corporate sustainability

Corporate Utilities

As Apple stores, data centers and warehouses expand across the globe, the company is looking toward supplying renewable energy… for itself.

Walmart and Google both prioritize renewable energy projects as well, each hoping to eventually get to 100% renewable power. Energy use has skyrocketed in the past few years due to the cloud. So, companies supporting this data have needed to look for alternative ways to support these systems.

Apple's new solar farm through First Solar
Photo Source: NY Times
Companies, as energy wholesalers and efficient users of energy, can reduce their plug loads drastically, reducing operation costs. However, many of these companies are equally focused on the environmental benefits; they understand how necessary it is to change with the times and adopt new energy- and money-saving technologies. Energy production is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and so companies committed to a clean and renewable future want to minimize these emissions through supplying and using renewable energy.

Apple is always looking for new and creative ways to increase its dependence on renewable energy especially as energy from renewable sources continues to drop and be competitive. The company recently went under contract with First Solar to, over 25 years, purchase a new solar farm’s full energy output. This contract allows Apple to be at least somewhat autonomous in its energy purchases and not be subject to higher prices from bigger power companies.

Corporate Renewable Projects
Photo Source: BRC
The number of corporate renewable energy programs and projects doubled from 2013 to 2014 and again from 2014 to 2015 (see image from the BRC). However, while companies are installing large-scale solar projects and purchasing clean energy from local biomass generators for some of their facilities, there is still much to accomplish. The grid is still monopolized by carbon-based energy sources. So, even if a company is dedicated to 100% renewable power, there’s no way to guarantee all energy from the grid is renewable.

Apple, Walmart, Google, and others like MacDonald’s and GM are working with World Resources Institute to determine how to meet the demand for renewable energy in the corporate world. This is a global issue that will only become more serious. 

The good news? Some of the biggest and most influential companies and research institutions committed to this energy supply problem, and so we will see a faster and much more wide spread adoption of technology advances, policy changes and public awareness.

6 Trends in corporate sustainability

The chatter over whether renewable energy is worth it and if climate change is real is so loud that other parts of the emerging sustainability movement are muted. But corporations throughout the world, recognizing doing good for the environment also is good for their bottom lines, continue to quietly enhance their green team efforts.

Consider Lockheed Martin. It is one of the world's largest defense contractors, but also is a leader in sustainability, reaching its stated five-year environmental goals a year early.

The company met or exceeded its goals of reducing water use, waste-to-landfill and carbon emissions by 25 percent annually since 2007, while revenue climbed 12 percent in the same period. Lockheed Martin is an example of increasing awareness among Corporate America that going green can be profitable, rather than costly.

"Taking action to preserve resources is fundamental to securing against operational risks, extending the value of our business model, and expanding and enabling sustainable, profitable growth," Bob Stevens, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The company slashed water use 25 percent, saving more than 1.5 billion gallons, or equivalent to water consumed by 3.9 million average U.S. households every day. Lockheed Martin upgraded heating and cooling equipment, installed low-flow fixtures and designed projects with sustainability in mind, such as landscaping in Denver, Colo. that reduces or eliminates supplemental water from irrigation.

Lockheed Martin cut its waste-to-landfill amount 39 percent, or 35 million pounds, compared to 2007, its baseline year, through recycling programs at multiple U.S. facilities, efforts in Marietta, Ga., that cut the amount of packaging required for major parts, and reducing cafeteria food waste at several facilities.

Carbon emissions fell 30 percent through energy efficiency efforts with lighting and HVAC systems, the purchase of renewable solar and wind energy, and innovations such as using wood waste to power a 1.6 million square-foot plant in New York state. The total carbon reduction equals the annual greenhouse emissions from more than 85,000 passenger cars.

Learn more in this press release from Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed, which is developing a hybrid unmanned aerial vehicle for the military (more here) is hardly alone when it comes to sustainability gains. Brewmeister Heineken is starting down the same path, according to this post, announcing reductions in carbon emissions and water use.

Continuing the beverage trend is Bacaradi, which announced these results. Meanwhile, hospitals, which are huge consumers of energy, are getting into the act. And we can't forget one of the biggest dogs of all, the U.S. military. Oil consumption among Army troops is equal to 15 to 22 gallons per day per soldier, and the Department of Defense contends sustainability is a security and economic issue. Check out this national security report .

More is likely to come. In the video below, Case Western Associate Professor and author Chris Lazlo shares ways corporations can instill sustainability into their processes.

Sustainability will grow as awareness increases, even though the tools of the trade are still in their infancy, according to this report by Ernst & Young and GreenBiz:

"These trends suggest that sustainability efforts are now well-integrated into the corporate fabric of a growing number of large and midsized companies. But the effectiveness of such efforts may be limited by internal systems that don’t allow companies to effectively measure, track and optimize their sustainability impacts, or to understand and manage the risks of insufficient action."

The authors have identified six trends in corporate sustainability:

1. Sustainability reporting is growing, but the tools are still developing
2. The CFO’s role in sustainability is on the rise
3. Employees emerge as a key stakeholder group for sustainability
programs and reporting
4. Despite regulatory uncertainty, greenhouse gas reporting remains
strong, along with growing interest in water
5. Awareness is on the rise regarding the scarcity of business resources
6. Rankings and ratings matter to company executives.

More businesses say sustainability is as important to the operation as safety and employee satisfaction, which is evidenced by growth of green teams even during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

The biggest reasons given for the emphasis on sustainability: Cost cutting, particularly energy expense, and increased revenue from brand awareness, changing consumer demand and staying ahead of the competition. In addition, equity analysts calculate sustainability into their evaluations.

photo image by Sanja Gjenero
video of Case Western Associate Professor by SustainableBrands

Corporate America's secret truth about energy

Did you know you work for an energy company?

It doesn't matter if your employer is a retailer, an insurance company or a manufacturer of widgets. If energy isn't influencing corporate decisions, it will soon.

From a new Deloitte Touche report: "Every company is an energy company. This might come as a surprise to many of them. But a decade from now, a company without an 'energy and sustainability' department could be as unusual as one without a human resources department. Either that, or it might be out of business. "

The sustainability movement is growing. Sure, it's in infancy, but energy can account for up to 20% of a corporation's expense sheet, and is increasingly unreliable and hard to budget. So, the motivation to slash costs and become more efficient while decreasing the carbon footprint is there.

Sustainability, at its heart, is just good business. "The most crucial spur for action may be the risk that a company’s operations could be disrupted by energy shortages, outages, or an unplanned and unmanageable rise in the price of energy," Deloitte says.

"The sooner companies begin to understand and actively manage their energy use—and their energy sources, including possible ways to produce their own energy—the faster they’ll enter a more enlightened world, one with the potential for a number of advantages including significant savings, a better bottom line, greater customer loyalty, a cost-edge over competitors, lower business risk, and a company-wide awareness of sustainability that can rein in resource waste across the board."

I particularly like the phrase, "Enlightened world." It's true, judging from our vantage point as a nonprofit involved in energy efficiency work with cities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, and with educational partners. People want cleaner air and energy.

And, perhaps, more employment possibilities. Check out this story about building energy rating and disclosure, which is close to our heart, and this one about growth and salaries.

Environmental enlightenment is growing. Well, maybe not in Congress, but Corporate America (Honeywell is doing something cool), the military, professional sports, schools, local governments and, yes, even NASCAR are picking up the theme. Even my teen-age daughter references the carbon footprint when I suggest she go pick up something I forgot at the store.

"I don't want to increase my carbon footprint," she says from her position on the couch.

Ok, so that isn't exactly what I mean, but you get the picture. Sustainability is "in", despite what you hear from politicians running for election, and could be a solution, not a problem. Even Warren Buffett, one of the world's richest men and most famous investor acknowledges it here.

Deloitte suggests ways to enhance corporate sustainability efforts, suggesting directors make them a mandate. They should measure progress, offer incentives to employees who improve efficiency and then springboard off their sustainability efforts to build their brands.

"The drive to sustainability is a drive to creativity and innovation," The Deloitte report states as its final paragraph." May the cleanest, most energy efficient corporations win."

Heading into a sustainable future - or else

Rising gas prices are again in the news - as they usually are when summer approaches - but this time, according to this story, the increase does not stem from demand. Oil is a commodity, and this spike appears to be linked to speculators.

Oil is a huge cost of business, and an increasingly unpredictable one. And it's only going to get worse, a new study suggests, so corporations better get wise and design sustainability into their business plans.

"Fossil fuel markets are set to become more volatile and unpredictable because of higher global energy demand; changes in where fossil fuels are consumed; supply and production uncertainties; and increasing regulatory interventions related to climate change. All companies – regardless of sector, size, or location – will find it difficult to plan for and manage energy costs, especially those related to fossil fuel," consulting firm KPMG International says in this report.

Thus, businesses should become more energy efficient and strategic. KPMG recommends companies use more alternative or renewable fuel sources to reduce their exposure. In addition, airlines and shipping companies, plus plastic and chemical producers that use petroleum as an input, need strategies to address potential shortages and price volatility.

KPMG calls the report a "starting point" for discussion. The company also has a message for those who urge the end of oil consumption: It ain't going to happen.

The energy mix might change, but use of fossil fuels will dominate for years and, in fact, could expand with an increasing world population - at a price. KPMG cites an International Energy Agency study that estimates crude oil prices in the United States will reach $120 per barrel (from $101.85 today) by 2035.

As it turns out, energy unpredictability is just part of the issue facing businesses. KPMG cites 10 "megaforces" that will shape businesses and their actions: climate change; shortage of materials; water scarcity; population growth; urbanization; increased world wealth; food supply and security; ecosystem decline; and deforestation.

Nimble corporations, however, will be able to use this tidal wave of change to their advantage. What creates problem one place often breeds opportunity elsewhere. Money can be made from sustainability. Innovative businesses could reap rewards for addressing needs of growing populations for agriculture, sanitation, education, technology, finance and health care, the report contends:

"Sustainability is increasingly being seen as a source of innovation and growth rather than simply cost reduction and risk management." Here's another report from KPMG on that topic.

As such, more businesses, landlords, schools and communities already are installing sustainable processes into their core operations. The Corporate Responsibility Newsletter has this story on NIKE and other corporate heavy hitters asking Congress to preserve a wind-power tax credit.

Here's one on property owners discovering that going green pays, and another on Steamboat Springs' desire to go waste free. And let's not forget students, who are helping lead the charge to a sustainable tomorrow.

Sustainability: it's here to stay

Bugs Bunny & corporate climate change favor clean energy

American corporate culture has stumbled upon energy efficiency and sustainability -- a lot like Bugs Bunny and Daffy did in the "Abominable Snow Rabbit."

In the classic cartoon, the Looney Tunes heroes are bound for Palm Springs but take a wrong turn. As Daffy says, "I told you we should have turned west at East St. Louis!"

Likewise, corporations on their endless search for savings and cost reductions have found a more people friendly method than simply cutting jobs. And they're finding sustainability not only lucrative but image enhancing.

Wall Street goes green

Recent green-minded announcements by iconic brands McDonalds and PepsiCo and many other lesser known but equally significant companies illustrate the trend. Yet they stand in stark contrast to the cold shoulder offered the topic by self-described business friendly GOP leaders.

PepsiCo's Frito-Lay North America division announces it will roll out eight new electric trucks in the Boston area, while McDonald's says customers (64 million per day) will see greener changes in the year ahead.

Statements like these provide insight to a movement gaining quiet but steady momentum with each fiscal quarter.

"We have set a goal of becoming the most fuel efficient fleet in the country," says Mike O'Connell, Frito-Lay's senior director of fleet, in prepared remarks. His company's fleet, he says, is the nation's seventh largest privately owned.

And Bob Langert, McDonald's vice president for sustainability, tells Marc Gunther of "We're on a path to mainstream sustainability. This is transformational for us. We want to be bolder, and we want to make a bigger impact."

Renewables in stealth mode

Less visible companies are also making moves into the green zone. For instance, London-based Greycon Ltd., which provides optimization software worldwide, is offering limited free consulting services to its customers that have solar systems. The idea, officials say, is to "support manufacturers that are progressively driving sustainability efforts within their industry."

In a 2007 study, Shelly Fust and Lisa Walker of Los Angeles-based management consultant Korn/Ferry International say companies began to embrace sustainability to gain competitive advantage. They liken the payoff to the total quality management approach that has served companies like Toyota and Motorola so well, acceleration problems aside. "Companies that embrace a high-quality, holistic approach to corporate sustainability are more likely to address short-term needs while positioning themselves for long-term success," Fust and Walker write.

So, while it appears many politicians ignore or refute climate change, their corporate base of support may be headed in a different direction.

The electorate goes green

And if this California survey is any indication, the rank and file may not be too far behind. Commissioned by the California League of Conservation Voters, the survey finds that 63 percent of independent voters believe in climate change and see it as a major problem that needs to be addressed, according to KQED's Climate Watch blog.

As McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner says: "We will continue to use our size, scope and influence to make a positive difference for children, families and communities around the world."

Some believe talking about global warming is the problem. A petition opposing cap and trade of carbon dioxide emissions championed by has generated 183,999 letters and emails sent to Congress, the site says.

Apparent fraud?

The petition in part says: "I do hereby petition Congress to immediately cease all climate change legislation and instead conduct a formal investigation into the apparent fraud that has been perpetrated upon the American people."

I prefer the Abomidable Snowman's take. In the 1961 episode, he grabs Daffy, squeezes him and says he wants to name him George. Eventually, Bugs and Daffy befriend Abomidable and convince him to head to Palm Springs with them, where he melts.

If is wrong and we are headed for massive environmental change due to global warming, the snowman wouldn't be safe in the Himalayas either.

Water And Energy = Sustainability

Water has been a source of conflict, and likely will again. Like energy, so-called "blue gold" should be conserved and used efficiently.

This study by the Natural Resources Defense Council showcases 14 communities - some with a legacy of pollution - that use green roofs, permeable pavement, green space and other methods to preserve water supplies, while also cutting energy consumption, cleaning the air and reducing asthma.

Sadly, none is in California. Still, what the NRDC labels as "Emerald Cities" are doing some pretty innovative stuff, such as developing long-term plans to green the infrastructure.

Consider Portland: Its Grey to Green Initiative supports investment in green infrastructure, which the city complemented with $50 million in stormwater runoff fees to add ecoroofs, plant thousands of trees and to buy natural areas.

Local laws require green roofs on at least 70 percent of new or reroofed city-owned buildings, and Energy star -qualified material on the remainder. Meanwhile, some private developers, responding to incentives, have added 200,000 square feet of ecoroofs to the inventory. Read more here.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee leaders implemented a plan to promote rain barrels, green roofs and rain gardens, while also creating a green corridor in the city's south side. The corridor features LED lights and solar-powered bus stops that slash energy consumption and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Here's more on Milwaukee's project.

At the other end of the country, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007 started a sustainability plan known as “PlaNYC 2030,” which encompassed housing, open space, transportion, energy, climate change and water quality. Here's more.

Water and energy are closely aligned, and, as we see from these examples, they can share the same stage in a sustainability campaign.

Video of Milwaukee from Rooftops to Rivers

Who Says Green Jobs Don't Exist? Not These Business Leaders

A group of business leaders, confused over the mismatch between what its members read and what they see on the street, is trying to set the record straight through a series of newsletters.

"All across America, we’re witnessing clean energy jobs being created almost every day—helping to rebuild our economy, address our energy problems, and improve our national security. (This is) in an attempt to provide some perspective from outside the Beltway, where one solar company’s failure isn’t indicative of the downfall of an entire industry," E2 Environmental Entrepreneurs says in its most recent report.

This is the sixth newsletter delivered to legislators since the first one debuted Oct. 3. The reports are presented weekly to each congressional office. The newest one suggests that recent announcements of up to 32,000 new green jobs in 40 states and 96 congressional districts are lost in the political chatter over the high-profile implosion of Solyndra, the solar company that received a government guarantee.

"In the past six weeks, E2 has identified 118 announcements by more than 100 companies, organizations, and projects in various stages of development and completion. They include manufacturing plants, power generation projects, energy-efficiency retrofits, and other announcements from the clean economy," the group notes.

California, where Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing a green agenda, has the greatest number of potential new jobs, 5,220. Florida, Michigan, New York and Arizona round out the top five.

Lots of industries represented

The prospective jobs announced over the last month and a half have been across the board in all types of clean energy. Solar power and energy efficiency lead the parade, but wind power, biomass and electric vehicles are well represented.

The authors suggest that Solyndra is receiving a disproportionate amount of publicity. "Recent solar-manufacturing announcements have received 1 percent of the media coverage given Solyndra," they say - and then they tick off a list of of new manufacturing plants.

Those include a General Electric thin film solar factory in Colorado, Dow Chemical's roof shingles project in Michigan, Stion's plant in Mississippi and others. A total of nine plant announcements over the last six weeks could produce 3,350 jobs in the United States over four years.

"And yet, you probably haven’t heard about these projects," the authors state. "That may be because more than 6,722 articles have been written in the last 90 days referencing Solyndra, compared with 79 articles about the nine new solar manufacturing facilities we identified."

Also announced were biofuel and battery manufacturing plants in Florida, and a wind-energy turbine gearbox manufacturing factory in Wisconsin, among others.

Fits and starts

The yin yang of clean energy doesn't surprise us. This is an emerging industry, and as such will stagger forward, sometimes stumbling. There is much consternation over what happens if subsidies are eliminated, but there is much in the pipeline. Corporations are stashing big bucks away for clean energy, and, closer to home, thousands of acres of solar projects are proposed where we live in California's farm-rich central San Joaquin Valley.

But the biggest green job gains, at least in the short term, will likely be through energy efficiency and sustainability. Energy efficiency has holding power as businesses, individuals and local governments discover that a little investment in lighting, power strips and other features leads to a whole lot of money saved.

Check out this link

Meanwhile, sustainability is grabbing a foothold, and is likely to, well, sustain. Some of the world's largest major corporations are taking a strong interest in cutting costs, reducing their carbon footprint and being more environmentally aware. And it pays well; check this out.

Big Business is putting action to words. Speaking of action, the world's ultimate action figures - the Marines (and other military branches)- are right up there with corporate America.

Big Business and the military. They are pretty influential. Add professional sports to that, and you set the stage for some serious change. Those are three powerful forces. Political paralysis may be in place now, but it is just a matter of time until the clean energy/sustainability movement grabs hold.

Photo: Troops deploying a solar blanket

Want A Career With A Future? Try Sustainability

There has been lots of "he said she said" over green jobs, and whether they are truly benefiting the economy. Part of the controversy is related to semantics and differing interpretations of "green," but there is one segment that appears to be expanding.

Sustainability departments.

Big businesses are expanding their green teams as they become more aware of the environment and of carbon footprints. If this study by is correct, budgets and the number of employees devoted to sustainability at billion-dollar firms each expanded an average of 6 percent. also reported that, "Management takes sustainability more seriously: Fifty-six percent of respondents said that sustainability is "on the agenda permanently, but not core" to operations, while another 29 percent called it "a permanent fixture and core strategic consideration."

This may come as a surprise to those who listen only to what politicians in full election mode, but not to those of us who work in this business. Corporate America is developing a definite green hue, as this blog post notes. In this report, global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company notes that more executives say such programs increase value and reduce costs.

Here is a quote from the survey: "In just the past year, we’ve seen a shift in the results from our annual salary survey where the word sustainability is etched on a manager’s or senior manager’s business card more than twice as often as it was the previous year (56% of the time in 2011 and just 26% in 2010). Similarly, almost 50% more vice presidents and senior vice presidents have sustainability in their title compared to 2010."

Here from is a hint of specific sustainability jobs that could gain a higher profile in 2012.

We are also finding that younger people care about sustainability, and are making it part of their decision-making process. Studies show that students are attracted to colleges that practice sustainability, and that more campuses are adding related programs. UC Davis, for example, just announced a new major in sustainable agriculture. Community colleges also are getting into the act.

Sustainability not only is a growth industry, but it pays well too. says, "Vice President-level sustainability execs make an average of $218,409 annually; Director-level leaders earn $161,510; and Manager-level leaders make $105,345 annually."

That's a lot of green.

Mr. Eco takes on energy efficiency at Cal Poly

We're always looking for new ways to present energy efficiency to the masses.

In this video, dubbed "Turn Em Out," Mr. Eco parodies rapper T.I.'s "Bring Em Out." That latter video has more than 4.1 million views, while our Mr. Eco at this writing had yet to break 1,000.

But energy efficiency is tough to get the crowd yellin(g). According to details on YouTube, it was filmed all over the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "with Mr. Eco cruising through campus in an electric car reminding everyone to 'Turn Em Out.'"

Mr. Eco included a very Cal Poly cast of cameos that included President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, ASI President Kiyana Tabrizi, Sustainability Coordinator Dennis Elliot, Soccer Coach Paul Holocher, Officer Chad Reiley and Musty The Mustang. Wikipedia says in T.I.'s version, Jay-Z offers a vocal sample, while DJ Drama, Jazze Pha and Swizz Beatz made cameo appearances.

Mr. Eco calls himself an environmental rap superhero who incorporates sustainable living tips into parodies and represents the Alliance to Save Energy's Cal Poly Green Campus Program.

There's more at or his YouTube channel.

Could Walmart Lead The Way To A Green Future?

Edward Humes' new book about Walmart's efforts to be more environmentally responsible - an effort, by the way, the company started begrudgingly - is both hopeful and terrifying.

The book, "Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution," details the ongoing evolution of the world's largest retailer into a leader of sustainability. After initial doubts, the company discovered that going green actually boosted profits - and now is urging its 100,000 suppliers - and competitors - to join in.

Humes writes, "Wal-Mart has made it impossible for any corporation to claim plausibly that sustainability is a risky choice." That bodes well for the green movement. Walmart's clout is without question, and can only be a catalyst.

The terrifying part rears its head about half way through, when Humes, a Pulitzer Prize winner, updates calculations of an earlier study by a professor of ecological economics who put a value on nature's assets: "(By 2010), Ecosystems were being used up or destroyed at a rate of $2 to $5 trillion a year. At that rate, factoring in current growth in population and manufacturing set against nature's innate ability to replenish itself, the world's natural capital - fresh air, fresh water, all the things we depend upon - will be depleted by the year 2046," Humes writes.

That is only 35 years away. My daughter will be 54 years old. I hope those calculations are off for the sake our our future - and for my daughter and grandchildren. Tom Miller, an environmental analyst that Humes quotes extensively, predicts an increase in worldwide pressure and a demand for stronger regulations as the deteriorating environment becomes more obvious to ordinary citizens.

The idea that Walmart is helping lead the change is remarkable. After all, this is a company that people love to hate - and by 2004 it was swimming in hate. It was being hammered for an employee health-care program that many claimed was a joke, and for poor wages and other issues - which are duly noted in the book. Walmart's reputation was so bad that, as Humes notes, it was "the poster child for global warming, mass extinction, smog and urban sprawl."

The negative news was taking a toll; an internal Walmart study showed that up to 8 percent of its customer base had stopped shopping there.

So, then-CEO H. Lee Scott started looking for something positive, a program that Walmart could tout. The idea came from board chairman S. Robson "Rob" Walton, the eldest son of the late Sam Walton, who founded the company. Rob Walton, who was interested in environmental causes, hooked Scott up with environmental consultant Jib Ellison.

In the book, Scott sounds like someone who really didn't believe "green" was profitable, but Walmart needed to do something, and carving out a small sustainability niche might help. The first focus: waste.

What it discovered would fundamentally change the company - at least when it came to sustainability.

Walmart is one of the leading sellers of toys on the planet. Shrinking the package on one toy allowed the retailer to stuff more packages in a truck, which, reduced the number of truck trips and cut its fuel bill by a whopping $2.4 million per year. It was so simple, yet no one in Walmart had ever considered it.

As Humes notes, "That was significant for a low-margin retailer...The company would have had to sell $60 million worth of that toy to earn the same $2.4 million in profits."

Walmart had become a believer.

That led to an expanded effort - and to solar panels, windmill turbines and fuel cells on buildings; a drive toward sustainable agriculture (Walmart says it can save money by purchasing food closer to its stores); and, as of now, an 80 percent landfill diversion rate. The company is even working on an ambitious landmark sustainability index for suppliers to follow.

With more than $14 billion in profit last year, Walmart can pretty much set the agenda. Today, it has set three main objectives: using renewable power to supply all of its operations, to create zero waste and to sell products that are environmentally safe. For example, phosphates in dish and laundry soaps on Walmart shelves in Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America were cut almost 30 percent last year. - and have been removed entirely from its stores in the U.S., Humes notes.

Who knows how far Walmart will go. It certainly has the financial resources to create a major green footprint. Many people remain skeptical, calling it greenwashing. But, as Humes says, the younger generation is concerned about the environment, and Walmart knows it has to find a way to capture them.

Humes cites John Fleming, a former chief of merchandising for Walmart: "This is our opportunity to connect with the next generation..."

As the world's largest retailer, Walmart can help drive the green agenda. Here is a link to a video on Walmart's sustainability plan.

Company photo of windmills at Walmart store in Palmdale

When the going gets tough, the tough get green

Watching the politicians in D.C. chase their tails, point fingers and rant sure gets me down. A headline in today's Fresno Bee summed it up well: "Market burns, DC fiddles."

And then I saw this:
and this:

National lawmakers can't seem to agree on anything, so Corporate America and individual states are taking up the mantle on clean energy and sustainability. GM's announcement that it is investing in solar development is the latest example. The automaker has discovered that going green makes sense economically and socially. Below is a quote from a GM honcho.

"Our GM facilities currently house 30 megawatts of solar power, and we are committing today to double that capacity to 60 megawatts over the next few years, which is equivalent to powering 10,000 homes annually,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Energy, Environment & Safety Policy. “Not only does renewable energy make good business sense, it helps us continue to reduce the impact our facilities have on the environment.”

GM isn't the only company to recognize that. Did you know that my favorite indulgence, Kit Kat, is now green - in a sustainability kind of way? Here's more. Want another heavy-hitting example: How about Walmart, the world's largest retailer. It is one of the leaders. Check out this story in Forbes.

Some states have caught on too. California, where I live, passed a tough 33% renewables law, and Gov. Brown is reportedly close to naming a clean energy czar. Residents appear to support the effort, according to recent surveys.

Add the military and ongoing research to that, and the infrastructure for real change is being built. A leading auditing and analysis firm compared what is happening to the Industrial Revolution. My colleague uses a Jules Verne analogy here.

With the space shuttle program done, maybe a NASA-style entity could work on energy. Those 7,000 or so engineers, scientists and others out of a job could get back to work.

Photo from Eolic Power

Big Blue Goes Dark Green Through Energy Efficiency

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Energy conservation is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to reduce a power bill. It works at home, and it works - really works - at the corporate level.

Check this out from IBM's just-released 2010 sustainability report. Energy-efficiency measures alone cut almost $30 million off Big Blue's power bill last year. That equated to a reduction of 272,000 megawatt hours of energy and 139,000 avoided metric tons of CO2.

The savings surprised the math whizzes in a corporation of math whizzes. They projected a 3.5 percent decline in energy use, but instead cut consumption 5.7 percent.

That's simply astounding. But we're not done. Energy-efficiency measures imposed since 1990 saved IBM $399 million - and those programs keep saving year after year. You tell me another investment with those kinds of returns?

On a smaller scale, but no less important is the city of Santa Barbara. Simply replacing motors and pumps at a pool saved $15,000 in annual power costs. Little things can have big results, especially to cities strapped for cash, businesses wanting to cut costs and homeowners looking for a break. Here is more on Santa Barbara's energy savings.

This is not surprising to us. Our nonprofit is working with 43 cities and counties in the I'm-spontaneously combusting-just-walking-to-my-car San Joaquin Valley to reduce energy consumption to the tune of almost 16,000,000 kWh. The cities are doing it through street light retrofits, installing more efficient lighting, changing out pumps and other relatively simple measures.

George Soros, Google and some big-money guys get it, but I'm not sure the pols in Washington D.C. do. While Corporate America is embracing energy conservation, legislation has been introduced to whack funding for clean energy and conservation by 40 percent.

Still, I'm hopeful. Big Business , the military and property owners are embracing efficiency. Billions of dollars can be saved, according to some reports. It makes so much sense. Eventually, the politicians will stop fighting over it, and energy efficiency will gain a foothold and take off.

I hope.