Archives for posts with tag: sustainability

 

clothes

Clothing Facts – Should this be on all clothes?

Triple Pundit put together a great series of articles on the sustainability of the fashion industry. With thoughts of Memorial Day, I took a look at the article asking a simple question: Is made in the USA always the most sustainable choice?

The answer it seems is not so clear cut. When it comes to clothes, a number of social and environmental factors play a role in the sustainability of our purchases. Labor concerns are perhaps the most recognizable struggle of the garment industry, and the environmental impacts are nothing to blink at as Triple Pundit points out:

Among the environmental concerns associated with the clothing and textile industry are:

  • Pesticides used to protect textiles can harm wildlife, contaminate water supplies and get into the air and the food we eat.  Cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world
  • Chemicals that are used to bleach and dye textiles are often toxic.
  • Discarded clothing fills up landfills. Americans generate 12.4 million tons of textile waste annually. That means that, on average, every American throws out roughly the equivalent of their own body weight in clothing every year.
  • Textile machinery causes noise, sound and air pollution.
  • Over-usage of natural resources like plants and water depletes or disturbs ecological balance. Most of this usage is in the agricultural phase, with lesser amounts in the production phase and consumption phase for laundering.

These concerns can occur anywhere, though some countries have stronger environmental regulations than others.

Now, by default garments made in the USA must adhere to EPA and local standards regarding waste water as well as labor laws, but this does not mean they have to go organic or have the smallest carbon footprint of anything available on the shelf. One of the questions we have to ask when buying any clothing is – what is it made of?

Organic boyfriend material?

This is where the Triple Pundit article begins to struggle with what the best choices are for the sustainability minded consumer as it begins to delve into the economic consequences of outsourcing manufacturing due to lowered labor costs and how that in turn reduces the power of american consumers to buy made in the USA products as they have higher labor costs and thus higher prices. A vicious cycle indeed.

While articles made in the USA carry less of a carbon footprint in terms of miles traveled, and support our economy locally by paying higher (not necessarily living) wages, these are just some of the many factors to be considered when shopping with sustainability in mind. This is well demonstrated in the OneGreenPlanet guide for those of us looking to wear green, and it considers many of the ‘other’ factors outside of location of creation.

But how about you readers – how much do you consider sustainability when buying clothes? is it all about looks or does your beauty sense go deeper than what covers your skin?  Know of any other resources on where one can shop for green clothes? Do you have any clothing that you consider green or fair trade?

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Going green often starts with what you eat: fair trade tea, organic apples. We buy these products because they reduce impacts on people and planet. But when we go to the Pharmacy to pick up our needed medicines, we often remain uninformed of these issues. Who ever heard of organic Lipitor?

Though the pharmaceutical industry takes great strides to ensure a reliable and safe supply chain as demanded by FDA safety regulations, a lack of awareness of the environmental impacts of the pharmaceutical supply chain led to an atmosphere which made the Heparin Incident possible. People died as a result.

Business for Social Responsibility(BSR), an international NGO dedicated to promoting ethics and environmental sustainability in multinational corporations, created the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI) to address these essential issues. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Andrew Matthews, Manager of Advisory Services at BSR and discuss their work in this and other areas:

“BSR [does] a lot of different types of work, we do a lot of strategy…number one: how you set your CSR priorities and then integrate those with the core business strategy and measure those over time. And we also do a lot of work with supply chain sustainability so looking at ethics, labor, environment, health, safety and management systems, help companies put the protocols into place to help manage their suppliers in an effective way and further sustainability. My focus, [in addition to] supply chain, is on industry, on healthcare, we focus on social innovation, focusing on emerging markets…”

Andrew was able to draw on his diverse experience of work both internationally and in the investor community in order to further services at BSR. Having worked in a variety of prior roles including a corporate strategy startup in DC where “we helped fortune 500 companies understand the political and economic environments of BRIC countries” and a year teaching English in Malayasia, Andrew has a unique and distinctive perspective on the challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry. His overall trajectory towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) started in college. While researching business ethics he learned “how the private sector was doing a lot to further Millennium Development Goals and was often making a bigger impact, a more measurable impact than non-profits – which was where I was working at the time.” He finds his work at BSR satisfying and empowering as “its really a great marriage of development and private sector financial sector thinking – applying commercial solutions to social problems.” Currently, his work focuses both on healthcare and medical device industry initiatives in addition to PSCI.

On the origins and overall goals of the PSCI, Andrew explained:

“There is an initiative in industry called the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and they came together as an industry to understand how they could improve their supply chain, both from procurement and selecting suppliers, and evaluating them in audits, to improving them through supplier capacity building initiatives and monitoring them over time. We saw an opportunity to do that in the pharmaceutical industry. So, in 2006, four companies came together and put together a set of principles that govern responsible supply chain management.  After those principles were released, between ‘07 and ‘09, there was an explosion of interest and now we are up to 17 companies.”

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EICC – Model for BSR’s PSCI

BSR was not satisfied with having simply another declaration that companies could put in their marketing material. BSR wanted to take this out of the boardroom and into the field. Andrew elaborated on this point:

“From the time we set the principles into place, we thought how do we put them into practice. So we launched an audit program, that sends in site auditors preferably with pharmaceutical experience, to look at these suppliers and how they match PSCI principles whether they are living up to them and then they create an audit report that is shared amongst all the members. They evaluate the suppliers against criteria our members have established, which include ethics labor environment, health, safety and management systems. Then we also provide resources for these suppliers to learn more about what they can do related to sustainability, so we have an online library for suppliers, in 2014 we are having teleconferences and a workshop in China actually in 2013 we held a conference in Europe on industrial hygiene and a lot of suppliers in Europe attended that and enjoyed it. We have seen rising interest from suppliers and it’s poised to grow.”

The field of responsible supply chain management is growing, and no sector exemplifies the challenges and possibilities more than that of pharmaceuticals. Understanding the implications of factories on the health of their workers and environment, as well as the multiple different chemical components needed to manufacture a single drug, are the key issues that need addressing in this sector. As the heparin incident exemplifies, these issues can rapidly deteriorate into one where patients are harmed if supply chains are not properly managed. And companies are listening and beginning to engage:

“One of the biggest reasons PSCI members get involved is because they see supply chain as a business risk, because if the supplier explodes, to put it bluntly, will affect the ability to get millions of dollars of product to the market. They see it as a significant risk and take it seriously. They see sustainability more and more as a valid set of issues to take into their analyses.”

As the PSCI eloquently shows, sustainability and collaboration can go hand in hand. Through sharing information, the industry is able to move forward together. While PSCI shares some information publicly, it is hoped that through further transparency and embracing the principles of open source, the entire field of pharmaceutical manufacturing can benefit from the breakthroughs of these leading companies.

Chico and his family

Today marks the 25th anniversary of death of Chico Mendes, a union leader and environmental activist who fought for the protection of the Amazon and pioneered the use of extractive reserves. In a tale that is familiar today, Mendez fought for sustainable use of the forest while cattle ranchers sought to clear the land. As The Guardian reports:

Mendes was an obvious target. As well as lobbying successfully to end international financing for Amazon clearance, he organised the rubber tappers in non-violent resistance. Men, women and children would form human barricades known as “empates” to prevent the bulldozers from tearing down trees. His success made him many enemies and he knew he was a marked man.

His killer was from a family of cattle ranchers, whose efforts to expand their pastures was held up by the empates. Darcy Alves, 22, and his father Darly were convicted in 1990 and jailed for 19 years. Although they are now free, former associates of Mendes said the assassination backfired. “Those who killed Chico got it wrong. They thought by killing him, the tappers’ movement would be demobilised, but they made him immortal. His ideas still have a huge influence,” said Gomercindo Rodriquez, who came to Xapuri as a young agronomist in 1986, and later became Mendes’s trusted adviser.

Mendes wanted the forest to be used sustainably rather than cut off from economic activity (as some environmentalists wanted) or cut down (as the farmers wanted). He proposed the establishment of extractive reserves for tappers, Brazil nut collectors and others who harvested nature in a balanced way. After his death the first of many such reserves in Brazil, the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, was created, covering 1m hectares of forest around Xapuri.

After years of decline, the demand for latex from a local condom factory has boosted the price of rubber, and many tappers, who had turned to raising cattle, have returned to the forest. “This is Chico’s legacy,” said Gomercindo. “The extractive reserves have meant the preservation of the forest – all around it has been destroyed for cattle pasture. They have become an example, they now exist in other areas of Brazil.”

A day to remember and reflect on those who fight for the voiceless forest and her downtrodden people. Read more at The Guardian.

Kurt Vonnegut’s vision of the Chronosynchlastic Infidibulum has come true, except instead of our bodies being dispersed across interstellar space,  it is our everyday products that are dispersed over space and time across the globe. Networks of suppliers are mirrored by social networks with information flowing (relatively) freely to anyone with a wifi connection… and informed consumers are now scrutinizing their purchases to a greater degree than ever before. The rise of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement fueled an expectation of transparency amongst the multi-nationals that operate from a nominal home base but only truly coalesce as a product in your living room, or in this case a consulting report for building a dam.

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Rumfoord’s dog Kazak materializing on Titan

Poyry, with over 5000 employees, is one of the largest international consulting design firms in the world and a major economic player in its home base of Helsinki, Finland. Yet Poyry’s work reaches far from Finalnd, and its role in the Xayaburi dam project represents a case of how the evolving legal concepts around CSR are starting to provide a mechanism through which stakeholders can influence company policies. As The Diplomat reports:

The Xayaburi dam project has been the subject of an international consultation process under the auspices of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which comprises four member states: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam

But the MRC has split between Laos and Thailand, which support the dam (Thailand is providing all the funding and will purchase 95% of the power generated), and Cambodia and Vietnam, which view dams on the Mekong as a cumulative threat to agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods.

Scientists warn that a cascade of dams threaten food security along the Mekong for around 65 million people. The prime minsters of both Cambodia and Vietnam have demanded further scientific studies on downriver impacts to be carried out prior to any construction, but supported by Pöyry’s recommendations, Laos has ignored its Indochina neighbors.

It was the deadlock inside the MRC that prompted the government of Laos to hire Zurich-based Pöyry Energy, allegedly with a view to circumventing the consultation procedures laid down by the 1995 Mekong Treaty

In response, fourteen Finnish NGOs filed a landmark case against Pöyry, alleging that it had violated OECD rules. Finland was obliged to set up a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee in 2012, to hear the complaint against parent firm Pöyry PLC, the parent company in Helsinki.

As the largest donor to the MRC, Finland has a special interest in the Xayaburi controversy. All development partners of the MRC have expressed deep concerns about the environmental impacts of Xayaburi,   the first dam to be built on the Lower Mekong.

The Finnish NGOs have accused the international consultant Pöyry of promoting a reckless and irresponsible mode of development, and undermining international cooperation among the riparian countries through the Mekong River Commission.

Pöyry has since announced that it has won a new eight-year contract to supervise construction of the Xayaburi dam.

Poyry’s work on the Xayaburi was not the first time the company was involved with the Mekong. In the 1990’s, Vietnam hired Swiss consultant Electrowatt (now part of Poyry) to build a controversial set of dams on a tributary to the Mekong in Vietnam, despite the protests of Cambodia. Like the situation in Xayaburi, Electrowatt’s analysis did not include any downstream impacts from the dam construction. The case of the Yali Dam set a precedent for ignoring regional neighbors, and it appears Laos took note of a compliant consultant to hire.

OECD guidelines stipulate that “Enterprises should contribute to economic, environmental and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development”.  Poyry’s role in shepherding along approval of the dam in Laos and its subsequent multi-million dollar contract to oversee construction, present an affront to the OECD guidelines, not to mention a conflict of interest.

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Protesters downstream of the proposed dam referring to Poyry’s role in the process

This was clear to the group of over a dozen Finnish NGO’s who sued Poyry, claiming the company was in violation of international law and undermining the Mekong River Commission as detailed on the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. The case ultimately went to the Finnish Ministry of Employment and Economy for a ruling from its committee on Corporate Social Responsibility. Through a series of secretly submitted documents, Poyry was ultimately able to escape any sanctions for its behavior in the case, as OECD Watch reports:

The final statement confirms that consulting and business service companies such as Pöyry are covered by the Guidelines and have a responsibility to conduct due diligence to avoid being linked to adverse social and environmental impacts caused by their clients. However, the NCP determined that Pöyry had not acted in breach of the Guidelines in this case. Finnwatch, an NGO advising the NCP, issued a statement disputing this finding.

The case, which was the first ever handled by the Finnish NCP, raises serious concerns about the NCPs equitability. The NCP gave in to Pöyrys demands for an excessive degree of confidentiality and did not allow the complainants to see or rebut to the companys response to the allegations. The NCP based part of its final statement on Pöyrys confidential response, which was never shared with the complainants a practice that has been deemed unacceptable by other NCPs. Recall that a similar lack of equitability led the UK NCPs Steering Board to overturn its own flawed final statement in the BP BTC case in 2011.

Regardless of the ultimate result, the case presents an example of the maturing of the CSR field from a series of well-(or not)-intentioned yet unverified reports of corporate progress to a verifiable and accountable set of policies and actions taken by corporations with true legal and economic consequences. Though it was the first case heard by the Finnish government regarding OECD CSR guidelines, it will certainly not be the last, and that type of precedent is one other stakeholders can utilize to address social and environmental concerns.

When it comes to intractable trans-boundary natural resource problems, which the Mekong is a prime example of, the more stakeholders with a voice at the table the better the outcomes can be. Consultants and coprorations operating in the developing world would do well to consider the full sustainability impacts of their operations lest they find themselves in greater legal risk from newly emerging models of regulation in regards to CSR.

What do you think? Are new legal mechanisms for CSR compliance (e.g. OECD Guidelines) an effective means to enforce good corporate governance? Or do they need more teeth to make an impact? Feel free to share thought and any similar examples.

With the recent change in guidelines from the AHA and ACC, as many as 70 million Americans may end up taking Statins to reduce their chance of heart attack and stroke. Already, Lipitor (atorvastatin) was the greatest selling medication of modern times with over 40 million Americans taking the drug at its peak. At an average of 20 mg per pill, this resulted in over 292 metric tons of lipitor produced per year*.

At 250 Tons, Hong Kong’s Tian Tan Buddha weighs less than the lipitor consumed every year in the US

Despite this large scale, few outside of the Green Chemistry field are aware of the myriad of environmental impacts from the supply chains used to produce Lipitor.  Creating Lipitor requires a complex series of chemical reactions. Along the way, various different solvents, raw materials and catalysts are needed to finally create the active pharmacological ingredient that can reduce cholesterol in humans.

atorvastatin

Synthesis of Atorvastatin(Lipitor), courtesy of newdrugapprovals.wordpress.com

Acetonitrile is one solvent used in the synthesis of Lipitor. Acetontirile is produced from the catalytic ammoxidation of propylene. Propylene (aka propene) is itself derived from fossil fuels, namely natural gas and coal.  The industrially produced ammonia used in the process comes from Natural Gas. Aside from the odd fact that your cholesterol is lowered at least in part thanks to fossil fuels, there is also the case of the Beijing Olympics.

Beijing’s Air – The Olympics were a temporary respite

Beijing’s notorious air pollution was under the microscope prior to the 2008 Olympic Games. The Chinese authorities instituted a number of measures, such as shutting down factories near the city and reducing car use, to clean up the air. Some of these factories were producers of Acetonitrile. Those closures, combined with the shutdown of Texan facilities impacted by Hurricane Ike, resulted in a global shortage of Acetonitrile.  The shortage of Acetonitrile resulted in a price spike, directly impacting the bottom line of all those that use the solvent, including pharmaceutical companies.

This small lesson highlights how understanding the supply chain of your products could have potentially resulted in avoiding a commodity price spike…and the embarrassing, or potentially liable, connection to worsening health outcomes in heavily polluted developing countries…

On the flip side of these petrochemical derived substances is a potential opening for renewable supplies and green chemistry. Ammonia, which accounts for over 1% of total global energy use, is possible to derive from renewable electricity when using Hydrogen derived by hydrolysis (see Iceland). Propylene is also a target of green chemistry with some companies using microbes to synthesize the needed compound rather than relying on natural gas or coal.

therewillbebugs

J. Craig Venter is collaborating with Exxon to create biofuels from algae

But back to Big Pharma. Supply chain accountability starts at the bench: each solvent, catlalyst and substrate has its own set of sources and associated impacts. Following the principles of Green Chemistry keeps the focus in the right direction, but a broader view is needed in the industry to ensure that price spikes such as the Acetonitrile incident don’t happen again. If Acentonitrile came from sustainable sources, or if a green alternative was found, Pharma companies could have used their engagement with the manufacturers to not only show their commitment to the environment but also ensure a reliable source of solvent  with less potential liability from the downstream health effects of their suppliers. And that’s a strategy that works for the triple bottom line.

*Unofficial back of the envelope calculations figuring 20mg avg statin pill API * 1 dose per day * 40,000,000 patients * 365 days/yr = 292,000,000,0000 mg or 292 metric tonnes.

Recently while I was shopping on Amazon for a sustainable source of coffee to satisfy my morning buzz, I came across a coffee shop that was selling unique coffee grown in the Cerrado region of South America. After all I learned of the Cerrado through my XMNR courses, the largest and most ancient grassland savanna that mankind has a privilege to experience, it was upsetting to see someone describing it as “native” because I knew the region needed tremendous industrial transformation of its acidic soil in order to be suitable for growing any products at all. When I asked the seller if it was sustainable, he answered “I would think so, coffee is native to Brazil!!”

Across the web and the grocery aisle, terms like sustainable, natural, and organic have been reduced to marketing phrases. The promulgation of a myriad of labels and standards, together with a lack of transparency on what actually makes a product sustainable, has made it nearly impossible to shop for ethically sourced consumer goods without a masters in sustainability! This is not something we should expect from the average consumer.

Can we seriously know the veracity, sourcing, standards and impacts of every one of these labels?

 

A similar situation existed with medicines in the 1800s. Charlatans of all types sold medicines with wild claims and even those destined for doctors offices could not be assured that what was in them was the actual pharmaceutical. On top of that, a variety of regulations from different states within the US created a dizzying set of standards that essentially made companies selling in multiple states have to create a different type of product for each market, even if it was the same thing they were selling! The situation was dangerous to the public, bad for business, and stymied the progress of medical science. It was not until a coalition of a crusading chemist, women’s activists clubs, and multi-state businesses came together to push the federal government into creating the FDA that the safe foods and effective medications we come to rely upon today were standardized. It was an early example of a cross-sectorial collaboration between the public, business, academia and government – Collective Impact if you will.

A cartoon showing an elephant with a label, Hamlin's Wizard Oil,

Best Pain Remedy on Earth – Yup, sure.

Fast forward to 2013, and we have the multiple sets of organic, rainforest friendly, energy efficient and green labels that confronts and confuse us when we try to make ethically based purchases. It would seem obvious that what we need is an “eFDA”, or at least a set of agreed upon standards that can simply guide us when making purchasing decisions. We need a Nutrition Facts label for sustainability. And just as the Nutrition Facts uses agreed upon scientific standards to show us what is in our food, we need similar standards to show us where our products come from, as well as the environmental, social and economic impacts created in the process of production. Think of how much water to produce a can of beans, or how much energy to manufacture a laptop, or how many trees to create the toilet paper.

Mark Bittman recently wrote in the NYT about his dream food label which would encompass nutrition, “foodness” and welfare in a simplified, standardized label:

EcoLabel

simple and to the point

The most difficult part, and the one with the most opportunity for sustainability professionals is that of “welfare”, which he writes would encompass the following:

“The third is the broadest (and trickiest); we’re calling it “Welfare.” This would include the treatment of workers, animals and the earth. Are workers treated like animals? Are animals produced like widgets? Is environmental damage significant? If the answer to those three questions is “yes” — as it might be, for example, with industrially produced chickens — then the score would be zero, or close to it. If the labor force is treated fairly and animals well, and waste is insignificant or recycled, the score would be higher.”

As Bittman notes, his proposal is not an end but a beginning of the conversation about how to create sustainability food labels. And for sustainability professionals, the subject of unified, simple and effective labeling is one that will require a Collective Impact approach. There is too much competition for grants and market position among for and non-profits alike in the green label field, for the sake of the planet we need to begin to come together around a label we can all agree upon, and read!