By Scott Cooney, M.S., M.B.A.
The Health Department is taking all the necessary steps in case the swine flu virus develops into a full-blown pandemic. Will American agribusinesses, who moved their swine operations to Mexico to avoid higher labor costs and environmental standards here in the U.S., have to pay the bill? My guess would be no. My guess is that they’ll use the economic convenience of externalities to dismiss their responsibility.
Here, I argue that as long as we continue to subsidize concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFO’s) not just directly (which we do in a very real and substantial sense), but indirectly, as in this case, we cannot hope for a sustainable agriculture system.
Externalities are the economic costs of an operation that do not show up on the bottom line of the company or country that produces them. In other words, a company that produces widgets has costs like the material required to produce a widget, the labor, and the electricity needed. But the widget itself also produces waste at the end of its life because it needs to be disposed of. This is a classic externality: a cost of doing business that is not borne by the business itself, but rather externalized and borne by others. Pollution is a classic example of an externality. Companies are allowed to pollute the air and the water at a cost much higher than they directly pay.
The externalities of a business like a CAFO include the air and water pollution, public health problems associated not just with their industrial waste but also in antibiotic resistance, obesity caused by meats laden with chemicals and grown in conditions that produce weight in the fastest manner possible, and other health problems arising from their unhealthy products. And, of course, creating an environment in which disease like the swine flu can flourish, mutate, and multiply.
TriplePundit: Reporting on the Triple Bottom Line & Sustainable Business News
By Scott Cooney, M.S., M.B.A.
- Advisory: U.S. Chamber Foundation and United Nations to Celebrate International Women’s Day in New York City
- The Path Forward for Solving Complex Social Problems: Multi-Sector Collaborations
- Next Week: Twitter Chat on Women in Corporate Leadership
- Green Electronics Council Catalyst Awards: Now Accepting Nominations
There’s algae and switchgrass – now add camelina to the roster of second generation biofuel crops. Camelina is an herb originally from the Mediterranean that has recently been used for its oil, similar to flax.
Camelina seed could become a major player in the realm of aviation of fuels if Sustainable Oils has anything to say about it. And the Bozeman, MT renewable fuel company most certainly does. It says the results of a life cycle analysis of jet fuel derived from camelina seeds show that the fuel reduces carbon emissions by 84 percent compared to petroleum jet fuel.
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Nestle considers itself to be a health and wellness company. Nestle Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe explained that the company changed from a “strictly food and beverage company” to a health and wellness company because the “quality of calories matters.”
Letmathe pointed out that life expectancy and calorie intake go together. Looking at history, the more calories people receive the longer they live. However, around the year 2000 a “splitting point” occurred where people began to take in more calories than ever before. He said that if “caloric intake continues to increase, life expectancy will decrease.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of hybrid vehicles I see driving the streets here in Boulder, Colorado. Maybe it’s just a heightened awareness due to those special “alternative fuel vehicle” parking spaces now in place at the new 29th Street Mall shopping area; but at times, it seems to me that I encounter at least one Toyota Prius at every stoplight.
This observation got me thinking: how environmentally-friendly is it to replace a perfectly functional vehicle with a brand-new car (albeit a hybrid?)
This issue was previously discussed on this site via a July 2007 post, which looked at the Hummer H2, the Toyota Highlander (both regular and hybrid), and the Toyota Prius, comparing the energy consumed by each vehicle during the manufacturing process as well as throughout the estimated life of each. The conclusion? “Continuing to drive an older car with poor fuel economy is less environmentally friendly than getting a new car that gets drastically better fuel economy.”
Based on the vehicles used for these particular calculations, I absolutely agree with this conclusion. However, what about a comparison between a new Toyota Prius and a smaller, older vehicle, say, a 1992 Honda Accord (my ride for the past 15 years.) Would we still reach the same verdict? According to many of the follow-up calculations and evidence provided in response to the original post, it seems that the answer may be “no.”
Sustainability and efficiency are getting a lot of buzz of late, but for international architectural and design firm HOK, the only thing new is the buzz, not the concepts driving it.
“We’re early adopters,” says HOK’s director of sustainability, Mary Ann Lazarus, referring to the company’s adoption back in 1993 of sustainability and efficiency as core components of HOK’s mission. Back then, the idea of less is more may not have carried quite the same cachet it does today (the long journey ahead notwithstanding), but HOK has been content to pursue their commitment to efficient and sustainable design for the past 15+ years, understanding that, sooner or later, the rest of the world would catch up.
They are in the company of many others who have understood all along that the key to getting more is by using less. Organizations like the Rocky Mountain Institute, who we’ll look at shortly, or AgileWaves, a lean-and-green startup who we’ve written about here and here.
To say that a recessionary economy can be challenging for all players in society is to risk the sin of understatement; to say that with challenges come opportunities is to risk the offense of clich√©. Despite that risk, and as readers of TriplePundit are well aware, the point remains that the recent economic upheaval brings with it opportunities commensurate with the trial – opportunities to build a better world on the rubble of a broken and dysfunctional economy, one more in tune with the natural resources and systems about which all human endeavor is ultimately based.
And so it is that Lazarus sees before us a “perfect storm” for sustainability fueling her cautiously confident optimism she defines simply as a “glass half full” approach to dealing with hard economic times.Click to continue reading »
Last week I read a post on Environmental Leader about Microsoft slashing their CSR PR budget in favor of product promotion for Windows 7, Office and Xbox. While the cuts are currently in Europe, the post went on to say that Asia was next and that the U.S. would be “imminent.”
A budget cut in and of itself isn’t all that interesting — or newsworthy. Corporate budgets get cut all the time, and marketing and PR are typically the first to go, often regarded as extraneous spending by shareholders in mahogany boardrooms atop lofty ivory towers. But what’s interesting about this re-allocation of dollars is that they’re essentially shifting PR to… PR. Take a moment to let that sink in.
They’re taking money from PR efforts that help advance environmental awareness and social responsibility in a market in which they have mass reach to more heavily promote themselves and their own products. So, it begs the question if Microsoft is truly committed to sustainable business practices and furthering programs that serve the greater good, or if it is merely a PR tactic designed create the perception of social responsibility while their consumer capitalist agenda reigns supreme. Click to continue reading »
Just when you thought the stairs were your only option for arriving sustainably to your office chair, it’s time to think again. A Spanish company, MP Ascensores, has released its preliminary plans for the MP-E3 elevator that will operate using an integrated approach to green technology. These ecological elevators will bring a new element to green building practice and have the ability to substantially reduce high-rise building energy consumption.
The MP-E3 project has received financing from the Andalucia Technological Corporation so that the first ecological elevators can be up and running in 2011. The technology plans to incorporate a frequency inverter for motors that reduces energy consumption. It also proposes to use the motor itself as a kind of generator, taking advantage of the movement of the elevator to produce electricity that could be injected into the wider energy grid.
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We’ve asked and attempted to answer this question may times: What’s the cost of a tree? This question inherently implies that there is a price tag on that tree, and that price is a reflection of what one party is willing to pay for the benefits of the tree, and what another party is willing to receive in exchange for giving up those benefits.
So many coffee lovers have switched to single portion delivery devices produced by a variety of brands, including Tassimo, Flavia and Green Mountain. The coffee taste is always fresh, perfectly brewed and one doesn’t waste extra coffee left from brewing a full pot.
The single dose cartridge is a composite of aluminum, plastic and coffee. Its used cartridge is currently not recyclable and is what Bill McDonough would call a “monstrous hybrid” since all three parts on their own are either compostable or recyclable, but together they make a unit that isn’t readily recyclable and thus is headed to the landfill. (The same is true for a wide range of common products too long to list here).
The solution to waste streams like this is to collect them and “dissemble.” The separation of the three basic materials is hard to automate and likely must be done by hand, at which point, the coffee can be easily be composted and the plastic and aluminum recycled.
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In the karaoke zone in Chiang Mai, the northern capital of Thailand, the Can Do bar, sex-worker owned and operated, is open for business.
Launched in September 2006, the bar was the brainchild of partner Empower, the NGO founded in 1985 comprised of sex workers.
Carrying out sustainable business practices, the Can Do bar follows the guidelines of Thai labour and social security laws, offering their employees benefits: a combination of social security, disability and life insurance, a unique proposition in the entertainment industry. Working conditions in most Thai bars that feature women as the attraction subject their female employees to long hours with only one day off per month and stringent “drink quotas” they must reach – meaning the minimum number of drinks they have to sell to customers before they can call it a night.
However, life at the Can Do bar is different. The workers have an eight-hour day with a one-hour break for rest, as well as one day off a week. Overtime is strictly optional, and they are compensated for it. Occupational health and safety issues are upheld to standard government regulations, and there is never any question of their using the bathroom as many times in the day as they need. The employees are encouraged to form a worker’s association or union if they deem it is in their best interests. Empower has also started a community fund for Can Do, where any sex worker can contribute to the fund and become part of the collective ownership.
Recent dramatic events in the Arctic and Antarctica are supporting scientists who suggest that the pace of climate change is accelerating. The Arctic ice cap is thinner than ever, with ice older than two years comprising less than 10 percent of the ice cover in measurements from the end of February. The amount of thick sea ice hit a record wintertime low of 378,000 square miles, which is down by 43 percent over the last year. As old ice is the thickest, and slowest-to-melt, it plays a vital role in regulating temperature on Earth.
“That thick ice really traps ocean heat; it keeps the planet in its current state of balance,” says Waleed Abdalati, director of the Center for the Study of Earth from Space at the University of Colorado and NASA’s former chief ice scientist. “When we start to diminish that, the state of balance is likely to change, tip one way or another.”
While 2008 was a comparatively cool year worldwide, and 2009 and 2010 predicted to be much warmer, the concern is that arctic sea ice will retreat dramatically — exceeding record losses that occurred over the last two years. Sea ice is important because it reflects sunlight back into space, and helps turn down the Earth’s thermostat. As the ice melts, the dark ocean waters will absorb unprecedented amounts of energy, which will accelerate the thawing of the permafrost, potentially releasing billions of tons of methane ‚Äï a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2 — into the atmosphere. Warming begets warming. Click to continue reading »
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has published a study which calls for a 60% reduction in the energy use of buildings by 2050 to help meet global climate change targets.
Transforming the Market: Energy Efficiency in Buildings suggests that the ambitious carbon footprint reduction goals established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won’t let any industry off the hook, and the building sector must renew itself to cut carbon and embrace energy efficiency through a combination of public policies, technological innovation, informed customer choices, and smart business decisions. Click to continue reading »
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I flew home from a three-week trip to Mexico on Saturday, returning with a sarong I bought on the beach, some earrings I bought for my roommate and a nice tan. Apparently, some other travelers were not so lucky – carrying with them the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus.
This strain of flu, that has previously kept itself mostly to mammals of the pig variety, has now infected 1,000 people in Mexico and the U.S.. 68 of the reported cases have been fatal. Yesterday, the Secretary of the Department Homeland Security declared a public health emergency in the U.S. Where did this virus come from? Why are humans suddenly being infected with this a previously unseen mutated virus? Why are the pigs trying to kill us?
Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF) Holds First West Coast Summit on May 21
Do women have a unique perspective on sustainability? The Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF) believes they do. The non-profit organization fosters businesswomen’s advocacy in social responsibility and sustainable development, and will hold its first West Coast Summit on Thursday, May 21, 2009 at Intel Headquarters in Santa Clara, CA.
Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, will be the keynote speaker at the forum, which is designed to increase understanding of clean technology and the potential contributions that the technology industry can make to advancing sustainability.