Archive for ‘Legislation’

November 8, 2011

Good News, Bad News

Scott Lewis is founder and CEO of Brightworks

Well, the bad news is that 2010 had the highest annual net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide ever, a 6 percent increase, with China and the US leading the pack.

2010 CO2


This coincides with the human population passing 7 billion people for the first time.  Not a coincidence, perhaps.

World Population Reaches 7 Billion

7 billion and going strong. Source:

The good news is that the world is just brimming with opportunity for rapid transformation to a renewable energy economy, if only we could get those dang policy makers – the ones who make the rules about what kinds of energy get most heavily subsidized, incentivized and regulated or not regulated – to make decisions in the public interest rather than the interest of their funders.

Seriously, the good news is that when enough people clamor loudly enough for real change, the technology and resource capacity is not the barrier: Scientific American published a plan to power the whole world with 100 percent renewable energy back in 2009.  Here’s to the possibility of a future with lasting prosperity for all, just waiting to emerge.

September 15, 2011

Politics, SuperPACs and the Planet

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOBy Scott Lewis,Brightworks CEO

As another political campaign season heats up, we reflect on the role of politics, elections and policy on the prospects for a sustainable, equitable future.

Those of us who would aspire to influence the future – to help foster the emergence of a world that provides for the well-being of all people and our fellow inhabitants of the earth – must constantly take a hard, honest look at the context in which we work.

And no single contextual element carries as much leverage as the political – the world of laws, administrative rules and regulations, and the people who enact and enforce them on a daily basis. Local, regional and national government — and the rules made or not made, enforced or not enforced, by the people who go to work daily in those public offices and agencies — determine how much arsenic comes out of power plant smokestacks, which species will survive or go extinct, or how much of our energy mix will come from climate-changing fossil fuel or renewable solar and wind power.

We must scrutinize and reform the political mechanisms that determine who holds office and what powers they have, if we intend to shape the trajectory of our future and that of our descendants.

Laws Matter

Whether you get involved or sit on the sidelines, our laws have a HUGE impact on outcomes: ecological, economic, and social justice. Make your voice heard.

Pay Attention to the Extreme

In a political system as large and complex as ours, there are good guys, bad guys, and like most of us, people who can be counted on most of the time but make occasional missteps. The problem for the planet, I would contend, lies mostly at the extreme end of the spectrum, where the corrupting influence of money on power reigns. The forces at work there are so large, the decisions so far reaching and the impacts of those decisions so profound, they overwhelm the expanse of otherwise honest, everyday policymaking.

For example, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, mulitnational oil and gas companies are set to enjoy $53 billion in royalty-free drilling over the next 25 years and $36.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies over the next decade. Whether this fact correlates with the industry’s $282 million of political spending since 1990, including $17 million of political contributions to congressional campaigns in the 2010 election cycle alone, one can only speculate. In that one election cycle alone, over 20 congressional candidates received at least $100,000 from people and political action committees associated with the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It seems safe to assume a causal linkage more probable than the possibility that those companies give away millions of dollars purely out of their charitable good will.

One Congressional friend of big oil and gas, for example, is Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. His claims that global warming is, after the separation of church and state, “the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people,” would perhaps be more convincing if the senator had not received over $600,000 from the oil and gas industry and electric utilities in the past five years.

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September 13, 2011

Manufacturer Value Chains: Turning Sustainability Risks into Opportunities

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Sustainable Systems GroupBy Dave Newman

Senior Strategist, Brightworks Sustainable Systems Group

Businesses with global value chains can find any of their three core responsibilities – meeting consumer demands and legal requirements while also making profitable products – suddenly disrupted by sustainability-related trends and impacts.

Sustainability related trends and impacts

Companies often have difficulty understanding how these issues may affect their value chain of suppliers, operations, customers and consumers. And if the issues are understood, how will they influence corporate strategy and deployment of resources?

We at Brightworks use a systems thinking approach that looks beyond the problem at hand to include all the related possibilities. Systems thinking enables companies to design and implement strategies that reduce market uncertainties.

How Unsustainable Practices Create Risk

The risks and uncertainties inherent in emerging sustainability trends and impacts can be illustrated by several examples:

  1. Energy costs: A primary economic threat for most companies, and especially in extended value chains, is the unpredictable, volatile cost of energy, mostly tied to the cost of oil. Oil is the material basis of many products and provides the primary feedstock to transport goods from manufacturers to markets across the globe. So, what happens when the price of oil rises from $90 a barrel to $125…$150…$200? These price fluctuations put profitability at a high risk.
  2. Consumer expectation: Consumers and customers vote with their dollars every day when they purchase goods and services. Growing numbers of global consumers do care about their environment and want to purchase products from companies they believe are good corporate citizens.
  3. Pressure from business: Businesses are also dictating the demand for sustainable practices among their suppliers. Walmart, for instance, introduced a Sustainability Index in October 2009 to their largest suppliers. Their goals were to help create a more transparent supply chain, accelerate the adoption of best practices, drive product innovation and ultimately provide their customers with information they need to assess a product’s sustainability. If a supplier receives a failing score, it may at some point be dropped as a Walmart vendor. Other well-known companies, including Proctor & Gamble and Staples, have introduced sustainability scorecards, ratings and performance targets for their suppliers. Expect more businesses to introduce environmental programs targeted to their suppliers. Those suppliers ignorant or dismissive of this trend stand to lose business.
  4. Legal risks: In 2009, the State Council of China announced that China will commit to reduce its carbon intensity (defined as a reduction in CO2 per unit of gross domestic product) by 2020. It is highly likely that the carbon intensity goal will bring with it a similarly serious commitment and effort on the part of the Chinese government. For many businesses, the Chinese commitment provides certainty. That’s not the case in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency formally declared that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels poses a threat to human health in 2009. However, this “endangerment” finding has been challenged in federal court. No one in the U.S. can be certain EPA or Congress will establish any CO2 regulations.

Turning Risk Into Opportunity

With risks like these posing threats to manufacturers, no wonder leading companies are planning ahead instead of waiting to be disrupted.

Consider, for example, Nike’s goals for footwear manufacturing: zero waste, zero toxics and 100% closed loop systems by 2020. Waste from footwear production was substantial and often was incinerated or sent to landfills. In pursuit of its goals, the company sought to reduce post-manufacturing waste and responsibly manage its disposal. If Nike had viewed this as an issue-specific, isolated problem, it might have mitigated the risk by simply purchasing a different feedstock or attempting to recycle more. By viewing the solution as part of a connected system, Nike was able to achieve greater environmental and business results.

Post-production rubber from the creation of outsoles produced one of the largest waste streams. So the footwear sustainability team developed markets for post-production rubber. One buyer was Nike itself. Once the post-production rubber was ground up, it could be used as feedstock for rubber outsoles. Working with the footwear design team, Nike began to market “regrind” rubber in various models and use it for up to 5% of the rubber outsole.

The company then looked to develop markets in Asia and the U.S. for regrind rubber. One such market was artificial athletic fields that used reground, used tires. Nike successfully positioned its regrind rubber as superior. For example, it could be sorted by color, contained zero additional materials and did not mark footwear and field equipment.

Through the sustainable footwear team’s vision and action, Nike was able to meet corporate waste goals, responsibly manage factory waste and create income from royalties by licensing “Nike regrind” to artificial field developers.

A Lesson in Systems Thinking

Any enduring initiative within a business, including sustainability, requires a comprehensive approach. By focusing first on a set of goals to chart their course, and then viewing their goals and challenges as an interrelated system rather than an isolated problem, Nike reduced one of their manufacturing waste flows and transformed it into top line revenue growth.

All businesses run their own sustainability risks, especially if they sell to consumers or manufacture products. And like Nike, they have access to these corollary sustainability opportunities. Systems thinking helps businesses spot these opportunities and better position themselves to withstand the changing environment of regulation, consumer demand and energy volatility.

August 11, 2011

Moving the Market for Electronics Recycling

Recycling can get a bad rap in sustainability circles for being too fundamental.  As in, “They say they’re doing sustainability, but they just have a recycling program.”  So when is recycling a big deal?  When the biggest electronics consumer in the United States announces a landmark electronics recycling program that moves the whole market forward.

E Waste and electronics recycling

Image from New American Media

The new plan from the General Services Administration (GSA) commits them to recycling all electronics responsibly, using their presence in the market to encourage major manufacturers like Dell, Sprint and Sony to create recycling options for all consumers.  They will also use their hefty purchasing power to encourage the design of more efficient electronics by cutting ENERGY STAR and EPEAT non-compliant items from their purchasing contracts. Large purchasers and markets can often use their leverage to move industries forward faster than individual consumers.  The green building movement continues to cause similar shifts in building material marketplaces, like the rise in responsibly managed, FSC-certified forests.

Piper Kujac of Sustainable Industries spoke with James Kao of e-Stewards, a third party certification system for responsible electronics recyclers, to get insight into the new policy.  “Kao anticipates that we will see a lot more restrictions and recycling components, as well as consumer reports aimed at rating the recyclability of a product, not just its performance during use.”  While we wait for electronics manufacturers to rise to the GSA’s elevated standards, e-Stewards is a great resource for individuals trying to recycle their electronics with a clear conscience.  Many of their approved recyclers also repair items to keep them in use and out of the waste stream entirely, such as  Portland’s Free Geek.  Take a look at e-Stewards’ interactive map of responsible electronics recyclers the next time you make an upgrade at your home or office.

June 13, 2011

Metrics for Real Success: Happiness and Beyond

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOScott Lewis, Brightworks CEO

“We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods…[w]e cannot measure national spirit by the Dow-Jones Average, nor national achievement by the gross national product.”

~ Robert Kennedy, 1967 [Click for full text]

Transformative ecological, social and economic progress will require us to replace the standard methods of measuring national progress with tools more holistically aligned with the deeper values represented by our aspirational goals of creating a truly sustainable future.

Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are widely considered the standard measures of economic progress throughout the industrialized world. GNP measures the economic output of firms owned by companies within the measuring country. GDP measures the output of all firms operating in the measuring country. Close examination reveals that both measures are inadequate for creating real progress in human well-being.

GNP is a poor measure of economic success. It measures activity (production of goods and services, even if those goods and services create environmental damage or impair human health), not outcomes, such as improvement in quality of life. It also assumes economic growth is itself a sufficient goal.

The widespread observation that “you manage what you measure” points to our natural tendency to concentrate on things we can track and count, not necessarily the things that matter most. By relying on GNP as the primary scoring system of how we are doing as a nation or global society, we may be unwittingly pursuing the wrong outcomes.

In fact, a growing body of research by psychologists and economists supports this very premise – that economic progress does not equate to happiness, and that we should focus our measurement on factors that more directly address human well-being.

Metrics That Matter

In 1972, the Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuck faced a dilemma that would shape the future of his country – how to start opening his small Himalayan kingdom to carefully measured Western-style economic development while preserving the cultural uniqueness that made Bhutan a special and beautiful place.

The king’s answer included limiting access to Western media (there was no outside television programming in Bhutan when I was there in 1985), limiting tourism to a few hundred visitors per year and creating a new kind of tracking system to run in parallel with the conventional economic progress tests. He called the system Dzongha, which means “gross national happiness.” Dzongha is measured as an aggregate of scores across nine categories that influence human well-being, including:

  1. Psychological Well-being
  2. Time Use
  3. Community Vitality
  4. Culture
  5. Health
  6. Education
  7. Environmental Diversity
  8. Living Standard
  9. Governance

In 1998, Bhutan formally adopted the Gross National Happiness (GNH) system and required all laws and national policies to be designed to improve GNH.

The “Happiness Movement”

Following Bhutan’s lead, economists and social scientists started to examine how national and international development policies and measurement systems could be connected to human well-being. Entire fields of study – including Humanistic Psychology – have developed in the past 20 years around the question of what requirements must be fulfilled to support fundamental human well-being. Much of this inquiry has expanded on the well-known work of American psychologist Abraham Maslow from the 1940s and Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef from the 1980s.

Max Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs model includes:Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

  • Subsistence
  • Protection
  • Affection
  • Understanding
  • Participation
  • Leisure
  • Creation
  • Identity
  • Freedom 

Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” has been criticized as having no grounding in empirical evidence. Nevertheless, Maslow is credited with founding the Humanistic Psychology movement, and like many early models, his theory served as a basis for much important and meaningful work that followed.  Image courtesy of the Psychology Wiki

A significant development in the “measuring happiness” movement came in 1990. Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and a group of colleagues changed the way the United Nations Development Programme tracks development progress of countries “from national income accounting to people centered policies.” The ul Haq team created and deployed a revolutionary tracking system called the Human Development Index (HDI). Under the latest revision of the HDI, released in 2010, the UNDP scores and ranks nations based on the aggregate score of three indicators: life expectancy, education and income. Some of the highest and lowest scoring HDI nations are listed here:

Top 10 Countries Bottom 10 Countries
1. Norway 160. Mali
2. Australia 161. Burkina Faso
3. New Zealand 162. Liberia
4. United States 163. Chad
5. Ireland 164. Guinea-Bissau
6. Liechtenstein 165. Mozambique
7. Netherlands 166. Burundi
8. Canada 167. Niger
9. Sweden 168. Congo (Democratic Republic of the)
10. Germany 169. Zimbabwe

Where the HDI uses quantitative measures, other approaches place increased focus on qualitative measures. For instance, the World Values Survey project, conducted by Ronald Inglehart between 1999 and 2002, asked individuals in 63 countries how happy or satisfied they felt subjectively, then correlated the answers with the median income of the countries. The report showed some correlation between national affluence and reported well-being, but only across a wide range. The countries with the highest reported happiness among individuals included relatively wealthy nations, such as the US, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria, as well as less-economically advanced countries such as El Salvador, Mexico, Columbia and Nigeria.

A Plateau of Happiness, from the New York Times

"A country's wealth may not always dictate the happiness of its people", from the New York Times

Implications for Sustainability

Growing material affluence has been the central focus of economic development strategies for most industrialized or developing countries since the industrial revolution, and in some cases, dating back for millennia. And still today, when food security, health crises and basic physical security (shelter, national defense, freedom from crime, etc.) are far from universal, many individuals and countries have valid reasons to pursue greater financial stability.

For those more financially fortunate, the question is how much is enough financially? A solid body of evidence supports the case that once basic needs are satisfied, the correlation between financial and emotional well-being is more tenuous, and a strong sense of community, economic and social stability and other factors become more important.

The implications of these studies are profound for individuals, organizations, communities, regions and nations fostering a future in which economic development supports both ecological security and sufficient prosperity for the world’s growing human population. As long as policy makers use GNP or GDP as the primary measures of economic “success,” they will continue to enact and promote policies that – ironically and despite the best of intentions – undermine the needs for a sustainable or restorative future.

Even as we pursue the technological and financial tools to ensure economic sustainability, we must also redefine the metrics we use to measure progress. We can start by replacing the archaic GNP/GDP primacy with more holistic and robust tools that consider income or financial wealth as only one contributor to a greater and more appropriate goal: well-being.

Today, a “business as usual” mentality and institutional momentum and inertia stand in the way of a national success model founded on well-being. The urgency in overcoming these obstacles to the new model cannot be overstated. Hanging in the balance are the lives of billions of people and countless species – for generations to come.

March 16, 2011

CALGreen: Triumphs and Challenges

Marian Thomas

By Marian Thomas

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

On January 1, 2011, CALGreen, California’s new statewide green building code went into effect – soon followed by widespread confusion, panic (and quite possibly tears) among those responsible for securing building permits on new projects. While the actual code requirements are quite reasonable, the implementation of CALGreen appears to be another matter entirely – for building departments and project applicants alike.

Codification of green building: much ado about nothing

Many of us in the green building industry have anticipated the day when green building best management practices became codified. Green building can be interpreted in myriad ways and often suffers from misconceptions around cost and feasibility. Like other building practices, it benefits from translation into concrete, regulated codes. Building codes can demystify green strategies or practice, making them as common place as other building requirements, such as structural or plumbing codes. This eases confusion and drives down costs.

As an example, in the early 1900s engineers initially began advocating seismic design requirements or “earthquake engineering” in buildings. The first generation of researchers could barely secure funding to complete their studies — even after the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Many in the building industry believed “such discussion will advertise the state as an earthquake region, and so hurt business.” Others critics considered the early seismic engineering to be both costly and unattractive. By the 1930s, seismic engineering requirements were signed into law. Today they’re as ordinary as any other building practice in California. This legislation neither hurt nor stalled the boom in real estate and business in the state.

San Francico Earthquake of 1906

Another good reason for building code updates

CALGreen, in taking this initial first step towards integrating green building practices into code, has also encountered its share of dissension that in some ways parallels the adoption of seismic engineering requirements. Like the critics of Assembly Bill 32, opponents of state-mandated green building or energy reduction requirements that claim such legislation will harm development and discourage business from locating in the state are both near-sighted and sensationalist.

The CALGreen authors intended to create a baseline of green building across the state. This now means even smaller jurisdictions without established green building ordinances are required to, at a minimum, reduce water consumption by 20 percent, recycle construction and demolition waste, install low-emitting materials and commission buildings over 10,000 sf. CALGreen’s mandatory requirements are neither overly stringent nor onerous, particularly given the state’s existing energy code. These requirements are a solid first step toward formally establishing green building in California and potentially across the rest of the country.

Implementation: much ado about something

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, it’s not the complete picture. The multitude of ways cities are choosing to implement CALGreen is not doing green building legislation in the state any favors. Since January 1, any city can amend CALGreen as it sees fit. Beyond the mandatory requirements mentioned above, CALGreen also includes a selection of voluntary measures and “tiers” (similar to LEED and GreenPoint Rated credits) that cities are encouraged to adopt as mandatory in their own adaptations of CALGreen. These can include enhanced requirements for energy efficiency, carpool/LEV parking, water use reduction, C&D waste diversion, etc. There are countless combinations of additional requirements and amendments possible under CALGreen.

At the same time, municipalities such as San Francisco and Oakland have also retained certain elements of their previous existing green building ordinances, such as requiring LEED or GreenPoint Rated certifications for certain building occupancies. For project applicants in these jurisdictions, it’s like juggling three separate green building systems. Tracking and managing all these nuances can be both time-consuming and costly.

Many have assumed documentation for all CALGreen measures, mandatory and voluntary, would be included in the construction drawings or specifications submitted to and reviewed by the building department as part of plan check. However, what we are seeing now is that each building department can mandate its own documentation and compliance review process as well – from requiring third-party reviews, to bringing on a licensed “Green Building Compliance Professional of Record” or “Green Building Certifier” (at the owner’s expense) to sign off on the green measures in the project.

While it is valuable to allow cities the ability to set higher standards and require measures that may reflect regional priorities, the inconsistency in compliance and documentation requirements may be doing more harm than good to green building in California. This variation in the municipal implementation of CALGreen is creating confusion and a bit of pandemonium among those trying to navigate these new green building requirements. As a result, many will continue to see green building as a hurdle to overcome, rather than an accepted standard of practice.

CALGreen, the “Third Wheel”

Perhaps having a separate “green building code” makes it appear, once again, that building sustainably is an add-on – as other third-party certification programs are often interpreted. Perhaps it would have been less distressing to the building design and construction industry to instead integrate many of these “green measures” more subtly into the existing building code divisions. For instance, water use reduction targets could have easily been added to the plumbing code, and enhanced indoor ventilation requirements could have been added to the energy and mechanical code sections.

In fact, many CALGreen measures are simply repeats of existing code requirements anyway. While it doesn’t carry the same mystique or catchiness as “CALGreen,” the more subtle approach may have avoided the confusion now plaguing the building design and construction industry under the new CALGreen mandates.

Bottom line: the primary challenge posed by CALGreen will not be meeting its requirements, especially for teams accustomed to meeting LEED or GreenPoint Rated systems. The real challenge will be ensuring documentation and compliance is adhered to properly for every city, county and jurisdiction in the state.

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