You’ve heard it before: Doing good is good for business. When it comes to sustainability, a business can go green and create products that appeal to customers’ values. Little wonder that in September, a group of major corporations that included such big names as Walmart, Nike, and Procter and Gamble joined together in pledging to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage in their operations.
That pledge is a bold — and promising — step. But a host of other large and small companies are taking innovative and often pioneering approaches to promoting and achieving sustainability. Here’s a look at a handful of them.
Goodyear: Keeping cars rolling in more ways than one
Electric vehicles need juice. Goodyear thought: Why not use the energy that tires generate to help power those vehicles? The company is working on a tire that would capture piezoelectricity, the electric charge built up when a tire spins and is pressed against the roadway. Those tire-generated volts could be collected via sensors and sent to the vehicle’s battery, or used to gather information about tire pressure and temperature that could be sent to the car’s computer system. When the rubber meets the road, it can provide power as well as performance.
Ford: Smart bikes, smarter mobility
What would Henry Ford think? Last March, the company he founded announced plans to make and market electric bicycles. While e-bikes have their own green credentials, there’s more to this project than just pedaling. It’s part of the automaker’s Smart Mobility project, which is intended to help cities better manage transportation flow via digital connectivity and data collection. The plan is to connect electric bikes with a smartphone app to provide riders with navigation guidance, weather alerts, and locations for parking and battery recharging. What Ford and cities could learn from this technology-transportation interface could help develop driverless and digitally connected cars — new Model ITs, if you will.
ThinkScream: Trading trash for connectivity
Four years ago, Indian entrepreneurs Raj Desai and Pratik Agarwal founded ThinkScream, a Mumbai-based company that creates Wi-Fi and RFID applications. Around the same time, they also found that there were a couple of things attendees at music festivals tended to do. One, they tended to leave lots of trash. Two, they had trouble finding a way to access the internet via their smartphones. ThinkScream’s solution: Toss your cups and wrappers into our specially designed garbage can and get a free Wi-Fi code in return. The bins are gaining in popularity; ThinkScream has begun installing them at business conferences and trade shows.
FedEx: Taking to the skies with tree waste
The FedEx West Coast Hub in Oakland has long been a hub of sustainable energy practices. In 2005, the facility flipped the switch on what was then California’s largest corporate solar power installation, a 904-kilowatt system. Combined with the hub’s use of fuel cell technology, the system helps generate nearly half of the facility’s electricity needs. (FedEx now has 17 solar-energy systems in the U.S. and worldwide.)
FedEx is now working on a new sustainable initiative: jet fuel made from tree waste. Starting in 2017, the FedEx Oakland hub will mix up the first supply of alternative jet fuel used by FedEx. Half Jet A and half biofuel, the first 6 million gallons will be blended on-site, meeting current aviation regulations and ultimately producing at least 48 million gallons over the term. The biofuel will be produced by Colorado company Red Rock Biofuels, which converts waste woody biomass (branches, bark and pine needles) from saw mill and timber operations into aviation biofuel. When it comes to sustainable business, not even the sky’s the limit.
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