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

Food Cowboy Lassoes Food Waste

| Friday November 14th, 2014 | 0 Comments

FoodCowboy_logo smallOne of the great (and sometimes not so great) things about our modern, hyper-connected world is that we have become much better at keeping track of people and things. That provides the opportunity to not only recognize how incredibly wasteful our society is, but also to do something about it.

One of the areas in which we are incredibly wasteful is food. We talked about that here last week and disclosed the fact, as originally reported by the National Consumer League, that 40 percent of the food grown in this country is wasted. Some readers had a hard time believing that which is understandable.

Putting these two things together is Food Cowboy, a company started in 2012 that uses mobile technology “to safely route surplus food from wholesalers and restaurants to food banks and soup kitchens instead of to landfills.”

The company was founded by Roger Gordon, a lawyer and former caterer; his brother Richard, a long-haul produce trucker; and Barbara Cohen, Ph.D., the author of the USDA’s Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit.

If you check out this video on Food Cowboy’s website, you will begin to understand what happens. Most of the produce sold in this country is delivered by truck. Truckers usually make their deliveries between midnight and 6 a.m. Palettes or sometimes even entire truckloads are often refused for cosmetic purposes — the potatoes have too many eyes or are the wrong shape, or the tomatoes are too close to being ripe. The truckers need to make room in their trucks for their next load, and given that they are often in unfamiliar locations in the middle of the night, they have little choice but to discard this food in a dumpster or a landfill.

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Arizona to Roll Back Efficiency Standards

| Thursday November 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Saguaro cacti at sunset; SE of San Manuel, AZWhen you see things happen that just don’t make any sense at all, it’s probably politics.

Last year the state of Arizona was ranked fourth in the nation by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy on their list of states whose utility customers saw the most savings on electricity. This was due to the comprehensive energy efficiency standard that was passed unanimously in 2010 by the bipartisan Corporation Commission. Despite the fact that the standard has been enormously successful by any measure, saving consumers and businesses in the state $540 million, last week the commission quietly proposed a resolution to essentially repeal it — gutting it to the point where it has no targets and no directives.

This is the same commission that, back in 2010, said, “The Corporation Commission has long recognized the value of energy efficiency and the benefits from the existing programs at regulated utilities and has approved rules to address how to expand energy efficiency efforts and align incentives to harness greater benefits for consumers.”

The now-endangered standard requires utilities to design programs for demand side management (DSM) and energy efficiency (EE) and has put in place targets that require a 22 percent reduction in power by the year 2020. In the four years since the standard was put in place, Arizona climbed from the 29th to the 15th most energy efficient state in the nation.

What could have happened to trigger such a radical change in philosophy?

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U.S. and China Reach Historic Climate Agreement

| Wednesday November 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment

490381838_e0d6618ed7_zA surprising announcement came out this morning as President Obama concluded his visit to China where he’d been attending a conference of Pacific Rim economies. The President, along with Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement for the two countries — the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution — to work together to limit emissions.

The agreement, which was over nine months in the making, has China committing to reach peak carbon by 2030, with emission declining after that date. The U.S., on the other hand, has agreed to a 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025 relative to 2005. This was the first time the U.S. pledged to reduce its emissions more than the 17 percent target by 2020 first declared in 2010 in anticipation of the Copenhagen accord.

On China’s part, Xi Jinping said that clean energy sources such as solar and wind would constitute 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030. Nuclear power is also expected to be part of the mix. In order to meet this target, China, which is still adding a new coal plant every eight to ten days, must complete roughly 1,000 gigawatts of new clean power over the next sixteen years. That’s roughly twice the current world total for renewables.

On the American side, we need to pick up the annual pace of carbon reduction from the current percent to somewhere between 2.3 and 2.8 percent.

Although China is currently the number one carbon emitter, the U.S. is responsible for more of the carbon currently in the atmosphere than any other country.

“We have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change,”said Obama at a joint news conference. “Today, I am proud we can announce a historic agreement.”

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Xerox Provides New Tools to Reduce Printing Impact

| Monday November 10th, 2014 | 0 Comments

meera_sampath_95e3ed9f-7263-4b5d-90f0-650b2daf59e5-prvGiven the widespread popularity of digital communications, you might imagine that the use of paper should just about be dead by now.

Here’s a reality check: Although paper consumption is declining in North America, it is still on the rise worldwide. And before we get too carried away patting ourselves on the back, it’s worth noting that Americans still use far more paper per capita than any other people in the world, upwards of 500 pounds per year each. A full 40 percent of all industrial logging goes into paper production, and that number is expected to increase.

Xerox just announced a couple of new services that can help reduce paper consumption. That might be a little surprising for a company that, not long ago, made most of its revenue based on the number of pages customers printed. Now, in additional to copiers, the company also provides services like document management, which has reoriented Xerox towards helping its customers become more productive.

The Xerox Print Awareness Tool is a software application, developed at Xerox’ European Research Center, that can give you another reality check. It asks how many copies you think you print each month, and then gives you the actual numbers. This is done not to harass you, but to befriend you and win your trust — with the promise that it will help you become more productive and less wasteful. At that point, it becomes a kind of game. Users are given a monthly allocation of points based on their nominal printing requirements. Feedback is provided to compare users to their peers, and suggestions are made with ways to improve productivity.

This might seem odd, but it is, in fact, part of a growing trend of workplace gamification, which has been touted as an effective way to increase employee engagement.

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Replenish Brings the Refill to Personal Care

| Friday November 7th, 2014 | 2 Comments

ClearPath 5Sustainability 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.

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Latest IPCC Report Comes with Grim Warnings

| Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 3 Comments

GW sea level chartLast 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.

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Nadya Zhexembayeva on Innovation in a Resource-Deprived World

| Friday October 31st, 2014 | 0 Comments
Nadya Zhexembayeva small

Nadya Zhexembayeva

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.

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Food Waste is a Bigger Problem Than You Think

| Friday October 31st, 2014 | 12 Comments

640px-GI_Market_food_wasteFood 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.

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CODA Automotive Back From Bankruptcy With Energy Storage Solution

| Friday October 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments

CODA-Core-40kWh-Tower1Energy 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.

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

| Wednesday October 22nd, 2014 | 1 Comment

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 | 2 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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