Green Business: The Battle for LEED

There’s a fight brewing in Washington, D.C. over the new standards for LEED, the leading green building certification standards, run by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The new proposed LEED Version 4 standard will give credits for building teams that don’t use certain plastics and chemicals, such as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, that are linked to health and environmental negative impacts.

Some members of the plastics and chemicals industry are not happy with these proposed changes.

So unhappy that they’ve set up their own council to counter LEED, called the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition.

Background on what’s at stake for capturing U.S. Government building dollars, via Greenbiz.com:

Will the Plastics Industry Kill LEED?

LEED is the most-used green building standards globally, as well as in the United States, where more than 400 cities and communities, 39 states and 14 federal agencies currently require builders to meet LEED standards. LEED is voluntary, but it has been adopted by the GSA and other government agencies as the required building standard for new construction. Government agencies have been critical to LEED’s success: roughly a third of LEED projects are government-owned.

In response, the USGBC staked its ground with the red, white and blue: LEED Is Private, Voluntary, Transparent and Democratic,

More coverage via treehugger.com:

July 18–Plastic People Set Up “American High-Performance Buildings Coalition” To Fight Restrictions on Plastics in Green Building

July 18–Update on The American High-Performance Buildings Coalition: Their Website is Live, and Here Are Their Members

July 19–What Are The Plastic People So Afraid Of That They Want To Kill LEED?

This promises to be a very interesting discussion.

Green Science: U.S. #1 for Co2 Cuts, But Mum’s the Word

David Roberts has some great news.

Via Grist.org:

We [the U.S.] have cut our carbon emissions more than any other country in the world in recent years — 7.7 percent since 2006. U.S. emissions fell 1.9 percent last year and are projected to fall 1.9 percent again this year, which will put us back at 1996 levels. It will not be easy to achieve the reductions Obama promised in Copenhagen — 17 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2020 — but that goal no longer looks out of reach, even in the absence of comprehensive legislation.

And a ponder. If we are doing so well, why aren’t we talking about it?

The answer, according to Roberts, lies in the political landscape that will shape conversations now until November.

President Obama has some wins to claim, but not all of them lead to good places.

Say, for instance, that electricity use has fallen.That’s all well and good, except for that this dip was caused by the Great Recession whalloping production and consumption.

See the tarnished lining inside this silver news?

This good news-bad news is nothing new to anyone who has spend time in a public affairs, investor relations or marketing communications position. Don’t say things that lead to questions you don’t want to answer.

As a Sustainability writer and practitioner, I’m fascinated by what I can learn from these real-world conversations. I’m interested in talking more persuasively, honestly and accurately about how climate change and environmental issues impact our businesses and communities.

Read the full article.

Green Politics: U.S. Navy Steams Ahead on Biofuels

Why on God’s green earth would you want to block the U.S. Navy’s progress towards clean, secure, renewable energy?

Not to mention saving American taxpayers’ money?

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

Navy Proceeds With Biofuels Plans, Despite Attempts to Block It In Congress

The U.S. Navy is moving ahead with its goals of slashing its energy consumption and powering its fleets with biofuels, even though Republicans are trying to block their efforts.

That caused an uproar in the House, bringing the Department of Defense’s newfound commitment to renewable energy to a head. The House and the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to block the Navy from buying biofuels if it costs more than petroleum in the 2013 Defense Department spending bill.

From my perspective, while I don’t agree with all the actions taken by the U.S. military, I believe that the very-smart-people in our military do know how to innovate and implement.

Like say, the Internet.

This Reuters.com story provides a little more back story on opposition to the plan:

Navy moves ahead on biofuels despite congressional ire

Near as I can tell, does Congressional opposition boil down to the idea that, by advancing biofuel technology, the U.S. Government is stealing R&D opportunity from the public sector?

Or diverts money from oil-aligned interests?

Either way, I’m proud of the U.S. military’s commitment to moving ahead with clean, renewable energy innovation.

Green Government: Make Pollution Expensive

If you can’t beat ’em, well, beat them.

With a green stick.

British Columbia has gone farther than any other government entity to make polluting the environment unpleasantly expensive.

Via NYTimes.com: 

The Most Sensible Tax of All

British Columbia’s carbon tax – a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province – increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.

This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.

Could it work in the United States?

It’s an idea worth considering.

Green Shift: Gro Harlem Brundtland on Seeing Things As They Are

There are none so blind as will not see.

A colleague in the Sustainability arena shared Gro Harlem Brundtland’s June 18 op-ed piece called “Earth Agonistes.”

Twenty-five years ago, she chaired the 1987 ground-breaking UN Brundtland Commission that created the Our Common Future report and brought Sustainable Development into global conversation.

Today, the op-ed’s title jumped out with its call-back to “Samson Agonistes,” John Milton’s later-life tragic play about the Greek hero who lost his way, his hair, his sight, and ultimately his life.

The word Agonistes means “One Who Struggles” or “Under Struggle.” But for modern readers who may not be familiar with the play, the word Agony serves the purpose.

Earth, in agony.

Unless we change now and start seeing things as they are.

We must choose to see the scientific truths of human-caused climate change and act decisively.

Via nytimes.com:

Earth Agonistes

Our central concern is that governments are currently refusing to make the transformative changes needed to resolve the global sustainability crisis.

The scientific evidence is clear that the environmental dangers are rising quickly. Based on current trends, we are likely to move toward a world warmer by 3 degrees, and we may well cross tipping points with potentially catastrophic consequences.

We are the first generation with scientific understanding of the new global risks facing humanity. We must respond decisively, equipped with the best available evidence as a basis for decisions.

Green Government: Wrapping Up Rio+20

Rio+20 ended today.

Read The Guardian’s coverage on how and why the conference was such a disappointment to so many.

The final The Future We Want outcomes document shows few solid, significant commitments.

And that despite months of review and negotiations at pre-conference events.

For months, the outcomes document negotiations were plagued by parenthetical “nopes” and “can’ts”  and “won’ts.”

So it really wasn’t that much of a surprise.

(To see how partisan and political interests worked in action, read this Treehugger post on how women’s reproductive rights were essentially scrubbed from the document.)

An on-the-ground wrap-up:

Via treehugger.com:

Rio+20 Ending: Saying Goodbye to All That

Thinking about going to Riocentro, I checked my e-mail when a Wi-fi signal miraculously appeared and saw a press conference call: “‘Inclusive’ Green Economy Given a Go Ahead by Heads of State at Rio+20,” “New Indicator of Wealth Beyond GDP.” Those were good headlines. But then the words: “if embraced over the coming months and years,” “nations agreed that such a transition could be ‘an important tool’ when supported by policies,” “nations wishing to forge ahead.” The inverted commas on Inclusive and An important tool are not mine.

It stopped being funny to criticize this. To think about the amount of money spent in business class flights and five star hotel rooms and silver lining at dinners and venues rental and flyers to make this happen is simply depressing, and is a waste that exactly contradicts everything this conference should stand for.

And another wrap-up post, with some excellent links to other summations. Well worth clicking through beyond the amusingly sarcastic first paragraph:.

Via sustainablebusinessforum.com:

Rio+20: The Future We Want

Rio+20 is done and dusted. And the wrap-up? If the future we want is anything like the 49 page document of the same name compiled by Summit leaders, it’s full of fluffy bunnies, rainbows and birthday parties. In other words, a whole lot of ephemeral motherhood statements and not much substance.

Tchau, Rio.

Green Politics: Rio+20 Rolls Back to 2000

Sometimes you have to go back to go forward.

With few solid promises expected from the Rio+20 main stage, let’s look instead at a Side Event report that picks up the energy from the 2000 Millennium Summit.

Remember 2000? The world’s leaders came together at the “dawn of a new millennium” and vowed to end poverty by 2015.

Here’s the inspiring original United Nations Millennium Declaration.

And how the environment fared:

Respect for nature. Prudence must be shown in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the precepts of sustainable development. Only in this way can the immeasurable riches provided to us by nature be preserved and passed on to our descendants. The current unsustainable patterns of production and consumption must be changed in the interest of our future welfare and that of our descendants.

Elsewhere: to “intensify,” “strive,” and “spare no effort.” I like that.

(To properly frame this positive momentum, the September Millennium summit was held two months before the U.S. Presidential election, and three months before the U.S. Supreme Court handed the election to G.W. Bush. It was probably the worst-year ever for Vice President Al Gore and a huge thud of dismay for millions. “An Inconvenient Truth” was still six years away.)

Now, where was I? Right. 2012 edition.

Via GreenLaw, with thanks:

Global Environment Outlook: Environment for the future we want

The United Nations Environment Programme recently released its fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), a report on world progress towards the environmental aspects of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For those who lack the time to absorb all 525 pages of the report, UNEP provided a shorter trending report, Measuring Progress, which uses approachable charts and succinct text to show the state of global environmental goals (GEGs). The report was featured at a Rio+20 side event last week, and UNEP created a briefing document for policymakers.

The new Global Environmental Outlook offers scant really good news, scarcer great news. But it does show progress towards the environment–and future–we want.

As GreenLaw author and Pace University dean Lin Harmon recommends, it’s a worthwhile read.

Green Government: Rio+20 Opens to Glass Half-Empty Expectations

So most people writing today think that Rio+20 will be long on talk, short on solutions.

Sigh. I still wish I were there.

Here’s the most final-final version of the Rio+20  negotiated text document for conference outcomes.

As one who has often endured the seven hells of the corporate iterative editing process, this could not have been any fun.

Via Grist.org and author Matt McDermott:

Rio+20 Final Draft Text Recognizes Our Problem, Proposes Scant Few Concrete Solutions

After going through all 283 points of the document my initial impression is that the whole thing correctly “recognizes” the problems—or “acknowledges,” or “notes” them—but does precious little to actually lay down concrete actions to solve them, or even, really, attempt to meaningfully change the underlying economic, social, and environmental thinking that has gotten us to this point.

Still, pathological optimist that I am, I’m positive good will come of it. Perhaps from here?

That didn’t take long. Here you go.

Green Business: NJ Leads Nation in Solar Installs

So what are we to make of this?

Amid feverish Trenton negotiations that the solar sky is falling, NJ’s first-quarter 2012 solar installation numbers look great.

As in leading-the-nation great.

Via the 1Q2012  Solar Energy Industries Association website and Report: (click for bigger)

1Q2012 U.S. Solar Installs

 

As usual, Tom Johnson does a stellar job of framing the issues and laying out competing stakeholder viewpoints.

Via NJSpotlight.com:

Solar In NJ Not So Dim After All, As Installations Boom
More than 18,000 solar systems came on line in the first three months of the year, the report said, or a total of 506 megawatts in the U.S. It marked the second highest quarter ever in the U.S., according to the study.

New Jersey installed a total of 174 megawatts of solar systems in the first quarter of 2012, or nearly one-third of the total arrays put in across the country, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight, a publication put out by the Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry trade group.

All right then, so how does this party square with plummeting SREC prices?

Two things.

One, the 1Q2012 installs represent the fulfillment of 2011 orders and long-term contracts.

And two:

Costs to install solar continue to drop, falling by an overall average of 17.2 percent nationwide, although solar executives said the decline in New Jersey is more in the range of 30 percent because of the intense competition here.

Demand is driving innovation, which should be music to the ears of legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Green Business: ISE Breakfast Seminar Brings Rio+20 to NJ

Not attending this week’s Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development conference?

Me either.

So I was especially glad to attend the June 15 Institute for Sustainable Enterprise breakfast seminar at Fairleigh Dickinson University for an informative, engaging conversation with three speakers about what’s happening in Rio and the likely outcomes from it.

The Rio+20 conference brings together participants from government, business and civil society worldwide. The goal is to create “The Future we Want” through building green economies and eliminating world poverty.

Host and ISE Senior Advisor Jeana Wirtenberg welcomed the full  room of attendees by saying that “we have an historic opportunity to get it right” and asking the room to commit to Sustainable action in our personal and work lives.

First up was Ira Feldman, president of Greentrack Strategies. He gave an overview of  what Rio+20 is all about and what key stakeholders bring to the table.

He cited three key reasons UN-watchers and the Sustainable Business community have generally low expectations for this year’s event, compared to the inaugural Sustainable Development conference 20 years ago in Rio and the follow-up meeting he attended 10 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa. These reasons are: the world’s gloomy economic state, the slow and noncommittal progress pre-conference on the policy-oriented Negotiated Outcome Document, and a sense from business and industry participants of weak governmental leadership.

Ira aptly described the challenge of concurrent policy negotiations, 560 side events (which he likened to a World’s Fair), and protests, all packed into three days, as a three-ring circus. The challenge, he said, “Is how do you think about all the Sustainability issues, what is the mental map, with everything in play?”

As a partial answer to this question, Ira explained how Sustainability has evolved in the past 20 years from philanthropic action to a core business strategy, and is now poised to transform into “Sustainability to Scale.” (Ira referenced the World Business Council for Sustainable Development‘s work on this idea.)

Realistically, Ira said, conference outcomes will include negotiated and specific language on GDP alternatives that will be used to guide future discussions.

Next up to speak was Amanda Nesheiwat, who will attend the Rio+20 conference as a UN Youth Delegate representing young people. (Her other hats include being a student representative for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development and a founder of the NJ Sustainable Collegiate Partners.) During pre-conference negotiations at the UN, she said one of her frustrations was repeatedly hearing the words”We cannot commit to…” from delegates.

In Rio, she said she will bring the youth’s perspective that world leaders must move beyond short-term thinking and lack of creativity, commit to “more action, less talking,” and move on Climate Change. I have no doubt she will be a powerful, insistent voice for change in Rio and continue this work when she returns home.

(As a side note, I found it refreshing that Amanda mentioned the need for creating and living with “sustainable consumption.” I personally believe that Sustainability means using less as well as using the world’s resources more efficiently.)

ISE Research Fellow Bill Russell capped the presentations with his thoughts on engaging citizens to meaningful action. He talked about attending the March 2012 Citizens’ Summit to Address Sustainability held at Yale University and his dismay at seeing Old Guard Thinking on stage instead of new participants with new ideas. Bill echoed the low expectations for Rio+20, offering his viewpoint that dominant government players are not working interdependently with business, NGO and citizen stakeholders. His call-to-action for himself and breakfast seminar attendees was to commit to staying engaged.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations, ISE Fellow Matt Polsky touched on Sustainable Business in New Jersey with a reminder about the 2010 policy brief prepared by ISE for the Christie Administration called Developing and Implementing a Sustainable Growth Strategy for New Jersey.

The event ended on a positive note with audience contributions about restoring  equity to the Sustainability conversation; the emergence of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) and sustainable accounting; the work of ecological economist Herman Daly; and innovation as a new mindset.

I was extremely sorry to miss the post-seminar roundtable discussion. Thanks to the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise for hosting this year’s breakfast seminars and I look forward to the series’ return in the fall.