How do you measure sustainability? Most of us would have two to four quick answers: Energy usage, quality of materials, longevity or carbon footprint.
Now, how exactly do you quantify that? In other words, how do customers figure out if a clothes dryer is going to use an affordable amount of energy and be worth the purchase? How do they know if that lotion or conditioner they bought is really made of ingredients that are not only healthy but okay for the environment once rinsed down the drain? What if they need construction materials that are mold resistant and won’t create allergens or decompose from humid weather?
Ed note: This article is part of a short series on financing smart city infrastructure, sponsored by Siemens. please join us for a live Google Hangout with Siemens, PwC and Berwin Leighton Paisner on June 12 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET, where we’ll talk about this issue live!
Cities are changing the way they do business. And with shrinking budgets and consequently smaller access to resources, it makes sense for burgeoning metropolitan governments to find new ways to upgrade technology, expand infrastructure, and provide new and better transportation options for their residents: the new urban dynamic.
A new report put out by three organizations – engineering and electronics corporation Siemens, law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, and professional services network PwC (also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers) – suggests that for cities to meet the demands of increasing populations and demand on land, water and resources, sustainable infrastructure is critical. And to accomplish that goal, innovative approaches that not only satisfy the needs of city residents but also inspire investors to take an interest in contributing to the urban dynamic are quickly becoming a requirement in today’s marketplace.
Being ahead of the sustainability curve isn’t unusual for International Paper (IP). Over the last few years, the company has proven that sustainability goals are just markers to be surpassed. This year, with the release of the 2013 IP sustainability report, the company proved yet again that environmental stewardship is possible in the forestry sector and, in fact, is really what sustains business success. And it’s proved that all stakeholders, including consumers, play a direct role in creating that success.
In 2012, IP’s company goals included increasing its certified fiber content by 2020. Fifteen percent certified fiber was a reasonable target for the 70,000-employee company that maintains operations on five continents, but as Teri Shanahan, IP’s vice president of sustainability, pointed out: Reaching that goal seven years early and exceeding it by more than 5 percent reflects IP’s historic focus on sustainable forestry practices.
“We’ve been working on wood fiber certification for about 20 years. So it isn’t a new concept for us,” said Shanahan, who noted that of the 71 million tons of wood IP it buys, a lot of it comes from the U.S., where it has invested significant resources into the certified wood market.
“[The] wood that we buy supports the existence of 21 million acres of forest in the U.S. So our wood comes from well managed, healthy forests that are going to remain forests as long as there is an economic use for those forests.”
If the Keystone XL pipeline goes ahead, TransCanada will have to step up its safety measures. That’s the word from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which instituted two new regulations to address issues like bad welds and defective pipeline coating that were found in Keystone’s southern leg.
Keystone XL inspections: Faulty welds
Inspections by PHMSA revealed that there had been an inordinate number of welds that required repairs. This was revealed in two warning letters issued last year, which highlighted the need to increase safety measures. One of the letters, issued last September, noted a 72 percent repair rate for welds conducted over a one-week period. During another week, 205 of 425 welds had to be redone.
According to the letter, PHMSA alleges that TransCanada is hiring welders who don’t have the specialized experience for this work, and are consequently using the wrong welding techniques. Welders are apparently required to pass a test demonstrating their familiarity with pipeline construction work.
A November 2013 report also highlighted an exceptional number of times in which construction workers were required to dig up and repair defects in the pipes themselves. According to PHMSA records, workers were required to remove and repair piping 125 times that was at risk of bending or sagging, causing increased risk for spills.
Pay inequity issues are on our minds a lot these days. Recent showdowns between fast-food corporations and workers who must rely on food stamps and social assistance to pay their bills have been garnering most of the attention this month. After all, if we’re not filling the shoes of the average restaurant worker, we’re most likely making a stop at the drive-thru window in the evening, or purchasing something over the counter that is staffed by minimum-wage workers. The incongruity can’t help but touch us.
So why do the recent stories of women’s pay inequity problems touch us the same way?
For a lot of American families these days, the definition of good nutrition rests at least in part, on whether the ingredients are grown organically. Studies by the Organic Trade Association show that focus on wholesome, non-pesticide-sprayed food continues to grow. The organic food industry surpassed $29 billion alone in 2012, proving that U.S. consumers do care about good nutrition, and do see organic products as a way to attain that goal.
But is promoting the organic label really the way to improve eating habits and nutrition in the U.S? In fact, is it even a realistic benchmark for a society in which 15 percent of the population is impoverished (2012)? Even with the increase in organic sales, surveys still indicate that price is often a governing factor in whether people feel buying organic is really that important.
For New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, the organic label gets in the way of what really needs to be discussed and promoted: good food. In fact, says Bittman, well-meaning media and food experts confuse issues and “send the wrong message” when it comes to the value of organic and the debate over GMOs. The value of sustainable farming he says “is as important as any” (especially in light of climate change, which he notes, like many organic experts, is connected to how we farm).
What do you get when you combine the resources of a forward-thinking Canadian petroleum company and an innovative American syngas company? More opportunities for biofuels expansion, of course.
The Ontario-based Biogas Association estimates that 68 percent of Canada’s biogas industry could potentially be fueled by agricultural resources. That percentage is no surprise considering Western Canada’s prolific agricultural industry and its increasing focus on natural gas. But the ag biogas business could be stronger, according to the association’s 2013 biogas study, which notes that syngas production could not only increase job growth in rural areas (an endemic challenge in many rural sectors), but also provide energy generation at the designated farming facility, as well as contribute better fertilizer and carbon to the soil.
Getting funding for such operations is often difficult however, especially considering that overhead costs often can’t compete with coal or hydropower production, both of which exist in Canada’s western provinces.
So a recent agreement between Petrostar Petroleum in Nanton, Alberta and Maverick Synfuels of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, offers new possibilities for synthetic fuel production in Canada’s methane-rich prairie provinces.
Fast-food workers in more than 140 U.S. cities joined ranks with international labor organizations last week to send a message to global leaders: raise and enforce pay standards for the world’s lowest paid workers.
In an unprecedented effort to put pressure on companies that pay their employees less than what is considered a living wage, workers from 33 different countries staged walkouts for better pay and working conditions. Legislation concerning the right to strike is being considered in several countries including Iceland and the U.K. Nevertheless, workers stepped out in force on six continents to lobby for better pay and working conditions.
For many of us, our connection with the global fishing industry is the local fish store or supermarket. For most of us, that amply stocked fish counter and frozen seafood section is our indicator of whether the ocean’s richest bounty is faring well. We may hear of the plight of one or another fleet of fishing vessels that, for some reason, has been short on its catch that season, but we are rarely burdened with the impact of that shortage. The selection of fish in the display case may change, but more often than not, the shelves appear to stay well stocked.
But take a stroll down the fishing docks of any major port, where just 30 to 40 years ago boats were brimming with their latest catch, and the impression is liable to be different. Fisheries are progressively being fished out, and at an alarming rate. As early as 2006, scientists predicted that global fisheries will collapse by 2048 unless we find ways to stop rampant overfishing.
Until recently, most of us didn’t give a lot of thought to the fate of our clothes after they reach the end of their usefulness. We may have had a hard time parting with that favorite pair of jeans, that pretty but stretched cotton shirt or that warm wool sweater, but our consciousness about these items’ final resting place was extended only to whether that unused clothing – made from sustainable fibers or not – continued to take up room in our closets or our overstuffed drawers.
These days, clothiers as well as consumers are giving more thought to the end result of discarding used clothing. One reason is that the clothing we wear (and what we do with it after we are finished) really does have a significant impact on the health of the environment.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 15 percent of the 13 million tons of clothing and other textiles that are thrown away each year are recycled, turned into products like rags or broken down to be reused as sustainable fibers. The carbon produced in making that 15 percent, or 2 million tons, is about the same as the pollution from a million cars. While that sounds impressive, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of carbon generated in the production of the other 11 million tons of clothes that are bought, worn and eventually disposed in the landfill.
Thankfully, companies and organizations across the world are working to change that disparity. Organizations like Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART), federal, state and city agencies like the EPA, and a growing list of sustainably directed companies are making it easier than ever to give that old cotton shirt or pair of blue jeans a new life.
One of the toughest challenges presented by the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been understanding its message in relation to everyday events. For many of us, change in climate conditions is normal. That period of drier-than-usual winter days that encourages us to play hooky from work or school, or that seemingly unending string of scorching summer weather can, to some degree, be paired with experiences of the past. Most of us can remember experiencing extraordinarily strange weather anomalies when we were kids that would suggest that climate change and global warming assertions are, well, just a lot of hot air.
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.