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

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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EPA Power Plant Rules Could Cut Carbon Pollution More Than Expected

Mike Hower
| Monday March 31st, 2014 | 0 Comments

PowerPlantThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon rules for existing power plants could achieve even greater reductions than previously thought — and at less cost, according to a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The rules are expected by many to be modeled after those promulgated by NRDC in December 2012, which would have EPA set carbon limits for each state based on its current fuel mix, and states and power companies would get maximum flexibility to meet the targets in the most cost-effective way, using steps such as improved energy efficiency — not just actions that can be taken at individual power plants.

NRDC’s new analysis shows that 470 to 700 million tons of carbon pollution can be eliminated per year in 2020 compared to 2012 levels, equivalent to the emissions from 95 to 130 million cars. By comparison, NRDC’s 2012 analysis put those numbers at 270 million tons.

At the same time, the plan would yield $28 billion to $63 billion in medical and environmental benefits that far outweigh the costs of putting first-ever limits on carbon pollution, NRDC says. More than 17,000 asthma attacks and more than 1,000 emergency room visits could be prevented each year, while also preventing thousands of premature deaths by 2020.

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First Interstate Water Credits Program Launched in the Ohio River Basin

Mike Hower
| Monday March 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Ohio RiverThe Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) on March 11 officially launched the first water quality pilot trades in the Ohio River Basin. The pilot, which is the world’s only interstate water quality trading program, is part of a new initiative to test water quality improvement strategies. Duke Energy, American Electric Power and Hoosier Energy were the first buyers of the interstate water credits.

Water quality trading is a market-based approach that could enable facilities to meet permit limits using nutrient reduction credits from farmers who implement conservation practices, EPRI says.

Several parties, including industrial sources, farmers and the general public, contribute to nutrient loading — which may lead to serious ecological problems. The transactions will produce cleaner watersheds, advance sustainability practices and test more cost-effective regulatory compliance options, according to EPRI.

The companies altogether purchased 9,000 stewardship credits, agreeing to retire the associated nutrient and ecosystem benefits, rather than apply them towards possible future permit requirements. The buyers can use the credits to meet corporate sustainability goals, and the credits may also be considered for future flexible permit compliance schedules by the participating states.

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Ridesharing Firms Struggle to Meet Needs of Americans with Disabilities

Mike Hower
| Friday March 14th, 2014 | 1 Comment

handicappedLike many living in San Francisco and other major cities across the United States, I have come to rely on transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar to get me around town. TNCs have revolutionized the way many of us get from Point A to Point B, but not for all of us — not yet, anyway. There is a significant group that has long been let down by public transportation — the disabled community — and TNCs are struggling to break this trend.

I was reminded of this during a recent Lyft ride, where I happened to be picked up by one of the few wheelchair accessible vehicles in its (or any other TNC’s) fleet. My driver said her husband uses a wheelchair for mobility and regularly faces difficulties getting around the city when attempting to take taxis and MUNI (San Francisco’s light rail and bus system). MUNI buses often pass him by rather than stop to pick him up, and even wheelchair-accessible taxis often refuse to pick him up because they don’t want to lose the time it takes to lower and raise the lift and to strap him in.

To be fair, as a regular MUNI passenger, I can say first-hand that they seem to do a good job with accessibility — most buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and can “kneel” (lower the front of the bus) if a person has trouble moving up stairs. I have witnessed drivers make space for wheelchair users, and personally assist them to fasten the safety straps and wheel lock.

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Kiva and Vittana Crowdfund Student Loans in the Developing World

Mike Hower
| Tuesday March 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment

SONY DSCIt is no secret that education is the surest route to a better life, but for tens of thousands of low-income students in developing nations, high costs mean that access to it continues to be the stuff of fantasy. Student loans are notoriously hard to come by outside of the U.S. and Europe, largely due to the fact that banks have no track record of repayments that can be used to assess risk, and students generally don’t have collateral or a credit history to prove that they can pay back loans.

The answer to this classic “chicken-or-the-egg” problem could lay with crowdfunding, which not only presents an opportunity to get tuition loans to students who need them, but also to build a “track record of repayment” that will encourage financial institutions to offer more loans to students.

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Investors Pressure Oil Companies to Disclose Carbon Asset Risk

Mike Hower
| Monday February 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 12.35.36 PM The jury might still be out on when the world will run out of oil, but the rising human and economic costs associated with climate change, air pollution and overall environmental decline are accelerating the world towards a low-carbon economy. In recognition of this reality, a half-dozen investors recently filed shareholder resolutions with 10 fossil fuel companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, seeking an explanation of their strategies for competing in a low-carbon global market.

Southern Company, Hess, Anadarko, Devon, Kinder Morgan, Peabody Energy, FirstEnergy and CONSOL Energy also received resolutions.

The resolutions focus on potential carbon asset risk, or the possibility that these companies’ present and future fossil fuel-related assets will lose value as various market factors—such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, fuel economy, fuel switching, carbon pollution standards, efforts to curb air pollution and climate policy—increasingly reduce demand for fossil fuels and related infrastructure.

According to the shareholders, fossil fuel companies are not sufficiently disclosing these risks, even after a coalition of investors managing more than $3 trillion in collective assets sent letters last fall to 45 of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies urging them to report on this very same concern. Resolution filers include the Connecticut State Treasurer’s Office, the New York State Comptroller’s Office, Arjuna Capital, As You Sow, First Affirmative Financial Network and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

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Obama Pushes $1 Billion Climate Change ‘Resilience Fund’

Mike Hower
| Tuesday February 18th, 2014 | 2 Comments

DroughtSpeaking against the backdrop of one of the worst droughts in California history, President Barack Obama on Friday announced plans to pitch to Congress a $1 billion climate change resilience fund intended to help communities facing climate change-induced negative weather.

The proposed fund is separate from Obama’s wider climate action plan and will be included in his 2015 budget, set to be released next month. This means the fund must be authorized by Congress and will not rely solely on executive authority. According to the White House, the fund would finance research on the projected impacts of climate change, help communities prepare for its effects, and fund “breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure.”

Last week, the Assistant to the President on Science and Technology, John Holdren, said without any doubt, the severe drought afflicting California and several other states across the country is tied to climate change.

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Lyft Launches Coalition to Bridge Ridesharing Insurance Gaps

Mike Hower
| Friday February 14th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Lyft Car In the wake of the tragic New Year’s death of a 6-year-old girl in San Francisco caused by an on-duty Uber driver, along with another recent collision involving a Lyft driver, the public’s attention has turned to the insurance gaps in the fledgling ridesharing industry. To help bridge these gaps, Lyft announced last week a new Peer-to-Peer Rideshare Insurance Coalition, comprised of transportation companies, regulators, insurance providers and other stakeholders that have come together to address how the insurance industry can continue evolving to support the ridesharing economy.

With the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as a founding member, the coalition’s mission is to build a foundation of insurance best practices, policies and information for P2P ridesharing. Earlier this week, Lyft published an official list of the coalition members, which in addition to Lyft and CPUC includes: Sidecar, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for U.S. DOT, Allstate Insurance, Esurance, Farmers Insurance and even Uber (although initially it was reported that Uber would not take part).

Lyft says the coalition will work to drive additional partnerships between insurance carriers and P2P ridesharing participants, while providing information resources for regulators, drivers and riders to “ensure a safe and trusted future for the emerging peer economy.”

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Who is Liable When Ridesharing Goes Wrong?

Mike Hower
| Wednesday February 5th, 2014 | 3 Comments

Popular ridesharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar have long-operated in a legal gray zone. While the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) unanimous approval of new regulations around ridesharing services last September helped to clear some of the ambiguity, scores of questions remain. Chief of these are liability issues — just who is to blame when things go wrong with ridesharing?

Last Monday, Uber found itself slapped with the first wrongful death lawsuit ever brought against a Transportation Networking Company (TNC) after one of its drivers, Syed Muzzafar, hit and killed a 6-year-old girl on New Years Eve in San Francisco.

“This tragedy did not involve a vehicle or provider doing a trip on the Uber system,” the company said. Uber spokesman Andrew Noyes said the company had no comment on the lawsuit.

While at first it may seem that Uber has a point — Muzzafar was not driving on the Uber clock at the time of the accident — companies can be found responsible for causing wrongful death and emotional distress even if the party that committed the crime is a completely independent third party.

PandoDaily cites the case of Weirum et al. vs. RKO General, Inc., where a radio station sponsored a contest involving one of its DJs driving around town and having teenagers “find” him for a prize. This resulted in reckless teen driving that culminated in the death of an innocent man, and the radio station was held responsible.

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