The sharing economy may have been a raving success with consumers last year, but not necessarily with big city governments. First there was Airbnb’s dustup with the city of New York. Now there is FlightCar and its legal challenges with San Francisco and Millbrae, Calif.
Probably one of the most innovative sharing economy models to come along, FlightCar was started by three college dropouts: Kevin Petrovic, Shri Ganeshram and Rujul Zaparde (actually Petrovic and Zaparde didn’t even make it to orientation). It’s the quintessential proof that sometimes ingenuity, drive and moxie can carry you almost as far as a degree. Their idea was to offer the harried airline passenger a way to avoid parking their car at the airport, where fees mount up and become an added overhead to vacations and business trips.
“FlightCar lets people parking at the airport rent their vehicles out to other travelers,” says the company website. To ensure that there are no liability hassles, every car is insured with a $1 million policy. The renter pays a nominal cost for the use, and the owner gets a free car-cleaning and 20 cents per mile. In a metropolis like San Francisco, that change can add up.
Their idea was so popular that it garnered $5.5 million in venture capital and a roll-out at SFO, which is owned by the city. As the trio quickly found out, not everyone is fond of the sharing economy concept.
It’s been a rough few months for America’s largest lingerie retailer. In November, after Victoria’s Secret’s jaw-dropping annual fashion show, the company was forced to apologize to Native American communities for its decision to send a model out onto the runway clad in bikini underwear and a Native American headdress. Thousands of people visited the VS Facebook page to complain.
Last week the retailer was forced to offer a mea culpa again after an employee in its store in the upscale Domain Shopping Center in Austin, Texas, told a nursing mother to breast-feed her child in the alley.
Last October we reported on the Foster Farms samonella outbreak that was sickening hundreds of people across the country. A particularly virulent strain of drug-resistant salmonella, S. Heidelberg, had been found in several batches of its product, causing recalls in numerous states. As many as one-third of the consumers who were diagnosed with salmonella were hospitalized. Cases are still being identified.
Urbanization of America’s once pristine countryside is the latest theory to be offered for why lightning deaths have been declining in the U.S. recently. According to the National Weather Service, 23 people died from lightning strikes in 2013. That’s a mere drop in the bucket compared to 60-70 years ago, when the numbers were in the hundreds.
So is it the American love for city life and tall buildings that has changed that statistic?
Maybe – or maybe not.
It’s being touted as one of the top environmental crowdfunding successes of all time. Re-volv Solar, a San Francisco-based organization has come up with a way to fund solar projects whose successful completion becomes the seed for further projects. It also helps reduce the amount CO2 going into the atmosphere. And it’s all done through crowdfunding.
“What if we pool our money together in a fund that continually invests and reinvests in solar energy in our community?” explains Re-volv Solar’s founder and Executive Director Andreas Karelas on its crowdfunding video. “What if your $20 that you invest in solar energy today could become $100 in just a few years?”
For years, we’ve been told to take our vitamins. Vitamins have only been billed as practical sense, they have been touted as a necessity in an increasingly automated world in which on-the-run meals, canned foods, frozen entrées and instant ingredients are often diet mainstays. And according to some sources, vitamin supplements have not only been important for ensuring good nourishment, but also guard against chronic illness, like heart disease and cancer.
Some doctors disagree with that last statement. In fact, they are charging that the last few decades of multi-vitamin popping may actually have been doing some patients harm.
So multivitamins aren’t good for us?
Class action litigation is a contentious issue these days. The Internet is filled with debates and discussions challenging its success – and purpose – as a form of litigation. Does it work? Does it really recover losses for consumers? Does it really deter crime and improve business practices?
Not surprisingly, the answers often depend on whom you ask.
For those who receive an email or a postcard in the mail telling them that they are class members in a litigation that now represents the interests of hundreds of thousands of consumers, the news can be intoxicating … that is, until they realize that what they are really entitled to receive may be as small as a box of cereal, a gig of RAM or a second jar of sandwich spread. To the inexperienced class member, the award can seem more like the benefits of a lottery than a legal grievance that took years to organize, has cost millions of dollars to prosecute and involved hundreds of thousands of disgruntled consumers.
Think of it as another practice run for local and federal crisis management. The chemical spill into the Elk River that breached the containment walls of one of Charleston, W.Va’s largest industries last week has closed schools, stopped commercial flights and converted the state capital’s downtown core to a “ghost town.” It’s also painted an unnervingly clear picture of what can happen to a city’s infrastructure when a chemical spill shuts down its main commercial facilities.
After evidence of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), a foaming agent that is used to clean coal of impurities, was picked up by local water distribution plant West Virginia American Water last Thursday, state and county officials went into high drive to alert some 300,0000 residents of the pollution and to close access to drinking water. Hotels shut off water and warned residents not to use tap water to drink, bathe or wash their clothes until the alert was lifted. Restaurants closed, unable to wash dishes or supply coffee. WiFi-equipped facilities, stores and commercial services lost business.
Nutella, the world’s best known hazelnut spread, is proud of its supply chain. And it should be. The buttery, chocolaty spread that was created by Ferrero and first commercialized in 1964 has withstood more than the test of time, in spite of its troublesome logistics and occasionally demanding customer base. It’s weathered damaging class-action litigation aimed directly at the heart of what the company says makes Nutella so special: its ingredients and the nutritional value of its concept. It weathered the storm because while companies were falling by the wayside during the 2008 recession, Ferrero was stoically gathering its resources for a new sustainability plan and planning for the next year.
Rooftop solar panel purchases are on the rise. That’s great news for the solar industry, says Deutsche Bank Market Research, which is predicting a stellar year and a “second gold rush” for the North American solar market.
The bank’s report, “2014 Outlook: Let the Second Gold Rush Begin,” gave additional incentive for solar installation companies, which Deutsche Bank predicts will lead this resurgence. It placed the base demand for 2014 at around 46 GW, shooting to 56 GW in 2015.
In a recent blog post, GMO Inside.org took credit for General Mills’ statement last week that it was making its regular Cheerios out of non-genetically modified sources (GMOs) – a change from its other Cheerios products, which do contain GMOs.
“Cheerios’ principal ingredient has always been whole grain oats, and there are no GMO oats,” says General Mills.
That’s true. According to Quaker Oats, which is owned by Pepsico, it doesn’t use GMO oats, either. There are no GMO-friendly oats on the market.
WhiteWave Foods, best known for its Horizon Organic Milk, Silk and Land O’ Lakes beverage and dairy labels, has a new product line: vegetables.
The company, which just completed its spin-off from Dean Foods in May 2013, has purchased the organic produce grower Earthbound Farm. The $600 million price tag isn’t out of line for the acquisition, either, since it will give WhiteWave a seat at the head of the table as the largest organic produce manufacturer in the country.
Gregg Engles, chairman and CEO of WhiteWave described the acquisition as an “exciting step in WhiteWave’s evolution [that] reaffirms our leadership in the organic foods and beverages industry in North America. With Earthbound Farm as part of our portfolio, WhiteWave will now provide the two most popular gateways for consumers to enter into the organic category – produce and dairy.”
What has been defended by the Obama Adminstration as a pragmatic review of the cost of carbon emissions to average Americans was challenged recently by the Conservative-leaning Landmark Legal Foundation as a political ploy by which to spin the benefits of carbon regulation.
“DOE’s unannounced, dramatically increased, and improperly altered ‘Social Cost of Carbon’ valuation presented for the first time in this microwave oven regulation will certainly become the standard by which all other agencies will place a purportedly beneficial economic value on new carbon regulations.”
On June 17, 2013, the Office of Management and Budget raised the cost of carbon from $21 to $35 per metric ton (pmt). Critics called foul, saying it would raise utilities and unfairly benefit those who want stiffer regulations for carbon emissions.
Consumers really do care about a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) track record. According to a study conducted by the Reputation Institute, only 17 percent of consumers surveyed would consider referring a company that doesn’t deliver on CSR promises.
Interestingly, with all the focus on CSR, sharing economy values, and sustainable living this year, the number of companies that truly distinguished themselves in CSR fell from 12 in 2012 to five in 2013. Those five top spots are held (in order of ranking) by Microsoft, the Walt Disney Company, Google, BMW and Daimler.
The marks are based on three criteria: citizenship, governance and workplace. Walt Disney for example, garnered 49.6 percent of the vote as a good citizen that champions the environment through programs like its carbon offsetting goals.
BMW’s focus on transparency and its public commitment to uphold the rights and protection of whistleblowers no doubt reflected its high marks (48.8 percent) in good governance.
Google on the other hand, received a thumbs-up from 51.1 percent of those surveyed for its positive working environment. NY Times’s report on its “dizzying excursion through a labyrinth of play areas; cafes, coffee bars and open kitchens; sunny outdoor terraces with chaises; gourmet cafeterias that serve free breakfast, lunch and dinner …” is enough to make any committed work-from-home entrepreneur jealous.
Still, something should also be said for the myriad of companies that strove to create their own brand of CSR. There were those that made an about-face turn to help stop global warming. There were others that found new ways to increase sustainability and community support. And there were others that used their public notoriety to inspire change.
So allow us to add just a few companies to this list that made unusual contributions to CSR efforts. These aren’t necessarily ranked, but they do reflect many of the comments and thumbs-up we’ve gotten from you, our readers over the past year.
Ed Note: This post is Jan Lee’s entry into Masdar’s 2014 blogging contest for a shot at a trip to Abu Dhabi. If you’d like to enter, there’s still time. Just follow these instructions. The deadline is Jan 3nd!
“How can cities contribute to the advancement of sustainable development and address issues including water, energy and waste?”
Today’s most efficient communities are an example of partnership. They coalesce what is most desirable as a living environment with what works most efficiently for the whole. They find ways to integrate smart technology and affordable features into everyday living spaces. And they adapt to their environment, rather than attempting to adapt the environment to the resident’s personal space.