Last month, after Typhoon Haiyan barreled through the Philippine Islands, communities scrambled to find ways to get help. Much of the communications infrastructure on the two hardest-hit islands was in shambles. Communities were cut off and residents had no way to connect with family members in other parts of the country or the world. The worse hit communities needed a way to organize relief efforts, but without either a landline or a mobile network, keeping aid agencies, families and other resources informed was next to impossible.
Within days, the mobile communications company Vodafone had dispatched what looked like a collection of suitcases to the hardest hit sections of the islands. Vodafone’s mobile network, broken into four containers that were compact and light enough to be carried in the back of an emergency vehicle and could be installed almost anywhere, became the devastated community’s mobile lifeline. Families could text messages out; relief agencies could connect with their rescue teams. Food shipments could be coordinated, and the arduous and painful process of rebuilding could be done with help and consultation from the outside.
Marks & Spencer’s support for sustainable programs and humanitarian needs often go together. Take its popular Shwopping initiative for example, which started last year and is still going strong in the UK. Donated clothing not only gets a second life through Oxfam (throughout the world, and through a variety of different uses), but help keep the older items out of the landfill, thus decreasing the impact on the environment.
The company’s latest eco-commitment has a similar humanitarian bent. The company recently announced that it plans to join the United Nations carbon offset pilot project and will be funding the cost of low-carbon stoves to Bangladesh. The stoves, which will be constructed by Bangladeshi businesses will go to families as an alternative, low-carbon cooking source that doesn’t rely upon local wood or coal sources.
As we reported a few weeks ago, a growing concern for outdoor gear manufacturers has been the ethical sourcing of goose down. High-quality products like below-zero-rated weather jackets and sleeping bags often contain down and finding ethical sources has been a challenge, as our story on Patagonia’s supply chain demonstrated.
But Patagonia hasn’t been the only company troubled by this problem. The North Face, which has also made its international reputation on high-quality outdoor gear, says it recognized that it was time for a change in the supply chain when it found that most, if not all down they purchased came from geese raised and killed for foie gras. The methods used for “fattening” the goose (the goose’s liver, to be specific) is now considered by many to be inhumane.
In an effort to nullify that concern, says The North Face, it has now “created a Responsible Down Standard that addresses animal welfare issues and traceability in the down supply chain.”
If the province of Ontario has its way, 2014 will be the last year that coal will be burned in its plants. Ever.
Last week, the premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, announced the closure of three of the province’s coal-burning facilities: the Lambton and Atikokan, which have already ceased operation and the Nanticoke Generating Station, which is expected to follow. The Nanticoke is the largest of its kind in North America.
The closures are all part of a systematic conversion to biomass energy, and what Ontario terms as its “commitment to end climate change.” A significant push for that effort will come from the introduction of the Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act, which will essentially outlaw the use of coal for power generation.
There is nothing like the memory of a devastating typhoon to change global mindset. Countries attending the United Nations COP19 convention (otherwise known as the UN Convention on Climate Change) in Warsaw, Poland and the European Union’s budgetary talks this last week were successful in hammering out several agreements that could have a far-reaching effect on mitigating climate change.
That isn’t to say that all UN member countries played nice together this weekend, or that issues that have been on the table for the last seven years were speedily addressed. But at the end of the weekend, many of the initiatives that were up for negotiation last year were finally being hammered out.
Oil and gas companies often don’t consider indigenous rights strongly enough when launching exploration ventures, says First Peoples Worldwide (FPW), a Virginia-based organization that has just released a survey on risks and challenges that extractive industries may face as they pertain to indigenous rights and properties.
The result says the study, exposes company investors to potential losses when disagreements or community protests arise.
The report, which was released at the SRI (Sustainable, Responsible Impact Investing) conference in October analyzed 52 U.S.-based companies involved in 370 extractive industry operations throughout the world. The operations were reviewed because of their presence on, near or affecting indigenous lands.
Ethical trade (often called fair trade) is doing quite well as a market concept these days. As a business model, an ethical certification program that promotes high quality products, good employee rights and respect for the environment can be applied just about anywhere and in any market. Textiles, produce and candy that are grown or manufactured under rigorously enforced certification programs, in general, garner higher prices and a better customer reputation than many non-certified products.
Still, the latest ethical trade concept to turn up on the market may seem at first glance like an oxymoron.
Ethical trading for petroleum products?
Equitable Origin is the world’s first certification program for oil and gas products. According to its website, EO is the brainchild of Rhodes Scholar David Poritz and biologist Manuel Pallares. Its goal is to “catalyze a new, economically viable norm for extractive industries where environmental and biodiversity protection is optimized and local communities benefit socially and economically from production.”
Got an electronic gizmo that is no longer showing life signs? Is your desk drawer getting crowded with all those cell phones you have retired and keep promising to find a new home for? Good news. Today is America Recycles Day (ARD). While there is no lack of places to recycle your electronic gear, a few companies are working to make the task a bit sweeter for customers.
Sprint buy-back incentive
Sprint, which last year out-matched its competitors in the number of recycled cell phones it brought in, is offering an incentive for customers who turn in an old cell phone in honor of ARD. In addition to the various monetary incentives it offers throughout the year for recycling electronic media, the company is offering $20 for each phone surrendered for recycle. And they don’t have to work. They also don’t have to be Sprint phones. “The Sprint Buyback Program is an important program for customers that also just happens to benefit our business” Kendra Wright said. Wright serves as director to Sprint Nextel’s Reverse Logistics and Device Quality department. The company doesn’t just recycle phone parts; when it can, it refurbishes the phone and sells it as a “pre-used” device that gets a second life.
The buy back is only available at stores in San Antonio, Houston, Los Angeles and New York.
Relief efforts had barely begun in the Philippines last Saturday, before the chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stepped forward once more to make his case for worldwide action.
According to The Guardian newspaper, Rajendra Pachauri is calling on the global community to resist “inertia” when it comes to changing the course of global warming. The evidence that climate change would continue to worsen, he said was “very, very clear” according to IPCC projections.
Climate change: Systemic changes
That means not only that the intensity of storms and the magnitude of casualties would continue to grow, but the world’s geography would continue to be transformed by climate change. He said it was not unreasonable to see a rise in sea levels that would threaten coastlines in several parts of the world. The Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the IPCC has predicted, could see a large portion of its land mass wiped out by a four-foot rise in sea levels.
The Patagonia Clothing Company’s latest news break is a reminder of the almighty power of a company’s supply chain when it comes to sustainable, ethical business practices. Few companies are as diligent as Patagonia in researching concepts that will not only reduce its carbon footprint (and thus stay true to its company mandate) but support its customers’ ethical expectations.
So the company’s recent announcement that it plans to only source its goose down from 100 percent traceable, ethically produced and harvested down is no surprise. In fact, we would expect no less.
Unilever’s commitment to sustainability is no secret. Last year, we reported that the company, which has a broad portfolio ranging from cooking oil to personal care products had succeeded in completing a major goal when it came to the production of palm oil: it was now producing it from 100 percent sustainably sourced ingredients.
This year, the 113-year company is on track to accomplish another milestone.
“We have long been convinced of the need to break the link between palm oil and climate change,” says Unilever on its website. “We recognise the need to be able to trace where our palm oil is grown and keep our supplies segregated during milling, transport and use. In order to do this, we have set a new target to source all our palm oil from certified, traceable sources by 2020.”
Today, however, the company added an additional commitment - that all palm oil bought will be traceable to known sources by end of 2014.
Tesla’s fame as America’s first independent and wholly electric car manufacturer hit a snag last week. Stocks plummeted on NASDAQ last Wednesday after news broke that there had been a third car fire in less than two months, this time during rush hour traffic in central Tennessee.
The company has seen a bumpy but encouraging rise in stock prices over the past four months, largely due to its increasing sales and notoriety in California. After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Model S its highest safety rating in August, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Resource Board reported in October that Tesla had topped the list for zero-emission vehicle credits with sales that far exceeded any other vehicle manufacturer registered in California.
It’s music to the ears of climate activists: some 70 investors have signed letters to 45 companies that provide products from fossil fuel requesting that the companies do risk assessments due to the growing focus on climate change.
The stakeholders, who call themselves an ‘international group of institutional investors collectively representing nearly 3 trillion (dollars) in assets” say they are worried that their investments may suffer as the world decreases its dependence on fossil fuels and works to stem damage from climate change.
“(Investment) analysts have expressed concerns about the viability of the current capital expenditure plans of many oil and gas companies,” the investors write. The signers of the letters include pension boards, financial firms and nonprofit organizations in the U.S., Australia and the U.K.
On the surface, Monsanto’s recent purchase of Climate Corp., makes sense. To fully capitalize on global agricultural production, you need to be able to anticipate the weather – especially when it comes to the unpredictability of advancing climate change.
After all, climate is the one variable that can’t be controlled in agricultural production. A farmer can improve soil conditions, for example, in the clay-entrenched fields of North Idaho and Eastern Washington. He can control irrigation with sophisticated technology in drought-prone areas like the Galilee in Israel or the orange groves of Southern California. In some cases, she can protect crops from the sun or rain with greenhouses or temporary shelter methods.
But farmers can’t – yet – control the weather. Being able to predict climate conditions, however, is right up there with controlling the agricultural output of a plant seed: read the weather ahead of time, and Monsanto can not only anticipate its customers’ food outputs, but predict and control its own profits.
Do eco-friendly strategies help hotels earn more money? Is the investment in an eco-certification worth the effort when it comes to profits?
The answer, says one Cornell University team, is somewhere between yes and no.
“Earning a green certification does not automatically result in a large revenue bump nor a revenue fall. In short, green is not a ‘silver bullet’ strategy,” say Assistant Professor Howard G. Chong and Professor Rohit Verma, authors of Hotel Sustainability: Financial Analysis Shines a Cautious Green Light. Both are faculty at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.
“For marketers and brand managers, the key question is how [becoming eco-certified] affects customer purchasing,” explain the researchers.