Celebrating Eco-Progress: Starbucks

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest, 90 miles north of Seattle, for close to 20 years, and in this corner of the world it’s almost unbearably cliché to blog about how much I love coffee.

Suffice to say, despite my February 2011 rant against my state’s coffee fetish

…I LOVE the java!

And, despite my preference for supporting local businesses, I even admit to loving that multinational megacoffeecorporation, Starbucks. (What can I say? I’ve tried many, many coffees from all kinds of roasters, some good, some bad, some ugly, but I always know, when I walk into a Starbucks, that I will like what they serve.)

And while they can certainly be doing more, Starbucks has incorporated sustainable practices in their operations, for years, and today I read about another new initiative, perfect for a new installment in my Celebrating Eco-Progress series.

Via GOOD.is:

Starbucks Is Funding Research That Would Turn Food Waste into Useful Stuff

Who’s got tons of old coffee grounds headed for the trash? Starbucks. And who’s got great ideas for repurposing waste? Scientists. It’s a promising match.

A team of researchers at the City University of Hong Kong are working on a new “biorefinery” that would turn food waste into something useful, and it’s been getting funding from Starbucks Hong Kong, which produces 5,000 tons of spent grounds and bakery waste each year.

According to a press release, the biorefinery (above) uses a mixture of fungi, which excrete enzymes that break down carbohydrates (like the ones in those coffee grounds) into simple sugars, which then go into a fermenter to become succinic acid. That succinic acid can then be used as an ingredient in a wide variety of products, including detergents, bio-plastics, and medicines.

Starbucks has been giving away, free of charge, sacks of spent coffee grounds since 1999, for use in composting, but this new effort is exciting for the decidedly larger positive impact it could have.

Way to go, Starbucks! Keep up the good work!

Celebrating Eco-Progress: Guiness

I confess.

I did not wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Nor did I attend any St. Patrick’s Day event.

I ate no corned beef and cabbage, and I raised no pint of Guiness.

But, I did read, much to my environmentalist delight, that Guiness, the legendary Irish brewing company, has made significant commitments to sustainable practices, earning them an installment in my Celebrating Eco-Progress series.

Via the National Resources Defense Council blog:

“Sustainability and enhancing the environment of the Dublin communities has been a core philosophy of the Guinness Company since it was founded,” said Paul Carty, Managing Director at the Guinness Storehouse, the brewery’s large and historic facility at St. James’s Gate in the Irish capital. Last year the Storehouse, now a major tourist attraction hosting a million visitors annually, received a three-star accreditation from Sustainable Travel International for its environmental commitment. (The actual brewing was moved from the old facility in 1988.)

Among the highlights recognized by the award are these:

  • Adoption of environmental performance indicators
  • Measures to reduce waste, chemical use, and energy consumption
  • Use of paper products derived from sustainably managed forests
  • Advanced lighting technology
  • Local food sourcing
  • Locally sourced construction materials
  • Sustainability training for staff

That parenthetical note, that the actual brewing is done at a different facility, does seem a bit of a letdown, and of course the Guiness we drink here in the States necessarily has a regrettably large carbon footprint just for being shipped here.

And yet, as I’ve always said about the companies I feature in Celebrating Eco-Progress, in recognition that every little bit of effort does indeed help, I applaud the measures that have been taken, and I encourage us all to applaud them as well, indicating loud and clear that this is, indeed, a direction their customers would like to see them continue going in.

I’ve written before of my fondness for being down at the pub, having a pint with the lads, so I’m looking forward to, first chance I get, lifting a glass of Guiness stout and drinking it with hope for a sustainable future.

Celebrating Eco-Progress: Sprint

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data for 2009:

  • 141 million: number of mobile devices ready for End-of-Life Management
  • 129 million: number of mobile devices disposed
  • 11.7 million: number of mobile devices collected for recycling

I touched on the E-waste problem in a Celebrating Eco-Progress installment in April 2011, Dell was the recipient of my recognition back then, and today I celebrate considerable and welcome efforts by Sprint to address the environmental impacts of their business.

Via SmartPlanet:

For Sprint, it is no longer enough that some mobile phones and handsets have been vetted for the sustainability of their materials and packaging.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the company is now subjecting all of the devices it offers on its wireless services to the environmental sustainability certification process that it has developed with UL Environment.

Sprint pioneered this approach with the Samsung Replenish (pictured at the right). The standard…looks at:

  • The sensitivity of materials used
  • How well the phone manages energy
  • The manufacturing process
  • Packaging
  • The manufacturer’s product stewardship
  • How the product is put together from a design standpoint, so it can be fixed or updated more easily

It is the last item on the list that really stands out to me, since it speaks to one of the primary causes for such high disposal rates.

As I wrote in my older post:

Just think about cellphones for a second. From a profit motive standpoint, the two-year contract was a stroke of brilliance, as it has now become almost standard practice for consumers to replace a perfectly good cellphone every two years just because you can do so and get a new phone at a significant discount. Cellphone manufacturers and carriers figured out that the increase in sales volume from such a dynamic would not only compensate for the discounts they offer for upgrades, but would actually stabilize a market with a predictable life cycle.

While I don’t see an end in sight for two-year contracts tied to upgrades, it will be interesting to see if Sprint’s new practices can achieve their lofty goals:

“By being the first carrier to require all wireless phones to go through the UL Environment certification process, we expect to accelerate adoption of this standard throughout the wireless industry,” said David Owens, vice president of product development for Sprint, in a statement about the new policy.

It remains to be seen if customers will eventually, in larger numbers, fix or upgrade their phones rather than replacing them every two years as a result of actions like Sprint’s, but it certainly is worth a shot!

Keep up the good work, Sprint!

Celebrating Eco-Progress: Facebook

On the surface, it might not seem that a web company like Facebook could be all that damaging to the environment.

After all, they don’t mine or farm or manufacture anything, right? It’s just a website, it’s so intangible, it’s just made up of millions of 0s and 1s buzzing around the globe.

Well, don’t tell that to Greenpeace, who had been rigorously protesting Facebook for their data centers, facilities that consume massive amounts of electricity, most of which had been generated in coal-burning plants.

Today’s Celebrating Eco-Progress installment, however, brings good news (via PC Magazine)

Facebook has announced a partnership with Greenpeace that will see the two organizations improve the social network’s renewable energy efforts.

Few actual details were revealed, but in a joint statement Facebook said that the company would begin enforcing a new policy that would see a shift towards “clean and renewable energy.” This includes continuous research into energy efficiency through its Open Compute Project as well promoting sustainability and efficiency practices alongside Greenpeace.

“Facebook is committed to supporting the development of clean and renewable sources of energy, and our goal is to power all of our operations with clean and renewable energy,” the statement read. “Building on our leadership in energy efficiency (through the Open Compute Project), we are working in partnership with Greenpeace and others to create a world that is highly efficient and powered by clean and renewable energy.”

Greenpeace is not known for falling for political and corporate smoke and mirrors, and so it’s highly significant that Facebook’s sustainability initiatives have met with their approval.

Keep up the good work, Facebook!

Celebrating Eco-Progress: Hilton

It’s been a while since my last installment of Celebrating Eco-Progress — my series of posts dedicated to appreciating companies for adopting or expanding sustainable practices — because I’ve been too pissed off at big business and the 1% to pat them on the back for anything.

However, I still stand by my assertion that providing positive feedback to companies when they do something good is an effective way of encouraging them to do more and more good things.

So, today I applaud Hilton Hotels for a new partnership they’ve struck with Good360.

Via GreenBiz.com:

Hilton Worldwide has found another way to give its surplus and gently used items a second life. The hotel chain is the latest firm to partner with Good360, a nonprofit that channels product donations from companies to charities.

Non-perishable goods likely to come from Hilton properties could range from furniture, bedding and appliances to office equipment, a corporate spokeswoman said yesterday.

Some hotels in the chain are already working with Good360, she said. The corporate partnership provides a formal avenue for others to participate and find a home for usable items that would be discarded when a property replaces its furnishings, redecorates or upgrades equipment.

Very cool! It’s one thing for an organization like Good360 to exist, but companies like Hilton have to make the commitment to work with them.

And just in case you think that Good360 is some small time organization…

Other firms that work with Good360 include The Home Depot, HP, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, Disney and H&M. Good360, originally founded as Gifts-in-Kind in 1983, has distributed more than $7 billion worth of donated products to charities and schools over the past 28 years, according to Kara Kozimor, spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

Meanwhile, less, um, palpable, but just as praiseworthy:

Earlier this month, Hilton announced that it is working with the Global Soap Project to recycle used soap from hotels. The bars of hand and bath soap are collected and reprocessed into new ones for use in crisis areas, such as refugee camps. Hilton also is investing $1.3 million to expand the nonprofit’s soap processing operation.

Keep up the good work, Hilton!

Celebrating Eco-Progress: Patagonia

Listen, I LOVE Patagonia outdoor gear and clothing, though I almost certainly wouldn’t dish out the premium prices if it weren’t for several factors:

  • They use recycled materials whenever possible
  • They use organic cotton
  • They make their clothing to last so that it doesn’t need to be replaced nearly as often

Just this morning, on my bicycle ride to work, I wore Patagonia shoes that have a 70% recycled cork footbed and 100% recycled insole; blue jeans made from 100% organic cotton, which I bought used; and a jacket made with recycled plastic soda bottles.

All excellent supply-side sustainability measures, for sure, but today’s Celebrating Eco-Progress installment looks at how Patagonia is one of the few companies out there addressing the consumption side of the sustainability equation.

Via GreenBiz.com:

One such challenge around changing consumption is how to extend the use phase of the lifecycle. An inspiring prototype comes in Patagonia’s Common Threads initiative, which allows customers to sell used Patagonia products through eBay.

It’s a powerful testament to the apparel’s key brand attributes of quality and high performance, but it also carries the idea beyond just extending the use phase of the lifecycle: It’s about creating and extending product narratives that enhance the value of the goods for consumers and the brand simultaneously — now, goods that previously were discarded or remained dormant in storage become active reinvigorations of the company’s products.

According to Patagonia’s Common Threads website:

  • The population of the United States discards 11.9 million tons of clothing, shoes, and textiles per year.
  • Since 2005, we’ve taken back 45 tons of clothing for recycling and made 34 tons into new clothes.

Now, one thing the GreenBiz.com article overlooks is that Patagonia is really just riffing off an idea that’s been around for many, many years. Used clothing and gear stores, either of the thrift or consignment variety, have extended the lifespan of many tons of clothing, shoes, and textiles, not to mention many other household items.

The Patagonia innovation that is cause for celebration, however, is the wide-scale collection of used product by the producer in order to reuse as much of the material as possible.

THAT is cool!

Celebrating Eco-Progress: EDF + Partners

As anyone who regularly reads my Celebrating Eco-Progress installments knows, the series is meant as an experiment in positive reinforcement, to applaud big businesses when they adopt sustainable practices, communicating to them that sustainability is a win(business)-win(consumer)-win(planet) scenario.

Well, every sustainable business decision depends on many environment-minded individuals, from executives in companies trying to transform their business models from the inside, to consultants and non-profits working from the outside, trying to influence and assist companies to see light and make changes.

Today’s Celebrating Eco-Progress installment looks at an exciting, highly successful partnership between insiders and outsiders.

Via Sustainable Life Media:

Seventy-eight companies, cities and universities identified $650 million in potential energy efficiency savings with the help of MBA and MPA students trained by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The brilliance of this program is two-fold:

  • Students: As a supervisor of university student employees, I can attest to their potential to bring crucial energy, enthusiasm, and innovation to projects like this. This EDF Climate Corps is doing nothing less than producing a generation of environmental heroes.
  • Green is Good Business: As I’ve written before, marketing the cost-savings companies will experience by instituting sustainable practices is key!

So, you might ask, it’s one thing to identify the possible savings, but how effective is Climate Corps at actually yielding real action from the companies?

Via Inhabitat:

In the last four years the program has identified energy savings equivalent to the reduction of 1 million metric tons of CO2 and has reduced energy operating costs for the life of the businesses involved by $1 billion.

The fact that the Climate Corps started with just seven students and has grown to 96 is a very encouraging development.

And, in keeping with the Celebrating Eco-Progress mission, here’s a shout-out to all the companies rising to the Climate Corps challenge:

…this year the partners included Adidas, AT&T, Avon, Belk, Dunkin’ Brands, Facebook, Target, McDonald’s, New York City Housing Authority, Microsoft and REI.

Celebrating Eco-Progress: AT&T

While AT&T continues to piss people off with their monopolistic tendencies and their worst-in-the-industry customer service, this Celebrating Eco-Progress installment takes a look at efforts they’re making to be more eco-friendly.

Via GreenBix.com:

Just in the last few years, we’ve seen a surge in companies experimenting with plastics derived from sugarcane…

Now we can add AT&T to the list. The telecommunications giant said yesterday it will begin using sugarcane-based plastic in packaging for its branded wireless accessories, such as cell phone cases and power cords that hit the shelves beginning Oct. 2. As much as 30 percent of the packaging will come from ethanol made from sugarcane.

Now, I do have a few concerns about this news.

First, 30% is a relatively small number, and this GreenBiz post is rather confusing about just what will be made of sugarcane and what will not. Specifically, the term packaging is used twice, but there’s a reference to cell phone cases and power cords. Those are VERY different things.

Second, while the prospect of replacing petroleum-derived plastics with plastics made from corn or sugarcane initially sounds like a great idea, as I wrote back in July concerning biofuels, there’s the no-small-matter of carbon output from harvesting, refinement, production, and transportation; conversion of prime agricultural land from food production to plastics on a planet with a booming, hungry population; and potentially disastrous farming practices.

Concerning the latter, this tidbit jumped out at me:

Sensing a market opportunity, Dow Chemical has launched a joint venture in Brazil to make bioplastic using ethanol made from sugarcane, we reported last month. The company claims it can do this at a competitive price-point.

Given that Dow is a pesticide giant, the chances that the sugarcane they use will be organic are clearly in snowball-in-hell territory.

So, you might ask, why would I even bother including this in the Celebrating Eco-Progress series?

Well, if there is even a small chance that AT&T truly has altruistic motivations toward becoming more eco-friendly, I still believe they need to hear from consumers that we’d very much like to see them continue, and by pointing out the flaws in the choices they are making, we at least let them know that they need to do better at the same time.

Celebrating Eco-Progress: Volkswagen

In this installment of Celebrating Eco-Progress, a shout-out to Volkswagen for this massive move toward a sustainable future:

Via Reuters:

German carmaker Volkswagen will boost its planned commitment to renewable energy, investing almost 1 billion euros ($1.44 billion) in the production of environmentally friendly energy over two years, the Financial Times Deutschland reported…

The German business daily said on Friday that the company was looking to buy an interest in at least two offshore windparks in the process…

Late in June, the group’s plant unit Volkswagen Kraftwerk GmbH signed a deal to draw roughly 10 percent of the electricity used in its 12 German manufacturing plants from hydropower generated by Austria’s Verbund starting 2013.

Volkswagen has set a target of reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from its production plants by 40 percent over a period of ten years compared with 2010.

Now, before this is interpreted as purely altruistic, as I wrote back in July, make no mistake about it, this is first and foremost a business decision. With volatility in the oil market not likely to go away, like, ever, and, of course, the fact that there is a finite supply of fossil fuels on the planet, VW is clearly taking steps to plan for an oil-free future.

Smart, and let’s hope they keep making such selfish choices!

Celebrating Eco-Progress: IKEA

For anyone new to my Celebrating Eco-Progress series, this is my humble attempt to pat big business on the back and thank them when they make commitments to sustainable practices.

Sure, there’s MUCH more that they can do. I just like to think that they will be more inclined to make additional efforts if the efforts they do make are noticed and appreciated.

In this installment, we applaud Swedish housewares chain IKEA.

Via treehugger.com:

IKEA UK To Go 100 Percent Renewable

You may not like their particleboard furniture, but you’ve sure got to love IKEA’s use of renewable energy. The Swedish retailer is stepping up their clean energy game in a big-time way in the UK, setting a goal to get all of its energy from renewable sources. It wants to be 80 percent there by 2015.

IKEA is now installing 39,000 solar panels on the rooftops of its UK stores, and it recently purchased a 12.3-MW wind farm in Huntly, Scotland. This single purchase creates enough clean energy to power 30 percent of IKEA’s UK electricity consumption.

What really stood out for me…

Why is IKEA doing this? One reason is to safeguard itself from fluctuating energy prices. It already has wind farms in Denmark, Germany, France, and elsewhere in the UK, and it spends a huge number–$1.7 billion–on energy every year.

This idea that going green is good for business can’t be overstated.

In our interconnected world, the long-term survival of our planet, of the people on it, and of a marketplace that depends on people (consumers) to buy goods and services, really depends on transitioning to sustainable and resilient systems.