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Harness these forces to transform your sustainability practices

Published July 16, 2014
Harness these forces to transform your sustainability practices

Sustainability is no ordinary change-management challenge. An entire economic system is in transition. That’s why forces beyond the ordinary are so badly needed.

Over the past two years, while doing research for my new book, "Building a Culture for Sustainability," and for my teaching, I have been struck by three fundamental forces. These forces are at work across a range of companies and happening up, down and across hierarchies: co-creation, bottom-up initiative and people and companies taking the long view on who their markets will be and what those markets will need. It’s really happening, and whether in big ways or small it’s producing shifts in business culture.

I call them "TIPS": transformative-impact practices in sustainability. We’re headed toward TIPS becoming standard operating procedure, and that’s amazing.

What’s most striking about these TIPS is that they are increasingly organic and routine. We are well on our way to reaching a point of no return in how business operates, with sustainability and social responsibility coming from all sides, and internal and external collaboration really starting to take shape. They are simply becoming, for more people, what business is and does. Thanks to these TIPS (as well as others, of course) improving the planet and society are less special programs owned by special departments. That transition creates tipping points that get to the very roots of capitalism and culture.

These are things that are transforming business in ways that don’t make for splashy announcements, headlines and advertising — and don’t even make it into sustainability reports much of the time. After all, routine business practices and the business mindsets that drive daily decisions aren’t news.

Routine business such as:

• Alcatel-Lucent engineers and sales people think of themselves as providing customers with carbon-reduction products as well as telecommunications products — and they foster co-creation and mindset shifts by bringing their people together with customers, investors, ratings agencies and others to see how everything intersects.

• BASF requires the full range of employees across its entire organization — from the C-suite to the laboratory to the factory floor — to be able to articulate their own role in sustainability and include it in performance evaluations. They also build a lot of what they do around markets of 2050 — the hotter, more crowded world to come — and have built-in ways to link sustainability experts with partners in other departments.

• Ingersoll Rand has an in-house sustainability center to provide encouragement and muscle to bottom-up initiatives while also actively building a quest for the intersection of customers’ energy- and carbon-saving desires and willingness to pay.

The point is that people in these companies are being exposed to new ways of doing business and new categories of business objectives, are beginning to own them, and are unleashed to bring the world to a positive tipping point.

Every employee in every company knows that in doing his or her job, costs and revenues are a factor. Most people are aware of these things and have a meaningful sense of their role. Capitalism will reach the sustainability tipping point only when environmental and social good (not just impact, which implies avoiding harm as opposed to creating good) are equally self-evident, baked into every workday by everyone.

A BSR survey last year found that sustainability executives felt disconnected from nearly every part of their organization (although their reported connectedness to supply chains is a reminder of great progress). Co-creation and bottom-up approaches are powerful ways to begin to fix that. When you co-create, by definition you work across departments and even beyond the walls of your own company. When you empower bottom-up initiative, you don’t confine things to the sustainability experts. And when you allow the long view, it becomes easier for creative minds to step back and consider things that are slightly outside of their previously normal ways of thinking, to expand their world.

But something also is generally holding that force back, often serving as a drag on momentum — human resources departments. In the work for my book, I saw many times how sustainability and social responsibility are in danger of arrested development. Frankly, some are reaching that point now. Middle managers hear sustainability visions from the top and encounter different objectives in their routine meetings and daily work — objectives that aren’t necessarily in conflict but require certain kinds of training, co-creation and incentives to untangle. When in doubt, most people revert to more traditional behaviors and certainly notice what gets rewarded and what does not.

HR departments could be fuel for success: they have big influence in recruiting and hiring, coaching managers, professional development and incentive structures. They on-board employees, and if that on-boarding is limited to compartmentalized definitions of corporate citizenship, even that can have deep and lasting impact that counteracts progressive forces.

The BSR survey showed that sustainability executives felt tied into the C-suite and, of course, PR. They should focus on the HR suite, and CEOs should encourage both sides to get together. Co-create. It’s clear there’s a disconnect in even some of the finest companies.

For my book, I set out to catalog the dozens of ways sustainability happens. The sheer volume of activity at this stage is a clear indication that the simple act of going to work today is very different from what it was 20 years ago, whether it’s volunteer days or re-imagining telecommunications networks as agents of carbon reduction.

The TIPS I saw underlying a lot of what’s going on these days are a good reference point when thinking about what kinds of things produce habits that begin to change culture. There are others, of course, and I’d love to hear yours.

Top image of butterflies by rayjunk via Shutterstock



App aims to broaden the 'eEcosphere' for consumers and business

Published July 16, 2014
App aims to broaden the 'eEcosphere' for consumers and business

Can millennials and social networking really lead us to a sustainable future?

One startup is betting its business model on “yes.” eEcosphere aims to help users discover, adopt and share actionable ideas to build a more sustainable lifestyle — providing personally tailored tips and local resources to improve their everyday decisions. The company, which launched the iOS version of its application last month, targets millennials, is co-led by one and offers a practical solution for the conscious, connected generation searching for a sense of meaningful action.

The objective? To transform the idea of “being sustainable” from a destination into a lens for evaluating one’s current lifestyle, and through which opportunities to make simple yet meaningful behavior changes become apparent — not to mention fun and collaborative. Along the way, it aims to create new opportunities for companies to evolve more personal, valuable relationships with their younger customers.

At least, that’s the pitch. Being both a millennial and sustainability advocate, I was curious: How is eEcosphere unique, relative to the slew of “green networking” sites that have come and gone? Why is this something the business community should consider as a tool for engaging the more than 80 million 18-to-33-year-olds growing into our market influence?

I spoke with Andrew Krause and George Basile, the intergenerational, student-professor team behind eEcosphere and co-authors of a piece we published last month providing insight into the social forces activating millennials to develop more sustainable lifestyles. I wanted to understand how their product builds on the learnings of past platforms, and what millennials and businesses have to gain.

First, some historical context. The meta-trends reveal that short, “snack-able” user experiences with clear purposes are what capture the minds of — and engender action from — the millennial generation. The emergent rule of thumb is to have a winning experience in a short time, without needing much historical context.

eEcosphereTraditionally, “green networks” have focused on direct messaging that’s hard to anchor into everyday life. Early on, many were single-dimensional — cultivating high interest but low motivation at the personal level. General actions such as “save water” or “reduce carbon” were not coupled with useful metrics for actually measuring the efficacy of one’s behavior change.

Having to ask, “Did I just save water?” does not equate to a winning experience — and certainly not to the cognitive signals that reinforce enduring behavior change.

“Millennials want their everyday decisions to be informed by sustainability,” said Basile, a senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “But they want it to be about them making better choices for what they care about already and it needs to come in their terms.”

The second class of applications and service platforms, although effective in expanding reach to cover more specific actions, still failed to integrate what’s referred to as “crowd governance” — a vital component that enables people to generate their own ideas, surface good ones to the top and build a sense of community around them.

As Krause summarized: “What we’re doing here is really about leveraging the massive, interconnected and existing networks like Facebook to distribute opportunities for direct action in the small-world communities where there’s high levels of trust and potential collaborators.”

'The future they want'

Imagine this scenario: I like the idea of reducing my water consumption and carbon footprint and supporting sustainable food systems. I care about the issues but, like most of my peers, am not highly motivated — which means I’m not about to scan barcodes at the store, or modify my existing behaviors as a result of general eco-tips encouraging me to “recycle” or “buy organic.”

Behavioral science and market research tell us that all forms of behavior change share something in common: namely, that they require background conditioning, long before the point of decision making, in order for behavior to be adjusted over time.

Ultimately, this is what eEcosphere is facilitating.

Users “build a plan for the future they want” by adopting specific ideas for personal improvement. Ideas are selected through expert Challenges or user-driven idea Exchanges — in effect, creating an idea marketplace where users develop, tag, share and vote on their own ideas. Interactive conversations around each idea establish how you’re doing and highlight specific opportunities to do better throughout the process. For all ideas, eEcosphere creates a unique website that can be promoted by users via Facebook, Twitter and SMS to amplify the idea.

“How can we help you do laundry better?” is a question Krause offered as an example. Suddenly, a general concept becomes a practical opportunity to make smarter decisions when it comes down to less-toxic product choices, machine settings and remembering to air dry.

When he walked me through the user experience, the result was a visual landscape of all the sustainable behaviors I am interested in adopting — a collage of ideas that translate my broad interests into actionable goals. Goals that I can create myself, search for and follow from others, share with my network, post pictures about and clearly note when I’ve completed them.

Beyond promoting to and learning about what’s happening in one’s existing personal network, push notifications let users know when someone within 30 miles has posted opportunities of interest.

“I want to support sustainable agriculture” becomes a discrete opportunity to eat at a local restaurant that, thanks to information sharing from people in your network, you can trust is being sourced sustainably.

“Sixty-two percent of millennials believe they can make a difference at the local level, but when it comes down to finding specific opportunities to act, the experience breaks down,” Krause said. At the heart of eEcosphere is a platform that’s driving down the difficulty of making better decisions about what people want to do every day.

Leading a company's followers 

In its initial phase, eEcosphere is managing select campaigns on behalf of companies and brands — soon to be disclosed as the partnerships become public. The trajectory is that it evolve into a self-service model: companies large and small, just like any other user, can develop the story behind their brand and engage their consumer base.

“Many companies just aren’t quite sure how to use the million-person following they’ve developed on Twitter,” Krause cited as an example. “That’s a huge asset waiting to be tapped.” This platform creates the conditions to experiment and learn in a living-laboratory context.

Take Method, which has nearly 60 discrete, sustainability opportunities in their Greens Keeping Manual — ranging from buying its recycled-ocean-plastic-packaged products to joining community-based campaigns. eEcosphere allows not only for each to be maintained individually — by developing a customized base of people interested in that action — but also ultimately data to evaluate what’s gaining most traction and where to focus efforts and investments.

As for me, I’ll be watching to see how the application and community evolve over time — along with how my own behaviors change as a result.



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    How California dominates in clean tech leadership

    Published July 15, 2014
    How California dominates in clean tech leadership

    The epicenter of clean-energy leadership in the United States is San Francisco, according to a new report released today by research firm Clean Edge. But cities as diverse as Austin, Texas; Boston; Denver; and Portland, Ore., also are shaking things up.

    At the top of the latest edition of Clean Edge’s annual “U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index,” which contains point-based state- and metro-level indices, stand California and San Francisco, respectively.

    Based on more than 70 technology, policy and capital indicators, California led all states in the data-rich ranking for the fifth consecutive year, followed by Massachusetts, Oregon, Colorado, New York, New Mexico, Washington, Illinois, Vermont and Connecticut.

    “The Golden State’s clean-tech prominence is broad and deep; it leads the technology category handily and ranks a very close second in both policy and capital,” detailed the report, an advanced copy of which was supplied to GreenBiz.

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

    “With enviable solar, wind and geothermal resources, a green-minded populace, and generally effective policy levers at every level of government, California places No. 1 in all three subcategories of clean technology deployment: electricity, transportation, and energy efficiency/green buildings,” it added.

    Massachusetts, however, edged out California in policy and capital indicators. The commonwealth’s leadership in those two categories “proves that states without robust clean-energy resources can still be national leaders,” noted the report.

    Ranking third overall, Oregon trailed only California in Clean Edge’s technology category, showing particular strength in hybrid and pure electric vehicles, charging infrastructure and green buildings.

    But even some states that lagged in the overall ranking excelled in some notable specific areas of the report. Iowa and South Dakota, despite being indexed at No. 23 and No. 39 overall, led all states in non-hydro utility-scale renewable energy generation. By tapping their abundant wind energy resources, Iowa and South Dakota were the only states in the nation to generate more than a quarter of their electricity from renewable resources in 2013.

    “Climate disruption and the growing availability of market-competitive clean-energy technologies are driving many states and cities to tackle climate issues head-on,” said Clean Edge’s founder and managing director, Ron Pernick.

    Kansas, Idaho, Minnesota and North Dakota each exceeded 15 percent renewable energy on the grid.

    “More than ever, this year’s Leadership Index highlights how some top regions are taking climate action seriously, with double-digit clean-energy adoption rates, new policies like California’s energy-storage mandate, and the deployment of clean-energy investment vehicles such as New York’s green bank,” Pernick added.

    The metro index — which relies on 20 indicators related to green buildings, advanced transportation, clean power, investment, innovation and jobs — ranks the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. Not surprisingly, California cities swept the top three spots, led by San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego. Rounding out the top 10 are Portland; Sacramento; Boston; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Austin; and Denver.

    The nation’s capitol scored highest in Clean Edge’s green buildings category, based on data from the U.S. Green Building Council and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. San Francisco led in advanced transportation, while Sacramento ranked No. 1 in clean electricity and carbon management. Silicon Valley’s San Jose topped all major U.S. metro areas in clean-tech investment, innovation and workforce.

    While the authors maintain a positive tone throughout the report, the index does also expose underperformers, such as Mississippi and West Virginia, which rank at the bottom of the state index, and Birmingham, Ala., and New Orleans, at No. 50 and No. 49, respectively, in the metro index.

    By providing a data-driven resource for comparing the clean-tech leadership of U.S. cities and states, the annual index can serve as a useful tool to such low-ranking regions, whose own clean-tech leaders can track their progress in future years — but only by first understanding their shortcomings.

    Top image of San Francisco, the top-ranking metro area in the Clean Edge report, by Pal Teravagimov via Shutterstock.



    5 reasons solar installers are vertically integrating

    Published July 15, 2014
    5 reasons solar installers are vertically integrating

    This story first appeared at RMI Outlet and is reprinted with RMI's permission.

    A curious trend’s been washing through U.S. solar recently: vertical integration, the process of companies owning more and more of their own supply chains. Sunrun, a developer and financier, recently purchased the residential division of REC Solar, a major installer. Sunpower moved into selling and financing solar systems, rather than just manufacturing modules. RGS Energy recently announced it will begin providing leasing in-house rather than through outside groups. And SolarCity, the country’s biggest solar developer, financier and installer, just went so far as to buy a module manufacturer, Silevo.

    But while some companies still practice vertical integration for supply-chain control (Walmart owns and operates its own trucking fleet), many are moving away from the practice, instead opting for horizontal integration (buying your competitors).

    Why the move away from vertical integration? For one, companies often divest the lowest-margin parts of their business (such as solar modules, at this point a global commodity with low margins). Often it is cheaper to pay a specialized company for a resource than try to run an expensive “side business” providing the necessary inputs for a final product. Apple, for example, does not make its own microchips; it buys them from a microchip manufacturer.

    Yet, we now have four vertically integrated solar companies in the U.S. — SolarCity, Vivint Solar, Sunrun/REC Solar and RGS Energy. They claim it will help them keep costs down, but a look at other industries (Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly) suggests the opposite is often true. So, why then is the solar industry becoming more vertical integrated through a spate of recent acquisitions? The answer can help provide insights into why U.S. solar has such stubbornly high prices relative to countries such as Germany and Australia.

    Five reasons they're vertically integrating

    Companies once focused purely on one aspect of the market are now involved in project development, financing and installation. Some manufacture their own mounting systems, modules or electrical equipment. Across the solar board, vertically integrated companies show some of the strongest growth and the largest market share. SolarCity and Vivint, the two largest installation companies, controlled 34 percent of the market in 2013 and were mostly vertically integrated. Here’s why:

    1. Vertical integration offers benefits to joint installers/financiers

    The federal investment tax credit on solar systems goes to the financier, and is based on the appraised value of the project. This provides a strong incentive for a company to handle its own financing and its own installations. It gets to control the appraised value of the project as an installer and receive the tax benefits from that appraisal as the financier.

    2. Vertical integration creates a cost 'black box'

    How much does a solar module cost to buy? The average cost on the market now is $0.85/W. But how much does it cost a vertically integrated solar company to manufacture and supply itself with a solar module? It’s hard to know, and that’s the point. The same goes for the costs of customer acquisition, finance overhead or Installation. When a company controls all aspects of solar PV installations, the costs are no longer transparent, and the price can become a “black box” into which no one from the outside can peer in.

    [Learn more about new energy systems and finance models at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

    This allows a company to keep a mystery how much of its prices are based on costs and how much are based on margins. Plenty of companies protect the inner workings of their businesses and profitmaking, so it’s hard to fault solar for going that route, although the industry could use more transparency to unlock cost reduction opportunities that’ll make solar more affordable for broader swaths of the market.

    3. Vertical integration defends against market power

    Since financing has become the most popular way to install solar (58 percent growth of solar financing every year since 2004 [PDF], and accounting for 80 percent to 90 percent of new solar installs in states such as Colorado and Arizona), financial groups got to set their own terms and high rates of return. Solar installers might struggle as equipment prices and competition drove margins down, but financiers could expect a guaranteed rate of return. Installers moved into financing in order to control that high-profit aspect of the business and avoid being stuck solely in the volatile installations market. Simultaneously, project developers and financiers began moving into installation in order to exercise better control over appraisals and system pricing.

    4. Vertical integration reduces market competition

    The solar installation market is still very large with a lot of small players. Barriers to entry are low; any electrical contractor can get the parts and equipment to make installations. By vertically integrating, large companies can become their own suppliers and control access to equipment and financing. Large companies can attract more customers through better and easier financing, and raise the barrier to entry for small competitors. While running multiple operations within the company adds to overhead, it also lets them squeeze out the smaller competitors and ensure a bigger share of the market in the long term.

    5. Vertical integration defends against opportunism

    New installation technologies and techniques are difficult to patent and relatively easy to reverse engineer. Any company able to create a new system to reduce costs rapidly would be followed by the other solar installers/companies. By vertically integrating the supply chain, these companies can control access to top-tier equipment for longer periods. Rapidly expanding a new technology’s use — and the cost/system benefits it brings — allows a vertically integrated company to quickly secure market share before its competitors can develop rival equipment.

    The future of solar vertical integration

    Vertical integration clearly has appeal. Companies like to talk about its benefits in reducing prices, but it also helps companies preserve margin by making costs unclear. If Verengo Solar gets sold, as is rumored, then the top installers in the U.S. will all be vertically integrated or moving in that direction. As the solar installation market becomes increasingly competitive, solar installers must figure out ways to avoid margin stacking and control soft costs at every level if they are to continue to expand cost parity in the face of expiring incentives.

    SolarCity’s VP, Tanguy Serra, stated that “you need to be vertically integrated” to compete at the scale and costs of the U.S. solar market. Vertical integration can offer great benefits. Corporations can control and de-risk a supply chain. Consumers can be offered better financing options. Widespread information gathering can lead to improved products and services. However, vertical integration has pitfalls. Companies can sequester or stifle new technologies to maintain market dominance. It also can allow companies to shift cost reductions into increased margins, rather than savings to consumers. As the solar industry continues to grow and integrate, it will become clearer which direction it will take.

    This all could change in 2017, when the 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) on solar installations expires. At that point, the major initial benefit to financiers will be gone. Solar installation companies require constant cash to construct. The ITC provided a benefit with its 30 percent credit putting cash almost immediately back in the hands of installers. Without this benefit, solar companies may have trouble attracting financing investors and maintaining their financier status. The future of the ITC may decide the future of vertical integration in solar.

    In addition, solar companies are being investigated for how they appraise systems, and whether their appraisal is really the “fair market value.” If appraisals have to be handled separately, the reason diminishes for financiers to be involved in the installation/appraisal market.

    As the solar installation market develops in the future and tax benefits change, it is possible vertical integration no longer will be profitable. For now, controlling development, finance and installation continues to be the winning trend. The nascent structure of the market and the tax benefits around it eventually will change, and at that point the solar industry may go the direction of many before it and begin disintegrating into many smaller specialized companies.

    Top image of solar panel installation by Federico Rostagno via Shutterstock.




    Building toward sustainable, resilient cities in 2050

    By Todd Reubold
    Published July 15, 2014
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    Tags: Architecture & Design, Building Design, More... Architecture & Design, Building Design, Buildings, China, Cities, Design & Innovation, Innovation, Intelligent Buildings, Smarter Buildings, VERGE
    Building toward sustainable, resilient cities in 2050

    This article originally appeared at Ensia and is part 2 of the 2050 series.

    By 2050, seven out of every 10 people on Earth will be an urban dweller. What the cities of the future look like depends largely on decisions we make today.

    Will we design a future where driverless cars zip around under skyscraping vertical gardens in hyperconnected, energy-efficient “smart cities”? Or will we be trapped in endless traffic jams while pollution overwhelms remaining green spaces and infrastructure crumbles?

    For this second installment of our Envision 2050 series (read the first here), Ensia turned to five visionary urban planners, designers and architects for their views on what they would like cities to be like in 2050 and what it would take to get there. Here’s what we heard:

    Matthew Lynch: Yet to be built

    Director of sustainable cities with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

    Nine billion people living well within the limits of the planet by mid-century. That is the simple but powerful “Vision 2050” that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, or WBCSD, has for the future of humanity.

    There is no doubt that sustainable cities are central to this vision. Our cities can be the cornerstone of the green circular economy, supporting resilient societies and inclusive communities with universal access to public services and economic opportunity.

    This future is absolutely possible. However, we must act now and take full advantage of the fact that much of our cities and infrastructure is not yet in existence, particularly in the developing world where urban growth is fastest. For example, more than 50 percent of the buildings to support the 300 million more city dwellers in China by 2030 are yet be built. We have a critical one-off window to create compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented urban centers incorporating sustainable, low-carbon infrastructure and prioritizing access and inclusion.

    Central to realizing this opportunity is bringing together two of the most powerful forces we have for driving sustainability transformation: the leadership of city governments and the innovation and delivery capacity of the private sector. Building strategic engagement and “co-innovation” between cities and business has been the core focus of the WBCSD’s Urban Infrastructure Initiative, or UII — 14 leading global companies and 10 cities around the world working collaboratively to identify innovative and practical solutions to help cities realize their long-term vision for prosperity and sustainability.

    The UII is one of a number of major local and global initiatives tackling the key challenges we face in driving a sustainable urban future. I know it is unfashionable these days to be an optimist, but I do believe that Vision 2050 can be a reality.

    Tigran Haas: A major shift

    Associate professor and director of Civitas Athenaeum Laboratory and director of the Ph.D. program in urban and regional studies at KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and the Built Environment

    The complexities of contemporary global urban, political, economic and environmental issues are evident as we are confronted with the greatest challenge that we have faced. As we move toward 2050 we are facing the consequences of accelerating urbanization and population growth, the rise of mega-cities and mega-regions, the scarcity of natural resources and their mismanagement, the impact of major errors in our responses to disasters and the increasing demand for and complexity of greatly expanding transportation flows.

    Our societies also have undergone rapid and radical shifts in terms of age and class, increasing inequities between the rich and poor and intense demands for democracy in the public realm.

    All of this requires immediate solutions but also change of worldviews from architects, urban planners, designers, landscape architects and urbanists. We need these professionals and experts to contribute their most imaginative, pragmatic, resilient, innovative and just solutions.

    The way forward is sustainable and resilient cities: energy-efficient neighborhoods and districts and green urbanism, but also civic design that will help shape and organize the city on basis of diversity, human scale and preservation.

    Equally important are the new visions for neighborhood housing redevelopment that should support a human, economic, just, social and cultural recovery and renewal.

    The systems and processes that we put in place to achieve these ends can be thought of as the software of the community, which includes formal societal services and institutions as well as the community’s informal structure and cultural and social relationships.

    For any of this to happen, a major shift and change in habits, customs and adaptation to an uncertain future will be required from all citizens, and without a consensus of all, the vision of a 2050 sustainable and resilient urban world will not be possible.

    Luis M. A. Bettencourt: Increasing understanding

    Professor of complex systems at the Santa Fe Institute

    By 2050 most nations on Earth will be highly urbanized, including Africa, parts of Asia and India, where presently only about one-third of the population lives in urban centers. In fact, between now and 2050 some of the largest cities in China and India will surpass Tokyo (currently with 35 million people) as the largest cities in the world.

    Cities in 2050 will continue to perform their primary function as places of intense human interactions (“social reactors,” as I like to call them), but in some ways will look and feel very different from what they look like today — especially those in the developing world. They will have to devise new ways to manage the congestion and the severe environmental impacts that beset them today. They will have to be safer, develop better governance and attract people from all over the world.

    Cities at their best are social environments where creativity and human development go hand in hand. The great challenge for cities in the decades to come is to promote universal socioeconomic development that is open-ended and sustainable.

    This means achieving many age-old fundamental human aspirations, such as eliminating poverty and creating inclusive societies where equal opportunities are a reality and the “pursuit of happiness” is an attainable goal to everyone.

    To be sustainable, this also will mean that we will need new technologies to harness more energy, not less, and to generate it and use it in clean and safe ways, ultimately from fully renewable sources. This, together with improved “cradle-to-cradle” design, would allow us to recycle nearly all of what we consume, generating positive interactions between cities and Earth’s natural environments.

    Cities are dynamical environments capable of promoting great change very quickly. The universal attraction of cities today is a sign that this is becoming possible to everyone, especially in developing nations.

    In the short term, however, urbanization and development are creating many of their familiar unintended consequences on a massive scale, including the growth of urban poverty, the severe inadequacy of older political structures, insecurity and massive pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with potentially devastating consequences for climate change. Solutions to these problems are best found at the source — in cities.

    The greatest obstacle to successful urbanization is our present lack of the understanding of cities. As a consequence, much urban policy is often inadequate, shortsighted and unsustainable.

    Through new communication and information technologies and citizen participation, it is now possible to create new types of urban infrastructure to share knowledge about very local conditions at the global scale. In this way, we may be able to cumulate information in a more interdisciplinary body of scientific knowledge about cities and use policy interventions as learning opportunities that transcend local conditions.

    Tony Chan: Two paths

    Associate director with design firm Arup

    In China, urbanization is occurring at an unprecedented scale. By the end of 2012, the mainland of the People’s Republic of China had a total urban population of 712 million or 52.6 percent of the total population, rising from 26 percent in 1990. It is projected that 70 percent of the population will live in urban areas by 2035. Over the next two decades China potentially will build 20,000 to 50,000 new skyscrapers and have more than 220 cities with populations of more than 1 million.

    The romantic notion of future cities is that they will be smart, well-connected with zero-emission vehicles, powered by renewable resources and self-sustaining, and have buildings equipped with green technologies while still providing all the fun, excitement and ample economic opportunities for all residents.

    However, dystopian future scenarios also exist — where city residents and corporations fight over a resource-constrained world, cities are highly polluted and crime ridden, residents are monitored without any privacy, and there is a chasm of disparity between the have and have-nots.

    We see glimpses of both futures in China now. There are cities with magnetic levitation trains able run at over 500 kph, supercapacitor public buses, electric cars and bicycles, smart traffic monitoring systems, LEED Platinum-rated buildings and developments, smart personal devices and sensing technologies, record numbers of wind turbines and solar photovoltaic installations, and numerous eco/smart-cities planned. At the same time, cities in China are experiencing record pollution levels, unprecedented traffic gridlocks, loss of agricultural land and a high number of social protests over loss of resources.

    The future of cities and their residents can be either bright or bleak — or both at the same time. To chart the path, many questions will need to be answered: How will cities be powered? Can “waste” resources be used? Are buildings and infrastructure resilient enough for climate change? Where will our food come from? Are the needs of all residents being addressed? When does “sensored” become censored? How will the lack of access to new knowledge and digital technology affect the poor and marginalized in terms of economic opportunities? Can we manage the use of resources in cities with the regenerative capacity of the ecosystem?

    I think there will be both futures for cities. How we design, set policies, finance, govern and manage these immense challenges will define different futures for different cities.

    I am optimistic that there is a great future for most of us in cities and that good design and policies eventually will prevail, but not until after we’ve learned plenty of tough lessons along the way. In order to see the best possible future for all, we have to ensure that everyone has a say rather than just a select few.

    Shawn Gehle: Hope for the future

    Principal at the global design firm Gensler

    Contemporary cities have consisted of mostly single-purpose or single-use buildings. In the future I think we’ll see more and more vertical diverse buildings. The Shanghai Tower that we’re currently completing in China is effectively a city within a building. You have multiple uses vertically that are stacked on top of each other. Going vertical is a really fascinating development and I expect we’ll see more of this.

    The point where buildings become self-sustaining — be it water and power neutral or water and power positive, meaning they give back more resources than they consume — is certainly within the realm of possibility over the next three decades.

    No matter where cities are situated, though, I think it’s important that they are resilient to site-specific climate change issues.

    I think the cities of tomorrow also need to consider the availability of open space — and not only open space for a select group of people, but open space available to everyone. These spaces provide locations for idea exchange and a shared point of view where people can come together and see themselves as part of a collective community. The retention of open spaces will become increasingly important as land becomes more valuable in and around the center of cities.

    Effective urban planning for the future requires vision and will to create something with more vitality than what was there before — proposals with longevity and relevance for generations to come. If we use those as metrics by which we measure success for city building and planning, then we’ll be on the right course.

    Learn more about resilient cities at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30. Top image of futuristic skyscrapers in Moscow by Yulia Grigoryeva via Shutterstock.

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    How She Leads: Cathy Fraser, Tenet Healthcare

    By Janet Howard
    Published July 15, 2014
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    Tags: Business Operations, Health Care
    How She Leads: Cathy Fraser, Tenet Healthcare

    How She Leads is a regular GreenBiz feature spotlighting the careers of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business.

    Cathy Fraser is the senior vice president of Human Resources for Tenet Healthcare Corporation, an investment-owned healthcare services company. Through its subsidiaries, Tenet operates 79 hospitals and 193 outpatient centers as well as Conifer Health Solutions, a leader in business process solutions for healthcare providers serving more than 700 hospitals and other clients nationwide.

    Fraser is responsible for operational oversight and strategic direction for the human resources organization and oversees all areas of talent and culture, HR operations and corporate HR. She is also the executive sponsor for environmental sustainability at Tenet Healthcare. She says she sees Tenet as being in the business of caring — for patients, staff and the community, with environmental stewardship as part of its commitment to health and prevention.

    Janet Howard: How have your personal life and career led you to your leadership role at Tenet?

    Fraser: I grew up in Washington State and was raised in a region where there was a deep connection to the earth and natural resources. It was a hub of social and environmental prosperity.

    After receiving my undergraduate degree in business from the University of Washington and my MBA from Michigan, I had diverse roles where I focused on health and environmental sustainability, all of which prepared me for my role at Tenet.

    For six years, my husband and I owned our own healthy marketplace business in Texas — a place where we could teach children about healthy food, and served healthy meals to busy families.

    I also worked as a consultant with McKinsey for six years and worked within a variety of sectors where environmental sustainability was of interest to the customers. I was also a finance executive for American Airlines in the corporate offices — so many experiences led me to where I am today at Tenet.

    Howard: How is the environmental stewardship work structured at Tenet, recognizing its breadth across 42 states?

    Fraser: At Tenet, we believe in the collective responsibility to lead. It all starts with our leader, Trevor Fetter (PDF), who has embraced quality as a key element of our culture. Tenet’s sustainability project manager is Melinda Lokey, who heads up a corporate-wide council and oversees reporting.

    As for our structure we took the dual approach of initiatives that resulted in improved efficiency and environmental impact as well as cost savings — programs like single-use device reprocessing, paper prevention and recycling, to name a few. Most of the Tenet hospitals had programs underway with their own branding, their own priority areas — and many have their own green team.

    Our role at the corporate level is to create a structure to it, to capture system data, to set up system standards like using LEED for new construction and to report to our stakeholders. With corporate purchasing, we identify business partners that are instrumental in achieving our goals and ensure businesses provide the necessary data to track individual and collective performance. We have used the Global Reporting Initiative framework for four years for our sustainability reporting (PDF) and seek transparency in our programming. We received a level B from GRI for the 2013 report.

    Howard: What are Tenet’s 2014 environmental goals?

    Fraser: While the hospitals identify their site-specific goals, at a system level, we are prioritizing healthier food programming as an environmental and wellness initiative. Tenet’s wellness programming engages staff to take ownership of their health and we see healthier environments and healthier food as key factors.

    As a sponsoring health system of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative and with several of our hospitals receiving recognition through Practice Greenhealth’s Environmental Excellence Awards, we are focusing on increasing local and sustainable foods, increasing healthy beverage offerings and healthier vending options. In 2013, over 50 percent of our hospitals hosted healthy community events such as farmer’s markets, cell phone collection and other community engagement activities.

    Tenet is a sponsor for the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Conference. In 2013, Tenet contributed $700 million to care for those that cannot afford their own health care costs. It’s the right thing to do. Our staff helps people understand how to live well, how to get health insurance. Tenet helped 10,000 people get health insurance this year.

    At the corporate level, we are also working to develop an environmental sustainability scorecard that can be used at the local level to help hospitals track their progress, help them benchmark regionally and track their recycling and energy rates.

    Howard: How do you communicate throughout such a large health system?

    Fraser: Melinda Lokey, as the project manager, hosts a quarterly call with site green teams chairs and a monthly call with an advisory group made up of thought leaders and key departmental leads like purchasing, facilities, communications and marketing and food services. Tips are shared around hosting an Earth Day event, starting up a garden, a farmer’s market and best practices for individual programs. System decisions are made, like using the LEED framework for new construction and ensuring environmental considerations are included in key contracting areas such as food services and environmental services.

    Howard: Why is this work so important to Tenet?

    Fraser: People work here because they care. They care about the patients. They care about the world. They want and expect this. It’s a huge part of recruiting and engagement and attraction of physicians. Practically, we are moving to a world where we will be asked to disclose information about energy, water and waste. There is an increasing awareness of data and social responsibility. We are accustomed to capturing quality and safety metrics and we’re prepared to integrate sustainability data tracking into our overall data capture. We want to be out front on these issues at Tenet.

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    #Fail: Why CEOs and consumers are out of step on sustainability

    By Joel Makower
    Published July 15, 2014
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    Tags: Marketing & Communication
    #Fail: Why CEOs and consumers are out of step on sustainability

    A new global study on consumers and companies reveals a troubling disconnect on sustainability. Its findings shed much-needed light on why consumers remain both hopeful and skeptical on whether companies are truly engaged — and what it means for business to live up to society’s expectations.

    “Business is failing to take care of the planet and society” is the stark conclusion of a new global study by Accenture, the global management consultancy, and Havas Media RE:PURPOSE, a communications and marketing company. Its survey of 30,000 people across 20 countries on five continents found that nearly three-fourths (72 percent) believe that business is failing to live up to expectations.

    The report, “From Marketing to Mattering,” is a follow-on to the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability published last fall, in which two-thirds of CEOs admitted their companies are not doing enough to address sustainability challenges. That’s similar to the percentage of consumers in the latest research that say businesses are failing to take care of the planet and society.

    At least there’s agreement on that front. From there on, consumers and companies seem to be ships in the night.

    The survey found that companies' conventional social responsibility and sustainability reporting activities aren’t sufficient. “Today’s citizen consumer has higher expectations of business. Dissatisfaction may be regarded as the product of traditional approaches to communicating sustainability, centered on philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, with no clear integration into the products and services people consume, or the connection through their products that brands share with consumers.”

    In other words: What's in it for me?

    The report concluded that while people around the world hold business directly accountable for their quality of life, “brands are failing to connect corporate sustainability efforts to the expectations and priorities of their consumers, and with the failure of traditional approaches to sustainability all too readily apparent we see an urgent imperative for companies to understand how they can better engage the consumer in their sustainability stories.”

    One big problem, according to the report, is consumers don’t feel that the sustainability stories they're hearing from companies relate to their lives. Moreover, companies seem to be least effective in places where they've been communicating longest:

    These traditional approaches have failed to engage and persuade the consumer, most notably in those markets where sustainability branding and communications have taken root most deeply. In Western Europe and the United States, those economies most affected by the financial crisis, the crisis in trust is readily apparent, with fewer than 20 percent of respondents expressing their confidence in companies’ efforts to take care of the planet and society. Strikingly, in those economies with a large, emerging middle class, people are less skeptical and public confidence is significantly greater: two-thirds of respondents in Nigeria and India, for example, believe that business is playing its part.

    Think about it: Confidence is higher in Abuja, Nigeria, than in Albany, N.Y.

    Overall, expectations of business are high across economic lines. In developed markets across Europe and North America, for example, people are more despondent about the future and want business to help. On the other hand, people in higher-growth economies are highly engaged and expect business to help them attain their optimistic vision for the future. But optimistic consumers are more demanding: Researchers found a clear correlation “between respondents’ optimism regarding their quality of life and their expectations on business not just to look after ‘the planet’ in an abstract manner, but to deliver direct and tangible improvements to their own quality of life.”

    It’s not that consumers are sitting idly by. Where expectations are high, so is engagement. The researchers found a strong correlation between countries where respondents express high expectations on business to improve their quality of life, and those where consumers are actively considering and seeking information on sustainability performance. “Not only are consumers in emerging markets more engaged on sustainability, but they expect companies’ efforts to benefit them directly — and they will actively look for information to validate companies’ claims.”

    The report also highlights global consumer segments in which sentiment differs. For example, “young optimists” aged 18 to 34 are the most engaged on sustainability. Two-thirds actively buy sustainable brands and almost a quarter “always” consider the social and environmental ethics of brands when making purchasing decisions, or so they claim.

    Perhaps unexpectedly, young men globally — those aged 25-34 — “are consistently more likely to actively consider sustainability factors in their purchasing decisions, seek information on companies’ sustainability performance, and recommend ethical and responsible brands to their friends.” In other studies, young women, especially new moms, are more engaged as consumers on environmental and social issues.

    The study suggests three areas of action that will help companies engage more effectively with consumers:

    On the one hand there appears to be a huge opportunity here — one that’s been largely unmet for two decades — for companies to more effectively connect the work they’re doing on their supply chains and operations with the benefits to consumers and, especially, to communities and the world at large.

    On the other hand, it remains unclear whether — in an age of polarization and sensational, gotcha journalism and blogging — consumers are ready, willing and able to hear what companies have to say. Can companies craft stories and messaging that simultaneously connect the dots, appears authentic and can be backed up with compelling facts? And even if they can, will they be believed?

    It’s a story that’s far from written.

    Broken heart green leaf image by surasaki via Shutterstock.

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    Sky’s the limit: Drone makers target sustainability

    By Garrett Hering
    Published July 14, 2014
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    Tags: Aerospace & Aviation, Design & Innovation, More... Aerospace & Aviation, Design & Innovation, Food & Agriculture, Industrial, Operations & Maintenance, Policy & Regulations, Shipping & Logistics
    Sky’s the limit: Drone makers target sustainability

    Unmanned aerial vehicles — or drones — are associated mostly with military operations in remote parts of the world. That’s not surprising, considering their far-reaching impact in the global theater of war.

    But like many technologies originally developed for defense — such as jet engines, the Internet and GPS — the possibilities for drones also go well beyond the military-industrial complex.

    In a memo (PDF) issued July 8, the Federal Aviation Administration clarified the agency’s ongoing ban on the use of drones for business activities without its explicit approval. Its rule-making, expected as early as 2015, is likely to usher in an abundance of unmanned airborne commercial activity.

    This includes new opportunities to address sustainable business practices in industries as diverse as agriculture, construction, energy, goods transport and telecommunications.

    Driven by entrepreneurial spirit, international markets and a few FAA-approved projects, the following eight companies already provide a glimpse into the future use of drones to achieve sustainable business objectives.

    1. AeroVironment

    Building on its history as a big supplier of small drones to the Pentagon, AeroVironment’s “Puma” system last month became the first unmanned airborne vehicle approved by the FAA for over-land commercial activity in the United States.

    While BP Exploration Alaska Inc.’s deployment of the Puma drone to enhance its extraction of oil in Prudhoe Bay may not conjure images of sustainability, AeroVironment’s chief executive, Tim Conver, claimed the system “is now helping BP manage its extensive Prudhoe Bay field operations in a way that enhances safety, protects the environment, improves productivity and accomplishes activities never before possible.”

    The small and silent solar-powered drone is well suited for operations in “highly sensitive ecological areas,” according to the company, and has “demonstrated the ability to support wildlife protection, ice floe monitoring, search and rescue and oil-spill response.”

    In a July 8 conference call with investment analysts, Conver called the FAA’s approval of its drone for BP’s North Slope oil business “a milestone for AeroVironment and for the industry.”

    2. Amazon

    Amazon has been developing its drone-delivered Prime Air service with the goal of flying packages to its customers in 30 minutes or less. The Seattle-based company envisions a future with fleets of drones “as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” and said it will be ready to launch commercial deliveries by the time the FAA rules are in place.

    Compared to conventional deliveries by truck today, drones could enable much faster and cleaner Amazon deliveries. Given Amazon’s vast reach, the fuel savings could be immense.Iris drone by 3D Robotics

    3. Cyberhawk Innovations

    The Scottish company already operates a fleet of drones for industrial inspections and land surveying on behalf of energy companies in the oil and gas sector and electric power supply in Europe, the Middle East and other locations. Health and safety are among its chief advantages.

    In the utility industry, for example, Cyberhawk uses drones to inspect power lines, transmission and distribution towers, wind farms, hydroelectric dams and other assets where workers otherwise are exposed to the danger of height.

    4. HoneyComb

    Based in Oregon, HoneyComb is launching its “AgDrone,” which looks somewhat like a miniature stealth bomber, to supply aerial imagery for “precision agriculture.” The young company uses data analytics to take measurements, monitor irrigation systems and assess the growth and health of crops.

    Although the system was designed for agriculture, HoneyComb also is targeting forestry, surveying, wildlife monitoring and other uses.

    5. Insitu

    A wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, Insitu appears well on its way to replicating its parent’s pioneering ways — albeit in much smaller dimensions — with its suite of unmanned aircraft systems for land and sea operations. While defense remains a central focus, Insitu’s emerging commercial business segment is developing drones to monitor fish, marine mammals and arctic ice floes, survey pipelines, inspect power lines and assist with forest fires.

    In September, in an FAA-approved pilot project, ConocoPhillips used four Insitu drones in the Arctic Circle to conduct marine mammal and ice surveys required before drilling on the ocean floor.

    As a part of Boeing, Insitu is positioned to roll out its drones in a big way for U.S.-based businesses once the FAA completes its rules. The company also is targeting Asian-Pacific markets with its Australian subsidiary.

    6. Matternet

    The Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up has a catchy motto: “No roads? There’s a drone for that.” Its focus is using networks of drones to supply only the most critical products — such as food and medical supplies — to areas that do not have decent transportation infrastructure to deliver such essentials.

    In 2012, the company initiated field trials in communities in Haiti and the Dominican Republic that have been rattled by earthquakes and hurricanes.

    7. Skycatch

    The Google-backed start-up recently raised more than $13 million in its effort to bring high-resolution aerial data solutions to construction, farming, mining and solar industries.

    In solar, where the company has worked with power-plant specialist First Solar Inc. and residential solar services provider SolarCity Corp., Skycatch says it can eliminate manual inspection of massive solar farms with millions of photovoltaic (PV) panels and spread across square miles of terrain. In doing so, the company says it can identify problem panels in 90 percent less time than normally required by equipping its drones with advanced thermography to perform diagnostics.

    8. Titan Aerospace

    This New Mexico-based company was purchased outright by Google in April. Although it conceded, “It’s still early days for the technology we’re developing,” the start-up has revealed several areas of focus for its autonomous solar-powered drones, such as “providing Internet connections in remote areas or helping monitor environmental damage like oil spills and deforestation.” 

    9. 3D Robotics

    CEO Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, co-founded 3D Robotics in 2009 with fellow tinkerer Jordi Munoz. Anderson originally got into drones for fun with his kids. He took a deeper dive in his DIYDrones blog, which has grown to become the primary online community for drone enthusiasts. The Berkeley, Calif.-based company believes in both open hardware and software, and its technology is used in farming, ecological study and construction. Its product lineup includes the $750 Iris "quadcopter", which works with GoPro cameras.

    Learn more about drones and sustainability, from Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics as well as Matternet co-founder Paolo Santana, at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30. This story has been updated with details about 3D Robotics. Top image: a Go Pro camera mounted on a drone hovers in the sky of Palo Alto, Calif., by Don McCullough.

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