CSR Reporting: What Investors Want

| Thursday April 8th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Who really reads CSR reports? Do investors really use them?  I heard speakers from Intel, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Merck & Co., and CalSTRS offer differing answers to these questions during a panel on CSR reporting at the recent Financial Times Conference “Investing in a Sustainable Future.”

Merck’s Director of Corporate Responsibility Maggie Kohn seemed skeptical that CSR reports are reaching intended audiences.  She cited a Corporate Register report which identified investors as the third largest group of readers (12 percent), behind fellow CSR reporters and consultants and service providers.

But others were more upbeat about the value that CSR reports deliver to certain stakeholders, a feeling shared by Mike Wallace, GRI Director of Sustainability Reporting Framework groups. Investors are becoming a more important report audience, in light of developments.  Wallace cited growing evidence that investors are hungry for environment, health, and safety (ESG) metrics and GRI performance indicators. Financial information providers –- and CSR reports — are feeding that demand for ESG data.

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Do Fossil Fuel Disasters Help Renewable Energy?

| Thursday April 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Twenty-five miners are dead and four more missing following Monday’s explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Besides being the deadliest mining accident since at least 1984 (maybe earlier), the blast brings a new wave of bad PR to the mining industry, and the company that owns the mine, Massey Energy.

The blast also came just days after an explosion at a Washington oil refinery killed five people, and while a coal-laden cargo ship threatens to destroy Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

All of which poses a delicate question: do such disasters help the cause of renewable energy, by giving fossil fuel a reputation in the public’s mind as a dirty, dangerous and out-of-date industry run by uncaring slave masters?

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H&M: a Garden Full of Sustainability Promises

Leon Kaye | Thursday April 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Last week Sweden-based H&M released its Garden Collection, a spring women’s fashion line that supposedly is made from eco-friendly materials.  Most of its stores have reported brisk sales:  one woman reportedly drove 100 miles for one of the dresses, which leads one to think that being eco-friendly was not the drive behind snagging that particular outfit.  I visited one store in LA, and the employees raved about the line, saying they were selling fast.  H&M has made a mint from offering collections from big name designers, which often fly out of the store the first day.  The Garden Collection was no different.  But are H&M clothes really a viable option, whether or not they are made from “recycled” or “organic” fabric?

Full disclosure:  I admit that I own a few H&M clothing items as well as some from C&A, a German competitor of H&M that offers a similar price point and demographic appeal.  Clothes from C&A, H&M, and Zara are meant to be fashion forward yet affordable, so most consumers who buy these clothes wear them only a few times.  I will wear a shirt over and over again until it gets ratty or my better half decides I can’t be seen in public anymore, and clearly my fashion habits put me in the minority.  So should we be excited about H&M’s eco-chic fashion line and hope that this is a trend that continues?

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Chinese Hope to Go Back to Work on America’s Railroads

| Thursday April 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment

In 1869 in Promontory, Utah a team of eight Chinese laborers hoisted the last rail into place on the Union Pacific Railroad, connecting the East and West coasts of America by rail for the first time.

A hundred and forty-one years later, the Chinese are angling to get back in the railway business in the US.

The Chinese Rail Ministry has signed cooperation agreements with GE and the State of California to provide technology and engineers for the construction of a proposed high-speed railway running the length of California, according to the New York Times.

The agreements are preliminary, and could face opposition from lawmakers and unions concerned about buy American provisions and labor standards.

But the deal makes sense, at least on paper. China has accumulated a lot of experience building high-speed lines, and has been able to push costs down through enormous economies of scale. John Scales, the lead transport specialist in the Beijing office of the World Bank, told the Times “These guys are engineering driven — they know how to build fast, build cheaply and do a good job.”

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Mine Disaster Company Just Started Shipping Coal to China

| Thursday April 8th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Even if the US stopped using coal tomorrow (unlikely, since the fossil fuel currently supplies half of our electricity) there would still be coal mining here and presumably still be accidents like the one Monday that killed 25 miners.

That’s because coal companies like Massey Energy, which owns the mine where Monday’s disaster occurred, have begun shipping coal to China and other developing countries to fuel steel mills there. In March the company announced the sale of 80,000 tons of metallurgical-grade coal to China, its first such shipment. The company hopes to sell 2 million tons of coal to India in 2011.

“They’re closing down their unsafe mines in China, and then getting coal from us,” said Ellen Smith, owner of Mine Safety and Health News.

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First Cat Food with Sustainably Sourced Fish Soon Hits European Shelves

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway | Thursday April 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Several cat food brands that use sustainably sourced fish will soon be hitting the shelves in Europe.   Touted as an industry first, Mars Petcare Europe recently announced it will be launching its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified pet food as part of the company’s commitment to use only “sustainably sourced fish by 2020.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), unsustainable fishing is “decimating” the world’s fisheries, destroying marine habitats and incidentally killing billions of fish and marine animals annually.  The fish used in the company pet food products will be caught in a sustainable manner, without further threatening dwindling stocks. 

Working with the WWF, other fish sustainability commitments include “using 100 percent sustainable wild catch and aquaculture sources, replacing all wild catch whole fish and fillets with sustainable fish by-products and using only sustainable alternatives to marine fish ingredients.”  According to a company press release, MSC-certified fish will be used in SHEBA and WHISKAS fish variety cat food brands throughout Europe and will be available by the end of the year.  The MSC also makes it easy for human consumers to spot sustainable seafood – just look for the blue MSC label.

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Vetrazzo: A Story In Every Surface

Bill Roth | Thursday April 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment

“A kitchen countertop is a home’s social center. A home with our kitchen countertop made from recycled glass creates a forum for people to talk about and be educated about the benefits of going green,” explains James Sheppard, CEO and co-founder of Vetrazzo. Vetrazzo says their passion is recycling – something they see as their path to profitability, creating a positive environmental impact and accelerating consumer adoption of sustainability.

“Our manufacturing process is built around recycling, it is our daily focus, we strive to be zero waste,” John Sabol, VP of manufacturing explains with enthusiasm. “We recycle all our water in the manufacturing process. In fact, we use more water in our restrooms than we do in our manufacturing. We use very little electricity for lighting since we are located in a recycled Ford Motor assembly plant that is a model for use of natural lighting. And what electricity we do use we net-meter against our solar roof top system. We even take our waste cake, which is the discharge from our manufacturing process and recycle it to the construction industry which uses it for base rock in roads.”

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Interview: Walmart’s Green Human Resources Best Practices

Bill Roth | Wednesday April 7th, 2010 | 2 Comments

Walmart is gaining a considerable amount of attention from its big-picture strategic goal to be “supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, creating zero waste and selling products that sustain people and the environment.” Much has been written about its intent to green its supply chain to achieve a 20 million metric ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the development of environmental product ratings.

I reached out to Walmart to inquire on how it is engaging its 2+ million associates, located across four continents, to turn its announced strategies into tangible results. The answers to my questions are best practices that every human resources leader in America should post on his or her bulletin board.

“We have a volunteer associate sustainability program at Walmart,” explained Candace Taylor, Walmart’s Director of Sustainability. “The program asks our associates a basic question: What one thing could you do to make a difference in terms of your health, your community or the natural environment?” By asking this question, Walmart has successfully engaged approximately half of its U.S. associates and more than half the associates in other markets such as Brazil and Canada to take some kind of action. That’s at least 500,000 people around the world focusing on wellness, their community and the environment.

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Will Peak Copper Haunt Us Before Peak Oil?

Leon Kaye | Wednesday April 7th, 2010 | 5 Comments

As a Northern California native, it was easy for me to fall in love with Chile. Once you are out of congested Santiago, the central part of the country offers gorgeous scenery.  Vineyards and wineries cover the deep green hills. Its rocky coastline reminds me of Monterey or Marin County. And then there’s the coastal city of Valparaiso, hilly in geography and Bohemian in atmosphere.  You can navigate around these points easily because of the country’s modern roads, one symptom of the country’s growing wealth.  As you return to Santiago, you can drop by one of its suburban malls and you would think you were plonked in the US or Canada:  crowded, they are full of Starbucks and superstores that make your local Costco look like a 7-Eleven.  And what is behind Chile’s affluence?  Copper.  But can copper mining continue to fuel the Chilean economy? Is it a sustainable industry?

Copper accounts for one-third of Chile’s exports, and by some estimates, is the backbone of one-half of the Chilean economy.  One-third of the world’s supply of copper comes from Chile.  Despite the global recession, the demand for copper continues.  Just drive through the Inland Empire along I-10:  billboards warn you not to steal copper pipes from foreclosed homes in this region.  After iron and aluminum, copper ranks as the third most important metal for industrial use, thanks to its ability to conduct electricity, provide strong piping, and its necessity as an alloy.  But some suggest that copper may be reaching its peak production.  So are we facing a copper crisis analogous to the future depletion of oil reserves?

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Oil Tycoons Caught Sneaking Millions to Groups Spreading Climate Change Doubt

RP Siegel | Wednesday April 7th, 2010 | 20 Comments

Koch Industries is a privately held Kansas-based conglomerate specializing in petroleum related businesses. David Koch, one of the two brothers that control most of the company, likes to boast that they are “the biggest company you’ve never heard of.” In fact, Koch is the second largest privately held company in America.

According to the company’s website, it creates “value by using resources more efficiently; protecting the environment and the safety and health of our workers and others; consistently applying good science…”

Indeed, what Koch applies may in fact be the best science money can buy. A recent report by Greenpeace revealed that between 1998-2007, the company channeled funds on the order of $50 million to a number of groups that work the apparently very fertile furrows of doubt-spreading on the climate change issue. Suddenly, a lot more people have heard of them.

To put this in perspective, this sum was roughly twice the amount spent by ExxonMobil on similar efforts in the same time frame, according to Greenpeace.

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Million Dollar Tortoises a Symbol of Environmental Schizophrenia

| Wednesday April 7th, 2010 | 5 Comments

This may not be a very popular post with some readers, but I feel it is my duty to present the other side of an issue, and maybe help Greens understand why business people and even average Joes sometimes think they’re completely crazy.

The Mojave Desert Tortoise is a threatened species that lives in the Mojave Desert. Brightsource Energy is a solar thermal power company that wants to provide clean, renewable energy to California. Brightsource, tortoise. Tortoise, Brightsource.

Both tortoise and solar company are “green,” in the sense that one is a cute, threatened animal, and the other because it is helping to mitigate global warming.

Yet in order to build its proposed 392 megawatt “Ivanpah” solar plant in the Mojave, Brightsource will have to spend, by the most recent complete figures available, about $20 million to relocate about 20 desert tortoises.

That’s $1 million a tortoise.

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Politics Puts LA Solar Feed-in Tariff in the Shade

| Wednesday April 7th, 2010 | 0 Comments

The Los Angeles Business Council (LABC) could not have chosen a worse time to introduce a feasibility study (PDF) of a solar feed-in tariff for Los Angeles. The study, a joint project with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, shows how LA could add 500 megawatts of solar power over the next ten years by paying utility customers who install solar panels for any unused electricity the panels generate.

The problem is where to get the money to pay for it; typically it comes from rate payers in the form of higher energy bills. But Angelenos are already up in arms over rate hikes proposed last month by the Department of Water & Power. The city council sharply reduced the hikes, prompting DWP to withhold $80 million or so the city was counting on to help shore up a $200 budget deficit.

(Ironically, those hikes were meant in part to pay for the Mayor’s ambitious renewable energy goals, including 150 MW of solar power.)

As a result, the political loggerheads surrounding the hikes overshadowed LABC’s release of the FiT study, and, along with similar battles at the state level, helped cast doubt over the future of renewable energy initiatives across California.

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Local is Not What You Think

| Wednesday April 7th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Local is not about buying the same stuff at higher prices from a local vendor. Local is about happiness.

I believe that the concept of Local is not well communicated. When people suggest that we “buy local,” it comes off as preachy and turns many of us off. How many times have you gone into a corner store and left feeling like you’d been ripped off? The $2 Coke or $1.50 orange may as well be considered marketing for Target, Walmart, and Costco, which sell the same Coke and orange at lower prices. The math doesn’t work. And it should be said that these retailers aren’t inherently bad. But guess what? It doesn’t have to be this way.

So, what is Local?

Local is something that should be celebrated. We shouldn’t feel guilty, Local should invigorate us, inside and out.

Local is more choices. Endless choices, all with unique stories, people and artisanship.

Local is buying from friends. Just as it used to be, I know companies right here in the Bay Area who love to invite people to their factory for a tour, or even to their homes for a meal. When was the last time you were invited to fly in the private Boeing 787s of a company that you buy from or even invest in?

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Farm Workers Wages: A Real Bargain

3p Contributor | Wednesday April 7th, 2010 | 0 Comments

This post is part of a series on the business of sustainable agriculture by the folks at Bon Appétit Management Company, a company that provides café and catering services to corporations, colleges and universities. To read the earlier posts, click here.

Dayna Burtness

Ask any of my friends—I am a champion bargain-seeker. I cut coupons, I scour the internet for specials, and I will spend hours at the thrift store pawing through piles of clothes just to find one nice pair of pants. Needless to say, I can spot a good deal from a mile away.

I recently came across the best deal ever: $8 a year (a YEAR!) for a 40% increase in farmworker wages.

Let me explain. Last week was National Farmworker Awareness Week, so to learn more I’ve been reading Gabriel Thompson’s new book, Working in the Shadows: A year of doing the jobs (most) Americans won’t do. To put a face on the statistics about farmworkers, Thompson spent two months cutting lettuce in Yuma, AZ.

He chronicled how hard farm work is on the body, but especially on pocketbook.

Even though we all rely on farmworkers for the food we eat, they make an average of $11,000 per year doing one of the top three most dangerous jobs in the country.

Given the injustice of this situation, the following passage jumped out at me (added emphasis is mine): “Philip L. Martin, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California-Davis, has shown that even a dramatic increase in labor costs—passed fully on to the consumer—would have a very modest impact on the typical American household budget, which spent $322 on fresh fruits and vegetables in 2000. Martin’s detailed analysis of the agricultural industry found that a 40% increase in farmworker wages would increase a household’s annual spending on fruits and vegetables by only $8, to $330.

Wait, it would only be $8 more per year per household to boost the obscenely low wages of 1.2 million farmworkers I depend on every day for my food? Now that is a good deal.

There are many groups working to make better wages and working conditions a reality. In honor of National Farmworker Awareness week, read this post and check some of these groups out.

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Colorado’s Rush on Renewables

Jeff Siegel | Tuesday April 6th, 2010 | 2 Comments

I’ve probably been to Colorado about a dozen times in my life.

It’s a beautiful state with a rich history, breathtaking natural beauty, and some of the most amazing national parks in the country. And despite the altitude adjustments that occasionally put the kibosh on my morning run, I understand why so many people live there. In fact, one of my best friends from high school now calls Denver home.

Trading his Colorado vacation home for a permanent Colorado residence, he is one of the hundreds of thousands who have migrated to the Centennial state since 2005. And there are many more coming…

In fact, Colorado’s population is expected to double to 10 million people over the next 40 years. And with that growth comes a desperate need to increase power production.

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