The Business of Energy, Research and Innovation

I wanted to share some of the conversations that took place on another platform, Ecotwist. Last week, I had an opportunity to interview Dr. Gary Dirks (bio, PDF), who is the Director of Arizona State University’s initiative for light-inspired research, called Lightworks.

We talk about a whole range of issues from his work at ASU Lightworks, clean energy, research and innovation, to what he saw happening in Asia, where he spent 14 years as the head of BP Asia Pacific and China.


From the conversation, here is (transcript) of few topics that we touched:


Dewita: For our listeners give us the scope of the work at Lightworks?


Gary: I’d be happy to. LW is a university-wide initiatives that the President of the University asked me to lead when I retire from my position at BP. The idea that the President have in mind is that light being a very versatile phenomena of nature, would be important in many and the solutions to the many big problems the society faces going forward. Everything from telecommunications, and medicine through to the field that I’m most familiar with, and that is energy. And as you’re saying in your introduction, ASU been involved in light-related research across the broad range of field for many decades. So the idea behind LW is to draw together group of researchers in a very intradisciplinary way so we could take on some of the bigger challenges the society faces. In that regard we have on the technical side research going on in photovoltaics, concentrated solar thermal power. We do work on micro organism meaning photosythetic algae and photosythetic science of bacteria. We have research on artificial photosynthesis aimed at direct conversion of carbon dioxide, water and sunlight to fuel. And then we have a very active group of research that is also look at the business side of renewable energy and also policy and the social implications of renewable energy. So it’s a very broad portfolio.


Dewita: How many initiatives right now.. because you have so many things going on your Lightworks, how many initiatives Lightworks is focusing right now?


Gary: On the technical research side we focused on the next-generation photovoltaics. So devices get very high efficiency more than 30% of conversion efficiency. We also do work on algae, and algae is a photosynthetic micro-organism that is very efficient in converting sunlight into fuels, and we’re doing a lot of work on direct conversions of sunlight, meaning artificial photosynthetic. So on the technical side, we’re working on all of those areas. And it’s multiple teams in each case. So if you actually break it down we have several hundred researchers working on those areas.


Dewita: What stage are they in right now? I meant, how many years before become commercially available?


Gary: Well, it’s a very good question. Some of the researches is very basic, studying genes and how the genes end up affecting the way micro-organisms use sunlight to produce energy. Some of it is very practical. In fact, we have a spinoff company from our algae research, that is working on industrial scale system literally as we speak. They’re aiming to be a commercial producing commercial fuel in a couple of years. We have another spinoff company working on advance batteries and they’re in commercial production now. So it ranges from very basic research to things that are aiming to be on commercialization the next few years or so.


Dewita: You wrote something about “in America’s efforts to go green our Achilles’ Heel is transportation as cars, trucks, and buses represent 29% of U.S. Energy use.” How do you see the energy system in the U.S. and to change the habit going into renewable? There’s so much fighting moving into renewable energy..


Gary: It is complicated. There’s no question about that. And I would begin by saying that we have to view a transition into a more sustainable fuel as a journey. And the reason I say that is the current energy system is so large that it will take time for it to change. The fact that it is a journey does not mean we should wait to get started. In fact, we should start sooner rather than later, and I think there’s a number of things people can do now that will accelerate the pace for movement to more sustainable energy. The simplest thing that we can all do is use less. Look at the way we use our energy and ask the question.. ‘do I really need the lights on?’ ‘do I need that many lights?’ ‘could I combined trips in using my car?’ ‘am I using the most energy efficient car that can beat my lifestyle requirement?’ So I think the starting point is use less. Then with respect to newer form of energy, I really think public needs to say they want this. They need to say to their utility companies, “we like more electricity that comes from renewable resources.” They need to be saying to their elected representatives ‘support alternative to imported oil.’ Find ways for us to have options that we can use now. And options that will grow for us in the future. And the reason I put the emphasis on us, is because there are many things that we can do now, “if there was a political will to do it.” Now having said that I also believe that it’s important to continue the kind of research that we’ve been describing earlier so that technologies do improve…


Oh, there’s more to our conversation (than what you read here!). Check it out. You can listen to the full episode of “Solar Energy, Innovation and Research,” below (or you can download it, here).

Listen to internet radio with Dewita Soeharjono on Blog Talk Radio


FILED under: ecotwist, education.


20 Sustainability Learning Resources

FOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN. These are some of the sites where you can learn and dig deeper on sustainability. Whether you’re an employee, business owner, professional, or even executive and career changer, the information available through these sites is priceless. The best part is, most of the resources it’s either available for free or for a small subscription fee.

The resources below provide you with the knowledge, the kind of information that includes things that would affect the sustainability of your business, i.e. climate change, energy efficiency, nature conservation, biodiversity, water efficiency, and more. It is by no means they are the only twenty sources out there. There are literally more than hundreds (probably thousands) sources globally! However, for the purpose of learning, we’re going to start one chunk at a time. It’s good enough to spin your head.

FOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN. These are some of the sites where you can learn and dig deeper on sustainability. Whether you’re an employee, business owner, professional, or even executive and career changer, the information available through these sites is priceless. The best part is, most of the resources it’s either available for free or for a small subscription fee.

The resources below provide you with the knowledge, the kind of information that includes things that would affect the sustainability of your business, i.e. climate change, energy efficiency, nature conservation, biodiversity, water efficiency, and more.  It is by no means they are the only twenty sources out there. There are literally more than hundreds (probably thousands) sources globally! However, for the purpose of learning, we’re going to start one chunk at a time. It’s good enough to spin your head.

Continue reading “20 Sustainability Learning Resources”

Low-Tech Ways to Save Energy at Workplace

These are simple ways, smart energy initiatives that any business can do. By targeting appliances that are of the most use – like photocopy machines, lighting, coffeemakers, printers, etc. –  you help your business conserve energy and cut energy bill. However, you got to train your employees, to have them become active participant of your energy savings program.

A good tip I saw from Saving Energy. “Make sure that equipment, like copy machine, is not place near the thermostat. The heat from the copier can affect how thermostat works and throw the system out of balance.”

Another tip. University of Georgia cooperatives recommends installing a motion sensor light switch. Because motion sensor automatically turn lights off and on whenever anyone leaves a room. And there’s the mother-of-tips for all sorts of workplace from Energy Savers, DOE, including for businesses with HQs at home.  

When you put these smart energy initiatives in place, you save money, reduce carbon footprint, and make your stakeholders happy 🙂

Save Energy at Work

Why the United Nations Needs to Go Creative Commons

With the rise of social publishing, the United Nations need to lead by going Creative Commons license for all of their publications. You know that the UN has published thousands of world class publication for everyone. These publications are available for free for anyone with online access. Yup, free access.

However, they’re missing the boat by locking most of their publications into Copyright situation. Case in point, this publication on “Kick the Habit,” a comprehensive guide to climate neutrality for everyone – yes, everyone from individuals to organizations to cities, governments, SMEs (small-medium enterprises) and corporations – pretty much cover all of us who uses energy. However, this guide is not easily accessible for anyone unless it gets to the hands of influencers, who can then help spread out the message around via different medium like Twitter, Facebook, social publishing, etc. you name it. 

I almost got kicked out from Scribd (a social publishing) this morning, because I wanted to share (read: non-profit, non-commercial) this Kick-the-Habit publication (pdf) online so people can access it, read it and get educated on the issue of going carbon neutral. 

Here is the email I received from Scribd this morning.

Hello, DewitaSoeharjono —

We have removed your document “Kick the Habit” (id: 40082915) because our text matching system determined that it was very similar to a work that has been marked as copyrighted and not permitted on Scribd.

Like all automated matching systems, our system is not perfect and occasionally makes mistakes. If you believe that your document is not infringing, please contact us at and we will investigate the matter.

As stated in our terms of use, repeated incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and prohibit you from uploading material to in the future. To prevent us from having to take these steps, please delete from any material you have uploaded to which you do not own the necessary rights and refrain from uploading any material you are not entitled to upload. For more information about’s copyright policy, please read the Terms of Use located at

Best regards, Scribd Support Team Questions?

This is the UN COPYRIGHT. 


So the way I understand it, it IS okay if you made copies for non-profit distributions. But it’s NOT okay for online distributions. Interesting…

Digital vs. hard copy influence

Want more people to read? A quick math on Scribd: 60 million readers every month, 20 million embeds, millions of people readcast (read and let people know what they’re reading). Plus it can get downloaded by IPad, Kindle, and some other e-reader gadgets. It’s about distribution. That stats versus printing 200-some pages! Why waste papers these days if you don’t need to? Hellooooo? There’s more upside potential, i.e. more people read, online. That’s the fact.

Creative Commons is about democratizing publishing and access. Look, I am not using it for commercial purposes. My intention is to share worthwhile reading materials with others. You think after this I’m going to upload UN stuff. No way, baby. It’s not worth the risk. Because I still want to share the world with more reading stuff going forward

By the way, the UN is not alone in this case. There are other organizations have the same attitude on copyright thing. I know I singled out them (sorry about that) because they have many more organizations under their wings. If they lead, others will follow.  

I just hope some UN officials in New York, or elsewhere in the world, pay attention to the implications of online culture on sharing. Sharing is social. Social means less restrictions.

Nuff said. Let’s unlock the potential…

How Coca Cola is Deep into Sustainability and yet Manage to Stay Profitable

You would think that by now, major corporations would be in drove into sustainability because of climate change and other environmental risks that could have an impact on companies sustainability. But, that’s not the case. However, Coca Cola, walk-to-walk on sustainability. They go deep into sustainability. Sustainability is at the core of their business strategy. 

“The strengths and sustainability of our brands are directly related to our social license to operate, which we must earn daily by keeping our promises to our customers, consumers, associates, investors, communities and partners.” – from 2008/2009 Sustainability Review

Company snapshot

Vision: “a world where all people have access to safe water, where packaging has a life beyond it’s original use, and where communities are healthy and prosperous.”

Established in 1886. Operates in more than 200 countries and markets. A $56 billion brand company. In 2009 joined the rank of Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes

Brand portfolio: 500 brands and more than 3,300 beverage products. They have four of the world’s top five nonalcoholic sparkling beverage brands: Coca Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Fanta. Simply trademark became the company’s 12th brand, in addition to Coca Cola, to have annual retail sales of $1 billion.

Number of employees worldwide: 92,800

Market capitalization: $135.36 billion. 

In the company wide system, which comprises the Company and more than 300 bottling partners around the world. The bottling partners are local-based. They manufacture, package, merchandise and distribute the finished beverages to customers and vending partners, who then sell the products to consumers. That’s how Coca Cola becomes a global business that act locally

Sustainability at its core

This is why to get the full benefit for a business, sustainability needs to be integrated into business strategy. Coca Cola and their bottling partners are committed to keep innovating to keep their products affordable and make their business more environmentally and economically beneficial to the communities they serve. They do believe that investing in the economic, environmental and social development of communities will help our business grow.” Need not say more. And that is sustainability at its core.

Based on the information provided on their corporate sustainability and annual reports, this is how I see their success formula of sustainability:


For them not embracing sustainability, exposed them to their biggest risk that they have no control over the supply, unless they do something about it to preserve and conserve.

Think about this for a moment. Water, as a resource, is ‘very’ vital to their business. They are in the business of selling water-based products. Water is also used in their manufacturing process. 70% of the world’s water is used for agriculture and yet only 3% of the earth’s fresh water is fit for human consumption via lakes, rivers and streams. The rest is locked in glaciers, snow and ice.

Continue reading “How Coca Cola is Deep into Sustainability and yet Manage to Stay Profitable”

Energy Efficiency: the 7 Habits for Highly Efficient Companies

Pew Center for Global Climate Change produced this report ‘From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency.” They did a 2 year research on some of the biggest companies to look at their best practices. Companies like Toyota, Dow Chemical, IBM, United Technologies Corp., PepsiCo and Best Buy. What these companies in common, among others is they include energy efficiency as part of the company culture. 

A key finding of this report is that climate change has reframed corporate energy strategies. Companies that take carbon footprinting and reduction strategies quickly come to see their energy use in a whole new light. On average, companies surveyed for this study reported spending less than five percent of the total revenues on energy — even in today’s relatively high cost energy environment. 

In addition to their success stories, these companies also conveyed the message about the challenges they face in developing and implementing efficiency strategies, such as lack of project funding, personnel and technical information. 

In short, here is the 7 habits for the highly efficient companies (h/t Pew):

1. Efficiency is a core strategy.

2. Leadership and organizational support is real and sustained.

3. The company has SMART energy efficiency goals.

4. The strategy relies on a robust tracking and measurement system.

5. The organization put substantial resources into efficiency.

6.The energy efficiency strategy show demonstrated results.

7. The company effectively communicate efficiency results.

For short version of the reading, below. In-depth reading on best practices, check out Pew Center for Global Climate Change.


7 Habits for Highly Efficient Companies

Sustainability: What Consumer Goods Companies Are Doing

Consumer goods companies are companies that make products for consumers. These are companies like Coca Cola, Kodak, General Mills, PepsiCo, Procter and Gamble (P&G), and Whirlpool.

The companies I mentioned, is part of Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) North America and members of Business Roundtable (BR).  I’m using data from DJSI (registration req.) to select the companies and BR for their ‘short version’ of their members’ sustainability programs.

Even though, BR has 97 members listed on their website, not all companies is part of DJSI. Only the above listed companies included in both data. 

Business Roundtable, is an association of CEOs of leading companies with near $6 trillion in annual revenues and more than 12 million employees. It comprise nearly one-third of total value of the U.S. stock markets. 

DJSI, are global indexes tracking the financial performance of the leading sustainability driven companies worldwide. DJSI has a number of indexes in addition to their customized indexes: world index, European indexes, North America, US index, and sustainability Asia/Pacific index. 

Sustainability as practical business solutions

Coca Cola

Energy management and climate protection programs is part of their global sustainability agenda. In their line of business – energy, packaging and water – affected company the most. Water is fundamental not only to the company business but also for the health of the communities they serve and the ecosystems. 

Some of the things they do:

  • Their goals is to improve energy efficiency of their cooling equipment by 40 to 50% by the end of 2010.
  • Phasing out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in all of their equipment by 2015. 
  • Aim for zero waste packaging by recycling and reusing food grade PET (polyetylene terephthalate..phew) plastic. (you see PET symbol on a plastic bottle) Recycling and reusing PET reduces waste and greenhouse gases and use less energy.


Kodak goes for innovation (making products that use less resources, i.e. energy), energy management and greenhouse gas emissions in their sustainability programs. At their largest’s site, they have real-time energy data for those in charge so they can identify energy reduction opportunities (on the spot?). With these improvements, they reduce 40% of energy and greenhouse gases.

The sustainability goals include, via Kodak:

  • raise awareness of their commitment to sustainability and expectations of employees.
  • qualify all new commercialized products to Energy Star criteria.
  • improve the environmental attributes of products throughout their life cycle.
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from worldwide operations by 2012

Continue reading “Sustainability: What Consumer Goods Companies Are Doing”