Biofuels – Bringing Sexy Back?

I was recently forwarded an opinion piece on how to promote biofuels and it struck a cord with me. In June 2011, I published an article in Industrial Biotechnology called “Back to basics: Redefining the biotechnology message.” In it, I said the current messages weren’t working – especially when tied to climate change where public opinion is slipping.

The opinion piece, “How to properly promote biofuels,” was authored by Alkol Bioenergy and focused on a new TV advertising campaign running in Brazil. The campaign was developed for UNICA (Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) and featured images of ethanol being cool and sexy. The op-ed piece points out that this is very different from what is being done in Europe and the USA.

“Truth is that facts such as job creation, national security, global warming, etc., have never proved their value, as they all depend on a previous knowledge about socioeconomic issues people are unaware of or simply do not care, ignoring instead the real motivations for people using something new,” is written in the piece.

While I agree to some level, I do still feel that job creation and economic security are two reasons that work for some, more specifically those who are well-informed about the issues such as our readers. Where I think the messages still struggle is with the average person, who doesn’t really, truly understand why biofuels, or renewable energy or sustainability in particular, is important.

Let me give you an example of what is happening in China. Several years ago there were articles citing the sale of fake solar panels. But the solar panels were not sold and installed only to discover they never worked; they were never intended to work. They were designed to increase a buyer ‘s social standing in the community who couldn’t afford real solar panels.  In China, those who had solar panels on their homes are better respected and maintain a higher social status than those who don’t.

So why aren’t Americans or Europeans, or others in any other country given more respect when they adopt renewable energy or sustainability initiatives? Because in many cases, these early adopters were/are seen as snobs, I am better than you, rather than as leaders of a movement. And this, I think is key. We need to make renewable energy cool and we need to make renewable energy for everyone. And this lies the point of the editorial, where I wholeheartedly agree, biofuels need to be seen as cool, as the UNICA ad portrays.  As Gareth Kane wrote in “Green Jujitsu,” we need to make renewable energy and environmental consciousness sexy.

Book Review – Green Jujitsu

Can you define sustainability? More than likely, but it is also likely that your definition is different than a colleagues, family member or friend. The green movement touts sustainability but how do you actually integrate the idea of sustainability into your business? To answer this question, I turned to the DoShort, “Green Jujitsu,” written by Gareth Kane.

Green JujitsuThe book focuses on how to help businesses become more sustainable and how to make it stick. The answer? Harness the strengths of your employees rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Kane aptly uses the analogy of the martial art of jujitsu. This concept is focused on using your opponents strength, energy and momentum against them and levering into submission. While Kane doesn’t promote bringing your employees to submission, he does promote the idea of bringing people on board with sustainability initiatives by understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

I often struggle with the way the renewable energy industry promotes itself and have come to believe that the industry is not using the right language and stories to gain public and policy support. In some regard, I feel I’ve found an ally in Kane and his message.

He notes that oftentimes, “The green movement has a well-earned reputation for presenting sustainability as the hair-shirt option….We are bombarded with litanies of how we should be ashamed of ourselves as a species….Hand up who wants a guilt trip? The answer is to make it fun; ditch the hair-shirt and make sustainability sexy.”

In other words, make sustainability attractive, positive and compelling.

While this book hits the mark on guiding a business through the process of engaging employees into sustainability practices that will also help to save money, it is also a good lesson in messaging for the industry.  This book should be read by both sustainability leaders and champions, but also by those who are helping the industry to craft its sustainability messages.  Green Jujitsu is a “art” the industry could, and should get behind.

Consumers Take Action on Global Warming

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 1.32.37 PMA new national survey conducted by Yale finds that in the last 12 months, three of of 10 Americans (32 percent) have given business to a company as a reward for their steps to reduce global warming. Twenty-four percent also say that in the past 12 months, they have punished companies for opposing steps to reduce global warming by not purchasing their products. As a follow-up, 52 percent of the respondents answered that in the next 12 months, they intend to reward or punish companies for their action or inaction to reduce global warming.

“Many Americans are no longer content to just talk about global warming, they are doing something about it,” said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University. “Many are acting individually to save energy at home and on the road and are making consumer choices that support business action on climate change.”

Other major findings include:

  • Americans are more likely to use public transportation or carpool (17 percent) and 25 percent say they “always” or “often” walk or bike rather than drive.
  • A majority of Americans say they “always” or “often” set their thermostat no higher than 68 degrees during the winter (53 percent).
  • Americans have become less confident that their individual actions to save energy will reduce their own contribution to global warming (32 percent, down 16 points since 2008).
  • Americans are also less likely to say that if most people in the United States took similar actions it would reduce global warming “a lot” or “some” (60 percent, down 18 points since 2008).
  • Twelve percent of Americans have contacted a government official about global warming by letter, email, or phone, and 15 percent have volunteered or donated money to an organization working to reduce global warming.

Another interesting finding was that no matter what their personal beliefs about global warming, many Americans say they have friends who have different views than their own. In fact, more are likely to have friends who disagree than agree with them about global warming. For example, 30 percent of Americans who believe global warming is happening and human-caused say “all” or “most” of their friends agree with them, but 42 percent say that only “a few” or “none” of their friends agree with them.

This report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

BioPro EX Gets GRA Endorsement

The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) has endorsed Springboard Biodiesel’s BioPro EX made in America alternative refueling station. The technology converts grease to ASTM standard biodiesel, which according to the California Air Resources Board, emits up to 90 percent less carbon dioxide and 50 percent less particulate matter than regular diesel fuel.

“Innovative technology such as the BioPro EX has made it possible for restaurants to recycle their grease in a simple, cost-efficient manner,” said Michael Oshman, the Founder & CEO of the GRA. “While the average restaurant washes about 15 pounds of grease down the drain for every 150 meals served, restaurants that use the BioPro EX device help both the environment and their budgets.”

The machine is located on site, giving restaurants the ability to convert used grease into biodiesel without having to pay a third party company a fee to come and pick up the used cooking oil for disposal – a requirement for many restaurants throughout the U.S.

“We’re delighted by this endorsement,” said Springboard Biodiesel’s CEO Mark Roberts. “Making a clean burning fuel in an automated appliance and saving money at the same time is a truly great combination of benefits. The BioPro™ enables restaurant owners to both save money and differentiate themselves in the eyes of their customers, who are increasingly valuing green initiatives.”

Restaurants who adopt the technology will earn 2.5 GreenPoints toward becoming a Certified Green Restaurant, based on the association’s certification standards in the environmental category of eliminating waste.

Companies Shifting to Clean Energy

As climate talks begin to wind down in Qatar, a new report, “Power Forward: Why the World’s Largest Companies are Investing in Renewable Energy,” has been released by Calvert Investments, Ceres and World Wildlife Fund. The report concludes that many of the world’s largest companies are not waiting for binding treaties and subsequent polices, rather they are integrating clean energy and lower emissions into their business now.

The report shows that many Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy commitments, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, or both. While the movement is strong in the U.S., the trend to sustainability is even stronger internationally.

“The companies that are boldly setting either greenhouse gas or renewable energy goals and making progress on those commitments are demonstrating the business case and real leadership on climate change,” said Marty Spitzer, WWF’s Director of US Climate Policy.  “And, in the process, these companies are changing the game — driving significant renewable energy investment globally and pressing for the right policy and market conditions that will allow companies to do even more.”

The report finds that clean energy practices are becoming standard procedures for some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. For example, many companies are shifting from purchasing short-term, temporary Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to longer-term investment strategies like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and on-site projects, indicating a long-term commitment to renewable energy and reaping the benefits of reduced price volatility.

For some companies, there are still key barriers to achieving sustainability goals including: the fact that in some regions renewable energy is not yet at cost-parity with subsidized fossil-based energy; internal competition for capital; and inconsistent policies that send mixed signals to companies and investors in renewable energy projects, particularly instability in renewable energy incentives; and policies that prevent companies from signing green power purchase agreements.

The report also offers several recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including promoting tax credits or other incentives that level the cost playing field for renewable energy, specifically, extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energythis year; establishing Renewable Portfolio Standards in states that do not have them; removing policy hurdles in states that prevent companies from contracting to buy the cheapest renewable power available and building on-site renewable power generation; and market-based solutions that put a price on the pollution from conventional energy generation.

Movie Review – Chasing Ice

I spent the weekend in the Twin Cities attending several environmental events. The first event was a screening of the documentary Chasing Ice, produced by environmental photographer James Balog who founded Extreme Ice Survey. It is hard for me to put my emotions into words after watching this moving. It was simultaneously incredibly beautiful and yet horrific. Beautiful in that the imagery of the ice was stunning and horrific because the crew caught on film the melting of glaciers.

James Balog, along with several teams, installed 25 cameras in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana and over the course of three plus years, the cameras took photos every 20-30 minutes and as I write this, have taken thousands of photos of the glaciers. Every six months, the teams traveled in oftentimes heralding weather to check the cameras, take additional photos and video and switch out memory cards. The results was stunning time lapse photography – who knew that ice could be so beautiful.

Yet what might have been most amazing, was that his cameras and crew caught what is to believed the largest calving incident ever recorded on film. A portion of a glacier in Greenland broke off (nearly the size of Manhattan) over the course of 75 minutes. It was amazing to watch but then the reality of what you are witnessing takes hold  – watching the disappearance of the glaciers. While glaciers have calved for centuries, they typically stay about the same in size – one piece breaks off while more ice forms. Yet today, these glaciers are not being replenished, per say, they are vanishing.

One element of the film that could be most interesting, was that James Balog began as a climate skeptic and now believes that climate change is real, and a major part of it is caused by human actions. For those who already believe in climate change, or those who continue to be climate skeptics, this is a must see film. And for those climate skeptics who still deny that climate change is real after seeing this film, well then nothing will change your mind.  (I would like to thank the Will Steger Foundation for providing 840 free tickets to see Chasing Ice).

World Energy Trilemma Report Released at Doha

According to the World Energy Council (WEC), the world is far away from achieving environmentally sustainable energy systems. According to the organization’s global ranking of country energy sustainability performance, over 90 countries assessed are still far from achieving fully sustainable energy systems.

The 2012 Energy Sustainability Index, published within the WEC’s 2012 World Energy Trilemma report, “Time to get real – the case for sustainable energy policy,” finds that most countries still have not managed to balance the energy trilemma. The WEC argues that countries must balance the trade-offs between the three challenges of the trilemma: energy security, social equity, and environmental impact mitigation, if they are to provide sustainable energy systems.

The Index reveals that:

  • Environmental impact mitigation remains a universal problem;
  • Providing high-quality and affordable energy access remains a significant challenge for developing and emerging economies; and
  • Countries at various stages of development struggle with energy security.

“The message of the Energy Sustainability Index is clear: all countries are facing challenges in their transition towards more secure, environmentally friendly, and equitable energy systems,” said Pierre Gadonneix, Chairman of the World Energy Council. “What makes the difference is how they set their final goals, how they balance market economics and public policies, and how they design the smartest policies in order to promote efficiency and to optimise costs, resources and investments for the long term. If we are to have any chance of delivering sustainable energy for all and meeting the +2°C goal, we need to get real.” Continue reading

Teaching Biofuels in School

Shane Robinson, associate professor in the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership wants to teach students math and science through green energy and biofuels. He is partnering with the OSU Biobased Products and Energy Center (BioPEC), who has an objective to provide education about biobased products and energy through secondary education.

“A focus of ours is to produce teachers who can teach science, math and technology in the context of agriculture,” Robinson said. “We really feel like our teachers have a unique opportunity to integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competencies at the secondary level through real-life application of their students’ agricultural projects.”

It has been nearly three years in the making and now the National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR) has joined the project. Currently students Marshall Baker and Joey Blackburn, are developing curricular materials for high school agriculture teachers focusing on biofuels and renewable energy. Environmental and energy education has become a primary initiative for teachers around the country, but many need help in developing curriculum and getting access to materials. This initiative is designed to meet this need.

“Everywhere you turn you read about green energy and the need for clean energy,” Robinson said. “We stress the importance of being a lifelong learner to our students. We stress to them the importance of being aware of the current issues of the world we live in and being able to talk about those issues in the classroom. Therefore, it’s important for our pre-service and in-service teachers to be knowledgeable about biofuels and other renewable energies.” Continue reading

Report: Wind Energy Reduces GHG Emissions

Environment America has released the new report, “Wind Power for a Cleaner America: Reducing Global Warming Pollution, Cutting Air Pollution and Saving Water,” detailing how current power generation from wind energy prevents as much global warming pollution as taking 13 million cars off the road each year. With the Production Tax Credit (PTC) quickly reaching its expiration date, Environment America is urging Congress to extend the federal incentives for wind power. In addition to the PTC, they are also encouraging the offshore wind investment tax credit (ITC) be renewed as well.

“Our message to Congress is clear: Don’t throw wind power off the fiscal cliff,” said Courtney Abrams, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment America. “Our clean air, water, and children’s future are too important to blow it now.”

In light of the results of the report, several U.S. Senators who support wind energy offered comments. U.S. Senator Mark Udall, whose bill to repeal the clause that prevented the U.S. military from pursuing aviation biofuels was passed by the Senate, said, “Extending the wind Production Tax Credit is one of the most straightforward ways we can support clean, Made-in-America energy and American manufacturing jobs. We need the PTC to help create more good-paying jobs here at home, including jobs for our veterans who are transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce. The wind PTC is also a commonsense way to support clean energy and to reduce our carbon emissions. It is critical that Congress extend the PTC ASAP and support clean, renewable wind energy.”

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, noted, “Wind energy is a win for the economy, a win for the environment, and a win for New Jersey. We will continue fighting in Congress to extend the wind production tax credit and support the kind of energy development that is needed to create jobs, clean up the air our children breathe, and move America to a clean energy future.”

The report sites one advantage of wind is that it saves water. Continue reading

US-Based GCEH Receives RSB Certification

In an earlier post today, I mentioned four major global biofuel sustainability initiatives mentioned in the DoShort, “Sustainable Transport Fuels Business Brief.” One such initiative is the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) who just announced that the first U.S.-based biofuels company, Global Clean Energy Holdings (GCEH), has been awarded the RSB certification.

“We’re happy to welcome GCEH under the RSB umbrella,” said Dr. Michael Keyes, Senior Agriculture and Natural Resources Specialist for SCS Global Services, the company that oversees the program, “GCEH is a model for how biofuels can be produced sustainably and contribute to reducing the carbon intensity of our fuels, while providing concrete contributions to communities and the environment.”

According to SCS, the RSB certification is the most stringent of all consensus standards for sustainable biofuel production. To achieve the designation, a biofuel producer must a high level of compliance with environmental and social criteria that includes, but is not limited to, agricultural sustainability.

GCEH grows jatropha in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula on marginal land with no irrigation. In order to protect local plant species and wildlife, the company sets aside over 10 percent of its land to create conservation areas and buffer zones. I find this interesting because many in the environmental community believe jatropha is more harmful as a biofuel feedstock than helpful.

“The certification process included a very comprehensive review of all our operations,” added Noah Verleun, Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs Manager at GCEH, “We’re proud to report that we only had to institute minor operational adjustments to our already strong internal processes to qualify for the comprehensive RSB sustainability certification.”