3p Weekend: 7 Companies That Make Employee Volunteering a Priority

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday June 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Timberland employees recently surpassed 1 million volunteer hours served.

Timberland employees recently surpassed 1 million volunteer hours served.

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

It’s easy to start losing your faith in humanity once Friday rolls around. To give you a bit of a mental boost this afternoon, we rounded up seven industry-leading companies that make employee volunteering a priority while still turning a profit. 

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Why Tim Cook’s Leadership Won’t Lead Apple to the Next Phase of CSR

Raz Godelnik
| Friday June 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Apple CEO Tim CookThree years after taking over the leadership of Apple, Tim Cook is still struggling to make his own mark in the company. A profile article in the New York Times published last week described the challenges Cook faces while trying to lead a company, living in the shadow of Steve Jobs and “making Apple his own.”

According to the article, there are still many people — including some of Apple’s shareholders — wondering if Cook can fill Jobs’ shoes and maintain the company’s position as an innovation powerhouse and the most valuable company in the world.

One issue where Jobs’ shoes aren’t too big to fill is corporate social responsibility (CSR): In his day, Apple was famous for its reactive CSR strategy, low level of transparency, little commitment to stakeholder engagement and a generally dated approach to what responsibility in business means.

Cook — who had to address some of the issues that were the result of Jobs’ approach, such as the working conditions at Foxconn – seems to be more open-minded about CSR, promoting an agenda focusing on climate change, human rights and philanthropy.

The interesting question is whether this is enough to build Cook’s own legacy and make Apple not just his own, but also more sustainable? I believe the answer is no. And the reason is not what is in his agenda, but what is missing from it.

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4 Lessons the Apparel Industry Can Learn from Carpet-Makers

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday June 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments

TriplePundit attended Sustainable Brands 2014 in San Diego this month. This post is part of our coverage. Find the rest here.

5185833554_e9fb31921e_zThe 2014 Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego prompted discussions about a host of sustainability issues, from climate resilience to consumer engagement. But in a nation where waste recovery rates have hovered below 35 percent for the past decade, it was tough not to talk about recycling as well.

In a panel discussion hosted by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, leaders in the textile recycling space spoke about lessons learned that can be applied to the apparel industry, which is a key area of focus for the institute. One of the more surprising additions to the panel, entitled “Optimizing Building Blocks: Cradle to Cradle Materials for Textiles,” was Paul Murray, vice president of sustainability and environmental affairs at Shaw Industries, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer.

Believe it or not, there’s actually a great deal the apparel industry can learn from carpet-makers about closed loop recycling. Shaw, for example, has been producing Cradle to Cradle certified products for more than a decade, and they now make up 64 percent of the company’s sales. I sat down with Murray after the panel to find out more about how the carpet industry’s success with closed loop recycling can be applied to your favorite fashions and lessons that translate across the textile industry.

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How Food Waste Recovery Fills Pockets Instead of Landfills

RP Siegel | Friday June 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Epiphergy animal feed Human beings are very clever — clever enough to remake much of the world in the image of what lies in our collective imagination. We are also clever enough to forget, perhaps for generations, that we are still a part of nature. But part of our cleverness also involves learning from our mistakes.

People are beginning to wake up to the fact that even our wildest excursions of creativity and talent must be grounded in and informed by the lessons of nature. Nature, being the ultimate master of the subject, can teach us how to survive. Nature wastes nothing. The very idea of waste does not exist in nature. Leaves fall from trees and decompose, turning back into food for the trees and the millions of organisms employed in that industry.

People recycle, too. Aluminum cans become car frames or more cans. Yesterday’s front page becomes tomorrow’s sports section. We are saving lots of energy and resources in the process and feeding those employed in that industry.  But food waste, despite the tremendous biochemical value contained within it, has been slow to follow. Food is wet and sloppy. It smells bad, and it rots — providing a potential haven for microbial bad guys. It must be picked up and disposed of promptly, and unlike aluminum or paper, it contains a lot of water, which makes it heavy.

So, other than the few of us who compost, most of the food waste goes into the landfill. According to the EPA, close to 50 percent of what goes into landfills is organic material. Some of that is recovered as landfill gas, but we could do much better, especially considering that a great deal of that methane, a dangerously potent greenhouse gas, escapes into the atmosphere. But, beyond avoiding methane release, there is tremendous value that can be recouped from this material.

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EVs and the Emerging Solar-Powered Energy Ecosystem

| Friday June 20th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a two-part series on building a national fleet of electric vehicle charging stations. In case you missed it, you can read the first post here.

Google-Solar-Parking-Lot-From-Avinash-Kaushik-on-Flickr-490x367 With SolarCity and Tesla, Elon Musk and team have crafted a template for a triple bottom line business that melds the production of solar electricity and its use in transportation, residential, commercial and industrial settings. Tesla‘s Supercharger fleet of electric vehicle charging stations is a key facet of this vertically integrated, solar-powered energy “ecosystem.”

As 3p reported in part one of this series, Tesla isn’t the only one looking to build out a nationwide fleet of EV charging stations. Miami’s Car Charging Group, Inc. is working to assimilate and revive the EV charging station assets it acquired during a recent string of acquisitions. Furthermore, a recent executive hire points out the longer term direction the company may be heading, one that could capitalize on the same sort of business symbiosis inherent in the Solar City-Tesla combination.

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Ultra-Energy Efficient Homes: Are They Worth the Upfront Cost?

Sarah Lozanova | Friday June 20th, 2014 | 4 Comments

solar energy houseWhen building a new home, design and material selection greatly impact the operating costs for decades. Investing in triple-pane windows and doors, generous insulation, and air sealing can greatly reduce your heating and cooling costs, while also boosting comfort. Is it financially savvy to construct a super efficient home over a code-built home because of the reduction in operating costs?

The simple answer is yes, but the more detailed answer is that it depends. Some energy efficient upgrades have a lot of bang for your buck, while others don’t. Your local climate is another variable.

Tessa Smith, co-owner of the Artisan Group in Olympia, Washington says the payback period of upgrading a home to an ultra-energy-efficient home over a code-built house can be a mere five years or less in the Pacific Northwest, with the upfront construction costs being four to six percent higher. Super-efficient homes require an investment in different materials and mechanical systems, some increasing and others decreasing the construction costs. Mechanical ventilation, more efficient hot water heating, upgraded windows and doors, and more insulation add to the cost, while money is saved on the heating and cooling system, according to Smith.

Super efficient homes with air sealing require mechanical ventilation to circulate outside air, bringing in a fresh stream of filtered air and preventing mold issues. Such homes typically don’t use combustion fuels, such as natural gas furnaces and propane stoves, because the byproducts contaminate the indoor air quality. Airtight homes with air sealing allow very little air into the home, thus fresh air is brought in with a ventilation system that recycles heat.

All 36 homes at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BCE) in Midcoast Maine have Zehnder heat recovery ventilation (HRV) systems, that transfer 90 percent of the heat from the exhaust air to the intake air before it exits the home. Stale air is removed from the kitchen and bathrooms and fresh air is supplied to the bedrooms.

“Air sealing a building prevents the air you have paid to condition from leaving the building — but it also prevents air that may be filled with contaminants from entering uncontrollably,” says Adam Romano, Director of Training Operations at the Association for Energy Affordability. “Combining air sealing with proper ventilation, such as Heat Recovery or Enthalpy Recovery Ventilation systems (HRV/ERV) will provide control over where you extract the contaminants produced in your home, how you treat incoming air to remove external contaminants, and how you optimally distribute this fresh air into living spaces.”

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Ohio Stalls Green Energy Projects

| Friday June 20th, 2014 | 0 Comments

wind-farmjpg-4ebfd008dba10857_large Ohio Gov. John Kasich took what clean energy proponents deemed retrograde executive action last week, putting the brakes on Ohio’s clean energy drive.

In 2008, Gov. Kasich signed Ohio’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) into law, requiring utilities by 2025 to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from alternative energy resources, and at least 12.5 percent from renewable energy resources. On Friday June 13, Kasich enacted Ohio Senate Bill 310 (SB 310), which freezes renewable and energy efficiency drive for two years.

Gov. Kasich and the Ohio state legislature followed that up by “abandoning $2.5 billion in wind energy projects,” according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). This past Monday, June 16, Ohio’s governor signed House Bill 483 “without vetoing a last-minute insertion that requires wind turbines to be at least 1,300 feet from the nearest property line instead of the nearest house,” AWEA explains in a news release.

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New Solar Tariff on China May Slow Recent U.S. Solar Boom

Sarah Lozanova | Friday June 20th, 2014 | 4 Comments

slow US solar marketThe U.S. solar energy market has been booming for several years, due to falling solar component prices and stable government incentives. In an effort to boost domestic manufacturing, the Commerce Department recently ruled in favor of the petitioner SolarWorld, the largest U.S. solar producer for 40 years, to impose a solar tariff for Chinese solar products that may boost overall solar installation costs by an estimated 10 percent.

The new solar tariff on China may slow the recent U.S. solar boom. A preliminary duty of 35 percent on imports of Suntech, 19 percent on imports of Trina Solar, and 27 percent for most other Chinese solar producers are effective immediately. The ruling closes what SolarWorld calls a loophole in the solar tariff, where Chinese solar manufacturers used Taiwanese solar cells in Chinese solar panels to circumvent the solar tariff.

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Retailers Play Increased Role in Moving Markets Away from Toxic Chemicals

3p Contributor | Friday June 20th, 2014 | 3 Comments
walgreens_mind_the_store

Photo credit: Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

By Lindsay Dahl

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.

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Levi’s: The Value of Jiu Jitsu Sustainability

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments

levis_jiu_jitsu_sustainability_careLevi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh recently stirred up the airwaves when he announced that his Levi’s jeans hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine for more than a year. His statement, which was made during a sustainability conference in California last month, had just the right effect: It reminded listeners that if there is one overriding hallmark associated with America’s iconic blue jeans, it’s sustainability.

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.

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How International Paper Cuts Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Alexis Petru
| Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

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.

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The Race to Build a National Fleet of EV Charging Stations

| Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments

EV_highway_sign_web-280 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.

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El Paso Electric to Be Coal-Free By 2016

Sarah Lozanova | Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 3 Comments

solar field new mexicoWith 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.

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Startup Crowdsources Lobbying to Influence Politics

Mike Hower
| Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 9.42.41 PM 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.

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New Reports From Marks & Spencer Prove it is One Sustainable Retailer

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday June 19th, 2014 | 3 Comments

Marks & SpencerLooking 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.

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