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.”
The race is on: Yesterday Verizon Communications announced that it was committing another $40 million to its green energy program, paving the way for the company to expand its solar power market in five key states.
The investment will provide funding for an additional 10.2 megawatts at eight sites in California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, effectively raising the amount of green energy it will deploy to more than 25 MW once the new installations are completed.
Instead, it’s turned up the megaphone and reached out to its customers and clients – anyone actually, who isn’t a “corporation, partnership or other business entity.”
And the person who refers the winning candidate gets $100,000.
It’s the latest evidence of crowd-sourced recruiting and a concept handily referred to as the “X-prize” approach, in which members of the public have a chance to earn a handsome return for an innovative, hard-to-find or novel idea.
Bad news for beef eaters: That juicy steak dinner that many Americans look forward to each week now has a clear ecological price to it – and according to researchers it’s a lot higher than the tally associated with raising poultry and pork-based products.
Researchers from two different institutes in the U.S. and Israel tabulated the environmental and financial costs of producing different kinds of foods, such as beef, poultry, dairy and eggs. They wanted to find out what the environmental impact would be, particularly in areas where drought exists or climate change has affected the overhead associated with such industries. Released late last month, the study was headed by Dr. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Plant Sciences and involved researchers at Yale University and in New York. Their results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Tallying the ecological cost of eating beef
It was no surprise that beef was the most costly of the five to produce, said Milo and his research assistant Alon Shepon: “The surprise was in the size of the gap: In total, eating beef is more costly by an order of magnitude – about 10 times, on average – to the environment than other animal-derived foods, including pork and poultry.”
None of us likes to admit that our emotional and intuitive reactions can be manipulated by what we see online. Nor do we like to discover offhandedly that our independent thoughts are often molded by what our friends and neighbors think. Cornell University researchers recently demonstrated this to us in their infamous Facebook study, in which users were duped into revealing their impressionable thoughts without knowing it. In the process, they also revealed that what we see online can be tailored to match what we say we like and don’t like.
Deep in the interior of British Columbia, Canada, in ranching country known for its short bursts of intense summer weather and dry, temperate winters, the makings of a quiet rebellion are taking root. It’s not the kind of thing that tech companies are prone to talk about here, except when it comes to lauding the growing success of Canada’s data services industry. Building a Canada-strong network in a market once ruled by U.S. expertise can be a political hot potato.
But check the register of IT companies for British Columbia’s popular recreational tourism corridor and the trend becomes clear. Kamloops, once dubbed the “Tournament Capital of Canada,” has a new marketplace taking shape, one that has less to do with hockey and yearly rodeos, and more to do with safeguarding proprietary rights.
Canada’s data security conundrum
Kamloops’ data services industry was already in the making when whistleblower Edward Snowden made his landmark announcement last year that the National Security Agency was accessing customer data. The revelations haven’t hurt Canadian companies like Telus, Rogers and Canada Bell, who have been working steadily to woo data customers.
But it has hurt relations between American telecommunications companies and international clients who anticipated that their data would remain a private matter under U.S. law.
Efforts have been underway for some time now to find a way to save the world’s coral reefs. Coral, which is often thought of incorrectly as a marine plant, perform an essential symbiotic role in our oceans that often benefit other organisms. Their incredible diversity allows them to replicate in a variety of environments and makes them essential to the world’s oceans. Home to more than 800 types of coral, the world’s coral reefs alone support the existence of more than 4,000 species of fish, many of which provide essential food for human populations. Other coral communities, such as those in the Red Sea, are also essential to marine life.
So, finding a way to stem the decline of coral has been a priority for marine scientists for the past several decades – at least since the late 1990s when scientists attempted unsuccessfully to replant coral in the Great Barrier Reef. According to the World Resources Institute’s 2011 report, Reefs at Risk Revisited, 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs face extinction from climate change, coastal development, pollution and overfishing.
And they are more than a form of marine animal. Often likened to the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, “coral reefs are harbingers of change,” the WRI states. The increasing extinction of coral is a clear indicator of the future of the world’s oceans.
The good news is that after years of research, scientists in Israel may have found a way to repopulate coral reefs. Dr. Baruch Rinkevich, senior scientist at Israel’s Institute of Oceanographic and Limnological Research, and Dr. Shai Shafir, chair of the department of Natural Science and Environmental Education at Oranim Academic College, have developed a means by which to regrow coral and replant it in its natural habitat.
Poultry producer Tyson Foods has announced that the Environmental Protection Agency is launching a criminal investigation into last May’s wastewater discharge at Tyson’s Monett, Missouri plant.
The information was revealed in Tyson’s Aug. 7 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, in which Tyson acknowledged that it is also being sued by the state of Missouri for the company’s part in allegedly causing a massive fish-kill in Clear Creek in May of this year.
There are numerous ways to measure the sustainability of a major city these days. Cutting-edge, energy-efficient transportation, renewable energy and recycling/reuse programs are all excellent indicators of a “green” municipal mindset. So is green real estate. Energy-efficient, certified real estate construction has been gaining prominence in recent years, so much so that it is now addressed in bylaws in many cities across North America.
So it’s also no surprise that the real estate group CBRE came up with a list of the top 30 U.S. cities to feature green commercial building construction. What is intriguing is the variation between cities when it comes to what defined that green emphasis.
We laud corporate social responsibility. As a society, we put those generous acts of concern that companies do at the top of the scale when it comes to trust and our concept of product reliability. Safeway’s many local donation campaigns, McDonald’s long-standing Ronald McDonald charities, the numerous companies that have donated to community hunger programs, child education and the like. In fact, these days, it would likely be harder to find a company that doesn’t have a well publicized CSR program than 20 that do.
And American society is not alone. In India, Mahatma Gandhi introduced the concept of trusteeship to companies in the early 1900s, encouraging them to take a leading role in social responsibility. So, the Indian parliament’s landmark legislation in 2013 that large companies must donate 2 percent of their earnings to CSR projects each year is really not earth-shaking when it comes to social perspectives in the world’s largest democratic nation.
If you have ever traveled to a densely tropical area, you have probably taken anti-malaria medications. You probably also know that protecting yourself from the disease isn’t a piece of cake. My earliest childhood memories of living in Central America included a battery of shots that protected us from everything from typhus to yellow fever. When it came to shielding us from the bite of a malaria-borne mosquito however, protection was a bit more complex, and involved a regimen of either weekly or daily medications that served as a protective shield from the potentially fatal effects of the disease.
And since it depended upon good memory skills and sometimes the right immune system, the doses weren’t always 100 percent effective in warding off the disease. Although none of my family contracted it, we knew scientists and researchers who, even with their acute instincts for regimen, still ended up contracting malaria.
But the real problem today with anti-malaria meds isn’t the chance that they won’t work, but that the majority of the victims aren’t able to afford a lengthy prescription. That’s because most people who contract malaria aren’t incidental travelers from North America who are on a business trip or an excursion to see the local sights, but residents who would never be able to afford the cost of lifelong prescriptions.
Just when we started to forget about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, the activist organization is back in the news. This time it isn’t the covert tactics of the National Security Agency, Guantanamo prisoners or the touchy nature of the federal government’s overseas relations that Wikileaks is fingering, but the Australian government.
On Tuesday Wikileaks released information about a gag order that prevented Australia’s media from informing the public about investigations into a multi-national graft case. In addition to publishing the information on its website, Wikileaks also released notice of the gag order to the Guardian in the U.K.
According to the Guardian, the Supreme Court of Victoria said it placed the ban “to prevent damage to Australia’s international relations.” What has critics particularly concerned, however, is the nature of the gag order, which prevents Australian media from even acknowledging that there is a ban in place.
“Who is brokering our deals, and how are we brokering them as a nation? Corruption investigations and secret gag orders for ‘national security’ reasons are strange bedfellows,” asserts Wikileaks.
According to its website, the gag order relates to the “secret 19 June 2014 indictment of seven senior executives from subsidiaries of Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).” Those indictments and the ongoing investigations are linked to a scandal that surfaced in 2012 concerning alleged payments between RBA staff and government officials in Asia.
Lurking inside your bed, your couch, your carpet and the upholstery of your car is a secret arsenal. You can’t see it, you can’t usually smell it, and most of the time, you’re likely unaware that it’s even there.
The U.S. chemical industry will tell you that it’s there to save lives. And the truth is, in many cases it has. Since 1976 when the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed, says the North American FlameRetardant Alliance (NAFRA), deaths from furniture and furnishing fires have dropped dramatically. According to studies conducted during 1981-1985 and 2000-2007, “The number of fire deaths fell by 64 percent for furniture and furnishings [f&f] fires.” The American Chemistry Council (ACC) attributes that reduction to flame-retardant chemicals that slow the spread of a devastating house fire.
Chemical flame retardants: Are they helping?
But critics ask, at what cost? Improved technology now places the cause of some cancers, developmental problems and other diseases squarely on the types of chemicals we use in our homes. Substances that have long been used with the blessings of TSCA, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers and phosphate esters, are now showing up in our water, our food and have been detected in the air we breathe. Research has also linked childhood developmental problems to the chemicals found in our furniture and other upholstery
Organizations like Center for Environmental Health (CEH), Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Health Care Without Harm and Practice Green Health have long argued that spraying the interior of our beds and upholstery doesn’t just change the flammability of the furniture, it just subjects their users to an onslaught of toxic chemicals on a daily basis, and that there are better, safer ways to address f&f fire risk in our homes.