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120 Companies Win 'Best for the World' Ranking

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120 Companies Win 'Best for the World' Ranking

While many businesses get a bad reputation for putting profit above everything, including the survival of the planet, others are starting to think differently. B Lab is a nonprofit organization that encourages businesses to consider the welfare of their employees, their communities and the environment as well as their bottom line, certifying businesses as "B Corporations."

B Lab honors the top-performing companies among its certified "B Corporations," all of whom are striving to be socially and environmentally responsible. Photo Credit: B Lab

"These companies use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems and have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency," B Lab says. It describes itself as the equivalent of Fair Trade for coffee or USDA Organic certification for milk, separating companies that are merely marketing themselves as socially and environmentally friendly from those that are doing the actual work.

One of the ways it encourages its member companies to maintain these high standards is through its annual Best for the World awards, now in their fourth year. The awards recognize the companies that had the most positive social and economic impact in the past year. The list honored 120 of its 1,200 member B Corporations in the overall category as well as in categories for worker, community and environmental impact, citing a total of 350 companies among the various categories. They represent the top 10 percent of B Corporations for each category.

In the Best for the Environment category, 116 companies were cited, up from 84 last year. They ranged from sole proprietorships and micro-enterprises (one to nine employees) to mid-sized businesses (more than 50 employees) like California's Falcon Waterfree Technologies and Method Products, and Vermont's Seventh Generation. Though most were in the U.S., they also came from countries such as Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Kenya and China. And while many are involved directly in sustainability services and products such as renewable energy or waste management, the list also include companies whose business is travel, apparel, personal care, IT, sporting goods, travel, and food and beverage, but who see a connection between environmental sustainability and the core business.

Among the companies honored in the environment category was Fort Collins, Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Company, the third largest craft brewery in the U.S. The employee-owned, mid-sized business has been on the Best for the Environment list for the past three years, thanks to what B Lab describes as its "near-obsession with waste reduction, energy savings and water usage." Both its original Colorado brewery and the one it's building in Asheville, North Carolina are reclaimed brownfield sites.

“We have an additional program where we tax ourselves for all the additional, non-renewable energy we buy,” said New Belgium's assistant director of sustainability Katie Wallace. “We put the money toward our future renewable energy projects. We actually opened up a portion of that tax fund and are inviting our coworkers to submit their ideas for how to use that money. Many of our best ideas come from our coworkers in the brewery and warehouse," said Wallace. "By committing to involving them, we get so much more than we would if it were just a few of us up here at our desks.”

Wallace pointed out that New Belgium operates with an awareness that conserving and protecting environmental resources has a direct impact on the future and sustainability of its business model and its profitability.

“From a business perspective, we see that our resources that provide our livelihood, like water, are drastically affected by things like climate change and drought and mismanagement," she said. "Half of our water comes from the Colorado River, and there’s a business risk to being dependent on that. By reducing the water we consume, we’re also reducing our risk.”

The business with the highest environmental score was Maine's Atayne, a high-performance sportswear and outdoor apparel company. All its clothes are made with 100 percent recycled or organic materials, what it describes as "athlete gear made from trash."

"We became a B Corp because we didn't like the story that was being written by most of the business community," says company founder Jeremy Litchfield. "It was an easy decision to join the movement to write a new one."

“Today's honorees inspire all companies to compete not only to be best in the world, but best for the world," said B-Lab co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert. "We hope many will take the first step by using the B Impact Assessment to measure and manage their impact with as much rigor as their profit."

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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