3p Contributor: RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His publications include business and technical articles as well as three books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an adventure novel about sustainability. Bob is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 49 patents and several commercial products . RP is also President of Rain Mountain LLC and the Founder and Executive Director of Cool Rochester, a non-profit agency devoted to reducing the carbon footprint of Rochester, NY. He also writes for Huffington Post and Energy Viewpoints. Follow @RPSiegel on Twitter. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

Recent Articles

“Flourish and Prosper” Part 2: Moving Ideas to Action

| Wednesday October 22nd, 2014 | 0 Comments

Flourishing1The Flourish & Prosper conference held last week at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland sought to distinguish itself by moving from ideas to action. With an array of over 40 sustainability notables in attendance, including Naveen Jain, Bart Houlahan, Andrew Winston, Raj Sisodia, Peter Senge, Michael Braungart and many more, there would not only presentations and talks, but also a number of design summits intended to wrestle with a some of the most critical and relevant challenges facing the sustainability movement today.

Day two kicked off with a rousing talk by Raj Sisodia, co-author, along with John Mackey of Whole Foods, of the book Conscious Capitalism First, he went through a brief history of the world, before and after 1989, which, he claims was a massive turning point (fall of Berlin wall, Tiananmen Square, Exxon Valdez spill, Ayatollah Khomeini, the invention of the World Wide Web, and the first time the median age in the U.S. exceeded 40). Then he talked about business as a force and said that “making money is like making red blood cells, we need both to live, but that’s not why we live.” We have the opportunity today, he said, “to lead the most meaningful life humans have ever lived.”

Next, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former Chairman of Accenture and Royal Dutch Shell spoke about the great challenge that occurs when government doesn’t function. Business cannot address this alone. We need partnerships between business and civil society. He spoke of the importance of the UN Global Compact, in which Case Western’s Weatherhead School of Business played an early role. This is the largest corporate citizenship initiative, with 8,000 companies signed up to report against 10 criteria. If they don’t report they get kicked out.

Harvard’s Jane Nelson, talked about how, “This is the generation that for the first time has the means to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.”
Opportunity was a key theme throughout the conference, which consisted primarily of business leaders, business school personnel and consultants.

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‘Flourish and Prosper’ Takes Sustainability to the Next Level

| Monday October 20th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.56.19 PMThis week I had the opportunity to attend the Third Global Forum for Businesses as an Agent of World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The theme for this year’s forum is ‘Flourish and Prosper.’ The event, which was pioneered eight years ago by David Cooperrider — best known for his work on appreciative inquiry.

As Barbara Snyder, Case Western president said, “We’ve come a long way from talking about sustainability to talking about flourishing.” That sentiment was repeated several times on this first day — that it is time to reach beyond merely sustaining, and time to stop thinking in terms of trade-offs. We need to be smart enough to include the considerations of people, profit and planet in everything we do, to synthesize these requirements into smart solutions.

There is another dimension to this, as well. The idea of flourishing, says Cooperrider, means that the energy for innovation must come from an intrinsic caring. It must acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things. Citing the Dalai Lama, when asked about corporate social responsibility (CSR), he said that ‘responsibility’ is not the right word. It’s intimacy.

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Vestergaard’s Success Secret: Its Culture

| Wednesday October 15th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: Triple Pundit’s RP Siegel visited Kenya to learn more about the LifeStraw Follow the Liters campaign. This is the third post from his trip. Read the first and second pieces here and here. Travel expenses were covered by Vestergaard. 

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Mikkel Vestergaard at Emusanda Health Centre.

In 2008, Mikkel Vestergaard had an idea. Based on results obtained in collaboration with the Carter Center, which enjoyed significant success in addressing multiple diseases at once (such as distributing bed nets along with measles vaccines), he decided to try an experiment to help address the HIV epidemic that was sweeping across Africa.

One of the biggest problems was the unwillingness of people to get tested. But if people did not know they were positive, they would have no reason to change their behavior. What Vestergaard did was to develop a CarePack consisting of a long-lasting treated bed net, as protection against malaria, a LifeStraw filter to protect against water-borne diseases, and 60 condoms as well some educational material. He then organized a campaign, in which people would be given these CarePacks at no charge, if and when they came in to be tested for HIV.

The campaign was a phenomenal success. In one week’s time, 47,000 people came in for testing. That represented more than 80 percent of the target population of sexually active adults in the area. That was the good news. The bad news was that the number of people identified as positives overwhelmed the health care capacity of the Provincial General Hospital. Unwilling to allow the project to end in failure, Vestergaard worked with the Ministry of Health to construct the Emusanda Health Centre, which was built on a piece of land donated by a local farmer, Matthew Olumatate, who had lost two sons to malaria. The clinic has helped to handle the excess ever since.

Emusanda provides HIV treatment and counseling services as well as maternal and child health care and a lab. It was clear from my visit there that this facility plays a vital role in the life and health of this community.

So, what is it that makes this exceptional company tick, and what is responsible for its tremendous success in humanitarian entrepreneurship?

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The Carbon for Water Program’s Impact in Rural Kenyan Homes

| Monday October 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: Triple Pundit’s RP Siegel visited Kenya to learn more about the LifeStraw Follow the Liters campaign. This is the second post from his trip. In case you missed it, you can read the first post here.

IMG_20141010_104431Last week, I described a school visit, in which the team introduced a number of LifeStraw Community Filters — provided by the Follow the Liters Campaign that just kicked off this week. The program will provide clean water to 125,000 school children in western Kenya.

On Friday, I made a number of home visits with Steve Otieno, Vestergaard‘s country director for climate & water in Kenya. Steve manages the Follow the Liters campaign here. He also managed the Carbon for Water program, which, funded by carbon credits that were administered by Climate Care, provided nearly 900,000 LifeStraw family filters back in 2011. The company maintains a staff in the area, who, assisted by a large volunteer force, makes regular home visits to ensure that the families are using the filters properly and are having no issues with them.

The company had hoped that after the pilot was completed, the program would continue to expand across Kenya. But the carbon market, which drives the program, has not kept pace. Now they are looking into other funding sources including local governments.

At the opening ceremony on Monday, Steve said, “We have been a family, but now we are a community.” Over these past few days I have come to see the meaning behind these words.

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Follow the Liters Campaign Brings Water Filters to Rural Kenyan Schools

| Thursday October 9th, 2014 | 3 Comments

SImakina1 editThe Simakina Primary School is located on a remote dirt road that has been ravaged by the trucks that come to collect the sugar cane that grows in fields that surround the school for miles. The school has 520 students plus another 72 in early childhood development (ECD). Classrooms are crowded and spare. There is no electricity, though wires run from poles along the edge of the property. The children come from farm families, who mostly work in the cane fields, though some grow vegetables that they sell in market stalls in the nearby town. Most of them are barefoot, though a few wear plastic clogs.

There is a drilled well on the corner of the school property. The water has never been tested. A young girl lowers a plastic bucket on a rope into the water, then fills a jug which she carries on her head to one of six small buildings a hundred yards or more away.

We are there early. Kids mill around on the field. It somehow has the feel of summer camp. After introductions,  Viola Adeke, the local area coordinator for Vestergaard explains in enthusiastic Swahili how the filters work. I can pick out the words maji safi, safe water. The teaching is done in a call-and-response manner, the children chanting the answers in unison. They already know the names of the diseases, in English: malaria, cholera, typhoid, bilharzia and they call them out as if reciting a nursery rhyme.

Viola demonstrates one of the seven units being donated, showing the brownish liquid obtained by back-washing the filter and comparing it with the clear water obtained from one of the four spigots that encircle the  bright blue plastic device. “Which one is safe, she asks? The children all point at the clear one.

“Always use the clean, filtered water to drink. Also use it to wash your hands, brush your teeth and to wash fruits and vegetables with.”

After the presentation, I spoke with a young girl named Melvin. She said she got sick with diarrhea and missed three days of school plus an additional day for a doctor’s visit. She did not like this because it caused her to fall behind in her studies. She has a brother and a sister in school and both of them have lost time due to illness as well. She says that she feels safer now with a LifeStraw filter at home and another one at school.

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Targeted Marketing and Online Privacy

| Tuesday October 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Without targeted marketing, are you looking at a blank screen?

Have you noticed that lately, the moment a notion or product pops into your head, you suddenly start seeing ads related to it in the margins of your web browser? Okay, you probably weren’t just thinking about it, maybe you did a web search or mentioned it in an email, but it is still eerie.

Companies now have the ability to look at your browsing history and other online activities and mine that data for clues about you and your purchasing habits. In turn, they use their intel to serve you targeted ads. Facebook is notorious for serving ads about pregnancy and baby equipment to the newly married, for example.

Some people appreciate these directed ads, figuring that if they are going to see advertising, they might as well get ads for relevant products. Others are annoyed and find it mildly creepy, while a third group are outraged at what they feel is an invasion of their privacy. In fact, 73 percent of consumers surveyed said that they object to being tracked online. It is often said that if you get a something for free (à la Google or Facebook), you aren’t the customer, you’re the product. The question is — for those companies in the business of selling data, what are the CSR implications of doing so?

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Kenyan Campaign Delivers Clean Water to Thousands in Need

| Monday October 6th, 2014 | 0 Comments

IMG_20141006_094450~2I am in Kenya this week following the activities of Vestergaard, a rather remarkable mission-driven company that first came to my attention when they invited me to Africa — at their expense — to tour their operation. They operate at the intersection of water, climate change, and public health.

Vestergaard’s LifeStraw water filters are popular with backpackers and hikers and are therefore their most well-known product in the U.S. and Europe. However, Vestergaard also distributes LifeStraw products abroad and makes treated bed nets for malaria prevention. Most of the company’s emphasis, and their passion, lies in serving the developing world. In fact, their mission explicitly states that everything they do must have a measurable impact on health and development outcomes in developing countries.

Next up for the company is the “Follow the Liters” program, which launches this week. When an individual buys a LifeStraw product in the U.S. or Europe, a portion of those funds are committed to be used to obtain clean drinking water for children in Africa. Indeed, the commitment explicitly states that for each purchase, one school child will receive clean water for a year. Starting today, that commitment is being fulfilled.

Due to successful product sales, 125,000 children in 300 schools will receive clean water, courtesy of LifeStraw Community filters that will be installed over a ten day period, throughout Western Kenya. Each filter can treat anywhere between 70-100,000 liters of water. That works out to over 3 million liters of water purified per year. Over the course of this week, I will be visiting schools and watching the installation and training sessions and bringing you more details about this remarkable company and the changes it is bringing to this region. But for now, here’s a little history on the company’s approach to doing well by doing good. 

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CDP Connects Climate Action and Financial Results

| Tuesday September 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment

586px-New_York_Stock_Exchange_EntranceLike it or not, most decisions today are based on economics. It’s the way our system is put together and it has been, in many ways, successful in generating innovation and prosperity, for many if not for all. That fact is not one that is likely to change easily, though the system’s shortfalls are beginning to show up like cracks in a once impenetrable façade. Prominent questions that arise, for anyone when pondering a choice, whether it’s an individual or a large company, tend to fall along the lines of:

  • Can I afford it?
  • Is it a good investment?
  • Will taking this action lead to more prosperity?

When we talk about large-scale change, we can talk about two kinds of change — one that works within this paradigm, or one that challenges it. I’m not here today to argue the respective benefits of each, but instead to acknowledge the fact that working within the system, if possible, has distinct advantages, given the deep interdependencies between the financial world and the world at large.

So, within this context, looking at an issue like climate change and the large-scale actions required to adequately address it, the question of whether these actions can have an economic upside is critical. If we had to rely strictly on a sense of civic duty and social responsibility, that would surely be a harder road.

With that in mind, the CDP S&P 500 Climate Change Report 2014, from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is good news.

CDP was engaged by a group of 767 major investors representing an enormous amount of money, some $92 trillion, to assess all the companies in the S&P 500 Index based on two things:

  • Their level of disclosure regarding carbon emissions
  • Their performance in responding to the need for action.

If you think that’s a lot of money, you’re right. In fact, if there is no double-counting here, $92 trillion represents over 38 percent of all the money in the world. So if the group of people and institutions representing 38 percent of the world’s wealth want to know, as investors, what the companies in the S&P 500 are doing about climate change, that ought to give some people pause as to how truly important this is.

So what did they find out? After looking at these metrics and correlating them with the financial metrics of the companies that participated, CDP made the following statement.

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MyMeter Provides Energy-Saving Tools to Homes and Businesses

| Thursday September 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

mymeter-445x304 On a sunny summer day in Los Angles, a thousand air conditioners might easily turn on at the exact same moment. That would elicit a surge of electrical power to get all of those compressors running, driving up what is known as peak demand. Typically, a power plant must have enough capacity to meet that demand whenever it occurs. That requires the power plant to be much larger than what is needed most of the time, which makes it inherently less efficient. But if starting those thousand air conditioners could be spread out — using tiny delays, over a period of less than a minute — that would reduce peak demand, and the required plant capacity, considerably.

This is the idea behind demand management, an essential element of a smart grid architecture. Overall, a smart grid relies on a number of elements from the various domains. Generation includes the various sources and generating types, both variable and non-variable. Distribution includes storage, switches and transmission lines. Both of these domains have become smarter through the use of technology to control, measure and record the amount of power passing through them, as well as to protect the various elements from surges or overloads.

The customer domain is regulated primarily through the smart meter, which helps the user to optimize efficiency and manage demand. Software applications like MyMeter, from Accelerated Innovations LLC, help to “empower electric, gas, and water utilities and their customers to better manage end-use demand and consumption. It’s the engaging, intelligent connection that transforms meter data into insights for action.”

If knowledge is power, MyMeter provides power in that form, to both the customer and the utility, about the other kind of power being provided and consumed — allowing each to optimize their own interests.

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Volvo Introduces High-Performance Hybrid-Electric Bus

| Tuesday September 23rd, 2014 | 0 Comments

Volvo_7900_Electric_Hybrid1 It’s common knowledge that getting people to use public transportation instead of driving cars will reduce carbon emissions. According to Transportation Nation, transit riders last year saved 4.7 billion gallons of gasoline. That adds up to 37 million metric tons of CO2 or 10 pounds of CO2 per ride.

Intercity buses, which are gaining in popularity, can potentially save even more. Using figures provided by Megabus, a completely full bus, which holds 77 passengers, emits 14 times less pollution per passenger than a typical automobile. Using those numbers, any bus with four or more passengers in it will emit less per passenger than a car.

The numbers for city transit buses, which are less efficient and are constantly starting and stopping, are not as good. According to the Department of Energy, city buses achieve an average of 31 passenger miles per gallon, which is less than a typical car carrying 1.55 passengers, and thereby achieving 39 passenger miles per gallon. That is, in part, due to the fact that a typical city bus is less than 25 percent full.

Clearly, getting more people to ride the bus regularly instead of driving cars is one way to curb carbon emissions. Another way is to make buses more efficient. On that note, there is some very good news to report.

Volvo just announced that its new 7900 Hybrid Electric Bus will be launched at the International IAA Commercial Vehicles show next week. The bus which, utilizes a 201 HP electric motor in conjunction with a lithium-ion battery, could be a game-changer. Because the bus can be run in silent, emission-free, all-electric mode for up to 4.3 miles at a time, that means the bus can be used indoors and out. This can positively impact air quality in bus stations and shelters which has been observed to be a problem, not to mention the air quality inside the buses themselves.

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Life After Sandy: How NYC is Improving Its Electric Grid

| Monday September 15th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a short series on creating resilient cities, sponsored by Siemens. Please join us for a live Google Hangout with Siemens and Arup on October 1, where we’ll talk about this issue live! RSVP here.

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The 9-foot storm surge from Superstorm Sandy, which came on top of a 5-foot high tide, inundated the low-lying areas of the city — wiping out electrical service to substantial portions of the city, and ultimately causing some $50 billion worth of damage. Approximately 800,000 customers lost power in the city, along with millions more along the East Coast. The question posed in a recent toolkit was was: What actions can be taken to reduce the impact of a similar event?

With our climate in upheaval, many cities, organizations and businesses are talking about building resiliency into their operations, in order to allow them to better deal with extreme events such as heavy storms, droughts and floods. While these expenditures are often high, given today’s reality they are considered necessary — in keeping with Ben Franklin’s adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

While taking steps to improve the resiliency of, for example, a city’s electrical grid, won’t prevent the increasing number and intensity of storms from coming (only reducing our carbon emissions can do that), they can prevent the kind of system-wide damage that New York City and its residents suffered in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

The grid’s 61 substations, 94,000 miles of underground cable and 34,000 miles of overhead cable are susceptible to damage and disruption caused by events ranging from tidal surges, flash floods, blizzards, droughts, high winds and heat waves, all of which are more likely to occur given the onset of global warming. Recommended actions fell into three categories: robustness and redundancy of equipment, keeping the demand from overwhelming supply, and enhanced coordination of resources through smart infrastructure.

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Chiquita Sued For Deceptive Sustainability Claims

| Wednesday September 10th, 2014 | 3 Comments

BananasOne aspect of our world that has undisputedly changed is the increased transparency and availability of information. This makes it harder for companies and politicians to get away with making false claims.

Last month, Chiquita Brands International received notice of a lawsuit filed by Seattle-based Water and Sanitation Health (WASH) accusing the company of deceptive advertising practices. Specifically, the company claims in their advertising that their “bananas are farmed in an ecologically friendly and sustainable manner.”

This, according to WASH founder Eric John Harrison, “is far from the truth.”

Says Harrison: “Chiquita sells millions of pounds of bananas that are produced in ways that destroy natural ecosystems and contaminate the drinking water of local communities living next to Chiquita’s largest Guatemalan supplier. The pesticides and fungicides used on these Chiquita-contracted plantations are toxic, and the aerial application falls on homes, schools and residents.” According to the lawsuit, some 7,200 residents are at risk in the Guatemalan communities of Ticanu, Barra Nahualate, Playa Semillero, San Francisco and Madre Vieja.

WASH has previously reached a settlement with Chiquita’s rival Dole in Guatemala in which Dole agreed to provide clean drinking water to seven communities in the vicinity of Ocos.

Chiquita’s practices, according to Harrison, were hidden, even to Rainforest Alliance, which monitors activities in the area and has endorsed Chiquita with their green frog logo. This could be due to the use of independent contractor COBIGUA, which sells million so of pounds of bananas to Chiquita annually and even bears the Chiquita logo on its trucks.

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Obama to Seek ‘Politically Binding’ Climate Agreement

| Tuesday September 2nd, 2014 | 16 Comments

ObamaHow much room is there to maneuver between a rock and a hard place?

That’s a question President Barack Obama must be asking himself, when it comes to the question of climate change. On one hand, you have overwhelming evidence of an increasingly unstable climate system, posing an existential threat to the future of mankind — and most of the entire world angry at the U.S. for being the leading cumulative emitter and doing so little at the governmental level to address the problem. On the other hand, you have some Senate Republicans who are politically entrenched in denial of the problem, along with coal-state Democrats ready to contribute enough down-votes to block any attempt at a climate treaty — which requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

With a United Nations summit meeting coming up in Paris next year that will attempt to come up with some kind of meaningful global agreement, the president is determined not to show up empty-handed this time.

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Health Care Savings Will More Than Cover the Cost of Reducing Emissions

| Monday September 1st, 2014 | 0 Comments

asthmaPeople, primarily skeptics, often want to know what is the business case for taking action on climate change. Typically, all they can see is the prospect of energy prices going up since, they imagine, energy companies will be forced to make expensive modifications or pay taxes or credits that will raise the price of everything else while providing nothing additional in return. My favorite answer to the question is this one: What is the business case for not taking action? But recently I discovered another set of numbers that justify taking action, which leads me to believe there are probably even more waiting to be discovered.

Consider this: A cost-benefit study conducted by a team of MIT researchers and published in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at three different climate intervention scenarios, taking into account the health care cost savings. What they saw was that in one scenario, the health care cost savings achieved were actually ten times greater than the cost of implementing the scenario. In fact, in two of the three scenarios, the savings achieved by reducing the need for health care, avoided hospital visits, and decreased incidence of pollution-related illnesses more than covered the cost of the program.

The three scenarios selected were a clean energy standard, a policy aimed specifically at emissions from transportation, and a cap and trade program. What the researchers found was the following:

ScenarioCostHealth Care Savings
Clean Energy Standard$208 billion$247 billion
Transportation Emissions~$1000 billion$260 billion
Cap and Trade$14 billion$147 billion

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Climate Denial Smokescreen Now Extends to South Asian Food Challenges

| Friday August 29th, 2014 | 3 Comments

BangladeshThe Heritage Foundation-backed National Center for Policy Analysis pumps out a steady stream of misinformation about climate change, continuously reinforcing the smokescreen behind which billions of dollars in fossil fuel profits continue to be made. Generally speaking, it’s best to ignore them, figuring that giving them attention only helps them do their job. But this latest item is so egregious, that someone needs to call them out on it.

Numerous international aid agencies, as well as ratings services like Standard & Poors, have stated that the areas of South Asia and Southeast Asia are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.

Yet this article, entitled “Calming Fears of Climate Change in South and Southeast Asia,” assures its readers that not only is there nothing to worry about, but things are going to get far better, since the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing a boom in food production.

Their source is none other than Craig Idso, a former executive of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company. Idso reports that South Asian food productivity has increased 7.5-fold in the past years, and attributes that, without evidence, to the increased presence of carbon dioxide in the air.

The increase in agricultural productivity is real enough. It is sometimes referred to as the Green Revolution. Most scholars attribute the Asian increase to four things: fertilizers, technology, labor and livestock. Irrigation has also played a major role in other regions. Indeed, just as in the period from 1980 to 2007, the utilization of fertilizers and tractors increased more than three-fold in places like Vietnam and Thailand recently, which is in line with the increase in productivity. None of them attribute it to the presence of increased CO2 in the air. Attempting to make this connection sounds a lot like what Idso has previously written about climate science, saying, “A weak short-term correlation between CO2 and temperature proves nothing about causation.” So where is the cause-and-effect linkage here?

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