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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco Green Festival’

In a recent post I covered some of what my employer, Adobe Systems, is doing in the area of sustainability. I’m glad to note that we’re just one part of a larger trend in business. Many others are joining in as they see the effects of going green on their bottom line, and a recent MIT Sloan report finds that most businesses are anticipating “a world where sustainability is becoming a mainstream, if not required, part of the business strategy.”

John Viera at the SF Green Festival

Auto makers are no exception. At the recent San Francisco Green Festival, John Viera, Director of Sustainable Business Strategies at Ford, gave a behind-the-scenes look at what that company is doing to not only be more sustainable but also encourage their suppliers to do the same — an important component in what large companies such as Ford are doing.

Ford has embraced a vision to provide sustainable transportation that’s affordable environmentally, socially, and economically. The strategy for achieving this vision has three phases:

  • Near term, happening now: Begin the migration to advanced technologies, including advanced gas engines, hybrids, and cars powered by natural gas.
  • Middle term: Fully implement known technologies, including electric vehicles, in addition to concentrating on areas such as weight reduction.
  • Long term (which stretches, for now, to 2030): Continue with hybrid technology and alternative energy sources such as fuel cells and hydrogen-powered engines.

In a major shift, the focus of the company has moved from maximizing speed and power to making engines smaller and more efficient, and improving fuel economy.

A big push at Ford now is electrification. This year they’ll  provide a couple EV models, and by 2012 they plan to have 5 new ones available in the U.S. They also make moving to an EV as easy as possible for the customer: their cars provide in-car information including icons that show you how efficiently you’re driving, and when you by an EV from them, the Best Buy Geek Squad will come to your home to install a charger.

To address concerns about battery disposal, Ford is collaborating with other auto companies in the End of Life Vehicle Solutions consortium on requirements for disposal and recycling.

In addition, Ford is using more renewable resources in their manufacturing. They’re known for incorporating recycled blue jeans in their cars but also use materials such as hemp, flax, and switch grass as fiber reinforcements. Ford vehicles are 85% recyclable, and the goal is to get that number to 100%.

Ford purchases their materials locally when possible, and they also produce as many kinds of vehicles as possible in one place — something made possible in part by the fact that they use the same basic structure for many of their cars. Their Michigan plant, for example, produces gas, electric, and hybrid vehicles. That factory is also home to Michigan’s largest solar array, at 500 KW.

There’s no disputing the fact that Ford, like many auto makers, still produces gas-guzzling SUVs with low mileage. But the fact that such a mainstream company is getting into the business of sustainability bodes well. While electric vehicles still can’t be said to be cheap, Ford’s commitment to provide affordable cars for the average consumer will help bring them within the reach of more people.

How sustainable are these efforts toward sustainability? Ford has been moving in this direction since at least 2007, and given the positive financial benefits, they’re likely to continue. In fact, the poor economic climate encourages sustainability, which tends to positively affect a company’s bottom line. That, coupled with regulatory requirements and pressure from consumers, should help keep companies like Ford on the path to sustainability.

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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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