Sustainability: America’s emerging green movement
That sound you hear is the sustainability movement accelerating. America is becoming a deeper shade of green.
Businesses are expanding their sustainability efforts from board rooms to supply chains and now to energy providers. More companies are flexing their corporate muscle, and pressuring legislators to support efforts to boost use of clean energy and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their so-called “green teams” are moving outside corporate walls.
Mindy Lubber of the advocacy group Ceres writes in this Sustainable Business Blog of a new ”business voice”, which is also being transferred to employees. She quotes organic yogurt- maker Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirschberg as saying, “We reject the notion that climate and energy legislation is going to be costly… Climate action offers economic opportunity rather than economic penalty.”
The same blog notes that Nike and 14 other heavy hitters asked Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit that has helped propel wind energy (more here).
More businesses are setting sustainability goals, and in some cases (Hello, Sony) exceeding them. They are raising their sustainability profiles in concert with the military, professional sports and the public, which, according to latest polls, is increasingly linking climate change to the recent wild weather, and is willing to pay more for clean energy.
Meanwhile, prices are dropping, and energy sources such as wind and solar make more sense economically. Solar energy is expected to reach parity with traditional sources of power within a few years. In fact, there are those who contend it already is at parity in some places. See this.
Energy efficiency also is gaining a higher profile, as evidenced by this huge investment into a new lab at University of California, Santa Barbara, and by this announcement that the telecom industry plans to invest billions of dollars into a sustainable infrastructure by 2016.
Still, the U.S. is without a national energy plan, even as some nations - even those blessed with oil (read about Saudi Arabia here)- forge ahead with renewable energy programs because of dwindling resources. Even Mexico passed a climate-change bill.
But, the pressure to do more is building. The sustainability movement is still in infancy, but a great awakening is under way, says Sam Geil, founder of the International Green Industry Hall of Fame in Fresno, CA.
”Because sustainability has such a strong economic component, all businesses and the general public are just now starting to understand the overall benefits,” Geil says.
He notes the military’s burgeoning green efforts. “The War in Iraq is a great example. Transporting fuel was a big challenge, and getting it to the field operations was becoming more and more hazardous. With the use of solar and alternative fuels, the military can actually offset the threats of attacks on the tankers carrying gasoline and diesel fuels.”
And let’s not forget tomorrow’s leaders. Today’s young people are growing up with a green tint and more of them., such as my 19-year-old daughter, are seeking out environmental careers. Universities are adding sustainability programs even as they cut back in other areas.
"Young people are growing up with a green mindset and understand the value of recycling, reusing, and rethinking," Geil said. "The Green Movement is here to stay and growing every day."
Photo of soldiers using solar blanket
With graduation just around the corner, we offer this up to all those sustainability students…..
I’m in my mid-50s, and I remember getting my driver’s license at 16. I drove all the time when I was young. My daughter, who is 19, waited until she was 17 to get her license, and, frankly, isn’t crazy about driving. Many of her friends are the same way, and many of them waited until later to get their licenses.
Hospitals are huge consumers of, well, all kinds of things. Their interest in sustainability is another example of the greening of America’s supply chain and corporate America.
Corporate America’s secret truth about energy
From a new Deloitte Touche report: “Every company is an energy company. This might come as a surprise to many of them. But a decade from now, a company without an ‘energy and sustainability’ department could be as unusual as one without a human resources department. Either that, or it might be out of business. “
The sustainability movement is growing. Sure, it’s in infancy, but energy can account for up to 20% of a corporation’s expense sheet, and is increasingly unreliable and hard to budget. So, the motivation to slash costs and become more efficient while decreasing the carbon footprint is there.
Sustainability, at its heart, is just good business. “Te most crucial spur for action may be the risk that a company’s operations could be disrupted by energy shortages, outages, or an unplanned and unmanageable rise in the price of energy,” Deloitte says.
"The sooner companies begin to understand and actively manage their energy use—and their energy sources, including possible ways to produce their own energy—the faster they’ll enter a more enlightened world, one with the potential for a number of advantages including significant savings, a better bottom line, greater customer loyalty, a cost-edge over competitors, lower business risk, and a company-wide awareness of sustainability that can rein in resource waste across the board."
I particularly like the phrase, “Enlightened world.” It’s true, judging from our vantage point as a nonprofit involved in energy efficiency work with cities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, and with educational partners. People want cleaner air and energy.
And, perhaps, more employment possibilities. Check out this story about building energy rating and disclosure, which is close to our heart.
Environmental enlightenment is growing. Well, maybe not in Congress, but Corporate America, the military, professional sports, schools, local governments and, yes, even NASCAR are picking up the theme. Even my teen-age daughter references the carbon footprint when I suggest she go pick up something I forgot at the store.
"I don’t want to increase my carbon footprint," she says from her position on the couch.
Ok, so that isn’t exactly what I mean, but you get the picture. Sustainability is “in”, despite what you hear from politicians running for election, and could be a solution, not a problem. Even Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men and most famous investor acknowledges it here.
Deloitte suggests ways to enhance corporate sustainability efforts, suggesting directors make them a mandate. They should measure progress, offer incentives to employees who improve efficiency and then springboard off their sustainability efforts to build their brands.
"The drive to sustainability is a drive to creativity and innovation," The Deloitte report states as its final paragraph." May the cleanest, most energy efficient corporations win."
California farmers harvesting the sun and wind
The sun is nature’s most abundant resource, especially in the world’s salad bowl - the San Joaquin Valley. The sun shines up to 300 days per year here, and summer temperatures can reach I-can-feel-my-hair-catching-fire levels.
Utility bills soar in the summer when energy use is high. So much, in fact, that an acquaintance once wrote in despair on his Facebook page, “Are power bills supposed to have commas in them?”
Agriculture is the leading industry and a major employer here, and farmers have an up close and personal relationship with energy. By some estimates, the food system in the United States consumes around 16% of the nation’s energy.
“from the manufacture and application of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and irrigation, through crop and livestock production, processing, and packaging; distribution services, such as shipping and cold storage; the running of refrigeration, preparation, and disposal equipment in food retailing and foodservice establishments; and in home kitchens," notes a March 2010 study by the federal Economic Research Service entitled, “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System.”
So, cutting energy bills makes sense for farmers, who also can reduce their sometimes heavy carbon footprints. Which explains why agricultural operations in the San Joaquin Valley are embracing renewable energy, most commonly solar power.
Onion grower/processor Varsity Produce of Bakersfield is among the latest. Part of the energy for its packing and cold storage operation comes from the sun. “After looking at solar for several years, we finally saw numbers that made a lot of economic sense and we can now feel really good about decreasing our carbon footprint,” Operations Manager Brent Rhodes said in this news release that appeared in greentechmedia.
Varsity Produce is hardly alone in its pursuit of alternative energy. Cenergy, the solar provider For Varsity, has installed several solar arrays in agricultural operations throughout the Valley and state. Here is more.
And Cenergy isn’t alone in the crowded agricultural solar market. REC Solar, SolFocus and others are staking out positions. Ryan Park, Director of Business Development at REC Solar, says in this blog post that farming operations are more than a niche for his company. Sierra2theSea gives a nice overview in this post.
The federal government is adding fuel with its Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP. Since President Obama took office three years ago, the USDA REAP program has aided 74 projects totaling 15.3 million kilowatts in California, most of them distributed generation developments that produce or save power on site, according to this just-released report.
The California projects included 61 solar arrays, four wind turbine developments and three energy-efficiency upgrades. Lyall Enterprises of the San Diego area and Roberti Ranch north of Lake Tahoe, for example, used REAP loan guarantees and grants to install solar-energy systems to power their irrigation pumps.
Most of the agriculture operations use small on-site operations, but solar developers in California, which has an ambitious 33 percent renewables goal by 2020, are applying for large utility-scale solar operations in the San Joaquin Valley, the high deserts of Kern County and the desert regions of Southern California.
The proposals have sparked opposition from agriculture groups who fear losing prime farm land and environmentalists who worry about disrupting habitat. Thus, individual counties, such as Fresno, are developing solar policies. Here is what Fresno County Supervisors designed, according to The Fresno Bee.
It appears farmers are harvesting much more than just crops.
This story is about surveys that show today’s young people care less about the environment than their predecessors. What do you think?
A different kind of March Madness
March Madness is usually associated with college basketball, but this year it also refers to the Sustainable 16 - campuses that are being honored for their environmental awareness.
Environmental software provider Enviance, Inc. and Environmental Leader said the 16 universities “exemplify excellence in environmental academics,” according to this press release from Enviance. The campuses are vying to be “National Champion” in the first-ever March Madness Tournament for Environmental Studies. To qualify, they filled out a survey detailing their credentials, which was then evaluated by a panel of expert judges.
Two California schools - University of California, Davis, and Humboldt State University - are among the 16. Here and here are ways the two campuses are leading the green charge. However, they are hardly alone. This special edition from CSU Leader outlines how the California State University system is helping train the green workforce. And here is an update from the UC system.
As this blog points out, the college students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. They are demanding progress, and colleges are responding with new programs, such as UC Davis’ new sustainable agriculture major.
Corporations also are getting into the act, creating sustainability departments (green teams) and pledging to reduce their carbon footprints. And then there is the military: The Department of Defense is swiftly greening up its act, in part because its dependence upon oil is deemed a security risk and because going green saves lives and money. Read more here, here and here.
Like many initiatives, the green movement will grow in fits and starts, influenced by politics and economics. Still, the cost of renewable energy such as solar is dropping so fast that parity with fossil fuels is within reach, and governments in the western U.S. have unified support of green jobs,according to this post.
How will higher gas prices and the specter of climate change fit into all this? That’s something that I, a resident of California’s Central Valley, would love to know. The Valley is a main character in climate expert Heidi Cullen’s book, “The Weather of the Future. You think the Valley is hot and dry and has bad air quality now….
Today’s young adults have a lot on their plate, but they also know they have to lead. As my favoriteenvironmental rap superhero from Cal Poly told us: “We are at the point in time where we are on top of a mountain. If we continue our path, we will fall down and kill the earth. If we rethink our path, we can safely travel back down the mountain…”