Greenpeace challenges fashion industry

Most leading fashion brands have a poor or failing rating on environmental performance, according to survey results recently published by Greenpeace International. The findings led to a Greenpeace protest during the recent New York Fashion Week.

The fashion houses invited to participate in the study included the top 15 French and Italian fashion brands, including such well-known names as Giorgio Armani, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Chanel, and Prada. Of the 15, only one, Valentino, ranked Good, seven ranked Poor,  one is ranked Unsatisfactory because Greenpeace found that its answers did not give specific enough responses for a rating, and six are ranked Failed because they did not respond to the survey.

Issues addressed in the survey included the environmental impact of textile production, paper use, and sourcing of leather.

Valentino, at the top of the leader list, has issued a commitment to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from its supply chain and products by 2020, and has also made commitments with regard to its policies on the procurement of leather and pulp and paper.

The report of the survey and the Greenpeace challenge to the fashion industry is at http://en.thefashionduel.com/

New global ocean organization may raise Cain

A new ocean non-governmental organization may create global hell for those governments that are giving short shrift to protection of the oceans.

Known as the Global Ocean Commission, the organization announced this week has an impressive Board and an even more impressive list of funders. The GOC aims to reverse degradation of the oceans and restore them to full health and productivity. Funding comes from heavyweights including Pew Environment Group, Somerville College at Oxford University, Adessium Foundation, and Oceans 5. Representing Canada on the Board of Directors is former Prime Minister Paul Martin. Another board name that may be familiar to Canadians is former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband. The activist group intends to report on how the vast high seas, which stretch 200 nautical miles from coasts, benefit from little legal protection in the face of rising overfishing, habitat destruction, climate change and ocean acidification. The first Board meeting will be held in Cape Town in March.

Miliband has stated

‘The UN Law of the Sea was a great achievement, but we urgently need a governance framework that delivers its aims and objectives for today’s global ocean. The ocean provides food for billions of people, as well as generating substantial economic wealth, employment and trade; getting the governance right will lead to both economic and ecological gains. The Global Ocean Commission will be a catalyst for the developments we need. 2014 is a critical year of decision for the ocean, when changes should be made that will set the ocean on the path to sustainable health and productivity.

The oceans are the ecological equivalent of the financial crisis. The long-term costs of the mismanagement of our oceans are at least as great as long-term costs of the mismanagement of the financial system. We are living as if there are three or four planets instead of one, and you can’t get away with that.’

The Global Ocean Commission plans to focus on

  • overfishing;
  • climate change;
  • seabed mining;
  • emerging uses;
  • impacts; and
  • options for change.

A group at this level will likely be primarily a paper mill but papers which focus on government actions or inactions will likely still have some value in pushing governments towards some action.

GallonDaily will be watching with interest. News from the Global Ocean Commission can be found at http://www.globaloceancommission.org

Roses for your Valentine may not be ecofriendly

Scientific American’s “60-Second Earth” podcast focused this week on the environmental risks associated with the roses of Valentines Day.

According to the SA commentator, “growing roses has an environmental impact worse than many other crops”. The environmental impacts are said to include carbon dioxide emissions from flying the roses from places where they can be grown in February, water to grow the bushes, pesticide use, habitat destruction, and refrigeration to keep the flowers fresh during transportation and merchandising.

GallonDaily does not dispute that production of roses has an environmental impact but we cannot find evidence to show that the impact is worse than many other crops. In fact, a 2009 Scientific American article, to which a link is provided from the text version of this week’s podcast, suggests that imported roses that are grown out of doors may have a lower overall environment than those grown closer to home in greenhouses.

GallonDaily’s guess is that roses, especially those that are sustainably grown, and there are some available with such a certification, have a lower environmental impact than boxes of chocolates or most jewellery items. Even so, we encourage beaus to consider the environment when purchasing Valentine’s Day gifts. As we have said before in our Gallon Environment Letter review of greener Christmas gifts, items such as theatre or sports tickets or a meal at a restaurant that specializes in local food and wine may be more environment friendly, and hence we hope more appreciated by the recipient, than roses from a distant land.

Still, the Scientific American author’s commentary is a useful contribution to the discussion and can be found at http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=roses-raise-environment-concerns-13-02-10

Nanomaterials: stricter European regulation in the pipeline

The federal government of Germany has just published a position paper on the regulation of nanomaterials within the European Union. Nanomaterials are those substances that are now being used in industry and consumer products that are in the form of extremely fine particles. Use of such materials is growing and it is increasingly recognized that such particles may have chemical and biological properties that are different from those of the bulk material. Nanomaterials in current use range from metals like silver and gold to carbon-based nanoparticles such as ‘Buckyballs’ and nanotubes.

The German government recognizes that regulation of nanomaterials presents a challenge of a kind not previously addressed because nanoparticles may behave, and hence present risks, in a significantly different manner than the bulk material. The present regulatory requirements in Europe, as well as in Canada, do not often recognize this. However, many industry groups are opposing specific regulations for nanomaterials. The German government is quite clear that it considers that a new regulation under the European REACH framework (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) should be adopted for nanomaterials.

Prior to granting approvals under REACH, the German government proposes that a nanomaterial that is used in significant quantities should be technically evaluated under a range of criteria:

  • Physicochemical data
  • Toxicological data
  • Ecotoxicological data
  • Chemical Safety
  • Obligations of downstream users

These are similar to the requirements for introduction of new chemicals. In addition, Germany is proposing that surface-treated nanomaterials might need to be evaluated separately from the coating and particle materials of which they are comprised.

All in all the German proposal is a call for setting the environmental health and safety bar significantly higher than some proponents of nanomaterials in industry have previously considered.

The German government proposal can be found at http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/nanomaterials-and-reach.pdf
A summary is at http://www.bfr.bund.de/en/press_information/2013/02/the_reach_regulation_as_an_effective_way_of_regulating_nanomaterials-132673.html

Environmentalist drones coming to . . . . your location?

Google Inc. recently announced a grant of $5 million from its Global Impact Awards program to WWF for the development and deployment of advanced technologies to fight poaching of endangered species “in four key African and Asian landscapes”.  The picture accompanying the announcement depicts elephants. Reports from WWF indicate that the advanced technologies to be developed and deployed are drones. The program is expected to be partially operational by the end of this year.

No one is likely to complain about the use of drones to identify, and perhaps help capture, elephant poachers but what do we think about environmental group drones taking 24 hour a day photography of oil sands operations, chemical plants, sewage treatment operations, or agricultural spraying? Move the target to parks, campgrounds, backyards, and catchbasins in residential areas and the questions become even more obvious: drones operated by non-governmental organizations pose significant questions of privacy.

Most Canadians likely think that drones are great when deployed to catch ‘bad guys’  but are a significant, and probably unacceptable, threat when deployed in ways which potentially photograph all of us as we go about our daily business.  The problem is that drones do not distinguish between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and, even if they did, there are no widely accepted definitions for these categories.

Our reason for publishing this article is to alert business to the possibility that, within months, your critics may be spying on you in ways that you have probably not yet considered. Many of today’s surveillance drones are small, quiet, capable of flying at high or low altitude, and equipped with tiny but very high definition cameras. Legislation restricting drone flights in Canada is weak and not well enforced. If you think that environmental groups would be interested in spying on your facility you might consider that it may not be too long before they are actually doing so.

The announcement of the Google Global Impact Award for WWF’s anti-poaching drones can be found by visiting http://www.google.com/giving/impact-awards.html and scrolling down to the picture of elephants.

GallonDaily welcomes your comments on this and all other articles which we publish. To have your letter considered for publication in the monthly Gallon Environment Letter, please email it to editor@gallonletter.ca . A selection of letters received will be published. Letters promoting commercial products or presenting opinions not backed up with coherent arguments are not normally published. Letters are published at the sole discretion of the Editor.

Rocky Mountain Institute on the Obama climate plan

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit organization co-founded by Amory Lovins in 1982, has a sterling reputation for its future energy visions and for its political independence. RMI and Lovins have been consulted by just about every energy company, utility, and government across North America and, to some extent, around the world. While GallonDaily has no knowledge of any particular relationship between RMI and the Obama administration, we suspect that RMI is as knowledgeable as any organization in North America regarding the directions that the Obama team might follow to implement the President’s new commitment to action on climate change. This knowledge becomes important to Canadians given our government’s commitment to follow in America’s footsteps on climate change, though we have little confidence that such a commitment will be kept when the time comes.

Recently an analyst at RMI wrote on the climate options available to President Obama, given that Congressional action on climate legislation is as unlikely as ever for the next four years. Devi Glick, the RMI analyst, does not shy away from reality when she states “Limiting carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation, industrial, buildings, and electricity sectors is critical. . . . But past lessons point out what is clear: it will not be easy process.”

Glick suggests that steps that might be taken by the US administration include:

  • limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants using a business-led approach and existing authority under the Clean Air Act. Under the proposal, the EPA would set state-by-state carbon emissions reductions standards based on the carbon intensity of each state’s current electricity generation portfolio. Instead of regulating plant-by-plant, both states and utilities that own multiple carbon-emitting power plants could aggregate electricity generation facilities into a fleet when calculating compliance. (This proposal originated with the Natural Resources Defense Council.)
  • establishing more efficient building codes and increasing standards for appliances.
  • driving down the installed cost of solar photovoltaics.
  • developing innovative financing options for energy efficiency projects that reduce risk, upfront capital investment requirements, and hassle for the customers and financiers. Examples include on-bill financing, solar leasing, repayment via property taxes, and community-financed solar projects.

RMI may have put the kibosh on Canadian government support for its proposals when it states that, for the US, its vision is a 158 percent bigger economy by 2050, at a cost savings of $5 trillion compared to business-as-usual, all while weaning the US completely off oil, coal, and significantly reducing natural gas. Nevertheless, many of its proposals are likely to form part of any climate change mitigation program implement by governments in the North American sub-continent.

There are many more details on possibilities for the Obama climate change initiative on the RMI blog at http://blog.rmi.org/blog_2013_01_31__Obama_second_term_climate_legacy

Environmental risks to US children: some progress, but problems remain

Under an Executive Order proclaimed by President Clinton the US Environmental Protection Agency is required to “make it a high priority to identify and assess environmental health risks and safety risks that may disproportionately affect children”. Last week the EPA published its third report on America’s Children and the Environment.

In more than 400 pages the report documents where progress has been made in reducing environmental risks to children and where much remains to be done.  Much of the good news comes from improvements to air quality. Examples of the many indicators reported include:

  • From 1999 to 2009, the proportion of children living in counties with measured pollutant concentrations above the levels of one or more national ambient air quality standards decreased from 75% to 59%.
  • Hazardous air pollutants still present a problem: in 2005, nearly all children (99.9%) lived in census tracts in which hazardous air pollutant (HAP) concentrations combined to exceed the 1-in-100,000 cancer risk benchmark.
  • Since 2002, the percentage of children served by community drinking water systems that did not meet all applicable health-based standards has fluctuated between 7% and 13%, with the most recent estimate being 7% in 2009.
  • In 2009, 35% of sampled apples had detectable organophosphate pesticide residues; in 2007, 5% of sampled carrots had such residues; in 2009, 8% of sampled grapes had such residues; and in 2008 9% of sampled tomatoes had detectable residues. In each case, the percentage of samples having detectable organophosphate pesticide residues showed significant decline over a decade earlier but one can certainly question whether any such residues should still be present.
  • The proportion of children reported to currently have asthma has increased from 8.7% in 2001 to 9.4% in 2010. In 2007–2010, the percentages of Black non-Hispanic children and children of “All Other Races” reported to currently have asthma, 16.0% and 12.4% respectively, were greater than for White non-Hispanic children (8.2%), Hispanic children (7.9%), and Asian non-Hispanic children (6.8%).

Though focused on environmental risks to children, including those to expectant mothers, the report presents a solid overview of the state of pollution in the US. An EPA summary of the report and a link to the page where the page can be found is at http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/1FE31A8BC6EB3C4385257AFE0061B1F4

 

E-waste ‘ATM’ makes recycling fun and rewarding

Recycling is often something of a chore, even when it involves something as infrequently recycled as small electronics. We have tried recycling end-of-life electronics at a well known retailer and found that you have to wait for a cashier then fill out and sign a form before leaving the material at the customer service desk. What a chore!.

We are therefore very encouraged by a California-based company that has introduced a technology that makes e-waste recycling both fun and rewarding.  Both the company and the technology are called ecoATM and the technology does bear some resemblance to a banking automated teller machine. You insert your end-of-life cell phone or mp3 player into the ecoATM, wait a few seconds, and agree, or not agree, to the offered price. If you like the price the machine takes your device and gives you the money. If you don’t like the price the machine gives you your technology back. Now that sounds like recycling fun!

You do have to proffer your driver’s license and thumb print. The Company says that this is to help avoid fencing of stolen items, and the process does take a short while but at least there is a good chance you will get paid for your effort. ecoATM states that working smartphones can lead to payments of as much as $250 but even old broken phones will reward their owners with a few dollars. The technology is an interesting combination of electronic testing of the item in the ATM-like device and remotely-located human oversight of every transaction.

ecoATM states that there are currently more than 150 of these e-waste recycling devices in use across the US,   mostly in malls and retail outlets. GallonDaily has not yet had a chance to test the system, and we know nothing of the economics, but it appears to us to be a positive concept for the future of recycling.

Lots of information, including pictures of the machine and descriptions of the technology, at http://www.ecoatm.com/

CBC radio program looks at how promotion of buying less can increase profits

The CBC Radio One program Under The Influence takes a weekly look at how advertising influences consumers and at how consumers influence business. This week’s episode is titled Buy Less: How Some Companies Profit By Asking You To Buy Less and promises examples from a burger company that asks its customers to eat less beef, an office equipment company that helps customers print less, a razor company that encourages men to change blades less often, and a clothing company that asks that you buy less of their apparel.

Under The Influence is a very professional show and GallonDaily has no doubt that this week’s show will be of especial interest to all who are convinced that ‘buy less’ is a necessary component of sustainability or who are wondering about new directions for their product-based company.

The host of Under The Influence is Terry O’Reilly, a former advertising copywriter who established his own radio and television advertising company.

This week’s Under The Influence can be heard on CBC Radio One across the country at 11.30am on Saturday 2 February (noon in Newfoundland) and 11.30am on Monday 4 February (3.30pm in Newfoundland). It can also be heard on the Internet at the same times in each time zone (you can select your time zone of choice, even if it is not your real time zone) and a podcast of the show will be posted next week. For the streaming audio and the podcast, as well as a photo of the host and information about past episodes in this series, visit http://www.cbc.ca/undertheinfluence/