Algae Biofuel: Hype, Hope, and Promise

| Tuesday March 24th, 2009 | 6 Comments

The Algae Biofuels World Summit is taking place in San Francisco this week. The first day’s pre-conference briefing on Monday provided a thorough and clear-eyed look at the current state of algae for biofuels, and the challenges the infant industry faces to scale operations from the level of an experimental “boutique” fuel to an economically viable component of a national fuel energy strategy.

Of the many reoccurring themes throughout the day, one was of the general misperception of algae biofuel – often that it is cheap and easy, a panacea for all our carbon fuel problems.

We should dispense with that now – economically scalable production of biofuels from algae will not be cheap, easy, or a total solution for anything. And totally worth it, if done right.

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AMEE: Why Everything Will Have a Carbon ID

| Tuesday March 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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Gavin Starks, CEO of AMEE (a platform that seeks to, quite literally, measure all the energy data in the world), followed SF Mayor Newsom this morning on stage, to kick off the GreenNet09 gathering of tech oriented change agents.
AMEE is a great and obvious idea – after all, if any company, government, NGO, or your Aunt Marge wants to collect meaningful data related to energy or emissions on a global scale, the data has to be standardized in a way that allows you compare it to the data of others. More importantly – anyone seeking to mitigate the risk of climate change needs access to reliable data to understand if they’re moving in the right direction or spinning their wheels.
But what caught my attention this morning was not just the common sense of what AMEE provide, it was the passion and deep urgency in Stark’s delivery. Take a look at the image above – my favorite slide from this morning’s presentation – which has less to do with AMEE and more to do with the greater costs of taking little or no action to the planetary and climactic threats at our doorstep.
Incidentally, AMEE stands for “Avoiding Mass Extinction Engine”. Now we’re talking.

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Companies Mostly Giving Lip Service on Greening their Supply Chains

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday March 24th, 2009 | 3 Comments

chain.jpgOnly one out of 10 companies actively manage their supply chain carbon footprints, and about one-third have no idea what level of emissions come from their supply networks.
Greening the supply chain has been a buzz-phrase in the logistics and transportation sectors for some time now. The idea is that by creating sustainable supply chains long-term cost savings, environmental benefits and greater reliability will follow.
It turns out that it’s somewhat more complicated, falling squarely into the “easier-said-than-done” and “window-dressing” categories. That’s because manufacturer supply chains and the rise of global outsourcing have made their chains longer, increasingly complex and difficult to monitor along each link, from supplier to manufacturer to transport, warehousing and distribution.

Now the global recession is weakening green chain links even further, according to Accenture, the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing firm.

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Less Glitter, More Green

3p Contributor | Tuesday March 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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Op-ed by Gwen Ruta, Environmental Defense Fund
With today’s economy in such dire straits, it’s understandable that some executives are asking, “Can we afford to go green?” Recent examples would indicate that they can’t afford not to.
At its most basic level, pollution is waste, and on the corporate budget sheet, waste is red ink. Now that companies are looking to save every penny, environmental initiatives present a truly strategic opportunity.
At networking technology titan Cisco Systems, an Environmental Defense Fund internship program helped Cisco engineers develop plans for a new energy-efficiency device that would save an estimated $8 million per year in Cisco’s R&D labs. And the early results of an Environmental Defense Fund “green portfolio” partnership with KKR, the giant private equity firm, unearthed $16 million in annual savings from measures that included reducing truck fuel usage at US Foodservice, cutting paper consumption at Primedia, and improving material use at Sealy.
While smart businesses are cutting costs and improving efficiency to increase profitability, they are also putting themselves ahead of the curve when it comes to our energy future.

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Brokers for Charity: Where Causes Find a Home

| Tuesday March 24th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Many of the questions that come up in any philanthropically-motivated campaign center around what percentage of sales actually go toward the selected charity, and if that amount is significant enough to make an impact on the cause. Usually, it’s only a few cents per transaction on small ticket retail goods. While every penny helps, in order to generate a measurable difference, more sizable proceeds need to reach the charity, making it imperative that the effort is seamlessly integrated with the transaction and turnkey enough to maximize donations. And above all, the contribution should fit the price tag.
Brokers for Charity, a consortium of real estate professionals committed to giving back, understands this concept, and has created a well orchestrated solution for linking home buyers with reputable agents that benefits the world and their bottom line. Other than a yacht or Learjet, there are few bigger ticket items than a new home, so with a hefty 10% of the agent’s commission going toward the charity of the buyer’s choice, those dollars add up quickly. And while some companies pad costs to offset charitable donations, at Brokers for Charity, there are no additional — or hidden — fees in the program. Once the deal closes, 10% is promptly donated to the 501(c)(3) charitable organization that the buyer has chosen, making it not only a profitable arrangement, but a personal one, where the investment is deeply connected to the consumer. . . and where a philanthropic spirit is always in move-in condition.

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The New School of Mail Service Starts Delivering

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday March 24th, 2009 | 1 Comment

mac_mailbox.jpgThe U.S Postal Service is hurting. The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and in the first quarter of its current fiscal year saw a decline in mail volume of 5.2 billion pieces, compared to the same period last year, according to the Associated Press. To cuts costs, it is offering early retirement to 150,000 employees, in addition to other measures, such as re-drawing mail routes to conserve gas.
Meanwhile, two startups, Earth Class Mail and Zumbox, are looking to reinvent the conventional postal system in ways that will drastically reduce paper consumption and, if hand-delivered mails drop significantly, fuel consumption.
Earth Class Mail started in 2004 has set up nearly 25 retail locations around the country. Customers use the address of one of those locations as their mailing address. The snail mail is received there, where Earth Class Mail scans the envelope and sends its image to the customer’s secure online inbox. The customer can decide to have each piece of mail opened and its contents scanned (to be read online), or they can choose to have the mail recycled, shredded, archived, or forwarded to another location. The customer does all of this online – which makes it extra useful for frequent travelers.

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See3 Communications: Storytellers for Change

| Tuesday March 24th, 2009 | 0 Comments

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What motivates someone to champion a cause or support a charity? Usually it’s a direct experience, a personal connection, or a powerful story about a friend, or friend of a friend, that touches your life and creates an emotional tie to the cause. It’s those stories that generate awareness and spark a desire to make a difference. And there is no better medium to share them, and recount those compelling encounters, than the Internet. No ad or marketing message could ever evoke the emotion needed to embrace a nonprofit’s mission better than a resonant real life story.
Under the vision of Michael Hoffman, See3 was created to bring these stories to life through new media. A media and non-profit veteran, Michael’s blog was named a must-read by the Nonprofit Times and he is frequently quoted in trade journals, industry blogs and the mainstream press. He is also co-founder of DoGooderTV, a video-sharing site for causes, and EarthFirst.com, a fast-growing green news and information site, and is considered an authority in Web 2.0 for social change. He brings these strengths to client engagements for See3 and orchestrates vivid memorable masterpieces that spread across the cyberverse and create a collective consciousness toward change. For See3, it’s not just about the greater good; it’s about the viral good. And their ability to harness the tools of technology to catalyze communications is making the media the message… and that message can be felt through heartfelt clicks around the world.

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AT&T’s Holistic Approach to Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship

| Monday March 23rd, 2009 | 1 Comment

As Jen reported in the March 14th edition of the Weekly Green Business Wrap, AT&T has recently announced a ten-year commitment to put 15,000 alternative fuel vehicle on the road, including deployment of 8000 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) service vehicles over the next five years – what will be the largest private fleet of CNG vehicles on the country – and the planned replacement of 7,100 gas-powered passenger cars over the next ten years with hybrid-electrics or other alternative fuel vehicles as the older cars come up for retirement.

AT&T plans to spend more than a half billion dollars on its alternative fuel fleet, a significant investment even for a corporate titan like AT&T that reflects an important step in the evolving commitment to assimilate strategic sustainability programs as a core component of corporate culture.

I had an opportunity to speak with Beth Shiroshi, AT&T’s assistant vice president for Citizenship and Corporate Responsibility, discussing the alternative fuel fleet announcement and how it stems from the company’s growing holistic approach to its environmental and social commitment.

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10% Solution™: Certified Social Responsibility

| Monday March 23rd, 2009 | 3 Comments

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In a time where greenwashing and causewashing are being increasingly used as PR tools to give the perception of social responsibility, it’s often difficult for consumers to distinguish whose practices are authentic. And clearly identify which companies are actually serving the greater good versus their own self interests.
10% Solution™ was built on the premise of accountability, helping companies to operate in a measurable socially responsible way with a focus on green sustainability, volunteerism and philanthropy, and the guidance required to effectively implement those efforts enterprise-wide. Their key services center around certification, acting as a seal of approval that demonstrates companies have met certain CSR requirements as follows:

  • Financial Commitment: Commit to philanthropic giving of at least 1% of sales.
  • Time Commitment: Have a managed and tracked employee volunteer program. On average each employee must contribute one hour per week of volunteer time.
  • Sustainability Commitment: Participation in formal green certification as appropriate to the company’s industry such as LEED, USDA Organic, etc.

By working with companies to connect them with local nonprofits that are relevant to their business strategy, 10% Solution facilitates sustainable partnerships that are profitable, quantifiable and certifiable.

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Emerging Cleantech Ventures Showcased at Sustainable Opportunities Summit

| Sunday March 22nd, 2009 | 3 Comments

26bc.jpgLast week, I attended the fourth annual Sustainable Opportunities Summit, held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. The purpose of the event is to bring together individuals from business, government, academia, entrepreneurial ventures and the investor community to explore the essential role of business in making our global economy more sustainable. Throughout the two-day event, about 650 attendees heard more than 60 speakers from around the world present on issues as diverse as food production, energy efficient buildings, corporate sustainability reporting, clean energy technologies, carbon markets and microfinance.
Being a starving graduate student, I was in search of a way to attend the conference without paying the full registration fee. Luckily, I managed to finagle a free pass by volunteering to help with the Cleantech Venture Challenge (CVC), a business plan competition sponsored by my graduate school, the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The CVC is an opportunity for teams of MBA students to present plans for venture-grade for-profit businesses, founded on innovative solutions, services or products in the cleantech sector.
Eight teams had made it past the initial screening to present at semi-final and final rounds at the summit, competing for a $25,000 grand prize, intended as seed-funding for the winning venture. During my volunteer stint, I was able to watch several teams present for the semi-final round and was truly impressed with the innovative business plans:

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Weekly Green Business Wrap-Up

| Friday March 20th, 2009 | 0 Comments

green-island-wallpapers_196_1024.jpgMaldives Going Carbon Neutral And it’s not just with carbon offsets! The island nation has committed to installing 1.1billion in renewable energy installations to power its 250 inhabited islands. Emissions from sources besides energy will be offset with EU carbon credits. Of course, an island nation like Maldives is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change– it’s refreshing to see them doing what they can to solve the problem.
happy_baby1.jpg Cereal Sold in Repurposed Baby Wipes Packaging Happy Baby Puffs organic baby cereal will be sold unused cleaning wipe containers, originally designed to house Method cleaning wipes. The old stock will last the Happy Babies one year, and the company spokesperson assured us that the containers were BPA-free. Happy babies indeed.
wind-farm.jpgWhat Climate Legislation Means for Your Business Climate Biz has a great feature on how carbon legislation will affect businesses and what business owners can do to prepare. Besides investing in renewables companies.
pouring_water_c.jpgUN: Half the World in Water Trouble by 2030 Almost half the world’s population will live in areas of high water stress by 2030 as a result of climate change, according to a new report this week from the UN. This is pretty scary stuff, and it calls for lots of entrepreneurs to get cracking working on water technologies while the carbon folks work on the climate change.
On the heels of that announcement…
IBM Announces Launch of “Smart Water” Division The company will be exploring technologies to clean water more quickly as well as distribution techniques to move it around. Way to be on the cutting edge IBM!

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Are Emerging Markets the Best Place to Incubate Clean Technologies?

| Friday March 20th, 2009 | 2 Comments

“Disruptive innovations are best incubated outside of the mainstream market,” proposes Cornell University’s Stuart Hart in a recent online Q&A session hosted by Greenopolis, the environmentally-focused social networking site. “It’s difficult for many companies to bring these next-generation, potentially inherent clean technologies forward on a commercial basis in established marketplaces,” Hart said, noting that incumbent firms have a vested interest in protecting the status quo. “But it is possible to construct a new, next-generation form of living and infrastructure from the beginning.”
That beginning can be found at the base of the pyramid (BoP), believes Hart. Economically, the BoP refers to the 4 – 4.5 billion people in the world who earn less than $4 per day and are vulnerable to malnutrition, disease and exploitation. Demographically, the BoP is composed of those people in the world who derive most of their sustenance from the informal economy — livelihoods that are not recorded in GDP statistics like bartering, subsistence farming, hawking, and unregistered businesses. “The BoP is two-thirds of humanity and has been largely ignored by companies. Indeed, these are the people who have been bypassed or damaged by economic globalization thus far.”

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Why the Recession is Good for the Carbon Offsets Market, but Bad for Sustainability

| Friday March 20th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Governments, corporations, and individuals have increasingly turned to the voluntary carbon market in recent years in an effort to offset their carbon footprint. The market grew to approximately $330 million in 2007 (Reuters). Much of this growth can be attributed to the increased popularity of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and an increased appreciation for social responsibility.
There are two discrete markets for carbon offsets — the compliance market, and the voluntary market. Compliance market demand is driven in large part by regulations that set carbon emissions caps for different entities from companies to governments. Carbon emissions over this cap must be offset by purchasing carbon offsets or face steep fines. But unlike the much larger compliance market, where regulation drives demand, the voluntary market has a larger risk exposure to economic downturns, as the name suggests, it is voluntary.

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Job Security for Restaurateurs: Don’t Kill Your Customers, and Green Up Your Eateries

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday March 20th, 2009 | 4 Comments

bypass.jpgOne of the more insipid offerings in this year’s television menu is The Doctors, on which four fresh-faced physicians chit-chat about sundry health-related topics. One recent episode did a completely non-critical expose on “extreme health trends.” Somehow, a restaurant called Heart Attack Grill, which serves high-rise “quadruple bypass” burgers with four patties and 8000 calories, earned air time on the show. One of the doctors remarked that, with its lard-covered “flat-liner” fries and beverage menu consisting only of Jolt cola, this restaurant theme was taking poor health “just a little too far.” Wow, what a scathing review. Alas, restaurants are free to serve whatever fatty foods they want to. At the place offers truth in advertising.
Thankfully, restaurateurs who want to serve less deadly fare now have a good online resource: sustainablefoodservice.com. The site is the brainchild of Paul Kuck, a foodservice veteran. He found it difficult to find information on sustainable goods and practices for restaurants when he opened a new eatery in 2002, which prompted him to evolve his own research into a new career as a sustainability consultant for the foodservice industry. So really, the site is just a calling card for his professional services. Still, it’s a good source of (free) data and it also acts a portal for many online databases, organizations and magazines where readers can dig down and get even more details.

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The Li-Ion Holy Grail

Richard Levangie | Friday March 20th, 2009 | 2 Comments

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Gerbrand Ceder and graduate student Byoungwoo Kang have published details of their battery breakthrough in Nature, and more than a few business executives are paying attention. Lithium batteries are known for their power, but they’ve always been slow to charge and discharge, and that has been the technology’s Achilles heel.
To better understand the recharging process, the researchers began by using powerful computers to simulate the movements of ions and electrons in lithium iron phosphate – a battery solution – and discovered that lithium ions aren’t the sluggards that scientists expected. The problem is that there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip, and lithium ions can only pass through tunnels to the active electrode material when they’re perfectly positioned. In the absence of a few good traffic cops, it’s pandemonium. The solution, Ceder discovered, is to engineer the material with a so-called beltway system that guides the ions towards the tunnel entrances at an ideal angle.

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