Reaching into the Political Machine – A Powerful Visit to DC with The Alliance

Each year my visit to DC with The Alliance for Business Leadership turns into the single most impactful event I participate in. I invariably come away with a sense that the individual can impact government and as business leaders, we are duty-bound to participate.

A moment with John Kerry at The Alliance for Business Leadership (DC Photographer Marty Katz)

This year’s top thoughts:

  • I’m humbled by The Alliance’s membership — not the C-level titles, but the brain power, thoughtfulness, deep understanding of the issues and commitment to partner with government to ensure that business can do well and do good at the same time.
  • I left surprised by the focus, expertise and passion that government workers bring to the table:
  • Todd Park, co-founder of AthenaHealth, former CTO of Health and Human Services (HHS) and current CTO for the whole government, mesmerized a room-full of CEOs with his entrepreneurial spirit and tales of bringing government resources into the hands of existing and new businesses. [Read more…]

Ubiquitous Carbon

Carbon

Earlier this month, the United Nations met in Durban, South Africa to discuss the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol.

Delegates from around the world discussed the idea of a carbon tax with the hope that it will help reduce emissions over the next 10 years. Under the current agreement, richer countries must follow regulations while poorer countries contribute voluntarily.

As noted by The Huffington Post, The Protocol debates escalated throughout the meetings, with the United States’ support for business outweighing its support for the environment.

The United States, whose Congress is generally seen as hostile on the climate issue, is concerned about conceding any competitive business advantage to China.

As an American, and one who greatly values our environment, I’m frustrated by the US delegates’ protectionism of the country’s economic power over all else (mirrored by China and India). Can a temporary decrease in GDP — which many argue would not happen anyway — be so bad if it helps guarantee a hospitable planet for another thousand years?

Update: Participating nations stayed an extra day and a half, and it looks like some good came of it.

Green Muting – 24-hour news cycles and jaded audiences keep us quiet

Green MutingAs an increasing number of businesses recognize the importance of being green(er) and the marketing value of green messages, we have seen the rise of both “green washing” and “green muting.” The Greenwashing Index defines green washing as “when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush.”

Green-muting, on the other hand, is when businesses don’t talk about the positive environmental choices they are making. Joel Makower introduced me to both concepts in a presentation he gave a few years ago. I continue to encounter both in my personal and professional lives, most recently during a client meeting.

In this case, we spent the day with Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTE Corp), discussing what’s next in marketing and PR as the company works to make a serious mark on the global energy landscape, starting in the Bahamas. As we discussed [Read more…]

In the Age of Tech, Measurement Reigns.

As more individuals, from tots to seniors, have easy access to user-friendly technology like smart phones, cloud computing and video streaming, the amount of information targeted at those individuals continues to skyrocket. Instant news updates, email marketing, mass-produced opinions arrive through all our channels, causing many of us to stop and plead, “Slow down! What am I supposed to DO with all of this information?”

Many clients come to us asking for ways to monitor, navigate and participate in industry conversations where they have neither the time to pay attention or the resources to understand how their brand comes up performs. They light up when we explain how we use some of the latest technology and tools to do just that. As it turns out, technology is partly the reason for the problem, but also the conduit to a solution.

Something similar is going on in the energy industry. Energy consumers (i.e. pretty much all of us) light up (pun intended) as new technology hits the market to help regular people measure, manage and better understand the often mysterious energy usage information we receive from distributors and providers. As our client LEM, a pioneer in electrical measurement, would say, you have to measure it to manage it.

True, technology companies have dabbled in this market for over a decade with light controls, security systems and camera monitoring. What’s been missing, though, is a system that does it all, including actionable metrics on energy usage, from one simple, easy-to-use interface.

Check out the complete home automation companies below that surfaced over the past few years. Some are just a few years old, and others are older as they started with alarms and security systems before moving into comprehensive home automation and energy management.

Vivint – http://www.vivint.com/

Life|Ware – http://www.life-ware.com/

Control 4 – http://www.control4.com/

Elan Home Systems – http://www.elanhomesystems.com/

Crestron – http://www.crestron.com/

Ah. Doesn’t it feel better to be in control?

The On Project

The clean-technology industry continues to boom economically – and we are fortunate to work with an organization leading the charge in the use of alternative energy, specifically Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). OTEC is a base-load renewable energy production process particularly suited for tropical zones. We have teamed with OTE Corporation to spread awareness about OTEC through “The On Project,” a central hub where individuals with a variety of passions (environmental, business growth, national security, humanitarian), can learn about the benefits of OTEC, including 24/7 renewable energy and clean, potable water.

To raise awareness, HB and OTE Corporation produced two videos which help to tell the OTEC story:

Environmental concern – Not for everyone… yet.

I recently read an article in the Seattle Times about arctic sea ice melting at unprecedented rates and Russia’s comment about the resulting new shipping lanes. The good news: this apparently can cut the the journey for some shipping between Europe, Asia and America by 50%. The bad news: rapidly melting arctic ice already affects global climate and coastal communities.

Courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center, nsidc.org

I looked for other commentary in the Seattle Times, searching for an “environment” or “green” section of the paper. But there was none. Many of the media sources I use have dedicated sections for environmental/green news. These include The New York Times (usually under Science), The Washington Post (under Energy & Environment), The Los Angeles Times (under Science & Environment), The San Jose Mercury News (under Science & Environment) UK’s The Guardian (under Environment), France’s Le Monde (under Planete) and The Times of India (under Environment).

I follow news from other worldwide outlets that seem to have no section dedicated to the environment, and rarely to science. These include Russian news outlets Pravda, Moscow Times and St. Petersburg Times, Sweden’s The Local, Germany’s The Local, Brazil’s Rio Times, Argentina’s Buenos Aires Herald, China’s China Daily, Shanghai DailyPeople’s Daily and , Hong Kong’s The Standard, Singapore’s The Straits Times and The New Paper, AsiaOne, and of course Al Jazeera.

Does this evidence suggest only the richest audiences care about the environment? Not really. Plenty of outlets here in the US haven’t considered the “environment” worthy of its own section – for instance The Houston Chronicle and Chicago Tribune. And those regions certainly don’t lack wealth.

My conclusion regards the assumptions we often make. As we participate in the US efforts to catch up to Germany and other progressive nations in developing clean technology and preserving our environment, we should not assume that all people in all places share our concerns or ambitions. Such assumptions are tantamount to zealotry – comparable to people of faith who assume that their faith is the only valid one, and think less of those who don’t share it (or even worse, assume some horrible fate awaits non-believers, such as going to Hell).

Instead we should acknowledge that even as ice-cap melting sends chills of fear up our spines, it can be interpreted as good news by others. Even as environmental degradation and dependence on foreign oil keeps us up at night, our fellow Americans (and global citizens) have many other concerns that take precedence.

Bridging the gap remains our mission, not by talking ever more loudly to dominate the conversation, but by respectfully and repeatedly stating the case, and encouraging change where we can. To start, I suggest a call and a note to any news outlet you enjoy, saying that you would be more likely to return for news if the outlet offered pages or sections dedicated to the environment or clean technology.

By the way, if you currently have a favorite mainstream media outlet that covers environmental or clean-technology news, please let me know.

Going Green… On the Green

I thoroughly enjoy sports, especially golf (above: my recent trip to Torrey Pines in San Diego with my family). I also enjoy “doing the right thing,” especially when it comes to the environment.

Several sports franchises feel the same way and developed the Green Sports Alliance – a collective group working to reduce the environmental impact of their teams and venues. Their most recent news surrounds FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., home to the NFL’s Redskins. The organization plans to install solar panels in its parking lots which will power the field on non-game days and dramatically decrease the energy needed for home games. Even more impressive, the recently-founded Alliance has quickly quadrupled in size thanks to the addition of our hometown Red Sox and other franchises.

As a Sox fan, I proudly root for the players on the field… and soon I will proudly root for a team that is “doing the right thing.”

An additional thought: I know that golf in particular can be hard on the environment. Read my previous post about how Justin Timberlake sets a new standard for eco-friendly golf, and if you’re a golfer, join me in asking for environmentally conscious practices at your local golf course.

From Shoe Laces to Clean Energy. Small Adjustment Yield Big Results

I watched Terry Moore’s 3-minute Ted Talk about how to tie your shoe laces, and was impressed by how a small change in tying shoe laces made a big change in Mr. Moore’s life.

Ahhh, the frustration!

From now on, it will also make a big change in mine, which I can quantify: Let’s suppose it takes me 20 seconds to re-tie both shoe laces, once per day (I’m slow), and that I will live the average American white male life expectancy of 75.7 years (2006 stats). In that case, Terry Moore saved me a little more than 60 hours between now and the end of my life. I’m grateful for each of those hours.

Ted Talks, YouTube, and numerous media and social media platforms allow us to spread knowledge and progress at unprecedented speeds. 150 years ago, the shoe-lace secret may only have helped one family or one village for decades before spreading to neighboring towns or, more likely, fading from common memory after a blight or epidemic.

As Gary Vaynerchuk notes in his book, The Thank You Economy,  “According to Facebook, as of 2010, the average Facebook user has 130 friends, and the average Twitter account holder has 300 followers, which in total add up to a potential 7,740 people who suddenly have [access to the same information].” If that were my network and all of them were roughly my age, we could count on 19,350 days, or 53 additional years added to humanity’s opportunity to do something other than tie shoe laces. And that’s just based on one average person’s network.

What a gift from Terry Moore to all those who eschew Velcro for old-fashioned laces! More importantly, what a boon for those who wish to tackle even bigger problems, and among the biggest ones, global warming and the need for clean energy.
Take a recent New York Times article about Chicago’s preparations for warmer climate and greater precipitation. The article shows how relatively small changes, such as paving streets with  permeable materials and changing the kinds of trees the city plants, will have enormous impact, saving millions of dollars and potentially many lives. Through the Times’ website, blog posts, tweets, re-tweets and regular old print, the article will reach millions — including city planners in other regions who, a century ago, would probably not have heard about The Windy City’s deployment of new technologies and methods to deal with a commonly-faced challenge.

Plan B 3.0, which I recommend to everyone

In Lester Brown’s Plan B books, the author notes how many small changes can have a huge impact. Lester Brown runs the Earth Policy Institute, whose short paper on Cutting Carbon Emissions 80% by 2020 offers numerous examples of seemingly small changes which, when multiplied, have enormous impact. For instance, “The energy saved by replacing one conventional incandescent 100-watt bulb with a CFL over its lifetime is enough to drive a Toyota Prius hybrid from New York to San Francisco. If everyone around the world made the switch and turned to high-efficiency home, office, industrial, and street lighting, total world electricity use would fall by 12 percent, equivalent to the output of 705 coal-fired power plants.”

This is the power of scale. With social media, that power has shifted from a few global corporations with the ability to market to millions of people, to millions of people with the ability to reach and influence billions.

In a compressed time-frame, thousands of  individuals, including me, will save years by changing one small facet of how they tie their shoes. If we can change the way we tie our shoes, it’s not such a stretch to think we can change our light bulbs, our driving habits, our thermostat settings, and our buying habits to adopt clean-technology solutions at unprecedented rates.

To those who dwell in the past where change took centuries or decades, the 350 ppm (of carbon dioxide) goal  that Bill McKibben, Al Gore and so many others are urging the world to reach, might seem impossible. It’s easy to understand why it would, when you consider the monumental work it will take to get there. But when you consider the power of today’s social networks, such a goal becomes not only possible but realistic. Today, thanks to tying my shoes a little more effectively, I have a few more hours to work on it.

The Potential of Oceans

We are lucky to work with an increasing number of renewable energy and clean-technology companies. The most recent is Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation, a Pennsylvania-based pioneer building Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) systems, Seawater District Cooling (SDC), and fresh water production solutions.

Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation

OTE Corporation solves challenges created by the world’s dependence on oil. Tapping into nature, OTE Corporation is relying on the world’s oceans to produce clean energy, pure drinking water, and numerous other benefits including aquaculture (and hence economic development). In our work, we not only help to creatively solve problems for OTE Corporation, but indirectly help to bring clean drinking water and clean energy solutions to communities that desperately need it.

In his recent budget speech, President Obama committed to continue investing in job creation and clean energy technology despite aggressive cost-cutting plans. OTE Corporation’s leadership, culture and technology are among those rising to meet pressing global energy challenges, to succeed financially and to offer significant humanitarian benefits. We at HB get the privilege of leveraging the power of marketing to help OTE Corp. leverage the power of oceans.

Clean Tech Changes The View – OK by Me!

Wind Turbine at Bershire East

From power lines to lakes, rivers to roads, pilots use visual flight rules (VFR) sectional charts to understand what the landscape will look like underneath them when flying VFR. Wind energy generation facilities present a new landmark on VFR charts, which is easily identifiable from the air.

On a recent flight, I knew that I was coming up on the back of Berkshire East ski area, even though I couldn’t see the slopes. The ski area’s wind turbine, which powers 100% of the resort’s electricity needs, rises high above the hills with very little around it. [Read more…]