This past year could be called a test case for climate change. Scary as that sounds, 2014 has seen a broad spectrum of quirky events, ranging from drought and flooding to the loss of sea ice and glacier mass. There’s been some oddly good news as well: Some species continue to find their own way to adapt to climatic changes, opting for new environmental zones or alternative food sources. What will be our new way of adapting? Will we lead the pack, or follow suit?
The environment and the effects of climate change were at the center of legislative debate in many countries this year. The release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 draft treatise on global warming helped center legislators’ attention on the task at hand, but some countries still opted for the wait-and-see approach over regulatory fixes.
Here in the U.S., the response was equally inconsistent, thanks in part to a hearty push-back from the oil and gas sector and the gold-rush boom of the fracking industry in several states. But in those areas where climate change, dwindling resources or water issues were a concern, legislative options often took center stage.
Revelations that two strains of avian flu were detected last week in Oregon and Washington has poultry farmers and some nations around the world on edge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the virus poses little risk to human populations. But what does it mean for the chicken and turkey industry, and how does it affect the average consumer? Here’s what is known so far:
This was the year for transformative thinking when it came to climate change.
Sure, there has been plenty of hot-button debate over whether global warming truly exists (the comments sections for some of our articles speak loudly enough) and how to address a dilemma that is largely still in the making. But there have also been some remarkably forward-thinking innovators who haven’t shied away from the challenge. From multi-national companies that have inspired global changes in sustainable palm oil sourcing, to a newly-minted nonprofits that created a new way to stop poaching in some of the world’s densest and most remote rain forests, this year’s accomplishments have been worth more than a footnote.
The following are just a handful of the many advancements that were undertaken by companies and nonprofits that saw the opportunity — and need — for change.
Just in time for the holidays, e-commerce giant eBay announced that it’s pulling the plug on its affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). With a centennial list of major corporations that have now nixed their membership, eBay’s announcement really isn’t a surprise.
This week, New York state joined the growing list of states and communities to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within its boundaries. After years of contentious debate over the safety of fracking, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement Wednesday that he would move to unilaterally ban fracking was not completely unexpected. Still, environmental groups are counting the Department of Health’s report that “[high volume hydraulic fracturing] should not proceed in NYS” as a victory.
North American environmental groups have been admitting it for years: The movement needs diversity in its representation. Organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club and others have come forward over the years to admit, often at the nudging of critics, that honoring diversity in the global environment starts with reflecting diversity in its numbers — including its management.
The problem is: Until recently there hasn’t been much of a global roadmap on how to attain that goal. Tracking diversity numbers has largely been left up to organizations with little public transparency.
But that changes next year, say six of the world’s largest environmental organizations. The Sierra Club, NRDC, Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Resources Media and EarthJustice have pledged to release their diversity numbers by February 2015. The announcement was made by Green 2.0 at the Breaking the Green Ceiling forum, which it and New Media hosted on Dec. 9 in Washington D.C. Environmental groups will submit their numbers to their Guidestar profiles.
The debate over chemical flame retardants seems to be heating up. The Center for Environmental Health, which helped encourage a rewrite of California’s regulations regarding safety standards in furniture manufacturing, announced last week that 16 major furniture manufacturers have now sworn off chemical flame retardants.
The companies, which include Facebook, Staples, Autodesk and Blue Cross Blue Sheild of Massachusetts, have pledged to stop buying furniture with chemical flame retardants in them. Several of the companies, like Staples and HDR Architecture, North America’s second-largest architectural firm, are national brands.
We’ve seen a lot of charities emerge into the global spotlight in recent years. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders, World Wildlife Fund and Defenders of Wildlife have gained prominence as world events shaped the demand for their services. But most of these organizations have been around for years, and their global reach and international reputation are largely the result of hard work, promotion and donor investment.
One nonprofit that began in South Africa, however, seems to be setting a new bar when it comes to the amount of time it’s taken to gain brand recognition.
Poultry is big business for British Columbia, Canada’s southwestern province, where fertile land, mild climate and a well-nurtured agricultural industry have become the spawning grounds for a $400 million business. At least a half-dozen countries look to BC’s fertile Fraser Valley for turkey, chicken, duck and egg production, particularly at Christmas time, when turkey sales are a vital resource for the hundreds of farms that populate this area.
So, last week’s report that two farms in the Fraser Valley were infected with the H5 avian flu meant potentially big problems for farmers across the girth of BC’s most populous valley.
Economists and educators have been working to resolve Oakland, Calif.’s endemic poverty problems for years. Almost a third of Oakland’s children live in households in which one or both parents are unemployed, and finding jobs for the city’s youngest employable sector is all the more challenging. But as one young woman demonstrated this year, it isn’t an insurmountable task. It just takes a little creative thinking.
Sabrina Mutukisna, founder of Town Kitchen, came up with a project that pairs the snacking needs of East Bay’s business sector and the drive and ingenuity of Oakland youth. The company employs low-income youth from West Oakland to prepare, box and deliver upscale lunches for businesses in the East Bay area. The company’s concept is tailored to fit the needs of the small-to-medium business that wants good, versatile options to choose from for their boardroom meetings or casual office get-togethers.
According to Mutukisna, a lot of thought went into how to satisfy as many palates as possible with the company’s daily offerings. Lunches these days aren’t a one-type-fits-all concept. For a business like Town Kitchen, versatility and variety are musts, especially in a world in which consumers’ dietary limitations and preferences often shape the menu. To that end, she developed a weekly menu of four options that rotate periodically and can be creatively built upon as they go along.
“Right now we definitely make sure we have a vegetarian option,” Mutukisna said, and that is usually gluten free, “and one has a fish option, and then one is chicken or (other) meat.” She said vegan demand is high at the moment, but the menus are structured to reflect the feedback the company receives from its customers.
Now that the organic marketing concept has been around for a few generations, you’d think it would be easier to win consumers over. According to a recent survey by BFG Consulting it is. With the plethora of stores that now handle everything from organic bananas to pesticide-free, organically made canned food, today’s shoppers have little problem tracking down that “back-to-basics” version in or around the produce isle.
The only thing is, do they really know what it is? Would they be able to explain what it is that makes it stand out from regularly grown food? According to BFG’s research, not necessarily.
Only 20 percent of the consumers who participated in the survey could accurately tell researchers the fairly stringent requirements that define the organic food market, even though almost 70 percent of those who were surveyed said they bought organic products.
It’s an interesting statistic, considering the fact that according to the USDA, organic purchases now represent 4 percent of food sales in the U.S. — and is continuing to grow. Even more interesting is that a significant portion (93 percent) of those sales occur in supermarkets and natural food venues, where there’s often plenty of dialogue about what makes organic food special. Another 7 percent of purchases occur at farmers’ markets and locations where organic food is often sought out.
It also notes that organic premiums have remained high, even though the supply is much better than it was some years ago. Although that’s a troubling statistic, it does corroborate BFG’s finding that millennials are currently willing and able to return to the pesticide-free isle and pay more for organic foods.
And what drives their purchases is interesting as well: honesty.
“They desire honesty,” notes BFG CEO Kevin Meany. “They want to believe.”
The computer business has been bustling for a few years now. That makes sense in an economy that is increasingly becoming more tech-driven and mobile-dependent. Tablets, iPhones and newer mobile technology are taking the consumer’s focus by storm. Stats posted by Statista indicate that the global shipments of tablets, desktop computers and laptops have been steadily increasing since 2010, with tablets taking the lead.
But what isn’t doing so well, according to a study recently released by Staples, is the tech recycling market.
Last year, amid the flurry and consumer buzz of Black Friday, Patagonia unveiled its Worn Wear program. On a day when most consumers were at the malls piling through racks of winter gear, new toys and the latest electronic releases, the company was celebrating Black Friday in a different way: It was urging its customers to give away the Patagonia gear they didn’t need.
Patagonia knows it’s the kind of appeal that resonates with its customers. Sharing the value they’ve enjoyed, from that over-used jacket or favorite top, with others who can turn those memories into usable, re-loved gear makes sense. It also feels good. And, as the U.K.-based group WRAP points out, it’s the kind of strategy that works for the environment.
This year, Patagonia is going a step further with its Worn Wear initiative. Today, in eight locations across the U.S., it’s holding Worn Wear Swaps, where customers can swap their used gear for another item off the Worn Wear rack.
Marijuana farms are growing by leaps and bounds in Colorado these days – and so are the concepts of how to capitalize on this new industry. From cannabis growers’ conventions to businesses that build temperature-controlled indoor environments for grass growers, and journalists that rate strains of the new aperitif on their appealing qualities, Colorado’s eastern slope seems to be busting with new ways to harness the impact of this growing industry.
But the new millennia fascination with the herb has also brought some headaches, as Boulder County has discovered over the past year. Located just north of Denver in a valley well known for both its hot, sunny summer weather and its unpredictable storms, Boulder County has become an epicenter of sorts for the New West’s burgeoning industry.
Colorado State Article 18, which went into effect this past January after voters agreed to overhaul the state’s cannabis regulations, allows for both private and commercial growing and use of cannabis within the state. What it didn’t take into account, the county notes, is the carbon emissions that are tied to warehouses with hundreds of thousands of square feet dedicated to hot, bright lighting and plants that normally grow fine outdoors. In hot, sunny climates, that is.