Hyundai and Kia recently pledged to increase their models of more fuel-efficient cars threefold by 2020. The announcement by the South Korean automakers comes on the heels of a massive settlement to which both companies entered into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after they were accused of underestimating greenhouse gas emissions of over a million vehicles. Together the companies will pay $350 million in civil penalties to the U.S. government. A week later, both Kia and Hyundai said they would offer more green cars by the end of this decade.
According to Reuters, both companies will also increase their total of fuel efficient cars to a minimum of 22 cars before 2020. That boost is in part due to investors complaining not only about the huge fine paid to the EPA, but also because of Hyundai’s most recent Genesis and Kia’s Soul offering a lower fuel mileage than previous models.
One of the curiosities of visiting the United Kingdom is to gape and guffaw at newspaper displays while walking around town. After all, the content in tabloid displays, thanks to such fine publications as The Sun, Daily Mirror and Star, make American tabloids look like Reader’s Digest. But not everyone is amused, including the advocacy groups Child Eyes and No More Page 3, and they in turn launched successful social media protests. Some of Britain’s largest supermarkets then took notice.
Both organizations claimed victory as supermarket chains Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have announced they will alter their newspaper displays so that they are no longer in the line of sight of children. The U.K. government recently passed new guidelines over how retailers should display newspapers after commissioning a report that attacked the country’s overly sexualized “wallpaper” surrounding children, but the largest chains in the country continued to display magazines and newspapers in full view of all customers.
Buffalo, New York, is now digging itself (or actually melting itself) out of mountains of snow, but the recent megastorm and its cold winters are not going to stop the city from becoming an important solar energy hub. Earlier this fall, SolarCity announced it would build a 1.2 million-square-foot photovoltaic solar panel factory, which will be one of the largest in the world, on the site of a former steel mill in Buffalo. The massive factory, another one of Elon Musk’s projects, in part is happening because of the state of New York’s doubling down on solar as an economic generator in the Empire State.
But subsidies and tax credits are not the only reason why SolarCity chose Buffalo to build what will soon be the largest solar factory in the western hemisphere. As in the case of its “rust belt” cousins, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh, Buffalo offers companies such as SolarCity many benefits: solid universities churning out fresh and hungry graduates, affordable living, a renewed optimism and an urban environment many millennials currently crave. The result is that an industry usually identified with Silicon Valley and America’s Sunbelt could play a large role in Buffalo’s resurgence.
Less than two months ago PepsiCo hyped a new soft drink product, Pepsi True, as an alternative to the high fructose corn syrupy sweet and artificially sweetened zero-calorie options the company has long pitched to consumers. This new drink, sweetened with stevia root, promised to be “a new kind of cola that is almost too good to be true” and was rolled out for sale exclusively on Amazon.
Unfortunately for PepsiCo, there has been a slight hiccup. Many activists, upset over what they see as the company’s less than robust sustainable palm oil policy, are not cutting Pepsi True any slack, and are mercilessly heckling PepsiTrue with bad reviews. According to Sustainable Brands, the ringleaders are SumOfUs.org and Rainforest Action Network. Last week the outcry on Amazon was so loud PepsiCo pulled the product from Amazon, then reinstated it, only to have complaints still flying in.
Do a search for “Black Friday 2014” in your favorite search engine, and chances are you will come up with similar results to what I found. First, of course, a site called TheBlackFriday.com, which serves as a clearing house on advertisements and hours. Not surprisingly, WalMart and Amazon, the largest brick-and-mortar and online retailers in the U.S., rank highly in the search results. Depending on your stance on Black Friday, the thought of this day either brings angst over massive conspicuous consumption or excitement over cheap laptops, toys and clothing.
Not surprisingly, Black Friday is starting earlier every year. WalMart has already announced that it has started to spread Black Friday cheer with discounts on thousands of items as of Nov. 1. Perhaps the Black Friday label is already outdated. Kmart, for example, has announced it will open its stores on Thanksgiving morning at 6:00 a.m., which I suppose makes sense if you want to shop and then cook and nosh on your turkey dinner afterwards.
With seven of the world’s fastest growing economies located in Africa, it should not be a surprise that the continent’s energy demands will only surge in the coming decade. Hence plenty of opportunities exist for clean energy companies as investors worldwide realize Africa, with all of its risks, is a booming market. To that end, California-based Solar Reserve, together with numerous partners, has completed and launched the Jasper PV Project in South Africa.
Built in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, the Jasper solar power plant is now the largest of its kind on the African continent. The consortium that led the development of the Jasper facility included the Kensani Group, Intikon Energy, Rand Merchant Bank and Google. Incidentally, the Jasper plant is Google’s first clean energy investment within Africa.
Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard has always had, in his words, a “skeptical view” of the business world. For over 40 years, the outdoor apparel company has marched to the beat of its own drum, from donating one percent of its sales to environmental organizations to helping found the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to supply chain transparency. The company has also urged its consumers to hold onto their Patagonia garments and reduce consumption. Now Patagonia is taking its message a step further with the recent announcement the company will boost investment in Yerdle, a startup where users can use a smartphone app to give and receive things for free and score credits to get even more free items in the meantime.
According to Fast Company, which hosted the Innovation Uncensored Conference where the new investment was disclosed, Patagonia will manage this investment through its $20 Million and Change internal venture fund. Yerdle is the perfect partner for Patagonia as both have a role of keeping products moving between users, therefore keeping them out of landfills. As noted by Yerdle on its Facebook page, “either love what you own, or pass it along to someone who will.”
In November 2012, California launched its cap-and-trade program, the second largest in the world after the European Union’s. The state’s largest carbon producers — businesses that emit over 25,000 metric tons of emissions annually — buy carbon allowances from the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) quarterly auctions. Depending on who you ask, California’s carbon market is either a success or a drag on the state’s economy. The Environmental Defense Fund, for example, has touted California’s cap-and-trade as a global model for reducing emissions while creating new business opportunities. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), on the other hand, regularly criticizes the program for what it says drives up the costs of business and could wreak havoc within the fuel markets.
The way California’s cap-and-trade program works is relatively simple. Large polluters, such as utilities, buy certificates for each ton of carbon they produce. Polluters who are successful in reducing their emissions can sell their allowances to other companies who are unable to do so, in sum creating a market-based price for carbon. The allowances will slowly decline in numbers over the years, so think of cap-and-trade as a form of musical chairs, with companies bidding on fewer certificates over time — motivating them to find ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the first successful cap-and-trade programs was launched during the George H.W. Bush administration in 1990. Under the 1990 Clean Air Act, major polluters who were responsible for “acid rain” traded certificates in a move to reduce the emissions of such pollutants as sulphur dioxide. A generation later, California’s cap-and-trade program continues to grow: For example, the state has linked with Quebec’s cap-and-trade program, allowing the two to trade each other’s carbon allowances. And as of January 2015, petroleum refineries will also be required to participate within California’s cap-and-trade system. The energy companies are clearly unhappy about it, sharing scenarios of the state’s economy headed for a “fuels cliff.” But will California, the economy of which has been oft-described as careening over a cliff, really experience a disruption to its slowly recovering economy?
If we are to believe much of what we see in the press, millennials will have to make a more sustainable world to get us out of the mess that the baby boomers are leaving behind. But such generalities may not be necessarily true. Even AARP, which has paid plenty of attention to the baby boomer vs. millennials conflict, has made the case that its membership is concerned about the same issues with which the younger generation is often preoccupied. For example, one may not intuitively think of AARP as a locus of information on smart cities and better urban planning. This powerful lobbying group, however, has an impressive archive that inspires its members to advocate for more “liveable communities.”
AARP’s Walkable and Liveable Cities Institute should not be much of a surprise. As one approaches retirement age, the idea of living in an isolated exurb, where walking, cycling and public transports are the exception and not the rule, is less appealing. And with kids out of the house, denser communities and compact homes close to shops and services are becoming more desirable. Pedestrian-friendly streets and bicycle lanes are not only safer, but also allow citizens of all ages to save money and, of course, live sustainably.
Shrimp is one of the more popular proteins in the U.S., eaten by plenty of folk who otherwise would never get close to a fish or mollusk. But the shrimp industry has been dogged by a bevy of problems, from reports of rampant slave labor to the pollution generated by shrimp farms across the world. Now the ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana alleges that the industry is duping consumers on the type of shrimp, along with the sourcing, of the products they are buying.
The report focused on shrimp purchased in a few areas within the United States. Oceana claims the misrepresentation of labels is an ongoing problem within the shrimp industry, and insists companies must do more to disclose what kind of shrimp is within a package or on a restaurant plate, and state where it is from. By testing dozens of products in New York City, Portland, Washington D.C., and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Oceana has arrived to several conclusions, none of which will thrill consumers, even if buying sustainably is not a priority for them.
Merino wool has been prized for centuries because of its soft texture and ease of delivering warmth for high performance clothing. But its production has sparked its share of problems, from outrage over animal cruelty to the industry’s environmental impact. The wool industry in Australia, where about half of all the globe’s merino wool originates, has been called out for its cruel practices by PETA and the singer Pink. In recent years, more companies large and small, from Patagonia to PACT, are reacting by insisting that they now invest in more sustainable wool. Another company, Boerum Apparel, is taking ethics within its entire wool supply chain seriously, from farm to mill to factory.
So how does Brooklyn-based Boerum Apparel deliver impeccably-designed sweaters that boast fibers only 17.5 microns thick, yet are manufactured in a socially responsible way?
The Nature Conservancy and Harley-Davidson are now partnering with a commitment to plant 50 million trees worldwide by 2025. Yes, I gave this one a double-take, too. The pairing sounds about as natural as Rand Paul writing for Scientific American, so I dug in to find a little more information on this one. Yesterday I had an interview with Geof Rochester, Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy, to learn more about this unusual team.
It turns out the partnership is not as odd as one may have thought. Harley-Davidson has embraced sustainability in recent years, risked committing heresy by launching an electric motorcycle this summer and has indicated it takes climate change seriously. Tree planting is just another cog in the company’s plan to engage its loyal fans and raise awareness about environmental issues many consumers care about—but just do not know how to go about confronting them.
What do Dollar General and the U.K.’s Pets at Home have in common? They are among the 27 companies that have been through the KKR Green Portfolio Program. Launched back in 2008 in a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, KKR designed the program to optimize financial and environmental performance within its portfolio. With revenues close to $3.4 billion, the 38 year old private equity firm has been not only a pioneer in the leveraged buyout industry, but in transforming companies into leaner and more sustainable operations to make them attractive to future buyers. KKR recently announced the program’s most recent results for 2013.
Considering the gut reaction many of us have to the words “private equity,” one big question comes up: why would a firm such as KKR take on such a task in the first place? Most of us do not plunk CSR or ESG (environmental, social and governance, the term our friends across the Atlantic prefer), in the same thought or sentence when describing these types of companies. So to find out, I had an interview with KKR’s Vice President for ESG Strategy & Communications Ali Hartman.
The discussion over whether we should eat meat foments all kinds of passion. Obviously the moral arguments have long been there, whether the focus is on what happens on factory farms or the outrage over Whole Foods going retro and selling rabbit meat. Ethics aside, the environmental facts are hard to ignore. More land is devoted to growing feed for livestock than food for humans. The global meat industry overall is a bigger polluter than the transportation sector.
Then you have the health arguments: meat consumption in the U.S. has almost doubled during the 20th century, hence the public health concerns over obesity and heart disease. Most medical professionals would advise small portions of meat occasionally has minimal, or even a positive effect, on one’s health, provided you limit those portions to four ounces (113 grams). But in an era where fast food restaurants are ubiquitous and steakhouses pitch the 16 ounce manly-man steak, it is not always easy to avoid meat.
So, should we start to view meat as a luxury?
Adobe recently released its most recent corporate responsibility report, which is chock full of data on where the $4.1 billion Silicon Valley software giant made headway on environmental, diversity and governance issues. The recent overall focus for Adobe, however, is on how the company believes it can make an impact on society, especially youth. Other companies in the information technology space, including SAP and Microsoft, have made massive commitments in money, resources and employees to youth employment and empowerment programs.
Adobe, however, takes a slightly different approach. To learn a more about how Adobe’s corporate responsibility stands out within an industry where a lot of progress has been made, I spoke with Michelle Crozier Yates, Adobe’s director of corporate responsibility.