Los Angeles Shuts the Door on Fracking’s ‘Red Queen’

| Monday March 3rd, 2014 | 0 Comments

fracking bubble red queen effectLast week, Los Angeles joined the growing list of cities and towns banning, at least temporarily, gas and oil fracking within their borders. The main concerns are over public health and water resource preservation, but economic impacts and property values also come into play.  The news comes on the heels of yet another article in the mainstream press that paints a picture of the fracking industry as a swelling bubble that will make a loud and messy noise when it pops.

Part of the reason why the fracking industry is so bloated right now is something that our friends over at Fuel Fix have dubbed the “Red Queen” effect, after the fictional Lewis Carroll character, so let’s take a look at the Los Angeles decision in that context.

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Walmart’s Concept Hybrid Truck Would Make a More Efficient Fleet

Sarah Lozanova | Monday March 3rd, 2014 | 7 Comments

sustainability walmartWhile the fuel economy of cars has increased dramatically over the last few decades, the fuel economy of semis has merely inched its way up. Two interesting developments may improve things for these gas-guzzling vehicles that get between 4 and 8 miles per gallon. President Barack Obama recently announced greater EPA standards for the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks, and Walmart unveiled its futuristic next-generation concept truck.

The cab of the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (WAVE) concept truck looks reminiscent of a bullet train, with a sleek, aerodynamic appearance that blends into the trailer. It features a microturbine hybrid power train with an electric motor and a battery. Because the front end is so tapered, the driver sits in the middle and the entry door slides open. The innovative trailer is made of 53-foot-long sheets of carbon fiber and is the first trailer to be made out of this strong and lightweight material.

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Bing to Put Brazil’s Favelas on the Map

Alexis Petru
| Monday March 3rd, 2014 | 1 Comment

Rio de Janeiro favelaHow can you provide social services or start a new business when your city doesn’t even show up on a map? That’s the reality for millions of Brazilians living in favelas, or shantytowns, in Rio de Janeiro: Less than 1 percent of these densely populated urban areas have been mapped, according to Microsoft search engine Bing.

But the Google competitor hopes it can put Rio’s favelas on the map, embarking on a long-term project to bring its computational power and mapping infrastructure to the city set to host this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Bing announced its new initiative during February’s Global Innovation Summit in San Jose, Calif.

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NatCap13: 100 Days Later

3p Contributor | Saturday March 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment
Jochen Zeitz, Dieter Helm, Jo Confino, Monika Weber-Fahr and Julia Marton-Lefevre 100 days ago.

Jochen Zeitz, Dieter Helm, Jo Confino, Monika Weber-Fahr and Julia Marton-Lefevre 100 days ago.

By Mike Elm

On Nov. 21-22, 2013, Scotland played host to 500 delegates from more than 30 countries who came together for the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital. One of the main aims of the World Forum was to move the debate on natural capital forward to action.

Today is the 100th day since the conference started, and exciting developments are taking place across the world. Just this week at The Economist’s World Oceans Summit, attended by influential global figures including the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, natural capital was a prominent theme. This reflects the fact that natural capital accounting is gaining prominence across international organizations from the private, public and voluntary sectors. Indeed Christine Lagarde used her recent Dimbleby Lecture to say that pricing environmental damage correctly is essential, “because it will help to reduce the harm today and spur investment.”

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3p Weekend: 10 U.S. Companies That Pay Above Minimum Wage

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday February 28th, 2014 | 7 Comments
Fast food workers strike for higher wages in New York City last summer.

Fast food workers strike for higher wages in New York City last summer.

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 (starting today) 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.

With the federal minimum wage increase a hot topic on everyone’s mind, this week we rounded up 10 U.S. companies that pay each of their employees a living wage. You may be surprised by who made the list.

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FDA’s High-Tech (and Still Confusing) Nutrition Labels for 2016

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Friday February 28th, 2014 | 0 Comments
New_nutrition_label_FDA

Proposed nutrition label

For those who find that trying to read a nutrition label on a package of food is something akin to trying to decipher the jargon on last year’s climate change report, good news: the FDA now hears you.

This week the federal government proposed some changes to the 1993 nutrition labeling system that we find on packaged foods in supermarkets. They aren’t huge and they aren’t jazzy, but even my nutritionist dad would have been impressed with the tweaks.

After all, if you want someone to remember the information, give them the facts first, right? Most of us are wowed by numbers, not by scientific names for the pieces and parts that make up our food. To many of us, 5 percent saturated fat speaks a lot more plainly than “saturated fat 1 gram.”

The newest edition to the label is the “Added Sugars” line, which is no doubt directed at educating us about the sugar that often gets added to our food during preparation. It’s a great idea, especially for diabetics who must avoid additional sugar.

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Forest Stewardship Council Pulls IKEA Certification for Violations

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Friday February 28th, 2014 | 0 Comments

IKEA_FSC_suspension_Christian_KoehnThe Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has withdrawn its certification of Swedwood, a forestry subsidiary of furniture giant IKEA (which also goes under the names Swedwood Karelia and IKEA Industry).

According to the FSC, a recent trip to the Karelia Forest in Russia revealed that the company has been harvesting old-growth trees in the protected regions of the Russian forest, which is located near the Russia-Finland border.

The subsidiary has leases to log 700,000 acres, as long as it does not cut down old-growth trees and trees in specified areas. According to FSC’s report  there were “major deviations”  from regulations that included the suspected harvesting of 600-year-old trees.

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Report: Fugitive Emissions Cancel Out Net Climate Benefit of Natural Gas

| Friday February 28th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Natural Gas well

Natural gas well

Natural gas has frequently been described as a bridge fuel to a low-carbon energy future for at least a couple of promising reasons. Firstly, there’s an abundance of the stuff, and secondly burning natural gas produces only about half the CO2 emissions as coal. In theory, at least, replacing coal-fired power stations with natural gas ones, and converting large trucks from diesel to natural gas, are ways to reap significant real-time climate benefits.

That said, however, there is a general Achilles-heel in the whole natural gas energy system, which is that it’s leaky. Leaks occur not only in production of natural gas, but also in storage and transmission of it, and because natural gas is 80 percent methane (CH4), which is around 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, when it leaks, it’s a big deal.

And it turns out, it’s a bigger deal than previously thought. A new report by Stanford University finds that America’s natural gas system is much more leaky than previously estimated, and maybe up to 50 percent more so than the EPA estimates. Of course, this is pretty significant because the benefits of burning lower-CO2 natural gas as an alternative to coal and oil, must be weighed against the deleterious effects of extensive methane leakage–but how bad is it? And is it bad enough that natural gas cannot be considered a viable bridge fuel to a lower carbon future?

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Energy Efficiency Contributes to Dwindling Electricity Demand, Study Says

Eric Justian
| Friday February 28th, 2014 | 4 Comments

ACEEEIf your business is selling electricity, then a new analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy showing flatlining or even falling demand is not encouraging news.

In June 2013 Ron Binz spoke about disruptive forces facing the utility industry. He was Obama’s nominee for head of the Energy Regulatory Commission until Mr. Binz dropped out in the face of pretty intense industry pressure. One of the main disruptions leading to troubles for utilities is waning sales growth in the electricity sector. It’s a problem. Last year in Ann Arbor, Binz showed a chart depicting less than 2 percent growth in energy demand going forward. However, a new report shows an even worse picture for the traditional purveyors of electricity. Use has actually been falling since 2007 and continues to do so. 

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Chick-fil-A Commits to Serving Antibiotic-Free Chicken

Sarah Lozanova | Friday February 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment

antibiotic free chickenWithin five years, Chick-fil-A plans to serve only chicken raised without antibiotics in its 1,800 restaurants nationwide—in response to consumer demand for greater transparency in food production and safety. There are several restaurants and chicken processing companies that are responding to consumer skepticism about treating all chickens, healthy or not, with antibiotics.

Pew Health Initiatives estimates 80 percent of antibiotics use in this country is for meat and poultry. A staggering 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold in 2011 for meat and poultry production, increasing the risk of bacteria with resistance to antibiotics. Public concern about the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock and its impact on dangerous bacteria is mounting and fueling the demand for alternatives.

“The Chick-fil-A move does signal an important market change in responding to what consumers have been demanding for some time—that we stop feeding healthy animals daily antibiotics,” said Urvashi Rangan, director of the food safety and sustainability group at Consumer Reports.

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Bhutan: Transforming the Environment One LEAF at a Time

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Thursday February 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Bhutan_sustainable_leaf_mariordo59While world governments debate the best ways to reach the 2020 advisory of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Kingdom of Bhutan has quietly taken another strong step toward environmental sustainability.

Last week, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, met with Nissan’s Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn to hammer out a deal in which Nissan would supply all-electric LEAF cars to Bhutan to replace its conventional government and taxi fleets. The Royal Government of Bhutan wants to convert the nation’s capital, Thimphu, to a green-powered city. Transitioning its conventional vehicle fleet to EVs would bring it closer to that goal.

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Why Sustainable Fashion Has to Be About Individual Style

3p Contributor | Thursday February 27th, 2014 | 7 Comments

Fashion By Ceri Heathcote

For a number of years now, I have been trying to be sustainable with my style–not buying too many clothes, buying clothes to last and focussing on natural, organic and ethically made fashion.

Gradually the number of labels offering timeless and sustainable styles of clothing has increased, and I have found it increasingly easy to satisfy my desire for amazing clothes without indulging in fast fashion at all. But the transition hasn’t been completely painless. At first I found it difficult to move away from the lure of the latest trends. It is pretty tough to get away from them, when you are bombarded by style advice from magazines and retailers advising of the season’s latest “must-haves” and “essentials.”

But without making that transition from following trends to developing my own individual style, I don’t think that I could ever really have been able to describe my wardrobe as sustainable. Following trends meant that I was highly susceptible to the marketing put out there by the fashion industry to convince me that the clothes that I bought last season were no longer “fashionable” and that I needed to buy new clothes.

Each Fashion Week we see magazines showing their take on the latest catwalk shows and summarizing their takes on what will be the key looks for the season ahead. While many of us just can’t afford to buy expensive designer clothes, let alone invest in these “new looks” for each season, we are sold more affordable versions (some might say ripoffs) via the high street, which allow us to keep up with trends at a fraction of the cost. Although many will choose to ignore it, we all know there is a significant cost to these clothes in terms of the human rights abuses and environmental impact associated with their manufacture and disposal.

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Libertarian Billionaire Peter Thiel Supports Raising the Minimum Wage

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday February 27th, 2014 | 4 Comments

Peter ThielThe prevailing thinking is that conservative Republicans are against raising the minimum wage. However, that is not true for all conservative Republicans.

Certainly not for Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal. Thiel recently said in an  interview that he supports a California ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage by fellow conservative Ron Unz. The ballot initiative would raise California’s minimum wage to $12 an hour in 2016. Thiel told the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s against raising the minimum wage “in theory,” but in practice he thinks “the alternative to higher minimum wage is that people simply end up going on welfare.” He thinks that raising the minimum wage should be considered “seriously.”

Thiel is a billionaire who, although he identifies as a conservative Libertarian, has given much money to Republican causes. These include $1 million to Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that Politico describes as “tea party aligned,” and almost $4 million to Endorse Liberty PAC for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. Thiel even gave campaign contributions to Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in 2012, and Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. 

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Unilever and UN Agency Team Up to Support Small Farmers

Lauren Zanolli
| Thursday February 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment

ifad paul polman gc 2014The International Fund on Agricultural Development (IFAD), a financing agency within the U.N., on Feb. 20 stuck a five-year global agreement with Unilever that aims to better train and connect smallholder farmers to the marketplace. The partnership–the first of its kind between IFAD and the private sector–will aid Unilever in reaching its ambitious goal of integrating 500,000 small farmers into its supply chain by 2020 and provide training on sustainable farming methods. The new initiative was announced at IFAD’s annual governing council meeting by Unilever CEO Paul Polman at a panel event called Small Farmers=Big Business.

No specific activities have been announced, and it is unclear where or when the partnership will unroll. So, why is this story even interesting? Two reasons: One, it shows that Unilever is taking food traceability concerns seriously and looking to get a jump over other large multi-nationals on the issue; and two, it shows Polman’s genius in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) realm. The partnership also raises some questions over just how a multi-billion dollar corporation is going to do business with one-acre farms in Timbuktu—an arrangement that often, to say the least, has mixed results.

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Wall Street Eyes American Farmland as Its Next Target

RP Siegel | Thursday February 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment

farmlandWe have seen the level of income and wealth disparity in this country reach unprecedented levels. The reasons for this are numerous. Many of them, as documented by Robert Reich’s book “Aftershock,” have occurred as the direct result of policy decisions that were made regarding tax codes and the deregulation of Wall Street.

Wall Street speculation has had a huge impact on the distribution of wealth. With a constant barrage of new, sophisticated derivatives, high-speed trading algorithms and don’t-try-this-at-home tricks that are only available to those with huge portfolios, they have turned investing into a spectator sport for the rest of us. All the big action and the big money goes to the big guys, while a few percentage points fall through the cracks for everyone else. This is what the players proudly call a free market.

It’s no longer just stocks and bonds. In order to feed this greedy machine’s enormous appetite, new opportunities must be found with ever-higher returns. Things like real estate, home mortgages and now “private equity assets,” which used to be within the reach of ordinary working-class people as a way to enhance their earning power, are being scooped up and dragged into the Wall Street coliseum. We can only sit and watch as these are devoured, their prices driven up beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Home mortgages are the most recent example. Everyone has seen how this game led to the complete collapse of the world economy, with millions feeling the brunt of it, many of them still recovering. The players, who made this all happen, got off with a slap on the wrist, much as football, baseball, and basketball players get away with their misdeeds.

Now their scouts have eyed another target: farmland. According to a study conducted by the independent policy think tank Oakland Institute entitled “Down on the Farm,” the first years of this century saw an enormous land grab in the developing world: 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was bought or leased by speculators. This often occurred at the expense of food security and land rights. When the price of food spiked in 2008, this was a buy signal to investors, screaming out, “Farmland is valuable now and will be even more so in the future.” This, of course, is exactly what they are looking for–a big growth opportunity (no pun intended).

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