Crowdsourcing, Innovation, and Sustainability

Why are you drawn to sustainability? Because you love nature? You want to protect the environment? Because it’s good for business?

How about because sustainability is driving amazing innovations?  I’m fascinated by the new technologies being developed to solve environmental problems.  But I’m even more fascinated by the new ways people are creatively collaborating to solving complex environmental issues.

Below are links to some interesting articles I’ve found on innovation and crowdsourcing.  (The first few focus on sustainability, the rest don’t.) I hope you enjoy them.

Britta Riley: A garden in my apartment This Ted Talk video describes how over 18,000 people have contributed to the development and refinement of a “window farm” technology.  This is call “open source collaboration” or “crowdsourcing”.

Can crowdsourcing really crack corporate sustainability? This article features the example of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Lab, a 24-hour, global online event that gathered insights from outside organizations and individuals on key sustainable issues. This led to the launch of a permanent platform dedicated to Open Innovation.

10 Crowdsourcing Success Stories One of the stories is about “My Starbucks Idea”, a Starbucks’ website to solicit ideas and feedback from customers. Ideas break down into three categories: Product, Experience, and Involvement.

Trends for Open Innovation, Co-creation, and Crowdsourcing 1. “You can’t ignore open innovation” 2. “Collaboration, not Competition, is the way forward” 3. “Innovation as a branding strategy” 4. “Use innovation for engagement”

Marissa Mayer’s 9 Principles of Innovation 1. Innovation, not instant perfection,  2. Ideas come from everywhere  3. License to pursue your dreams  4. Morph projects, don’t kill them  5. Share as much information as you can  6. Users, users, users  7. Data is apolitical  8. Creativity loves constraints 9. You’re brilliant? We’re hiring

Innovation: How the Creative Stay Creative The 7 secrets are 1. make free time 2. multi-cultural 3. encourage risky behavior 4. write it down 5. bring in outsiders 6. hire smart 7. do it for free

Pollinators: the new breed of innovators A new breed of “pollinators” has become one of the most dynamic and innovative segments of our workforce. They are an untethered work force that buzzes in and out of companies, moving from project to project, cross-pollinating ideas (and companies) as they go.

8 Ways to Foster Innovation in Your Company 1. Let Every Employee Play Designer 2. Provide Lots of Free Time to Think  3. Use New Software to Round Up Staff Ideas  4. Encourage Risk-Taking  5.Hold an Intern Contest  6.Reward Million-Dollar Ideas  7. New Project, New Team  8. Allocate 10 Percent of Time for Invention.

Feel free to mention other articles you come across.

 

Posted in crowdsourcing, innovation, open innovation, sustainability | Tagged , , , |

Green Buildings: More Value Than You Can Imagine

This blog is also posted on Triple Pundit.

The full story of green buildings is still being discovered. Up to now, the story of green buildings has been described as a costly luxury.  The emphasis to date has been on costs – the costs of green materials, costs of innovative design, costs of meeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, and so forth.  All of these costs do add up, but these real costs are concretely offset by direct economic benefits.

The Economic Value of Green Buildings

Green buildings have a higher market value because they are in demand, thus commanding higher rents, and operate more cost-effectively.

Lower Costs:  Savings from lower operating and maintenance costs will repay the investment in making the building “green” after a relatively short period of time, according to Gregory Kats.

Higher Income:  Green buildings bring in greater revenues too.  They have 3.5% lower vacancy rates and 13% higher rents than non-green buildings.

The Economic Value for Companies Working in Green Buildings

A recent development is that companies are catching on that working in sustainable buildings is good for their employees and good for their bottom line. Deloitte Consulting conducted a survey of with companies that had implemented green retrofits. Here are the results:

  • 100% reported increased employee goodwill;
  • 93% reported a greater ability to attract talent;
  • 87% saw improved workforce productivity;
  • 81% saw greater employee retention; and,
  • 75% saw improved employee health (thus fewer sick days).

The Value of Higher Productivity: To be more concrete, every 1% increase in productivity (about 5 minutes per working day) translates to about $650 per employee per year, according to Kats. Thus, a medium-sized business with 1,000 employees could gain $600k-700k per year, while a large business with 5,000 employees could gain $3-3.5 million.

How Higher Productivity is Achieved: Green buildings provide higher air quality, light quality, and greater thermal comfort.  This improves people’s physiology as well as cognitive and social functioning.  Thus, green buildings not only cut the costs related to “sick” buildings (e.g. illness, discomfort, stress, absenteeism, etc.), but they also grow the top line by increasing productivity.  Lighting improvements alone can increase productivity by 3.2%, according to Carnegie Mellon University.

Just Beginning to Measure the Full Value of Green Buildings

The new focus on measuring the economic benefits of green buildings to companies and employees augments the existing business case of operational cost savings. Even as we strive to more accurately quantify increased worker productivity, there is enough evidence to suggest that green buildings add value for workers, companies, and the environment.

What do you think?

  • Have you worked in a green or a “sick” building?
    • Do you think that impacted your work or your health? If so, how?

     

  • If you were a CEO of a company, would the benefits cited above persuade you to insist on green offices for your employees?
    • If not, what other information would you need?

 

Posted in change management, green, sustainability, sustainability consulting, sustainability strategy, Sustainable Business | Tagged , , , |

What sustainability efforts could learn from Angry Birds

(This is Part 2, which explores how gamification can “green” employee behavior in order to achieve business goals.  Last month, Part 1 explored how gamification can attract customers and “green” their behavior.) This post also published by GreenBiz.com.

What do Angry Birds and sustainability have in common?

Playing  Angry Birds hooks people, focusing them on developing special skills to achieve ever more difficult goals. That type of game-playing can be a central tool to help companies get their employees involved in delivering on firm-wide sustainability goals from zero waste to greening the supply chain.

Innovative companies are using gamification to re-image work and drive unprecedented engagement across the entire organization”, according to JP Rangaswami, keynote speaker for upcoming Gamification Summit June 19-21.  This is increasingly true for one of business’ top issues – sustainability.

What on Earth is Gamification?

It’s playing games with a purpose, in this case, employee engagement in greening the workplace. Playing electronic games is addictive. It hooks people at the level of their basic social drives for achievement, appreciation, reciprocity, and friendly competition. It grabs attention on social media and speeds up companies’ sustainability processes. In business, people compete individually and in teams for points, prizes, and recognition. They become engaged and motivated.

Why Do We Care?

93% of business leaders identified sustainability as important to their company’s future success, according to a recent survey. They are just looking for ways to make it work. Gamification is one answer. For example, companies using CloudApps’ gamification tools to engage employees in corporate sustainability efforts can save up to 10% on their annual costs of energy, water, waste and business travel, improving their ROI in less than six months.

Seven Gamification Strategies to Increase Employee Engagement in Sustainability

Cloudapps has shared their roadmap as follows:

    1. Align employees’ personal sustainability goals with corporate sustainability vision and goals
    2. Visibly allocate and reward in connection with sustainability budgets and targets
    3. Bring a fun, innovative and competitive approach through the use of game mechanics that includes challenges, badges, levels, rewards and leader boards
    4. Deliver practical sustainability challenges relevant to an employee’s experience
    5. Bring a social networking style of collaboration and communication that drives successful employee-led sustainability initiatives
    6. Harvest employees’ sustainability and cost reduction ideas
    7. Create a workplace ethic that attracts and retains the very best employees

Here’s how very different types of companies apply a mix of these strategies to improve their bottom line and the environment.

Practically Green, a digital community, helps organizations become greener by using technology and social networking to educate, motivate and reward employees for making green changes to their work and home life.  They give points for over 400 different green behaviors, from commuting by bike, buying local produce, to switching to e-bills.

SAP, the German software giant, has a number of green games.  One is a carpooling game called TwoGo, aimed at making carpooling easy and socially cool. Bike at Work lets employees earn points, get feedback, give useful tips to their friends, see calories burned and other fun, motivational stuff.

Deloitte, the consulting firm, has developed a Business Simulation Game that enables players to experiment with sustainable initiatives for their client companies in a safe game setting.  The game allows players make mistakes and try again without losing face. This direct experience accelerates the learning about, and adoption of, sustainability strategies.

Through events like the upcoming Gamification Summit and Coursera’s free online Gamification course offered by Wharton, we’re betting that more companies follow the lead of these pioneers.

While some critics claim that green gamification is a passing fad, here are two leaders who are convinced of its lasting value.

Gamification encourages more lasting behavior change than traditional communications and training efforts because it is simple, personal and relevant, trackable, and shareable.  – Susan Hunt Stevens of Practically Green

Every employee is the head of sustainability. It’s the only way to achieve the aggressive business and environmental growth that we have planned over the next 10-30 years. Frankly, we can’t do it unless everyone is involved.  Emma Peacock of Unilever Australia/New Zealand

 

Posted in change management, green, sustainability, sustainability consulting, sustainability strategy, Sustainable Business | Tagged , , , , |

Gamification To “Green” Customer Behavior

(This is Part 1, which explores how gamification can attract customers and “green” their behavior.  Next month, Part 2 will explore how gamification can “green” employee behavior in order to achieve business goals.) This post also published by GreenBiz.com.

Leading-edge companies are using gamification to attract and “green” customers. In fact, in the next two years more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one “gamified” application, according to Gartner.

What is Gamification?

Gamification applies game design to make otherwise boring tasks more engaging.  Think of airline points and loyalty cards. However, the rise of social media and mobile internet (smart phones, tablets) has taken games to whole new level of consumer engagement (some say addiction!) and online sharing of brand loyalty.

Gamification hooks us by meeting our basic human needs for achievement, appreciation, reciprocity and a sense of control over our little corner of life. Here are some of gamification’s addictive inventions:

  • achievement levels rewarded with badges
  • a progress bar or other visual meter
  • virtual currency
  • systems for tracking and exchanging points

Now, let’s see how gamification is being used to attract more customers and promoting sustainability by greening their behavior. (In Part 2, we will explore how gamification can green employees behaviors in ways that also helps achieve strategic business goals.)

Greening Consumer Behavior

We’re looking for that tipping point where most consumers are motivated to go green for “fun and fame, not guilt and shame.”  How do companies move people from occasionally just turning off the lights to adopting and sharing a new way of life?

Let’s look at some of the gamification strategies that leading-edge companies are successfully using to increase their customer base while helping their customers, their companies, and society, become greener.

Reward Green Actions
Recyclebank attracts customers by offering them points for taking green actions like recycling, saving energy, and learning about sustainability-related topics.  Members can also earn points by correctly answering quizzes or making certain pledges. These points can be redeemed with reward partners for food, health, home, clothing, and gifts.

Enable Social Comparison
The Nissan Leaf’s Carwings is a digital tracker that both measures fuel consumption and ranks drivers according to fuel-efficiency. An online portal lets drivers know how well they are conserving energy compared with other nearby drivers. The most efficient drivers receive virtual bronze, silver, gold, and platinum “medals.” What had been solely a matter of personal virtue—driving more efficiently—has become a community activity.

Encourage Friendly Competition
Opower motivates customers to save energy by appealing to their competitive instincts and their desire to save money. Opower does this by mailing their utility customers personalized reports on their energy consumption and compares it with their neighbors.

Reinforce Reuse
TerraCycle has a game called Trash Tycoon that is played on Facebook. Players earn points by cleaning up a virtual small town and building sustainable businesses from the trash. The game reinforces the real-world effort of school kids who recycle packaging materials to raise funds for good causes.

Give Groupon for Good
To join The Mutual, a member picks a pledge level and a charity to steer the donations towards. Members, in turn, are rewarded with perks from business members looking to connect with a big pool of green-minded consumers.

Individually, these strategies won’t solve global environmental issues like climate change. But companies are betting that small actions can add up over time, AND that they will attract more, and greener, customers.

What do you think?

  • Do you play games or interact online in some way to earn points, badges, or rewards?  How has that impacted your behavior?
  • Do you think gamification is just a fad? Or a viable business approach for attracting and “greening” consumers?
  • Do you think that gamification will really lead consumers to adopt more environmentally-friendly behaviors?

 

 

Posted in change management, green, sustainability, sustainability consulting, sustainability strategy, Sustainable Business | Tagged , , , |

Cash for Trash: Innovative Companies Profitably Upcycle, Recycle and Reduce Waste

This post is also published by Triple Pundit.

Upcycling is good for business AND the environment

Upcycled bag from TerraCycle

Turning worm poop into fertilizer was TerraCycle’s first big idea. Then they transformed discarded drink containers into consumer bling, which made them a world-recognized leader in this hot, new trend of “upcycling”. Upcycling is the conversion of waste destined for landfills into new products of better quality or a higher environmental value. TerraCycle upcycles unwanted trash into messenger bags, notebooks, and the list goes on . . .

“Buy low, sell high” is the underlying business model for upcycling companies such as TerraCycle. They buy raw source materials (waste) at low cost and charge premium prices for their fashionable, environmentally-friendly upcycled products. But that’s not all. The upcycling companies’ business partners also benefit because their scrap waste is being reused. Instead of having to pay someone to haul their waste away, someone is actually paying for it and taking it off their hands.

The good news for the environment is that as more trash is upcycled, less trash is ending up in landfills. It also lowers the consumption of raw materials, air pollution from waste incineration, and water pollution from leaking landfills.

The upcycling trend is doing something more . . . it is raising people’s awareness about the growing trash problem and motivating them to change their behavior. For example, Recyclebank does this by educating and rewarding their customers for recycling. Terracycle does this by setting up collection centers to make it easier for communities and schools to recycle.

Upcycling is a growing industry

TerraCycle and Recyclebank aren’t the only companies coming up with innovative –and profitable — ideas for making stylish, environmentally-friendly products out of trash. Learn more about them and other cutting-edge upcycling companies below.

  • TerraCycle, Inc. is a worldwide leader in the collection and reuse of consumer packaging and products.
  • Recyclebank rewards people for taking everyday green actions with discounts and deals from local and national businesses.
  • Playback Clothing transforms trash like plastic bottles and clothing scraps into great looking eco-clothing.
  • Hipcycle offers upcycled products that are as desirable, attractive and durable as traditional equivalent products.
  • IceStone makes high design surfaces from recycled glass instead of quarried stone.
  • Preserve makes attractive toothbrushes and kitchenware from recycled plastic like yogurt containers.

Criticism of upcycling

Critics argue that upcycling and recycling only postpones the inevitable – the waste will still eventually end up in landfills. It is better to reduce waste to begin with to than upcycle waste after it is generated. “Zero Waste” advocates want products that are designed to be repaired, refurbished, re-manufactured and reused. They want people to change their behavior and businesses to change their practices so that less waste is created and any discarded material is used as a resource for others.

How about “Zero Waste”?

Although it remains challenging to get consumers reduce their waste and recycle, many businesses are already discovering there is money to be made with zero waste programs. According to GreenBiz, by finding ways to reduce its waste, Wal-Mart has cut the cost to haul waste to landfills in California by over 80%. General Motors has earned $2.5 billion from recycling over the past four years. Kraft has achieved zero waste at 36 food plants around the world and, at some locations, use manufacturing byproducts to create energy. Companies in almost any industry and of every size are seeing significant savings by reducing, reusing, or recycling materials. Besides being environmentally friendly, zero waste initiatives save money by cutting out waste and streamlining production.

Is one waste strategy better than the other?

It seems that almost any waste strategy – upcycling, recycling, reusing, or reducing materials – can lead to significant savings and even boost revenues. This is clearly good for business. When it comes to the environment, however, there is a bit of a debate about which waste strategy is best. As mentioned earlier, zero waste advocates argue that any upcycled or recycled waste still eventually ends up in landfills. Thus, it is better to not create the waste to begin with.

Yet even if upcycled products do eventually end up in landfills, upcycling companies like Terracycle and Recyclebank are succeeding in raising people’s awareness of the waste problem and motivating them to change their behavior and recycle more. Plus, the new upcycling market is incenting companies to develop new environmentally-friendly products and services. While upcycling isn’t as green as zero waste, it is changing how we view and what we do with trash.

What do you think?

  • Is zero waste the only environmentally responsible waste strategy?
    • Or is upcycling a good development for the environment too?

     

  • Is the solution to the waste problem going to come from corporate America and zero waste programs?
    • Or does a lasting solution require consumers to change their behavior with regard to trash?

 

Posted in change management, green, sustainability, sustainability consulting, sustainability strategy, Sustainable Business | Tagged , , , , , |

Puma’s Ground-Breaking Environmental P&L

Puma did something remarkable. It is one of the first companies to put a monetary value on its environmental impact and publicly release it as an environmental profit and loss statement (“EP&L”). The total cost of its environmental impact in 2010 was 145 million Euro (approx. US$ 192 million).

“If we treated the planet like any other service provider, Puma would have paid Euro 8 million (US$11 million) for services rendered to our core operations and another Euro 137 million (US$181 million) for services rendered our supply chain of external partners,”  says the Chief Sustainability Officer of Puma’s parent company.

Difficult to Determine Environmental Costs

Creating an EP&L is daunting because it is difficult to measure and price the costs of environmental impact. An environmental cost can be a cost incurred or a cost avoided. They can be upfront (site studies), operational (scarcity premium, product redesign), back-end (decommissioning, remediation), regulatory (compliance-driven or penalties), and contingent (property damage).  The most common methods of assessing the value of environmental costs are replacement value, market value, and statistical modeling.  Uncertainty about the timing, likelihood, and magnitude of the environmental impact makes accurate evaluations tricky.

Environmental costs are expected to double every 14 years, which can eat into a company’s profitability. Smart businesses want an accurate picture of their environmental costs because it will enable them to make more informed business decisions and better manage those costs.  As a result, businesses are likely to:

  • make different investment decisions,
  • adjust product pricing, mix, and development,
  • enhance customer value (e.g. reduce waste), and
  • “future-proof” decisions by identifying longer term environmental risks.

Don’t Forget to Include Your Supply Chain

It may come as a surprise, but only 6% of Puma’s environmental costs in 2010 came from its own operations. A whopping 94% of the costs came from its supply chain. If Puma wants to reduce its environmental impact, it will have to focus on the activities of its supply chain. The challenge is that it has limited influence over its supply chain. To engage suppliers, Puma’s parent, the PPR Group, has joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and plans to join the Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Benefits of Having an EP&L

“An EP&L provides companies with a roadmap to better measure and manage the environmental consequences of its operations and supply chain.” according to Alan McGill of PwC. Puma says the benefits of such a roadmap are that they provide:

  • a strategic tool that pinpoints areas to develop (e.g. more cotton and rubber, reducing greenhouse gas emissions),
  • a risk-management tool to warn of emerging risks (e.g. diminishing availability of water for production), and
  • a transparency tool that includes environmental considerations and, thus, enables more informed business decisions (e.g. cost reduction, greater efficiencies).

By releasing the first public EP&L, Puma makes a bold statement that “business as usual” is not sustainable and that companies need to adjust how business is done.  NGOs, governments, and academics are also taking note.

One can only hope that other companies will follow Puma’s lead and that environmental accounting will become more comprehensive and commonplace over time.

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Valuing Ecosystem Services

Often environmental sustainability issues are so global and abstract, that it is difficult to know what it means for me or my small business. For example, I recently read an interesting blog on Greenbiz on about companies seeing the value of ecosystem services and preserving them to improve their bottom line.

How would I restate the critical importance of ecosystem services so that an ordinary person would understand? Here’s what I would say . . . .

Your Business Budget

Many of you are responsible for a budget, either because you own your business or work for a company. You probably have a good sense of your revenues, expenses, and break-even point. However, I bet you didn’t know that you and your business are getting many services for free. You probably also didn’t know that you will need to start paying for these services at some point in the future. What would higher costs do to your business’ profitability?

What Are Ecosystem Services?

Examples of Ecosystem Services
(click for larger image)

It is likely that you take nature’s ecosystem services for granted. Ecosystem services are services that nature provides us for free, such as water and air purification, soil formation, pollination, and flood control. (See chart for details.)

A Credit On Your Ledger

Globally, nature provides $33 trillion in ecosystem services annually. To put it into perspective – that is more than twice the US GDP in 2011. And nature does this each year for free!

So, what does this have to do with you? If we do very simple math and divide $33 trillion of ecosystem services by the 7 billion people on earth . . . that means each one of you receives about $4,700 from Mother Nature every year. You get to put that on the credit side of your accounting ledger.

A Debit On Your Ledger

Your business expenses could notably go up sometime over time. This is the result of two trends. First, the world’s growing population is straining nature’s available resources. Second, “business as usual” is depleting natural resources and damaging nature’s ability to provide ecosystem services. This means dwindling oil supplies, deforestation, collapsing ocean fisheries, and so forth.

If we put a price tag on the environmental damage due to business as usual, it is three times the amount of money lost in the 2008 financial crisis. And we lose $66 trillion in natural capital each year. The trouble is that many of these natural resources and ecosystem services have no man-made substitutes or, if there are, they are very expensive.

Let me give you two examples of what it would cost us to replace an ecosystem-service.

In a region of China, the farmers hand-pollinate their pears because local bees were wiped out by pesticides. If humans pollinated crops instead of bees in the US, it would cost $90 billion each year.

In New York City, we enjoy clean drinking water, thanks to the watersheds that filter and purify our drinking water for free. If humans purified the water, it would cost $6-9 billion to build water filtration plant and $110 million each year to operate the plant. In both these examples, I’m sure the extra costs would eventually be passed onto us, the consumers.

So what does this have to do with you? If “business as usual” continues to cripple nature’s ability to provide free ecosystem services, you and your business may end up paying more for water, energy, transportation, and food. It is difficult to tell you exactly when and how much extra you might pay. But rest-assured, anything scarce and in demand will command a premium price. It is a question of when, not if. Those additional costs will go on the debit side of your accounting ledger.

Time To Develop A Sustainability Strategy

For these reasons, it is time to develop a strategy to mitigate this risk and protect your business’ profitability. If you have your own business, you are probably the company’s main asset. In this case, your best strategy might be to “reduce, reuse, recycle”.

If you work for a larger company, find out if your company has a sustainability plan that outlines how it will use natural resources more efficiently and have less of an impact on the environment. If your company does not have such a plan, encourage them to develop one so that they are better prepared for the resource-scarce world that lies ahead.

Posted in change management, green, sustainability, sustainability strategy, Sustainable Business, sustainable design | Tagged , |

Time to Close the Fracking Loophole

This blog is also posted on Triple Pundit.

Latest Developments

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution. Although the findings are specific to Wyoming, it will likely influence other states that are determining whether and how to regulate fracking. In New York, for example, fracking is highly contentious because Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to lift the ban on fracking in the Marcellus Shale area. As reported in the Huffington Post, the public outcry in New York has been especially strong.

Hydraulic Fracturing Process

What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing is a process that pumps millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into a well deep underground to break apart the rocks so that the gas is released and flows more freely out of the well. Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing pose either a threat underground or on the surface from waste fluid spills.

To learn more about fracking, watch this PBS NewsHour video.

The Issues

* Economic Boon: Initially, fracking natural gas seemed like an ideal answer to the need for cleaner energy, lower fuel prices, new jobs, and a boost to local economies. According to the economic forecasting firm, IHS Global Insight, by 2015, shale-gas extraction will account for 870,000 U.S. jobs and $118 billion in economic impact.

* Environmental and Health Problems: These economic benefits, however, come at a price. The hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals used in fracturing fluids are not regulated because fracking was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 – the infamous “Halliburton Loophole.” Without adequate regulation, it is becoming increasing clear that current fracking practices create environmental problems (e.g., contaminated groundwater, pipeline leaks) and health risks (e.g., skin rashes, respiratory infections, tumors).

* Political Debate: Fracking has become a heated political issue, with people complaining to their politicians that fracking invades their private property rights and has undue impact on their communities (e.g., high truck traffic with heavy equipment). The public is pressuring for stronger regulations at the local, state, and national level. Energy companies are lobbying politicians, too, trying to stop or weaken regulations that would be costly to them. For example, the Gothamist reports that pro-fracking interests have spent $3.2 million lobbying Albany in 2010 alone and donated over $100,000 to Governor Cuomo himself.

What To Do

We need a better balance between protecting the nation’s environment and health from the hazards of fracking, and pursuing the economic benefits of fracking. There are a couple of approaches to consider:

1. Follow the “Precautionary Principal”
One obstacle to determining appropriate policy is insufficient scientific understanding of fracking’s impact on the environment and public health. Many argue that the lack of scientific knowledge is due to the “Halliburton Loophole” which exempts energy companies from disclosing fracking chemicals. Given the notable risks to public health and the environment, until there is greater scientific certainty that fracking is not harmful, all players should follow the “precautionary principle”. This means that the burden of proof is on energy companies to prove that fracking is safe.

2. Close the “Halliburton Loophole”
If fracking is as safe as energy companies claim, then complying with national standards for clean drinking water should not be an issue. In 2009, Congress introduced the Frac Act to remove the exemption of hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and to require the disclosure of chemicals used in the fracturing process. The Frac Act was reintroduced in 2011. Under heavy lobbying pressure from the energy industry, the Frac Act has not yet been passed. Even though the current Congress seems locked in a partisan stalemate, citizens should continue to pressure legislators to pass the Frac Act and close the Halliburton Loophole.

3. Look for EPA’s Research Results
The Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes the EPA to set national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against both naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants that may be found in drinking water. It also oversees states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards. Although fracking is not currently regulated by the EPA because it is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA is studying the impact of fracking on water quality and expects to release its findings in 2012, with a final report in 2014. The research should inform appropriate regulatory policies. As mentioned above, the EPA recently released a report stating fracking may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution in Wyoming.

4. Continue to Use the Courts
Common law, torts, and property laws protect people and communities from harm caused by the actions of others, i.e., harm caused by companies involved with fracking. Citizens and communities are turning to the courts to sue energy companies for damaged property, contaminated well water, lower property values, surface spills, etc. However, the court system has its limitations such as cases taking years to settle, limited jurisdiction, or inability to prevent negative behavior.

5. Weigh In on State Regulation
Given the lack of progress in the areas cited above, states have taken the lead in developing policies to regulate fracking. States have common law jurisdiction over local energy company activities and are best suited to deal with local geology and drilling issues. States have the authority to adopt stricter fracking regulations. For example, states could require:

  • fracking disaster prevention plans,
  • stricter permitting processes,
  • stiffer penalties for violations,
  • more frequent inspections, and
  • greater disclosure.

In terms of incentives, states could also provide tax credits to businesses that operate environmentally-sound fracking programs and pass inspections. Many people, however, question some states’ ability to manage fracking activities in light of too few resources for enforcement and susceptibility to lobbying by big business. Also, since state regulations vary greatly, gas drillers can simply move to less regulated states.

6. Pressure New York State
Governor Cuomo wants to lift the ban and fast-track fracking in the Marcellus Shale area. He believes fracking can be done in a way that protects public health and the environment. However, many argue that we have seen far too many examples of fracking-gone-wrong and the harm it does, including contaminating drinking water, destroying property values, transforming communities into industrial zones, etc. New York State is particularly vulnerable because fracking could threaten water supplies for millions of people by polluting New York City’s upstate reservoirs. If this happens, New York City would need to spend $6-8 billion to construct a filtration plant to treat the polluted water.

To learn more about Governor Cuomo’s efforts to allow fracking, read articles in The New York Times and the Gotham Gazette.

It is Time to Close the Fracking Loophole

If fracking is so safe, why does it need loopholes? It is time to close the Halliburton Loophole and have fracking practices comply with the national health-based standards designed to protect the American people against contaminated drinking water.

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Surprising Places to Harvest Water

Ned Breslin of Water for People is right. Millions of dollars are wasted every year on water projects around the world that break, are abandoned, or prove to be unsustainable.  In his blog, Breslin argues that the global water scarcity problem is most effectively solved using innovative solutions at a local level. ·

This got me curious . . . what have people around the world done over the centuries about their local water problems?  Here are some surprising methods different societies have used to sustainably harvest water on a small-scale, local level.

Dew Ponds capture unseen moisture from the hills in England.  The ponds were created to water livestock where no water source was readily available. Dew Ponds rarely run dry, even in the hottest summers or drought.  They were first built in the first century A.D. and over 500 are still in existence today. (click here to learn more)

Fog  Catcher When the fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean in Peru, large plastic sheets capture the moisture and provide hundreds of gallons of water each day.  The fog collectors are a major source of water for the local community who have no other convenient water sources. (click here for more information)  MIT is researching materials that could further improve fog technology. (click here for more information)


Qanats are engineering treasures located in the arid Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. As far back as 6,000 years ago, the Persians developed a type of underground irrigation canal to bring water from aquifers to their gardens and farms.  This made permanent habitation in the desert possible.  (click here for more information)

Seawater Greenhouse This is an economical method of producing fresh water in hot, dry regions near oceans. Instead of drilling wells, which can deplete groundwater, or desalinating sea water, which is energy intensive, a seawater greenhouse produces water for crops in arid areas using only seawater and sunlight. (click here for more information)

Fortunately, many communities are rediscovering the ancient wisdom of sustainably harvesting local water

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Nature as Inspiration for Business Innovation

Nature Inspired Design

What is Biomimicry? Simply put, it is emulating nature’s genius to solve human problems.

A leader in biomimicry is Janine Benyus. For years she has been inspiring innovators to learn from natural models to design sustainable products and processes.

In her blog, The Living Enterprise, Adiel Gavish talks about using biomimicry to Create a Living Enterprise by integrating Nature’s sustainable design principles into its systems, products and services. Drawing on Janine Benyus’ work, Adiel makes a number of important points:

Secret to Thriving: If people take a closer look at the way in which the natural world makes and does things, they will discover the secrets to not only surviving, but thriving on this planet.

Innovative Design: Businesses can learn from and apply nature’s infinite reservoir of design knowledge to improve their systems, products and services.

Improving Business: By unlocking the secrets to nature’s success, businesses can not only improve their systems, but watch them adapt, grow and evolve like a living ecosystem or organism.

Below are amazing examples of biomimicry in action. The article, “The15 Coolest Cases of Biomimicry” gives details on these innovations and what in nature inspired it.

  • Velcro based on burrs
  • Passive Cooling based on tower-building termites
  • Gecko Tape based on the hairs on gecko lizards’ feet
  • Wind Turbine based on humpback whales’ flippers
  • Bionic Car based on a tropical fish shape
  • Friction-Reducing Coating based on shark skin

Do you have other examples of nature-inspired designs?

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Cities Lead Sustainability Efforts

Let me comment on “Bloomberg Takes City Sustainability Program Global” that appeared in Transportation Nation.

Congress is unlikely to pass legislation addressing climate change any time soon.  There is little political will to do so and there hasn’t been since the 1970s, when Congress passed comprehensive environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, etc.

By contrast, as described in this article, many city mayors are undertaking actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  For example, they are encouraging more energy-efficient buildings, turning to “green” infrastructure to minimize storm runoff, etc. Ultimately, such initiatives saves the city and its citizens money and improves the quality of life.

I believe that any real action to address climate change is going to come from cities. For many people, global climate change is too vague. But people know all too well when extreme weather (which will occur more often due to climate change) causes floods that shut down their subways or causes heat-waves that trigger black-outs in their neighborhood. Furthermore, people and the local media can hold their city mayors and other politicians accountable. It would be politically foolish for local leaders not to listen to their constituents’ call for action.

As they say, “all politics is local”.

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