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Green California Innovations by California Companies

Innovations were recognized that are good for business, good for the environment and have the potential to be implemented right now by a broad range of companies

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Innovative Environmental Practices Awards

In a news conference with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Environmental Defense Fund called attention to innovative environmental practices by large companies.

"Innovations were recognized that are good for business, good for the environment and have the potential to be implemented right now by a broad range of companies," EDF Executive Director David Yarnold said.

The EDF report (DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE) focused on specific green practices that can be copied by other companies. It did not rate the overall environmental performance of any companies.

Among the innovative green ideas by California companies highlighted in the report:

  • Green insurance policies. Novato's Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. sells a policy that allows companies to rebuild their conventional structures with alternative green materials after a lossand they offer a discount to green-certified buildings and lets solar-powered businesses recover the cost of buying power from the grid if their solar apparatus has been damaged in a loss.
  • On-site energy production. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico uses fuel cells and solar panels to generate 80 percent of the energy it uses. The fuel cells are powered in part by methane generated from the brewery's water treatment plant.
  • Large-scale telecommuting. Sun Microsystems allows half of its employees - about 18,000 people - to work from home or from satellite offices close to their homes. Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard are selling new high-quality videoconferencing systems that could eventually cut the amount of pollution generated by business travel.
  • Company-run transit. Google and Yahoo both operate their own transit systems, giving free rides to work to many of their employees.
  • Closed-loop manufacturing. Worn-out products are remade into new, similar products of comparable quality by Patagonia in a pilot program to collect customers' used fleece clothes, break them down into fibers, and reweave them into new textiles.

Other Innovations

"Continuous-Descent Arrival" Flight Patterns save Jet Fuel

FAA tests show savings of 1,300 pounds of CO2 per flight, and noise levels from three to six decibels lower within 25 miles of the airport.

Initial UPS tests show a savings of two to four minutes on the final 100-150 miles of flight and an increase in landing capability of up to 10-15% by maximizing the possible landing slots. FAA has approved continuous-descent arrivals in Louisville, Sacramento, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, with plans for further expansion.

Turn Food Waste into Energy

Taking a cue from the agricultural sector, food industry innovators are starting to invest in anaerobic digesters—large tanks in which bacteria break down organic material and produce natural gas for energy.

NOTE from the Editor: By converting organic materials into energy that is then burned rather than being returned to the soil, we are starting down a long pathway to reducing the natural sources of soil nutrients required for healthy plants -- both in agriculture and our natural resource surfaces. These nutrients are required in a cycle to replenish the earth's plant systems responsible for air quality, filtration, and food production.

Investment by Banking and Lending Policies

From pledging substantial investments in renewable energy to launching green retail products, banks are carving out opportunities to manage risks and capitalize on new technologies.

Bank of America is the first financial institution to set a greenhouse gas reduction target—a 7% reduction in its energy and utility portfolio by 2008 (from a 2004 baseline). The bank is reformulating its portfolio mix, adding more renewable and low carbon energy projects. While the 7% target leaves room for improvement, it sets a precedent.

Auto Insurance

Studies show that if the full cost of car insurance is converted to a per-mile basis— while still accounting for traditional rating factors— use-based insurance can reduce driving by 10-15%. And fewer miles driven equals less risk to the insurer: A 10% decrease in driving nets an estimated 17% decrease in crashes.

Progressive and GMAC are currently testing variations of this concept in the U.S., tracking miles driven using onboard computers.

Progressive, which offers a policy called TripSense in Oregon, Michigan and Minnesota, says clients who plug a sensor into their car's onboard diagnostics port save up to 25% on their coverage for driving less. GMAC, which is testing the program with its OnStar system in three states, says customers can lower their premiums by up to 40%.

Before these programs can be implemented nationwide, however, many states need to change laws or regulations to allow for this type of insurance plan.

Finance Solar Power With No Capital Costs (PPAs)

A financing tool, known as Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), is clearing the path.

In California, Macy's used a mix of PPAs and traditional solar panel purchases to put solar arrays on the rooftops of 26 stores—while upgrading its lighting, heating and cooling, and energy-management systems to boost efficiency.

The result is an estimated 40% reduction on its utility bills and an estimated 88,450 metric tons annual reduction in CO2 emissions.

The benefits, for both business and the environment, are multiple:

  • Eliminate the financial barrier to entry normally associated with solar power
  • Reduce demand for conventional energy sources
  • Cut CO2 emissions
  • Add renewable power to the grid
At a time of volatile energy prices, PPAs also give companies predictable electricity bills and the opportunity to save money on operating costs.

Industry analysts predict PPAs will gain 65-75% market share for commercial solar installation in 2008. However, continued growth is dependent upon the expansion of state and federal solar incentives. PPAs are currently most prevalent in states with favorable government programs, like California and Hawaii.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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