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.
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?