Tag Archives: sustainability

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.

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Andrew Winston’s “The Big Pivot”

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By: Nathan Sell*

What does it mean to live in a world that is hotter, scarcer and more open?  Andrew Winston, business sustainability guru, debuts his follow up work to “Green to Gold.”  “The Big Pivot” looks at what it means to live in a world ravaged by unpredictable weather patterns, scarcity of precious resources, and openness of information that comes with living in the world of today and tomorrow.  Most importantly, Winston examines how businesses must react (or pivot) for survival.  Sustainability has slowly been gaining ground in business, but it can no longer be a “buzz word,” but rather a piece of day-to-day operations and decision making in every company and business.

There’s quite literally a storm brewing, as Hurricane Sandy, and numerous other disasters have proven in recent years. Climate Change is not an event that will happen one day, it is happening now.  The demands of seven billion inhabitants on this planet is showing in nearly every way, from resource use and carbon emissions, to water and food scarcity.  We’ll reach the nine billion mark somewhere around 2050.  Not only will there be nine billion people, but the emerging global middle class means that those nine billion people will be more demanding on the earth’s resources than ever before.  To sustain the human race “The Big Pivot” must take place.

While sustainability, social responsibility and environmental programs have long formed niche departments in a variety of businesses, Winston identifies the “Pivot” as moving these “niche” departments into leading roles.  Businesses operate within the confines of our planet’s resources. The sooner environment and sustainability are the main informants in decision making, the sooner we can hope to operate within the limits that exist, yielding a zero footprint or even restorative change.

Many “early movers” in the sustainability realm are reaping the benefits of sustainable operations.  By dismissing the notion of operating on a quarter-by-quarter basis, but looking to long-term sustainable investment as a means of ensuring longevity and continued growth, these companies are leading industries in both sustainability and sales.  Some of these forward thinking companies include IGEL Corporate Advisory Board members such as Dow, Johnson & Johnson, Xerox and GE to name a few.

Winston reminds us that when taking action to enhance business in a hotter, scarcer and more open world, the first step is goal setting.  These goals must be informed by science.  If we hope to live in a world with no more than a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature, emissions must be curbed 80% by 2050.  It is clear that working in the confines of “what we think we can do” is no longer acceptable.  Aggressive, process altering goals must be set, and these goals must align to the 2050 benchmark or they are too little too late.  The proof is out there, as outlined in Winston’s writing, that not only do these reductions yield environmental benefits but profits as well.  Evaluating how your company can help to reach this 2050 target can be daunting but the tools available at pivotgoals.com can help to guide change.  Still unsure that your business can benefit from “The Big Pivot?” Get your copy, available on Amazon.

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

3rd Plasticity Forum comes to NYC June 24th

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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.

www.plasticityforum.com

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.

The Malaysian Airlines Flight Disappearance and the Future Epic Battle between Data for Good and Evil

By Gary Survis*

It was only a matter of minutes after the discovery of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that questions began to be asked about the data.  How could a Boeing 777 jet airliner disappear without a digital trace?  What about the data the airplane collected?  What about the tracking data?  The transponders?  How about the satellite “pings”?  What can  the cell phones’ GPS’s tell us?  It was assumed that the quickest path to answering questions about the mysterious flight disappearance was to decipher the big data digital stream that the plane must have created.  One response was a “crowd sourced” effort to use big data to locate the plane.  People believed that in this age of data omnipresence that leveraging data to solve the mystery was the obvious next step.  Some of the same people who feared the NSA’s intrusions and monitoring, were hoping that data held the answer to this enigmatic puzzle.

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But, as the story began to unfold, it became apparent that whoever was perpetrating this “deliberate” act also understood the power of data.  The slow discovery that the transponder and ACARS system (used to transmit maintenance data to the ground) were “turned off” showed a high level of sophistication and knowledge of the data a modern jet creates.  In fact, during a typical 6 hour flight, an airplane will create between 250 and 500 Megabytes of data.  Those responsible for taking action on this flight understood data, how it might be used to locate the plane, and the need to control it.

And so it seems that we are embarking on a journey to a new era where there will be an epic battle between those that will use data for good and those that will seek to control it for evil purposes.  Today, when we talk of big data, we recognize that we are only in the early stages of this transformation.  The internet of things promises even more data in the future from a multitude of industrial devices and sensors.  Who controls this data and for what purpose will be one of the defining discussions of our age.

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One area where there is hope for data being leveraged for good is in the area of sustainability.  We face many seemingly intractable challenges to our future including feeding our population, evolving to respond to the reality of global climate change, and managing our finite resources in the face of unrestrained development and growth.  The list of projects where big data is being used to attack these issues is encouraging.  Space Time Insight is using geospatial visualization to help utilities deliver the smart grid and integrate more renewables into their mix.  Google and the University of Maryland are partnering to develop satellite driven high resolution interactive maps that can track deforestation due to fire, logging, and other sources.  Companies like Monsanto and DuPont are developing “prescriptive planting” technologies that gather and then feedback data to farmers on everything from planting depth, distance and farm machinery productivity.

And these are but a few of the many very promising uses of big data in sustainability.  On March 27th, the Wharton School’s Initiative for Environmental Leadership (IGEL) will be hosting a conference to examine this topic entitled Sustainability in the Age of Big Data.  Companies such as Shell, SAP, IBM, Dow, and others will be grappling with both the power and promise of big data in the sustainability space.  The hope is that business will begin to harness the immense potential of big data to be used for good and begin to solve some of our society’s most pressing problems.

It is still early days in defining how we will use all of this data that we will be creating in virtually every aspect of our lives.  At Syncsort, where I work, we are helping the Fortune 100 begin to discover how to employ this data in transforming their business.  I remain optimistic that good will prevail over evil.  But, I am also realistic.  With open source technologies like Hadoop, massive open data projects, and increasingly inexpensive computing technology, it has never been easier for those that wish to use data for evil to have sophisticated tools previously available only to governments and the largest commercial enterprises. As with the Malaysian Airlines flight disappearance, people want data to be used for good, but it can also play a more sinister role.  Let us hope that we truly understand data’s power and that good prevails over evil in this epic battle for the future of big data.

*Gary Survis is Chief Marketing Officer, Syncsort Data Integration, leading Syncsort’s global Big Data integration marketing team. Gary is a seasoned marketing executive with experience combining traditional and digital marketing tools to provide practical solutions to today’s marketing challenges. He is also currently a Lecturer at Wharton and a Senior Fellow at Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. 

Penn Sustainability Review Looking for Submissions

About PSR:

Penn Sustainability Review (PSR) is the only sustainability-focused publication at Penn. We are completely student-run, with online and print platforms featuring sustainability-related opinion editorials, leadership interviews, and academic papers across a wide range of disciplines. Since our inception in Fall 2011, we have aimed to provide a platform to exchange knowledge, ideas, and perspectives on wide-ranging sustainability issues, with the generous support of the Penn Green Fund Grant and under the guidance of the Earth and Environmental Science Department. We are now also a proud member of the Student Sustainability Association at Penn. If you want to know more about us or learn how to become a part of PSR, please email us at join.psr@gmail.com.

Look out for our next publication at the end of November! Continue reading

PennSustains Competition Gives Over $7,000 in Prizes in its Inaugural Year

*By PennSustains

IMG_7963-001PennSustains participants

Philadelphia, PA – PennSustains, the University of Pennsylvania’s first sustainability solution competition, hosted its inaugural event on October 19, 2013. The contest came together in just six months through the efforts of members from the Society of Women Engineers, Engineers without Borders, SEAS Green, and Penn International Sustainability Association. Benefactor Andy Rachleff, an alumnus and chairman of the SEAS Board of Overseers, challenged Penn students to devise something that celebrated “the joy of building things” and the fun of engineering. Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (Wharton IGEL) and Conestoga Bank also generously sponsored the competition. Continue reading

Professional Sports Teams Win Big on Sustainability

By Sara Drexler*

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Panelists and Moderators from Friday’s Leadership in Greening the Sports Industry Conference. Courtesy of NRDC.

Last Friday, the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (Wharton IGEL) partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Wharton Sports Business Initiative to host representatives from the professional sports industry to share ideas around “Leadership in Greening the Sports Industry: Raising the Bar for Sustainability.” Allen Hershkowitz from NRDC, a senior scientist who is a thought leader in sustainability efforts in the sports industry, opened the panel with a remarkable statistic: 13% of people follow science, over 63% follow sports. The sports industry has a unique opportunity to influence trends in sustainability through its significant fan base across all types of sports. Additionally, the sports industry’s unique facilities and operations present significant opportunity for long-term cost savings through investments in environmental sustainability. This combination of financial incentives and a large base of loyal fans positions the sports industry for maximum impact on sustainability. Continue reading

PennSustains Competition

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The Penn sections of the Society of Women Engineers, Engineers Without Borders, and SEAS Green proposes a competition centered around sustainability. Sustainability is supported by three pillars: people, profit, and the planet. By maintaining these factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment on a long-term basis, we can support the growth of our community and society as a whole. Continue reading

Energy Efficiency: Still Wasting in the Building

by Silvia Schmid

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Last week’s conference “Building Energy Efficiency: Seeking Strategies that Work” offered the opportunity to discuss the many barriers to advancements in energy efficiency beyond current standards. The event was cohosted by the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), the Institute for Urban Research at the University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, and the Wharton Small Business Development Center, in partnership with the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub and sponsored by SAP. Speakers and panelists provided valuable insights on the current status of energy efficiency in buildings, addressing topics ranging from consumption measurement and increased transparency, to some of the psychological challenges inherent in adopting more energy efficient behavior. The common message throughout the day was how much remains to be done to make energy efficiency a mainstream priority.

Continue reading

Boosting Household Investments in Energy Efficiency

by Matej Hodek, Hyojoo Kim, Douglas Miller (C’12) & Antonia Weitzer

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Despite widespread political support for measures promoting investments in energy efficiency in the residential sector, there remains vast, unmet potential. In order to better understand the reasoning behind meager investments in energy efficiency, a study was conducted by four graduate students at Imperial College London – including one former member of the IGEL team – to investigate the role of financial and non-financial factors affecting household decisions to invest in energy efficiency. Continue reading