June 06, 2013
Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has written a new book with Jonathan Adams, Nature's Fortune: How Business & Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. A video interview
of him at an Aspen Institute forum last month at Hunter College, “The
Case for a Profit Motive in Conserving the Environment,” with New York
Times science writer Andrew Revkin showed that his theme and approach
have a lot going for them. He covers more of the right bases than when I
heard him years ago at Stern Business School, but he’s still too
selective about which dots get connected.
Some of the other comments on this video on Revkin’s Dot Blog site
to the contrary, Tercek’s main points are probably quite correct.
Going forward, conserving natural capital can be more cost-effective or
profitable than traditional regulatory and adversarial approaches to
environmental protection, and it may be helpful to see them as
“investment opportunities” -- at least to a point. For instance,
protecting dunes versus building sea walls is better economically, and
has collateral environmental gains. And an environmental group like TNC
can help business figure these out.
May 17, 2013
Today is Endangered Species Day, and animal advocates around the nation are ratcheting up the fight to save their favorite species. Here in Texas, the battle is on to save the shark. According to the latest research, 100 million sharks are disappearing from our oceans each year, primarily driven by the lucrative trade in shark fins, the main ingredient in shark fin soup. Once a dish for emperors, shark fin soup is now served at banquets and in restaurants to satisfy the appetites of Asia’s upwardly mobile society.
The Chinese consumers who are bent on showing off their new money through the consumption of this tasteless delicacy may not fully comprehend the consequences. As apex predators, sharks are the regulators of the sea. Their presence is critical for maintaining a balanced ecology on which fisherman and tourists rely, as well as the two billion of the world’s poor who depend on the ocean for their main source of protein.
To counter this devastating trend that is driving some shark species toward extinction, states are passing legislation to ban the sale and consumption of shark fins. Already Hawaii, Washington, California, Oregon, Illinois, and Maryland have passed laws. Three other bills from East Coast states now await their governors’ signatures to become laws. State by state, Americans are working diligently to close down the market for shark fins. Texans have a historic opportunity to join them.
May 08, 2013
By Matt Polsky and Pooja Aravkar
None of the world’s leading companies pursuing sustainability are U.S.-based, reports Oekom Research, a German company in its annual Corporate Responsibility Review. What could we do about this in New Jersey? Researchers from the Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Institute for Sustainable Enterprise (ISE) can offer some ideas. The mission of ISE is to “bring people together to learn how to live and manage sustainably by solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities in ways that simultaneously enhance economic, social, and environmental vitality.” It is the intellectual hub of sustainable business thinking in New Jersey.
ISE’s 2010 report Developing and Implementing a Sustainable Growth Strategy for New Jersey provided several guidelines for developing a “Green Economy” – an economy that includes and extends beyond clean energy, potentially penetrating all business sectors to protect and restore the environment while creating economic growth. The report, which urges all sectors to practice corporate social responsibility and aim towards greater levels of sustainability, concludes that “New Jersey has a unique opportunity to play a leadership role.”
April 25, 2013
Sea level rise is a hot topic in the Sunshine State. As hundreds of miles of beaches in Florida are threatened, organizations are springing up to save their local coastlines and local economies. Beaches and
coastlines in Florida are tied into property values, taxes, ecosystems, business, tourism, and economy. For Florida residents, beaches are not only critical parts of the state’s natural and financial capital, they are also an integral part of their lifestyle.
Protect Our Beaches
(POB), a West Palm Beach, Florida based non-profit group, is one organization that is leading the charge against
beach erosion. The group held its first public meeting in Palm Beach County, Florida in early April 2013. This coalition to save local beaches from erosion due to storm surge and sea level rise is projecting a singular and powerful voice to the State and Federal governments.
March 22, 2013
Situated among the trees and mountains along the scenic Hudson River, Kingston, New York seems far away from the salty blue waves of the Atlantic. Yet, just 100 miles inland from the World Trade Center, at the southern tip of Manhattan where New York meets the Atlantic, the Tidal Waterfront Flooding Task Force of the Kingston Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) has begun to plan a strategy to manage the inevitable effects of a rising sea. This volunteer advisory board, residents, community advocates, city officials, grassroots organizations, and State experts met with Catalysis Adaptation Partners to determine the impacts of storm surges and Sea Level Rise (SRL) on this historic town, the former capital of New York State.
The group first met with Mayor Shayne Gallo and the community at City Hall on December 6, 2012 to discuss the challenges the city faces from waterfront flooding and sea level rise in the Rondout, a historic downtown district. After Hurricane Sandy, it became evident that it was time to proactively address flooding challenges, including those related to SLR.
February 26, 2013
Watching customers coming in and out of a coffee shop recently, I saw a variety of door etiquette behaviors. Some people held the door open for the person behind them while others chatted or texted obliviously on their phones. Some kicked or nudged the door open with their hands full. A few walked on through, letting the door slam in the face of the person right behind them. Rudeness was the exception, however. Most people politely held the door open for the person behind them. This had me wondering why exactly it is that we extend this courtesy to others. Is it because we feel responsible to do so? Do we consider it moral or ethical? Are we being conscientious, or do we happen to care more about people than those who fail to hold the door? Regardless of the reason, it is clear that holding the door is culturally accepted as the right thing to do in a civilized society.
The next person through the door of coffee shop was John Englander, author of High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis. Our meeting gave me occasion to draw a connection between door-holding action and our individual action regarding climate change. Do we adjust our behavior to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because we feel responsible, conscientious or caring, or because it is moral or ethical? I parked my thoughts in order to listen to John as he explained how, compared to most disasters that provide little or no warning, rising sea level allows us time to plan for “intelligent adaptation.”
February 15, 2013
Dallas ranks 6th and Fort Worth 7th among the utility-supported solar cities in Texas, according to a recent report from Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. The report, “Reaching for the Sun: How San Antonio and Austin are showing that solar is a powerful energy option for Texas” finds the Metroplex in the shadow of solar leaders San Antonio and Austin.
The report finds there are 972 kilowatts (KW) of solar energy that have been installed in Fort Worth and 1,243 KW in Dallas, in part from incentives from the local utility Oncor. While Oncor ranked a distant 3rd among utilities in Texas, the entire deregulated area of the state fared poorly. The report from Environment Texas finds that the municipally-owned utilities in San Antonio and Austin installed four times more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity than the rest of Texas combined - or 85 percent of the state total. The report credits the cities’ strong policies encouraging solar power on residences and businesses, and in utility-scale installations.
“DFW is a world leader in energy, but when it comes to solar power, we’re being eclipsed by other cities,” said Jennifer Rubiello, Dallas/Fort Worth organizer for Environment Texas. “It’s time we reach for the sun and bring clean solar energy to the rooftops of our homes, schools and businesses.”
“For the past three years, Texas has faced a looming energy shortfall based on rapid demand growth,” said Principal Solar executive Michael Martin, “but solar can fulfill this shortfall well, demonstrating excellent daily and seasonal correlation to peak demand.”
“Of the various abundant natural resources that Texas is blessed with, solar offers the greatest underutilized potential for us to tap into a clean source of power,” said Anna Clark, founder of EarthPeople, a sustainability communications firm and co-founder of the Dallas chapter of Interfaith Power & Light.
Click here to read the full press release.
February 04, 2013
Snark has its good points. In fact, a student once asked me to show more videos of comedians specializing in political and social snark. Using this sarcastic tone can be funny, a way to stand out, to make a point, to seem cool and current, and even to show that your side can laugh at itself. And, as others have stated before (Christine Whitman, most recently), “Politics ain’t beanbag.” But we might ask ourselves, what are we trying to accomplish with snarky communication? Could it be time to step back and take an honest look at the ensuing costs to individuals and society for such widespread maltreatment?
Consider Al Gore. In a span of two weeks, I counted four articles in The New York Times criticizing him. When it comes to Gore, any acknowledgments of the character of the man and what he has accomplished are frequently and conspicuously absent. (Brian Stelter, for example, painted a very unfavorable, one-sided portrait of him in “Gore Went to Bat for Al Jazeera, and Himself.”) While no one is above criticism and some legitimate points were introduced, there has to be some balance, especially considering his achievements.
December 30, 2012
Do we really need to use the “S-word” – sustainability -- in order to talk about sustainability? Joel Makower originally posed this question (and answered with a “no”). This strikes me as one of the classic questions for our still-young field, one that goes to its core, and which will be raised again and again.
The polar extremes of response to the question are: “Sustainability just doesn’t resonate with my audiences, I can make changes in my organization without it, so who needs it?” versus “How can you possibly talk about a subject without mentioning the main way you refer to that subject?” I aim to speak both to the critics at the first pole, as well as those who want to take the sustainability term further.
December 17, 2012
I teach two courses in Environmental Sustainability at SMU and I have been involved with energy efficiency and sustainability for more than 20 years. From the teaching standpoint, Environmental Sustainability is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry which examines the relation between energy and economy in human social evolution. If there's one thing you can count on in the current debates about climate science, energy resources, and environmental impact, it is that few people understand the controlling points of the science of energetics, the branch of physics which examines energy transformations.
Economics, a convention of human beings for the production and distribution of goods and services, says nothing about energy or specifically the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI), a key concept in understanding the long-term functionality of any biological system. Unfortunately, political viewpoints and wishful thinking appear to rule the discussion rather than the laws of physics.
November 26, 2012
Andrew Zolli, in his op-ed in The New York Times called “Learning to Bounce Back,” says that it's time to talk about resiliency. He’s right, but unfortunately he uses sustainability as a straw man to get there. He makes a number of unnecessary criticisms of the term “sustainability,” reminding me how many people have yet to appreciate its purpose and benefits.
In his article, Zolli defines resilience as “how to help vulnerable people, organizations, and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions.” I see resilience as a part of the much larger field of sustainability. Jonathan Cloud, in a forthcoming article called “The Wake-up Call,” calls it “an aspect of sustainability.” If we can agree that sustainability and resiliency actually fulfill different, and in some cases the very same, aspects of a solution, then why disown the term?
November 17, 2012
New Jersey communities are living a new reality following Frankenstorm Sandy. For those of us that reside on the Shore or grew up vacationing and summering there, it is more than a place. It’s an icon, a culture, and a state of mind - a destination for generations. For us, there is life before Sandy and now, there’s life after Sandy. As with the aftermath of 9/11, things will never be the same.
Local government leaders can expect push back from a variety of stakeholders over whether and how to rebuild on the Jersey Shore. Residents and visitors want to keep their boardwalk memories alive, unaffected by new infrastructure, necessary though it may be. But as Albert Einstein used to say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We cannot afford to ignore the message within this disaster. Today is our opportunity to reduce tomorrow’s risks by building resilience.
November 01, 2012
Since 1950, humans have manufactured more goods than have ever existed in history. Our consumption of those goods – a highly inefficient use of our natural capital – has wrought a long list of environmental consequences. Staggering deforestation, check. Increasing greenhouse gas emission, check. Rising heat, sea level, and incidence of extreme weather events – check, check and check.
We all talk about the changes, but when it comes to the issue of climate change, the conversation goes in different directions - or ceases altogether. According to the latest study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, the American public's concern about global warming can be sorted into six categories, ranging from alarmed (13%) and concerned (26%), to cautious, disengaged, doubtful and dismissive (that's the other 61% of us). With so much evidence, why are Americans so disengaged from climate change – arguably, one of the most critical problems of our time?
To continue reading my article "America's miasma of misinformation on climate change" in The Guardian, click here.
October 07, 2012
The second-annual SXSW ECO conference just wrapped up, and I am beyond excited about the people I encountered there. (A tremendous thank you to EARTH-NT for connecting environmental and clean tech advocates in Dallas to this event.) Something remarkable happens when you convene an international group of professionals and activists to brainstorm solutions. Trying to break through inertia can feel like solitary work, so I’m thankful for the chance to “recharge” along with other green-minded social innovators and thought leaders.
In the coming weeks, I will be writing on several of the many groundbreaking ideas and technologies from the conference, including:
- GIVE ETF: Philippe Cousteau’s new sustainable investment fund
- Global Water Games, a joint project of UVA, Azure Worldwide, and The Nature Conservancy
- OgilvyEarth’s Mainstream Green report on how marketers can close the green gap
- AMD’s Tim Mohin’s book, Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations
- Dell’s Planet group, a global green team
- Washington Post environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin’s book Demon Fish
- Sustainable seafood solutions from Fish Revolution and I Love Blue Sea
- Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff videos, viewed over 20 million times by people in every country in the world
August 18, 2012
I like paradoxes, so I'm glad Anna Clark mentioned one in her commentary for The Christian Science Monitor, “This Shark Week, Let’s Love an Animal that Scares Us.” Actually, I see a number of paradoxes there, as well as a lot of complexity (another favorite word). As Anna points out, approximately 73 million sharks die each year due to overfishing and finning, while sharks are responsible for less than 12 reported human deaths per year. Anna calls for action at three levels of government to fight shark destruction: federal, state and international. Besides multilevel government actions, Anna also calls for "moral ignition" and efforts to overcome some of our personal revulsion towards sharks.
She’s right that "we need cultural fixes,too" - particularly to challenge dubious traditions that kill sharks en masse. I’ve been informed at many lectures I’ve attended never to criticize other cultures. as that would be anthropocentric and insensitive. This thinking presents quite a barrier to improving the situation we face in conserving sharks. The answer to addressing cultural barriers, as I see it, is to begin to distinguish between relativistic values (like different styles of dancing) for which it's different strokes for different folks; versus areas where values are universal (say, no selling of preteen girls for marriage and torture to older men they don't know, anywhere, for any reason).
Anna correctly identifies major causes in shark destruction, including the "lucrative trade" of sharks and "turning nature into a commodity." But in devising a solution, there's also the counter-argument that successful conservation has to give poor people an economic stake in the resource, to prevent their depleting it through desperation and lack of alternatives. This is quite a paradox I haven’t figured out.
August 13, 2012
I've been reading some amazing stuff lately on a range of subjects. While not quite beach reading - maybe for when you get back home - this annotated list of 8articles includes short (except for #5) but powerful potential thought-shifters on or related to sustainability:
- The MBA graduate first year experience trying to bring sustainability to a company. Cute but brought back painful memories. Masters level educators need to think more about this. Surviving bosses, bullets, and sustainability BS. By Peter Knight.
- Someone finally asked a version of the question I haven't seen done before: "What do you do if you can't make the business case for sustainability?" This, to me, is the monster elephant in the living room question for the whole sustainable business field. So although there are new ways being shown all the time by which to show the positive connections between business and the environment (thankfully), it’s a world of many problems. What if there are limits to this paradigm? So what do you do if you’ve tried but can't show the positive connection for a sustainability-promoting project proposal? Stop advocating for it and move on? That seems to be the mindset of the CSOs, consultants, and the very welcome new green MBAs I see. But is that where we want to leave them? The beginning of what I hope will be a long and fruitful discussion. Parts 1 & 2: When CR and Business Objectives Conflict & When CR and Business Objectives Conflict (contd). By Kevin Moss.
July 29, 2012
G. Tracy Mehan III, a former USEPA Assistant Administrator for water and now a consultant at The Cadmus Group, recently reviewed David Zetland’s The End of Abundance: Economic Solutions to Water Scarcity, in “Flood Zones: A Market Solution to the Challenge of Water Supply,” for The Weekly Standard. Both author and reviewer see a powerful role for economics thinking in resolving the growing problem of water scarcity, although neither appears to mention externalities, or the costs of pollution imposed on society or the environment. In any case, they agree that water – or as Zetland calls it, “lifestyle water” - is too cheap, leading to its over-consumption. The bottom line: we’re going to have to raise the price.
This is not a new argument. Economists have been talking about it for years, not that many are listening. This gave me the opportunity to reflect back on why this issue long ago started me on a strange, unpredictable, non-linear career track. As in any other field that regards itself as both diagnoser and resolver of the problem, economists often miss the multidisciplinary boat that is sustainability. (I was, however, grateful that years ago I got to thank Alan Kneese, one of the pioneers of environmental economics, just before he died for helping put me onto this journey.)
The single disciplinary perspective has both strengths and weaknesses in a multidisciplinary world. The reviewer and the author are right that standard economics methodology has much to offer. But why are policy makers, environmental groups, academics, and others so resistant? And while there are exceptions where some economics thinking has made its way into policy (e.g. acid rain policy), as well as some non-economists who have come around, such as Environmental Defense, it would seem we could do better in coming to terms with, and finding a proper place for, economics. What good is it to keep training new generations of environmental economists who are only going to end up frustrated?
June 26, 2012
It’s 2050. The roads are much less crowded, and engine growls have given way to bird song. The old zoning rules have been repealed and sprawl is no longer subsidized; developers now pay the full costs they impose on public infrastructure. Workers still go to the office a few days a week, but many work from home exclusively. Fueling stations dispense biofuels and hydrogen, complementing the ubiquitous smart-charging points for electric vehicles. Clean energy has replaced fossil fuels in quantities sufficient to power society as we know it.
Such is the future described in Reinventing Fire, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s meticulously-researched manifesto on the new energy era. Click here to read my complete article and view my interview with RMI CEO Michael Potts on Greenbiz.com.
June 01, 2012
Overdue for some eco-tourism? Environmental advocates and social innovators would be hard pressed to find a better excuse to travel to South America than the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit. Marking the anniversary of the first Earth Summit held there in 1992, the once-in-a-generation event is the latest in a series of United Nations conferences on sustainable development dating back to Stockholm in 1972.
The upcoming three-day conference will focus on building a low-carbon green economy and creating a global governance for sustainable development. Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the 12-year old girl who silenced the world for seven minutes at Earth Summit 1992, is among the international thought leaders expected to attend. Severn’s sobering call to action, immortalized in a 1992 video, is still a relevant rallying cry for this year’s Summit. In fact, given the leaps in technology, the issues she implored participants to address two decades ago may be much closer to workable solutions.
May 13, 2012
If your walls could talk, they would have much to say about how they affect your health and the health of your family, guests, pets, employees and customers. They would say how important it is that you understand what you cover them with, and why it matters now and for years to come. Just ask Zsuzsi Apati, the owner of All Women Painting, a Philadelphia-based, eco-friendly painting company.
She will tell you that indoor air is at least three times more polluted than outdoor air and, according to the EPA, is considered one of the top five hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes of indoor air pollution due to the release of low-level toxic emissions into the air after application.
The source of these toxins is VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Until recently, these were essential to the performance of paint. However, new environmental regulations and consumer demand have led to the development of low- and no-VOC paints and finishes. “Most paint manufacturers now produce one or more non-VOC varieties of paint,” according to Ms. Apati. “These new paints are durable, cost-effective and less harmful to human and environmental health. I’m so happy that customers are beginning to understand how important this is for their well-being.”