Book Review: “Slow Money”- How Current Financial Structures Wreck Soil Fertility

| Thursday January 22nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

slow%20money.jpgIn “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility MatteredWoody Tasch, former Chairman of Investor’s Circle, argues for a new financial system that brings money back down to earth by supporting small food enterprises (SFEs) and the local agricultural economy. In addition to myriad environmental problems in the public eye (i.e. carbon, water), Tasch introduces another in this collection of essays – depletion of soil fertility – which he links to our financial system. Our farming practices are abhorrent and strip the land of its fertility for future generations. Tasch contends that our obsession with speed and high financial returns leads to broken ecological and social relationships. “How can we allow money to accelerate endlessly, hoping that it will not accelerate commerce, erode culture, and degrade nature?” Tasch asks. We invest with a mantra of “Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later” and refuse to accept below market rate returns. This is a book about reworking business as usual to support the lifeblood of our economy – food and soil.

“Fast money does violence to the web of relations on which the health of communities and bioregions depends.
It is not enough to steer money in new directions. We must slow money down.”

Slow Money is the title of the book as well as an NGO that Tasch founded in 2008 to incite the very changes he describes in this book. This book marks the beginning of a movement. Slow money, the term, describes the “nonviolent” and “beautiful” financial structures that will support investment in “small, independent, local-first food enterprises” and therefore soil fertility. Tasch posits that “Ford + Yunus + Petrini = Slow Money;” in other words combine Henry Ford’s hatred of speculative financing and the fast money of stocks and bonds, with Muhammad Yunus’ vision of social business which develops for-profit solutions to poverty and other social problems, with Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini’s vision of “food as a tool for social change” and there you have Slow Money.
Despite our current organics craze, Tasch presents the startling figures: only 0.5% of all agricultural land in the US is organic; only $100M of the USDA’s 1997 budget of $92B went towards small or mid-sized organic farmers;and in 2007 only a small percentage of foundation capital (0.1% or $50M out of $40B) and venture capital (<$1B of $20B with organics in portfolio) went towards organics or sustainable agriculture.

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Why The Former Energy Secretary Should Keep His Mouth Shut!

Jeff Siegel | Thursday January 22nd, 2009 | 3 Comments

bodman.jpgHow appropriate it was to hear Sam Bodman, the Energy Secretary under the Bush administration, make the following statement last week in regards to Obama’s plan to double our output of renewable energy in three years….

“I think it’s going to be extremely difficult to get there in three years. I’m not saying you can’t do it. It depends on how much money you spend. We have spent a lot of money, but could you spend even more and can you throw more (government) money at it? You could. I don’t think it’s wise myself, because I think we’re spending about at the rate which makes sense.”

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Why You Should Check Out EDF’s Innovation Exchange

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday January 22nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

EDF.jpgThe goal of the Environmental Defense Fund (a Triple Pundit advertiser)’s Innovation Exchange is to “help companies of all shapes and sizes make green business the new business as usual.” Innovation Exchange accomplishes that goal by providing access to “valuable content, a suite of practical yet impactful tools and a dynamic online community of peers” which help companies improve their triple bottom line.
IE is a wealth of information about making a company more environmentally-friendly. Are you interested in reducing your company’s greenhouse gas emissions? IE suggests two ways to create a plan to reduce emissions: create an emissions inventory and set a reduction target. If you are interested in conserving energy, IE believes that “simple operational changes” will help, which include lighting, office equipment, and corporate fleets.

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Greening the Lunch Truck

| Wednesday January 21st, 2009 | 5 Comments

green%20truck%20lunch%20wagon.jpegWhat’s for lunch? It’s a universal question that many of us working stiffs have to figure out every day. You have a finite amount of time, and don’t want to spend it driving around, or walking far. And yet you want to eat healthy. All those criteria don’t usually come together. Until Green Truck.
Green Truck is an LA based company that has taken the iconic lunch truck concept and given it a thorough greening, from what they serve to how the serve it, even what powers their vehicles.

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Coke Leaves Out Key Details in Sustainability Claims

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Wednesday January 21st, 2009 | 2 Comments

55px-Coca-cola_50cl_white-bg.jpgCoca-Cola recently opened a new “bottle-to-bottle” recycling plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and touts the plant as the “largest one in the world.” Coinciding with the plant’s opening, the company has a marketing initiative called “Give it Back” to promote recycling. A 30 second advertisement says, “If you’ve had a Coke in the last 40 years, you’ve played a part in one of the largest beverage recycling efforts in the world.” Coca-Cola also has a $10 million marketing initiative to promote health and wellness.
Coca-Cola’s advertisements leave out some key facts concerning the company’s environmental impact and the sustainability of its products. Coca-Cola makes bottled water (Dasani water) and soft drinks. Dasani water comes packaged in plastic containers, as do many of Coca-Cola’s soft drinks. The independent think tank, the Pacific Institute (PI), estimates that “the energy used for pumping and processing, transportation, and refrigeration, brings the annual fossil fuel footprint of bottled water consumption in the United States to more than 50 million barrels of oil, equivalent-enough to run 3 million cars for one year.”

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Can A Company That Produces Bottled Water Be Sustainable?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday January 20th, 2009 | 4 Comments

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Earlier this month PepsiCo published its CSR report which touted its gains in human, environmental, and talent sustainability. However, the company has its own bottled water called Aquafina, “the single biggest bottled water brand.” Americans drank about 615 gallons of Aquafina in 2008, according to the social network site, ThePoint.com.
Bottled water can hardly be called sustainable or environmentally-friendly. A 2001 report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) stated that about 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to bottle 89 billion liters of water every year.

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The Obama Bounce: Wall Street Digs Cleantech

Nick Hodge | Monday January 19th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Wall Street’s earnings season is once again upon us.

Investors are paying particularly close attention this quarter in reaction to continued economic uncertainty and economic hardship. The smart money knows that this season isn’t bearing any gifts; most companies’ sales have taken recession-sized hits, and that will be reflected in the bottom line.

Concerning the cleantech stocks I watch, Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) was the first to spill the beans. The recent downturn left the company with a $608 million quarterly loss. For perspective, they made $235 million in the previous quarter.

Auto parts sales, as expected, were down a dramatic 32%. But more surprisingly, even the company’s Power Solution segment took a 32% sales hit.

The only bright spot? A nominal 4.8% drop in building efficiency sales.

Despite the horrendous financial performance, though, the stock was hardly affected.

And that’s the big story here.

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Change is in the Air – The Inauguration Brings Hope, Promise, and Millions to Washington DC – Not to Mention Renewable Energy

Thomas Schueneman | Monday January 19th, 2009 | 1 Comment

The Great American Pilgrimage

I’ve been in the area since late Friday, getting to the Mall for the first time on Saturday afternoon. From the moment I got on the plane in San Francisco I began to feel that I was joining a movement of people, all motivated by the same desire to witness history, to be part of the best of what this country represents.

By the time I hit the streets on Saturday afternoon I knew that being here in Washington DC for the inauguration of Barack Obama is not to witness history, but to be swept up in its tide. The feeling in the air and the word on the street is that what goes down tomorrow will be like no other inauguration in this nation’s history. Not only, I believe, because Obama will be sworn in as the first African-American president – and the long, brutal, essentially American struggle that it represents – but almost in spite of it.

America – indeed the entire world – is fatigued and disillusioned by what is seen by many as missed opportunities, incompetence, and an abandonment of the true promise of America. In this historic election there is the rare upswelling of hope for the ideals of a nation.

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Six Key Points of a Domestic Building Energy Management Plan

3p Contributor | Saturday January 17th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Nearly one third of GHG emissions come from heating, cooling and lighting our homes and places or work – much more than it could be. Why is this the case? For decades local building codes have required minimal levels of energy efficiency features and these requirements are simply what architects and builders use. The result is a mind-boggling infrastructure of 127 million homes and 4.7 million commercial buildings are for the most part, energy wasters.
Improving the efficiency of these structures and preparing them for rooftop solar power is an excellent and relatively straightforward way for the Obama Administration to respond to both global warming and the problem of joblessness. These goals are achievable in the near-term and on a national scale using technologies from domestic sources and a large labor force. Individual programs have already been developed by groups within the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and are ready to be incorporated into a cohesive Domestic Building Energy Management Plan and implemented nationally. There is agreement among many building scientists and energy professionals that a plan of national magnitude would be the most effective element in the country’s response to climate change. It would also invigorate the building and greentech industries and directly employ hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Six Key Points of a Domestic Building Energy Management Plan:
*A National Energy Building Code for new construction and major retrofits.
*A National Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and Production Based Incentives (PBI).
*The deployment of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) aka, “The Smart Grid.”
*The deployment of Advanced HVAC Controls with the AMI/Smart Grid.
*The creation of a Department of National Energy Projects and the employment of 100,000 Americans.
*Funding to bring Non-toxic Energy Storage Systems into the mainstream.

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4 Available Innovations to Help Recession-Proof a Solar Company

Sarah Lozanova | Friday January 16th, 2009 | 1 Comment

solar%20house%20small.jpgThe solar industry has taken a beating lately. At their low in November, solar stocks were down 70%. Natural gas and oil prices have plunged, reducing the value of renewable energy. Financing is scarce, making the upfront cost of solar energy a challenge.
Perhaps these conditions will encourage innovation. Here are some tactics for solar companies to weather the storm in the short-term:
Multiple Land Use
Wind turbines are typically found on agricultural land. Despite some cropland loss due to access roads and installation, wind turbines and crops have a happy coexistence side-by-side.
solar-farm-spain.jpgAlthough residential solar systems usually occupy underutilized roof space, solar power plants are another story. Acres of land are dedicated to harvesting only sunshine, while vegetation must be short enough to allow for full solar exposure. Solar panels that are higher off the ground however allow for crops or native crops to be cultivated underneath. This is not the norm.
SolFocus for example manufactures concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) panels that are mounted on a tracking system. This is necessary to capture as much usable sunlight as possible. The increased height allows the land underneath to be utilized. Shade crops can be cultivated below the solar panels, increasing the diversity of crops that can be grown in sunny regions.

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Green Business Wrap-up

Thomas Schueneman | Friday January 16th, 2009 | 0 Comments

We end this week looking expectantly to the start of what is hopefully a new beginning in government, green business, and sustainability. I write this week’s business wrap as I prepare for a trip to Washington DC to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States. I’m a bit giddy. If I can, I’ll post here on TriplePundit my thoughts and observations on the historic event. But for now, let’s wrap!

Apple Puts Green Makeover at Risk with CSR Snub
Say it ain’t so Apple! Apple has been pushing the debut of their new green products, much on display at last week’s Macworld show. But the Green Apple may have some worms in it with the news that the company has urged shareholders to vote against a shareholder resolution by As You Sow, an environmental advocacy group co-sponsored by the New York City Office of the Comptroller and the Green Century Equity Fund. The resolution calls greater CSR transparency, requiring Apple to publish a CSR report by July that details its approach to greenhouse gas emissions, toxins, and recycling. It also would mandate that Apple define their idea of “sustainability”. I’m as much a Mac fan as the next guy (having recently returned home from too many years in the Windows wilderness) and I hope that Apple will do the right thing. With the news of Steve Jobs’ leave of absence over health issues and the consequent plunge in the stock, it’s been a tough week for Apple.

MTA Considering Green Metrocard Program
The New York Metropolitan Authority has green plans. A special MTA environmental committee has put forth a proposal that would let riders make tax-deductible donations toward sustainable transportation programs through a “green MetroCard” option. Customers will have the option of paying the extra charge at MTA vending machines, when purchasing the E-Z Pass, and for commuter rail. With a tough economy and planned fare increases, it remains to be seen whether commuters are willing to fork over some extra cash for the promise of a more sustainable transit system.

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Economic Stimulus Package To Include Funding For Renewable Energy

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Friday January 16th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Solar.jpg
Last Friday, Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, warned that previous financing sources for renewable energy projects “are not going to come back..until we’re in a sustained growth period. It’s going to take some mechanisms to keep markets growing.”
President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders are reportedly including up to $25 billion in energy tax credits in the economic stimulus package.

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Non-Glass Mirror-Film Promises to Boost Efficiency, Reduce Costs of Concentrating Solar Power

| Thursday January 15th, 2009 | 0 Comments

skytroughnrel.jpg A new “silver-metalized” mirror film invented by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and ReflecTech is a key element in testing an innovative concentrating solar power system that holds the promise of significantly lower costs and significantly higher sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiencies, making them more attractive to utilities and their customers.
ReflecTech – the name of the highly reflective film as well as the company that co-invented it – has been applied on a precisely manufactured parabolic base of sheet metal, replacing the more costly, heavier and less durable parabolic glass mirrors typically used in concentrating solar power systems. An inner layer of pure silver protected by multiple layers of polymer films makes the mirror film highly reflective while also protecting the silver from the elements and oxidation.
Albuquerque-based SkyFuel and the NREL in Golden, Colorado have incorporated the “glass-free” mirror film into SkyTrough, a new type of parabolic trough that has been mounted on NREL’s Large Payload Solar Tracker.
* Photo credits: Pat Corkery, NREL

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The L3C: A More Creative Capitalism

| Thursday January 15th, 2009 | 20 Comments

social-enterprise.gif
During his 2007 Harvard commencement address, Bill Gates, now the world’s best funded philanthropist, called on the graduates to invent “a more creative capitalism” where “we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities.”

Money.jpgIt doesn’t take a Harvard grad (or Harvard dropout like Gates) to understand that traditional market forces mostly work against the notion of a socially beneficial enterprise (one that seeks social returns first and financial second). Existing for-profit corporate structures demand a higher financial return than a social enterprise can usually deliver; while non-profit organizations have limited access to capital and a tax-exempt format that limits a strong profit orientation. If the social enterprise field is to evolve and grow, what’s needed is a hybrid of the two forms, a structure that supports a “low profit corporation.”
Enter the L3C (low-profit, limited liability company), a new corporate structure designed to attract a wide range of investment sources thereby improving the viability of social ventures. In April 2008, Vermont became the first state to recognize the L3C as a legal corporate structure. Similar legislation is pending in Georgia, Michigan, Montana and North Carolina. But if the L3C seems like the right choice for your social enterprise, you don’t have to wait! L3Cs formed in Vermont can be used in any state.

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Skyrocketing Interest in Careers in Social Entrepreneurship and Start-ups Evidenced by MIT Sloan School “Tech Trek”

| Thursday January 15th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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We are currently witnessing a shift in the job market away from the more traditional MBA path, which is crumbling as I type, towards traditionally riskier start-ups, social ventures, and entrepreneurial careers with social and environmental impact goals. Each year, business school students at MIT’s Sloan School of Management embark on a “Tech Trek,” visiting companies of interest in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Boston to make connections, get career ideas and generally explore. This year’s San Francisco and Silicon Valley trek was quite popular, attracting 100 of about 150 Trekkers total with over 40 company visits. Seven of these Trekkers visited us at Social Venture Technology Group (SVT). SVT has been in business since 2001, but this is the first time we have been contacted for this particular visit.
Typical MBA job opportunities have been slashed with the decline of the banking giants, near hiring freezes at the big consulting firms, and job losses at Fortune 500 firms. For example, Google and Yahoo are usually annual stops on the Sloan Tech Trek, however this year they declined to participate. For the Trekkers, this created an opportunity to visit more start-ups and small firms.
The economic downturn “has placed some budget constraints on many of the companies we originally intended to visit, but it has also allowed us to look at a different set of companies,” said Pedro Santos, a Sloan student on the San Francisco and Silicon Valley Trek. “I think that startups will be hiring a significant number of talented individuals who would have been taken by larger corporations, which means that the infusion of energy and talent from MBAs could really lead to a significant amount of value going into the startups.” Another Trekker, Rajiv Bhatia added: “I believe this is one of the best times for the startup company model to thrive. Large corporations typically cut their budgets and go into ‚Äòsurvival mode’ during times of economic crisis.”

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