Supporting democracy becomes the measure of leadership

January 18, 2021 by  
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Supporting democracy becomes the measure of leadership Terry F. Yosie Mon, 01/18/2021 – 02:00 The aftershocks of the Jan. 6 insurrection to block Congressional certification of the U.S. Presidential election will reverberate for many years. In the short run, there may be additional efforts to violently disrupt President-elect Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20, in addition to domestic terrorism activities aimed at state and local governments and other institutions. Such concerns have re-focused public expectations that leadership across all major institutions, public and private, must take sustained actions to support democracy. The Jan. 6 insurrection has transformed the nation’s political conversation and moved the support for democratic values to the top tier of advocacy. It has subsumed and reset the context for other key national priorities such as responding to the pandemic, climate change, economic renewal and social justice. At the very core of democracy are the values of transparency, due process and good governance, respect for human rights and the ability to participate freely in the political system. At the very core of democracy are the values of transparency, due process and good governance, respect for human rights and the ability to participate freely in the political system. Not coincidentally, these same values enable enactment of core elements of the sustainability agenda for environmental protection, economic development and social responsibility. The accelerating debate over how best to protect and strengthen democracy bears close watching as a major barometer for the success of policies to advance sustainability. Political donations that undermine democracy Companies that make political donations, and institutions and individuals that receive them, are presently engaged in a frantic scramble to identify whether these funds are connected to groups associated with white nationalism, violence and sedition, or disruption of the election process. Numerous embarrassing examples already have emerged from leading U.S. institutions. They include: Comcast, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft and PepsiCo made contributions to the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), the fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which raised about $18 million in 2020. The RLDF actively participated in attempting to prevent the certification of the U.S. Presidential election, including the use of robocalls encouraging people across the country to assemble in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 to march on the Capitol. The RAGA executive director subsequently has resigned. A large number of U.S. corporations provided political donations to two-thirds of the Republican caucus in the House of Representations that sought to block certification of the Presidential election. Individual companies are belatedly recognizing that individuals on the rapidly expanding “sedition” list prepared by law enforcement authorities received their donations. Carnegie Mellon University, which for many years has accepted funds from the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation (a major funding source for many anti-environmental and right-wing political causes), established a fellow position at its Institute for Politics and Strategy for Richard Grenell, a senior Trump Administration official, who aggressively and publicly lobbied to overturn the U.S. election results. Good governance in donation practices In the midst of this political firestorm, a growing number of organizations, chiefly corporations, are examining whether their donations support anti-democratic politicians. Their practices include: Suspending immediately all corporate and employee contributions to any member of Congress who voted in objection to the certification of the Presidential election. Leading companies such as healthcare provider Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Commerce Bank, Dow Chemical and Marriott International have publicly announced this decision. Dow has further committed to suspending its political donations for the next election cycle (two years for a member of the House, six years for a senator). Reviewing the bylaws and governing policies of political action committees (the unit within a company that is legally authorized to collect and distribute political donations) to evaluate their consistency with a firm’s values and determine the criteria under which currently suspended political contributions can be reinstated or permanently revoked. This outcome will depend, in part, upon whether suspended political recipients re-affirm or reverse their position on electoral certification. Determining whether any recipients of political donations are identified on a law enforcement “seditionist list” subject to potential criminal or other penalties. To their chagrin, some American-based companies have determined a match between their donation recipients (as compiled by the U.S. Federal Election Commission that tracks political contributions) and individuals placed on the federal government’s sedition list. In the short run, these decisions will financially disadvantage Republican elected officials, as 139 members of Congress and eight senators from their party voted against certifying the presidential election results — even after the insurrection had occurred. Beyond these financial decisions are public statements by a limited number of business leaders who have called for the resignation of President Donald Trump. Most prominent has been Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. The insurrection “was a clear and present danger to our democracy … and we couldn’t stand for that,” he said. No other prominent business association has echoed Timmons’ declaration. Longer-term reforms Conventional behavior for financing the U.S. political system will await the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president and assume that momentous policy debates in the U.S. Congress over curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, reviving the economy, investing in infrastructure that decarbonizes the economy and reforming immigration practices will slide the public’s current focus on political donations to the periphery. Several initiatives to manage the advocacy process can be implemented to raise the bar in support of democracy. They include: Redefining the criteria for advocacy donations so they are aligned with a company’s central values and promote pro-democratic policy objectives. Such criteria should be approved by the board of directors and should apply to both direct company contributions and allocations provided through a foundation. Expanding the transparency of political donations so they are approved through the corporate governance process and are included as part of the annual financial audit. The list of external recipients should be made accessible through a public website. Identifying and publicizing universities, think tanks and individuals that receive funding to generate studies, organize seminars or establish fellowships to research and publish on issues related to democracy, labor, regulatory or sustainability issues. Integrating the pro-climate change and sustainability efforts of asset managers, investors and non-governmental organizations directly with pro-democracy advocacy. Organizations such as Climate Action 100+ are well-positioned to add support of democracy to their current suite of environment, social and governance (ESG) priorities. Mobilizing a coalition of lawyers, thought leaders and political representatives to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. This 2010 edict opened the floodgates for a dramatic expansion of money to influence political campaigns and regulatory policy decisions by prohibiting government from restricting independent expenditures for political communication and enabling donors to shield their identities. The adverse consequences of this decision continue through the ever-increasing amount of contributions to candidates and causes, much of it unaccounted for, anti-environmental and anti-democratic. Offsetting the discouraging news of political insurrection and the corruption of democracy is the hopeful indicator of expanded voter participation. Most Americans have a growing recognition of the fragile state of their country and are committed to a course of peaceful collaboration to address a growing list of problems. This is reflected in higher rates of voter participation in both the 2018 mid-term and 2020 Presidential elections. While encouraging, two election cycles do not represent a longer-term trend. Expanding pro-democracy advocacy can provide a rising tide for a number of economic, environmental and social justice proposals that lead to a more equitable and just society. Such is the means to grow a continuing pro-democracy majority while marginalizing extremist points of view. Pull Quote At the very core of democracy are the values of transparency, due process and good governance, respect for human rights and the ability to participate freely in the political system. Topics Policy & Politics Featured Column Values Proposition Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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Supporting democracy becomes the measure of leadership

How to value solar plus storage

November 3, 2020 by  
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How to value solar plus storage Adam Aston Tue, 11/03/2020 – 01:00 In the wake of California’s summer of wildfires, blackouts and planned outages, many consumers and businesses are clamoring for more resilient options. The crisis has turbocharged interest in systems that deliver power even when the grid is down. Solar plus storage is fast emerging as a top choice, both at scale on the grid and also “behind the meter,” installed in a home, apartment or commercial building.  “Solar plus battery storage can provide value in two ways: first, energy reliability for customers during emergency power outages, and second, during non-emergencies, to help the grid balance demand and generation,” said Dawn Weisz, chief executive of California utility MCE, during a breakout session at last week’s virtual VERGE 20 event.  Founded in 2008 as California’s first not-for-profit, community choice aggregation program, MCE today serves over 1 million residents and businesses in four San Francisco Bay area counties: Contra Costa; Marin; Napa; and Solano. When it comes to reliability, solar-with-storage systems offer the ability to charge a battery that can keep the power on during an outage. “It’s worth a lot to know you can keep your power on, especially for customers that have medical needs that rely on electricity,” Weisz said. “And those that need electricity for heating, cooling, and to keep food fresh.”   Solar plus storage also helps the wider grid and environment by letting consumers shift the time when they consume solar power: by storing solar energy when it’s abundant during the day, and using it at night, in place of power generated from fossil fuels. “Behind-the-meter storage lets you optimize solar consumption, taking up excess output during the day, and discharging it in the evening, when demand spikes,” explained Michael Norbeck, director of grid services business development at Sunrun, a San Francisco-based provider of residential solar systems and services.  Indeed, absent storage, too much solar can become a challenge, when supply exceeds demand. In California, “We started to see so much solar going onto the grid that our ability to use it was diminishing,” Weisz said.  In extreme cases, that can mean curtailing output: switching off the excess power flowing from solar farms. Storage can put that excess output to good use, flowing it back onto the grid when needed. “It’s in California’s best interest to be sure we’re using as much of those electrons as we can,” she said. “More batteries will help eliminate curtailment.”  It’s no secret that the cost of solar energy has plummeted. In an October analysis of the levelized cost of energy — a measure that blends the full cost to finance, build and fuel an energy system over time — investment bank Lazard calculated that large-scale grid solar beats all fossil fuel options on cost, even absent any subsidies. Even rooftop solar, installed on homes or commercial buildings, is close to par with power from conventional sources such as natural gas peaker plants, coal and nuclear.  Meanwhile, battery costs have followed a similar downward path. Average market prices for battery packs plunged by 87 percent in real terms in the decade to 2019, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). MCE commercial battery storage project in partnership with Tesla and the College of Marin. The installation is estimated to save the college $10,000 per month on electricity bills. Courtesy of MCE. Yet even as prices continue to fall, making these systems accessible to more consumers and businesses, concerns persist about equal access. Weisz noted that even as prices for combined systems fall, the market is following in the footsteps of early solar, when panels were installed first by wealthy customers but lower-income customers couldn’t afford the systems.  As a not-for-profit dedicated to community energy services, MCE has tapped state subsidy programs, grants and other funding sources to extend the benefit of solar plus storage. “We don’t want to replicate the same patterns of disenfranchising our lower-income customers,” Weisz said.  For its part, Sunrun has pioneered a pricing strategy that can guarantee power prices below the grid average, thereby reducing customers’ long-term costs. For instance, to minimize both installation costs and monthly fees, Sunrun’s most popular plan, BrightSave Monthly , leases panels to homeowners for $0 down, paid for via a long-term, stable price.  With wildfires emerging as a nearly year-round threat to western states, the resilience that solar plus storage offers is growing in importance. Sunrun’s systems have grown increasingly responsive to remote management. When grid conditions grow unstable, Sunrun’s systems can island themselves and call on a reserve portion of the battery to support critical needs.  Panels recharge batteries during the day, which can then discharge at night, even when blackouts can stretch from hours to days or even weeks. “During the wildfires last year, we had a customer on uninterrupted power for over 142 consecutive hours, or nearly six days,” Norbeck said.  Topics Renewable Energy Energy & Climate Solar Energy Storage VERGE 20 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off A building powered during blackout. Courtesy of Sunrun

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How cities can influence the energy system

August 12, 2020 by  
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How cities can influence the energy system Heather House Wed, 08/12/2020 – 00:45 As U.S. cities and counties transition to clean energy for their own operations and communities, many are finding that stakeholders and policies beyond their jurisdictions affect their ability to purchase clean energy. Policy and regulatory decisions made by states, utilities, public utilities commissions and wholesale market governing bodies determine the clean energy procurement options available to cities and counties. This can create challenges for meeting locally defined resolutions and commitments. To overcome these challenges and drive faster progress on renewables and carbon-free goals, local governments are starting to engage with old stakeholders in new ways to change the rules of the game. By removing regulatory and legislative obstacles, local governments are creating new pathways to access affordable, clean energy. To help cities and counties better understand potential high-impact engagement opportunities, the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator released a new interactive tool, the Local Government Renewables Action Tracker . The tool highlights efforts by local governments to work directly with the institutions and decision-makers who influence their ability to access clean energy and control the broader electricity system. Here are four ways local governments are engaging with stakeholders to decarbonize their electricity supply: 1. Partnering with investor-owned utilities Cities and counties often are required by state law to buy electricity from a regulated investor-owned utility (IOU) and lack the ability to choose their electricity supplier or generation source. While some IOUs offer renewable energy programs, these options don’t always meet city needs. Worse still, some cities have no options for purchasing renewable electricity. To overcome these circumstances, some local governments are partnering with their utilities. For example, the city of Denver and Xcel Energy developed a partnership agreement in 2018 to define and collaborate on shared climate and energy goals. By removing regulatory and legislative obstacles, local governments are creating new pathways to access affordable, clean energy. These types of partnership agreements can lead to the creation of new renewables programs or custom utility solutions that enable local governments to purchase renewables on a large scale. In North Carolina, Duke Energy and the city of Charlotte signed an agreement that laid out the ways they could partner on clean energy work. One year later, Charlotte became the first city to sign a large-scale deal through Duke Energy’s new Green Source Advantage green tariff program. 2. Engaging in state-level regulatory proceedings Many key decisions around the implementation of state energy policies, including decisions that govern IOUs, are made by state public utility commissions (PUCs). PUCs allow stakeholders to voice their needs as electricity customers, which can be a good opportunity for local governments to advocate for more renewables. However, engaging in commission proceedings can be a time-consuming and cumbersome process for local governments with limited resources to navigate. Increasingly, cities and counties are asking for more renewables on the grid by commenting and providing testimony to their state PUC. This includes commenting on their utility’s integrated resource plans (IRPs), long-range plans that communicate how an electric utility intends to develop new generation assets over the next 10 to 20 years. In many states, utility IRPs are required by law and providing input on them can be an impactful way for local governments to influence their regional grid mix and increase renewable energy generation. During the Indianapolis Power & Light Company (IPL) IRP process, the city of Indianapolis submitted a public letter to encourage IPL to explore a more aggressive retirement scenario for the Petersburg Coal Generating Station and increase renewable generation. Indianapolis cited an October report by Rocky Mountain Institute that found that clean energy portfolios declined in cost by 80 percent since 2010, are lower-cost than new gas plants and are projected to undercut the operating costs of existing gas plants within 10 to 20 years. In comments to the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), the city of Atlanta asked Georgia Power to expand residential energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, provide greater access to utility data to improve energy efficiency efforts, increase municipal access to renewable energy and build a new local microgrid to improve community resilience. In response to customer comments such as these, the PSC required Georgia Power to more than double solar energy procurement over the next five years from one gigawatt (GW) to 2.2 GW. Local governments are also increasingly advocating for alternative forms of utility regulation and business models. This includes performance-based regulation (PBR), a type of utility reform that incentivizes electric utilities to demonstrate performance on metrics such as greenhouse gas reduction, efficiency and customer service. This approach contrasts with traditional “cost-of-service” business models that incent utilities to build more physical assets, which generally result in new buildouts of gas power plants and pipelines, locking in emissions for years to come. The city and County of Honolulu and the County of Hawaii have been actively engaged in advancing PBR through workshops, working group meetings, filing written comments to Hawaii’s PUC and creating thoughtful proposals recommending new PBR mechanisms for their utility to adopt. 3. Influencing statewide energy policy When stakeholders come together to voice their needs to legislators, it has the potential to create large-scale change. Local governments are starting to get involved at the state level by calling for changes to state climate and clean energy legislation. There are a few high-impact policy pathways that cities can pursue: Removing barriers to solar Local governments are asking state policymakers to remove barriers that prevent renewable energy procurement. Stakeholder input recently helped pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 , which created the state’s first clean energy standard and lifted constraints on existing state laws that limited access to third party financing options that can bring down the cost of renewables. Similarly, the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, alongside other large customers and local governments, successfully called for increased access to third-party financing for renewables , which ultimately would make clean energy procurement more affordable for consumers. In Utah, local governments came together to ask the state to enable high-impact pathways for procuring renewables , leading to the ratification of the Community Renewable Energy Act of 2019. These local governments are collaborating with the state’s electric utility, Rocky Mountain Power, to develop a utility program through which they can purchase 100 percent renewable energy. When stakeholders come together to voice their needs to legislators, it has the potential to create large-scale change. Phasing out fossil fuels Cities and counties are advocating to retire uneconomic fossil fuel power plants by enabling or expanding securitization legislation. Securitization can be used to allow utilities to issue bonds based on the guaranteed returns they are making from the uneconomic plants and use the proceeds to build or buy cheaper renewable energy. The shift to lower-cost generation allows utilities to both make more money and lower rates for their customers while phasing out fossil fuel power plants. Forming a coalition with other local governments can help amplify a city’s message to its state legislators. For example, Colorado Communities for Climate Action (CC4CA), a coalition that consists of 33 Colorado counties and municipalities, regularly advocates for state climate policy. Members of the coalition meet with legislators, provide testimony at state legislative sessions, write op-eds and coordinate strategy for local governments. CC4CA’s collective voice was a powerful lever that helped pass one of the strongest state climate bills to date, which includes both short-term and long-term clean energy targets for Colorado. Enabling or expanding community choice aggregation Community choice aggregation (CCA) allows local governments to have full control over their electricity supply, providing the ability to procure renewable energy for their municipal operations, residents and in some cases, small businesses. To make progress toward community-wide renewable energy targets, cities are starting to push for legislation to enable CCA or to expand renewable procurement through an existing CCA. CCA can be a key mechanism for achieving community-wide clean energy goals if a city’s electric utility does not offer the procurement pathways needed to achieve its renewable energy target. Cincinnati has signed the largest municipal renewable energy deal in U.S. history, in part because of the control the city had through its CCA program. Forming a coalition with other local governments can help amplify a city’s message to its state legislators. For example, Colorado Communities for Climate Action (CC4CA), a coalition that consists of 33 Colorado counties and municipalities, regularly advocates for state climate policy. Members of the coalition meet with legislators, provide testimony at state legislative sessions, write op-eds and coordinate strategy for local governments. CC4CA’s collective voice was a powerful lever that helped pass one of the strongest state climate bills to date, which includes both short-term and long-term clean energy targets for Colorado. 4. Getting involved in wholesale energy markets Rules made in wholesale markets can impact local government clean energy goals and present obstacles for clean energy procurement. Participation in market-level decisions and stakeholder processes traditionally has been dominated by utilities and generators, but that is starting to change. One recent decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could hamper the development of renewables in states that participate in the PJM wholesale electricity market . The decision directs PJM to implement a  minimum offer price rule for renewable generation resources supported by state policies such as renewable portfolio standards and zero emissions credits. This rule effectively would raise the minimum price of renewables and, ultimately, ratepayer costs across the board. Some states, including New Jersey and Virginia, are considering leaving the PJM capacity market to preserve their ability to offer incentives to develop renewable energy. The PJM Cities and Communities Coalition is the first ongoing collaborative effort for cities to address barriers in the PJM wholesale energy market. As part of the coalition, cities such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago are joining together to provide education to members on market issues, considering becoming formal voting members and identifying priority issues where cities can engage. One of the coalition’s early efforts was a public letter o the PJM Board of Managers during its search for a new CEO, urging the search committee to hire a candidate who could move the PJM market toward a clean energy future. Cities and counties have struggled to understand their energy policy context and opportunities; how and when to engage with utilities, regulators and legislative staff; and whether to involve other stakeholders. Identifying and replicating local clean energy successes Engaging with utilities, commissions, state policymakers and wholesale market governing bodies is new and unfamiliar territory for many local governments. Cities and counties have struggled to understand their energy policy context and opportunities; how and when to engage with utilities, regulators and legislative staff; and whether to involve other stakeholders. Once they decide to engage, local governments often struggle to dedicate the resources and funding necessary to participate in ongoing efforts. Regardless of the approach, collaborative efforts are key to overcoming these challenges and enabling more effective participation. This allows local governments to leverage limited local resources, reduce political risks and develop a strong collective voice. This collective voice, in particular, often can be more powerful than one local government acting alone. The Local Government Renewables Action Tracker is an important new resource cities and counties can use to see how other local governments are engaging with stakeholders and evaluate the options available for advancing their own clean energy projects and goals. As cities and counties continue to develop their voices as large energy consumers, we should expect to see them get more involved in state regulatory proceedings and legislative hearings, innovative city-utility partnerships and market decision-making processes. Local government engagement such as this has significant potential to accelerate decarbonization in the United States by dramatically expanding local access to renewables for city operations and communities alike. Pull Quote By removing regulatory and legislative obstacles, local governments are creating new pathways to access affordable, clean energy. When stakeholders come together to voice their needs to legislators, it has the potential to create large-scale change. Cities and counties have struggled to understand their energy policy context and opportunities; how and when to engage with utilities, regulators and legislative staff; and whether to involve other stakeholders. Contributors Lacey Shaver Topics Energy & Climate Cities Policy & Politics Collective Insight Rocky Mountain Institute Rocky Mountain Institute Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Power pylons at sunset. Photo by  Matthew Henry  on  Unsplash Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash Close Authorship

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How cities can influence the energy system

American Forests’ Eric Sprague on the importance of trees and the role companies play with forests

March 3, 2020 by  
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Eric Sprague, vice president for forest restoration at American Forests, says the threat to forests is just as important now as it was in 1875, when the organization was founded. “Climate change is really affecting our forests, degrading the ability they have to provide all the benefits that we rely on,” Sprague says. “American Forests is, again, bringing folks together to help solve some of these challenges.”

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American Forests’ Eric Sprague on the importance of trees and the role companies play with forests

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Want to act on climate? Shift the message

May 3, 2019 by  
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The former governor and action star is a standout politician in his ability to message fraught and often politically divisive topics.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger: Want to act on climate? Shift the message

Is an ‘insect apocalypse’ actually happening?

May 3, 2019 by  
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Humans are having oustize impacts on biodiversity — they must reverse it before it’s too late.

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Is an ‘insect apocalypse’ actually happening?

Investing in Change

March 11, 2019 by  
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Companies that integrate environmental, social and governance issues into how they operate can benefit from lower risks, lower costs, and the ability to drive higher returns. How can companies lead with their values to drive success, both financially and reputationally? What are the drivers of the shift towards sustainable investing? What role can companies have in capital investment that creates true positive impact?

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Investing in Change

6 Ways Online Education Prevents Planetary Pollution

March 10, 2017 by  
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Most people consciously manage their impact on the environment to the best of their ability. But did you know that choosing to earn your degree online can help keep the earth clean at the same time? Unlike the convenience of cars, the convenience…

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6 Ways Online Education Prevents Planetary Pollution

Living in a time of ‘great winds’ of change

January 14, 2017 by  
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Businesses clinging to the tried-and-true status quo will undermine their ability to adapt and evolve in a time of volatile change.

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Living in a time of ‘great winds’ of change

Sustainable Living: 6 People Proving Plastic-Free Is Possible

June 21, 2016 by  
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We live in a culture of convenience. It doesn’t matter what it is – we want it fast and we want it now. In our narrow minds, we just don’t have the time to wait.  Unfortunately, the convenience culture is hurting more than just our ability to be…

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Sustainable Living: 6 People Proving Plastic-Free Is Possible

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