Ebay, Kindle and Skype rule among the greenest apps

Michael Ansaldo

Ebay, Skype and Kindle now have more in common than being three of the most widely used smartphone apps. They are also the best apps for promoting sustainable behavior, according to a recent study by the WSP Group, a U.K. environmental consultancy firm.

WSP devised a subjective scoring system to rank the top 20 apps that “bring sustainability to everyday lives.” It scored the apps on three metrics: popularity (gauged by the number of downloads), “stickability” (essentially its shelf life, determined by its average app rating, functionality and user comments) and environmental impact.

According to WSP, the apps that scored highest do at least one of five things:

• Encourage reuse and selling of second-hand goods.

• Reduce fuel consumption and promote public transport.

• Change eating habits and reduce food waste.

• Help consumers create more sustainable product choices.

• Replace material with electronic consumption.

Some results are surprising. While apps such as Seafood Watch and Freecycle were conceived to promote eco-friendly practices, eBay and Amazon’s Kindle app don’t spring to mind in discussions of green living. But reduced waste is a clear byproduct of these services, and their popularity encourages sustainable practices among mainstream consumers and offers a powerful example for other developers.

“What we learnt from this study is that the most sustainable apps are not necessarily the greenest ones, but rather the most popular programs are part of our day-to-day living and which enhance, not impede, citizens' lifestyle choices,” said Andy Porter, head of digital at WSP, in a statement. “Helping people make money, save money and live a richer life will always be the approach which has widest appeal, and this shows through in our study.”GoodGuide

These 10 apps scored highest in the study:

1. eBay

The online marketplace earned the top spot for popularizing and simplifying the resale of second-hand and unwanted goods, reducing waste and consumption. Of all the apps surveyed, eBay was the best promoter of the circular economy, according to WSP.

2. Kindle

The Kindle device may be the premier e-reader but it’s the app that has had the biggest green impact. The popularity of Kindle reduces the demand for physical books — just one of which generates 7.5 kg of carbon dioxide when produced, according to WSP. And its capability to run on a smartphone or tablet means users don’t have to purchase a separate reading device, which further reduces waste.

3. GoodGuide

GoodGuide provides sustainability ratings for more than 120,000 products, ranging from meat to makeup, and its app puts it all in users' hands when they need it most: when they’re shopping. WSP admits the app would have scored even higher if it contained more U.K.-focused content.

4. Skype

The robust voice and video conferencing app has helped cut unnecessary travel for individuals and businesses alike. Family and friends get more frequent face time without leaving home, and companies have an easy, low-cost way to work more closely with remote teams.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app

5. Seafood Watch

Which tuna is higher in mercury: skipjack or albacore? The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app puts the answer at your fingertips with its up-to-date guide to seafood and sushi. And its Project Fishmap feature lets users keep track of stores, restaurants and other businesses where they’ve found sustainable seafood.

6. Google Maps

This widely used app not only eliminates the need for paper maps, but its ability to plot the most direct route and navigate users to their destination conserves fuel: drivers using GPS systems used 12 percent less fuel than those who didn’t, according to a NAVTEQ study.

7. Freecycle + Trash Nothing

A bit like Ebay meets Craigslist, this app brings together regional Freecycling groups, making it easy for users to give away unwanted items to others in their community. The system promotes reuse and, because it’s locally focused, reduces the environmental impact of transport.

8. Airbnb

The community marketplace allows travelers to book lodging from hosts in more than 34,000 cities around the world who have turned their spare room, home or other property into an ad-hoc inn. Its promotion of resource sharing has resulted in a wealth of environmental benefits. According to Airbnb, its guests use 63 percent less energy than hotel guests, in North America alone.

9. Moovit

This app takes the hassle out of using public transportation by crowdsourcing the fastest, least crowded route on bus and subway lines in more than 400 cities.

10. CityMapper

Like Moovit, CityMapper makes it easy for people to hang up their car keys by suggesting routes around nearly a dozen popular metropolises. Users can plot their journey using multiple modes of transport including bus, subway, bike, taxi, train, ferry and their own two feet.

The complete list of apps is available here.

Top image shows Airbnb in the Chrome browser

With companies nailing disclosure, it's time to tackle performance

Emma Armstrong

CDP recently released its S&P 500 2014 Climate Change Report (PDF) — the first of this year's series of reports analyzing the 2014 climate change responses and ranking companies for their climate change disclosure and performance. But what does CDP leadership really mean — to those that are (and are not) on the leadership lists as well as to the future of our planet?

The Climate Disclosure Leadership Index recognizes companies scoring in the top 10 percent based on their disclosure score (which focuses on the extent to which they disclose climate change related information and data). As CDP shows in Figure 1 of its 2014 S&P 500 report, the bar for the CDLI continues to approach the perfect 100.

This steep increase in the minimum score for inclusion on the CDLI (from 61 to 97 in seven years) may be a result of a more mature CDP questionnaire (with fewer major changes year-on-year), companies being more familiar with answering the questions and/or companies developing more mature greenhouse gas emissions management programs. These scores reflect how much information a company discloses in its response, but not what it may (or may not) be doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

In contrast, the Climate Performance Leadership Index recognizes companies making and reporting positive actions with respect to climate change. Are they meeting their reduction goals? Are they investing in renewables? Are they achieving absolute reductions in their emissions — within their operations, from their product or in their supply chain? The number of companies on the CPLI this year is disappointingly similar to last year (36 in 2013 and 34 in 2014) but twice the number of companies on the 2012 CPLI. The number of companies demonstrating performance leadership is increasing, but certainly at a slower rate when compared to the disclosure index trend.

While CDP is right to champion that the overall performance of companies is improving (the number of companies scoring an A, A- or B has increased over the last three years, from 30 percent to 48 percent of all responding companies, as shown below in Figure 2 from the 2014 S&P 500 report), the number of companies that make the CPLI (those that receive an A score by realizing significant absolute emissions reductions, as reported in CC12.1a) is less than 10 percent of the S&P 500 respondents.

Performance as measured by CDP considers a range of activities that a company might engage in, not only whether they are achieving meaningful absolute reductions. However, most companies fall into the "B" category. While we recognize the efforts that it takes to achieve this score (and more important, the meaningful programmatic activity that this score represents), we may be giving ourselves a false sense of security: Companies are on the right track, but are they moving fast enough to achieve improvements in performance that translate to the real emissions reductions required to avoid a 2 degree Celsius degree change?

To address some of this, CDP will continue to evolve the questionnaire by rolling out a sector-based scoring approach that will add more rigor and recognize those companies that are setting and achieving greenhouse gas emissions reductions in line with science-based targets.

It is true that much of the focus and fanfare around CDP over the past 10 years has focused on the disclosure score, with performance being introduced only a few years ago and sometimes considered an afterthought by companies. But as the clock ticks closer to 2020 and discussions shift from climate mitigation to adaptation, we need to focus on achieving performance improvements over disclosure improvements and specifically setting and achieving real emissions reductions. CDP has been instrumental in driving this forward and is right to have pushed first for transparency. Now that companies have demonstrated they can talk the talk, it's time to walk the walk in a meaningful way. In 2014 of the nearly 348 responding companies, nearly 50 percent scored an 80 or better on disclosure but also scored below an A on performance. That's 174 world-class companies poised to take even more significant steps and actions that tackle even greater emissions reductions projects. And that is inspiring.

As the margin for disclosure leadership continues to decrease, companies rightly should focus their efforts, time and capital on activities that demonstrate real change and bottom line (let alone triple) value. These are the harder decisions to make and more complicated business cases to prove. They take more than just (re)telling a story; they are the components and successes of that story.

The private sector will need to play a significant role in staying below a 2 degree C increase threshold set by climate scientists. The absolute reductions at the scale needed (as outlined in the CDP-WWF 3% Solution Report [PDF]) may seem daunting, but they also represent a potential present value net savings of $190 billion in 2020 (or net present value as high as $780 billion) for U.S. corporations, excluding utilities.

Quite simply, it could save money, lots of money, to reduce emissions over this period. The longer that we wait to take these steps, the harder and more expensive it will become to avoid the 2 degree C increase. Are we (still) willing to take that risk?

This article originally appeared at the Anthesis Consulting Group blog. Main image: starstickers_matthewbenoit_sstock. Inline images courtesy of CDP.

Where is water tech when you need it?

William Sarni

There are no shortages of stories on the environmental, social and economic negative impacts of water scarcity and the drought in the U.S. in general and in California in particular. Stories about innovative solutions to address water scarcity and water quality, and the opportunity to ramp up investments in said solutions in the U.S. and globally? Not so much.

Singapore, Australia and Israel often are heralded as the global water-innovation hotspots. In these countries, water scarcity and security concerns have spurred innovative policies and investments in creating water-innovation hubs.

Here in North America, the government of Ontario, Canada has made similar strides with its 2010 Ontario’s Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act in an effort to advance resource efficiency and innovation at the municipal level while positioning the province as a global leader in water technology and innovation.

In the U.S., several regional economic development efforts are investing in water clusters. However, the current scale and pace of North American water innovation doesn’t begin to match the scope of the actual market opportunity or underlying resource challenge.

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

The American water industry employs about 700,000 workers, including 30 utilities that support some 289,000 jobs, for about $52 billion in total annual spending. The water sector is also faced with an estimated $1 trillion in needed infrastructure investment, according to the Brookings Institution. However, water receives relatively little attention from investors and entrepreneurs who typically seek to introduce disruptive business models and technologies to solve market challenges.

Looking at the numbers, it is reasonable to conclude that the drought has had no impact whatsoever on investments in the water and wastewater sector. According to the Cleantech Group, investments from corporate and venture equity in water and wastewater technology totaled $140 million for 33 venture deals for the first half of 2014. This is compared to $317 million for 58 deals in the first half of 2012.

A recent report by McGill University and Utrecht University, summarized in Nature Geoscience, highlighted six strategies to address the water shortfall by 2050. These are not new, but focusing on these key areas is the place to start for any entrepreneurs residing in multinational corporations, startups, the public sectors and NGOs. They include agricultural productivity, irrigation efficiency, improvements in domestic and industrial water-use intensity, increasing water storage in reservoirs and desalination of seawater.

Let’s buckle down on water-tech innovation to meet the energy, water and food needs for our current and projected global population. 

Rupert Murdoch's News UK is leading media against climate change

Jessica Shankleman

When it comes to tackling climate change, the media has "an innate" responsibility to pratice what it preaches, and should not rely on the growth of digital publishing to curb its carbon emissions, the chief operating officer of News UK has said.

Speaking to BusinessGreen after News UK last week became the first media company to secure the Carbon Trust Triple Standard for reducing CO2, waste and water use, Chris Taylor, said all businesses should be aware that they are "custodians of the environment for future generations."

"I think if we are writing and commenting on these matters as we do regularly, then it's only fair that we try to practice what we preach," he said.

News UK has slashed its carbon emissions by 50 percent since 2008, and its new offices next to London Bridge's Shard building now recycle 80 percent of their waste, up from 10 percent at the old Wapping offices.

The new complex also has no car parking spaces except for disabled drivers, in order to encourage employees to use public transport or cycle.

"The Times is very famous for its cycling campaign as an alternative to driving to work," said Taylor. "To do these things ourselves only adds to the level of credibility. I think it's just something in the company that everyone buys into, so as a joiner you feel a bit out of place if you were trying to rail against that."

News UK's strong commitment to green best practices may come as a surprise to some environmental campaigners, who have accused The Sun and The Times of promoting climate skeptic arguments and being highly criticial of decarbonization policies and investments.

Arguments against efforts to curb emissions do not appear to have been embraced by the company's management, but Taylor insists it is not within the remit of the News UK management to dictate editorial policy on environmental issues. "The Times and our other newspapers have comprehensive editorial independence from the leadership of the company itself," he said. "It doesn't have to be the case that the newspapers have to report what the policy of the company is, and in fact there are many high profile cases in the industry where that's not been the case."

Securing the Carbon Trust standards has required initiatives right across the business, and Taylor explains how steps have been taken to ensure the measures embraced by News UK are compatible with a busy newsroom. For example, the management decided to make it easy for employees to recycle by sorting waste off site rather than asking people to separate waste in different bins.

However, some of the biggest environmental wins have been achieved outside the newsroom, in the print production facilities, where News UK also prints The Telegraph, The Financial Times, The Evening Standard and The Metro as well as its own newspapers.

Printing facilities require supercharged air conditioners to deliver the precise humidity levels that ensure the ink sticks to the page. But News UK cut its air conditioning demand by 70 percent, through scheduling and engineering improvements that has saved a total of 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the Euroscentral print site in Glasgow has reduced its water use by 44 percent, while the Broxbourne print site in Hertforshire has curbed all non-paper waste going to landfill by three-quarters.

Taylor maintains that its efforts are having a wider impact on the newspaper industry too, with the "real wins" coming from publisher to publisher collaborations.

For example, since September 2013, News UK and The Telegraph have combined their distribution programs, reducing the need for 15,000 van journeys a year and cutting mileage for distribution vans by 1.2 million miles. Taylor said he hopes to roll this collaborative approach out with other papers in the future in a bid to further reduce mileage.

But should News UK really be focusing its efforts on reducing the footprint of print when some argue the platform rapidly is becoming outmoded?

Taylor said in fact the opposite is true, that it would be easy for a publisher to claim that a shift to digital naturally would fulfill its environmental commitments, when in fact active steps to improve environmental performance still need to be taken. This is in part because News UK's digital subscription services for online content have not led to the same widening gap between digital and print distribution that other outlets with free online sites have seen. "We here firmly believe that in an environment where you charge for all of your products as we do, it's really about consumer choice and we don't see people moving away comprehensively from print," Taylor said.

Instead he argued that all newspaper outlets should be taking practical steps to develop more efficient processes that improve both the environment and their balance sheets. "Our view is that the printed product is here to stay certainly for the next 20 years, so it's about having the two things to co-exist side by side," Taylor added.

As the newspaper industry continues to face challenges in monetizing online publishing and managing declining printing sales, perhaps News UK's approach to delivering a more efficient printing and distribution model could help improve both its financial and environmental performance for years to come. Rupert Murdoch's Twitter account may have confirmed that the media magnate is somewhat sceptical about the need for action on climate change, but at least one of his companies appears to remain fully committed to curbing its environmental impact.

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen

Here are the 2 biggest challenges to the future of energy storage

Christine Hertzog

The recent Energy Storage North America (ESNA) conference in San Jose, Calif., can be summed up in one word: optimism. The sanguine outlooks on market opportunities and trends were unanimous. Several vendors can't manufacture their equipment fast enough to meet demand.

California is making the market for energy storage. The ninth largest economy in the world recognized energy storage systems as important technologies in electricity value chains with last year's passage of AB 2514. The California Public Utilities Commision's Decision 13-10-040 (PDF) set the regulatory expectations about utility-interconnected and behind-the-meter energy storage. States such as California view energy storage as a critical tool to firm up intermittent forms of renewable generation.

State policies in the Northeast encourage energy storage systems to deliver resiliency for grids and critical infrastructure. Of course, it's a credible argument that Tesla is making a market for energy storage with its gigafactory in Nevada. The company plans to build 50 GWh in annual battery storage starting in 2017. These combined influences are driving the growth of new storage technologies, services and financing mechanisms.

The comparisons to solar trajectory trends are well known. Energy storage technologies are expected to rapidly decrease in price in response to increased economies of scale and expertise. Deployment numbers forecast fast growth — particularly in behind-the-meter solutions that focus on reducing electricity costs due to high demand charges.

But the energy storage ecosystem has to overcome two challenges that could have negative impacts on adoption rates.

1. Profusion leads to confusion

First, energy storage technologies are diverse. There are chemical and non-chemical categories of storage. Many subcategories are based on different elements such as lithium, zinc, sodium or iron; and non-chemical storage ranges from pumped hydro to compressed air to flywheels.

There is significant variety in number of charges, stability in different environmental conditions, and form factors. You can select an energy storage solution to ensure that your mission-critical devices or operations are not disrupted by power outages — a resiliency function. Storage can help maintain stable grid operations, a reliability function. Storage can reduce electricity use at peak time periods or avoid those demand charges mentioned above — a cost-savings function.

[Learn more about distributed energy systems at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

The market places very different values on the potential uses for energy storage by function. There's a lot of confusion that needs to be addressed with education to ensure buyers are making sound decisions that meet and exceed their expectations.

2. Secrets slow adoption

The second challenge is that early stage energy storage technologies and services usually are proprietary and customized engineering solutions. Deployments may include features that aren't supported on a commercial scale, or may not exist in the future. All of these qualities increase the balance of system costs that go beyond the storage equipment purchases. There is no equivalent to a USB standard for physical connections of different energy storage solutions to the grid.

The Byzantine variety of permitting processes and fees is a problem that bedevils the solar industry too, but it's a brand new learning curve for the energy storage system integrators and installers. In essence, there's too much complexity in the entire design, development and deployment process for energy storage systems, and it's an area that's ripe for innovation.

Time to roll up our sleeves

The good news is that vendors are working collaboratively to solve some of these problems. A new industry initiative called the Modular Energy Storage Architecture standard initiative can help promote more of a plug-and-play environment. It would be interesting to see similar collaborative efforts between utilities to standardize on interconnection processes. Likewise, the irrationalities of municipal permitting processes should be replaced with national standards — just as we use the NEC (National Electrical Code) to define the safe design and installation of electrical systems in a uniform way across the USA.

The energy storage ecosystem has to rapidly mature, or suffer self-inflicted pain evident in inflexible, non-scalable and proprietary solutions slowed down with non-standard processes. These challenges could reduce overall investment paybacks for grid scale and behind the meter deployments. Industry optimism must be tempered with pragmatism to create the right technology and policy frameworks that enable continued success to this important segment of smart grid solutions.

Top image of bottled energy by Artifan via Shutterstock. This article first appeared at Smart Grid Library.

5 ways to whet consumers' appetites for sustainability

Tove Malmqvist

Sustainable consumer behavior has improved only incrementally, and remains stagnant or has become less sustainable in areas such as transportation, housing and consumer goods, according to the 2014 Greendex survey.

Let's examine some ways that consumers can change their behavior to increase their sustainable consumption.

The fifth edition of this Greendex survey detects increasing concern about the environment, together with increasing awareness of human activity as the cause for climate change coupled with growing concern about how a changing climate will worsen people's way of life in their lifetime. It is clear that consumers are largely unable to translate their personal values and worries into meaningful action beyond incremental improvements.

On a slightly brighter note, however, the survey shows that consumers' food habits have become more sustainable in 11 of 18 countries tracked as consumers have started to embrace the local and organic food movements.

So, how is all of this relevant for business?

To better understand how we as individuals, including global corporate organizations, can accelerate the adoption of more sustainable habits among consumers, we took an in-depth look (PDF) at the dynamics of consumer behavior change in the area of food.

These insights may well be applicable beyond the realm of food and should be of interest to all who want to see a concerted drive to increase sustainable consumer behavior overall.

Here are five ways that can help to unlock sustainable consumer behavior.

1. Focus on emerging markets

A new index of behavior change potential based on current food habits versus willingness and capacity to change shows that consumers in emerging markets such as Mexico, Brazil and China have the most potential for change, while those in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan are the most set in their current habits (see accompanying graphic). The countries with the top-five change potential scores contain 1.8 billion people.


2. Target the right consumers

Based on advanced statistical modelling, we identified five distinct groups of consumers that differ in terms of their intent and capacity to change their current food habits. The analysis (PDF) reveals the "Moveable Masses" segment to be the largest one across the 18 countries surveyed, and also the most easily influenced type of consumer with a lot of room to improve. Individuals in this group are also highly affected by obstacles to change — removing these obstacles and leveraging the key motivators for this group potentially can unlock large-scale change towards more sustainable habits.

3. Focus on peer-to-peer communications

Our analysis indicates that the strongest driver of change for most consumer segments, including the "Moveable Masses" segment, is encouragement by friends to consume more sustainably, and also the act of encouraging others to do the same. Results suggest that peer-to-peer encouragement is statistically the most effective motivator for consumers to change their habits and that grassroots peer-to-peer activism has the potential to unlock behavior change around food.

But the study also found that only small proportions of consumers are strongly encouraged by their friends to eat more sustainably. Social media is, of course, a formidable tool that enables peer-to-peer influence to flourish, and any corporate strategy that attempts to influence consumer habits should prioritize its social media approach.

4. Be transparent

Our research on attitudes around food reveal that consumers care deeply about the food that they eat and about how it is produced, with most saying food is an essential part of their culture. At the same time, however, most feel alienated from the food system and do not feel empowered to influence what food is available to them when shopping or the way that food is produced.

Results show that when informed about the environmental impact of different types of food, consumers tend to shift their intentions toward more sustainable food choices. Businesses need to inform, engage and empower consumers to help them translate their values into more sustainable consumer habits.

5. Link sustainability with personal health

Results suggest that consumers are more receptive to information about making more sustainable food choices when this information is linked to their own health and provided by sources with medical or scientific credibility. Other GlobeScan research also indicates that scientists are far more trusted by the public than other institutional authorities, including government or business.

Top image of rogan josh by stocksolutions via Shutterstock.

How DuPont and P&G plan to make detergent from agricultural waste

Stephen Kennett

According to the companies, Tide Coldwater will be the first brand in the world to blend cellulosic ethanol in a scalable and commercial way.

Ethanol is a key ingredient in the detergent's formulation, allowing for stability of the detergent formula and better washing performance. The cellulosic ethanol, which is made from harvest by-products, emits less greenhouse gas compared to petroleum or the currently used corn-based ethanol it will replace. Over 7,000 tons of agricultural waste will be re-purposed a year to meet the needs of the Tide Coldwater brand.

DuPont will produce the renewable, cellulosic ethanol at the company's new U.S. biorefinery, currently under construction in Nevada, Iowa. Once completed, the plant will be the world's largest bioethanol refinery, producing 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year — a process with zero net carbon emissions.

Gianni Ciserani, Procter & Gamble group president of global fabric and home care, said, "We believe that actions speak louder than words in the area of sustainability and this partnership with DuPont demonstrates we are doing just that. As one of the world's largest laundry manufacturers, we have a responsibility to lead renewable sourcing in products. We do this by ensuring consumers still get the great Tide laundry performance they want, while further reducing the impact on the environment. In January, we committed to removing phosphates in our laundry products."

DuPont Senior Vice President James Collins added, "With this collaboration, DuPont is also taking the first step to diversify its markets for cellulosic ethanol beyond fuels. As we build on our integrated science capabilities, we will continue to seek out new opportunities and new collaborations to transform value chains with more sustainable solutions."


Top image of Tide bottles by Mike Mozart via Flickr. This article first appeared in 2degrees.

When climate 'wins' only lead to other clean energy battles

Ryan Gerlach

As the adage goes, following every action is a reaction. As elsewhere, this is true in politics, where every move is followed by a series of countermeasures. Lately, climate and energy have increasingly been at the political fore. It follows then, that climate policy “wins,” such as the federal Clean Power Plan, could intensify debates around other clean energy issues. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, or CPP, is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by about 30 percent by 2030. The rule, which currently remains in its comment period, is highly complex and a long way from being finalized, let alone implemented. Consequently, any projections on its impact — environmental, economic or otherwise — are highly speculative. However, we can assume that if and when it is implemented, it will have the general effect of reducing reliance on carbon-intensive fuels, coal in particular. 

As with so many other facets of present-day American life, energy politics are highly divisive. Some opponents of the rule have claimed it is part of a larger “War on Coal.” Leaving aside any argument as to whether the framing is fair or accurate, let’s consider the metaphor further. 

Digging in their heels 

Wars are composed of  smaller battles where victory may or may not be predictive of the larger outcome, and while the full range of issues with energy politics obviously goes well beyond predicting counterpunches in a “War on Coal,” considering all possible outcomes of federal efforts such as the CPP allows those implementing the rule to do so in a way that takes into full account the desires of states, as well as any unintended consequences such efforts may present. 

With this in mind, in one metaphorical battle the CPP could actually hinder the near-term deployment of rooftop solar in some parts of the country. Its passage in states whose utility commissions are opposed to the rule could lead to stronger pushback in regulatory battles governing distributed solar power. Factor in the equally direly named “Utility Death Spiral,” (a potential phenomenon where utilities lose customers to solar and other distributed generation technologies, raise rates in response, and thus drive more customers to DG options), and it shouldn’t be surprising if there is pushback from those who feel they are being significantly burdened by the passage of the CPP. 

The most ominous predictions, foretelling the end of utility companies, are almost certainly overblown. However, it is clear the landscape in which utilities operate is changing. Solar and other technologies are becoming increasingly competitive with conventional power. Meanwhile, some form of carbon pollution limits are almost certain to be implemented. Together, these factors have the effect of creating a highly uncertain competitive and regulatory environment for existing utilities.  

Response to this uncertainty is falling on a wide spectrum. On one hand, the New York State Public Service Commission is contemplating a total rethinking of its grid’s engineering. It is considering a proposal, Reforming the Energy Vision, that would transform the grid into a multidirectional network and turn the state’s utilities from energy providers into “distribution system platform providers.” 

More often, however, we see legal and regulatory disputes pushing back against laws and policies regulating DG technology. Throughout the country, many utilities have worked to oppose net metering laws or impose steep interconnection charges upon home and business owners who install photovoltaic systems on their properties. Utilities claim this is simply an effort to recover the costs associated with maintaining the grid and protect other ratepayers from subsidizing the solar arrays for the customers who install them. Critics counter it is an unfair attempt to kill solar deployment in their regions and maintain a monopoly on the sale of electricity.

Compliance with the CPP may serve to exacerbate these fights. While there is ongoing debate regarding the costs both DG proliferation and CPP implementation will impose on utilities, there are guaranteed to be some, presumably significant, costs involved with CPP compliance. And this has many utilities digging in their heels. 

The big three 

Three primary factors influence the economic viability of a photovoltaic system: 1) amount of sunlight, 2) existing electricity prices and 3) incentives. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residents of all 12 states involved in a lawsuit against the EPA that challenges the agency’s jurisdiction to impose CPP regulations pay below the national average for electricity on a kilowatt-hour basis. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into cheaper utility bills, because lower rates can be offset by substantially higher consumption. 

Compliance with the CPP would likely drive bills higher and dull one of the key competitive advantages (low rates) utilities in coal states have against solar. Because many coal-reliant states also have abundant sunlight, implementing the CPP may tip the scales such that at least two of solar economics’ “big three” favor solar. 

Again, it should not be surprising if states in which the CPP imposes a significant burden feel attacked and as though they have lost a key battle on federal regulations. Furthermore, it should not be a revelation if in the short term they seek to counter by imposing policies and rate structures designed to discourage solar implementation and other DG technologies. 

However, with state-level battles over solar policy popping up all over the country, understanding which states are going to be most affected by the coming carbon regulations might hold some predictive weight in determining where these debates figure to become most heated. While those most concerned with climate change and carbon emissions will likely laud the direction and impact of the federal policy, the counterbalance may be that a handful of states, many with strong solar potential, actually make solar adoption more distant and difficult.

Therefore, instead of taking policy such as the CPP at face value as climate “wins,” it would behoove supporters to look at the full implications and possibilities of such rules in order to create a smoother path forward for adoption of all clean energy measures.

This article originally appeared at Ensia. Chess image by Leon Von Gaul via Flickr

How ConAgra sets the table for climate resilience

Ann Goodman

Is there an American who hasn’t tried Chef Boyardee’s ravioli? Hunt’s tomato sauce? Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn? Probably not.

And that’s why it’s so important that ConAgra Foods, the $16 billion, Omaha-based company that owns the brands, ensure it keeps producing and providing enough healthy, sustainably sourced food — without stoking climate change.

To accomplish that goal, the company is executing a four-pronged resilience approach:

1. Implementing energy efficiency strategies throughout its facilities to achieve a greenhouse-gas reduction goal of 20 percent per pound of product by 2020, drawing heavily on employee engagement and strategic capital investments in facility infrastructure, such as boiler control system upgrades, heat recovery projects and lighting retrofits;

2. Working with supply chain partners to assure sustainable, long-term sourcing of ingredients through sustainable agriculture practices and transport efficiency;

3. Fine-tuning a corporate climate change policy; and

4. Eliminating food waste in its facilities, thereby reducing the amount sent to landfills and cutting resulting GHG emissions.

Climate risk and resilience: Manage, mitigate, monitor

ConAgra recognizes that climate change is expressed both by sudden, sporadic, extreme weather events — such as Hurricane Sandy nearly two years ago, or the Missouri River floods in 2011 — and also by ongoing extreme conditions, such as the California drought.

Both sorts of climate events affect the company’s business, although differently. With Sandy in 2012, the company had to act quickly to protect its people and facilities, while implementing business continuity plans to minimize interruptions in production and service to customers.

“Both [Sandy and the Missouri flood] required some flexibility in how we operated, within our own facilities and with suppliers,” said Marcella Thompson, director of sustainability in ConAgra Foods’ Environment, Health & Safety department.

As for ongoing climate conditions, the resulting stress on agriculture places other pressures on the company.

“For us, this situation has underscored the importance of having long-term relationships with farmers who grow tomatoes for our two fresh-pack and canning facilities in California,” explained Thompson. “We have and will continue to look to these farmers to adopt best practices to conserve water while maximizing yield.”

Food waste

“We can’t ignore the connection between climate change and food waste,” said Thompson. “Agriculture, through crop cultivation, accounted for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. Combine that with the fact that 30 to 40 percent of food grown and prepared is never consumed, and there’s a big opportunity to make progress just by eliminating this waste. It’s a challenge that extends up and down the supply chain — starting at the farm and extending all the way to plate waste at home and restaurants.”ConAgra foods

Once in landfills, waste produces greenhouse gases, further exacerbating the problem.

That tension likely will increase as the world is faced with feeding 9 billion people by 2050, she added. In this context, “Resiliency means everything is on the table — beginning with how and where food is grown, to what and how much people eat.”

Which is a key reason ConAgra focuses on solutions to climate change. “Adapting to [it] is much more about what we do than what we say. We have to change how we operate in light of how the climate is changing around us,” Thompson said.

That’s one reason the company, in 2010, included in its first set of sustainability goals diverting at least 75 percent of waste from landfills to better purposes, such as donations, animal feed, energy recovery or composting (for organic materials), and recycling (or energy recovery for packaging).

“In very short order, we realized that we needed to have a strategy to manage these material streams not as wastes but as byproducts that still had value,” said Gail Tavill, ConAgra’s vice president of sustainability. “Shifting our attitudes about these materials left over from manufacturing really helped several of our facilities take action.”

In an effort to reduce greenhouse gases by eliminating food waste at landfills, the company put systems in place in 2012 to track landfill and material diversion from its facilities, identifying 15 waste categories in line with the EPA’s waste reduction model (WARM). The results include improved understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions from the company’s management of waste materials, as well as the ability to quantify benefits from diverting them from landfills to find "higher-value homes" for them.

ConAgra estimates that in 2013 it diverted 93 percent of waste materials from landfills, avoiding more than 165,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas Scope 3 emissions.

“Today, we send less than 5 percent of organic materials to landfills as waste and continue to work to reduce that amount, so [we] have clearly exceeded our initial goal,” Tavill said. “In an effort to keep moving forward and looking ahead, we recently announced our 2020 Vision for sustainability, which includes a goal to reduce the amount of waste generated by 1 billion pounds.”

Employee engagement

Employees are key — to changing operations, to implementing new procedures and policies, to solving problems. Improving the company’s energy efficiency policy to reduce its own GHG emissions is one critical example.

Active Green Teams in most locations are a central part of the company’s employee engagement strategy. While often supported by plant management, the teams actively engage hourly employees across multiple disciplines and shifts. “Our employee Green Teams bring our sustainability ambitions to life,” said Thompson. “They are the heart and soul of our program, and they’re best positioned to identify opportunities in our facilities.”

Some basic training came first. “Initially, we had to educate our team on what GHGs are and our past performance, so that they could understand and communicate to others about our goals,” said ConAgra’s senior EHS specialist Debbie Stanley. “After understanding GHGs, [employees] were excited to help develop solutions that could impact the goal.”

The hardest part was actually putting in the time and resources to ensure employees understood GHGs, she said. And the reward? “Several times a week, I have team members come up with energy saving ideas and solutions and bring them to Green Team members, and I’ve had Green Team members lead projects to reduce GHGs,” Stanley said.

To get employees on board with energy efficiency, ConAgra’s frozen food facility in Russellville, Ark. held a Green Day during Earth Month. The local Green Team led activities to raise awareness and engage employees, hosting games such as "Spin the Wheel," to help them learn about energy facts, and a dice game, to answer questions on all three key resources — electricity, water and compressed air.

The rewards are many, from lowering utility costs for the facility, to boosting employee enthusiasm for the measures. “We’ve made [it] a big deal by really recognizing those who helped implement sustainability projects,” said Stanley. “Generally they’re eager to make a bigger difference.”

Supply chains

One issue of critical importance to ConAgra’s climate approach, as for many others in the food sector, is how best to work with its supply chain, which — from farming to packaging to transportation — is highly diverse and complex.

“It is important for us and other companies to understand our supply chains to assure long-term access to materials and minimize risks,” said Tavill. As an example, she cites the company’s sustainable agriculture programs that focus on those crops “where we have direct relationships with farmers,” including potatoes and tomatoes. “It’s the direct, long-term relationships we have with these business partners that enable us to collaborate effectively to really drive change.”

For instance, the company has helped its potato growers put into practice more water-efficient irrigation practices, which also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the farm by cutting energy use from pumping water. Many growers have implemented water-conservation best practices by using soil moisture probes to ensure irrigation only where needed, identifying dry spots with aerial infrared technology and employing low-flow, drop-down sprinkler nozzles to apply precisely the right amount of water.

“Our farmers and Ag Services team have taught me that there’s both an art and a science to farming,” said Thompson. “Innovative application of technology in agriculture enables farmers to grow more food on less land — with far fewer resources.”

The company has thousands of direct suppliers, sourcing everything from grains and nuts to vegetables and proteins. Plus, the company’s supply chain is many layers deep, reaching all the way to the farmer growing crops or raising animals that eventually reach the consumer as ConAgra products.

That complexity “forces us to prioritize and focus, balancing the relative climate impact and risk of an ingredient with our ability to influence change,” explained Thompson.

Adding to this complexity is “the frequent intersection of social and environmental issues” in the supply chain, she said. “Take palm oil, for example. Southeast Asia is indisputably the most efficient growing area for palm plantations contributing to the economic development of the region, but the area also has high natural capital value [that competes with demand for] greater transparency and pressures into supply chains for agriculture to continue to gain momentum and may change how we source ingredients longer term.”

To ensure that its palm oil purchases don’t add to deforestation of rainforests, further exacerbating climate change, the company recently pledged to source all of its palm oil from responsible and sustainable sources by December 2015.

And if that move is any indication, ConAgra likely is poised to continue forging a sustainable path to climate resilience — ensuring availability of sources and food, all while reducing carbon.

Top image from ConAgra's Food 2020 Sustainability Vision video

How Starbucks and Green Mountain serve up shared value

Cheryl Baldwin

A shocking dichotomy exists in our food system. The more than 70 percent of the global population that is food insecure are the very people we rely on to produce about 70 percent (PDF) of the world's food supply. They are typically small farmers living in rural areas across the globe.

Today is World Food Day, the opportunity to highlight the call for action to end hunger for the 1 billion currently hungry (PDF) and to fulfill our future population's food needs. This year's theme of family farming acknowledges the crucial role these farms play. Building the capacity of smallholder producers is necessary to empower them to move out of poverty and to eradicate hunger.

Leading food and beverage companies have taken the challenge. They are addressing hunger and poverty in their suppliers' communities while also delivering value for their companies.

Coffee leads the way

The United Nations Global Compact, the U.N. platform to engage with global business, established six Sustainable Agriculture Business Principles to guide progress on building a resilient food system:


Active ahead of the U.N. guidance, Starbucks and Keurig Green Mountain demonstrate how these principles work in practice.

Starbucks is building the capacity of smallholder coffee producers through loan programs, technology transfer and market access. The company plans to loan $20 million to underserved farmers by 2015. Part of the funding provides smallholders with financing for market access and technical assistance through the Fairtrade Access Fund. The company also established a network of six Farmer Support Centers in key coffee-growing regions. These centers provide expert assistance directly to farmers, including best management practices and improved coffee varietals. Starbucks' commitment to purchase only ethically sourced coffee by 2015 underpin these and other initiatives by providing a market for smallholder producers.

Viewing hunger in its producer communities as a supply chain threat, Keurig Green Mountain is focusing on providing tools and training to reduce hunger and poverty in the communities where it sources coffee. Projects have included: supporting coffee farmers in growing staple crops and nutritious fruits and vegetables at home or local schools; helping build metal silos for farmers to store and protect grains from humidity and pests and provide year-round access to food; ensuring diverse sources of income through activities such as producing eggs or beekeeping to help stabilize income throughout the year; providing training and market access for these additional crops.

Keurig undertook this range of activities after reaching out directly to those affected in order to understand what would help them the most. These efforts have reduced hunger in the target communities, enabling them to be productive supply-chain partners.

Shared value in the supply chain

Programs that build the viability and capability of smallholder producers are widespread across the food sector with efforts underway at Walmart, Unilever and recent commitments from Kellogg's and others. Such investment is critical to the long-term resilience of the food system and to ensuring food security for the world's growing population.

Companies should use World Food Day and the examples of these leaders as an opportunity to evaluate how they could strengthen their producer partners while improving the long-term food security of the communities they touch.

This global event and these successful approaches also should inspire companies to understand and address other social needs (PDF) in their supply chain and markets to deliver critical value. Those companies that can address unmet societal needs such as a lack of food, water, health care, education or employment in a way that also benefits their business will have helped evolve our common understanding of the corporation of the future. As businesses reach beyond their four walls and work collaboratively with their supply-chain partners and communities, we can expect exciting innovations and creative collaborations with far-reaching results.

Take a look at our blog on hunger and corporate responsibility, The Hunger Games Are Not Sponsored by Responsible Corporations, and last year's World Food Day blog post, A Sliver Lining with Sustainable Sourcing on World Food Day. coffeefarmer_DFID_wikimedia