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

Blogs

How ConAgra sets the table for climate resilience

Published October 16, 2014
How ConAgra sets the table for climate resilience

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



5 career tips for "retired" sustainability veterans who won't quit

Published October 15, 2014
Tags: Career Tools
5 career tips for "retired" sustainability veterans who won't quit

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the retirement phase of a sustainability professional’s career. Those articles came out of a conversation that Chuck Bennett and I organized with six of his “retired” or “transitioning” sustainability friends. Chuck formally retired from Aveda in 2013 as VP of Earth & Community Care.

Meet the seven participants:

Scott Nadler, ERM, was involved with politics, government, Conrail and the environment, and taught at Northwestern University. He is a partner at ERM, but is contemplating the next phase which increasingly focuses on other professional interests beyond ERM.

Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm, spent 22 years in corporate sustainability, in addition to agriculture, education and forestry. She transitioned from her full-time corporate role at Stonyfield Farm to consulting so as to focus on her core interest in climate change and to achieve a better work-life balance.

Gene Kahn, General Mills, worked in agriculture and branded foods, sold a company to General Mills and became its global sustainability officer. He initiated a program on hunger and poverty alleviation for the General Mills Foundation. He formally retired at age 65 as a result of General Mills policy, and joined the NGO HarvestPlus. On top of his role leading global market development, he also is helping HarvestPlus improve business practices.

Bill Blackburn, Baxter, “retired” as the result of a corporate reorganization. He is writing, consulting and developing a nature conservancy on an old family farm in southwest Iowa.

Lynnette McIntire, UPS, “retired” at age 55, the minimal retirement age at the company. She wanted to achieve a more balanced quality of life; she also was ready to try something else and share her experience, having been a change agent at UPS for many years. Currently she is teaching, consulting, and speech writing.

Chuck Bennett, Aveda, formally “retired” at age 70 after a career in several corporations and The Conference Board. Now he is sorting out what’s next with an emphasis on helping young people with their careers, including students and young professionals.

Paul Comey, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, seized the opportunity of a leadership change to formally retire when he found the job no longer was fun. He had started out in education before becoming general manager of manufacturing in cast iron materials. Then he worked for the CEO of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters as VP of facilities & engineering, before moving on to environmental affairs. He is now pursuing personal interests and consulting with green businesses in start-up stage.

Initial concerns

In considering their retirement, professionals may need to adjust to the prospect of oncoming changes in their life and career.  Scott Nadler described going into a “tailspin” when he realized that he would be turning 60 and wanted to work for another 10 years. He felt like he was “reenacting the salesman’s role in Arthur Miller’s play 'Death of a Salesman.'” 

Some interviewees described fears such as having less influence and losing the financial security of a paycheck. Others cited concerns about being able to stay sharp professionally and personally. As Bill Blackburn said, “The real question was what do I do with my brain?”

Several people spoke of a fear of isolation and being on their own. Lynnette McIntire said, “I’d worked since I was 16 for pretty big companies, so it was scary to dive out there and be ‘an entrepreneur’ for the first time.”

One participant — Paul Comey — said he actually had no concerns when considering his plans for retirement.

Reality check

Despite initial trepidations, how has reality played out for the “retirees”? In short, it’s been terrific.

They have felt supported and encouraged. Nadler said the response to his transition has been “incredibly generous and interested.” Rather than feeling isolated, he has found it to be “an opportunity to get more connected with more different people.”

As described in our first article of this series, there is a continuum of activities and things that people are doing to stay intellectually and professionally engaged. For example, Blackburn has written a book and set up a consulting practice whose proceeds go to an Iowa nature center. Gene Kahn has worked with issues of hunger and poverty in the non-profit sector. Nancy Hirshberg has shifted her focus to climate change.

Chuck Bennett said, “It is possible to ‘transition’ to a different and more personally satisfying career stage and still maintain an acceptable lifestyle through mixing work and other objectives.” And by bolstering their networks and staying engaged, they have kept important connections to others in the field.

There is a range in financial security among the group, which of course can affect post-retirement choices. Some participants are quite comfortable and can travel frequently, donate the proceeds of their consulting or work pro bono, or otherwise pursue professional and personal interests with greater flexibility. Others continue to work full-time or nearly so, be it out of necessity and/or the desire to stay involved. 

Advice from the experts

1. Build your personal brand

Nadler quoted a mentor speaking to EHS/sustainability leaders 15 years ago: “You are all self-employed; most of you just don’t realize it yet.” You won’t have your own employer’s brand behind you when you leave, so working on your presence and visibility in the field will go a long way later on. This can be done in many ways, including speaking at events, writing articles or books, and bolstering your network.

2. Build skills

Blackburn advised working on public speaking and writing skills, which retirees/transitioners rely on heavily. He recommended investing in resources such as Toastmasters, a writing coach and other skill-building supports.

3. Plan ahead

Depending on the circumstances of the transition (expected due to personal decisions or company-wide retirement policies, or unexpected due to a sudden corporate reorganization), employees may have days to years to prepare for their transition. McIntire said, “Build your credentials, exposure and network. What is your expertise and experience that is not easily found?” She has “hedged [her] bets” by venturing into teaching, consulting/communications and speechwriting/leadership. Planning ahead also relates to practical issues such as fiscal security. As Bennett said, “People need to be realistic about their financial situations no matter where they are in their careers.”

4. Take pride in your experiences

Hirshberg said, “As we age, we gain a wisdom and expertise that people younger than us don’t have. This is an incredibly valuable resource for the world; don’t undervalue that.” She and Kahn suggest bringing this experience to help organizations such as NGOs with managing their business.

5. Follow your passion

Take the time to understand your interests, and decide where you’d most enjoy contributing your skills. Bennett advised, “Embrace change as opportunity, not something to be feared. There are so many needs out there — and we as sustainability professionals are blessed with important skills and perspectives — that opportunities for service to society and the Earth are abundant. It may take a while to figure out what works best for each of us, but if there is desire to continue to contribute, the opportunities are there.” Kahn agreed: “The sustainability professional has a lot of service opportunities, including nonprofits, teaching,” and other opportunities to give back to the community.

The first article describes the transitions and paths that these professionals followed after leaving their full-time corporate positions. Top image by via Shutterstock

Also in The Talent Show Blog:


How green energy crowdfunding is 'coming of age'

Published October 15, 2014
How green energy crowdfunding is 'coming of age'

Triodos Renewables' $7.95 million crowdfunded share issue is a sign that peer-to-peer lending for green energy products is "coming of age," claims the company behind the initiative.

The renewables investment arm of Triodos Bank recently launched the offer to fund an expansion of its 11-project, 53MW portfolio, with investors able to pledge as little as $80 — the lowest minimum investment for a Triodos Renewables share issue.

The company, which has 5,000 shareholders, said it wants to ensure investing in renewable energy is "an option for everyone" and has teamed up with crowd financing platform Trillion Fund to promote and distribute the offer, timed to coincide with Good Money Week.

Investors like reliable returns

The U.K. crowdfunding market hit $3.18 billion at the beginning of this month. It has been identified as an increasingly important method of financing green energy projects, with companies such as Good Energy, Abundance Generation and E2 Energy successfully funding installations.

Julie Groves, chief executive of Trillion Fund and director of the UK Crowdfunding Association, said the predictable returns offered by the subsidies renewable energy projects receive make them highly attractive to the estimated 5.5 million people with savings and investments but no adviser.

"I think it's really interesting that a company as big as Triodos, with a bank behind them, is embracing crowdfunding," she told BusinessGreen. "When you look at the main mass market, what is really appealing are fairly steady returns of 5 to 7 percent which are significantly higher than what we're getting in the banks.

"What we're finding is that a lot of people who are very committed to the environment, but maybe don't feel particularly confident as investors, will come in where there's a low investment amount. You can go through the whole experience and get some things right and some things wrong with ($80) before you make a decision for the bulk of your money."

She added that many of these people represent so-called "patient capital" — leaving money in one place if the returns are sufficient, which also benefits the projects. "People want to put their money in, hear about how it's doing once in a while, but just leave it there," she said. "They don't want to have to switch and churn every two months to make a bit of money for an adviser."

Groves also believes crowdfunded renewables projects should get more support from government, given their potential to lower both energy bills and carbon emissions while feeding into ministers' push for local decision-making and community-based energy schemes.

Having a low minimum investment also ensures as many people as possible can benefit from green energy subsidies such as the feed-in tariffs, which are paid for via a levy on bills, she added.

"We define community as the whole country -— this is an issue for all of the energy bill payers," Groves said. "We can't define it too narrowly as only being small, local groups — we can't be reliant on there being an organized co-op in your town to drive the adoption of renewables and decentralization. We're trying to argue that anybody who pays an energy bill is paying feed-in tariffs and they all should have a chance to profit from them. That's why we think it should be really inclusive and open to anyone."

Green ISAs around the corner

However, while renewable energy project share issues are proving successful, Groves sees the advent of loan-based crowdfunding being included in ISAs from April next year as the change that truly will kick-start the sector by opening up the green energy market to around $731.8 billion of savings held in Indvidual Savings Accounts.

Green ISAs are likely to be among the first products to be launched as they are asset-backed and marry social and financial returns, an increasingly popular outcome for investors, and offer the potential to raise returns while lowering the cost of capital for developers.

"The fundamental change we see is ISAs in the first half of next year," Groves said. "We've still got a long way to go but we think it's the point where crowdfunding will go mainstream."

With green bonds also expected to hit $40 billion this year and reports showing sustainable investments are outperforming the industry average, it could be a bumper 18 months for greener capital.

Top image of leaves and electrical tower by Tor Kristian via Flickr. This story first appeared at BusinessGreen Plus.



How will Europe's new reporting rules impact your business?

Published October 15, 2014
How will Europe's new reporting rules impact your business?

Corporate sustainability reporting has come a long way since the first reports published by the chemical industry in the 1980s. Today, thousands of sustainability reports are released by companies and organizations of all types, sizes and sectors worldwide, with the overarching goal of promoting transparency and accountability to help improve internal processes, engage stakeholders and persuade investors. All of this has been voluntary — until now.

On Sept. 29, the European Council voted to adopt a "Directive" — which holds the force of law — requiring certain companies to begin publicly reporting on environmental and social strategies, actions, policies and programs. The European Parliament adopted the Directive in April, which will enter into force after being published in the EU Official Journal. Member states will have two years to transpose the Directive into national legislation, with companies expected to begin reporting as of financial year 2017.

EU leaders claim companies, investors and society at large will benefit from this increased transparency because companies that already publish information on their financial and non-financial performances take a longer-term perspective in their decision-making. They often have lower financing costs, attract and retain more talented employees, and tend to be more successful.

But the Directive not only will affect European firms — several U.S. companies listed on EU regulated exchanges also will be required under the Directive to begin reporting, many of which are not currently reporting on sustainability.

Are you one of them? If so, here is what you need to know:

1. Size matters

The new rules will apply only to large public-interest companies with more than 500 employees and a balance sheet of $25.3 million and higher, or a net turnover of $50.7 million or more. The EU says this is because the costs for requiring small and medium-sized enterprises to apply the rules could outweigh the benefits. Public-interest entities are defined as: exchange-listed companies; credit institutions; and insurance undertakings. Others may be defined by member states as being in the public-interest.

2. Briefer is better

Rather than a fully fledged and detailed report, companies will be required to disclose concise, useful information necessary for an understanding of their development, performance, position and impact of their activities. Disclosures also may be provided at group level, rather than by each individual affiliate within a group.

3. There's freedom to choose

The Directive gives companies significant flexibility to disclose relevant information in the way that they consider most useful, or in a separate report. Companies may use international, European or national guidelines which they consider appropriate. Companies can use the UN Global Compact, ISO 26000 or the German Sustainability Code, to name a few. The Directive provides for further work by the Commission to develop guidelines in order to facilitate the disclosure of non-financial information by companies, taking into account current best practice, international developments and related EU initiatives.

4. Environmental element required

Reports should contain information on current and foreseeable impacts on the environment, health and safety, renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and air pollution.

5. Social and employee issues

Companies will be required to provide information on their diversity policy, including age, gender, educational and professional background. Disclosures will set out the objectives of the policy, how it has been implemented and the results. Companies which do not have a diversity policy will have to explain why not — this approach is in line with the general EU corporate governance framework. Reports also should include information pertaining to respect for the right of workers and trade unions rights, health and safety and working conditions, social dialogue and engagement and protection of local communities. Companies should disclose information on prevention of human rights abuses and tools in place designed to fight corruption and bribery.

All of this might seem overwhelming for companies not currently reporting on sustainability. First things first; a great place to start would be taking a look at the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 framework, which is fully aligned with the Directive’s requirements. The Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, cornerstone of the framework, has become a de facto standard in sustainability reporting.

GRI’s approach is based on multi-stakeholder engagement — all framework elements are created and improved using a consensus-seeking strategy, and considering the widest possible range of stakeholder interests. The organization’s governance structure helps to maintain its independence — geographically diverse stakeholder input increases the legitimacy of the framework. GRI’s basis in multi-stakeholder engagement contributes to its ability to unite and mediate relations among different actors and sectors, including business, the public sector, labor unions and civil society.

Every year, an increasing number of reporting organizations adopt GRI’s Guidelines. From 2006 to 2011, the yearly increase in uptake ranged from 22 to 58 percent. GRI has been endorsed by several national governments as part of their sustainable development policy, such as Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany. The framework even was referenced in the Plan of Implementation of the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

GRI will host a webinar at 11 a.m. ET Oct. 27 about how the Directive may affect company operations.



Can EVs tough it on rural roads?

By Laurie Guevara-Stone
Published October 15, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Alt-Fuel Vehicles, Renewables
Can EVs tough it on rural roads?

Electric vehicles make a lot of sense for city commuters. Over 75 percent of U.S. urban commuters travel less than 40 miles per day, perfect for the range of today's EVs. But do electric vehicles make sense for the rest of us, who choose not to live in an urban setting? Can EVs work in more rural settings, where we're more dependent on autos and the driving distances are greater?

In short, they do and they can. I was able to experience this firsthand when I drove in the first EV Rally of the Rockies, an EV tour to enjoy the fall colors and demonstrate that with a smartly deployed charging infrastructure EVs easily can expand beyond cities.

Western Colorado is one of the best spots to watch the fall colors. People come from all over to drive through the mountains and view the yellows, oranges and reds of the aspen trees against the bright blue sky of the Rockies. Now, with our multitude of charging stations, those sightseeing tours can be done in electric cars.

There are currently 59 level 2 and level 3 charging plugs in 24 locations throughout western Colorado from Vail to Grand Junction and from Steamboat Springs to Durango. In the EV Rally held Oct. 3, eight electric vehicles took off from five locations — Aspen, Snowmass Village, Vail, Parachute and Grand Junction. Drivers included EV owners and enthusiasts ranging from doctors to teachers.

We all converged in Carbondale, where we showed off the vehicles, offered some test drives and had a great EV party. David Miller, Alpine Bank's vice president for business development, drove his Chevy Volt the 100 miles from Grand Junction to Carbondale, with a lunch/charging stop in Parachute, and another short charging stop in Glenwood Springs. Miller claimed he averages 62.3 miles per gallon and hasn't changed his lifestyle at all. "I go wherever I want, whenever I want," he said.

Tackling transportation

I drove RMI's Nissan Leaf, which we use to carpool staff between a bus stop along the Roaring Fork Valley's main highway and the RMI office in Old Snowmass, and my colleague Amy Westervelt drove RMI cofounder and chief scientist Amory Lovins' personal Ford Focus Electric. We took off from Aspen after Mayor Steve Skadron cut the ribbon on Aspen's new level 2 public charging station.

Credit: Laurie Guevara-StoneAspen's Climate Action Plan commits to reducing community greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, below 2004 levels. "There is no way to reach those targets without tackling transportation," RMI transportation manager Greg Rucks said. And an important piece of tackling transportation involves scaling the adoption of electric vehicles.

"To dramatically scale the uptake of EVs we need to address some behavioral elements," added Rucks. And the EV rally addressed two of those behavioral elements. "Seeing people driving EVs around is the best way to show people that EVs are safe, fast, quiet, fun and just as functional, if not more so, than standard vehicles," he said. "And making people aware of the numerous charging stations available gives people assurance that they are viable."

Opening up minds

Although 81 percent of all charging happens at home, and the average U.S. driver drives less than 40 miles per day, range anxiety is still alive and well. Many speakers addressed that issue at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Aspen. "Even though most charging happens at home, having the charging infrastructure available opens the minds of more people to invest in these vehicles," said RMI alum Mike Ogburn of Clean Energy Economy for the Region, which — along with Garfield Clean Energy, the Community Office of Resource Efficiency and Colorado Mountain College — organized the event.

From Aspen we drove to Basalt, where another ribbon-cutting ceremony for another level 2 charger took place. Most EVs come with a 6.6 kW onboard charger, meaning a level 2 charger will deliver about 25 miles of range for each hour of charging; in other words, enough time to grab a lunch, visit historic downtown Basalt and head on your way with a charged battery for more sightseeing. We then headed to Carbondale, which has four free level 2 charging plugs. "These chargers are great for ecotourism. People can come from outside Carbondale and charge right here," said Adrian Fielder, sustainability instructor at Colorado Mountain College, who drove his Nissan LEAF 75 miles from Vail to Carbondale, with a charging stop in Glenwood Springs.

Clean driving

Even if charged with Colorado's dirty grid — 64 percent of Colorado's electricity comes from coal — electric vehicles produce less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline-powered cars. According to Jonathan Walker, a senior associate in RMI's transportation practice, a Nissan Leaf charged on Colorado's grid produces about half the CO2 of a typical 25-mpg gas vehicle. That's because an electric motor is much more efficient than an internal combustion engine. And as our grid becomes greener, with more solar and wind power, EVs will get cleaner. Aspen gets 85 percent of its electricity from the renewable resources of hydro, wind and solar, so charging an EV in Aspen is extremely clean. And when Lovins charges his Ford Focus off his rooftop solar, he produces no CO2 at all.

Besides being a lot of fun, the EV Rally of the Rockies proved that traveling through Colorado is viable in electric vehicles. "We probably have the most robust charging infrastructure of any rural area in America," said Fielder. "Fully electric vehicles are no longer just for commuting." Electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure has come a long way since I owned my first EV in 1994. And as the charging infrastructure grows, so will the adoption of electric vehicles, and we will move even closer to a clean energy future.

Top image of the hood of a Tesla by nitot via Flickr. This article first appeared at RMI Outlet.

Tweet
Also in The Institutional Acupuncture Blog:


Tweet

How a small company can join ranks with Etsy and Patagonia

By Julie Fahnestock
Published October 14, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Branding, Business Models, More... Branding, Business Models, Standards & Certification
How a small company can join ranks with Etsy and Patagonia

We want to create change and make a profit. We want to improve systems and pay our employees well. We want to innovate, create and produce and we want to do it with all resources, all stakeholders, including the earth, in the forefront of our minds. We don't want to sacrifice profit for mission or mission for profit. We live in the blur. We are the business leaders of the 21st century.

This blurred space has formalized itself as the Benefit Corporation model, where profit and mission are held as equals. B Corps have done something no other business model has ever done. In the same room, they've brought together the big social enterprise players like Patagonia, Ben and Jerry's and Etsy with sole proprietors and smaller enterprises like Honeyman Sustainability Consulting, WorkSquare (and soon my newly founded B Storytelling). We are equals because we share the same standards, the same values and the same goals.

I recently spoke with Ryan Honeyman, CEO of Honeyman Sustainability Consulting and author of The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good about the B Corp movement and what he learned from interviewing several B Corps for his new book. Honeyman got involved with the B Corp model because it represented everything he was talking about with his clients in his sustainability consulting firm.

Free to be better companies

"I used B Lab's Impact Assessment to say to my clients, 'here's what being socially responsible means.' The initial response was excitement. I would show them that Bill Clinton recognized the model and that Patagonia was part of the movement. I was seeing the B Impact Assessment help companies save money on energy, waste, water and increase efficiency and employee engagement. The B Impact Assessment explains the why behind what we do and it increases brand value," said Honeyman.

The B Impact Assessment — created by B Lab, the founding organization of the Benefit Corporation legal structure and certification process -measures a company's impact in four areas: governance, workers, community and environment. Companies must score a minimum of 80 out of 200 on the assessment as part of becoming a B Corp. Honeyman found that there was still a lot of confusion about the B Corp model and the differences between being a B Corp and a B Lab Certified company.

"I needed a tool to hand to a business owner, a tool which outlines everything they needed to know about becoming a Benefit Corporation. The B Corp Handbook is designed to be written in, earmarked and used as a guiding tool," explained Honeyman.

The B Corp Handbook includes a 'Quick Start Guide' to becoming a B Corp which details a plan for taking the B Impact Assessment. Honeyman outlines a process for internal engagement and a plan for improving particular criteria. It also highlights interviews with various industry leaders like Jed Davis, director of sustainability from Cabot Creamery. As part of his research for The B Corp Handbook, Honeyman reached out to the entire B Corp community-over 1100 companies-with five questions. He received 100 responses.

Credit: Honeyman Sustainability Consulting

"How did companies benefit from being a B Corp? What is the biggest gain?" I asked Honeyman.

"A peer group of thought leaders," Honeyman responded. "A lot of companies didn't have peer communities to accelerate and celebrate their individual actions in a global movement. But because we are both part of the B Corp community, I can talk to my friends at Patagonia, for example, about how to attract and engage employees."

Honeyman continues, "In the past, when a company like Patagonia would get press for being a cool company this wouldn't help anyone else. Now when people talk about them, the whole B Corp movement gets press."

A community of diverse peers

Honeyman refers to the B Corp Community as a "tribe of like-minded people." At last year's B Corp retreat in Colorado, Honeyman remembers everyone clapping for the one B Corp who came from Mongolia.

That sense of camaraderie is easy for Honeyman to explain. "Most social entrepreneurs want to be part of something that is bigger than their own business. I never thought I could be considered a peer to Ben and Jerry's or Patagonia. I'm a one-person company, but also part of the community right along with King Arthur Flour."

This camaraderie comes from sharing similar values as defined by the rigorous standards in the B Impact Assessment. But, it's also a tool any company can use, says Honeyman. At last year's B Corp retreat he was seated next to Ben and Jerry's team and the challenge of measuring the impact of their suppliers came up in discussion.

"I suggested they have their five biggest suppliers fill out the B Impact Assessment. This way they could see across their supply chain and see how they were doing in environmental and employee issues. Soon after the retreat, they hired me to work with these suppliers, including one of the largest chocolate companies in the world. And now, one of the largest chocolate companies in the world has taken the B Impact Assessment," said Honeyman.

B Corps represent a new era for business: an era of community, employee empowerment, transparency, accountability and vision. We are the generation who uses business as a tool to make money and to make the world a better place. We seek to "Be the Change."

Top image of B the Change logo via B Lab. This article first appeared at Just Means.

Tweet


Julie Fahnestock

B Storytelling
Julie Fahnestock is the Founder of B Storytelling, a content development company specifically designed to help popularize the good happening through business. They do this by helping Benefit Corporations and other social enterprises identify, build and leverage their brands. Julie has an MBA in Managing for Sustainability from Marlboro Graduate School.
Tweet

What Google knows about greener offices

By Heather Clancy
Published October 14, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Architecture & Design, Biomimicry, More... Architecture & Design, Biomimicry, Building Design, Buildings, Construction
What Google knows about greener offices

Interior waterfalls and aquariums. Workstations that offer views of gardens, orchards and bright sunshine. Living walls brimming with ferns, ivy and other greenery.

A growing number of organizations from Google to the federal government are incorporating homages to nature into their office blueprints, not just to earn more green building certification points but to reduce employee stress, improve cognitive function and encourage creativity.

"Biophilic design is happening more and more as an outcome of sustainable design and as an outcome of particular design aesthetics," said Suzanne Drake, associate and senior interior designer with architectural firm Perkins+Will. "The driver has been studies that help validate what a lot of designers feel intuitively."

For those who need a primer, "Biophilia is humankind's innate biological connection with nature," wrote design firm Terrapin Bright Green in its recent report, "14 Patterns of Biophilic Design." "It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects. Biophilia may also help explain why some urban parks and buildings are preferred over others."

[Learn more about biophilic design later this month at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

Terrapin's founding partner, Bill Browning, has been abreast of the biophilic design movement since it emerged in the 1980s. Interest has accelerated in the past six to eight months, especially among the high-tech and healthcare sectors, he noted.

"This really focuses on the people rather than the design of the building. Some green buildings miss the human factor," he said. "A structure could be a great, green building but it might not be biophilic."

Pattern and response

Recent examples of groundbreaking biophilic design include the visitor center at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, which is shaped like an enormous orchid for a flood of natural sunlight; the award-winning Via Verde housing complex in the Bronx, N.Y.; and the General Service Administration's modernization of the Federal Central South near Seattle, originally constructed as a warehouse. Among other things, the project converted large areas of "hardscape" into green space.

Judith Heerwagen, an expert in environmental psychology who is an affiliate faculty member at the University of Washington, said early pioneers in biophilic design are beginning to demonstrate tangible financial benefits.

For example, she points to research that shows hospitals can shorten the amount of time patients spend convalescing by providing them a view of trees or other elements of nature from their beds.

"If you can show a competitive advantage, it will catch on very quickly," she said. "Where you put walls, daylight is one of the biggest factors of all."

[Catch Judith Heerwagen in person at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.] 

Browning cites a more specific example involving the call center for a utility company. By spending about $1,000 per workstation to let employees glance outside, the organization was able to boost call-processing time and improve per-employee productivity by 6 percent, he said.

How can a company recoup that financial benefit? "You already see this captured in real estate values or hotel room prices," Browning noted. "The view of the parking lot is less expensive than the view of the ocean."

In its report on biophilic "patterns," Terrapin Bright Green highlights some of the more common design elements: visual and non-visual connections with nature; non-rhythmic sensory stimuli; variations in thermal and air flow; the presence of water; use of dynamic and diffused light; connection with natural systems.

Google's interest in biophilic design is probably best personified by its Healthy Materials Program, a corporate-wide program that screens building products for hazardous or health-questionable substances and seeks bio-based alternatives to items of concern. In addition, the company has issued guidelines for designing sunlight and fresh air into workplaces wherever possible, said Anthony Ravitz, Google's real estate and workplace services green team lead.

"Here at Google, we value feedback and want to make sure people are comfortable and happy, so every quarter we issue a workplace survey to understand how our workplaces, including the biophilic elements, impact the day-to-day lives of Googlers," Ravitz said in an emailed response to my questions about the company's interest in biophilia.

"We've found that Googlers with desks closer to windows are more likely to feel that their work environment lets them be more productive and sparks creativity," he wrote. "This feedback reinforces our belief that building design helps reduce stress levels, increase creativity and improve performance, and we'll continue finding ways to measure and support this."

vandusenvisitorcentre_niclehoux.jpeg

Tweet


Tweet

Does data spell relief for congested cities?

By Christine Hertzog
Published October 14, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Big Data, Cities, More... Big Data, Cities, Cloud Computing, Innovation, Resource Efficiency
Does data spell relief for congested cities?

Can data kill your pain? The city of Los Angeles is hoping it will, at least where some data sources are concerned.

In May, the city launched a new DataLA site that features data downloads on topics such as crime statistics and budget information, as well as easy-to-understand visualizations of key metrics at a separate portal called PerformanceLAcity.

A June hackathon encouraged developers to take these datasets and create solutions that improve city life. Projects focused on affordable housing, public transit, and — spurred by a devastating statewide drought — apps to report water waste.

Code for America has similar objectives to enhance the quality of civic life on a broader landscape, organizing hackathons in over 130 U.S. cities so far. Its fourth annual Summit occurred in late September in San Francisco. The non-profit organization places software developers, user interface designers, and data enthusiasts into projects to re-imagine, re-think and/or redesign existing processes to optimize productivity, experiences, and satisfaction.

Traffic hacks with ATSAC

For many cities around the world, one of the most intractable problems is traffic congestion. It’s certainly one of the biggest problems for L.A., where 65 percent of commuters are solo travelers. This sprawling metropolis, which installed the world’s first traffic lights in 1924, has ambitious hopes for innovative solutions based on their traffic data.

The data is collected by Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control and city parking management systems. ATSAC, first rolled out to manage signal timing on the streets surrounding venues used for the 1984 Olympic Games, is now implemented citywide at over 4.400 intersections with traffic signals. Street sensors monitor vehicle passage, speed and congestion in one-second increments. This realtime data delivers situational awareness to the ATSAC operations center to adjust traffic signal timings to reduce congestion. The ATSAC system has a number of measurable benefits, most specifically in travel times, CO2 emissions and fuel use. Any concomitant reductions in road rage haven’t been tracked, but that’s not as easy to measure.

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

On Sept. 22, the city published Request for Information focused on that realtime ATSAC data. The objective is to learn who is interested in this data and what new information and valuable services can be derived with this data.

Smarter grids, smarter decisions

Imagine if electric and water utilities operated this way. If meter data, properly anonymized and aggregated into data sets to protect privacy, were available for hackathons, more feasible solutions for residential rentals and multi-family housing might pop up — two markets sorely underserved by existing home energy management applications.

The federal Green Button initiative has sponsored and participated in hackathons, most recently an event in August in San Francisco, and in September at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Kudos to the organizers, sponsors and participants of these hackathons that take existing energy data sets and create new applications to address the event challenges. It would be interesting to see utilities get engaged in hackathons. One starting point would be to consider what types of data and data sets could be made available to answer a wide range of their challenges.

Leaders engaged in smart city initiatives acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers when it comes to data manipulation and analysis, and welcome outside help via hackathons to optimize infrastructure, enhance services and improve civic life. Could similar activities help utilities engaged in smart grid initiatives ensure that they are getting the most from their data? There’s no doubt that plenty of pain points potentially could be addressed with intelligent data visualizations and analytics. Maybe expanding the pool of solution contributors could accelerate development and deployment of painkillers.

Image of data in city by Zhu Difeng via Shutterstock. This article first appeared at SmartGridLibrary.

Tweet


Tweet

Susan Shaheen: How car sharing accelerates sustainability

By Matthias Krause
Published October 14, 2014
Email | Print | Single Page View
Tags: Business Models, Transportation
Susan Shaheen: How car sharing accelerates sustainability

Catch Susan Shaheen in person at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.

If you've attempted to dive deep into the topic of car sharing, chances are you've come across Susan Shaheen, or at least some of her studies. About 18 years ago she fell in love with the concept, even though she'd probably never put it that way.

The idea of car sharing "resonated" with her, she said, as a Ph.D. student at the University of California at Davis looking for a dissertation topic. She saw a lecture by Michael Glotz-Richter, a German Marshall Fund Fellow from Bremen. She was fascinated by behavioral effects of people joining car sharing, and the resulting benefits for the environment, she recalled from her office at the University of California at Berkeley, home of the Institute of Transportation Studies, where she serves as a co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

"He essentially showed that 44 percent or 45 percent of vehicle kilometers traveled were declining due to the use of car sharing, and people were selling their cars or not buying cars, somewhere around 7 to 15 I think the numbers were,"  Shaheen said. The reductions in energy use and CO2 emissions were notable, achieved by people changing their behavior.

"I had been working on this idea of the station car that goes to and from the transit station. Is there a way that those vehicles could be shared and we could bring the concept of car sharing to the U.S.? And I was really deeply interested, and studying this by actually demonstrating it, putting a real project on the ground and seeing if we could get people to behave differently, and that's where my work began."

By the numbers

Now Shaheen can prove that the numbers in North America are actually very similar to what Glotz-Richter witnessed in Germany. In a recent study with close to 7,000 participants, a stunning 50 percent either sold a car or didn't buy one because car sharing was available.

And while the general concept has been around for a while now, Shaheen still sees a lot of potential for growth. The classic model of sharing is a round-trip, station-based model. But recently, point-to-point car sharing services have been making inroads, a concept that allows participants to actually use the service to commute to work instead of relying on it more typically just on evenings or weekends.

Shaheen added, "We see college market applications of it in the university environment. We also see employer-based applications of it, and then there's peer-to-peer, so you put your own personal vehicle in. There's a lot of room for expanding this or scaling it into new market segments, both physical and socio-demographic — so older individuals, younger individuals, say in the college setting, but maybe also in retirement communities."

Credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

She sees opportunities to move into a suburban setting with peer-to-peer sharing concepts as well. Which does require a significant behavioral change, though — people having to get into the mindset of sharing their personal asset: their car. And there are risks that need to be addressed, such as the questions of what the insurance is willing to cover. Shaheen feels that the context of the greater sharing economy, a hot topic among Silicon Valley investors, furthers the evolvement of making one's car available for others to use instead of having it sit for 90 percent of its lifetime as well.

"People sharing rooms in their houses through services like Airbnb use TaskRabbit, where people are offering up individualized services to other individuals in their communities," said Shaheen. "We are also seeing bike sharing, which has grown really rapidly. We're seeing scooter networks here in San Francisco, and there's a similar type of program in Barcelona. We're seeing ride sourcing or these types of services that allow people to be community drivers of their own private vehicle and take people from point to point, like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar."

New players are coming into the mobility space and providing options, bringing a new perspective to an old problem.

At the same time, players in the traditional auto environment are starting to toy with the idea that they have to think differently about transportation. Maybe the aim is no longer to have as many people as possible own cars, but to provide transportation services — including real-time traffic information and parking information — and allow people to use cars when they need to without having to own them. Often, Shaheen conceded, the environment turns out to be an afterthought, no more than a welcomed side effect.

All gain, no pain

Which brings Shaheen back to her high school years in upstate New York. As a young student, she started thinking about why protecting the environment is considered a sacrifice.

"Why can't it just be a competitive, compelling, interesting and exciting option, an innovative option that makes me feel really good?" she asked herself back then — and it seems that the challenge of yielding environmental benefits without having to sacrifice hasn't lost its relevance today.

Shaheen grew up in what she describes as a safe, suburban environment, taking the bus to school and the bike to get to the stores, the movie theater or the tennis court. She credits her family's strong agricultural background for her interest in environmental issues.

"We always had gardens and it was a very agrarian environment, so I don't think it was clear to me that I was going to be connected to the environment," she said. "I think it was just organic."

Top image of Susan Shaheen courtesy of UC Berkeley.

Tweet


Syndicate content