Adam Smith wrote famously of the “invisible hand” that guides markets toward ends that — wittingly or not — are intended to be broadly beneficial for society as a whole. Much less widely recognized, and even less widely noted, are Smith’s writings regarding the essential role governments play in restraining greed and our basest instincts by establishing the ethics and rules that regulate market practices and a set a level playing field for all who aspire to enter. A recent report from the G8 Social Impact Investment Task Force takes the anatomical metaphor one step further.
“The world is on the brink of a revolution in how we solve society’s toughest problems. The force capable of driving this revolution is ‘social impact investing,’ which harnesses entrepreneurship, innovation and capital to power social improvement.” So opens the introduction to Impact investment: The invisible heart of markets, a policy paper produced by the G8’s Social Impact Investment Task Force, which the U.K. established in June 2013 as part of its tenure in the G8 presidency.
Impact investing, as defined by the G8 Social Impact Investment Task Force, encompasses those who invest to achieve environmental and broad social, as well as financial, benefit – and it’s growing fast, the task force found. Broadly applicable in developing and developed countries, impact investing is already producing tangible benefits across a wide variety of areas, including reducing criminal recidivism, regenerating communities, broadening financial inclusion, and helping create affordable and supported housing, they highlight.
Demonstrators, along with world leaders, are beginning to congregate around the United Nations headquarters in New York City this week in advance of the U.N. Climate Summit 2014. Inviting leaders from around the world to participate in the one-day climate conference, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on them to “galvanize and catalyze climate action” and “bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement.”
Along with the U.N., multilateral development banks (MDBs), such as the World Bank Group, have comprised the core of the institutional framework for international governance, development and finance since the end of World War II. Criticized for financing coal-fired power plants and supporting polluting, emissions-intensive development in developing countries worldwide, the World Bank just over a year ago said it would only finance coal-fired power plant projects in rare, exceptional circumstances.
On Sept. 11, the world’s six MDBs “reaffirmed their shared commitment to lead by example by continuing to reinforce and further develop climate financing.” The African Development Bank (AfDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), European Investment Bank (EIB), Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and World Bank Group said they would continue to focus their resources on addressing climate change.
That includes leveraging MDB financing by attracting greater amounts of private-sector investment, as well as “continuing to innovate and promote more robust and transparent climate finance tracking and reporting,” according to a joint press release.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) forecasts that passenger, light truck and truck tire demand will rise nearly 2 percent in 2014 to reach 302 million units. Though no one knows just how many there actually are, there are many times more tires accumulating in dumps in every nation around the world – a festering, growing threat to human and environmental health and safety.
Lehigh Technologies is on a mission to “green” the lifecycle of synthetic and rubber tires. Using a proprietary “green chemistry” process, Lehigh replaces petroleum-based materials by recycling discarded tires and turning them into micronized rubber powders (MRPs) that can be used to manufacture a wide range of rubber and plastic products – all manner of vehicle/transportation tires included. The benefits are numerous and manifold, from reducing manufacturers’ operating costs to helping conserve tropical forests and ecosystems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and helping alleviate air, soil and water pollution associated with waste tire dumps.
On Sept. 3, Lehigh announced that it had raised another $8 million in support of its efforts to expand geographically and realize the milestones established in its technology road map. Joining with earlier venture capital investors including Index Ventures, Florida Gulfshore Capital, Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield & Byers, and Leaf Clean Energy, is Japan’s JSR Corp., a $4 billion specialty chemicals company.
Climate change skeptics and deniers habitually assert that cutting carbon emissions and putting a price on carbon would jeopardize economic growth and job creation. Hence, by their reasoning, we’re better off living with the rising costs and profound threats resulting from rising greenhouse gas emissions and a warming climate.
Research carried out by Imperial College London in partnership with the International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Alliance (ICROA) indicates otherwise. In Unlocking the Hidden Value of Carbon Offsetting, the researchers conclude that investing in carbon offset credit programs yields significant social, environmental and economic returns beyond greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
According to the research results, investing in voluntary carbon emissions offset credit programs creates economic development opportunities, enhances environmental conservation, and improves people’s lives by realizing a host of social benefits that range from household savings and health benefits to healthier water resources. Overall, they determined that the additional value – beyond emissions reductions – of each metric ton of carbon emissions avoided by purchasing offset credits totals $664. Ipso facto, they add, carbon offset credits are systemically undervalued.
Ongoing increases in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions mean the world’s largest economies will have to work that much harder and pick up the pace of energy-sector GHG emissions reductions in order to avoid the risks and impacts of runaway climate change, according to an analysis of economic growth rates and GHG emissions for G20 economies produced by PwC.
Home to the world’s largest economies, G20 countries will have to reduce carbon emissions in the energy sector 6.2 percent for every dollar of GDP — every year from now to 2100 — in order to keep global warming within the 2 degrees Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) limit agreed to by nearly 200 nations as part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Copenhagen Accord. That’s more than five times the current pace, PwC analysts highlight in the sixth annual Low Carbon Economy Index, 2 degrees of separation – ambition & reality report.
“After a decade of carbon inertia, we are way behind, and now need to decarbonise at more than five times our current rate to avoid 2 degrees Celsius … Making up for the inadequacy to date will be technologically harder, financially costlier, and climactically riskier in the future.” Leo Johnson, a partner in PwC’s sustainability and climate change unit, stated.
From badly underestimated methane emissions and groundwater contamination to triggering earthquakes, the multiple human and environmental health threats posed by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale deposits to release natural gas and petroleum have been well documented.
Negligence and shoddy practices by oil and gas companies exploring for natural gas and petroleum in tightly-packed shale deposits also threatens ecosystems, human health and safety, and critical natural resources on the surface – including precious freshwater resources.
On Sept. 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice announced a settlement with Trans Energy that requires the oil and gas company to restore streams and wetlands at 15 sites in West Virginia — across which it had allegedly discharged dredge or fill material without authorization. In addition to paying a $3 million penalty that is to be divided equally between the EPA and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), it’s estimated that Trans Energy will spend over $13 million to complete stipulated environmental mitigation and restoration work.
Developing a cheaper, more efficient means of fabricating solar photovoltaic (PV) cells could revitalize U.S. solar PV manufacturing, a technology invented here in the U.S. That’s in addition to helping realize the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative goals of driving the cost of installed solar power capacity under $1 per watt — a level competitive with fossil fuel-fired electricity generation.
U.S. solar silicon manufacturing startup Crystal Solar — with the help of the U.S. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) — has developed a new method for fabricating high-quality, high-efficiency monocrystalline solar silicon wafers at 100 times the throughput and half the cost of traditional methods.
Crystal Solar’s innovative approach to fabricating silicon solar wafers garnered it an “R&D 100” award as one of the top technology innovations of 2013. If Crystal Solar can scale-up production, the new method “could be a game-changer, creating American jobs and stemming the flow of solar cell manufacturing overseas,” CEO T.S. Ravi of the Santa Clara, California-based company stated in an NREL news release.
Momentum is finally building up in the U.S. offshore wind energy industry, the result of concerted clean energy policy and action plans enacted by the Obama administration. With 14 projects in advanced stages of development, the latest Department of Energy offshore wind report highlights progress across multiple fronts.
Taken together, pioneering projects hold out the potential to deliver some 4,900 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity to U.S. businesses and communities, according to the Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis: 2014 Annual Market Assessment report, produced by Navigant Research.
Building offshore wind energy farms also means a lot more in the way of green jobs and economic stimulus. It also drives innovation that will help keep U.S. industry competitive in cutting-edge wind and clean energy technologies. Furthermore, realizing U.S. offshore wind energy potential will be a big step forward in terms of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. And that will be a big plus in terms of improving human and environmental health and safety, as well as reducing the potential for overseas conflicts.
Distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, along with smart grid and energy storage capacity, will play a much larger role in Hawaii’s energy future if a recently proposed plan comes to fruition.
Pursuing a goal to achieve the highest level of renewable energy use in the U.S., Hawaiian Electric Co. proposes to nearly triple the amount of distributed solar power capacity coursing through its grid by 2030, as well as install smart grid and energy storage systems.
Almost completely reliant on fossil fuel imports for energy generation, electricity costs – as well associated costs in terms of human and environmental health and safety impacts – in Hawaii are roughly twice that of any other U.S. state. That’s changing for the better, however, as Hawaiians embrace renewable energy technology, enhance energy efficiency and try to dial down energy usage.
Hawaiian Electric’s plan sets a goal of sourcing 65 percent of electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030. Realizing this goal would drastically reduce Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuel imports, greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution associated with fossil fuel use. In addition, Hawaiian Electric expects customers’ electric bills would be reduced by 20 percent.
More than 12,500 clean energy and transportation jobs were announced in this year’s second quarter (Q2 2014), more than double that of Q1, according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) on the eve of the Labor Day weekend.
The announcement of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan instilled confidence and greater certainty regarding the future of clean energy in the U.S. That, in turn, helped spur the jump in clean energy job announcements in Q2, Environmental Entrepreneurs stated in a press release.
“This Labor Day weekend, the story is that more Americans are working because of clean energy,” E2 Executive Director Bob Keefe was quoted as saying. “But to keep that growth going, we need our state and federal leaders to do their jobs too. We need them to support smart policies that grow our economy and protect our environment – policies like the federal Clean Power Plan.”
Imitating nature’s way of letting nothing to go to waste, materials researchers-turned-entrepreneurs are using the humble coconut husk to manufacture an expanding variety of useful, environmentally friendly products.
While husks are often discarded, they can be put to a variety of uses, such as binder-less particle board, sustainable packing material, automotive trunk liners and electric car battery pack covers. Additional applications include farm erosion netting, activated charcoal filters, potting materials and wall planters.
Also known as coir, the history of using coconut husks to manufacture a variety of natural bio-products goes back thousands of years. Today, it’s progressing hand-in-hand with an inclusive model of international development centered on sustainable local market and business development, job creation and the opening up of new opportunities that could raise the living standards of millions of families living in the tropics.
Young research-driven companies in Texas, such as Essentium Materials in College Station, embody social-enterprise and triple-bottom-line values in which ethics and justice underpin environmentally, socially and economically sustainable product and business development.
Integrated resource management based on principles of sustainability is touted as a means of addressing numerous and varied challenges. Ecosystems and natural resource degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, and issues of social and economic justice are prominent among them. UTZ Certified has been putting these claims to the test with its Energy from Coffee Wastewater project.
Launched in 2010 in partnership with coffee farmers and communities in Central America, the Energy from Coffee Wastewater project proves that it’s possible to generate renewable energy, tackle climate change, protect water resources, and raise locals’ health and living standards at the same time.
Custom-built coffee wastewater and solid waste treatment systems have been installed at eight coffee farms in Nicaragua, 10 in Honduras and one in Guatemala as part of the project. The positive impact on over 5,000 people living in these communities has been substantial enough for UTZ Certified to reproduce the initiative in other countries.
Persistence and grassroots political activism finally won out in Indianapolis recently: On August 15, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) announced it will stop burning coal at its 1,094-megawatt Harding Street power plant – the only coal-fired power plant remaining within the limits of a major Midwestern city – and switch to natural gas-fired electricity generation by 2016.
The announcement marked a big victory for “small ‘d’ democracy,” one Indianapolis City-County Council member remarked. It was also a win for Power Indy Forward, the broad-based coalition of environmental and public interest groups that came together to persuade IPL and government officials to phase out the use of coal in electricity generation. The coalition is also lobbying for environmental and social remediation efforts, energy efficiency programs and goals, and much more in the way of clean energy generation capacity.
“More than 55 organizations comprising the Power Indy Forward Coalition have been working hard for this day, and we thank IPL for making the decision to stop burning coal at the Harding Street plant. The community fought for clean air and a plan to protect the health of our families by phasing out coal in Marion County,” Jodi Perras, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club Indiana Beyond Coal, wrote in an August 15 op-ed in the Indianapolis Star.
Supportive market-driven policy mechanisms and government R&D funding have been seminal in the creation of what’s turned into a booming U.S. solar energy sector. Whether it’s at the utility-, commercial- or residential-scale, using photovoltaics (PV) to produce renewable energy from sunlight is now financially viable wherever you live the U.S., according to a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Past and present performance is no guarantee of future success, however. The looming 2016 expiration of a key federal tax incentive – the solar investment tax credit – along with sharp cutbacks in leading European solar energy markets, international trade disputes and the imposition of punitive tariffs, have prompted U.S. solar industry participants to reassess their business plans. And while rapid growth and industry downsizing have brought PV cell and module supply and demand into balance – leading some PV manufacturers to even add capacity – profit margins, and the margin for error, are generally razor-thin.
In Solar Power on the Rise: The Technologies and Policies behind a Booming Energy Sector, UCS’ Climate and Energy Program senior analysts John Rogers and Laura Wisland highlight the social, environmental and economic benefits of solar power: “The major drivers of the rapid adoption of solar power,” whether it be solar PV or concentrating solar power (CSP) technology. They then move on on to summarize “key steps to sustain the strong growth of solar power in the United States and its contribution to a more resilient electricity system in the decades ahead.”
Intelligent energy storage is emerging as a commercially-viable alternative to adding electricity generation capacity or constructing new power plants.
Equipped with energy management software that’s responsive to electricity demand and supply conditions, smart energy storage systems are also cropping up among commercial and industrial companies, municipalities and college campuses, helping boost energy efficiency, renewable energy-grid interconnections and reduce utility bills, as well as strains on the power grid.
Heightened interest and investment in intelligent energy storage is prompting industry participants to band together in more organized fashion. Bringing together energy storage policy, technology and market leaders, Energy Storage North America (ESNA) on August 18 announced finalists for its annual 2014 Innovation Award.
“This year’s ESNA Award finalists represent a rich diversity of players and business models in rapidly developing energy storage ecosystems across the U.S. and Canada,” Janice Lin, managing partner of Strategen Consulting and co-founder of the California Energy Storage Alliance, was quoted in a news release. “Energy storage as an asset class is a welcome addition to electric system planning toolkits in California, Hawaii, New York, Ontario and other markets.