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Innovation & Environment

Wednesday, July 02, 2014
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Passive houses and living buildings provide fresh direction in mitigating climate change

By Guest Author, Pamela Jao, MEM/MBA candidate '17 and Daphne Yin, MEM candidate' 16

By 2100 it may be impossible for humans to work outside. If the world continues on its business-as-usual growth trajectory, global temperatures could rise beyond 95 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest tolerable “wet bulb temperature” – as the new norm in many parts of the world. Particularly in urban areas, where heat island effects can add up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures would be especially unbearable.

How do we avoid such a bleak future? On June 19, Diana Ürge-Vorsatz – coordinating lead author of the buildings chapter of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change Mitigation – shared her thoughts here at Yale on the potential to counter climate change through building efficiency.

The map in the top right-hand corner shows the BAU greenhouse gas emissions scenario, also known as RCP 8.5 in the scientific community.

Passive House Standard

Ürge-Vorsatz made the case, based on emissions data, that the most cost-effective way to mitigate climate change is through building efficiency improvements, compared to emissions reductions in other sectors. In particular, she highlighted one building concept – the passive house – that not only can guide reductions in our carbon footprint but also help us “weather the weather.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Passive House Standard, launched in Germany, specifically targets energy efficiency (in contrast to holistic standards like LEED). Employing high-quality insulation and ventilation, passive houses require incredibly little energy for space heating and cooling. Case studies show that passive houses reduce energy consumption by much as 80 to 90 percent compared to typical buildings in central Europe. The buildings themselves can be residential or nonresidential, new or retrofits, and are relatively low-cost over their lifetime, although they do require additional upfront costs for the design and higher-quality building components. Ürge-Vorsatz’s research conservatively estimates that if all current building stock were to achieve passive-house levels of energy reduction, world energy consumption would fall by 30 percent. These energy reductions could help us avoid the 2100 BAU scenario, though they would obviously need to happen sooner than later.

While it’s been proven that passive houses require very little energy to regulate temperature, can this technology be scaled? How well do passive houses perform outside of Central Europe, their temperate birthplace, particularly in more extreme climates? The airtight insulation of passive houses apparently excels in retaining warmth in cold climates, most prominently in Iceland where rough forms of the passive house date back to the Middle Ages. However, it was argued during the talk’s Q&A that while the concept is less adept at providing cooling in hot, humid climates. If this is true, how would passive houses fare in a country like India, which suffered its worst heat wave in over 60 years this summer?

Austrian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo credit: Timothy/Austrian Embassy JakartaIntrigued, we researched what work has been done to pilot passive houses in hot climates. A 2013 study by the Passive House Institute says passive house design can thrive in tropical climates (Jakarta, anyone?) if adjusted to include features such as interior insulation, solar control glazing, fixed window shades, and ventilation with heat and energy recovery.

Of course, it would help to know how much warm-climate adjustments would cost – particularly in developing countries where upfront costs may already be higher due to the relatively limited number of manufacturers that are versed in passive building components. To the extent that the passive house concept is flexible, countries can adapt it using their own design techniques.

Another area for exploration concerns air quality. Although passive houses should have good air quality by design and be made of non-toxic materials, any cutting of corners (e.g., substituting cheap toxic materials) could prove troublesome given the extreme insulation.

A global map of where passive houses are currently located is available here.

Living Building Challenge

Another green building concept, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) was presented on last week by the Connecticut Collaborative. LBC is the most stringent and holistic of green building certifications, surpassing both LEED and Passive House Standard in their approaches to efficiency.

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) incorporates criteria that are non-traditional metrics of green buildings, including considerations of equity, human health and happiness, and beauty. While LEED-certified buildings can still have negative environmental impacts, living buildings must provide real environmental benefits. For example, they must be net energy and water positive, and cannot use combustion-based energy sources.

While the LBC philosophy and movement are inspirational, it is hard not to recognize the uphill battle living buildings face in achieving commercial adoption. Currently, there are only five certified living buildings in the whole world. Building them can be cost-prohibitive, especially when current financial models for buildings don’t account for healthcare cost reductions, and increased productivity.

Getting retro right

Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, New York. Photo credit: Farsid Assassi/BNIM ArchitectsIndependently, the Passive House Standard and Living Building Challenge present two promising solutions to avoid the “lock-in” scenario Ürge-Vorsatz described. She stressed that shallow retrofits – anything resulting in less than 80 percent in energy reduction – are harmful, as they risk locking buildings into a path-dependent scenario of sub-optimal performance. Since both standards have stringent energy reduction requirements, they represent potential standards that could be scaled up and prevent the future nightmare BAU scenario of 2100.

If you want to get more involved with the Living Building Challenge, like “Living Building Challenge Connecticut Collaborative” on Facebook and check out the International Living Future Institute website where you can sign up to be an ambassador.

 

 


Photo Credits:

Austrian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Timothy/Austrian Embassy Jakarta.

Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, New York. Credit: Farsid Assassi/BNIM Architects.


Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Monday, April 14, 2014
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The New Farm Bill + Sustainable Farming Systems: A Conversation with Ariane Lotti

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

On Wednesday, April 16, we will continue our conversation about the farm bill and the future of farming with Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Lotti will speak with us about how the 2014 farm bill shapes emerging alternative food systems and will give us insight into spaces for subsidy reform in the coming years.

farm subsidy is essentially a financial “safety net,” which is designed to help agricultural producers weather unstable markets from year to year. This security is intended to even out the fluctuations in market prices, demand, and weather and protect the agricultural community from collapse as a result of one or two bad years. These subsidies, however, are not disseminated broadly within the entire agricultural system of the United States. Rather, they are heavily weighted towards the five commodity crops: corn, soybean, cotton, and rice. Dairy and sugar producers are also bolstered by a separate market and cost control system.

These subsidies are government intervention in the food systems that began in the United States during the New Deal and Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (though the United Kingdom has much earlier versions of such government action). Although these subsidies grew out of economic necessity, they have come under increasing attack in recent years. While proponents point to the need for subsidies in order to make domestic products competitive in the international market, others argue that they distort markets. This distortion, detractors hold, is not only detrimental to poor farmers in developing countries but also places excessive burden on domestic taxpayers, while incentivizing environmentally harmful agricultural practices, thereby leaving more environmentally friendly techniques underfunded.

Commodity programs dispense billions of dollars every year to farmers and in order to access these funds, farmers may put marginal land into production, a decision that can lead to overproduction, and a prompt price collapse as in the rice industry of the 1980s. Opponents of historic farm subsidies quickly point to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides that farmers use to make marginal cropland more productive, a behavior incentivized by subsidies.  The resulting nutrient loading and pollution, they argue, creates an unnecessary environmental problem.

While the 2014 Farm Bill may have upheld historic trends in maintaining an agribusiness protected by farm subsidies, it does invest more than $1.2 billion over the next five years for programs for beginning farmers, local food, and organic agriculture. The Farm Bill also “reconnects crop insurance subsidies to basic conservation requirements,” a good sign for those concerned about the impact of modern industrial agriculture on U.S. ecosystems. However, as Ariane Lotti will demonstrate, the Bill’s persistent subsidy structure leaves much to be desired if truly innovative farming practices are to take hold.

Arianne Lotti holds a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University and, in addition to her work at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, she has served as the policy director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Lotti is a published author and her research remains focused on organic and conventional farming in the US and in Europe. Lotti also serves on USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Advisory Committee.

To register for Lotti’s talk, please see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/576821455.

Our final speaker in our Frontiers in Food and Agriculture series is Sarah Carlson, research coordinator at the Practical Farmers of Iowa. Carlson will be concluding this series with her talk “Driving Sustainability: Empowering Growers with On-Farm Research.” For more information about her talk please visit our events page here:http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events. To register for this final webinar see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/470665063.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & Governance
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How the Public Trust Doctrine Can Save Us from the Perils of Climate Change

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

University of Oregon environmental and natural resources law Professor Mary Christina Wood tries to minimize her personal travel to reduce her carbon footprint.   But as a professor, she believes that it is extremely important to constantly engage with future leaders who will have to deal with the growing impacts of climate change.  That is why she traveled across the nation to offer her expertise at the Yale Law School on April 3rd

Her message to the future leaders at Yale offered a glimmer of hope and a new way of thinking about how environmental law can help battle the perils of climate change and other environmental issues.  The paradigm shift that she urges the environmental community to undertake in order to help solve the climate and environmental challenges of our time is also eloquently stated in her new book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age.While reading her book, listening to her lecture, and having conversations with her throughout her visit at Yale, I was intrigued with this new way of thinking.

It’s no secret that the many current environmental statutes and the strategies that the environmental movement has used to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have failed in many ways.  It was all too evident this past week in Berlin, Germany, where the world’s governments along with its most expert and credible scientists met to finalize an updated scientific report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The report, released on Sunday April 13, is to be used for discussion at the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Paris where expectations are high for a strong international greenhouse gas reducing treaty.

In putting together the IPCC document, scientists agreed that humans are fuelingthe extreme storms and weather to which many parts of the world have fallen victim in the past decade.  They also agreed that there needs to be a global shift on how we get our energy, and that moving to renewable energy sources will be critical.  Yet many of the world’s political leaders used the IPCC process in Germany to try to hack away the strong language that scientists agreed on.  For example, Saudi Arabia’s officials did not want the report to contain scientific findings that declare that emissions need to go down 40 to 70 percent by 2050 for the world to stay below a warming of two degrees Celsius.  Saudi Arabia would stand to lose a lot if countries ultimately acted upon that language, since its economy relies heavily on the oil industry.  While the language remained in the scientific document, it is unlikely to be ratified at the UNFCCC because the process requires unanimous consent.

Here in the United States, a recent Supreme Court ruling also paved the way for wealthy special intereststo influence the political process even more, which will likely have a lasting impact on climate-related law and policy.  In the case McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that there can be no limits on how many candidates for federal office a single private donors can give to.  Under the previous rules, a donor could only give a maximum of $123,200 in federal races and parties in each two-year election cycle.  Now an individual donor can give up to $3.6 million in federal U.S. Senate and House races. Thisallows rich political donors connected to the fossil fuel industry, such as coal company CEO Shaun McCutcheon who brought the suit, to have more political influence. 

Professor Wood argues that because of the grip that fossil fuel interests hold on the political process, we must look at another way to fight climate change.  She argues that the Public Trust Doctrine surpasses legislative and regulatory environmental efforts that have thus far failed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  The doctrine, enshrined in constitutional and common law, states that governments hold certain natural resources needed by everyone, such as clean air and water, in trust.  Government officials cannot just give those resources away for private ownership, and may not permit the demise of those resources.  Public officials also have a continuous duty to safeguard the long-term preservation of those resources for the benefit of future generations.  Professor Wood argued that the founding fathers recognized that the people rely on clean natural resources such as wildlife and streams to exist, and that our government must act as a trustee for these resources.

Use of the doctrine for environmental protections is reaching a critical point.  In a recent groundbreaking case, on December 19,2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Robinson Township in eastern Pennsylvania was allowed to ban the practice of hydrologic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas within their jurisdiction to protect their town’s water supplies.  In that decision, former Chief Justice Ronald Castille cited the Public Trust Doctrine and wrote that there are certain environmental rights that we all hold, such as a right to clean air and water, and in addition to being identified in the Pennsylvania constitution, these rights are inherent to the public at large. 

The Public Trust Doctrine is currently being tested in federal court by a group of young people who argue that their rights to clean air are being compromised by increased greenhouse gas emissions. The youth are trying to force the Obama Administration to create a comprehensive Climate Recovery Plan in order to protect the “Atmospheric Trust” that they argue young people and future generations are entitled to.  The Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will decide the case on May 2nd, and Professor Wood will undoubtedly be paying attention to what she believes will be a historic ruling. 

 

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is originally from Bristol Bay, Alaska, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2008 from Brown University. He previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a coalition of Alaska Native tribes, on issues related to sustainable wild salmon fisheries, environmental justice, mining, oil and gas, and climate change.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
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Short of a Sea Change: Alternatives for 21st Century Farmers

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

In response to Craig Cox’s March 26th webinar, “The Farm Bill and the Environment: Missed Opportunities and Where to Next” and audience members’ unanswered questions, I’ve dedicated this blog to looking at a variety of techniques available to farmers that reduce the environmental impact of modern farming. One might call them “sustainable” farming techniques, insofar as they implement more ecologically minded thinking into a system completely decoupled from such considerations. In the very least, these practices offer farmers concerned about what’s happening to our nation’s soil, ground- and surface waters, and insect pollinators (just to name a few) methods to mitigate the damage. While none of these practices represent a “silver bullet” solution to what we’ve come to realize is a flawed agricultural system, they are responses to the question that Craig Cox posed to listeners at the very end of his webinar: “What do we want from agriculture? Mountains of corn? Or something different, like clean water?”

Techniques such as conservation tillage, crop rotation, cover cropping, and integrated crop livestock systems fall within the sustainable agriculture paradigm and demonstrate that we are gradually articulating a response appropriate for the 21st century.

Conservation tillage is simply any form of cultivating the soil that leaves the vegetative remains of the previous years’ crop, such as corn stalks or dried stems of wheat, on the ground before and after planting. At least 30% of the soil surface must be covered with such plant material in order for benefits such as erosion reduction, water conservation, and wildlife food and cover to be realized. Conservation tillage can also reduce the energy required to till the field, thereby conserving fuel and reducing diesel emissions.

Crop rotation is a practice that farmers have long used, and is even evidenced in ancient Roman farming practices. Modern-day crop rotation typically involves rotation between just a few select plants, corn and soybean being the most common. However, rotating among even a small variety of crops from year to year, rather than planting corn every single year can bring multifold benefits to both the farmer and the environment. The alternation between corn and soybeans, or other legumes, for example, can be key in reducing pests each year. Four- or five-year rotations eliminate a steady food supply for one insect, which might not feed on the alternate crop. Legumes, furthermore, can help replenish nutrients, such as nitrogen, in the soil and, in turn, can reduce fertilizer use.  In small-scale gardening, where the landowner might grow a wide variety of crops, crop rotation schedules can be an effective way to enhance soil fertility and drastically minimize the need for insecticides.

Cover cropping, or planting to cover bare soil in the off-season, can protect soil during the late fall, winter, and early spring when it is exposed to the elements. These secondary plants can provide livestock forage too. This practice is shown to increase water infiltration into soil, thereby reducing flooding and runoff, enhancing biodiversity, and attracting honeybees and other beneficial insects. For farmers, this translates into reduced erosion, better soil quality, nutrient retention, weed suppression, and even disease cycle disruption. For more detail on each of these benefits see the University of Minnesota’s Organic Risk Management chapter on rotation,found here. Plants such as hairy vetch, clover, or annual ryegrass are common cover crops. Farmers, however, are often slow to adopt cover cropping due to the extra seed cost, planting, and maintenance, all without obvious financial return.  

And yet, recent studies show that crop rotation can, in fact, boost annual yield. One Iowa study indicates a “clear rotation effect resulting in higher yield levels after legumes at both sites that could not be achieved by application of up to 240 lb [nitrogen]/acre.” Another 2012 USDA study of the benefits of maintaining crop diversity shows that a more diverse system has the potential to use far less synthetic chemicals, and use them to “tune, rather than drive” the entire agricultural system. This is possible, researchers suggest, “while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.” Although farmer uptake of cover cropping is slow, research is showing that the financial and environmental benefits might not be trivial.

To further demonstrate this point, results from one recent (2014) five-year study conducted by Iowa State University, for example, assists farmers in northwest Iowa in reducing nitrogen runoff and protecting the water source for a nearby community through cover crops, all while maintaining desired agricultural yield. In this case, researchers implemented a variety of cover cropping systems (corn/winter rye; hay/perennial grass; oat/red clover; soybean/winter wheat/corn).  For more in-depth information on cover crop benefits and barriers to implementation, check out the Iowa Cover Crops Working Group, which conducts on-going research and programs related to cover crop innovation. For more information about selection and seeding methods of cover cropping, visit Purdue University’s extension resources such as their article “Cover Crops for Modern Cropping Systems.”

Another approach to sustainable agriculture is agroecology. Agroecology responds to conventional agriculture’s lack of “a deep understanding of the nature of agroecosystems” and provides methods on designing and managing agricultural systems that conserve the functioning of local and regional ecosystems. This approach aims to generate systems that are sufficiently productive but that are also socially just and economically feasible. Agroecosystems take both environmental and human realms into consideration and are understood to be “communities of plants and animals interacting with their physical and chemical environments that have been modified by people to produce food, fibre, fuel and other products for human consumption and processing.” Agroecology places an explicit emphasis on reducing external inputs and enhancing extant processes of nutrient cycling, predator/prey relationships, and symbiosis. This approach includes crop rotations and cover cropping in its suite of techniques and methods, along with polycultures, agroforestry systems, and animal integration into cropping systems. Collectively, these practices keep the soil covered for the majority of the year (achieving soil and water conservation), provide a steady supply of organic matter, enhance nutrient cycling, and encourage pest control through biological control agents (rather than chemicals).

polyculture differs from crop rotation in its use of several crop species in the same place, growing simultaneously, thereby avoiding the hundred-acre farms planted solely in corn or soybeans. This attending crop diversity immediately offers the benefit of reducing vulnerability to pests and diseases. While the idea of incorporating greater diversity into the American farming system has certainly gained traction in recent years, the idea of polyculture is acknowledged as potentially useful, but economically very impractical since multiple crop species will demand a wider variety of watering regimes, nutrient profiles, and differing types of maintenance in general. In terms of resiliency, however, polycultures and their continued study, offer examples of systems able to withstand or respond more quickly to changes in climate or precipitation. Climate disruption poses significant challenges for conventional farming methods in the near future and developing knowledge on how to use resilient perennials and more sophisticated plant communities on farms may soon become an extremely valuable tool, and not only for US farmers.

Another practice that demonstrates the symbiosis that agroecology emphasizes is agroforestry, or the “deliberate growing of woody perennials on the same unit of land as agricultural crops and/or animals.” This premise is based on the idea that “there must be a significant interaction between the woody and nonwoody components of the system, either ecological and/or economical.” Basically, “woody” plants such as trees, shrubs, and palms, are planted within the same space and are incorporated into a single management program along with other “nonwoody” crops such as corn or alfalfa. Such a program provides an “interface” between resources provided by agriculture and forestry, and is a response to the unique combination of land uses commonly found in tropical, developing countries. However, as one might expect, this agricultural method encourages diversity on the land but also offers a host of other benefits too. Not only does “the intentional growing of trees and shrubs in combination with crops or forage” protect water resources, conserve energy, and create wildlife habitat, it also provides other useable products such as timber, fruit, nuts and feed. For more detail on practices such as alley cropping, tree gardens, aquaforestry, or protein banks see to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Appendix on agroforestry systems and practices here.

Another elaboration on this theme of interconnectivity between a locally diverse agricultural regime is the integrated crop-livestock system. While a diversified system simply involves distinct crop and livestock systems, these rarely inform one another. Resources, in these common farming scenarios, are not recycled. An integrated system, on the other hand, can recycle by-products such as manure extremely efficiently, since farmers can use products generated by one component to support another facet of the system. In China, for example, integrating fish production with duck, geese, chickens, sheep, cattle or pigs has been shown to boost fish production by 2 to 3.9 times. Here, farmers use livestock manure as feed for fish and zooplankton, as well as fertilizer for grass and other plants. Farmers irrigate the vegetables from the fishponds, which produces, in turn, livestock feed. This particular example may only be feasible in specific climates, but it demonstrates the broader concept of an integrated livestock system. In Southeast Asia, an integrated system might involve livestock grazing under oil palm, a practice that utilizes previously unused ground vegetation, thereby increasing overall farm production while saving 40% of the cost of weed control. In these cases, livestock not only contribute nutrients for the land and a fuel source for the farmers through their manure, but represent a “savings account” for the farmer too. These cases may not reflect the reality of agriculture in the US, but the concept and potential for greater integration on and between previously divided farms is, perhaps, a viable one as policymakers and farmers explore new ways to make US agricultural more sustainable. For more detail on project design and integrated systems in general, see the report “Integrated Crop-Livestock Farming Systems” by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The applicability of such a concept in the US context is not entirely far-fetched. According to one 2007 Agronomy Journal study “Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems in the Southeastern USA,” there are many possibilities for building integrated crop-livestock systems into American agriculture. In particular, the southeastern US, due to its mild climate, has great potential for expansion of integrated agricultural systems. The essential elements of a successful integrated crop-livestock system are practices already covered, namely crop rotation, cover cropping, intercropping, and conservation tillage. If cover crops are grazed, however, this would provide an immediate economic benefit to farmers, especially when considering the financial barrier to practicing cover cropping. According to the same 2007 Agronomy Journal study, research in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions indicates that integrated crop-livestock systems can protect soil and water resources by reducing external inputs, while maintaining, if not increasing, economic return.

Such alternative practices to modern and “conventional” agriculture point to the ecological necessity of such integrated modes of thinking and the economic feasibility in such an approach. Craig Cox’s discussion highlighted the ways in which the US Farm Bill’s subsidies endorse environmentally destructive agricultural methods. A cursory look into more sustainable techniques broadens our view as to what is physically possible and suggests that we don’t have to accept the manner in which our food is grown according to the oft-heard argument that any alternative whatsoever is economically unrealistic.

For those interested in engaging further in this discussion, be sure to listen to our final webinar in the series. On April 22, Sarah Carlson, the research coordinator at the Practical Farmers of Iowa, will be speaking about helping farmers make science-driven choices that minimize their ecological impact in her talk: “Driving Sustainability: Empowering Growers with On-Farm Research”  (12 pm EST). You can register for this event here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/470665063.

For a recording of Craig Cox’s presentation please see this link: https://vimeo.com/91476388

To see the rest of our line up for the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar, please see our events page here

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
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Brian Keane Kicks off Bookshelf Series with Discussion of Renewable and Efficiency Solutions

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

On Wednesday, February 12, SmartPower President Brian Keane kicked off Yale’s Climate and Energy Bookshelf spring 2014 speaker series. Mr. Keane is president of SmartPower, a company dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and author of the recent Green is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Your Community Profit from Clean Energy. His lecture at Yale F&ES, titled “50 Shades of Green” outlined strategies to help increase the use of renewable energy, to encourage behavior changes toward energy efficiency and other relevant public education initiatives to fight climate change. 

Mr. Keane uses a multi-prong approach in his advocacy to tackle climate change. In the book, Mr. Keane outlines why adopting green technology is not only good for the environment, but can increase savings for individuals, businesses and society. His book shows that using renewables like solar energy is much easier than many people realize, and it is more acceptable to use in today’s society. It is becoming a norm for people who once consumed old greenhouse gas emitting technologies to make the switch toward greener technologies. For example, the US Department of Energy has also made it easier for Americans to achieve this goal, outlining other ways to save money and to find rebates and tax credits in individual states

As president of SmartPower, Mr. Keane explained the approaches that his company uses to achieve their goals. SmartPower uses a form of community-based campaigning to encourage behavior change over the long term, and shows people that they truly can be part of the ‘50 shades of green’ movement as part of their efforts to reduce emissions. The main approach is called COR. It stands for efforts on Community outreach, Online platforms and social marketing (person to person outreach) and Rewards and Incentives. One example is SmartPower’s role in Solarize Connecticut, a partnership between Keane’s organization, the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and the John Mercke Fund, to increase the use of solar panels by homeowners, businesses and others in Connecticut. The organization provides countless workshops and other tools to help people understand the benefits and logistics of using solar energy. It keeps in touch with clients regularly and provides online assistance to encourage collaboration.

SmartPower is not looking at energy solutions in Connecticut alone. During the lecture, Mr. Keane discussed the Arizona Solar Challenge, which is an effort that seeks to increase the number of owner occupied homes using solar energy to at least 5 percent in sunny Arizona by 2015. If 5 percent of the total homes in a community reach this goal, SmartPower calls it an “Arizona Solar Community." So far, six communities throughout the state have been award this title, and a handful of others are heading that way. If the trend continues, it will mean a higher renewable energy profile for the whole state of Arizona. The Energy Information Agency ranks each state in terms amount of renewable energy capacity and generation, and partly by the efforts of SmartPower and others, Arizona already ranks in the top ten for renewable energy capacity. Everyone can check renewable energy usage statistics on their state here.

Renewable energy won’t be enough to reduce emissions though.  Mr. Keane pointed out that despite living in homes and having infrastructure that is more energy efficient compared to the past, we are all still using more energy than we ever did before.  Humans have to do more.  Behavior changes at both the individual level and on the societal level will be key if we are ever to get serious about climate change.  One of the behavior changes is to ensure that we understand why we are using more. 

In his book and lecture, Mr. Keane called on consumers to become more “energy smart” and to reduce energy waste. One of the wastes that he wants to tackle is called “phantom load”. It is wasted energy by everyday household items such as microwaves that use more electricity by just sitting in the house and idly being plugged into an outlet. That means more energy is used to power the microwave clock than for the purpose of actually heating food. The Carbon Fund, a 501(c) 3 non-profit also dedicated to reducing emissions, has plenty of tips on how to reduce your individual energy waste including reducing phantom load. It also lists practical steps to reduce emissions, such ways to lessen the amount of junk mail sent to you which would reduce paper use and mail distribution costs.

All of this highlights a debate on what is the most effective way to combat climate change. It is a question of whether to work towards more command and control regulations, or to focus on voluntary measures such as encouraging more energy efficient industrial and consumer behavior. Here in the US, the EPA is confronting a new Supreme Court challenge from industry groups that say EPA is overstepping its authority on regulating greenhouse gas emissions. This new case will test whether or not the EPA has the authority on a new rule that would only permit expanding new industrial energy facilities if companies also come up with ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. If the EPA wins, Mr. Keane’s efforts to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use will become all the more important. It will require one of the largest greenhouse gas emitting nations and its citizens to look at the efforts of businesses such as SmartPower before bringing more energy on the line. If that were the case, it would be a win-win situation for both Mr. Keane and the world on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is originally from Bristol Bay, Alaska, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2008 from Brown University. He previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a coalition of Alaska Native tribes, on issues related to sustainable wild salmon fisheries, environmental justice, mining, oil and gas, and climate change.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, February 10, 2014
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Author of “Green Is Good” to kick off Yale Climate Change Book Shelf Series

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

This Wednesday, February 12, SmartPower President Brian Keane will kick off Yale’s Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series featuring new publications by renowned environmental policy thinkers including Todd Wilkinson, Mary Wood, and Tom Kizzia.

Mr. Keane will discuss his new book, Green is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Your Community Profit from Clean Energy, which offers a guide for individuals in making clean energy and energy efficiency a part of daily life. His talk begins at 5:30 PM in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium (195 Prospect Street); it is free and open to the public.

Green Is Good promotes clean, renewable energy as well as energy efficiency.  It is a useful guidebook for businesses and consumers alike on how to reduce their carbon emissions by using clean energy. Mr. Keane and his company SmartPower have been recognized with numerous awards from the EPA, and Department of Energy and the State of Connecticut.

Mr. Keane provided an example to the Huffington Post of what clean energy solutions could look like.  In the 2012 article before the release of Green Is Good, Keane talked about Solarize Connecticut, a partnership between his company, the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and the John Mercke Fund to increase the use of solar panels by homeowners, businesses and others in the state. Over two years later, Solarize Connecticut is still providing countless workshops and other tools to help people understand the benefits and logistics of using solar energy. 

Mr. Keane’s trip to Yale will come during the same week that French President Francois Holland visits the US to have meetings with President Barack Obama and others about the lead-up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. This week, both presidents wrote an article in the Washington Post stating that in 2015 they expect an ambitious agreement to address climate change. The leaders wrote:  “We can expand the clean energy partnerships that create jobs and move us toward low-carbon growth…we can do more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy as well, and deal with rising seas and more intense storms.” It will undoubtedly be local grassroots efforts like that of Mr. Keane’s that will help the world’s leaders achieve this important global goal.

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is originally from Bristol Bay, Alaska, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2008 from Brown University. He previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a coalition of Alaska Native tribes, on issues related to sustainable wild salmon fisheries, environmental justice, mining, oil and gas, and climate change.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Monday, December 09, 2013
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From Adaptation to Resilience: Climate Change in Megacities

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.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
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Blame the Bean?

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.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & Governance
Monday, April 08, 2013
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Mike Thompson Receives Environmental Stewardship Award

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.”

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Monday, March 18, 2013
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Introducing “On the Environment”

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 ycelp@yale.edu.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
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DecisionMakr at Doha: Can a new smartphone app hold leaders more accountable?

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.    

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & Governance
Monday, March 12, 2012
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2012 ARPA-E Summit Highlights: the Benefits of Investing in Energy Innovation

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.

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
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Man U Scores One for Sustainability, but We Should be Changing the Playing Field

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.[1] 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.



[1]
NEEF, The Engaged Organization: Corporate Employee Environmental Education Survey and Case Study Findings, March 2009, p.32.

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
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The Next Global Debt Crisis

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

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Friday, September 02, 2011
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Green Kitchens in Cambodia: Can Cookstoves Fuel an Economy?

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 [1]. 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 [2]. 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 [3] 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 [4].

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 [5] while critics underscore imbalanced regional investment patterns [6] 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. 


[1] Kosa, Chea and Mara, Yos (2006), "Children's Empowerment through Education Services (CHES) Project in Siem Reap Province," in Winrock International (ed.), (Phnom Penh).

[2] Doherty, Ben (2010), "Angkor Butterfly Hunters Tell of Poverty Amid Tourist Wealth," The Guardian.

[3] Names have been changed.

[4] van Mansvelt, Rogier (2011) "Biodigester User Survey 2009-2011," for NBP, Phnom Penh

[5] Capoor, Karan and Ambrosi, Philippe (2010), "State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2010," (Washington DC: The World Bank).

[6] UNEP RISOE, CDM in Charts, Accessed July 2011.

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