Totnes is a small medieval town, home to a little over eight thousand people, on the mouth of the Dart River in South West England. Walking down high street (main street in British lingo), one would not necessarily be aware of anything unusual. Perhaps a particularly discerning eye would notice the preponderance of small independent cafes, local grocery outlets or shops selling wool. Yet, since becoming the first “Transition Town,” Totnes has sparked the Transition Town movement, serving as an inspiration to towns and communities across the world hoping to regain control of their economic destiny.

The Transition Town Movement was founded in 2005 by Rob Hopkins, a young instructor in ecological design, in response to the threat of peak oil and climate change. It has since spread across the world and attracted the support of several high profile figures, such as former president of the IMF Horst Kohler. The Transition Town movement ambitiously aims to transcend the ideas of “sustainability” and the “green economy,” visions championed by the Paris Climate Conference and post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS). The Transition Town Movement calls for profounder changes, questioning the viability of unbridled consumerism and the myth of limitless economic growth.

“Sustainability,” Rob Hopkins told Jon Mooallem of the New York Times in 2009, “is about reducing the impact of what comes out of the tailpipe of industrial society.” Meanwhile, the Transition Town movement, he argues, is seeking to “build resiliency” and create a new system that allows a community to be as self-sufficient as possible in order to withstand shocks as oil becomes astronomically expensive (something that seems far-fetched these days with a barrel of oil at only a little over $50). The movement champions the idea that communities themselves need to reimagine and rebuild a lifestyle that uses dramatically less fossil fuel. The key is to bring people together, create a culture of entrepreneurship, and instill a problem-solving mindset.

Today there are over 480 transition towns or neighborhoods in 35 different countries. While Hopkins issued an informal document that outlines steps, there is no formal blueprint to follow or central authority one is accountable to in order to become an official transition town.
The sole point of the movement, Hopkins told the New York Times, is simply to “unleash the collective genius of a community.” Under this helm, a wide range of new initiatives has cropped up in transition towns across the world.

In many places, new initiatives have tended to promote community membership, organizations and projects owned-and-run by local residents. This ranges from community-owned gardens, orchards and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms, to local renewable energy projects and even local newspapers that are owned by their readers. Transition towns harbor a large number of businesses that use a cooperative model, where workers own and run the enterprises that also serve as social hubs.

Another important aspect of transition towns is a “repair and share” vision which guides many initiatives. Transition towns across the UK now regularly hold events such as seed swap and give-and-take days in which people come together to share or swap clothes, furniture, tools and much more that they have no need for anymore. In Frome, Somerset, a “Share Shop” opened mid-2015 that allows residents to borrow household and leisure items donated by the public for a small fee. The founders, a team of eight 18-30 year olds, say the objective is to save people money and reduce waste. The average electric drill, they point out, is used for a mere 15 minutes in its lifetime. Transition Café in the town of Fishguard runs on a pay-as-you-feel model and offers delicious meals made from out-of-date products.

Simultaneously, there has been a concerted drive to radically transform waste management by minimizing and reusing waste. There has been a host of creative ventures, such as transforming waste wood into fuel or using coffee grounds to grow oyster mushrooms.

Susanna Heisse, appalled with the level of plastic waste around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, invented the “Eco brick,” which is an insulating, robust and affordable building material made from plastic waste. Some 38 schools in Guatemala have now been built using Eco Bricks.

Greyton, South Africa’s first transition initiative, had been struggling with a non-existent waste management system. On the outskirt of the town, trash would simply be poured into open dumps. Joseph Stodegel, a U.S. artist and entrepreneur who came to Greyton in 2011 to help with the transition town initiative, spearheaded a Trash-to-Treasure Festival. Now held annually, the Trash to Treasure Festival takes place on an open field that was created by reclaiming a dump. Bands play on stages built from reclaimed tires and building are made out of Eco Bricks.

Finally, many transition towns have created their own local currency. The “Localization” movement had never been very good at talking about economics, Rob Hopkins told the Guardian. Therefore, in order to change this, Totnes decided to try and map the local economy and put a value on it. They found that, in Totnes for example, people spend 30 million British pounds on food every year, 73 percent of which goes to large corporate-owned supermarkets. They realized that even if the purchase of local foods increased by only 10 percent, the town would have 2.2 million more pounds staying in the local economy. Consequently, the first local currency, the Totnes pound, emerged. The basic premise is that a local currency would make people think more closely about their local economy, inquiring where money goes when purchases are made and finding ways to spend more money locally.

In a day and age when it is easy to be all gloom and doom, Rob Hopkins and the Transition movement offer a refreshingly upbeat message. Sweeping changes in history, he argues, are not made by “big people” doing big things but rather by ordinary people doing small things together.

“There is no cavalry coming to the rescue,” he told the Guardian, but rather it is about what people can create with each other in their streets, neighborhoods and towns. “If enough people do it, it can lead to real impact, to real jobs and real transformation of the places we live, and beyond.”

H&M Montreal

While the world’s eager eyes are incessantly tuned to every twist and turn of the tech realm, one industry has stealthily and swiftly taken a giant position amongst consumers, shaping their choices before consumers are fully aware of the advancing phenomenon. The transition of a large portion of the fashion industry to mass production and rapid circulation, a process commonly termed as “McDonaldization,” has solidified the presence of fast fashion. This new trend within the fashion industry focuses solely on the expedited manufacturing of clothes. Fast fashion promotes unsustainable production and exploitation of cheap labor across global scales of society.  The industry claims that drive for change rests on the shoulders of consumers and their responsibilities of “conscious consumerism.” Yet the economic gains from fast fashion, and the fashion industry’s overall relative disassociation with the idea of sustainability, create an undeniably difficult environment for the consumer to be cognizant of the negative ramifications of purchases. Instead, it is the designers and the fashion corporations on the supply side of the industry that should be pioneering the deceleration of this culture.

According to a report from retail leasing company JLL Shanghai, fast fashion brands have already expanded by the hundreds across China. H&M currently has approximately 250 stores in China and is looking to install 80 more this year. Fellow fast fashion brand Zara plans on 60 new stores, and Uniqlo 100, in addition to the 100 already opened last year. This rapid growth is still far from dwindling elsewhere, such as the United States, where these brands have already established an extensive hold. This September, Dublin-based fast fashion brand Primark opened its first U.S. store, a massive 77,000 square feet presence that is a harbinger of many more to come.

The seemingly endless popularity surrounding fast fashion is derived from the undeniable direct economic benefits for both the suppliers and consumers.  Although the retail prices of these products are far lower than those of their counterparts of higher quality, the high elasticity of demand lead to larger purchases in clothing quantity and generate higher profit margins. In this year’s August earnings report, the retailer Gap Inc. recorded a drop in company-wide quarterly sales by two percent, yet its low-priced fast fashion unit Old Navy recorded a 3.3 percent year-over-year growth.  According to market intelligence firm Euromonitor International, U.S. in-store fast fashion sales increased by eight percent over the past seven years.  Consumers, likewise, benefit both economically and culturally. Fast fashion brands make available to the public fresh, stylish items every week in tune with the latest trends at affordable prices. In a field already heavily dominated by concepts of being “in-style” and “out of style,” the availability of “cheap chic,” inexpensive fashion, is widely welcomed by consumers.

This culture of “cheap chic,” however, simultaneously endorses a more detrimental aspect – a culture of disposability.  Both consumers and fast fashion companies gain from each other through fast cycles of production. According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the average American will buy 70 garments this year. With new, cheap, trends churned out every week, the industry triggers a fast-response system that encourages quick purchasing, and thus quick disposability.

This disposability, however, is inflicting extremely detrimental effects on the environment behind its gilded glamour.  According to the Council for Textile Recycling (CTR), only 15 percent of Americans’ used clothes are recycled each year, leaving 21billion pounds of textiles to flood landfills. This amount of post-consumer waste has only been escalating over recent years, and CTR projects its growth to continue to a staggering 35.4 billion pounds by the year 2019.

Fast fashion emits waste not only in physical form, but also in substantial contributions to atmospheric pollution. Cotton is one of the most toxic crops in the world in terms of production. As reported by the Organic Consumers Association, producing cotton employs twenty five percent of all the insecticides in the world and 12 percent of all pesticides, although it is grown on only three percent of the world’s farmland. Admittedly, Textile Exchange, the non-profit, reported in 2013 that Swedish fast fashion giant H&M is the highest user of organic cotton, yet the company’s 2014 sustainability report shows that only a mere 13.7 percent of its entire cotton usage is organic. Organic cotton is grown using techniques and materials that have a very low impact on the environment. Considering that H&M also stated in a press release that it manufactures approximately 600 million articles of clothing annually, H&M’s 13.7 percent use of organic cotton is a more troubling statistic than congratulatory.  It also signifies that the remaining hordes of fast fashion houses employ even less – indicating colossal ongoing environmental damages.

Unfortunately, the commonly suggested solution to this problem is to belittle the public into being “conscious consumers”. Sustainability, however, is not a concept readily associated with fashion. A Sanford Bernstein analysis shows that Primark prices its merchandise twenty percent below Forever21, thirty percent below Old Navy, and forty percent below H&M. The main targets of fast fashion, young consumers, are avid followers of this industry because of the quick gratifications involved through discounted pricing.

Within the fashion industry, sustainability does not easily come to the forefront of consumer’s minds. Therefore, it is less tactical to expect the consumers to take the active initiative, when research has just begun to highlight the economic and environmental consequences of fast fashion. To expect change, intervention must focus on the corporations currently reaping the prime benefits of the “fast fashion” industry.


Roughly two months ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused Volkswagen of deliberately using special software to cheat emissions tests.

According to Cynthia Giles of the EPA, since 2009, special software had been installed in over 11 million Volkswagen diesel-powered cars to pass emissions testing and to maintain the illusion that the diesel-powered vehicles were more environmentally safe than they truly were.  Chris Ziegler of The Verge reported the company’s diesel engines were performing so poorly on emissions tests that Volkswagen engineers employed special devices to efficaciously champion the appeal of diesel.  Ziegler described the devices as working by “only turning on emissions control when undergoing emissions testing, but not when the car is actually being driven normally and pollution is at its peak.”  According to Aaron Morrison of International Business Times, the defeat devices in the diesel cars enabled the vehicles to release from 10 to 40 times more nitrogen oxides than permitted by U.S. environmental regulations.

Volkswagen has already seen out its CEO, Martin Winkertorn, and while the scandal will have devastating effects for the company itself, the scandal will have massive repercussions for Europe and the automobile industry as a whole.

The once-lucrative Germany car company now faces catastrophic financial troubles.  Volkswagen may have to pay fines of up to $18 billion, with civil penalties accumulating to roughly $37,500 on each vehicle, according to Timothy Gardner of Reuters.  Roughly a week after the emissions scandal surfaced, the market value of Volkswagen dropped 30 percent, Rocky Newman of Fortune Insider reported. Newman concludes that the accumulation of fines will put a “conservative estimate of the cost to Volkswagen and its shareholders in the vicinity of at least $54 billion, given fines outside the U.S. and lost sales that result from the scandal.”

The financial burden may not be limited to Volkswagen.  The revelation of Volkswagen’s use of special software to beat emissions tests will likely prompt stricter oversight of all automakers and emissions testing processes.  Greg Archer, a former UK government adviser, claims there is “lots of anecdotal evidence about the use of defeat devices to disguise environmental impacts and that the scandal could spread beyond diesel and into Europe, where tests are more prone to abuse.”  Evidently, Volkswagen may be representative of a larger problem within the automaker industry and emissions testing.

The implications of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal will extend beyond the confines of the company.  Germany and Europe as a whole will undoubtedly be affected by the crisis; the scandal’s far-reaching effects can be explained by the mere size and reach of Volkswagen.  The automaker employs over a quarter million Germans alone.  According to Kevin Roose of Fusion, Volkswagen cars “account for one of every ten passenger vehicles in the world.”  In addition, Germany has the largest economy of any European country, and relies heavily on exports with approximately 45 percent of the country’s total gross domestic product coming from exports.  Given the EPA’s fine that could amount to over 18 billion, Volkswagen will undoubtedly have to make employment and salary cuts that will heavily damage the export-based Germany economy.

Prior to Volkswagen’s scandal, diesel engines had been increasing in popularity in both the United States and Europe.  After all, many of diesel’s benefits over gasoline are indisputable:  according to Allen Schaeffer, director of the Diesel Technology Forum, diesel has on average “30 percent greater energy efficiency than a comparable gasoline engine.”  Volkswagen had been persistently advertising the notion of clean diesel in the United States with notable success.  During the first half of 2015, Volkswagen overtook reigning sales leader Toyota as the sales leader for diesel vehicles.  EPA’s revelation in early September will likely halt the automaker’s progress, however.

Opinions regarding diesel vehicles have already reversed following the scandal.  According to US News, “Major European cities such as Paris and Birmingham are already calling for a crackdown on diesel and the FT has suggested that Europe, where 53 percent of 2014 engines sold used diesel, might switch “virtually overnight” to petrol.” As Leonid Bershidsky of the Bloomberg View explains, “diesel-powered vehicles popularized as a result of lower excise taxes on diesel than gasoline throughout most of Europe, and relatively loose environmental standards for diesel engines that permitted higher levels of nitrogen oxides and other unsafe particles.”

Many drawbacks of diesel fuel that were previously overlooked have come to light as a result of VW’s emissions testing scandal.  Diesel fuel is noticeably more expensive than gasoline; according to Alex Davies of Wired, the price of diesel in September was $2.501 per gallon compared to the national average of $2.289 per gallon for regular gas.  In addition, Davies claims that diesel “cars are typically several thousand dollars more expensive than the equivalent model with a gas engine, because scrubbing the exhaust gas of nitrogen oxide and other particulates takes know-how and hardware.

Now, buyers of Volkswagen diesel-powered vehicles will pay:  According to Newman, “VW owners of “clean diesel” vehicles will incur lost resale value as high as $5,000 per vehicle.”

Volkswagen’s emission scandal has and will continue to weaken support for the diesel industry.  Diesel sales were in excess of 2.4 million in 2013 for Volkswagen, accounting for a quarter of the company’s factory output, according to U.S. News.  In addition, the company had nearly twice as many diesel-powered vehicle sales as its closest competitors.  Bershidsky asserts that the scandal is “the result of Europe backing the wrong emissions-reducing technology on a regulatory level.”  The Volkswagen scandal has undoubtedly put a dent in the diesel engine industry and will prove to difficult to reverse.  As Bershidsky alleges, “There will be only two paths for them to take: making sure the emissions performance of all new diesel cars is irreproachable—which isn’t easy in the real world—or shifting production toward hybrid and electric vehicles, as Japanese companies did when they decided diesel was on its way out.” Evidently, the Volkswagen scandal may carve the way for the rise of hybrid and electric vehicles around the world; only time will tell.

Volkswagen’s emissions scandal has reverberated all over the globe.  The revelation of Volkswagen’s use of defeat device has negatively impacted not only the German economy but the European economy altogether.  In addition, the emissions-cheating scandal has devastated the company itself and will call for increasingly intense regulatory oversight on all major car companies.  Most importantly, Volkswagen’s crisis has given the hybrid and electric car industry the opportunity to rise to prominence.  Although the German-based car company with survive, Volkswagen’s scandal and the EPA’s catastrophic fine in its own should serve as noteworthy lessons to automakers around the world: Companies ultimately pay the price for their wrongdoings and should never test the boundaries of regulatory oversight.

In Gasland (2010), a man lights his tap water on fire; his bitterness is mixed with images of desolate drill sites and weary faces. Though dramatic, is this scene a fair criticism of the practice? Opponents spit out the word– fracking, a word almost as ugly as the visions of uprooted landscapes and the plight of victims powerless against Big Energy yet again. For a few moments, set aside visceral reactions and quick emotion and gut-appeal. Take a glance at hydraulic fracturing, an industry slogging through the politics of energy and environmental protection.


Hydraulic fracturing has been around for a long time. It was patented in 1949 and only recently has been combined with other technologies to tap previously inaccessible shale gas. The process involves the injection of a mixture of water, proppant such as sand, and chemicals into an oil or gas well.

The fluid is pumped into the horizontal bore several thousand feet under the ground and creates fractures in the surrounding shale rock. The proppant enters these cracks, “propping” them open after the water flows back out. The chemicals do many different things, such as gelling the water on its entry and reducing friction.

The shale clays under scrutiny for natural gas previously could not be used because although they held large reserves of natural gas (the Marcellus Formation in Appalachia alone holds 84 trillion cubic feet), shale is not naturally very permeable.

Now, there are a multitude of previously inaccessible natural gas sources that can be accessed, such as black shales, coal seams, tight sandstones, and deep brine aquifers. Proponents nod to these sources and note their relatively small extraction risk compared to offshore drilling, arctic drilling, or ultra deep drilling.

In 1990, the United States produced the energy equivalent of 70 quadrillion Btu (British thermal unit, equal to 1055 joules). That number remained steady through 2006, at 69.4 quadrillion Btu. That number increased as hydraulic fracturing — combined with horizontal drilling and other new technologies –became more widespread. In 2010, 74.712 quadrillion Btu were produced; in 2011, 78.091 Btu. A large part of this increase has stemmed from natural gas production; 19 quadrillion Btu from natural gas in 2006 increased to 23.6 quadrillion Btu in 2011.

The United States has become the second largest natural gas producer in the world, just behind Russia.


In 2011, the U.S. produced 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from shale gas wells; at $4.24 per thousand cubic feet, which yielded a direct value of $36 billion. Citibank estimates that rising domestic shale oil and gas production, through reduction of oil imports and retention of “petro-dollars” in country, will reduce the current-account deficit by 1.2.-2.4% of GDP from the current value of 3%.

While other industries have spluttered in the wake of the 2008 recession, oil and gas have remained a powerhouse of employment, with the number of employees at the end of 2012 at its highest since 1987.

Through both direct (employment) and indirect (influx of people and money) economic impact, multiplier effects echo throughout local economies. Land prices surge in a state after fracking is legalized, and the high prices affect all landowners’ wealth and consumption.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in North Dakota—its per capita GDP rocketed from $34,000 to $55,000 after less than a decade of fracking, demonstrating the effect of the drilling in the Bakken formation. Apparently the North Dakotan luxury car dealers are doing a tidy business.

Gas is also the cleanest fossil fuel when burned. No sulfur, mercury, and ash are produced after combustion. No cracking or refining is required, lowering processing costs. It releases low quantities of nitrous oxides, ozones, and complex hydrocarbons, avoiding the creation of photochemical smog. Finally, it releases the lowest amounts of carbon dioxide per btu of any fossil fuel; it releases ½ of the carbon dioxide per Btu of coal and 2/3 of oil.

Finally, hydraulic fracturing has directly impacted the energy race balance between the U.S. and other countries. Between 2007 and 2011, natural gas imports in the U.S. decreased by 25%, while petroleum imports dropped 15.4% from 2005 to 2011. The Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2020, the U.S. will become a net exporter of natural gas. This, thankfully, will ease tension between the Americans and the Chinese for limited Middle Eastern natural gas resources. Countries such as Iran will also be limited in their ability to use energy diplomacy in negotiations.


Fracking does come with its cons—seismic activity, water resource risks, waste management, and extraction infrastructure, just to name a few. However, it is important to distinguish between definitive negative consequences and the assessment of risk.

Fracking’s consequences are well-defined. Each well requires 3-4 million gallons of water, 2/3 to ¾ of which is consumed and cannot be reused. Each well produces huge quantities of drill cuttings—hundreds and hundreds of tons of earth removed from thousands of feet underground to the surface.

However, many of the other environmental costs are measured in terms of risk. To be pedantic, one may define risk as the probability of the consequence multiplied with the severity of the consequence itself. Thus, though there exists risks of water quality degradation, toxic trace elements inside the earth making their way into water supplies, and even seismic activity, many of these risks only are realized through improper management of drill sites and lack of foresight regarding waste management. Like other risky fuel extraction processes such as deepwater drilling, appropriate safety processes simply have to be implemented.


Globally, we use roughly 113,900 terawatt hours of fossil energy per year, the equivalent of 6020 nuclear plants (14 times the number in operation today). As countries such as China and India raise their standards of living, their individual citizens have increasingly come to expect the amenities of the modern world.

In essence, all forms of energy production have environmental consequences. Waste-water disposal issues plague almost all energy production; for example, there exists a percentage of gasoline stations that routinely suffer leaks that leach benzene into the water supply.

Like it or not, the world needs energy. In light of this, hydraulic fracturing should be considered with a scientific, rational eye. Rather than demonizing fracking and instinctively rallying against a new technology, it should be considered a component of a complex solution to an enormous problem– the problem of supplying energy to a bright and tech-hungry world.

The author is deeply grateful for the guidance of Professors Devon Renock and Mukul Sharma of the Dartmouth Earth Sciences Department throughout his research project investigating the clay microstructures of Marcellus Shale.


Where can the U.S. and China collaborate in renewable energy? With the state of competition between the two countries both in the Olympics and in other arenas, areas for collaboration may seem dim, but actually there are possible areas for doing so.

Definitely there is a need for collaboration to make renewables reach grid parity, meaning that renewable sources become just as cheap as fossil fuel based sources. Feed-in-Tariffs, or fixed prices per kilowatt-hour that have been preset in order to attract investors in solar and wind have been under attack in many countries. This despite the fact that external impacts for coal and fossil fuel power plants (such as public health respiratory impacts ) have not been captured in their energy pricing, and their subsidies remain untouchable at the moment.  For example, ask coal plant investors about the health impact of emissions and the handling of byproducts such as coal ash, and many will say it is not their concern. A carbon tax should capture these fossil fuel external impacts, but as public opposition in Australia shows, implementing a carbon tax is not a cake walk.

Publicly funded government research institutes, such as the Department of Energy Sandia and Lawrence Livermore laboratories are probably not high on the list for collaboration venues. Unwarranted collaboration is one ticket for scientists to be charged with improper handling of classified information, such as what happened in the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, who was eventually cleared by the courts. Anything is possible of course. Nixon did fly to China in the seventies for his pingpong diplomacy, but surprises like that are either fodder for films or novels. If it happens, it happens, but don’t count on secret American or Chinese government labs suddenly ushering in a new spirit of cooperation.

Nevertheless, research however in public and private universities like Tsinghua and Dartmouth should be strengthened. Jointly authored journal papers in technology areas like solar, wind, hydro, biomass, energy efficiency and other energy topics are probably the most basic way of encouraging some type of collaboration. The exchange of scientific ideas should be unfettered in order to march forward – a brilliant and breakthrough idea can now come from anywhere in the world. For example, the efficiency of polysilicon based solar photovoltaic panels are now hovering just above the 20% range. Breakthroughs in making solar photovoltaics more efficient, such as combining photovoltaic technology with the Seebeck effect on the same wafer, are possible areas that scientists can collaborate on.


Standards are another area of collaboration. In the semiconductor industry for example, many chip companies realized early in the ballgame that it does not make sense for wafer sizes to be different, as the resulting lack of standardized deposition tools will simply redound to unwarranted expense for all. So standards result in equipment and materials that can be marketed to different companies, resulting in cost savings across the entire sector. At the moment, the situation in the solar photovoltaic sector is that some companies still resort to custom built manufacturing equipment, which is basically what made the early days of the chip industry uncompetitive.

Then there is of course private company research, both in core technologies owned by the company and technologies that reside in its key suppliers. Microsoft, Intel and other Fortune 500 companies have their own R&D labs in China, employing Chinese scientists who work closely with their American counterparts. Collaborative research in this framework is determined to a large extent by corporate strategy, including access to markets. Collaboration within companies in the same sector, such as solar, will probably happen to a larger scale in the future in the same manner that American chip companies banded through the SEMATECH alliance to improve their competitiveness. However, there is a very low likelihood that this sort of cooperation will happen between the U.S. and China, except perhaps for a couple of non-core business and technology areas.

Related to this is the global supply chain for renewables. Some materials, like polysilicon, are important for the manufacture of solar panels. While the cost of this commodity item is driven by supply and demand, and made efficient by the many decades it has been there and by the number of companies who use it, nevertheless any opportunity to lessen its cost should be examined, if at all this is still a concern. Having reliable strategic suppliers to the wind and solar sector, or a framework for developing these suppliers, can be a good area for collaboration.

Manufacturing research, both in the U.S. and China, need to be coordinated – if not shared. While asking for sharing may be difficult as there are intellectual property issues to contend with, a certain framework that allows different creative minds to dance to the same tune will always be helpful. For example, manufacturing cost savings developed by Chinese manufacturers will not help if new American technologies will not be manufacturable using those new technologies. Again, having industry standards that companies actually comply with is key.

Access to markets, in order for renewable energy companies to grow, is important. No one will pay a corporate research scientist any money to do research if there is no business. Therefore, one area of collaboration for both China and the U.S. is unfettered access to markets. This is easier said than done of course – the new U.S. tariffs on Chinese wind turbines, and earlier on solar panels, undermines access to markets.

Finally, there should be common support for the Green Fund by both the U.S. and China. Most of this Fund will be used to pay for capital expenditures in renewable technologies like wind, solar and others. By having this money available, it can jumpstart a market that will signal to renewable energy companies, be it in China or the U.S., that the slack from the slowdown in Carbon Development Mechanism (CDM or “carbon credit”) funds will be taken over by the Green Fund. Once economies of scale have taken over – with demand for renewables coming from many parts of the globe, the current opposition to renewables determined mostly by its current cost should go away, and ensure healthy growth for all renewable energy sectors such as solar and wind in the years to come.

Dennis Posadas is an international fellow (based in the Philippines) of the Climate Institute Center for Environment Leadership Training (CELT) and a former engineer/analyst for a leading U.S. semiconductor firm. He is also the author of Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable (Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009) and Rice & Chips: Technopreneurship and Innovation in Asia (Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007)

The economic crisis has caused many companies to reevaluate their business practices in order to cut unnecessary expenditures. Pursuing sustainability and green business practices in the workplace has become an important focus in the drive for increased efficiency. In order to understand the developing merge between the corporate sphere and the environmental sphere, the Dartmouth Business Journal interviewed four very diverse, yet equally insightful experts and asked them to share their opinions on corporate sustainability.

Steven Chu | Secretary of Energy, US Department of Energy 

Steven Chu, current US Secretary of Energy under President Obama, has been instrumental in directing the US government to invest in clean energy and address the global climate crisis. With a double major from the University of Rochester and a PhD from UC Berkeley, he went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. As Secretary of Energy, his current endeavors are focused on research and development of biofuels in order to reduce US carbon emissions.

Dartmouth Business Journal (DBJ): How can US business leaders implement sustainable practices in the corporate sector?

Steven Chu (SC): I think that green corporate behavior pays off in the long run. There are some companies that pursue sustainability genuinely, but there are many that only want to appear as though they do. Skilled and visionary leadership at the executive level is incredibly important in carving a successful approach to sustainability. Not only do shareholders prefer to invest in companies implementing green practices, these companies enjoy greater profits due to increased efficiency. If business leaders want to stay competitive in the rapidly evolving economy, they need to be ready to look forward and  face the challenge to run their companies sustainably head-on.

DBJ: Are companies that promote their sustainable practices at risk of intellectual property infringement by foreign competitors?

SC: This is a problem that we were very wary of; similar practices have been carried out by other nations regarding high-speed rail, coal, and now, nuclear energy, where they examine the systems that we have and think of how to improve. In terms of developments, a gap between China and the United States is quickly growing as it’s now become one of the top five patent producers in the world. However, it all comes down to the behavior of a country’s researchers. Some researchers prefer to remain secretive about their work, and others, who are excited and willing to share their work, collaborate to reach success more quickly. In my experience, the latter has been routinely more useful in creating change and progressing in this race for clean energy. Sure, there are chances that you will be ripped off and copied, but those are sometimes the risks you have to take to make a greater impact in the field.

Durwood Zaelke | President & Founder, Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development

In addition to his work at the Institute or Governance and Sustainable Development, Durwood Zaelke is the Director of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. In 2008, he was given the award of “Champion for Protection of Climate” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He currently teaches at American University Washington College of Law where he is the Director of International and Comparative Environmental Law. He has performed extensive research on fast action mitigation responses to climate change as well as on resolution for trade and environment conflicts.

DBJ: If efficient management and sustainability are connected, why do some profit-maximizing businesses degrade the environment?

Durwood Zaelke (DZ): Short term profit usually overwhelms sustainability, unless governments change the incentives, through regulatory mechanisms, best practices, capacity building, training, funding or other financial incentives.

DBJ: Does sustainability always make good business sense?

DZ: Some sustainability strategies provide high rates of return in the short term and are easier to convince managers to follow. However, even where you can make money with a sustainability strategy, you have to first get the attention of management, and then get the initial resources to get the strategy in place. Most managers are already busy and not looking for new work. The bottom line is that governance really matters. Some governance can be internal, but government-provided governance can truly change corporate culture.

DBJ: What steps can the future business leaders of America take to implement sustainable practices in corporate sector?

DZ: Future business leaders need to be futurists, who see the major forces affecting global business, including climate change, which will show its impacts in an increasingly powerful way in the coming years. It would be malpractice for a business leader not to educate him or herself about the impacts and risks of climate change, even if he or she doesn’t believe the science. Climate will affect water supplies, and food availability, Climate will affect the availability of other raw materials. A reasonable corporation should study, monitor, prepare, and progressively implement both a defensive plan to prepare for coming impacts, but also an offensive plan to start reducing the behavior that is causing climate change (whether in the form of emissions, sources, or sinks). There will be future liability for corporations that do not act in a reasonable way to mitigate and protect against climate change. This liability may be statutory, or it may be common law.

Todd Larsen | Corporate Responsibility Director, GreenAmerica

Todd Larsen oversees Green America’s efforts to encourage businesses to adopt greater social and environmental responsibility and to support socially and environmentally responsible public policies. Green America is the leading green economy organization in the US. Founded in 1982, this national membership organization works to harness economic power-the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace-to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

DBJ: Are sustainability and corporate social responsibility linked?

Todd Larsen (TL): At Green America, we consider sustainability to be core to a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR). We have a broad view of sustainability that encompasses both social justice and environmental responsibility, and we expect corporations to serve all of their stakeholders, including consumers and workers across their supply chain. Many corporations today focus on short-term profits at the expense of the environment, worker’s rights, and providing safe products and services. However, there is increasing evidence that sustainable companies that perform better on CSR measures have better long term financial performance. As a result, all stakeholders, including shareholders, would benefit from a company pursuing sustainability.

DBJ: Can a multinational company ever be fully sustainable?

TL: There really is no such thing as being fully sustainable. For all companies that want to pursue sustainability, it is a constant process of making improvements. There are no fixed goal posts for sustainability because as we learn more about environmental and social impacts, and how to reduce harmful practices and increase beneficial ones, the goals of sustainability keep advancing. That being said there are multinational companies whose very business models preclude sustainability, such as coal mining corporations. Other companies only somewhat pursue sustainability, such as WalMart, which improved its environmental standards but still relies on low-paid labor both in the US and abroad. In general, smaller companies have been more willing to pursue sustainability as a core component of their business model. Green America has strict social and environmental criteria for earning its Green Business Seal of Approval, and most of the companies that are able to earn our Seal are small. We do have some larger companies that have earned our Seal, including Clif Bar, Aveda, and Organic Valley, and these are companies that built sustainable practices into their business model from the start.

DBJ: How can business leaders implement sustainable practices?

TL: Most companies will only adopt sustainable practices if there are champions within the company that make the case for them. Even if a sustainable practice will save the company money over time and/or improve its brand image, a company may not adopt the sustainable practices due largely to inertia or fear of unintended consequences. Increasingly, younger business leaders are supporting sustainable practices, carefully demonstrating the benefits and addressing concerns of upper management, and, as a result, more and more companies are becoming more responsible. Also, many younger business people are starting their own business, making it sustainable from the ground up. At Green America, we have over 4,000 business members who consider sustainability a chief concern of their company. That number is only going to grow.

Joe Coleman ’11 | Public Relations Chair, Big Green Bus

Joe Coleman ’11 is pursuing a major in Environmental Studies with a concentration in chemistry and economics. He hails from Poway, California and has been a part of the Big Green Bus since Fall 2010. During his time at Dartmouth, he has volunteered at a clinic in Buenos Aires, Argentina and taught English and math to children in Yambiro, Ecuador. He is currently the President of the Class of 2011 and was a lab TA in chemistry and Presidential Scholar in organic chemistry in past years. This is his first summer with the Big Green Bus, and he is incredibly excited to spend his senior summer promoting environmental issues across the nation.

DBJ: Is this the first year that the BGB is planning to address corporate social responsibility specifically? How successful do you think your presentations will be?

Joe Coleman (JC): I’d say this is the first year that we have an emphasis on businesses. We are definitely planning on visiting some businesses. As of now, we are planning to visit Waste Management, Boloco, and LL Bean. I don’t anticipate that our presentations will directly influence these companies. I do, however, think that we will influence individuals. Through our presentations, website, and even the bus itself, I think we can raise general awareness and this will indirectly penetrate corporations in a grassroots manner. Overall, we plan to learn from our conversations with people along our trip, extend our knowledge, and spread the important messages. The bus will essentially serve as an educational classroom on wheels.

DBJ: What role do you think sustainability plays in corporate social responsibility?

JC: I think it is a critical element. Sustainabilityisasocialjusticeissue and I anticipate that the realm of corporate social responsibility will continue to grow in the future.

DBJ: Why should a company pursue CSR? What is the most important message the BGB wants to give businesses?

JC: I think it just makes practical business sense. A company can no longer focus on profit maximization in isolation. It’s not sustainable. Moreover, companies that are preemptively implementing sustainable initiatives can minimize their vulnerability to fluctuating energy prices, while also boosting their brand’s image.

The solar sector represents an attractive, alternative solution for large scale energy production due to its environmentally friendly nature and potential to achieve economies of scale. The capability to scale solar energy production to meet all of humanity’s electricity generation needs is enormous; the sun radiates 3.8 million EJ of energy to the earth every year, 200 times our current rate of use. However, other sources of alternative energy like wind and hydroelectric power presents considerable competition for investor capital. In order for the solar sector to withstand the competition, the future of solar power depends upon its price competitive technologies in centralized power generation. Currently, Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) system presents the only viable solution, which still remains more expensive than other sources of alternative energy. This economic equation will soon change due to SkyFuel Corporation’s development of the SkyTrough. SkyFuel’s inventions have allowed it to reduce the cost of CST arrays by 35% and will allow CST plants to deliver electricity at rates lower than those of wind or other forms of solar technology.

CST systems use long parabolic mirrors to focus sunlight on a vacuum pipe that runs through the trough of each mirror. The mirrors and pipe move throughout the day to maintain the focus on the pipe. The pipe contains a heat transfer fluid (traditionally an oil derivative) that carries the collected heat energy to a heat exchange system, effectively converting water into steam. The steam drives steam turbines and produce electricity. One major advantages of CST lies in
its applicability to current turbine systems present in most power plants. “Recycling” turbines in this manner enables conversions from fossil fuel to CST plants at very low cost, making CST easily scalable if energy demand increases. CST can also easily and cheaply store energy in the heat transfer fluid with almost 100% efficiency. A CST power plant can thus draw on the heat in the fluid (stored during the day) at night to continuously produce electricity. Solar panels only produce electricity during the day and wind power is naturally intermittent, hence disqualifying both from becoming
major supports of a power grid. Furthermore, CST has proven its reliability: CST has been used in the United States since the parabolic collectors at the SEGS plants in California for nearly 20 years. Among the options for alternative energy production, CST plants may prove to be the primary means of producing the constant power supply necessary to become a substantial part of electricity production.

Because of these advantages, CST is projected to grow massively, with research reports predicting that 12 GW of CST capacity will be installed by 2020, almost all of it in large plants over 100MW. Recently, political concerns about high natural gas prices, pollution from coal plants and climate change have led to many states passing renewable energy mandates. This assures demand for new CST plants as utilities search to meet environmental policies like the California Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates that 20% of the state’s electricity must come from renewable sources by 2010. However, the problem with CST systems lies with its cost, not its efficiency. Fields of huge, precisely shaped, breakable glass mirrors are extremely expensive to build and maintain. And even a cutting-edge CST plant must charge more than 13 cents per kWh, a standard price for wind power.

SkyFuel is positioned to capitalize on CST growth because it presents an ingenious solution to the cost problem. SkyFuel’s system, SkyTrough™, uses its patented Reflectech™ mirror film in the parabolic reflector troughs instead of traditional glass mirrors. Reflectech™ mirror films are similar to plastic, consisting of many polymer layers over an inner layer of pure silver that gives it reflectance equal to a parabolic mirror. Furthermore, Reflectech™ is shatterproof and significantly lighter than heavy glass mirrors. Reflectech™ is so light that it can be laminated to aluminum sheets to create larger panels than the largest feasible glass mirrors, increasing accuracy of light concentration (and thus efficiency), while decreasing assembly costs. Since the support apparatus of SkyTrough™ can maintain lower weight than glass mirrors, engineers could use a tubular aluminum space frame that is 30% lighter. The space frame not only lowers weight strains, but also allows easier installation, hence reducing labor costs.

These benefits aggregate to make SkyTrough 35% cheaper to build and significantly cheaper to operate than any CST system on the market today. Additionally, Reflectech™ films eliminate the bottleneck in the parabolic trough production process (making the sagged glass mirrors) allowing SkyFuel to rapidly produce SkyTroughs™ and reducing lead time for orders. Armed with this innovative solution to its cost problems, CST power is positioned to supplement the conventional means of electricity production in the United States.