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SustainAbility Analyst Michael Harvey will be speaking at the London Climate Forum 2014, a student-led conference to be held at Imperial College London on November 22, 2014.
The aim of the London Climate Forum is to inspire students to take action in response to climate change through sustainability and social enterprise by providing them with a series of interactive exhibitions and talks on what climate change is and realistic solutions.
Built on the belief that students have the power and potential to create a sustainable future, London Climate Forum 2014 will bring together leading thinkers from politics, business, campaigning, media, science, and engineering.
Michael will be giving a talk on how SustainAbility is helping companies become more sustainable and prepare for the changing climate.
Register here to attend.
Great sustainable product stories, told well, can generate enormous benefits. That’s why leading global brands have made sustainable products and processes — and the effective communication of their efforts — a high priority.
But telling a sustainability story is rife with risks. Making unsubstantiated claims can damage your brand’s reputation and strain customer loyalty. On the other hand, communicating your sustainability efforts in a credible and compelling way can influence consumer purchase intent and brand perception.
How do you tell your product story effectively? That’s what UL Environment set out to uncover with a study, conducted by Shelton Group, that polled more than 1,000 consumers and conducted more than 40,000 head-to-head green product claim comparisons.
In this hour-long webcast, you’ll hear the key findings from that study and hear a discussion about how to leverage this information to enhance your company’s sustainability story to drive greater brand value.
Among the things you’ll learn:
- What consumers want to know related to green product claims
- The impact of green product claims on purchase intent
- How consumers view claims that are vague or misleading
Register to attend the webcast and receive the recording when it concludes.
Topics: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 2:00pmSponsored by: UL Environment
Catch Paul Hawken in person next week at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27 to 30.
Today, at the Greenbuild conference in New Orleans, entrepreneur and author Paul Hawken will publicly unveil a project, more than a year in the works, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.
You read that right: to reduce, not just stabilize, atmospheric CO2 and other gases, in order to reverse rising global temperatures.
Project Drawdown, as it is named, will produce a book in 2016, detailing the costs and benefits of scores of climate solutions, from light bulb technology to livestock techniques to literacy for teenage girls. For each, Hawken and his team will “do the numbers,” providing detailed, science-based data and econometric models showing how each plays out, based on current technology and how it will likely evolve over the project’s 30-year horizon.
“The book is not a plan,” Hawken explained to me recently. “It is not a proposal. It is a reflection back to the world what we are doing and know how to do right this second.”
A meaningful dent
The project grew out of Hawken’s frustration with actionable, scalable solutions that would make a meaningful dent in the atmosphere’s growing accumulation of greenhouse gases. The solutions that had been proffered over the years were all seemingly out of reach — ungodly amounts of solar and wind energy that would be required, for example, or the mass adoption of futuristic, unproven technologies.
“It made me feel like this is intractable, that it requires such Promethean work by such mammoth institutions, with policy changes that are more than structural,” he recalled. “It made me feel like it wasn’t possible to address climate change, rather than giving me hope.”
When the activist Bill McKibben wrote the seminal article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” in Rolling Stone in 2012, Hawken asked, “Why aren’t we doing the math on the solutions? Somebody should come up with a list and see what it requires so you get to drawdown.”
The idea of “drawdown” — actually reducing greenhouse gas concentrations so that global temperatures drop — hasn’t been part of the conversation, at least among the United Nations crowd, climate activists or cleantech companies. Most focus on the seemingly pragmatic goal of stabilizing greenhouse gases at some level, expressed in parts per million, or ppm, that would be tolerable — or at least not catastrophic, from economic, environmental and social perspectives.
Hawken thought differently. “There’s no such thing as stabilization at 450 or 550 ppm,” he said. “That’s not stabilized. That’s volatile. I felt that the goal should be drawdown, which is a year-to-year reduction of carbon from the upper atmosphere, period.”
Last year, Hawken began teaching at the Presidio Graduate School, alongside climate activist and entrepreneur Amanda Joy Ravenhill. “One day we were just riffing, and we started talking about drawdown and said, ‘Let’s do it. No one else is doing it,’” Hawken recounted. Today, Ravenhill is Project Drawdown’s executive director and, with Hawken, the book’s co-editor. The two have recruited more than 80 advisors, partners, scientists, government agencies and participating universities, along with more than 200 graduate students.
Doing the numbers
Hawken and Ravenhill will need that army to pull off their audacious vision. The challenge, as Hawken describes it, isn’t in describing the solutions but in doing the numbers — the carbon savings and financial accounting, of course, but also how each solution plays out by country or region, based on available energy resources, climate, economy and other factors — and how each is likely to morph over the next 30 years.
And not just the positives. “We had to be very, very careful that we had the subtraction sign,” factoring in ways greenhouse gas emissions can increase in the atmosphere along the way, offsetting any reductions. For example, he said, ”We can talk about reforestation as being one of the hundred solutions, which it certainly is, but we have to make sure we subtract out the rate of fires in the world to reflect what’s burning down.”
Moreover, he says, technologies can’t be measured in isolation; they need to be viewed as parts of the systems in which they operate. “We can talk about LED bulbs, but we also have to talk about solutions like dynamic skins or smart glass, which actually reduce light load by 40 or 50 percent. Each of these solutions has a history and measurements and metrics and numbers, so we are not pulling rabbits out of a hat.”
And then there’s the problem of double-counting, where individual benefits — energy reductions or financial savings, for example — are counted twice, or even three or four times in a single calculation, inflating a technology’s benefits or understating its costs. That’s been a frequent problem with some clean technology advocates’ rosy scenarios.
The goal, says Hawken, is to make the numbers indisputable. “The numbers wanted to be beyond impeccable in terms of methodology and inputs and even their bias. We wanted to have a very conservative bias on the numbers, so that nobody could say we’re egging the pudding or exaggerating.”
“Doing the numbers” has proved to be as daunting a challenge as Hawken expected, or perhaps more so. The concern over getting it right has led Project Drawdown to push back the book’s publication date, to spring 2016 from the original goal of fall 2015.
True to Hawken’s nature — he’s not likely to be satisfied with simply creating a book, however ambitious and meticulously detailed — Project Drawdown’s plans extend in several directions. The solutions and calculations will be contained in a publicly available database, along with the means for individuals and groups to create customized applications (using APIs, in computer parlance). “Anybody can repurpose it, download it, regionalize it, so they can use the Drawdown solutions to measure progress in any geographically bounded area,” he explained. Users could model solutions differently — for example, factoring in different scenarios of how the cost and efficiency of solar energy might play out over the years. Hawken says there are also plans for accompanying educational curricula developed by National Science Foundation. And possibly some media projects based on the work.
The research could even be used as a policy tool, Hawken says. “What we see again and again is negative cost. We don’t see the opprobrium that is always cast on climate mitigation, which is, ‘It costs too much, costs too much, costs too much.’ We don’t see that at all. We see ‘Return, return, return.’ So governments — whether cities or local or communities or counties or states — can understand that these are no-regrets projects that have a very strong positive return, in which case you would want to do them, regardless of what you think about the rate of change in climate or whether you believe in it at all.”
Despite the long road ahead, Hawken is already looking past the publication of what he dubs “Drawdown 1,” and on to its sequel. That, he promises, will look at the next generation of technologies, with all of their unrealized potential to solve climate change. “We don’t know the ending of this book, make that very clear, but with Drawdown 2, we’re saying, ‘Look what is coming. It is stunning.’”
It’s easy, in today’s divisive and toxic political environment, to view Project Drawdown as too good to be true, a quixotic quest for an unattainable goal.
But there’s something simple and sane about Project Drawdown’s collective ingredients: unabashed optimism tempered by sharp-pencil calculations, a bold goal undergirded by scientific pragmatism, immediacy coupled with a 30-year horizon, all leveraging the wisdom of a very smart crowd.
Not all of it will pan out — there are simply too many variables and uncertainties — but much of it will. And it just could move the needle.Topics: Climate
Making environmental, health and safety compliance sexy may seem impossible, but the Sustainable Performance Forum Americas 2014 conference came close. With former NASA astronaut Capt. John Creighton on stage, a Discovery Bar in the lobby and over 500 attendees with roles spanning the sustainability spectrum, enterprise software company Enablon turned an enterprise event into an industry influencer.
Now in its sixth year, SPF Americas attracts EHS compliance managers and sustainability innovators. Rule enforcers plus silo breakers makes a potentially combustible mixture, but these elements can transform organizations — if they can find a way to work together.
The EHS system is a catalyst for transformation. Sophisticated EHS software platforms can collect and parse Big Data, allowing compliance managers to work efficiently while contributing to their company's knowledge pool. Analytics captured for risk-management purposes can improve performance and even support CSR programs and sustainability reporting.
"Even a mom-and-pop shop has to complete safety reviews. The compliance requirements are there regardless," said Chris McClean, principal analyst and research director at Forrester Research. "These tools help companies manage their compliance responses more efficiently. Better performance translates into better results."
Earlier this year, McClean released a report analyzing 19 governance, risk and compliance software platforms. Enablon's platform emerged as one of the leaders, but as McClean points out, a wide range of variables factor into selecting the right platform.
Leveraging EHS systems for efficiency, resilience and compliance
Enablon doesn't define sustainability according the classic "triple bottom line" but by more essential attributes: efficiency, resilience and compliance. My charge as keynote panel moderator was to get into the minds of strategists, managers, analysts and developers to expose opportunities and challenges associated with EHS systems. In talking with McClean and other panelists, I learned how these systems help companies navigate the sea of data to improve performance, manage risk and ensure compliance.
"In today's information-intense world, we all can easily get swamped in data and information overload," said John Mogge, environment and nuclear market global director of technology, practice and design for CH2MHill. "The strongest environmental and sustainability programs are based on best available and sound data, which inform both your operations and your risk management programs."
Properly informed management systems enhance an organization's value-creation efforts for both the short term and the long term, and "we have a lot of proof to support this," explained Mogge, who has led complex projects for clients ranging from the 2012 Olympics in London to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Allen Stegman, general director of environmental and hazardous materials for BNSF Railway, said scalability is also important in an enterprise-wide EHS system. "Gathering information (vs. data) allows us to transition from lagging metrics to leading indicators and predictive analytics so that we can continue to drive improvement in our performance," said Stegman.
An EHS system can help a company become more resilient, but a good fit is crucial. If improperly selected or misunderstood, risk management systems ostensibly there to "risk-proof" your company can become "something else you have to worry about risk-proofing," warned Scott Nadler, senior partner at ERM.
"You know things are going to go poorly from time to time. But are incidents a one-time thing or is this a pattern of things going poorly?" said McClean. Performance systems can help establish and maintain patterns of performance that become part of a company's brand, leading to what McClean calls "brand resilience."
Translating EHS data to CSR deliverables
"Through performance improvements such as fuel efficiency," said Stegman, "BNSF Railway can now move 1 ton of freight, on average, approximately 500 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel." The company sees corporate social responsibility as a means to communicate improvements with stakeholders.
For example, BNSF Railway "shares with our customers how we are reducing their emissions by more than 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year," said Stegman. "That is equivalent to our customers eliminating the consumption and resultant emissions produced by burning more than 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel."
If relaying EHS performance is a driving purpose behind CSR, what prevents these different teams from working together more often?
"A lot of CSR data is only available after a bit of corporate crow-barring," said Joe Jones, principal sustainability consultant with SustainIt, in his presentation. Getting energy managers, transport managers and the OHS team to part with "their" data is challenging, said Jones, "but if you can get hold of that information, then you can subject that data to the math you need to go from no CSR data to what I would consider quite a strong CSR dataset."
One of the most interesting differences he sees between the U.S. and Europe is the firewall between CSR and EHS.
"I've found — and firmly believe — that companies need to view CSR as a core part of business strategy rather than a risk mitigation exercise," he said. "Sustainability should be about a global stakeholder rather than just cashflow protection.
"Clever software is often the best way to do this, especially if you get fancy with it and start working out stuff like CO2 impact per average employee."
Good EHS data can be the cornerstone of a broader CSR data strategy. Energy and accident data are one of the easiest components of CSR data to come by, and this data is already being collected at the EHS level. As Jones sees it, "finding a way to make this data usable allows corporates to really kick start their CSR momentum."
How humans help and hinder EHS implementations
As much as technology can do, the human piece often gets in the way. That's why one of the key features among the leaders in Forrester's report is usability.
"We've completely redesigned our platform to make sure it is easy to use, intuitive, and beautiful. It is made by humans, for humans," said Phil Tesler, co-founder and CEO of Enablon North America. By offering "the most intuitive user interface on the market," Enablon's software aims to simplify the user experience, thus enabling the rigorous data collection that can lead to superior performance.
As on-the-ground guardians of data, compliance managers need a platform that allows them to respond in a crisis situation. Much further upstream, CSR staff and consultants can use this data to build the sustainability case. Facilitating this connection are the software developers and IT consultants who create and implement compliance-oriented platforms. Together, EHS, CSR and IT form a triumvirate of competencies capable of forging truly sustainable solutions.
However, most users still only exploit a fraction of the available functionality of EHS systems. Jill Gilbert, president of Lexicon Systems, explained in her presentation that the breakdown often occurs at a failure to anticipate and meet basic business requirements.
"Companies can make emotional decisions. They see bells and whistles and forget what their needs are," said Gilbert, who sees the EHS system purchase as analogous to the car-buying experience.
"Say you're car-shopping and you're thinking, 'Gee, the Tesla only costs $900 per month. It's such a cool car and does so much. Maybe it's too expensive, but I'll make it work.' Then you get it and realize it can't carry much or hold the child carriers in the back." In other words, the slickest product doesn't always fit a company's needs, nor its budget.
Gilbert offered clients seeking an EHS system some advice: "Get buy-in up front. Pre-qualify. Settle infighting. Get the right people involved. You have to resolve those issues before you invest in a system." Gilbert said clients who follow her advice on business requirements can shorten the lifecycle by months and save "millions of dollars in the process."
I encountered a range of explanations for why companies don't maximize the opportunities presented by translating EHS performance into CSR results. Another barrier is the persistent confusion around what sustainability even means. As Nadler explained, "sustainability is a term of art."
And then there's good old-fashioned human error. As Capt. John Creighton said during his keynote, "Sometimes your wingman's an idiot."
No fighter pilot is really an idiot, but anyone can become myopic. People with a compliance orientation (and I'm generalizing here) tend to regard CSR with suspicion, which makes sense when you think about their day-to-day priorities. At the same time, CSR types have little connection to the daily rigors of managing risk. That's somebody else's job.
Creighton told us that in times of high stress, pilots revert to their native tongues. The same may hold true for people on the ground. As stressful as the average workday has become, it's difficult to reach beyond immediate concerns. But if we can learn to breathe outside of the insulated modules of our limited perspectives and let go of the jargon that encapsulates them, a universe awaits.
A launching pad for industry leadership
"A lot of companies over the last 10 years are taking the voluntary approach because they see business values other than checking a box, such as the desire to recruit and retain good talent," said McClean. "If you comply, good, you won't get fined, but if you go above and beyond, you attract good people and build a better reputation."
A narrow, half-hearted EHS system rollout is not going to produce stratospheric results. Nor is there is a one-size-fits all solution. The important thing is to do a thorough job at selecting the right system for a given situation, then forge a culture that is forward-looking and resilient enough to handle the task of maximizing its potential.
Management information systems have the power to bridge EHS and CSR so long as the people using them know how to work collaboratively. Only when the powerful forces of technology and human ingenuity are integrated will sustainability truly lift off.
Top image of Endeavor space shuttle by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr.Topics: ReportingCorporate Governance
Big Data is transforming agriculture, and just in time. The demand for food is expected to double by 2050 as the world's population heads toward 9 billion people and increasing incomes allow many more to afford a better diet. Lack of water is a critical constraint to increasing food production, particularly as droughts and other consequences of climate change are making water scarcer.
To help solve this enormous challenge, the agriculture and water communities are harnessing Big Data to ramp up food production with less pressure on our water resources. Experts from around the world gathered in Seattle this week at the Water for Food Global Conference to discuss ways to harness this data revolution in agriculture. Hosted by the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska in association with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the conference focused on mobilizing Big Data to improve global water and food security.
With that in mind, here are eight ways Big Data is helping to create a more water- and food-secure world.
1. Satellite imagery and data
Satellites gather vast amounts of data that are used at global and local scales. For example, satellites can track atmospheric patterns, precipitation and ocean currents. Combined with weather data, researchers are using satellite data to develop better forecasting and risk-management tools to help farmers, whether in Nebraska or Ethiopia, make better decisions, and to help governments better plan for droughts and floods. Satellite data also can be used to home in on local areas to precisely map landscapes, analyze soils or assess crop yields, among many other uses.
2. Groundwater monitoring
Globally, agriculture consumes 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals, primarily for irrigation, and groundwater is a key source of irrigation water. Data regarding aquifer conditions, groundwater withdrawals and other metrics are critical for water managers to prevent catastrophic aquifer depletions. Although water metering to potentially regulate use is unpopular — most recently in California as the state undertakes new groundwater management rules — it's been successfully used in areas of Nebraska for more than 40 years to help maintain groundwater levels, despite having the most irrigated acres in the nation.
3. Viewing advantages
These days, most people are familiar with the potential of drones outside the military. In agriculture, drones will help farmers, water managers and researchers peer into places otherwise difficult to see. They capture images of entire fields and can zoom into individual leaves to determine the plant's condition. Researchers are developing drones to go beyond capturing images to actually interact with the environment, taking leaf samples, gathering water samples, measuring crop height or applying herbicides to individual plants.
Cameras — and the ability to process huge data files — are giving us new perspectives on our world. In one example, the Platte Basin Timelapse Project from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln placed more than 40 cameras along the entire length of the Platte River watershed, from the headwaters in the Colorado Rockies through Nebraska to the Missouri River. The cameras take a picture every daylight hour. The visual timeline gives scientists, resource managers and the public a greater understanding of the influences agriculture, municipal water supplies, geological processes, restoration projects and other activities have on the watershed, leading to better watershed management.
4. Precision agriculture
Precision agriculture defies the stereotype of farmers as low-tech traditionalists. Today, a host of technology from GPS-equipped tractors to remote-controlled or even automated irrigation systems is turning farming into a high-tech business.
Water sensors placed throughout a field monitor soil moisture in real-time, which help a farmer decide when and how much to irrigate. Fed to computer-controlled irrigation systems, that information allows precise water applications rather than a single amount across an entire field.
In another example, computer-equipped combines gather data during harvest to create detailed yield maps, which are used to create a precise prescription of fertilizers and other inputs to improve productivity the following year. Such advances translate into higher yields using less water and energy. And, thankfully, the high-tech nature of agriculture is also attracting young people back to farming.
5. Global atlases
Where in the world do we have existing farmland with the capacity to produce much higher, stable yields? Which river basins are running dry, and why? Researchers are gathering and analyzing satellite, atmospheric, on-the-ground and historic data to create mapping tools and models that help governments and others improve agriculture and conserve water.
For example, the Global Yield Gap and Water Productivity Atlas, a global collaboration led by the Water for Food Institute, identifies existing farmland worldwide where significant gaps exist between actual and potential yields for different crops. The atlas estimates global yield trends and food security for global analyses and, perhaps more important, helps individual countries identify production potential to improve policy and to better strategize resource allocations and trade opportunities.
6. Regional mapping
Countries are taking on their own Big Data projects to better plan for the future. Sri Lanka, for example, recently began mapping many of its primary river basins and modeling climate risks to develop a comprehensive flood and drought mitigation plan. In the Dominican Republic, I participated in a project that created a spatial database of the country's entire irrigated properties. The data allows water managers to better maintain the country's extensive irrigation canal systems, conserve water and create equity among water users.
Big Data analysis and modeling can reach even subsistence farmers in remote areas. Many farmers in poor, rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, long isolated by insufficient phone service and roads, have cellphones. They now have access to weather forecasting and market information to make better decisions, manage money and develop a wider support network, thereby improving livelihoods as well as local water and food security.
8. Research advances
Science is driven by data. Greater data gathering and computing power is allowing researchers to develop drought-resistant crop breeds, better understand climate change and create models that help us understand risks and opportunities moving forward, among other research goals.
Much data is flowing in agriculture, creating numerous opportunities to increase food production without compromising limited water resources. But many challenges remain to ensure the data flows efficiently and to those who need it most.
Top image of water on data DVD by panda3800 via Shutterstock.Topics: Food & AgricultureWater Efficiency & ConservationInformation Technology
Every year EY, a global professional services organization, takes a group of employees out of their cubicles and drops them into nature. Organized by the Earthwatch Institute and supported by a group of local scientists, EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors help with field research and use their professional knowledge to tackle a business or social challenge. This is one participant’s story.
A Mexico City farmer stands straddling a small canal that he has just finished digging. He tells us that for as long as he can remember, his family has dug a canal in that same place, year after year. He shows us his crops, describing how he learned crop rotation from his father, a technique used to renew the soil. He points out the species of flowers and herbs his sons have planted in a field nearby to naturally repel bugs. He brings us to a pile of natural fertilizer, made of straw and cow dung, steaming and stinky in the hot afternoon sun.
On first glance, visiting Xochimilco, an area of wetlands area just south of Mexico City, gives you the impression that nothing has changed for decades. It is a place rich with tradition, where everyone knows the neighbors, where more food is cultivated than bought, where livestock outnumber Internet connections. Just under the surface, however, a quiet battle emerges in these wetlands, pitting these traditional farmers against modern farming techniques and a depleted environment, forcing local farmers to confront a simple question: will they adapt and embrace a new way of farming, or will they stay the course and risk irrelevancy? As EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors, our goal was to help answer this question.
In the last decade, farmers of Xochimilco have been confronted with new environmental issues. One is the advent of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase crop yields and keep bugs away. Our team took water and insect samples to measure the effect of these chemicals. The results demonstrated a significant increase in harmful chemicals and decrease in nutrients in areas near farms with chemical pesticides. The data we collected for Earthwatch will be used to promote organic farming in the area and as a call to action to politicians to shape environmental policy.
Another issue facing these farmers is water supply. With the increase in the population of Mexico City, the water levels have drained, turning once popular canal routes into patches of mud. Farmers who used to relying solely on irrigation ditches now have had to buy gas-powered pumps and sprinkler systems which pipe water from canals, draining more water and compounding the problem even more.
Environmental changes aside, farmers in the area also encounter a changing Mexican consumer. The urban Mexican is increasingly asking questions about where her food comes from and how it is produced. Using the skillsets we bring from the business world, our EY team spent about half of our time supporting a group of about 10 organic farmers in the area, suggesting organizational, financial and marketing changes to increase efficiency and visibility. Some of our deliverables included a mission and vision statement, a profit and loss statement, and an analysis of new distribution channels as community-sponsored agriculture. Equipped with these new tools, the organization — we hope — will grow stronger and provide a home base for organic farmers in the area.
Upon my return from Xochimilco, I find myself changed, both professionally and personally. Personally, I never will take for granted the water from my faucet again. Professionally, I hope to make sustainability an emphasis of my career going forward by bringing leading sustainability practices to future client projects.
My biggest takeaway from my time in Xochimilco is the importance of data to equip the green movement. In our polarized country, blogs such as GreenBiz, organizations such as Earthwatch and topics such as organic farming tend to turn some people off. Many too often will write off the green movement as politically biased.
As advocates for the earth, how do we overcome this? The answer is simple: data. Data is the alchemy furnace, the only tool with the magical power to transform a whining environmentalist into a hard-nosed pragmatist confronting a real-world problem. It is one thing to say, “Without action from local and national political leaders to regulate the amount of water taken from the area, Mexico City’s remaining wetlands will be drastically depleted.” It is yet another to say, “At the current rate, Mexico City’s water supply will be depleted by 2020.”
Suffice it to say, in all matters — especially in charged environmental matters — it is best to follow the advice of my former boss, who used to tell me, “In God we trust; all others bring data.”
Top image of Xochimilco via Eric & Autumn's World Roll UpTopics: Small BusinessFood & AgricultureEmployeesGreen TeamEmployee Education & Training
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