3p Contributor: Phil Covington

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on electric vehicles and sustainable business matters in general. Twitter: @PhilCovBlog

Recent Articles

Rainforest Alliance Reviews Paper Giant’s Forest Conservation Efforts

| Friday February 20th, 2015 | 0 Comments

CIMG1434Feb. 5 marked the two-year anniversary of paper giant Asia Pulp and Paper’s commitment to halt further felling of the natural rainforest in all of its 38 supplier concessions in Indonesia. This commitment was a key part of the company’s Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) announced back in February 2013.

While FCP was cautiously welcomed by various environmental groups, many remained skeptical as to whether Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) would hold the line on the promises made.

Since the 2013 announcement, central to APP’s efforts has been the retention of a number of third-party organizations with expertise in evaluating both the High Carbon Stock (HCS) and High Conservation Value (HCV) of  forests within its supplier concessions. And later on, the company expanded on these efforts with the formation of a peat expert team to evaluate how best to protect this fragile ecosystem found extensively throughout supplier forests. APP stated from the outset that recommendations made by these expert teams would be adopted by the company as part of ongoing and comprehensive forest management plans.

Since work on FCP began, the pulp and paper giant committed to an unprecedented level of transparency as well — perhaps most significantly demonstrated by its invitation to have Rainforest Alliance undertake an independent evaluation of their progress. This month, Rainforest Alliance published its evaluation of the first 18 months of FCP (to August 2014). Here are the key findings.

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Electrified Truck Power-Train Can Cut Fuel Use in Half

| Monday January 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment

DSC_0362When it comes to electric vehicles, we hear plenty about electric cars being launched into the consumer market but not too much about commercial vehicles. Maybe that’s because not too many people have to concern themselves with what type of delivery or garbage truck they are going to buy next. Nevertheless, such considerations matter, since the electrification of commercial fleets promises considerably larger efficiency gains than cars.

Four-year-old California company Wrightspeed, started by Tesla co-founder Ian Wright, has developed a technology that zeros in on a specific niche of the commercial fleet market, bringing both fuel savings and emissions mitigation for commercial fleet operators.

Coming from his background at Tesla, Wright remains convinced of the benefits of going electric, but he recognizes that EVs can be perceived as expensive in some markets. In starting Wrightspeed, he says the mission was to figure out, “How do you get more bang for your buck?” And the answer was to just focus on building power-trains for trucks.

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FSC Certification Beats Zero Deforestation, Says Top Paper Company

| Monday December 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Domtar supplier forest. The top paper company recently issued a paper promoting FSC certification. 

Natural Forest degradation and destruction is a global problem. According to The World Resources Institute (WRI), 30 percent of global forest cover has been cleared and a further 20 percent degraded. That which remains has been fragmented, leaving only about 15 percent of the world’s forests intact. WWF points out that we are losing forests at the rate of 36 football fields per minute.

Consequently, the focus of deforestation zeros-in on where the loss is most rapid: tropical forests, where clear-cutting indiscriminately for agriculture is particularly acute. Agriculture is responsible for around 70 percent of global deforestation involving activities such as palm oil production or cattle pasture. This has prompted the call for zero deforestation in parts of the world where deforestation is most critical, or zero net deforestation (ZND) which WWF explains, “leaves room for change in the configuration of the land-use mosaic, provided the net quantity, quality and carbon density of forests is maintained.”

However, ZND might be described as a low bar to attain in terms of sustainable forest management — and while it’s a practical step in areas of rapid deforestation, Dave Bubser, senior manager of Rainforest Alliance U.S., says it’s like “placing tourniquets” in parts of the world where clear-cutting is happening on a wide scale. ZND is primarily a quantitative measure, but it’s less effective as a qualitative one.

Some actually argue that ZND is potentially harmful to natural forests, but it’s certainly not the end game. And while there are calls for companies and even countries to pledge for ZND, such a call is just an entry point for a higher bar to be reached — that of certification. Paper company Domtar recently issued a paper on the subject to this effect, promoting their commitment to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

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Study Confirms APP’s Expansion Plans Won’t Require Natural Rainforest Pulp

| Wednesday September 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Saplings at APP’s nursery will become future plantation trees.

Saplings at APP’s nursery will become future plantation trees.

It’s been 18 months since Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) announced its Forest Conservation Policy, which included a commitment to zero deforestation. And its September update report carries with it some further positive news about the company’s long-term pulp supply chain — most notably with respect to the planned opening of a third paper mill in OKI district, in South Sumatra, Indonesia.

Concerns have surrounded the opening of the new plant, and whether existing plantation forests would prove to hold sufficient stock to meet the increased demand for pulpwood. Work done by third-party entities, TFT and Ata Marie, which conducted an independent ‘Growth and Yield’ study, has, according to the company, “confirmed that APP does have sufficient resources to meet the wood demands of the mills,” though “one minor gap” in the supply has been identified in 2020, which the company asserts will be addressed.

The gap identified in 2020 can easily be filled, according to APP, by increasing the productivity of plantation operations between now and then. APP’s update report states that the TFT/Ata Marie study identified a number of efficiency gains and management improvement practices that, if implemented, could substantially increase the wood yield from the existing land-base of its pulpwood suppliers.

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Dropcountr Launches a New App to Manage Water Usage

| Wednesday August 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Dropcountr app showing water usage information

Despite the 3-year-old drought in the western U.S. and pleas from California Gov. Jerry Brown to conserve 20 percent more water, water use has instead risen by 1 percent in the state. This disappointing outcome illustrates that voluntary reductions have so far proved to be ineffective. Yet a contributing factor could be that consumers are not without good intentions, but rather are lacking the proper tools to do the right thing. As the saying goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” and traditionally, the tools for consumers to measure their water use have been pretty weak.

Typically, a bill from the water utility arrives in the mailbox showing a three-month history of water usage data in terms of “units,” which as a measure is hard for the average householder to visualize. And in any case, the bill doesn’t allow an easy assessment as to whether those units used were reasonable or excessive.

Addressing this knowledge gap, Redwood City, California-based startup Dropcountr is about to launch its service to provide tools to both consumers and utilities in a clear and visual format — which will allow this scarce resource to be better managed. I recently spoke to Dropcountr’s CEO, Robb Barnitt, to learn more about its service and how it might prompt more efficient use of water.

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Corporations, Nonprofit Collaborate to Send Aid For the Ebola Outbreak

| Monday August 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Direct Relief shipment for the Ebola outbreak.

The West African Ebola crisis continues to gather pace. With the devastating illness proving fatal in around 55 percent of cases — compared with up to 90 percent in previous infections  —  it has already taken the lives of around 1,000 people in the current outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) just declared the current Ebola crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea a public health emergency and recognizes this as the most serious outbreak of Ebola since the virus was first identified in 1976.

In the nearly four decades since the virus emerged, there is no known cure, and no vaccine has been discovered to inoculate individuals against it. Furthermore, because the illness afflicts the poorest segments of the population in developing countries, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, there’s no business model for developing pharmaceutical solutions for the virus. Those companies pioneering the few experimental drugs have found funding elusive in order to fully develop them, failing accordingly to bring any treatments to market in the notoriously expensive drug discovery process.

Consequently, the only approach in terms of care-giving, for now at least, is containment. Humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief, collaborating with 16 corporations, is directing its efforts towards getting essential supplies to locally-run entities to stem the spread of the disease. Last week, we spoke to Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief, to learn how the organization is making a difference on the ground in what appears to be one of the few hopeful stories regarding the Ebola crisis.

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Fashion Futures: Resource Constraints and Sustainable Design

| Thursday June 12th, 2014 | 5 Comments

fashion futuresThe fashion business is close to being a $2 trillion industry globally, and with a growing population predicted to reach 9 billion people by 2050, demand for apparel is going to only grow as we head into the future.

The strain on resources to meet burgeoning demand has smart businesses in the industry taking a long-term view as to how the fashion landscape will be forced to change, since those constraints are almost certainly going to disrupt the business-as-usual model we have today, which is often of an industry built around a cheap and disposable product.

So how will peering into the future drive the industry to adapt to growing resource constraints, and how will this impact the design process to make the fashion industry more sustainable? Furthermore, how will the next generation of fashion designers respond, and drive the industry to meet the challenge?

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Asia Pulp and Paper Plans to Restore 1 Million Hectares of Indonesian Forest

| Monday May 12th, 2014 | 6 Comments
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Delivery of pulpwood to APP’s paper mill in Sumatra

Over the last several months we have been tracking the progress of Asia Pulp and Paper’s (APP) efforts to manage its supply chain in a more responsible way. Following longstanding campaigns against the company and its customers, in February 2013, APP announced a comprehensive Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), in which the company committed to zero deforestation commensurate with its forest clearing moratorium. Later, the company went further still with a commitment to stop processing natural forest fiber in its pulp and paper mills from any pulpwood supplier.

Now, APP has gone a step further still with its announcement on April 28 that in collaboration with a range of stakeholders, APP will conserve and restore 1 million hectares of forest across vital landscapes in Indonesia.

This is a significant development, because while Greenpeace already ceased its campaign against APP last year with the announcement of the FCP, other groups, World Wildlife Fund notable among them, withheld their full support because APP’s conservation policy did not address the company’s legacy of forest destruction.

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Abu Dhabi Launches Solar Car Challenge

| Friday May 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Solar powered vehicle

This week at the Abu Dhabi Ascent climate meeting in the United Arab Emirates, renewable energy company Masdar, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), announced that it will sponsor the region’s first solar electric car competition to take place in the UAE next January. The event will coincide with Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, while the completion will be at the opening ceremony of The World Future Energy Summit.

The challenge, which is sanctioned by the International Solarcar Federation (ISF), invites student teams from 20 countries around the world to participate in the four-day event — which will take place over a 1,200 kilometer (750 mile) course, comprised of both urban and desert environments. The winner of the endurance event will be the team that completes the course in the shortest overall time.

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Masdar Partners With Companies to Develop Energy-Efficient Desalination Pilot Project

| Tuesday May 6th, 2014 | 1 Comment
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Announcement of Masdar’s awards to four companies for desalination pilot project and Abu Dhabi Ascent

While California is in the grip of drought after one of the driest years on record, reigniting an interest in desalination to augment supplies, in other regions of the world, such as parts of the Middle East, it’s never expected that rainfall in any given year will be sufficient to meet demand. In the United Arab Emirates, desalination is already a major source of water for the country, representing 30 percent of its water supply and constituting the primary source of potable water.

But the UAE — with a rapidly growing population, 90 percent of whom are foreigners working in the country — still draws 65 percent of its water from ground supplies, which officials realize is not a sustainable resource. Consequently, desalination is increasingly important to address the nation’s long-term water security; the Gulf region as a whole, already accounts for about 50 percent of the world’s desalination capacity.

However, present technology is highly energy intensive, and UAE based Masdar announced yesterday at the high-level United Nations “Abu Dhabi Ascent” climate meeting, that it has awarded contracts to four companies to demonstrate next-generation seawater desalination technologies which will be substantially more energy efficient.

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U.N. Secretary General On Climate Change: ‘It’s Time to Lead’

| Monday May 5th, 2014 | 4 Comments
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Abu Dhabi Ascent

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses attendees at the ‘Abu Dhabi Ascent’ climate meeting.

The opening speeches at the high-level U.N. meeting on climate change at Abu Dhabi Ascent on Sunday constituted a rallying call to world leaders; a declaration that it’s time to stop talking and start taking action.

Proceedings opened with a welcome speech by Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change. Citing the recent IPCC report on climate change, he told the audience: “We have before us only 15 years to address decades of environmentally harmful activities, and to prevent a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Centigrade,” adding later, “If we are to successfully mitigate climate change, then we must commit to a decade of action.”

Following Dr. Al Jaber, Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, reinforced the message with a sombre warning: “Climate change is the defining issue of our time … If we do not take urgent action, all our plans for increased global prosperity and security will be undone.” His rallying message came towards the end of his speech when he said, “Climate action is feasible, affordable and beneficial … Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead.”

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Heads Up: We’ll Be At the ‘Abu Dhabi Ascent’ U.N. Climate Conference May 4-5

| Friday May 2nd, 2014 | 0 Comments

abu_dhabi_ascentlogo_0May 4-5, a special two-day, high-level United Nations meeting — “Abu Dhabi Ascent” — will convene in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with the aim “to reinvigorate government and private sector actions needed to seriously address global climate change.”

The conference was formally announced in February by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and United Arab Emirates Minister of State and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, and it will gather global leaders from government, the private sector and civil society. The meeting is in advance of the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit 2014, being held on September 23 in New York, “in an effort to bolster and catalyze climate action proposals.”

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Ford’s Corporate Responsibility Continues Under New Leadership

| Wednesday April 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Ford LogoThere’s apparently a saying at Ford Motor Co. that empowers development: “Great products, strong business, better world,” so says Thomas Niemann, Ford’s new social sustainability manager. Niemann recently took over for David Berdish, who was appointed to the role by Bill Ford Jr. in 1999. Back in those days, the term — and the role, for that matter — of corporate social responsibility (CSR) was not really mainstream.

The “better world” part is a key element of Berdish’s legacy and is in many ways a reflection of Bill Ford Jr.’s values as well. Since 1999, the company has spent considerable effort promoting better working conditions and human rights around the world where Ford does business.

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U.K. Companies Share Clean Tech Expertise at Globe 2014 in Vancouver

| Thursday April 3rd, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Offshore wind power is just one U.K. growth industry in the renewable energy sector.

Last week a delegation of British companies supported by U.K. Trade and Investment attended the sustainable-development advocacy conference Globe 2014, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to showcase the country’s expertise in low-carbon solutions and sustainability innovations. U.K. Trade and Investment (UKTI) is the British Foreign Offices’ business development arm which aims to promote U.K. businesses abroad, as well as attract foreign investment in the country, with an overarching aim of creating job growth.

Despite the fact that the U.K. is a small country and is not a huge emitter of carbon in the global context, it has nonetheless set ambitious environmental policies, like reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, since the U.K. operates under the European Emissions Trading Scheme, regulatory incentives exist for companies to develop innovations that will help meet emissions targets.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Rosenfeld, Vice Consul – USA Clean Technology Sector Lead for UKTI, about the strengths of the U.K. clean tech industry and how its businesses are poised to be competitive players on the global stage.

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Desalination is Now a Billion Dollar Industry, Report Shows

| Monday March 31st, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Lake Uvas in California

Despite some early March rain in California, and a few storm systems moving in this week, the late season moisture will sadly fall far short of that which is needed to pull the state out of its four-year drought. Attention has consequently turned towards how California will ensure reliable water supplies in years ahead, should precipitation levels remain below average.

One source that will grow in importance is desalination, and it could end up being a pretty big business. Environmental Leader reported earlier this month that the components alone for desalination activity will constitute a $5 billion industry by 2015, and while this spend would not be confined to California, the report, conducted by the McIlvaine Co., describes the state as being at the epicenter of global desalination activity.

According to SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online news outlet, 17 desalination plants are in the planning stages in the state of California, and of these, the largest one in Carlsbad, near San Diego, is two years away from completion. When the plant is switched on, it will be the biggest desalination facility in the Western Hemisphere, taking water from the Pacific Ocean and turning it into around 50 million gallons of potable water daily — serving 110,000 customers in San Diego County.

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