What Defines a Social Innovator Anyway?

3p Conferences
| Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 8.53.55 PMBy Maura Dilley

Conferences that explore emerging thought leadership are an enjoyable place for a cultural ethnographer. We understand the world through common language, metaphors and reference points. When you’re making something new, like social innovation, you invite an intellectual struggle to organize ideas in our collective mind. Results being the occasional euphoria of a new idea, as well as the confusion of speaking at crossed purposes. The spectrum of self-identified social innovators on parade at the Social Innovation Summit Silicon Valley 2014 gives up much for study.

Understanding the spectrum of self-identified social innovators

First, we have “social innovation natives” like Kiva, Code for America and DonorsChoose.org. In my mind, these organizations define social innovation; they are dedicated to designing products, services and, indeed, companies that fundamentally improve society by re-designing its operating systems. Social innovation is their modus operandi. And there “social innovation re-modelers” — companies, foundations and philanthropists very large and somewhat small, drawn to identify with social innovation for a variety of curious reasons. Parsing these out was an entertaining exercise.

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A True ‘Plug-and-Play’ PV System is Closer Than You Think

| Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 9 Comments

Fraunhofer CSE plug and play PV systemBack in the spring of 2012, the Energy Department announced a $5 million, five-year initiative aimed at producing a true rooftop ‘plug-and-play’ photovoltaic system, meaning a solar panel that you could pick up at your local building supply store, plant on your roof, and have it soaking up the photons all within the same day.

The concept of a solar appliance that is just as easy to install as any other appliance sounds reasonable enough, but the residential and small business solar market faces a unique set of obstacles. We’ve been covering plug-and-play PV developments since at least 2009, and generally speaking they still involve more time and effort than, say, installing a new fridge.

That’s partly because retail solar systems are relatively new. Standardization is just beginning to emerge, and in the meantime solar customers have to put a lot of elbow grease into the process.

Contrast that with the rest of the retail appliance industry: It is a mature field with a firm platform of standardization, which accounts for why you can buy practically any kind of new stove from just about anywhere without having to think about getting special permits or making other special arrangements.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a new plug-and-play system, developed by the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) with funding from the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, and see how close we are to a true plug-and-play system for solar.

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Video: Tawanna Black of Northside Funders Group Talks Diversity at Net Impact ’14

| Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Tawanna Black Headshot- Bus.“Simply having diversity does not produce results for the bottom line,” Tawanna Black, executive director of Northside Funders Group, said at the 2014 Net Impact conference last month.

“We’ve known that just mixing people up one way or another doesn’t actually produce results — in fact, sometimes it creates more conflict and more challenges that may hinder business sustainability and growth. But inclusivity does.”

The concept of moving beyond diversity to inclusion came up several times in our Talking Diversity video series. In this two-minute clip, Black makes the business case for going that extra step to ensure inclusivity and why it’s important to allow employees to bring their “whole selves” to work.

“Americans spend more time at work than anywhere else,” Black noted, “so why wouldn’t we want [our workplaces] to be places that we enjoy?”

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Boulder County Imposes Cannabis Carbon Tax

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

cannabis_carbon_taxMarijuana farms are growing by leaps and bounds in Colorado these days – and so are the concepts of how to capitalize on this new industry. From cannabis growers’ conventions to businesses that build temperature-controlled indoor environments for grass growers, and journalists that rate strains of the new aperitif on their appealing qualities, Colorado’s eastern slope seems to be busting with new ways to harness the impact of this growing industry.

But the new millennia fascination with the herb has also brought some headaches, as Boulder County has discovered over the past year. Located just north of Denver in a valley well known for both its hot, sunny summer weather and its unpredictable storms, Boulder County has become an epicenter of sorts for the New West’s burgeoning industry.

Colorado State Article 18, which went into effect this past January after voters agreed to overhaul the state’s cannabis regulations, allows for both private and commercial growing and use of cannabis within the state. What it didn’t take into account, the county notes, is the carbon emissions that are tied to warehouses with hundreds of thousands of square feet dedicated to hot, bright lighting and plants that normally grow fine outdoors. In hot, sunny climates, that is.

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5 Essential Practices for Retailers, Brand Owners and Suppliers to Transition to Safer Chemicals

3p Contributor | Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

3p_photo_mallBy Beverley Thorpe

Manufacturers, retailers and suppliers are increasingly being mandated or asked voluntarily to eliminate hazardous chemicals of concern in their products and manufacturing processes.

This is good news. Unfortunately, the alternatives they choose as replacements may not be comprehensively screened for human health and environmental impact. This leads to ‘regrettable substitution,’ a term I find captivating in its understatement, particularly when the substitute ends up being persistent in the environment or a hormone disrupting chemical. Part of the problem is that chosen alternatives are often kept confidential which diminishes the public’s faith that progress to safer chemicals is actually being made.

NGO campaigns have recognized the need to go beyond calls for a simple chemical ban in products. Too often we see hazardous flame retardants in furniture or waterproof coatings on outdoor hiking gear being substituted with similarly hazardous halogenated chemicals. So, how can product manufacturers and retailers protect themselves from the business risk of potentially adopting the next hazardous chemical to be regulated? And how can they show leadership in helping to move our economy to a toxic-free future?

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How a Local Community Wins from Supply Chain Investment

3p Contributor | Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Bell Bay - Under 400kbBy Phil Preston

Last week, almost by chance, I stumbled on an industrial company that helped build the capacity of a local supplier to compete against an offshore alternative.

What I found most interesting about this and similar examples is the lack of airtime they get. We get blinded by the headlines, which generally only appear when something goes wrong, such as job cuts, accidents or scandals. Meanwhile, there can be greater things going on under the surface.

I had the pleasure of travelling from Sydney to the northern part of my home state, Tasmania (Australia) for a family reunion of sorts. It’s a relatively small island state that has historically relied on forestry, mining and the public sector for employment.

More recently, tourism has accelerated on the back of boutique food, wine and arts attractions, as well as stunning natural scenery. Diversity of industry and employment is critical to its future.

Bell Bay Aluminium

By way of background, the smelting operation began in 1955 and is part of Pacific Aluminium, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto. It’s a large exporter, electricity consumer and (direct and indirect) employer in the state.

While staying nearby at George Town, situated on the north coast, I met up with Lou Clark, community relations specialist at Bell Bay Aluminium. We hadn’t met before, and I was interested in hearing about the company’s community engagement challenges and successes. Like many companies of its size and local importance, Bell Bay provides an array of grants and support for community needs.

It was almost by accident that our conversation drifted onto the company’s local capacity-building initiative.

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Video: Maggie Davies of Net Impact Talks Diversity at NI14

| Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

MD-headshot 1b“Zooming out entirely: The global challenges that we face are massive and very complex, and it’s going to require everyone being involved,” Maggie Davies, chief of strategy and talent for Net Impact, said at the 2014 Net Impact conference in Minneapolis.

“We need diverse people and diverse perspectives in order to be the most effective.”

In this clip, which is part of our Talking Diversity video series, Davies goes on to explain what Net Impact is doing to address diversity, including a recent partnership with Symantec that allowed Net Impact to grow its network, particularly in historically black and women’s colleges. She also shares success stories from participants in those programs, so be sure to stick around for the full two minutes.

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Ikea Joins the Crowd and Heads for Greener Palm Oil Sources

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday November 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

IKEA_sustainable_palm_oil_OiMaxAn encouraging number of companies have jumped on the bandwagon for sustainable palm oil these days. Unilever, Mars, Nestlé and Starbucks are among some of the larger food companies that have picked up the trend in past years. Some have adopted their own strategies to ensure their sources are sustainable, while others have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

But food isn’t the only place that palm oil is used, as the latest convert to this sustainable approach demonstrates. According to last month’s press release, Ikea has decided to make the switch.

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Green Bronx Machine Turns Bronx Students Into Urban Farmers

3p Conferences
| Monday November 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments

RitzBy Julie Noblitt

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” – Cynthia Occelli

One of the most soul-satisfying things about attending the Social Innovation Summit is the number of people you meet there who have taken great ideas for social change and translated them into action. Nowhere is the impact of social change more important than in the educational sector, and the summit, held on Nov. 19-20 in Silicon Valley, did not disappoint on this score. The incredible line-up of speakers, included the founders of such innovative educational initiatives as Nirvan Mullick’s Caine’s Arcade, Steve Mesler’s Classroom Champions and Kimberly Bryant’s Black Girls Code — to name just a few.

But one talk brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation, and it was the one I came to the summit to see: Stephen Ritz’s rapid-fire, exhiliarating tour of how the Green Bronx Machine has helped empower and transform the lives of school children in the historically poorest congressional district in the nation, the South Bronx in New York City. How does he do this? By teaching his students how to become urban farmers.

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Video: Maya Weisinger of the Walker Art Center Talks Diversity at Net Impact ’14

| Monday November 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Located in Minneapolis, the host city for this year's Net Impact conference, the Walker Art Center is "a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences."

Located in Minneapolis, the host city for this year’s Net Impact conference, the Walker Art Center is “a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences.”

“Diversity is important in our society because for so long we’ve had a certain set of accepted rules and socializations that basically determined how a big group of people think — and right now this group of people is very different,” Maya Weisinger, learning initiatives coordinator for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, said at the 2014 Net Impact conference.

“It’s the first time in a long time — or ever, maybe, in our country — that these different ideas are becoming more exposed … and we are having issues because of that. And it’s not a bad thing. It’s just new.”

As part of our Talking Diversity video series, we asked thought leaders from all backgrounds about diversity and how it fits into the broader sustainability conversation in business. Many of our interviewees referenced changing demographics — noting that the younger generation of top talent is different than any other that came before.

As a recent college graduate working in her hometown of Minneapolis, the host city for NI14, Weisinger is more equipped than most to discuss the attitudes of this younger generation — and why they should matter to businesses.

In this two-minute clip, she makes the business case for diversity and touches on why the topic will only become more important in the coming years.

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TransCanada’s Keystone Backup Plan

RP Siegel | Monday November 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment

PipelineLast week, the Senate blocked another attempt at passing the Keystone XL pipeline. The vote fell short by only one vote. The House has already approved the measure and one might expect it will pass when the Republican majority takes over in January. The president has signaled his intention to veto the measure when it comes to his desk, but is waiting for a decision from Nebraska’s governor before committing.

The plan has been opposed by most environmental groups because the tar sands oil is extremely dirty and energy-intensive to extract. It requires all the tar to be heated before it can be extracted or made to flow through a pipe. That means enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the lifecycle of extraction, transportation and combustion. Furthermore, the proposed pipeline would be routed right over the massive Ogallala aquifer, a crucial source of water for Midwestern farmers. This elevates the risk of a toxic oil leak to one of potentially devastating consequences. All this is happening at a time when oil is at its lowest price in years because we have so much of it from fracking.

Be that as it may, according to documents leaked to Greenpeace, the Canadian company TransCanada has a backup plan in case Keystone fails to get approval.

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The Sports Industry: Feeding More Than Just Ticket Holders

Presidio Sports
Presidio Sports | Monday November 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing student blogging series entitled The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. You can follow the series here.

Gameday HotdogBy Zachary Worthington

In the U.S., we waste around 40 percent of the food we produce, the equivalent of $165 billion. This happens all along the supply chain, from the produce left to rot in the field (curved cucumber, anyone?) to the pre-warmed hot dogs at the stadium that don’t get sold. Besides wasting an opportunity to feed people, (45 million Americans didn’t have enough to eat last year), food waste is also a cornucopia of valuable inputs (fertilizer, water, fuel, time). And when food is wasted in a landfill it is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is that, as a result of some diligent work in the world of sports greening, a lot of the uneaten prepared food at major sporting events — including those pre-warmed hot dogs — are now being fed to those who need it. This also means that the venues avoid paying to have that food trucked off to compost piles or landfills.

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SolarCity and Buffalo’s Transformation

Leon Kaye | Monday November 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment
SolarCity, clean energy, renewable energy, Elon Musk, urbanization, millennials, solar, wind power, Leon Kaye, Buffalo, New York, green jobs

Buffalo Harbor on the shores of Lake Erie.

Buffalo, New York, is now digging itself (or actually melting itself) out of mountains of snow, but the recent megastorm and its cold winters are not going to stop the city from becoming an important solar energy hub. Earlier this fall, SolarCity announced it would build a 1.2 million-square-foot photovoltaic solar panel factory, which will be one of the largest in the world, on the site of a former steel mill in Buffalo. The massive factory, another one of Elon Musk’s projects, in part is happening because of the state of New York’s doubling down on solar as an economic generator in the Empire State.

But subsidies and tax credits are not the only reason why SolarCity chose Buffalo to build what will soon be the largest solar factory in the western hemisphere. As in the case of its “rust belt” cousins, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh, Buffalo offers companies such as SolarCity many benefits: solid universities churning out fresh and hungry graduates, affordable living, a renewed optimism and an urban environment many millennials currently crave. The result is that an industry usually identified with Silicon Valley and America’s Sunbelt could play a large role in Buffalo’s resurgence.

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Pepsi True Savaged on Amazon Over Palm Oil Controversy

Leon Kaye | Monday November 24th, 2014 | 4 Comments
Pepsi True, Amazon, PepsiCo, Sumofus.org, rainforest action network, sustainable palm oil, conflict palm oil, palm oil, Leon Kaye, supply chain

SumOfUs.org has led the insurgent anti-Pepsi campaign

Less than two months ago PepsiCo hyped a new soft drink product, Pepsi True, as an alternative to the high fructose corn syrupy sweet and artificially sweetened zero-calorie options the company has long pitched to consumers. This new drink, sweetened with stevia root, promised to be “a new kind of cola that is almost too good to be true” and was rolled out for sale exclusively on Amazon.

Unfortunately for PepsiCo, there has been a slight hiccup. Many activists, upset over what they see as the company’s less than robust sustainable palm oil policy, are not cutting Pepsi True any slack, and are mercilessly heckling PepsiTrue with bad reviews. According to Sustainable Brands, the ringleaders are SumOfUs.org and Rainforest Action Network. Last week the outcry on Amazon was so loud PepsiCo pulled the product from Amazon, then reinstated it, only to have complaints still flying in.

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Patagonia’s New, Decentralized Approach to Sustainability Management

3p Conferences
| Monday November 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Rick Ridgeway, VP of Environmental Affairs, Patagonia

Rick Ridgeway, VP of Environmental Affairs, Patagonia.

By Maura Dilley

About six months ago, Patagonia, a global leader in sustainable apparel, dissolved its sustainability department. This is a development Rick Ridgeway, vice president of environmental affairs, is very proud of. Patagonia, the iconic outdoor apparel company founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, has lead the apparel industry’s exploration of sustainable design, production and end-of-life for textiles. The company’s path is hard won, lit by metrics and guided by sages of social innovation.

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