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Aligning Corporations and Society

March 29, 2010

I’ve just finished reading Geoffrey Heal’s When Principles Pay, which presents a solid business case for improving the alignment between corporate interests and societal/governmental interests.  Basically that boils down to reducing the external costs, such as pollution caused by industries, which hadn’t been factored into product costs.  Solid social and environmental corporate policies are effective risk management tools, reducing the likelihood of lawsuits, brand damage, regulatory exposure, shareholder disruptions and lower stock prices due to pollution exposure.

Since our global societies have been less than effective in determining, assigning and enforcing appropriate costs for externalities, and are now slowly moving toward doing so, innovative products are springing up to help.

Distributed energy appliances are a major area for innovation such as these recently featured in CNET:

This year’s Building Energy conference of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association featured solar hot-water storage tanks from Stiebel Eltron.  In these systems, solar panels/tubes heat a liquid that is pumped into a storage tank to heat water.

Velux has innovative skylight “Daylighting” systems that can pipe light through attics and into rooms below.  Some use lenses to magnify the daylight effect to reduce electrical lighting needs.

AllSun Trackers offers sun-tracker structures that include an inverter to convert from DC to AC, and which can flatten itself out and lock into place during high winds.

Aerovironment is one of a handful of companies that are making household charging stations for electric cars.

SolarOne and SOL both offer solar-powered street light options that are expanding and starting to be used.

LED Waves offers LED bulbs designed for downlighting applications and general purpose  use.  a 60 watt replacement bulb uses eight watts.

If you watch Holmes on Homes, you will already know about some of the advantages of sprayed-in foam insulation over fiberglass.  It not only insulates a wall cavity or attic, but also seals.   Sprayed-in insulation is becoming more common at green-building conferences.

Greenroofs are increasingly popular, not only for their insulating properties, but also because they can dramatically lower the storm-water run-off rates and quantities of commercial roof expanses.

From http://www.inhabitat.com, innovative companies are using wood that was once bug infested – especially blue-stained pine wood, a result of the increasing population of the Mountain Pine Beetle, due to global warming.  Straight Line Designs has a furniture series.

A couple of former MIT students are developing a new shock system for vehicles to retain the energy generated when a car bounces up and down (at last, a use for potholes).  The device – the GenShock – can give significant gas savings and provide some poser to on-board electronics.

Then there are major innovations such as Calera‘s approach to sequestering CO2 by capturing carbon dioxide emitted by coal or gas-fired power plants and converting it into calcium and magnesium carbonates for use in manufacturing products such as sand, aggregate, supplementary cementitious materials and cement, as well as fresh water.

Looming in the wings are governmental regulations, especially on carbon emissions, but also on a whole host of other “external costs” that have yet to be fully integrated into the price of products.  These should accelerate the rate of innovation, when they eventually arrive.

Leadership companies – large and small – aren’t waiting for regulations.  They are impacting markets with new products and farsighted environmental, social and employee policies.  Now.

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