories about innovative solutions to address water scarcity and water quality, and the opportunity to ramp up investments in said solutions in the U.S. and globally? Not so much.

Singapore, Australia and Israel often are heralded as the global water-innovation hotspots. In these countries, water scarcity and security concerns have spurred innovative policies and investments in creating water-innovation hubs.

Here in North America, the government of Ontario, Canada has made similar strides with its 2010 Ontario’s Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act in an effort to advance resource efficiency and innovation at the municipal level while positioning the province as a global leader in water technology and innovation.

In the U.S., several regional economic development efforts are investing in water clusters. However, the current scale and pace of North American water innovation doesn’t begin to match the scope of the actual market opportunity or underlying resource challenge.

[Learn more about water issues at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

The American water industry employs about 700,000 workers, including 30 utilities that support some 289,000 jobs, for about $52 billion in total annual spending. The water sector is also faced with an estimated $1 trillion in needed infrastructure investment, according to the Brookings Institution. However, water receives relatively little attention from investors and entrepreneurs who typically seek to introduce disruptive business models and technologies to solve market challenges.

Looking at the numbers, it is reasonable to conclude that the drought has had no impact whatsoever on investments in the water and wastewater sector. According to the Cleantech Group, investments from corporate and venture equity in water and wastewater technology totaled $140 million for 33 venture deals for the first half of 2014. This is compared to $317 million for 58 deals in the first half of 2012.

A recent report by McGill University and Utrecht University, summarized in Nature Geoscience, highlighted six strategies to address the water shortfall by 2050. These are not new, but focusing on these key areas is the place to start for any entrepreneurs residing in multinational corporations, startups, the public sectors and NGOs. They include agricultural productivity, irrigation efficiency, improvements in domestic and industrial water-use intensity, increasing water storage in reservoirs and desalination of seawater.

Let’s buckle down on water-tech innovation to meet the energy, water and food needs for our current and projected global population. 

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.


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.