Tesla Motors has been on a strong run in the days leading up to its August 7 earnings report. Sales are up and the Model S is the 2013 Motor Trends Car of the Year. The Silicon Valley startup is exporting more cars to Europe while at home, automakers such as GM have taken notice.
Now, the luxury electric vehicle designer and manufacturer is venturing into China. A showroom will open in Beijing, prescient timing as automobile sales continue to surge and the air quality in the country’s largest cities only worsen. But can Tesla succeed in a country more keen on manufacturing electric vehicles (EVs) than actually buying them?
It is time for mayors and real estate developers to talk about equitable development. “Smart growth,” (or “smart development”) has been in the lexicon of environmentalists for over a generation. Californians would argue they coined the terms: after all, the state’s rapid population growth from World War II through the 1980s pushed many community leaders, generally within the suburbs, to rethink growth and development. Much of the discussion, however, was driven by NIMBYs – folks concerned with local development – “not in my backyard!”
But for several years, the NIMBYs’ children have moved back to cities in California. Throughout the U.S., downtown and urban cores once described as “dangerous” now teem with hipsters, young professionals and the “creative types.” Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, LA’s Silver Lake and the Pearl District in Portland, OR, are only a few examples of neighborhoods that have gone through gentrification. And even in Detroit, where the population has cratered and government has teetered into bankruptcy, professionals are moving into downtown lofts.
With the odds in favor this trend will not only continue, but accelerate. City halls discuss “smart growth” more than ever, only with a “sustainability” angle attached to future plans that include transit centers, bike paths, light rail, high-density housing, mixed-use developments and yes, of course, urban gardens.
But while city planners and developers talk about LEED, no one is leading the discussion about an overlooked challenge: what happens to the residents who have lived in these longstanding urban neighborhoods for years, if not generations? And will these people feel welcomed in these reborn, “revitalized” neighborhoods? I admit I had overlooked this factor in the past, like last year when I wrote about Columbia University’s plans for a new Manhattanville campus—without mentioning that this is an established and historic African-American community in West Harlem.
To better understand the displacement that can occur alongside redevelopment, I spoke with two experts on urban planning who are well versed on equitable development: Michael Lythcott, who looks at such projects from a social impact perspective, and Vernice Miller-Travis, an expert in brownfield redevelopment.
Another “all natural” label bites the dust.
In an emailed statement, PepsiCo announced late last week it will remove the “all natural” moniker from its Naked Juice product line for the foreseeable future. According to the Associated Press, PepsiCo agreed to pay $9 million to settle a lawsuit its plaintiffs filed, complaining the fruit, vegetable and smoothie drinks contained ingredients that did not fit the definition of “natural.” Synthetic fiber and vitamins were the offending ingredients in this case.
For a company insisting its corporate social responsibility agenda is focused on nutrition and sustainability, PepsiCo’s settlement is another example of the dubious labels it and other large food and beverage companies have used over the years. PepsiCo and its competitors have a long history of resisting both more transparent food labeling as well as demands to make their products genuinely more healthful for consumers.
The Naked Juice debacle is even more embarrassing because, according to the AP’s Candice Choi, the company knew its target customers who purchase the $4 bottles of juice would pay more per bottle if vitamins and other ingredients in the products were not synthetic and hence, truly natural.
Bicycling has arrived in the Motor City.
While the press focuses on Detroit’s bankruptcy, Dan Gilbert and Quicken Loans continue to invest in Motown. Gilbert’s Rock Ventures, his umbrella holdings group for dozens of real estate investments and other businesses, has now gone a step further and shown commitment to employees’ well-being and schedule. Yesterday Rock Ventures launched a bike sharing program in tandem with Zagster, the six-year-old bicycle sharing service that is behind such programs in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.
According to a press release, 48 bicycles are available to about 9,200 employees working within Rock Venture’s properties and companies in downtown Detroit. For a city that once epitomized the American dream—a house with a two-car garage—this edgy employee benefit is a step in showing that Detroit’s slow, painful yet inspiring transformation is well underway.
Tom’s of Maine may now be part of the Colgate-Palmolive family, but to its majority owner’s credit, the earthy, yet polished, personal care products company is still a leader when it comes to sustainability. As Earth911 editor Mary Mazzoni’s feature article earlier this month explained, Tom’s is now tinkering with potato starch for some its polylactic acid (PLA) packaging. Potatoes are a huge part of Maine’s farming sector, but the company also has a long-term opportunity to divert food waste or crops that are below food grade from landfills and instead churn them into bio-plastic resin.
Compared to its competitors within the personal care and consumer packaged goods industries, Tom’s has pushed the boundaries of packaging sustainability and innovation. The company has ditched cardboard for some of its toothpastes; two years ago Tom’s eliminated aluminum toothpaste tubes in favor of laminate, which the company says is lighter, less energy intensive and reduces the number of steps from sourcing to shipping when compared to aluminum. One caveat: those laminate tubes have to be shipped to Terracycle if your community cannot accept them in the recycling stream. Nevertheless, the company has made progress as now 40 percent of the materials used in packaging is sourced from recycled materials.
So, what is the future of potato-based packaging, especially with concern over excessive use of conventional paper, cardboard and of course, fossil fuel-based plastic?
Should GM fret at the thought of Tesla? The Big 3 automakers had sneered at electric vehicles (EVs) for years, but a slow shift is underway. Ford has its plug-ins with the Fusion Energi and C-MAX Energi; Chrysler, thanks to Fiat, has a little toe in the EV waters with the 500e on California roads; and GM touts the Volt and Spark EV.
Speaking of GM, the stodgy automaker may be slowly changing its ways: CEO Dan Akerson told Bloomberg in an interview last week the company is taking a close look at Tesla Motors to gauge how the Silicon Valley upstart could eventually threaten GM’s business.
Considering GM still draws the ire of electric car advocates years after the EV1 saga, Ackerson’s comments might induce eye-rolling. But the road to electrification, while full of potholes, is underway; and speaking of Tesla, the company scored its first profitable quarter this year and has a market capitalization now slightly higher than Fiat. Meanwhile, Ackerson has succeeded in changing GM’s sclerotic and inward-looking company culture. With a new focus on innovation and design, electrification has got to be part of any automaker’s strategy. A close examination of Tesla and its success would only be logical on GM’s behalf.
Once upon a time, before Amazon.com, much of America and Canada shopped at Sears. Folks with access to little more than the local general store could comb through its catalogs and buy everything from, well, combs to stately do-it-yourself houses. For decades, its brick-and-mortar stores were the only place to shop, including in my hometown of Cupertino. The tallest building in the world once hosted the firm’s headquarters and shared its name. Before Walmart’s agenda to keep workers and communities in poverty with “low prices” swept through much of the land, Sears offered decent wages for employees and a place to buy solid appliances, have your car filled up and serviced, take awkward family photos at the portrait studio, buy insurance and yes, purchase clothes.
But the last 20 years have not been kind to Sears: in 1992 the retailer suffered its first quarterly loss since the 1930s, and the company has been stuck in its ways as its competitors adjusted to shifting consumer habits. In stepped in Edward “Fast Eddie” Lampert, a financier who had already swooped up Kmart while that flailing company was mired in bankruptcy. In 2005, Kmart acquired Sears, and Lampert christened the combination of two losing retailers Sears Holdings. What has followed for eight years is a story of cost-cutting and employee turnover so sordid that even Wall Street’s most heralded publications, from Forbes to Fortune, have savaged Lampert’s performance as CEO of Sears.
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?