Harvard Management Company discusses challenges, opportunities for reducing methane emissions

Last month, we had the opportunity to speak about methane and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing with Michael Cappucci, Senior Vice President of Compliance and Sustainable Investing at Harvard Management Company (HMC). An early leader in ESG investing, HMC was the first U.S. university endowment to sign the UN-supported PRI ESG investing initiative in 2014.

HMC manages the university’s $37 billion endowment and believes ESG risks can have indirect and direct impacts on a company’s performance. Part of HMC’s work with Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) includes co-leading a group of institutional investors examining the global efforts underway to limit methane emissions and the opportunities to increase their effectiveness. As HMC’s representative to that group, Michael explains below why methane is a risk for all investors and how far the industry has come in just a few short years.

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Future fleets: how clean air innovations are driving smarter, healthier cities


When you picture a city bus, an animal control van or a waste management truck, you’re probably not thinking about a high-tech, mobile urban sensing platform, about saving millions of lives, or about the smart city of the future. At least not yet. But a new initiative in Houston is turning public fleets into the rolling eyes and ears of the city, and enabling these vehicles to revolutionize the way air pollution is monitored, measured – and ultimately addressed across the United States.

The information generated by these IoT-enabled “future fleets” is also a key tool in the transformation to fully connected, smarter cities, where hyperlocal data makes streets safer and less congested and where market forces reward urban efficiency, decarbonized electricity, and clean transportation. Picture using connected, clean fleets to improve delivery times, bring residents to work, school and doctor’s appointments, and even pinpoint the location of toxic air pollution threats – all at the same time.

These vehicles are enabling a future where air pollution forecasts eliminate hundreds of thousands of heart attacks, tens of thousands of hospital and ER visits, and an even larger number of missed school and workdays that are caused annually by air pollution. Air pollution also costs the global economy $225 billion dollars every year in lost labor income, but recent studies show that improving air quality – both indoors and outside – could improve worker productivity. Read more

3 “Digital Oilfield” trends to watch at Gastech 2018

Four years ago, I stood in the centralized data command center of an American oil and gas company, watching a former colleague remotely adjust infrastructure at wellsites thousands of miles away because an algorithm detected a potential failure. This was the first time I personally witnessed the power of the “digital oilfield.”

Essentially, the “digital oilfield” refers to a transformative effort to bring solutions such as automation, predictive maintenance, and IoT technologies to the world’s oil and gas industry. Oilfield digitization has started to change the way decisions are made, operations are conducted, and facilities are managed across the entire oil and gas value chain. While early adopters are already employing automated and connected innovations to gain a competitive advantage, only a few are applying digitization technologies to address one of the industry’s biggest challenges: methane.

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Scaling for good: can McDonald's raise the bar for sustainable food?

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting ambitious, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the 10th in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

Let’s turn back the clock to 1990. It was a milestone year for McDonald’s, as the company opened its first restaurants in Moscow, mainland China and Chile. It was also when the largest restaurant company in the world joined forces with Environmental Defense Fund to launch a groundbreaking partnership that would find ways to reduce McDonald’s solid waste. The results? $6 million in savings, more than 300 million pounds of packaging eliminated, and 1 million tons of corrugated boxes recycled.

2018 is shaping up to be a big year for McDonald’s too, with a packaging waste goal set in January and an announcement to reduce emissions across its supply chain in March. Led by Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s has raised the corporate leadership bar with these ambitious sustainability targets. But now, the difficult and complex work of meeting these goals begins.

I caught up with Francesca ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit this week to ask her about what the roadmap to meeting these goals looks like, and how they’ll collaborate with their suppliers and the industry to prioritize action on the areas where McDonald’s has the biggest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including responsible beef production

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Can booming green bonds finance sustainable cities?

In this three-part blog series “Making Vanilla Green or Making Green Vanilla,” EDF+Business Sustainable Finance Manager Jake Hiller, and Clean Energy and Sustainable Finance Intern Gabriel Malek unpack how an environmental advocacy group like EDF could best use its resources and expertise to drive impact in the fixed income market. This research is informed by interviews conducted with Eric Glass, Senior Portfolio Manager at AllianceBernstein and founding member of the Municipal Impact Investment Policy Group; Rob Fernandez, Director of ESG Research at Breckinridge Capital; and Navjeet Bal, General Counsel of Social Finance Inc. and former Commissioner of Revenue of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Over the past few years, experts in socially responsible investing have become increasingly intrigued by green bonds, financial vehicles designed to kickstart environmental projects. In 2016, both EDF and the Stanford Social Innovation Review examined the strengths and challenges of the growing green bond market and outlined how this novel financial tool could help channel capital to sustainable development initiatives. Since the publication of these articles, the green bond market has expanded dramatically. In the US alone, the value of green bonds between 2016 and 2017 doubled to $48 billion. What began in 2008 with an experimental, World Bank-issued “green” labelled bond has since developed into a $155 billion market that is projected to expand this year.

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Methane rollbacks create moment of truth for oil and gas executives

How top energy companies engage in the U.S. methane policy debate in the coming weeks may tell us a lot about the future of natural gas.

As these companies have themselves recognized, the role of natural gas in a world that can—and must—decarbonize depends on minimizing harmful emissions of methane from across oil and gas production and the natural gas value chain. But a recent comprehensive study involving dozens of leading academics and companies around the country found that U.S. methane emissions from industry are 60 percent higher than prior estimates—enough to double the climate impact of natural gas.

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How New Jersey can finance its bold new clean energy targets

This blog was co-authored with Mary Barber, Director of Strategic Alignment and Performance and State Implementation at Environmental Defense Fund

On May 23, New Jerseyans scored a major economic and environmental victory when Governor Phil Murphy signed a groundbreaking law that will soon make the Garden State an even greener one. The Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has initiated a proceeding that will establish a community solar pilot program within one year of the bill’s signing. Low-income and multifamily households will be able to earn credits on their electric bills for purchasing power from a shared solar array. In just ten years, half the state’s power will come from emissions-free renewable resources, and New Jersey will boast the highest amounts of energy storage and offshore wind in the United States. New Jerseyans can expect clean air, electric bill savings, and the creation of many local and lucrative job openings.

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Environmental impact bonds hold promise for financing coastal resilience

With wildfires burning across the western United States and hurricane season off to a troubling start, 2018 could outpace 2017 as the most costly natural disaster year on record. As we wrestle with more frequent and damaging weather events as the new normal, the question of who’s responsible for footing the bill in their wake has led to contentious debates between public and private sector stakeholders. While the finger pointing rages on, it’s important to keep two things in mind:

  • Investing in resilience saves money – every $1 invested returns up to $6 in avoided future losses, and;
  • New financing approaches that align interests of public and private sector stakeholders are critical for future deployment of resiliency projects.

Determined to design new solutions, a team of scientists and economists at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Quantified Ventures (QV) evaluated whether environmental impact bonds (EIBs) – an innovative form of performance-linked debt financing – could help finance coastal resiliency projects in Louisiana. The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) faces a significant funding gap to fully implement its 50-year, $50 billion plan to save Louisiana’s coastlines. After a year’s worth of intensive feasibility analysis, funded by NatureVest – the conservation investing unit of The Nature Conservancy – through its Conservation Investment Accelerator Grant, the conclusion is a resounding yes.

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The race to reduce emissions: Five takeaways from OGCI venture day

The day before the World Gas Conference – one of the energy industry’s largest – 10 companies competed for USD $20 million to fund solutions with the power to disrupt how methane is managed, measured, and reduced.

The money was provided by Oil and Gas Climate Investments, the billion-dollar investment fund tied to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) – a consortium of 10 oil and gas companies sharing knowledge and resources to cut the greenhouse gas footprint of their industry.

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4 Takeaways from the 2018 World Gas Conference

For years, conversations at major oil and gas industry conferences focused on one thing: the shale revolution. Excitement about the surge in economical new supply of unconventionally produced oil and gas was palpable, as panelists spoke of the potential for shale to transform everything from the geopolitics of American energy supply to the price of hydrocarbons. With such an unexpected and seismic change, a supply side story carried the day, with a focus on “below ground” drivers of energy abundance.

But today, the shale revolution is simply the new normal and the conversation has changed. “Above ground” factors like increasing competition from renewables, greenhouse gas emissions, and license to operate will affect demand for natural gas for years. How industry confronts such challenges – both in the United States and internationally – will have a lot to do with industry’s longevity in putting resources to productive use in a changing world demanding cleaner energy

At last week’s World Gas Conference in Washington, DC, difficult questions swirled about whether industry has done enough to earn societal trust that natural gas has a constructive role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy. The biggest buzz of all surrounded one key issue: methane emissions, a core strategic challenge for the oil and gas industry.

I remember from experience that methane began as a niche issue years ago, mentioned by engineering and science teams, not CEOs. World Gas Conference 2018 left no doubt that those days are over, and that tackling methane must become part of business as usual. Here are four key takeaways. Read more