Social cause & sustainability lessons from Stonyfield Farms’ Hirshberg

Gary HirshbergAffable and inspiring Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farms was the featured speaker at Saturday’s University of New Hampshire graduation. The company makes the number-one selling brand of organic yogurt and is the number-three overall yogurt brand in the US according to Fortune magazine. Through its Profits for the Planet program, Stonyfield gives 10% of profits to environmental causes. 
Here are memorable takeaways from his talk: 
  • “We allowed ourselves to believe in a sort of modern day mythology about the infinite resilience of our finance system, and to allow greedy, short-term thinking to get the upper hand. In a nutshell, we borrowed money we didn’t have, to buy stuff we didn’t need.”
  • “We are seeing signs of failure in every single aspect of our relationship to the planet … if we stopped all fossil fuel burning this afternoon, the Earth’s fever would continue to mount for 40 more years before it began to break.” 
  • “How far an item travels, is actually a very minute percentage of the footprint of an apple, yogurt or bottle of beer. The far larger footprint is in how the product is grown, that is the type of agriculture accounts for more like 50-60% of the carbon footprint. In other words, buying organic from a long distance may be far more carbon-friendly than buying non-organic locally. The point is, we need to be sure our brains are as engaged as our hearts when making big decisions.”
  • “I have learned that, whatever you choose to do, there is no point in producing the same quality as anyone else. In fact, that is likely a strategy for failure, for you are almost certain to be out-competed by someone who is better capitalized.”
  • “At a societal scale, those of you who question conventional thinking will be in the best positions to seize the next wave of jobs and economic opportunities. Consider for instance, that with the amount of sunlight that strikes the US each day, we would need only 10 million acres of land – or only 0.4% of the area of the United States – to supply all of our nation’s electricity using solar photovoltaics.
    When you consider that the US Government pays to idle approximately 30 million acres of farmland per year, you can see how confused our priorities have become.”
  • “Success will be when you finish eating the yogurt, you will eat the cup.” 
  • “Solar isn’t just for Arizona anymore, either; right now in New Hampshire there are homes powered completely off the grid – built at competitive costs. For less than half the normal garage roof space, you can power your house with no fuel, no pollution, and no ice storm outages. Soon it’ll be down to one-quarter of that garage roof. And we haven’t even talked about solar hot water, which is even cheaper than solar cells, or wind power, which is cheaper too. Best yet, these power sources are built, installed, and maintained locally, right here in America, unlike the billion dollars per day we 'export' out-of-country for oil, for example.”Stonyfield Farm yougurt lid
  • “Renewable technology isn’t just a energy issue, it’s a global competition. We don’t have a natural monopoly on sunlight or wind, and the Danes, Germans, and increasingly, the Chinese 'get it.' They aim to be the energy technology vendors to the world, and—having paid more attention to it than we have—they’re as good or better than we are.”
  • “Questioning conventional authority is a powerful way to succeed in business and in life. A couple of guys from UPS once asked ‘why not try to avoid left-hand turns,’ with their 95,000 big brown trucks.”
  • “What we discovered from doing good is a new business formula that is now being mimicked by the largest companies on earth…. when you make a better, higher quality product, you leap all the way to loyalty without having to spend as much on advertising…. When you make it better, you get loyalty. And with loyalty comes the most powerful purchase incentive in commerce—word of mouth.”
  • “I can assure you that there will be more jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, preventative health care, organic/non-toxic agriculture, textiles and cleansers (I have yet to meet the consumer who prefers to eat the yogurt with more pesticides or synthetic hormones than in the traditional fields.).”
  • “The whole notion of service is very attractive to smart employers. From a practical perspective, those of you who volunteer and give your time and energy to work on positive change are exactly who we CEO’s want to hire.”
  • “Don’t forget that as consumers, we wield enormous power to choose the polluting, consumptive and failed ways of the past or the renewable and sustainable ways of the future too. When we purchase anything, we are voting for the kind of communities, society and planet we want. And I have learned that corporations spend billions of dollars to tally those votes.”
  •  “We stand at the edge of the next wave, the sustainability revolution in which we use green chemistry which leaves behind no toxic residue, cradle to cradle technology which generates no waste, renewable energy with no carbon footprint, industrial ecology with waste from one process being the food for another, will be the norm.
  • “Personally, I feel there is no greater societal priority than to embrace the conversion to renewable energy and organic food production with all of the climate, ecological and health benefits. When people tell me that organics is not proven, I respond that it is the chemicals that are not proven, but the early results are poor as we face an epidemic of cancers and preventable disease. The same is true of our energy policy, which has been driven by generations who have grown up in the oil and coal business and believe that mining the earth’s crust is the only way to fuel our needs.”

How Marc Gunther found a sustainable voice

Marc Gunther - Facebook photoMarc Gunther is one of the most respected thinkers, writers and speakers on business, the environment and corporate social responsibility.

Last year, Ethisphere ranked him # 39 out of 100 “influentials” in business ethics, ahead of Jim Koch, T. Boone Pickens, James Goodnight and Paul Newman. It’s a well-earned reputation. 

In a wide-brush conversation, I asked him about his early influences, career highlights and how he became enamored with business ethics and sustainability. 

Gunther grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. “I was a child of the Sixties. My parents weren’t that politically involved, but our Rabbi was part of the civil rights movement; he had marched with Martin Luther King. That inspired me.

“I was an idealist, growing up during one of the most interesting times in history with JFK, Martin Luther King, RFK. Incredible social progress was being made, from the civil rights movement to the women’s movement. Vietnam and Watergate were happening. This had a big impact on me.”

Gunther graduated from Yale in 1973 with an English degree, but couldn’t find a job in journalism. His first gig was with a clean air activist group funded by Ralph Nader. “I inspected boilers in New York City, making sure pollution controls were being met, working with City enforcement groups. It was literally a dirty job.”  

Then he cracked journalism.

Over the next two decades, he climbed the newspaper ladder, starting with the Paterson (N.J.) News, then The Hartford Courant, The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and Washington Bureau of Knight Ridder. He covered many topics, but wrote most often about TV, media, politics and business. Gunther also interpreted the Internet in the nineties, writing stories like "What is cyberspace?" and "What is e-mail?”

When Fortune magazine hired him in 1996, he wrote even more about business. “I was beginning to wonder what had happened to my idealistic values. I had gotten off track.”

Around the time Gunther turned 50, he wrote a cover story for Fortune called “God and Business.”

“I interviewed people at the intersection of religion and corporate America. People like Jim Collins of "Built to Last" talked about business and values. I spoke with a Notre Dame priest who also taught MBAs. These people got me thinking about business in a fresh way. They were treating people well and believed business can – and should be - a force for good, for positive social change.”

The story became a turning point for him professionally and personally.

“Until then, I had a cliché view of business. The tension that existed between business and values got me thinking in a fresh way. Suddenly, I was no longer interested in writing about media companies, the entertainment industry, American Idol.”

Gunther began writing with “a sense of purpose.”

He wrote a cover story about the greening of Walmart and one about Jeff Immelt’s efforts to reshape the values of General Electric. “Those were two very interesting reputational turnarounds.”

He wrote a cover piece about Hank Paulson, as well as spirituality in the workplace. He authored stories about the business of carbon finance, the rise of corporate social responsibility, the zero-waste movement, genetically-modified rice, environmental activism, corporate governance, AIDS and gay rights in corporate America.

Last December, Gunther (and about 100 others) was let go by Fortune. He calls this experience “a hugely valuable event,” because it connected him with even greater numbers of interesting people and opportunities. Gunther likens it to an economic model called creative disruption “where things are destroyed and then new things spring up.”

The social media revolution is serving him well. His popular blog is proliferating. Gunther is on Facebook, YouTube and he’s started Tweeting (@MarcGunther).

His blog is being syndicated by two of the most influential online environmental voices, and The Energy Collective.

Proving "creative disruption" brings good karma to good people, Gunther not only still writes for Fortune, he authored the current cover story “Warren Buffett takes charge” about the Chinese company BYD. 

Gunther smiles and in his self-effacing style says, "This could be a first - a laid off reporter writing a cover story for the publication that let him go, four months after it happened."


Clean tech podcast: Joe Trippi

Joe Trippi podcast Beaupre & Co.National political consultant Joe Trippi talks about the public policy dimensions of clean technology development and why he thinks renewable energy is for real after the false start of the 1970s.

Clean tech podcast: Advent Solar CEO Peter Green

Advent Solar podcast - Beaupre Brodeur clean technologyPeter Green, President and CEO of Advent Solar,leading manufacturer of innovative solar cells and modules, talks about the parallels between the semiconductor and solar photovoltaic (PV ) industries, and highlights new opportunities for innovation based on these parallels.


Clean technology experts bullish for change @ Harvard Club event

Marc Gunther - Clean Technology event Boston, MA 10-28-08There was lots of passion on display at Tuesday’s Clean Technology event at the Harvard Club (disclosure: sponsored by Beaupre and Brodeur Partners).

Marc Gunther, Fortune magazine’s senior writer and sustainability expert opened the session with a talk called “The clean technology revolution: bigger than the Internet?” He said five pivotal forces will make this a reality: science; scale; stimulus, security and generational change. Here are some Gunther sound bites:  
  • “Cleantech hasn’t had its Netscape moment yet.”
  • “The science is so compelling it’s hard to turn back.”
  • “This has become personal to them (CEOs). They are, on some level, thinking about their legacies - what kind of world they’re leaving for their children and grandchildren.”
  • “This is the growth sector for America.”
Gunther moderated a panel of frightful cleantech brainpower: Scott Clavenna, CEO of Greentech Media; Nick d’Arbeloff, Executive Director of the N.E. Clean Energy Council; William Huss, adjunct lecturer at Babson and former COO at XENERGY; Paul Maeder, General Partner, Highland Capital Partners.
Highlights from the panelists:
  • The pace of change isn’t fast enough, but New England is off to “a fantastic start.”
  • If Obama is elected, it will be positive for clean technology, “We’ll look back in six months and be amazed.”
  • The revolution will occur via 100,000 “small garages” vs. a Manhattan Project-like effort.
  • We’ll need unprecedented private sector creativity and public sector political power working together like they’ve never done before.
  • Investment and growth for cleantech is markedly different vs. the software industry. 
  • The VC industry is ripe for upheaval; a shakeout is looming.
Clean Technology panelists 10-28-08Cleantech VC guru Paul Maeder said “We’re going to have to look at new models of cooperation or we’ll all go the way of the duckbill platypus.”
Nick d’Arbeloff said “Government and policy played no role in the information technology boom, but energy is fundamentally different. The only way to solve our energy problems is to unleash the free market on them, but we also need a government policy foundation.”

Clean technology media pioneer Scott Clavenna said “We lost eight critical years. We need leadership from the top, at the White House. We need our (new) President to say, “This is what we’re going to do” and then stick with it. It’s time for a bold step.”
Former XENERGY COO and current Babson Adjunct Lecturer Bill Huss said companies developing energy efficiency technologies “can’t find people fast enough to hire into the industry.”
Fortune’s Gunther cited several examples illustrating how business is capable of playing a critical role in affecting societal change. “Despite the well-known flaws and problems with corporate America, we can see big and certainly small companies being significant drivers of change.” 
Gunther should know. He’s interviewed the likes of Jeff Immelt and Michael Dell and wrote the September 29 cover piece about Hank Paulson. He’s a captivating storyteller, weaving fascinating tales about the impact of business on society. Check out his blog at

Survey says: cleantech reporters not bullish about U.S. achieving energy independence

Our parent company, Brodeur Partners, announced the results of a new survey with clean energy and environmental reporters regarding their industry outlook and use of social media.

 The key takeaways:

  • Journalists are skeptical about whether the United States can significantly decrease its dependence on fossil fuel.
  • Academic institutions and government bodies are the most trusted sources of information on cutting-edge clean energy technologies. Over 90% of journalists view these as credible news sources.
  • Most are influenced by blogs and spend more than an hour each day reading them.

You can read survey results here.

Utility-scale solar power in the spotlight

Utility-scale solar power Solar Power 08 Beaupre When I walked the aisles at Solar Power 08 it was salmon-packed-home-bound-up-the-river-time; you literally moved down aisles in slow motion. Like the telecommunications scene two decades ago, consolidation is coming fast to the solar industry. I've never seen so many manufacturers of photovoltaic (PV) modules; they're not all going to make it. But it's not just PV manufacturers here in San Diego, there's a fully developed ecosystem including utilities, distributors, contractors, installers, architects, consultants and financiers.
The most amazing factoid I've heard so far is fresh data published by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), which co-sponsors the show with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
 Why use solar? Beaupre & Co. Clean Technology Practice
SEPA disclosed that utilities are quickly becoming the largest customer for the solar industry. Leading the way is Southern California Edison which has the most solar electric capacity integrated into its power portfolio. Overall capacity exceeds 409 megawatts. Pacific Gas & Electric has the most solar electric capacity on the customer side of the meter with 144+ megawatts. And there are dozens and dozens of other utilities upping the ante.
It's not a cliche to say we're only seeing the literal tip of the iceberg. 2008 has seen an unprecedented number of announcements of large solar power projects that include concentrating solar thermal and Clean technology Beaupre & Co. Solar Power '08 Andy Beauprephotovoltaic plants. The scale of activity is massive, over 5,500 projects ranging from 10 to 800 megawatt installations.
Lots and lots of jobs are also being created; over 4.2 million nationally at last count.
As Governor Schwarzenegger said "Solar is everywhere, it's the future; it can't be stopped."
Everybody in San Diego is pretty pumped up this week; encouraging news for a struggling economic time.
Let the sunshine in.

Sunshine days at Solar Power 2008 in San Diego

Solar Power International 08 San Diego LogoI'm in San Diego catching lots of sun at Solar Power 2008.
This whole scene reminds me of high tech industry boom days circa 20+ years ago (well before the Internet explosion) when technologies and companies were genuinely substantive and going someplace real.
Consider these numbers. Solar Power made its debut only five years ago with about 40 companies exhibiting. Visitor attendance was around 100 people. Same deal in 2005. 
 Solar Power International 2008
In 2006, exhibitors doubled to about 100; that same year visitors spiked to 8,000.
In 2007, exhibitors doubled again, to 200; visitors jumped to approximately 13,000.
This year, the doubling effect has happened again. There are at least 450 vendors showing their wares and more than 25,000 people are checking out what is now the world's largest solar event. The registration lines are deep and they've already sold out full conference offerings.
Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked things off in a surprise visit Monday night. Say what you want about The Governator, but he's demonstrated unmatched commitment and leadership on environmental issues. Cah-lee-forr-nea is so far ahead of every other state; it's remarkable and inspiring. Gov. Schwarzenegger was in a spirited mood and rallied the audience with an upbeat series of quotables including:
 Solar Power International 2008 - San Diego California
"We want to have everything clean."
"What's green for the environment can also be green for the economy."
"We must not give in to those who say the environment should take a backseat during difficult financial times. It is wrong.”
"Something's going on when Congress finally gets its act together; we've been pushing them and pushing them, and finally a tax credit."
"We're seeing more action than even some action movies; not mine, they had great action."
"I can envision going in the helicopter and seeing no more warehouses without solar power on top of them."
"Be bold and keep shooting for the stars. I'll be back."
He knows how to get a crowd pumped up.

NEWS: Our new clean technology practice launches

Clean Technology - Beaupre Brodeur Today we launched our new clean technology practice aimed at helping start-ups and established companies gain public support for eco-friendly technologies that will create economic growth, cut energy costs and stave off potential environmental crises.

Here's a link to the news release.

Nation’s first greenhouse gas cap-and-trade auction launches

Nation’s first greenhouse gas cap-and-trade auction launches; Beaupre In case you missed it (most people did), yesterday saw the launch of the nation's first mandatory cap-and-trade auction for carbon emission credits ... with little fanfare. 

Ten northeastern states, including our little Granite State, will let polluters bid on a limited amount CO2 allowances - 188 million tons of carbon emissions annually, to be exact. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI (pronounced 'Reggie'), will cap emissions for 233 power plants, with a goal of reducing the cap an additional 10% by 2018. 

But already the system has its critics. After a tepid first day of trading, the Wall Street Journal took a skeptical view of the program's long-term viability. The New York Times pointed out how emissions cap will have little impact at first because it's based on overestimates of CO2 output. And others cry that it's no more than a tax in green clothing that will raise electric rates (which it probably will, at first, but lower over the long term).

But the critics are shortsighted. What's more more important is that a real, free market-based cap-and-trade system for global warming reduction is now in place. There's a platform and regulatory mandate for cutting greenhouse gasses that didn't exist before. It's a build-it-and-they-will-come opportunity. It's a good first step.

Call me a green romantic. I know RGGI won't save the world right away, but at least we're finally giving power companies financial incentives to modernize plants, reduce emissions and explore alternative energy approaches. The program freezes greenhouse gases from power plants at current levels, and promises significant reductions long term.

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