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.

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.

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.