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Dow Chemical didn’t cause the 1984 Bhopal gas leak that killed tens of thousands of people, but the clean-up became Dow’s responsibility once it took ownership of Union Carbide in 2001.

Big problems need big solutions. As a leading chemical company, Dow can be at the forefront of inventing the new technologies, products and services that will not only ameliorate the environmental degradation caused by its products and processes today, but move the world forward with innovative solutions for tomorrow.

Read this CRSwire post about Dow Chemical’s sustainability strategy and the company’s efforts to incorporate the value of nature to its bottom line.

Dow Chemical: Extracting Business Value out of Sustainability

Our world is facing pressing challenges including water supplies, energy sources and affordable housing. Mitigating the impacts of these challenges and managing our natural resources worldwide requires the manufacturing industry, and in particular, the chemical industry, to play an enabling role by discovering and implementing new technologies.

As part of its sustainability efforts, the company has pledged $10 million in a 5-year partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

The global organizations will work together to apply scientific knowledge and experience to examine how Dow’s operations rely on and affect nature. The aim of the collaboration is to advance the incorporation of the value of nature into business, and to take action to protect the earth’s natural systems and the services they provide people, for the benefit of business and society.

This is a partnership to watch, because the lessons that come out of this research can be of enormous benefit to everyone.

“Companies that value and integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into their strategic plans are best positioned for the future by operationalizing sustainability.”–Dow Chemical CEO

We care for things we value.

What a tree worth today? What’s it worth 20 years from now? Which time frame provides the greater financial and human well-being?

A scientific concept called “EcoSystem Services” helps answer these questions by providing tools to measure and consider the value of natural resources long-term when making business, political and social decisions.

It’s a new idea to me to try to put a financial number on what a forest is worth. But now that I’m thinking about it, I can see the value in treating natural systems as capital assets. By assigning hard-cost value to trees and seas and wildlife today, the full long term value of these resources can be considered, replenished and protected for long-term sustainable human and natural success.

Here’s how the U.S. EPA puts it:

Ecosystem services are rarely considered during environmental decision-making, principally because they are not well identified, quantified, or considered in ways applicable to commerce. The Program research results will enable economists, social scientists, environmental managers and others to incorporate an enhanced understanding of value and risk when making decisions about the costs and benefits of using and protecting ecosystem services. To ensure sustainable human and natural systems, the full long term value of ecosystem services must be considered when making decisions.

The best example I can think of in my life is how the Hudson River’s health has dramatically improved in the last 40 years. Thanks largely to the awareness raised by the Clearwater Environmental Foundation and successful polluter litigation waged by Riverkeeper, the water is cleaner.

Fish have returned to New York Harbor in greater numbers. With more food, harbor seals now live and breed year-round on rocky outcrops south of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Dolphins are a common sight. The cleaner water attracts more people who want to live, work, and play on and near its banks. Business, city, environmental and citizen groups profit and benefit from the water in ways not seen since the early 20th century when the city’s piers teemed with ship commerce. Multiple stakeholders have skin in the game to keep the water clean. So they do. (Visit the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance for more on this interconnected, unfolding success story.)

The Ecosystems Services definitions were formalized by the United Nations 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), a four-year study involving more than 1,300 scientists worldwide.

The MEA assigned four broad categories to show the relationships among Ecosystem Services and human well-being. These categories are: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

MEA: Relationships Among Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being (click to view larger)

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the earth’s resources are  intrinsically linked to our collective well being. They have value. In a way, Ecosystems Services is like a worldwide General Ledger to help us measure, grow and prudently spend from our global bank account.

Ecosystem Services Links:

Wikipedia

EPA’s Ecosystem Services Research

USDA’s Forest Service on Ecosystem Services

Nature Conservancy on Ecosystem Services

Nature Conservancy’s Jan 2012 Partnership with Dow Chemical

 

I had the absolute pleasure of attending a breakfast seminar this morning hosted by the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. Attendees represented the entire Sustainability space from big industry, academia, and research to innovative small businesses.

Helen Crowley, Conservation & Ecosystem Services Specialist for mega-conglomerate PPR (owner of Puma and Gucci brands, among others) presented a fascinating lecture called “The Convergence of Business and Biodiversity Conservation.” Link to presentation slides.

In a nutshell, if major corporations have all the money, and are responsible for significant ecological and environmental degradation, then it’s in everyone’s best interests for conservation supporters to work with them instead of in opposition. Crowley argued that this convergence of resources, research and responsibilities breaks new ground towards solving global environmental challenges.

In a truly lucky stroke for attendees, Crowley came to the breakfast after spending the last three days in NYC at a global Sustainability Summit hosted by consulting firm KPMG. She shared a link for the summit’s keynote report, Expect the Unexpected: Building Business Value in a Changing World.

This report offers thought-provoking analysis on 10 sustainability “megaforces” facing businesses in the next 20 years and the emergence of environmental cost accounting. (Required reading! Download it now!)

Moreover, it will be a foundation document for the upcoming June 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainability.

Crowley raised enormously important questions about balancing human consumption with ecological preservation. What happens when an entire supply chain’s true environmental costs are measured and accounted for? How do you even do that? Is profit still possible? How can the conservation arena best create metrics to accurately calculate the value of ecological services? Who is responsible for the full positive and negative impact of  goods and services on a global scale?

In her work at sport apparel brand Puma, Crowley is starting to dig into those questions. She offered her company’s first Environmental P&L statement  as an example of how companies are moving in the right direction. Since this era of global impact transparency is just picking up steam, Crowley had few hard results to share with the group. She did, however, point towards solutions centered on innovative and improved processes, products, materials and sourcing.

I’m inspired by the emergence of integrated reporting–whereby quarterly guidance goes away in favor of longer-term projections and sustainable investments garner more weight. (See Reuter’s coverage of Vice President Al Gore’s Feb. 16 call for sustainable capitalism.)

As Drucker so famously said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” I’m all in for conversations that give companies strategic information they didn’t have before to improve people’s lives, the planet’s health, and business profits.

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

US Recycling Rate Inches Up: 34.1% in 2010

For 2010, the US recycling rate inched up to 34.1%, reports the US EPA.

That’s a slight rise from the 33.8% recycling rate in 2009, but still nothing to get excited about. The amount of garbage Americans produce is also inching down, from a high of 4.57 pounds per person a day in 1990 to 4.43 pounds today.

What’s in your garbage? Mine consists mostly of non recyclable packaging and my dog’s waste in biodegradable bags.

All paper and plastics that come into the house go out in my curb-side recycling.

All organic material goes into the compost bin to feed the worms.

Read the EPA’s Report

All politics is local. So is climate.

The micro-climate of my backyard is a specific growing terrior with its own proclivities and advantages. My garden warms and cools and drains and grows in a way that differs from every other patch of ground on the planet.

That said, trends hold true. I might get lucky with overwintering a rosemary one year out of 10, but overall my Zone 6B location means it’s a heartbreak waiting to happen.

As my local garden grows, so goes our collective global garden.

Whether my rosemary dies or thrives, the time to argue whether the earth is warming (Or cooling. Or melting. Or experiencing extreme weather events.) is over. The worldwide scientific community is in consensus on these facts.

Likewise, there is broad agreement and understanding that human activities are accelerating climate change.*

We can argue till the cows come home as to who set the fire, but in the meantime, let’s work together to put it out.

When I encounter people who want to deny the facts in front of them (see also: Confirmation Bias), my next line is inquiry is to follow the money (see #3).

While there may be short-term financial gains for climate change denials, in the end we’ll all lose.

*Bonus Climate Change Acronym: AWG (Anthropogenic Global Warming, meaning human-caused)

Three links:

1. Via OmniClimate: The Climate Change Consensus – In Five Points

2. Via Wikipedia.org: A starting point for major points, players and positions

Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth‘s atmosphere and oceans, which started to increase in the late 19th century and is projected to keep going up. Since the early 20th century, Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F), with about two thirds of the increase occurring since 1980.[2] Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and scientists are more than 90% certain that most of it is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.[3][4][5][6] These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all the major industrialized nations.[7][A]

3. Via Treehugger.org:  Leaked Docs,  Reveal How Top Think Tank Turns Oil Money Into Climate Denial

If you sell you something that makes you terribly sick, who is to blame?

Seems like an obvious question, right? Especially if you are applying chemicals that are designed to kill living organisms.

The thing is, it’s often a very hard thing to prove, especially when it comes to illnesses linked to toxic chemicals and pesticides exposure. U.S. agri-giant Monsanto has relied upon this absence of causal scientific  linkage–the proverbial “smoking gun”–to maintain its lack of culpability when people get sick from their products.

Until today. A French judge has found Monsanto directly culpable and responsible for a farmer’s illness after exposure to one of the company’s pesticides.

Via the Guardian:

Monsanto found guilty of chemical poisoning in France

French farmer Paul Francois says he suffered neurological problems after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller

A French court has declared the US biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.

In the first such case heard in court in France, the grain grower Paul Francois, 47, said he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.

He blames Monsanto for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.

The ruling was given by a court in Lyon, south-east France, which ordered an expert opinion of Francois’s losses to establish the amount of damages.

“It is a historic decision in so far as it is the first time that a [pesticide] maker is found guilty of such a poisoning,” Francois Lafforgue, Francois’s lawyer, told Reuters.

Monsanto said it was disappointed by the ruling and would examine whether to appeal against the judgment.

“Monsanto always considered that there were not sufficient elements to establish a causal relationship between Paul Francois’s symptoms and a potential poisoning,” the company’s lawyer, Jean-Philippe Delsart, said.

Previous health claims from farmers have foundered because of the difficulty of establishing clear links between illnesses and exposure to pesticides.

This “burden of proof” is a really interesting element to the whole discussion of causing harm and assigning responsibility. United States law has traditionally flowed from a risk assessment strategy that favors trade and enterprise over public and environmental safety. Weigh the outcomes, then proceed. Assume the best, deal with the rest.

In contrast, European Union law rests upon a a precautionary mindset. If you want to sell it, you have to prove that it’s not harmful before you proceed.

From wikipedia.com:

The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

The problem, of course, with betting on things being OK is that they are–until they’re not. Once illness strikes or a watershed is bespoiled, we all suffer the consequences. There’s no unringing the bell. No matter who was to blame in the right place.  That’s good enough reason to stop throwing dice with our health and our environment.

New Jersey’s newest crop might be….gasoline?

Via NJ Spotlight:

Garden State Company Converts Biomass into ‘Green Gasoline’

A Hillsborough company is betting it can convert wood pellets and other biomass into a renewable gasoline.

Primus Green Energy, an 11-year-old company, already has produced fuel samples from a pilot plant located in a three-building complex off of Route 206, just north of Princeton. It now is building a demonstration plant at the facility and hopes to break ground next year on a commercial plant.

A commenter to the story has asked for more detail on where the raw material will be sourced. I’ll update once I know more.

Valentine’s Day produces a lot of “stuff” that winds up in the trash eventually in the form of cards, stuffed animals and candy boxes. In the spirit of greener living, here are some ideas to make the sweets-for-your-sweetie meaningful and easier on the environment.

Pour It On Thick With Maple Sugar
Satisfy your sweet tooth with delicious, nutritious maple syrup. Real maple syrup is more expensive than corn or sugarcane sweeteners, but a little goes a long way. New England-produced maple syrup is available at local supermarkets, for a regionally-produced, sustainably grown, delicious sweetness.

Bundle up and attend local maple sugar events, including the Feb. 24 Maple Sugar Fest at Reeve-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ..

Make It the Thought That Counts, Not the Card
You can say it better than Hallmark. Tramp out a heart shape in the snow. Hide a list of the top 10 reasons you love someone in a pocket. Bake their favorite cookies. Let them drive the remote. Do their most-hated chore. Call them just because. Save the cards you receive to recycle next year.

Dress Up (or Down) and Dine Local
Pub-style or white-napkin, you know best what your sweetie craves. A close-to-home night out saves gas and supports local business.

Say It With Flowers — Greener Ones
If fresh flowers are a must, make them as “green” as you can by choosing ones that are grown with care for the people who grow them and the environment.

Commercially grown cut flowers that come from South America often are produced using pesticides and labor practices that put floral workers and their families are at high risk of chemical exposure and harm. If you want to learn more, read this February 2011 “Smithsonian” magazine article on the Colombia flower industry.

Eco-conscious grocers like Whole Foods Market sell cut flowers under their Whole Trade label that pledges better wages, working conditions and environmental practices.

Make Their Heart Beat Faster
Get moving for a heart-healthy Valentine’s Day. Stroll hand-in-hand or drive to the snow and hit the slopes.

Chocolate — Buy Better, Not Bigger
Bypass the generic big red heart-shaped box and spend a little more for an earth- and worker-friendly choice of organic, fair-trade or locally-made sweets.

With a drop of creativity, an extra dollop of planning, and of course some chocolate, you can show your sweethearts that you love the world we live in just as much as them.

The new Nest “intelligent” home thermostat made my frugal sweater-wearing self quietly sigh. As much as I am all in for emerging energy efficiency technologies, this feels like a shiny-new solution in search of a problem.

Fledged in fall 2011, Nest Labs’ cute, sleek digital thermostat has an Apple pedigree in its family tree. The hook is that a Nest thermostat  “learns” about your home comfort habits and builds a personal temperature schedule over time.

What is so hard about programming 5 settings to cover most families’ weekday and weekend schedules? Do you really need an app for that?

Via ConstructionDigital.com

With a simplicity and design that caters to the chic sensibilities of a new generation of homeowners, Nest learns about the occupants’ comfort levels over time as adjustments are entered into the easy-to-use scheduling program. The LCD screen displays when energy is being saved, as well as how much time remains until a new temperature is reached.

The Nest thermostat violates my Not Broke Don’t Fix maxim by seeking to solve the problem that many American homeowners don’t own or use a programmable thermostat to save money and energy.

My $.03:

1. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, call your electrician today and get one. Keeping your home temperature steady 24/7 wastes serious energy and money.

2. Spend five minutes learning how to use your programmable thermostat. Youtube an instruction video. Download the manual. If you can use your DVR function, you are more than capable of this task.

3. Invest the money you would have spent on a Nest on some inexpensive weatherstripping to seal air leaks in your home.

Might be a tempest in a thermos anyway. Giant Honeywell sued Nest in early February for patent infringement. Read the MarketWatch.com story.

This might be a sound investment for the tech-savvy looking for the home efficiency equivalent of hypermiling. But for most of us? A traditional programmable thermostat and air sealing get the job done.

Everyone poops. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about toilet paper. Specifically, 100% recycled toilet paper.

Three TP posts came across my desk this morning:

1. From Treehugger.com, a new WWF report on how U.S. consumer buying decisions are reducing habitat for critically endangered Indonesian tigers.  Read it.

2. Find out about Moka, a new 100% post-consumer non-bleached toilet paper that speaks to the forward-looking “dark green” consumer who thinks that “Beige is the New Green.”  Plus, the WSJ’s take on the trend.

3.Via EnvironmentalLeader.com major retailers including Kmart and Krogers are dropping products that originate from the tigers’ habitat.  WWF is urging retailers to monitor and audit their supply chains from forest to tree to pulp to paper…and onto supermarket shelves.

(Before we go any farther, let me be clear. I’m all for toilet paper. Just better toilet paper.)

We all know that non-recycled paper comes from trees. A lot of trees. We’ve gotten comfortable with recycled paper products like copy paper and grocery bags. But toilet paper? Now you’re getting personal.

Exactly. It’s personal, in the best sense of backing up our values with our dollars. That’s the ideal. Here in the the real post-recession world, purchasing decisions are also made on whether an item is easy, cheap and good. So let’s take a look.

Easy? Yes. One hundred percent recycled toilet paper is readily available from leading brands like Marcal at Wal-Mart, all major supermarkets, Staples and bulk shopping clubs.

Cheap? A fellow traveler did the math. She argues heavily for the less-is-more strategy, but even if you are a profligate TP-er, the difference in price does not rise to the level of break the bank.

Good? This one comes down to personal preference. We all have our bottom-lines but new 100% recycled products are light-years better than a decade ago. NRDC has a helpful chart to evaluate recycled paper choices.

Buying recycled toilet paper is not going to grow new tiger habitat overnight, but small actions by many add up. Go buy it.

And if you told your kids that it’s between stripey tigers or snowy-white TP, I’d bet on the tigers every time.