3p Contributor: Mike Hower

Mike Hower Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator most interested in the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. Currently based in Washington, D.C., he is a graduate research fellow at The George Washington University, where he is pursuing a masters degree in Media & Public Affairs and researching the impact of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) on policy, governance, and sustainable development. He has spent time working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications, and teaching in South America. In addition to his ongoing contributions to Triple Pundit, Mike also regularly writes for Sustainable Brands. He is hopelessly addicted to travel and has a borderline unhealthy obsession with his golden retriever, Gerico. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower).

Recent Articles

Uber Taps Users in Fight Against California Anti-Ridesharing Bill

Mike Hower
| Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 6 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 2.43.46 PMUber and Lyft’s bitter battle for ridesharing supremacy has long been overshadowed by the political battle for ridesharing legitimacy. Taxi companies have led the charge against ridesharing, arguing that services such as Uber and Lyft do not have the oversight of local regulatory bodies while unfairly competing with existing locally-regulated taxi services.

Despite heavy lobbying by taxicab drivers associations and other groups, ridesharing won a decisive victory in September 2013 when the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) decided to establish a new business category called a Transportation Network Company (TNC) to describe companies such as Uber and Lyft. In creating this new category, along with a series of rules and regulations, CPUC effectively legitimized Lyft and Uber in the country’s most populous state.

Uber recently stepped up its public affairs game by directly encouraging its users to lobby the California legislature to vote against AB 2293, which could kill ridesharing altogether. In an email to users, Uber wrote:

Who would have thought California, the cradle for American innovation, would take the lead in killing it. Governor Brown is committed to leading California into the future, but some in the legislature are anonymously doing the bidding of trial lawyers, big taxi and insurance lobbyists. Their bill, AB 2293, will be voted on THIS WEEK and would kill ridesharing in the Golden State.

If you want to keep uberX in California, now is the time to act. You are voting with your wallets every day – choosing Uber for a safe, reliable ride. Call your senators and tell them to stand up for Uber, your transportation options and the state’s future – not special interests.#CAlovesUber

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Lyft, Uber Edge Closer to True Ridesharing With Carpooling Services

Mike Hower
| Monday August 11th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 3.37.07 PMLyft and Uber have announced new features that could bring them closer to true ridesharing than ever before. Last week, Lyft launched its new “Lyft Line,” which allows users to share rides with strangers going along similar routes. Not to be outdone, Uber preemptively announced that it would be launching a similar feature — UberPool — on August 15.

There has been a lot of controversy over the use of the term “ridesharing” to describe the services provided by companies such as Uber and Lyft, with many claiming it to be a misnomer. Just a few months ago, for example, one reader commented on an article I wrote about Lyft’s new insurance coalition:

“Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are NOT ridesharing! Ridesharing is when the driver of the car is going some place for their own reasons, and gives other people who want to go on the same route, a lift.”

Well, technically the reader was not wrong. If we break up the term ridesharing into its two parts, “ride” and “share,” this implies that two or more people are agreeing to share a ride that they would have otherwise taken separately. In reality, Lyft and Uber are more like taxi services, where a driver is paid to pick up a passenger and deposit them wherever it is they want to go. But Lyft and Uber also aren’t quite taxi services.

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Twitter Admits Lack of Employee Diversity, Promises Change

Mike Hower
| Wednesday August 6th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 3.39.29 PM Seventy percent of Twitter’s worldwide workforce is composed of men, and nearly 90 percent of its U.S. workers are white or Asian, according to new employment data provided by the social media company.

Women are grossly underrepresented in Twitter’s workforce, making up only 10 percent of the company’s computer programmers and highest-paid tech workers.

This is not groundbreaking news to anyone privy to the goings-on in Silicon Valley. The lack of diversity also is seen at other major tech brands such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn, which is an incessant topic of debate.

In March, for example, the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke at HP headquarters about Silicon Valley’s poor record of including blacks and Latinos in hiring, board appointments and startup funding. After Twitter released its data, Jackson released a statement criticizing the company’s diversity numbers as “pathetic” but called the disclosure of the problem a “step in the right direction.”

And a step in the right direction it is. Twitter is among the first major tech companies to acknowledge it has been hiring too many white and Asian men to fill high-paying technology jobs, which is commendable. The company already supports programs that teach women how to program computers, and is introducing internal training programs working to weed out biases.

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Ikea Bumps Up Minimum Wage for U.S. Workers

Mike Hower
| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment

downloadCongress might be deadlocked over the minimum wage debate, but some companies aren’t waiting. Ikea recently announced it will raise the average minimum wage in its U.S. stores to $10.76, a 17 percent increase over the current wage and $3.51 above the current federal minimum wage.

The furniture company says the increase will impact around half of its U.S. retail workforce. Notably, hourly wages will vary based on the cost of living in each store location — a departure from determining wages based on the local competitive situation — and are centered on employee needs. The wage increase is based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator, which takes into consideration housing, food, medical and transportation costs plus annual taxes.

All 38 existing U.S. retail locations, as well as Ikea’s three new locations set to open before the end of 2015, will adopt the new structure. All non-retail locations in the U.S. – including five distribution centers, two service centers and a manufacturing facility – have hourly wage jobs that are already paying minimum wages above the local living wage.

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Nestlé Reduces U.S. Waste By 44 Percent Since 2010

Mike Hower
| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments

NestleLogoNext time you grab a Crunch bar, you can feel slightly less guilty, at least about the environmental impact. Nestlé has reduced 44 percent of waste per ton of product since 2010 in the U.S., and five factory locations reached zero-waste-to-landfill status by the end of 2013, according to the company’s recent sustainability report.

The Creating Shared Value (CSV) report is the company’s first expanded effort to highlight U.S.-specific milestones and achievements tied to Nestlé’s global sustainability principles and commitments. The report documents Nestlé’s nutritional, social and environmental progress from the past year, as well as provides updates on the company’s U.S. progress toward Nestlé’s global commitments.

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Moringa Bar Startup Nets $350,000 in Funding

Mike Hower
| Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 12.01.33 AMKuli Kuli, which makes moringa “superfood” nutrition bars, recently raised $350,000 in a seed round of funding.

The campaign through investor sourcing site AgFunder brought in several notable investors, including Brad Feld of the Foundry Group, five-time CEO and former venture capitalist Derek Proudian, and Mary Waldner of the recently-acquired food company Mary’s Gone Crackers.

Following the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in 2012, companies such as Kuli Kuli now have been able to publicly advertise fundraising and accept investment from accredited investors through sites like AgFunder. While the latest round of funding comes from accredited investors, Kuli Kuli has previously leaned heavily on the crowd to finance its growth.

In May 2013, Kuli Kuli raised more than $50,000 on Indiegogo, which became one of the highest-grossing crowdfunding food campaigns of all time. Since then, the company also has received a $25,000 grant from online votes and a $5,000 loan from Kiva lenders.

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Supreme Court Upholds Power Plant Carbon Emissions Limits

Mike Hower
| Thursday June 26th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 4.45.12 PMThe coal industry has been up in arms ever since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules to require large industrial facilities and power plants to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

In November 2013, nearly 3,000 miners and workers from across the coal industry descended on Capitol Hill to protest President Barack Obama’s alleged “War on Coal.” The rally was organized by a group with a history of opposing climate change legislation — the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). Some 30 members of Congress also attended the event, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and even a few coal-country Democrats.

The rules, which the EPA claimed are pursuant of the Clean Air Act, would cap carbon emissions at future coal-fired power plants at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (Mwh) and 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per Mwh for new natural gas power plants. With the average coal-fired power plant emitting around 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per Mwh, both new and existing power plants would be forced to improve their environmental performances.

Opponents of the proposed rules, which include the coal industry and some states, claim that the rules are “extreme” and “unworkable.”

Turns out, the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees. On Monday, the high court ruled 5-4 that the EPA reasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act to require large industrial facilities and power plants to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses if they are also required to obtain permits due to their emissions of other dangerous air pollutants.

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Startup Crowdsources Lobbying to Influence Politics

Mike Hower
| Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 9.42.41 PM It is no secret that money plays an important role in American politics. In the 2012 presidential and congressional elections alone, Americans spent more than $2 billion in support of candidates. However, U.S. citizens spend nearly nothing to ensure those politicians vote accordingly after elected, according to OpenSecrets.org. This allows corporations to leverage their financial power and spend collectively over $3 billion dollars every year to influence these same politicians once in office.

Corporations’ disproportionate political influence has only gotten worse since the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which prohibited the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions.

To help reverse this trend, a startup called Amplifyd has launched a new crowdsourced social activism platform that amplifies people’s voices to more easily and powerfully influence government and public policy.

The company’s founder, Scott Blankenship, says he felt as though there needed to be a new way to engage with elected officials and put political influence back in the hands of voters, in a way that was more powerful than simply signing a petition but easier than quitting your job to fight for the cause.

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New 49ers Stadium Set to Use 85 Percent Recycled Water

Mike Hower
| Tuesday June 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 10.24.25 PM Recycled water will account for around 85 percent of all water used in Levi’s Stadium – the new home of the San Francisco 49ers — and will be used for playing field irrigation, a 27,000-square-foot green roof, flushing toilets, and cooling tower make-up water. Inside, the stadium is dual plumbed with recycled water used for flushing toilets.

Following final testing by the City of Santa Clara Water and Sewer Utilities, Levi’s Stadium was recently connected to the city’s recycled water system, making it the first stadium in California to utilize the drought-proof water source. The milestone brings the facility one step closer to a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

Though other stadiums in the U.S. are plumbed for recycled water use, none are using it to the extent and in the myriad of ways as Levi’s Stadium.

“Utilizing recycled water in so many different spaces and in such a variety of ways was a challenging proposition,” said Chris de Groot, the city’s Director of Water and Sewer Utilities. “We had to develop a new way to test both potable and recycled systems for a building of this size, and get approval from the California Department of Public Health. Through innovation and cooperative partnerships, we were able to achieve this new standard.”

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Renewable Energy Can Lead to Economic Boom, Report Finds

Mike Hower
| Tuesday June 3rd, 2014 | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 11.49.51 PM If we implement the right policies and frameworks, we can achieve large-scale deployment of renewable energy that creates jobs, increases incomes, improves trade balances and contributes to industrial development, according to a new report by the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Multilateral Solar and Wind Working Group.

The report, econValue – The Socio-economic Benefits of Solar and Wind Energy, analyzes the circumstances under which renewable energy can boost economies and benefit communities by studying the effects of solar and wind energy on the environment, economy and society. Produced by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the report provides a framework to help policymakers analyze the various economic opportunities that may be offered by solar and wind sector development and the potential of various policy instruments to best realize those opportunities.

The report focuses on key macroeconomic variables for assessing economic impact—including value added, gross domestic product, welfare and employment—and looks at opportunities at each stage of the renewable energy life cycle, from project planning and manufacturing to maintenance and decommissioning.

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Congress Sends $12.3 Billion Water Infrastructure Bill to Obama’s Desk

Mike Hower
| Friday May 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 10.10.37 PMThe future of our oceans, rivers, coastlines and other waterways is looking much brighter, thanks to the passing of a $12.3 billion water infrastructure projects bill by the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) addresses management of U.S. waterways and coasts and includes billions of dollars in high-impact projects. Assuming President Barack Obama signs the bill into law, it will be the first federal water infrastructure authorization since 2007.

The bill is the product of several months of Senate-House negotiations, as the two chambers worked to resolve disagreements over which projects should receive congressional funding. When negotiations first commenced, the House had passed a partisan amendment offered by Congressman Bill Flores (R-TX) that would block the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the National Ocean Policy, which promotes smart ocean planning and ocean protection. Conversely, the Senate included a provision offered by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), which would establish a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) to support conservation and restoration of ocean resources.

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Half of Americans Living With Unsafe Air Pollution

Mike Hower
| Tuesday May 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments

dssdNext time you take a deep breath of fresh air, consider yourself lucky. Nearly half of Americans – more than 147 million people – live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, according to a recent report by the American Lung Association.

The 15th annual “State of the Air” report shows that while the country overall continued to reduce particle pollution — a pollutant recently found to cause lung cancer — poor air quality remains a significant public health concern, and a changing climate threatens to make it even harder to protect human health. Alarmingly, levels of ozone (smog) — a powerful respiratory irritant and the most widespread air pollutant — were much worse in 2014 than in the previous year’s report.

More than 27.8 million people in the United States live in 17 counties with unhealthful levels of pollutants, totaling 8.9 percent of the total population, the report says. Twenty-two of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities – including Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago – had more high ozone days on average this year than the year before. Thirteen of the 25 cities with the worst year-round particle pollution reached their lowest levels yet, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Bakersfield.

Ozone is the most common air pollutant in the country, and also happens to be one of the hardest to reduce, according to ALA. Though particle pollution levels showed improvement, ozone worsened in the most polluted metropolitan areas in 2010 to 2012 compared to 2009 to 2011. The warm summers in 2010 and 2012 contributed to higher ozone readings and more frequent high ozone days, according to the report.

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A Travel Junkie’s Guide to Responsible Tourism

Mike Hower
| Tuesday May 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 4.09.57 PMTravel junkies (including yours truly) all know there is nothing quite like the rush of adrenaline that jump-starts the heart when you first step foot in a foreign land. New sights, sounds and smells flood the senses. Elation, apprehension and, more often than not, exasperation make up the emotional soup of the day.

At 9 percent of global GDP, the tourism industry is one of the largest in the world, contributing $6.6 trillion to the world economy and generating more than 260 million jobs. Despite continuing economic challenges, international tourist arrivals grew by 5 percent in 2013, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts a 4 to 4.5 percent growth in 2014.

As rewarding as traveling may be for the traveler, this is not always the case for the communities where the traveler treads. There is a common misconception that simply spending money in a country benefits local communities — but there indeed are profound, adverse social and environmental consequences.

With continuing growth in travel, there is increasing recognition among both travel professionals and consumers of the importance of responsible travel – travel that minimizes negative impacts, brings economic benefits to host communities, and preserves the cultural and natural resources of the destinations. Responsible travel also can be good for the bottom line.

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Coke, Timberland Reduce Manufacturing Costs With Product Sustainability

Mike Hower
| Thursday May 1st, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 10.22.56 PMSustainability skeptics often claim that companies invest in product sustainability primarily to “look good” in the eyes of consumers. By their logic, the only fiscal benefits of sustainability come from increased sales related to brand enhancement. To them, sustainability is just another form of brand marketing.

But they are wrong, according to a new report by sustainability consulting firm Pure Strategies. Companies that invest in product sustainability actually see the most benefit from reduced manufacturing costs — ahead of brand enhancement and even risk reduction.

The Path to Product Sustainability is based on a quantitative survey of 100 global consumer product companies involved in product sustainability, as well as qualitative interviews with heads, directors and managers of sustainability at companies such as the Coca-Cola Co., Timberland, Seagate, RB and Henkel.

The report says “performing” companies recognize the importance of integrating sustainability into product development, as notably more performing companies will be further strengthening their sustainability focus during product development. This is a driving differentiator in product sustainability program performance.

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New IPCC Report: The World is On Track for a Hefty Temperature Increase

Mike Hower
| Friday April 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 5.43.22 PMIf the world continues down its current carbon-spewing course, global temperatures will hit a staggering 4.8 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the end of the century, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity, ecosystems and sustainable development, according to a new report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report, “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change,” is the third of three Working Group Reports, which make up the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report on climate change. Produced by 235 authors from 58 countries, the report analyzed close to 1,200 climate scenarios investigating the economic, technological and institutional requirements for meeting global climate goals.

Based on this analysis, the report found that stabilizing global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures—the limit considered by many scientists to be safe — will require lowering greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by as much as 70 percent compared to 2010 numbers by mid-century and reaching near-zero emissions by 2100.

Between 2000 and 2010, global GHG emissions increased by the equivalent of 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the report says. Half of all human CO2 emissions between 1750 and 2010 have occurred in the last 40 years. Mashable recently reported that the amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere has, for the first time, exceeded 402 parts per million (ppm) — higher than at any time in at least the past 800,000 years. CO2 is one of the longest-lived GHGs, which means the emissions that have and continue to pump into the atmosphere will remain there for centuries.

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