November 2011 Archives
November 03, 2011 |
by Christopher DeMorro
With the recent worldwide economic collapse, governments across the planet are looking to cut back on expenses, while at the same time going green. Hong Kong’s police department, among other government agencies, is making the switch from gas-powered motorcycles to Brammo electric motorcycles.
The announcement follows a year-long trial that saw Brammo electric bikes hit the streets of Hong Kong. This is a big boon to both Brammo and electric motorcycle advocates, who insist that electric motorcycles high-cost is more than offset in fuel and maintenance savings. The Hong Kong Police Force currently employs a wide variety of vehicles, from Mercedes Sprinter vans to the Toyota Prius.
The deal with Brammo pledges to replace all the petrol motorcycles employed by the Hong Kong PF with Brammo Enertia Plus LE (Law Enforcement) models. The Enertia Plus model offers up to 80 miles of range, and the LE model has special equipment for law enforcement professionals. In addition, Hong Kong will also purchase Enertia Plus models for use by the Water Department.
Ashland, Oregon-based Brammo eventually expects 25 percent of their business to come from fleet orders like this, and many municipalities are considering electric vehicles as a way to offset increasing fuel costs. Hong Kong’s experiment with Brammo electric motorcycles could go a long way towards convincing other governments across the planet to go electric.
While there are no figures on how much money or fuel this switch will save, I imagine that in the long run you’re talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in savings. I am glad to see Brammo making progress like this, and it certainly bodes well for their future. Too bad it wasn’t an American government agency that decided to make the switch instead…Reprinted with permission from Gas 2.0
by Francesca Rheannon
Occupy Wall Street just released its first financial report. The group received nearly $455,000 between September 16 and October 18 and has spent a little over a tenth of that, resulting in a substantial budget surplus—pretty fiscally responsible for a bunch of so-called anarchists.
But even more responsible is the group released the report in the interests of full financial transparency, modeling the kind of behavior it would like to see from global corporations, banks and investment houses. It’s an example the world financial community is largely failing to follow, according to a new report out from the Tax Justice Network, a pro-financial transparency group based in the UK. The group has devised a Financial Secrecy Index (FSI), rating 73 “secrecy jurisdictions” (or tax havens) on both their level of secrecy and scale of their activities.
The days of the international tax haven were supposed to be over. At least that’s what was claimed in 2009 when the G20 declared a “dramatic crackdown on tax havens” and the OECD (a.k.a. “rich countries club”) came out with a list of countries that were deemed to be violating guidelines for an “internationally agreed tax standard.” On the list were the usual suspects like Luxembourg and Hong Kong. The only trouble is some other countries given a passing grade, like Britain and the US (both members of the OECD), are huge tax havens themselves, as has been detailed in Nicholas Shaxson’s book Treasure Islands.
Shaxson, who helped create the Financial Secrecy Index, told CSRwire that one purpose of the FSI was to serve as an antidote to the hypocrisy of the OECD list, which he said singles out relatively small players in the whole offshore system. “We take the view that tax havens, if you look at what a tax haven is and the services it provides and you look at which jurisdictions provide those services, you find that a lot of the biggest ones are big OECD countries.”
And those countries are, in fact, “the main recipients from illicit flows from developing nations,” the Index states. That money makes up about half of the $1 – 1.6 trillion per year streaming around the globe under the cover of secrecy, according to the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) initiative. Corruption indices like that published by Transparency International are useful but misleading, Shaxson says. “The problem is that the most corrupt countries will tend to be poverty-stricken nations in Africa and elsewhere and the cleanest, least corrupt countries are deemed to be places like Switzerland and Singapore, which are massive tax havens, massive sinks for dirty money sluicing out of developing countries.” The Index estimates that for every dollar in global aid to developing countries, $10 “flows back, under the table.”
The Tax Justice Network calculated in 2007 off shore tax havens shielded over $255 billion in global tax revenue in the previous year, something the magazine Forbes reported. Of course, Forbes thought this was a great thing, but the FSI says the costs are staggering:
Secrecy distorts trade and investment flows, and creates a criminogenic environment for a litany of evils that hurt the citizens of rich and poor countries alike: fraud, evasion and avoidance of financial regulations, insider dealing, embezzlement, wholesale bribery, non-payment of alimony, money laundering, tax evasion and much more besides.
That “criminogenic environment” is facilitated by structural impediments to transparency, such as the laws, regulations, instruments (like offshore trusts) and international treaties that countries use to shield revenues from reporting. The FSI ranks the level of secrecy of the 73 jurisdictions it examines by focusing on these structural enablers. The narrative states the reason: “Because the core business of secrecy jurisdictions is to facilitate criminal and other activities carried out elsewhere, … financial secrecy must be analyzed according to how laws and regulations in one jurisdiction change the behavior of others…”
The FSI then weights the data according to the size and overall importance (to the global financial markets) of the jurisdiction. So, while the Cayman Islands took the Number Two spot on the rankings, as might be expected for this classic offshore tax haven, the US took Number Five. Switzerland topped the list, and the UK came in at Number 13.
CSRwire asked Nicholas Shaxson whether financial secrecy fits into the issues of economic inequality and “too big too fail” spotlighted by the Occupy Wall Street movement. He responded the link is much more direct than most people think: “What tax havens provide is a route for financial and other corporations to escape what they don't like, be it financial regulation, be it taxes, be it disclosure. These escape routes allow them to grow their profits much faster and to become much bigger. The financial sector in the US would be much, much smaller than it is today were it not for tax havens.”
It also leads to a form of economic blackmail, Shaxson says, “not only to escape but also to use the threat of escape as a kind of bludgeon to threaten to elected officials. ‘Don't regulate us too much or we'll run off to London or to Geneva’ and when politicians hear that, they get scared and they say, ‘OK, we'll give them what they want.’”
Shaxson called the City of London “probably the biggest escape route for Wall Street.” So is it any surprise the City was about to serve an eviction notice on Occupy the London Stock Exchange? As of this writing, the City was going to give the protest encampment 48 hours to get off the land it owns in the vicinity of St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Update: The eviction has been cancelled.)
Maybe, instead of the beating the protesters, it ought to join them in calling for financial transparency on the world financial markets. That might really spell the end of international tax havens.
Photo by Sarah/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from CSRwire
A huge shift in tree species is taking place across the western United States and Canada as global warming, drought, insect infestations, and fire are driving certain species out of some regions and allowing new species to take their place. Using remote sensing data, U.S and Canadian scientists analyzed the condition of 15 coniferous tree species in 34 different “eco-regions.” The study found that once-common tree species, such as lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce, are being replaced by species that can survive in warmer, drier conditions, such as ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The most intense shifts are occurring in the northern and southern extremes of western North America. In central California, for example, half of the species now present are not expected to survive future climate conditions, with temperatures expected to rise by 5 to 9 degrees F this century, according to the study, published in the journals Ecological Modelling and Remote Sensing of Environment. Already, more than 70,000 square miles of forest in the western U.S. and Canada have been destroyed by outbreaks of beetles that thrive in warmer temperatures. “Some of these changes are already happening pretty fast and in some huge areas,” said lead author Richard Waring of Oregon State University. “The forests of our future are going to look quite different.”Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
Wind farms have been experimenting with using batteries to store energy, but this large one - online in West Virginia - proves it can be done ... demonstrating that wind farms can produce electricity like traditional power plants.
The 98 megawatt (MW) Laurel Mountain wind facility is storing excess energy in a huge 32 MW bank of lithium-ion batteries developed by A123 Systems (Nasdaq: AONE).
61, 1.6 MW size turbines are connected to 16 mammoth batteries - each the size of a shipping container.
Each battery stores excess wind energy and releases it to the grid in quick bursts of 2 MW of energy for 15 minutes. The batteries release the energy to supplement intermittent wind generation, keeping electricity constantly supplied to the grid.
Project developer AES Energy Storage says it chose lithium batteries because they're proven in the auto industry. Their use in that industry is bringing the price down, while size and performance is improving.
One of the most criticized aspects of solar and wind is that their inherent intermittency requires fossil fuel plants as back-ups, which raise the costs of operation, in addition to generating emissions. In this case, batteries replace the need for a back-up natural gas plant.
Next year, Duke Energy plans to deploy a 36 MW battery system at its 153 MW Notrees Windpower Project in Texas. Xtreme Power will supply the batteries, which also include sophisticated power control technology which enhances grid reliability.
The energy-storage industry is still in its infancy, but it's forecast to be a $1.1 billion market by 2015, just for wind power. Beacon Power, which just declared bankruptcy, was developing flywheel technology to store energy, using a DOE loan guarantee.
While opponents point to the couple of failures of the DOE program - Solyndra and now Beacon - this is a success they won't mention. DOE awarded a $25 million stimulus grant to Southern California Edison to develop and conduct a comprehensive demonstration of lithium-ion battery storage for energy generated by wind projects. A123 supplied the lithium batteries.Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business
by Lynn Fang
These days, the typical Thanksgiving turkey is a mass-produced Broad Breasted White Turkey, factory-farmed and injected with a slew of chemical antibiotics and hormones.
You may have heard about the rise in grass-fed, pastured meats. So what about turkeys? Can you get a humanely and sustainably raised turkey too?
Before the Broad Breasted White Turkey, American families enjoyed a more diverse variety of turkeys to choose from. Nowadays, these diverse breeds are known as Heritage Breeds. They are making a comeback in the era of factory farm protest.
Heritage Breeds include the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, Narragansett, and White Holland.
The average supermarket turkey takes 18 weeks to grow to an average of 32 pounds. They are not yet fully mature, but were selected for their large breast growth in a short timespan (note that flavor is not a component of this breed). On the other hand, heritage birds take 24-30 weeks to reach market weight, meaning they are more fully matured. Most say that heritage birds are more flavorful and the cost and time are well worth it. The delicious taste is attributed to their diverse diets and longer lifespans.
Most Heritage birds are grown on small family farms, where they help out with pest control by eating weeds and insects.
Help support the quiet revival of the Heritage Turkey by eating one this Thanksgiving. While they are definitely more expensive, you’ll be supporting small farming homesteads, the pastured meat movement, as well as biological diversity and conservation.Green Living Ideas
A German-led initiative to tap solar energy in the deserts of Northern Africa and the Middle East to meet Europe’s long-term energy needs has targeted a site in Morocco for its first large-scale solar farm. The Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) — whose members include E.ON, Siemens, Munich Re and Deutsche Bank — announced during its annual conference that it will begin construction next year on a 500 megawatt solar farm. While the specific location was not disclosed, reports say it will likely be built near Ouarzazate, a city in southern Morocco known as “the door of the desert.” The euro 2 billion plant represents just the first step in a proposed euro 400 billion network of solar plants and wind farms the coalition hopes will provide 15 percent of Europe’s electricity by 2050. Negotiations are already underway with Tunisia for the next plant, with Algeria the next possible country. Coalition leaders say the project will represent a “win-win” for Europe and the nations of North Africa and the Middle East, since it will provide jobs and economic opportunity. By 2020, countries including Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are predicted to join the network.Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
Facebook is building Europe's largest server farm near the Arctic Circle in Sweden, because the severe cold will keep the servers cool naturally - lowering the energy required to crunch data from its 800 million users.
The Lulea Data Center, in Lulea Sweden, will be just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Power for the mammoth 120 megawatt server farm will be supplied by nearby hydropower plants that produce twice the electricity as the Hoover Dam!
The backup alone - required to keep the servers running in the case of a blackout - is 40 MW. There will be 14 diesel generators for each of the three 300,000-square foot buildings. The project is scheduled for completion by 2014.
This is Facebook's first server farm outside the US, where it stores data in California, Oregon, Virginia and soon, North Carolina. The majority of Facebook users reside in other countries, however, so locating elsewhere will boost performance.
Facebook's Oregon and North Carolina data centers run on coal, the dominant fuel used by utilities there.
Google has a data center in southern Finland, which uses seawater from the Baltic Sea for its cooling system.Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business
by Joe Sibilia
Violence has no place in a civil society. Some may argue it’s in our nature. Others argue nature is still evolving and violence is a lower form of human behavior and will ultimately be eliminated as a useful course of action. I believe most want peace.
The difference between Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland is best illustrated with this video, an American war hero heralding peace gets hit. That’s not cool. Both sides, protestors and government authorities (including police), must be willing to talk. When such conversation ceases, it sows the seeds of violence. I plan to report from Oakland soon.
On my last visit to Occupy Wall Street, our youngest daughter, a recent college graduate, accompanied me. We held a poster designed 20 years ago by a former drug addict I mentored.
We wanted to illustrate the evolution of business that results in Enlightened Capitalism while appreciating the great works that have helped mankind made by entrepreneurs of all ages, and while still expecting constant improvements. These protesters want things to improve. CSRwire wants things to improve. Most people want a better life for their kids. A spark, here, has ignited something in our souls. People are energized – it’s like an epiphany.
During this most recent visit, a young girl holding a sign on Broadway asked to stand next to me with a cardboard sign that read, “Let’s make a better future.” All around the perimeter, signs read, “Let’s make a better future!”
The accommodation between the City of New York and the protesters has resulted in a much cleaner environment – self-organized by the protesters. In addition, the drumming circle has accommodated neighboring residents by agreeing to perform twice per day and not late at night (which I must admit was a lot of fun in a sobering environment). Since a schedule has been set, 12-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m., world-class musicians are joining trashcan drummers to entertain the crowds. Meditation times have not experienced such restraint. Meditation still happens around 6 p.m., organized by the Sikh community; other meditations occur as inspired.
Tour buses crawled down Broadway and hundreds of people took pictures to share with their social media ‘friends’ and ‘followers’. The message is getting out on a wide scale. Occupy organizers have reached many milestones, including accommodations, professionally designed and printed signs, information websites and handouts, an operating library, composting, cardboard recycling, cleaning initiatives, food giveaways, organized speeches, working groups outside the park, live streaming video (many of the younger protestors flock to the streaming video area and get engaged), blogs, debates, and more.
Here, the democratic process is unfolding before our eyes. History is being made minute-by-minute. It’s about time the American consciousness be aroused and wake up a sleeping giant that might be primed for Enlightened Capitalism. In the meantime, we’ll continue our work distributing, archiving, moderating and hosting as much useful corporate social responsibility and sustainability information that will contribute to improving capitalism for the common good.Reprinted with permission from CSRwire
by John Crawley
U.S. auto dealers are working to undo the Obama administration's fuel efficiency agenda, replacing car companies that for years kept such mandates at bay with the help of allies in Congress.
The car industry is facing dramatic new standards that would double efficiency targets to 54 miles per gallon by 2025, under an administration plan unveiled in July and set to be officially proposed in the coming weeks.
Automakers have traditionally carried the torch for modest fuel efficiency mandates, arguing that aggressive targets could drive up vehicle cost, compromise safety, and limit consumer choice.
But car executives agreed to the ambitious targets during negotiations this spring, going along with an administration that rescued the U.S. industry from collapse in 2009. General Motors and Chrysler owe their continued existence to Obama, and taxpayers still own a third of GM.
Virtually all big automakers reluctantly agreed to the 2025 deal in the talks led by the White House, leaving dealers on their own to fight the new standards.
"This is a big jump, and we'd like to slow this process down and find out what's working and what's not," said Dave Westcott, who operates two North Carolina showrooms and is an executive with a trade group behind the delay effort. "We'd like the public to be in control of what they would like."
Dealers are backing a Republican measure that would remove the influence of federal environmental regulators and the state of California in establishing national mileage standards.
Dealers are also weighing a lawsuit if legislative efforts tied to a spending bill in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives fail. So far, there is no companion proposal in the Senate, which is led by Democrats who are aligned with Obama on the issue.
President Barack Obama has championed higher auto fuel efficiency as the single most important step the United States can take to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. It will also cut emissions of greenhouse gases.
Environmental groups have appealed to the National Automobile Dealers Association to drop their objections, pointing out that a number of carmakers offer exceptionally efficient vehicles that are also popular with consumers.
Fuel economy politics have become more complicated with the recent introduction of the Environmental Protection Agency in federal rulemaking. California is an additional complication, with its desire to set its own regulations in its huge market.
Dealers want to return to when the Department of Transportation alone set fuel targets. For 30 years the standards went up incrementally, if at all, due mainly to the political muscle of automakers.
Auto dealers believe the recent White House agreement -- which they were excluded from -- bullies business and consumers.
They and other industry insiders complain it exceeds a reasonable embrace of hybrid and electric-engine technologies that have been slow to catch on with average car buyers.
Hybrids make up less than 3 percent of the overall U.S. sales market. And first-year sales of electric and mostly electric cars only made up only 0.12 percent of the 9.4 million cars and trucks sold overall through September of this year.
Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of buyer research group Edmunds.com, said the gradual improvement in fuel efficiency standards over the past decade enabled carmakers to introduce hybrids and other technologies while maintaining quality.
He said the accelerated standards risk a repeat of quality and reliability problems in the late 1970s and early 1980s when environmental and safety regulations converged on the industry.
Dealers also complain that the higher costs of new technology will suppress sales as the struggling economy makes buyers more price sensitive.
For the 2012-2016 standards finalized last year, that culminate in an average fleet efficiency of 35 mpg, regulators estimate an average cost increase to consumers of $950.
"With the economy now, customers are so price sensitive," said Forrest McConnell, who owns Honda and Acura franchises in Alabama. "There is no problem with going up (in mpg) but it's a balancing act."
A White House spokesman, asked to comment for this story, did not address dealer complaints specifically, but said the that negotiated agreement underpinning the new fuel rules had the support of more than a dozen U.S. and overseas automakers.
Dealers are embedded in their communities, are significant employers, and are barometers of economic health on the local level. They also represent the biggest source of campaign cash within the transportation industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The National Automobile Dealers Association ranks No. 19 overall on the CRP's list of "heavy hitter" contributors.
Dealers gave $2.6 million to candidates and political committees in the 2010 election cycle and historically favor Republicans. Donations for the 2012 campaign cycle have gone to Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin.
House Speaker John Boehner spoke to the dealers' association last month in Washington after which hundreds of members accelerated their lobbying. Rank and file Republicans also support efforts to upend fuel rules.
More than 60 members of the House wrote to Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers and Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Michael Simpson last week supporting the legislative initiative.
The amendment to spending legislation would affect EPA's ability to work on fuel economy through September 2012, the end of the current fiscal year.
Such a strategy, if it becomes law, could kill the new regulation if Obama loses reelection to a Republican candidate inclined to drop the effort. Otherwise, high visibility pressure keeps the issue in the spotlight with the rule proposal under consideration.
Bailey Wood, the legislative affairs chief of the dealer group representing nearly 17,000 showrooms, said membership would concentrate for now on getting the House measure passed.Reprinted with permission from Reuters