Crowd-sourcing stirs up fresh ideas for recycling TVs and monitors

Can our old TVs and computer monitors, which are filled with toxic substances, be safely and profitably recycled into new products?  We don’t know, but with tens of millions units expected to hit the waste stream over the next few years as households upgrade to newer flat panel models, we need to find out. And fast.

Solving tough problems requires leadership and innovation.  In this case, I’m happy to report that we have both. The leadership is coming from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), and its eCycling Leadership Initiative.

The innovation is coming from literally around the world. In December, CEA posted this problem as an “Eco-Challenge,” a crowd-sourcing competition Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) developed with InnoCentive.

InnoCentive’s global community of more than 250,000 “Solvers” — scientists, inventors and other creative problem-solvers from over 200  countries — had approximately one month to propose ideas for solutions.

More than 350 Solvers participated in the Eco-Challenge, which received over 50 proposals.  CEA awarded the three most intriguing ideas prize money totaling $11,000.

But the challenge doesn’t end there.  In addition to working with the award-winning Solvers to further explore their ideas, CEA plans to make these solutions available to the public at CE.org/green with the dual goals of raising awareness and helping to create market demand for used CRT glass.

We don’t yet have a solution to the TV/monitor recycling problem, but we have taken a big step forward with these three award-winning ideas. Stay tuned, or better yet, get involved.

Dedicated effort, knowledge sharing and other learnings from the Greenbiz Forum

By Jake MacArthur, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at REI, MEM Candidate at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Member of Net Impact

A few weeks ago, I attended the GreenBiz.com Forum 2012 in San Francisco. The mix of keynotes, conversations, workshops and opportunities to network with other professionals sparked new ideas for continued improvement. In particular, I enjoyed hearing Nest Labs’ Matt Rogers’ One Great Idea and the keynote interview with the founders of Method. I was inspired by each of these companies’ ability to re-envision mundane and established products into innovative solutions to energy consumption and plastic waste.

Sitar Mody (EDF), Kirk Myers (REI), Alex Michalko (REI) and I presented our experience with EDF Climate Corps as a workshop on breaking down the barriers to energy efficiency. After reviewing programmatic successes and continued challenges, we broke into small groups and discussed the participants’ barriers. The workshop provided tested tools and highlighted our work at REI.

As a 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at REI, I worked primarily on identifying and evaluating energy efficiency projects at the corporate headquarters in Kent, WA. The REI Corporate Social Responsibility team joined the Climate Corps program in order to address a few specific barriers to achieving greater energy efficiency:

  1. Lack of resources
  2. Challenges with information sharing

Put simply, the facilities managers are too busy with their daily responsibilities to stay informed of efficiency opportunities and they lack the time to fully vet vendors. As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I brought training, program experience and a network of peers to remove these impediments. By serving as an energy efficiency clearinghouse, I coordinated projects across the cooperative and shared stories. My work culminated in one particular project – a smart lighting retrofit of one of the corporate office buildings. This retrofit, installed a few weeks ago, will save REI an estimated 175,000 kWhs and $15,000 annually. The project includes detailed monitoring and a controls system that will ensure accurate evaluation and long-term persistence. An added bonus, REI will be hiring its fourth EDF Climate Corps fellow to seek out even more energy savings this year.

Barriers to future efficiency gains will undoubtedly arise, but through continued innovation, dedicated effort and knowledge sharing, we can make dramatic cuts in energy use and operating costs.

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Private Equity Gets A Little Less Private

By Lee Coker, Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships Program, EDF

Last week The Carlyle Group (Carlyle) released its 2011 Corporate Citizenship Report.  At first glance this may not seem like a big deal.  Many leading companies are now reporting on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) activities.  What's significant about this report is that it's a leading indicator of broader changes taking place in the private equity (PE) industry.

Just a few years ago it was hard to find a PE firm that reported publicly on much of anything.  Today Carlyle, KKR and others are publishing reports and highlighting their ESG initiatives on the front page of their websites.  Last year, Carlyle became the first global alternative asset management firm to publish a report dedicated to corporate citizenship (see our blog post about last year's report).  Leading PE firms now recognize that they are well positioned to create significant value for their investors by measuring and managing ESG risks and opportunities.  A look at this year's Carlyle report highlights some of the ESG trends and best practices that are emerging across the industry:

  • Responsible investment principles are the starting point:  The growing number of signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council (PEGCC) Guidelines for Responsible Investment indicate that more and more investors see responsible investment principals as the place to start for building their ESG programs.  Carlyle helped create the PEGCC Guidelines, and this week's report details how the firm has integrated them into their investment decision-making — including investment committee memos and investment risk analysis — and is actively reviewing the guidelines with its portfolio companies.
  • Integrating ESG strategies throughout the investment lifecycle:  PE firms are well positioned to improve environmental management across the investment lifecycle from due diligence to company ownership.  This is reinforced in Carlyle's report with examples highlighting how ESG issues are influencing investment decisions in the firm's sub-Saharan Africa fund, improving environmental practices at China Fishery, lowering cost structures at several portfolio companies, and improving product design at Talaris.
  • Setting quantifiable goals:   PE firms are masters at developing goals and metrics for financial performance and this is now becoming a best practice for ESG management as well.  In Carlyle’s report, you’ll find not only what firm has achieved in 2011, but also clear goals and expected results for 2012, including continuing to improve the firm's ESG metrics, expanding sustainability considerations to its U.S. real estate investments, and expanding efforts to focus on social impacts.
  • Better metrics improve management, reporting, and results:  Savvy PE firms are moving beyond ESG policies and developing ESG metrics.  The 2011 Carlyle report reflects this trend and includes significantly more metrics and data on the firm's environmental initiatives.  This enhances its ability to track progress and measure results.  The case study on NBTY, a global manufacturer and marketer of vitamins and nutritional supplements, featured in the report is a good example.  With Carlyle's support, the company is now actively measuring its environmental footprint and using this data to inform project planning, improve performance and assess progress.   As a result, the company expects to reduce costs by approximately $1.8 million per year and eliminate about 5,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and 440,000 pounds of waste annually.
  • Engaging experts:  PE firms are realizing that they can't do it all alone and are engaging internal and external resources to help them get the job done.  Carlyle's report highlights a range of collaborations in this area, including ESG best practice sharing with APG and PGGM, engaging with a wide array of environmental consultants — Arup, ERM, PWC, and TRC Solutions — to help support ESG initiatives at portfolio companies, and encouraging portfolio companies to improve energy efficiency by participating in EDF Climate Corps.

Carlyle's report points to several promising signs for the firm and the PE industry, but the journey is just beginning.   A growing number of leading PE firms now understand that systematic ESG management can create value for companies and investors.  In an increasingly competitive marketplace, we're eager to see which firms are able to use this strategy to their competitive advantage to create long term value for investors and the environment.

Looking Anew at Rail

Tuesday Morning, an “off-price” retailer with over 850 stores, has been able to transition 20% of its inbound freight to a rail/truck intermodal mix, according to Logistics Management. The goods typically travel from Asia to the ports of LA and Long Beach. From there they travel over 1,400 miles to the company’s one distribution center, which is located outside of Dallas.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem much that is newsworthy about this story.  Over the past several years that I have been working on freight sustainability, I’ve heard hundreds of times that rail starts to become competitive with trucking for trips over 500 miles.  So, for trips nearly three times that length, it should be a slam-dunk, right?

It is, of course, more complicated. There are a lot of important variables for the logistics managers to consider, such as reliability. As the article makes clear, class one railroads need to overcome multi-decade long perception of subpar service levels. Most companies, of course, put a premium on certainty when it comes to their supply chain. The railroads have made significant strides in service, including such innovations as running non-stop “sprint” trains between high-volume destinations.

As a result of the improved focus on service, the industry now has their clients saying things like, “rail carriers are just as dependable as truckload these days. It’s a different service standard, of course. But once you get calibrated with that service standard, it’s been my experience the rails are very dependable,” as the Tuesday Morning logistics manager noted.

Intermodal can be a very successful freight sustainability strategy. Rail emits six times less carbon per ton mile than trucks. An intermodal mixture of rail and truck, enables companies to take advantage of the cost and carbon benefits of rail for the bulk of the trip while still getting the flexibility of trucks at the beginning and end of the journey.

The cost savings are nothing to sneeze at either. The transportation logistics manager at Tuesday Morning noted that they were “significant.” The CEO of a logistics service provider noted in a recent Journal of Commerce article that intermodal could provide “10 to 20 percent savings and sometimes more.”

Many factors point towards a greater role for intermodal freight over the coming years, including sustained high diesel costs, sustainability goals, truck driver shortages, tight carrier capacity and road congestion. Despite these converging factors, intermodal traffic has had an uneven ride of the past several years.  As noted in the Journal of Commerce, intermodal loads have gone from 12.3 million in 2006 to 11.3 million in 2011.

A sure sign to shippers that it is time to look a new at intermodal solutions can be found by looking at the actions of the nation’s leading trucking companies. They are betting big on intermodal.

A partnership between Averitt Express and Union Pacific enabled Tuesday Morning to take its first steps into intermodal. Intermodal accounts for about a third of revenues for trucking giant Schneider National. Just last month the company announced a multi-year agreement with CSX. J.B. Hunt has developed a nation-wide intermodal network through partnerships with BNSF and Norfolk Southern.

Ultimately, what is most news worthy in the Tuesday Morning story is the fact that it is still news when large or mid-size shippers take the plunge and give intermodal rail a chance. Time and again, we hear how companies such as The Container Store, Kohl’s, Welch’s,  or Walmart, are successfully sending more of their freight via rail. Yet, each case has the same story line about the need for rail to prove itself as reliable. At what point do companies look at the clear success of others and say, “yes” to rail?

If you company isn’t using rail, maybe it’s time to consider it.  For those that already have a toe in the water, maybe it’s time to make a bigger commitment.

EDF Teams Up With Honest Buildings To Accelerate The Development Of High Performance Buildings

By Jim Marston

We announced today that EDF is working with HonestBuildings.com (Honest Buildings) to accelerate the number of energy upgrades, renovations and sustainable building projects throughout the U.S. Honest Buildings is a rapidly growing social networking website that offers energy efficiency vendors and service providers an ideal platform to showcase their work, connect with clients and generate new business. It also helps people find and share information about buildings, their owners, their occupants and the people who service them.

Collectively, we need to do more to tell the story behind what’s driving improvements in the built environment, which consumes 70% of electricity in the U.S. and emits more than a third of greenhouse gases. By providing transparent information about buildings and their performance, we believe Honest Buildings is a powerful platform to do just that.

As part of EDF’s Energy Innovation Series, every week we will select one project from Honest Buildings to feature on edf.org/energyinnovation and promote through the series’ social media channels. By showcasing the most innovative and effective energy efficiency projects, EDF and Honest Buildings are working together to raise awareness and accelerate market adoption of smarter and more energy efficient buildings.

This content is cross-posted on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Sometimes it’s all a matter of perspective: EDF Climate Corps fellow finds savings at CA Technologies

By Shunsuke Numata, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at CA Technologies, MBA Candidate at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management

As an EDF Climate Corps Fellow at CA Technologies, it became readily apparent the company had already implemented many textbook energy management and reduction initiatives (i.e. installation of metering systems and replacement of end-of-life devices with sustainable alternatives, etc.).Discovering this, I realized I should examine things from a different perspective and look for opportunities that have gone unnoticed or overlooked because they are entrenched in “business as usual.” It is from this perspective that I found opportunities for as much as 500,000 KWH in energy reduction.

For example, when wandering the building at night, I noticed lights were on when no one was around, so the obvious question was: “Why?” Granted, there are some valid reasons for illuminating the building at night (for cleaning crews, etc.), but with that in mind, I was still able to find ways to change business as usual and reduce electricity usage.

By researching lighting schedules, I quickly realized adjustments could be made. To this end, I identified several projects and suggested that the company:

  1. Turn off the lighting at its Islandia facility an hour earlier – 10:30 PM instead of 11:30 PM
  2. Close the gym between the hours of 11 PM to 5 am when it was not being used.
  3. Create a “second shift” parking program to power-off lights in all but two lots.
  4. Reduce the intensity of interior lighting by de-lamping one of every three bulbs, and
  5. Eliminate decorative, non-essential lighting

After a fulfilling fellowship at CA Technologies, I’d have to say that my biggest take away was  the discovery that someone entering a situation with the proper training and  a fresh perspective can identify opportunities of low cost/no cost projects to reduce energy consumption that may have been overlooked. For the most part, work on the projects identified can be done internally and only requires changes to the LMS (lighting management system). Overall, my experience served its purpose, and EDF was a very useful resource for CA Technologies.  I was glad to be a part of it!

Making Smart Moves: How Shippers Cut Freight Costs and Emissions

Today, more than  50 million tons of freight are on the move throughout the United States. Many products can be found onboard ships in our nation’s largest ports. Some of the heaviest cargo is moving along in rail cars, and a few of the highest value items are flying in the belly of planes.. And many of these goods are rolling along our highways in tractor-trailers. All of these items are moving under the guidance of a select group of companies know in the freight industry as shippers.

Shippers exercise significant control over the environmental footprint of logistics operations. They are responsible for many of our favorite brands of shoes, stoves and sweets. A new report released today by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Smart Moves, presents a collection of innovative strategies that shippers can use to cut freight costs and reduce environmental impact.

A few of the leading examples from the report include:

  • The Container Store utilized rail for some of its outbound moves (distribution center to retail store), and saved the company $300,000 while also reducing carbon emissions by over 40 percent;
  • Michael Kors made effective use of ocean freight in the time-sensitive world of high fashion through a time-guaranteed ocean freight service that cut emissions per move by over 90 percent and reduced freight costs by $20 per bag;
  • Hershey’s and Ferrero collaborated on an innovative distribution model that leading industry experts claim could slash costs by more than 30 percent and increase carbon efficiency by 25 percent; and
  • Kraft Foods leveraged cutting-edge software to increase the utilization of its trucks, and ultimately cut costs and emissions.

In current times of persistently high fuel costs, freight choices that are good for the environment are good for the bottom line.

The stakes are high and the need for action is urgent. All told, the global freight transportation and distribution system accounts for nearly three billion metric tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions each year. That’s equal to over 700 coal plants. Most concerning, freight transportation is rising quickly.

ExxonMobil recently reported that freight transport is “expected to rise in all regions of the world, even with significant gains in efficiency.” It projected that “global energy demand for transportation will rise by nearly 45 percent from 2010 to 2040.”  Freight transportation is the expected driver for much of this growth.

A 45 percent growth in emissions from the freight system is simply not sustainable. Rising fuel prices and road congestion further increase the need for shippers to act and improve freight efficiency.

Shippers are in a position to help lead us to a more sustainable freight future. By adopting the strategies in this report, companies can begin this journey while significantly slowing the growth in freight emissions today.

Lower freight costs, less exposure to volatile fuel prices and a leadership position on sustainability? That sounds like Smart Moves.

Smart Moves: Creative Supply Chain Strategies Are Cutting Transport Costs and Emissions

Stop. Look and listen. Then sign up for EDF Climate Corps 2012

By Jocelyn Climent

Representatives from HCA Healthcare and Ingersoll Rand shared insights into their energy efficiency initiatives during an Environmental Defense Fund webinar last Friday.

Our second webinar of the season, meant to introduce new companies to the idea of saving energy and money through the EDF Climate Corps program, took place last Friday and was a great success, with twice as many participants as the first webinar we held last month.

It was again moderated by EDF Managing Director Victoria Mills. The panelists this time were Brian Weldy, VP of Engineering and Facility Management at HCA Healthcare and Scott Tew, Executive Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand. Weldy and Tew discussed their experiences with the program, answered questions about how decisions are made regarding energy investments within their respective companies and how energy efficiency projects get implemented.

Both companies have participated in the program since 2010 and have once again signed up for fellows this summer. If you are interested in what the program can do for your company, the deadline to submit your application and to sign up for 2012 is February 23rd and is coming up faster than you think!

Listen to the recording >>

Cities And Universities Join EDF Climate Corps To Save Money And Energy

Cities and universities know the value of saving a dollar and saving a kilowatt, and EDF Climate Corps gives them a plan to do so in a just few, short months. This summer, EDF Climate Corps is celebrating its fifth year in action with even more energy efficiency savings for cities and universities around the United States. Joining EDF Climate Corps are returning and newcomer hosts who are eager to pair environment stewardship with smart business practices.

Newcomer host organizations for EDF Climate Corps include the Smithsonian Institution, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Port of Oakland, San Diego State University – Imperial Valley, City of Los Angeles, City of Cleveland (Ohio), Envision Charlotte (North Carolina), Housing Authority of the City of El Paso, City of Atlanta, and Texas A&M University – Kingsville. Returning hosts include the New York City Public Housing Authority and Howard University (D.C.).

2011 NYCHA EDF Climate Corps Fellows

Since its inception, EDF Climate Corps has recommended energy-saving opportunities and developed custom energy efficiency investment plans that could save $1 billion in net operational costs over the project lifetimes, and avoid over $1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

It’s not too late to host an EDF Climate Corps fellow – the application deadline for 2012 summer hosts is February 23. Cities and universities are encouraged to apply at edfclimatecorps.org. For more information and a list of 2012 hosts, please contact info@edfclimatecorps.org.

 

This content is cross-posted on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Energy Treasure Hunts Show Promise for Savings

Members of seven IUE-CWA locals participated in a pilot project looking at ways to save energy in manufacturing.

A groundbreaking collaboration between Environmental Defense Fund and IUE-CWA got off the ground with the first of six pilot projects to identify energy productivity measures at manufacturing facilities.

Pulling in members from six other locals, IUE-CWA put together a team to work with members at the Cobasys hybrid battery plant to look for ways to reduce energy usage and carbon output.

Over a three-day period, the members identified some 20 projects that if implemented could save the company 18 percent on its energy bills.

This is the first partnership with a union for EDF, which has routinely worked to promote energy-saving opportunities to corporations. For IUE-CWA, the project is a natural outgrowth of its green jobs work and its lean/high performance manufacturing success.

During the pilot phase, teams of IUE-CWA members are being trained by noted energy consultant Bruce Bremer, who got his start at Toyota where the “treasure hunt” concept originated. Toyota and General Electric then worked back and forth to develop the tools to quantify projected savings.

The goal is for the Division to ultimately run its own treasure hunts and offer the service to its employers similar to the work being done in lean manufacturing.

In addition, once the pilot shows the viability of the union-initiated process, EDF and IUE-CWA will start a train-the-trainer program with other unions.

Brendan FitzSimons, EDF’s project manager for corporate partnerships, was amazed at the knowledge and expertise IUE-CWA members brought to the effort.

“The IUE-CWA workers who participated in the treasure hunt brought an impressive depth of practical, first-hand manufacturing technical expertise and knowledge that was invaluable in identifying energy-saving opportunities,” he said. “The treasure hunt provides a great way to tap this resource.”

The project is aimed at helping to overcome some of the barriers that hinder companies from adopting energy-efficiency investments–ranging from limited resources, information gaps and organizational barriers. By addressing these barriers, EDF hopes that companies will start to invest in the many economically attractive energy-savings opportunities that are available.

By increasing its efficiency, the U.S. manufacturing sector can save money on energy costs and protect itself from future energy price increases. These investments also promote U.S. manufacturing competiveness that protect and create new jobs here — and improve environmental performance to boot.

“Energy-efficiency treasure hunts will give IUE-CWA workers new skills to make their companies more productive and competitive,” said IUE-CWA President Jim Clark. “That’s good for our members’ job security and good for their company’s bottom line.”

This content is cross-posted on IUE-CWA.