Ford Motor Co. has been one of the more interesting automakers to watch as it has increased its focus on sustainability in recent years. Now the company is ramping up its solar portfolio to match its efforts on recycling and using more “greener” materials within its cars.
Last week the Dearborn, Michigan-based company announced it will work with DTE Energy, a Michigan electric utility and energy services firm, to build what the companies say will be the largest solar array in Michigan. Scheduled to start construction next month with a finish date targeted for early 2015, the carport at Ford’s global headquarters will be the second-largest solar carport in the Midwest. After completion, DTE will continue to operate and maintain the installation for 20 years.
ConAgra Foods is now the latest large food company to adopt a more sustainable palm oil policy. The $13 billion giant, whose packaged food brands include Healthy Choice, Slim Jim, Marie Callendar’s and Libby’s, has agreed to use only sustainably-sourced palm oil in its products.
Soon after the company announced its new policy late last week, the US$177 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund announced it would withdraw a sustainable palm oil shareholder proposal it had filed with Green Century Capital Management.
While ConAgra previously stated it was committed to the development of sustainable palm oil, and is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, its stance did not go far enough to satisfy a wide range of environmental activist groups. Critics accused the company of focusing more on purchasing “GreenPalm Credits” instead of working harder to prevent purchasing palm oil from suppliers that were responsible for deforestation, most of which is occurring in southeast Asia.
When you stock up on cashews at your favorite store, those fatty and delicious nuts have long left behind heaps of agricultural waste. But that waste, in the form of fruit attached to the nut often called a cashew apple (or cashew fruit), is full of nutrients, especially vitamin C. Cashew fruit also has plenty of other potential uses — meat substitute, animal feed and even booze among them.
Now PepsiCo is working with farmers in India to source cashew apples and use the crop as an ingredient in its products. The long-term result for Pepsi could be the next coconut water, pomegranate juice or hazelnut milk — and in the words of one of the $66 billion snack and beverage giant’s newer slogans, could “change the game” in the beverage industry.
Pepsi launched a project earlier this year in Maharashtra, India to source the cashew fruit. In a partnership with the Clinton Foundation, the program will work with small farmers to improve their farming techniques, increase yields and therefore, boost incomes for farmers and their families. This is nothing new for Pepsi: The company has launched similar sustainable agriculture programs with chickpea farmers in Ethiopia and sunflower growers in Mexico.
We have long heard about future perils to our coasts due to climate change, but the allure of the ocean views and mild weather keeps pulling us to the shores. This is especially true in Florida, where despite the constant threats of hurricanes, communities keep growing with a population approaching 20 million. Insurance companies are at particular risk because of that continued growth and development along with future climate volatility. One hurdle confronting insurers, however, is that only about 5 percent of climate change science research is actually focused on oceans. Catlin Group, a US$4 billion insurance and reinsurance company, has been taking steps to change that.
The company is sponsoring the Catlin Seaview Survey, a scientific initiative that aims to create a baseline record of the globe’s coral reefs. By filming these reefs in high-definition, panoramic vision, the organization’s goal is to have data readily available so scientists, the general public and governmental officials can gauge the challenges our reefs are confronting due to fishing, pollution and of course, climate change. The latest project is now underway in Florida.
Tesla Motors‘ proposed “Gigafactory,” Elon Musk’s vision of a massive factory that would revamp the global supply chain for lithium-ion batteries and then sharply reduce their cost, still does not have an official location.
California was not even on the radar, as rumor had it the Reno, Nevada area was the frontrunner to land this factory that promises to employ up to 6,500 people — in fact, excavation of a proposed site has already been completed. Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were also in the running in the event negotiations.
But suddenly California is making the charge to woo Tesla Motors. According to the Los Angeles Times, California lawmakers would exempt Tesla, Panasonic and other potential partners from some of the state’s environmental regulations in order to move the Gigafactory forward. Democrats and Republicans are working with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office to pass legislation that would reduce the factory’s cost by as much as 10 percent.
Whole Foods has long made a splash for its stance on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Non-GMO labeling and signs are all over its stores and prove this has been part of its overall success is in the company’s performance.
While many retailers disappeared after the 2008 financial crisis, Whole Foods continued to grow. Its stock price has long been on an upward trajectory, and the stock has stoked plenty of portfolios with its split last year. Shoppers cram the beautiful stores to buy everything from pricey supplements to the more cost-competitive 365 Everyday Value private label products — and of course, the artisan goodies, from breads to cheeses to snacks.
But the company’s promise to have GMO labeling on all of its products by 2018 is having consequences. As the Guardian showcased last week, artisan cheesemakers who rely on Whole Foods to sell their products are worried about Whole Foods’ directives to its suppliers. Why? While many of these cheesemakers allow their cows to graze on grass, shun antibiotics and churn their products in small batches, some do use a small amount of GMO feed. Similar challenges are faced by small vineyards and breweries that could find traces of GMOs within their supply chains. The result has been angst within small businesses, many of which are headed by people who have devoted their lives, and finances, to their beloved crafts. That one GMO ingredient in their product’s supply chain could have a massive impact on their businesses.
The bottled water industry has grown exponentially the past few decades despite the fact tap water in the United States is generally safe. Never mind the fact bottled water producers have had more than their fair share of safety issues: Bottled water has become accepted by consumers. While companies such as Nestlé insist they are taking responsibility for water stewardship and recycling, they also bottle their water at dubious sources, including those in drought stricken regions.
In fact, much of the bottled water produced in the U.S. comes from areas affected by drought. As an article recently posted on Mother Jones illustrates, four of the most popular bottled water brands — Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser — come largely from California. True, farming takes up the lion’s share of water in the state, and bottled water in the grand scheme of things is not parching California on its own. But at a time when California is struggling to provide residents, industry and farmers adequate supplies of water, more citizens are asking why it is bottled here and shipped out of state.
Kohl’s has long been one of the most innovative and successful department store chains in the United States. Its rapid growth is matched with the company’s increased focus on sustainability, particularly when it comes to solar power. As part of the company’s plan to ramp up investment in renewables, Kohl’s solar power portfolio now includes “solar tree” structures at one of its offices in Dallas to provide both shaded parking and electric vehicle charging.
The solar trees are a product built by Envision Solar, a San Diego-based solar design company. The first deployment occurred late last week at the company’s offices in Dallas, Texas, and Kohl’s has plans to install more at various locations across the company. I had a telephone conversation with Envision Solar’s CEO, Desmond Wheatley, to learn more about the company and how they fit in with Kohl’s clean energy strategy.
Africa is the last frontier for global investment, and beverage companies in particular are moving in quickly. One of them is Coca-Cola, which has long used its distribution network to help deliver medical supplies in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania. Now the company promises to invest an additional US$5 billion in sustainable development projects through the end of this decade.
By several estimates Africa has six or seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economics, so Coca-Cola’s focus on the continent should not be surprising. Its largest competitor, PepsiCo, has also ramped up investment in Africa, and brewing companies also have their sights on Africa due to its growing middle class and untapped marketing potential. Before these purveyors of fizzy drinks and beer can entrench themselves in these markets, however, much work needs to be done.
Vacation may seem as American as apple pie, especially the places on offer that range from the Poconos, to Yosemite, to Yellowstone, to Florida’s beaches. But at the same time, most Americans score only 10 days of vacation time a year. And for about 25 percent of working Americans, they have no vacation days at all. In fact, America is one of the few industrialized countries that does not guarantee vacation days by law. Hotels.com is trying to change that with the Vacation Equality Project.
The statistics, indeed, are daunting. France, of course, stands out with workers entitled to 30 days under law. The number is the same for the United Arab Emirates (plus 60 days of paid sick leave!). Other European nations, including Germany and Italy, require 20 days under their respective employment laws. Even Japan, with its work culture notorious for long hours and commutes, requires that workers have at least 10 days of annual leave.
With its 600,000 residents spread across 276 square miles (715 km2), the population density of Helsinki, Finland is relatively low compared to other major European cities. Buses, trams and ferries fortunately make it easy to move about the city and greater metropolitan area, but city transportation officials believe Helsinki can do even better as it continues to grow. By leveraging telecommunications and nudging the various cogs within the city’s transport system to improve their services, Finland’s capital could achieve what for now seems impossible: making car ownership obsolete.
To that end, Helsinki is considering a holistic transportation plan that would enable users to map out their route via a smartphone. True, many cities already have similar technologies enabled for residents and visitors, but in Helsinki, this would be far more seamless. Rather than paying for each leg of a trip, or requiring passes and memberships (as in for a bike-sharing program), Helsinki’s citizens would simply pay by the route, kilometer or a set monthly fee.
A business that has existed since the 1830s and is entrenched in American culture would not necessarily feel compelled to ensure it is a leader in ethical and responsible business. But Tiffany & Co. has long been a sustainability leader within its sector. Twenty years before many luxury goods companies began to pay attention to the sourcing of raw materials and how people working within their supply chains were affected, Tiffany’s developed policies that are increasingly becoming more mainstream throughout the jewelry industry.
In its latest corporate social responsibility report, Tiffany & Co. outlines how it sources its precious metals, diamonds and gemstones, as well as the steps it has taken to ensure transparency while mitigating its environmental and social impacts.
Two companies, one long a leader in battery manufacturing, the other an upstart disrupting the entire industry, have agreed to work together and build a large-scale battery factory in the United States. Late last week Panasonic and Tesla Motors inked an agreement that outlines a framework for building what Tesla has called the “Gigafactory.”
This latest partnership builds upon the relationship the Japanese electronics giant and Silicon Valley luxury electric vehicle maker have long fostered. Panasonic invested millions of dollars in Tesla earlier this decade in a bid to accelerate the expansion of electric vehicles in the marketplace, and the company also became one of the car manufacturer’s most important suppliers of lithium-ion batteries.
Its clothes are still largely manufactured under dubious conditions in Bangladesh, and many critics doubt the company’s commitment to sustainable apparel, but H&M can claim again one top ranking: the world’s largest procurer of organic cotton. When considering the company’s massive impact across the globe, however, the reaction of many will only be yawns. And with the amount of land worldwide devoted to producing materials for the textile and fashion industry, will a growing sliver of this total now certified “organic” really make a difference for people and the environment?
According to the Textile Exchange’s most recent Organic Cotton Market Report 2013, H&M has reemerged as No. 1 in its annual business rankings of worldwide organic cotton buyers. H&M had topped the list in 2010 and 2011, only to fall to second in 2012. The increased proportion of organic cotton H&M had sourced was largely the result of this jump — according to the company, the share of cotton coming from organic sources rose from 7.8 percent in 2012 to 10.8 percent last year. But with the decade about halfway finished, it is doubtful H&M can meet one of its most important sustainability goals.
The calls for companies to become more ethical when it comes to the sourcing of palm oil have grown even louder in recent months. With hydrogenated fats largely disappearing over health concerns, in addition to the surging demand worldwide for packaged foods and personal care products, the thirst for palm oil continues to grow rapidly. Companies who remain silent on responsible palm find themselves on the outside looking in, and will face more criticism from environmentalists and human rights activists. Cargill was one of those firms.
That has changed. The $137 billion company recently issued a new sustainable palm oil policy, a significant victory considering Cargill is a privately-held firm and not necessarily subjected to shareholder and stakeholder pressure to the degree a public company would face. NGOs such as the Rainforest Action Network have long complained about Cargill’s operations even though the company joined RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) in 2004. Additional watchdogs including the Union of Concerned Scientists have kept the pressure on consumer packaged goods and food processing companies to disclose their performance on palm oil sourcing — a difficult task when it comes to keeping private companies such as Cargill accountable because they often disclose far less information on how they conduct their business.