NRG’s David Crane: straight talk about energy

Washington may be stuck in neutral–or worse–when it comes to climate policy, but NRG Energy and its chief executive, David Crane, are aggressively pushing clean energy.

NRG Energy is investing in nuclear power, solar energy (photovoltaic and utility-scale solar thermal) and electric cars. It’s powering the Empire State Building. It’s even helping to finance off-the-grid solar power in Haiti.

“Washington is not filled with people who are going to lead,” Crane says. So it’s up to business to show the way.

I interviewed David Crane at the State of Green Business 2011 forum in Chicago. He’s always a pleasure to talk to because he’s brimming with ideas and tells it like it is. Based in Princeton, N.J., NRG is a $9 billion a year independent power producer that operates coal, nuclear, natural gas, wind and solar plants.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

On nuclear power: “Nuclear is the ultimate green solution, if what we are solving for is climate change,” Crane said. NRG wants to build a new 2,700 MW nuclear faciity in Bay City, Texas, next to an existing plant. It would supply enough energy to power 2 million Texas homes. The project requires federal loan guarantees and progress through the regulatory system has been slow.

Despite strong support for nuclear from President Obama, Energy Secy Chu and Republicans in Congress, the U.S. is likely to build no more than two new nuclear power plants in this decade, “which is not exactly a nuclear renaissance,” Crane said. [click to continue…]

The State of Green Business 2011

Ok, it’s not quite the state of the union, but the annual State of Green Business (SOGB) report, put together by my friend and colleague Joel Makower, is becoming a big deal in the world of green business, and for good reason. It should be required reading for anyone working at the intersection of business and sustainability.

This year’s report was released today at the first of three State of Green Business forums — we’re in San Francisco this week, Chicago next week and Washington D.C. on Feb. 16-17. It’s useful because it lifts us above the day-to-day news cycle to identify major trends and ask big questions.

“Are we making progress, are we losing ground or are we holding steady?” Joel asked this morning, at SOGB San Francisco.

The answer, not surprisingly, is all of the above. Corporate commitments “are broader and deeper,” Joel said, citing in particular the plans unveiled in the last year by consumer products giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble. “But progress is incremental. We’re still doing less bad, which is not the same thing as doing good.” We’re seeing more corporate transparency, more “green chemistry,” and progress when it comes to setting standards for companies and products. [click to continue…]

Why green business is like teen sex

Corporate sustainability is like teen sex.

Everybody talks about it.

Nobody does it very much.

And when they do it, they don’t do it very well.

My friend and colleague Joel Makower likes to tell that joke, and it’s as good a way as any to introduce Greenbiz.com’s third annual State of Green Business report. The wide-ranging report was unveiled today in San Francisco at a conference hosted by 100203-sobg1-wJoel. I won’t try to summarize it;  it’s available free for download here, and well worth a read. Among other things, Joel and his colleagues identify 10 green business trends–they include radical transparency, green fleets, toxics as strategy, and the rethinking of packaging–and they measure progress (or the lack thereof)  around 20 different metrics, including carbon transparency, carbon reporting, clean-tech investments and green power use.

The teen sex joke is fitting because the ratio of of talk to action in the green business arena remains high. Particularly when it comes to climate change–now and most likely forever the No. 1 environmental issue for business, and for everyone else–progress has been halting because of the absence of consistent government policy, at the national or global level. Only 34% of the S&P500 companies have promised to [click to continue…]

Next steps: Climate action and green business

Under the category of shameless promotion of self and friends, I want to call your attention to three upcoming events where I’ll be asking questions of some very smart people.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, January 26), I will be moderating a webinar for my colleagues at The Energy Collective called Is Global Action on Climate Change a Pipe Dream? Breaking Down What Was (Or Wasn’t) Achieved at COP15.

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Next Thursday, February 4, I’ll be in San Francisco to join my colleagues at Greenbiz.com, led by executive editor Joel Makower, at their annual State of Green Business Forum at the PG&E Auditorium.

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The following Tuesday, February 9, Joel and I and the Greenbiz crew will reconvene for a State of Green Business Forum at the Chicago Mart Plaza.

Here are some details:

We’ve got a great panel for The Energy Collective webinar, which is free of charge. Robert Stavins, the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Kennedy School at Harvard, as well as director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Prior to Harvard, Stavins was a staff economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. You can read one of his thoughtful blogposts about Copenhagen here. Aimée Christensen is an activist and consultant who’s worked in government, business, law and the nonprofit world on climate, human rights and development issues. She’s now got her own company, Christensen Global Strategies, which advises corporate, governmental,  and non-profit clients seeking to address the global challenges of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and resource scarcity. Her clients have included the Clinton Global Initiative,  Swiss Re, the United Nations Development Program, Virgin United, and Wolfensohn + Co.  Our third panelist will be Dirk Forrister, managing director at Natsource, a leading carbon finance company. Dirk previously worked for the Clinton White House and the Department of Energy, so he knows the Washington scene.  We’ll begin our conversation at 1 p.m. ET, and allow plenty of time for questions from the audience. You can register for the event here.

In San Francisco and Chicago, after Joel Makower and Greenbiz release their annual State of Green Business report, we’ll spend the day talking about where green business is going with an impressive array of business leaders. In San Francisco, they will include Carl Bass, the president and CEO of Autodesk, Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft, entrepreneur and MacArthur fellow Saul Griffith, Rich Lechner, v.p. of energy and environment at IBM,  Rick Rommel, who leaders emerging businesses for Best Buy and Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials. (Van Jones, the former White House green jobs czar, is also on the SF agenda, but he will be appearing by telepresence from Washington, D.C.) In Chicago, we will be joined by David Baum, president of the Baum Realty Group, Jim Davis, executive director for sustainability at SAP, Donna Ducharme of the Delta Institute, Rich Lechner, Sonia Medina, U.S. country director for EcoSecurities, C. David Myers, president for building efficiency at Johnson Controls, and Richard L. Sandor, chairman and founder of the Chicago Climate Exchange, among others. To register for either event, or obtain further info, visit the State of Green Business website. We’ll be talking about these topics:

Carbon Management After Copenhagen: How are companies considering carbon now that the Copenhagen summit is behind us? Hear how companies are viewing carbon as a strategic issue, implementing sophisticated new accounting schemes, realigning their products and processes, and preparing to compete in a low-carbon economy.

Green Marketing in the Age of Radical Transparency: In a world in which vast amounts of information are available about companies and products, the rules of green marketing have changed. Today, companies must respond to green ratings and rankings from websites, media companies, nonprofit organizations, and big players like Walmart. In a world where consumers have unparalleled access to data about products and companies, how does a company truly be seen as green?

Can IT Solve the World’s Problems? The information technology sector is responsible for 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but its impact on the other 98% is growing rapidly. Hardware, software, and service providers are creating new products and services that are enabling large and small companies to better measure and manage their environmental impacts.

When Green Business Meets Cleantech: It used to be that green business and clean technology were separate realms. No longer. Today, the two are converging, as global companies and start-ups alike are harnessing clean technology as the foundation for a new generation of green business opportunities. The result are some unlikely corporate players and alliances.

On a personal note, it’s been about a year since I began working with The Energy Collective and Greenbiz. Robin Carey at TEC and Joel Makower and Pete May at Greenbiz are great partners, and their support for my writing makes this blog possible. So, thanks guys!