On the Environment
Innovation & Environment
Monday, December 09, 2013
By Guest Author, Amy Weinfurter, Yale F&ES '15
At first it sounds like the set-up of a joke or a riddle: “What has 8 percent of the world’s population, a GDP the size of China’s, and the potential to take a billion-ton bite out of the world’s carbon emissions?” These statistics characterize the 63 cities of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which brings mayors from around the world together to share strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Rit Aggarwala, the former director of long-term planning and sustainability for New York City, serves as special advisor to Michael Bloomberg in his role as chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. During his November 21 visit to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Dr. Aggarwala discussed some of the driving forces behind cities’ leadership on climate change, and explored the ways different cities apply adaptation strategies to fit local needs and resources.
The success of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group reflects urban areas’ growing leadership in climate change adaptation. A number of factors have spurred and enabled cities to act on climate change. To start, urban dwellers are more likely to see global warming as a real issue; 90 percent of cities stand near coasts, and city residents tend to be more dependent on the infrastructure that climate change threatens. For instance, an urban resident who relies on an elevator to leave his apartment or on public transit to commute to work may be especially affected by a blackout. Mayors typically face fewer political roadblocks than state and federal politicians, and the day-to-day responsibilities of managing a city provide both the tools and the practice for implementing pragmatic solutions.
Dr. Aggarwala highlighted heat and drought; sea level rise and flooding; storms and extreme precipitation; and changes in the geographic distribution of disease as five key themes driving cities’ preparations. As cities implement policies to protect their citizens and their infrastructure, they face a diverse and sometime counter-intuitive array of challenges. For instance, London, a city close to the coast, and famous for its rain, is actually more concerned about heat than water. A sea wall currently keeps flooding at bay, while buildings and public transportation often lack air conditioners, fans, and other means to deal with hot weather. While rising sea levels and flooding do threaten Vietnam’s Ho Chi Ming City buildings, a sea wall here would pose significant financial challenges. So, instead of trying to keep water out, the city is experimenting with strategies to minimize the damage water causes when it comes in.
Identifying the right solution is often far easier than figuring out how to implement the fix on a megacity scale. For instance, a SmartCity partnership between IBM and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, uses microclimate data to predict landslides up to an hour before they occur. Landslides jeopardize some of the city’s most vulnerable communities, and as storms and precipitation increase, landslides are expected to become more frequent as well. By altering community leaders of danger via text messages, IBM’s technology saves lives. However, Dr. Aggarwala noted, its success ultimately depends on strong community networks, effective community leaders, and safe evacuation routes and centers. In responding to climate change, technology only makes up half the battle. Effective management plays an equally important role.
Sometimes, the best solution does not rest on innovative technology, but on new applications for something as simple as a water fountain. That’s the approach London used to help address rising rates of heat stroke on its subway platforms. Similarly, New York City plans to explore the use of window screens to help combat expected increases in insect-borne illnesses. Dr. Aggarwala pointed to examples like these as he distinguished climate change adaptation from resiliency. He worries that the framework of climate change adaptation can narrow cities’ efforts, by focusing on new challenges and tools. In contrast, resiliency involves both preparing for new threats, such as rising sea levels, and responding to new levels of severity in existing challenges, like extreme storms and heat.
Dr. Aggarwala’s presentation concluded a semester-long speaker series, From Mitigation to Adaptation: Regional Responses to Climate Change. The series, co-hosted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, highlighted regional and local approaches to climate adaptation, and how those strategies fit within the larger context of climate change mitigation. His final remarks, in response to an audience question about the future of urban adaptation, offer a fitting end to this semester-long conversation. As populations trends continue and “everything becomes urban,” Dr. Aggarwala suggested that urban adaptation will become less of a hot topic, and more of an integrated part of city’s management frameworks.
Amy Weinfurter is a first-year Masters of Environmental Management (MEM '15) candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, focusing on the intersection between environmental communication and policy. Before arriving at Yale, she studied English and environmental science at Colby College, and worked with non-profit organizations in Colorado and Washington, D.C., on communication, watershed management, and community outreach and engagement initiatives.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
The United States Supreme Court didn’t do anything particularly interesting on Monday, May 13. All they did was issue a sound ruling on a reasonably simple legal question. The problem is that the facts of the case deal with thorny social issues that fuel the blogosfire: genetically modified foods and the role of multinational corporations.
The case, Bowman v. Monsanto, is about the use and re-use of genetically modified soybeans. Monsanto developed and sells Roundup Ready soybeans. The genetically modified (GMO) beans are pesticide resistant, allowing a farmer to spray the Roundup pesticide without harming the crop. Monsanto sells Roundup Ready soybeans with a license that allows the farmer to plant and harvest the first generation of beans but explicitly prohibits the farmer from saving seeds and planting a second generation. With this restriction Monsanto assures that any farmer who wants the benefit of Roundup Ready beans will pay for that benefit each year.
Vernon Bowman bought Roundup Ready soybeans each year for his full-season crop – but not for the late-season crop he planted after harvesting his winter wheat. Roundup Ready seeds cost 300 percent more than traditional seeds and because the yield of a late-season planting is lower, Bowman did not want to invest such a large sum. Instead he bought beans from the local grain elevator and planted them. Nearly all soybeans grown in the United States are Roundup Ready, so when Bowman sprayed Roundup on his late-season crop, nearly all the beans survived. In addition to selling these beans, Bowman saved seeds and used them on his double crop acres in following years.
Monsanto sued Bowman, arguing that its patent on Roundup Ready beans allows the company to restrict copying. Bowman countered that the legal doctrine of patent exhaustion protects him. Patent exhaustion prohibits a patent holder like Monsanto from controlling the use of its patented product after the patent holder’s initial sale. It is permissible, Bowmen therefore argued, to plant the offspring of patented soybeans because the patent exhausts after a farmer buys the seeds from Monsanto.
The Court disagreed.
As the Court explained, it is well settled law that the purchaser of a patented item may use that item as he wants, either using it directly, reselling it, or letting it rot in the basement. It is not, however, permissible to copy the patented item, which is what Bowman was doing by planting second-generation seeds. Emerging 3D printing technology provides a good example. If I purchase a 3D printer I can use that printer to print widgets or I can sell the printer to somebody else, but I cannot use it to print an identical 3D printer. Patent exhaustion allows a buyer to do what she will with the purchased article, but not with the intellectual property that is embedded in that article.
Bowman also argued that this case is not an example of simple copying, as it would be with the printer, because the seeds grow naturally, without his initiative. The Court called this the “blame the bean” defense. Perhaps they would have been more sympathetic if Bowman could have argued that preventing growth of a second generation was a significant burden but in fact, it took significant effort—including planting, watering, spraying, and harvesting—to get the descendant generations.
The Supreme Court was in unanimous agreement about the extent of the patent protection in this case, which should blunt public outrage. Nonetheless, the ruling has sparked hyperbolic and ideological arguments about the role of GMOs and corporate farming. Monsanto itself hailed the ruling as evidence that the Court recognizes that Monsanto’s GMO creation “feeds people, improves lives, creates jobs, and allows America to keep its competitive edge.” On the other hand the Center for Food Safety, an organic and non-GMO advocacy group says the “Supreme Court Rules against Farmers.” The patent protection given to the “agrochemical giant” is “destructive to farmers, agriculture as an industry, food security and consumer health and safety” according to the Center.
I tend to agree with the general positions of organizations like the Center for Food Safety. The hegemony of firms like Monsanto and the rapid spread of products like Roundup Ready soybeans are troubling from a social, economic, and environmental perspective. However, Bowman v. Monsanto is not about these larger issues. This is a case about patent law, not genetic modification or corporate dominance. The question presented to the court was not whether a company can patent genes or whether traditional farming practices trump organic agriculture. The question was whether a farmer may reproduce a patented seed without the patent holder’s permission.
Patent protection allows firms to invest in research and development with the knowledge that when they make a breakthrough they can profit from their investment without fear that after the first sale they will no longer control their intellectual property. Although this protection might seem dubious when it protects the genetic modifications of agrochemical giants, it is the same incentive that helps spur methane digesters, solar panels, smart meters, and other important technological advances that can benefit the environment and small farmers.
Monday, April 08, 2013
By Guest Author, YCELP Staff
Mike K. Thompson is brightening the halls of Yale Law School, quite literally. The associate dean recently launched, with the help of David Barillari, YLS ’15, a pilot program to replace incandescent lighting in the school’s dining hall and auditorium with dimmable LEDs, which are actually brighter than the 100-watt tungsten bulbs currently in use.
While almost all of the lights at the law school are now compact fluorescents (CFLs), the dining hall and auditorium still use the energy-intensive tungsten bulbs. But manufacturers have recently released LEDs capable of replacing them, and Thomspon and Barillari are testing samples to see which ones will best meet the school’s needs.
Thompson also installed the law school’s first Brita hydration system to help reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles. In 2011 – the last year for which statistics are available – total bottled water sales in the US reached 9.1 billion gallons, or 29.2 gallons per capita, which translates into roughly 220 half-liter bottles for every person in the country.
Leaving questions of bottled water safetyand expense aside, the recycling rate for PET, the plastic commonly used in water bottles, is only 29 percent. The Brita system, according to company statistics, can replace as many as 36,000 half-liter, single-use bottles every year.
Or, considering the 220-bottle-per-person statistic, the Brita could offset bottled water use for 163 people annually – nearly the entire YLS class of 2015.
“The Brita makes it a lot easier for students to avoid buying bottled water and do their small part to make the law school more sustainable,” said Halley Epstein, YLS ’14.
Dean Thompson recently received the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy’s Environmental Stewardship Award in recognition of these new initiatives and for his leadership in forging new frontiers in sustainability at the school.
“Everyone who spends time at YLS knows that Dean Thompson is the heart and soul of the place,” said Doug Kysar, Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at YLS. “He is keenly aware of the impacts of everything we do here – on students, on the community, and on the environment – and he works tirelessly to ensure that those impacts are positive and enduring.”
Monday, March 18, 2013
By Susanne Stahl
The Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy is a joint initiative between Yale Law School and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and we see a lot of interesting and inspiring people come through the doors of both schools throughout the course of a year.
These visionaries will stay a few days, give a lecture or two, and then be on their way again—sometimes with very little record of their visit, the insights they’ve shared, or the passion they’ve breathed into the community inspiring action, change, and possibility.
We launched On the Environment, a podcast series hosted by Center staff and students, to better document these visits and, most importantly, to invite the larger community into the conversation we’re having here about key issues in environmental science, law and policymaking.
The first six podcasts are linked below, but please keep your eye on the On The Environment iTunes or SoundCloud sites, because we will update frequently.
We hope you enjoy the podcasts and the speakers as much as we’ve enjoyed producing the series.
Episode 1: Marissa Knodel, a research assistant at the Center, visits with Andrew Guzman about his new book Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change, which explores the real-world consequences of climate change.
Episode 2: (part 1 and part 2): Marissa Knodel talks with Julian Aguon, a writer, activist and attorney, about his work on human and indigenous rights under international law.
Episode 3: (part 1, part 2, and part 3): Aaron Reuben, a Center research assistant, talks with Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Jeff Goodell about his work, the future of environmental journalism, and geoengineering.
If you have comments or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
By Guest Author, Angel Hsu, Project Director, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy
This post was also published by the Huffington Post.
Expectations for the global climate negotiations taking place over the next two weeks in Doha, Qatar, are dismally low, and major political transitions in China and the United States – the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases – further temper hope for any kind of game-changing proposal. So what are the more than 7,000 civil society members and 1,500 journalists(myself included) in attendance going to do to make their opinions count and to hold their governments accountable for accomplishing something in Doha?
Well, there’s an app for that, and it’s called DecisionMakr.
Having attended many of these negotiations in the past, I question the value of emitting carbon to fly halfway around the world to attend another COP meeting. As an observer, I am relegated to the corridors, where I hope to bump elbows with negotiators and deliver my two-minute elevator pitch. I’ve spent hours in the back of general plenary sessions trying to make sense of diplomatese and the carefully prepared platitudes that ultimately restrict nations’ ability to compromise on difficult issues. After two weeks of these meetings, my head is spinning, and it’s challenging to distill what just happened.
When I knew I’d be attending Doha this year, I started thinking about how to make better sense of what goes on at a huge and hectic conference like these UN meetings. Technology – in particular, social media -- came to mind as a potential solution to the problem. I first started blogging and using Twitter while attending the watershed Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009. With approximately 50,000 observers, nearly 100 heads of state, and close to 200 countries represented, it was chaotic and difficult to keep track of what was happening. With all the high-intensity drama including secret negotiation texts, exclusive back-door meetings, developing countries suspending talks and staging a walk-out, Twitter became an invaluable tool for receiving up-to-the minute updates, crowd-sourced from the multitudes of civil society observers and journalists who were “live-tweeting” events as they were unfolding.
After a conference ends, one is left with hundreds of thousands of tweets, but not a good way to hear the signal through the noise. So I pitched the idea of a smartphone app that leverages crowd-sourcing via Twitter to give observers a way to assess the quality of negotiation statements and policy proposals with ratings that can then be averaged to produce a final score. In this way, both observers and negotiators can have a real-time record of a speaker or country’s actions at a conference, and a ranking that provides an indication of how the public felt about their statements compared to others. In the Environmental Performance Index– a biennial ranking of environmental policy results in 132 countries – we’ve seen how rankings matter and how powerful they can be in terms of galvanizing action among leaders and laggards. I wanted to see if we can generate the same type of data and accountability for negotiators though an app – in a way similar to how user feedback ratings influence how we shop on retail sites like Amazon.com, where we eat using restaurant guides like Yelp.com, and where we travel and stay using feedback from other travelers at tripadvisor.com.
Teaming up with developers and engineers at Pariveda Solutions at the Social Good Forum Hackathon sponsored by AT&T, I developed a smartphone and web application called DecisionMakr that will be the start of a social (and academic) exercise in Doha to see whether we can use technology and social media to hold negotiators more accountable. One singular rating along with a log of all statements and proposals will add greater transparency to these sometimes opaque negotiations. While it is difficult to distill how two weeks or more of deliberations often end in one single negotiation text, the app will provide documentation of the shifting positions of countries to allow outsiders to better understand how the end result came to be. We hope that leaders will see their ratings and feedback, and respond as a result.
The DecisionMakr app will officially launch in Doha on Nov. 26 and is currently available at www.decisionmakr.org and free for download at the Apple iPhone App Store. All of the action can also be followed on Twitter @DecisionMakr.
Monday, March 12, 2012
By Guest Author, Rafael E. Torres, MBA ’13, Yale School of Management, MEM ’13 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Investing in innovation in any industry is a risky proposition, yet often one worth pursuing. Technological innovation is the driving force for economic growth, but it requires firms to make significant investments in research, development, and commercialization in order to produce results. The energy industry is no exception to this requirement, though the energy system’s nuances present unique challenges to potential innovators, including high capital intensity, as well as technical complexities and risks. Energy technology innovation, while highly desirable from a social perspective, is a tough nut to crack, even for the entrepreneurial forces of the private sector. This is where ARPA-E comes in.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), authorized in 2007 and first funded in 2009, was established within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to fund projects developing breakthrough energy technologies that increase energy security, reduce energy-related emissions, and improve efficiency. ARPA-E’s objective in funding and providing expertise to these high-risk/high-reward projects is to assist inventors through a critical and sensitive phase of the technology development process in order to commercialize energy technologies and attract private sector investment. To date, ARPA-E has funded over 180 projects with $521.7 million in awards across 12 program areas, and its awardees have sourced more than $200 million of private capital after receiving ARPA-E funding.
Now an annual event, the 3rd ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit—held at the end of February just outside of Washington, DC—brought together an eye-catching lineup of speakers and energy experts to discuss the issues of the day and to celebrate the success of ARPA-E awardees’ projects. The Summit featured a technology developers’ workshop aimed at providing training to entrepreneurs, multiple keynote presentations, fireside chats to promote interactive dialogues among experts, a technology showcase highlighting ARPA-E awardees, and plenty of networking events. Keynote presentations included commentary by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar, President Bill Clinton, Microsoft Founder and Chairman Bill Gates, and prominent members of the U.S. Congress, among others. Nearly 2,500 people attended the Summit, comprising mainly researchers, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, government officials, and students.
Summit participants had the opportunity to absorb a wealth of knowledge and to witness firsthand the remarkable innovation ecosystem that has arisen from ARPA-E’s efforts. Some examples of the technologies showcased: lithium air and lithium water batteries, microbial fuel cells, solar hydrogen generators, an ultra-compact solid state cooling system for refrigeration, high-powered laser drilling, and advancements in assorted types of solar and wind energy generation components. Venture capitalists, corporate managers, and technologists alike lined up to engage innovators and learn about their exciting new energy technologies. During the panel discussions and keynotes, experts from a variety of disciplines shared their perspectives on topics such as commercialization of technologies, financial tools, investment mechanisms, institutional frameworks, policy measures, national security considerations, and even political roadblocks.
Among many memorable takeaways, the following remarks stood out:
-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu highlighted our vulnerability to price fluctuations in the fuel markets, most recently to oil and gasoline, as well as our inability to drill our way out of the problem. Secretary Chu made the case for leveraging energy innovation in order to reduce our exposure to oil price fluctuations and improve the U.S.’s economic competitiveness.
-Former President Clinton discussed some of the hazards to the energy innovation project, including advances in fossil fuel extraction techniques that could lock us into dirty energy consumption, the lure of short-term jobs in oil and gas, constrained federal budgets that limit spending on research, and ideological imperatives to deny climate change. However, he built a case for continued investment in energy innovation domestically, and he noted that the nation’s economic future depends on the successful projects of the entrepreneurs present.
-Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank encouraged innovators to get out of their buildings and speak with customers to find out what they need. In addition, they should focus on deploying the lowest acceptable functional technology in the market in order to bet smaller while they learn, as opposed to ‘betting the farm’ on a more developed (and more expensive) project.
-Bill Gates drew a distinction between the IT revolution and the energy transition currently underway, noting that the IT revolution is an exception in terms of how quickly things can change. Energy transitions have historically taken 60-70 years on average, mainly due to their capital intensity. Mr. Gates argued that the U.S. is currently under-spending on energy R&D, and that the private sector needs incentives to jump into an area that has failure rates over 90 percent and that needs thousands of firms initiating projects to produce just a few viable options.
-Senator Jeff Bingaman described science and technology as critical to U.S. competitiveness and indicated that partisan politics is creating obstacles to continued progress in the energy system. Whereas regulation, spending on innovation and tax incentives had been effective policy tools in the past, they were now under sustained attack. Higher lighting efficiency standards are in the process of being rolled back, Solyndra has been used as an excuse to defund innovation projects, and the production tax credit’s renewal is in jeopardy. Senator Bingaman expects that we may need to wait until the November elections to make further progress in energy.
The ARPA-E Summit brought together the energy innovation community to demonsrate what is possible when the government invests in and incentivizes innovation. Knowledge networks and communities of practice form around the seeds of innovation capital, and new technologies find a way from laboratory to prototype, and from prototype to marketplace. Certainly, no one would dispute that we likely will come across some failures along the way, nor would they deny that some of the outcomes of R&D investment will be difficult to measure. However, with great risk comes the potential for great reward, and the ARPA-E Summit provided a sneak peek at what some of the fruits of our innovation investments might look like.
For more information on the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, visit the website.
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
By Guest Author, Ysella Yoder, Program Manager, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy
Premier soccer team, Manchester United, just became the first English soccer club to achieve the international Environmental Management System standard, ISO14001 – saving themselves £500,000 (or $792,000) over the last few years in the process.
The ISO14004 provides a “framework for a holistic, strategic approach to the organization's environmental policy, plans and actions.” In order to achieve this standard, Manchester United implemented a range of sustainability measures including plucking the low-hanging fruit: improving efficiency in lighting, heating and cooling, and encouraging fans to use public transport to and from matches.
This type of low-hanging fruit is the easiest, quickest, and most cost-effective route to realizing cost savings while greening your business. In the Green to Gold Business Playbook, Dan Esty and P.J. Simmons highlight the importance of going after the low-hanging fruit first for quick payback by:
· Investing in energy efficiency;
· Reducing major environmental risks;
· Launching a pilot project or two; and
· Finding ways to engage employees.
Dell expects to save about $5.8 million a year as a result of increasing energy efficiency measures. And Walmart sought out cost-saving ideas from their employees. One employee suggestion to turn off the back-light break room vending machines led to a cost savings of $1 million per year. Employee engagement is key. Often it’s the middle managers who are the ones tasked with improving efficiencies and, without buy-in from key people in the company, success is limited.
The Playbook lists countless examples of these return on investment success stories and provides tools to help companies achieve their broader sustainability goals. But achieving these gains is not easy and cannot be done through a one-size-fits-all approach. Each business’s needs are unique and time will need to be invested in assessing where the greatest gains can be achieved. For Manchester United, one of the biggest paybacks may have been lighting, but, for Google, most gains might be seen in more efficient heating and cooling of data centers.
It’s important to note that companies large and small, for-profit or not-for-profit, can all benefit from incorporating sustainability measures into their business practices and achieve real cost savings, decrease impact on the environment, build brand value, cultivate loyal customers, and ultimately score one for the home team.
 NEEF, The Engaged Organization: Corporate Employee Environmental Education Survey and Case Study Findings, March 2009, p.32.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
By Guest Author, P.J. Simmons, Chairman, Corporate Eco Forum
Today’s global sovereign debt crisis is keeping a lot of government and business leaders up at night. But another global debt crisis is brewing that, while invisible to most CFOs and finance ministers, threatens to unleash long-term economic hardships that make today’s recessionary worries seem trivial.
I’m referring to the economic collision course we’re on because of systemic, global patterns of over-borrowing from planet’s “natural capital” and asset base—a remarkably productive network of land and water systems that annually produce a staggering $33-$72 trillion worth of “free” goods and services that we depend on for a well-functioning global economy. Because these non-man-made benefits aren’t bartered and sold in the human marketplace, their value is exceedingly hard to monetize on corporate or government financial statements. So we generally don’t. But that shortcoming in accounting doesn’t make the value of these assets—or the cost of losing them—any less real: As we’ve seen with debacles like Enron and the derivatives meltdown, our imperfect accounting practices can sometimes get it dangerously wrong.
At risk are critical life-support systems that are also the lifeblood of our global economy. These natural land and marine systems, thanks to more than four billion years of planetary R&D, far outcompete man-made technology in their capacity to churn out—at scale and affordably—vital goods and services we need for global economic stability and growth. Without charge, this living natural infrastructure works behind the scenes to purify massive amounts of precious drinking water and breathable air; generate abundant and stable supplies of raw materials and commodities integral to supply chains; replenish fertile soil and fish stocks needed to meet growing food demand; buffer people and businesses from the worst effects of floods, droughts, fires and extreme weather events; provide barriers to the spread of disease; maintain awe-inspiring destinations that fuel tourism; and house a treasure trove of biological information that propels scientific and medical breakthroughs.
In short, these assets are priceless. Literally. And that is the problem.
Having developed habits of taking “nature” for granted, we have collectively taken from it for free, drawing down Earth’s natural capital and mismanaging natural assets as if they were endlessly renewable. Yet even this planet’s remarkable natural systems—unique in the known universe and incredibly resilient—cannot sustain damage beyond certain thresholds. Eventually, they break down. Only then does the market begin to understand the full economic value of what we have lost, as what were once dismissed academically as “externalities” suddenly become real, costly burdens.
How much is our current mismanagement of natural assets costing the global economy today? The most recent U.N. estimates are around $6.6 trillion a year—the equivalent of 11% of global gross domestic product—through effects like contamination of water supplies, loss of fertile land through soil erosion and drought, and supply chain disruptions from deforestation and overfishing. The damage could skyrocket to $28 trillion by 2050 under business as usual, which would eclipse the economic damage expected from climate change. However sobering the numbers, in the abstract they are merely statistics affecting someone else and therefore still largely off of most government and business leaders’ valuation radar screens. But the costs hit home when ecosystem degradation translates into lost lives or illness, when scarcities bring supply chains to a grinding halt, when homes are destroyed or jobs lost, or when preventable damage from natural disasters overwhelms the budgets of insurers and governments.
Today’s more farsighted business leaders grasp what’s at stake. They know that investments in protecting and maintaining natural systems are mandatory to ensure continued opportunities and prosperity for businesses, communities, and even nations—not optional philanthropic acts. They understand that just as we invest in maintaining our critical human-built infrastructure, whether roads, bridges, power plants, or orbiting satellites, so too must we be vigilant in safeguarding natural infrastructure to avoid crippling costs down the road. They see the business logic in taking action today, to avert tomorrow’s balance sheet risks and even to seize new revenue opportunities as the demand for environmentally restorative solutions escalates.
Coca-Cola, for instance, is investing in preserving healthy watersheds to ensure the long-term availability of fresh water for its business and the communities in which it operates. Mars is investing tens of millions to advance sustainable cocoa farming practices to head off supply chain disruptions. Darden Restaurants (owner of Red Lobster) has made protecting healthy ocean systems a top business priority, acknowledging that “seafood sustainability is essential to the continued success of our business.” Weyerhaeuser now expressly manages forests for wood production but also for “the ecosystem services they provide.” In 2011, Puma became the first company to issue an “environmental P&L” statement, and Dow Chemical announced a $10 million collaboration with the Nature Conservancy to develop practical tools to help businesses better “assess the value of nature.”
These forward-thinking companies are among a growing list of those getting out ahead of governments in forging solutions to the accelerating “natural debt” crisis. To add to the momentum, the Corporate Eco Forum that I chair—a membership group of 80 large companies with combined revenues of over $3 trillion—announced a new initiative on the “Business Logic of Investing in Natural Infrastructure” at the Clinton Global Initiative in September. In the first half of 2012, we will work with our diverse membership to catalyze a new round of private sector-led commitments to safeguard natural assets, to be announced at the June 2012 Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro.
Turning around the brewing natural debt crisis will require broader participation from visionary business leaders, especially when the world’s governments are consumed by more urgent short-term economic challenges. But time and again, the private sector has shown its enormous capacity to innovate fast to solve big problems. Let’s hope this time is no exception.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com
Friday, September 02, 2011
By Guest Author, Jasmine Hyman, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Siem Reap, home of the Angkor Watt temples, is among Cambodia's poorest provinces . Four out of ten villages lack access to clean drinking water; literacy rates are among the lowest in the country; 53 percent of all children are malnourished, and average incomes hover just above $1.80 USD per day . The tourism industry here brings in over $640 million USD per year, yet foreign revenue streams do not ensure (and may indeed extract from) local development -- though the draw of external revenue streams is understandably attractive for Least Developed Countries such as Cambodia.
But a different form of foreign investment has dramatically changed Arun and Mlis Keo's  economic outlook. The couple, who farms just 20 kilometers from the Angkor Watt heritage site, acquired a biodigester through the National Biodigester Program (NBP) run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of the Cambodian Royal Kingdom (MAFF) and the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV-Cambodia). The biodigester, which converts livestock dung to biogas, fuels their cooking and household lighting needs and has decreased their energy bill by $14.39 per month -- while saving them one and a half hours per day in fuelwood collection. The slurry waste from the biodigestion process substitutes for chemical fertilizer, generating an extra annual savings of $52 per year.
The Keo family represents just one of 8,000 Cambodian rural homes, spanning nine provinces, that have qualified for a flat $150 subsidy and soft private loans to invest an average of $472 into a household-scale biodigester. Considering that the average annual Khmer income is $412, the NBP's popularity (and zero loan-default rate) deserves investigating .
When talking about the biodigester, the Keos do not mention the environmental or health benefits of the project. The best part of owning a biodigester is the convenience, Mlis Keo said. She no longer needs to collect firewood or buy charcoal, and cooking rice on a gas stove is much easier than building and maintaining a fire.
But reductions in household soot and atmospheric methane from the livestock waste are certainly points of interest for NBP, which is trying to convert those benefits to carbon credits for international sale.
Carbon finance -- foreign investment in greenhouse-gas-reducing projects in developing countries that generate, in turn, carbon credits that developed countries may buy and use for their own climate commitments -- has been a source of controversy in international headlines and academic debate since the Kyoto Protocol launched a global carbon market in 2005. Proponents point to an estimated $141.9 billion market value in 2010  while critics underscore imbalanced regional investment patterns  and uncertainty regarding the final destination of the revenue streams.
While much has been said on the shortcomings of carbon finance, the market's local successes are poorly understood and may, in fact, be hindered by current market rules. Further, while the future of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain, international enthusiasm for carbon-financed cookstove programs is on the rise with the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. But how can carbon finance truly benefit the poor? And are current requirements for defining a carbon offset project relevant for development objectives?
These are just a few of the issues driving my research. Through funding by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and pilot support from the Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, I am collaborating with the Nexus Alliance of small-scale project developers to trace benefit flows and to identify principles for success when designing pro-poor cookstove and kitchen interventions.
Jasmine Hyman, M.Sc. (LSE), B.A. (Columbia) is completing a doctorate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where she holds a doctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Her research seeks to identify design principles for global climate finance schemes that promote equitable development and social justice.
 Kosa, Chea and Mara, Yos (2006), "Children's Empowerment through Education Services (CHES) Project in Siem Reap Province," in Winrock International (ed.), (Phnom Penh).
 Doherty, Ben (2010), "Angkor Butterfly Hunters Tell of Poverty Amid Tourist Wealth," The Guardian.
 Names have been changed.
 van Mansvelt, Rogier (2011) "Biodigester User Survey 2009-2011," for NBP, Phnom Penh
 Capoor, Karan and Ambrosi, Philippe (2010), "State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2010," (Washington DC: The World Bank).
 UNEP RISOE, CDM in Charts, Accessed July 2011.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
British-based electricity firm Ecotricity will complete the world's first electric highway by September of this year by installing twelve electric charging stations between London and Edinburgh. The first of its kind, the aim is to bring the all-electric vehicle out of the city and make longer distance (not just commuter) traveling possible.
Though still a market in its infancy, it's estimated that the UK needs to have 1.7 million electric vehicles
on the road by 2020 in order to meet its carbon reduction targets. At today's roughly 2,000 electric vehicles
on the road, there's a long way to go to meet that target - but without eliminating the perpetual cycle of consumers not buying electric vehicles due to the lack of charging stations, and charging stations not being built due to lack of electric vehicles and demand – electric vehicle numbers will always remain low.
With top ranges of just 100 miles for newer electric vehicles, and an average charging time of 20 minutes to top up and a whole hour to fully charge the battery, critics argue that charging times are simply too long at this point to present a viable option for longer motorway journeys. Put in context, that would mean stopping just over three times, for an hour each time to complete the 400 mile journey from London to Edinburgh.
While it's critical to get a charging network in place, without faster charging time and improved battery range, electric vehicles may still be confined to city living.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
Sleek and simple new Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) calculator makes it simple for all levels of business to calculate their environmental impact – from cradle to grave.
By Guest Author, Jose Iglesias, Vice President of Education and Enablement Serviecs, Symantec Services Group (SSG), Symantec Corporation
In past years, green IT seemed to be more of a "wish list" item, something that companies might look into sometime in the future or when it became convenient. This is no longer the case. Companies are now actively pursuing green IT solutions for a multitude of reasons.
Ninety-seven percent of companies are at least discussing a green IT strategy. Fifty-two percent are in the discussion or trial stages, while forty-five percent have already implemented a strategy.
Additionally, 87 percent of companies said that it is somewhat/significantly important that their IT organization implement green IT initiatives. Only two percent said it was somewhat/significantly unimportant.
Companies are no longer seeking green IT merely to cut costs, either. True, reducing energy consumption (90 percent) and reducing cooling costs (87 percent) were the most important reasons companies listed for implementing green IT. However, a desire from corporate headquarters to qualify as "green" (86 percent) was nearly as important.
Finally, 81 percent of companies listed reducing energy and cooling consumption among goals included in their green policies, followed by reducing carbon emissions (74 percent) and improving the company’s reputation (67 percent).
As a result of its ongoing Green IT efforts, Symantec is achieving substantial business benefit. The Alchemy Solutions Group conducted a Total Operational and Economic Impact (T.O.E.I.)™ analysis and quantified realized and projected business value in the following areas between July 2007 and December 2011:
Remote Site Backup Productivity Gains: $692,743 in hardware and media cost avoidance and $443,328 in labor productivity gains through global remote site backup with Veritas NetBackup PureDisk from July 2007 through December 2011.
Hardware Maintenance Cost Savings: $12,358,000 in maintenance savings on retired server and storage hardware from August 2007 through December 2010.
Labor Productivity Gains: $1,341,130 in IT productivity gains related to server and storage reduction from January 2008 through December 2010.
Energy Cost Avoidance: $2,164,438 in utility cost avoidance through hardware device reduction and corresponding power consumption savings from August 2007 through December 2010.
The decommissioning of hardware from a major data center closure reduced Symantec’s overall device power utilization from approximately 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) to 168 kWh, a 67 percent reduction in energy consumption.
Further, by converting the cost of the kilowatts of electricity avoided to kilograms of carbon emissions, Symantec conservatively estimates a cumulative carbon footprint savings of 15.5 million kilograms of CO2 from 2007 through 2010.
Finally, in addition to the benefits realized within the IT data center environment, Symantec also realized significant cost savings by stemming energy use at the IT endpoint. By deploying an automated power management profile that places company laptops and desktops in standby mode after four hours of inactivity, the company expects annual savings of $800,000 and more than 6 million kWh of energy per year.
(Source: Symantec Data Center Survey 2010, 1052 World Wide Enterprise companies)
This post, by guest author Jose Iglesias, Vice President of Education and Enablement Serviecs, Symantec Services Group (SSG), Symantec Corporation, was originally published on the Green to Gold Business Playbook website.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
By Guest Author, By Steve Walker, Manager of Environmental Sustainability, Burt’s Bees, and Bill Morrissey, VP of Environmental Sustainability, The Clorox Company
Companies are increasingly finding that striving for zero waste-to-landfill (ZWL) can be a powerful mobilizing sustainability initiative that can also deliver cost savings, provide a new revenue stream, and serve to reinforce an efficient operations mindset. Here is one company's story and some of their lessons learned - The Clorox Company's Burt's Bees division achieved ZWL across their administrative, manufacturing, and distribution operations in April 2010.
Zero waste-to-landfill (ZWL) is part of a larger zero waste aspiration whereby manufacturers that are exemplars in sustainability strive to eliminate waste throughout the full life cycle of their products. In 2006, the Burt’s Bees business unit set a goal to be zero waste by 2020. Achieving zero solid waste to landfill in its operations in 2010 was an important milestone in this larger journey to zero waste. Here are some of the learnings the Burt’s Bees team garnered from its recent ZWL effort:
Define zero – Surprisingly, a common ZWL standard does not exist so it is important to get very clear about how you define zero. The Zero Waste International Alliance (http://www.zerowaste.org), a non-profit focused on eliminating waste, has previously defined ZWL to be 90% or greater diversion. But companies claiming ZWL today are more typically reporting 100% absolute diversion from landfill rates. These companies, however, usually do not account for waste generated outside their facilities such as the resulting ash when sending waste to a waste-to-energy facility. The Burt’s Bees team decided on a strict definition of zero, which included this remnant ash that usually finds its way to landfills. As a result, they found a firm that turns its non-recyclable, non-compostable materials into an efficient fuel for cement processing, with that residual ash actually then incorporated into the cement itself.
Map out how you are going to get to zero – The Burt’s Bees team looked broadly at all their solid waste by using the term “by-product” which they defined as anything leaving their facility other than a person or saleable finished good. They then created a by-product hierarchy (right) that prioritized how materials should be diverted from landfill. Giving higher value to source reduction and reuse than to composting and recycling, and using waste-to-energy as a last resort provided strong guidance to their path to zero. As a result, today the Burt’s Bees division sends less than 10% of its waste to the more expensive and less eco friendly waste-to-energy destination.
Learning from the Burt’s Bees team’s experience, Clorox, has stipulated that a facility aiming for ZWL must not send more than 10% of its waste to waste-to-energy facilities. Clorox believes that in a ZWL facility, the “smell of the place” should be one of a highly efficient and responsible manager of its waste with low levels of waste and robust composting and recycling infrastructure.
Kick-start your ZWL journey with a high employee involvement dumpster dive – In order to make waste visible and real to all employees, the Burt’s Bees team organized “dumpster dives,” giving everyone the opportunity to get up close and personal with their trash. This exercise involves dumping your trash dumpster onto your parking lot and having your employees literally sort the resulting pile of trash. This eye opening educational exercise showed employees how the majority of this landfill bound trash was actually either compostable or recyclable and resulted in an immediate 50% reduction of trash to landfill volume.
Be firm with your goals but flexible in your tactics – Different facilities require different approaches. In a manufacturing operation, having conveniently placed trash and recycling gaylords where the waste is generated can facilitate higher sorting rates. On the other hand, removing individual under-the-desk trash bins from Burt’s Bees administrative offices and forcing a quick trip to central in-office by-product stations facilitated sorting by taking away a convenient way for employees to throw compostable and recyclable items into their nearby trash bins.
Educate your employees – Even eco-minded employees do not necessarily know how to accurately sort the many waste items one encounters into various recycling, compost and trash streams. Burt’s Bees posted bi-lingual signs with by-product bins showing acceptable materials along with photos. Colored bins were employed and by-product station locations were included in the company’s workplace organization program. It also helped to have a trained group of employee volunteers serving as “trash experts” so that employees could get quick answers to their inevitable sorting questions.
Continuously monitor and measure your progress - ZWL is typically a rather long journey. It took the Burt’s Bees business three years to achieve this at its three facilities, so it is important to provide regular feedback via robust monitoring and measurement in order to see and celebrate progress. A key enabler for the Burt’s Bees team was the “Green Derby” monthly audit of by-product bins which scored the accuracy of sorting waste into composting, recycling and residual trash. A progress report became a standing agenda item at monthly all-employee manufacturing and distribution meetings, and progress was tied to employees’ short-term incentive eligibility. Industrial floor scales were also deployed at each facility to weigh by-products before they were shipped off-site which allowed Burt’s Bees to ensure landfill waste was being reduced as well as diverted.
Leverage your waste diversion partner to achieve your ZWL goal – An important factor in the Burt’s Bees team’s success was enlisting a waste management expert, who intermediates all of its diversion needs with 17 actual service providers. The Burt’s Bees team is also able to leverage the larger waste volumes of this partner for more favorable national contract pricing. If working directly with a recycler, remember that recyclables are commodities and it’s in the recycling firm’s interest to take the high-value, high-volume materials. Don’t hold back in pushing your recycler(s) to “take the good with the bad”. For instance, using your valuable streams (such as cardboard) to incentivize a recycling outlet to take less desirable materials (such as mixed plastic films) can create a win / win for you and your recycler. Finally, keep up to date as non-landfill outlets for by-products are evolving rapidly so what was not possible yesterday may be tomorrow, or even today.
Choose one or a few ZWL pilot sites as a beacon for your entire organization – The Burt’s Bees business has served this function within The Clorox Company. Now, Clorox has the confidence to expand ZWL to other select manufacturing, distribution and administrative facilities. Also, without an internal exemplar like the Burt’s Bees business, it is likely that Clorox would have been satisfied with achieving its current overall goal of reducing solid waste to landfill by 20% by 2013. Today, Clorox is able to see how achieving zero waste is possible which works as an accelerant across the whole enterprise.
Institutionalize your ZWL achievement – Being a ZWL operation is now part of the Burt’s Bees division’s identity. And today, there is no choice but to divert as there are no longer trash compacters or dumpsters on any Burt’s Bees sites.
This post, by Steve Walker, Manager of Environmental Sustainability, Burt’s Bees, and Bill Morrissey, VP of Environmental Sustainability, The Clorox Company, was originally published on the Green to Gold Business Playbook website.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
The Cleantech Group released preliminary results yesterday from their 2011 first quarter report. The major finding: a total of $2.57 billion in clean technology venture investment across 159 companies. While the total number of deals were down, actual dollar investments increased by 52% compared to the previous quarter. The top investment areas were:
SOLAR - $641 million in 26 deals
TRANSPORTATION - $311 million in 8 deals
MATERIALS - $296 million in 9 deals
BIOFUELS - $148 million in 13 deals
The report also found a huge increase in investment in North America, while the UK saw a sharp drop from the previous quarter. After the US, Canada raised the most clean tech investment dollars, followed by India.
Friday, April 01, 2011
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
There are many valuable lessons to be drawn from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's only operational, and mandatory, cap-and-trade program. One worth dwelling on is the effectiveness of RGGI's CO2 emissions cap. Recent analysis suggests this cap is much too forgiving -- not just now, but, more importantly, also over the next two decades.
The whole point of the RGGI emissions cap is to create a market for CO2 emissions from power plants that will ultimately drive down those emissions over time in the most economically efficient way possible. A relatively harder cap - one set below actual CO2 emissions, for example - should make RGGI's tradeable CO2 pollution allowances more scarce and thus more valuable to polluters, resulting in higher prices per allowance than a cap set above actual emissions would. The key idea here is that RGGI's cap on CO2 emissions from its regulated entities - electric utilities basically - creates a new market that has the potential to push those utilities towards low- or no-carbon generation. Where policy makers set the cap can therefore matter a great deal; a relatively tough one pushes harder than a relatively lenient one. This chart, produced on behalf of RGGI, strongly suggests the RGGI cap is not hard enough now, nor will it be hard enough in the future:
The important lines to look at for our purposes are the dashed one - that's the RGGI cap as set by agreement of the RGGI members - and the solid black line - that's both historical and projected total CO2 emissions from RGGI's regulated entities. You can see that presently, the cap is simply way too high (and to be fair, some of that is on purpose). The factors behind the recent massive drop in actual CO2 emissions are several (more on that later). The recession undoubtedly plays a huge part. Nevertheless, the cap just does not appear to be exerting real pressure on utilities right now. Maybe that's not a problem. There's an argument that a soft cap is just fine early on, as we refine and tweak RGGI. That argument might be even stronger in the current economic climate. No need to clamp down on utilities in the midst of the recession.
So perhaps the short-term performance issues of the cap are okay to put aside for the moment. That's not at all true for the long-term performance issues. Here's the major problem, and one policy makers should make an urgent focus of their thinking: According to these projections, the cap doesn't appear to really bite until maybe 2030 or later, and that's just too late in the scheme of things. Climate science tells us we need meaningful CO2 reductions much much sooner than that to avoid catastrophic harms. So what's the point of an emissions cap if it doesn't drive change when we need it? It's time to give serious thought to how best to tighten the RGGI cap to make it better correspond with the scientific reality we find ourselves in.