California Readies for Cap-and-Trade Next Steps

Leon Kaye | Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 8 Comments
Terrapass, cap and trade, California, refineries, Union of Concerned Scientists, Leon Kaye, energy efficiency, public transportation, environmental defense fund, gasoline prices

Valero refinery in Benicia, California.

In November 2012, California launched its cap-and-trade program, the second largest in the world after the European Union’s. The state’s largest carbon producers — businesses that emit over 25,000 metric tons of emissions annually — buy carbon allowances from the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) quarterly auctions. Depending on who you ask, California’s carbon market is either a success or a drag on the state’s economy. The Environmental Defense Fund, for example, has touted California’s cap-and-trade as a global model for reducing emissions while creating new business opportunities. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), on the other hand, regularly criticizes the program for what it says drives up the costs of business and could wreak havoc within the fuel markets.

The way California’s cap-and-trade program works is relatively simple. Large polluters, such as utilities, buy certificates for each ton of carbon they produce. Polluters who are successful in reducing their emissions can sell their allowances to other companies who are unable to do so, in sum creating a market-based price for carbon. The allowances will slowly decline in numbers over the years, so think of cap-and-trade as a form of musical chairs, with companies bidding on fewer certificates over time — motivating them to find ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the first successful cap-and-trade programs was launched during the George H.W. Bush administration in 1990. Under the 1990 Clean Air Act, major polluters who were responsible for “acid rain” traded certificates in a move to reduce the emissions of such pollutants as sulphur dioxide. A generation later, California’s cap-and-trade program continues to grow: For example, the state has linked with Quebec’s cap-and-trade program, allowing the two to trade each other’s carbon allowances. And as of January 2015, petroleum refineries will also be required to participate within California’s cap-and-trade system. The energy companies are clearly unhappy about it, sharing scenarios of the state’s economy headed for a “fuels cliff.” But will California, the economy of which has been oft-described as careening over a cliff, really experience a disruption to its slowly recovering economy?

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Latest IPCC Report Comes with Grim Warnings

RP Siegel | Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 2 Comments

GW sea level chartLast week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fourth and final report on climate change. The report contained no big surprises, since it essentially summarized the findings of the three reports issued over the past year. But the panel, having reviewed all the data, was now in a position to take a broad view of the issue.

Said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”

The panel has been reviewing the issue since 1988. All told, they have reviewed some 30,000 scientific studies, which led to the conclusion that most of the warming that has occurred since 1950 was due to emissions generated by human activity. They reached this conclusion with 95 percent confidence. What they found is that we have set in motion a process that has disrupted the natural balance of our climate. And we have done it with all of the carbon-based fuels that we collectively burn every day. If you want to get a sense of how much carbon that is, you should take a look here.

Despite the fact that the National Climate Assessment showed that climate change is already impacting every American, the American public is lagging far behind the science on this issue. A Pew Research poll taken last year shows that while 69 percent of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, only 40 percent see it as a threat. A similar poll, taken in 39 countries around the world, found that Americans have the lowest level of concern about the issue, despite the fact that we have emitted more cumulative CO2 than any other country in the world.

Why are Americans so blasé about this? Well, first all of all, the world doesn’t seem that much different yet. Yes, there are unusual rainfall patterns, the droughts and floods, the melting ice, the release of methane from Arctic permafrost, the unusually severe storms, the fact that plants are blooming earlier, birds and insects arriving sooner from migration or winter dormancy, the arrival of tropical diseases into temperate zones, and so on. But most people don’t notice these things because most of them are invisible most of the time.

Three or four degrees don’t seem like such a big deal when the temperature changes more than that during the course of a typical day. Also, Americans, despite our prosperity and our widespread use of technology, are not particularly savvy when it comes to science. In fact, in an international comparison of science education, American students ranked 27th out of 35 countries, well below most Asian and European countries. That’s something we need to fix.

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A Brief History of the Plastic Bag

Alexis Petru
| Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 8 Comments

Plastic bag litterCalifornia made headlines this fall when it became the first U.S. state to place a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. But how did we get here: from just a few grocery stores offering customers plastic bags in the late ‘70s to today, with Americans using 100 billion plastic bags each year? Just how did the plastic bag become both so popular in our society and so problematic to the environment?

In 1965, Swedish company Celloplast came up with the design on which all modern plastic shopping bags are based: a tube of plastic sealed at the bottom to allow for the packaging of goods, an open top to insert such items into the bag and handles for convenient carrying. This model bag, which later became known as the “T-shirt plastic bag,” was made from high-density polyethylene, or No. 2-type plastic – the same used to produce plastic bottles and plastic lumber.

ExxonMobile was responsible for introducing the plastic shopping bag to the U.S., and the bag debuted in American grocery store checkout lines by the late 1970s. But the T-shirt plastic bag didn’t really start encroaching on the paper grocery bag’s territory until 1982, when two of country’s largest supermarket chains, Safeway and Kroger, made the switch from paper to plastic.

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How to Raise Your B Corp Assessment Score

Ryan Honeyman | Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 0 Comments

This is a weekly series of excerpts from the new book “The B Corp Handbook: How to Use Business as a Force for Good (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, October 13, 2014). Click here to read the rest of the excerpts.

downloadBy Ryan Honeyman

Our series continues with the next installment of a six-week, turbocharged Quick Start Guide to becoming a Certified B Corporation.

Week one focused on getting a baseline assessment of your social and environmental performance, week two focused on motivating and engaging your team, and week three was about creating an action plan for B Corp certification.

Week Four: Implement your improvements

Time estimate: One to five hours

OBJECTIVE: The objective during week four is for you and your team to dig in and start completing the items on your action plan.

END RESULT: An increase in your B Impact Assessment score.

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DOE Invests $15 Million in Solar PV-Energy Storage Grid Integration

| Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 2 Comments

doe eere solar_0Energy flows all around us, but it’s not very beneficial unless it’s harnessed, concentrated and distributed in a form useful to those who need it. That’s one of the factors that has made distributed solar energy generation increasingly attractive. More powerful and cheaper than ever, photovoltaic (PV) panels are producing ever-greater amounts of pollution-free energy on-site for homes, businesses, government and public facilities in developing and developed countries the world over.

Utility-scale generation accounts for the bulk of installed solar power  capacity in the U.S. The lack of transmission and distribution lines has constrained growth. Building those power lines also adds significantly to the time and cost of bringing new utility-scale solar power assets online. The converse is also true. Connecting rapidly growing residential and commercial solar energy systems to the power grid can yield substantial benefits all around – to power distribution companies as well as consumers and “prosumers.”

Yet, for a variety of reasons – including strong opposition on the part of well-entrenched power utilities – connecting distributed, on-site solar energy systems to the grid has proven to be a significant hurdle to wider-scale deployment and use.

Aiming to speed things up, the Department of Energy on Oct. 29 announced it is making $15 million available to promote integration of distributed, on-site solar energy systems into the U.S. electricity grid. Solar energy growth continues to shatter records, DOE notes in a press release, “with more solar power installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in 30 years prior.” 

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SB London: The Brewer, the Banker and the Sustainable Shoemaker

3p Conferences
| Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Aly Khalifa, founder of Lyf Shoes: do we know better than what we're doing now?

Aly Khalifa, founder of Lyf Shoes: Do we know better than what we’re doing now?

By Felicity Carus

Today was not so much the march of the change-makers, but the march of the brewer, the banker and the sustainable shoemaker at Sustainable Brands London 2014.

The brewer

Michael Dickstein, director of global sustainable development at Heineken International, showed the power of music in the company’s ‘Dance More, Drink Less’ responsible drinking campaign. But not all brands have access to Armin Van Buuren to encourage customers to “drink slow.”

He then showed a teaser for next year’s campaign that seemed to set a target of 100 percent sustainably sourced barley and hops by 2020. That’s a long time to wait for a green beer.

The banker

Financial service companies are thin on the ground at Sustainable Brands London. But all the financial wrongdoing of the banking sector was left to be represented by David Wheldon of Barclays, who surely has the most interesting job title in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) space: head of brand, reputation and citizenship.

Jo Confino, executive editor at the Guardian, gave Wheldon a tough welcome: “Let’s be honest about this, the Bank of England produced a new report saying that wrongdoing in the banking industry was still embedded in the culture. Barclays has put aside another £500 million for its rigging and wrongdoing and generally appalling behaviour being one of the institutions that has driven us a society to the point of bankruptcy.”

“Jo’s introduction, let’s face it, is absolutely right. For around 30 years, the financial services industry has made a woeful mistake of not putting the people that it serves at the center of what it does. The consequence of that is a lot of things that need fixing,” said Wheldon in reply.

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Why Would a Company Fund STEM Skills Development?

3p Contributor | Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: Phil Preston recently sat down with Milinda Martin of Time Warner Cable to discuss the company’s Connect a Million Minds program. This is the second post reflecting this conversation. In case you missed it, you can read the first post here.

TWC at Maker Faire

By Phil Preston

From the business perspective, what motivated Time Warner Cable to invest heavily in STEM skill development through their Connect a Million Minds program? I asked their VP of Community Investment, Milinda Martin, how it fits in with the business agenda.

Phil Preston: I realize the timeframes are long, but have you developed any specific business metrics to measure the benefits of this initiative?

Milinda Martin: We have held three customer and non-customer studies over the course of our five-year commitment: in year zero (baseline), halfway through and just recently, as we near the end of the official commitment. Note that we are continuing our commitment: We now call it “one million and counting” because we are still not where we need to be regarding youth and STEM.

Those studies have shown, emphatically, that both our customers and the general population have a better impression of TWC as a result of Connect a Million Minds. And the greater the engagement with our Connect a Million Minds platform, the greater the individuals’ perception of our company. Our first wave of middle-schoolers are just now graduating from high-school, so it is too early to say if we are seeing results in terms of hiring/candidate skills, but we know that, in aggregate, we have engaged more than 5 million youths in hands-on STEM activities at some point. This figure includes all of the youths engaged through our nonprofit partners because not all go through the formal process of taking the Connect a Million Minds pledge.

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Top 5 Reasons Why Online Petitions are Crucial to Your Advocacy Success

3p Contributor | Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 0 Comments

1-Online_Petition_Success By Randy Paynter

With the news saturated with the crisis in West Africa, increasingly dire warnings about our warming planet and attacks on women’s rights, I often worry about the world I’m leaving behind for my children. It makes me want to do something about it.

I’m not the only one. Over the years, I’ve seen millions of people step up and take action about these issues and more. Hundreds of thousands have demanded a crackdown on the illegal ivory trade. Thousands more appealed better access to health care. This year, more than 22,000 people came together to save a front yard lending library started by a 9-year-old boy in Kansas.

So, why haven’t you heard stories about marches on the Capitol steps or protests at state houses? Because these campaigns raised awareness in a modern way: online. By organizing through the Web, activists sign petitions sent directly to the powers that be, from legislators and regulators to business people. Hundreds of thousands have created their own petitions to fight for issues in their communities.

Others have realized the power online petitions have to reach decision-makers and facilitate change. Even President Barack Obama gets it: His administration created “We the People,” a government owned and sponsored petition platform, in 2011.

Here are five reasons online petitions are crucial to sharing your message and creating advocacy impact:

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AARP: Baby Boomers Want Liveable Communities, Too

Leon Kaye | Wednesday November 5th, 2014 | 0 Comments
AARP, Livable Communities, smart cities, urban planning, millennials, Walkable and Liveable Cities Institute, Leon Kaye, senior citizens, bicycling, form based code, road diets

Welcome to AARP, the Smart Cities Advocacy Group.

If we are to believe much of what we see in the press, millennials will have to make a more sustainable world to get us out of the mess that the baby boomers are leaving behind. But such generalities may not be necessarily true. Even AARP, which has paid plenty of attention to the baby boomer vs. millennials conflict, has made the case that its membership is concerned about the same issues with which the younger generation is often preoccupied. For example, one may not intuitively think of AARP as a locus of information on smart cities and better urban planning. This powerful lobbying group, however, has an impressive archive that inspires its members to advocate for more “liveable communities.”

AARP’s Walkable and Liveable Cities Institute should not be much of a surprise. As one approaches retirement age, the idea of living in an isolated exurb, where walking, cycling and public transports are the exception and not the rule, is less appealing. And with kids out of the house, denser communities and compact homes close to shops and services are becoming more desirable. Pedestrian-friendly streets and bicycle lanes are not only safer, but also allow citizens of all ages to save money and, of course, live sustainably.

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Series RE-Launch: Sustainable Apparel Part II Debuts Tomorrow!

| Tuesday November 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments


Loyal readers will remember the tremendously successful series Sustainably Attired we ran this summer to explore the lifecycle of fashion. We’re thrilled to announce that Levi Strauss & Co., a longtime proponent of sustainability in the supply chain, has returned for another round. Of course, the company’s environmental programs aren’t limited to supporting our editorial efforts. In fact, just today the denim giant announced a new partnership with the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corp. to provide financial incentives for garment suppliers in developing countries to upgrade environmental, health, safety and labor standards.

We’ll launch part II of this series tomorrow with a focus on consumers: We’ll examine how purchasing and clothing care choices affect the overall environmental impact of our clothes. Since we’re heading into the holiday season, we’ll also dedicate plenty of attention to purchases you can feel good about gifting. You’ll hear about Levi’s initiatives, as well as those from other leaders in the space.

Tomorrow we’ll kick off with a piece that examines what happens at the end of a consumer’s time with a garment. If it’s donated, what happens next? What happens to the clothes too worn to wear? Are our hand-me-downs finding a second life in our communities, or are they shipped to a far-away country?

If you have themes you’d like us to explore, let us know in the comments.

Image credit: Orangeadnan, Flickr

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BSR Conference 2014 Livestream Video

| Tuesday November 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments

The TriplePundit team is at BSR 2014 this year in New York and the line up is better than ever. If you can’t make it this year in person, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. All plenaries and most other major speakers will be broadcast below. Just bookmark this page and hit play!

For complete coverage of the BSR Conference 2014, visit

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Engage and Excel: How Corporate Responsibility Improves the Bottom Line

3p Contributor | Tuesday November 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Employee Engagement photo

By Shannon Schuyler

Employee engagement tops many CEO agendas — not surprising, considering a more engaged workforce means better work quality and longer tenure. These benefits directly impact the bottom line, increasing productivity and efficiency and fueling innovation. Employees most committed to their organizations put in 57 percent more effort on the job and are 87 percent less likely to resign than their disengaged counterparts, according to the Corporate Executive Board.

Despite CEOs’ widespread agreement that employee engagement is highly desirable, many companies don’t deploy all available resources to foster it. Too frequently, employee engagement is siloed as a human resources (HR) function, limited to areas like professional development and compensation. Although HR has an important role to play, other crucial levers, such as corporate responsibility (CR), exist for achieving sustained employee engagement. Further emphasizing this tie-in between CR and employee engagement, a recent survey by CECP, a coalition of CEOs focused on societal investment, revealed 36 percent of CEOs said employee support would make the biggest impact on a company’s decision to expand its investment in the community.

At PwC, we recently moved beyond the usual documentation of CR efforts by measuring the employee engagement return on our CR investment. After assessing the level of CR commitment among our more than 39,000 U.S. partners and staff, we triangulated this data with performance reviews, retention and productivity. We further analyzed the results by examining market, practice area and staff class.

Generally, we found that as the level of CR activity rose, so did performance and length of tenure. Moreover, the greater employees’ CR engagement, the more likely they were to be high performers. Fifty-five percent of employees with one CR activity were high performers, with an average tenure of 6.7 years. Among employees with two or more CR activities, 60 percent were high performers, with an average tenure of 7.4 years.

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Shell Seeks 5 More Years for Arctic Drilling

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday November 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments

shell_mainimage.375263553Despite spending eight years and $6 billion — with no oil production to show for its efforts — Royal Dutch Shell is asking the U.S. government for another five years to drill in the Arctic.

Earlier this year, Shell sent a letter to the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), requesting that its Arctic leases — which expire in 2017 — be paused for five years while the company regroups and attempts to restart drilling operations. The letter was made public late last month by the environmental group Oceana, after obtaining it through a Freedom of Information Act request. Oceana and other groups have sued to block the Arctic exploration.

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Numi Tea Brings Fair Trade to Madagascan Turmeric Farmers

Fair Trade USA | Tuesday November 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments

This is part of a series on “The Future of Fair Trade,” written with the support of Fair Trade USA. A 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, Fair Trade USA is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. To follow along with the rest of the series, click here.

TurmericFieldsOfGold_IngredientsBy Brian Durkee of Numi Organic Tea

A member of the ginger family, turmeric has caught the attention of wellness practitioners and health enthusiasts for centuries. Given its culinary versatility and medicinal properties (not to mention its vibrant color!), it’s no wonder that we are seeing the root become a mainstay of diets around the world. People are turning to turmeric, and we are excited to do the same.

With its innumerable health benefits, we knew that we wanted to incorporate turmeric into a brand new tea collection at Numi Tea. We wanted tastes that would complement the earthy/robust flavor of the root; we wanted profiles that would mirror the vibrancy of the spice; we wanted a tea collection that highlighted the wonder of turmeric. And, perhaps most importantly, we wanted our new tea line to be on-par with the sustainable practices that are the foundation of all of our blends. All in all, we wanted to utilize a turmeric that was Fair Trade Certified.

One year ago today, however, there was a very limited supply of Fair Trade Certified turmeric on the market. We found ourselves faced with two options: develop a line of turmeric teas that were not certified Fair Trade, or help an existing turmeric farm become certified. As you can probably imagine, the second option won our hearts.

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Oceana Report Claims Fraud Rampant in Shrimp Industry

Leon Kaye | Tuesday November 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Shrimp, shrimp industry, oceana, fraud, Leon Kaye, farmed shrimp, mislabeling, whiteleg shrimp, sustainable seafood, human rights

Oceana claims the shrimp industry is rife with fraud-will consumers care?

Shrimp is one of the more popular proteins in the U.S., eaten by plenty of folk who otherwise would never get close to a fish or mollusk. But the shrimp industry has been dogged by a bevy of problems, from reports of rampant slave labor to the pollution generated by shrimp farms across the world. Now the ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana alleges that the industry is duping consumers on the type of shrimp, along with the sourcing, of the products they are buying.

The report focused on shrimp purchased in a few areas within the United States. Oceana claims the misrepresentation of labels is an ongoing problem within the shrimp industry, and insists companies must do more to disclose what kind of shrimp is within a package or on a restaurant plate, and state where it is from. By testing dozens of products in New York City, Portland, Washington D.C., and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Oceana has arrived to several conclusions, none of which will thrill consumers, even if buying sustainably is not a priority for them.

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