"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.
From the Editor
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the last 50 years of government accounting, the biggest curve on the charts has been the downward track of spending on health care. Since 2008, spending has declined to historic lows, due to the recession. Now, with rising employment and millions getting coverage under the Affordable Care Act, health care spending looks headed for an uptick. More use of the medical system will result in insurers paying more for procedures, and in turn, increasing premiums. The bottom line?
Representatives from Democratic and Republican parties have formed a bipartisan group, the Congressional Caucus for Middle Market Growth. The reason: 200,000 middle market businesses—companies with annual revenues between $10 million and $1 billion—are a major economic engine of the U.S. economy. They contribute one-third of non-government GDP and one-third of private sector employment. Middle market executives expect to grow employment by a rate of 3.2 percent over the next 12 months, higher than the ADP National Employment Report’s projections for small and large companies.
Like many other startup industries, renewable energy receives subsidies to help jumpstart an entirely new business sector. It has initially followed the example of the oil and gas industry, which has received over $470 billion in tax credits since early in the 20th century. Those “depletion tax credits” continue today, amounting to almost $5 billion annually. By contrast, the current, early-stage renewable industry receives about one-half that amount. But even those half-size subsidies have been uncertain and are often under political attack.
Recently, Congress has failed to act on several important economic issues. Bills restoring unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed, to raise the minimum wage, and to address inequality in pay for women have either stalled or been defeated, without any viable alternatives proposed. Coupled with the last Congress’s record of being the least productive in its history, you might wonder about the leadership re. economic issues (and others) in our primary lawmaking body.
As of April 1, India is the only country in the world with legislated CSR. The Companies Act 2013 mandates that companies—including foreign firms—with a minimum net worth of $500 million and net profit of at least $5 million spend two percent of their profit on CSR. An estimated 8,000 companies are affected. Projections are that over $2 billion could be spent on CSR under the new law; there are penalties for failing to comply. There is one sticking point: the tax deductibility of the CSR spend.
Beyond the overheated rhetoric about current health care reforms, the bottom line is starting to be added up. For at least one medical group that has chosen an accountable care organization model, the results are in: $2.9 million in bonus profits. That’s the sum gained by Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, MO, which opted for a risky, but potentially more lucrative option under a Medicare ACO called the Shared Savings Program. In its inaugural year, the program offered no guarantees, but in exchange for risking losses, Heartland could earn larger rewards.
For the first time, stocks in renewable energy companies are outgaining their oil and gas counterparts—by a lot. Over the last year, solar leaders like First Solar and SolarCity have seen their stocks soar 156 percent and 221 percent, respectively. By contrast, Exxon is up six percent, year over year, while Conoco has risen 15 percent. The CleanTech Index has grown by nearly 60 percent while various crude oil category prices are up between four and nine percent.
While debates about the wisdom of approving the XL Pipeline and of shipping U.S. natural gas to Europe dominate the headlines, renewable energy has quietly continued its strong growth in this country. In the first two months of this year, renewable energy sources accounted for 91.9 percent of the 568 MW of new installed U.S. electrical capacity, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Coal, oil, and nuclear provided none. Natural gas and one MW of “other” resources made up the rest.
Last week, we published several articles about water-related issues as part of Water Week, leading up to World Water Day, Saturday March 22. Apparently, my request to our Justmeans staff writers for these articles opened the informational floodgates: they are still filling my inbox. So we are still publishing stories on water, the challenges and the solutions. R.P.