One does not have to look far to see how the production of textiles has a huge impact on our planet, water and land. And if you add the effects of the carpet industry, the story becomes even more worrisome. While carpet recycling has improved in recent years, the stubborn fact remains that the world will require more fiber — from cotton, to wool, to fossil-fuel based materials such as polyester — in the coming years. Estimates suggest the world’s demand for fibers will reach 96.4 million tons in 2020, up from 76.4 tons in 2010.
One Italian company, Aquafil, seeks to reduce that demand by improving textile and carpet recycling, educating consumers, and finding new markets for its fibers and yarns. Yesterday I had a telephone conversation with Maria Giovanna Sandrini, Aquafil’s brand and communication manager for ECONYL, to learn how this company is boosting its bottom line while raising awareness about the environment.
What’s most interesting about this firm? Your future outfit — or carpet in the home or office — could, oddly enough, have a tie to the fishing industry.
Companies including Google, UPS, Ford Motor Co., Microsoft and eBay have long positioned themselves as leaders in the fight against climate change — their work, in fact, has been regularly featured here in Triple Pundit by many of our writers, including me. But Forecast the Facts, a project of the Citizen Engagement Laboratory, has issued a scathing report on what it describes as their funding of “climate change deniers.”
And it is the aforementioned companies for which Forecast the Facts has the harshest words. This report “raises questions about Google’s own honesty”; calls out Bill Ford for his company’s donations to climate deniers who “thwart, even mock, sustainability”; equates US$1 million in Microsoft donations to funding Big Tobacco scientists; and in turn is dismissive of eBay’s and UPS’ efforts related to sustainability based on some of the donations these companies have given out the past few years.
But is it fair to paint these companies as hypocritical based on some of their political donations?
Scrap metal recycling is a US$50 billion business that as of 2013 employs over 150,000 people in the United States. While the slump in volatile metal prices caused revenues to plateau in 2013 after a prosperous few years, scrap metal recycling will long be profitable — especially when considering the fact 95 percent of cars eventually end up at a recycling facility. For this industry’s workers, however, with these jobs come risks.
A recent example is the death of a worker at an Illinois scrap metal recycling facility earlier this year. The company has now been fined US$470,000 by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Organization (OSHA) for eight different violations, ranging from the lack of employee protection from hazards to even a complete failure to post signs pointing out dangerous equipment. Furthermore, the dearth of safety features at a metal shredder is what led to the employee’s arm to be trapped in a conveyor belt, which led to his death. What is most disturbing, however, is that OSHA had never inspected the facility, as noted in an interview on Think Progress.
But while this case makes it easy to highlight this one company and OSHA’s shortcomings, the reality is that the scrap metal sector is one of the more dangerous settings for American workers — and little is done to enforce safety protections for workers.
Latin America overall has bountiful supplies of water; in fact, the World Bank estimates that 31 percent of the world’s freshwater resources can be found in this region. But that does not mean citizens necessarily have equal access to this vital resource, and climate change could have a drastic effect on future supplies of water. PepsiCo, working with the Inter-American Bank (IDB) and European governments, has released a new data management program with the aim to assist Latin American nations with forecasting future water availability and supplies.
The modelling tool, which the IDB has named Hydro-BID, is an open-sourced program that has already projected water supplies in Argentina, Brazil, Haiti and Argentina. Pepsi announced Hydro-BID’s launch at the annual World Water Week in Stockholm.
Access to such a tool is important for managing water supplies throughout Latin America because the evidence suggests climate change has already had in impact on water management within the region.
A year has passed since Zagster launched a bike-sharing program for Rock Ventures’ portfolio of properties and companies in downtown Detroit. Considering all the challenges the Motor City has with crime, not to mention the harsh Michigan winters, success was hardly guaranteed. But the program is still humming along, and now GM is partnering with Zagster for a similar program at General Motor’s 330-acre technical center in nearby Warren.
Such success is behind the growth of Zagster as it focuses on bicycle-sharing projects at universities and corporate campuses. The latest coup for the Massachusetts-based firm is a pilot program at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI). Bicycles docked outside BWI’s international terminal will be available for airport employees looking for some exercise and travellers wanting to use those legs during long layovers. As the Guardian’s Marc Gunther points out, Zagster’s focus on bike sharing for large organizations, and innovative programs such as the one at BWI, accounts for its continued growth. Meanwhile, large-scale bicycle programs such as ones in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. lose money. So are citywide bike programs doomed to failure?
At a first glance, it is easy to lament both the decline of the small store and the artisan marketplace in North America, as big-box stores have redefined conventional and online shopping. E-commerce behemoths such as Amazon, where one can buy anything from dog food to king-sized beds, have also done a number on small goods. Plus, the rise of China as the world’s factory hardly helps the cause of the small shopkeeper or artisan.
All of this has been on my mind while I’m spending some time in Montevideo, Uruguay, where it is easy to avoid the malls and hypermarkets: There is something to be said about going to five or 10 different businesses while walking to do errands, from the laundry service, to the cheese store, to the vegetable stand, to finally the kiosk to recharge my phone. Living here, it would be easy for me to change my profile picture to that icon, “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.”
At the same time, however, the Internet has made it far easier for artisans, artists, and craftsmen and women to highlight and sell their wares. The creative types who have long been priced out of neighborhoods, such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Fillmore in San Francisco, can open a store, online, with no overhead. And for their customers, while the experience may not be as social, or convivial, as walking from store to store, finding that perfect item can be rewarding as he or she bypasses Amazon, Walmart.com or the other online giants. The result is a welcome trend for handmade goods.
For 10 years the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been on a mission to convert 100 percent of the world’s palm oil into a more sustainable and responsible commodity. It has been a long road, in part because of the world’s rapidly-growing demand for food and businesses’ reluctance to add what they perceive to be additional costs to their supply chains. But RSPO is now making real and measurable progress. Last week the Zurich, Switzerland-based organization announced that the demand for sustainable palm oil is outpacing supply for the first time.
According to RSPO, sales of sustainable oil, based on what the organization traces through supply chains, spiked almost 65 percent during the first two quarters of 2014 compared to last year. That is a total of over 1.1 million metric tons so far this year. Meanwhile sales of RSPO’s certified GreenPalm certificates, which companies can purchase to offset their use of conventionally sourced palm oil, grew by almost 38 percent.
Due to more consumers’ demands for transparency about the products they buy — and the fact social media can expose the difference between what companies say publicly and what goes on from the shop floors to the boardrooms — shopping and sourcing ethically is easier (or more confusing) than ever before. We at Triple Pundit have long traced the journey of ethical certifications such as fair trade, B Corporations and the controversial labeling of GMO and non-GMO products. Now consumers concerned about how women are treated in the workplace, as well as the global disparity between men’s and women’s wages, among other disparities, can consider gender equality when making purchasing decisions.
Switzerland-based EDGE (the Global Business Certification Standard for Business Equality) is banking its gender equality certification will resonate with businesses and consumers. Its mission is simple: to engage corporations all over the world in creating equal opportunities for both men and women within the workplace. Currently the organization is working with 60 companies in 14 various sectors on all continents.
In case you are unaware, Whole Foods is now selling rabbit meat at a limited number of stores across the United States. As far as more sustainable meat goes, rabbit is one of the better options (along with lamb) — especially considering the oft-quoted statistics suggesting the global meat industry is a larger greenhouse gas emitter than the world’s entire transportation sector. For urban and rural dwellers, rabbit is a far more efficient way to score protein than beef — and they will not wake your neighbors at the crack of dawn. Even the environmental blog Grist, which sniffs at many claims about “sustainability,” has sung the praises of raising rabbit meat.
But the thought of rabbit meat grilled, pan-fried or roasted (goes well with parsnips and baby potatoes) does not make everyone’s mouth water. As the Atlantic recently pointed out, New York’s Union Square Whole Foods has attracted a small but passionate crowd that wants more consumers to boycott the retailer for killing rabbits. One of the more emotional arguments against raising rabbits for meats is that, after all, they are pets.
But there is a problem with that argument: Whole Foods is not killing pets, but is sourcing meat from farms that meet what the company describes as rigorous standards.
There will always be debate about whether having more and more of our data on the cloud is really more sustainable in the long run, but one company making a difference in this space is Salesforce.com. On the business side, it is easy to argue this San Francisco-based company has had a beneficial impact on customer relationship management (CRM) systems. In recent years the US$4 billion company has become a major force in the cloud-computing sector, and is frequently touted for both being a truly innovative company as well as for its sustainability agenda. But the company is making a difference in communities and on corporate responsibility issues as well.
To that end, Salesforce.com recently released its latest sustainability report. A lot of what the report discusses is framed over how the company has evolved since its founding 15 years ago, and it can offer its peer companies, in Silicon Valley and beyond, ideas on how to become a more responsible and efficient operation.
We hear a lot from the optimists about how renewable energy is experiencing skyrocketing growth and should displace fossil fuels in no time. Then there are the naysayers who insist solar, wind and other forms of clean energy will never provide the power America needs. The truth is somewhere in between. One fact cannot be disputed however: All new energy capacity generated last month in the U.S. was 100 percent due to renewables.
According to the latest report issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, 405 megawatts of new installed capacity was added to America’s grid: 379 MW from wind, 21 MW from solar and 5 MW from hydropower.
The single-serving, single-use coffee pod (or K-Cup) is one of the most wasteful consumer innovations to come up since bottled water. If you bother to scoop out each coffee pod, and your local municipality accepts the plastic/foil/maybe paper contraption in their recycling waste stream, they are not so hideous when it comes to final disposal. And true, more companies are rolling out biodegradable or compostable pods, but the reality is that most of this waste ends up in landfill. OfficeMax and TerraCycle, however, have launched a K-Cup recycling program in Canada.
Last week OfficeMax Grand & Toy, a division of Office Depot, announced the first K-Cup recycling program north of the border. As with both coffee companies and retailers, the K-Cup has become a lucrative business; so it behooves them to do something to increase the waste diversion of these pesky coffee pods. The success of this recycling program will rely on a pilot that has launched recently in southern Ontario.
Two things that define today’s San Francisco — bicycling and tech companies — are helping a 27-year-old nonprofit keep some of the city’s less fortunate from going hungry. Mary Risley, founder of a local cooking school, founded Food Runners in 1987 to pick up uneaten food from local businesses in order to distribute it to charities feeding the hungry. In turn those struggling with the city’s rising rents can get by while less food waste ends up in landfill.
Risley’s organization has become busier the past year, in part because of the tech companies in the city’s SOMA neighborhood with their cafeterias cooking more food than their employees can eat. Economics and the surging cost of living also play a role: As a recent San Francisco Chronicle article noted, the amount of food donations Food Runners has picked up has spiked 50 percent in the past year. But not only Silicon Valley-type companies are donating to the nonprofit.
TOMS Shoes, the company often credited for making the one-for-one socially conscious business model take off, decided earlier this summer it wanted to expand even faster since its founding in 2006. Such ambitious goals, of course, require money, so the company’s founder, Blake Mycoskie, started shopping the company around. This week he found a partner in Bain Capital, which has agreed to purchase a 50 percent ownership stake of TOMS. Mykoskie will continue to own the other half of the company; financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
The news elicits mixed emotions across the board: The socially responsible business crowd will shudder, no doubt in part because of how Bain Capital was eviscerated by the Democrats during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Much of that criticism was exaggerated and unfair, but employees of some companies that became part of Bain’s portfolio, such as Ampad, have had plenty to say about the company’s approach to investment. Then again, Bain Capital found success with other firms such as Staples and Gartner. So could this help TOMS in the long run, expand the one-for-one business model, and benefit more people across the globe?
Rhode Island politics are certainly colorful. While some surveys suggest the state has cleaned up its act after enduring a reputation of corruption for decades, the state’s politicians certainly hold their own with their counterparts in Illinois, New Jersey and Florida.
Now the latest flack in the country’s smallest state is over two-time Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci’s pasta sauce. Cianci touts his pasta sauce, and charity’s work, as reason enough to run for mayor of Providence again this year — even though his two previous administrations ended with resignations after felony convictions. Never mind that he first quit after pleading guilty to assault and then again years later after he was charged for 27 crimes, including racketeering. So selling jars of pasta sauce, which purport to fund scholarships, would be a sweet way to atone for past sins, correct?
Well not quite: It turns out the Associated Press investigated the mayor’s claims, and found that from 2009 to 2012, the pasta sauce made a profit of $3.