Your Investment Portfolio’s Naughty and Nice List for 2014

Dale Wannen
Dale Wannen | Wednesday December 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

naughty-or-niceAs most of us rush to get our holiday shopping done over the next week (or chose to do so while sitting with our tablets at the kitchen table), we’ll be checking off our lists of who has been naughty or nice. You know who you are! One item to possibly check off your list is to figure out which companies in your portfolio are being naughty or nice.

SustainVest Management continues to monitor sustainability criteria for clients’ positions in their portfolios, keeping a keen eye on which companies are performing well and also the ones that are doing poorly. The below is referenced from a recent Consumer Reports list. After reading the info below, you can show off at your family holiday gatherings with some interesting information, both good and bad!


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Uber: Driving for Child Hunger and Gouging During a Crisis

Leon Kaye | Wednesday December 17th, 2014 | 2 Comments
Uber, sharing economy, carsharing, social media, Sydney, hostage crisis, gouging, Leon Kaye, surge pricing

Uber may have outworn its welcome in Sydney

In many ways, this is a great time for Uber. The carsharing service keeps expanding (210 cities worldwide) and has recently been valued at over $40 billion. But it also has taken a PR beating in past months, from reasons including thin-skinned executives threatening journalists to thuggish tactics in undermining its competitor, Lyft. Nevertheless, in many cities Uber has become the transport of choice. And it has tried to show a softer side, as in its current campaign to take action against childhood hunger. Fine, Uber is not donating the money, but the company is lending its technology to allow riders to kick in another $5 to their ride fares and help fund No Kid Hungry. Unfortunately for Uber, no one is talking about the rides-for-hunger campaign: the buzz is on the company’s surge pricing, or as some say, price gouging, during the tragic hostage crisis earlier this week in Sydney.

The outrage stems from Uber’s use of algorithms to set “surge pricing” into effect during rush hours, holidays, hectic Friday nights and bad weather. Uber users have long railed against this business practice, and in fairness much of that noise is an insufferable stream of whining—after all, some public transport systems like the Washington, DC Metro increase fares during peak commuting times while municipal taxi services boost fares late at night. Uber is a business, not an entitlement program for those who do not have a car.

What caused the outrage, however, was when Uber rides out of Sydney during that awful day increased as much as four-fold as the chaos in that downtown café unfolded.

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Western New York: 2030

RP Siegel | Wednesday December 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

This post is an entry in the Masdar Engage Blogging Contest.

It used to be too cold up here in Western New York to ride a bike in early April, but winters have gotten shorter. I also have a lot more flexibility now than at my old job. I work at a freelance co-op where a bunch of us share office space and equipment. So, I’m out for a ride on a weekday morning.

I’m on what used to be the Inner Loop expressway. It was filled in 10 years ago and now there are trails, community gardens, playgrounds and other common spaces. One trail circles the city, while others form commuting corridors that connect a number of neighborhoods with a now-thriving downtown. Many people walk, bike or take electric buses, many from net-zero homes. There are tubes that shield intrepid bikers and walkers from the elements.

The city has grown a lot in the past decade. People are attracted by the moderate temperatures and abundant water supply. Plus, this has become a high-tech hub. Even though so much is done now using virtual worker networks and 3-D printing, the presence of major universities still attracts a skilled workforce. People have come to realize that there’s a limit to what virtual tools can provide and that there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction when important matters are at hand.

This is part of a trend emphasizing the human side of business: People are realizing that intangibles, like the richness of one’s social network, meaningful employment and the depth of sharing, are far stronger drivers of happiness and well-being than material wealth. That realization has been a key driver in our transition.

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How Toms Shoes and Warby Parker Give Differently

3p Contributor | Wednesday December 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Co-founders and co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa of Warby Parker.

By Josh Caplan

In a time where the global economy is still reeling from the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and tension between socio-economic classes are running high, capitalism is undergoing an examination. Is this economic system — which, according to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, has in the span of 200 years shrunken the number of people living on $1 per day from 85 percent to 17 percent — too flawed or in large part obsolete?

This is not the correct question, even though it is asked daily by academics, politicians, businesspeople and thinkers alike. I am of the view, like John Mackey, that capitalism requires not a structural reformation, but a philosophical rewiring. Companies like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker are leading examples of how businesses can become successful while taking on specific issue areas where leadership gaps exist.

Lifting the “hood” on the issue of how companies fulfill their higher purpose is perhaps more substantive of a topic than why a specific issue area is of interest to the company and its founders. Culture is an invaluable trait of any successful company, but strategy is the bridge between dreams and reality. So, what are the two chief corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies that companies execute?

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How the 2014 Oil Price Collapse Threatens Sustainability

Bill Roth | Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 2 Comments

8364696_1afaaf5c75_z1980 was the last time we had an oil price collapse. Americans buying fuel-efficient vehicles created the 1980 oil price collapse, just as they have contributed to today’s oil price collapse. But what consumers did in response to lower pump prices during the 1980s does not bode well for today’s pursuit of sustainable solutions for our economy and climate change.

Will history repeat itself, where the 2014 oil price collapse undercuts our adoption of sustainable technologies?

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Could Spray-On Solar Change the Game?

RP Siegel | Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 0 Comments

IllanKramerWe’ve heard a lot about falling solar prices. Some of that is due to dumping of low-cost panels from China. But there is also a great deal of research being done here in the U.S. and elsewhere that is attacking the problem from many different directions. This is helping to not only reduce cost but to increase efficiency as well.

One area that has shown promise is that of colloidal quantum dots (CQD). These tiny nanotech wonders have a theoretical efficiency of 45 percent, surpassing that of silicon, though no one has come close to achieving that yet. What has been done, however, by researchers at MIT, is the development of production techniques that allows quantum dots to be produced without elevated temperatures or vacuum conditions. That means low cost, with a present conversion efficiency of 9 percent.

One thing to keep in mind with solar is that, given the fact that sunlight is free, the efficiency by which it can be converted into electricity is less important than it is with other sources that require you to pay for the energy. Where it does matter is in two areas: the system cost and the amount of area required.

So if the system cost is low — allowing you to cover your entire roof at a reasonable price — which provides enough power even at low efficiency, then who cares? Still, you have all that mounting hardware and labor to install it, right?

The cool thing about quantum dots is that these solar cells can theoretically be sprayed on, eliminating all that mounting hardware and labor and also permitting the cells to conform to irregular and uneven surfaces.

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Upsolar Promotes Energy Freedom with New Home Solar Loans

| Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment

upsolar rooftop U.S. solar power installations are on track to post another year of record growth. Enough solar power capacity – 1.354 gigawatts – was installed in the U.S. in Q3 2014 to power some 3.5 million homes, according to the latest quarterly report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.

More affordable and as emissions- and pollution-free as ever, U.S. home and property owners are installing solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems at an unprecedented pace. An industry first, more than 300 megawatts of residential PV went into operation in Q3. More than half of that was installed in states that don’t offer any incentives, SEIA and GTM highlighted.

That’s encouraging news for players all along the U.S. solar industry value chain, particularly in light of ongoing international trade tensions and a scheduled scaling down of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) at year-end 2016.

Facing stiff competition for residential customers, downstream solar PV finance-and-installation companies are turning to home solar loans as opposed to the third-party leases that have galvanized growth in recent years. Upsolar America believes it has a winning lifelong solution with its zero-down, 20-year, 5.99 percent fixed rate home solar loan program.

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16 Major Companies and Agencies Say No to Chemical Flame Retardants

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 0 Comments

chemical_flame_retardants_Ada_BeThe debate over chemical flame retardants seems to be heating up. The Center for Environmental Health, which helped encourage a rewrite of California’s regulations regarding safety standards in furniture manufacturing, announced last week that 16 major furniture manufacturers have now sworn off chemical flame retardants.

The companies, which include Facebook, Staples, Autodesk and Blue Cross Blue Sheild of Massachusetts, have pledged to stop buying furniture with chemical flame retardants in them. Several of the companies, like Staples and HDR Architecture, North America’s second-largest architectural firm, are national brands.

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Sustainability-Focused Innovation: Key to Growth at Alpine Waste and Recycling

| Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 0 Comments
In 2007, Alpine Waste & Recycling became the first company in the Denver metro area to create its own organic waste processing facility (pictured).

In 2007, Alpine Waste & Recycling became the first company in the Denver metro area to create its own organic waste processing facility (pictured).

By Graham Russell

Often overlooked in all the sustainability literature on risk management, internal cost savings from reduced energy or water usage, improved employee loyalty and productivity due to better working conditions, wellness programs, etc. is the concept of sustainability-focused innovation in products or services as a source of market opportunity and new revenues.

This type of externally-focused approach to sustainability as a driver of improved financial performance is just as much a part of the overall business case for corporate sustainability as these internally-focused initiatives. Few companies illustrate this market-driven sustainability approach as clearly and successfully as Alpine Waste & Recycling.

Founded in 1999 in Denver, Alpine is the largest independent waste collection and recycling company in Colorado with current revenues of $34 million and a staff of over 200. Founder and CEO John Griffith explains that, unlike many other companies with a stellar sustainability track record, Alpine’s own sustainability strategy has been shaped almost entirely by market and revenue expansion opportunities rather than by risk mitigation or internal cost-saving drivers.

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Latest Sustainability Assessment Tools: S-CORE and Future-Fit

3p Conferences
| Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 0 Comments

S-CORETMBy Devon Bertram

As more and more organizations are recognizing the value and need to consider sustainability as part of good business, new assessment and tracking tools are being developed to help them evaluate and measure their sustainability efforts and performance. Tackling sustainability can be an overwhelming task, and it can be difficult to know how and where to start.

Two new tools featured at this year’s International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) conference, held last month in Denver, were S-CORE from ISSP and the Future-Fit Business Benchmark from 3-D Investment Foundation and The Natural Step Canada.

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The Business of Giving Back

3p Contributor | Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 0 Comments

6510934443_8bd2942b79_zBy Debbie Fletcher

The art of philanthropy is alive and well. Even in today’s financially challenging climate, many businesses are maintaining their commitment to fundraising and giving to charity; recent research conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation — the summary of which is published here by the Guardian — revealed that the amount donated to charity by FTSE 100 companies has risen by £1.2 billion (or around $1.9 billion) since 2007. That includes cash, volunteer hours and in-kind donations.

The same report showed that 98 percent of those 100 companies gave every year, which is perhaps a far higher figure than many of the public might expect. Evidently, there is significantly more ‘good’ being done in the corporate world than is being communicated publicly. The business of giving back is very much in practice.

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Win a Trip to Abu Dhabi: Masdar’s ADSW Blogging Contest

Marissa Rosen
| Tuesday December 16th, 2014 | 0 Comments

abu dhabi sustainability weekTriplePundit has been sharing news from Masdar in the United Arab Emirates and covering developments in the Gulf region with great interest over the past few years. 

Now’s your chance to travel to Abu Dhabi to see what’s happening!

As a lead-up to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Jan. 17-24, 2015, Masdar is sponsoring a blogging contest called “Describe the ideal city in 2030” The winner will be invited to Abu Dhabi as VIP media to cover the week’s high-profile events. In 2014, ADSW welcomed over 32,000 participants from 170 countries to high-level panels, plenaries and events. This week in 2015 promises to be an equally exciting and busy one – and Masdar wants you to be there blogging and tweeting about all the action!

This year’s blogging contest is all about creativity and forecasting the future. Describe the ideal city in 2030.

The world’s urban centers are now firmly on the frontline of sustainability and innovation. Cities are confronted with maintaining a trajectory of economic growth, while reducing resource demand and addressing climate risk. With the rise of urbanization, the world’s cities must also offer complete communities – a place to live, work and play – while being pillars of sustainability. Creating growth, while minimizing their impact, is a tremendous opportunity for cities – they offer numerous opportunities to spur new ideas, develop more innovative technologies, strengthen industry and enhance our lifestyle. Based on what you see occurring in urban planning, along with developments in water, waste, energy, food production and transportation, what will your city look like in 2030?

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Global Ghost Gear Initiative Aims to Clean Up the Fishing Industry

Leon Kaye | Monday December 15th, 2014 | 0 Comments
aquafil, ghost gear, recycling

Fishing nets prepared for recycling at an Aquafil factory.

In recent years, the double-whammy of plastic trash and overfishing has drawn more attention to the plight of the world’s oceans. I was made aware of this mounting problem several years ago when I stayed at a remote beach town in northeastern Brazil. Plastic bottles, furniture and sheaths of fishnets had washed up in an area where the nearest town or city was scores of miles away. The image of those fishnets reminds me that the dangers to marine life continue even if a global moratorium on fishing kept every single boat in port.

These threats are ongoing because of  fishing equipment, mostly nets, that are dumped into the oceans daily. This “ghost gear” will remain in the waters for centuries, continuing to kill marine life.

To that end, last month over 40 delegates from various organizations convened in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to lay the groundwork for the new Global Ghost Gear Initiative, or GGGI. This multi-stakeholder effort, which is bringing together NGOs, industry leaders and intergovernmental organizations, is focused on finding innovative solutions to the growing problem of plastic debris the fishing industry loses, abandons and discards daily. The cost in money and resources is too large to ignore: United Kingdom-based World Animal Protection estimates that over 640,000 tons of fishing gear, mostly nylon or plastic, ends up dumped in the world’s oceans and seas each year.

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The Street Store: A Lesson for the Sharing Economy?

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Monday December 15th, 2014 | 0 Comments

The_Street_Store_3We’ve seen a lot of charities emerge into the global spotlight in recent years. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders, World Wildlife Fund and Defenders of Wildlife have gained prominence as world events shaped the demand for their services. But most of these organizations have been around for years, and their global reach and international reputation are largely the result of hard work, promotion and donor investment.

One nonprofit that began in South Africa, however, seems to be setting a new bar when it comes to the amount of time it’s taken to gain brand recognition.

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Berkshire Hathaway’s Citizenship: Culture, Scale and the Future

3p Contributor | Monday December 15th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the new book, “Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values,” by Lawrence A. Cunningham.

3315517377_ca72b23e45_zBy Lawrence A. Cunningham

The companies owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the huge conglomerate that Warren Buffett built, follow their leader in embracing corporate social responsibility, stewardship and sustainability. But the breadth and scale of the sprawling conglomerate can hide both the commitments and periodic problems.

For example, in the early 2000s, before it became part of Berkshire Hathaway, Russell Corp. signed major licensing agreements to produce sportswear adorned with popular logos. It made contracts with scores of U.S. universities and signed a large deal with the National Basketball Association.

The trouble was, the goods affixed with licensed Russell logos were made in factories in China and Honduras that engaged in objectionable conduct. In China, the company’s products were manufactured in sweatshops that violated principles of international human rights; in Honduras, company officials boarded up the plant and ousted the workforce in retaliation for attempts to unionize. Such misbehavior drew the attention of activists across the United States, including a group of college students who demanded that universities terminate the licensing agreements.

These problems persisted, however, even after 2006 when Russell was acquired by Fruit of the Loom, which had become part of Berkshire in 2002. Ultimately, in 2009, a former employee of the Honduras facility took the floor at the Berkshire annual meeting to report on the conditions and demand a response. Russell’s operating activities contrasted with Berkshire’s tenets of integrity and repute; promptly upon learning of the problems, Fruit of the Loom corrected them.

This case highlights the challenges Buffett’s successor will face in overseeing the sprawling array of operations. It illustrates the downside of corporate decentralization. When it comes to potential subsidiary violations of company policy or law, information must reach Berkshire headquarters immediately. But the existing framework is informal. It is based heavily on the mandate of subsidiary managers: Report bad news early. In the distinctive context of Berkshire culture, steeped in integrity, such an approach may be satisfactory. In the spirit of autonomy, it is essential.

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