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Why the world's biggest companies are investing in recycling

Published August 18, 2014
Why the world's biggest companies are investing in recycling

Interest in recycling is looping back around.

That’s evident from the launch of the Closed Loop Fund, a budding $100 million effort by a group of large companies to invest in recycling infrastructure and, in the process, put more recycled materials into manufacturing supply chains. Along the way, it aims to give a boost to recycling in the United States at a time when rates are leveling off but the demand for recycled feedstocks is picking up.

Over the past few months, nine companies have invested between $5 million and $10 million each into the fund: Colgate Palmolive, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Keurig Green Mountain. PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Walmart and the Walmart Foundation. More investors are expected to be announced in the next two months.

It was the last of those — Walmart — that played a key role in the fund's launch. In April 2013, the retail giant convened a supply-chain summit, with 30 recycling, consumer product and supply-chain experts, to discuss how to increase recycling in the United States. Nearly everyone cited systemic challenges with the same root cause: a lack of access to capital for cities and recycling firms to invest in the infrastructure needed to increase curbside recycling and materials processing, causing recycling rates to remain unacceptably low, according to Rob Kaplan, Walmart’s director of product sustainability. Out of that meeting came the idea of creating a fund with capital from vested interests, providing cities the financial means to build or expand recycling programs.

This is no philanthropic venture. Despite impressive gains in collecing recycled materials in the U.S. — recycling rates of municipal solid waste have more than doubled since 1990, from 16 percent to 34.5 percent in 2012, according to the most recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figures — a lot of valuable materials continue to be wasted. After steep increases in the early 1990s, recycling rates have slowed or leveled off in recent years. Moreover, those EPA rates are skewed by a handful of materials — notably, automotive batteries and tires, of which 96 percent and 44 percent are recycled, respectively, largely due to state regulations. That means the 34.5 percent overall figure overstates the recycling rates for aluminum, glass and plastic. 

That represents a massive business opportunity, according a 2012 report from As You Sow: nearly $11.5 billion of wasted packaging a year, a rich lode of potential manufacturing feedstocks, often at prices below their virgin counterparts and with reduced environmental impacts. More than 70 percent of that value is in plastics, which can be among the less profitable materials to collect and recycle.

Still, according to As You Sow:

The firms that process metals, paper, electronics, rubber, plastic, glass and textiles generate 137,000 direct jobs and $32 billion in revenue. When suppliers and indirect impact are factored in, the industry supports nearly half a million jobs and generates a total of $90 billion annually in economic activity. A recent Container Recycling Institute study concluded that beverage container recycling creates more jobs than disposal and that jobs gained in recycling far outweigh jobs lost in extraction of virgin materials, landfilling, or domestic manufacturing. A 75 percent national recycling rate could add nearly 1.5 million new jobs in this industry by 2030, according to a recent report prepared for the Blue Green Alliance and a coalition of labor and environmental groups. The report said this level of recycling would also reduce CO2 emissions by 276 million metric tons by 2030 (equivalent to eliminating emissions from 72 coal-fired power plants), reduce conventional and toxic emissions that impact human and ecosystem health and generate a stronger economy by creating a broader employment base.

As part of Walmart’s pledge to eliminate 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2015, the company built a strategy to increase the amount of recycled content in plastic packaging and products. “Anytime we do that, we reduce greenhouse gases and save costs because it’s less expensive to re-refine plastics compared to extracting virgin petroleum from the ground,” says Kaplan. “However, there are inefficiencies in the system that don’t always allow those economics to work.”

Enter the Closed Loop Fund. It aims to provide municipalities with zero-interest loans and private firms engaged in public-private partnerships with below-market interest rates in order to spur investments in municipal recycling programs.

“The problem is that cities, unlike Walmart, don’t have the up‑front capital to invest in the infrastructure, whether it be carts or a recycling facility, or to upgrade their recycling facilities to make them more advanced,” Ron Gonen, the fund’s co-founder and managing partner, told me recently. “You solve that by making the capital available to municipalities. And the good thing about that is that you’re actually unlocking a lot of value, so you don’t need to do grants. You can actually do this in the form of a zero-interest or low-interest loan, because you’ll be unlocking capital that they can then use to pay you back."

Seeing Black

Some of the money may be used to purchase advanced technology that can divert more waste to recyclign markets. Take, for example, optical sorters, a technology that can visually detect different types of materials. “One challenge we heard at our first meeting is that the current optical sorting technology can’t recognize anything that’s black,” says Gonen. “So any [bottle] caps that are black, for instance, end up going to a landfill because the recycling technology can’t recognize it currently. Nobody on the consumer goods side was aware of that until we had our first investor meeting and brought in the recycling companies.”

The idea of the fund is not just to invest $100 million once the full amount is raised — just over half has been committed so far — but to use that sum to leverage additional investments, says Gonen, who previously co-founded RecycleBank and served as Deputy Commissioner for Recycling and Sustainability for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “When we think of $100 million, we look at it as potentially unlocking $300 million or half a billion dollars.” Gonen says the fund already has received interest from the New York Green Bank and a similar one in Connecticut, funds that operate locally to expand capital to grow clean energy and other technologies. He estimates that the amount required to create the needed recycling infrastructure in the U.S. is in the neighborhood of $1 billion, so his fund’s leveraging power could put a significant dent in that.

There’s additional leverage potential, says Gonen. “What we’re hoping to do with the few hundred million that we put to work is solve this for a large portion of the country, but also create models that are scalable and replicable so municipalities can invest their own capital based on that model.” One big challenge, he says, is in semi-rural parts of the country, which typically lack a recycling infrastructure or curbside recycling. He believes the fund could finance solutions that could be replicated around the country.

I asked Gonen whether his corporate investors might play favorites — that Walmart, for example, might insist that investments be made in northwest Arkansas, near its headquarters, or Johnson & Johnson near its base in New Brunswick, N.J. That is, could investor pressure result in money flowing to where it’s popular but not necessarily needed?

“To take your question even further, there’s location and there’s types of material,” Gonen responded. “We have some people around the table that care deeply about certain regions of the country. We also have certain folks around the table that care deeply about PET or aluminum. And I think what everyone has come to understand over the last decade of trying to solve their specific problem in a region or a material type is the only way you get that solved is by solving the actual infrastructure problem in toto. Because nobody just recycles PET. Nobody just recycles aluminum. They need a curbside program.”

Moreover, he explained, the due diligence structure for the fund has been created to mitigate investor favoritism. The management team of the fund will review city applications. Those that pass muster will go to an advisory board, made up of the companies. They will provide input, but final approval for the project will be done by an independent investment committee made up of people in finance, environment, recycling and municipal management. The fund's typical investment is expected to be in the $5 million range, with an average seven-year payback. The goal is to return all principal and interest to investors in 10 years.

The return on investment won’t be high, since some of the loans will be interest-free, but that’s not the primary concern of the companies writing multi-million-dollar checks. Says Walmart’s Kaplan: “As recycling rates increase, we expect access to recycled content to increase for our suppliers and for costs to come down for the entire supply chain, ensuring we can offer our customers the everyday low prices that they expect. Of course, more local jobs in the recycling sector in the communities where we do business will be an important benefit as well.”

Gonen is preparing for an event on October 20, where he plans to announce the closing of the fundraising portion of the project. He anticipates making the fund’s initial investments in the first quarter of 2015.

Chalkboard/sticky note graphic by GreenBiz Group.

Also in The Two Steps Forward Blog:

Kellogg's sets crunch time goals for climate

Published August 18, 2014
Kellogg's sets crunch time goals for climate

Cereals giant Kellogg's has announced that it wants suppliers to disclose greenhouse gas emissions as part of an ambitious package of new environmental targets.

The manufacturer of brands such as Corn Flakes and Pringles recently unveiled its Sustainability Report featuring new goals for 2020 to expand the use of low carbon energy, reduce water use and eliminate waste, alongside a commitment towards more responsible sourcing of the company's top 10 ingredients and materials.

A Climate Policy statement also outlines how Kellogg's for the first time will set and disclose a greenhouse gas reduction target for its entire supply chain by the end of 2015, using a science-based method consistent with the goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius.

To do so, the company is requiring all key suppliers to measure and publicly disclose their own emissions and reduction targets, which will feed into Kellogg's annual emissions disclosure to CDP, an investor-backed initiative that calls on listed firms to report on their climate impacts.

"We recognize that upstream agriculture emissions are the single largest source of emissions in our value chain and will focus our efforts on achieving agricultural emissions reductions," the policy statement said.

The commitment could have a significant impact on agricultural suppliers, forcing many to measure their emissions accurately for the first time.

The accompanying report also outlines how by 2020, corn, wheat, rice, oats, potatoes, sugar (beets and cane) — along with cocoa, fruits, nuts and honey — will be sourced to industry sustainability standards, such as those developed by Field to Market and Bonsucro. The company said the move would drive a renewed focus on continually improving water consumption, fertilizer use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The company also has set a target of December 31, 2015 to ensure that its palm oil is fully traceable, "environmentally appropriate" and compliant with all RSPO principles and criteria. In addressing sugar cane and soy, where deforestation risks are high, Kellogg's is expanding its previously voluntary pledge to ensure net zero deforestation by 2020.

The commitments will place sizeable new demands on farmers, but in addition Kellogg's said it aims to work with suppliers to help them increase their resilience to climate change, enhance their efficiency and crop yields, and improve soil health.

In terms of its own operations, Kellogg's has set some challenging targets given that its water consumption, energy use and overall emissions all rose over 2013 following a general downward trend.

The company is committed to reducing energy, greenhouse gas emissions and water use by an additional 15 percent per metric tonne of food produced from 2015, while increasing its use of low carbon energy such as solar, wind and hydro in its plants by 50 percent — a move that rules out using grid-supplied power from alternative energy sources. Moreover, by 2016 it intends to increase the number of plants sending zero waste to landfill to 30 percent.

The company said it already was pioneering the use of cutting-edge clean energy technologies. For example, Kellogg Company's Eggo bakery in San Jose, Calif., recently installed fuel cell technology that produces around half of the facility's annual electrical consumption, as well as using less water to generate this power than if it had been supplied by the utility grid.

"This is just one example of how Kellogg's is continuously looking for new processes and technology to delight consumers with foods made in innovative ways that minimize the environmental impact of our operations," said Diane Holdorf, Kellogg Company's chief sustainability officer, in a statement. "We're making progress but also recognise the need to drive change, which is why we're stepping up our plans now with new goals for 2020."

Kellogg's is the latest global food company to take steps to address its wider environmental footprint in the past few weeks, after General Mills announced it would set similar emission cutting targets corresponding to the United Nations goal of keeping global temperatures from rising by less than 2 degrees, and Mars provided an update on its wide-ranging sustainability program.

Kellogg's and General Mills have worked with Oxfam on its Behind the Brands campaign to push major food companies to be more transparent about the climate impact of their supply chains.

Monique van Zijl, campaign manager for the Oxfam initiative, said that Kellogg's efforts would make it an "industry leader" in the fight against climate change.

"Kellogg's new commitments add momentum to calls on governments and the wider food and agriculture industry to recognize that climate change is real, it's happening now, and we need to tackle it," she said.

It is a message Kellogg's thousands of suppliers soon should be getting loud and clear.

This article first appeared at BusinessGreen Plus and is reprinted with permission. Tony the Tiger image via

Andersen Windows opens up on sustainability vision

Published August 18, 2014
Andersen Windows opens up on sustainability vision

Whenever Andersen Corp. Chairman and CEO Jay Lund wants to refresh his commitment to sustainable business practices, all he has to do is look outside the 110-year-old door and window company's headquarters.

That's because its 65-acre site in Bayport, Minn., is nestled on the banks of the pristine, nationally protected St. Croix River—a home that frequently hosts nesting bald eagles. "Our deeply rooted connection to this beautiful and historic river has reinforced the importance of producing sustainable products that consume fewer resources over time, and in turn have less impact on our critical natural habitats," Lund writes in the $2 billion manufacturer's 2013 sustainability report.

Technically speaking, you could say Andersen Windows has been focused on sustainability since Danish immigrant Hans Andersen founded the company, although Midwest modesty has probably kept it from trumpeting those efforts.

Over the past decade, however, it has methodically embraced more stringent measures to reduce the impact of its manufacturing operations and its products, the large majority of which is primarily installed in houses and smaller buildings like churches, schools or apartment buildings. And you're probably going to hear a lot more moving forward: it officially appointed its first sustainability chief, Jim Weglewski (also in charge of "corporate quality"), in late 2013.

"For public companies, external rankings and investor demands naturally lead to transparency and open discourse on performance and progress," Weglewski notes in the report. "As a privately held company, we are evolving as a leader in recognizing the value of transparency outweighs the risks."

Products that last longer

Durability is a concept that helps Andersen's executives prioritize. "When you talk to people about sustainability, they don't think about longevity," Lund said during a recent discussion with GreenBiz. "But extending the life of products is a philosophy that applies to both how we run our business and our supply chain."

From a strategic standpoint, therefore, it won't surprise you to hear that Andersen is keenly focused on addressing energy efficiency: Lund cites figures suggesting as many as 1 billion windows across the United States don't perform up to Energy Star standards, making them eligible for retrofits.

The company is addressing that opportunity with offerings such as the 100 Series, made out of a highly durable composite material called Fibrex that includes recycled PVC and wood fiber. You can see these products in action in Yellowstone National Park, where Andersen is part of a five-year philanthropic initiative to make the park's operations more sustainable.

At the high end of its product line, innovation is in lockstep with the real estate and construction industry's concern over the heightened frequency of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes. One of Andersen's answers to this is Stormwatch, an impact-resistant design able to withstand objects flying at up to 200 miles per hour. "The window is no longer the weak link in the building envelope," Lund said.

Processes that prioritize reuse

You'll also hear the Andersen team talk much more about the circular economy: the reality is that in order to encourage residential retrofits, the company needs to provide better services related to collecting what's being ripped out of homes and transporting it to facilities where it can be processed for reuse. Unlike Europe, the United States has few resources in place to handle today.

"We are working on our own with salvage houses and recycling operations," Lund said. "It's still very experimental, and we haven't been able to scale. That's why durability is important."

So is training in these practices across the company's expansive dealer and installer network, which is why it created the "Renewal by Andersen" certified installation process. Want a warranty? You'll need to invest in proper installation.

Even though it is a private company, Andersen's latest report provides some great statistical and anecdotal details about its performance against its own environmental goals. For example, the company is recycling and reusing 8.2 percent of the water used across its operations; during 2013, it reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 19,462 metric tons.

There's also some great anecdotal information highlighting newer experiments centered on recycling and reuse. For example, wood ash from the Bayport steam generation facility is now used by local farmers as a soil supplement, where it in some cases has increased yields by up to 30 percent. Sawdust and wood shavings are diverted to livestock ranches for bedding. Even the plastic bands used on lumber pallets have found a second life: they're cut up and used as filler sold to other industries for reuse.

Andersen also is improving the efficiency of its 325-vehicle-plus truck fleet, using PeopleNet telematics technology, and where possible, it is converting vehicles to compressed natural gas. Is there a justification for doing so? Lund believes there is: "Sometimes you have to get out in front of these things before there is a solid business case, just to get things going."

Top photo of window of by Artazum and Iriana Shiyan via Shutterstock

How good water stewardship becomes a 'license to grow'

Published August 18, 2014
How good water stewardship becomes a 'license to grow'

For some time I have been thinking about the apparent disconnect between ambitious business growth strategies and the realities of water scarcity. For example, many companies have robust global growth strategies which include growth in emerging markets where water scarcity and degraded water quality are prevalent. What is missing is how these growth strategies align and are supported by a water stewardship strategy. How do these companies secure the water they need to fuel business growth in a world where simply paying more for water will not work?

A key challenge for companies where water is an essential resource requirement is that their ability to directly "control" access to water as a resource can be very limited. This is because water is fundamentally a shared resource to which ownership cannot easily be assigned. Public policy, regulations and stakeholder influence (for example, the presence or absence of "social license to operate") all impact a company's ability to access water and, as a result, limit its ability to "control" access to water.

A few key inputs helped shape a "license to grow" water strategy. Two reports convinced me that many companies need to move well beyond a "water management" mindset and move to a water stewardship strategy with a focus on business growth. Even water stewardship strategies are mostly focused on "social license to operate" and not a "license to grow" strategy.

Corporate water management is not enough

The first input which shaped my thinking was the 2013 CDP Water Program report. Based upon the results of the 2013 water disclosure survey, the report indicates that "over 90 percent of these companies now have water management plans in place."

However, according to CDP, despite the vast majority of companies reporting that water represents a substantive business risk, most companies are primarily focused on managing water within their own operations. CDP noted that "water stewardship activities are notably lacking, potentially exposing their company and investors to risks that could be mitigated."

The second key input was the recent report by VOX Global and the Pacific Institute, "Bridging concern with action: Are U.S. companies prepared for looming water challenges? Consistent with the 2013 CDP Global 500 report, the VOX Global/Pacific Institute report states that "water challenges are not just a future concern, but a current problem that already affects many businesses."

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

According to this report, 79 percent of responding companies claim that they currently face water challenges, while 84 percent believe they will face water challenges in the next five years. Survey respondents also made the connection between these challenges and their bottom line: Nearly 60 percent of responding companies indicated that water is poised to negatively affect business growth and profitability within five years, while more than 80 percent say it will affect their decision on where to locate facilities over that time period.

Dangerous disconnect between risk and action

However, many respondents do not plan to increase the breadth and scale of their water risk management practices. According to the report, "nearly 70 percent of responding companies said their current level of investment in water management is sufficient." This is inconsistent with the respondents' belief that water challenges "will significantly worsen in the next five years."

The report points to "a failure to adequately evaluate the true cost of water" as one potential reason for this disconnect, and further states: "Though survey respondents noted the importance of integrating water into their business strategy, it may be premature to assume that all have done so."

The reports from CDP and VOX/Pacific Institute suggest that despite concern about water-related business risk, most companies see little to no connection between water risk, stewardship strategies and business growth strategies.

What is missing? A "license to grow" strategy.

Issuing a license to grow

I propose that companies should synchronize their water stewardship strategy with their business growth strategy by considering and quantifying water's full business value, moving beyond the price of water to take into account water's various impacts on operations, value chain, brand and growth prospects. Second, companies that depend on water also would benefit from proactively leading collective action initiatives with stakeholders across their value chain within the watersheds in which they operate. Actions in these two areas go well beyond most companies' current thinking on water management, which focuses primarily on water efficiency and reuse and recycling within their operations.

Also, I propose that there are four stages of maturity in how companies link business growth to water availability, as shown in the following figure.

(Credit: Deloitte University Press. Appeared in "Fueling growth: You can't always buy what you need," by Will Sarni in Deloitte Review 15, July 2014)

There are real opportunities to leverage water stewardship strategies to support business growth by thinking differently about water as a key resource. With an understanding of the business value of water and an enterprise-wide strategy to engage with stakeholders, you may be able to secure a long-term supply of the water you need to support business growth.

Top image of roots in water by Alexey Stiop via Flickr.

'Industry 4.0' and the next wave of embedded machines

By Kevin Klustner
Published August 18, 2014
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Tags: Industrial, Information & Communications Technology, More... Industrial, Information & Communications Technology, Manufacturing
'Industry 4.0' and the next wave of embedded machines

Each year, billions of dollars are spent connecting industrial machines, automating manufacturing operations and coordinating these often disparate automation systems.

But connecting these machines to the Internet of Things gives them the ability to join an intelligent network that can help reduce the significant costs associated with automation.

Connection to the IoT also means that industrial machines immediately can transmit essential operating data — including energy consumption and status. This adds a continuous stream of useful data for plant managers and industrial engineers that can be mined across a facility's machines to detect key trends and worrisome failures. In other words, vital micro machine data gets aggregated into a valuable macro view of a facility.

I think of IoT in industry as plug-and-play meets industrial machines. When a new piece of equipment is installed, it presents itself to the control system along with its operational constraints and energy profiles. The control system then can incorporate these to form a control strategy for that machine. As a result, the machine becomes part of an intelligent, machine-led optimization engine, where resource availability, product demand and energy costs are weighed to provide the best production schedule and negotiate the price of the product.

Industry 4.0: the next wave evolves

The industrial sector is in the early stages of having a continuous or holistic network that has overall connectivity and visibility. Forward-looking equipment manufacturers are starting to incorporate built-in communication as well. They realize that by providing connectivity — as well as intelligence around energy states — they can reduce the total cost of ownership of their equipment, and help their customers optimize their operations at the same time.

The German government calls this "Industry 4.0" — or the next wave of industrial evolution. But to make Industry 4.0 a full-on reality, manufacturers need to embed intelligence and communication capabilities into their products. Broadly accepted standards for communicating and collecting the data also will be crucial. Large global players such as Siemens, GE, Schneider and Rockwell must lead the industrial sector's IoT integration. These are top-tier companies that have a broad product footprint within industrial facilities as well as a cutting-edge 21st century vision.

When energy-intensive equipment is absolutely critical

From my biased perspective, energy-intensive equipment is most important to connect and control, because it helps facilities take advantage of the flexibility inherent in their operations, balance usage within the facility and then optimize energy use with respect to the greater utility grid.

If you filter this through the prism of "transactive energy" — which harnesses techniques for managing the generation, consumption or flow of electric power within an electric power system through the use of economic or market-based constructs (while still considering grid reliability constraints) — then enabling industrial machines to connect to the IoT allows facilities to negotiate their energy flexibility in a price-based energy marketplace.

Credit: Tashatuvango via ShutterstockUtility regulation ultimately will help define program changes that incent manufacturers to become more flexible in the way that they use energy. In the meantime, I'm excited about the New York PSC's move toward distributed resource planning. The sooner we can reach a paradigm in which programs and platforms allow energy trading from the generation as well as consumption side, the sooner we can reach a truly efficient smart grid.

Supporting emerging energy communications standards

The advantage of IoT connectivity — having machines present an intelligent interface that can be controlled in a new environment — is obvious for the industrial sector.

And a big step forward has been the way that industry groups have laid out emerging energy communications standards within industrial communications protocols. At last count, these industry groups are supporting over 200 open standards.

For example, Rockwell has CIP Energy. With CIP Energy embedded directly into existing Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture systems, manufacturers can avoid installing a separate energy-management system. Siemens has PROFIenergy, which provides an integrated power switching function in field equipment that enables energy savings — not only during long pauses, but also during short and extremely short pauses with devices remotely controlled by PROFIenergy commands. Mitsubishi has CC-Link IE, which maintains fast throughput of large amounts of data. And, for its part, Schneider uses Modbus, a serial communications protocol that is simple and robust. Originally published in 1979, Modbus since has become a de facto standard communication protocol, and it is now a commonly available means of connecting industrial electronic devices.

Each company has shown — through major research initiatives and meaningful investment dollars — that connecting intelligent industrial machines to the IoT is the smart way to run a plant, facility or operation today.

And a bottom line is definitely emerging here. Connectivity increasingly will become a profit-driver in the industrial sector as we head toward the middle of the 21st century.

Top image of gears and information by Tashatuvango via Shutterstock.



The Solutions Project's green superheroes use science and stardom

By Garrett Hering
Published August 18, 2014
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Tags: Marketing & Communication, Renewable Energy
The Solutions Project's green superheroes use science and stardom

As Dr. Bruce Banner in the 2012 action film "The Avengers" — and in the forthcoming sequel "Avengers: Age of Ultron" — actor Mark Ruffalo portrays a brilliant scientist who, when provoked, transforms into the unstoppable green superhero known as the Incredible Hulk. He teams up with fellow superheroes to form the Avengers, who rely on their special powers to protect the planet against a potentially cataclysmic threat over the skies of New York City.

For Ruffalo, this is a curious case of art imitating life.

Off-screen, the 46-year-old actor also has the ability to turn into a green superhero of sorts: both as an outspoken opponent of the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and as a high-profile backer of the all-out replacement of nuclear- and fossil fuel-based energy systems with renewables.

This real-life green superhero is a member of another formidable superteam at The Solutions Project, a non-profit group co-founded in 2011 together with Stanford scientist Mark Jacobson, banker Marco Krapels and filmmaker Josh Fox with the stated mission "to use the powerful combination of science and business and culture to accelerate the transition to 100-percent clean, renewable energy."

It's an audacious aspiration to be sure, especially considering that renewable energy accounted for just 10 percent of total U.S. energy consumption entering 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration, and only 13 percent of electricity.

A super-green origin story

But if this all-out green-energy goal were considered ridiculously unobtainable by many, and completely undesirable by an insidious few, it would be the perfect set-up for heroic actions — or at least a valiant effort.

Relying on their unique strengths in science, business and culture, these green avengers also coalesced to address a threat in New York. Fueled by a desire to find alternatives to fracking in the Marcellus shale gas formation in upstate New York, where Ruffalo owns land, the nascent group approached Jacobson. The esteemed atmospheric scientist already had garnered popular attention with the 2009 Scientific American article "A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables," which outlined a general plan to power the world primarily with wind, water and solar power.

Jacobson recently recalled meeting Ruffalo, Krapels and Fox in San Francisco to talk about creating a bold, new energy plan for New York.

"That got me motivated, but I said I probably didn't have the time. I said I'd put together a one-paragraph New York energy plan," Jacobson recalled in an interview with GreenBiz. "But that night I got inspired. Overnight I put together a 20-page basic plan. That was what kind of started it. It took another year and a half to fully form, but that's how The Solutions Project was born."

Credit: The Solutions Project

Since then, Jacobson and his team at Stanford have created 50 basic state plans to transition to various combinations of 100 percent renewable energy, based on each state's specific wind, water, solar and geothermal resources.

But despite the effort's scientific underpinnings, The Solutions Project is anything but academic. Like "The Avengers," it aspires for mass appeal. And it's getting attention from some unlikely corners. Jacobson, for example, last year appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman" to talk about global and U.S. clean energy plans, while Ruffalo just last month attended a NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway, where he cheered on environmentalist racecar driver Leilani Münter. Münter's PrairieGold Solar car featured an ad for The Solutions Project.

Such appearances are aimed at engaging the public and creating broad awareness around the group's main message — namely, that moving to renewable energy for all our electricity, heating and cooling, transportation and industrial needs makes sense from economic, environmental and health perspectives.

Some companies aligned with 100 percent goal, others maligned

"The ad-hoc group we put together is clearly effective," said Jacobson, pointing to a diverse range of business supporters that includes Tesla, Google, Facebook, Mosaic and Walmart.

"Walmart recently adopted their own 100-percent renewable energy goal, so they are really excited about this and they help any way they can," he added. The retail giant is the sixth-largest user of renewable electricity in the country among corporations participating in the EPA's Green Power Partnership program, right behind Google.

Walmart and Google procure just 3 percent and 32 percent of their electricity, respectively, from renewables today. But they are among a growing segment of corporate America that is embracing the goal of 100 percent renewable energy. Companies such as Intel, Kohl's Department Stores, Whole Foods, Staples, Unilever and REI are pacing the trend by already covering all of their electricity needs with a combination of on-site renewable energy systems and renewable energy certificates.

Jacobson acknowledges some skeptics view the 100 percent target as too far-fetched, too extreme, too unrealistic.

Credit: The Solutions ProjectElectric utilities, for example, "never want to change anything," he said. "That is why you have to go straight to policymakers. It would be good if they did see this as a joint challenge and an adventure. Some do, but most are very conservative."

Despite powerful opponents and resistance to change, select aspects of The Solutions Project's increasingly detailed plans are being implemented.

"We've made some progress in New York," noted Jacobson, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January committed $1 billion to develop solar power and another $1 billion to open the New York Green Bank. In addition, Gov. Cuomo wants to install 10,000 new electric vehicle-charging stations in the state. Each idea, said Jacobson, can be found in The Solutions Project's detailed plan for the Empire State.

"As first steps, we were very happy that he listened and took some action," said Jacobson. "The governor hasn't stated a goal to adopt our plan to go to 100-percent renewable energy, and that's what we'd really like him to do."

Over the next year, Jacobson and his team at Stanford plan to publish more detailed energy plans for all 50 states, as The Solutions Project's green energy superheroes and their supporting cast continue to engage America on economic, scientific and cultural fronts.

In other words, like "The Avengers," there should be many sequels.

Top image of Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk by Marvel Studios.



What responsible company? Almost half of consumers can't name one

By Tove Malmqvist
Published August 15, 2014
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Tags: Corporate Strategy, Marketing & Communication
What responsible company? Almost half of consumers can't name one

Our most recent wave of public opinion research across 23 countries shows that 45 percent of consumers are unable or unwilling to name a socially responsible company.

The top socially responsible brands that consumers do name include a range of global and national brands representing a range of sectors, as shown in the table below.

When asked how they learned that these specific companies are leaders, consumers point primarily to personal experience, the media and advertising. These channels are seen as particularly important in countries such as China, Pakistan and Ghana.

In the last few years, global companies have had to deal with increasing stakeholder expectations, mounting economic, social and environmental challenges along with new, disruptive technologies. They have needed to expand into new geographies and cultures and collaborate well outside their comfort zones.

Furthermore, the dynamics of the relationship between business and society are changing. The digital revolution has been affecting societal expectations of companies’ transparency. While consumers are more dispersed geographically, they are also more connected, particularly through social media channels. Everything local is now global.

In this cluttered, fast-paced world where countless corporate messaging initiatives compete for attention, consumers have an increasingly hard time fully comprehending what companies stand for.

Addressing the world’s most pressing challenges can provide companies with a great opportunity to grow their corporate leadership, provided they can develop meaningful sustainability strategies and engage better with the public. It is no longer enough for businesses to assume they know how the general public will respond to a corporate policy or initiative. Engagement is a critical part of how to build affinity with consumers when trust in business is so low, especially on the topic of CSR. An engagement strategy that strives for clear and transparent communication is in fact the only way to recognized leadership.

Companies therefore must find new and innovative ways to communicate their messages and engage with consumers on a more personal level. By creating shared experiences and insights, they will provide an opportunity for consumers to truly understand and believe in what they are doing.


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How reclaimed wood brings durable, weathered beauty indoors

By Glenn Hasek
Published August 15, 2014
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Tags: Buildings, Forestry, More... Buildings, Forestry, Recycled Products, Recycling
How reclaimed wood brings durable, weathered beauty indoors

Reclaimed wood is increasingly being specified and used in lodgings of all types, whether in flooring, doors, mantels, paneling, menu covers or other fixtures or accessories. When The NoMad Hotel opened in New York City in 2012, it did so with reclaimed wood flooring in its guestrooms. When the Grain Tasting Bar opened late that same year at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver in British Columbia, it featured doors made from reclaimed wood. When the Heritage Cabins at Pine Bungalows in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada were completed this year, they made use of the knotty pine tongue-in-groove wood installed in the original Pine Bungalows cabins in the 1960s and 1970s.

The motives for using reclaimed wood are many. Environmentally, wood taken from existing structures or even river bottoms can have many advantages. Virgin or farmed forests are not cut down and wood is diverted from the landfill. The more local the sourcing, the greater the environmental upside.

For the structure's owner, there are cost savings from not having to dispose of the wood. Aesthetically, reclaimed wood cannot be beat for offering an aged appearance to a setting. Structurally, old reclaimed wood tends to have a much tighter grain structure and is more stable than virgin wood of the same species. From a marketing standpoint, there can be fascinating stories behind the wood worth retelling.

Knowing the source of the reclaimed wood that one purchases can be tricky but most suppliers to the hospitality industry well document the source of their product — on their websites and internally through branding and other processes. The Forest Stewardship Council, according to Brad Kahn, the organization's communications director for the United States, certifies not only companies selling reclaimed wood but also the individual products themselves.

Thousands of companies FSC certified

"There are 29,000 companies FSC certified, the majority of which are chain of custody certified," Kahn said.

FSC has several recycled product labels. Its FSC Recycled label is the label to look for when considering reclaimed wood.

"The FSC label tells the customer it is reclaimed wood and someone has verified it," Kahn said.

Companies earning the FSC label must adhere to FSC standards and hire an auditor to ensure best practices are being followed.

"'Reclaimed' is more of a book audit," Kahn said. "It feeds into LEED. You can earn credits in the LEED system for it. LEED does drive a lot of these decisions."

Kahn said FSC does not set standards for deconstruction, the process by which reclaimed wood is generated.

Credit: Rustbelt Reclamation

An increasing number of companies now offer wood reclaimed from barns, factories and other sites. The following is a list of some companies that either specialize in hospitality or participate in some hospitality projects.

Rustbelt Reclamation, according to Chase Horsburgh, principal, V.P. of business development, manufactures all of its products from reclaimed materials set for demolition. The addresses of salvage sites are listed on the company's website.

Harvesting manager seeks salvages

"We have a full-time harvesting manager," Horsburgh said. "He spends all of his time chasing down leads on reclaimed materials. We work with several demolition contractors. We will go into the structure several days prior to demolition to get the wood we need."

The wood is photographed at the demolition site, crated, taken back to a warehouse, numbered and placed in inventory. The harvest location and species are inputted into an inventory tracking system.

"We take material through our processing department where it is de-nailed," Horsburgh said. "We cut it to length. We use a metal detector over it and take moisture readings. Once we use [a piece of wood] to construct a job, we insert a coin in it that states the salvage location — a circular wooden coin. The end user can go on our website and search the location. We are really all about telling a story."

Rustbelt Reclamation offers furniture including desks, tables and stools.

"As the sustainability movement forges ahead, the consumer's desire for reclaimed product will continue to grow," Horsburgh said. "It is becoming a bigger trend. Every new restaurant is using reclaimed materials."

Credit: Sustainable Flooring

Old World Reclaimed Woods offers beams, planks, siding, flooring, mantels and other items. Barns are the primary source for the company's wood. According to John Israel, the company's president, wood has been acquired from five barns and one factory so far.

"We make box beams," Israel said. "We do flooring, mantels. We are starting to get into furniture."

Israel said reclaimed wood is a superior green option to wood grown on farms with fertilizer.

In regard to tracking, he said his company places the name of the barn on the wood sold. Sometimes, he said, one can go to Google Maps and still see the barn standing.

FSC Certified flooring and wall paneling

Sustainable Flooring's reclaimed woods can be divided into two categories — those sourced from old structures and those recovered from river bottoms. The "old structure" reclaimed wood is barn wood that has been reclaimed through deconstruction and then milled into flooring. The dredge wood is reclaimed from the bottom of riverbeds throughout North America.

Credit: Sustainable Flooring

"Most of our reclaimed material is about 25 percent harder than traditionally available wood of the same species, and more stable-since the growth rings are tighter," said Pete Nichols, president and owner of Sustainable Flooring.

"Our reclaimed Strandwoven Timber, made from post-industrial reclaimed/recycled veneers from the furniture manufacturing industry, uses recycled by-product, which is compressed together, and then milled into flooring," Nichols said. "This produces a product about four to five times as hard as the original species input, and is much more stable (moves less with changes in relative humidity), and produces a tight-grained aesthetic unseen in traditionally harvested woods used for flooring."

Interest in reclaimed wood increasing

Nichols said his company is seeing more interest in reclaimed wood from those in the hospitality space. "More clients value products with a sustainable story than they used to," he said. "And, when you can add product features (such as greater durability and stability), it somewhat makes it a no-brainer."

When asked what one should look for when considering reclaimed wood, Nichols emphasized making sure the species of product meets the application. "For a high-traffic area in a high-traffic hotel, it might not be a good idea to put down pine," he said.

Top image of reclaimed wood by Rustbelt Reclamation. This article first appeared at Green Lodging News.



Do sustainable buildings really cost more?

By Jessica Shankleman
Published August 15, 2014
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Tags: Buildings, Facilities, More... Buildings, Facilities, Recycling, Resource Efficiency
Do sustainable buildings really cost more?

How much extra does it cost to fit out your office with all the latest green technologies?

Environmentally friendly insulation, low-flush toilets and even onsite renewable energy generation may seem like they have a high financial cost, but a new report from U.K. green building certification body BREEAM aims to show that in fact the opposite is true.

The "Delivering Sustainable Buildings: Savings and Payback" report, co-authored by Sweett Group, aims to challenge the perception that delivering strong sustainability credentials represents an additional cost for a building. Using research-based on real-world costs and savings experienced at an office, secondary school and community healthcare center built to BREEAM standards, it finds that the costs of meeting some standards has increased over the years, but achieving the basic pass rating incurs no extra costs. Meanwhile, achieving the "good" BREEAM standard can lead to a minimal additional cost of just 0.15 percent.

In contrast, achieving a higher sustainability rating, such as "very good" or "excellent," will incur a higher up-front cost, but the cost increase compared to a non-compliant building is still typically less than 2 percent, which can often be paid back through energy bills savings within two to five years, the report found.

Certain technologies also can go on to generate further savings or new revenue streams after they have paid back their initial costs — savings further buoyed by a range of government incentives such as feed-in tariffs for solar panels or enhanced capital allowances for water and energy efficiency products.

The report said the findings highlighted the need for developers to think not just about upfront costs but also the full operational and lifecycle costs of buildings when deciding whether to incorporate green features.

"Opting for a lower capital cost can, in effect, pass the extra cost of a less sustainable solution, along with potentially higher environmental impacts, onto the building occupier and owners," it stated.

However, it also argues that sustainable measures should be factored into the project from an early stage in order to deliver the highest possible savings.

The study highlights the costs of a number of "quick wins" that facilities managers and contractors can use to boost the sustainability levels of their buildings:

With the costs of many of these technologies continuing to fall and the benefits they offer increasingly self-evident, the case for investing in greener buildings never has been clearer.

Top image of BREEAM "Excellent" building Calthorpe House by Elliott Brown via Flickr. This article first appeared at BusinessGreen Plus.



Airbus pollution control entrusted to bees

By Sustainable Business News
Published August 15, 2014
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Tags: Aerospace & Aviation, Bio-based Products
Airbus pollution control entrusted to bees

Bees are important to everyone because they pollinate much of our food, but Airbus is relying on them to provide a unique service — to help reduce its environmental footprint.

In this ingenious project, bees inform Airbus on how much pollution it causes at Finkenwerder Airport in Hamburg, Germany.

Airbus maintains two beehives at the airport: near the aircraft paint shop and close to the runway. The tens of thousands of bees in these hives produce more than 160 kilograms of honey a year. About 600 jars of honey are tested for the presence of pollutants and the rest are given as gifts to customers, suppliers and staff. 

To produce the honey, the bees harvest pollen and nectar from hundreds of thousands of plants across about 4.5 square miles — providing key data on the quality of the soil, air and water, and whether there are metal or chemical deposits on flowers.

After analyzing the honey for the past five years at an independent lab, the results show that pollution levels from Airbus facilities are even lower than in the center of Hamburg.  

"We have tested three different parameters this year: wax, pollen and honey, from two different beehive locations," said Eberhard Schädlich, fulltime beekeeper for Airbus. "We are very proud to say that every single result shows pollution levels are well under approved limits."

Airbus is one of the more active aviation companies when it comes to developing airplanes that fly on biofuels or fuel cells.

It's also leading on efficiency. It developed TaxiBot (with partners) to tug airplanes around airports without using engines. Its airplanes — which use 15 percent less energy — are being snapped up by the industry at the fastest rate in the history of aviation.

The company says airlines could derive 30 percent of their fuel from plant-based sources — including farm waste — by 2030. Higher fuel costs would push this along faster. 


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