Visionary business leaders Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz have joined together to launch a new global not-for-profit organization called The B Team. The idea is to put some real hard-core corporate muscle behind the “people, planet, profit” mission that nonprofits have been striving to push forward, while unifying like-minded companies around a common global agenda.
As for that agenda, The B Team mission pivots around a ten-point plan they’re calling Plan B. The choice of name is an interesting coincidence here in the U.S. given the media attention surrounding the over-the-counter emergency contraceptive Plan B, which has been the subject of a fierce court battle as the Obama Administration sought to limit younger teens from obtaining it without a prescription. The coincidence is more than just superficial, though, as the two Plan B’s share a strong message of personal empowerment and the right to direct and improve one’s life.
Renewable energy is becoming part of the economic development toolkit that local governments use to attract new businesses and keep old ones, and a new survey from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) demonstrates how voluntary green power programs can contribute to that effort. The survey rates the top ten utilities for green power programs, making the point that these programs enable utilities to provide more renewable energy than called for by state-mandated portfolios.
As a publicity measure, the NREL survey provides green-identified businesses located in these service areas with an extra boost of sustainability cred. It also suggests that businesses striving for a green identity can help themselves along by encouraging their local customers and vendors to participate in their utility company’s green power program.
Another reason for the business community to get serious about food waste: climate change. According to the latest available figures, food waste accounts for up to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply, which worked out to about 133 billion pounds in 2010 alone. That makes food waste the single largest category of waste in this country, much of it going to landfills where it decomposes and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
With that in mind, last week the Department of Agriculture teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. The new initiative will address the food waste issue all along the supply chain and it already has a pair of rather interesting corporate leaders lined up to spearhead the effort, General Mills and Unilever.
A new public relations strategy has been taking shape as the fossil fuel industry attempts to push back against criticism for its role in climate change and other forms of environmental degradation. That strategy can be seen in the 2012 ExxonMobil Corporate Citizenship Report, combined with remarks that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson made during the annual shareholders’ meeting last week.
The new argument is that fossil fuels are the most effective pathway for improving the quality of life for emerging economies around the globe, or, as Tillerson is reported to have said at the meeting, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”
As for why a new strategy is necessary, consider that the conventional argument of jobs vs. the environment has been used with great success to sway public opinion in the U.S. in favor of controversial domestic energy projects for a long time now, but that argument is beginning to lose its edge as the renewable energy sector emerges as a rival job-creating powerhouse with fewer public health drawbacks.
For the fourth year in a row, a group of shareholders has organized to pressure oil and gas companies to disclose and address the risks of a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. The fracking risk disclosure movement has been gathering steam as the impacts of fracking are becoming evident in more communities, contributing to increased public awareness and greater demand for corporate reports that acknowledge and quantify risk factors including water contamination, local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The diverse group consists of the CSR nonprofit As You Sow, leading sustainable investment company Calvert Investments, investment advisory firm Green Century Capital Management, and the advocacy organization Investor Environmental Health Network along with socially responsible investors The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and New York City Comptroller John C. Liu.
The U.S. Army has just issued its latest policy for Operational Energy, and it provides the clearest demonstration yet that the Department of Defense is serious about transitioning the colossal machinery of the American military into a more flexible, efficient and sustainable future.
The new Army energy policy could be instructive for the civilian sector, too, because it treats fuel as more than a matter of supply chain logistics and bottom line concerns. Rather, the policy outlines how 21st century energy technologies can combine with a culture of energy awareness to become intimately entwined with operational efficiency, creating new opportunities that would be difficult if not impossible to achieve with 20th century fuels.
Here’s something that could turn the retail shopping world on its head: a free new smartphone app called Buycott, which lets you scan bar codes and nail the identity of a product’s corporate parent. Say, for example, that you wanted to boycott paper products that trace their lineage to Koch Industries, the app will flag Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, Mardi Gras and Soft ‘n’ Gentle toilet paper as well as Vanity Fair plates and napkins, Brawny towels and Dixie cups.
Buycott also works in the other direction, enabling you to identify products associated with socially responsible companies. You can join campaigns and create your own campaigns through Buycott, too, although from what we’ve seen so far, that might be opening up a case of too much of a good thing.
Goats were big news last week when Chicago’s Department of Aviation announced that O’Hare International Airport is getting its own herd of goats to help manage vegetation, so even though the pilot project hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet it’s already a whopping success. That’s because, although the airport does expect to realize some concrete bottom line benefits from goat-powered landscaping, one goal of the project was to raise public awareness about environmental stewardship.
That might seem to be a curious message for a massive, sprawling, energy-sucking facility like an airport to promote, but take a look at O’Hare’s other activities and you can see how just about any business can seize the initiative and transition its operations to a more sustainable future.
Barely one month after it launched its first advocacy campaign, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s new Fwd.us political action committee (PAC) has already shed two key, high profile members over a controversy involving the Keystone XL pipeline. The two now-former members are none other than Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and David Sacks, founder of Yammer.
While that might seem to be an odd pairing, take a closer look at the background of Musk and Sacks and the pieces fall into place. It could also provide grounds for predicting who might be the next member to jump ship (hint: Google, much?).
A brief primer on Fwd.us
Fwd.us is a new 501(c)(4) organization, a tax-exempt category that is typically used by civic leagues, social welfare organizations, and local employee associations to lobby for causes and candidates for office. This organizational structure is also used by corporations to funnel large amounts of money into political campaigns in secret. But all PACs do not have nefarious intentions. The founder of Fwd.us Joe Green, who also founded Causes and NationBuilder.
Zuckerberg announced the new group in April 10 in a Washington Post editorial, declaring that its main purpose would be to advance the cause of bipartisan immigration reform and noting that current policy is depriving the U.S. tech industry of access to global brainpower.
In answer to a tidal wave of consumer demand for hummus, more U.S. farmers are beginning to grow chickpeas, and that trend comes with an interesting twist. As reported by David Kesmode of The Wall Street Journal, currently the Pacific Northwest leads the U.S. in chickpea cultivation, but the East Coast’s tobacco country could be the next hotspot in the hummus supply chain.
If that does happen, much of the credit could go to PepsiCo. The iconic beverage company has been practically pickled in chickpeas for the past couple of years, and its interest in U.S. chickpea production demonstrates how CSR goals can go beyond performing the role of add-on, to play a vital role in a forward-looking business model.
Just yesterday, we noted that auto manufacturers are beginning to shed their century-old love affair with petroleum, and now it seems that the agriculture sector is ready to move on, too.
On Tuesday, a coalition of more than 100 major agriculture associations, advocacy groups, government agencies and research institutions issued an open letter calling for increased federal funding for alternative energy and energy efficiency projects in the 2013 farm bill. The letter was organized by the Agriculture Energy Coalition along with the clean energy group 25 x 25 Alliance, the Midwest advocacy organization, Environmental Law & Policy Center, and the National Farmers Union.
GM has just signed on to the Climate Declaration, joining forces with 40 other U.S. companies to make the case that swift, aggressive climate action represents an almost unprecedented opportunity for economic development. The alliance is particularly notable for GM, which barely more than ten years ago was busily pounding the final nail into the coffin of EV1, its short-lived electric vehicle (EV) venture.
EV1 looked to be the end of GM’s foray into sustainable mobility, especially given its history with that icon of conspicuous carbon consumption, the Hummer. And yet, within the past couple of years we find GM braving a hail of verbal bullets from conservative pundits and legislators to promote its new Chevy Volt plug-in EV, while backing up its commitment to EV technology by joining the Climate Declaration. It’s a vivid demonstration of the ability of some U.S. corporations to switch gears with relative speed in order to adapt to new circumstances, innovating to adapt their products to evolving consumer demands.
Earlier this week we described how Boulder, Colorado has been striving to establish its own municipal electric utility, with the goal of getting more renewable energy than provided by its utility company, Xcel Energy. Some time in the not too distant future, though, Xcel and other utility companies may be able to integrate far greater amounts of renewable energy into their mix, thanks to researchers at Stanford University and the Department of Energy (DOE) National Accelerator Laboratory.
The research team has been developing a low cost, improved version of an energy storage system called a flow battery, which could be scaled up to enable utility companies to store significant amounts of solar and wind power during peak generating periods, and then draw on them to smooth out supply valleys brought on by nightfall, cloud cover or a drop in wind conditions. While cities like Boulder may still have good reasons to strike out on their own, flow batteries could be a solution for many other utility customers.
Earlier this year, we noticed that the residents of Boulder, Colorado have been moving forward with a plan to break away from their current electricity company, Xcel Energy, in order to establish a new municipal utility. The goal is for the city to provide its utility customers with more wind power and other forms of clean energy. In the latest development, just last week the Boulder City Council voted to move ahead with the final steps.
The Boulder renewable energy plan is somewhat ironic, considering that Xcel pioneered the development of wind power in Colorado back in the 1990′s and is now a leading force in the national clean energy landscape. However, apparently Xcel is not moving fast enough for Boulder, particularly considering that local governments have the potential to compete against each other to attract new businesses using clean energy as an incentive.
A proposal to expand natural gas storage in the heart of New York State’s Finger Lakes wine region has been met with heated opposition by local activists and winery owners, due to its potential impact on the region’s water resources, air quality and tourism industry.
The storage facility itself is just part of the problem, though. Those opposed to the plan are also concerned that it will enable the intrusion of the natural gas drilling method called fracking into the Finger Lakes region, bringing the risk of negative impacts to a wide area beyond the location of the storage facility itself.
The Inergy natural gas storage facility
The storage expansion is being proposed by Missouri-based Inergy LP, a leading natural gas transportation and storage provider in the Northeast and Texas, with additional storage and transportation in natural gas liquid and crude oil.
Inergy owns two abandoned salt caverns on Seneca Lake in Reading, New York, in which it plans to store natural gas and liquid petroleum gas. That is the heart of the problem as far as local activists are concerned.