Arizona Utilities: A Thorn in the Side of Distributed Generation

Nationwide, utilities have been wary of the expansion of residential solar (termed Distributed Generation in the energy industry), as we discussed in a previous post. The contentions between utility executives and DG providers came to head an announcement from Salt River Project.

SolarCity Files Lawsuit Against Salt River Project for Antitrust Violations

SolarCity’s dispute with SRP claims that that new surcharges “sabotaged” customers’ ability to generate their own power.

The crux of SRP’s (a major Arizona utility) new fee is this: all customers who have solar arrays installed after December of 2014 will be assessed a $50 “demand charge,” which will apply regardless of how much or little power the customer’s array produces. Therefore, any new residential solar customer should expect to pay at least $600 per year, in addition to their variable utility costs. SunPower, the solar company for which I work, has determined that the SRP fees have made residential solar non-viable overnight. SolarCity has taken the same position and is now suing the utility for antitrust violations.

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What Should We Expect of Solar?

I was pleased to see our fellow contributors give voice to the promising outlook of solar energy in a recent post. There is no doubt that this technology will be a game-changer for utilities in the coming century, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Last month, I was thrilled to start my first full-time position at SunPower Corporation, one of the largest solar cell manufacturers in the United States. Tempering that excitement was the knowledge that, at least for the short term, I wouldn’t be traveling to India to work with Crist and some of his wonderful staff. But let’s back solar.

This is every solar installer’s dream: a perfectly tilted, south-facing, non-shaded, sun-bathed roof.

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Sharing My Summer Travels

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” -St. Augustine.

Over this past summer, I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity of traveling around the United States and abroad to see some various national parks. Traveling abroad–and especially, traveling to areas of natural beauty carved out by Earth–always serve as a humble reminder of how little we’ve seen and how important global conservation efforts are. I’d like to think that my summer’s travels to China and Hawaii have opened a little bit more of that book, and it’s with great pleasure that I share some of the pictures from the trip.

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Reflecting on My Time at Cornell

Moving is almost always a bittersweet experience.

Over the past week, my move from Ithaca back to California certainly erred more on the side of bitterness, and like many of my peers, I find it very difficult to believe that I am now a Cornell alumnus. But the four years have indeed come to an end, and I now sit in my room in Cupertino, wondering what graduating from the Hotel School would mean for me. In the process, I thought back to some of the advice that professors and mentors had given to me during my undergraduate career. It’s with great pleasure that I share some of that advice today with my fellow Cornell students and alumni.

Cornell central campus: a sight that I will dearly miss.

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From the 2012 Net Impact Conference, Part 3

In my last installment of a trio of posts on the 2012 Net Impact Conference, I want to draw our readers’ attention to a keynote panel that included the CEO of Coca-Cola and the president of Honest Tea. The topic of this panel centered on healthy eating and consumer choices. By way of background, Honest Tea is an organic tea company that was founded by Seth Goldman in 1998. Honest Tea is a poster child of socially responsible innovation: the firm sources herbs/plants from developing countries, supports poor farmers, uses organic ingredients, and provides sustainable product packaging. But in 2011, Coca-Cola bought a majority share of Honest Tea.

Leaders from Honest Tea and Coca-Cola sparred over a variety of issues, but they agreed that consumers were ultimately responsible for their own health.

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A Look Back at AguaClara

Pure nostalgia. That’s how I felt when I looked through the photos on my computer of my trip to Honduras two years ago. I was reminded by a previous post about my experience with AguaClara, a Cornell project team that designs and builds water treatment plant for impoverished communities in Honduras. The team has grown in size and prestige ever since I left, and it’s garnered multiple awards (from the EPA and Katerva, most recently).

AguaClara team members walking across a narrow suspension bridge in rural Honduras.

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From the 2012 Net Impact Conference, Part 2

Continuing on my previous post about the 2012 Net Impact Conference, I want to address some of the interesting and debatable issues that several company panelists spoke about during the conference. I dedicate this post to addressing Monsanto’s climate change adaptation strategies. A very interesting discussion on how businesses have been approaching climate change adaptation included panelists from the World Resources Institute, AT&T, Monsanto, and a few universities. Monsanto’s strategies related to increased crop yield, and its view was that higher production was the clear answer to climate change risk and food insecurity.

Monsanto has experienced a haunted past (and continues to suffer from a poor reputation among environmentalists) with activist groups protesting its GMO seeds and its aggressive litigation against farmers.

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From the 2012 Net Impact Conference, Part 1

A couple weekends ago, I attended the 2012 Net Impact Conference, which was hosted by the University of Maryland in Baltimore this year. If you’re unfamiliar with Net Impact, it is a 30,000-member nonprofit focused on mobilizing students and professionals to solve the world’s most pressing environmental and social problems through the public and private sector. I would personally describe Net Impact as an organization dedicated to mobilizing young professionals to make impacts with their careers. It’s an awesome organization.

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Socially Responsible Investing: An Ineffective Struggle or a Powerful Tool?

Barbara Krumsiek, President and CEO of Calvert Investments, has led the company for 15 years.

Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of working at Calvert Investments, a Bethesda-based socially responsible investing (SRI) firm. The words “socially responsible investing” would often raise eyebrows as I attempted to concisely describe to other hotelies at Cornell what exactly Calvert does. Socially responsible investing is broadly defined as a holistic approach to investing that considers both the economic and social/environmental returns of your money. Although SRI accounts for less than five percent of all general investment funds, it is a growing field with potential. Cornell’s business school has had some interesting takes on this asset class.

So what does SRI look like? There are many different approaches, so I’ll just describe what Calvert tries to do. From Calvert’s view, it is an extensive process of research, indexing, and investing. First, we perform research on firms that we potentially want to invest in or that our clients are asking us to invest in. The research is comprehensive and looks primarily at environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues for a specific company. For example, imagine that we’re considering to invest in BP. Some of the research we might do would ask these types questions (again, these are hypothetical, and they only skim the surface):

  • Environmental factors: How many oil spills have there been in the past year? What environmental remediation plans are in place? Is in-depth environmental training provided for employees? Does the firm mine/drill in high-risk areas?
  • Social factors: Are workers paid a living wage? Does the firm employ child labor overseas? What human rights violations has the company committed?
  • Governance factors: What proportion of women make up the board of directors? Has the company been investigated for anti-competitive activities? Has the firm been investigated by the SEC for trading violations? Have there been attempted hostile takeovers?

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So What’s the Deal with Foie Gras?

Crist’s recent post brought up an interesting and current issue: foie gras. If you’re unfamiliar with what foie gras is, it’s essentially fattened duck or goose liver. It is a French delicacy and widely appreciated for its rich flavor and buttery mouth-feel. But foie gras production has come under fire recently: California has banned the sale of foie gras (effective July 12, 2012), and it is illegal in Israel, Argentina, and several European countries. So what’s the deal with foie gras?

Foie gras: tasty dish or cruel exploitation? You decide.

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The Case Against Red Meat

Are you trying to eat healthier? Then stop eating red meat.

That’s the message that we’ve see in the past few years: dozens of news articles and medical journals tell us the dangers of red meat–beef in particular. The recent scare over pink slime has further increased distaste and caution around ground beef, and the suspicion is beginning to spread to other types of meat as well. Amidst all of the hype about meat in our diets, sustainability- and health-conscious consumers might wonder why scientists are focusing on red meat. Why not chicken, pork, or fish? The answer is two-sided: one relates to health concerns, and the other relates to environmental impacts of cattle-raising. Let’s briefly look at both.

Want to dig in? Not so fast, suggests the results from a study of the Harvard School of Public Health. Eating just a few ounces of red meat every day can increase your risk of colon cancer and heart disease.

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Carbon Emissions Series: Scope 3 for Hospitality

If someone asks you to measure your property’s scope 3 emissions, you should tell them that it’s basically impossible. Because it is. That’s the gist of this post. But before we despair over the endless range of scope 3 emissions for a hotel property, let’s toss in the GHG Protocol’s definition:

Scope 3: Other indirect emissions, such as the extraction and production of purchased materials and fuels, transport-related activities in vehicles not owned or controlled by the reporting entity, electricity-related activities (e.g. T&D losses) not covered in Scope 2, outsourced activities, waste disposal, etc.

How far does your supply chain reach? The vast scope, depth, and complexity of hotels' supply chains and customer interactions make scope 3 measurement a daunting task.

From the GMIC’s Sustainable Meetings Conference

Greetings from Montreal! I’m posting from Montreal and the Green Meeting Industry Council’s 2012 Sustainable Meetings Conference. I was fortunate to receive the Nancy Zavada Scholarship that enables me to attend this wonderful conference, and I’ve been thrilled to participate in the Future Leaders Forum, which informs current students of the challenges and opportunities of the meetings/events sector. I’m pleased to briefly share some of the things the conference has covered so far.

Strangely enough, the Hilton hotel at which our conference is held does not seem to be very sustainable. A lack of low-flow water fixtures, occupancy sensors, high-efficiency HVAC, and aggressive guest engagement is evident.

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Carbon Emissions Series: Scope 2 for Hospitality

In our continuing discussion about the types of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we have now come to scope 2 and how it relates to the hospitality industry. Much of the research at the Cornell Hotel School focuses on lowering electricity usage, which directly correlates with scope 2 emissions. Let’s start off with a definition.

Scope 2: Indirect GHG emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam.

One of the biggest sources of scope 2 emissions is the coal-fired power plant, which emits CO2, NOx, SOx, and a number of heavy metals. Although it is extremely inefficient, coal remains a major source of electricity in the United States.

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Carbon Emissions Series: Scope 1 for Hospitality

In my previous post, I identified carbon emissions as the significant metric to track for hospitality, and I explained why hospitality is one of the best industries to target for sustainability efforts. Now I’d like to delve deeper into the different types of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and how they relate to hospitality. My goal of this three-part explanation is to provide our readers with a broad understanding of the scopes of GHG emissions and with a general idea of the extent to which hospitality contributes to climate change. Let’s jump right in!

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol defines three scopes of emissions. Our discussion today will focus only on the first scope, as it relates to hotel properties: direct, on-site emissions.

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Carbon Emissions Series: Why Hospitality?

In the past two months, I’ve hammered through interview after interview for internships this summer, and sustainable hospitality is a subject that seems to always surface. Along with the standard boiler-plate questions, I noticed that one topic in particular would often be asked about my interest in hospitality: why target sustainability in this industry? Why not sustainability elsewhere? And is the Cornell Hotel School the best place to explore it? I must admit that I didn’t answer the question too well the first few times, but I’ve taken a step back to truly think about my answer.

The hospitality industry's reach is near endless. It is indirectly involved with the GHG emissions of six of the eight major contributors above: transportation, agriculture, commercial services, land use, waste, and power.

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Schneider Electric: Saving Energy across Multiple Cultures

Last week in my Facilities Management course at the Cornell Hotel School, Al Nels, Global Account Manager for Marriott from Schneider Electric, presented in class as a guest speaker. His presentation explored the energy-saving capabilities of various systems developed by Schneider Electric, as well as simple tips that hotels often overlook. Among the many insights Nels shared, one in particular stood out to me: the cultural divide between American and European hotel guests—and the steps that Schneider is taking in order to save energy in both areas of the world.

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Why Don’t More Hotels Go Green?

After I received my LEED Green Associate accreditation last week, I decided to browse online to see if there were any interesting LEED-certified projects related to hospitality. I came across a great interview video between SAS, a company known for their statistical software, and Dennis Quaintance, president of Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels. His company is recognized as an industry leader in green hotels, and its flagship property–The Proximity–is LEED Platinum Certified. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the 2010 Sustainability Roundtable two years ago. Check out the video below (skip ahead to 1:46 for the important soundbite).

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Carbon Emissions Series: Green Neighborhood Design

With the close of the semester, I’ve had some time to reflect on the classes I took—and which ones provided the most value. One of best courses I took this semester at Cornell was called Green Real Estate, and it was taught by Mark Vorreuter, a passionate LEED AP who was eager to see students of all majors interested in green buildings. The course covered many aspects of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a certification offered by the Green Building Council for buildings, homes, and neighborhoods that meet a set of criteria. I remembered spending several nights cramming for a practice LEED exam in which I had to acquaint myself with many of its specific criteria, but not until recently was I able to see the real effects of green building and neighborhood design.

Suburbs in Pearland offer large houses, wide roads, and generous land spacing.

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2011 Sustainability Roundtable at the Hotel School

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 3rd annual Sustainability Roundtable at Cornell University. The roundtable was attended by several notable industry executives from Marriott, InterContinental, Starwood, and Wyndham. It covered five topics: sustainability across global platforms, standardizing environmental footprints of hotel stays, customer choices, sustainability in the meetings/events sector, and leveraging trends and overcoming barriers in sustainability. Participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds; hospitality franchisors, owners, operators, suppliers, consultants, utility providers, investors, and researchers were all represented. In short, it was a meeting of the best, most passionate minds in sustainable hospitality. Although their discussion covered a wide range of important issues, the session that I found most interesting was “Sustainability and Customer Choices,” which I’ll briefly touch on.

Roger Simons, Manager from Meeting Professionals International (MPI); AJ Singh, Associate Professor of Michigan State University; and Ted Saunders, Director of Sustainability for Saunders Hotel Group partake in a lively discussion at the roundtable that the Center for Hospitality Research hosted.

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