From sustainable agriculture and water resource management to solar photovoltaics, Israeli companies have been at the forefront of developing new means of forging sustainable societies amid harsh and changing conditions. A strong, homegrown clean tech venture capital community is helping innovative young Israeli clean-tech companies make their mark locally and in markets around the world.
A drive on the part of solar PV industry participants to reduce balance-of-system (BoS) and “soft” costs is underway as governments in key markets such as the European Union and U.S. cut back or eliminate renewable energy R&D funding, tariffs and other incentives.
Operations and maintenance (O&M) makes up a significant portion of running solar PV power generation assets. According to a study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), fixed O&M costs for solar PV systems ranging from 1 to 10 megawatts averaged $20 +/- $10 per kilowatt-hour of energy in 2013.
Aiming to boost efficiency as well as drive those costs down significantly, Israeli clean tech startup Ecoppia has developed a high-tech means of cleaning and maintaining solar PV panels on a utility scale. Ecoppia’s solution comes in the form of a cloud-based solar robotics platform that’s not only highly efficient and effective, but also energy-independent and water-free. That’s an important attribute not only in arid and desert regions, but also anywhere in the world where pressures on water resources threaten or may threaten water supplies.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing student blogging series entitled The Business Of Sports & Sustainability. This “micro-blog” is the product of the nations first MBA/MPA certificate program dedicated to sustainability in the sports industry. You can follow the series here.
By Jill Stoneberg
For several years leading sports apparel brands, including Nike, Adidas and Puma, have touted the use of sustainable manufacturing practices and recycled materials.From Nike shirts made from waterless dyes, to certified cradle-to-cradle shoes made by Puma, sportswear has taken great sustainability strides.Needless to say, this shift to integrate product creation with sustainable design principles has not emerged solely for the altruistic purpose of saving the planet.Nor has it been driven solely to realize cost savings associated with less resource-intensive manufacturing practices.
Rather, sustainability for some sports apparel companies has been embraced and marketed to spur innovation and deliver superior products. As a result, apparel manufactured with sustainability in mind is becoming increasingly available in the sportswear industry.Avid sports fans, as well as consumers who wear casual sports attire, are each connected to the sustainable apparel movement — even if they are not consciously aware of it.
“Diversity for me is actually a very personal topic,” Sol Salinas, managing director of global strategy and sustainability for Accenture, said at the 2014 Net Impact conference earlier this month.
Salinas was born in Nicaragua and came to the United States when he was 7 years old. He was, as he put it, the “recipient” of many other people’s efforts — efforts that ultimately gave him a chance to succeed.
With those experiences in his back pocket, Salinas has a unique vantage point from which to consider diversity issues: “The least productive meeting that one can have is if everybody sits around the room and nods their head,” he continued. “With lack of diversity, you’re more likely to have that sort of result.”
As part of our Talking Diversity video series, Salinas goes on to describe the ‘most productive’ type of business meeting — and how to achieve it through diversity and inclusion — in this three-minute clip.
Joining a list of legendary physicists that includes Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and former Obama administration Energy Secretary Steven Chu, physics professor Shuji Nakamura was one of three physicists who shared in the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in October awarded this year’s physics prize to Nakamura, of University of California, Santa Barbara, and Nagoya University‘s Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amanao for their invention of the blue light-emitting diode (LED).
Enabling LEDs to produce white light for the first time, the invention of the blue LED in the late 1990s paved the way for a revolution in lighting. As is often the case with such groundbreaking innovations, the three physicists’ invention led to a rising tide of interest and efforts to build on their work.
While Nakamura continues his research as a materials professor and chair of the Cree Center for Solid State Lighting and Displays, his innovation has been embraced at UC Santa Barbara and in the Santa Barbara community. Nonprofit Unite to Light is leveraging LED lighting, as well as the work of other university researchers in developing more efficient solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and battery technology, to deliver solar-powered LED lamps to organizations working to improve living conditions in under-served, developing communities around the world.
Members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a tight-knit community in Midcoast Maine, are experienced in working together. When a child is born or an illness strikes, members lend a hand and provide home-cooked meals. Sharing cars, child care and even house-swapping when life circumstances change are all common occurrences in this community, which values sustainability and multi-generational living. The recent 11-home community solar purchase was a perfect fit with the ecovillage culture.
All of the photovoltaic solar systems use Axitec 250-watt photovoltaic modules with Enphase microinverters, allowing members to receive wholesale rates on the purchase of the panels and components. They were drop-shipped, and onsite construction equipment for the common house and unfinished units helped transport the panels to each home. Customized rooftop safety equipment was reused, saving time and money.
We hosted our monthly Stories and Beer Fireside Chat on November 18th at the Impact HUB San Francisco – and online via web cam.
Few things short of religion capture as many people’s attention as major sporting events – with the National Football League’s Super Bowl being amongst the greatest spectacles of them all. In 2016, the Super Bowl will celebrate it’s 50th anniversary at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and the team is already preparing to celebrate. A well thought-out strategy to “green” the event is underway and, perhaps more importantly, fans are now invited into a sustainability conversation like never before.
When the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory took the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh last year, the world’s eyes were fixed on what multinational apparel companies would do to ensure that a similar tragedy would not reoccur.
In the wake of the calamity, agreements to improve factory working conditions – such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the corporate-led initiative the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety – were created, building retrofits and renovations were jump-started, and reparations were made. Notwithstanding the progress that Western companies, labor unions and local government continue to make to secure safe working conditions Bangladesh, several social enterprises are helping to advance the sustainability of the global apparel supply chain beyond safety compliance and toward a considered focus on business ROI and social impact.
The multi-trillion dollar global apparel industry – of which Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporter (after China) – employs about 25 million garment factory workers, 80 percent of which are women. Historically, the conditions at a factory such as Rana Plaza have been less than ideal: Workers endure low wages, long hours and unexpected changes in daily schedules. Even more, in most societies that are home to low-wage garment factories, workers are culturally discouraged to complain when working conditions are trying – especially if you are a woman. Unfortunately, those cultural barriers and lack of communication channels have often been costly for factories. (Evidence suggests that Rana Plaza could have been avoided if factory management had listened to worker concerns.)
Organizations such as LaborVoices work to prevent just that. Using basic mobile phone technology, LaborVoices provides a platform for garment factory workers from various countries (as well as workers in other industries) to provide real-time feedback about working conditions at specific sites: Employees can call or text a dedicated line 24/7, free of charge, to anonymously complete a brief survey and also have the option to leave a voice recording with anecdotal feedback. This valuable information is then shared with apparel brands and factory management to help them solve problems in their supply chain before they become bigger issues.
LaborVoices not only gives workers a voice, literally, and supports supply chain transparency – it’s also a useful business tool.
Three years ago, Forbes Insights surveyed companies with more than $500 million in revenue and asked them about innovation and company culture. Of 321 polled, 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity was key to driving innovation in the workplace. A study released in October, this one co-authored by economists from MIT and George Washington University, found that gender diversity in the workplace helps firms be more productive. A 2013 Deloitte study concluded that cultivating “diversity of thought” at an organization increases innovation and problem solving. I could go on.
Despite mounting data that insists diversity is key to the sustainable growth of any business, it has been pigeonholed as an HR function for decades. But as the younger generation enters the workforce — with an expectation of “purpose, not just a paycheck” — companies are beginning to move beyond the status quo and infuse diversity into their core business practices.
“Diversity and inclusion is not a new topic of conversation. We’ve been talking about it for a very long time, but the dialogue is changing,” Cecily Joseph, VP of corporate responsibility and chief diversity officer for Symantec, said in a panel discussion at the 2014 Net Impact conference in Minneapolis. “[Diversity and inclusion] sat in HR for many years, and I think companies aren’t happy with the end result.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook finally “came out.” To anyone in the gay community, this was no shocker. He’s been on our radar for some time. He’s topped OUT Magazine’s Power List since 2011. So, what’s the big deal? And why now? Apple is among a number of tech giants that are currently under attack for their dismal diversity data. In many ways, I would argue that Cook’s coming out was a sly, timely PR move by Apple to use its gay CEO to distract from its lack of diversity.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a great thing to happen. I am a firm believer in Harvey Milk’s maxim, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” The more of us that come out – whether it’s to our coworkers, relatives, strangers – the more likely we’ll be accepted as everyday people. For someone as powerful as Cook to come out is certainly positive visibility for the LGBT community and sends an encouraging signal to other gay business leaders to do the same.
The cascade of positive media coverage that has followed his piece in Bloomberg Businessweek echoes this sentiment. Slate called it a “lovely essay.” HuffPo’s Gay Voices heralded him, listing “the top 12 words that made me tear up.” For a relatively quiet company like Apple to suddenly take a voice on this issue is indeed remarkable – but also suspect.
Last summer, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was embarking on the final stages of its latest synthesis report, a billboard was being quietly erected on the outskirts of Calgary, Alberta. Home to the University of Calgary and the seat of much of the academic research related to oil and gas exploration in this bitumen-rich province, Calgary was the perfect place to pitch a controversial view of climate change.
With a carefully selected cadre of scientists behind it, Friends of Science made rapid headlines when it advertised its explanation for climate change. There was nothing new to scientists challenging the notion of man-made global warming. What snagged the attention of rush-hour motorists was its premise – one that could both explain the debate over a warming climate and seem almost palatable.
“The sun is the direct and indirect driver of climate change. Not you. Not CO2,” the organization asserted. The statement would seem like music to the ears of harried drivers, already dealing with unpredictable floods and diminishing snow pack in Calgary, who are genuinely skeptical of the barrage of political rhetoric coming over the Canada-U.S. border. This was, after all, a Calgary-based organization, near a publicly-funded research university.
As a refresher, week one focused on getting a baseline assessment of your social and environmental performance; week two focused on motivating and engaging your team; week three was about creating an action plan for B Corp certification; week four discussed how you can raise your B Corp assessment score; and week five was designed to help you power though the B Corp finish line.
Week Six: Celebrate and next steps
OBJECTIVE: By week six, you will have made significant progress toward improving your social and environmental performance. If you have met the requirements to become a Certified B Corporation, congratulations on joining one of the most exciting and dynamic movements in business!
END RESULT: Celebrate, and congratulate your team for taking this journey.
As moderator Kim Kessler observed, “Health messages are regularly delivered from chefs, without saying so, in the form of a meal.” At the conference, chef Seamus Mullen frankly discussed the reason he “blames food for all the good stuff” in his life and how making health the framework for his diet has impacted his growing business.
Mullen spoke openly about his antagonistic relationship with food, prolonged illness and the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis that precipitated his commitment to healthful eating. With a family history in food, and a childhood spent on a small farm in Vermont, Mullen was only introduced to institutional food when he went to boarding school (where he suffered from salmonella). Today he is the chef/owner of three restaurants in New York City and London, and he’ll open a fourth later this year. He recently published a cookbook, “Hero Food,” and regularly speaks on the healing power of food.
Clean energy expert Leslie Glustrom sounds the alarm at the Colorado Climate Summit.
Colorado is a hotspot for energy innovation: The city of Fort Collins is pushing the envelope with a net-zero energy central district. The Rocky Mountain Institute has been generating schemes for energy efficiency and clean energy for 30 years. And the city of Boulder has more solar panels than some states.
All of these were featured programs at the first-ever Colorado Climate Summit, held on the campus of the University of Colorado last weekend in the middle of – you guessed it – the unusual weather event of an early blizzard. But the mood wasn’t self-congratulatory — it was urgent. Hopeful, but urgent. Efficiency and solar panels on roofs aren’t enough, warned one clean energy expert.
“We have to look at both sides of the meter,” said Leslie Glustrom, pointing at a chart of Boulder’s carbon emissions that, despite tremendous work and city effort to reduce carbon emissions, showed marginal gains. Glustrom pointed out that Boulder is still dependent on a coal plant. “If you took that offline it would be like taking 150,000 homes off the grid,” she said.
“Utilities are standing in the way of the clean energy transition,” warned Glustrom, because the inertia is too strong — they must be pressed via local government into transitioning to renewables. Boulder itself is taking matters into its own hands, and since voter approval in 2011 has been developing its own publicly-owned utility.
The Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems. The 6.5 million acres of tropical lowland rainforests stores vast amounts of carbon in its peatlands and forests. It is under threat despite being protected by Indonesian law.
One of those threats is the palm oil industry, as a recent Rainforest Action Network (RAN) report details. Conflict palm oil in particular is a threat. Conflict palm oil refers to palm oil produced through destruction of rainforests and peatlands and the violation of human rights, which includes the use of forced labor and child labor. Conflict palm oil can’t be traced back to its origin, and is increasing inside the Leuser Ecosystem.
Three companies are cited in the report as the biggest buyers of palm oil in the Aceh region of Indonesia where the Leuser Ecosystem is located. They are Musim Mas Group, Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources. As the report states, they “have a crucial role to play in securing the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem.”
Right on the heels of his historic climate agreement with China, President Barack Obama announced a pledge of $3 billion to the United Nations’ thus far underfunded Green Climate Fund. The fund was formally established in 2010 at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Cancun. The purpose of the fund was to redistribute resources between the developed world and the developing world in order to assist developing countries in their effort to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
It’s clear that the president is doubling down on climate change, which shouldn’t be a surprise, since he has repeatedly highlighted his intention in his second term to take action by any means available. Recently, that has meant primarily by executive order, which, given the upcoming Republican control of Congress, will likely remain the only available avenue left to act on this crucial issue.
I don’t believe the timing of the announcement is random. I think Obama is taking aggressive action right now, in the wake of the election, to signal Republicans in Congress that:
They are becoming increasingly isolated on the issue as even the Chinese are making major commitments, and
he has no intention of letting up on this issue, which he intends to make part of his legacy.
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