Beyond Sustainable: A Call for Transparency

3p Contributor | Thursday April 10th, 2014 | 0 Comments

5896226033_0a39524293_zBy David L. Phillips

When the numbers seem stacked against you, stay positive.

Statistics can be ugly – only 50 percent of firms survive their first five years and up to 95 percent of new products fail in their first year.

Green numbers tell a different story about consumer and investor choices:

  • 65 percent of shoppers feel a sense of responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment.
  • Greener industries grow faster than the overall economy.
  • The green building segment grows even during periods when the overall U.S. construction industry shrinks.
  • Sustainable and socially responsible companies are more profitable.

Several reports, including “The Big Green Opportunity,” show a steady rise in sustainable products compared to traditional. Along with the demand for more green goods and services comes a shift in consumer awareness that will extend to every industry.

Business strategist Jeffrey Hollender calls this Radical Transparency and explains how it can be used as a powerful tool to transform ordinary businesses into responsible and profitable entities.

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Is ‘Made in the USA’ Always the Most Sustainable Choice?

RP Siegel | Wednesday April 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

madeinusaThis is a question many of us have wondered about. Seeing how the local movement is so closely associated with sustainability, at least when it comes to food, does that same closer-is-better reasoning hold when it comes to other products, such as clothing?

For starters, Steve Sexton challenged the local food argument in Freakonomics, in a post that has drawn a lot of criticism from locavores, including this smart piece by Tom Philpott. But still, he lands a number of valid points including the economies of scale argument and the fact that some places are better for growing potatoes than others. But probably the most important point he makes is that there are other considerations besides how far a product is shipped when determining how sustainable it is.

When it comes to clothing, there are other considerations to keep in mind. For example, how long an item of clothing will last determines how many times it will need to be replaced in a person’s lifetime.

This is the argument made by a companies like Appalatch and Osmium, which puts a high emphasis on the craftsmanship in their goods and their resulting durability. Companies like Darn Tough are now selling socks with a lifetime guarantee. The company even has a sign on its factory that says, “Nobody ever outsourced anything for quality.”

Pride aside, it’s certainly not out of the question that quality goods can come from many places. Even China. Thanks to the International Standards Organization, which provides operating practices and principles for manufacturing quality in the form of standards, quality is on the rise. Because a number of major multinational companies will not buy from suppliers unless they meet ISO standards, that puts pressure on companies to clean up their act. Fine, you say, if you’re selling nuts and bolts to Boeing, but we’re talking about clothing here. Yes, and some clothing makers have done just that.

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Seafood Traceability: The Business Case for Better Data

3p Contributor | Wednesday April 9th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Fishing Boats at Leigh-on-SeaBy Cheryl Dahle

Exposés of deception and abuse in food supply chains have become disturbingly routine. Whether we’re hearing about pink slime or horsemeat passed off as beef, the news is consistently unsettling: We can’t trust what we’re eating.

Seafood is no exception to this pattern. More than one-third of our seafood is mislabeled in North America. And upwards of 24 million tons of seafood is caught and sold illegally every year. A just-published report from University of British Columbia estimates that up to 26 percent of all wild seafood imports to the U.S. is so-called pirate fish!

Beyond what that deception may mean for your health, it is also a window to other more systemic challenges, including pirate fishing, human trafficking, and widespread fraud and corruption. While news stories easily generate outrage for the more personal aspect of these offenses, cultivating the attention span and call-to-action that targets change at the deeper, underlying problems is understandably harder.

These problems can’t be fixed simply by the decision of a few consumers to “eat local.” We need to rebuild the systems and behaviors of the global interconnected brokers, corporations and governments that touch your food before it hits your plate. Pulling that off will require better data.

What do we mean by better data? Better data means going beyond murky definitions of traceability systems to verified data. This is not a foreign idea to supply chains: Couple product data with time and location stamps, and an auditable trail of information is produced — one that could be demonstrably free of illegal fish, for example. Here’s a look at the benefits better data could make possible, for businesses and for fish.

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Greenpeace Slams Amazon on Dirty Energy Use

Bill DiBenedetto | Wednesday April 9th, 2014 | 2 Comments

clickcleanreport-coverA Greenpeace scorecard on green internet companies cites Amazon Web Services as one of the worst dirty energy transgressors.

The 84-page report released this month, “Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet,” notes that AWS “provides the infrastructure for a significant part of the Internet.” But it is “among the dirtiest and least transparent companies in the sector, far behind its major competitors, with zero reporting of its energy or environmental footprint to any source or stakeholder.” Twitter is also a culprit in many of the same areas, the report continues.

Amazon gets failing grades from Greenpeace on energy transparency; renewable energy commitment and siting policy; and renewable energy deployment and advocacy. The company also received a “D” on energy efficiency and mitigation. Amazon Web Services relies heavily on nuclear and coal energy to run data-guzzling services like Netflix, Spotify, Tumblr and Yelp, the report states.

Twitter weighs in with three “fails” and a “D” – the latter in renewable energy commitment and siting policy.

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German Renewable Electricity Consumption Hits Record High 25.4 Percent in 2013

| Wednesday April 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

germanyoffshoreturbineEuropean economic and fiscal woes, push-back from utilities and the influx of cheap imports from China have created stiff headwinds for Germany’s homegrown renewable energy sector in recent years. Nonetheless, renewable energy reached a record 25.4 percent of Germany’s total electricity consumption in 2014, according to the latest annual statistics from the Working Group on Renewable Energy Statistics (AGEE-Stat), an increase of nearly 2 percent from 2012.

Totaling 53,400 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) and up 5.1 percent year-over-year, onshore and offshore wind energy, at 34.4 percent, accounted for the greatest percentage of renewable electricity consumption in Germany. Despite a sharp scaling down in feed-in tariff (FiT) rates for residential solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, a total 30 million kWh of solar PV was consumed, up 13.7 percent from 26.38 million kWh in 2012.

As the German Embassy noted in a recent news item, “Solar energy implementation has been extremely successful in Germany over the past decade. Solar farms in the south broke records in 2013 for energy production and have continued to produce high levels over the winter.”

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SolarCoin: Digital Money Backed by Solar Power

3p Contributor | Wednesday April 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Sam Bliss

Image: solarcoin.org Back in 2011, Nick Gogerty and Joseph Zitoli of the Thoughtful Capital Group wrote a proposal to back national currencies with electric power. They argued that electricity provides benefits to society, unlike gold, and retains monetary value better than government debt or mortgage-backed securities — the assets the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank currently holds against dollars in circulation.

Naturally, central bankers and policymakers around the world ignored the academic paper. It’s difficult to convince large institutions to transform a system that seems to be working just fine — and most of the world’s major currencies are relatively stable.

So this year, Gogerty and an online volunteer community created an electricity-backed digital currency, in the vein of Bitcoin, to incentivize solar energy generation. If we show a little faith in the value of sun power, this new online monetary system will increase the rate of investment in solar electricity.

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Video Interview: Suzanne Shelton, President & CEO, Shelton Group

| Wednesday April 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

I just got back from the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara and put together a handful of great video interviews.  You can follow along on our conference page here for all of them, as well as past years’ coverage.

logo-shelton-group

Suzanne Shelton is founder, president and CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency focused exclusively on motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices.  She’s also one of the more insightful and energetic conversationalists you are likely to run into at a conference and has a lot to say about what it takes to get consumers to take sustainability seriously.

Last week, Suzanne led a lunchtime discussion at WSJ ECO:nomics on the fact that, while companies have come a long way in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR), engaging the end consumer is still required to really accomplish their goals.  Suzanne was kind enough to sit down with me for a whirlwind conversation on the subject.

Watch the whole thing in the video after the jump:

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How to Make Corporate Giving a Foundation That Strengthens Your Business

3p Contributor | Wednesday April 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

7646188700_7e7902b560_z (1)By Zeynep Ilgaz

It should go without saying that giving back is a good thing. Every member of society benefits from the health of the community, and as members of a corporation, we should always be conscious of the power we have to bring about good in the world. Giving to the less fortunate is an admirable act.

However, like a lot of good deeds, corporate philanthropy doesn’t just benefit the recipients. It also benefits those who are giving. Make corporate giving a foundation of your business, and you’ll find that it can improve the morale of your employees and the health of your company.

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Southeastern Cities Look to Max Out the Triple Bottom Line Returns of Recycling

| Tuesday April 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a two-part series examining the recycling industry and job creation. In case you missed it, you can check out Part I here

recycling symbolRecycling is a growth industry in the U.S. and around the world, with resource scarcity, cost reduction, and the basic human need and desire for clean, healthy air, land and waters all driving growth.

As was pointed out in Part I of this two-part series, the economic, as well as social and environmental, benefits of recycling are underappreciated and undervalued here in the U.S., where recycling rates lag those of other industrialized nations, however.

Under the aegis of the Southeast Recycling Development Council (SERDC), manufacturers with operations spanning 11 Southeast U.S. states have joined together to raise awareness and boost recycling rates. They’re not the only ones who see significant benefits and advantages from increasing recycling rates in the U.S.

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Extreme Action: UPS Fires 250 in New York After 90-Minute Protest

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday April 8th, 2014 | 8 Comments

UPS truckIn a demonstration of the power of corporations over workers, unionized or not, UPS began firing 250 Teamster drivers in Queens, N.Y. last week after they dared to stage a 90-minute protest of the firing of long-time employee and union activist Jairo Reeves.

According to news reports from Business Insider and the New York Daily News, which broke the story, the unionized drivers at UPS’s Maspeth facility got their walking papers because they walked off the job briefly on Feb. 26.

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Honey Maid Defends Its Ad Featuring ‘Nontraditional’ Families

Alexis Petru
| Tuesday April 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Graham CrackersIn early March, Honey Maid launched its “This Is Wholesome” ad campaign featuring several “unconventional” families – a family with two dads, a mixed-race family, a “rocker” family, a military family and a single dad and his son. The 30-second commercial normalized these “atypical” families – showing them engaging in everyday activities like taking walks, getting dressed in the morning or enjoying Honey Maid’s iconic graham crackers. And – even more revolutionary – the ad made the assertion that these families are just as wholesome as the 1950s stereotypical family: a mom, dad, 2.5 kids and dog — an archetype that many would argue was actually more uncommon than such “nontraditional” families.

“No matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will,” the ad says. “Honey Maid: Everyday wholesome snacks for every wholesome family.”

But after the ad drew criticism from religious and anti-gay circles over the family with two gay dads portrayed in the commercial, the company released a follow-up video on social media last week, addressing both the negative and positive comments it received.

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What Makes a Civilization Collapse?

RP Siegel | Tuesday April 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments

collapsed buildingLast week, we talked about the latest report from the U.N. IPCC describing the impacts that have already been seen from climate change and some projections of what we might expect in the future. The report found that, “Climate change poses the greatest risks to the most vulnerable populations within all nations, and a potentially existential risk to poorer countries already struggling with food insecurity and civil conflict, as well as low-lying small island states.”

But most of us are not in that group, so we’re okay, right?

Not necessarily. The report “recognizes that risks of climate change will vary across regions and populations, through space and time, dependent on myriad factors including the extent of mitigation and adaptation.”

In other words, there is a great deal of uncertainty in predicting specific risks, and the results depend a great deal on the actions we take or don’t take.

Another report came out last month, this one by a cross-disciplinary group at NASA, based on the Human and Nature Dynamical (HANDY) model. The model was created by a team of natural and social scientists led by mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The study has been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Economics.

The study states that in the past a number of highly sophisticated, complex civilizations such as the Roman, Han, Mauryan and Gupta Empires, along with numerous Mesopotamian Empires, have collapsed, and it draws parallels among the conditions that made each of these susceptible.

Considering the growing awareness of our own vulnerability, we would be well advised to pay attention to these results.

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Air Pollution Now Responsible for 1 in 8 Deaths Worldwide, Study Shows

Alexis Petru
| Tuesday April 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment

SmogAir pollution is now the world’s single greatest environmental health risk, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new findings that show poor air quality is responsible for 7 million deaths a year – one in eight total deaths worldwide. WHO estimates that indoor air pollution caused 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households that burn wood, coal or biomass as cooking fuel, while outdoor air pollution contributed to 3.7 million deaths the same year. Because many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollutants, WHO could not simply add the two figures together, but came up with an estimated total of 7 million deaths in 2012.

It is already common knowledge that poor air quality can trigger and aggravate respiratory diseases like acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But WHO reported that its new data also shows a stronger correlation between air pollution and cancer, as well as air quality and cardiovascular diseases, including strokes and heart disease.

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Video Interview: Raj Mamodia, CEO of Brillio

| Tuesday April 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments

I just got back from the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara and put together a handful of great video interviews.  You can follow along on our conference page here for all of them, as well as past years’ coverage.

logo-brillioBrillio is a $100M startup that’s set to launch in the next few weeks. A global technology consulting firm, Brillio is focused on leveraging emerging technologies in, among other vertical markets, the energy/utilities industry. With innovation ‘hot spots’ due to open in the U.S. in 2014, Brillio is investing in new market opportunities to help organizations achieve competitive dominance beyond strategic advantage and quality management.

I had a chance to sit down with Raj Mamodia, Brillo’s CEO, to learn more about how Brillio will help companies, especially utilities cope with fast changing technology, fast changing customer behavior, and the basics of running complex operations.  The goal, from a sustainability perspective, is to greatly increase efficiencies that can save not only money, but many negative externalities that the energy sector faces.

Watch the video after the jump:

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Did Hyperbole or Social Responsibility Push Johnson & Johnson to Reformulate Its Baby Products?

Sherrell Dorsey
| Tuesday April 8th, 2014 | 0 Comments

4779401331_9b6ca0ff38_zIn an increasingly responsive environment, consumer influence brings brands dangerously close to the edges of both innovation and implosion. Social media, the mother of all sounding boards for consumer activism, advocacy and subsequent protest, fuels the fire of messages that easily become distorted or misguided — making for murky water and confusion among consumers who mean well as they seek to protect their own best interests and demand transparency from the companies they support. Responding in such an environment requires that brands take consumer concerns seriously and adopt policies and practices that re-instill consumer trust.

Such was the case for personal care products giant Johnson & Johnson, which suffered a very public battle when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) called for a consumer boycott of the company over potentially cancer-causing chemicals found in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. A stream of fiery darts were thrown at the brand when CSC purchased and reviewed the shampoo sold in 13 countries and discovered that the Johnson’s Baby Shampoo sold in the United States contained two carcinogens: formaldehyde and 1,4,-dioxane. These ingredients, however, were not formulated in the shampoos sold in other countries. Parents and special interest groups were unrelenting in their outrage towards a brand they trusted to care for their children.

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