Tag Archives: green

The Win-Win-Win of Impact Investing

By: Nathan Sell*

Ask not what your investment dollars can do for you, but ALSO what they can do for others, and the environment. That’s the idea behind Impact Investing, an emerging paradigm shift in philanthropy. This form of socially responsible investing generates both measurable social and environmental impact as well as returns on investment. Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy and former Managing Director at Goldman Sachs is at the forefront of linking business and the environment for a better world as he discusses in his recent book “Nature’s Fortune.” Tercek, and the new wave of impact investors are proving that your investments can make money AND do good.

Impact investing in the environment is quickly coming to scale as the value of ecosystem services to clean air and water, armor shorelines, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation is being realized. Cities like Philadelphia are leading the way in green infrastructure investment. Over the next 25 years, Green Stormwater Infrastructure will help the city to combat the extreme weather patterns as well as prevent Combined Sewer Overflows resulting in greener cities and cleaner waters for which the initiative is named.

Novo Nordisk entered China in 1994 and immediately noticed that a diet high in starch was leading to diabetes in a large portion of the population. Combined with rapid pathogen spread due to urbanization, the health of the people in China was (and continues to be) at risk. Novo Nordisk put their efforts toward alleviating some of these health concerns. By training doctors in diabetes care and prevention, the company has helped to save over 140,000 life years. The shared value of impact investment ensures companies like Novo Nordisk remain profitable while helping the communities in which they work.

Impact investing also has the potential to bring promising technologies to scale. Without investment, it’s possible that companies like d.light may never have gotten off the ground. With the help of investment, this for-profit social enterprise has been able to sell affordable solar lamps to those without reliable power. The result? D.light is bringing safe, bright and renewable lighting to people around the world, allowing students to do their homework, families to cook, and an overall better quality of life to over 34 million people.

Impact investing may prove better for people and the planet than charitable giving. Investing in businesses that do good by people and the planet can ensure the success of their mission, allowing for long term solutions, rather than a potential band-aid in the form of a grant or gift. If your investment could benefit the triple bottom line, rather than just YOUR bottom line then you’ve found the rare win-win-win scenario. The next time you invest, think strategically about what your money can really do.

*Nathan is a recent graduate of the Master of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and a current ORISE Fellow with EPA Water.

3rd Plasticity Forum comes to NYC June 24th

plasticity_high_newNY small PNG

By: Nathan Sell*

The 3rd Plasticity Forum kicks off next week on June 24th in New York City.  Originally launched in Rio at the Earth Summit, and last year in Hong Kong, New York is an opportune location for Plasticity’s first US forum, given the innovative work America’s biggest city has been undertaking.  Many may wonder, what is Plasticity, and why should I care?  To begin, consider this: how long could you go without using or wearing an item made of, or containing plastic? A day? An hour? A minute?  Plastic is cheap, versatile and convenient.  Because of this we view many plastic products as “disposable,” but even if their functional life is a short, like a stir straw or a soda bottle, their actual lifetime is decades or centuries. Despite our best intentions, only 10% of the plastic we use is recycled, much is landfilled, and still a great deal ends up as pollution, often in the “great pacific garbage vortex” where ocean currents move much of our plastic waste debris.  This debris is confused for food by many marine animals from birds to fish and turtles, and wreaks havoc on delicate ecosystems.

We should remind ourselves that plastics are made from a non-renewable resource which takes a great deal of energy to extract, refine, mold, and transport.  This begs the question, why would we throw this stuff out?  When we take this into consideration it becomes clear that there’s a great opportunity in changing the way that we use and reuse plastics.  We need to take a look at plastics from their formation (cradle) to their disposal (grave).  Better design (sometimes referred to as “design for the environment”) can make plastic products more easily recycled, diverting waste where it can be used as a raw material again (cradle to cradle). Reducing the amount of plastics in products, light-weighting and biodegradability are all solutions that need to be brought to scale in the plastics industry.  Technologies exist that can turn plastics into fuel (low-sulphur diesel fuel, giving an air pollution improvement along the way), making plastic waste a desirable system input.  These technologies should be considered prime investment opportunities.

Plasticity Forum will bring together leaders in industry including Nike and Dell together with leading advocates of responsible product use/reuse such as Interface and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  Altogether, the forum will be the most influential dialogue on plastic pollution, design, reuse and innovation, all of which need to scale for us to bring out the opportunities that these issues represent.  Make sure to register and be part of this important conversation.


View the Plasticity Forum Trailer Here

 * Nathan Sell is a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and is the current IGEL Coordinator.

Greening the Sports Industry with Alice Henly of NRDC

oikos International Student Reporter Marissa Rosen had the opportunity to meet and to chat with Alice Henly, Research Fellow at NRDC Green Sports, at the Wharton IGEL conference on April 26th. Alice and Marissa discussed the NRDC’s fan engagement strategies which have reached over 40 million NFL, NHL, MLB, and USTA enthusiasts, as well as new initiatives for the Ivy League sports conference and her sustainability challenges and successes along the way.

As a result of NRDC’s work, more than 100 professional teams have adopted environmental initiatives at their stadiums or arenas. This is certainly impressive! What would you say have been the hardest aspects of implementing change in the standards business practices of the professional sports venues?

The greatest challenge for many of our sports partners (like all organizations) interested in implementing a company-wide environmental program is finding the money to invest in the project. The single most important practical insight from our work to date is that starting with cost-saving environmental initiatives is crucial for garnering institutional support for a comprehensive sports greening program. Improved efficiency means less waste, which often translates into cost savings, as well as energy, water and other resource savings. We have found that business development and cost-cutting opportunities are essential for most effectively advancing our partners’ environmental agendas. A sports greening program that starts with financially-sound environmental initiatives helps the program gain momentum by helping to cut costs, strengthen the company’s brand, attract “green” sponsors, and engage a broader fan-base.

We always target the low-hanging fruit first, which yields the triple dividend of cutting costs, benefiting the environment and protecting public health. Reducing paper use, for example, saves money. The manufacture of virgin paper contributes to climate change, water pollution, the loss of forests and hazardous air pollution. A typical office disposes of about 350 pounds of wastepaper per employee annually. Switching to double-sided printing can cut this figure—and corresponding expenditures and environmental impacts—almost in half. Significantly reducing paper use reduces air and water pollution, disrupts fewer habitats, and saves precious resources like forests, energy and water, all while benefiting the bottom line.

The NRDC Sports Greening Project focuses on reviewing the day-to-day operations and supply chain relations of professional and collegiate sports with a focus on reducing ecological impacts. By implementing strategies like reducing energy use and waste, our project enables our sports partners to see the economic benefits of operating more efficiently, as well as the social benefits of giving back to their communities and promoting public health. We developed several tools to enhance the effectiveness of our project:

  • We created the NRDC Greening Advisor, free web-based guides for each major professional sports league that cover everything from purchasing to waste management. The NRDC Greening Advisor earned the U.S. EPA’s Environmental Merit Award in 2008 in recognition of its being the most comprehensive operations greening guide ever assembled.
  • We developed a guide entitled Solar Energy for Your Stadium or Arena, in partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The guide encourages all sports facility operators to install on-site solar technology and provides detailed information about the process including: physical requirements, costs, available funding and incentives, and proposals.
  • We produce many Public Service Announcements featuring sports icons such as Venus Williams to educate fans about the environmental work of our partners.

Another important greening challenge for many major sports venues is access to robust and complete facility-wide information on energy and water use, as well as waste generation and other product procurement tracking. As the old saying goes, you manage what you measure. So as part of our ongoing collaboration with professional leagues, we are helping develop comprehensive software systems to collect and analyze facility operations data and encourage better practices by individual teams. Thanks to our project, MLB was the first professional sports league to implement a program in 2010 to collect league-wide data in order to document practices and share information about environmental efforts. The program quantifies facility operations data regarding energy consumption, waste management and recycling, water consumption and paper purchasing, with the opportunity to expand to additional metrics. The NHL launched their system in 2011 and we are working on similar tracking systems with the NBA, NFL and MLS for dissemination to all professional teams.

The NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS Have Partnered with the NRDC

What do you feel has been your largest personal contribution to the “Green Sports” arena, and what were the tangible outcomes from your work?

The NRDC Sports Greening Project is the most influential sports greening project in the world. NRDC pioneered the field of sports greening in the United States by engaging the world’s most iconic sports organizations in an industry-wide initiative to advance ecological stewardship. The NRDC Sports Greening Project works with more professional and collegiate sports leagues, teams and partners on environmental stewardship than any other project in the world. Our many project participants include: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, the National Football League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, the United States Tennis Association, the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), the Stadium Managers Association, Wharton Sports Business Institute, Ernst & Young, AEG, and approximately 140 professional sports teams.

The NRDC Sports Greening Project has led many major sports facilities nationwide to upgrade their infrastructure, improve efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. Thanks to our project our partners together have already:

  • avoided over 20 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (based on cumulative RECs and carbon offsets purchased by leagues and teams),
  • saved over 10 million pages of paper annually (based on total avoided printed media guides),
  • installed over 19 thousand solar panels atop major sports facilities
  • restored over 1.4 million gallons of water to critically dewatered rivers and streams in the Western U.S. in 2011 alone (thanks to league- and team-based initiatives to balance water use during games) and conserved millions of gallons of water annually (based on cumulative savings from water efficiency initiatives including water-efficient fixtures and green roofs),
  • instigated over 80 recycling programs and over 20 composting programs in sports facilities and recycled millions of pounds of material (based on cumulative diversion rates).

All major U.S. professional leagues have distributed our Solar Development Guide to their teams (138 teams in total), within 62 independent markets, and to all U.S. sports facility operators. The guide was well received and there are now 11 major on-site solar systems.

On a more personal level, I recently launched a new sports greening partnership with the Ivy League. By teaming up with NRDC, the Ivy League made a landmark greening commitment as the first collegiate athletics conference in the name of environmental protection. I am working with the League to reduce the environmental impacts of its championship events and provide greening resources to all Ivy athletic departments, with the goal of minimizing the environmental footprint of their operations and supply chains. To kick off this partnership, we integrated ecologically intelligent practices into the planning and production of the inaugural Ivy League Women’s Rowing Championship, which took place on Sunday, May 13th at Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, N.J.

What have been the most effective ways to utilize the fans and get them involved in sustainability efforts?

The NRDC Sports Greening Project uses sports—which transcend political, cultural, socio-economic barriers—as the mouthpiece for environmental protection in order to more effectively tackle the serious ecological threats facing our planet and society. We seek to use our sports greening project as a vehicle to integrate environmentalism into mainstream American culture and behavior by informing and inspiring millions of Americans about the importance of environmental stewardship.

Our NRDC Sports Greening Project has had unparalleled outreach to millions of fans and businesses via the screening of environmental Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that we developed for our major league partners. To date the sports greening PSAs that we created in partnership with the NBA, the NHL, MLB and the USTA have reached over 40 million people about the importance of environmental stewardship. We have produced many PSAs over several years with icons including Billie Jean King and Robert Redford.

Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, will be the first pro stadium in the U.S. to generate 100% of its own electricity.

Locally in Philadelphia, the home of the NFL Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field will be the first professional stadium in the U.S. capable of generating 100 percent of its own electricity onsite with the installation of about 2,500 solar panels, 80 20-foot-high wind turbines, and a generator that runs on natural gas and biodiesel. Do you for see other NFL stadiums following this example, and if so, when?

The Philadelphia Eagles have made a very impressive commitment to environmental stewardship across all of their operations and are an excellent role model for their peers both within the NFL and across all professional sports leagues. I think the Eagles’ green initiatives will definitely spark greater interest in environmental programs throughout the NFL. In fact, another great example of a recent environmental accomplishment within the NFL is the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field receiving LEED Certification. Soldier Field is the first NFL stadium to receive the award of LEED-EB Certification (which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings).

About the Author: Marissa is a Saint Louis native with an educational background in Communication and Biology from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She currently works full time at the University of Pennsylvania where she supports workplace sustainability as a Staff Eco-Rep, and is a Master student in Environmental Studies, concentrating in Advocacy and Education. Marissa will be an intern with Sustainable Brands for summer 2012, and will manage social media accounts to promote the greening of the associated multinational corporations. Marissa is an avid traveler and enjoys dancing, hiking, and jogging.