How One Social Entrepreneur is Changing Education Through Technology

3p Contributor | Monday June 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments
thinkCERCA Founder and CEO Eileen Murphy

thinkCERCA Founder and CEO Eileen Murphy

By Elizabeth Ferruelo

Fixing the education system has long been a national priority — and a national struggle. The U.S. lags behind other developed countries in math and science, and student performance is uneven across states. But the convergence of two new trends is creating reason for cautious optimism.

The Common Core standards, called by the New York Times “the most significant change to American public education in a generation,” have created uniform curricular objectives, which seek to smooth out  the unevenness in education. Second, technology — cheaper hardware and digital tools such as Khan Academy or MOOCs — has opened access to information, professors and resources in ways unimaginable a decade earlier.

While this technology was disrupting most industries, a fragmented market and paper textbooks delayed the entry of new companies, products and ideas into education. But a more fertile market created by the Common Core and digitalization, and futile attempts to convince a publisher to build the curriculum program she needed, prompted teacher-turned-social entrepreneur Eileen Murphy to launch thinkCERCA.

Experience teaching English in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and working in curriculum design in a central office meant Murphy knew not only what teachers needed, but she could see the larger, more troubling picture. Centralized data revealed student performance decreasing in many cases, pointing to a failure in individualized teaching. At a micro level, she visited 20 blended schools—those integrating online learning in the classroom — and noticed dramatic shortcomings. “The gaping hole was in literacy. We also saw that digital use was isolated – it was not collaborative and there was no teacher involvement.”

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6 Ways to Turn Your Corporate Event Sustainable

3p Contributor | Monday June 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

5693012875_1aaf45b709_mBy Caroline Ginnane

As the world’s population booms and western-style consumerism continues to spread to the farthest corners of the globe, protecting our natural environment and resources has never been as important as it is now. Our global future rests on our ability and willingness to make sustainable choices.

Stay at the forefront of society by making small changes to your corporate events that will have long-lasting positive effects on the environment while ultimately saving money and branding your company in an ethical way.

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Harley Davidson’s LiveWire “Test Ride” Brings Electrics Closer to Mainstream

| Sunday June 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment

harley-davidson-museumMaking a pitstop in Milwaukee this weekend I was excited to see that Harley Davidson would be offering a peak at their new LiveWire electric motorcycle prototype at their iconic museum here.

As it turned out, demand was so high for test rides the best I could get was a look at the bike and chance to rev one held in a stationary position (see video below).  Nonetheless, it was more than enough to be impressed.

Harley’s new ride (more info on the company website here) is merely an experiment at the moment.  Although they’ve produced more than a dozen fully functional prototypes, the bike is currently just a test to see who’s interested in a mainstream electric motorcycle and to garner feedback on the model.  The test will also determine whether such people represent a new market for the company or if the grizzled, sonic-boom inducing core of Harley enthusiasts would ever go for a quiet, carbon free alternative.

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3p Weekend: 5 Reasons Businesses Should Care About Climate Change

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday June 27th, 2014 | 7 Comments

10637793755_3c52dddbe8_zWith a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

On the heels of the latest three-part report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it seems a new study comes out daily about how a changing climate may impact life as we know it. It’s always tricky to ask: Why now? But, as recent research shows, not asking may prove even more costly. To get your mind going this Friday afternoon, we gathered up five reasons businesses should care about climate change — not tomorrow, not next year, but right in the here and now. 

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Report Shows the Benefits of Cradle to Cradle Certification, But Is It Enough?

Raz Godelnik
| Friday June 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Ecover_Picture When “Cradle to Cradle” was published in 2002, it generated great hopes that it could lead to a more sustainable future. The launch of the C2C certification by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute provided companies with a clear framework on how to adopt the concept, making a paradigm shift seem even more likely.

Yet, even with more than 200 companies worldwide participating today in the C2C Certified Products Program, and with hundreds of product lines representing thousands of different products certified, C2C is still a niche market with little influence on the overall economy.

And so, almost a decade after C2C certifications became available, it’s still very much a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled.

Why? I assume there are many reasons, but the main one seems to be that most companies just don’t recognize the value in adopting the C2C certification. In order to address this issue, the C2C Products Innovation Institute commissioned Trucost, a leading global environmental data and insight company, “to develop an assessment framework with clearly defined indicators to determine the effect of optimization on the business, environmental and social impact of products.”

The result is a 145-page report in which Trucost presents its analysis of 10 C2C-certified products from different companies (and industries), including Aveda, Desso, Ecover, PUMA, Shaw Industries, Steelcase and Van Houtum.

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UNEP Report Discloses the Business Risks of Plastic Use

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Friday June 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

plastic garbagePlastic is used in everything from electronic devices, including computers and smartphones, to food packaging. However, plastic also has a big impact on the environment.

There is a mass of garbage in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast twice the size of Texas, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It outnumbers marine life by 6 to 1. That plastic swirling around in the Pacific makes its way into the food chain as marine life eat small pieces of plastic.

The material is also energy-intensive and requires petroleum to be manufactured. Another key issue with plastics manufacturing is the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs): More than 30 percent of the natural capital costs from GHG emissions released upstream in the supply chain come from extracting raw materials and manufacturing plastic feedstock, according to a report from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). Marine pollution has an additional natural capital cost of at least $13 billion.

The total natural capital cost of plastic used in the consumer goods industry is more than $75 billion a year, the report finds. Food companies are the biggest part of that figure, responsible for 23 percent of the total natural capital cost. That figure is especially startling when you consider the brief lifespan of the plastics food companies use for packaging: After food is eaten, their packages are tossed in the garbage can, which is not exactly efficient use of plastic. The toy sector has the highest intensity, at 3.9 percent of revenue, meaning that a higher proportion of their revenue is at risk.

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Dynamic Governance: A New System for Better Decisions

Sarah Lozanova | Friday June 27th, 2014 | 5 Comments

Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a three-part series on dynamic governance, a new operating system for both for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations.

sociocracy dynamic governance During the financial crisis of 2008, Creative Urethanes, a plastics manufacturing company based in Virginia, saw business dry up overnight — with sales down by 50 percent. CEO Richard Heitfield was shocked and immobilized by the situation, but the employees sprang into action, creating a plan that everyone could accept.

One of the company’s product lines was wheels for skateboards and roller skates; they created an innovative design for them in the 1970s that helped the sports grow into multi-million dollar industries. Now they were reeling.

“All of a sudden, our business was way down,” says Heitfield. “While that was going on, our management group was sitting down and making a plan. It was a very detailed and elaborate plan that happened spontaneously. Folks were comfortable enough with the process to put it on the table and get it into action. That’s a direct result of using the sociocratic process. If these guys had not come to action and done the work, we would have folded.”

Sociocracy — also called dynamic governance — is a non-authoritarian organizational operating system that empowers people to make policy within their established domains, fostering better and clearer decisions. The company culture that was built at Creative Urethanes through adoption of dynamic governance in the 1980s allowed leadership to spring up when it was most needed, enabling the business to stay afloat during a very difficult time.

In many organizations, decision makers under-utilize the knowledge, expertise and experience of lower-level employees when it’s time to make decisions. Even in companies where the leadership wishes to create an open-door atmosphere, reality may be quite different. Policies get created with good intentions that breed ineffective results and even resentment. In dynamic governance, every voice is heard for creating policies — and a management hierarchy exists for daily operations.

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Natural Business and True Sustainability

3p Contributor | Friday June 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment

interconnected natureBy Giles Hutchins

Whereas once evolution was viewed as little more than a struggle for survival through dog-eat-dog competition, many now see nature through a more collaborative lens: networking, feedback loops, behavioral qualities and interdependencies within and throughout ecosystems.

Nature adapts within limits and creates conditions conducive to life. Likewise, in human systems, the old logic of Social Darwinism underpinning hyper-competitive business practices is giving way to a deeper understanding of what drives the individual, organization and ecosystem in its ability to sense, respond, adapt and evolve.

Yesterday’s logic is of top-down, hierarchic, command-and-control, risk-adverse, competition-oriented, control-based thinking. It is a mechanistic worldview based on reductionist logic that fragments reality into abstract definitions, silos and objects to be quantified, measured, controlled and then maximized, while largely overlooking the interrelated, fluid, connective, collaborative, participatory nature of Nature.

In drawing inspiration from nature, we may step beyond our narrowed-down view of life and recognize the intrinsic patterns and reciprocal relations in our midst. These patterns can often seem confusing or complex for our reductionist mind, yet for our intuitive logic they are quite natural to cohere with – we are, after all, expressions of nature. Such patterns and flows are, by their nature, regenerative and sustainable.  In applying this inherent logic of life, we no longer need to superficially bolt-on sustainability initiatives to unsustainable modus operandi. In going with the flow of nature, we re-design for resilience, ensuing sustainability – in all sense of the word – is ingrained in how we operate and innovate.

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Clean Tech Case Study: When Sustainability Means Big Savings

3p Contributor | Friday June 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Solar panels on the roof of

Solar panels on the roof of Herculaneum High School in Missouri.

By Lacey Miller

Sustainability is more than just company operations. At the Doe Run Co., sustainability is also about “protecting our workforce and neighbors”… to the tune of $2 million in savings!

In 2013, Doe Run invested about $600,000 into the Herculaneum High School, part of the Dunklin R-V School District in Jefferson County, Missouri, paving the way for major upgrades to the inefficient campus. With the help of Microgrid Energy, which performed the energy audit that covered lighting, HVAC, water heating, plug loads and building envelopes, the final project included several energy conservation measures, set to save the school an estimated $2 million over the life of the project.

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Xeros Laundry System Saves Businesses Water and Money

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Friday June 27th, 2014 | 2 Comments

XerosWater is a precious commodity, and reducing water use is a goal every business should set.

A Sheffield, England-based company called Xeros has developed an innovative laundry system that makes it easy for companies to reduce water use by up to 80 percent. The system uses polymer bead technology that attracts dirt and absorbs it into the beads, which can then be reused for hundreds more washes before being recycled. Xeros launched its laundry system at the International Motel and Restaurant Show in November 2013, and received the Editor’s Choice Award for Best New Product for Hotel Operations.

The British company has since expanded in North America. Xeros recently announced that its plans to roll-out out the system to the hospitality industry is on track, and most of its laundry systems have been sold to the top five hotel groups in North America. Since hotels in the U.S. use about 2.3 billion gallons of water a month to wash linens, that is a good fit. A life cycle assessment (LCA) carried out by Sustain Ltd found that the Xeros system also reduces carbon footprint by 44 percent. The life cycle savings in carbon footprint and water use are equal to the emissions produced by watching a 32-inch LED TV for 32,000 hours or 10 years’ worth of direct water use by an average U.K. household.

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How Little Steps Can Help Your Business Create Big Change for the Environment

3p Contributor | Friday June 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

green businessBy Dennis Hung

What does a business produce? The simple answer would be that every business produces a commodity of some kind, be it a product or a service. A more optimistic response might include the idea that a business should generate a profit. However, besides money and merchandise, there’s something else that every business produces: environmental damage.

In a 2010 study performed by the London-based firm Trucost, it was estimated that the 3,000 largest public companies in the world cause an annual estimated $2.2 trillion in environmental damage. And even though larger organizations may have a greater overall impact, smaller businesses can also cause significant damage when their leaders don’t take action to embrace a “green” corporate lifestyle.

But what can they do? It takes money to make the switch over to eco-friendly business, and given the current state of the world economy, many entrepreneurs and start-up businesses are barely managing to stay afloat as is. Well, there’s no need to give up hope; there are things that your business can do to help save the planet, without going bankrupt in the process. Here are a few tips on how you can go green, without having to spend all of your green.

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Is LEED Becoming the New Normal?

| Thursday June 26th, 2014 | 1 Comment

SkyscrapersThe LEED certification program has its roots back in 1993, when David Gottfried and Mike Italiano founded the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The aim was to promote sustainability throughout the building and construction industry, which naturally involves standard-setting, and so just a few years later, in 2000, about 60 private and nonprofit sector stakeholders gathered to launch LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Since then, USGBC has grown to 76 chapters with 13,000 member companies and other stakeholders, along with a roster of more than 181,000 credentialed LEED professionals. According to USGBC, currently more than 4.5 billion square feet of construction space have gone through the LEED system.

Just by the numbers, LEED has clearly gone mainstream. Acceptance by leading global companies like Mariott is another mainstream marker. Even the U.S. Department of Defense has adopted LEED standards to help fulfill longstanding energy conservation mandates, despite opposition from the usual suspects (yes, Sen. Inhofe, we mean you).

This poses an interesting problem. If LEED certification is the new normal, how can it make your business stand out from the crowd?

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Consumer Demand Could Turn the Tide on Sustainable Fishing

Lauren Zanolli
| Thursday June 26th, 2014 | 0 Comments

218617131_c01bbf550c_zIn 2006 Walmart sold fresh Atlantic salmon fillets in its stores for $4.84 per pound — an incredibly low price. Where did it all this cheap salmon come from? As it turns out, over the previous 10 years, fish farms had proliferated along the coast of Chile, a country far from the natural habitat of Atlantic salmon in the cold waters of the northern hemisphere.

Despite a lack of experience with fish farming, salmon became the second largest export of Chile, thanks in no small part to the huge market reach of the big-box retailer. As Charles Fishman documented in his 2006 book, “The Walmart Effect,”  Walmart bought all of its salmon from Chile, amounting to perhaps one-third of the country’s total exports.

Lax regulation and price-driven suppliers eager to meet Walmart’s demand led to exactly the kind of overcrowded, antibiotic-heavy, environmentally-destructive fish farms that environmentalists caution against. In 2007 an outbreak of an infectious disease led to a near-collapse of the salmon farming industry in Chile. Walmart, known for its ability to pressure suppliers to change their policies and decrease price, has since diversified its salmon purchasing. And Chile has started to improve its fish farm practices: In 2013 the country’s Verlasso farm became the first ocean salmon farm to receive a “good alternative” rating from the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch.

While Walmart is in a class of its own in terms of size, the point is that because of their massive purchasing power, large corporate grocery chains can wield incredible influence over product markets and even the policies of their suppliers. In the world of seafood, there are fairly immediate consequences — for better or worse — for the environment.

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Risky Business: The Cost of Climate Change to the U.S. Economy

Emilie Mazzacurati
Emilie Mazzacurati | Thursday June 26th, 2014 | 7 Comments

Editor’s Note: Nik Steinberg contributed to this report.

Screenshot 2014-06-25 10.10.48In 2006, the British government released the world’s first and most comprehensive assessment of the economic impacts of climate change. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change was instrumental in establishing unequivocally the link between physical impacts of climate change and economics. It helped dramatically shift the conversation on greenhouse gas mitigation.

Eight years later, the United States now has its own Stern Review.

Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States provides the most comprehensive assessment of the economic risks our nation faces from the changing climate. The report focuses on the clearest and most economically significant of these risks: Damage to coastal property and infrastructure from rising sea levels and increased storm surge, climate-driven changes in agricultural production and energy demand, and the impact of higher temperatures on labor productivity and public health.

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Supreme Court Upholds Power Plant Carbon Emissions Limits

Mike Hower
| Thursday June 26th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 4.45.12 PMThe coal industry has been up in arms ever since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules to require large industrial facilities and power plants to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

In November 2013, nearly 3,000 miners and workers from across the coal industry descended on Capitol Hill to protest President Barack Obama’s alleged “War on Coal.” The rally was organized by a group with a history of opposing climate change legislation — the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). Some 30 members of Congress also attended the event, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and even a few coal-country Democrats.

The rules, which the EPA claimed are pursuant of the Clean Air Act, would cap carbon emissions at future coal-fired power plants at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (Mwh) and 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per Mwh for new natural gas power plants. With the average coal-fired power plant emitting around 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per Mwh, both new and existing power plants would be forced to improve their environmental performances.

Opponents of the proposed rules, which include the coal industry and some states, claim that the rules are “extreme” and “unworkable.”

Turns out, the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees. On Monday, the high court ruled 5-4 that the EPA reasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act to require large industrial facilities and power plants to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses if they are also required to obtain permits due to their emissions of other dangerous air pollutants.

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