Japan’s New Carbon Target – Good News or Bad News?

| Saturday September 5th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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This just in from the is-this-good-news-or-bad-news file: Japan’s incoming Democratic Party-led government has promised a more aggressive emissions-trimming policy than the outgoing government. However, the plan will hinge on the inclusion of China and India in an international climate change agreement. This could be bad news for the UN Climate Change Conference to take place in Copenhagen in December.

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Beyond Organic – Looptworks Upcycles Textile Waste into Treasures

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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looptworks textile waste

Look at the shirt you’re wearing now.

What do you think happened with the material cut to make that shirt? Despite likely making every effort to be efficient in how much material is used, there is always extra. In some cases, one factory can produce 60,000 pounds of textile waste a week. Currently, nearly all of that goes to landfill. Or it goes overseas, dumped into communities of “need” that then devalues the market for domestic, locally made clothing there. In both cases, there’s an additional carbon cost, with transportation to their destination.

What’s a way to address this? Yes, buying organic is a solid step forward, reducing chemical inputs. And yet, did you know that one pair of jeans takes about 1800 gallons of water to manufacture?

What can you do? Aside from going naked, there’s Looptworks.

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Biofuel and Black Earth: Dynamotive Pioneers Updated Pre-Columbian Technology

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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Terra_Preta Improving on an age-old method used in Pre-Columbian societies, Canada’s Dynamotive Energy Systems has developed a means of turning waste biomass into fuel and fertilizer. Significantly, “fast pyrolysis” of the waste feedstock Dynamotive is using also provides a long-term means of capturing and storing carbon.

Small groups of biochar proponents have been gathering together and discussing biochar’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve agriculture and benefit agricultural communities for years. They’ve been garnering a larger audience of late.

Language recognizing biochar as a qualified climate change mitigation and adaptation technology has been included in the working draft of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Similar proposals are being considered in US and Australian climate change pacts. Here in the US for the first time, the North American Biochar Conference was held at the University of Colorado’s Center for Energy and the Environmental Security in Boulder August 9-12, drawing 325 participants and 80 speakers.

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Looking For a Green Job? Grab Your Rain Boots

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday September 4th, 2009 | 3 Comments

green_jobs_waterIt’s been 200 days since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency says it has allocated 92 percent of the $7.22 billion Recovery Act dollars it is charge of allocating. And much of that money will be used for projects to improve water quality, wastewater infrastructure and drinking water infrastructure.

Specifically, $4 billion is going for assistance to help communities with water quality and wastewater infrastructure needs and $2 billion for drinking water infrastructure needs. A portion of the funding will be targeted toward green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency, and environmentally innovative projects.

On Thursday, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson ticked off a short lift of water-related projects that promise to create jobs, including a harbor cleanup in New Bedford, Mass. (270 jobs) and a Superfund cleanup project (more than 200 jobs) in at the Iron Mountain Mine in Redding, Calif., which used to discharge one ton of toxic materials into the Sacramento River every day. Once completed, the local hydroelectric power plant will use the restored waters to produce energy.

President Obama is requesting $475 million in next year’s budget for cleaning up the Great Lakes—and this would be just a small part of the funding if he makes good on his campaign promise of devoting $5 billion for Great Lakes restoration.

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CSR at Jack Daniel’s Is a Mixed Cocktail

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday September 4th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Jack DanielsBrown-Forman – parent of Jack Daniel’s and many other alcohol beverage brands – says in its second corporate responsibility report that after implementing a greenhouse gas reduction strategy last year, it reduced total energy use by 2.3 percent from its 2007 use.

That’s a start, but over the same 2007-2008 period the company reported that its GHG emissions jumped 9.3 percent to 189,233 metric tons. Water consumption meanwhile increased by 4.5 percent. The total GHG increase includes increases in both direct and indirect emissions and a slight decline in “optional” emissions.

It’s not until page 25 of the 28-page report, On Being Responsible, Our Thinking about Drinking, that environmental issues and results are addressed in some detail.

The company gets its energy from coal, waste wood, natural gas, fuel and electricity. Last year’s reduction in energy use came about from reduced production at some facilities and energy-efficiency moves such as lighting, heating and cooling optimization and the installation of a waste-to-energy process that will fuel a boiler at its tequila plant in Mexico with bio-gas generated as an energy byproduct at a new wastewater treatment facility there.

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Cisco Pays Employees Not to Work at Cisco

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 4 Comments

How the Computer Networking Giant Encourages Non-Profit Service

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CiscoA few years back, the Financial Times told the story of Peter Santis, a regional sales manager for computer networking giant, Cisco Systems. When he was let go, according to the article (links to articles dating before 2004 aren’t available on FT.com), Santis was presented with a unique proposition. Instead of walking away with a pink slip and a severance package, he was given the opportunity to remain a part of the Cisco family working for a non-profit.

Peter Tavernise, now a senior manager at Cisco’s Corporate Affairs Group, found himself in a similar position in 2001. When he was laid off, Tavernise was offered one-third of his former salary with full benefits to become a Cisco Fellow and spend the next year as planner and fundraiser for a North Carolina-based public affairs group. Since returning to the company, Tavernise has used what he did for that non-profit to help shape what he is doing now.

These days the program is called Cisco Leadership Fellows, and it is more focused on employees with potential as a way to, as the company asserts, bring people and technology together to make a difference and help a community prosper.

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Green Job Training – A Much-Needed Solution Or a Drop in the Bucket?

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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If a new green jobs program unveiled by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Monday has its intended effect, lack of ability will no longer stand in the way of many Californians’ efforts to join the green work force. The $75 million plan would train more than 20,000 workers for jobs in the clean energy sector, thereby somewhat alleviating (in theory) the state’s history-making unemployment rate. Yet I’m unconvinced: will these effects be a mere drop in the bucket called “California’s job market”?

Schwarzenegger revealed the plan in Los Angeles’ Trade-Technical College, the Los Angeles Times reports. The program is intended to train both young workers and the unemployed in green building design and weatherization and solar installation. A $20 million injection from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and funds from the California Energy Commission, community groups, and educational institutions, will fund the program.

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NYMEX’s The Green Exchange Cuts Emissions Traders a Deal

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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Reuters reported good news for the carbon traders of the world today. For three months (beginning September 2nd), NYMEX’s The Green Exchange will waive trading fees for all emissions futures and options, including European Union carbon permits.

NYMEX (the New York Mercantile Exchange) launched The Green Exchange in 2008, partnering with Evolution Markets, Morgan Stanley Capital Group, Inc., and other heavyweights, in an effort to tap into the $126 billion carbon trading market. (NYMEX was the first exchange group after the Chicago Climate Exchange to launch a U.S. carbon exchange.) According to its website, the Exchange is committed to operating as a 100 percent carbon-neutral corporation.

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Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to Sacramento’s Unemployed: Help Is On the Way…?

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 0 Comments

banner-green-labor-dayhilda-solis The fact that California is in dire straits (economically speaking) is no new news. But for anyone wondering just how bad it is, a recent visit by Obama’s newly sworn-in Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, to Cali’s capital should clarify the issue. Solis visited Sacramento Friday on a promissory tour. If Solis’ consolations are true, help should be on the way for Californians and businesses struggling in the current economy. But what does this mean for the state’s sustainability efforts?

According to a report by The Sacramento Bee, Solis is touring the country in an effort to promote Obama administration’s stimulus plan nationwide. She stopped at a Sacramento Employment and Training Agency job search center in Foothill Farms because, of the numerous American communities hard-hit by the recession, Sacramento is one of the hardest hit. (Last January, the city’s unemployment rate reached 10.4 percent, a high not seen there since the 1980’s. [The national unemployment rate is 8.1 percent.]

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Building Sustainability Into Your Operations: The Importance of Governance

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 0 Comments

stick figures pictureDriving sustainability into the operations of a company is an oft-stated goal for sustainability departments. How many times have you heard (or said!): “My vision is that one day our department will go away…and sustainability will be just part of everyday business, and the sustainability department will be out of a job.”  But how do we actually make that happen? How do we ramp up a sustainability program from a departmental focus to an organization-wide set of capabilities? And how do we move from many disparate efforts to a cohesive set of coordinated initiatives? The answer is an effective sustainability governance solution.

So what to do?

To solve these challenges, a “governance” solution is required that addresses both the diffusion of sustainability into the organization (from the sustainability department into general operations) and sustainability collaboration across the organization (to establish synergies such as the sharing of best practices, resources, tools, etc.).

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Sustainable Systems at Work. Do They… Work?

| Friday September 4th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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At Juniata College, my undergrad alma mater, I was originally attracted to the school by a catchy slogan:  “Think.  Evolve.  Act.”  After all, that is exactly what I wanted to do in college, right?

Of course, this process isn’t restricted to academia.  It has a rightful place in business, too.  That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the Northwest Earth Institute’s (NWEI) new version of its “Sustainable Systems at Work” curriculum.  (Well, I was impressed by the “3p exclusive teaser copy” I read…)  More below.

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Predictions, Warnings and Best Practices From Day 2 at Socap09

| Thursday September 3rd, 2009 | 0 Comments
Kevin Jones at Socap09, Photo Courtesy of Simon Roberts

Kevin Jones at Socap09, Photo Courtesy of Simon Roberts

A quick search on twitter for #socap09 will reveal just a fraction of the “turkey dinner of ideas,” as one colleague called it, that was Day 2 at Socap09. Below I attempt to distill some of the most hard-hitting, surprising, and indicative sentiments of the day. (Note: quotes may be paraphrased)

On the future of the social capital marketplace:

I predict impact investing will approach a tipping point in 2015… CSR in the US is merely a band-aid. ~Charly Kleissner, KL Felicitas Foundation

We’ll see increased scrutiny and demand for data on impact investors are having and increased collaboration between different types of investors. ~Amit Bouri, Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN)

Social capital will not be sufficient to get us to a brighter future. We’ll have to mobilize major sources of funding. We need to mobilize government to change the rules of the game. ~Dan Crisafulli, Skoll Foundation

Today’s investments are complex, opaque and anonymous. We need to get to a place where investments are direct, transparent and personal, based on long-term relationships. ~Don Shaffer, RSF Social Finance

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Surreptitious in Seattle: There’s a New Starbucks in Town, But You Wouldn’t Know It

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday September 3rd, 2009 | 27 Comments

starbucks_escher-757783One day, many years ago, Starbucks was a little coffee shop tucked away in a corner of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. If I was a freelance journalist living in Seattle in 1971, when the first one opened, I bet I would have patronized that coffee house. When I did live in Seattle as a freelance journalist back in the late ’90s, Starbucks was growing hugely–adding hundreds and then up to one thousand stores each year leading up to the turn of the century. I sought out less corporate coffee shops that better suited my tastes… And now, with more than 15,000 coffee shops around the world, the king of coffee is looking to recapture that 1971 feeling. But under a different name.

In late July, Starbucks opened 15th Ave Coffee & Tea in Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood. While you won’t see a Starbucks sign out front or Starbucks cups inside, 15th Ave Coffee & Tea is Starbucks’ baby. So why, asks Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholz in his blog, would Starbucks do such a thing?

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Your Spongy Laptop Sleeve Giving You a Headache?

| Thursday September 3rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

neogreeneOr maybe that wetsuit sitting in the trunk of your car, or hanging in your closet, is smelling kind of toxic? Well, guess what – you’re right on. Those products, and thousands of others, are made of a material called neoprene – and albeit revolutionary and incredibly versatile in its applications, it is a toxic soup laden with chemicals and compounds such as formaldehyde, PVC, lead and chlorine.

Enter Neogreene. Unlike regular neoprene, Neogreene uses no solvents and only water-based adhesives. What you end up with is a no VOC product that looks and feels like regular neoprene, requires 25% less petroleum and energy to produce, is free of all the major toxic chemicals, is lighter and increases insulation performance.

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Burn, Baby, Burn: Biomass Capacity Continues to Grow

| Thursday September 3rd, 2009 | 2 Comments

CampFire-main_FullA Wisconsin utility has partnered with a paper manufacturer to build the state’s first large-scale biomass plant. We Energies plans to build the 50 Mw, $250 million plant next to Domtar Corporation’s Rothschild, WI paper mill.

The Department of Energy recently released $21 million in funds for various biomass projects nationwide, contributing to a steady, if not exactly overwhelming stream of biomass plants announced or proposed nationwide. The Wisconsin project would be one of the largest biomass plants in the country if and when it is completed. The largest in the US is the New Hope Powerplant in South Bay, Florida, which produces 140 Mw of electricity from burning sugarcane.

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