Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Panama Bartholemy and Stephanie Wang at the San Francisco Green Festival

This post was originally published on The Energy Collective.

Those of us who live in California often have occasion to feel proud of our state’s leadership in the area of clean energy. The spring 2011  San Francisco Green Festival provided another such opportunity at the session on “Accelerating the Transition to Clean Energy,” with speakers Panama Bartholemy of the CA Energy Commission and Stephanie Wang from the CLEAN Coalition.

California is facing these realities:

  • The demand for electricity in the state is growing by about 1.2 – 1.6% a year.
  • In California, 1 in 5 children have asthma.
  • Electricity use accounts for 24% of emissions in the state, transportation 37%, and industry 21%.
  • Though we use a lot more natural gas than energy from dirtier sources such as coal, California produces only 13% of the natural gas we use.

However, according to Panama Bartholemy, these are also true:

  • More jobs are created by renewable energy than by natural gas production.
  • By the end of 2010, California was getting 17% of our energy from renewable sources, and our goal for 2020 is 30%.
  • Almost 300 renewable energy facilities are in the permitting process in California, representing over 51,000 megawatts. Although not all of these will get built, there’s clearly a lot of activity in this area.
  • Though the costs for solar installation are still high, the cost of photovoltaic solar has plummeted, and by 2020 the cost of PV should be comparable to that of energy from the grid.
  • An expansion of large wind and solar is expected in the state.

That last item sounds positive, but it creates challenges in two areas: How do we build these large facilities responsibly and avoid destroying precious habitat for endangered species? And how do we avoid building miles of transmission lines?

A solution that the CLEAN coalition (“Making Clean Energy Accessible Now”) is pursuing is to move from placing solar and wind facilities in the desert to generating renewable energy within our communities. In keeping with this goal, Stephanie Wang noted, Governor Jerry Brown has called for 60% of clean energy systems in California to be installed within California communities in the next 10 years.

CLEAN programs are being launched at local, state, and national levels and are expected to cut costs and encourage renewable energy production:

  • CLEAN contracts require utilities to enter into long-term contracts to purchase all energy from eligible renewable energy systems at a fixed rate, making it easier to sell clean energy to utilities. This also encourages more production of clean energy — for example, currently, any excess energy produced by a PG&E customer can only be used as a credit over the course of the year, not sold to PG&E. So there’s no incentive to produce more than one will use over the year. These programs will change that and thereby encourage installation of renewable energy systems on unused spaces such as warehouse roofs.
  • Grid interconnection makes it easier to site and connect clean local energy projects to the grid, and to reduce time and costs for financing.

CLEAN California, which will soon be launched, is expected to create more clean energy projects faster than other plans. It will create more jobs that employ people locally, and it will stimulate billions dollars of investment in the state. According to a study by UC Berkeley, the program will increase direct state revenues by over $2 billion. In addition, creating power locally avoids the 10 years or so required to plan and build transmission lines — not to mention that some power is lost when being transported over these lines. Instead of damaging fragile habitat, the program advocates placing solar systems over areas such as landfills, parking lots, commercial or apartment buildings, and agricultural land.

If you’re a California resident interested in participating, you can take action with CLEAN California by becoming a partner (if you represent an organization that can endorse the CLEAN California program), requesting a speaker, or getting involved as an organizer. And if you live in the rest of the country, never fear — programs like this one are planned around the country. It will be interesting to follow them and see where they go.


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As someone interested in both project management and sustainability, I’ve been wondering how to bring the two together. And lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about green project management. But the discussion is often made up of questions — the main one being, What is green project management?

Like many people, I’ve tended to think of green project management as managing projects in specifically green industries, such as companies that promote renewable energy or electric vehicles. And of course, that qualifies. But at a recent webinar, Richard Maltzman and David Shirley, authors of Green Project Management, argued convincingly that although projects fall on a spectrum from those that are green by definition, such as a solar installation, to those that aren’t primarily about sustainability but have green elements, any project can be run in a more sustainable manner.

The business world is starting to see the benefits of sustainability. We’ve all heard stories about companies such as Walmart going green, and now more and more companies are finding that being more sustainable not only helps their bottom line but also improves their brand reputation. In fact, a recent MIT Sloan report notes that most businesses are anticipating “a world where sustainability is becoming a mainstream, if not required, part of the business strategy.”

In spite of this, not everyone accepts sustainability as a natural part of the project management discipline. But Maltzman and Shirley make a strong case for “greenality” (a combined focus on green and quality) in managing projects. As they note, project management is already concerned with reducing costs, increasing value, and protecting scarce resources — all practices that fit nicely with being green. So it’s not much of a stretch to incorporate green practices and considerations into any project, not just those in a sustainable industry.

What can project managers do? It’s in relation to projects that aren’t obviously green that a project manager’s role becomes interesting. All projects affect the environment somehow, and a project manager can help mitigate that by considering the environmental effects of the project and also of the product resulting from the project.

A shift in thinking is required. As project managers, we must think beyond the confines of our project to consider:

  • The entire life cycle of a product resulting from our project. For example, a washing machine might be made with the greatest care taken to produce it in a sustainable manner, but it turns out that washing machines consume the most during use — much more than in their production, distribution, or disposal.
  • The project’s sponsor and beyond. We should consider the “ultimate sponsors, users of the product in the steady state, and in fact, an expanded set of stakeholders (like our grandchildren) who will inherit the environment in the long(er) term.”

This may be starting to sound more green than businesslike, but Maltzman and Shirley are quick to point out that sustainable practices are good for business (for more, see the “5 Assertions” on their Earth PM blog):

  • Understanding the green aspects of a project better equips project managers to identify and mitigate risks.
  • Running a project with green intent helps teams not only do the right thing but also do things right for the business.
  • Adopting an environmental strategy increases the chances for success of the product and the project.
  • Viewing projects through an environmental lens both encourages long-term thinking and allows the project to take advantage of the current “green wave.”
In addition to expanding our thinking, Maltzman and Shirley encourage project managers to do the following:
  • Be a change agent. This shouldn’t be a stretch, since every project is about change or it wouldn’t happen at all.
  • Connect our organization’s Environmental Management Plan to our project’s objectives — and if there is no EMP, create or help create one.
  • Ensure that both quality and sustainability (“greenality”) are built in to our thinking about a project, rather than bolted on as an afterthought.

As a project manager working on software documentation projects, I’ll have to think about how I can apply these concepts to my work. The only products I’m helping produce are somewhat amorphous ones such as help systems. For the most part no longer available in the form of printed manuals, our help systems have already become more green. And my employer, Adobe Systems, has a robust sustainability program. But I’m sure there’s a lot more to be done, and it will be interesting to think of ways that I can contribute as a project manager.

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Erica Priggen showing a clip from The Story of Bottled Water

I was delighted to be able to host last month’s EcoTuesday meeting at the San Francisco office of Adobe Systems, where I work as a Program Manager. The evening’s featured speaker was Erica Priggen, Executive Producer at Free Range Studios. This organization has a knack for conveying powerful messages in a concise, engaging, and entertaining manner and is responsible for such hits as the award-winning The Story of Stuff. At the EcoTuesday gathering, we got to see a sampling of their work.

Though the focus of the evening wasn’t the venue, it quickly became apparent how appropriate this location was for an EcoTuesday meeting. Before the featured speaker, we had a short introduction to Adobe’s sustainability initiatives by Meera Ramanathan, Global Sustainability Manager with Cushman and Wakefield, Adobe’s facilities management firm. The few minutes she spoke weren’t enough to detail all that Adobe is doing in this area, but they were enough to make me feel good about where I work. Some examples:

  • Erica Priggen and part of the audience, with the backdrop of the Adobe LEED-certified building

    Adobe was the world’s first business to receive 4 platinum-level LEED certifications, including one for the building in which this meeting was held; 601 Townsend, built in 1905, received the first platinum LEED for an existing building in San Francisco and is the oldest LEED-certified platinum building in the world. The company is now at 11 LEED certifications overall — 9 of those at the platinum level, 2 at gold.

  • Adobe has reduced use of electricity by 35%, natural gas by 41%, domestic water by 22%, and irrigation water by 76%, in addition to recycling or composting up to 95% of solid waste — for a total reduction in pollution from all sources by 26%.
  • The San Jose headquarters has installed both wind spires and Bloom Energy fuel cell energy servers, known as “Bloom boxes.” These Bloom boxes are expected to provide about 30% of the site’s power over time.
  • Electric car chargers have already been installed at some Adobe locations.
  • Janitorial products used at Adobe satisfy the American Society for Testing and Materials Cleaning Stewardship for Community Building Standards and meet the Green Seal Cleaning Products Standards.
  • As many companies are finding now, following green practices can cut costs. Significant savings have been realized by measures such as retrofitting air-conditioning systems, installing digital electric meters that closely monitor electricity use, and cutting water use.
  • Adobe has adopted standards for maintaining recycled content levels in products and purchases; 60% of all office product purchases contain recycled content, and all materials installed in Adobe buildings must meet strict green specifications.
  • Employees receive vouchers for transit services, railways, and buses.
  • Water bottles have been replaced with reusable bottles and glasses, with water provided from filtered coolers.

The EcoTuesday introduction circle

Maybe I sound like I’m bragging, but I have to admit I’m impressed by all that Adobe is doing, especially given that what I’ve listed here is just part of the story. Adobe is clearly a leader in sustainability when it comes to corporate America. That’s good news, but even better is the fact that we’re not alone. Other large companies, even such unlikely ones as Walmart, have made huge strides in this area, as they find that “the bottom line of green is black” and that by adopting sustainable practices, they can realize intangible but significant benefits in addition to dollar savings. It’s our job as employees to encourage companies to continue along this path — and it’s our job as inhabitants of the earth to spread the word everywhere we can about the benefits of going green.

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the position, views, or opinions of Adobe.

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I’m excited to report that the next San Francisco EcoTuesday gathering will be hosted at my workplace, the Adobe San Francisco office at 601 Townsend. EcoTuesday is a unique, structured monthly networking event for sustainable business leaders held concurrently in nine cities across the country. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I invite you to join me on March 22, 6:30 pm, for a fun and informative evening.

This month, the San Francisco event will feature Erica Priggen, Executive Producer at Free Range Studios. As the head of Free Range’s video and entertainment department, Erica oversees the creative and strategic development of all of the company’s video campaigns. She brings a deep study of sustainability and systems thinking to her work, with a concentration on the importance of storytelling and mythology as tools for cultural transformation. Erica is the producer of Free Range’s award-winning The Story of Stuff (which I highly recommend), as well as other hits such as 350.org, The Good Life, the Alliance for Climate Education’s national high school assembly program, and the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop video series. The mission of Free Range Studios is to enable their clients to communicate key messages and empower individuals to transform society through the innovative use of digital media, storytelling, graphic design, and strategy. They also strive to inspire others through values-driven business practices.

The event is being sponsored by delicious concoctions from Honest Tea and Haamonii Shochu, a local company that is pursuing serious steps toward sustainability as well as participating in many charitable activities.

Come have a drink, network, and meet some great people!

RSVP: $5 online ($10 door) http://www.meetup.com/San-Francisco-EcoTuesday/events/16675369/

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For some, knowing that California’s Proposition 23 was largely funded by two Texas oil companies (along with the Koch brothers) might have been enough of a reason to vote against it. Similarly, Proposition 26 got major funding from big oil and tobacco companies. But what does the recent defeat of Prop 23, and the passing of Prop 26, actually mean? And why was one defeated and the other similar one approved, by the same voters?

Prop 23 would have suspended AB32, signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006, which requires California to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. AB32 is expected to have benefits in these areas — some of which we’ve experienced already:

  • Jobs and economic growth: Although the proponents of Prop 23 called it a “jobs initiative,” it would have probably led to a loss of jobs in California. Before Prop 23 was defeated, a group of 118 economists signed an open letter stating their belief that AB32 will stimulate California’s economy along with having many other beneficial effects. In fact, AB32 and similar policies have already attracted business to California and encouraged the creation of hundreds, maybe thousands, of clean-energy jobs. Because of such policies, California has the most vital clean energy economy in the United States. Venture capitalists are more likely to invest here with AB32 in place; according to State Senator Mark Leno, AB32 attracted $11 million in venture capital to the state even before being implemented. Companies like Sungevity have made California their home, rather than other solar-friendly places such as Germany, in part because of AB32, which creates a climate that encourages clean-tech business.
  • Environment and health: As the 118 economists put it in their letter, “policies that reduce global warming pollution are likely to provide immediate benefits to the health and welfare of residents by reducing local pollutants.” So all Californians will benefit from AB32, not just those employed in the clean-energy industry.
  • National security: Promoting clean energy in California, the 8th-largest economy in the world, reduces our dependence on foreign oil. Doing so greatly enhances our national security — which is a major factor that led George Shultz to become co-chair of the No on 23 campaign.

Perhaps you don’t live in California. Why should you care what happens here? Because California has a history of being a leader in innovation and clean energy, and what we do here will spread elsewhere. Supporters of Prop 23, almost all from other states, knew this when they backed the measure, and that’s why they targeted California. The Republicans’ nationwide gains at the polls this fall will make it harder to enact climate-protecting legislation at the federal level, so it’s all the more crucial for states to take the lead.

Proponents of Prop 23 were clever, though misleading, in calling it a “jobs initiative.” In an equally clever move, opponents rebranded it the “Dirty Energy” proposition. This is a wonderful example of how we can reframe a message to get people to think differently about an issue: no one likes the sound of “dirty energy.” The No on 23 campaign also bombarded the media and social networking sites with creative, forceful ads, some of which you can see here.

The same effort, unfortunately, didn’t go into defeating Prop 26, branded the “Stop Hidden Taxes” initiative, which many of us heard about as an afterthought long after we’d gotten the scoop on Prop 23. Prop 26, now approved by California voters, reclassifies some environmental fees as taxes requiring approval by a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature. And we all know how popular taxes are.

It’s not clear how the passing of Prop 26 will affect AB32, though some fear that it will make it harder to impose fees intended to implement AB32. There are reasons to hope that won’t be the case; Prop 26 applies only to laws enacted after January 1, and AB32 has been in place since 2006. It could still affect fees levied in the future to support AB32. And even if it doesn’t erode AB32, if allowed to stand Prop 26 will have serious consequences, as detailed in a study by the UCLA School of Law. In addition to adversely affecting transportation, law enforcement, and public health, Prop 26 is an attack on the environment. That’s because it makes it much harder to impose fees on polluters, now a major source of funding for health and environmental programs. And that leaves taxpayers to pay for the harmful effects of industries like oil companies.

But another challenge remains for Prop 26, and that’s it’s basic legitimacy. It’s likely the proposition could face challenges in court — both because it’s badly written, leaving interpretations up to the courts, and because it contradicts Prop 23, which had such a resounding defeat. Still, we’ll have to wait and see what happens with Prop 26.

Why did Prop 26 succeed while the similar Prop 23 failed? Anyone who’s faced a long California ballot knows how confusingly written most of the propositions are, so it’s likely that voters didn’t realize they were making contradictory votes. The best antidote to such confusion seems to be good advertising, but Prop 23 got the lion’s share of publicity while Prop 26 was left to prevail silently.

This shows the power of not only good publicity but also strong bipartisan collaboration. Perhaps what put the No on Prop 23 campaign over the edge, and enabled the clever strategies used, was the huge collaborative effort among progressives and conservatives, activists and energy companies, Republicans and Democrats.

While this fall’s election results were mixed, in both California and the rest of the country, there were some important wins. The election of Jerry Brown as governor will help promote environmental efforts — in fact, his opponent said she would have suspended AB32 for at least a year. And defeating Prop 23 was a major win for environmentalists, one that will have far-reaching effects that extend throughout our country and even beyond. In this election, California won the right to continue leading the world in clean-energy innovation. And considering how the election went at the federal level, we need states like ours to lead the way.

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A major theme at this year’s San Francisco Green Festival was what we as individuals can do to promote sustainability. But what’s government’s role? I attended a panel on this subject with representatives from the federal, state, and city levels.

The federal government can play an important role, as Enrique Manzanilla of the EPA described. Grants from the EPA, which is partnering with HUD and DOT, help promote smart grid growth, green buildings, environmental workforce and job training, and much more.

When we get to the state and city levels, more details emerge. State Senator Mark Leno told us about a measure to put solar on the roofs of public buildings in San Francisco. The installations are funded using the ingenious idea of revenue bonds, which are paid back by the revenue stream created by the energy saved in these buildings. And a new law allows excess energy generated by solar installations on municipal buildings to be used for new municipal projects, such as schools.

Melanie Nutter, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, talked more about what the city is doing. At 77% recycling, we’re leading the country. Local green programs have created jobs and saved energy for many homes and businesses. The city’s sustainability initiatives incorporate social components, such as providing green job training to low-income parents. And the green building program’s ambitious and wonderful goal is for buildings to reach a level of sustainability that would make the term “green building” meaningless — because they’d all be green.

Supervisor Ross Mirakami added that while it’s great that AB32 was upheld in the recent elections, it does the bare minimum. That’s where local government can step in and take action, as San Francisco is doing with a climate change bill that aims to go beyond the requirements of AB32. San Francisco was also the first city in the country to enact a plastic bag ban, which is encouraging other cities to attempt similar measures. In more than one way, we’re showing how a single city can provide an example for others to emulate.

We’re making strides at all levels of government. While the federal government has its limits, it sounded to me like the EPA is able to accomplish more now than when I worked there briefly during the Reagan administration. On the state level, not only has AB32 been upheld, but we’ve elected a governor who’s likely to support green legislation. And San Francisco is leading the country in all kinds of green innovations.

We can’t leave everything up to the government, as Bill McKibben and John Perkins emphasized in their own talks at the Green Festival. But some things need to be done by government, and it’s good to know that ours is taking some positive steps, especially at the state and local levels. This is particularly important in California, because our state is a leader that can set the tone for the rest of the country and even beyond. I look forward to seeing what can be done with a new Democratic governor. And I expect that at next year’s Green Festival, we’ll hear about more impressive accomplishments.

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Just a small corner of the bustling crowd at the Green Festival


It would be interesting to see which other U.S. cities could draw as big a crowd as the one at the 9th annual San Francisco Green Festival last weekend. The expansive Concourse Exhibition center was packed with the usual suspects and more: the generous smattering of hippies in dreadlocks and flowing organic cotton fashions was only part of the varied crowd, which seemed to encompass all the demographics you’d normally find around town.

While this festival is partly a showcase and marketplace for just about any green product you can think of — from jewelry, clothing, and towels to food and drinks to the latest electric cars — and may therefore seem less serious than the more businesslike green conferences in the Bay Area, it serves an important function in getting so many people involved and engaged. There’s a lot to be said for making green more mainstream. And in between shopping, you can also choose among talks on a wide range of subjects. The ones I attended exemplified the energy and message of the festival, and the theme of personal and global engagement.

There’s an urgency to environmentalism today that can’t be denied. As Bill McKibben of 350.org reminded his audience, climate change is happening faster than we’d thought — and while we have the technology to solve many of our problems, the political will isn’t as easy to come by. John Perkins, author of Hoodwinked, pointed out that this is the first time in history that the whole world is confronting the same crisis. But it’s also the first time that we’re all communicating with one another, in a way that wasn’t possible even a few years ago. As an illustration of this, 350.org has more than once virtually gathered people from all around the world — their Global Day of Action was called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history,” and this year their Global Work Party drew people to 7,347 events in 188 countries.

We all have tremendous power to make changes. If you don’t believe that, just look at the many examples of people who have helped change the world. Rallies organized by 350.org’s predecessor in 2007 helped convince political leaders to set a goal of cutting carbon 80% by 2050. In Florida, as Perkins recounted, the head of an environmental agency had the courage to take a stand against a coal-powered plant, and the people stood behind her. The coal company got the message and is now the largest wind and solar company in the U.S. While they used to spend millions against CO2 taxes, now they fight for them — because the people spoke.

So what can you do? It depends what your passion is; it’s up to all of us to get involved in any way we can and do whatever makes the most sense for us. Connect with others who are trying to do the same things; volunteer to install solar panels; join organizations that force corporations and governments to change. It took just a few people to convince the administration to put solar panels back on the White House; imagine what we can do with many more of us. If we all engage in activities like this and make our voices heard, change will happen. And events like the Green Festival, which bring so many green-minded people together, can help facilitate that and inspire us all to keep pursuing our goals.

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