Global Burning? How the Words We Choose Affect the Perception of Crises

Richard Levangie | Wednesday September 23rd, 2009 | 1 Comment


Would we be doing more to save the planet from global warming if we had better phrasing? Jonathan Watts asks that question at The Guardian when he notes that the only time that governments have been able to overcome their pettiness was when scientists warned about an unexpected “hole in the ozone layer.”

It seemed to have a profound and galvanizing effect, and the level of intergovernmental cooperation that ensued was unprecedented.

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Is a National Soda Tax On the Horizon?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Wednesday September 23rd, 2009 | 0 Comments


President Obama said a soda tax is “an idea we should be exploring,” in an interview with Men’s Health. He added, “There’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that’s been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else. Obviously it’s not the only factor, but it is a major factor.”

It will be a fight to obtain a soda tax. As Grist points out in a recent article, there is not even one congressional bill about a soda tax. However, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent called a soda tax “outrageous.” Kent also said, “I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink. If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around.”

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Have a Branded Sweet & Solar Wedding

| Wednesday September 23rd, 2009 | 0 Comments


Share your special day with 19 other couples and an “all-natural, low-calorie sweetener.” In a somewhat misguided brand launch, SUN CRYSTALS® is sponsoring a solar-powered New York City wedding for 20 lucky couples.

How is marriage related to sweetener or to the environment? Because it’s the “first all-natural, low-calorie sweetener that marries stevia and sugar cane, two plants nourished by the sun.” Yeah, that’s a stretch.

The SUN CRYSTALS® Brand is a member of 1% For The Planet®, donating 1% of sales to the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). And from what it says, the product seems natural-ish. But branded weddings? How low have we stooped as a society? What’s next, sponsored births and funerals?

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Olive Oil and Water: A Greener Mix is Needed

Bill DiBenedetto | Wednesday September 23rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

olive-oilIt’s easy to sing the praises of olive oil, especially if you’re, ahem, Italian. Olive oil’s many benefits and uses for healthy cooking and eating are well chronicled and it’s become a major industry worldwide, from California’s Napa Valley to Syria.

In addition to the obvious health and nutrition benefits of olive oil from a fat and cholesterol perspective, olive pits can be turned into ethanol; you can shine your guitar with it and even shave with it. Don’t however shave your guitar with it.

That growth is also becoming a concern from an environmental, carbon-neutral farming and wastewater pollution standpoint.

Mass production, especially in the Mediterranean region were olive trees have been cultivated for more than 7,000 years, is adding to pollution, according to Arab Environment Watch and IRIN, a humanitarian news and analysis project of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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PG&E Quits US Chamber, Protesting Its Climate Change Stance

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 2 Comments

pg_ePeter Darbee, chairman and CEO of California utility Pacific Gas & Electric, on Tuesday took a very public stand against the US Chamber of Commerce and what he calls its “disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort” the facts around global climate change.

The utility quit the Chamber, a lobbying group that represents three million businesses and has called for the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a public hearing in order to debate whether climate change is a result of human activity–part of its attempts to oppose federal emissions regulations.

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Gap (RED) turning rivers blue in Lesotho

| Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 0 Comments
Photo by Dan McDougall from the Sunday Times Article

Photo by Dan McDougall from the Sunday Times of London

When the bigger picture comes to light, the intersection of social and environmental sustainability can get complicated…

A devastating article in the Sunday Times of London paints the cruel picture of negligent environmental practices in the garment industry of Lesotho, Africa – practices for which Gap, and most ironically Gap (RED), play a foundational role.

The story is bleak: an eight year old, homeless rag picker comes face to face with the hazards of waste management gone horribly awry on a daily basis. The local river runs blue from denim dyes, the cotton scraps are burned openly in the heap, and she and her fellow orphans cough up black soot all night. The fumes and chemicals cause her eyes to water constantly and she runs the heavy risk of slicing her hands and feet open in the razors and needles buried in the towering stacks of scrap denim. It’s our worst nightmare. It’s exactly what we don’t want to know about our jeans. The article reads,

“Gap! Gap! Gap!” comes the sudden cry from the 12-year-old leader of a destitute army of rag pickers patrolling the vast waste dump…Thousands of Gap and Levi’s labels, buttons and studs for stonewashed jeans and huge quantities of heavily dyed cotton and denim pile down over their heads, burying them up to their waists.

Just as ironic as the fact that these are Gap (RED) products, is the fact that Lesotho was once celebrated as an equity-building victory, i.e. employing people with AIDS to make garments that donate profits to AIDS organizations through the innovative (RED) campaign. (An estimated 30% of the factory workers in Lesotho are HIV positive.) Bono even toured a garment factory in Lesotho to bring global attention to the project. The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) has long battled to keep the garment industry afloat and funded, succeeding in keeping Gap, Levis and Walmart as customers in a competitive market. The Lesotho Garment industry is described by the ITGLWF as a “Lifeline” – turning what was once a raw export (cotton) into a more profitable export good (jeans.) It’s a smart strategy, but somewhere down the line, somebody turned a blind eye and something went awry.

Here is where it gets complicated, or for the fatalists among us, it gets realistic. Supply chains are long, and even though Gap Inc. employs 80 full timers to trek the globe ensuring that all labor regulations are met, the same strict code of ethics is more lenient around environmental concerns. Unlike labor issues, the problem of pollution is often portrayed in a global context, or twice removed from first-hand human experience. It’s for this reason, and because of consumer and legislative pressures, that Gap has placed their main sustainability focus on labor. However, there are always serious human impacts to un-responsible environmental practices, even when it’s not immediately apparent…and when it becomes public that children are suffering directly from your factory’s deplorable dumping violations, the tables are turned.

To their credit, Gap Inc. has been active on the issue of Lesotho. After the article was published they promptly moved this topic to the top of their Gap Inc. FAQ. The company released a statement committing to an in-depth, 3rd party investigation, education and training for waste and disposal, and a summit for stakeholders and the Lesotho Government. Seems a sound quality control strategy, though the question of why their factories had not previously been trained on waste/disposal issues, or how the factory dumping practices had gone unnoticed, has not been answered.

The truth remains that Gap themselves are in fact twice- removed from the human experience of their factories’ dumping practices. Its up to them to get compliance at their factory sites, and this is urgent and long overdue in Lesotho. But health and safety conditions for children picking rags at the industrial dumping grounds is a larger social issue that the company is contributing to, but not wholly responsible for. So while the situation is devastating, how much of it is actually Gap’s responsibility?

How can we convince the textile giants that while environmental regulations may end with the government, setting the bar for their industry has to start with them?

I reached out twice to Gap Inc.’s media contact about this issue to find out how things were progressing with the investigation, and to gather a statement or two to add dimension to this blog. I’m still waiting on a callback – and if I get it, I’ll add it as a comment. If I don’t get a callback, maybe you’ll have more luck?

Louise Callagy
Gap Inc. Corporate Communications

– Kate Cook, Brand Strategist, Saatchi & Saatchi S

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Are Financial Collapses Unavoidable?

Steve Puma | Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 1 Comment


I recently read the article Why Capitalism Fails by Stephen Mihm and was interested to learn about Hyman Minski, who, according to the article, was

…a hitherto obscure macroeconomist who died over a decade ago. Many economists had never heard of him when the crisis struck… But lately he has begun emerging as perhaps the most prescient big-picture thinker about what, exactly, we are going through…Minsky was one economist who saw what was coming. He predicted, decades ago, almost exactly the kind of meltdown that recently hammered the global economy.

Minsky basically believed that the conservative fiscal stance which comes in the wake of a financial collapse, such as the Great Depression, would inevitably sow the seeds for the next crisis decades down the road. The main ingredients are time and short human memories, “Instability,” he wrote, “is an inherent and inescapable flaw of capitalism.” The article compares Minsky’s view to the one held by mainstream economics, that capitalism is self-regulating and self-stabilizing, known as the Neoclassical Synthesis.

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“Age of Stupid” Revolutionizes Film Finance, But Not Film

| Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 7 Comments


This isn’t a film review website, but since we often discuss environmental messaging, I’ve got a bone to pick with “Age of Stupid,” the new, highly promoted eco-apocalypse film by Franny Armstrong.

But first, the interesting news on film finance: Age of Stupid was almost entirely financed by a crowd-sourced model via individuals and small groups of people including a hockey team and a women’s health center to the tune of £860,000. Additionally, and perhaps because of this, the film’s producers were able to create an astonishingly successful word of mouth campaign surrounding the US premiere – a live event shown in (many sold out) cinemas around the world featuring celebrities and a audience Q&A. Topped off with a clever website, alliances with various activist groups, and a strong presence on social networking sites, the film created a hyped up following way out of proportion to its relatively low budget.

The importance of this is multifaceted – first, it demonstrates a potentially more democratic method of film financing – one that could produce not only better films that people pre-select for viewing, but also an interesting investment opportunity. It’s also got obvious potential for films that might not have big commercial appeal, which concerned individuals and organizations are more likely to want to fund than traditional Hollywood producers – i.e., a lot of people losing a small amount of money each works better than one guy losing millions.

Unfortunately, the film was a depressing mess.

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Who Will Lead the Electric Car Market?

Sarah Lozanova | Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 8 Comments

zenn electric car

The outlook for the electric car couldn’t have looked brighter when oil was priced at $140 a barrel, consumer confidence was high, and offers of credit were plentiful. Now that a variety of electric vehicles are nearly ready to hit the market in larger quantities, the world is a different place. The leading manufacturers of the electric car and its ability to compete with evolving hybrid technology have yet to be determined.

Electric vehicle sales will surely benefit from higher fossil fuel costs and governmental incentives. A large upfront investment must be made to produce the volume of vehicles needed to reduce manufacturing costs and create a vehicle-charging infrastructure. Geography and culture will impact which countries can accept the smaller range of most electric vehicles and who can afford to purchase one.  Technology advancements will dictate the range of vehicles in the future and the speed at which they can charge.

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Diplomatic Unease On The Menu At UN Climate Talks

Richard Levangie | Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

It sounds like it may have been inspired by Oxfam’s Hunger Banquet, and it will be interesting to see how it works. Mandarins at the United Nations will be subjecting world leaders to a little diplomatic shock therapy at today’s UN climate negotiations in an effort to inject a greater sense of urgency into the proceedings. As recently as the G8 Summit in Italy, world leaders were speaking about good intentions, and hopeful signs, but most pundits acknowledge that climate talks to find a successor to Kyoto are in deep trouble. Nearly 100 heads of state and government are meeting in New York this week, and they’ll either  break the logjam — or remain at loggerheads.

UN officials, tired by the status quo, have devised a pared-down program that should promote real communication.

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New Green Rankings in Newsweek, S&P 500

| Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 2 Comments


This is shaping up to be a big week for corporations seeking recognition for their sustainability efforts. Both the Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP (which is affiliated with the S&P 500 Report) and Newsweek’s 2009 Green Rankings were released, both of which highlighted leaders in climate change and other sustainability endeavors. These reports’ figures could be a jumping-off point for measuring corporations’ transparency and eco-mindedness in years to come.

According to a PR Newswire report, the CDP results were announced in New York Sunday as part of New York Climate Week. The winners – US corporations showing efforts to tackle climate change – included Cisco Systems, Boing, Pepco Holdings, Consolidated Edison, E.I. du Pont de Nemours, Hewlett Packard, PPG Industries, and Transocean.

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Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes’ 10-Year Anniversary on Twitter

| Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

DJSI-logoThis week marks the 10-year anniversary of the launching of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, a “key reference point for Sustainability Investing for investors and companies alike,” a DJSI media release reports. Investment bigwigs SAM, STOXX Ltd., and Dow Jones will join Chicago Climate Exchange founder Richard Sandor, Dow Jones Indexes editor John Prestbo, and others in Tuesday’s celebratory ceremony in New York (detailed on NYC Climate Week’s website), from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. EST. Others may join the celebration online, via Twitter and the DJSI blog. Dow Jones reps will be blogging and tweeting that night, covering the party live online and welcoming input from participants.

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Investors Call For Strong International Climate Treaty

Richard Levangie | Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 1 Comment

united-nationsIn advance of the UN climate conference in the Big Apple, a number of ethical investment groups representing more than $13 trillion in assets have called for climate leadership from the world’s industrial nations. At the International Investor Forum on Climate Change, a coalition of 181 investors expressed confidence that a strong and binding international treaty is vital to combating global warming and catalyzing the massive global investments needed to transition to a low-carbon world.

“We must chart a new course toward long-term, sustainable business practices,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, head of the $116.5 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund. “We cannot drag our feet on the issue of global climate change. I am deeply concerned about the investor risks climate change presents, and the human cost of inaction is unthinkable. As investors in the global economy, we can lead the way toward a future of lasting prosperity.”

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Advertisers Flee Glenn Beck’s Show

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 6 Comments


Inflammatory pundits be warned: progressive organizations are learning to leverage the power of advertising boycotts – and major brands are listening. After Fox News host Glenn Beck called President Obama a “racist” last month, Color of Change, the largest online African-American political organization, launched an advertising boycott. As of last week, Beck’s show lost 62 of its advertisers.

According to data collected about advertising revenue, at its highest, Beck’s program took in $1,060,000 for the week ending August 2, 2009. Color of Change launched the boycott at the end of the week. Beck’s show had an estimated advertising revenue of $492,000 for the week ending September 6, 2009, according to collected data.

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Exhausted But Inspired: Gleanings From a Sustainability Director in the Trenches

3p Contributor | Tuesday September 22nd, 2009 | 1 Comment

By Angela Nahikian, director of Global Environmental Sustainability at Steelcase
The more fellow sustainability practitioners I’ve met, the more I have come to realize that while our industries vary, experiences are the same. Though we may progress at different rates, our organizations follow similar patterns of evolution and face many of the same challenges. Oh yes, and one more common thread – we are all exhausted by the sheer scale of the challenge.

But we’re equally inspired to take it further, because sustainability offers fertile ground for learning, innovation, and the opportunity to build a better model. I am sure you see it too. Whether at conferences, or sharing thoughts on blogs or in business settings, there is a new determination to broaden the impact of our work.

This determination is not born of pie-eyed naiveté. We have enough daily reminders this is still the front edge of the learning curve – investing countless hours managing the ripple effects of our work through the layers of a global supply chain; mentoring brand new team members who think sustainability is a “green product feature” in a market where customers demand authenticity and a holistic approach; wrestling new IT infrastructures into being.

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