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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
A recent poll conducted by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and Main Street Alliance (MSA) found some 85 percent of small business owners oppose a territorial tax system, which would permanently exempt offshore profits from U.S. taxation.
Supporters of a territorial tax system generally argue that the current global system puts U.S. firms at a competitive disadvantage since they are required to pay a higher U.S. tax rate on repatriated profits earned in low-tax countries, while multinationals based abroad pay only the local tax rate on these profits.
While this might hold true for Wall Street, it is a whole different story for Main Street. For smaller operations constrained to the U.S., overseas tax havens can make it harder to compete with large corporations.
“I’m not afraid as a small business to compete with the big boys,” said Henry Passapera, a member of the MSA and the co-owner of P&R Trading, a New Jersey-based international supplier of airline parts and equipment. “But when big corporations use offshore tax havens to avoid their tax responsibility, it puts small businesses like mine at a competitive disadvantage.”
“If you want to fly the American flag at your corporate headquarters, you ought to pay your fair share of taxes,” he added.
This is why nearly 80 percent of small business owners say they are in favor of closing overseas exemptions altogether, according to the ASBC-MSA poll. More than 60 percent also would like to see an end to deferral, a current tax code provision that allows corporations to indefinitely defer payment of U.S. taxes on profits made or shifted offshore.
Congressional Republicans are going to have a field day with this one. Last Friday, luxury electric carmaker Fisker Automotive laid off 75 percent of its workforce as it copes with a series of financial and production troubles. Some 53 senior managers and executives are being retained primarily to help sell off company assets.
The Anaheim-based, Obama-backed green carmaker says it will continue to pursue “strategic partnerships” but has reached a point where layoffs are necessary. The company added that it “regrets having to terminate any of its hardworking and talented people” but the layoffs were “a necessary strategic step in efforts to maximize the value of Fisker’s core assets.”
Fisker makes the $100,000 Karma plug-in hybrid sports car, which has seen a profusion of misfortune since coming to market in 2011. Last summer, the company was forced to recall 2,000 vehicles to replace a cooling fan and lost $32 million when Hurricane Sandy destroyed 320 Karmas awaiting delivery in New Jersey. In November of last year, Fisker halted Karma production altogether after A123 Systems, the company’s battery supplier, filed for bankruptcy.
Pike Research’s John Gartner told the New York Times: “Once Sandy hit, it seemed like that was it. There has been no positive news from the company since that time, except for rumored discussions with potential new investors.”
Apparently, the debate over global warming is not as big as the hard-liners at Fox News and on Capitol Hill would lead us to believe. A recent study released by Yale and George Mason University found that nearly 80 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents support increasing renewable energy use and more than 60 percent believe the United States should take action to address climate change.
Interestingly, the report also found that only a third of Republican respondents agree with the GOP’s position on climate change, which has changed dramatically since 2008.
Believe it or not, the Republican Party’s 2008 platform contained a lengthy and detailed section on “Addressing Climate Change Responsibly” and called for “technology-driven, market-based solutions that will decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy.”
At the time, then-Republican presidential candidate and current U.S. Senator, John McCain, was proposing a cap-and-trade program to put a price on carbon, one of the first members of Congress to do so. John Warner, a Republican senator from Virginia, was co-sponsoring legislation to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. While Republicans did not agree with Democrats and environmentalists on everything, they were at least taking part in a discussion over how to best counter the planet’s changing climate – and not a debate over whether or not it was occurring at all.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed last Friday a set of new standards to reduce smog-causing sulfur in gasoline and tighten emissions regulations on cars and trucks beginning in 2017 that would increase gas prices by less than a penny per gallon and add $130 to the cost of a vehicle in 2025.
The proposal slashes a range of harmful pollutants such as smog-forming volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides by 80 percent. It also establishes a 70 percent tighter particulate matter standard and decreases fuel vapor emissions to near zero. Toxic air pollutants such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene will be decrease by up to 40 percent.
The EPA estimates the proposal’s total health-related benefits in 2030 will be between $8 and $23 billion annually and will help avoid nearly 2,400 premature deaths and 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children. The rules will also benefit the more than 50 million Americans living, working or going to school near public roads.
During Friday’s announcement, EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said the proposed standards “will save thousands of lives and protect the most vulnerable” and “are the next step in our work to protect public health.”
To develop the proposal, the EPA consulted with representatives from the automotive and oil and gas industry, as well as environmental, consumer advocacy and public health organizations. Based on the initial feedback, the EPA says the standards could provide up to seven dollars in health benefits for every dollar spent to enact them.
A new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) claims ending the $1.9 trillion in global energy subsidies could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 4.2 billion tons – a 13 percent reduction – and lead to major gains both for economic growth and the environment.
The study, Energy Subsidy Reform – Lessons and Implications, released earlier this week, urges policymakers around the world to reform subsidies for products ranging from coal to gasoline and argues that to do so could lead to a more efficient allocation of resources and help spur higher long term economic growth.
Monday evening, two energy business and environmental policy heavyweights duked it out at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco’s presentation of Climate One, sparring over several economic and environmental issues involving the future of energy in California and beyond. In one corner stood Rhonda Zygocki, Executive Vice President of Policy and Planning at Chevron – in the other, Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Both Zygocki and Krupp agreed business and government should collaborate to develop energy efficiency projects for existing infrastructure. However, they parted ways over the issues of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and the feasibility of cap-and-trade systems.
Fracking can help grow the economy but poses environmental and public health risks
The U.S. is on the verge of energy independence, Zygocki said. Through further developing fracking technologies to exploit natural gas, the country could attract millions of investment dollars, growing the economy while lessening reliance on foreign fuels. Fracking has already created 1.7 million jobs in the U.S. and could lead to over a million more within a decade. The natural gas acquired by fracking is also one of the cleanest burning fuels, she added.