This week, Collectively.org launched. Described in a press release as a “super brand coalition” platform to “raise awareness and inspire millennials to adopt a more sustainable way of living,” I first thought it was a joke. I rolled my eyes as the email also included a pallid quote from Barack Obama and forwarded it onto the editors here at Triple Pundit with a snicker (which is why, PR people, get to the point right away).
Yes, the “super brand coalition” threw me off, as I envisioned a posse of luxury brands going into the Middle Eastern desert to root out terrorism. But when I scrolled down that same email yesterday, it turns out this is partnership between Forum of the Future and some of the world’s biggest and iconic companies: Marks & Spencer, Unilever, Google, Nike, BT and others are sponsoring this new site while VIRTUE, a division of edgy VICE Media, is curating the site.
And according to sustainability writers out there, that background poses a huge problem for Collectively, and the knives are out. “A slew of major corporations,” and “backed by corporate sponsors,” are among the complaints being lobbed at this new site—as if somehow corporate involvement is a bad thing. The “feel good” stories on Collectively are mocked, and the site is even chided for not covering other stories such as the Aral Sea’s disappearance (shame on us at Triple Pundit, as admittedly we barely covered the disappearance of the world’s fourth largest freshwater lake).
But is the criticism fair, with Collectively not even up and running for a week?
While international marketing executives scratch their heads over how to expand business in a world saturated with products (are Africa, India and Latin America the last frontiers for global business?), more companies may want to focus on socioeconomic, not geographic, markets to find new opportunities. After all, the “bottom of the pyramid,” as in the world’s lower-income wage earners, are as much as 70 percent of the world’s population. Some businesses understand this and sell products accordingly—for example consumer packaged goods companies that sell cleaning products in sachets instead of massive boxes. Now SC Johnson, the Wisconsin-based cleaning products company, is joining this small but growing crowd in Ghana, and contributing to local efforts to reduce the risks of contracting malaria.
The program, nicknamed WOW, launched in 2012, though SC Johnson has researched and tested this business concept for almost a decade. A pilot program in Bobikuma, Ghana, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) west of the capital of Accra, kicked off earlier this year. With support from Cornell University and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this membership-based club allows families to pool their money together to buy cleaning and pest-control products and reduce the transmission of malaria. Besides allowing families to share resources, the communal nature of selling these products allows for sharing tips about keeping homes clean and safe from malaria-carrying mosquitos. Now the program has expanded.
The commercial aviation industry has long been unstable and struggled to make a profit, in part because of the volatility of fuel prices. Consolidation and cost-cutting have improved many airlines’ financial performance in recent years, but they are only one epidemic, fiscal crisis or political time bomb from reeling. That is one reason why for several years, many airlines have experimented with adding biofuels to conventional jet fuel in order to harness energy security—and try to reduce those pesky carbon emissions that are difficult for the airline industry to avoid. Now Gol, the second largest airline in Brazil, is testing farnesane, a clear fuel sourced from sugar cane.
The partnership between Gol, Amyris, a California-based biofuels company, and the French energy giant Total culminated in a flight earlier this summer between Orlando and São Paulo, which was powered by conventional jet fuel blended with 10 percent farnesane. For now Gol has commited to using the 10 percent blend on select international flights between the U.S. and Brazil. Then last month a Lufthansa flight between Frankfurt and Berlin was also powered in part by farnesane.
Whether you revile or revere Airbnb, you cannot dispute the role the company has had in expanding and legitimizing the sharing economy. Sure there have been a few trashed homes here and there and the company is in an ongoing tussle with stubborn New York City business interests—the latest salvo is a coalition of “concerned citizens” who launched a site allowing Airbnb users to locate sex offenders and building code violations. The fact that NYC’s hotel occupancy rate hovers around 88 percent shows that Airbnb is hardly a threat, but in fact is really a complement, to hotels. And that is why more business travelers are using Airbnb when attending those conferences or sales meetings.
And why wouldn’t they? Take New York, where average hotel rates are approaching $300. In San Francisco, they are over $200 a night. (In fact, the city of San Francisco has finally realized that Airbnb is here to stay and voted to legalize and regulate short-term rentals.) And those rates are before a major conference hits town, which sends hotel prices up even further—if you can score one during one of those massive tech conferences at Moscone Center. So if you don’t want to walk from the Tenderloin to the SOMA in San Francisco, or get stuck in L.A. traffic because those hotels in Santa Monica or downtown were beyond budget, Airbnb could offer a more comfortable stay, with more workspace and room to chill, than an overpriced hotel room.
We have all had that moment where out of convenience, or desperation, we call up the local pizza joint and order a pie. And why not? Pizza covers all (or most) of the food groups, is satisfying, and can be eaten anywhere. The only caveat is that manky cardboard pizza box in which your instant meal is delivered. Awkward, bulky, and quite gross to look at after you’re done devouring your Hawaiian or meat lover’s special, that tomato sauce and cooking oil-stained box may not be compostable or recyclable.
But never mind, Ecovention’s GreenBox, or the “pizza box of the 21st century” as described by Fox News, is continuing to make a difference in the pizza industry—six years after we first touted this innovation here on Triple Pundit. This recyclable pizza box has its own Twitter account, has been showcased on Rachael Ray’s show and keeps you updated on the latest pizza creations on its blog. And of course, in case we forget, it’s 100 percent recyclable.
Travel has certainly become easier the past twenty years thanks to discount airlines and the web, but the effects are not always positive. Increased carbon emissions, more environmental degradation and the world’s cultural homogenization are amongst the results cited by those concerned about cheap and easy travel. But one emerging travel publisher is leveraging the latest technology with increased interest in responsible travel, and in turn aims to bring water to those who need it most: Ecoalsur.
Based in a coworking office in Montevideo, Uruguay, Ecoalsur is a group of travel writers, adventurers and techies who seek to inspire travelers to see the world in a more environmentally and socially responsible way. For now the ground Ecoalsur covers is Latin America, though the firm’s network of writers has started to write about Africa and more regions across the world are on the horizon. In addition to highlighting responsible travel opportunities from the Uruguayan coast to Patagonia to Chiapas, this social enterprise focuses on another task: bringing clean and safe water to South America’s Gran Chaco.
Approximately 84 percent of all households in Kenya use solid fuels for cooking. This rate spikes to 95 percent for Kenyans who live in rural households. So as they have for generations, most families in Kenya use cookstoves three times a day to prepare their meals. But the results are negative all around: deforestation, increased carbon emissions and a massive threat to public health. The Alliance for Clean Cookstoves estimates over 36 million Kenyans are affected by household air pollution (HAP); over 15,000 deaths in Kenya annually are directly related to HAP. One social enterprise, GreenChar, is trying to reverse that trend.
GreenChar is trying to take a different approach from other cookstove initiatives that have launched, and failed, in Kenya, Africa, and in other developing regions such as India. As an article in Nature earlier this year outlined, the fact that one-third of the world’s population uses solid fuel to cook food takes a toll on our environment, on families and on their communities. But despite the best intentions, scores of cookstove projects have failed, for a bevy of economic and cultural reasons. An 18-year-old social entreprenuer who recently graduated from high school, however, hopes to buck this discouraging trend.
With all the fuss over corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and other potential replacements for gasoline the past several years, it is easy to forget that ethanol is an important component in detergents. An effective, if not the most environmentally friendly surfactant, ethanol helps keep those fabrics clean. For years, corn-based ethanol was an important ingredient in Procter & Gamble’s Tide detergent product line. But that is changing as P&G, in a joint announcement with DuPont, have announced a shift towards cellulosic ethanol that has been 10 years in the making.
This is an interesting development for those of us who have observed the ethanol industry the past several years. In part, the debate over fuel vs. food has kept us captivated, and then of course there have been the endless media advisories from startup companies promising a massive ethanol breakthrough “in six months!” Scores of six months’ later, the reach and scale of P&G and DuPont’s partnership could help cellulosic ethanol become more important in our country’s energy, and chemical, portfolios.
A recently released study suggests stronger power plant standards to cut carbon emissions could save lives and offer significant health benefits. The study, a joint effort by Harvard University, Boston University and Syracuse University, evaluated the impacts of various policy options to reduce power plant emissions on public health. The timing is important considering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released carbon pollution standards, named the Clean Power Plan, for the first time in June. The suggested standards included a range of policy options, and the three universities’ researchers evaluated the three likely policy frameworks that would represent strategies for high, moderate and low targets for future carbon emissions reduction targets.
The study evaluated these three different carbon emissions policy scenarios for power plants to gauge which one would have the largest positive impact on public health. The first scenario, with the lowest targets and therefore the most energy-company friendly, would have only generated modest carbon emission reduction and created an uptick in public health risks. Another, the most rigorous plan on the compliance side, with high emission reduction targets but allowing no local flexibility and lacking any energy efficiency measures, reduced carbon but offered limited improvements in public health. A more moderate approach, which allowed for local flexibility in meeting the EPA’s proposed rules, actually showed the most potential for reversing mortalities and hospitalizations attributed to climate change.
The Coke vs. Pepsi “cola wars” was one of the 20th century’s greatest marketing campaigns, or scams, depending on your point of view. Both companies have become massive food and beverage giants while somehow perpetrating the myth that there is actually a taste difference between their flagship products (though insisting you can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi is like saying you can taste the difference between a Whopper and Big Mac). But fast forward to the 21st century; while these companies are still strong, sales of fizzy drinks are flat. Some, such as diet soda products, are in decline or losing market share. Can stevia-based drinks reinvigorate the soft drinks industry?
The reasons Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s sales of their most venerated products have struggled are all over the map. Obesity rates and their connections to sugary drinks are one. Health concerns over aspartame, sucralose, and years before, sodium saccharine are another. In a society where many younger consumers want to serve the latest and coolest in their mason jars, cola drinks don’t exactly cut it. There is also much more competition than there was a decade ago. Walk into a convenience store and the variety and colors of cans and bottles demonstrate Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s competition. The soda giants even own many of these newer brands — any recent growth they’ve seen has come from new products, not sales of their older brands. Now two new products boasting calorie-free stevia root, Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True, are set to hit shelves in the United States, and both companies hope they can reverse the slow but notable long term downtown in soft drink sales.
On what was once a factory shop floor in the Montevideo neighborhood of Palermo, 20-somethings huddle over their laptops at large tables or gather in minimalist conference rooms. Up one level, a 3D printer is surrounded by funky-shaped parts it had just churned out. A few steps away, past more offices, a ping-pong table is available for those who need a break from writing code or smiling and dialing for investors. Modern furniture in bright primary colors adds to a setting one would take for granted in tech centers such as Silicon Valley, Santa Monica or Boston. Judging by the logos I saw, the tenants here are an eclectic bunch: social entrepreneurs, tech companies and non-profits are among the of occupants.
Welcome to Sinergia Cowork, the first shared office space in Uruguay. For those of us long accustomed to co-working spaces—such as us at Triple Pundit, where we have churned out content and held events at San Francisco’s Hub for years—our reaction at first may be ho-hum.
But for Uruguayans dedicated to building businesses that can help create social change, this six-month old space is a huge and exciting step forward because there had never been a place for them to work, meet and learn from each other. The three floors of Sinergia hum with excitement—quite a contrast in this city of 1.5 million that otherwise I would describe as calm, placid and relaxed.
Part of the reason for the lack of coverage is that this pilot program is only in one part of the city. Meanwhile D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare had scored much attention for its extensiveness, while CitiBank’s big check to sponsor New York’s raised many eyebrows in the Big Apple. With the constant handwringing over whether bikesharing can survive in the long run, is Cleveland taking a risk — especially considering the cold temperatures several months out of the year?
But for Zagster, Cleveland offered an opportunity to complement the company’s success on corporate and academic campuses. Already boasting of clients including DTE Energy, GM, Quicken Loans and most recently, Duke University, this Cambridge-based company is bullish on the future of bike sharing — with a few caveats.
One does not have to look far to see how the production of textiles has a huge impact on our planet, water and land. And if you add the effects of the carpet industry, the story becomes even more worrisome. While carpet recycling has improved in recent years, the stubborn fact remains that the world will require more fiber — from cotton, to wool, to fossil-fuel based materials such as polyester — in the coming years. Estimates suggest the world’s demand for fibers will reach 96.4 million tons in 2020, up from 76.4 tons in 2010.
One Italian company, Aquafil, seeks to reduce that demand by improving textile and carpet recycling, educating consumers, and finding new markets for its fibers and yarns. Yesterday I had a telephone conversation with Maria Giovanna Sandrini, Aquafil’s brand and communication manager for ECONYL, to learn how this company is boosting its bottom line while raising awareness about the environment.
What’s most interesting about this firm? Your future outfit — or carpet in the home or office — could, oddly enough, have a tie to the fishing industry.
Companies including Google, UPS, Ford Motor Co., Microsoft and eBay have long positioned themselves as leaders in the fight against climate change — their work, in fact, has been regularly featured here in Triple Pundit by many of our writers, including me. But Forecast the Facts, a project of the Citizen Engagement Laboratory, has issued a scathing report on what it describes as their funding of “climate change deniers.”
And it is the aforementioned companies for which Forecast the Facts has the harshest words. This report “raises questions about Google’s own honesty”; calls out Bill Ford for his company’s donations to climate deniers who “thwart, even mock, sustainability”; equates US$1 million in Microsoft donations to funding Big Tobacco scientists; and in turn is dismissive of eBay’s and UPS’ efforts related to sustainability based on some of the donations these companies have given out the past few years.
But is it fair to paint these companies as hypocritical based on some of their political donations?
Scrap metal recycling is a US$50 billion business that as of 2013 employs over 150,000 people in the United States. While the slump in volatile metal prices caused revenues to plateau in 2013 after a prosperous few years, scrap metal recycling will long be profitable — especially when considering the fact 95 percent of cars eventually end up at a recycling facility. For this industry’s workers, however, with these jobs come risks.
A recent example is the death of a worker at an Illinois scrap metal recycling facility earlier this year. The company has now been fined US$470,000 by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Organization (OSHA) for eight different violations, ranging from the lack of employee protection from hazards to even a complete failure to post signs pointing out dangerous equipment. Furthermore, the dearth of safety features at a metal shredder is what led to the employee’s arm to be trapped in a conveyor belt, which led to his death. What is most disturbing, however, is that OSHA had never inspected the facility, as noted in an interview on Think Progress.
But while this case makes it easy to highlight this one company and OSHA’s shortcomings, the reality is that the scrap metal sector is one of the more dangerous settings for American workers — and little is done to enforce safety protections for workers.