Why Energy Efficiency is About to Come Roaring Back

RP Siegel | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 14 Comments

EfficiencyWe write a lot of stories these days about the remarkable growth of solar and wind power and how they are truly transforming the energy landscape. Another important component of this sea change is energy efficiency (EE), though we haven’t been writing as much about that, perhaps because it’s not as sexy and exciting as shiny new solar panels or towering wind turbines. But there is another reason: Investment in energy efficiency projects has been in a long-term decline, going back to a peak of about $2 billion annually in 1992, which has drifted down to about $1.2 billion in recent years.

Last year, utilities in Indiana were ordered to refund $32 million to ratepayers. Those funds represented the balance of $74 million that was collected for energy efficiency projects, many of which were never implemented.

In Nevada, EE savings declined 61 percent last year, compared to those realized four years earlier. Reports blamed a lack of state policies and incentives for the decline. This seems apparent when comparing Nevada with neighboring Arizona where utility customers saved three times as much due to efficiency measures, despite the similar climate.

State incentives constitute one factor in the decline; financing is another. A program called PACE had been quite popular until 2010, when it ran into trouble. PACE, which stands for Property-Assessed Clean Energy Financing, essentially allowed homeowners to borrow money from the city for clean energy and energy efficient upgrades, and then repay the loans through annual property tax assessments. Complex financing rules made it impossible for the loans to be sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for consolidation, which really put a damper on things.

Chris Hummel, chief marketing officer of Schneider Electric, thinks that all of that is about to change. After ticking off some $7 billion in new financing going into efficiency from state banks in Europe and the U.S., he told the Guardian the reasons why energy efficiency is about to come roaring back.

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How B Corps Use Business as a Force for Good

Ryan Honeyman | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments

This is the first in a weekly series of excerpts from the upcoming book “The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good” (Click here to read the rest of the series).

imageBy Ryan Honeyman

I first found out about B Corporations while baking cookies.

The flour I was using — King Arthur’s unbleached all-purpose flour — had a Certified B Corporation logo on the side of the package. “That seems silly,” I thought. “Wouldn’t you want to be an A Corporation and not a B Corporation?” The carton of eggs I was using was rated AA.

I was obviously missing something.

An online search revealed that the B logo was not a scarlet letter for second-rate baking products. B Corporations, I found, were part of a dynamic and exciting movement to redefine success in business by using their innovation, speed and capacity for growth not only to make money, but also to help alleviate poverty, build stronger communities, restore the environment and inspire us to work for a higher purpose.

The B stands for “benefit,” and as a community, B Corporations want to build a new sector of the economy in which the race to the top isn’t to be the best in the world but to be the best for the world.

Since my cookie-inspired discovery, I have watched the B Corp movement grow rapidly and globally.

In addition to King Arthur Flour, big-name B Corps include companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery, Dansko, Etsy, Method, Patagonia and Seventh Generation. There are now Certified B Corporations in more than 30 countries around the globe, including Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Kenya and Mongolia (to name a few).

Thought leaders such as former President Bill Clinton and Robert Shiller, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics, have taken an interest in the B Corp movement.

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Community Engagement in the Gaming Industry

| Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

slot machineGambling is fun — the rush, the bright colors, the chance to press your luck and win big money. But let’s be honest. Vegas is often synonymous with excess — cash, sex, fashion, food and booze, which isn’t exactly sustainable. When you’re up, you’re up, and you can easily spend a month’s rent on party time. But at the end of the day, every tourist destination has effective ways of removing dollars from its guests’ pockets, and people are free to participate or leave their cash in the bank. There are plenty of vacation destinations, and over 39 million people choose Las Vegas for theirs every year — and 85 percent of them are repeat visitors.

Such is my dilemma with the gaming and hospitality industry. Casinos make people happy; they are a popular vacation destinations, and they are job creators (46 percent of the workforce in southern Nevada is employed in tourism). But casinos can also have plenty of negative economic impacts.

Nevertheless, every company on the planet can work to operate more sustainably and improve the community where it does business. Every company has many good people working at it too, and I’ve never met a member of a corporate sustainability team I didn’t like. Last week I got to meet the team at MGM Resorts, on the occasion of the Women’s Leadership Conference, sponsored by the MGM Foundation. The conference was a gathering of more than 800 women (and a few men), aimed at inspiring and motivating executives to move forward in their careers. While the conference had a few too many motivational speakers for my personal taste, I was clearly in the minority. Just take a look at some of these tweets from happy attendees:

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Is Too Much Bottled Water Coming from Drought Stricken Regions?

Leon Kaye | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 4 Comments
Bottled water, drought, California, tap water, farming, beverage companies, Leon Kaye, groundwater, water stewardship

San Luis Reservoir, one visible example of California’s drought.

The bottled water industry has grown exponentially the past few decades despite the fact tap water in the United States is generally safe. Never mind the fact bottled water producers have had more than their fair share of safety issues: Bottled water has become accepted by consumers. While companies such as Nestlé insist they are taking responsibility for water stewardship and recycling, they also bottle their water at dubious sources, including those in drought stricken regions.

In fact, much of the bottled water produced in the U.S. comes from areas affected by drought. As an article recently posted on Mother Jones illustrates, four of the most popular bottled water brands — Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser — come largely from California. True, farming takes up the lion’s share of water in the state, and bottled water in the grand scheme of things is not parching California on its own. But at a time when California is struggling to provide residents, industry and farmers adequate supplies of water, more citizens are asking why it is bottled here and shipped out of state.

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Malaria Vaccine Offers New Prevention Methods

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Malaria_Teaching_about_mosquito_net_use_sallyforthwitIf you have ever traveled to a densely tropical area, you have probably taken anti-malaria medications. You probably also know that protecting yourself from the disease isn’t a piece of cake. My earliest childhood memories of living in Central America included a battery of shots that protected us from everything from typhus to yellow fever. When it came to shielding us from the bite of a malaria-borne mosquito however, protection was a bit more complex, and involved a regimen of either weekly or daily medications that served as a protective shield from the potentially fatal effects of the disease.

And since it depended upon good memory skills and sometimes the right immune system, the doses weren’t always 100 percent effective in warding off the disease. Although none of my family contracted it, we knew scientists and researchers who, even with their acute instincts for regimen, still ended up contracting malaria.

But the real problem today with anti-malaria meds isn’t the chance that they won’t work, but that the majority of the victims aren’t able to afford a lengthy prescription. That’s because most people who contract malaria aren’t incidental travelers from North America who are on a business trip or an excursion to see the local sights, but residents who would never be able to afford the cost of lifelong prescriptions.

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China Leads Global Solar Growth; New PV Capacity Up 232 Percent

| Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Hanergy Holding Group Ltd 2014 Report

Click to enlarge and open PDF

Nearly 39 gigawatts of new solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation capacity was installed worldwide in 2013, a 38 percent year-over-year increase. That brought the amount of solar power generation capacity installed worldwide as of end of last year to 140.6 GW, up from 101.9 GW in 2012, according to Hanergy Energy Holding Group and China New Energy Chamber of Commerce’s Global Renewable Energy Report 2014.

Hanergy and CNECC’s 2014 report shows a dramatic shift in the geography of solar power deployment last year, illustrating that installations in China, and the Asia-Pacific region more broadly, far outpaced those of Germany and Europe, as well as those for the U.S. and the Americas region.

While Germany and Europe have been scaling back government incentives to install solar and renewable energy systems, Japan instituted a generous solar energy feed-in tariff (FiT) in July 2012 in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Japan’s renewable power generation capacity rose by 5.86 million kilowatts with solar power accounting for 90 percent of the total, according to a Japan Times news report. That’s equal to the cumulative total in Japan prior to the launch of the solar FiT.

For its part, China has upped national strategic targets for new solar power generation capacity and has been reinforcing that with market-based incentives, focusing particularly on trying to stimulate uptake in the residential sector. Responding to growing public discontent, as well as the rapidly rising social, environmental and economic costs of its dependence on fossil fuels, China’s government is experimenting with solar and renewable energy FiTs and cap-and-trade markets. It’s also providing consumers incentives to purchase plug-in electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles (PEVs and FCEVs).

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Food Waste Meets Farm Waste: $2.9 Billion Market For Biogas Co-Digestion

| Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

food waste and manure biogasThe food industry has been discovering the bottom line benefits of recovering biogas from food waste, and farmers are realizing similar returns from manure biogas recovery. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture just chipped in with the new Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, part of which demonstrates how marrying food waste and manure could turn those two massive disposal streams into a valuable asset for U.S. farmers.

The Roadmap specifically focuses on the role that livestock farmers can play in reducing methane emissions while adding more renewable biogas to the U.S. energy portfolio. Since the Roadmap was prepared with considerable input from the agriculture industry including the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, let’s take a look at the manure/food waste commingling aspect from the dairy farm perspective.

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Massachusetts Food Waste Ban Goes Into Effect in October

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

foodwasteFood waste is a real problem in America. The economic impact of food waste in the U.S. is equivalent to $197.7 billion, according to a report by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN).

Massachusetts is about to test drive a law to deal with the mounting issue. Back in January, the state government announced that a statewide ban on commercial food waste would take effect on Oct. 1, 2014. Regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the ban requires any entity disposing of at least 1 ton of organic material per week to either donate or re-purpose the useable food. The remaining food that can’t be used will be either sent to an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility and converted to energy or to composting and animal-feed operations.

Residential food waste from small businesses is not included in the ban which affects about 1,700 businesses and institutions across the state.

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Kohl’s Solar Power Portfolio Moves Forward with Solar Tree Chargers

Leon Kaye | Monday August 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment
Envision Solar, Kohls, solar, clean energy, renewables, solar trees, solar power, Leon Kaye, sustainability report, Desmond Wheatley

Solar trees at a Kohl’s offices in Dallas

Kohl’s has long been one of the most innovative and successful department store chains in the United States. Its rapid growth is matched with the company’s increased focus on sustainability, particularly when it comes to solar power. As part of the company’s plan to ramp up investment in renewables, Kohl’s solar power portfolio now includes “solar tree” structures at one of its offices in Dallas to provide both shaded parking and electric vehicle charging.

The solar trees are a product built by Envision Solar, a San Diego-based solar design company. The first deployment occurred late last week at the company’s offices in Dallas, Texas, and Kohl’s has plans to install more at various locations across the company. I had a telephone conversation with Envision Solar’s CEO, Desmond Wheatley, to learn more about the company and how they fit in with Kohl’s clean energy strategy.

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Wells Fargo, Grameen Foundation Partner to Expand International Volunteer Program

| Monday August 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Wells FargoOn August 5, Wells Fargo announced that it is partnering with the Grameen Foundation to expand its international volunteer Global Fellows program, formed in 2008. Through the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers Without Borders, Wells Fargo employees will have more opportunities to volunteer their time and skills on projects for microfinance and poverty-focused nonprofits around the world as the organization matches Wells Fargo employees with the nonprofits in their network.

This expanded Global Fellows program is starting on a pilot basis, featuring 12 spots, six volunteers each for two yet-to-be-identified nonprofits in Colombia and India. Four volunteers will work on-site, while eight volunteers will support the project virtually. The on-site volunteers will be in place for up to six weeks, while the virtual volunteers will donate up to 60 hours each. “We’re going to look to see how well it does and see if there is room for expansion moving forward. There are only 12 spots this time, but there is opportunity for growth in the future,” said Dasha Ross, vice president of corporate social responsibility communications for Wells Fargo.

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Lyft, Uber Edge Closer to True Ridesharing With Carpooling Services

Mike Hower
| Monday August 11th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 3.37.07 PMLyft and Uber have announced new features that could bring them closer to true ridesharing than ever before. Last week, Lyft launched its new “Lyft Line,” which allows users to share rides with strangers going along similar routes. Not to be outdone, Uber preemptively announced that it would be launching a similar feature — UberPool — on August 15.

There has been a lot of controversy over the use of the term “ridesharing” to describe the services provided by companies such as Uber and Lyft, with many claiming it to be a misnomer. Just a few months ago, for example, one reader commented on an article I wrote about Lyft’s new insurance coalition:

“Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are NOT ridesharing! Ridesharing is when the driver of the car is going some place for their own reasons, and gives other people who want to go on the same route, a lift.”

Well, technically the reader was not wrong. If we break up the term ridesharing into its two parts, “ride” and “share,” this implies that two or more people are agreeing to share a ride that they would have otherwise taken separately. In reality, Lyft and Uber are more like taxi services, where a driver is paid to pick up a passenger and deposit them wherever it is they want to go. But Lyft and Uber also aren’t quite taxi services.

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Corporations, Nonprofit Collaborate to Send Aid For the Ebola Outbreak

| Monday August 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Direct-Relief-medical shipment

Direct Relief shipment for the Ebola outbreak.

The West African Ebola crisis continues to gather pace. With the devastating illness proving fatal in around 55 percent of cases — compared with up to 90 percent in previous infections  –  it has already taken the lives of around 1,000 people in the current outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) just declared the current Ebola crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea a public health emergency and recognizes this as the most serious outbreak of Ebola since the virus was first identified in 1976.

In the nearly four decades since the virus emerged, there is no known cure, and no vaccine has been discovered to inoculate individuals against it. Furthermore, because the illness afflicts the poorest segments of the population in developing countries, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, there’s no business model for developing pharmaceutical solutions for the virus. Those companies pioneering the few experimental drugs have found funding elusive in order to fully develop them, failing accordingly to bring any treatments to market in the notoriously expensive drug discovery process.

Consequently, the only approach in terms of care-giving, for now at least, is containment. Humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief, collaborating with 16 corporations, is directing its efforts towards getting essential supplies to locally-run entities to stem the spread of the disease. Last week, we spoke to Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief, to learn how the organization is making a difference on the ground in what appears to be one of the few hopeful stories regarding the Ebola crisis.

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EPA’s List of 100 Percent Green Power Users Keeps Growing

| Monday August 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments

EPAGreenPower_Banner The list of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partnership (GPP) partners meeting 100 percent of their electricity needs from clean, renewable sources continues to rise. More than 650 U.S. organizations now rely wholly on “green” power resources – such as solar, wind and geothermal – to meet their electricity needs, according to the GPP program’s latest quarterly report, which was released July 28.

Collectively, green energy use among GPP’S “100 Percent Green Power Users” amounted to nearly 12 billion kilowatt-hours, which the EPA highlights “is equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the electricity use of more than 1.1 million average American households each year.”

The wide variety of U.S. organizations sourcing 100 percent of their electricity from renewable power generation reflects the increasing viability of relying on green power across the U.S. economy and society. They range from the largest public- and private-sector organizations – such as Intel, Kohl’s Department Stores, the World Bank Group and the EPA itself – through medium- and small-scale organizations, such as the National Hockey League (NHL), Santa Cruz Organic and around 100 U.S. schools, from high schools and colleges to the largest universities.

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A Millennial’s Letter to Financial Services Industry

3p Contributor | Monday August 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in “The Millennials Perspective” issue of Green Money Journal.Click here to view more posts in this series.

Liesel Pritzker Simmons__PicBy Liesel Pritzker Simmons

As a millennial, I have recently noticed a flurry of studies, articles, and reports about my generation, authored by a diverse range of interested parties. Quite a bit of the pure sociological data suggests that the 80 million of us born between 1980 and 2000 are narcissistic, lazy, and optimistic to the point of being delusional – it’s enough to make me want to delete that selfie!

Interestingly, the selfish characteristics so rampant in the sociological studies seem to dissipate when researchers start looking at how we millennials spend our time and money. We want our work to have meaning for ourselves and the world, and we place a higher value on consumer goods that have some sort of beneficial social or environmental impact. Climate change is not a debate for us, and we probably still nag our parents about separating the trash from the recycling. Although we are generally more conservative in our investment decisions than previous generations (can you blame us?), we are willing to take on more financial risk if it increases exposure to ESG impact. Impact Assets recently authored this excellent Issue Brief outlining many of the attitudes of millennial investors.

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Keeping the Pulse of the Planet: Using Big Data to Monitor Our Environment

3p Contributor | Monday August 11th, 2014 | 0 Comments

4418890829_c11bc2319e_zBy Neno Duplan

Big data has become a major buzzword in tech these days; the ability to gather, store and aggregate information about individuals has exploded in the last few years. Businesses are harnessing that data to understand consumer behavior at unprecedented levels. Meanwhile, consumer advocates worry about big data’s power to aggregate our information, and that the access to our information, movements, purchases, availability, even your Wednesday-night route home from work, can be tracked, stored very cheaply and sold to other companies. Yet with all of this tracking and gathering of data about our activities, and the subsequent concerns over privacy, most of us do little to resist the tide of monitoring.

Modern humans have become major data junkies. We are complicit in this cycle with our online activity and mobile use and have been for years. We create meticulously cultivated personal radio stations in music apps; we enter our food intake and exercise in weight-loss apps; and we record late-night feedings of infants in breastfeeding apps. We wear monitoring devices — voluntarily — to gather data about ourselves even when we sleep. We even have them for our dogs!

These activity trackers or digital monitors typically combine a wearable device with a website or smartphone app to view data collected about your movements and habits. The goal is to measure not only your steps from the parking lot to your desk, but also your sedentary downtime at work or in front of a television, bursts of intense exercise and even your sleep habits — all to create a complete picture of your most and least healthful behaviors. Some models also offer tips and set goals based on your data. The devices send all the data about your movements back to a Web-based tracking program, which displays your every move and calories burned on the sort of precise charts and graphs that economists use to monitor recessions. The idea behind having this complete picture of your activity is to spur you into action to change unhealthy habits and make better choices for your body.

How fit is the planet?

There is an opportunity for us to use this same insatiable desire to collect data for another good: environmental monitoring. Similar devices, equipped with environmental monitoring sensors such as temperature, carbon, or chemicals in the air or water can give us unprecedented information about a location’s, region’s or the planet’s overall health. In the event of an environmental disaster like a major spill, nuclear accident or volcanic eruption, we could have an instant characterization of short- and long-term impacts of that disaster on its surroundings.

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