3p Contributor: Jan Lee

Jan Lee Jan Lee splits her time residence between the rural lands of Idaho and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her articles on business, eco-travel, history and culture have been published in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Visit her blog at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com

Recent Articles

Sustainability Ranking for Large Companies Announced at World Economic Forum

Jan Lee
| Wednesday January 28th, 2015 | 1 Comment

biogen_idec_sustainableFraming the perfectly sustainable company has always been a challenge, but never one that Toronto-based Corporate Knights has shied away from. The well-known media and financial products company released its eighth annual tally of the top 100 multi-billion-dollar companies this week. And there was no better place to announce the findings than the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland.

It’s a heady list of who’s-who from every corner of the industrialized world. The U.S., which was represented by 20 companies, took the lion’s share of kudos.

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Are Nonprofit Hospitals That Sue Poor Patients Breaking the Law?

Jan Lee
| Monday January 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment

hospital_debt_collection_ChrisYarzabMedical debts are the single greatest reason that families declare bankruptcy in the United States. In a 2013 a survey, Nerdwallet found that 56 million Americans under 65 have problems paying their medical bills, and more than half of those (35 million) will have their bills referred to collection agencies, the first step to a potential lawsuit from creditors looking to collect on those debts.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was supposed to help with that problem when it went into effect in 2014. In addition to ensuring that more people would be covered by cost-reducing insurance plans, it also reinforced older guidelines that required hospitals to have a financial assistance policy in place for low-income patients. These guidelines particularly apply to not-for-profit hospitals (the bulk of the hospitals in the U.S.), which receive hefty tax breaks for their status. Under draft rules established by the Internal Revenue Service, nonprofits are now required to allow more leeway for individuals to apply for financial aid before sending accounts to collection agencies.

Last year, an investigation by National Public Radio and ProPublica found that some nonprofit hospitals were skipping this expected protocol and sending patients to collection agencies, which would then sue them and garnish their wages to recoup the hospital charges. The investigation concentrated on patients who had received medical services prior to 2014 (the start of the ACA), but found that the procedure still appeared to be in place in some nonprofit hospitals when the new Act was put in place.

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EU Considers Allergy Warning Labels for Herbal Products

Jan Lee
| Friday January 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment

Herbal_soaps_lavender_James_PettsAllergy sensitivities have been on the rise for some time, particularly in the cities of developed countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, where as many as 1 in 5 individuals have been diagnosed with allergies to pollen, dust or types of food. In most cases, these allergies are more a bother than a life-threatening health risk, but the spike has attracted attention in the European Union. Physicians are seeing an increase in exposure to substances we normally think of as pollen-generators: herbal plant-based substances. 

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U.N. Global Compact Expels Hundreds for Non-Compliance

Jan Lee
| Thursday January 22nd, 2015 | 8 Comments

Logo_of_the_United_Nations2014 was a mixed year for the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) initiative, which has been working to increase the adoption of sustainable practices in the global business sector.

The organization announced last week that it had expelled 372 companies in the last half of 2014 for not submitting their Communication of Progress (COP) reports, which members are required to submit on a yearly basis. The COP details the member’s progress in meeting the 10 goals of the UNGC.  So far, the number of expelled companies for 2014 stands at 657.

“These expelled companies represent 10 percent of the 3,760 participants due to submit a Communication on Progress (COP) within the second half of 2014,” said the UNGC, which pointed out that the organization also took on 729 new members in the last half of 2014.

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Yellowstone River Oil Spill Prompts State of Emergency

Jan Lee
| Wednesday January 21st, 2015 | 2 Comments

Glendive_Yellowstone_River_oil_spill_TimEvansonResidents in the town of Glendive, Montana, have been told not to drink their water after an oil pipeline broke on Saturday, dumping an estimated 50,000 gallons of Bakken light crude into the Yellowstone River.

The breach was discovered approximately 10 miles upstream from the town of 6,000, which serves as the agricultural hub for eastern Montana.

A spokesperson for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said the pipeline was shut down quickly.

“We think it was caught pretty quick,” said Dave Parker. “The governor is committed to making sure the river is cleaned up.”

By Sunday, however, residents in town were reporting an odd odor. Initial tests conducted on the town’s water supply indicated elevated levels of hydrocarbons, prompting officials to order a warning against drinking the water.

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eBay Foundation’s Plan to Get Indonesian Businesses Online

Jan Lee
| Tuesday January 20th, 2015 | 0 Comments

eBayInc_Foundation_rgb[2]Indonesian entrepreneurs face many challenges in commerce these days. According to the World Bank Group, the country is No. 114 on a list of 189 economies ranked for their ease of doing business in the global marketplace. While that standing has improved in recent years, some of the hardest challenges that business owners face still include issues like resolving insolvency and getting credit.

They also face significant challenges in trading across borders. Some of those challenges are due to regulatory and financial issues like getting export documentation handled and the cost of exporting goods to other countries. This is illustrated in the numbers: The U.S., for example, ranks 24th (out of 189) in the ease of trading across borders; Indonesia is 62nd.

The difficulties that businesses face in everyday commerce are often magnified by their lack of access to things we take for granted in the West, like having a website.

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Stuffed Animal Tours: Compassionate Tourism of the Future?

Jan Lee
| Monday January 19th, 2015 | 3 Comments

Japan_stuffed_animal_tours_YasuhikoItoTravel tours are big business in Japan, especially this year, given the country’s recessionary struggles. Domestic tour sales were more than double those of international tours in 2014 for three of Japan’s top  travel wholesalers (JTB KNT-CT Holdings Nippon Travel Agency) , proving that destinations like Mt. Fugi, Osaka and Kyoto still command plenty of interest at home.

And anyone who has vacationed in Japan, and taken an organized tour of one of the country’s thousands of shrines and temples, knows that Japan’s many travel destinations are best appreciated up close. They are also often highly understated when it comes to walking and stamina.

Visiting the ancient Mt. Osore at the northern tip of the country or taking part in Yamagata’s snow lantern festival northwest of Tokyo can be difficult for elderly or mobility challenged travelers, who may not be able to make the three- to eight-hour trip by car or bullet train, let alone manage the walking tour that follows.

So, one medical supply company with a big heart and an unusual amount of imagination came up with an answer: stuffed animal tours.

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Ecolab’s Minnesota Offices to Go 100 Percent Solar

Jan Lee
| Thursday January 15th, 2015 | 1 Comment

Ecolab_SunEdison_St_Paul_Minnesota_TonyWebsterYesterday we reported on Minnesota’s efforts to increase the use of solar power in the private sector by requiring utility companies to ensure that at least 1.5 percent of their power is derived from solar sources. It’s a bold idea, but one that seems to be creating some interesting synergy between utility providers and private businesses in the state.

Fortune 500 company Ecolab has announced it will join the renewable energy initiative by going solar at its St. Paul, Minnesota offices. The company, which is a global leader in energy, hygiene and water technologies, has signed a deal with SunEdison to purchase enough solar power to offset 100 percent of the electricity used by the 2,500 employees that staff its St. Paul headquarters.

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‘Solar Gardens’ Growing New Potential for Energy in Minnesota

Jan Lee
| Wednesday January 14th, 2015 | 4 Comments

solar_garden_Xcel_MikeWestonEnvironmental organizations have been trying to figure out how to encourage more private investment in solar power for some years now. So has the federal government, which has provisions in place that allow and encourage both residents and small solar operators to sell power to utility companies without a fee or penalty.

Oftentimes these two federal laws are viewed as contentious issues by utility companies — which are required by law to buy the solar-generated surplus from operators, often at a lower rate than the commercial price set for the power.

One of the more innovative ideas that has come up to address this need is Minnesota’s solar energy legislation, Statute 216B.164. The statute was enacted in 2013 to help the state meet its self-mandated clean energy goal of 31 percent by 2020. (The EPA suggested goal for Minnesota for 2030 is 15 percent.) Provisions in the statute call on local power companies to ensure that at least 1.5 percent of their power is produced from solar by 2020. Minnesota Statute 216B.164 also lays out provisions for creating “solar gardens” that are supported by private investment, calling for these projects to begin coming online in 2014.

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Eat a Lionfish, Save a Coral Reef

Jan Lee
| Wednesday January 14th, 2015 | 9 Comments

Red_lionfish_NCarolina_PaulaWhitfieldWith the growing focus on endangered species and diminishing fish stocks, it seems odd to report on one marine species that is doing quite well these days. In fact, it’s doing so well that it has gained the attention of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which sees the species as “one of the greatest threats of this century to tropical Atlantic reefs.”

It’s also gaining the attention of chefs, cookbook authors and opportunistic fishing enthusiasts — in fact, just about anyone that might have an occupational interest in harvesting large numbers of exquisitely beautiful, venomous fish with a mean sting.

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Elk River Pollution Indictments Announced in West Virginia

Jan Lee
| Monday January 12th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Toxic_water_pollution_citizens_WVNationalGuardLast month, the U.S. Attorney General’s office indicted four owners and operators of a chemical company that was accused last January of polluting the drinking water of 30,000 residents in Charleston, West Virginia.

Freedom Industries CEO Gary Southern was charged with 13 counts of violation of the Clean Water Act and intent to defraud and give false oath, while three other executives, Dennis P. Farrell, William E. Tis and Charles E. Herzing, each were charged with three counts of violating U.S. environmental laws. All four were indicted for failing to ensure that the facility was operated in a “reasonable and environmentally sound manner when they knew or should have known of the facts and circumstances constituting Freedom’s negligence.”

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Oil Spill in Singapore Strait Puts Endangered Turtles at Risk

Jan Lee
| Thursday January 8th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Singapore_Strait_oil_spill_RobertLoweOil spill response companies are rushing to clean up a large oil spill in the Singapore Strait, off the coast of Indonesia, in the hope of stopping the oil slick before it reaches protected turtle nesting areas on Bintan Island, Indonesia.

On Jan. 2, an estimated 4,500 tons (or 33,000 barrels) of crude oil were spilled when the Libyan oil tanker Alyarmouk and a Singaporean cargo ship, Sinar Kapuas, collided approximately 11 nautical miles from the territorially-disputed shoreline of Pedra Branca, Indonesia, northeast of Singapore.

The accident has been classified as a major spill — and one of the largest to have hit the area in years. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPAS) said that satellite images taken over the last few days did not find any evidence that the oil spill had reached the resort beaches of Bintan Island (which is also home to several rare species of turtles), but the agency has not ruled out the possibility that it would make landfall this weekend.

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Hellmann’s Drops Suit, Unintentionally Boosts Vegan ‘Mayo’ Sales

Jan Lee
| Tuesday January 6th, 2015 | 5 Comments

Hellmanns_Mayonnaise_vegan_Mike_MozartOur perceptions of food are changing, and so is our level of acceptance toward changes to those quintessential recipes we grew up with. Just log into a cooking site and you can find a mayonnaise recipe to fit just about any dietary restriction or preference. No eggs? No problem.

But that isn’t how Hellmann’s, which refers to its egg-full sandwich spread as “real mayonnaise,” saw it. Last November Hellmann’s, owned by Best Foods (which is owned by Unilever), launched a suit against a startup food company for misleading consumers by referring to its new eggless product “mayo.”

The vegan product, boldly called “Just Mayo,” was the brainchild of Hampton Creek, a food tech company based in San Francisco that’s become known for its unorthodox approach to America’s quintessential recipes. In the manufacturing giant’s view, however, the recipe alteration confused consumers and constituted “stealing market share from Hellmann’s.”

After consumers protested and Hellmann’s was accused of tweaking information on its website that suggested that some of its mayo products might also be missing eggs, the company dropped the suit  a week before Christmas.

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Vancouver, BC Canada: 2030

Jan Lee
| Friday January 2nd, 2015 | 0 Comments

This post is Jan Lee’s entry into the 2015 Masdar Engage Blogging Contest.

Vancouver_2184_Jan_LeeThe sustainable city of the future builds for tomorrow, respects the lessons of the past and harnesses the opportunities afforded by the present. For Vancouver, Canada’s most populous West Coast city, that approach has been part of its vision for years.

In 2009, when the city realized that its burgeoning metropolis would eventually exhaust the area’s natural resources, it launched its Greenest City 2020 initiative, a preliminary and bold aim at sustainability in the 21st century. The year 2030 will see a city where climate change, growth and demand will be met with smart transportation infrastructure, innovative energy use and production, and adaptable living environments that meet the needs of an inclusive society.

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5 Places Transformed by Climate Change in 2014

Jan Lee
| Wednesday December 31st, 2014 | 24 Comments

climate_change_epa_planetlightThis past year could be called a test case for climate change. Scary as that sounds, 2014 has seen a broad spectrum of quirky events, ranging from drought and flooding to the loss of sea ice and glacier mass. There’s been some oddly good news as well: Some species continue to find their own way to adapt to climatic changes, opting for new environmental zones or alternative food sources. What will be our new way of adapting? Will we lead the pack, or follow suit?

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