The X PRIZE Foundation, well known for its $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for building and launching a spacecraft to push the limits of space travel, is aiming to take on energy and the environment next through it’s “Crazy Green Idea” Contest. Rather than designing the contest in a vacuum, the foundation has decided to unleash the wisdom of the crowds by offering $25,000 to submitter of the best idea via YouTube video.
Unfortunately, the crowd wasn’t so wise, due to the limited publicity received by the contest. X PRIZE received and considered a mere 133 videos, from which it selected 3 finalists. Believe it or not, only one idea, proposed by a team of MIT graduate students, addresses climate change directly. One finalist’s idea is a ridiculous suggestion to replace the grid power system with “off the grid” independent power generation systems for homes, powered by solar, wind, geothermal, and “a motor.” Another focuses on environmentally friendly batteries, or “ultra capacitors.” Finally, only one idea addresses climate change with the suggestion that the next X PRIZE be devoted to drastically reducing home energy consumption.
Watch all three videos below and vote on best idea for the Energy and Environment X PRIZE:
Reduce Home Energy Usage
This is the only idea that addresses the pressing issue of climate change, as Governor Schwarzenegger issues his executive orders to prepare California for rising seas. The team suggests that the competition reward the community that can most drastically reduce its energy consumption. The brilliance in the idea is that while it could have attacked energy consumption-reducing technology, it focuses on consumer behavior, which indirectly impacts technology through demand.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve long criticized corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting. Despite the stakeholders’ seemingly insatiable thirst for information about the social and environmental impacts of companies, CSR reports read like infomercials, report outdated data, and no one is reading. This is a topic that I’ve learned perhaps too much about through my experience in launching dotherightthing.com, and the advising, research, and speaking I’ve done since.
In its 2008 CSR Report, Sun Microsystems has done something that I have never seen before in stakeholder engagement. Following the trend led by blogs in creating a deeper and more authentic experience for readers, Sun has enabled comments on its most recently release of its CSR report. Therefore, the report is now a conversation, no longer limited by its original authors’ text.
By enabling comments, readers can now submit publicly-visible questions (and statements) about the content and receive answers (and comments) directly from Sun, a company already known for its efforts in transparency. (Sun has over 7800 employee bloggers, an approach similar to that of Dell and Microsoft to effectively “open source” the voice of the company.) By enabling a direct feedback system, Sun will benefit from crowd-sourced fact checking (for better or worse), as is common in blogging when readers will elaborate or clarify where the original author may have less expertise or been mistaken. And its okay to be wrong; many high profile bloggers believe that it is the imperfect nature of the blog format, and the typos that do make their way to their posts, make the format more personal, since we are all human after all.
We sent a handful of 3p’s best (yes, they’re all the best) to cram themselves in the underventilated, far above capacity rooms that are home to the first annual Social Capital Markets 2008 Conference. This way, you get to pretend you’re there without leaving your office (or pajamas, if that is how you roll).
As writers Bill Shutkin, Jim Whitkin, Steve Tiell, Napoleon Wallace, and I interview conference attendees and weave together the stories for which you are so patiently waiting, you can following the conference live on Twitter. Check it out here:
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the stage today in San Francisco at a Commonwealth Club event to celebrate the state’s success in its global warming fighting leadership. If it wasn’t obvious that the bodybuilder-turned-superstar actor-turned-governor wasn’t the typical politician, it was as he was received with a standing ovation as a Republican in one of the most progressive cities in the world, during a particularly heated election season.
In his usual self-deprecating style, Schwarzenegger compared cutting the state’s carbon footprint to the approach one might take to losing a few pounds through dieting–something the former Mr. Universe and 7-time Mr. Olympia might know a thing about–by stepping on the scale, setting a goal, and making changes in one’s lifestyle. The California (pronounced Cal-ee-for-KNEE-a, since Schwarzenegger took office in 2003) legislation that he signed into law 2 years ago commits the state to cutting emissions to 1990 levels, a 25% reduction, by 2020, and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, sidestepping Washington’s rejection of Kyoto.
Global Warming and Man on the Moon
While the implementation of such dramatic cuts in carbon emissions is easier talked about than done, Schwarzenegger drew parallels to Kennedy’s commitment to transport man to the moon, leading with vision, inspiration, and support, rather than R&D that should have been left to NASA. Kennedy was leading a movement and Arnold has clearly demonstrated his interest in playing a leading role in fighting global warming. He also appealed to the typical Californian who can cut her footprint by 25% immediately by making small changes in her life that add up, such as driving less, washing clothes in cold water, considering solar power, turning lights off, etc.
IBM made a respectable but surprising move when it sold off its PC hardware business in 2004 to focus on higher margin services such as consulting. In July, the information technology company even added corporate social responsibility (CSR) to its consulting services lineup. Yet, for a company that is endeavoring to help its clients understand and respond to their consumers’ concerns about the impacts of their activities on the environment and society, some might argue that IBM still has much to learn itself. In an announcement made this morning, IBM celebrated its energy conserving technology approach for USOpen.org, which will enable fans to get close to the action without putting their laptops aside. With USOpen.org, the event will hop on the bandwagon of highly publicized events that are creating deeper experiences for fans than those possible with their TVs and remote controls, such as those of the NCAA Final Four and the 2008 Olympics, which arguably failed to meet online watchers’ expectations.
The IBM-powered US Open site will offer real time stats, personalized views so you can track your five favorite players, and even a widget for Facebook (and iGoogle and Yahoo! for those of you whose employers block the popular social networking site). But behind all of the company’s claims of energy reduction percentages and cooling demand cuts is a lot of celebration about six servers. That’s right, six servers. Google has about two dozen data centers with hundreds of thousands of servers in each. While the temptation to attempt to stir up some green press for IBM may have been great, it should have been resisted.
It’s faster, it’s cheaper, it’s just as beautiful, and now it’s greener–at least its packaging is. Apple, the same company that got bruised in its fistfight with Greenpeace last year, literally just announced that its new iPhone 3G, in all of the glory of its already unprecedented demand, will arrive next Friday outfitted in green packaging.
According to the Register, Apple has ordered millions of potato starch paper trays from PaperFoam, the same Dutch company that supplies Motorola with packaging its products. The result–a 90 percent reduction in carbon footprint over plastic and a tray made entirely from a natural resource, as opposed to the visually appealing but environmentally appalling Styrofoam my MacBook Pro arrived in.
As many consumers continue to question the impact of their bottled water guilty pleasures, somehow a company called the Water Bank of America is producing packaged water, “made from spring water drawn from the Vend√©e Region of France in the Massif Central.” Check out their website, complete with pictures of b-list celebrities and Ferraris, an unfinished foundation page, and soothing music.
The company’s latest news page hasn’t been updated for a year. Perhaps if this post finds its way to Digg, the website will be taken offline permanently, spending any last pennies left in the company’s bank account. And a shame that would be, as they’d never have the chance to reveal what on Earth they could have possibly meant by their catch phrase “think blue, be green,” and how it possibly relates to plastic wrapped water cubes.
Over the past couple days, executives from many of the world’s largest companies converged with those of companies like Seventh Generation, New Belgium, and KEEN in Monterey for the Sustainable Brands 2008 in Monterey, California. Stories were traded by companies of all sizes and stages in their sustainability journeys about the shift in business landscape that is enabling companies to turn real sustainability into real competitive advantage. The conference presented some really insightful information about trends and opportunities in building businesses and products that leave the world better off. Over the next week, Nick and I will share many of these stories with all of you on 3P.
First up is a really cool find on Dole Organic’s Visit the Farm site, where anyone can meet the people and see the farm from which their bananas came. Dole has introduced a radically new kind of transparency, as consumers have become increasing concerned about where their food comes from, before it is packaged and displayed at our local grocery stores, thanks to Michael Pollan and others. To use the site, consumers simply select the three digit farm code from the stickers on the bananas and click go, and the site literally takes there–complete with a description of the farm and its certifications, pictures, and even a Google Earth link to the exact location of the farm, in case you want to fly over it, virtually, like Superman.
What’s next, friend your organic banana farmer on Facebook?
According to Wired, “forget everything you’ve heard about airlines and CO2 emissions. The news is much worse than anyone thought.” Recently disclosed reports are now revealing that air travel is resulting in 20% more CO2 emissions than previously predicted. How much? Try 1.5 billion tons of it’s gettin’ hot in here carbon dioxide a year, by 2025. That’s about half of what the entire European Union emits today (3.1 billion tons annually). But in an increasingly global society, can we really expect people to fly less, sacrificing the convenience and necessity of air travel?
Green air travel: a convenient myth? Boeing’s new 787, is touted as the most efficient aircraft of its kind, 20% more to be exact, thanks to its more efficient engines, composite materials, and aerodynamics. Yet the 787 is more of a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid equivalent than a Prius, trading per-seat efficiency for the convenience of non-stop travel.
787 vs. A380: the efficiency (PR) arms race. When the company announced the development of the 787, then named the 7E7, to emphasize its efficiency, Boeing chose to put its money on smaller aircraft to serve the non-stop, regional travel needs of fewer than 300 passengers. Meanwhile, Airbus’ A380 will serve hub to hub transportation, carrying as many as 800 in its monstrous double decker cabin. Of course, the jury on the true efficiency of either aircraft will remain out until both are configured and flying, perhaps with far fewer seats, trading efficiency for the convenience of extra room for passengers, and throwing claims such as Airbus’ that the A380 is “more efficient than driving a car” out the window.
On Thursday, Rick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO of General Motors came to San Francisco to speak about the future of the company and “green” auto technology. It’s fascinating to think that not long ago, General Motors was a company beloved by most Americans, a symbol of the innovation, spirit, and the pleasant lifestyle typical of American culture. Today, it is the target of much criticism, when Wagoner must watch his words carefully and bring along a security outfit, for fear of protest. One did break out, but certainly nothing violent or warranting more security than was provided for Nobel Prize winning social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus, who had none present at a Commonwealth Club event at the same venue, which he actually more than filled up.
I was actually looking forward to writing a positive review about GM and its efforts to become a leader in environmentally conscious auto manufacturing. Cynicism gets pretty boring. Yet, in Wagoner’s carefully scripted speech, there was little to genuinely get excited about. In fact, GM’s view of its strategy in green is well-captured in its advertising campaign that states “GM has the most models with EPA-estimated 30 mpg or higher highway fuel economy.” We’re fine, you’re just not buying our cars.
Tuesday night, sustainability leaders from all over the Bay Area made their way to the Berkeley facility of Clif Bar and Company to hear Gary Erickson, Kit Crawford (the husband and wife co-owners of the pioneering Clif Bar and Company) and Gary Hirshberg (President and CE-Yo of the tremendously successful and equally pioneering organic dairy producer Stonyfield Farms). The event, organized by the Good Business Network aimed to reveal the stories behind entrepreneurs who built wildly successful companies, from both financial and non-financial perspectives.
The stories they shared were inspirational, of course, many of which I’d heard before or read in their books, Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World, published this year by Hirshberg, and Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar & Co. I left convinced, however, that Clif Bar and Company and Hirshberg fundamentally disagree on the role of social responsibility in a company. The event by no means turned into a bloody fist fight (in which case my money would have been on on Kit), but left at least a few of us with an unsettled feeling that even some of the most respected people behind values-driven companies aren’t really working together.
After four years of heads down work to find answers where it appeared that only questions existed, Adam Werbach followed up his highly controversial 2004 speech, “Is Environmentalism Dead?” just over a week ago at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. The speech, titled “The Birth of Blue,” was frustratingly brilliant, asserting that the answer to the change we all seek is in incremental shifts in consumer behavior, trading Twinkies for carrots, then organic, locally-produced carrots, in search of a greater sense of health, both personal and environmental. Without really putting the finger of his eloquent voice on it, I believe Werbach stumbled on the inspired answer the audience had waited four years to hear.
For those who don’t know Werbach, some of his most notable accomplishments include becoming elected the youngest president of the Sierra Club, America’s oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization at the age of 23. He’s since become the poster child of the green movement, founding Act Now Productions (acquired by Saatchi and Saatchi this year) to work with corporate titans like Wal-Mart to incorporate the principles of sustainability derived from an all-talk environmental activism movement that he swore off four years ago.
Werbach’s speech entertained and inspired the audience of sustainability consultants, LEED developers, non-profit staffers, and greater Bay Area public. He reflected on his 2004 eulogy for environmentalism and the many attacks that followed, including a recent one titled “Adam Werbach makes me puke.” The full text of the speech is available on Grist.