Public awareness about toxic chemicals in consumer products and food has grown exponentially over the last decade. Major companies have taken action on removing individual toxic chemicals from their products, and food companies and fast-food chains like Panera Bread are moving away from questionable food additives. Consumers are clearly asking for more transparency and action on the things that go into their food and everyday products.
Consumer pressure warrants market and policy response
Public concern isn’t just a fad; it’s rooted in decades of scientific research showing links between chronic disease and toxic chemicals we often unknowingly come into contact with every day.
Consumer behavior is moving the market away from some toxic chemicals, albeit slowly. State and federal policy reforms have pushed the envelope and created an increased demand for a credible and meaningful regulatory framework on chemicals. And finally, the marketplace, most notably retailers, have started to create a more comprehensive and systematic shift away from these ingredients in their supply chains. These are all a reaction to our failed chemical policy in the United States.
But his admission delivered another interesting impact as well: It jump-started a conversation on how easy it can be to live sustainably. Granted, not everyone seems to have bought the idea of freezing their favorite pair of denim in lieu of washing them. But the simple, almost incidental mention of this unorthodox technique jump-started a conversation that has inspired jean-lovers across the country to come clean with their best sustainability secrets, and why decreasing the use of water isn’t so hard after all.
The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the forest products industry by 15 percent by 2020, but one of the association’s members, International Paper, is aiming for a more ambitious target: 20 percent by 2020. And the pulp and paper company is making progress towards its objective, cutting companywide emissions by 5.8 percent last year, according to International Paper’s recently released sustainability report.
The 5.8 percent figure is an aggregate of increases and drops in the company’s emissions in two different sectors: Emissions from burning fossil fuels to power the company’s mills fell 7 percent in 2013, while emissions from electricity purchased from utilities climbed 4 percent from the company’s 2010 baseline and 8 percent year-over-year.
The bulk of International Paper’s emissions reductions were achieved at the company’s 41 paper mills, which are responsible for more than 95 percent of the company’s total energy use and 90 percent of the company’s fossil fuel consumption, according to the sustainability report. But about 72 percent of the mills’ energy actually comes from a recovered waste product, rather than a fossil fuel. When a tree goes through the mills’ pulping process, its wood fibers are separated from the natural glues and sugars that previously held the tree together. The fibers will eventually be made into paper products, while the leftover glues and sugars become a biofuel that is burned to produce energy for the mill.
Paralleling the historical development of a cross-country network of gasoline and diesel filling stations, a nationwide electric vehicle (EV) charging station network is beginning to emerge in the U.S. As with any technological advancement that breaks new ground and disrupts vested commercial and political interests, the U.S. fleet of EV charging stations is growing in fits and starts. There have been business casualties, scandals and fatalities, and there will be more. But real progress is being made, and the overall trend appears clear.
It took some 50 years from the time the first gas stations cropped up to the emergence of a nationwide network of gasoline and diesel filling stations. Given current conditions and progress to date, a nationwide EV-charging infrastructure is likely to emerge in far less time, perhaps as little as two decades.
Tesla‘s Supercharger network is the highest profile effort to date when it comes to building a cross-country network of EV charging stations. Tesla isn’t alone by any means, however. Flying largely under the radar, Miami’s CarCharging Group, Inc. has been on an acquisition spree, acquiring assets on the cheap and planting the seeds of what could turn out to be a national fleet of EV charging stations.
Having acquired four competitors in 2013, CarCharging is now the largest owner, operator and provider of EV charging stations and services in the nation. Scooping up distressed EV charging assets, the group acquired ECOtality’s Blink Network for over $4 million in a bank auction last year. It also acquired 350Green, another failed EV charging venture.
With a robust solar energy and natural gas portfolio, El Paso Electric expects to wean itself from coal in 2 years, providing cleaner power to its 395,000 residential and commercial customers in Texas. By the end of the year, solar energy will represent 6 percent of EPE’s generation sources, compared to 0.23 percent nationally.
EPE signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Macho Springs solar plant in New Mexico, on 500-acres of State Trust Land in Luna County. The 50 megawatt project supplies enough power for 18,000 homes and will displace more than 40,000 metric tons of CO2. Macho Springs was touted as a super cost-effective solar energy development, at a mere 5.79 cents per kilowatt-hour, and will be the largest in New Mexico. This is significant because the project is selling solar energy for about half of what is typical for such a project and for nearly the price of coal power — but with a 20-year purchase agreement.
It is no secret that money plays an important role in American politics. In the 2012 presidential and congressional elections alone, Americans spent more than $2 billion in support of candidates. However, U.S. citizens spend nearly nothing to ensure those politicians vote accordingly after elected, according to OpenSecrets.org. This allows corporations to leverage their financial power and spend collectively over $3 billion dollars every year to influence these same politicians once in office.
Corporations’ disproportionate political influence has only gotten worse since the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which prohibited the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions.
To help reverse this trend, a startup called Amplifyd has launched a new crowdsourced social activism platform that amplifies people’s voices to more easily and powerfully influence government and public policy.
The company’s founder, Scott Blankenship, says he felt as though there needed to be a new way to engage with elected officials and put political influence back in the hands of voters, in a way that was more powerful than simply signing a petition but easier than quitting your job to fight for the cause.
Looking at the Plan A and Annual reports of the British department store chain Marks & Spencer (M&S), two things become clear: The company is a sustainable retailer and sustainability increases its bottom line.
M&S became the first retailer to achieve triple certification to the Carbon Trust’s Carbon, Waste and Water Standards, as the Plan A report shows. M&S achieved this while sales increased in the U.K. by 2.3 percent and 6.2 percent internationally.
The Plan A report details progress toward the company’s Plan A goals. In 2007, M&S launched Plan A as a “technical initiative,” as Mike Barry, director of Plan A stated in the report. During the first phase of Plan A, M&S made 100 commitments to reduce its social and environmental footprint. In the next phase, the company integrated Plan A into its management processes.
Now, M&S is focusing on engaging with its customers and employees to make Plan A part of how it does business. So far, M&S has achieved nine Plan A 2020 commitments. Eleven are not started, one is behind plan, and the rest are on plan. One of the nine commitments achieved is reducing business flights by 43 percent per full-time equivalent employee, exceeding its goal by 23 percent by increasing use of video conferencing and rail travel.
Chipotle has long been on the list of companies we’ve noted that pay attention to their customers about sustainability issues. The company has also historically gone out of its way to educate consumers about sustainability in food, animal welfare, GMO issues and many other things. See its famous scarecrow video for some inspiration.
The folks at Chipotle also know how to throw a good party, which was evident last week at the company’s free-to-the-public Cultivate Festival which rolled into Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The event featured a bevy of top musical acts as well famous chefs performing cooking demonstrations. The most visible aspects of the festival were interactive exhibits scattered throughout the grounds inviting attendees to learn about issues from factory farming to making the perfect guacamole. Impressively, every exhibit had a line of at least 100 people waiting to check them out throughout the day. Granted, they were bribed with the promise of free tacos if they visited them all, but still….
It turns out that it wasn’t just the public who were getting a treat. Every attraction and every food station at the festival was staffed by Chipotle employees — some from local stores, others hand-picked to be flown in for the event. The idea was not only to provide employees with a fun day out and to ensure an educated public face for the company in terms of basic PR, but also to explain the company’s stance on the various issues presented by the event.
I had a chance to sneak backstage to talk to Chipotle’s communications director, Chris Arnold, to learn more about how the event was staffed and what folks were learning. Video after the jump:
An Israeli ice cream ad has folks riled up for its sensuous nature.
Joya ice cream is produced by Osem, which is 63.7 percent owned by Nestlé. Before I offer my thoughts, I have to let you judge for yourself. A screen shot from the ad is available to the right, and the ad itself — proclaiming Joya ice cream the hottest ice cream around — is below.
I have to wonder how this kind of marketing passes the ethics test at Nestlé.
It’s a great time to be a green manufacturer. Environmental consciousness continues to grow, not just here in the U.S. but globally. Consumers realize that there are more than a few reasons to purchase a green product. It may be good for the environment, but it’s also often perceived as good for their families and their communities’ wellbeing. But for many manufacturers, figuring out how to correctly communicate the sustainable benefits of a product is still a challenge.
Speakers share their thoughts at the U.N. Private Sector Focal Points Meeting, Africa: Advancing Partnerships & Responsible Business Leadership in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 10.
By Michael Kourabas
Last week, 20 CEOs of Ethiopian companies gathered at the United Nations Global Compact’s (UNGC) CEO Roundtable on Corporate Sustainability in Ethiopia. The event was part of “Africa: Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership,” a week-long conference co-sponsored by the UNGC. Held in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, it aims to promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Africa and explore partnerships between the U.N. and the public and private sectors to advance sustainable development in the region.
There’s good reason for the attention on CSR in Africa. First, according to the Africa Strategy document, by 2050 Africa will have the world’s largest workforce and will account for 25 percent of the world’s population, growing at a faster rate than every other region in the world. Second, despite this growth, “only one-quarter of the top 50 African companies in 2012 are or have been Global Compact participants,” leaving ample room for improvement. Third, according to the International Finance Corp., the private sector accounts for roughly 90 percent of employment in Africa. All of these facts, particularly when considered in conjunction with Africa’s persistent governance problems, lead inexorably to the conclusion that private industry in Africa — as opposed to government — holds the key to sustainable development in the region. For its part, the UNGC views its role in Africa as “paramount to creating the bedrock of social norms that move businesses beyond ‘Do no harm’ principles and towards a greater understanding of how the private sector can contribute to sustainable growth through responsible business.”
The minimum wage, and the difference between earning a minimum versus a living wage, has moved to the forefront of the civic mind and politics in the U.S. recently. With income and wealth disparities at historically wide levels, President Barack Obama continues his campaign to raise the federal minimum wage. Seattle’s city government recently voted to raise the municipal minimum wage to $15, while fast food workers and public interest groups have been putting pressure on some of America’s — and the world’s — largest employers, such as McDonald’s and Walmart, to follow suit.
A fair, living wage is considered a fundamental human right by the U.N. While this issue has only really come to the fore in the U.S. over the course of the past decade, it has long been an issue in developing countries. For developing and less developed countries, cheap access to natural resources has been touted as a keystone of economic development, while for industrially developed nations it has been a linchpin of economic growth and globalization.
Tea estate workers offer a case in point. Though it is the most popular drink in the world, other than water, tea is typically grown in poor countries. And while those countries have set minimum wages for tea estate workers, those often aren’t even high enough to be considered a living wage. A coalition of organizations led by Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership is out to change that.
The Oakland City Council just approved resolutions opposing the transportation of coal and other fossil fuels in Oakland and the East Bay.
The council unanimously approved the resolutions by consent Tuesday evening, citing the problems with using coal trains through the urban area. Such problems included environmental threats, public health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition to exports, specifically coal.
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.
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