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.
The Republic of Seychelles is among many small island nations that will be affected by rising oceans due to climate change. Add the fact the Seychelles relies imports all of its energy needs, including dirty diesel fuel, and the need for the tourism-dependent country to develop alternative sources of fuel is dire. So, in walks a Middle East country known far more for oil and gas to launch the Seychelles’ largest clean energy project.
Masdar, the Abu-Dhabi-based renewable energy company, in a partnership with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), turned on the switch of the Port Victoria Wind Farm project yesterday. These wind turbines in the middle of the Indian Ocean are another example of how the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries are making a slow yet notable shift towards renewables in the long run–and becoming sizable foreign investors and aid donors in their own right.
Fresno is the economic capital of the San Joaquin Valley, the breadbasket of California and the U.S. What was once home to wild grasslands and the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, has transformed into valuable agricultural land where livestock and high-value crops such as nuts, stone fruit, and grapes have created some of the wealthiest farmers and ranchers in the country. However, unemployment in the region has long hovered around 20 percent because of the seasonal nature of farm labor.
To understand pollution in the valley, you have to understand its geography. The San Joaquin Valley is 250 miles long and shaped like a canoe with mountain ranges on both sides – the Coastal Ranges to the west and Sierras to the east. This geographical formation creates a protected valley ideal for farming, but the mountain ranges that keep out wind also trap the ozone and particulate matter. The leading sources of local air pollution are agricultural activities (think agricultural burning and heavy duty diesel farm equipment) and motor vehicles which traverse the freeways running straight along the valley connecting northern and southern California. Of the 10 cities with the highest year-round particulate pollution in the country, five are in the valley: Bakersfield, Merced, Fresno, Hanford-Corcoran (which rank from one to four) and Visalia (ranked seven).
While vast disparities in wealth mean it’s possible to find very affluent neighborhoods in Fresno and Visalia, many neighborhoods are very poor. And the San Joaquin Valley’s poor bear the brunt of environmental impacts as their neighborhoods suffer from high rates of child asthma.
Yet a strong and growing environmental justice movement is taking shape, fighting to raise awareness about the devastating health issues in the region. While the long-term problems Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley face show the limits of what any regulatory agency can achieve, hope still shines. The strength shown by faith-based groups in the region demonstrates how religious organizations can work with both the environmental movement and regulators to advocate for the nation’s poorest and most marginalized people.
Last week, Ford Motor Co invited me and a friend to test drive a 2013 Ford Fusion Energy plug-in hybrid from St. Louis to Tulsa. The challenge was to cover the 400-odd mile trip on one tank of gas. The fun was seeing the history and kitsch along the route that once took millions of Americans from Chicago to Santa Monica. And the opportunity is to spark even more economic activity along this whimsical trail of Americana.
Route 66 has an immense cult following, and during our quick weekend driving through Missouri, a corner of Kansas, and Oklahoma, we not only encountered plenty of Route 66 American fanatics, but visitors from around the globe. Many of these towns receive a nice chunk of change from visitors who check out the route’s old gas stations, museums and odd sights.
But cult devotion doesn’t pay all the bills, and, as a study issued last year suggested, many towns along Route 66 suffer from a poverty rate of 15 to 20 percent; in fact, some of the towns with the most iconic sights have an even higher percentage of people living below the poverty line.
So economic growth has a ways to go in this stretch of history that traverses eight U.S. states. Could hybrid, electric or plug-in hybrid automobile tours offer a boost of sustainable development along this historic highway?
Last week, Marks & Spencer (M&S) issued its annual sustainability report. The yearly “Plan A” update from the £10 billion United Kingdom retailer outlines what the company has done to mitigate its impact on society on the environment. After all, the numbers themselves show the effects of M&S’ footprint: 20 million customers visit 1,064 stores weekly, 2,000 vendors that supply products for the stores’ shelves and 81,000 people work for the company across the world.
Overall, the company has made progress on its Plan A sustainability agenda, and considering its broad supply chain, M&S is fortunate: the High Street icon was unscathed by the horse meat scandal that rocked Britain and it had no ties to last month’s Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh.
So what has M&S accomplished in 2011-2012, and what new goals does the company have in sight for the next several years?