Climate change: It’s time to get ready

This blogpost about climate preparedness is part of the 2012 State of Green Business Report, published by GreenBiz, where I’m a senior writer. You can download a copy of the full report here.

Last December, government officials, corporate executives and activists met in Durban, South Africa, for high-level climate talks. They went home with an agreement … to keep talking. Meanwhile, we’re emitting more carbon dioxide every year, and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are steadily rising. If CO2 levels were somehow to stabilize now–they won’t–the world will keep warming. The bottom line: Climate change is inevitable. The world needs to learn how to prepare for it.

Increasingly, smart businesses are starting to do just that. Utilities, the oil and gas industry, agricultural companies and insurers are building assumptions about rising temperatures and extreme weather events into their scenario planning. This is what’s being called climate adaptation or climate preparedness.

The payoff from investing in adaptation could be substantial.  In 2011, insured losses in the U.S. from natural catastrophes, including tornadoes, floods and hurricanes, topped $105 billion, breaking the record of $101 billion set in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, according to Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm. Some of those losses had nothing to do with climate change, but others did. [click to continue…]

Look who’s coming to Brainstorm Green

Next April, FORTUNE will again bring together some of the smartest people we know in sustainability for Brainstorm Green, the magazine’s annual conference on business and the environment.

This is will be our 5th Brainstorm Green–hard for me to believe, since I’ve been involved since the beginning–and we’ve again got a first-rate lineup of leaders from corporate America, the  environmental movement, the investment community and government, as well as a scattering of interesting writers, thinkers and doers about “green.”

Once again, the event will be held at the spectacular Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, CA. Dates are April 16-18, 2012.

Alan Mulally

New faces for 2012 from the corporate world will include Alan Mulally, the president and CEO of Ford; Rob Walton, the chairman of Walmart; Andy Taylor, the chairman and CEO of Enteprise (they buy more cars than anyone in America); C. Larry Pope, the chairman and CEO of Smithfield Foods (they make more hot dogs than anyone in America, as I wrote in Smithfield Foods: Sustainable Pork?); Vance Bell, the chairman and CEO of Shaw Industries (the world’s largest carpet manufacturer, see my blogpost, This carpet has moral fiber); John Faraci, the chairman and CEO of International Paper; Gary Hirshberg, the CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm; Russ Ford, the executive vice president of Shell; Bea Perez, the chief sustainability officer of Coca-Cola; and Trae Vassallo of Kleiner Perkins. [click to continue…]

Your dollar-draining, energy-sucking, carbon-polluting cable TV habit…

So we already knew that watching too much TV dulls the mind and costs a bundle (my cable bill’s $170 a month, including Internet and phone).

Now we know, thanks to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, that your super-snazzy set-top box and DVR combo that means you will never have to miss another episode of Two Men and a Baby is costing you more money, wasting energy and generating carbon emissions.

With more than 80% of Americans now subscribing to cable, the numbers, taken as a whole, grow pretty big, the NRDC says:

In 2010, the electricity required to operate all U.S. set-top boxes was equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland, resulted in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and cost households more than $3 billion.

They aren’t as startling on a house-by-house basis–each box, on average, costs about $18.75 a year to operate, depending on local electricity prices.  But much of that money, it turns out, is wasted. About two-thirds of the energy consumed by the set-top is used when no one is watching TV or recording programs.

In a press release, NRDC’s efficiency guru, Noah Horowitz, says:

Set-top boxes are the ultimate home energy vampires, silently sucking significant amounts of energy and money when nobody’s using them. The consumer, who pays the electric bill, deserves technologies without hidden costs.

On his blog, Noah goes on to say:

The biggest finding from our field work was that the only way to really turn these boxes off is to unplug them — not an attractive option. For almost all the boxes we tested, hitting the power button simply dims the clock or display. For a typical DVR, instead of consuming 30 Watts when on, the box used 29 Watts, only the difference of one Watt.

The problem here, as it is with many wasteful practices in the economy, is a split incentive between the owner and the user. (Economists call this a principle-agent problem.) It’s the reason why a landlord doesn’t care how inefficient an air conditioner is if the tenant pays the bill, and why few people dining out on an open-ended expense account pay much attention to the bill. In this case, the  cable operator (Comcast, Time Warner) or phone company (Verizon, AT&T) that buys the set-top box doesn’t pay the electric bill, and so they have no reason to design, build, buy or demand a more efficient box. Markets aren’t working the way they should.

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Why I’m an environmentalist

I’ve been on vacation this week in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state…biking, relaxing, reading, eating well. On our bike rides, we’ve seen cows, horses, sheep, an alpaca, fields of wildflowers, historic sites (check out the Pig War), a vineyard, snow-capped mountains, harbor views and an old limestone factory. As I write this, I’m sitting in our hotel room on Orcas Island, enjoying a good book (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris), savoring the view, (below) and getting ready to sample a local beer.

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