The future is sweet – and sustainable – for Allbirds

If you take a quick look around your office, it probably won’t be hard to spot a pair of shoes made by Allbirds, the San Francisco-based footwear company that makes its products using materials like wool and eucalyptus fiber.

The two year-year old company aims to make comfortable, sustainably-made shoes – and they seem to be everywhere. Just last week the company launched a new line of shoes, actually flip-flops, with soles made from sugar-cane instead of petroleum. Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown calls the new material, SweetFoam™, “our biggest sustainable-material innovation moment yet.”

I spoke with Tim to learn more about his approach to design and innovation and to look behind the sustainability curtain at Allbirds. Read more

Private Equity as 'Environmental Crusaders?' The Times They Are a-Changin'

This is a guest post by Ian Bailey, Managing Partner of Capital C Partners, a strategic communications firm.

What do mattress maker Sealy Corp., discount retailer Dollar General and consumer guides publisher PRIMEDIA  all have in common?  They’re all private equity-owned and have adopted new, environmentally sound business practices delivering millions of dollars in annual savings.

Given the turbulent ride the financial services sector has endured over the past few years it seems counter-intuitive that anyone in the sector would be devoting special attention to environmental matters. The private equity industry has been beset with multiple issues, including constrained access to capital, overleveraged portfolio companies, a paucity of public market exits, the tax treatment of carried interest under scrutiny and growing calls by LPs for greater transparency. So it would seem the industry is a particularly unlikely candidate for embracing new thinking on environmental matters. However, that’s precisely what has happened. Read more

Make every day Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, but the idea of living an environmentally-conscious lifestyle doesn’t have to begin and end with what you do today.  Even though the media loves Earth Day, today shouldn't be the only day we think about the environmental impacts of what we do both professionally and personally.

Colin Beavan, aka "No Impact Man," sets a good example – and provides good resources – for all of us.  For those of you familiar with Beavan's documentary No Impact Man, you know about his attempts cut down his family’s environmental footprint to as close to zero as possible (and if you’re not familiar with the film, you can easily get up to speed: watch the trailer or watch it on Netflix instant streaming).  In the film, you see Beavan run through a broad spectrum of environmental experiments from composting to installing solar panels on his roof and everything in between.

The idea of living an environmentally-conscious lifestyle doesn’t have to begin and end with Earth Day. Beavan has lots of ideas for doing this year-round on his frequently-updated No Impact Project site, where you can find a list of iPhone apps that can help you form ‘no impact’ habits (including recycling, carpooling and organic shopping). You can also sign up to receive a “how-to manual” that will send you ideas on how to get through the week by being green, along with other great tips. Read more

The Future of Corporate-NGO Partnerships: Insights from the Fortune 500

Last week, we hosted an intimate lunch at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel to get the perspective of Fortune 500 firms on the future of Corporate-NGO Partnerships.

Our Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, Gwen Ruta, kicked off the lunchtime conversation with an interesting insight: “20 years ago [when we partnered with McDonald’s], it was heresy that an NGO would partner with a company.  Nowadays, nearly every large business has an NGO engagement strategy.  Could it be that tomorrow’s heresy is that companies share environmental innovations and best practices with each other to solve environmental problems?”

This probing question elicited some really astute ideas from the lunch attendees, and was too rich to include every detail here, but here’s a snapshot of some great comments that emerged on ways that Environmental Defense Fund might scale its impact:

  • “The key is to determine which areas of sustainability are truly competitive and which can be shared openly amongst companies.  For example, if key green technologies are expensive, it’s to the benefit of all companies to work together to bring down those costs.” Read more

Five barriers to energy efficiency savings – and how smart companies can overcome them

Here’s a business conundrum for you: energy efficiency saves serious money, cuts carbon pollution, requires low tech solutions, and is a known quotient, having been around since the 1970s. So why are so many companies still not taking the necessary steps to identify and eliminate these inefficiencies?

“What we learned in Econ 101 doesn’t hold true when it comes to energy efficiency – the notion of perfect markets, where information flows freely and people are maximizing their value,” notes Environmental Defense Fund’s Gwen Ruta. “Instead, it’s as if companies across the globe are walking around with a hole in their pocket with coins dribbling out nonstop.”

How is it that smart companies who are vigilant about monitoring the bottom line, stock price, customer satisfaction and much more let this wasteful “dribbling” occur?  This question launched a robust discussion at a Fortune Brainstorm Green session last week titled “A Trillion Dollar Opportunity: The Hunt for Energy Efficiency.” Gwen Ruta was joined on the panel by Gretchen Hancock, Project Manager for Corporate Environmental Programs at GE; Bill Weihl, Google’s Green Energy Czar and Beth Trask, Deputy Director of EDF’s Innovation Exchange.  GE and Google have made huge strides around energy efficiencies in past years, with still more work to do on the horizon and still some barriers of their own to break down.

So what are the main barriers to energy efficiency and how can companies try to overcome them? 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

Consumed by Consumption

Last month, I attended my first Solutions Lab in Durham, North Carolina. For those that don't know, Environmental Defense Fund is hosting Solutions Labs around the country to bring together sustainability thought leaders from all walks of life. To be honest, I was a little skeptical that the "unconference"-style event (one where attendees choose the topics of discussion) would be a good use of my time. Fortunately, my concerns were unwarranted. Not only was this one of the best conferences I've attended in a long time, but it also tackled an issue that the sustainable business community has generally shied away from – CONSUMPTION. 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