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From June 18-20, I attended #Circularity19 by GreenBiz Group, the first major Circular Economy event in North America that brought together over 850 thought leaders from leading companies, government and NGOs on ways to accelerate more sustainable commerce. 

Attendees include representatives from Apple, Google, Cisco, GM, Waste Management, 3M, Timberland, Kohls, Target, Land O’Lakes, UL and Anderson Windows, plus the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, Cradle to Cradle, SFI and the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition.

Program tracks emphasized Business Strategy & Innovation, Design & Materials, Logistics & Infrastructure and Food & Water Systems. Some highlights:

  • A half-day tutorial, designed for attendees from all sectors and backgrounds and presented by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, provided a foundational understanding of the circular economy — a model that reimagines the traditional “take-make-waste” linear industrial model in favor of a system that designs out waste and pollution, decouples economic growth from natural resource consumption, increase resource productivity and regenerates natural systems.
  • A session on how city leaders are using the transition to a circular economy to create jobs for their communities, providing safe and affordable places to live and improving people’s lives. “Circular Charlotte” is the first US effort to incorporate circular economy principles on a meaningful scale including initiatives for textiles, food and plastic waste, materials innovation and concrete recycling that significantly reduces waste to landfill and CO2 emissions while boosting revenue and creating hundreds of jobs.
  • Cradle to Cradle Jeans: A session with personal hero and influencer Bill McDonough on ways to achieve apparel that is 100% non toxic and biodegradable, 100% designed for its next life, 100% produced with renewable energy, 100% produced with recycled water or water discharges that meet drinking water standards and 100% social fairness.
  • A session on regenerative agriculture and how companies like General Mills, PepsiCo and Land O’Lakes are encouraging farmers and other suppliers to harness innovative practices to rebuild soils, clean our waterways, and draw down carbon dioxide emissions. *Wisconsin could lead the nation by accelerating regenerative agriculture practices to increase farmer’s profits, improve crop yields and reduce nutrient runoff into our drinking water.
  • A session on the innovative food waste reduction and up-cycling system at MGM Resorts in Las Vegas that diverted over 200,000 tons of food waste over 10 years.
  • A keynote on Apple’s “ambition to end mining” by using only recycled or renewable materials in its products and packaging. Apple’s “make, but not take” strategy includes durable design, “Trade-in” pathways to recycling and re-engineering material recovery, including robots that disassemble up to 200 IPhones per hour.  Apple’s recycled tin solder will avoid 29,000 tons of new tin mining in 2019.
  • A session by Google’s Sustainability Officer on ways the company is becoming a circular business to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, promote safe chemistry and healthy materials, refurbished and remanufactured products and perpetual cycling of finite resources. Read Google’s Circular Economy Sustainability Report.
  • Accelerate, a fast-pitch competition on the main stage featured entrepreneurs with innovative technologies, products and services advancing a circular economy.
  • A session on the policy and regulatory tools (including the Netherlands Green Deal) to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. Successful policies have incentive mechanisms built in to jump start measures and overcome initial hurdles; plus public/private partnerships and collaboration to build experience and knowledge. Successful policymakers organize platforms for stakeholders and enable flexible and responsive policy design to ensure desired outcomes.
  • A session on how governments, companies and communities can create circular economies to ensure business as usual is no longer an option and can effectively address social justice and equity issues through new policies, better products and innovation.

Creating a circular economy will be an enormous challenge, but one that serves as an opportunity for wealth creation where everyone prospers, including people of color and more vulnerable, marginalized communities. In short, an economy that works for everyone and addresses climate change, social justice and equity outcomes while taking better care of workers. Now all we need is a Green New Deal to bring these solutions to scale and create a more resilient, vibrant and thriving USA.

To view the virtual event, please visit here.


GreenBiz19 pic

It’s a new day in Wisconsin and with new leadership comes the opportunity and responsibility to create an economy that works for everyone and invests in innovative policies, including clean energy, clean manufacturing, water stewardship and regenerative agriculture while we “green” our infrastructure and restore natural systems.

This week I’m fortunate to be in Phoenix to attend #GreenBiz19, the premier annual event for sustainability leaders with more than 1200 influential professionals from leading companies, government and NGOs to connect and explore successful new directions, technologies, systems and policies to accelerate more sustainable economic development. Attendees include representatives from Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Disney along with Wisconsin companies, including: SC Johnson, Kohler Co., Organic Valley and Miller/Coors. Leading NGOs include the Environmental Defense Fund, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The Nature Conservancy, and Business for Social Responsibility. Some highlights from the first day:

GreenBiz19: Day 1 — Tuesday, Feb. 26

A half-day working session on Green Finance to address the disconnect between publicly held companies and investors regarding environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance and ways we can ensure greater disclosure and transparency for stakeholders. Currently one out of every four dollars invested falls under ESG criteria.  ESGs are also becoming an important credit rating criteria to further demonstrate how sustainability drives business value. 

A tutorial on the ethical circular economy and the systemic ways we can spur innovative product and service development, urban infrastructure and economic development to maximize resources.

A report on The State of Green Business in the context of the Green New Deal resolution introduced in Congress and the sense of urgency and national conversation we’re starting to have that can serve as a call to action — This is our moment!  (See related column: Green New Deal: Wisconsin’s Call to Action)

A panel describing how collaboration between corporate, NGO and investment entities was key to creating a $100 million fund that will implement creative solutions at the scale needed to effectively stop the flow of plastics and other marine debris into our oceans by 2030.  Currently, it’s estimated that over 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year.  

An inspiring talk by former NFL fullback Ovie Mughelli's about his mission to educate and empower disadvantaged youth through environmental stewardship and helping lay the foundation for career paths available for kids to make a positive impact in their communities.

To see a few photos from the first day, please visit here.

To view the virtual event, please visit here.

Day 2 will feature a plenary with H. Fisk Johnson, CEO and Chairman of SC Johnson on the company’s actions to combat ocean plastics;  The importance of land management and open space, including preserving our forests and other critical habitat as an effective solution to mitigate the effects of climate change; GreenBiz Guru sessions covering 25 different topics; and innovative approaches to water stewardship.

GreenBiz19: Day 2 — Wednesday, Feb. 27

Day two of #GreenBiz19 featured more inspiring sessions exploring the most pressing challenges, emerging trends and promising opportunities to accelerate a sustainable economy. Some highlights from the second day:

Circular Economy: A panel discussion to address the crisis of plastic in our world’s oceans featured Wisconsin based SC Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson. Johnson highlighted the many ways the company is combating the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans, including committing to make 100 percent of its plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. During the panel, he announced SC Johnson will launch in April 2019 the first-ever 100% recycled ocean plastic bottle.

To see the video highlighting SC Johnson’s commitment please visit here.

Johnson was joined by Plastic Bank CEO David Katz. Together, they highlighted the companies’ partnership in Indonesia, where SC Johnson and Plastic Bank have opened eight plastic recycling collection centers to help increase recycling rates in impoverished communities while addressing the challenges of poverty. #SJCRecycles #SocialPlastic

A session on the different ways Certified B Corps can serve as a force for good.  Benefit corporations are a type of corporation that considers its impact on society and the environment in addition to earning a profit. Wisconsin became the 34th state to pass benefit corporation legislation.  On issues from worker's rights to women’s rights and voters rights, clean energy and clean water, Wisconsin businesses have the opportunity to consider social and environmental impacts as B Corps.

A session on natural climate solutions, including how we manage land, forests and critical habitat to build resilience and mitigate the effects of climate change. Examples included case studies on collaborative approaches between government, NGOs and the private sector to advance more climate friendly forest practices.

A session on how sustainable procurement practices can drive innovation and responsible sourcing of forestry products. States can also target incentives, including tax credits, loan guarantees and purchasing preferences for firms with more sustainable practices.

A session on innovative approaches to water stewardship including how some corporations are setting goals to restore 100% of global water use by 2025 and how the Nature Conservancy and National Forest Foundation are implementing successful water stewardship initiatives to replenish water and support the natural resilience of our water environment.

During the evening, the sixth annual Arizona State University (ASU) Sustainability Solutions Celebration was held and brought together business and academia to celebrate young innovators, thinkers and designers who reimagine global challenges.

To see a few photos from the first day, please visit here.

To view the virtual event, please visit here.

GreenBiz19: Day 3 — Thursday, Feb. 28


The final act of #GreenBiz19 was a great half-day session of breakouts and plenaries on accelerating sustainability and engagement in companies and organizations. Highlights include:

The Role of the Private Sector in Advancing Environmental Justice: Dream Corps President Vien Truong shared what it takes for corporations to be part of the solution to advance equity and social justice. She challenged attendees to step up and step out of their silos and engage with community organizations, understand their challenges, and partner to solve problems.

According to Truong, the Green New Deal should be considered a clarion call to action; a long term aspirational vision for the future that will lift all boats, create jobs, spur innovation, grow the economy and effectively address social justice and equity outcomes. Businesses must step up to help shape the Green New Deal like they did to successfully advance the Paris Climate Accords.

A Zero Waste Tour by Waste Management highlighted the process of diverting 100% of the waste generated by the GreenBiz19 conference with 1,500 attendees. At GreenBiz18, over 98% of waste was diverted from landfills, by composting, recycling, donating and reusing.

Plug-in electric vehicle (EV) test drives were also available, plus an exhibition area for business and NGO sustainability initiatives.

Mobilizing a Movement to Advance Climate Solutions: Project Drawdown

Executive Director *Jon Foley — a world-leading environmental scientist, author, and speaker — provided a recap on the progress and the potential applications for some of the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change. (*Foley was formerly a longtime professor and Director for the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) at the UW-Madison.)

Project Drawdown released its plan of global solutions in 2017, bringing together researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model the 100 most effective ways to address climate change. Now, Version 2.0 will broaden the approach to reach over a billion people around the globe and look at ways we can deploy solutions at scale to “Drawdown” an entire company for example, or its supply chain, or even a city or a state, to reverse carbon emissions.

To see a few photos from the first day, please visit here.

To view the virtual event, please visit here.

The spirit of collaboration at GreenBiz this year, particularly the efforts by leading companies, NGOs and investors to tackle massive environmental problems like ocean plastic were amazing.  Over 1,500 practitioners (20% more this year) were engaged at a high level on sustainability topics and you could sense that people understand the urgency of what we’re facing and the need for us to make headway now so we have an economy that works for everyone, reverse climate change and create a more resilient, vibrant and thriving country.

What do we want? Reverse Climate Change!

When do we want it? Now!

This is our moment…

VERGE18 — Day 1


Wisconsin has become a low-road state with policymaking that favors well connected interests over the environment, workers and our communities. This week I’m attending the VERGE18 conference and expo in Oakland, California. The three-conference event will be packed with over 2500 attendees including leaders from companies and utilities, city and regional governments, policymakers, NGOs, solution providers, and startups – all focused on finding ways to accelerate the clean economy through technology and sustainability. I plan to post a recap of each day on my blog at

Some highlights from the first day:

A half-day deep dive on understanding the circular economy by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that reimagines the traditional “take-make-waste” linear industrial model in favor of a system that designs out waste and pollution, decouples economic growth from natural resource consumption, increases resource productivity and regenerates natural systems:

Among the case studies highlighted include Tesla’s interest in creating autonomous vehicle mobility services so cars can be make available to multiple users (rather than sitting idle as many cars do 92% of the time) while generating a financial return for owners. Y Closet, a start-up in China that charges a monthly fee to rent high-end clothing and accessories could help reduce the significant waste and environmental impacts of the fashion industry. Grover, a high-end technology rental business for cameras, Apple products, and other devices encourages their customers to Buy Less, Experience More. Fat Lama, is another company where you can borrow almost anything.

Rather than manufacturing and shipping new furniture, Open Desk provides unique digital files so their furniture can be produced locally with reclaimed materials and local labor. Tool Libraries that use unused book shelf space are starting to pop up to encourage community tool rental.

Another company called Spacious matches up underutilized space like restaurant dining rooms that don’t serve lunch as drop-in work spaces. British Sugar captures their carbon dioxide for use by a carbonated drink maker and installed one of the region’s largest greenhouses to use excess carbon dioxide and waste heat for tomato and salad green production and reportedly, medical marijuana. 

To help address food waste, Toast Ale makes a very popular beer brand from leftover stale bread and a new software tracking system helps restaurants reduce food waste 40-70%.

Replenish creates reusable packaging that includes concentrated solutions to reduce the costs and environmental impacts of transporting large quantities of water-based products. Ohoo created biodegradable and edible water blobs made of seaweed extract to reduce water bottle plastic waste generated by races and other large sporting events.

Local government plays a key leadership role in fostering clean business and the circular economy with policy making that includes the creative use of public buildings and infrastructure for start-ups, supports business certification and creates effective partnerships. For example, the Mayor of Oakland proclaimed this week as Clean Economy Week “ recognize the role that the East Bay can play in furthering a more resilient and equitable economy — both locally and globally..."

A backdrop to the event is the labor strike by Marriott hotel workers including housekeepers, front desk attendants, restaurant employees, bellhops and most anyone else not in a management position. To their credit, the VERGE18 organizers are supporting the workers in an open letter and call “for a labor contract that allows their employees to be paid a living wage and doesn’t require them to work more than one job to make ends meet.”

It’s simple. Providing a livable fair wage, family friendly benefits, work-life balance, education and training opportunities and community engagement are all ways companies can pledge to operate as responsible, high-road employers in the emerging clean economy.

Day two will focus on transportation and mobility solutions and ways we can advance clean technologies under today’s contentious political climate, plus lessons and successes tying together transportation electrification, clean energy, public health and economic justice.

To see a few photos from the first day, please visit here.

To view the virtual event, please visit here.



VERGE18 — Day2


Day two of #VERGE18 explored emerging technologies and partnerships with an emphasis on clean, efficient transportation and ways we can advance clean technologies under today’s contentious political climate. Some highlights from the second day:

  • Inspiring and informative sessions on vehicle electrification, autonomous technologies, sharing systems and connected infrastructure.
  • Displays of sustainable transportation options - including an electrically-powered City bus, semi-truck and cars. Plus a solar-powered charging station and EV test drives.
  • Progress despite politics — a session with a Red State PSC Chairman on ways to advance grid modernization that would allow for more distributed energy generation on the grid, including wind, solar, and combined heat and power.
  • A discussion on purchasing electricity from offshore wind farms including the financial, technological, environmental and social benefits/challenges. Experts predict that the global offshore wind market will grow sixfold by 2030. Offshore wind has good potential for Wisconsin and the Great Lakes, particularly at locations near former nuclear and coal power plants that have robust transmission systems already in place, but are underutilized.
  • A series of fast-pitch competitions for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to the many business leaders, government officials and investors attending on ways to accelerate energy, transportation and circular economy innovations.
  • A discussion with Steve Kerr, head coach of the world champion Golden State Warriors about the importance of collaboration, freedom and self-expression in our politics, community service and social issues.
  • Ways a clean economy including the emerging technologies and policy changes can work better to help underrepresented communities through transportation electrification, clean energy, public health and economic justice.

To see a few photos from the second day, please visit here.

To view the virtual event, please visit here.


VERGE18 — Day 3

The #VERGE18 conference finished up with a focus on energy and the emerging technologies and partnerships we need to decarbonize our energy with renewables, buildings and efficiency, distributed energy and micro-grids and resilience. Some highlights from the last day:

  • Perspectives from utilities, policy makers, city leaders and corporate directors on ways to combine 100 percent renewable energy goals with other low-carbon options including nuclear power, natural gas and hydrogen.
  • Examples of transformational design thinking for affordable housing, office buildings, factories and other facilities that achieve a triple bottom line approach to meet social, ecological and financial goals.
  • A 100% renewably-powered on-site microgrid to help power the event including a renewable energy controller, innovative battery storage, and solar EV charging stations.
  • A discussion on implementing an inclusive clean energy financing strategy for all including ways to engage disadvantaged communities using market-based, utility and government-led options.
  • A panel on the challenges and opportunities to build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure across states and the nation.

Proverb: When the wind blows, some build walls while others build windmills.

Wisconsin needs a solid, new direction. We need an economy that works for everyone, invests in innovative policies, technologies and infrastructure and takes the high-road to protect workers and attract and retain talent. The VERGE conference shows us that a a more vibrant and sustainable economy for all is possible, but only if we collaborate and act responsibly to advance what we cannot achieve alone. Together!


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