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

On the Agenda: Sustainable Event Standards

| Thursday July 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Mountains of paper waste, frigid air-conditioned conference rooms, endless supplies of plastic water bottles and not a recycling bin in sight. Just a handful of years ago, when I was working in the events industry, this was the norm. Wastefulness, if it was given any thought at all, was merely considered a byproduct of holding events. But fortunately, many businesses and event planners are starting to evolve.

They need a roadmap to start making changes, and to provide a means to measure the impact of their efforts at conducting for sustainable events. And, as I learned through a chat with Thatcher Young, Sustainability Director, and Simon Isaacs, VP of Cause Marketing and Sustainability Practices, for ignition, an event marketing firm that specializes in events and “experiential” interactive gatherings, that a number of sustainable event standards are beginning to emerge.

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Top 5 Business Insights from LOHAS Forum

| Friday July 2nd, 2010 | 0 Comments

LOHAS crowd. Photo: LOHAS

Last week’s LOHAS Forum generated lots of buzz here at Triple Pundit. As I combed through my copious notes from the two days of meetings, I came up with these five top insights that I brought back to San Francisco with me.

1: Time-tested, stalwart sustainable companies are growing strong. As I wrote earlier this week, the 40-year-old magazine Mother Earths News is growing strong amid a sea of magazines that follow in its do-it-yourself, self-sufficiency footsteps. Another example is cleaning products company Ecover, whose international communications manager, Effie Vandevoorde, told attendees at session called “Maintaining Values in Iconic Brands” that Ecover has evolved its messaging over the years to position itself as a mainstream brand. “Ecover went from being a green company that makes makes cleaning products to one that makes cleaning products and happens to be a green company,” she said.

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Mother Earth News and the Growth of Affinity Journalism

| Thursday July 1st, 2010 | 0 Comments

I had a wide ranging conversation with Bryan Welch, publisher of Ogden Publications following his fun and inspirational keynote address at the LOHAS Forum. You might not recognize Ogden Publications but you will certainly know its magazines, which include The Utne Reader and Mother Earth News, a magazine about gardening, alternative transportation, country living, self-sufficiency and not being a wussy.

Welch provided a roadmap for attendees to refocus and reinvigorate efforts to both lead a more sustainable life and to ensure sustainability as entrepreneurs. The gist of his talk was this: Start by renewing idealism (and don’t worry about being realistic) as you set goals, forget practicality when you define criteria and then take first steps that are realistic, practical and also optimistic.

But what really struck me were his remarks about Ogden Publications. The company’s flagship title, Mother Earth News, was 2009’s fastest growing magazine, he said. And this is amid a print  media downturn. After his address, I asked Welch what he’s doing right while I wondered what so many other media companies are getting wrong.  I also asked for his view on advocacy journalism–expressing my own dismay at the business model of a website I’d learn about at LOHAS that promotes eco-friendly home product vendors in exchange for hefty donations by those vendors.

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A Tale of Two Plastic Bottles at LOHAS Forum

| Saturday June 26th, 2010 | 6 Comments

More articles on the controversy surrounding bottled water can be found here!

During an information-sharing panel at the LOHAS Forum about the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf, many attendees had one simple question: what could they do to help? Charles Hambleton, producer of the documentary The Cove, suggested that anyone wanting to improve the crisis at a systemic level forswear the ubiquitous single-use plastic bottle.

Great idea. And good luck. As attendees we were in fact supplied with, guess what, single-use plastic bottles. But these aren’t just any single-use plastic bottles. These are Naya water bottles, which are made with 100 percent recycled PET. No virgin oil goes into the bottle, Sean Surkis, Naya’s vice president of sales and marketing, later assured me.

Still, it seemed a wasteful option to me, as I self-righteously filled my Klean Kanteen at a water fountain in the hotel lobby. After all, there was plenty of embedded energy in each Naya bottle due to its transportation alone. (Though, Surkis also assured me that the recycling process that Naya employs is not more energy-intensive than creating PET out of virgin stock, and that most of the energy Naya uses in its Montreal facility is powered by hydro.)

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LOHAS: Don’t Miss the Ark, and Don’t Miss the Point

| Thursday June 24th, 2010 | 0 Comments

The two keynote sessions at the LOHAS Forum here in Boulder, Colo., Thursday morning conveyed two main themes–or rather, warnings.

The first was that the big green consumer ark is about to set sail, but the companies that steer it might not be the grassroots LOHAS brands in the audience. Instead, massive multinational companies–like the kinds that pay the morning’s first keynote speaker, marketing strategist and futurist Faith Popcorn, boat-loads of money to tell them what to do–might be in charge.

Greener World Media‘s Joel Makower echoed this message in his talk and added this: a company might operate under the LOHAS umbrella, but that doesn’t mean it’ll never greenwash, or that it will always “push the needle” from incremental to substantive change in society at large. It has to stay on point and on target. “Doing less bad isn’t the same thing as doing good,” he warned attendees. And by merely committing “random acts of greenness,” LOHAS companies will not force a fundamental shift in the way consumers behave and what they purchase.

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Climate Law Ban Ballot-Bound, But Schwarzenegger Bolsters Support of AB32

| Wednesday June 23rd, 2010 | 0 Comments

Back in May, the California Jobs Initiative submitted to California’s Secretary of State’s office more than 800,000 signatures in support of a ballot measure to stall implementation of the state’s 2006 landmark law designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since that’s nearly double the number of signatures required for a measure to make the ballot, it was all but certain that the measure would qualify for the November ballot. And so it has, announced the Secretary of State’s office announced late Tuesday.

But in reaction to this news, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposes the ballot measure and a much-maligned study from the state’s Analyst’s Office that predicts implementing the law would worsen California’s employment numbers, swiftly expressed his continued support of AB32 and called out the link between the ballot measure and the Texas oil companies that support it:

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Surf Trip Spawns Sustainable Shoe Startup – Indosole

| Friday June 18th, 2010 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-fridayBack in 2004, while working as a sales rep in the outdoor/action sports industry, Kyle Parsons took a vacation to Bali that changed the course of his life. Kind of. See, he used to sell ski helmets and now he sells flip-flops. But the terms have changed. Instead or representing other company’s brands, Parsons started his own company, called Indosole.

“I was captivated by the landscape, people and culture in Bali, so I started scheming on how to get back there,” says Parsons, recalling his first trip to the island.

To produce flip-flops and other sandals, Indosole upcycles used tires from motorbikes, which are ubiquitous in Bali.

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Will Green Tech = Drill, Baby, Drill?

| Wednesday June 16th, 2010 | 4 Comments

What’s the problem with rare earth minerals? The problem is that they’re rare—maybe even rarer than we used to believe—but they’ve got a major role to fill in the clean energy economy (not to mention consumer electronics).

Rare earth minerals  are lightweight, resist heat and are crucial ingredients in the magnets and other components that go into everything from wind turbines to solar cells to hybrid automobiles.

These elements are only rare in that they reside deep in the ground; there are unexploited deposits off these elements in various parts of the world. China mines these minerals, and it’s been exporting them heavily—that is, until recently. According to a PBS Newshour story  that aired Monday, China is reducing the amounts of the rare earth minerals it is selling to other companies, because it knows that it will need more of it, going forward, to satisfy its own manufacturing needs.

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Greener Future Slices Through the Smog in Taiwan

| Monday June 14th, 2010 | 1 Comment

A spinning turbine blade was the first thing I saw as my plane made its final approach to Taoyuan International airport in Taipei, Taiwan earlier this month. Clean energy might not be the first thing most people think of when they imagine Taipei, especially given its history as a dirty, polluted city, but the island nation has been stepping up its efforts to produce clean energy in recent years. Its government is encouraging offshore wind generation for the country, as well.

Later, as I made my way to my hotel, the congested city streets proved a startling contrast to those beacons of clean energy. If you’ve been to Taipei, you know the familiar scene at each major intersection: Swarms of scooters lining up, waiting for the light to turn as the drivers—many of them wearing face masks to combat the poor air quality—pack in like sardines amongst the cars and small trucks, clogging the streets all day and night.

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Businesses to Benefit from Calif. Bag Ban; We’d All Benefit from National Ban

| Thursday June 3rd, 2010 | 0 Comments

San Francisco’s ban on plastic shopping bags has been in place since early 2008, but you wouldn’t know it by walking down my Mission District street. Granted, I live on the trashy side of the street–prevalent wind patterns deposit the neighborhood litter on the west side of every block in my hood. But on a dog walk the other day, I picked four plastic bags off the street during the last three blocks of my stroll. Most of them looked like they came from corner stores, which are both numerous around here and which are not included in SF’s bag ban.

Maybe it won’t always be this way. California’s Assembly Bill 1998, which enjoys Governor Schwarzenegger’s support, would create a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags not only at major chain stores, but at the bodega down my block and every small retailer in the state. It would also provide a consistent guideline for businesses that operate throughout California and therefore must obey a patchwork of bag bans enacted by the handful of cities that have passed them (and there are many others that are considering a ban). That’s one of the things that compelled the California Grocers Association to support the bill.

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Ford Puts Change Down on Paper

| Wednesday June 2nd, 2010 | 4 Comments

Nicole DesNoyer, a producer in Ford’s internal communications group, took an idea and ran with it. With a background in ad agencies, DesNoyer joined the company in 2006 with an eye on sustainability.

“We produce a lot of internal documents,” she says. (Documents like Ford magazines, materials for employees, etc.) “We started a small group with Ford’s sustainability department, me, Ford purchasing and Xpedex (a paper distributor and a division of International Paper) to talk about how to forward the use of sustainable materials in our paper [sourcing].”

The result of this initial meeting is a sea change in how Ford sources paper for its multitude of printing needs.  By working with Xpedex to negotiate new sourcing deals with its vendors, the automaker is now using paper from recycled content and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and containing at least 10 percent post-consumer recycled content for its high-volume, consumer and employee printing projects. These include its latest annual report and proxy statement, its owner, employee and retiree magazines, its dealership car catalogs, consumer direct mail and in-dash vehicle owner’s guides.

This move reduced Ford’s consumption of virgin stock by 6,000 tons over the past year
(that’s the equivalent of a loaded freight train with two locomotives and 100 cars).

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Samasource and the Business of Alleviating Poverty

| Wednesday May 26th, 2010 | 0 Comments

We’ve covered the inspiring work of Samasource before. But we felt we’d be remiss for wrapping up our series on the social side of sustainability without including another look at this innovative effort.  Though it is a non-profit, Samasource works as a bridge between profit-based, socially-responsible companies, and marginalized people in countries such as Africa and throughout Asia, linking them with Internet-based work for firms in Bay Area. Samasource screens and then provides training and project management tools to small businesses and nonprofit training centers in the poorest parts of the world.

We got on the horn with Samasource founder Leila Chirayath Janah, to talk about the changing face of business and the challenges Samasource faces in its mission to alleviate poverty.

Triple Pundit: What kinds of tools do socially-minded businesses need? How can they shape the economy?

Leila Janah: I think there are some inherent challenges in that our tax code was developed a long time ago, and companies that want to put social and environmental causes at the top of their agenda don’t have a clear way to do that. We need smart regulation to incentive the right kind of behavior among businesses. There’s a group called B Corporation that is basically trying to get companies to endogenize social and environmental costs, and then get them tax credit for doing that. So, that will basically accommodate companies that are somewhere between for-profit corporations and that also have programs for social or environmental benefit, as most non-profits do, in what I call the semi-profit space. What’s so exciting about social businesses is that I think we really do have the power to tap businesses to create social and environmental change.

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CEO in the Spotlight: Organic Valley’s George Siemon

| Tuesday May 18th, 2010 | 2 Comments

Back in January, many of you, 3p readers, told us that when it comes to sustainability, George Siemon was the top CEO in all the land. For the rest of you who might not know about this organic farming pioneer, we’d like to introduce you.

Triple Pundit talked with Siemon recently about what it means to focus on sustainability, the challenges and opportunities that co-ops create in the business world, and some of the lessons he has learned throughout his career.

Back in 1988, Siemon became a founding member of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP), but you probably know the firm by its popular brand name: Organic Valley. CROPP is now the largest organic farming cooperative in North America, with more than 1652 farmer-owners in 33 states and four Canadian provinces. Aside from his role as “C-I-E-I-O,” Siemon serves on the board of directors for Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to improving animal agriculture. He’s spent much of his career helping to develop national standards for organic certification.

Triple Pundit: Tell us how you define sustainability.  What do you think is the role of business in building a more sustainable world, overall?

George Siemon: Sustainability has gone through several renditions for what it stands for. There was a time when sustainable agriculture was not necessarily organic agriculture, and now sustainability is being used to talk about, of course, carbon credits and [carbon] footprints. To me, sustainability means the way things fits together in a holistic way, for the long term. The word sustainable is actually very connected to the word organic. Organic means the integrated part making a whole, and sustainability is a lot about that. I’m kind of offended when I see sustainability used in a narrow way.

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Salazar Separates Church and State in Interior Dept.

| Wednesday May 12th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Amidst Senate hearing and other investigations into the causes and guilty parties linked to last month’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill, the US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that he is making some important changes to the Minerals Management Service.  This bureau within the Department of the Interior is tasked with both issuing permits for extracting natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS), and also collecting the royalty fees from such activities.

This dual role has long been the target of speculation and seen as an inherent conflict of interest in the agency’s structure. Salazar said the new office within the agency–the Office of Safety and Environmental Enforcement–will operate separately from the agency’s offshore oil and gas leasing operations, “so there is no conflict, real or perceived, with respect to those functions,” according to the Washington Post.

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Will Deepwater Disaster Stem Drilling? No Chance, Says Expert

| Friday May 7th, 2010 | 2 Comments

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—wait, can we call it a gush? spill is too polite—Obama put a moratorium on new drilling leases, Calif. Gov. Schwarzenegger reversed his support for the plan to allow new drilling into the Tranquillon Ridge formation off the coast of Santa Barbara and the fishing, shipping and energy industries of the Gulf Coast are all waiting for the brunt of the fallout due to this massive accident.

But don’t expect this to appreciably reverse the course of oil exploration, overall, says David Hughes, a geoscientist, energy consultant and fossil fuels fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

“We’re hell-bent on growth, and we’re going to need a lot of hydrocarbons to build whatever comes next,” he says. Even making the turbines needed for wind power requires massive amounts of fossil fuels. “There’s no chance the energy we get from renewables will even come close to [energy from] hydrocarbons, so we need to realize how precious they are and use them to build a life boat.”

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