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A Ray of Light from the White House

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington, D.C.

It’s one thing to preach energy sustainability – it’s another lead by example. That’s just what the White House is doing here, as President Obama is having solar panels placed atop the beautiful mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The panels will serve as a means to power the entire house – from press room to the President’s basketball court – serves as a reminder of the differences we can make – one panel at a time.

President Jimmy Carter was the first to implement solar panels when he had them built to heat the White House water. President Carter made a famous prediction that day, saying: “In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy. A generation from now this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

President Obama and many others around the U.S. are relying on new energy means to power this country. For generations, we’ve relied heavily on coal and foreign oil to heat our homes, power our transportation, towns and cities.  Today, we have an incredible opportunity to do what no generation has done prior. We can utilize advanced technologies to take advantage of the wind and solar energy we have in the U.S. Plus, technology is also allowing us to safely obtain near infinite amounts of natural gas and use nuclear as yet another means.

President Obama took the first step. He’s placed solar panels on his residence.  What will you do to match?

Hill & Knowlton works with the CASEnergy Coalition,  the America’s Natural Gas Alliance and other companies within the solar and wind energy sectors.

Sustainability Being Given the ‘Old College Try’

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington D.C.

As a former student at Boston’s Northeastern University, our institution’s former president, a man I respect and admire, would work tirelessly to build Northeastern’s reputation on the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. He succeeded in moving NU from high 150’s into the top 100.

A new ranking, reported on by the Washington Post, takes into account a new standard ranking produced by Washington Monthly that looks at three distinct categories when rating institutions: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating of low-income students), Research (production of cutting edge scholarships and PhD’s) and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their community).

You’ll see in the report that public colleges fair amazing well – far better than private institutions. But what I really like about this rating system is that it’s not just an alternative way to view success and opportunity in higher education institutions, but rather what prospective students are now looking for in their college experience. In July, USA Today’s Trevor Hughes illustrates that point here.

In addition, more institutions are making the most of their opportunity to become more sustainable. We’ve written on this blog work being done by our local universities here in DC. 

There is a growing enthusiasm from our next generation. I remember stepping onto campus for the first time more than 11 years ago, ambitious in thinking I could change the world. And these people are doing it!

Bill Novelli on CSR

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Lauren Wilson, Account Executive, Washington D.C. Office

Washington Women in PR hosted a brown bag luncheon last week at the National Education Association  where Bill Novelli served as guest speaker on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  Does the communication firm Porter Novelli ring a bell? Bill Novelli founded the agency that bears his name and left the company in the 90s to pursue a slew of non-profit and CSR roles including: Executive Vice President of CARE, President of theCampaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and CEO of AARP. Currently, Bill is a professor in social responsibility at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

Corporate Social Responsibility, the idea of incorporating responsible practices in daily business operations, has emerged as a strong focus over the last few years with companies restructuring their operations and making this practice a top priority.  Through Bill’s role at Georgetown, he discovered that there is a high student demand to learn about CSR and to pursue this work after the completion of their graduate studies.  In fact, many of his students and their peers are willing take pay cuts to work in a CSR role. Bill’s goal is to help students and communications practitioners understand the value of this responsibility so that they can serve in roles that produce social change, which will ultimately lead to the betterment of our society.

One member of the audience asked: How do you move organizations to adopt CSR practices in a down economy?  “It is important to convince your organizations to act socially responsible because that is often the expectation from its constituents and stakeholders. Organizations that have strong CSR campaigns often exude more confidence and uplift employee morale,” Bill responded.

Bill also noted that in this down economy, volunteerism has risen.  According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), volunteerism jumped by 1.6 million last year, the largest increase in six years. Over 8.1 billion hours of volunteer service was donated by Americans last year. Corporate Social Responsibility has emerged as a sustainable practice and organizations often have success when they participate in this practice over time.  This audience was very receptive in learning about  Bill’s current role as a CSR enthusiast and many expressed how they felt empowered to challenge their organizations to adopt CSR initiatives. If each organization did their part to implement a CSR program, then the idea of “doing good” would eventually be seen as normal corporate practice.

[Disclosure: Hill and Knowlton represents CNCS]


Night vision goggles, energy efficiency and a tip

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Tara Knight, Hill & Knowlton in Vancouver, Cananda

Chad Tragakis highlighted an article for me about the City of Boston deciding to use infrared (the technology in night vision) to scan the city’s buildings to determine how energy efficient the buildings are (article: Infrared detects the heat signatures of beings or objects. You are likely familiar with infrared’s use in night goggles or if you traveled through those big fever-detecting infrared scanners in popping up in airports during flu epidemics. The technology is tremendously adaptive, and its use is growing for consumers and business especially as a cost-effective, non-invasive process to determine a building’s heat efficiency.

Boston’s Mayor plans to have the infrared scans cover every square foot of Boston, and claims it will be the first of their kind in a major American city. It’s an ambitious goal. Buildings use 40% of the world’s ‘final’ energy according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. In fact, the Council recently released a report that shows how energy use in buildings can be cut by 60 percent by 2050 – essential to meeting global climate change targets (for those of you who like to challenge your landlord, the Council’s report is available online here.) Of course, this technology is already available to interested organizations and consumers who want to be on top their energy consumption.

However, you don’t have to start big- we all know each of us can take a little action and make a difference. Google has a neat little personal tool – Google powermeter – a free energy monitoring tool to monitor your home’s energy consumption.  According to their blog “one Australian restaurant recently learned that something as easy as turning off their coffee pots each night would save them $3,000 dollars per year.” If every city like Boston and each of us starting tracking our energy use, it’s a safe bet we could save more than that.

Bulk Groceries Notwithstanding, Seattle Hung Out to Dry

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Susan Champlain, Vice President, H&K Seattle

Seattle prides itself on its environmental stewardship.  In a city surrounded on the west by Puget Sound and the rugged Olympic Mountains and on the east by Lake Washington, Mt. Rainier and the Cascades, reminders of nature’s treasured resources are everywhere.  Recently named America’s second least wasteful city” by Nalgene, Seattle is at the center of the green movement. Cycling, recycling and reusable water bottles are a badge of honor here, along with brown lawns in the summertime.

But second place?  To many here, losing to San Francisco is embarrassing and incentive to do better.  Seattle ranked first place in throwing out fewer than two bags of trash each week, thanks to the city’s aggressive composting efforts.  We ranked first in buying bulk food to avoid extra packaging.  And, despite the failure of the city’s bag tax initiative in 2008, we ranked first in using reusable grocery bags.

So where did the city fall short?  Seattle’s lowest ranking was 15th for hanging clothes out to dry.  We do live in the rainiest corner of the country.  Maybe we should get a pass on that one.

With light rail now up and running, a new state sales tax on bottled water and efforts by our thousands of coffee shops to offer reusable or recyclable cups, San Francisco better look out.  Damp fleece may become a fashion statement. 

Fortune Brainstorm:Green – Plenty to Wow Audience

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andrew Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington, D.C.


I had the fortunate opportunity to attend Fortune’s Brainstorm: Green conference in Laguna Niguel, California this week. A number of attendees really wowed the audience, capturing ideas, reasoning and strategies around renewable energy, energy conservation, fossil fuel and electric vehicles.  But one person really stood out in my mind as being the most impressive – William McDonough.  Please see the blog post I wrote for Hill & Knowlton’s technology blog in Washington, D.C. “Tech & the District.”

Don’t Bag this Idea

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, senior account executive, Washington, D.C.


For those not living in the immediate DC area, many lunch goers are now forced to pay a $0.05 sales tax should they ask for a plastic or paper bag to carry their lunch. The move signifies a city-wide push towards a cleaner, greener environment. According to, the tax will be used by city officials in an effort to increase revenue to combat pollution in local rivers here in the area.


Other cities are beginning similar programs, such as this one in Seattle. Brownsville, Texas has taken another route.


Though the program in Washington DC was just implemented in the first week of January, many lunch customers around the city have been forgoing the plastic bag in favor of keeping the five cents…and hopefully, the environment in mind as well. In time, with the money headed toward cleaning our rivers and streets, DC will be an even more pleasant place to walk around in.

University of California Making a Difference Too!

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington, D.C.

The University of California is making moves to be more sustainable as well, just as Catholic University in Washington, D.C. did last week.

Drawn up from the encouragement of the student body, more than 10,000 strong wrote in, the University of California is offering greener food choices and building a greener campus.  According to a report on, more than 10,000 students sent postcards in demanding the school offer more sustainable and green food choices. Because of this, California is now offering 20 percent of its food as “green food” throughout its 15 campuses. They are also building greener at the university as well, noting the constant effort to build more sustainably as well as keeping the campuses clean.

I’m greatly encouraged at the recent movements of both California and Catholic University and I’m equally as excited by the enthusiasm and environmental awareness today’s college students have. With this passion for sustainability in both past and current students, I’m truly optimistic we’re going to see more students take a stand and move their institutions to a greener future.

Catholic University Starts ‘Panel’ Discussion

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington, D.C. office

Catholic University is seeing the sunny side of electricity production by unveiling this week that more than 1,000 solar panels will be installed at the school in Northeast Washington, D.C.  A Washington Post article noted that by installing the 1,088 solar panels, the school expects it will save more than 340,000 kilowatts of energy each year. To put that in perspective, that totals less than one percent of the annual energy needs of the school but is enough to power at least two radio stations for a full year.

This is a great step in making the university more environmentally friendly and one others should take a close look at.  More colleges and universities, particularly those based in urban areas, should view to the progress being made at Catholic University as a stepping stone to their sustainability as well.




Investing in Green Technology – Worth the Risk for Venture Capital Firms?

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Brett Broesder, Account Executive in Washington, D.C.

Global economic woes have stifled the green movement on several fronts and it comes as no surprise that venture capitalists investing in green technology fall into this category.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in the first three quarters of 2008, green technology companies received a record $8.4 billion in venture capital. However, green technology investments fell 35 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2008.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the first-half of 2009 venture capitalists only invested $513 million into 83 green technology companies – compared to $2 billion in 139 green tech start-ups in the first-half of 2008.

One prominent venture capitalist firm, Khosla Ventures, which is led by Vinod Khosla, is bucking this trend. In fact, just recently, Khosla Ventures announced it had raised over $1.1 billion for two funds that “will invest in green technology start-ups,” according to the New York Times.

As most venture capitalist firms shy away from high-risk alternative energy technology, Khosla taking another approach, noting “We’re really about reinventing the infrastructure of society, which is the only way we’ll get the carbon footprint down, and we’re not afraid to fail.”

Signals from Congress in Washington seem to point to green technology likely be further incentivized in the near future. Further,  if House passed cap-and-trade legislation makes it through the Senate, green energy technology start-ups will likely see a boom in business – placing Khosla Ventures in the driver seat and a plethora of other VC firms behind the curve.

Khosla seems to agree that this trend doesn’t present the risk that seems to be conventional wisdom in the venture capitalist space, “Clean-tech companies taking large amounts of money – that’s not project finance, not technical risk. That’s a differentiation most people have lost.” I agree, and hope to see others follow the road less traveled as Khosla Ventures is, which will not only benefit firms financially, but benefit the green movement by providing green tech companies the start-up money they need.