The minimum wage, and the difference between earning a minimum versus a living wage, has moved to the forefront of the civic mind and politics in the U.S. recently. With income and wealth disparities at historically wide levels, President Barack Obama continues his campaign to raise the federal minimum wage. Seattle’s city government recently voted to raise the municipal minimum wage to $15, while fast food workers and public interest groups have been putting pressure on some of America’s — and the world’s — largest employers, such as McDonald’s and Walmart, to follow suit.
A fair, living wage is considered a fundamental human right by the U.N. While this issue has only really come to the fore in the U.S. over the course of the past decade, it has long been an issue in developing countries. For developing and less developed countries, cheap access to natural resources has been touted as a keystone of economic development, while for industrially developed nations it has been a linchpin of economic growth and globalization.
Tea estate workers offer a case in point. Though it is the most popular drink in the world, other than water, tea is typically grown in poor countries. And while those countries have set minimum wages for tea estate workers, those often aren’t even high enough to be considered a living wage. A coalition of organizations led by Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership is out to change that.
Multinational food, drink and confectionery company Mars, Inc. recently announced the completion of one of the world’s largest coral reef restoration projects off the southern coast of the island of Pulau Badi in southern Indonesia. Located just 20 kilometers (~12.5 miles) from a Mars cocoa processing factory on the neighboring Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Mars’ project also includes the establishment of a new marine protected area and development of a local industry in which ornamental tropical fish are raised.
Part of the Coral Triangle, the tropical coral reefs and eastern Pacific Ocean waters surrounding Pulau Badi and Sulawesi are recognized worldwide as being home to the richest marine biodiversity on the planet. Unsustainable fishing practices, such as the use of dynamite and cyanide, have devastated large tracts of coral reef and associated fish populations — robbing local residents and communities of food and nutrition, as well as livelihoods.
Spanning an area of 7,000 square meters (~75,347 square feet), the project entailed installation of over 3,000 “specially-constructed, innovative structures on which coral fragments grow to rehabilitate and re-establish native fish populations,” Mars Symbioscience elaborates in a press release. Realizing the multi-faceted project was a collaborative effort on the part of the island community, Mars Sustainable Solutions, itself a part of Mars Symbioscience, and employees participating in the Mars Ambassador Program.
Last year was a “bumper” year for corn production in the U.S., as American farms harvested nearly 14 billion bushels, enough to fill a freight train longer than the Earth’s circumference. However, “climate change, unsustainable water use, and inefficient and damaging fertilizer practices” pose a real and present threat to the long-term productivity of U.S. corn production — threats that ripple through U.S. corn’s extensive and vital supply chain, according to a new report from Ceres.
Nearly doubling in size over the past 20 years to yield $67 billion a year in revenue, corn is America’s biggest and most important crop. Nearly one-third of U.S. farmland — an area equivalent to two Floridas – is being used to grow corn. This is far more than the second and third largest U.S. crops, wheat and soy. In addition, U.S. farmers grow, harvest and export more corn than their counterparts anywhere in the world. That’s the good news.
Last year’s record corn harvest — and the corn industry’s growth over the past two decades — masks serious, and growing, threats from climate change, inefficient water use and over-reliance on fertilizers, Ceres report authors highlight in Water & Climate Risks Facing U.S. Corn Production.
What are perovskites? Perovskite is a relatively inexpensive mineral composed of calcium titanate (titanate is a salt composed of titanium and oxygen). It is attracting attention in the renewable energy space for its semiconductor properties.
The Department of Energy announced $10 million in new research and development (R&D) funding for six research teams during the SunShot Grand Challenge Summit 2014 two weeks ago. The teams will use the funds to develop cheap, efficient thermochemical energy storage (TCES) solutions for utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) systems. For at least two of the six, perovskite minerals are to serve as the energy storage medium.
Finding a cheap, efficient means of storing energy produced by CSP plants would be a major milestone for the fast-growing renewable energy sector, and that’s probably an understatement. Perovskites may be more than the key to cheap energy storage for CSP, however.
A class of lamellar organic-inorganic minerals found in igneous and metamorphic rocks, perovskites have generated intense interest among photovoltaic (PV) energy researchers as well.
A semiconductor, perovskite PV cells can essentially be “painted” on to almost any type of surface – flexible or rigid. Solar PV researchers having been making significant strides in boosting the energy conversion efficiency and lowering the cost of producing perovskite PV cells, leading one prominent researcher to assert that they “are poised to ‘break the prevailing paradigm.’”
Given our dependence on the products of highly sophisticated science, engineering and technology, it’s easy to pay short shrift, or look askance, at the value of traditional indigenous knowledge. To be sure, the depth and scope of our knowledge has advanced rapidly. Yet, this type of arrogance, or hubris, not only takes away all that could be gained scientifically and socially from an unplumbed yet certainly rich cultural heritage, but may leave us more open to being blindsided by “black swans.”
Traditional indigenous knowledge, as well as human resources, holds particularly high value with regard to ecological and species conservation, and efforts to preserve rapidly diminishing biodiversity. Still directly connected with natural ecosystems for their livelihoods, the practical, everyday ethics, values and attitudes of traditional indigenous cultures can also inform and motivate our quest to enhance the overall sustainability of modern life and society, and add shared value and meaning to them.
Looking to tap into and incorporate traditional indigenous knowledge into its institutional framework, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES) convened an international expert workshop on the contribution of indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) to IPBES in Tokyo June 9-11.
Employing as many as 10 million Americans and generating an estimated $500 billion in annual revenue, the U.S. “impact economy” is already sizable, and still developing. Growth could be accelerated substantially were the federal government to make a concerted effort to support the social enterprise sector’s ongoing development, according to a policy paper from Deloitte Consulting’s GovLab.
Emerging over the course of the past decade, the so-called “impact economy” has grown rapidly as entrepreneurs, investors and nonprofit sector leaders across the U.S. began developing more socially and environmentally conscious and responsible business models, legal structures and investment vehicles. Yielding triple bottom line returns, 2020 growth prospects for “impact investing” have been estimated to range between $400 billion and $1 trillion.
Part and parcel of a broad-based effort to spur further growth in the impact economy, federal government action to develop a market for “Payment for Success” (PFS) financial instruments, such as social impact bonds, would help make up shortfalls in government budgets and deliver substantial social and environmental, as well as economic, benefits across society, Deloitte GovLab asserts in, Government and the impact economy.
Not heavily industrialized and with large tracts of remaining forest, Finland contributes a small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, like many nations around the world, it is experiencing the effects of climate change to a disproportionate degree. Situated at Western Europe’s northernmost extreme, climate change is making an impact on just about every aspect of Finnish life and society.
Nearly 500 national climate change laws have been passed in 66 countries, according to the 2014 GLOBE Climate Legislation Study. Adding to these numbers, Finland’s government on June 6 approved a proposal for a National Climate Act that entails reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Transforming modern life, the advent of “digital” homes, businesses, governments and societies is yielding tremendous triple bottom line benefits in countries the world over. It has also brought a host of new social and ecological problems and challenges – from the “digital divide” and threats to the security and integrity of vital information to fast growing “mountains” of electronic waste (e-waste).
For the first time, more than 1 billion smartphones were shipped worldwide last year. Phenomenally popular, worldwide tablet shipments rose 68 percent year over year to reach 195.6 million units. Unsurprisingly, e-waste is one of the fastest growing components of our waste stream, forecast to grow by one-third from 2012 levels, to 65.4 million tons, by 2017.
Looking to mimic nature and close the loop on e-waste, the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability’s (UNU-IAS) “Solving the E-waste Problem” (StEP) Initiative has been working to raise awareness and help governments, businesses, communities and consumers build the institutional frameworks and capacity to reclaim, recycle and capture the tremendous value e-waste contains. Early this past April, StEP hosted its latest E-Waste Academy for Managers (EWAM) seminar in El Salvador, a country in a region where e-waste, both domestic and imported, poses growing triple bottom line threats.
Climate change, resource scarcity, social responsibility and good citizenship – professional investors are increasingly factoring sustainability into governance policies, portfolio decision-making processes and investment allocations, according to a new study from PwC’s Investor Resource Institute.
Indicative of the increased attention institutional investors are paying to sustainability, Stanford University Board of Trustees made headlines recently, announcing that university endowment funds will not be invested in some 100 publicly traded companies whose principal business is investing in coal. Moreover, they stated that the university will divest its current holdings in the shares of these companies.
Aiming to assess the influence of sustainability issues among large professional investment companies, a broad mix of institutional investors – asset managers, pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds and others – responsible for managing over $7.6 trillion in assets responded to PwC Resource Institute’s survey. As the institute’s leader, Kayla Gillan, explains in a press release:
“Our research sought to gain insight from investors about how they are incorporating issues of climate change, resource scarcity, extreme weather events and evolving corporate responsibility expectations into their investment decisions and strategies. We found significant evidence that an effect is occurring today—and that it is likely to increase in coming years.”
Finding in favor of an international trade petition brought by leading U.S. solar manufacturer Solar World Americas, the U.S. Department of Commerce made a preliminary decision to close a loophole that Chinese manufacturers have been exploiting. Through the loophole, these companies manufactured crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar photovoltaic (PV) cells in Taiwan and other third-party countries, shipped them to China for assembly into modules and panels, then exported them to the U.S.
Widening the scope of unfair trade and anti-dumping duties and tariffs imposed on Chinese c-Si PV products, the Commerce Department issued preliminary countervailing duties (CVDs) ranging from 18.56 percent to 35.21 percent. These CVDs apply to c-Si PV cells and modules, as well as laminates, panels and other products, consisting of c-Si PV cells produced and/or partially or wholly assembled into other products by Chinese manufacturers in China or other countries.
Commerce’s preliminary decision in favor of SolarWorld America’s petition reignites controversy over an issue that has divided the solar PV industry in the U.S. and globally.
SolarWorld and supporters applauded the department’s preliminary decision, saying it will protect manufacturing jobs and level the playing field for U.S. solar manufacturers. Critics, led by the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, say that it will lead to higher solar energy costs, weigh on downstream solar energy industry participants and constrain growth in a fast-growing U.S. residential solar PV market.
Throughout the course of history waste, environmental degradation and pollution have grown alongside human population and economic activity. Economies and people’s livelihoods have become dependent on producing and consuming myriad products made up of chemical compounds unknown in nature or to them — and indigestible to the Earth’s natural processes of recycling and reuse.
To produce these products, we destroy ecosystems and wildlife – even other people at times – and pollute the air, water and land. When we’re finished with them, we discard them to be carted off, dumped, buried or incinerated. A small, but significant and growing amount, we recycle or reuse.
Some might say, “That’s nature, and we’re just a part of it.” Others are using the gifts nature has endowed us with to find better ways of designing and making things — ways that are not only socially, ecologically and economically sustainable, but can actually leave a net positive footprint on societies and our planet.
In the 2002 book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart introduced the concept of cradle-to-cradle product design.
Taking up and expanding on the concept and its principles, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute today released a study exploring the business, environmental and social impacts on 10 pioneering companies participating in a pilot implementation of its Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program.
This past Monday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled the Obama administration’s highly anticipated proposal to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing U.S. power plants, the president’s strongest action yet to halt the rise in carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are prompting a shift in global climate. A day later, Reuters reported that a senior government adviser said that China will impose a cap on CO2 emissions in 2016.
Alone, one of these developments would add substantial impetus to global climate change mitigation efforts and prospects of achieving a global climate change accord. Taken together, it doubles them, at the least.
How about tripling them, or more? Two weeks ago, India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his intention to see that every Indian home gets at least some electricity from clean, renewable solar power by 2019.
Yes, India’s new PM, President Obama and China Premier Li Keqiang and supporters have many hurdles to overcome and battles to fight for these initiatives to be realized. But to witness all three prominent national leaders take strong, definitive steps to mitigate climate change, well, it’s a historic milestone, to say the least.
Renewable energy sources supplied nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of final energy consumption worldwide in 2012 and continued growing in 2013, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century’s (REN21) “Renewables 2014 Global Status Report,” one of the most thorough and comprehensive reports on conditions and trends in global use of renewable energy.
Technological advances, cost reductions, and the spread of supportive government policies and institutional frameworks have progressed much faster and further than had been anticipated, REN21 highlights in its latest report, to the point where the cost of wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-energy and geothermal energy is on par, or even below, that of conventional fossil fuels across a widening range of countries, regions and uses. Commenting on renewables’ rapid advance into the mainstream energy mix, REN21 states:
“[M]ost mainstream projections did not predict the extraordinary expansion of renewables that was to unfold in the coming decade. Numerous scenarios projected levels of renewable energy for 2020 that were already surpassed by 2010. Today, renewable energy technologies are seen not only as a tool for improving energy security, but also as a way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to provide direct and indirect social beneﬁts.”
Much in the way of human brain power, as well as time, money and computing resources, is being dedicated to analyzing the costs and benefits of alternative, less socially and environmentally damaging clean energy development pathways. Taking an alternative approach to the issue in a recently released research paper, the Brookings Institution’s Charles R. Frank, Jr. evaluates five low and no-carbon electricity technologies and presents their net benefits across a range of energy and climate policy and market price assumptions.
Rather than assessing the net benefits of wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear and combined-cycle natural gas power plants from the more commonly used perspective of levelized energy costs, which can be misleading, in “The Net Benefits of Low and No-Carbon Electricity Technologies,” Frank, an economist and former director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), bases his analysis on avoided emissions and avoided costs. He concludes that absent a high-enough price on carbon, a carbon tax or direct levies on fossil fuel suppliers, “nuclear, hydro and natural gas combined cycle have far more net benefits than either wind or solar.”
While providing valuable economic insights for power industry investors, operators, and energy and climate policymakers, Frank’s study also highlights the shortcomings of research economists’ models and thinking when it comes to guiding decision-making on energy and climate, and the dangers of relying on them as “go-to” guides for determining energy, climate and economic policy.
Hotels and tourism businesses worldwide have been keen to capitalize on travelers’ growing “eco-consciousness.” Besides the potential boost in revenue from “green” marketing, ecologically sensitive and energy efficient design, building and operations can yield substantial savings; it can also reduce the vulnerability and risk exposure of hotel and tourism businesses to fluctuations in the prices of energy, water and environmental degradation.
Aiming to earn Platinum-level LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the family-run Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. is installing cutting-edge energy storage and power management technology developed by Green Charge Networks.
Explaining the rationale that led to the decision, CEO Steve Farzam stated: “Shore Hotel is committed to modeling how sustainability and luxury can work together to create an incredible experience for our guests. Energy storage is a natural complement to the many measures we’ve taken to reduce our carbon footprint and achieve Gold LEED certifications.”