Kohl’s has long been one of the most innovative and successful department store chains in the United States. Its rapid growth is matched with the company’s increased focus on sustainability, particularly when it comes to solar power. As part of the company’s plan to ramp up investment in renewables, Kohl’s solar power portfolio now includes “solar tree” structures at one of its offices in Dallas to provide both shaded parking and electric vehicle charging.
The solar trees are a product built by Envision Solar, a San Diego-based solar design company. The first deployment occurred late last week at the company’s offices in Dallas, Texas, and Kohl’s has plans to install more at various locations across the company. I had a telephone conversation with Envision Solar’s CEO, Desmond Wheatley, to learn more about the company and how they fit in with Kohl’s clean energy strategy.
Africa is the last frontier for global investment, and beverage companies in particular are moving in quickly. One of them is Coca-Cola, which has long used its distribution network to help deliver medical supplies in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania. Now the company promises to invest an additional US$5 billion in sustainable development projects through the end of this decade.
By several estimates Africa has six or seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economics, so Coca-Cola’s focus on the continent should not be surprising. Its largest competitor, PepsiCo, has also ramped up investment in Africa, and brewing companies also have their sights on Africa due to its growing middle class and untapped marketing potential. Before these purveyors of fizzy drinks and beer can entrench themselves in these markets, however, much work needs to be done.
Vacation may seem as American as apple pie, especially the places on offer that range from the Poconos, to Yosemite, to Yellowstone, to Florida’s beaches. But at the same time, most Americans score only 10 days of vacation time a year. And for about 25 percent of working Americans, they have no vacation days at all. In fact, America is one of the few industrialized countries that does not guarantee vacation days by law. Hotels.com is trying to change that with the Vacation Equality Project.
The statistics, indeed, are daunting. France, of course, stands out with workers entitled to 30 days under law. The number is the same for the United Arab Emirates (plus 60 days of paid sick leave!). Other European nations, including Germany and Italy, require 20 days under their respective employment laws. Even Japan, with its work culture notorious for long hours and commutes, requires that workers have at least 10 days of annual leave.
With its 600,000 residents spread across 276 square miles (715 km2), the population density of Helsinki, Finland is relatively low compared to other major European cities. Buses, trams and ferries fortunately make it easy to move about the city and greater metropolitan area, but city transportation officials believe Helsinki can do even better as it continues to grow. By leveraging telecommunications and nudging the various cogs within the city’s transport system to improve their services, Finland’s capital could achieve what for now seems impossible: making car ownership obsolete.
To that end, Helsinki is considering a holistic transportation plan that would enable users to map out their route via a smartphone. True, many cities already have similar technologies enabled for residents and visitors, but in Helsinki, this would be far more seamless. Rather than paying for each leg of a trip, or requiring passes and memberships (as in for a bike-sharing program), Helsinki’s citizens would simply pay by the route, kilometer or a set monthly fee.
A business that has existed since the 1830s and is entrenched in American culture would not necessarily feel compelled to ensure it is a leader in ethical and responsible business. But Tiffany & Co. has long been a sustainability leader within its sector. Twenty years before many luxury goods companies began to pay attention to the sourcing of raw materials and how people working within their supply chains were affected, Tiffany’s developed policies that are increasingly becoming more mainstream throughout the jewelry industry.
In its latest corporate social responsibility report, Tiffany & Co. outlines how it sources its precious metals, diamonds and gemstones, as well as the steps it has taken to ensure transparency while mitigating its environmental and social impacts.
Two companies, one long a leader in battery manufacturing, the other an upstart disrupting the entire industry, have agreed to work together and build a large-scale battery factory in the United States. Late last week Panasonic and Tesla Motors inked an agreement that outlines a framework for building what Tesla has called the “Gigafactory.”
This latest partnership builds upon the relationship the Japanese electronics giant and Silicon Valley luxury electric vehicle maker have long fostered. Panasonic invested millions of dollars in Tesla earlier this decade in a bid to accelerate the expansion of electric vehicles in the marketplace, and the company also became one of the car manufacturer’s most important suppliers of lithium-ion batteries.
Its clothes are still largely manufactured under dubious conditions in Bangladesh, and many critics doubt the company’s commitment to sustainable apparel, but H&M can claim again one top ranking: the world’s largest procurer of organic cotton. When considering the company’s massive impact across the globe, however, the reaction of many will only be yawns. And with the amount of land worldwide devoted to producing materials for the textile and fashion industry, will a growing sliver of this total now certified “organic” really make a difference for people and the environment?
According to the Textile Exchange’s most recent Organic Cotton Market Report 2013, H&M has reemerged as No. 1 in its annual business rankings of worldwide organic cotton buyers. H&M had topped the list in 2010 and 2011, only to fall to second in 2012. The increased proportion of organic cotton H&M had sourced was largely the result of this jump — according to the company, the share of cotton coming from organic sources rose from 7.8 percent in 2012 to 10.8 percent last year. But with the decade about halfway finished, it is doubtful H&M can meet one of its most important sustainability goals.
The calls for companies to become more ethical when it comes to the sourcing of palm oil have grown even louder in recent months. With hydrogenated fats largely disappearing over health concerns, in addition to the surging demand worldwide for packaged foods and personal care products, the thirst for palm oil continues to grow rapidly. Companies who remain silent on responsible palm find themselves on the outside looking in, and will face more criticism from environmentalists and human rights activists. Cargill was one of those firms.
That has changed. The $137 billion company recently issued a new sustainable palm oil policy, a significant victory considering Cargill is a privately-held firm and not necessarily subjected to shareholder and stakeholder pressure to the degree a public company would face. NGOs such as the Rainforest Action Network have long complained about Cargill’s operations even though the company joined RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) in 2004. Additional watchdogs including the Union of Concerned Scientists have kept the pressure on consumer packaged goods and food processing companies to disclose their performance on palm oil sourcing — a difficult task when it comes to keeping private companies such as Cargill accountable because they often disclose far less information on how they conduct their business.
Unless your skin is about a foot thick, swimming and surfing in the Pacific Ocean for hours at a time requires a wetsuit to stay warm and comfortable. That comfort, however, comes at a price as the vast majority of wetsuits are made from petroleum-based neoprene. The material is durable and does the job, but its manufacture is a carbon-intensive and toxic process. Now Patagonia is aggressively promoting its plant-based wetsuit technology with the goal to have it become a game-changer in the surf industry.
The quest for more sustainable materials within its wetsuit product line started almost 10 years ago. In 2005 Patagonia decided to make a move into the wetsuit business, and after researching the process by which neoprene is made, rolled out a line of wetsuits made from feedstock based on limestone. That was a step in the right direction, since the world’s quarries are not going to be depleted from making wetsuits for surfer dudes. But the company understood that environmentally, limestone was only a more responsible step up from petroleum.
Palm oil production has surged across the world in recent years, and often with devastating results. More companies have pledged to source palm oil more responsibly, but the consequences to the environment, wildlife and people have been severe as more tropical rainforest has been razed to cope with global demand.
When it comes ensuring fairness for people who harvest palm oil, one company making a difference is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the iconic manufacturer of castile soap and other natural personal care products. With palm oil in countless items eaten or applied — from cosmetics and toothpaste to packaged crackers and cookies — Dr. Bronner’s leadership on the development of more responsible sources of palm oil is a template for other companies pledging to do less harm.
Many of us have already concluded the 13-year war and military involvement in Afghanistan has been a horrific waste of blood and treasure with no ideal resolution in sight. But among the many throttled programs the U.S. has tried to implement in this proud, landlocked country is one especially laughable if not absurd.
In 2010 the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a partnership with the American Soybean Association and SALT International, launched SARAI, or the Soybeans in Agricultural Renewal of Afghanistan Initiative. The goal was to haul American soybean processing equipment, and of course soybeans, into northern Afghanistan to start a soy-farming industry under the guise of nutrition and economic development. Optimism was rampant even two years ago:
“It’s great to see the Afghan and U.S. partners get this soybean processing facility up and operating. It will help Afghanistan agriculture continue to develop.” -U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service Agriculture Minister Counselor Quintin Gray, in September 2012.
Then the stubborn reality hit.
To enjoy much of the outdoors, one needs the proper clothing and equipment, but those very products have their own environmental impact — from petroleum-based polyester to the shipping required to move products from factories to stores. To that end, The North Face says it is making headway on its sustainability goals, according to its most recent corporate responsibility report.
The North Face is keeping up with outdoor gear companies such as its fellow VF Corp. brand, Timberland, and Patagonia in ensuring the messages it sends to its customers are reflected in how company operations perform.
So, following on its previous report, in which the company committed to more sustainable fabric and renewable energy, what exactly has The North Face accomplished and what are its future goals?
Nestlé yet again finds itself in another bottled water controversy.
One of the great marketing scams of the past generation, bottled water has been a financial windfall for Nestlé and many other food and beverage companies. Despite most of the U.S. having one of the safest drinking water infrastructures on the globe, bottling companies have made a mint convincing consumers they need bottled water. Never mind the excessive cost, the plastic waste and fuel wasted hauling heavy crates of water across the country — these companies and trade associations disingenuously position bottled water as a “consumer choice,” and a fight against obesity.
The controversy continues in the California desert. The state, along with much of the country, has endured one of its worst droughts on record. Residents can now be fined up to $500 for excessive watering as spit-spats between farming, fishing, business and environmental interests fester. One company, however, has been bottling water for several years in one of the driest parts of the state, the Coachella Valley.
Nestlé, which sells the most bottled water in the U.S., is attracting more attention for bottling water in a region suffering from depleted groundwater. Maybe it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to how else water is wasted in the region. Perhaps Arrowhead-branded bottles of water are significantly contributing to lower aquifer levels.
But we don’t really know because since 2009 Nestlé has refused to disclose how much water it is pumping.
Coca-Cola as a medical supplies deliverer? One of its community programs, Project Last Mile, at first sounds odd as the company is one of the world’s most recognized brands, with its red and white logos emblazoned everywhere from mega-city centers to the tiniest rural outposts. Coke’s 100+ year history of prominence is as impressive as it is exasperating to its critics. And its reputation and stature in the marketplace allow it to attract some of the best talent.
But some of that talent wants more than a line on a CV to complement that MBA diploma. More employees, especially newer ones joining the workforce, want to work for an organization that takes sustainability and social responsibility seriously.
To that end, Project Last Mile leverages the company’s vast distribution network to increase and improve the delivery of medical supplies to 10 African countries by 2019.
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.