Business, Eco-friendly, Sustainability

The Future of Farming May Be Sky High

Vertical farming may be the future of urban agriculture.
Vertical farming may be the future of urban agriculture. Photo: Shutterstock

With a lack of horizontal space for farming in urban environments, vertical farming could be the only plausible solution to food scarcity. As Lauren Hepler of GreenBiz notes, “with more reports sounding alarms about looming food scarcity issues, the urban agriculture sector is increasingly melding with the boom in agriculture tech, breeding companies offering everything from unorthodox growing setups to soil sensors, hydroponics and all manner of crop data analytics.”

The question of “how do we feed a growing global population?” has billion-dollar potential.

Unlike the dot-com boom, “the problem is so huge and broken in so many places that there are many billion-dollar markets you could just jump into,” Brad McNamara, co-founder of Boston container farming startup Freight Farms, told GreenBiz. “There are connections being formed and local food systems and food markets that people are hungry for.”

On a small scale, technology like hydroponic grocery stores can be seen as an opportunity for local retailers to grow indoors, on site, more efficiently. This could allow business owners to tap directly into local consumer demands, customize their shopping experiences, dramatically reduce the cost of shipping, and capitalize on buzz about food miles.

On a large scale, vertical farmscapers could profit from the consumer demand for multifunctional urban space. Some believe farmscapers might be able to produce enough food to feed greater and greater future populations.

Modular technology, built for moving the farms, is a consistent theme in both approaches. Not only can the farms be relocated easily, but also modular technology allows the farms to scale up or scale down efficiently to meet specific needs. Modular design can be seen throughout the commercial real estate, residential properties, and, most recently, tiny home designs. Modular designs in factories have allowed owners with unlimited flexibility to respond quickly and cost-effectively to changing business needs. It’s possible that this same flexibility could provide much needed adaptability to the farming industry.

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Business, Environmentalist, Green

EPA Boots Scientists Off Scientific Review Board

At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA's Board of Science Counselors.
At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA’s Board of Science Counselors. Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock.com

At least five academic scientists have been dismissed from a major review board, according to the New York Times.

J.P. Freire, a spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, said Pruitt would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries that are supposed to be regulated by the EPA. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire said.

This isn’t a surprising move, given that Pruitt is a former oil company executive who has questioned human-caused climate change—something that has been agreed on by at least 97 percent of the scientific community—and has been tasked by President Trump to roll back Obama-era regulations on clean water protection and climate change.

The scientists were dismissed from the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, which reviews and evaluates the research conducted by the EPA’s scientists.

“We want to expand the pool of applicants” for the scientific board, Freire said, “to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.”

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda.”

“I see the dismissal of the scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors as a test balloon,” said Joseph Arvai of the University of Michigan, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), a 47-member commission that advises the EPA on areas on where it should conduct research and evaluates the scientific integrity of EPA regulations. “This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further.”

On the other hand, Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said the SAB had become nothing but a rubber-stamp organization that approves all of the EPA’s regulations. He wrote a bill designed to restock that board with more members from the business world.

“The EPA routinely stacks this board with friendly scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government,” Smith said. “The conflict of interest here is clear.”

“Today I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an environmental economist wrote on Twitter. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”

“I believe this is political,” said Dr. Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University, said of the dismissals from the Board of Science Counselors. “It’s unexpected. It’s a red flag.”

Business, Eco-friendly, Environmentalist

Environmentalists: It’s Time to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

With the repeal of environmental regulations, environmentalists are going to need to do their own green investing to ensure the future of sustainable energy.

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump signed an executive order that rescinded Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The president lifted carbon emissions regulations in order to resume coal-mining operations.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump asserted. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy to reverse government intrusions and to cancel job killing regulations.”

Environmentalists saw this coming from a mile away. They tried to voice their concerns in the form of protests, but their collective cries fell on deaf ears. That’s because money appears to be the only language that the current administration understands. In other words, the time for talking about sustainability is over. It’s time to take action by investing in clean energy alternatives.

Some companies, such as private equity firm KKR, are already leading the way in this regard. KKR has invested an astounding $5 billion into ESG (environment, social, and governance) driven companies.

“Investors can play a central role in resolving some of the global challenges in a way that civil society or government organizations cannot do alone,” writes Ken Mehlman, Member and Global Head of Public Affairs at KKR. “Our portfolio company Afriflora is a good example. Located in Ethiopia, Afriflora cultivates and produces Fair Trade Certified, sustainably-grown roses.”

It’s like the old saying goes: money talks. And while the average citizen certainly can’t afford to shell out the kind of dough that KKR does, they can still make an impact by purchasing small shares of green companies.

So which companies should environmentalists invest in? According to Investopedia, the top four alternative energy stocks for 2017 are:

  • NRG Yield Inc.
  • MagneGas Corp.
  • Atlantica Yield PLC
  • Covanta Holding Corp.

If there’s anything that the current administration has taught us, it’s that climate change facts and statistics aren’t enough. Environmentalists will have to reach deep into their pockets if they want to influence the future of energy.

Business, Sustainability

Solar Can’t Grow Without Policy Support

Solar power generation facility
Photo: Shutterstock

Solar may be the hottest thing when it comes to green energy, but according to analysts at IHS Markit, in order for it to really develop in Europe, it needs policy support. Though there are plans afoot to build ground-mount solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in several countries, they can’t go ahead without some government buy-in.

IHS Markit, the company studying the current state of solar energy support, is a global business information provider based in London. Its board of directors consists of Bill Ford of General Atlantic; Dinyar DeVitre of General Atlantic; Robert Kelly of Saint Mary’s University; Richard Roedel, CPA of Luna Innovations; Ruann Ernst, Ph.D, of IHS Markit; James Rosenthal, J.D., of Morgan Stanley; Deborah McWhinney of Fresenius Medical Care; Jean-Paul Montupet of WABCO Holdings; Balakrishnan Iyer of Philips Semiconductors; Board Chairman and CEO Jerre Stead; and President Lance Uggala.

According to IHS Markit, there are currently more than 8 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV projects under development, and all of these have received grid-connection permits. Unfortunately, the majority of them have not gone beyond that stage.

Spain, for example, recently announced plans for a power tender that could include up to 2 GW of solar power. Approximately 2 GW worth of grid-connection applications have been filed in Portugal, and Ireland has 3 GW of solar projects in the permitting process.

According to IHS Markit senior analyst Josefin Berg, although the demand for ground-mount solar PV capacity is expected to decline by 40 percent in 2016, it will recover after 2018 due to an increasing demand for solar energy in untapped markets.

However, in order for solar suppliers to be able to meet the anticipated demand, governments will need to support the manufacturers’ investments with tools such as fixed-rate power purchase agreements and incentive schemes.

Ireland is planning to put an incentive program in place to support ground-mount PV system capacity in that nation, but few details about the exact nature of the incentives have been released. If the incentive scheme is attractive to developers, IHS Markit anticipates that there will be a surge in construction activity.

Berg wrote, “As we have seen in other countries in the past, these planned projects could be installed very quickly, as soon as a regulatory framework can ensure sufficient revenues for investors.”

IHS Markit also recently released its PV Module Supplier Scorecard, addressing a need for a holistic review of the PV module supplier base, another crucial element in the ability to expand the solar power grid in Europe and beyond. Trina Solar scored highest in market presence due to its leading global market share, completeness of its product offering, strong position in all major regions, and brand perception.

Other firms that ranked high on the PV Module Supplier Scorecard were SunPower, First Solar, Hanwha Q-cells, and Jinko Solar. Each of these companies won above-average scores for market presence and market momentum.

The PV Module Supplier Scorecard results reward companies that are well established in a wide range of markets, with strong brands and strong financial results, and that are well positioned for growth in the future.

There is an increasingly strong field of companies that supply PV modules and other components necessary to produce solar energy, as evidenced by IHS Markit’s list of top suppliers. However, a deeper analysis of the market indicates that without the necessary policy support, the solar energy supply may not expand quickly enough to meet anticipated demand.

Business, Conservation, Nature

Why Preservation Matters (It’s Not Just About Cute Baby Animals!)

Snow leopard
Why do we put such effort into preserving endangered species and environments?
Image: Shutterstock

According to the NWF, there are currently more than 1,300 U.S. plants and animals federally listed as endangered or threatened. Now more than ever, it’s important for everyone–from individuals to small organizations to big business–to be mindful of how we affect these species’ habitats and what we can do to prevent extinction. With more and more environmentally conscious organizations teaming up with large businesses, we’re able to make real improvements when it comes to preserving habitats and species.

But why does that matter? Do we just want to keep cute pandas around? Or is there a more deep-seated need for these species we often take for granted until they’re gone?

It’s not an easy line of questioning to answer.

Certainly the business world is taking a greater interest in making sure their actions don’t negatively impact the environment. According to Ken Mehlman, private equity giant KKR’s recent partnership with Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) is only one example of KKR’s dedication to “improving environmental impacts at KKR portfolio companies.” KKR has also invested more than $5 billion in companies working toward improving the environment, building human capital, promoting health, and taking a stab at solving societal problems.

Still, extinction rates are up. Habitats are being destroyed. The costs to fix—or at least slow—the destruction would be astronomical (a 2012 study estimated it would cost $76 billion to preserve threatened land animals alone).

But why does any of this matter?

A BBC article from last year suggests several important reasons. “Nature is beautiful, and that aesthetic value is a reason to keep it, just as we preserve artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa or Angkor Wat,”

One answer is that species are now going extinct far faster than they used to. A recent study estimated that the extinction rate has increased a hundredfold over the last century, and we seem to be to blame.

But beyond that, there’s a simple reason to save species: because we want to.

“Nature is beautiful, and that aesthetic value is a reason to keep it, just as we preserve artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa or Angkor Wat,” writes author Michael Marshall.

But he goes on to point out that our desire to preserve the environment must go beyond this—after all, what about the animals and plants that aren’t beautiful? Is there no reason to preserve them as well?

There are other reasons for preservation, of course. Bioprospecting, the practice of exploring the natural world in order to find commercially useful products, is a good economic reason, for example. Who knows what medical breakthrough will come next as part of the scientific study of the rain forests? Certainly not us, if we destroy them first.

Then there are the basics: Plants provide us with oxygen. Bees pollinate the crops we need to eat to live. Both plants and animals are part of an intricate ecosystem that feeds on itself and keeps us all in harmony.

Ultimately, organizations like the National Wildlife Federation, as well as businesses like RES and KKR, must come to their own decisions regarding their choices to preserve our environment. But the important part is that they do, whether for economic, altruistic, or aesthetic reasons.

And that’s a start.

Business, carbon emissions, Climate Change, Eco-friendly, Green, Sustainability

Why We Need Companies like Resource Environmental Solutions

Every company is in it for a profit, but not every company believes that doing good for the world is profitable—or possible. However, companies like Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) are making a difference in the ways businesses give back to their communities, making the world a better place.

RES is the largest and fastest-growing provider of ecological solutions to businesses in the country, helping more companies incorporate a commitment to ESG into their business practices.

RES offers commercial solutions that help companies mitigate risk from operations in environmentally sensitive areas like wetlands and preserved habitats. The company can provide impact analyses for development projects, streamline the regulatory permissions process, and assist in the creation and implementation of conservation and restoration practices. RES has helped with ecological restoration all across the United States.

Private equity firm KKR recently invested in RES. Ken Mehlman, KKR’s Global Head of Public Affairs, said, “This investment builds on our efforts to create value by improving environmental impacts at KKR portfolio companies and also by investing more than $5 billion in companies whose missions are to improve the environment, build human capital, promote health, and solve societal problems.”

Without companies like RES, corporations might continue to harm the environment, building in sensitive areas without regard for what could be lost. ESG needs to be recognized for the essential element of business it is: the world will only be saved if companies can make a profit from it, so there is no other option than to marry business with ethical practices. Research indicates that consumers are more willing to buy from companies they believe follow ethical practices and help sustainable causes, too.

If more companies provide ecological solutions like RES, or if businesses create solutions that allow other sectors to be more environmentally and socially responsible, corporations will have no choice but to participate ethically if they want to make a profit. Easy access to ESG practices will encourage companies to implement them. And the more companies that adhere to ESG practices, the better the world will be.

Business, Eco-friendly, technology

Tesla Grows the Electric Car Market and Sheds Old Revenue Streams

The Tesla Model 3 will cost less than earlier models and introduce electric vehicles to a larger consumer market.
The Tesla Model 3 will cost less than earlier models and introduce electric vehicles to a larger consumer market. Photo: Tesla.

Tesla is probably best known for producing electric cars. They sold 100,000 cars in 2015. Beyond developing and marketing the best-known electric cars, they were doing work for more established automakers.

Tesla spent a lot of time in the early years courting contracts for powertrain and battery production for companies like Daimler and Toyota. Now, as electric cars become a more serious aspect of the auto-industry, those companies are pulling away from their contracts with Tesla in order to focus on in-house production and design.

Although oil prices have been very low lately, electric cars continue to gain a foothold among consumers. Bloomberg predicts that by 2040, one third of new cars sold will be electric, and that such vehicles will make up a quarter of the cars in the world.

This increase in the number of electric cars suggests that larger automakers are finally taking electric cars seriously. It is likely that more of them will show up on the market in the future. For Tesla, that’s something of a double-edged sword, as it will likely mean fewer contracts with other companies, but provide more time to dedicate to in-house development.

Just because Daimler is no longer working with them doesn’t mean that other companies won’t. For companies that haven’t been designing their own in-house electric cars and production line, contracting with Tesla could be a great way to enter this market. Braver manufacturers might decide to go eschew Tesla’s help and attempt to develop proprietary electric vehicles.

Either way, Tesla isn’t struggling. They’re introducing their fourth design, the Model 3, later this month, and have begun delivery of the Model X. The Model 3 is expected to have a smaller sticker price than previous models, which could open their vehicles up to a much larger market.