B Corporation: A Way for “Good” Companies to Walk the Walk

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday April 17th, 2009 | 3 Comments

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A new report from TerraChoice Environmental Marketing finds that only 2 percent of products that profess some eco-cred on their labels are, in fact, green. This goes to prove something that most consumers already suspected: that just because a company calls itself green and clean, it’s not necessarily green and clean. The same is true, in a much broader sense, about all kinds of companies. What makes a company “good?” How can we define and designate a social enterprise – a triple bottom line company – such that it achieves legitimacy and legal protections as such an entity? Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Kassoy co-founded B Lab, say they’ve developed a way: The B Corporation certification.
This is the pledge that all B Corporations take:
“We envision a new sector of the economy which harnesses the power of private enterprise to create public benefit.
This sector is comprised of a new type of corporation the B Corporation
which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
As members of this emerging sector and as entrepreneurs and investors in B Corporations,
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
– That we must be the change we seek in the world.
– That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
– That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
– To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another
and thus responsible for each other and future generations.”

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Recession Doesn’t Slow Water Problems, Investment

Nick Hodge | Friday April 17th, 2009 | 1 Comment

water dropWater problems are mounting. You see the evidence everyday.

Droughts in California. Disappearing aquifers in the Southeast. Tightened water restrictions in Perth.

The problem is elementary, yet most are too stubborn to comprehend it, or to deal with it.

We only have a certain amount of water but we constantly require more of it. Increasing population and the industrialization of the second and third world are the main culprits, but pollution and misuse of done their share of damage.

It’s all very Malthusian.

And the recession is making it worse. Delayed investment in water infrastructure due to tightened credit and lending means sever water problems could surface sooner than once thought.

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Obama’s bullish on high-speed rail

Jeff Siegel | Friday April 17th, 2009 | 4 Comments

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In an effort to relieve traffic congestion, save energy, and clean up the air, President Obama has called for the swift development of a high-speed passenger rail system.

The President said that this was not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future, and that the country could not afford not to invest in a major upgrade to rail travel. Certainly we couldn’t agree more. But thanks to decades of complacency, this, like many other desperately needed projects, will not be easy.

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Indonique Tea & Chai Restarts After Katrina Washout

| Friday April 17th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, second only to water. Through the ages, mythic powers have been attributed to regular tea consumption. Resiliency must be near the top of that list for New Orleans native George Constance. Hurricane Katrina washed out Constance’s Indonique Tea & Chai business, but undaunted, the socially-minded entrepreneur relocated north to rebuild his business in Connecticut.
Indonique sells over 95 different teas and accoutrements directly to consumers via their website, directly to retail shops, and now to wholesalers which is the fastest growing area of their business. Their specialty Chai was named “best around” in New Orleans’ Gambit Magazine, and Constance is hoping to achieve the same recognition as he restarts in Connecticut. He’s also retained the strong social mission at the core of his business. Indonique donates 10% of every sale to the communities where their tea is picked through their Program T42.

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Hold the Carbon: Reusable Bags for a Renewable World

| Friday April 17th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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Despite the fact that there are more conscious consumers than ever before, there are still a majority of retailers who do not offer reusable bags. Nor do they realize the significant environmental impact of their packaging. According to said Dianne Sherman, Director of the International Coastal Cleanup. “Trash travels. Even if we live thousands of miles inland, our actions have a profound effect on the ocean. A bag can blow from a picnic table, wash down a storm drain into a river and wind up harming or killing a sea turtles, birds or other marine life. Trash is one of the most pervasive — but solvable — pollution problems facing our oceans and waterways.”
Recognizing the need — and opportunities — for companies to fully embrace environmentally responsible packaging, Jason Haber and his brother launched Hold the Carbon, an innovative reusable goods company that debuted with the X Bag, a 100% PET bag that is portable, durable and stylish. Their goal is two-fold — a) help companies eliminate a cost center while positively impacting the environment (and their bottom line) and b) offer consumers an affordable and multi-purpose way to do their part in saving our planet (and still be fashionable doing it). Currently, their signature X Bag is only available for resale at select retail stores; although plans are in the works to open up online sales of the X Bag and future products as well. But the X Bag is only one of many initiatives that the Haber brothers are spearheading, and they have big plans to revolutionize the reusable market in ways that make change part of an everyday lifestyle, not just a point of sale decision.

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Introducing the T25

Richard Levangie | Friday April 17th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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I first learned about Gordon Murray, a former Formula 1 designer, about eight months ago, when his team was half-way through the 24-month developmental cycle for his novel T25 city car – a cute little bug that could spark a clean transportation revolution. It’s reportedly smaller than a Smart Fortwo.
Reports last month suggested that the T25 design and engineering work has already been completed, well ahead of schedule, and they’re ready to build the prototype.
The T25 will be small, but safe; it will boast a lightweight chassis – built from carbon fiber composites – mated to a three-cylinder engine. These two factors combine to create a car that is expected to cut CO2 emissions in half when compared most European cars – which are already far more efficient than their North American cousins. In other words, the T25 should do better than 85 mpg.

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Greenwashing? Tropicana Teams Up With Cool Earth to Save the Rainforest

| Friday April 17th, 2009 | 5 Comments

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I like to keep things simple when it comes to greenwashing. I reserve this term for cases of blatant misrepresentation, lack of commitment, conflict in practice, and inconsistency. After a CSR initiative passes the greenwashing test, I examine its magnitude: what is the impact and how can it be improved? I’ll be examining Tropicana’s new “Resscue the Rainforest” campaign by first looking for signs of greenwashing before weighing its social impact.
“Rescue the Rainforest” Campaign
Tropicana, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc., has teamed up with Cool Earth, an international non-governmental organization, to launch the “Rescue the Rainforest,” cause marketing campaign to protect endangered rainforests. This campaign runs through 2009 and with a goal of protecting 15,000 acres in addition to the 5,000 acres that Tropicana is already protecting.
Specially marked Tropicana products, such as Tropicana Pure Premium® and Trop50™, will carry an 11-digit code which, when entered on Tropicanarainforest.com/, will protect 100 sq feet of rainforest land for a minimum of three years. There is no limit to how many codes someone can submit and people can enter as individuals or teams. They will also be able to visually track their contribution and watch it grow with a map tool driven by Google Maps. To encourage a little friendly competition, the site prominently displays a leaderboard which displays the top five teams and individuals by square footage.
The site has also recently launched a fun flash-based game called Rainforest Rescue where you can lob oranges at loggers. Steve Puma of 3p covers it here.

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Dogpatch Biofuels: Cooking Up More than Fry Oil

| Friday April 17th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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As conscientious start-ups go, sometimes, efforts at the local level can have a far greater impact than a monolithic high tech project due to the local goodwill they create. Such is the case with Dogpatch Biofuels.
Dogpatch is the first B100 biodiesel filling station in San Francisco. Despite having only been in business since December, they’re well on their way to their goal of selling 1000 gallons per day. Dogpatch has teamed up with other biofuels filling stations in the Bay Area to get volume discounts on fuel made from used cooking oil, as well as to share marketing expenditures. Their innovative approach to collaborative marketing saves costs and increases impact: a driver with a diesel car will likely have to fill in other cities, and any new drivers who come into the community will be a boon for every station owner.

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PG&E CEO Stresses Need for Bold Action, Collaboration

| Thursday April 16th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Peter%20Darbee.jpg At this week’s Ceres Conference, Peter Darbee, Chair, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation delivered an inspiring speech. As Darbee sees it, the key to a sustainable future is not technology, but rather working together as a functional, collaborative team, instead of the dysfunctional team that we often are. “We say we want renewable power,” but when push comes to shove people, in Nantucket for example, say “not in my backyard.”
Sustainability must be our number one priority, which will involve sacrifices and tradeoffs on all fronts. “We are faced with the greatest challenge mankind has ever faced,” Darbee explained. “We need to work together as a US team and as a world team with vision and values to overcome these great challenges for mankind.”
PG&E has sometimes received mixed reviews, but I was encouraged to hear its leader’s bleeding edge sustainable views. “People say [renewable energy] is too expensive, but they don’t have a clue how expensive it will be if we don’t deal with the problem…I know it’s exponentially cheaper to deal with fixing the problem now rather than waiting. That is crazy and reflects that people aren’t very thoughtful.”
Darbee described his vision of a bold future:
1. Plug in electric vehicles will be charged at night, and provide energy to the grid during the day
2. A home grid network will allow appliances to interact with each other. A computer will monitor energy prices and control energy accordingly, shifting demand to night when energy is inexpensive
3. Dynamic energy pricing will incentivize energy use when it’s in lower demand
4. Air conditioners will be smart so that they are off during the day and turn on just before you arrive at home
5. The key will be integrating these technologies – each one can save us a lot, but integration will create the real opportunity

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Will China Lead the Electric Car Revolution?

Jeff Siegel | Thursday April 16th, 2009 | 3 Comments

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At the bottom of a recent New York Times article about China’s burgeoning electric vehicle market, I found quite a few hostile comments. Most seemed to be nationalistic in tone, and questioned why we should rely on China for electric cars when GM, Chrysler and Ford are all developing their own electric cars right now.
GM, Chrysler and Ford are all expected to have new electric vehicles in the showrooms within the next 2 to 3 years. And the truth is, if they can keep costs under control, I’m optimistic that demand will be strong. But it is also understandable that some folks are threatened by a potential Chinese electric fleet.
Look at it like this…

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mCharity: Mobile Consciousness Through Text-Based Giving

| Thursday April 16th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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In the midst of of what many have termed “Philanthropy 2.0,” where nonprofits are harnessing the power of the web to generate awareness and support for their causes, a UK-based mobile services company called mCharity launched to help charities raise new donation revenue, market to potential donors and communicate with existing supporters and fundraisers using mobile technology. With consumers more wired via mobile devices than ever before, and the ability to geo-target and pinpoint consumer touch points using location-based services, it seems a natural segue for charities to go mobile in reaching and retaining new supporters.
Currently, mCharity offers services that integrate seamlessly with nonprofits’ existing communications plans, allowing them to tie in promotions for text giving along with their normal print, radio and TV campaigns. The process works much like current text-based services where the donor sends a text message to a special SMS short code number, the donation is included on the user’s phone bill and mCharity collects the money from mobile companies, which it hands over to the charity. As the technology matures, services like this may also aid linking consumers with local volunteer opportunities or facilitating donations through mobile purchasing at popular online retailers. But until then, mCharity, the first dedicated mobile service provider and aggregator 100% focused on enabling UK charities to generate new revenue, is transforming text-based giving, and helping to create a marketplace where change is only a few thumbstrokes away.

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Temple Looks to Put its Dance Floor to Work

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday April 16th, 2009 | 2 Comments

POWERleap.tiffOn a packed night, the action on the dance floor at San Francisco nightclub Temple gets pretty hot. And while that might help make this a popular destination for the city’s clubbers, it bugs the club’s director of sustainability, Mike Zuckerman. After all, the energy the dancers exude is wasted. But that will soon change, because the club is moving forward with its long-planned installation of a new dance floor, complete with piezoelectric energy harvesters that will convert all that bumping and grinding into green energy. It should be plugged in and running on human sweat by September.
Zuckerman says that Temple won’t be the first sustainable nightclub to use its dance floor for on-site power generation – there’s one at Club Watt in Rotterdam and there’s another in London, at a club called Surya.
But the dance floor is something Paul Hemming, the club’s founder, have been trying to make a reality for many years. It’s one of the elements of Temple – and adjacent businesses Prana restaurant and Zen City Records, which collectively form the Zen Compound – that Hemming first sketched out in a notebook while conceptualizing the business in 2004.

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North Dakota’s State-Owned Bank Good for Business

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday April 16th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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“California’s the place you ought to be,” according to the theme song of the television show The Beverly Hillbillies. Perhaps now North Dakota is the place to be located if you want to start a business. It is one of four states that is not insolvent, and has the only state-owned bank in the U.S., the Bank of North Dakota (BND). Both North Dakota and BND have managed to insulate themselves from the present economic crisis. According to Creighton University’s Economic Outlook, the recession did not begin in North Dakota until January. In fact, North Dakota gained 3,000 jobs between the beginning of the national recession and January.
Created in 1919 by the state legislature, BND opened with $2 million capital and today operates with over $160 million of capital. Last month, Mother Jones featured an interview with the president of BND, Eric Hardmeyer. The article pointed out that BND “earned a record profit last year even as private-sector sector corollaries lost billions,” and has over $4 billion under management.

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Everything Is Connected to Everything Else: Economic and Ecological Bubbles

| Wednesday April 15th, 2009 | 2 Comments

denis_hayes.jpgDenis Hayes, President and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, kicked off today’s Ceres Conference in San Francisco with a reminder that no nation can solve climate problems on its own – we must come together as a species because everything is connected. North African dust has been correlated to hurricanes. We have all breathed an atom that was exhaled by Julius Caesar when he said “Et tu Brutus?”
Economic bubbles and ecological bubbles
Globalization has raised the stakes for both economic and ecological bubbles. “In America bubbles have to do with…delusions that mouse clicks can be monetized, and that my house can double in value every three years,” Hayes explained. But economic bubbles and today’s crisis will end – illiquidity is not irreversible.
Ecological bubbles on the other hand are not reversible. Ecological bubbles don’t bounce back. Today’s prices do not reflect ecological realities. We are undermining values of ecosystem services and not including it in our accounting. These costs that are treated as external are larger and more important than internal factors, and they have grown to awesome proportions. “Sooner or later, mother nature will break our kneecaps,” Hayes warned.
What should we do?
Hayes had three suggestions:

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Can the Recycling System Be Upgraded?

Tom Szaky | Wednesday April 15th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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Are things like Tetrapaks and Dannon/Stonyfield yogurt recyclable today? Yes and no. Here’s why: There are a few recycling centers that accept Tetrapaks and yogurt cups, but they are the exception. Most recycling centers do not except these materials, and those that do are so few and far between that only a small percentage of the American population can participate.
This creates a few problems: First, companies like Tetrapak and Dannon cannot state on their package that their product is recyclable since there is only service in a few communities. Second, a company like Tetrapak, that has invested millions to build Tetrapak recycling centers, cannot get any credit for their investment and continue to get bad PR for producing a non-recyclable product.
The reason this issue exists is that today’s recycling system is a reflection of the lowest common denominator in recycling. While many products are recyclable, the products that actually do get recycled are those for which the process exists in the majority of American recycling centers, and only a small percentage of recyclable plastics are recyclable nationally. There is very little incentive for local independent recycling centers to build the added capability since unless a solution is implemented nationally, the solution doesn’t get national marketing and people don’t get education about the opportunity for a new waste stream (or form of plastic or packaging) to be recycled.

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