CODA Automotive achieved a major milestone yesterday as the first CODA all-electric sedan rolled off the production line at CODA’s Benecia, California plant.  You may recall that The Wendel Forum interviewed Forrest Beanum, VP of Public Affairs at CODA, almost a year ago on April 30, 2011.  Our discussion covered various aspects of the electric car marketplace, including costs and incentives associated with vehicle ownership, energy use and sourcing, and the current and future landscape for supporting infrastructure.  The only thing missing was a test drive.

First CODA car comes off the production line

The first CODA sedan rolls off the production line in Benecia (photo from CODA Automotive press kit).

Well, the wait is over.  We are proud to congratulate Forrest and the rest of the CODA team on this great news!  Initial reports price the CODA sedan at $37,250 – a sticker price that can be reduced with a $7,500 federal tax credit and a $2,500 state rebate.  A $27,250 electric car?  Sounds good to us.

To learn more about the launch of CODA’s sedan, read the Mercury News story at http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_20156808/first-all-electric-coda-sedan-rolls-off-assembly or check out CODA’s website, http://www.codaautomotive.com.

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3, lines 75-77.

Whether the wisdom of Old Polonius’s words to his son Laertes still holds sway is subject to debate when it comes to investing in green initiatives.

A recent study by the Filene Research Institute and Hall Associates Consulting, LLC indicates that credit unions have strongly invested in those who want to make green purchases, such as fuel efficient, hybrid or electric vehicles or home efficiency upgrades.   The study finds that such lending programs attract borrowers who are low credit/default risks, spur credit union membership growth in important market niches, and promote business growth.

To learn more about the study and to view a video summary go to http://filene.org/publications/detail/finding_sustainable_profits.

We are happy to report that the State of New York has become the seventh state to pass benefit corporation legislation, joining Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Hawaii, and California.  At midnight last night, the New York Legislature unanimously passed bills S79-A and A4692-A, bringing New York within the fold of those states that are empowering companies with the business model of doing well while doing good.  

Want to learn more about this groundbreaking legislation?  Information about benefit corporation legislation can be found at www.bcorporation.net or you can speak to Donald Simon, the Wendel Rosen lawyer who helped draft similar legislation that was recently enacted in California.

In my humble opinion, one of the things that sets Wendel Rosen apart from other firms in the green space is our desire to move the needle forward.  Not only do we represent clients who focus on sustainability as an operating principle, but we also take part in legislative initatives that are designed to expand the principles of sustainability to all.

Today, I am proud to state that SB 582 passed through the California State Legislature on Wednesday.  SB 582 – a commuter benefits bill – was modeled on a San Francisco ordinance that required employers to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, and air pollution by offering employees options to pay for alternative commuting expenses with pre-tax dollars (e.g., commuter checks to buy high-value BART or Muni passes).  This legislation doesn’t just benefit employees, however.  There is a financial benefit to the employer, as well, because participation in this initiative is sweetened through a reduction in the payroll taxes that the employer pays.

It is estimated that approximately forty percent (40%) of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions is due to commuting.  Reducing vehicle miles traveled by the sole driver is a priority to reducing these emissions.  By offering commuter benefits, such as those outlined by SB 582, employers and employees can work together to consider alternatives to simply driving alone to the office.

Wendel Rosen, like other mission-driven businesses, happily supported SB 582 (as you can see from the Wendel Rosen Letter of Support for SB 582).  We’ve been offering commuter benefits to our employees for years.  We’re proud of that track record, and we are equally pleased to have assisted in the passage of this bill. 

We can’t wait for Governor Jerry Brown to sign it into law.

Bill Acevedo

Usually, the most revolutionary ideas are those that address the most “simple” problems.  One aspect of sustainability that is seriously overlooked, but often complained about, is packaging.  Boxes, bags, wrappers, bags in boxes – you name it.  Excessive packaging is everywhere from food to toys to everyday household goods.

Some companies, like Ecologic Brands, Clif Bar, and Walmart are changing the way the goods that we buy are packaged.  In 2006, Walmart introduced a packaging scorecard with the intention of improving packaging design, conserving resources, and reducing packaging along its global supply chain by 5% by 2013.  The results have been impressive with packaging design breakthroughs from many Walmart suppliers.

Clif Bar, for its part, recently introduced The Climber wine pouch.  Clif Bar boasts that it has an 80% lower carbon footprint than two glass bottles, it is 90% less waste than said bottles, and best of all  it reseals and keeps your wine fresh for up to one month after opening.  That is a breakthrough!

And, this week’s guest on The Wendel Forum radio show, Ecologic Brands (http://www.ecologicbrands.com/)  is re-thinking the way that common household supplies such as milk and laundry detergent are packaged.  Using recycled and recyclable (i.e., you can recycle it again) cardboard, Ecologic Brands is swapping out the plastic that clogs landfills and our oceans.  The bottle is composed of an outer cardboard paper shell and a recyclable plastic liner.  The liners are made of 70% less plastic than your average jug.  If you have kids, or if you play as a hard as you work, you know how much of an environmental benefit it is to have laundry detergent bottles like these.

But don’t take my word for it.  Tune your radio (or computer) to Green 960 AM at 11:30 this Saturday morning to hear Ecologic Brand’s CEO, Julie Corbett, tell you all about her revolutionary idea to address the way we package everyday household goods.

Each Spring and Fall I find myself going through the closets and dressers to collect donations to cart off to Goodwill.  With two little but ever growing children, this is less about being charitable than it is about a rite of necessity.  I have to get rid of old stuff so that I can replace it new stuff.  The Goodwill model, accepting my old stuff to give it to people as their new stuff, seems to fit the bill.  Well, almost.

You see, I don’t replace the children’s clothes with clothes from Goodwill.  I go out and buy brand new clothing to take the place of their outgrown garments.  Yes, I share these purchases with others later on, but for the most part, I keep consuming.  There has to be a different approach, don’t you think?

On this week’s show, we’ll talk to two emerging companies that are answering this question. 

ThredUp (www.thredup.com) is an online exchange for used children’s clothing and toys.  ThredUp’s CEO, James Reinhart, sits down and tells us how his idea, which he likens to a Netflix for kids’ clothes – is taking off.  According to Reinhart, ThredUp is signing 1,000 mothers – PER DAY – as clothes-swapping members.

As for you adults, have no fear, there is something for you, too.  Platinum Dirt (www.platinumdirt.com), which is headed by Dustin Page and Aaron Parrish, will also join the Forum discussion.  They will tell you about their ingenius idea to recycle leather seating from Cadillacs, Lincolns, BMWs, Mercedes, and other cars left to rot in the junkyard.  They take this leather and turn them into beautifully designed leather jackets, wallets, and purses.

It will be an exciting discussion – recycling, fashion, and environmental and business benefits.  Tune in to Green 960 AM to learn how emerging clothing industry entreprenuers are moving beyond the Goodwill approach to recycle clothing and repurpose materials to create new fashions.

Climate Change Education

March 28, 2011

The San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Ernest Goldsmith presiding, has handed the plaintiffs in the matter of Irritated Residents, et al. v. California Air Resources Board, et al. (CARB ruling), a significant victory – for the moment.  Judge Goldsmith ruled that the California Air Resources Board failed to properly consider alternatives to their championed cap-and-trade program, a main tenet of California’s landmark global warming law, AB 32.  The regulators must now go back and consider other alternatives to a cap-and-trade program, which certain people contend (environmental activists amongst them), does not adequately address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions.  While this ruling does not defeat California’s efforts to tackle climate change, it most certainly slows it down by sending the regulators back to the drawing board for the time being.

But, what is the real significance of this ruling?  Who really understands the CEQA issues (besides lawyers and certain interested parties) that were at issue here?  Indeed, while many people seem to harbor strong opinions about the general subject of climate change , its cause(s), and the steps that we should take to address it, it is not clear how many people actually know enough about the nuances of the topic to opine in such definitive fashion.

To this end, in the upcoming weeks on The Wendel Forum radio program, we will speak to the Alliance for Climate Education (“ACE”), a Bay-Area non-profit group whose mission is to educate high school students on the science behind climate change and inspire them to take action to curb the causes of global warming.   ACE developed its unique education programs to address this problem because no public agencies, schools or organizations working to educate youth on climate science existed at an appropriately large scale.  In just two years of operations, ACE has become the national leader in high school climate education, with an effective offering that includes the ACE Assembly, Student Action Programs and Leadership Trainings.

Stay tuned to The Wendel Forum to learn more about climate science, ACE, and their significant efforts to educate our children about the issue and what they can do to help address the problem. 

Post Links:

Court’s ruling in the matter of Association of Irritated Residents, et al. v. California Air Resources Board, et al., PDF, linked here:  CARB ruling.

Alliance for Climate Education: http://www.acespace.org/

Walking to work the other day, I saw a Toyota Prius festooned with advertisements for a local auto body shop.  While I certainly noticed the Prius as I stood waiting to crossing to the street, what really caught my attention was the prominent representation that this auto body shop was “environmentally friendly.” 

What, I wondered, could that mean?  While the Bay Area Green Business Program has worked with auto body shops to help them become certified as a green business, this program doesn’t focus on the marketing message of any particular business.

Since I had no idea what the auto body shop’s marketing message meant, I jumped on the internet to see if I could find an explanation.  What I found was that there were a lot of apparently “environmentally friendly” auto body shops.  As I perused their various web pages and/or advertisements, I became convinced that these auto body shops (and/or their attorneys) had probably never heard of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides

Fresh off of a revision, the new and improved Green Guides attempt to offer understandable guidance for often incomprehensible environmental marketing claims.  The main points of the Green Guides are: 1) advertisers need to be able to substantiate their claims – i.e., they have to have a reasonable basis for making the claim; and 2) the more specific a claim is, the more likely that it will not run afoul of the FTC’s guidelines.  You see, the FTC looks at all advertising from the consumer’s perspective: what message does the advertising actually convey to consumers?  The Green Guides view environmental claims by the meaning that consumers give them, not necessarily the technical or scientific points that the advertiser is trying to make.   In other words, if a consumer could be mislead by the message, the message is misleading.

So, what do you do to ensure compliance?

First, read the guidelines.  They are written in easy to understand prose.  There are a lot of guidance examples, and the categories are broken down by specific types of claims.  The Green Guides and other useful information about the Guides can be found at http://business.ftc.gov/advertising-and-marketing.

Second, common sense should be your guide.  If you do not have competent and reliable scientific evidence, which the FTC views as “tests, analyses, research, studies or other evidence based on the expertise of professionals in the relevant area conducted and evaluated in an objective way by qualified people using procedures generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results,” you should think twice about your claim.  It doesn’t matter what you hoped to achieve with your ad, it only matters what the consumer would be able to understand from your ad.

Third, err on the side of caution.  Specific points are advisable over general claims.  An unqualified general claim of environmental benefit may convey that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits, which may not be true (or, at least, understood by the consumer).  So, in the case of those auto body shops, their claims of being “environmentally-friendly” would not be deceptive if that representation were followed by clear and prominent language limiting the “friendly” representation to the product attribute for which it could be substantiated, and if the context didn’t create any other deceptive implications.

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on useful (and not-so-useful) marketing concepts.  A survey released this week of nearly 300 members of Sustainable Industries’ audience, conducted by the Sustainable Branding Collaborative, a Portland-based firm, shows that what most consumers and businesses want is transparency.  Don’t make claims that you can’t support.  A link to the report can be found on the Sustainable Industries website.  Or, you can check out our friends over at BBMG.  They released a 2009 Conscious Consumer Report, which explores the consumer’s confusion and limited reliance on trust marks – labels that attempt to “certify” a product’s environmental attributes.  BBMG has found that consumers cannot readily understand the clutter of the hundreds of trust marks that are in the marketplace today.

So what’s my message on environmental marketing claims?  Say what you mean, mean what you say, and above else, you better be able to prove it.

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