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?
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.
Doing some Friday afternoon story-boarding when I came across an article proclaiming that three-quarters of all Internet use will be mobile by 2017. (That’s next year, folks. I know, it caught me by surprise, too.)
Which got me wondering how true that prediction really can be. While I certainly spend a big chunk of my personal “screen time” on either my smartphone or e-whatever, my husband is in the basement right now streaming a movie using my broadband connection. I would be willing to bet that at least half of my neighborhood is doing the same thing. (We’re a very sleepy town, I admit.)
The data in question, which comes from a media agency, Zenith, was collected to support the case for mobile advertising within the apps used most frequently on mobile devices — social networks and navigation software (aka maps) among them. While I certainly agree with that focus, there’s no way that I’m going to convince my husband that he should stare at a teeny-tiny tablet to watch one of the action flicks that he prefers. Nor do I believe that my binge-watching friends are putting their eyes to strain.
Given the bandwidth-hogging nature of streaming video and the couch-potato tendencies of binge-watchers, I really wonder how accurate that three-quarters number can be.