Thursday, December 20, 2018

Empower women to save the planet

Women’s rights to education, family planning and finance are a powerful lever for saving the planet. This can be a much more positive framing than population control, but it can have the same effect. Gender equality is key to fighting climate change.

With these three changes—empowerment of women farmers, increased global access to family planning, and the right to an education—Wilkinson and her team at Project Drawdown predict that by midcentury, improving gender equality could equal 1 billion fewer people on Earth.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

New Years Resolution: Put your money where your values are

Years ago, my husband and I started leaning on our investment advisors who only seemed to be focus on making money, more money. But I was passionate about sustainability. "I'm trying to make the world better," I told them, "so why would I want investments in companies that are making the world worse?"

More and more individuals, pension funds and companies are agreeing. The field of sustainable investing has continued to grow, in part because it's an indicator of good management.

Assets under management in U.S.-based socially responsible investing strategies climbed to $12 trillion at the start of 2018, representing 1 in 4 dollars of all investment under professional management and an increase of 38 percent from the start of 2016.

Investment companies are getting on board. UBS Global Wealth Management, for example, will start providing detailed reports on their funds, covering their environmental, social and governance performance.

Developing countries adding renewables faster than OECD

Developing countries have apparently decided to leapfrog the dirty 20th Century technologies and propel themselves into the mid 21st. We saw that with the adoption of cellphones and now it’s happening in power generation. Developing countries are outstripping the developed world by their adoption of zero carbon energy.

ClimateScope released its 2017 report, and here’s its key finding:

In 2017, the large majority of the world's new zero-carbon power capacity was built in developing countries. A total of 114GW (including nuclear and hydro as well as “new renewables”) was added in these nations, compared with approximately 63GW added in wealthier nations.
 Read the report here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

2018 in review: Accomplishments and plans for 2019

I'll be taking a break on blogging over the holidays. Most of you will be focused on family, as it should be. But beforehand, please check out our annual report for 2018 in 8 slides. The last slide summarizes our main focus for 2019.

Since Sedona's Sustainable Tourism effort is leveraging our Sustainable Business Certification and our Zero Waste Events Certification, expanding those will be a major focus. We are seeking an intern to help with those efforts, so if you know of someone who might be interested, I can email them a job description.

Those of us with the Sustainability Alliance wish you (and us all) a healthier, happier and more sustainable year.

[Firefox users: If you can't see the slides, you may need to refresh Firefox.]

Monday, December 17, 2018

Electricity: Have it your way with Arcadia

We can't all get solar panels. Maybe you rent. Maybe your house is surrounded by trees or the roof is facing the wrong direction. Maybe you just can't afford the capital cost. But what you and anyone can do is sign up for green power through Arcadia Power. Here's an explanation of how it works. It may save you money and you can pay through your credit card (which means more points!)

Arcadia Power works like your own clean power consultant — it’s an online energy platform that you can connect your local utility account to, so you can get customized suggestions for clean energy solutions. Once you enroll in the Price Alerts program, they work to monitor the electricity market in your area and send you new plans that you can approve of, with the new rate and your estimated yearly savings.

Shell incentivizing execs to go green

Going green will put more greenbacks in Shell exec’s wallets. Royal Dutch Shell has established climate targets, reducing their operational greenhouse gases by 50% by 2050.

From 2020, Shell will institute three-to-five-year Net Carbon Footprint targets that are supposed to help it achieve its longer-term goals: a 20% reduction in the footprint by 2035, and a 50% reduction by 2050. Shell said it would “seek third-party assurance” that it was meeting its targets, and would publicize its assurance statements.

Often, organizational Human Resources systems lag new initiatives. But Shell is plannning to hang a big carrot in front of their execs. The details are not yet finalized and will need to be approved by shareholders. Shareholder activism got them this far so I’m guessing it will pass.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Climate change in 7 charts: 1 thing for you to do today

If you don’t want to read the summary of the recent reports on climate change, scan this. The BBC has published this short article, 7 charts including one eye-opener on the one thing you can start doing today to make a difference.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Google, Microsoft carbon neutral for years

Google and Microsoft have both been carbon neutral for years, proving companies can be profitable while taking full responsibility for their climate impacts.
The company [Google] has been carbon-neutral since 2007, which requires a lot of work to offset its substantial power demands. Google achieves this three ways, according to its most recent Environmental Report: by reducing its demand, by buying renewables to offset its use of non-renewable energy, and with other offsets, like capturing methane gas from animal waste.

 Microsoft created an internal carbon tax to help reduce its emissions. Since implementing it in 2012, the company has been carbon-neutral, and it has pledged to cut its absolute emissions by 75 percent by 2030.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mining industry cleaning up its act

If you had to choose the most destructive industry, mining would likely be on your list, infamous for blowing the tops off mountains, toxic tailing ponds, leaving behind entire towns as Superfund sites, along with slave labor and sketchy safety practices. But customer pressures are driving change.

Consumer-facing companies in the electronics, automotive and other sectors are increasingly concerned about having access to secure supplies of metals and minerals that have been produced responsibly – as are companies delivering the technologies that support the transition to a low-carbon future.
This is why the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) has developed new membership requirements to advance the sustainability performance of the mining sector. ICMM is an international organisation dedicated to a safe, fair and sustainable mining and metals industry. Bringing together 27 mining and metals companies and 36 regional and commodity associations, ICMM has worked collaboratively for over 15 years to strengthen the environmental and social performance of the industry.

From a sustainability perspective, this is progress. But we need to remember that taking materials from the earth’s crust is not sustainable unless we prevent those materials from getting into nature. (The Natural Step’s first principle.) Those materials have been buried safely for millions or billions of years, so life evolved expecting low concentrations of those materials. A little bit of zinc and iron in your body is good; too much and you’re dead. Even a little bit of arsenic, lead or uranium can threaten your health. So we need a Circular Economy where all these mined materials are recovered and put back into new products again and again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Focus on and teach sustainability, not un-sustainability

Those of us in the sustainability profession are well aware that knowing a lot about the world’s problems can be a big downer. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the problem and sink into despair, which undermines our agency to do anything to fix it. So to protect themselves, the public shies away from doom and gloom. This tendency to focus on the problem is especially damaging in schools where teachers sometimes focus about the problems (climate change, ocean plastics, etc.), leaving children worried that their lives will be, to steal Hobbes, crowded, “poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

In this blog post, Jaimie Cloud, one of the leaders in Educating for Sustainability, does a lovely job of explaining why we need to stop teaching un-sustainability and start teaching sustainability. The same applies to corporate communication and public policy. We need to focus on the future we want.

Game Over or Game On? — The Cloud Institute

I encourage you to watch her short video on this page talking about the 4 questions we should be asking. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Why Native languages matter

The Governor of Alaska recently indicated we have a crisis of Native languages. If we lose them, we lose a lot of knowledge embedded in them. Alaska alone is home to 20 such languages.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

How much do you know about the food you eat?

According to a study/poll from Michigan State U, many of us don’t know as much as we think we do about food and nutrition. And what you know may be a function of income.

Here’s a link to their findings with charts. While you can’t take the poll anymore (or at least I didn’t find it), you can test yourself before looking at the charts.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Let them (pets) eat engineered ‘meat’

The LA animal commissioner started to wonder why they were rescuing rabbits and chickens and then feeding the same species to their shelter animals. Since at least one study estimates that pet food represents about 30% of the environmental impacts associated with meat consumption in the country, a significant contributor to climate change, there may be even bigger reasons to change what goes in your doggie bowl.

Some innovators are thinking that engineered meats might be a solution. Unlike companies like Beyond Meat that are trying to entice people with juicy burgers, your dog likely won’t be as picky about cultured meat. Some entrepreneurs are working on new products to help vegans and vegetarians feed their pets a healthy diet while staying true to their values

Friday, December 7, 2018

100 companies source of 71% greenhouse gases

One hundred companies cause 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. They’re energy companies, of course. Some are making efforts to switch to renewables but there’s still a strong incentive to recover capital costs of their fossil fuel infrastructure and sell remaining supplies of fossil fuels in the ground.

We need an orderly but swift transition to renewables. So what leverage do we have as citizens to change the financial calculus of these corporations?

You can divest them by selling their shares in your 401K, but that doesn’t really hurt the companies much. Someone else just picks up your shares. But this likely will reduce the volatility in your portfolio and align your investments with your values.

You can hold shares and vote on shareholder resolutions when the proxies come out. Ceres has a database of these.

You can buy green power and switch to electric or more fuel efficient vehicles, undermining their market.

You can write your congressman representatives at the state and federal levels, asking them to support “cap and dividend” policies that make fossil fuels more expensive but unlike the debacle associated with Macron’s policies, returns the money to people.

The “nuclear option” is for society to revoke the corporate charters of companies that aren’t switching fast enough. A corporate charter is society’s way of granting permission for a company to exist and to operate. Originally these were granted for a short period of time to provide a public good (or extract resources for the imperialist power.)

Who are the top 100 carbon polluters? The list is in this article.

First major US power company going climate neutral

Xcel Energy, one of the largest US electric utilities, has recently committed to 80% carbon free energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

Share this with your utility and ask what they're doing?

A cooking show for vegans

The BBC is piloting a cooking show for vegans.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Toilet to beer tap...and back to, well, you know

All water on earth is recycled. But some people get squeamish about drinking wastewater from their treatment plants. But Boise ID has been able to convince breweries to use the wastewater and customers are drinking it up. Water reuse will likely be an important strategy in the American West.

We will begin strategizing what that might look like for us in the future," Goldman [Boise’s sustainability coordiator] added. "We think the best way to start a conversation about reusing used water is over a beer."

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Just in time for holiday shopping: Plastic Bag Diet

No, the Plastic Bag Diet doesn't involve eating plastic for weight loss (although, horrifically, we are all eating plastic these days.) This is about helping people give up plastic bags.

The Story of Stuff (organization) is working on another feature film on plastics. But here's a segment. The main points are that the solution to plastic pollution is prevention, and that the way to help people give up plastic bags is to hand them an alternative. One thing that shocked me is how plastics are now buried deep into riparian soils, so they can't be recovered.

You can watch the short video here.

5.6 million people hidden in plain sight

Inclusion is an important sustainability value because disenfranchising people leads to conflicts and the stress associated with it undermines their own well-being.

Over 5 million people in the US are Native American. Probably the first thing that comes to mind are reservations. But 70 percent live off the reservation, feeling like ghosts in society. Every media outlet seems to have at least one Hispanic and African American (hopefully no longer as tokenism but as a way to reflect the diversity of our country), but can you think of a single media outlet with a Native American? What about a movie with a Native American playing an everyday role (doctor, detective NOT on the reservation, scientist, conductor), not as a stereotype?

It certainly matters to the tribal members to be invisible.  But it also matters to all the rest of us. There are things the broader society needs to learn and adopt from their cultures. My niece recently went on a field trip/service trip to a couple reservations. She came home having learned some of the tricks of dry land farming, growing crops without irrigation. As water supplies become more scarce in the Southwest, that could be a helpful skill, given that over 70% of water is used by agriculture.

Native Americans are actively working to bring themselves into our society’s peripheral vision. This article reveals that struggle.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

How governments can support the transition to clean energy

Governments have different policy tools to encourage the development of critical technologies. But which tools work the best at different points along the way, from pure research and development to full deployment? Thanks to some research by MIT, we have a playbook, using solar as a success story, of how to encourage the transition to clean, carbon-free energy.

When things are working, as technologies get cheaper and closer to commercialization, R&D gives way to performance standards. And when the industry is mature, price signals (like a price on carbon) take over.
To a first approximation, that’s what has happened with solar PV, except the market is still dominated by performance standards (like renewable energy mandates), while price signals (like carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs) are having a little trouble getting revved up.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Food waste = $$$$

Food waste is a symptom of a terribly inefficient food system. We spend so much energy and water creating and transporting and refrigerating produce that then isn’t eaten but instead goes to landfill, generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

We need to address this issue across the entire value chain. But some entrepreneurs are focusing on end-of-pipe solutions, how to turn what food waste we have into useful energy or fertilizer.

In its recent report, U.S. Food Waste Investment Report, ReFED claims that an $18 billion investment into 27 solutions can yield $100 billion in societal economic value. This has attracted the interest of big business, investors, innovators and philanthropists.

Using nature’s genius to combat climate change

Biomimicry involves looking to nature and it’s processes to design more elegant solutions. Nature has been inventing for a lot longer than man, and generally does so effieicntly at ambient temperatures, without persistent and toxic chemicals.

Some biomimics are working on climate solutions. You can download their report at this link (you have to share your email, but there’s a list of 9 projects on this page so you can see if there’s anything that interests you first.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Delta and Lyft buying carbon offsets for (some of) your trips

Flying once during the year can dwarf all the climate-friendly things you’ve done. You can buy carbon offsets to make your flight carbon neutral but few travelers bother to do it. The best way to drive sustainable behavior is to make it the default, to embed the cost in the transaction.

International flights landing in the EU started offsetting carbon emissions in 2012 (but allowed exemptions when some countries complained). By 2021 all international flights will soon be required to offset their carbon emissions thanks to a U.N. agreement. 

Inside the US, Delta has reported they will include offsets for flights between some of their hubs. Pick up a Lyft from the airport and that too will be carbon neutral. Now that the gauntlet has been thrown, other transportation carriers are likely to follow suit.

For those of you holiday travelers, note that these programs aren’t all in place so offset your emissions yourself. Better yet, offset your emissions for the whole year. At current prices, it really doesn’t cost much at all. Add an offset program to your annual charities. Here’s an earlier post that explains how to do it in 10 minutes.

Colombia pursuing sustainable tourism

Colombia used to be known for drugs. Now it wants to be recognized for sustainable tourism. One of their strategies is to certify different destinations within the country, luring tourists to help local economies around the country.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Improving economic opportunities in regions left behind

In the US, “A rising tide raises all boats” has been used to justify unfettered growth in certain areas. The maxim might have been true at one point in our history but research shows it’s no longer the case. This economic inequality, I believe, is central to our political schism, reflected in the 2016 presidential election both in Trump and Bernie Sanders. They just had widely different perspectives on how to fix it.

You might assume these disparities are a recent phenomenon, triggered by the Great Recession that began in 2008. But economists who’ve studied the problem have found that its roots go back decades. Before 1980, there were richer and poorer areas of the United States, but income growth tended to be roughly equivalent, and the regions were even converging. But starting around 1980, that trend reversed. Some cities and communities, primarily on the coasts, continued to add jobs and increase wealth. Other cities and communities, often in the heartland or dependent on industry, began to stagnate or decline.

A bipartisan group of business leaders and policy makers have convened to come up with solutions. They have developed 9 strategies to spread economic prosperity more equitably across the country, whic might heal some of the divide.