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.
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.
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?
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:
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).
“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.
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.
“Corporations are people, my friend,” Governor Mitt Romney told a heckler at the Iowa State Fair during the 2012 Presidential Election. While he later backtracked after widespread backlash (and a major drop in the polls), Romney’s claim was correct – as far as the Supreme Court is concerned.
In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), that political spending is “a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.”
In other words, the Court proclaimed that companies should enjoy the same basic human rights as you and I, giving firms the First Amendment right of freedom of speech – with spending money being a form of speech.
Later that year, in SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia applied the Citizens United ruling in an unprecedented manner, proclaiming that the federal government may not require an unincorporated association that makes only independent expenditures to register and report as a political committee.
The result? The rise of Super PACS (Political Action Committees) as a means of influencing elections, while keeping donors’ personal identities in the dark. While Super PACS are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, they can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited amounts to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.
Next time you pop open a Pale Ale, you can feel a little less guilty (not that you ever should). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. announced last week that it now diverts 99.8 percent of its waste, earning it the first platinum certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council.
This was no mere feel-good eco project, but serious business – the company says its waste-management efforts resulted in $5,398,470 in avoided disposal costs and $903,308 in 2012 revenue. That’s a lot of green.
Additionally, by diverting 51,414 tons from landfill and incineration, Sierra Nevada avoided 11,812 tons of carbon dioxide, according to USZWBC. Last year, Sierra Nevada’s Terrence Sullivan told TriplePundit that the brewery captures and recycles 95 percent of all carbon dioxide produced during fermentation and then reuses it. Not too shabby.
After auditing the Zero Waste diversion processes at Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif., USZWBC found that the facility is successfully reducing, reusing, recycling and composting at an unprecedented rate.
Nearly 3,000 miners and workers from across the coal industry descended on Capitol Hill late last month to protest President Obama’s alleged “War on Coal” — more specifically the proposed carbon emission rules the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released for new power plants, and will release for existing plants in 2014.
The rules, 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 and 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour for new natural gas power plants. With the average coal-fired power plant emitting around 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, both new and existing power plants would be forced to clean up their act.
The rally was organized by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which has a history of opposing climate change legislation. Around 30 members of Congress also attended the event, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and even a few coal-country Democrats.
Two of the biggest problems afflicting the people of West Africa is a lack of access to education and employment — without the former, the latter is difficult to attain. So says Valerie Lemke, Co-Founder of Jjangde, a social enterprise that strives to hit both issues with one… erm… basket, by connecting handmade goods from rural communities in Senegal to global markets, and using the profits to fund schools in the communities where the goods were made.
The company’s curious name is derived from the phrase Wallam e’ jangde, which means “help me learn” in Fulaani, a local Senegalese language.
“I started Jjangde in hopes to change the ‘buy one and give one to a child in need’ model,” said Lemke. “I wanted to create a social enterprise that focused on a hand-up and not a handout. With Jjangde’s full-circle of development, we hope to change this model.”
Nearly half of rural Senegalese children drop out of school before the age of 12, and a mere two percent of girls attend high school, Jjangde says. By providing families with additional income opportunities, the company hopes more children will be free to attend school rather than remain on family farms to help make ends meet. With many villages lacking schools of their own, Jjangde uses 100 percent of its profits to build locally-run schools in the communities where it operates, with the ultimate goal of establishing a culture of formal education the region currently lacks.
“Providing Senegalese children with the opportunity and culture to stay in school remains key to opening up their futures to other avenues and changing the prescribed expectations of low wages for livelihood,” Lemke said.
It is often said that we tend to adopt our parents’ political leanings, but what if we actually inherited them?
That’s not to say we evolved to be liberal or conservative. Our early human ancestors were more concerned with hunting and gathering and not getting eaten by bears than they were with elections, Gallup polls and hating on Obamacare.
But it is safe to say that the ideologies associated with each political leaning goes well beyond the ballot box.
In 2008, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, conducted a study with a group of 26 adults with “strong political beliefs” to determine if there was a correlation between physical sensitivities and political beliefs. The researchers discovered that individuals with lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support “liberal” issues such as foreign aid, open immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, while those displaying higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor “conservative” issues such as high defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War.
The research indicated that people who have strong basic emotional responses to threats tend to develop more conservative political views.
There is a lingering perception that investing in technologies, initiatives and processes aimed at countering climate change is just another drain on already troubled U.S. taxpayers. But what about the cost of inaction?
According to a new report by Ceres, extreme weather events cost the United States $100 billion in 2012, most of which went towards federal crop, flood, wildfire and disaster relief. While naysayers continue to claim weather events like Hurricane Sandy and climate change are unrelated, scientists agree that climate change exacerbates extreme weather events. They predict that the intensity and frequency of these events will only increase as the planet warms up.
With only 50 percent of the damages in the U.S. caused by extreme weather events privately insured, the federal and state governments are left to pick up the rest, the report says. However, public disaster relief and recovery programs have been slow to recognize that worsening climate impacts will drive up future losses to unsustainable levels. Rather than encouraging behavior that reduces risks from extreme weather events, these programs continue to encourage behavior that increases these risks – such as agricultural practices that increase vulnerability to drought and new development in hurricane- and wildfire-prone areas.
“Taxpayers should be outraged that their tax dollars are incentivizing high risk behavior that increases federal disaster costs,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Especially in light of increased risks in the future, policymakers need to reorient federal policies to encourage mitigation and prerespond to the disasters we know we face.”
“Every dime spent on disaster responses should help ensure we don’t have to spend that dime in the future,” Ellis added.
The Capitol Hill standoff between Democrats and House Republicans may be over (for now), but more than 165,000 businesses say the budget deal reached by Congress last week does not go far enough to address the underlying economic problems afflicting the nation. The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) has called for policymakers to stop imposing austerity and begin making strategic investments to foster a sustainable economy.
The U.S. government has a long history of making such tactical investments, which led to breakthroughs in transportation (federal highway system, commercial aviation), energy (nuclear, the Tennessee Valley Authority), information (semiconductors, the Internet), and medical (the National Institutes of Health).
Continuing to invest in areas like upgrading the energy grid and aging infrastructure are needed to kick-start U.S. leadership in important new technologies, which will drive job creation and raise the overall efficiency and innovation of the economy, ASBC claims.
Unfortunately, the government currently is doing the exact opposite with austerity measures imposed by the sequester, which took effect March 1. This slashed federal spending by $85 million in the remainder of the 2013, affecting mostly education, defense and social programs. An additional $1.1 trillion will be cut over the next decade.
Australian-based materials company Zeoform claims to have developed a new material made of cellulose fiber and water, which has the potential to replace plastic and wood in a variety of applications.
The company says the 100 percent non-toxic material has the beauty of wood, the strength of fiberglass and the versatility of plastic.
On October 11, Zeoform launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $10 million in 30 days. The company says it plans to promote its campaign later this month at the LA Green Festival. Raising such a hefty sum in such little time is not unheard of – both MIT’s Form1 3D Printer raised $3 million and the Pebble Watch raised $10 million in 30 days.
Zeoform says it plans to use the funds to construct a “Center of Excellence” educational facility and R&D factory – scheduled for completion in 2014.
More than two thirds of CEOs (67 percent) believe that business is not doing enough to address global sustainability challenges, while the same percentage report that the private sector is not making sufficient efforts to address global sustainability challenges, according to a survey by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture.
The survey of 1,000 CEOs found that most believe the failure to make a link between sustainability and business value is the fastest growing barrier of the past ten years, and are calling for increased incentives and rewards for sustainability leaders seeking to embed sustainability throughout their organizations.
For more than half of respondents, a lack of financial resources is cited as the leading barrier to advancing sustainability; 40 percent say that economic conditions have made it tough to embed sustainability into core business. In 2007, 18 percent said this deterred them from taking further action, rising to 30 percent in 2010 and 37 percent this year.
According to the survey, only 15 percent of CEOs think business has made good progress over the last three years in making sustainability a must-have factor for consumers, however 82 percent believe this is critical to harnessing sustainability as a transformative force in the economy. Almost half (46 percent) say consumers will always consider sustainability as secondary to price, quality and availability.