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


Companies Giving Green an Office: The titles vary, mixing and matching “chief” and “vice president,” “sustainability” and “environmental,” making it impossible to track how many people fill the role. But whatever they are called, they wield extraordinary power.

Another thanks to Lloyd


July 3, 2007
Companies Giving Green an Office

The corporate roster of "chiefs" used to be pretty short: chief executive, chief financial officer and, maybe, chief operating officer. Then came the chief marketing and technology officers.

Now, the so-called C-Level Suite is swelling again — this time, with chief sustainability officers. These are not simply environmental watchdogs, there to keep operations safe and regulators at bay. The new environmental chiefs are helping companies profit from the push to go green.

"Environmental vice presidents usually spend company money, but this new breed is helping companies make money," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. The upshot, said Geoffrey Heal, a business professor at the Columbia Business School, is that "what started out as a compliance job has evolved into one that guards the value of the brand."

The titles vary, mixing and matching "chief" and "vice president," "sustainability" and "environmental," making it impossible to track how many people fill the role. But whatever they are called, the new environmental chiefs — many of them named in the last two years — wield extraordinary power.

They are exploring partnerships with vendors and customers to create green products — and they have the power to close the deal. They are also getting a vote — often, the deciding vote — on product research and advertising campaigns.

Since he became Dow Chemical's first chief sustainability officer in March, David E. Kepler has been talking to Dow's technology, manufacturing and finance people about alternative fuels and green products. "We usually agree," Mr. Kepler said. "But if a critical environmental issue is in dispute, I'll prevail."

Linda J. Fisher, the chief sustainability officer at DuPont, scuttled the purchase of a company that was not in a "sustainable" business. "We're building sustainability into the acquisition criteria," she said.

And when two business chiefs at General Electric blanched at the cost of developing green products, Jeffrey R. Immelt, G.E.'s chairman, gave Lorraine Bolsinger, vice president of G.E.'s Ecomagination business, the research money. "I have an open door to get projects funded," she said.

The evolution was probably inevitable. Corporations are facing demands from all quarters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and to buy and produce green products. So, many chief executives are urging their managers to "figure out what products they should sell in a warming world," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute.

Still, few corporate chiefs want to micromanage the changes. That means they are appointing environmental surrogates to do it for them.

"You need a lot of huskies pulling the sled, but you've got to have a lead dog," said Andrew N. Liveris, chairman and chief executive of Dow Chemical. "I can't be everywhere, so I confer my clout on Dave."

The environmental chiefs hail from widely disparate backgrounds. Owens Corning plucked its chief from research, while Home Depot dipped into its merchandising ranks. Ms. Fisher of DuPont once worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, while Francis Sullivan, deputy head of group sustainable development for the HSBC Group, came from the World Wildlife Fund.

"I was already advising HSBC about the environmental impact of their activities, so now I'm making sure that their brand stands for sustainability," Mr. Sullivan said. Two people share that job at G.E. Ms. Bolsinger is responsible for green products; Stephen Ramsey, the vice president for corporate environmental programs, oversees compliance and external relations. Both are corporate officers. "Jeff will tell the staff to do something," Ms. Bolsinger said. "We tell them how."

Other companies have rolled two jobs into one. Ernest Wooden Jr., executive vice president for brands for the Hilton Hotels Corporation, is overseeing Hilton's efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its nearly 3,000 hotels. He already sets the standards for everything from architecture to shampoo, so purchasing agents and suppliers are accustomed to heeding his recommendations.

"Our C.E.O. decided I was the most powerful hammer to get things done," Mr. Wooden said.

The "powerful hammer" thought certainly motivated Home Depot and Owens Corning. Since October, when he became Home Depot's vice president for environmental innovation, Ron Jarvis has led efforts to sell green products, run green stores and educate customers about sustainability. He is also responsible for buying and selling lumber products.

"The other merchandising people know I'm from their world, and understand what will or won't work," Mr. Jarvis said.

Owens-Corning, meanwhile, named Frank O'Brien-Bernini, its research chief since 2001, to the post of chief research and development and sustainability officer. He now uses what he calls the "lens of sustainability" to prioritize research.

One recent example is a machine that makes it easier to insulate attics. Owens Corning developed it after research showed that drafty attics are prime culprits in greenhouse gas emissions, but that the "hassle factor" kept homeowners from addressing the situation. "I drive innovation around products and processes," Mr. O'Brien-Bernini said. "And I make sure that our claims are backed by deep, deep science."

Ensuring credibility is also a priority for Elizabeth A. Lowery, vice president for environment, energy and safety policy at General Motors.

Before G.M. introduced the Chevy Volt, its electric car, in January, Ms. Lowery helped to brief reporters, shareholders and environmentalists on how the car worked. She looked over the green-themed speech that Rick Wagoner, G.M.'s chairman, gave at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, making it less "technically focused" and more in line with "how various constituencies think about green issues," she said.

And she said that she "added facts, and toned down broad brush statements and claims" before G.M. introduced its "Live Green Go Yellow" ethanol campaign last year.

"G.M. is marketing its reputation, not just its cars," Ms. Lowery said.

Ms. Fisher presides over DuPont's green name as well. The big chemical company already produces many green products, like plastics made from crops. And Ms. Fisher is helping to develop a scorecard that researchers can use to "evaluate whether their work will produce environmentally smart products."

But she said she was also making sure that DuPont never overstates the "greenness" of items. "I don't want us accused of greenwashing because marketing made too much of a small improvement," she said.

Many marketers, in fact, welcome the oversight.

Kevin Martin, who heads customer marketing for HSBC Bank USA, worked closely with Mr. Sullivan on HSBC Bank's current promotion. Together, they forged a plan to give customers who sign up for an electronic bill paying service — which HSBC promotes as saving trees — a "green" kit that includes items like energy-efficient light bulbs.

"There hasn't been any disharmony," Mr. Martin said. "Environmental involvement is a credential of our brand. Francis is our conscience."

Environmentalists, perhaps unsurprisingly, are divided on whether the rise of the powerful sustainability chief bodes well or ill.

"In the best of all worlds, we wouldn't need a separate person to link strategy and sustainability," said Gwen Ruta, director of corporate partnerships for Environmental Defense. A utopian world would not need ethics officers either, countered Eugene Linden, a frequent author on climate change.

"Chief sustainability officer sounds all crunchy granola and squishy," he said. "But their rise shows that companies finally realize that sustainability and efficiency go hand in hand."

DOE Announces $375 Million for Bioenergy Research; Building a Bug to Harvest Oil

Thanks to Lloyd for the originals


Tuesday, June 26, 2007
DOE Announces $375 Million for Bioenergy Research
Three centers will use the funding to boost the efficiency of cellulosic-ethanol production.
By Emily Singer

The hope for better biofuels got $375 million brighter today thanks to a massive new funding program announced by the U.S. Department of Energy. The highly competitive grants, given out over the next five years, will establish bioenergy research centers at the Oak Ridge National Labs, in Tennessee; the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, in Wisconsin; and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California. The centers will search for innovative ways to make cellulosic-ethanol production economically competitive with gasoline.

"For biofuels to put a real dent in our energy consumption without affecting the national food supply and without adding to carbon-dioxide emissions, we must learn to make ethanol from cellulose," said secretary of energy Samuel Bodman at a press conference today. "Only by inventing radical new technologies will we be successful."

The United States produced five billion gallons of ethanol from corn last year--about 4 percent of all national gasoline production. However, deriving ethanol from corn is itself an energy-intensive process, and it can't be sustained in large enough volumes to meet the president's goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next 10 years. Grasses and agricultural waste such as cornstalks could potentially provide a better feedstock: they produce much more biomass per acre than corn, with less energy expenditure. However, these plant sources of ethanol require extensive preprocessing to release sugars from the cellulose in them, making the procedure too expensive to compete with traditional gasoline and corn-based ethanol. (See "Biofuels: Beyond Corn.")

Scientists at the three new centers will try to overcome these hurdles using genomics tools. For example, they plan to catalogue the genes involved in building plant cell walls in order to engineer plants that can be more easily broken down before fermentation. Scientists will also scour the genomes of fungi and microbes for novel cellulase enzymes that are cheaper and more efficient than the synthetic enzymes in use today.

Copyright Technology Review 2007.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Building a Bug to Harvest Oil
A genomics pioneer turns his attention to synthetic biology's potential.
By Emily Singer

Microbes dwelling in oil fields and coal beds could inspire new methods of extracting fossil fuels from the depths of the earth. That's the hope of Ari Patrinos, a genomics pioneer who helped run the Human Genome Project and is now the president of Synthetic Genomics, a Maryland-based biotech startup founded by J. Craig Venter. Synthetic Genomics's goal is to use genomics to develop new energy technologies.As part of a new partnership with oil giant BP, Synthetic Genomics will study microbes that naturally feed off hydrocarbons for clues into biological means of extracting and processing oil and coal.

After several decades at the Department of Energy (DOE), Patrinos is a strong advocate of using biotech solutions to the world's energy problems. He helped found the DOE's Joint Genome Institute and created the agency's Genomes to Life program, which, among other things, develops energy-related applications for microbes. Patrinos was lured away from the DOE by Venter last year. He talks with Technology Review about Synthetic Genomics's plans and the future of biofuels.

Technology Review: Why look to microbes as sources of alternative energy?

Ari Patrinos: Microbes are the virtuosos of the living world. They have been around about four billion years, a third of the time the planet has been in existence, and they have developed tremendous variability and diversity. We have a lot to learn from them as we face global warming and try to learn to use our resources more efficiently.

TR: How is genomics helping us take advantage of microbes' diverse functional repertoire?

AP: As a result of genomics, we have discovered there are microbes everywhere, living at every temperature and pressure. They can survive at 100 times the atmospheric pressure and at temperatures almost 100 degrees Celsius. People have identified microbes that can withstand huge amounts of radiation. Microbes play a crucial role in the carbon cycle, taking up carbon dioxide in the ocean. More than 50 percent of living biomass on this planet is microbial in nature. That's why we should be looking to microbes to solve some of our problems. They have become extremely effective in life's processes. We need to understand them and then mimic them for some of these applications.

TR: Synthetic Genomics recently formed a partnership with BP. What is the emphasis of that deal?

AP: We have huge reserves of heavy oils in this continent, but their extraction is difficult. It requires energy and water, and produces a lot of carbon dioxide. There may be ways to use microbial communities to improve the quality of the oil while still in the subsurface. So we'll look at microbes that live in coal beds or oil fields and oil sands.

TR: How will that help fuel production?

AP: The idea of oil fields as a reservoir you can tap is naive. Oil exists as a matrix in different layers. When you produce oils from wells, you leave as much as 50 percent behind. As many as 30 to 40 years ago, people were contemplating microbially enhanced oil recovery--ways they could manipulate microbes to enhance oil recovery from wells. But their ability to discover and study these microbes was impaired because of primitive microbiology tools. This never made it into commercial practice, as far as I know.

We have significantly more accurate and powerful tools than our colleagues back then, and we suspect the number and diversity of microbes we discover will be much higher than was contemplated back then.

TR: What will you do with the microbes once they are discovered?

AP: Perhaps we could use them to change the density of the hydrocarbons, breaking them up so they are smaller and making the oil easier to move. Or microbes could change the surface-adherence properties of the oil by modifying the hydrocarbon molecules.

For coal beds, rather than extract the coal and burn it, which produces a lot of carbon dioxide, maybe there is a way to convert it into methane. [Burning] methane produces carbon dioxide but also hydrogen, which is a very clean and more climate-friendly fuel. Eventually, perhaps we can combine production of methane with carbon sequestration, so the net release into the atmosphere would be zero.

There has been a long history of improving the quality of oil using chemistry. But most of what chemistry can do may be even better accomplished with biological means that are much cheaper and more ecologically friendly. That doesn't mean that chemistry will be abandoned. But I think this revolution in biology has revealed that biochemical pathways will ultimately be the most productive and can perform the task in a more environmentally-friendly way. Biochemical reactions can be performed at lower temperatures and pressures, and ultimately may have fewer toxic byproducts.

TR: So is Synthetic Genomics also looking for microbes that can sequester carbon dioxide?

AP: We do plan to do that, though I can't speak to our exact hand.

TR: Prior to joining Synthetic Genomics, you worked at the DOE for more than 30 years. Has the department's view of the biotech approach to energy issues changed over the years?

AP: In the DOE, interest in biofuels was limited and perceived to be a niche application. There was more emphasis on physical sciences with respect to energy. But I pushed very hard for the importance of biofuels. At the beginning, I wasn't successful because oil is very cheap.But I finally hit the jackpot a few years ago. In a couple of State of the Union addresses, President Bush, an oil and gas man, started talking about our addiction to oil and the importance of biofuels. When I heard that, I knew I was finally successful.

TR: Alternative energy is a hot topic right now, garnering lots of interest--and cash--from government and investors. But will this funding fade once gas prices drop, as has happened before?

AP: It can always happen, but I think it seems less likely to happen now than in the nineties and seventies. Even if the price of oil was much lower, I think there is a general recognition in the public and in the policy world that it behooves us to be more independent with respect to liquid fuel: we still have to import 60 percent of the oil we consume. It has become a national-security issue, as opposed to something economic. A lot of countries producing oil are countries that do not like us very much. Feelings may change in all kinds of directions, so reducing dependence on imported fuel is very important.

I also think more and more of the world is recognizing that global climate change is a serious threat. The tipping points in the climate system are not hypothetical anymore. We should start tallying up an insurance policy against climate change, but that won't be possible until we rely more on cleaner fuels.

Copyright Technology Review 2007.

At I.B.M., a Smarter Way to Outsource [CenterPoint Energy]

[Not an alternative energy clip, but almost -- and two of our colelagues are mentioned in there too :-)]

At I.B.M., a Smarter Way to Outsource

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

Jeffrey Taft of I.B.M., at desk, discussing software with Jared Scheuer of CenterPoint Energy in Houston.

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    Published: July 5, 2007

    Jeffrey Taft is a road warrior in the global high-technology services economy, and his work shows why there are limits to the number of skilled jobs that can be shipped abroad in the Internet age.

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    Each Monday, Mr. Taft awakes before dawn at his home in Canonsburg, Pa., heads for the Pittsburgh airport and flies to Houston for the week.

    He is one of dozens of I.B.M. services employees from around the country who are working with a Texas utility, CenterPoint Energy, to install computerized electric meters, sensors and software in a "smart grid" project to improve service and conserve energy.

    Mr. Taft, 51, is an engineer fluent in programming languages and experienced in the utility business. Much of his work, he says, involves being a translator between the different vernaculars and cultures of computing and electric power, as he oversees the design and building of software tailored for utilities. "It takes a tremendous amount of face-to-face work," he said.

    What he does, in short, cannot be done overseas. But some of the programming work can be, so I.B.M. employees in India are also on the utility project team.

    The trick for companies like I.B.M. is to figure out what work to do where, and, more important, to keep bringing in the kind of higher-end work that needs to be done in this country, competing on the basis of specialized expertise and not on price alone.

    The debate continues over how much skilled work in the vast service sector of the American economy can migrate offshore to lower-cost nations like India. Estimates of the number of services jobs potentially at risk, by economists and research organizations, range widely from a few million to more than 40 million, which is about a third of total employment in services.

    Jobs in technology services may be particularly vulnerable because computer programming can be described in math-based rules that are then sent over the Internet to anywhere there are skilled workers. Already, a significant amount of basic computer programming work has gone offshore to fast-growing Indian outsourcing companies like Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services.

    To compete, companies like I.B.M. have to move up the economic ladder to do more complicated work, as do entire Western economies and individual workers. "Once you start moving up the occupational chains, the work is not as rules-based," said Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "People are doing more custom work that varies case by case."

    In the field of technology services, Mr. Levy said, the essential skill is "often a lot more about business knowledge than it is about software technology — and it's a lot harder to ship that kind of work overseas."

    The offshore specialists in India are learning that lesson. As they increasingly compete for higher-end work, the Indian companies are hiring thousands of workers this year in the United States, adding an odd twist to the offshoring trend. Tata alone plans to recruit 1,000 workers in America, said Surya Kant, president of the company's American unit, for "the near-shore work that requires regular contact with clients in person."

    For I.B.M., the world's largest supplier of technology services, moving up to more sophisticated work is not the only step in its strategy to address the rising global competition. Labor represents 70 to 80 percent of the cost in traditional technology service contracts, and the traditional work of maintaining and updating software and data centers for corporate customers is still a large part of I.B.M.'s services business.

    So I.B.M. has moved aggressively to tap the global labor pool, and it is increasingly using software to automate as much traditional services work as possible. Today, I.B.M. employs 53,000 people in India, up from 3,000 in 2002; in India, the salaries for computer programmers are still about a third of those in the United States. Over the same span, the company's work force in the United States declined slightly, to 127,000 at the end of last year.

    I.B.M. is also one of the world's largest software companies. And its software development work, bolstered by dozens of acquisitions in the last few years, is more and more being done with an eye for use in its services business — to substitute software automation for labor. Smarter, more customized software can automatically handle some programming chores. I.B.M. employs 200,000 people worldwide in its services business, and if growth means constantly having to add more people, the business is in trouble.

    "We couldn't keep building out labor," Samuel J. Palmisano, the chief executive, said. "The long-term strategic answer was not to have a half a million people working for I.B.M."

    Today, the company's global work force is organized in clusters of business expertise and connected by high-speed communications links. Project managers can search worldwide for the right people with the right skills for a job. One tool is Professional Marketplace, a Web-based database of people and expertise.

    The idea is to build networks for producing and delivering technology services much like the global manufacturing networks that have evolved over the last couple of decades. Look inside a computer or automobile and the parts come from all over the world. High-end technology services projects increasingly will follow that formula, combining skills from across the globe and delivered on-site or remotely over the Internet.

    Over the years, I.B.M. has been challenged by disruptive waves of technology, from the minicomputer to the Internet. Mr. Palmisano sees the globalization of services as the next big shift in the business landscape, and I.B.M. is moving to adapt. "We're reinventing I.B.M. once again," he said. "We're reinventing it by moving up to the higher-value portions of our industry and creating this globally integrated enterprise."

    The utility project I.B.M. is doing in Texas offers a glimpse of the global formula. The far-flung work team includes research scientists in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and Austin, Tex.; software developers in Pune and Bangalore, India; engineering equipment and quality-control specialists in Miami and New York; and utility experts and software designers like Mr. Taft that have come from Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Raleigh, N.C., and elsewhere.

    I.B.M. plans to use the skills learned and software written for the smart-grid project in work with utility clients around the world. In the services field, these are deemed "reusable assets," reducing costs in the future.

    Ron Ambrosio, a senior I.B.M. researcher, has been down to Houston a few times, attaching sensors to power lines and collecting gigabytes of data on electricity flows. He and others at I.B.M. are studying how to predict and prevent power failures, optimize performance, reduce costs and conserve energy. "We're looking at this as part of a worldwide opportunity," he said.

    Dennis Hendon, an account executive, and Rob Calvo, a senior services consultant, lead the I.B.M. team in Houston. Mr. Hendon is an engineer by training, while Mr. Calvo has a business degree, but their real skills lie in years of on-the-job training — what labor experts call "passive knowledge" and "complex communications," observing, listening, coordinating, negotiating and persuading. The two men say they think of themselves as orchestra conductors, getting all the human parts working smoothly together, inside and outside I.B.M. "We aren't mounting the poles, but our subcontractors are," Mr. Hendon said.

    CenterPoint considered trying to do the smart-grid project itself, but not for long, said Thomas Standish, a senior vice president. "We don't begin to have the kind of Internet and technological sophistication we needed for this," he said. CenterPoint talked to other large technology services companies, Mr. Standish said, but soon settled on I.B.M. as the one with the breadth of research, software and services capability needed for the ambitious project.

    In Pune, Dheeraj Gupta, a 34-year-old software engineer, said it was I.B.M.'s breadth — and thus the range of opportunity for him — that prompted him to join the company in 2000. After earning a master's degree at an elite technical institute in India, Mr. Gupta worked at four software and services companies in India before being recruited to I.B.M.

    At I.B.M., Mr. Gupta began as a Java programmer, but later moved to higher-end work, personifying the strategy for success in the evolving global services economy.

    Today, Mr. Gupta leads a team of four developers writing software for utilities like CenterPoint. "I'm a technical guy," he said. "And now I'm moving higher up the ladder. I know various software technologies but now I'm gaining business and industry expertise as well."


New Eco-Strategies Newsletter from Andrew Winston

Thanks to Andrew for sending this on

Friends and colleagues,
I'm excited to send you my new, free e-newsletter, Eco-Advantage Strategies.  It's a bi-weekly look not specifically on the latest news in green business, but more a strategic view – a lens for looking at how companies innovate and grow/profit with environmental thinking.  I hope to provide some fuel for thought and concrete examples to help you on your road to green success.
The first issue is a topline overview of the 4 kinds of value companies can create.  Future issues look at goals, the upside of green thinking, metrics, stakeholders, etc, etc….
Click the link here to the Sustainable Life Media site to see it fully, and to sign up at the top of the page.
Thanks for your support.
Andrew Winston
Andrew Winston (
Winston Eco-Strategies

646-290-8206 (home office), 646-349-2077 (eFax), 917-992-5222 (cell)

Look for my new book,
Green to Gold
And check out my
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