The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
The term “sustainability” crept into the business lexicon slowly, by way of the environmental movement. It no longer means covering operating costs with profits, the definition I learned at Harvard Business School six years ago. Instead, it’s morphed into a blurry term that fits into whatever suitcase you want it to -- a catchall for everything “socially good,” whatever that means.
The term has been used by various groups -- with various meanings -- for three decades. The Sierra Club first introduced it in the 1970s, during the dawn of the environmental movement. At the time, activists were speaking out against mining, water pollution, and other environmental threats. They defined “sustainability” as an approach to preserving natural resources by creating national parks and enacting legislation that would penalize polluters. In the 1980s, companies like The Body Shop used sustainability to describe their commitment to environmental and human rights, and a corporate focus that expanded beyond profits. For the next 20 years, the term was used by a small group of companies, like Ben and Jerry’s and Eileen Fisher, whose founders tried to incorporate their social values into their business models.
Over the past five years, sustainability has become even more popular, as multinational corporations open new sustainability divisions and chief executive officers at the World Economic Forum wax poetic about its importance. The term has been co-opted, perhaps because Americans, especially Millennials, not only want to buy products that do the job, but also align with their values (like soap that can clean a car without harming the environment). Today 2,500 multinational corporations from 58 sectors participate in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which assesses each corporation’s sustainability using variables such as labor and environmental practices. This index is one of over 25 sustainability indices worldwide, each one with a unique set of criteria -- measuring governments’, multilateral organizations’ and non-governmental organizations’ level of sustainability, or their so-called social good.
This phenomenon is bad for a number of reasons. First of all, it misdirects resources. According to a 2012 Bloomberg LP-sponsored study, institutional investors are now using “sustainable” investing strategies in more than $3.7 trillion of investments -- a 22 percent increase in two years. In theory, this should be a good development. But if there is no consensus on what sustainability means, then how can the institutional investors and their clients -- who are not necessarily operations experts -- be sure that the funds are being directed to truly sustainable businesses? Investors are relying on vastly different definitions of “sustainable” -- everything from a coal company whose drivers turn off their truck engines while refueling, to an urban quinoa farm depending on rain-collected water and composted fertilizer.
from The Great Debate:
When I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas, the pesticide DDT was very much on my mind. My assistantship in 1953 involved research on the evolution of DDT-resistance in fruit flies. It quickly became clear to all of us in this research group that the broadcast use of pesticides was a losing and dangerous game. When I attempted to raise butterflies in New Jersey in the 1940s, bringing food plants in from nature usually resulted in the caterpillars dying. In those days, widespread spraying of DDT to control mosquitoes coated much of the countryside with poison. In the lab it was easy to use selection to make flies impervious to DDT in some 10 generations, or, in contrast, so susceptible that they would drop dead at a whisper of that “miracle” chemical’s name. Evolution of resistance tended to make continuous use of any pesticide inefficient. The usual response of the chemical industry was to recommend increasing the dose or to substitute more toxic compounds, making pest control even more expensive and dangerous.
That was well understood by evolutionists early on, but it took a marine biologist and talented writer, Rachel Carson, to bring the pesticide problem to public attention and, incidentally, to launch the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring, published in September, 1962, was a brilliant book, but also one that appeared when the time clearly was ripe. The public seemingly had been primed by publicity about radioactive fallout, fears of pesticide residues on cranberries and the thalidomide scandal, the latter enhanced by pictures of infants born with distorted limbs. Carson suffered from the drawbacks of being a female scientist before science’s gender gap began to dissolve, and from lacking a PhD and a professorial position. Despite those “handicaps,” she had the science about as right as it could be at the time.
from The Great Debate:
The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio was marked by optimism and hope, but much of the buzz about the upcoming Rio+20 meeting is skeptical and cynical. Critics say the Rio process has been unduly bureaucratic and hasn’t lived up to its goals. They are branding Rio+20 as a failure before it has even begun. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron are sitting it out. Some even say that in the radically decentralized Internet Age, the days when government leaders or U.N. bodies can set global agendas by fiat are long gone.
True, the Rio process itself has sensibly evolved away from government decree and turned toward the private sector to build a green economy that can implement sustainability on a global scale. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important things governments can do to make Rio’s goals a reality.
from The Great Debate:
If it were a novel, people would criticize the plot for being too far-fetched – thriving colonies disappear overnight without leaving a trace, the bodies of the victims are never found. Only in this case, it’s not fiction: It's what's happening to fully a third of commercial beehives, over a million colonies every year. Seemingly healthy communities fly off never to return. The queen bee and mother of the hive is abandoned to starve and die.
Thousands of scientific sleuths have been on this case for the last 15 years trying to determine why our honey bees are disappearing in such alarming numbers. "This is the biggest general threat to our food supply," according to Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's bee and pollination program.
It is more than a year since the devastating July and August 2010 floods in Pakistan that affected about 20 million people and killed an estimated 2,000. Many believe that the disaster was partially fuelled by global warming, and that there is a real danger that Pakistan, and the Indian subcontinent in general, could become the focus of much more regular catastrophic flooding.
By Morven McCulloch
The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan, seriously damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has led to anti-nuclear protests in several countries and forced governments to rethink their energy policies.
The UK currently has 10 nuclear power stations, representing 18 percent of the country’s energy supply according to Energy UK. Should British Prime Minister David Cameron, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reverse his position on the safety of nuclear power?
– Sam Gill is Operational Director at the Environmental Investment Organisation. The opinions expressed are his own. —
Today’s launch of the Environmental Tracking (ET) UK 100 Carbon Rankings show just how far we have to go in tackling corporate emissions. If the first step is getting trusted, accurate data into the public domain, then 65 percent of the UK’s biggest companies are keeping us in the dark.
from Environment Forum:
Remote villages in developing countries might benefit from these twin 40-ft long containers (left) -- a water purification system driven by solar power -- as a substitute for noisy diesel-powered generators, trucks bringing in water or people spending hours every day walking to fetch water.
That's the hope of the makers, environmental technology group SwissINSO Holding Inc. The small company has recently won its first contracts to supply the systems to Algeria and Malaysia and is aiming to sell 42 units of what it calls the world's "first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system" in 2011.
Lord Professor Julian Hunt is Vice President of GLOBE (Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment), Visiting Professor at Delft University, and former Director-General of the UK Met Office. The opinions expressed are his own.
Ahead of the UN Summit in Cancun, legislators from across the world, ranging from United States Congressman Bart Gordon to Chinese Congressman Wang Guangtao, met in China earlier this month at the GLOBE Climate Change Symposium. While the prospects for a comprehensive deal being reached in Mexico have been widely talked down, much progress can still be made and there remains substantial room for optimism.
from The Great Debate:
By Danielle Grace Warren
The opinions expressed are her own.
The people of Haiti have a name for the earthquake that rocked their country: Goudougoudou, an onomatopoetic creole nickname invented for the earthquake meant to emulate the sound of the earth rumbling, the buildings falling. There are numbers for it, too: 230,000 deaths, 59 aftershocks and 1.5 million people who remain displaced nearly a year later.
While over a billion dollars in US aid was promised was for rebuilding Haiti is tied up in the umbilicus of Washington, Port au Prince residents are settling between piles of debris — 98% of which still has not been removed. Haitians pick through the rubble for building scraps to reinforce torn tarpaulin.