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It’s calling time on carbon emissions

Climate change no longer can be passed off as tomorrow’s problem. People only have to look out the window or turn on the news to see how the world’s weather patterns are changing at an alarming rate. Whole communities are already having to adapt to its impacts, and there are unsettling signs that the Earth’s natural ecosystems are buckling under the pressure of global warming and mankind’s general mismanagement of the planet.It’s not a pretty picture, and the associated impacts of climate change on supply chains, markets, even society — the very things upon which business relies — are only going to get worse. Just how much worse is in a very large part up to business.The agony of choiceBack in October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that achieving a net zero emissions economy by 2050 was necessary to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees C of pre-industrial levels. In their landmark report, the world’s top scientists said that to make that happen, the world would need to make "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes" across all aspects of society.These stark warnings have left business leaders with a difficult choice: carry on as normal and hope the inevitable tidal wave of disruption will not affect them (spoiler alert: it will); or do everything in their power to go carbon neutral and help decarbonize the world’s entire economy within the next three decades.Sharing solutionsAhead of COP24 in December, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) invited the corporate world to explore how to increase climate ambition in what was called the Talanoa Dialogue initiative. The aim was to bring fresh perspectives from a wide range of people and organizations through "inclusive, participatory and transparent" discussions.Rising to the challenge, climate solutions specialists Natural Capital Partners brought together senior sustainability and business leaders from more than 60 of the world’s biggest businesses — with a collective revenue of over $1.3 trillion — to share their climate action stories and explore routes to building a net zero economy.Over the course of seven roundtable events in five countries across Europe and North America, delegates revealed the inspiring scope, scale and ambition of their approaches. Out of these discussions, Natural Capital Partners developed its "Imprinting Net Zero" model, setting out seven ways businesses can drive net zero to scale, both within the limits of their own operations and across the broader economic system.Stage one: Getting your house in orderThe first three of the seven "imprints" center around carbon neutrality across a business’s operations, suppliers and products, and will be familiar to many readers.Footprint is about reducing emissions that result directly from a company’s activities and indirectly through associated energy use and travel.Footprint is typically the focal point for businesses at the start of their carbon neutral journeys, since it represents opportunities for immediate action. Businesses can use a combination of operational efficiencies, changes to processes and other internal reduction initiatives; sourcing renewable energy, either on site or through certificates and tariffs; and financing external low-carbon sustainable development projects to lower net emissions.During the roundtable discussions the examples to emerge of companies taking action on their footprints were plentiful and varied. For instance, computer software company VMware has become a CarbonNeutral company two years ahead of schedule, working with Natural Capital Partners."Getting to net zero is a journey that doesn’t happen overnight and involves lots of pieces — big and small," says the company’s senior sustainability manager, Natasha Tuck."We choose to take action where we can, rather than wait until there’s a better solution. Our offsets are driving market demand and supporting critical low-carbon sustainable development projects — and I’m proud to be part of this positive impact."Tail-print is another focal point for early stage action and refers to the responsibility companies need to assume for emissions produced "upstream" through their supply chain in the production of their goods and services.The idea is that businesses have commercial and strategic influence over their suppliers, and should use this to encourage and educate suppliers to take steps to reduce their emissions, and those of their suppliers.Handprint is all about "downstream" impact and emissions arising from customers using a business’s products or services. Again, this is not a new concept and more businesses are integrating handprint initiatives into their sustainability planning.VMware has helped customers avoid putting 540 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through its virtualization software. That’s the staggering equivalent to powering 68 percent of U.S. households for a whole year.Stage two: building the next zero economyIf the first three imprints of Natural Capital Partners’ "Imprinting Net Zero" model are about achieving carbon neutrality, the final four are about building on that platform to extend the company’s influence for regenerative impact and helping to deliver the net zero economy the IPCC so urgently calls for.So, what are they?The first is brain-print, borne out of the roundtable research in which many companies spoke of the importance of making their contribution to the transformation to a net zero economy one of their core strategic objectives and at the heart of product and service innovation.Closely aligned to brain-print is blue-print, which is about how companies move from big goals to concrete plans to help build a net zero economy. A company may have great ideas and purpose, but this doesn’t translate into action without a plan — or blue-print — that identifies the investments, partnerships, governance and technology that underpins the plan to deliver against those ambitions.Microsoft, after setting carbon neutrality at the center of its strategy in 2009, based its blue-print around its carbon fee. By setting an internal price on all emitting activities within the company, it has reduced its operational emissions, expanded its renewable energy procurement, financed a portfolio of over 60 emission reduction projects and funded its AI for Earth program.AI for Earth puts its cloud and artificial intelligence in the hands of those working to solve global environmental challenges as well as helps the company develop new products in this area. "As meaningful as this operational progress is, we know it’s not enough," Elizabeth Willmott, environmental sustainability program manager at Microsoft, says. "That’s why we’re using the carbon fee to increase access to cloud and AI tools among climate researchers and conservation groups, as well as work together to develop new tools that can be deployed by others in the field."Finger-print is next and refers to how companies can make their sustainability strategies personally relevant to the people who work for them, from the management team down.Enabling employees to connect with a business’s sustainability agenda serves the dual purpose of furthering the company’s own business objectives through boosting motivation, and turning staff into sustainability advocates in their personal lives outside the office.Professional networking site LinkedIn has been putting its finger-print to positive effect through its shadow carbon price, which specific budget holders have to include as an additional line in their financial planning and reporting.Penny Brannigan, LinkedIn’s global program manager of environmental sustainability, says the initiative has been a useful signal for the company and employees alike."It’s raising the visibility of our sources of carbon emissions internally," she says. "Take business travel, for example. The carbon fee now rolls out every time a plane or train trip is booked, generating conversations about when it’s important to travel and when it’s not."The final imprint is news-print and is all about setting climate strategies free from the confines of sustainability reports, by communicating and advocating about climate change — and climate action — to the wider world.Different companies will have greater scope and opportunity here than others, but every business has a valuable role to play as a climate change messenger.The sky’s the limit when it comes to ways companies can engage in news-print. When business and financial software company Intuit, for example, partnered with local energy companies in Texas to offer its small business customers the opportunity to switch to renewable energy at neutral cost, it was sending out the message to business owners that we can make significant changes that don’t cost.Sean Kinghorn, Intuit’s senior sustainability program manager, says, "We know our SME customers are trying to manage their costs, so eliminating the barriers to choosing renewable energy is a great way to help them contribute to a more sustainable future."Time to push the envelope"There’s been a big rise in carbon neutrality from companies all over the world as they realize the urgent need for action and the meaningful immediate benefits to the business," Jonathan Shopley, Natural Capital Partners’ managing director for external affairs, says. "Companies are also using carbon neutrality as the solid foundation for going on to deliver impact beyond their boundaries to help build a stable climate globally and drive sustainable development."If there’s one key takeaway, it’s about how businesses should see the greater potential of carbon neutrality as a vital stepping stone to achieving bigger and better things.Find out more about "Imprinting Net Zero," including more case studies of Natural Capital Partners’ clients, the final report and webinars at's block ads! (Why?)

CSO insights: How investor interest is influencing sustainability

Last year, I wrote about the ripple effects of BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s annual letter to CEOs — how his letter underscored a broader trend in mainstream investors driving sustainability strategy. This is something I have noticed in my work and also something other sustainability leaders have substantiated with data: According to the 2018 GreenBiz "State of the Sustainability Profession" report (PDF), pressure from investors is one of the top two factors impacting company sustainability programs. In another survey, by BSR and GlobeScan, 25 percent of respondents said investor influence is one of the top three drivers of sustainability efforts at their organization. In the last article in my three-part series offering insights of U.S. CSOs on trending issues, I asked leading CSOs if they also notice an uptick in investor interest in sustainability, and the implications of that interest. (My first article in this series focused on the makeup of sustainability teams, and my second article looked at how growing political polarization is affecting corporate responsibility. All of these articles build on the Weinreb Group’s latest research on CSOs.)Here’s what they had to say.Yes, there is a rise in interest from investors.All of the CSOs I heard from said they had noticed more interest from investors. AT&T CSO Charlene Lake pointed out that it’s no longer just socially responsible investors asking questions. "Now the decibel level from mainstream investors has caught up," she said. There is a greater level of transparency required, necessitating that companies work to ensure that data in the public sphere is accurate and complete. Campbell Soup Company CSO Dave Stangis added that in his many years working at different companies, values-based investors and NGO investors that hold enough shares for proxy resolutions have always driven sustainability. But interest from large institutional investors is growing significantly, and Campbell Soup is getting more ESG questions from larger firms and analysts every year, he said.Because of this, sustainability teams are working more closely with investor relations.As investor interest has grown, sustainability departments have started to work much more closely with investor relations teams. At UPS, CSO Tamara Barker said her team regularly engages with investor relations, particularly with impact investor funds. AT&T’s Lake said her team partners closely with investor relations and finance on shareholder requests, shareholder meetings and even materiality assessments.Owens Corning CSO Frank O’Brien-Bernini said that while collaboration between sustainability and investor relations always has been strong, the interactions between the two teams have become more frequent and more detailed as investors proactively request conversations focused on ESG topics. "I really enjoy these sessions," he said. "Through their questions, we gain insight into what’s on their minds and why they took a particular interest in our stock."Transparency and disclosure have become even more critical.The growing connection between investors/finance and sustainability has had a particular impact on reporting. There’s a clear need for accurate data, and standardization seems important."There is a greater level of transparency required, necessitating that companies work to ensure that data in the public sphere is accurate and complete," said MGM CSO Cindy Ortega.Despite this demand for data, it’s not yet clear how that should be presented to meet the needs of investors. "The most challenging area is external reporting, where stakeholder opinions are still emerging about how to present data in ways best suited to the investment community," AT&T’s Lake said. We share our heart-and-soul strategy as part of key investor events to demonstrate our company values and how this strategy helps deliver growth for the company. Some companies are making specific investments in transparency and disclosure. Kellogg CSO Amy Senter said the company has taken a number of steps to improve disclosure and enhance transparency, such as including sustainability and social impact progress into Kellogg’s 10-K, reporting to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the SASB Standards, and engaging more deeply with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)."I joined the SASB Standards Advisory Group to continue to advocate for improved and streamlined investor reporting," Senter said.What’s next? Looking forward, some CSOs said investor interest has catalyzed investments in headcount at the company. Hewlett Packard Enterprise CSO Christopher Wellise said HPE has hired people on the investor relations team dedicated to ESG issues. Lake said that while this trend has placed more demands on AT&T’s CSR team, the company hasn’t yet expanded the team, but it has had to reallocate resources and invest more in talent development and deployment.Investor interest in sustainability is one trend I will continue to watch over the next few years. I believe it has the potential to help the field become even more strategic and leapfrog progress on issues that matter.As Kellogg’s Senter put it: "We share our heart-and-soul strategy as part of key investor events to demonstrate our company values and how this strategy helps deliver growth for the company. There is a lot more we can do in this space, and we are looking forward to partnering with investors on this in the future."  Let's block ads! (Why?)

Blue Planet: The Nature Conservancy unveils $1.6 billion bid to save the oceans

Global non-profit The Nature Conservancy has announced a $1.6 billion plan to help save and restore the world's oceans by selling "blue bonds" to coastal and island countries.The Blue Bonds for Conservation initiative will refinance and restructure debt for coastal and island countries, so long as those nations commit to protecting at least 30 percent of their near-shore ocean areas, including coral reefs, mangroves and other important ocean habitats.In exchange for enhanced ocean protections, TNC says the Blue Bond will give nations better terms for debt repayment and support with ongoing conservation work.TNC says it already has secured more than $23 million in funding from donors towards the $40 million required to kickstart the scheme — which it is hoped eventually could unlock $1.6 billion in ocean conservation funding. Over the next five years, it plans to deliver Blue Bonds in up to 20 countries, protecting an additional 1.5 million square miles of the most biodiverse ocean."There's still time to reverse decades of damage to the world's oceans before we hit the point of no return," said Mark Tercek, CEO of TNC. "It's going to take something audacious to tackle marine protection at this scale, which means thinking beyond more traditional approaches to ocean conservation." There's still time to reverse decades of damage to the world's oceans before we hit the point of no return. It's going to take something audacious to tackle marine protection at this scale. Unless the world can curb carbon emissions and successfully tackle ocean pollution, scientists predict 90 percent of the world's coral reefs will have died by 2050. As well as preserving marine life, protecting ocean habitats is also widely seen as essential for combatting climate change; mangrove forests sequester four times more carbon than rainforests.Once a nation has accepted the offer of a Blue Bond, marine scientists at TNC will create a "marine spatial plan" to pay for the new marine protected areas and other conservation programs, using savings from debt restructuring and philanthropic donations, TNC said. Spending will be controlled by a trust independent of the government of the nation.TNC estimates the scheme could be applied in up to 100 countries. "This is the philanthropic opportunity of a lifetime," said Tercek. "Every dollar we raise will result in 40 times the impact. It's hard to find better leverage than that."The move comes just days after Greenpeace launched a major new campaign to ensure 30 percent of the world's oceans are officially protected by 2030.Let's block ads! (Why?)

From Walmart to Nikola: 10 questions for Elizabeth Fretheim

Elizabeth Fretheim has spent the last couple of weeks unpacking moving boxes and adjusting to walking her dog in the dry Phoenix heat. The former senior director of supply chain sustainability for Walmart recently left the retail behemoth after a decade and made the cross-country trek to join five-year-old clean truck startup Nikola Motor Company. The weather will be just one change for Fretheim. Nikola is developing hydrogen-powered electric semi-trucks to sell and lease to shipping companies and corporate fleets. The trucks — which are supposed to go into production in late 2022 — will be able to move goods with zero emissions and save companies on diesel fueling costs. The company also plans to build out hydrogen fueling stations across the United States to fuel the vehicles, and it has teamed up with Ryder to provide on-demand maintenance and servicing.Fretheim, as head of business development, will act as liaison between fleet managers and Nikola, she told us, helping the company build products that will serve their needs. At the same time, she'll help the fleet operators understand the potential of hydrogen-electric trucks, a technology that hasn't gained much traction so far in the United States.Nikola has a couple of big years ahead of it. The company plans to raise more funding, build out its factory in Arizona, install hundreds of hydrogen charging stations, get to commercialization and meet the demands of its sizable number of early orders. This week, Nikola is holding a two-day event, Nikola World, meant to show the world its products and plans. On the eve of Nikola World, GreenBiz talked to Fretheim about why she made the move from the world's largest company to a startup and what she learned helping Walmart embrace more sustainable shipping. The following Q&A has been edited lightly for length and clarity. Katie Fehrenbacher: Why did you want to join Nikola, a young auto-tech startup, after many years as the senior director of supply chain sustainability for Walmart?Elizabeth Fretheim: Growing up in Alberta, Canada, where the main industry was oil, sustainability became a passion of mine and looking at how ... we transition to cleaner energy. As all of your readers will know, we’re a little bit behind on our climate goals, and when I was looking for something new, I really wanted to find somewhere where they were looking at a revolution in transportation and technology.I don’t think we have the time to just evolve what we’re doing. We need to revolutionize. I wanted to find [an organization that] was looking to move fast and find sustainable good solutions that move as fast as they can. Nikola was doing both. I really wanted to work with them to try to use my experience and passion for sustainability to help them move faster, if possible. We don't have time to just evolve what we’re doing. We need to revolutionize. Fehrenbacher: What were some of the biggest lessons you learned at Walmart about clean truck fleets?Fretheim: A truck isn’t a truck isn’t a truck. The transportation industry, especially the freight movement industry, is very complex and diverse. The trucks are different, the regulations are different, the driver considerations, what’s the business, what’s the duty cycle ...  it’s a very complex industry. You have to be prepared to be able to deal with that diversity in your solution.This is going to sound obvious, but these trucks are mobile. You can’t think about where that truck starts or parks at the end of the day; you need to be able to service the truck many, many miles away from where it spends the night.These trucks are also a tool for the business. Even though I am very focused on transitioning to cleaner energies, at the end of the day, the vehicle has to do what the business needs it to do. It has to be able to carry that freight. It has to make it from point A to B. It has to be safe. So it’s not just about transitioning to clean energy; you have to think about the full package.Cents turn into dollars very quickly in this business. If you’re talking about a cost-per-mile, just a few miles out of route, just to go to a fueling station, can make a big difference for some of these companies. So I think even though I am very passionate and focused on transitioning to clean, it has to be well integrated into the business that we’re solving for as well.Fehrenbacher: How does the clean truck market look to you right now? Is it reaching some kind of tipping point or are we still more in the early days?Fretheim: I would say it’s both in different ways. For the tipping point, I would say there is clear interest and commitment and momentum for looking at these solutions. Even just since I’ve been here, I’ve had so many of my contacts at my prior life reach out and want to know what we’re doing and how they can get involved. I think, as one of my colleagues said, we’re riding the crest of the wave.At the same time, it’s very early days. There’s a lot to figure out: the technology; the infrastructure; regulations; standards. But I think that’s also part of what makes this very exciting. We’re working from a clean slate here at Nikola, too, which sometimes can be more difficult, but sometimes you’re not tied to the way things were. Video of Elizabeth Fretheim, Walmart Fehrenbacher: Do you see a variety of technologies playing different roles across the different truck applications and drive cycles?Fretheim: I do. I think each technology can have its best duty cycle. We talk often about it being a poly-fuel future. For hydrogen and fuel cells, there’s definitely an advantage if there are longer routes or even if a truck is doing several runs in a day. Hydrogen [technology] can do anything that diesel can do but it’s zero emissions, it’s quieter and works well in cold weather. We need to help our customers understand the technology and how it fits in their business.Fehrenbacher: What’s Nikola’s advantage? What’s the pitch for some of these fleets?Fretheim: I am super excited that they are really looking at this from scratch. They are building these trucks from the bottom-up to be hydrogen-fuel-cell trucks versus retrofitting a diesel truck or even a natural gas truck. They’re really looking at what they need to do to optimize the truck and the service for hydrogen as a fuel. And so I think that’s one of the biggest advantages. They are pioneering this, and they’re doing it in an aggressive and creative way. At the same time, they’re working with great partners to make sure we are building sound, reliable, sustainable technology.Fehrenbacher: What do you think are the biggest challenges for startup automakers building clean trucks, other than the obvious startup challenges, raising money and being a new company?Fretheim: The infrastructure is a big piece. You have to build a manufacturing plant and put in a maintenance-and-parts service network. And there are all of those complexities we talked about: each of your customers is different, and you can’t necessarily just build one solution. It’s going to be different for every customer.Also gaining the confidence of the customers. A lot of these OEMs have been around for many, many years, and they’ve built good relationships and loyalty with their customers. And rightfully so — they’ve built a great product that has continued to improve. So we need to start to build confidence with the customers [proving] that we have the product, have that infrastructure and we can service them well.Fehrenbacher: How should companies like Walmart, big fleet providers, look at working with young startups like Nikola?Fretheim: You can add a lot of complexity into their business if you can’t service nationwide or if you're adding a lot of complexity into the training of their technicians or parts inventory. I think my experience at Walmart, and looking at how can we make sure this is seamlessly integrated as much as possible into the current operations, is going to be important. We want to make sure that our customers feel like when they put one of these trucks out there, if something happens, the wheels can turn quickly again.These trucks are a tool for the business, and they’re making money when the wheels are turning and they’re hauling their load. So if we can help them feel good and we have the infrastructure to support them, that’s going to be key. These trucks are a tool for the business and they’re making money when the wheels are turning and they’re hauling their load. Fehrenbacher: What do you think are the biggest challenges in general for the emerging clean truck fleet market?Fretheim: Cost and uncertainty. Diesel trucks have been around for many years, and people understand the technology and understand when something is going to break and how ... they prepare for and deal with it. Some of these new technologies are very complex and high tech, and that can be somewhat unnerving for the [fleet operators]. That uncertainty along with everything else going on in the industry right now is a lot for the fleets to be dealing with. It can be very overwhelming and sometimes when something is that overwhelming, it is very easy to say, "I don’t want to deal with this right now." We’re simplifying this so it’s easy for them to make the switch.Fehrenbacher: Do you see pressure coming from the end customer wanting to have their supply chain be more decarbonized in terms of shipping?Fretheim: One of the things that surprised me when I got here [to Nikola] was the diversity of the inquiries from everyone from shippers and large fleets, all the way down to much smaller fleets that are very interested in this technology. I found that to be promising and exciting. That's going back to how we’re at a little bit of a tipping point in terms of interest and looking at these technologies.Fehrenbacher: Without revealing too much, why should the industry be excited about Nikola World?Fretheim: There’s so much. There’s been a lot of uncertainty about the technology and what it can do. You're going to come to Nikola World and see it work. Hopefully, that will get customers excited about the technology and what it can do and see that this is real. This will be a solution for them and for the goals that they are trying to get to. That’s super exciting. You'll also get to find out more about what they’re thinking in terms of the stations and the business model.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Electric utilities can accelerate electric truck and bus deployment

Today, in my inaugural blog post, I am excited to share a set of recommendations for electric utility investments in electric truck and bus charging programs.Swapping diesel trucks and buses for electric models is a critical strategy for both reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change and reducing local air pollution to improve public health. The good news is that high-performance electric trucks and buses are becoming increasingly available for many vehicle uses, notably medium-duty delivery vehicles, cargo equipment, transit buses and school buses. The challenge is that widespread deployment of those vehicles requires a large-scale, coordinated effort by policymakers, private investors and — you guessed it — electric utilities.For their part, electric utilities are an important early investor in charging programs for all EVs, including trucks and buses for several reasons. First, grid-related investments to support electricity demand from EVs are well within utilities’ wheelhouse.Second, utilities’ expertise in managing the grid make them an important partner in managing electric truck and bus loads to maximize potential benefits to the grid. For example, smart charging of EVs can make renewable energy easier to incorporate into the grid.Finally, utilities have access to debt and capital to make investments that kick-start the comparative market for private investments. The challenge is that widespread deployment of those vehicles requires a large-scale, coordinated effort by policymakers, private investors and — you guessed it — electric utilities. Utilities across the country are starting to take a serious look at EV programs to support the growing demand for electric cars, trucks, and buses. Many utilities are moving forward with vehicle electrification proposals to state utility regulators, some of which include consideration for heavy-duty vehicles. Proactive state regulators and electric utilities can take advantage of the growing availability of models to accelerate electric truck and bus deployment to help realize the health, climate and grid benefits from medium and heavy-duty vehicles.Union of Concerned Scientists has laid out the principles (PDF) for how electric utilities should invest in EV charging. The recommendations we released, Utility Investment in Truck and Bus Charging: A Guide for Utilities, build on those principles by providing high-level guidance on the design of utility programs for truck and bus charging.How should utilities go about designing programs, and what should state regulators look for when evaluating programs?1. Consider various strategies to address barriers to truck and bus charging. Different electric truck and bus uses may require different program strategies, depending on vehicle model availability and the business case for electrification in a specific service territory. For charging infrastructure, this means utilities may need to make use of a variety of ownership models in order to effectively accelerate EV deployment. These ownership models extend beyond "business as usual" up to "end-to-end" utility ownership from the customer meter to the charger.2. Set fair commercial rates that account for truck and bus charging and provide incentives for grid services.Operating costs are one of the most important factors vehicle operators, particularly those who operate fleets, consider when deciding whether to switch to electric models. Fair, sensible rates for commercial EV charging will ensure those vehicle operators have an opportunity to save on fuel costs and provide an incentive for charging at beneficial times for the electric grid.3. Scale up programs based on their potential impact and the readiness of vehicles for electrification.Vehicle applications such as transit buses, medium-duty delivery trucks and cargo equipment have the potential to positively affect climate emissions and public health and are highly ready for electrification. As such, those vehicles are ready for large-scale utility programs. Utilities also can advance more nascent vehicle applications through pilot projects.4. Prioritize serving communities overburdened by air pollution.Diesel pollution and the consequential human health impacts are not distributed uniformly. Utility programs can have maximum impact for each charger deployed by focusing on areas that suffer disproportionately large amounts of diesel pollution. However, prioritizing overburdened communities is not just a best practice for cost-effectiveness. Because low-income communities and communities of color are overrepresented in overburdened areas, prioritizing charger and EV deployment in these areas is an important way to reduce public health inequities.5. Coordinate and leverage multiple funding sources.While utilities are well-suited to be an early investor in the EV charging space, other funds for EV charging are available. As UCS has previously discussed, the Volkswagen settlement and other funds fall short of providing the scale of investment needed for widespread electrification of truck and buses. Even so, those funds are an important resource for accelerating EV adoption. Utilities can maximize the reach of their own programs by coordinating with and leveraging other funding sources.6. Consider fleet programs that accelerate electrification across vehicles classes.Utilities can identify opportunities to include trucks and buses alongside passenger vehicles in fleet programs to make the most of synergies in information sharing between the utility and fleet customers.7. Consult with truck and bus fleet managers when developing programs.Utilities’ customer relationships with fleet managers can become strategic partnerships for the development of utility charging programs. Utilities can collaborate with fleet operators to understand the use and charging needs of electric trucks and buses in order to inform infrastructure programs and rate designs.8. Set minimum charging system capabilities to enable managed charging.Managed charging of truck and bus loads is critical to realizing the greenhouse gas benefits and fuel cost savings those vehicles can offer. A "smart" system in which chargers can communicate with a network system is necessary to enable managed charging. Requiring such capabilities for chargers supported by utility programs will enable managed charging, while also making it easier to upgrade charger software over time.9. Future-proof investments by preparing charger sites for additional deployments.It is important to take a long-term view of electric truck and bus deployment when designing programs. Utilities can future-proof "make-ready" investments — the upgraded panels, new conduit and wires to make the site ready for chargers — by considering expected future charging demand when determining the capacity of the make-ready installation.I am encouraged to see some utilities already step up to support truck and bus electrification. We need many more to follow suit with significant investments to make timely progress on climate and public health. These recommendations will help make utility investments more effective in meeting these urgent goals.For a fuller discussion of each recommendation, including program examples, be sure to check out the full policy brief.Let's block ads! (Why?)

The city that always drives: New York gets serious about traffic with first citywide US congestion pricing plan

After years of debate, New York state has adopted congestion pricing to deal with traffic problems in New York City. Starting in 2021, fees will be imposed on all vehicles entering a pricing zone that covers lower Manhattan, from 60th Street at the southern edge of Central Park to the southernmost tip of the island.This approach has succeeded in cities including London, Singapore and Stockholm. For scholars like me who focus on urban issues, New York’s decision is welcome news. Properly used, congestion pricing can make crowded cities safer, cleaner and easier for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to navigate.The details matter, including the size and timing of charges and the area that they cover. Congestion charges also raises equity issues, because rich people are best able to move closer to work or change their schedules to avoid the steepest costs.The downside of densityCities concentrate people close together for good economic reasons. Clustering activities allows transfers of information, knowledge and skills. At their best, cities create deep pools of labor and large markets of consumers, and make it possible to provide public goods such as mass transit and trash collection efficiently. Planners should be encouraging cities to become bigger and more dense if we want to improve economic performance.But growing concentration also imposes costs, and one of the largest is traffic congestion. Drivers spend valuable time sitting idly in traffic jams, while noise, accidents and pollution impose heavy burdens on city residents.Should road use be free?The idea of charging for use of public roads is not new. Economist Arthur Pigou discussed the issue as early as 1920 as part of his attempt to remedy the suboptimal workings of the market system. In 1963, Canadian-born economist William Vickrey argued that roads were scarce resources that should be valued by imposing costs on users.Consumers intuitively understand differential pricing. We expect to pay more for airline tickets at peak travel times and for hotel rooms at popular times of the year. Congestion pricing also forces users to think about the cost of making a trip, and thus to evaluate their travel patterns.And it can be effective. A 2008 study gave drivers in Seattle a hypothetical cash sum to spend on trips, charged them tolls linked to traffic congestion levels, and let them keep money they did not spend. Their cars were fitted with equipment to monitor driving patterns.The results: Travelers altered their schedules, took different routes or collapsed multiple trips into single journeys. Collectively, these changes reduced congestion at peak time, lessened wait times and increased average travel speeds in the study’s regional traffic model.Success in Europe and AsiaEvidence from cities around the world shows that charging motorists fees for driving into city centers during busy periods is a rarity in urban public policy: a measure that works and is cost-effective. Congestion pricing has succeeded in cities including London, Singapore and Stockholm, where it has eased traffic, sped up travel times, reduced pollution and provided funds for public transport and infrastructure investments.It also can produce some unintended consequences (PDF). In London, house prices within the congestion charge zone increased — bid upward by consumers who were willing to pay to avoid traffic and enjoy improved environmental conditions. Over the long term, the congestion tax lubricated the gentrification of central London.But this process is common to many other big cities, with or without congestion pricing: The rich preempt central city locations and displace the less wealthy to the suburbs.Congestion pricing in the United StatesAlthough the United States has over 5,000 miles of toll roads (PDF), congestion pricing is uncommon. One exception is Interstate Route 66 in the Washington, D.C. metro region, where fluctuating tolls were introduced in late 2017. Pricing for express lanes changes every six minutes during rush hour eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon. The toll hit $40 for a 10-mile stretch the day after it was introduced.So far, local officials say the policy appears to be working. Carpooling has increased, while backups and crashes have declined. The average toll is currently $8.02 during morning hours and $4.47 during afternoon hours.But this is just one well-used road, and there are many other routes into central Washington. The I-66 tolls are more about generating revenue on one road than reducing congestion citywide.New York City is the best U.S. candidate for congestion pricing because it is densely developed and has an extensive public transportation system. Congestion pricing is unlikely to be as feasible in lower-density cities with limited public transportation. New York City is the best U.S. candidate for congestion pricing because it is densely developed and has an extensive public transportation system. Some observers, such as environmental advocates, are celebrating New York’s decision. But there is pushback from others who claim that it will be regressive. Congestion charges do raise equity issues, but only 4 percent of people who commute into New York City travel by car, and of those, only 5,000 could be classified as working poor. Funding from congestion fees will increase investment in mass transit, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says will benefit the vast majority of New Yorkers who commute by bus or subway.Details remain to be decided, but under a previous proposal (PDF), cars would have been charged $11.52 to enter the zone on weekdays during business hours, while trucks would have paid $25.34. Taxis and app-based rides such as Uber and Lyft would have been charged $2 to $5. Fees will be assessed by a committee of experts and collected by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority through an electronic tolling system that already is widely used for bridges, tunnels and tolled motorways across the country.Unlike other taxes that can be easily dismissed as imposing costs and killing jobs, congestion pricing improves market efficiencies because it forces people to think about their travel and leads to a more rational use of our public roads. It is a powerful policy whose time definitely has come.This is an updated version of an article originally published Feb. 7, 2018.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Why Walmart’s Project Gigaton gives us hope

Imagine for a moment what it would mean if the world’s biggest brands couldn’t access the key ingredients for their products. What if Starbucks had trouble sourcing coffee? What if Coca-Cola couldn’t access water?As the predicted effects of a changing climate such as droughts and rising temperatures become a reality, these what-if questions raise serious concerns for global supply chains.Such issues were foundational for last week’s Walmart Milestone sustainability summit at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Our two NGOs have worked with Walmart for years as it pushes to fulfill its ambitious climate commitments.One of those is Project Gigaton, which in its two-year lifespan has avoided 93 million metric tons of emissions toward the company’s 1-billion-ton goal. It may be the company’s most ambitious sustainability initiative, and we — along with dozens of other advocacy groups — have taken a keen interest in this initiative.Based on what we saw last week, we’re feeling hopeful. For example, Walmart announced that more than 1,000 suppliers have signed onto Project Gigaton. In addition, Walmart Canada announced that it will join the initiative, bringing with it the next influx of suppliers.This is significant progress, and it’s no secret why it’s happening. Walmart and the suppliers that have joined Project Gigaton recognize that environmental sustainability is good for both the planet and business bottom lines, in the form of cost savings, risk reduction and resiliency. As a bonus, they are seeing increasing approval from customers, employees and shareholders.However, for all that promise, the numbers for the larger world of business tell a more worrisome story. While nearly 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or clean energy goal, according to calculations by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only 5 percent have goals on the scale science says is needed. To truly face the climate challenge head-on, we need to pick up the pace. So, if your company has been sitting on the sidelines, start your sustainability journey now. If you’re a forward-thinker that is already on the sustainability journey, act faster and go bigger. Planning for "what ifs" starts by fully leading on sustainability and climate change.Corporate sustainability leadership includes setting ambitious goals, collaborating to reach scale, supporting smart public policy and accelerating environmental innovation. Here are four best practices we’ve gleaned from Walmart’s progress:1. Set science-based goalsWhether your company is working on setting its second- or third-generation sustainability goals or setting a goal for the first time, let science be your guide.A recent United Nations report, written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries, explains why this is necessary. The report found that carving out a safer and more prosperous future means keeping global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.If we’re to succeed in this momentous challenge, corporate sustainability goals need to consider this science when setting goals. Here are three examples of companies with science-based goals:Target just announced that it is reducing its own emissions 30 percent by 2030 and also requiring that 80 percent of its suppliers set science-based reduction targets by 2023. This is a huge move to address the full range of emissions that are generated by the stores, trucks and products that it sells.Last year, McDonald’s announced its own science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across its supply chain, restaurants and offices, a first for a major restaurant company. As part of this target, McDonald’s is engaging its supply chain in areas where it has the biggest impact and opportunity, including the beef that goes into its burgers. McDonald’s is also engaging its franchisees to reduce emissions at the restaurants.Walmart was the first retailer to set a supply-chain carbon reduction goal, which it exceeded in 2015. That early success inspired Walmart to launch Project Gigaton.Walmart suppliers can learn more about, and sign up for, Project Gigaton here.2. Collaborate for scaleSetting goals is one thing; reaching them is another.To reach truly ambitious goals requires collaborating, both inside and outside the private sector. Cities, states, businesses and universities will need to find new ways of working together to usher in the rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land use, urban infrastructure and industrial systems. This is starting to happen, including through coalitions such as We Are Still In and others in countries around the world.Collaborative, systematic approaches such as these are happening in specific sectors as well:Energy: Like-minded companies are working to get more renewable energy into the grid by joining the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance or RE100. Microsoft is a great example of a company working to get more renewables on the grid for everyone.Forestry: The "jurisdictional approach" involves companies working together with NGOs and governments on the ground where deforestation is happening to catalyze green economic growth. At last year’s Global Climate Action Summit, Walmart announced its plan to help connect suppliers to jurisdictional initiatives as part of Project Gigaton.It’s important to note that collaborating for scale can happen only after sustainability action comes from leadership at the top. This can be accomplished by putting sustainability directly into the core business functions.How can you put sustainability at the heart of your business?Start by zeroing in on your operations such as your trucking fleet, energy procurement (aim to go 100 percent renewable) and how you run your factories or make products (designing them to eliminate negative impact).Conduct a greenhouse gas inventory and target your biggest impact areas. For example, if you are a food and agriculture company, focusing on your energy use is not good enough — you need to address your impacts at the farm level. The Sustainability Consortium’s toolkits can help you understand the hot spots in consumer product supply chains and to query your supply chain.Consider incentives for business units to reduce their footprint or create an internal price on carbon to drive healthy competition in the race to cut emissions and save money.Check out the Supply Chain Solutions Center, a one-stop-shop for tailored help, no matter where you are on the journey.3. Advocate for smart environmental policy"It’s no longer enough to reduce, or even eliminate, the greenhouse gas emissions in one’s operations and supply chain," said GreenBiz’s Joel Makower, in a new report by EDF. "Today, leadership companies are those that speak up and speak out in favor of ambitious climate policies, and companies will increasingly be held accountable on that score." The earth doesn’t stand still, and neither should business in responding to protect it. Leadership on sustainability requires engaging in public policy — an ingredient that is missing from leading sustainability rankings. Sustainability programs and policy advocacy on climate need to be aligned.Changing the policies that shape the geographies where your company operates is a key element to addressing those "what ifs."Additionally, company lobbying should be in line with a company’s work on sustainability. That means working with your trade associations to ensure they represent your views on climate action, speaking out publicly when they don’t and resigning from associations that lobby against strong climate policies.4. Innovate, measure your progress and report resultsBusiness as usual will not solve our biggest what-if questions. Business leaders must accelerate environmental innovation. Disruptive technologies give business leaders a chance to scale solutions to their companies’ most urgent environmental challenges.Once companies have made progress on sustainability goals, leadership also requires the transparent reporting of results. Reporting publicly to CDP is a good step. An additional level of credibility comes from third-party verification of results.A focus on driving environmental results while achieving business wins sparks progress. And, companies need to engage in continual improvement. The earth doesn’t stand still, and neither should business in responding to protect it. In this time, when the U.S. federal government has walked away from tackling climate change, it’s up to every company to act now, with speed and scale.Let's block ads! (Why?)

The 5 things you need to know about chemical recycling

This article is adapted from Circular Weekly, runnning Fridays. Subscribe here.There’s been a noticeable uptick lately in buzz around chemical recycling, and the promise of technologies that can fix the broken recycling system. However, the technologies, terminology and applications can be confusing and are not widely understood.Last week, the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners released a report (PDF) clarifying the state of the art and highlighting its potential to turn waste plastics back into new materials, decrease reliance on fossil fuels and curb the flow of plastics into marine environments.Spurred by the growing number of commitments by brands, retailers and other stakeholders to close the loop on plastics — most notably the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and Alliance to End Plastic Waste — the demand for recycled plastics is quickly increasing. Unilever, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Danone are among those that have set ambitious goals to ensure all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.The problem: Demand for recycled plastics is rapidly outpacing supply.In the United States and Canada alone, today’s supply of post-consumer recycled plastics can meet only 6 percent of demand, which is projected to grow from 2.5 million metric tons to as much as 7.5 million metric tons by 2030. That means plastics supply chains will need to shift from lines to loops.   The problem: Demand for recycled plastics is rapidly outpacing supply. Enter chemical recycling. The current approach to recycling just won’t cut it. While traditional "chop-and-wash" mechanical recycling works well for PET and HDPE (think: water bottles and milk jugs), it cannot effectively manage the complex stream of films, chip bags, synthetic fibers and other plastics that enter the waste stream every day.Enter chemical recycling.According to the Closed Loop report, if the class of technologies that purify, decompose or convert waste plastics into like-new materials could help meet the growing demand for plastics and petrochemicals, it could unlock potential revenue opportunities of $120 billion just in the United States and Canada.Here’s what else you need to know about the chemical recycling landscape:1. Not all chemical recycling is alike. The term refers to a diversity of processes and technologies that transform waste plastics into like-new materials. The report identified three types: purification; decomposition; and conversion. (I encourage you to read the full report for a breakdown of each type.)2. It has a couple of names. The term "chemical recycling" itself is not unanimously accepted. The report encourages referring to this umbrella of tools as "transformational technologies" to avoid confusion, but calls for efforts to create common frameworks and definitions to enable broader understanding of how these technologies can apply to different supply chains and waste streams.3. Brands are beginning to invest in these technologies. Large brands including adidas, Unilever, P&G, Danone and Interface have signed offtake agreements with a number of chemical recycling start-ups to support their growth, and to ensure access the limited supply of recycled plastics. Plastics manufacturers Indorama and SABIC also have made strategic investments in Plastic Energy, Loop Industries and Ioniqa, and chemicals companies including BASF, Eastman Chemicals and LyondellBasell have integrated chemical recycling technologies in their own manufacturing and supply chains.4. The technologies are slow to scale. On average, these technologies take 17 years to move from concept to growth. Given that many brand commitments to incorporate higher percentages of recycled content by 2025, the industry needs investment to accelerate growth.5. Technology alone won’t fix recycling. "The challenges of accessing quality feedstock, reducing contamination and getting the volumes they need are all the same challenges that we see in existing mechanical recycling," said Ellen Martin, VP of Impact and Strategic Initiatives at Closed Loop Partners. "We still have to solve the system challenges that we face overall with waste plastics."To effectively close the loop on plastics supply chains, the industry needs not only technical breakthroughs, but also scalable business models, flexible technology platforms that can evolve over time and market incentives driven by public and private policies.That’s the formula for chemical recycling success.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Climate-risk disclosure takes investors by storm

Adapted from State of Green Business 2019, published by GreenBiz in partnership with Trucost, part of S&P Global.For more than 20 years, large companies have been ramping up the depth and breadth of their disclosure on GHG emissions. At the same time, the amount of forward-looking financial information on climate risks and the opportunities being provided to investors has been patchy at best.But in the short time since July 2017, following the release of the TCFD guidelines, more than 500 large businesses, investors and industry groups have signed on to provide this type of forward-looking financial disclosure. Companies in the financial services industry are leading the way in their support of the TCFD recommendations, including BlackRock, State Street and S&P Global, along with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.It’s not limited to the financial services industry. Other sectors are signing on, including Statoil and Shell in the energy sector, consumer product companies such as H&M and Nestlé, materials companies such as BASF and DowDuPont, as well as industrial companies such as Saint-Gobain and Ingersoll Rand.The moment for improved financial disclosure on climate has arrived.This investor- and business-led initiative grew out of a growing belief that a changing climate and energy transition will have profound implications for both individual companies and the global economy. For example, some experts have estimated that the cost of climate-related impacts could reduce the U.S. Gross Domestic Product by 1 to 4 percent. Companies’ and investors’ disclosures of the financial implications of climate change can benefit all parties. In the words of the TCFD:Better access to data will enhance how climate-related risks are assessed, priced and managed. Companies can more effectively measure and evaluate their own risks and those of their suppliers and competitors. Investors will make better-informed decisions on where and how they want to allocate their capital. Lenders, insurers and underwriters will be better able to evaluate their risks and exposures over the short, medium and long-term.The TCFD guidelines provide a framework for companies to evaluate climate risks and opportunities on four dimensions: company governance; strategy; risk management; and metrics and targets. What is new to many corporates is the explicit expectation to translate climate issues into financial implications on their income statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets.Companies are expected to address climate-related physical risks such as water scarcity or extreme weather events, as well as transitional risks such as changes in policy, technology, market or reputational issues that could create both risks and opportunities for the organization. As companies begin to address the TCFD guidelines and make disclosures in line with the recommendations, common challenges and questions are emerging. As companies begin to address the TCFD guidelines and make disclosures in line with the recommendations, common challenges and questions are emerging.One concern is how to incorporate climate change into existing operational decision-making processes and standard business functions. For example, how should climate be included in reports to the board and in company financial reports? Product innovation pipelines need to consider how urgently companies should invest in creating different products and services that capture climate-related opportunities or reduce risks from policies that will cut demand for energy intensive products. Many companies have risk-management processes that address business continuity in the event of a severe storm, but the wider range of longer-term climate risks is not generally part of the analysis.For example, Rio Tinto’s sustainability report describes how it has put in place an internal carbon price to assess the possible cost and impact on product prices, and how the company has conducted a physical risk assessment of its assets to understand the business implications of climate-related risks such as water stress and rising sea levels. General Motors reports how it includes energy reduction targets in its business plans.There’s also growing awareness that the climate conversation isn’t just about energy. Consider water. Are company assets sufficiently resilient to rising seas, droughts or flooding? Is enough fresh water available for operations and supply chains? For example, Danone, among other food and agriculture companies whose operations are heavily dependent on water, includes reporting on water scarcity risks as well as the steps it takes to assess these physical risks in developing new manufacturing sites. How will companies attract top talent to work in regions that are becoming more drought-prone?Adaptation to a changing climate is another emerging issue, as more companies realize that today’s business models and commercial strategies may not be the same in a low-carbon economy. For example, Swedish steelmaker SSAB describes its strategic decision stemming from its analysis of climate-related risks to become a fossil fuel-free steelmaker by 2045. Adaptation to a changing climate is another emerging issue, as companies realize that today’s business models and commercial strategies may not be the same in a low-carbon economy. Still another issue is standardizing scenario analyses under the TCFD guideline — that is, the likely impacts to a company and its operation under various climate scenarios. The guidelines do not prescribe specific scenarios, and companies have been using a wide range of approaches, assumptions and frameworks — 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, 2 degrees Celsius, etc. Without a more standardized approach to scenario analysis, it’s unclear if investors will be able to consistently apply the results.Practical tools, data and analytics to help companies conduct climate-related analysis are rapidly surfacing. The U.N. Environment Program Finance Initiative, together with 16 leading banks as part of a TCFD pilot project, released two reports in 2018 providing best practices on transition risk, "Extending Our Horizons" and "Navigating a New Climate." Climate and energy scenario analyses are available through organizations such as S&P Global Platts and the International Energy Association. Frameworks for translating climate exposure into exposure into financial risk and opportunity have emerged, as well as new Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) guidelines for incorporating ESG risks into company enterprise risk management processes.The TCFD guidelines notwithstanding, key questions remain. For example, what is decision-useful climate information, and how will it get mainstreamed into the capital markets? What’s clear is that different types of investors use corporate climate data in different ways depending on their investment strategies and asset classes. Investors, particularly large institutional investors such as asset managers and pension funds, are just beginning to understand how to incorporate corporate climate disclosure data into their investment strategies, processes and financial valuations.What’s clear is that different types of investors use corporate climate data in different ways depending on their investment strategies and asset classes. As these practices mature, investors are likely to sharpen their focus on specific aspects of corporate climate disclosure, such as how the company’s board is engaging on climate or the need for more robust GHG emissions-reduction targets. While leading investment analysts, banks and organizations are pioneering ways to financially value the implications of climate, these techniques are not yet standard practice. Investors will need to build organizational capacity on these methodologies.Mainstreaming climate data into capital markets in decision-useful form will require standardization. For now, corporate disclosure on climate impacts is mostly voluntary. But the demand for mandatory climate disclosure is intensifying. In 2019, the European Commission is expected to address the TCFD guidelines as part of existing non-financial corporate reporting requirements.Key players to watchClimate Disclosure Standards Board — offers resources including the TCFD Knowledge Hub to help organizations understand and implement guidelines of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) — the leading risk management organization has published a framework for integrating ESG considerations (such as climate) in corporate risk management processes.European Commission — it intends to revise the guidelines of its non-financial reporting directive in 2019 as part of the EU Action Plan for Financing Sustainable Growth, to include guidance on data disclosure in line with the TCFD recommendations.U.N. Environment Program Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) — convenes pilot projects working with the financial services industry to address TCFD reporting.World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) — is creating sector-specific TCFD workgroups and has published guidance on effective disclosure practices for the oil and gas industry.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Cows, almonds and asthma: San Joaquin Valley’s agriculture and air issues

Excerpted from "CHOKED: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution," by Beth Gardiner.Highway 99 cuts down the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, hot and dusty. The trucks that ceaselessly crowd this road hurtle by, or ride close on my tail, as I drive a behemoth of an old borrowed car southward, past billboards and motels and fast-food places. To the right, the Diablo Range spikes high into the sky, its peaks rising steeply from an utterly flat valley floor. On my left tower the majestic Sierra Nevada. In the parched strip of land wedged between the two ranges — home to impoverished immigrants and the vast agricultural concerns for whom they pick peaches and tomatoes and pistachios — the sun beats down relentlessly.The highway is lined with the hulking architecture of industry. But it looks like no industry I’ve seen before. Between the stretches of open fields, cylindrical tanks, some of them four or five stories high, cluster together, pipes winding along their tops. Farther back, beneath white roofs held up by metal poles, cows cluster by the hundreds on concrete platforms.This is industrial-scale agriculture — factory farming to its critics, or just Ag to locals. The San Joaquin forms the bulk of California’s vast Central Valley, one of the world’s most fertile and productive farming regions, providing a quarter of the food Americans eat. The hulking structures here on 99 process the corn and soy shipped from the Midwest into cattle feed, dehydrate milk for export to China and ready the crops grown in nearby fields for shipment far and wide.But the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural productivity isn’t the only quality that earns it superlatives. This is the worst air in America. The region’s cities and towns consistently dominate the American Lung Association’s particle pollution rankings, and only Los Angeles beats it for ozone. The crisis here shatters notions that dirty air is only an urban problem. The region’s cities and towns consistently dominate the American Lung Association’s particle pollution rankings, and only Los Angeles beats it for ozone. I get off Highway 99 at an exit marked Shafter, and soon I pull up to Tom Frantz’s ranch house, surrounded by almond fields. He’s a lifelong gadfly, a relentless litigant and activist, head of a group he co-founded, the quirkily named Association of Irritated Residents, or AIR.Here in Kern County, Frantz tells me, every square mile is home to thousands of cows. "They’re wall to wall, almost." Nearly a half million live in nearby Tulare County.Frantz pulls up a satellite map that offers powerful evidence of their impact. It shows a yellow-orange circle centered over Highway 99, the color a warning of high levels of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas. It floats off big lagoons of manure. Methane is a potent driver of climate change, so these huge concentrations of cattle pose a threat not just to their neighbors, but to the planet’s very future.Ammonia wafts off those manure lagoons, too, and from fertilizer in the fields; it combines with other pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (known as NOx) from vehicles, to create tiny, deadly airborne particles.Frantz clears up something that’s been puzzling me. Dotted all around the Valley are huge piles — hills, really — as tall as houses and hundreds of feet long. They’re covered with white plastic tarpaulins, and I’ve been trying to fathom what’s underneath. Frantz explains they’re heaps of silage, fermenting green maize or other fodder for cattle. These odd-looking mounds add their own taint to the air here. When the tarps are lifted, gases called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, escape, then combine with NOx in the air to form ozone. Ammonia wafts off those manure lagoons, too, and from fertilizer in the fields; it combines with other pollutants, including nitrogen oxides from vehicles, to create tiny, deadly airborne particles. The smell can be oppressive for those who live near the dairies, but the effects of the Valley’s terrible air reach well beyond those who live next to big farms. The region’s premature birth rates are among the highest in the state (PDF). At the other end of life, "I’ve watched people die prematurely. I will die prematurely living here in Kern County all my life," Frantz says matter-of-factly. Then there’s the quality of life: "You’re sick a lot." He and his father both developed asthma as adults, and so did his brother-in-law.Eventually, we head outside, and into Frantz’s pickup truck. The mega-dairies I see through its windows are relative newcomers. "None of those were here in 1990," Frantz says. While the Valley’s fertile soil has long made it hospitable to growers, it was only as property values around L.A. began to skyrocket that the owners of that region’s big milk operations sold up and moved to Tulare and Kern counties.As we pass one huge farm, Frantz estimates its permit covers 3,500 milking cows, which means that with calves and heifers and animals rotating through resting periods, there could be as many as 7,000 head in total. There’s another dairy, of similar size, right across the street.Soon, we bump onto a dirt road and get out beside a huge rectangular lagoon, filled with manure. Dealing with vast amounts of excrement is the biggest challenge facing these farms, which are known in the industry as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. In a more traditional, smaller-scale operation, manure becomes fertilizer, a rich source of nitrogen that nourishes feed crops, its nutrients moving from animal to soil to plant in an eons-old cycle. But with so many animals on so little land, there’s far more manure than the soil can absorb, and much of the feed, in any case, is shipped in from afar. Such intensive production has changed, in just a generation, our relationship with the land we live on and the food we eat. American companies invented this style of agribusiness, and it has reached its apotheosis here in the San Joaquin Valley: "The most industrialized farming in the history of man," says local author Mark Arax
. The scale is hard to fathom — a million acres of almond trees; a single company that, every week, grows enough carrots to circle the globe.  Such intensive production has changed, in just a generation, our relationship with the land we live on and the food we eat. It’s helped — through its heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides and the medications necessary to prevent disease in animals living cheek by jowl — to drive the terrifying growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the dwindling of insect populations, the impoverishment of soil.And, as I now understand, it is also a major contributor to air pollution, not only here but around the world. Agriculture, I’m shocked to learn, is responsible for about half the man-made air pollution in America and even more — 55 percent — in Europe. In much of Europe and the eastern United States, it’s the largest single cause of air pollution–linked deaths.As we head back toward Frantz’s house, I notice white wooden boxes scattered around the dusty almond groves. They hold beehives trucked in from across the country, the only way to meet the demand for pollination that will come all at once, in a few weeks’ time, when these trees begin to blossom. It’s known as the planet’s greatest annual "pollination event," and the millions of rented, out-of-town bees — stressed by travel, exposed as they work to alien microbes and parasites — are as vivid a sign as any of the ways this intensive, modern kind of farming has warped nature’s rhythms, and placed living creatures under extraordinary pressure, all in an effort to wring maximum productivity from every inch of land, and every dollar put into it.Let's block ads! (Why?)