From the Editor

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Supreme Court has upheld the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to require greenhouse gas controls at power plants and other, stationary sources of pollution, including industrial facilities.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

For the fifth consecutive time, U.S. healthcare has been scored last among the 11 developed nations measured in its latest review by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that supports research on healthcare and social issues. The 2014 survey includes data from four previous Commonwealth Fund health system scorecards, and from the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. U.S. healthcare scored as the most expensive, but came in last or near last in the categories of access, efficiency, equity, and, most significantly, outcomes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Given: that a carbon tax would give liberals, Democrats, activists, and environmentalists an effective climate policy. Given #2: that a carbon tax could give conservatives, Republicans, Tea Partiers, and libertarians a less intrusive government. Now, let the debate begin . . . . A Bloomberg Businessweek editorial makes the provocative case that a carbon tax is the best energy policy for all sides of the argument.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

As summer’s hot temperatures kick in, the action in the energy sector is heating up, too. There’s the seasonal rise in demand for gasoline—and a corresponding rise in gas prices, since inventories are down. At the same time, U.S. crude oil production is at its highest level in 20 years, due to fracking of shale reserves. Oil inventories are growing, and the U.S. is on its way to becoming an energy exporter in the next few years. Then there’s the EPA’s proposals to increase the use of solar, wind, and natural gas, and to reduce coal-powered electrical generation plants.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fifty of the United Kingdom’s biggest companies are being directed to measure how their suppliers add value to their local communities. The advisor on CSR to Prime Minister David Cameron, Philip Green, is asking that social value tracking be integrated into the annual reports of top companies in the retail, utilities, and telecom sectors.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is making several large data sets available to the general public for the first time. Now, those curious about costs and practices can review Medicare’s figures for inpatient and outpatient charges for 2012, and compare them year over year to 2011. CMS is also releasing data related to chronic conditions and to geographic variations. The information can be managed by a dashboard interface that allows for easy access by a general audience, not just to health professionals and researchers.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The numbers are official: a proposed EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act would cut carbon pollution from U.S. power plants 30% by 2030 from 2005 levels. This reduction would be achieved by various means, including increased use of renewable energy sources. That number may seem ambitious, but it's already one-third of the way there. The natural gas boom has contributed to a fall in emissions of 10% since 2005, and, at the current rate of decline, emissions should reach 17% less by 2020, a pledge that President Obama made at Copenhagen. What's the bottom line?

Friday, May 30, 2014

The European Commission has proposed a new strategy to secure the European Union’s energy future. The strategy includes diversifying energy supplies, upgrading Europe's energy infrastructure, integrating internal markets, and increasing energy efficiency. Ukraine’s recent crisis has raised European concerns about its dependence on Russian natural gas and oil distributed through Ukrainian pipelines. The proposed strategy underlines the necessity for the EU to coordinate different national energy policies in a continent-wide, unified policy. There are lessons here for U.S.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Back in January, McDonald’s announced plans to begin buying verified sustainable beef by 2016, with the eventual goal of purchasing all of its beef from sustainable sources. Now the company is talking about how that’s going to happen: metrics will be applied at the regional level, in a bottom up approach.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Innovation often occurs at the market level and bubbles up . . . rather than being corporate-driven." That surprising comment was made by Jeffrey Hogue, McDonald's Senior Director of Global Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, at last week's US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment conference. With 36,000 franchises organized around a strong operational and brand-defining administration, decentralization may seem an unexpected choice for the fast food company.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

16—that’s the number of people supporting each doctor, half of them administrators doing paperwork. Although the health care sector is now catching up, the lag in adopting new technology, particularly the slow integration of EMR (electronic medical records), has been one of the major factors driving U.S. health care costs, now totaling nearly 18% of GDP. Increased use of new apps is one of the provocative prescriptions for a sick health care system put forth by Jonathan Bush, nephew of former President George H.W.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When air pollution levels in Beijing and Shanghai reached seriously unhealthy levels this winter, the conventional remedy was an $800 air filter in each room of every apartment, house, restaurant, or office. That's a pricey solution, even for China’s increasingly wealthy middle class. Now there's a new, DIY innovation for a fraction of that expense: $33 buys you a Smart Air Filter kit from Taobao, China's Amazon-like e-commerce site.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Narrow networks,” similar to the HMOs of the 1990s, are becoming the structure of choice in the health plans now being offered on state insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. Smaller networks that exclude some large hospitals and doctors’ groups are the only way to control costs and manage care, say health insurers. Health insurance companies also say that consumer resistance to HMOs’ similar narrowing of provider choice is being avoided today because they are now working more closely with providers, and because potential clients are more focused on cost.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The liquid that drillers inject into shale formations to fracture them and release trapped gas has been a mystery. Blamed for contaminating ground water and therefore drinking water sources, the fluid has achieved an almost alchemical status for anti-fracking activists and oil and gas companies alike, in the absence of detailed information about their formulas.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It’s worse than we thought. Droughts. Torrential rains. Wildfires. Floods. Heat waves. Super storms. Dying forests. Disruptive impacts across economic sectors, from agriculture to energy. That’s the bad news from the National Climate Assessment, a just-released report by a scientific panel overseen by the government and released by the White House. Climate change is big and it’s here, caused by an average warming of less than two degrees over most land areas of the country in the last 100 years.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I’m just back from the annual Ceres conference, held last week in Boston. There were several reasons to celebrate: the organization’s 25th anniversary, its “Clean Trillion” initiative, and a new report, Gaining Ground, compiled in collaboration with Sustainalytics, a research firm, that updated progress on the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability. But the most impressive aspect was the gathering itself of quality investment institutions, corporations, and nonprofits that Ceres engages, underlined by its largest ever conference attendance—650 sustainability professionals.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Most Americans get private health insurance through their employer. All other developed countries use a single payer system. That is, government provides insurance so that individuals do not lose coverage when they lose or change jobs. But the Affordable Care Act may have the unintended consequence of shifting the U.S. health care system to that more universal method if employers choose to direct workers to federal and state exchanges created by the law. By 2020, 90 percent of American workers could be shifted to exchanges, according to a projection by S&P Capital IQ.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Supreme Court’s support of the EPA’s authority to regulate smog from coal plants is a multiple “yes” vote. It’s an environmental victory for cleaner air, in the Midwest where the pollution originates, and in East Coast states, which get the pollution downwind. Soot and smog produced by coal plants have been linked to asthma, lung disease, and premature death. It also marks a strategic confirmation of the Agency’s practice to use the Clean Air Act to fight climate change. Coal plants are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Next time you step into that big box store or shopping mall, count the number of lights and measure the volume of enclosed space that has to have a regulated temperature. The sums, could they be calculated, add up to a huge amount of lighting fixtures and interior dwelling space—billions of square feet of retail real estate—to be lit and climate controlled. Now the Retail Industry Leaders Association has released the Retail Energy Management Maturity Matrix, a tool designed to help retailers identify leading practices in energy management.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The U.K. is continuing its significant commitment to renewable energy despite a low level of economic growth, high unemployment among its youth, and austerity budgets imposed by the current government. Contracts for eight new renewable electricity projects have been awarded: five for offshore wind, two for coal-to-biomass conversions, and one for dedicated biomass facility. These projects support the country’s growth in the renewable electricity sector, with renewables’ share of total generation more than doubling since 2010. Generation reached a record 17.6 percent in Q4 of 2013.