Wednesday, January 31, 2007

9 Companies Looking to Help With Society's Problems

Business 2.0 has an article that lists nine issues facing humanity and highlights at least one company that is looking to a business opportunity in tackling the problem. The link to the article contains links to each of the nine issues and companies. The nine issues are:
  1. Global Warming
  2. Oil Dependency
  3. Hunger and malnutrition
  4. Dirty Air
  5. Dirty Water
  6. Over fishing
  7. Epidemics
  8. Drug-resistant infections
  9. Waste Disposal

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Honda's Civic GX

The Honda Civic GX runs on methane, a compressed natural gas. It is currently only available for retail sale in California and New York. It does offer benefits over traditional gasoline-powered cars:
  1. The methane burns much cleaner than gasoline.
  2. The natural gas is more fuel-efficient than gasoline ("slightly")
  3. It is less expensive to fuel the car - the EPA estimates the cost of natural gas is the equivalent of about 70 cents less than a gallon of gasoline
  4. Most of the natural gas we have here in the U.S. is from the U.S. - the rest is from Canada.
Due to the current $4000 tax credit given by the U.S. government, the cost is not much more than a traditional Honda Civic.

Some of the downsides listed in the article - there aren't currently many places where natural gas can be purchased; the tank is bigger than a traditional car's fuel tank, so the trunk space is smaller; the resale value won't match up to a Honda Civic Hybrid according to one expert; and the tank only has a range of 220 miles. Due to these downsides, the GX will most likely only be a government fleet vehicle (already seen) for now.


Prez Calls for Linking Exec Salaries to Performance

Today, President Bush asked that corporate boards "step up their responsibilities" and ensure that company executives are paid based on the performance of their company and not simply guaranteed a compensation package. Bush also said to the boards, "You need to pay attention to the executive compensation packages that you approve. You need to show the world that America's businesses are a model of transparency and good corporate governance."

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

401(k) Plans with a Conscience and Green Power Buyers

Most companies do not offer options in their retirement plans for employees to contribute to socially responsible investments. A new company, Social(k) is hoping to change that. A recent survey showed that 74% of employees of companies who do not offer socially responsible investment options would invest in them if given the choice. Also, 68% of employers said they'd like to offer the investments to their employees, but most just haven't been given the choice.

Of course, performance of the plans are extremely important. According to the article, "since the inception of the Domini 400 Social Index on May 1, 1990, its annualized returns of 12.09% have beaten the S&P 500's annualized returns of 11.45%."

To learn more about Social(k), visit there website here.
The U.S. EPA list of top purchasers of alternative energy was recently announced. Wells Fargo was first on the list, the first time a governmental agency did not head the list. Whole Foods was second on the list. Third was the U.S. Air Force; fourth was the U.S. EPA; fifth was Johnson & Johnson.

The entire top 25 list can be viewed at the EPA's site here.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Intel, IBM Separately Announce Smaller, More Energy Efficient Chips

Both Intel and IBM announced they have found a way to reduce the amount of energy loss from chips as the technology evolves to smaller and smaller chips. Neither company disclosed the level of increased energy efficiency. Only Intel reported actual performance measures - they claim their breakthrogh allows for a 20 percent increase in performance.

See here for more information.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

More From Davos

I just wanted to post this due to what Tony Blair said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In reference to climate change goals, Blair said, "I believe we are potentially on the verge of a breakthrough," because "the mood in the US is in the process of a quantum shift". Blair said he would work with other leaders of the world on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol that he deemed would be more "radical" and "comprehensive".

I'll keep my eyes out for this.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Exxon Mobil Changing Its Tune?

Fortune published this online piece, "Exxon Mobil greens up its act" today about how Exxon Mobil is trying to reach out to its critics around the issue of climate change. After years of trying to distort the science of global warming and funding think tanks that did the same, they have begun to meet with leaders of environmental groups and NGOs that deal with social issues like human rights.

The article does mention the public relations nightmare they've had to deal with due to their past behavior. Such behavior, its mentioned, helped to cause more press for their support of the think tanks over their support "for a $225 million Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford, which is researching alternative energy and transportation fuels."

The article also points out that Exxon Mobil is probably reacting to the change in political leadership in both houses of Congress and to the leadership of some of the other Fortune 500 companies who are calling for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
On the sidebar in the article, you will find a link to "What's next in energy: Vinod Khosla" (Khosla's a venture capitalist) concerning his thoughts on the future of energy (he's betting on cellulosic ethanol and solar thermal energy).

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Davos and Global Climate Change

At the Annual Meetings of the World Economic Forum at Davos, "when hundreds of participants voted on what the world's most pressing issues were, a large majority said 'climate change'". Most also felt, however, that the world is not yet ready to handle climate change.

The article from the BBC, "
Has Big Business gone green at last?", notes that for many, the turning point in their thinking was when they viewed Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth". Still others pointed to the Stern Report (Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change).

For what it's worth - and I certainly don't know what that is(!) - the author, who apparently has reported from Davos in the past, feels that though he's heard this type of talk from leaders in the past, "this year it feels different."

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Wal-Mart Settles in OT Case

Wal-Mart has agreed to pay more than $33 million in overdue overtime pay after turning itself in to the Labor Department for underpaying for workers' overtime. They also have taken measures to try to ensure this type of mistake does not occur again.

The article also states that Wal-Mart was found to have overpaid about 215,000 workers over the last five years - they will not, however, seek these overpayments.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Call for Synthetic Fabrics for Clothing

The NYTimes has an article about clothing and a report about the future supply of clothing and textiles from Cambridge University called "Well Dressed?". The article, "Can Polyester Save the World?", (may require free registration) highlights the relatively new phenomenom of stores like H&M, Old Navy and Target that offer inexpensive, fashionable clothing. What that allows is people to purchase more clothing and throw the clothes away long before their useful life is over.

The article points out that consumers who are environmentally conscious may purchase clothing made of natural fibers like cotton over synthetic materials like polyester due to the thought that cotton is more environmentally friendly. The fact is, though, that because cotton requires washing at higher temperatures and may require tumble drying and ironing, the amount of carbon emissions resulting from cotton clothing is often higher than their polyester counterparts.

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Cleaner, Healthier Dry Cleaning

Here's an article from Plenty Magazine about dry cleaners who clean clothes with liquid CO2 and not with perchloroethylene, or "perc" as it's commonly called. These cleaners have been around for a few years and still have not really taken off. My wife and I have used a dry cleaner that uses liquid CO2 since we moved to North Carolina three years ago. The quality seems to be just as good as traditional cleaners - those in the business who do use liquid CO2 will say the quality is actually better because it doesn't degrade the clothes. I don't use a dry cleaner often enough to notice, nor do I think I'd notice anyway.

The reasons, then, for using dry cleaners who do not use perc are both environmental and health-related. I learned a few years back that when using a traditional dry cleaner that you should immediately remove the plastic bag that covers your clothing to let the harmful chemicals 'air out'. The article does point out that the International Agency for Research on Cancer labeled perc a "probable human carcinogen." With a CO2 cleaner this is not a concern - plus you'll notice that your clothes actually have a pleasant smell when you pick them up.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ford Unveils Hydrogen Car Today

Ford has unveiled its HySeries Edge, (quick registration may be required to view) a plug-in hybrid powered by a battery and a hydrogen fuel cell, today at the Washington Auto Show. It was an expensive vehicle to build, costing Ford $2 million. In order for a car such as this to hit the showrooms for the masses, availability of hydrogen on a mass scale has to be accomplished. Also, because of the high cost of development of such vehicles, the auto industry is hoping that President Bush will announce an increase in funding for this type of research in tonight's State of the Union address.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Fast Company - February 2007 Issue

I've posted articles before from Fast Company, but I wanted to make a special mention of this magazine. I used to be a subscriber back when it began in 1999 or 2000 (or sometime around then). I let my subscription lapse and, honestly, don't recall what I thought about it then. It now serves as a valuable read for me every month - the articles tend to be short to appeal to our society's decreasing attention span, but full of information.

What also draws me to Fast Company is that, while it's a 'mainstream' business magazine, it is ahead of its time in terms of including issues of corporate social responsibility that other business magazines often do not include.

This month's issue starts with Mark Vamos, the editor, in addition to his summary of what is in the issue, stating:

"One of this magazine's central themes is that business can be a profound force for good. That applies to us, too. I'm proud to announce that, beginning with this issue, we are printing Fast Company on 80% post-consumer recycled paper."

A good start to the issue, but it has content that I think is worth posting on this blog. Since it is the current month's issue, you'll have to check back in a few weeks. I will note what this issue contains (and, if I recall, will post some links to these articles when they are available):

  • One man's hope to bring the fair-trade concepts used for guaranteeing fair wages for coffee, tea and chocolate growers, among others, to increase the pay diamond diggers in Sierra Leone. Martin Rapaport hopes the fair-trade diamonds will start shipping in the next few months.
  • Socially responsible investing (SRI) - in this case, the focus is on the publicly-traded companies that manufacture solar materials or systems.
  • The redesign of L.A.'s public transit system
  • Adding jobs in Iraq to help the local population and decrease Iraq's reliance on foreign aid. It also notes the hope of microfinance eventually 'taking root' and spreading in Basra.
  • How Aspen Skiing Co. is trying to deal with global warming. The article mainly deals with their director of environmental affairs, Auden Schendler, and how one degree of warmth can make or break their business any year. Basically, during the beginning of the snow season when they are making their own snow, if it's one degree too warm, they lose a great deal of business. The article deals with some of the steps they are taking to try to bring awareness to their clientele.
  • The magazine ends with a reprint of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's email to the team members of Whole Foods announcing that he was forgoing a salary (actually his salary is now $1).

I do not have any stake in Fast Company - I simply recommend it highly to those interested in a good business magazine.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Must-Read Business Week Article

Thank you to for pointing me to this article. Business Week's cover story this week is "Beyond the Green Corporation", which highlights many large corporations focus on environmental and social and how that may be a must for these companies to survive long-term. The article gets into how Wall Street looks at such companies and notes that this sustainbility focus is something that "could help investors sort long-term survivors from the dinosaurs."

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Industry Behind Proposed Limit on Emissions

As mentioned in the second article I posted on Wednesday, January 17 (scroll past Wal-Mart post), there is some electric industry executives behind a proposal for Congress to cap CO2 emissions. Presumably, these are executives of companies who are already below whatever cap would be proposed and, thus, would benefit by trading their emission credits to companies who would not be under the limit.

Today, more information has surfaced about this topic. A group calling themselves "United States Climate Action Partnership" is composed of General Electric, DuPont, Alcoa, Caterpillar, Duke Energy in North Carolina, PG&E in California, the FPL Group in Florida, and PNM Resources in New Mexico. The group plans on making a formal announcement of their ideas and intentions on Monday prior to when President Bush will make this year's State of the Union speech. As alluded to above, their announcement will give details on a cap-and-trade system in which companies who do emit below the allowed cap can trade their credits to those companies who exceed the limit.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Starbucks Grant to Spur Neighborhood Transformation

Starbucks has made a $550,000 donation to help revitalize a park in King County, Washington. The hope of area residents is that the neighborhood will be revitalized also, as a result of the improved park. What the grant money will be used for is not exactly known at this point. One idea is that it will be used for materials and equipment to be used for the park's facelift, and the actual labor needed to work on the park will come from both volunteers from Starbucks and the local community.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wal-Mart Mislabeling Organics??? & Congress and Climate Change

This is a story to keep your eye on. A group that promotes sustainable farming is accusing Wal-Mart of mislabeling non-organic foods as organic. The advocacy group, The Cornucopia Institute, said that almost all of the Wal-Mart stores they checked in a five-state test had violations. In addition, The Cornucopia Institute claims to have found these violations back in September and reported them to Wal-Mart. When the group performed some tests recently, violations still occured.

The Cornucopia House has filed a complaint against Wal-Mart at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a result of these alleged violations.

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of this, if the charges are true, is the fact that, as the article points out, many people are unsure of what organics actually are, so these violations would only add to the confusion as people become less trusting of organics.
I also wanted to post an article that will appear in tomorrow's NY Times print edition. The article, titled "Bills on Climate Move to Spotlight in New Congress" (may require registration). Basically it speaks of a few of the ideas floating around Congress - and the fact that there are a few is good to hear.

One idea, capping carbon dioxide emissions, even has the support of some of the executives of the electric utility industry. That idea was criticized by one climate expert, Richard G. Richels, who feels that it will cause industry to use existing cleaner technologies, but not prompt investments in technological breakthoughts that are necessary.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to create a special committee on climate - unfortunately, according to the article, the reason for the committee is a way around Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, who strongly supports the automobile industry.

Barack Obama, who looks to throw his hat into the presidential contender ring, signed on to legislation that is co-sponsored by John McCain and Joe Lieberman.

The article also asks the question of what President Bush will do - his State of the Union is coming up, so what might he say about climate change. Of course, what he does is more important than what he says!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Starbucks to Switch to Healthier Milk

I was attracted to this article due to the seemingly negative headline it had. "Starbucks milk not doing a body good" is how chose to headline the story about how the coffee chain is aiming to replace all milk made with an artificial bovine growth hormone. The growth hormone, rBGH, is used to increase dairy production in cows. rBGH increases the hormone IGF-1 in both cows and the humans that consume products from cows who are given rBGH. "Elevated levels of IGF-1 is associated with increased cancer rates."

Interesting to note that the article states that Starbucks does not plan expanding this move to their stores in other countries. Why? rBGH is not allowed to be used in most other nations. It's primarily here that we'd rather shoot up cows to increase their milk production (and, thus, increase sales) at the expense of our own health. Pretty uncivilized, I'd say.

Great move by Starbucks on the heels of their recent pledge to rid trans fats from the food of half of their stores.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Ted Turner Getting in the Renewable Energy Game

Recently, Ted Turner recently announced he was starting a solar company in partnership with Dome-Tech Solar. The company, DT Solar, a Turner renewable energy company, will focus mainly on commercial and industrial clients.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Some Catalogs to Switch to Certified Paper

Not surprisingly, the ridiculous amount of junk mail that I receive on a daily basis is frustrating to me. Thinking of how most of my daily mail is full of credit card offers I don't want, flyers for stores I have no interest in, and catalogs for other stores I have no intent on even considering, it is amazing to think of all the waste that this causes when you consider how many others are feeling the same frustration. Since I have recently learned of two organizations - GreenDimes and - I am strongly considering using one of their services. You basically pay a fee and they will work to significantly reduce, if not completely rid, your mailbox from unwanted junkmail.

Since most of us will still be dealing with junkmail, it comes as good news that Williams-Sonoma and Victoria's Secret will begin printing their catalogs on paper sourced from sustainably managed forests - paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

This means that the Victoria's Secret catalogs and the catalogs put out by Williams-Sonoma, which includes Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Bed and Bath, Pottery Barn Kids, PBteen, West Elm and Williams-Sonoma Homa will be printed on this paper. While it would be better if they could better target those who actually want to receive these catalogs, this is a very positive step that others should follow.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Interview with Ben Cohen

Forbes printed this interview with Ben Cohen, one half of the founders of Ben & Jerry's. He talks of the power of business being the most powerful force to help society; his thoughts on specific companies and what they are doing in terms of corporate responsibility; and hwhy Ben & Jerry's acquisition by Unilever makes keeping with their mission harder. The main thing he speaks of, however, is Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (BLSP), an organization for which he serves as president.

The BLSP is composed of a bipartisan group of business leaders and military experts who are aiming to cut the Pentagon's budget by 13% and funnel the cut to education, healthcare, and homeland security. The thought is that the cuts would come from outdated weapons systems designed when the U.S. was in the midst of the Cold War. The plan also calls for cutting the number of nuclear weapons we had. As Cohen says, "We've currently got enough nuclear weapons to blow up the world ten times over. Our military advisers are saying cut it, save $10 billion, and we'll only be able to blow up the world four times over."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Focusing Green Building on Renovations

This article is about expanding the focus of 'green building' and the desire for LEED certification from mainly new construction to renovations. Considering renovating an existing structure is more environmentally friendly than constantly putting up new construction, it certainly makes sense. The article specifically focuses on the Rose Smart Growth Investment Fund, which acquires buildings near mass transit for investment purposes. They pay for the buildings to be renovated in a more environmentally-friendly way and find that they are able to increase rent even more per square foot than if they had simply renovated the buildings in a traditional way.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Michael Dell Wants to Plant Trees to Offset Electronics Pollution

Michael Dell made a suggestion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for companies in the electronics industry to plant trees to offset the pollution they cause. He also asked that other PC vendors follow Dell's lead and offer free recycling of used electronic equipment.

Speaking of electronics, their is an HDTV on the market that is apparently more environmentally-friendly than others on the market. The Sharp AQUOS Liquid Crystal TV apparently uses recycled materials and needs less power to operate. It also is built in a factory that uses solar energy for energy and reuses its water.

Monday, January 08, 2007

ExxonMobil Paid to Mislead Public about Global Warming

It's a few days old, but worth knowing about if you haven't already read this. It certainly wasn't surprising to read that ExxonMobil gave money toward an effort to discredit the science behind global warming. It is, however, a disgrace. It made me think of a discussion I had a few days ago.

A friend mentioned the other day his desire to invest in some companies that are in the alternative energy field in some capacity. While he didn't question the reality of global warming (he is, afterall, educated and does not have a professional or religious bias or agenda clouding his judgment), his desire to invest increased after speaking with a couple of friends of his who work for the National Science Foundation. These scientists - I believe he said one was a climatologist and one was an oceanographer - are thoroughly convinced of the reality of global warming (they are scientists, after all, and despite working in the U.S. government during this current administration, they don't need to let politics blind the debate - at least at this after-hours gathering). I gave my friend my opinion that these types of investments are tough - many of these alternative energy companies will fail and it's uncertain which technology will ultimately play the biggest role as more and more alternative energy is used. I also told him that I felt that when more research has been done to find what appears to be the technology that will be the 'winner', ExxonMobil will use their considerable cash to get in the game and buy whatever companies and/or technology look to be the leader.

In the meantime, I guess they will continue their unethical war on sound science.

"Army Energy Strategy for the End of Cheap Oil"

I found it incredibly interesting when I was sent this document. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that our military is acknowledging that we must begin to increase our use of more efficient energy sources, but I was. The authors, apparently from the United States Military Academy, conclude it's important economically and politically.