Two NGOs that have been at the forefront of combating climate change through promoting innovation and market-based solutions have now joined forces. Yesterday Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Carbon War Room (CWR) announced they will merge, allowing them to leverage each other’s strengths and find solutions to expand their vision of a low-carbon economy.
This new organization could benefit from what had been two very approaches. RMI, which was founded over 30 years ago, focuses on research and analysis. CWR, one of Richard Branson’s many ventures, takes a more brash approach toward promoting a global low-carbon economy—and has also been fixated on how capital solutions can help renewables and clean technologies scale. The trick, of course, is whether two different organizations with different work cultures and survive as one entity: a frequent challenge within the private sector when two companies merge.
It has been ages since you could light up on a flight, but there is a chance tobacco could become an aviation fuel of the future. Boeing and South African Airways (SAA) have announced that they are close to processing the first crop of tobacco plants for biofuel production. This pilot project, which both companies have publicly acknowledged for over a year, promises so much it almost sounds too good to be true.
This time the feedstock is Solaris, a nicotine-free tobacco plant developed and patented by the Italian biotech firm Sunchem. Instead of providing leaves for cigarette production, the Solaris plant offers flowers and seeds from which oil can be extracted for fuel production. Solaris is not genetically modified, it can grow on lands inhospitable to food crops, and its by-products are high in protein and can be used for animal protein. Its promoters say it will allow tobacco farmers to continue their lives’ work while supporting the national campaign to reduce smoking in South Africa.
In many ways, this is a great time for Uber. The carsharing service keeps expanding (210 cities worldwide) and has recently been valued at over $40 billion. But it also has taken a PR beating in past months, from reasons including thin-skinned executives threatening journalists to thuggish tactics in undermining its competitor, Lyft. Nevertheless, in many cities Uber has become the transport of choice. And it has tried to show a softer side, as in its current campaign to take action against childhood hunger. Fine, Uber is not donating the money, but the company is lending its technology to allow riders to kick in another $5 to their ride fares and help fund No Kid Hungry. Unfortunately for Uber, no one is talking about the rides-for-hunger campaign: the buzz is on the company’s surge pricing, or as some say, price gouging, during the tragic hostage crisis earlier this week in Sydney.
The outrage stems from Uber’s use of algorithms to set “surge pricing” into effect during rush hours, holidays, hectic Friday nights and bad weather. Uber users have long railed against this business practice, and in fairness much of that noise is an insufferable stream of whining—after all, some public transport systems like the Washington, DC Metro increase fares during peak commuting times while municipal taxi services boost fares late at night. Uber is a business, not an entitlement program for those who do not have a car.
What caused the outrage, however, was when Uber rides out of Sydney during that awful day increased as much as four-fold as the chaos in that downtown café unfolded.
In recent years, the double-whammy of plastic trash and overfishing has drawn more attention to the plight of the world’s oceans. I was made aware of this mounting problem several years ago when I stayed at a remote beach town in northeastern Brazil. Plastic bottles, furniture and sheaths of fishnets had washed up in an area where the nearest town or city was scores of miles away. The image of those fishnets reminds me that the dangers to marine life continue even if a global moratorium on fishing kept every single boat in port.
These threats are ongoing because of fishing equipment, mostly nets, that are dumped into the oceans daily. This “ghost gear” will remain in the waters for centuries, continuing to kill marine life.
To that end, last month over 40 delegates from various organizations convened in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, to lay the groundwork for the new Global Ghost Gear Initiative, or GGGI. This multi-stakeholder effort, which is bringing together NGOs, industry leaders and intergovernmental organizations, is focused on finding innovative solutions to the growing problem of plastic debris the fishing industry loses, abandons and discards daily. The cost in money and resources is too large to ignore: United Kingdom-based World Animal Protection estimates that over 640,000 tons of fishing gear, mostly nylon or plastic, ends up dumped in the world’s oceans and seas each year.
Supporters of the Keystone Pipeline and Canada’s tar sands development like to call their product “ethical oil,” but plenty of their opponents question whether digging up massive amounts of the earth’s surface is really “ethical.” Those who question whether churning tar sands into fuel, the most energy-intensive fossil fuel to refine, is a wise long-term policy will have more ammunition due to a report Fossil Free Indexes recently released. It could give potential investors in tar sands companies second thoughts about buying their equities.
According to this New York-based research group, which provides data to support ethical investing, the top 20 companies that have invested in the Canadian tar sands have increased their potential carbon dioxide emissions by more than five times the past 10 years. The FFI came up with this list based on its most recent Carbon Underground Tar Sands 20, which is comprised of the largest of the 200 public coal, oil and gas companies based on their reported reserves.
Latin America is relatively water rich compared to other regions in the world. But there are still plenty of areas in Central and South America feeling the effects of climate change, generally because the precipitation is occurring where there is low population density. For example, Lima, the host of this week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference and home to 8.5 million people, only receives about 6.4 millimeters (0.30 inches) of rain annually.
Ironically for beverage companies, they are often expanding their businesses into areas that are already struggling with water scarcity. To that end, one large global brewer, SABMiller, says businesses need to make the business case for addressing water stress and climate change throughout Latin America.
As with the case of many beverage companies and brewers, Latin America is a growth market as more citizens enter the middle class and can now easily afford a beer or two. The problem, however, is that new breweries are often opening in municipalities that are already coping with water stress. To address the issue, SABMiller, which has concentrated its business in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Peru, has partnered with other organizations on water conservation and treatment programs for several years. One of them, the Water Futures Partnership, works with the World Wildlife Fund and the German development organization GIZ on recharging aquifers while reducing dependence on groundwater. According to SABMiller, such programs not only address water stress, but can also benefit businesses that invest in water security within Latin America in the long run.
Amazon has certainly taken plenty of heat over the past several years. The giant online mall has long been criticized for dragging its feet on disclosing its carbon footprint (but never mind, you can of course buy a book about how to reduce your own CO2 impact). Its treatment of workers has also come under scrutiny. Nevertheless the company has tried to tout its “green” credentials, though most observers would only agree its greatest progress has been on frustration-free packaging.
Now the Seattle-based company is promoting Amazon Elements, a line of high-quality “everyday essentials” that supposedly are tested on Amazon employees’ families. Curiously, the launch of this Elements line is, for now, limited to disposable diapers and baby wipes. For now these products are only available to Prime customers, but anyone can subscribe to Amazon’s newsletters to see what future offerings are in store.
There’s no question that the global textile industry has a massive effect on the planet, much of it negative. From workers’ rights to factories to the pesticides used on cotton farms, the social and environmental impacts are evident across the entire supply chain. Efforts such as the Better Cotton Initiative have started to make a difference, but the industry still has a long ways to go. The Swiss company, Freitag, however, is on not only on a quest to transform how fabric is manufactured, but to change how it is disposed—as in composting.
Founded by two brothers, Freitag has been in business since 1993 and employs about 160 people. The company owns 10 stores in central Europe and Japan, and has over 50 products on the market. In addition to turning truck tarps into heavy-duty bags, the company produces what it says is 100 percent compostable fabric.
Marks and Spencer (M&S) has long been one of the world’s more sustainable and socially responsible retailers, dating back to its 2007 launch of its Plan A. The 100-point plan helped transform the company’s supply chain and operations. The plan was extended in 2010 with even more goals added with 2015 and then 2020 guidelines. Now six months after what the United Kingdom-based company launched what it calls Plan A 2020, the company has reported on its most recent progress.
Some of the updates are relatively ho-hum, not to be surprising as M&S has a habit of enumerating everything. LED lighting is being installed at the company’s epic food halls. The company trained 7,000 of what it describes as “emerging leaders.” More of the company’s clothing can be traced to the Better Cotton Initiative. What really attracts attention, however, is the fact 63 percent of the retailer’s products sold have had a “sustainable” attribute. The competition will be hard pressed to come close to that figure.
The United Nations climate negotiators are meeting once again, this time in Lima, Peru, where—as we have heard before—we will hear promises of making significant progress on climate change. All eyes are on India, which, like China, is often criticized for dragging its feet on developing a solid plan on climate change. Of course, those charges are often unfair, considering these two countries are the workshops for the world. If the U.S. had a real manufacturing sector, this country would be an even more massive polluter. With China taking bolder steps in addressing its carbon footprint, all eyes are now on India. The odds are that the world’s second most populous nation will make a big announcement this week at this week’s Lima climate change conference.
According to India’s daily Business Standard, the Indian government is keen on making “fresh and enhanced commitments to the international community.”
The B Corp movement has picked up steam the last few years: Etsy, Warby Parker, Patagonia and Method [Ed note: and TriplePundit!] are some examples of firms that are combining good business with doing good. Over 1,000 companies have become certified by keeping the highest standards of transparency, environmental performance and social responsibility. They range from building contractors to professional services such as legal and accounting. But until this week, there was not a single utility in this group until Green Mountain Power Corporation (GMP) announced this week it is now a B Corp—the first utility in the world to score this certification.
Based in Vermont, GMP provides power to over 260,000 homes and businesses. The company has recognized that the role and business model of utilities are changing. To that end, GMP has worked with stakeholders across Vermont to develop new forms of energy beyond conventional fossil fuels.
Are you concerned over the beef industry’s impact on the environment and animals? Never mind the fact that more land is used is used for animal pasture and to raise feed than to grow food for humans: A movement is underway to make beef more sustainable. Held in São Paulo, Brazil, last month, the major supporters of this conference included McDonald’s, Cargill and the animal pharmaceutical company Elanco. Over the course of four days, 300 attendees at the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) issued what the organization described as the “release of the first global definition for ‘sustainable beef’.”
The summary of what occurred in São Paulo will hardly endear the GRSB to advocates of a more plant-based diet and for an improved management of resources. The GRSB is actually pushing for the production of more beef, citing issues including food security, links between the consumption of animal protein and test scores and the need to do “more with less.” So brace yourself: In order to meet the demand of income and population growth, the planet will need to product 43 percent more beef by 2050. So exactly how will this be done?
Hospitals and health clinics across the world struggle with waste for numerous reasons. Their waste streams are more complicated, due to the various streams they produce and the regulations they have to follow: think of all the bandages, pharmaceuticals and yes, what comes out of the operating rooms as well. Information on how much waste hospitals generate is sparse. One survey suggests hospitals in the U.S. generate about 34 pounds of waste per day, per bed—but that was from a network of “eco-friendly” hospitals. Food waste is part of the problem hospitals face: a conservative estimate suggests hospitals waste three to four pounds of food daily per bed, not surprising considering the convergence of sick people and, well, bad hospital food. The statistics are dismal on the other side of the pond, too: The Guardian estimates one-fourth of all food served up in British hospitals ends up in the trash.
With food waste contributing about 10 percent to a hospital’s waste stream, more health care companies are finding more creative ways to churn all that slop into something useful. One hospital in Minnesota churns uneaten food into fertilizer. Naturally, composting is another option, and can be even more seamless if the hospital goes with compostable tableware—a tough sell when procurement officers only want to look at the financial figures. With the pressure on to reduce the amount of garbage sent to municipal landfills, one company based in New York is finding a niche with its solution for waste diversion.
No, they don’t have Thanksgiving in the United Kingdom. Maybe they should, since the Brits should feel thankful they rid themselves of the Puritans. One tradition that has creeped across the pond from the U.S., however, is Black Friday: a ritual some probably feel should stay out of Britain. It’s easy to feel exasperation over Black Friday’s emphasis on heavily discounted, shoddily manufactured goods when plenty of products made to last are on the market. Speaking of which, one online business, Made to Last, is connecting consumers to a bevy of manufacturers who craft their wares within the UK.
Calling out consumers to take into account durability, sustainability and the benefits of strengthening local industries, Made to Last is similar in concept to American web sites Locally.com and Etsy. Products are sold via a web site, but the emphasis on small manufacturers and artisans allow users to “buy local.” Made to Last only has a few rules in order for suppliers to sell on its site: products must come with a guarantee, they must be manufactured within the United Kingdom and finally, the products must have utility—no dancing flowers or pet rocks.
Could premium milk be the greatest coup for beverage companies since bottled water? Coca-Cola apparently thinks so. Like its competitors within the beverage industry, the company is trying to find new ways to boost profits since their flagship products, fizzy drinks, have long been suffering from flat sales. While more consumers avoid both sugary and diet sodas and hipsters find alternatives from cold brewed bottled coffee to kombucha, Coca-Cola’s shareholders want increased sales. Premium milk could be the answer for Coke.
Coca-Cola is a major investor in Fairlife, which promises to transform the dairy industry by providing “more vroom for your milk.” Starting with the marketing, this is not your parents’ or grandparents’ dairy: instead of pastoral scenes of farmers and cows, the ads are a composite of Alicia Silverstone Aerosmith videos, Marilyn Monroe’s iconic Seven Year Itch photo and a certain scene in Something about Mary. So what is all the fuss about? After all, it is just milk, right?