3p Contributor: Mike Hower

Mike Hower Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, tech, politics and law. He studied Political Science and History at the University of California, Davis and has spent time working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with public relations campaigns and teaching in South America. In addition to his ongoing contributions to Triple Pundit, Mike also regularly writes for Sustainable Brands. He would like to add that 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

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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Energy Efficiency: The Nation’s Cheapest Energy Resource

Mike Hower
| Thursday April 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

MikesWhat method of electricity generation is cheaper than solar, wind, oil or even coal? Trick question; it’s energy you don’t need to produce in the first place. Energy efficiency programs aimed at reducing energy waste cost utilities only about 3 cents per kilowatt hour, while generating the same amount of electricity from sources such as fossil fuels can cost two to three times more, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The report, “The Best Value for America’s Energy Dollar: A National Review of the Cost of Utility Energy Efficiency Programs,” looks at the cost of running efficiency programs in 20 states from 2009 to 2012 and finds an average cost of 2.8 cents per kWh — about one-half to one-third the cost of alternative new electricity resource options. The report analyzes energy efficiency costs from states across the country, including: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin.

“Why build more expensive power plants when efficiency gives you more bang for your buck?” said Maggie Molina, utilities, state and local program director for ACEEE and author of the report. “Investing in energy efficiency helps utilities and ratepayers avoid the expense of building new power plants and the harmful pollution that plants emit.”

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The Return of the Pink-Mustached Jedi: Lyft Raises $250 Million

Mike Hower
| Friday April 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments

BattleOfHoth-STA few months back, I wrote about Uber’s efforts to level Lyft by leveraging its hefty $258 million in new funding from Google Ventures and TPG Capital. Shortly after, Uber attempted to stifle Lyft’s launches in St. Paul, Phoenix and Indianapolis by offering free rides in these cities. Since then, it has gone on much like this: Lyft expands to new cities, and Uber comes up with ever-more-crafty ways to steal the limelight. Not even kittens are safe.

For the longest time, Uber has been the well-heeled Galactic Empire, and Lyft the scrappy but stalwart Rebel Alliance. Uber respects markets; Lyft values people. But no matter how hard Uber has tried to squash its competitor with silly marketing schemes, attack ads and even lowering rates, Lyft continues to not only survive – but thrive.

And then last week happened. Lyft closed a $250 million Series D round, bringing its total funding up to $332 million – several million above Uber’s $307 million (although some reports claim Uber has actually raised between $361 million and $405 million).

It’s the return of the Jedi, baby. And this one wears a pink mustache.

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Record Number of Non-U.S. Firms Make ‘World’s Most Ethical’ List

Mike Hower
| Wednesday April 2nd, 2014 | 0 Comments

dsdsA record number of companies based outside the U.S., including H&M, Marks & Spencer, L’OREAL and 35 others from 21 countries and five continents, have made Ethisphere’s 2014 World’s Most Ethical Companies list released late last month.

The list honors a total of 144 organizations representing 41 industries such as automotive, apparel, consumer products and electronics, among others.

Other companies named to the list include GE, Microsoft, eBay, Mattel, Visa, Pepsi, International Paper, Johnson Controls, 3M, Marriott, Safeway and UPS. Notably, Starbucks and Gap, Inc. made the list for the eighth consecutive year.

Ethisphere says the “The World’s Most Ethical Company” designation recognizes companies that go beyond making statements about doing business ethically and translate those words into action. These companies not only promote ethical business standards and practices internally, but also embed the theory of “conscious capitalism” into everything they do, every employee they hire and every partner they bring into their network to ensure they deliver long-term value to key stakeholders including customers, suppliers, regulators and investors.

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