Trump's energy policy: is China the real winner?

Just yesterday, the administration announced plans to cut the Department of Energy’s (DOE) renewable energy and energy efficiency program budgets by 72 percent according to a leaked draft of the DOE budget for fiscal year 2019. This is the second major blow to the renewable energy industry, coming only days after Trump imposed a 30% tariff on solar imports.

I find this ironic. On Tuesday, Trump stood before our country to deliver his first State of the Union address. It was a story on “America First” and domestic policy took the center stage – tax cuts, trade, the economy, jobs…and more jobs. But as he praised the accomplishments in these issues over the past year, I couldn’t help but see the other side: the opportunities we’re missing and the jobs we’re giving up (now even more so).

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How to make Thomas Friedman’s climate optimism a reality

Heroic imagination is required to protect health and ensure prosperity in a world of climate chaos, according to Thomas Friedman at the recent New York Times ClimateTECH conference. This potential is ours to realize, says Friedman, due to the unleashing of new technology a decade ago. With Twitter, YouTube, GitHub and the like, the interdependent power of many has never been greater, and the independent power of one has never shone brighter.

Not surprisingly, Friedman’s words inspired the conference audience of entrepreneurs and established companies there to discuss new clean tech innovations.

The problem is that although inspiration and imagination can help motivate change, they are not strategies to achieve it. Building a climate-friendly economy will help us realize the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — creating jobs and protecting health.

Seizing the opportunity to build prosperity while facing climate chaos requires more than a field of a thousand blooming start-ups. It requires massive, continuous innovation, and exponentially increasing investment to bridge the gap between inspiration and implementation.

Here’s how to address both challenges.

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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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One-on-One with EDF+Business: Former DuPont CSO Linda Fisher on sustainability leadership

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; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.

This is the first 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.

Linda Fisher is one of corporate sustainability’s trailblazers. In fact, she was named the first chief sustainability officer of a publicly traded company (DuPont) in 2004.

Over the next decade, Linda led DuPont’s efforts to establish the company’s first set of market-facing sustainability goals, which included a strong emphasis on innovation. Read more

Leading methane commitment from Exxon’s U.S. driller: Why it matters

The degree to which the oil and gas industry can be trusted to play a constructive role in a low carbon future depends in no small measure on whether and how it reduces climate pollution today. That’s why company insiders, investors, and policy makers should take careful note of the sensible and innovative commitments announced by XTO Energy, the ExxonMobil subsidiary that leads the United States in natural gas production.

The industry’s many outside stakeholders both in the U.S. and around the world are increasingly calling for emission reductions and greater commitment to cleaner production. Companies that heed those calls, and advance new technologies, will be much better positioned to answer society's demands for responsibility. Read more

Shell becomes latest oil and gas company to test smart methane sensors

This week, the oil and gas giant Shell took a positive step toward addressing methane emissions. The company announced a new technology trial at a wellsite in Alberta, Canada, where it is piloting a specially designed laser to continuously monitor emissions of methane, a powerful pollutant known to leak from oil and gas equipment.

The move by Shell is a glimpse into the future and demonstrates growing market interest in smart, sensor-based methane detection technology. Shell’s project joins a similar field test already underway in Texas, operated by the Norwegian producer Statoil, and a California utility pilot run by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Each of these deployments is promising, but the ultimate test will be broad-scale adoption of innovations that generate actual methane reductions.

For industry, there is an incentive to move ahead. An estimated $30 billion of natural gas (which is largely methane) is wasted every year due to leaks and flaring from oil and gas operations worldwide. In addition, roughly 25 percent of global warming is driven by methane. Oil and gas methane emissions also contain chemicals that adversely affect public health.

For these reasons, methane is a problem that has caught the attention of regulators, investors and consumers alike. Advancing new technologies to enable the oil and gas industry to tackle this challenge more efficiently is key, even as companies use established tools to manage emissions now.

Collaborations Spark Methane Innovation

When you bring the right people to the table, innovative solutions will follow. Behind the Shell, Statoil and PG&E demonstration projects is a collaborative initiative, the Methane Detectors Challenge, begun by the Environmental Defense Fund four years ago. The project united eight oil and gas companies, R&D experts and technology innovators in an effort to accelerate the development of next-generation methane detectors.

The formation of this project was motivated by a key insight: new technology to manage emissions needs to be created and deployed faster than ever. The Methane Detectors Challenge offers a unique resource to innovators – access to real facilities and collaboration with potential customers – which is essential to help entrepreneurs understand the market, demonstrate demand, and ultimately achieve economies of scale.

Both the Statoil and Shell pilots are using a solar-powered laser, created by Colorado-based Quanta3. The technology uses the Internet to provide real-time data analytics to wellsite managers via mobile devices or web portals.

Continuous Visibility, Faster Response

The oil and gas industry has a lot to gain from smart methane sensors that can prevent the loss of valuable product and reduce pollution.

Imagine a future where continuous leak detection systems allow operators to digitally monitor methane emissions occurring across thousands of sites. It’s a game-changer on the horizon. The burgeoning field of continuous methane monitoring offers a range of possibilities – including technologies capable of identifying emission spikes in real-time, allowing operators to cut mitigation time from months to days. Over time, smart sensors on wells may even help predict and prevent leaks and malfunctions before they occur.

Smart Methane Sensors Triggering New Market

The methane-sensing laser deployed by Shell and Statoil is one of many technologies in the emerging methane mitigation industry. In North America alone, more than 130 companies provide low-cost methane management technologies and services to oil and gas customers – a number likely to expand as innovators innovate, pollution requirements tighten, and producers increasingly appreciate the urgency of dealing with methane to maintain their social license to operate.

Smart automation technologies are already being used across the oil and gas industry to improve operating and field efficiencies. Continuous methane detection technology is the next logical step, which has the potential to provide significant economic, environmental and societal benefits.

The Shell pilot is a milestone to celebrate and we recognize the company for its early leadership. Now, we need governments and industry to show the determination needed to meet the methane challenge head-on. Sustained leadership is a prerequisite. But the keys to solving this problem are smart policies that incentivize ongoing innovation, and clear methane reduction goals—supported by technologies like continuous monitoring.

This post was also published on EDF's Energy Exchange blog. Image source: Shell/Ian Jackson

Aileen Nowlan is a Manager at EDF + Business. Follow her on Twitter for more news on EDF's work on innovation and energy.

Trump budget breakdown: Time to defend the clean energy economy and American innovation

My first week on the job at Environmental Defense Fund was also the week the Trump administration released its full federal budget proposal. I joined the EDF + Business team after working at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), implementing technology-to-market innovation partnerships for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The proposal slashes EERE and related offices and programs that have been at the forefront of successful public-private partnerships. At a time when the U.S. is backing out of the Paris Climate Agreement and federal clean energy technology investments are critically and urgently needed, this budget threatens American innovation.

Funding that nurtures new businesses without requiring their owners to give up any stake in their companies can be make-or-break for the early-stage startups that drive innovation. When government, well-positioned to make this kind of unique investment, puts forth tax-payer dollars, it encourages the private sector to buy-in as well—oftentimes with a multiplying effect. DOE has created opportunities like these that reduce risks for both entrepreneurs and investors. It is through this public-private collaboration that meaningful partnerships and lasting progress are possible for clean energy and our nation’s economy.

Clean energy and innovation threatened

Titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” the president’s budget proposal jeopardizes nearly a decade of progress in building our clean energy economy.

Dulling the cutting edge of our nation’s innovation enterprise curtails our ability to strategically lead in scientific and technological innovations more broadly, across sectors. Decelerating cleantech research, development, demonstration, and deployment would also inhibit our ability to deal responsibly with climate change and its consequences.

Specifically, the President’s plan cuts FY18 funding to EERE by over $1.4 billion, down nearly 70 percent from FY16 and FY17 levels, and it all but eliminates the $290 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), with a 93 percent reduction for FY18. It zeroes out EERE’s Strategic Programs Office that initiated, funds, and organizes tech-to-market efforts like the National Incubator Initiative for Clean EnergySmall Business Vouchers Pilot, and Energy I-Corps, which build innovative partnerships among startups, small businesses, incubators, and accelerators and give them unprecedented access to national lab scientists, engineers, and equipment. The plan does note that strategic subprograms would be consolidated or transferred to elsewhere within DOE.

The budget also includes 70 percent cuts to both EERE’s Solar and Vehicle Technologies Offices. These are home to successful public-private partnership programs like the SunShot Initiative, which helped the solar industry achieve DOE’s vision of $1-per-watt three years early, and SuperTruck II, which builds upon the success of the original SuperTruck program that showed 115 percent improvements to freight fuel efficiency are possible.

The reductions go as far as eliminating the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office, which has worked with state, local, and tribal governments for decades to assist more than 7 million low-income households find significant savings through energy efficiency. These upgrades have lowered these families’ utility bills an average of $283 per year and brought demonstrated improvements to health and safety.

There is something for everyone to be concerned about in this proposed budget, and even the fossil fuel industry stands to lose.

Even DOE “crown jewels” that Energy Secretary Rick Perry vowed to protect are not safe as the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) now faces a 20 percent cut. NREL celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with its 2,200 employees who hold over 300 patents and further support the growing clean energy economy through more than 500 technology partnership agreements with businesses, nonprofits, and academic institutions. Despite these and other successes, the proposed budget significantly defunds or eliminates clean energy activities across all 17 national labs.

The contradictions between the administration’s rhetoric and numeric reality are signs that our Energy Department may very well lose its unique and leading role at home and abroad in driving innovation.

There is something for everyone to be concerned about in this proposed budget, and even the fossil fuel industry stands to lose from cuts to ARPA-E and EERE, which also work on methane leak detection and advanced combustion engines. These offices, programs, and labs have proven results, and to end or scale them back would be a disservice to U.S. industrial competitiveness and the American people.

Common ground and hope for progress

The good news is that clean energy continues to receive bipartisan support, and the proposed DOE cuts are widely opposed, including by at least six Republican senators. There is also broad consumer backing even among Trump voters for Energy Star, a joint EPA-DOE program helping consumers identify and select energy-saving products. Yet it too has been targeted by the administration. Fortunately, the private sector continues to step up, with diverse businesses and investors making serious cleantech commitments around the globe.

As I begin my work at EDF during these challenging times, I find hope in the common goal of human prosperity shared by the public and private sectors, in the opportunities created by collaborative approaches, and in the vast infrastructure and resilient spirit that are the true foundations of American entrepreneurship and innovation. Our country has a history of unexpected, rapid, and game-changing breakthroughs in science, technology, health, and sustainability that have improved the lives of millions of people. These can continue and accelerate into the future if, and only if, we do not back down now.

Follow Bryce Golden-Chen on Twitter

Photo source: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

From energy efficiency to clean energy: 10 years of EDF Climate Corps


Ten years ago, EDF found itself head-on with a challenge: how to effectively jump-start corporate energy efficiency initiatives. We started EDF Climate Corps, a summer fellowship program, with the theory that a small, intense injection of effort could catalyze investment in energy efficiency, giving companies the opportunity to capitalize on the associated cost and energy savings. That was ten years ago.

Since then, more than 800 fellows have been placed in over 430 organizations to advance corporate energy management.

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

We have seen companies use their help to go beyond single-site projects and scale energy efficiency across their entire portfolios of facilities. This growth is representative of a vibrant and growing industry. Deploying energy efficiency has become a mainstream practice, and an entire ecosystem of service providers has cropped up to support these efforts. Employment in this market has skyrocketed and energy efficiency now represents the largest source of clean energy jobs in the country.

But the corporate energy challenge doesn’t stop there.

While energy efficiency continues to be an important way for companies to reduce carbon emissions from electricity, it can only get them so far. Alongside scaled-up efficiency efforts, holistic, strategic energy management plans that include clean energy generation (onsite and offsite) must be developed–and many companies are stepping up to the plate to do so.

Today we observe companies asking fellows to explore clean energy procurement options, dig through various state and federal incentive structures and effectively build the business case for investing in new, clean generation sources.

Today, clean energy is where energy efficiency was for companies a decade ago.

Building on the success of 10 years of fellowships, we are excited to announce that this summer over 100 new EDF Climate Corps fellows from top universities in the U.S. and China will help companies such as McDonald’s, Boston Scientific, JPMorgan Chase and Walmart meet their carbon and energy reduction goals. Fellows will scale energy efficiency, deploy clean energy technologies (1/3 of our class of over 100 fellows will work on clean energy solutions!), help companies set strategies to achieve science-based GHG goals, and even dig into carbon reductions in supply chains. They’ll also set themselves up for lasting careers in clean energy, energy efficiency and sustainability, alongside four million other Americans. We know that our network of over 1500 sustainability-focused professionals will help them along the way.

Corporate commitments for reducing carbon emissions are only getting stronger. Despite federal rollbacks in environmental protections, companies are continuing to navigate clean energy innovation, and we’re excited to see how the next 1o years of EDF Climate Corps will help drive this momentum.

Follow Liz on Twitter, @lizdelaneylobo

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No “alternative facts” needed: leading on sustainability is smart business strategy

A Businessman is looking out the window in a modern panoramic meeting room in New York. The concept of the meeting of the Board of Director of the huge transnational corporation.

For the people who dedicate their lives to helping keep the planet livable, it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around our new weird, warped, post-election world. Every day seems to bring some new government official denying facts and science (aka reality), or doing unthinkable damage to the suddenly-less-venerable institutions they now lead.

As someone who has a 20-year track record of working side-by-side with the private sector to create positive environmental change, I can just imagine how anxious business executives must be feeling these days. The specter of a three a.m. tweet from the White House demanding that they run their company according to a Presidential whim, rather than the realities of the global marketplace (or the expectations of shareholders), can make for a lot of sleepless nights.

Unlike certain “business-executive-Presidents", however, real CEOs have to be fact-driven.

And the forward-thinking executives—the ones who are thinking hard about the long-term growth, profitability and resiliency of their companies—are well aware of the facts. They know that human-caused climate change is real, and carries with it huge costs. Executives selling food grown in rapidly changing landscapes and/or products dependent on materials from across the globe aren’t playing in a fantasy world where climate change is a “hoax invented by China.”

And they know that how we deal with climate change will determine whether we will be a driver or a destroyer of business value. As a peer-reviewed study in the journal Nature recently found (and the New York Times reported): "even if the world is able to stave off an increase in atmospheric temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — a goal agreed to as part of the Paris deal — climate change could wipe out $1.7 trillion worth of global financial assets."

So, I’m hopeful that, at least in terms of sustainability, the rational decisions being made on Wall Street will act as a counter-balance to what appears to be erratic decisions coming out of Washington. Consider just a few of the recent announcements and actions of the private sector:

  • In just the past 3 months, Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, Smithfield Foods, Walmart and many others have continued to lead the way and prove what’s possible through bold, science-based goals, investments in clean energy and expanded efforts to drive down emissions in their operations and supply chains.
  • At the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said “to make America great again, climate action is very logical. This is a very convincing story for job creation and economic growth.” My colleagues at EDF Climate Corps back this up with data; the sustainability sector is booming with jobs that 1.) can’t be outsourced, and 2.) are readily available in all fifty states.
  • A WEF report on the future of retail talks about “the golden age of the consumer” and the implications and opportunities that are created for sustainability by addressing how goods are delivered—what is called the “last mile of delivery”—and how products are packaged.
  • Commenting on that same report, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon pointed out that sustainability will impact retail in ways far beyond logistics and packaging: in this age of social media sharing, the push for transparency in supply chains will be customer-driven. McMillon knows that “retailers will only survive if their business creates shared value that benefits shareholders and society.”
  • Finally, in a recent op-ed entitled Why Walmart is doubling down on its commitment to climate change, Walmart board member Rob Walton, gave a simple answer: because it’s good for business! “We set [our climate goals] because we wanted to help address climate change and improve lives, while also strengthening our company and reducing expenses,” he said. “We thought it would be a win-win: good for society, and good for Walmart.  Eleven years later, that's exactly what we've seen.”

    Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

    Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

That’s a long list—and one that adds to the mounting evidence that corporate America “gets it”:

momentum for business leadership on sustainability is here to stay. Which is in no way surprising, because after my many years of working with business, I’ve seen firsthand the immense value creation that comes with moving forward—not backward—on environmental issues.

So, for all that has changed in these times of “alternative facts,” those who care about having a livable, thriving planet can feel confident that they have a powerful ally in business. Because when it comes to our climate, our health and our planet itself, if we’re not making progress, we’re losing.

Smithfield Foods Joins the Growing List of Sustainability Leaders. Who's Next?

The largest pork company in the world, Smithfield Foods, just committed to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon. This goal is the first of its kind in the livestock sector; and is thus big news.

It is also a long time in the making. Over the past 20 years, EDF and Smithfield have not always seen eye to eye.Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDF Although we have opposed Smithfield on some critical issues, we have collaborated  on others. Most recently, EDF and Smithfield worked together to help farmers who grow grain for hog feed use fertilizer efficiently and improve soil health. The business and environmental benefits that Smithfield discovered through that effort led the company to want to do more, resulting in today’s industry-leading commitment.

As part of the commitment, one area where Smithfield will work to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint—and one that EDF applauds—is in manure management.

In the past, EDF has pressed Smithfield to improve its manure management, particularly the use of uncovered hog manure lagoons. Now, within the first five years of its commitment, Smithfield will install manure management practices, including covered lagoons, on at least 30 percent of company-owned farms. These changes will eliminate harmful methane emissions and reduce ammonia nitrogen, which contributes to human respiratory illness and impairs water quality. Furthermore, Smithfield will work with its contract growers to expand the use of those practices over the full term of its commitment.

It’s inspiring to see Smithfield’s overall climate commitment and willingness to change its position on an issue like manure management. It shows how NGO/corporate collaborations can work over the long term.

With its climate commitment, Smithfield has set the bar for other livestock companies. We encourage others to follow Smithfield’s lead and set their own public targets based in strong science to reduce the climate and environmental impacts of animal agriculture and food production.

Sustainability in food supply chains: a challenge worth tackling

The climate crisis can’t be solved without addressing emissions from livestock and agriculture:

Food and agriculture companies, however, face major barriers in setting and achieving supply chain sustainability commitments. As a general rule, the majority of their environmental impacts come from the many disparate farms that grow the grains, produce, and animals that end up in our food. For companies that often do not even know the locations of those farms, it is a major challenge to influence those farmers to become more sustainable.

At the same time, food and agriculture companies see that consumers are demanding increased transparency and responsibility for all of their impacts, particularly those on human health, the environment, and animal welfare. The challenge is to figure out how to make needed improvements without substantial price increases at the grocery checkout.

The business case for sustainability – and collaboration

Companies like Smithfield are watching consumer trends and placing a bet that sustainability will be good for their bottom line. They can’t reap these benefits, though, unless they focus on providing value to the farmers in their supply chains. This value can come in many forms – some companies are offering premiums for sustainably grown grain, while others are helping farmers access programs and technologies that reduce the costs of farming.

As a vertically integrated company that owns grain elevators, feed mills, hog farms, and pork processing plants, Smithfield has a unique view into its own supply chain. But many don’t know that Smithfield purchases half of its hogs on the open market, which means the company only has clear visibility through half of its supply chain for pork. In setting a goal for its entire upstream supply chain, Smithfield is committing to work with others in the agriculture industry to assist a broad range of hog and grain farmers adopt more sustainable practices.

Smithfield’s collaboration with EDF demonstrated that the company could improve sustainability in feed grain production, the most remote link of its supply chain, in a way that benefits its business.

This success created the opening to go further, developing Smithfield’s new greenhouse gas target and putting the company in a leadership position in its industry. While Smithfield is the first livestock company to set a major greenhouse gas reduction goal, a sustainable food supply depends on it not being the last.

Who’s next?