Akin to health care, U.S. tax policy is one of those perennial, politically divisive issues that everyone seems to agree needs reform, but change is never forthcoming. President Barack Obama’s efforts to get U.S. corporations to repatriate the huge sums of money they hold in offshore banks and tax havens by invoking economic patriotism has been met by the by-now traditional blowback from self-professed “free market” neoconservatives and “pro-business” interests.
Avoiding U.S. taxes, American multinationals have stashed some $1.95 trillion in offshore banks, a year-over-year increase of 11.8 percent from 2013, according to a Bloomberg News study. Despite claims to the contrary, data from the U.S. Federal Reserve show that the effective U.S. corporate tax rate has been declining almost continuously since the early 1950s. Furthermore, while the share of federal revenue paid in by individual U.S. citizens in taxes is now approaching 50 percent, that for U.S. corporations has dropped to around 12 percent.
U.S. corporate tax policy, moreover, is at odds with broadly beneficial goals being pursued by the Obama administration, state governments, businesses, communities and individuals across the U.S., such as the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and foster the transition to cleaner, sustainable energy resources. Besides continuing to be heavily subsidized, the U.S. oil and gas industry reaps huge gains from tax advantages unavailable to other types of businesses, according to a study from Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS).
The Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan gives states broad leeway in meeting a national target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from existing coal-fired power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. One pathway is to bring more renewable energy generation capacity online.
Businesses instinctively deride stricter environmental regulations, claiming that the additional costs of regulatory compliance will constrain economic growth, raise prices for consumers and reduce their competitiveness. As numerous studies have shown, that’s the case only if businesses limit the scope of the analysis by excluding the costs to human health and ecosystems as encapsulated in broader economic sustainability metrics such as natural capital accounting, as well as by ignoring economic and job growth in other sectors that can capitalize on the new regulations.
Moreover, as highlighted in a report from the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) and the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), a tracking and reporting mechanism that’s already in wide use can provide a cost-effective means for U.S. states to help assure compliance with the Clean Power Plan: the information systems used to track and report on renewable and solar renewable energy certificates (RECs and SRECs).
The most complete elaboration yet of Volkswagen‘s (VW) vision of low-carbon e-mobility comes in the form of the new e-Golf, which is due to arrive at participating Volkswagen of America dealer showrooms in select U.S. states later this year.
In addition to the 2015 e-Golf’s zero tailpipe emissions, VW of America struck up a partnership with 3Degrees to purchase carbon offset credits in California and around the U.S. to offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with its production and distribution, as well as those from battery charging for up to 36,000 miles of driving.
VW also announced it is partnering with U.S. solar PV manufacturer SunPower to offer e-Golf owners “premier access” to SunPower’s upcoming home solar energy storage solution. Rounding out the e-mobility package, VW chose Bosch Automotive Service Solutions as its preferred home EV charging and installation services provider, while ChargePoint was chosen to provide EV charging stations to the VW U.S. dealer network and to provide e-Golf owners in the U.S. access to over 18,000 charging stations across the country.
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.