Sustainability becomes embedded when it becomes invisible, and that happens as a consequence of good design. People don’t buy Tesla Roadsters because they’re efficient. They buy them because they are beautiful and powerful and fast. People use refillable water bottles because they make sense, especially if you think about the amount of waste associated with disposable bottles.
The new personal care product bottles announced by Replenish yesterday at the 2014 BSR conference, fall somewhere between the two and will do well because of it. It’s a terrific combination of great design and good sense. These new reusable bottles are designed to internally accept replacement pods of concentrate that are mixed inside with no mess.
You might think: This is not a big deal. Refills of things like liquid hand soap have been around for a while. And all kinds of products are sold as concentrates. There has also been a recent move towards compaction in areas like laundry detergents. As there should be. Considering the fact that most home care products contain 90 percent water, why spend the fuel and the carbon and the money to ship water to millions of homes when we already have perfectly good water supply systems that do that very well for far less money?
We’ve been doing that with coffee and tea for as long as we’ve been drinking them. Now Coca-Cola is allying with Green Mountain Keurig so that we’ll soon be able to do it with soft drinks, too.
The idea might seem obvious, but as I learned when I spoke with Replenish founder Jason Foster, that doesn’t mean it was easy to make it happen. In fact, when Foster came up with the idea seven years ago (while ironing a shirt) he wondered, “Why isn’t there a bottle like this already?”
Even if the idea was obvious, the implementation was not. The Replenish bottle design is elegant. Here’s how it works: The squirt bottle has a threaded hole in the bottom to which the concentrate pod attaches. There is also a valve inside that keeps the concentrate from leaking in or the mixture from leaking out. Then, inside the main bottle is an upside-down measuring cup which is some distance away from the bottom.
Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fourth and final report on climate change. The report contained no big surprises, since it essentially summarized the findings of the three reports issued over the past year. But the panel, having reviewed all the data, was now in a position to take a broad view of the issue.
Said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
The panel has been reviewing the issue since 1988. All told, they have reviewed some 30,000 scientific studies, which led to the conclusion that most of the warming that has occurred since 1950 was due to emissions generated by human activity. They reached this conclusion with 95 percent confidence. What they found is that we have set in motion a process that has disrupted the natural balance of our climate. And we have done it with all of the carbon-based fuels that we collectively burn every day. If you want to get a sense of how much carbon that is, you should take a look here.
Despite the fact that the National Climate Assessment showed that climate change is already impacting every American, the American public is lagging far behind the science on this issue. A Pew Research poll taken last year shows that while 69 percent of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, only 40 percent see it as a threat. A similar poll, taken in 39 countries around the world, found that Americans have the lowest level of concern about the issue, despite the fact that we have emitted more cumulative CO2 than any other country in the world.
Why are Americans so blasé about this? Well, first all of all, the world doesn’t seem that much different yet. Yes, there are unusual rainfall patterns, the droughts and floods, the melting ice, the release of methane from Arctic permafrost, the unusually severe storms, the fact that plants are blooming earlier, birds and insects arriving sooner from migration or winter dormancy, the arrival of tropical diseases into temperate zones, and so on. But most people don’t notice these things because most of them are invisible most of the time.
Three or four degrees don’t seem like such a big deal when the temperature changes more than that during the course of a typical day. Also, Americans, despite our prosperity and our widespread use of technology, are not particularly savvy when it comes to science. In fact, in an international comparison of science education, American students ranked 27th out of 35 countries, well below most Asian and European countries. That’s something we need to fix.
I met Nadya Zhexembayeva at the Flourish and Prosper conference in Cleveland. Nadya, who received her doctorate at Case Western, is the co-author, with Chris Laszlo of “Embedded Sustainability.” Her latest book is “Overfished Ocean Strategy.” I attended one of her workshops, and then arranged to speak with her, by phone, after the conference.
Triple Pundit: Hello Nadya. The sub-title of your book is “Powering Up Innovation For a Resource-Deprived World.” Talk to me about declining resources. When I saw your workshop you showed a graph of steadily decreasing commodity prices.
Nadya Zhexembayeva: That graph is from the Economist which has been tracking commodity prices since 1864. For the majority of the 20th century, other than a sharp spike in the 1920s those prices have been falling significantly — until now. When you think of the fact that these are limited resources and that the population has increased by a factor of four during that time, driving demand up dramatically, this is a bit of an economic miracle. And this miracle has informed the mindset of most managers. They simply assume that prices will continue to fall forever. That is the basis of many of their growth models. However, what many people haven’t recognized is the fact that in the first 10 years of the new millennium, these prices have shot up a whopping 147 percent.
3p: Wow. That’s pretty dramatic. You say in your book that this new scarcity is here to stay. But how do we know that it isn’t just another temporary blip? After all, much of this decline had to do with productivity and economies of scale, as well as the accumulation of knowledge. Aren’t we still learning and innovating?
NZ: Yes, of course we are still innovating and learning. But if we look at the trend, although much of the price decline was from productivity improvements, we can’t overlook geopolitical trends either. Particularly after the Second World War, we have developing countries essentially being exploited by the former colonial powers to provide commodities at prices well below those that reflect their true costs, often as the result of corrupt arrangements.
3p: So, now those artificial factors have been largely eliminated, and we’re getting closer to “true” pricing. Time to get off the bubble?
NZ: Yes. We’re catching up to the reality. There are only this many molecules. Now new geopolitical forces are bringing in increased demand from rapidly growing new economies that are turning around that long term trend and driving prices up.
Food waste is a horrendous problem in this country that no one seems to want to talk about. Yet food is the one product type that everyone consumes, and while a surprising number of people don’t have it, those that do are shockingly wasteful. As recently as 2012, close to 50 million people experienced food insecurity, not in Africa or Bangladesh, but right here in the USA. Worldwide, that number is over 1 billion people.
That makes the fact that somewhere between a quarter and a third of all food produced worldwide is never eaten all the more shocking. America is the worst offender by far. Here in the states, the portion of food production that goes to waste is closer to 40 percent.
A report by the National Consumer League, called Wasted: Solutions to the American Food Waste Problem, came out last week. It maps the magnitude of the problem and, as the title suggests, offers a number of practical suggestions.
Energy storage has become an exciting area, both as a new business and as an enabler for the continued rapid growth of renewable energy generation. While it’s true that Amory Lovins has claimed that it is possible for renewables to continue to grow without a massive investment in storage, he acknowledges that it would be helpful. This was the path chosen by the California’s Public Utility Commission when they decided last year to issue a set of goals intended to jumpstart the storage market. This led two of Elon Musk’s enterprises, SolarCity and Tesla to join forces to produce commercial energy storage systems, using refrigerator-sized batteries produced by Tesla Motors. Sales will be driven by the ability to reduce demand charges, via the operating software called DemandLogic. The program will be piloted in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, markets with particularly high demand charges.
Another player has now entered the market, one that also has some history in the EV market.
CODA Energy was formerly known as CODA Automotive. The company, which had spent four years trying to enter the EV market, filed for bankruptcy last spring after selling approximately 100 cars. Now they are back trying to leverage their battery technology in the energy storage market. The product is a 40 kWh commercial-industrial storage system called CORE. Do they have a compelling value proposition? I spoke with John Bryan vice president, sales and marketing at Coda Energy to find out.
The 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.
This 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.
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.
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?
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.
Last 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.
The 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.
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?
I 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.
Like 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.
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.
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.
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.