Archive for June, 2011

Drivers Beware of Europe

Posted on June 28, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Several European countries are in the process of making driving miserable. Though the joy of driving on the autobahn may stay the same, the feeling in your stomach when filling up at the pump may make you sick. Nations have levied a tax on gasoline to account for environmental and health problems associated with the greenhouse gases that are emitted from automobiles. Along with being expensive, large European cites are closing scores of streets to car traffic. Germany has instituted “environmental zones” in which only cars with low carbon emissions are allowed to enter. Cites have continued to welcome new development but have allowed extremely low amounts of parking. An extreme example is the European Environmental Agency, which has 150 spaces for bicycles, and one parking spot. One handicapped parking spot. The Europeans, who in recent history have always been more environmentally conscious than Americans, have upped the ante.

This may sound severe, but it makes sense. Many European countries realized that they could never achieve the standards set forth by the Kyoto protocols without curbing driving. Driving is polluting, and it sometimes may take more than just a monetary incentive to get people out of cars. However, they are not leaving would-be drivers on the curb, with miles to go to their desired location. Public transportation is much more efficient in Europe. Cities have started bike sharing programs (with varied success), and trams, buses and trains have become much more popular.

Carless households have increased 5 percent in the last decade, and statistics show that drivers use their cars less, reducing carbon emissions. It is hard to imagine an America with less cars, but it may not be such a bad place. Cities need to start getting serious about climate change, because even though not every city will be affected as much by consequences such as natural disaster, the urban heat islands created by global warming could make cities much less pleasant to live in. This, and of course pollution may make similar policies on car use in America desirable. Some statistics even show that America may have reached its peak car usage. Whatever the reason is, the Europeans are right on this one. The U.S.’s need to decrease it’s reliance on fossil fuels, and though this is continuation of a theme that has riddled political debates for decades, this is a surefire way of doing just that.

More on this subject:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/science/earth/27traffic.html?pagewanted=1&ref=earth

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/06/peak-car-use-already-here.php

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What we Don’t Pay for at the Pump

Posted on June 22, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

While we’ve already passed the longest day of the year, summer’s just getting started.  ‘Tis the season of road-trips, weekend jaunts to the shore, and enjoying the outdoors.  But most summer plans require some form of fossil fuel to get you there.  And as the average price for a gallon of gasoline tips over $4 , transportation costs are beginning to weigh more on Americans minds.   

 

However, a gallon of gasoline in the US is still far cheaper than in any industrialized country.  While many may think $4 is expensive, this price does not take hidden costs into account.

Hidden or external costs are costs that are not transmitted to the final retail price of a product and are incurred by a party who did not agree to the action causing the cost.

 

In the case of gasoline prices it’s the environment and human health that bear the burden of these external costs resulting from increased smog and air pollution and ecosystem damage from drilling and oil spills.  A recent study estimated that the cost of air pollution for the greater Los Angeles region adds up to more than $1,250 per person per year.  These are costs that are shouldered by individuals and not reflected in the price we all see at the pump.

 

Many European countries levy an “eco-tax” on gasoline sales in an attempt to account for external costs.  Proceeds from these taxes go towards supporting social programs and renewable energy development.  Arguments exist on both sides of the political spectrum with regard to adding additional costs to already painful prices at the pump –  but one thing is undeniable: the true cost of producing and consuming gasoline is much higher than what we’re paying.

 

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Green Neighborhood Challenge Celebration

Posted on June 21, 2011. Filed under: Events |

Clean Currents is proud of all of the efforts of our Green Neighborhood Challenge groups! This program fosters local group efforts to build more sustainable and environmentally friendly communities.

Through participation in this program, neighbors are encouraging one another to switch to wind power and to support a variety of grassroots greening initiatives. Donations from the program will support such projects as community gardens, conducting energy audits, REC purchases, solar panel installations, switching to LED lights, and more!

Over fifty groups participated in our challenge from October 2010 until April 2011. After making the final tallies, the winner of this challenge was Greenbelt, Maryland!

To celebrate the success of our latest Green Neighborhood Challenge (GNEC), Clean Currents employees and GNEC Leaders participated in a canoeing excursion! We had a great time playing in the water simply enjoying one another and the great outdoors.

Want to get your community involved? Learn more at www.cleancurrentsgreenneighborhoods.org or contact gogreen@cleancurrents.com.

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Mixed Feelings after AEP v. Connecticut Ruling

Posted on June 21, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Here at Clean Currents we stay on top of anything in the energy policy arena. When the news broke about the AEP v. Connecticut ruling our conversations about case came back to the same basic word – difficult. This is an extremely tough situation. The basic premise of the lawsuit was: should states be allowed to sue power companies for the damage their greenhouse gas emissions have done to their land and citizens in the form of global warming? The states sued on the same idea that allows you to sue your neighbor for contaminated water seepage on your property. The answer came back, unanimously, in favor of the power companies. Though we are not exactly at ease with brown power getting yet another break from government, we understand this one. It is essentially impossible to measure who the exact perpetrator of global warming is. Truthfully, though brown power has a huge role in the emission of greenhouse gasses, but so do thousands of other industries, not to mention cars. This becomes even more complicated when one factors in all the other countries in the world that are also responsible for the phenomenon.

However, the case was not all bad. There was a lot of discussion about the  ramifications of carbon emissions and though the energy companies technically won the lawsuit, another winner also emerged, the EPA. States not being able to regulate carbon emissions means that the EPA has more power to step in to do the job. The agency has already proposed limits on green house gases (GHG) starting this year. However, at the moment, these limits are only in place for newer, modified power plants, not the older dirtier plants which were originally targeted by the lawsuit. Still, this is a step in the right direction.

There is a serious problem with the EPA being the sole regulator of GHG’s. The EPA is a government agency and its management is appointed. This mean that a new political administration could drastically reduce the effectiveness of the EPA’s regulating power. However, at least for the moment this can also be seen as a good thing since it clearly defines who is in charge of dealing with GHG issues. The ideas behind the case are very provoking though, since there are serious questions that will soon have to be addressed about GHG emissions and whether contributing enormously or at all to global warming is legally a crime.

This argument is something we at clean currents take seriously every day as we try help the our constituents leave as little of a carbon footprint as possible through providing clean, renewable wind power. However we understand this is not enough, so we strive to cut down carbon emissions in our company and with our customers by encouraging things such as carpooling, and energy efficient light bulbs. We understand that though choosing a clean energy provider can make a large difference in the world, it is going to take more than that to win the battle against climate change.

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The Rise of the Benefit Corporation

Posted on June 13, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The corporate nature in the United States can be called a lot of things. Cut-throat and dog-eat dog are some words that come to my mind. What happened to the for-profit companies that used to care for its employees and community? What happened to the mission statements for organizations that wanted to change the world for the better? I found my answer in two words; profit maximization. The increased competition from the increased number of players in the for-profit world as a result of globalization has spurred an era of lean manufacturing. A normal C-class corporation can be sued by shareholders for not pursuing methods of profit maximization. Many companies have to cut costs as much as possible to maintain their competitive edge.

In doing this many have lost track of values that once were embodied by every individual in an organization, and now appear only as feeble attempts for companies to boost their PR. Doing the right thing is no longer the right thing to do to make a profit, and it shows. It can be seen in companies such as Enron, Lehman Brothers, Exxon Mobile, BP, Blackwater, AIG to name a  few. Corporations have taken to reckless behavior in search of short term, quarter to quarter profits.

America needs planners. Corporations that understand that it is not about the short term. Profits can come at a constant rate and the glory (and power) of making the S&P 500 does not have to be the backbone of the organization. Organizations that realize that there is more than money in this world, and the true nature of a business should emerge from one simple concept; making the world a better place. Essentially, companies that care.

This need has spurred the rise of the Benefit-Corporation (B-Corp). This type of corporation has been written into law in several states (Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont and Virginia) and other states are quickly following suit. This type of corporation focuses on being socially responsible along with pursuing methods of profit maximization. They must pass a series of conditions that to achieve B-Corp status, mostly having to do with community outreach and employee treatment. The most important difference between B-Corps and C-Corps is that shareholders cannot sue a B-Corp for not conducting business in a manner that maximizes shareholder equity because it is understood that is not the sole purpose of these corporation.

B-Corps are becoming increasingly popular because they are taking root right here in the United States. They are providing community outreach that is more than just a PR effort, it is the way the business is run. Most of these businesses are small, progressive, and local which provides a stark comparison to companies that normally come to mind (such as Wal-mart and Exxon Mobile) who are large, profit seeking, and extremely content with the status quo.

The truth is that B-corps are the way of the future. A study from Princeton University shows that the the “link between income and happiness is mainly an illusion.”  After a certain income level, the quality of life indicators show that happiness comes from other factors. Having a plethora of socially responsible companies will increase the quality of life for Americans across income levels. This is is how we can help make a more cohesive, better society.

Clean Currents is honored to be the first registered B-Corporation in Maryland. Helping the communities in Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia through community outreach as well as supplying clean wind power are our priorities. Clean Currents is on what is hopefully the start of a wave of B-corps that will change the business landscape back to what it should be, focused on the consumer in a holistic sense, not just in a monetary sense.

( read more at http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S15/15/09S18/index.xml?section=topstories
and http://www.thenation.com/article/161261/rise-benefit-corporations)

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Green Consumers Need to Do their Homework

Posted on June 9, 2011. Filed under: Gary's Blog | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

We’ve won the initial battle of the market revolution to bring “green” to the mainstream consumer. But the campaign to dramatically change corporate culture and the American business paradigm has just begun. Far from resting on their laurels, green consumers need to do additional work now to ensure the initial gains are not lost in a flood of green washing. 

Green products are everywhere you look. It’s hard to find a major corporation that does not either sell a green product or at least have a sustainability statement. Organic products are sold at corporate super markets, green power is sold by the biggest utilities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even Exxon-Mobil rolled out a green product. As a green consumer, you now have a myriad of choices at prices that are competitive with non-green products. But before you go to McDonald’s to buy that organic hamburger, think about the real reason you are shopping for green products.

There are generally a few prime motivators in green purchasing. Primarily, these motivators range around the desire of the consumer to reduce his/her direct environmental impact. It is the primary motivation for the widest range of green consumers. If this is your primary motivating factor, the company you buy the product from matters less than the product itself. However, as green consumer sophistication increases, the company who makes or delivers the product plays a larger role in the decision process.

The sophisticated green consumer understands that voluntary purchases on their own will not make enough of a difference to solve the environmental problems we face, especially climate change. Buying a green product from Exxon, for example, may help to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but it could actually be argued that it harms the overall effort to reduce carbon.

When you give your business to non-green companies for a green product, they take the earnings and they invest it into all the activities they do, including lobbying to kill any progressive environmental or consumer protection bill at the state or national level. This is important because we know that in order to solve climate change and other major environmental issues, we need to change the laws of our states and our nation, and to have a strong international agreement. Individual actions alone, while extremely important, cannot solve the problem.

Green consumers who bought green energy from Clean Currents know that their dollars went to reduce their personal carbon footprint, and that the impact of their dollars was magnified by our company’s actions on behalf of the planet. These actions include being the only energy company in Maryland to advocate for Governor O’Malley’s offshore wind bill, and for a consumer protection bill. They include reducing our company’s environmental impact through our sustainability policies. And the actions include the example we are setting for a new business paradigm, the Benefit Company. Clean Currents is the only energy company in the area that is certified by B-Corp for our sustainable operations, and that has our commitment to sustainability and the “public good” actually baked into our legal corporate DNA. Finally, green consumers know that any investment we make in the company with their money is for more green products. We are exclusively green. It’s all we do.

Unfortunately, if consumers purchased from some of the other companies that sell green energy in our region, they perhaps inadvertently gave their money to kill offshore wind, to kill more aggressive solar standards, to kill consumer protection, and to operate a business in the old paradigm. Some of their money may have gone to support development of more polluting sources of energy.

Thus, it’s more important than ever for green consumers to do their homework. Reducing your personal carbon footprint is important, and I am a strong advocate for that. It shows leadership in your community, it makes a difference, and it’s the right thing to do. But now we need to take it to the next level. Before buying from a company, see what their stance is on legislation vital to the environment. See if they mainly sell polluting energy and only do a little green. See if they have an independent third party verification of their sustainability practices. And please do not simply take the company’s word for it! “We’re sustainable, trust us!” is not good enough. Trust but verify, as a former President once said. Take the extra few minutes required to get a good idea of what the company actually does, not what it says.  We can discredit green washing if consumers learn to make well-informed choices.

 

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A Pig with Lipstick

Posted on June 8, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , , , |

We’ve all seen or heard ridiculous propaganda advertisements  by companies or organizations eager to tout their feel-good green attributes.  Often these attempts have proven pure marketing magic with little actual environmental weight behind them.

But what to make of companies that have made real commitments to sustainability and improving the environment, while simultaneously taking contradictory stances on climate change?

 

Big fund manager Calvert Investment Management (among other large investors) decided to tackle this such issue by sending a letter to 43 companies on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) asking them to explain how they reconcile their own greenhouse gas-reduction efforts with NAM’s efforts of stripping the EPA of its powers to regulate greenhouse gases.

 

The letter singles out companies such as Intel, Heinz, Pfizer, Verizon, CSX Corporation, Abbot Laboratories, and Dow Chemical for having industry leading sustainability efforts while also supporting NAM’s efforts to repeal authority of the EPA to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act.

 

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases (namely CO2) in 2010, but efforts by private interests and (mainly) republican officials have been underway since then to limit its authority.  NAM’s claims that EPA regulation of GHGs would impose unreasonable costs on American manufacturing  have been refuted by leading groups that have countered that imposed costs are exaggerated and pale in comparison to future costs of consequences of climate change.

 

The fact that companies are playing both sides – pursuing sustainability goals while also funding efforts to stymie environmental legislation in Congress is only adding to the partisan stall our country finds itself in today.

 

This is why it’s imperative to know the full-story of how a company operates and what it invests its resources (time, money, lobbying effort) towards – in order to be a conscious and informed citizen and consumer.

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New Clean Currents White Paper: Update on Shale Gas Drilling & Hydraulic Fracturing

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: News, White Papers | Tags: , , , , , , |

Recent discoveries of vast natural gas resources in the Marcellus Shale region (spanning PA, NY, MD and DE) and in other parts of the country are driving down natural gas prices and sparking a modern “gold rush” of companies seeking to cash in on new drilling opportunities. This abundance is leading many energy industry experts and politicians to tout the promise of natural gas as a major piece in meeting US energy needs and reducing dependence on foreign resources. Because natural gas typically has a lower carbon emissions profile than coal,  progressives (including President Obama and the Natural Resources Defense Council)  have joined more conventional allies of natural gas, calling it a ”bridge fuel” between coal-fired generation and renewable options. However, recent studies have found that shale gas may not be as an environmentally or climate friendly and a shift to this fuel source may actually lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Read the rest here!

Shale Drilling in PA

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China’s Water Crisis

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , |

Chinese worker cleaning polluted river

Chinese history is filled with environmental disasters. This stems from a myriad of sources, one being that the country maximized its usage of arable land as early as 1800. Environmental problems have been such a major issue in China that one of the key indicators of the fall of a dynasty was the inability of the emperor and his dynasty to prevent famine. Once famine became rampant, an emperor was said to be losing the “mandate of heaven,” social unrest would ensue, and a revolution would most likely oust the existing from power. The leader of the revolution would assume the roll of the Emperor and obtain the “mandate of heaven” by making sure his people did not starve. To this day, uprisings have been the key method of regime change in China. For example, after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was completely  reshuffled. For this reason, there is nothing that those in power in the CCP fear more than social unrest.

Linfen, China

Astonishing economic growth has helped China become a leading player on the global level, but there has been dire consequences. Rampant pollution as a result of immense foreign direct investment has caused serious environmental problems. The most pressing environmental issue for the CCP at the moment is the Yellow River. The Yellow River is called the birthplace of Chinese Civilization, but it has become so polluted because of poor regulation of industrial standards that the water is no longer safe for drinking. The river also happens to be the main source of water for most of northern China. The Chinese Government, however,has come up with a solution. It plans to redirect one third of the water from China’s largest river, the Yangtze river, 800 miles to connect with the Yellow river to essentially save the 440 million people living in northern China from dying of thirst.

From Nytimes.com

The plan is elaborate, lucrative, and insanely expensive. However, the $62 billion dollar price tag (twice that of the Three Gorges Dam) does not come with a guarantee. The 800 mile canal that would have to be built would run through several industrial zones and some Beijing officials have voiced skepticism as to whether the water redirected from the Yangtze would be safe for drinking when it reached northern China anyway.

Along with these problems, several hundreds of thousands of people have begun to be displaced by the Government to build the canal. This has caused several protest and uprisings since the compensation received for the requisition of land by the CCP has been, more often than not, inadequate. However, the Chinese government hopes that these protests will be less severe than the millions that would most likely rise against the government if northern China does not find a rapid solution to its water crisis.

There are several things to be taken away from this situation. Most importantly, almost everything in life is based on incentives. Local officials have a motive to bring in foreign companies and allow them to pollute, even though there are strict standards set by the central government. This happens for several reasons; 1) local officials are not paid directly by the central government, 2) local officials are rarely ousted from power, and 3) up to 70% of a local officials income can comes from selling foreign companies land. To attract more foreign companies, a official will provide more slack in terms of pollution so the companies can cut more costs. China will have to change this incentive structure if they ever want to combat pollution that continues to be unregulated.

This system has allowed for incredible amounts of foreign direct investment and bolstered China to become an economic power that may soon rival the U.S., but the Chinese governments shortsightedness in terms of the environmental impact of its economic policies may very well be the CCP’s downfall. The short term economic value of something may, in the long term, be much more expensive as a social cost. As the Chinese government is finding out very quickly, social costs do add up, and they can become very expensive. Unfortunately the impact of some policies are measured not only in dollars or RMB, but also in lives.

Doing the right thing and paying more for something that adds social value can be much less expensive in the long term. Clean wind power is and example of a product that does not harm the environment through practices such as mountain top removal. To not end up like the Chinese in terms of pollution, we have to remember that the incentive to purchase a product or run a business a certain way has to have more than monetary value, it also has to take into account the social good.

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It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here!

Posted on June 1, 2011. Filed under: News | Tags: , , |

I would not suggest that you touch the surface of an asphalt parking lot this week.  As summer temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic soar, effects stemming from the phenomenon called the urban heat-island exacerbate and become much more pronounced.

The average high air temperature in Washington, DC during the month of June is roughly 85 degrees.  But surface temps of black asphalt (parking lots, driveways, and roads), which absorb energy from the sun, can exceed 40 degrees over the high air temperature.  This means that on an especially swampy day, you could literally fry an egg on the asphalt (although a solar cooker would aid that process immensely)!

Leading climate scientists have come out with studies showing that large American cities could be in serious danger if climate change and increased urbanization continue unabated.  Cities like Chicago have begun to enact long-term climate change adaptation into their city plans as city leaders realize that smaller changes now can save huge amounts of effort and money in the future.  Changes such as increasing tree cover and green roofs, using lighter/more reflective surfaces for asphalt, and replacing non-porous concrete and road surface with permeable pavement could all help to alleviate worsening urban heat-island effects.

Phoenix, known for its blistering summer temps, recently approved the installation of a “cool-surface” parking lot to help battle its own urban heat-island effects.  Emerald Cities Cool Pavement, the company installing the lot in Phoenix is utilizing high performance solar reflective coating to achieve its goals of decreasing surface lot temperatures, reducing smog, and sealing/preserving asphalt cover to prolong lot life.

Seemingly simple innovations such as cool-surface parking lots can go a long way in helping our urban areas confront and adapt to climate change.

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