Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

7.1.06

California PUC Proposes Nation's Biggest Solar Program: 3,000 MW by 2016


California PUC Proposes Nation's Biggest Solar Program: 3,000 MW by 2016
December 14, 2005
Source: Clean Edge News

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has unveiled its  
California Solar Initiative, proposing to install 3,000 MW of solar  
on California homes, businesses, farms, schools and public facilities.

The program, if adopted in mid-January by the five-member Public  
Utilities Commission, will be the nation's largest solar power  
investment, designed to make solar power mainstream and affordable.

It will add clean energy to the state's peak demand resources, reduce  
risk by diversifying the state's energy portfolio, and establish a  
world-class solar market in California.

"This is the kind of long-term, visionary policy that allows the US  
solar industry to invest in technological innovation and scale up  
manufacturing," said Rhone Resch, president of the national Solar  
Energy Industries Association. "With this investment, California will  
make solar power a major resource for our energy future. We applaud  
the CPUC and the California Energy Commission for proposing a  
monumental decision that will build the nation's largest solar market  
and reduce costs."

The proposed California Solar Initiative will create 11 years of  
funding. The PUC would provide $2.8 billion in customer incentives  
for solar projects on existing residential buildings, as well as all  
public buildings, industrial facilities, businesses, and agricultural  
facilities. The CEC program would provide $400 million in incentives  
for new homes, specifically targeting collaborations with the  
builder / developer community. Incentives would be gradually reduced  
over time and phased out by 2016 under the PUC proposal.

"A long-term program with secure funding is key to bringing down  
solar costs and planning responsibly for California's energy future,"  
said Barry Cinnamon, president of the California Solar Energy  
Industries Association and CEO of Akeena Solar. "From an industry  
perspective, this program will eliminate the stop-start incentive  
cycle, and create market conditions that allow solar companies to  
make new long-term investments that will bring solar to the public."

Solar technologies eligible to participate in the program would  
include photovoltaics, concentrating solar power, and solar water  
heating. All projects would have to be customer-sited and between one  
kilowatt and one megawatt in size. The money would come from existing  
funds already earmarked for solar power and a de minimis additional  
surcharge on monthly electric bills over eleven years. According to a  
staff report prepared by the PUC last summer, this $3.2 billion  
investment in solar could save California ratepayers an estimated $9  
billion.

"Given this winter's high energy bills and the urgent need to reduce  
the state's reliance on imported fossil fuels, this landmark solar  
initiative is exactly what California's economy and environment  
need," said Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California. "Clean  
energy solutions, like this forward-thinking solar proposal, are what  
the majority of California voters are demanding."

"The public pressure to implement this program has been nothing less  
than inspiring, added David Hochschild of the Vote Solar Initiative.  
"Over the last two months, 43,000 people wrote to the Public  
Utilities Commissioners to ask them to pass this program - more  
public comment than the PUC has received on any issue they have ever  
considered, including the 2001 energy crisis. It shows that public  
support for solar and renewables has reached a new threshold."

The solar proposal is expected to be voted on by the five-member PUC  
in mid-January, after a 30-day public comment period initiated today.  
If adopted, the program is likely to go into effect by the start of  
2007. In the meantime, this Thursday, December 15th, the PUC is  
expected to vote on the first stage of the California Solar  
Initiative, an interim program to make additional funds available for  
2005 and 2006 solar projects to ensure uninterrupted market growth  
during the transition to the long-term program. The first stage of  
funding is expected to add $300 million in customer incentives. In  
addition, $58 million remains available for homeowners and small  
businesses to invest in solar panels via the California Energy  
Commission's rebate program in 2006.

SEIA is the national trade association of solar energy manufacturers,  
dealers, distributors, contractors, installers, architects,  
consultants and marketers. Established in 1975, SEIA works to expand  
the use of solar technologies in the global marketplace.

A copy of the PUC presentation outlining the California Solar  
Initiative can be found at www.seia.org.

6.1.06

Are European Finance Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives Adequate?


Are European Finance Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives Adequate?

SocialFunds.com, 23 December 2005 - Are the European finance sector's corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives effective at addressing climate change, poverty and economic exclusion, corruption, and human rights abuses, or do they in fact exacerbate these problems? Earlier this month, the UK Presidency of the European Union (EU) convened a conference on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the finance sector in Europe. Two reports resulting from this conference provide different answers to the above question.

The official conference background paper, while acknowledging the negative social and environmental impacts created by the European finance sector, ultimately advances a rosy view of the effectiveness of voluntary CSR initiatives, such as the UN Global Compact.

"Critics argue that the finance sector itself is a major cause of these global problems--that many of its actions encourage unsustainable behavior and short-term thinking, or that it has no interest in the social and environmental impacts of its lending or investment practices," states the conference paper. "Others argue that existing governance and regulatory structures are inadequate and encourage a narrow focus on maximizing short-term returns."

"But, importantly, there are voices within the finance sector recognizing the need to address global challenges," the paper continues. "As a number of key financial institutions have argued in [the Global Compact report] Who Cares Wins--'Ultimately, successful investment depends on a vibrant economy, which depends on a healthy civil society, which is ultimately dependent on a sustainable planet [so] investment markets have a clear self-interest in contributing to better management of environmental and social impacts in a way that contributes to the sustainable development of global society.'"

A report from the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition of UK charities--including Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth (FoE), and WWF--advances the critics' arguments outlined above, namely that voluntary initiatives and current regulation are insufficient. The report, entitled A Big Deal?, quotes a 2004 report from accounting consultancy KPMG in the UK and asset manager F&C to support its case.

"The financial services sector is not regulated on a global basis and no overarching framework exists to manage key human rights issues," states the KPMG/F&C report. "Codes of conduct have been established that, because of either their reach or influence, have become proxies for industry standards . . . such initiatives may be criticized for 'lacking teeth' if no accountability mechanisms exist to assess how well they are being implemented in day-to-day business practices."

"Ultimately, binding regulation may be more likely to ensure that industry leaders are not competitively disadvantaged, and that all companies operate to a set of agreed minimum standards," it continues.

The CORE report presents seven case studies exemplifying shortcomings of self-regulation as well as instances where companies circumvented regulation. The sixth and seventh case studies focus on human rights and environmental impacts of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC), Chad-Cameroon, and Trans Thai-Malaysia (TTM) pipeline projects.

The TTM project's lead financer (to the tune of $257 million, or half the total loan) is Barclays (ticker: BARC.L), which spearheaded the Equator Principles (EPs), a voluntary set of sustainability guidelines for project finance based on International Finance Corporation (IFC) rules.

"A key requirement of the Equator Principles is that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) involving mandatory public consultation is carried out on all projects to inform the final decision on project finance," states the CORE report. "The EIA carried out on the Trans-Thai Malaysian pipeline was heavily criticized for omitting many environmental and social impacts and is the subject of an administrative lawsuit."

"The Barclays involvement in the Trans Thai-Malaysia pipeline demonstrates that participation in voluntary finance-sector CSR initiatives, such as the Equator Principles, does not guarantee real improvements in the protection of human rights and the environment," it continues.

Each case study ends with a set of recommendations for bolstering corporate accountability and regulation. The report ends with overarching recommendations, including that the EU and its member states adopt a rules-based approach (complete with monitoring and enforcement) to upholding sustainable development in the finance sector.

More importantly, the report recommends fortifying Company Law to require companies to be legally responsible for their social and environmental impacts globally. Specifically, the report recommends mandatory corporate sustainability reporting and expanding directors' legal duties to encompass care for communities and the environment.

The EU conference paper, which focuses on promoting responsible investment and addressing climate change and poverty, asks whether the approaches outlined in each section "strike the right balance between market-led and voluntary approaches, and regulatory-led approaches?" Seeing as the paper was issued before the conference, it suggests "potential outcomes" but could not foretell what determinations would be arrived at in the conference. A summary report on the conference will be available in the near future.

US storms cause record insurance losses– Swiss Re


US storms cause record insurance losses – Swiss Re

Environmental Finance, 22 December 2005 - The series of hurricanes that battered the US in 2005 look set to make this year the costliest ever for companies offering insurance against natural and man-made catastrophes, according to preliminary estimates from Swiss Re.

Total insured property losses from catastrophes during the year currently stand at $80 billion – almost 90% of which stemmed from storm, and storm-related flood damage, Swiss Re says. Meanwhile, total economic losses reached $225 billion.

The announcement follows a similar one from fellow insurance giant Munich Re at the UN climate change meeting earlier this month (see This year to be costliest yet for weather disasters – Munich Re). Munich Re estimated that natural catastrophes alone led to insured losses of $70 billion and economic losses of $200 billion.

The single most costly event was Hurricane Katrina, which hit the US gulf coast on 24 August and cost insurers $45 billion. Hurricane Rita was the second most expensive ($10 billion) – followed by hurricanes Wilma and Dennis ($8 billion and $2 billion respectively).

Before 2005, the single most expensive storm to date was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which resulted in insured losses equivalent to $22 billion in today's terms, and Swiss Re notes that there is a trend towards increasing losses.

It puts this down, in part, to "increasing population densities, higher concentrations of insured values, and construction activity expanding into areas with a high natural-perils exposure". However, it also says that "the ongoing warm phase that has been measurable since the 1990s and the recent high hurricane frequency inspire little hope of this trend being reversed anytime soon."

Nonetheless it was earthquakes that were responsible for the biggest losses of life during the year, Swiss Re says. The greatest death toll was caused by October's earthquake in Pakistan, which claimed 87,000 victims, followed by an earthquake in Indonesia in March which killed 2,600.

This article is reproduced with kind permission of Environmental Finance magazine.
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5.1.06

Ford Issues Climate Change Report


Ford Issues Climate Change Report
Source:
GreenBiz.com

DEARBORN, Mich., Dec. 30, 2005 - In an industry first, Ford Motor Company has issued a report addressing the business implications of climate change, carbon dioxide emissions and global energy concerns.

"I am proud to say that Ford Motor Company is one of the first companies to have open discussions about climate change," said Bill Ford, chairman and CEO. "We see climate change as a business issue as well as an environmental issue and we're accelerating our efforts to find solutions. Addressing this issue will require collaborative action across all sectors of our society and I'm committing Ford Motor Company to do its part."

The report addresses how concerns about emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2, are linked to other factors affecting the business; the steps the company is taking to manage the risks and capture opportunities associated with climate change; and the market, policy, social and technological enablers required to achieve significant changes in the industry's carbon footprint.

Ford's report recognizes the importance of precautionary, prudent and early actions to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. It also highlights the need for integrated approaches by fuel companies, vehicle manufacturers, consumers and policy makers.

For its part, Ford Motor Company is pursuing a three-pronged strategy:

1.        Continuously reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and energy use of company operations.

2.        Enhancing the flexibility and capability to market lower-greenhouse gas-emissions products that will attract consumers.

3.        Working with industry partners, oil companies and policy makers to establish an effective and more certain market, policy and technological framework for reducing road transport greenhouse gas emissions.
"Climate change and energy security affect our operations, our customers, our investors and our communities," said Niel Golightly, director, Sustainable Business Strategies. "So you can be sure we see these issues as important to our long term business competitiveness. Some view these challenges as yet another burden on an already stressed industry; but we see potential for innovative business opportunities in solving them.

"This report is a snap shot of work we've been doing for over five years," said Golightly. "And it points to where we're going. It challenges some assumptions about what our industry can do by itself; but it also suggests some paths toward collaborative solutions that make economic sense."

A shareholder resolution filed in November 2004 by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), Ceres (a coalition of investors and environmental groups and founder of the Investor Network on Climate Risk) and others was subsequently withdrawn in March 2005 when Ford announced it would publish this report. The report was drafted under the direction of the company's cross-functional, vice-presidential task force and was reviewed by the Environmental and Public Policy Committee of the Board of Directors.

In addition to ICCR and Ceres, Ford considered views from other external stakeholders and experts in developing this report, among them the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University's Carbon Mitigation Initiative, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"Ford leads the industry in this vital service to investors, the auto industry itself, and U.S. citizens as this report considers the realities of global warming in their business plan, and in their commitment to engage policy solutions," said Caldwell Dominican Sister Patricia Daly, OP executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment and lead filer for the ICCR members. "Ford clearly understands that global warming is a serious environmental and financial issue, and that climate-friendly vehicles must be part of the solution," said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of investors with nearly $3 trillion of assets. "Investors see Ford's actions to analyze the business and competitive implications of climate change as an important step. This, coupled with strong leadership from the company to develop meaningful climate policy solutions in Washington, would be a winning recipe that would allow all U.S. companies to move full-throttle into the clean energy economy."

The report highlights company commitments that address the industry's greenhouse gas footprint. These include:

  • Producing up to 250,000 hybrid vehicles annually by 2010.
  • Expanding the production of flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) which can use blends of up to 85% ethanol (E85). Ford will also support the expansion of the E85 infrastructure and promote the advantages of FFVs to consumers.
  • Committing to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from its North American plants by 6% by 2010 as part of the Chicago Climate Exchange.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5% over five years in Ford plants subject to the U.K. Emissions Trading Scheme.
  • Offsetting the CO2 emitted from the production of its hybrid vehicles -beginning with the Ford Escape Hybrid. For every ton of carbon emitted in the creation of the vehicle, the company will purchase an offset. Ford will also develop materials for consumer education that will create a level of understanding of what an offset is and how customers can act on further offset opportunities.
  • Introducing an "Eco-Driving" Web-based program to all U.S. salaried employees during the first half of 2006. The program is designed to heighten awareness of driving behaviors and their relationship with emissions and fuel economy. Ford will look to make this program available to the global company workforce as well as agency support and suppliers.
With the report's release, Ford hopes to contribute to the larger public dialogue on the decisions, tradeoffs and actions required to address climate change concerns.

Ford's Climate Change Report is available
online.

The Neatest Nanotech of 2005


The Neatest Nanotech of 2005

Technology Review picks five important advances in nanotechnology and materials science in 2005 -- and one policy issue that could decide the future of the entire field.

By Kevin Bullis

Harvesting Energy from the Sun
Rising oil prices and the threat of global warming have rekindled the search for alternative sources of energy. While we reported this year on the growing acceptance of
nuclear power as a source of clean energy, we also described several advances in nanotechnology that may pave the way for more practical solar power. Konarka of Lowell, MA, has pushed forward its "roll-to-roll" solar cell technology, which is based on nanoparticles embedded in a film. While its cells aren't as efficient as conventional ones, they are made using an inexpensive process. The lower price tag, combined with the cells' flexibility, could make solar power available in more places, including the windows of buildings and fabrics for tents, handbags, and other items. We also reported on the use of nanowires for capturing the energy of the sun, which could lead to higher efficiency from inexpensive cells.

The Lithium Economy
Light lithium-based batteries can pack quite a punch -- so much so that they've been too dangerous to group together in high-power applications, such as cordless drills and hybrid cars. Now, thanks to computer modeling that identifies promising new battery materials, this is no longer the case. This year we saw the introduction of lithium ion battery packs in cordless tools, and 2006 will bring more such applications, as well as a move toward lighter,
more powerful hybrid cars. Eventually, materials monitoring could lead to batteries with enough power and energy density to make electric cars practical -- and a pleasure to drive. Because lithium batteries don't have the distribution problems inherent in hydrogen, batteries could beat out fuel cells in the cars of the future.

Toward Self-Assembling Devices
A nanotech dream is the "one-pot" synthesis: combine raw materials, mix, bake -- and out comes a working device made from nanoscale parts. Such a synthesis technique wouldn't require as much energy as the high-temperature reactions in the semiconductor industry today. It would also dramatically cut down on the use of dangerous solvents and the production of waste materials. And it would also be cheap. Angela Belcher at MIT is
directing the evolution of viruses and yeasts to make such self-assembly possible. Others hope to use diatoms as templates for nanodevices. In our current Technology Review magazine (Dec. 2005/Jan. 2006) we describe a nanomachine that could help assemble single-molecule memory devices.

Nanomedicine
This year saw the advance of fantastically sensitive nanosensors capable of detecting disease at its earliest stages -- when it can still be treated. Charles Lieber and Xiaowei Zhuang, chemistry professors at Harvard, demonstrated that nanowires could be used to detect a single viral particle. An array of such detectors might be able to screen almost instantly for as many as one hundred different viruses at once -- a boon for doctors diagnosing disease or a country
defending against biological attacks.
Nanosensors might also sniff out cancer earlier and with more precision than current tests. High sensitivity means only a small blood sample is needed -- comparable to the fingerprick used by diabetics to monitor glucose levels. Such a test could be invaluable for people with a family history of disease, for example, either to quickly identify the need for treatment or to set their minds at ease that they are healthy. The tests themselves might be inexpensive and so easy to use that they could be bought over the counter at a drugstore. We reported on the work of Charles Lieber at Harvard and James Heath, a physical chemist at the California Institute of Technology, developing such sensors.

Nanoscale particles could also be used as a core delivery device for the detection, imaging, and targeted and personalized treatment of cancer. This has the potential of transforming cancer treatment, killing more tumors, while at the same time eliminating the usual side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. James Baker, a physician and professor at the University of Michigan, has developed a delivery system that could make it into human trials next year.

Universal Memory
While self-assembly might one day transform computer manufacturing, more near-term applications are likely to come from hybrid solutions that combine new nanoparticles and existing fabrication techniques. This path is being followed by Nantero, a company that has created a process for making so-called
universal memory. This type of computer memory could store information without a continuous source of power, similar to the flash card in a digital camera, yet access it very quickly, like the memory inside a PC. Nantero's technique incorporates nanotubes into traditional semiconductor fabrication processes. The company says partners using the nanotube technology will make announcements about actual products in 2006.

Nano and the Environment
Nanotechnology is leaping technical hurdles -- but ultimately its success will depend on winning over consumers. And that will mean assuring the public that nano-scale materials are safe. The very aspects that make nanotechnology so exciting -- novel properties emerging at this scale and the ability to subtly and precisely modify these properties, with such dramatic results -- raise questions about how these new substances will behave in the environment, including the human body. This year there have been growing efforts to
discover the environmental and health effects of nanomaterials. Now many nanotech proponents say that the coming year will be a critical window of opportunity for demonstrating that researchers and industry take safety concerns seriously. It will be a time to find and deal with any existing problems -- before they become dire-sounding headlines. However, whether 2006 will also bring the increased organization, cooperation, and funding needed to make this oversight happen remains an open question.