Boulder, Colorado-based Agribotix is helping farmers save money and conserve water and resources in a new way: by flying drones over their fields to measure crop density, growth and many other factors. Why does this work? Because drones are able to see things that are not as obvious from the traditional line-of-sight on the ground.
Agribotix, founded last year, works with farmers in Colorado like this: They send up drones over a field, fly over and capture photo, infrared and other data, and then land after about 20 minutes. The data is then transformed into maps showing where the crops are thriving and where they aren’t.
After years of local battles across the state of Colorado, the fracking debate is about to come home to roost.
On Feb. 10, a coalition of youth, businesses, community and religious leaders announced their opposition to fracking — which is currently in the planning stages not only in Denver neighborhoods, but also the plateau up in the Rockies that supplies almost 40 percent of the city’s water.
About 80 percent of energy regulation goes on at the state level, estimates Jeff Lyng, senior policy analyst at the Center for the New Energy Economy in Denver. But until last year, finding out exactly what states were doing was incredibly labor intensive: One had to go to each individual state government website separately.
Last year, however, the center unveiled the Advanced Energy Legislation Tracker – a simple, comprehensive, easy-on-the-eyes database of state-level public policy from across the nation. You can check the status of PACE in Arkansas, feed-in tariffs in Hawaii, or gas-tax replacements anywhere: free and searchable. (The kind of thing that the American Legislative Exchange Council has had for a while.)
“Most of the energy business is regulated at the state level. And states are leading. The mission of this center is to work with states,” said Lyng. (CNEE is a part of Colorado State University, with former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter as its director.)
Energy is a hot topic now, judging from the volume of legislation being proposed: 489 policies were enacted last year and 713 the year before (the drop-off due to the state legislatures that hold abbreviated sessions in even years.)
Last month, the CNEE released its 2014 year-end report of state energy policy, covering the main policy categories (both for and against):
NREL is the only campus in the DOE research network devoted just to renewable research. And its national outreach program, called “Energy Execs,” offers in-depth training on renewable energy to leaders in the private and public sectors, as well as nonprofits and community groups.
There are two NREL Energy Execs programs: the Leadership Program, which is one weekend a month for five months, and the Leadership Institute, a one-week intensive program. The goal of these outreach programs is to immerse decision-makers in the opportunities offered by renewable energy and energy efficiency: technologies, market assessments, and financial and analytical tools. The sample syllabus is here (including field trips.)
Applications online are due by Jan. 16. The five-month program runs from May to September 2015, and the institute will be held April 14-17, 2015.
Last year, in its ongoing campaign to get Amazon to commit to renewable energy, Greenpeace gave out mugs one Tuesday at lunchtime outside the company’s headquarters in Seattle. The cups said “Amazon Web service is green” until staffers got back inside and filled them with coffee, at which point the heat changed the message to: “Why isn’t Amazon Web service green yet? Google is.” It wasn’t just mugs.
But Greenpeace’s campaign to get Amazon to go renewable for its massive data center operation won out last month, with a quiet announcement posted online that Amazon has “a long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint.” That footprint includes the multibillion-dollar cloud that is Amazon Web Services, which hosts the files for Netflix, Pinterest, AirBnB and many other massive companies.
Greenpeace’s renewable data center campaign has been remarkably successful, especially when you look at the size of these companies and the amount of energy the data centers consume. The organization estimates that the cloud consumes as much electricity as a country – and in fact, it would be the sixth-largest country in the world, according to two Greenpeace reports rating 20 companies on their fossil fuel use.
The environmental movement has long-struggled to diversify. Meanwhile, rapid demographic changes make the need for broader engagement all the more imperative. In Colorado this is truly a force: Within 6 years, 52 percent of high school students will be Latino — these teens will soon be the adults on whom the future of the state will depend.
For Irene Vilar, the founder of the Americas Latino Eco-Festival, diversifying isn’t difficult – she argues that Latino cultures in the U.S. and globally are inherently deeply ecologically aware because of traditional indigenous-based reverence for the earth. In fact, as she said at the Colorado Climate Summit in Nov., the poll findings are that “96 percent of Latinos believe in climate change” – findings that replicated elsewhere, including an NRDC poll that showed 68 percent of Republican Latinos want government action to prevent climate change.
Vilar, originally from Puerto Rico and now in Boulder by way of Vermont, started the Americas Latino Eco Festival two years ago, held in September in Boulder and Denver for six days of films, art, music, hikes, parties, and workshops. The festival, the first of its kind in the U.S., lures in arts and culture lovers and then exposes them to green themes, lifestyles, and attitudes.
During the Cold War, when Zuza Bohley was growing up in East Germany, being a pacifist was a crime. It was considered treason.
Treason, as in: Her entire family, made up of politically active pacifists, was subject to surveillance. Their home was watched by the Stasi, the East German secret police. Her father was imprisoned. At age 13, Bohley was taken captive at a friend’s birthday party and interrogated for four hours.
“I was terrified to tell anyone,” she recounts now. “I was so, so worried that I had said something that would incriminate my family.”
A year later, her family was deported from their home at gunpoint and traded to West Germany as political prisoners for cash. (The East German government received 50,000 marks.) “We never asked to leave,” she remembers. “We wanted to change things from within.”
In West Germany, Bohley was bullied and spit on in school, this time being called “communist,” and eventually made her way to the U.S. Now she works for multiple NGOs striving to create peace and sustainability — focusing on youth, especially from marginalized groups. As regional representative to the United Nations Association for the Rocky Mountain Region, she says that climate change and peace are intertwined.
“Most of the world’s wars are fought over resources,” Bohley said. “The U.S. involvement in the Middle East is because of oil. The Ukranian crisis … because of dependence on Russian oil.”
This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned about the probability of climate change-fueled civil wars and inter-group conflict. In the case of Syria, this has already happened.
Colorado is a hotspot for energy innovation: The city of Fort Collins is pushing the envelope with a net-zero energy central district. The Rocky Mountain Institute has been generating schemes for energy efficiency and clean energy for 30 years. And the city of Boulder has more solar panels than some states.
All of these were featured programs at the first-ever Colorado Climate Summit, held on the campus of the University of Colorado last weekend in the middle of – you guessed it – the unusual weather event of an early blizzard. But the mood wasn’t self-congratulatory — it was urgent. Hopeful, but urgent. Efficiency and solar panels on roofs aren’t enough, warned one clean energy expert.
“We have to look at both sides of the meter,” said Leslie Glustrom, pointing at a chart of Boulder’s carbon emissions that, despite tremendous work and city effort to reduce carbon emissions, showed marginal gains. Glustrom pointed out that Boulder is still dependent on a coal plant. “If you took that offline it would be like taking 150,000 homes off the grid,” she said.
“Utilities are standing in the way of the clean energy transition,” warned Glustrom, because the inertia is too strong — they must be pressed via local government into transitioning to renewables. Boulder itself is taking matters into its own hands, and since voter approval in 2011 has been developing its own publicly-owned utility.
A small metal box in the basement of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco is thinking about the weather. And what time of day it is. And when the sun will rise and set.
This box, part of the first installation of the new Stem Energy system, is paired with a battery, and will be using all that atmospheric and environmental data to make a second-by-second decision about whether the hotel should pull from the meter for its energy, or run on battery power. It’s a new online, data-driven energy management system designed to reduce peak usage based on the type of multi-variable modeling used in the financial industry.
And best of all, these meter-battery hookups require no action by users to maintain it or to hook it up to the HVAC system – nor any behavioral change, no turning lights off or the thermostat down. They just sit there (there’s no charge to rent them) and mint money, the savings split between Stem and the customer. (In the case of InterContinental, a 50-50 split.)
On Thursday night, Stem CEO Salim Khan, founder Brian Thompson, and InterContinental‘s Harry Hobbs led tours and had a kickoff event for the installations in the two hotels in SF, one of them a razor-sharp new Gold LEED hotel, and the other an 85-year old masterpiece. Under Hobbs’ leadership, both hotels have instituted major efficiency measures over several years, but the Stem system “has really filled a gap,” according to Hobbs: Specifically, knowing to the second when to switch to battery power to save on peak usage charges.
When it comes to sustainability, consumers care about packaging. They can’t not. It’s the most in-your-face waste in the manufacturing process; it has inspired the plastic-free revolution of Beth Terry and others, and municipal bans on plastic bags. Consumer-products eco-darling Method made thousands of consumers aware of detergent-to-water ratios, and now a former Methodite is taking on one of the most toxic chemical made by humans: PVC.Paul Tasner left Method in 2009. A former supply chain manager for Clorox, he returned to consulting on supply chain management until 2010, when he got fascinated by the idea of closing the loop with recycled newsprint. “I loved the idea of creating packaging out of garbage,” he said, and with cofounder Elena Olivari, PulpWorks, Inc. was born.
PulpWorks, headquartered in California, creates custom-designed packaging from recycled newspapers from Toronto and China, sculpted by design director Tricia Wright, formerly of Wild Planet Toys and founder of design salon Process 376. The material is compostable and lends itself to new thinking about packaging. In a package designed for EO Products, the PW-Pack is made of two paper components and no adhesives or plastic. It has the potential to “replace literally billions of PVC blister packs,” according to the company. Their designs took third place at the Silicon Valley Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum in October, 2012, and were runners up at the CleanTech Open in 2011.
Factories. Industrial fabrication. Greenhouse farming. Solar generation plants. Banks.
Whatever you might imagine worker-owned businesses to look like, Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin’s new documentary Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work will probably counter your assumptions. The new film, which opened in Oakland in October and will be screened in Wisconsin, Washington, and California over the next few months, offers an in-depth look at what worker-owners have to say about cooperating.
The United Nations declared 2012 the Year of the Cooperative; Young and Dworkin have said that their film is a quest for alternative models of working, ownership, and finance in the still-simmering political and economic aftermath of the Great Recession.
Through interviews with line workers, managers, pharmacists, clerks, and more, Shift Change trains its lens on the daily life of co-ops. These companies may look the same as traditional businesses, but according to the dozens of interviews on film, have very different environments: more collegial, more mutually respectful, where the contributions of each worker-owner are valuable, and expected.
“Civilization, in a sense, can be reduced to the word ‘welcome.’” – Stanley Crouch
In the Harvard Business Review a few weeks ago, a post explored survey results that showed more than 35 percent of African-Americans and Latinos and 45 percent of Asian Americans felt they had to hide their own personalities and selves to fit in at work. In the survey, race and ethnicity accounted for a much higher rate of African Americans (40 percent) and people of color in general (30 percent) feeling like outsiders at work, compared to twenty-six percent of whites.
The study, by the HR think tank the Center for Talent Innovation, is called “Vaulting the Color Bar: How Sponsorship Levers Minorities into Leadership.” In prior studies, CTI found even worse numbers, that only a third of Asian-Americans felt comfortable being their authentic selves at work and were avoiding talking about or wearing anything perceived as “too ethnic,” and high numbers of African Americans and women struggling with racial and gender stereotypes about management and communication styles. In managerial positions, a full 37 percent of people of color felt uncomfortable expressing themselves on the job.
After years of being an active promoter of the B Corp movement, GOOD Worldwide, an L.A.-based social media platform and quarterly magazine dedicated to social change, is officially now certified as a B Corporation.
GOOD Worldwide joined the 623-member network and received its certification this month by including triple bottom line language in their bylaws and passing the B Corp certification criteria, racking up a combined score of 81 in four areas:
Governance – an evaluation of the company’s mission, stakeholder engagement, and overall transparency of the company’s practices and policies. 46 percent of points available.
Workers – the company’s relationship with its workforce by measuring the overall work environment, as well as how the company treats its workers through compensation, benefits, training, and ownership opportunities. 49 percent of points available.
Sustainability has traveled lightyears in the last two decades, but is not yet woven into the fabric of the American corporation, according to this year’s BSR/Globescan State of Sustainable Business 2012 survey of 550 member companies. The survey, looking at the last 20 years in honor of BSR’s 20th anniversary, shows that transparency and reporting have been the greatest area of progress, but that this increased knowledge has not yet changed the behavior of investors, R&D and product design, or government affairs.
“In the last 20 years, everything has changed, and nothing has changed,” said CEO Aron Cramer. “There have been a ton of successes, but if you look at the Millennium Development Goals or the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, we’re going in precisely the wrong direction. We need, as a community, to never mistake activity for achievement. We need to push fast forward.”
When asked which areas they felt business had taken the most leadership in, BSR’s 550 survey respondents chose measuring positive impacts (40 percent), responding quickly and efficiently to accidents (38 percent), and creating innovative products and business models designed for sustainability. They felt there had been less leadership on improving stakeholder engagement, working with NGOs, increasing board and CEO involvement, aligning with lobbying goals, and reducing executive compensation.
However, when it came to which sustainability efforts were best for profitability, survey respondents identified different priorities: “creating innovative products and business models for sustainability” was picked by 67 percent of respondents, followed by “measuring and demonstrating positive social and environmental impacts” (42 percent) and “improving stakeholder dialogue and engagement” (35 percent.)
“Disaster relief” usually brings to mind images of tents, food and water convoys, and emergency medicine. But since 2011’s earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdown in the Tōhoku region of Japan, a Tokyo-based social entrepreneurship group called ETIC has added a whole new dimension: an entrepreneurial recovery effort.
Through its fellowship for young business leaders, called the “Disaster Recovery Leadership Development Project,” the group is enlisting 200 fellows from some of the biggest corporations in Japan to move to the recovering region for 3 to 12 months and help run temporary housing units, put companies back together, and rebuild the transportation system.
“It’s like Americorps,” said Koumei Ishikawa, ETIC’s Research Division Manager and a former business consultant. “In Japan, a lot of young businesspeople feel that their work is not vital. Social enterprise has hope.”
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the east coast of Tōhoku in March 2011, killed more than 12,000 people, sent tsunami waves six miles inland, and damaged or completely flattened more than a million buildings. Combined with the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, it was the most economically damaging disaster in world history, costing Japan an estimated $235 billion, according to the World Bank.