Environmental Defense Fund Highlights Innovations Big and Small

Environmental Defense Fund Highlights Innovations Big and Small

Aiming to show there's a lot more to going green than swapping out light bulbs and buying recycled products, the Environmental Defense Fund has published Innovations Review 2008, a look at green business practices that go beyond the basics.

This first edition of the annual review highlights more than 20 processes, products and technologies that were chosen based on four criteria: good for business, good for the environment, ready to be implemented and innovative. The Fund stayed away from concepts still in the research and development phase or anything that has been widely implemented and documented.

The report includes innovations in real estate, operations and manufacturing, fleets, packaging, finance, human resources, shipping, retail, banking and food and agriculture. In future editions, the Fund will look at innovations in other sectors.

Each sector includes a range of ideas with different applicability, time commitments, payback periods and benefits. For real estate, the Fund looks at how big companies are using Power Purchase Agreements to get cheap access to solar power, how a small company created a net-zero energy office building, and how almost any company can reduce their dependence on electricity with systems like sun-tracking skylights.

For fleets, the report shows it's not just enough to switch to cleaner-burning cars, vans and trucks. Innovations Review highlights how the adoption of telematics and other high-tech systems are allowing fleet managers to review all types of data from vehicles and tweak them to reach peak efficiency. Staples, for example, has improved fuel efficiency from 8.5 to at least 10 miles per gallon by restricting engines to a maximum of 60 miles per hour.

Some of the innovations have single benefits. Others, like packaging improvements, have a chain effect. Smaller, lighter, more-recycled-content packaging reduces the need for new materials, reduces shipments by allowing more product to be transported at once, puts more products on store shelves and, for materials that aren't reused or recycled, reduce space taken up in landfills.

The range of concepts can be applied to many types of businesses (such as the employee bussing systems run by Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft) or specific sectors (like a new way of landing jets to reduce fuel use).

The Environmental Defense Fund culled the innovations out of more than 230 ideas gathered from interviews with more than 40 experts, a call for nominations and news, research and reports. The Fund's website includes an expanded look at some of the topics and further reading, as well as a call for innovations for next year's review.