It’s well under a year old, but Virgance has managed to do something completely unusual: attach a business model to activism. How? By starting anti-boycotts. By fostering collective bargaining for alternative energy buys. By letting ordinary citizens dip into huge corporate philanthropy funds.
What started last year as one novel idea – that maybe consumers should try to buy their way into making a business more sustainable – has grown into a venture-funded startup that calls itself a platform supporting Activism 2.0. If the Web 2.0 movement showed that the Internet could be monetized, Activism 2.0 might prove that do-gooders can turn a profit.
Brent Schulkin is an energetic 28-year-old who always seems to have a group of people around him. He certainly did when I met him at the K&D Market in San Francisco’s Mission district one Saturday morning in late March last year. In fact, there were hundreds of people, lined up nearly around the block waiting to get into a completely unremarkable bodega. Schulkin, by using email, Facebook and bevy of other social media tools, had managed to entice the crowd to arrive and shop en masse, forming what he called a Carrotmob (oh, that’s Carrotmob™ now). To earn such patronage, K&D agreed to use a 22 percent cut of sales made during the buying frenzy to make efficiency improvements in the store.
Shripal, your observation that business considerations tend to delay the implementation of carbon sequestering is acute. The ecological value of an implementation now is indeed much greater than in the future, but yet the carbon pricing trend would indicate the reverse. I think this is the classical “Don’t miss it till it’s gone” syndrome.
“Away out here they got a name For rain and wind and fire The rain is Tess, the fire Joe And they call the wind Mariah” - from the song
In the wide and seemingly ever-expanding world of renewable energy technology, vertical axis wind turbines haven’t gotten much respect. Besides challenging age-old design conventions, the fact that they are suited to small-scale, distributed and off-grid applications has meant that they’ve been pretty much orphaned by the fast moving, big money crowd. Those attitudes have been changing of late, however; thanks in large part to the dedicated efforts of people working at and investing in entrepreneurial start-ups such as Mariah Power. The “offspring” of a successful entrepreneur and two inventors who, having come up with a design for an extremely efficient generator, decided to apply it to the design of a vertical axis wind turbine, more than 100 of Mariah Power’s Windspire 1.2-kilowatt VAWTs are now up and running around the country, and the company and partner MasTech Manufacturing are about to start high-volume manufacturing at the latter’s upgraded metal fabrication and assembly plant in Manistee, Michigan. “I believe we’ve already changed some attitudes about vertical axis wind turbines, by taking our product seriously. There are a lot of people who really want to see a VAWT succeed, they just didn’t think it could be done,” Mariah’s Tracy Twist asserted. Click to continue reading »
Since the L3C appeared on the social venture scene last year, this new corporate form has been catching on. One of the latest L3C entrants is interSector Partners, L3C, a Colorado-based consulting firm headed by Rick Zwetsch and Caryn Capriccioso. The new firm is offering education and consulting services to nonprofits, for-profits, and government agencies. They also plan to consult with any new ventures exploring the L3C route. The L3C is a new form of limited liability company which combines the best features of a for-profit LLC with the socially beneficial aspects of a nonprofit. Robert Lang, CEO of the Mary Elizabeth & Gordon B. Mannweiler Foundation, Inc. who created the L3C calls it “the for-profit with a nonprofit soul.” This hybrid business form is designed to attract a wide range of investment sources from foundation Program Related Investments (PRIs) through to conventional investors seeking market-rate returns. Last year, Vermont became the first state to recognize the L3C as a legal corporate structure, and similar legislation is pending in other states. Click to continue reading »
When attempting to connect consumers with causes, there is no greater tie than tapping into the local community. While high profile causes are important, often tmes, unless it affects someone directly, it is difficult to forge that compelling personal connection. And there are many types of local causes that need support, where consumers can relate in a meaningful way and be instrumental in making a direct impact that ultimately affects them personally. Recognizing this need, Shannon Kelly, a brand strategist, “trendscaper” and founder of In Your Head, a strategic consultancy specializing in top-of-mind awareness marketing, decided to create a program to foster her Seattle community, and help local businesses thrive in a challenging economic climate. So she developed City Stimulus, an affinity-based grassroots program designed to reward participants for shopping and supporting their local retail establishments and restaurants. The goal was to incentivize local shoppers to forego the super-mega-big-box in favor of the mom & pops, and help level the playing field to keep dollars in the local market. Click to continue reading »
William McDonough + Partners, otherwise known as WM+P, have been at the forefront of the sustainable architectural design wave. Before WM+P was founded in 1994, “Bill had run a small architecture firm in New York– since the mid 80s,” media relations director Kira Gould recounted. “He and the firm have seen and been a part of many of the milestones set on the way toward where the market and the public mindset is today. We are gratified to have witnessed and been a part of this shift – more and more clients are understanding the value in what we do and how we think.” Click to continue reading »
Better Place began with a $200 million venture capital investment, and the company has easily garnered that much again in enthusiastic publicity. Since its founding in late 2007, barely a week goes by without the electric vehicle-and-infrastructure project cutting a new deal that makes business headlines in newspapers across the world. Why? Certainly, founder Shai Agassi is the consummate salesman, and a photogenic, charismatic, and literate entrepreneur.
But at the end of the day, it comes down to this: What Agassi is promoting could revolutionize the automobile industry just as surely as the Model T did a century ago.
Agassi hasn’t invented a fuel-efficient 100 mpg-engine, or a powerful new battery technology that will propel EVs for more than 250 miles on a single charge. Instead he’s bringing stakeholders together to create the electric car infrastructure that will power the first generation of EVs and plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs).
The Better Place principle is actually quite simple, and it seeks to circumvent the classic chicken-and-egg scenario that was dogging the EV industry for years before the first Tesla rolled off the production line.
The President understands, but judging by coverage the American media is still in the dark. Very few seem to realize that North Dakota’s devastating floods are just the opening salvo in what will become a steady stream of severe weather stories. After two relatively cool years thanks to a strong La Ni√±a event – years that would have been scorching hot by Victorian standards – scientists are predicting that either 2009 or 2010 will be the warmest on record, and that warming will accelerate dramatically over the next decade. And though it’s impossible to peg any one event to climate change, the likelihood for severe weather is increasing. “I actually think the science around climate change is real. It is potentially devastating,” Obama told reporters last week. “If you look at the flooding that’s going on right now in North Dakota and you say to yourself, ‘If you see an increase of two degrees, what does that do, in terms of the situation there?’ That indicates the degree to which we have to take this seriously.” Click to continue reading »
A better question is when. Fuel is by far the biggest cost center for airlines, mainly because aviation fuel is the most expensive fuel to refine and, well, airplanes guzzle a lot of it. That’s why the drive to develop an alternative aviation biofuel is becoming increasingly urgent for aircraft and engine manufacturers. But even with the attention of the two largest aircraft makers, Boeing and Airbus, aviation biofuel is not exactly on the near-event horizon: Think 2025 before biofuel accounts for even 25 percent of the fuel airlines use, says Christian Dumas, vice president of sustainable development and eco-efficiency for Airbus. “I hope we can go faster than that,” he added.
Let’s get right to the point – losing your job sucks. Looking for work is a drag. Going to endless job interviews is stressful at best, at worst it’s a humiliating exercise in futility.
This is the unfortunate experience for a steadily increasing number of people, as the monthly employment reports regularly remind us. But not only is the economy receding, it is shifting as well, as new technologies and energy sources combine with a realization that “bridled growth” is the path to long term sustainability (pdf) and triple bottom line economics become the basis for what emerges from the other end of the current downturn. And the shining star in all this is the clean tech sector. Perhaps for most yet more promise and hope than reality, what is needed is a way to help individual job seekers smooth their transition to the “Clean Tech economy.”
The mission of CleanTechies.com, is just that. Combining a clean-tech job board, specialized resume writing service, interactive community, and the latest in industry news and trends, CleanTechies has set out to help ease the way into the new energy economy,
Looking for a job may still suck, but what results from the effort just might be the start of a new career that helps grow a new economy, one where “CleanTech” becomes a core component of the mainstream economy.
Okay, that’s a lot to ask from a single website – let’s back up a moment and take a closer look.
I find absolutely no shame in admitting that I love In-N-Out Burger. And I should add that I’m on my second year as a vegetarian… I get the grilled cheese, one of many off menu options. The 60 year old, privately owned In-N-Out has long celebrated its freezer-less approach to serving its food fresher than the competition. The company has also always paid its employees significantly more than state and federally-mandated minimum wage guidelines, and you can tell by the moods of their employees. In-N-Out has even quietly eliminated some of the trash it serves, with the replacement of those cardboard boxes served on plastic trays with reusable plastic trays, shaped like the old cardboard boxes. But for a company that has believed in fresher food (and even received one of few accolades in the book, Fast Food Nation), positive work environments, and fairly compensated work, In-N-Out hasn’t yet taken what seems to be any easy opportunity to lead by eliminating trash entirely from its more than 140 locations. You don’t have to be the McDonald’s center of attention to lead. My idea is this. Replace cups, lids, straws, burger wrappers, french fry trays and tray liners with compostable alternatives. The compact menu actually makes the transition straight forward. With one call to the owners of Mixt Greens, another great California business, I am sure they would be lead in the right direction and that the suppliers would be happy to put those secret bible verses on their wares, to get the business. So I posted this idea on the quietly relaunched, all new dotherightthing.com, where you can show your support and help the idea grow into reality. With enough support, the business case will be clear and their marketing will have been done for In-N-Out Corporate. And of course, if you have ideas for In-N-Out or another company, you can post them to the site as well.
We drink bottled water because we are made to believe it is better for us–the liquid is somehow purer, fresher, and/or safer than water that comes straight from the tap. This is simply not the reality, and Quench shows us how water can be purified simply, economically, and more sustainably than bottled water options. By consuming bottled water we contribute to a host of environmentally damaging activities. For example, we use around 1.5 million barrels of oil per year to produce plastic bottles in the States (not including transport services), we rarely recycle the bottles after we use them (only 1 in 5 on average), and we contribute to the depletion of remote natural water sources if the company is true to it’s bottle labeling. Not to mention that often the product is no better than regular tap water. Eric Goldstein from the Natural Resources Defense Council explains, “No one should think that bottled water is better regulated, better protected, or safer than tap.” Bottle water aside, demand nonetheless exists for purified water. Quench brings a solution to this; a UV filtration system that is efficient, relatively inexpensive and is simple to have installed and maintained.
Oregonians love their bikes – and for good reason. Portland and Eugene are among the most progressive cities in the nation when it comes to biking infrastructure (bike lanes, bike racks, etc.). But Oregon representative Wayne Krieger has introduced a bill that would mean this infrastructure would no longer be freely available to two-wheeling citizens. They’d have to pay to ride. Krieger’s bill, HB 3008, would require cyclists to register and license their bikes for about $27 a year. The bill doesn’t have much chance of advancing, since his fellow Congressmen haven’t granted it a committee work session. But the proposal raises some important questions. Should cyclists help pay for cycling infrastructure? Should cyclists be required to register and license their rides, just like motorists? Krieger argues that if motorists and cyclists are to share the same roads, cyclists should pay licensing and registration fees, as motorists do. This way, he says, they’ll financially support the road systems and bike lanes from which they benefit. Plus, authorities will have a better way to nail fines on cyclist who disobey traffic laws.
General Motors and Segway have announced a joint venture to produce a small 2-passenger electric vehicle, based on Segway’s balancing technology. The prototype, named the P.U.M.A., (short for Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility), includes some notable concepts, including networked communications technologies which [could] allow the vehicles to avoid collisions and participate in an on-demand transit network. Jim Norrod, chief executive of Segway, had this to say, “We’re excited about doing more with less, less emissions, less dependability on foreign oil and less space.” This appears to be a move by General Motors to focus on more environmentally-friendly vehicles and could potentially signal a greater change in GM’s strategy.
A few days ago, Joel Makower wrote about the American obsession with automobiles. This obsession has translated into the current rush to produce marketable electric cars. He laments that switching from gasoline to electricity merely clouds the fact that personally-owned vehicles are inherently wasteful and unsustainable. Makower suggests that what is needed is a shift to a greater focus on providing transportation solutions, not just building more cars. If the automakers could reinvent themselves as “transportation providers,” perhaps they could begin to focus on providing the most efficient solutions to transportation problems. This would most likely lead them to the realization that the solution involves doing more with less. The P.U.M.A. vehicle appears to be a step towards this type of better design and whole-systems thinking.
Whether it be the state of the economy, or the rise in interest in everything green, a lot of people are thinking about starting their own business with a focus on sustainability or social equity. Getting a new business off the ground requires tenacity, hard work, and cash. Lots of cash. One of the places to get that cash is through an angel investor, but, to many people, this type of investing is shrouded in mystery. I had a chance to find out more about angel investing at the Green Financing for Green Businesses panel discussion, hosted by Urban Solutions, a San Francisco-based non-profit that promotes small and green business in disadvantaged communities. Speaking on the panel was Colin Wiel, an angel investor and founder of the San Francisco chapter of the Keiretsu Forum, the world’s largest angel investor network. Mr. Weil, whose accomplishments also include founding a 35-person software firm, gave an overview of who angel investors are, why they invest, and what types of businesses they invest in. Angel investors generally invest in companies seeking $500,000 to $1 million. Due to the fact that the Keiretsu Forum invests as a group, investments of less than $500K would not allow enough members to participate. Investments of $2M or more are usually handled by VCs. Those seeking less than $500K should probably use their personal network, family, or friends.
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