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.”

UNH sets national precedent with major landfill gas project

UNH Thompson Hall - Photo credit: UNH Foundation, Inc.Congratulations to our friends and neighbors at the University of New Hampshire for becoming the first university in the nation to use landfill gas as its primary fuel source.
 
That gas is methane, which is produced naturally as garbage decays at landfills like Turnkey in Rochester, N.H., operated by UNH partner Waste Management Inc. UNHA 12.7-mile pipeline brings purified landfill gas from Waste Management's Turnkey Recycling and Environmental Enterprise (TREE) facility in Rochester to the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, where it will provide up to 85 percent of the university's energy needs. Credit: Perry Smith, UNH Photographic Services. runs a plant at the landfill site to compress and purify methane collected from 300 extraction wells and miles of pipes. After processing, the gas travels through a 12.7-mile pipeline to the campus’s co-generation plant in Durham. Since 2006, the plant has used commercial natural gas to generate electricity and divert “waste heat” from the power generation to warm campus buildings. This week, the university declared the new system complete, meaning it is now turning on the landfill source. Up to 85 percent of the campus’s electricity and heat will come from the purified natural gas, according to the university.
 
Purified landfill gas replaces commercial natural gas in the University of New Hampshire's cogeneration plant. In operation since 2006, UNH's cogeneration plant captures waste heat normally lost during the production of electricity and uses this energy to heat campus buildings.Credit: Mike Ross, UNH Photographic Services.The total cost of the “EcoLine” project is $49 million, including the pipeline and processing plant. The university is going on record predicting a 10-year payback. To finance the project as well as additional sustainability projects, UNH will sell renewable energy certificates (RECs) and excess power.
 
“This massive project, more than four years in the making, will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and stabilize our fuel source and costs,” UNH President Mark W. Huddleston said in a news release. “EcoLine showcases UNH’s fiscal and environmental responsibility and secures our leadership position in sustainability.”
 
With the help of EcoLine and RECs sales, UNH is pledging to cut its greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050 with a carbon neutrality target of 2100.
 
As national policy makers ponder a nuclear energy renaissance and consumers sustain a heavy demand for petroleum, it’s wonderful to see this glorious pipe dream come true. Thank you, Waste Management, and thank you, UNH.

Baseball, apple pie and sustainability

Portsmouth, NH Sustainability Fair 2009Today we are pleased to have guest blogger, Carrie O'Neil, a Sr. Account Executive at Beaupre, write about the local sustainability fair.

This past week the Portsmouth community took some giant steps forward in becoming an eco-municipality at the 2nd annual Portsmouth Sustainability Fair.

As the local Little League played games across the street, and farmer’s market around the corner was a hive of activity, the Sustainability Fair was a more contemporary scene. With human-powered vehicles, composting buckets, geothermal systems, solar hot water systems and rainwater collection systems, the Fair was abuzz with inspiring ideas.

Crowds came to the Zero Waste event with their recycled goods for donation and an open mind about what they can do to reduce their impact on the earth. While kids learned about ocean creatures and crafts made from recycled materials, their parents were able to learn about reducing dependence on fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals.

Portsmouth Sustainability Fair - 2009; Photo by Ralph MorangIn addition to the big ticket solar panels and geothermal energy systems you might expect to see at a sustainability event, people saw a lot of small measures like composting, locally grown and fair trade food, weatherization, waterless/earth friendly car washing solutions, and natural beauty products. All these measures, spoke to the single most important change we can make to help the environment: consuming less.

Portsmouth has been Beaupre’s home for 26 years, so it was gratifying for us to witness so much interest in environmentally sustainable practices (We were also pleased to help this local cause).

Maybe some day back-yard composters, geothermal pumps and bio fuels will be woven into the fabric of everyday life just as tightly as the Little League. 

Idea for solving an eco-calamity: garbage in, electricity out

Great Pacific Garbage PatchThe word’s largest garbage dump is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a toxic swarm of plastic trash twice the size of Texas that’s wreaking havoc on sea birds and marine life. It’s an obscene environmental problem for which we’re all responsible, but no one has a solution nor wants to deal with it. So yesterday, a group of scientists and conservationists set out to map the calamity and try to figure out a plan.

The US has nearly 90 waste-to-energy plants that turn garbage into electricity and hot water. They burn nearly as clean as natural gas plants, displace 7.8 million tons of coal-produced energy, and every ton of garbage consumed by the plants eliminates one ton LESS of CO2 emissions due to landfills and fossil fuel generation.

I’m just saying….

Cleantech links for 5-6-2009

- Thinking of going solar? First start with an energy self audit. Here's how (Scientific American)

- Ford is spending $550 million to retool one of its plants into a green car factory (CNET Planetary Gear)

- Is the EPA finally standing up to the corn ethanol lobby? The industry is having a conniption over new biofuel emission rules. (Earth2Tech)

- What do think of Volkswagen's new eco-friendly (or not?) print ad? Greenwash Index wants to know.

- The first LEED Platinum, true Zero Net Energy home in Vermont. (Jetson Green)

- We know the clean energy industry is engineering bacteria to produce better biofuels. But bacteria for better solar panels too?

Green business may need a little white-collar entrepreneurship

 

Shai Agassi - Better PlaceDo you ever have a flash of inspiration, then shrug it off thinking it probably couldn’t pan out?

 

Shai Agassi never does. His back-of-the-napkin conversation with an engineer has quickly become perhaps the most viable plan for making all-electric cars feasible (hybrids still depend on fossil fuel). Agassi has a clever solution to “range anxiety,” the pervasive consumer worry that electric cars are prone to stranding their owners on deserted roads. His solution? If you run low on juice, don’t plug in for half a day; just switch the battery out. In the time it takes to pump a tank of gas, a robot would whiz out to your car, reach underneath, pluck out the battery and pop in a new one. If anyone can make that fanciful notion real, suggests the New York Times Magazine, it’s Agassi.

 Green business may need a little white-collar entrepreneurship

The 41-year-old Israeli-American has already created a software company, sold it for $400 million, started a SAP division that went from zero to $2 billion annually, and turned down the SAP CEO job. He has Israeli President Shimon Peres and Renault-Nissan behind his new venture, Better Place, and $400 million in investor backing. He is described as fearless, brilliant and charismatic, and a rhetorical steamroller in the face of objections.

 

Agassi is an exemplar of innovation (versus mere inspiration), a distinction about which we blogged a few weeks ago. He demonstrates the underappreciated need for clean, green and sustainable businesses to be as fiercely entrepreneurial as any other.

 

Unfortunately, the world often sees green concerns as starkly at odds with those of business, and every SUV or Superfund site in America reinforces the canard. Agassi, however, makes an eloquent case that classic entrepreneurship will be essential to green business success. He also trusts in the free market to drive demand for electric cars. In fact, he says, cheap electricity will subsidize those cars the same way that cheap minutes let carriers subsidize wireless handsets. (Agassi is, however, counting on government subsidies – to automakers, consumers and infrastructure builders – to kick start the market.)

 

Keep your eye on Better Place. This one promises to be a wild ride. If Agassi has his way, it won’t burn a drop of petroleum.

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