10 Things to Know by 10 a.m. – July 28

Oliver728a1. Climate change policies could hit California consumers at the pump early next year; come January 2015, gasoline and other fuels will fall under the state’s cap-and-trade system for reining in greenhouse gas emissions, and Californians can expect to see a jump in their gas prices that already register as the highest in the country.

2. Bees continue to drop like flies as their massive death toll reached 10 million since 2006, an estimated $2 billion loss for the United States. Agriculture in the U.S. depends on the insect to pollinate $15 billion worth of crops annually, a third of the food we eat, and is now working with the Obama administration to combat bee population loss. Star Tribune’s in-depth exposé here and here.

3. As the renewable energy industry grows worldwide, Triple Pundit released its “A to Z of Unusual Renewable Sources” this past week. The piece highlights use of everything from algae to chocolate to dance floors, among many others, to help produce and harness renewable energy.

4. Economists and environmentalists alike continue to ask one question about climate change: what is the cost of inaction? In a bipartisan effort to measure economic risks of unchecked climate change in the U.S., the following independent analysis American Climate Prospectus was released this month.

5. A two-year check in of NASA’s revolutionary green building in Mountain View this past week proved it to be the “greenest building ever built.” The building, a potential model for future architecture and smart home technology, produces twice as much energy as it consumes each year. Read Huffington Post’s coverage and interview here.

6. As environmental labels abound, it becomes easier and easier for consumers to make sustainable purchases…and for greenwashing to trick consumers. The good news? According to a recent study by Triple Pundit, the variety of tools is actually proving effective and sustainable purchasing continues to increase.

7. Last week, San Francisco played host to “Stories & Beer,” a fireside chat featuring Michelle Ferguson, VP of Marketing for Clif Bar, and Ben Mand, VP of Marketing for Plum Organics. Some talk highlights included food product companies moving towards organics, building consumer trust and total business transparency. In case you weren’t one of the lucky few to attend, here is a video of the panel discussion – sorry I couldn’t include the beer in this post.

8. New studies report that the United States rates only second to China in illegal ivory imports – and San Francisco could be one of the worst offenders, particularly Chinatown. The shattering statistics have U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife cracking down on ivory imports, implementing even stricter legislation and punishments. Currently, 96 elephants are killed a day for their tusks.

9. As global demand for cocoa is projected to grow $98.3 billion in 2016, CSR Asia and Oxfam joined together to address sustainability across the cocoa industry. Their research, Inclusive Business in Asia: A Study in Cocoa, calls for development of more inclusive business approaches to benefit “smallholder producers, consumers and participants” across the value chain.

10. With species going extinct every day, Russia decided to conduct an experiment to study weightlessness and the ability to reproduce, and sent geckos into space last week; unfortunately, they lost contact with the biosatellite. Despite Russia’s assurance that the geckos will continue to orbit safely (at least until they run out of food), the internet is up in arms and #gogetthosegeckos began to trend on Twitter.

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10 Things to Know by 10 a.m. – July 14

SSBlogPic1. With the World Cup over, it’s time to see if FIFA carries out its promises to alleviate the tournament’s environmental implications. Sao Paulo was awarded host city on promises to offset the Cup’s greenhouse gas emissions; FIFA is now responsible for buying credits for upwards of 27.5 million tons of greenhouse gases.

2.  BBC announced that it will be banning climate skeptics from the air for fear of misinforming the public. With 97 percent of scientists in agreement about the source of climate change (hint, it’s us), BBC fears creating a false sense of balance on the issue’s anthropogenic nature.

3. Last week, a study on organics came out, proving that organic produce has far more antioxidants and far less toxic metals and pesticides than its conventionally grown counterparts. However, the study, the largest of its kind, has been called “inconclusive,” as the products’ overall effects are still unknown.

4. In response to the Kendall Jones’ hunting controversy last week, an old photo of Steven Spielberg was reposted on Facebook with the Jurassic Park producer posing next to a triceratops movie prop, with the caption: “Disgraceful photo of recreational hunter happily posing next to a Triceratops he just slaughtered.” Unfortunately, the snide political commentary generated real fury from dim-witted conservationists who thought the director actually killed an animal…that had already been dead for millions of years.

5.  A new Greenpeace “Carting Away the Ocean,” CATO, report came out last week, marking significant improvement in the sustainable seafood industry. In 2008, no major retailers hit all requirements for sustainable seafood production and sale; this time around, 22 of 26 major retailers passed, with four even scoring as “good” – Whole Foods, Safeway, Wemens and Trader Joe’s.

6. CSR Asia teamed up with Oxfam for a “Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil” last week. The conference targeted palm oil produced in Asia, one of the largest producing areas in the world, in hopes of producing a product that is more socially, ecologically and environmental beneficial, despite a lack of current legislation and jurisdiction.

7. Tesla’s new supercharger delivered outstanding results in first month on the market, and hopes to continue to improve over the following months. In June alone, the supercharger saved 168,000 gallons of gas, 4.2 million pounds of CO2 offset and fueled 3.7 million miles of travel – the equivalent of going to the moon and back 7.5 times.

8. A new National Grid study suggests that the price of electricity could double over the next 20 years. The increase would come as a result of the U.S. reaching 90 percent dependency on foreign oil and a slump in North Sea gas and oil production.

9. Nearly 92 years since the last grizzly bear was killed in California, a new petition is in the works to bring the animal back to the golden state. The initiative proposes to bring part of the diminishing Alaskan population down south for fear of the potential effects of climate change on the northern most bears.

10. With festival season well on its way, more and more event organizers are considering festival’s two most significant environmental issues: transportation and waste. Green coach companies, banning of plastic water bottles and post-event tent donations are just some of the ways festivals like Glastonbury and upcoming Outside Lands are coping with festivals’ long standing environmental implications.

 

Life After Graduation

FrontGradSorry for the time away my friends. Since last writing a few things have changed…to say the least.

I’ve finished university and graduated with concurrent degrees – a Bachelors of Science in Journalism: Public Relations, and a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies. That’s me there, in the green cap! (photo credit: Grace Helen Photography)

I’ve also moved – from rainy Eugene, Oregon, to foggy San Francisco, California. Apparently my pale skin and red hair have a vendetta against sunshine.
Finally, I’ve started a job! I’m the Sustainability Fellow at Ketchum PR in San Francisco. You can check out more in my interview with PR blog Coffee and Cardigans here.

But don’t worry. Just because I’m living the dream doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the good fight! Every week I report to my PR team the top news and trends in sustainability. I spearheaded the idea actually. It’s called “10 Things to Know by 10 a.m.” I carefully sift through papers and magazines and the web to find the most relevant stories, both for my clients and my team. All before 10 a.m. on Mondays.

I’ve decided that you too should be benefitting from these lists! So, starting next week, I’ll be posting far more regularly – once a week actually – to keep you up to date. The opinions are my own, and though I try to maintain some sense of objectivity, please feel free to spark debate. You’ll be hearing from me again very soon.

Environmental Buzz Words

organicAdvertisers slap environmental buzz words all over their products, hoping to entice you as you wander around the grocery store. But now that “being green” is becoming mainstream, I think it’s time we all properly understand the eco-vernacular…especially when it comes to food.  Here are the top five eco-adjectives I’ve seen being tossed around, and what they actually mean.

Organic

Probably the most commonly used buzz word, organic refers to the process through which something is grown. For produce, it means it was grown free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, etc. For animal bi-products like meat or dairy, it refers to not treating with antibiotics or growth hormones. Be sure to look for the USDA organic seal here! But don’t let the label fool you, the term doesn’t address the conditions that the animals were raised in or if the process was environmentally friendly.

Cage-Free or Free-Range           

Both terms essentially mean the same things – the animals are not constricted to cages. But be wary here too, it sounds like they are free to roam about grassy fields for days on end, but the reality is far less pleasant. Most cage-free or free-range poultry is contained within a barn and has limited, if any, access to the outside. And because there is no third-party auditing, this term gets thrown around quite loosely.

Grass-Fed

Ideally, cattle would feed on grass their entire lives, but corn and grain are far cheaper to produce and often become the majority of a cow’s diet. Nutritionally, grass-fed cattle produce beef with less saturated fat and more nutrients than grain-finished beef. Grass-fed beef ensures that the animal has an grass-and-hay-only diet and has access to a pasture year-round. Just like organic, look for a USDA seal here as well.

Sustainable

Here is perhaps the most vague of all the eco-buzz words. Sustainable is NOT a certified label or official policy. It can be used to refer to anything from an environmentally-friendly growing structure to an energy efficient production method to eco-friendly packaging. The term is an ad hoc device, a catch-all used in marketing to appear “greener” and rally consumers’ support.

Local

Local food, be it produce or otherwise, refers to food produced or grown within a certain distance of you as a consumer, the thought in this being that consumers are pledging support for your local economy and cutting down on your food’s carbon footprint. Unfortunately, there is no set definition of what distance qualifies something as local – so use the term as a clue to check where exactly the food is coming from and then decide about your purchase.

I know all these definitions seem rather skeptical, but I think it’s important that consumers are wary of the products they purchase. Supporting better products, means better products will be provided – it’s simple supply and demand. So demand food that’s not only good for your but also good for the environment.

Suburban Backyard Chickens

chickens

Sorry for the hiatus – I spent most of November and December locked in the library finishing up my thesis. After that I spent my winter break bouncing between informational interviews in San Francisco and taking care of chickens…yes, you heard that right, chickens. And that’s actually what I write about.

First, allow me to preface this post with the fact that I am afraid of birds. So when I agreed to pet sit for my new neighbors, I assumed I would just be feeding some fish or scooping a litter box – not letting five chickens out to roost and collecting eggs. I mean, who keeps chickens in their suburban backyard? Apparently quite a few people do…and for good reason.

As it turns out, chickens are an incredibly environmentally friendly pet choice. First, just look at their eggs. Not only is it convenient to wander into your backyard for fresh eggs, but those eggs have virtually no carbon footprint. Talk about a “local” food source! Not to mention, they’re downright delicious. Plus, because you’re raising the chickens yourself, you know what the chickens were fed and what their living conditions were. Organic, cage-free, whatever – it’s more than just a label on a package.

But, to my surprise, chickens offer more than just eggs. The birds are scavengers and can be fed much of your kitchen waste (though I don’t recommend feeding them leftover pot-pie if you know what I mean). For those of you who don’t have a compost collection, this is a great alternative to help keep scraps out of landfills. Plus, at the other end of the spectrum, chicken waste is an excellent and nutritious fertilizer for your garden.

Who knew chickens were so green?

Now before you go out and get a few chickens, I will warn you there is a time commitment associated with them. You’ll need to feed them, let them out in the morning, put them in at night and clean their coop. Plus, I would do some research on which variety of chicken you want – what size works best for you, what type of egg production do you want, etc. After my experience, I would recommend a heritage-breed variety; they’re not only beautiful and quirky, but they’re threatened by modern production standards and their numbers are beginning to dwindle. Forget about them as an entrée and start thinking about chickens as pets.

Better, Greener Beer

bar-growler-w650From shopping to Starbucks to cheesecake, we all have our vices – after all, we are only human. For me it’s all about a good beer. And with the growing popularity of growlers, my good beer vice could actually be good for the environment…okay, well it’s not as bad anyway!

For those of you who have yet to get on board with the growler trend, or have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to make my case. A growler, as seen in the picture, is a squat, 64-ounce sealable container that you can get filled with your choice of beer at a variety of refill stations or breweries. The growler gets sealed with CO2 and stays fresh for up to three weeks, or three days once opened.  But why should you choose a clunky jug-o-beer over the classic six-pack you can pick up at 7-11 around the corner? Here are some reasons, to name just a few…

Less Waste

You use a refillable water bottle, why not a growler? Choosing one washable container will quickly cut down on the number of 12-ounce bottles or beer cans cluttering up your kitchen and recycling bins. Plus, you don’t have to rummage through your drawers looking for that pesky bottle opener.

Think Local

Most growler refill stations offer up a wide selection of beers, many of which are local crafts or microbrews. Beer produced closer to home and on a smaller scale has a significantly smaller carbon footprint (or water ring?) than a common domestic beer. Supporting local businesses supports your local community. It’s a win-win really.

Cost Effective

I’m not going to lie and say that growlers are super cheap, but they’re cheaper than you’d expect. Growlers generally run about $8-14 a refill, which isn’t any different than a pitcher of beer at bar or buying a local 6-pack at a specialty store. Not to mention that you don’t have to pay those darn bottle recycling deposits.

Better Quality

This part is both blatantly opinionated and fairy self-explanatory. Growler stations and tap houses have a wide selection of beers so you can choose the beer that’s best for you. Or, you can do what I did, and mix a couple beers together – chocolate espresso stout and pumpkin ale any one?

So let’s raise a glass, or growler, to better, greener beer. Cheers!

Walking the CSR Line

20131101-093456.jpgCorporate Social Responsibility. The balance between profitability and sustainability. Few companies like to walk the CSR line, and even fewer do it well. But regardless of whether we enjoy it, CSR is a key component of public relations – especially “green PR.” This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a “Leveraging Corporate Social Responsibility” workshop at the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference in Philadelphia. Here were a couple of my quick takeaways from it all:

 

Align Your Message  

Having a green image or working within your community is great…if done right. Choose a cause that’s related to your company’s goals or something that a VIP at your company has close ties to. Not only will be connected to your goals help you achieve them, but also your efforts will seem more genuine. No one wants to work with the company who picks a random organization to support just to seem more “green” or “involved.” Being passionate about a cause registers with clients and consumers and puts your company in a good light.

Go Big or Go Home

Set lofty goals. Look, we all like to set goals we know we can achieve. I’m the kind of person who puts filler things on my “to-do” list just so I know I can at least check something off. But the really impressive feats are the ones we don’t know if we can actually accomplish. People notice if you’re half-assing your goals, but if your company is setting legitimate, lofty goals (even if you don’t achieve them), you gain respect from clients and consumers. When it comes to CSR, it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all.

A Company That Cares

Good CSR doesn’t happen overnight. A company can’t just wake up and suddenly to be green. It’s about setting concrete and difficult goals. It’s about actually getting involved, not just putting on a mask to seem like you are. Don’t depart too much from your company’s intent, but challenge your organization or firm to be better, profitably and sustainably.

What is good CSR? It’s about a company that cares and that people care about.