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Archive for the ‘emissions’ Category

Something has been bugging me for a while now. It’s not a new issue but something that has been slapping me on the head daily for the last few months more than it has done in the past. Maybe it is the continued economic struggles the world is going through. Maybe it is the Occupy movement. Or maybe it is just me in desperate need of a vacation on my dream island of Kauai. Whatever the reason might be… The question I ask myself is whether we working in sustainability/CSR/Shared Value (or whatever you call it) are dealing with the fundamental challenges the world face today or are we just working on some of the symptoms and applying band-aid to a sickness that needs much more than what we have to offer?

I don’t question that we are doing the right thing for the right reason. We are trying to make this world a little bit more sustainable. We are trying to make companies be more responsible as good citizens of this world. We are trying to prove that good business can be done by doing good. That capitalism with a heart is possible. That money can be made by sharing value with society. That business has a social purpose that it should embrace. Yes, we are doing good work and we are making a difference. But is it enough?

The world is consuming at levels that are unsustainable. We cannot consume the way we have in the past and expect everything to be okay. But the economic system that we live and survive on is based on more consumption. Consumption of products. Consumption of credit. Consumption of energy. More and more of each and everything.

We’ve seen where this has got us so far. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It’s been like a frog being boiled. It’s been a slow squeeze on the middle class and the working class over decades. When the system started running into problems we the people adapted and everyone started to work to pay the bills and buy those things we need – and those things we want. But income didn’t keep up. And slowly the world got into more debt to stay afloat. And then the bubble when kaboom.

The same is true of the environment. We consume so much more crap food, in the West especially, that farming had to change from providing us with food to providing us with GM foods, hormone injected meat, fields of corn for sugar and cereal and everything you can think of, and so much more crap. All because we wanted more and more of this crap food to feed our greed and insecurities. And we manufactured in ways and drove our cars without knowing that slowly but surely we are choking the world and messing with the climate.

And so it goes on. We know how we got here. We got here because we believed we needed things when we really just wanted it. And lines got blurred more and more between need and want. Between necessity and luxury. We consumed and we consumed and we consumed. It worked for a long time. It fed us and made us wealthy – or some of us. And we got addicted to it. Growth, growth, growth. The bigger the better – in what we have and how we looked. We consumed ourselves to a standstill.

But the “system” cannot live any other way. How do we get out of the economic slump? We’re told by consuming more. A key moment for me was when then President  Bush said right after 9/11 that people should go and shop and go on with their daily lives as if nothing happened. Well, something did happen. The same is going on right now. The world is suffering on a societal and environmental perspective. The world is a very different place from 3 or 4 years ago. But we’re told we need to consumer more to get us out this slump.

I always tell my kids and my clients that we can’t expect different outcomes by doing the same thing. The same is so true for us right now. We can’t go on the way we have and expect the outcome to be different. We cannot consume the way we have and expect a different outcome. We cannot do business the way we have and expect a different outcome. We as humans know this when we hit our heads against a wall – we stop doing it and go around the corner. We’re not stupid. Or are we?

So what does this have to do with sustainability? Well, we’re still telling people to consume. Yes, we are telling them “buy this product because it is so much more sustainable”. Energy? We’re not asking people to cut down on their use but rather to use renewable energy. Okay, sometimes we ask them to use less energy but not really to buy less energy using products. Do you really need so many televisions? Do you really need 2-4 cars? Do you really need a house that large? Do you really need spend so much money during Black Friday? No one is advertising asking people to please not buy so much of their products this coming festive season. Very nice of Patagonia to say they want people to buy less but we know they aren’t really saying that they need to grow a little bit less. Or not at all. They still want to grow but hoping that people will buy the slightly more expensive and sustainable product or buy the Patagonia product instead of buying from a competitor.

We in sustainability and CSR are making the world a better place. I don’t doubt that for a moment. If every company does what we in sustainability and CSR want them to do then we will be in a much, much better place. But are we dealing with the underlying weakness of the system or are we delaying the hurt to the next slump? Put it this way. Would the world be in a better economic place if every single product is made in the most responsible way possible? I don’t know – but I think we would’ve been heading to the same problem if we didn’t address the underlying addiction to consumption and growth.

That is really the 3 pillars of sustainability – product, profits and purchase.

Product – how the product is made. Make it as sustainable as possible. Make it by using renewable energy, sustainable sourcing, manufacturing without exploitation etc. Make it the best we can. And make the impact on society and the environment as light as possible.

Profits – do your business to make a profit. No business can live without it. It is at the heart of business. But don’t confuse profits with growth. We’ve become addicted to growth because of the shift in investors from long-term to micr0-term. Not even short-term anymore. That would require a day or a week or two. The majority of investors of today don’t give a damn about the company and what it makes – only about the return they can get in the next 5 minutes, or seconds. And they are holding businesses ransom. We saw this during this recession. Profitable companies laid off workers. How is that for commitment? They didn’t say “we’re struggling on the growth front but still profitable – so we’re going to knuckle down and work, work, work to get out if it but won’t let our people go as long as we are profitable.” No, they let people go because the micro-term investor demanded it. Puh-lease don’t talk to me again about your employees being your greatest asset. Your don’t sell the crown jewels with the first sign of a bit of a struggle.

Purchase – people need to buy your stuff for you to be profitable. But the reality is that we also need to get people to buy less stuff. This is at the heart of the challenge to business. How do you make stuff and sell stuff but make sure people buy less stuff. Guess what… I don’t know.

There is another “P’s” we have to address within the system as well to make the world truly sustainable. Parity…

Parity – we can’t live in a world where so few has so much and so many has so little. It is not sustainable. It. Is. Not. Sustainable. Get it? The gap between the highest earners and the lowest earners are just too wide. The gap between the 1% and the 99% is unacceptable. The gap between the pay of the executive and the lowest paid workers is not good for the company or society. No one is asking for 100% equality in pay. But the gap is just too damn wide. It is greed and nothing more. Any reason given is just snake oil. It is not just and not right. And more importantly, it is not good for business and it is not good for capitalism.

But it goes further than that. The West cannot consume the way they have and allow the rest of the world to slowly die. We live in a global world. The West is the 1% and Africa is the 99%. It is not sustainable. It is capitalism gone bad. It is the dark underbelly of greed. It must stop.

So until then we in sustainability are using band-aid to deal with a much more serious disease – unless we start seriously dealing with all 4 of these P’s – Product, Profits, Purchase and Parity. The challenge is we can’t do this on our own. We need to widen our circle because this means we need to forge new partnerships outside of business to get this right. But that discussion is for another day.

Now I need to get to Kauai to consume some sun.

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Everything is green nowadays. It’s the talk of the town. Newspapers are full of the latest green apocalypse heading our way. Bloggers blog green left, right and center – with fonts and pictures to match. Activists are up in arms about green washing and washing our greens. Governments want to govern what green means. The celebs and stars shine their special green glow all over us. Business jockey to out-green each other. And consumers are turning green with envy when the Joneses outdo them with the latest hybrid, organic, recycled, wind powered and turtle free cup of joe.

It’s not a bad thing. Saving our planet before it burns is not a bad idea. Even if it won’t happen in the next year or 50 – depending on who you believe. Having a tree dedicated to you somewhere in the DRC ensures you a retirement spot one day. And some of the ideas even save us some money! Switching light bulbs save us money – even if we can save more by switching it off. Getting 60 MPG is not to be sneezed – especially with the high gas prices. Although most small European cars can do that on flat tires.

But not everyone cares about the changes in our climate or the validity of the latest eco-friendly product. It’s pretty much a worry of the more privileged parts of society – the rich and middle class societies. You don’t switch to CFL lightbulbs if you don’t have electricity. You don’t really care about organic food if you have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. Or worry about renewable energy if you don’t have a roof over your head. But you might become greener even if you don’t care. Governments will continue to green the things we buy. Activist will continue to put on their green campaigning hats. Business will continue to grow and make greener products. And bloggers will continue to out-green each other to be the next Big Green Voice of Authority. All of this will continue to make everything we use and buy greener than before – even if we don’t care or want it.

But green means almost nothing outside of the big markets – mostly in the West. There are bigger issues facing people in places like Burundi, Zimbabwe, Niger and Liberia. They continue to struggle to survive each day. The cheapest bidder always wins when you live off less than $1 a day. And you don’t know if there will be a tomorrow if you live in Malawi or Botswana – HIV, TB or malaria can strike at any time. And who cares about the rainforest if you could be killed by a landmine in Angola or a warlord in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or care about sustainable farming when you have no food in Somalia.

The number one aim is to survive. If that means eating the last Rhino or chopping down the last tree for firewood – then so be it. Planning for day 2 comes when you manage to get past the survival stage. But this doesn’t mean you are going to start farming in a sustainable way. Or buy renewable energy for your manufacturing plants. Nope, you are now just planning for day 2 – securing tomorrow and competing with your neighbor. India, for example, continues to argue that they will start thinking of their impact on the climate once they are allowed to create as much trash per capita as the US – read: ‘you stuffed up your environment to create wealth, why can’t we?’ The alternative, of course, would be to pay the developing countries to play the game. We know where that debate will end up. They can’t solve trade and aid – imagine eco-aid for sustainability at a large enough global scale…

It is only when you don’t have to worry about might happen to you tomorrow – food, security, health, housing, job etc – that you can start worrying about tomorrow itself. Green debates will remain a rich and western debate and concern – unless we start dealing with these more immediate concerns that the majority of the world population still face day after day.

It doesn’t mean it is right. It’s just the way the world rolls. We can’t talk about sustainability without looking at dealing with poverty, diseases and the quest for survival so many in Africa and elsewhere struggles with each day. We must balance all three pillars of CSR and sustainability to make it work – economic, environment AND social. So often, and too easily, we forget about that third pillar. It’s three pillars to help us focus but it is one single strategy when we implement.

And this is where business plays such a crucial role. They can create and deliver the products to deal with the diseases and hunger, they can advocate and lobby for the political changes needed, and they can invest in countries who need the economic lift and hope for a better future. Governments will play the political game, activists will be crucial in highlighting the problems and help run programs on the ground. But they can’t create wealth, they can only fight poverty. Each one plays a key role. Governments provide the supporting framework, NGOs fight poverty and deliver during these emergencies and business (large and small – multinational and the woman selling fruits in the market) grows the economy to bring a sliver of hope. And in this hope lies the future of sustainability. But we are not there yet.

In the meantime, newspapers will chop down trees to print their green stories, bloggers will use computers and networks created and supported by nonrenewable energy and conflict minerals, activist will spread the word flying all over the world – and push up their emission count, governments will continue to make war over oil, celebs and stars will drive their stretch limos and live in their big houses, business will continue to confuse eco-friendlier with eco-friendly, and consumers… well, they’ll continue to buy what they want. Green or not.

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I have been trying really hard. Really, really hard. You know. To be a treehugger. I think the whole concept of being a treehugger is really cool. You get to have the beard, the nice lean and muscled body, tanned and tough as nails. With my sunglasses and Bermuda shorts. Sandals and a knowing look in my eyes. Man. I am so cool. Me, the treehugger. But first, let me find a treehugging job…

The rebel of the forest. Defending the last natural old forests of our precious earth. These beautiful beasts whose breath gives us our precious clean air. The green jungles that hides the therapy for the soul and body. It’s there and we must protect it. And that’s what I do. I live in the forest. Patrolling every inch to make sure these wise old trees stay safe. Safe from the loggers. I am the phantom. I live in the trees at night and run like a tiger during the day. Stopping and smelling the air to see who is here. Who will feel the wrath of the rebel. But… Eww! What is that? What is that smell? It smells like something rotten – must be the dead carcasses. And those creepy crawlies! Worms and bugs all over the place. And the bloody ants crawl up my pants the whole time. And the food stink – fruits day in and day out. I need a BigMac now! And just water and water and water. If it isn’t drinking this foul stuff then it is raining and raining and raining. I now get why they call it the rainforest. It’s always bloody-well raining. Gotta get outta here. I need some fresh air, a warm bath, a beer and a braai (barbecue).

The activist of the seas. I can see myself. Standing at the bow of the boat. Scanning the horizon for those whale-hunters. Now I am the hunter. Like a pirate of old. Ready. Just ready to take them down. They don’t know my rage. My fury. I am the king of the high seas. I have seen things on these seas of mine. Corpses of people. And corpses of animals. Those dead whales we try and save. But not anymore. Not on my watch. I will… Pthu! Bloody seawater sprays everywhere. Standing on the bow wasn’t such a good idea after all. The water sprays everywhere. Salty water in my mouth. My body feels sticky all the time. And all we get to eat is bloody fish and more fish. And crap desalinated water. The boat stinks man. Like dead fish and men who haven’t had a proper wash in months. My hair is a permanent mess. And my hands. My poor hands. Cut to pieces by working the lines and ship each day. Oh, man. It doesn’t help that I get seasick from watching fish-tanks either. Gotta get of this ship. Now! I need some clean linen, a warm bath, a beer and a braai.

Okay. So I can’t be an active treehugger. That’s fine. I’ll just be a greenie. I’ll just live green then…

It’s a good start. I use public transport. Okay, I don’t use it because of any green reasons. I am just too bloody lazy to drive to work myself. I have too short a temper to sit in the traffic all day. And I am too stingy to pay for parking and tolls. But still. It is a good start. Oh, wait. I also have a refillable mug for my daily Starbucks fix. I am saving a few rainforests that way. No cup for me. No sirree, Bob! Not for me. Except when I forget my cup at home. Or when I am too lazy to clean my cup for a refil. Still. It’s the idea that counts though. Doesn’t it?

My problem is that I want cool stuff. The jobs look cool. But it isn’t really. It’s only cool if people can see you do it. And there is no camera following me. Treehugging just isn’t cool enough for me. Me fighting global warming? No problem. Just make it a bit cooler dude. Global warming just isn’t that cool.

I mean really. The iPad is cool. A red Ferrari is cool. The Kinect is cool. So many companies make cool stuff. Not green stuff. But that’s cool. As long as it is cool dude. That’s the problem with treehugging. The stuff that make us want to hug trees just aren’t cool man. And at my age I need to have cool stuff. Because I am not cool enough by just my little older almost middle-aged self.

So gadgets don’t work for me trying to be cool and a greenie. Let’s try something else. Something that says cool and green in a big way.

Let’s buy a Prius! Okay, let’s not. The Prius is just not cool. It’s a lunchbox on wheels. An ugly lunchbox. Come on. The Dodge Challenger. Now that is cool. The Toyota FJ Cruiser. Now that is cool. I can see myself behind the wheel of a brand new red Challenger. Sunglasses and all. Revving the motor while eyeing the guy at the traffic lights. Ready to smell my tires dude? Bye-bye. Oh, and the surfboard on the roof of the FJ Cruiser as I sit on the bumper looking at the waves through my cool Ray-Ban glasses. Now that’s cool. The Prius? Nah. Not so cool. I’ll look like the man I am – on the older side of the surfer group. All I can fit into the Prius is my neat little suitcase and a clean shirt for work.

The problem is that most stuff that makes treehugging easier just isn’t cool. Oh, there is a few cool stuff out there. Wind-farms. That’s cool. Neat Apple-like designs. That’s way cool. One small problem though. I can’t carry it around with me to show it off. And you need to show it off if you want to be cool. Oh, and it will take up the whole bloody backyard. Kids won’t like that I think.

Global warming is even more difficult. I can’t point to it. I can’t go, “See, there it is. There are those damn CO2’s”. Just too little these things. These stupid little molecules. Wind-farm to big and CO2 too little. That just ain’t cool. That’s so way not cool.

But those kids of mine. I sometimes wonder. Just wonder how cool it will be when they grow up. Will it be too warm when they are my age? Might be a bit too warm for them. A little bit too warm to live? And that is so way not cool…

Maybe it is time for a change. Climate change. Now that is way cool!

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It is election time here in the USA. To state the obvious – It’s an interesting time to be in the US. It’s even more interesting to watch how business behave during these election cycles. This election is especially interesting from that perspective as the two main parties are very divided on a range of social and economic issues. The emergence of the Tea Party and the right-wing in America begs the question – how do business lean during this election? And what does it tell us about their values?

For me this election raises the question of whether business have managed to really live their values through the political support they give to any specific party. The Republican Party is pitched by most as the business friendly party. The one that will look after the interest of business more than the Democratic Party. Of course this judgement is based on the value that the Republican Party will provide business compared to what the Democratic Party has to offer. Lower taxes, less regulations etc are all seen as Republican Party strengths – and all aimed at the value bottom line of business.

 But what about the values bottom line of business? How does their support of one specific party reflect on the values they claim to stand for? A few examples makes me question whether business takes their values as seriously when it comes to politics as their value bottom line.

Firstly, a number of companies are rightly proud of their ranking as good employers. And some of them are very proud that they are constantly ranked  by the Human Rights Campaign as Best Places to Work. The HRC lists the top businesses that support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. Now this is where I am slightly concerned that companies overlook these values when it comes to their political support. Do they take into consideration whether a specific political party of group (like the Tea Party) or a specific candidate support these values they uphold as important to their business? I dare say that not all of them do. Too many of the companies listed on the HRC Best Places to Work are also big supporters of candidates and political parties who do not believe in the equal rights for all their employees. I question whether employees are really the “greatest asset” of a company if that company is willing to sell the rights of their employees for a few dollars more to the bottom line.

Secondly, how about climate change? If your company believes that climate change is real and is a real threat to the long-term sustainability of your business – how can you justify supporting an individual or political group who do not believe that climate change is a threat that needs urgent attention?

This second point comes close to the value argument. The first point of equal rights for your employees is mostly a values argument but climate change is about both values and value. It affects your business sustainability and therefore the value you offer as a business. Maybe the world becomes grey because the business makes a decision between short-term value and long-term value. Tax breaks, subsidies, less regulations etc are all perceived as adding short-term value while climate change is something that will starting to hurt the business in 50 years or so. Like a frog being boiled…

I think that some of the support businesses give to Republican Party candidates and the party itself more out of legacy than anything else. They have always done so and will continue to do so out of habit. The truth is that both parties are pretty business friendly compared to most of the world. The value differences are more marginal than people would like us to believe. For example, businesses are cash flush at the moment, profits on Wall Street is up etc – all under Democrat rule. But like anyone who has a long-standing habit or addiction, businesses will support the Republican Party and candidates “because that’s what they’ve always done”. Not a compelling reason but still a reason.

For some businesses it is a clear-cut reason. If they believe that clean energy or a drive for more renewable and alternative energies will hurt their business they will fight against it. Guess who fights renewable energy more than the other when it comes to political parties? But what about that company who believes that the environment is key to who they are as a company? If you are in the outdoor industry then mountains mean a lot to you. People use your products to go and enjoy nature. So how would you feel if someone mines away that mountain top? Not so good. And how about being in an alliance with a company and/or party who supports mining that mountain top? Be careful who you form alliances with even when you don’t mean to be in a formal alliance. You are who you support and who your candidate supports. You can’t shout for greater action on climate change one day and then support a party or candidate who stands for the opposite. Stick with your values or stick with your value – if you believe they are separate. But please don’t claim to have CSR or sustainability in your DNA and then take actions which completely contradicts your statement.

There are many more of these examples. Companies in the construction industry – are you supporting the party who are providing cash to rebuild America or are you supporting those who say that they should never have spent this money in the first place? Retailers – are you supporting those who want to provide continuous tax breaks for the middle class or those who insist that the richest get the biggest cut or no one gets a cut?

Look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you are willing to trade your values in for a perceived value. History is littered with the easy way out – take the money and forget about the rest.

I don’t have a problem with that. Each company will decide what is best for them. Just do me a favor – don’t sell me CSR snake oil stories of “it’s in my DNA”. Embrace who you are and live it. Be true to yourself no matter what that truth might be.

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No, this is not about Climate Change but about carbon and how companies play around with their carbon footprint. Generally companies have two options (or a combination of the two) on how to deal with their carbon footprint – reduce it or buy your way out of it. Let’s start with the last one first…

It has been very popular for companies to buy a clear carbon conscious. Let’s buy some renewable energy or a few credits here and there. I’m not disputing the benefits of buying renewable energy but I do question whether this is the right method for companies to deal with their carbon responsibility. Companies buying renewable energy or carbon credits as their main strategy to deal with emissions are not dealing with their actual impact. They are not reducing their impact but rather paying a “tax” to keep on polluting. To me it seems to be more in line with a sustainability bribe – I give money to some good cause to keep on doing what I’ve been doing all along; pollute without making my business any more sustainable than before.

That’s why I was really pleased to read that PepsiCo is moving away from buying renewable energy to a strategy that will focus on bringing renewable energy to their operations. That’s smart and that’s sustainable – instead of buying renewable energy they will bring alternative energy to their operations. Smart because they can tailor the method to the location and need. Use solar in places where you have loads of sun; bring in thermal in places where that works or biomass boilers where you create enough garbage. Sustainable because it cuts down on their reliance on other people providing them with energy in an increasingly energy challenged world. Furthermore, it’s sustainable because it’s part of their business – they can’t just walk away from it. This is backed by a strategy to reduce their emissions and work with their suppliers to reduce their emissions as well. Solid plan and a sustainable plan. Unfortunately not every company follows this plan.

We need renewable energy because people like myself or small business can’t always afford to create our own sources of renewable energy. But I do have a problem with large companies seeing the purchasing of renewable energy as their commitment to reduce their carbon footprint. Sorry, you are not reducing your carbon footprint. It reminds me of the good old English saying – Robbing Peter to pay Paul. You are “robbing” emissions and paying for renewables. Your impact haven’t actually been reduced now has it?

Furthermore, the cap-and-trade system is controversial at best and a failure at worst. I support the cap-and-trade system not because it is any good but rather because it is better than nothing in a world where too many companies look for a way out instead of a way to sustainability. But companies who want to be leaders in sustainability should not stop at cap-and-trade as their first and only stop. And they shouldn’t stop at buying renewable energy as their leadership position. Reduce your impact and make the solutions part of your business – then you can start talking like a leader.

Now for my last rant on this topic – the carbon neutral claim…

Come on. Carbon neutral? Really?

We live, we have an impact. We, as individuals and as businesses, will never be carbon neutral. We can reduce and we can offset but we cannot be neutral. But it is worse than that. Buying enough renewable energy or buying enough credits do NOT make you carbon neutral. You have done nothing to actually make your business carbon neutral apart from a nice play on words. Take action, reduce your impact and make it part of your business – that’s more sustainable. But just don’t claim to be carbon neutral.

Do you breathe? Hello. That’s not neutral.

(Full disclosure, PepsiCo is a client of the company where I work and I’ve worked with PepsiCo on numerous occasions but I had no idea this was happening.)

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A bit of a mix-and-match today. I guess that’s what you get after a weekend…

1. Bottled Water Wars

Most people know that I’m not a huge fan of the anti-bottled water campaign. I think the campaign is too easy and lack substance and sometimes even just plain light on facts. But sometimes the bottled water people just asks to be hit. You might recall that I wrote about the cool anti-bottled water video by Annie Leonard in a Daily Stain. Well, as expected, the bottled water industry ‘hit back.’ Let’s look at what they had to say, shall we?

First they had to tackle the recycling figures used by Annie Leonard and the team. Annie and team said that 80% of plastic bottles in the United States end up in landfills or are burned in incinerators. Sound pretty awful doesn’t it? So the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), using different statistics, hit back saying that “water bottles were the most recycled plastic containers in the United States, with a 30.9 percent recycling rate.” Now just hang on a minute here. So they are arguing that 69.1% vs 80% no recycling makes a huge difference? I am sorry, but 30.9% is just as bad a fail as 20%. Pick any one of the two but they both point to one single thing – a failure of recycling plastic bottles. Period. Don’t nitpick percentages when your own figures are so miserable.

The second bit of the IBWA statement that hit me as odd was this beauty: “‘Consumers are really quite thoughtful in selecting and enjoying a safe, healthy, convenient, calorie-free beverage that’s delicious, refreshing and a very smart drink choice.” What would you have thought they were referring to if you read this sentence without knowing the context first? Water right? How about good old tap water? That is a “safe, healthy, convenient, calorie-free beverage that’s delicious, refreshing and a very smart drink choice.” Actually, I would add “almost free” to that sentence if they did indeed refer to tap water and that would make it a very smart drink choice… Sorry IBWA, by using the words “safe” and “healthy” in the same line it seems as if you indirectly hint that either (1) other drinks in plastic containers aren’t safe or healthy (orange juice anyone?) and that (2) water not in plastic containers might not be as safe and healthy. Wrong again. Please refrain from using this line. Either say what you mean and be transparent about what you mean or don’t say anything at all. Hinting has never been the best defense.

The third argument was another open door for criticism. The IBWA said that “bottled water was a necessity – particularly in emergencies like floods, tsunamis and earthquakes.” Mmm… Let’s think about that one. Makes perfect sense. So tell me IBWA, how much of bottled water sold is actually for emergencies like floods, tsunamis and earthquakes? A tiny fraction of the actual total sold. I don’t see a flood or a tsunami or an earthquake hitting any of the people walking the streets right now with the bottled water in their hands. It’s another weak argument where you are trying to twist the argument and not address the real issue. I am sorry – get better arguments as none of the large bottled water companies would survive if they only sold bottled water for use during emergencies.

The bottled water industry’s case wasn’t helped by the UN reporting that bottled water isn’t sustainable – wasting resources and consuming 17 million barrels of oil a year. Ouch… That must have hurt.

Are you surprised that Annie’s video has been watched over 150,000 times and the IBWA one around 300 times? I’m not. Apart from the entertainment value and lack of clear arguments on the side of the IBWA – the biggest reason? Annie and team have no vested interest in this apart from helping the world be a bit more sustainable. Yes they might be wrong in some of their facts and not know the line between fact and fiction as often as we like, but the average Joe in the street knows that the IBWA is protecting their interests and industry while Annie and her team have no money in this game. Values vs Value. And when it comes to story telling – values tend to be more creative and believable.

2.   How responsible is clean tech companies?

We tend to assume that a company that has some inherent goodness in the product must be a good corporate citizen right? And I don’t mean that goodness captured in that burger joint you frequent. Think of the Prius – good for the environment so it must be good. Mmm… Maybe we need to rethink that one. Yes, the Prius is better for the environment than the alternative Hummer but it’s not exactly eco-friendly. Just a tad friendlier. I wouldn’t suck on the exhaust pipe just yet – still emitting some bad stuff, just less than others. And let’s not even talk about how the car is made.

But that’s almost too obvious. How about clean tech companies? Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition just did a study to create a Solar Scorecard. Pretty neat and interesting way to look at companies we assume would be green and clean. As with the Prius, they found that not everything is the way we expect it to be. Some of the companies rate pretty well while others rank low when it comes to their use of toxic materials and broad environmental practices. Neat, but it triggered something else for me.

What about the social impact and practices of these “green” companies? Do we assume that they are great because of the products they produce? Well, just half of them have analyzed the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains, and half also have worker codes of conduct in place with their suppliers. Not so great. Just half have checked that those products that help nature don’t nail people?

Maybe we are forgetting that nature means nothing to humans if humans don’t exist. Saving the earth only has relevance if people can enjoy what is saved. Maybe we should worry about people as much as we worry about the environment. Sure, go hug a tree but when last did you hug a human?

3. Foul smell of NatGeo

Maybe the world economy is really going down the tube when an institution like National Geographic sells it’s brand down the river. I’ve always assumed that National Geographic is all about nature – recording it, protecting it and not selling it. But not anymore. The Guardian ran an excellent piece about National Geographic putting its name next to a few air fresheners. Two broad thoughts on this.

First, and one that really hit the spot, was the names that they gave the air fresheners. One was called Alaska’s Glacier Bay (the others were Japan Tatami and Nevada Desert Flower.) Really? Now how do you capture the natural essence of Alaska’s Glacier Bay? A little bit of Ppg-3 Ethyl Ether, a dash of Parfum, a hint of Linalool, a drop or two of Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, a handful of Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, some Hydroxycitronellal, pinch of Geraniol, a little Coumarin, and some Citronellol, Cinnamyl, Alcohol, Limonene and Cinnamal to round it off.

Or as the Guardian puts it, “Mmmmm, I love the smell of Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde in the morning.” Yes… Maybe not so natural.

And it’s a plug-in as well? Pulling electricity from those oil wells in Alaska to power the Alaska’s Glacier Bay? Really silly idea.

But the biggest problem is the National Geographic brand. Who thought this was a good idea? If they tried to sell me a tumbler made from recycled materials or a backpack or some hiking boots then fine. But the Guardian rightly points out that this deal undermines the National Geographic brand and the values people thought it stood for. Really… It smells foul.

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Today we look at food – from cattle having emission problem to the Chinese just not running long enough. And we end off with a piece on the (not-so) best looking vegetarians contest. Hope you have fun.

1. You got Beef with Climate Change?

It seems as if everyone has some beef with climate change claims. The UN is being slaughtered from every angle by critics. Another UN study is being hammered for having cooked books. Okay, I’ll stop with the meat stories and refrain from using words like fried, raw, well-done, blood or anything else in that line of thinking. But the short of it is that the UN study claiming that the meat trade has worse emission levels than all the cars in the world is being picked apart. The so-called Paul McCartney Lentil-Noshing Plan to help fight climate change – drop the meat in favor of more veggies – isn’t all it claims to be. The study is flawed. Big surprise…

Actually, this new angle of attack does not question the impact of the meat industry. It focuses on the comparison of meat vs cars. The meat angle of the study had a complete life cycle analysis while the car study only looked at emission while driving all these cars. No life cycle analysis from when mining of the metals started to the day the cars ends up as scrap.

I’m no fan of cars claiming to be eco-friendly. Even that hybrid the treehuggers drive have a huge impact beyond just driving it around. (Full disclosure – I don’t drive a hybrid. I can’t fit two kids into a lunchbox… But I do only own one car – very un-American of me. Thank god I am African.) Anyway… I do love meat. A nice piece of steak or lamb chops on the braai (barbeque) is in my blood. More on me and meat and responsibility at another stage though…

What I do have a problem with is the critics now jumping at any chance to claim anything wrong. Look, it’s not as if either Hawkings or Einstein got it everything right. But are you going to argue with the about the bigger picture stuff? Meat has an impact. A substantial impact. Period. They erm… emit gasses from the front and the back that has a huge impact on climate change. You can argue it’s not as bad as cars but that would be like arguing whether being electrocuted is worse than being shot. I prefer to stay away from both options as the end result is pretty much the same.

And I have some more standard beef with the critics as well. How can I believe you if you base your study on something paid for by the beef industry? That’s bad PR research used for bad PR purposes. Live with your responsibility and do something about your impact – don’t argue something as pathetic as: well-at-least-I’m-not-as-bad-as-them. You are bad. Live with it. Accept it. And do something about it.

What should you do? Maybe feed the cattle something they should be eating instead of pumping them full of food they are not meant to digest or “medicine” they are not meant to have. I am also very weary of the meat I eat in the US as there tend to be a complete disconnect between the meat and the eater. Responsibility also lies with the consumer to know how they get their food and what is in there. And it is the responsibility of the meat industry to be transparent about what the feed and inject into cattle and other livestock and how the rear them and slaughter them.

You’ve lost most of your right to bitch about transparency until you practice it yourself. That is the responsible thing to do. And the route to a sustainable solution.

2. How long can the Chinese run?

No, this is not about China being the biggest economic bubble in history. It’s about their kids becoming the biggest bubbles in the world. Apparently more people in China has diabetes than anywhere else in the world. You can make the link between obesity and diabetes from day 1. More importantly, you can make the link between the change in diet from local natural food to fast food addiction and the sharp rise in obesity and diabetes. As the Chinese economy expands so does the waistlines. So what you have is another race that China is winning – more bubbles walking the streets than anywhere else in the world.

Actually, maybe walking isn’t the right word to use because they just aren’t doing enough to shed those pounds. Unfortunately for them, recent studies shows that you need at least an hour of exercise to drop those pounds. Gone are the days of walking 30 minutes and thinking that is just fine. Yes, to stay healthier but not to drop pounds if you are already obese. (Let’s just call it fat shall we?)

I can talk from a personal perspective here. I’ve dropped over 20 pounds in two month by eating properly and running my backside off. The problem for China is that people move to the cities, go live the middle class life of telly, internet and do nothing instead of going out and do something that resembles an activity where you actually break a bit of a sweat. The social and economic revolution that is taking place in China has many upsides for everyone in China. But not everything that grows are good.

I find it odd that the Chinese government is doing so little in controlling the fast food that you can get in China – this from a country ruled by regulations. But maybe fast food companies can learn from their past experiences in places such as the US. Serve people crap to eat but sell it hard as something fun and something beautiful people do and you will succeed in business. However, at some stage it will come back to bite you. Maybe the companies serving bad burger and super sodas can do the responsible thing and tell people what they are consuming. The US is forcing companies to say how much calories are in each of those burgers – hello health care reform! Maybe these companies can take this best practice and tell the Chinese just how much crap they are eating. It might not be the best thing in the short run as people get over the shock but at least it will put your company in a good spot for a sustainable future in China. Imagine that – a sustainable fast food company.

3. Eat like a vegetable and look like one?

We’ll stick to the food topic for our daily fun one – thanks again to ecorazzi. They ran a story about PETA announcing the finalist in the Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door Contest. My first thought? Cool! Let’s see who there leave crunchers are. I was pretty sure they were going to be the cool-and-slightly-mysterious-but-handsome type. Erm… No they are not. I am so glad I am eating meat. And my wife likes Matthew McConaughey selling us beef in the US. Must say he looks healthier than the vegetarians in the contest. I want to be sensitive here but more than a few of the finalists look like the replaced their meat intake with artificial “body enhancers”. I guess botox and implants are vegan approved.

See you tomorrow.

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Man, these umlungu’s over here really like their big cars. Okay, not all of them. And I have more of a problem with those who don’t drive big cars than those who do. They are all up in arms about the impact on global climate and the emissions by these big trucks – bakkies back home in South Africa. And the car manufacturers are all gunning to become the new green and number 1 eco-friendly company.

Toyota has a lunchbox called the Prius. Gets unbelievable miles per gallon – kilometers per liter for most of us. (Still trying to understand why they don’t go metric). General Motors are planning on bringing a better looking and more efficient hybrid out in the next few years. Ford has given the world the SUV hybrid. Chevrolet has got a monster of a truck called the Silverado that’s also a hybrid. And others are trying to bring out battery operated cars and cars that drive on corn and even some driving on a bit of air and water. Sounds cool doesn’t it?

I wouldn’t start sucking on those exhaust pipes just yet. They still spew out dirt and pollute. And they still don’t get close to the mileage that the European matchboxes get. For all the funfair associated with the Prius – VW brought out a standard diesel that gets better mileage. Without much of an effort. The Americans just like big cars or small inefficient ones.

But I don’t care. I just don’t care how efficient these cars are or how much they cut emissions. But I do care about cars – especially bakkies and minibuses. Now they play a role in Africa. And we have other bigger things to worry about when it comes to these bakkies and minibuses. Death.

Let’s start with the minibuses. I have been on a few. And it has always been a ride in more than one way. Firstly, they get me where I want to be most of the time. Just stick out your hand and show the hand signal and they will come screeching to a halt. They’ll pick me up, squeeze me in, ask me for a few coins and off I go to my destination. Secondly, they are made for us. We like being in each others face and sharing and talking. Squeezing 20-30 people into a 15 seater works just fine for us. It’s Ubuntu stretched to the limit – I am because you are. Well, I am sitting boxed in and squashed because you are sitting on top of me to fit in the other 20 people. Thirdly, well not so good. The driver drives like hell. And if we are lucky he’ll have a steering wheel and not a spanner for steering. And tyres thinner than a mosquito net. And as non-smoking as a Frenchman before 2008. But that’s just the way we improvise to make sure we get from point A to point B. We make a plan and we make things work – even when it looks like falling apart. Mechanics and fixers by nature.

But the car manufacturers – now that is different story all together. They sell us these minibuses knowing that it won’t pass the safety test anywhere else in the world. That Hiace we love so much? Why do you think they don’t have it in the US or Europe? Because they don’t comply to the safety standards in those countries and regions. But these travelling coffins keep on selling back home. Maybe it’s time they have a global standard – or at least a basic standard that will make them just a little bit safer. I am more worried about how I might die now when traveling in these coffins, than how I might die in 50 years time from either global warming or smog.

But it is not only safety that is a more important issue than emissions. Safety could still be argued as in the eye of the beholder. That we in Africa shouldn’t be too worried about that when we have other more serious threats to our life – like war. Fair enough.

So what do you think your local warlord and his henchmen drive? A Hummer or a Jeep? Unlikely. No, these guys generally drive a nice (and sometimes not so nice) Hilux or Nissan Hardbody or Isuzu or Land Rover bakkie, right? These are the real issues for me.

All these manufacturers are great in telling us all about their commitment to the environment and some even tell us how well they treat everyone in the supply chain. Great codes of conduct to ensure good working conditions and fair wages. However, none of these major car manufacturers actually take any SOCIAL responsibility for what happens once the car leaves the garage floor. They’ll tell us how committed they are to safety – airbags, safety belts and some even advertise to drive safely during the holidays. Others will tell us how they guarantee you a good ride with little breakdowns for 100,000 miles. And some tells us how clean the air will be when you drive their car compared to others. Yes, that type of responsibility they love to talk about – clean air and safe driving. But not what you do in that car.

Your local warlords will be environmentally friendly and enjoy a safe ride, but don’t think that for a minute that they will encourage your warlord not to buy their bakkie. Oh no, not that. They will sell their bakkies to anyone who can afford it. Never mind that people get chased and shot from those vehicles. They carry no responsibility there. But maybe they should.

Are they not an accomplice to the crime? They provide the car, right? They don’t drive it, but without them the crime would either not be committed or at least be made very, very difficult. These vehicles are used as military vehicles. And maybe we should bring in some global standards on the responsibility of car manufacturers in the same way we have rules on armoured and military vehicles. Not everyone can sell it or buy a tank. It won’t stop the warlords getting their hands on it, but it will make it more difficult and make the manufacturer think about their social impact and not just their environmental impact. Ensure some level of responsibility and control – a starting point.

Who knows, your local warlord might even start worrying about their emissions next. And buy a hybrid on the black market. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if you knew the guy chasing you and who is about to shoot you or rob you, are at least an eco-warrior as well?

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