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December 20, 2014

First U.S. Coal Ash Rule Disappoints Environmental Groups

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2104 (ENS) ? The first national regulations to provide for the safe disposal of the ash left after burning coal to produce electricity were announced Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

After years of delaying action on issuing a coal ash rule, the EPA was under a court order to issue new safeguards by December 19. On that date, the final rule for coal combustion waste was issued under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The National Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and other environmental groups had urged the agency to classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, which would have required stronger oversight, safer disposal methods and phase-out of the coal ash ponds.

Instead, the agency classified coal ash as non-hazardous, requiring fewer safeguards and protections.

Scott Slesinger, NRDC’s legislative director, said, “The EPA is bowing to coal-fired utilities’ interests and putting the public at great risk by treating toxic coal ash as simple garbage instead of the hazardous waste that it is. Too much of the agency’s new rule is left to the discretion of states, which all too often have favored powerful utility companies instead of the public.”

Environmental groups warned that every year utilities produce more than 100 million tons of coal ash laced with arsenic, lead, and other pollutants. Some 40 percent of it is safely recycled into concrete and wallboard, but every year millions of tons are dumped into poorly regulated ponds, landfills and abandoned mines.

Read more at Environment News Service.

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category : Topics

December 18, 2014

How technology can prevent food waste in developing countries

Katherine Earley
Thursday 18 December 2014 12.30 GMT

Up to 40% of food produced in the developing world is wasted before it reaches the market, according to figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). With the number of middle-class consumers predicted to rise to three billion by 2030, and the majority of that growth in developing countries, tackling this problem is no small feat ? particularly as rising affluence in urban areas is likely to trigger a higher demand for richer diets and more complex food supply chains.

Lack of access to cold chain technology and reliable energy sources are the major reasons for crops perishing after harvest, research by Nottingham University shows (pdf). The cost of delivering energy to remote, rural regions means that, even when storage facilities are built, they may nevertheless stand empty. Poor transport infrastructure causes further losses, and a lack of education on post-harvest practices often results in poor quality control and food being damaged during handling.

“Without the technology, expertise and understanding necessary to keep their harvest fresh, smallholder farmers are often locked into a cycle of poverty, unable to access global markets,” says Dr Lisa Kitinoja, founder of the Postharvest Education Foundation.

India suffers losses of up to £4.4bn in fruit and vegetables each year due to the absence of effective technologies to keep produce cool. Despite being the world’s largest banana producer, it holds just 0.3% of the global banana market. Production is fragmented compared to the large-scale commercial farms of its competitors, with smallholder farmers typically cultivating small plots with little business or technical support. Less than 4% of India’s fresh produce is transported by cold chain, compared to more than 90% in the UK.

Better cold storage, education about food handling and improved infrastructure could help to transform this situation, according a study by Maersk (pdf) ? potentially growing the trade of banana containers from 3,000 to 190,000 annually, and benefitting more than 34,000 smallholder farmers across India.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

December 18, 2014

EPA’s Smog Standards Hit the Mark; Here’s Why

The EPA recently released much-awaited, tighter standards for smog pollution, common-sense protections that will save lives and safeguard human health from one of the nation’s most ubiquitous air pollutants ? ozone.

As expected, it took but a few hours before critics lashed out, while ignoring key facts behind EPA’s proposal. Here are five reasons I believe EPA is on the right track:

1. The current standard doesn’t do enough to protect human health

About half our population, some 156 million Americans, are at risk from smog, or ground-level ozone, because of age, health conditions, or the work that they do. They include more than 25 million people with asthma, 74 million children, 40 million senior citizens, and nearly 17 million outdoor workers.

Our current standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) doesn’t adequately protect human health.

EPA’s new proposal, issued under a court-ordered deadline, is a step in the right direction ? even if it doesn’t, in our view, go far enough.

Consider this: The proposed 65 to 70 ppb limit would prevent between 320,000 and 960,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 1 million lost school days. It would also prevent up to 180,000 lost work days and an estimated 750 to 4,300 premature deaths.

Read more at Environmental Leader.

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category : Topics

December 17, 2014

Scientists propose tax incentives for waste paper collection

Instead of wasting a lot of money burying or burning scrap paper, with the resulting environmental pollution, scientists say it would be better to spend funds on encouraging companies to collect and re-use scrap paper.

The Saigon Paper Corporation uses a high percentage of scrap paper in making finished products.

Cao Tien Vi, general director of the company, in September 2014, said the company decided to raise consumption paper capacity by threefold to 44,000 tons per annum, and raise industrial paper production capacity from 53,000 tons to 224,000 tons.

In order to get enough materials to fulfill the production plans, his company would have to increase the the proportion of scrap paper imports from 30 per cent to 50 per cent.

When asked why the company does not plan to use domestic scrap paper instead of imports, Vi said it was difficult to collect scrap paper from domestic sources, since collectors are not encouraged to do this.

If the company collects paper, the cost would be high because scrap paper comes from many different sources, while it would also have to pay for scrap paper classification as well. Besides, the fact that it cannot get a VAT refund when buying scrap paper from individuals would also push up production costs.

Read more at Eco-Business.

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category : Topics

December 12, 2014

Natura joins B Corps: will other big business embrace sustainability certification?

Bruce Watson
Friday 12 December 2014 17.55 GMT

Natura, Brazil’s top cosmetics, fragrance and toiletries maker, this week became the largest ? and first publicly traded ? company to attain B Corps sustainability certification.

The certification program, which is run by B Lab, is designed to encourage high standards of environmental and social stewardship and transparency among businesses.

Until now, in some ways, B Corps has seemed like a noble ? if limited ? experiment, a method for ideologically driven companies to pursue sustainability while still surviving in a business environment that is red in tooth and claw.

While the program has had considerable growth ? currently, there are more than 1,170 B Corps businesses located across 37 countries ? the majority are small and privately owned. The question arises: for all the good that the B Corps does, can it appeal to major economic players?

Natura’s recent move suggests that the answer is yes. And the Brazilian company isn’t the only prominent, well-funded business that has recently sought certification. Earlier this month, crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and energy company Green Mountain Power both announced that they have attained B Corps certification.

Read more at The Guardian.

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December 12, 2014

EU labelling changes force industry action on palm oil

Tim Smedley
Friday 12 December 2014 12.30 GMT

From Saturday, 500 million consumers in Europe will become aware that palm oil is in their food. The EU law on food information to consumers (otherwise known as FIC) means that food stuffs can no longer get away with hiding ingredients under generic titles. Now ingredients will have to be exactly what it says on the tin, and sustainable palm oil could be a major beneficiary.

Until now, palm oil has often been hidden as generic vegetable oil, as well as hundreds of other misleading synonyms. In practice, given that the law was agreed in 2001, most major brands, manufacturers and retailers have already stopped this practice in advance of the legislation coming into force. Go down to your local supermarket and own-brand foods have long included palm oil (where it ends up in products as diverse as breakfast cereals to pizza bases).

Transparent labelling is already having a positive impact on the uptake of sustainable palm oil, certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). “In the first two-quarters of this year compared with last year we’ve seen a 65% increase in sales of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO),” says Danielle Morley, RSPO’s European director of outreach and engagement. “We think that’s in anticipation of preparing for the FIC regulations.”

However, whether FIC will boost the long-term uptake of CSPO is uncertain. The regulation only requires that palm oil is stated where used, not whether it is sustainable or not.

Read more at The Guardian.

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December 12, 2014

SPLC Seeks Purchasers, Suppliers for Pilot

In January, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council will release its Guidance for Leadership in Sustainable Purchasing v1.0 and kick off a pilot program in which purchasers, suppliers, certifiers and public interest advocates will test using the guidance and provide feedback.

Pilot participants will have access to educational sessions, peer practice groups, SPLC staff consultation, listening sessions, and will receive recognition for their involvement.

To learn about participating:

1. Watch the Pilot Overview Webinar
2. Review the Timeline, Participation Options and FAQ
3. Fill out the Expression of Interest form

Enrollment in the pilot will continue on a rolling basis for the next few months. The first webinar orientation for participants is on Dec. 18. Invitations to that are sent to respondents to the request for Expression of Interest.

Earlier this year SPLC released five principles intended to help all types of organizations within the institutional purchasing marketplace align and benchmark their sustainable purchasing efforts.

Read more at Environmental Leader.

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December 9, 2014

Global Environment Fund wants to coordinate green supply chains

The Global Environment Facility, which has provided $13.5 billion in grants to developing nations since 1991, wants a wider role in protecting nature by tightening commodity supply chains from farmers to consumers.

Naoko Ishii, chief executive officer of the 183-nation GEF, told Reuters that efforts to safeguard tropical forests from land clearance to make way, for instance, for palm oil plantations were hampered by a lack of oversight.

In that example, reducing forest clearances would have to involve banks to prevent lending to loggers on protected land, as well as small farm owners, governments and big companies such as Nestle SA or Unilever.

“What is missing is maybe somebody that brings every stakeholder together” to tighten loopholes in supply chains, she said during United Nations talks in Lima on a deal to combat global warming.

The GEF, set up in 1991 as a World Bank pilot programme, would be willing to help take on a wider coordinating role, she said.

She said she recently flew over Indonesia and witnessed deforestation to clear land for palm oil plantations or fast-growing trees to produce pulp. “It is devastating to see,” she said.

Read more at Eco-Business.

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category : Topics

December 8, 2014

EPA Announces New Energy Star Tool for Homeowners to Save Money, Energy This Winter

WASHINGTON ? Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching its Energy Star Home Advisor, an online tool designed to help Americans save money and energy by improving the energy efficiency of their homes through recommended, customized and prioritized home-improvement projects.

“As we enter the winter months, homeowners can use our new Energy Star Home Advisor to increase energy efficiency and save money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “When homeowners take advantage of this important tool and increase the energy efficiency of their homes, many families will notice savings on energy bills and improvements in the comfort of their homes.”

The updated Energy Star Home Advisor guides the homeowner through a “do-it-yourself” energy assessment to create an Energy Star home profile. Based on the newly created profile, the Home Advisor provides customized, prioritized recommendations for improvements. From these recommendations, users can create their own to-do lists of projects such as adding insulation to the attic or replacing an HVAC air filter.

Over time, users can update their home profiles as they make improvements, see the positive environmental impacts of the changes they’ve made, get additional recommendations, and update their “to-do” lists for future projects. The home profiles can also be printed and used at the time of sale.

The announcement is part of EPA’s Energy Efficiency Action Week, during which EPA regional offices across the country will hold events to increase awareness about the energy and cost savings associated with energy efficiency upgrades, especially in the winter months.

Read more at EPA website.

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category : Topics

December 7, 2014

Apple Campus 2: the greenest building on the planet?

Apple claims its new California campus is the ‘greenest building on the planet’, but the performance data doesn’t stack up

Garrett Hering
Sunday 7 December 2014 12.00 GMT

Jerry Yudelson, president of the Portland, Oregon-based Green Building Initiative, likens sustainable architecture to sex.

“It’s all about performance, not promise. Show me your numbers,” Yudelson says.

A few years ago, Yudelson, together with German architecture critic and professor Ulf Meyer, asked hundreds of owners of the highest-rated new green buildings around the globe to reveal their actual performance data. Their request included details on measured energy and water use, which they would compare with other buildings.

Perhaps embarrassed that performance might not live up to promises, a lot of building owners propositioned by Yudelson and Meyer demured. But some did not. The results are presented in their book The World’s Greenest Buildings, published in 2013.

“We wanted to show that high levels of energy and water efficiency and high levels of aesthetics are not incompatible. Sort of like a beauty queen who can do higher math,” says Yudelson.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

December 5, 2014

How to address wage issues in garment industry: boycott, pressurise or invest?

How the garment industry and consumers can bring about a change in the sweatshop conditions endured by workers in developing countries

Harriet Swain
Friday 5 December 2014 11.53 GMT

The collapse last year (2013) of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,130 garment workers, shocked the world. While campaigners had warned for years about the poor conditions endured by many of those making the cheap clothes worn and regularly discarded by western shoppers, the tragedy meant that the workers’ plight could no longer be ignored. It also helped to highlight just how little they were paid for their work ? often less than £30 a month.

How to address some of these issues and achieve a fair wage in the fashion industry was the subject of a recent seminar held by the Guardian, in association with the fashion retailer H&M.

The seminar, chaired by Jo Confino, an executive editor at the Guardian, involved a panel of experts:

- Helena Helmersson, head of sustainability for H&M
- Jenny Holdcroft, policy director of IndustriALL Global Union, which represents 50 million workers across the world
- Ilona Kelly, campaign director at Labour Behind the Label, which campaigns to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry
- Lucy Siegle, the Observer’s ethical living columnist
- Manuela Tomei, officer in charge at the International Labour Organization (ILO)

It was attended by an invited audience of sustainability experts, NGO employees and specialist fashion journalists.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

December 4, 2014

Producing environmentally friendly biodegradable plastics from vegetable waste

Using vegetable waste to produce bioplastics can provide sustainable alternatives to non-biodegradable plastic, new research has found. The biodegradable plastic developed for this study, produced using parsley and spinach stems, cocoa pod husks and rice hulls, have a range of mechanical properties comparable to conventional plastics which are used for products from carrier bags to kitchenware and computer components.

Global plastic production has risen from 1.5 million tonnes per year in the 1950s to 288 million tonnes a year in 2012. This staggering increase has been driven by the low cost and remarkable range of mechanical properties that plastics can provide. However, while plastic goods bring numerous advantages, the waste they generate can be devastating to ecosystems.

All five major oceanic gyres now contain substantial amounts of plastic waste, which can injure or kill marine wildlife and spread invasive species. Furthermore, plastic does not biodegrade but remains in the environment for hundreds of years. Sunlight may break it down into smaller pieces but these fragments can have, if anything, even greater impacts.

Read more at Science for Environment Policy of European Commission.

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category : Topics

December 4, 2014

Tackling the challenge: How to make informed choices on forest products?

Sustainably sourced forest products are critical in eliminating deforestation from global supply chains, increasing transparency in the market place and incentivizing sustainable forest management. Together with the World Resources Institute, the WBCSD Forest Solutions Group refreshed some key sections of the Sustainable Procurement Guide for wood- and paper-based products. This year’s revisions focused predominantly on the chapters about the use of fresh & recycled fiber, protection of unique forest values and climate, with emphasis on REDD+, forest carbon accounting systems and markets.

The guide is a toolbox designed to help corporate managers make informed choices, understand the challenges and find the best advice on how to purchase forest-based products from sustainable sources - be it paper or packaging, wood for construction, or furniture.

Within the context of the growing determination to eliminate deforestation from supply chains, this guide constitutes a helpful resource kit for companies to establish a clear procurement policy and implement concrete measures.

Read more at The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

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category : Topics

December 3, 2014

Why impact assessments are good for non-profits but bad for business

In the hands of corporations aiming to profitably serve the poorest consumers impact assessments can impede progress

Erik Simanis
Wednesday 3 December 2014 17.00 GMT

Impact assessments are a powerful ? and necessary ? part of a non-profit’s tool kit. Rigorously measuring how and how much a program solves a social ill and betters the lives of the poor ensures continual improvement. Impact assessments also serve as a report card back to the funders of non-profits. They assure donors that grant funds are being maximised and used for the purpose intended.

Yet in the hands of corporations aiming to profitably serve the world’s poorest consumers ? the so-called base of the pyramid (BoP) ? impact assessments can impede progress more than enable it. While jumping onto today’s impact assessment bandwagon may feel like the right thing to do, companies can unwittingly jeopardise a business venture and reduce consumer value by doing so.

Insisting that BoP ventures focus on broad social impacts sets projects up to be viewed internally as corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs rather than business opportunities. When that happens, attracting resources and securing the support of country managers ? the people responsible for commercial activity in a territory ? will be an arduous uphill battle.

Read more at The Guardian.

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