How emerging technologies are driving circularity, electric transportation and more

This article originally appeared in GreenBiz and can be seen here

When I was a kid, my dad told me that his favorite technological advancements were the automatic garage door and the automatic ice maker. I didn’t fully understand why at the time. But I get it now.

When I leave my office today, I will pull out my mobile phone, order a Lyft and walk out to meet the driver within a minute. While in the car, I’ll use Seamless to have my dinner delivered at my exact arrival time, and the Nest thermostat in my apartment automatically will adjust to my desired temperature once I am within a mile.

Technology continues to make our lives easier. But, besides convenience, it has the incredible potential to reduce our day-to-day impact on the environment. And that’s why I look forward to the VERGE conference each year.

This year, VERGE is focusing on how technology is supercharging sustainability in three areas in particular: circularity; energy; and transportation.

In my role with EDF Climate Corps, I’m seeing greater interest from companies wanting to use innovative technologies to accelerate sustainability and scale solutions across nearly every sector. Here are some ways I’ve seen it happening across those three areas in particular.

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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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Environmental innovation will transform business as usual

As the Trump administration rolls back environmental protections that could harm human health for decades, it’s increasingly up to businesses to lead the way, charting the course to a future that includes both a thriving economy and a thriving planet.

Leading the way requires first setting ambitious, public targets like the over 340 companies taking science-based climate action and 90 that have approved science-based targets; collaborating with partners across the value chain for maximum scale and impact – Walmart’s Project Gigaton, a collaborative effort to reduce 1 billion tons for emissions, is a powerful example; and, supporting smart climate and energy policy

BSR’s new sustainability framework closely echoes these leadership approaches and recommends that companies create resilient business strategies that align with sustainability goals. GreenBiz’s 2018 State of Green Business report further supports these and other requirements for sustainability leadership, adding that businesses need to improve reporting on climate risk, impact, and progress towards goals. The We Mean Business coalition adds further calls to action for companies: join the low carbon technology partnerships initiative, grow the market for sustainable fuels and electric vehicles, and take proactive steps to end deforestation by 2020.

Yet currently missing from all of this corporate sustainability leadership guidance is a call for companies to accelerate environmental innovation and deployment of next generation technology – sensors, AI, data analytics and visualization, and digital collaboration – to solve our most pressing environmental challenges.

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Talking sustainability, soup and stout with Campbell’s Dave Stangis

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 fourth 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.

Dave Stangis has dedicated over three decades of his career to steering sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts at two iconic American companies, Intel and Campbell Soup Company. As Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell, Dave has built the company’s reputation for setting a high bar on sustainability and corporate responsibility in the food industry. Case in point: Campbell was recognized as a top corporate citizen by Corporate Responsibility Magazine for the eighth consecutive year.

Campbell set an ambitious goal to cut the environmental footprint of its product portfolio in half by 2020, which entails reducing energy use by 35 percent, recycling 95 percent of its global waste stream, and sourcing 40 percent of the company’s electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources.

I recently spoke with Dave to learn about his approach to setting big sustainability goals, the role of technology and innovation in building a more sustainable food system, and which kind of beer goes best with a bowl of soup. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.

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What the sensor technology revolution means for businesses, the planet, and your lungs

A recent study from UPS and GreenBiz revealed that 95 percent of surveyed companies recognize the effect that urbanization – particularly air quality and traffic congestion – will have on business growth and sustainability.

Why? Because poor air quality costs the global economy $225 billion every year in lost labor income, according to the World Bank. Air quality also worsens with congestion, which will likely increase as 2.5 billion more people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050.

It’s no surprise then that less than half of the UPS/GreenBiz study participants feel prepared to address these challenges.

The good news is that cities and businesses can turn their anxiety into action by embracing and utilizing disruptive mobile sensor technologies that collect air quality data.

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The state of green business? Hopeful, puzzling… and pushing forward

I always look forward to the latest State of Green Business report from GreenBiz. It invigorates me and reminds me that there are a lot of talented people making sure that both business and the planet can thrive– a notion that I’m holding tight as the political atmosphere gets increasingly crazy.

I found two of the trends in the report of particular interest because they signal that smart business leaders are staying the course on climate.

Trend: Corporate Clean Energy Grows Up

The trend toward corporations transitioning to renewable energy has been gaining momentum for years. Today, twenty-two of the Fortune 100 have committed to procuring 100% of their energy from renewables, and 71 have a public target for sustainability or renewable energy.

“Business is a very important advocate for clean energy, because it speaks the language of hard economics,” points out Jim Walker, co-founder of The Climate Group. “It’s sending a strong signal to policymakers and the general public that this is the inevitable direction we’re going to move towards – a 100% clean energy economy.”

When innovative companies like Apple, Amazon, Unilever, and Google show leadership on renewable energy, their suppliers, customers, competitors, and the market respond. Microsoft, for example, is helping lead the way by purchasing 237 megawatts of capacity from projects in Wyoming and Kansas. And, Walmart, a long-time EDF partner, has also made a commitment to source 100% of its electricity from renewable energy. Currently at 25%, they’ve made significant progress on implementation.

With corporate leadership like this in place, it’s clear that business will continue to have an impact on the renewable energy revolution. The recent report from my EDF Climate Corps colleagues is proof of that: the solar power sector is growing quickly, and is a major source of jobs that are a.) impossible to outsource and, b.) available in all 50 states.

Trend – Companies Put Their Money Where Their Suppliers Are

According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, embedding sustainable business practices in the global food and agriculture industry could deliver $2.3 trillion annually.

“All stakeholders can share in the benefits: smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods; suppliers gain increased security of supply with improved quality; and we reduce volatility and uncertainty with a more secure and sustainable supply chain,” wrote Unilever CEO Paul Polman.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

When a corporation commits to reduce emissions in their supply chain, the results can be powerful.  We’re seeing this firsthand with our work with Walmart. EDF spent 10 years with Walmart to help drive sustainability across its global supply chain. The result? By the end of 2015, through leadership, innovation and a diverse range of projects, Walmart had exceeded its goal to reduce supply chain emissions eliminated 36 MMT of greenhouse gas from its supply chain. Now, they’ve committed to removing 1 Gigaton of emissions by 2030 – the equivalent of the total annual emissions of Germany.

Smithfield Foods is another company that EDF collaborated with in setting a goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain. EDF will continue to help Smithfield improve fertilizer efficiency and soil health, which will reduce nitrous oxide emissions from grain farms.

But to keep moving forward on these sustainability trends and others requires business to use its voice and influence to not backpedal on policies that are a win-win for our environment and our economy. We are at a crucial period where companies need to make the long-term economic case for policy, including the Clean Power Plan, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and ensuring the U.S remains part of the Paris Agreement.

Businesses will not go backwards on environmental protection. It’s bad for business and the environment. In fact, over 600 businesses have signed the Low Carbon USA letter calling on U.S. elected leaders to stay the course on environmental protection and climate leadership.  Now is the time for unlikely voices to step up and continue to press the case for action; the recent call for a carbon tax is probably most noteworthy because it was brought forth by Republican party faithfuls.

If there was one sentence in the State of Green Business report that captured the feeling of the moment it was this: “It’s hard to imagine a time more hopeful and horrifying for sustainable business.” At EDF, we’re not only hopeful but we’re committed: the economy and the planet can—and must–thrive together. Any conversation that suggests otherwise is a non-starter.

 

It Can(‘t) Be Done

I recently read the inspiring story of how Farmers Electric Cooperative, one of the smallest utilities in the country, overcame some formidable financing challenges to develop the biggest commercial solar project in Iowa.

Rock-uphillThe example called to mind a comment made by Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Apple and former Administrator of the U.S. EPA, during the closing plenary of GreenBiz’s VERGE conference earlier this fall. She told the audience that, at Apple, the best way to get something done was to say “it can’t be done.”

This idea, of conquering seemingly impossible obstacles, is one I’ve seen reflected in a number of new advances in corporate sustainability, including many discussed at the conference and others from our own work. Each demonstrates how entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) are harnessing major environmental and social challenges to create real solutions: Read more