Genusee, an eyeglasses maker that fashions its frames from water bottles sourced in Flint, Michigan. Huskee Cup, which brews up reusable mugs made out of coffee husk waste. EcoTruck, a toy made from a wood-hybrid material that is far tougher than competitive options.
All three of these designers turned to Kickstarter to build their audience, orders and business partners. While their market focus is very different, they all share a common interest. All three are dedicated to reducing their environmental impact by choosing materials that can extend their product lifecycles, are less toxic to humans or the planets, or that rethink substances or objects that otherwise would be considered waste.
Now, the crowdsourcing platform — which helped launch more than 9,000 projects over the past 12 months — is borrowing from their examples to encourage other designers to embed environmental and sustainable sourcing criteria into their planning and ideas at a very early stage of creation.
Generally, you know a company is “serious” about a strategy when they march the chief executive officer out to be the mouthpiece or the face of it. Or at least that’s what the marketing gurus and guru-esses hope.
So, I was intrigued by two recent announcements by two of the biggest technology companies in the earth’s universe — Amazon and Apple — dropped some material into my email inbox in late October. (Actually, the press release involving Apple came from another company, but more on that in the moment.)
Amazon’s proclamation was along the lines of several it has issued over the past two years, trumpeting a contract to buy the power from yet another wind farm in Texas (its largest deal yet). This is a seriously huge facility, more than 100 turbines, each of them more than 300 feet tall. The capacity is 253 megawatts of electricity, which means it can generate 1,000,000 megawatt-hours of power annually.
This is the 18th solar or wind so far made possible because Amazon stepped in to help finance the installation. What’s even more incredible is that the company has almost twice that many projects in its pipeline. So, you can hardly blame the company for releasing this video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “christening” one of the turbines. (I’m sure the Amazon board is shuddering.)
The second photo is less dramatic, but also far more unexpected: what the heck is Apple CEO Tim Cook doing in a Swedish forest, planting trees?
It turns out that the company that publicized the visit, Iggesund Paperboard, is one of Apple’s biggest packaging suppliers — a company originally selected by the tech giant’s founder, Steve Jobs. The material is called Invercote. The parent company, Holmen, is listed on the United Nations Global Compact Index of the world’s most sustainable companies. The predecessor firm to Iggesund has actually been around since 1685.
Given Apple’s legacy of being relatively mum about pretty much everything until it is good and ready to talk, Cook’s willingness to give its supplier such a great photo opp is all the more notable.
But lo and behold, the company just released an updated statement about its packaging strategy in October, with heightened attention to the forests where it sources virgin fiber. Sweden isn’t the only place it’s watching: Apple is working with World Wildlife Fund to transition suppliers in China to more sustainable forestry practices. Is that the next photo opp?
This post has absolutely nothing to do with the core “mission” of this blog, at least overtly. Covertly, however, I love the idea that The New York Times is willing to send a writer to all of its “52 Places to Go” list! Their mission: “parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images.” My birthplace is one of the destinations. Can you guess it?
It’s not clear whether the editorial staff is picking a new list for 2018, but this year’s “itinerary” is pretty daunting. As a diver, I’ve longed to visit the Maldives for many years, especially since it’s imperiled by the rising oceans. The Northern Lights in Norway are also on my bucket list. I would be terrified to return to the Great Barrier Reef, because I am sure the coral degradation there will break my heart. It’s the first place I went on a big diving trip, 15 years ago.
The world could benefit a great deal from more empathy, and once a place seeps into your soul, it’s impossible not to feel something about it. I can’t wait to see what truly extraordinary person they hire, because I will read every article.
Which place would you visit first? In this case, I’ll let the image below do the talking.
On this Easter morning, it seems relevant to reflect on the theme of faith — a belief or conviction based on “spiritual apprehension” rather than proof. Faith is the foundation of every religion, of course, the reverse of the “seeing is believing” adage. It’s an emotion I find myself drawing on often in these strange times.
The “faith” I cling to most fiercely of late is this: that despite the current administration’s decision to abandon leadership when it comes to protecting the planet from humankind’s negative impact on our air, water and soil, many of our country’s most important companies and cities will continue to blaze the path ahead. I’m not naive enough to believe this behavior is entirely altruistic, but the economics favor these investments. The broader theme of social inclusion is also becoming ingrained in the investments some of the world’s largest businesses are making.
Here’s a recent development that will get you thinking: in early April, the Ford Foundation made a very bold change in how it will allocate funds. It’s devoting $1 billion over the next 10 years to what it calls “mission-related investments” that support social transformation. As the foundation’s president Darren Walker notes in his blog: “If philanthropy’s past half century was about optimizing the 5 percent, its next half century will be about beginning to harness the 95 percent as well, carefully and creatively.”
This video offers a primer:
For perspective, the organization’s endowment is $12 billion, so this isn’t a majority of the money it controls. But $1 billion is a substantial sum of money.
Walker explains the decision:
It is deeply rooted in our ongoing program work to build more inclusive economies, help mature the impact investing sector, and fulfill our special obligation to help move market-based economies toward “the high road”—squaring the dynamism of markets with society’s highest values, especially fairness and human dignity.
It remains to be seen whether Ford’s decision is an outlier or the fore-runner of a broader shift in how many of the big corporate foundations allocated their funds. The framework of tax laws will doubtless shape those decisions, especially since it’s difficult to “prove” the value of some of these investments. It’s a question of faith.
It probably won’t surprise you to discover that many of the companies investing in on-site solar technology—rather than waiting around for their local utility to start selling clean power—are either retailers or real estate investment firms. The Solar Energy Industries Association keeps tabs on this with an annual ranking.
Most of the names on that list are pretty familiar, such as Target (No. 1) and Walmart (a close No. 2). Others, not so much.
Over the past several months, I’ve interviewed two of those “others” — industrial warehouse giant Prologis, which is third on the list (its total capacity is now smaller than when I wrote my story), and luxury mall operator General Growth Properties (GGP), which is ninth.
One thing that struck me most about my chat with GGP was the simple fact that it was the chief operating officer who handled the interview. Believe me, these investments were considered carefully — right now about 20 of the company’s malls sport solar panels, and another 30 projects or so are in the pipeline.
The states where they are located are diverse: although the company began experimenting first in New Jersey and Hawaii, mainly because that’s where the financial case was strongest to begin.
Every single one of them is metered carefully, using software that keeps tabs on electricity consumption down to the outlet. For me, this intention to detail is another indication that many of the investments that businesses are making in solar and wind energy are predicated as much on their economic practicality as they are driven by an interest in doing the right thing. Slowly but surely.
What discourages homeowners from investing in solar power generation technology? Cost is certainly the most obvious obstacle, but there’s also a certain snobbery involved. Seriously, most solar panels aren’t all the aesthetically pleasing. No matter how much my contractor-husband appreciates the idea of clean energy, he winces when he sees them.
The good news: Elon Musk, the entrepreneurial billionaire behind both electric vehicle company Tesla and clean energy installer SolarCity, hopes to change that perception with a new SolarCity product that embeds the generation technology right into the roof tiles. The not-so-good news: Musk conveniently neglected to mention when his so-called solar roof will be available.
Solar roofs (aka “building integrated photovoltaic” technologies) aren’t a new idea: more high-profile new buildings are including BIPV features such as the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, California; and the flagship Apple store in San Francisco’s Union Square, which includes PV panels that are integrated into the roof design. But there’s something to be said for brand recognition, something that both SolarCity and Tesla have managed to generate.