Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Electrify Harleys: HOGs going green

You’ve heard about electric cars. What about motorcycles? They should be even easier to transform. Harley Davidson just announced its electric model will be out in 18 months. Vroom-vroom will become a quiet weeeeeeeeeee as the electric engine revs up. What HOGs lose in noise they will gain in responsiveness.

What’s our job?

Alan AtKisson is a gracious and insightful sustainability colleague, one of the Big Names in the profession. I remember attending one of his workshops when Marsha Willard and I were trying to establish credentials in sustainability. He knew our work and treated us as equals. Later, when we were forming the International Society for Sustainability Professionals, he agreed to be on our faculty in part because I told him he could do the internet courses “in his jammies,” a job he could do without traveling from his family. He’s always made an effort to meet when we are in the same city.

To me, his willingness to help others in the field says a lot about him, and a lot about our industry. It’s not about who gets the job; it’s about how we are going to save humanity and the planet, together. All good ideas are welcome.

Alan just republished the job description of a sustainability change agent that he penned a decade ago. His writing is always clear and poetic. And I’m heartened that in 10 years, the job has gotten less lonely. Far more people and organizations understand sustainability. We still have a long way to go but sometimes it’s good to look back to see how far we have come. For me it’s a source of hope.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Can we finally put an end to animal testing?

Animal testing has long been used to see if personal care products will hurt you. Unfortunately, in addition to often being hideously cruel (like rubbing stuff in rabbits’ eyes), it hasn’t been effective. Humans react differently to certain products; take aspirin, for example, which works well for most people but is bad for many other mammals. A number of different companies have sworn off animal testing. Now there’s a technological alternative that is cheaper and faster. Maybe that will finally snuff out the practice.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Economic solution to ocean plastic that helps the very poor

Most of the ocean plastic enters the ocean through the poorest countries. If you're desperately poor, you can't be bothered with recycling even if it existed in your community. But what if that plastic 'trash' had an accessible market, a value that could easily be exchanged for cash?

The Plastic Bank makes it possible for poor people in underdeveloped countries bring in plastic and get a credit in their account which can then be used to pay for tuition or purchase needed supplies. They've created demand for this 'social plastic' to be used in manufacturing. People in parts of the developed world can apply their bottle deposit toward supporting this program for the poor. This approach helps close the loop (Circular Economy) and provides an easy way for the desperately poor to gain income. Best of all, they're scaling up around the world.

Erase your impact on climate change in 10 minutes

It’s tax season, when we all compute what we owe the government. Why not also compute your household debt to the climate? It’ll take about 10 minutes to wipe out your entire annual greenhouse gases, and I bet it will cost a lot less than you think.

Solar panels, changing your diet, buying an electric car, all those things are great. But they might take a little time. But you can buy carbon offsets to eliminate your carbon impact today. Calculate your carbon emissions from last year and donate toward a certified carbon offset project.

I just did it for my household and it cost my husband and me $68. For the year. We have solar panels and one electric/hybrid car so we have a fairly light footprint but do have a gas fireplace and stove. And the biggie, we flew to Europe. It might cost your household a couple hundred dollars, tax-deductible if you itemize charities. Isn’t it worth it? With Arizona getting hotter and drier, we owe it to future generations.

Step 1: Estimate your household greenhouse gases

The EPA carbon calculator for households will ask you the number of people in the household, how much you pay for electricity and gas, and how much you drive (remember to include rental cars): (Note that the website now says they’re updating the resources so the URL might change.) If you traveled by air during the year, it may be easier to use the calculator since it includes a tab to estimate air travel emissions: Whatever method you use, you should end up with metric tonnes. If the calculator produced pounds of greenhouse gases, divide by 2205 to get metric tonnes.
Screen capture from

Step 2: Choose and pay for a carbon offset project. 

A carbon offset is basically where you pay someone else to reduce their greenhouse gases by the amount you generated. Projects generally cost around $10 a metric ton. I like Cool Effect because you have a choice of projects and they are third-party certified, meaning you get what you think you’re buying:

Sample projects

You can find other certified offset brokers here: Make sure your carbon offset is certified and if you want to write off the expense, that the provider is a US-qualified charity. If you want to learn more about carbon offsets, the National Resources Defense Council has a nice explanation:

Step 3: Tell your friends and family. 

We need to make paying for our carbon emissions a social norm. Got your flu shot? Paid your taxes? Offset your carbon emissions?

We don’t have to wait for governments to act. We don’t have to wait for renewables to be phased in. You don’t have to buy an electric car today. We simply need to pay for the climate impacts our lifestyle is causing now. In the grand scheme of your household budget, it’s probably the equivalent of one latté each week. I’m willing to make this an annual charitable donation to the planet. Are you?

Motown is turning into renewable city

Detroit, a city known for (in chronological order) cars, 60’s songs, plant shutdowns, and economic collapse is turning to renewable energy. Learn how a couple guys got the ball rolling and how it’s helping their poor residents.

Friday, January 26, 2018

250 companies represent 30% of global carbon emissions

Imagine that. Change the business model of 250 companies and make a major dent in climate change.

It’s already starting to happen. Oil companies transitioning toward renewable energy, car companies furiously competing for electric car dominance. These changes, if done wisely, reduce long-term risks, attract investors and improve their profitability.

Making our way toward a low-carbon future is not just possible, but profitable -

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Davos: over 30 major companies committing to Circular Economy

As we’ve explained in earlier posts, the Circular Economy is a concept, and increasingly a practice, of redesigning manufacturing so everything comes back to become something else, or is composted, going safely back to nature.

At Davos, at least 30 companies committed to being early adopters for Factor10 (World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Circular Economy Initiative). Notice anything about the companies?

Accenture, Arcadis, ArcelorMittal, BASF, BCG, BMW Group, CRH, Dow, DSM, Enel, ExxonMobil, EY, Honda, IFF, KPMG, Michelin, Navigant, Novartis, Philips, PWC, Rabobank, Renault, SABIC, Saint-Gobain, Solvay, Stora Enso, Veolia, Yara, Yokogawa
The majority are non-US. Exxon is an interesting outlier, because of their plastics business.

Factor10 never seems to be defined on the WBCSD website. It likely refers to the idea of increasing efficiencies by a factor of 10:
Factor 10 states that over the next 30 to 50 years (one generation) a decrease in energy use and material flows by a factor of 10 and an increase in resource productivity/efficiency by a factor of 10 is required to achieve dematerialisation. That is, to attain sustainability and environmental protection we need to reduce resource turn over by 90% on a global scale, within the next 50 years. (Source: Global Development Research Center)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

World Economic Forum has hope for climate

WEF recently summed up the climate situation:

  • Companies are starting to get serious
  • Putting a price on carbon would go a long way
  • We have until 2020 for greenhouse gases to start falling to stay within 2 degrees C.

That’s 2 years, guys.....Did you offset your emissions yet?

Climate change: is the glass half full or half empty? - The World Economic Forum

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

US’s first all-solar community

Babcock Ranch, near Fort Meyers, Florida, is a new community designed to run entirely on solar, including the autonomous public transit. The developer also returned a lot of the land to the state for a nature preserve.

Welcome to America's first solar-powered town - ABC News

I’m not sure why they took up acres of land for the solar panel farm when they could have built net zero homes, using the acreage on the roofs. It might have cost more for all those inverters but each homeowner would be responsible for managing their energy use. I wonder if they have thought about how to manage this shared energy system. To avoid the Tragedy of the Commons, you need social systems and mores to manage the resource.

Monday, January 22, 2018

NIKE half way to 100% renewable power goal

Nike was one of the early corporate leaders in sustainability. First they got embarrassed by social conditions in their contract factories. Next they wondered what else might cause a PR disaster and they started looking at their environmental impacts. Now they see a clear interdependency between social+environmental issues and their business: fossil fuel driven air pollution has cancelled marathons and climate change is undermining traditional winter sports.

Among other things, they’ve signed onto the RE100, a commitment to get all of their energy from renewables. In this latest power purchase deal, they are half way there.

It’s good news, but there’s also something that troubles me. They are in effect paying to put up a wind farm in Texas. Should we let corporations off the hook by building renewable energy facilities in someone else’s backyard? In the long run, if we only can allocate so much land to make energy, is this the best use? Expensive running shoes and apparel? Some day we may have to answer that question.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Conservative registers for climate class as a joke, becomes advocate

At the Alliance, we avoid painting sustainability as a conservative or liberal issue. It’s divisive and unhelpful. After all, Nixon, a Republican, created many of the environmental laws we have benefitted from: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the EPA. The politicization of climate change is unfortunate. Perhaps it started when Al Gore decided to be the spokesperson for the issue. But never forget that people on both sides of the political spectrum cherish the environment. Whether they hike or hunt, they’re all trying to reconnect to Nature.

Here’s a story of a Montana hunter who signed up to a Climate course as a joke, to heckle the professor. Find out what happened next.

Don’t Let Anyone Fool You: There ARE Environmental Conservatives - Mother Jones

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Diversity can make companies more profitable

In this recent follow-up study by McKinsey, its clear that a diverse management team can make a significant difference in the financial health of large companies. It's likely also true of small to medium sized companies, in part because it better reflects the population the company is serving.

In the original research, using 2014 diversity data, we found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. In our expanded 2017 data set this number rose to 21 percent and continued to be statistically significant. For ethnic and cultural diversity, the 2014 finding was a 35 percent likelihood of outperformance, comparable to the 2017 finding of a 33 percent likelihood of outperformance on EBIT margin; both were also statistically significant.

Take a look at the study to unpack what gender vs ethnic diversity can do for your business.

Evian closing loop on plastic or greenwashing?

Evian is committing to using 100% recycled plastic in their bottles by 2025. Ok.....

 On the positive side, they are collaborating with Ellen MacArthur’s circular economy and a group that pulls plastic from the ocean.

But this hardly makes me eager to encourage people to buy bottled water.

0.5 degree C doesn’t sound like much but with climate it is huge

You may have heard scientists argue about 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius global temperature change. But what are the implications of shooting past 1.5? There’s a wonderful table in this article that shows the difference. The impact on crop yields is especially concerning.

Then look at the chart with concentric circles. It shows how many years at current emissions we have to stay at those levels and at what probability. We have 6 years to have a 66% probability of staying within 1.5C.

This graphic explains why 2 degrees of global warming will be way worse than 1.5 - Vox

But all organizations and individuals can fix this NOW! TODAY! Solar panels, changing your diet, buying an electric car, all those things are great. But they might take a little time. But you can buy carbon offsets to eliminate your carbon impact today.

Calculate your carbon emissions from last year and donate to a certified carbon credit. I just did it for my household and it cost me $68. For the year. We have solar panels and one electric/hybrid car but we did go to Europe. It might cost your household a couple hundred dollars. Isn’t it worth it?

EPA carbon calculator for households:

Choose your carbon offset project here:

Find other certified offset brokers:

NRDC explanation of carbon offsets:

Now you have no excuses. Offset your emissions and then tell us what it cost and what project you supported. Let’s make this a social norm: did you get your flu shot, did you offset your climate impact?

Friday, January 19, 2018

World’s largest investment fund tells CEOs to get on sustainability bandwagon

Larry Fink, the head of Blackrock, the world’s largest investment fund, just put corporations on notice that they need to do a lot more for society and stop fixating on quarterly returns.

“To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society,” Fink said in a much cited letter to CEOs. “Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”
In a Deloitte Survey, fully 92% of the CEOs supported working toward the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals but only 17% already had work underway to address them by 2030.

Awareness precedes action. Now a very powerful individual is telling public companies to get their act together.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Major city about to run out of water

Turn on the tap and nothing comes out. Think it can't happen?

Check out Cape Town which is going to have to stop delivering water to all but emergency locations on Earth Day. It would be ironic if it weren't so alarming.

Years of drought have left them counting down the days, praying for rain, and building plans for emergency water distribution. At least they are on the coast where desalination is feasible (with associated environmental impacts, of course, depending on how they do it) but those plants won't be up and running in time. May usually starts the rainy season so they might get lucky, but brinksmanship with water is never smart.

As climate change makes weather anomalies more likely, we should all be thinking about Plan B.

How artificial light messes with nature

Artificial light has been a hallmark of civilization. You’ve probably seen the night pictures of the globe where industrial cities sparkle. But this desire to light up the night affects our health and really messes with Nature. This article is a nice summary of the most recent science and it shows how complex the interactions are.

The solution doesn’t have to be plunging ourselves back into darkness. Sedona is an International Dark Sky community, honoring guidelines to protect the night sky. We carry flashlights the way Oregonians carry umbrellas. In parts of Europe, the street lights only come on when people walk by. We can save energy, improve our health and protect nature by making the stars shine again.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

World is pedal to the metal on renewable energy

Decades ago, a Saudi oil minister was quoted as saying, “The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stones and the Oil Age won’t end for lack of oil.”

It’s happening now. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, we are two years away from the point at which renewables are so inexpensive that they will beat out fossil fuels globally. Even Big Oil is getting serious about investing in renewable technologies.

Last week the U.S. Energy Information Administration underscored how quickly the renewable energy trend has overtaken the power generation field, with a new report titled, “Nearly half of utility-scale capacity installed in 2017 came from renewables,” at 12 gigawatts or so. EIA estimated the total in utility-scale capacity additions for 2017 at about 25 gigawatts.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Clothing: how to do the right thing with your fashion choices

Fashion, just the idea of it, seems designed to destroy the planet. Buy a bunch of stuff so that you can maintain your place in society and then next year, throw it away and buy new stuff because somewhere, someone has determined the old stuff isn’t cool anymore. Ack! Why are we such a maniputable (if that’s a word) species?

But it’s not okay to walk around naked, so what is an eco-conscious person supposed to do?

Here’s an article about several trends to watch in the fashion/clothing industry which may help you make more ethical choices. I’d only add to shop at thrift stores and donate to them. And to buy timeless pieces and stop worrying about what’s in fashion!

Giving the Earth a seat on corporate boards

No, the Earth doesn’t actually sit down in the boardroom, but this Cambridge Program is driving boards to integrate sustainability into boards’ duties.

It’s time, [Phillipe] Joubert asserts, to acknowledge the true value of nature, which means starting to calculate the environmental costs of producing a product. “If we don’t do this we’re distributing fake profits ..... .and paying fake bonuses and fake dividends.”  The argument is that without accounting for nature’s services, we can’t know the real value of a company.
He talks of an “earth-competent” board whose members understand sustainability, ask the right questions of management, and exercise their fiduciary duties. Part of this is a duty to respect nature, he says, “which is absolutely consistent with acting in the interest of the company they lead”.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Making solar installations cute

Lots of cities build a highly visible, iconic sign for their community like the Hollywood sign or the initial of the city in white rocks on the hill. If you’re going to create a huge solar farm, why not make it look like something too? This city in Poland is making the solar farm look like the deer it’s named form.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Getting rid of take-out containers

Lots of cities and corporations are pursuing zero waste as a strategy. According to this article, 30% of  our wastestream is packaging. To-go containers are often not recyclable or compostable. The University of California Irvine found switching to reusable containers was easy. This could work in many settings where customers often return to the same place.

Around a third of campus meals, about 350,000 are taken to-go every year. The difference now is that students take them in reusable containers that are returned, washed, and used again.
 Takeout creates a lot of trash. It doesn't have to. - Vox

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Mirror, mirror, who's the fairest sustainable destination of them all?

The Economist just published a report based on the Sustainable Tourism Index. It rates countries on their sustainable tourism practices.

To me what is most interesting is not so much the content but that The Economist is publishing it. It shows the increasing rise of sustainable tourism.

Jeopardy question: The country bought more electric than gas-powered cars last month

A. What is Norway.

“Tesla was largely responsible for the increase last month due to its cyclic delivery schedule in Europe. The California-based automaker delivered 1,032 Model S sedans and 1,429 Model X SUVs.
The vehicles were the second and first bestselling passenger cars respectively for the month.
As for the full year 2017, BEVs and PHEVs captured 39.2 percent of the market – up from 29.1 percent in 2016.”