Last year was rough for the at-home beverage carbonation systems maker, SodaStream. Its stock plunged 60 percent from a year ago, and after several years of impressive growth, sales have declined the past couple of years.
Sales were never strong in the U.S., but then they also slowed down in Europe, where the company’s performance had always been steady. The only region where the company saw growth was in Australia. Add the spit-spat involving its celebrity spokeswoman, Scarlett Johansson — over her relationship then clash with Oxfam due to the company’s controversial factory in the West Bank — and 2014 was a year SodaStream would like to forget.
Now SodaStream, which has had its share of confrontation with beverage companies and will face increased competition from the likes of Coca-Cola, is betting that a change in its message can help the company rebound. Rather than tout its products’ environmental benefits, the company is emphasizing the health and wellness benefits of drinking water.
For years when the federal government planned projects such as office buildings, government agencies relied on past environmental data while developing a plan. Agencies only had to dig up a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) floodplain map, or a similar map “based on the best-available information.” But as of last week, that has changed.
In another executive order that will again cause the Obama administration’s opponents to scream and holler, but is the reality for today and the future, federal government agencies will have to take climate change risk into account for future planning. Here’s the kicker that some will take as a not-so-subtle jab at Congress: “The federal government must take action, informed by the best-available and actionable science, to improve the nation’s preparedness and resilience against flooding.”
Considering about 40 percent of the U.S. population lives on the coast and over half within 50 miles of the shorelines — with a density six times that of the rest of the country — the federal government is simply following the lead of over 300 local and state governments already planning for climate change and resilience.
The textile and garment industries have long left one of the largest footprints on the globe. While more companies have pledged to source more sustainable raw materials and pay “living wages,” some say overall these efforts are a few Band-Aids on what worldwide accounts for a massively gaping wound. One company, Good Cloth, is trying to challenge the fashion industry by working with small artisan producers around the world while still focusing on quality and design.
Based in New Orleans, the company was founded by Stephanie Hepburn, a journalist and writer who has written extensively on human trafficking. The company says each of its collections are produced in small quantities, made with locally-sourced materials, and manufactured in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. The finished products, available for men, women and children, range from the “ethnic look” to what you would find off the rack in a department store. And, considering the costs big-name labels insist we pay for something made by someone making pitiful wages, the prices are overall fair and competitive. Shoppers can also choose their products based on the values most important to them. If searching for a bag, for example, they can choose if they want a U.S.-made, recycled or “Trade not Aid” product.
Launched in 2010, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan has pledged to double the company’s growth while reducing its environmental and social impacts across its operations and supply chain. Zero waste has been one pillar of the CPG giant’s plan. The company has made steady improvements in just a few years, and last week it announced that all of its factories have achieved the company’s goal of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.
According to Unilever, its waste diversion efforts have resulted in €200 million (US$225 million) in savings while boosting social enterprise projects and jobs. The ways in which Unilever has avoided pitching garbage are almost as diverse as the company’s product line.
With as much as 40 percent of all food in the U.S. going to waste, municipalities are struggling to divert garbage from landfills and increase their recycling of waste. True, retailers and restaurants could do more to prevent food from going into the trash — though local regulations often get in the way of donating food to those who really need it. But composting is the most effective option, which would at least return some of these nutrients into the local environment. Otherwise those leftovers would just sit in a landfill, emitting the potent greenhouse gas, methane, into the atmosphere.
In order to boost municipal composting, the city of Seattle is trying a strong-armed tactic to increase food waste recycling in the city of 650,000.
Last September, Seattle’s city council passed an ordinance banning food from all residential and commercial garbage. The composting law went into effect Jan. 1, and full enforcement starts on July 1. In the meantime, residents caught with more than 10 percent of their garbage can full of food waste will score a bright red tag on their trash bins warning them they are violating the city’s composting law.
Would you drink a beer knowing it was made out of recycled sewage water? An Oregon company, Clean Water Services, wants to do exactly that and is petitioning the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to allow reuse of recycled water in alcoholic beverages.
The proposal kills two birds with one stone: Meet the growing demand for beer nationally and globally while dealing with the ongoing threat of water scarcity. As more municipalities struggle with providing water for their citizens, more government officials and citizens are getting over the “ick factor” of drinking water that in a past life may have been flushed down the toilet. San Diego has already given the green light to a long-term plan that will source a third of the city’s drinking water from recycled sources by 2035. Singapore, rich in just about every metric but lacking reliable supplies of water, has been recycling water for over a decade.
Meanwhile the popularity of microbrews on the domestic front, while the middle class has grown overseas, has translated to an increase in beer sales. If we as a society will continue to enjoy the products water makes possible, we will have to be open to new sources of water. And that includes water that has gone down the drain.
Should art institutions take money from oil companies? A core of activists in London have answered with an emphatic, “No.” And they won a recent victory when the Tate Gallery in London was ordered by a court to disclose the amount of money the museum received from BP between 1990 to 2006. It turned out that BP’s annual contribution during those years was an average of £225,000 (US$340,000). Critics sneered at BP and the Tate, pointing out that it was barely distinguishable in the museum’s overall budget while the oil and gas giant received tons of exposure for its annual donation.
The disclosure, after a three-year legal fight, highlights the ongoing controversy over whether museums and cultural institutions should accept money from oil companies. Activist organizations such as Platform insist such grants such as those made by BP give these companies credibility that is largely undeserved. Then there is the other point of view, voiced by those including Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones, who downplays any benefits companies such as BP score by sponsoring the arts. During the Deepwater Horizon crisis, which was also during a time the arts were facing budget cuts throughout the United Kingdom, Jones defended galleries such as the Tate, writing, “If they can get money from Satan himself, they should take it.”
We grit our teeth when we see them on the road, but the stubborn truth is that trucks are an integral part of the North American economy’s foundation. The movement of goods from port to storefront or warehouse is a huge economic multiplier and employer. At the same time, in addition to the fact that trucking is a brutal job entailing long hours, many truckers are independent contractors. True, cheap oil may lighten their wallets, but the history of fossil fuel prices suggests at any point in the future they will be susceptible fuel cost shocks. More sustainable sources of fuel would be a huge benefit to the industry in the long run.
To that end, BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) has issued another one of their energy and fuel reports. The latest study focuses on transportation fuel in North America, and its timing is on point considering 2014 was the hottest year on record. Transportation causes 14 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions and 23 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Clean energy technologies are slowly gaining traction within the transport sector, but the process will be slow: the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests renewables will at best make up 15 percent of the globe’s transport mix by 2035. Hence the industry faces massive challenges, but also opportunities for companies as the sector will continue to grow at a rapid pace.
At first glance this campaign reminds you of the 1980s bar scene and may elicit an eye roll. But in too many parts of the world, the thirst for water and hours put into collecting it trumps political correctness. To that end, the Belgian brewer Stella Artois has partnered with Water.org to launch an eye-catching campaign to halt one of the most onerous tasks faced by women in developing nations: the hours-long daily route of hauling water, usually by foot, over long distances. The “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign opened last week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
Indeed, this cause marketing campaign is a knife in a massive gunfight as NGOs, private companies and governments try to find ways to expand access to clean water in an era of growing water scarcity. Nevertheless, more knives like that of Stella Artois’ initiative are needed. The statistics are overwhelming. At least 760 million people lack access to safe, secure and clean water. Women and children spend about 140 million hours a day collecting water. And while mobile technology has opened more economic doors, one disturbing fact is that more people worldwide own a cell phone than own a toilet. Stella Artois’ campaign, which enlists Water.org’s founders Matt Damon and Gary White, is a step in raising awareness about this massive problem.
Copenhagen, Denmark has long been one of the more proactive cities when it comes to planning for climate change. It also happens to be the capital of the country with one of the most advanced clean energy portfolios on earth. And with most of the city only having an average altitude of 30 feet (9 meters) above sea level, Copenhagen is susceptible to storm surges and its temperamental climate. Cloud bursts over the last few years have smacked the city budget — one heavy storm in 2011 alone cost the city about 6 billion kroner, or over US$1 billion. As part of its climate adaptation plan, the city recently revealed what it says is the first neighborhood redesigned to adapt to climate change.
The district of St. Kjeld features a roundabout circling a main square at which seven streets converge. Long a patchwork of asphalt surfaces, the central plaza was typical of most of Copenhagen’s open spaces during times of extreme weather: worthless. The city’s sewer system had long been at maximum capacity, and therefore rain had nowhere to go, worsening its ongoing flooding problem. To that end, the city engaged the architecture firm Tredje Natur to come up with a plan to revamp and redesign St. Kjeld’s open spaces.
It’s one thing to be told you’re getting a discount; but everyone loves having cash wired into their account. Such an incentive could encourage more utility customers to save on their energy usage. Charts comparing current usage to that of the previous year may be eye-catching and arouse curiosity, but cash generates far more attention.
To that end, MeterHero, a Web-based utility monitoring tool, is looking to encourage people to conserve water and energy through cash rebates sponsored by businesses with sustainability goals.
Such a tactic is important because water scarcity will only worsen over the coming decades. California’s water struggles have long been documented. Las Vegas and Atlanta are also dealing with water scarcity. Even Chicago, located in the water-rich Great Lakes region, could face water shortages in the coming decade. While agriculture continues to consume most of the freshwater in the United States — 70 percent more or less, depending on the source — municipal water agencies need to save every drop, as the cliché goes. The same goes for energy. Consumers may be giddy over filling their tanks for less than 20 bucks, but oil and gas prices will eventually rise again as the population increases and economy grows.
Mars Inc., the US$33 billion dollar company known for chocolate but also a huge global player in prepared foods, pet care and beverages, has announced what it says is a more aggressive policy towards addressing deforestation within its beef, soy and paper supply chains. Last week’s announcement is a follow up to the company’s deforestation agenda that it made a year ago.
The change is important because deforestation is the cause from 15 to 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—in addition to its effects on water security, biodiversity and economic disruption for the world’s poorest people. The demand for paper products is one part of the problem, but the world’s growing appetite for protein, notably beef and soy, are the biggest reasons behind deforestation. Meanwhile companies are scrambling to create more rigorous deforestation policies as consumers become more interested in how their favorite products are manufactured and sourced. To that end, Mars has set some goals on how it sources some of its most important raw materials over the next several years.
It is easy to think of Masdar as the company who built the Middle East’s sustainable city in the middle of the desert, but the Abu Dhabi company is more than that: it runs a clean technology investment fund with about half a billion dollars, and has also become a major global renewable energy investor. Its latest initiative, another solar energy project in the West African nation of Mauritania, will provide clean energy in seven towns throughout this country of 4 million.
The new solar power plants are a follow-up to Masdar’s installation of a large power plant outside the capital city of Nouakchott two years ago. That project provides 15 megawatts of green power, and at full operation provides up to 10 percent of Mauritania’s electricity needs. This new project now expands solar across the country, with seven cities benefitting from a total of 12 megawatts of solar—enough to displace 6 million liters of diesel fuel and over 16,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
China is close to becoming the third country, after the United States and Russia, to land spacecraft on the moon. As a result, the blogosphere has been buzzing with one of the reasons why the Chinese have apparently decided to invest in space exploration: to explore the possibility of the isotope helium-3, rare on Earth but possibly plentiful on the moon, in order to research its viability as a clean and powerful form of energy.
Such potential is a reminder of the movie “Avatar,” the premise of which was based on humans traveling long distances across space to exploit valuable natural resources from a planet in order to meet the insatiable needs for humankind.
In the case of Chinese moon exploration, the reason is to test the viability of helium-3 as a perfectly secure form of energy. For years the buzz was that cold fusion could solve Earth’s energy conundrum without the nasty effects of pollution and greenhouse gasses. That hype has long died down, but now helium-3 could be that Holy Grail. The oft-quoted claim bouncing across the Internet suggests that 25 tons of helium-3, when reacted with deuterium, would generate enough electricity to power the United States for one year.
Considering the wars over oil and the challenges that renewables pose, you’d think it would be easy to make the case that we should be hauling lunar rocks from the moon, extracting the helium-3 and solving all of our energy problems. After all, the Chinese are looking into it, so shouldn’t we? One author suggests the U.S. would do it, too, but powerful corporate and political interests are getting in the way.
If it were only that simple.
Desalination is one reason why the Gulf region has enjoyed spectacular growth over the past two decades. Harvesting fresh water out of the sea is also one long-term economic and environmental problem that countries such as the United Arab Emirates will have to confront.
Effluent resulting from removing salts and minerals from seawater is often discharged into the Gulf, creating one environmental problem. And while most desalination plants in the Middle East are actually cogeneration plants that generate electricity from natural gas, heightened demand for power in the summer means many such plants generate more potable water than can be consumed. In turn, the unneeded water is released into the Gulf, creating even more ecological burdens. And at a pragmatic level, fossil fuels used to operate power-hungry desalination plants means less of them can be exported or even used for local electricity and power requirements.
Desalination fueled from solar or other renewables offer potential, but as of now the amount of energy required has not made renewable energy a viable alternative. A pilot project launched by Masdar in Abu Dhabi, however, could pave the way to a future where desalination could be possible with less of a carbon footprint.