Wednesday, June 11, 2008

OutBack Power Systems' New FLEXware PV Combiner Box Delivers Improved Design, Faster Installation

OutBack Power Systems, Inc., a manufacturer of reliable and durable power electronics products for renewable energy applications worldwide, introduced today FLEXware™ Advanced Photovoltaic (PV) Combiner Box, the most recent addition to its standard-setting PV solutions product suite. Developed in response to installer demand for reduced implementation time and assistance in complying with new codes, the new FLEXware PV Combiner Box makes wiring during solar panel installations easier and faster.

"We have built on the foundation of our industry leading PSPV with this latest innovation in balance-of-system components from OutBack Power Systems," said Mark Thomas, CEO/President of OutBack Power Systems. "Our FLEXware PV delivers a marked level of refinement in combiner design which reduces array installation time while maintaining the necessary functionality that installers need in this type of product."

OutBack Power's FLEXware PV Combiner Box refines combiner design for installers of North American off-grid, grid-tie, residential, commercial, and utility PV installations. It is expected to cut installation time with optimized wire routing, which minimizes right angle bends of heavy gauge wire, a uniquely angled negative terminal bus bar design, and an increased number of knockout locations that ensure larger output conductors don't block access to smaller wiring terminals.

The FLEXware PV Combiner Box is ideal for either small or large systems, utilizing the FLEXware PV 8 model, which can hold up to eight 150 VDC rated breakers or up to six 600 VDC rated fuse holders, or the larger FLEXware PV 12 model, which can hold up to twelve 150 VDC rated breakers or up to eight 600 VDC rated fuse holders with either one combined or two separate output circuits. The new FLEXware PV accommodates dual 2/0 AWG output wiring, and includes a removable, tinted flame retardant polycarbonate dead front panel to meet NEC 2008 code compliance for installation, preventing accidental contact with live terminals and components.

The FLEXware PV Combiner Box is built to make expanding PV installations simple with the ability to combine multiple strings of solar panels into one array. And, like all OutBack Power products, the FLEXware PV Combiner Box is encased in a durable, rainproof, UL 3R, powder coated aluminum enclosure to survive in even the most extreme outdoor environments, whether mounted on a wall, pole or even directly on a sloped roof.

Available today, the FLEXware PV Combiner Box can be purchased through our alternative energy distribution channel.

About OutBack Power Systems

OutBack Power Systems manufactures innovative power conversion solutions that leverage solar, wind and hydro resources to provide reliable electric power for the renewable energy, mobile and backup power markets. OutBack Power's engineers have decades of power conversion electronics design and equipment installation experience and share a passion for leading the industry into a new era of performance, ease of use, durability, and standardization. OutBack Power is a privately held corporation located in Arlington, WA USA with a European sales office in Barcelona, Spain. For more information, please visit

Thursday, March 6, 2008

How Will the U.S. Produce 36 Billion Gallons of Biofuel by 2022?

from Worldwatch Institute - Independent research for an environmentally sustainable and socially just society. by Raya Widenoja

The new U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), signed into law last month as part of the revised Energy Bill, sets high goals for the U.S. biofuels industry. It calls for the production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels—mainly ethanol and biodiesel—annually by 2022, with 21 billion gallons coming from so-called “advanced biofuels,” which can be produced using a variety of new feedstocks and technologies. Of this, roughly 16 billion gallons is expected to be from “cellulosic biofuels,” derived from plant sources such as trees and grasses.

But are these biofuels targets realistic, and can they be met without serious impacts on the nation’s farmlands, forests, waterways, and rural communities? The answer is complicated, but fortunately the RFS bill contains a few key caveats that can be used to “stop the buildup” if things go wrong.
An Ambitious Mandate

First, for biofuels to qualify for the RFS, they have to meet certain greenhouse gas emissions requirements. Ethanol derived from corn has to achieve at least a 20 percent reduction in lifecycle emissions compared to gasoline, and biodiesel and advanced biofuels have to reduce their emissions by 50 percent compared to the petroleum fuel they would replace. Cellulosic biofuels have to achieve at least 60 percent lower emissions.

Second, the emission reductions have to be based on lifecycle studies—that is, calculations of all the emissions that result from making the fuel, from the field to the tank. Perhaps most importantly, the bill specifies that emissions from changes in land use must be considered—a factor that was not included in most early studies of the climate impact of U.S. biofuels. Land-use changes can have a profound influence on the net climate impact of a biofuel, particularly if the feedstock for the fuel was grown on newly converted land that had been storing large amounts of carbon in its vegetation and undisturbed soils.

Third, the RFS bill states that an administrator should “re-evaluate” conditions annually and adjust the fuel mandate and emissions requirements if the impacts on the land or the economy from increased production end up being higher than the benefits.
Room for Improvement

Although the sustainability requirements in the new RFS are far from perfect, these three caveats at least provide openings to demand more improvements. And there are many improvements that can be made to ensure that biofuels reach their potential for sustainable production.

For example, the latest data on cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass grown on marginal lands shows that the fuel will achieve emissions reductions of about 94 percent compared to gasoline. So why is the RFS content with only a 60 percent reduction? Why doesn’t it provide producers with an incentive to aim for the 94 percent reductions that the technology promises? Fortunately, as concerned citizens, we do have a lever for demanding higher standards and other improvements, since the new biofuels mandate and emissions requirements must be reviewed regularly.

The next obvious question about the sustainability of the new RFS is why the law allows corn ethanol to keep qualifying up until 2022, with its measly emissions reduction of just 20 percent compared to gasoline? Considering the mounting evidence of the inefficiency of producing ethanol from corn, and of the negative impacts of producing more and more corn, the most obvious answer is that Midwestern politicians want to appease the corn lobby rather than help the United States create a clean and renewable energy supply.
Meeting Long-term Goals

Which brings us back to my original question: How realistic is it that the United States can produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel annually by 2022? The answer depends in large part on the technologies and feedstock used, among other factors. For the sake of simplicity, and because the long-term goal is to use mainly cellulosic technologies, let’s consider whether the country will be able to produce 36 billion gallons using cellulosic biofuel technologies. That gives a better idea of the long-term value of the RFS, and of whether even the proposed 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol is realistic. To further simplify the response, I will use estimates that apply to cellulosic ethanol derived from switchgrass.

Although cellulosic biofuels are still under development, the first commercial projects are expected to start producing in 2009, and researchers know both the theoretical yields and the current actual yields of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass. Using biochemical methods (hydrolysis and fermentation), each dry ton of switchgrass can in theory yield 111 gallons of ethanol. Using thermochemical processes (gasification, pyrolysis, and deploymerization), the theoretical maximum is 198 gallons. In practice, researchers today estimate getting 100 gallons per dry ton of switchgrass, roughly double the 50 gallons a ton produced in pilot projects just a few years ago.

According to a 2005 government study of the total available biomass in the United States—known as the “billion ton study”—roughly 1.3 billion tons of cellulosic biomass could be harvested sustainably nationwide each year by mid-century. If this 1.3 billion tons were converted to fuel at 50 to 100 gallons a ton, the United States would produce between 65 billion and 130 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol.

However, the billion-ton study uses aggressive assumptions about crop productivity and the use of residues from agriculture and forestry, which makes it quite likely that its estimate of available biomass for sustainable harvest is too optimistic. Figuring out how much of this billion tons could actually be harvested economically without increasing environmental problems will likely take many more years of research.

Another way to answer the question is to estimate how many acres of switchgrass it would take to hit the 36 billion gallon goal with cellulosic ethanol. Most of the switchgrass grown intentionally in the United States today is in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which encompasses about 34 million acres, a tiny fraction of the country’s total agricultural land. If the average switchgrass yield is 3 tons per acre (as one study suggests, assuming that marginal land is used and that some biomass is left on the fields), and the ethanol is converted at 100 gallons a ton, then 120 million acres will be needed to produce 36 billion gallons of fuel. This is a large amount of land, though, for comparison, it represents only 15 percent of the total U.S. land currently used for grazing livestock.

But if the average feedstock yield is 10 tons an acre, rather than just 3, which could be realistic using a different grass variety or better-managed switchgrass, then only 36 million acres would be needed to meet the RFS. This is still more area than is currently enrolled in the CRP, but it represents only about 5 percent of the land used today for grazing, or 8 percent of the current cropland.
New Battles to Fight

So where does this leave the biofuel critic, or optimist? In no man’s land, as usual. Using 120 million acres for biofuel production is probably not sustainable and would impinge on food and environmental needs. Using 36 million acres sounds better, but if the feedstock is not grown with conservation in mind (i.e., if it degrades rather than enhances the land), then 36 million is far too much as well.

Necessity is the mother of invention, so the best way to make “sustainable biofuels” a reality is to give the inventors (the biofuel producers) precise standards they have to live up to—and to let them decide how to meet the standards. Only then, after all the standards are met, will we be able to accurately calculate the true volume of sustainably produced fuel. Creating clear frameworks to guide biomass “farmers” and biofuel producers will ultimately be more useful than attempting to make global estimates of how much land will be needed to meet our bioenergy goals.

Regulations to keep biofuels from causing more harm than good could include requirements to protect intact ecosystems and restore degraded lands, as well as limitations on chemical inputs like pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. Even just rewarding biofuel producers on the basis of their fuels’ lifecycle GHG emissions would go a long way toward reaching sustainability goals, if these measurements are done well and fairly.

That said, the next sustainability battle in the United States should not be about endorsing the benefits of one fuel over another, but about giving real incentives to the transport sector as a whole to lower its carbon footprint. If automakers had real sustainability incentives, they might direct more energy to developing plug-in hybrids and to using renewable electricity (derived from biomass) to power vehicle batteries. This approach to bioenergy—rather than the production of liquid biofuels—may ultimately be more useful for the transport sector, since more energy per unit of biomass can be captured in biomass electricity systems than in even advanced biofuels used in combustion engines.

However, liquid biofuels certainly have a part to play in bioenergy as well, even if plug-in hybrids become a reality this decade. Now that we have this ambitious RFS, which acknowledges the need to produce biofuels with a small carbon footprint and without causing social or environmental injustices, the next sustainability battles over the fuels should be about getting the law to look beyond the current minimum emissions reduction requirement of 60 percent for cellulosic fuels. Another useful battle will be about phasing out corn ethanol, unless it can meet emission reductions as great as the advanced biofuels. Since corn ethanol has been proven time and again to be the least efficient and least climate-friendly biofuel available, it seems unlikely that this turnaround will occur.

Raya Widenoja, a research associate at the Worldwatch Institute, is the lead author of the joint Worldwatch/Sierra Club report Destination Iowa: Getting to a Sustainable Biofuels Future.

Growing Sustainable Biofuels

Patrick Mazza

Biofuels received a fresh surge of bad publicity with recent publication of two studies in Science that looked at the greenhouse gas releases caused by land use changes connected to biofuels production.

The studies make complex and nuanced statements that were predictably mangled by the press, with headlines easily interpreted as a general condemnation of biofuels. Typical was the New York Times, “Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat,” The studies were creating new uncertainties even among biofuels supporters and tipping others toward a skeptical position. At very least the studies add to substantial public perception problems facing biofuels.

So it is crucial to line out exactly what the studies say, what they do not say, and what the critics are saying about the studies.


The two studies appeared in the Feb. 7, 2008 of Sciencexpress. The first is by Timothy Searchinger et al, “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change.” Here is what it says:
• Prior studies “have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels.”
• The study models an increase in U.S. corn ethanol of 56 billion liters above projected 2016 production levels. This would divert 12.8 million hectares of U.S. corn production to ethanol, bringing 10.8 million hectares of new cropland into cultivation, primarily in Brazil, China, India and the U.S.
• The study assumes that land converted to farming will release 25 percent of its soil carbon, an average of 351 metric tones per hectare.
• Employing a standard GREET model lifecycle analysis which assigns a 20 percent greenhouse gas reduction to corn ethanol compared to gasoline before indirect land use changes, researchers calculated that it would take 167 years to pay back soil carbon losses. Based on this researchers calculate that corn-ethanol would emit double the greenhouse gases of gasoline over the first 30 years after 2016.
• Cellulosic ethanol has far lower net emissions of greenhouse gases. But if switchgrass feedstock crops replace corn, the displacement effect would still require a 52-year carbon payback period.
• The study assumes average corn yields will stay the same. Researchers constructed a more positive scenario in which corn yields increase 20 percent, soil carbon emissions are only half of their estimates, and corn ethanol before land use changes reduces emissions 40 percent compared to gasoline. That scenario would reduce carbon payback time to 34 years.

It is important to specify that the Searchinger study does not say that current corn ethanol production increases greenhouse gases (GHGs). Its findings reflect land use changes tied to an increase in U.S. corn ethanol production approximately six times that of today.


The second study, “Land Clearing and Biofuel Carbon Debt,” by Joseph Fargione et al examines direct impacts of land clearing for biofuels crops. In other words, this is not about displacing food production, but about opening entirely new lands for biofuels feedstock growing. It gives carbon payback times for the following land conversions:
• Southeast Asian tropical rainforest to palm biodiesel – 86 years.
• Southeast Asian peatland rainforest to palm biodiesel – 423 years.
• Brazilian tropical rainforest to soy biodiesel – 319 years.
• Brazilian wooded Cerrado to sugarcane ethanol – 17 years.
• Brazilian grassland Cerrado to soy biodiesel – 37 years.
• US Midwest grassland to corn ethanol – 93 years.
• US Midwest conservation reserve lands to corn ethanol – 48 years.
• US Midwest conservation reserves to cellulosic ethanol – 1 year.
• US marginal croplands to cellulosic ethanol – no carbon payback time.


Key U.S. biofuels lifecycle researchers weighed in with a series of critiques of Searchinger et al. Michael Wang of Argonne National Laboratory, developer of the GREET model, and Zia Haq of the US Department of Energy Biomass Program, gave these responses:
• Searchinger et al “correctly stated that the GREET model includes GHG emissions from direct land use changes associated with corn ethanol production.”
• Argonne and other organizations are already updating their models to reflect indirect land use conversions.
• The corn ethanol growth figures used by Searchinger correlate to 30 billion gallons a year of production by 2015. However, the new federal renewable fuel standard caps corn ethanol production at 15 billion annual gallons. The Searchinger study “examined a corn production case that is not relevant to U.S. corn ethanol production in the next seven years.”
• It is incorrect to assume no growth in corn yields. Yields have increased 800 percent over the past 100 years, and 1.6 percent annually since 1980. They could well gain two percent annually through 2020 and beyond.
• Searchinger does recognize that corn ethanol production also yields produces Distillers Grain and Solubles (DGS) animal feed byproducts but underestimates its protein value. Thus the study lowballs the contribution of coproducts by at least 23 percent, which drives up their estimates of farmland needed to replace feed corn.
• “There has also been no indication that U.S. corn ethanol production has so far caused indirect land use changes in other countries because U.S. corn exports have been maintained at around two billion bushels a year and because U.S. DGS exports have steadily increased in the past 10 years… It remains to be seen whether and how much direct and indirect land use changes will occur as a result of U.S. corn ethanol production.”
• Wang and Haq cite a 2005 Oak Ridge National Laboratory on cellulosic potentials. “With no conversion for cropland in the United States, the study concludes that more than one billion tons of biomass resources are available each year from forest growth an byproducts, crop residues and perennial energy crops on marginal land. In fact, in the same issue of Sciencexpress as the Searchinger at al study is published, Fargione et al show beneficial GHG results for cellulosic ethanol.”

Another critique comes from David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:
• “The vast majority of corn that will be grown in 2008 will be on land that has been in corn production for many years, perhaps for generations.”
• Future corn ethanol plants will achieve 2-4 times greater GHG emissions reductions than the GREET model estimates by converting to renewable energy, while future gasoline from unconventional sources such as tar sands will produce 30-70 percent more GHGs.
• No-till cultivation of corn adds 0.4-0.6 tons of soil carbon annually, which “would offset at least part of the carbon losses from bringing new land into production.”
• Of 14 million new acres of U.S. corn cultivation in 2008, 60 percent came from soybeans, 97 percent of which goes into animal feed. Because of the DGS coproduct, only a fraction of an acre of soybeans are needed to replace an acre of corn.
• Even with 14 million acres of increased U.S. corn production in 2008, “the likely overall conclusion is that as of early 2008, ethanol production continues to reduce greenhouse gases.”
• Most land conversion is due to urban and suburban development, are 2.2 million acres per year.


Searchinger et al is a scenario of future ethanol growth rather than an assessment of biofuels use today. The researchers base their scenarios on an assumption virtually all observers believe is unlikely, 30 billion gallons per year of corn ethanol – 15 billion annual gallons is generally regarded as the peak, and that is why it is embodied in the federal fuels standard. The Searchinger study does seem to tend toward more pessimistic conclusions about ethanol efficiency and farm productivity, and is built on modeling assumptions about land use conversion for biofuels rather than observed real world experience. Nonetheless, both Searchinger and Fargione send a strong signal that we must take into account of the whole system by which a new economic sector is created – bioenergy. That has to account for indirect as well as direct land use impacts.

This understanding is already being developed. In fact, while the new studies came as a shock to many, they were no surprise to people who have been working in the sustainable biofuels arena. As a result of advocacy by Natural Resources Defense Council and other green groups, the new federal Renewable Fuels Standard contains greenhouse gas criteria. Corn ethanol must yield a 20 percent reduction. Cellulosic ethanol must reduce emissions 60 percent and other advanced biofuels 50 percent. The latter two represent 21 billion of the annual 36 billion gallon by 2022 standard. The lifecycle studies that measure emissions are mandated by law to include both direct and indirect land use impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency is now conducting those studies, which will be used in rulemaking to adopt the standard. (EPA can reduce goals 10 percent, for instance, corn ethanol to a net 10 percent GHG reduction.)


Contrary to the tone of much of the media coverage, neither of the studies counts out the potential environmental value of biofuels. Fargione’s results for cellulosic ethanol points to highly sustainable biofuels production pathways, though other considerations such as wildlife and water use must be taken into account.

“Degraded and abandoned agricultural lands could be used to grow native perennials for biofuel production which could spare the destruction of native ecosystems and reduce GHG emissions,” they write. “Diverse mixtures of native grasslands perennials growing on degraded soils, particularly mixtures containing both warm season grasses and legumes, have yield advantages over monocultures, provide GHG advantages from high rates of carbon storage in degraded soils, and offer wildlife benefits.”

One of the coauthors, David Tilman of the University of Minnesota, was lead author on a previous Science study (“Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass,” Dec. 8, 2006) which documented the environmental and productivity advantages of diverse perennials. They found that the gain in soil carbon as grasses sink deep roots more than makes up for all greenhouse gas releases in the full bioenergy lifecycle.

Fargione et al found other sustainable feedstock options: “Monocultures of perennial grass and woody species monocultures also offer GHG advantages over food-based crops, especially if sufficiently productive on degraded soils, as can slash and thinnings from sustainable forestry, animal and municipal wastes, and corn stover.”

The Searchinger study also points to sustainable options: “This study highlights the value of biofuels from waste products because they can avoid land use change and its emissions. To avoid land use change altogether, biofuels must use carbon that would reenter the atmosphere without doing useful work that needs to be replaced, for example, municipal waste, crop wastes and fall grass harvests from reserve lands. Algae grown in the desert or feedstock produced on lands that generate little carbon today might also keep land us change emissions low, but the ability to produce biofuels feedstocks abundantly on unproductive lands remains questionable.”

That last point does raise a prospective dilemma – Marginal farmland is marginal typically because it sustains lower productivity, and whether such lands can produce enough biomass per acre to be economically feasible is indeed questionable. But if farmers are financially rewarded for growing soil carbon as well as bioenergy feedstocks, biomass production could be lower. This combined growing of bioenergy and biocarbon might well be what it takes to provide incentives for both.

Today U.S. biofuel production centers on the Midwest, where well above 90 percent of all U.S. biofuels feedstocks are grown in corn fields. The Searchinger study focuses on the impacts of corn ethanol. It would be ironic if the new studies were taken as a signal to shut down biofuels development, since biofuels feedstocks in other U.S. regions will primarily come from sustainable feedstocks identified in the Searchinger and Fargione studies – waste streams, cellulose crops and algaes. For areas that have limited corn production capacity, such as the Northwest, these represent the prime biofuels opportunities. If anything, the new studies indicate a need for accelerated development of these new feedstocks and production technologies to take advantage of them.

Part 2 of “Common Sense on Biofuels” will cover the larger contexts of oil, food, carbon and politics that are shaping biofuels growth.

This is part of a series of articles on Growing Sustainable Biofuels by Climate Solutions Research Director Patrick Mazza, . Send comments to

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(Posted by WorldChanging Team in Energy at 3:53 PM)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Using your firm's environmentally friendly practices in recruiting

Using your firm's environmentally friendly practices in recruiting
Monday, June 04, 2007 | by Dr. John Sullivan

You would have to have had your head stuck in the sand to not be aware of the intense interest that the environment holds in today's political and social debates. While candidates of all generations have begun evaluating potential employers based on their "greenness," few in recruiting have leveraged this hot topic in recruitment communications and activities.

For some unaccountable reason, recruiting managers and leaders almost universally fail to implement a process that regularly discovers "job switch" decision criteria used by the best and brightest, and this latest oversight is nothing more than history repeating itself once again.

Because so many recruiting leaders fail to do their research, the vast majority of employers underestimate how important a company's degree of "greenness" is to potential hires. It is now becoming important for firms capable of touting their role as good environmental citizens to formally manage perception around environmental issues through employment branding activities.

In addition, individual recruiters need to make the firm's environmental stance a critical element of their sales pitch to potential applicants and candidates. The time to implement what I call a "green recruiting" strategy is now!

Environmental Sustainability Goes Wide
Companies like Honda, S.C. Johnson, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, Patagonia, Timberland, and GE have successfully used their environmentally friendly policies to sell their product and gain media exposure.

However, until recently, few firms have made a concerted effort to leverage the company's environmental stance as a critical point in recruiting pitches. Firms like Google, Timberland, and yes, even old-school General Electric have led the way by undertaking major efforts to make being environmentally friendly a critical element of their employment brand. Google, the world's only "recruiting machine," leads the way not just in its environmental practices but also in publicizing their environmental record and approach. Like many emerging green companies, Google has hired a director who coordinates corporate environmental efforts in an attempt to match their corporate business strategy with their environmental efforts.

Some sample programs at Google that support environmental issues include:

$5,000 subsidies for employees buying hybrid cars (Timberland offers $3,000)
Company dining facilities that serve organic sustainable foods
Charitable contributions to organizations that fight global warming
On-site farmers markets
On-site composting of food waste
Use of green fuels and solar power
Fully subsidized employee bus pools for commuting employees

Google has developed so many green programs that even former Vice President Al Gore, producer of the controversial documentary on global warming called An Inconvenient Truth is proud. It's no coincidence that Al Gore has been an advisor to the company for many years.

While some companies adopt the grassroots approach to going green, others start at the top and work down. General Electric is one of a small handful of companies that have an environmental effort driven by their chief executive officer, Jeff Immelt. If you watch television or read national magazines, you might recall seeing one of hundreds of ecomagination advertisements GE has spent millions on in recent years to "greenwash" their image. The ecomagination campaign is one of the boldest approaches to capture intangible value by touting environmental efforts in play by any global company.

Day in and day out, they are capturing that value by selling more product to environmentally conscious consumers and tapping candidate pools that once would have written them off as the destroyers of the environment, using the Hudson and Housatonic Rivers as living examples.

Reasons Why Firms Must Practice Green Recruiting
The tipping point for environmental consciousness varies around the world, but for many Americans it was the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. In one day, an iconic American company had its reputation slaughtered. Sales were affected, employee pride was affected, as was their ability to recruit on college campuses around the world. For years, Exxon and their energy industry peers had to wage an environmental branding war in recruiting. But that was then, and this is now.

The new thrust of green recruiting is proactive and focuses on making "greenness" a major element of your employment brand. Some of the reasons why green recruiting is becoming more essential include:

Gen Y demands it. This generation has learned about the importance of the environment and recycling in classes since elementary school. They filter both product purchasing and job selection choices with their green mindset.
College grads demand it. Al Gore is a hero on most campuses. Students, while they are on campus, demand that every aspect of their campus life leave a minimal "environmental footprint." On my campus, San Francisco State University, even the most conservative of all schools, the College of Business is developing a "sustainability" major to satisfy the student demand for integrating business and the environment. It has become so important that even starting salaries take a back seat behind "greenness" when students evaluate potential employers.
Many job candidates care about it. Although no one has yet quantified the impact that being environmentally friendly has on recruits, if you ask candidates whether working for an environmentally friendly company is important to them, a vast majority will respond with an affirmative.
Global candidates can be passionate about it. Some countries around the world are extremely passionate about the environment (Germany, Australia, and Finland to name a few). As a result, if you expect to recruit the best from around the world, you must be prepared to meet a growing set of eco-expectations as an employer.

Action Steps to Implement Green Recruiting
There are many things that recruiting leaders can do to implement a strategy, including the following 17 action steps:

Identify candidate decision criteria. If you can't show that a large number of quality applicants consider a firm's environmental record as one of their primary criteria for selecting a job, you'll never get senior management to buy in to a major green recruiting effort. Start by holding focus groups at industry conferences to identify what "green" factors would be important to individuals seeking a new job. Next, ask candidates during interviews and on the website to list their decision criteria. During orientation, ask those who accepted the job what criteria they used to make the decision. Finally, contact those who rejected your offers three to six months down the line to identify positives and negatives. Use this information to modify your recruiting processes and focus.
Benchmark. Search the Web, benchmark with college recruiters, and work with recruiting consultants to identify the best practices of other firms. Use this competitive analysis to gauge your success and to plan your future actions.
Your website. Make sure that both "what you do" and the results of those efforts are prominent on your corporate careers website. Include your recycling statistics, as well as whether you are carbon neutral, limit greenhouse gases, or win environmental awards. Include narrative or video profiles of your environmentally conscious employees. If your company policies allow, link your corporate jobs site on major (but primarily nonpolitical) environmental websites.
Be talked about. If you have a strong environmental record, it's important to get "written up" in business, professional, and industry publications as well as in newspapers and on TV. Work with the PR department to identify which of your practices are most likely to be appealing to the media and designate an individual to be available for interviews. It's also critical to constantly scan the Web to identify and quickly counter any "negative" comments on your environmental record (Starbucks has done an excellent job but Apple is currently struggling in this area).
Recruitment advertising. Advertise in magazines that candidates who are sensitive to the environment are likely to read. Highlight a few "eye-catching" facts and any environmental awards you might have won in your recruitment ads. If you use brochures or paper recruiting materials, make sure it's from recyclable stock and that it says so on the document.
Job descriptions. Make sure that, where possible, job descriptions for high-volume hiring positions include responsibilities for minimizing negative environmental impacts. This is critical because if they don't see being environmentally friendly integrated into "every job" at the company, they might see your "green recruiting" as merely a PR effort. If you're really serious, include knowledge of environmental impacts under the skills required section of your job descriptions.
Interviews. Provide managers with "green" fact sheets to use during interviews. If you are really aggressive, provide candidates with a side-by-side comparison showing how your firm's environmental record is superior to other firms they might be considering.
Sourcing. One of the best ways to strengthen your environmental image is to hire lots of environmentally friendly employees who can spread your "green" story through word-of-mouth. Have your recruiting team identify the sources that produce the highest-quality environmentally friendly candidates. Source at environmental organizations (i.e., Sierra Club). Also, recruit at environmental events and use subscription lists from green publications or email and direct mail recruiting.
Employer referrals. Having your employees spreading the word will help both recruiting and product sales. If you have the resources, proactively seek out employees who are highly visible in environmental circles and ask them specifically to talk up your firm, to seek out candidates, and to provide you with names.
Awards. Winning awards for excellence is always a major element of building an employment brand, so obviously winning "environmental" awards should be a major element of your strategy.
Advisory group. Ask the advice of six to eight environmentally friendly employees, measuring the quality of the message you're sending and how to reach and convince more applicants of your strong "green" record.
Products. Obviously, applicants want to know that the products they are helping to produce are environmentally friendly. This means putting pressure on product advertising and marketing to include the fact that your products are eco-friendly in your product ads and packaging. In some industries, how you treat vendors and outsourced work can be important (i.e., Starbucks, Nike).
Value statements. Make sure that your corporate goals, values, and even corporate business objectives include environmental elements.
Annual report. Because some applicants take the time to read your annual report, make sure it includes sections that highlight your environmental record and the fact that you recruit environmentally friendly employees. If your firm uses bio-diesel fuel, pays fair market value to suppliers, is energy-efficient, or if it buys "carbon offsets," highlight these selling points.
Employee benefits. Consider adding holistic health options, paid time to volunteer for environmental causes, matching donations to green causes, and support for alternative transportation options to your benefit package.
Reward criteria. Include this factor in the performance appraisal system for all employees. Obviously, use it as a hiring criteria, but also use it as a critical element in promotions, bonuses, and pay increases.
Develop metrics and rewards. Because whatever you measure improves and whenever you add rewards to the equation the behavior improves even faster, your green recruiting effort must have metrics and rewards tied to it. Some of the metrics you want to include are the percentage of candidates aware of your strong environmental record, the number who reject offers because of a poor record, and the percentage of new hires who say your environmental record was one of their top-five reasons for accepting the offer. Hold post exit interviews with your top performers to identify whether environmental factors contributed to their exit.
Final Thoughts
Anyone familiar with sales knows that you need to appeal to things that are on the "top of the mind" to your target audience. The same holds true for recruiting.

Like it or not, environmental issues are on most everyone's mind, so if your firm has a competitive advantage in this area (or it can develop one quickly), it's incumbent on both individual recruiters and recruiting managers to integrate that message into your recruiting processes and your employment brand. This is especially true if you don't pay at the top of scale, if you are in a crummy location, or if you're not a well-known company.

Green recruiting is a chance to differentiate yourself in a recruiting marketplace where standing out from the crowd is already extremely difficult. Incidentally, not only does green recruiting improve your chances of attracting and selling candidates, it's also your chance as a recruiter to do your part to improve the environment by showing senior management the dollar impact it has on recruiting, retention, and product sales.

Dr. John Sullivan ( is a well-known thought leader in HR. He is a frequent speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms. Formerly the chief talent officer for Agilent Technologies (the 43,000-employee HP spin-off), he is now a professor of management at San Francisco State University. He was called the "Michael Jordan of Hiring" by Fast Company magazine. More recruiting articles by Dr. Sullivan can be found in the ER Daily archives. Information about his numerous other articles, books and manuals about recruiting and HR can be found at Dr. Sullivan is also the editor of VP of HR, an e-newsletter providing "out of the box" solutions for senior HR managers. Free subscriptions can be obtained on his website.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Can bloggers ever be green?

by James Murray
Blogging has apparently just celebrated its tenth birthday. Were it a person you'd say it was fast approaching those teenage years when it starts to get confrontational, aggressive, surly, pedantic, volatile and anti-social, but then again it's always been like that.

Unsurprisingly this anniversary has prompted one of those now perennial debates about what exactly blogging is for, whether it is proving beneficial, whether it is really, as it's advocates claim, poised to destroy the mainstream media, and most amusingly whether it is even ten years old.

The white-suited, best-work-behind-him novelist and supposed modern-day sage Tom Wolfe took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to defend dead tree publishing and slam the blogosphere as "a universe of rumours" filled with "narcissistic shrieks and baseless 'information'," which would be fair enough if it wasn't also a recognisable description all forms of media besides blogs.

With an inevitability that convention dictates we describe as wearying the blogosphere leapt to defend itself.

The most interesting response came from Scott Rosenberg, the co-founder of, who (somewhat ironically) took to the pages of The Guardian to argue that Wolfe was guilty of the exact same dismissive attitude that originally greeted his pioneering of the personal voice of New Journalism in the sixties. As with the New Journalism movement, asserts Rosenberg, blogging does little or no harm and in providing a more democratic platform for people to voice their opinions and emotions it can do much good.

He cites as an example the blog of 38-year-old Canadian blogger Derek Miller who earlier this year began posting about his experience with colon cancer:

"On one level, this was the sort of thing so many of blogging's critics detest - of what The Wall Street Journal described as "thoughts that, ideally, should have remained locked inside fevered heads".
Of course Miller's posts are not traditional journalism, or blows against the "MSM" [mainstream media], or anything like that. They're just one human being injecting a direct vision of his experience into the global information stream... His work simply matters - to him, and his friends and family, and to anyone else who drops in a gets caught up in the drama of his story."

As Rosenberg adds, if anyone objects to such blogs no one is forcing them to read. "What price is the world paying for the existence of blogging's universal soapbox?" he asks. "Unless someone has figured out how to make you read a blog when you don't want to, I don't see one."

Now it will surprise no one to learn that I broadly agree with Rosenberg's analysis - you after all reading this on a blog.

There are appallingly bad and even harmful blogs out there, just as there are apallingly bad and even harmful newspapers, TV programmes and people. The immediate mass publication that blogging enables may well increase the risk that ill thought out and occassionally libelous opinions are voiced, but weighed against that risk is the ability to provide a hugely open and egalitarian form of publication and communication. Some politicians and old school journlists may disagree, but blogging's accessibility and it's ability to stimulate debate and communities has to be good for democracy.

That said, Rosenberg makes one throw away comment that is almost undoubtedly supported by millions of bloggers and serves to highlight the most intransigent problem the IT industry faces as it attempts to tackle its burgeoning environmental footprint.

"So what, exactly, are Wolfe and other blogging detesters worried about?" he asks. "We're not going to run out of web space."

Well we might not run out of web space, but our real world space is taking quite a kicking as a result of our exponentially increasing need for web space and the computing power that provides it.

As has been noted here several times, IT is responsible for over two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions - the same as the airline industry.

A huge number of innovations in IT hardware, software and datacentre design promise to slash the IT sector's energy use in the short to medium term. But it is highly unlikely that any of the technological developments delivered over the next five years will deliver energy savings big enough to keep pace with the increased demand for computing power from corporations under pressure to keep and analyse more and more data, from consumers who want a server in the corner of the living room, from burgeoning developing economies wanting to come online, and yes, from the ever-expanding blogosphere.

The problem, as Rosenberg's comment encapsulates, is that no one sees IT and, more specifically, the internet as a finite resource that might have to be managed. It is ephemeral, it is free, or virtually free, it is ubiquitous - it really is like air. And as it becomes more and more central to democratic, social and economic life, as embodied by the benefits of the blogosphere that Rosenberg rightly espouses, access to the web becomes increasingly regarded as a right.

And yet the web space Rosenberg is so confident will not run out is entirely dependent on real world resources that can and do run out - the PC on your desk, the millions of miles of cabling that literally tie the web together, and most concerningly the football pitch-sized energy-guzzling datacentres that IT experts agree are increasingly constrained by a shortage of space and power.

The IT industry can do a huge amount to tackle these problems through better, more energy-efficient technologies, but perhaps it also has to begin to ask itself some unthinkable questions about how best to manage the "web space" we already have instead of trying to keep pace with exponential demand for more.

We're not going to run out of web space? Sadly I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Vatican Goes Solar?

ROME - Some Holy See buildings will start using solar energy, reflecting Pope Benedict XVI's concern about conserving the Earth's resources, a Vatican engineer said Tuesday. The roof of the Paul VI auditorium will be redone next year, with its cement panels replaced with photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity, engineer Pier Carlo Cuscianna said.

The 6,300-seat auditorium is used for the pontiff's general audiences on Wednesdays in winter and in bad weather during the rest of the year. Concerts in honor of pontiffs are also staged in the hall, with its sweeping stage.

The cells will produce enough electricity to illuminate, heat or cool the building, Cuscianna said.

"Since the auditorium isn't used every day, the (excess) energy will feed into the network providing (the Vatican) with power, so other Vatican offices can use the energy," he said.

A feasibility study for the planned conversion, published recently in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, found it made economic sense. It quoted from Benedict's speeches defending the environment and noted that his predecessor, the late John Paul II, also championed the safeguarding of natural resources.

Cuscianna recalled a speech in which Benedict lamented "the unbalanced use of energy" in the world.

Last summer, Benedict called on Christians to unite to take "care of creation without squandering its resources and sharing them in a convivial manner." He said lifestyle choices were damaging the environment and making "the lives of poor people on Earth especially unbearable."

The modernistic hall, at the southern end of Vatican City, was built in 1969, designed by architect Pier Luigi Nervi.

The auditorium "was born half-ecological," Cuscianna said, noting that Nervi used cement panels on its 6,000-square-yard flattened vaulted roof in part to help keep pilgrims cool.

The new roof panels will be the same shape and almost the same color as the cement panels they are replacing, minimizing the aesthetic impact, Cuscianna said.

Weathering has deteriorated the condition of the cement panels, which needed replacement, so Cuscianna thought it was the right time to make the move to solar in Mediterranean Italy, which enjoys many sunny days.

The Vatican is considering the installation of photovoltaic cells on roofs of other Holy See buildings, although centuries-old landmarks like St. Peter's Basilica won't be touched.

Monday, June 4, 2007

U.S. Continues to Lead the World in Wind Power Growth

WASHINGTON, DC – DOE releases its first Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends: 2006, which provides a detailed and comprehensive overview of development and trends in the U.S. wind power market.

What Is Green IT? Cutting Emissions and Energy Use Enterprise-wide

How do you define "Green IT?" Sure, data center energy savings are a huge opportunity. Data centers consume more energy per square foot than any other part of an office building. But they're part of an information and services supply chain that begins with raw materials and ends with the disposal of waste. The chain includes people, the space they occupy, and the cars they drive. Along the way, the chain increasingly gobbles energy and spews greenhouse gases.

The IT department is in a unique position to change that. This is the first in a three-part series on IT's role in solving energy and environmental problems.

Start with the data center
Energy consumption in the data center is predominantly from two loads: servers and cooling. Increasing server density compounds the problem. A Gartner poll showed that more than 69 percent of data centers are constrained for power, cooling and space.
Energy-efficient servers are available from the major vendors, most notably Sun's CoolThreads technology that Sun says makes servers more efficient by a factor of five. Efficient processors from IBM, AMD and Intel are making their way into the mainstream, so your favorite server will soon be available in green.

The payoff of efficient servers is twofold. Servers that consume less energy also throw off less heat, requiring less energy for cooling. Alternative approaches, including ice storage and geothermal energy, accept the heat and focus directly on reducing the cost of cooling the data center.

Reducing cooling loads gets the attention of utilities because their summer peak demand periods are caused by air conditioning. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), one of the largest natural gas and electric utilities in the United States serving 350,000 California businesses, is offering $1,000 rebates for buying efficient servers that generate less heat.

Utilities also offer incentive programs for virtualization, which reduces the number of physical servers required. Virtualization is not new, but vendors are repositioning it now that energy costs are of concern: "IBM sees virtualization combined with power efficiency as a key differentiator in our systems design” says Rich Lechner, vice president of virtualization at IBM.

Desktop PC energy use is manageable, too
Outside the data center, PC workstations make a sizeable contribution to US companies' power bills. It's not the 100 watts they consume, it's the sheer number of them out there. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance concluded that the average consumption could be shaved by about 25 percent through effective use of power management tools.
The state of the art in this niche is driven primarily by the demand for a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Workers don't want power management to intrude on their day, and IT doesn't want complaints to intrude on theirs. The result is network-based power management software.

Would centralized sleep control be beneficial to your network? A good way to find out is to install Verdiem's Surveyor demo without turning it on. Then use the "prediction" function to calculate the potential savings of each profile. Users will be unaffected and unaware of the test, and you'll have a good idea of the effectiveness in your situation.

To go a step farther, consider deploying thin client workstations. Thin clients didn't catch on when pitched as a way to reduce hardware and maintenance costs, but rising energy costs have added an effective selling point. Thin clients use about half the electricity of a typical desktop PC.

Convergence: enabling mobility inside and outside the building
Voice over IP brought together voice and data communications for some significant benefits. This step in convergence reduced the telephony wiring infrastructure and ongoing operation cost. VoIP and phone extension mobility also made practical a concept introduced in the early 1990s: hotelling of office space.
Hotelling reduces the square footage required per employee, because workers reserve space only when they need it. For many jobs -- sales, consulting, field service -- a dedicated office need not sit vacant, consuming energy for lighting and cooling.

Telecommuting is a companion concept that is gaining favor, not only for space reductions, but because suddenly companies are thinking about the emissions caused by the commuters they employ. Telephony technologies have made it practical to operate whole departments outside the building. Call centers at companies like JetBlue hire at-home agents whose physical absence from the building is practically indiscernible to customers.

Zealous adopters of these concepts have reported a 40 percent reduction in space requirements by leveraging their communications infrastructures. They also get to claim emission reductions due to fewer commutes.

IT enables other ideas that save energy and reduce emissions. Teleconferencing -- and its newest iteration, telepresence -- have cut down demonstrably on business travel. Electronic documents and processes reduce paper and the accompanying costs of copiers, printers and couriers.

Beyond these familiar ideas lies a huge opportunity scarcely tapped by IT: the building itself.
by Denis Du Bois

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Solstice Shakedown

This event is a great way to be informed and learn more about various sustainable topics. Check out!
Black Hills Sustainable Living Festival. Will you be there? I will!!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Green Build Movment Advances In Brazil

The World Green Building Council welcomes the development of a Green Building Council in Brazil.

Environmental issues and sustainability are highly valued in Brazil, and the emergence of a Green Building Council is keenly anticipated by the local business community.

The Green Building Council Brasil (GBC Brasil) was formed through the joint efforts of business groups focused on the benefits of environmentally sustainable building practices and on the development of a rating tool and certification program. The green building movement in Brazil is also supported by Brazil's academic community who are providing a wealth of knowledge and expertise in sustainable construction.

WorldGBC representative, Guido Petinelli, has been based in Brazil and played a important role in the formation of GBC Brasil to date, and will continue to assist as it develops its organisational structure and implements a rating tool and education strategy.

We look forward to GBC Brasil becoming a member of the World Green Building Council shortly and working together towards a 'Greener' Brazil.

For further infomation on the GBC Brasil contact Thassanee Wanick, email :

you can read the original post at:

International Negotation: process defined

The following story is an example that demonstrates the importance of understanding Intercultural Communication and its impact on business processes. Recently I heard a story about an American CEO who went to Japan to meet with another company about a possible business partnership. None of the Japanese spoke English and the American did not speak Japanese so they employed the services of a translator. Throughout the business world American known for giving well organized presentations that inform, captivate, mystify, and entertain audiences. Americans often exploit a useful tool to begin presentations that has existed for hundreds of years and has been outlined by scholars such as Aristotle- a joke or funny story. Back to the story. The American, unversed in Intercultural Communication, begins his presentation by telling a short joke to engage his listeners. The translator, realizing the joke will not translate, decided instead to explain to the Japanese how Americans like to use humor to begin presentations and when the joke was over said to them, "The American wants you to laugh at him now"-and they did.
This is a dynamic situation. One underlying issue in this intercultural communication is cultural variation between interactants. In Japanese culture Saving Face is an important factor to be acknowledged and we can learn from how we see it treated in the above situation. I am getting off track.
As globalization takes hold on our world in general, it is simultaneously affecting our world of business and how we operate. Many global players are extending business beyond their borders daily and at an increasingly rapid pace. As businesses of this globalization era it is important we realize the impact foreign relations is and will continue to have on our bottom-line. The study and mastery of Intercultural Communication,if implemented correctly, could be what sets your organization apart from the competition on an international scale.
Most if not all business is contingent on a preliminary negotiation process in which parties involved express parameters, needs, expectations, hesitations, the list goes on. In general the International Negotiation process consists of common and conflicting interests between persons of different cultural backgrounds who work to reach an agreement of mutual benefit. When language barriers and cultural diversity is added into the equation these variegated situations can become haphazard failures.

So, what are some characteristics of effective negotiators?
  1. Observant, patient, adaptable, great listeners.
  2. Appreciate humor but are aware of how humor may or may not be used.
  3. Mentally sharp.
  4. Understands and researches the culture of interest-Empathy.
  5. Keep promises and always negotiate in good faith.

Considerations for cross cultural negotiation:

  1. The players and the situation.
  2. Decision making styles of the other party/parties.
  3. National Character-changes with situations and time.
  4. Cultural noise.
  5. Interpreters and translators:
  • positive- more time to think.
  • negative- mistranslation or things just do not translate.