A major CBS 60 Minutes story on the clean tech sector has been picked apart mercilessly for playing fast and loose with the facts about public and private investment in new energy technology since it first aired on January 5. If you’ve been following along you may already be very familiar with most of the rebuttals, but it’s still well worth reading an open letter to CBS written by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which he posted on the Khosla Ventures website on January 14.
Aside from rebutting the distortions, misrepresentations and errors in the 60 Minutes story point by point, Khosla’s letter provides a concise rundown of the the state of clean tech investment today, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about clean tech investment in the coming months.
In 2002 the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Solar Decathlon, an international college competition where students refine and present their best ideas in solar-powered home design. The Solar Decathlon’s interdisciplinary challenge requires students to design, build and operate a cost-effective, energy-efficient home from the drawing board up.
The Solar Decathlon challenges participating students to break new ground, figuratively and literally, on sustainable home design. Held every two years, a top contender at the 2013 Solar Decathlon was Stanford University’s Start.Home, leading the pack in market appeal, affordability and engineering.
Getting to the core of energy efficient home building
Reflecting the holistic nature of sustainable design, the Stanford team comprised a broad range of disciplines, from design and architecture to computer science, product design, business and social science.
The acquisition itself as well as the hefty price Google will pay for Nest generated a very interesting conversation online that was focused around the reasons that motivated Google to close this deal and pay so much money for a 3-year old start-up selling thermostats and smoke detectors.
While it’s interesting to understand the reasons behind this deal and what it says about Google’s plans for the future, I find one part that seemed to be missing in all of this even more interesting. Yes, I’m talking about the S word.
It’s not that sustainability was totally absent – the energy savings capabilities of Nest thermostat (14-26 percent savings according to Nest) were mentioned by Larry Page, CEO of Google in the press release, as well as by Tony Fadell in a blog post he wrote, in which he looked back to the beginning of Nest:
“Starting a business focused on the lowly thermostat seemed like a crazy idea at the time, but it made all the sense in the world to us. That little device that went unnoticed and unchanged year after year on the walls of our homes was a lost opportunity to save energy and money. We knew we could do better.”
Yet, when it comes to sustainability, the story of Nest is more than just the creation of a smart tool helping families to save energy. It is first and foremost a story about the company’s ability to succeed where so many other companies have failed – making simple, beautiful, thoughtful and desirable products that among other things help people make their lifestyles more sustainable.
In a recent speech to the International Monetary Fund economist Larry Summers argued that since near zero interest rates have not stimulated GDP growth sufficiently to reach full employment, we probably need a negative interest rate. By this he means a negative monetary rate set by the Fed to equal the “natural” rate, which he believes is now negative. The natural rate, as Summers uses the term, means the rate that would equalize planned saving with planned investment, and thereby, as Keynes taught us, result in full employment. With near zero monetary rates, current inflation already pushes us to a negative real rate of interest, but that is still insufficiently negative, in Summers’ view, to equalize planned investment with planned saving and thereby stimulate GDP growth sufficient for full employment. A negative interest rate is a stunning proposal, and it takes some effort to work out its implications.
Suppose for a moment that GDP growth, economic growth as we gratuitously call it, entails uneconomic growth by a more comprehensive measure of costs and benefits — that GDP growth has now begun to increase counted plus uncounted costs by more than counted plus uncounted benefits, making us inclusively and collectively poorer, not richer. If that is the case, and there are good reasons to believe that it is, would it not then be reasonable to expect, along with Summers, that the natural rate of interest is negative, and that maybe the monetary rate should be too? This is hard to imagine, but it means that savers would have to pay investors (and banks) to use the funds that they have saved, rather than investors and banks paying savers for the use of their money. To keep the GDP growing sufficiently to avoid unemployment we would need a growing monetary circular flow, which would require more investment, which, in turn, would only be forthcoming if the monetary interest rate were negative (i.e., if you lost less by investing your money than by holding it). A negative interest rate “makes sense” if the goal is to keep on increasing GDP even after it has begun to make us poorer at the margin — that is after growth has already pushed us beyond the optimal scale of the macro-economy relative to the containing ecosphere, and thereby become uneconomic.
There’s a well-worn cliché that businesses oppose all government regulation. But what happens when companies look to the government for fair rules that promote safer products? As some recent cases demonstrate, too often our government lags behind these responsible companies, leaving both business and consumers at risk from market scams and unsafe products.
Take the case of the organic food sector – an industry that actually requested government regulation. For decades the organic industry was a self-regulating community made up of state and regional certifiers, farmers, and processors. You may not be surprised to learn that the country’s largest organic certifier, California Certified Organic Farmers, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013 – but you probably did not know that Maine launched its organic program two years before California. Organic certifiers from coast to coast had different standards for “organic” products for nearly three decades, until the industry came together and urged the government to help develop a unified national organic standard.
The organic sector recognized that a federal standard with independent, government oversight would help insure fair competition and promote markets for their products. According to the USDA, the organic standard has been wildly successful in promoting organic sales: since it was finalized in 2001, the U.S. market for organic food has outpaced supplies, with sales of organics tripling by 2008.
Unfortunately, the organic standard has not been strongly regulated in some non-food sectors. For example, today there are dozens of cosmetics and personal care products labeled “organic,” yet USDA has balked at enforcing standards for these products. This has left responsible companies who make premium-priced organic cosmetics at an unfair disadvantage, since competing purveyors can simply print phony “organic” labels for their cheaper products that actually contain few or no organic ingredients.
A sustainable city is organized so as to enable all its citizens to meet their own needs and to enhance their well-being without damaging the natural world or endangering the living conditions of other people, now or in the future.
Smart technologies have actually been used in the past and have proven to be successful at improving civic sustainability, but in many thriving cities, their underbellies – the transport, sanitation, energy and building technology – are filled with rot and decay.
To look one hundred years into the future, we really need to look back one hundred years to learn from our predecessors. The reality is that there is nothing new under the sun. For example, our forefathers in my country Kenya utilized rammed earth, sun-dried mud and twigs for construction that had near zero embodied energy, used pit latrines as a waste management technology that recycled nutrients back to the soil, captured water from fresh springs, and swam in warm, clean and unpolluted lakes. People worked and lived with natural materials within their environment and gave back to the environment. Now that’s smart.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally at the North American Auto Show this week
At the North American International Auto Show’s opening day in Detroit this week, Ford’s affable CEO and President, Alan Mulally, held a Q&A session for invited bloggers — who were given an open forum to ask questions about Ford and the auto industry in general.
The discussion ranged from what distinguishes the company from others to what strategies the company will deploy in order to continue their success in an increasingly competitive industry going forward. Along the way, Mulally was asked about the role of new technologies and how they will shape the future of transportation.
The following is a quick digest highlighting some of the key points from the discussion.
Class action litigation is a contentious issue these days. The Internet is filled with debates and discussions challenging its success – and purpose – as a form of litigation. Does it work? Does it really recover losses for consumers? Does it really deter crime and improve business practices?
Not surprisingly, the answers often depend on whom you ask.
For those who receive an email or a postcard in the mail telling them that they are class members in a litigation that now represents the interests of hundreds of thousands of consumers, the news can be intoxicating … that is, until they realize that what they are really entitled to receive may be as small as a box of cereal, a gig of RAM or a second jar of sandwich spread. To the inexperienced class member, the award can seem more like the benefits of a lottery than a legal grievance that took years to organize, has cost millions of dollars to prosecute and involved hundreds of thousands of disgruntled consumers.
At least the U.S. doesn’t hold a monopoly on climate change denialists in public office.
The Australian government, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seems committed to exacerbating its nation’s climate woes. Even as his Environmental Minister approved a vast coal mine that will produce 40 million tons of CO2-emitting coal per year, Abbott is calling Australia’s strong renewable energy sector into question.
He’s cutting funding for renewables, threatening to remove the 20 percent renewable energy standard and even falling back on the old and largely debunked criticism that wind power has negative impacts on human health. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council looked into the issue in 2010 and again in 2012. And now Abbott is calling for another review. Because, why not?
And just for good measure, he’s also dismantling Australia’s well-regarded plans for curbing carbon emissions and jettisoning the nation’s goals for carbon reductions.
Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Kathy Hannan: I am the National Managing Partner, Diversity and Corporate Responsibility. I began my career at KPMG in 1985 and was admitted to the partnership in 1994 in the international corporate services practice. In 1996, I was promoted to Midwest Partner-in-Charge of International Services, and Partner-in-Charge of KPMG’s Chicago Metro-Tax practice in 1998. In 2000, I was appointed to the role of Vice Chair, Human Resources, and in 2004, I was named the Midwest Area Managing Partner of Tax Services – the first female to receive such a position at KPMG.
In 2009, I was appointed to my current role as National Managing Partner, Diversity and Corporate Responsibility, in which I provide the strategic direction to leverage philanthropic partnerships, stakeholder engagement, environmental best practices, and diversity objectives with the firm’s strategy for long-term enterprise sustainability. I also serve as the global lead partner on several of the firm’s priority accounts.
BP released its fourth annual BP Energy Outlook which predicts that global carbon dioxide emissions from energy use will increase by 29 percent by 2035. In fact, the report predicts that global emissions in 2035 will be “nearly double the 1990 level.”
BP may not be far off the proverbial mark. In November, the UN weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that carbon dioxide levels reached a record high in 2012. Between 1990 and 2012, there was a 32-percent increase in the warming effect of the global climate. The WMO expects global carbon levels to be 400 parts per million (PPM) by 2016, which is greater than the 350 ppm many climate scientists say is the maximum level we can achieve while avoiding the worst damages from climate change.
Emissions growth in general, according to the report, will come from countries not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) while emissions from OECD countries will decline. The report expects emissions from OECD countries to decline to 1990 levels, while the emissions of non-OECD countries will be more than triple 1990 levels in 2035. Coal and gas will contribute 38 percent of the increase in emissions, with 24 percent coming from oil. Energy intensity will decline and without that decline carbon emissions in 2035 would be 40 percent higher. However, carbon intensity will decrease at a slow pace of only 8 percent from 2012 to 2035.
The iconic U.S. firm Deere & Company (more familiarly known as John Deere) has been emerging as a player in the U.S. agriculture industry’s transition to clean technology, and it looks like the company is going to be venturing way off the farm on its next endeavor. John Deere has just been named as one of 18 private sector partners in the new public-private Manufacturing Innovation Institute, launched just yesterday as part of President Obama’s initiatives to boost the U.S. manufacturing sector into next-generation technologies.
The companies will partner with an academic team spearheaded by North Carolina State University in a $70 million effort that also draws in five federal agencies as part of a larger, $200 million initiative establishing a total of three such innovation hubs, announced earlier this year. Along with NASA and the National Science Foundation, the partnership includes the departments of Commerce, Defense and Energy.
At stake is a competitive chunk at the huge potential global market for next-generation electronic chips and related devices that achieve significant gains in both power and energy efficiency.
Until 1714, navigating by sea was tricky unless you were in sight of land. Getting to France from England for the latest war was simple enough – you were bound to get there if you left the south coast and just kept rowing. But once explorers started trying to cross oceans, the difficulty in calculating longitude and position became an annoying problem. People kept drowning because they had no real idea where they were. Under the marvellously named Sir Cloudesley Shovell, the British Navy suffered the appalling Scilly naval disaster of 1707. One sailor from Genova even landed in America and thought he had reached India.
To solve this problem, the British government made a simple decision. Nowadays it would be called crowd-sourcing, but back then it was called “offering an enormous prize to the first person who can provide a solution.” £20,000 was up for grabs, which is worth winning in 2014, but 300 years ago in 1714 it would have been more than enough to make a large investment – if the winner was mad enough – in the South Sea company.
Every Wednesday at 4 p.m. Pacific (and every once in a while at other times) TriplePundit founder Nick Aster will take 30 minutes or so to chat with an interesting leader in the sustainable business movement. These chats are broadcast on our Google+ channel and embedded via YouTube right here on 3p.
Today, Nick will chat with Jeff Shiau, the Impact Hub cities program director who is currently kicking off the opening of Philadelphia’s Impact Hub as well as Nate Nichols, a HUB Philly member.
Part innovation playground, part business accelerator, and part community workspace, the Impact Hubs offer a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities to grow impact. The global network of Impact Hubs believe a better world is created through the accomplishments of compassionate, creative and committed individuals focused on a common purpose.
Massachusetts has a ver populated coastline which also happens to be at risk for both flooding and sea level rise. In fact, the state has been hit by five major storms since 2010, including Hurricane Sandy. Some in Massachusetts are calling the damage done to coastal New Jersey and parts of New York City by Hurricane Sandy a “preview of what Massachusetts will face sometime in the future,” reports the newspaper The Lowell Sun.
Massachusetts is also a state that is preparing for the damage climate change can cause. On Jan. 14, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced a $50 million investment for a statewide climate change plan.
The climate change plan will both assess and address the state’s vulnerabilities when it comes to public health, transportation, energy and the built environment. Part of the plan is a $40 million municipal resilience grant program which the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) will administer. It will allow cities and towns to improve energy services at critical sites using clean energy technology.
Santa Barbara: Apr 2 – Apr 4 ECO:nomics The Wall Street Journal’s celebrated ECO:nomics conference brings together global CEOs, top entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers and environmental experts for discussion and debate about the most critical issues. Register here.
San Diego: Apr 24 – Apr 27 Social Venture Network Spring Conference SVN conferences convene and connect influential, innovative business leaders, impact investors and cultural entrepreneurs to create an experience where attendees can share the ideas and resources they need to succeed and grow. Register here.
New York: May 13 – May 14 Shared Value Leadership Summit For business leaders and problem solvers who see exciting market opportunities at the intersection of business goals and societal challenges, the Shared Value Initiative is the leading community shaping research, partnerships, and practices. Register here.
Southern California: May 19 – May 21 Fortune Brainstorm Green As the premier conference on business, sustainability, and green investing, Brainstorm GREEN delivers fresh thinking, actionable solutions, and unparalleled opportunities to build top-level relationships. Register here.
San Diego: Jun 2 – Jun 5 Sustainable Brands 2014 Discover what happens when brand strategists & designers connect with sustainability teams to drive innovation. 20% discount with code NW3pSB14sd. Register here.
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