Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Mushrooms Might Just Save The Planet - by Izzy Woods

(My wife, Lauren, does not eat mushrooms. She thinks the texture repulsive. I find mushrooms a fascinating creature; growing up eating different kinds and seeing its representation in ancient Chinese medicine made me appreciate the complexity of mushrooms. I will change Lauren's mind about their deliciousness yet, but in the meantime, Izzy Woods asked if she could give us a short, very informative, article about mushrooms. Enjoy! - jin) 


Did you know that mushrooms existed on planet Earth before any other plant life form? Mushrooms arrived 1.3 million years ago, several hundred million years before anything else. 420 million years ago giant mushrooms called Prototaxites could be found dotting the landscape, standing at about three foot tall, dwarfing other plant life forms. Mushrooms are essential for maintaining the health of the planet, since their life cycle constantly enriches the soil that trees need to grow.

New Thinking

Paul Stamets
Groundbreaking mycologists, such as Paul Stamets and Eben Bayer are looking at a myriad of new green applications for mycelium, the fungi root systems that grow for miles underground, holding the soil together. Eben Bayer has made use of these fast-growing mycelium fibres to develop a new system for producing packaging material, which has the potential to replace synthetic plastics, such as Styrofoam, which are a major pollution problem. Synthetic plastics, which are widely used to package delicate computer components and electrical goods, never degrade and cause problems in the oceans and clog up landfill sites.

Eden Bayer with mushroom packaging
Bayer’s innovative system involves creating molds which are filled with organic agricultural byproducts, such as rice husk or oat hulls, and then ‘innoculated’ with fungi spores. The mycelium grow through the organic matter, transforming it into a chitinous polymer, which will hold the shape of the mold, and had excellent packaging qualities, such as impact resistance. They material can be waterproofed and fireproofed, making it just as adaptable as its synthetic counterparts. The molds can be used for building materials, furniture production, and even organic matresses don’t seem out of the question. The main difference is that after use the packaging simple composts back down into the soil, enriching it in the process. Bayer’s company, which has demonstrated the effectiveness of this process has just won a contract to supply Dell computers packaging needs, and his innovation has huge implications for world-wide local production.

Paul Stamets

Visonary green scientist Paul Stamets became obsessed with fungi after working in the forests of North America. He has gone on to discover some extraordinary applications for fungi, which will have a significant impact on the future of the planet. He has identified six ways in which fungi can save the planet:

Mycofiltration – this process is used in the cleansing of polluted watercourses, such as those downstream of factories. Burlap sacks inoculated with fungi spores consume and cleanse the water of poisons and toxins, whilst providing protection against the erosion of river banks. The implications of this for those living in areas with low levels of clean drinking water can only be imagined at this stage. Experiments have been extremely successful so far. The ability of mycelium to ‘knit together’ soil and consolidate it, which Bayers utilised in his packaging idea, equally applies to eroding land, and Stamet’s mycelium mats have implications for land maintenance worldwide.

Mycopesticides - Paul noticed his house was infested with termites one day, and simply set to work to develop a fungi based solution, which proved 100% effective and chemical free.

Mycomedecines – one of the most significant areas of Stamet’s research is into medicines, specifically powerful antibiotics derived from fungi, and anti-viral treatments. The discoveries in this field are perhaps the most exciting, with very strong anti-viral, and anti-biological warfare properties being discovered which are many times the effectiveness of anything we have at present.

Mycoremediation - a process used to repair and rebuild damaged ecosystems, and purify polluted soil. Stamets has discovered that mycelium can purify and thrive on oil polluted land, which has major implications for global clean-up.

Mycoforestry – The use of mushrooms in managing forest land, the lungs of the planet, has potential long-term gains by improving the growth and sustainability of trees. Mushrooms have always thrived on the forest floor, and the constant growth and decay cycle helps to maintain the health of the soil over millennia.

Myconol – A potential new form of bio-fuel was discovered as part of the fungi culturing process. Being able to ‘grow energy’ would clearly have a major impact on carbon emissions and the future survival of the planet.

The Way Forward

Scientists are only just beginning to understand the enormous potential of fungi in the preservation of the planet’s ecosystems and biosphere. It is somehow fitting that the first arrival on earth may hold the answers to planet survival we have been looking for for so long. With courageous and innovative eco-thinkers in the world of mycology this is subject to keep an eye on in future. Once you start reading Stamet’s work you will certainly never look at a mushroom in the same way again.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Natural Community

“Can you hold a meeting while walking through the park? Can you create a garden where you work? Can you schedule a hike? How could you celebrate the turning of the seasons?”

Those were the questions Dr. Alexander Laszlo and Dr. Kathia C. Laszlo, a pair of PhDs, asked in a provocative essay written for the Triple Pundit titled Organizations as Communities, Invoke the Human Spirit.

Funny, my wife and I just had a conversation the other day dreaming about our own sustainability consulting service bringing a holistic approach to corporate and organizational cultures to impact communities in sustainable ways. Holding meeting outdoors and having a garden as the center focus of a work space are the things we'd love to entertain. Lauren hopes to study environmental ecology and social motivation and I hope to specialize in social change and sustainability pontification. By our power combine . . . In any case, I've always felt sustainability must also get its attention in organizational psychology. I've consistently advocated for an integrated approach to sustainability, leaving its investigation to asymptotic analysis, but reserving the application of sustainable methods in a holistic system. I've always thought the hippies had something good going by incorporating the concepts of nature into their systemic thinking. Now, at the convergence of mutual interest from another husband and wife team, I sense we are approaching to the actualization of my once hopeless ideals. 

All rants and hopes, Lauren and I are idealists. We believe in the power of transformation through collective action but we realize the fault switch got stuck on capitalism’s worst moment: blind with ambitions without due regards for the breaking point of our human experience. We see this problem deeply intertwined with our separation from our communities, from our philosophies, from Nature.

We want to reestablish that connection; we hope to first teach ourselves about sustainability through holistic thinking and we hope to continue accumulate knowledge in our investigation of things. (In part you will find this theme consistently published here at The Green Elephant, and you will see this as a driving force behind our own selfish motivations.) If Lauren and I ever had a goal, we hope to engage and help others conserve, invent, and prosper. We would like to think we can help people hold meetings through the park in fresh air; plant a productive garden where we work; and we would schedule hikes with clients to show them the true inspiration about nature—the changes of seasons means better things for our children, for our children’s children; it is the wonders of things--in the changes we find the consistencies of growth.

According to Russell Ackoff “the principal obstructions to corporate development are usually self-imposed.” I've always felt our deconstructed thinking and the result of a unsustainable crisis are self-imposed. Dr. Laszlo and Laszlo observe that “[a]s more people come to value right livelihood and community, a new kind of organizational culture is fast emerging.” To me, this is the paradigm shift; this is the ideas taking form, functions seeking activity, and markets changing with the way we understand things--a by product of our investigation into things.

In the past, I've heard many entrepreneurial software companies incorporate work, play, and learning areas with the "work spaces" they have; some even arrange business meetings, workout sessions, and creative arts seminars conjointly. Their offices are often near a favorite coffee shop and Wi-Fi accessible green areas, or do those places seem to popup upon their arrival? Having talked o some of the people that end up working in the creative industry, I get the sense that they are not there for work to make a living; they are there to work to make a life. I often envy their choice, but I am to make my own or else it would not be the same.

I sense that major corporations are catching this hipster trend. Right here in Indianapolis, the most conservative city I've had the privilege to live, learn, work and play, Angie’s List adopts a “campus” approach for their employees. They have a gym onsite, daycare, and other amenities. Even though it requires more structure than a high-tech start-up to function efficiently and maintain a competitive edge, but it’s simply a fallacy to assume their living well and building a community philosophies hinders efficiency or Angie's List's competitiveness. In fact, providing a better working condition, encourage healthier life style, and encompassing living with work, gave Angie's List the standing to gain productivity. They have a better chance to retain talents and loyalty, and their bottom line lowers to drive a proportionally higher profit margin, not to mention their healthy care insurance costs may eventually drop due to their less at-risk work force.

Simply put, adopting a holistic and sustainable business life style with preventive and creative measures allow companies build social capital from the core: giving their employees happier lives encourages them to become the catalysts of their communities.

Dee Hock, founder and CEO emeritus of VISA International, notes that

“true community cannot be created top-down—a true community self-organizes by the cultivation of relationships and by a coming together around issues that matter to everyone involved. This is especially true for “knowledge workers” whose source of value is their ability to learn, create, and collaborate. Community provides a context for individual inspiration through collective aspiration and underpins high-performance teams.”

That's exactly what successful companies are doing. They are not taking their business to the least regulated landscape to pollute all they can and making quick profits. Successful companies knows they have to build lives, communities, and cultures that defines the core of their business. By making a corporate culture and company communities successful and holistic in a sustainable fashion can transform the company into a solid, socially responsible, locally beloved company. The leadership will have more vested into the community than just money; they will have vested their employees’ livelihood and the spirit of living well as a whole; and they will care more for the triple bottom line and the welfare of their kids' kids--not just how big their check will be next month. These leaders will more than likely to uphold social justice and environmental impacts when they valuate their performance and they will more than likely lead their companies into a global success deeply depended on their local resources.That is perhaps the future of our Corporate Social Responsibility, defined not only by the triple bottom lines, but shaped by the very communities that needs the corporation to exist in the first place.

Dr. Laszlo and Laszlo raises three things worthy of note and questions worth our time to ask:

Plenty of indicators show how unsustainable it is to continue depleting the human spirit in organizations. What are the signs you see in people who yearn for community? Where are the fertile conditions for the seed of community to sprout and bear fruit?

There are many things that pull people apart, but what are the issues and concerns that can pull you together? What do you all care about?

We’re not talking about small talk, but big talk! What are the questions that need to be asked? Who are the voices that need to be heard? How should the community engage in conversations that build trust, promote learning, and enable positive action?

As we build more cooperative and engaged living communities with a renewed sense of corporate responsible culture, we remember that Nature is the essence of our community. We can learn much from nature, more than we can hope to learn from all of the wisdoms of our sages ancient and modern, more than our politicians care to admit, and more than any business can fathom. The great teaching tells us that the spirit of things is with the investigation of thing – with the investigation of NATURE.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Banker's past, the Occupy's present, and CSR's future.

Corporate Social Responsibility is on everyone’s lips these days. The looming Occupy Wall Street movement also sparked added interest on CSR in the financial industry. More and more people are pressuring big companies into fair play and demanding that banks change their ways or perish. Historically, those companies and firms (take Ford for example) that have yielded to the external pressures of fairness have yielded profits in the long run and success and sustainable growth from their embrace. Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, and a whole salute of others are amongst the new breed of CSR practitioners joining the movement and shifting their policies and enforcing internal mandates voluntarily to balance social and environmental impacts with their economic incentives. Yet the financial industry seems to lack the motivation to make the transition perhaps still hoping the good days of gold parachutes and government cutting blank checks.

But the banks will have to comply and the tax-payers will not lend their friendly hands for the second time; once bitten, twice the shame. No matter how much bankers would like to believe it’s business as usual, there is no denying that things haven’t been the same since the market crash in 2009. We see this with consistent continuations of bankruptcies and the same old story of greed turn ugly. The recent MF Global insolvency is a reminder that still too many experts are lost wonderers at the top tiers of decision making in the financial industry. With the recent successful OWS bank transfer actions, putting more than one million supporter’s accounts into community banks, signaled the force and desire for banks to be held accountable for their local impacts; no one can deny the forces of the masses, no one will sensibly think this is businesses as usual.

We also have seen bank’s stocks plummeting. Bank of America is at its historical low, even amongst one of the few that promises hopes and rebounds, and even at the talks of rallies and stabilized U.S. economy in the near future compared to the European markets, these banks seem to draw more negative opinions in the bloggersphere than any other sector—making their comeback doubtful and perhaps not significantly profitable.

Banks have become, increasingly, proponents of CSR. Some give extensively to charities, pay their employees generously and contribute to the environment with LEED certified buildings and sustainable operating practices. Hitting the low benchmark on their stock prices, these banks are paying close attention to their corporate reputations; at wake of Occupy Wall Street’s bank transfer movement, they are all the more sensitive to how the public sees their efforts. In addition to reputations and stock prices, their ability to recruit top talents will be at risk. Stanford recently launched a Stop the Brain Drain movement hoping to redirect students away from the unsustainable and short-sighted employers like the Lehman Brothers and Bernie Madoff. When Ford’s “doing well by doing good” attracted business students, it created a mass labor and markets that bumped up the size of our middle class – its embrace of no bail-outs and innovation in the recent years also prove to be a smart move helping its stock prices rebound with a vengeance. I also noticed Pepsi’s recent efforts helping to solve world’s water problems and equity issues help boost its public image around the world and held its stock prices steady while everyone else’s stock tanked just before the Thanksgiving holidays. When corporate powers align themselves with the good, everybody wins; when they align themselves with the bad or the ugly, people get angry and everyone loses.

On a slightly different topic, many have argued that we are losing manufacturing and our economy is tanking because of off-shoring to less regulated places like China. I would have to argue otherwise that it’s not the lack of regulatory environment that has made China successful, but the fact that China has implemented successful policies, step by step, that has made them competitive and successful. China is also paying close attention to CSR and its own financial and energy sector. It has recently placed more aggressive laws and enforcement mechanisms that help the various industries to improve its operations in more sustainable ways. Although its CSR practices are still separated from its rich tradition of Confucian virtue ethics, it’s new embrace with Confucian teaching only marks their attention on the subject and their shift of national policy and focus into CSR.

In light of what is happening in China and given the persistent Occupy Wall Street movement, I’d say that it’s impossible for the banks to ignore CSR as a viable policy in their practice. Fiduciary duties will have to be update to include social impacts and environmental safeguards; political wills should focus on effective and efficient regulation of the banking and financial industry to prevent bubbling and corruption. The financial industry as a whole and the various professionals will need to think about how much they could improve their reputations by actively supporting sensible laws, compromising and productive politicians, to fix income inequities and executive compensations. Doing well by doing the right thing is invariably the next century’s story, it’s time for everyone to write history together, to show true leadership in unity for the human experience. CSR not only is a viable option to equalize income gaps and reduce environmental burdens on all of us, it also gives corporate interests the chance to remake their images and profit models. The banks and the financial institutions stand to benefit from this paradigm shift most since they seem to be below par the most. The only thing we can do now is hope they have seen the power of the people and recognize that OWS is not going away and that “bank transfer days” commits the political wills of the people readily available to the fighters for a free and fair history.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Time is running out!

According to many, including Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation for Nike, time is running out for our capacity to sustain ourselves. We are at a tipping point and unless immediate actions are taken, we slid down a domino of events that will eventually lead to Kaa-Boom.

On the other hand, effective publicity has created a cloud in global warming and casts doubts on the state of our sustainability crisis. The basis of their denial presumes perpetual persistence, of which I find wholly inconsistent with my views. Yet I can sympathize with their strong convictions; a healthy dose of skepticism sustains the motivation to achieve and is a good thing for activists – it keeps our hearts pounding.

How do we reconcile the two? Where is the middle point of progressive compromise for us to speak a common language and move with a sense of purpose? In the military, they call this “shoot, move, communicate”; orders of action necessitated by the situation of course, but no reason why we can’t communicate, shoot and move together?

Often we find ourselves instinctively defensive when it comes to ideologies. When confronted with the opposite view, we gather all of our reasoning capabilities, full of gaps and holes of actual knowledge, and get red-faced enough to cite numbers of dead babies or surviving polar bears. Some manage to smile and refer to books and researchers and humbly agree to disagree, but even those who are willfully helpful and point to various research often speak to deaf ears. Anyone can cite to equally large amount of data showing positive progress and over assumption of risk. The ideological opposites are just that, necessarily so for the health of an intellectual eco-system; diversity of ideas promotes health growth; but disconnected diversity creates ideal environment for discrimination and violence – retarded progress.

How does social growth occur? If all of us are citing data, what progress have we made? What can we do with our equally convincing data on issues of the environment, of people’s equal access to rights, obligations, and remedies, of economic growth to sustain the future generations?

According to Jones,

In order to accelerate sustainable solutions at a rate that will make a meaningful impact, we need to start addressing problems on a system-wide level and executing them on a larger scale . . . .

[T]the world is at a tipping point. In order to address the complex global problems we are confronting, we must start to accelerate the pace of change. Society is on the brink, teetering between an outdated paradigm and a new, innovative future . . . .

“[R]etrofitting the past is a very different strategy with very different outcomes than innovating for the future.”

Jones gave us three things we can do to move together and advance our human experience in a positive direction.

1. Reframe the Narrative of the Story

Instead of focusing narrowly on initiatives – like environmental sustainability, philanthropy, or cause marketing – [we] need to reframe the discussion more broadly around opportunity, innovation, and growth. Instead of benchmarking sustainability initiatives against the competition, [we] need to measure progress against what’s possible. Before [we] can start to move toward a radically different future for [ourselves], [we] must define what that future might look like . . . .

2. Redefine Innovation

Sustainability is the world’s innovation challenge. If sustainability continues to be positioned as a values-based initiative, we will never have an incentive to really push the boundaries of what we can do. This is our “equal amass data” problem; if we are always basing our values for the future based on our present understandings of an incomplete set of data, we will never make progress; we simply continue to tweak the status quo. Instead of making sustainability about “doing good,” we need to make sustainability about innovation and think creatively about how to render the status quo obsolete. The goal isn’t to make today’s world “less bad” but to make the industrial revolution completely obsolete. According to Jones, one way to do this is by merging the sustainability agenda with the innovation agenda, as Nike has done, and essentially make the two concepts synonymous.

3. Obsess Scale

We must acknowledge the urgency of our knowledge. The current debate is fractured amongst environmental issues, human rights issues, corporate corruption and responsibility issues. Because of this fracture, the “sustainability movement is in jeopardy of failing to take the solutions it’s created to scale.”

The clock is ticking. The urgency of the challenge is significant. But, the models have been created. The solutions exist. The question is, how can we take them from start-up mode to mainstream? How can we spread the technology fast enough so that it starts to have a visible impact?

To address the scale problem, Nike issued a challenge “by creating new innovation models based on collaboration and transparency that are designed to speed up the pace of learning and increase the scale of change.” I would add on a personal level, whichever ideological views you come from, you ought to find some aggrievance you may have with human rights violations, environmental irresponsibility, or economical inefficiencies and fraudulence. Concur on common grounds with the people of an opposite ideological belief and act to make progress, act to innovate. 

Last year Nike launched GreenXChange, which fosters the proliferation of sustainable innovations by reducing the cost of licensing and helping companies share their IP.

Nike has also made its Environmental Apparel Design Tool publicly available.

By sharing the knowledge and technology it’s developed with other companies – including its competitors – Nike is scaling its sustainable innovations. Nike asks How can other companies use innovation and collaboration to take sustainable solutions to scale? What other companies are already doing so?

From my own research, I believe Pepsi is very active in pursuing sustainability goals. I see this trend growing, and rendering our “equally amass data” problem obsolete.

A personal challenge to the consumer base that drives companies like Nike and Pepsi is what can we do to employ these principles in our daily lives? The next time you are confronted with views wholly opposite and repulsive, keep this in mind: "what can I do for my planet with this person coming from such harsh views?"


Sunday, November 20, 2011

When China meets the west, the river turns its current a new direction.

The world today is undergoing a transition. China is on an upswing and Europe is down and seems to drag the U.S. kicking and screaming. The economies that was once built on colonialism, and then industrialization, overburdened themselves with growth and debt; now seeking refuge in talks of stability and world order.

These once proud monarchies and democracies beckon at the every sneeze of a socialist market economy.

What everyone seem to ignore, however, is the once colonists nations—the ones to introduce industrialization to their own lands and found cheaper labors and less demanding regulatory environments to do their dirty work, now faces an invariable irony: the world is running out of these places with cheap labors and uncaring residents suffering environmental injustice silently— the world can no longer suffer exploitations. Profit models have to be restructured, laws rewritten to fit this changing modern world. That is the $64 dollar question: how are laws changed and enforced in light of this transition of power between the once exploitive to the once exploited? What happens to the old world laws when the new world of the masses, the world of the poor—of the 99%, take over global redistribution of wealth, equality, and justice?

The Chinese have an saying: “30 years the river will run east, but 30 years will the river run west.” What has mounted the industrialized nations on the backs of the poor from developing countries, now is rattling the status quo; the once colonial powers now recede to a debt servitude. China stands to reclaim its position of power exercising its “socialist democracy soft power,” whatever can that mean? But the U.S. and Europe now must confront the course of their past in light of China’s new future.

I take intellectual property as an example here. For thousands of years, China lacked the concept of intellectual property protection. Ideas and the exchange of ideas are free and encouraged in the deeply Confucius culture. No one achieved the status of a monopoly, except the emperor—son of haven. This was a relatively stable environment and did not impede the spirit of innovation as some capitalist world argue resting the creative forces of man kind simply on the drive for profit. No, China was once prosperous-having invented many technologies that moved the world. Paper, printing, gunpowder, compass, and the list goes on; China never thought to protect this thing called “intellectual property” until the world of corporate interests and monopoly interests so demanded it.

The enforcers runs into problems: at the local provincial level, where the rubber of the proverbial tire meets the road, the people sees intellectual property as they have always seen—the free and unassociated ideas that will be bought and sold to make their living and feed their hungry children. The provincial leadership and judiciary yield to this powerful interests—it is the interests of the masses, of the 99%.

As the river runs 30 years to the east, we see a convergence of rule of law problems in China preserving the monopoly rights over intellectual properties of corporate interests. While we scream rule of law fouls, we forget the river is running their way and their poor now demands a change of fundamental ontology.

In this new course of our human history, it’s pointless to fight the currents of change. We may as well embrace the principles of Confucian emphasis on free ideas, on learning, on access to education and opportunities. Rather than protectionism and wasting on international litigation that amounts to no real change, we may as well open source and figure out a new way of sustaining the economy.  We all stand to benefit from this; this is the meaning of sustainability—taking flight and changing with the course of history for the benefit of all, not for the benefits of the few.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Write Your Congressman/Congresswoman," Save Online Privacy.

There has been a lot of call to action against SOPA; hackers, human rights groups, tech companies, and bloggers. My first reaction is to joint the masses and demand blindly.

“Down with power; no more big government; let the information flow.”

“Save the dolphins; save the sharks.”

Then a two-ton weight of there-is-no-black-or-white struck me. Instead of just writing another blog that means nothing to anyone but a narcissistic expression of idealism, I figure I write one about how I came to learn to keep my mouth shut about SOPA and figure out how it can be potentially damaging.

First, HR 3261 (you can find a copy of the text here), the introduced Stop Online Privacy Act “saves” (essentially carves out) anything that could be judged unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Any part of the act adjudicated to be unconstitutional is severable from the enforcement of the Act.

The Act then calls for any world-wide-web page “used” by U.S. web browsers be subjected to U.S. laws actionable by the Attorney(s?) General. My guess this is aimed to protect users from various online scams that drains on the U.S. economy in some degree.

The Act then gives the Attorney General the authority to serve notice on a service provider, upon which the service provider takes on a positive duty to “prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) that is subject to the order.”

The Act then provides some specific limitations for the service providers to comply, which cuts into their profit model in a limited sense. This may be why tech companies are up in arms. But I reserve my suspicion of their motives.  

Eric Schmidt calls the Act “draconian.” It is a “bill that would require ISPs to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship . . . .

This is probably true. The bill is vague enough allowing the AG a wide discretion to give notice and have sites removed from U.S. user access. But the AG would have to act within the confines of United States Code to raise the notice in the first place.

So the problem of this “draconian” Act is that it imposes U.S. laws onto the whole world’s access to information and information infrastructure. This is probably why ACLU is involved. I’d say this is a worthy and complex issue for the ACLU to get involved. My vote is in.

There is also a human rights issue at stake. Human rights activists around the world depend on the accessibility to the Internet to advance their cause. This effectively removes part of their essential infrastructure and in some sense removes the accessibility to U.S. judicial mechanisms to enforce private human rights violations (U.S. users will be limited in exposure to global crisis leading to a deterioration of awareness and popular support for judicial actions against corporate and State human rights violations.) On the gain, though, this Act would lead to a wider scope of U.S. laws’ applicability and gives the U.S. a sense of control over the world’s internet.

Wait, the U.S. can’t actually impose its own political and ideological will onto the world, can we? Oh yeah, we have been doing it for decades now (Iraq anyone?).

I know China has recently made some ideological talks for their “soft power” approach to global regulations. Is the SOPA a U.S. “soft power” approach, or just plain protectionism and fear?

I agree that we have to control internet fraud and protect U.S. consumers and business interest, but to do it while degrading our access to information is unacceptable. Sure there is a Savings Clause for the First Amendment, but it will take years of litigation and expenses to settle this Act to its rightful place.

But does the need to protect our First Amendment outweigh the need for the Act so much that we should be rid of the Act all together? If so, what are Google, ACLU, and the hackers of the world propose to curb International Internet Crimes? I'll bet the hackers will think of a solution first - sucker's bet. 

It seems we either take our losses for less protection and rely on voluntary compliance and private enforcement; or we fatten some lawyers up for the next few years to battle where the lines are to be drawn with due consideration to the International Community. As a law student, I am inclined to vote for the latter. Then again, my opinion in the matter is extremely biased.

On a relevant note about sustainability, This Act is a significant impediment or tool depending on which way the enforcement comes down. And if you are taking up one of the call to actions and want to write a letter to your Congressman, I ask that you exercise your wisdom and rationality and demand creative solutions that we have not thought of. Consider the aspects of promoting our environment, people's equal status as human beings, and promoting business and innovations for a sustainable economy. Otherwise you are just wasting your time complaining and your Congressman or Congresswoman’s time having to read your complaint - which is entirely unsustainable.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Taxes and Old Chinese Commerce

I’ve been researching Chinese mercantile culture during its imperial years (prior to 1911). It’s interesting to note some of what history considers as enlightened periods, the emperors of those periods almost always followed Confucian virtue to regulate business laws and business tax to the regional influences outside of official capacity – many Chinese mercantile were family orientated and focused on taking care of their communities in order to survive as profitable business models. They paid their dues to a guild and the guild paid their taxes to the community in forms of good will, welfare, job opportunities, etc. The government took its share, but left most of the additional tax duties under the principles of virtue ethics and obligations owed to communities. It’s very efficient because each mercantile from each city benefited from the people they took care of; nothing was left to the interference of government officials, less the corruption in later dynastic periods. Corruption seems an ancient and difficult problem to solve and onsets at later stages of a stable political environment.

At times, I wished China never traded Communism for such a model; perhaps more sustainable, old Chinese businesses are forced to pay back what they reap from their transactions and their profit model are inherently mandated by a philosophy that calls for responsible practices. Today, China’s State Owned Enterprises are inefficient and out of control, and private entities are profitable but irresponsible; everyone is single mindedly focused on “getting rich” – a legacy of Deng Xiao Peng era. The central government is trying to cure its Environmental and Sustainability problems by enacting western style legislations (cf. Clean Production Law, 2005; Circular Economy Laws, 2009). On a closer look, these laws face inherent inconsistencies with Chinese tradition in virtue ethics as laws. China has recently announced its “soft power” strategies perhaps knowing these inconsistencies’ only remedy is by engaging the virtue ethics as a tool, and not censoring it.

On the other side of the pond, I’m not sure what the solution would be for our very different sustainability crisis. The U.S., we may not have as egregious environmental problems due to only a fraction of the world’s population occupying a larger and more fertile land (one which we have heavily petro-chemically fertilized), we still consume so much more by proportion and pollute on a much larger scale by ratio. While we chant human rights concerns and hold China out as some sort of boogie man story to our green innovation sector with WTO complaints, American political systems are clogged, its business machines rusting, and we are all diverging to different directions and are all missing the point about social equality and environmental justice. 

Michael Shank recently wrote an article about our problems with income inequality and taxes. He pointed out that 30 of our top 300 companies paid no taxes at all or have a negative tax rate. (See report by the Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy).  He then focused on income inequalities, one China is taking very serious note of and America is lacking the attention span for.

The UN Human Development Report shows that while the United States remains the fourth best country in the world to live, after adjusting for internal income inequality it drops it into 23rd place. And the report by the Congressional Budget Office showed that in the last 30 years US government policy failed to equally distribute wealth, enabling the richest in America to grow their income 15 times faster than the poor and shifting more than 80 percent of all US income wealth to the top 20 percent of earners.

According to Shank, Americans are now seeing the highest poverty rate since World War II (one in six Americans living below the poverty line) and the highest youth poverty rate (one in five young people, with Hispanic youth suffering most).

With income inequality, there comes a host of environmental injustice, health and social inequality problems as well.

The higher a country's income inequality, the higher its infant mortality rates, obesity rates, homicide rates, illiteracy rates, mental illness rates, teenage births, incarceration rates, drug addiction rates, social immobility and lower life expectancy.Anyone noticed we are beginning to fit that mold?

Income inequality also contributes to long-term healthcare crisis and cost problems. The poor often lack access or the means to eat healthy and exercise and they often don’t have health insurance thus burdens on emergency visits that does not treat long term problems nor provide meaningful preventive care. “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculate that the economy loses $1.65 million in medical costs, loss of lifelong employment and economic productivity costs.” (Shank)

Inequality also comes with tangible consequences such as “homicide, infant mortality, teenage births, drug addiction, mental illness, incarceration, social immobility and illiteracy. Name the social ill and we excel at it.” (Shank) These are line items that burdens on our budget balance sheet directly from social welfare programs and indirectly from loss of productivity and low quality of labor force. Elsewhere in the world, China is upgrading its economy and labor force to close their income inequality gap. This is one promise their old Communist founders established their legitimacy. In performing this task, they are not only out-competing us by a conservative fiscal policy, they are also outpacing us with an aggressive income equality model. They have brought over 600 million people out of poverty in the last 30 years, twice the size of U.S.

Their political will is now focused on the things they have not addressed: environmental and human rights. They are implementing some rather uniquely Chinese methods. I wonder what would be an uniquely American solution to our income inequality problem? Can we stand to learn something from the old Chinese mercantile culture while enforcing its virtue ethic principles in a grassroots business law structure - aim to reduce regulation requirements and ramp up voluntary tax compliance measures such as LEED to balance people's interests with planet's to profit the community in general?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day

Also known as Remembrance Day or Veterans Day or Poppy Day, is on 11 November and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France.

At 11am, the signing marked for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. Perhaps the hope is to never again witness such a human tragedy.

A few decades later, we fought another world war, which sparked the greatest transformation of America. 

Today, we remember all of the sacrifices and we note that every generation fights a war. Some generations have no choice but to fight a ugly one . . . some, have the opportunity to fight a good one.

Make your battle count, that is how history will judge all of us.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

BEE the Change You Want to See - by Lauren Campbell Kong

Motivation toward pro-environmental behavior

Research showed several factors contribute to pro-environmental behavior. Three concepts were strong predictors of pro-environmental behavior according to Keiser, Ranney, Hartig, and Bowler (1999): environmental knowledge, environmental values, and feelings of responsibility. These predictors have been further built upon by recent studies and in depth research.

Early researchers thought quantity of environmental knowledge had a large impact on pro-environmental behavior; researchers, however, currently agree that only a small amount of pro-environmental behavior can be linked to environmental knowledge. Kollmuss and Ageyman pointed out that most people do not know enough about environmental issues to act accordingly, but they noted other researchers have found a large amount of detailed information does not seem to bolster pro-environmental behavior either.

Environmental knowledge appears to play a role but there seems to be other factors at place. Keiser et al., (1999), discussed other components needed to improve pro-environmental behavior, focusing on feelings of responsibility toward the environment. They found a large correlation (.63) between feelings of responsibility toward the environment and ecological behavior intention. Similar research by Hellman, Hoppes, and Ellison (2006) found the same amongst college students and relevant factors pertaining to intent to engage in community service. The highest correlation found in the study was between feelings of responsibility for the community and participating in community service (.70).

Emotional responses for the environment play a critical role in motivation toward pro-environmental behavior; this emotional connection is perhaps crucial in order to curtail our consumption and lead us to a more sustainable path. According to Kaiser et al. (1999) “[b]ecause the environment is a common property that is available to all people, one individual’s consumption of natural resources also affects other people. Abstinence from consumption is often at one’s own expense, but betters the situation of others” (p. 59).

Converging on the idea, Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) state that “an emotional connection seems to be very important in shaping our beliefs, values, and attitudes towards the environment” (p. 254). One reason there is a lack of emotional connection to the current ecological problem, presented by Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002), is that we can’t seem to perceive environmental degradation around us such as an accumulation of greenhouse gases or nuclear radiation. Environmental problems are not always immediately noticeable and may in part contribute to our denial. Environmental impact occurs over long periods of time and in rather slow incremental changes making it hard for us to perceive. Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) also noted that lack of human perception towards the eco-system can cause humans to undermine the complex system at hand, thus lacking the knowledge to know how one aspect of the eco system is connected with another. However, individuals can perceive the stench created by pollution or can visually see pollutants in water and dead fish that have been affected by pollution and thus take action.

The ability to perceive environmental degradation is key to initiating motivation toward pro-environmental behavior, yet just perceiving it will not always lead to the behavior itself; there are other motivational factors that need to be taken into account in order to fully maximize pro-environmental behavior. Kollmuss and Ageyman (2002) noted that extrinsic forms of motivation, i.e. financial compensation, can motivate people to behave pro-environmentally; although, Kollmuss and Ageyman (2002), argued “such unconscious pro-environmental behavior can easily be reversed or changed to a more unsustainable pattern because it is not based on some fundamental values” (p. 250).

Converging on with Kollmuss and Ageyman (2002) idea, Lowery, Shrum, and McCarty (1994) found that people who are intrinsically motivated to recycle tend to identify with values such as inner harmony, self-respect, and achievements, with less identification with wealthy living. They also found that culturally oriented values tend to have an influence on recycling with collectivistic cultures recycling more than individualistic. O’Connor, Lerman, and Fritz (2010) also discussed the need for availability to recycle in order to recycling to occur. O’Connor et al., showed that when college students have access to recycling bins in locations where plastic is used for consumption purposes, the likelihood of recycling doubled. They argued that “it is likely that the location of purchases on the university campus has differed from the setting in which consumption occurred” (p. 714). This showed that accessibility to recycling receptacles is crucial to motivating consumers to engage in recycling behavior.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Green Polyethylene and Blow Molding Conference

The Annual Blow Molding Conference took place in Chicago a few days ago. One dominant theme amongst manufacturers is finding better ways to serve the market with sustainable molding material. If we assume the supply and demand principles true in this instance, this tells a story of increased interest from consumers – a brighter outlook for the whole of material demand change.

A Brazilian company, Braskem SA of São Paulo, attended the conference and showcased its Green Polyethylene (G-PE) production in Brazil during the last quarter of 2010. Their G-PE is sugar cane-based and can be recycled in the same recycling stream for existing Petrochemical PE material. This means very little additional cost will be incurred on the overall recycling efforts during a transition phase for material selection to cradle-to-cradle life.

Braskem has made its G-PE available to the North American market on a contract purchase basis. Aside from its existing use for Pantene hair-care products in Brazil, Braskem’s G-PE can also be found in Coca-Cola’s Odawalla brand of juice beverages and Danone’s probiotic Actimel drink released in France earlier this year.

This is great news for the environment, but sustainability is about people, planet, and profit. I would add there is a need to properly manage the social costs of sugar cane harvest and make sure we are not filling one gap with a larger hole.

Brazil currently owns 22 percent of the world’s cultavitable land (far more than China’s percentage share with only a fraction of population by comparison); sugar cane grown for ethanol uses 1 percent of Brazil’s land; NGOs and activists should closely monitor Braskem’s compliance with its own code of conduct (See the CSR Hub for their sustainability score) for its supply chain, which includes human rights principles and proper agricultural practices for watering, fertilizing and harvesting.

On the domestic front, Telles LLC, a U.S. company located in Mass., announced its joint venture with Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM). The joint venture developed a new biomaterials for extrusion blow molding.

Dow Chemical (you know, the Human Company) also showcased its Continuum EP HDPE for packaging; it claims the material allows for 10 percent of weight reduction without compromising performance.

All of this is reconciliatory to plastic’s bad rap sheet. Plastics have been estimated to take up 30 percent of landfills. I’ve seen news that there is no more land available for landfills in Europe. China has it’s own overburdened trash problem. Here in the U.S. we hear trace contaminate problems almost weekly. Managing waste is a global problem. One of the largest waste components is post-consumer and plastics compose a large portion of that post-consumer waste.

Even though we are actively recycling, we do run into some problems. Getting ride of trace contaminants adversely affects life-cycle analysis of material and product design and management. It’s a murky science and inconsistent data often sends confused message to consumers and stakeholders.

Incineration is obviously not an option since the process would give off toxic gases. Not only does this increase a burden on the clean air, it may also expose the business to domestic and international clean air regulations and incur costs that could be avoided otherwise.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Battle of the IPOs.

There hasn’t been a good IPO lately. The market is volatile; even with a rally in October, investors are still in fear of any sort of bubble effect. Commentators also seem to reinforce the sentiment, vesting the reason, however, on fiscal responsibility. One thing everyone seems to agree: it can’t be business as usual with the recent MF Global disaster.

I have been watching the market closely for numerous reasons. One reason is that I had a tingling a few weeks ago about the time to invest and many signs point to now. Warren Buffet seems to also think so. Another reason is that I want to understand how corporate social responsibility is infiltrating the investment trends to get a sense of how much progress we’ve made in sustainability. I’ve noticed an increased chatter about ethical duties of economists, investors, along with more frequent news about supply chain responsibilities, settlements for human rights violations, and slow maturity of the Occupy movement. Intuition tells me which ever company has the kind of sustainable thinking aligned with popular paradigm shift will succeed in the long term. Regardless of how the Supreme Court will rule in the coming CSR decision on corporate liability under the Alien Tort Claims Act, I believe we have began a health transition process. 

With that in mind, I thought the recent Groupon IPO (GRPN) is overrated. First the company’s business model depends on blind consumerism – let’s crowd serve discounts so we can buy more. I saw their Super Bowl commercial and felt their message reflected an odd sense of over consumption mentality. Add that they do not market their ability to help integrate local businesses into the global economy, I fail to see how they can serve the market place in a health way. There also seem to be a host of competitors popping up against their profit stream. I doubt Groupon can maintain an flexibility enough to shed off companies like Living Social. This is a marketing issue alone, however, and I would stand corrected if Groupon modify their strategies. 

There is an IPO this week deserving of attention. Angie’s List (ANGI) provides social peer-to-peer social marketing to local commerce. Their focus is easily adaptable to many sectors of the economy, having recently entered the health care industry I see their potential expansion into local food culture and socially responsible businesses. Their model does not inherently conflict with sustainability like Groupon's, nor does it impede sustainability for the survival of the grassroots societies - Angie's List does not facilitate the kind of market trend that demands manufacturing race to the bottom, Angie's List ask the distributed small business to race to the top. It's profit stream is also rather unique, never really overlapped by another yet somehow ambiguously defined by many successes of other trends. I believe, this IPO deserves much attention in the shadow of Groupon's questioned IPO last week.   

There is also an established stock that also merits mention here. Pepsi (PEP), is, I think, one of the best stock to invest right now often cited as undervalued by about $10 per share. One because they have ramped up their efforts to help alleviate the world’s water problem and they have been socially responsible leading many aspects of corporate social responsibility (click here to see their 2010 CSR report). Sure they have pissed off some pro-life activists but my opinion is there is more to that story. So I withhold my judgment on their human rights records with a positive outlook. Pepsi also aligns with the popular paradigm shift with their “Refresh” project.

If you look at the company, it’s well diversified in the profit mechanisms; it’s dividend yield has been stable and positive for 39 years; it’s price to earning ratio is high; it has recently announced to sell more of its stock, perhaps to rally funds to make some aggressive market moves; and finally it has ramped their involvement in the Chinese beverage and snack food industry – a huge advantage with the rise of a massive Chinese middle class.

My two cents on the IPOs this month and positive signs of a health CSR environment emerging for the generations to come.

This post contained forward-looking information within the meaning of the Securities Act and the Securities Exchange Act, including statements that include the words "believes," "expects," "anticipate" or similar expressions. Such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of the company to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. In addition, description of anyone's past success, either financial or strategic, is no guarantee of future success. This post speak as of the date first set forth in the posts and I assumes no responsibility to update the information included herein for events occurring after the date hereof.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

True American Exceptionalism

I usually watch the Squawk Box in the morning to catch the market trends and I always read the Economist to fill my head with useless things about global politics and economic news. I can’t help but notice Occupy Wall Street is on everyone’s lips these days.

Sam Zell was on CNBC SB this morning and was asked what he thought of the wealth inequality and OCW since he, along with the hosts of the Squawk Box, are of the 1%. He did not deny the outstanding wealth gap and inequality, but he shifted the question to education. His blame rested on our failing state of public education and the lack of hard science/engineer graduates. According to Zell, one of the reasons we have an increasingly out of control income gap, a failing economy, and higher and higher jobless rates, is a misdirection or misapplication of opportunities for vocational training. He gave a personal example of trying to set up a manufacturing plant in the U.S. but can’t seem to find enough skilled laborers to fill demand. He never mentioned which country he took his investments and manufacturing venture, but that is besides the question for now.

But Mr. Zell, a bad public education and a focus on liberal arts education are two completely different things.

It seems, according to Zell, the readings of Shakespeare and learning the liberal arts is what led to the discontent and the dissipation of our American Exceptionalism; higher jobless rates is but one by product of too many music and dance majors. OCW, according to Mr. Zell, then is a product of its own undoing – the protesters have no one but themselves to blame, less the politicians they elected who have provided funding for these liberal arts education and subsidies.

According to the Economist and a George Mason economist, Alex Tabarrok, the liberal arts phenomenon is real:

[T]hough many more young Americans, about 50% more, now go to college than did 25 years ago, the number of students studying science, engineering, technology, or mathematics has not increased . . . . In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.

The Economist correspondent/blogger, however, came to the rescue of our Liberal Arts focus. W.W. writes:

I wonder why Mr Tabarrok is so fixed on the role of education as an input to production but so uninterested in it as a form of consumption, whence all welfare flows . . . . What is economic growth for, anyway? It's for expanding our choices and making life better. Is it really so surprising that, as we grow wealthier as a society, more and more of our young people, when the amazing resources of the modern university are put at their disposal, choose to use them learning something satisfying and enriching and not for anything except cherishing the rest of their lives? Is it really so surprising that taxpayers are not in revolt over the existence of poetry professors?

Personally, I have to agree with the Economist blogger. Not because I think someone ought to be writing poetry and music that we enjoy and so enriches our lives. I think those things are inherently valuable and the need for them in this over-stimulated Social Internet age speaks for itself. I have another argument to make, however, an economic one:

If you walk into any engineering schools across America these days, you will notice a disproportionally large number of students from India, China, Egypt, etc. This is the area they can compete comfortably and this is where we as Americans have failed our children. But that’s not the end of the story. When I visit China, I often hear there is a lacking in the innovative spirit and skill gap in the creative force. A few days ago I questioned this lack of Chinese innovation is due to a retardation of their existentialism – a product of lacking in liberal arts education and a hindered open and free creative environment.

I hope you can see that having our liberal arts majors puts our nation a step ahead of the market place in terms of our ability to innovate. China today lacks intellectual capital, and it’s either stealing or buying up new creative portfolios. This means we still have an advantage in the economy, not because we are Americans, or our simply exceptionalism, but because we still value things like creativity outside of pure math discipline and engineering abilities. We are able to create and invent is precisely because our inventors have read a diverse base of literature, listened to a range of different music, and is exposed to different views as the result of our focus on liberal arts.

To me, our liberal arts education is the sole advantage we have against the likes of China and India. Let’s not criticize its purpose and usefulness just yet. Let’s figure out ways we can leverage this uniquely American, and yes privileged, expertise. It’s perhaps the only way we can compete with China in the long run. But competition will not give us the full advantage of our abilities developed from our liberal arts education – only cooperation will. What China is lacking, we have; what China needs we can provide. We see this in many sectors of the global economy – especially the green economy. So instead of criticizing our education and calling for more protectionism, I ask that we focus on innovation and creativity and how we can cooperate with China to leverage our advantages.

Let’s focus on the strength of our past dealings. Sure we need to improve our education and train more skilled labor forces for the future growth of our manufacturing industry. (I have a feeling we will go through a rather revolutionary manufacturing renaissances in the years to come and I leave the topic for another day), but let’s not forego or ignore the advantage we have built in the last few decades in our free and unhindered ability to create, invent, and lead.

To me, that is the true American Exceptionalism.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Relevant Green Industry News from Around China.

This industry report brief is courtesy of AII Data Processing.

Chinese solar companies warn over potential retaliatory action by United States

Any decision by the United States to introduce high tariffs on Chinese solar imports would harm renewable energy progress, the chairman of Chinese solar panel manufacturer Chint Group told the International Herald Tribune in an interview published on October 28. This came after a group of seven U.S. firms last week filed a complaint against China for breaching trade regulations.

In his statement, the Chairman claimed that any U.S. accusations probably reflected “ignorance” about China’s market and that a question for the U.S. authorities to answer is whether any potential retaliatory action would be designed to protect the failing firms behind the complaint, or to improve renewable energy competitiveness. He told the IHT that the renewable industries of China and the United States should collaborate to benefit from their strengths – lower costs and advanced technologies, respectively.

Chint Group intended to start producing thin-film solar cells in the United States and should Washington decide to impose tariffs, Chint would relocate more manufacturing operations to the United States to escape import limitations.

Solectria Renewables to open plants in China and India

U.S. photovoltaic inverter maker Solectria Renewables LLC has announced plans to open plants in China and India with capacity of 300 megawatts and 200 megawatts, respectively.

The company said that the expansion of its manufacturing activities into the two countries had been prompted by the significant growth opportunities they offer for commercial and utility photovoltaic projects.

Solectria Renewables does not plant to shift jobs out of North America as a result of the new plans; it will continued to expand its manufacturing operations in Massachusetts and Ontario.

China Solar to establish solar power joint venture

China Solar Energy Holdings Ltd said on October 14 it had agreed with Jiangyin City Gushan Investments Co Ltd to form a joint venture to combine solar power generation and various agricultural activities. They projected revenues of RMB150 million (US$23.5 million) for the first year of the joint venture.

Total investment in the new company is estimated at HK$14 million (US$2 million), while its registered capital is planned at HK$10 million (US$1.29 million). China Solar will provide 70 percent of the amount, while the balance of 30 percent will come from its joint venture partner.

Sunpreme bags US$50 million in funding round

Solar cell maker Sunpreme had raised US$50 million to support the construction of a solar cell factory in Jiaxing. International Finance Corporation, a unit of the World Bank Group, led the financing round. It joins investors U.S. Capricorn Investment Group and China Environment Fund III.

Sunpreme has developed a solar cell that does not include toxic or rare materials. It has already secured three U.S. patents for its device structure and is looking to bolster production of the SmartSilicon solar cells. The company has research and development and process integration facilities in California and manufacturing and final process development units in Jiaxing, near Shanghai.

China Ming Yang finds US$5 billion potential financing

China Ming Yang Wind Power Group Limited, a Chinese wind turbine maker, arranged US$5 billion in potential financing from government-owned lender China Development Bank Corp (CDB). Its subsidiary, Guangdong Ming Yang Wind Power Industry Group Co Ltd, had signed agreements with CDB for up to US$5 billion in potential financing between 2011 and 2015.

Ming Yang would be able to use the potential financing for a range of activities at home and abroad, including its onshore and offshore wind power operations, supply chain integration and the management of working capital.

LDK Solar bags EPC deal for solar project in China

Chinese LDK Solar Co Ltd had won an engineering, procurement, and construction contract for a solar power project in China’s Gansu Province. The project is being developed by Guodian Longyuan Zhangye New Energy, an affiliate of China Longyuan Power Group Corp. The plant is located in the city of Zhangye. The first phase of the project has kicked off earlier this month and LDK plan for its completion before year-end.

Samba Energy orders 1.2 megawatts of BYD solar panels, inverters

U.S. Samba Energy has awarded Chinese battery and solar panel maker BYD Co Ltd an order for 1.2 megawatts of solar panels and inverters for projects in the United States. The panels will be installed at schools and commercial buildings in the Northeast and Pacific regions.

BYD recently introduced the narrow bus bar, electroplate, selective-emitter technology at its solar cell production line, seeking to bring down the resistance and the shaded area on the front of solar cells. The Chinese company’s wafer and solar cell production capacity exceeds 1 gigawatt.

China spends US$17.48 billion on wind, hydropower capacity in first nine months of 2011

According to the Nationl Energy Administration, investment in hydropower and wind power generation facilities in China for the first nine months of 2011 reached RMB63.5 billion (US$10 billion) and RMB47.7 billion (US$7.48 billion), respectively. Spending on thermal power units stood at RMB74.2 million (US$11.64 million), while RMB53.2 million (US$8.34 million) were invested in nuclear energy.

China booked 12 percent year-on-year increase in nine-month power consumption to 3,515.7 TWh.

China Gogreen to install 20 megawatts of solar power in Henan’s Xuchang

Solar power firm China Gogreen Assets Investment agreed to build over 20 megawatts of rooftop solar power installations in Xuchang, in China’s eastern province of Henan. Investment in the project is estimated at RMB321.5 million (US$50.4 million). China’s Ministry of Finance and the Department of Finance of Henan will provide subsidies of RMB180 million (US$28.23 million). The rest of the amount will come from its Beijing unit - Jun Yang’s own capital and bank borrowings.

The agreement with the Xuchang New District Administration Committee runs for 25 years. The solar power systems will be installed on the rooftops of industrial buildings in the city’s new district.

Vestas, CWEA propose evaluation criteria for Chinese wind power sector

Danish wind turbine maker Vestas Wind Systems A/S and the Chinese Wind Energy Association last month unveiled proposed evaluation criteria for wind power development in China. The evaluation system aims to ensure a healthy and sustainable development of the domestic wind energy sector. It comes as a response to a series of problems, which occurred in the country, during the past few years of accelerated growth within the wind power industry.

The proposed standards include criteria for wind turbines, wind turbine makers, wind farms and post-project evaluation, as well as evaluation criteria for onshore and offshore wind power tenders.

In 2010 China installed 18.9 gigawatts of new wind power capacity, out of 38.3 gigawatts of newly added capacity around the globe. The wind market in the Asian country doubled each year between 2005 and 2009, while in 2010 total installed capacity arrived at 44.7 gigawatts.

Ningxia Yinxing to build 300 megawatts of wind projects in Inner Mongolia

Chinese Ningxia Yinxing Energy Co agreed to build several wind farms in Inner Mongolia with a total capacity of 300 megawatts. The company has signed an agreement with the government of Bayannaoer city, where it will construct the facilities.

Astronergy’s new solar cell technology exceeds 19 percent efficiency

Chinese photovoltaics maker Astronergy Solar stated that, through improvements in design and manufacturing techniques, it is now able to produce six-inch (15 centimeter) monocrystalline solar cells with an efficiency of above 19 percent without any increase in expenses.
China Datang gets nod for wind farm in Gansu

Power generator China Datang Corp has received the green light from the Gansu Provincial Government for the construction of a 96-megawatt wind project in the northern Chinese province. The wind farm, which will be worth RMB920 million (US$144 million), is expected to become operational in 2012. It will be located in the city of Jiuquan and construction will be handled by the group’s Datang Gansu Power subsidiary.

Hanas breaks ground on 92.5-megawatt solar plant

China’s Hanas New Energy Group has earlier this month started construction of a 92.5-megawatt solar plant in the autonomous region of Ningxia in northern China. The RMB2.25 billion (US$354 million) project is the first integrated solar combined cycle trough solar demonstration facility in Asia. The plant, located in the town of Gaoshawo, is being constructed in cooperation with North China Power Engineering and Siemens, while the investment is provided by Hanas. The power station is expected to start operation in October 2013.

UK SeaRoc, Korean CDS Wind launch offshore wind initiative in South Korea, China

Marine engineering firm SeaRoc, part of UK green energy consultancy Natural Power, agreed with South Korean sector firm CDS Wind Ltd to help expand the offshore wind industry in Korea and China.

SeaRoc provides marine, engineering, data management and other services to many offshore developments in Europe and North America. The partners intend to collaborate with the government, developers, turbine makers, utilities, investors and financial services providers to bolster offshore wind development in the two Asian countries.

Bangchak Petroleum affiliate bags US$79 million ethanol contract in China

Ubon Bio Ethanol Co, an affiliate of Thai state-run Bangchak Petroleum Public Co Ltd, has secured a THB2.4 billion (US$79 million) ethanol supply contract from China. As part of the seven-year contract, the company will ship to China 100 million liters (26.4 million gallons) of ethanol a year. The first shipment is planned for October 2012.

First generator starts work at Sinohydro’s 420-megawatt Maoergai hydro plant

According to Sinohydro Group Ltd, China’s biggest dam builder, the first generator at its 420-megawatt Maoergai hydropower plant in the province of Sichuan had come on stream. The generator has a capacity of 140 megawatts. The other two units, with a similar capacity, are expected to start operations by the end of the year.

Sinohydro listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in September. It raised RMB13.5 billion (US$2.12 billion) in its initial public offering.

ET Solar to sell anti-reflective modules worldwide

Chinese photovoltaic systems maker ET Solar Group launched its anti-reflective modules on the global market last week. The company said its anti-reflective modules had higher energy output, greater stability of performance and smaller unit costs compared to standard glass-based modules.

ET Solar is offering the modules with a linear power performance warranty of 25 years and a workmanship warranty of 10 years. The company sells modules and other solar products in over 50 countries and regions and has branches in Germany, France, Italy, the United States and South Korea.

Air China makes biofuel demonstration flight

Air China on October 28 conducted a demonstration flight using biofuel generated from China-grown biomass. The test flight took about an hour and was performed with a Boeing 747 aircraft, powered by engines of Pratt & Whitney, a U.S. company, part of United Technologies Corp.

The flight came under the Sustainable Biofuel Program of the Energy Cooperation Program, announced by Beijing and Washington in 2009. The Sustainable Biofuel Program was launched by Boeing, PetroChina and members of the Chinese energy industry and the world’s aviation sector in 2010 to assess China’s potential for aviation biofuels.

Renewable Energy Asia forms renewable energy unit in China

Hong Kong-based Renewable Energy Asia Group Ltd., had set up a Chinese subsidiary to make and sell renewable energy products and provide management and other services to green energy projects. The unit, REA TEC Co Ltd, has a paid up capital of RMB20 million (US$3.2 millin). It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of REA’s unit Renewable Energy Asia (China) Co Ltd.

REA said it would finance investment in the new subsidiary through internal resources. The establishment of the unit is not seen to have any effect on the company’s consolidated net tangible assets and earnings per share for the year through March 2012, REA added.

China’s Three Gorges hydropower plant runs at full capacity

China’s Three Gorges hydropower project reached full capacity on October 30, according to the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported citing an official of the plant’s operator China Three Gorges Project Corp.

The water level of the dam reached its designed capacity of 175 meters (574.1 feet) and the plant started operating at full capacity, producing 8.2 million kilowatts of electricity. The Three Gorges project in China’s Hubei province, which is the world’s largest hydropower project, runs at full capacity for the second time. Its first full capacity test completed in October 2010.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Green Tech 2.0 - a great learning.

The ancients, who wished to spread virtue throughout the world, began with their own States. To govern well their States, they gathered their families. Wishing to unite their families, they cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they rectified their hearts. To rectify their hearts, they sought to be sincere. To be sincere in their thoughts, they cured their imperfect knowledge through learning. Knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
The Great Learning, Confucius

I like to call myself a social entrepreneur, but I can also call myself the king of England and no one would care. The true power of a title vests in the things one can do – a king can rule his land without interference, a social entrepreneur must enterprise for social good. I am neither.

I’ve yet to find my profitable model to enterprise for the social good. I tried to launch a mobile app service and build a local food widget to help facilitate the healthy Indiana food market. With no funding, I got a major research institution to back some R&D work. At the end of the day, I realized academia is more concerned with “publish or perish” and “pedagogical concerns,” balancing profit and advancing a market ready product is not their number one priority. At the end of the day, I’m glad the institution can try out some new ideas and give some students a chance to dream; but now I am back to square one to figure out exactly where my venture will go.

I lay sleepless at nights wondering the next step, sometimes almost wanting to abandon the whole doing socially good things and just say f’em – let someone else worry about the welfare of the planet. I can stand to make some profit and I’m smart enough to know how. But where does that leave me? My children?

A professor once told me this would happen, that I would get frustrated beyond hope and contemplate abandoning ship. But she did say that the spirit of entrepreneurship is vested in failures – one has to confront failures, be not afraid of them no matter how frequent; and one must stand to fail in everything and finally succeed in only one thing.

Starting out as an entrepreneur, one can argue, is the best course for an attention deficit individual who has failed. Eventually, the attention deficit and massive amount of failures will lead stubborn to victory. Or at least I can hope. Of course success is measured not in the business or venture itself, but in what is accomplished. Has progress been made?

Brad Hines, a NASA engineer, started his first solar company in 2005. His venture crashed and burned. He's already started another, called Thermata with a whole new approach - rather than reinventing the solar panel themselves, he plans to use existing solar thermal technology to address specific business needs. Aside from changing strategy, he also noted some financial differences between the bubble days of green investing:

"It was a time when a naive new entrepreneur could have a good idea and get funded. In this market, just a good idea won't get you funded. You need a lot more . . . and in solar, the days of quantum changes in cost and performance are over . . . It isn't like microprocessors where you can keep doubling the speed."

In light of this new financial climate and Hines’ foresight in adopting strategies, many refer to the current venture arena “Green Tech 2.0.” The first wave venture capitalists threw billions of dollars at technologies hoping to disrupt the energy industry and stall climate change. Now, many argue, people who want to do social good and conduct their business well financially need a new playbook.

Some have called for innovation not just in technology, but in business strategies and commercialization. Some of the most successful startups in solar these days focuses on “solar leases” to help curve the cost of technology adaptation.

This made me think about my areas of specialties and shortfalls. I’m not a scientists or an engineer. I can’t code you a mobile app to save my life. Yet I insist on learning technology in its social applications and I am eager to learn how social applications can leverage existing laws and regulations to compete with the likes of the status quo and heavy investors like China. This is perhaps where my opportunity resides – not in innovating a new technology, but inventing a new way of applying existing technologies. With the onrush of Chinese subsidies into their solar sector, thin-film solar technology is outpaced by cheap solar cells made by China. My intuition is that we won’t be able to compete in manufacturing solar cells for the market place, but we can surly come up with inventive ways to popularize the technology and its application. Concept like “solar leases” and inventive financing models may just be what our housing market needs.

Long story short, I have failed, yes. I am not giving up. Going back to the drawing board is never fun, but the lessons are invaluable. Many sleepless nights ahead but it sure beats giving up. Life is about learning and doing good for the society.

古之欲明明德於天下者, 先治其國欲治其國者, 先齊其家欲齊其家者,  先修其身欲修其身者, 先正其心欲正其心者, 先誠其意欲誠其意者, 先致其知致知在格物 

Stay tuned.