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

Tesla Tops CA Sales, Rated Safest Car of All Time

Mike Hower
| Monday September 2nd, 2013 | 1 Comment
Photo Credit: Flickr Jeff Cooper

Photo Credit: Flickr Jeff Cooper

Tesla Motors is on a roll. Just months after paying off its Department of Energy loan nine years ahead of schedule, the California electric carmaker has received a 5-star safety rating in every subcategory from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), making it part of the one percent of all vehicles tested by the federal government to achieve a perfect score.

Tesla’s Tony Stark-esque CEO, Elon Musk, has been quick to point out that although NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, safety levels better than five stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.

The Model S also set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants, Musk says. Though the Model S is a sedan, it exceeded the safety score of all SUVs and minivans, which takes into account the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents.

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EPA Attacks Honeybee Colony Collapse with New Safety Standards

Mike Hower
| Friday August 23rd, 2013 | 4 Comments
Photo Credit: Flickr Lucas Zallio

Photo Credit: Flickr Lucas Zallio

In response to an unprecedented decline in bee populations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new pesticide labels that forbid the use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.

The EPA says the new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions, which will affect products containing neonicotinoids. The agency will also work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.

According to TIME, neonicotinoid pesticides are “used on more than 140 different crops as well as in home gardens, meaning endless chances of exposure for any insect that alights on the treated plants.” While U.S. farmers have been using pesticides for decades, neonicotinoids differ in that they are not sprayed over a planted field but soaked into seeds before planting. Vestiges of the chemicals are ultimately passed on to every part of the adult plant, which includes the pollen and nectar a bee might come into contact with. These chemicals also often remain much longer than traditional pesticides do.

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Buy Me Some Peanuts and… Kale? SF Giants to Build Edible Garden

Mike Hower
| Friday August 16th, 2013 | 4 Comments

giantsgarden30_002During a recent White House event honoring the San Francisco Giants for winning the 2012 World Series, President Obama announced the team’s plan to build a 3,000 square foot edible garden at AT&T Park.

“I’m proud to announce that next season they’re planning to turn the centerfield bleachers at AT&T Park into what’s believed to be the first ever edible garden in a major American sports facility,” the President said. “With rows of kale and strawberries and eggplant, the Giants are going to help encourage local youth to eat healthy — even at the ballpark.”

The first of its kind, the “Giants Garden” will be planted behind the center-field wall in a space between the left- and right- field bleachers, which currently is used to grow replacement sod. The garden will be a bona fide farm, growing strawberries, herbs, avocados, tomatoes, lemons, edible flowers, huckleberries and more.

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Record 17 Companies Register as Delaware’s First Benefit Corporations

Mike Hower
| Monday August 5th, 2013 | 0 Comments
Photo Credit: Delaware.gov

Photo Credit: Delaware.gov

In a major act of affirmation for Delaware’s recent legislation legalizing benefit corporations, New Leaf Paper and Alter Eco last week joined more than a dozen other companies in registering as the new class of corporation.

Other registering companies included fast-growing organic baby food brand Plum Organics, online personal delivery farmers’ market Farmigo and popular home goods brand Method Products.

Not to be confused with a B Corp, which is a certification offered by a non-governmental organization called B Lab, benefit corporations are state government legal corporate structures. Like an LLC, S-Corp or C-Corp, it is a way to legally structure a company.

According to BenefitCorp.net, benefit corporations create a material, positive impact on society and the environment; expand fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests when making decisions; and report on overall social and environmental performance using recognized third-party standards.

“Benefit corporations meet a market need and a societal need,” said Delaware Governor Jack Markell. “They have the potential to create high-quality jobs and improve the quality of life in our communities.”

While Delaware is the 19th state (plus the District of Columbia) to enact benefit corporation legislation, as legal home of most venture-backed businesses, the majority of publicly traded companies and nearly two-thirds of the Fortune 500, it is the most important state for businesses that seek access to venture capital, private equity and public capital markets. In other words, the state’s legalization of benefit corporations signifies they are here to stay.

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Boston Summit Unites Green Business Engagement Programs

Mike Hower
| Thursday June 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments
Photo Credit: Nick Ledford

Photo Credit: Nick Ledford

Representatives from 21 green business engagement programs from across the country recently met in Boston for an unprecedented national summit that laid the groundwork for a national association charged with growing the role of green business programs nationwide.

As it stands, there currently are more than 50 different independent business engagement programs across the U.S. that serve several thousand businesses – from small neighborhood shops to large national corporations. Cities the country over are also increasingly looking to these programs for help in achieving climate action targets.

The summit was hosted by Boston-based nonprofit, A Better City (ABC), which is currently helping the City of Boston to attain its climate goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 through a Challenge for Sustainability program. The initiative boasts more than 100 participant organizations, including P&G Gillette, John Hancock and Boston Properties, and provides participants with a comprehensive sustainability program that in 2012, resulted in the reduction of some 19 million kilowatts and an average energy decrease of nearly five percent across more than 21 million square feet of commercial space.

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San Francisco Partners with ‘Sharing’ Startups to Save Lives During Disaster

Mike Hower
| Tuesday June 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment
Photo Credit: USGS

Photo Credit: USGS

Disasters have a way of bringing people together. Whether it is anonymous neighbors helping to rescue trapped garment workers in Bangladesh or schoolteachers in Moore, Oklahoma using their own bodies to shield children from a deadly tornado, time and again, the better part of human nature shines through during the darkest of circumstances. The word “stranger” loses all significance, as those who would otherwise ignore one another on the streets open their doors to take in the homeless, feed the hungry and care for the injured.

Technology is changing the way people respond to emergencies. When Hurricane Sandy resulted in dead and backed-up phone lines, people turned to social media to call for help, reassure the stranded and coordinate rescue. More than a thousand people even offered their homes for free to those in need using short-term lodging service Airbnb.

“As the storm hit, community members started taking people in on their own,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s chief technology officer.

In the hurricane’s wake, the company launched in New York City the Donated Sandy Housing program to connect those recently rendered homeless with those willing to take them in. In preparation for the next disaster, Airbnb has created a free disaster-response offering, which can be activated in a specific region in less than an hour.

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Energy Efficiency Can Make Billions While Fighting Climate Change

Mike Hower
| Tuesday May 28th, 2013 | 14 Comments
The International Energy Agency estimates that one-third of emissions reductions must come from energy efficiency in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The International Energy Agency estimates that one-third of emissions reductions must come from energy efficiency in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Energy efficiency could be a several hundred billion dollar investment opportunity in the United States, but better policies are required to unlock broad-based financing from institutional investors, according to a new study by investor advocacy group Ceres.

Power Factor: Institutional Investors’ Policy Priorities Can Bring Energy Efficiency to Scale details the results of a survey of nearly 30 institutional investors and other experts from the energy, policy and financial sectors that identified three areas of policy: utility regulation, demand-generating policies and innovative financing policies. The study finds that these three areas have the potential to take energy efficiency financing to a scale sufficient enough to attract significant institutional investment.

“Energy efficiency offers investors a potent one-two punch: stable returns and an important strategy for mitigating climate-related risks,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres. “Policymakers and regulators should work to unlock capital from institutional investors for energy efficiency by promoting the policies identified in this report. Many of these policies do not require public funds, and they can put money back into the pockets of homeowners and business leaders around the country.”

While solar, wind, hydroelectric and other renewable energy technologies often hog the sustainability spotlight – maximizing energy efficiency using existing technology could create an economic boom while reducing overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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The U.S. is Paying Too Much For Healthcare and Receiving Too Little

Mike Hower
| Thursday May 23rd, 2013 | 2 Comments
The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country, but does not have the best average quality.

The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country, but does not have the best average quality.

When it comes to most things, you get what you pay for. Paying more for a ticket to a baseball game means you will have better seats. Patronizing an expensive restaurant results in higher quality food. But when it comes to healthcare – a matter of life and death for every man, woman and child in this country – it’s backwards.

According to a 2012 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States spends some 17.6 percent of its GDP on healthcare – far more than any other OECD country – but does not see quality increases commensurate with its spending. While the U.S. has 2.4 practicing physicians per 1,000 people, the OECD average is 3.1. Most OECD countries have an average of 3.4 beds, but the U.S. has only 2.6 for every 1,000 people.

Congress has spent so much time squabbling over who should be paying for healthcare that it has failed to ask the most pertinent question – why do we pay so much?

This month, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released inaugural data detailing the prices hospitals charge for common procedures, which revealed a wide range of price fluctuations between different hospitals, with no real method to the madness.

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Moringa – The Superfood That Could Alleviate Hunger in Developing Regions

Mike Hower
| Tuesday May 14th, 2013 | 5 Comments
Moringa Tree

The Moringa Tree is a plant native to parts of Africa and Asia renowned for its nutritional value.

Move over, Iron Man. A new kind of “super food” is emerging that promises to save more lives than your high-tech armor ever could.

The Moringa Tree is a plant native to parts of Africa and Asia renowned for its nutritional value – each leaf contains seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the vitamin A of carrots, four times the calcium of milk, three times the potassium of bananas and twice the protein of yogurt.

Moringa oleifera, the most widely cultivated species of moringa, is a multipurpose tree native to the Himalayan foothills in northwestern India. According to the ancient Indian medicinal tradition of ayurveda, the leaves of the Moringa tree can prevent 300 diseases – and modern science confirms these claims have credence.

The somewhat tattered-looking tree grows fast, is resistant to drought and almost all of its parts are edible, tasty and highly nutritious – which include leaves, leaf powder, pods, seeds, flowers, roots and bark offering a complement of protein, calcium, minerals, iron and several important vitamins.

Interestingly (and tragically), Moringa grows in subtropical areas where malnutrition is most prevalent – particularly in West Africa. The problem is, the people living in these regions are largely unaware of the nutritional goldmine sitting in their backyards.

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Economic Benefits of EPA Regulations Vastly Outweigh the Costs

Mike Hower
| Monday May 6th, 2013 | 0 Comments
Over the past decade, while EPA rules imposed some $45 billion in costs on the economy, they also created $640 billion in benefits.

Over the past decade, while EPA rules imposed some $45 billion in costs on the economy, they also created $640 billion in benefits.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Mitt Romney claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was a tool President Obama was using to crush the American private enterprise system. The former Massachusetts governor went on to say that many Democrats disliked capitalism and were doing everything they could to impede the growth of the economy.

Most Americans demonstrated their disagreement with Romney’s rather Manichean mindset by allowing Obama to keep his job – but many continue to believe that environmental protection and economic progress are natural adversaries.

A recent Gallup poll found that more than half of Americans now prioritize the economy over protecting the environment. While prior to 2008, Gallup typically found Americans siding with the environment, as the economy tanked anxieties spiked and attitudes shifted towards favoring economic policies even at the environment’s expense.

But what if throwing Mother Earth a bone could stimulate economic gains? According to a new report released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, it can. EPA regulations actually bring benefits to the economy that far outweigh the costs.

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San Francisco Achieves Highest Recycling Rate in U.S.

Mike Hower
| Thursday May 2nd, 2013 | 1 Comment
The City by the Bay now diverts from the landfill some 80 percent of its waste - more than any other city in the U.S.

The City by the Bay now diverts from the landfill some 80 percent of its waste – more than any other city in the U.S.

San Francisco might be known for its foggy weather, winning sports teams and progressive politics, but it can now add another badge to its collection – being the best at recycling. Through source reduction, reuse and mandatory recycling and composting programs, the City by the Bay now diverts from the landfill nearly 80 percent of its waste.

In a world where recycling programs are deemed successful for reaching a 30 percent diversion rate, San Francisco’s is, quite literally, in a league of its own.

Having blown by its goal of recycling 75 percent of waste by 2020, San Francisco is now striving to achieve zero waste within the same timeframe.

“Innovative policies, financial incentives, as well as outreach and education are all effective tools in our toolbox that have helped San Francisco reach 80 percent diversion,” said San Francisco Department of Environment Director, Melanie Nutter. “We would not have achieved this milestone without the hard work and partnership of many people and businesses across the City.”

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Hundreds Die in Bangladesh, You Save Money

Mike Hower
| Monday April 29th, 2013 | 1 Comment
Some 336 people have died since an eight-story building housing thousands of sweatshop workers collapsed.

Some 336 people have died since an eight-story building housing thousands of sweatshop workers collapsed in Bangladesh.

Tragedy generally is not the first thing that comes to mind each day when we dress ourselves. After rolling out of bed and showering, we reach into our drawers, pull out socks, underwear, a shirt and perhaps some blue jeans. Most likely, when we bought the clothes, our purchasing decisions were based on fashion or economy – the thought may never even have crossed our minds that an act as uninspiring as clothes shopping could have global ramifications.

Last week’s catastrophic building collapse in Savar, on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka, serves as a doleful reminder of how deadly business-as-usual can be. As of yesterday, some 336 people have died since an eight-story building housing thousands of sweatshop workers collapsed. [Ed note: the count is now over 1100.] Many of these sweatshops supplied clothing to Western retail companies like Primark, Walmart, Libra and Matalan.

One company operating out of the ill-fated building was EtherTex, which says it provides clothing to Walmart. The sweatshop employed 530 people, mostly women, and used only four production units to make 960,000 articles of clothing each year. This means each worker made 1,811 pieces a year. To meet this harrowing demand, the women worked thirteen-hour days, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., six or seven days a week.

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The Greenest Generation: Baby Boomers or Millennials?

Mike Hower
| Thursday April 25th, 2013 | 2 Comments
Those hailing from the Baby Boomer generation are significantly more likely than Millennials to recycle.

Those hailing from the Baby Boomer generation are significantly more likely than Millennials to recycle.

When it comes to being environmentally friendly, those born between the early 1980s to early 2000s, otherwise known as Millennials, are talking a lot of talk without walking much of a walk, according to a recent study by DDB Worldwide.

Contrary to what many (especially young people) might think, those hailing from the Baby Boomer generation – their parents– are significantly more likely than Millennials to recycle. Some 66 percent of Boomers surveyed said they make an effort to recycle everything they possibly can, while only 53 percent of Millennials claimed to do so. Boomers also beat Millennials on separating the recyclables from the rest of the trash and reusing grocery bags.

While Boomers had the younger generation beat on recycling, more Millennials said they would “pay more for an environmentally-safe version of a product” (46 percent) than did Boomers (41 percent). Some 7 percent of Millennials also reported owning an electric car, compared with just 1 percent of Boomers.

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Increased Corn Prices Threaten Ethanol Fuel’s Long Term Viability

Mike Hower
| Friday April 19th, 2013 | 0 Comments
According to the USDA, the record-high corn prices could spike up by as much as 19 percent throughout 2013.

According to the USDA, the record-high corn prices could spike up by as much as 19 percent throughout 2013.

Ethanol, long viewed as the darling of the biofuels industry, has experienced several hiccups as of late. A lingering drought in the American Midwest has caused water shortages throughout the “corn belt”, wreaking havoc on corn crops, driving up the price of ethanol fuel and jeopardizing its long-term viability.

Increased costs and dwindling demand have already caused some 10 percent of the nation’s ethanol plants to halt production. According to the USDA, the record-high corn prices could spike by as much as 19 percent throughout 2013.

Ethanol’s relationship with the public is, shall we say, complicated. Many politicians and environmental groups argue that the bio-fuel is not as sustainable as it may sound – it causes increased food prices and requires significant land use. Some scientists also say that up to six times more energy is used to make ethanol than the finished fuel actually contains.

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Silicon Valley Wealth Disparity Continues to Grow

Mike Hower
| Monday April 15th, 2013 | 0 Comments
There are more people on food stamps in the Silicon Valley than there were 10 years ago and homelessness has swelled 20 percent since 2011.

There are more people on food stamps in the Silicon Valley than there were 10 years ago and homelessness has swelled 20 percent since 2011.

The Silicon Valley is booming. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, the startup-riddled “techtopia” has the country’s second-highest concentration of wealthy people. Some 16 percent of Santa Clara County households earn at least $191,000 per year, placing them in the nation’s wealthiest 5 percent.

With Bigwigs like Google, Apple and Facebook anchored in the area and a burgeoning legion of venture capital-backed startups angling to be the next “big thing,” the forecast looks favorable for those riding the latest wave of wealth.

But not all those residing in Silicon Valley are sharing these sunny skies. According to the Silicon Valley Index, today there are more people on food stamps than there were 10 years ago, and homelessness has swelled 20 percent since 2011.

“In the midst of a national economic recovery led by Silicon Valley’s resurgence, as measured by corporate profits and record stock prices, something strange is going on in the Valley itself,” Cindy Chavez, executive director of Working Partnerships USA, said in an interview with the Associated Press. “Most people are getting poorer.”

Much of this is due to the rising cost of living in the Silicon Valley. The Insight Center for Community Economic Development says the median price for a home in the area is $550,000, while rent averages a little under $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. This means a family of four needs to make around $90,000 a year just to cover basic necessities like rent, food, transportation and childcare.

This is not much of an issue for the region’s well-educated (and paid) programmers, techies and business savants, but what about those working minimum or even reasonably-waged gigs? In short: They are being left behind

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