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

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.


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



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


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
Paul Hawken

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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Strategies for Taking Control of Our Constantly Connected Lives

| Monday July 1st, 2013 | 0 Comments

“Returning to Your Senses, at 2013 Trend Conference, Go Further With Ford

We’ve all heard the phrase, “there’s an app for that,” but when you consider it didn’t exist before the first iPhone launched six years ago, it illustrates just how rapidly we’ve integrated mobile technology into all facets of our daily lives.

But, the positive impact that constant digital connectivity may have on our lives has to be weighed against the potential for the overload and anxiety it sometimes causes, too. How we bring technology into balance in our lives was the subject of a panel discussion, “Returning to your senses” at the Go Further with Ford 2013 Trend Conference on Tuesday, June 25th.

Experts in the field discussed where tech-based connectivity helps us, where it hinders us and offered some tips to ensure we make technology work for us, rather than letting it control us.

So, what can we do to stay on the right side of technology?

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Tesla Pays Off Department of Energy Loan Nine Years Early

| Monday May 27th, 2013 | 0 Comments

TeslaMotorsBlackLogoIn another piece of good news for electric vehicle maker, Tesla Motors, the company announced on Wednesday, May 22, that it has paid off the remainder of its Department of Energy loan, nine years early. The sum of $451.8 million was wired to the DOE, repaying the full loan with interest.

It was only a couple of months ago that the company promised it would pay off the DOE loan five years early, but due to a profitable first quarter and demand for their vehicles beating expectations, the company’s stock has been riding high, which allowed Tesla to raise close to $1 billion via a new stock and note offering. Part of the proceeds of this was used to pay back the government’s loan, and in doing so, marks a win for the company, the government and the American taxpayer.

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Electric Vehicle Charging Community Apps Recargo and Xatori Merge

| Wednesday May 22nd, 2013 | 4 Comments

charge stationA familiar refrain you’ll hear in connection with the market for electric vehicles is that its success depends not only on the vehicles themselves, but also on building out the requisite EV charging network to a sufficiently large scale that it becomes useful.

While the choice of plug-in cars is widening, the infographic below represents just how rapidly that charging infrastructure is growing too. In the last two years alone, the deployment of charging stations has grown more than ten-fold in the USA, so it’s easy to understand why EV owners have come to rely on tools that ensure they are up-to-date as to where they can plug in. The two leading companies in providing such tools via their apps for EV owners, Recargo and Xatori, have just announced that they will merge to combine their resources to deliver a more powerful offering to their users.

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E-Bikes Continue to Expand in the U.S.

| Friday May 17th, 2013 | 2 Comments

A2B’s top of the Line Shima

In the world of motorized transportation, the global electric bicycle business is a pretty major concern. Navigant research recently published a detailed analysis of the industry, finding that in 2012, sales of e-bikes reached 29.3 million units worldwide, with 90 percent of the market residing in China. Here in America, the market is minute by comparison, with sales of only 53,000 – but manufacturers are increasingly taking an interest in the U.S. market, hoping to build on the potential growth in affordable transportation.

Last month we reported that major bicycle company Specialized was getting in on the action by launching its own e-bike, The turbo – while this month, established electric bicycle maker A2B, is relaunching its range of bikes under the new ownership of India’s Hero Eco Group.

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Tesla’s Q1 Results Reveal First-Ever Profit – What’s Behind The Numbers?

| Monday May 13th, 2013 | 4 Comments

Tesla Model S

On May 8th, Tesla published its Q1 results, announcing a profitable quarter for the first time ever in the company’s history. In a letter to shareholders, the company announced a profit of $11.2 million, along with record sales of $562 million – up 83 percent over the prior quarter.

The better-than-anticipated performance was on sales of 4,900 vehicles in Q1 which exceeded expectations by four hundred units, while the company’s outlook for 2013 predicts sales of 21,000 vehicles globally – an increase of thousand units over previous projections.

In a time when electric vehicle startup companies such as Fisker and Coda are either bankrupt or heading that way, Telsa’s performance is a shining light for the industry. However, overall financial performance was enhanced by a couple of extraordinary factors in Tesla’s favor which combined to tip the quarter into profitability.

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Shell Oil : Natural Gas Best Opportunity For Carbon Reduction

| Friday May 3rd, 2013 | 0 Comments

Shell OilEarlier this week, Shell Oil Company President, Marvin Odum, was hosted by Climate One at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in an on-stage interview to discuss the subject of “Water Food and Energy.” The question at hand was how can innovation, technology and policy work together toward a clean and prosperous economy? In fact though, the discussion mainly focused on Shell’s position on climate change, what impact they they can have on reducing emissions, and how this all fits in with their core business – extracting fossil fuels. To be sure, little time was spent discussing water or food.

Still, the event offered insight into how one of the world’s largest energy companies grapples with the thorny issues of climate change and its own operations in the Canadian tar sands and the Arctic region as well as controversial extraction practices such as hydraulic fracturing.

Here’s a summary of Shell’s key positions.

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Road Test: Specialized’s New E-bike Will Add Fun To Your Commute

| Friday April 26th, 2013 | 0 Comments

The New Specialized Turbo

Electric bicycles tend to have a reputation in the USA for being mundane commuter mules, and while there is a strong market in Europe and Asia for practical two-wheeled daily transportation, America’s bike market subsists to a greater extent on sports and recreational riders – to wit, enthusiasts. And there hasn’t been much out there on the market to get this group fired-up.

But that might be about to change with the arrival of Specialized’s new “Turbo” e-bike. After attending the press launch this week in San Francisco, I can say that their new machine sheds the utilitarian aura of the typical electric bicycle, and injects a huge measure of the company’s performance DNA into the genre – this is an e-bike the cycling enthusiast can enjoy.

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Despite Rising Carbon Emissions – Global Mean Temperatures Have Been Flat

| Tuesday April 23rd, 2013 | 1 Comment

global warmingA couple of weeks ago, The Economist ran a report on climate change stating that over the last 15 years, air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have remained flat despite greenhouse-gas emissions continuing to soar. They went onto draw attention to a recent report by James Hansen (the well known climate scientist who retired from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies this month) which asserts, “The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.” The clear implication being that temperatures are not rising as fast as predicted.

The piece goes on to cite a study by Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading in the UK that tracks actual global mean temperatures against 20 climate models, and which finds the actual observed temperatures since 2005 are already running at the low end of temperature range projections of those models. If observed mean temperatures remain flat in the next few years, The Economist suggests, it would mean the Earth’s temperature would be below the lowest temperature range predictions.

So does this mean climate change is less of a problem than climate science has suggested? Not really.

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A New Law Would Require Electric Vehicles to Make Artificial Sound

| Monday April 8th, 2013 | 2 Comments

Electric vehiclesEnvironmental considerations aside, probably one of the most appealing things about driving an electric vehicle is that as soon as you press the ‘gas’ pedal, the instant torque leading to peppy acceleration is accompanied by… near silence. The fact that you can join the flow of traffic without a cacophony of sound is a surprisingly pleasant experience. A selling point, no doubt.

Understandably, such silent operation is seen as a potential risk to the blind, who may not be able to hear an approaching EV, and back in 2010, the National Federation of the Blind backed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 – which was signed into law on Jan 4, 2011.

The bill can be read here, but one specific requirement is that new electric or hybrid vehicles are “to provide an alert sound conforming to the requirements of the motor vehicle safety standard.” The bill itself didn’t stipulate what type of sound, how loud, or at what speeds it must be made, but the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) was charged to come up with the requirements, and in January of this year, made its recommendations.

Among those recommendations, EVs would have to emit a sound when traveling below 18 mph, while above this speed it would not be necessary due to tire-on-road noise becoming the dominant sound of an approaching vehicle. The law requires noise generators to be phased in, starting in September 2014, and in the lead up to this deadline, some groups have expressed concern.

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