Obama’s ‘Economic Patriotism’ Won’t Win Until Firms Do

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Obama_economic_patriotism_Nick_KnupfferThis week, President Barack Obama lashed out at corporations that have taken up the legal but questionably ethical practice of tax inversion.

For those who aren’t familiar with the expression, tax inversion occurs when companies purchase property in another country in order to change their tax base to another, more financially advantageous location. Northern Ireland is the latest geographic sector to benefit from burgeoning U.S. firms like Google and Facebook, which are said to be thriving under more generous tax provisions. Biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which earlier this month attempted to purchase U.K. pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, is also suspected of trying to change its physical address.

“My attitude is: I don’t care if it’s legal,” Obama said in a speech in Los Angeles this week. “It’s wrong.”

What I often appreciate about Obama is his ability to come right to the core of the issue, which often doesn’t have to do with pragmatism, or partisanship (although, he’s been known to trump that card as well), but ethics. Few presidents have had the moxie to aim for the moral bull’s-eye as many times as Obama and hit it squarely on the mark.

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Why Would the USDA Waste $34 Million on Soybeans in Afghanistan?

Leon Kaye | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Afghanistan, soybeans, USDA, SARAI, Leon Kaye, Quintin Gray, SALT International, American Soybean Association

Employees at the northern Afghanistan soy flour factory.

Many of us have already concluded the 13-year war and military involvement in Afghanistan has been a horrific waste of blood and treasure with no ideal resolution in sight. But among the many throttled programs the U.S. has tried to implement in this proud, landlocked country is one especially laughable if not absurd.

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a partnership with the American Soybean Association and SALT International, launched SARAI, or the Soybeans in Agricultural Renewal of Afghanistan Initiative. The goal was to haul American soybean processing equipment, and of course soybeans, into northern Afghanistan to start a soy-farming industry under the guise of nutrition and economic development. Optimism was rampant even two years ago:

“It’s great to see the Afghan and U.S. partners get this soybean processing facility up and operating. It will help Afghanistan agriculture continue to develop.” -U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service Agriculture Minister Counselor Quintin Gray, in September 2012.

Then the stubborn reality hit.

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NASA: Groundwater Depletion Threatens Southwest Water Supplies

| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

LakeMeadDrought An analysis of data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Mission indicates the U.S. Southwest is more vulnerable to drought and water shortages than previously believed.

Studying 14 years of GRACE satellite data since late 2004 covering the parched Colorado River Basin, NASA and University of California, Irvine scientists found that groundwater loss accounts for more than 75 percent of total freshwater resource loss across the basin region.

Freshwater flowing through the Colorado River Basin is the lifeblood of cities and communities throughout the seven-state region and beyond into Mexico, supplying freshwater to 40 million people and irrigation for some 40 million acres of farmland in the southwestern U.S. However, the basin “has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last 100 years,” NASA highlights in a news release.

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Video: Michelle Obama on Work-Life Balance

| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

michelle obamaApparently Michelle Obama brought a four-month-old Sasha with her to an interview for the Vice President of Community and External Affairs at University of Chicago Hospitals, and she was only willing to take the job if it came with tons of workplace flexibility.

I’m working from home today with my own four-month-old (who is thankfully going on 90 minutes in what is usually a 60-minute nap), so this video struck home for me.

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ExxonMobil to Comply with LGBT Executive Order

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Exxon Gas Station_ T N JonesExxonMobil said last week that it will comply with the protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees required of federal contractors. But it’s unclear whether the oil major will formalize that by changing the language of its equal opportunity corporate policy.

A recent Associated Press story noted that President Barack Obama’s signing of an executive order on July 21 expanded protections for federal workers and contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Labor Department has 90 days to issue regulations for how employers must comply.

“Exxon, which according to government records won more than $480 million in federal contracts in 2013 and more than $8 billion since 2006, has long resisted pressure from civil rights groups and shareholders to enumerate such protections in its formal policy,” according to the AP account.

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The North Face Sustainability Report: Environment and Efficiency

Leon Kaye | Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments
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The North Face promises all-recycled polyester by 2016.

To enjoy much of the outdoors, one needs the proper clothing and equipment, but those very products have their own environmental impact — from petroleum-based polyester to the shipping required to move products from factories to stores. To that end, The North Face says it is making headway on its sustainability goals, according to its most recent corporate responsibility report.

The North Face is keeping up with outdoor gear companies such as its fellow VF Corp. brand, Timberland, and Patagonia in ensuring the messages it sends to its customers are reflected in how company operations perform.

So, following on its previous report, in which the company committed to more sustainable fabric and renewable energy, what exactly has The North Face accomplished and what are its future goals?

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New Jersey Turns to Distributed Resources to Enhance Energy Resilience

| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Hurricane-Sandy Superstorm Sandy caused tremendous damage, as well as hardship and loss of life, in communities across New Jersey – with a total of over $37 billion in physical damages alone, according to a Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration study released in October 2013.

Given current and rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases, New Jersey and states up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as well as across the U.S., can likely expect more in the way of extreme weather events and greater variability in weather patterns.

Aiming to strengthen New Jersey’s resilience to power outages and energy shortages, the Christie administration on July 23 announced it has taken a big step forward in establishing the New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank (ERB). It will be the first state-sponsored fund of its kind dedicated specifically to enhancing the resilience of energy infrastructure and supplies to extreme and variable weather patterns and conditions.

With an initial $200 million from the mid-Atlantic state’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), the ERB is to “support the development of distributed energy resources at critical facilities throughout the state,” according to a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJ BPU) press release.

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WhiteWave Foods Issues Its First Sustainability Report

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

EBF_5oz_HalfandHalf_0WhiteWave Foods met its 2015 goal to source Certified Sustainable Palm Oil for 100 percent of its liquid creamers in 2012, three years ahead of schedule. The company, whose brands include Silk, Horizon and Earthbound, set the target in 2010. Palm oil is an ingredient used in many of its plant-based  products, and the palm oil industry has a high impact on the environment due to deforestation.

WhiteWave Foods recently released its first corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, which goes on to detail other environmental achievements, including reducing packaging, waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Despite production volume increasing in both North America and Europe, WhiteWave has managed to reduce GHG emissions. It cut GHG emissions in North America by by 32 percent per gallon of product while production volume increased by 57 percent since 2006.

Meanwhile, the company also slashed carbon emissions by 39.5 percent per ton of product in Europe, where product volumes have grown by 22 percent since 2007. While cutting emissions, the company also increased onsite renewable energy production by 30 percent and reduced waste sent to landfill by 47 percent in its European operations.

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Shrink the Solar Power Inverter and Google Will Pay You $1 Million

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Monday July 28th, 2014 | 10 Comments

LITTLE_BOX_POWER_INVERTER_GOOGLE_2What’s the size of a clunky ice cooler and essential to that off-grid lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of? If you guessed a solar power inverter, then you may be just the techie Google is hoping to hear from. At a time when computers can fit in the palm of your hand and miniaturized pacemakers can be less than 42 millimeters in size and less than 2 cubic centimeters in volume, it may seem surprising that we’re still dealing with solar inverters that can be as big as your grandmother’s knitting chest.

Google’s Green Team has come up with an ingenious answer: Offer what every hobby industrialist has always wanted – $1 million for the guy or gal that can come up with a way to shrink the technology.

For those who are unacquainted with power inverters, it’s that essential piece of equipment that allows us to actually utilize the power we gain through the solar panels or wind turbines. It converts the direct current (DC) that’s stored from say, a solar array, to the alternating current (AC) we use to power appliances.

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A Proud Day To Be A Hockey Fan: NHL Releases First Sustainability Report

Michael Kourabas
| Monday July 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment

2552191337_240b64d637_zGrowing up as a hockey-obsessed kid in a small New York suburb, there was no single event to which I looked forward more than The Day the Lake Froze Over.

For most of my hockey-playing years, I had the great fortune of living across the street from a large lake (Lake Mahopac), and a short drive from a smaller pond (Teakettle Spout), the latter of which attracted a disproportionate amount of pickup hockey talent.  I still remember rushing out the front door on Saturday mornings to check the integrity of the ice — “Solid enough to skate on?” — or waiting for the inevitable phone call imploring me to get down to Teakettle because a game about to get underway.  None of us who gathered on those lakes and ponds took for granted the free ice-time we were afforded, but I don’t think any of us considered that these opportunities might, some day, disappear.

This same spirit — that of the eager kid entertaining his or her professional hockey playing fantasies on the local lake or pond — animates much of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) first Sustainability Report, which was released last week.  The NHL’s report is the first of its kind in major professional sports, and its scope and ambition are impressive.  Hopefully, the work the NHL did on its inaugural report will set the tone for the rest of professional sports and encourage the other major leagues — the MLB, NBA and NFL — to follow-suit.

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Profitability, Customer Experience Not Correlated with CSR Performance

3p Contributor | Monday July 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment

closeup of handshakeBy Chi-Pong Wong

We have seen recent report cards on corporate social responsibility (CSR) with remarkable results from institutions like Tata, Morgan Stanley and Infosys. The question is: Have these and many other CSR maneuvers made notable global impacts?

Well, not quite. By examining the CSR scores of those multinational companies that are top rated in customer experience (CX) or annual profit respectively, one would find that their overall CSR achievements are far from ideal. And from a different angle, flag-waving CSR winners did not capture sizable market shares to make a difference.

This study demonstrates that institutions renowned in CX or net earnings are not necessarily rated highly on their CSR activities – contrary to what many believe.

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Alabama-Mississippi Waterway Upgrade Offers Clues to Energy Efficient Future

| Monday July 28th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Tenn Tom Waterway energy efficiency improvements

If you’re not familiar with Tenn-Tom now, you’re probably going to be hearing a lot more about it in the future. Tenn-Tom is the Tennessee-Tombigee Waterway, a huge public infrastructure project with a history that dates back to the earliest explorations of the North American continent in the 1500s. After literally centuries of dreaming, Tenn-Tom finally became a reality in 1984.

Built and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the 30-year-old Tenn-Tom is now due for an upgrade. USACE is using the opportunity to showcase a new, energy efficient approach to infrastructure improvements. If your business is contemplating an infrastructure upgrade, this is a good one to watch for best practices insights.

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Harnessing the Benefits of Employee Volunteerism at Mid-Size Companies

3p Contributor | Monday July 28th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Outerwall Image 4By Jackie Norris and Nicole Trimble

Over the last decade we’ve seen a steady increase in corporate volunteer programs in the U.S. Since the global recession, in particular, companies of all sizes – from startups to the Fortune 500 ranks – have embraced employee volunteerism as a fiscally responsible way to supplement and expand on their existing community giving initiatives. But it appears mid-size businesses may not be harnessing the full potential of volunteer programs and are overlooking the wide range of benefits they can provide.

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Financing Conservation Through Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)

3p Contributor | Monday July 28th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on CityMinded.org.

thumbBy Meghna Tare

Rising opportunity costs and population growth are resulting in land use change and declines in critical ecosystem services. The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that 60 percent of the Earth’s ecosystem services are being depleted at a very rapid rate.

Biodiversity and ecosystems provide invaluable services and products to the society. These include food, water, and protection from erosion, recreational services, medicinal products, and climate regulation. Despite this significant economic, social, and cultural value of biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services, biodiversity is lost at a rapid rate. The need for policies that promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services is more important than ever.  World Resource Institute (WRI) estimates the value of ecosystem services to be US$33 trillion a year, nearly twice the value of the global gross national product (GNP) of US$18 trillion.

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) are agreements whereby a user of an ecosystem service makes a payment to an individual or communities whose practices like land use or deforestation directly affects the use of that ecosystem services.  Ecosystem beneficiaries include downstream hydroelectric utilities that use clean water for their day-to-day operations. Payment for such management practices reduces soil erosion. Soil erosion and sediment buildup have negative effects that impact the efficiency of dams and the cost of energy. Interest in PES has been rapidly increasing over the past few years and according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) these projects channel over $6.53 billion annually. Over 300 PES projects are implemented in countries like India, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Australia. These schemes flourish wherever private companies, public-sector agencies, and non profit organizations like Conservation International (CI) have joined hands in addressing various environmental issues.

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Pact Apparel Launches Fair Trade Certified Line

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday July 28th, 2014 | 0 Comments

PACT apparel teePact Apparel, which brand itself as an “ethical and organic apparel basics brand,” announced it is releasing an organic cotton Fair Trade certified line.

The line contains 78 different products with 19 different styles, including baby clothes. For grown-ups, the line features basics like underwear, leggings, camisoles, T-shirts and long johns. In May, Pact launched a Fair Trade certified women’s T-shirt sold exclusively at Whole Foods. This new line will be sold at retailers across the U.S. including Whole Foods and Amazon.

The Fair Trade certified line is produced in a factory in India. For every purchase of a Fair Trade certified garment, Pact will donate a percentage of the sales to a worker-controlled fund. The workers will vote on how to spend the funds which include a disaster relief fund for factory workers, a scholarship fund for workers’ children, infrastructure improvements in their local communities, or a cash bonus.

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