Category Archives: Clean Tech

Newest Knowledge@Wharton Report, Sponsored by Dow, Explores the Circular Economy

Dow Circular Economy Report Banner

The Circular Economy: From Concept to Business Reality

In an ideal world, everything manufactured by people would automatically be either re-purposed or reduced to its component parts and recycled for other uses, thus presenting a sustainable, closed loop that wasted no resources. But it’s not a perfect world, and the usual destination for our unwanted goods — especially in the U.S. — is the landfill. Can we turn that situation around?

After more than a century of linear thinking about the path products take from cradle to grave, excitement is growing among environmentalists and business leaders about the revolutionary potential of the circular economy — which fights waste by aiming to extract the maximum value from commercial goods. The recent Wharton conference on the subject, co-sponsored by Dow and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), brought together pioneers from industry, academia, and non-profit organizations. This report extends the discussion begun at the conference by looking more in depth at the issue.

Turning Waste Streams into Value Streams

Recycling waste salvages just a tiny fraction of a product’s original value. Far more productive uses can be found through re-manufacturing, cascading materials through several lifecycles, and developing new business models that move us away from the concept of ownership all together.

Designing for the Circular Economy

Innovative companies are exploring strategies that address end-of-life issues upfront — when a product is being designed. Some are looking to extend the life of products through old-fashioned durable construction, modern modular design, and futuristic repair-before-failure. Others are developing new materials and new types of products tailored to the circular economy.

The Producer Pays

Germany enacted the first countrywide extended producer responsibility (EPR) law in 1991, and much of Europe (and Asia) followed, but there is no national EPR law in the United States. EPR’s profile is rising,  though, even in this country. The concept has gained a foothold at the state and local levels, and some companies are taking voluntary steps in the direction of EPR.


Download the entire report here.

Energy Policy Now Podcast: How Alberta Overcame Discord to Enact Carbon Tax

Contributed by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, via Andy Stone

Carbon policy unexpectedly made headlines last week when a pair of Republican party elders proposed a national carbon tax with a few unique twists. The proposal from Treasury secretaries George Schultz and James Baker actually looks similar to the carbon tax that the Canadian province of Alberta enacted on January 1st with unusually broad buy-in from environmentalists, the energy industry (Canada’s oil sands are in Alberta), indigenous groups and government.

Energy Policy Now, the podcast from Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, interviews Alberta’s senior diplomat to the United States on details of the tax and the collaborative process that made it reality.

Gitane De Silva, Senior Representative to the United States, discusses plan details including the rebate checks to the majority of Albertans to offset higher energy costs. De Silva also provides insights into the provincial government’s intended uses for the balance of the C$9.6 billion in tax revenue over the next five years.

Challenges and Opportunities of Investing in Cleantech and Renewable Energy

By Zhan Zhou*


Based on the database of the Cleantech Group, there are about 19,200 cleantech companies in the world, of which over 1/3  are based in the United States.[I] Despite some minor setbacks, there is no doubt that cleantech has become one of the most targeted sectors for both public and private investment. A few numbers can shed light on the fact that the cleantech industry has emerged to be a fast-growing industry of great political and environmental significance:

  • During 2012 alone, cleantech companies around the globe raised $6.56 billion of venture capital across 732 deals [II]
  • For the global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the cleantech sector ranked as the second largest sector after oil and gas by attracting $12 billion from the global FDI into the U.S. in 2011, making it the fastest growth sector for the past decade [III]
  • Through July 20th, 2012, the §1603 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program had awarded $13.0 billion to nearly 45,000 renewable energy projects [IV]

Market Challenges
With a seemingly growing appetite for investment in cleantech, some important market challenges lie ahead. Continue reading

Five Insights from ACORE’s National Renewable Energy Policy Forum

by Candice D. McLeod*


On February 6th, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) held its 10th annual Renewable Energy Policy Forum on Capitol Hill. The event featured a host of industry, financial and government leaders, who spent the day discussing the progress of the renewable energy industry, from the industry’s current purgatorial state due to impending policy deadlines to the potential implications of the current fiscal and partisan climates.

The overall themes were clear – more financing options for renewables, renewable energy policy stability, and China setting the global rhythm.

Here are five main insights drawn from the forum:

  1. Renewable energy markets continue to grow significantly. Perhaps we should stop referring to them as “alternative sources” of energy
  2. Economic security -keep your eye on Iowa and rural America
  3. More policy stability, please
  4. More financing options -MLPs  & REITs
  5. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

1. Renewable energy markets continue to grow significantly. Perhaps we should stop referring to them as “alternative sources” of energy

John R. Norris, Commissioner, U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) opened the panel Renewable Energy Market Growth with the statement, “[if] it wasn’t for an economy that’s walking with a limp and a dramatic decrease in natural gas prices, the renewable energy market would be twice the size.” Continue reading

Many Approaches to Energy Efficiency: Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) Energy Efficiency Event

Amanda Byrne

Amanda Byrne is pursuing a Master of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked at ICF International for four years primarily supporting EPA’s ENERGY STAR program after graduating from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science in Energy, Business and Finance.

On December 15, 2011, many leaders in the energy efficiency industry came together in Philadelphia to talk about initiatives they are taking on, and to collaborate via roundtable discussion on how to effectively build on this momentum. Many types of stakeholders were represented including utilities, non-profits, government agencies, and service providers among others from the private sector. Select case studies were presented by Johnson Controls, Metrus Energy, The Reinvestment Fund, the City of Philadelphia’s Green Works program, and Liberty Property Trust. I was lucky enough to help out at the event and listen in to the discussions that developed. As someone who has worked in the energy efficiency industry for several years, I thought this event was particularly eye-opening. In addition to possible approaches, real solutions to making energy efficiency mainstream were discussed. For example, a municipal representative suggested that one approach to selling energy efficiency to elected officials is to present the opportunity in a way that can be used to sell it to constituents.

Other topics covered throughout the event included energy efficiency goals and incentives, building codes, building labeling, behavior change, and risk mitigation. The points that follow include key highlights of the day’s discussion:

  • Setting energy efficiency goal levels appropriately is critical to achieving the goals. Incentives for achieving goals, including tying employee bonuses to goal achievement, can help ensure goals are met.
  • Building code adoption and implementation have their barriers at the state and municipal levels, but enforcement seems to be the biggest issue. Solutions to enforcement include utility credits towards their Energy Efficiency Resource Standards goals for training code officials; and implementing codes based on building performance outcomes rather than taking an input approach. (If interested in learning about current building codes, visit U.S. DOE’s Status of State Energy Codes.)
  • Most attendees agreed that building energy labeling is important. However, it is becoming more and more mainstream to build efficient buildings. So labeling systems need to keep up. It is also important to encourage the public to think about building energy consumption the way they think about vehicle fuel efficiency. (If interested in learning about current building energy rating and disclosure policies, see comparison matrices and maps here.)
  • Building design, energy consumption indicators, and gadgets can only go so far – building tenants need to evolve their behavior within the building to ensure maximum energy reductions are realized. Training facility managers and others on this topic can help battle behavior issues. Some attendees commented that color-based energy price indicators have been extremely effective. Marla Thalheimer, Sustainability Manager at Liberty Property Trust, also shared that by simply installing an energy monitoring system in a building, a 4% energy consumption reduction was realized without implementing any retrofits. In other words, the building achieved large energy savings from energy consumption visibility alone.
  • Risk mitigation is a key feature of energy efficiency, and should not be forgotten. Energy efficiency mitigates not only energy cost risks, but also operational risks. When a building runs more efficiently, equipment within the building has a reduced chance of encountering problems.

The event’s discussions concluded by addressing the idea of whether or not we have reached a tipping point in energy efficiency efforts. Some did not think so, but others suggested we might be there at the state and city levels, as more and

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more localities are setting goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy consumption. It was also suggested that we are at least heading in the right direction. Innovation is increasing, and trends including urbanization and reduction of commercial space are pushing us towards more energy-efficient lifestyles.

It is clear that there is plenty of progress to be made towards a more energy-efficient and sustainable society; but forums like these prove that we are in fact moving in the right direction whether or not the tipping point has been reached. During this Ceres event, gaps and solutions were brought to light by diverse leaders in the field. This type of exchange is crucial to making change happen. So keep the key points from this event in mind as you walk through your office building, your home, or attend your next class. The more these ideas are discussed and debated, the better!

Sustainability Twinned with Profits: A Report from IGEL’s Careers in Sustainability Event

Aishwarya Nair is a Masters of Environmental Studies student at Penn, with a focus on Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management. With a B.A in Economics & International Relations from the University of British Columbia, she is currently researching solutions for sustainable electrification in rural areas in the developing world and the redesigning of the grid system.

The days of the earth movement being limited to tree hugging and long-haired hippies are over.  Green fever is sweeping across the global corporate landscape, and I didn’t have to look much further to find the proof of this statement than IGEL’s Careers in Sustainability, Energy and Business event.

On October 5th, executives from SAP, MERCK & Co, Coca-Cola, the Dow Chemical Company, and Sustainable Life Media met with Penn students to discuss the future of careers in sustainability and social impact. For those looking at the possibility of entering a green career, the advice is simple. You can start anywhere but sustainability is about being cross-functional, understanding business, and being able to speak the “different” languages to communicate across the board. Just as important, however, is picking the right company to work for; it must be a company that understands sustainability as well, and has a purpose that they take active steps to achieve.

Also appealing was the knowledge that sustainable ideas could come from anywhere. With more and more businesses seeing the profitability in greening up their supply chain and their products, today’s focus is on building relationships between disciplines (finance and sustainability for example).

The pointed questions asked by the audience also revealed that this interest is not one sided. One of the real concerns voiced by the students seemed to be whether all that could be done had already been done, and where the future of green corporations was heading. As someone thinking about a green career, I was just as relieved to hear that we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. As populations expand and demands grow upon the natural system, governments and companies are all looking for more innovation and partnerships to help improve choices and productivity.

Another very valid question asked was how do companies make their sustainability schemes mainstream and actually impact the bottom of the pyramid.  Joe Rozza, Global Resource Sustainability Manager for Coca-Cola, gave an example of his company’s own work to show how sustainability must make sense locally. As a company that heavily uses water, Coke’s future is dependent on access to good quality drinking water. When working in an area with lower environmental standards, building economic dependence on a local asset helps not only in greening up the supply chain for a company, but in also improving the quality of life in that area by creating economic development at the bottom of the pyramid.

The main takeaway from the first panel was that one must learn to balance different stakeholders and have clarity of destination. All in all, the event marked an excellent start to the academic year. The panellists were all very informed and very open to really answering the questions and concerns the audience raised.  To read about the second panel on careers in energy and corporate efficiency, click here.

Careers in Energy and Corporate Efficiency: IGEL Career Event

Amanda Byrne

Amanda Byrne is pursuing a Master of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked at ICF International for four years primarily supporting EPA’s ENERGY STAR program after graduating from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science in Energy, Business and Finance.

How often do you hear electric utilities talk about their work in the sustainability and environmental impact mitigation spaces? Let me tell you, it is a very enlightening experience. Two utility employees participated on the second panel of IGEL’s October 5th event – Careers in Sustainability, Energy and Business – and discussed many ways they are driving those types of efforts within their companies. Rye Barcott, commercial associate in the Sustainability Office of Duke Energy, and Melanie Dickersbach, Climate and Environment Strategy Manager at Exelon Corporation, both talked about their work to move their companies to a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly framework. An interesting fact that the panelists mentioned is that much of the utility work force will be retiring in the coming years. The utility industry is worth looking into if you are interested in corporate sustainability career opportunities. Based on questions from interested audience members, Melanie and Rye gave the following tips to those interested in careers in that field:

  • It is important to first understand the structure and intricacies of the utility industry in order to address future challenges.
  • It is particularly helpful to have sales experience.
  • Internships with utilities are a great way to get your foot in the door and start building utility experience.

Gary Survis, CEO of GeoscapeSolar, and Bill Kunze, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Nature Conservancy also participated on the panel and highlighted the following key points with regard to careers in energy and corporate efficiency:

  • Consumers are making decisions based on finances over their emotions (particularly in the solar industry), so it is important to understand the financial components in this business space.
  • It will benefit students to study cultural shifts in terms of attitudes towards sustainability.
  • Experience at consulting firms can help build experience with breadth and depth for these types of careers.

It is evident from the panelists’ comments, and their resumes alone, that cross-functionality in sustainability careers is important. But that doesn’t mean we have to pursue five different career avenues before settling into sustainability. We can learn from these experiences and figure out how best to tailor our curriculum and the types of companies we pursue to our interests.

This event was the first career event that IGEL held this year, and it was extremely useful for me to hear career and curriculum pointers directly from industry (in particular, employees that hold the types of positions I want!). If you weren’t able to make it, check out a recording of the event here. To hear more from some of the panelists individually, check out panelist interviews here, or at:

Natural Gas is the Energy Game-Changer: Report from the Wharton Energy Conference

Natural Gas Flaring:

John Rowe CEO of Exelon was the opening keynote speaker of the Wharton Energy Conference today at the Union League in Philadelphia. IGEL is a sponsor of the conference. Rowe extolled the benefits of natural gas and called it a complete game changer for energy production. The Marcellus shale play is a light in a bad economy, he said, making natural gas much cheaper than almost every other energy production. Switching natural gas is an important part of the Exelon 2020 plan to become more green. Other steps include upping nuclear production, infrastructure improvements, and energy efficiency investments. As the longest serving CEO in energy (28 years) Rowe called this new age of natural gas unlike anything he has ever seen.

At the energy policy panel, experts discussed the next wave of energy policy. Susan Tierney, former Assistant Secretary of policy for the U.S. DOE, argued that the US will never have a comprehensive energy policy due to political landscape. Its not possible. We do have, however, in essence a quilt of patchwork policy. We must shape what we have, she said, by clean energy standards, etc. EPA is using Clean Air Act rules and updates that will help retire old, inefficient plants. Dr. Tierney also extolled the benefits of natural gas, especially in the face of a wave of coal plant retirements. New gas plants are a relatively economical investment, she said. They are now the fuel and technology of choice. By 2025, the U.S. is supposed to support three times as much renewable fuels in our energy policy, but this will be difficult in the face of cheap gas. She argued that we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent using today’s policy, but not much more than that.

In the short term, natural gas’ cheap prices puts tremendous pressure on alternative energy development, said Adam Umanoff, partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Field LLP. He highlighted advancements in alternative energy such as wind, that are becoming more and more cost effective and competitive. They are not competitive yet, however, and cheap natural gas makes it hazy for alternative energy for the next few years. Dr. Tierney said technological breakthroughs will change the energy landscape in a longer term view. For example, the Midwest would be in a great place for wind once energy storage works. Umanoff highlighted novel technologies such as concentration solar plants in the desert. Using salt, heat and steam, there is 4-6 hours of storage capacity available. It is not quite commercial today, but we are getting close, he said.

At the lunch keynote, Dan Pickering, co-president of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., further discussed natural gas. He also praised its cheapness, saying that there is a 100 year supply. While he briefly mentioned drilling being unsightly, and alleged that there was not a lot of science behind the allegations of natural gas drilling (fracking) causing environmental degradation, the environmental impacts of natural gas were not discussed.

Many environmentalists are gravely concerned about the environmental degradation and health impacts from natural gas drilling by fracking and tar sands mining. Natural gas leakages from pipelines is another problem, contributing three trillion cubic feet of methane, a greenhouse gas several times more potent than carbon dioxide, to the atmosphere annually – a climate impact equal to emissions from half the coal plants in the US.  Leaks and emissions, according to a National Center for Atmospheric Research study, means that even a partial switch to natural gas from coal, will still accelerate climate change through 2050.

While natural gas does indeed appear the cheapest option, what about these externalities? If we priced carbon and greenhouse gas pollution through taxes, would natural gas still be a panacea? If we priced ecosystem services like watershed protection, would natural gas still win out? These questions are important as we discuss America’s energy future. While natural gas may win out, we need to have comprehensive discussions to mitigate negative environmental impacts and move forward in a positive way on energy.

Author Caroline D’Angelo is a graduate student in the Master of Environmental Studies Program, focusing on environment and business.  She is IGEL’s graduate intern and directs IGEL’s website and social media campaign and also conducts research.


Can Venture Capital Really Influence Environmental Sustainability?

Robert MacDonald presenting

Panel at Wharton Global Alumni Forum

Can venture capital really lead to sustainable businesses, energy and products? Or is venture capital an outdated and inefficient means of funding sustainable enterprises?

We posed this question and more to a panel hosted by IGEL and Bank of America at the Wharton Global Alumni Forum in San Francisco.(1)

Venture capital is the only way to sustainability. – Ashmeet Sidana, Panelist, Foundation Capital

The panel’s consensus was a resounding yes – venture capital can lead to environmental sustainability.  Panelist Ashmeet Sidana of Foundation Capital went on to argue that venture capital is the only way to reach sustainable goals. Panelists highlighted their cleantech investments, including new methods of algae biofuels manufacturing, solar power, geothermal energy and smart grids.  Last quarter saw the most investments in cleantech ever, said Andrew Chung of Lightspeed. Robert MacDonald of Craton Equity Partners showed the optimism of the markets by remarking that investments in cleantech is nearly $200 billion worldwide.

Remarkably, these investments are largely consumer-driven with large corporations like GE, Chevron and Intel buying in. Consumer and corporate buy-in is crucial,  given the lack of policy-leadership in the U.S. on clean energy.  In fact, investors’ frustrations are only mounting from uncertainty in the political climate.

The panelists also discussed necessary steps for scaling up cleantech investments. Capital efficiency is crucial, said Cynthia Ringo of DBL Investors.  Also necessary is further advances in technology for renewable energy storage.

What are your thoughts?  Leave us a comment in the Comments section or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.

The panelists were:

Ashmeet Sidana, General Partner, Foundation Capital

Mr. Sidana has investments in cloud computing, network efficiency and consolidation, and wireless monitoring.  He also is involved in solar power for India; he led the Foundation’s investment in and currently serves on the board of AzurePower, a solar power company in India. Foundation Capital also invests in such green and clean-tech such as smart grid technology, paper-less sharing systems, food and water sanitation systems, environmentally-friendly advanced materials manufacturing, energy conversion and efficiency technology, and thermal management.

Cynthia Ringo, Managing Partner, DBL Investors

Ms. Ringo is a board observer for LiveScribe, a new computer-version of pen and paper, as well as a board member for Solexant and Soladigm, two solar companies with new PV technologies. Prior to DBL, she was the CEO of CopperCom, a next-generation telecom equipment company. DBL also invests in electric cars and smart grid technology.

Andrew Chung, Principal, Lightspeed

Mr. Chung is a Principal at Lightspeed and has helped lead the firm’s entry into new areas of investment that include cleantech, education, genomics, and healthcare IT. Lightspeed’s investments include next-generation biofuels. Andrew chairs the Cleantech Advisory Board for The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE), serves on the Advisory Board for Stanford Energy Crossroads, and is an advisor to the Clean Tech Open.

Jon Krahulik, Managing Director and Global Head of Clean Technology Investment Banking, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Mr. Krahulik is responsible for growing the firms’’ coverage of companies across the clean tech sector globally. Mr. Krahulik joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch from Deutsche Bank Securities, where he served for four years, most recently leading clean tech investment banking.  Earlier in his career, Krahulik spent seven years in the global technology group at Lehman Brothers, most recently as a senior vice president.

Robert MacDonald, Managing Partner,  Craton Equity Partners

Mr. MacDonald developed Catalyst Energy Corporation into one of the largest IPPs in the country. Bob currently serves on the boards of EnLink Geoenergy Services, GigaCrete, Inc., Petra Solar, and RYPOS.

(1) Bank of America and IGEL have teamed up to create a speaker series on topics in business and environment.
Click here for SmartPlanet’s coverage of the panel.