Social Responsibility and Sustainability News

Triple Pundit is an innovative new-media company for the business community that cultivates awareness and understanding of the triple bottom line. We provide expert editorial coverage and group discussions on sustainable business in the 21st century.
linkedin fb rss twitter Google +
Recent Tweets @triplepundit
Posts I Like
Posts tagged "clean technology"

Solar power has hit a rough patch in Europe the past year. From Germany to Spain, incentives to boost solar capacity have decreased while local companies struggle to compete against cheap Chinese photovoltaic (PV) imports. Despite the recent fiscal crises, however, solar energy, as stated in a recently released European Commission report, continues to surge ahead in Europe: 280-fold, in fact, between 2000 and the end of 2011. A sector that contributed 185 megawatts of power to Europe’s grid in 2000 has rapidly spiked and will continue its overall boom.

Last week the American wind industry got a bit more turbulent after Siemens announced plans to lay off 615 workers in its plants in Iowa, Kansas, and Florida. Siemens is not alone – similar cuts, as the New York Times reported, are happening throughout the American wind sector – almost 1,700 employees have received pink slips industry-wide.

There are various reasons for these layoffs, from low natural gas prices to slow growth in energy demand because of the recession. Yet, the main reason seems to be the uncertainty about the extension of the wind production tax credit, which is supposed to expire by the end of this year.

U.S. energy giant Direct Energy is testing the consumer market for alternative energy in Texas, with the launch of a new 100 percent Texas wind powerbrand that it’s calling New Leaf Energy. The new venture will provide customers in Greater Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Corpus Christi and other areas with the option to get their electricity from certified renewable sources. That could include solar power and other renewables, but for now Direct Energy is getting its supply all from wind turbines located within Texas.

At first glance starting up a venture like New Leaf in Texas appears to be a risky proposition, since the state is so closely identified with the oil and gas industry. However Direct Energy appears to be confident that New Leaf will gain acceptance not simply as a way to do something good for “the environment” in the abstract, but also as a way for Texas citizens to help benefit the communities in which they live.

United Airlines made waves last year when it became one of the first commercial U.S. airlines to use algae biofuel, and it quickly followed up by joining the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative last spring. Now the airline is bumping its commitment to sustainable aviation up another notch through a new partnership with the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group.

United’s growing confidence in biofuels calls to mind presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s now-infamous statement that “you can’t drive a care with a windmill on it.” Broadly speaking, the candidate was drawing a contrast with fossil fuels in order to make the case that renewable energy is unrealistic as a transportation fuel. But ummm…yeah, so let’s make that comparison. When was the last time you flew in an airplane with an oil field on it?

The Energy Department’s SunShot Grand Challenge Summitgot off to a roaring start this week in Denver, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $10 million in prizes for the teams that can develop the most affordable rooftop solar power model for the U.S. market. Against the current trend in falling oil and gas prices, affordability is a relative term, but businesses with access to a rooftop solar system could easily get the last laugh the next time fossil fuel prices spike up.

The SunShot Initiative launched in February 2011, modeled on President Kennedy’s legendary Moonshot program, which rocketed the U.S. from second-best into the lead for new space exploration technologies. Similarly, SunShot is designed to vault the U.S. back into global dominance in the solar power market, a position it held until a few years ago, by supporting new technologies and systems that reduce the cost of solar power.

It is proxy season, which means all kinds ofshareholder resolutions and protests are targeting some of America’s largest companies for a host of reasons. One company in the crosshairs is Walmart, the focus of organizations including the Texas Campaign for the Environment and Take It Back Walmart. Both organizations have published a letter to Walmart urging the discount retail giant to do more about e-waste.

Particularly interesting is that the “Open Letter” had the signature of over 100 faith leaders from all 50 U.S. states. While commending Walmart for its sustainability efforts that the company has ramped up since 2005, the reverends, priests, rabbis, imams and activists from churches and activist organizations demand that Walmart do even more. The faith communitytaking on companies is nothing new. What is impressive is the positive message the letter imparts, acknowledging the company has achieved much on this front, and now insisting that Walmart embrace more recycling and closed-loop programs.

By Gerad Hoyt, docSTAR 

The paperless office – at this point it’s becoming a little cliché. We’ve all heard for years about how in the near future our society and business will become totally paperless. The truth is, we’ll probably never be paperless due to the many areas where digital simply can’t match the tried and true paper and pen. However, many parts of our society are still consuming far too much paper. Most paper consumption comes from an inability or unwillingness to change our ways, as well as a lack of clear incentives to entice a reduction in the usage of paper. The reality is, your paper is actually costing you dearly. Here’s some food for thought:

  • The average worker in an office uses 10,000 sheets of paper annually.
  • It can cost up to 31 times the original cost to send information on paper (printing, copying, postage, storage, filing, recycling, etc.).
  • 7.5 billion documents are created and 15 trillion copies are made each year.
  • The average four drawer cabinet costs about $25,000 to fill and $2,000 per year to maintain.

These stats are staggering but knowing that most offices simply cannot go 100 percent paperless, there are a few key techniques for incentivizing reduced paper consumption and technology that when applied over time and in conjunction have a dramatic impact.

You know those days that are just so bad you wish you hadn’t even bothered to get out of bed? Well, the folks at Fisker Automotive had one of those recently when their sexy, expensive, award-winning, new sports car died in the parking lot of Consumer Reports before any quality tests could be conducted on it. The Fisker Karma, which is one of the first luxury electric vehicles to come on the market, is a high performance plug-in hybrid. Late last year it was awarded the Luxury Car of the Year Award by the British TV show Top Gear.

Consumer Reports had owned the car, which had less than 200 miles on it, for a few days when they tried to take it out on their test track to begin conducting tests. When they did so, the car flashed an error message and stopped working:

The dashboard flashed a message and sounded a “bing“ showing a major fault. Our technician got the car off the track and put it into Park to go through the owner’s manual to interpret the warning. At that point, the transmission went into Neutral and wouldn’t engage any gear through its electronic shifter except Park and Neutral.

The Consumer Reports people tried a few more things to get the car working but to no avail. It had to be hauled away on a flat bed back to the dealer. As noted on the Consumer Reports blog, “Our Fisker Karma cost us $107,850. It is super sleek, high-tech – and now it’s broken.”

Consumer Reports magazine, which buys about eighty cars per year, said that this is the first time in recent memory that anyone could recall a car breaking down before they had gone through their check-in process with it. David Champion, Senior Director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Division, told Design News, “This is the first time in decades where we had a car that was undriveable and immovable. It was just stuck in the middle of our car park.”

A Fisker representative told USA Today that they were able to drive the car off the flatbed. In their official statement the company said they were working to understand and resolve the issue. They also noted that, “With about 2,000 Karmas built to date, 1,000 at retailers and 500 in customer hands, there are many satisfied Fisker owners around the world, driving without incident.” Indeed, there are some very high profile Fisker Karma owners out there including Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio and teen heart throb Justin Bieber who recently received one for this 18th birthday.

Apparently this isn’t the first time Consumer Reports has had problems with the Karma. They experienced some difficulties with another car that visited the track and have heard reports of other issues happening at press events. 

Just when you thought all was quiet on the light bulb front, along comes another spoon of outrage to stir the pot. The latest trouble bubbled up last week with an article in the Washington Post under the rather overheated headline “Government-subsidized green light bulb carries costly price tag.” Things went quickly downhill from there as a slew of right-leaning blogs flogged the meme of a $10 million government investment in a light bulb that the article claimed would retail for $50, far beyond a realistic price for the general consumer market.

Things got so bad so quickly that Philips, manufacturer of the now-infamous “green light bulb” was compelled to issue a press release last Friday to defend both itself and the Department of Energy, which did indeed put up $10 million for its Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize (aka L Prize), which was designed to spur private sector investment in high-efficiency lighting technology.

So, did we really pay $10 million and all we got was this lousy $50 light bulb?

The truth about the $50 light bulb

In a word, no.

Philips states that the actual retail price of its prizewinning bulb will be closer to $20, comfortably within the L Prize requirement of $22. That’s because the bulb will be sold through partnerships with utility companies, which will offer up to $30 in rebates.

As of last summer, when Philips was announced as the L Prize winner, the Department of Energy already had 31 utilities and other partners lined up to participate in the rebate program.

How a $50 light bulb saves you money

Philips also states that even without the rebate, the lifetime cost of its new bulb is only $82 compared to $213 for a conventional incandescent bulb, based on an electricity rate of 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

The sticky wicket is that incandescent technology is so cheap and simple, we are used to treating light bulbs like we treat disposable paper cups. At the $20 price point, advanced-technology light bulbs need to be viewed more like minor household appliances, like a clock or a blender, that are worth packing up and taking with you when you move.

Calculating the true lifetime cost of Philips’s new light bulb

In a detailed analysis of the Washington Post article, Brad Johnson of Think Progress points out that an earlier version contained no textual analysis of lifetime costs, only an infographic based on “extremely wrong” calculations. The infographic was later stripped from the article without explanation and replaced with more accurate information.

Philips’s new bulb is a 60-watt equivalent LED (light emitting diode) that uses only 10 watts, and it has a life cycle of 30,000 hours as demonstrated through extensive testing during the L Prize process. According to the Department of Energy, the typical lifespan of an incandescent bulb is only 1,000 hours.

Why such a fuss over light bulbs?

As for why a high-tech light bulb would send so many pundits into a tizzy, that goes back to last year, when legislators and thought leaders in the Republican Party tried to leverage new federal energy efficiency standards for light bulbs as a political wedge issue.

The­­­ new standards – which were signed into law by President Bush – began to phase in as scheduled on January 1 with barely a ripple of protest by actual consumers, so it looks like the L Prize is the next logical target for outrage – although, in the context of the $4 billion in annual subsidies that President Obama is fond of ascribing to the oil industry, $10 million to develop beneficial energy-related technology is small potatoes.

DuPont’s Building Innovations business unit, maker of Corian and Tyvek, has successfully cut its annual landfill waste stream from 81 million pounds to zero.

Dave Walter, America Business Manager and a Six Sigma black belt, led the team that created this result. Walter explains, “DuPont’s Building Innovations moving to zero landfill waste was accomplished through committed people working together effectively enabled by Six Sigma process methodologies.”

The following outlines six best practices cited by Walter that enabled DuPont’s success in achieving zero landfill waste stream results: 

1. Customer Alignment. There was a strong customer focus to DuPont’s efforts. Their customers were going green and looking for green suppliers.

Our customers are increasingly adopting LEED or similar standards. Our motivation to pursue zero landfill was to gain leadership alignment with our customers to maintain their loyalty for our product solutions.

Roger McFadden, Staples Chief Scientist has made a similar observation,

It is no longer enough in today’s supply chain to sell based upon only offering lowest price or fastest delivery. Today’s supply chain is demanding validation and disclosure on a product’s and company’s toxins and environmental footprint.

This greening of the supply chain has emerged as a powerful economic engine in today’s $1 trillion global sustainable economy.

A team of researchers at Columbia Engineering has launched an interactive online energy map that breaks down the patterns of power consumption in practically every building in all five boroughs of New York City. Though the map is based on estimates rather than actual metered data, it does provide an easy way to compare real-life usage patterns with the norm, which could help motivate individual property owners to start thinking about the energy conservation potential – and energy generation potential – of their buildings. The map could also help planners and other stakeholders, whether in New York City or elsewhere, outline the energy potential of lots, blocks or entire neighborhoods in the context of long-term energy planning.

The Study Behind the Urban Energy Map

The Columbia team, headed by Ph.D. candidate Bianca Howard with Mechanical Engineering Professor Vijay Modi, produced the map for a citywide study on energy consumption by buildings. In part, the study was designed to raise awareness of the different kinds of fuel used in New York City. Typically the emphasis of discussion has been on electricity consumption, but New York City buildings, in fact, rely heavily on oil and natural gas for heating. As Howard explains:

“The lack of information about building energy use is staggering. We want to start the conversation for the average New Yorker about energy efficiency and conservation by placing their energy consumption in the context of other New Yorkers. Just knowing about your own consumption can change your entire perspective.”

Lessons for New York City…and Beyond

In an announcement of the study, Modi describes a characteristic that New York City shares with many other cities, large and small: it is difficult, if not impossible, for cities to generate an amount of energy within their borders that equals the amount of energy they consume.

Modi notes that “…current electricity distribution infrastructure in many urban areas relies on large amounts of electricity brought in from outside the city, making it difficult to support increased future use without requiring significant investment of resources and funds. We are looking at ways we can address both these issues—reducing our heating bills and increasing local electricity generation capacity.”

Localizing Energy Production

As you play around with the interactive map (here’s that link again), one thing that jumps out is the vast potential for harvesting energy from the built infrastructure of urban areas. Raising awareness of that potential is a major focus of the study, but it also goes beyond that.

Bloomberg recently reported that India’s clean tech investments, “reached $10.3bn in 2011, some 52 percent higher than the $6.8bn invested in 2010. This was the highest growth figure of any significant economy in the world. There is plenty of room for further expansion – in 2011, India accounted for 4 percent of global investment in clean energy.” This is pretty incredible considering that India’s energy sources have always traditionally been coal, hydropower and nuclear.

One of the key reasons for the sustainable energy push is the decentralization of power systems especially in rural India. This has brought to light the need for power and the potential for decentralization and has increased venture capital and private equity investments. In 2011, these made a strong comeback with investments totaling $425m.

According to Bloomberg, “wind and solar project developers such as Mytrah Energy India and Kiran Energy Solar Power succeeded in doing deals. Large growth was driven by a seven-fold increase in funding for grid-connected solar projects: from $0.6bn in 2010 to $4.2bn in 2011. Solar almost reached the same level of investments as wind, which totalled $4.6bn.”

India is well on its way to become the ‘Scotland of Asia’ with a national record of 2.827 GW in wind power. This brings India into third place (behind China and the US) for new installations globally in 2011. Grid-connected solar power climbed from just 18 MW in 2010 to 2.777 GW in 2011. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that 2,500MW to 3,200MW of wind capacity could be added in 2012.

Ashish Sethia, head of India research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: ”The surge in installation of renewable energy shows that it is becoming cost competitive and scalable, at a time when India is struggling to meet its targets for conventional power capacity. 

At the VerdeXchange Marketmakers Conference that took place in downtown Los Angeles this week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a keynote speech to an audience of 500 industry leaders working to build and shape the green economy of Los Angeles and the nation. The group included individuals working in both the public and private sectors to further the development of technologies and markets related to energy efficiency, electricity transmission, alternative fuel vehicles, clean water, low carbon transportation, and green building. In his presentation, Mayor Villaraigosa explained how his focus on developing Los Angeles’s clean technology market is helping him address some of the biggest challenges facing the city.

According to Villaraigosa, over 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2015, a 10 percent increase over four years ago. And in the coming years, 85 percent of jobs will need to be created in cities. In the face of absent leadership from the federal government, city leaders will need to come up with innovative ideas and take bold actions to determine how to balance growth with the need to provide residents with work and livable communities in the face of dwindling resources.

To that end, the mayor has set out to establish Los Angeles as the country’s leading hub for clean tech innovation, an effort that will create new jobs and improve the city’s economy. “LA is the creative capital of the country and maybe even the world. And it is fast becoming the clean tech capital of the country,” said Villaraigosa. This statement is sure to conjure some doubts, but there are convincing arguments that support Los Angeles as a city that is leading in the clean tech industry.

Villaraigosa touted Los Angeles’ strong brand when it comes to its university system. According to the mayor, the city’s top three research universities – USC, UCLA, and Caltech – are responsible for more patents than any other three schools in any other city. This strong foundation for research, coupled with the city government’s commitment to addressing sustainability issues, has the potential to spur innovation, technology transfer, and startup creation here in Los Angeles.

 Having reduced CO2 emissions by 17% as compared to 1990 levels, the European Union (EU) is well on its way to reaching its legally binding, 20% by 2020 CO2 emissions reduction target. Being so close nearly a decade ahead of schedule raises the possibility of the EU raising the 2020 emissions reduction bar to 30%, a topic that’s likely to once again become a high-profile topic of discussion and debate among EU parliamentary representatives.

The projected cost of accomplishing the feat would be considerably less than originally thought, according to the contents of a draft European Commission (EC) analysis and document reported by Reuters.

In addition, reaching the 30% CO2 reduction target could have beneficial effects on the finances of weaker and still developing EU member countries, depending on the amounts and allocation of EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) credits, the EC analysis contends.

A Plan for Reaching 30% Emissions Reduction by 2020

The EC had estimated the additional cost of reaching 30% emissions reduction from base year 1990 to
be around 33 billion euros ($42 billion). The deep 2008-2009 recession effectively guarantees that the EU will reach the 20% by 2020 emissions reduction target. Yet while the recession and persisting EU bank and government debt problems have made doing so easier, they’ve also limited the ability of EU governments, industry and business to invest in the projects necessary to achieve it.

Reaching the 30% emissions reduction target would require economic sectors not currently included in the EU ETS, such as ground transport and buildings, to reduce their emissions 6.5%. Another issue of contention is economic cost, particularly for economically weaker and still developing Eastern European EU member countries. 

Up to 1 billion people in the world still lack or have unsteady access to electricity. For these people, kerosene, a dirty petroleum product, is usually the fuel of choice–or more accurately, they have no choice. This US$36 billion a year industry often consumes 30 to 35 percent of poor families’ income.

Nevertheless there is hope – without giving Westerners the willies that we are going to kill the planet through carbon emissions. Solar energy, specifically solar printing, could be an answer. One company working on this front is Eight19, a UK company that provides printed plastic solar cells that are flexible, lightweight and can be used on a bevy of solar-powered applications.

Eight19 confronts the problem that the world’s poor face when choosing a fuel. While kerosene is relatively expensive, families are accustomed to purchasing the necessary fuel on an as-needed basis. Meanwhile clean energy options like solar power systems require payment up front.

IndiGo, Eight19’s pay-as-you-go solar power system, combines mobile telephone technology to provide pay-as-you-go solar. Users benefit from a unit that can light two rooms, and buy mobile phone credits that can then provide light for children’s homework at night or street vendors the ability to work when it is dark. The system is also scalable and can expand to cover more rooms if required by users. This high tech social innovation scheme provides countless opportunities at many levels.

Now, this social enterprise will ramp up its efforts with Solar Aid’s SunnyMoney, a solar lamp distributor in East Africa, through what they call the “Kickstart Sustainable Energy Fund.” Donations and interest-free loans from donors and impact investors will cover the first 4000 lighting systems to be installed in Kenya later this year. If the program progresses smoothly, the circulating revenues that it generates should be one step in broadening solar lighting (and the all-important) mobile telephone recharging throughout the region.

Eight19 announced a Kickstarter campaign this week at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. With countries like the UAE taking a more active role and providing more international aid, this is one such solution that can offer countless bang for the buck … or the dirham. From the Middle East to Latin America, solar as a service could build wealth and clean the local air–and boost countries’ goals to achieve increased energy independence.