Bitcoin, the alternative digital currency, has caught on around the world, from Argentina to sub-Saharan Africa. Completely free of any privately-held financial institution or government central bank, users with access to the bitcoin exchange the currency via an encrypted peer-to-peer software system over the web or by mobile telephony. The system has its hitches. First, the currency’s exchange rate was volatile for much of the year. Bitcoin’s instability, therefore, has attracted its fair share of critics; others have slammed the system as a means to fund illegal drugs and gambling (true of any currency, of course). Nevertheless, more businesses, merchants and individuals embrace the currency. Some pubs in Britain accept bitcoins; Argentines weary of inflation and the country’s dodgy banking system are warming up to the currency, too. In Africa, one in three Kenyans and one in nine Tanzanians have a “bitcoin wallet.”
Now Safaricom’s M-Pesa, operators of a mobile phone payment platform in Kenya that has transformed the country’s financial system, announced it will integrate a bitcoin service within its system. So what does this mean for the “unbanked” population in Africa, South Asia and around the world?
GM is now ready to roll out the 2014 Spark EV, and to that end, I flew to Portland to join Chevrolet and a dozen journalists to test this new electric car on the Rose City’s streets. GM tasked us with the testing of many of the Chevy Volt’s components tucked into a frame similar to the gas-powered Spark EV’s shell. Here’s what GM promises: 82 miles of range; a fun, sporty drive; and a competitive price of under $20,000 after a federal tax credit.
So, on Tuesday morning, I hopped into a Spark EV with Green Car Congress’ Mike Millikin. For several hours, we drove, used and abused the car throughout and above Portland. Overall, for a city dweller with an average-length commute, the Spark EV is a compelling choice—and to GM’s credit, the company is pitching this car to that exact demographic.
Many, in what is generally a politically center-right leaning business community, are starting to take on climate change, but the GOP still views such talk as heresy. Nevermind the historic fact the Republicans were often the party to lead on environmental issues: Theodore Roosevelt championed the American national park system and Richard Nixon presided over the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Even the Reagan (ozone) and Bush 41 (acid rain) administrations achieved some environmental legislation. Not all that long ago, progressives were Republicans, not Democrats.
Republicans on Capitol Hill, however, will not tackle climate change despite the overriding scientific evidence. Between the Tea Party and the Koch brothers, any Republican who dares to discuss climate change may as well bow out of the next election and join Edward Snowden—look what happened to South Carolina Republican Bob Inglis during the 2010 midterm election.
Samsung is tearing it up within the smartphone and consumer electronics sector, but the giant from Korea has its hands–as in the many corporate entities carrying the Samsung name–in many pies. One of the sectors in which Samsung is ramping up investment is renewable energy. Last year, Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) plunked $150 million in a Scottish offshore wind power project; the company also has designs within the North American wind energy market. Solar is a key facet of Samsung’s strategy in overseas markets as well.
To that end, Samsung Renewable Energy of Canada recently inked a partnership agreement with Canadian Solar Inc. to open a photovoltaic module and medium power voltage manufacturing plant in London, Ontario. The London facility is part of Samsung’s $5 billion investment in various wind and solar power projects as the company joins other firms who will benefit from Ontario’s government’s pledge to phase out coal by the end of 2014.
Enterprise Holdings, the car rental behemoth that includes the brands Alamo, National and of course, Enterprise, acquired Zimride from Lyft, Inc. on Friday. Zimride, founded in 2007, is the largest web-based car sharing and ride-matching network in North America with over 350,000 users heavily concentrated within 130 university and corporate campuses.
The acquisition continues Enterprise’s foray into the car sharing space. The company has purchased such services in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and, most recently, IGO CarSharing of Chicago. But earlier this year, the company’s head of corporate sustainability dismissed car sharing in an article posted on TriplePundit. Lee Broughton cited a study touting the advantages of car sharing and insisted car rental services already offered consumers similar benefits. The Zimride purchase is a likely indicator that the start-up had desirable technology and services Enterprise previously lacked.
It has been over a week since President Obama’s speech on climate change, and the debate still rages. Depending on one’s perspective, he is hardly doing enough or has us on the fast track to socialism. Of course the press generalizes the debate as environmentalists being all for this agenda, with the business community against it.
The truth is more nuanced, however. As with other issues, from diversity in hiring to expanding trade in new markets, business is often ahead of the government on this issue. Only a few years ago, many business-led “climate change” projects were more of a show-and-tell exercise to score some corporate social responsibility points.
But as energy prices have become more volatile and more companies worry about local water supplies, increasing numbers of global companies are taking climate change more seriously. Panasonic is one of them, and earlier this week I interviewed the company’s Eco Solution President, Jim Doyle, to gain some perspective.
Beer is one of the oldest beverages enjoyed by man and woman alike. Since the Egyptians tinkered with frothy beers over 5,000 years ago to the current White House occupant (hey, perhaps proof Obama is from Africa, just not Kenya), beer occupies a special place, usually a glass, across many cuisines and cultures.
And beer is growing in popularity, from developing economies across the globe to the countless microbreweries appearing in large cities and towns on both sides of the pond. And for brewers both large and small, clean water is critical for their future. The large beer behemoths, including AB Inbev, have been in a race to decrease that water-to-beer ratio, and in the meantime have significantly slashed water consumption throughout the supply chain.
But it’s Friday, so let’s talk about the good stuff made by the small time brewers who have transformed beer and made it better from Milwaukee to Portland, Maine. In the process they have given new life to old buildings, sparked economic development and inspired sustainable development. Now working with the Natural Resources Defense Council, they are pushing the U.S. federal government to buck up and defend the Clean Water Act.
This morning General Motors (GM) released its 2012 Sustainability Report. Unlike many sustainability and CSR reports that are either a laborious read or cause eyes to roll upward, GM’s latest sustainability report engaged and captured my attention right away. Considering the automobile industry’s history, it was also jarring. Titled “Charging Ahead,” it came across as a report from Tesla at first glance, not one from the company that is home to GMC, Chevy and Buick (and of course, Hummer).
What is fascinating about this report is how it demonstrates the transition automakers like GM and its competitors, foreign and domestic, are currently undergoing. Gasoline will never be under two bucks a gallon again, so consumers want more fuel efficient cars; more young adults are eschewing cars and delay scoring a driver’s license; and the Big 3 are not only automobile manufacturers, but technology and lifestyle companies. And the evidence suggests all the talk about electrification is not just another teaser EV1 moment of the late 1990s, a shameful episode in GM’s history. The road ahead for electric vehicles will be bumpy and full of (range) anxiety for a while, but change is occurring—just as GM insists in this latest report.
So what are GM’s latest accomplishments?
Ontario’s government started the fund in 2011, and is now accepting applications for Ontario-based companies to launch demonstration projects for several technology areas, including energy storage, electric vehicle integration and microgrids. So what does Ontario hope to gain from this $50 million program?
The metropolitan Washington DC area’s economy has stayed relatively strong compared to other areas of the country, and has the traffic to show for it. The city’s rail system, Metro, has expanded but has hardly kept up with the region’s population growth. Plans for a street car system in DC are in the works but it will take years until they supplement Metro’s rail and marginal bus system. Meanwhile in the suburbs, especially on the Virginia side of the district, traffic is a nightmare, from I-66 to the Mixing Bowl.
In steps Capital Bikeshare, the first municipally-operated bikesharing system in the U.S. The system dates back to 2008 when SmartBike DC opened 10 stations with 120 bicycles. Arlington, VA joined the District to expand the bicycling system in 2010, and last year neighboring Alexandria came on board. Now, the system has 1,800 bicycles shifting between over 200 stations. The system has had its share of growing pains, but after a three day test ride, I found it both a huge time and money saver. And for local businesses, the bikesharing stations can be a boost for the bottom line, too.
In the long running clean energy battle between bagpipes and a blowhard, the legal wrangling is heating up. At dispute is Scotland’s goal to become energy independent with the help of renewables, especially wind power, as it seeks total independence from the United Kingdom. In the Scottish government’s way is Donald Trump, who claims his investments in golf courses and resorts have added up to hundreds of millions of dollars. Scottish leaders claim wind energy will help the country move forward on sustainable development. The Donald says emphasis on wind power will ruin the economy.
The dispute dates back to 2006 when Trump purchased 1,400 acres outside of Aberdeen with plans to build a $1.2 billion resort. Meanwhile the Scottish government, led by Alex Salmond, approved an offshore wind farm despite what Trump has said were assurances that no such project would exist within view of his development. The warm relations between Salmond, who had green-lighted Trump’s original plans despite local opposition, and The Donald, quickly turned sour last year as the dispute over the offshore wind farm led to a war of words.
Detroit, the city and the industry, are both on their way back. American automakers are finally getting the fact cars have to be reliable, exquisitely designed and, in an era of rising fuel prices, as energy efficient as possible. It took the severe financial panic of 2008-2009 to knock some sense into these companies, but now the “Big 3” have recovered and are manufacturing cars to the standard their employees always knew was possible, only to have their talents hampered by a lethargic organizational structure and dismissive management. Now, these companies are in the middle of what could be another golden era. Ford Motor insists it is on a most futuristic way forward, while paying homage to its vibrant past as a company that not only transformed transportation, but built the American middle class.
While TriplePundit was in Michigan last week for Ford’s annual Trends Conference, we had an opportunity to drive a 2014 Ford Escape through the streets of Detroit. Ford’s point was to demonstrate the growing linkage between architecture and automotive design. Such a connection was not the case during the 1950s and early 1960s, a high point of American automotive design, when architecture for the most part in the U.S. was austere and drab. And now just walk around Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn where buildings exude charm on par with mausoleums. These buildings are hardly tombs, however: they have become hubs of innovation that at times feel more Silicon Valley than Rust Belt.
Now, Ford certainly has a point about this architecture-automotive convergence: outside of Chicago, Detroit boasts the best collection of architecture within the U.S. And Detroit is unique: unlike most large American cities, the Motor City is a city of houses, not apartments. Even sprawled-out Los Angeles boasts towering apartments and lofts in neighborhoods such as Westwood and Hollywood. But Detroit, at its heyday in 1950 when the city had almost 2 million residents and the automotive industry displayed America’s bombastic industrial might, was the epicentre of the American dream. Detroit also demonstrated how, in the long run, unsustainable that dream was—a country of over 300 million people cannot live in an environment where unchecked development leads to all of us living in a four bedroom house with two cars in the garage and more parked outside. During the past decade, Detroit demonstrated the American nightmare as its population cratered from 1 million to 700,000 residents, foreclosures further devastated the once proud city’s landscape and the automobile industry almost collapsed. But Ford and Detroit are past that nadir and are moving ahead. The city is becoming home to a nascent hub of tech-savvy entrepreneurs, the Big 3 are becoming lifestyle and technology companies and transplants are finding opportunity by moving into beautiful buildings where most naked eyes only see despair.
Once lost, can businesses ever recover trust in their brands? The days when companies could control their products’ and brands’ messaging are long gone. Thanks to social media, the opposite is now often true, and in fact, consumers are exacting their feelings and attitudes about brands with a vengeance. These reactions are in part due to the corporate scandals of a decade ago followed by the economic crises of 2008-2009. Trust in brands is very low, and meanwhile, the correlation between trust and a brand’s equity has grown the last few years.
So in markets across the world, more consumers have chosen to buy from and advocate for the companies they trust. But, it is not only consumers businesses must consider. According to the think tank Ethisphere, trust is important in attracting and retaining talent: studies have shown MBA grads are as willing to work for as much as 12 percent less at companies with strong ethics. Investors are starting to be more discerning as well; 19 percent of equity funds in the U.S. have some ties to responsible investing. Plus, trust can enhance a company’s worth–in 1970, 95 percent of a company’s value was tied up in physical assets; currently 75 percent of a company’s value is in intangible assets such as brand equity.
So, ethical performance matters. How can the laggards learn from some leaders?
As the consumption of coffee pods surges in the U.S., so do the questions about their disposal and recycling. Although using a pod to make a cup of joe takes about the same amount of time as it does to fire up some water and then make a French press of coffee, the popularity of the single-serve coffee pod machines has taken off.
For now, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters-owned Keurig has taken the lead in the coffee pod market share race, but Nestlé’s Nespresso and Starbucks’ Verismo also fare well among java fans. All of the coffee pod machine manufacturers use flowery language on their sustainability pages to describe how they are working to make the pods’ disposal and recycling more “sustainable.” The fact is, however, that there is no differentiation in what happens to these pods after use; all of them are creating more waste.
We all know that awkward and helpless feeling as the phone battery creeps faster and faster below the 20 and then 10 percent marks. But in New York City, residents of all five boroughs will be able to stay a tad more connected thanks to the rollout of free solar-powered mobile phone charging stations.
AT&T, the Bloomberg Administration and the solar technology company Goal Zero launched Solar Street Charge, a pilot program that will provide quick telephone recharging stations from the Bronx to Staten Island. By the end of this summer, AT&T will install 25 of its Street Charge stations at some of the city’s most popular–and crowded–sites, including beaches and parks.