3p Contributor: Jan Lee

Jan Lee Jan Lee is an independent journalist who lives in Idaho and British Columbia, Canada. Her articles on business, eco-travel, history and culture have been published in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Visit her blog at multiculturaljew.blogspot.com

Recent Articles

Big Food Battles Vermont Over GMO-Labeling Law

Jan Lee
| Monday June 23rd, 2014 | 435 Comments

Healthy groceriesThe recently launched, four-pronged suit against the state of Vermont’s genetically modified organism (GMO)-labeling law comes as no surprise. Last week, a group of the country’s largest grocery organizations filed suit against Vermont for its passage of a law (Act 120) requiring all manufacturers to label those products that contain GMO ingredients.

Big Food four stand up for GMO

The four “Big Food” companies — the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers — allege that Vermont’s newly minted law contravenes federal law and cites the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the right of free speech and the commerce clause. It also cites the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment for Act 120’s “vagueness” in its prohibition of the use of certain words, such as natural, and other descriptors that the Vermont law has deemed confusing to consumers.

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Levi’s: The Value of Jiu Jitsu Sustainability

Jan Lee
| Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments

levis_jiu_jitsu_sustainability_careLevi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh recently stirred up the airwaves when he announced that his Levi’s jeans hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine for more than a year. His statement, which was made during a sustainability conference in California last month, had just the right effect: It reminded listeners that if there is one overriding hallmark associated with America’s iconic blue jeans, it’s sustainability.

But his admission delivered another interesting impact as well: It jump-started a conversation on how easy it can be to live sustainably. Granted, not everyone seems to have bought the idea of freezing their favorite pair of denim in lieu of washing them. But the simple, almost incidental mention of this unorthodox technique jump-started a conversation that has inspired jean-lovers across the country to come clean with their best sustainability secrets, and why decreasing the use of water isn’t so hard after all.

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Environmental Validation: Make ‘Green’ Claims and Do It Well

Jan Lee
| Wednesday June 18th, 2014 | 0 Comments

consumer_goods_shopper_shutterstock_141541993It’s a great time to be a green manufacturer. Environmental consciousness continues to grow, not just here in the U.S. but globally. Consumers realize that there are more than a few reasons to purchase a green product. It may be good for the environment, but it’s also often perceived as good for their families and their communities’ wellbeing. But for many manufacturers, figuring out how to correctly communicate the sustainable benefits of a product is still a challenge.

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Scientists Strengthen Link Between Prolonged Fracking and Large Quakes

Jan Lee
| Monday June 16th, 2014 | 20 Comments

fracking_NW_Colo_TimHurstScientists have known for years that injection site activity for hydraulic fracturing can cause earthquakes. A study conducted by Southwestern Methodist University  and the University of Texas  in 2010 found that there was “plausible” evidence that injection wells were causing earthquakes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

But nine different studies  looking at recent earthquake sites in north, central and south Texas have now confirmed that suspicion. Some of the quakes have been strong enough to damage houses and infrastructure. That includes the most recent swarm of quakes around the city of Azle, where a team of researchers have been mobilized to measure and pinpoint the cause of hundreds of events in the area.  The increase has also alarmed residents in nearby Reno, where residents – including one mom nicknamed “The Digger” for her ability to push the limits on this issue – and the town mayor are stepping to the forefront to call for more investigation into why sinkholes and tremors are occurring near fracking sites.

Now scientists are warning that repeated wastewater injection necessary as part of hydraulic fracturing can increase the chance of quakes in areas where fault lines haven’t been taken into consideration.

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Shop Your Values: What Does ‘Sustainable’ Really Mean?

Jan Lee
| Wednesday June 11th, 2014 | 2 Comments

iStock_Hands and tree_000015647753XLarge 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?

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The Urban Dynamic: Enhancing Cities via Public-Private Partnerships

Jan Lee
| Wednesday June 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments

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 SiemensPwC and Berwin Leighton Paisner on June 12 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET, where we’ll talk about this issue live! 

Urban_dynamics_Seattle_Wa_PatrickMcNallyCities 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.

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Certified Wood Tops the List for International Paper’s 2013 Sustainability Report

Jan Lee
| Tuesday June 3rd, 2014 | 0 Comments

IP_sustainability_2013_USFSBeing 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.”

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Private Oversight of Keystone XL: For Scrutiny or For Budget?

Jan Lee
| Friday May 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Keystone_XL_pipe_ShannonRamosIf 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.

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Does Women’s Pay Inequity Really Matter?

Jan Lee
| Wednesday May 28th, 2014 | 3 Comments

women_pay_Kheel_CenterPay 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?

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Why We Can’t Afford to Drop the Push for Organic Food

Jan Lee
| Tuesday May 27th, 2014 | 5 Comments

Organic_food_Rusty_ClarkFor 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).

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New Syngas Production Partnership Coming for Western Canada

Jan Lee
| Thursday May 22nd, 2014 | 1 Comment
Click to enlarge.

Maverick’s “spoke and hub” system will convert agricultural waste into valuable biofuels. (Click to enlarge)

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.

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Fast Food Workers Join Global Wage Strikes

Jan Lee
| Monday May 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Fast_food_worker_strikes_3_VA_BPollack_AFLCIOFast-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.

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The Power of the Consumer in Sustainable Fishing

Jan Lee
| Wednesday May 14th, 2014 | 3 Comments

Non-Sustainable_fishing_ThomasBjorkanFor 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.

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Turning Old Into New with Reused Sustainable Fibers

Jan Lee
| Wednesday May 14th, 2014 | 1 Comment
Waste<Less Jeans: The blended durability of PET and denim

By the end of 2013, Levi’s found a second use for 7.9 million bottles in its Waste<Less line of jeans.

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.

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IPCC Report: The Low-Down for Today’s Climate

Jan Lee
| Monday May 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Flood_Midwest_June_2008_Don_BeckerOne 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.

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