3p Contributor: Jim Witkin

My professional experience over the past 20 years has taken me from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley in various marketing research, marketing, business development and sales roles. I now work as a freelance environmental writer and researcher while pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School.I'm especially interested in the use of technology to address the issues of education, equality, environment, health, and economic development.You can keep tabs on me at Triple Pundit and the NY Times Green Inc blog, email me at jameswitkin@gmail.com, or find me typing away at the various coffee shops around Palo Alto.

Recent Articles

Jerry Brown Kicks Off Campaign with Visit to Solar Company Solaria

| Thursday June 10th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Following an easy victory in Tuesday’s primary race, Jerry Brown, Democratic candidate for California Governor, officially kicked off his campaign today, in a contest that promises to have the environment as a centerpiece issue. Solaria Corporation, a Silicon Valley solar panel manufacturer, hosted the event.

In opening remarks, Dan Shugar, Solaria’s chief executive, praised Brown’s record on the environment and support for the clean tech sector.  During Brown’s first term as Governor (1975–1983), he championed the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority, which provides financing for facilities that develop advanced transportation technologies.

Tesla, the electric car superstar, earlier this year was granted CAEATFA tax incentives totaling $31 million.

In his comments, Brown specifically touted his support for AB32, California’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction and clean energy bill, describing it as “a very flexible framework for reducing our dependency on fossil fuel, curbing pollution and dealing with climate change and most importantly creating the jobs of the future.”

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More Solar Panels for San Jose Schools

| Friday March 12th, 2010 | 5 Comments

San Jose extended its commitment to renewable energy this week, with a ground breaking ceremony for a 3.7 MW solar project to be built at six school sites in the East Side Union High School District. The ceremony took place at Santa Teresa High School in San Jose, and was attended by district, government and business officials, as well as several student representatives.

When the six sites go online later this year, they are expected to reduce electric utility costs by more than $1.5 million in the first year, $7.6 million over five years, and provide total savings of $36 million over the life of the project.  Savings come from reduced electricity costs, and also from generous state incentives and additional revenues from the sale of renewable energy credits.  As for environmental benefits, the project is expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 3,100 metric tons per year.

“Our schools will all benefit from these savings, especially in these tough economic times when they’re needed most,” said East Side Union High School District Interim Superintendent Dan Moser, in a press release issued Thursday. “Also, this project reduces our carbon footprint and allows us to incorporate solar into our teaching curriculum so our teachers and students can learn about renewable energy technologies firsthand.”

Through a series of workshops, the District’s teachers will learn how they can use hands-on solar kits and activity guides in the classroom to teach students about solar energy.

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Bloom Energy Finally Comes Clean in Packed Press Briefing

| Wednesday February 24th, 2010 | 14 Comments

In a standing-room-only press conference today, held at eBay headquarters in San Jose, Bloom Energy publicly launched its Bloom Energy Server, following eight years of highly secret development, and almost $400m in investments, much of it from Silicon Valley’s top shelf VC, Kleiner Perkins.

The event kicked off with introductory remarks by Governor Schwarzenegger who described the state’s booming clean energy industry as the new California gold rush, and promised to create a new jobs bill focused on the clean energy sector.

“I love this guy,” the governor declared as he embraced Bloom Energy CEO KR Sridhar before turning over the podium to him. Mr. Sridhar covered much of the same ground as his recent 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl.

The briefing continued with a panel discussion, moderated by Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr, who admitted, “this is definitely the most powerful panel I’ve ever moderated.” No kidding. The panel featured a who’s who of corporate VIPs whose companies are currently testing the Bloom Energy Server at their facilities. Larry Page from Google, John Donahoe from eBay and Bill Simon from Walmart were among the executives endorsing Bloom’s new fuel cell technology.

General Colin Powell made the concluding remarks asserting that energy would be our biggest challenge in the 21st century especially for developing countries. Bloom Energy’s long-term vision is to bring clean energy to the billions of people now living off the grid.

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Despite Recession, Home Depot Keeps on Giving

| Tuesday February 9th, 2010 | 33 Comments

Last week’s announcement from the Home Depot Foundation suggests that even with sales slumps and layoffs, the nation’s largest retailer of home improvement products still views charitable giving as good business.

The company is expecting lower revenues for 2009 when results are announced in February, and for the third consecutive January is cutting its workforce.  Still, the Home Depot Foundation gave $74 million to 5,300 nonprofits last year, according to the recent announcement, an almost 50 percent increase from 2008.

“The Foundation has not been affected by how the broader economic pressures have affected our company,” said Home Depot spokesperson, Paula Drake in an email to Triple Pundit.

In fact, during an economic downturn may be the best time for companies to burnish their reputations through cause marketing campaigns, according to Wendy Liebmann, chief executive at WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting company.  In a recent NY Times article, Ms. Liebmann referenced a list of 10 reasons shoppers consider a store their favorite, and supporting “the community or worthwhile causes” came in number 8 on the list.  “The key, as we come out of this recession, is that we don’t trust many people anymore,” Ms. Liebmann added, so “retailers feel the need to present themselves as good citizens” to counter that.

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West Coast Village Capital is Looking for a Few Good Social Ventures

| Friday December 4th, 2009 | 1 Comment

light bulb ideaWest Coast Village Capital (WCVC) is a social venture program that brings together entrepreneurs to learn from and support each other’s social enterprises. Over the course of 12 weeks, beginning in January 2010, up to 30 social entrepreneurs will work together in groups of five to share their knowledge, strengthen their models, and build their businesses. If you would like to be one of them, read on.

Inspired by the village bank model used in microfinance, WCVC represents an innovative investment model built on the hypothesis that entrepreneurs, working intimately together and providing peer support to one another, will be able to efficiently and wisely allocate investment to their companies. This means WCVC will put the investment decisions in the hands of entrepreneurs themselves.

First Light Ventures, a sister enterprise to Grey Ghost Ventures, will provide the investment funds by making $25,000 and $75,000 investments in the 5-10 companies identified as most ready for seed capital. “We wanted to test the hypothesis that entrepreneurs can make investment decisions as well, if not better, than investors,” said Ross Baird from First Light Ventures.

WCVC is looking for social entrepreneurs with bright ideas and sustainable business models. If you have a business idea to help improve the world, they want to hear about it.

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C.K. Prahalad Q&A: Lessons from the Bottom of the Pyramid

| Monday November 2nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

Fortune At The BOP 5th AnnivIt’s been five years since the publication of “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits,” the seminal work by C.K. Prahalad, a professor of corporate strategy at the Ross School of Business of the University of Michigan.

The book combined a pragmatic framework with inspirational case studies to show companies how they could develop innovative business models and find new profits by serving the world’s five billion poorest people at the bottom of the economic pyramid (or BOP).

To commemorate the event, Wharton Publishing has issued a revised and updated anniversary edition that includes a new introduction by the author, as well as many new case studies.

I recently spoke with Professor Prahalad to discuss what these companies have learned as they’ve built profitable businesses in emerging markets while reducing poverty in the process.  Excerpts from this discussion follow:

*    *    *

Triple Pundit:  What are the big lessons learned over the past five years since the book was first published?

C.K. Prahalad: First, the thesis of the book that the private sector is an integral part of the poverty alleviation process is well accepted by multilaterals, aid agencies, many NGOs and large private sector firms as well.  Second there is now a growing belief that the bottom of the pyramid provides an opportunity for business to “do good and do well.” Third, we recognize that the BOP is more than micro-consumers.  It also represents micro producers and micro investors who can be connected to national and global markets. And the BOP can also be the source of major innovations that affect us all.  These ideas were in the original book but have been confirmed and amplified.

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Day Two BSR Conference Highlight: Oceanographer Sylvia Earle

| Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 1 Comment

BSRSure, the BSR conference brought together CSR thought leaders to discuss the latest sustainability strategies. But the Day Two highlight for me was listening to the oceanographer Sylvia Earle, author of several books including her latest, The World is Blue.

Ms. Earle was soft spoken, but delivered a powerful lecture on the current state of our natural systems, particularly our oceans, providing an important context for why socially responsible business practices are important in the first place.

The ocean is home to half the earth’s species and provides half our atmospheric oxygen produced by phytoplankton photosynthesis.  But we are so concerned with carbon, she warned, that we often neglect our oceans.

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October 15th. Blog Action Day. Join the Climate Change Discussion!

| Monday October 12th, 2009 | 1 Comment

Blog Action Day

This Thursday, October 15th, marks the third annual Blog Action Day.  The yearly event unites bloggers from around the world to discuss a single issue of global importance. In anticipation of the upcoming international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, this year’s discussion will focus on the very global topic of climate change.

Over 5000 blogs are expected to generate over 20,000 unique blog posts on the day, according to estimates by Robin Beck, Organizing Director at Change.org, this year’s sponsor of Blog Action Day. We recently spoke to Robin Beck about the event and the unique contribution bloggers can bring to this effort.

Triple Pundit: Obviously this is a very pressing issue, but what unique value do bloggers offer?

Robin Beck: Bloggers bring a conversation that they are running day in and day out. They have built up a community of people who are interested in conversing with each other, so the purpose of the day is to put the climate change conversation in front of that audience. And the real value is seeing the conversation start to take hold in places where it hasn’t before.

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The 5 Stages for Achieving Innovation Through Sustainability

| Tuesday September 8th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Prahalad thumbnail“There’s no alternative to sustainable development” begins the recent Harvard Business Review article, “Why Sustainability Is Now the Key Driver of Innovation.” Sustainability and green initiatives are no longer optional contend the article’s authors — Ram Nidumolu, C.K. Prahalad and M.R. Rangaswami. Not only is the business case getting stronger, but embracing a sustainability agenda can stimulate innovation, pushing companies to rethink their operations, products and business models.

The authors studied the sustainability initiatives of 30 large companies and discovered what they describe as a “mother lode of organizational and technological innovations that yield both bottom-line and top-line returns.” From their research, they’ve developed five distinct stages of change that transforms a company from sustainability laggard to leader. Each stage has its challenges, required competencies and abundant opportunities as the authors illustrate through case study examples.

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SoCap09 Day 1: Attendance Tops 1,000

| Wednesday September 2nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

logo61709Judging by the attendance this year at the Social Capital Markets 09 conference in San Francisco, there is no doubt the buzz around social enterprise and social investing is gaining momentum. The conference began yesterday with attendance well exceeding last year’s turnout of 650.  Over 1,000 participants from 32 countries have registered this year, representing a mix non-profits and for-profits, investors and entrepreneurs, all with a variety of interests, backgrounds and social missions. The conference runs through Thursday and includes over 150 speakers, 40 panel sessions, and a full “unconference” day on Thursday, where participants set the agenda.

SoCap convener Kevin Jones began the conference by welcoming all in attendance and introducing the keynote speaker, Sonal Shah, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation.  “First it’s notable that we now have an Office of Social Innovation,” commented Ms. Shah, assuring the audience that the government now recognizes the importance of the social sector in addressing our most pressing social problems. She went on to describe her Office’s goal of creating a context in which socially innovative entrepreneurs can succeed.

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E-waste Offsets: A Good Idea but How Effective?

| Monday August 17th, 2009 | 2 Comments

ewaste-neurtral In response to the ever-expanding challenge of electronic waste (e-waste), most developed countries have enacted legislation that mandates the responsible disposal and safe handling of discarded electronics within their own borders. (Thankfully, the US is catching up with the rest of the developed world, state by state.) But what happens to your old TV, computer or cell phone after you drop it off at your local “green” recycler?

Sadly, and according to the latest estimates from the EPA, much of the e-waste handled by “responsible” recyclers will eventually make its way to the third world, where anything of value is extracted in ways hazardous to humans and the planet.  The reverse supply chain, as the recycling waste stream is known, is long and opaque with materials moving from handler to handler with little oversight.

The recently launched Ewaste Foundation thinks they have a better approach, by offering E-waste Certificates, which are essentially offsets to pay for responsible handling of e-waste material that ends up in developing countries. When you purchase a certificate through their website, they will move a corresponding amount of e-waste from a developing country and send it back to the EU or move it to one of their certified recyclers in country.

Sounds like a good idea, but for me it raises many of the same issues inherent in other forms of offsets, namely: verification (how to verify that the downstream recycling partner meets standards), additionality (some e-waste is recycled responsibly and doesn’t need to be “offset”), and incentives (we should be working instead on reducing the amount of electronics that enter the waste stream).

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GIIRS: A Bridge at the Intersection of Meaning and Money

| Friday August 14th, 2009 | 2 Comments

socap-big-banner

Last Day for 30% Discount for Triple Pundit Readers

“A bridge is about to open up in the market at the intersection of money and meaning that will make things easier and safer for people who want to make their investments consistent with their values,” according to Kevin Jones, lead convener of the upcoming Social Capital Markets (SOCAP09) conference in San Francisco.

The bridge he’s referring to is GIIRS (for Global Impact Investing Rating System), a new investor system built through the collaboration of leading foundations, social investment funds, rating agencies and consultants. The demand for solid social investment opportunities is growing rapidly among high net worth investors, family offices and institutional wealth managers. GIIRS is expected to address this pent-up demand by letting these new style investors compare and measure the kind of social and environmental impact they can expect from their investments and donations.

The GIIRS rating system will be explained in more detail on September 2 at the SOCAP09 conference. The system is ready and has been in trials for a while. In fact, some of these large institutional investments could be announced at SOCAP09.

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Big Room’s Vision for Dot Eco: Let the Consumer Decide Who Is Green

| Monday August 10th, 2009 | 8 Comments

dotecologoNext year, ICANN, the group that coordinates the Internet’s system of unique identifiers, will expand the list of top level domain (TLD) names. Anyone can apply, but only one deserving applicant will be awarded the registry rights for the .eco domain. Triple Pundit has provided much coverage lately (here and here) on the efforts of Dot Eco LLC, an LA-based group, endorsed by eco-luminaries like Al Gore, to win the registry rights. But Dot Eco LLC is not the only game in town.

Enter Big Room, a Canadian company, with a different vision on how to make the .eco domain relevant. They have already created the largest, global database of eco labeling information available on the web, and they plan to expand this capability through their Dot Eco initiative if they are awarded the registry rights. In their approach, companies that apply for the .eco domain name will be required to provide comprehensive eco-information about their operations. Big Room will build a system to make this information available to anyone who wants it. Their emphasis is on transparency and disclosure, not deciding who is green and who isn’t.

I recently spoke with Trevor Bowden, a Big Room co-founder, about their Dot Eco initiative, who explained, “We are not going to take the position that we can judge who is green, especially as standards are constantly changing.  We will let the consumer decide.”

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Facebook Useful? Who Knew?

| Thursday August 6th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Intel and Facebook Team to Tap Unused PC Processor Power

IntelHaving just finished the “Who Has the Biggest Brain” Facebook app (and scoring just ahead of a sixth grader), I found myself wondering if all this social networking really served any useful purpose.  Just then I came across an Intel Corporation press release describing Progress Thru Processors, a volunteer application Intel has built on the Facebook platform that allows people to donate their PCs’ unused processor power to non-profit research projects.

Faceboookers can contribute their excess computational resources to Rosetta@home, Climateprediction.net or Africa@home. Rosetta@home uses the additional computing power to help find cures for cancer, HIV and Alzheimer’s. Climateprediction.net focuses on increasing our understanding of global climate change by predicting the Earth’s climate and testing the accuracy of climate models. Africa@home looks for optimal strategies to combat malaria by studying simulation models of disease transmission and the potential impact of new anti-malarial drugs and vaccines.

Nice to see the Intel Corporation is continuing to find innovative ways to tap the power of microprocessors for good causes. It’s proof once again that providing a means to collect together lots of individual contributions can have a far-reaching impact. And partnering with Facebook allows them to reach a huge swath of individuals, who like me, may have been looking for something useful to do there.

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Ricoh Tree-Planting Program Offers CSR Cautions

| Monday August 3rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

ricohBy so many measures, Ricoh, the Japanese office equipment-maker, is a leader in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). You can spend several hours on the Ricoh website reading about their numerous CSR initiatives, their environmentally friendly products and processes, as well as the many awards they have won over the past 20 years. The company places corporate citizenship at the core of their mission and makes the effort to integrate these core values through every part of their business. Well done.

But good intentions don’t always make for good results. The UK website BusinessGreen.com is reporting on one Ricoh CSR program that has seemed to miss its mark, raising the questions:  how do you decide which CSR initiatives are most appropriate for your business, how do you monitor the programs, how do you measure their effectiveness, and are good intentions enough?

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