Thursday, May 31, 2012

“Floating to Victory on a Wave of Oil”: Shifting the Military’s “Operational Energy Force Structure”

Over the past holiday weekend, I thought much about my experiences as a teenager, during which I participated in honoring our fallen by placing flags at their graves for Memorial Day. I remember speaking with my grandfathers, both Army Air Corps veterans, about their experiences during WWII and the challenges that they faced during those perilous times. Remembering Earl Curzon’s famous quote that the Allies in WWI “floated to victory on a wave of oil,” only reinforced for me the truth of the famous saying that “those failing to learn from the mistakes of the past are bound to repeat them.”
In terms of energy security, I’d assert that we not only have the potential to repeat our mistakes, but also could double down on the scope of their national security and economic impacts, not if, but when energy supply chains are disrupted. Now, these stakes can be even higher with greater energy vulnerability, natural resource constraints, and climate related threat multipliers.
In my last post, I mentioned concept of diversification and its importance in our operational fuels moving forward. Our warfighters have relied on petroleum-based jet fuels since the dawn of the jet age and on marine diesel and fuel oils for even longer. These are the energy commodities around which the vast majority of our military capabilities have been designed for. In a way, our weapons platform mix or force structure is an apt analog to our operational fuel paradigm. A weapons platform’s purpose is effectively to deliver steel on target. Likewise, operational fuels purpose is to just deliver BTUs to our force multiplier technologies, whether jet turbines, compression ignition engines or field generators.  

In a way, our workhorse—conventional petroleum fuels—are a good analog to our B-52s. Both have served our warfighters well for generations and will continue doing so into the future. However, while one of our first jet-powered and most enduring “bomb trucks,” the B-52s are not the only weapons platform in our military’s arsenal for delivering steel on target. A diversified set of weapons platform capabilities allows us flexibility for changing mission sets and for a rapidly evolving global security environment. While B-52s can deliver ordnance in multiple roles, it is not as well suited to close ground support and tank killing as, say, the venerable A-10 “Warthog.”
Likewise, our growing fleet of MQ-9 Reapers, with their extreme loiter time, advanced sensors, and more limited ability to carry ordnance, provide flexibility and options for accomplishing new mission sets, such counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism.
This diversity of force structure likewise applies to our operational fuel options, more precisely their supply chains and feedstocks. My colleague, Taylor Wilkerson, in his chapter on supply chain risk management and building resilience reflects this approach. We will certainly continue using our petroleum-based fuels (“B-52s”), but should we support our military services efforts to diversify their operational fuel supply chain vulnerabilities, such as alternative fuels and biofuels? What are our operational fuel “A-10s” and “Reapers” should we be investing in? What should our military’s operational energy force structure look like moving forward? Certainly these are open questions, but our warfighters deserve reduced vulnerability provided by diversified operational fuel supply chains. If there are side benefits, such as performance enhancements and reduced air and GHG emissions, why should these be detractor to their use, particularly if they support great combat capability and potentially reduce lifecycle maintenance costs (reduced engine teardowns)?
While down at the NDIA’s E2S2 conference last week in New Orleans, I sat in an insightful panel discussion on “Energy Security Grids / Infrastructure,” discussing over a decade of work and lessons learned in securing our nation’s critical electrical infrastructure. Of note, a representative from Entergy, the local electrical utility, shared their experiences post hurricanes Katrina and Rita and, later, Ike—all of which spurred them to take a proactive risk management approach (as part of an integrated climate adaptation plan) that informed investments and partnerships to build resilience both with their infrastructure and with their customers.
These analyses, planning and outreach effort are projected to reduce this utility’s anticipated annual losses by billions of dollars moving forward. Proactive risk management fundamentally informs organizational cost and budgetary decisions, and this is, in many ways, analogous to the military services efforts in alternative operational fuels. Another speaker on this energy security panel noted that 9/11 spurred the US government to focus on security but that Katrina forced them to reevaluate and face the critical necessity to build in resiliency into our critical electric grid infrastructure.
This begs a similar question for our operational fuel mix: we are certainly ocusing on energy security, but is the current approach and support sufficient for our military’s alternative fuels to be a resilient and diversified operational energy force structure moving forward? My hope is that our leaders will have the foresight to allow them to choose their path proactively without a detrimental catalyst to action, such as a Persian Gulf closure impacting petroleum prices.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Warm Winter; Early Spring = Climate Change Uptick in Insects and Pollen

The public health side of climate change hasn't exactly been under the radar, but some elements of the impact of a changing climate have. Heat hasn't been overlooked, for example; but you've likely heard less about a rise in insect populations, such as ticks.

Cornell University professor of natural resources and extension wildlife specialist Paul Curtis studies human-wildlife contact and the potential for disease transmission. Curtis believes 2012 will have increased risk for tick borne disease like Lyme disease. “In areas with abundant oaks and mice, it appears tick numbers will be very high based on data collected at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. While the current mild winter weather does not cause a rise in tick populations, it can change tick behavior. Adult ticks, which are slightly larger than a sesame seed, are normally dormant in winter. Ticks start to seek a host for a blood meal whenever temperatures rise well above freezing. The warm winter of 2011-12 induced earlier than normal tick activity.”

Relative sizes of several ticks at different life stages. In general, adult ticks are approximately the size of a sesame seed and nymphal ticks are approximately the size of a poppy seed.  
Source:  CDC

For those of you interested, a good source of information on preventing Lyme disease is the CDC. Their site has information on preventing tick bites, removing ticks and other topics like signs and symptoms of the disease.

Another disease carrying insect that is coming on strong and showing up earlier than normal this year is the mosquito. Parents are asking local government officials, “….my children are under mosquito nets. I want to know what are you going to do today?” CDC has quite a lot of information on the diseases spread by mosquitoes including West Nile Virus and several varities of encephalitis.
The treehole mosquito (Aedes triseriatus) transmits the virus that causes La Crosse encephalitis. Source CDC.

Allergy sufferers are also having a bad year with pollen counts reaching record levels early.  This fits in with CDC's take on aeroallergins increases due to climate change.

This year’s early interest in Lyme disease, mosquitoes and allergy points to one of the interesting things about human health and climate—the number and types of indirect ways that changing climate patterns can potentially affect health.

Weather and climate patterns that have been constant on the human time scale now appear to show steady and relatively rapid alterations. Although it’s easy to recognize the direct affects from those changes, such as direct heat illness or even death from heat waves or potential drowning from flooding following major storms, the indirect health effects are more numerous and generally less obvious. In our book I introduced many of the indirect health effects that occur in the areas of air quality, water or food borne illness, insect or animal-vector disease, mental health and aggravation of underlying chronic illnesses. For example:
  • Air quality - higher temperatures increase air conditioner use and the related increase in fossil fuels to meet electricity demand generates more particulate matter—when you add in the increase in low-level ozone during heat waves—there is the potential for new cases of lung injury and we are likely to see persons with existing respiratory disease (asthma or COPD) have problems.
  • Water and food borne illness – extreme weather, both flooding and drought, can affect water and food supplies. While floods can carry biological and chemical contamination to drinking water supplies, droughts can reduce availability of water supplies and also cause higher concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals as water evaporates.
  • Insect and animal vectors of disease – Temperature is only one climatic factor affecting the complex life-cycle and population ranges of disease vectors. However, as warmer winters and extended Spring through Autumn breeding seasons allow for increased vector populations across larger geographic area there is further opportunity for disease spread. Geographical ranges for ticks that can carry Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and for the mosquito species that carry malaria, dengue and West Nile virus have already grown.
  • Mental health – Extreme weather and associated anxiety and stress from displacement, job loss and inability to access food and water can cause depression, sleep disorders, drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Chronic illnesses – Chronic illnesses of the heart, respiratory tract and other body systems can be aggravated by the effects of heat waves, flooding, drought, forced displacement from home, shortages of suitable food and water supplies and disruption in clinical care access .
I think you can see that while the direct effects of climate and weather events on health will be concentrated around the time and place of the event, the indirect effects will be more abundant; will last longer; will affect larger numbers of people; and as a result; will cost more to address.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Smart Business: Making a New Case for Action on Climate Change

I began this post by thinking about who we wrote this book for and why. After all, it’s just a book—the audience should be pretty clear, right? And we’ve been adamant that we designed this book to speak to a larger audience than just scientists and politicians.

To be fair, at least scientists and politicians are speaking about the climate change issue. No matter what side of the coin they’re on, dialogue is usually a productive thing if it goes on long enough. But our book attempts to reach people far beyond those groups for a very simple reason: there are others who have a hand in action.

Climate science, as my esteemed colleague Rachael Jonassen points out, is complicated. The data is tough to wade through (which is why LMI designed its Climate Change Knowledge Engine to allow greater accessibility to the data). And we’re at a crossroads where people can either figure out a path toward action by becoming an engaged stakeholder, or wait, and discover that the issue has become substantially more difficult to manage.

The challenge remains convincing people that this is smart business.

A new study by researchers at Stanford University has revealed the disconcerting notion that in the United States over the past two years, public support for adopting policies to address climate change has fallen.

In the Stanford study, the authors found that, in addition to a growing distrust for environmental scientists by some demographics, there was a decline in the number of people who wanted government action on the issue—five percentage points each year, in fact.

The rise in distrust is not unexpected. Part of this is a general atmosphere of distrust that’s developed over the past decade in what’s real and what’s not. We see it everywhere from digital photography to scientific data—certainly with the climate change issue. Once a seed of doubt has been planted, it’s tough to regain lost trust.

Likewise, the desire to see less government action is understandable. We’re in lean times, and the political divide in this country largely revolves around how taxpayer dollars should be spent.

But I believe there’s another issue: messaging. It’s not the first time that this has happened—the unfortunate phrase global warming is still in wide use, rather than the more accurate climate change. But at the core of a changing climate is a threat that must be comprehended without a set of well-defined impacts.

Fairly straight forward.
For instance, it’s easy to make the case that you shouldn’t light matches and throw them in a wastebasket filled with paper. The result of that action is a very easy thing to demonstrate. But the impacts of a changing climate are more fluid, and there is greater range to the severity. We have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen and a strong feel for the time frame, but it’s impossible to be more precise—you won’t hear anyone say with a straight face that in 5 years, 7 month, and 12 days the Southwestern U.S. will be in a crippling drought. There’s no wastebasket fire to point at and say, “See?!?

So while the public might struggle to see a broad impact, managers of organizations have a better feel for the issue. They already look down the road and make strategic decisions to ensure their organization’s sustainability. They’re making investments now that will pay off later. The problem is that no one is talking to functional managers about climate change, no one is helping them understand the issue and the risk, and no one is outlining the possible steps they can take. There’s a serious lack of enough understanding that is needed make the case for the investment their organization’s resources. A different approach is needed.

So what would this different approach be, and what makes us believe it can be an effective one? I think it goes back to the heart of why a thriving organization earns its success—they think strategically, they use their resources wisely, and they understand the risks facing their organization.

Simply put, it means appealing to purse strings over heart strings.

Right, but why do you really do it?
Look, the case that addressing a changing climate is the right thing to do remains a valid argument. But it’s not an entirely convincing one—I’m reminded of Helen Lovejoy lamenting “Won’t somebody please think of the children!?”—and certainly not when shareholders are involved.

But shareholders do care about the profitability and sustainability of the organizations they invest in (and to this end, taxpayers should be viewed as investors in the federal government). The message surrounding climate change should be that it makes sense for the health of any organization, whether it’s in the private sector or the public sector.

And in fact, what we found is, yes, that case can be made. It’s a strong one. It involves addressing climate change by applying tools that any successful organization is probably already using—cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, and life-cycle analysis. It means strategic investments that don’t damage the long-term health of an organization.

Which brings us back to the Stanford research and the notion that, more and more, people don’t want the government to lead this effort. Let’s put the power in the hands of the private sector by helping them understand how their organization can benefit from acting on climate change. Let’s show them a path that makes them more profitable, more efficient, and at the same time addressing an issue of critical importance. That’s who this book is for, and that’s what this book is trying to accomplish.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guns and Butter: Diversifying the Military’s Portfolio to Avoid “Cold Iron”

“It’s the economy, stupid!”
That mantra is making a comeback following its heyday when gas prices were well under $1 per gallon. Unprecedented times, in fact, mean that slogan is back in an unprecedented way—but perhaps it should be phrased without the ‘the’: “It’s economy, stupid!”
Today, federal budget dollars are tight, tough decisions need to be made, and investment in energy security appears to be in the crosshairs. We seem to have come back to a politically charged argument from Economics 101: the guns and butter problem. However, in this case the calculus is a wee bit more challenging because there’s a third complementary variable—energy!   

As I mentioned in our book’s national security chapter, the Department of Defense’s mission is defense, and energy is key vulnerability. This has been acknowledged going back as far as the Nixon Administration but has really become a major policy focus over the last decade. More important than the opinions of us analysts in here in D.C. (and Northern Virginia), commanders across the military services at the operational and tactical levels have been seeing the perils of our energy tether first hand, and have subsequently been voicing the need for real energy security alternatives that enable our warfighters in the field and support our strategic security interests. Just last week, a pointed letter penned by nine retired military “grey beards” was sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee reaffirming these harsh realities and supporting the military’s alternative fuel efforts.
The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA)’s June edition of National Defense magazine also had much to say recently about balancing national security and lean times as well as about staying the course on strategic energy security.
In that issue, NDIA President Lt. Gen (Ret.) Lawrence Farrell, Jr., not only discusses the budgetary necessity to overhaul defense acquisition but strongly makes the case for continued defense pursuit of energy security and renewable technologiesA recent post by Andy Bochman at the well-regarded DoD Energy Blog focused in on Lt. Gen. Farrell’s emphasis on importance of diversification and value of time.
 I would add a third core issue as that of uncertainty, and its implications in cost and investment risk. Pre-commercial technologies demo procurements always arrive on the market as quite expensive—our kids might not believe it, but I’m pretty sure Intel’s first batch of processors weren’t retailing for 100 bucks. Along those lines, fuel procurements on a per gallon basis come with a high price tag.  That said, continual policy and market uncertainty will not serve taxpayers in saving their dollars, particularly in the long-run as the private sector equity factors these risks into the capital debt servicing prices.
Expensive tastes.
But consider the situation at hand. Our defense capabilities rely on military JP-8/5 (jet fuel) and F-76 (diesel) fuels. Our tactical systems and weapons platforms represent trillions of dollars in defense investments and our warfighters can only fight if we have access to petroleum fuels (as an aside, the fully burdened cost of fuel is definitely not market spot price per gallon).
Military platforms cannot switch out to natural gas, wind, or other alternatives available to the civilian sector (except for aviation, which is likewise reliant on jet fuel). Many have said that DoD “would have access to the last barrel of fuel,” but at what cost to the remaining budgets for defense acquisition and training? More U.S. petroleum production helps, but only marginally so; this commodity is priced according to a volatile international market, which has increasingly been whipsawing the Services’ budgets as seen in past years.
We need diversified fuel sources to sustain our capability and reduce our strategic vulnerability. In our book, I mentioned the military’s early alternative fuel work that focused on converting U.S. fossil fuels into synthetic fuels for the purposes of energy security. The passage of EISA Section 526 put restrictions on the DoD’s ability to purchase these fuels because of their GHG emissions. But new technologies have emerged since then, and now drop-in biofuels offer diverse feedstocks and operational fuel solutions (with the potential side benefit of lower emission and environmental impacts) that can be accelerated to commercialization thru DoD’s early adopter purchases and participation in the Defense Production Act to accelerate cost competitive availability. However, these efforts are underfire for cost comparison reasons when compared with mature industry fuel products. Our warfighters and citizen soldiers deserve diversified and secure fuel supplies buffered against the volatile petroleum markets. We need to balance our priorities among fuels, training, and platforms. While we may not face a future of “cold iron” sitting in our ports, what is the effect on readiness and training at $125, $150 or $200 per barrel?
In contemplating the political... err, sensitivity caused of late by the military’s alternative fuel efforts, my thoughts jumped back to recent a U.S. Citizenship swearing in ceremony in Fairfax, Va.  As I listened to almost 800 new citizens pledge their oath of allegiance to our great nation,  my mind wondered back to over a decade ago when I had made a similar oath, one familiar to every U.S. public official, civil servant, or military service member. Our promise…“to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  Our Constitution’s preamble provides us fundamental common ground in our efforts to “provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
With this in mind, I propose we take a deep breath, get to work, make informed and tough choices, and ensure we can afford to sustain US military capability and power past $125, $150, and $200 per barrel petroleum. We can do so taking a page from our 401(k) accounts…get up to speed, diversify, and rebalancing our portfolio constantly to maximize performance while managing risk.
I’m heading to NDIA’s E2S2 conference next week, and I hope to weigh in with some of the industry scuttlebutt. Hopefully, that post will include more on weapons platform comparison to conventional and alternative fuels, as well as observations from the ground at the conference. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Powerful Climate Stakeholder Emerges

“Green” issues have their stereotypes. You hear it many times when an environmentally-friendly initiative is written off for its “tree-hugger” qualities or as a luxury that doesn’t warrant investment. Given the political divide caused by the climate change issue, it would seem we still have a ways to go before we have a universal appreciation for the need to act before the impacts of climate change are fully manifested. Still, with such a political divide, it can come as quite a surprise to some when stakeholders who would never be characterized as “green” emerge to bridge that chasm for reasons of cold math or analysis—such as in national security.

“The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security,” Panetta said. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

The interesting thing about Secretary Panetta’s views is that he speaks at a time in which with many of his subordinates are already are working to prepare the nation’s military for the impacts that a changing climate could bring—in the case of strategically considering natural resource issues, the military is fertile ground for this sort of trickle-up policy. 

Defense Secretary Panetta speaks at an annual reception for the Environmental Defense Fund, May 2, 2012. DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo.
Panetta’s views also serve to clear the road a very direct path to action: the removal of the politics of GHG mitigation efforts in favor of a broad acceptance of adaptation as the goal (the idea being that any future security environment requires planning and action, and adaptation-oriented strategies naturally complements existing national security functions). This is something we look at in the book, and certainly in our chapter on national security—the development of strategies that make sense for organizations, with the added benefit of providing a means for addressing the climate change issue.

In 2013, it’s expected that the Defense Department will invest more than $1 billion in technologies that make alternative fuels and energy efficiency a reality for its weapon systems. But the costs associated with such initiatives are attractive targets in political battles, particularly when the shrinking defense budget is viewed with a zero-sum mentality.

The reality is that sometimes the most promising solutions that science and technology can provide first require support from the public sector; consider all that has been made possible because of the space program—not just Tang, but also GPS and Teflon. And the military is a large customer in the energy market. Their ability to make such options a viable solution to energy issues should be encouraged. This is particularly true when the alternative is the status quo and its associated risks. As many in uniform know, being frozen and still on a battlefield is one of the fastest ways to become a casualty—which  certainly doesn’t achieve the mission.

Still, military leaders have some policy issues to overcome and balance. For example, previous Congressional action has tied the military’s hands on the alternative fuels issue (Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) effectively bans them from buying alternative fuels other than biofuels). The bright side, according to LMI energy security expert (and one of the book’s authors) Jeremey Alcorn, energy security efforts abiding by 526 often have side benefits that include not only climate mitigation but the establishment of a new domestic industry here at home.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Land use and water - Rio Grande Water Stakeholders

Our book has a chapter concerning mitigation actions and adaptation practices that land managers, small governments, and agencies could use regarding Climate Change.  The Land chapter really has a good deal to do with water.  I started my career in water quality, and resources, and almost immediately recognized that what happens on the land has more to do with water quality and quantity than what happens in the water.  As I write this post, I am on the way to the 3rd Rio Grande Stakeholders meeting in Alamosa CO.  This group is trying to piece together a way to manage water resources in an area of the country where water is a scarce and highly prized commodity.  I met with them in October to share some activities that US Customs and Border Protection and the USDA Agricultural Resource Service are working together jointly to accomplish.  The activities are centered on trying to control Carrizo Cane, a highly invasive weed that is rampant along many southern waterways, especially the Rio Grande.  The Mexicans call Carrizo Cane el ladron de agua – the water thief.  Water stakeholders are concerned with the cane because it grows in wet soil next to rivers and in irrigation canals, and uses up the water.  USDA studies estimate the amount of water use in a cane field higher than the amount of water used at peak growth by corn!  Hydrologists care about cane because is actually makes its own dry land by crowding into the rivers and drainage areas; trapping soils, and making dry land.  Some rivers in Mexico have not actually had flowing surface water in them in decades because of this plant.  Habitat managers are concerned with it because it grows a thick almost impenetrable monoculture which crowds out native plants and animals.  This impenetrable mass of cane – think of the densest stand of bamboo you’ve ever heard about and you get the idea – is of great concern to those tasked with managing the nation’s southern border.  I have personally seen a man in a red shirt disappear in less than 10 feet into the cane.  So controlling the cane can make more water available for agricultural use, industry, drinking water and habitat.  Controlling the cans can allow native stands of vegetation to re-establish and provide habitat, and allow much needed mobility and visibility along the southern border.
Carrizo Cane crowding the riverbank near Laredo, TX
Back to the Stakeholders meeting.  So these stakeholders are meeting, and the upshot is that there is a great deal of overlap in needs among agencies and groups that often seem to have conflicting missions.  The Rio Grande stakeholders group doesn't so much have conflicting interests, but rather is comprised of  many agencies that do something to support their agency’s mission (dabble) when what is needed is a coordinated effort that achieves something larger. No single agency has enough funding to reach the larger goal, so maybe cooperation and coordination can achieve this.  By meeting together and hammering out the needs and concerns, the similarities can be identified and synergy can be brought to bear on tough problems.  Not just Carrizo cane.  During this time of limited financial resources an approach like the stakeholders meeting can really help discover ways to move forward. 

Water availability is something I spent a good deal of time with in the Land chapter of the book.  It is a resource that is being greatly affected by climate change.  Changing weather patterns not only make for profound droughts like the current one in Texas, but also may change the time of year when water is available.  If there is no snow pack to slowly melt in the spring, will there be any water for the crops in the summer when they need it?  Recognizing some of these problems is only part of the solution.  Acting to adapt to them will require stakeholders to see where they can act in concert or at least not act in a counterproductive fashion.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Conference Calling

The restaurant/hotel/resort industry fondly refers to the next two months as as “conference season.” While it sometimes seems like conferences and forums are a year-round business, especially in the federal policy sector, there nonetheless are a few taking place over the next few months that have caught the interest of many of the authors of Climate Change: What You Can Do Now (meaning we’ll be sharing thoughts on a few of these events over the next few months via this blog).

Julian Bentley, who led the development of the chapter on fleets and vehicles, is heading to Los Angeles this week for the EVS26 (the 26th International Electric Vehicles Symposium). This event attracts an international audience of stakeholders, with more than 200 speakers, more than 160 companies exhibiting (Toyota, for example, will unveil their new RAV4 EV), and approximately 3,000 electric drive industry leaders, government representatives and energy officials in attendance. Their goal is to further the discussion of how the market for electric vehicles can be increase, and with a wider worldwide deployment.

One of the hot topics that Julian believes will be a source of much discussion, given the event’s location, includes California’s emissions policies, and how energy use in transportation can be shifted to low-emission electricity.
You can literally see California's emissions challenges.

A new article in Issues of Science and Technology raises that very issue. Noting that transportation accounts for more than 40 percent of California’s emissions (evidenced by the state’s ubiquitous freeways and smog), the authors discuss the multitude of challenges facing the state in meeting an ambitious 80 percent reduction goal of 1990-level greenhouse gases by 2050:

The 80% goal cannot be met without dramatic change in driver behavior and transportation technology. Researchers and companies have made rapid technological progress in recent years in improving conventional and advanced technologies. Performance-based regulations for gasoline-powered cars are expected to double fuel economy between 2010 and 2025, and rapid advances are being made with advanced lithium batteries and vehicular fuel cells. With greater emphasis on energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies, dramatic reductions in oil use and GHG emissions will occur. A key ingredient in reaching this goal will be government policy to stimulate innovation, encourage consumer behavior changes, and direct society toward large reductions in oil use and GHG emissions.

Like many issues related to climate change, there’s a clear absence in federal policy to dictate action. Much of the burden (or opportunity) falls on the states and local governments, along with the various stakeholders and industry partners. And as with most action, innovation makes the path substantially easier to travel down.

One of the themes in the book is the idea that direct action often represents the path of least resistance. In the case of vehicles and fleets, one idea might be the substitution of alternative fuels for conventional fuel, and likewise, electric vehicles within traditionally powered fleets. Clearly, policy is driving some of the changes in California, but it remains up to the private sector to innovate new technologies that make these ends possible through profitable means.

That’s why events like EVS26 are critical to that process. Even with all the sharing of ideas that happens through the internet, there’s something about face-to-face interaction with industry peers that spurs the mind to greater things. I expect some of the reactions we’ll be hearing from our authors over the next few months will have some pretty interesting insights.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Climate in Your Supply Chain

Our decisions have consequences, some intentional and some unforeseen. This is especially true for the decisions we make about the products we buy and sell and the consequences for climate change. Sure, it’s easy to connect some decisions directly to climate change. If we run the heater or the air conditioner more, we use more energy resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions and, likely, contribute more to a changing climate. An easy cause and effect connection to make, much like many others we make every day. But what about decisions where the effects are not as clear?

Coke vs. Pepsi is not longer just about taste, calories, or secret ingredients.
Every day we make purchasing decisions where we select the product we need from a variety of options, yet how often do we think of the climate change impacts of those decisions? Coke vs. Pepsi, Chevy vs. Ford, Mac vs. PC, beef vs. chicken, paper vs. plastic. We make these decisions because there are real differences in the options; differences due to different materials used, sourced from different regions, assembled with different techniques. And these differences mean that the products have a different impact on our changing climate.

Now consider the decisions a typical company makes about the thousands of products it buys. Traditional procurement practices base purchasing decisions on factors such as total ownership costs, delivery terms, and product quality. As Mike Canes pointed out, there is a real cost to greenhouse gas emissions. When an organization starts managing its effect on the climate, clearly the effects of the products it buys must be considered. By including climate change in procurement decisions, companies can find greater greenhouse gas emissions reductions than can be found looking internally.

The benefits of managing climate change in the supply chain do not end with a single company. Industries, such as electronics and outdoors products, have shown that, working together, they can change practices across the industry. Industry wide standards, such as the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct, can shift the perception of climate management across the entire industry, making the supply chain a force of change, not just a tool of commerce. A focus on climate-friendly solutions can even spur innovative was to source and deliver products, as Matt Daigle described with using local waste products to build roads and erosion control in Nicaragua.

Each of us and the organizations we work for can take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When we extend those actions to the things we buy, we can have an even greater impact. This is why managing sustainability in the supply chain is important. And this is how supply chains can be a force of good in an industry and across the economy.