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Data + Technology + Strategy = Sustainability

Corporate sustainability is undergoing a fundamental shift; for an indication of just how far it has come, look no further than SAP. The enterprise software giant has added environmental metricsto many of its core offerings, allowing information about environmental impacts to be seamlessly incorporated into everything from executive management to operations. It indicates that sustainability is starting to be internalized by at least some of SAP’s customers, which include many of the largest companies in the world.

The size, scope and sophistication of corporate environmental data has exploded in recent years, as recognition of potential savings through efficiency along with the pressure for disclosure have intensified the need for large companies to understand more about their operations. This will only increase as “smart” technologies become more prevalent and everyday objects create their own piles of data. The challenge is managing and drawing meaning from billions of data streams in order to understand it, apply it and make more informed decisions with it.

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Topics: Sustainability

National Security, Sustainability, and Citizenship

Within the U.S. military, there is no debate about the risks, threats, and challenges of climate change and energy dependency as they relate to our national security.1 Climate change and energy efficiency have become standing military planning considerations, as both will affect the twenty-first-century strategic landscape and operational environment to such a degree that to ignore them would be a gross dereliction of duty and an abrogation of responsibility.2

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Topics: Sustainability

Home Energy Management Takes Center Stage at CES 2012

The Consumer Electronics Show is partly a playground for inventors and partly a glimpse into what technologies consumers will actually adopt in the next few years. Into the first category fall gyro-stabilized electric unicycles, a human-powered hydrofoil, and 3-D pet portraits. It seems that home energy management, on the other hand, has finally landed in the second. 
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Topics: Sustainability

Best of 2011: Themes from this year’s sustainability conferences

As a sustainability consultant at GreenOrder, I have the good fortune of being able to attend events that feature sustainability leaders from many sectors. Across the keynotes, breakout sessions, and workshops I attended in 2011, there were three recurring themes sustainability practitioners were talking about this year: The need for speed… and urgency As a sustainability consultant at GreenOrder, I have the good fortune of being able to attend events that feature sustainability leaders from many sectors. Across the keynotes, breakout sessions, and workshops I attended in 2011, there were three recurring themes sustainability practitioners were talking about this year:

The need for speed… and urgency

I was struck this year by the way corporate leaders talked about urgency - a tone reserved in the past for environmental activists and worry warts. At the GreenBiz Innovation Forum in San Francisco, keynoter Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business & Innovation for Nike, posed the question: “With this sense of urgency, how do we take sharing to a whole new level to free up resources to give more time to disruption?” At the same event, PwC’s Robert Shelton also pointed to the fact that the problem we face today is “rampant incrementalism,” indicating the need for disruptive change that can move the field forward.

Downstate, in Los Angeles, the theme of this year’s Opportunity Green conference was “Acceleration.” Vermont Governor, Peter Shumlin, who was honored with the 2011 Green Governor of the Year Award stressed, “We can’t move fast enough to end our addiction to oil… If we don’t move with extraordinary speed … we won’t have any species left.” One of the first corporate speakers at Opportunity Green, Ben Packard, VP of Global Responsibility at Starbucks, talked about tackling Starbucks’ biggest challenge, The Cup. The company has pledged for its cups to be 100% recyclable by 2015, aiming to find a way to do this by 2013. Packard asked the question, “Why aren’t we getting the acceleration we need?” In his point of view, the solution set has not been big or robust enough. To address their urgent need, Starbucks is pursuing a systems approach, taking the problem to scale with an industry group. Starbucks is one of many companies using a collaborative, cross-industry approach and it is a strategy that has proven successful in many cases. At this year’s BSR conference, however, Al Gore cautioned us to be aware of the difference between urgency and short-term thinking. In the words of John Wooden, “be quick but don’t hurry.”

The best way to sell sustainability is not talking about it

The idea of selling green by not talking about it has been an intriguing part of the dialogue in the sustainability community over the last year and half. Hallway talk and featured content at this year’s conferences reinforced that theme. The Net Impact conference in Portland featured the session, “Is it Time to Do Away with CSR?” and GreenBiz featured a “What If” exercise that engendered responses like, “What if sustainability weren’t just a ten letter word,” and “What if we stopped using the word ‘sustainability’ altogether?”

At GreenOrder, we’ve seen this reinforced in the marketplace with clients who are leading in sustainability through product and service innovation, not by talking about their commitment to sustainability or using the s-word in marketing.

Actively challenging such a sacred cow will surely be met with mixed emotions. Some like to argue over the meaning of sustainability, others view it as a dirty word laden with intimidation, pretension, superiority, or moral judgment. Meanwhile, GetaroundRent the RunwayAirBNBCraigslist,eBay, and Zimride are reducing consumption by offering customers winning service and innovation at a nice price point. Whether or not these ventures are purposefully sustainable or just a happy accident, we can learn a lot from them about how to make an impact. In 2012, you may find yourself asking, “How can not talking about sustainability be an opportunity for my company?”

With green, deliver more, not less

Take the story of a Clever Little Bag: At Opportunity Green, Yves Behar, Founder and Chief Designer at FuseProject, spoke about shoebox design innovation for Puma. Clever Little Bags, made from recycled PET, allow in-store shoe boxes to be reused, replace tissue, and provide an extra to the customer - a handy, reusable shopping bag.

Hannah Jones also spoke about the more is more principle at GreenBiz when she said, “Never compromise performance and price for sustainability or you will do a disservice… and you will continue the mythology of sustainability equals less, and that is one of our greatest issues…” Jones pointed to the beginnings of this mindset change with the 2008 Air Jordan XX3 which replaced resource-intensive materials with innovative stitching and geometry to make a better shoe, (meanwhile, reducing waste and the need for solvents) and Nike’s 2010 World Cup performance soccer jerseys made from recycled bottles.

To close out 2011, here’s another “What If” from the GreenBiz brainstorm – “What if sustainability only came with ‘and’, not ‘but’ or ‘if’?”…

For more insights, follow Emily on Twitter.
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Topics: Sustainability

Why EPA Regulations are Important: an Implicit Price for Carbon Emissions

While climate legislation is stalled in Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has pushed forward regulations of pollutants besides carbon dioxide that will drive progress toward cleaner power generation fleets and cleaner air. The major new regulations include Utility MACT (also known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (Mg), the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (SO2/NOx), 316B of the Clean Water Act (H20), and the Coal Combustion Residuals regulation (coal ash). States, utilities, and legislators have shown both support and opposition in the face of these proposed regulations. Over the last year, there have been many movements to limit the EPA’s power to enforce these standards, most recently 25 states opposing Utility MACT, including the Kansas and Texas lawsuits,Senators Hoeven and Conrad’s legislation, and the FERC Commissioner stating the EPA pace is “too aggressive.” On the other hand, multiple states recently filed motions in support of the EPA, making now a good time to examine some key points and evaluate the synergistic effect of all the regulations.

How will regulations impact coal power generation and the grid?

There are multiple industry studies that analyze the EPA regulations (Credit SuisseNERCICF-FineDBBrattleCRA,ICF-EEIEPABernsteinCERAEIANERABPC). While estimates vary based on different policies and assumptions within each study, they conclude that a combination of all the EPA regulations may result in 25GW to a little over 50GW of coal generation units (2-5% of total electricity generation) to go offline by 2015. This range matches assessments made by Bryan Mignone, a Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Energy, at the Wharton Energy Conference 2011, an article by energy policy expert Susan Tierney, and an estimate made by Natalie Rolph, chief economist from Black & Veatch, whom I spoke with at Black & Veatch’s Power Industry Briefing.

While the new regulations don’t directly set mandates for CO2 reduction, they do still create a carbon price signal. Some rough assumptions and calculations demonstrate that the marginal cost of abatement to meet the new EPA regulations would be close to ~$7-25/metric ton of CO2e. While a carbon tax would certainly be much more cost effective than the current patchwork of EPA regulations, it’s the only policy approach on carbon the Administration and the EPA have for the foreseeable future.

As coal plants are being retired from the grid, many industry players are pursuing alternate methods of generation to transition to cleaner, and more reliable sources of energy. Natural gas continues to be one of the more popular alternatives as its production yields low emissions and it is projected to have longevity in the market.

Why are the EPA regulations beneficial?

Many birds can be hit with one stone. While compliance costs will vary widely among companies in the industry, from a social cost-benefit standpoint, the cost of compliance is highly reasonable considering the long-term savings in healthcare and environmental expenses. Coal power generation (without advanced pollution controls) emits 99% of all human caused mercury emissions, distributes a hefty amount of SO2 and NOx across state boundaries, blows out ash, sucks in an incredible amount water, and has the highest ratio of carbon to energy output. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2009, coal power production was responsible for 81% of all the GHG emissions from electricity generation while only producing 48% of electricity. While complying with a single rule like the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule might be financially expensive in the short term for limiting NOx/SO2, it results in relatively cost effective reductions for other pollutants like mercury, coal ash, and most importantly, climate altering CO2. According to EPA studies, Utility MACT and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule combined will lower health care costs and prevent ~20,000-50,000 premature deaths annually.

Which utilities are best positioned to handle the EPA regulations?

Utilities in the market that anticipated carbon legislation and focused on clean energy will have an easier time handling the new regulations. The heads of eight major utilities (all members of the Clean Energy Group) sent a letter in December 2010 to the Wall Street Journal, titled “We’re OK with the EPA’s New Air-Quality Regulations.” The letter showed their collective agreement that compliance with the regulations can yield “important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.” John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, reiterated his support saying that the majority of the nation’s coal fleet “has or is already in the process of making the kinds of cleanup that is required.” These utilities have understood for a while that coal pollutants are interconnected and that carbon deserves a price. These same companies will benefit as that interconnectedness becomes an implicit reality overtime—that is, if congress does not entirely derail the power of the EPA.
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Topics: Sustainability

Urban Sustainability: New York City’s Bike Lanes and Building Cultural Infrastructure

In New York City, there is an ever-evolving debate surrounding various green-painted stripes crisscrossing the city; otherwise known as bike lanes. One of NYC’s many urban sustainability initiatives to build a “Greener, Greater New York,” bike lanes are intended as a means to encourage alternative transportation and reduce vehicle use, with numerous benefits such as improved air quality, reduced noise pollution and reduced congestion. In New York City, there is an ever-evolving debate surrounding various green-painted stripes crisscrossing the city; otherwise known as bike lanes. One of NYC’s many urban sustainability initiatives to build a “Greener, Greater New York,” bike lanes are intended as a means to encourage alternative transportation and reduce vehicle use, with numerous benefits such as improved air quality, reduced noise pollution and reduced congestion.

However, the bike lanes haven’t been without challenges: claims of business being harmed (though areas where walking/cycling are given primacy can boost retail sales 10-25%), parking spaces lost, pedestrians claim of reckless cyclists, cyclists claim of inattentive pedestrians, and that the green-painted lanes are just plain ugly. Discussion and argument and ways of addressing concerns has been thick: a New York Times Room for Debate discussion has various worthy suggestions, ranging from better enforcement to redefining the legal relationship between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

However, prescriptive measures aside, there is a fundamental need for a change in mindset. To enable changes in physical infrastructure, we need to build cultural infrastructure. The way we think, educate, behave and reward needs to support the transformational energy, environmental and infrastructure changes underway as we transition to a low carbon economy. Rules, laws and physical landscape can help inform our thinking and behaviors, but social and cultural norms of human behavior are, arguably, the biggest challenges to a more sustainable future. If we cannot change the cultural infrastructure, physical infrastructure changes will only go so far. Such cultural challenges are being confronted across economies: electric vehicle manufacturers are tackling range anxiety, a product of a car-dependent culture; while consumer goods producers wrestle to rethink planned obsolescence and life-cycle impacts, a product of a disposable consumption-based economy. These are issues rooted not just in physical, but cultural infrastructure.

Car Culture – more than just highways

In NYC—and the US at large—the automobile has presumed primacy. Pedestrians know that the bitumen is not their domain, but this doesn’t always extend to bike lanes. New Yorkers instinctively look for cars when crossing the road (generally); they do not yet instinctively look for bikes when crossing a bike lane. I’ve seen pedestrians lambast cyclists for nearly running them down, when in fact, the pedestrian was the one strolling along the bike lane. Similarly, not all drivers appreciate bike lanes infringing on their bitumen. One New Yorker complained that the bike lanes were taking away her rights as a driver – but what about the rights of non-drivers? It is a safe argument that the primacy of drivers’ rights has been at the expense of non-drivers’ rights for decades, pedestrians and cyclists alike (see one narrative on the evolution of NYC roads).

This historical primacy also extends to the necessary infrastructure for automobiles, namely roads. Eighty percent of NYC public space comprises roads and sidewalks, the majority of which goes to vehicles. In response to a comment by an anti-bike lane resident regarding the “extraordinarily ugly” green stripe on Prospect Park West (this bike lane actually has strong neighborhood support, drastically reducing speeding and increasing bike ridership), I couldn’t help but think, what about the even bigger and, arguably, uglier black stripe outside: the road itself?

This isn’t to suggest we do away with vehicles and roads, but it highlights how we need to expand our current thinking and question the presumed role of roads and cars in urban life. For example, the pedestrian malls along Broadway, only but a few years ago were the target of fierce opposition, primarily from drivers: they are now popular among many residents, improving traffic congestion, quality of life and even local business performance. The street malls were physical, but it took a cultural shift for them to be successful.

Fostering the Cultural Infrastructure of Urban Sustainability

The anti-bike lane mindset does not mesh with the direction our urban life arguably needs to head. But despite early vehement opposition, there are indications of increased acceptance. London’s bike lane growing pains reached a tipping point that the NYC Transportation Commissioner calls an everyday “architecture of safety,” achieved through a combination of physical and cultural infrastructure shifts (though London’s congestion charge helps matters, a similar version of which did not pass in NYC).

Cycling uptake is growing in NYC—evident in my own office even—and biking can even provide a perspective on the city previously unseen, along routes unsuitable for cars and too long for pedestrians – and often faster than public transport. But how is NYC’s bike lane cultural infrastructure progressing? Take this actual example of NYC’s bike lanes still lacking the necessary cultural infrastructure (and please forgive generalizations). Bikes are largely silent relative to the cacophony of other sounds in NYC. Every Sunday behind the Museum of Natural History on Columbus Ave, there is a bustling farmers’ market; but the farmers’ stands and trucks, which they regularly move between, are separated by a bike lane. After many collisions, near misses and arguments, the farmers developed a system. Instead of cyclists being required to ring bells in heavily pedestrian areas to alert of their presence, farmers brought bells of their own. As a bike rode down the line of farmers, bells would begin ringing to alert other farmers of their approach, as well as shouting “Wrong way!” at cyclists doing just that. This wasn’t just to help each other—and the cyclists—avoid injury, but to encourage cyclists to take on this responsibility themselves, which encouragingly, I have since observed occasionally at this location. Here, the cultural infrastructure is evolving and realigning the roles and responsibilities of pedestrians and cyclists as these physical infrastructure changes are frequented more and more.

But this small, self-organizing scale doesn’t necessarily translate well city-wide. To NYC’s credit, however, Mayor Bloomberg and team have recognized that their initial outreach—that is, fostering a new cultural infrastructure—needed improvement and have responded accordingly. This included increased road rules enforcement, bike lanes separated by medians or parking spaces for cyclist safety, and advertising campaigns highlighting bike routes and surprisingly short travel times – Google Maps even has a cycling option for directions now too, showing bike lanes all over the city. NYC is also on the brink of launching a bike-share program. Learning from their insufficient cultural infrastructure development of bike lanes, identifying station locations is being pursued through crowd-sourcing, while demonstrations started in September 2011, well in advance of the summer 2012 launch.

Building major infrastructure is a long-term commitment, and this is similarly true with cultural infrastructure, if not more so. Creating fundamental change in how we reevaluate concepts of value and quality of life will take time. It will require understanding the behaviors and cultural infrastructure of today and how incentives, values and norms can be redirected to build a future all the richer – and all the more sustainable, refocusing the urban quality of life, and thus rebalancing the order and culture of the street. NYC cannot tell people how to think, but it can foster the cultural infrastructure needed for New Yorkers to question presumed driver-primacy, realign pedestrian-cyclist-driver relationships and embrace such a change as largely for the better. If the numerous efforts to improve the environmental performance and quality of life in our cities is anything to go by—with broader regional and global benefits—expect many more urban physical and cultural infrastructure shifts. They may seem painful at first, but given time and with an open mind, you may end up liking what you see.

Author’s Note: I am not a native New Yorker; it is my adopted home. Until two years ago, I have always lived in car-dependent cities. Having to sell my car and rely on public transport (and my own two shoes) made me anxious. I wondered, “What will happen to my freedom to go where I want when I want?” Yet, as NYC has both the cultural and physical infrastructure of public transport over private, my mindset and behaviors quickly shifted with little resistance. Within months, my anxiety was long forgotten, replaced by an unexpected feeling: liberation. I am freer and rarely even see or have the need for one of NYC’s ubiquitous cabs. I don’t ride a bike in NYC either… but I may soon enough.
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The Dos (and Don'ts) of Supply Chain Marketing

This article was written by Jill Bunting, Analyst at GreenOrder andDevraj Banerjee, Associate at GreenOrder. This article was written by Jill Bunting, Analyst at GreenOrder and Devraj Banerjee, Associate at GreenOrder.

Supply chain sustainability is a key part of a company’s overall environmental innovation journey. Due to mounting stakeholder pressure and competitive forces, companies increasingly need to address environmental concerns like emissions, waste and water – as well as social priorities like the right to organize, slavery, and diversity in their supply chain. Advances in technology, the rise of social media, and the rigor of lifecycle analysis have made it easier and more important than ever before for companies to understand the environmental and social performance of supply chains – and communicate about it effectively.

But marketing progress towards supply chain sustainability represents an additional challenge beyond making supply chains more sustainable. And it means a lot more than just advertising. Getting supply chain marketing right requires applying general green marketing best practices to the circumstances unique to your company and supply chain. While a nuanced approach is critical, there are some clear “dos” and “don’ts” that form the guardrails for effective supply chain marketing.

A winning supply chain marketing approach starts with making genuine progress improving a supply chain. This is the foundation of authentic supply chain communications. Your chosen approach to improving your supply chain will depend on where you currently are in the environmental innovation journey, what your overall sustainability goals are, and how you can effectively engage your suppliers. Once you are ready to communicate real progress, you’ll want to ask yourself some important questions and follow some basic guidelines.

What audiences am I trying to reach – and what do they care about?

Prioritize and customize messaging by audience, making sure you cover both internal and external stakeholders, including employees, investors, NGOs, and customers (both B2B and B2C). Think about both what each audience cares about and make sure your message speaks to their concerns.

How do I share my success without generating new criticism or misplaced expectations?

Make sure your supply chain marketing messaging (and underlying activity) addresses the critical issues in your industry – even if they are delicate, such as child labor or toxic chemicals – or it will look like you missed the point. You’ll also want to highlight steady progress in addition to major breakthroughs in order to convey strategic cohesion and balance. Finally, ensure there is a common thread or theme – avoid the pursuit of “random acts of green”.

Does my supply chain sustainability fit with my brand?

Not every brand benefits from a supply chain sustainability story. Determine if marketing your supply chain sustainability work will enhance your brand rather than dilute or distract from an already strong, focused position. In particular, try to connect your message to an existing element of your brand. For example, if your company is known for efficiency and low cost, play on that angle when engaging in supply chain marketing. Walmart’s new slogan – “save money, live better” – captures this alignment quite well.

Are my sustainability claims credible, understandable, and relevant?

As a general guideline, specific claims about your supply chain should connect to benefits enjoyed by the customer. And the truth is, it can be difficult to make relevant claims in many cases, as often the customer experience is much removed from the supply chain improvement. So be careful to only make claims that are really relevant to your customer – by considering if they match with what they care about, or benefits/problems they encounter while using your offering.

When you do make claims, however, make them tangible through real life comparisons (e.g., “equivalent to taking 10,000 cars off the road”), be specific, and follow any advertising regulatory requirements.

In summary, supply chain marketing means getting the right message out about your supply chain sustainability improvements. You’ll be successful if you apply the best practices listed here by targeting specific audiences, prioritizing the right issues, strengthening your brand, and creating credible claims.

Interested in learning more? Join GreenOrder Principal, Michael Ellis as he discusses “Supply Chain Marketing Dos and Don’ts” during the upcoming LRN Webinar on December 14. We're collecting questions that Michael will answer live in the Webinar. If you'd like to submit a question, tweet @Green_Order.
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Topics: Sustainability

Does Your Green Brand Need a Reality Check?

This piece was originally published on Marc Stoiber's blog. It was co-written by Brad Bate, Senior Analyst at GreenOrder, and Stephen Linaweaver. Perception vs. reality has always been a major source of tension for brands. And sustainability, once heralded as the next big brand advantage, has only made things worse. This piece was originally published on Marc Stoiber's blog. It was co-written by Brad Bate, Senior Analyst at GreenOrder, and Stephen Linaweaver.

Perception vs. reality has always been a major source of tension for brands. And sustainability, once heralded as the next big brand advantage, has only made things worse.

It’s simple, really. If you promise people your soap will make them smell nice and it doesn’t, they’ll get over it. If you falsely promise your soap doesn’t have palm oil from orangutan-displacing plantations, people aren’t nearly as forgiving.

Brands like Patagonia provide shining examples of what can happen when you effectively align perception and reality. Their values, their brand, and their actions all convey the same sustainability message. Using this trifecta to engage more deeply with customers may have contributed to the fact that, during the worst of the recession, their sales continued to climb.

But the Patagonias of the world are few and far between.

This point is illustrated by studies like MapChange and theSustainability Leadership Report. They show that many companies are perceived to be much greener than they actually are, while others are not getting credit for good deeds. Neither situation is enviable for a brand manager. But is misalignment always bad?

Misalignment Bad

The brand landscape is littered with examples of companies for which green perception and reality are misaligned. This misalignment can expose a brand to risk or prevent it from maximizing its return on sustainability investment.

Apple, for example, is perceived as highly green, thanks in part to sleek design and creative marketing. When supply chain assessments identified weaknesses and not-so-sustainable practices, the dissonance of these findings with the company’s reputation made headlines.

Newscorp, on the other hand, has never had much of a green brand. But in reality, the company has been relatively pro-active on taking leadership positions in sustainability. The conference chatter about Newscorp always starts with “I had no idea they were doing that!”, which doesn’t usually equate with positive brand reinforcement.

Or Misalignment Good?

Of course, for every point, there are counterpoints.

Nike, for example, produces some of the most sustainable sneakers in the world. But the company has chosen to underplay its sustainability chops because brand managers felt the green message would conflict with the ‘authentic athletic performance’ brand promise.

That said, Nike is well-recognized for sustainability in the green community. Their CSR reports are impressive, and theirConsidered Design process inspiring.

You might say that Nike has used the perception / reality gap to its advantage. Mainstream consumers perceive the brand to be about performance. Conscious consumers recognize them for their green innovation. Everyone wins.

What Works For You?

Managing the right balance of sustainability perception / reality for your brand means knowing when to communicate and when to take action. But most importantly, it means first understanding the sustainability issues that matter to the people who matter to you.

What do your customers care about, and how do they perceive your performance?

When GreenOrder helped a well-known international brand dig into these issues, they found 73 discrete customer sustainability expectations that touched on topics ranging from packaging materials to facility energy consumption and varied based on business line and geography.

Mapping perception against actual performance for each of these expectations illuminated important risks and opportunities. Where perception exceeded performance, action was needed to mitigate potential brand risk. And where performance exceeded perception, additional communication represented an opportunity.

Based on assessments of customer perception and company performance, the brand was able to narrow down to the top 10-20 areas of opportunity for additional action or communication, adding new levels of granularity and customer insight to their sustainability strategic planning process.

Words To The Wise

Perception vs. reality represents a powerful lens through which brands or sustainability teams can view their strategies.

Be warned, though, that perceptions and expectations can be fickle. They change by geography, time, and even product or service type.

Aligning green perceptions and reality is ongoing work, but taking a conscious approach can help you create a more resilient brand, more loyal customers, and generate more value for your green dollar spent.
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Topics: Sustainability

Insights from Net Impact 2011: Overcoming Cynicism to Achieve Great Change

"The single greatest way to change the world is overcoming cynicism." This was the challenge laid down by Lord Michael Hastings in the opening keynote of the 2011 Net Impact conference and it caught me unawares. Is cynicism really the biggest barrier to solving global issues? Is our distrust of others’ apparent motives stopping each of us from taking action? Throughout the conference, CEOs, entrepreneurs and thought leaders shared lessons they’ve learned from business and life experiences that can help us overcome cynicism and drive purposeful change: "The single greatest way to change the world is overcoming cynicism."

This was the challenge laid down by Lord Michael Hastings in the opening keynote of the 2011 Net Impact conference and it caught me unawares.

Is cynicism really the biggest barrier to solving global issues? Is our distrust of others’ apparent motives stopping each of us from taking action?

Throughout the conference, CEOs, entrepreneurs and thought leaders shared lessons they’ve learned from business and life experiences that can help us overcome cynicism and drive purposeful change:

1. “Be who you say you are" A succinct but valuable branding lesson from Tom Kelley at Nike. He went on to introduce the Nike Better World campaign, (check out the slick HTML 5 website if you haven’t already) which aims to educate and inspire young people on sustainability and showcase the best of Nike’s sustainability initiatives. Importantly, it focuses on what Nike is: it is about sport, it is about performance, it doesn’t take itself seriously and it is very, very cool.

2. “Talk to people like they are people” A tip from the Craig behind Craigslist. In a world of social media, the way organizations communicate with consumers has to change. We no longer live in the Mad Men world of one-way communication. Conversations are multidirectional and anyone can join in. Craig’s advice to all of us using social media to engage consumers: (1) it is about sharing the message not controlling it, (2) recognize you are relying on others to transmit your message and they will transmit their version of your message and (3) dive in and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

3. “Align your own values with how you spend your time” In an energizing keynote, Jen Boulden, a co-founder of Ideal Bites, spoke of how nothing felt better than building a business that aligned with her own values. Ideal Bites, before it sold to The Walt Disney Company, was an email newsletter service that sent subscribers one ‘light green’ eco-tip a day. The target audience was people like the co-founders themselves, individuals who might drive an SUV to Whole Foods but still want to take small actions and be part of a movement. The newsletter that is billed as “a sassier shade of green,” also happens to be an apt description of Jen Boulden.

4. “Measure yourself by the potential” Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation at Nike, described Nike’s journey in her closing keynote. She suggested that Nike’s status in the 1990s as the “the poster child for supply chain mismanagement” may have been a blessing in disguise because it set them on a path to become a pioneer in sustainability. Hannah attributed some of this vision to their CEO Mark Parker, who continually reminds the team, "Don't measure yourself by the competition – measure yourself by the potential.” Her parting advice to the 2,600 students and professionals on moving this global economy out of industrial age and into a sustainable economy: (1) reframe the story to focus on the opportunity, (2) obsess innovation and (3) scale by doing one thing gloriously.
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Topics: Sustainability

Hurdles to EV Adoption: Reaching the Other 98%

Over the past several weeks, Occupy Wall Street protesters have demanded more focus on what they call the “other 99 percent.” But in the automotive world, the “other 98 percent” – the vast majority of new car buyers who don’t buy hybrid or electric vehicles (EVs) – already have executives’ full attention. Auto makers are working hard to prove the reliability of EV technology, demonstrate the growth in charging infrastructure, and refine their marketing strategy to increase EV sales. Over the past several weeks, Occupy Wall Street protesters have demanded more focus on what they call the “other 99 percent.” But in the automotive world, the “other 98 percent” – the vast majority of new car buyers who don’t buy hybrid or electric vehicles (EVs) – already have executives’ full attention. Auto makers are working hard to prove the reliability of EV technology, demonstrate the growth in charging infrastructure, and refine their marketing strategy to increase EV sales.

Many manufacturers and suppliers have invested considerable resources in production and sales, and for those to pay off, EV adoption must grow quickly beyond the current 2% of the global demand. While the importance of reducing EVs’ price cannot be overstated, this alone will not be sufficient. EVs will have to pass three critical tests before the other 98 percent ask themselves the question “should I buy an EV?” and then decide the answer to that question is yes.

1) Prove that EV technology works First and foremost, EV technology must reach a point of maturity such that its reliability is assured. Consider this the most basic threshold necessary to attract consumers beyond the early adopters. Here, EVs are already doing quite well.

The Toyota Prius has now been on the market globally for ten years, with over 2 million cars sold to date. The batteries and other components of hybrid drivetrains have proven no more prone to malfunction than their internal combustion-only equivalents. Ford recently stated that “the odds of experiencing an issue with one of our hybrid battery cells is around 8.5 million to 1.” Additionally, both the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt come withbattery warranties of eight years/100,000 miles.

2) Demonstrate that EV infrastructure is ready Many consumers who trust EV technology are waiting for charging station infrastructure to spread before they purchase an EV. Due largely to government incentives and directives, however, infrastructure growth is actually outpacing sales of EVs themselves, improving the outlook for each successive EV buyer. Some utilities and electricity providers have gotten involved in promoting EVs as well, by partnering with independent EV service companies, like Better Place, or rolling out their own, as is the case with NRG and eVgo.

According to a new report from Pike Research, there are currently about 1,400 public charging stations in the United States, a number that is expected to grow to 13,000 by the end of 2012. And by 2017, Pike projects there will be 1.5 million public and private charging stations, only a small fraction of the 7.7 million globally.

The effect of the progress on these fronts can be seen in consumer surveys. A Deloitte study found that 54 percent of U.S. consumers were willing to consider purchasing an EV, with percentages even higher in Europe and China (69 and 93 percent, respectively). EVs have become ascendant and accepted enough in the public consciousness that they enter into many consumers’ decision making process. While it is important to EV stakeholders to convert the rest of the consumer base, far more promising in the short- to medium-term is convincing a few more of those buyers already considering EVs to take the plunge.

3) Establish a rapport with the buyer EV manufacturers need to think carefully about how they present their product in the market. Prices are not yet at a point where EV buyers will be motivated by saving money, so an interim strategy for attracting consumers who are willing to pay a premium for EVs is necessary. Luckily for the EV industry, there is a pool of individuals willing to take that step, with 12 percent of U.S. consumers (and an incredible 50 percent of Chinese consumers) identifying themselves as “potential first movers” in switching to an EV in the Deloitte survey mentioned above.

If automakers captured only these potential first movers, it would still constitute a great success for the EV industry in the coming years. The key, therefore, is determining what those first movers want, and what message will best reach them. Studies of the early EV adopters are finding that they are not necessarily environmentalists, but rather technophiles -- the kinds of people who are more likely to own a 3D television and pre-order the latest tablet. Therefore, creating messaging that h that highlights the EVs innovative engineering and distinctiveness from internal-combustion models will be most effective. Focusing on the larger community of technophiles could be the bridge to mass adoption that the EV industry needs. Environmentalists needn’t fret; no matter what the impetus for buying an EV, the environmental benefits remain the same.

What’s next?

If you’d like to continue the conversation about the future of EVs and how collaboration is changing the automotive industry, you can attend our upcoming webinar, Getting From A to B in EVs & NGVs: A Conversation with Clean Transportation Experts, on November 11th.
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Topics: Sustainability