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Monday, June 29, 2009

Senators to Introduce Legislation Banning Electronics Sales to Iran

Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced last Friday they will introduce legislation that would prohibit government contracts with any company selling technology to the Iranian regime which helps it monitor its citizens. 

Schumer and Graham will introduce the legislation sometime this week.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Iranian government bought technology from Nokia Siemens Network, a joint venture of Nokia and Siemens, which enables them to monitor phone calls and internet activity. 

“It is utterly outrageous that Western companies sell equipment that allows the Iranian government to spy on their citizens, prevent communications between citizens and thwart any type of uprising against the regime,” Schumer said in a press release. “This legislation is going to crack down on these companies so that we can do our part in preventing this regime from controlling the Iranian people.”

“Our proposal and legislation would weaken the Iranian regime’s ability to control the Internet,” Graham said. “The Internet has proven to be one of the strongest weapons in the hands of the Iranian people seeking freedom and trying to chart a new destiny for their country. Companies that provide technology to the Iranian regime to control the Internet must be forced to pay a heavy price. Our legislation is a constructive proposal that empowers the people of Iran and weakens the regime.” 

Senators Schumer and Graham sent a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton calling on her to “urge the European Union to restrict the sale of equipment and services to Iran that could be used to monitor, control, and suppress the private communications and free expression of the Iranian people.” 

Related articles:
Why Companies Must Consider Human Rights

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nestle Cookie Dough Scare Shows Need for More Regulation

The latest E. coli contamination is open us. Last year it was food with peanuts, and a few years ago it was spinach. Now it is cookie dough. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted a warning on its website on June 19 about Nestle's Toll House cookie dough possibly being contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. As a result, Nestle recalled 47 varieties if Toll House cookie dough 24 hours later. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the FDA are conducting a joint ongoing investigation.

The CDC reported that since June 25, 69 people have been infected with the E. coli strain in 29 states. Thirty-four people have been hospitalized, and nine developed the serious complication Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS).

William Keene, Oregon's chief epidemiologist, is certain the cookie dough is the source of the E. coli contamination. "Virtually everyone (who got ill) ate the same brand of cookie dough," he said. "I have absolute confidence in the conclusion."

Nestle posted a press release on its website, VeryBestBaking that stated the company will "continue to cooperate fully with the FDA and CDC in this investigation." According to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, Nestle officials refused to give the FDA access to "pest control records, environmental testing programs and other information."

The article sites a September 2006 visit by the FDA to Nestle's Danville, VA plant that refused to allow the inspector "to review consumer complaints or inspect its program designed to prevent food contamination." During the visit the inspector found dirty equipment and "three live ant-like insects" on a ledge. A year later, another FDA inspector wrote after a visit that plant officials would not allow the "firm's consumer complaint file" to be reviewed, would not allow photos to be taken, and refused "to sign affidavits or receipts," and refused "to provide specific information on interstate commerce." Legally companies do not have to allow access to such records.

In May, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Food Safety Enhancement Act (HR 2749), which would give the FDA greater regulatory powers over the country's food supply and food providers. It would grant the FDA the authority to "regulate how crops are raised and harvested, to quarantine a geographic area, to make warrentless searches of business records, and establish a national food tracing system," according to the website, Open Congress. The bill would also impose a $500 annual registration fee on all food plants.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why Companies Must Consider Human Rights

The recent uprisings by the Iranian people, and the subsequent brutal treatment by their government, is highlighting the necessity of business taking human rights into consideration before doing business with a government.

The Iranian government bought technology that is enabling them to monitor phone calls and internet traffic from Nokia Siemens Network, a joint venture of German based Siemens, and Finnish based Nokia Corp. Until now, the Iranian government has not fully used its capability to monitor its citizens until the recent uprising, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

"We didn't know they could do this much," said a network engineer in Tehran. "Now we know they have powerful things that allow them to do very complex tracking on the network."

Ben Roome, spokesperson for the joint venture, said, “If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them.”

When asked about selling equipment that helps the Iranian government spy on its people, Roome said Nokia Siemens “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country.” However, he said the company believes in “believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate.”

According to the WSJ, the monitoring equipment sold to Iran is described in a company brochure as allowing “the monitoring and interception of all types of voice and data communication on all networks.” Nokia Siemens sold the company to Perusa Partners Fund 1 LP, a German-based company.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Solar Powered Bus Shelters

Lighting bus shelters at night provides more safety for people. Powering the lights with solar energy saves money and carbon dioxide emissions. This week a Canadian college, McMaster University, unveiled a solar powered bus shelter. The bus shelter generates 4.5 watts which power the lighting. Green Biz characterized the solar panels on the shelter’s roof as “flexible strips” that can be installed “cheaply and easily.”

“Our goal is to provide a clean, affordable power source for bus shelters that will let transit companies run Internet-based scheduling updates,” said Adrian Kitai, a McMaster professor who guided the bus shelter project. “The solar technology can also be used to light up bus shelter signage and provide lighting for general safety.”

In 1996, Cornell University installed solar powered lights in two of its bus shelters. Passengers push a button to turn on the lights. The solar powered shelters save an estimated 25 to 30 kilowatt hours a year of energy.

Last week, San Francisco unveiled its first solar powered bus shelter. The city plans to build 1,099 more by 2013. The roof’s solar panels power the shelter’s lighting and wireless router. The shelter doubles as a WiFi center. The roof is made of 40 percent post-industrial polycarbonate material, and the steel structures from 75 percent recycled material.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said, “Transit shelters that use photovoltaics, LEDS, and WiFi are going to be standard in the future and I’m proud that San Francisco is once again acting like the pace car for other cities by trying and implementing these technologies.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Last week the CEO of Green For All, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, spoke at the America's Future Now conference.

America Needs to Turn Green

Watch last week's MSNBC interview with the CEO of Green For All, the non-profit organization founded by Van Jones:

Renewable Energy is the Future

Watch the following video about wind energy:

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Technology Could Lower Solar Energy Cost

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) developed flexible solar panels that can be installed on roofs. PNNL incorporated the same technology used to protect flat panel TVs from dampness. The flexible solar panels are known as building-integrated photovoltaics or BIPVs, and are made to last 25 years.

Research is currently being conducted to perfect the BIPVs. The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technology Commercialization Fund is providing funds for the project, which is estimated to cost $350,000. A commercial match is also needed. If the project is successful, solar panel manufacturing costs will be less than $1 per watt of power, a utility would charge customers 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

Mark Gross, a PNNL senior scientist,
said, “There’s a lot of wasted space on rooftops that could actually be used to generate power. Flexible solar panels could easily become integrated into the architecture of commercial buildings and homes. Solar panels have had limited success because they’ve been difficult and expensive to install.”

Sustainable Packaging Market is Growing

Sustainable packaging is a growing market despite the down economy. Sustainable packaging will be 32 percent of total global packaging market by 2014, up from its current 21 percent, a study released last month by Pike Research said. Plastic based packaging will be fastest growing sector of the sustainable packaging market. It is currently 35 percent. Metal based will be more than 63 percent by 2014. Paper-based packaging is the largest sector with over 40 percent of market.

Food consumers want three things from food manufacturers: fresher ingredients, increased health benefits, and more environmentally friendly packaging, according to a new study by Ipsos Marketing. The study was based on an online survey of 23,000 consumers from 18 countries.

“We are seeing a global consumer movement toward heightened consciousness of health, wellness and environmental factors in their food purchasing decisions,” said David Pring, executive vice president of the global consumer goods division of Ipsos Marketing.

Pring continued, “These are key developments in the food market, and not just in North America and Europe. We are also seeing that taste, convenience and product difference – aspects that were probably more characteristic of food product drivers towards the end of the last millennium – are taking a back seat in a world now more focused on making a positive impact on freshness and health as well as the sustainability of the planet.”

“The move toward sustainable packaging represents a broad-based effort by manufacturers, retailers, industry groups, and governments to promote the design of minimal packaging that can be easily reclaimed,” said managing director Clint Wheelock. “A tremendous amount of innovation is going into reducing energy requirements to manufacture packaging and using more recyclable and compostable materials, but there is still a long way to go.”

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What is a Conscious Consumer?

A conscious consumer "makes informed buying decisions that reduce their environmental impact," according to the non-profit organization, New Dream. In order to find out more about conscious consumers, New Dream conducted a survey of 2,271 of their affiliates. The survey asked questions about buying habits, lifestyle choices, and activism.

Eighty-seven percent of the respondents said they were making efforts to lead a more sustainable life. Of the 87 percent, 81 percent buy green household products, and 88 percent discontinued purchasing plastic water bottles. Seventy-eight percent have considered or have become a vegetarian, 90 percent drive less, 93 percent reduce utility use, and 87 percent conserve water.

Sixty-four percent of all respondents rated “living in accordance with their values” as a “very important” motivation for consumer decisions. Seventy percent said they had contacted politicians or agencies at least once in the last two years, only three percent said sustainability, health and justice never affected how they vote.

Researchers in Britain found the following results when conducting similar surveys:

  • Conscious consumers tend to understand their practices as expressive of political orientations and as political actions in themselves
  • Many conscious consumers see the expansion of alternative and ethical options in the marketplace as a successful result of the efforts of conscious consumers like themselves
  • Conscious consumers tend to see themselves as part of a broader network of citizens and not as atomized consumers in the marketplace
National Geographic and the international polling firm GlobeScan conducted a survey about sustainable consumption of 17,000 consumers in 17 countries. The survey found an increase in "environmentally friendly consumer behavior" in 13 countries from last year. Developed countries ranked ninth to thirteenth, with developing countries occupying the top spots.

Consumers in 11 of the countries surveyed are more likely to keep the heating and cooling settings lower to save energy. Consumers are also more likely to wash laundry in cold water to save energy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Better Climate Risk Disclosure Needed

Two recent reports by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) indicated that the SEC needs to require better climate risk disclosure from companies. One of the reports, Reclaiming Transperancy characterizes itself as the “most exhaustive empirical analysis of climate disclosure conducted to date." The report consisted of a systematic analysis of almost 6,400 10K filings by S&P 500 companies from 1995 to the present. According to the report, "there is an alarming pattern of non-disclosure by corporations regarding climate risks."

Some of the key findings of the report are as follows:

  • 76.3% of annual reports filed by S&P 500 companies in 2008 failed to include any mention of climate change
  • Only 5.5% of annual reports filed by the S&P 500 in 2008 identified at least one risk posed by climate
  • Less than 10% of S&P 500 companies in the financial sector discussed climate change 10K reports filed in 2008
  • Only 3.2% of utilities sector companies failed to mention climate change in 10K reports filed in 2008
The second report, Climate Risk Disclosure evaluated climate risk disclosure by 100 global companies in five sectors: electric utilities, coal, oil and gas, transportation, and insurance. The report found that there is "very little disclosure." In fact, 59 of the companies surveyed did not mention their greenhouse gas emissions or their position on climate change, and 52 did not mention their actions to address climate change.

Although all six coal companies surveyed included some disclosure of climate risk, only one achieved a fair score in any of the three analyzed categories. Oil and gas companies did not do much better. While most of the 23 companies surveyed did provide some disclosure on climate risk, none of them achieved a fair ranking.

Transportation companies fared better. Five out of 19 transportation companies disclosed their GHG emissions, and none of them were ranked fair. Sixty-eight percent provided some disclosure in each of the analyzed categories.

The insurance companies surveyed provided the least amount of disclosure in all categories. Eighteen out of 27 companies did not mention climate change in their SEC filings. Twenty-three of the companies did not disclose their emissions or a statement on climate change, and 24 of them did not disclose their actions to address climate change.

"These findings are a clarion call for quick SEC action to require better climate risk disclosure from publicly-traded companies,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk. "Climate change is a bottom line issue and investors have a right to know which companies are best positioned for the emerging clean energy global economy."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

FTC Cracking Down on Greenwashing

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is finally cracking down on greenwashing. The FTC charged three companies (Kmart, Tender Corp., Dyna-E International) with making false claims about paper products labeled "biodegradable" during testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Kmart labeled its American Fare brand paper plates "biodegradable," but agreed to remove the label. Tender Corp. labeled its Fresh Bath brand wipes "biodegradable," and Dyna-E International labeled its paper towels "biodegrabable." Tender also agreed to remove the label "biodegradable" from its products. The case against Dyna-E International will enter into administrative litigation.

Appearing before the House Subcommittee, James A. Kohm, Associate Director of the Enforcement Division in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC, said the FTC "alleged that the companies could not substantiate that their products would decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal." Kohm said the "substantial majority" of the products, after being used, end up "disposed in landfills, incinterators, and recycling facilities."

The FTC said in its complaints, "American Fare paper plates will not completely break down and return to nature, i.e., decompose into elements found in nature, within a reasonably short period of time because a substantial majority of total municipal solid waste is disposed of by methods that do not present conditions that would allow for American Fare paper plates to completely break down."

During Kohm's testimony he mentioned the FTC filed charges against other companies, including home insulation companies for "overstating theinsulating properties of their products." He also mentioned that the FTC took action against companies marketing a devices which they claim "dramatically increase gas mileage in ordinary cars."

Since 1992, the FTC has published "Green Guides" about green marketing. Last year it held three workshops about how to better protect consumers from deceptive marketing, including greenwashing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Better Packaging Needed

Less packaging equals lower costs and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. During the Greener by Design 2009 conference, designer Wendy Jedlicka talked to Hewlett Packard's Uri Kogan and Frito-Lay's Knoerzer about how companies are rethinking packaging.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Greener By Design 2009

Watch the coverage of the Greener By Design conference:

Friday, June 5, 2009

What is Hara’s Environmental and Energy Management Software?

Image from Flickr, by Jeremy Higgs

On Monday, the 18-month old company, Hara debuted their Environmental and Energy Management (EEM) software online. The EEM software identifies how efficient and eco-friendly a business, organization or government’s operations are with energy, water and waste.

Based in Menlo Park, California, Hara was founded by Amit Chatterjee and Ajit Nazre with $6 million in venture financing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Coca-Cola Company and Palo Alto (a Northern California city ) have used Hara’s EEM software. According to Hara, Palo Alto saved $2 million by using the EEM software.

According to the website, Crunchbase, EEM is made up of the following modules:

  • Discover – Aggregate environmental record information from relevant data sources in order to provide a comprehensive view of resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and environmental impact.
  • Plan – Define strategies, optimize planning decisions, forecast reductions, identify objectives and metrics, and calculate timing and benefits for each initiative.
  • Act – Manage the execution of environmental and energy programs, track results per initiative, and create an audit trail for any current or future regulatory requirements.
  • Innovate – Implement the Hara methodology and leverage best practices for continuous improvements and business transformation. 

Hara means “fresh green” in Sanskrit. Chatterjee said Hara’s vision is to “enable a post-carbon economy in which organizations can grow and profit without depleting the earth’s resources.” insight, good analysis, and good data,” said Jacob. 

“We have the opportunity to write the encyclopedia of environmental efficiency, creating an unprecedented body of knowledge that will influence environmental impact reduction initiatives for years to come,” said Chatterjee. “We indicate how healthy a business is at consuming natural resources.”

“I'm not easily impressed," said Bryan Jacob, director of energy management and climate protection for Coca-Cola. However, after a presentation by Hara, he said to his boss, “I think we need to put this package into a test.”

Hara’s EEM software provides “effective environmental management requires good insight, good analysis, and good data,” said Jacob. “Hara goes beyond what so many other tools do. It helps calculate the inventory, establish the strategic targets, and has initiative-tracking features.”

“We're not finding a lot of resistance to the pricing,” said Nazre. “What is resonating with the customers the most is: how quickly will it pay for itself?” 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Patagonia: A Sustainable Sportswear Company

"Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis," reads the mission statement of sportswear clothing company, Patagonia. The Ventura, California based company makes sportswear from "environmentally sensitive materials" such as organic cotton and hemp. To date, Patagonia has given $34 million to environmental organizations.

Patagonia completed construction earlier this year on a 171,000 square foot LEED Gold-certified addition to its Reno, NV distribution center. The addition contains a modular conveyor system which uses 30 percent less energy and increases operational efficiency by 20 percent. The addition is heated with a radiant heating system, which uses copper tubes filled with hot water. 

In constructing the addition, Patagonia went beyond the LEED Gold-certification requirements:
  • Used 100 percent light-colored concrete instead of asphalt in parking lot and driveways. LEED requires 30 percent to be certified.
  • Uses 40 percent less water by installing water efficient toilets, waterless urinals, and bathroom faucets that automatically turn off. (LEED requires 30 percent.
  • Fifty percent of the materials used to construct addition were manufactured within a 500 mile radius. LEED requires 20 percent.
  • All the wood used was Forest Stewardship Council (FCS) certified. LEED requires 50 percent.
“Whether we're designing a new product, sourcing contract manufacturing sites, or building a new distribution center, everything we do goes back to the mission statement,” said Dave Abeloe, director of the Reno facility. “We ask ourselves: 'What are we trying to accomplish with this project, and how can we do that while adhering to our values?'”

Watch the video about Patagonia's addition to its distribution center:

What is Open-Sourced Green Building?

Open-sourced green building sounds like an oxymoron. However, provides open-sourced green building designs. Started in April 2008, the year-old company opened up its website for architects to upload their designs and set the price for them. 

New York Times blog post characterized FreeGreen as a “service that offers what most developers won’t: green home plans to home-buyers.” The blog post also called it a "bottom up approach to innovation."

Every design on FreeGreen is created to reduce energy usage 30 to 50 percent of local building codes. “We made a ubiquitous decision in the way we handle the company,” said David Wax, co-founder and CEO. “We were not going to be the arbiters of green design. We don’t want a FreeGreen standard. That's not what we are. We are an information provider.”

The website is blunt about FreeGreen revenue source, “FreeGreen would not exist without paid placement from product manufacturers, and all product or service provider placements should be considered advertising.” Most of company’s revenues come from paid product placements in the free building designs. 

The company is selective about the products they choose. The open sourced building designs that architects upload are also a revenue source. FreeGreen receives 20 percent of the sales revenue. Information is provided about every product listed in a plan, including its point ratings in the LEED-H, and NABH Green Building standards.