Banner image
Banner image

John's Blog

VERGE — Oct. 16, 2018

In many ways, 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 more than 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.  Watch for a recap of each day on my blog at


To learn more about WEI, visit our website at

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 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!

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 1

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 





GREEN BIZ — Feb. 6-8, 2018 — We Are Still In

Day 3 — Thursday, Feb. 8

The final day of #GreenBiz18 was a short half-day session, but a full agenda of working sessions and plenaries on driving sustainability and engagement in companies and organizations. Highlights include:

  • The role of leadership, communications, strategic thinking and a global perspective to develop triple bottom-line strategies.
  • New models of supply chain collaboration and grassroots partnerships to encourage widespread adoption of sustainable agriculture practices by farmers.
  • A great women-powered panel on GM’s systems-level approach to transforming transportation and infrastructure. The company’s radical transition and commitment to launch 20 all-electric vehicles by 2023 is another opportunity for Wisconsin to take the high road. The state should establish an “electric vehicle highway” of fast-charging stations at rest areas and other locations around the state to meet the growing demand of electric cars and trucks used by consumers and businesses. In addition, the state could leverage and market this innovation as a “Travel Green” attraction to benefit Wisconsin's tourism economy.
  • Key trends and new polling data show a significant shift in Americans attitudes, beliefs and actions towards sustainability.
  • We Are Still In — with more than 2,600 signatories and growing, the movement represents over one third of the U.S. population and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy. This major commitment to climate action and emission reduction goals includes more than 1,800 companies, many that are small or medium sized firms, but several large WIsconsin corporations are listed, including Johnson Controls, Kohler, and Organic Valley.
  • To see a video of some company commitments, watch We Are Still In.
  • To see a few photos from the event, please visit here.
  • To view the virtual event, please visit here.

This week showed us that leadership can transcend politics. Wisconsin needs 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. #GreenBiz18 shows us that “Doing well by doing good” is possible and becoming a high road state can help build a more vibrant and sustainable economy.

The key takeaway? It's time to join the cause, step up, speak out, become bigger than you are and do it for the right reasons. I’m in… Are you?

More Collaboration, Partnerships and Effective Advocacy

Day 2 — Wednesday, Feb. 7

Day two of #GreenBiz18 emphasized collaboration, partnerships and effective advocacy to accelerate high road, clean energy, climate and sustainability innovations and policies. Some highlights from the second day:

  • A look inside the B Corp movement. A new generation of benefit corporations or B Corps are emerging among both smaller and larger firms. Benefit corporations are a type of corporation that considers its impact on society and the environment in addition to earning a profit. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Wisconsin recently 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 leverage the B Corp movement as a powerful force for good.
  • A plenary session and how-to workshop for efficient and effective policy advocacy for a clean economy and other high road policies was led by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a leading pro-environment business advocacy group that engages legislators at the state and national levels.
  • A Public-Private Partnership Playbook for taking on challenges to realize high road opportunities to transform our cities, industries and policies.
  • A Zero Waste Tour by Waste Management to understand their process of diverting 100% of the waste generated by the GreenBiz18 conference with over 1,000 attendees. At GreenBiz17, 97.3% of waste was diverted from landfills, by composting 65.2%, recycling 24.5%, donating 7.4% and reusing 0.2%
  • A Mobile Microgrid Training Platform for hands-on training and workforce development around solar PV, battery storage, sensors, controls and maintenance. The recently released Wisconsin Jobs Project identified sensors and controls in advanced clean energy production, conservation and storage as a significant economic opportunity for job growth, having the potential to support an annual average of 44,000 jobs through 2030.
  • Plug-in electric vehicle (EV) test drives, plus an exhibition area for leading business and NGO sustainability initiatives.
  • The fifth annual Arizona State University (ASU) Sustainability Solutions Celebration brought together business and academia to celebrate young innovators, thinkers and designers who reimagine global challenges.
  • To see a few photos from the second day, please visit here.
  • To view the virtual event, please visit here.

High Road Good For Business and the State

Day 1 — Tuesday, Feb. 6

Wisconsin needs to establish a solid new direction. In many ways, we’re becoming a low-road state with policymaking that tends to favor monied interests over the environment, workers and our communities. So, I welcomed the opportunity to attend GreenBiz18, the premier annual event for sustainable business leaders with more than 1,000 influential professionals from the world’s largest companies, government and NGOs — to connect and explore successful new directions, technologies, systems and policies to build the clean economy. Attendees include representatives from Microsoft, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Disney along with Wisconsin companies, including: SC Johnson, Kohler Co., American Family Insurance, MG&E and Miller/Coors. Leading NGOs include the Environmental Defense Fund, Rocky Mountain Institute, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and Business for Social Responsibility. Some highlights from the first day:

  • A half-day deep dive on how leading companies are finding ways to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a compelling new strategy for companies to collaborate and engage to achieve progress on societal issues. Smart businesses take better care of employees, customers and their communities to ensure long-term business success.
  • The annual presentation of The State of Green Business.
  • Personal hero and influencer William McDonough shared results from Davos on the current financial markets and the potential of The Circular Economy. According to McDonough: “...The five goods are so simple that kids can explain it better than adults can. Materials, Economy, Energy, Water, Lives…”
  • A CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • Hearing from young emerging leaders about their vision for the future of sustainable business.
  • A presentation on Project Drawdown, the most comprehensive plan to solve climate change that provides extraordinary opportunities for business. A top strategy? Recycling and proper disposal of HCFCs from air conditioners and refrigerators. HCFC emissions are 1,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a contributor to global warming.
  • Best practices in circular water management by industry experts including Miller/Coors, and their effort to implement best practices across operations, watersheds and agricultural suppliers to dramatically reduce water and energy use in beer production. As a massive user of water from Lake Michigan, Foxconn should be required to make smart investments in water technology, sustainability and stewardship. The company could implement a zero discharge system to greatly decrease the demand for water and apply innovative treatment strategies and green infrastructure investments. For example, the roofs on the massive 20 million square feet facility will produce almost 500 million gallons of stormwater each year that should be captured and reused.
  • 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 look at the emergence of benefit corporations and how companies are leveraging B Corp certification as a powerful force for good; Zero Waste and Microgrid Tours; Successful strategies for company-NGO partnerships; and Tools and techniques for the Clean Economy.

GreenBiz18 Schedule

Here is my tentative plan for the week:

Tuesday, Feb. 6

8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Tutorial: Fulfilling the Potential of Business to Realize the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals)

1:30 – 1:55 p.m. Welcome

1:55 – 2:05 p.m. The State of Green Business

2:05 – 2:15 p.m. The Creation of the Perception of Scarcity Where Nothing Exists

2:15 – 2:35 p.m. Reimagining Fashion

2:35 – 2:55 p.m. The Role of the C-Suite in Driving Diversity and Inclusion

2:55 – 3:05 p.m. GreenBiz Emerging Leaders: Envisioning Breakthroughs

3:05 – 3:30 p.m. Solving Climate Change: The Opportunity for Business

3:30 – 4 p.m. Networking Break

5 – 7 p.m. Opening Networking Reception, presented by Dow

7:30 – 9:30 p.m. Dinner Clubs

9 – 12 a.m. After Dark Party

Wednesday, Feb. 7

7:45 – 8:30 a.m. Breakfast

8:30 – 9:30 a.m. To B or Not to B? Inside the B Corp Movement

9:30 – 10 a.m. ASU Microgrid Tour

10 – 10:05 a.m. Welcome

10:05 – 10:25 a.m. Customer Obsessed: Customer demand for Sustainability and Engagement to Maximize Impact

10:25 – 10:35 a.m. Creating Shared Value: How Community and Business Benefit Through Collaboration

10:35 – 10:55 a.m. Financing the Energy Transition

10:55 – 11:05 a.m. Designing for the Circular Economy

11:05 – 11:25 a.m. Uncommon Collaboration: Action-Oriented Transparency

11:25 – 11:45 a.m. The Power of Business Advocacy to Accelerate a Clean Economy

11:45 – 11:55 a.m. Special Announcement: the Sustainability Solutions Celebration

11:55 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Sustainable Solutions: Collaborating for Climate Change

1:30 – 2:30 p.m. Advocating for a Clean Economy: Tools and Techniques

2:45 – 3:45 p.m. Faster, Farther, Together: How Rise in Pre-Competitive Initiatives is Driving Positive Change

4:15 – 4:20 p.m. Welcome

4:20 – 4:30 p.m. Special Performance

4:30 – 4:50 p.m. Conservation 2.0 = Marketing

4:50 – 5:15 p.m. The Sustainable Development Goals: Mobilizing Action at a Global Scale

5:30 – 9 p.m. The 2018 Sustainability Solutions Celebration

Thursday, Feb. 8

7:45 – 8:30 a.m. Breakfast

8:30 – 9:30 a.m. The Power of Purpose to Elevate Sustainability

9:30 – 10 a.m. Networking Break

10 – 10:10 a.m. Welcome

10:10 – 10:35 a.m. Taking a Systems-Level Approach to Transform Transportation

10:35 – 10:45 a.m. From Idea to Open Source: A Sustainable Packaging Journey

10:45 – 11:05 a.m. From Doing Better to Doing Enough: Using Science and Context to Set Meaningful Targets

11:05 – 11:25 a.m. The Role of Company Boards in Driving Sustainability

11:25 – 11:35 a.m. Why Now is The Best Time to Tell Your Sustainability Story

11:35 – 11:40 a.m. Closing Remarks

11:40 a.m. – 12 p.m. We Are Still In



© 2019-02-20, All Rights Reserved.
Wisconsin Environmental Initiative

Wisconsin Environmental Initiative
16 North Carroll Street, Suite 840
Madison, WI 53703

Design by Big Rose Web Design

Hoot Communications