3p Contributor: Mary Catherine O'Connor

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.

Recent Articles

Odwalla Squeezes Out the Oil—Much More Oil Than Coke Squeezed

| Friday October 22nd, 2010 | 4 Comments

Juice maker Odwalla has announced that, starting in March of 2011, it will move to a new type of plastic for its single-serve juice packaging. That bottle of C Monster or Mango Tango you pick up on your lunch break will no longer be derived from a completely petroleum-based plastic. The new “PlantBottle” will be comprised of 96 percent (or more) of a bio-based plastic derived from molasses or sugarcane juice.

This news comes on the heels of announcements from Stonyfield Farm, which is moving to corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) for its multi-pack yogurt packaging, and the debut of the Replenish cleaning product, which basically reinvents cleaning product packaging in a very clever way.

Together, these are important parts of a larger trend toward reducing the environmental impact of consumer packaged goods. It’s an encouraging trend, and also a difficult task for producers, who need to find ways to maintain the attractiveness of their goods while also making them more eco-friendly and keeping the same price points, since consumers might pay more for organic tomatoes but not for the same old yogurt they’ve been buying for years.

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Stonyfield Plants Seed for Better Packaging

| Wednesday October 13th, 2010 | 7 Comments

Each year, Stonyfield Farm sells 200 million of its “YoBaby” and “YoKids” individual, 4-ounce yogurt cups (they’re sold in multipacks of four). This makes up 27 percent, by weight, of all its products sold each year. But these little containers had become a big problem for this forward-thinking company, from both waste and health perspectives. The company started using polystyrene for the YoBaby packaging in 2003, and since then, consumer complaints, based on the material’s links to human health problems, were piling up. Plus, it wasn’t getting any easier to find recycling facilities that would accept the material. So last month, Stonyfield began transitioning to a material composed mostly of polylactic acid (PLA), which is corn-based.

This is a major transition for a company of Stonyfield’s size, especially given its cache among sustainability-focused firms. But it’s also not a perfect solution. For one thing, the PLA is produced by NatureWorks, a subsidiary of the agri-giant Cargill, and a company one might be surprised to find linked to the yogurt-maker, which prides itself on using organic ingredients and supporting sustainable agricultural practices. Also, the PLA cups are no more recyclable than the polystyrene they are replacing—in fact, there are only two facilities that recycle the PLA, and only one in the U.S.

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Will Whitman’s Opposition to Prop 23 Help Get Her Elected?

| Thursday September 23rd, 2010 | 3 Comments

Sure, seeing former Secretary of State George Shultz come out against Proposition 23, the November ballot measure that would stop California’s landmark emissions-reduction law (AB32) in its tracks, might have raised some eyebrows. But Shultz has been actively pushing for energy independence and the increased use of renewable energy, so really, his support of AB32 is no surprise.  But Meg Whitman? Yes, the Republican nominee for Governor, has also come out in opposition of Prop 23.

Why? Because the ballot measure is “too simple.”

Come again?

Whitman had been mum on Prop 23, but her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown has been pushing her to take a stand. She did just that today, listing her opposition to the ballot measure. She has long called AB32 a “job killer” and mentioned her plans on enacting at least a year-long moratorium on the law’s implementation, if she is elected. In a statement to expand on her opposition to the measure, she said:

While Proposition 23 does address the job killing aspects of AB 32, it does not offer a sensible balance between our vital need for good jobs and the desire of all Californians to protect our precious environment. It is too simple of a solution for a complex problem. I believe that my plan to fix AB 32 strikes the right balance for California. I will vote ‘no’ on Proposition 23.

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EPA to Retailers: Watch For ‘Pesticidal’ Claims

| Thursday September 16th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Cleaning and pest control products sold at 99¢ Only Stores will kill germs and bugs…and who knows what else.  In a significant ruling, an EPA administrative law judge has ordered 99¢ Only Stores, a chain with 273 stores across the country, to pay $409,490 in penalties for the sale of illegal unregistered and misbranded pesticides contained in household products.

At the root of the fines are three cleaning and pest control products sold at the chain stores, which were being sold in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). A cleaning agent from Mexico called “Bref Limpieza y Disinfección Total con Densicloro” (Bref Complete Cleaning and Disinfection with Densicloro), was not registered with EPA, despite what the agency called “pesticidal claims” on the product’s label. The other products that violated the Act are the innocuous-sounding “Farmer’s Secret Berry & Produce Cleaner,” which contains an unregistered pesticide (guess that was the farmer’s secret) and “PiC BORIC ACID Roach Killer III,” which did have EPC labels but they were upside-down or inside out, making them hard to read.

The fine is the largest contested penalty ever ordered by an EPA administrative law judge against a product retailer under FIFRA, according to the EPA’s report, released Wednesday.

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Fight to Derail AB32 Could Spill Into Courts – Outside California

| Friday September 10th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Thanks to a ballot initiative waged by a group called the California Jobs Initiative, California voters will decide in November whether to move forward with implementation of the state’s landmark emissions reduction law, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), even though it was signed into law in 2006. But if the initiative, Proposition 23, fails, the battle may just be getting started. California Watch reported on Thursday that four states, Alabama, Nebraska, Texas and North Dakota, are all ruminating legal actions against California because they see the Golden State’s decision to limit greenhouse gas emissions as an affront to other states’ right to conduct interstate commerce.

If that sounds like a hard legal argument, consider a suit between Minnesota and North Dakota over a similar law. Says California Watch:

North Dakota supplies 60 percent of Minnesota’s energy, much of it from a massive lignite coal mine. Shortly after Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a law mandating a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2012 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050, tensions erupted with the electricity supplier next door: The North Dakota legislature appropriated $500,000 to finance preparation of a legal challenge by [North Dakota attorney general Wayne] Stenehjem.

This emerging threat being launched from across the Rockies (funding for Prop 23 is flowing from Texas and Kansas, via Koch Industries) will only embolden efforts to fight Prop 23, which are getting organized all across the state.

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Few Stars, Many Laggards Among Communications Firms

| Wednesday September 8th, 2010 | 0 Comments

As companies increasingly devote resources toward becoming more sustainable, it falls on their internal marketing teams and/or external communications firms to communicate these intentions to customers. And this is where things too often fall apart, through branding that turns into greenwashing, or through poorly-deployed marketing plans that fail to hit their high notes. And so it’s wise to rank communication firms on their skills in ushering sustainability plans from the boardroom to the newsroom. That’s what the analysts at British research firm Verdantix have done in a report out today called Green Quadrant: Sustainable Communications Agencies US 2010.

After surveying 18 firms over four months, Verdantix found that two specialist marketing communications firms—Cone and OgilvyEarth—lead the US market for sustainability communications agencies. They topped the list by having “clear sustainability vision” and “processes and methodologies specifically designed to address sustainability communications challenges,” according to Verdandix. However, what’s most striking, and worrisome, about the report is this gem: “All agencies flunk the test on their own sustainable business strategy.”

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Koch Industries Funding Fight Against Climate Change Law, Via Subsidiary

| Friday September 3rd, 2010 | 6 Comments

The Yes on 23 Committee, a.k.a. the California Jobs Initiative, a.k.a. the November ballot initiative Proposition 23 which would suspend AB32, California’s climate change law, became $2 million richer yesterday. The funding came through $1 million donation from Flint Hills Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, and another $1 million by another oil refiner, Tesoro, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Flint Hills Resources, based in Wichita, Kansas, is an oil refiner and chemical supply company. Katie Stavinoha, a spokesperson for Flint Hills Resources, told Triple Pundit that the company made the $1 million donation to Yes on 23 because it believes that “implementation of AB32 will cause significant job losses and higher energy costs in the state of California and sets a bad precedent for future regulation in other states and by the Federal government.”

Koch Industries, also based in Wichita, and one of the largest private companies in the world, also owns two pipeline companies and a number of firms outside petroleum, including makers of chemicals, polymers and fertilizers. Oh, and paper. Georgia-Pacific is an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary.

Run by brothers David and Charles Koch, Koch Industries has a deep record in fighting any legislation that seeks to boost environmental regulations. As we’ve reported, it does this by funding initiatives such as Prop 23, as well as supporting think-tanks and political groups who oppose regulation. (The New Yorker recently ran an expose on the firm.)

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Bjorn Lomborg, the Not-So-Skeptical Environmental Skeptic

| Wednesday September 1st, 2010 | 0 Comments

(Also reported on by RP Siegel here) The economist and author Bjorn Lomborg has been called the Danish doubter and compared to Adolf Hitler because of his failure to add the human element into his analysis of the climate crisis. In his books The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, published in 2001 and 2007, respectively, he took a non-alarmist line with respect to environmental degradation, saying that while global warming is obviously real, we should first put global energy into fixing other problems.

But Lomborg’s newest contribution to bookshelves takes a new tack. In Smart Solutions to Climate Change: Comparing Costs and Benefits, due out next month, he advocates throwing a great deal of monetary resources at fighting climate change—to the tune of $100 billion each year. He tells the Guardian that this new book does not represent an about-face, however.
If one simply judges his books by their covers (or rather, titles), he is at least changing his tune a bit.

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EPA Ruling Could Keep Calif. Coast Cleaner and Shipping Industry in Check

| Thursday August 26th, 2010 | 0 Comments

If you read InvestigateWest‘s piece on the cruise industry  this month, or our own coverage of the industry , you know that what happens below deck ain’t nearly as pretty or clean or fun as what happens on deck.

But there was good news for the California coastline on Wednesday, when the EPA announced it is putting a spine into a spineless 2005 law that set out to restrict how and where ships can release pollutants–including untreated sewage–into the state’s shoreline and its waters, which extend three miles from the coast.
In 2005, explains the San Jose Mercury News, “Schwarzenegger signed banning sewage discharges in state waters from cruise ships and commercial ships larger than 300 gross tons.”
But that landmark bill, called the Clean Coast Act, had a loophole. It prohibited all commercial ships from dumping hazardous waste, sewage sludge, oily bilge water, “gray water” from sinks and showers, and sewage in state waters. But treated sewage isn’t covered without EPA authorization under the Clean Water Act. And that coverage is what the EPA announced. It will take most likely take effect after a 60-day public comment period.

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Bellwether Materials: A Startup in Sheep’s Clothing

| Friday July 30th, 2010 | 2 Comments

ban-startup-friday

Priscilla Burgess is presently one last fire-resistance test away from really putting the product that she’s developed over the past three years into motion. She’s already cleared the R-value and sound-resistance tests needed to certify that the building insulation her startup, Bellwether Materials, makes is ready for market.

Burgess, one of the 100 CleanTech Open semifinalists vying for the 18 regional finalist spots that will be awarded this fall, came upon her product idea—making insulation wholly from waste wool that is generated by the sheep ranching industry in the U.S.—by chance.

“I’d been talking to a sheep rancher, complaining about a potential partner [on another business venture] who had disappeared on me, and he said ‘You could always try using sheep wool for insulation,’” explains Burgess.

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Cleantech Trend: Boosting Fleet Efficiencies

| Tuesday July 27th, 2010 | 2 Comments

Amid the poster-board displays and smiling, hand-shaking entrepreneurs at the Cleantech Open National Conference in San Jose last week, a trend emerged. A number of the 100 semifinalists vying for the 18 regional finalist spots in the competition have developed technologies that will juice up the miles per gallon that fleets of vehicles (trucks, vans, busses, etc) can achieve.

At least two of the startups—an outfit called Aperia and one called Pressure Sentinel—have devised a hands-off means of ensuring that truck tires maintain adequate pressure. Both systems use a very similar approach (in fact, I couldn’t figure out the difference) wherein a sensor is mounted around wheel rim. Both exploit kinetic energy to power the sensor and both automatically inflate the tire when the pressure drops below a set parameter (and, of course, stops inflating once a desired pressure is reached).

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Lights Out for Climate Bill? Lights (and $$) On for Photosynthesis.

| Monday July 26th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Cleantech played second fiddle to an unexpected mini-forum on carbon trading during the lunchtime session at last week’s Cleantech Open National Conference in San Jose.

Attendees chomped on salad and gave half of their attention to a “rah-rah, go entrepreneurs” address by Jonathan Ortmans, senior fellow with the Kauffman Foundation, one of the event’s sponsors. But when the following panel discussion turned into a somewhat lively debate about carbon caps, people started to put down their forks and listen.
Kristina Johnson, the Department of Energy’s under secretary of energy (and major brainiac, with a number of startups and 45 US patents under her belt), had expressed the DOE’s support for a carbon cap a number of times in her morning keynote address. As she participated in the lunchtime panel, she reiterated that support. But her panel-mates—Dan Adler, president of the California Clean Energy Fund; Andrew Hargadon, faculty director of the UC Davis Center for Entrepreneurship; and Lesa Mitchell, VP, advancing innovation for the Kauffman Foundation—stressed that changing the way we do business is more important than setting a price on carbon.

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Calif. Climate Law Supporters Begin Ballot Battle

| Friday July 23rd, 2010 | 3 Comments

November is just 15 weeks away, and the battle over Proposition 23, a ballot measure that would suspend the implementation of California’s landmark climate change legislation, AB32, is heating up. The NRDC has started a YouTube campaign and a policy group, called the Bay Area Council, held a forum on AB32 on Thursday evening to discuss and debate Prop 23.

“Supporters and opponents of AB32 will present their arguments,” said the Council’s website promotion of the event. But that should have read “opponent” rather than “opponents.” Dave Fogarty, spokesman for the California Jobs Initiative, which spearheaded the anti-AB32 campaign, was the only one of the four speakers who actually supports Prop 23.

Given that, the tenor of the event was about as fair and balanced as a Fox News broadcast. But the Bay Area Council admitted its bias, and it was clear that the event was conducted largely as an exercise to drum up support for the campaign to defeat the November ballot measure.

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Bee Massacre at Hayes Valley Farm

| Thursday July 22nd, 2010 | 7 Comments

Hundreds of thousands of dead bees. Source: Hayes Valley Farm

Wow. Someone in San Francisco clearly doesn’t like bees. Or, perhaps, doesn’t like urban farming. Maybe it’s both. Whatever the underlaying motivation, the result is the destruction of two healthy colonies of bees, and a major blow to a third, that were being cultivated at the Hayes Valley Farm. A 2-acre sliver of land under what used to be the Central Freeway, the farm has been springing to life this year, under the care of a large group of urban farming advocates and volunteers.

At some point between July 20 and 21, a pesticide was intentionally sprayed into into the entrances and ventilation holes of the hives, according to the Hayes Valley Farm blog. In each of the two destroyed hives, up to 100,000 individuals bees perished. The third hive lost more than half of its population.

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Tracking Deepwater Horizon Developments: How to Chart Your Course

| Thursday July 15th, 2010 | 0 Comments

You’re maybe feeling a little saturated on oil spill news, but the sad fact is, you’ll have to get used to it. And despite the hopeful news that  work being done right now may just stop the hemorrhage, the 182 million gallons, or so, of oil that is already in the Gulf isn’t going to disappear, and the economic and environmental legacy will linger for decades. But as I learned today (thanks in part to an informative newsletter from the Society for Professional Journalists) there are plenty of interesting ways to keep yourself in the oilstream, without having to watch CNN 24/7 (sorry, Anderson Cooper, no offense).

Oily news globs

The Society of Environmental Journalists is maintaining a site, called The Daily Glob, dedicated to Deepwater Horizon coverage. The Oil Drum, published by the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future, is another source–and it covers all things energy related, as well. The site I Bleed Crimson Red has posted a staggeringly detailed timeline that dates back, of course, to the April 20 explosion.

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