Being Green + Being Profitable: Opportunity Green 2009

November 11, 2009

Having read all of the exciting press coming off last year’s Opportunity Green conference, I was looking forward to attending this year’s event, held in sunny Los Angeles, CA.  Heralded as one of the top green business conferences in the industry, OG09 promised to be a forum to gather with leaders of the business world to discuss not just our shared idealism towards a more sustainable planet but our determination to succeed in a green economy.

My excitement on the front end was met with some disappointment the day of the actual conference and I’m sad to say that for the most part, I was underwhelmed.  The opening keynote included a talk by Chris Jordan, an artist famous for his portraits of waste in mass culture.  While I admire Chris’ work and passion for revealing the consequences of our modern world, I tend to get more annoyed than inspired during those types of lectures.  He showed photographs depicting our daily use of plastic cups and the tragic death of albatross on Midway Island due to significant plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean.  In fact, he played a 6 minute long video showing carcass after carcass of albatross that had mistaken plastic for food and died with massive quantities of it in their bellies.

Sad, right?  Of course.  It’s horrible.   But did I travel across the country to be shown pictures (that I’ve seen many, many times – it’s a popular image for green conferences) accompanied with severely depressing violin music?  Not really.  I’m in this room because I am all too aware this is a problem.  I’m in this room because I am afraid of what the future looks like for my children and their children and I want to solve this problem, or at least try.  I’m too motivated and there’s too little time to sit around and grieve, which is what Chris suggested we need to do for our planet.

We don’t need to grieve.  We absolutely need to acknowledge what we have done to this planet.  But like any problem in life, dwelling on how wrong it all is begins to sound like broken record.  Yes! It’s wrong.  How do we make it right?  Grief will not heal us.  I am sure of this.

At any rate, the conference had its moments of redemption for sure.  My favorite panel was Modern Storytelling with Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff and Jonah Sachs of Free Range Studios.  If you haven’t seen Story of Stuff, you should go watch it right now.  Annie is a brilliant storyteller who spent 2 decades researching the materials economy and uncovering what happens to all of our stuff throughout its lifecycle. Jonah and his team at Free Range helped Annie turn her research into a smart, witty and informative 20 minute documentary with an attempt to illuminate some of the issues within the materials economy including massive waste and overconsumption.

Working in communications, I appreciate Annie’s no BS approach to tackling a problem and presenting information to people who have predisposed conceptions about the world.  As she advises, “talk to people where they’re at – not where you’re at.”  The discussion centered around the concept of authentic communication, opening up dialogues and not trying to control the conversation once it’s out.

She closed the session with this piece – “Change is inevitable, the question is whether it will be by design or by default.”  It is the perfect summary of the choices we have now, the decisions we make towards a more sustainable world and what we need to keep at front of mind when we approach this revolution.

While I met some very interesting people at OG09 and was thrilled to see Annie Leonard speak live, I left with an overall feeling that has accompanied me at the end of many green centric conferences or expos – concerned at our ability talk about the problem in depth but our inability to provide comprehensive, deep solutions.  Right now, green conferences tend to include those of us who are dark green – we believe it, we know we’ve got to change, we’ve dedicated parts of our lives to so.  While seeing and hearing stories about the breadth of the problem can be inspiring, too much of it becomes time consuming and ineffective.  We need an active campaign, not a passive one.  I want to attend a conference that starts that campaign.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

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My Personal Tech

October 20, 2009

When I started at Caster, I was not a techie.  I mean, I liked my gadgets (my iPod, my cell phone, my cute little 12″ Mac iBook, RIP) but I didn’t really have a vested interest in technology.  Once I started, I was sort of overwhelmed with the level of technical information thrown my way on a daily basis but I can say comfortably that I have evolved from just a general consumer with some interest in consumer electronics into someone who really loves the advancements technology has brought us.

Personally, my life isn’t as high tech as it could be.  My computer is a newer Sony Vaio and I will tell you that I’m not terribly impressed with it.  It is just ok and I’m sort of wishing I had taken my client’s advice and invested in a Dell XPS.  Add it to the Christmas list!  Speaking of Christmas, I upgraded to a new iPod Nano last season and so far it has been nothing but awesome.  The graphics are great, I can watch videos and play games and its motion sensor technology is very cool.  That said, I still drool over the iPod Touch.  Sigh.

My TV…well, my TV is still in box form.  I’m almost ashamed to admit I don’t have a flat panel as some of the first accounts I cut my teeth on were display manufacturers, but alas, I am still living with a Phillips 27″ box.  Sniffle.   I hope to change this soon as well – any ideas for a good 37″-42″ LCD, preferably ENERGY STAR rated with decent built in speakers?

Speakers are another story as I haven’t had a good system in….well, ever.  I’ve become more atuned over the past few years to just how incredible music can sound when played over the right speakers as opposed to my iPod or car stereo.  But I just haven’t upgraded yet.  I’m thinking my friends at Paradigm can help me with this eventually.  <winky face emoticon>

More recently, I’ve been more interested with how technology has become the conductor for really pushing the clean energy movement forward.  While the green movement isn’t a new phenomenon, I think the idea that we need to utilize our advancements to help us solve so many of the problems that they created for us in the first place is brilliant.  Sustainability can be an accomplishment if we embrace technology to take us there.  I am inspired on a daily basis by clean and renewable energy innovation and developments in moving towards a smarter grid.

I might not have been when I started, but today, I can proudly say it: I am a techie.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter


What’s Wrong With Obama’s Green Team?

October 14, 2009

(reposted from GreenBiz.com)

by Marc Gunther

It’s hard not to be impressed by the people working for the Obama administration on the environment. For the most part, they’re smart, well-intentioned, dedicated. Let’s hope they can deliver meaningful results soon on the issue that matters most: climate change.

Today, I’m at the Society of Environmental Journalists convention in Madison, Wisconsin. It has attracted a parade of administration officials: Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, marine biologist Jane Lubchenko, who leads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Gina McCarthy, an EPA administrator in charge of air quality, and others. Al Gore keynoted, and we heard from economists, scientists and a CEO or two during a very full day.

The Obama people came to sell cap-and-trade, hard. One version of a carbon regulation bill has passed the House, another’s pending in the Senate and the UN meetings in Copenhagen where a global agreement is supposed to be negotiated to replace the Kyoto treaty is just two months away.

Chances are, though, that, the U.S. won’t have legislation by then, which will make it difficult to get a global accord.

That’s because, for all the brainpower and commitment of Obama’s green team, the president has made climate change, at best, his No. 4 priority, behind the economy, health care and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Republicans haven’t helped on the climate issue, either.

To be sure, Obama & Co. have spent a fortune subsidizing clean energy through the economic stimulus bill. But that won’t be as much help as a cap-and-trade bill with strong targets.

Here are a few highlights from today’s event:

Climate legislation will be good for farmers, even though it could raise the cost of fertilizer and fuel, Vilsack argued.

“It’s one of the best things that can happen to rural America,” he said.

That’s because the carbon offsets in the House and Senate climate bills will generate revenues for farmers. Offsets are a way that regulated industries, like the utilities that own coal plants, can comply with the “caps” on global warming pollutants by paying unregulated entities — in this case, farmers — to reduce their emissions. (Just trying to explain this makes me dizzy.) So, while the costs of fuel and fertilizer will grow because they are made from fossil fuels, the potential value of offsets to farmers could reach as much as $15 billion a year, Vilsack said. To put that in context, he said, net income to all farmers is about $55 billion a year.

In theory, farmers could be paid for a variety of environmentally friendly practices that would reduce their carbon emissions. Among them: no-till agriculture, better conservation practices, applying fertilizer in different ways, capturing methane from pigs, cows or chickens or planting trees on underutilized land.

Vilsack said a “yogurt company in New Hampshire” — presumably Stonyfield Farm — could be paid for developing new feed for cows that reduces their emissions, a polite way of saying their burps and farts would be composed of less methane.

Speaking of cows, EPA doesn’t want to regulate them, says Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

When asked if EPA will try to regulate carbon emissions from every Dunkin’ Donuts and dairy farm, McCarthy joked: “I am personally going to do that, yes, And I want to make that announcement here in Wisconsin.”

McCarthy, the former head of Connecticut’s department of environmental protection, knows her stuff and talks like a real person, not a like a politician or federal bureaucrat. She said EPA has no desire to regulate global warming pollutants on its own, even though it has been granted the right to do so by the Supreme Court. Of course, that wouldn’t prevent further court challenges. EPA, she said, would prefer to enforce a cap-and-trade system because it’s more flexible, market friendly and likely to drive innovation.

She admitted, however, that managing offsets will be tough, particularly since the legislation is sure to permit international as well as domestic offsets, and allow offsets for both reforestation (planting trees) and avoided deforestation (not cutting down trees).

“Offsets are going to be one of the trickiest pieces of any cap-and-trade program,” McCarthy said. “If they’re not sound and they’re not verified and they’re not credible and they’re not permanent, then you don’t have a cap.”

So how, she was asked, would EPA monitor offsets in such places as Indonesia and Brazil? “It’s my new retirement package,” she quipped. The real answer, she added, is that the government will have to rely on third-party auditors.

Gore bored.

Funny thing about Al Gore. I’ve probably heard him speak a half dozen times, and once spent a couple of hours at his home in Nashville while reporting a story (Al Gore’s Next Act: Planet-Saving VC) for Fortune. I always look forward to hearing him because I so admire his commitment to the climate issue. He’s really smart, too, as well as knowledgeable. And, I sense, he’s fundamentally a good guy.

Invariably, I’m disappointed because he simply cannot talk without pontificating. Today was no exception. Aargh! (If you doubt me, listen here. [MP3 link])

Gore did sound an optimistic note about the potential for a Washington breakthrough over climate, even hinting at one point that the Republicans could become supporters of a bill:

The political system of the U.S. and the world share one thing in common with the climate system — both are nonlinear. The potential for change can build up without noticeable effect until that potential reaches a critical mass capable of breaking through whatever barrier has been holding us back.

We’re very close to a political tipping point.

Was that one Nobel laureate talking to another? I hope so. It’s time for President Obama to move climate to the top of his to-do list, so his green team can have a real impact.


IBM Smarter Planet: Efficient Grid Models for a Smarter Planet

October 2, 2009

Kudos to IBM Smarter Planet for a succinct and intelligent way to understand why the Smart Grid will transform power delivery and consumption.


Texas Utility Chooses Control4 for Smart Grid Deployment

September 1, 2009

Control4, a leading developer of Home Area Network (“HAN”) and consumer energy management solutions, today announced that it has been selected as the HAN provider for Texas-based utility Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative. Serving more than 65,000 members in 14 counties between Austin and Houston, Bluebonnet plans to begin integrating smart grid technology in its members’ homes and businesses by April 2010. Control4 will provide Bluebonnet members with its Energy Management System, which includes a powerful yet intuitive in-home display with a programmable smart thermostat that will give users the usage data and device control necessary to manage energy use and expenses.

Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative is a progressive utility looking to maximize member satisfaction and encourage efficient energy use through its Smart Grid investments,” said Will West,Chief Executive Officer of Control4. “Control4 is proud to support this important initiative by providing user friendly home energy management and usage data to empower Bluebonnet members to become active in the utility’s progressive energy conservation programs.”

Bluebonnet recently announced its application for a Department of Energy stimulus grant to fund a transformation of its entire business to a Smart Grid. To assist in that transformation, Bluebonnet sought a HAN partner to help provide engaging information and advice to the consumer that facilitates energy conservation and efficiency. Bluebonnet selected Control4 based on the platform’s functionality, expandability and capabilities as both an energy management and control system.   The company’s proven technology leadership (with over one million ZigBee devices shipped) and its established network of over 1,550 dealers for distribution and support were added factors in the utility’s decision.

“After an extensive search process that included several product demonstrations, Bluebonnet chose the Control4® Energy Management System for its ability to provide up-to-the-minute information about energy usage and price that our members can use to manage their monthly electric bill,” said Mark Rose, Bluebonnet CEO. “Control4’s EMS-100 combines an easy-to-use touch screen with a flexible and expandable system at a reasonable price. These features will enable Bluebonnet’s members to be better consumers of energy and help us achieve our cooperative goal of a 20 percent reduction in system load by 2020.”

The Control4 EMS-100 system will work in concert with Silver Spring smart meters and eMeter software, feeding vital information back to the utility and providing customers with up-to-the-minute information on outages, conservation events and price spikes. The Control4® system delivers energy usage data from various loads in the home, allowing homeowners to take action and manually turn off devices or program the system to do so during peak times and demand response. The entry-level system is composed of the EC100 Energy Controller, a five-inch intuitive in-home touch screen device that supplies consumers with updates on energy usage and costs, tips for saving money on energy bills, power alerts from the utility, and information on various loads and activity within the home. The system also includes a programmable thermostat that communicates with the Energy Controller for heating and cooling control of homes and businesses. In addition to energy management and control, the EMS-100 offers engaging lifestyle applications and features such as weather reports, traffic updates, stock quotes and podcasts. With the EMS-100, Bluebonnet members can be active participants in managing their energy usage and reducing their utility bills. From powering down lights to controlling shades, utility customers have access to additional ways to further reduce their energy costs.

Control4 recently announced $17.3 million in financing to fund a new business unit, Control4 Energy Systems, based in Silicon Valley, California. The company’s proven home operating system and HAN management technologies can improve operational efficiency for utilities while delivering exceptional features and benefits for the consumer. Control4 Energy Systems works with utilities, AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) Partners, dealers and retailers to bring easy-to-use energy management systems to homes and small businesses. 

For more information on Control4 Energy Systems, please visit www.control4.com.  For more information on Bluebonnet Electric, please visit www.bluebonnetelectric.coop.


Al Gore to Keynote GreenBuild Conference

August 25, 2009

I’m heading to GreenBuild this year with Kim and I couldn’t be more excited as I’ve heard from multiple sources that it is inspiring and full of knowledgeable and passionate people in the green building and energy fields.  I hope it will be refreshing because while I’ve been to a number of energy and sustainability shows this past year, I have yet to feel truly wowed but any of them.  In fact, what I’ve really found is that it’s a lot of the same people talking to each other about a lot of the same things.

That said, GreenBuild is said to be a worthwhile experience and the USGBC just announced the Al Gore will be the keynote speaker at this year’s event!

via USGBC:

Nobel Laureate, best-selling author, and the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary – the Honorable Al Gore will address thousands of Greenbuild attendees at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz. as part of the Greenbuild Opening Keynote & Celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Along with four terms in Congress, two terms in the Senate, and two terms as Vice President, Gore has written the bestsellers Earth in the BalanceAn Inconvenient Truth and the just-released “Our Choice.” The first 5,000 full-conference attendee registrants will receive a complimentary copy of Gore’s latest book “Our Choice” and all other attendees will be able to purchase the book on site.

Gore is chairman of the Emmy-award winning Current TV; chairman of Generation Investment Management, a firm focused on a new approach to sustainable investing; is a member of the board of directors of Apple; a senior adviser to Google; and a partner with the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He is also a Visiting Professor at Middle Tennessee State University and chairs the Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit organization designed to help solve the climate crisis.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter


McDonald’s to Show Greener Side

August 18, 2009

In an effort to test various energy saving and waste-reducing methods, McDonald’s is evaluating 10 prototype “green” restaurant locations.

The restaurant is treating the 10 locations as “learning laboratories,” said McDonald’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Bob Langert, in a Q&A with DailyFinance.

One of the green prototype stores, in the Chicago area, uses 25 percent less energy than similar locations.

Energy savings and waste reduction are central to McDonald’s corporate social responsibility strategy, Langert said. Globally, the restaurant consumes $1.7 billion annually in energy and it spends another $1.3 billion handling its waste. McDonald’s has more than 31,000 locations worldwide.

Reducing waste most often comes down to redesigning, trimming and using new materials for existing packaging, he said, with solutions that can be organically composted getting the most traction. “Turning waste into something that can be useful is our vision,” Langert told DailyFinance.

So far, finding a type of biodegradable packaging made from corn or other non-tree resources has proved fruitless, Langert said. Most such options have had problems with warping or not keeping the food warm, he said.

In other news, a McDonald’s location in Cary, N.C., which was built with an eye toward sustainability and energy efficiency, is offering drivers of electric cars use of a charging station on site.

In May, McDonald’s began an effort to show consumers its “greener” side with a new institutional marketing effort, “Global Best of Green.”

via Environmental Leader