Insider: The building of Europe’s first gigafactory for battery storage systems in 2019 was clearly a decisive milestone since the foundation of the company just under seven years ago. What have been TESVOLT’s other biggest achievements in recent years?
Hannemann: Apart from that, there have been many other highlights. For instance, the many awards we have won, including the German Founder Award in 2018. However, we are above all also proud that we have created high-performance products. The useful life of our products is almost twice as long compared to other systems which are available on the market. This is a definite USP. The fact that we have created such a comprehensive and top-performing product portfolio in only a few years, is probably our biggest achievement.
Insider: What is TESVOLT’S growth strategy for the coming years?
Hannemann: We want to continue to press ahead with our dynamic growth course during the coming years and enhance our visibility further, both nationally and internationally. Our focus is to remain on energy storage in commercial and industrial environments, because this is where some of the highest environmental impacts are generated. Here we can provide obvious benefits. Our clear mission is to make available affordable green electricity anytime, anywhere. With this explicit message we want to substantially expedite the global energy turnaround.
Insider: What are some of the most recent developments and innovations?
Hannemann: One of our major innovations is the active battery management system Active Battery Optimizer (ABO). With this system we have created the only technology of this kind in the world, which optimizes all the cells within the battery. This technology is used in different applications, including for the optimization of self-consumption. Altogether we have now completed 1,500 projects with our energy storage solutions around the world, with market shares between 25 and 40% in different applications.
Insider: What are the biggest challenges right now for companies like TESVOLT and the energy industry in general?
Hannemann: We have little time. The sea levels are rising, the world climate is changing. The impact on ecosystems is enormous. The water is literally up to our neck. The decarbonization of the economic cycles must be pushed ahead much quicker to comply with the meaningful climate goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. This requires joint efforts by the business community, the policymakers, and the society. We must join our forces to save the planet. This sounds dramatic – but all scientifically recognized data confirm that the situation is actually dramatic.
Insider: How has COVID-19 impacted industry (and company) plans?
Hannemann: As challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic may be on a humanitarian level, we have hardly felt any economic impact of the pandemic. We very clearly benefit from the global megatrends of renewable energies and e-mobility and these developments have not been curbed by COVID-19. On the contrary, the environmental awareness of the society has grown once more in the middle of the pandemic. Our internal business processes have likewise almost not been influenced. Thanks to an effective and mature hygiene concept, our production has not stood still. In the areas in which this is possible, our employees also work from home. This works perfectly well thanks to our agile non-hierarchical corporate culture.
Insider: Has it provided an opportunity to increase your customer base?
Hannemann: As a globally networked company we have always strongly relied on digital tools. This has been further reinforced by the pandemic, which is a very clear advantage. On our customers’ level, this has triggered a significant change and they have likewise arrived more strongly in the digital world. Together we can act significantly more flexibly and efficiently in part. Instead of expensive business trips we now communicate mainly via digital channels with our customers or employees working for our subsidiaries in Australia and Korea. The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the world of work and we definitely consider this to be an added value.
Insider: Where do you see the company in 10 years’ time (and beyond)?
Hannemann: In my wishful thinking, by 2031 e-mobility and stationary energy storage systems will no longer be exceptions, but a living reality for many. We’re doing everything possible to be one of the main players proactively driving this positive development.
Fox News host and former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow raged against the idea of “plant-based beer” on his Friday night show, saying that Biden’s climate plan would require that Americans give up meat.
“Get this, America has to stop eating meat, stop eating poultry and fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, and animal-based fats. Ok, got that? No burger on July 4. No steaks on the barbecue. I’m sure Middle America is just going to love that. Can you grill those Brussels sprouts?” Kudlow said on Fox Business Friday.
“You can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts and wave your American flag. Call it July 4th Green,” Kudlow said.
“Now, I’m making fun of this because I intend to make fun of it. This kind of thing is stupid,” he added. “It comes from a bunch of ideological zealots who don’t care one whit about America’s well-being. Not one whit.”
But Kudlow objected to Biden’s climate goals, saying it would “wreck the fossil fuel sector.” He also said that Biden’s plan would mandate that Americans stop eating meat – an untrue claim.
Other conservatives also expressed their consternation at the idea of cutting meat from their diets, despite no one asking them to do so.
GOP lawmakers Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert tweeted the false claims, with Boebert objecting to the idea of “cutting 90% of red meat from (her) diet” and telling Biden to “stay out of (her) kitchen. Meanwhile, Greene tweeted a reference to the misleading information, writing “The Hamburglar” and pairing her post with a shot of Biden eating a hamburger.
In 1970, when Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page recorded the iconic solo on “Stairway to Heaven,” he was playing a 1959 Fender Telecaster.
The guitar was gifted to Page in 1966 by the guitar legend Jeff Beck, who used it himself in the later years of the Yardbirds. Page repainted the guitar, adding an elaborate design of red, green, orange, and blue on the body that vaguely resembled a dragon, giving the instrument its name.
The body of Page’s renowned Dragon Telecaster was made of ash wood, a longtime favorite for many of rock music’s biggest names.
Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Guy, Jerry Garcia, Nile Rodgers, and countless other rock legends have played on ash guitars through the decades, Justin Norvell, the executive vice president of Fender Products, told Insider.
But now, the trees that ash is harvested from are on the decline, and could soon disappear.
A small, invasive bug and excessive flooding are threatening the wood – and, by extension, the sound that epitomizes rock ‘n’ roll – serving as yet another reminder of the climate crisis and its wide-ranging impact.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Norvell said. “It’s one of the main woods we rely on.”
The shortage of ash prompted Fender to phase out its use after a 70-year run. The wood is now only available to customers willing to pay a premium for it.
Ash helped make Fender the ‘Henry Ford of electric guitars’
“Fender has used ash for many, many years,” Norvell told Insider. “It goes back to the company’s origins in the late 40s.”
Leo Fender used ash in the early 1950s in some of Fender’s first Telecasters and Stratocasters, guitar models that remain among the most beloved electric guitars. At the time, Fender went with ash for two reasons: it was cheap and available.
But it also happened to have a nice sound, which, together with the low cost, helped Fender become the “Henry Ford of electric guitars,” according to Craig Snyder, a professional guitar player, collector, and high-end instrument dealer. In the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, Fender mass produced guitars and sold them at affordable prices. The use of ash persisted, enjoying a decades-long run as one of two primary body woods Fender used for its electric guitars.
And it’s not just Fender. Snyder, who has played professionally with legends like Elton John and Roberta Flack, said Fender “set a platform for guitar design” that countless other builders still follow.
“Fender really made ash a bedrock of guitar-making,” Snyder said.
Fender-style guitars, even when not made by their namesake manufacturer, are among the most popular electric guitars and many still use ash.
There are dozens of species of ash trees native to North America, but the most popular for guitars is green ash, or Fraxinus pennsylvanica. It grows across much of the United States and Canada, from Nova Scotia down to Florida and as far west as Alberta and eastern Texas. But the green ash most prized for electric guitars grows in the south, in the bottomlands of the Mississippi River.
“We like lightweight ash, called punky ash or swamp ash,” Norvell said. “It’s wood that is submerged for part of the year in swamps. When the floods recede, we go in and you can harvest the ash.”
As a result of growing in standing water, swamp ash is lightweight and soft. It’s famous in rock music for giving the guitar a sweet, clear and resonant sound. And while average listeners are unlikely to decipher the tonal characteristics of different types of wood, some players and makers say they can tell when a guitar is made of swamp ash.
“True swamp ash is real ringy,” said Stephen Marchione, who has been making high-end guitars for some of the world’s best players for more than 30 years. Marchione said in addition to its sound, swamp ash’s light weight is especially desirable, adding it can knock off nearly five pounds from a guitar.
“It might not sound like a big difference, but when it’s strapped around your neck for two hours it’s a lot,” he said.
Ash also has a beautiful, striking grain pattern, so it’s often used on guitars with a natural or transparent finish.
A climate crisis and a tiny, shiny pest
In recent years, the floods in the Mississippi Delta have been receding less frequently, limiting the swamp ash that can be harvested and disrupting Fender’s ability to get it.
Mike Born, the former director of wood technology at Fender, looks at the water levels of the Mississippi River every day. He currently works as a wood consultant and salesperson for Anderson-Tully, the lumber giant that supplies most of the swamp ash used in guitars, including to Fender.
Born said the high water levels are driven by snowmelt and heavy rains, and not just over the Mississippi, but from all the rivers that feed into it as well, like the Arkansas, Illinois, and Missouri.
The unpredictable flooding and receding has created a feast-or-famine effect. Some years, swamp ash can’t be harvested at all. In years when it can, makers like Fender stock up on as much as they can get, but that cycle, Norvell suggests, appears to be ending. He offered his assessment of the latest healthy supply of swamp ash, calling it “one of the final feasts of having a bounty of ash wood.”
There’s another factor compounding the problem: a shiny green beetle about the size of a grain of rice.
Native to East Asia, the emerald ash borer was first detected in the US in 2002 and has since decimated ash trees, killing tens of millions across the country.
The invasive bug likely arrived in the US on shipping pallets from China, but early efforts to contain it were unsuccessful. Infestations were discovered in 35 states, and scientists say it’s the most destructive pest ever to plague America’s forests.
After the emerald ash borer lays its eggs on the bark of an ash tree, larvae bore into the tree and feed on its tissues, disrupting the movement of water and nutrients in the tree and leaving a squiggly trail in its wake. It ultimately kills the tree, and the trails left behind make the wood harder for guitar makers to work with because they have to cut around the markings.
While the flooding is causing the most recent swamp ash shortages, ash trees could soon disappear altogether because of the beetle. “It’s a mass-extinction event,” Born said, adding that without intervention, ash trees could be extinct in North America within a decade.
“With that, combined with the flooding in the last couple years, we just got to a point where in good conscience we could not maintain a stable supply of healthy quantities of ash,” Fender’s Norvell said.
In April 2020, after seven decades of making ash-bodied guitars, Fender announced it would phase out the wood, reserving it only for premium and historical models.
Norvell said it was an “unbelievably hard decision” for the company. “There’s an element to this that it’s the end of an era,” he said.
Boutique guitar makers are still able to get swamp ash in the quantities they need, so professional musicians and gearheads who are set on swamp ash can find it, at least for now, but its status as a go-to, everyday wood is quickly changing.
Fighting to preserve ash trees, while looking for alternatives
Roots of Rock, a collaborative initiative between the US Forest Service, Fender, and the nonprofit American Forests, is working to save America’s ash trees from the emerald ash borer. Researchers have identified “lingering ash trees” that survived infestations after all other ash trees had died.
“We’re taking survivors that had natural resistance and breeding them with each other to produce a green ash species with resistance,” said Born, who helped start the project when he was at Fender.
Plans are underway to plant the first of these trees in Detroit, near where the beetle was first detected in the US. Even if successful, the project will ultimately take decades, but Born said it’s the first step.
“At least they’re going to save ash genetically and they didn’t have to hybridize,” he said. “This is pure American green ash.”
Meanwhile, guitar makers are working hard to find a suitable replacement for swamp ash.
Roger Sadowsky, a renowned instrument maker, has been building electric guitars for legendary musicians since 1979. When he first started researching, all the best musicians he consulted had Fenders from the late ’50s and early ’60s that were lightweight, which meant they were likely made of swamp ash.
Sadowsky said the last few months of 2020 he was calling every wood guy he knew to find ash. More recently, when it was available, he was stockpiling it to get through the next drought. But to compensate for the shortages, he’s been running listening tests to find a replacement. He has tested eight guitar bodies made of alternative lightweight woods.
“Ash is still the best sounding to my ears,” Sadowsky said. “What we’re trying to do is find the runner-ups as alternatives to swamp ash.”
The leading contender so far is eastern white pine, another tree native to North America that primarily grows in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes. Sadowsky said the white pine is best after it has been torrefied, a roasting process that emulates decades of natural aging.
A new sound
Fender has also employed a torrefaction process with pine as a replacement for ash. Norvell said it has been very well-received, though there’s still a “wistfulness and nostalgia” for swamp ash.
According to the guitar-maker Marchione, musicians are extremely conservative when it comes to their instruments. “People are still trying to recreate what guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix did,” Norvell said. “Those guys had plenty of swamp ash.”
But Born said the deep love for the storied wood could, in some ways, be a chicken-and-egg scenario, rather than there being an inherent magic in the wood.
“I think it’s more that rock ‘n’ roll grew up with that as being the sound, so that wood became the tone that people like to hear,” he said. “It could’ve been something else and that wood might have had the same kind of myth to it.”
Regardless of the reasons, swamp ash is woven into Fender’s DNA, and the history of electric guitars in general. But Norvell said now it’s about finding the next generation of woods.
“The guitar continues to adapt and adjust, and the music people make changes. Everything changes over time,” he said.
“For us, now it’s about finding new voices and new tones and new woods.”
The 18-year-old climate activist testified before a House oversight committee on Earth Day to discuss the impact of the fossil fuel industry on the environment, saying that subsidizing fossil fuels is “clear proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all.”
“It is the year 2021, the fact we are still having this discussion and even more that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels using taxpayer money is a disgrace,” she said.
President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion vast infrastructure plan includes a detail aimed at rolling back US financial support of fossil fuels, which would bring in $35 billion to the federal government over a decade, The Guardian reported.
During the congressional hearing, Thunberg said putting an end to subsidizing fossil fuel companies is the “very minimum” the US should do in an effort to combat the climate crisis, otherwise lawmakers would have to “explain to your children why you are surrendering on the 1.5 C target, giving up without even trying.”
“Unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight,” she said. “How long do you honestly believe that people in power like you will get away with it? How long do you think you can continue to ignore the climate crisis without being held accountable?”
“Young people today will decide how you will be remembered, so my advice for you is to choose wisely,” Thunberg added.
Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican from South Carolina on the committee, said “the left has resorted to fear tactics on climate change.”
Thunberg replied saying she does not want people to panic but instead, she wants people to “get out of their comfort zones” when it comes to the climate crisis.
Just over three years ago, Insider launched Better Capitalism, a section focused on how companies are moving beyond financial targets and actively contributing to a better world for their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
Sustainability has been a key topic we’ve covered along the way, and it’s only gaining momentum in the conversation around stakeholder capitalism. Last year, Microsoft, Apple, Ford, Starbucks, and other major corporations made big pledges to reduce, eliminate, or offset their carbon emissions. In January of this year, GM announced it would only sell electric vehicles by 2035 and pledged to be completely carbon neutral by 2040.
At the same time, the demand for ESG investing – which integrates environmental, social, and governance goals with investment – has skyrocketed, while more companies have agreed to report on their progress on ESG criteria.
Helping to lead this movement is Klaus Schwab, executive chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum, who convenes economic and political leaders annually to discuss innovative ways to reshape and advance industries. During Insider’s climate-focused virtual event, Act to Impact, on April 20, Schwab said the surge in interest in ESG means customers, investors, and leaders are focused on accountability. He also noted that there are over 300 ESG proxy issues headed to vote this spring.
“Leaders have a new mindset,” Schwab told Insider. “We have a new social consciousness.”
He also spoke about how the pandemic has only increased people’s alertness and sensitivity to corporate social responsibility, which includes how companies treat the environment.
The event also featured insight from David Sproul, the Global Deputy Chief Executive of Deloitte; Rebecca Marmot, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Unilever; Ruth Davis, the Director of IBM’s Call for Code initiative; Alice Sharp, the Artistic Director of Invisible Dust; and more.
Insider is investing more into our sustainability coverage by launching our newsletter, Insider Sustainability. With our new sustainability reporter, Karen K. Ho (who previously wrote for Quartz), at the helm, we’re highlighting the ways in which government, businesses, and society are coalescing responsible climate choice with their practices.
When Klaus Schwab thinks of climate change, he thinks of his grandchildren and their future. Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, is worried – but hopeful.
“Many people have a tendency to see our fight against climate change as a cost, as something that is negative,” Schwab said. “Yes, it may be to a certain extent, but it’s also a great opportunity.”
For the economic leader, tackling climate change means leadership innovation. Company executives, investors, consumers, and political leaders will have to find ways to work together to enact change, he said.
And that means new economic opportunities: new infrastructure projects such as the one Congress is debating, new developments in technologies such as carbon sequestration, and new products such as expanded options for electric cars.
Schwab credits a good portion of his philosophy on climate change to Bill Gates, who he said is a leader in the green movement.
“Gates talks about how, in order to decarbonize the world or to make it carbon-neutral by 2050, a lot of new technological progress has to be achieved,” Schwab said. “I see here a great opportunity because we can move into an age of green innovation.”
Signs of this age of green innovation have increased in the past year. ESG investments, or investments that apply environmental, social, and governance principles to a company’s performance, have seen record growth and are projected to increase in the future, reports showed.
US assets under management that used ESG criteria increased 42% over the past two years to $17 trillion in 2020, up from $12 trillion in 2018, showed a 2020 report from the US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.
A growing number of companies have pledged large green initiatives. GM, America’s largest car manufacturer, said it would go carbon-neutral in its global products and operations by 2040. Apple committed to being 100% carbon-neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030.
Schwab is energized by these changes and believes the trend toward a more stakeholder-centric view of the world is ahead.
“I’m really excited,” he said, adding that society has changed over the past few years. “We have a new mindset. We have a new social consciousness.”
Insider spoke with Schwab about his new mindset and how leaders plan to embrace the ESG movement. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
There’s more and more recognition that a viable economy not only relies on treating people well but treating the climate well. Do you think CEOs have fully adopted this mindset that treating the climate well is good for shareholders?
So the executives who have a longer-term thinking have clearly adopted this mindset. And if you look, there are two reasons – they are very obvious. So there’s first an economic reason. I think what we have learned from the coronavirus is that prevention – the cost of prevention is much lesser compared to the cost of responding afterward to the damage. So we have a situation where you have a kind of free ride because you don’t have to integrate all your external costs into your business model, but someone will have to pay for it. And it will be down the road.
And my fear is that we may end up like tobacco companies, which means, we will be in a situation where, down the line, you will have class action. Already today, investors recognize this danger, this risk. There are investors who hesitate to provide capital to companies who really are damaging the environment.
But there’s also a moral reason. I’m thinking of my grandchildren. I don’t want to have them facing a crisis that may be much worse compared to what we are seeing today with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do you believe that investors are recognizing the risk?
I said investors who are thinking long term. Of course, if you want to make a fast buck, it’s a different matter.
But in the end, I think companies will recognize they will be better off economically if they take care of nature, because young people – I mean, at least my employees – they don’t want to work anymore for a company or for an organization that is damaging nature.
And I think clients and customers do not want to buy the products of such a company. So I think it’s in the direct, commercial business interest of companies to take care of the planet.
Here in the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission just created an ESG task force to promote the disclosure and transparency of ESG criteria. And a report showed that over 300 ESG proxies are headed to a vote this spring. How do you feel about the surge and attention to ESG reporting?
I think it’s a great evolution. Some people would say even a revolution. But we should not forget that the ESG metrics – so measuring responsibility – are only part of a total integrated system.
It starts with defining your strategies, where you have to take into account the present and maybe even future expectations of your stakeholders. So it’s a strategy formulation. It’s the responsibility of the board. Then it is of course execution, not only inside the company itself but also in the supplying network. And at the end, you have some measurement system, the ESG metrics.
So we should not look at ESG metrics just as some kind of a formal, additional reporting system. I think to do ESG performance in the right way, you have to look at it as an ecosystem, which integrates a company as a whole.
There are those who are still against certain ESG metrics, for example, the billionaire investor Warren Buffett recently urged shareholders to reject proposals for more transparency of climate-related risks and diversity and inclusion efforts. What would you say to Buffett and others who reject more transparency?
I would like to have a discussion with him.
I would tell him: “Look, I can understand that on the level of Berkshire Hathaway, which is a kind of conglomerate, you will have difficulties measuring the ESG responsibility of each of your companies where you have a shareholding in. So, here, I would understand.”
But as far as his companies are concerned, where he has invested in, I would tell him: “Look, particularly because you are very heavily exposed to the insurance business, why don’t you engage actively into more ESG of responsibility? Because it may backfire on you one day, in your insurance business. You may be caught by not having an integrated policy where you pursue profitability but also take care of people and the planet.”
President Joe Biden is asking Congress to approve hundreds of billions of dollars to remake transit infrastructure in the US in a plan that the White House says will fight climate change. What do you think of this kind of package?
It’s not enough to hold only corporations responsible. I think we have a common responsibility, all stakeholders of global society, which means corporations have to absolve a lot of their responsibilities in this respect, but it’s also us individual consumers, and it’s the government.
And the government has to contribute to fighting climate change by creating the necessary incentives and also disincentives. I think there are still too many governments around the world that provide subsidies for activities that actually are damaging the climate. And I think we need the government to step in to build the necessary infrastructures.
What we need is an integrated approach. We cannot fight climate change by doing here a little bit, there a little bit. We need to have an integrated ecosystem approach. And I think here the government has a major role to play, to provide the kind of integrated vision for the future.
Going back to the corporate world for a minute: Doesn’t the case of Danone and the recent ousting of its CEO show that focusing on ESG metrics can lead to a nonconfidence vote of shareholders?
Yes, so we have the famous case of Danone. The CEO was ousted and the criticism was that he has been devoting his time and his attention much too much to the ESG dimension, and not necessarily giving sufficient attention to his shareholders. But I think that’s a wrong dichotomy.
We shouldn’t make an artificial polarization between profitability on the one hand and people and the planet on the other hand. I think the art of good management today is to create the right balance and not to be too much just keeping in mind stakeholders or shareholders. I’ll give you a practical example – if we compare Danone with Unilever.
Unilever is certainly recognized worldwide as a company that is at the forefront of ESG thinking, but at the same time the share price of Unilever has doubled more or less in the past 10 years. The share price of Danone has quite had some difficulties, especially over the past year. Shareholders are also stakeholders. Unilever is an example that you can give [attention] to your shareholders as well as your other stakeholders.
What company stands out to you as doing especially well when it comes to tackling climate change?
I’m looking at the hardest-hit companies, hardest in terms of those being confronted with a major need for transformation. Here – if I look at the oil industry – I take as an example Total, the French oil company. Total is one of the 70 companies that the World Economic Forum brought together to commit to report on the ESG metrics we have developed with the International Business Council, under the guidance of Bank of America’s CEO, Brian Moynihan, together with the Big Four audit companies.
If we’re talking about persons, I would say Bill Gates. I just read his newest book [“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”]. I think he has a very great contribution to offer us. Because he says, “Look, we need a systemic approach to fight climate change. Even if we take all of our goodwill, it will not be enough. What we need is innovation.”
He talks about how in order to decarbonize the world or to make it carbon-neutral by 2050, a lot of new technological progress has to be achieved. Our present technology does not suffice to get to the target in 2050. So I see here a great opportunity because we can move into an age of green innovation.
Many people have a tendency to see our fight against climate change as a cost, as something that is negative. Yes, it may be to a certain extent, but it’s also a great opportunity.
If I look at the young generations – the World Economic Forum has a community of 10,000 young leaders – if I talk to them, they have a different mindset. They have a different picture of the world.
It’s not only the material dimension, income, or GDP. It’s well-being. And climate change is interconnected with pollution. It’s interconnected with life expectancy. It’s interconnected with a lot of health issues. So if we want to invest in our well-being, then we have to invest in fighting climate change.
Recently, a number of major corporations such as GM and Apple have made pledges to go carbon-neutral – GM by 2040, and Apple by 2030. Do you think these timelines are realistic? And are they fast enough?
We speak about a carbon-free world by 2050. That’s the objective of the Paris Agreement. Most countries have subscribed to this objective. And many, many companies have now also issued statements that they would achieve carbon neutrality.
Now, we have to be aware that the situation is not the same for each company. We have the energy companies – the Exxons, the Chevrons, and so on – that will have much more challenges to reach this objective of carbon neutrality in 2050, compared to Google, or even a car manufacturer that understands the technology to make this transformation to the electric car.
So it’s good if companies that have fewer challenges, such as the high-tech companies, provide an example by setting very ambitious objectives. But again, I come back to this: Setting objectives is not enough. Being measured in the execution is important, and here the ESGs come in again.
Do you think the energy-sector companies such as Chevron and Exxon have fully bought into the stakeholder-capitalism model? Have they bought into addressing climate change?
I would answer that in the following way: If they haven’t bought in yet, into the stakeholder concept, they are on the wrong side of history, because I’m deeply convinced that we are now really at an inflection point where society as a whole does not tolerate any more companies that are damaging nature or that are not upholding diversity and social justice.
I think we have a completely new social consciousness. We now also have a world where every deficiency can be reported very fast, and that can create a negative reaction. So if I were Exxon or a company that’s really challenged – we should not forget, these companies need a complete transformation of their business models – I would commit to the stakeholder concept, but would also try to create understanding in the public. For me, being in the energy sector, it may be much more difficult compared to a company that’s already producing products that do not necessarily damage the environment. So it’s a communications effort.
How are you feeling about the corporate fight to tackle climate change? What, if anything, are you excited about?
I’m really excited because, as I just mentioned, we have a new mindset. We have a new social consciousness. People like Greta Thunberg got very aware that something is wrong here in our lifestyles – that either we will have to suffer down the road or our children will have to suffer.
So we are now in a situation where climate change, or the attention given to climate change, provides a higher sensitivity for other deficiencies that we have.
I mentioned already a lack of inclusion, a lack of social justice, a system that is not necessarily fair in providing everybody with the necessary opportunities. And I think the pandemic has contributed to this new alertness, to this new sensitivity. Some people may say this is inconvenient because we pinpoint weaknesses in our society, but it’s a wake-up call to adapt and to make sure that we have better lives. That’s what we’re fighting for.
President Joe Biden has pledged to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030.
The White House made the announcement on Thursday, hours before Biden held a virtual climate with 40 world leaders.
CNBC noted that the goal more than doubles what the US agreed to when Biden re-joined the Paris Climate Accord, which former President Donald Trump withdrew from. The Paris Climate Accord was signed in 2015 during President Barack Obama’s tenure, when Biden served as vice president.
A White House statement said that the US would achieve the goal by “positioning American workers and industry to tackle the climate crisis.”
It said that reaching the target by 2030 would “create millions of good-paying, middle class, union jobs.”
Energy storage company Blue Planet Energy is focused on energy independence and sustainability.
It was founded in 2015 by Henk Rogers, who acquired the rights to Tetris in the 1980s.
It’s part of Hawaii’s climate change initiatives and hopes to make renewable energy more accessible.
This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”
Residents and businesses in Hawaii pay more for energy than just about anywhere else in the country. Honolulu-based Blue Planet Energy is one organization that’s attempting to ease that energy burden.
Blue Planet Energy has created an energy storage system to encourage energy independence and broaden the use of renewable power. The company has about 25 employees and a network of more than 250 certified dealers that have installed thousands of its energy storage products.
“We want to decarbonize our energy system,” Chris Johnson, the company’s CEO, told Insider. “However, climate is changing. Storms are getting more intense and knocking out the grids, and so that’s where we need to deal with it.”
Climate change conversations typically focus on mitigation and adaptation, he said, and the company aims to make the homes and businesses that use renewable energy, such as solar panels, more resilient.
Since 2013, Honolulu has ranked first in solar power per capita among the country’s 50 largest cities and third in the amount of existing photovoltaic solar power, which generates electricity directly from sunlight, installed as of 2020, according to a report by the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group.
“With renewable energy, you can’t control when the sun shines or when the wind blows,” Johnson said. “But we need steady, reliable energy for our homes, for our businesses, for our critical infrastructure, and so we create energy storage solutions that allow the energy to be consumed when you need it. And they’re also resilient, so even if the grid goes down, you can still stay up and running.”
Here’s a look at how Blue Planet Energy’s renewable energy systems work, and how the company’s mission aligns with Honolulu’s sustainability goals.
The Blue Planet name has influenced climate change policy in Hawaii
Blue Planet Energy was founded in 2015 by Henk Rogers, who discovered and acquired the rights to the video game Tetris in the 1980s. More recently, he’s been committed to expanding clean energy and reducing and ultimately eliminating dependence on fossil fuel.
Rogers also founded the Blue Planet Foundation, a nonprofit working to solve climate change by leading the way in the transition to 100% clean energy. The organization has been influential in clean-energy policy adoption in Hawaii and Honolulu, including a bill requiring the state’s utilities to generate 100% of their electricity from renewable energy, which Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed into law in 2015. Hawaii was the first state to have such a law.
Blue Planet Energy’s energy storage systems are an extension of Rogers’ vision. While the company was founded in Honolulu and has a strong footprint in Hawaii, Johnson said it now has installations in more than 30 states, Puerto Rico, and several Caribbean islands, and is growing its presence in Mexico, Central America, and Canada.
“Henk, our founder, really thought that if we can achieve this in Hawaii, we could take that as a model to other places,” Johnson said. “It’s essentially a learning laboratory for sustainability.”
Energy storage solutions offer homes and businesses more resilient power sources
In March 2021, Blue Planet Energy launched a new product, the Blue Ion HI. The new energy storage system joins the company’s Blue Ion LX.
“Those are basically similar in approach and functionality but designed for slightly different situations,” Johnson said. “The LX is for larger installations, including commercial and industrial or community resilient infrastructure. Our HI offering is residential and small commercial.”
The Blue Ion LX accommodates on- or off-grid requirements for facilities like warehouses, corporate headquarters, and manufacturers. The battery stores excess solar energy or adjusts to traditional energy sources to avoid power interruptions, and increases the value of a company’s investment in renewable energy.
The Blue Ion HI is a solution for homes and businesses. It captures energy from renewable and traditional sources, easily switches from grid to battery power, and provides on-demand energy. The products are also stackable and can be configured in different ways to suit the needs of the property.
Henk, Johnson said, “likes things to be able to fit together nicely,” so they made the batteries stackable and easily scalable.
Blue Planet Energy’s customers mainly use its batteries to store excess solar energy, either displacing their use of a grid or a generator, Johnson said. This is a valuable service as energy bills continue to rise and natural disasters impact power grids.
“We need to have resilient infrastructure so we can bounce back quickly,” Johnson said. “If we put a lot of renewables out there without balancing it out with energy storage, the grid could be unstable or not available when you need it, and so we’re part of making sure that the grid can absorb a lot of renewables, it can recover and always be on.”
Expansion plans aim to make renewable energy more affordable and accessible
Helping to create more resilient and affordable energy systems aligns with the initiatives of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, Johnson said. Blue Planet Energy has worked with the office on developing renewable energy and resilience best practices, and the company plans to continue this work with the city’s new administration under Mayor Rick Blangiardi, which just took over in January.
To further address affordability, Johnson said the company recently launched a new financing product to make its energy storage systems more accessible to commercial customers. It doesn’t require a down payment and offers instant energy savings on solar power and Blue Ion storage installation.
The cost of Blue Planet Energy’s installations vary depending on a property’s energy needs and can range from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands for large buildings with extensive power needs, according to the company. Energy storage installation costs roughly the same as solar installation.
The average cost for solar panel installation in the US varies by state, but averages $17,760 to $23,828 after the federal solar tax credit, which lowers the cost by 26%, according to EnergySage. Some states and local governments also offer rebates and tax credits for solar systems.
Blue Planet Energy is in a period of “scaling and acceleration,” Johnson said. Over the next decade, the company plans to expand and strives to alleviate the effects of climate change, which are expected to worsen.
“This is really crunch time,” he said. “How do we deliver the highest-quality, most reliable, safest solution at scale as fast as we can? Get it out on the ground, into homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure so that we can stabilize the grid and we can stabilize our climate.”
Warren Buffett caught the attention of the World Economic Forum’s Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab, who said he’d like to “have a discussion” with the billionaire investor.
Last year, Buffett said companies should focus on creating shareholder value, and not invest in social causes like climate change. “This is the shareholders’ money,” he said.
But Schwab said companies should strike a balance between profit, people, and planet. He said if given the opportunity, he’d tell Buffett, “Look, particularly since you are very heavily exposed in the insurance business, why don’t you engage actively into more ESG (environmental, social and governance) responsibility, because it may backfire to you one day in your insurance business.”
Schwab said Buffett, who runs Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company whose core business segment is insurance, “may be caught by not having a integrated policy where you pursue profitability, but also you take care of people and the planet.”
Schwab, the author of “Stakeholder Capitalism: A Global Economy that Works for Progress, People and Planet,” spoke to Insider during the forum “Act to Impact: Keeping Our Promises to the Planet.”
Buffett did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on Schwab’s message. The investor told the Financial Times previously with regard to companies spending on social issues like climate change that, “Many corporate managers deplore governmental allocation of the taxpayer’s dollar, but embrace enthusiastically their own allocation of the shareholder’s dollar.”
Insider previously reported Buffett spent about $30 billion on wind turbines and related infrastructure in Iowa, but he said it was only because of a production tax credit.
Schwab said the “art of good management today is to create a balance” between shareholders, and stakeholders, as in society as a whole. He said for companies not buying into the stakeholder concept, they’re going to be “on the wrong side of history.”
I was raised in a conservative Republican home with strong beliefs in free markets. My dad was raised on a North Dakota farm, where success depended on hard work and independent problem-solving skills. I grew up believing that government intervention in our personal lives should be limited to things we cannot effectively do as individuals, such as law enforcement, national defense, and protecting the public from unfair business practices and negative externalities.
My upbringing emphasized data-based decision-making – seeking the truth and adhering to evidence, rather than simply trusting what someone might say or write – no matter how bully their pulpit. Thus, my family took pride in America’s scientific leadership, from agricultural improvements to creating the polio vaccine to landing on the moon, and my parents encouraged my interest in biology from my earliest years.
My trust that the Republican party can uphold its once-proud legacy, however, has waned over many years and has now totally collapsed. The current party philosophy seems to be: “If you don’t like something, simply say it’s false” If you don’t like the evidence that Trump lost the 2020 election, no worries, just insist it isn’t true. If you don’t like the serious threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, just claim it isn’t real. If you don’t like the fact that a reliance on fossil fuels is dangerously warming the world, simply deny it. And when challenged, don’t produce evidence, just become louder and more shrill.
The Republican party of my youth is no longer recognizable.
It would be nice if the rest of us could simply deny news that we didn’t like. My wife has MS, and my mother is suffering loss of vision from a rapidly advancing macular degeneration. I’d love to be able to claim both diagnoses are not true and wish them away. My life’s work confirms the extinction threat facing polar bears. I wish that simply denying global warming could save them.
But that world, of dangerous and unsupported fantasies, is not the real world in which we live. My work experiences leave no doubt the threats of global warming are real. During the early 1980s, when I became Polar Bear Project Leader for the US Geological Survey, I could stand on the northern Alaska shore in late summer and see the sea ice just off the coast. Now that same sea ice, where polar bears used to feed all summer, has retreated hundreds of miles offshore. I still shake my head as I realize the magnitude of the change that has occurred in only a few decades.
Sea ice is essential to polar bear survival because they can only reliably catch their main food source, seals, from its surface. In essence, the platform of ice is their dinner plate. When forced ashore by melting ice, polar bears must live off the energy in their fat reserves until the ice forms again in autumn. Longer ice-free seasons, driven by global warming, are stretching the limits of those reserves. In a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change, my colleagues and I determined the timing of when prolonged ice-free seasons will begin to push polar bears beyond survival limits. We showed that without swift reductions in climate warming emissions, polar bears will be absent from most of their current range, including Alaska – their only American home – by the end of this century.
The polar bear’s dependence on habitat that literally melts as temperatures rise makes the risks of global warming easy to understand. But it’s not just about polar bears. In ecology, all things are connected. The impacts of global warming in other ecosystems, including our own, are more complicated than the polar bear’s relationship with melting ice, but the catastrophe unfolding in the Arctic is coming to us all in the form of more severe droughts, floods, wildfires, and generally erratic weather, like this year’s unusual winter storms.
Human migration in response to climate change is already a global challenge. With unabated warming, human occupation of large parts of the globe will become impossible, and the economic collapse that follows will create migration pressures on a scale never before seen. Only the very rich are likely to survive the warming that is in store if we do not act swiftly. But, if we halt global temperature rise in time to save polar bears, we will prevent the worst of global impacts on us all.
Climate catastrophe will affect Democrats and Republicans
I’ve long been troubled by the Republican party philosophy that believing in human-caused global warming is a partisan position. Global warming is not about belief at all. It is about the laws of physics and scientific evidence.
It has become increasingly clear that if societies do not halt global warming, none of our other societal and environmental concerns will really matter. Yet the more obvious and expensive our changing climate has become, the greater has been Republican resistance to doing anything about it. This, even after Nobel Prize-winner William Nordhaus showed that a big part of the solution could lie in free markets – a historic bastion of Republican platforms.
After four years of inaction on this most serious of issues facing us all, we now have a Democratic administration that is playing catch-up to head off climate disaster before it is too late. But a large contingent of Republicans still deny the problem exists in the first place, despite the evidence all around us.
Denial of the evidence will not eliminate my wife’s MS or save my mother’s vision. Neither will it negate the physical laws that require the world to warm as long as atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise. Denial will not save the climate to which life on Earth has become accustomed and in which humans have flourished – and it will not save polar bears.
The preamble to our constitution states that a main purpose of our government is to promote the general welfare. Denying reality clearly does not abide by this founding principle, and it is not part of the can-do, reality-based Republican philosophy with which I was raised.
The recent trend among Republicans to simply dismiss everything they don’t like as “fake news” takes denial to a disturbing new level of fantasy. It’s dangerous to our democracy and to our planet, and it’s a leap too far for me to make.