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?
Tulare County, California, recently surpassed nearby Fresno County as the top agriculture-producing county in terms of economic value within the U.S. It’s also the country’s top dairy producing county. The result has been more investment and economic growth in a rapidly booming area already home to 450,000 people.
But there is also a downside to the local dairy industry’s continued surge: The San Joaquin Valley suffers from some of worst air pollution in the U.S., and cow effluent is a threat to the region’s already troubled watersheds.
The launch yesterday of the Calgren Ethanol Biogester, a manure-to-ethanol plant in Pixley, about 60 miles south of Fresno, is a step toward reducing emissions and dependence on fossil fuels while helping California meet its clean energy goals. According to the companies that worked together on this project, the plant is also the first digester in California to transform agricultural waste into cleaner natural gas to power another renewable energy facility. Instead of relying on the local grid, the otherwise energy-intensive ethanol plant is part of what is close to a closed loop and zero-waste system.
It has been a rough year for McDonald’s, which of course has resulted in plenty of Schadenfreude from its critics.
The fast food giant keeps losing market share to fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle and Panera Bread, and other competitors find a way to thrive while its new marketing campaigns fall flat with customers. Despite a modest uptick in business in its largest markets, Europe and the U.S., last month’s sales dropped overall due to a plunge in revenues within the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
In a world where more people are concerned about their food choices, the company is trying to change. McDonald’s has listened somewhat to consumers’ demands for more healthful and sustainable menu choices. The company now serves 100 percent sustainable fish, and a year ago said it would start sourcing sustainable beef in 2016.
So, how is that working out for McDonald’s?
The short answer is . . . it’s well, . . . going. Slowly. As would be the case with any massive shift in business practices, transforming McDonald’s supply chain is going to take some time. But will this change come soon enough at a time during which customers under the age of 35 are abandoning the company while the company struggles to reinvent itself, digs in its heels, then changes course again?
Burlington, Vermont, has been making waves for becoming the first city in the U.S. to be powered 100 percent by renewables. (Some may say Greenburg, Kansas was the first, but we are talking about a town of 800 people versus 42,000 in Burlington.) Reliant on coal a generation ago, Vermont’s largest city has slowly revamped its energy portfolio, culminating in the purchase of a hydropower plant late last year.
This milestone may not be surprising considering Vermont’s progressive politics and buy-in from residents who overall supported the plan of the local utility, Burlington Electric. But the fact that Burlington has been able to do this without raising rates since 2009 — while saving the city about $20 million over the next 20 years — creates a case study for communities that are interested in investing in renewables but skittish about making such an aggressive move.
Recycling has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, with some estimates suggesting it could even be worth as much as $80 billion this year. Nevertheless, many communities in the U.S. still do not offer recycling with their municipal waste collection. Even though cities such as Los Angeles have seen a net financial benefit — gaining revenues from selling off recyclable materials instead of paying to send them to landfill — cities are losing money from not launching recycling programs.
Of course, as with the launch of any business or initiative, seed money is needed. And despite the improving economy, many municipalities cannot or will not invest in the launch of the program. Recently Unilever and Procter & Gamble joined a program that seeks to address the growing challenges of waste diversion.
Both consumer packaged goods companies are now aligned with the Closed Loop Fund, a multi-stakeholder program that seeks to invest up to $100 million in recycling programs.
Companies are talking more and more about transparency, but sourcing a product from raw material to the warehouse or store shelf is not always the easiest task. Buyers of office supplies who are interested in the social and environmental impacts of their paper purchases, however, may want to consider checking out The Paper Trail, a Web-based interactive tool that tracks the products coming out of the paper manufacturer Domtar’s 13 mills in North America.
The Paper Trail first launched in 2011, but Domtar recently added social and economic data to the site. Now users can glean more information on how the company operates across it supply chain, from greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy consumption to local community involvement and charitable donations.
Usually earnings calls are rather dry and pallid unless you are a stockholder excited about a company’s remarkable financial performance — or livid over a steep drop in stock price.
The investor relations officer will start by reading a safe harbor statement, reminding listeners that the company’s liability is limited should future results prove different from what is stated in the one-hour or so discussion. The chief financial officer may talk about additional details such as non-GAAP financial measures and details over adjustments to reconcile net income to net cash.
But Tuesday’s earnings call by Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. was much more than a laundry list of financial accomplishments: It stood out as a remarkable business case for the sourcing of sustainable meat and sticking to a business’s principles.
If you were smarter than me and bought Chipotle stock five or so years ago, you are laughing. The stock yesterday was listed at $676 a share — off a bit from its 52-week high of $727, but it has still been performing at an upward trajectory for almost 10 years. The company is successful: Fourth-quarter earnings were up 26.7 percent to $1.07, and 60 new restaurants helped boost sales that were already up 16.1 percent in comparable stores. Diluted earnings per share were at $3.34, up well over 50 percent. And 2014 was overall a banner year, with revenues up 27.8 percent to $4.11 billion, impressive considering many fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s are languishing.
But after a rough January, when Chipotle had to remove pork (as in the popular carnitas option) from a third of its restaurants because of concerns over animal welfare, Co-Chairman and Co-CEO Steve Ells was confident about his company’s mission and business model. Its competitors could learn a lot from that hour-long call.
True, top 10 lists are often subjective, and data can be massaged to get the list we want. But they are still a way to see how our companies or geographic regions are performing compared to others — from solar, to corporate sustainability, to overall market trends and — why not — even sustainable breweries.
Now, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is getting into the act, giving us a list of the top 10 LEED states in green building performance.
USGBC crunched the data by tallying up the total square footage of commercial and residential spaces that were LEED-certified during 2014. That total was then divided by each state’s population based on 2010 U.S. census data. The results offer rankings based on per-capita LEED space per resident, the metric USGBC has used for the fifth year in a row.
Despite their enduring popularity and sketchy health claims, dietary supplements are not regulated to the degree food and drugs are by the U.S. federal government.
That is largely thanks to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who wrote the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Past efforts to amend the law so that supplements could be subjected to some degree of scientific testing have been blasted as attempts to “overregulate” the multi-billion dollar industry. But critics of the industry will be calling for more regulations after what has been discovered at large retail chains including Walmart, Target, GNC and Walgreens.
According to cease-and-desist letters sent by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, at least five dietary supplements sold at these stores have been mislabeled. Instead of St. John’s Wort, ginseng, garlic, Echinacea and saw palmetto, DNA testing revealed consumers were instead swallowing a bevy of placebos, and even allergens, including rice, wheat or dracaena — a species of tropical houseplant.