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.
Australian carbon trading took another step forward last month when the first carbon credits under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme were issued. The national carbon trading program has been in the works for six years, politically supported by a Labor-Green coalition government; the first three to five years of the program will see a government-fixed price for carbon, to transition to a market-derived price later.
The first credits actually issued were to three big polluters: Alcoa of Australia Ltd (the mining/refining subsidiary of the American aluminum company), and two to Queensland Nitrates Pty Ltd for production of ammonia, and ammonia nitrate. The three were given a total of 6.37 million free carbon credits under the Jobs and Competitiveness Program, an “assistance program” to companies that “produce significant carbon emissions but are constrained in their ability to pass through costs in global markets.” This is still being determined, but depending on their category, industry will receive credits for 66 to 94.5 percent of their emissions to start with, assistance which will be reduced by 1.3 percentage a year.
The carbon market in Australia has been gearing up for quite some time; there are already 55 different Australian carbon-offset providers listed in the Carbon Offset Guide. There are dozens of brokers, retailers, exchanges, with support for reforestation, renewable energy, and methane capture. Some of the companies started scoping out biomass in 2004 to get ready. You can hire someone to measure your footprint; you can buy and sell offset forests like you were playing Settlers of Catan. There’s even Carbon Jar, for individuals who want to measure their footprint with an online game.
Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, largely due to their use and reserves of coal (which is being dug out of the ground apace and shipped across Asia). One good thing that’s going to come out of this is universal and heightened awareness of the carbon cost of everything. You simply can’t have a national market that affects industry and not have it make its way into popular culture as well – the fierce political debate over the “Carbon Tax” has ensured that.
In a recent Ad Age article, a number of marketers revealed to the world an undeniably creepy new detail about the data-mining industry: Facebook is keeping tabs on which of their users is pregnant. Information which is then used to target advertising. Because brand loyalty begins at conception.
It’s not difficult to see how they could do it, based on the amount of commentary and in utero pictures one usually sees on FB. Facebook unfortunately refused to reveal the details of this practice to Ad Age (like Google and most of the other data-gathering industry, which discloses very little), instead acting as if there are parts of the Facebook page that they consider “off-limits.”
The stink that writer Cotton Delo raised is the latest one of the occasional cracks in the Facebook privacy edifice that gets people to pay attention for approximately five minutes. Privacy is really kind of a buzzkill in the era of sharing, sharing, sharing, and it is really taken seriously by a small set of punk-rock civil libertarians, like my friends who carry the ACLU’s pocket-sized Constitution in their wallets.
Worse yet, most Internet users completely misunderstand why privacy is important. Yes, there are reports of people breaking into each other’s houses based on status updates, but that’s really not the point. Facebook has a lot of tutorials about how their privacy policies can help hide your information from other users, but what they don’t do is tell you how to hide your data from Facebook.
Last week, Give2Asia, a $25-million-a-year international charity, celebrated ten years of philanthropy at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. The grantees on hand (from eight countries) include a variety of organizations, including traditional charities and newer social-entrepreneurship organizations, and give some insight into social trends in the region.
In China, for example, nearly 2,000 new foundations have sprung up with the nation’s economic growth, and one of Give2Asia’s grantees, Xu Yongguang of the China Foundation Center, received a $1 million RMB grant to build transparency and effectiveness in the emerging philanthropic sector.
There were a few social-entrepreneurship organizations, from Japan and Vietnam. Grantee Milaap is an India- and Singapore-based online impact investing beneficiary – a home-grown version of Kiva – that gives loans for education, social entrepreneurship, and waste and sanitation in poor, rural towns. And in Indonesia, Give2Asia is supporting the Ancora Foundation’s program to train teachers at 60 kindergartens; most of them are currently untrained and paid ten dollars a month (if they are paid at all).
Over its history, the charity has given out $201 million in 23 countries, focusing on local knowledge, and producing a body of research on Asian philanthropy, accessible at its recently-launched Asian Philanthropy Advisory Network.
The loan default of Fremont-based solar company Solyndra, Inc. has been beaten like a dead horse by Republican Congressional leadership this fall in the runup to the 2012 presidential elections.
The “No More Solyndras” Act, passed by the House earlier this month and then ignored in the Senate, would have halted applications to the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Programs and instituted more accountability measures.
These programs aren’t exactly radical environmentalist experiments, funding as they do two nuclear reactors with faulty designs and $8 billion worth of fossil-fuel projects. However, as much Solyndra-bashing as there has been by Washington Republicans, their counterparts at the state and local level have been champs. A recent study by VC firm DBL Investors find that Republican support for cleantech is high, especially with some governors of deep-red states.
From plastic bags containing blood for a transfusion to tubes inserted into the body, many of the products used in hospitals contain chemicals that are known or suspected toxins. Hospital catheters are made with di-ethylhexl phthalates (DEHP), which damage the reproductive system; cancer-causing brominated fire retardants coat furniture – even beds in which patients recuperate.
Over the last few years, there has been a growing movement to bring environmental health into the healthcare environment. Trailblazing non-profit Practice Greenhealth has created tools, trackers, standards, and a supplier directory for hospitals wishing to go green, and eleven American hospital systems are now participating in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (representing 490 facilities.)
According to a study released today, green healthcare is really beginning to catch on.
In a survey of hospitals in the United States, Italy, Germany, and Brazil commissioned by Johnson & Johnson, sustainability in supplies, architecture, energy consumption, and recycling has become a major concern, with 54 percent of hospitals looking to buy greener products.
The survey of 257 purchasing managers and executives found that 35 percent had already changed suppliers due to “additional green/sustainable product offerings,” and that 40 percent of hospitals plan to ask questions about the greenness of products in future bids.
One of the most interesting groups out there altering the fabric of reality is Carrotmob. The San Francisco-based organizing group started in 2008 with one email, two local indie bands, and a bunch of Facebook invites, inventing a new kind of campaign: the reverse boycott. Founder Brent Schulkin and his friend went to 23 different liquor stores in the Mission District and asked them: How much will you spend on energy efficient lighting, if we bring in hundreds of socially-minded customers for you?
They got a high bid and organized a one-day shop-a-thon that grossed over $9,000, which the K&D Liquor Store used to revamp their lighting. It was an effective grassroots and online campaign to do something that no grassroots or online campaign had ever done.
Carrotmob brings the time-tested techniques of political organizing to sustainability for a magnified impact on one store. Better still, the focus on group buying power gives small businesses a carrot instead of a stick.
And it works. Since the initial effort, Carrotmobs have been organized in six countries (soon to add a branch in Hungary), replicating the early San Francisco successes with small and varied stores, like the Bangkok grocery that stopped using plastic bags. The next iteration of Carrotmob aims to take things a step further: organizing enough spenders to change companies with global reach.
The newest Carrotmob coffee campaign is a first attempt. Instead of getting a retailer to retrofit light bulbs, they are working with organic, fair-trade coffee roaster Thanksgiving Coffee to sell a lot of Mocha Java – two bags for $26. If they can raise $150,000 by the end of the month, Thanksgiving will ship coffee beans from Latin America to Northern California with the technology that humans used for thousands of years: sails.
About ninety-five percent of the projects on Kickstarter are non-industrial: movies, video games, food products. For the five percent that comprise the technology and design categories, the open nature of crowdfunding can create flurries of agita usually hidden behind the curtain of private investing and venture capital.
It came out last week that star Kickstarter project Pebble – the highest raiser on the site – had failed to ship their 85,000 e-paper watches on time to their donors/customers, without any explanation or new expected ship date.
This prompted a little party in the “Comments” section, now at over 8,000 remarks, on everything from comments on features (“PLEASE! PLEASE! Make sure that the point of connection to charge the phone is stabilized & hardened,”) to dyes and paint, and suggestions that the company perhaps transfer operations to Mexico.
For the more furious Pebble backers, there is no redress for their average $148 donation, at least until the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission starts regulating crowdfunding at the end of this year.
“I don’t think anyone has ever cooked on the TED stage before,” said Bi-Rite Market founder Sam Mogannam, standing before a cart overflowing with heirloom tomatoes, rustic bread, and a massive chunk of Reggiano, about to make a demonstration salad in front of an audience at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts last Saturday.
Growing up a child of grocers and on visits to his Palestinian grandparents in Bethlehem, “I realized that food was life, that as my mother fed us she was loving us,” he said, grinning and laughing as he tore up the lettuce and chopped tomatoes. “When I cook for someone, I get to pick the ingredients for something you put in your mouth. This is about as close you can get to another person without having sex with them.”
Mogannam’s giddy joy illuminated his TEDx talk last Saturday at the “Re-Inventing Capitalism” event sponsored by the Presidio School of Management. Mogannam’s grocery store, catering business, creamery, farms, and community center in San Francisco’s Mission District swear by local sourcing, fair trade, sustainable food, and the idea that food is supposed to bind a place together.