Report: Tech Advances, Policy Changes Drive U.S. Solar Boom

| Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

PV-array-with-grass_NRELSupportive market-driven policy mechanisms and government R&D funding have been seminal in the creation of what’s turned into a booming U.S. solar energy sector. Whether it’s at the utility-, commercial- or residential-scale, using photovoltaics (PV) to produce renewable energy from sunlight is now financially viable wherever you live the U.S., according to a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Past and present performance is no guarantee of future success, however. The looming 2016 expiration of a key federal tax incentive – the solar investment tax credit – along with sharp cutbacks in leading European solar energy markets, international trade disputes and the imposition of punitive tariffs, have prompted U.S. solar industry participants to reassess their business plans. And while rapid growth and industry downsizing have brought PV cell and module supply and demand into balance – leading some PV manufacturers to even add capacity – profit margins, and the margin for error, are generally razor-thin.

In Solar Power on the Rise: The Technologies and Policies behind a Booming Energy Sector, UCS’ Climate and Energy Program senior analysts John Rogers and Laura Wisland highlight the social, environmental and economic benefits of solar power: “The major drivers of the rapid adoption of solar power,” whether it be solar PV or concentrating solar power (CSP) technology. They then move on on to summarize “key steps to sustain the strong growth of solar power in the United States and its contribution to a more resilient electricity system in the decades ahead.”

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OfficeMax, TerraCycle Launch K-Cup Recycling in Canada

Leon Kaye | Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Coffee pods, K-Cups, OfficeMax, OfficeMax Grand & Toy, Office Depot, k-cup recycling, recycling, Leon Kaye, waste diversion, TerraCycle, coffee

OfficeMax K-Cup Recycling Boxes are coming soon to southern Ontario

The single-serving, single-use coffee pod (or K-Cup) is one of the most wasteful consumer innovations to come up since bottled water. If you bother to scoop out each coffee pod, and your local municipality accepts the plastic/foil/maybe paper contraption in their recycling waste stream, they are not so hideous when it comes to final disposal. And true, more companies are rolling out biodegradable or compostable pods, but the reality is that most of this waste ends up in landfill. OfficeMax and TerraCycle, however, have launched a K-Cup recycling program in Canada.

Last week OfficeMax Grand & Toy, a division of Office Depot, announced the first K-Cup recycling program north of the border. As with both coffee companies and retailers, the K-Cup has become a lucrative business; so it behooves them to do something to increase the waste diversion of these pesky coffee pods. The success of this recycling program will rely on a pilot that has launched recently in southern Ontario.

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For Waste Management, Coal Ash Disposal + Food Waste Recycling = Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

| Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

food waste recyclingNew coal ash disposal regulations are slowly winding their way through the approval process, but leading U.S. waste company Waste Management (WM) is not letting any grass grow under its feet. WM is already betting the ranch that new regulations for coal ash disposal will result in a major opportunity to grow its business and create new jobs.

As a corollary to seeking new coal ash disposal opportunities, WM is also transitioning into a new, more efficient business model for its municipal waste disposal operations, particularly in the area of food waste recycling. Because of the sheer size of the company, this dual move into coal ash disposal and food waste recycling demonstrates a job-creating potential that will counterbalance the “job-killing” criticism routinely leveled at new EPA regulations.

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The Case for Public Relations

| Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

pr-certs-titleThe wires have been buzzing for weeks over public relations (PR) superpower Edelman’s refusal to rule out working with climate deniers. This news spread like a Yosemite wildfire.

Now, journalists love to hate publicists so the schadenfreude was predictable. The Edelman tale was made even more delicious with a bungled and complicated response which included a leaked email and an unscripted call from the company president to one of the first reporters to pick up on Edelman’s unsavory client roster (ALEC, API).

But is Edelman’s shakedown fair?

PR gets a bad rap from journalists because it’s perceived as a game where getting a client name into a story matters more than its newsworthiness.  That means that over-zealous PR reps can sometimes come on too strong in ever-present pursuit of a mention. When it comes to stories about sustainable companies and products, that might mean a PR team promoting companies and their initiatives as sustainable when they don’t really have the chops to back it up. Reams have been written about this as well: Earth Day is a favorite time for taking stock of the numerous pitches that end up in our email boxes. At best the products being offered are useful; at worst Earth Day is used as a cheap opportunity to pimp more product.

However, public relations pros have an important role in our collective efforts to improve many companies’ sustainability efforts.

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Food Runners Keeps the Unfortunate Fed in San Francisco

Leon Kaye | Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Food Runners, Mary Sisley, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, food waste, bicycling, food donations, Leon Kaye, tech companies

Food Runners allows businesses to donate food to charities in San Francisco.

Two things that define today’s San Francisco — bicycling and tech companies — are helping a 27-year-old nonprofit keep some of the city’s less fortunate from going hungry. Mary Risley, founder of a local cooking school, founded Food Runners in 1987 to pick up uneaten food from local businesses in order to distribute it to charities feeding the hungry. In turn those struggling with the city’s rising rents can get by while less food waste ends up in landfill.

Risley’s organization has become busier the past year, in part because of the tech companies in the city’s SOMA neighborhood with their cafeterias cooking more food than their employees can eat. Economics and the surging cost of living also play a role: As a recent San Francisco Chronicle article noted, the amount of food donations Food Runners has picked up has spiked 50 percent in the past year. But not only Silicon Valley-type companies are donating to the nonprofit.

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Millennials on a Mission with Nexus

3p Contributor | Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in “The Millennials Perspective” issue of Green Money JournalClick here to view more posts in this series.

Brian Weinberg__PicBy Brian Weinberg

Aron Ping D’Souza, a young philanthropist and Australian native, first attended a Nexus Summit in London in 2012. There, he was exposed to Sir Ronald Cohen’s work on impact investing and social impact bonds. The idea that for-profit investing could be a vehicle for social impact was new and powerful to him. It ignited his imagination on how he could bring these new relationships and extraordinary ideas back to his home country in the name of good.

A little more than a year later, he launched Good Super, Australia’s first social impact retirement fund at the first Nexus Summit in Australia, which he chaired. Good Super is aiming to reach US$1 billion in assets by the end of 2014, supporting countless companies taking on major issues, ranging from clean energy to extreme poverty.

The leadership of the Alana Institute, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Marcos Nisti and Ana Lucia Villela (a member of the prominent Itau banking family) attended the inaugural Nexus Global Youth Summit in 2011. There, in a flash of inspiration, they conceived a new business strategy to help tackle hunger issues globally. They started Satisfeito, a network of Brazilian restaurants that provide customers the option for a two-thirds portion of a given meal, at the same price, in order to contribute to Satisfeito. The money the restaurants save by serving the Satisfeito portion is then transferred to organizations that combat child hunger. Together, this program has sparked a funding mechanism that has provided over 44,000 meals for people in need.

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Dr. Pepper Snapple Group is Serious About Reducing Waste

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Dr_PepperDr. Pepper Snapple Group has surpassed several of its environmental targets, as its latest corporate social responsibility (CSR) report reveals.  The company that has over 50 beverage brands is really serious about reducing waste. DPS set a goal of recycling 60 million pounds of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic by 2015, but last year recycled 60.7 million pounds.

The company also achieved its goal of an 80 percent recycling rate by 2015 — four years early in 2011. DPS set a new goal of a 90 percent recycling rate of its solid manufacturing waste. It is well on its way to meeting the new goal: In 2013, it recycled over 85 percent of its manufacturing solid waste, a 3 percent increase from 2012. Some of its sites achieved double-digit increases in their recycling rates in 2013. One of those sites is its Miami plant which achieved a recycle rate of 83 percent, up from 61 percent a year earlier.

Through partnerships, DPS is also able to promote recycling: It works with the American Beverage Association to help develop an industry approach to reducing waste. It began partnering with Keep America Beautiful in 2013 to support recycling efforts in communities across the country. Through its partnership, the company donated $300,000 to put recycling bins in public parks, which gives consumers more access to local recycling systems. DPS renewed the partnership for 2014.

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Solar System Will Power New Dropbox Office

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday August 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

UGE solar systemDropbox provides a handy and free service that allows you to share documents, videos and photos with people. Founded in 2007, the site has over 300 million users globally. Its new San Francisco office, which is LEED Platinum certified, will feature a solar energy system designed by UGE, a global distributed renewable energy company. The 25.2 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic system will supply enough energy to offset the electricity used in the six-story building designed by William McDonough Partners. The PV system will feature 84 300-watt solar panels.

“On-site renewable energy will power a sustainable future for Dropbox — a visible step forward for an innovative company located in the heart of the tech capital of the world,” Scott Van Pelt, director of engineering at UGE, said in a statement. “UGE’s software tools have played a crucial role in designing efficient solar and wind systems based on site-specific resources, so it’s both exciting and fitting that one of our energy solutions will top the headquarters of a leader in cloud technology.”

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3p Weekend: 5 Reasons for Companies to Care About Employee Satisfaction

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 0 Comments

5187038544_d8dd3aed9b_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.

Employee engagement and satisfaction is a hot topic in the sustainability space right now, but some companies may still find themselves asking: What is a happy employee really worth? Well, quite a bit actually. To prove it, this week we rounded up five reasons for companies to start caring about employee satisfaction. (If you can’t keep your eyes off the clock, feel free to ‘accidentally’ leave this article in the office copy machine.)

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NRG Energy Crowdsources Presidential Hunt

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 0 Comments

NRG_Energy_1Executive recruiting appears to be changing. Energy company NRG has put out a call for a new president for its solar company NRG Home, and it isn’t expecting to hear from professional headhunters.

Instead, it’s turned up the megaphone and reached out to its customers and clients – anyone actually, who isn’t a “corporation, partnership or other business entity.”

And the person who refers the winning candidate gets $100,000.

It’s the latest evidence of crowd-sourced recruiting and a concept handily referred to as the “X-prize” approach, in which members of the public have a chance to earn a handsome return for an innovative, hard-to-find or novel idea.

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Could a Carbon Tax Cut Down on Corporate Inversions?

RP Siegel | Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 0 Comments

Castle head standMarc Hafstead of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, along with Lawrence Goulder of Stanford University, have come up with an idea that could potentially address two important problems in one broad policy action. The first, which is where they’ll likely began, is the problem of corporate inversions. No, that’s not corporations standing on their heads; it’s when they buy another company in a country with a lower tax rate so that they can begin paying taxes there instead of here in the U.S., where they receive the most government services. The other problem is climate change.

The two did an analysis of the gross domestic product (GDP) impact of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, under three scenarios. In the first scenario, revenues are returned directly to Americans in a lump sum. The second uses the revenue to pay for tax cuts on individuals, while the third did the same, except that the tax cuts would go to corporations.

In all three cases the impact was small. Based on a carbon tax beginning at $10 per ton, and then increasing each year by 5 percent, they found that the GDP impact by 2040 would range from 0.24 to 0.56 percent of GDP, with the lowest stemming from the proceeds being used to reduce corporate taxes, while the highest came from the lump sum rebates to individuals.

The reasoning behind their paper goes something like this: There is a perception that U.S. corporate tax rates are too high, making it difficult for American companies to compete. Indeed, nominal U.S. corporate tax rates are among the highest in the world. But that is not what most companies pay. Indeed, the U.S. corporate tax rates are a bit like the MSRP on new cars. Nobody actually pays that amount. U.S. tax laws are filled with loopholes that companies routinely take advantage of. According to Edward Kleinbard at USC, even though the nominal tax rate in 2010 was 35 percent, in fact, companies paid an average of only 12.6 percent. Most people remember the headline that GE paid zero taxes a few years back. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, 26 companies including GE, Boeing and Verizon paid no taxes at all during the period from 2008-2012. All were presumably playing by the rules, using legitimate deductions that are part of the federal tax code. Some companies are better at playing this game than others.

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Researchers Tally Up the Ecological Cost of Eating Beef

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments

cows_no_kill_ecology_USDABad news for beef eaters: That juicy steak dinner that many Americans look forward to each week now has a clear ecological price to it – and according to researchers it’s a lot higher than the tally associated with raising poultry and pork-based products.

Researchers from two different institutes in the U.S. and Israel tabulated the environmental and financial costs of producing different kinds of foods, such as beef, poultry, dairy and eggs. They wanted to find out what the environmental impact would be, particularly in areas where drought exists or climate change has affected the overhead associated with such industries. Released late last month, the study was headed by Dr. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Plant Sciences and involved researchers at Yale University and in New York. Their results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Tallying the ecological cost of eating beef

It was no surprise that beef was the most costly of the five to produce, said Milo and his research assistant Alon Shepon: “The surprise was in the size of the gap: In total, eating beef is more costly by an order of magnitude – about 10 times, on average – to the environment than other animal-derived foods, including pork and poultry.”

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Plastics Recycling: You’re Doing it Wrong. And So is Everybody Else!

3p Contributor | Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 17 Comments

 [Image credit: Shutterstock]

The little triangle was promising you what, exactly?

By Russell Klein

What is going on with your plastic, America?

Are you someone relying on those little numbers in a recycling symbol?  Whether your relationship involves curbside collection, 10-cent refunds, grocery bag fees or foam container bans, as a consumer you’re probably winging it when it comes to managing the largest parts of your plastic habit. Be it resolved right here and today, if you’re not a recycling professional what you know about plastics recovery is wrong.

Do any of the following statements sound familiar?
“My building only recycles 1s and 2s!”
“Doesn’t that bag have a triangle on it? Put it in the recycling bin!”
“Oh! If that bottle has a 7, you need to put it with the compostables!”

If you have uttered any of these things, in fact if you’ve even thought about it, you need to stop.  Why?  If you will bear with me for the next two minutes, I’d like to guide you to become a better-informed steward for the environment.  How?  Why?  For the past 25 years, our modest national efforts to do-the-right-thing by recycling plastic products have suffered from widespread misunderstanding and even marketing disinformation.  Don’t want to be part of the problem?  Consider this an intervention.

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Human Values and Corporate Social Impact: Fairness in Pay Ratios

3p Contributor | Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 1 Comment

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth post in a six-part series examining the Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision that affirmed the legality of treating corporations as persons. Using JPMorgan Chase as an example, Donald J. Munro of the University of Michigan focuses on how certain human moral values and some corporate behaviors are incompatible. You can follow the whole series here

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, earned

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, earned $18.7 million in 2012, amounting to a ratio of 229-to-1 between the CEO’s pay and that of the average worker.

By Donald J. Munro

Fairness is associated with equality in the distribution of goods, often referred to as “distributive justice.” It derives from the practice of equal sharing, seen in children starting around age 7 or 8.

Among children, fairness is often tied to empathy, and can be found in parental rules that are designed to prevent another child from feeling unhappy. It is also related to reciprocity, meaning fairness in exchanges of valuable goods. Cooperation in groups thrives where there is reciprocity, as James Q. Wilson has discussed.

Culture determines the varying boundaries of what constitutes “equal shares.” And who is “equal” in status. In our own society, popular opinion may accept a certain unequal ratio between CEO pay and the average pay of other workers, but not beyond a given point. That is when executive pay becomes a political topic on which shareholders may have an “advisory role,” and very often have opinions contrary to those of the board of directors. In the 1970s, management specialist Peter Drucker advised companies to stick to a ratio of 20-to-1 between CEOs and average worker pay, to avoid resentment.

At the unconscious level, our judgments of what is fair may be biased, reflecting the views of a group to which we belong, especially in conflicts with other groups. This is often the case when an authoritative leader within the group expresses the bias and through persuasion or coercion gets others to follow. Absent that situation, the danger of bias can be lessened to the degree that there are facts to discuss. For example, let us now turn to the facts in the case of JPMorgan Chase:

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The 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan: Human Rights Violations Already

Michael Kourabas
| Friday August 22nd, 2014 | 4 Comments
Baku, Azerbaijan will host the inaugural European Games next year.

Baku, Azerbaijan will host the inaugural European Games next year.

As oil-rich Azerbaijan prepares to host next year’s inaugural ‘European Games,’ the Azerbaijani government has stepped up its crackdown on activists speaking out against its abysmal human rights record.  As of this writing, more than 20 human rights defenders have been detained by the government, including four of the country’s most prominent activists.

Meanwhile, the European Games’ lead organizer has claimed that it is not his job to criticize the host country; denied any knowledge of the government’s oppressive habits; and declared Azerbaijan an “incredibly free society.” Current and future corporate sponsors of the games should take notice and carefully consider their decision to be affiliated with the event.

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