Business NGO Working Group: Building the Market for Safer Products

| Thursday December 10th, 2009 | 0 Comments


I have been a big proponent of cross-sector dialogue for years and believe that when businesses, NGOs and governmental agencies can work together, more innovative and creative solutions can emerge.  My pet peeve with such dialogues is that they often are all talk and no action.

Tuesday, at meeting at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland office, I and a two other members of the press had the opportunity to sit down and chat with a few members of the Business NGO Working Group, a project of Clean Production Action, whose mission is to “design and deliver strategic solutions for green chemicals, sustainable materials and environmentally preferable products.” Its lively International Director Beverly Thorpe stressed that the Working Group members really do roll up their sleeves and work through the tough issues. And with a current focus on implementation and policy reform, they are a group worth paying attention to.

Business representatives from Kaiser Permanente, Catholic HealthCare West, Seventh Generation and Staples attended the meeting, to update us on the group’s current projects and future direction.

The Working Group is a unique collaboration of business and NGO leaders who “are creating a roadmap to the widespread use of safer chemicals in consumer products.” They were here in the Bay Area this week for their annual meeting. Starting in 2006, with twenty-two organizations from the environmental community and the electronics, health care, furnishing and retail sectors, today the group has grown to 170 participants, working on three key initiatives:  Safer Chemicals, sustainable materials and public policy reform.

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Greenwashing’s Two-Edged Sword

Bill Roth | Thursday December 10th, 2009 | 0 Comments

greenwashing-pie-chart-lgThank you to those who wave the flag of “Greenwashing” at companies who are not walking their talk. I work with businesses across the country and I can confirm that the fear of being tarred with the greenwash label is a motivating force firmly in place inside Corporate America.

However, I’m also beginning to see evidence from my national network of “going-green” businesses that the fear of being branded as a greenwasher is also means they’re slow in adopting more sustainable practices. The following quote paraphrases something I hear a lot from within my network: “We don’t want to advertise what we are doing for fear of being labeled as greenwashers by environmentalists.”

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California Small Businesses A-OK Under AB32

| Thursday December 10th, 2009 | 2 Comments


The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report today (full disclosure- they pay my rent, which is why I got a jump on writing about this great report) outlining the impact of California’s groundbreaking global warming legislation on small businesses. The long and the short of it? No big changes! The impact to small businesses is expected to come primarily from changes in the cost of energy, because the cost of producing cleaner energy, as required under AB32, will potentially be passed on to consumers. At least that’s the worry.

The report finds that it’s not a big concern. The percentage of revenue spent on energy for a typical small business will change from minuscule- 1.4% to mildly less minuscule- 1.7%.  Even better, this is a conservative estimate, assuming that businesses do not invest in any energy efficiency upgrades. Companies that choose to invest in upgrades to reduce their energy consumption might even see decreases in their costs, but UCS wanted to focus on the worst case scenario for companies that do not pursue energy efficiency.

In addition to examining the impact to small businesses by sector, UCS conducted a case study on the Border Grill, an upscale Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles  owned by the Two Hot Tamales of Food Network fame. The Border Grill was chosen because restaurants and bars account for the largest share of employment in any small business category, and restaurants also have relatively high energy costs– think of the gas used for cooking and the energy used to refrigerate, light and cool a typical restaurant. Energy costs are a pretty big concern for many independent restaurateurs. Plus the Border Grill was willing to open its books and share detailed information on its physical premises, equipment, lighting, energy use, and financial performance with the analysts. All of this was necessary to conduct a rigorous analysis, but don’t worry, the hot tamales are getting some nice PR out of it. Anyway, the analysts did their analyzing and it turns out that if the Hot Tamales were to do *nothing* but carry on as usual, all they would have to do is raise their typical check from $20 to $20.03 and their increased energy costs would be totally taken care of. Yes, that 3 cents will be passed on to the customer, but he can probably swing it.

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Green Patents Jump to the Front of the Line Under New Government Program

| Thursday December 10th, 2009 | 0 Comments

600px-us-patenttrademarkoffice-sealsvgThe United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced this week that pending patent applications for certain “green” technologies will get an accelerated examination by the Office, with the goal of shaving off years from the time the patents are pending.

The pilot program, effective immediately, is intended to spur the approval, and thus commercialization, of patents relating to “environmental quality, energy conservation, development of renewable energy, or greenhouse gas emission reduction,” according to the published guidelines (PDF).

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How California Is Taking Climate Change Seriously

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday December 10th, 2009 | 2 Comments


California, the most populous state in the Union, takes climate change seriously. Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a map of what climate change might do to California. The California Energy Commission and paid the Stockholm Environment Institute to develop maps with Google Earth so Californians can see what the possible impacts of climate change might be, and how the state will need to adapt.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also released a video last week in which he argued that reducing California’s carbon dioxide levels is not enough. “We must also be prepared for some continued climate change, which is now inevitable,” he said.

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The Sustainability Management Maturity Model: Version 2.0

| Thursday December 10th, 2009 | 0 Comments

SM3 Curve - Small

As Geoff Barneby noted in his earlier post Doing the Right Thing in Business: Are You Doing it Right?, several critical questions must be considered before launching a strategic sustainability program, including:

  • What is your corporate vision for sustainability?
  • Do you have clear and measurable sustainability goals?
  • Who will sponsor and lead your sustainability initiative?
  • Who will manage your sustainability initiatives through full implementation, and coordinate across business silos?
  • How will you measure the results and report on your progress?
  • How will you get critical stakeholders on board with the program?

In Geoff’s subsequent post, Sustainability Management Infrastructure: What It Is and Why You Should Care, he introduced the Sustainability Management Maturity Model (or SM3), a tool developed by FairRidge Group to help organizations address these questions using a quantitative, systems-based approach. In addition, SM3 helps businesses to assess how capable their management infrastructure is for responding to, managing, and ultimately taking advantage of coming sustainability challenges.

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New Poll: U.S. Supports Cap & Trade, Would Pay Extra to Reduce CO2

Dev Crews | Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 5 Comments

mcclatchy-logoA new poll released today (PDF) demonstrates that over 60 percent of Americans recognize that the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels. The poll, conducted by The McClatchy Company, the third-largest newspaper company in the United States, and Ipsos Public Affairs, found that a slight majority of the U.S. population also supports cap-and-trade legislation.

A substantial majority of American adults would be willing to pay a surprising additional $25 per month on their electrical bill to support limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out – as long as the programs created a significant number of green jobs in the United States.

The budget Obama submitted to Congress earlier this year included revenue from a national cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, which would come from auctioning off emissions permits to industries. The climate program is expected to generate $645 billion between 2012 and 2019. Initial funds would be invested in clean energy. According to the Center for American Progress, a think-tank that has done considerable research on the economic effects of such legislation, this would create 16.7 jobs for every $1 million invested. A $100 billion green investment program would create 2 million new jobs nationwide over two years, most of which would be non-exportable, clean, well-paying jobs.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said climate change legislation would cost the average household $175 a year by 2020, far below what Americans are apparently ready to pay.

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Don’t Flannery Yourself: Exxon’s Man in Copenhagen

3p Contributor | Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 0 Comments


Brian Flannery. Photo Credit: Grist

Brian Flannery. Photo Credit: Grist

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Grist, and is posted with permission.

By Jonathan Hiskes

I tracked down Brian Flannery today. He’s the top climate advisor for ExxonMobil, a veteran of international climate talks, and a bona fide villain in the eyes of environmental groups. That’s largely due to Exxon’s funding of front groups that sow misinformation about the urgency of climate change.

Today Flannery was wearing another hat: he led a panel on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce‘s Environment and Energy Commission, of which he’s vice chair. He would seem to be something of an odd choice for leadership at the International Chamber, which has embraced the opportunities of a low-carbon economy far more than the step-boldly-into-the-past U.S. Chamber.

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Water Cap And Trade? Coming Soon To A Watershed Near You

David Lewbin
| Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 4 Comments

dry-waterOne of the most innovative initiatives I learned about at last week’s Corporate Water Footprinting Conference (Dec. 2-3, 2009) was the Water Restoration Certificates (WRC’s) mechanism created by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. At this point, it is the nation’s first voluntary water restoration marketplace.  So how does it work? The clearest description comes straight from the foundation’s website.

“WRCs come from rivers and streams where there’s been very little water. That’s because water laws in the western U.S. allow property owners to take a certain amount of water from these water sources, but in many cases, the rights to withdraw water exceed the total amount of water in the river or stream, particularly in late summer. These laws also mandate that property owners use their allotted water or risk forfeiting their water rights forever. So of course, landowners will withdraw all of their water, whether they need it or not. And withdrawing all that water leaves many streams completely dry or with so little water that they can’t support fish, wildlife, and recreation. BEF WRCs are designed to give landowners a choice in how they use their water. WRCs are a voluntary, market-based program that provides economic incentives for water rights holders to leave water in critically dewatered ecosystems. Quite simply, landowners are paid to keep water in stream.”

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Waste of Paper or Wellspring of Opportunity? The True Value of CSR Reports

| Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 3 Comments

wastepaper-basketSome skeptics question the value of corporate social responsibility reports.  They point to the resources expended on producing these documents and demand  “Who reads them, anyway?”  While that may be a valid question, I think a more informative question is “What value does producing a CSR report offer to the company doing the reporting?”

Based on my experience producing CSR reports, I have seen firsthand the positive impact that publishing a report can have on a company’s employees and performance management.   So, I wasn’t too surprised when Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship’s new report, The Value of Social Reporting, found that “a social report, and the reporting process,” make CSR reports a “unique tool for promoting good corporate citizenship.”

Authors Belinda Richards and David Woods studied the evolution of social reporting at seven companies from a range of industries: Baxter International Inc., Gap, Nestle, Novo Nordisk, Seventh Generation, State Street and Telefonica. Their research focused not on the reports, but rather on the process and outcomes of reporting.

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Tata Nano Will Come in Hybrid Flavor

| Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 2 Comments

tatananoNews from the Indian automotive world: the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest production car, will someday be available as a hybrid electric.

Rumors became reality during the LA Auto Show, according to Wired, which reported a South Korean business paper got the scoop when Tata Chairman Ratan Tata let slip plans for a hybrid of the minicar. But according to StockWatch India, Ratan made the announcement at Tata’s 63rd annual meeting, and that the hybrid model “may also include some modification in exterior design.”

People and Profits, but…

The Nano has been hailed as a way to bring the advantages of car ownership to India’s billion plus citizens, who have an average per capita income of $1070. The Nano sells for just 100,000 rupees ($2,150), and gets 50 miles to the gallon, in part because the basic model eschews air conditioning, power brakes and other amenities that Western car buyers have come to expect.

Chairman Ratan Tata, whose family-run conglomerate has a hand in nearly every sector of the Indian economy, said the Nano can be assembled in remote locations from kits shipped from the factory. “we would create entrepreneurs across the country that would produce the car…That is my idea of dispersing wealth.”

Of course, once everyone in India has a car, expect that country’s CO2 output to explode — thus the nod towards hybrid technology. Few additional details were available, although according to one report, Tata would make use of existing hybrid technology rather than develop its own for the minicar.

One question: where, exactly, are you going to put that dual gas-electric drive-train? Because the Nano is not only the world’s cheapest car, but one of the smallest.

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UN Climate Chief Comments on EPA Endangerment Finding

| Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 6 Comments

Yvo de Boer fields questions at Tuesday press conferenceIn concert with the opening of the COP15 climate talks here in Copenhagen, the EPA finalized their endangerment finding on Monday that specifies carbon emissions as a threat to human health and well being (see Bill DiBenedetto’s  detailed post from yesterday).

At yesterday’s press briefing UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer was asked what influence the decision would have on the outcome of the conference:

“If I were a businessman,” de Boer replied, “I would say please, please, please do a deal in Copenhagen – and please, please, make it market-based. Because if we fail to get a market-based agreement here, and if the US Senate fails to agree cap-and-trade, then the regulatory agency will be obliged to regulate. Every business knows that taxes and regulation will be a lot less efficient and a lot more expensive than a market-based approach.”

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Seeking a Gold Standard for Green Practices: The Carter Center

3p Contributor | Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 1 Comment

CarterLogoBy Martin Melaver

This past week, I was fortunate enough to be a guest of the Carter Center at its annual meeting.

President Carter, at 85, was jaw-droppingly impressive, speaking on his feet for 45 minutes without notes on a broad range of political and economic issues. The programs the Carter Center highlighted during this meeting were no less impressive, ranging from elimination of malaria in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to promoting greater openness and unfettered flow of information in China, to tee-ing up democratic elections in the Sudan.

But it was the underlying architecture of this organization that really grabbed my attention. I felt I was getting a glimpse of what a sustainably-rooted organization looks like.

We are certainly not lacking for one-off stories of numerous companies and organizations all announcing their various green initiatives. Bravo. It’s about time. Much rarer, however, are examples of entities that “get it.” By getting it, I mean having a clear, focused purpose that locates all one’s resources on the three keys to a more sustainable world order:

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SmartPower Taps Crowd Power in $10,000 Video Contest

Steve Puma | Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 0 Comments

According to non-profit marketing organization SmartPower, even though 80 to 90 percent of the public agrees that energy from renewable sources is better than energy produced from fossil fuels, and they are willing to pay $5 or $10 more per month for that energy, the market penetration of renewable energy products still remains below 5 percent. The company aims to change that by researching exactly what barriers consumers face when they are considering a clean energy or energy efficiency purchase, and then combining innovative marketing campaigns with grass-roots action to overcome these barriers.

SmartPower’s latest campaign is the Energy Smart Ad Challenge, offering a $10,000 prize for the best 30-second Public Service Announcement (PSA) promoting how young adults can save money by being Energy Smart through energy efficiency and conservation. The 10 finalist videos were posted on YouTube Friday, and viewers are invited to comment on how well the videos “speak to young people about being energy smart.” Each day, one video will be eliminated from the competition, presumably with the viewer input weighing heavily in the decision. As of this writing, the video titled “Generation”, (posted at the top of this article), was far and away the viewers’ favorite.

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EcoUnits: Green Affinity Marketing

Bill Roth | Wednesday December 9th, 2009 | 0 Comments

I don’t know how many of you remember green stamps. Back when our phones were universally black and we saw the USA in our Chevrolets there was this fantastic brand loyalty marketing program where every purchase at a participating store resulted in an allocation of green stamps (just the like postage kind) that moms would paste into green stamp books. After accumulating enough books of stamps they could be taken to the green stamp store for redemption of household appliances, televisions, golf clubs, etc. It was a path for converting everyday shopping into the realization of a family’s dream consumer product purchase. I clearly remember those magical special days when our entire family would walk the green stamp store’s aisles trying to reconcile among ourselves which one of the thousands of products we dreamed of owning was going to be the one we actually took home by redeeming our green stamps.

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