Is retail finally starting to become more humane in the United States? It is not anywhere close to becoming a job that can lead to a decent middle class — or even a lower-middle class — lifestyle, but wages are starting to inch up.
Walmart started the ball rolling with its announcement last week that it will increase wages to $9 an hour. Now TJX Companies, the operators of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, is the latest nationwide retailer to announce it will also give many of its workers a raise.
In a press release discussing its recent financial performance, the company announced it will raise the minimum wage for its employees to $9 an hour starting in June. That is a slight uptick from current wages, which now range from $8.25 to $8.50 an hour. By 2016, all employees who have six months’ tenure with the company will make a wage of at least $10 an hour.
So, why is the stubborn retail sector slowly changing its ways?
The Middle East may be mineral-rich, but that does not mean oil and gas are distributed evenly across the Gulf and Levant. Jordan, for example, has to import more than 95 percent of its energy needs. The result is an economy that spends as much as 16 percent on energy, or more than 40 percent of the nation’s budget.
The capital, Amman, has a budding entrepreneurial spirit, and the nation is culturally and geographically rich from Petra to the Dead Sea. But tourism is hardly enough to sustain an economy for 6.5 million people — a number on the rise because of the Syrian refugee crisis and continued chaos in nations from Egypt to Iraq. Jordan has numerous other challenges, but it is rich in one resource: sunshine. Now the kingdom is accelerating the adoption of solar, starting with the country’s 6,000 mosques.
According to Amman’s English daily, the Jordan Times, government agencies are working together to install solar panels at mosques, financed by a combination of grants and contributions through zakat (one of the five pillars of Islam that requires charitable donations). The projects will start with tenders to retrofit 120 mosques with solar and then the program will expand across the nation.
Perhaps fretting over climate change and rising ocean levels is a waste of time. After all, with over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface covered by water, there is plenty of room for floating communities to house the world’s population. It could eliminate the need for massive seawalls, skyrocketing insurance rates and a boost in hiring for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Ideas for floating villages keep popping up, and why not? The automakers always tease us with concept cars, so why not have concept floating villages?
The latest idea is from famed yacht designer Christian Grande of Italy with his recently presented AbiFloat, which combines modular building and luxury. (Based on the size of his yachts, Grande already has designed a floating village.)
Combining the best ideas we’ve seen in the magazine Dwell and HGTV, Abifloat allows for “living in nature without borders,” and its homes’ designs would integrate into the local landscape, Grande said. The homes would be built out of lightweight and sustainable materials including aluminum, recycled plastic, straw and cork. Measuring 21 feet by 11 feet (6.5 by 3.25 meters), the structures could function as “modular reference points” and could be snapped together to make even bigger “superstructures.”
The photos are certainly fantastic, and the project is an enjoyable one to read about. So, is this the next wave of green building?
Business and Human Rights Resource Center, a United Kingdom-based independent NGO, today released a new interactive platform that sheds more light on the effects multinationals and governments have on human rights. The organization’s data, the result of surveying 50 national governments and 72 companies, shows that while progress has been made, more work needs to be done.
The results are hardly surprising: Many respondents repeated the oft-heard notion that a complex supply chain and weak government enforcement pose challenges to businesses that say they are committed to human rights. But considering how some business sectors have a struggle with both their track records and perception that they are making progress on human rights, the nature of the organizations that did and did not participate are surprising.
It has been almost two years since the Rana Plaza factory collapse outside of Dakka, Bangladesh. The disaster was not only the worst accident to hit the global garment industry, but it was also the deadliest structural accident in human history. It may have fallen out of memory for many consumers, but not for the families and friends of the 1,134 killed and about 2,000 more injured; many of the survivors endured harrowing experiences in order to escape the eight-story factory collapse. At least 29 companies were tied to Rana Plaza, including Walmart, Mango, The Children’s Place, Primark and Benetton, the Italy-based fashion house.
In the wake of the tragedy, the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) backed a fund that was tasked with collecting about US$30 million to compensate victims and the families. So far, about US$21 million has been collected, according to the Guardian. But one company with ties to the collapse was holding out: Benetton.
Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm and arguably the force that has defined the global PR sector for years, will stop working with one of the most powerful business groups in the United States. According to the Holmes Report, Edelman has ended its relationship with the American Petroleum Institute (API).
Blue Advertising, a division of Edelman that had managed the relationship with API, will spin off from its parent firm and manage the account on its own. It is a gutsy business move for Edelman, on par with CVS deciding to stop selling tobacco products, since the Guardian has estimated that its relationship with API delivered as much as 10 percent of Edelman’s annual revenues. Meanwhile the firm developed a growing corporate social responsibility and sustainability practice, a profitable move considering more multinationals are cleaning up their supply chains while taking more action to address climate change. The result was the firm carrying on a balancing act of grooming its social responsibility practice while representing a controversial industry: a dance that was becoming more uncomfortable to watch over the past year.
The past year has been a roller coaster for Target, with fallout over the infamous data breach, the closing of its stores in Canada and growing pressure to raise wages in the wake of Walmart’s recent announcement. But the company’s sales and its stock have rebounded, and compared to other retailers, employees have been relatively satisfied with the company’s work culture. And its customers may become more intrigued by Target’s increase in its “Made to Matter” product line, which includes a variety of brands that are made with organic and sustainable ingredients.
Made to Matter launched last year, with the roll out of iconic brands including Burt’s Bees, Annie’s Homegrown, Clif Bar, EVOL, method and its own private label product line. Last Friday, Target announced it would almost double the number of brands from 16 to 31, and the company expects sales from these labels to reach US$1 billion in 2015.
When it opened in 1956, General Motors Technical Center was lauded as a place where “today meets tomorrow.” The 710 acre complex in Warren is home to 61 buildings and a 22,000 acre lake, cost about $US100 million to build and symbolized America’s and Detroit’s industrial might, innovation and optimism. When it opened, over 5,000 leaders in engineering and science came for the dedication ceremony and over 180,000 people visited the Center over the next two days. Designed by Eero Saarinen, whose work also included the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport in New York, designed what is now recognized as one of the largest modernist architectural masterpieces in the U.S. As noted during a talk Triple Pundit attended at Modernism Week in Palm Springs, the Technical Center is a leading example of mid-century architecture in Michigan, where much of this shift in design has much of its origins.
For the most part the Technical Center looks the way it did almost 60 years later. Some of the original interiors were lost, but for the most part this “Versailles of Industry” is still intact and screams more of a Mad Men than Chevy Volt vibe. The Center still is the locus of GM’s research and development and is the work address for 19,000 employees. While the function of the complex has not changed, the complex is slowly undergoing a green upgrade reflective of what more 21st century employees are seeking in their work environment.
Carnaval is wrapping up in Brazil, which has meant several days of costumes, parades, fantastic live music and a fair share of debauchery until the wee hours of the morning. The type of partying varies depending on what city or region you happen to be visiting, but there is no shortage of revelry, food and drink. And speaking of drink: One of Brazil’s most popular beer brands, Skol, found itself and its company, Ambev, in controversy after a poorly thought-out advertising campaign.
In São Paulo, Skol ads went up last week proclaiming “Esqueci o ‘não’ em casa,” which literally means, “I forgot the ‘no’ at home.”
Considering the social ills any country has, including substance abuse and domestic violence — which can get magnified during a time like Carnaval — it should not have surprised the marketing department at Skol that more than a few people found the campaign offensive. Ambev, with sales of over US$14 billion annually and owned by the beverage giant Anhauser-Busch InBev, had to lurch into damage control.
If you are irritated because Valentine’s Day flowers are already dying, take a step back and consider the journey they took to get from farm to vase. In the U.S., most of the flowers sold are grown in Colombia and Ecuador; regular reports estimate that 80 percent of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imports. Across the pond in Europe, the Netherlands ranks as the largest exporter, thanks in part to its enormous flower auction house in Aalsmeer, where flowers from elsewhere in Europe, Africa and Asia are traded and sold.
The fact you got flowers at all is the result of their journey by airplane, underlying the massive carbon footprint of the industry. But there is also a massive effect on people — and that footprint is more like a boot on the neck. As many journalists have demonstrated, most recently in the Guardian, the hours floriculture workers endure are long, the conditions often terrible and the pay low. So, if you’re considering flowers for upcoming Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day, or for that birthday or milestone, you may want to take a look at some of the more responsible flower vendors that are on the market.
Yesterday General Motors (GM) announced it will add wind power to its energy portfolio for the first time in the history of the company. The construction of the 34 megawatt wind farm in Palo Alto, 325 miles (526 km) from Mexico City, will begin during the second quarter of this year.
When complete, 75 percent of the wind farm’s energy will power GM’s 104 acre factory and plant facilities in Toluca, an hour’s drive west of Mexico City. The wind energy will also provide some electricity for other GM plants in Silao, San Luis Petosi and Ramos Arizpe. Enel Green Power, the US$2.3 billion dollar renewable energy company based in Italy, has designed and will build the plant as directed in a purchase power agreement signed with GM.
Listen to the generations before us, and our elders will tell us how instead of a walk-in closet full of clothes, they had a tiny crevice in their room, or a wardrobe, where they stored a few garments: One nice coat, maybe a handful of shirts, and a couple of pairs of trousers were the norm for men, for example. Clothes were not always washed, but often brushed to keep clean, and shoes were polished daily. Fast forward to today, and fast fashion is all the rage. It is common to have several colors of the same shirt or pants, and many consumers do not think twice about discarding a garment — not to Goodwill or charity, but literally into the trash can — after a few wears.
Finally, the fashion industry realizes we cannot continue this trend in a world where the rising population will have to devote more land to food — or even energy. We cannot continue to grow cotton like mad, nor can we endlessly spin fossil fuels into polyester or other synthetic fabrics. The road toward more sustainable fibers will be a long one with plenty of failures and misses, but it is one we need to take. That is, at least, absent a total rethink of how many clothes we really need in our closets — a discussion the large global clothing chains want to avoid.
To skirt that problem, more clothing companies are focusing on sustainable fiber. Levi Strauss, for example, has modernized and transformed its brand in part by emphasizing sustainability in everything from its garments’ origins to long after the sale. The company has spun recycled plastic bottles into its iconic denim jeans and has worked with other countries to launch the Better Cotton Initiative.
While there’s still plenty to be done, the use of sustainable fibers is on the rise. Read on to learn more about how five textiles are shaping sustainability in the fashion industry.
Fire Island has long been known as a summer getaway for New Yorkers, who flock to the 30-mile-long, quarter-mile-wide sand bar that protects Long Island from the Atlantic Ocean. But this string of villages and resorts 50 miles away from New York City also became a laboratory for modern and experimental architecture. Many of the homes included sustainable and passive design features before those terms became part of our vocabulary. One talented architect, whose work until recently was largely forgotten, not only has left a lasting impact for his ideas on how homes could be sustainable, but also had a leading role in gay culture during what now are often seen as the halcyon days bookended by Stonewall and the 1980s AIDS crisis.
Horace Gifford was born in 1932 and was raised in Florida, where his family had developed the town of Vero Beach. His time growing up on Florida’s beaches left a lasting impact on him as he trained as an architect in college. He never finished his education as an architect so he had to rely on his peers to sign off on his work, but Gifford began to earn a stellar reputation after he arrived at Fire Island in the late 1950s.
When the Aluminaire House went on display in 1931, it started a long path from case study into a phenomenon that helped launch a new architectural movement in the United States. For 10 days during the Architectural and Allied Arts Exposition in New York City, 100,000 people filed through the beaux-arts Grand Central Palace to view what was inside: a stark contrast, what critics saw as an unprecedented and innovative 22 x 28 feet aluminum-and-glass structure. Architecture historians have generally recognized this structure for being the first all-metal modular home built in the U.S. After eighty years, during which it has moved, fallen into disrepair and then almost demolished, the Aluminaire House will soon find a new home in Palm Springs, the epicenter of mid-century modern architecture and design.
For its fans in the architecture and design world, the Aluminaire House is vindication for the International School of architecture, a movement that reached its peak in the 1960s. During the following decades this school of building design largely fell out of favor–then ridicule and for many buildings, demolition–but in the last decade has become vaunted again for its historical impact, practicality and minimalist aesthetic. But this house is also important because it was ahead of its time for its use of prefabricated, sustainable and lightweight materials as well as its ease of construction—the norm within today’s increased focus on green building and construction.
Despite promises from companies stating that they are committed to stopping deforestation, the United Kingdom’s Global Canopy Program (GCP) insists more needs to be done to halt this worldwide problem. To that end, the GCP has assembled what it calls the Forest 500, which includes a list of 250 countries, 150 investors and 50 countries that together largely control the global timber supply chain.
In a nutshell, this group of stakeholders controls about $1.7 trillion in shareholdings that are exposed to “forest risk commodities.” These actors, from Fortune 500 companies to the world’s largest financial institutions, have revenues exceeding $4.5 trillion while dominating the global supply chains of soy, beef, leather, palm oil, timber, and pulp and paper. Corporate promises aside, the GCP insists that this group has much to do in guaranteeing the survival of the world’s forests. The study, however, does acknowledge that some of the individual companies have done much to confront deforestation — but as a group they need to do much more.
So, who are some of the success stories?