Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to L.A. Clean Truck Program

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The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a trucking industry challenge to rules that Los Angeles adopted five years ago designed to curb truck emissions at the nation’s busiest port.

The case (American Trucking Associations vs. City of Los Angeles) will determine the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Clean Truck Program at the Port of Los Angeles. Similar rules are also in force at the nearby Port of Long Beach. The question centers on whether cities and states have authority to limit pollution from trucks moving long-haul cargo.

The answer to that question would seem obvious, especially in environmental circles, but the ATA contends that the local clean truck regulations run afoul of a federal law that deregulated motor carriers. So, it gets complicated. There is a provision in the law that preempts any state or local measure that is "related to the price, route or service of any motor carrier." The purpose of that provision is to speed the free flow of trucks, buses and other shippers and to prevent local or state rules that would add costs to those movements.

So far, the Los Angeles regulations have fared well in the lower courts, according to a news report in the LA Times. A U.S. District Judge in Los Angeles, Christina Snyder, rejected the trucking industry's preemption challenge in 2010.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision and upheld all the regulations, except a provision restricting independent contractors. The provision stipulated that drivers must be employees of the companies they haul goods for and not independent operators, which until that point, the vast majority of truckers were. The appellate judges found the rules at issue were not like ordinary laws governing motor carriers in Los Angeles, but rather special rules involving vehicles operating in the city's port facility. So while the appellate panel found that the port couldn't require thousands of port-servicing independent truckers to become trucking firm employees, it split 2-1 in favor of the port on four separate truck plan issues also opposed by the ATA, including an off-street parking provision, financial capability requirement, maintenance provision and placard requirement.

Those four rules “have nothing to do with improving air quality,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves asserted in a statement.

Some could argue that requiring proper truck maintenance, financial capability, monitoring where idling trucks park and placarding have a lot to do with air quality. But Graves denies that the ATA challenge is being pursued because it opposes the environmental aspects of the Clean Trucks Plan.

Maybe so. The ATA certainly will not mind seeing those environmental aspects—the real purpose of the rules—scrapped on basically doing-business economic technicalities.

“Our objections to the port's program have always been business-related, and not, as certain reactionary groups have asserted, out of a desire to cling to polluting ways.”

One of those “reactionary groups,” the Natural Resources Defense Council, countered, “This continues to be a hard-fought battle against an industry clinging to its polluting practices,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, a lawyer for the NRDC who was quoted in the LA Times report. “The Clean Truck Program at the Port of L.A. has dramatically reduced harmful air pollution,” she continued, “but it won't stay that way unless the trucking companies step up and shoulder the necessary costs of upkeep and care.”

ATA has fought the Clean Truck Program every inch of the way since 2008, which sure doesn’t sound like stepping up.

So, the Supreme Court will hear the case this spring and rule by July.

[Image: Supreme Court by scottlenger via Flickr cc]

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Whole Foods CEO John Mackey Thinks Climate Change is Not Necessarily Bad

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John Mackey, the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods describes himself as an enthusiastic proponent of the First Amendment who believes “business leaders should speak out openly when they believe it is appropriate to do so.” Mackey certainly likes to exercise his First Amendment rights, whether it is in books (see his latest one – Conscious Capitalism), public appearances, or even on Yahoo Finance's message board under the pseudonym Rahodeb.

Many times his controversial opinions on issues like unions, climate change and Obamacare get him into trouble. The latest example was last week when he told Mother Jones that “climate change is perfectly natural and not necessarily bad,” seemingly suggesting that climate change might be even a good thing as “most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend.”

As you can imagine, this wasn’t the first time Mackey expressed a controversial statement on global warming. Actually, this wasn’t even the first time he suggested climate change might not be such a bad thing. In 2010, Mackey told the New Yorker that he agrees with the assertion that “no scientific consensus exists” regarding the causes of climate change,” adding that “it would be a pity to allow hysteria about global warming” to cause us “to raise taxes and increase regulation, and in turn, lower our standard of living and lead to an increase in poverty.” Finally, he said that “historically, prosperity tends to correlate to warmer temperatures.”

Comparing both interviews, there’s actually some progress in Mackey‘s position. In 2010, he thought “no scientific consensus exists,” but in 2013, he claimed that “climate change is clearly occurring.” Nevertheless, he persists in claiming that climate change is a natural phenomenon and it might not be as bad as we assume it is.

If these positions sound odd coming from the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, you need to remember that Mackey is a libertarian, and this view on climate change is not uncommon among libertarians. Libertarians, in general, have a hard time accepting that global warming is a serious problem. Why is that?

Prof. Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve University  and Matt Bruenig provide some good explanations, as well as George Monbiot who tried to simplify the argument, which is based on the procedural justice account of property rights as follows: “In brief, this means that if the process by which property was acquired was just, those who have acquired it should be free to use it as they wish, without social restraints or obligations to other people. Their property rights are absolute and cannot be intruded upon by the state or by anyone else.”

So you can see why harmful manmade greenhouse emissions might be at odds with the libertarian view of the world – after all, as Matt Bruenig explains, “Greenhouse gas emitters have not contracted with every single property owner in the world, making their emissions a violation of a very strict libertarian property rights ideology.”

Yet, while questioning the contribution of humankind to global warming or the rejection of any government intervention or regulation are common among libertarians, the notion that climate change can actually be positive is rare. Still, it didn’t stop Mackey from stating in his interview with Mother Jones that “in general, most of humanity tends to flourish more when global temperatures are in a warming trend and I believe we will be able to successfully adapt to gradually rising temperatures.”

If there’s something Mackey is afraid of, it’s not climate change but rather regulation or intervention. “What I am opposed to is trying to stop virtually all economic progress because of the fear of climate change. I would hate to see billions of people condemned to remain in poverty because of climate change fears.”

This view is at odds with almost any study of climate change risks - OECD, IPCC, Goldman Sachs or PwC to name a few. Mackey might also want to take a look at the 2012 report, Physical Risks from Climate Change: A guide for companies and investors on disclosure and management of climate impacts, which explains how “virtually every sector of the economy faces risks from the short- and long-term physical effects of climate change—impacts across the entire business value chain, from raw materials through to the end users.” And did we mention Hurricane Sandy?

Does it really matter what Mackey thinks about climate change? The answer is that while Whole Foods is a public company, not Mackey’s company anymore, it still very much reflects his position and point of view. Therefore, it's no surprise that Whole Foods has no climate change policy and I doubt if you can find the words ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ on its website.

It means that while Whole Foods is a leader on some sustainability issues, it lags behind on climate change and will probably continue to as long as Mackey calls the shots on this issue.

Does it change your opinion on Whole Foods? Please feel free to comment.

[Image credit: Whole Foods Market]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons the New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

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Concern Remains as NY Times Downplays Significance of Environment Desk Closure

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The New York Times is closing its environment desk in coming weeks, assigning its seven reporters and two editors to other departments and eliminating the positions of environment editor and deputy environment editor. While the paper has insisted that the closure will not affect its environmental coverage, many remain unconvinced.

"This change to our environmental coverage is purely a change in the architecture of the editing," Eileen Murphy, Vice President of Corporate Communications for the New York Times Company, told TriplePundit in an email.

The Times’s environmental coverage has generally outpaced other media outlets in recent years. A recent analysis by The Daily Climate found that media coverage of climate change has steadily declined since 2009 even as the incidence of extreme weather events has dramatically increased.

The U.S. paper of record said it decided to close the desk because environmental stories are always related to other news categories -- national, foreign, economic, and so on -- and so "it makes sense to have reporters on all relevant desks covering a wide range of environment issues," according to Murphy.

The Times has not said if it will shutter its Green Blog, which is edited from the environment desk, and Murphy insisted that the closure of the environment desk will not make the paper's environmental coverage any less aggressive or comprehensive.

Still, environmentalists and several members of the media have expressed concern that the Times's closure of its environment desk, which has been lauded for excellent coverage of climate change and other issues, sends the wrong message to the public and the media.

"When you abolish a standalone beat, it sends a strong message to every career-conscious reporter and editor that chasing environment stories is not a path to advancement," Peter Dykstra, publisher of the Daily Climate, told ThinkProgress in an email.

Dykstra was let go from CNN when that news outlet closed its environment department four years ago, and while the Times is merely reassigning its reporters, others in the media say that environmental coverage at the paper is bound to suffer.

Dan Feign, a professor of journalism at New York University, posted a comment on Facebook about the closure that is worth quoting at length:

...[W]ithout a designated staff your editor would have to rely completely on borrowing reporters from other desks, and editors on those desks would get no credit from management for any environmental stories their borrowed reporters produce. Meanwhile, the reporters themselves would feel the pressure from their desk editors -- the editors who do their evaluations -- to stay on their own desks. It sets up an adversarial system that has already failed in many newsrooms. The best solution is what the Times has sadly dismantled: a small dedicated staff with diverse skills AND the ability to tap other expert writers when appropriate.

Dr. Robert Brulle of Drexel University echoed this sentiment, saying, "The decision by the New York Times to close its environmental desk accelerates the disappearance of climate change from our public discourse.”

"Despite their official statements to the contrary, this move will reduce the paper’s institutional focus and capacity to report on environmental issues," he added.

While such criticisms have been commonplace in the wake of the paper’s announcement, Andrew C. Revkin, a frequent Times Op-Ed contributor who runs the popular Dot Earth blog, pointed out that the paper’s environmental coverage was excellent even before it opened an environment desk in 2009.

Moreover, much of the Times’s best environmental reporting originated on different desks even after the environment desk was open, Revkin noted.

Ultimately, the effects of the closure remain to be seen. Al Gore probably had it right when he wrote recently, “While I am sad to see this dedicated desk come to an end, I hope that its tremendous reporters can, as the newspaper’s leadership promised, continue their crucial work and can help influence the general newsroom by incorporating important environmental perspectives throughout the paper.”

[Image credit: jphilipg, Flickr]

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Coworking at The HUB, Where Ideas Come to Meet

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Coworking may not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking about the “sharing economy,” but it ought to be, particularly if you consider the statistic from the Freelancer’s Union that one in three of us in the U.S. is an independent worker. If it wasn't for workspace sharing, creative ideas would be cooped up at home, missing the chance to intermingle with one another to create innovation.

Office sharing—and everything that comes along with it—has grown dramatically in the last several years of economic funk. According to Deskmag, a site that tracks and promotes coworking, there are more than 2,000 coworking spaces globally, up from 600 in 2010.

Coworking spaces come in all shapes and sizes, but what many have in common is a hip, modern design that aims to encourage collaboration through a wide open space full of workstations (instead of offices), ample natural light and an ambient décor.

Most coworking spaces encourage collaboration among members, but some make it their priority to foster serendipitous innovation by bringing together people from specific industries or with complamentary skill sets.

One such example is The HUB, an international network of independently run coworking spaces designed specifically for mission-driven businesses, or for “people who want to build a better world,” as Jeff Shiau, a program manager at The HUB Bay Area, puts it. It was founded in London in 2005, and today has nearly 50 locations and 6,000 members in cities like San Francisco, Madrid, Singapore, Tel Aviv and Johannesburg.

“Every location has its own founding team, but [The HUB] is not cookie cutter like a franchise,” explained Shiau, who is employed by the parent company of The HUB Bay Area, which has working spaces in San Francisco and Berkeley and produces the annual SOCAP conference, exploring the intersection of business and social impact. Two more Bay Area HUBs—Silicon Valley and Oakland—are opening later this year, Shiau said.

Although each HUB is independently run and structured (some are nonprofits others are for-profits), it is part of a global association of HUB founders and adheres to global brand guidelines. Each one also pays dues—determined primarily by its membership revenue—to HUB Company, a nonprofit that coordinates logistics for the organization. Every year, HUB founders get together in a different city around the world for strategy talks on issues of governance, programming, and space design.

Currently, the group is trying to figure out how to quantify its impact, Shiau says: “We have the pulse, but not at a surgical level.” The first item on the organization’s agenda is to determine which impact metrics to use: how many jobs it’s creating vs. how much capital it’s directing towards specific ideas or sectors vs. the impact it’s making on local communities, for instance.

If it counts the impact of members and partners, the results could be quite impressive. The HUB Bay Area attracts some heavy hitters in the sustainable business space, including the Presidio Graduate School and B Lab—the nonprofit certifier for B Corp (HUB Bay Area is certified)—both with permanent offices at the San Francisco location.

Providing an opportunity to rub elbows with organizations like these certainly makes membership alluring for early stage impact startups that can draw on the expertise of these more established members and the impressive speakers The HUB Bay Area secures. Speakers have included Matt Flannery, co-founder and CEO of Kiva; Leila Janah, founder of Samasource, and Jeff Raikes, CEO of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

There are additional business-school-like benefits of membership, including access to a large variety of useful workshops and a startup accelerator program called HUB Ventures. And, of course, there are ample social activities to ensure that members meet each other and that the sharing of ideas ensues. These include a HUB softball team, weekly public lunches and waffle Mondays.

The people behind this organization view The HUB’s role and potential impact as extending far beyond the sharing of space and resources. They consider The HUB a home for like-minded change agents, "a global movement,” Shiau proclaims in true Bay Area entrepreneurial fashion.

“My goal is that by 2015 all HUBs around the globe will be so mobilized, we’ll be able to influence the U.N. on issues.”

I wouldn’t put it past them.

Follow me on Twitter: @kuurlyq

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Syria Pharmaceutical Team Recognized by Novo Nordisk

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In most industrialized countries these days, being diagnosed with a metabolic disease like diabetes is no longer a life-or-death matter. A written prescription for a medicine like insulin and some stern advice from your doctor to eat well and exercise regularly is often what it takes to keep the disease under control.

Unless, of course, you live in Syria.

With the Syrian civil war now in its second year, purchasing life-saving drugs like insulin takes much more than a trip to the pharmacy or a script from the doctor. The medical system is in shambles; many of the country's pharmaceutical factories (which at one time manufactured 90 percent of the country’s medications) have been destroyed, and access to pharmaceutical products from world suppliers like Novo Nordisk, has all been cut off.

That’s why the company has taken steps to recognize its Syria team with its 2012 TakeAction award for the team’s on-the-ground efforts to replenish and protect the country’s supply of insulin.

According to Novo Nordisk, getting the insulin supplies into hospitals and clinics required months of advance planning as well as “personal risk” by its employees. Shipping routes constantly had to be devised and revised just to get the medications through the front lines to the clinics. In order to store them during Syria’s blistering summer heat, new equipment often had to be shipped in as well.

Shipping 3,700 vials of human insulin to the city of Dara’a, a particularly volatile area of the conflict in southwest Syria, took 45 days of planning and repeated delivery attempts. And when team members weren't attempting to make deliveries in conflict areas, they were holding seminars in Arabic to teach patients about ways to manage their diabetes in “extreme environment(s)” like war zones and unpredictable weather conditions.

The TakeAction award is accorded to Novo Nordisk employees who demonstrate exceptional initiative in a volunteer capacity. The Syria team was picked from a total list of 72 activities represented by 2,425 employees worldwide.

“While people were fighting out there, we decided our must-win battle was to make our products available,” said Novo Nordisk General Manager Eyad Al Safadi.

Insulin is critical to the successful management of diabetes mellitus (Diabetes I). The hormone is normally manufactured by the human body, which uses it to metabolize the sugars found in foods. Patients who have diabetes mellitus often do not produce enough insulin in the body and require injections several times a day. Therefore, clinics and pharmacies often maintain a ready supply of human insulin, which must be refrigerated.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, Syria has the ninth highest incidence of diabetes in the Middle East, with 898,203 known cases. More than 8 percent of the population suffers from the disease, which can be fatal if not treated with insulin and medical attention. A recent report by the International Rescue Committee notes that the ready supply of insulin, cancer treatments and other forms of life-sustaining medical treatments remain at risk due to the ongoing civil war.

Images courtesy of FreedomHouse.

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Climate Change Matters at World Future Energy Summit

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By Dallas Blaney
Global climate change was not on the agenda this week at the World Future Energy Summit but it nevertheless emerged as a prominent topic of concern.

Here in the UAE, climate change poses a significant threat to the medium- and long-run prospects for economic growth. Eighty-five percent of the population and 90 percent of the infrastructure are located along the Gulf Coast, making the country particularly vulnerable to the threat of rising sea levels. It has been estimated that just one meter of sea level rise would wipe out roughly 1,200 square kilometers of prime coastal property.

The UAE is also heavily dependent on imports of food and other essential commodities, making the country particularly vulnerable to climate change-related shocks beyond its borders. Although 83 percent of its freshwater supplies are allocated to irrigation, the agricultural sector only contributes 2 percent to its GDP. With a robust 6.7 percent population growth rate, meeting the needs of this population in the face of climate change impacts poses a massive logistical and political challenge.

According to Majid Hasan Al Suwadi, lead climate change negotiator for the UAE, there is often a misperception within the international community that the UAE can simply throw money at these problems to solve them. However, Suwadi pointed out that the UAE faces many of the same complex agency and ministerial coordination problems that plague climate change mitigation and adaption efforts in other countries. The key to unlocking these challenges, he said, is to bring together government representatives, the private sector, NGOs, and academia to exchange best practices to build human capacity. "Those sorts of initiatives," he argued, "can often seem simple but they can often have a big impact."

A host of foreign speakers also talked at length about the climate change challenge. French President Francois Hollande offered his particular insights, reminding the audience, "If we don't do anything, if we don't invest anything, then we can be sure we will have a catastrophe on our hands."

Jeffrey Sachs agreed. "We need quantified strategies that show how the emissions are going to come down in a timely way. Unless we do that I'm afraid that we're going to be consoling ourselves and keeping ourselves happy as the dangers evidently expand around us and the risks for ourselves, for our planet, but especially for our children continue to grow."

Echoing these observations, U.S. Climate Change Envoy, Todd Stern, suggested that a new multilateral agreement on climate change is needed to trigger a further acceleration of clean energy adoption and diffusion worldwide. Stern identified three steps to developing such an agreement. First and foremost is ambition. In his view, governments must be more willing to move beyond short-term economic considerations in order to realize the long term benefits of a transition to renewable energy systems. Second, developing countries should rethink the international norm of common but differentiated responsibilities, which has thus far been misused to advance historical or ideological justifications for inaction. A more constructive approach, according to Stern, is one that inscribes this concept with a concern for actual present circumstances. Finally, Stern argued for integrating greater flexibility mechanisms in order to accommodate differences in national conditions and to encourage innovation in mitigation strategies.

The point, it seems, is to remain ever mindful that the interest in renewable energy is not simply about finding lower cost solutions to the challenge of growing energy demands. Rather, the goal is ultimately to combat global climate change by decoupling our energy production systems from their reliance on fossil fuel inputs. In the words of Todd Stern, "the only chance we have to contain climate change is to accelerate the growth of clean energy. What turns the development of clean energy into a war of necessity rather than a war of choice, is climate change."

[image credit: Rob: Flickr cc]

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Levi Strauss Partnering With RISD on Sustainable Design Education

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Levi Strauss & Co. has recently begun to work closely with the Rhode Island Institute of Design (RISD) on sustainable design education. The collaboration is emerging out of  Fabric Transformation Takes Form, a five-week program the apparel company and fine arts and design college launched last week.

The hands-on program is another step in Levi’s efforts to become a more sustainable and responsible apparel manufacturer. In addition to the iconic company’s work on water efficiency and climate change, the San Francisco-based firm has also led in the push to end the sandblasting of denim and even held a contest to rethink the clothesline. Since so much of the sustainability of a product relies in its design, the Levi’s-RISD partnership is a nimble approach to embed ecological thinking within the fashion industry.

Paul Dillinger, Senior Director of Global Design within Levi’s Dockers division, is one of the participants within the Fabric Transformation Takes Form program. Working with his colleague, Nada Grkinich, Dillinger will work with art and design students to intertwine fashion and sustainability within a product. Students and instructors will work together to find new approaches towards the foundation of fashion design: the sewing, cutting and manipulation of fabric. And similar to a Project Runway episode, additional Levi’s designers will arrive at RISD for a critique at the end of the program--hopefully no one will bark auf wiedersehen and will be told he or she is “out.” This is not just a sustainable fashion course: students in programs such as interior architecture and graphic design will join those from the apparel design and textiles programs.

As more consumers become aware of the impacts that the textile and fashion industry have on the planet, watch for more companies to follow Levi Strauss’ lead. The company has already started to rethink its lifecycle assessment (LCA) evaluation by involving designers in the beginning steps of its products' designs. So rather than suddenly deciding to include a certain amount of recycled PET bottles in a jacket or pair of jeans, designers can use the firm’s LCA software to make decisions where they are most critical--at the point when they decide what kind of fibers, dyes and washes to use for new clothing designs. Apparel companies have a long road ahead until they are truly sustainable and low-impact companies, but Levi’s has certainly been no slouch on this front.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India next month with the International Reporting Project.

[Image credit: Leon Kaye]

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BSR's Aron Cramer Looks Ahead: The Next 20 Years of Sustainable Business

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This post originally appeared on the Green Money Journal blog.

By Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR (Business for Social Responsibility)

Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio, and in this BSR’s 20th anniversary year, we are both looking back and looking ahead. And as we reflect on the past 20 years, it seems that everything has changed…and nothing has changed. There are reasons to celebrate great achievements, but even more reasons to redouble efforts to achieve the tangible successes that are necessary to put the world on a genuinely sustainable path. Just recently there has been an unprecedented turnout by business and civil society at Rio+20, while at the same time the American Meteorological Society reports that freak heat waves in the U.S. and fatal floods in Russia were likely caused by climate change.

Most businesses, and many other institutions, now recognize that we have in our hands the ability to create an economy that delivers dignified lives of comfort and opportunity for the 9 billion people we expect in 2050; an energy system that enables economic growth without irreversible climate change; and access to food, energy, water, and technology. Whether or not we turn this vision into reality is not just of interest to sustainability professionals, it is nothing less than the central challenge of the 21st century.

There are indeed many great accomplishments that have been achieved since 1992. As sustainability enters the mainstream, we see that hundreds of millions of people have escaped poverty in the past generation, something never before achieved in human history. Most large multinational companies and countless small and medium enterprises (SMEs) all across the world have embraced sustainability. Consumers, investors, and governments have vastly more information than ever before to enable them to assess how business is performing on sustainability, allowing rewards for the best performers. Collaboration and dialogue between business, NGOs, and community organizations, once taboo, is now considered basic. Technology’s ability to connect us has created a global community unprecedented in human history. And where companies once saw corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a risk mitigation exercise, more and more understand sustainability to be the mother of all innovation opportunities. All this is great cause for optimism.

And yet, there are many, many areas in which, twenty years after the initial Earth Summit, progress is insufficient. Our planet continues to warm, with carbon levels nearing 400 parts per million, dangerously close to the point at which irredeemable changes will occur. We need only consider the thousands of record high temperatures in the early summer of 2012 in North America, capping the hottest year on record in the United States, to make the point. The International Energy Agency, hardly an alarmist organization, now sees serious risk of catastrophic climate change. Deforestation proceeds. Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals is inconsistent. The number of water-stressed regions in the world grows annually. And our measures of economic vitality remain tied to unsustainable levels of natural resource consumption. Governments have largely abdicated responsibility to take concerted action to promote low-carbon economic growth, wilting in the face of the global financial crisis. This litany makes clear that, by many objective measures, progress is far too slow – at best.

Without a change in course, the remarkable rise in living standards that have enabled countless people to live lives of dignity will either be halted or reversed.

But with new thinking, innovation, and collaborative action, we can transform our world, and turn the vision of sustainable, prosperous lives for nine billion people into a reality.

Where we need to go


If we are to build on the successes of the last twenty years, we need to change course. The task ahead is no longer about defining the challenge; it is about meeting the challenge. We don’t need more roadmaps; we need to move faster towards the destination.

The path forward is fundamentally different than the one we have traveled over the past two decades. In the first decade after the original Earth Summit, the time when BSR was founded, the primary challenge was to raise awareness in the business community about why sustainability was a crucial and legitimate topic for the private sector. In the subsequent decade, energies were directed less to awareness raising, and more to the integration of social and environmental strategies into business strategy and operations. For the decade ahead, integration remains crucial. Companies have made great progress in the past two decades, and we have been proud to play a role in that. There is considerable room to go further, and we write about that elsewhere in this article.

But a new decade brings a new approach. More substantial progress, however, depends on change not only inside individual companies, but also within entire systems. The era of the hermetically sealed, vertically integrated company is long gone. Every business, in every part of the world, operates within a web of systems: economic, cultural, political, and natural. Every business in every part of the world relies on networks of suppliers, customers, and investors. Even the most innovative companies won’t capture the potential of their efforts if these systems disregard sustainability. And as much as we value best practices, we also know from the past two decades that even the most creative experiments and demonstration projects are not going to meet the scale of the challenge.

So the solutions we need to achieve our goals must also be systemic. A genuinely sustainable economy depends on four inter-related elements: (1) the operational systems in which companies act; (2) the markets that shape the way investments are made and value is defined; (3) the stakeholder world that holds great promise, and (4) the world of ever more empowered individuals and connected communities.

Truly Integrated Business Models:

Business decision-making does not currently integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into investment calculations. Fifteen years after John Elkington popularized the triple bottom line, very few companies have actually integrated this model into their economic valuations. Whether or not financial markets change the game, there is an opportunity for companies to get smarter about the intangible assets that increasingly make or break their success. While some companies are experimenting with economic valuations that include elements like carbon, we have not yet seen widespread adoption of economic models that place a value on ecosystem services, community goodwill, or the risk of stranded assets. It is now widely agreed that these things have value; our task for the next decade is to get more precise about what the value is, and how to measure it. The Natural Capital Declaration that 57 companies signed at Rio+20 is a good start down this path.

Financial Markets That Promote Long-Term Value: 

Despite the Great Recession, public markets focus as intensely as ever on short-term returns. Shares in publicly traded companies in the United States are held for an average of seven months, down from seven years two generations ago. Markets allocate capital with great effect, and the challenge ahead is to maintain the best aspects of market flexibility while reducing the relentless pressure of short-termism. Financial innovation, which was blamed for the crash in 2008, can also be parlayed into new mechanisms that help create long-term value. Integrated reporting, integration of non-financial risks and opportunities into definitions of fiduciary duty, the creation of “L shares” as proposed by Al Gore and David Blood, as well as other mechanisms will create a virtuous circle in which companies are rewarded for taking the long view, and investors are cushioned from the risks of excessive short-term thinking. And there is little doubt that there is also the need to restore trust in our financial system if the “real economy” is going to thrive.

New Frontiers of Collaboration:

The past 20 years introduced the concept of collaboration among companies and an increasingly powerful network of NGOs around the world. The next 20 years will see the lines between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations blur substantially. A world of dialogue between organizations defined by whether they are for-profit or non-profit may be drawing to a close. Can we imagine a world in which every enterprise is a social enterprise? A world in which every NGO thinks about market solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges? How will companies collaborate when every individual has a megaphone bigger than those available to the world’s biggest NGOs 20 years ago?

The Empowered Individual:

The next ten years will continue to put more and more information and autonomy into the hands of individuals and self-forming groups. The demise of business models relying on big businesses selling to passive mass audiences will accelerate. More and more information will be available to individuals. The “internet of things” and widespread sensors will make the invisible visible. Advances in biotechnology will provide quantum leaps in our understanding of how the world around us, and our choices as consumers and citizens, affects our health. These changes can – under the right circumstances – be a net positive for sustainability. And it is undeniably the case that companies will need to adapt to a world of truly radical transparency.

At BSR, we want to see a world with a truly inclusive economy that enables all people to meet their needs, shape their futures, and achieve their potential. We want to see a world that values and preserves natural resources so that future generations have the same – or better – opportunity to thrive. We see a world where economic health – for individuals and for nations and enterprises – is measured not by the quantity of consumption, but by the quality of life that economic activity delivers. And we want to see a world in which public policy and markets create the incentives and rules that make it possible for businesses that point in this direction to thrive. Companies that embrace this challenge will be the ones to achieve the greatest success…and the ones who create a world of which we can be proud.

The road ahead needs greater emphasis on systemic solutions like those I describe here. If real progress is made in these areas over the next twenty years, we will have done a great deal to accelerate… and will have more reasons to celebrate.

Article by Aron Cramer, President and CEO, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) (www.bsr.org ). Mr. Cramer is recognized globally as an authority on corporate responsibility by leaders in business and NGOs as well as by his peers in the field. He advises senior executives at BSR’s nearly 300 member companies and other global businesses, and is regularly featured as a speaker at major events and in a range of media outlets. Under his leadership, BSR has doubled its staff and significantly expanded its global presence. Mr. Cramer is co-author of the book Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-changing World, about the corporate responsibility strategies that drive business success. He joined BSR in 1995 as the founding director of its Business and Human Rights Program, and opened BSR’s Paris office in 2002, where he worked until assuming his current roles in 2004.

Previously he practiced law in San Francisco and worked as a journalist at ABC News in New York. He has expertise in integrating sustainability into business strategy, human rights policies and practices, and stakeholder engagement.

[image credit: Jack Temple: Flickr cc]

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Climate Change Reaching Human and Geophysical Tipping Points

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There seems to be some evidence to suggest that as the storm tide swept over the East Coast last fall, it lifted the tide of public opinion in its wake. Scientists warn of a global warming tipping point driven by positive feedback loops such as the declining albedo effect of ice turning to water or the liberation of methane gas from thawing permafrost. Are we finally reaching, in the aftermath of yet another temperature record-breaking year, featuring another deadly American  storm, a tipping point on public opinion on the urgency of global warming?

One thing that is apparently beginning to thaw, besides the polar ice caps, is the stance of a number of traditional media outlets that had heretofore been considered solidly conservative. Take, for example, the Financial Times which recently featured a column that said, "Another year has passed where the physical signs of climate change came fast and furious, while the political process for dealing with it remained glacial." That was perhaps a surprisingly strong statement. “Doubts,” the author went on to say, “that weather changes are a serious risk to lives and livelihoods - thus a matter for public policy - are by now theoretical or delusional.”

Financial mainstay, Forbes, also came out against-the-grain in a piece in suggesting that Shell should reconsider its Arctic drilling plans.

Then of course, there was Bloomberg’s now classic headline, It’s Global Warming, Stupid.

Of course, there are still many pages of denial still being pumped out every day, but the wave of awakening now seems to be breaking at a point  close to shore, at least for the business media, who as James Murray points out, “are more astute to these audience and market pressures than most.”

Back in April, a broad NY Times poll found that 69 percent of respondents felt that climate change was affecting the weather in the U.S.

A Rasmussen poll taken in November, after Sandy, found the 63 percent of U.S. likely voters found global warming to be at least a somewhat serious problem. However, 49 percent said that they were unwilling to pay more, either in taxes or higher energy prices. Not a particularly impressive reflection of our people.

The Brookings Institution has also been following public sentiment on this issue. They found that the number of “believers” peaked in the fall of 2009 at 65 percent before beginning a steady decline, to as low as 52 percent, thanks to the concerted misinformation campaign of Fox News and their oil-stained sponsors, before gradually recovering back across the 60 percent line.

The range of public opinion is still surprisingly wide, though it is slowly narrowing, as more people become informed, while consensus within the scientific community is nearly unanimous on the broad issue of human-induced warming. Opinion still varies on the exact timetable and the severity of consequences.

Brookings Co-Director Elizabeth Ferris recently wrote a memo to President Obama on the issue which stated,

“Unless urgent action is taken now, the effects of climate change on life on this planet and on life in the United States will increase. Climate change is a domestic, foreign policy, security, development, human rights, and intergenerational justice issue. Preparing better for climate change disasters at home and abroad is a good short-term prophylactic. But making serious and sustained efforts to reduce global warming can solidify America’s present leadership in the world. It can lay the foundation for the country’s sustainable future development. It can address the causes of future humanitarian crises and alleviate future human suffering. It can be a legacy issue for the Obama administration that will impact the world for generations.”

The geophysical tipping points are marching steadily towards us as we  blithely sail along. The extent of damage will depend to a large degree on how much longer until the human tipping points occurs. Perhaps 2013 will be the year when we finally get it.

[Image credit: Trine og Mads: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

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This Year's Detroit Auto Show Concept Car: Bikes

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Amid the shiny cars, people with dusters keeping the cars impeccably shiny, and shiny women, a few items were on display at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit that would hold any crusty old environmentalist's attention. Bikes. Not just any old, embarrassing can't-get-your-ass-up-a-hill electric bikes. A shiny, highly-engineered bike.

The Prius Parlee asks, "What if the Prius were a bicycle?" Toyota didn't take on this challenge on their own - they teamed up with Parlee Cycles to design the bike of the future.

The Parlee's frame is carbon fiber - which keeps things light and easy to move around. Its brakes are molded into the fork to increase aerodynamics. It's even got a built-in dock for a smartphone to track speed, cadence and heart rate. Bike enthusiasts know that all of that is mostly available now if you have the money to spend.

The last feature is not available on the market - perhaps for good reason. The helmet packs neurotransmitters to help rider to shift gears just by thinking about it. The press guy told me that it actually works.

I for one am glad that I can't buy this at my local bike emporium. A helmet that could read my mind would mean a whole lot more stops at donut shops and aggressive pursuit of dangerous drivers.

Toyota's press materials speak highly of this feat of engineering:

"Embued with the spirit of Prius, this aero-road bike is also a purpose-built machine that blends simplicity with the complex to become a better, more efficient, version of something that already exists."

Now doesn't that sound fancy?

So what if it was announced in 2011 and still remains firmly in concept mode?

Travel to NAIAS was provided by Ford. Opinions are 100% mine (obviously)

[Image credit: Jen Boynton]

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