The Impact of Storytelling on International Development

3p Contributor | Friday November 13th, 2009 | 1 Comment

story-tellingBy Mary Solecki

The entrepreneurs of international development work will have a special place in history. These are entrepreneurial spirits that have risked their careers and livelihoods, not to make exorbitant profits or seek the thrill of the IPO, but instead to make life better for their fellow countrymen. These men and women are rarely recorded in history books, but have devoted all their time and talents toward the thankless job of making the world a better place.

Last summer I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to intern with a non-profit organization in Nicaragua. During my experience, I lived in rural Nicaragua, and spent a lot of time not only watching the hard efforts of a social entrepreneur, but trying to wrap my mind around the differences between my origins and the Nicaraguans. The whole summer, and most days since, I have tried to envision how not only my life, but I might be different if I was born there. After all, I did nothing to earn the opportunities I have in my life. Just as Nicaraguans were simply born there, I was simply born in the United States. A simple act of fate and geographical convenience that permanently alters the paths a life might take. It is the realization of my blind luck that drives me to appreciate and create these opportunities for others.

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Join me at the Academy Awards of Cleantech

| Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 1 Comment

cleantech openThis year’s Cleantech Open Awards Gala (Tues Nov 17th in San Francisco) is not to be missed.  Along with Bill Roth, I’ll be covering the event for TriplePundit.  Last year’s event was phenomenal and this year promises to be bigger and better.

The Cleantech Open launched in 2006 and has grown tremendously since.  The mission is to “find, fund and foster the big ideas” that address today’s toughest challenges and to date 125 cleantech start-ups have benefited from the organization’s funding and resources.  A tribute to the the organization’s strength in finding and nurturing high potential companies, Cleantech Open startups have raised $130 million in private funding, and have created 500 jobs to date.  Each year the quality of the applicants has grown as well — a good sign for a still quite nascent industry.

This year’s gala brings together finalists from three Cleantech Open regions – California, Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountain - to select a winner, who will receive $250,000 in cash and services.  From the all-star line-up of contending start-ups I’m excited to learn more about:

  • How Green Lite Motors commuter vehicle gets 100 miles per gallon
  • How Micromidas converts raw sewage into biodegradable plastic
  • How SunTrac Solar makes a solar hot water heater which captures 50 to 70% of solar energy
  • How Alphabet Energy plans to convert waste energy into electricity at low cost
  • How tru2earth’s Life Cycle Roof Tile made of recycled plastic bottles is as cheap as asphalt and captures rainwater
  • Plus interact with 120 cleantech companies at the pre-gala expo.  Register here.

Who are you rooting for?

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Speed Dating Meets Green Business at Green America’s Conference

| Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 5 Comments

speeddatingBy Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

Green America’s Green Business Conference was the yenta of the green business world yesterday when it hosted its Product Expo:  Marketplace and Community Connections.  Participants were invited to set up a business display at this product expo that was modeled after the ever so popular speed dating concept.

The idea last night was to get all the conference attendees networking and doing business with each other.  One of my complaints about conferences is that they don’t do enough to promote networking and Green America has done a great job at this conference on integrating creative ways to encourage us to meet each other.

At a traditional speed dating event, you spend only three minutes speaking to a potential love interest and then move on.  If there is mutual interest, you follow-up on your own after the event. While the networking last night was a bit less structured, we were encouraged to circulate and meet as many businesses as possible.

Since Scott Cooney has been doing a great job of highlighting some of the sessions, I thought I would focus on a few of the businesses that made it onto my final dance card last night.

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Woody Tasch: What Happens After Stimulus Money is Gone

Scott Cooney | Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 0 Comments

slow moneyWoody Tasch, author of Slow Money, and President and Chairman of the Slow Money Alliance, spoke on day 2 of the Green America Green Business Conference.  He had a tough act to follow, getting up on stage right after Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins of Green For All.

Tasch, in his characteristic charismatic and down-to-earth style, was more than up to the task.  The final question asked of Ellis-Lamkins was ‘What happens when stimulus money dries up?  Where will the green jobs come from if the green labor force Green For All is working with don’t have entrepreneurial skills to create their own?’  Tasch was thrilled to be able to pick up the ball and run with that question, as a beautiful segue to the financial side of the new green economy.

“I’m so glad that young man asked that question.  Where’s that money going to come from?” he asked. 

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Green For All at the Green Business Conference

Scott Cooney | Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 1 Comment

green for all logoMillions of new jobs.  An inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.  Dignity.  The ability to support one’s family.  All done in an environmentally friendly way.

A worker owned cooperative that salvages building materials.

Efficiency audits for homeowners and small businesses.

Horticultural and permaculture companies creating local food from dilapidated landscapes in inner cities.

Many of us know the story of Green For All.  It’s a beautiful congruence of old school environmentalism, sustainable economic development, and social justice.  It’s one of the great feel-good stories of the new economy.  But then Van Jones was badgered out of Washington by right wing nut-jobs because of some supposedly over-exuberant activism in his past.

So where is Green For All now?  Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins spoke to the Green Business Conference about their vision for the future. 

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EPA Data Center Cuts Waste, Finds Savings

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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The Green Grid, an IT industry consortium that is studying and seeking to standardize metrics, processes, methods and new technologies to make data centers more energy efficient, partnered last year with the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to assess the energy consumption at typical small to mid-sized data centers, set in motion energy-saving measures, and then develop a set of recommendations for energy efficiency improvements.

In the study, the EPA acted as the guinea pig—the study centered on its data center located at One Potomac Yard near Washington, DC.

By making a number of changes—many of them simple and requiring little capital, the center was able to increase its energy efficiency by 20 percent. The steps will also save the center $15,000 per year in energy costs.

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Tips From UPS: Why and How to Start Greening Your Data Center

Kathryn Siranosian | Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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UPS delivery truckWe’ve all heard the good news: Improving efficiencies at your data center is a sure-fire way to cut energy costs and reduce GHG emissions.

But, let’s face it. The prospect of greening a data center can seem overwhelming. After all, data centers are complicated, unwieldy and high-tech. Even the most intrepid sustainability manager may take a look around, and be left scratching his head, wondering, “Where do we start?”

“That’s a very good question,” says Joe Parrino, Facilities Engineer of UPS’s Windward Data Center near Atlanta. “You start by getting educated and fully understanding the problem.”

That’s how they did it at Windward, one of UPS’s two largest data centers. Originally constructed in 1995, Windward monitors all of the information about the 15 million packages UPS delivers daily worldwide.  Recently, Parrino led the facility through a dramatic energy makeover, a series of varied changes that cut energy consumption by 15% and reduced UPS’s CO2 emissions by 5.5 million pounds annually.

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The Hurdles and Heroes of International Development

3p Contributor | Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 0 Comments

hurdleBy Mary Solecki

I frequently tell people I’m ‘into’ international development. I recently received a raised eyebrow at this statement, reminding me just how vague the term is. Is it sinister international globalization plans? An underground tunnel to China (finally)? When asked to describe what this means to me, I tend to go for the explanation “helping people to meet their basic needs of clean water, food, and education.”

Now, this might sound like pure humanitarian efforts, but I have a very negative impression of humanitarianism. I envision crates of food dropping to people on the ground, canned in English they do not understand nor have the can openers to open without bodily laceration. International development is the sustainable version of humanitarianism, based off the ‘Teach a Man to Fish’ life lesson #218. Rather than a crate of canned food, the international development plane might drop off a fishing pole and a fly-fishing guide that knows a few local jokes and swimming holes.

While the world seems to have growing enthusiasm for international development, the hurdles and risks associated with this work have not gone away. As social entrepreneurs are sprouting up throughout developing countries, governments of these countries are relaxing their own efforts, and becoming more dependent on these organizations to provide services in their place. Social entrepreneurs face a huge obstacle in their very existence. They exist to help improve lifestyles and meet basic needs to some of the world’s poorest. In order for an organization to consider itself ‘social’, they cannot turn too much of a profit off the very people they are trying to help. The amount of creativity required to help meet people’s needs while still fulfilling bottom line needs walks the fine line between exhilarating and exhausting.

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Increasing Pessimism on Copenhagen, US Climate Bill

| Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 3 Comments

dead+globeA bad week for climateers. Several news reports out Wednesday pour cold water on imminent climate change change.

The Wall Street Journal reports “Climate Bill Likely on the Shelf for Rest of the Year.” Obviously it’s not over until the fat lady sings, but a key Democratic senator, Max Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said “it’s common understanding that climate-change legislation will not be brought up on the Senate floor and pass the Senate this year,” according to WSJ.

Baucus’ comment was reinforced by one from Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who told the Washington Post “I don’t see any climate bill on the table right now that I can support.”

The New York Times meanwhile gossips that at a symposium Tuesday of climate change experts and representatives from China, Brazil and other nations sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, the general consensus was that achieving a broad, global agreement at Copenhagen was “very very low,” in the words of Atul Arya of BP, the British oil company.

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Odd Couple, or Where Coffee Grounds and Mushroom Meet

Bill DiBenedetto | Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 0 Comments

BTTR_venturesBTTR (as in Better) Ventures has a thing about mushrooms, while Peet’s Coffee & Tea of course has a very big thing about coffee (and tea). This unlikely duo has joined forces in a clever and delicious waste-to-food recycling venture that produces gourmet mushrooms out of coffee grounds.

Some 16 billion pounds of coffee beans are used each year, most of which eventually wind up in landfills. Cal Berkley Haas School of Business grads Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Aorara founded the company to turn one of the largest waste streams in America into sustainable local food. They do this by using coffee grounds as the substrate to grow different varieties mushrooms.

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Greenhouse Gas Accountants to the Rescue!

| Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Lost in all the talk about whether or when nations and industries will have emissions targets, is the question of who, exactly, is going to measure those targets.

Without a pool of trained and certified professional GHG managers, climate change initiatives — from the United Nations Framework down to the sustainability plan for the shop around the corner — could stall.

Worse, a lack of accountability could turn the “greenhouse gas expert” into the snake oil salesman of the 21st century, peddling a dubious product whose ingredients change from one bottle to the next.

Enter the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. The Institute provides professional training in greenhouse gas accounting and verification, primarily online, and its ultimate goal is to create a professional society for greenhouse gas accountants and verifiers, similar to the way other fields — architecture, law, medicine, accounting — have national or international certification bodies.

The Institute was launched in 2007 as a non-profit by Michael Gillenwater and Tom Baumann, two recognized experts in emissions measurement, who realized that there was an emerging need for standardization in their field.

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The Greening of Health: Sustainability and Health Converge

| Thursday November 12th, 2009 | 0 Comments

the-learning-forumOne of the subject matters that we’ve been working on covering more often is that of healthcare. Never mind the politics, the working of hospitals, health insurers, company health programs and so-on should be deeply entwined into the conversation on sustainability.

On December 3rd, The Learning Forum is bringing together employee benefits experts, healthcare providers, health insurance executives and others who are focusing on long-term health strategies. The purpose of the meeting is to share ideas and experience on the emerging trends that link sustainability, wellness and productive workplaces.

The all day event will be held at the Institute For the Future in Palo Alto, CA and is limited in size to 20 firms to ensure a private, collegial and candid set of meetings. Attendees will include folks from Humana, the CDC, Burger King, Stanford University Hospitals, Nokia, Ascension Health, Steelcase.

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Marketing Green

| Wednesday November 11th, 2009 | 1 Comment

preidio-buzz-bar.gif YosemiteBy Ali Hart
In the past decade, green products have infiltrated the mainstream consumer market, and I’d argue that the biggest splash has been in the “luxury green” market. When I first noticed this happening, I was appalled–I’m not a luxury brand buyer and I don’t want sustainability to be associated with “upscale and expensive.” Sustainability, after all, is supposed to be inclusive, not exclusive.

Green products were initially in the niche “health and wellness” space, and some of these products carry a “hippie” stigma (I’m from New England so bear with me, West Coasters). This stigma is related to the perception of the environmentalist movement as liberal, activist, and hippie – hardly mainstream. In order for green to hit its tipping point, it had to be more accessible to the masses–this is the job of a marketer.

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Social Media For Sustainable Business

Scott Cooney | Wednesday November 11th, 2009 | 3 Comments

Earthsite Banner 8ft longAt the Green Business Conference, Joey Shepp, founder of Earthsite, a boutique web design and strategy company, gave his presentation for best tips in using social media for sustainable businesses.  This includes social networking, blogging, online reviews, and direct communications devices. The statistics are a bit surprising, even to someone like me who uses social media on a fairly regular basis.

  1. Four out of five people are using social media to interact with companies.
  2. Two thirds of people feel they can use social media to influence companies.
  3. Twenty percent of people trust advertising, 60 percent trust editorials, and 80 percent trust reviews written by their peers.

Shepp’s advice for businesses to take advantage of these trends?

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10 Business Leadership Skillsets Needed for Our Uncertain Future

Scott Cooney | Wednesday November 11th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Leaders Make the FutureGreen America‘s Green Business Conference is going on today and tomorrow in beautiful San Francisco, CA, in advance of the weekend’s Green Festival.  The conference opened with a talk by Bob Johansen, author of Leaders Make the Future, and futurist with the Palo Alto based Institute for the Future.

According to Johansen, businesses today are operating in a society that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.  It’s a VUCA world, in short.  The Institute studies the business community and its leaders, and finds that what we want in the business community is 1) clarity for where we’re going, and 2) flexibility on how we get there.  The Institute has characterized 10 leadership skillsets for living and thriving in this VUCA world and achieving these aims.  These will help business leaders clarifying goals on where their business is heading, and how they can get there.

The leadership skills go from the most common and simplest to achieve, to the most complex and actualized of intangible assets:

  1. The maker instinct:  that intuition we have to ‘build something.’
  2. Clarity:  ability to see past the noise and have a vision of what the future may look like.
  3. Constructive depolarizing:  ability to calm a tense situation, reestablish broken lines of communication, and branch divergent interests together.
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