Friday, October 28, 2011

Pondering The Possibilities of Swappable Electric Vehicle Batteries

Readers of Conservation Value Notes know that I'm an enthusiast of Better Place electric vehicle battery systems. Running low on charge?  Instead of having to plug in my electric vehicle (EV) for hours to recharge, I can simply pull into a battery swap station. In minutes, I'm driving out with a fully-charged battery!

I can envision how battery swapping capability might offer ways around the range limitation of electric vehicles, a key factor holding back peoples' trust in them as everyday cars.  Let's say I need to drive to Tahoe for a ski weekend in my Better Place-powered EV.  If my limited-range spare battery (which I keep in the trunk) is not enough to get me there, I simply rent an extra battery or two (and maybe a portable overnight charger), and I'm good to go!  There's another a business opportunity (and an entire service sector) that could come out of the EV industry -- in the emerging paradigm detailed in Lisa Ganskey's The Mesh.

Even better?  How about if my house is powered by a solar electric system and Better Place offers a home back-up power supply in which the batteries are compatible with my EV?  They can therefore double as extra batteries for road trips!  Heading out of town for a camping trip in a wilderness up near Mt. Shasta? I simply pull one or two of the batteries out of my Better Place-compatible home back-up power supply and toss them in the trunk.

Granted, I have no idea how near or far Better Place actually might be from this vision.  I'm just pondering the possibilities of swappable EV battery technology.

What do you think -- which battery system is going to win in the emerging world of electric vehicles?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

America's Powergrid is an Embarrassingly Inefficient Eyesore

Have you ever walked down the street and gotten just a little bit disgusted by the sheer ugliness of the power grid?  Powerlines dangling everywhere, trees hacked away to make room for dangling wires that inefficiently connect our homes to a power plant that is often tens or even hundreds of miles away.

This is one of many reasons my eyes brighten at the thought of mass deployment of distributed energy -- putting a solar electric and hot water system on every house and building.  As I like to say, "empty roofs = wasted space."

Just think of the tens if not hundreds of millions of acres of empty roof tops out there waiting to be tapped for their energy potential, from homes and apartment buildings, to office buildings, shopping malls and Wal-Marts.

The power grid in America is also so outdated, it makes those tawdry Cadillacs from the '70's look like modern marvels of innovation. As this piece from Green Tech media reports, it is obscenely wasteful compared to what we're seeing from our clean tech competitors (the boldfacing is mine):
China has the world's fastest supercomputer, the fastest high speed trains and is leading the world in building nuclear plants. One of its more remarkable achievements has been modernizing the grid. The country has developed a 1 million AC volt transmission line that loses only 8 percent of its power on a 1,200 mile journey from the power plant in western China to the cities in the east. 
An equivalent U.S. line, with only 760 kilovolts, would lose 80 percent of its power.
That's just embarrassing.

So we destroy ecosystems to mine and smelt megatons of copper to manufacture powerlines that do their job so inefficiently that the majority of fossil fuel used to generate electricity goes to waste.  In effect, we're creating much of our heat-trapping and lung-sickening pollution for nothing, and are wasting untold $$billions in the process.

How might we view this glass as half-FULL?

Where there is waste (in the form of pollution), there is an opportunity to improve efficiencies of resource and energy use, cut costs and straight-up make things better.  It's time to bring America's electricity generation system into the 21st century, not only via a massive deployment of clean energy infrastructure, but with a complete overhaul of our power grid.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Props to Energy Star's 'Most Efficient' Label

Do you know, off the top of your head, how much more efficient EnergyStar-certified appliances and electronics are compared to their conventional counterparts?

Would you be disappointed to learn that on average, it only means about 20% more efficient?

How can you find the most efficient Energy Star products - the ones that will help you obliterate your home energy bills and carbon footprint alike?

Fortunately, Energy Star has now made it easier for us by launching the 'Most Efficient' Label, reports GreenBiz:  
"The Most Efficient standards for refrigerator/freezers require them to be about 30 percent more efficient than standard models and the TV requirements call for 80 percent more efficiency than common products on the market, the EPA said. 
The lure of slapping "Most Efficient" on products is also intended to act as an incentive to companies to step up the efficiency of their products to make them stand out from the crowd. 
Out of the 1,800-plus refrigerators and freezers that carry the Energy Star label, only 15 are considered Most Efficient. And 18 televisions out of the 1,400 Energy Star TVs are called Most Efficient.  
Props to EnergyStar for making it nice and simple to access the "A List" of products it certifies to be energy efficient.  The quicker and easier it becomes to find this money-saving information and to tell your friends how to find it, the more people will do so. Simplicity is, after all, one of the key pillars of "sticky" ideas.

Click here to find the absolutely most efficient Energy Star-certified washers, refrigerators, televisions and heating/cooling systems.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tropical Resorts Missing Out On Lucrative Wind+Solar Business Opportunities

A few years ago when I visited Caye Caulker in Belize, I was appalled to learn that the island burns dirty diesel fuel to generate its electricity when the weather is either sunny or windy or both almost all of the time.

I just got back from Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Baja, Mexico and I'm sorry to report the same type of gripe with this resort community (though I don't know whether they generate electricity specifically via diesel fuel or via Mexico's other mostly dirty or land-altering sources).

In Cabo's hot climate, resorts have air conditioning blasting in virtually every occupied room 24/7.  Yet there is nary a solar panel or wind turbine to be seen (aside from one isolated green housing community that a hotel manager told me about when I asked her why they don't use solar).  What a waste of expensive, dirty fossil fuels that generate huge amounts of heat-trapping carbon pollution.

Could there be a significant missed business opportunity here -- both for Cabo's resorts to cut their long-term energy costs and for major solar companies to secure lucrative qualified sales leads?

One that comes to mind stems from resort owners' aggressive sales of time shares to pretty much all vacationers.  For example, we hadn't even left the lobby after checking in before a time share salesperson stopped us, offering the "all inclusive" meal/drinks plan for $40/day instead of the normal $77.

After talking it over with my wife, we decided to take them up to secure the savings they were offering.  For good measure, I also negotiated in a 50 minute massage for my wife and one for myself, and another $50 in benefits.  All we needed to do to secure these perks was visit another resort (which we wanted to check out anyway) and take the 1.5 hour time share tour with their sales associate, who we knew would offer an aggressive sales pitch to buy in.  We took the tour with a very nice Canadian gentleman, enjoyed our free private taxi rides and Mexican breakfast buffet, declined the timeshare pitch, and walked away with $500+ in perks.  From the standpoint of a conservation scientist, I was more than happy to let a $billionaire real estate developer subsidize our vacation.

That said, what if the sales associate also offered us a major discount on a home solar installation -- one that was almost too good to turn down?  What if in exchange for resorts marketing a solar company's services to vacationers, the solar company would provide them with rooftop and on-site solar electricity and/or hot water installations? This type of arrangement could dramatically cut resorts' huge electricity costs and carbon footprints.  Another way the resort industry could approach this type of clean energy program is to generate qualified sales leads that it could then sell to vacationers' local solar providers in exchange for money or services.  Certainly there are ways to refine this idea, but you get the gist.

What do you think -- why should all these tropical resorts, located in hot, sunny climates in windy coastal locations, NOT be getting their electricity from local solar and/or wind installations?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Note to Traditional Media: Healthy Environment = Healthy Economy

It seems that almost anytime a traditional media story covers an "environmental" issue, the environmental solution is framed as "VERSUS" the economy.

We hear statements such as, "environmental issues are the last thing the public is thinking about during a difficult economy."  Or "policy solutions for a healthier environment face increasing political resistance in Washington as leaders from both parties focus on ways to create jobs."

It's as if these people are stuck in a 20th Century bubble.

Fortunately, with prominent credible health organizations like the American Lung Association now getting it, the dominant media framing of environmental issues is poised to change. As a recent press release from this esteemed organization stated:
“The Road to Clean Air” is a new report by the American Lung Association in California showing that California could avoid $7.2 billion in health and societal costs and reduce all major air pollution-related health impacts by 70 percent if the state adopts a strong set of new passenger vehicle standards, which are being drafted now. 
That's just in California.

At the national level, a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences titled "The Hidden Costs of Energy" estimated that dirty energy costs Americans $120 billion per year in largely health costs alone.  Another study explored effects of air pollution on worker productivity and concluded that:
We find robust evidence that ozone levels well below federal air quality standards have a significant impact on productivity: a 10 ppb decrease in ozone concentrations increases worker productivity by 4.2 percent.
More and more, we are realizing that the solutions to our environmental problems are also solutions to the great economic, health and quality of life challenges of our times.  


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

It's Time to Jump Off the Sinking Ship That Is the Fossil Fuel Economy

Could our energy choices moving forward be any clearer?  Fossil fuel prices are climbing.  They are uncertain.  It's really no fun having our transport system stuck on oil.  It's increasingly scary, actually.

In contrast, clean energy technologies like solar are experiencing rapid price declines, as this piece notes:
The truth is that in addition to cutting pollution and reducing our dependence on oil imports, renewable energy has a major advantage over fossil fuels: sharply declining prices over time.  The price of solar energy production, for example, has fallen dramatically as the industry has gained new economies of scale. A recent request for proposals by Southern California Edison (one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the country) found that solar power is already among the cheapest ways for them to generate new electricity. 
America's economy is chained to the sinking ship that is the 20th Century fossil fuel economy.  Do we really want to stay on the sinking ship of dependence on oil and coal?

Or do we want to break free from these shackles and jump on to the rescue ship -- the 21st Century Clean Energy Economy -- that will take us to the destination we all want: the next great era of prosperity..?

Read more>>

Monday, October 03, 2011

What we know -- and don't know -- about the safety of eating GMOs

As a conservationist first and foremost, I'm all in favor of agricultural advances that help stem the devastating impacts of farming and ranching on biodiversity and ecosystem services. We badly need to deploy new farming methods and crop strains that enable humanity to produce more food on less land, using much lower inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Importantly, some of the most intriguing approaches I've learned of, such as The Rodale Institute's 30-year farm system trial and The Land Institute's work toward perennial crop varieties, also boost the resilience of our agricultural system to climate change.

When it comes to genetically modified crops, however, my sense as a scientist is that we don't know enough about GMOs' long-term health or environmental impacts to know whether these things are really ready for prime time yet.

This piece by Grist's Tom Philpott sums up a bit of what worries me about GMO's:  
What we do know is that GMOs are not acutely toxic to eat. That is, we know that if you dine on a burger made from cows gorged on GM corn and soy, French fries cooked in oil from GM cottonseed, and soda laced with high-fructose syrup from GM corn, you're not likely to keel over in agony. Tens of millions of people do it every day. 
But what about more subtle, long-term effects -- problems that public-health professionals call "chronic"? Here we enter less certain territory. With our highly processed diets largely deficient in fruits and vegetables, Americans have high and rising rates of chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. Meanwhile, food allergies, autism, and non-alcohol-related liver disease have rocketed. It's highly plausible that GMOs, which have existed in our diets for less than a generation, have emerged as another of many contributors to such long-term conditions. 
So GMOs could theoretically be unsafe to eat. What does science tell us about the matter? Unfortunately, not much. 

It seems that the body of research in this area lacks depth of credibility due to the intense secrecy of GMO makers. That is, the literature is dominated by findings of agricultural industry-funded scientists, and needs more contributions from independent scientists (who I'm sure would be glad to sign fairly worded non-disclosure agreements or "NDA's").

What is trickling out seems to indicate that there is "smoke" around this issue (and where there's smoke...):  
So where does all of this leave us? Obviously, in need of much more independent research. In April, a bit more trickled out from Quebec, Canada -- and again, the results are unsettling. The study, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, focused on corn engineered to possess a trait from the bacteria Bt, which is toxic to a range of insects. So-called Bt corn is extremely common in the United States; according to the USDA, upwards of 60 percent of corn planted here has it. Since its introduction in the '90s, its maker, Monsanto, has insisted that Bt corn must be safe, because the toxin embedded in it cannot survive the human digestive system.   
The Quebec study (here's the abstract) casts serious doubt on that bedrock assumption. Researchers checked blood samples of 39 pregnant women and 30 non-pregnant women for the presence of the toxin. None were exposed directly to Bt, but all had conventional diets. The results: The Bt toxin showed up in 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their fetuses. It was also present in 69 percent of non-pregnant women in the study.   
So, 15 years after the introduction of GMOs, we know that they pose no threat of immediate, spectacular harm. That is, they won't kill us suddenly. Whether they're killing us slowly -- contributing to long-term, chronic maladies -- remains anyone's guess.

Well that certainly doesn't sound like a crop technology that is ready to be approved for our food supply, does it?  My wife is pregnant with our second daughter, and these kinds of findings indicate to me that our Food Safety regulatory system is dropping the ball in a big way here. Or at the very least is jumping the gun on GMO safety, likely due to intensive political pressures influenced by the Monsanto's of the world.

I hope, for the safety of our children and ourselves, that we aren't looking at a very expensive agricultural, health and environmental catastrophe in the making.

What are your thoughts on GMO safety? What's the best way to grow more food on less land, using lower inputs of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers?

Read more>>

Friday, September 30, 2011

Don't Let the Naysayers Get You Down

As you put in the hard work to drive the innovations needed to advance conservation and sustainability, it's inevitable that you'll hear resistance from those who are not comfortable with change -- who like things the way they've always been done.  Let's see how their record looks in this brief historical timeline:
What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches? - The Quarterly Review, England (March 1825)  
Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon as attempt to employ steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic Ocean.  - Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1838) Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College, London    
The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it. . . . Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient. - Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839) French surgeon  
[W]hen the Paris Exhibition closes electric light will close with it and no more be heard of.  - Erasmus Wilson (1878) Professor at Oxford University  
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. - Lord Kelvin, ca. 1895, British mathematician and physicist  
Radio has no future.  - Lord Kelvin, ca. 1897.  
That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.  - Scientific American, Jan. 2, 1909  
I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. - Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.  
There is no need for any individual to have a computer in their home. - Ken Olson, 1977, President, Digital Equipment Corp. 
Clearly, even your smartest, most accomplished detractors aren't always right.

If the inventors of the game-changing technologies described above succumbed to their doubters, we'd still be riding horses to work and sailing to Europe!

Think carefully about what this means for where we're headed on clean energy, clean transport and sustainability as a whole.  We ARE going to make this happen.

Remember: as you strive to intelligently and strategically innovate, burning the midnight oil to bring your visions to reality, don't let the naysayers get you down.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Joining the Heavy Hitters in Re-Imagining Your Inputs

Ten years ago, the new green business trend was just getting off the ground.

Having recently completed my Ph.D. qualifying exams at UC Davis' Graduate Group in Ecology, I'd have laughed in your face if you'd have told me what more and more major corporations would be doing in 2011 to green their products and services.

Why is it so important when corporations like Ford, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart green their supply chains?  It's not just that their huge purchasing power can quickly influence a supplier to change to greener materials and practices -- sometimes with dramatic measurable reductions in environmental and health impacts.

It's also, as this piece by Ford's Director of Sustainable Business Strategies notes, the power of peer influence: "if a 109-year-old car company with one of the most expansive and established global supply chains in the world can re-imagine its design process, any company can."

The author advises:
"The next time you're faced with supporting an option between a traditional process and a more sustainable and innovative alternative, know that by making the more eco-friendly choice, you're not only making an immediate impact, you're sending the message that you recognize the importance of environmental considerations in the design process -- from a product's development until the end of its life. And your employees and customers will support you for it."
Why shouldn't your company aim to join Ford in realizing these important business benefits?

Read more>>

Monday, September 26, 2011

'Climate Change' ... and 'Global Warming'? What Next in Climate Communication?

Right now it seems that in Washington D.C., at least, nobody wants to talk about 'climate change' and 'global warming'.

This post from the Yale Form on Climate Change & The Media asks if these are the new dirty words, and "if so...what then"?

Most of those interviewed for this Yale Forum discussion focus on the importance of communicating the economic and health benefits of clean energy technologies. For example, attorney Jim Marston of Environmental Defense states that:
"In the short-term, I think we're focusing more on heath and more on clean energy solutions -- things that get us off fossil fuels, things that get us more efficiency, things that take advantage of the fact that Americans are in love with gadgets coming out of the high-tech sector."
As I relayed in this post -- penned after a successful encounter with a couple of climate change deniers -- energy, economy, national security and patriotism can all be leveraged to offer identity-based arguments that enable bi-partisan consensus.  Why should we send billions of our energy dollars to foreign countries when we can produce our energy from the sun and wind right here in America, and support American companies and jobs?!

As far as I'm concerned, it's not HOW we get to solutions, it's THAT we get to solutions. That's fine, and to be expected.

However, after this spring and summer's record-setting tornados like the one that leveled Joplin, MO, the historic Mississippi River floods, the ongoing hellish Texas wildfires, and catastrophic Hurricane Irene, I'll bet that more people are wondering whether it might be a good idea to take steps to re-stabilize the climate for climate-focused reasons.

It seems more and more people are waking up to the fact that our climate is doing weird (and record-setting) things old timers don't remember it doing, and it's getting more and more dangerous every year.  As more people talk, social forces like peer influence will likely take hold, generating support for the climate change and clean energy solutions that would also be huge boons to our economic recovery and national security.

Let's see...

Read more>>

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Lehman-Style Environmental Collapse or An Unprecedented Opportunity for Civilization?

"In order to exploit the natural world, we have rigged accounting rules and ignored the financial and ecological value of intact ecosystems, biological diversity, clean water, and many other forms of the planet's natural capital. This has actually worked for some decades and created Western wealth as we know it.

But the Ponzi scheme of hyper-consumerism is approaching the equivalent of the Lehman collapse of 2008."

Read more>>

Note: Here at CV Notes, we choose to channel our awareness of these types of scary -- and very real -- risks into developing solutions.  We like the flip side of the Collapse coin: there is unprecedented opportunity to restore lives and ecosystems alike by protecting our children from having to face these types of risks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Global Weirding: Nature Can't Save Us From Ourselves

Some who refuse to accept that that heat-trapping carbon pollution poses significant risks to human well-being, not to mention ecosystems and biodiversity, claim that more CO2 will be good for us.  Plants will grow more, it will be warmer, and more plants in a warmer climate will absorb more CO2, helping to stem heating.

Is this true?

Huffington post reports on a new study from Northern Arizona University, published in the esteemed journal, Nature, which throws some surprising cold water on to that idea:  
The study -- a meta-analysis of dozens of separate studies of soil emissions in variety of ecosystems, including forests, farmland, rice paddies, grasslands and wetlands in North America, Europe and Asia -- found that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide causes soil to release methane and nitrous oxide in amounts significant and sustained enough to reduce the overall cooling effect of increased biomass by nearly 20 percent. 
What's going on? Organisms in soil, it seems, thrive on both nitrate and carbon dioxide. These microbes also produce methane and nitrous oxide, which are, respectively, about 25 times and 300 times more effective at trapping heat than even CO2. As humans pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, these organisms pump out more N2O and methane.
The body of literature on this effect suggested that it varied in degree from one ecosystem to another. This variation made it difficult to determine whether, on the whole, its impact on the global climate was significant or merely a wash. Yet the new study provides a clear answer: the effect is significant.

Climate scientist, Ken Caldiera, summed up the implications of this study quite concretely:
"To solve the carbon-climate problem, we need to transform our energy system into one that does not dump its waste into the sky," Caldeira said. "Land plants help. It looks like they won't help quite as much as we thought they would. Clearly, we can't expect nature to solve our problems for us."
The bottom line: as much as scientists know about how human activities are heating the ecosystems that sustain civilization as we know it, untold numbers of surprises await us if we continue to mess with the stability of our climate.

Do we really want to find out what's behind those doors?

Or do we want to choose the door that we KNOW what's behind: a clean energy technology revolution that creates exciting new industries, creates millions of new jobs, saves the public $billions per year in health costs of dirty energy-caused air pollution, cuts off the flow of oil money to terrorists, and gives America the morale boost that our economically hurting citizens so badly need?

Read more>>

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Businesses Getting into the Ecosystem Services Game

Following up on yesterday's post about Asia's lessons on the value of ecosystems, how are businesses getting involved in protecting and restoring ecosystem services? And why should they?

This excellent piece on The EcoInnovator provides some answers, noting that:
"a growing number of leadership minded companies are realizing that correctly pricing nature can inform smarter financial decisions and lead to real business opportunities.  This is why Dow has chosen to invest $10M with The Nature Conservancy to incorporate the value of ecosystem serices into the company's decision making; specifically starting with three of Dow's manufacturing sites.  Similarly 14 leading companies chose to road test the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's Guide to Corproate Ecosystem Valuation.  It is worth noting that these companies are not waiting for a top-down governmental mandate but instead (are) leading the way to a world where business decisions are aligned wit the laws of nature."
"So how does an individual company get started?" the authors ask.

A good first step, they say, is to assess which parts of your business are materially impacted by or dependent upon ecosystem services.  Is your business or supply chain prone to drought? Are critical inputs dependent on pollinators?

They emphasize a business case for ecosystem services that we'll be hearing more and more of as our civilization increasingly bumps up against "Peak Everything": Focus on benefit to your company. How might more sustainable practices help you increase resource and energy efficiency, boost your brand's reputation and sales, and reduce business risks -- including those increasingly associated with global weirding (e.g., floods, droughts, wildfire, severe storms, insect infestations)?

If companies such as Coca Cola and McDonalds are realizing the benefits of asking these questions, why shouldn't your's?

Read more>>

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Research: Protecting Forests Will Deliver Economic Boom for Southeast Asia

Are forests more valuable to humanity left standing or for what's produced when they're cut?

More and more, we are learning just how much value healthy, intact and sustainably managed forests provide to society.

According to this post on, for example, this lesson is being realized in Southeast Asia, where tropical rainforests face a range of threats, including conversion to palm oil and rubber plantations, illegal logging and poaching, and slash and burn agriculture.  It turns out that ecologically unsustainable practices are proving to be economically ruinous:
  • The Rajawali Institute for Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School of government estimates that by eliminating its natural capital for negligible gains, deforestation caused losses of $150 billion to Indonesia between 1990 and 2007
  • An investigation by a task force set up by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono found that clear-cutting and conversion of forests to palm oil is so widespread that it's drastically reduced the availability of wood to be cut, costing the Jambai province, alone, 76,000 jobs in the sector.
  • "According to the Rand Corporation, particularly intense forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia have increased deaths by 22 percent.  Bad air quality can also send people to the hospital and increase asthma attacks, lowering productivity.  One of Southeast Asia's challenges is attracting global companies to locate high-level executive headquarters in the region, in part because of the intense air pollution exacerbated by forest fires."
Clearly, the economic impacts of "unsustainability" reach far beyond agriculture and forestry sectors, influencing public health, safety and economic competitiveness.

Conversely, more sustainable practices are being found to confer wide-ranging socio-economic benefits:
  • Studies have shown that coastal mangrove forests can reduce tsunami flow by as much as 90 percent. During the infamous 2004 tsunami, villages that had cut down their mangroves were often wiped out while those that maintained them fared much better.
So how do we incorporate the conservation value of intact forests, such as the mangroves described above, into our economic system?

In most cases, the only option for landowners to earn income and feed their families is still extractive: clearing, logging, farming, grazing, mining or otherwise converting their forest plots.  The Natural Capital Project, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and The Partnership for Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem services (WAVES) are among those making progress developing systems for valuing ecosystem services and compensating landowners whose property provides them. 

But at a time of increasing financial hardship and budgetary constraints, will we be able to deploy these new payments for ecosystem services systems quickly enough to restore and protect the world's remaining hot spots of biodiversity?

If there were ever a time for the emerging field of sustainable business to help conservationists entrepreneurially innovate, this is it.

Read more>>

Monday, September 19, 2011

Prescription: One Weekly Meditative Hike

Did you spend any time in Nature this weekend?

Do you have a favorite open space where you go to escape the stressful noise of our go go go society – to find the quiet that you need to hear the guiding voice of your heart whispering into your soul what direction to take next?

If not, try it next weekend. See if your work week isn't surprisingly productive - and if that's just one of many ways your week goes better...


Friday, September 16, 2011

Counting What Counts in the World of Sustainable Business

Yesterday, I talked about the benefits to consumers offered by the radical transparency tool, Good Guide.

In the world of sustainable business, "radical transparency" -- being forthright about the health and environmental impacts of your products -- is, a rising trend as well.

No doubt, the hard work that enables transparency is important for fostering customer support for products that are healthier for ourselves and the ecosystems that human well-being depends upon.  It's definitely helping Conservation Value, Inc. client, Spaldin Sleep Systems, build trust with its customers.

What else can businesses do with all this information to boost their profits and productivity?

The important thing to remember, says Jim Hartzfeld in this insightful post, is that "putting your primary efforts where they can have the best environmental or social impact will have much more impact in the long run. Sustainability reporting has an important role in guiding your strategic decisions, but you have to count what counts."

What does that mean?

In Hartzfeld's words:

The general perception is that “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” which is absolutely appropriate in day-to-day management decisions. But just because you can count something doesn’t mean it counts. As Robert F. Kennedy once said about the gross national product, it “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” And in strategic decision-making, intangibles like innovation and employee and stakeholder engagement factor very much into your success.
The MIT Sloan School of Management and Boston Consulting Group’s 2011 report “Sustainability: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage” ( offered seven practices to learn from “embracers,” those aggressively implementing sustainability-driven strategies. The report highlights this seeming contradiction in leading companies who seek to measure everything (and if ways of measuring something don’t exist, start inventing them) and the ability to value intangible benefits seriously.
Then focus on the things that really make a difference to get ahead.
Once you have established a baseline and used the gritty detail to chart your course, prioritize only the aspects that will create the most material changes and focus your energy there. 
The results, as more and more companies are learning, include improvements in energy and resource efficiency (and thus reduced costs), reduced risks, and boosts to brand reputation and sales.

Read more>>

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Upgrading" to Greener Products

Yesterday, I posted about the health and environmental benefits of green clothing.  Of course, clothing is just one area in which more and more people are concerned about the health and environmental impacts of the products that they buy.

But how can you find safer products? Is there a way to quickly and easily evaluate the health and environmental risks posed by your everyday products?

The wonderful web site, Good Guide, makes it easy for you by giving the everyday products you buy a simple score of 1-10 in health, environmental and social categories.  With a single click you can view alternatives with better scores.  There are your replacements.

If you download the Good Guide mobile app (FREE), you can use it to scan bar codes of products while you shop.  People might look at you funny, but it's a simple way to vote with your everyday choices to protect the health of your family and our environment.

Since I started Good Guide, I've upgraded my deodorant, sun screen, tooth paste, mouth wash, moisturizer and shampoo, among other products.

Funny, I just used the word "upgraded" when talking about changing to a greener option.  Too many people still don't think of "greener" as an "upgrade". Yet...

If the product does its job in a way that's healthier for me and healthier for the Earth, then it is, in fact, better, right?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'll Take Clothing Without Toxic Chemicals, Please

GreenPeace Image from
I don't know about you, but if I found out that there were toxic chemical residues in my clothing, I'd be worried about what's touching my skin all day.

A recent GreenPeace study tested products made by 14 top clothing manufacturers and found traces of toxic chemicals harmful to the environment and human health.

The chemicals found, known as nonylphenol ethoxylates, break down into substances with "toxic, persistent and hormone-disrupting properties."  Would you want to wear that?

How about impacts to water quality?  When GreenPeace looked at the wasterwater from two factories that makes clothing for these brands, they found that:
"Eight samples of wastewater from two factories in the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas, identified as suppliers for the brands, contained "a cocktail of hazardous chemicals.'"
Do you think the executives of those factories would let their children swim in the water near these factories?  Maybe that would be a good water quality test to implement...

If you want to support companies that offer solutions to this mess, how can you find them?  Is organic really clothing better?

Clothing made from organic fibers (organically-farmed; e.g., USDA organic-certified) means that the crops (e.g., cotton) were grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.  Since still more chemicals are used to process raw fibers into a textile, USDA organic certification of fibers is not enough to protect you from the types of chemicals found by GreenPeace.

For full protection, you need to look for organic textiles - those certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to be made with (1) organically grown raw fibers AND (2) organic fibers that have been processed into a textile without harmful chemicals.

I talk a bit about this subject in my posts for Triple Pundit about how to purchase a green mattress.

It's great that GreenPeace is publicizing the importance of green clothing, which is clearly the better choice for the health of people and ecosystems alike.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Climate Communication Study: Polar Bears Don't Work

How can we get past America's uber-partisan divide on climate change  to foster political support for bold policy solutions?

According to a new study, images of distant polar bears and melting ice sheets not only don't cut it, messaging-wise, but actually make the problem worse. As reported by Big Think:
Climate change campaigns in the United States that focus on the risks to people in foreign countries or even other regions of the U.S. are likely to inadvertently increase polarization among Americans rather than build consensus and support for policy action.
Fortunately, the researchers found a way to build support for climate policy solutions: to use local stories that make the benefits of action immediately relevant to the community:
Research shows that individuals are more likely to support action on a problem when those threatened or at risk are perceived as more socially similar.  Conversely, when those affected are perceived as more socially distant, support for action is likely to be less.
That certainly makes sense...

Memo to those working to more effectively communicate the need for climate change solutions: use locally relevant pictures and stories.  Enough with the remote images already (in themselves, at least). How does the problem (including as illustrated by stunning remote imagery) really impact the lives of, say, Wal-Mart shoppers? How are the solutions going to protect local communities and improve lives where I live?

These types of messaging improvements are opportunities that Seth Godin talked about back in 2006, but that the climate action community still hasn't fully figured out how to implement.

This new study provides important clues on how to get the important job done of maximizing influence across the political spectrum.

Read more>>

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Forest (Ecosystem Service) Companies of the Future

As efforts grow to better align our economy with our ecology (due to very real biophysical limits of natural resource availability), businesses and landowners are exploring how to generate income via the valuable ecosystem services produced by their property.

The Guardian reports on how forest companies are making the transition from solely extractive-based revenues to diversified revenue streams that capitalize on conservation value:  

Climate change, population growth, and soaring demand for food, energy, water and other resources are changing the way the world sees and values forests. A vision is emerging of a new kind of company – the forest services company. 
Our vision is being propelled by new markets that are emerging for forest services such as carbon storage, wildlife preservation, recreational facilities and watershed protection. This trend is creating huge business opportunities for forest companies with the foresight to reinvent themselves and look beyond the traditional equation of forests equal timber. 
Forest companies of the future will expand their business model beyond delivering products to providing an array of crucial services to communities. Timber revenue will still be important, but successful companies will have supplemented their income from the fast-growing new markets that emerge from the increasing scarcity of ecosystem services.

Sounds rosy. But is this just more unrealized happy talk about the future potential of ecosystem services markets?  I was pleased to find some real-world examples of these types of changes actually happening now -- both at home and abroad:
Sveaskog, Sweden's largest forest company, is doing exactly that. Approximately 15% of annual net sales comes from biomass for energy and non-timber services such as windfarm leases and hunting and fishing licences. In addition, Sveaskog is managing one-fifth of its land for conservation and promotion of biodiversity. The company is also experimenting with ways to maximise carbon uptake through different forest management measures and plans to sell the additional uptake to carbon markets. In 20 years, Sveaskog expects its current sales share of 15% from biomass and different kinds of non-timber services to have doubled. 
Other major companies are similarly shifting focus to incorporate services. Plum Creek, the largest US private landowner, has about a third of the company's 7m acres of timber lands under revenue-generating conservation and wildlife protection agreements. Mondi, a leading international paper and packaging group, recently identified opportunities to tap into growing markets for biomass and ecotourism through a review of ecosystem services at three of its South African plantations. 
The shifting nature of forest companies is a win-win opportunity for governments as well, creating new jobs in struggling rural areas and improving the quality of life for urbanites.

One question I'd love to explore: are these ecosystem services-oriented revenue streams being designed in conjunction with neighboring landowners as part of regional-scale conservation planning efforts?

Read more>>

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Imagining a Different Response to 9/11

"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, 
there is one striking at the root."
- Henry David Thoreau

Imagine the president had invested all of our post-9/11 war money ($trillions) into a bold transition to clean energy and transport.  The goal would have been to strike at the root of the terrorism problem, while also strengthening America's economic and national security, revolutionizing our aging infrastructure, and creating millions of 21st century jobs.

How different do you think our economy, jobs crisis, deficit and national morale would be right now?

Not to mention our progress -- domestically and globally -- toward solving Americans' growing concern that our climate is doing weird and increasingly dangerous things...

So then, what do you think we should do NOW to strike at the root of the terrorism problem..?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Our Economy Depends on Our Ecology

Following yesterday's post, it make sense that a healthier environment not only means healthier people, but also a healthier economy and society.

Ecosystem Marketplace's Steve Zwick sums it up well in this piece:

Neither party really gets it right, because they both -- at best -- see environmental protection as something we should do -- like a bit of housekeeping, akin to trimming the bushes -- as opposed to something we must do -- like shoring up the foundation, which is what it is.
Both parties, in short, seem oblivious to the fact that our economy depends on our ecology, and that everything we buy, sell, eat, and produce is derived from nature. If we destroy nature, we destroy our own livelihoods -- as people living along the Mississippi River and its tributaries learned all too clearly this past Spring, when decades of poor wetland management exacerbated flooding and cost us billions.

This idea was similarly expressed by a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report, The Hidden Costs of Energy: dirty energy (e.g., especially that produced by burning oil and coal) inflicts a devastating $120 billion in "primarily health damages" alone on our economy.

If we want to reduce our skyrocketing health care and health insurance costs, a good place for America to start is by investing in a clean energy revolution.

Read more>>

Thursday, September 08, 2011

We Are Everything

We are what we eat.  Literally.  And of course, that means that every molecule that makes up our bodies today was once part of not only a plant or animal, but also a river, an ocean, a forest, a rock, a pinch of sand, an insect, and yes, even another person.

The healthier our surroundings, the healthier we are too.

What are you doing today to help make your surroundings -- and you -- healthier?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Carbon Nation: The Surprising (and Common Sense) Benefits of Cutting Heat Trapping Carbon Pollution

Would well-designed legislation to stabilize our increasingly weird climate and free America from our dangerous oil dependence really wreck the economy, as media pundits and GOP policy positions warn?

Fortunately, as America seeks ways to create millions of jobs and revitalize our national morale and qualify of life, the answer is a resounding "no!"  The story of why is told in the new documentary, "Carbon Nation", according to GreenBiz.

The movie's directors paint a wonderfully positive and non-partisan picture of the promise offered by 21st century technologies and practices that are already helping companies thrive.  They tell the story of how:
"We learned that Dow Chemical had spent just under $2 billion on energy-efficient programs since 1994 and had saved nearly $10 billion so far."
In another story, based in Texas, farmers banded together to form a cooperative that allowed them to establish new income streams via wind energy:
Now, farmers who were solely dependent on their hit-or-miss cotton crops had a steady source of income, derived from the turbines: a royalty that ranged from $3,000 to $15,000 per year, per turbine. This changed lives.
Who wouldn't be happy with this kind of financial boost? On top of the money, of course, these good Americans get bragging rights: they're helping lead America's way off of our dependence on dirty energy like oil and coal.  I'm sure their friends are proud of them!

This is the kind of morale boost America reads right now - and a majority of Americans are ready.  As Carbon Nation's director states:
We know, from hundreds of conversations across the nation, that we are not a polarized country. Especially when it comes to energy efficiency, national and energy security, and even clean energy. There is great agreement for healthy solutions in the middle. It’s just that we’re constantly being told we’re a polarized country, mainly because our political leaders are polarized and TV networks make more money selling the idea of a polarized country. And good people are believing this stuff, and acting as if we are polarized. The old self-fulfilling prophecy.
But when you get down to it, listen to people, respect their opinion, and be open-minded, you will find, as I have, that the middle 60% of the U.S. would be on board if they were hearing the right stories. We’ve been lucky enough to find the right stories while making “Carbon Nation.” The folks in our film are heroes. If enough people hear from them, see them in action, then we can achieve our biggest aspirations: to have this movie influence lawmaking, to inspire companies to tie life-cycle costs to all purchases, and to push clean energy so that it simply becomes cheaper than coal. That would be huge.

Cheers to the folks who have brought us Carbon Nation -- the more folks hear these types of stories, the more the movement to revitalize our economy via a job-creating clean energy revolution will gain momentum.

Read more>>

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ceres: Fuel Efficiency Standards Benefit the Economy

"Our report makes clear that the stronger the (fuel efficiency) standards, the greater the economic benefits." - CERES

As I emphasize time and again, the less money people and businesses have to spend on gasoline because their cars are more efficient, the more money they have to spend on everything else.  That's broad economic stimulus.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Climate Change Threatens Mental Health (As Many In Eastern U.S. Can Attest After Irene)

After Hurricane Irene last weekend, my parents in New York had no electricity for days, and had to:
  1. purchase a generator (which wouldn't be necessary if they had solar electricity and hot water - they'd be sitting much prettier right now)
  2. purchase ice bags a couple of times per day to keep their extra fridge and freezer cool and prevent spoilage
  3. pay to have several fallen trees removed from their property.  One fell on the roof above where they were sleeping, but thankfully caused little damage
  4. have a leaky roof fixed.
They were not happy campers, and it took a great deal of mental strength to remind themselves that it could have been a lot worse, and they have much to be grateful for.  I'm sure that across the eastern U.S., they're among millions who are having a very rough time right now.  It's emotionally exhausting, if not depressing, to have to deal with extreme weather.

Indeed, a new study from the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Institute finds that extreme weather, on the increase due to humanity's unsustainable emissions of heat-trapping carbon pollution, "threatens mental health."

Here are a couple of choice quotes from the researchers:
"Recent experience shows extreme weather events also pose a serious risk to public health, including mental health and wellbeing, with serious flow-on consequences for the economy and wider society."
"The emerging burden of climate-related impacts on community morale and mental health - bereavement, depression, post-event stress disorders, and the tragedy of self-harm - is large."
In the case of Irene, which has left millions without power, just think how much happier folks with solar roofs are right now, compared to their neighbors who remain entirely dependent on America's aging electricity grid.

Why not include a big Solar America push in the upcoming jobs plan that President Obama plans to announce this week? As I like to say, empty roofs = wasted space. Perhaps start with schools, but also include low-cost financing programs for homeowners who are tired of the increasing unreliability of the grid and are ready to move their home's energy source into the 21st century.

The result will be to create untold thousands of jobs and make a lot of people happier.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Timberland Documentary About the Conservation Value of Urban Forests - Dig It

I'm proud to share a clip from my first documentary film appearance. The film is named "Dig It" -- about the valuable benefits that urban forests provide to people and biodiversity alike.

Huge props to Danny Clinch, Tim Donnelly and crew for an exceptional job on this, and special thanks to Timberland for their support.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spring Course at UC Berkeley Extension: Principles of Green Purchasing and Sustainability

What's really 'Green'?

What does the latest science say about the real benefits -- to our environment, economy, health and quality of life -- of green products and services?

How are people and businesses improving their personal and financial health by using green products?

How can you know which 'green' products you can trust to provide such claimed benefits as:
  • reduces emissions of the heat-trapping carbon pollution that causes climate change
  • protects our natural heritage and its wondrous biological diversity
  • reduces toxic pollution and waste (and helps protect YOU from toxic chemicals)
  • protects our health and the safety of our children
  • supports green jobs and our transition to a more secure clean energy economy
  • reduces our dependence on oil and other dirty energy sources
  • improves our national security
Find out the answers to these questions and more this spring at UC Berkeley Extension, where I'll be teaching a weekly evening course titled 'Principles of Green Purchasing and Sustainability".  It runs from Tuesday March 29 - Tuesday May 31 2011 at the San Francisco campus.

Spanning multiple product categories, this course pulls together years of my research -- as both a conservation scientist and sustainability expert -- to help you and your company gain a foundational understanding in green purchasing.  The course description reads as follows:
A good understanding of the principles of green purchasing is important to limit the impact that businesses, governments and corporations have on natural resources,  ecosystems and human well-being. This course is intended to provide sustainable business enthusiasts with an important foundational overview of the environmental information underlying sustainable purchasing. You will learn how to access, understand and evaluate the information that you need for green procurement.   Evaluate business cases that illustrate how companies can boost profits and productivity by using and selling sustainable products.
Many problems with sustainable business reflect a need for managers to become better versed in the technical environmental information underlying sustainability.  Each week, you will explore a new aspect of green procurement and learn how to distinguish those products that credibly limit impacts on the environment – and people too.  You will become well versed in the environmental information underlying sustainable business, and learn how to distinguish between different green certifications and identify those that are credible.
Click here to sign up now to gain valuable expertise in green purchasing.  Tell your friends and peers about this class (use the 'share' button below).  Thank you so much -- you're the best!



Advancing the Green Economy: Achieving Impact from the Office to the Ecosystem

Thursday March 17, 2011, 6:30–8 pm
UC Berkeley Extension: Golden Bear Center
1995 University Ave, Berkeley, CA

Join scientist and sustainability expert Jonathan L. Gelbard, Ph.D., as he explores the connections between choices made in the office and the health of ecosystems and people. Hear stories about how businesses are learning to boost profits and productivity by using and selling green products. Gain valuable tips on how to identify the products, partners, and certifications that can help your company achieve measurable positive impacts and advance the green economy.

Jonathan L. Gelbard, Ph.D., principal at Conservation Value, Inc., is a researcher, writer, speaker, and educator. He has taught at the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Camp workshops; appeared in the 2009 urban forest documentary, Dig It; and served as an educational producer for some of America’s largest green music festivals.

EDP 426320
1 meeting
Reserve Your Place Now