3p Contributor: Kara Scharwath

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the Corporate Citizenship team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of BeSui Consulting, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behaviors. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.

Recent Articles

Are McDonald’s Golden Arches Losing Their Luster?

| Monday February 27th, 2012 | 7 Comments

Do you ever eat McDonald’s? If so, chances are you aren’t bragging about it to your friends. A recent report from Advertising Age shows that other McD’s customers likely aren’t either. Despite strong sales numbers last year, the company is experiencing a crisis of brand perception.

Make no mistake, McDonald’s brand is still a global juggernaut. With more than 33,000 locations in 119 countries serving 68 million people per day, an estimated brand value of $81 billion, and an Interbrand rating of No. 6 (even beating Apple at No. 8), the McDonald’s brand is one of the strongest in the world. The company’s value is also growing at an impressive clip – in 2011, same store sales increased by 5.6% and the brand value increased by 23% over the year before. But according to McDonald’s internal tracking systems, customer perceptions are not keeping pace with these numbers.

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Proof that Disclosing Carbon Emissions Increases Stock Prices

| Friday February 24th, 2012 | 0 Comments

A new study by the University of California provides evidence that companies that publicly announce information about their carbon emissions will see a significant and almost immediate increase in share price. The study, conducted by Paul Griffin of UC Davis and Yuan Sun of UC Berkeley, involved an analysis of ten years of news releases from Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire, which regularly publishes press releases disclosing companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers narrowed down their initial sample of press announcements to 172 voluntary releases of carbon footprint data from 84 companies in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology and financial services. For each announcement, they tracked the historic stock price for the company for a five day period starting two days before the greenhouse gas data was published and ending two days after. These prices were then compared to a control group of similar companies that did not release carbon information during the same timeframe.

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Honest By: New Fashion Label with 100% Transparency Policy

| Monday February 20th, 2012 | 2 Comments

A few months ago, I covered the launch of a pioneering sustainable fashion website, Source4Style, which helps fashion designers find sustainably produced textiles. Recently, the launch of a new fashion label, Honest By, moves the sustainability of the fashion industry forward even a step further. The company doesn’t just use sustainable materials in their products; Honest By reveals the full picture of how its clothes are made including where the materials come from, how the products are manufactured, how much they cost to make, and how much they’re being marked up.

For each product, extensive research has been conducted into every aspect of the construction and materials sourcing process, which involves tracing the origins of the fabrics and trimmings used to make sure that all the elements are being produced in a responsible manner. This includes gathering information on every element of the product production including the details about the factory where its made, verifying its sustainable attributes and certifications, and collecting energy use, emissions, and cost data. This information – down to the safety pin, thread, and hangtag – is provided in great detail for each piece of clothing that’s available on the website.

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Chipotle’s Anti-Factory-Farm Ad Captures Hearts and Changes Minds

| Friday February 17th, 2012 | 3 Comments

The Super Bowl is well known for expensive, flashy commercials that tend to be even more highly anticipated than the game itself. But this year, the commercial that’s gotten the most attention wasn’t a Super Bowl ad at all. This year’s unlikely advertising showstopper turned out to be a Chipotle ad that’s been on YouTube for months, but was aired nationally for the first time during the Grammy Awards show last Sunday. The two-minute spot, Chipotle’s first national television ad ever, features Willie Nelson singing Coldplay’s potent and popular song “The Scientist” over a sweet and simple cartoon story about a farmer’s journey to industrialization and back. A review in Time’s Entertainment section captures it well:

“Like many a great commercial, “Back to the Start” is a journey, in this case both figuratively and literally. The action unfolds linearly in a continuous left-to-right flow on the screen, absorbing you in the simple, children’s show-like visuals and engaging you in figuring what its narrative is about. It starts with a farmer, and some pigs, a pastoral setting that becomes gradually more industrial and alienating, as it erects corrals, then sheds, then animal warehouses and a mechanized distribution system—the modern industrial-food chain. The grim scene plays out, and out, until the music crescendoes and the farmer decides to “go back to the start,” tearing down walls and letting his animals range free.”

The ad’s clear and potent message, simply and beautifully illustrated using graphics and music, seems to have really hit home with a lot of people. The ad is being talked about all over the internet and was even praised by the unlikeliest of all news outlets.

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Bill Gates Supports Controversial Climate Change Plan

| Wednesday February 15th, 2012 | 11 Comments

With the help of a group of very wealthy and well known individuals, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Chairman of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, a group of leading climate scientists are advocating for the use of controversial geoengineering as a way to prevent catastrophic climate change. The scientists are lobbying national governments and international organizations to fund experiments that would involve manipulating the atmosphere on a large scale to counteract high concentrations of greenhouse gases. These might include methods like fertilizing the oceans to create a huge carbon sink or spraying reflective particles or other chemicals into the air to reflect sunlight and prevent it from warming the atmosphere.

The Guardian is reporting that the scientists support the tactic as “plan B” should the UN and global politicians fail to come to agreement on making significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Pressure is mounting to find a technological fix to climate change, as no international agreement to reduce emissions has been made. Although a process for negotiating one was set as a result of the COP17 climate negotiations that took place in December, it’s unclear whether reductions can be made in time to reverse the negative effects of the warming atmosphere. A recent report from the Department of Energy found that 2010 had the largest increase in carbon emissions ever reported, and according to the International Energy Agency, global temperatures could reach dangerous levels unless internationally coordinated action is taken to reduce emissions by 2017.

Geoengineering is an appealing alternative because it’s cheap relative to what it would take to make emissions reductions and the effects would be experienced more quickly. However, these techniques are highly controversial due to the risks they pose. These include:

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Walmart Knows What’s Good for You

| Friday February 10th, 2012 | 1 Comment

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to develop a label to certify foods that meet specific health criteria, but who needs the government to tell us what to eat when Walmart can do it instead? The company, which is the largest seller of food in the United States, announced this week that it will start putting a new label on food products to help consumers make healthier food choices at its stores. A logo with the phrase “Great For You” will be used to indicate to consumers that a certain product has gotten Walmart’s nutritional seal of approval. However, not many will make the cut.

In a statement, the company said that food marked with the label “must meet rigorous nutrition criteria informed by the latest nutrition science and authoritative guidance from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Institute of Medicine (IOM).” According to our friends over at Fast Company, even well-known food and nutrition icon Marion Nestle agreed that the requirements for use of the label are pretty strict.

Products that pass the test include only fruits and vegetables, foods that are 100 percent whole grain, yogurt, milk, and other low fat dairy, lean proteins, fats, oils, nuts, seeds, and products that contain specific amounts of these ingredients. Added sugars are restricted to 25 percent of total calories and fat and sodium is also limited.

Walmart’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability, Andrea Thomas said, “We had a nice, long debate about eggs.” Some people argued that eggs contained too much cholesterol, and other said that they are a good, low-cost source of protein. Ultimately, the company decided that eggs were in.

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Unilever Launches Foundation to Help One Billion People

| Tuesday February 7th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Over the past year, we’ve covered much of Unilever’s sustainability progress, including a goal to double it’s renewable energy purchases and a 40% reduction in its carbon emissions. Unilever recently announced additional goals aimed at magnifying its positive impact on the world. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the company announced the launch of the Unilever Foundation, a global charity that will be key to helping the company reach its goal of improving the health and quality of life of more than one billion people around the world. This is an ambitions goal, but it’s one that fits very well with Unilever’s brand and strengths.

“We live in a rapidly changing world. One where populations are growing, water is becoming increasingly scarce, and where food security is a growing issue. Unilever is committed to addressing the unmet social needs that our business can play a unique role in helping to solve,” said Keith Weed, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Unilever. “This is especially true in developing and emerging markets where we have deep roots.”

The company plans to accomplish its goal of reaching one billion people through partnerships with several well-known humanitarian organizations on a number of global initiatives focused on hygiene, sanitation, access to clean drinking water, basic nutrition, and enhancing self-esteem.

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Suppliers Lag Behind in Reducing Carbon Emissions

| Monday February 6th, 2012 | 0 Comments

For most large global companies, carbon tracking and management has become standard practice. Organizations that started working to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions several years ago are reaping the benefits of efficiency improvements and energy management programs in the form of emissions reductions and cost savings. And now these companies are starting to look down their supply chains for ways to squeeze even more carbon out of their overall footprint.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which has been collecting GHG emissions data from companies for nearly a decade, recently released a report which revealed that there is a gap that exists between the carbon reduction performance of companies and that of their suppliers. The study, conducted in partnership with Accenture, was conducted with 50 CDP member organizations including L’Oréal, Philips and Walmart, and more than 1,800 of their suppliers. It found that while 43 percent of companies surveyed have achieved year-over-year reductions in their carbon emissions, only 28 percent of their suppliers have done so.

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This Year’s Super Bowl Will Be “Super Green”

| Thursday February 2nd, 2012 | 3 Comments

For the past 18 years, the NFL has been working to decrease the environmental footprint of the largest annual sporting event in the U.S. – the Super Bowl. Two years ago, we wrote about several initiatives aimed at reducing the events’ impacts. Last year, we covered how Super Bowl XLV was slated to be the greenest NFL championship game in history. This year, the NFL is trying to outdo itself yet again by working with the Green Mountain Energy Company and the Indianapolis community to make Super Bowl XLVI the greenest yet. I talked with Jack Groh, Director of the NFL’s Environmental Program, to get the details on this year’s efforts.

As you can imagine, the Super Bowl with it’s jumbotrons, dazzling half time show, and NFL Experience theme park, uses a lot of electricity. To help reduce the impact of that energy consumption, the National Football League and the Indianapolis Super Bowl XLVI Host Committee are partnering with Green Mountain Energy to purchase 15,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy certificates (RECs) generated at wind farms in North Dakota to offset the power associated with the event.

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LA’s Transition to a Greener Economy

| Tuesday January 31st, 2012 | 0 Comments

This post was submitted for the United Nations World Environment Day blogging competition sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Please “Like” it on Facebook or Tweet using the hashtag #WED2012.

On June 5th of every year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) hosts World Environment Day, a national celebration aimed at increasing awareness about environmental issues and inspiring action in support of more sustainable and equitable development. The chosen theme for this year’s event is “The Green Economy: Does it include you?” My recent experience at the VerdeXchange Conference in Los Angeles last week proved that although we may not realize it, the transition to a green economy is underway, and it does affect all of us.

Government organizations and the private sector were there working together to transition my home city to a greener economy. The focus was on how to create new markets for clean technologies that can modernize and decarbonize LA’s infrastructure – not an easy task for a city that was designed for the car. Here is a look at some of the work being done to green the city’s most carbon intensive and highly polluting facilities, operations, and infrastructure:

“Greening and Growing” the ports

LA’s port, which has the largest container volume of any port in the U.S., occupies 1600 acres of land and employs 16,000 residents. Last year, the port was the first in the world to offer Alternative Maritime Power (AMP), which allows ships to plug into electrical power instead of running on diesel fuel. The port plans to expand capacity from nine connection points to twenty-six by 2016. There are also efforts underway to implement a system to move cargo around the port with virtually no fossil fuels and zero tailpipe emissions.

LEED Silver airport modernization

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the third busiest airport in the country, is currently undergoing a major modernization effort that includes the construction of the new Bradley West Project, which was awarded the Silver LEED-EB Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is the first time this certification has been given to a renovation project at an airport in the U.S. According to the Airport Environmental Manager for Los Angeles World Airports, LAX also has the largest alternative fuel vehicle fleet of any other airport in the country.

Clean trucks program

Los Angeles’ Clean Truck Program, the first of it’s kind, has achieved notable success in reducing truck pollution and improving air quality. The program requires that all trucks servicing the meet the toughest environmental standards in the nation and it exceeded its goal of reducing harmful truck emission by at least 80 percent ahead of schedule.

Zero emission freight highway

With the support of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, The LA Metro Highway Program is currently exploring the feasibility of constructing a zero emissions freight corridor as part of the I-710 modernization project. Metro is also taking the lead on forming a Countrywide Zero-Emission Trucks Collaborative to promote collaboration on the development of zero emissions trucks for Los Angeles.

Metro rail expansion projects

In 2008, LA approved the addition of a half-cent sales tax to fund the city’s transit projects over a 30-year timeframe. In order to speed up the completion of the transit projects, Mayor Villaraigosa designed the ambitious 30/10 Initiative, which will allow Metro to build 12 key mass transit projects in 10 years, rather than 30.

Livability & bicycle infrastructure projects

Last year, The LA City Council approved a bike master plan that includes a 1,680-mile bike system with 200-plus miles of new routes every five years. And just last week, the county passed an ordinance intended to promote exercise and reduce obesity by requiring new developments to provide bicycle parking, build wider sidewalks and make it easier to start community gardens.

After learning about all of the work that’s being done in my city, it became clearer than ever that the to transition to this new green economy is really taking place. And it’s only been possible because LA’s citizens, government and businesses are working together to make it happen.

[Image credit: Phillipe Put, Flickr]

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Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.

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Mayor Works to Bring Clean Tech to Los Angeles

| Thursday January 26th, 2012 | 0 Comments

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

At the VerdeXchange Marketmakers Conference that took place in downtown Los Angeles this week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a keynote speech to an audience of 500 industry leaders working to build and shape the green economy of Los Angeles and the nation. The group included individuals working in both the public and private sectors to further the development of technologies and markets related to energy efficiency, electricity transmission, alternative fuel vehicles, clean water, low carbon transportation, and green building. In his presentation, Mayor Villaraigosa explained how his focus on developing Los Angeles’s clean technology market is helping him address some of the biggest challenges facing the city.

According to Villaraigosa, over 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2015, a 10 percent increase over four years ago. And in the coming years, 85 percent of jobs will need to be created in cities. In the face of absent leadership from the federal government, city leaders will need to come up with innovative ideas and take bold actions to determine how to balance growth with the need to provide residents with work and livable communities in the face of dwindling resources.

To that end, the mayor has set out to establish Los Angeles as the country’s leading hub for clean tech innovation, an effort that will create new jobs and improve the city’s economy. “LA is the creative capital of the country and maybe even the world. And it is fast becoming the clean tech capital of the country,” said Villaraigosa. This statement is sure to conjure some doubts, but there are convincing arguments that support Los Angeles as a city that is leading in the clean tech industry.

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Opposition Grows as Citizens United Turns Two

| Tuesday January 24th, 2012 | 3 Comments

Last week marked the second anniversary of the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of corporations to fund political campaigns. Opposition to Citizens United has been building, but the anniversary is a pertinent one as the country is currently bearing witness to the impact of this decision on the outcome of the Republican presidential race. Opposition groups, outraged public citizens, and even companies are taking action to oppose the superPACS that are having more influence on the election than the candidates themselves, and to build support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United case. Here’s a look at what’s been going on around the country.

SuperPACs Heavily Influencing the Republican Primary

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Cisco Brings Smart Cities Within Reach

| Monday January 23rd, 2012 | 0 Comments

The concept of the smart city is one that holds a lot of promise and potential in terms of how computerized, networked public infrastructure might improve energy efficiency, resource management, and the overall quality of life in cities. Given the impact that computers and smart phones have had on our personal and professional lives, it seems that the application of computer technology to the infrastructure of cities has even greater potential to change the way we live. Despite this potential, and with only a few exceptions, smart city technologies have yet to be adopted in most places.

But, according to Cisco, this all may be about to change.

study by ABI Research estimates that $39.5 billion will be spent globally on smart city technologies in 2016, up from only $8 billion in 2010. That’s $116 billion over six years. In order to demonstrate some of the ways in which this money is likely to be invested, Cisco created an interactive infographic showcasing its smart, connected City of the Future. A few highlights include:

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Topshop or Sweatshop: Is Cheap Fashion Driving Cheap Labor?

| Tuesday January 17th, 2012 | 0 Comments

Hundreds of workers in a sewing factory in partially abandoned building in Los Angeles

Fashion is a funny thing. With its constantly evolving trends, marched out into stores season after season, it is difficult to avoid temptation. For even the most frugal and resource conscious among us, the lure of the latest styles and the subconscious need to “keep up with the Joneses” can weaken our resolve to not buy clothing and other stuff we don’t really need.

There is some evidence that the fashion industry is starting to question its core principle of reinventing style by continuously encouraging consumers to prematurely discard their clothes for newer and better versions. But the increasing success and popularity of stores like H&M, Forever 21 and Topshop – which all sell the latest trends at very deep discounts – contradicts this effort by making those shoes you’ve been eyeing even harder to walk away from.

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Sprint Sets the Bar for Sustainable Phone Design

| Monday January 16th, 2012 | 0 Comments

At the highly anticipated Consumer Electronics Show (CES) taking place in Las Vegas this week, Sprint, who earned the No. 3 spot on Newsweek’s Green Rankings last year, revealed new evaluation criteria for its environmental scorecard. The scorecard is updated annually and is used to guide the design decisions of Sprint’s device manufacturers and vendors to ensure that sustainable design considerations are incorporated into the company’s entire product portfolio. As of January 1st, the scorecard will require that all phones go through the UL Environment certification process which includes specifications for improving reparability and creating more sustainable packaging.

Sprint is the first in the industry to require this type of certification for its products but hopes that the certification, which it worked with UL Environment to create, will catch on with other cell phone makers. In a press release, David Owens, Vice President of Product Development, said:

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