Two of the biggest problems afflicting the people of West Africa is a lack of access to education and employment — without the former, the latter is difficult to attain. So says Valerie Lemke, Co-Founder of Jjangde, a social enterprise that strives to hit both issues with one… erm… basket, by connecting handmade goods from rural communities in Senegal to global markets, and using the profits to fund schools in the communities where the goods were made.
The company’s curious name is derived from the phrase Wallam e’ jangde, which means “help me learn” in Fulaani, a local Senegalese language.
“I started Jjangde in hopes to change the ‘buy one and give one to a child in need’ model,” said Lemke. “I wanted to create a social enterprise that focused on a hand-up and not a handout. With Jjangde’s full-circle of development, we hope to change this model.”
Nearly half of rural Senegalese children drop out of school before the age of 12, and a mere two percent of girls attend high school, Jjangde says. By providing families with additional income opportunities, the company hopes more children will be free to attend school rather than remain on family farms to help make ends meet. With many villages lacking schools of their own, Jjangde uses 100 percent of its profits to build locally-run schools in the communities where it operates, with the ultimate goal of establishing a culture of formal education the region currently lacks.
“Providing Senegalese children with the opportunity and culture to stay in school remains key to opening up their futures to other avenues and changing the prescribed expectations of low wages for livelihood,” Lemke said.
It is often said that we tend to adopt our parents’ political leanings, but what if we actually inherited them?
That’s not to say we evolved to be liberal or conservative. Our early human ancestors were more concerned with hunting and gathering and not getting eaten by bears than they were with elections, Gallup polls and hating on Obamacare.
But it is safe to say that the ideologies associated with each political leaning goes well beyond the ballot box.
In 2008, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, conducted a study with a group of 26 adults with “strong political beliefs” to determine if there was a correlation between physical sensitivities and political beliefs. The researchers discovered that individuals with lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support “liberal” issues such as foreign aid, open immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, while those displaying higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor “conservative” issues such as high defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War.
The research indicated that people who have strong basic emotional responses to threats tend to develop more conservative political views.
There is a lingering perception that investing in technologies, initiatives and processes aimed at countering climate change is just another drain on already troubled U.S. taxpayers. But what about the cost of inaction?
According to a new report by Ceres, extreme weather events cost the United States $100 billion in 2012, most of which went towards federal crop, flood, wildfire and disaster relief. While naysayers continue to claim weather events like Hurricane Sandy and climate change are unrelated, scientists agree that climate change exacerbates extreme weather events. They predict that the intensity and frequency of these events will only increase as the planet warms up.
With only 50 percent of the damages in the U.S. caused by extreme weather events privately insured, the federal and state governments are left to pick up the rest, the report says. However, public disaster relief and recovery programs have been slow to recognize that worsening climate impacts will drive up future losses to unsustainable levels. Rather than encouraging behavior that reduces risks from extreme weather events, these programs continue to encourage behavior that increases these risks – such as agricultural practices that increase vulnerability to drought and new development in hurricane- and wildfire-prone areas.
“Taxpayers should be outraged that their tax dollars are incentivizing high risk behavior that increases federal disaster costs,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Especially in light of increased risks in the future, policymakers need to reorient federal policies to encourage mitigation and prerespond to the disasters we know we face.”
“Every dime spent on disaster responses should help ensure we don’t have to spend that dime in the future,” Ellis added.
The Capitol Hill standoff between Democrats and House Republicans may be over (for now), but more than 165,000 businesses say the budget deal reached by Congress last week does not go far enough to address the underlying economic problems afflicting the nation. The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) has called for policymakers to stop imposing austerity and begin making strategic investments to foster a sustainable economy.
The U.S. government has a long history of making such tactical investments, which led to breakthroughs in transportation (federal highway system, commercial aviation), energy (nuclear, the Tennessee Valley Authority), information (semiconductors, the Internet), and medical (the National Institutes of Health).
Continuing to invest in areas like upgrading the energy grid and aging infrastructure are needed to kick-start U.S. leadership in important new technologies, which will drive job creation and raise the overall efficiency and innovation of the economy, ASBC claims.
Unfortunately, the government currently is doing the exact opposite with austerity measures imposed by the sequester, which took effect March 1. This slashed federal spending by $85 million in the remainder of the 2013, affecting mostly education, defense and social programs. An additional $1.1 trillion will be cut over the next decade.
Australian-based materials company Zeoform claims to have developed a new material made of cellulose fiber and water, which has the potential to replace plastic and wood in a variety of applications.
The company says the 100 percent non-toxic material has the beauty of wood, the strength of fiberglass and the versatility of plastic.
On October 11, Zeoform launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $10 million in 30 days. The company says it plans to promote its campaign later this month at the LA Green Festival. Raising such a hefty sum in such little time is not unheard of – both MIT’s Form1 3D Printer raised $3 million and the Pebble Watch raised $10 million in 30 days.
Zeoform says it plans to use the funds to construct a “Center of Excellence” educational facility and R&D factory – scheduled for completion in 2014.
More than two thirds of CEOs (67 percent) believe that business is not doing enough to address global sustainability challenges, while the same percentage report that the private sector is not making sufficient efforts to address global sustainability challenges, according to a survey by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture.
The survey of 1,000 CEOs found that most believe the failure to make a link between sustainability and business value is the fastest growing barrier of the past ten years, and are calling for increased incentives and rewards for sustainability leaders seeking to embed sustainability throughout their organizations.
For more than half of respondents, a lack of financial resources is cited as the leading barrier to advancing sustainability; 40 percent say that economic conditions have made it tough to embed sustainability into core business. In 2007, 18 percent said this deterred them from taking further action, rising to 30 percent in 2010 and 37 percent this year.
According to the survey, only 15 percent of CEOs think business has made good progress over the last three years in making sustainability a must-have factor for consumers, however 82 percent believe this is critical to harnessing sustainability as a transformative force in the economy. Almost half (46 percent) say consumers will always consider sustainability as secondary to price, quality and availability.
Speaking of federal government spending, new research from think tank Demos has found that the current contracting practices from the federal government pays top corporate executives nearly $24 billion per year. Of course, only time will tell if these bills will actually get paid during the current federal government shutdown.
The organization postulates that if these contracting policies were reformed to limit the taxpayer contribution to executive pay at the salary of the U.S. Vice President ($230,700), then full-time workers could potentially receive an annual pay increase of nearly $14,000, with no additional cost to taxpayers.
Demos points to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that taxpayers currently subsidize more than $760,000 per year toward the compensation of contracting executives, who often earn millions of dollars annually — more than half a million dollars more than what the Vice President makes.
The GAO numbers indicate that between $20.8 and $23.9 billion each year goes to executive pay at the companies that contract with the government. The think tank says that recouping close to $7 billion of the total that goes to pay above the Vice Presidential salary mark would free up enough taxpayer money to raise wages at those companies by up to $6.69 per hour, or $13,902 per year for a full-time employee.
It’s tough not to feel a sense of sorrow when watching recent images of the California Rimfire, which has so far scorched more than 250,000 acres of the heavily-forested Sierra Nevada mountains. There is something about a forest that beckons us — a connection that runs millions of years into our evolutionary past.
In modern times, the demands of “progress” often have reduced our perception of trees to mere commodities. We need lumber, pulp for paper and land for specialized agriculture. If the principles of sustainable forest management are not respected, these requirements can lead to sanctioned deforestation or degradation of forests’ inherent qualities. Unfortunately, many of these activities now take place in some of the poorest regions of the world where few government protections are in place. Where regulations do exist, illegal deforestation runs rampant in the form of unsanctioned logging, cattle ranching and subsistence land-clearing.
Some claim that the best thing for the world’s forests would be for humans to simply leave them alone — no more logging or land clearing of any kind. Realistically, we know that economic demands will never allow that. Further, absent human involvement, natural disasters (fire, storms, pests and diseases) will take their toll sooner or later on untouched forests as a part of nature’s regenerative cycles. So it is safe to say that humans will be utilizing forests’ ecosystem services now and in the future. Can we find a middle ground to maintain the health of the forests and also use them responsibly for present and future generations?
Mere weeks after securing a staggering $258 million in new funding from Google Ventures and TPG Capital, car-booking service, Uber, is already training its venture-infused guns on its closest competitor – Lyft.
In response to Lyft’s launch in St. Paul, Phoenix and Indianapolis last week, Uber announced that it is offering free rides in these cities from UberX — the lower-cost version of its premium booking service. Uber says it is counting on consumers to favor its upscale-style offering over Lyft’s more informal pink-mustache and fist-bump-filled rides.
Earlier this year, Uber launched a “Shave the Stache” campaign, which featured Lyft-bashing ads plastered on the sides of trucks and, perhaps ironically, city buses. The ads criticized Lyft’s “donation” approach to payment and sought to convince drivers to switch to Uber.
Despite the Uber threat, Lyft remains in high spirits. On Monday at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, Lyft President John Zimmer said the company will rely on its (often quirky) community to build a larger user base. In other words, the pink mustaches and obligatory fist-bumps are here to stay.
Tesla Motors is on a roll. Just months after paying off its Department of Energy loan nine years ahead of schedule, the California electric carmaker has received a 5-star safety rating in every subcategory from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), making it part of the one percent of all vehicles tested by the federal government to achieve a perfect score.
Tesla’s Tony Stark-esque CEO, Elon Musk, has been quick to point out that although NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, safety levels better than five stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.
The Model S also set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants, Musk says. Though the Model S is a sedan, it exceeded the safety score of all SUVs and minivans, which takes into account the probability of injury from front, side, rear and rollover accidents.
In response to an unprecedented decline in bee populations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new pesticide labels that forbid the use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.
The EPA says the new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions, which will affect products containing neonicotinoids. The agency will also work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
According to TIME, neonicotinoid pesticides are “used on more than 140 different crops as well as in home gardens, meaning endless chances of exposure for any insect that alights on the treated plants.” While U.S. farmers have been using pesticides for decades, neonicotinoids differ in that they are not sprayed over a planted field but soaked into seeds before planting. Vestiges of the chemicals are ultimately passed on to every part of the adult plant, which includes the pollen and nectar a bee might come into contact with. These chemicals also often remain much longer than traditional pesticides do.
During a recent White House event honoring the San Francisco Giants for winning the 2012 World Series, President Obama announced the team’s plan to build a 3,000 square foot edible garden at AT&T Park.
“I’m proud to announce that next season they’re planning to turn the centerfield bleachers at AT&T Park into what’s believed to be the first ever edible garden in a major American sports facility,” the President said. “With rows of kale and strawberries and eggplant, the Giants are going to help encourage local youth to eat healthy — even at the ballpark.”
The first of its kind, the “Giants Garden” will be planted behind the center-field wall in a space between the left- and right- field bleachers, which currently is used to grow replacement sod. The garden will be a bona fide farm, growing strawberries, herbs, avocados, tomatoes, lemons, edible flowers, huckleberries and more.
In a major act of affirmation for Delaware’s recent legislation legalizing benefit corporations, New Leaf Paper and Alter Eco last week joined more than a dozen other companies in registering as the new class of corporation.
Other registering companies included fast-growing organic baby food brand Plum Organics, online personal delivery farmers’ market Farmigo and popular home goods brand Method Products.
Not to be confused with a B Corp, which is a certification offered by a non-governmental organization called B Lab, benefit corporations are state government legal corporate structures. Like an LLC, S-Corp or C-Corp, it is a way to legally structure a company.
According to BenefitCorp.net, benefit corporations create a material, positive impact on society and the environment; expand fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests when making decisions; and report on overall social and environmental performance using recognized third-party standards.
“Benefit corporations meet a market need and a societal need,” said Delaware Governor Jack Markell. “They have the potential to create high-quality jobs and improve the quality of life in our communities.”
While Delaware is the 19th state (plus the District of Columbia) to enact benefit corporation legislation, as legal home of most venture-backed businesses, the majority of publicly traded companies and nearly two-thirds of the Fortune 500, it is the most important state for businesses that seek access to venture capital, private equity and public capital markets. In other words, the state’s legalization of benefit corporations signifies they are here to stay.
Representatives from 21 green business engagement programs from across the country recently met in Boston for an unprecedented national summit that laid the groundwork for a national association charged with growing the role of green business programs nationwide.
As it stands, there currently are more than 50 different independent business engagement programs across the U.S. that serve several thousand businesses – from small neighborhood shops to large national corporations. Cities the country over are also increasingly looking to these programs for help in achieving climate action targets.
The summit was hosted by Boston-based nonprofit, A Better City (ABC), which is currently helping the City of Boston to attain its climate goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 through a Challenge for Sustainability program. The initiative boasts more than 100 participant organizations, including P&G Gillette, John Hancock and Boston Properties, and provides participants with a comprehensive sustainability program that in 2012, resulted in the reduction of some 19 million kilowatts and an average energy decrease of nearly five percent across more than 21 million square feet of commercial space.
Disasters have a way of bringing people together. Whether it is anonymous neighbors helping to rescue trapped garment workers in Bangladesh or schoolteachers in Moore, Oklahoma using their own bodies to shield children from a deadly tornado, time and again, the better part of human nature shines through during the darkest of circumstances. The word “stranger” loses all significance, as those who would otherwise ignore one another on the streets open their doors to take in the homeless, feed the hungry and care for the injured.
Technology is changing the way people respond to emergencies. When Hurricane Sandy resulted in dead and backed-up phone lines, people turned to social media to call for help, reassure the stranded and coordinate rescue. More than a thousand people even offered their homes for free to those in need using short-term lodging service Airbnb.
“As the storm hit, community members started taking people in on their own,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s chief technology officer.
In the hurricane’s wake, the company launched in New York City the Donated Sandy Housing program to connect those recently rendered homeless with those willing to take them in. In preparation for the next disaster, Airbnb has created a free disaster-response offering, which can be activated in a specific region in less than an hour.