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Category Archive: News

Are product sustainability programs at a tipping point?

By Chris Nelson, GreenBiz, published 8-22-12

“Over the last few months, I’ve had a chance to speak to a large number of senior business, EH&S and sustainability leaders at a variety of Fortune 500 ERM clients about product sustainability and what it means to their organizations. What resonated in these conversations is that designing and implementing product sustainability programs at an enterprise level is now a strategic imperative for many companies. This was a consistent theme across many different market sectors and was being driven by the belief that a product sustainability program could create significant business value for their organizations.

Generally, these programs focus on improving permforance across the enterprise in the following areas (including but not limited to): life-cycle management, product regulatory compliance, supply-chain management, materials, waste, energy, water, packaging and product innovation. Companies are finally being able to see that a product sustainability program can lead to opportunities to increase sales, reduce risk, improve brand recognition and trust as well as develop organizational capabilities related to sustainability and innovation. And, of course, an improvement in their overall environmental and social performance.

This hasn’t always been the case. Companies historically addressed product sustainability issues reactively, intended to deal with a specific customer request related to a product life-cycle or supply-chain initiative, or with a pressing regulatory issues. It was not becasue they saw the ability to create business value by designing and implementing product sustainability programs at the enterprise level.

Companies are not seeing that the status quo of reactive responses is no longer enough. Many of these companies are seeing their market leadership position erode as their competitors are beginning to make serious commitments – as well as substantive progress – towards product sustainability leadership. They are realizing that they need to be more proactive in understanding and meeting regulatory requirements to ensure they have a license to operate in an environment where the global regulatory landscape is increasing and becoming more complex. They have better access to product-level data and information as a result of the implementation of large-scale EHS and sustianbility information systems; these systems not only report what is – or is not – in a given product, but can also indicate resource (e.g. energy) intensity to help manufacturers improve overall business processes. Some companies are losing business by not effectively communicating the environmental impacts of their products and operations in response to a customer supply chain initiative.

Most importantly, there is an increasing emphsis placed on product life-cycle management to ensure their companies are focusing their attention on the most important opportunities and issues across the product value chain.

Most of these companies are struggling to understand how to unlock potential business value from a product sustainability program and to identify and access the resources they need to deliver on their vision for product sustainability. That’s where the challenges and complexity of designing and implementing product sustainability programs expose themselves. The business value is difficult to determine and in most cases the companies do not have – or are unsure as to whether they have – the right resources to make all of this a reality, from a people, tools and infrastructure perspective.”

To read the rest of the article and learn the questions a company should ask when designing and implementing a product sustainability program, CLICK HERE.

UW – Green Bay Listed by Sierra Magazine as a “Cool School”

UW-Green Bay rated a first-ever appearance on Sierra Magazine’s 6th annual “Cool Schools” ranking. Coming in at #65 out of a total of 96 schools that were ranked, UWGB was one of only two University of Wisconsin System schools appearing in the list. The other, UW – Oshkosh (#14), shows that higher education institutions in northeast Wisconsin are working hard to improve the sustainability of our campuses.

The ranking is a nice recognition of the consistent effort made by many people over many years on our campus to keep improving energy efficiency, innovating, participating in and providing education on environmental issues, policy and sustainability.  

Open to all four-year colleges and universities in the United States, campuses could participate in the review process by completing an in-depth survey about their school’s sustainability practices. The survey developed was a result of collaboration between Sierra, Princeton Review, Sustainable Endowments Institute and Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).  Its questions focus on measurable environmental goals and achievements, with priority given to achievements.

To view the Cool Schools issue and see UWGB’s ranking in the 11 categories included in the survey, CLICK HERE.

 

College endowments lose top grades in sustainable investments

By Robert Kropp, GreenBiz.com, July 23, 2012

“College and university endowments no longer lead the practice of sustainable investment. In fact, as a new report from the IRRC Institute and the Tellus Institute points out, many if not most endowments now lag behind the mainstream institutional investors, whose uptake of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investment criteria is growing.

Titled “Environmental, Social and Governance Investing by College and University Endowments in the United States: Social Responsibility, Sustainability, and Stakeholder Relations,” the report presents findings that are ‘counterintuitive,’ according to the IRRC Institute executive director Jon Lukomnik.

‘Historically, endowments were groundbreaking institutional investors that addressed social and environmental considerations in their investments far earlier than others,’ Lukomnik said. ‘Our findings indicate that today’s endowment no longer are leaders in the institutional ESG investment arena.’

College and university endowments control about $400 billion in assets. However, the report found that a widely practiced and standardized conceptualization among endowments of sustainable and responsible investments was lacking. An understanding of sustainable and community investments was also missing.

Moreover, when ESG criteria were applied, endowments most commonly restricted them to ‘single-issue negative screening of public-equity portfolios,’ instead of adopting the positive, or best-in-class, screening of corporations that is increasingly the strategy of choice among sustainable investors, the report found.

Endowments also persist in their concentration on proxy-voting recommendations, although, as the report points out, many have shifted their investments from equitities to alternative asset classes where proxy voting is less significant.

There was a time when colleges and universities in the U.S. were among the leading institutions in adopting ESG criteria in their investments. For instance, their endowments took a leading role in the divestment campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. The involvement of students in shareowner advocacy is another example.

Another indication of the failure of endowments to keep up with an increasingly sophisticated industry is the absence of these institutions as signatories to major institutional networks. Not a single endowment is a member of the United Nations’ Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI), and only one is a member of the Council of Institutional Investors (CII).

The report also found that endowments’ transparency among ESG investments remained ‘paricularly poor.’

‘Colleges are regularly self-reporting unverifiable data about their ESG investment policies and practices, which upon investigation prove to be overstated,’ the report concluded.”  

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article.

News Bit: Facebook shares its carbon footprint

Published on GreenBiz.com, by Joel Makower, 8-1-12

“Facebook today revealed for the first time information about its carbon footprint, citing the ‘power of openness.’ The data, covering the energy use for its data centers and global offices, reflects both the company’s efforts to reduce energy use and increase renewable energy consumption, as well as the challenges it faces to steadily improve those efforts.

‘We’re releasing this data because we believe in the power of openness, and because we hope that adding another data point to our collective understanding of our industry’s environmental impact will help us all keep improving,’ the company said in a statement.

At first glance it’s a happy story. The company said that last year, its data centers and operations used 532 million kilowatt hours of energy, emitting 285,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. By contrast, Google revealed last year that its carbon footprint equaled nearly 1.5 million metric tons, more than five times Facebook’s. (Google’s ‘energy czar’ at the time was Bill Weihl, who now serves as Facebook’s ‘sustainability guru.’)

For the typical Facebook user, a year’s worth of liking and posting consumes just 269 grams of carbon equivalent – ‘roughly the same carbon footprint as one medium latte,’ the company pointed out. ‘Or three large bananas. Or a couple of glasses of wine.’ To put that in perspective, a typical U.S. household’s annual carbon footprint is about 48 tons, according to the Cool Climate Network at the University of California, Berkeley. Suffice to say, that’s a helluva lot of lattes.

But Facebook is quick to note that ‘as a fast-growing company our carbon footprint and energy mix may get worse before they get better.’ That’s due primarily to the challenges of sourcing sufficient clean power where the company sites its data centers. Facebook’s goal is to source 25 percent of its power from clean-energy sources by 2015, which is only a tad better than the 23 percent of ‘clean and renewable’ energy the company now uses. Still, according to Facebook, achieving 25 percent ‘is going to be a stretch for us, and we’re still figuring out exactly what it will take to get there.’

To read more about Facebook’s efforts, activist pressures on the company, and what they’re doing 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, CLICK HERE.

News Bit: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is

  By Bill McKibben, from the RollingStone.com, July 19, 2012

“If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change. June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meterologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded in our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the ‘largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.’ The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.

Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world’s nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn’t even attend. It was ‘a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago,’ the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls ‘once thronged by multitudes.’ Since I wrote one of the the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I’ve spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it beacuse, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you j ust need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithemtical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn’t yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to undertand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless position with three simple numbers.

To learn about these “3 simple numbers,” the ‘enemy’, and to consider what you believe regarding climate change, read the rest of this scary article HERE.

 

News Bit: The Importance of Embedding Sustainability in Secondary Education Curriculums


By Hunter Lovins, posted on TriplePundit.com, July 20, 2012

“The diverse crises that the planet faces will only be solved when companies and communities implement authentic and innovative sustainability practices. It is therefore encouraging that there are an increasing number of colleges and universities now including sustainability as part of their campus management programs and curriculum.

Are these programs effective enough to create the next generation of thought leaders our world needs? The answer is, ‘No. Not yet.’

A good start is underway, however. Pressure from companies, students, and ranking organizations is forcing colleges and universities to embrace sustainability.

The business community is demanding candidates with sustainability training. Accenture found that over 93 percent of CEO’s see sustainability as crucial to business success, with 88 percent stating it needs to be fully embedded into their strategy and operations.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting is increasing annually, creating job openings for graduates familiar with integrated reporting. Given that about 20 percent of CSR reports each year are submitted by companies reporting for the first time, recruiting candidates who are familiar with sustainability, or training existing employees is a top priority for these companies. Job candidates who hae a strong knowledge of sustainability are better positioned not only to fill current job openings, but help lead their companies into the future.

A 2010 study by McKinsey found, however, that many companies need education on how to go forward. Most executives surveyed considered sustainability important to the their future, agreeing that the management of environmental, social, and governance issues was ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important in a wide range of areas, including new product development, reputation building, and overall corporate strategy. However, only 30 percent said that their companies actively sought opportunities to invest in sustainability or embed it in their business practices. Respondents admitted to a pervasive lack of understanding of what sustainability is and how to implement it. This educational gap, they stated, was inhibiting action.”

To read more about current action steps being taken at colleges and universities across the country (including UW-Green Bay) and the three problems identified as to where efforts are falling short, READ the rest of the article HERE.  

Do you think UW-Green Bay is doing a good job of embedding sustainability into our campus culture?

Olympic Park Sets Gold Standard for Sustainability

  from CNN.com, by Erin McLaughlin and Matthew Knight

“It’s hard to believe that this area of east London was once a dilapidated and neglected quarter of the UK capital.

With shiny new stadiums and visitor facilities nestling among the lush landscaped grounds, every detail of the 500-acre Olympic Park has taken into account environmental concerns, prompting 2012 organizers to bill it as the first sustainable Olympics.

David Stubbs, head of sustainability for the London 2012 Games, was part of the original team that drafted London’s successful bid.

Sustainability was a key reason why London was chosen, he says, and provides a golden opportunity to show what can be achieved.

‘If you can put sustainability at the heart of a project which is the largest logistical exercise in peace time — across 26 different sports, with thousands of people attending and millions watching — then you can do it anywhere,’ Stubbs said.

Many of the park’s bridges have been constructed using gabion walls (steel mesh filled with stones and rubble) providing a visual reminder of the Games’ green goals.

‘There’s a huge emphasis on reuse and recycling,’ says Stubbs.

‘All the buildings that were knocked downs, all that rubble was sort of crushed up and used as the fillings for these gabions for the new bridges.’”

For the rest of the article on the arenas and landscape of the 2012 Olympic Games, read HERE.

 

News Bit: Overcoming the Yuckiness of Eating Bugs and Seaweed Can Help Save the World

By Josh Schonwald, posted on Slate.com, June 25, 2012

“About 200 years ago, the lobster was regarded by most Americans as a filthy, bottom-feeding scavenger unfit for consumption by civilized people. Frequently ground up and used as fertilizer, the crustacean was, at best, poor people’s food. In fact, in some colonies, the lobster was subject to laws – laws that forbade feeding it to prisoners more than once a week because that was “cruel and unusual” treatment.

Things obviously changed for the one-time prisoner’s grub. It’s a gastronomic delicacy, the star of festivals, subject of odes to New England summers, a peer of prime rib.

I’m telling the story of the rise of lobster (as described in David Foster Wallace’s brilliant Gourmet piece ‘Consider the Lobster’) because it’s a tale of hope, a shining example of triumph over the yuck factor.

Much of the conversation about how to solve the coming food crisis caused by soaring population, diminishing resources, and a warming planet focuses rightly on technology, reducing waste, and improving food access and distribution methods. But equal urgency needs to be devoted to simply broadening our appetites. Two food sources that strike many as unpalatable – insects and seaweed – could play a critical role in not only feeding the 2.5 billion extra humans expected by 2050, but doing so in a green, climate-friendly way.

With the exception of honey (bee vomit), insects pretty much reside in Fear Factor and Bizarre Foods country. If you’re not familiar with the bug-food phobia, consider March’s Frappuccino incident. A barista revealed that Starbucks was using cochineal beetles to color its strawberry frap, prompting headlines like ‘Starbucks Lovers Bug Out Over Creepy Frappuccino Incident.’ Within weeks, Starbucks apologized, replacing the beetle juice with tomato-extract coloring. The point: insects are overwhelmingly viewed as filthy, creepy, dangerous, inedible – and not just to vegans.

But this prejudice against eating insects – four-fifths of all know organisms on earth – is slowly staring to change. A growing number of people are beginning to recognize that bugs, such as mealworms, grasshoppers, and crickets, may be the ultimate sustainable protein source. In fact, in January 2012, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization held an insect world summit of sorts – 37 international experts gathered in Rome to discuss the role of insects in achieving global food security.

Many insects are what you might call superfood – rich in protein, low in fat and cholesterol, high in essential vitamins and minerals like calcium and iron. More important, insects are green super-foods. Bugs are cold-blooded (they don’t waste energy to stay warm), so they’re far more efficient at converting feed to meat than cattle or pigs. Ten grams of feed produces one gram of beef or three grams of pork, but it can yield nine grams of edible insect meat, according to research from Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University. Yet insects still have virtually the same amount of protein as beef or pork. A 100-gram portion of grasshopper meat contains 20.6 grams of protein, just 7 grams less than an equivalent portion of beef.

If the protein numbers and energy efficiency don’t move you to try a grilled locust, consider this: Insects use a fraction of the water and land of conventional livestock, plus they’re climate-friendly. According to van Huis’ research, breeding edible insects, like locusts and crickets, emits just 10 percent of the methane from livestock and about 0.3 percent of the nitrous oxide. Insects are also natural recyclers that thrive on paper and industrial wastes – stuff that would normally be trashed.

Insect-eating doesn’t have a yuck factor in most of the world. Venezuelans eat French-fried ants. Ghanaians eat bread made out of termites. Thailand has more than 15,000 locust farmers. As pro-bug people like to point out, 70 percent of the world’s population eats more than 1,400 insects.

Fear of insect eating is peculiar to North Americans and Europeans. Advocates of a global surge in ‘micro-livestock’ – that’s the euphemistic term some like to apply to insect farming – are tyring to challenge the phobia.”

For the rest of this very thought-provoking article, go HERE. See what might be showing up on the shelves of Costco or Sam’s Club in the future…

News Bit: Why Efficiency is Smarter than Renewables

by Marc Gunther, Greenbiz.com, published June 15, 2012

“Real estate is the largest source of clean energy in this country, and it’s very inexpensively tapped.”

“So said Tony Malkin, the president of Malkin Holdings, owner of the Empire State Building.

Malskin spoke this week at the annual Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington, D.C. and he’s got a point, albeit a controversial one.

If we – or more to the point, the people who represent us in Washington – have $1 to spend, better that it be spent on energy efficiency than on clean energy. That’s not way things work now. Today, wind and solar power get generous tax breaks and subsidies. Energy efficiency investment do not. The government has it exactly backward.

Why? First let’s stipulate that money spent on efficiency and on clean energy creates short-term jobs. The efficiency-related jobs are more likely to be US jobs (because most solar panels are made in China) but set that aside for a moment. What matters is what happens after the insulation goes into a building, or the panels go up on the roof.

The problem with clean energy is that electricity from wind turbines or solar panels, as a rule, costs more than power generated by burning coal or natural gas. If it didn’t, the wind and solar industries wouldn’t need the investment tax credits and renewable portfolio mandates that are vital to the business. But over time the higher costs of clean energy create a drag on economic growth, whether they are paid by the government or by energy users.

By contrast, money spend on efficiency reduces costs over time. So, whether we are talking about more efficient factories, commercial buidlings, homes or even cars, the spending on efficiency makes the economy more productive, driving economic growth and creating jobs in the long run.

Yet the government generously subsidizes wind and solar. Efficiency, not so much.

Actually, it’s a bit worse than that. Since businesses can deduct legitimate expenses on their tax returns, they pay less than the full cost of their electricity bills.

“I get a tax deduction for wasting energy,” Dave Meyers, president of building efficiency business at Johnson Controls, said wryly during the forum.

“It is absolutely insane to me that energy can be expensed on your tax bill,” Malkin agreed.

Let me hasten to add that we need both energy efficiency and clean energy, and in my view, both deserve strong policy support. Remember, scientists say that to avoid risky climate change, the world needs to curb its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. That will require the aggressive deployment of low-carbon energy sources, as well as dramatic gains in efficiency. But we also should be clear about how the costs and benefits work, so we an get the policy right, and especially think about why the government isn’t doing more to promote efficiency.

Read the rest of the article HERE – what’s your opinion – renewable, efficiency, both? How?

News Bit: Fryer Grease Hits the Black Market

Story by Samantha Neary, posted in TriplePundit.com on June 13, 2012.

“We know that oil consumption is a hot topic today, especially in this volatile economic climate. For example, biodiesel has taken center stage this week with reports of increased grease theft from restaurant kitchens nationwide, subsequently creating an underground frying oil market.

With green energy becoming evermore prevalent and effective, the demand for biodiesel has inspired many to cash in. Here is how it happens: restaurants store used cooking grease in barrels to be picked up by a collection company, “green” thieves steal the grease and resell it to recyclers who then process it and sell the processed biodiesel to someone in the transportation industry. Yes, all this effort is over lard.

For years, restaurants had to pay companies to haul away old grease, which was used mostly in animal feed. Some gave it away to locals who used it make biodiesel for their converted car engines. But with a demand for biofuel rising, fryer oil now trades on a booming commodities market, commanding around 40 cents per pound, about four times what it sold for 10 years ago. Many restaurants now have contracts with collection companies to sell their grease for about $300 per container. This boost in value is tempting for thieves, especially in hard times like we face today, so the renering industry has been trying to lock down the growing market from freeloaders. But barrels of grease are still slipping through the cracks. So instead of restaurants paying collection companies, they are not paying lawyers to persecute grease thieves.

It did take some time, however, for this type of larceny to be taken seriously in court. ‘The reception in municipal court is very uneven,’ said Steven T. Singer, a lawyer in New Jersey. ‘You’re reliant upon the prosecutors, so you got to get them to understand the seriousness of this, as well as the judge.’”

Go to the rest of the story and watch the video from a security cam of a grease thief slipping away with the goods HERE.