What green thinkers think about green by Scott Olster @FortuneMagazine April 6, 2011, 7:31 PM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Waste Management CEO David Steiner took questions online Bill Weihl, Green Energy Czar, Google GOOG What comments might [you] have about the “Bloom Box” replacing a National Grid? Weihl: There’s a role for both distributed generation and centralized power plants — I expect we’ll see both — and the Bloom Box will play a part in distributed generation. Last year Google bought a decommissioned papermill site in Finland and converted it into a datacenter. Has that project delivered on its promise and what prospects are there for similar projects in the U.S. given that over a dozen papermills were shut down in the U.S. last year? Weihl: Our Finnish site is not yet open, but we fully expect it to deliver on its promise. We’re always looking for new sites, and if there are similar sites in the U.S. we will consider them. What are some of the best practices that need to be more widely adopted to increase the use of renewables and reduce the energy used by datacenters? Weihl: We’ve cut the energy used by our datacenters by 50% — a factor of 2 — through very careful application of well understood best practices. We’ve documented our own experience on our website and worked within organizations like The Green Grid to help the datacenter industry more broadly adopt similar practices. We’ve also signed long-term PPAs for green power to supply our facilities — giving us price certainty for the power, and giving the developers of the green power financial certainty that they can use to get low-cost financing — freeing up capital for them to develop more projects. Would Google (through Google Ventures) consider investing in clean coal technology or does the company see the technology as not viable? Weihl: I can’t speak specifically for Google Ventures, but generally we invest in a wide range of technologies. In the energy space, we’ve invested in solar thermal (CSP) companies, advanced wind, and enhanced geothermal. David Steiner, CEO, Waste Management WM Is the production of energy from waste paper and municipal waste an environmentally preferable and economically viable alternative to coal, nuclear from baseload generation? Steiner: It’s absolutely an economically viable alternative to other forms of energy and it’s creating energy from something we throw out everyday. What state and regulatory hurdles do you see to expansion of waste-to-energy plants? Steiner: Generally, we’ve seen waste to energy plants be successful in areas where you have dense populations and not enough land for traditional disposal methods. So, in the Northeast and Southeast, we’ve seen a lot of waste to energy expansion. Today, where we see it most is overseas in Europe and China. What are the key differences between incinerating waste (a process that consumers are strongly opposed to) and the high efficiency conversion waste to energy and fuel using advanced pyrolysis systems and biorefinery technologies? Steiner: The key difference between those methods of creating electricity from waste is the efficiency of the energy production. For example, we can get 60-70% of the energy content by incinerating waste in our waste energy plants. Using newer technologies, we hope to increase that to 80-90%. What will it take to create markets for consumer waste that would allow consumers to derive income from the waste that they dispose of rather than having to pay for it to be taken away? Steiner: It will just take time. Waste Management is the only company making investments to make that happen. I truly believe that in the next decade those investments will allow us to extract enough value from waste that we can do it for free or pay our customers. Dorjee Sun, CEO, Carbon Conservation Bamboo has been overlooked in the current climate change regime. In addition to rapid growth and significant carbon sequestration, bamboo forests also provide a number of additional social, environmental and economic benefits. What is being done to advance the adoption of CDM and other bamboo-based REDD projects? Sun: Bamboo is an amazing resource with its uses in such a vast range of industries from furniture and building materials to paper and textiles. There is a big push in China in terms of adoption for carbon methodologies which would put a carbon value on Bamboo. However, to my knowledge nothing has been formally adopted by the UN just yet. Watch this space, bamboo is definitely a product of the future! Asia Pulp and Paper has been accused of illegal logging in various countries and environmentalists have been critical of its practices. Do you believe the company is sincere in reforming its logging practices or do you have any concerns this program is window dressing? Sun: The reason why we have partnered with Asia Pulp and Paper is because we at Carbon Conservation believe that a 10 year engagement is a realistic time frame required to realize profound change. Change in large organizations always takes time, so our goal by 2020 is to build sustainability practices, targets and a roadmap with accountable milestones which will result in true sustanlbility throughout the entire corporation. Our goal actually is to make APP a sustainability leader in the pulp and paper industry, so I believe the company is sincere in reforming it’s logging practices.