Category Archives: environment

Reflections on Resiliency

Written by Chris Rohner

April 8th, 2018

In April 2018 I got a chance to speak at the The End of the World as We Know It: The Consequences of Extreme Climate Disruption for Business and Democracy, Conference with IGEL at the Wharton School at PENN.  It was a great opportunity to hear an interesting mix of academic and private sector speakers.  From many of the speakers the message was – “change is coming, embrace it, and maybe even benefit from what is happening.” This is a positive message that I try to encourage with my own clients.  I tell them, look at current conditions, this is not the world we lived in 10 years ago!  We need to think and plan differently.

As someone who has worked as a public sector emergency manager and a private sector emergency management/business continuity consultant the goal of my presentation was to introduce my profession to the attendees and participants and make the case that business continuity is an important element of resilience planning.  I also wanted to put some context to the world many communities and businesses are working within – I did this by highlight five “resiliency realities”:

Planning is Critical

The public and private sectors each bring important talents, experience and resources to the table. Coordination and collaboration are key to creating a resilient community and nation. Open dialog needs to start years before the next big event – last minute decision-making does not produce good outcomes.  Many cities have public-private planning coordinators within their Office of Emergency Management – this is a great place to start the conversation.

Personal Preparedness is the Foundation of Resilience

I tell this to anyone that will listen…. Personal preparedness for you and your family is critical – a shelter-in-place plan, a communication plan, a Go-Bag for evacuation (and a pet plan if needed) are the basis for community or business preparedness.  Look for county resources at your local Office of Emergency Management and visit www.ready.gov for straightforward advice and recommendations.

Our Physical Infrastructure is Fragile

Let’s remember that we live in a country with old, fragile and out-of-date infrastructure.  The bridges we need for evacuation are decaying; the schools we need for shelters are old and leak during an average rainstorm. To increasing our resilience, we need to plan smart, think about future climate conditions and rebuild our infrastructure to support our emergency response needs.

Social Justice Raises our Human Resilience

Along with our physical infrastructure the nation must work to increase the resilience of our citizens. We must raise the standard of living for Americans, pay a living wage and seek social equity.  We must have a health systems the promote wellness, fiscal education and financial institutions that help low income people promote savings, public and private organizations that teach and uphold civil discourse – these and many more idea create communities that can better withstand events and recovery more quickly.

Act When the Topic is Hot

And lastly, as we all look to promote the increase in resiliency we need to take every opportunity to push this agenda in public policy and budgeting, and when private companies are impacted.  Unfortunately, these pushes tend to come right after an event has affected the nation – after a hurricane, a wildfire, or earthquake.  While it may see opportunistic – we must seize these times and push the resilience agenda forward.  We know from experience that the public’s attention span is short, and unless action is taken quickly the public’s engagement and interest will fall off, as the news cycle moves forward.

About the Author:

0Chris Rohner is a business continuity program manager for General Dynamics Information Technology (formerly CSRA).  His 25-year background spans emergency management, planning, and response operations, public health, business continuity, community resiliency as well as transportation planning and policy development.  He has extensive experience working with local, city, state and regional government agencies and the private sector to find straightforward solutions to complex problems by focusing on clients’ specific circumstances. In the public sector he has held key management positions with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Bureau of Emergency Management; and the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  In the private sector he has worked as a program manager within the community resilience space at Ecology and Environment, Inc. and at CSRA, now General Dynamics Information Technology.

 

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Energy Policy Now: An EPA After Scott Pruitt

April 23, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has come under bipartisan fire for an array of ethical missteps that range from lavish spending on travel to the granting of illegal pay raises for select EPA staffers. Over the past week, staunch Pruitt supporters such as Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso have questioned the transparency with which Pruitt has run his office, and legislators from both sides of the aisle have suggested that Pruitt may not be fit to lead the agency.

Could Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA be coming to an end? And if so, what direction might the embattled agency take under new leadership, such as that of recently confirmed Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler?

In this special episode of Energy Policy Now, Penn Law energy and environment legal experts Cary Coglianese and Daniel Walters discuss the swirl of possible ethical violations that have led to the Pruitt controversy. They explore what Pruitt’s departure could mean for his efforts—and those of the Trump administration—to deprioritize environmental protection at the EPA and roll back environmental regulations.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

Celebrating Earth Day 2018

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April 22nd, 2018

Elena Rohner, Wharton IGEL Communications Coordinator

On Wednesday, April 18th, a fabulous group of interdisciplinary stakeholders came together on the 8th floor of Jon M. Huntsman hall for a day of knowledge sharing and thought leadership about how business and democracy will be impacted by climate change.  Our panelists ranged from a global manufacturer of consumer products, to a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, to one of the world’s largest utility providers, to experts in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, to Navy veterans and business continuity consultants.  Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, concluded the day on an upbeat note – weaving together all of the key lessons from panelists and leaving the audience with the knowledge that, despite the enormous task in front of us, we have experts at all points of a complex system working to adapt, mitigate and build resilience for a future that often seems daunting.

Nothing changes overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum.  Continued interdisciplinary collaboration and a systems-oriented approach are critical to making an impact.

Thus, today – the 48th celebration of Earth Day – we would like to thank all of our sponsors and stakeholders at IGEL for their commitment to making this world a better place for everyone and everything.

For more information on our 2018 Conference, visit this page of conference proceedings: https://igel.wharton.upenn.edu/2018-conference/

HAPPY EARTH DAY

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Driving the New Climate Economy: How Companies and Communities Can Thrive in a Changing World

By Lisa Manley, Director, Sustainability Engagement, Mars

April 7th, 2018

There are clear signals that the climate has changed over the past century. Around the world, people are beginning to feel the effects, from increased average and extreme temperatures, to changes in rainfall patterns, to more severe and less predictable storms. At Mars, we source key agricultural materials from countries and communities that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We believe it’s time to take a new approach to addressing this challenge, using our influence and reach to take action that proactively addresses the impacts of climate change within our supply chain and operations. Here are three things our business and others are doing to take action.

Setting Science-Based Targets

 More than 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agreehuman activity is extremely likely to be causing the climate-warming trends over the last century. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, science tells us we should limit global warming to less than the two degree Celsius threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change. As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. With that in mind, the first thing business should do is trust the science; then align measurable goals and actions around that science.

We looked to the best-available science to guide us in setting our climate goals at Mars. That science says we must reduce the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across our value chain by 27 percent by 2025 and by 67 percent by 2050(from 2015 levels). That means not only changing how we operate, but also working with partners and suppliers to transform entire value chains so that the ingredients we need to make our best-loved products, like M&Ms and Uncle Bens, are produced with lower environmental impacts. This isn’t an easy goal to meet. But we know it’s what’s necessary to unlock the systemic changes that are needed to benefit people and the planet.

Committing to Renewable Energy

The second thing business should do is look for the places where we can get the most immediate momentum and leverage that momentum for scale. At Mars, energy use is the major driver of our GHG emissions from direct operations. That’s whywe’re big fans of renewable electricity with a goal to eliminate 100 percent of the GHG emissions from our direct operations by 2040. This goal covers the energy use from about 420 sites in more than 80 countries around the world.

We’re already using or purchasing renewable electricity to cover 100 percent of our operations in Belgium, Lithuania, the United Kingdom and the United States. And in 2018, we plan to add Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Mexico, Poland and Spain to this list.In addition to renewable electricity, renewable thermal energy is an important part of our energy use in our factories. For that reason, we helped launch the Renewable Thermal Collaborative – a coalition for organizations that are committed to scaling up renewable heating and cooling at their facilities and dramatically cutting carbon emissions.

Fostering Executive Engagement and Advocacy

The third imperative for business action is to ensure we are aligning what we say with what we do. We need more vocal business advocates for climate action. We are walking this talk through coalitions such as We Are Still In, a declaration made by 2,700 cross-sector leaders in the U.S. to commit to tackling climate change, ensuring a clean energy future and upholding the Paris Agreement. It also can happen through executive advocacy. For example, our Mars chairman, Stephen Badger, recently authored an op/ed piecein The Washington Post,which makes a strong call to action to global businesses on climate change.

We also need to extend our advocacy to include the seats of power and influence within government. That’s why we engage with groups like the Ceres BICEP(Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) Network, to bring business leaders’ voices to Capitol Hill and local legislatures on climate action and clean energy.

For global businesses, it is our time to step up and lead on climate action. This is not just the “right thing to do,” but also makes good business sense; investing in sustainable practices today will help us become stronger, more resilient businesses in the future.

 

SEM HeadshotLisa Manley, Senior Director of Partnerships & Engagement, Mars, Incorporated

Lisa is Senior Director of Partnerships and Engagement within the sustainability team at Mars, Incorporated. In this role, she works to build momentum for the company’s Sustainable in a Generation Plan through compelling communications and engagements as well as uncommon collaboration.  She works with the global sustainability team to create and oversee integrated sustainability strategy; set high-level goals and commitments; assess and drive scaled investments; and manage global sustainability partnerships and programs. Priority platforms for engagement include climate action, water stewardship and land use within Mars’ approach to healthy planet; increasing income, respecting human rights and unlocking opportunities for women within Mars’ approach to thriving people; and food safety & security, product & ingredient renovation and responsible marketing within Mars’ approach to nourishing wellbeing.

Lisa has nearly twenty years of experience working to advance sustainable business growth with consumer goods companies such as Mars and The Coca-Cola Company.

Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Virginia.  Outside of work, she collects photography and enjoys golf, tennis and biking.

Business schools start preparing graduates for a world of climate risks

February 28, 2018

DURHAM, North Carolina

Risks related to climate change are some of the most significant threats facing the global economy, according to the World Economic Forum, which recently released its Global Risks Report 2018.  In a report that scans a spectrum of economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological risks, extreme weather events, natural disasters, and failure to mitigate climate change took three of the Top 5 risks likely to have an impact on the global economy in the short term.

Business schools are taking notice.  “Virtually every industry will be affected by climate change in the future in some way,” says Daniel Vermeer, PhD, associate professor of the practice at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  “Climate change will shift what agricultural products can be grown where.  Extreme weather events will disrupt distribution supply chains more frequently.  Energy and transportation infrastructure will need to be more resilient.  Real estate portfolios need to be reconfigured.  If you’re a business school student today, you need to be thinking ahead about where the future risks are.”

Fuqua is one of 16 business schools collaborating to host an event on March 23-24 called ClimateCAP: The Global MBA Summit on Climate, Capital, & Business.  Its speakers will include executives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Bain & Co., Morgan Stanley, Levi Strauss, KPMG, and other big-name private sector leaders.  The summit will be held on Fuqua’s campus in Durham, NC, but will rotate to another business school in future years.

“This summit is not about politics.  It’s not about policy.  It’s about which businesses and investors will successfully navigate a more turbulent future because they’ve identified these risks and adapted accordingly—and which will be left flat-footed,” adds Vermeer.

Statoil, the Norwegian oil and gas company, is one example of a company that’s not shying away from recognizing the risks on the horizon.  “In Statoil we believe the winners in the energy transition will be the producers that can deliver energy at low cost and low carbon. That is why we work to reduce own emissions, grow in renewables and embed climate in all our decision-making,” says Bjørn Otto Sverdrup, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Statoil.  Sverdrup will be speaking at the summit and hopes to help MBA students better understand the profound strategic challenges and opportunities climate issues represent for companies.

ClimateCAP is not the only climate-related conference to be hosted at a business school this year.  In February, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business hosted an innovation summit to bring corporate leaders and entrepreneurs together with faculty, students, and think tank experts to recommend strategies that inspire innovation to tackle climate change.  And in April, the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School will host an event called “The End of the World as We Know It? The Consequences of Extreme Climatic Disruption for Business and Democracy.”

“It is critical that we empower the next generation with strategic knowledge tools in business and sustainability so that they can lead us into a future with fewer climate change challenges,” says Joanne Spigonardo, senior associate director of Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. “Business schools can be catalysts to innovate those changes so that we can ensure a world of economic and environmental sustainability.”

In 2017, Columbia Business School organized an event on “The Near-Term Impacts of Climate Change on Investors” and Yale School of Management also co-hosted a conference on climate change.

“I have no doubt that we’ll see more of these conversations happening at business schools in the future.” says Vermeer. “The reality is, MBA students can’t afford to ignore the impacts and implications of a changing climate.  There will be winners and losers, and many opportunities to seize competitive advantage.  As current MBAs prepare for their careers, they need to be thinking about how to creatively respond to the strategic, operational, and innovation challenges of climate change that will inevitably grow in coming decades.”

 

Smart City Pioneers: Forging Solutions to Early Challenges

Collaboration between SUEZ, Wharton IGEL and Knowledge@Wharton

February 14th, 2018

Many share the hope that today’s troubled urban centers can be transformed into tomorrow’s smart cities. At a recent conference, “Smart Utilities: A Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future,” co-sponsored by Suez and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), some early pioneers in this effort shared their experiences and thoughts.

Laying the Groundwork: Philadelphia’s Strategic Approach to Becoming a Smart City

Rather than tackle individual projects piecemeal, as so many cities have done, Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) decided to create a roadmap that would guide and ensure long-term coordination of its wide-ranging projects.

Collect, Crunch, Collaborate: Fresh Approaches to Smart Cities’ Core Functions

Utilities are among those embracing the promise of smart technology by collecting and sharing data with customers. They — and others providing critical services to cities, campuses and industry — are using human and machine intelligence to capitalize on the data pouring in from these smart systems. And they are finding ways to save money by sharing resources and collaborating.

Smart Money: Developing New Funding Mechanisms for Smart Initiatives

Few of the methods traditionally used to finance infrastructure projects are of much help when it comes to funding smart city initiatives. Fortunately, creative new approaches are being pioneered by cities, utilities, investors and businesses across the country.

Read the full report here
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Energy Policy Now: The Local View of Fracking

Featuring Daniel Raimi is a senior research associate at Resources for the Future, where he focuses on energy and climate policy. He also teaches energy policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and is a faculty affiliate at the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

January 17th, 2018

The view of Americans on the environmental and economic implications of fracking continues to be sharply divided a decade after the shale revolution began. But the author of a new book, The Fracking Debate, finds more nuanced perspectives in wellhead communities.

The shale revolution in the United States is now more than a decade old.  In the intervening years, energy companies have tapped vast, previously uneconomical oil and natural gas resources through a suite of technologies, including hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, and horizontal drilling. The results have been dramatic. Today the U.S. is a leading producer of oil, and the top global supplier of natural gas.

But the shale revolution has also bred controversy as the country has struggled to balance fracking’s economic and environmental impacts. Those for and against fracking have often gone to great lengths to promote their views. Along the way, previously quiet communities, from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, have struggled to accommodate waves of drilling rigs and energy workers.

Guest Daniel Raimi spent several years traveling the country to get to know the communities where fracking takes place. His travels led to a new book, The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution. In it Raimi seeks to relate the perspective of communities, and citizens, on fracking’s front lines, and provide unbiased answers to some of the biggest questions surrounding fracking.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society. 

 

Building a Green Empire

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By Julie Spitkovsky, Netronix, Inc.

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.  Raising awareness, sharing information and cultivating interest about indoor air quality are important tools for building design professionals to exploit at the start of the design process to achieve optimal indoor air conditions from the start of a project through building occupancy.

Getting people to break habits is extremely difficult.  Paul Scialla, Founder and CEO at Delos explains, “Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.  We spend 90% of our time indoors, and by incorporating a variety of healthy design, construction and operations strategies through evidence-based programs such as the WELL Building Standard, we have a profound opportunity to advance human health, well-being and productivity for everyone.”  

“Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.”

Occupant health is a clear economic incentive. In 2007, a study by Mudarri and Fisk estimated that annual costs of asthma attributable to dampness and mold exposure in homes were between $2.1-4.8 billion. By 2014, studies in the health sector revealed reductions in mortality rates, bloodstream infection rates, and medicine consumption in green hospitals, compared to conventional hospitals, indicating that some of these effects could occur because of improved IAQ. Fewer sick days, reduced employee turnover, and fewer medical errors are compelling incentives to design spaces that incorporate evidence based research findings.  

MATERIALS MATTER

Consumer products and building materials emit dangerous gases like VOCs, Formaldehyde and Carbon Dioxide, influencing indoor air quality.  Many of these types of compounds were not present half a century ago. According to the EPA, examples of consumer products and building materials that are also sources of indoor air pollution include office furniture, flooring, paints and coating, adhesives and sealants, wall coverings, office equipment, wood products, textiles, and insulation.  In 2010, the World Health Organization established guidelines for maximum thresholds of Formaldehyde at .08 ppm, though there are few guidelines for other gases, environmental conditions and particulate matter (the WHO only first identified particulate matter as an indoor pollutant in 2006, explicitly recognizing the limited availability of resources). Indoor air quality (IAQ) is enhanced by using materials that have negligible carcinogenic or chemical emissions, are installed with minimal VOC-producing compounds, offer moisture resistance, and require simple, non-toxic cleaning methods and products. Today, more consumer products and building materials are being studied and certified as low chemical-emitting materials in an effort to control and achieve good indoor air quality.  But is this enough?

ENERGY BUNNIES

One premise for green building design is its impact in the energy sector. Today buildings account for 41% of US energy consumption, with nearly half of that usage coming from the commercial sector. Designers have control over energy consumption and indoor air quality factors such as materials, systems, ventilation, the environmental control scheme, and layout. In 2016, the percentage of firms with over 60% green certified projects reached 18 % and is estimated to triple to 37% by 2018. Under LEED standards, Gold Rated buildings earning 39 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by 50 percent, while Platinum Rated buildings earning 52 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by almost 70 percent.

VENTILATION MATTERS

Historically the connection between buildings as repositories and gateways of resource flow and air pollution was difficult to measure.  In office buildings, over 1/2 of end use energy expenditures come from heating, ventilating and cooling.  One of the challenges with flushing ventilation, bringing in outside air at night when the building is unoccupied to cool down the building or remove heat, is the re-introduction of outdoor pollutants and generation of new pollutants.  The reaction between outdoor air and indoor materials is a break in equilibrium at the surface of materials causing the emissions of new pollutants, otherwise absorbed by building structures.  Well-ventilated work spaces proved to have lower levels of  CO2 correlating with decreased levels of worker anxiety and increased levels of productivity.  More specific findings in support of the mounting evidence demonstrating the relationship between Indoor Air Quality & productivity tells us there is 61% higher cognitive functioning in green buildings that meet occupant health and energy efficiency standards set by LEED and 100% higher cognitive functioning in buildings with twice the ventilated air rate required for LEED certification (+Green Plus Buildings).  

“…heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effects on children’s developing respiratory system.”

According to Bruce White, Vice President of Airthinx, Inc. “We are starting to see, and have a clearer picture of  the health effects of indoor contaminants like PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOC’s on building occupants. We see from recent studies out of Harvard, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, USGBC & IWBI, what elevated levels of CO2 alone can do to students and building occupants. Specifically, in children, elevated levels of CO2 can cause wheezing and levels over 1,000 ppm can result in a 10-20% increases in days away from school. That alone affects the school not only in lower test scores, but also in funding from the US Department of Education on attendance levels. More importantly, the prolonged exposure to heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effect on children’s’ developing respiratory system.”

HOLISTIC APPROACH

A poor indoor environment causes occupant discomfort, health problems and poor performance.  Building system performance directly impacts maintenance frequency, equipment life, and energy usage. Understanding the process and possible IAQ endpoints (moisture control, drainage, ductwork protection, HVAC production, use of low VOC building materials, minimum ventilation) encourages improved building design. For example, a life cycle assessment (LCA) addresses the impact of a product through all of its life stages. By executing sustainable design in architecture, there is an opportunity for long-term value through modifiable building systems over the life-cycle instead of least-cost investments.

The impacts of evidence based design, a once value added anomaly, are now a requirement for competitive practice.  Occupants heightened exposure to the availability of data & metrics, conditions them to demand more assured outcomes on expensive building projects.  Architects are in a position to make collective and informed choices that will have a broad impact in the aggregate, such as advising about emission testing protocols to ensure test results can be translated into real world use cases. For example, under LEED, designers can earn up to 15 points for implementing indoor air quality measures.

SMART SENSORS

When considering the options available for indoor air quality management, the exclusive reliance on cleaning the air with filtration systems may not be enough. Air filtration cleaning method results rest on the assumption that ‘dirty’ contaminants are eliminated. Rather, the systems selectively remove some pollutants but not others, and generate new pollutants when the systems are not properly maintained. A reliable counterpart and solution is continuous monitoring of air quality levels in any infrastructure, preserving the integrity of the measurements, producing never before seen analytics and information, and creating better indoor environments, everywhere in the world.  In this way, space planning can be more intuitive and give future projects a greater chance of success.   

Building a collective understanding of the indoor air quality problem and its ecosystem, creates opportunities to make informed decisions and inspires actions to transform indoor spaces. 

Mr. Valentine Lehr, of Lehr Engineering in New York weighs in, “As a consulting design engineer, I am aware that the best intentions and latest technology often fail when needed maintenance and constant monitoring are neglected.  At the heart of this is the cost and effort of monitoring these systems and validating proper operation, both tasks which require human input.  Further, while devices to monitor air content have been available, these are usually singularly specific, expensive and need frequent calibration. In that regard, the Airthinx monitor is a significant development and improvement.  It’s low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The solution, developed by Netronix’s IoT platform, guarantees the highest standards of security, reliability, and scalability of the network, and enables quick deployment of devices in commercial, retail & residential buildings with simple, affordable integration into any built environment. Each Airthinx IAQ device has nine built-in sensors (PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOCs, Temperature, Humidity, & Pressure), measuring air quality with industrial accuracy, at a fraction of the cost, making air quality monitoring financially feasible at room level.

“Its low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The advantage of a portable device that fits in the palm of a hand with data available instantaneously from a mobile phone, iPad or desktop is accessibility to information, anytime, anywhere.

Knowledge is power!

 

A Founder With a Vision: Triple Bottom Line Sustainability at Virgin Group

Co-Authored by Joy De Bach (Virgin Atlantic, Regional Commercial Director, East Region), Gabriela Salas (Virgin Atlantic, Global Sales Executive, East Region), & Karen Titus (Delta Air Lines, National Sales Account Executive, Global Sales)

October 18th, 2017

Being a billionaire has afforded Sir Richard Branson many opportunities in life, but after decades of disrupting some of the world’s biggest industries, his latest passion projects have less to do with flying planes and mobile phones and more to do with saving the world.  As employees of Virgin Atlantic and Delta (Virgin’s partner airline), we were fortunate to be able to see Richard at the Authors@Wharton Speaker Series yesterday, and were once again reminded of what an entrepreneurial spirit and compassion for the environment and human rights can do to change the world.

Having recently experienced the devastation of Irma on his Necker Island residence, climate change literally hit Richard, his family, and his employees with the strength of a hurricane.  But rather than dwell on the negative, he spoke of rebuilding infrastructures throughout the islands to come back better than ever before, and views climate change as ‘one of the great opportunities for this world’, encouraging the business sector and entrepreneurs globally to tackle the issues of global warming.

When asked by host, Professor Adam Grant, what his next venture will be, Sir Richard emphasized that he’s setting his sights on the future, focusing on non-profit initiatives to tackle carbon emissions, global human rights, and creating sustainable fuels, just to name a few.  Now, you might think that a mogul with three airlines in the Virgin portfolio which guzzle fuel crossing oceans and continents and saving the environment shouldn’t necessarily be in the same sentence, however Richard and his Virgin Group are achieving just that.  Just take a look at some highlights from the 2017 Virgin Sustainability Report:

  • 8% reduction on total aircraft emissions from 2015 to 2016
  • Continuation of partnership with LanzaTech to create the world’s first commercially viable, low carbon jet fuel from waste carbon gases
  • Installation of solar energy powering an entire secondary school campus and two water systems in Kenya
  • Review and refresh of Virgin’s Responsible Supplier Policy based on international standards of human rights
  • Announcement of a further investment in efficient aircraft with 12 A350-1000s to become part of our fleet from 2019

Yesterday, we were reminded of what a cool boss we have.  We’ve been fortunate to work for and with a man whose vision and compassion could one day further revolutionize the way people travel, consume energy and communicate, as he’s already done for decades.  For the young entrepreneurs of tomorrow, who were able to see Richard speak, we hope some of them heard his rallying cry and will join him in changing the world.

 

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IS THIS THE FINAL GOODBYE TO MY CHILDHOOD?

By Saloni Wadhwa, September 25th, 2017

On a bright Sunday afternoon, a long time ago, a young girl, about 10 years old, jogged along a quiet street with a robust and large Labrador retriever leading her. Her father walked behind laughing merrily at the duo’s silly antics. “Scruffy!” she yelled in desperation, praying that her arm wouldn’t pop out of its socket with the leash strapped on to it. The large dog halted and started sniffing a patch of green grass, just as he always did. She quickly handed the leash to her father and slipped her hand into his warm, loving one. The little girl loved this routine; especially the cool shade that the trees on the street provided her. She loved the perfect arch that the trees made, creating a tunnel of lush green in a myriad of hues. The spectacle of the Gulmohar tree during summer engulfed by fiery red flowers which would later fall, creating a “red” carpet, of sorts was indeed a sight to behold!

That perfect story was my childhood. I grew up in a quiet, peaceful city called Mysore (Mysuru now). Mysore: with its awe-inspiring Chamundi Hills, its historic architecture in the form of the Mysore Palace, and its renowned zoo: the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, is a world-famous heritage city. The city has always had an old-world charm to it. It is a mix of the colonial world with the architecture of the Rajas of India. It is surrounded by National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries and is very close to the famous Western Ghats. Among all of the things that I admired about this city, the one thing that I prized was its weather. Of course, like any normal city, there was monsoon, summer, winter, autumn and spring. However, none of these seasons had extremes and thus we always enjoyed a pleasant climate all through the year.

Fast forward to today: I have read articles almost every summer of “The Highest Temperature” being recorded through the history of summers. I have seen the KRS Dam Reservoir: Mysore, the nearby Mandya and Bangalore’s major source of water, plunging into oblivion due to delayed monsoons. So much so, that the headlines in local newspapers were pictures of an omelet being made directly on the scalding tar roads of the city! Most importantly, I too have personally felt the changes: I have seen the extremes that I prided Mysore for never having. With all of these changes that are slowly and subtly occurring, I wonder if it is our fault. My beautiful tunnel of trees, one that I cherished as a child, and one that I knew had the supernatural ability to secure and protect me, the one that was the reason my parents bought our house, “Blossom” now just remains a pocket of trees outside my house. All of the other trees have vanished; brutally chopped because they were causing problems with overhead communication signals. The birds that flocked my street and filled the air with their musical sounds have been silenced. Scruffy does not pause to sniff anymore. The street increasingly looks barren, as do other parts of the city. Does development mean a goodbye to nature? Can development not occur sustainably, hand-in-hand with the environment? And most importantly, is this the end of my childhood?