With New Gun Ban, Kroger Joins the Shopper Safety Movement

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

As if brick-and-mortar retailers didn’t have enough to worry about from the powerful e-commerce trend, the issue of shopper safety could also drive more people to get their goods online instead of walking into a store. Walmart seems to have recognized the danger with its latest shift in gun policy, and now retail giant Kroger has joined the mix.

State gun laws are not helping

Shopper safety is not an option. It is a matter of bottom line survival.

Businesses do in fact have the right to ban guns on their property. Nevertheless, few have been willing to take that step.

State and federal laws do not provide retailers with social cover for enforcing gun bans their property in all but a handful of U.S. states. The burden is fully on the stores.

Out of the 50 states, only five have laws on the books that prohibit open carry for both handguns and long guns, except under specified circumstances. Three others prohibit open carry for handguns only or long guns only, also with certain exceptions.

Although the odds of being killed by a gun in a retail store are slim, last month the Cincinnati Enquirer took a deep dive into the issue of guns at businesses and came up with some alarming numbers from the FBI, including the fact that almost half of mass shootings occur in a business setting.

Long before Kroger, Starbucks took the lead on shopper safety

Clearly there is a need for support from state lawmakers. That being unavailable, however, businesses have been begging for cooperation from gun owners.

Back in 2013 Starbucks, for example, issued a “respectful request” for customers to refrain from openly carrying guns in its stores, emphasizing that “this is a request and not an outright ban.”

In November 2016 Levi-Strauss CEO Chip Bergh also politely asked customers to refrain from bringing guns into the company’s retail stores, using the same “we respectfully ask” approach.

Even the massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas was not enough to change the terms of the conversation. Earlier this week, Walmart used the same “respectfully request” language to announce that it will discourage customers from open carry in its stores.

Additionally, Walmart put its managers on the spot by giving them discretion on how to deal with customers who carry openly in their stores. That includes letting the customer -- and their gun -- stay in the store.

Changing the conversation on shopper safety -- or not

A turning point may have been reached this week when the leading grocery giant Kroger announced that it is also requesting no open carry, even though none of its stores have been involved in a mass shooting within the most recent media cycles.

On the surface, it would appear that nothing has changed. As reported by CNN, Kroger is simply “respectfully asking” customers to refrain from open carry.

That’s despite years of pressure from the organization Everytown for Gun Safety and a lawsuit filed by the widow of a shooting victim in a Kroger location. The litigation cites 23 shootings in Kroger stores since 2012, with only two others taking place over the previous 21 years.

Signs of a stronger lobby for shopper safety

One thing has changed, though. CNN also notes that as with Walmart, Kroger is publicly allying itself with grassroots gun safety advocates, stating that “we recognize the growing chorus of Americans who are no longer comfortable with the status quo and who are advocating for concrete and common sense gun reforms."

In other words, the nation’s top retailers are continuing to toss the gun safety ball right back where it belongs: in the hands of the nation’s lawmakers.

Corporations can help move the needle on gun safety, but in the end, the responsibility for a national policy on gun safety belongs to those who hold the reins of legislative power in Washington, D.C.

Be sure to join us this fall at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., on October 29-30, 2019. One theme we’ll explore is how companies, with employees at the helm, are reinventing themselves – whether it’s redefining their purpose, making social impact commitments or finding where to put a stake in the ground. Receive a 25 percent discount using this code NEWS2019BRANDS when you register here.

Image credit: Virginia Retail/Flickr

Prime
Off
SEO Title
With New Gun Ban, Kroger Joins the Shopper Safety Movement
Description
Kroger has asked customers to not openly carry guns into its stores even though none of its locations were involved in the recent spree of mass shootings.
Newsletter Sent
On

Corporate Action Continues as Amazon Fires Grow

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

The thousands of fires consuming the Amazon rainforest this year (as shown in the NASA photo above) have brought international attention and alarm. This year has seen an 89 percent increase in fire hotspots compared to the end of August 2018, a number of Amazon fires that hasn’t seen since in almost a decade.

In the face of lukewarm rhetoric from the Brazilian government concerning the fires, companies are taking action. Last week, days after Brazil’s government rejected funding from the United Nations G7 for fighting the fires, VF Corp — the company that owns brands including Timberland, Vans and the North Face —said it will pause purchasing supplies, including leather, from Brazil.

The company said in a statement they would resume purchases when “we have the confidence and assurance that the materials used in our products do not contribute to environmental harm in the country.”

The background on the Amazon fires

Cattle ranching is one of the main industries that is encroaching on the Amazon. Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at Brazil’s space research center (INPE) told CNN 99 percent of the fires in the region have resulted from human action. Even in the dry season, the rainforest rarely catches fire naturally. Environmental organizations place the blame on cattle ranchers, loggers and miners.

Corporate action is vital as Brazil’s last two administrations have put economic development over ecological protection. The current administration, under President Jair Bolsonaro, has made its skepticism of climate change clear.

Bolsonaro campaigned on the Amazon’s economic potential. And since being elected in 2018, the president has taken specific action to clear the way for agriculture in the Amazon, including an executive order enabling the Agricultural Ministry to certify indigenous lands as protected territories, a change that indigenous groups claim would lead to “an increase in deforestation and violence against indigenous people.”

The president’s tune changed slightly after domestic and international pressure, including an EU threat to withdraw a trade deal. Bolsonaro placed a 60-day ban on intentional burning in the Amazon and deployed 44,000 troops to fight the fires.

“Forest fires happen all over the world, so this is no reason to impose international sanctions. Brazil will continue to be as it is now a country that is friendly with everyone and is responsible with protection its forest,” Bolsonaro said in a televised speech on August 23.

Despite the ban and military intervention, 2,000 new fires were burning in the Amazon only two days later.

Corporate action is putting pressure on Brazil

The rest of the world is imagining the earth’s lungs on fire; this is not just a national issue from the point of view of the global community.

While the world awaits the September 24 United Nations General Assembly meeting where Bolsonaro is expected to defend his policies in the Amazon, companies are voicing their disapproval.

Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised his company would donate to preserve and restore the Amazon forest.

The next day, representatives from oil firm Equinor, fertilizer-maker Yara and aluminum producer Norsk Hydro met with Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen on the topic of the Amazon.

Elvestuen told reporters, “[Companies] must be conscious about their supply chains and ensure that they do not help contribute to deforestation.”

Norsk Hydro told Reuters it is alert to its environmental footprint.

“Hydro has a bauxite mine in Para that respects environmental regulations. We use significant resources to replant and rehabilitate mining areas and we have a goal to conduct one-to-one reforestation of available areas,” a company spokesman told Reuters.

Investors are making their voices heard as well.

Norway’s biggest investors — Storebrand ASA and the pension fund KLP — have contacted companies to confirm that they do not contribute to environmental degradation.

“If there is evidence that we are invested in companies that contribute to develop new deforested land or deforest areas … we will withdraw from investments,” Jeanett Bergan, KLP’s head of responsible investments, told the Guardian.

What's next for the Brazilian government?

And back to VF Corp. Only five percent of the leather the company uses in its shoes and apparel comes from Brazil, according to the Guardian, but this sort of symbolic move has already affected Brazil’s economic image in the eyes of investors.

“The disaster has already been done to the environmental image,” Fabio Silveira, a director and partner at the São Paulo financial consulting outfit Macrosector, explained to the Guardian. “That means that the cost lenders put on Brazil’s environmental risk, previously regarded as close to zero, just went up.”

“Brazilian companies and the Brazilian government lose. Nobody can deny international banks put a cost on environmental risk,” Silveira added.

For a country climbing out of a recession and fighting a 13 percent unemployment rate, these repercussions add up. At this point, no one can ignore the fact that a laissez-faire policy with regard to the environment and global climate does not pay off.

Perhaps this mounting economic pressure on Brazil will open Bolsonaro to cooperation when he attends the U.N. meeting in September. Environmental scientists warn the Amazon is nearing its tipping point as fires continue to consume the forest. Global partnership is essential to avoid reaching that point.

Editor's note: Be sure to join us this fall at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., on October 29-30, 2019. One theme we’ll explore is how companies, with employees at the helm, are reinventing themselves – whether it’s redefining their purpose, making social impact commitments or finding where to put a stake in the ground. Receive a 25 percent discount using this code NEWS2019BRANDS when you register here.

Image credit: NOAA

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Corporate Action Continues as Amazon Fires Grow
Description
As the Amazon fires linger, more companies are speaking out against the Brazilian government; investors are making their voices heard, too.
Newsletter Sent
On

Groups Call for Equator Principles to be Strengthened

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

Environmental catastrophes are a reminder of how various international protocols, such as the Equator Principles, are critical at a time when millions of lives are at stake.

Right now, a horrific environmental and human tragedy is unfolding in the Brazilian Amazon, where thousands of illegally set fires are devastating the tropical landscape, encroaching into indigenous territories. The key drivers are farmers seeking land to grow soy and raise cattle, and their actions are often backed by Brazilian agricultural interests. Global corporate supply chains are directly connected, as various NGOs, including Mighty Earth, have identified Cargill, Marfrig, Blackrock, JP Morgan Chase and even the retailers Walmart and Costco as being connected to the Brazilian fires.

“Multinational corporations helped create these conditions for profiteering at the expense of the lungs of the earth – and these same companies are poised to profit further as today's fires open up the door for tomorrow's plantations and ranches,” said Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network and Friends of the Earth in a joint press statement.

How can this be happening? Deforestation has long been accepted as a global problem and numerous companies – including several implicated in the Brazil fires – have agreed to zero-deforestation and other ethical supply chain agreements. NGOs have placed special blame on financial institutions, foremost BlackRock, for funding local companies and enabling them to aggressively expand into the Amazon.

One of the largest mechanisms meant to ensure that financial institutions do not encroach on the rights of indigenous peoples, or otherwise harm the environment and local communities, are the Equator Principles. Initially formulated in 2003, the principles are voluntary guidelines for financial institutions to not fund projects that violate indigenous rights, harm labor standards, or damage the environment. Currently 97 financial institutions are members, but, unfortunately, that does not mean as much as it should. Case in point: The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

“13 of the 17 banks providing financing for DAPL were signatories to the Equator Principles,” said Steven Heim, Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management, during a recent interview with TriplePundit. “Without being strengthened the Equator Principles will lose relevance for both investors and banks.”

The DAPL situation is part of the reason that Boston Common Asset Management, along with 50 investors and organizations representing $2.9 trillion in assets, are calling on global financial institutions to strengthen the Principles so that situations like that do not occur again. They see this as a problem of will, particularly to change practices within institutions.

“If banks employ better risk management frameworks they will prevent contributing to human rights abuses and damage to their reputation,” said Heim. “It will also allow natural resource companies to retain access to resources and build long-term positive relationships with Indigenous Peoples.”

One key critique of the Equator Principles is that there is not a strong, built-in grievance mechanism that would allow indigenous peoples and other impacted communities to directly challenge members. Others believe that there need for more accountability so that members are held responsible when they fund or invest in projects like DAPL that disregard social and environmental principles.

The Equator Principles specifically mentions indigenous peoples for a reason. They play a key role globally in land management. Studies show that they are the best stewards of natural landscapes and biodiversity, live in regions with some of the planet’s densest carbon stock, and their traditions could show the whole world how we can live in balance with nature as we begin to see the impact of climate change. Despite this, they are under threat from land encroachment, development and other threats nearly everywhere they live.

There is also a need for financial institutions to ensure they only invest in companies that respect indigenous rights. The Brazil fires, which some fear could hit a tipping point and result in the Amazon no longer functioning as a living tropical forest, show just how much is at stake.

“Indigenous peoples play a critical role in stewardship of the world's forests and biodiversity including the Amazon as well as other rainforests and temperate forests,” said Heim. “Additionally, it's also important that a long-term view towards a thriving Amazon is taken which will benefit indigenous peoples and other stakeholders rather than adopting a shortsighted view of burning trees and brush for agriculture.”

The Equator Principles are currently under review, with a fourth iteration expected soon. Let’s hope that the Amazon fires along with concerted pressure from the coalition led by Boston Common Asset Management pushes the organization to add teeth to the principles. The planet, and indigenous peoples around the world, can no longer wait.

Editor's note: Be sure to join us this fall at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., on October 29-30, 2019. One theme we’ll explore is how companies, with employees at the helm, are reinventing themselves – whether it’s redefining their purpose, making social impact commitments or finding where to put a stake in the ground. Receive a 25 percent discount using this code NEWS2019BRANDS when you register here.

Image credit: Pixabay

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Groups Call for Equator Principles to be Strengthened
Description
Environmental disasters remind us how international protocols, such as the Equator Principles, are critical at a time when millions of lives are at stake.
Newsletter Sent
On

The CEO of Walmart Takes a Stand on Gun Violence

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

After tragedies in Mississippi and Texas, along with numerous incidents across the U.S. that involved citizens who had good and bad intentions, Walmart has taken an even firmer stand on firearms.

To those who thought the world’s largest retailer was being far too silent on gun violence, Walmart CEO Doug McMillion explained that the company’s priorities were first supporting its employees and affected families while working with law enforcement.

“We’ve also been listening to a lot of people inside and outside our company as we think about the role we can play in helping to make the country safer. It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable,” McMillon said in a public statement.

Adding to previous decisions to stop selling certain firearms, McMillon announced that Walmart will enact even more policies related to gun safety. These include discontinuing the sales of “short-barrel” rifle ammunition, cease selling of handgun ammunition and end all gun sales in Alaska, the last state in which Walmart still sells handguns.

And in a move that will certainly infuriate citizens who are adamant about what they say are their Second Amendment rights, McMillion asked that customers no longer openly carry firearms into any Walmart or Sam’s Club locations in states where “open carry” laws are on the books.

“As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same,” McMillon explained, mindful that these decisions will not please all of the company’s customers.

Additional steps Walmart said it will take include working with other retailers to make stores safer. “We will treat law-abiding customers with respect, and we will have a very non-confrontational approach,” McMillon said, inferring his company will move fast to adopt these new policies while making all customers feel welcome. “Our priority is your safety. We will be providing new signage to help communicate this policy in the coming weeks.”

Finally, McMillon made it clear that his company, as well as others in all industries, can no longer stay silent on the most polarizing issues of today. He urged the U.S. Congress and other political leaders to take action. “We encourage our nation’s leaders to move forward and strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who have been determined to pose an imminent danger,” he said. “We do not sell military-style rifles, and we believe the reauthorization of the Assault Weapons ban should be debated to determine its effectiveness.”

Whether everyone agrees with Walmart’s evolved stance on guns or not, it’s clear the company is moving in one direction. “In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again. The status quo is unacceptable,” McMillon said as he concluded his public letter.

Editor's note: Be sure to join us this fall at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., on October 29-30, 2019. One theme we’ll explore is how companies, with employees at the helm, are reinventing themselves – whether it’s redefining their purpose, making social impact commitments or finding where to put a stake in the ground. Receive a 25 percent discount using this code NEWS2019BRANDS when you register here.

Image credit: Pixabay

Prime
Off
SEO Title
The CEO of Walmart Takes a Stand on Gun Violence
Description
After tragedies in Mississippi and Texas, Walmart's CEO has taken a strong stand on gun violence, and is urging political leaders to take action.
Newsletter Sent
On

Can Electronics Manufacturers Make E-Waste Go Away?

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

As the United Kingdom’s government embarks on a landmark campaign to mitigate e-waste, should electronics manufacturers do more to promote circular-economy practices?

Recently the U.K.’s Royal Society of Chemistry surveyed 2,353 adults about how they approach electronics recycling. The organization found that 96 percent of consumers were keeping one or more small technology items, including laptops, mobile phones and MP3 players, stored at home. Of these people, fewer than one in five have plans to recycle the items, with two-thirds planning to hoard their electronics “indefinitely,” citing that data and security fears made them feel uneasy (37 percent) and that they did not know where to go to recycle old devices (29 percent).

Worldwide, the amount of e-waste is growing

Despite the data suggesting people are hoarding old electronic devices, the amount of e-waste across the globe is growing at an unprecedented rate. Worldwide, e-waste is expected to climb to nearly 7 kilograms (15 lbs.) of e-waste per person by 2022. Considering that many of the top-selling smartphones weigh around six ounces, that’s a significant amount of e-waste.

Government regulations, like the U.K.’s new e-waste management campaign, are starting to address safer methods of disposal, noting the harmful effects caused by improper disposal of toxic rare earth minerals found in electronics. An International Solid Waste Association study found that of the 44.7 metric tons e-waste generated in 2016, only 8.9 metric tons were collected and recycled, while the remaining was disposed into residual waste to be incinerated or landfilled.

The improper disposal of e-waste can lead to many negative environmental impacts, including the poisoning of human food chains. For example, a recent techUK study brought additional attention to how Europe's e-waste is affecting public health in Africa.

The report took at close look at the level of toxins in the Agbogbloshie district on the outskirts of Accra, Ghana’s capital. NGOs including Seattle-based Basel Action Network and publications such as the Guardian have long described Agbogbloshie as the site of the world’s largest e-waste dumping ground. Researchers at techUK found that eggs from chickens in Agbogbloshie, where large amounts of illegally exported e-waste from Europe end up, had 220 times the tolerable amount of chlorinated dioxins. Highly toxic, chlorinated dioxins are carcinogenic and can cause reproductive, hormonal and developmental problems, as well as damage to the immune system.

Are electronics manufacturers obligated to champion a circular economy?

While governments are beginning to raise awareness around e-waste issues, the question of how much responsibility electronics manufacturers should take is hard to ignore. After all, e-waste is a direct result from and a possible solution to revitalizing their supply chains. Of the finite natural elements commonly used in manufacturing electronics, 11 are at risk of running out.

Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, says it is committed to having a positive impact on the electronics industry by paving the way for more ethical sourcing. The company builds smartphones with responsible and sustainable materials, including recycled plastic, copper and tin as well as fair trade-certified gold. Their definition of “fair” is strongly influenced by the working conditions of the people mining the materials. Fairphone has set a goal to responsibly source 70 percent of these eight materials – tin, plastic, gold, tungsten, copper, cobalt, lithium and neodymium – by the end of 2020.

By forging new supplier and sub-supplier relationships and even shipping e-waste containers from countries like Ghana back to Europe in an effort to salvage batteries and recycle materials such as cobalt, Fairphone is showing the electronics industry what can be accomplished in an effort to spur industry-wide change.

One electronics company doing its part to promote a circular economy is HP. Since 2016, HP has been drawing attention to the impact of e-waste. HP says it is helping electronics hoarders let go of their unwanted devices by publicly offering recycling services, trade-in incentives, return for cash or donation options as well as to safely destroy data drives and other electronics at the end of their life cycle.

HP says it has used over half a million pounds of ocean-bound plastic in their products, and more than 80 percent of HP ink cartridges and 100 percent of HP LaserJet toner cartridges are manufactured with recycled content.

The company also supports events designed to inspire new ideas to push the circular economy forward. Recently, HP hosted a Massachusetts Institute of Technology event focused on moving away from the traditional approach of making electronics as take, make and dispose. Innovators were brought together to brainstorm solutions that could enable a shift in supply chains from linear to circular, helping to reduce waste and improve lives along the way. Organizers of the event say new solutions will be presented later this year.

Additionally, some colleges and universities across the United States already are teaching students how to repair electronics that would otherwise become e-waste.

With companies like Fairphone and HP working to create a circular economy for electronics, should other manufacturers like Samsung, LG Electronics and Apple do more? Marketing tactics like planned obsolescence—the practice of deliberately designing devices not to last—is regularly called out by activists for the harm it causes to people and the environment. One study brought to light that purchasing a new phone uses roughly the same amount of energy as using an older phone for 10 years. 

While many electronics manufacturers incentivize e-waste recycling with trade-in offers, these current programs clearly are not robust enough to revolutionize the supply chain and prevent people from hoarding their devices.

And, for those in the U.S. who may not know where to properly dispose of electronics, Best Buy and Staples stores offer free electronics recycling.

Image credit: Andrea Huyoff/Pixabay

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Can Electronics Manufacturers Make E-Waste Go Away?
Description
Many people are hoarding electronic devices while e-waste accumulates worldwide. Could electronics manufacturers do more to make this sector more circular?
Newsletter Sent
On

Repowering Rural New England Communities with Renewables

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

This time of year, vacationers from around the country flee the city to make their way to cool off along Maine's rocky coast and in the mountains and lakes of the Green and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. As the climate gets warmer, the summer season is getting longer, and conversely, winter tourism is suffering, with less snow to accommodate skiers and snow mobile riders.

Climate-minded communities across Northern New England are lessening their reliance on fossil fuels. Not only is a healthy planet an incentive, economics are a driving force. Consider that the northern New England states alone – Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont – spend $8.2 billion every year (66 percent of their total energy purchases) on imported fossil fuels. If these dollars were redirected toward local clean energy solutions, they could eventually cover 80 percent of the region’s energy needs via renewable heating and electricity, energy efficiency and electric vehicle transportation. 

New England’s businesses and residents are seeking clean energy solutions, and entrepreneurs and forward-thinking investors are responding. In recent years, northern New England states have established clean energy policies, goals and programs – the first step toward developing clean energy markets. However, these markets are still in the early stages. A substantial scale up in investment using both traditional and new investment approaches and a combination of existing and new capital sources is needed to make efficient, clean, renewable energy the first choice for heating, electricity generation and transportation.

Solar power is a perfect example. Across rural Maine, municipalities are increasingly flipping the switch to solar, made more affordable by creative financing solutions. The town of Tremont on rural Mount Desert Island, a summer vacation destination for more than a century, held a ribbon cutting ceremony earlier this year to celebrate its new solar array, installed on the town’s capped landfill. The array will generate 100 percent of the electricity needed for the town’s municipal buildings. The project was made possible through an innovative impact investment structure devised by the mission-driven community investor Coastal Enterprises (CEI) in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Maine. CEI and TNC teamed up to offer communities a cost-effective way to access power purchase agreements (PPAs) with developers/owners rather than shouldering the cost of installation.

Sundog Solar installed the 153kW solar array with no upfront cost to Tremont. Instead, the town has a six-year lease agreement with its special purpose LLC, Tremont Solar, created by Sundog to own and operate the equipment. In order to make the loan terms more appealing, TNC makes modest zero-interest loans to CEI to include in its lending package to solar developers like Tremont Solar. This enables CEI to charge a lower interest rate to the developer, who can then pass along that benefit to customers in the form of more attractive PPAs.  

Because of the loan terms it received from the CEI and TNC partnership, Tremont Solar is able to sell the power to the town at a rate that is expected to save $400,000 in electricity costs over the next 25 years. Furthermore, the town has the option to purchase the panels after six years, which could result in more savings. By reducing energy costs for municipalities, tax revenue is freed up for other community purposes.

Solar projects involving PPAs are by nature more complex investment structures, due to calculating the variable pricing of the multi-year electricity costs, not simply equipment and installation costs. To date, CEI has financed 7.1 MW of total solar production across 25 projects in Maine and New Hampshire, ranging from college campuses to the roofs of municipal water and sewage treatment facilities. 

While TNC is providing funds only for municipal and school solar projects—and has thus far participated in three projects with CEI—CEI sees this kind of innovative finance as an investment in the region’s future where climate investors can make a difference for people and the planet over the long term. Leveraging its specialty in constructing renewable, and specifically solar, energy transactions, CEI has recently launched a new subsidiary, Bright Community Capital, to focus on investing in solar projects in communities with low incomes.

These examples reflect the disproportionately rural nature of Northern New England, with Maine and Vermont topping the list as the country’s most rural states. An average of 61% of their populations live outside of urban or suburban areas (compared to a 19% average nation-wide). By creating both locally-sourced energy and new jobs, targeted investments at the clean energy transition will help these rural communities at a time when many are undergoing tough economic transitions. 

Rural residents and communities aren’t just consuming sustainable energy. Consumer demand is also fanning entrepreneurial innovations that can boost local economies. Given their geographical dispersion, rural residents are often the last to see electrical services restored following a major storm or outage, making generators a necessity.

CEI’s venture capital subsidiary, CEI Ventures, invested in Westbrook, Maine-based Pika Energy, which manufactures innovative battery storage technologies to capture, store and deliver solar power on demand. Pika’s backup battery storage gives customers new, cleaner options to both save money and keep the lights on during blackouts. Pika's model was recently validated when the company was acquired by Generac, a global leader in the design and manufacture of a wide range of residential, commercial, and industrial power products.

In 2019, TNC and CEI commissioned a report by Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), Advancing Clean Energy. It asserts that transitioning to a clean energy future will keep more of the region’s energy dollars local and attract new investment from outside the three states, demonstrating the win-win nature of a clean energy economy. 

The report states that approximately $100 billion would need to be invested in northern New England to meet 80 percent of the region’s energy needs with clean energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles. To put this investment in context, the region would otherwise import $82 billion in fossil fuels over the next decade. The largely private investment would be focused on upgrading the region’s transportation, buildings and electricity grids to transition to a clean energy economy.

Much of this transition boils down to enabling sound investment choices—for example, helping towns save money over the long-run by switching to solar. Market-based public policies, public funding, and innovative finance tools like those used by the CEI/TNC partnership can also play a key role in bridging the gap and reducing investor risk. What’s more, the dollars will be invested locally, expanding job growth and economic equity. 

Creating a future in which both people and nature thrive will require significant transformation of all energy sectors away from fossil fuels. Increasing the efficient use of renewable energy for both buildings and transportation creates jobs, stimulates the local economy, decreases air pollution, alleviates fossil fuel health impacts and helps mitigate climate change. The opportunity for creative thinking and innovative investment to make a critical impact has never been more clear.

Editor's note: we had the author wrong in an earlier version of this article. We sincerely apologize for the error.

Image credit: Linette Bumford/Unsplash

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Repowering Rural New England Communities with Renewables
Description
We highlight a few examples of how climate-minded communities in New England are lessening their reliance on fossil fuels by shifting to renewables.
Newsletter Sent
On

Partnerships Are Important to Improving the Sustainability of Animal Agriculture

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

This article series is sponsored by Smithfield Foods and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team. 

The global community finds itself in the midst of a quandary: how to provide adequate nutrition, including higher demand for protein, for a growing population that's expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 while reducing environmental impacts and utilizing natural resources in a more sustainable way. Finding solutions has risen to the top of the agenda at leading agricultural and food industry players such as Smithfield Foods, a U.S.-based $15 billion global food company and the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer. 

Creating and executing corporate sustainability plans often creates what may seem like strange bedfellows—leading environmental organizations partnering with multinational corporations, for instance. Breaking the mold that shaped their relationship marked by differing opinions decades ago, corporations and environmental organizations are now finding there's a lot of common ground between them. 

Smithfield "was the first major protein company to set an ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2025, which is the equivalent of removing 900,000 cars from our roads," company management highlights. Intra- and cross-sector partnerships play an important role in Smithfield's emissions-reduction and sustainability strategy, as they do across the agricultural sector. "Environmental stewardship requires a tremendous amount of innovation, ingenuity and unique problem-solving to truly address serious environmental challenges—and Smithfield has been proud to lead this process with several partners and projects," Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer for Smithfield Foods, told 3p. 

Partnerships are essential to minimizing impact  

The animal agriculture industry is under increasing pressure to offer healthier foods and distribute them in ways that reduce impact on the environment. That includes realizing dramatic reductions in the industry’s associated GHG emissions.

Smithfield and other food industry leaders are responding with ambitious sustainability plans that reduce energy, water usage and waste, and other forms of environmental pollution—in Smithfield’s case, throughout an organization that employs 54,000 people globally. 

In an effort to reduce its footprint, Smithfield is reaching out across the value chain, joining with suppliers and other business partners to find and implement ways to produce and transport more and healthier food with minimal environmental impact. The company also found a partner in the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). 

"While environmental stewardship is just one facet of our company’s industry-leading sustainability program, it includes a company-wide effort among all employees to aggressively reduce water and energy use and the amount of waste sent to landfill. However, being a part of true environmental sustainability involves much more than simply reducing our own environmental footprint. As part of our commitment to the environment, we have formed partnerships with environmental or environmentally-minded organizations, including EDF,” said Leeth. 

A holistic approach to raising hogs, bringing pork products to market

Smithfield takes a holistic, enterprise-wide approach in crafting and carrying out its sustainability plans, Leeth said. The company's emissions-reduction efforts, for example, span across its operations—including fertilizer optimization on grain farms and biogas projects on hog farms, equipment upgrades at company facilities, and the optimization of transport networks. 

Forming partnerships with like-minded organizations, both inside the industry and across sectors, are pivotal aspects of Smithfield's strategy. "Any company that sets an important goal and strategy to holistically reduce GHG emissions cannot do it alone: forming partnerships is invaluable at all stages of planning, execution, and measurement and reporting," Leeth told 3p.  

Smithfield’s work includes new business ventures and millions in capital investments to install waste digesters and manure lagoons covers on 90 percent of the company’s hog finishing spaces in four U.S. states. The initiative should go a long way toward helping Smithfield realize its emissions-reduction goals by creating renewable natural gas (RNG) from methane produced by manure. Smithfield's commitment  goes beyond manure lagoons at farms the company owns. It extends to include contract farms—independent farmers who raise hogs for Smithfield—and opens doors for other hog and livestock farms to join or follow their best practices and lessons learned. 

The company created the Smithfield Renewables platform in 2017 to further its emissions-reduction goals. The platform brings the company's carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts under one umbrella, so to speak. Emphasizing the holistic approach Smithfield has adopted in pursuing its sustainability goals, management likes to say that these efforts extend from "farm to facility to fork." 

The manure-lagoon covers and waste digesters Smithfield is installing at its hog farms in North Carolina, Missouri, Utah and Virginia capture GHGs, such as methane, convert them into RNG, and feed that RNG into natural gas pipelines for use off-site by energy customers. 

Smithfield's renewable energy efforts don't end with its investments in anaerobic digesters and RNG. The company is also installing wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems on its hog farms and facilities, reducing GHG emissions and providing clean power for its facilities and surrounding communities. 

Fostering energy efficiency and sustainable farming practices

It's said that a kilowatt-hour, or kilojoule, of energy saved is the cheapest and most effective means of reducing energy costs and helping to mitigate carbon emissions. Seeking to take advantage of this, Smithfield made multimillion-dollar investments to upgrade plant equipment, such as installing LED lighting and streamlining production processes to increase energy efficiency. The company also is making a strong push to reduce waste at its hog farms, as well as processing and distribution facilities. A number of our food manufacturing facilities "have already achieved zero waste-to-landfill status, which is not an easy accomplishment," Leeth highlighted.

Further up the supply chain, the company is fostering sustainable farming practices that optimize fertilizer and water use and minimize associated fertilizer run-off into waterways. "We started by providing agronomy advice and tools to farmers to help them incorporate more efficient practices that produce the same amount of grain using less fertilizer," Leeth explained. The initiative started in 2013, through a partnership with EDF.

As a result of these efforts, Smithfield recently surpassed its goal to source three-quarters of its feed grain from farms using efficient fertilizer and soil health practices. In addition to improving soil health and reducing GHG emissions, these efforts are also boosting Smithfield's financial bottom line by sourcing more local grain, the company says. 

Further downstream toward consumers, Smithfield is working to redesign and produce packaging that is more sustainable. It’s also re-configuring its transportation network so as to reduce the distance its hogs and products travel by as many as 19 million miles in the next five years. The company estimates that these efforts collectively will save more than $50 million in transportation-related costs, while reducing GHG emissions significantly. 

“Our sustainability efforts are having a positive impact on the environment while generating additional value for our company and our business partners, creating a win-win situation for everyone involved,” stated Leeth. “Ultimately, it further showcases our company’s commitment to producing good food in a responsible way.” 

Image courtesy of Smithfield Foods

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Partnerships Boost the Sustainability of Animal Agriculture
Description
Executing corporate sustainability plans often creates what may seem like strange bedfellows—leading environmental organizations partnering with multinational corporations, for instance.
Newsletter Sent
On

Your Labor Day Weekend Sustainable Travel Reader

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

With the unofficial end to summer occurring the day many of us are traveling for our last long weekend of the year, we here at TriplePundit thought we’d help end your Labor Day weekend with some updates in the world of sustainable travel.

Bye-bye, single-use plastics in your hotel room.

In case you missed it, Marriott International announced last week that it will eliminate those nifty travel sized bottles of toiletries from its hotel rooms by the end of 2020. That news came after the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), which includes chains such as Holiday Inn and the boutique Kimpton Hotels, said they would also nix those goodies before 2022. Many of these hotels branded as Marriott or IHG have already done so, motivated by either costs or a commitment to sustainability. So, get used to seeing large refillable bottles atop the bathroom counter and in the shower caddies. And no, those big bottles are not to be taken home (we know, it’s tempting).

Not everyone is impressed with these hotel chains’ moves.

“Even if replacing miniature toiletries does reduce waste somewhat—as other hotel chains join the movement and California moves to ban them—a transition to bulk products will barely put a dent in the plastic waste that now clogs the planet’s rivers and oceans,” wrote Yossi Sheffi for Quartz. “It is another ‘feel good’ initiative which help avoid the move to more serious actions that can actually make a difference.”

Sheffi has a point, but again, these decisions are all about scale – if more hotel and hospitality companies do the same, all of us travelers will get used to the “new normal” of not being able to swipe those mini-toiletries during the first five minutes after checking into our hotel rooms. This is an action that won’t hurt and at a minimum, can help prevent some single-use plastics from entering our waterways.

Sustainable travel, socially: use caution when geo-tagging

For many of us, Instagram is a safe zone in the world of social media. You generally don’t have the level of trolling on Twitter or the annoyance of those fourth cousins of yours on Facebook. But sometimes, too much of a good thing can harm the environment – as in geotagging your selfie.

The travel company G Adventures brings up the point that at times, geotagging a fabulous spot may cause more problems than a previously untouched corner of the earth can handle. Citing an example of a location in one of Wyoming’s national parks, G Adventures' blog noted, “It only takes one viral picture to spark a trend that results in greater human footfall than nature can handle. Thousands of travelers lining up to take the exact same picture can desecrate and forever destroy the planet’s most beautiful landscapes.”

Similar rules apply when it comes to taking pictures of kids you don’t know, culturally sensitive sites, animals, fashion choices (remember your incident in Abu Dhabi, Rihanna?) and of course, those selfies in dangerous locations.

Will we see more electric vehicle-friendly highways soon?

If you’re currently in the market for an electric vehicle, as I currently am (Kelley Blue Book has never seen so much love in its existence), there’s always that nagging question: what if I want to go on a road trip or away for the weekend? Yes, it’s true most of our driving is around town – but there are some of us who’ll be happy if we never have to visit a gas station or rent a car again. Well, apparently more electric vehicle charging stations are coming to the Trans-Canada Highway – in Saskatchewan! Come on . . . if they can build them in Saskatchewan, they can build them anywhere. After all, the entire province has about five people per square mile, compared to 13,590 people per square mile in Vancouver, Canada’s most densely populated city.

Yes, vegan restaurants are a thing.

Forbes recently noted that the U.S. now has over 24,000 vegan-friendly restaurants in the U.S., and almost 1,500 exclusively across the country. And no, they just aren’t located in the usual suspects like California, New York, Austin and Seattle. Whether you are flexitarian or strictly vegan, Happy Cow is among several web sites and apps that can help you find the right place to nosh if you happen to get famished. If Forbes is applauding this trend, you can rest assured this isn’t some passing fad! Unlike a decade ago, if you are determined to avoid animal products during your travel, you’re no longer relegated to French fries or the salad bar.

More options for luggage made out of recycled materials.

For those of us that remember suitcases with only a handle, (or heaven forbid, garment bags) those lightweight rollaway travelers with wheels and backpacks that can scrunch into a something the size of your fist were a godsend. Well, travel bags are becoming more sustainable. Patagonia, for example, said it recently consumed 10 million plastic bottles for its latest line of duffel bags. We showcase a few more ideas here.

And finally, if you’re traveling with your dog Labor Day weekend, or at any time . . .  

Labor Day road trips, or any trip with your dog, can be rewarding, especially if he or she is part of a photo shoot at one of the U.S. national parks (as Whiskey, in the photo above, experienced yesterday at Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park). But traveling responsibly with your dog involves common sense, advance planning and awareness about some sensitivities of the local environment. Most National Park Service (NPS) locations welcome dogs (and cats) within developed areas and campgrounds – but for obvious reasons, not on most hiking trails. The NPS hosts a great site of suggestions, no-no’s and updates on pet policies.

Happy road tripping, and travel safe!

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Your Labor Day Weekend Sustainable Travel Reader
Description
We decided to help end your Labor Day weekend with some updates in the world of sustainable travel and responsible road trips.
Newsletter Sent
On

Energy Companies Annoyed by EPA Methane Emissions Reversal

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

As Americans prepare to drive home during one of the biggest travel weekends of the year, it’s a reminder of how energy policy has drastically changed over the past 30 months. In the Trump administration’s latest move, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rolled back more “redundant” regulations, including rescinding limits on methane emissions.

“EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a public statement. “The Trump Administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use.”

The oil and gas industry has long maintained it is doing what it can to minimize methane emissions, which by most accounts are believed to be 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane leaks are a pesky challenge across the entire natural gas industry’s value chain, but at the same time they have inspired innovation as established energy companies and startups alike try to prevent methane gas from emitting into the planet’s atmosphere.

Curiously enough, several energy companies are pushing back against the Trump administration’s decision, arguing such regulations governing methane are a net positive.

“The best way to help further reduce and ultimately eliminate methane emissions industrywide is through direct federal regulation of new and existing sources,” said Susan Dio, BP America’s chair and president, in a Houston Chronicle op-ed. “From an efficiency standpoint, a single set of regulations created by the Environmental Protection Agency would be preferable to a patchwork of regulations created by multiple federal or state agencies.”

As Bloomberg’s editorial board noted:

“ . . . the rules introduced under President Barack Obama were hardly onerous. They required oil and gas companies to take action to prevent methane leaks from new wells, pipelines and storage tanks. Methane, unlike carbon dioxide, is a fuel, so companies have reason to do this anyway. And existing wells, which outnumber new ones, would have plenty of time to adapt: The EPA would have taken years to develop new standards for them.”

Plenty of stakeholders in the energy sector are shaking their heads, too. “[The ruling] is another dangerous, ill-advised maneuver that aims to sabotage climate action while flying in the face of investor concerns,” the sustainability advocacy organization Ceres said in a public statement. “Methane is a valuable product for oil and gas companies and their investors, who see methane leaks as a waste of assets.”

The EPA’s own data suggests the rollback of these regulations governing methane could release an additional 370,000 tons of additional methane emissions between now and the mid-2020s – or the equivalent of 9 million more cars driving America’s roads, according to Forbes.

Investors are beginning to respond as well, as a group of 140 investors backed by $5.5 trillion in assets under management have urged 35 companies across the oil and gas sector to oppose the EPA’s rule changes. The letter’s authors have asked energy companies to go a step further and make it clear that they support federal regulations of methane emissions.

The bottom line is that as renewables continue to surge while more consumers are aware of the natural gas industry’s environmental impact, energy companies don’t need more news that casts them in yet even more negative light. After all, the EPA regulations that had governed methane emissions served the public interest. It may be true the current White House occupants are the oil and gas industry’s friends; nevertheless, the fossil fuels-friendly EPA gave the energy companies a gift they don’t necessary want or need.

Image credit: Matthew Henry/Unsplash

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Energy Companies Annoyed by EPA Methane Emissions Reversal
Description
Energy companies are pushing back against the recent EPA methane emissions reversal, arguing such regulations governing methane are a net positive.
Newsletter Sent
On

This All-Girls Charter School Is Out to Close the Gender Gap in STEM

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

(Image: The Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW), an all-girls charter school that's out to close the STEM gender gap with a focus on "whole girl" education.) 

This article series is sponsored by the SunTrust Foundation and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

The recent 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing meant the resurrection of images depicting NASA’s anxious mission-control analysts, almost all of whom were white males, sporting white shirts, black ties and crewcuts. As far as 1969 viewers were concerned, rocket scientist was a job for men with bad haircuts.

Jump ahead half a century, and notions have changed about who can be a mathematician or a scientist—and the number of women and minorities in those fields has increased. At the same time, old perceptions persist: Over the past 20 years, studies have shown that when asked to draw a scientist, girls drew men more than twice as often as they drew women, and boys almost always sketched men.    
  
While girls’ lack of participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses was once dismissed as a lack of interest or ability, research shows girls are just as capable as boys when it comes to higher-level math and science. Female high-school and college students, for example, fare as well as males in math and science courses, although males tend to score higher on the math portion of the SAT. But in the end, only 6.7 percent of women earn a college degree in a STEM field, versus 17 percent of men. When it comes to minority women, the figures are even lower: From 2015 to 2016, only 2.9 percent of all STEM degrees were earned by African-American women and 3.8 percent by Latinas.  

Fueled by recent studies and real-life successes, some stakeholders are embracing single-sex schools as the best way to close the persistent gender gap in math and science fields. The leaders of the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW), an all-girls public charter school in Wilmington, North Carolina, for example, are hopeful that this model will not only be life-changing for low-income, struggling students, but also benefit society at large. 

Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington students

(Image: Students at the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington.)

 

GLOW: All-girls education focused on STEM, empowerment and the arts

The school starts its third year this month in a new building, with students in sixth-through-ninth grades. One hundred new students, selected by lottery, are enrolling every year until the school is fully populated with sixth-through-12th graders.

GLOW focuses on STEAM (STEM plus the arts), offering rigorous academics and an education model designed to help girls develop confidence, positive self-images, and leadership skills on their way to earning a high-school diploma and enrolling in college, the school’s leaders say.

Just getting students into college, though, is not GLOW’s end goal. The school’s long-term mission is to produce college graduates who transition confidently into society.

“We have set out to create a system so students can develop academic and thought skills to navigate into middle-class America,” says GLOW Principal Laura Hunter. “It takes time, it takes resources, and it takes intentionality that is outside the norm. High-school graduation is not the finish line for us—it’s the beginning. Our finish is happy, healthy adults who are engaged in their communities.” 

And GLOW’s staff members are convinced that empowering girls can ultimately push future families up the economic ladder. “The reality of poverty is that it lies most heavily on the shoulders of women and children,” Hunter says. “We have to work with women to claim financial independence in adulthood and build stronger, more resilient family structures that move toward the accumulation of wealth.”

U.S. women are 35 percent more likely to live in poverty than men, with single mothers particularly affected. More than one-third of single mothers are considered poor, according to Legal Momentum, an advocacy group for women and girls in the U.S.

Single-sex education: A solution for the STEM gender gap? 

GLOW is part of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, a group of all-girls schools founded in New York in 1996. “It was very evident that what was being done by the leadership network was the leading model for girls in closing the achievement gap and persisting through high school and graduating from college,” says Todd Godbey, GLOW Academy CEO.

Part of that is due to removing the ultimate distraction, the opposite sex. Studies show that girls in single-sex schools are less concerned about appearance, dating and sexuality, and they report more confidence in their science, computer and math skills without boys in the classroom. Low-income students in single-sex schools also score higher on standardized tests in mathematics, reading, science and civics, compared to those in co-ed schools.

Building girls’ STEM skills can also be easier in single-sex schools, where girls are not as self-conscious. “We have a number of girls reporting that their favorite subject is math or science, but after middle school, they no longer have confidence in math and science,” Hunter says. “So the first step is keeping that love alive in middle school. That takes confidence-building, ways to do hands-on math and science, and field trips. Over time, we provide lots of experiences in building those skills. [For example], we have a lab entirely focused on problem-solving involved with engineering.” 

GLOW students at lunch

(Image: GLOW students sit down for lunch on the first day of the 2019 school year.) 

Supporting girls for a successful future

Many GLOW students enter with additional challenges on top of the usual teen angst. Ninety-percent of students are from low-income families; 55 percent are African-American, 18 percent Latina, and 35 percent white or mixed race. Most of the students are one or more years behind academically, and many have troubled home lives, so the school provides extensive support services for students and families.

Despite those challenges, many students have shown gains in reading over the two years they’ve spent at GLOW, though math scores are improving more slowly. “The process of catching students up to grade level takes time,” Godbey explains. “We don’t ask what is wrong with a child; we ask what has happened to that child. We have a lot of student support staff, and we are committed to ‘whole-girl' education. We have to find out what’s causing the trauma and work with the family.”

Instilling more skills that match workforce demand is another GLOW mission. “GLOW is attempting to look at the community and the job sector around us, listen to what they need, and provide kids with those skills,” Hunter notes. “[These are the ability to] collaborate, write, advocate, meet deadlines and manage time, all things the modern workforce needs. We intentionally teach students how to participate in collaborative groups, project management and group discussions. We also encourage them to fail on their way to a goal. We have to make those opportunities available for them to develop those skills.”

Knowledge-sharing promotes innovation in education 

With so much to manage, the support and knowledge that GLOW receives from other schools in the leadership network have been critical to its development as a school and a potential resource for others. “We learn from each other every day,” Godbey says. “We get together several times a year to share ideas, best practices, issues and lessons learned. We usually take more than we give at this point because we are a younger affiliate.” 

GLOW administrators have also provided advice to other schools starting up. “Even though we are relatively new, we are actively helping the next generation,” Godbey told us. 

As it builds its new model, GLOW’s leadership also recognizes a responsibility to promote successful strategies to the larger education community. “It is our job to be potential incubators of innovative ideas, and the next step is to share those,” Godbey notes. “We have clear indicators that things are going well, but we are not at the share stage yet.”

Images courtesy of the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW)

Prime
Off
SEO Title
All-Girls Charter School Is Out to Close the STEM Gender Gap
Description
With the help of private-sector partners, this North Carolina school is out to close the gender gap in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) fields through hands-on education focused on the "whole girl."
Newsletter Sent
On