Elevator Speech

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With thirty seconds in an elevator with Wendi Goldsmith, CEO of Bioengineering Group, I would make a pitch for the organization to broaden its scope to focus on energy:

"Wendi, over the past 20 years, you've shown a clear commitment to sustainability. In order to truly accomplish your mission of building sustainable communities on an ecological foundation, you've got to balance your focus to include more energy projects. You have the experts on staff and have proven yourselves within water management, and you yourself confessed to loving a good challenge. The next step in your company's evolution is to broaden your scope to tackle energy challenges. It would give you greater depth within projects and allow you to expand your business while still adhering to your triple bottom line staff promise to 'have fun, do good, make money.' "

Local Ownership's Effect on Wind Project Perception

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I chose to analyze a post on Renewable Energy's website titled "Local Ownership Means Local Love for Wind Project." The post (link) originally appeared on the Energy Self-Reliant States website and summarizes a journal article from Energy Policy. The article analyzes the results of a survey conducted of two wind projects in Germany - one that was locally owned and one that was not. It compares the public perception of the two projects, with the locally owned project in Zschadra├č far more favorably perceived than the project in Nossen. In fact, the Nossen project was far more unfavorably perceived than its counterpart.

The post concludes that ownership does indeed matter when planning a wind project, especially considering "the way in which U.S. renewable energy policy typically makes local ownership more difficult." I found it interesting that the survey was conducted in Germany, yet the blog author extrapolates the results to be true in the United States as well. From a common sense standpoint, it does appear this would make sense; however, similar data in the US would help to prove the point. 

The post was clear and concise, and I do think it was easy to understand and relate to. I do also question whether there was additional information that could have expanded upon the scope of the original survey that could have further educated readers. Specifically, the blog author could have explained more about the two German wind projects and the difference between locally owned and "absentee-owned." Since the conclusion is that ownership matters, it would help the audience follow the logic to have definitions of both type provided.

The author is also taking data from a survey on wind energy and concluding the results to be typical of all renewable energy projects. Is this a fair conclusion based on the information? Biomass, solar and geothermal energy projects may yield different results based on their very different effects on local communities (space utilized, energy generated, local jobs provided, local economic repercussions, etc).

In addition, I would have liked to see more information on what the author refers to a increasing local resistance, as well as perhaps a paragraph on U.S. energy policy and the obstacles it presents to local ownership. The blogger has linked to additional information, should the audience desire to read more; but I think a short synopsis of both points would help support his conclusion more strongly.

Lastly, the author presumes that readers are familiar with renewable energy in general, and wind energy projects in particular. Though the article appears in two energy focused publications (one solely focused on renewable energy), new readers may be at a disadvantage in reviewing the article by not having the same basic education that more knowledgeable viewers may have.

Marcellus Shale and Ethics

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Overall, I think the biggest concern that I have is that these farmers are certainly enticed by the increased funds coming into their region, allowing them to rebuild their farms and regain profitability. Especially since some of these farmers are much smaller in scale and likely very financially challenged, it may be harder for them to weigh potential environmental impact with financial gain for them, their family and even their community as a whole. The drilling does appear to be reviving growth and attempting to manage risk while aiding in the community's common interest, but I worry about the balance between concern for the environment vs. economic gain.

However, it is promising to learn that Penn State's MCOR received a grant to study the drilling over a 3-year period, "to identify and mitigate the effects of Marcellus Shale natural gas exploration and development on the forest ecosystem" and monitor the project to "reduce the disturbance footprint," according to MCOR's website. That shows a commitment to analyzing and hopefully reducing the environmental impact of the project.

As far as the principles from Our Common Future are concerned, I think the project's organizers have done a good job reviving growth in the region. As I mentioned above, the area is certainly experiencing economic benefits of this project, however, Brian Snyder was quoted in the interview as indicating many of the farmers in the region will not receive the financial gain and will be stuck with the cleanup. This is counter-productive in the common interest category, as it would appear some gain at the expense of others' losses - not an equitable situation. From the information I read on the Penn State MCOR site, it appears the risk will be fairly well managed, with an independent team analyzing the impact. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection clearly outlines the regulations and processes the drilling company must abide by and follow. There are checks and balances in place to ensure the drilling is regulated. The one principle that I have identified as causing concern to me, as listed above, is the merging of environmental concerns and economic gains in decision making. I fear the economic gain may outweigh concerns about environmental impact.

Overall, however, it does seem that the right groups have been involved in the development of this project, and that the local landowners and farmers have had a chance to voice their opinions and concerns. As long as the project continues to be monitored, it seems to be beneficially economically without being detrimental environmentally.


Greenwashing: Nestle's Eco-Shape Bottles

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As more and more consumers are actively searching out ways to be more environmentally conscious, more and more products claiming to be "green" are popping up on supermarket shelves. In fairness, some of these products have legitimate claims - they use all recycled content and are recyclable themselves, their manufacturing and/or distribution processes have been streamlined to conserve both energy and water, or they have been certified by an independent, objective, and trusted third party as sustainable. However, with the rise in consumer interest comes a rise in marketing and advertising spin - known as "greenwashing."

In 2009, TerraChoice updated its list of sins of greenwashing from six to seven: vagueness, no proof, irrelevance, worshiping false labels, hidden trade off, lesser of two evils and fibbing. The good news is that more companies are being responsible in their claims, but many are still making false claims. Nestle's Eco-Shape bottles are a good example of greenwashing. See the photo below of an outdoor advertisement announcing the arrival of the new bottle.

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First, the bottle has a presumably environmentally friendly name - Eco-Shape. That means it must be better for the environment, right? It's eco-friendly, after all. Well, it does use 15% less plastic - but less than what? The truth is that it uses 15% less plastic than the previous bottles manufactured by Nestle. The company's website now claims that their second generation uses 30% less plastic - an advancement, and a good one at that. But we'd be missing the point here if we didn't step back and identify the sins being committed - the Sin of the Hidden Trade Off and the Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils.

Let's tackle the trade off first. Nestle's more recent bottle contains less 30% plastic, making it presumably easier to recycle. However, what about other parts of the manufacturing and distribution process? One could argue the bottles are lighter and therefore may cut emissions in the distribution process, but I could not find any substantiation for that. Also, according to an article in Packaging Today called "Plastic Recycling and the Environment" (link here), "manufacturing plastics often created large quantities of nasty chemical pollutants, and depleted the Earth's bounded supply of fossil fuels." So the use of plastic water bottles at all - regardless of the fact that they have less plastic in them - is a trade off.

This directly connects to the next sin, that of the lesser of two evils. Yes, 30% less plastic makes these bottles easier to recycle. However, according to Earth911, only about 27% of all plastic water bottles used in the United States are recycled (link here). Clearly, a reusable bottle is a far more environmentally friendly way to consume the water you need each day. But Nestle is not in the business of protecting the environment - they are in the business of selling their products.

When it comes to advertising and marketing in general, consumers typically do not have the luxury of time to research every message they receive. When you consider the fact that the average consumer is bombarded with almost 3,000 messages per day (according to Seth Godin in an interview in Fast Company), it is easy to see why consumers often have to take ads at face value or at least presume a company like Nestle would not deliberately mislead them. And Nestle's ad does present the truth, even if it is one-sided.

To further complicate the issue, recycling plastics is not always viewed as an easy task. According to CNN, even though
80 percent of American households have access to plastic recycling programs, only around one in four of them take their plastic bottles to the recycling bins. Part of the challenge is that many consumers do not understand the classification system - there are seven different types of plastics that can be recycled, and the types cannot be mixed. In addition, the same CNN article reports that almost three-quarters of those surveyed did not know that plastic is an oil-based product and almost half believe plastic is biodegradable. So you have lack of education combined with lack of awareness leading to the majority of consumers simply choosing to not recycle.

It seems that more awareness and education on recycling, combined with better access to recycling centers, could help alleviate the obstacles. In the meantime, American households would be well served to leave the plastic bottles in the convenience store and carry their own reusable bottle to consume throughout the day.

Campo Tribe's Proposed Wind Farm

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In order to best serve as an advocate for this tribe and their efforts to invest in a new wind farm project, it would be essential to talk to the key stakeholders on all sides of the equation - the tribal members, other key investors as well as local government officials. However, even more crucial than those conversations would be a good amount of time spent with the tribal community, understanding not just their position and challenges regarding the issue, but also learning more about their cultural views on business and investing overall. As a Caucasian female from the Northeast, my viewpoint on business deals and expectations are likely to be far different than theirs. In order to represent them most effectively, I need to do some background investigation to fully understand their mindset and challenges. That "homework" would more effectively prepare me to truly represent their wishes, desires, challenges and needs.

I do believe that power, privilege and stereotyping could play major roles in this project, especially as the tribe comes into contact with other parties who may not be familiar with their cultural norms and their challenges. For example, as the NPR reporter mentioned, many in Congress understand that tribes are not taxed, but they are not aware that non-Indians operating on tribal lands do pay local and state taxes. This is indeed, as NPR called it, a "conundrum" and block to the tribe's ability to successful solicit other investors and business partners while still maintaining profitability of the project.

From an energy industry perspective, there are challenges in representing this client in terms of knowledge, especially of those outside parties with whom the tribe will need to work, including government officials. Some education might be required to bring these parties up to speed on renewable energy - how it works, its potential impact on the economy and the environment, as well as the specifics regarding the wind farm project itself. In addition, I believe that a more global perspective is needed to help tackle this challenge, as any prospectus or advocacy in favor of the project must include a broader view of the wind farm's impact on regional and even national energy usage and the environment.

I have been lucky enough to spend time in Western and Eastern Europe, being exposed to other cultures that are different from our own. I believe this has helped me to view the world in a different way - as a more connected and broader experience than just the American outlook. However, that time also educated me on how much I still need to learn about other cultures and viewpoints, especially those very different than our own. I believe those experiences are what led me to start this blog by saying I would need to learn more about the tribe's culture before even trying to represent them. After all, it would be detrimental to everyone involved if I represented them from my standpoint, instead of truly understanding and representing their wants and needs.

TVA Energy Sources

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According to their website, the Tennessee Valley Authority relies most heavily on fossil fuels to provide power to their customers. They also have nuclear plants and hydroelectric dams throughout their footprint. Their reliance on renewables is minimal at best - in the chart below, "other" encompasses wind, solar and methane. These three sources' total contribution is less than .02% of power generated by TVA.

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The city of Philadelphia continues the traditions of water conservation and protection established by Ben Franklin in the 1800s through innovative techniques to reclaim rainwater for residential use. This video focuses on the work done by Onion Flats, LLC, in Philadelphia, particularly the Thin Flats development in Northern Liberties.  

From the start, Onion Flats ensures everyone is at the table at the beginning of the project - engineers, builders and developers. This helps the project go from concept to completed building with full communication between all involved. Throughout the process, an integrated approach promotes open communication and also affects the analysis and development of the project. Including all players along the way is certain to ensure a smoother process and more well planned final building.
    
This approach helped create the successful Thin Flats development in Northern Liberties. Thin Flats is the first LEED certified platinum duplex in the country. Since LEED is internationally recognized certification in green building, it is clear that this development was designed with a commitment to a global perspective on sustainability.

Thin Flats' green roof system is a great example of the company's commitment to conservation. It is not just an attractive place to entertain outdoors, but it serves an environmental purpose by capturing rainwater for use by the residents. In addition, water conservation is ensured inside the apartments through low-flow fixtures and systems in each unit's bathroom. 

Onion Flats is also an ENERGY STAR partner and therefore purposefully includes ENERGY STAR appliances in the Thin Flats homes. This ensures efficiency throughout the residences. By planning Thin Flats' location in Northern Liberties, the developers ensured residents can take advantage of public transportation and local resources, thereby cutting down on their use of cars. This is a clear illustration of Onion Flats' commitment to energy conservation and a cleaner environment overall.

This video was very interesting to me as a former resident of Philadelphia and someone interested in green living. Though I am no longer living in the city, I believe I can apply some of the concepts used in the Thin Flats building by investigating rainwater capture and use in my own home. I have made certain energy efficient upgrades to my home already, but I have not focused as much on water efficiency and conservation. I also plan to install low-flow showerheads and faucets in both bathrooms within my home. Thin Flats can certainly serve as a great example to those creating developments in other cities, as well as inspiration for those of us who live in other communities.
 

Code of Ethics Comparison

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TVA

The company I chose to profile is the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), located right here in my backyard. According to their website, TVA provides electricity that serves over nine million people in seven states throughout the Southeast. TVA is a public power company that supplies electricity from its plants to utilities in the Southeast, created by FDR and Congress back in the 1930s as part of the New Deal. This was done to manage flooding, navigate the Tennessee River, provide electricity in the area and promote economic growth. With over 12,000 employees and almost $11 billion in revenue, TVA is the largest government-owned power provider in the entire country.


Code of Ethics Comparison

TVA's code of ethics can be easily located through a simple Google search, or by using the search bar located within the TVA website (http://www.tva.gov/foia/pdf/code_of_conduct.pdf). According to a press release on TVA's site from June 9, 2009, the organization received a 2010 Ethics Program Award recognizing their code of ethics and awarded by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

In comparing TVA's Code of Conduct to Enron's Code of Ethics, several similarities and differences can be identified. Both begin with a letter from the CEO, though the one from Tom Kilgore at TVA is written in much more casual language and far less legalese than Enron's memo. Kilgore's letter refers questions to the appropriate offices and includes contact information for each office. Enron's memo does not mention where to go with questions or concerns, though it does direct employees to a website to certify their compliance with the updated code.

Both codes follow these letters with an overview of the company's vision and values. TVA's opening page also includes eight statements that topline the code and "put the values into action." Both codes mention mutual respect, integrity / trust, fair employment, compliance with the law and workplace safety. In addition, they both cover confidentiality, prohibition of the acceptance of gifts, workplace equality and the provision of quality services.

TVA also mentions environmental stewardship, which is not covered by Enron.  Enron prohibits statements - during or after employment - that are deemed slanderous, libelous or defamatory. It is interesting that this covers statements made after one has ended employment with the company. Enron also has a more extensive section on contracts and legal documents. Again, this makes the Enron code feel more like a legal document than a set of guidelines.

TVA's Code of Conduct is separated into sections that focus on specific guidelines. Interestingly enough, each guideline is first outlined and explained, then followed by a list of questions and answers that address everyday activities likely to be faced by employees. These questions cover everything from the use of company vehicles to forwarding jokes to friends via company email. It seems to be a very useful way to not only provide the information about expected behavior, but also to give real-life examples with which employees are likely to be able to relate.

The TVA code also includes a few sections that did not appear in what was viewable of Enron's code, including guidelines on the use of company resources, outside employment or activities, the drug and alcohol policy, harassment, workplace violence, firearms and weapons and political activity. As a public power company, TVA has to outline guidelines on appropriate political activity and behavior in far more detail, following the Hatch Act. This Act is a federal directive on appropriate political behavior, ultimately "to protect federal employees from political pressure..."

The most interesting difference between the two code documents that I noted were TVA's inclusion of an environmental practices section. Though a large portion of this section addresses TVA's commitment to comply with environmental laws, the responsibility section also commits the organization and its employees to help protect natural resources in the service territory. The question and answer section covers everything from proper disposal to the use of ATVs and metal detectors. This additional information makes sense for TVA, as they are not only a power supplier but also responsible for the management of the Tennessee River system land. Environmental stewardship was also a far more prevalent topic in 2010 than it was in 2000. Overall, there certainly was a fairly large difference in language, if not as much in content.


Enron (2000) Code of Ethics. Retrieved June 10, 2011 from http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/enrons-code-ethics

TVA (2010) Code of Conduct. Retrieved June 10, 2011 from http://www.tva.gov/foia/pdf/code_of_conduct.pdf

Looking Ahead...

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In five years, I would very much like to be finished with law school (!!) and practicing law. My passion is in juvenile advocacy, so I hope to have landed a position as a guardian ad litem or some similar role by that point. I believe that my studies at Penn State will have served me well by then - and not just those that prepared me for a career in law, but also those that challenged me in other areas. The learning I acquire from my EM SC class should assist in providing a foundation for life long learning about sustainability. And since that is a topic that promises to only continue to heat up, a strong foundation today will help me to be a more responsible and educated advocate for our planet in the future. 

Looking Around...

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Since my major is not in this particular field, I am hoping to achieve a broader based experience than someone who is progressing toward a degree in Energy and Sustainability Policy. However, as you learned in my "Looking Back" page, it's an area in which I have always been interested. I hope to build on the knowledge I have to date about the energy industry, as well as to learn more about the field and its future direction. We have a lot of opportunity right now in the field of sustainability, and any information I can acquire now will serve me no matter where I land!

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