This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.
Investments in renewable energy surge worldwide, driven by improving cost-effectiveness and growing demand in developing nations. However, as uncertainty around policy remains, the continued rapid pace is called into question.
According to the most recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewable power capacity expanded at its fastest pace to date in 2013. Power generated from sources such as wind, solar and hydro now accounts for more than 22% of global generation and continues to climb.
While increasing efficiency and falling costs of technologies have been among the key drivers for rising investments, record growth has also been spurred by strong demand from emerging economies.
According to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, the number of developing countries with renewable energy policies increased six-fold in the last two years. In 2013, China’s total renewable power capacity surpassed new fossil fuel and nuclear capacity for the first time, and its investments in hydropower, solar power and wind power were higher than those in the US or Germany. In early June, Mexico’s energy department announced a 33% renewable energy target for 2018 and African countries are expected to add more renewables to the energy mix in 2014 than in the past 14 years.
While interest in renewable energy in both industrialised and developing nations remains high, policy and regulatory uncertainty presents a major barrier to further rapid growth. Industry observers also point out the overall unpredictability of the future of energy. The IEA argues that solar power will become the dominant energy source by 2015, but many other observers are less optimistic about the speed at which fossil fuels will be replaced by clean energy.
What to look for: Investments in renewables will continue to grow but many industry analysts predict that the pace of expansion will slow. Southern leadership on renewables is nascent and will require bold policy and financial solutions to cut continued dependence on fossil fuels and truly shift the energy paradigm.
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Consumer recycling, once seen as the most basic of environmental practices, has become decidedly more complex. Some communities have mandated aggressive, long-term, zero-waste goals to divert sometimes up to 90 percent of their waste from the local landfill. That can lead to a wide array of what’s collected — and what’s not — engendering confusion among residents (citizens).
The result: After decades of growth, recycling rates have plateaued, or even dropped.
How can cities regain the momentum? There are some tried and true methods, but it takes a village, literally — producers, recyclers, municipalities and consumers, working together to find solutions.
In this hour-long webcast, you’ll hear how waste streams are changing; the latest data about what consumers think about recycling and what messages resonate with them; how one of the nation’s largest recycling companies is working with cities to increase recovery rates; and the secrets behind one of the most successful municipal recycling programs in the United States.
Among the things you’ll learn:
- Current recycling trends and the true bottom-line impacts of non-recyclable materials such as “flexible packaging”
- How recycling programs influence how consumers think and recycle
- The differences between what consumers say about recycling and how they actually recycle (what they are actually doing)
- Specific examples from Hennepin County, MN demonstrating how their innovative recycling education initiatives work
Susan Robinson, Director of Public Affairs, Waste Management
Susan Robinson is the Director of Public Affairs for Waste Management. She has worked in the environmental industry for 30 years in roles that span the public sector, non-profit, consultancy, and over twenty years in the private sector. Since joining Waste Management in1999, Susan has been instrumental in the company’s implementation of new recycling programs in the Western U.S. She currently supports the company’s public policy efforts associated with materials management technologies. Susan is on the Board of Directors of Ameripen, served on the Washington State Governor’s Beyond Waste Working Group and is past president of the Washington State Recycling Association. She attended Stanford University and the University of Washington, and holds degrees in Applied Earth Sciences and English. Her Masters work in Environmental Studies is from the Evergreen State College.
Julie Colehour, Principal, Colehour & Cohen
Julie Colehour is a Partner at Colehour+Cohen, a 36 person social marketing and public relations firm with offices in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. She has 24 years of experience creating and implementing social marketing campaigns that encourage consumers to adopt environmentally-friendly behaviors. Her experience includes 17 years working with EPA on ENERGY STAR including creating the plan that launched the brand in 1997. She works on behavior change campaigns that span a number of important social issues including recycling, waste reduction, water efficiency and healthcare. She is frequently called upon to speak on social marketing at venues across the country. Julie has been recognized for her work through many awards including eight Silver Anvils from the Public Relations Society of America. In 2001, she was named one of The Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 under 40 young outstanding executives. She is also co-author of The Environmental Marketing Imperative (Probus Publishing).
Angie Timmons, Environmental Education Coordinator, Hennepin County, MN
Angie is the Communications Coordinator for Hennepin County Environmental Services. She has fifteen years of environmental education experience. Recent projects include launching a multimedia campaign called “Recycle Everywhere” to encourage away from home recycling and promoting an environmental recognition program for businesses.
Angie has a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of St. Thomas
Joel Makower, Chairman & Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group
For 25 years, Joel has been a well-respected voice on business, the environment, and the bottom line. Joel is co-founded GreenBiz Group Inc., including its website, research reports and events on the corporate sustainability strategy and trends. He hosts the annual GreenBiz Forums and VERGE conferences around the world, and is author of the annual, award-winning State of Green Business report.
In 2012, he was awarded the Hutchens Medal by the American Society for Quality, which cited “his ability to tell compelling stories that both inform and inspire business leaders toward profitable action.” In 2014 he wasinducted into the Hall of Fame of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.Topics: Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - 1:00pmSponsored by: Waste ManagementWebcast URL: Register Here
This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.
California’s Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of the high tech industry, is becoming the central focus of a national debate around the representation of women and minorities in technology companies.
For years, most Silicon Valley tech giants remained secretive about the composition of their workforce and resisted stakeholder and media requests to disclose diversity data. A number of leading tech companies – such as Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter – have now changed course and disclosed workforce diversity numbers. The data confirmed the underrepresentation of women and minorities that many had already observed. Several companies also announced new initiatives to address the issue. Google, for instance, has devised an experimental strategy to identify critical turning points and processes that stifle female promotion.
Shifting stakeholder expectations continue to build urgency around the issue. The Open Diversity Data project publicly calls out companies that do not release diversity data. Other NGOs – including Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code – are coming forward with innovative solutions to address systemic causes and increase the numbers of female computer engineers.
While tech companies have long struggled with the lack of female graduates, this is not just a pipeline issue – it is a matter of corporate responsibility. The well-documented machismo in the tech industry contributes to pushing out over half the qualified female talent between ages 25 and 30. Media pundits and feminist rights activists have become more outspoken about ‘brogramming culture’ and the misuse of cultural fit as an excuse for discrimination.
Shifting the balance of gender representation will require tackling deep systemic causes. Though there is a long road ahead, the tech community has broken the vows of secrecy and is looking to work on solutions.
What to look for: Critique of tech companies will become more pronounced. At the same time stakeholder collaboration with the firms can be expected to grow and evolve. For instance, a documentary Big Dream, in part underwritten by Microsoft, will chronicle the personal challenges faced by girls entering STEM fields.
Neil Young is urging you not to buy coffee at Starbucks anymore.
He’s upset that the Grocery Manufacturers Association, of which Starbucks is a member, is suing Vermont over the state’s new law that will require labelling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients by summer of 2016.
In an open letter, Young claims that “we have a right to know what we put in our mouths.” As I’ve argued before, that simply isn’t true, at least not as a generalization. You certainly have a right to control what you put in your mouth, but that doesn’t — and cannot possibly — include a right to know every detail of every thing you put in your mouth. If you don’t trust something, don’t eat or drink it. Don’t buy it. But you don’t have the right to insist on knowing everything about it. You might want to know whether your food was harvested by the light of a full moon, but you don’t have a right to that information. A business that refuses to give you that information isn’t violating your rights.
It doesn’t help, of course, that one of the other key players in the lawsuit is Monsanto, a company that for many people represents evil incarnate. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m no fan of Monsanto. But its involvement shouldn’t blind us to the fact that GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are, as a category, no less safe than any other kind of food. Nor should it blind us to the fact that the GMO category is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive if what you’re worried about is potentially-harmful forms of genetic modification. Scientists understand this. Neil Young does not.
Young is right about a couple of things, though. He rightly suggests, for example, that public pressure might get Starbucks to change its ways. This is quite plausible. Lots of companies are already caving in to irrational public fears regarding GMOs. Starbucks could be next, so Young’s strategy, regrettably, just might work.
He’s also right that there is more at stake, here, than what can be sold in one relatively small US state. It’s entirely possible that if the Vermont law is allowed to stand, the precedent it sets will help make it easier for other states to jump on the bandwagon.
But what Young is right about is far outweighed by what he’s wrong about. He claims that the lawsuit is trying to “stop accurate food labeling.” That’s a gross misrepresentation. There’s nothing importantly “accurate” about a label that says “this product contains GMOs,” even when it’s technically true. For that to count as accurate labelling, it would have to be a meaningful label (one that distinguishes one kind of ingredient from an importantly different kind) and it would have to have some chance of being understood by customers. Such a label is much more likely to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mistakenly taken as a reliable guide to better purchasing decisions.
Consider: what if some jurisdiction foolishly passed a law saying that all foods containing carbon had to be labelled as such? What if someone opposed that law? Would they be fighting “accurate food labelling?” All food contains carbon. Pointing it out helps nobody. And claiming that they have a “right” to be told it is just plain silly.