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


The Business Case for Sustainability: A Carbon-Free Virtual Conference in Second Life, November 15

FYI, Bob Willard is ex-IBM and on the CSR consulting mailing list -- I would suggest he kicked off the "green IBM" movement many years ago with a letter to Lou. He's a busy guy (what with all these talks, virtual and not!) but always makes time for his ex-IBM colleagues and buddies, so do let me know if you want to treach out to him :-)


----- Forwarded by Jean-Francois Barsoum/Markham/IBM on 2007-10-19 16:54 -----
----- Forwarded by R P Williams/San Francisco/IBM on 10/19/2007 07:15 AM -----
----- Forwarded by Claire Penny/Ireland/IBM on 19/10/2007 14:45 -----

Please join us for a complimentary Conference Board presentation "The Business Case for Sustainability: A Carbon-Free Conference" on Thursday, November 15. This event will be delivered at 8.00 EST, and repeated at 12.00 and 20.00 (all EST).  This virtual conference is being sponsored by State Street.

This is a unique event in a number of ways. First, it will be held in a virtual world and the only way to participate is in Second Life using a broadband Internet connection. You will need to download the Second Life desktop application at and open a free account to use their service.

Second, all registered attendees will be provided with a link to the video "The Business Case for Sustainability" by Bob Willard. You can play the video from the Internet on your PC and we encourage you to view it before the conference. Bob has also authored two books on sustainability.

Finally, this will be The Conference Board's first presentation from our Second Life meeting center. Even if you are unable to join the conference we encourage you to visit us in Second Life by following this SLurl:

Bob Willard will deliver a short talk at the conference and with him to talk about how to build a sustainability action plan for your company, and measure the success of your initiatives, will be a panel of sustainability experts including:

* Adam Werbach, Founder and CEO, Act Now
* Marsha Willard, Founder and CEO, AXIS Performance Advisors
* Anthony Buono, Professor, Bentley College
* Plus, David Vidal, Director of The Conference Board's Center for Sustainability

Don't miss this opportunity to hear from this panel of sustainability experts. Or, to experience a conference in Second Life.

Seating is limited (even the virtual world has its constraints) to allow ample time for Q&A.  We hope you will join us, but if you are unable to attend, please pass this invitation along to an appropriate senior executive in your company.

This Conference Board virtual conference will be held at 3 different times:
Thursday, November 15
8.00 EST, 12.00 EST and 20.00 EST
On the Internet at

Since space is extremely limited, please RSVP as soon as possible by calling Conference Board Customer Service at 212-339-0345 (from 8.00 – 18.00 ET, Monday-Friday) or send an email (please include your name, title, company, address, phone and email address) to and reference the November 15th Virtual Conference, and be sure to indicate which time 8.00 EST, 12.00 EST and 20.00 EST

We look forward to your participation!

Janet E. Etsch
Vice President, U.S. Development
The Conference Board

To be removed from this list, please go here:


Revised version of main US Senate climate bill tightens cap: The main US climate bill to be introduced formally tomorrow in the Senate has been revised to include a stricter carbon cap, and a cut in the free allocation of emissions permits.

Thanks to Peter for forwarding this one

17.10.07  Revised version of main US Senate climate bill tightens cap

The main US climate bill to be introduced formally tomorrow in the Senate has been revised to include a stricter carbon cap, and a cut in the free allocation of emissions permits.

The bill, which congressional leaders claim has the best chances of passing out of the Senate's environment committee to the full floor of the upper chamber, now calls for a cut of 15 per cent by 2020 below the 2005 level.

The previous draft, which had circulated among lawmakers and environmental groups since August, called for 10 per cent cut below 2005 levels in the same year.

Fewer allowances will be given out for free to industries and more free allocation will be made to individual states.

The bill requires 20 per cent of the country's allowances in a cap-and-trade system to be distributed to manufacturing facilities at no charge in 2012.

But whereas the draft continued to allocate 20 per cent of the cap for free to the manufacturing sector through 2050, the new version completely phases out that free allocation by 2036.

Instead, the new version of the bill sets aside a greater portion of free allowances as a bonus given to emitters who capture and geologically sequester carbon dioxide, and raises the percentage of allowances allocated directly to states each year from 4 per cent to 9 per cent.

On the whole, the draft would have required that 45.5 per cent of the programme's emissions cap in 2012 be auctioned to emitters, gradually increasing the percentage auctioned to 73.5 per cent in 2036 and thereafter.

Tomorrow's version instead auctions 51 per cent in 2012, phasing up to a 100 per cent auction in 2036 and thereafter.

The new version will also include special assistance for low-income energy consumers in the US, distributing 20 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of emissions allowances to those consumers in the form of ratepayer rebates.

The latter change follows the release of a study yesterday by a bipartisan US budget analysis group, which concluded that cap-and-trade's effects on poor households through higher energy prices can be compensated by funneling proceeds of auctioning to low-income energy users.

Washington DC


Peter Williams
Chief Technology Officer, Big Green Innovations
(925) 648 7975, cell (415) 215 2112

Borrowing from nature: Clean technology: Architects believe that biologically inspired designs can help to reduce the environmental impact of buildings

Borrowing from nature

Sep 6th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Clean technology: Architects believe that biologically inspired designs can help to reduce the environmental impact of buildings

 Ideas worth stealing: Grimshaw's proposed indoor rainforest

ARCHITECTS have long taken inspiration from nature. In ancient Egypt columns were modelled on palm trees and lotus plants, and building designers have borrowed the shapes and proportions of natural forms ever since as they strived to achieve aesthetic perfection.

Some architects now believe that such biomimicry has more to offer than simply making buildings look good. They are copying functional systems found in nature to provide cooling, generate energy and even to desalinate water. And they insist that doing these things using biomimetic designs is not just a gimmick, but makes financial sense. "It's often the case that green technology is considered to be commercially unattractive," says Michael Pawlyn, an architect at Grimshaw, the firm behind the Eden Project, a highly acclaimed biome structure in England. That perception, he says, is wrong—and he has the designs to prove it.


So far, the use of biomimetic features in buildings has been driven as much by aesthetics as by function, and has been limited to relatively simple, passive systems. The Arab World Institute in Paris, for example, has an array of mechanical, eye-like irises on its south-facing façade. These open and close to control the amount of light entering the building, thereby regulating the internal temperature.

Similarly there are now several buildings that have ventilation systems based on those found in termite mounds. The Eastgate Centre, a shopping centre and office block in Harare, Zimbabwe, has a mechanical cooling system made up of vents and flues that help hot air out of the structure. "It's the same principle as the chimney effect, but a bit more controlled," says Professor George Jeronimidis, director of the Centre for Biomimetics at the University of Reading. As hot air rises and flows out through vents at the top of the building, cooler air is drawn in at ground level.

Dr Jeronimidis is now taking this concept further by using adaptive materials that flex in response to the level of moisture in the air—an idea borrowed from the way pine-cones open and close. Using a cellulose-like fibre composite, he has created a vent that changes from one curved shape to another, depending on the relative levels of moisture inside and outside a building. When warm, moist air builds up inside the building, the vent opens to allow it to escape. But when the air inside is dry, the vent stays shut and moist air from outdoors is kept out. "In principle it can be made to respond naturally, without any additional power," says Dr Jeronimidis.

Intelligent designs

Architects have become more interested in this sort of thing in recent years, he says, as greater attention is paid to the energy consumption and sustainability of buildings. Biology offers solutions to a range of problems. "Nature has had the benefit of a pretty long R&D period," says Mr Pawlyn, who hopes to take the exploitation of natural designs to a completely new level. His firm has borrowed a trick used by fog-basking beetles and in the nostrils of camels for a novel desalination plant.

When Grimshaw was given the brief to regenerate the Santa Catalina Isthmus, a narrow stretch of land on the coast of Las Palmas in Grand Canaria, the firm came up with the concept of a 3km (1.9 mile) promenade with a theatre and botanic garden as its focus. But rather than creating yet another drain on local resources the architects wanted the structure to be cooled and irrigated by natural means. "We decided to put forward a scheme that showed how the island could move towards self-sufficiency in water and energy, without relying on fossil fuels," says Mr Pawlyn.

 Ideas worth stealing: a rendering of the proposed Las Palmas Water Theatre (left); the Eden Project (right)

This meant finding a way to turn seawater into clean drinking water without expending too much energy. Fog-basking beetles, which are found in Namibia, have an ingeniously simple way of doing this. They hide underground during the day so that when they come out at night, their dark backs are relatively cool compared with the ambient night air. As moisture-laden breezes roll in from the Atlantic, the water in the air condenses on the beetles' backs (just as a cold bottle of beer left on a table causes water in the air to condense on its surface). The beetles simply have to tilt their bodies to make the water trickle into their mouths. A similar trick is also used by camels to prevent them losing moisture as they exhale. Moisture secreted through the nostrils evaporates as the camel breathes in, cooling the nostrils in the process. When the camel breathes out, moisture within the air then condenses on the nostrils.

Inspired by this, Mr Pawlyn and his colleagues have designed their theatre around the same principles. A series of tall, vertical evaporation "gills" are positioned so that they face towards the sea and the incoming coastal breeze. Warm seawater, taken from close to the surface, is pumped so that it trickles down these units. As the breeze blows through the gills some of the seawater evaporates, leaving salt behind. The clean, moist air then continues its journey until it encounters a series of vertical condensing pipes. These are kept cold by pumping deep-sea water, from 1,000 metres below the surface, through them. As the moist, warm air hits the pipes the water condenses and trickles down to be collected.

"You get a very powerful desalination effect," says Mr Pawlyn. This system is able to supply enough water for the 70,000-square-metre complex. A traditional flash-distillation desalination plant consumes between five and 12 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per cubic metre of water. The biomimetic approach, however, requires just 1.6 kWh per cubic metre. And since the water pumps will be mostly powered by a wind turbine, driven by the same prevailing winds that provide the plant's airflow, the overall energy consumption of the site is reduced even further. In the process, the same system can also help to cool neighbouring buildings, says Mr Pawlyn.

Build me a rainforest

Although it is unclear whether this innovative project will go ahead, the principles have already been tested by Charlie Paton, an engineer who collaborated in the scheme. His organisation, Seawater Greenhouse, has built pilot greenhouses that show this idea really works. The catch is that it will only work in certain climates, says Mr Pawlyn. "If you have a very dry and hot environment, the water readily evaporates."

Nonetheless, Mr Pawlyn and his colleagues believe that biomimetic principles can be taken even further, to generate new income as well as reduce running costs and resource use. Natural ecosystems are restorative, notes Mr Pawlyn. "They operate in a closed loop made up of quite complex webs of different organisms," he says. "Man-made structures tend not to do that." Instead, man-made systems tend to be linear, consuming raw materials at one end and producing waste at the other. The result is a gradual depletion of natural resources.

In an effort to reproduce a closed-loop system, Grimshaw has developed a design for an indoor tropical rainforest. This botanical garden is designed to sit on an existing landfill site and be a completely carbon-neutral structure. For most of the year, heat to maintain the hothouse will be provided by solar heating through a glazed roof. During the colder months additional heating will come from landfill biomass. The building is designed to be flanked by a number of large vertical vessels into which biodegradable waste, originally intended for the landfill, will be tossed. As the waste breaks down in these large composting units, it reaches temperatures of up to 75°C, and this heats the indoor garden.

This building will not only be carbon-neutral but will also generate income, by providing the service of waste disposal. Some countries impose landfill taxes of as much as £20 ($40) per tonne of waste. The designers reckon that their proposed building could generate as much as £7m ($14m) a year by acting as a substitute for a landfill site. And in the true spirit of restorative closed-loops, the resulting compost can be sold for agricultural use.

"Buildings should be able to pay for themselves," says Professor Julian Vincent, director of the Centre for Biomimetics at the University of Bath in England. At the moment, he says, most biologically inspired systems used in architecture are simply morphological. "This seems to me to lose the point of biomimetics," he says. There is huge potential, but architects are only just beginning to learn how to apply biomimetics in a more functional way, says Michael Weinstock, director of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Not only large projects but smaller homes and offices can benefit from the same principles, he insists. "One of our ambitions is to ensure that every building ought to be able to generate its own energy," he says.

Bringing biomimetics home

This need not require elaborate new structures like Grimshaw's theatre or indoor rainforest. Biomimetics can be applied in simpler ways, too. Smart paints which use a self-cleaning principle borrowed from lotus leaves are now being tested. Once applied, the surface of the paint takes the form of densely packed ridges or bumps, just like the microscopic bumps found on lotus leaves. A property of such tiny bumps is that they prevent drops of water from spreading out: the drops simply roll off the surface instead, taking dirt with them. (Self-cleaning glass relies on a similar principle.) And organic solar cells, which mimic photosynthetic processes to capture light and convert it into electricity, are arguably a form of biomimetic technology, too.

"Part of the challenge, I believe, is to reconnect people with resources," says Mr Pawlyn. He makes a strong case that borrowing architectural ideas from nature can help to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. In the process, it may also encourage people to view natural systems with greater respect, in more ways than one.

Weather: Forecasting is the bottom line for businesses -- Food production companies will have to look to their supply chains as crop output alters - and even fashion retailers will have to rethink their lines.

Thanks to Brian for this article site : Weather: Forecasting is the bottom line for businesses.
 Clive Cookson
1,045 words
12 October 2007
Financial Times (FT.Com)
(c) 2007 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved
It has been a year of unusual weather in many parts of the world. In Europe, the south-eastern part of the continent has suffered heat, drought and forest fires while exceptional summer rainfall inundated the north-west. In the US, Texas was flooded while California roasted. Heavy monsoon rains caused devastation in South Asia. In Australia, hopes that early winter rainfall would end the worst drought in living memory have been dashed.
The usual response of climate experts, when asked whether global warming is to blame, is to say that no single "weather event" can be attributed to climate change because natural cycles have always brought storms, droughts and floods. But enough computer modelling has been done for meteorologists to warn with confidence that a warming climate will bring more extreme and more variable weather, with dry areas of the world tending to get drier while wet areas experiencing more flooding.
Indeed we can say that global warming is already exacerbating flooding because warmer air holds more moisture. As Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia explains: "If the sequence of weather patterns that caused these floods (in the UK) had happened 50 or 100 years ago, it would still have been extremely wet, but perhaps not quite so wet. The slightly cooler atmosphere back then would have held less water vapour and thus supplied less total rainfall."
He calculates that a 1'C temperature change would increase rainfall by 7 per cent - enough in some circumstances to turn serious flooding into a catastrophe.
Business has long used conventional weather forecasts, for periods ranging from a day to a season ahead, as a valuable planning tool. Even Marks & Spencer - whose chief executive Stuart Rose dismissed concerns about the effects of last year's hot summer on retail sales with the memorable remark "weather is for wimps" - uses weather forecasts extensively to decide on the types and quantities of clothing and food to order.
Now companies are beginning to look further into the future, beyond weather to climate change.
At the UK Meteorological Office, experts are breaking down the traditional distinction between weather and climate forecasting, says Matt Huddleston, principal consultant at Met Office Consulting, its business advisory unit. An important step was the Met Office's announcement in August of the world's first detailed year-by-year forecast of climate for the next decade.
The new model, which will be updated every six months, incorporates the effects of sea surface temperatures and oceanic oscillations such as El Nino, as well as man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, projected changes in the sun's output and the effects of previous volcanic eruptions - the first time internal and external variability have both been predicted.
"Ten years is a reasonable planning horizon for most businesses," says Dr Huddleston. "Some sectors that have to make big infrastructure investments, such as energy and water, have to plan further ahead. But, for most, being told what the world will be like in 2050 or 2080 is irrelevant."
The Met Office is working with big energy companies including EdF of France and Germany's Eon to plan for changes in energy consumption patterns, which may switch across Europe from their current winter peak to a pattern of higher demand in summer as more Europeans opt for air conditioning in hotter summers and turn down the thermostat during milder winters. This has implications for the industry, where much maintenance work is undertaken each summer.
Food production companies will have to look to their supply chains as crop output alters - and even fashion retailers will have to rethink their lines.
"It's not just a question of which clothes to put at the front of the shop any more," says Mr Huddleston. "It goes much deeper."
The Met Office, like Europe's other big state-owned weather services, has moved actively into commercial work, issuing forecasts and carrying out meteorological analysis for clients in every sector of the economy from finance to farming, from retail to construction.
This has stunted the growth of Europe's private meteorological companies - in contrast with the US, where the National Weather Service refrains from commercial activity and there are more than 400 private companies.
Of course commercial revenues help to pay for activities that cash-strapped governments may be reluctant to fund. The UK Met Office's profit from commercial activities rose from GBP2.9m in 2005-06 to GBP3.9m in 2006-07, on a commercial turnover of GBP27m; the target is to make GBP12m by 2012.
Dr Huddleston believes Europe benefits in other ways from its public weather services' extensive contact with customers. "The feedback helps us to improve our overall service," he says.
Although the public still complain vociferously when forecasters get it wrong, the Met Office says businesses appreciate that objective measurements show a remarkable and continuing improvement in accuracy over the past few years.
One long-standing measure compares forecasts of pressure over the North Atlantic and surrounding land masses with what actually happens; on this criterion, a three-day forecast today is significantly more accurate than a one-day forecast in 1980.
The most important drivers of global forecasting accuracy are better weather satellites to provide observations at a higher level of resolution and powerful supercomputers to crunch data.
At a local level, improved rainfall radar images are extremely important for forecasting storms and flooding. Over the past six months alone, the "skill score" of UK rainfall forecasts has improved from 0.36 to 0.4, the Met Office says.
This summer's "extreme rainfall events" were forecast two or three days ahead, with some local detail about the areas most likely to be affected - even if some of the authorities responsible for action against flooding did not respond quickly enough.
Seasonal forecasts are still in their infancy though they are becoming more reliable. The Met Office and its customers in the water industry had a notable success last year when it predicted - several months ahead - that the English drought of the previous 18 months would end in the autumn.
But unfortunately it failed to warn anyone quite how wet this summer would be.


Three Degrees Of IT’s Environmental Impact: Businesses need to focus less on how IT contributes to their environmental impact and more on how IT can help lessen the environmental impact of business operations and the supply chain or that of enterprise products and services

Three Degrees Of IT's Environmental Impact
Oct 08 2007

gartner_logo.jpgBusinesses need to focus less on how IT contributes to their environmental impact and more on how IT can help lessen the environmental impact of business operations and the supply chain or that of enterprise products and services, according to Gartner Inc.

Analysts warned that although making IT more green must remain a concern, there are areas where deploying more IT can significantly contribute to making an organization more environmentally sustainable.

Chief information officers need to be aware of what constitutes the environmental impact of the whole organization and to what extent IT can be a liability or an asset in this respect. In order to do so they should consider the three degrees of IT's environmental impact.

First Degree Impact - Gartner defines this as the impact of IT itself which includes electronic waste and asset disposition; consumption of non-renewable resources such as energy in the data centre for desktop computers, printers and networking gear; the energy embodied in the full life cycle of each asset; and user behavior.

Second Degree Impact - This is the impact of IT on business operations and the supply chain, regardless of whether the end result is a product, service or combination of the two. This includes the environmental effects of material and energy consumption; emissions or waste from manufacturing and all operational processes; paper consumption for
administrative purposes; lighting, heating, and cooling for buildings; workforce commuting and mobility; vehicle fleets; supply chain impact; waste disposal and so forth. The energy component of this becomes part of the 'embodied energy' in a product or service - that is the total energy used in its manufacture and distribution.

Third Degree Impact - This is the environmental impact in the 'in use' phase or delivery phase of the enterprise's products and services - that is, the direct impacts of procurement and use of products and services.

Different industries will experience the degrees of impact in different ways and this will impact how an organization defines the environmental value of IT. For a car manufacturer, the energy that goes into assembling cars, manufacturing components by its supply chain and having them shipped, performing R&D and testing is all part of the second degree of impact. The fuel used for the cars and their carbon dioxide emissions are part of the third degree of impact and the IT that runs the factory, as well as all other processes constitutes the first degree of impact.

Truth in labeling and carbon content: Innocent, a drinks company that does a booming business selling fresh fruit smoothies, discovered interesting things trying to measure its carbon footprint

Truth in labeling and carbon content
By James Kanter

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

LONDON: Innocent, a drinks company that does a booming business selling fresh fruit smoothies, discovered interesting things trying to measure its carbon footprint.

The founders expected to find that transporting large volumes of bananas and other tropical fruit to Britain from places like Central America would account for most of their emissions. To their surprise, the dirtiest part of smoothie-making turned out to be the individual-size plastic bottles made from petroleum products.

That troubled Richard Reed, who helped to set up innocent with purity uppermost in mind. "Every bottle was responsible for drawing a bit more oil up out of the ground," he said.

Reed, whose company's logo features a stylized baby face with a halo, set about cajoling bottlers to use ever-greater quantities of recycled plastic. This spring, innocent's head of sustainability, Jessica Sansom, came through with flying colors: A 100 percent recycled bottle that lowered emissions by 28 percent during the bottle-making process and by 8.5 percent for the overall finished product.

Friends of the Earth, the environmental group, praised the company for creating what innocent called the first clear plastic bottle of its kind. Innocent is trumpeting that achievement on its labels, but the company is not yet mentioning its carbon footprint on them and has no immediate plans to do so.

The problem is that even as companies make strides to reduce planet-warming gases, baffling questions remain about how carbon footprints should be measured and whether putting such figures on the label is practical or something shoppers will even understand.

"We believe in radical transparency, but carbon labeling is unbelievably complicated," Reed said. Labeling products offers a short-term gain, he said, but "could be easily discredited."

Reed said some of the trickiest questions focus on what emissions to count, once a product is in use. How much electricity, for example, will consumers use refrigerating the smoothies before they drink them?

Reed also said consumers could become confused by reading the CO2 content of a bottled drink in the absence of guidelines about the amount of CO2 they generate every day.

A handful of other consumer goods companies have gone ahead with labels anyway.

Walkers, a British maker of potato chips owned by PepsiCo, has stamped information on each standard-size bag since August that shows that 74 to 75 grams of CO2 are generated by each bag over the entire production process — from farming to the disposal of the empty package.

The chip bags also carry a bold- faced logo featuring the letter "C" and a downward-pointing arrow developed by the Carbon Trust, a British company set up by the government to promote low-carbon ways of doing business.

"Seventy-five grams as an abstract number doesn't mean very much, but consumers absolutely do understand the intent behind the logo," said Steve John, a PepsiCo spokesman in London. "We don't think that the perfect should be the enemy of the good."

To gain the right to use the logo, John said Walkers had to pledge to the Carbon Trust to reduce energy usage in the future. The Carbon Trust did not specify a target, but John said Walkers was aiming to reduce the energy taken to produce each bag of chips by at least 3 percent over the next two years.

John said it was too early to say by how many grams the company would be able to reduce its footprint as a result of those efforts.

Other companies, equally eager to offer consumers more environmental choices, are adopting interim labeling solutions.

This past spring, Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket chain, began placing blue-and-white adhesive labels with an airplane symbol on all air- freighted products, notifying consumers that the carbon footprint of the product includes a journey by jet.

The labels are only a rough indication of whether one product might be less greenhouse gas- intensive than other goods. They do not describe the lengths of journeys, nor do they compare jet-freighted goods with homegrown products, some of which have heftier carbon footprints from being doused in fertilizers or grown in energy- intensive hothouses.

David North, a director at Tesco, said the air-freight labels were a good start.

"We are working hard on ways to give customers more information that is meaningful and empowers choice," North said. "Suppliers are working with us on this. The right way is to cooperate, not dictate to them."

Reed, the co-founder of innocent, said he hoped that a recommended daily allowance for carbon, similar to what routinely appears on many food labels across the world, would one day be introduced.

On its Web site, innocent already calculates that one smoothie represents about 9 percent of daily CO2 from food and drink, based on British government targets. But those kinds of calculations are complex, and Reed said that cramming that kind of information into a small label would be a challenge.

"Thirty years ago, nobody knew what a calorie was in terms of their daily nutritional needs," he said. "We're still right on the front edge of understanding and communicating what it really means to use a gram of carbon."

Big Firms to Press Suppliers on Climate (WSJ 10/9/2007)

Thanks to Peter

Big Firms to Press Suppliers on Climate
P&G, Others to Join In Pushing Plants For Emissions Data
By JANE SPENCER, Wall Street Journal
October 9, 2007

A group of multinational companies is embarking on a campaign to encourage their suppliers to report greenhouse-gas emissions, pressuring thousands of vendors and factories to show they are taking steps to battle climate change.

At least six of the world's largest companies, including Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever, Tesco PLC and Nestlé SA, will announce today that they are banding together to press their suppliers to release data about carbon emissions and climate-change-mitigation strategies. The move affects plants churning out products as diverse as T-shirts, cocoa beans and razors.

The effort comes amid growing concern that stricter climate-change laws could drive up costs for businesses. Many U.S. companies are betting that federal climate-change legislation -- which could include taxes or caps on emitting greenhouse gases -- is inevitable in the next several years.

Global leaders are gearing up to negotiate a new international treaty on climate change to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire in 2012. Rising energy costs associated with stiffer regulations could affect companies all along the supply chain, so some are taking steps now to curb upstream costs.

"Everybody who uses energy will be impacted if energy prices go up, from the oil wells through the farms and factories, all the way through the retailers to our consumers," says Bill Greggs, an associate director in P&G's global sustainability group.

In addition to keeping an eye on the bottom line, companies are also touting their environmental strategies as a marketing tool as consumers become more aware of climate change.

The companies in the new group, called the Supply Chain Leadership Coalition, could eventually use the information to evaluate suppliers, setting off competition between suppliers to show their green credentials. The group, which also includes Imperial Tobacco Group PLC and Cadbury Schweppes PLC, was formed in partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project, a London-based nonprofit organization that publishes data on the carbon "footprints" -- an estimate of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in business operations -- of many of the world's largest companies. The CDP will survey the suppliers about their carbon emissions on behalf of the companies.

While many companies in the U.S. and Europe now measure their own carbon footprints, most look only at direct emissions, such as the energy consumed by lighting in their stores or the trucks that deliver their goods. Academics and emissions experts say that can create a flawed picture because far more carbon is emitted in the process of manufacturing goods than in distributing and selling them.

In the future, consumers may be able to shop for even small items with a carbon footprint in mind. Cadbury Schweppes is one of a number of European companies trying to label individual products with carbon-emissions data. Cadbury is trying to figure out how much carbon is released in the process of making a Dairy Milk chocolate bar, from the dairy farm through the factory. Eventually, the company plans to stamp the bars with a carbon footprint number, alongside the calorie count.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced similar plans to begin asking suppliers for data on their energy efficiency, in partnership with the CDP. Wal-Mart has started monitoring emissions at 25 to 30 companies that collectively supply seven products: DVDs, toothpaste, soap, milk, beer, vacuum cleaners and soft drinks.

Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, Maine, one of Wal-Mart's major milk suppliers in New England, was recently asked by the retailer to measure the carbon footprint of a case of milk. Oakhurst says it ultimately found the internal energy audit process useful.

Oakhurst, which was taking steps to reduce its fossil-fuel use before Wal-Mart's request came along, says it is in the process of converting its delivery trucks to biodiesel and plans to install solar hot-water heaters for washing milk crates. "Analyzing energy use is just good business," says Bill Bennet, Oakhurt's chief operating officer. "We all should be doing that anyway to save money."

For solar power, the future looks bright: Solar energy is now very real. And at hot companies like SunPower, the 'green' that matters is money - by the billions

Thanks to Eric for this one

For solar power, the future looks bright
Solar energy is now very real. And at hot companies like SunPower, the 'green' that matters is money - by the billions, writes Fortune's Marc Gunther.
FORTUNE Magazine
By Marc Gunther, Fortune
October 4 2007: 3:33 AM EDT

(Fortune Magazine) -- Several years ago a solar-powered, propeller-driven unmanned aircraft named Helios took off on a test flight from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. NASA had designed Helios to be powered all day by sunlight and all night by fuel cells. The "eternal airplane," it was called.

Alas, Helios failed to live up to that inspired bit of branding. Thirty minutes after takeoff, the $15 million flying machine broke up and fluttered into the Pacific Ocean. "It was kind of sad," recalls Dick Swanson, who designed the solar cells on Helios, "although in retrospect it wasn't a technology that has much practical value."

Swanson, a brainy, soft-spoken 62-year-old engineer, gave up a tenured position on the faculty at Stanford to start a solar-energy company in 1985. Since then he has watched other bright ideas and impractical plans come crashing down - that was the story of the solar business for years.

His company, SunPower, was no exception. It lived off research grants and boutique assignments, like making solar cells for a Honda automobile that won a 1,700-mile race across Australia. "We did anything we could to survive," Swanson says.

Today, like the rest of the solar energy industry, SunPower is heating up. With electricity prices rising, worries about global warming mounting, and the cost of solar energy falling, the business of making electricity from the sun is about to go mainstream in a big way.

The Holy Grail of solar is a concept called "grid parity" - meaning that it costs no more to generate your own solar energy than it does to buy electricity retail, off the grid - and there's smart money betting that solar will get there soon. In the case of SunPower, that money comes from a legendary Silicon Valley character named T.J. Rodgers, whom we'll meet shortly.

Once given up for dead, SunPower (Charts), which makes and installs solar photovoltaic panels for businesses and homes, expects to generate revenues of $1 billion to $1.2 billion and profits of $146 million to $162 million next year. Its customers include Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Macy's, Tiffany, FedEx, Toyota, Target, Lowe's, the governor of Colorado (who has solar panels on the roof of his mansion), and the Department of Defense (which uses solar energy to power Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, but not its planes).

Since going public two years ago, SunPower's stock price has grown by about 450%, from $18 a share to $82 when Fortune went to press, giving the company a market capitalization of nearly $7 billion. That's a little bigger than Whole Foods Market.

While the solar industry as a whole remains small - less than 1% of the electricity in the U.S. - it's exploding. The market for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which use cells made of crystalline silicon to turn sunlight into electricity, has grown by an average of 42% annually since 2002. Industry leaders, most based in Japan and Germany, are ramping up production, as are Chinese manufacturers like Suntech, whose founder and CEO, Dr. Zhengrong Shi, is one of China's richest men.

Big companies, including BP (Charts), General Electric (Charts, Fortune 500), Mitsubishi, Sanyo, Sharp, and Shell (Charts), all want to grow their solar businesses. In Silicon Valley, meanwhile, venture capital investors like John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, entrepreneur Bill Gross, and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are backing startups that claim they will revolutionize the industry.

According to John Cavalier, who is chairman of the energy group at Credit Suisse, the market value of the world's publicly traded solar companies stood at about $1 billion in 2004. Now, after a slew of IPOs, they are worth about $71 billion. If the U.S. enacts legislation to counter global warming and it adds to the cost of making electricity from coal, natural gas, and oil, solar energy will be among the winners. "The opportunity for solar companies is absolutely tremendous," Cavalier says.

An industry leader

SunPower stands out for several reasons. It's arguably the leading U.S. solar company, its solar cells are currently the industry's most efficient, and it is vertically integrated, meaning that it makes both its solar cells and the panels on which they are mounted, and designs and installs systems for customers.

Little known outside the industry, the company wants to build a consumer brand. "We'd like SunPower and solar energy to be synonymous," says Tom Werner, the chief executive.

At least two things stand in its way. The first is competition, of which there is plenty. The solar PV industry remains fragmented, with as many as 100 manufacturers working to drive down costs. Sharp is the leading one, followed by a German firm called Q-Cells, Kyocera, Suntech, and Sanyo, with SunPower ranked tenth, according to Paula Mints, principal analyst for solar with Navigant Consulting's PV Service Program.

The other obstacle facing SunPower and the industry is that it still costs too much to make electricity from the sun. Prices vary widely, but it costs about 25 to 35 cents to produce a kilowatt-hour of electricity from solar; retail electricity prices average 11 cents in the U.S. but can be twice that in parts of California, New York, and Connecticut.

Today's biggest markets for solar PV are Germany and Japan, with the former accounting for more than 50% of global demand. That's not because it's always sunny in Düsseldorf; it's because government policy requires utilities to pay above-market prices for solar-generated electricity.

"Absent incentives, I don't think there would be a solar business today," says Stephen O'Rourke, a Deutsche Bank research analyst. But O'Rourke believes that solar PV, without subsidies, could reach grid parity in much of the U.S. in four to eight years. "No technological breakthroughs are required to get there," he says. "It's a matter of incremental improvements." And when it happens, it will be huge.

"I am interested in green," T.J. Rodgers declares. "I have shareholders." The unlikely savior of SunPower, Rodgers is the pugnacious 59-year-old CEO of a Silicon Valley chipmaker called Cypress Semiconductor (Charts). He is also a staunch opponent of government subsidies and skeptical about global warming.

"The group that is most vehement about global warming represent to me some of the worst people in the world," Rodgers tells me when we meet at Cypress's headquarters in San Jose. "I dislike them so much, it's difficult to listen to what they say objectively." What about Al Gore? "I wouldn't trust Al Gore as far as I can throw him, which isn't very far - he's gotten a little hefty since he left office."

And CEOs like GE's Jeff Immelt, Wal-Mart's Lee Scott, and Peter Darbee of PG&E, who worry about climate change? "Every one of the names you just mentioned would flunk his ass in the most rudimentary test about global warming." Rodgers notes that he and Immelt both went to Dartmouth. (Rodgers is a trustee, currently battling the college administration over who elects the board.) "Jeff Immelt played football," he says. "I graduated No. 1 in physics."

All righty then. Let the record show that Rodgers did not rescue SunPower to save the planet. He did so because of Dick Swanson and because he believes there's money to be made from solar power.

Rodgers and Swanson were Stanford grad students together in the 1970s, when both studied with Nobel laureate William Shockley. "There are few people in my life who I run into who are clearly smarter than me," Rodgers says. "At Stanford there were two: Shockley and Swanson."


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Talking the Green Talk, but Not Walking the Green Walk: BT's head of Climate Change, notes that the extended supply chain is a powerful force for positive change. "About three years ago our large business customers started coming to us and asking about our carbon status

Thanks to Lloyd

Talking the Green Talk, but Not Walking the Green Walk
      by Tony Sceales       Celona Technologies

 We've heard so much about green IT initiatives recently you'd be
 forgiven for thinking that everybody had this under control. You might
 be surprised to learn that storage vendor ONStor found that 58 percent
 of the companies they surveyed were either still talking about what
 they were going to do, or still have no plans as yet to do anything.
 Green IT hasn't had the headline profiles of recycling carrier bags,
 or not using your car, but the fact is that IT is a major contributor
 to CO2 emissions. The UK's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)
 estimated last October that the UK's PCs and servers were already
 consuming 14 percent more power than the entire power consumption of
 Luxembourg, and of course the figure is still rising. All this power
 is also costing businesses dearly. IDC's John Humphreys, for example,
 estimates that power, cooling and other operational costs account for
 70 percent of a server's lifetime cost. Yet all too frequently this
 has not been taken into account when servers were bought.
 The penny is dropping though. A study by Sun Microsystems showed that
 since the first quarter of 2006 more than three-quarters of executives
 involved in buying decisions for data-centre equipment in enterprises
 have prioritised energy efficiency; although 63 percent admitted they
 didn't know what their energy costs or carbon emission rates were. Sun
 is one of the companies walking the walk, announcing in August that it
 had just completed a consolidation of one of its data centres which
 had seen 5,000 old servers, network switches and storage devices being
 switched off. ONStor's Bob Miller says: "Whilst the vendors appear to
 be taking this issue seriously the overall end user community is some
 way behind."
 So what encourages end users to do something about this? Well
 according to OnStor's survey, 48 percent of organisations felt that a
 drying up of energy supply would drive a reduction in power
 consumption at their data centres; while higher power bills were
 driving business decisions in 66 percent of companies. "Ultimately, if
 energy costs continue to rise, more businesses will be forced to look
 at this by their shareholders. Longer term we can also expect
 regulators and governments to use big sticks to drive better
 efficiency in the name of environmental protection," notes Simon
 Sherrington, founder of Innovation Observatory, a company that
 specializes in tracking opportunities in green technology markets.
 A central plank of green IT is server consolidation. According to
 OnStor's statistics, fifty-five percent of respondents stated that
 storage consolidation would be a central element of their green
 policy. While an even more upbeat Gartner survey found that 92 percent
 of respondents had a data centre consolidation planned for, in
 progress or completed.
 Storage consolidation is really important, although equally essential
 to reducing energy consumption is ensuring companies have streamlined
 their applications and data. Duplicated data and applications are a
 major problem in many organizations and these cause a range of
 operational inefficiencies, including demand for more storage space.
 Most companies know that at the data and applications levels they are
 far from efficient, but the problem has been that the risk, cost and
 time to consolidate applications has put them off. Celona recently
 conducted a survey amongst telecom executives and 59 percent said
 they'd been so discouraged by an application migration that they
 decided not to go ahead with it. The new generation of migration
 technology overcomes these problems, making the long-awaited benefits
 of application consolidation a reality.
 Many vendors have cottoned on to the fact that there is a sea change
 in the air, and this is not the oceanic smell of green altruism --
 there is a distinct whiff of hard business reality about it.
 "Environmental sentiment is all well and good, and it helps that
 environmental issues currently enjoy a high media profile, but few
 companies have the financial freedom to go green overnight," says
 Sherrington. "They simply can't justify decommissioning equipment
 unless there is a clear cost benefit in terms of saved opex, or unless
 the kit is becoming obsolete anyway. That is why companies with
 comparatively high energy costs, and companies in markets with high
 rates of technology obsolescence, have been swifter out of the blocks
 than peers in other industry sectors."
 BT is just such a company, being a major energy consumer and operating
 in a highly competitive market. It has already cut its carbon
 emissions by 60 percent since 1996, saving more than one million
 tonnes of CO2 per annum. This drive extends from data centres to
 applications-level consolidation. BT's One IT consolidation project,
 and similar projects in other large operators, is all about delivering
 business benefits. There are huge opportunities within large telcos to
 consolidate IT infrastructure and thereby enhance efficiency, which
 should not only deliver the ability to bring new services to market
 more quickly, but should also bring about savings in terms of both
 cash and carbon.
 This point is underlined by BT's Steve O'Donnell who comments that to
 date One IT has enabled BT to decommission and consolidate over 1,000
 racks of servers, resulting in a net savings of 22GW hours per year.
 "We calculate this translates to a cost savings of just under
 £1.8 million per annum or around 3,110 metric tonnes of carbon
 per year," says O'Donnell.
 BT is using its supply chain to drive change by incorporating
 environmental and efficiency goals into its procurement process. It
 expects suppliers to work to reduce the energy consumption and impact
 of each new generation of products or services, and this will become a
 mandatory criterion in all tender adjudication. Donna Young, BT's head
 of Climate Change, notes that the extended supply chain is a powerful
 force for positive change. "About three years ago our large business
 customers started coming to us and asking about our carbon status.
 They understand the need to drive efficiency down their own supply
 chains," says Young. "The power of the supply chain, and of
 competition, to drive this sort of change should not be
 Celona's survey was conducted in May 2007 amongst 212 telecom IT
 professionals (see <>).
 ONstor's survey was conducted across 440 companies between July and
 August 2007 (see <>).
 About the Author
 Tony Sceales has spent over 20 years building and managing major
 products and development programmes in the global software industry.
 Much of that time has been spent working in telecom markets with the
 balance in the reinsurance, banking and systems software sectors. Tony
 co-founded SESI Ltd as a solutions and systems integration business in
 1997, successfully transforming it to form Celona Technologies in
 2004. Since then he has been CEO of Celona, leading the strategic
 thinking behind the growth of the company.

ITT Corporation and National Geographic partner to build awareness of global water issues

ITT Corporation and National Geographic partner to build awareness of global water issues

New National Geographic documentary and companion education program to promote water stewardship

San Diego, Calif. - October 15, 2007 -
ITT Corporation today announced a multi-faceted partnership with National Geographic to raise awareness of global water issues. The cornerstone of the partnership is ITT's support of the episodic television series, National Geographic's "Strange Days on Planet Earth." ITT is the primary sponsor of the 2008 series, which will investigate the scale of the current water crisis and explore potential solutions. It is scheduled to premiere in April on PBS stations nationwide. In conjunction with the program, ITT and National Geographic will produce a companion educator's toolkit designed to educate and engage students across the United States.

"ITT is dedicated to addressing the world's water issues by harnessing its technology, expertise and passion to engineer solutions while raising awareness through support of non-governmental organizations," said Gretchen McClain, president of ITT's fluid technology business. "Our hope is that this association with National Geographic will lead to greater understanding of the underlying issues that must be addressed, advance the dialogue regarding potential solutions, and encourage our leaders to take action."

National Geographic's "Strange Days on Planet Earth" is a two-part television series, hosted by actor and environmental activist Edward Norton, that transports viewers to the remote front lines of research where investigators are struggling to identify connections among some of the most bizarre scientific mysteries of the day. The clues are leading researchers to the furthest reaches of the world's water supply, which are the subject of the first part of the series, "Dangerous Catch," and the next hour, "Dirty Secrets." The series is scheduled to debut in March during the 2008 Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C. in advance of its PBS premiere the following month.

The education program will target middle school students by incorporating concepts from the "Strange Days on Planet Earth" series into an educator packet of teaching activities, as well as supporting print and electronic materials for the classroom. The program will be made available to subscribers of the National Geographic Society's monthly educator newsletter. In addition, 10,000 printed educator packets will be distributed through National Geographic's Geography Alliance Network—a national grassroots network of motivated educators serving as ambassadors who champion geographic education and understanding. Additional packets will be distributed to ITT employees to use in classrooms in their own communities.

"Education is at the heart of National Geographic's mission. In that spirit, we have developed captivating content with 'Strange Days on Planet Earth' and the accompanying educator activities that promises to engage and empower teachers, students and the public to actively seek solutions to the world's water issues," said Stephen Reverand, senior vice president, National Geographic Television. "In ITT we have found a partner that shares our vision and dedication for engaging the world around us on the pressing environmental issues that are having a dramatic impact on our planet."

The sponsorship was announced at the Water Environment Federation's Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference in San Diego, Calif.

National Geographic's "Strange Days on Planet Earth" is produced by Sea Studios Foundation in collaboration with National Geographic Television.

About ITT Corporation
ITT Corporation ( ) supplies advanced technology products and services in several growth markets. ITT is a global leader in water and fluid transport, treatment and control technology. The company plays a vital role in international security with communications and electronics products; space surveillance and intelligence systems; and advanced engineering and services. It also serves a number of growing markets—including marine, transportation and aerospace—with a wide range of motion and flow control technologies. Headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., the company employs approximately 35,000 people and generated $7.8 billion in 2006 sales.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society ( ) is one of the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to "increase and diffuse geographic knowledge," the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 300 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; radio and music programs; films; books; DVDs; maps; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 8,000 scientific research projects and supports an education program combating geographic illiteracy.

About Sea Studios Foundation

Sea Studios Foundation, a next-generation media company dedicated to raising awareness of all the ways human life is entwined with the natural environment and motivating action. Through the use of integrated media, it seeks to amplify and elevate the level of discourse around key social and environmental issues, and to provide tangible ways for individuals to create meaningful change.


Andy Hilton
(914) 641-2160

Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Summit

Wal-Mart's Sustainability Summit

Last week's Live Better Sustainability Summit, held just outside of Bentonville, Arkansas, was yet another in what seems to be an accelerating series of "whoda thunk" moments. Bentonville, of course, is  hometown to Wal-Mart, which sponsored the event, a daylong conclave that brought together more than a thousand people to a nearby convention center. It was all part of Wal-Mart's latest crusade: to "drive profitable product innovation" into its supply chain.

I had the opportunity to attend, not as a participant but as an observer, one of a small handful of media and bloggers admitted to the event. (Another was Sami Grover of Treehugger, who's report can be found here.)

The event was divided into two parts: a meeting of about 400 chief executives of Wal-Mart suppliers, and an exhibit hall featuring tabletop displays from roughly seventy companies and organizations, mostly consultancies (BluSkye, Domani, GreenOrder, McDounough-Braungart Design Chemistry, Natural Logic), nonprofits (Alliance to Save Energy, Business for Social Responsibility, Organic Exchange, Rocky Mountain Institute, TransFair), and some corporations that have worked successfully with Wal-Mart (BP, General Mills, 3M, Interface, S.C. Johnson). It was remarkable seeing all these entities (see the entire list here) side by side, with relatively uniform exhibit space, somewhat more egalitarian than your typical exhibition floor.

The other part was a half-day conference, including a two-hour presentation and panel discussion led by Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, followed by breakout sessions on "engaging your organization in sustainability," "sustainability and product innovation," "making sustainability work," and "driving business value through sustainability."

What was the point? Wal-Mart, it seems, seems to have discovered what a growing number of companies have learned. Being a greener business isn't just about being more efficient or increasing sales. It can be an engine for innovation in products and packaging, even delivery systems. And it wants to help its tens of thousands of suppliers move in that direction.

The context, of course, is somewhat more complex. As Wal-Mart continues down the road to environmental improvement, it needs help from its suppliers to meet its ambitious goals. And in the manner that only a $348 billion retail giant can command, Wal-Mart is pressing its suppliers to improve their packaging, reduce waste, reduce toxicity, and create offerings aimed at Wal-Mart's new mantra: "Save Money, Live Better."

Wal-Mart isn't exactly asking suppliers to think and act more proactively on the environmental front. It's using its considerable clout to create almost a competitive atmosphere around "green." In coming months, for example, Wal-Mart will be judging all of its suppliers on packaging, using metrics governing the quantity and environmental friendliness of suppliers' packaging as a buying criterion. Last month, the company announced that it would measure the energy use and emissions of the entire supply chain of seven product categories, with the likely goal of using climate impact as another buying criterion. And the company has integrated sustainability in the performance evaluations of the stores' buyers and their managers, which in turn help determine their raises and promotions.

It's all rather confusing, in the sense that one must keep reminding oneself that this is, after all, Wal-Mart (and Sam's Club, the company's other U.S. chain), the company with a reputation for squeezing suppliers until it hurts in order to achieve the goals of its old mantra, "Always Low Prices." Can these same companies now become effective partners toward the goal of reducing everyone's environmental footprint while bringing to the mass market a growing number of innovative, or at least improved, green products?

Lee Scott seems to think they can. Some excerpts from his remarks to the gathering of suppliers as well as executives from his own company:

Sustainability is here to stay. It is not a fad, it is not a marketing ploy. . . . It is in fact a part of what all of us are going to be doing with our businesses from here on out. It is not about higher margins and higher prices. It is about the elimination of waste. It is about making our businesses more effective. It is about transferring those benefits on to the consumer. And it is about taking chemicals and things we know aren't good for the environment and finding alternatives to those chemicals so we make products safer.

I think for Wal-Mart one of the key roles for sustainability is it is going to cause us to have better products. Because we're going to be thinking about the quality in those products: what is the defective rate  . . . what are the life-cycle costs of that product . . . . Ultimately my view is that because of sustainability, we also will be dealing with the best companies. Let me talk about sourcing from someone who is willing to compromise on the environment -- maybe destroy waste in an inappropriate way, or use chemicals that they shouldn't. What in the world would make Wal-Mart think that the person who is willing to compromise the environment, knowingly, wouldn't also be willing to compromise on quality to meet a price point? . . .

My belief is that we're going to find that sustainability and all of these social context issues are all related and all end up showing up in the quality of the products. And that as we use sustainability as a driving force, we will have better suppliers . . . and it will enhance the reputation that we have as a company.

High-minded words, to be sure. And they will likely rankle Wal-Mart's many detractors, for whom the words "Wal-Mart" and "sustainability," used together, are simply discordant. The doubters are not irrational. For years, Wal-Mart has been an aggressive, sometimes arrogant, leviathan, seemingly out of touch with progressive social and environmental ideas and ideals. In its single-minded pursuit for growth and dominance, it played rough -- with competitors, communities, suppliers, politicians, and anyone who got in its way, notably (or especially) activists. How can this sudden embrace of sustainability be anything other than a cynical ploy?

I'm pretty sure that it's not. In recent months, Wal-Mart has put itself out there in ways that few other companies have done. It is spreading the green gospel to its 1.3 million employees, teaching them how to live greener lives. It is inviting activists into its offices, and commanding suppliers to meet new, green goals, and parading its CEO in front of audiences and the press to talk the sustainability talk.

To the extent the cynics are right, it's that Wal-Mart's mission is to sell more stuff to more people in the pursuit of profitability and growth, an arguably unsustainable proposition. And that's a problem.

But along the way, the behemoth from Bentonville stands to move hundreds, perhaps thousands of suppliers toward a more sustainable path, and help to fuel consumer demand for things organic, nontoxic, and efficient, among other attributes. And, perhaps, engender everyday environmental habits among the citizenry in ways that even the most committed environmental activists have failed to do.

As Scott put it last week:

We have simply started. We make no claims of being a green company. We're not saying we're better than anyone, we're not saying we're doing it right. What we're saying is that we recognize an opportunity to make a difference in this world, make a difference for our customers, for our shareholders, for our associates, and it is worthwhile to do.

It's a messy affair, this sustainability thing. And Wal-Mart has made more than its share of the mess. But maybe, just maybe, that same company, in its dogged pursuit of productivity and profits, can create more than its share of the solution, too.

At The Wal-Mart CEO Sustainability Summit: "We lay no claim to being a green company. We’re just graduating from kindergarten in this journey.” All things I was happy to hear.

At The Wal-Mart CEO Sustainability Summit
Jeffrey Hollender's picture
Posted by Jeffrey Hollender
on Thursday, October 11, 2007

Imagine 400 CEOs representing Wal-Mart's largest vendors all sitting in one room pondering the future of sustainability. Aside from representing trillions of dollars in market value, this group could change the course of history. As I observed from the third row of this gathering on Wednesday at Wal-Mart's headquarters, I was both excited and scared. Excited that Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott had convened this gathering to throw more weight behind the need to generate innovative "green" products, yet scared that the challenge on the table was too narrowly focused.

After SC Johnson withdrew "Scotchguard" from the market because it was determined to contain toxic chemicals, Wal-Mart helped the manufacturer introduce a safer reformulated product and placed it on thousands of end caps, those special high-visibility displays at the ends of store aisles. When Unilever was concerned that consumers wouldn't understand its triple concentrated All brand laundry detergent, Wal-Mart helped ensure that their customers couldn't miss the new product by generously giving it more shelf space than it might have deserved. From compact fluorescent light bulbs to organic pet bedding, Wal-Mart is committed to supporting sustainable consumer products. This is a good, if not a great thing.

Today, Lee Scott announced that the company wanted real innovation in sustainable consumer products, not just incremental improvement. Suddenly, the R&D budgets of consumer products companies got a lot greener.

Scott also proclaimed at various points in his talk that, "Sustainability is one of the most interesting things we've done. Sustainability is here to stay. We lay no claim to being a green company. We're just graduating from kindergarten in this journey." All things I was happy to hear.

I was also thrilled to see that in addition to products proclaiming to be "sustainable," their vendor fair highlighted an incredibly wide range of non-governmental organizations and consulting firms offering to help corporate America figure out what to do next. Many of these organizations wouldn't have gotten their phone calls returned three years ago. From the World Wildlife Fund to McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Trans Fair, Blue-Green, World Resources Institute, Act Now, the EPA, and numerous others, it was quite amazing to see Wal-Mart highlight so much of our nation's sustainability brain trust.

But I'm not so sure Scott is right when he proclaims, "We save people money so they can live better," and that "the (Wall Street Journal) is wrong, our business model is healthy." Or that their new tag line, "Save money, live better," is credible.

What scares me about this fever pitch of going green is the lack of systemic understanding of the problems we face, and the risk that some of these well-intentioned solutions are likely to make things worse. While compact fluorescents are great, too many of them are powered by coal plants. If you already own 50 t-shirts, buying another made from organic cotton will not make the world a better place. Purchasing CDs in recycled paperboard boxes will still create more CO2 emissions than downloading your music from the web. Less wasteful packaging of processed foods will not help solve the huge nutrition problem our nation faces. While I'm glad that some of the toxic chemicals are out of Scotchguard, why were they there in the first place? Do we really need to apply synthetic treatments to the fabrics in our homes if they're going to pollute our bodies?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for incremental progress, I just don't want to see us confuse "less bad" with "good." Or worse, "less bad" with "sustainability, which it too often is." (Nine times out of ten, when I hear the word sustainability used, it is abused if not totally bastardized.)

So what's my conclusion? It's difficult to say. I'm a cheerleader for Wal-Mart's leadership and progress. But as Lee Scott said, this was a graduation ceremony from kindergarten, and the toughest challenges lie ahead. I hope everyone realizes that the best solutions aren't likely to produce short-term profits. And I hope everyone plans to attend first grade.

European Cities Tackling Climate Change: Vaxjo is a pioneer in a growing movement in dozens of European cities, large and small, that aren't waiting for national or international measures to curb global warming

Thanks to Peter for this one
European Cities Tackling Climate Change

Fir and pine chips are piled high outside the electricity-and-heating plant in Vaxjo Sweden Aug. 20 2007. Vaxjo a city of 78000 has become a pioneer in the fight against climate change with a target to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2010  70 percent  ...
Fir and pine chips are piled high outside the electricity-and-heating plant in Vaxjo, Sweden Aug. 20, 2007. Vaxjo, a city of 78,000, has become a pioneer in the fight against climate change, with a target to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2010, 70 percent by 2025, and the long-term goal of becoming completely free of fossil fuels in the following decades. (AP Photo/John McConnico)

(AP) -- When this quiet city in southern Sweden decided in 1996 to wean itself off fossil fuels, most people doubted the ambitious goal would have any impact beyond the town limits. A few melting glaciers later, Vaxjo is attracting a green pilgrimage of politicians, scientists and business leaders from as far afield as the United States and North Korea seeking inspiration from a city program that has allowed it to cut CO2 emissions 30 percent since 1993.

Vaxjo is a pioneer in a growing movement in dozens of European cities, large and small, that aren't waiting for national or international measures to curb global warming.

From London's congestion charge to Paris' city bike program and Barcelona's solar power campaign, initiatives taken at the local level are being introduced across the continent - often influencing national policies instead of the other way around.

"People used to ask: Isn't it better to do this at a national or international level?" said Henrik Johansson, environmental controller in Vaxjo, a city of 78,000 on the shores of Lake Helga, surrounded by thick pine forest in the heart of Smaland province. "We want to show everyone else that you can accomplish a lot at the local level."

The European Union, mindful that many member states are failing to meet mandated emissions cuts under the Kyoto climate treaty, has taken notice of the trend and is encouraging cities to adopt their own emissions targets. The bloc awarded one of its inaugural Sustainable Energy Europe awards this year to Vaxjo, which aims to have cut emissions by 50 percent by 2010 and 70 percent by 2025.

"We are convinced that the cities are a key element to change behavior and get results," said Pedro Ballesteros Torres, manager of the Sustainable Energy Europe campaign. "Climate change is a global problem but the origin of the problem is very local."

So far only a handful of European capitals have set emissions targets, including Stockholm, Copenhagen and London. Torres said he hopes to convince about 30 European cities to commit to targets next year.

While such goals are welcome, they may not always be the best way forward, said Simon Reddy, who manages the C40 project, a global network of major cities exchanging ideas on tackling climate change.

"At the moment a lot of cities don't know what they're emitting so it's very difficult to set targets," Reddy said.

More important than emissions targets, he said, is that cities draft action plans, outlining specific goals needed to reduce emissions, like switching a certain percentage of the public transit system to alternative fuels.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone's Climate Action Plan calls for cutting the city's CO2 emissions by 60 percent in 2025, compared to 1990 levels. However, planners acknowledge the cuts are not realistic unless the government introduces a system of carbon pricing.

Barcelona, Spain's second biggest city, has, since 2006, required all new and renovated buildings to install solar panels to supply at least 60 percent of the energy needed to heat water.

The project has been emulated by dozens of Spanish cities and inspired national legislation with similar, though less stringent, requirements, said Angels Codina Relat of the Barcelona Energy Agency.

It's not only in Europe that cities are taking action on climate change.

Several U.S. cities including Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle have launched programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Bogota, the capital of Colombia, has reduced emissions with the TransMilenio municipal bus system and an extensive network of bicycle paths.

In Vaxjo, (pronounced VECK-shur), the vast majority of emissions cuts have been achieved at the heating and power plant, which replaced oil with wood chips from local sawmills as its main source of fuel. Ashes from the furnace are returned to the forest as nutrients.

"This is the best fir in Sweden," said plant manager Ulf Johnsson, scooping up a fistful of wood chips from a giant heap outside the factory.

He had just led Michael Wood, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, on a guided tour of the facility, which is considered state of the art. Not only does it generate electricity, but the water that is warmed up in the process of cooling the plant is used to heat homes and offices in Vaxjo.

Every week, foreign visitors arrive to see Vaxjo's environmental campaign. Last year, even a delegation of 10 energy officials from reclusive North Korea got a tour.

A similar but much larger system is in place in Copenhagen, Denmark's capital, where waste heat from incineration and combined heat and power plants is pumped through a purpose-built 800-mile network of pipes to 97 percent of city.

Copenhagen is often cited as a climate pioneer among European cities. It cut CO2 emissions by 187,600 tons annually in the late '90s by switching from coal to natural gas and biofuels at its energy plants. Its goal is to reduce emissions by 35 percent by 2010, compared to 1990 levels, even more ambitious than Denmark's national target of 21 percent cuts under the Kyoto accord.

In 1995, the city became one of the first European capitals to introduce a public bicycle service that lets people pick up and return bikes at dozens of stations citywide for a small fee. Similar initiatives have since taken root in Paris and several other European cities.

Next, Copenhagen plans to spend about $38 million on various initiatives to get more residents to use bicycles instead of cars.

Transport is one of the hardest areas for local leaders to control since traffic is not confined to a single city. Without stronger national policies promoting biofuels over gasoline, Vaxjo, for one, will never reach its long-term target of becoming free of fossil fuels.

But it's doing what it can locally. So-called "green cars" running on biofuels park for free anywhere in the city. About one-fifth of the city's own fleet runs on biogas produced at the local sewage treatment plant.

Using biofuels instead of gasoline in cars is generally considered to cut CO2 emissions, although some scientists say greenhouse gases released during the production of biofuel crops can offset those gains.

Vaxjo has also invested in energy efficiency, from the light bulbs used in street lights to a new residential area with Europe's tallest all-wood apartment buildings. Wood requires less energy to produce than steel or concrete, and also less transportation since Vaxjo is in the middle of forests.

Although Vaxjo is tiny by comparison, the C40 group, including major metropolitan centers such as New York, Mexico City and Tokyo, has been impressed by the city's progress and uses it as an example of "best practices" around the world.

"They're a small town," Reddy said. "Apply that to 7 million? It's doable but its going to take a lot longer."


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Associated Press Writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.
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