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For years, Patagonia has established itself as one of the strongest leaders of sustainability within the business community. Although it’s a well-deserved reputation, there are a number of innovative strategies behind why Patagonia’s industry leading reputation is so widespread. From their product catalogs, which serve as environmental education materials to their product labeling strategy that touts organic and reused materials, Patagonia clearly knows the value in communicating their message through innovative and effective channels.
The Tin Shed, Patagonia’s latest sustainability communication tool is no exception. The Tin Shed is an interactive web application that combines the stories and dispatches of Patagonia’s sustainability ambassadors from around the world. The “tin shed” is a reference to Patagonia’s origins which was an old shed that Yvon Chouinard began forging his pitons in. Today, Patagonia’s virtual tin shed serves as the platform from which the company integrates the breadth and depth of their environmental and human sustainability initiatives.
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If you’ve ever been to Israel, you might notice that it looks eerily like Central California. Back roads wind through dry golden hills, dotted with olive trees and oleander bushes. The countryside, however, has a major blight: a huge wall topped with barbed wire that delineates the Israel/Palestine border. Armed guards patrol the wall, ensuring that neither Arabs nor Israelis have the ability to antagonize each other. Conflict, hatred and violence have plagued this part of the world for a very long time. European and American interventions have not solved the conflict. Even so, President Obama is hoping to promote “democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion ” in the region with his current trip to the Middle East.
So what to do when politics, military strength and carefully-planned summits have all failed? Try creating peace and cooperation through business and profit-sharing. Or so says PeaceWorks, a “not-only-for-profit” company. You could say that PeaceWorks has a double-bottom-line business model; they pursue profit and peace in equal measure. They profit by selling healthy, natural food products that are produced by groups on traditionally opposing sides of a conflict. They pursue peace by “empowering the moderates” in the Middle East that hope for resolution to the ongoing conflict. The fundamental idea is simple: by working together to grow, harvest, produce and export a value-added food product, Arab and Israeli communities and business people can find common ground while earning a living wage.
When it comes to buildings, it can be hard to be big and green. This is especially true of large warehouses or other industrial spaces that have massive ceilings and a lack of natural circulation. But that’s where Big Ass Fans come in handy.
No, I’m not being funny. Big Ass Fans is an actual business name. And it’s a good one, considering that the firm manufactures ceiling fans that reach up to 24 feet in diameter.
Fans may be old-school, but their use in managing an indoor climate can be cutting edge. Big Ass Fans has been designing fans for the past ten years with a strong focus on efficiency. By moving air, they lower temperatures in large spaces during the summer and boost them during the winter.
Earlier this week, Volvo introduced a new model that integrates a plug-in lithium battery and a diesel engine, which Volvo plans to make available by 2012. When compared to Volvo’s earlier plan to have a hybrid vehicle available in 2012, the new plug-in model represents a more aggressive move on Volvo’s behalf.
Notably, this move could position Volvo as the world’s first provider of a plug-in diesel model. Although the technical specifications are a work in progress, the company says that the new plug-in will emit less than 50 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. When compared to the average emissions rate of roughly 90 g/km found among most European subcompacts, Volvo’s 2012 plug-in is a big leap in automotive efficiency.
At Schott Corporation, it’s all about the glass: the idea is glass and the powerful ideas that can shine through glass.
The $3 billion company, with corporate offices in Germany and North America, employs about 17,000 people. It has virtually cornered the market on a multitude of glass uses from pharmaceutical packaging to fiber optics to microlithography to glass tubing. But the 125-year-old company’s big push for decades and especially lately is in concentrated solar energy for power plants and photovoltaic technology applications.
The group’s Schott Solar unit has more than 50 years of experience in solar technology. And it sees a major opportunity for solar in Africa. Lars Waldmann, the company’s public relations manager, notes that given Africa’s abundant solar resources and it underdeveloped electric power sector, solar technologies are a big part of the continent’s energy answer.
It may not be as shiny as solar or as obvious as wind, but no matter how you slice it – geothermal energy is a powerhouse when it comes to renewable energy generation.
As I highlighted in my book, Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks…geothermal actually holds significant advantages over other forms of renewable and fossil fuel-based energy.
During the week of April 13, the Vanguard Group’s mutual funds shareholders received their first proxies since 2002. The proxies contain a proposal which asks shareholders to “institute procedures to prevent holding investments in companies that, in the judgment of the Board, substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity, the most egregious violations of human rights.”
The proposal was coordinated by the non-profit group, Investors Against Genocide. Voting was open until the shareholder meeting on July 2. Eric Cohen, chairperson of Investors Against Genocide, characterizes the proposal as “particularly unusual, because Vanguard customers have not had an opportunity to vote in nearly seven years, and also because the genocide-free investing proposal is the first shareholder proposal to make it onto the proxy ballot at Vanguard.”Click to continue reading »
Prisons have long held a reputation for being resource “black holes.” Incarcerated people fade away into obscurity, most without any true chance at rehabilitation. Yet inmates consume huge amounts of food, and even larger amounts of energy. In 2007, California taxpayers spent over $8 billion on their prison system, more than any other state in the nation. Recidivism rates are not improving, and the state is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Prisons have become an icon for waste and consumption.
One California prison, however, is determined to change the notion that a penal system can only consume resources without reusing them. Avenal State Prison is home to 6,500 inmates. It is located in the dry and somewhat desolate San Joaquin County. Beginning in June of 2000, Avenal State Prison initiated a revolutionary program: food scrap and green material collection. The facility entered into a partnership with San Joaquin Composting, a local and for-profit business that sells compost to the many agricultural wholesalers that exist in the San Joaquin valley. This collaboration between a state-run prison and a private enterprise has generated unbelievable financial, environmental and social benefits. Click to continue reading »
By Rebecca Busse
In my quest for a new, innovative, scalable microfinance model that could also be coupled with environmental sustainability, I met Grant Hunter, the VP of Franchise Development and Marketing for Microfranchise Solutions, LLC. He assured me that he was anything but a grant hunter, despite his name, and that he was searching for a business-based approach to poverty alleviation. After having some less-than-ideal experiences in the non-profit world searching for a microfinance model that could be easily scaled up or down according to need, he abandoned the non-profit models and went to a for-profit model: microfranchising. Microfranchising is pretty much what it sounds like – exporting small franchises to developing countries in an effort to harness the power of business to help people help themselves.
By Rebecca Busse
Microfinance in the US is an entirely different species than its international cousin. Microfinance was popularized by Mohammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Grameen Bank as “Banker to the Poor” in Bangladesh. His work started a revolution in poverty alleviation, with the aim of encouraging dignity through self-sufficiency for the clients. The basic premise is that banks lend low-income would-be entrepreneurs loans that range anywhere from $50-$2000, and even this small influx of capital can be vital to small businesses abroad. Interest rates are often higher abroad than in the US because of higher administrative costs. Because borrowers often do not have collateral to secure loans, their reputation is used to ensure that they repay. And repay they do: international microfinance loans have some of the highest loan repayment rates, and often this small helping hand is enough to raise entire generations out of absolute poverty.
Several key differences in international microfinance spring from dissimilar business and cultural environments: domestic microfinance is highly regulated; there is more socioeconomic diversity among borrowers which leads to bigger outreach expenses, and the scale is entirely different. Last year, India saw 3 million microloans, whereas Opportunity Fund, one of the larger domestic microfinance institutions, has made only 900 loans over ten years. In the US, most of the administrative costs are subsidized by donations, and licensing and permit regulations make it a more bureaucratic process. Marketing also plays a part – most budding entrepreneurs in the US don’t think of microfinance as a tool that they can access, but as more people find themselves being turned down by major banks for funding, microfinance is filling that gap in financial services. Like microfinance abroad, its domestic cousin serves primarily women, primarily minorities, and is increasingly being perceived as a “hand up” rather than a “handout.”Click to continue reading »
Reuters TV has an interesting interview of Rich Kinder, the CEO of Kinder Morgan, who says that wind and solar energies are not the answers to reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions or the country’s dependence on oil.
Rather, he says that natural gas, nuclear, and even clean coil are much more logistically viable options. We’ve previously covered the pros and cons of nuclear energy, more recently Germany’s attempt to utilize clean coal, and even energy think tanks that believe our energy policy should be governed by “facts, sound science, and good American common sense.” As we learn more about our energy capacities and potential, it seems like the debate over energy policy just seems to get more convoluted.
Despite his obvious entrenchment in the oil business, which undoubtedly colors his opinions, is there any validity to Kinder’s claims? Check out the video, and tell us what you think.
Last week, in partnership with changents.com, Timberland released “Earthkeepers Hero ‘Mission Possible,’” furthering the company’s vision to develop Facebook applications that blur the line between virtual and real-world eco-action in order to catalyze an environmental movement of “do-ers” under the banner of Timberland Earthkeepers. Many brands, non-profits and social activism campaigns have begun to harness the power of the web in creating experiences designed to drive real life behavior, consciousness and goodwill. And the “game” element helps create memorable engagements that promote adoption of causes and lifestyle integration.
Akoha is another good example of this, giving players points for a variety of social change-related activities that they complete in the real world.
But the question becomes are games like these fads, fueled by initial hype, or do they have the potential to create sustainable change and elevate consumer consciousness of important social and environmental issues? Click to continue reading »
“Waste-free products from waste-free facilities”
The zero waste vision has been gaining steam lately. One of the most important strategies for this involves designing products and factories that don’t have large amounts of waste created in the manufacturing, use, and disposal of the product. Since 1991, Xerox Corporation (NYSE: XRX) has made significant progress in this area, often reducing waste by 90%.
Design for Reuse
The invention of interchangeable parts helped fuel the industrial revolution. The same concept can also greatly expands the end-of-use possibilities for products.
Instead of recycling parts, the many parts are cleaned, inspected, and put back to use. Products are designed with fewer parts and can be easily dissembled. According to Xerox, “A returned machine can be rebuilt as the same model through remanufacture, converted to a new model within the same product family, or used as a source of parts for next-generation models.”
Each part is built to last for numerous product life cycles and 70%-90% (of the products weight) is reused to make new products. This innovation requires forethought. Product families are designed with a core set of components that are used throughout.
The program has saved over 2 million pounds of waste from landfills. Remanufacturing is even better than recycling, because waste such as water and energy is also eliminated by not processing the materials.
By Rebecca Busse
“Doing well by doing good” is a commonly heard phrase in sustainability circles, and the Microfinance California Conference was no exception. Microfinance CA was held at Stanford University on May 28, 2009, and was remarkably well organized for a first effort. “Doing well by doing good” was spoken or alluded to by several of the conference sponsors, including Wells Fargo and Chevron, and the phrase could almost be the tagline for “Sustainability Marketing 101″. Julia Brown, the Community Reinvestment Act Officer for Charles Schwab, said this was her reason for attending the event. According to Brown, not only does microfinance encourage a strong community, it creates a strong future customer base. A common theme among conference presenters, microfinance is growing out of its nascent stage as a tool for poverty alleviation and into its adolescence as a financial investment tool that makes good business sense.