How virtual reality can help the oil and gas industry confront its invisible challenge: methane

I’m a certified oil and gas tech nerd, and I’ve never before been this excited about my job.  I love data and the insights that it surfaces, along with the immense possibility of applying those insights to catalyze continuous improvement. There are few decisions I make without an Excel spreadsheet – and, after spending several years working for an oilfield services company, I’m passionate about solving one of the biggest environmental problems of our time: methane emissions.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a common byproduct of oil production. Unburned, it’s also a powerful greenhouse gas. Worldwide, about 75 million metric tons of methane escape each year from oil and gas operations (through leaks, venting and flaring) – making the industry one of the largest sources of manmade methane emissions.

As methane risk is starting to draw increasing attention from public officials, major investors, and leaders within the industry, tech solutions are booming and “digitization of the oilfield” is becoming industry’s hottest new term.

The good news: many of these tech solutions are available today and easy to deploy on a wellsite. Unfortunately, many stakeholders involved in this global challenge have either never been to a wellsite or don’t spend much time on a wellsite. And even if they do, methane is invisible.

That’s why EDF worked with the creative agencies, Hunt, Gather and Fair Worlds, to build a new virtual reality (VR) experience, called the Methane CH4llenge, that brings the wellpad to you and showcases the power of tools like infrared cameras and portable analyzers to experience first-hand what methane leaks look like.

I recently spoke with Hunt, Gather / Fair Worlds Creative Director Erik Horn, my partner in crime for this project, about developing the VR, which you can experience at the World Gas Conference next week. Here are five takeaways from our discussion, which you can watch in full here. Read more

Investors: Here’s What a Sustainability Leader Looks Like

I spend my days thinking about how companies can use their market power to improve our environment and health. Companies are motivated to lead on sustainability for a number of reasons including cost savings, risk management and improved reputation. Additionally, the stakeholders companies most want to impress are their customers and shareholders, which studies show care deeply when it comes to sustainability. In fact, in a 2017 Morgan Stanley survey, 75 percent of investors said they are interested in sustainable investing and 71 percent believe companies with leading sustainability practices may be better long-term investments. Given this, companies are increasingly talking about their sustainability efforts.

An example of such a company is Walmart, who recently hosted its annual shareholder meetings in the form of a formal business meeting and an event for associates and shareholders. As a sustainability professional, I was pleased to see both meetings highlight sustainability as a key strategy for Walmart moving forward.

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What the heck is an environmental group doing at the World Gas Conference?

The simple answer is this. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) approaches challenges pragmatically. If we want to rid the planet of harmful climate pollution, our efforts must include working with the industries that can make the biggest difference.

That means I spend a lot of my time working with leaders from the oil and gas industry. While we don’t always agree, we forge solutions wherever we can.

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Why this leading energy company sees opportunity in a low carbon future

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 aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the eighth 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.

Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, is not your average energy company. The Norwegian-based corporation reports producing oil and gas with half of the CO2 emissions, compared to the global industry average.

The company also stated commitment to building its business in support of the Paris Agreement, and plans to invest over $200 million in Equinor Energy Ventures, one of the world’s largest corporate venture funds dedicated to investing in growth companies in renewable energy. That may be why CDP ranked Equinor as the oil and gas company best prepared for a low carbon future.

Equinor is also doing its part to detect and reduce methane emissions by embracing innovation and technology. In fact, Equinor was the first energy producer to purchase and install a new solar-powered technology device to continuously detect methane leaks. And, Equinor collaborates with EDF and Stanford in supporting mobile monitoring advances, such as drone based sensors.

In advance of the World Gas Conference in DC later this month, I spoke with Bjorn Otto Sverdrup, senior vice president of sustainability at Equinor, to learn more about the company’s climate goals and how the company is addressing methane emissions from its oil and gas operations. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation. Read more

Investor concern on methane rises in 2018 proxy season

At Chevron’s annual general meeting last week, a shareholder resolution calling on the company to improve its methane management and disclosure received a 45% vote. This strong vote follows a majority vote at Range Resources, where 50.3% of voting shareholders supported a similar methane disclosure resolution (up from just 20% in 2013). Oil and gas industry shareholders are sending a powerful message– methane is a material risk that companies must manage to compete in a capital- and climate-constrained world.

Such resolutions are effective at driving change, even for non-majority votes like the 38% of shareholders at Kinder Morgan who supported a methane resolution. For example, last year ExxonMobil’s methane resolution received a 39% vote, and the company responded with a new methane emissions production program, which now includes a quantitative methane reduction target.

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Here's why EDF Climate Corps' network-based approach is a game-changer for corporate sustainability

You know that feeling when you’re cheering for your team to win, and they do? That’s the feeling I get to experience every day in my job as Manager of the EDF Climate Corps network (aren’t I lucky?!) Yesterday GreenBiz announced it’s “30 Under 30" – a global search for emerging leaders who are shaping the next generation of sustainable business. To my delight, I saw Kayla Fenton, a 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellow, included in this impressive group. This was exciting, but not surprising; the EDF Climate Corps network is filled with inspiring leaders, just like Kayla, who are tackling corporate sustainability issues every day.

I first met Kayla when she was preparing for her summer with Nestle Waters NA. In just ten weeks, she managed to surpass everyone's expectations. “Kayla’s detailed analysis and cross-company collaboration created the internal engagement and buy-in to move forward with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for my last company. Her great work inspired me to bring on an EDF Climate Corps fellow in my new role with Danone Waters of America to advance carbon reductions in North America for our carbon neutral brand, Evian." Recalled Debora Fillis-Ryba, Kayla's former supervisor at Nestle, now with Danone Waters of America. 

Now, with Amazon, Kayla manages programs to minimize the company’s footprint by eliminating packaging waste. Her efforts save the company money and energy, and optimize delivery by reducing material across the supply chain. It’s innovative, it’s sustainable and it’s economic – it’s winning!

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How Google, BlackRock, Hilton are doubling down on sustainable business

If you were asked five years ago "What types of companies are thinking about – and acting on –sustainability?" you would likely answer with the usual suspects: Patagonia, REI, etc. Less likely on your radar, I’d venture to guess, were players like TPG Capital, Novartis or Caterpillar. Today, companies across all sectors are re-envisioning what it means to be sustainable, and EDF Climate Corps is helping them do so.

Last week I attended my 7th EDF Climate Corps training – the annual kick-off to the summer fellowship. I left the reception with the feeling that this year would be different than previous; partly due to my new role as manager of the program, but more so from the conversations I had with this year’s cohort of 115 EDF Climate Corps fellows. There was a shared feeling that the mindset around corporate sustainability has changed from a nice-to-have to a must-have. And it was inspiring to hear how this group of determined, talented individuals plans on helping some of our country’s largest businesses meet and strengthen their climate goals.

It’s inspiring people like these – coupled with the broader trends at play – which give me so much confidence in the EDF Climate Corps model to help more companies tackle larger, more impactful and more innovative energy-related projects. Here’s why:

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How an Indonesian coconut plantation inspired Mars’ “aha moment” on sustainability

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 aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the seventh 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.

You likely know Mars as the company behind leading brands like M&M’s®, PEDIGREE® pet food, and UNCLE BEN’S® rice. For those of us in the field of corporate social responsibility, Mars is also well-known for its environmental leadership.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation plan lays out the company’s commitment to procure 100 percent renewable energy, reduce 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from its direct operations by 2040, and reduce indirect emissions throughout the value chain by one-third by 2030 – and two-thirds by 2050.

As Mars’ chairman Stephen Badger wrote in a Washington Post editorial last year, the company’s carbon footprint is the size of a small country. The company’s goals are therefore nothing short of ambitious.

But if anyone can help the company meet those targets, it is chief procurement and sustainability officer Barry Parkin, who believes that big goals drive big innovation.

I recently spoke with Barry about how Mars plans to tackle its climate goals, how being a family-owned business shapes its approach to sustainability, and how his time on the British Olympic sailing team influences his day-to-day job. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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An unlikely alliance just brought us one step closer to safer beauty products

In a rare move by two fierce competitors, Walmart and Target brought together stakeholders from across the U.S. beauty and personal care (BPC) industry in 2014 to drive safer, more sustainable products. This was bold considering that there was no consensus on the basic definition of product sustainability in an industry estimated at over $80 billion. After three years, a core group of eighteen organizations across the BPC value chain, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), released the first science-based scorecard of 32 key performance indicators (KPIs), marking the most sweeping market demand signal for safer and more sustainable beauty and personal care products yet.

Why does this matter?

Beauty and personal care consumers increasingly care about the health and environmental impacts of the products they buy. A vast majority of 87 percent of consumers globally prefer products with “no harsh chemicals or toxins.” Millennial women are also driving demand for more sustainable products. To address this gap, Forum for the Future worked together with The Sustainability Consortium to facilitate the three year mission to “shift the beauty and personal care product sector into a more sustainable, thriving and resilient industry that serves the needs of people and planet both now and in the future.”

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Business leadership on climate and clean energy is blooming this spring

The momentum driving companies to cut carbon emissions shows no signs of slowing down, despite the lack of leadership from Washington, D.C.:

Most important, businesses increasingly see public policy as critical to achieving their climate and clean energy goals. Last month, leading companies including Apple, Google, Mars, Danone, Nestle, Unilever and American Eagle Outfitters filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), opposing repeal of the Clean Power Plan and affirming their support for policies that drive down emissions and increase access to renewable energy.

Here are three key takeaways from these developments.

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