Plastic waste is inundating urban, rural and wilderness landscapes and inland waterways, as well as our ocean waters. Besides the visual blight, plastic waste kills, seriously injures or damages wildlife and domesticated animals. The slow degradation of synthetic plastics, moreover, releases a mix of toxic chemicals into our atmosphere, land and waters, poisoning the natural ecosystems and resources that form the foundation of our economy and society.
The average American tosses away some 185 pounds of plastic per year, an estimated 50 percent of which is used only once before being discarded. Overall, the recycling rate for plastics in the U.S. is around 42 percent, a rate that public- and private-sector organizations are working to raise, both for self-serving, as well as more altruistic, motivations.
Late last week, PepsiCo and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced the launch of “Recycle for Nature,” a five-year partnership that will see the two organizations place recycling bins at gas stations and convenience stores across the U.S. In addition to reducing plastic waste by spurring more recycling, the initiative aims to save and restore 1 billion gallons per year of drinking water sourced from five of the most heavily populated and scenic U.S. waterways, PepsiCo and TNC explain in a press release.
Bigger fish are taking greater interest in the mid-tier energy storage market, looking to capitalize on technological advances and the introduction of energy storage mandates and development programs by governments in California, Hawaii, New York and Puerto Rico.
Following the path of entrepreneurial startups such as Santa Clara, California’s Green Charge Networks, Sharp Electronics on July 29 announced its SmartStorage solution is now available throughout the Golden State.
Akin to Green Charge’s GreenStation, Sharp’s SmartStorage system employs the latest in lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery storage technology and intelligent demand response (DR) software algorithms to enable commercial and industrial utility customers to better manage electricity consumption — specifically demand charges. In contrast to standard residential rates, which have been falling, utility demand charges have been rising at some 10 percent per year.
Making smart, efficient use of distributed clean energy resources is a key enabler in order for a more sustainable U.S. energy mix to fully mature.
Santa Clara, California’s Green Charge Networks (GCN) has been carving out a niche for itself in the nascent, growing U.S. smart grid-energy efficiency market space. It sets itself apart by leveraging the latest in battery storage technologies, its own proprietary energy management algorithms and software, and zero-down, results-based customer Power Efficiency Agreements (PEAs).
On July 29, GCN and new firm K Road DG announced the closing of $56 million in funding that will help the company take the next step. GCN will use the funds to spur uptake of its GreenStation energy management and storage solution (pictured above) and associated PEAs. Through PEA agreements, investment returns are linked to customers’ actual demand charge and utility bill savings.
To date, GCN has closed over 2 megawatts (MW) of these zero-down agreements with a variety of customers, including 7-Eleven, Walgreens and UPS, as well as school campuses and municipalities in California and New York.
An analysis of data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Mission indicates the U.S. Southwest is more vulnerable to drought and water shortages than previously believed.
Studying 14 years of GRACE satellite data since late 2004 covering the parched Colorado River Basin, NASA and University of California, Irvine scientists found that groundwater loss accounts for more than 75 percent of total freshwater resource loss across the basin region.
Freshwater flowing through the Colorado River Basin is the lifeblood of cities and communities throughout the seven-state region and beyond into Mexico, supplying freshwater to 40 million people and irrigation for some 40 million acres of farmland in the southwestern U.S. However, the basin “has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last 100 years,” NASA highlights in a news release.
Superstorm Sandy caused tremendous damage, as well as hardship and loss of life, in communities across New Jersey – with a total of over $37 billion in physical damages alone, according to a Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration study released in October 2013.
Given current and rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases, New Jersey and states up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as well as across the U.S., can likely expect more in the way of extreme weather events and greater variability in weather patterns.
Aiming to strengthen New Jersey’s resilience to power outages and energy shortages, the Christie administration on July 23 announced it has taken a big step forward in establishing the New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank (ERB). It will be the first state-sponsored fund of its kind dedicated specifically to enhancing the resilience of energy infrastructure and supplies to extreme and variable weather patterns and conditions.
With an initial $200 million from the mid-Atlantic state’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), the ERB is to “support the development of distributed energy resources at critical facilities throughout the state,” according to a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJ BPU) press release.
With a $10 billion inaugural commitment from national cooperative bank and Farm Credit System member CoBank, the White House Rural Council on July 24 launched the Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund. The private investment fund aims to spur good job creation across rural America by investing in infrastructure and institutional development projects.
Illustrating the symbiosis inherent in public-private partnerships, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal agencies will help identify promising rural development projects for the fund manager, Capital Peak Asset Management. Capitol Peak, in turn, will work on recruiting additional fund participants and raising investment capital.
Activities across public lands managed by the Department of the Interior contributed $360 billion to the U.S. economy in 2013, supporting over 2 million jobs in communities across the country, according to the Interior Deptartment’s fiscal year 2013 report.
More than 407 million recreational visits were made last year to U.S. national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and other public lands managed by the department, according to the report. These alone generated $41 billion to the economy and supported some 355,000 jobs nationwide, the department highlights in a press release.
Federal budget sequestration is cutting into Interior Department and Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) budgets, compromising potential economic, social and ecological benefits and investment returns. President Barack Obama is urging Congress to fully and permanently fund the LWCF, something Congress has done only once in the legislation’s 50-year history.
Businesses large and small are turning to cloud computing systems to forge leaner, more effective and efficient organizations. Amid explosive growth in the use of Internet-connected devices, deployments of the latest in mobile broadband infrastructure and the fast emerging “Internet of Things,” (IoT) cloud computing is becoming the core of a new generation of information systems (IS) architecture.
Besides opening up a world of “Big Data” and “Always-On connectivity,” the exponential increase in the number of “things” with IP addresses opens up vast opportunities for those looking to exploit security weaknesses in connected devices, networks and servers. That includes alleged government cyber espionage campaigns as well as an ever-growing variety of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks on the part of cyber criminals and terrorists.
As the OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability and Dragonfly malware group have demonstrated, these malware and cyber threats now have the capability to exploit vulnerabilities in encryption methods and technology, and access network, server and application software to control industrial processes. They can even control critical public infrastructure, such as power, energy and water distribution systems.
Recent malware invasions and security breaches notwithstanding, the cloud computing migration appears unstoppable. According to RightScale’s “2014 State of the Cloud Survey,” public cloud adoption among 1,068 organizations surveyed is nearing 90 percent. That begs the question: Are the organizations contemplating a shift to cloud IS architectures concerned about security risk? More fundamentally: Just how secure is cloud data storage?
The president himself took the lead role in forging ahead and taking action to avert the worst effects of climate change last week, presiding over the fourth and final meeting of the 26-member White House State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.
The president on July 16 announced a series of new climate change resilience initiatives, including making new investments to fortify community electric grids, build stronger man-made and natural coastal storm defenses, and protect water supplies, as well as enhance climate change and infrastructure data gathering, analysis and planning via 3-D GIS mapping initiatives.
Following up on the president’s announcement, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn announced the administration is dedicating nearly $10 million to help American Indian tribes enhance their resilience to climate change through adaptation and mitigation initiatives.
The Tribal Climate Resilience Program should be a win-win-win situation, benefiting American Indian tribes and the nation economically, socially and environmentally.
Global demand for cocoa is projected to grow to $98.3 billion in 2016. With demand for chocolate and other cocoa products rising, businesses along the cocoa value chain are challenged by a host of factors, including unfair trade and predatory business practices, social discontent, environmental degradation and climate change.
Growing middle classes in Asia and around the world are contributing to increasing demand for higher-quality cocoa products, yet cocoa cultivation remains labor- and time-intensive. That poses challenges for producers of all sizes. Sustainability standards and inclusive business models place greater value on longer-term social and ecological benefits as opposed to simply maximizing yields and productivity, however.
Focusing on two of Asia’s principal cocoa producers – Indonesia and Vietnam – CSR Asia, in collaboration with Oxfam, assessed sustainability across the cocoa industry, asserting that development of more inclusive business approaches would benefit smallholder producers, consumers and participants across the cocoa value chain.
News of further follow-through on President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan broke over the course of the past two weeks: The Department of Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced plans to auction nearly 80,000 acres of Atlantic Ocean waters off the coast of Maryland and proposed leasing another 344,000 acres off the New Jersey coast for offshore wind energy development.
BOEM has awarded five commercial offshore wind energy leases off the Atlantic Coast so far, part and parcel of the Obama administration’s Smart from the Start sustainable offshore wind energy development program. Collectively, these span more than 277,500 acres and have brought in over $5 million in high-bids for the U.S. Treasury.
Researchers at Stanford University have determined that Atlantic offshore winds could yield enough renewable electricity to power at least one-third of the entire U.S., or the entire East Coast from Maine to Florida. The challenges associated with turning this promise into reality are numerous and varied, however.
The electronics industry has become the de facto face of innovation in the post- WWII era.
When it comes to sustainability in the electronics industry, much attention is being paid to e-waste and energy efficiency. However, there is much more to making a sustainable smart product in the 21st century. That’s why UL – Underwriters Laboratories – through UL Environment developed the UL 110 standard for mobile phones, tablets and other “smart” products.
The UL ISR 110 standard is points-based and devices that receive the certification must:
- contain environmentally preferable materials;
- be manufactured using environmentally and socially responsible practices;
- be recyclable at end-of-life;
- make use of recycled and recyclable packaging;
- have minimal environmental impact;
- have minimal human health risks;
- perform efficiently; and
- demonstrate innovation in sustainable manufacturing.
Mobile devices create a unique challenge from a sustainability certification perspective. They are complex pieces of equipment, contain metals that may have come from conflict regions and chemicals that may be harmful to human health; they are also difficult to recycle given the high number of components they include, and at the end of the day, each one only gets used for an average of 18 months.
Yet, creating a greener product can provide a competitive advantage, as Scot Case, UL Environment director of markets development, explained in a 3p interview.
California, Massachusetts and Oregon topped the ranking of U.S. states in terms of clean tech leadership, while three California cities – San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego – came out tops among U.S. metro areas, according to the latest edition of Clean Edge’s “2014 U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index.”
Monitoring clean tech activities and conditions across all 50 U.S. states and the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, Clean Edge found that the improved performance and lower costs of clean technologies are prompting U.S. states and metro areas to tackle climate change head on.
“Climate disruption and the growing availability of market-competitive clean-energy technologies are driving many states and cities to tackle climate issues head-on,” Clean Edge founder and managing director Ron Pernick said in a news release.
“More than ever, this year’s Leadership Index highlights how some top regions are taking climate action seriously, with double-digit clean-energy adoption rates, new policies like California’s energy-storage mandate, and the deployment of clean-energy investment vehicles such as New York’s Green Bank.”
Promulgating the notion that they are developing “green” biofuels, the palm oil industry has actually been associated with a wide range of predatory business practices, extensive damage to ecosystems and biodiversity, and an abundance of air pollution and carbon emissions.
For more than 15 years, affected communities and environmental and public interest NGOs, as well as governments, have been pressuring palm oil producers to clean up their act. In a new white paper, CSR Asia, in partnership with Oxfam, examines the experience of ‘the little guy’ – smallholders participating in the palm oil value chain – with an eye towards instituting equitable, sustainable business practices industry-wide.
Focusing primarily on the work of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – which was established in 2003 to define and implement sustainable palm oil standards – CSR Asia focuses on “the certification of sustainable palm oil and the opportunities that this can provide for smallholders.”
With developing countries driving economic growth and energy use worldwide, adopting climate-friendly clean energy and sustainable development pathways in these nations has become a priority for the U.N., World Bank Group and other multilateral lending organizations, as well as governments, around the world.
Providing local small businesses, cooperatives and communities with streamlined, cost-effective access to international climate funds continues to be a major sticking point, however. Voluntary, private carbon offset credit systems providers and international organizations founded on principles of equitable, sustainable development have stepped into the breach, reaching out to communities with less in the way of capital, market access and other resources.
An example of this is a collaborative agreement between Fairtrade International and The Gold Standard. Joining forces to leverage and capitalize on their respective strengths, the two organizations on June 13 opened up the formative-stage Fairtrade Carbon Credits (FCC) Standard to an initial round of public consultation.