Mission (Not So) Impossible: Turning challenges into opportunities

By Rachel Bourne,  2010 Climate Corps Fellow at Cummins, Inc., MBA candidate at Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Member of Net Impact, LEED AP

What happens when existing green building certification and recognition systems, such as LEED or Energy Star, do not meet your building needs?

The only answer for many major corporations is: create your own building standards.

As a 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow, my mission this summer was to create the business case for Cummins’ Global Building Policy, while reducing the company’s environmental impact. Cummins has made a voluntary commitment to reducing GHG emissions through the EPA’s Climate Leaders program.  With energy efficiency teams already in place at many Cummins facilities, my job was to incorporate these efforts by creating building standards for future building projects.

As a consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with building standards and prototypes for several Fortune 500 clients, many with some of the most sophisticated building programs in the world.  Working at Cummins, however, was my first venture into a company with more varied building types where I was given the opportunity to lead the strategic development of the Global Building Policy.  Initially, I ran into a few questions:

  • How do you create a standard for such a wide variety of building types and locations?
  • When does a standard become too specific? Or too general?
  • With so many stakeholders involved, who exactly is the audience?
  • How do I best present a business case for such a broad program?

While these questions may sound simple, for a company like Cummins that is  projecting growth and quickly sprouting new facilities, the answers are complex.  Despite the benefits associated with sustainable building standards, ranging from consistent corporate branding to increased energy efficiency, the process of creating standards is challenging for any corporation, regardless of size.  However, the majority of both the biggest challenges and opportunities tend to be consistent, regardless of the corporation or building type:

1. Consensus + Collaboration

How do we synthesize so many opinions and so much knowledge?

The process of creating a building requires careful collaboration of many minds, especially in a highly technical, manufacturing environment.  Getting input and reaching agreements between executive leadership, functional experts, design professionals and end-users takes time and finesse.  Additionally, between all those stakeholders there is a vast amount of knowledge that if leveraged correctly, will create high-quality standards.

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It's CLEAR: EDF Climate Corps fellow banks on sustainability at Bank of America

By Anne Marie Pippin, EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Bank of America, MBA Candidate at Terry College of Business, University of Georgia, Member of Net Impact

As my fellowship with Bank of America has recently drawn to a close, it’s a great time to reflect on my experience this summer as an EDF Climate Corps fellow spending my summer at the nation’s largest financial institution.

As a first time participant of the EDF Climate Corps program, I knew that expectations were high for the target findings of my summer project. These high expectations coupled with Bank of America’s impressive track record of environmental stewardship and innovation in energy efficiency, led to a ten-week experience unlike any other for a business student seeking a career in corporate sustainability.

Let’s first start with what Bank of America is currently doing in the energy efficiency space.  In 2007, Bank of America announced a ten year, $20 billion environmental business commitment to address climate change through lending, investing products and services, and its own operations.

As part of this commitment, $1.4 billion was allocated toward achieving LEED certification for all new construction, meeting the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest environmental standards for design and construction.  An additional $100 million was pledged for energy conservation measures, such as installing energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems for bank facilities.

This past summer I worked with the Environmental Risk and Sustainability Team, which is responsible for ensuring that compliance and sustainability procedures are integrated into the bank’s real estate practices at every level.  Bank of America maintains a corporate real estate portfolio that is second in the nation only to Walmart (currently around 124 million sq. ft.).  Because of this, the team utilizes a multi-faceted approach to ensure Bank of America’s corporate real estate environmental goals are carried out daily in a practical and effective manner.

The Environmental Risk and Sustainability Team’s overall vision is guided by the acronym CLEAR, which stands for:

  • C – Compliance
  • L – LEED Certification
  • E – Emissions Reductions
  • A – Avoiding Toxics
  • R – Resource Conservation & Education

Within this impressive framework, energy efficiency project identification and environmental innovation already exist as a standard management practice. I was not surprised when Bank of America redirected my goals from identifying energy efficiency projects within existing facilities, as a number of my colleagues in the EDF Climate Corps program had, to a different project that aligned with the company’s vision for sustainability.  I was asked to evaluate and recommend green, sustainable options for sites needing remediation within Bank of America’s real estate portfolio. While remediation itself is inherently green, the process of cleaning up such sites can be resource intensive and leave a significant “environmental footprint” of its own.  I was asked to evaluate various innovations in treatment technologies, waste disposal, energy generation and cleaner burning transportation fuels. My goal was to create a number of opportunities to make the remediation process more sustainable and efficient.

Looking back to when I presented my financial analysis and recommendations to corporate leadership, I was energized to think about how  my relatively brief period of time with the company will impact environmental policy and operational decision-making at Bank of America moving forward.

On a larger scale, its exhilarating to think about how the collective experience of all 51 EDF Climate Corps fellows will contribute not only to the identification of energy efficiency cost savings (which totaled, a not too shabby, $350 million this summer), but more broadly towards shaping corporate triple-bottom-line policy at some of the country’s largest companies.  With the EDF Climate Corps program experiencing a seven-fold increase in participation since its inception in 2008, its an exciting time to observe how the powerful results of this program  impact corporate America, contributing to operational efficiencies and the promise of a more sustainable world for future generations.

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They’ve got the Midas Touch

In the scorching summer of 2010, while American hopes for mild weather and reduced electric bills turned to dust, 51 MBA students discovered that they could turn everyday items into gold. As a part of EDF Climate Corps, these trained business students spent their summer working in leading corporations across the country to accelerate energy efficiency investments. The results of the projects recommended during this summer’s program prove that these students have somewhat of a Midas touch and the power to bring dollar signs to any CFO’s eyes:

  • $350 million in potential net operational cost savings over the project lifetimes
  • Potential reductions in energy use of 678 million kilowatt hours per year — enough to power 60,000 homes
  • Opportunities to avoid over 400,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year — equivalent to taking more than 67,000 SUVs off the road.

While these numbers truly exemplify the overall power of the EDF Climate Corps program, the real nuggets of gold lie in the stories of how each particular fellow hit the jackpot. For organizations looking to cut electricity costs or individuals looking to reduce their carbon footprint, these stories will serve as lessons and truly be the gifts that keep on giving. To take advantage of this goldmine of knowledge, follow the links below to each fellow’s narrative blog.

Fellows searched high and low – climbing up on roofs and crouching down to examine PCs .

  • Julia Li at Procter & Gamble climbed onto the roof of the Pringles plant in Tennessee to find a hot, black surface where she considered frying an egg. Instead, she recommended a roof coating that would contribute to the approximate 18 million kWh of electricity reductions she identified.
  • Megan Rast at eBay examined computers and recommended PC power management software that could contribute to her overall identified cost savings of more than $1.5 million.

Many fellows made discoveries by looking up…at light bulbs.

  • Sarah Will at REI cannot stop looking up! She identified $900,000 in annual savings for REI, partly because of her self-proclaimed “obsession with light bulbs.”
  • Nick Fassler at HCA Healthcare found ways to reduce energy use from lighting by up to 30%, which if rolled out across HCA’s hospitals could save the company $7.8 million in annual electricity costs.
  • Marty Griffith at New Jersey Natural Gas planned a sneaky middle-of-the-night trip into his office building to find a portion of lights unnecessarily left on all night. He recommended occupancy sensors that would result in thousands of dollars in savings.

Some fellows’ findings were born from the heat of the summer itself and attempts to avoid heart-stopping electric bills by managing HVAC systems.

  • Ryan Mallett at Verizon analyzed a thermal storage system to shift production of chilled water into the night time hours when energy is less expensive. This could potentially save up to 1.6 million kWh and $420,000.
  • Stuart DeCew at RBS/Citizens Financial Group helped conduct free energy efficiency audits at multiple bank branches. He identified a number of programs offered by utilities to provide these free services around New York and Connecticut.
  • Jonathan "J." Stone at News Corp. – Dow Jones experimented with temperature changes in 1 degree increments to find a setting that would stimulate productivity while reducing energy bills.

Others didn’t find savings in material things but, instead, in recommending energy-efficient strategies.

  • Yih-Wei Chien at J.C. Penny helped design a strategic initiative to incentivize and motivate approximately 5,500 corporate employees to think, act, and behave with energy conservation at the forefront of their attentions.
  • Chris Gassman at Compass Group helped develop strategic responses to client carbon requests – asking “How do we grow our business?” and “How do we increase profit via revenue?”
  • Rich Tesler at SunGard helped make the business case for “green leasing,” proving that it could increase profitability, reduce liability and enhance brand.

Meanwhile, some fellows got lucky by simply asking the right questions.

  • Jen Snook at AT&T asked “why?” She couldn’t understand why the lights in given spaces were left on roughly half the time while the spaces were occupied less than ten percent of the time. After careful questioning, she helped AT&T realize that installing occupancy sensors could represent an 80% savings in electricity use across more than 100 million square feet of space.
  • Nirupam Khanna at Alcatel-Lucent asked “where?” After repeatedly getting lost and asking directions back to his cubicle, he stumbled upon windows letting in excessive solar heat and causing the HVAC system to work overtime. He recommended Alcatel-Lucent install solar window films that can reject up to 60% of solar heat coming through windows in summer and help retain it in the winter.
  • Graham Brown at JBG Companies asked “who?” He wanted to know who would be responsible for connecting the dots between energy use, operating costs and potential savings” after he left. So he recommended a new permanent position for the company, an energy officer.

One fellow peered through physical wreckage to find golden opportunities.

  • Rob Powell at Gaylord Entertainment was able to make real-time energy recommendations as the company rebuilt its Opreyland resort, which had suffered severe damage during the devastating floods that engulfed much of Middle Tennessee this year.

These stories are just a drop in my proverbial bucket filled with gold. To really take advantage of the lessons learned and opportunities identified by these fellows, check out the entire compilation of blogs from this summer. Need to see it to believe it? View a slideshow of these fellows in action at their companies.

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The Energy it Takes to Listen: EDF Climate Corps fellow finds savings at Cisco

By Jeff Cheek, EDF Climate Corps fellow at Cisco Systems, MBA Candidate at Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne, Member of Net Impact

The conference room on Cisco System’s San Jose campus had nearly reached capacity, with 700+ interns listening intently to CEO John Chambers. For 45 minutes, Chambers offered up one piece of wisdom after another. “The hardest part about communicating…” he paused for added emphasis, “is listening.” A simple statement, but incredibly pertinent to my summer work as an EDF Climate Corps fellow at Cisco Systems.

Back in May, when half of the 51 Climate Corps fellows gathered at EDF’s San Francisco office (the other half congregating in New York) to participate in a crash course on energy efficiency best practices, I quickly discovered that almost no one had a background in energy efficiency. I met bankers, marketing managers, engineers and sales people, but no energy efficiency consultants. So then what makes an MBA student a good fit if he/she has no prior experience? With Climate Corps’ success to date, EDF is proving that energy efficiency is not rocket science. When equipped with a simple toolkit, a passion for the environment and a good set of ears, MBA students with little to no experience in energy efficiency can deliver big results.

Since Cisco had previously hosted two EDF Climate Corps fellows, my task was not to identify savings but to strategically address a way to harness more energy efficiency gains with less effort. By listening to Cisco employees, I learned that internal champions at Cisco are driving efficiency solutions on their own, but there is no standard process for communicating these best practices across the whole company.  With this in mind I:

1. Built a financial model designed to standardize financial analysis and project selection metrics, as well as provide a single location for project data to be stored, tracked, and compared.

2. Prepared case studies to be distributed internationally to gauge best practice implementation rates.

3. Designed a strategy for all tools to be merged onto a network to drive process automation and deliver improved functionality.

A key takeaway from the many interviews I conducted – Cisco employees are naturally driven and competitive and are delivering effective efficiency solutions on their own. Harnessing their collective creativity will produce dramatic results when best practices are shared throughout Cisco’s global locations, it’s just a matter of communicating them across the organization in an efficient manner.

Coming to this conclusion did not require a degree in engineering, just a good set of ears and the time of helpful Cisco employees.

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Greener Days Ahead

This content originally ran in the September 2010 issue of Environmental Finance.

What do discount retailer Dollar General, healthcare service provider HCA, mattress maker Sealy Corporation and food services company US Foodservice all have in common? The answer is that they are all private equity-owned and have successfully used environmental management practices to improve efficiency and capture millions of dollars in annual operating savings.

Today’s challenging economy is forcing all businesses to make adjustments to stay competitive and survive. However, it is no secret that some sectors have been hit harder than others. The private equity (PE) industry in particular has been plagued by a number of challenges, including an investment community that is understandably skeptical about the merits of complex leveraged investing and the outlook for deal-making in a post-financial crisis world. PE firms are also facing constrained access to capital, an increasingly competitive fund-raising environment, overleveraged portfolio companies, limited public market exits, financial regulatory reform and growing pressure from their limited partner investors (LPs) for greater transparency.

Given this convergence of challenges, it may not seem like the timing is ripe for the PE sector to embrace new thinking on environmental matters. However, big changes are in fact taking place. Industry leaders have realized that environmental innovation can be a powerful lever for value creation across the PE investment process. They are beginning to put this knowledge to use and are already showing some impressive results.

Continue reading.

EDF Climate Corps 2010: A Planeteer’s account from CA Technologies

By Rama Murugan, EDF Climate Corps fellow at CA Technologies, MBA candidate at Smeal College of Business, Penn State University, Member of Net Impact

“By your powers combined….”

Captain Planet, a popular cartoon show from the nineties, summarizes Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) summer fellowship program, EDF Climate Corps.  EDF aims to open the eyes of Fortune 1000 companies to the  environmental and financial benefits of energy efficiency. This summer, EDF tasked 51 Climate Corps fellows, from different schools and different backgrounds, to combine their powers in an effort to ‘green’ corporate America.

For someone whose knowledge of energy efficiency and sustainability was solely based off resources found on Google, EDF’s boot camp on corporate energy efficiency training was much-needed and very helpful. We were taught where to find the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency opportunities, how to recognize it and how to go about picking it.

It did not take long to realize that my host company, CA Technologies, has its energy pundits along with energy efficiency projects already in the works. An “already done it” response held true to almost every suggestion I gave them. Starting to panic, I began to really dive into the resources put in place by our EDF support system. Fortunately, passion and perseverance prevailed. Upon digging deeper, I found fruit to be picked. Overall, I helped identify projects that would have a net savings of about $4.15 million over their lifetime.

As I head back to school at Penn State, I’ve examined key takeaways from my experience as an EDF Climate Corps fellow at CA Technologies this summer. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Low hanging fruit grows back: I did not believe this until I actually saw it happen at CA Technologies. When I started. CA had energy efficient T5 bulbs all over the place, but it had too many of them. Using ten-foot candles of luminance is standard, but CA had 35! I suggested de-lamping the facility, which presented significant 6-figure savings.
  • Even the most logical ideas need financial backing: The headquarters of CA Technologies has a tie with NY Power to receive electricity at a subsidized rate, which is almost half of what we usually get. Therefore, it makes sense to relocate all servers from other data centers to the HQ. First, this needed to be validated to ensure an opportunity for energy efficiency. Bundling virtualization and relocation together, shifting the lab servers from just one of the locations to the HQ, brought about a whopping $1.24 million in annual electricity savings. Numbers speak larger than logic indeed!
  • Marketing is important to sustainability: I realized that both internally and externally, people were not aware of the sustainability initiatives in place at CA Technologies. I worked with a couple of teams to market our current sustainability projects. Any response received from marketing efforts is a strong incentive to making sustainability a focus in the future.
  • Collaboration is very important for sustainability initiatives: There are people interested in sustainability across business units. So, for an effective business case and plan of action, collaboration is very important. I learned to work with cross-functional teams and  effectively keep everyone involved.
  • There is always something to do — look beyond the barriers: One of the major barriers I face at CA Technologies is that this company only looks for business investments where the maximum payback period is one year or less for all projects. With a subsidized cost of electricity, having energy efficient projects can be difficult. I found there is a solution to every barrier… keep digging!

When Captain Planet leaves, he says “The power is yours” and gives the powers back to the Planeteers. As for me and my fellow Climate Corps planeteers, we leave the power in the hands of our host companies. They will be the true champions as they implement our recommendations.

And implement they will, as companies who hosted fellows in 2008 and 2009 are already implementing 84% of energy-saving projects recommended by EDF Climate Corps fellows.

It has been an incredible experience for me, especially as an international student, to have my dream fulfilled. Hats off to EDF, Net Impact and all the host companies for coming together for a noble cause.

“Go Planet!”

Keepin' it Simple: Embracing low impact designs to motivate environmental change

This is a guest post by Haley P. Drage, Account Manager, Social Innovation Practice, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide

“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it” – French Proverb  

A few weeks ago I was driving home from the GIBN Solutions Lab event, taking one of my normal routes I use to escape the madness that is our Seattle evening commute and about 10 minutes into the drive, I noticed that the road was no longer a two lane stretch. In fact, at some point not only had it become one lane, but in the second lane’s place, there was now a bike lane. 

When did that happen?  

I will admit that the day’s events had filled my head with fantastic ideas about how the collective great minds of Seattle were going to help solve the complex sustainability issues of the world, but not notice a lane closure, how was that possible? 

Call it a moment of “solutions clarity” if you will, but in that instant I became convinced that it all comes down to smart, low-impact design.  

One of the real differentiators of the Solutions Lab, compared to other sustainability events, is that the attendees completely wade into a topic – supply chain, packaging, reporting, carbon footprints, energy efficiency, food systems – identifying the major problems and then discussing how to build towards the solution.  You can imagine the variety of opinions, ideas and feelings an exercise like this can elicit from representatives of some of the most influential companies in the world such as Amazon Green, REI, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser and Vulcan. In the end though, the day’s event did produce a collective understanding of how sustainability solutions are largely about behavior change.

To me, the root of behavior change is not about providing innovative materials or technologies, something that can take a lot of time and money, rather, it is a matter of how we interact with these services or goods.  In order to be deeply committed to addressing our environmental impact we must deal with consumption and the reality is very few people are willing to change their consumption behaviors.  Lessening consumption is akin to going on a diet.  It evokes feelings of being constrained and restricted.  All this ends up doing is motivating people to splurge and then the situation gets even worse.

So how do you address consumption behavior in order to create lasting behavior change?  Does fear become the new motivator?  Trust me, we talked through some astonishing “if, then” theories.  What about price?  But can you make things cheap enough without sacrificing quality?  Maybe it comes down to packaging and what the things come in versus what you get?

I would argue that is a matter of convenience and creating smart, low impact designs that make it easy to embrace change.  In fact, change that is designed so well that we barely notice not only has the opportunity to lessen consumption but, I would also argue, the ability to increase positive interactions. 

At the end of the day, let’s not make things harder than they need to be, let’s keep it simple. 

The Solutions Labs are organized by the Green Innovation in Business Network (GIBN), an online and offline community focused on creating a well-informed, well-connected, rapidly-learning network of innovators making business more sustainable and are  made possible by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in partnership with DIG IN, Greenbiz.com, Net Impact, Sony, Ashoka and many others.

Climate Corps fellow at Alcatel-Lucent saw the light…and recommended solar films

By: Nirupam Khanna, EDF Climate Corps fellow at Alcatel-Lucent, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Member of New Impact

The fact that you are reading this blog online is a testament to how my host company, Alcatel-Lucent, has impacted the way you and I behave on a daily basis. Little did I know, on the last day of my EDF Climate Corps training that I was on my way to becoming a champion of energy efficiency at a place so steeped in history.

With numerous inventions and Nobel Laureates, the Alcatel-Lucent (Bell Labs) headquarters in New Jersey houses a jaw-dropping, two million square-foot space lined with labs. To date, I had only seen such a place in sci-fi movies. The vast areas of office spaces with little nuggets of history everywhere represented a great challenge for me.

With large projects such as a cogeneration plant and solar plants already in the pipeline, the opportunity for uncovering low-hanging fruit was quickly ticked off my list, as most of them had already been implemented by the facilities team. Nonetheless, this 60-year-old building presented some unique opportunities.

After snooping around the building and seeking opinions from everyone I spoke to, I stumbled upon over-lit areas and no sensory monitors to shut lights off when they weren’t being used. Talking to vendors and contractors, researching best practices and tapping into EDF’s rich information-support system, I was able to find logical solutions for these issues.

After losing my way one too many times in this huge maze of a building, I resorted to asking directions from co-workers to get back to my cubicle. Though at first I was embarrassed, I realized many of the people giving me directions were just as unsure as I was about whether or not they were guiding me the right way.  This lack of directional clarity came with a silver lining though, because it often forced me to discover new areas in the facility and, consequently, new energy efficiency opportunities.

For instance, wandering through corridors where the sun’s hot rays would stream in and battle against the air conditioner’s attempt to cool the facility triggered an idea for solar films in parts of the building. These solar films could lead to substantial savings for the HVAC system in the building, resulting in savings of thousands of dollars per year. In addition to clear financial benefits, solar films have a couple other fantastic advantages:

  1. Solar films can reject up to 60% of the solar heat coming in through the windows during summer, in some cases helping to retain heat within the building during winters.
  2. Solar films can also keep the harmful UV rays out, protecting employees and preventing sun damage within the building.

Putting these proposals on paper with financial models and clear numbers proved that reduction in operating costs and carbon footprint will help the organization expedite these solar film projects, giving it a needed competitive edge.

For a building as diverse as this, its energy density varies greatly. All office spaces and labs have specific air condition requirements and power consumption levels. In collaborating with various stake holders and experts, my biggest challenge has been to get everyone on the same page while simultaneously figuring out the best strategies to reduce the building’s carbon footprint.

As an EDF Climate Corps fellow at Alcatel-Lucent, everyday leads to a new discovery – taking me to new parts of the facility and unraveling new opportunities. Furthermore, the direct descendant of the apple tree from which Newton got his inspiration stands right outside this building, inspiring me to find realistic solutions for the people here at Alcatel-Lucent.

How Would You Redefine Growth?

This is a guest post by Eric McNulty, a writer focused on the intersection of leadership and sustainability. He posts regularly at www.richerearth.com.

I had an invigorating and engaging day at the Green Innovation in Business Network’s Boston Solutions Lab event. The event brought together about 100 people for a day of discussion and exploration through a largely un-conference format that favored peer interaction over droning speakers and PowerPoint slides. I made some great connections and learned a lot.

I served as a facilitator of a discussion about the root causes of resistance to sustainability. This post is a humble attempt to capture a day’s worth of conversation with some really smart, innovative people. There were three rotating brainstorming sessions followed by an extended design session. We were fortunate to have Peter Senge, one of the few formal speakers, join our small group for both brainstorming and design.

The Root Causes group began writing possibilities on a large piece of paper and then connecting the concepts. The result was a great idea map that guided the later work to design a solution. The brainstorming honed the the various ideas down to three major concepts:

  • The retention of outmoded and inaccurate mental models such as the assumption, now several hundred years old, that natural resources are inexhaustible and should be free or extremely inexpensive. We have ample evidence to counter this but this assumption still underpins many people’s thinking and organizations’ strategy. Full lifecycle cost accounting, by contrast, is still in the infancy of its adoption;
  • Social pressures and cultural norms around needs vs. wants, the desire for comfort, and the obsession with “more” that are the hallmark of our consumption-focused society;
  • The challenge of balancing long- and short-term thinking to take into account far horizon impacts  as well as near horizon returns demanded by the capital markets.

These, in turn, led us to a central cause and a possible solution: redefining growth.

The current emphasis on growth as principally a financial measure has come to prominence only over the past 40-50 years. It has been propigated by business schools with their focus on the internal rate of return on invested capital as the most critical metric to which managers must attend. In short, the mantra that the job of business is to make money. Senge pointed us back to Peter Drucker who said that profits are to business what oxygen is to human beings: profit is necessary for a business to survive but it must have a meaningful purpose just as we must breathe to survive but breathing is not our purpose. The purpose of a business is to meet some societal need through a product or service which it endeavors to deliver profitably. We seem to have lost the “meet a societal need” part along the way.

It was also noted that the mania for financial growth has largely subsumed the other types of growth that also have value: spiritual, intellectual, physical/health, and experience.

These sessions were meant to propose solutions as well as identify challenges and so the group that gathered for the afternoon design portion of the day undertook the daunting task of proposing a process through which growth could be redefined.

The outcome was an idea for an alternative capital market. The market would try to marry value and values by incorporating such features as term limits on capital (e.g. a share bought today cannot be sold for 30 days — building in some “strategic inefficiency” and discourage trading for trading’s sake) and reporting of the growth of positive social benefits (emphasizing doing good rather than just “less bad”). Companies choosing to list on this market would agree to greater transparency, accountability, and commitment to sustainability in return for more “patient” capital. The capital would be more patient because the enhanced standards to which companies would be held should lessen risk and volatility. The market would be open to, and would in fact encourage, alternative values-driven corporate legal forms such as B Corps and L3Cs which are being tried in Vermont.

Who would invest in this market? It was felt that this would need to be a mass movement. The slow money movement, for example, has an enthusiastic but small following. We felt that there is a large swath of the investing public that is unhappy with Wall Street and the alternatives it offers. Retirement investors, people with a built-in long horizon for their investments, would be a natural place to start. We would ask for pledges to get around the chicken-and-egg problem of not being able to start a market without money and not being able to attract money without a market.

Finally, it was agreed that this movement needed to borrow some tactics from the Tea Party: not being afraid to start small and build from the botttom up. We want to engage moms and their kids — people with a vested interest in a healthier, more responsible future. We need to construct a simple, compelling narrative that will bring more and more people into a discussion about redefining growth.

The next steps? Commenting on and forwarding the link to this blog post is one thing that you can do. Beyond that, we need to convene a group to move the discussion forward. Many of the ideas around more responsible corporate governance already exist. What is needed is to begin to put our money where our mouths are. That will be hard…but fun.

What do you think? Would a market like the one described above be attractive to you?

The Solutions Labs are organized by the Green Innovation in Business Network (GIBN), an online and offline community focused on creating a well-informed, well-connected, rapidly-learning network of innovators making business more sustainable and are  made possible by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in partnership with DIG IN, Greenbiz.com, Net Impact, Sony, Ashoka and many others.

If You Build It, We Will Come: Walmart Installs Thin Film Solar Technology

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner's cornfield whispers, "If you build it, he will come," and sets off a series of events that change the lives of Costner and the characters around him. While talking corn is a bit of movie magic, the idea of expressing a desire in order to see it fulfilled is a powerful one. And if the expressed desire comes from a Fortune 500 company, it can help change the world.

Consider this: Ten years ago, FedEx Express, in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund, let it be known that it wanted a cleaner truck–one that went 50% further on a gallon of fuel and that cut soot emissions by 90%. The company didn't offer subsidies, nor did it specify how the truck should be built. But in essence it said, "If you build it, we will come." And with one of the largest truck fleets in the US–that got the attention of truck makers across the country.

There are now dozens of models of trucks that use the technology developed through the FedEx/EDF partnership, and about a quarter of the delivery and utility truck fleets in the U.S. are using them. The trucks, by the way, use hybrid technology similar to that found in the Toyota Prius and other cars. But while hybrid systems were known in the passenger car sector, no one had applied the technology to heavy trucks until FedEx's purchasing power came into play.

Now, Walmart is using the same technique to pull next-generation solar power into the marketplace. Thin-film solar cells are being developed that can reduce the weight of solar systems, making them more flexible and easier to install on a broad range of buildings.

Working with Environmental Defense Fund, Walmart solicited proposals for innovative thin-film solar projects, hoping to break through the barriers keeping this new technology from becoming fully viable in the marketplace. Again, they said, "if you build it, we will come."

Walmart has announced that it will install thin film technology on up to 30 stores, clubs and other locations in California and Arizona. Said Kim Saylors-Laster, Walmart vice president of energy, "By leveraging our scale to become a more efficient company we are able to lower expenses and help develop markets for new technologies."

The combination of Walmart's market power and Environmental Defense Fund's rigor could provide the scale and credibility needed to bring new solar technology more fully into the marketplace, using the power of an expressed desire to move thin film technologies from the drawing board to the rooftops of America.

This content originally ran on Fast Company on September 20, 2010.