More than three months after regulators were told that a coal ash containment pond in North Carolina had failed and was dumping toxic sludge into the nearby Dan River, environmental experts are taking a hard look at what’s left in the water. What they have found may not bode well for the long-range health of the area’s ecosystem.
Duke Energy, the utility company that owns the pond system that failed, has been vacuuming up large deposits of coal ash that has settled in and on along the sides of the river. But experts say that they aren’t finding as many deposits as they would have hoped, which means one of two things: The heavy metals and other toxins have either been washed down stream, or they are now becoming covered over by riverbed silt.
Monsanto isn’t a name that many readers associate with the sustainability movement. With so much focus on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), discussions and news about its sustainability commitments and strategies often get passed up. But yesterday, as part of the 2014 Walmart Sustainability Expo, Monsanto’s CEO Hugh Grant announced two new sustainability commitments for the world’s largest agricultural chemical and biotech company. Rightfully, it believes that implementing new sustainability goals in the following two areas will not only help streamline its own overhead costs, but also contribute to U.S. and global efforts to conserve water and reduce carbon emissions.
Figuring out what to do with all those polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic bottles that we generate on a daily basis seems like an insurmountable challenge these days. Just about everywhere you look, plastic has become an intrinsic part of our culture. The bottle of water you swig as you wrap up your morning run, the soda your child buys after school, and the cooking oil you use to make your favorite salad dressing have, in the past, had a single-designated purpose: as a durable, easily transportable container for liquids.
But thanks to manufacturers like Levi’s, that single-stream usage approach is quickly changing. Last year, Levi’s launched its Waste<Less Collection, focused on reusing post-consumer waste from PET bottles and food trays. Their first jean products incorporated a modest 20 percent of post-consumer recycled materials. With the success of the project, the uses for this content quickly ballooned. By the end of 2013, Levi’s found a second use for 7.9 million bottles, which were incorporated into its Trucker Jackets, Skinny Jeans and Boyfriend Skinny Jeans.
Last week, the company announced that it had reached an all-time high: More than 9.4 million recycled bottles have been repurposed.
Three down and 14,454,450 to go. Vermont’s announcement last week that its legislature has passed a GMO labeling law was happy news for environmentalists in the country’s second-least populous state. It was big news for Connecticut and Maine, which have both passed laws requiring GMO labeling, once other states step forward with similar legislation. Both states stipulated that their legislation would not kick into gear until there were at least five states on board, with a minimum population total of 20 million. Vermont’s bill, however, will become law once Gov. Pete Shumlin signs it, which he is expected to do in the next few weeks.
Last week Placer County, in north-central California, took a big step in its efforts to improve air quality in the Lake Tahoe region. After more than seven years of research — exhaustive studies by the county, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Placer County Air Pollution Control District, as well as input from residents and other stakeholders on both sides of the California-Nevada border — Placer County agreed to become the location for a new biomass gasification plant. The plant, which would be run by a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Phoenix Energy, would be located outside of Truckee, Calif., on the north end of Lake Tahoe.
Air quality is a chronic issue in California’s scenic Lake Tahoe area, which sits some two hours above Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At 6,200 feet above sea level, the alpine-enclosed lake becomes a natural catch basin for drifting smoke from wood-burning and auto emissions. These emissions contribute to the degradation of the lake and surrounding forest, elevating the risk of wildfires — a little-known side effect that is particularly concerning in light of prolonged draughts in the region and mounting concerns about climate change.
A federal judge’s ruling in Minnesota last week highlighted just how out of sync some federal laws may be with new climate change mitigation efforts.
Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson struck down Minnesota’s landmark 2007 legislation that prohibited utility companies from purchasing energy from coal-fired power plants built after 2009 unless the carbon emissions were offset. The state law was designed to fit with Minnesota’s goal of reducing fossil fuel use by 15 percent by 2015.
If there is one truism that sums up sustainable marketing today, it is that product sales don’t make a business successful, productive customer engagement strategies do. Levi Strauss and Co.’s popularity as a sustainable producer relies on its ability to continually tap into the values of its customers and reflect that vision in how it sells its products – as well as how it makes them.
It puts recycling and human rights, for example, at the core of its business model because it believes such ethics are part of its own vision, and because it knows that these are key concerns for many customers. Its success as a respected clothier is dependent not just on the quality of its product, but also on its ability to convey its understanding and loyalty of those customer values.
As one survey conducted last year by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Review and the Boston Consulting Group discovered, customer opinion is at the core of many of the green changes that businesses are making today.
“[Companies] are 80 percent more likely to increase collaboration with customers as a result of sustainability than are companies that did not change their business model,” say the authors. “They are also much more likely to collaborate with competitors, suppliers and across their own business units.”
But can customers’ green values and engagement in sustainability be enhanced by business strategies?
Several businesses we consulted recently gave a resounding “yes” to this question. Business strategies and ethics do help to shape a progressive sustainable culture. Yet interestingly, each source we consulted had a different take on what was most crucial to the success of that goal.
The polar bears are doing it. The birds are doing it; even the trees are doing it. And now, according to research by several biologists, the butterfly has given us the best example so far of how nature, confronted with shifting parameters, is hurrying to adapt to climate change.
As early as 2005, scientists found evidence that animal and plant species were making migratory changes to offset dwindling food supplies or intolerable temperature changes. Species ranging from the Canadian red squirrels to rock barnacles apparently already knew something we found very contentious: that adaptation was going to be necessary.
Investigators at California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have been hard at work – this time inspecting trash disposal sites behind Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse stores for toxic dumping. In conjunction with the investigative skills of Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), DTSC determined that Lowe’s stores had been illegally dumping toxic materials at landfill sites that weren’t authorized to receive the materials.
The DTSC says that the materials included pesticides, aerosols, mercury-based fluorescent bulbs and other items not eligible for landfill disposal. Investigators state that more than 110 stores across the state were found to be dumping toxic items improperly.
A Kansas state bill calling for the repeal of renewable electricity requirements for utility companies passed the state Senate on Tuesday, only to be roundly defeated in the House the following day, 44-77.
SB 433, which gained the support of a variety of conservative organizations including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity, would have yanked state requirements for utility companies to acquire a minimum of 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Renewable electricity standards, or RES (also known as Renewable Portfolio Standards, RPS), in Kansas mandate utility providers to gradually target a minimum threshold of renewable energy sources in their portfolios and set a deadline for fulfillment.
Supporters of SB 433 argued Wednesday that the RES was raising consumers’ utility bills. Rep. Marc Rhodes (R) argued before the House that continuing to support the RES would lead to “40 percent increases to the electrical rates to your constituents.” His statement was met by a chorus of disbelief.
Wind and solar power proponents are hailing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report on energy infrastructure. According to the FERC’s February 2014 report, renewable energy topped the list for new energy installations during January and February. Approximately 92 percent of the new installations for energy production during the first two months of the year were for solar, wind, biomass hydro or thermal power generation.
Those numbers include 25 new solar plants, six wind farms, two hydro* and three geothermal plants. New wind installations include the Pheasant Run project in Huron County, Wis. (75 MW), which will generate electricity for DTE Energy Co., and the Fort Hays University’s installation in Ellis County, Kan. (4 MW), to power services at the university. Solar includes a wide range of projects, including four installations by Recurrent Energy totaling 73 MW to generate power under contract for Southern California Edison.
In comparison, fossil fuel-based infrastructure installation was almost nonexistent for January and February, with only one natural gas facility brought online.
As North Carolina regulators press to have Duke Energy stripped of protections that would have limited the company’s liability for cleanup of coal ash spills in two regional rivers, communities downstream are struggling to come to terms with the continuing impact of the cleanup and stigma from the pollution.
Danville, Va. is just miles downstream from where a pipe connected to a coal ash pond owned by Duke Energy failed and spewed toxic sludge into the Dan River in February. The city of 43,000 has been working hard in recent years to revitalize its image and its future. A former tobacco and textiles town, its growth has depended on this waterway, which served at times not only as a resource for drinking water, but as a disposal site for nearby industrial waste and rinse water. It’s a history that Danville has gradually been moving away from.
These days, the Dan River fulfills another, more elegant purpose as one of Virginia’s state-designated Scenic Rivers. Approved last October, the designation encompasses a 15-mile stretch in the vicinity of Danville. The scenic recognition is expected to draw in much-needed tourism dollars from travelers interested in seeing Virginia’s rural beauty. Danville’s economic development, and its transition away from an industry that once painted the river currents in color, is now dependent upon that designation — and the tourism that is meant to follow.
It’s been said that history repeats itself. It’s doubtful that the author of that saying had oil spills in mind at the time – and even less likely the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Still, the irony of this weekend’s collision and spill near Galveston Bay, Texas on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Exxon spill has been hard to ignore.
Approximately 168,000 gallons of crude oil has been leaking into the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay since Saturday — when a barge being pulled by a towboat collided with a cargo ship in the channel off the coast of Texas City, Texas. The collision closed down traffic and has backed up vessels both ways. More than 80 commercial ships were waiting to get into port as of Monday morning. The Bolivar Peninsula ferry, which shuttles commuters between the peninsula and Galveston, Texas, has been closed until the spill can be cleaned up.
A small handful of environmentalists that were expelled by police from boating on a local waterway in North Carolina are being hailed as national heroes this week. After members from Waterkeeper Alliance, who were trying to take water samples from a stream, were told by police on March 10 to leave an area bordering the Duke Energy Cape Fear River facility, they resorted to aerial surveillance of the area.
The following day they released photographs showing that Duke Energy has been pumping coal ash into a local tributary of the Cape Fear River, a local source for drinking water.
In late 2012, a class science project in Lagos, Nigeria created a buzz on the social media airwaves. Four teenage girls had created a power generator using human urine. The 14- and 15-year-olds, who created the project in an effort to find a safer generating system for local families that depend on gas-powered systems to generate electricity, figured out a way to separate and use the hydrogen from pee to essentially create electricity.