SXSWEco Day One Epiphanies, Head-scratchers, and Bravery Awards

SXSWEcoThere is so much going on at SXSWEco this week that it would be impossible for one person to do a comprehensive wrap-up, so please take this commentary as a slice of a very big pie. And, note that my particular slice is viewed through a very marketing- and business-oriented lens. Still, as an EDF’er working with the private sector, I’m always looking to share new, pragmatic ideas and business cases for saving the environment. I think the most pleasant surprise of SXSWEco Day One was that so many others feel the same.

But first a head-scratcher. Why is it that the regions that are the most climate and socially vulnerable (Southern U.S.), are also home to some of the biggest climate science-denying politicians? Many thanks to Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University for so eloquently tying environmental justice to social justice; for me this was a necessary epiphany for how we think of building resilience in the face of climate challenges.

At EDF we believe that the corporate sector can thrive by valuing, protecting, and improving the environment, so the session on Creating Climate Wealth held a ton of appeal. Ann Davlin and Jigar Shah threw out business scenarios for environmental impact like candy from a parade float. I managed to grab a few choice nuggets: Read more

The Business-Policy Nexus: The Next Frontier for Corporate Sustainability Leadership

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFAs we approach the 25-year anniversary of EDF’s work with the corporate sector, it’s an opportune time to reflect on our successes and plan for the work ahead.

Over the years we have worked with McDonalds, Walmart, FedEx, KKR and many others to integrate sustainability into their operations, strategy, and supply chain management.  Together, we have kick-started market transformations in sectors including fast food, shipping, retail, private equity and commercial building energy efficiency.  While we’ve made great strides, there remains a huge distance to go in order to fully protect our natural resources, clean up our dirty energy system, and turn the corner on global greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Looking ahead, the opportunity and need for more aggressive private sector leadership has never been greater.  Moving from environmental progress today to full scale solutions tomorrow will require a new type of corporate leadership. This next step will require a willingness to align corporate sustainability operations, strategy AND policy.

Voluntary corporate efforts have made a difference and will continue to be a critical pathway for innovation. But this is not sufficient to meet the size and scale of the challenges we face.  Businesses must take the next leadership step – helping to shape and support the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.

Simply put, the bar is now higher for companies that want to lead on sustainability.

 Corporate Leadership and Sustainability over time

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Lasers, circuit boards and a $30 sensor: innovative solutions to the methane problem

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices.

The technologies we see today didn’t all start out in the forms we’re used to. The phones we carry in our pockets used to weigh pounds, not ounces. Engineers developed hundreds of designs for wind turbines before landing on the three-blade design commonly seen in the field.

innovation

(Missy Schmidt/Flickr)

Fast forward and now we're looking at a drunk-driver-and-alcohol sensor that was converted into a methane leak detector. And a sensor purchased off the web for less than $30 that was transformed into a monitor that fights off greenhouse gases.

I was excited to see the diversity of technologies such as these moving forward in the Methane Detectors Challenge.

Environmental Defense Fund’s initiative with seven oil and natural gas companies—including Shell and Anadarko Petroleum Company, the latest two to join—seeks to catalyze a new generation of technology for finding methane leaks in the oil and gas sector – a powerful contributor to climate change.

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An Antidote to Plastic Addiction

Credit: Plastic Disclosure Project

Credit: Plastic Disclosure Project

Take a moment to think about the things you use and throw away every day that are made from plastic: an empty shampoo bottle, the container from your salad at lunch (and the little container for the dressing), that pen that won’t work. And what about those things you’re holding on to in the depths of your closet, inevitably destined for the dumpster? That overused pair of sneakers, your old broken flip phone, a keyboard that hasn’t been used in a decade?

Plastic has transformed the way we live and enabled innovation in countless sectors, but simultaneously has contributed to one of the largest waste problems facing the planet. The challenge right now is that it’s no one’s responsibility to track plastic. The material just gets passed from production, to building products, to consumers, and ultimately to waste facilities or worse, into ecosystems like the ocean.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has developed one initiative to tackling this enormous problem, called the Plastic Disclosure Project. The project’s goal is to encourage companies to track the amount and types of plastic used in their operations and supply chain in order to optimize and reduce the related environmental impact.

Why should companies take the responsibility of tracking their plastics? To answer this question, UNEP published a report in partnership with Trucost, which quantifies the full cost associated with plastic used in the consumer goods industry. That amount is more than $75 billion per year. Yes that’s billion with a "b," and per year.

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Can a Climate Change Film Be As Memorable As TERMINATOR?

by Alex Duff, Corporate Affairs Manager, Kingfisher – Net Positive

Can you tell a story about climate change that’s as memorable as Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, Titanic or Avatar?  James Cameron, the acclaimed director of all of those blockbusters, clearly thinks it’s worth a shot given his involvement in a nine part docu-series that had its premier screening in London this week.  He’s not alone – a long list of movie stars, movie makers and many others have joined him in creating "Years of Living Dangerously" which has already been launched to critical acclaim in the USA.

Hollywood glamour

Whilst we weren’t at the Leicester Square Odeon, there was no red carpet and not a Hollywood movie star in sight, for those of us in sustainability more familiar with finding our stories knee-deep in a peat bog or skip-diving, the London premier held at the Soho Hotel certainly provided more than a glimpse of Hollywood glamour.  Perhaps more importantly though, it served as a powerful reminder of how clever interventions and effective storytelling can reach an audience beyond (excuse the pun) "The Usual Suspects."

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No Water Means No Beer, and Other Insights from an LA Water Conference

Beer lovers – now that I have your attention – let’s talk water. Nowhere in the country is water more critical an issue and looming risk than in my home state of California… critical to farmers, utilities, businesses, and yes, even breweries.

San Luis Reservoir

The San Luis Reservoir, facing low levels in 2008

The current drought has brought a host of challenges for our growing state, including more wildfires, collapsing delta ecosystems and fisheries, decaying infrastructure and declining water quality. While California is on track to reduce carbon pollution due to our progressive climate and energy policies, our water challenges are the elephant in the room.

So it was inspiring to attend a daylong event convened by the Pacific Institute in Los Angeles, where leading corporate, nonprofit and technical water experts honed in on water stewardship and shared innovative solutions to the business and environmental challenges we face with regard to water scarcity.

The companies represented there – including AT&T, Deloitte, MillerCoors and Veolia – see water scarcity as a current business risk, as well as a critical component to economic growth in California, the Colorado River Basin and around the world. The World Economic Forum even ranked water crises as the third most pressing global risk for 2014. “Often, the greatest risks come from conditions over which the company has the least influence,” noted Jason Morrison of the Pacific Institute, whose Water Action Hub offers a powerful guide with tools and resources for collective action.

The day’s far-reaching discussion would be impossible to capture in a single blog post, so I'll highlight here just a few of the challenges and solutions that stuck with me after a full day of information sharing.

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EDF Climate Corps fellows – right where they need to be

EDF Climate Corps on Years of Living Dangerously

Watch the episode featuring
EDF Climate Corps
Monday May 26th at 8 pm on Showtime

When the producers of Years of Living Dangerously – Showtime’s groundbreaking new series about climate change – were looking for a story of hope, they turned to EDF Climate Corps. The series, which brings the reality of climate change into your living room every Monday night, does not spare the viewer the devastating impact on people of wildfires, superstorms and droughts. But it also shows how people can be part of the solution to climate change. The three EDF Climate Corps fellows featured in this Monday’s (5/26) episode are protagonists in that story of hope. They show how saving energy benefits both the environment (by cutting carbon emissions) and the bottom line.

One exchange that Showtime caught on camera goes something like this:

Jessica Alba:  “Can you can walk into any organization and tell them how to save energy and money?”

Climate Corps fellow:  “Yes.”

EDF Climate Corps fellows are turning up in all kinds of interesting places this year. In January, Tyrone Davis joined the first lady to watch the State of the Union address. This month, fellows will appear on television to give people hope about solutions to climate change. And this week, we announced the 2014 class of Climate Corps fellows – 117 top grad students chosen from close to 700 applications – all going to where the biggest opportunities are to save energy.

EDF Climate Corps Working in Key Geographies

This year, we’ll have six Climate Corps fellows in China, now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas. About two-thirds of our 117 engagements will be in the nine U.S. states that consume over 50% of the nation’s energy. And 16 of those will be in Chicago accelerating progress toward the city’s 20% energy reduction goal.

EDF Climate Corps Helping Key Sectors 

Climate Corps fellows continue to work in large commercial buildings like the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. But we’ve also expanded the sectors in which we work to include manufacturing (with Legrand, Lockheed Martin and Owens Corning), cities (Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles) universities (Clark Atlanta and the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center), data centers (RBS Citizens and Comcast), utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric), and even military bases (US Army at Fort Bragg).

EDF Climate Corps Tackling Diverse Projects

The 2014 class of Climate Corps fellows are working on a wider range of projects than ever before. About half will be working on building energy efficiency. The rest of the projects include:

  • Energy strategy, data management and employee engagement
  • Water efficiency – implementing the unique toolkit that EDF developed with AT&T
  • Supply chain logistics – integrating our expertise in green freight and operating more efficient warehouses

EDF Climate Corps is recruiting, training and deploying the sustainability leaders of tomorrow; a viral solution that gives us hope that we can bend the curve on carbon emissions and avoid the worst impacts of a warming world. But don’t just take my word for it. Tune into “Years of Living Dangerously” on Monday May 26th at 8pm on Showtime. See for yourselves how our fellows helped Caesars Entertainment Corporation, Texas Southern University and Office Depot scale their energy management efforts.

 

Also of interest:

Years of Living Dangerously: Two producers, coffee and a vision for climate action

Behind the Showtime cameras with EDF Climate Corps fellows

EDF Climate Corps, creating a new generation of leaders

 

The 2014 Skoll World Forum: Always Act

Skoll World Forum logoSe hace camino al andar – the road is made by walking,” said Yves Moury of Fundacion Capital, quoting Spanish poet Antonio Machado. He went on to explain that the poet was telling us to find new ways to think and to act. “Always act,” he exhorted, “the road is made by walking.”

I identified with this call to action as the unofficial theme of the 2014 Skoll World Forum. The presentations, the side conversations and even the general spirit of the Forum underlined this. Here is a sampling of some of the more provocative actions and articulations I heard:

  • In the opening plenary, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, argued that the world needs more CEOs to stand up to their shareholders.
  • Also in the opening plenary, Arif Naqvi, founder of private equity firm The Abraaj Group, emphasized the importance of a broad definition of stakeholder engagement because as he put it, “you can’t have islands of excellence in an ocean of turbulence.”
  • Jason Saul of Mission Measurement presented a framework that promotes deriving a cost/outcome across what he deems is 132 outcomes in the world.
  • Jeff Bradach of Bridgespan Group raised not only organization-centric pathways to scale, but also field-centric ones that would argue for strengthening a constellation of organizations.
  • Feike Sijbesma, chairman and CEO of Royal DSM, emphasized that more than shareholders have to be a company’s priority in “future-proofing a business” as he traced the company’s transition from a coal mining company to a chemical company to its current framing as a life sciences company.
  • Mike Barry of Marks & Spencer shared in a side conversation that in 10 years their most important strategic partner might be a healthcare company as they think about a frame of wellness rather than products.
Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

Finally, as a tour de force at the Forum were the words of Malala, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt as she advocated for education for girls. She spoke passionately and eloquently with a poise way beyond her years as she proclaimed, “Education is more powerful than any weapon.” Although she was specifically speaking about education for girls, her message is really universal whether speaking about individuals, investors or companies.

As I reflect back on the Forum, I’m inspired to continue challenging companies to always act, innovating to protect the planet.

Walmart Puts Consumer Product Suppliers on Notice: The Chemical Phase-out Starts Now

By: Michelle Mauthe Harvey and Sarah Vogel

Today dozens of consumer product makers will get a letter from Walmart detailing new requirements on phasing out a list of toxic chemicals found in goods sold by the world’s largest retailer. The comprehensive initiative is by far the largest and most ambitious of its kind. It reflects a growing trend in which consumer and wholesale purchasing power are combining to change the chemical makeup of the products we see on store shelves and bring into our homes.

Walmart_Stores

The policy and its implementation guide can be found here.

Walmart worked closely with vendors and non-profit advisors including Environmental Defense Fund. Together they spent several years developing the policy, and figuring out how to implement the unprecedented measures across a sprawling global supply chain with hundreds of suppliers. The solution had to be robust, credible and transparent. It also had to set an ambitious goal for suppliers without creating impossible hurdles. Read more

A momentous week for trucks: Walmart unveils “Jetson” truck and President Obama announces next generation fuel efficiency standards

What a great two days it’s been for the future of trucks. Yesterday, Walmart unveiled a prototype, concept next generation tractor-trailer truck that they have affectionately dubbed “Jetson.” This morning, President Obama laid out a timeframe for action on developing the next generation truck efficiency standards – standards that will improve the fuel efficiency of American trucks, bolster energy security, cut carbon pollution, save money and support manufacturing innovation.

Truck

Innovation is critical to curb the growing climate pollution and fuel consumption from our nation’s freight trucks – which are projected to increase by 40 percent between now and 2040. But innovation is best supported by strong standards.  A well-designed efficiency program can speed the deployment of clean, energy-efficient technologies and the infrastructure to support their widespread use nationwide. Read more