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September 2010

Globe tells feds to make China compete cleanly in renewable tech

Mike McGrail · September 22nd, 2010

The Boston Globe weighed in on China’s increasingly blatant efforts to corner the world market on key renewable energy technologies through questionable subsidies and trade practices. This editorial prevails on the Obama Administration to help level the playing field by calling China on its policies, as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner did before Congress last week.

E-waste foes waste no words

Steve McGrath · September 15th, 2010

What are the right words for these photos of human beings, including children, working and, apparently, living amid electronic waste in the Ghana slum of Agbogbloshie?

Of course, there are none.

These images first appeared in the New York Times Magazine a month ago. I still see them every day, imprinted on every electronic device I see, whether in my pocket, on my desk, in my living room, stuck in my ears or in a chirpy television ad.

The photographer is Pieter Hugo, who writes on his website that the inhabitants have no name for the pit where they burn the old computers to extract metal for resale.

Their response is a reminder of the alien circumstances that are imposed on marginal communities of the world by the West’s obsession with consumption and obsolesce. This wasteland, where people and cattle live on mountains of motherboards, monitors and discarded hard drives, is far removed from the benefits accorded by the unrelenting advances of technology.

The slideshow is one of the most effective examples of communication in the interest of cleaner technology that one could ever imagine.

Some 53 million tons of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2009, according to ABI Research. About 13 percent was recycled. E-waste, along with its hazardous material components, ends up in places like Agbogbloshie – and China, India and Indonesia – mainly because it’s cheaper to smuggle waste to poorer countries than recycle it according to emerging global standards and laws.

“Now we are collecting far more, but they can’t prevent it from going offshore,” Jim Puckett, director of the e-waste watchdog group Basel Action Network told the Times. “People talk about ‘leakage,’ but it’s really a hemorrhage.”

E-waste contains dangerous lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury. In the United States, 23 states have passed mandatory e-waste recycling laws, most of which make electronics manufacturers pay for recycling. Many municipalities also have aggressive recycling programs. Toronto, for example, is promoting its e-waste recycling program with video in stark contrast to Hugo’s photos.

(Are they actors playing schlubs or schlubs playing actors?)

Deliberately grating and based on we-want-your-gold TV ads, the campaign lacks any of the grandeur in the Ghana photographs. In fact, the juxtaposition couldn’t be more jarring. But on its own merits, it’s pretty effective. To be honest, Chuck and Vince cracked me up. But I wasn’t laughing this morning when I left my old computer monitor on the curb.

Green Launching Pad innovates state-level clean energy branding

Andy Beaupre · September 3rd, 2010

One of the more innovative collaborations between a higher education institution, statewide and federal government is unfolding in New Hampshire.

This past February, the Green Launching Pad was launched. It’s a strategic partnership between the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (ARRA).

The organization connects entrepreneurs and private industry with technical, scientific and business faculty, students and state-level resources to successfully launch and accelerate the growth of new green businesses.

Five New Hampshire companies received funding in Year One of the program. Seventy-one businesses and entrepreneurs submitted applications for this funding, bolstered by $750,000 in federal stimulus funding.

An advisory board selected the five winners who are now being supported with an intensive business accelerator program aligned with UNH. The companies are connected to business, science and engineering faculty to develop product development, finance and marketing plans. The GLP also builds relationships on the financing side via angel investors and private sector business mentors (disclosure: Beaupre mentored one of the five winning companies, Air Power Analytics).

The new Green Launching Pad businesses are required to help the State reduce carbon emissions in sustainable ways. By building successful companies, New Hampshire believes it will also fuel job growth and broaden economic opportunities.

Governor John Lynch led a roundtable discussion with GLP companies last week, answering their questions and uncovering their needs and concerns. He said “I want to see you succeed in New Hampshire. I want this effort to create jobs. I want to help you win.”

So far, it’s a model bearing fruit in the Granite State.

This week “Venky” Venkatachalam, one of the original GLP founders, told Michael McCord of www.seacoastonline.com “You read about this when you have academia and industry working together. This has been a huge positive experience that could be a powerful force for economic development.”

Clean energy conscious state government, higher ed institutions, energy companies and the corporate sector may benefit by keeping a close watch on its progress.

How the Fortune 500 learned to love the EPA

Mike McGrail · September 2nd, 2010

How powerful has environmental cred grown? Powerful enough for an EPA renewable energy program to attract more multinational corporations than Steve Forbes’ New Year’s Eve party. In a country like ours that almost fetishises private enterprise, you know you’ve arrived when the Fortune 500 comes to play.

The EPA’s Green Partnership program publishes annual lists of the top 50 renewable energy consumers in the program. Several are local, state and federal agencies who might be expected to toe the line considering that the current occupant of the White House is a renewable energy fan. There are also a few universities – reliable members of the liberal vanguard on most social issues. But the private corporations on the list outnumber the universities and public agencies 33 to 17. And we’re talking heavy hitters like Intel, Kohl’s, Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Walmart, Motorola, Lowe’s, Herman Miller, Sprint, ING Bank, Safeway Inc., Dannon, Bloomberg, Staples and Hilton Worldwide.

These aren’t exactly members of the Ben & Jerry’s hippie corporate crowd, so what’s in it for them? I mean bottom-line benefits – dollars and cents. You can talk about corporate responsibility all day, but in the end corporations exist to make a profit. Anything that doesn’t make a profit in the corporate world has the shelf life of a fruit fly. The Green Power Partnership program doesn’t put a dime in their pockets. Actually, it’s probably the exact opposite. Renewable energy is still more expensive than fossil fuels, so from a purely economic standpoint a corporation would be better off burning coal.

Yet not only are these companies part of the Green Power Partnership, they had to bust some tail to get in. Companies that want to be a Green Power Partner have to estimate their annual electricity use; review their power purchasing requirements; find and buy green power; then prove they actually bought it. The EPA strictly defines “green” in this context as wind, solar, biomass, biogas, geothermal, or low-impact hydro. Or, if you want to hear it in the original bureaucratese, “A green power resource produces electricity with zero anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused) emissions, has a superior environmental profile to conventional power generation, and must have been built after the beginning of the voluntary market (1/1/1997).” Applicants have to submit certified information to the EPA, and it’s subject to review.

So it doesn’t help the bottom line and you have to bust a gut to qualify. Again, where’s the upside? I still maintain it’s not on the bottom line. But it is on the top line. In the last few years the corporate attitudinal axis tilted they decided that sustainability isn’t a hippie pipe dream – it’s good business. They want consumers to know they’re walking the green walk because consumers care, and it helps their public image.

Green power’s influence extends beyond consumer markets into business-to-business. Take Intel as the bellwether for this movement. Intel isn’t a consumer business, but it developed a consumer brand through the “Intel Inside” campaign. Now it’s speaking directly to consumers again through its two-year-run atop the Green Power Partnership ranking. Intel buys 1.4 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy per year – or 51 percent of its total consumption. Google “Intel renewable energy” and you land on a page in the Intel press room dedicated to its renewable energy purchase program. The headline? “Intel Tops EPA’s List of Green Power Partners.”

That’s a huge affirmation to the power of public perception. The ultimate expression of corporate power was once “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” With companies like Intel leading the charge, hopefully that will change to “What Intel does for the environment is good for the country.”