Gap, Inc. will increase the minimum hourly rate it pays American employees from $9 per hour in 2014 to $10 per hour in 2015. The 45-year-old company with six brands has 90,000 employees in the U.S. and operates in more than 50 countries with 137,000 employees worldwide. The company stated in a press release that increasing the minimum wage it pays employees is “not a political issue.” Instead, the decision to increase its minimum wage “will directly support our business, and is one that we expect to deliver a return many times over.”
A day before Gap’s announcement, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on the effects of raising the federal minimum wage. The report concluded that raising it would increase the pay and family income for most minimum wage workers. The CBO estimated that increased earnings for minimum wage workers would be $31 billion, and move about 900,000 people above the poverty line. However, the CBO analysis pointed out that families whose income increases “tend to raise their consumption.” Clearly, that is something which Gap understands.
While many conservatives and conservative think tanks claim that raising the federal minimum wage would bring only negative consequences, an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows otherwise.
The CBO, a non-partisan group that analyzes congressional bills, analyzed the effects of increasing the minimum wage and concluded that it would increase the pay and family income for most low-wage workers. The increased earnings for low-wage workers would be $31 billion, by CBO’s estimate.
Overall real income for all low-wage workers would increase by $2 billion, and real income would increase by $5 billion for workers whose income is below the poverty threshold. Raising the minimum wage would move about 900,000 people above the poverty line. The CBO also found that raising the federal minimum wage would slightly reduce employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent. However, changes in the economy for goods and services might offset the employment decrease. As the CBO points out, “The families that experience increases in income tend to raise their consumption.”
Apple’s recently released supplier responsibility report contains good news concerning conflict minerals. The report confirmed that as of last month, all “active, identified tantalum smelters” in the company’s supply chain were verified by third-party auditors to be conflict free. The report states that the company released a list of smelters and refiners in its supply chain whose tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold is conflict free “so it’s clear which ones have been verified as conflict-free.” The electronics industry only uses a “small percentage” of tin, tungsten and gold, according to the report. Apple will continue to require that its suppliers only use conflict-free verified tantalum and will continue to monitor its suppliers’ smelters.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second largest African country, conflict minerals are often mined through forced labor, debt bondange or child slavery. Conflict minerals fund militias in the DRC who terrorize local populations. According to the non-profit organization, Walk Free there has been much progress to rid the electronics industry of conflict minerals. Intel announced recently that all of its new microprocessors will be made conflict minerals free. Intel CEO Brian Kraznich urged other companies to do the same. Perhaps much of the progress can be attributed to a section of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 (Section 1502) which requires companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals from the DRC. The SEC adopted the rule in 2012.
President Barack Obama is moving ahead to increase fuel efficiency standards. While speaking at a Safeway distribution center in Maryland this week, President Obama cited the advantages of the fuel efficiency standards he put in place for both cars and light-duty vehicles, as well as heavy-duty vehicles.
Obama said that he is directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to set the next phase of fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks by March 2016. In 2011, the Obama administration set the first new standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks which take effect this year and last until 2018.
The standards require combination tractors to achieve a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2018, and require heavy-duty pickup trucks, vans and vocational vehicles to achieve a 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption and GHG emissions by 2018.
Obama pointed out that although heavy-duty trucks only account for 4 percent of all the vehicles on the highway, they are responsible for about 20 percent of the carbon emissions from the transportation sector. They are also responsible for about 20 percent of on-road fuel consumption and haul about 70 percent of all domestic freight. The first phase of standards saves an estimated $50 billion in fuel costs and reduces American oil use by 530 million barrels of oil, or more oil than the U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia in a year.
California is experiencing a third year of drought. Researchers studying tree rings found that the last time California experienced a drought this severe was 500 years ago.
California is a leading agriculture producer, and much of that farming takes place in the San Joaquin Valley. Farming and ranching in the San Joaquin Valley requires much irrigation, and irrigation water deliveries are expected to be reduced by 50 percent or more this year. About 2 million acres in the San Joaquin Valley are expected to not receive any water this year under contracts with the State Department of Water Resources or federal Bureau of Reclamation.
The California coastline hugs a huge body of water, the Pacific Ocean, but it is too salty to be used for drinking water or irrigation. Desalination can take that salty water and produce drinking water, but traditional desalination technology is costly and produces large amounts of harmful emissions.
One company just might make desalination less costly to both the bottom line and the environment. The Panoche Water District, a privately held company in the San Joaquin Valley, and WaterFX teamed up to create a solar desalination facility in Firebaugh, Calif. The desalination technology is WaterFX’s Aqua4 technology. The 6,500-square-foot facility in Firebaugh is powered by solar energy and produces up to eight gallons of water per minute from salty water. Plans are underway to increase the facility’s production to 2,200 acre-feet a year.
Living in rural Fresno County these days means reading about the drought in the local newspaper every day, seeing reports about it on the local news and praying for rain. The Fresno area is smack dab in the middle of California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley. It is considered to be the “agriculture center of the world.” Valley farmers supply many of the nation’s fruit and vegetables. The Valley is also home to cotton, dairy and cattle ranches. As California enters its third year of drought, farmers are hit particularly hard. Lack of water means making tough decisions, and some farmers have to idle acres of land. Some ranchers have to sell off livestock. That will affect the economy of the Valley because farming is the area’s economy.
The drought will also have effects outside of the Valley and the state. Every American may soon see higher food prices at the grocery store. Paying more for food will be hard for many, as Americans are used to lower food prices. A California Farm Water Coalition study found that Americans spend 6.2 percent less for groceries than other high-income countries. As a blog post by CFWC points out, “When water supplies are reduced, then less acres are planted and the economic theory of supply and demand takes over for the consumer’s pocketbook.”
The luxury brand Burberry Group PLC announced its commitment this week to removing all hazardous chemicals from its supply chain by Jan. 1, 2020. To achieve this goal, Burberry will set up “mechanisms for disclosure and transparency” for the hazardous chemicals used in its supply chain, as stated in a press release.
The company will start to prioritize its apparel by the end of June 2014. By July 1, 2016, Burberry will start to disclose the chemical discharges of its suppliers in the global South, and will remove all perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals from its supply chain.
Burberry’s announcement comes just two weeks after Greenpeace’s Detox campaign targeted the company and moved people to urge it to detox its supply chain via social media. Greenpeace volunteers in six countries held protests at stores around the globe, “from Beijing to Mexico City,” as the environmental group puts it.
A Greenpeace blog refers to Burberry’s announcement as a “another people powered victory on the runway to a toxic-free future.” Thousands of people took part of the online campaign, which included a “three day social media storm,” or protested in person. Greenpeace supporters sent Burberry messages, including more than 10,000 tweets. They also flooded the company’s Facebook page and used Instagram to “spell out the message to the brand in pictures.” There are 18 other big-name brands that have committed to removing hazardous chemicals from their supply chains, including Zara, Valentino and H&M.
The Hershey Company announced this week that it exceeded its goal for sourcing certified cocoa. Hershey, the largest chocolate maker in the U.S., sourced 18 percent of cocoa globally in 2013 from certified farms. That is almost double the 2013 goal of 10 percent, which means one-fifth is being sourced through sustainable practices.
Hershey is on track to meet its goal of 100 percent certified cocoa by 2020, the goal it set in 2012 after much pressure by the advocacy group, Green America. The company’s next milestone is to reach between 40 and 50 percent by 2016. The certified cocoa is verified by independent auditors, including UTZ Certified, Fair Trade USA and Rainforest Alliance Certified. Hershey also announced that its Scharffen Berger brand reached its goal to source 100 percent certified cocoa by the end of 2013. All Scharffen Berger brands are now Rainforest Alliance Certified. Hershey’s Bliss chocolates and Hershey’s Dagoba organic chocolate reached the same goal in 2012.
Procter & Gamble announced on Jan. 27 that it’s removing phosphates from all of its laundry detergents worldwide over the next two years. This announcement will apply to all of its brands, including Tide, Ariel, Ace and Bonux. Phosphates are added to laundry detergents to soften water and keep dirt in the laundry water. However, when phosphates get into water sources, such as lakes or rivers, it “leads to algae growth and poor water quality,” according to the U.K. government agency, Environment Agency. Phosphates are a “major source of pollution in lakes and streams,” a Colorado State University webpage states.
An article in the Guardian points out a few things concerning this announcement, including the fact that P&G already removed phosphates from laundry detergents sold in the U.S. due to a nationwide ban instated in 1993. A few years ago the company removed phosphates from detergents sold in Europe. However, many developing countries lack phosphate regulation and this is where the biggest impacts will occur.
Although smaller companies like Belgian Ecover or American Seventh Generation have already removed phosphates, P&G is much bigger. P&G has more than 25 percent of the global market share and is sold in approximately 70 countries, serving about 4.8 billion people with its many brands. P&G is the largest consumer packaged goods company in the world today. As the Guardian quotes Giovanni Ciserani, P&G’s group president of global fabric and home care, “It’s a win-win when you offer consumers a better product which is also environmentally friendlier. Whenever you force them into a trade-off, you get a limited result.”
Reading through Bacardi Limited’s recently released corporate social responsibility report, there is much to like when it comes to energy and water use reduction. Bacardi managed to reduce energy use by more than 25 percent and water use by 45 percent. The water saved is, according to Bacardi “equivalent to 10.3 million people showering.”
The CSR report also reveals that Bacardi recycled, reused or recovered 98.6 percent of its waste in 2013. The rum manufacturer reduced the weight of its packaging by 23,000 tons since 2008, or 7.1 percent. The company’s goal is to reduce packaging weight by 10 percent by 2017 and 15 percent by 2022.
“Bacardi Limited is committed to the responsible management of all business activities,” said Ed Shirley, president and CEO of Bacardi Limited, in a statement. “We aim to be best-in-class in corporate responsibility in the spirits industry and believe that, through responsibly managing our environmental and social impacts, Bacardi will be a more sustainable business in the long-term.”
Earlier this month, Tyson Foods sent a letter to the hog farmers who supply it with pork asking them to adopt more humane practices. The letter asked hog farmers to stop using manual blunt force to euthanize sick or injured piglets and improve housing for pregnant sows. Using manual blunt force “may not match the expectations of today’s customers or consumers,” the letter stated. Tyson is requiring contract farmers to end the use of blunt force euthanasia and adopt more humane methods by the end of 2014. When it comes to housing, the letter points out to farmers that sow housing “should allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs.” Contract farmers are asked to implement improved sow housing beginning in 2014.
The letter also asks pig farmers to increase oversight of their operations. One of the practices pig farmers are asked to adopt is video monitoring to increase oversight. The letter stated that video monitoring “is a tool that can improve on-farm animal care and help avoid animal mistreatment,” that can also “help reduce biosecurity risks.” Tyson is asking farmers it contracts with to install video monitoring systems by the end of 2014.
The company is in the second year of an animal well-being program called FarmCheck. The program includes on-site farm audits and an Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel. As part of the program, Tyson will increase third-party sow farm audits in 2014. The company started conducting third-party audits in 2012.
Boeing is working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other stakeholders to obtain approval for its planes to fly on green diesel. The company named green diesel as a “significant” new source of aviation biofuel, one with at least 50 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuel during its lifecycle. Boeing’s researchers have found that green diesel (made from oils and fats) is chemically similar to current aviation biofuel. If green diesel is approved it could be blended with traditional aviation fuel. Green diesel can be used in any diesel engine and is chemically different than biodiesel. Green diesel production in the U.S., Europe, and Singapore could supply up to one percent, about 600 million gallons, of jet fuel demand. The wholesale cost is about $3 a gallon with U.S. government incentives.
“Boeing wants to establish new pathways for sustainable jet fuel, and this green diesel initiative is a groundbreaking step in that long journey,” said Julie Felgar, managing director of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Environmental Strategy and Integration, in a statement. “To support our customers, industry and communities, Boeing will continue to look for opportunities to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.”
BP released its fourth annual BP Energy Outlook which predicts that global carbon dioxide emissions from energy use will increase by 29 percent by 2035. In fact, the report predicts that global emissions in 2035 will be “nearly double the 1990 level.”
BP may not be far off the proverbial mark. In November, the UN weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that carbon dioxide levels reached a record high in 2012. Between 1990 and 2012, there was a 32-percent increase in the warming effect of the global climate. The WMO expects global carbon levels to be 400 parts per million (PPM) by 2016, which is greater than the 350 ppm many climate scientists say is the maximum level we can achieve while avoiding the worst damages from climate change.
Emissions growth in general, according to the report, will come from countries not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) while emissions from OECD countries will decline. The report expects emissions from OECD countries to decline to 1990 levels, while the emissions of non-OECD countries will be more than triple 1990 levels in 2035. Coal and gas will contribute 38 percent of the increase in emissions, with 24 percent coming from oil. Energy intensity will decline and without that decline carbon emissions in 2035 would be 40 percent higher. However, carbon intensity will decrease at a slow pace of only 8 percent from 2012 to 2035.
Massachusetts has a ver populated coastline which also happens to be at risk for both flooding and sea level rise. In fact, the state has been hit by five major storms since 2010, including Hurricane Sandy. Some in Massachusetts are calling the damage done to coastal New Jersey and parts of New York City by Hurricane Sandy a “preview of what Massachusetts will face sometime in the future,” reports the newspaper The Lowell Sun.
Massachusetts is also a state that is preparing for the damage climate change can cause. On Jan. 14, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced a $50 million investment for a statewide climate change plan.
The climate change plan will both assess and address the state’s vulnerabilities when it comes to public health, transportation, energy and the built environment. Part of the plan is a $40 million municipal resilience grant program which the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) will administer. It will allow cities and towns to improve energy services at critical sites using clean energy technology.
When most people think of Girl Scouts, they think of yummy cookies that are sold once a year by adorable little girls. Now Girl Scouts can be linked to sustainability. The Girl Scouts Forever Green (GSFG) Take Action program began in honor of the organization’s 100th anniversary. The Alcoa Foundation gave a two-year, $1.5 million grant to expand the program to 12 countries (Australia, Brazil, China, Guinea, Iceland, Italy,Jamaica, Mexico, Suriname, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.) By the end of the program, the results showed that it was a raging success with 639 million kilowatts of energy saved, 226 million gallons of water conserved, one billion pounds of carbon dioxide eliminated, and 120 million pounds of waste eliminated. In addition, there were 409,940 aluminum cans recycled, 123,753 native plants/trees planted, and 2,462 wildlife fed and sheltered.
“Although our girls might be famous for wearing the color green, it’s clear that they are enthusiastic about ‘going green’ and working to preserve our natural resources,” said Anna Maria Chavez, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA in a statement. “As an organization committed to helping girls become leaders who make a difference in the world, we couldn’t ignore their passion for the environment, and the generous contribution from Alcoa Foundation provided an outlet for girls to funnel their ecological energies.”