Solar powered lanterns show the potential of green business in action

It’s a useful tale of green business married to social enterprise. For those who would take it a step further, it’s a fantastic example of the integrated bottom line (or triple bottom line) at work.

Read the original article at the International Herald Tribune

The problem: there are over 7 billion people around the world and counting, 1.3 billion of whom live without any electricity at all. Add that to the 1.4 billion who live without reliable electricity supplies and you’ve got a whopping 2.7 billion (that’s billion with a b) that can’t count on modern artificial lighting when it gets dark outside. That’s more than 1 in every 3 people worldwide, the vast majority living in developing countries.

Given the sheer magnitude of this challenge, most of the solutions currently available require a lot of money and a lot of conventional energy: by the World Bank’s estimate, it would cost anywhere between 30 and 40 billion each year between now and 2030 to bring reliable power to those currently lacking it.  That figure doesn’t take into account the hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission infrastructure needed, or the fact that grid electricity is still dominated by fossil fuels.  On a more troubling level, it falsely characterizes the solution to the problem as one of charity, worthy though it may be, rather than one of opportunity.

Two Stanford business school students flipped the model on its head, creating a solar-powered lantern that undersells both coal and kerosene, the cheapest respective on and off-grid power alternatives.  It’s a win-win-win situation: d.light, the company that the two students created, makes money selling its lanterns.  Albeit a fraction of those still in the dark, as many as 10 million more people around the world now have access to reliable nighttime light.  And since the lamps can recharge with the sun’s energy during the day, they’re durable, require no upkeep or extra supplies, and burn no fossil fuels.

But more important than the specific impact is the story there is to be told here.  One of the many challenges of our time is how to help people around the world achieve a rising living standard without further overheating an already overheated planet.  The 1 in 3 statistic about electricity only drives the point home: if a third of the world’s people lack something as basic to the developed world as reliable electric power, and the earth under a baseline scenario is already warming to a dangerous level (which it is), how can the world support the material needs of another nearly 3 billion people without putting our living environment under even greater stress?

The answer is that we can’t, unless we reinvent ourselves.  Which is exactly what d.light is doing, albeit on a small scale, with its solar powered lamps.  The promise of green business, then, is simple: how do we turn the world’s challenges into an opportunity to create and sustain new sources of livelihood?  And how can we find new ways of providing for basic modern needs (like light) where conventional cornerstones (like the current global power grid) fail us?

One of the things I really like about d.light is how it shows solar’s “portability.”  Unlike most sources of conventional energy, solar can be produced and consumed in the same place, which is what makes the company’s lanterns so practical.  Last week C’cracy founder Libby Murphy and I were having a conversation about how this essential fact about solar power could make it advantageous to set up a more local power grid system, since theoretically any network of home-based solar installations can serve as its own “grid.”  What d.light has done is take this down to an even more micro level, using the primary source of all life on earth to power lights that require no outside inputs at all.

What will be the next d.light, then?  How will the company build on its solid start?  And how can the most elemental process of business planning (problem, solution, way to make a profit) be applied to other challenges in the world?

If I had all the answers I’d be a much wealthier man.  In this case, however, the questions may be just as important.

Science Progress publicizes study of beliefs about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas

As a follow up to the Science Progress article I co-authored with Dr. Adam Briggle earlier this July, we have written another short piece that again explains the subject of our study, Technology and Society: Fracking Ideology, and requests reader participation. You can find the article linked here and above.



*Fracking survey* — Make sure your beliefs about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas are counted!

Technology and Society: Fracking Ideology

A survey of beliefs about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas

Dear energy consumers,

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas plays an important role in the debate about our energy future. As an energy consumer, you may have beliefs about, or beliefs that relate to, the use of hydraulic fracturing technology. Given the prominence of natural gas in today’s energy discourse, I am using my Master’s thesis at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy to study the political and ideological dimensions of hydraulic fracturing. My goal is to develop a more thorough understanding of the relationships between socioeconomics, political alignments, philosophical beliefs, and support or lack thereof for the use of hydraulic fracturing technology – but my research depends on your participation. Here and below you will find a link that directs you to a survey with questions related to the current debate about hydraulic fracturing and natural gas:

Technology and Society: Fracking Ideology

To help me with my research, I ask that you complete the survey and then share this message and link with your friends, family, colleagues, coworkers, and other contacts so that they might do the same. If you have any questions please email them to and I will answer you promptly. Thank you for your participation.


Jordan M. Kincaid

“Environmentalists Doing Business”

Reblogged from the Urban Times – link available here

Interested in what it looks and sounds like when people who care about the earth put their money where their mouth is? In 1996, British entrepreneur Dale Vince founded a company built to provide clean electricity to its customers. Still operating on a not-for-dividend model 16 years later, today Vince’s company, Ecotricity, invests its customers’ energy bills into the construction of additional sources of clean energy.

You can read all about Ecotricity and its business model on their company website: What I thought was really great about the interview with Mr. Vince, though, was the way he described his work as a businessperson:

Essentially we are environmentalists doing business as opposed to business people doing the environment. Sustainability always comes first – it’s in our DNA. Ecotricity’s missions is to change the way energy is made and used in the UK to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change. Electricity from fossil fuels is responsible for 30% of Britain’s carbon emissions – it’s our biggest single source of emissions as a nation – and therefore the biggest single thing we can change.

In a world where, despite considerable progress, too many corporate “greening” initiatives rely more on style than substance, the idea of “environmentalists doing business” is refreshing. Putting aside the fact that environmentalism itself is doomed unless it puts forward a compelling vision of its own for how people can live and prosper in the modern world, lost in the justifiable outrage within the environmental movement toward large industrial polluters (think BP with the oil spill) is the fact that business doesn’t have to be about raping and pillaging. Business, at its most basic level, is about something very simple: providing a product or service that people will pay for. This is a noble calling, and reflects the most fundamental human undertaking in a capitalist society.

What’s really exciting, then, about the notion of environmentalists doing business is that if you want to get something done that’s good for the planet, all you have to do is provide something that people want, and figure out how to do it in an efficient manner. Easier said than done, sure, but each person who succeeds makes a small contribution toward turning the conventional paradigm on its head simply by showing that it is possible, and even advantageous, to turn a profit treating the planet’s health as an asset rather than a cost.

Legislation and politics are important, no doubt. But if you’re an American like myself, you also live in a country where one of our two major political parties simply thumbs its nose at basic scientific evidence. So with all due respect to those who work hard each day within various governments to make the world a better place, what seems like a more effective strategy? Dale Vince didn’t wait for the world to sign an international treaty cutting carbon. He started a company that would do it and help him earn a living in the process.

By all means, those of us who care about the environment should continue pushing for a climate bill, and anything else that may make a difference. But we may be waiting a long time before our governments can get together on their own to do the right thing. The planet, however, can’t wait, and neither can an economy crying out for the creative infusion of new companies and ideas. So in the current political and economic landscape, what can those of us who want to make a positive difference do immediately to create new sources of opportunity and prosperity, while charting a more sustainable way forward?

Go out and become entrepreneurs. Our country needs us.

Hunter Lovins, Exhibit A

Those of you who know C’cracy founder and editor-in-chief Libby Murphy likely know that in addition to being an all-around stud she is currently in the midst of pursuing a business degree through Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability program.  Last Wednesday, Libby gave me a heads up that one of her professors happened to be in DC giving a talk.  I later found out that this particular professor also happened to be the woman who co-wrote what is more or less the Bible of Green Business.

There are people on both sides of the philosophical lexicon who would view that very term as somewhat of an oxymoron.  Let’s table that for now.  Because as I sat and listened to Hunter Lovins rattle off example after example of how companies that embrace sustainability are becoming leaner, more efficient, and ultimately more profitable, a budding belief of mine that most of our country’s energy and environmental debates completely miss the point of what we really should be talking about turned into something resembling a total conviction.

Some people really, legitimately care about protecting the environment.  I count myself as one of them.  For people who are not so inclined, I think this sums it up nicely.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, however, what rings loudest when one listens to Ms. Lovins is the necessity of embracing an outlook that we’re all in this together.  Business, government, environmentalists… it’s not about who’s at fault, and those of us who frame climate change as a matter of merely staving off environmental catastrophe miss the mark as well.  Because it’s also not about what we can prevent, it’s about what we can create, and if that something is going to be anything good it’s going to take all of us working together to create it.

That’s why the more savvy among our country’s business leaders view doing right by the planet not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity.  It’s no accident that when Goldman Sachs identified a series of corporate sustainability, social, and good governance indicators, companies meeting those criteria outperformed their baseline counterparts by 25 percent.  To paraphrase Ms. Lovins, we can continue viewing our environmental challenges as a cost to be externalized… but we’re running out of places to externalize them.

Ultimately sustainability is about maximizing the efficiency of everything we use.  Local resources, national resources, global resources.  Everything.  In a country famous for harnessing the power of free market capitalism, dependent as it is on celebrating economic efficiency, it’s really quite remarkable when you consider the hostility of some toward radically increasing the efficiency of our non-financial resources.  But efficiency will always yield economic benefits to those savvy enough to embrace it.  There was a time when the mechanizers of agriculture and the proponents of burning petroleum instead of whale oil where called crazy.  Ask John D. Rockefeller how that turned out.

No one said that any of this is going to be easy, but when we think in terms of maximizing the efficiency of our resources, and institutionalize these sorts of mindsets, this is what leads to the sort of innovating that drives the whole process inexorably forward.  The avalanche of evidence in favor of the for-profit entities that have already harnessed sustainability to their advantage should be reason enough to make even greater leaps.

For more facts on sustainability, check out this chat Libby posted this afternoon between Hunter and the folks representing GE’s ecomagination initiative:

It’s a useful primer on the sorts of changes upon which businesses are already beginning to capitalize, and elaborates a bit on what Ms. Lovins discussed at the event I attended.

I hope you enjoy her insights as much as I did.

Tidal power makes waves in Maine

Admittedly, the Sun is my usual celestial body of interest, but today I feel compelled to mention the Moon. Or rather, the tides that the Moon’s gravity creates here on Earth. Tidal power is an almost entirely untapped source of renewable energy in the United States. Almost. For the first time in history, tidal energy is contributing to the US power grid. On Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, Ocean Renewable Power Company’s Maine Tidal Energy Project, using underwater turbines off the coast of Maine, delivered electricity to ~27 homes. Incremental developments in technology and our use of renewable energy like this are, I think, certainly cause for optimism re our evolution beyond fossil fuels. After all, small steps make for giant leaps. And we need a giant leap.

Here is a link to the ORPC project website, and here is the Huff Po article that first reported the project’s coming online.


Justin Hall-Tipping on grid-free solar energy and nanotechnology

A colleague of Libby and mine from Bard CEP posted this TED Talk by Justin Hall-Tipping in reply to my post on Donald Sagoway’s liquid metal battery. Hall-Tipping presents on carbon nanotechnology and grid-free solar energy — a truly invigorating watch. It’s ingenuity and creativity of this kind that keeps my romanticizing primitivism in check. Cheers!

JM Kincaid