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.”
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.