Downtown Las Vegas: A Surprising Hub of Sustainable Thinking

| Thursday August 14th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Solar trees outside Las Vegas City Hall

Solar trees outside Las Vegas City Hall

I recently had a chance to visit downtown Las Vegas, a place many tourists don’t even know exists. Although it’s been somewhat neglected for years, the area is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.  New residential buildings are slowly cropping up, bike lanes are going in, and even a public gathering space made from old shipping containers has appeared.  All of this is beginning to create a walkable, diverse and sustainable center for a city that for decades hasn’t really had one.

The major forces pushing this “new” Las Vegas are a forward-thinking city government, coupled with a $350 million investment from Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsheih, through what’s known as the Downtown Project.  The project has invested in dozens of startup businesses, sowing the seeds to catalyze a new downtown community.

I had a chance to stop by city hall to talk to the city’s Chief Sustainability Officer Tom Perrigo, as well as visit with SHIFT, one of the many startups funded by the Downtown Project.  In the video below, you can learn more…

Video after the jump:

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GreenPod Development: Creating Green Modular Homes

Sarah Lozanova | Thursday August 14th, 2014 | 0 Comments

green home kitInspired by the concept of making a sustainable lifestyle easier, GreenPod creates low-maintenance modular homes with healthy interiors.

Factory-built kits can be transported to a building site and easily assembled. Using state-of-the-art technology and materials, these homes have a small footprint and conserve both water and energy. The homes, including tree houses and floating homes, are customized to the site, have passive solar features and minimize site disturbance.

The walls, floor and roof of the homes use SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels), with a rain shield on the exterior. “The homes are precut when they come out of the factory, so they can go up in a day or two on the site,” says Ann Raab, GreenPod’s founder.

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Navigating the ‘Wild West’ of Eco-Labels: Science-Backed Tips for Consumers

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Doctors in laboratoryThe Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Star program is one of the most recognizable and trusted environmental labels in the marketplace – but it wasn’t always that way.

Launched in 1992 to help consumers find the most energy-efficient products, the program initially allowed companies to sign up to use the Energy Star logo by self-reporting their products’ energy savings; the EPA and DOE would perform only occasional spot-checks on items carrying the eco-label. But a federal audit in 2010 revealed that some Energy Star products did not live up to their energy-savings claims. Worse, the program even accepted several fictitious products created by the Government Accountability Office to investigate Energy Star’s certification process like a gasoline-powered alarm clock the size of an electric generator.

Since the scandal, the EPA and DOE changed the way the energy-efficiency initiative approves new products, now requiring companies to have their products – and energy-savings claims – tested at independent laboratories.

The case of Energy Star illustrates the dilemma consumers face when they come across a product with a label boasting environmental responsibility: Can consumers trust that the claims these eco-labels make are true?

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German, Swedish Groups Join in $1.6 Billion Offshore Wind Farm

| Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

9da539a496c9fd558ab70763d4a8e867be1a9d19 Germany’s offshore wind investment received a big, much-needed boost on August 11 as Munich City Utilities and Sweden’s Vattenfall announced a huge wind-farm investment off the German North Sea coast.

Due to start construction in 2015 and come online in 2017, the $1.6 billion Sandbank offshore wind farm project entails Vattenfall installing 72 turbines off the German North Sea coast. That would add a massive 1.4 terawatt-hours (TWh) of clean, renewable electricity to the German grid, enough to supply some 400,000 homes, according to an AFP news report.

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California Pulls Out All Stops to Land Tesla Gigafactory

Leon Kaye | Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 5 Comments
Tesla Motors, Gigafactory, California, CEQA, California Environmental Quality Act, clean technology, Leon Kaye, battery technology, lithium ion batteries

Could California be the home of a future Tesla Gigafactory?

Tesla Motors‘ proposed “Gigafactory,” Elon Musk’s vision of a massive factory that would revamp the global supply chain for lithium-ion batteries and then sharply reduce their cost, still does not have an official location.

California was not even on the radar, as rumor had it the Reno, Nevada area was the frontrunner to land this factory that promises to employ up to 6,500 people — in fact, excavation of a proposed site has already been completed. Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were also in the running in the event negotiations.

But suddenly California is making the charge to woo Tesla Motors. According to the Los Angeles Times, California lawmakers would exempt Tesla, Panasonic and other potential partners from some of the state’s environmental regulations in order to move the Gigafactory forward. Democrats and Republicans are working with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office to pass legislation that would reduce the factory’s cost by as much as 10 percent.

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India Makes CSR A Requirement for Companies

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 12 Comments

640px-Ä3W_-_Ambulance_in_India_CSRWe laud corporate social responsibility. As a society, we put those generous acts of concern that companies do at the top of the scale when it comes to trust and our concept of product reliability. Safeway’s many local donation campaigns, McDonald’s long-standing Ronald McDonald charities, the numerous companies that have donated to community hunger programs, child education and the like. In fact, these days, it would likely be harder to find a company that doesn’t have a well publicized CSR program than 20 that do.

And American society is not alone. In India, Mahatma Gandhi introduced the concept of trusteeship to companies in the early 1900s, encouraging them to take a leading role in social responsibility. So, the Indian parliament’s landmark legislation in 2013 that large companies must donate 2 percent of their earnings to CSR projects each year is really not earth-shaking when it comes to social perspectives in the world’s largest democratic nation.

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Jay-Z’s Got 99 Problems, But Prop 47 Aint One

Michael Kourabas
| Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

7606416730_26cb8b5536_zCriminal justice reform advocates (and hip-hop fans) rejoice: Avowedly apolitical rap mogul Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z) used the stage at a recent San Francisco concert to throw his support behind California’s Proposition 47 (Prop 47).

Not known for forays into politics, Jay stepped out of his comfort zone just three months before Californians will have a chance to vote on what could be the most important ballot initiative in the state’s history.  (No, I haven’t forgotten about Prop 8.)

If approved, Prop 47, known as the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative, will reduce the penalty for most nonviolent crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor and direct the money saved from incarcerating fewer individuals — estimated to be between $150 million and $250 million each year — to a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.

Prop 47’s potential effects

If passed, Prop 47 will have an immediate impact on California’s prisons and the state’s otherwise prison-bound population.

First and foremost, the initiative would reclassify low-level shoplifting and theft, possession of narcotics, and possession of marijuana — all currently felonies — as misdemeanors.  In California, three-quarters of those incarcerated are serving time for nonviolent offenses, and roughly one in six is locked up for nothing more than drug possession, so the future impact would be great.  In addition to keeping low-level, nonviolent offenders out of prison in the future, the initiative would also allow roughly 10,000 current prisoners to seek re-sentencing.

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Whole Foods GMO Policy Could Hurt Artisan Food Makers

Leon Kaye | Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 78 Comments
Whole Foods, GMO policy, GMOs, Leon Kaye, artisan cheesemakers, organic, GMO free, genetically modified, Monsanto

Yes, Whole Foods, we get it

Whole Foods has long made a splash for its stance on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Non-GMO labeling and signs are all over its stores and prove this has been part of its overall success is in the company’s performance.

While many retailers disappeared after the 2008 financial crisis, Whole Foods continued to grow. Its stock price has long been on an upward trajectory, and the stock has stoked plenty of portfolios with its split last year. Shoppers cram the beautiful stores to buy everything from pricey supplements to the more cost-competitive 365 Everyday Value private label products — and of course, the artisan goodies, from breads to cheeses to snacks.

But the company’s promise to have GMO labeling on all of its products by 2018 is having consequences. As the Guardian showcased last week, artisan cheesemakers who rely on Whole Foods to sell their products are worried about Whole Foods’ directives to its suppliers. Why? While many of these cheesemakers allow their cows to graze on grass, shun antibiotics and churn their products in small batches, some do use a small amount of GMO feed. Similar challenges are faced by small vineyards and breweries that could find traces of GMOs within their supply chains. The result has been angst within small businesses, many of which are headed by people who have devoted their lives, and finances, to their beloved crafts. That one GMO ingredient in their product’s supply chain could have a massive impact on their businesses.

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Carpet Recycling Jumps 52 Percent in 2013

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

CarpetFourteen percent of carpet was recycled into new products or used to produce energy last year – rather than buried in landfills – according to a new report from the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a nonprofit initiated by both the carpet industry and government agencies to boost carpet recycling nationwide.

This figure may seem like a drop in the bucket against the 3.7 billion pounds of carpet discarded in 2013, but it actually represents a significant improvement over previous years: Diversion of carpet from the landfill rose 52 percent from 2012 to 2013.

CARE estimates that the environmental impact of keeping this material from the landfill is equivalent to taking 40,822 cars off the road or powering 17,692 homes for one year, the organization wrote in its annual report for 2013.

Of the more than 500 million pounds of carpet rescued from the landfill in 2013, 4 percent was used to power cement production facilities, while 10 percent was combusted to create thermal energy in waste-to-energy plants, the report found. Around 2 percent was able to be reused – refurbished and resold or donated back into the marketplace – and less than 1 percent was incinerated.

Thirty-five percent of the carpet diverted from the landfill was recycled into new products, according to the report: About half was manufactured into engineered plastic resins that can be used to make composite lumber, tile backer board, roofing shingles and automotive parts. The other 44 percent was turned back into new carpet in a closed-loop process – the “holy grail” of recycling.

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Hyatt to Source More Sustainable Seafood

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

seafoodHyatt Hotels Corp. recently announced a new initiative to add more responsibly-sourced seafood at its hotels.

The first goal of the initiative is for responsibly-sourced seafood to comprise 50 percent of the company’s inventory by 2018. Part of that goal will be sourcing over 15 percent from fisheries or farms certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).

Hyatt has already been partnering with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to stop sourcing very vulnerable seafood species. With WWF’s help, the chain conducted an assessment of global seafood procurement processes at its hotels and identified steps it could take to improve the sustainability of its seafood sourcing practices.

One step it will take is to focus first on certain species including salmon, shrimp, grouper, Chilean sea bass and tuna. Another step is instituting a complete ban on procuring and eating shark fin at all of its restaurants and food and beverage outlets around the world. This step builds on its 2012 commitment to remove shark fin from all restaurant menus. Hyatt will also have employees involved in food and beverage offerings at the company’s owned and managed full-service hotels undergo a sustainable seafood training program developed with WWF. All of these initiatives will be measured with WWF analysis and recommendations.

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Why Energy Efficiency is About to Come Roaring Back

RP Siegel | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 11 Comments

EfficiencyWe write a lot of stories these days about the remarkable growth of solar and wind power and how they are truly transforming the energy landscape. Another important component of this sea change is energy efficiency (EE), though we haven’t been writing as much about that, perhaps because it’s not as sexy and exciting as shiny new solar panels or towering wind turbines. But there is another reason: Investment in energy efficiency projects has been in a long-term decline, going back to a peak of about $2 billion annually in 1992, which has drifted down to about $1.2 billion in recent years.

Last year, utilities in Indiana were ordered to refund $32 million to ratepayers. Those funds represented the balance of $74 million that was collected for energy efficiency projects, many of which were never implemented.

In Nevada, EE savings declined 61 percent last year, compared to those realized four years earlier. Reports blamed a lack of state policies and incentives for the decline. This seems apparent when comparing Nevada with neighboring Arizona where utility customers saved three times as much due to efficiency measures, despite the similar climate.

State incentives constitute one factor in the decline; financing is another. A program called PACE had been quite popular until 2010, when it ran into trouble. PACE, which stands for Property-Assessed Clean Energy Financing, essentially allowed homeowners to borrow money from the city for clean energy and energy efficient upgrades, and then repay the loans through annual property tax assessments. Complex financing rules made it impossible for the loans to be sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for consolidation, which really put a damper on things.

Chris Hummel, chief marketing officer of Schneider Electric, thinks that all of that is about to change. After ticking off some $7 billion in new financing going into efficiency from state banks in Europe and the U.S., he told the Guardian the reasons why energy efficiency is about to come roaring back.

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How B Corps Use Business as a Force for Good

Ryan Honeyman | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments

This is the first in a weekly series of excerpts from the upcoming book “The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good” (Click here to read the rest of the series).

imageBy Ryan Honeyman

I first found out about B Corporations while baking cookies.

The flour I was using — King Arthur’s unbleached all-purpose flour — had a Certified B Corporation logo on the side of the package. “That seems silly,” I thought. “Wouldn’t you want to be an A Corporation and not a B Corporation?” The carton of eggs I was using was rated AA.

I was obviously missing something.

An online search revealed that the B logo was not a scarlet letter for second-rate baking products. B Corporations, I found, were part of a dynamic and exciting movement to redefine success in business by using their innovation, speed and capacity for growth not only to make money, but also to help alleviate poverty, build stronger communities, restore the environment and inspire us to work for a higher purpose.

The B stands for “benefit,” and as a community, B Corporations want to build a new sector of the economy in which the race to the top isn’t to be the best in the world but to be the best for the world.

Since my cookie-inspired discovery, I have watched the B Corp movement grow rapidly and globally.

In addition to King Arthur Flour, big-name B Corps include companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery, Dansko, Etsy, Method, Patagonia and Seventh Generation. There are now Certified B Corporations in more than 30 countries around the globe, including Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Kenya and Mongolia (to name a few).

Thought leaders such as former President Bill Clinton and Robert Shiller, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics, have taken an interest in the B Corp movement.

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Community Engagement in the Gaming Industry

| Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

slot machineGambling is fun — the rush, the bright colors, the chance to press your luck and win big money. But let’s be honest. Vegas is often synonymous with excess — cash, sex, fashion, food and booze, which isn’t exactly sustainable. When you’re up, you’re up, and you can easily spend a month’s rent on party time. But at the end of the day, every tourist destination has effective ways of removing dollars from its guests’ pockets, and people are free to participate or leave their cash in the bank. There are plenty of vacation destinations, and over 39 million people choose Las Vegas for theirs every year — and 85 percent of them are repeat visitors.

Such is my dilemma with the gaming and hospitality industry. Casinos make people happy; they are a popular vacation destinations, and they are job creators (46 percent of the workforce in southern Nevada is employed in tourism). But casinos can also have plenty of negative economic impacts.

Nevertheless, every company on the planet can work to operate more sustainably and improve the community where it does business. Every company has many good people working at it too, and I’ve never met a member of a corporate sustainability team I didn’t like. Last week I got to meet the team at MGM Resorts, on the occasion of the Women’s Leadership Conference, sponsored by the MGM Foundation. The conference was a gathering of more than 800 women (and a few men), aimed at inspiring and motivating executives to move forward in their careers. While the conference had a few too many motivational speakers for my personal taste, I was clearly in the minority. Just take a look at some of these tweets from happy attendees:

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Is Too Much Bottled Water Coming from Drought Stricken Regions?

Leon Kaye | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 4 Comments
Bottled water, drought, California, tap water, farming, beverage companies, Leon Kaye, groundwater, water stewardship

San Luis Reservoir, one visible example of California’s drought.

The bottled water industry has grown exponentially the past few decades despite the fact tap water in the United States is generally safe. Never mind the fact bottled water producers have had more than their fair share of safety issues: Bottled water has become accepted by consumers. While companies such as Nestlé insist they are taking responsibility for water stewardship and recycling, they also bottle their water at dubious sources, including those in drought stricken regions.

In fact, much of the bottled water produced in the U.S. comes from areas affected by drought. As an article recently posted on Mother Jones illustrates, four of the most popular bottled water brands — Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser — come largely from California. True, farming takes up the lion’s share of water in the state, and bottled water in the grand scheme of things is not parching California on its own. But at a time when California is struggling to provide residents, industry and farmers adequate supplies of water, more citizens are asking why it is bottled here and shipped out of state.

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Malaria Vaccine Offers New Prevention Methods

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Malaria_Teaching_about_mosquito_net_use_sallyforthwitIf you have ever traveled to a densely tropical area, you have probably taken anti-malaria medications. You probably also know that protecting yourself from the disease isn’t a piece of cake. My earliest childhood memories of living in Central America included a battery of shots that protected us from everything from typhus to yellow fever. When it came to shielding us from the bite of a malaria-borne mosquito however, protection was a bit more complex, and involved a regimen of either weekly or daily medications that served as a protective shield from the potentially fatal effects of the disease.

And since it depended upon good memory skills and sometimes the right immune system, the doses weren’t always 100 percent effective in warding off the disease. Although none of my family contracted it, we knew scientists and researchers who, even with their acute instincts for regimen, still ended up contracting malaria.

But the real problem today with anti-malaria meds isn’t the chance that they won’t work, but that the majority of the victims aren’t able to afford a lengthy prescription. That’s because most people who contract malaria aren’t incidental travelers from North America who are on a business trip or an excursion to see the local sights, but residents who would never be able to afford the cost of lifelong prescriptions.

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