At a first glance, it is easy to lament both the decline of the small store and the artisan marketplace in North America, as big-box stores have redefined conventional and online shopping. E-commerce behemoths such as Amazon, where one can buy anything from dog food to king-sized beds, have also done a number on small goods. Plus, the rise of China as the world’s factory hardly helps the cause of the small shopkeeper or artisan.
All of this has been on my mind while I’m spending some time in Montevideo, Uruguay, where it is easy to avoid the malls and hypermarkets: There is something to be said about going to five or 10 different businesses while walking to do errands, from the laundry service, to the cheese store, to the vegetable stand, to finally the kiosk to recharge my phone. Living here, it would be easy for me to change my profile picture to that icon, “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.”
At the same time, however, the Internet has made it far easier for artisans, artists, and craftsmen and women to highlight and sell their wares. The creative types who have long been priced out of neighborhoods, such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Fillmore in San Francisco, can open a store, online, with no overhead. And for their customers, while the experience may not be as social, or convivial, as walking from store to store, finding that perfect item can be rewarding as he or she bypasses Amazon, Walmart.com or the other online giants. The result is a welcome trend for handmade goods.
For 10 years the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been on a mission to convert 100 percent of the world’s palm oil into a more sustainable and responsible commodity. It has been a long road, in part because of the world’s rapidly-growing demand for food and businesses’ reluctance to add what they perceive to be additional costs to their supply chains. But RSPO is now making real and measurable progress. Last week the Zurich, Switzerland-based organization announced that the demand for sustainable palm oil is outpacing supply for the first time.
According to RSPO, sales of sustainable oil, based on what the organization traces through supply chains, spiked almost 65 percent during the first two quarters of 2014 compared to last year. That is a total of over 1.1 million metric tons so far this year. Meanwhile sales of RSPO’s certified GreenPalm certificates, which companies can purchase to offset their use of conventionally sourced palm oil, grew by almost 38 percent.
Due to more consumers’ demands for transparency about the products they buy — and the fact social media can expose the difference between what companies say publicly and what goes on from the shop floors to the boardrooms — shopping and sourcing ethically is easier (or more confusing) than ever before. We at Triple Pundit have long traced the journey of ethical certifications such as fair trade, B Corporations and the controversial labeling of GMO and non-GMO products. Now consumers concerned about how women are treated in the workplace, as well as the global disparity between men’s and women’s wages, among other disparities, can consider gender equality when making purchasing decisions.
Switzerland-based EDGE (the Global Business Certification Standard for Business Equality) is banking its gender equality certification will resonate with businesses and consumers. Its mission is simple: to engage corporations all over the world in creating equal opportunities for both men and women within the workplace. Currently the organization is working with 60 companies in 14 various sectors on all continents.
In case you are unaware, Whole Foods is now selling rabbit meat at a limited number of stores across the United States. As far as more sustainable meat goes, rabbit is one of the better options (along with lamb) — especially considering the oft-quoted statistics suggesting the global meat industry is a larger greenhouse gas emitter than the world’s entire transportation sector. For urban and rural dwellers, rabbit is a far more efficient way to score protein than beef — and they will not wake your neighbors at the crack of dawn. Even the environmental blog Grist, which sniffs at many claims about “sustainability,” has sung the praises of raising rabbit meat.
But the thought of rabbit meat grilled, pan-fried or roasted (goes well with parsnips and baby potatoes) does not make everyone’s mouth water. As the Atlantic recently pointed out, New York’s Union Square Whole Foods has attracted a small but passionate crowd that wants more consumers to boycott the retailer for killing rabbits. One of the more emotional arguments against raising rabbits for meats is that, after all, they are pets.
But there is a problem with that argument: Whole Foods is not killing pets, but is sourcing meat from farms that meet what the company describes as rigorous standards.
There will always be debate about whether having more and more of our data on the cloud is really more sustainable in the long run, but one company making a difference in this space is Salesforce.com. On the business side, it is easy to argue this San Francisco-based company has had a beneficial impact on customer relationship management (CRM) systems. In recent years the US$4 billion company has become a major force in the cloud-computing sector, and is frequently touted for both being a truly innovative company as well as for its sustainability agenda. But the company is making a difference in communities and on corporate responsibility issues as well.
To that end, Salesforce.com recently released its latest sustainability report. A lot of what the report discusses is framed over how the company has evolved since its founding 15 years ago, and it can offer its peer companies, in Silicon Valley and beyond, ideas on how to become a more responsible and efficient operation.
We hear a lot from the optimists about how renewable energy is experiencing skyrocketing growth and should displace fossil fuels in no time. Then there are the naysayers who insist solar, wind and other forms of clean energy will never provide the power America needs. The truth is somewhere in between. One fact cannot be disputed however: All new energy capacity generated last month in the U.S. was 100 percent due to renewables.
According to the latest report issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, 405 megawatts of new installed capacity was added to America’s grid: 379 MW from wind, 21 MW from solar and 5 MW from hydropower.
The single-serving, single-use coffee pod (or K-Cup) is one of the most wasteful consumer innovations to come up since bottled water. If you bother to scoop out each coffee pod, and your local municipality accepts the plastic/foil/maybe paper contraption in their recycling waste stream, they are not so hideous when it comes to final disposal. And true, more companies are rolling out biodegradable or compostable pods, but the reality is that most of this waste ends up in landfill. OfficeMax and TerraCycle, however, have launched a K-Cup recycling program in Canada.
Last week OfficeMax Grand & Toy, a division of Office Depot, announced the first K-Cup recycling program north of the border. As with both coffee companies and retailers, the K-Cup has become a lucrative business; so it behooves them to do something to increase the waste diversion of these pesky coffee pods. The success of this recycling program will rely on a pilot that has launched recently in southern Ontario.
Two things that define today’s San Francisco — bicycling and tech companies — are helping a 27-year-old nonprofit keep some of the city’s less fortunate from going hungry. Mary Risley, founder of a local cooking school, founded Food Runners in 1987 to pick up uneaten food from local businesses in order to distribute it to charities feeding the hungry. In turn those struggling with the city’s rising rents can get by while less food waste ends up in landfill.
Risley’s organization has become busier the past year, in part because of the tech companies in the city’s SOMA neighborhood with their cafeterias cooking more food than their employees can eat. Economics and the surging cost of living also play a role: As a recent San Francisco Chronicle article noted, the amount of food donations Food Runners has picked up has spiked 50 percent in the past year. But not only Silicon Valley-type companies are donating to the nonprofit.
TOMS Shoes, the company often credited for making the one-for-one socially conscious business model take off, decided earlier this summer it wanted to expand even faster since its founding in 2006. Such ambitious goals, of course, require money, so the company’s founder, Blake Mycoskie, started shopping the company around. This week he found a partner in Bain Capital, which has agreed to purchase a 50 percent ownership stake of TOMS. Mykoskie will continue to own the other half of the company; financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
The news elicits mixed emotions across the board: The socially responsible business crowd will shudder, no doubt in part because of how Bain Capital was eviscerated by the Democrats during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Much of that criticism was exaggerated and unfair, but employees of some companies that became part of Bain’s portfolio, such as Ampad, have had plenty to say about the company’s approach to investment. Then again, Bain Capital found success with other firms such as Staples and Gartner. So could this help TOMS in the long run, expand the one-for-one business model, and benefit more people across the globe?
Rhode Island politics are certainly colorful. While some surveys suggest the state has cleaned up its act after enduring a reputation of corruption for decades, the state’s politicians certainly hold their own with their counterparts in Illinois, New Jersey and Florida.
Now the latest flack in the country’s smallest state is over two-time Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci’s pasta sauce. Cianci touts his pasta sauce, and charity’s work, as reason enough to run for mayor of Providence again this year — even though his two previous administrations ended with resignations after felony convictions. Never mind that he first quit after pleading guilty to assault and then again years later after he was charged for 27 crimes, including racketeering. So selling jars of pasta sauce, which purport to fund scholarships, would be a sweet way to atone for past sins, correct?
Well not quite: It turns out the Associated Press investigated the mayor’s claims, and found that from 2009 to 2012, the pasta sauce made a profit of $3.
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.