Causecast: Getting the Word Out, Bringing Donations In

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

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causecast_logoWhen he founded Causecast, Ryan Scott focused on one major problem that charitable organizations were facing: they were paying too much in donation transaction fees. So he set out to find ways of lowering those costs, since they bleed so much money away from a non-profit’s core fund-raising goals. “I realized [nonprofits] needed better IT infrastructure because they were getting overcharged on transaction costs. I wanted to bring those costs as close to $0 as possible,” he says.

Now, about two years later, Causecast helps lower transaction fees using a number of methods, from linking the non-profits up with companies who cover the fees through dollars earmarked for cause-marketing, to making the payment processing infrastructure more efficient for non-profits using emerging technology. For example, Causecast is launching a system by which consumers can make donations via their cell phones, using a text-to-pay payment system that generates low or no transaction fees.

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Crowdsourcing: Why it’s Not a Waste of Time

| Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Screen shot 2009-10-22 at 4.05.58 PMCrowdsourcing. You’ve probably heard the term over and over, and when I began to hear it from Dwayne Spradlin of Innocentive as he presented at the inaugural Social Media for Sustainability conference in San Francisco on Monday, I began to tune out. A buzzword with not a lot of tangible results. A recipe for messy, small-results projects.

But what he did earlier got my attention. He said that if we in the audience as a group of 100s could synchronize our claps in under 45 seconds, he’d donate to a charitable cause of note. We did it in about 10 seconds. Trivial as this may sound, it served as a micro example of how, given the right incentives, people can coordinate and focus activity towards a goal, getting results faster than otherwise thought possible.

In his presentation, “Creating Value Together – Online Collaboration and Competition Networks,” Spradlin gave several real-world examples of opening, widely, to help get supposedly intractable problems solved quickly.

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3rdSpaces Helps SF Venues with New Mandatory Waste Ordinance 

| Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

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logo3rd spacesWith San Francisco’s mandatory waste ordinance in effect as of Wednesday, the city’s businesses and residences are now required by law to compost their food waste. This is a big shift for the city’s over 4000 restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that will now have to divert a huge section of their waste to their green bins. Luckily, there is one company uniquely poised to help San Francisco’s venues take on this challenge: 3rdSpaces.

3rdSpaces is the city’s first entertainment venue sustainability company. CEO (and my friend) Mike Zuckerman started 3rdSpaces a number of months ago. By working closely with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, 3rdSpaces provides a service to help local venues save money through sustainability. And this new waste ordinance couldn’t have been more well-timed for the firm’s big launch.

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Should Eco-Labels Come from Government or Third Party Private Organizations?

Scott Cooney | Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 11 Comments

ulenv-logo-headerAccording to Ecolabelling.org, there are more than 300 eco-labels commonly applied to products and services as diverse as building products and cleaning supplies.  The website defines an eco-label as, “any consumer facing logo that claims an added environmental or social benefit.”  Off the top of my head, I could only come up with about 20, and I work as a sustainability consultant and green business writer.  As a fairly savvy eco-consumer, I would expect to know more about these labels, and to know more of them.

Some of these I know are good, such as the USDA Organic symbol, Energy Star for appliances, LEED for green building, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for sustainable forest products like wood and paper, and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for sustainable fish.  Some I know are bad, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), an industry-backed, greenwashing “eco-label” for wood products that is significantly less rigorous as FSC.  But many, like the Green Seal…I simply don’t know enough about them, nor do I, as an industry professional, let alone a green consumer, have the time to learn about them all.

This leads to the inevitable conclusion that there are simply too many eco-labels, which leads to a lot of consumer confusion.

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Sinautec Makes Ultracapacitors Work

Richard Levangie | Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 8 Comments

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sinautec ultracapacitor busUltracapacitors are the Holy Grail of clean transportation: they’re powerful, they’re reliable, they’re relatively inexpensive and they charge in minutes. But they also discharge in minutes, and that’s the problem companies like EEStor and Altair Nano are working furiously to combat. Even the best ultracapacitors have about five percent of the average lithium-ion battery’s storage capacity.

But Sinautec Automobile Technologies, a capacitor company based in Arlington, Virginia, has decided to to turn the technology’s weakness into its advantage. Along with Chinese partner Shanghai Aowei Technology Development Limited Corporation, Sinautec has developed an ultracapacitor-powered bus that charges quickly every few stops. A collector on the bus roof extends to overhead power lines, and in minutes the batteries — called banks — charge fully.

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Is Monsanto Unstoppable?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 4 Comments

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The French documentary, The World According to Monsanto (Le Monde du Monsanto), calls the agrichemical company, Monsanto, “one of the most controversial companies in the industrial age.” The reason Monsanto is so controversial can best be explained by listing the products it has created: Roundup, genetically engineered seeds, Agent Orange, bovine growth hormone, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Monsanto is still a controversial company. A recent ruling in France’s highest court found Monsanto has not been truthful about the safety of its herbicide Roundup. The ruling confirmed a previous judgment against Monsanto that it falsely advertised Roundup as biodegradable and claimed it “left the soil clean.” The court fined the company 15,000 euros ($22,400).

A French environmental group sued Monsanto in 2001, claiming Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, is classed “dangerous for the environment” by the European Union (EU). Monsanto reported a fourth quarter loss of $233 million, “driven mostly by a drop in sales of its Roundup brand,” according to the BBC. Stil, Roundup is the world’s best selling herbicide.

The state attorney general of New York in 1996 fined Monsanto $50,000 for its advertisement which claimed its glyphosate base spray-on herbicides, including Roundup, were safer than table salt.

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Coming Up: 350.org Day of Action, Is Business Aboard?

| Friday October 23rd, 2009 | 2 Comments

Bill McKibben’s climate action group, 350.org has rallied together an astonishing 4600+ events of all shapes and sizes in close to 200 countries to raise awareness of climate change tomorrow – October 24 – in a globally staged call to action. I’ve been riding the California coast with my colleagues and will be rolling into San Francisco just in time to catch the main event.

What’s the point? To imprint the number “350” into the cultural consciousness – according to scientists it’s the right parts-per-million that we need in our atmosphere in order to retain a stable climate, avoiding the worst aspects of climate change. Right now we’re at 387ppm.

MBA Students at the Presidio Graduate School get wet for climate change

MBA Students at the Presidio Graduate School get wet for climate change

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Levi Strauss Partners with Goodwill; Knows How to Pick a Good Restaurant

| Thursday October 22nd, 2009 | 4 Comments

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Ok, ok, I admit it. I’m a cheap date. Levi Strauss invited me and some other writers to an intimate dinner at Fish and Farm last night to talk about their new partnership with Goodwill. We had a wonderful and real conversation about the lifecycle of a pair of jeans and now I love Levi Strauss. It doesn’t take much to please me. PR people, please note: If you ply me with sustainable meat and biodynamic wine, I will probably say nice things about you!

All joking aside, the event was an opportunity to talk candidly about the challenges of greening a carbon intensive industry like clothing manufacture. The people at Levi Strauss were pretty upfront about what they were doing well and what they want to do better and that in itself is commendable. It is rare that a company will let you behind the reception desk to see the execs in action- trying to make the best decisions for the company that they can, wrangling with difficult trade-offs in cost, meeting consumer demand, and limitations in a global supply chain. We got to see a little bit of that last night.

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From BizTechDay: Seven Things Small Business Owners Need to Know to Succeed

| Thursday October 22nd, 2009 | 2 Comments

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I’ll be blogging today and tomorrow from BizTechDay, the small business and entrepreneur conference. I seem to attend every possible social/enviromental entrepreneurship oriented conference, so this will be an intereting change of pace given the focus on pure entrepreneurship.

Mark O’Leary from Comcast Business Class kicked off the conference with citing seven things small business owners need to know to succeed. These are high level – I hope to flesh some of these out over the course of the conference, as many of the upcoming panels touch on these topics:

1) Focus relentlessly on a niche. You can’t be everything to everybody. Do what you do better than anybody else.

2) Executive brilliantly. (yes but how? He didn’t elaborate. More later perhaps)

3) Get to cash flow fast and keep expenses low.

4) Funding: Figure out what type of funding do you need? Consider all the options.

5) Brand creation. Think carefully about your brand. It has to manifest the value of your product.

6) Brand building. Once you get the right brand you have to build it.

7) Be rigorous in finding the right people. The talent level of job applicants is higher than ever, according to O’Leary. This is a great time to “Get the wrong people off the bus and the right people on.”

What did he miss? More to come…

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Day 1 at the BSR Conference: Reset Economy. Reset World.

| Thursday October 22nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

BSR 2009_web_banner_300_revisedBy Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

After a weekend at Bioneers, with luminaries such as Michael Pollan and Joanna Macy,  yesterday I headed to the Hyatt in San Francisco for BSR’s conferenceReset Economy. Reset World:  Delivering Business Value by Thinking Big and Embracing Long-Term Sustainability Trends.

BSR works with a global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research and cross-sector collaboration. Upon entering, the sea of black suits, high heels and ties reminded me I was no longer hanging out with activists and social change professionals.

Overall, the attendees I met were sustainability professionals at the conference to network (some were skipping the sessions all together), while others were hungry to learn about best practices and new sustainability tools.

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Southwest Announces New “Green Plane”

| Thursday October 22nd, 2009 | 4 Comments

SW plane Truly sustainable planes with alternative fuel or higher efficiency may still be many, many miles away, but Southwest seems to be have introduced a quick layover with yesterday’s debut of their “Green Plane.”

The greening of the plane is based mostly on eco-friendly interior materials, from InterfaceFLOR carpeting to new lightweight, leather-like leather alternatives for their seats, to a more environmentally-friendly life vest pouch!

According to Reuters, all of the initiatives being tested on this Green Plane combine to a add up to a weight savings of almost five pounds per seat, thus saving fuel and reducing emissions. Southwest also announced that next month, they’re kicking off a more robust onboard recycling program that will allow the airline to capture more recyclable material and divert it from the waste stream.

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Food Compost: There’s Gold in Them-Thar Green Bins

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Wednesday October 21st, 2009 | 5 Comments

compostMy desk is at the front of my house, right by a street-facing window, so I keep an unintentional vigil on my San Francisco street. Wednesday is garbage day on my block and at around four o’clock this afternoon, I noticed something unusual: the compost collection truck, coming through a few hours later than normal. But then I remembered that today is the first day in which composting–not just yard waste, but also food–in San Francisco is mandatory. These drivers are extra busy.

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New Book Gives the Low-Down on Green Business Models

Shannon Arvizu | Wednesday October 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

hybridorgsThere’s a lot of hype in this field about how “green is gold.” But there is little hard evidence that shows actual trends and models in green business operations. A new book, “Hybrid Organizations: New Business Models for Environmental Leadership,” aims to fill that gap by providing up-to-date analysis of green start-up firms.

Of course, we have to start with what makes a “hybrid organization.” The authors recognize that there are a lot names thrown around these days for classifying companies with an explicit social or ecological mission. They define a hybrid organization as “a market oriented, mission-centered organization which operates in the blurred space between for-profit and nonprofit enterprises.”

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Highlights From “Unfinished Business” Report on Energy and Climate

| Wednesday October 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

Business RountableAt a press briefing this morning, the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from leading U.S. companies, discussed key points from their just-released report entitled Unfinished Business: The Missing Elements of a Sustainable Energy and Climate Policy (pdf).

Building on the organization’s previous reports, More Diverse, More Domestic, More Efficient (pdf) and The Balancing Act (pdf), John Castellani, Business Roundtable president,  and Mike Morris, Business Roundtable’s chairman of the Sustainable Growth Initiative and president and CEO of American Electric Power Company, laid out a broad framework they feel Congress needs to address to pave the way toward a sustainable new energy economy.

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First Solar First Renewable Energy Company on the S&P 500

| Wednesday October 21st, 2009 | 4 Comments

knighting-t6998First Solar, the Chosen One of thin film solar panel manufacturers, has achieved a first for any pure-play renewable energy company: inclusion on the venerable Standard & Poor’s Index of 500 commonly traded stocks.

Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar was added to the S&P 500 after the market closed October 15. The company will be part of the S&P 500 GICS (Global Industry Classification Standard) Electrical Components & Equipment Sub-Industry of the Industrials sector.

The addition of First Solar, which had $1.2 billion in sales last year, is a milestone not only for the company, but for renewable energy in general. Although non-hydroelectric renewables, including solar, wind and biomass, make up a minute fraction of overall energy generation worldwide, that percentage is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades.

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