The endeavor to introduce more energy-saving products and services into the homes of Californians received a boost last week, as three donors collectively pledged $1.1million in grants to the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center.
Chevron Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will donate $100,000 per year for the next five years and Goldman Sachs is donating$100,000this year.Each company will also seat a representative on the center’s board of advisors.
Founded in2006,theEnergyEfficiencyCenter’s “mission is to accelerate development and commercialization of energy-efficient technologies,” according to its website.The center has received a total of$5million in funds thus far.
Andrew Hargadon,the founding director ofEnergyEfficiencyCenter,said part of the$1.1million will fund new undergraduate and graduate courses at UC Davis.
“We are developing undergraduate and graduate courses in energy management to better prepare students for dealing with the growing issues of energy and the environment,” said Hargadon,also a professor in theUC Davis graduateSchool ofManagement,in an e-mail interview.
Though thecenter doesn’t own patents or receive any revenue from its ventures,it educates inventorsabouthow to commercialize “green technology,” Hargadon said.
“It is critical that new ventures find and build the right networks of investors,distributors andcustomers to get to market as quickly and effectively as possible,” he said.
Thecenter has introduced a variety of new products to companies andCalifornia utilities and regulators,Hargadon said.For example,it launched theWesternCoolingEfficiencyCenter,which has installed cooling products in the West Sacramento Wal-Mart store,he said.
While the interests between a public and private enterprise may seem to be in conflict,Hargadon saidEnergyEfficiencyCenter advisors from the private sector offer “invaluable advice on how the market would react to the new ventures we work with.“
“Their influence on the advisory board is to help guide and strengthen the network support we can provide to new ventures,” he said.
But skeptics– such as UC Davismedievalstudies professor and labor activist Kevin Roddy– question the motives of private enterprises.
“The proven fact is that for-profit industry-sponsored research is less reliable and objective than research sponsored by,for example,government and non-profits,” Roddy said in an e-mail interview.
Roddy,the treasurer of UC-AFT Local2023,also criticized the university for accepting a grant from Wal-Mart.
“By any objective standard regarding salary,promotion,health and retirement benefits,Wal-Mart is a terrible employer.Their interest in the EEC is entirely a matter of saving money,money that goes to profit,not to the workers,” he said.
Roddy,one of24people arrested last May during a protest forSodexho’sfood service workers,said Wal-Mart’s involvement with thecenter undermines the mission of the university.
“As soon as any educational enterprise begins to serve suspectcompanies with a terrible labor record like Wal-Mart,rather than meeting students‘ needs,that enterprise loses its credibility and its ethical and public focus,” he said.
Wal-MartregionaldirectorTiffany Moffet disputed Roddy’s claims,arguing that the retailer believes health care “should be affordable,accessible and affordable for all Americans.“
For example,Wal-Mart announced an expanded benefits plan this year that covers children of part-and full-time associates for as little as$11per month,she said.
In addition,Moffet said profitability and energy efficiency are goals that go hand-in-hand.Wal-Mart aims to use100percent renewable energy and create zero waste by2010,she said.
“Wal-Mart can be a profitable business and environmental steward; they are goals that can work together,” she said.
Hargadon,who noted that UC itself has been criticized “for being a bad employer,” said Wal-Mart leads the effort to develop energy-efficient technologies for retail building construction and operation.
While going green may be an ethical issue,it is increasingly becoming a strategic one,Hargadon said.
“The strategic issues are becoming more important as companies recognize climate change and energy dependence are upon us,and will change– sometimes dramatically– the way all companies do business,” he said.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at email@example.com.XXX