Nicaragua’s AsoFénix: Leapfrog Development

3p Contributor | Tuesday April 20th, 2010 | 0 Comments

The solar panel that powers a household in La Laguna, Nicaragua (Rebecca Busse)

By Rebecca Busse

A large spider crawled up the side of the solar charge controller while Enrique explained how the solar panel system worked.  Unaffected, Enrique continued to explain wattage, switches and the maintenance of the panels to the assembled group of MBA students, extended family members and the occasional chicken or dog that would get shooed out of the house.  The spider climbing on the high-tech controller just fit – here in rural Nicaragua, miles from paved roads or the national electrical grid, development is being done differently.

Enrique was trained in a program with AsoFénix, a Nicaraguan rural development non-profit that initiates projects involving renewable energy, potable water and community-centered development.  Not only trained in skills such as installing and maintaining residential solar arrays, Enrique’s participation in the training obligates him to pass along his knowledge to other community members, which means technology and knowledge transfer to those who need it most: rural villagers.  Some of the trainees are women, and some are motivated teenagers.  AsoFénix partners with local governments, international nonprofits and the beneficiary communities to buy solar panels, solar-powered water pumps and micro-hydroelectric equipment.  Families in the communities pay into a revolving fund every month to get access to electricity, and AsoFénix is working on community-based models in which several families act as renewable electricity providers to their village, bypassing the national electric grid, which is expensive and inaccessible for many rural communities.

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Greenwash? Time’s Up! How “Single Factor Sustainability” Will Cost You

Tom Szaky | Tuesday April 20th, 2010 | 1 Comment

bomb alarm clockDo you consider yourself a green company? A company trying to go green? Or trying to do as much as you need to be perceived as green? You’d better watch out. Consumers aren’t stupid. And thanks to books like Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services, they’re going to keep getting smarter, faster.

And you stand to lose if you continue to go by the mode of compliance, single factor sustainability (without considering the other consequences) and outright trying to fool people into believing you’re something you’re not.

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Nissan Leaf Early Reservation List Starts Tomorrow

| Monday April 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

If you want to be the first on your block with a Nissan Leaf, get over to the Nissan site and register today. Starting tomorrow, the 115,000 or so people who have expressed early interest in the all-electric passenger car will have the first opportunity to formally reserve one, for a $99 refundable deposit.

Those who reserve a car will also get to configure their Leaf online, and chose a preferred dealer for delivery. Exciting!!

Reservations will be open to the general public starting May 15.

The Leaf will go on sale in a limited way in December, and be widely available soon thereafter. Production of the first-ever mass produced all-electric, zero-emissions car sold in the US will be around 50,000 a year, reports Treehugger.

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Johnson Controls’ Global Reporting Initiative Report Should Be a Model

Jennifer Hicks | Monday April 19th, 2010 | 2 Comments

global csr reportingWant to get wowed?  Check out Johnson Controls’ Global Reporting Initiative report – and its more than 500 supporting documents.  Talk about information overload!

Eight years ago, the Global Reporting Initiative was launched as an independent global institution at the United Nations. The goal? “To make sustainability reporting as routine as financial reporting,” as reported by  Johnson Controls signed on—and since 2003 has been disseminating its GRI reports that outline financial efforts, corporate practices and the glittery as well as tarnished events that occur in its efforts to be a responsible company.

The company also produces a Business and Sustainability Report—a sort of glossy, feel-good publication that highlights the company’s efforts toward financial sustainability and corporate social responsibility. It makes it easy to see how the company deals with people, planet and profits. It’s a great, and feel-good, read.  Below are some highlights of that report.

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Carbon Trading: A Market Treehuggers and Investment Bankers Can All Call Home

| Monday April 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

At the recent conference put on by Point Carbon and the Climate Action Reserve, it was striking to witness two disparate communities coming together over their shared interest in the health of a market. If you are new to the concept of carbon trading and how it works, here’s a good overview.

Over the course of many years following the development of the American carbon markets, there has been a slow shift in the demographics of participants–from hippie dresses to business suits, from brown hair with sun soaked highlights to salt-and-pepper comb-overs. The population of people who cared about the carbon markets in their infancy were mostly passionate about finding a solution to climate change, and using the power of markets to drive business innovation. That crowd has slowly shifted to include those with finance backgrounds–individuals who recognize the financial gains to be made from getting into this market in its early stages. There are those who decry this shift, like the lone protester who snuck into last week’s proceedings to unravel a banner about how nature shouldn’t be for sale. I’m here to argue that the carbon markets are the most robust and effective when all of these sectors have a seat at the table. What they want and need from a market isn’t so different:

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CSR Reporting: When is Enough, Enough? Views from Intel and Merck

| Monday April 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

This is the third column in a three-part series on CSR Reporting.

Producing CSR reports requires a substantial investment of time and money. Is all the work worth it? I was surprised by some of the answers I heard during a panel on CSR reporting at the recent Financial Times Conference “Investing in a Sustainable Future.” Panelist responses ranged from firmly committed (Intel), enthusiastic (the Global Reporting Initiative), skeptical (Merck & Co.), and selectively supportive (California State Teachers’ Retirement System – CalSTRTS).

Merck takes a step back

I was surprised when Merck’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, Maggie Kohn, announced that Merck will not be publishing a CSR report this year. Instead, it will take some time off to reassess its reporting activities. Kohn intends to seek additional stakeholder input, identify short-, medium- and long-term metrics for the company and explore different methods of reaching stakeholders.

“When is enough reporting enough?” queried Kohn. “When you’re trying to please everyone and in the process pleasing no one.”

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Chipotle: Fast But Not Junk Food

Leon Kaye | Monday April 19th, 2010 | 4 Comments

It’s easy to attack fast food.  The list of negatives drags on:  its ties to the obesity epidemic; the environmental costs of sourcing cheap food; the waste that ends up in landfills.  Despite all the talk we hear in the media about making healthier food choices, fast food will always be around:  drive through any city or along an interstate highway, and fast food restaurants are still going strong, with new locations always under construction.  After years of decline, McDonald’s has revitalized itself with a new menu:  some items are relatively healthy, but many of its items are still calorie and fat bombs.  Yet many of us are always on the go; is it possible to have a quick bite and feel better about what we eat?

Denver-based Chipotle may have the answer.  The burrito chain was once part of the McDonald’s empire, but has stood alone since 2006, when McDonald’s shed many brands in order to focus on its core golden arches business.  Four years later, Chipotle has thrived; the company is the eighth fastest-growing restaurant chain in the United States, raking in over US$1.5 billion in sales in 2009.  What’s even more remarkable about Chipotle’s rise, however, is that the company has grown while buying ethically-raised meat and working to source more locally-grown produce.

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Zella’s Soulful Kitchen: Bringing Healthy, Organic Soul Food to Whole Foods and Hospitals

3p Contributor | Monday April 19th, 2010 | 2 Comments

by Amy Westervelt

For most small businesspeople, getting a product into a store like Whole Foods is a dream. But if you’re a one-woman show like Zella’s Soulful Kitchen, that dream could lead to insomnia.

Started in 2005, Zella’s Soulful Kitchen was meant to be a catering business that would eventually grow into a restaurant. Chef Dionne Knox named the Oakland business after her grandmother—a woman who made everything from scratch and brought the family together around delicious meals—and focused on creating healthy, organic versions of soul food favorites like collard greens seasoned with smoked turkey, and home baked cornbread served with local honey butter.

Soon after launching, she joined La Cocina, a local food-business incubator, for the access to an “awesome commercial kitchen” plus plenty of unexpected perks, ranging from classes taught by other members to the monthly goal-setting check-in meetings, which Knox describes as “an opportunity to take a step back from your day-to-day and think about things in a different way.”

The deal with Whole Foods is a prime example. After joining the “kitchen incubator” in 2005, Knox spent about eight months building her catering business and then took a job at someone else’s café and catering company, which took her away from her business for two years. Just over a year ago, she recommitted herself to Zella’s full-time and it was shortly after that that Whole Foods came knocking.

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Is Tree Guilt Justified?

| Monday April 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

If you read the New York Times online (who doesn’t?) you can’t have missed Starbuck’s Make A Difference campaign on April 15th. The coffee company bought the Times home page for the day, with a double-wide banner ad at the top of the page, featuring the Make A Difference “film” (or what used to be called a commercial).

The film showed, in a series of swiftly moving images, New Yorkers of all stripes exchanging their paper cups for plastic reusable mugs, then placing the paper cups, coffee inside, on the ground to form a huge pixelated tree (a redwood, I think).

Besides a bit of missing logic (they appeared to be exchanging a full paper cup for an empty plastic mug) the ad was quite successful in tapping into a simple desire of Homo Greenus: to Save the Trees by using less paper.

But a growing array of studies on paper versus digital communications, combined with push-back from paper suppliers, seeks to counter this instinctive reaction.

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Tax Day No Big Deal For ExxonMobil, GE

RP Siegel | Monday April 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Anyone who has read a little Shakespeare knows that it was the Ides of March when Julius Caesar had that one bad day. But for most of us Americans, it’s the Ides of April, the 15th that is, that brings us pain. That is, of course, when our income taxes are due, and when all that most of us can hope for is to get back some portion of what we put in over the course of the year. We have our deductions, of course; indeed, it is perhaps the only time when those kids might actually save us some money.

But even though our current Supreme Court seems to think that corporations are the same as people, that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to paying taxes.

Take Exxon Mobil for example. This past year the company earned a sizable $19.42 billion in profit, down from $45 billion the year before, but still more than any other corporation in the world.

The company paid a lot of taxes for 2008, $17.6 billion, in fact, or 47% of its pre-tax earnings. But, according to Mother Jones,  none of it went to the IRS.

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We Hardly Know You, Help Us Change That!

| Sunday April 18th, 2010 | 0 Comments

If you are a frequent reader, you might have noticed a monkey pop-up at the bottom of your screen when you visit our site. It’s reader survey time. We haven’t done a survey for a few years now, and they are really useful in helping us determine who is in our audience, what your interests are, and how we can best serve you. It will literally take you 2 minutes, and you have my permission to consider it your good deed for the day.

Click here to take our survey

Readers who enter their email addresses on the second page of the survey will receive a some-e-card personally chosen and delivered by 3p founder and publisher Nick Aster

Thanks y’all!

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What Would an Icelandic Volcano Do to American Transportation?

| Sunday April 18th, 2010 | 4 Comments

I’m stuck in Berlin on an indefinite journey that was supposed to end today, were it not for the interference of an Icelandic volcano known as Eyjafjallajokull.

Before we get to that, a little perspective. I’ve just finished a fantastic week-long tour of Frankfurt and Berlin, organized by the Ecologic Institute, an EU think tank, to study examples of German green building. We had the opportunity to visit Deutsche Bank’s renovated LEED Platinum headquarters, talk finance with KFW, a development bank whose sustainable ideals impressed the whole group, travel the high speed ICE train, talk policy with high level ministers and a lot more. I’ll be spending the next week telling you all about it.

But here I am, with some unexpected time on my hands in one of Europe’s greatest cities. The volcano and the stranding of literally millions of people is the talk of the town, as it seems to be in the US judging by the emails and text messages I’ve been getting. Nonetheless, intra-European travel has only been moderately affected as people take to (somewhat overcrowded) trains and carpools. Many have reflected on how nice and quiet things are without jets landing above their homes. And most, my group included, are taking it all in stride. Chris Hume of the Toronto Star, who was part of the trip, points out that, “There are worse places in the world to be stuck.” And with readily available Internet, communication is hardly a problem.

But what would happen in the United States, given a similar shutdown?

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Study: Calif. Climate Law, AB32, Will Improve Public Health

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Saturday April 17th, 2010 | 2 Comments

The merits and/or pitfalls of deploying and/or repealing California’s landmark climate law, AB32, have been argued, it seems, eight ways to Sunday. But while most of the recent arguments and research focus on how the law will impact our economy and employment numbers, the public health and environmental justice implications have been largely overlooked.

But new research performed by researchers and professors from three California colleges, and paid for by William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, considers the impacts that reducing the levels of CO2, nitrogen oxide and dangerous levels of particulate matter would have on the health of those who live closest to the biggest producers of these pollutants and greenhouse gases.

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Continues to Trivialize Renewables

Jeff Siegel | Friday April 16th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Karen Harbert, the president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy (which is an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), met with the House Ways and Means committee this week, where she cited the Chamber’s support of the 8-year renewable energy tax credit extension, noting a phase out over four years.

I think I smell something fishy, and it ain’t salmon!

Certainly we’re happy to see the Chamber of Commerce offer any kind of support for renewables. But as far as I’m concerned, the Chamber’s support of a long-term, sustainable clean energy economy is questionable.

Here’s why. . .

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McDonald’s Opposes Shareholder Proposal for Cage Free Eggs in US

| Friday April 16th, 2010 | 0 Comments

fast food restaurant’s board of directors is recommending shareholders vote down a proposal to require five percent of the company’s eggs come from free-range hens. The change was proposed by the Humane Society of the United States.

The McDonald’s board said “the science isn’t there” to support the benefits of cage-free living for chickens, reports the New York Times. This despite the fact that McDonald’s is moving towards 100 percent cage-free eggs in Europe.

Instead, the board recommended (PDF) in a proxy statement suppliers continue to use “battery cages” for their hens, the most common housing for chickens in the US, but which the Humane Society and other groups say do not allow chickens to fully stretch their wings. Such cages, which provide about 72 square inches of space per hen, will be banned in the European Union starting in 2012.

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