Thursday, December 28, 2006

Questions About Wind Power & Green Advertising

It seems to me that with each passing day that more attention is being given to the numerous topics that make up 'sustainability' or corporate social responsibility. During my break, I haven't been online much, so I have not posted much to this blog. I was, however, waiting for someone today and had a few minutes to read today's New York Times' business section. Two articles speak to these topics.

The first, which is on the cover of the print version, deals with the limits of wind power. For example, in Texas, the hottest days are also the least windy. As a consequence of that, back up is needed and that can be electricity from coal. The article does speak of research being done to use the excess electricity produced by wind power, on days that allow for a surplus, to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could be burned or run through a fuel cell to make electricity for the times when it is needed. The result, though, is that half of the stored electricity will be lost in the process.

Read the article for another potential use for the excess wind power when there is excess. This use will help to reduce the use of natural gas. The article also makes a point that carbon dioxide still is not given a cost - one of the truly huge faults in our economic system (that costs are not accurately accounted for in products that harm our environment).

The other article in today's New York Times business deals with the relatively recent increase in advertising agencies that specialize in 'green' ads. It mentions how some of these smaller agencies are landing big clients.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Efficient Processes as a Way to Sustainability

To those who celebrate, I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas.

I am in the middle of reading "Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution", a book that probably should be one of the first, if not the first, book on sustainability that people read. I don't know why it has taken me so long to get to it, but I am just glad that I chose to read it during a break between semesters so I could give it its just attention.

Anyway, what I got out of one of the chapters (among other things) is that just by being more efficient, companies can be more sustainable. It may seem obvious, but it's not something that I have found myself ever focused on. Interesting, then, that the same day I read that particular chapter, I read an article in FAST COMPANY called, "No Satisfaction at Toyota". The article is about just that - that the employees of the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky are constantly changing their processes in search of continous improvement. In particular, the example I'll mention is detailed at the beginning of the article - an example that shows that improvements in their process of painting cars has resulted in Toyota now throwing away virtually no paint, where they had thrown away approximately 30%.

In an ideal world, Toyota and all other car manufacturers would use paint that was not toxic or harmful to the environment in any way. On the way to these types of changes, however, being as efficient as possible is something to strive for.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fortune 500 Green Power Challenge

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched its Fortune 500 Green Power Challenge, "a 13-month campaign that will focus on the collective green power purchases of eligible Fortune 500 companies." The basis of the challenge is for these Fortune 500 companies to double their current purchase level of green power, such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and biogas. Reaching the EPA's goal of exceeding 5 billion killowatt hours (kWh) by the end of 2007 is equivalent to enough green power to power 400,000 'typical' homes in the U.S. and avoiding approximately 680,000 cars each year.

Considering that currently only slightly more than 8% of the Fortune 500 companies buy any amount of green power, this seems to be a very modest goal that simply needs a few more of these companies to step up.

More about the Fortune 500 Green Power Challenge can be seen here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

New Technology to Help Power Grid Efficiency

There is an interview in today's New York Times with James E. Rogers, the president and CEO of Duke Energy. He says there is a new technology, broadband over the power line (B.P.L.), that will allow for the power grid to operate more efficiently. This means that the power lost as the energy is carried over power lines will be significantly reduced because the system will be able to identify problems better. According to Rogers, the added efficiency should be enough to reduce the number of power plants that have to be built - this will reduce added costs to consumers and reduce the environmental footprint of power companies.

Rogers says that consumers will start to feel the impact of this technology in the next 3 - 5 years.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Good Article recently posted an article about "Business Sees Green in Going Green". Read it to read about some companies who are changing their practice of categorizing disposal of their trash into 'overhead costs' and penalties from regulators into 'legal costs' by looking at it all as environmental costs. The article also mentions how more and more companies are embracing the "Triple Bottom Line", the idea that in addition to measuring financial impact, environmental and social impact is measured and reported as well.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Airports Can Save Money by Recycling

According to this article from the Washington Post, more than eight out of ten times, airports do not recycle the aluminum cans that are given to passengers on flights. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study cited states that the airline industry disposes of enough aluminum cans each year to build 58 747s. The EPA estimates that airports recycle at a 17% rate, while the national average is 32%. The NRDC study also stated that the airports that recycled the most saved money.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Retailers Giving Back

This article specifically speaks of Seattle retailers Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), Costco, and Starbucks. Interesting point about REI's choice of benefactors - they give to the preservation of outdoor recreation because they won't have customers (aka they can't be sustainable) without available outdoor recreational activities.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Giving a Cost to CO2 Emissions

I highly recommend this article from today's New York Times. It is about the need to put a cost to CO2 emissions in order to cut them.

Traditionally, economists have said that the free market will most efficiently allocate resources to its best uses; however, this thinking doesn't put a cost to depleting resources, so depleting resources are not accounted for. This is a major reason that industry has grown as it has and why it is so difficult to have companies cut CO2 emissions.

Putting a cost on CO2 emissions, while not something that can be precise, may be the only way to make industry more efficient. If companies have to actually consider this 'added' cost of environmental degradation, they will work to reduce these costs.

The NY Times article speaks of a couple of different ideas to include this cost - one is a tax on CO2 emissions; the other is a cap-and-trade system, where companies are given permits to pollute a certain amount. Those who pollute less can sell these permits to the those who pollute more. This does add a cost to the biggest polluters who, theoretically, will work to reduce these costs.

The article also gets into the need to for us to produce energy more efficiently with technology that is already here, such as using compact fluorescent lightbulbs and improving insulation in homes, buildings and factories.

Overall, the article talks about the fact that taking major steps now serves as an insurance policy for our future. The example the article says its most like is how we reacted in the Cold War - we taxed ourselves to protect ourselves from an outcome that could have been devastating, but not guaranteed to be so. In other words, the potential outcomes of what global warming can do to our world are varied in their severity. We need to act now to insure our future against potentially devasting outcomes.

Something else the article mentions is the need to for India and China to get on board as well. Interestingly and fortunately, another article today speaks of how a top energy official in China discusses how China wants to slow its growth in carbon emissions.

Nissan to Launch 'Greener' Cars

Nissan has announced that they will be launching a number of differnt environmentally-friendlier cars such as cars with continuously variable transmission (CVT), which emit up to 10% less greenhouse emissions than automatic transmission, by the end of the 2007/2008 business year; cleaner diesel engines with a parternship with Renault; bio-ethanol fueled cars in Brazil by 2009; hybrids by 2010; and an electric car and a next-generation fuel cell vehicle shortly after 2010.

Nissan also announced that they are planning to cut CO2 emissions from their manufacturing plants 7% (when compared to 2005 levels) by 2010.

SAS Donations to Help Underserved

Cary, NC-based SAS has donated over $200,000 worth of their business intelligence software to Social Compact, 'a coalition of business leaders who are promoting successful business investments in underserved communities.' The SAS software will help Social Compact "analyze inner-city markets and create accurate, business-oriented profiles of "emerging" neighborhood markets." The aim is to "give potential investors a clear picture of investment opportunities in underserved parts of the US."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Interview with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus

Today's NY Times features an article on Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Prize winner. The article talks about a new "social business" he's starting (may need to sign on to the NY Times). The interview gets into his thoughts on how his microfinance operation is helping bring the poor out of poverty.

More Automakers to Introduce Environmentally-Conscious Vehicles

Here is an article about how many automakers at the recent L.A. Auto Show are introducing more green cars.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Belgium Brewery

I had the opportunity to hear a representative from New Belgium Brewery, a brewery that produces craft beer. Here is a brief article about the company, which uses business to cause change.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Virgin Atlantic Trial Aims to Save Fuel, Cut CO2 Emissions

Virgin Atlantic is going to have 13 of its planes towed to take-off areas with its engines off in a trial that aims to save fuel and cut CO2 emissions. The engines would not run until about ten minutes prior to takeoff. Virgin estimates that towing 747s can save up to 2 tons of fuel per flight, which could save up to 120,000 tons in carbon emissions per year.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Profiting from Your Unused Car

I came across this interesting article about one person's idea for people to share their cars, in effect, during the long period of time each and every day that they are not using it. It's an intriguing idea.