The push for increased sustainable methods can be seen everywhere these days — certainly when it comes to local efforts to pare down on what we toss in the landfill.
Massachusetts’ ongoing effort to increase composting throughout the state is one such example, which will require any company or facility that disposes of at least a ton of organic material a week to compost its food scraps and other compostable materials. The disposal ban takes effect on Oct. 1 and affects more than 1,500 businesses, hospitals, public offices and facilities. Connecticut and Vermont have similar bans for wasting food that exceeds a 2-ton limit on organic waste per week.
The city of Seattle has also embraced the composting idea with a bit more of a creative edge: In an effort to encourage residents to stop wasting food, the city council passed an ordinance this last Monday that allows households to be fined $1 each time that garbage collectors find more than 10 percent of organic waste in their garbage bins.
Tea is a $2 billion industry in India, which is the fourth-largest producer in the world of the sought-after beverage. The rich, fragrant chai is also unquestionably a domestic market-driver, since more than 80 percent of the product grown in India is sold at home. So when Greenpeace recently released a report stating that tested samples of India’s most prolific brands had traces of pesticides – including the banned substance DDT – well, you can imagine it wasn’t an easy swallow.
The India Tea Board immediately released a statement that all samples met India’s stipulated limits of pesticides and were within safety parameters. With equally rapid speed, Crop Care Federation, which represents the country’s agricultural-chemical industry, demanded a retraction — asserting that Greenpeace had made up the numbers. Within days, Crop Care launched a suit against Greenpeace, stating that the environmental organization had refused to share data with outside sources.
“Greenpeace’s effort to keep essential data away from Indian experts is a clear indication that the report is not just unscientific and fabricated but also done with malicious intent to harm Indian economy at the behest of its foreign donors,” said Crop Care Chair Rajjul Shroff.
This statement piqued our interest. Why would Greenpeace do the extensive research it boasted, and yet refuse to share data with outside sources?
The fact is, it did share the data, said Neha Saigal, senior campaigner for Greenpeace India’s sustainability campaign.
As we’ve observed in several posts this week, one of the really beneficial outcomes of the increased focus on the United Nations summit on climate change, which launches today, has been the groundswell of companies that have been willing to publicly step up or announce their efforts to offset global warming.
The Climate Disclosure Standards Board and its consortium of signatories has actually been in place since 2007, but its most recent statement is an example of the kind of momentum that is continuing to gain speed from the private sector.
Members of the CDSB have agreed to “to report and make use of climate change information in mainstream corporate reports (such as an Annual Report) to support the U.N. climate change negotiations,” Michael Zimonyi, a Project Officer with the CDSB Secretariat, said in an email.
CDSB offers a suggested Climate Change Reporting Framework that will allow shareholders to have a better sense of how their investments impact or are impacted by climate change, but signatories are not required to use this framework. The CDSB signatories, says the announcement, “believe shareholders and plan beneficiaries have an inherent interest in the completeness and comparability of climate-related information available in annual and other mainstream corporate reports.” The reporting framework also has the support of the U.N. Environment Program.
Yesterday’s People’s Climate March was predicted to be a game-changer for climate policies across the globe. While nearly 400,000 attended to make their wishes known, unfortunately there can sometimes be a big divide between public demands and institutional action. One public entity in California is already making plans to dramatically increase its support for improved climate initiatives.
The University of California has announced that it will commit $1 billion to climate change research initiatives. And with a $91 billion portfolio behind it and some of the top researchers in climate technology on its payroll, the state university system is in a unique position to lend weight to this endeavor.
Some of the world’s top politicians will meet in New York City this week to discuss global temperatures. If they want any proof that climate change is impacting the globe, they only have to look at the map.
The People’s Climate March, which was organized for Sunday, Sept. 21, to coincide with a U.N. climate meeting in New York City this week, is now set to take place in more than a hundred locations across the globe. Host cities range from San Francisco to Alausa Lagos, Nigeria. Even smaller events, designed to reinforce the global nature of concern, have sprung up in cities on every continent.
But, as is often the case, the largest attractor to this cause may be the names that are lending their weight to the march. More than 50 celebrities, from Prince Albert II of Monaco to actors like Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon and Brad Pitt, are stepping up to support the effort — which has garnered the endorsements of more than 1,000 environmental, labor and civil rights organizations.
International commerce can be a real headache. It can be especially vexing when your head offices are in California, your primary manufacturers are in China, and environmental watchdogs are everywhere.
Such is the lesson that Apple is learning these days, as it tries to navigate the sticky waters of high-speed manufacturing in developing countries, where prices may be cheap, but laws and employment customs aren’t necessarily in sync with the expectations of its North American customer base.
The problem that seems to have Apple’s management stymied however is that it’s an issue that, well, just doesn’t seem to go away.
Only about 10 percent of the antibiotics used in chicken are actually used to treat humans, says the National Chicken Council. Its statement comes on the heels of a controversial report by Reuters indicating increasing proof that the prophylactic medications used in chickens are fueling antibiotic resistance not just in fowl, but in humans as well.
In a statement yesterday, the NCC refuted these assertions, claiming that only a small portion of the antibiotics that Reuters journalist Kate Kelland examined – about 10 percent – were also given to humans. The rest of the antibiotics used in fowl do not treat human populations.
“All antibiotics used to prevent and treat disease in chickens are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The majority of these antibiotics are never used in human medicine and therefore represent no threat of creating resistance in humans,” said Ashley Peterson, NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.
That said, Peterson announced, new changes are on the horizon for those meds that are also used in human populations.
Flame retardant opponents had a big reason to celebrate this weekend. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced on Sunday that he would get behind the push to ban chemical flame retardants from furniture and children’s products.
Schumer has proposed a ban on 10 specific flame retardants that are used in children’s clothing, bedding and other furniture products. The flame retardant products associated with TDCPP and TCEP in particular have been found to be toxic to humans through long-term exposure.
Plus, Schumer says, there is now question about their efficacy in stopping fires.
“It’s a nightmare scenario that is all too real: Children are being exposed to highly toxic flame retardants — that can cause cancer and developmental delays — just by lying on a changing table and in their cribs, or even by sitting on the family couch. To boot, these carcinogenic chemicals found in foam are not effective in reducing fire risks,” the senator said in press conference on Sunday.
We’ve been reporting for more than a year on Foster Farms’ mysterious salmonella infections, which earlier this year the U.S. Department of Agriculture linked to three California processing plants. In July, the agency issued a Class I recall after more than 600 people had been sickened by the infection, and a 10-year-old boy was hospitalized – the lynch pin, it seems, to finally linking the epidemic to its point of origin.
What wasn’t disclosed to the public until now, however, was just how extensive the infections were, or the number of times that the factories were found in noncompliance during routine inspections.
All of that came to light last week, when the Natural Resources Defense Council published the results to its recent Freedom of Information Request to the USDA.
Human rights activists have been waiting for at least a year to see the Department of Commerce’s breakdown of global conflict mining sites. Still, the department’s announcement last week that its data was, well, inconclusive, was no surprise.
In a 24-page report that was intended to address the whereabouts of conflict mineral mines and processing facilities, the DOC admitted that while it was able to supply a list of 400 operational sites throughout the world, its hands were tied when it came to determining certifiably which used slave or abusive labor in their camps.
“We do not have the ability to distinguish such facilities,” the DOC said matter-of-factly.
In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Act charged the DOC with the responsibility of identifying “all known conflict mineral processing facilities world-wide” and filing a report by January 2013, a deadline the DOC apparently wasn’t able to meet. And to its defense, the challenge of narrowing down where all gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin come from is formidable. Both the Garmin Corporation (which makes GPS equipment using mined substances) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness has weighed in on this requirement, with the latter questioning whether the Act actually helps or hinders human rights in repressed areas.
Still, the challenge hasn’t deterred some companies and agencies from trying to remove conflict minerals from the marketplace. The Intel Corp., which announced in January of this year that it would source all of its microprocessor materials from conflict-free zones, has now upped the ante. The company says that by 2016, it wants its supply chain to be completely conflict-mineral-free.
Clicktivism. It has a great ring to it, no? It says everything about our online culture these days where just about anything can be accomplished with enough single, willing clicks – including the viral success of an online petition.
Micah White, the well-known activist and former editor of Adbusters, first enlightened us to this issue in 2010 with his controversial article on the insidious petitions that are said to now populate the Internet. Petitions like that half-page appeal a friend sends you that urges more government money for Ebola treatment, or the letter demanding banks stop increased charges to checking accounts. For some, clicktivism represents a growing apathy in American social life — an erosion not only of activism, but of core values.
Americans have been under the impression for years that equal employment legislation and similar programs in companies have helped to conquer discrimination in the workplace. We’ve been pretty much secure in the impression that women and minorities have almost as fair a chance at advancement as men, and that the glass ceiling can be overcome.
A recent study by a University of Colorado research team, however, has challenged those statements by providing data that shows that women and minorities actually suffer professionally when they help promote other women or individuals of color. White men, however, are perceived and rewarded positively for promoting individuals from those same sectors.
The authors’ findings are a lot more detailed than that, but what struck me in the month-and-a-half that news about the study has bounced across the Internet is the broad variety of ways that the findings have been interpreted. Most articles mentioning the findings summarize this hot-button study by saying that “dedication to diversity can be a liability in the workplace,” as the Wall Street Journal noted it; or that “valuing diversity is apparently frowned upon by Corporate America,” as the Huffington Post writer framed the issue.
An article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail made the interesting leap that the U.S.-based study meant that “being the token female or minority boss was better for YOUR career” and explained that, “the authors wondered whether it might be better for diversity offices to be run by white males.”
But however you sum up this particular survey, the Hekman et al study challenges our views of diversity in the workplace. It contradicts our comfortable belief that equal employment opportunity legislation and corporate initiatives have been improving job advancement opportunities for years. And it leaves us with the unsettling question of whether equal employment opportunities are really a fallacy for some.
Big changes are afoot in the California furniture market. A survey conducted by the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health and design firm HDR Architecture shows that many furniture manufacturers have dropped, or are in the process of removing chemical flame retardants from their ingredients lists. Their manufacturing changes CEH says, are in response to the state’s recent updates to laws that govern how flammability standards are measured, and whether manufacturers can opt out of including chemical flame retardants in their products.
According to CEH, of 56 office furniture producers surveyed in a recent poll, 12 say they have already removed chemical flame retardants (CFR) from their furniture. This includes Arcadia and Global, which are largely known for their office and home retail products, and David Edward, which produces office and healthcare furniture. Three other companies, Haworth, Martin Battrud and Herman Miller, say they expect to be CFR-free by 2015. Eight others said they are planning to eliminate the chemicals but needed more time to respond to the survey.
Viral success is the dream of just about every small business these days. Whether the business model is a website where users can upload videos for free, or a special app that gives people the ability to share the cost of a rental car, the idea of overnight success is just plain intoxicating.
And the advent of the sharing economy hasn’t helped. The successes of “collaborative consumption” companies have been staggering. Seven-year-old Uber, which these days is leading a popular movement to block more California regulation of car-sharing services, has been valued at $17 billion. Six-year-old accommodations facilitator Airbnb last April successfully closed talks with TPG for additional capital that raised its value to $10 billion, reportedly exceeding the value of Hyatt Hotels. Smaller startups like FlightCar, MonkeyParking and a variety of crowdsharing models, while not as spectacular in their commercial success have also seen the glory of overnight stardom that comes from offering something truly disruptive and unexpectedly cool.
And then there are those startups that have also experienced the challenges that come with overnight growth; challenges that in some cases have pitted them against local bylaws and attracted the attention of government regulators. In some cases, customer data became subject to court subpoenas. In more than one case, the very legality of the company’s right to operate became a contentious issue that put the privacy of its users at potential risk.
Researchers have long debated whether LEED certification provides a business advantage for hotels and motels, particularly in the U.S. Various studies have been conducted through the years that suggest that eco-certification programs do make a difference, particularly when it comes to customer patronage. Will customers seek out eco-certified accommodations, and can that loyalty be translated into higher revenue for the hotel or motel?
Last year we reported on Cornell University’s study of eco-certification of lodgings as a whole. The study, Hotel Sustainability: Financial Analysis Shines a Cautious Green Light, found that there were benefits to eco-certification, but they varied widely enough to be completely conclusive. The research also focused on results from a particular stream of data, specifically information obtained from Travelocity. In other words, it examined the outcome of eco-certified lodgings when promoted to a specific cost- and quality-conscious customer group.
This year’s report drills down a bit more, by focusing specifically on U.S. hotels that received LEED-certification. The three authors, Matthew C. Walsman, Rohit Verma and Suresh Muthulingam, looked at the revenue earned by LEED-certified hotels versus non-LEED hotels.
What they found was that “certified hotels obtained superior financial performance as compared to their non-certified competitors.”