Sustainable packaging has come a long way over a generation. Long ago companies such as Walmart (with Hillary Clinton was on its board) started to tackle wasteful packaging — as in the cardboard boxes that encased deodorant sticks that were … already encased in plastic. What was once dismissed a “green” gimmick started to make business sense as companies realized excess packaging meant heavier shipments, more wasted fuel and of course, less profit.
So while companies are getting smarter about packaging, waste is still an issue. I saw it myself over the past year, living in a city with almost no recycling. I would stash boxes and plastic under the kitchen sink, hoping it would somehow recycle on its own as I couldn’t stand the thought of pitching what could have otherwise been recycled into the rubbish bin. And now more consumers are becoming aware of the waste they generate and are putting pressure on companies to be more proactive about their waste.
To that end, an article by Bharath Satya Y in Packaging Digest suggests companies cannot ignore the problems of wasteful packaging anymore, as consumers either want better materials used or insist on having more disclosure about the materials used to wrap and store their products.
What? Ch-ch-ch Chia Seeds?
If you didn’t have a Chia Pet at some point growing up, then you were denied a normal childhood (unless you’re from the Bay Area, where owning a Chia Pet would have denied you the “hipster” label for life). These lovable terra-cotta figurines, which have spanned the animal kingdom from hippos and gnomes to Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama, brightened up many a room with their fast-growing chlorophyll afros.
After almost 40 years of selling these equally coveted and mocked figurines, Joseph Enterprises, the keeper of Chia Pets, has entered the health food business. The company has finally started to market chia seeds. And not just any chia seeds: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Seeds!
Despite the increase in recycling programs, new technologies turning trash into energy, growing consumer awareness about electronic waste and more efforts made to compost, trash is still a mounting problem. This is particularly true in Europe, where mandates to reduce landfill waste have not stopped residents from pitching the majority of their garbage. Now the European Commission is trying to nudge the economic bloc into adopting opt a more circular economy.
To that end, late last week the EC last week adopted a framework to ramp up waste diversion and recycling efforts in its member states. Moving past the current nations’ obligations to divert half of their trash from landfills by 2020, these proposals are far more aggressive. By 2030, Europeans will be asked to recycle 70 percent of municipal waste and 80 percent of packaging waste. The EC also recommends a total ban on the burial of recyclables in landfills by 2025 and suggests new proposals for slashing marine waste at sea and food waste on land.
To score a buy-in from the bevy of states that together form the world’s largest economy but at the same time comprise a fickle group, the EC is positioning this proposal as one centered on economic growth.
She’s been around for over a half century, has aged less than the late Dick Clark, and has been in high demand by countless girls (and some boys)—while suffering criticism by many others. But Barbie is still proving that life in plastic is fantastic—even at age 55, for which now she can score some senior citizen discounts.
Now Barbie is going full-on MBA with the launch of Entrepreneur Barbie, available online or at a toy store near you. Based on what I can see, she is the combination of a business leader, diplomat and of course, entrepreneur—as in part Sheryl Sandberg, part Hillary Clinton, but mostly Kim Kardashian.
Going entrepreneurial is a hugely positive step for Barbie during her (what some would say is too long of a) life. After all, she suffered through a 45 year relationship with Ken, only to have no children—though the fault was clearly Ken’s. She has had a love-hate relationship with her owners, even suffering “maiming and decapitation,” as a leading British study revealed. On the sustainability front, she has even been accused of causing deforestation in Indonesia. And of course, there is the long standing criticism that she sends mixed messages to women, from past dieting tips including “Don’t Eat!” to bathroom scales maxing out at 120 pounds (54.5 kilos).
Few crops have transformed countries the way tea has changed Sri Lanka. Long after the first tea plant from China was planted in Sri Lanka 190 years ago, tea now grows on 3 percent of the island, provides 2.5 percent of the nation’s GDP and generates income for over 1 million Sri Lankans. In southern Sri Lanka, tea dominates the landscape: once lush rain forests are huge estates surrounding popular tourist destinations such as Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Haputale.
Now, along with other major tea growers, the Sri Lankan tea industry faces an uncertain future due to climate change. Pests and volatile weather patterns threaten an industry already beset by increased competition and rising labor costs. Along with other indulgences we take for granted, such as chocolate and coffee, climate change poses the threat of collapse to the tea industry.
Food waste has long been a problem in developed and developing nations alike. In the European Union, annual food waste amounts to approximately 90 million tons—and that figure does not include agricultural waste and fish discards. Now the European Union is aggressively moving to reduce food waste by addressing the “Best Before” labeling that creates much confusion and is a large factor behind this appalling waste of food within the region.
The challenge of food waste is an important one because on both sides of the Atlantic, as much as 40 percent food is wasted. Emerging markets around the world, from the Middle East to Asia, do not perform much better when it comes to food that ends up in landfill instead of on plates. One organization estimates as much as half of the world’s food supply ends up uneaten. And despite the constant fretting over how the planet will feed 9 billion people by 2050, the stubborn fact persists that hunger and famine are not a problem of supply meeting demand—rather, the issue is one of efficient distribution. But while developing countries witness most of their waste after harvests and during food processing, wealthier nations in Europe and North America see such waste during and after food hits retail shelves. So how will the EU take action?
The U.S. federal government is the nation’s largest consumer and disposer of electronics. Considering the number of federal employees—about 2.7 million at last count, not including the military or courts—U.S. government employees contribute a massive portion to the approximate 2.4 million tons of electronic waste, or e-waste, that is discarded annually. Not only are those monitors, printers, cell phones and all those peripherals leeching chemicals into soil and water supplies, government (as well as companies) leave money on the table thanks to all of those rare earth minerals allowing them to function in the first place.
Now the feds say they will become even more aggressive managing the recycling, reuse and eventual disposal of electronic goods. The General Services Administration (GSA), which in layman’s terms is the buyer of all the gadgets federal government employees need, has proposed a new rule that aims to make the federal government a more responsible e-waste steward.
According to a recent report, almost 75 percent of public companies who file disclosures with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ignore a 3½-year-old rule requiring them to inform their investors about the risks climate change poses to their business. Among those firms, Amazon and Apple stand out for their lack of any discussion of climate change and potential impacts on their business in their 10-K’s and other required filings required among U.S. law.
Considering the influence these companies have on global supply chains, consumer spending and the business community at large, the dismissal of climate change will surely irk Amazon’s and Apple’s stakeholders who insist these powerful firms lead the way in informing investors how climate will affect their operations and therefore, their bottom lines. Meanwhile, the companies year-after-year continue to ignore the request for emissions data the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) sends to hundreds of companies annually.
But will either the world’s most esteemed technology brand or online marketplace really listen?
The only thing natural about about the “natural” label is that such branding, naturally, often confuses consumers. But such misleading terms such as “natural” and “healthy” could soon become history, or at the very least score a makeover. Large food companies have hijacked such terms with dubious results—and never mind the fact “natural” is a loaded term. Is a food product only “natural” if it still has dirt on it after being yanked out of the ground? Is it still natural if ingredients, from whole wheat flour to goji berries to flax seeds, are pulverized, brominated, pasteurized and homogenized?
This labeling mayhem could change if The Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 becomes law. Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the new legislation at a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday. If passed, the law would revise the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 and force companies to become more transparent about their ingredients.
So what could change?
Microsoft, once the big, bad and bullying tech giant, has reinvented itself in recent years as a more progressive company executing impressive work on social enterprise and environmental issues. The company’s carbon neutrality strategy, which launched last year, is starting to show results in part because of investments in carbon offsets. Add to that Microsoft’s progress on biodiversity, leveraging technology for health care and an attempt to boost youth employment and technical skills, and the company has developed a strong corporate social responsibility program that is part philanthropy, part employee-driven and also pays heed to environmental stewardship.
Microsoft’s carbon strategy started with an internal accounting system the company’s finance department charged to each business unit. Those fees were deposited into a central fund from which Microsoft could then invest in clean energy or carbon offset projects.
So far, the company has invested in 15 carbon offset projects across the world. Here are a few highlights:
As more companies seek creative ways to retain talent, improve productivity, keep employees engaged and reduce health care costs, a robust bicycling program is one perk businesses should consider. The statistics should certainly encourage companies. Over 42 million Americans rode a bicycle in 2010, making it the second most popular outdoor activity in the country. Almost half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they wish for more bicycling amenities in their communities.
Plus bicycling is not only a healthy means of commuting, but is a cost-effective means of getting to work. The average American spends over $8,700 a year on car payments, insurance, fuel and other automobile costs. Contrast that figure with a 10-mile round trip completed on a bicycle, which can save that same commuter $10 when factoring car maintenance into the equation. And for employers located in pricey urban areas, parking is an expensive perk to provide for employees.
So how can employers cajole more employees to cycle more and drive less? First, they have to realize not everyone is going to two-wheel it to work. And obvious factors such as geography, climate and local bicycling infrastructure come into play. During a recent conversation I had with Tim Ericson, CEO of Zagster, he shared some pointers companies should consider when developing a compelling bicycling program.
You may not have heard of Kuwait Petroleum International (Q8), but this energy giant earns $20 billion in annual revenues, employs 4,500 people and runs operations on five continents. It also sold 11 billion liters (3 billion gallons) of automobile and truck fuel, mostly in Europe the past year at over 4,400 retail stations. Now Q8, a subsidiary of a state-owned Kuwaiti company, has issued its first sustainability report.
The report sends a signal Kuwait is ready to compete on the sustainability front with its neighbors to the southeast, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. The Gulf region is not necessarily known as a hotbed of sustainability, but both the UAE and Qatar are taking big steps in the research and development of clean energy and green building. Oil is a finite resource in the Gulf and the global natural gas boom will also have an impact on these countries’ imports. Plus concerns ranging from human rights to transparency also behove such firms to disclose details about their operations, which often span the globe.
So what is Q8 doing on the corporate social responsibility front?
Cascadian Farm, the 40-year-old organic cereal manufacturer and part of the General Mills’ portfolio of brands, has introduced a new cereal box liner made from “green” materials. General Mills touts this new innovation as the “first-ever” cereal bag made out of plant-based renewable sources.
For the $13 billion ready-to-eat cereal market, this new bio-plastic bag could be another tactic to lure customers back to a fledgling industry. Over the past decade, growth in cereal consumption has been tepid at best as more consumers seek breakfast outside the home and seek alternatives such as breakfast sandwiches or cereal bars. Perhaps consumers are finally waking up: the cereal phenomenon, after all, is one of the great 20th century food scams. Considering the cost of breakfast cereal, especially the overpriced products food giants such as Kellogg’s and General Mills manufacture, one does just as well having a couple pieces of toast and a multivitamin if he or she wants a healthy start to the day—and less waste, too, since there is only a plastic bag to toss once that loaf runs out.
But we love cereal, which shows why the both the high fructose syrup and GMO-laden options made by General Mills and Kellogg’s, as well as the healthier options found at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, still sell.
So is this green cereal liner a great innovation, especially for those of us who try to avoid or at least reuse plastic bags whenever we can? And is this new cereal liner is a great alternative for the disposal of dog waste or a garbage pail liner?
Earlier this summer fellow 3p writer RP Siegel covered the launch of Step Forward Paper, a printer paper made of 80 percent wheat straw – the rest is traditional tree pulp – available at Staples. The actor Woody Harrelson, a veteran political and environmental activist, is one of the product’s most visible backers. For now the paper is manufactured in India, but the company has big goals to expand and build a mill in North America that will be off-grid and churn out paper made from 100 percent agricultural waste.
Innovations like Step Forward are welcome in a world where the population is increasing, the middle class is growing and resources are constrained. Furthermore, some pulp and paper companies, including Asia Pulp and Paper, have had a dubious environmental record. The idea of a tree-free paper is certainly tantalizing; but could it really scale and become a viable alternative the way Harrelson and Step Forward promise?
Many of us have worked for organizations that offer discounted health club memberships, but what about a discount for a bicycle? With all the fretting over Obamacare here in the U.S., one way in which businesses can save money on health care costs is by encouraging bicycling, even occasionally, as an option for employees to move to and from work. From America’s bicycling hub of Portland to countries around the world, evidence suggests employees who cycle to work can save their companies money.
To that end, bicycling even became one of the planks, albeit a small one, within President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA). But as MarketWatch has explained, a fund for bicycling infrastructure became a straw man and object of ridicule for opponents of the law. Many cities hence ignored any funds tinged with the “Obamacare” label to build expanded or new bicycling infrastructure in their communities. Exceptions can be found, however. Madison County in Illinois recently leveraged an AHCA grant to install new bicycle racks, and Austin, TX, scored similar funds so a local nonprofit can teach basics about bicycling in an urban setting.
Discussions over Obamacare aside, concerns over health, especially Americans’ struggle with sedentary lifestyles and obesity, are in part behind Americans’ increased interest in bicycling. Meanwhile the decrease in funds for large public transportation projects, and concurrent political infighting, has often made those expensive options politically toxic—so municipalities are exploring other options for bike lanes and other bicycle-friendly ventures as a cost-effective way to boost mobility within their communities. But this is not just about traffic: evidence suggests bicycling can save companies money, especially on those ever-spiraling health care costs.
So what are potential health care savings as the result of employees taking a bicycle to work?