9 innovations to slash food loss

Mike Hower

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

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

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

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

1. Reusable shipping vessels

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

2. Redirecting food in-store

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

3. Automated food-waste tracking systems

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

4. Using anaerobic digestion to turn food waste into energy

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

5. Leveraging food waste for fertilizer

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

6. Cutting food waste with consumer apps

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

7. Delivering groceries via drone

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

8. Targeting post-harvest waste

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

9. Helping charities reclaim food waste

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

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

How Apple, IKEA and Tesla redefine climate change practicality

Sissel Waage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 strategies to make L.A. graywater-ready

Tracy Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Home graywater education

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

2. Streamlined permitting and permit rebates

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

3. Rebate program for graywater systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Hower

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.

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

Ellen Weinreb

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 Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock

Can EVs tough it on rural roads?

Laurie Guevara-Stone

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.

 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.

How green energy crowdfunding is 'coming of age'

Will Nichols

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.

What Google knows about greener offices

Heather Clancy

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."

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Susan Shaheen: How car sharing accelerates sustainability

Matthias Krause

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."

 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.

Interface's Net-Works program brings fish net recycling to Africa

Heather Dietz

Last month, the Net-Works team had the honor of being in the heart of New York City during Climate Week, participating in the Clinton Global Initiative.

For the past two years, the Net-Works team, made up of changemakers within Interface and the Zoological Society of London, has been dedicated to designing and proving an inclusive business model. This model enables impoverished fishing communities in the Philippines to collect damaging, discarded fishing nets from the ocean and shores. The nets are sold to our yarn supplier, which recycles the nets into nylon yarn that we use in our carpets.

Net-Works in the Philippines has been a success because of the time and dedication committed by our partnership. Making the decision to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative was difficult for us because the time and resources needed to properly make our “commitment to action” and attend the event were time and resources not going directly to the work on the ground.

Once we arrived, all those concerns immediately were replaced by palpable electricity in the air. At first, we felt it was just the rush of being part of such an epic week in the city, but we soon found out that the air literally was humming with the thousands who descended on New York for the historic People’s Climate March. Heather Koldewey, of the Zoological Society of London, and I quickly rushed down to the street, anxious to take part in such a momentous occasion. It was the perfect way to kickstart the week, marching alongside more than 350,000 people dedicated to making change. 

Inspired and energized, we set about the task at hand: declaring our commitment to action.

Our Interface delegate, chief innovation officer Nigel Stansfield, was gracefully received behind the velvet curtain, alongside political and environmental superstars, heads of state and visiting dignitaries. 

Meanwhile, in the lobby of the Times Square Sheraton, hundreds of “do-ers” — support staff, program managers, advocates and press — carved out impromptu offices from which to network and connect. Everywhere I looked, people actively were engaged in conversation, excited as they talked through ways to collaborate on some of our world’s most pressing challenges, including environmental protection, supporting the fragile infrastructure of developing countries and providing a sustainable future for precious social and ecological resources.

It was impossible to have a bad conversation. 

On day two, Nigel participated in an interactive session focused on proving the interdependence of conservation, profitability and economic growth, a meaty topic. He used the power of storytelling to share the history of Net-Works, showcase how the program delivers commercial, environmental and social benefit for all participants, and ultimately delivered our official commitment to action.

Net-Works will add three new net collection hubs in three years and positively affect 10,000 people by 2020.

So that’s it. We’re official.

We always have believed our unconventional partnership would make a dramatic difference in social and environmental sustainability by bringing some of the poorest people in the world into the global supply chain, and by turning waste into resource. But now we’ve declared to the world that we want to grow — and fast.

When Nigel came out of his session, he walked over to our “office” with the grin of a father who just watched his child ride off without training wheels for the first time. As Jesse Jackson sat to our left and Muhammad Yunus walked down the hall, I realized this was exactly where we were meant to be: together as a team, in a flurry of world-changing activity, throwing down a gauntlet.

To date, we have collected 85,000 pounds of discarded fishing nets with our two hubs in the Philippines. Those are nets that are no longer choking the marine ecosystem, but instead have provided supplemental income for people to help support their families. Now those nets will be given a second useful life — as nylon yarn we use in our carpet tile.

Next year, we will launch Net-Works in the Lake Ossa area of Cameroon, West Africa. Our team of marine biologists, manufacturing experts, materials scientists and innovation managers likely will encounter new challenges and face operational hurdles. I am confident that we will overcome them together as a team.

boysittinginnets_zoologicalsocietyoflondon.

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