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

Greenlots Introduces Open-Standards EV Charging

| Wednesday February 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Electric vehicle charging in the Netherlands

Though you’ll continue to read that electric vehicles have been slow to catch on, the fact is, they are catching on, and they will continue to do so. Whether it be sales of pure electric vehicles, or plug-in hybrid vehicles, the growth of electrified vehicles is necessitating the build-out of public charging infrastructure in cities, workplaces and homes.

We are familiar with the tangible parts of such infrastructure — the electric vehicles themselves, and the physical charging stations they plug into. But to make the whole system work, you need an information technology network to connect the hardware together and manage things such as payments and connectivity to the grid, and for charging site owners, the ability to manage the infrastructure deployed.

That’s where companies like Greenlots come in; a San Francisco-based global provider of open standards-based technology solutions for electric vehicle networks. On Feb. 10, the company introduced its SKY Smart Charging system, which is designed to address the needs of the utilities and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) sectors. It’s a pretty esoteric part of the EV world, so I’ll attempt to explain how it fits together and why it’s significant.

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Electric Scooter Share Business ‘Scoot,’ Grows in San Francisco

| Friday February 7th, 2014 | 5 Comments
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Scoot rider in San Francisco

Back in October 2012, we reported on a new urban mobility service operated by Scoot Networks, which at the time had just beta-launched in San Francisco. While similar to the numerous bike-share operations that have sprung up in hundreds of cities around the world, Scoot modified that model; from its website, “Scoots are shared, electric, smartphone-activated motor-scooters you can ride in the city.”

As a membership-based service, riders can use Scoot’s app to locate available scooters from numerous locations around the city, check the state of charge of any given vehicle, and by docking their smartphone, unlock a ride to go about their business.

Sixteen months on, this week I spoke with Michael Keating, Scoot’s CEO, to hear how their business is developing. Things appear to be on the up.

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Ford CEO Alan Mulally Talks Straight with Bloggers at Detroit Auto Show

| Thursday January 16th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Ford CEO Alan Mulally at the North American Auto Show this week

At the North American International Auto Show’s opening day in Detroit this week, Ford’s affable CEO and President, Alan Mulally, held a Q&A session for invited bloggers — who were given an open forum to ask questions about Ford and the auto industry in general.

The discussion ranged from what distinguishes the company from others to what strategies the company will deploy in order to continue their success in an increasingly competitive industry going forward. Along the way, Mulally was asked about the role of new technologies and how they will shape the future of transportation.

The following is a quick digest highlighting some of the key points from the discussion.

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What Does Mass Adoption of Electric Vehicles Mean for the Grid?

| Wednesday November 27th, 2013 | 6 Comments

PluginThe adoption of plug-in vehicles, both gasoline-electric hybrids as well as full battery electric vehicles, continues to gain pace. At the end of August this year, 59,000 such vehicles had been sold in the USA, surpassing sales of plug-in vehicles for the whole of 2012. This trend will likely continue as manufacturers increasingly roll out new product offerings.

Next year, VW will launch an electric version of the Golf, Mercedes will offer U.S. buyers an electric version of their European B-Class, while BMW will launch the i3, the first of their electric-drive “i” sub-branded vehicles.

Legitimately, the increasing sales volume of electric vehicles has raised concerns regarding the ability of the nation’s utilities to manage the additional load they will bring to bear on the grid. But the Texas-based, Pecan Street Research Institute has been studying the impact of EVs in the most electric vehicle-dense residential area in the country, and has discovered some comforting findings which suggest EVs won’t crash the grid after all.

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PlugInsights Says More Fast Chargers Will Alleviate EV Range Anxiety

| Wednesday November 20th, 2013 | 0 Comments

PlugInsights rangePlugInsights, a plug-in electric vehicle research firm, released their first report last week addressing the experiences, behaviors and opinions of drivers with regard to charging plug-in electric vehicles in the USA. The firm, part of Recargo Inc. – a leading provider of “chargefinder” smart phone apps – crunched the data after surveying over three thousand individuals, 91 percent of whom either own or lease a plug-in electric vehicle, with the remainder of respondents considering a move to an electric car.

The study collected information from geographically dispersed drivers of every commercially available plug-in vehicle available in the U.S. and the results were appropriately weighted to reflect the plug-in vehicle share in the U.S. population.

As PlugInsights’ goal is to identify barriers to broad EV adoption, their inaugural report on vehicle charging goes a long way towards highlighting the pain points plug-in drivers experience while offering solutions to alleviate them. Here are some of the key findings of the study.

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Coca-Cola Issues 2013 GRI Report

| Monday November 18th, 2013 | 0 Comments
Coca Cola

Picture by Author – taken in Ashland Oregon

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola released their 2012/13 sustainability report, the company’s third GRI report, reporting against 35 key performance indicators which they say is the most comprehensive one so far.

The new report outlines Coke’s 2020 Sustainability Commitments, under their “Me, We, World” framework. These respectively represent a focus on enhancing personal well-being, building stronger communities, and protecting the environment.

The chairman of the board, Muhtar Kent, outlines in his letter accompanying the report that, “there are no issues that will more shape or define the 21st century than the global empowerment of women, the management of the world’s precious water resources, and the well-being of the world’s growing population.” Here are some of the key highlights from the report in line with these issues.

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Greenpeace: Positive Progress Report On APP’s Forest Conservation Policy

| Wednesday November 6th, 2013 | 0 Comments
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APP Paper Mill, Perawang, Indonesia

TriplePundit’s Phil Covington has just returned from a trip to Indonesia to look at deforestation issues and the sustainable turnaround of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies. Follow along here.

Over the last several weeks, I have written a short series of stories regarding my trip to Indonesia to meet with Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), investigating their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which most significantly includes an ongoing commitment to stop natural forest clearing and end the use of natural forest pulp in their Indonesian paper mills.

Rounding off this series, this piece focuses on a timely progress report by Greenpeace, which was issued on October 29th, 2013, addressing APP’s progress against their FCP over the last nine months (since the policy was introduced) as well as detailing remaining concerns and the steps that still need to be taken.

As my trip to Indonesia focused on FCP and included the chance to meet briefly with a representative from Greenpeace, the progress report tracks closely with what I learned on the ground and covers some of the material reported in my previous articles. The following summarizes the key points of the progress report.

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Interview: Asia Pulp and Paper’s Aida Greenbury on APP’s Forest Conservation Policy

| Thursday October 31st, 2013 | 0 Comments
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Wood arriving at APP’s paper mill in Perawang, Indonesia

TriplePundit’s Phil Covington has just returned from a trip to Indonesia to look at deforestation issues and the sustainable turnaround of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies. Follow along here.

This is the third piece in this series reporting on my trip to Indonesia, investigating Asia Pulp and Paper’s evolution towards sustainability, and the progress made since they introduced their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) announced on February 5, 2013. A key outcome of FCP was a moratorium on natural forest clearing effective on January 31, 2013, and the subsequent termination of using natural forest wood products in APP’s paper mills.

The following is an interview with Aida Greenbury, Managing Director, Sustainability & Stakeholder Engagement at APP. It took place after having seen APP’s plantation forests in Riau Province, on Sumatra, and after having met with the NGO organizations (including Greenpeace) that are helping the company to conduct assessments of the forest concession lands which supply the pulp wood to their paper mills.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Photo Essay: Helicopter Flyover of Sumatran Biosphere Reserve and APP Plantations

| Thursday October 24th, 2013 | 6 Comments

TriplePundit’s Phil Covington has just returned from a trip to Indonesia to look at deforestation issues and the sustainable turnaround of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies. Follow along here.

3 year old trees on the plantation. APP plants Acacia and Eucalyptus trees in 5 year harvesting cyclesThe following photo essay was created during my visit to Asia Pulp and Paper’s (APP) Perawang paper mill and plantation forests in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. Most of these photos were taken during a helicopter flyover – the trip circumnavigating APP’s plantation production forests, private farmlands nearby, government reserve land, and APP’s Giam Siak Kecil – Bukit Batu Biosphere Reserve. Together, these distinct areas form a contiguous region of 705,271 hectares.

The Biosphere reserve (178,722 ha) includes a concession area of natural forest belonging to APP, which the company will NOT convert to plantation forest, and which sits between two government wildlife reserves; effectively joining them together. The biosphere, forming a so-called “core area” of natural forest, is surrounded by “buffer zones.” The buffer zones are comprised of forest plantations managed by APP, which are themselves surrounded by “transition areas,” comprised of privately managed agricultural cultivations and human settlements.

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Asia Pulp and Paper’s Forest Clearing Moratorium in Indonesia is Holding

| Wednesday October 16th, 2013 | 1 Comment

TriplePundit’s Phil Covington has just returned from a trip to Indonesia to look at deforestation issues and the sustainable turn-around of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies. Follow along here.

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An area of natural forest in Riau Province, Indonesia

Earlier this year, we covered the news that on February 5th 2013, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), had turned off the bulldozers and ceased clearing natural forest land in Indonesia with immediate effect. At face value, this was good news, because last year, APP’s June 2012 sustainability roadmap detailed the company would only completely cease harvesting natural forest wood for their paper mills by 2015. That APP stopped sourcing logs from the natural forest two years earlier than planned was a big deal, with the announcement coming from the company chairman.

Even so, the reaction to the news was guarded. Greenpeace – who had campaigned aggressively against APP, and downstream, against big-brand-name customers who sourced packaging materials from them – while applauding the move, and recognizing the significance of the announcement, weren’t about to rubber stamp the company as a responsible producer of paper products. Such approval would have to wait until APP could prove they had followed up their announcement with sustained action on the ground.

Last week, eight months and a bit after they made their commitment to end deforestation, I, along with other members of the media, had the opportunity to go down to Indonesia to meet with APP and partner NGOs to see how the moratorium was doing, as well as gain an understanding of the context of the pulp and paper industry in Indonesia (full disclosure, travel and accommodations were covered by APP, opinions are my own). This is the first of a short series on what’s happening at APP in Indonesia, but, first things first – is the deforestation moratorium holding up?

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A Brief History of Cycling in Denmark & Netherlands

| Tuesday October 15th, 2013 | 1 Comment

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Biking is still the preferred method of puppy transport in the Netherlands

Back in 1900, where in the world could you expect to find bicycles making up 20 percent of the transportation mix, with protected, and in some cases, elevated bicycle lanes? In fact, this city’s newspaper once said, “There is no part of the world where cycling is in greater favor…”

Most people would assume the city in question is in bicycle friendly Europe – but in fact, the above describes Los Angeles in 1897. The pleasant and temperate climate of southern California allowed “wheeling,” as cycling was then known, to become a normal and respected means of getting around.

It’s hard to believe that LA was once a cycling haven with dedicated infrastructure. Now, it’s one of the most car-dense places in America, suffering the country’s worst traffic congestion. In 2013, you have to go to Denmark and the Netherlands to find extensive bicycle infrastructure and a biking culture to go with it. So how did they get to that point? What brought cycling front and center in  planning policies?

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Deforestation and the Role of Paper Products

| Tuesday September 24th, 2013 | 1 Comment

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Great ideas are started on paper. The world is educated on paper. Businesses are founded on paper. Love is professed on paper. Important news is spread on paper. Justice is rendered on paper. Rights are guaranteed on paper. Freedoms are declared on paper.

All of this was written on the packaging of a ream of paper I just added to my printer as I started this piece, and it is hard to argue with the importance this medium has had with respect to the development of humankind.  

At the same time, paper comes from tree fibers, either from the growing forests or recovered paper. Global deforestation and forest degradation are problems of a global scale, but before addressing the extent to which the insatiable use of paper and the industry behind it is responsible, here’s a little context as to the state of the world’s forests.

To start with, about a half of the forests that once covered the earth are gone. Every year, another 13 million hectares disappear (although afforestation adds another eight back), and the World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that only about 22 percent of the world’s old growth forests remain intact.

On the upside, temperate forests in the northern hemisphere are actually expanding, while on the downside, tropical forests and some temperate forests in the southern hemisphere are shrinking. According to the University of Michigan, two percent of the forest in Amazonia is lost annually, and with it, the ecosystem services the forest supplies.

Those ecosystem services are vital. Wherever forests are found, they provide carbon sequestration, protection against floods, landslides and soil erosion, as well as harboring a rich bio-diversity of plants and animals, and raw materials for medicines, to name but a few things; not to mention the 300 million people that call forests their home around the world. So, as the forests shrink and degrade, where does the focus of the problem fall?

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Australian Carbon Tax to Go – What Lessons Can Be Learned?

| Tuesday July 23rd, 2013 | 2 Comments

smokestacksThere are three things governments can do in order to address carbon emissions. Firstly, they can do nothing, which is the position the U.S. Federal government has taken, since the U.S. Congress has no appetite for pricing carbon. Secondly, governments can create a carbon marketplace, such as the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and California’s cap and trade program; providing an opportunity for businesses to make money from carbon allowances and for market forces to set the price. Or thirdly, they can impose a carbon tax; the choice the Australian government opted for, and which has been causing quite a bit of disquiet within the business community over there in recent months.

Soon business leaders won’t have to worry. Australia’s new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, a former PM who returned to power in June by virtue of a leadership change within the incumbent Labor Party, has announced the government will end what has become the unpopular carbon tax and instead, bring forward an emissions trading scheme a year earlier than planned.

There are of course many pros and cons in the debate as to whether a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme is the better way to control CO2 – and while the point of this piece is not to go into these, there is perhaps a lesson here for any countries out there trying to decide between them. Here is a very simplified perspective that may be drawn from Australia’s experience.

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World’s Biggest Challenge: ‘Ignorance in the Face of Change’ – Paul Hawken

| Tuesday July 9th, 2013 | 4 Comments
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Paul Hawken

What is the biggest challenge the world faces today? “It has never varied for thousands of years: ignorance in the face of change.”

When I was looking around for an MBA program about five years ago, it seemed that people were waking up to the fact that the world of business needed to change.

Given the context of climate change, resource depletion, unraveling financial markets and a rapidly expanding global population, “business as usual” seemed like a poor option. Back then, Presidio Graduate School’s MBA in Sustainable Management was the only program that seemed to recognize the need for a new paradigm; both for business and business education. The world needed a sustainable approach, and Presidio touted a program offering, “pragmatic solutions” – I was in.

The quote at the top of this piece came to me via e-mail last week from Paul Hawken, world renowned environmentalist, entrepreneur and author. Hawken, of course, recognized the need to change the way we do business decades ago. He’s founded several companies based on the principles of sustainability, written four books on the subject that have reached the bestseller list – and was voted the number one author on business and the environment by professors in 67 business schools. He’s consulted with countless organizations, appeared on TV and radio, while his writings have graced the pages of the Harvard Business Review, the Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor among many others.

On the first of this month, Paul Hawken joined the faculty at Presidio Graduate School; talk about bringing on board someone who knows a thing or two about pragmatic solutions!

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Building an EV Ecosystem: Why Tesla Will Likely Succeed Where Better Place Failed

| Monday July 1st, 2013 | 2 Comments

TeslaMuskWhen Apple launched the iPod in 2001, its sleek user interface and capacious memory revolutionized the portable music-player industry. Followers, such as Microsoft with their Zune MP3 player, might have proved to be competent players, but it was the iPod that exploded on the market. Where was Sony? What happened to Microsoft? Both were barely on the radar, of course.

The ace up Apple’s sleeve was building the entire music player ecosystem. Without iTunes, the iPod would have made a nice paperweight, but with it, the device became truly useful; ready to be loaded up with an extensive library of songs, and quickly finding a mass market. It’s hard to argue the iPod would have been as great a success if Apple had only addressed the hardware.

Such is the story with Tesla. It’s not enough just to build a great electric car, they’ve shown that in order to make the product truly useful, they needed to create an entire EV ecosystem around it. They started with industry-best range, then added supercharging stations, and last month announced they will augment these with a battery swapping option, too. This will allow Model S owners to pull in, switch batteries and drive off in under 90 seconds – faster than a visit to the gas pump!

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