Zero waste has become the mantra at companies across the board, from vineyards to CPG giants such as Procter and Gamble. The waste diversion bug has hit General Motors (GM) as well, as the automaker continues to increase the number of its facilities that are landfill-free. The brain behind new ways to get rid of garbage is GM’s global manager of waste reduction, John Bradburn, often called the “MacGyver of waste” by his colleagues at the company’s campus in Warren, Michigan.
Among the many ways in which Bradburn’s team diverts garbage from permanent interment in dumps has a human, as well as an ornithological, side to it. GM’s continued success with its Chevy Volt means more batteries moving through the company’s supply chain as they are hauled from suppliers’ warehouses to their final installation within a new Volt. Unfortunately, the composite that does a fine job protecting the cases during their transport is difficult to recycle. But several years ago, Bradburn found a way to repurpose these cases, and he made many friends with conservation groups in the process.
The electrical and electronics sector is the top manufacturing industry in Malaysia, providing almost one-third of the country’s exports and employing 27 percent of its workforce. The Malaysian electronics industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers, is also rife with abuse. One study suggests that 28 percent of workers were trapped into forced labor, and another 46 percent were on the “threshold” of finding themselves in a forced labor situation.
To that end, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an NGO focused on supply chain sustainability within the electronics sector, announced it will conduct audits and work with Malaysian government agencies to halt what has become a massive human rights tragedy.
Founded in 2004, the EICC was launched by a small group of electronics manufacturers that have a goal to adopt industry-wide standards covering environmental, social and ethical issues within the industry’s entire supply chain. The organization was completely run by volunteers until 2013, when a full-time staff was hired to manage the EICC’s next growth phase. Malaysia will test this organization’s success.
Last week the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) released a new set of standards that will guide the organization’s certification practices through 2019. SFI claims that its standards include policies and guidelines that will help protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species and old-growth forests in the United States and Canada.
The new rules also promise everything from managing the “visual impact” of forests, respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, investment in forestry research and technology, and transparency. According to Lawrence Selzer, chair of the SFI’s board of directors, “The revised SFI standards will continue to serve as a proof point for responsible forestry in North America … These standards are shaped by the people and communities who put them into practice every day.”
This could be a new beginning for SFI, which has been dogged by allegations of deceptive marketing while working as a front for private companies. In recent years companies have shunned SFI while the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) continues to gain more traction in the industry. So, with these new directives, is SFI to be believed?
Not so fast, says one NGO.
Denmark has long been one of the world’s leaders in wind power. The country of 5.6 million has set a goal of generating 50 percent of its power from clean energy sources by 2020 and aims to be entirely fossil fuel-free by 2050. Those goals, especially the one for 2020, are well achievable: Denmark has announced it scored 39.1 percent of its energy from wind in 2014.
That statistic is quite a jump from 2013, when Denmark generated 33.2 percent of its electricity from wind, and it has more than doubled its wind power capacity from a decade ago (18.8 percent). The result is a country that has understandably dubbed itself the world’s “Wind Power Hub.” Considering the Danish wind industry’s claim that it has built over 90 percent of the world’s offshore wind turbines, Denmark’s continued surge in wind power development, while stunning, has its origins in long-term planning.
Americans’ consumption of beef has been declining at a steady rate since the 1970s, but the beef industry is still a powerful lobbying force in this country. So watch for an onslaught of propaganda if a U.S. Department of Agriculture panel makes new recommendations for dietary guidelines in the near future. In a move that will bring screams of nanny state-ism, socialism and “Blame Obama,” the Associated Press has reported this advisory panel is close to recommending a diet that is both higher in plant foods and reduces its overall environmental impact.
Clearly that suggestion is a shot at the beef industry, which at a global scale has a massive effect on land use and carbon emissions. True, the industry is making a nudge towards becoming more sustainable, but big beef’s impact on water, land and air is hard to ignore. Plus considering Americans’ generation-long struggle with obesity, a diet heavy on produce, whole grains, nuts and other plant-based products is not a bad idea. So that “My Plate” icon, which replaced that disastrous “food pyramid” suggesting we heap on the carbohydrates at meal times, could soon have less room for meat.
Naturally, the beef industry is not having it.
Earlier this week 13 flight attendants filed a whistleblower complaint with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against United Airlines. The 26-page document claims that United fired them illegally in retaliation for refusing to fly on a 747 from San Francisco to Hong Kong last summer because of suspicious images and a message scrawled on the tail of the airplane. According to the Chicago Tribune, the flight attendants had a total of almost 300 combined years of experience—not that it mattered to the airline.
According to the complaint, the combination of “BYE BYE” and one face that looked “devilish” worried the crew enough to request that United complete a thorough inspection of the 747 to make sure no explosives were planted within the aircraft. The airline refused, the flight attendants refused to board the plane . . . and then all of them were fired for insubordination.
Are we talking about cautious professionals during an uncertain time, or was this a total overreach?
It is not easy being a mall these days, nor is it easy being a mall store. And it certainly is not easy being a mall store employee with the low pay and lack of benefits that are trademarks of working in retail. Wet Seal, once a symbol of “mall rat” culture, is the latest clothing company to struggle with a shift in consumer shopping trends.
Unfortunately, like other struggling retail chains, Wet Seal is not managing its demise with much grace. After a long court battle, the tween and young women’s clothing company settled a multimillion dollar lawsuit alleging it discriminated against black employees for not fitting the company’s “brand image.” California employees also sued the company over policies such as being forced to purchase Wet Seal clothes and not being reimbursed for travel between locations.
Then there are the mounting financial problems: Wet Seal has lost over $150 million in the past two years, and it recently defaulted on a private placement deal to the tune of $28 million. As the company prepares to close as many as 60 stores by the end of the month, its CFO scored a $95,000 raise.
California Senate Bill 270, passed by the state legislature and signed into law in September, would ban many retail stores from dispensing single-use plastic bags as of July 1, 2015. But in another example of a special interest perverting democracy when it does not get its way, the Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) has announced it has collected over 800,000 signatures to qualify for a statewide up-or-down vote in November 2016. Once that tally is confirmed, the July ban would be postponed until the following year.
You probably saw the sign gatherers at stores such as Target, where I was greeted with an appeal to sign my name and take sides with the “American Progressive Bag Alliance” in order to reverse this “backdoor deal” — until the fellow with the clipboard saw my reusable bags. “Oh, you’re one of those,” he said with an eye-roll, because as you know, someone like me who likes to wear labels, shops at Costco and makes mac-and-cheese out of a box (when no one is looking) is such a hippie.
So why do I support the bag ban? Why should California stick to its guns?
The B Corp movement continues its momentum, with almost 1,200 certified B corporations spread across 37 nations. Earlier this year the first electricity utility achieved B Corp certification. And last week the “Impact Economy” organization scored its first publicly owned company and largest addition to date: Natura, the second largest cosmetics manufacturer in Brazil with revenues around $US3 billion annually.
Natura, founded in 1969, has always beaten taken a different drum compared to its competitors within the cosmetics sector. The company’s products are generally based on native Brazilian flora, provided such plants can be harvested in a sustainable manner as required by the company’s “bioprospecting” policy. The same products have long been encased in packaging made from recycled or at least recyclable materials. Natura is also a founding member of the Union for Ethical BioTrade and has been praised for including everyday women in its advertising campaigns instead of supermodels. This new B Corp certification will not only burnish Natura’s reputation in the marketplace, but will have more far reaching effects as well.
Judging from many of the comments floating around the internet, bicycling blogs and on Reddit, Melbourne does not have the most bicycling-friendly reputation. But cycling to work is catching on, in part because the state of Victoria requires new buildings to have bicycle racks and showering facilities. Plus the weather is mild most of the year. One bank accepting bicycling whole heartedly is ANZ (Australia and New Zealand Banking Group). The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) has already named ANZ as the most sustainable bank in the world on a regular basis: naming it the globe’s most cycling-friendly bank would hardly be a stretch.
A lot has happened in the world of sustainability since I wrote my first article here almost five years ago about a bicycle courier service in Paris (which no longer exists). It is hard to believe this is my 1000th article on TriplePundit, which says a lot about my own OCD, loyalty to this fine group who have built one of the best sustainable business news sites on the planet — or a little bit of both. I have to say the best perk from being a writer is what I’ve learned from all the business leaders, activists and government officials I have met in person and spoken with over the phone since I started here in early 2010.
I have written a lot about corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, clean energy, and architecture and design here — so while I would like to think I have gained a vast body of knowledge miles long, it’s really only a half an inch or so thick. A lot has changed in this space in five years — much of it encouraging, some of it exasperating. So, what has stuck in my brain 1,000 posts later? Here is a sampling:
JetBlue has been in the news a lot lately for its announcement that generous leg room and free checked bags will be a thing of the past, but at least this popular airline could make progress on another front. Last week the company, partnering with the Ocean Foundation, released a report that links ecosystem sustainability and revenue.
Much of JetBlue’s business relies on vacation travelers who venture to the Caribbean. Arguably, locals benefit from the influx of tourists as well, though whether local economies can really stay resilient is open to debate. What is not open to debate is that along with American and Canadian dollars, euros and pounds comes heaps of trash. According to The Ocean Foundation, that is 100 million pounds of garbage annually, which often ends up in local water streams, dumps and of course, the sea. With tourism only increasing—especially with the lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba—there is a risk that increased environmental degradation could cause an economic drag on the region as well.
Insurance companies for years have done a nice job penalizing customers who make bad health choices, as in excessive eating, drinking and especially smoking. That has changed slightly under the new insurance plans sold here in the U.S. due to the new health care laws, but for years the penalty was higher premiums if a customer had pre-existing conditions tied to bad health habits.
From a business perspective, this made perfect sense. Fundamentally, insurers are really not that different from other businesses—it is always easier, and maybe the logical financial choice in the short term, to penalize rather than reward. But for those of us who eat right, avoid tobacco, spend some of our free time exercising, and make other positive health choices, it often does feel as if we are subsidizing others for their poorly thought out life choices. Oscar Insurance, a New York-based start-up, is trying to change to transform the health insurance industry by encouraging healthy decisions. And if their business model pans out, they could become quite profitable.
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.