Thursday, April 17, 2014

Obama's $302 billion transportation revamp

The Obama Administration recently proposed a four-year, $302 billion surface transportation
reauthorization. It would be paid for partially by a $150 billion one-time payment of revenue from yet-to-be-enacted corporate tax reform.

The proposal, outlined in the Administration’s 2015 budget, would:
  1. Create a Transportation Trust Fund for highway, transit and rail programs
  2. Increase funding for roads and bridges by 22% each year for a total of $199 billion
  3. Increase funding for transit by 70% each year for a total of $72 billion
The plan is the Administration’s vision for replacing MAP-21, which expires end September 2014.

About Map 21 

On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, also known as MAP-21 (P.L. 112-141).

About MAP-21:
  1. The first multi-year transportation authorization enacted since 2005
  2. Funds surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2014
  3. Transforms the framework for investments to guide the growth and development of the country’s vital transportation infrastructure
See more on that here:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Conflict Mineral rule violates First Amendment, rules court

A note from Fern Abrams at IPC today informs those of us on the mailing list that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that Securities and Exchange Commission's new rule and the law underpinning it violate the First Amendment. Therefore US conflict minerals law has been struck down. At least, that part of it has.
US Securities and Exchange Commission

The case is now being sent back to a lower court for further legal proceedings. This means the rule and law are in legal limbo.

The violation of the First Amendment is in forcing companies to "state on their website that any of their products have not been found to be...conflict free."

You can view the decision here.

Companies may still face supply chain inquiries regarding conflict minerals. So plan some kind of defense.

In November, 2012, a number of large electronics manufacturers (Dell, GE, HP, Intel, Kemet, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions, Philips and others) signed a statement saying they would, "continue to work together to eliminate the link between violence and human rights abuses and the mineral trade in the DRC and surrounding countries regardless of the lawsuit."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Supply chain finance gets hot

Supply chain finance is essentially when a bank purchases invoices from a supplier for goods supplied to a downstream business. Because the bank holds the invoice, the downstream business can pay its bill later than usual, thereby getting to hold onto its money longer. And, in this scheme the suppliers get paid earlier, by settling with the bank as soon as an invoice is approved.

There are strong indicators that supply chain finance really does work.

How it works  Say Jim's International Manufacturing (JIM) approves a set of invoices from a supplier. Instead of having to pay those invoices on receipt or net 30, JIM can now actually wait longer to pay them, typically up to 90 days, thus keeping his money longer.

And the supplier? Well, as soon as the invoices are approved, the supplier can get their money right away — they get it from the bank, who will then collect from JIM later. The catch? The supplier pays a fee to the bank for the privilege.

  1. Both JIM and suppliers hold their money longer
  2. The supplier is assured of collecting (and when)
  3. The bank receives fees
  4. The bank absorbs essentially all the risk
Presumably, down the road, the fees paid by suppliers will get bundled into costs somewhere to the manufacturer — so costs to suppliers will eventually be mitigated that way, as the system finds its middle-watermark.

Nestle, J Sainsbury and Volvo have been noted as practitioners of supply chain finance.

For more, see definition of supply chain finance on the Financial Times lexicon page.

(To avoid confusion, supply chain finance is not the same thing as the World Bank's Global Trade Supplier Finance program (GTSF) of 2010, which is more about lending to smaller businesses in emerging countries.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Biodegradable electronics? Yes.

Picture a busy battlefield. It is nearly impossible to track and recover every electronic device brought onto the scene. Inevitably an unintended accumulation of gadgets are left strewn about. Environmental ramifications are unsettling. More unsettling? To the US military, potential unauthorized uses of technology left behind and compromises of intellectual property and intelligence are unsettling indeed.

Electronics that vanish after x number of days
So, the US military is pouring money into a program that fosters manufacture and distribution of electronic systems "capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner." The program is called Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR). Awesome acronym.

Examples of vanishing products may include the following:
  1. Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment (ecoresorbable) 
  2. Devices that resorb into the body (bioresorbable) 
  3. Spacecraft and satellites that decompose to reduce space waste (original idea!)
  4. Entire cities that vanish after 100 years when they start to get stinky (I made that one up too, having just visited NYC)
This program was announced generally by the military in January 2013. It is picking up steam in 2014 with actual investments being made: SRI International was recently awarded nearly $5 million to start development of these products.

Will keep you posted. And this message will self destruct in 10 seconds.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Can solar pay back in under 2 years? Yes.

On page 25 of an interesting Sustainability Report from Environmental Leader, you find a surprisingly upbeat case study for solar power. The report itself is simply people sharing something they learned in the preceding year about greener industry or product stewardship.

This case study sees a solar pay back within just two (2) years:
Don’t give up on the solar dream. Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are expensive for any company, nonprofit or individual to invest in. The return on investment can take years. 
However, in August 2012, I wrote a grant for our company to install a roof-mounted 115 KW solar PV system, which would produce about 152,640 KWh of electricity annually. 
To put that into perspective, the solar PV system would produce electricity that is the equivalent of reducing 108 metric tons of CO2, sequestering carbon from 88 acres of forests, or supplying electricity to 13 homes each year. 
The solar PV system would supply about 27 percent of our building’s total energy needs, saving us annually about $17K a year. 
In the end, we were awarded a $175K to help pay for the costs of the system. 
With the additions of federal tax incentives, the system was approved by the executive team with a 1.6 year payback. 
- Lisa Evenson, Sustainability Manager KI 
You can download last year's Grand Sustainability report here. It's 148 pages of people's two cents, sometimes it feels like spaghetti thrown against the wall but there are some gems in there! Beware this is an INSTANT DOWNLOAD, so just clicking on the link will pull the entire 148-page PDF down from the internet:

Worth a look, though, in my opinion.

Monday, March 17, 2014

California identifies 3 products of concern

In mid-March 2014, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) announced three draft "priority products" - consumer goods sold in California that each contain at least one toxic chemical.  The purpose of this announcement is to call attention to certain products. DTSC doesn't say this, but it's pretty well known that calling attention to products in this way will incite public pressure on companies to change the way products with carcinogens are manufactured.

The Safer Consumer Products (SCP) regulations took effect Oct. 1, 2013.

DTSC selected these priority products because they contain at least one of more than 1,100 toxic chemicals identified as having potential to cause significant harm. Also, these products are widely used and thus represent significant potential for excessive public exposure to chemicals in question.

Let's get specific. The three products are:
  1. Children's foam padded sleeping products containing TDCPP (chlorinated Tris), a flame retardant and carcinogen under California's Proposition 65 law. Children and infants are especially vulnerable to its carcinogenic and other chronic health effects
  2. Spray Polyurethane foam systems containing unreacted diisocyanates. SPF systems are used for home and building insulation, weatherization, sealing and roofing. Diisocyanates can irritate the respiratory tract, cause asthma and cancer and are known skin irritants. They are a leading cause of occupational asthma
  3. Paint stripper containing Methylene Chloride. Methylene chloride is an acute neurotoxin and is carcinogenic. Since 2000, multiple worker deaths have occurred as a result of exposure to stripping agents containing methylene chloride
DTSC is not banning these products. Instead, DTSC says it is (quote) "starting a process."

That's a pleasant Californian way of saying, "We'll publicly bring you down if you don't get the carcinogen out of this product, moron!"

I mean, in the Boston area we're a little more direct about some things (not about everything, just some things).

Process of elimination 

The first step in this "process" will be to gain further understanding about the use, manufacture, and sale of listed products. Further understanding will be sought on emerging science through multiple public workshops and extensive feedback from stakeholders. Information gathered will be used to make a final determination about listing the products. The Priority Products won't be final until a rulemaking process is complete, adopting regulations to list the products. This process could take up to a year. After that, manufacturers will notify DTSC if they make a Priority Product. Manufacturers who want to sell them in California will conduct an "Alternatives Analysis" to determine if feasible safer ingredients are available.

A presentation from the SCP on these Priority Products will be included at DTSC's quarterly meeting that will be held on Saint Patrick's Day, today, Monday, March 17 at 9 a.m. in Byron Sher Auditorium in the California EPA building, 1001 I St., Sacramento. The public can learn more about the selection of the priority products.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

REACH seeks SME success stories

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is looking for practical examples from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have succeeded in turning REACH legal obligations into business opportunities. Typical "opportunities" include chemical or ingredient substitution, product/process changes, or innovative business strategies.

Why a company would want to participate  If you know of an SME or multiple with success turning REACH legal obligations into business opportunities, say the word. Positive case studies give recognition for the work carried out by industry to achieve high standards of chemical safety. These examples definitely help support firms that are new to the legislation to comply, plus they help to guide newbies towards best practices. Practical examples from industry are the most wanted stories by ECHA news readers and are of interest to prepare a feature on REACH by EuroNews TV.

This could be a great press opportunity for your business, in other words. Send suggestions by March 31 to SMEstories (at)

ECHA HQ (Photo Copyright European Chemicals Agency)
About REACH  The REACH regulation is a big international supply chain snafu. It stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals. REACH has been called a Pandemic for business. It is also an environmental force for good; in theory. Whatever your view, the idea is to restrict and/or monitor dangerous chemicals in industrial use.