Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of hybrid vehicles I see driving the streets here in Boulder, Colorado. Maybe it’s just a heightened awareness due to those special “alternative fuel vehicle” parking spaces now in place at the new 29th Street Mall shopping area; but at times, it seems to me that I encounter at least one Toyota Prius at every stoplight.
This observation got me thinking: how environmentally-friendly is it to replace a perfectly functional vehicle with a brand-new car (albeit a hybrid?)
This issue was previously discussed on this site via a July 2007 post, which looked at the Hummer H2, the Toyota Highlander (both regular and hybrid), and the Toyota Prius, comparing the energy consumed by each vehicle during the manufacturing process as well as throughout the estimated life of each. The conclusion? “Continuing to drive an older car with poor fuel economy is less environmentally friendly than getting a new car that gets drastically better fuel economy.”
Based on the vehicles used for these particular calculations, I absolutely agree with this conclusion. However, what about a comparison between a new Toyota Prius and a smaller, older vehicle, say, a 1992 Honda Accord (my ride for the past 15 years.) Would we still reach the same verdict? According to many of the follow-up calculations and evidence provided in response to the original post, it seems that the answer may be “no.”
As I was exploring possible summer internship positions, a professional colleague suggested that I meet with Mark Reiner, President of Birambye International (BI). I found Mark’s work to be so impressive that I wanted to share it with a wider audience. Mark is an extraordinary person who commits his time, energy and money in alignment with his values (truly a triple bottom line individual). Mark founded BI, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3), to help communities in need reach economic self-sufficiency without sacrificing culture or the environment. Mark’s vision is to create sustainable projects that can be maintained by locals after volunteers have left.
BI is currently planning the “Birambye Lodge” (“Birambye” is Kinyarwandan for “Sustainability”), to be built in the Western Province of Rwanda. Conceptual plans have been developed for the Lodge to be constructed on the shore of Lake Kivu, adjacent to the Children’s Village Kigarama (CVK) orphanage, one of BI’s partners. Revenue from the lodge’s business will support its operation and maintenance, with a portion also committed to funding education and sanitation for the orphans at CVK. Having this additional support will provide CVK important funding to supplement the donations on which it currently relies, while also offering vocational training for orphans – something that has not been done in the past. Furthermore, the lodge will be constructed using an approach that is expected to make it the first US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum structure in Africa.
“More than individuals, businesses can influence policy because they carry huge weight with government. And businesses can get things done while waiting for policy change to take place.”
–Auden Schendler, “Getting Green Done”
In terms of sustainability, Boulder, Colorado is turning into the pre-party, the party and the after-party. Juggling the numerous green-themed opportunities like research lectures, symposiums and guest speakers takes stamina and persistence with the seemingly endless schedule of events. A new friend of mine has just decided to make Boulder, Colorado, his permanent home and described the scene as a “24/7 Sustainability Conference.”
Just last week, the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado hosted an event with Auden Schendler, the Director of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, who released his new book in March titled “Getting Green Done.” This book maintains the seriousness of the topic of sustainability but also injects a little humor as well as reality from the green euphoria that lacks practicability and scalability. Mr. Schendler describes sustainability as a war that calls upon businesses to fight in the trenches and on the front lines.
Last month at a peace rally, I saw a woman with a sign that read “where is my social progress?” and she got me thinking…. Where is social progress if not in socially active individuals? I thought of Margret Mead’s famous quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Inspired, I decided to take a plunge into social entrepreneurship and incorporate a new kind of socially beneficial company called an “L3C.” An “L3C” is an acronym for Low-profit, Limited Liability Company. An L3C is run like a regular business and is profitable, yet unlike a standard LLC, the L3C has primary charitable goals. To date, only Vermont and Michigan have ratified the legality of the L3C business model.
My L3C formation process was very simple. I chose a name “The Regenerative Group, L3C.” I filed the Vermont Secretary of State papers stating that my company’s charter is “to develop family education and outreach programs supporting the mission, vision and values of the sustainability movement”, and I paid the $75 processing fee with a check in the mail. I thought: “that was easy,” but I was warned: before I raise start-up capital and kick up my socially beneficial operations I should wait to hear what the IRS will say about the tax implications of the new legal entity: L3C.
Affordable housing projects face enough challenges of their own without the added challenge of making them green. And yet, low-income families face a greater challenge from the burden of housing costs – the more families have to spend on maintaining a home reduces the amount they can spend on other basic necessities. Green features such as increased insulation, energy efficient appliances, and renewable energy systems can have a major impact on reducing the energy burden for low-income families. So how do we overcome the challenges of affordable housing to incorporate these green features?
Financing is one of the major barriers to affordable housing projects. Affordable housing projects cost the same to build as market-rate housing, but are priced below the market value in order to meet the needs of lower income families. As a result, developers do not get the same return for an affordable housing project, which encourages some developers to skimp on features such as energy efficiency or renewable energy.
Luckily, there are several government (federal, state, and local) programs that help to bridge the financing gap. Many of these programs are now incorporating energy efficiency standards into the eligibility requirements for these projects. There are also some emerging programs that directly address green features and renewable energy for affordable housing projects. In researching green affordable housing, I’ve come across some of these innovative programs.
Last week, I attended the fourth annual Sustainable Opportunities Summit, held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. The purpose of the event is to bring together individuals from business, government, academia, entrepreneurial ventures and the investor community to explore the essential role of business in making our global economy more sustainable. Throughout the two-day event, about 650 attendees heard more than 60 speakers from around the world present on issues as diverse as food production, energy efficient buildings, corporate sustainability reporting, clean energy technologies, carbon markets and microfinance.
Being a starving graduate student, I was in search of a way to attend the conference without paying the full registration fee. Luckily, I managed to finagle a free pass by volunteering to help with the Cleantech Venture Challenge (CVC), a business plan competition sponsored by my graduate school, the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The CVC is an opportunity for teams of MBA students to present plans for venture-grade for-profit businesses, founded on innovative solutions, services or products in the cleantech sector.
Eight teams had made it past the initial screening to present at semi-final and final rounds at the summit, competing for a $25,000 grand prize, intended as seed-funding for the winning venture. During my volunteer stint, I was able to watch several teams present for the semi-final round and was truly impressed with the innovative business plans:
Like many twenty-somethings, I’ve spent a good deal of time backpacking across Europe in the coach class of countless high-speed rail cars. It’s great to pass time looking out the window at stunning scenery, plotting out a plan of attack for the next destination or trying to avoid sitting next to the smelly guy in the back. Many times, I was the smelly guy….but that is beside the point.
The point is that the journey was just as memorable as the destination. I do not have this same sentiment, however, when I travel around the U.S. When I act as a tourist in my home country, I find it extremely stressful, time-intensive, and non-personable. Traveling in individual cars on 10-lane freeways, dealing with parking and trying to catch flights in airports that are far away from civilization can be quite the ordeal. Ask any foreigner who has traveled in the U.S. and they will concur.
This is about to change, however, with the implementation of high-speed rail corridors across the country. In the recently passed stimulus bill, over $8 billion is allocated for the development of high-speed rail in the U.S. – the most ever allocated for rail at one time. In addition, the Obama administration is proposing a five-year $5 billion high-speed rail grant program in their 2010 budget proposal.