Pollination celebration

Read the full story in Smile Politely.

It is national pollinator week, and the University of Illinois is celebrating with some fantastic events this weekend! To get in the spirit, let’s talk about pollination.

Pollination is how plants reproduce, and since many delicious plant-derived foods result from fertilized ovaries, this is important to us as well. That yellow pollen that makes you sneeze and covers your car (or bike, or walking shoes) in the spring and summer is equivalent to millions of sperm cells, looking for female plant parts. More ancient plants, such as mosses and ferns, still have flagella on their spores, which is why they have to live in moist areas: Their “sperm” still needs to swim. But not higher plants! Pollen represents an evolutionary innovation that allows plants to thrive on land and spread their genes far and wide.

However, plants are not mobile. They can’t saunter off to meet another plant and hook up at a plant party. So they rely on other methods to spread pollen to female flowers or cones. Many species use the wind to spread their pollen, but you can imagine it might be more beneficial to have some insurance that your pollen will reach another plant of your species, especially if you are spread widely throughout an environment.

Here is where wonderful pollinators come in! We are all used to the familiar examples of bees, butterflies, and birds (think hummingbirds) as examples of pollinators. But were you aware of other pollinators such as…

When do energy auditors get to eat and sleep?

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

The US faces a bit of a math problem when it comes to making its buildings more energy efficient. If every energy auditor worked around the clock, it would take 22 years to analyze all buildings.

Of course, the audit is only step one.

“At that point we wouldn’t have saved a single kilowatt-hour of energy,” said Mike Kaplan, vice president of marketing for Retroficiency, a building analytics company and the source of the 22-year statistic.

Is there a way to speed the process – and allow auditors to eat and sleep, too? Retroficiency is a part of a breed of startups that see Big Data and analytics as the solution.

Sustainability fatigue, disruptive innovation and the flourishing enterprise

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

When a major company launches a sustainability journey, it normally starts with high expectations, says author Chris Laszlo, After these efforts yield early positive results, however, “sustainability fatigue” sets in. How can an organization find that original energy and push its goals forward?

Laszlo, a corporate sustainability expert, offers ideas about the next steps. He wrote “Embedded Sustainability: the Next Big Competitive Advantage” and “Sustainable Value: How the World’s Leading Companies Are Doing Well by Doing Good.” He’s an associate professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management and visiting associate professor at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.

I first met Laszlo at a Sustainability Circle event, where Chris facilitated a session on how to embed sustainability into an organization. Chris and I talked about his latest work on the “flourishing enterprise.” Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) editorial director Peter Bronski recently joined us to continue the conversation.

New app helps smaller companies rank sustainability

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

The powerful software that big businesses use to rank themselves on the sustainability ladder doesn’t often apply to smaller companies. Now, however, a new mobile app targets small and midsize businesses seeking to measure their sustainability efforts.

The CK Ranker app, released earlier in June, helps companies to assess and compare their own sustainability performance relative to the corporations that Corporate Knights magazine tracks in its annual rankings, including those in the S&P 500.

Why complexity matters when measuring sustainability

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

This is part of a series examining the pitfalls of sustainability measurements, drawing on lessons from outside the business world. For more, see parts 1, 2 and 3.

In the last two months, our atmosphere has passed the 400-ppm carbon threshold. Unlike the sound barrier, this number doesn’t mark an abrupt physical change of state. It’s a symbol of the now increasingly likely future when climate change substantially affects life on earth.

Still, even as a negative marker, 400 ppm tells us just how urgent it is that even useful and popular tools such as metrics take more leaps. Metrics aren’t just markers. In order to guide us, metrics should take account of the reality of the complex world in which we actually operate, no matter how unfamiliar or uncomfortable that may sometimes seem. Systems thinking needs to be better understood, taken to a higher level and brought into the world of metrics.

We note that systems thinking is starting to come up in sustainable business conversations, but remain concerned about persistent mindsets that ignore complexity. Without it, sustainability practitioners are unequipped to grapple with a point that should come up early in metrics work: “Did we just miss something very important?”

How to invest in a sustainable food future

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

The call to feed 9 billion people by 2050 is a common refrain among food industry leaders, held up as the ultimate, if elusive, goal of production and sustainability. Unfortunately, current approaches to address this challenge are unsustainable — from economic, ecological and social perspectives.

Today’s investment dollars are going toward business models that are strikingly myopic in their approach, based on the belief that increased consumption is the key to economic growth. As everyone knows, however, our Earth’s natural resources are finite, and they are degrading faster than we are replenishing them. Therefore, we need to shift from a “more consumption” to a “better consumption” model. We need a forward-thinking strategy that will help us build resiliency and regeneration into our ecosystems as we grow food for an increasing population.

By reconsidering our investments and developing new solutions, we will ensure not only enough food for 9 billion, but also a planet that provides clean water, fertile soil and rich biodiversity — as well as healthier consumers and stronger communities — in 2050 and beyond.

Discovery could lead to new way of cleaning up oil spills

Read the full story in R&D Magazine.

Univ. of Alberta (U of A) mechanical engineering researchers have shown that a simple glass surface can be made to repel oil underwater. This has huge implications for development of a chemical repellent technology for use in cleaning up oil spills.