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

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 | 0 Comments

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 | 1 Comment

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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Intel CEO Challenges Electronics Industry to Dump ‘Conflict Minerals’

Mike Hower
| Friday January 24th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 12.42.46 AM If there is one thing we in the West love, it’s our gadgets. Smartphones, tablets, iPottys – we’ll take ‘em all. And the rest of the world is catching on – in Q3 2013 the global smartphone market grew 38.8 percent, thanks to China’s growing appetite for low-cost Android phones.

This is because technology is awesome. Through it we can access information (and each other) like never before in the history of the world. Using a smartphone or tablet, we can FaceTime a friend living on the other side of the country, then text message one living on the other side of the planet (for free) using Viber. Letting our friends, ex’s and high school acquaintances know about the gluten-free burrito we ate for lunch last Tuesday has never been easier.

Technology’s awesomeness is the primary focus of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), an internationally renowned electronics and technology trade show held each January in Las Vegas. Attended by major companies and industry professionals worldwide, it is the place to be if you want to be “in the know” of the latest and greatest in the tech world.

But this year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich reminded us that the cost of producing these technological wonders goes well beyond dollar signs. Always absent from the final price tag of these items are the externalities of shattered human dignity and lost lives.

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Can the US Navy Turn the Tide with Biofuels?

Mike Hower
| Monday January 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 11.35.28 PM At the beginning of the 20th century, 16 U.S. battleships — all painted white with gilded bows — set off on an unprecedented two-year voyage around the world. Dispatched by President Theodore Roosevelt as a show of America’s newfound naval might, the “Great White Fleet” ushered in a new era of U.S. involvement in global affairs.

More than a century later in 2009, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that the Navy would demonstrate and then deploy a “Great Green Fleet,” a carrier strike group fueled by alternative energy sources. Developing the Great Green Fleet was one of five energy goals set by Mabus to reduce the Department of the Navy’s consumption of energy, decrease its reliance on foreign sources of oil and significantly increase its use of alternative energy. Mabus has also committed to obtaining at least 50 percent of the energy used by the Navy and Marine Corps from alternative sources by 2020.

Ambitious? Yes. Feasible? Definitely.

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It’s the Numbers, Stupid! Data-Driven Policies Will Lead to Tomorrow’s Smart Cities

Mike Hower
| Wednesday January 1st, 2014 | 0 Comments

Ed Note: This post is Mike Howers’ entry into Masdar’s 2014 blogging contest for a shot at a trip to Abu Dhabi.  If you’d like to enter, there’s still time.  Just follow these instructions. The deadline is Jan 3nd! To vote for Mike’s entry, click here.

Fiickr Sam Howzit

Fiickr Sam Howzit

From the first cities in ancient Mesopotamia to modern metropolises, urban locales have served as cultural and commercial hubs for societies across the globe. As of 2008, the world’s urban population finally surpassed that of the rural — and this trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. By 2050, an estimated 70 percent of the 9 billion people then-living on this planet will reside in cities.

While high population density is often seen as the root of all urban evil, there is a flip side.

“Due to the density of population and industry, cities can act as concentrated areas where policy can be implemented in an efficient manner,” said Benjamin Goldstein, a Canadian friend of mine who researches environmental engineering at the Danish Technical University in Denmark.

But what exactly should these policies be?

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Ten Start-Ups That Helped Save the World in 2013

Mike Hower
| Monday December 30th, 2013 | 0 Comments
Flickr Nasa

Flickr Nasa

Entrepreneurship is about imagination and action, envisioning solutions to both new and long-standing problems, and innovating to make them a reality. Sustainable business was born of the realization that we cannot continue down our current path if we hope to achieve a proud and prosperous future. Innovation became its lifeblood.

Recent years have seen an explosion of start-ups focused not only on generating profit, but also bettering the planet and everyone living on it. Whether it’s tackling climate change, alleviating global poverty or reducing landfill burdens, these entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make a living while also making a difference.

Here are some of our favorites from 2013:

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Ridesharing Can Save Cities from Traffic Congestion

Mike Hower
| Thursday December 26th, 2013 | 3 Comments
Photo Credit: Flickr rafael-castillo

Photo Credit: Flickr rafael-castillo

My first experience with ridesharing came in 2011 when I lived and taught in a low-income barrio of Bogotá, Colombia. No city buses ventured to my neighborhood. To get to and from work, I depended on what I dubbed the “Jalopy Express,” which entailed waiting by the roadside and hailing unmarked clunkers when they passed by. If I was lucky, one would stop just long enough for me to jump in, where I would sit crammed alongside one too many Bogotanos. When I wanted to exit the vehicle, I yelled “¡parada, por favor!” and hardly had both feet out the door before the jalopy sped off.

While Bogotá had some semblance of a public transportation grid in its wealthier northern neighborhoods, those living in the poorer south relied on the Jalopy Express and a few colectivo (private buses) to get around. This nascent form of ridesharing helped to solve the several transportation problems the city was unable or unwilling to solve.

In the United States, though most cities have much more developed transportation grids than those in developing countries, the average commuter still loses 34 hours a year to congestion delays, according to Deloitte. This translates to 4.76 billion hours wasted by all American commuters, and results in $429 million in opportunity costs every day (or $160 billion annually).

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Why ‘Made in America’ Does Not Have to Mean ‘Unaffordable’

Mike Hower
| Wednesday December 11th, 2013 | 0 Comments
Photo Credit: Upstate Stock

Photo Credit: Upstate Stock

“Made in America” labels aren’t exactly a common sight these days. Check the tag on the shirt or pants you are wearing, and chances are it will read “Made in… [China], [Bangladesh], [Vietnam] or…” Well, you get the point. Your flashy new iPhone 5S? Before you even opened the box, it already was more well-traveled than you are.

More than 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Contrast this with the 1960s, when around 95 percent of apparel worn in the U.S. was made at home.

But most American consumers want to buy American. Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad, 78 percent of Americans would rather buy the American product, according to a February 2013 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Why? In the same survey, more than 80 percent cited retaining manufacturing jobs and keeping American manufacturing strong in the global economy as very important reasons for buying American. Roughly 60 percent claimed concern about the use of child workers or other cheap labor overseas, or stated that American-made goods were of higher quality.

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Delta Air Lines Joins Oil Industry Groups to Fight EPA Biofuel Mandates

Mike Hower
| Friday December 6th, 2013 | 1 Comment
Photo Credit: Flickr James Wang

Photo Credit: Flickr James Wang

Delta Air Lines recently joined other oil industry trade groups to fight the U.S. biofuel mandate that requires refiners to meet an annual biofuel quota, either through production or through the purchase of credits.

The airline filed a lawsuit through its year-old refiner, Monroe Energy, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that challenges the EPA’s 2013 renewable fuel requirements, according to FuelFix.

Under the EPA policy, refiners generate renewable identification numbers (basically, compliance credits) for every gallon of biofuel they incorporate. Monroe’s status as a “merchant refiner” that sells unblended products to wholesale marketers means it must always purchase credits. The refiner, in its Oct. 4 federal court petition, claimed this forces it to spend millions of dollars to acquire compliance credits at what it says are “artificially inflated” prices.

Monroe’s chief financial officer Frank Pici said in written comments filed with the EPA in June that the agency’s policies are creating winners and losers in the oil industry, with his company on the latter side. The winners will inevitably be vertically integrated refiners that can blend biofuels, and small refiners eligible to seek exemptions from the renewable fuel requirements.

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