Racing to sustainability
INFINEON HAS HOSTED a showcase of sustainable automobiles and race events featuring electric-powered motorcycles.
L. Hunter Lovins, guru of sustainability, took on the racecar industry Thursday, promising better performance and higher profits as companies go green.
Addressing a group of industry professionals, educators and researchers attending a day-long event at Infineon Raceway, the president of Natural Capital Solutions touted innovation as the key to the future.
"It isn't often I can talk to a group like this," she said, wearing her trademark cowboy hat and sporting a lasso hanging from her belt. "That's why I accepted the invitation. I need to reach people who have never come to hear me before."
The conference, called Accelerating Sustainable Performance, co-sponsored by Amyris, was one of several attempts Infineon has made to bring green practices to the forefront in an industry that is not usually associated with sustainability. In 2003, Infineon hosted a showcase of sustainable automobiles and has hosted race events featuring electric-powered motorcycles.
"We promote sustainability with customers and offer our facilities for new technologies," said Infineon Raceway President Steve Page. "We find ways to show that sustainability and performance are not mutually exclusive."
The event also included panels on the future of clean fuels, electric vehicles and marketing the green performance revolution, with a second keynote by Assemblyman Jared Huffman. But the draw was Lovins, co-founder of the famed Rocky Mountain Institute who has advised presidents and helped craft sustainable policies in nations around the world.
"When General Motors melted, Toyota was surging," she said. "American companies needed a crisis to wake them up. We don't know what the future will be; we only know that it will be different. Business as usual can't endure. We change or we become irrelevant."
Global drivers of change, said Lovins, are presenting opportunities for companies to innovate, driven by loss of ecosystems, a carbon-constricted world, economic instability and volatile energy. When combined with growing, consuming societies like China and India and the loss of water and food due to climate change, change will occur. "The sustainability imperative offers no choice," Lovins asserted. "We must respond."
She praised the sponsors of the event for the work they are doing. Infineon provides 41 percent of its electricity through solar panels, mows its ground cover with sheep, uses waterless urinals, has installed owl boxes to control rodents (instead of pesticides) and recycles everything it can.
"Infineon is a well-run company because Steve Page believes in sustainability," said Lovins. "Not everyone goes green out of the goodness of their heart. Walmart does it because it improves the bottom line."
Amyris, the other major sponsor of the event, also received praise for its innovative products that are replacing carbon-based fuels. With constraints in the oil industry and production estimates that are not always accurate, Lovins said Amyris could have a very bright future.
"Racing has brought us other innovations - increased safety, better aerodynamics, composite materials, higher performance - it is an integration of what racing does," said Lovins. "We need to combine what people want with what we can give them and we need racing to help us get there."
Lovins pointed out that people still spend a lot of time in their automobiles. Twenty-seven percent of all miles driven are just people going to and from work, she said. But automobile dependency has high costs; air quality suffers, people are dying in accidents, road rage is on the rise, emissions are contributing to climate fluctuation.
Still, change is possible. Lovins pointed to vehicle-dependent companies such as FedEx and UPS, both of which have instituted changes that have saved money and are sustainable. FedEx now has a fleet of hybrids; UPS is rolling out some electric delivery trucks and plots routes that favor right turns, so time and fuel is not wasted idling as drivers wait for a left turn opportunity.
Lovins said we should embrace regulations because they help drive innovation. Car sharing markets are expanding because people save money by not having a second car; bicycles are now a viable alternative in many cities; high speed rail, congestion taxes, higher fuel standards - these keep us in cars less. In Germany, there is a city where cars are not allowed. Virgin America owner Richard Branson is committed to developing and using biofuel in jet airplanes. And there is a company developing an electric, family-sized car that will sell for $12,000.
"NASCAR, the number one spectator sport, is going green," said Lovins. "Racecars now use 15 percent ethanol. Why? Because it boosts horsepower."
She added that NASCAR, an organization that is not usually in conversations about sustainability, is feeling some resistance from Formula One. But she predicts they will change because the industry faces too many challenges.
"In recent surveys, 69 percent of the companies responding said they will be increasing sustainability in the future," said Lovins. "Is this the result of brainwashing? I don't mind. Call it what you will. People are listening and acting."
She added that because sustainability is a relatively new concept, there is still work to be done. Leaders must be convinced they can have higher performance, and still be environmentally sound. Even the Harvard Business School has predicted that companies that make sustainability a goal will be the ones that survive.
"I just hope it's not too late," she concluded.