Energy efficiency leaders wanted – the troops are ready!

I recently returned from the Net Impact Conference held in Ithaca, New York.  While Ithaca might not be the first place people think of visiting in November, nor is it the easiest place to get to, 2,400 business students and professionals made the trek.  It was a powerhouse of an event, including keynotes from GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt and Honest Tea’s President and TeaEO Seth Goldman and addressed a host of business and sustainability issues.

The student attendees represent some of the most high-energy and ambitious MBA candidates. They all don dapper suits and carry overflowing leather binders filled with resumes and business cards. They are eager to put their financial and analytical chops to work effecting positive change in the world. They all want to work for companies that have made a commitment to environmental sustainability. Stories reflecting this desire have been featured in Wall St. Journal, BusinessWeek and even Harvard Business Review.

I led a panel at the conference about our cutting-edge Climate Corps program, which recruits top-tier MBA students to identify and analyze energy efficiency opportunities at leading corporations. The panel featured case studies from last year’s outstanding crop of 26 MBA students and included fellows who were placed at EMC, Advanced Micro Devices, Cisco Systems and salesforce.com.

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EDFix Call #2: Andrew Winston and Green Recovery

Last Wednesday we hosted our first EDF Innovation Exchange call (we'll abbreviate it EDFix). Our topic was the many forms of Commons that we inhabit, from physical commons of water, air, land and resources to the more abstract commons of ideas, culture and innovation. Our guests were Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz, David Pollard and David Hodgson.

That call, the first step of an exploration of the "Sustainability Commons," covered a lot of ground, including critiques of words we sometimes take for granted, such as "sustainability," "commons," "environment" and "resources." It was a great conversation. We'll post the podcast shortly and return to this topic for call #3 on December 14th (the calls will be on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month at noon Eastern). Read more

Due Diligence: Environmental Management Can Increase Returns for PE Firms

A few months ago, I was faced with an interesting situation: I had a shiny new MBA from MIT Sloan and a job offer from McKinsey, but my start date wasn’t until January.  These unusual circumstances presented a unique opportunity to pursue a personal goal of using my business background to achieve tangible environmental results.

Long an admirer of EDF’s practical approach to solving problems through corporate partnerships, I jumped at the chance to take on an externship with the Green Portfolio Project team as they worked to replicate the early success of their partnership with KKR.

As EDF and KKR’s Green Portfolio Project has proven, sound environmental management can provide a substantial source of value creation for private equity firms and their portfolio companies.  So far, that project has focused on identifying and implementing environmental initiatives at companies PE firms already own.

However, by considering environmental management during the due diligence process, private equity firms could identify similar cost saving opportunities in the companies they are looking to buy.  Read more

Shifts in Corporate Environmental Regulation

A few days ago I attended a meeting put on by the National Association of Environmental Managers (NAEM). NAEM offers an important service by enabling mid-level corporate EHS and Sustainability practitioners to network, benchmark, and learn from on another.

The event I attended, hosted by Siemens Healthcare, offered several interesting presentations, including one on the major drivers of sustainability action. One of the presenters mentioned that California and Europe were driving companies to adopt increasingly stringent requirements on their direct and indirect operations. This was not an entirely unexpected observation, as Europe and California have consistently led the United States in their approach to environmental regulation.

But then a member of the audience raised his hand and said that this status quo has changed. Now, it's Wal-Mart, not federal or state regulators that are driving corporate environmental performance.  The environmental manager noted that Wal-Mart’s recently announced Sustainability Index and other corporate goals are trickling down to the supplier level (a big chunk of the US economy) and driving corporate environmental actions more than anything else.

If this thinking is true, it represents a monumental step-change in the way that companies think about environmental regulation and improvements in environmental performance over time.  What do you think?  Is Wal-Mart a bigger driver for environmental innovation than EPA?

Is There a Hybrid Truck on Your Holiday Wish List?

Last month, I traveled to Atlanta for the 2009 Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) annual conference. The event brings together truck manufacturers, suppliers, fleets and NGOs to discuss hybrid and high-efficiency vehicle technologies with a focus on reducing emissions. It’s amazing to see how the market has grown in just a few years.  In 2005, there were no hybrid trucks on the market, and now there are at least 37 models on the road, in over 100 fleets.

Hybrid trucks can reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption by 30-50%. Over the 8-15 year lifetime of a truck, those fuel savings add up. Still, in a tough economy, many fleets who want to purchase hybrids don’t have the cash to do it. That’s why we’ve created an incentives guide, to help fleets find funding opportunities for hybrids. Read more

Smart Grids: The Pecan Street Project

This is a guest post from Dominique Browning.  It ran on her blog "Personal Nature" on November 4th.

Because electricity is so readily available, we take it for granted. We forget how quickly we’ve gotten used to turning on the lights. As recently as the 1930s and ’40s—within living memory—Lyndon Johnson was just beginning to electrify rural areas of central Texas, which today include the state’s high-tech corridor. Watching the lights come on across the beautiful Hill Country was one of the proudest moments of Johnson’s life.

So it is fitting that the most exciting new development in the story of electricity is happening in the capitol city of Austin. The city is becoming a clean energy lab, staking out a leadership position in our energy future. The goal of the ambitious Pecan Street Project is to invent and deploy, at a significant scale, the most innovative urban power system possible. EDF has partnered with the city, Austin Energy, the University of Texas and corporate partners like Cisco, Oracle, Gridpoint and Applied Materials to develop the project.

Read the rest of the post on Dominique's blog.

Social Media: Is it the Sustainability Manager's Job?

A corporate sustainability manager's job is never done.  These harried multi-taskers deal with everything from phasing Styrofoam cups out of the cafeteria to setting company-wide carbon reduction goals.

And now they need to blog, tweet and manage Facebook fan sites—so said the line up of experts at the recent Social Media for Sustainability conference, hosted by Just Means.

Panel after panel covered the hows and whys of using social media to engage employees, customers and other stakeholders.  But the big idea, underscored in nearly every presentation, was much more fundamental:  It's all about transparency. Read more

Innovations in Salmon Farming: The Impacts Can Be Reduced

Farmed salmon continues to one of the most problematic entrees on America's dining room tables.  While popular and inexpensive, it also has one of the worst reputations for environmental impacts of any seafood.

Yet a handful of forward-thinking salmon farmers are innovating new ways to raise this fish – to lessen the impact on our ocean environments, coastlines and natural fish populations.  This is one of a series of innovative practices that have the potential to radically change how salmon is farmed, if they are widely adopted by the farmed salmon industry.

One of these innovations is Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) , a very old idea that is being used to reduce the considerable pollution generated by salmon farms.  Read more

Mapping the Sustainability Commons

Photo credit: skugga2shadow

Photo credit: skugga2shadow

Several people pointed me to Mary Tripsas' post at the New York Times called "Everybody in the Pool of Green Innovation" this weekend – it really struck a chord. The article focused on two initiatives involving major corporations to share patents that protect the environment and foster new innovations. Through the Eco-Patent Commons companies like Xerox, IBM, Nokia, and Ricoh, working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, pledge to make environmentally beneficial patents available in the public domain. The Eco-Patent Commons now includes 100 patents from eleven participating companies.

Meanwhile, Creative Commons, the innovative engine behind CC licensing for content sharing, is helping launch a new initiative to increase patent-reuse called GreenXchange. Partnering with Nike and Best Buy, they have a "vision of creating an open innovation platform that promotes the creation and adoption of technologies that have the potential to solve important global or industry-wide challenges" and are using their expertise in crafting licenses and legal language to both protect patent-holder interests while enabling easy reuse.

The motivation for these initiatives is captured in Mary's quote of Dr. Sara Slaughter from MIT's Sloan Sustainability Initiative saying, "We all want to save the planet, and the problems are bigger than any one firm, sector or country."

Indeed, we need to do a lot fast and being really good at sharing resources is critical – sharing within businesses, across businesses, across business sectors, between the private sector and the public sector, and across national boundaries. This sharing is enabled by what I call the "sustainability commons" – that virtual place where people and our sustainability resources interact. Read more

Reaching out to the Private Equity Industry

In my last post, I identified some of the challenges and opportunities we are addressing in our work with private equity firms to adopt sound environmental management strategies across their portfolios.

In order to address these challenges while creating lasting environmental change in the PE sector, we are pursuing a three-pronged outreach strategy, consisting of:

  1. Targeted outreach:  Reaching out directly to leading PE firms to demonstrate the business and reputational value of environmental management and to provide tools and resources for implementing environmental management programs.
  2. Capacity building: Exploring innovative ways to engage PE sector service providers (including management consultants, accounting firms and software developers) to build the infrastructure needed for widespread adoption and implementation of environmental management as an industry best practice.
  3. Community engagement:  Building excitement and engagement within the broader PE community (e.g., Limited Partners, trade associations, academia, media) to promote environmental management as a strategy for improving operations and building value. Read more