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.


(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.

Read more

Be humble, be bold: inspiration from the 2014 Shared Value Summit

“Be humble; be bold,” said David Browning of TechnoServe, offering his advice on developing partnerships at the 2014 Shared Value Leadership Summit. By that, he explained, your goals should be aspirational, but that you should “ground-truth” your strategies before getting too far ahead of yourself.

Michael Reading

As a manager in new project development with EDF’s corporate partnerships team, I was drawn to the Summit to learn from other organizations working to harness the power of markets to drive societal and environmental progress, creating “shared value” for all involved. Browning’s talk was just one of the highlights of the Summit, where an inspiring combination of expertise, experimentation and uncommon alliances was on display.

Redefining shared value

Shared value is a still-evolving idea, first defined in 2011 as “a management strategy focused on companies creating measurable business value by identifying and addressing social problems that intersect with their business.” While the terminology is new, the concept of creating it through corporate-NGO partnerships thankfully isn’t.

What is new, as noted in the opening plenary, is the rapid shift of companies from launching many small-scale pilot projects to “developing the playbook”–codifying and scaling best practices across business units and entire sectors.

Honing the playbook

The term playbook itself captures the diversity of efforts that companies at the Summit described as necessary to drive real results. “You have to take a variety of approaches to do something big,” said Beth Keck of Walmart in summing up the company’s wide-ranging efforts with international NGO TechnoServe to incorporate one million smallholder farmers into its supply chains. JPMorgan Chase & Co and the Nature Conservancy announced the launch of NatureVest, an innovative new platform drawn from both organizations’ strengths to drive impact investment in conservation.

Partnerships that require both expertise and experimentation to scale up impacts are never easy and speakers offered their hard-won insights. According to Zia Khan of Rockefeller Foundation, partners need to not only care about the problem to be solved, but see it as important to their organization. Our partnership with AT&T came quickly to mind; water scarcity represents a critical operational issue for the company and an important issue for EDF, which has driven us to work together to help AT&T and other companies in five water-stressed areas reduce their water use.

Applying lessons learned

At EDF, I work with colleagues to develop new models to engage business in addressing critical environmental issues, including efforts to reduce pollution from fertilizer and emissions from deforestation, and EDF’s playbook’s getting richer and more diverse with each new project. At the moment we’re ramping up a competition to identify innovative technologies to make it easier for the oil and gas industry to find and quickly fix methane leaks, as well as working with Walmart to phase out toxic chemicals from their supply chain.

With exciting challenges ahead, I look forward to applying lessons learned from the Summit: to be bold in seeking transformational change; be humble in learning from the expertise around me; and to seek alliances, however uncommon, with those willing to work together.

EDF’s private equity work highlighted in Environmental Finance

Last week, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was featured in Environmental Finance. The piece centers on results from our work with the private equity sector on environmental initiatives like EDF Climate Corps and our ESG Management Tool. Below are a couple interesting excerpts from the article:

Creating a competitive advantage

When it comes to managing environmental, social and governance issues, the private equity industry is moving from 'why?' to 'how?', say Tom Murray and Lee Coker

Can you hear it? The private equity (PE) drumbeat for responsible investment is growing louder. 

In five years of leading this effort, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has seen the conversation shift fundamentally from why PE firms should care about environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, to how they can leverage ESG management to improve financial performance – while also driving better environmental and social outcomes.

Today, a whopping 92% of fund managers plan to increase their focus on ESG management in the next three to five years, according to research by Malk Sustainability Partners.

And our ongoing conversations with leading firms support the thesis that ESG issues are increasingly becoming top-of-mind, and not just from a theoretical perspective.

Simply put, PE firms are recognizing the importance of ESG assessment and integration throughout the investment process to decrease risk, improve returns and responsibly manage their institutional investors’ money…

Keys to getting started

Another terrific resource for getting started is EDF’s Climate Corps programme, which places specially trained MBA students in companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. It is a powerful way to obtain measurable results for investors, companies and the environment. Since 2008, we have placed 20 Climate Corps fellows at 12 different PE-backed portfolio companies. On average, EDF Climate Corps fellows have found $1 million in savings for their hosts with a total of $1.2 billion in identified savings since the programme began four years ago.

PE sponsors have included Apollo, Carlyle, CD&R, General Atlantic, KKR, Oak Hill Capital Partners and TPG. PE firms have also hosted fellows at the firm level, including CD&R, Carlyle Group’s Real Estate Fund and KKR’s Capstone.


To read the full article, visit Environmental Finance

EDFbiz Brief: Highlights of our recent work

Understandably, hectic schedules and information overflow makes it easy for news to sometimes slip through the cracks. This is why we want to recap some of the exciting things we’ve been working on over the last few months at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).


As we gear up for the summer, we’ve closed the recruiting season for this year’s participants of EDF Climate Corps.  We’ll have 57 fellows working at 49 companies across the U.S.  About half are “repeat customers” – companies that have already participated for at least one year.  This is consistent with our strategy of moving companies beyond the “low-hanging fruit” and expanding program impact through a combination of growth in numbers and deeper change.

Also, in less than a month EDF Climate Corps 2011 will be officially launched with our annual fellow training. We hope you stay tuned to more information on the training and this summer’s program over the next few weeks.


On the retail side of things, Walmart recently announced it has diverted 80% of the waste generated by its stores in California from landfills through a combination of recycling and reuse (the national average is 45%). The company plans to roll out the program to its 4,400 stores and distribution centers across the nation.

In late February, The Washington Post reported that Walmart will start testing products to ensure they do not contain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), chemicals commonly used as flame retardants in furniture, toys and other products.  PBDEs are believed to impact the nervous and endocrine systems in humans.  In consultation with EDF and others, the retailer asked suppliers to stop using PBDEs several years ago; testing will reinforce that supply chain mandate.

Also this year, EDF joined with a group of organizations including Walmart, Target adidas, JC Penney, Levi Strauss and the U.S. EPA to launch the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The coalition intends to develop lifecycle impact information on apparel products, leading toward a sustainability score for garments.  This process complements the sustainability consortium’s efforts to develop measurement and reporting systems for the life cycle of consumer products in other categories, including Food, Beverage, Toys, Electronics, Clothing, Textiles, Home and Personal Care and Paper.


If you’ve been following our blog, then you know all about the Solutions Labs we hosted last year. What came out of those, you ask? Well, we worked with Alta Terra to publish a Summary Report on this series of “unconference” events produced through our Innovation Exchange. These meetings, or Solutions Labs, took place in nine U.S. cities in 2010 and provided more than 700 thinkers and doers from 300 organizations the opportunity to network, share new innovations and inspire further progress.

Also through our Innovation Exchange, we announced an exciting new collaboration with InnoCentive – a “crowdsourcing” platform for innovation – we hope will accelerate environmental performance in business.  We are now recruiting companies to use the web-based platform to access 250,000 entrepreneurs, inventors and scientists around the world to solve environmental challenges with real benefits for business.

As always, you can stay tuned to what is going on in our exciting world of green business by subscribing to our EDF Business blog.

Where You'll Find Us in March

On March 3rd, Gwen Ruta will be a “working-group facilitator” at The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics Conference in Santa Barbara, CA.

From March 9th thru March 12th Jana Holt and Jason Mathers will be at the National Truck Equipment Association’s Work Truck Show in St. Louis, MO. In Conjunction with the Work Truck Show, Jana will be speaking at The Green Truck Summit on Incentives on March 9th. At the event, EDF will be showcasing a new white-paper on greenhouse management for medium duty trucks, based on our Green Fleet program.

Business author Bruce Piasecki will be speaking at the National Press Club’s Holeman Lounge on March 10th about his book "The Surprising Solution," and Dave Witzel will attend the event to learn more about "Succeeding in a Carbon and Capital Constrained World."

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp and Director of Marketing Communications for Corporate Partnerships, Melanie Janin will be in New York City on March 15th for the Economist’s Corporate Citizenship Conference where former President Bill Clinton will give the keynote address. Read more

Why Walmart's Carbon Commitment Can Make Such a Difference

Archimedes said "Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth," when explaining the principle of levers.

Leverage is the big news about Walmart’s announcement today. The company has committed to reducing 20 million metric tons of carbon pollution from its products’ lifecycle and supply chain over the next five years. That’s equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 3.8 million cars.

So is Walmart moving the earth? No, not yet. But this is precisely the kind of innovative approach to reducing carbon pollution that we need right now. Environmental Defense Fund worked closely with Walmart to craft this goal and project that makes the most of what Walmart can uniquely do to cut carbon pollution across the globe.

This commitment is bold because: Read more

EDFix Call #6: GreenXchange, Nike, & Davos

Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Nike and Creative Commons announced their new open innovation initiative, GreenXchange. Nike explains:

Nike and Creative Commons believe in the power of open innovation and share a vision of creating a platform that promotes the creation and adoption of technologies that have the potential to solve important global or industry-wide sustainability challenges.

On Monday, February 8 we will be joined by John Wilbanks, VP for Science at Creative Commons and Kelly Lauber from Nike to talk about the status and goals of GreenXchange.

For more information about GreenXchange you can check out the nifty marketing video, a longer descriptive video, or a creative PDF brochure.

Join us on February 8, 2010 at noon ET (9am PT) for the call:

  • Phone number: +1 (213) 289-0500
  • Code: 267-6815

Get Updates about EDFix Conference Calls

If you'd like to get announcements about upcoming EDFix conference calls and the results with podcast releases, please sign-up here:

Where Do Good (sustainability) Ideas Come From?

Exploring Networking, Knowledge, & Learning for Sustainability

This summer I am fortunate to be working on an internship with Environmental Defense Fund's Innovation Exchange (EDF) and AltaTerra Research. I am exploring how Fortune 1000 executives learn about sustainability and their business. We want to learn more about the resources executives use to make decisions around sustainability – where they get information, generate ideas, find partners, and solve problems. The results will be published by AltaTerra Research and will inform EDF's work to further sustainable business practices.

The first step was to gain familiarity with the sustainable knowledge networking landscape. Read more

Green Innovation in the City of Clean Tech

Boston was recently named the nation's "best city for clean tech" and we were fortunate enough to hold our second Green Innovation for Business Unconference across the river in Cambridge this week at Microsoft New England. Close to 100 business leaders, entrepreneurs, academics and advocates came together for a day-long group-think to figure out how to drive environmental improvements deeper and more quickly into the private sector. Read more

"Green Innovation for Business" Updates

A few updates about the Green Innovation for Business Unconferences that are coming up.

Hurry Up & Register

People are starting to register, especially for the Washington DC event, but there is still plenty of room at all of them.  Don't hesitate, do it now!  Here are links to the registration pages:

(Hint: You can get an idea of who is attending each event by skimming the list at the bottom of each registration page. It gives organization and title of each registrant.)

Let's Discuss What We Should Discuss

Since the Unconferences are "open space" format events, there is no fixed agenda. Those of use who attend will decide what to talk about after we arrive. But that doesn't mean we can't do some homework in advance. Ashoka is offering one opportunity with their Social Entrepreneurs Chat on Wednesday June 3 (4 to 6pm ET). The general topic is entrepreneurship and the environment but they have encouraged us to discuss topics for the Unconferences as well.

Another opportunity is through the event wiki and community site. Even if you can't attend an event, please join and participate online. (You'll have to register with wetpaint to participate.)

Thanks to New Supporters

In addition to the generosity of Google for offering space in their DC office and Microsoft for offering use of their new R&D facility in Cambridge Mass, we'd like to welcome and thank these supporters who have joined us:

Greener World Media as our media sponsor.

GreenBiz Logo

Event supporters, so far, are:

SN NoW Logo

Sustainable Business Network of Washington


Academy for Educational Development Logo

 Academy for Educational Development

2degrees Logo





SOUP Group Logo

The SOAP Group

Please visit the event wiki to learn how you too can become a sponsor.

Have a great weekend.