Why Consumers Should Welcome Scientists to the Farm and Table

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By Andrew Kuyk

Innovation and technology can help make what we eat tastier and more sustainable, says the Food and Drink Federation.

Putting science and food in the same sentence makes many people feel a bit uncomfortable, but we see nothing scary about the innovation and technology in instant coffee, or tomato ketchup, or any of the hundreds of familiar processed food products the safety, convenience, quality, consistency and shelf-life of which we take for granted every day. We have even come to assume that it is "natural" to have fresh fruit and vegetables all year round, without any thought about delayed ripening, artificial atmospheres and extended growing seasons. We are simply used to buying what we want, when we want it, without any real idea about how it gets to the shelves – or whether it will be there tomorrow.

In part, these assumptions are a result of the growing disconnect in modern urban societies between what we eat and where it comes from. Some children don’t know that milk comes from cows, let alone what pasteurisation is. Some adults would be at a loss to say what does or doesn’t grow on trees or come out of the ground. Another factor is the success of the food industry in providing us with effortless choice and abundance, come wind or weather. But what if the weather is repeated drought, and the wind a hurricane? What if climate change helps spread new animal and plant diseases with the potential to devastate yields – the food equivalent of ash die-back? What would we give then for resistant crop strains and effective animal vaccines – or for varieties that can be grown with less water and in poorer soils? Or for food technologies that extract every ounce of goodness from what can be grown, and help make products last even longer – so that we can eat them all up, without throwing half away when they spoil?

A sustainable supply of food isn’t our only concern. We also want our food to be healthier and taste good with less salt, fat or sugar, and ideally give us additional nutrients as well.

How do we think all this can be achieved if we leave science out of the equation? And why should food be the one area of human activity where we turn our backs on how to achieve our aims more efficiently? Where would we be in transport, medicine or communications if we had stopped investing in research and development? In a world where we need to produce more from less, and with less environmental impact, we cannot afford to close our minds to what new technologies may have to offer, or to imagine that business as usual will do.

For countries under severe pressure to produce more food, getting smarter with science to meet future demand is simply common sense, not vested interest on the part of big business. China, for instance, has around 20 percent of the world’s population, but only 9 percent of global arable land and 6 percent of water resources.

We need to build trust before empty shelves start dictating our choices


Of course, safety has to come first, for people and for the planet. There should be rigorous assessment, and decisions must be founded on evidence. If we are to make progress before empty shelves or empty pockets start dictating our choices, we need to build trust and engage in rational public debate. That is a task for government and the whole food chain. And for scientists and consumers, too.

Andrew Kuyk is Director, Sustainability Division at the Food and Drink Federation. Green Futures is the leading magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures.

[image credit: Joseph Robertson: Flickr cc]

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Coca-Cola and WWF Partner on Arctic Ice Region

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Climate change is one of the most serious issues of our day. Take the Arctic sea ice, which covers an area about the size of the U.S. Between 1978 and 1996, Arctic sea ice decreased by an estimated six percent, losing an average of 345,300 square kilometers a year, an area larger than the Netherlands, according to Worldwatch Institute. The average thickness of Arctic sea has thinned also.

From the 1960s to the mid-1990s, Arctic sea ice thickness decreased from 3.1 meters to 1.8 meters, a 40 percent decrease in less than 30 years. The Arctic Greenland Ice Sheet, the largest land-based ice mass outside of Antarctica, has thinned over a meter a year on average since 1993 along parts of its southern and eastern edges. Loss of Arctic ice means polar bears lose their habitat.

Enter the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Coca-Cola Company which launched a partnership in 2011 to help preserve an area of the Arctic sea ice. The WWF created a management plan for an area in Canada and Greenland that has a "safety net" of ice that many scientists think will last longer than other places. The WWF calls this place the "Last Ice Area," which covers about 500,000 square miles, or twice the size of Texas. The management plan covers many needs, including:


  • Conserving the habitat for Arctic ice-dependent species, including polar bears

  • Protecting the cultural heritage of local people

  • Improving livelihoods

Coca-Cola launched the Arctic Home campaign in 2011 to raise awareness and funds. In the fall of 2011, Coca-Cola launched a limited edition Arctic Home Coke can, and added white bottle caps on Coke and other Coca-Cola products. The limited edition Coke cans and white bottle caps, in stores from November 1, 2011 to February 2012, featured a mother polar bear and two cubs trekking across the Arctic. The company re-launched the Arctic Home campaign on December 1, 2012. As part of the second phase of the Arctic Home campaign, Coca-Cola has brought back the memorable Coke cans with the mother polar bear and her two cubs. The cans will be on store shelves until February.

As part of the first phase of the Arctic Home campaign, Coca-Cola invited its customers to donate to WWF by texting the package code. Through its customers' donations, and its matching funds, almost $1.8 million was raised. The company is doing the same thing this year, and is committed to matching up to $1 million in donations through February 15, 2013. Coca-Cola almost committed to donating $2 million over a five-year period.

This is not the first partnership between WWF and Coca-Cola. Since 2007, WWF & Coca-Cola have worked together to improve the company's water efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within its manufacturing operations. The company set the goal of reducing GHG emissions five percent in developed countries by 2015, a goal it has already exceeded. In 2011, the GHG emissions levels from the company's operations in developed countries were nine percent below 2004 baseline emissions.

Image source: World Wildlife Fund

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135976
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Solar Power Finds a New Home at General Mills' Plant in Spain

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Solar panels are a familiar sight in Spain. The Iberian Peninsula’s hot sunny weather has been great for the country’s reputation as a year-round travel destination, but it’s also helped Spain establish a respectable footing in the solar power market.

Locations like Sevilla, in southern Spain, which captured the media’s attention in 2008 with the construction of what was, at the time, the world’s largest concentrated solar tower put Spain on the renewable energy map. Photovoltaic installations however, with their sprawling farms of thousands of solar panels, continue to face a fundamental challenge: finding enough horizontal space that won’t displace the area’s agricultural and urban needs.

Nowhere has this need been more obvious than in northern Spain’s renewable energy capital, the Chartered Community of Navarra, where more than 60 percent of its annual electricity needs are met with renewable energy (81 percent in 2011, per Navarra’s president, Miguel Sanz). Here, space is at a premium, and companies with large, flat rooftops are often viewed with envy.

“It is not very sustainable to install your solar panels (on agricultural land),” explains John Roszbach, who serves as the plant manager for the General Mills plant in San Adrian, Navarra, Spain.

Roszbach, who recently helped General Mills complete an agreement for the lease of approximately 250,000 square feet of its rooftop to MB Solar calls renting out the plant’s rooftop a “win-win" situation. “They can install their solar panels and generate green electricity, and they are not occupying land that we could use for other sustainable uses."

Green energy is not only a booming business in this semi-rural community, it’s a point of pride for its residents. It creates jobs and is viewed as a viable part of the local economy.

So when MB Solar received word that the plant would be able to lease its rooftop, the company fanned out through the community looking for investors. Installing enough panels to make the project profitable would take about $3 million, says Roszbach – more than a small, local company would normally have on hand.

The result was a multi-level partnership between General Mills, MB Solar, 16 other local businesses and private citizens, and the local power company.

“(They are) all local investors and what I know is they are very proud to own a part of the roof."

Investors range from semi-large companies to “a person who owns 10 or 20 of these solar panels." So the investment, says Roszbach, “is open to everybody. For them it’s also a nice way of investing their money, showing that they have a green heart and a green mind. And that’s not a joke. It’s really how (the community) feels about it. So it’s for the local people.”

The rooftop is leased to MB Solar for 25 years, which oversees the solar installation. The panels are owned by the investors, and the electricity that is generated is picked up by the Spanish power company Iberdrola. The arrangement creates jobs for residents, investment potential for local businesses and provides a suitable location for energy production that doesn’t interfere with other local industries.

In return for the lease of its rooftop, the plant receives 7 percent of the annual value of the electricity that is harvested for the next 25 years. It’s a win-win arrangement for the plant as well, says Roszbach.

“(Our plan is to) reinvest this money every year in green projects that we have inside the plant,” which he says complements General Mills’ own sustainability goals. “So there will be a loop of green money flowing into the system, which I really like.”

Plus, says Roszbach, it allows them to meet the company’s goals for “continuous improvement” by establishing sustainability targets that are then paid for by the lease of their rooftop.

The arrangement, however, was not a short process. The Minneapolis office first had to approve the proposal and the roof had to be tested for durability for 4,500 solar panels. Finally, the investors had to be notified. In all, it took almost three years for the solar project to be launched. But Roszbach feels the project was worth it. Not only does it “give back to the community” but it has piqued interest from other plants, as well as by other companies around the world that wanted to know how to pursue similar arrangements.

“We are now beginning to share our knowledge … with other facilities all over the globe, says Roszbach, who expressed a hope that General Mills’ San Adrian project may help encourage more sustainable use of space for solar power production.

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Making the Business Case for the Flu Shot

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By Julie Graham

It’s flu season, again.  Influenza, in its many forms, is as predictable as death and taxes. Flu is pandemic. Flu is unique among common illness in that it happens every year, around the world, affecting millions, and commanding resources.  Many of us are guilty of labeling every cough, sniffle, tummy upset and body ache, from November to April, as “ the flu.”  Often dismissed as an inconvenience, we weigh the benefits of getting the flu shot, to how well it suits our lifestyle. With an overwhelming degree of empirical evidence to support its benefit, and an underwhelming availability of data to the contrary, vaccination against the flu remains a debate of feverish proportions.

Who is behind the tactics of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, which propagate to keep the citizenry from getting the flu shot?  I don’t claim to know, however, it is as if there is a sort of witch hunt in our society to associate vaccinations with a spectrum of deficits within the neuro-cognitive sphere. As a health scientist, it is hard to come up with any relationship between the two, and harder still, to find the evidence.

This leads us to making the business case for the flu shot. What is the problem analysis? What is the environmental analysis? What is the cost vs. benefit? What about feasibility? What are the assumptions and risks? What about project execution and evaluation? Good news! The work has been done. The United Nations has been monitoring and analysing the incidence and prevalence of flu for, literally, generations, and not only does the evidence support vaccination, but the methodology has been repeated over time, and is so efficient, that the United Nations (which has a stake in both the World Health Organization and the World Bank), supports and endorses programs for global vaccination.

The healthcare industry is the second largest contributor of industrial waste.  The flu season causes surges in healthcare expenditure and utilization of non-renewable resources. Hospitalization and care of the sickest of the flu patients incurs sometimes non-recuperable costs related to nursing and medical care, drugs, specialized equipment, as well as lost labor  and utilization of benefits for those affected.

The energy usage for treatment translates into environmental cost, as most modern hospitals have not yet converted to renewable energy sources. Additionally, patients with respiratory compromise from the flu receive necessary, empirical coverage of broad spectrum antibiotics. These antibiotics end up down road in the waste stream, contributing to water contamination and drug resistance.

Within the community, there are concerns too. The aforementioned sneezes, sniffles, coughs and aches cause millions of us to seek out treatment at local clinics and doctors offices every year. Most of us understand that antibiotics are useless to treat the viral etiology of influenza, however, antibiotics continue to be prescribed at staggering rates for these symptoms, further contributing to the potential for water contamination and antibiotic resistance.

The business case is clear. The flu isn't going away. However, the resources required to manage the illness are diminishing. Vaccines are inexpensive, approximately $8-16 dollars a shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They are abundantly available and empirically supported to be safe as the evidence has shown. The return on this investment is an immeasurable benefit to life and livelihood, environmental protection and resource efficiency.

Julie Graham is a guest author and Registered Nurse from Southern California.  A former student of Policy and Sustainability at  Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, she is now pursuing her Doctorate in Nursing Practice from the University of San Diego.

[image credit: Samantha Celera: Flickr cc]

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Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg: The Next 20 Years of Organics

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This post originally appeared on the Green Money Journal blog.

By Gary Hirshberg, chairman and co-founder of Stonyfield

When thinking about our future, I can’t help but think of the past. I often joke that back when we started Stonyfield in 1983, you couldn’t even use the words “organic” and “industry” in the same sentence.

With just seven cows and hardly any consumers understanding “why” it made sense to eat organic, we had no supply, and no demand. Today, our annual sales are over $360 million, and the rest of the organic industry has continued to grow right alongside us. In the U.S., sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to over $31 billion today. Even during the recent economic downturn the organic sector grew at a much faster pace than the conventional food sector. Organic food sales now represent about five percent of all U.S. food sales. The organic industry grew by nine percent in 2011, adding new jobs at four times the national average. Organic is a growth engine for the economy.

What’s driving this continued growth? The simple answer is: the public. Every day more people are deciding they want to take control of their health by taking control of their diet. Hardly a day goes by without another story breaking about a food supply scare. Pink slime in our burgers, antibiotics in industrial livestock production leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, arsenic in our chicken, salmonella on our cantaloupe – the list goes on.

For others, it can be a more personal life event, such as a pregnancy or a diagnosis of cancer or diabetes, that leads people to a new awareness of how the food they eat affects their health, or the health of their unborn children. In recent years, we’ve learned that prenatal exposure to pesticides can result in lower birth weight, delayed cognitive development, ADHD diagnoses and even lower IQ. It’s been shown that we can avoid many of these risks by eliminating our exposure to pesticide residues in our diets. As columnist Nicholas Kristof reported in The New York Times two years ago, “The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: ‘chemicals threaten our bodies.’” Four out of every 10 Americans will have cancer in their lifetime, the report stated. The 2010 panel, whose members were appointed by the Bush administration, recommended limiting your exposure to chemicals by eating foods produced without pesticides as one way to lower cancer.

With cancer, diabetes, obesity and allergens on the rise, people want to know more about their food. At Stonyfield, we hear from people 24/7 asking about ingredients, where they’re from, and how they’re grown. Often they are overwhelmed with contradictory information. There is considerable confusion over the difference between organic and natural, for example – and whether there is any difference at all. Unscrupulous companies have led consumers to believe that "natural" products offer all of the benefits of certified organic for a more affordable price. With the rise in public confusion comes increasing consumer distrust. In response, agribusiness launched a $30 million PR campaign to build trust through a new U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. The Center for Food Integrity, a nonprofit created by Monsanto and other agribusiness interests, is dedicated to “build consumer trust and confidence in today’s food system.”

Americans’ insistence on knowing what is in their food gave rise to Just Label It, the national campaign to label genetically engineered (GE) food. The National Organic Standards prohibit organic growers and food processors from using GE, but it is now in widespread use on non-organic farms throughout the U.S. A relatively new technology, GE has raised a host of health concerns and led to an explosion in herbicide use (herbicides made by the same companies manufacturing the GE crops designed to resist those herbicides). Despite the risks, the FDA has declared that because GMOs don’t smell, taste, or look different from their conventional counterparts, consumers don’t need to be informed about whether their food contains GE ingredients. Last October, the Just Label It campaign petitioned FDA to require mandatory labeling on GE foods, already required by more than 40 countries worldwide, including all of Europe, Japan, Brazil, Russia and China.

More than 500 diverse organizations – farming, parenting, religious, health, consumer, environmental, and business groups – joined the Just Label It (JLI) coalition as partners. Though they held different views about GE technology, they united behind the common belief that we have a right to know about our food. Consumer support for GE-foods labeling in the U.S. is nearly unanimous, according to the political opinion survey on GE food labeling conducted by The Mellman Group on behalf of JLI. Pollster Mark Mellman said that only topics like motherhood and apple pie muster over 90 percent support, but labeling GE-foods is among them. His survey found nearly all Republicans, Independents and Democrats in favor of labeling. No wonder then that JLI met with groundbreaking success. In just 180 days, it generated more than 1 million petition comments – over twice the number on any food petition in FDA history. This extraordinary win is just part of a much broader push toward transparency in the food system.

People want the truth. They want companies and other institutions to be transparent. This was clearly demonstrated through the rapid nationwide response to Pink Slime, and the surging popularity of the Occupy Movement last summer. Americans of all political persuasions voiced distrust of how government and companies are making decisions. Americans will no longer tolerate keeping the public in the dark for the benefit of just a few.

This emergent consumer movement clearly wants to know about its food. People increasingly want to buy food from sources they know. The number of farmers markets has grown from under 2,000 in 1994 to over 6,000 today. Local food sales are predicted by USDA to hit $7 billion this year. And the organic sector continues to grow.

Fed-up consumers aren’t the only force pushing toward a more organic future. A growing number of scientific studies conclude that to feed the world sustainably and affordably will require looking to alternative systems of agriculture. The National Academy of Sciences examination of agriculture in the 21st century concluded that organic systems and diversified farming systems that mix crop and livestock production are key to a sustainable future. The U.N. Environment Program found that agro-ecological systems can double or triple yields in areas of the world that need it most, like sub-Saharan Africa. Long-term agricultural research trials at Iowa State University have shown that organic crops can produce yields competitive with yields from conventional agriculture, resulting in increased profits for organic growers.

I can happily attest that this is not just the stuff of studies; it has been our very real business experience as well. We have learned that organic was not just better for us and for our consumers – farmers of many of the ingredients we purchase have also benefited from higher yields and reduced fossil-fuel based inputs leading to higher and more stable profits. Working to build our organic future is a quadruple win – for consumers, businesses, the environment and farmers. One of the best examples is the 40,000 acres of organic sugar cane we support in Brazil. Our partners there have found the transition to organic to be both an ecological and a financial success. Their green harvesting practices save 40,000 tons of CO2 per year, and 3.5 million liters of water per hour at the processing mill. The use of organic practices has led to a 90 percent reduction in pest damage, dramatic increases in soil carbon content and an incredible increase in biodiversity. They’ve done all of this while increasing their yields by 10 percent compared to when they farmed conventionally.

As we look toward the next 20 years, we can celebrate organic’s commercial success, growing consumer interest, and proven track record of competitive yields, and work to put an end to the lag in public investment. Just a tiny fraction – less than 2 percent – of all the money the U.S. government invests in public research on agriculture is allocated toward research in organic. Imagine what we could do if we were willing to invest more heavily as a society in expanding organic research.

No one has articulated this as profoundly as HRH the Prince of Wales when he addressed the Future for Food Conference at Georgetown University where I also spoke last spring. He said the system of subsidies “has led to a situation where farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price.” There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing but, as things stand, ‘doing the right thing’ is penalized. And so this raises an admittedly difficult question – as the time arrives when a long, hard look is needed at the way public subsidies are generally geared. Should the recalibration of that gearing be considered so that it helps healthier approaches and ‘techniques’? Could there be benefits if public finances were directed so that subsidies are linked specifically to farming practices that are more sustainable, less polluting and of wide benefit to the public interest, rather than what many environmental experts have called the curiously ‘perverse’ economic incentive system that too frequently directs food production?”

I believe that the work ahead is clear. We must create a food system that produces healthy food that is widely accessible and can be produced in a way that protects our environment and enhances consumer confidence. Organic food production will improve farm profits, reduce national health care costs and help to reduce the dependence and the economic drain of inflating fossil fuels. In short, organic food production is national security.

Fortunately, the organic model we’ve developed over the last three decades has given us a running head start; we’re well on our way to creating healthy food, healthy people, a healthy economy and a healthy planet. As I wrote in the introduction to Label It Now: What You Need to Know about Genetically Engineered Foods, “Any chance of avoiding ecological or economic bankruptcy depends on business and government leaders – and, ultimately, every person on this planet – being held accountable for activities that pollute the environment, deplete our natural resources or precipitate health problems.”

As we look back, we can see that the organic industry and movement is one of the most positive and hopeful growth engines in the U.S. economy. As we look forward, to the next 20 years and beyond, I believe that the organic business sector can show America and the world how to create an economically successful food system based on true transparency and public trust.

Article by Gary Hirshberg, co-founder and chairman of organic yogurt leader Stonyfield (http://www.stonyfield.com ), author of “Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World and co-author of Label It Now: What You Need to Know About Genetically Engineered Foods”. Gary is a frequent speaker on topics including sustainability, climate change, the profitability of green business and organic agriculture. He also advocates for change in national food and agriculture policies, including those regarding the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Gary serves on several corporate and nonprofit boards including those of Applegate Farms, Honest Tea, Peak Organic Brewing, The Full Yield, Climate Counts, SweetGreen, RAMp Sports, Stonyfield Europe, Glenisk and the Danone Communities Fund. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Gary to the Advisory Committee for Trade and Policy Negotiations, and Gary became a co-chair of Agree ¬– a food and agricultural policy effort launched by eight of the world’s leading foundations.

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Compostmodern13: Focusing on Resilience

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By Eda Goksel

Power of collective will


Compostmodern is a San Francisco-based sustainable design conference that happens every two years. After my very first conference, I became an instant addict. This year, I was ready to jump into action and deepen my relationship with the Compostmodern community, so I volunteered through the San Francisco chapter of AIGA. A few months later, I was invited to attend the Compostmodern13 kickoff meeting where I met with Sarah Brooks, the Executive Producer of CM13 and Director of Social Innovation at Hot studio. The atmosphere was conversational and I was inspired by the volunteers’ willingness to contribute. As it turns out, volunteer collective effort is also Sarah’s favorite thing about Compostmodern. During the meeting, she stated, “The most satisfying part of the process to date has been the orchestration of all the committed volunteers that are coming together to make this conference happen.”

After the meeting, I started to think of ways to spread this unique experience as well as learn more about the “future of sustainability.” The opportunity presented itself on the 3P platform to share an interview that I did with Sarah Brooks via email and to reflect my experience on Compostmodern.

Adaptive systems


Since 2004, Compostmodern has exposed us to bright spots of design and sustainability. We’ve seen sustainability take on many different forms by designers, artists and entrepreneurs either by definition or implementation. Sarah views sustainability “as respect and responsible stewardship for all life on the planet in a way that will continue to support conditions for life, indefinitely.” According to her, “many definitions of sustainability are missing an opportunity to capture people's imaginations or ignite our collective will.” That's why Sarah is thinking of focusing the theme of Compostmodern13 on resilience - “the ability of a system to bounce back from shocks and periods of rapid change while maintaining its core integrity.”

In recent years, “resilience thinking” has started to take the place of “sustainability.” This paradigm shift has been a controversial subject and, according to Andrew Zolli’s article in NY Times, has left many social activists feeling anxious. However, Sarah thinks “it's a lens for understanding complex adaptive systems, that can help guide us in our design efforts.”

Sharing and designing for resilience


To help us understand such a dynamic process of adaptive systems, Sarah and her production team have chosen speakers who will “balance a variety of perspectives on individual, community and societal resilience.” The keynote speakers, Ezio Manzini and John Thackara, are leaders in social innovation and design. The conference will also include “leading artists, design practitioners, educators working on personal resilience, community resilience, the built environment, service design, sustainable supply chain, digital design, film, photography, new economic models and new pedagogical models.”

Post Compostmodern


This powerful lineup will offer us an inspirational and educational journey but, also brings the challenge that every conference faces – how to maintain the engagement and excitement that develops. Sarah explains their action plan. “We’ll do some things intentionally; maintain all our social media touchpoints that people can connect through. Those are distributed throughout the social web so people can find each other in the networks they already use to communicate and share ideas daily. We will also continue to provide editorial resources and community-building at The Living Principles.

Additionally, I was excited to find out that this year’s conference, on day two, will use the similar format of “The Unconference” day of Compostmodern 11, which encourages attendees to turn their interest into action.

Be sure to register if you want to breathe in an atmosphere full of inspiration and conversation while interacting with hundreds of highly creative people. See you at Compostmodern13, March 22-23, 2013 in San Francisco!

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Obama and the National Climate Assessment: Hot Enough for Ya?

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President Obama’s forceful pledge to “respond to the threat of climate change” during his second inaugural address Monday was both specific and somewhat surprising. Also bold and welcome.

Coming in the wake of the federal government’s 1146-page National Climate Assessment ten days earlier, which makes for some pretty scary reading, his statements underscored in a major way why climate change has to be an urgent national priority. That’s because failing to act will “betray our children and future generations,” Obama said.

The executive summary of the NCA draft report, which was issued for public comment on January 11, is not a fancy or slickly produced document. Indeed, its message is quite stark, as its opening paragraphs state:

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

Many impacts associated with these changes are important to Americans’ health and livelihoods and the ecosystems that sustain us. These impacts are the subject of this report. The impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures. While some changes will bring potential benefits, such as longer growing seasons, many will be disruptive to society because our institutions and infrastructure have been designed for the relatively stable climate of the past, not the changing one of the present and future. Similarly, the natural ecosystems that sustain us will be challenged by changing conditions. Using scientific information to prepare for these changes in advance provides economic opportunities, and proactively managing the risks will reduce costs over time.

Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. This evidence has been compiled by scientists and engineers from around the world, using satellites, weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.

U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since 1895; more than 80% of this increase has occurred since 1980. The most recent decade was the nation’s hottest on record. Though most regions of the U.S. are experiencing warming, the changes in temperature are not uniform. In general, temperatures are rising more quickly at higher latitudes, but there is considerable observed variability across the regions of the U.S.

U.S. temperatures will continue to rise, with the next few decades projected to see another 2°F 26 to 4°F of warming in most areas. The amount of warming by the end of the century is projected to correspond closely to the cumulative global emissions of greenhouse gases up to that time: roughly 3°F to 5°F under a lower emissions scenario involving substantial reductions in emissions after 2050 (referred to as the “B1 scenario”), and 5°F to 10°F for a higher emissions scenario assuming continued increases in emissions.


The report mines those veins in great and dramatic detail, concluding that the “chances of record-breaking high temperature extremes will continue to increase as the climate continues to change.”

Perhaps the timing of the NCA release prior to the president’s second inaugural was no coincidence. Especially when he acerbically asserted that “some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact.” Take that, climate change skeptics.

But Obama was not finished on the topic. “We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise.” It is “how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure - our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow capped peaks.”

He reiterated his campaign pledge to accelerate investment in clean energy, arguing that the shift towards low carbon sources of energy was now inevitable. “The path towards sustainable energy will be long and sometimes difficult,” he acknowledged, but added that “America cannot resist this transition we must lead it.”

Obama’s challenge to the nation on climate change was reminiscent of President Kennedy’s challenge almost five decades ago to land a man on the Moon in less than ten years.

Yes, the seemingly impossible can happen.

[Image credit: Oxfam International: Flickr cc]

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Behind Coca-Cola's New Anti-Obesity Campaign

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Coca-Cola had a new message to share with the public last week – America, we have a problem. It’s called obesity. “The long-term health of our families and the country is at stake,” the company announced in a TV ad, which is part of its new anti-obesity campaign. Yet, there’s no need to panic – Coke is here to help!

With more than 180 low- and no-calorie drink choices, smaller portions for most of its most popular drinks, support of programs that get young people active and ongoing research on things like zero calorie, all-natural sweeteners, Coke suggests in the new ad that it takes obesity seriously. Nevertheless, Coke adds, this is not just up to the company - everyone needs to give a hand to beat obesity by considering a very simple “common sense” fact: “All calories count no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories. And if you drink and eat more calories than you burn off, you’ll gain weight.”

This new campaign, entitled Coming Together is the first time Coke is launching a campaign focused on fighting obesity, which brings up the question – what happened here exactly? Did Coke decide it’s time to become part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem, or is this another greenwashing campaign aimed at selling more Coke?

Although this campaign might seem surprising, it doesn’t come out of the blue. In the last few years, Coke, alongside other soft drink producers, has been under a lot of pressure due to growing evidence showing the connection between soft drink consumption and obesity. We have witnessed more efforts of regulators to intervene, from New York Mayor Bloomberg's successful effort to limit the portion size of soft drinks sold at restaurants and other public venues to unsuccessful attempts in other places to implement a soda tax. In addition, the public debate on this issue continues due to the efforts of organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest with smart campaigns like the Real Bears.

Coke and the soft drink industry had some standard answers they regularly use to reply to these allegations.


Coke’s new campaign has abandoned the argument that there is no evidence of the connection between drinking soft drinks and obesity, and is focusing on the other two arguments. First, they are subtly making the case that Coke is just one part of the problem, and second, that basically all calories are equal. The second argument seems to be the main thrust of the campaign, shifting the question from what goes into your body to an arithmetic problem – did you burn more calories than you took in?

You can see this numbers strategy in the second ad, where consumers are given ideas on how to work off 140 “happy calories” (number of calories in a 12 oz. coke). Apparently, it’s not that difficult and involves a combination of happy activities, like 25 minutes of letting your dog out, 10 minutes of dancing, some laughing (75 seconds) and so on. Finally, the ad shows us a picture of Coca-Cola Zero next to the text “Calories Optional,” just to remind customers that they can drink no-calorie Coke products responsibly even without any happy activities involved.

The problem with these messages is that not all calories are equal. As Prof. Ruth Faden of John Hopkins writes in The Atlantic, “Many foods and drinks contain calories but also nutritional value; these are the calories that fuel our daily lives. Added sugars like those in Coca-Cola, however, add calories but no nutrition--so-called “empty calories." According to the Food and Drug Administration, 'In some foods, like most candies and sodas, all the calories are empty calories.'” Therefore, she concludes, “Coca-Cola's claim that 'all calories count' is extraordinarily misleading.”

Given Coke’s attempt to characterize its calories as equal to calories consumed from other foods or drinks, this campaign is simply a sophisticated marketing campaign, rather than a real effort by Coke to play a meaningful role in fighting obesity.

What Coke is doing here is nothing but a great rebranding work, trying to show how Coke can easily be part of a healthy lifestyle. Prof. Marion Nestle of NYU calls this “An astonishing act of chutzpah, explainable only as an act of desperation to do something about the company’s declining sales in the U.S.” I tend to agree with her – if Coke was really willing to become a positive force for change, it could have started by avoiding the marketing shticks on happy calories and starting a serious public discussion on how it can really help fight obesity.

Until it starts doing so, Coke is still part of the problem, not the solution.

[Image credit: The Coca Cola Company]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons the New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

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Salt Lake City Buys Solar in Bulk

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Taking a cue from retail warehouse buyers' clubs, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) system buyers across the country are realizing substantial cost savings by joining group efforts to purchase and have rooftop solar PV systems installed.

By buying in bulk, the more than 60 participants who signed up for the Salt Lake City (Wasatch) Rooftop Solar Challenge team's program -- one of 22 regional teams participating in the Dept. of Energy's (DOE) Rooftop Solar Challenge –- have saved 40 percent on the total installed price of their PV systems, the DOE announced in the January 16 edition of its SunShot newsletter.

Rooftop Solar: Cutting the red tape


Looking to spur residential PV installations nationwide by cutting through the red tape and streamlining the process of having them installed, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu launched the DOE's Rooftop Solar Challenge in December 2011, awarding $12 million in funding to regional Rooftop Solar Challenge teams.

The DOE followed that up a year later, announcing a second, $12 million round of Rooftop Solar Challenge funding opportunities. Twenty-two regional teams are now up and running. The DOE estimates that the population encompassed by their geographic range of coverage includes some 51 million Americans.

“Up to 40 percent of the cost of installing solar panels onto your home or business isn't related to hardware at all, but rather due to complications from 'soft costs,' like permitting, zoning, and hooking your system up to the power grid,” according to the government's Rooftop Solar Challenge website.

“In fact, according to a report released earlier this year by SunRun, local permitting and inspection processes alone add more than $2,500 per residential installation nationwide. To add to the problem, permitting and other processes are often complicated and vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In order to make solar energy competitive with other types of energy, it will be critical to reduce these barriers."

Homeowners benefit by accepting the SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge


The DOE's initiative is producing results, and they're sharing their experiences via the SunShot Resource Center in order to speed the spread and adoption of best practices.

The more than 60 participants in the year-long Salt Lake City (Wasatch) Rooftop Solar Challenge have been able to take advantage of bulk buying discounts based on pre-determined tiered pricing offered by local contractors chosen by the Utah Community Solar Program steering committee to save 40 percent on the installed cost of their rooftop PV systems, according to the DOE's SunShot newsletter report.

Participants were able to choose the solar PV system that best suited their needs among three options offered.

Installed PV system costs declined as more people signed on to the program. “After the final commitment deadline, all participants received a substantial discount, with systems ranging in price from $3.35 to $3.50 per watt, which included a U.S.-made option.”

By way of comparison, the average installed cost of a residential solar PV system in Utah was around $5.90 per watt, according to state data, the DOE notes.

“We knew this model worked in other places, but we weren’t exactly sure how it would be received in Salt Lake County. Our goal was to add 175 kilowatts of rooftop solar through this pilot program, so we were thrilled with the huge interest from the community and the 232 kilowatts of solar committed through this program,” commented Sara Baldwin, a senior policy and regulatory associate with Utah Clean Energy and project lead for the Wasatch Solar Challenge. “Now the goal is to replicate this model in more communities with a toolbox of information, resources, and lessons learned.”

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Benetton Commits to Greening Supply Chain

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Benetton Group is the latest global apparel company to join Greenpeace’s Detox Program. The Italy-based retailer, which operates 6,500 stores in 120 countries, is another coup for Greenpeace. With its commitment to eliminate the release of toxic chemicals into water supplies and out of factories, Benetton joins apparel firms including Nike, Puma, Marks & Spencer and Zara.

Similar to other fashion companies who have signed Greenpeace’s pledge, Benetton promises to end the release of hazardous chemicals throughout the company’s global supply chain by 2020. This latest move by Benetton follows on the heels of other changes to which the company committed in recent years, including the switch to liquid wood clothes hangars, more eco-friendly white kraft paper bags printed with only water-based ink, reduced packaging and the increased monitoring of emissions throughout its operations.

As is the case with many global companies, such changes will not occur overnight. Nevertheless, Benetton is moving quickly and will soon publicly disclose the chemicals applied throughout its supply chain while phasing out their use. By April, the company promises to publish a more updated “restricted substances list.” Benetton will also instruct suppliers that APEOs (alkylphenol ethoxylates), commonly found in detergents and other chemicals textile and leather processing companies use, must be replaced with safer alternatives by June. The company will also eliminate other toxins such as perfluorocarbon (PFC) and will update its chemical use policy to ban the use of new chemicals as new evidence about their impacts become available.

Seven years may appear to be a long time, but revamping a company’s tangled supply chain is often an arduous process. With such companies as Adidas experimenting with waterless drying techniques while H&M and Marks & Spencer are among companies that launched clothes recycling programs, the fashion industry in general has made impressive steps the past couple years. And now with Benetton the latest company to impose stricter manufacturing standards on how their clothes are made, watch for other holdouts within the fashion industry to join this movement as sustainability becomes a competitive, not inconvenient, issue.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India next month with the International Reporting Project.

[Image credit: Benetton Group]

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