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Live for Now? What About Tomorrow?

4 August 2014 - 1:39pm

I've been struck by Pepsi’s "Live for Now" advertising theme. "Now" is good, but I keep wondering: what about tomorrow? PepsiCo, which owns Pepsi, Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Frito-Lay, and dozens of other brands, is one of the largest companies in the world and has a tremendous impact on people and the planet. For example, the company uses toxic tar sands fuel in its massive fleet of delivery trucks. By "living for now," is the company saying it could care less about tomorrow?

I know we can expect more from PepsiCo. Why? I've met the CEO, Indra Nooyi.

I had the opportunity to meet Nooyi at the PepsiCo shareholder meeting in June when I was there to speak on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who had signed a petition urging the company to stop using fuel made from tar sands in its trucks. Before the meeting started, Nooyi and I connected over the fact that both of us are mothers to two daughters. As mothers, both of us want the best for our kids.  

During the meeting, when Nooyi responded to my remarks in front of the shareholders and board of directors, she emphasized that because she has two daughters, and I have two daughters, we share the same values and commitment to the future.

Recently, dozens of major organizations signed a letter to companies like PepsiCo urging them to avoid tar sands fuel because it's "among the most environmentally-destructive sources of oil on the planet in terms of climate and water pollution, forest destruction, public health impacts, and the destruction of ancestral First Nations lands."

In a letter in PepsiCo's 2012 Sustainability Report, Nooyi says: "Business does not operate in a vacuum -- it operates under a license from society. We recognized…when we transform our business to deliver for our consumers [and] protect our environment...we achieve sustained value."

Companies like Walgreens, Trader Joe's, and many others have committed to working with their fuel and transportation providers to avoid tar sands fuel. Why hasn't PepsiCo made this commitment?

Given that we connected over our children and the future we're leaving them, I'm making this appeal directly to Indra Nooyi:

For our daughters, for all of today's and tomorrow's children, please commit your company to clean up its delivery trucks, which make up one of the largest private carrier fleets in North America with tens of thousands of vehicles driving millions of miles each year. You can make a major difference by having PepsiCo avoid tar sands fuel, an extreme source of oil that is destroying forests, poisoning water, and hastening climate change.

Oil makes up about 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, so reducing oil consumption is essential if we're going to have any possibility of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Please also ensure that PepsiCo invests in more than just a few hundred electric vehicles, so that it can take a serious swipe at its oil use.

Today, Sierra Club is asking people (like you, dear readers!) to show Indra Nooyi and PepsiCo's other executives who we’re living for -- now and for tomorrow: children who deserve a safe planet with clean air and water and no extreme and dangerous fuels.

Do you have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other kids in your life? Upload their photos here like I just did (those are my daughters on the first day of school last fall). We're hoping each picture is worth a thousand words, and that the full collage shows Indra Nooyi that we're rooting for her to commit PepsiCo to tomorrow.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative

Categories: Sierra Club National

Four Things the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Can Do for Beyond the Grid Solar

1 August 2014 - 7:50am

All eyes will be on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington next week with one question in mind -- will those gathered take steps to move investment beyond the grid?

Just this week, Politico reported that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President Clinton are set to attend. With a long list of U.S. Government dignitaries also expected, the event will send an important signal for the future of President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative. Now’s the time for that signal to be loud and clear - Power Africa is doubling down on investment in solar markets beyond the grid.

Earlier this summer, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced at an event in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, a  groundbreaking new $1 billion initiative as a part of Power Africa dubbed “Beyond the Grid.” The initiative builds on more than 25 small-scale energy projects already in the Power Africa pipeline to catalyze a distributed clean energy deployment. To build the initiative and drum up investment, the Administration pulled together 27 founding partners – including impact investors, venture philanthropists, clean-energy enterprises, and practitioners – who have committed to invest over $1 billion over the next five years to seed and scale distributed energy solutions for millions of African homes, businesses, schools, and other public facilities.

That announcement was a big deal. By shifting policy focus and investment towards the cheapest, fastest, most effective energy access solutions - distributed off-grid solar - the Obama administration is poised to unlock between a $12 billion and $50 billion clean energy opportunity.

Underneath those numbers lies an even more exciting idea -- that energy access can develop just like communications have. All across the developing world -- but especially in Africa -- mobile phone technology has leapfrogged land line telephones entirely. In fact, three out of every four new mobile phone subscribers are now in the developing world. The same cannot be said of energy access.

Research from Group Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) shows how both energy and water access lag far behind the penetration of cell phones in Africa. In total, 411 million people worldwide, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa, have a mobile phone but no way to charge it. It’s this convergence of un-electrified populations and mobile phones that is creating a tremendous new opportunity for solar power.

All across Africa, solar entrepreneurs are working with communities who live beyond the grid to put power directly into their hands. Thanks to the explosion of cell phones, these communities are now able to take advantage of mobile money platforms like M-Pesa in Kenya to pay for solar energy from companies like M-Kopa. This is unlocking a solar revolution for energy poverty that could fundamentally alter the evolution of energy infrastructure across the continent.

But while this market is growing rapidly -- 77 percent in 2014 according to the Global Off Grid Lighting Association -- it’s cash-starved and needs support. That’s why the industry has been demanding a new $500 million fund from the World Bank (join them and sign our petition). Here are a few steps the summit can take to further back this vital industry:

1) Announce a goal to phase out kerosene based lighting by replacing it with clean solar power;

2) Leverage investments in solar that help achieve that goal by using loan guarantee authority at USAID or OPIC;

3) Work to reduce and eliminate harmful VAT taxes on solar products for the off-grid rural populations; and

4) Set a baseline and measure progress in increasing public investment in beyond the grid solar markets.

The President’s new Power Africa Initiative and the Energize Africa Act in Congress both touch on these important goals. That’s why they now represent historic opportunities to shift resources and investment beyond a failing business-as-usual approach towards 21st century solutions. As the world’s biggest leaders come to town for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the innovative companies and investors building a future we all want to see will be waiting to hear one message: It’s time to move investment Beyond the Grid.

-- Justin Guay, Associate Director Sierra Club’s International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

The Next Frontier for Beyond the Grid Solar Markets: Big Data

31 July 2014 - 1:18pm

When it comes to energy access, we’re fond of saying small is big.

That’s because all those small scale solar lanterns, solar home systems, and solar mini-grids add up to a very big market. But the size of that market, and its social impact, could well be dwarfed by an even larger opportunity the solar revolution is engendering. With the explosion of mobile money platforms, and the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar financing options they enable, companies working Beyond the Grid are collecting reams and reams of data that could provide rural communities with perhaps the most transformative intervention yet -- financial inclusion.

It’s important to first take a step back and understand just how profoundly important financial inclusion is for these off-grid rural communities. For many populations living beyond the grid, they are also living beyond the reach of the formal economy and the financial system. That means they can’t take out loans for productive uses (say a sewing machine to make clothes and generate extra income) that could improve their lives, which in turn restricts their ability to move up the economic ladder and reinforces the poverty trap.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Rural communities already pay tremendous amounts for heavily polluting sources of energy -- nearly $40 billion for kerosene lighting. Solar entreprenuers are redirecting those cash flows to cheaper, cleaner sources of energy saving them money and improving their quality of life. But more importantly, by paying off these products, they are demonstrating the people’s ability to pay, and therefore their creditworthiness.  

                                                             Photo courtesy of Angaza

But there is a wide gulf between being creditworthy in principle and creditworthy in practice. That’s because the financial institutions that would be granting loans to these people need historical data on which to judge risk (this is the same dilemma that faces solar providers in the U.S. as they try to securitize loans). That is where we reach a classic Catch-22: without credit history you can’t get credit, and if you can’t get credit, you can’t build credit history.

Enter mobile money, PAYG finance, and distributed solar. Companies are now leveraging machine to machine (M2M) technology -- where mobile phones ‘talk’ to solar panels -- to allow customers to pay for solar power when they need it and, more importantly, when they can afford it. This allows the software providers to capture the first-ever multi year credit data for these populations and ultimately make billions of people visible to the formal economy for the very first time.

                                                                                  Photo courtesy of Angaza

To understand what this looks like in practice, take Angaza Design, a company working beyond the grid specializing in PAYG platforms, at the bleeding edge of this opportunity.

Angaza was incorporated back in 2010 and began its operations, as nearly all solar companies do, by selling solar lanterns. Founder Lesley Marincola quickly realized that, while their products were great, Angaza was just one amongst literally hundreds of solar lantern start ups. They simply weren’t going to move the needle on this problem by just adding another product to an already crowded field. So, like all good entrepreneurs, Lesley pivoted and found a niche; Angaza is now all about data.

Currently, Angaza manages a cloud-based PAYG software platform called the Energy Hub, which integrates directly with mobile money platforms (like M-Pesa) and provides a suite of online services to help distributors manage and streamline PAYG financing of solar energy systems. They also work directly with manufacturers to develop custom PAYG hardware solutions that are optimized for the features of their existing product line. These products then become “PAYG-ready”, which allows them to communicate with the Energy Hub and activate/deactivate depending on the customer’s payment status. This complete PAYG ecosystem enables Angaza to provide holistic support of PAYG financing -- and collect lots and lots of data.

How they use this data is, of course, the most powerful component.

For example, let’s say that one of Angaza’s clients needs a microfinance company to lend them money for a sewing machine so they can make clothes from home and earn some extra income. The client can turn to Angaza and ask the company to release their solar repayment information, which can then help the client secure a loan they otherwise wouldn’t be able to procure.

Having this data available allows a previously unbanked customer with no known payment streams to get a record, not to mention a proof of address, which can both unlock other financial services. Similarly, Cignifi is doing the same type of work by using big data credit analytics to score unbanked people by using each client’s prepaid phone records.

Even more interesting is the direction Angaza is headed -- down the economic pyramid. While most companies are rightly focused on moving populations up the energy ladder, Angaza is working to go even deeper into the economic strata by using finance to unlock solar for those most in need. That means focusing on making even entry level solar lanterns available by using extremely low cost PAYG solutions.

In so doing, Angaza is literally building credit profiles from the bottom up with an eye towards moving those customers up the energy ladder from lanterns to solar home systems and beyond.

While this is only the beginning, Angaza’s business model holds profound implications for transforming the lives of billions of people with individual hopes, dreams, and desires. This data can help break down the anonymity and exclusion poor populations face while painting a vibrant picture of the aspirations these people hold.

But like any tool, it is dependent on how we use it. By leveraging its power, companies like Angaza are using it to eliminate energy poverty and financial exclusion once and for all. A mission we should all support.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Bangladesh "Long March" to Save Sundarbans Featured in a New Documentary

31 July 2014 - 7:24am

Last September, thousands of Bangladeshis joined the five day “Long March” from the capital city, Dhaka, to the city of Rampal to protest a proposed new coal-fired power plant. Now you can join the walk in a new documentary, “Long Live Sundarban,” available on YouTube.

The proposed coal project threatens the Sundarbans -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site which translates to “beautiful forest” in Bengali -- home to the largest reserve for endangered Bengal Tigers. It is also the world’s largest mangrove forest and plays an important role in the local economy and agriculture. More importantly though, the Sundarbans are a critical natural defense against cyclones, and it is estimated that every time one of these powerful storms hits Bangladesh, the forest saves hundreds of thousands of lives.

And the danger from these cyclones will only increase. At less than 20 feet above sea level, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate disruption. As sea levels rise and storms worsen, the country will need the Sundarbans more than ever.

But this could all change if the proposal from India’s state owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh’s Power Development Board (PDB) to build this proposed 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power plant moves forward. This coal project will not only contribute to the climate disruption threatening Bangladesh, it will also endanger their main protection against it.

But local activists are working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.

“This proposed power plant at Rampal is hazardous in terms of economy, in terms of national equity, in terms of protection and utilization of national resource and in terms of public health,” Pinaki Bhattacharya, a teacher of environmental toxicology at AIUB, said in the documentary.

“If this consciousness develops, if people realize that this coal-fired power plant will bring disaster, they will definitely be active and government must be forced to abstain from this,” Shahed Kayes, a poet and social activist, added in his commentary in the documentary.

The massive turnout for the Long March shows that these efforts to win over the public are paying off.

Bangladesh is already demonstrating that there is a way forward without coal. There are over 80,000 new solar system installations each month in Bangladesh, and this growing clean energy industry offers an innovative solution to energy poverty while protecting the resources the people of Bangladesh rely on.

It’s time for NTPC and PDB to support this clean energy revolution and stop putting Bangladesh at risk from the ever-increasing effects of climate disruption. Until then, the thousands of activists who joined the Long March and countless others across the country will work to protect the Sundarbans.

As Shyamoly Shill, an assistant professor of sociology at Jagannath University, explains in the documentary, “Sundarbans is the integral part of the whole nature and ecosystem of Bangladesh. We have no way but to fight for conservation of Sundarbans.”

--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Big Coal Doesn't Get It

30 July 2014 - 10:57am


As thousands rally this week in support of the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, one thing is clear – people across the country are united in their demand for cleaner air to breathe. It’s fitting then that the final hearing starts in Pittsburgh on Thursday, an area that suffers from some of the worse air quality in the nation.

Every summer more than 53,000 children in the Pittsburgh region suffering from asthma are told to stay inside on bad air days because playing outside is a risk to their health. Summer is especially difficult for these kids and other vulnerable people -- including seniors and people with respiratory disease -- because the hotter temperatures lead to more smog, one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.

Climate disruption is making this problem even worse with more hot days, longer heat waves and higher temperatures. That means even more smog.

The Sierra Club made this connection in the radio ad posted above that was launched this week in the Pittsburgh region, declaring that it’s time we did something to clean up our air. And that something is support the Clean Power Plan.

Coal-fired power plants, like those that dot Southwest Pennsylvania, are one of the primary sources of both smog-causing nitrogen oxides, soot and the carbon pollution that’s fueling climate disruption. In fact, while most of these plants could cut their pollution right now,  they simply choose not to, putting our kids at greater risk.

But when the coal industry heard our ad, they did what they do best -- deny and smear. An industry group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity issued a press release claiming carbon pollution has nothing to do with public health, thereby again putting polluters soundly on the opposite side of science and reality.

If big polluters are denying reality and abdicating responsibility for wreaking havoc on our public health, it must be a day that ends with a “y”. Check a scientific study, big coal: carbon pollution from burning coal worsens smog which triggers asthma attacks. That's part of why the Clean Power Plan's curbs on carbon are expected to prevent 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

But Americans shouldn't expect big polluters, the same companies that have been dumping toxins into our air and water for years, to care about public health. That's why we are doing our best to cut through their smears with these latest ads.

--Kim Teplitzky, Sierra Club Media Team, Pittsburgh, PA

Categories: Sierra Club National

Poll: Communities of Color Overwhelmingly Support Climate Action

30 July 2014 - 7:49am

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds public hearings across the country on the proposed Clean Power Plan, national polling continues to show strong support for climate action. And a new survey released by Green For All and conducted by the firm Brilliant Corners suggests that the desire for government action to combat climate disruption is especially high among minority communities. In fact, three quarters of voters of color surveyed said that they have become more interested in climate issues over the past several years and are paying closer attention to new information.  

The survey, which was conducted in nine battleground states and surveyed registered voters of color including African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, found that many voters of color feel climate disruption is a prominent issue that cannot and will not wait for action in the distant future. Almost seven in ten voters said they feel it is an issue "we need to be worried about right now, not something we can put off into the future," with another 62 percent saying that the country is not devoting enough to combating climate disruption. When asked to rank the importance of climate disruption on a scale from zero to 10, the average response was 7.9.

"People of color care deeply about the environment and the impacts of climate change. We understand the urgency of addressing these threats because we experience the effects every single day," Nikki Silvestri, executive director of Green For All, said in a statement. "We have an obligation to one another to make sure that everybody enjoys a healthy planet."

Looking ahead to November, this survey suggests that political candidates who advocate for climate action will have an advantage among voters of color. An overwhelming 70 percent of voters surveyed said they would be more likely to support political candidates who are willing to expand resources to tackle climate disruption and grow new industries over a candidate who argues that climate action will cost jobs and hurt the economy. After all, many voters of color think that climate action is a moral imperative. When asked what the most important reason to support the EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards, the most common reason was that the rule would be fulfilling a moral duty to our children in the future.

-- Christopher Todaro, Sierra Club Polling and Research Intern

Categories: Sierra Club National

First Day of EPA Carbon Pollution Standard Hearings a Success!

30 July 2014 - 6:54am

Hundreds and hundreds of people gathered in Washington, D.C., Denver, and Atlanta Tuesday for the first day of public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. The EPA proposed these first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants just last month.

In Washington, D.C., crowds gathered to speak out in favor of the carbon pollution standard, packing the hearing all day. Supporters also gathered at a rally outside the hearing (see above photo) to hear from a variety of great speakers, including Senator Ed Markey, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Latino Victory Project president Cristobal Alex, Green Latino president Mark Magaña, Hip Hop Caucus president Rev. Lennox Yearwood and others.

Kids were out and about in force as well, thanks to coalition partner Moms Clean Air Force.

In Atlanta, hundreds marched through the city streets after a powerful rally (the first photo in this blog post is of the Atlanta rally). There supporters also outnumbered opposition to EPA's standard by large number. Business owners, farmers, parents, clergy, and many more spoke in favor of EPA's Clean Power Plan.

Even a former NFL player got in on the action, writing a supportive op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

In Denver, activists kicked off the day with a press conference with local clean energy business leaders highlighting clean energy jobs in Colorado and the opportunities that the Clean Power Plan presents for the growing clean energy industry.

Later in the morning there was clean air rally with Mom's Clean Air Force, Colorado Mom's Know Best, Climate Parents, and other groups.

At the hearing, one leader estimated the hearing speakers in favor of EPA's carbon pollution standard outnumbered the opposition by around 50 to 1. Retired military, kids, local clean energy business owners and more testified in support of limiting carbon pollution.

All in all - day 1 of the hearings was a huge success. The hearings continue today in all three cities and later this week in Pittsburgh.

If you can't make it to a hearing, please send in your comments to the EPA right here!

Enjoy more photos from DC, Atlanta, and Denver below. We also encourage you to check out the twitter hashtags #ActOnClimate, #DCEPA, and #AtlEPA to see more great photos and quotes from yesterday and to follow the rest of the week's hearings!

Biking the message around in DC!

Green Latino president Mark Magaña speaks at the DC rally. (Photo by Javier Sierra)

The Rev. Gerald Durley rallies the Atlanta crowd. (Photo by Jenna Garland)

Some sign-making kids at the Denver rally. (Photo courtesy of Conservation Colorado)

More of the crowd from the DC rally. (Photo by Javier Sierra)

Categories: Sierra Club National