The Good Entrepreneur – Catalyzing Change by Supporting Good Ideas

| Friday August 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

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idea-lightbulb-b&wFor The Good Entrepreneur contest, the notion that an idea can change the world is not an idealistic daydream; it is one of the contest’s motivating forces. The Good Entrepreneur is designed to help green startups with triple bottom line ideas realize those ideas, thereby promoting environmental and economic growth as well as entrepreneurialism. In doing so, the contest also highlights and rewards the inspiration, innovation, and practically inherent in green startups’ development processes. However, while the quantitative impact of implementing contestants’ ideas is important, perhaps even more significant are the contest’s greater implications for the long-term sustainability movement.

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The Little Lunchbox That Could

| Friday August 21st, 2009 | 4 Comments

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When I was younger, the most difficult thing to get a kid to do was eat brussel sprouts. And even when Peter claimed to like them on the Brady Bunch, it was still a tough sell. So, imagine how difficult it is to get kids to eat healthy nowadays, or more importantly, get them to recycle and pay attention to the environment. Well, Goodbyn, a new eco-start up, aims to do just that with a creative lunchbox that organizes lunch in ways that invite healthy preparation and is fun for kids!

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Samasource: Planting Seeds for Fair Trade Outsourcing

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday August 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Chirayath (right) and trainees in Dadaab.

Chirayath and trainees in Dadaab.

Increasingly, organizations that work toward ending poverty in underdeveloped parts of the world are basing their efforts on teaching skills and providing tools for those populations in need–rather than providing them with aid, such as food or other resources. It’s the whole teach-a-man-to-fish principle, and it appears to be catching on in governmental aid efforts, if the $20 billion food security plan that President Obama announced at last week’s G8 meetings in Italy is an indication. This plan is designed to provide seeds and other tools that can be used to help not just feed but sustain the world’s poor.

Samasource, a Bay Area startup, is taking a similar tack, which is spelled out quite clearly in its guiding mission: give work, not aid. But whereas similar organizations focus on building out the agricultural or transportation infrastructures in places such as Africa (Kickstart International and Zambikes/Bamboosero are great examples), Samasource is focused on linking people with computer-based work.

Though it is a non-profit, Samasource works as a bridge between profit-based, socially-responsible companies and marginalized people in countries such as Africa and throughout Asia, linking them with Internet-based work. Samasource screens and then provides training and project management tools to small businesses and nonprofit training centers in the poorest parts of the world. It then connects them with US clients interested in outsourcing computer work.

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Clean Tech Open: The Top Three Green Challenges for Start-Ups

| Friday August 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment

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Clean Tech logo-mainBy Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

I had the opportunity to be a sustainability coach to some of the Clean Tech Open semifinalists earlier this week. The Clean Tech Open is an organization of leading entrepreneurs, academics, investors and companies, working together to accelerate the development of clean technology start-ups.

In addition to getting support around marketing, finance and intellectual property issues, the Annual Business Competition provides green mentoring and sustainability workshops to help clean tech entrepreneurs integrate sustainability into their business plans.

I was one of five volunteer advisers; over the day we met with a range of start-ups in 45-minute sessions.  They gave a pitch and we then drilled down deeper into the issues associated with the environmental benefits of their product, the life cycle issues raised by manufacturing and the pitch to stakeholders.

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Used Cooking Oil and Recycled Glass Make Candles for Japanese Start-up

| Friday August 21st, 2009 | 2 Comments

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Filt, a Japanese startup, puts old cooking oil to a new use: candles. The Tokyo-based company has implemented a unique process, Fast Company reports. First, it collects used cooking oil from cafés and other local sources. Then, it filters, colors, and scents the oil. Finally, it congeals the oil in containers made of recycled glass (which it finds in local recycling bins). Filt’s product line speaks for itself: who knew up-cycled products could be so… cute? Yet Filt’s approach highlights more than just an innovative re-use of a common household product. By appealing to a wider, more domestic consumer base, Filt could be making “sustainability” more of a household name, so to speak. Does the sale of products like these suggest that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those battling to take sustainability mainstream?

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Kenyan Entrepreneurs’ Bike Powered, Phone Charging Dynamo

| Friday August 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

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(from the BBC)

(from the BBC)

In an inspiring bit of can-do from southern Africa, two electrical engineering students at Kenya’s Nairobi University have built a cellphone charger that uses energy generated from riding a bicycle.

Cellphone use in Kenya has gone from 200,000 in 2000 to 17.5 million today. But in a country with intermittant electricity, Kenyans routinely pay the equivalent of $2 to charge their phones — in a country with  per capita income of $1600.

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Australia Breaks its Own Record in Renewable Energy Goals

| Friday August 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Australia’s Parliament passed a law Thursday that set the country’s renewable energy goals for the next 11 years: the country must draw 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources (for example, sun and wind) by 2020. Reaching the 20 percent goal would allow Australia to provide enough clean energy to power all 21 million Australians’ households, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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Plextronics: Developing Inks that Convert Sunlight into Electricity

| Friday August 21st, 2009 | 0 Comments

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plexcorePVink Imagine being able to “print out” solar-photovoltaic cells on to just about any type of base—from electronic gadgets and textiles to walls, windows and roofs. While there are numerous hurdles—technological and financial—to negotiate, the ability to manufacture PV cells from the readily available hydrocarbon feedstock used to make plastics would ratchet down manufacturing costs—possibly as low as $1/watt—while making scaling up production capacity that much easier and profitable, industry insiders and analysts say.

It’s hard to imagine what combination of circumstances led to the discovery of inks that conduct and convert sunlight into electricity, but pioneering companies such as Pittsburgh-based Plextronics are hot on the “organic PV” and printed electronic circuitry R&D and commercialization trail.

Based on research and development of conductive polymers originally done by Richard McCullough and spun off as a commercial enterprise from Carnegie Mellon University in 2002, Plextronics’ subsequent work is attracting more and greater interest from established, mainstream plastics, electronics and solar-PV technology providers. Yesterday, Plextronics announced that Solvay North American Investments LLC—the venture capital arm of an international, Brussels-based chemical, plastics and pharmaceutical group–led a successful, $14 million round of “Series B-1″ financing.

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1.21 Gigawatts??? How about that much each day for the next 25 years?

| Thursday August 20th, 2009 | 1 Comment

In Back to the Future, the classic Michael J. Fox film, the inventive Doc exclaims, “1.21 Gigawatts!!!!!” in horror when he realizes how much energy he needs to send his DeLorean back to the future.  It turns out that we need to bring that much new clean energy online every day for the next 25 years.

1.21 Gigawatts????  Impossible???

1.21 Gigawatts???? Impossible???

Let’s say you want to turn on a 100 Watt bulb in your house.   (You’ve probably already changed your light bulbs to compact fluorescent or LEDs so it might be a lot less than 100 watts, but go with me.)   To light that light bulb, you’re most likely getting energy from coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, or wind. In the US, a bit less than half of the electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.  Coal produces wonderfully inexpensive power, but it also emits the highest amount of CO2 of any of the major energy sources used in the US.

Recent studies and calculations have figured out that we need to produce about 13,000 Gigawatts of new zero-carbon energy in the next 25 years in order to prevent a climate change catastrophe.

Wow.

That’s a gigawatt of new clean energy a day, every day, for the next 25 years and more.  And that’s the minimum we’ll need.  Scientists, led by NASA’s James Hansen have told us that we need to ensure that the level of carbon in the atmosphere stays below 450 PPM.   Author Bill McKibben has spearheaded a campaign to bring our carbon level back to 350 PPM, conveniently named 350.0rg.

Back to our lightbulbs.  The big question is how we produce the energy we need and still keep the level of carbon in the atmosphere below 450 PPM.   Creating 13,000 gigawatts of new clean energy in the next 25 years is no small feat.  A gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts of energy, or a billion watts. A large coal fired power plant or nuclear power plant produces about a GW of energy.  A gigawatt is enough to power 1,000,000 100 watt bulbs.

So how do we get there?  We could do it by building a new nuclear power plant every day for the next twenty-five years.  That seems unlikely.  According to Steve Kirsch, we could it with wind power, by “installing more than 1,500 large (2 MW, with enormous 100m diameter blades) wind turbines every day for 30 years.” And doing it with solar power alone is even more difficult.

The answer will lie in bringing all of these technologies together, along with a host of new technologies and transmission infrastructure to power our lives.  Efficiency is always the first investment.  In the 13,000 GW model, there’s a 50% energy efficiency calculation built in.  We’re also going to have to find ways to increase our quality of life while using less electricity.  I bike or walk to work whenever I can; it saves energy, but it’s also more fun.

The Breakthrough Institute, in Oakland, California, is calling for a $50 Billion a year US Federal investment in making clean energy cheap and available.  The reality of the challenge we face in changing over our energy supply requires that we think that big.  Getting to 13,000 new gigawatts of clean energy in the next generation will be no small task.

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Eight U.S. Airlines Sign Deal to Use Alternative Fuels

| Thursday August 20th, 2009 | 3 Comments

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Rentech Inc, a renewable energy and synthetic fuel manufacturer, has announced a partnership with eight U.S. airlines to use up to 1.5 million gallons a year of synthetic diesel fuel made from plant waste starting in 2012.

The feed stock will come mostly from “woody green waste” such as yard clippings and other urban wood scrap. The fuel will power ground-service vehicles and equipment at Los Angeles International Airport.

On board for the deal is American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and UPS Airlines.

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Southern California Edison to Complete Big Solar Power Project

| Thursday August 20th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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Southern California Edison signed a deal with Arizona’s First Solar, Inc., in which the companies will construct two solar power facilities (one near Desert City in Riverside County and another in San Bernardino County). First Solar will begin building the 250-megawatt Riverside facility in 2012 and the 300-megawatt San Bernardino facility in 2013 and completing both facilities in 2015. When the facilities are complete, Edison will buy solar power from them, and First Solar will sell them to investors.

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BP Invests in Biofuel Research – Are Oil Firms Coming Around?

| Thursday August 20th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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In the midst of certain lobbyists’ underhanded attempts to prevent climate change legislation, one oil giant, BP, has joined the biofuel-research-by-oil-firms club. BP recently invested $10 million in a joint project investigating new techniques for converting sugar into biodiesel. BusinessGreen.com reports that, according to BP Biofuels Chief Executive Philip New, the project will allow BP to deliver sustainable, economic, and scalable biodiesel supplies. Granted, this could easily be “we’re sustainable – really!” rhetoric, or a cursory attempt to appear environmentally concerned. After all, who really knows a corporation’s true intentions? If BP is sincere, though, its research could contribute significantly to the evolution of a sustainable energy mentality. Yet could investment in biofuels by a well-known oil firm undo the economic and environmental damage of years of investing in unclean fuels? And could BP’s investment be a sign that oil firms in general are starting to come around?

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Social Networking: a Key Part of Your Sustainability Communications Strategy

| Thursday August 20th, 2009 | 1 Comment

Social-Network-SustyEffective sustainability strategies depend on many moving parts. Sustainability change experts reading this blog will tend to have more than a little experience with most of them! However, there’s one tool that we’ve seen chronically underutilized: social networking. These tools aren’t just for connected teenagers anymore – effective use of social networking can make all the difference in effectively communicating sustainability efforts while positively impacting image and brand. Using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, savvy organizations can now easily and inexpensively (think sustainable!) communicate directly to their customers.

Social networking can and should be a crucial part of every comprehensive sustainability strategy. Read on to discover how it can maximize the return on your sustainability initiatives.

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Wind Versus Natural Gas: First Skirmish of the Renewable Energy Revolution?

| Thursday August 20th, 2009 | 1 Comment

windturbine2Natural gas is being touted as our bridge to clean power. It’s dirty, but not nearly as dirty as coal. It’s non-renewable fossil fuel, but the US produces 85% of the gas we use in this country domestically, and we have estimated reserves that could last us 75 years or more.

Well, the bridge has already been built, at least in some parts of the country, and natural gas is beginning to feel the heat. The Wall Street Journal, cribbing from a surprisingly readable report(PDF) by Tudor Pickering Holt & Co., an investment bank, suggests that 100% renewable wind power is already muscling out natural gas as a provider of electrical generation in Texas.

Texas currently has about 8,000 Mw of installed wind generation, and another 10,500 Mw should be installed by 2013, according to Tudor Pickering. Since much of that electricity is generated when the state would otherwise be using gas turbines, the two sources are direct competition, and wind is winning.

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API’s Faux Grassroots Campaign Draws Greenpeace’s Ire

Richard Levangie | Thursday August 20th, 2009 | 1 Comment

greenpeace-astroturfing

God bless Greenpeace.

Faced with a multimillion dollar media juggernaut devised by the American Petroleum Institute (API), Greenpeace countered with simplicity and honesty: A grassroots campaign that speaks the truth to power, and turns up the heat on oil executives.

To cut to the chase, last week Greenpeace came to possess an API memo that described an expensive misinformation campaign — under the banner of Energy Citizen rallies — in great detail.

To their credit, API execs admitted that the email was authentic — perhaps because it was ready to launch — and that the $45 million initiative is designed to look like a grassroots rally, and not a staged event run by an experienced marketing company. It’s all about optics, and getting on the nightly news.

And that’s about as fair as I can be to API.

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