By Davis Harper
Since the early 1970s, Starbucks has held a special place in cupholders. Widespread infatuation with the company's caffeinated beverages has earned the coffee giant a storefront on almost every corner. With outposts in 75 countries and a whopping 13.3 million people enrolled in its loyalty rewards program, Starbucks has scorched nearly all of its closest competitors among major U.S. food brands (most of which aren't even coffee chains) in total market value.
With such reach and power comes tremendous responsibility. Starbucks touts its own corporate responsibility—claiming to be climate-change-aware and cognizant of its environmental cup-print—but how many latte-sippers know that their paper cup actually isn't recyclable and that it'll likely end up in a landfill? Might the knowledge that Starbucks's meat supply is pumped with antibiotics alter the market's appetite for the popular chicken and double-smoked bacon sandwich? Although the company prides itself on environmental awareness and progress toward sustainable products, multiple reports point to the mega-corporation's failure to live up to its own purported standards.
A recent resolution from the nonprofit corporate watchdog As You Sow slammed Starbucks for continuing to provide most customers with single-use plastic cups despite the company's Greener Cup initiative and criticized the coffee giant's role in promoting the global to-go coffee culture. As You Sow's objective is to bring to shareholders' attention Starbucks's negligence to fulfill its environmental promises. According to the resolution, Starbucks has fallen dramatically short on meeting an ambitious 2008 commitment to make 25 percent of its cups reusable by 2015. What happened? By 2011, the company had only increased its percentage of reusable cups to 1.9 percent and, as a result, reduced its 2015 goal to 5 percent reusables. Even this, apparently, proved unrealistic—Starbucks recently promised to double its current usage of reusable cups by 2022, which requires but a jump from 1.4 to 2.8 percent of all its cups.
"Starbucks has said they've been trying to promote reusable cups for years, but there's clearly been little effort made toward what should be an easy policy to meet," said Conrad MacKerron, As You Sow's senior vice president. "If getting customers to care was a high priority, they'd be doing more onsite to offer incentives," he added. "There are other creative ways to get people to bring back reusable cups, such as offering a ceramic mug for those people ordering in." MacKerron encourages consumers to keep the pressure on Starbucks by voicing their concerns at individual stores.
As You Sow's resolution also addresses the company's failure to establish a comprehensive policy to phase out its signature jumbo green plastic straws, despite the existence of the credible alternative that is paper straws. The Ocean Conservancy picked up just under half a million straws along coastlines all over the world this past year—a fraction of the total global plastic waste collected. Starbucks—which hands out more than 2 billion plastic straws a year—could be a key player in reducing that count.
For many businesses, the pressure is on to reduce plastic straw pollution. The Lonely Whale Foundation, an NGO that engages people in marine degradation issues and solutions, has already pushed the native Seattle company to participate in its Strawless in Seattle initiative, through which Seattle plans to enforce a ban on sales of all plastic straws and utensils by July 2018. This means all 300 Starbucks storefronts in the city will have to adopt alternative straws within the year. Hopefully, that momentum won't stop at Seattle city limits. "I think we're going to see increasing amounts of this break-free-from-plastic campaign to get plastic reduced globally," MacKerron said.
Cup and straw pollution, however, isn't the only snafu in Starbucks's environmental portfolio. Six food-safety and animal-rights nonprofits—Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Food Animals Concerns Trust, Friends of the Earth, the NRDC and U.S. PIRG Education Fund—have come out with an extensive report card grading companies according to the antibiotics present in their meat supplies. Starbucks earned a D+, which ranks the beloved chain behind the likes of McDonalds, KFC and Taco Bell. Earlier this year, Starbucks committed to sourcing antibiotics-free poultry by 2020. However, it has yet to devise a policy for its beef and pork.
Asked to comment on these two reports, a spokesperson for Starbucks responded, "Starbucks cups are some of the most recyclable in the industry, and we are proud of what we've done to make them greener. Since 2006, our hot cups have contained 10 percent post-consumer fiber—it's the first of its kind approved by the U.S. FDA. We also have offered a cup discount since 1985 and spent millions to encourage reusable mugs and tumblers since 1985." The corporation also restated its commitment to reducing antibiotics in poultry by 2020.
As a company with the influence and reach to effect real progress through its environmental commitments, Starbucks arguably has a responsibility to develop and maintain the most sustainable practices it can afford. Still, at least part of the burden falls on consumers to keep the corporation honest. So next time you need a Starbucks fix, be sure to put in a plug for more reusable, and healthy, options.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Austin Wilson
The bad news for Monsanto keeps getting worse. In newly published internal Monsanto emails, a company scientist writes that "You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen ... we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement."
This news is huge because Monsanto has always focused on maintaining that glyphosate is safe for humans and the environment. In addition to concerns about glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, research suggests that the other trade secret ingredients amplify the toxic effects of Roundup—and now the emails suggest that Monsanto doesn't think they can counter that argument at all.
Just Released Docs Show Monsanto 'Executives Colluding With Corrupted EPA Officials to Manipulate Scientific Data' https://t.co/aCYVEIWPSn— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo)1501631043.0
Glyphosate is the most heavily used pesticide in human history—and it accounts for the majority of Monsanto's profits. It is time that the truth about glyphosate comes out.
As You Sow has been following glyphosate's trail for quite a while. With the use of glyphosate skyrocketing and its persistence in water and soil, these new revelations are extremely concerning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has clearly not done its due diligence in assessing Roundup's toxicity, and we may be paying a terrible price for it.
As You Sow has provided a detailed analysis of these issues in its new report, RoundUp Revealed: Glyphosate in Our Food System.
Our bottom line is that pesticide-intensive agriculture is unnecessary. Investors need to engage with companies to address the rise of glyphosate and other toxic pesticides in the food system.
Here are the key findings from our report:
Genetically engineered crops are the largest driver of glyphosate sales. Although GE crops were promised to decrease pesticide use and provide a multitude of other benefits, the vast majority of GE crops grown in the U.S. are engineered to tolerate direct applications of glyphosate or to produce Bt insecticide.
Pre-harvest use of glyphosate significantly increases residues of glyphosate in food. This growing practice increases public health risks, provides farmers with marginal benefit, and has been banned by Germany and Austria. We estimate that 28% of U.S. wheat was treated with glyphosate in 2015, and much of this use may be pre-harvest. As You Sow is working with leading food companies to investigate this practice. For instance, Kellogg Company has agreed to investigate pre-harvest glyphosate use in its supply chain.
The World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015. Research also suggests that glyphosate may have other health impacts including disruption of the endocrine system and other biological processes. These impacts can be amplified by the "inert" ingredients in Roundup and other herbicide products. Independent scientists recommend a limit on glyphosate exposure at least 17 times lower than current U.S. regulation.
Glyphosate is present throughout the food system and our environment. A recent biomonitoring study by UCSF identified glyphosate in 93% of individuals tested and in 60% of surface water in the Midwest. The herbicide has been found to persist in water and soil up to a year in some conditions.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains that glyphosate is "unlikely to be carcinogenic;" criticism of the EPA's methods and integrity is growing. In making its determination that glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic, the EPA did not consider the vast majority of academic science and failed to follow its own guidelines, according to its advisory panel. Recently unsealed emails raise concerns about conflicts of interest within the highest levels of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.
As use of glyphosate has skyrocketed, weeds have developed resistance, with half of U.S. farms reporting glyphosate-resistant "superweeds." The response of the highly consolidated seed and pesticide industry has been the introduction of new GE crops that are engineered to be used with glyphosate as well as 2,4-D and dicamba. These herbicides are known to be more toxic and volatile than glyphosate. Monsanto, the firm that sells half of the world's glyphosate, is strategically focused on continuing to sell GE crops that are to be used with herbicides. Now, the company is merging with Bayer, another major seed and pesticide company, which will further decrease competitiveness in the industry and provide greater synergy with the companies' pesticide sales.
Pesticide-intensive agriculture has been shown to be unnecessary. United Nations food and pollution experts' 2017 report to the UN Human Rights Council reiterates that pesticides are not necessary to feed the world, warns of catastrophic consequences if current pesticide-intensive farming practices continue, and criticizes pesticide manufacturers for "systematic denial of harms" and "unethical marketing tactics."
We recommend that investors engage with companies in the food, retail, and restaurant sectors to address the growing risks of glyphosate and other toxic pesticides in the food system. Food companies should mandate reduced use of glyphosate in their supply chains, especially pre-harvest use, and focus on increasing preventive measures such as clear and binding weed resistance prevention plans.
Austin Wilson oversees the Environmental Health Program at As You Sow.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Austin Wilson
Glyphosate is applied frequently to the most popular crops in the U.S., including corn, soybeans and wheat, and has been found in many common food products including "all-natural" Quaker Oats. The report, Roundup Revealed: Glyphosate in Our Food System, raises concerns about the health and environmental impacts of current glyphosate use, gaps in the regulation of pesticides and how large chemical companies are promoting the use of glyphosate.
The report consolidates years of research, cutting through to the heart of the controversy over glyphosate. One key finding showed that glyphosate is increasingly being sprayed on crops just before harvest to dry out ("desiccate") the plants to speed up harvest operations. This practice results in greater residues of glyphosate in foods. The report's analysis finds that in 2015, nearly a third of U.S. wheat was treated with glyphosate, likely through pre-harvest use in most cases. A recent biomonitoring study revealed that 93 percent of Americans tested had glyphosate in their bodies.
In 2015, glyphosate was was classified as a probable carcinogen by the world's leading cancer authority, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. Recent research suggests that glyphosate is likely to cause other chronic health impacts, including disruption of the body's endocrine system.
American regulators are dismissing key scientific data and continuing to raise the allowable limits for glyphosate residue in food, leaving the population at risk of health harms. The widespread use of glyphosate is also creating environmental problems, including herbicide-resistant weeds and reduced biodiversity. For too long, pesticides have been the foundation of agriculture, with glyphosate as the cornerstone; the cracks in this system run deep.
As You Sow has brought this issue to the attention of major companies, including Kellogg, a leader in sustainable agriculture who responded by agreeing to survey its supply chain about pre-harvest use of glyphosate.
"Experts, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agree that pesticides are not necessary or helpful to feed the world," said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow. "Investors would be prudent to analyze their exposure to pesticide-intensive agriculture and prioritize sustainable solutions."
While the legal and political battles over glyphosate continue to emerge and develop, pesticide companies are staking their future on increased use of toxic pesticides. Monsanto and Dow Chemical are betting that farmers will adopt a new generation of genetically engineered crops that can be treated with both glyphosate and the more toxic herbicides dicamba and 2,4-D, increasing sales of these pesticides 10-fold while keeping use of glyphosate at current high levels.
Monsanto, which sells half of the world's glyphosate, has proposed to merge with Bayer, a major seed and pesticide company. This consolidation in the already-uncompetitive seed and agrochemical industry concerns farmers who fear that prices will continue to increase.
The pesticide industry mergers, including Monsanto-Bayer, are likely to exacerbate the food systems' greatest challenges. Investors, communities and downstream companies should be opposing these mergers and advocating for more sustainable agriculture methods.
Austin Wilson is the environmental health program manager for As You Sow.
A classic example of a negotiation with a notoriously tough corporation that was quite heated (but ended up with a positive change) took place leading up to May 2, 2007, when Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, made the public statement on the Apple website, "Today is the first time we have openly discussed our plans to become a greener Apple. It will not be the last. We apologize for leaving you in the dark for so long."
This was the first time that Apple had publicly addressed the issues of electronics waste and hazardous materials.
How did this change come about? Jobs's reputation as a corporate leader that refused input from anyone—especially his shareholders—is famous. Yet, this announcement came shortly after shareholder resolutions on electronic waste were filed and he had a meeting with the lead proponents. What happened in that negotiation?
Some background first: as the information age got into full swing, it became apparent that a mountain of electronic waste (e-waste) was forming. The manufacture of one computer workstation required more than 700 chemical compounds, about half of which were hazardous, including arsenic, brominated flame retardants, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury. Tens of millions of computers, monitors and cell phones were being discarded every year, most headed straight to the landfill even though they contained valuable precious metals like gold and silver, as well as problematic ones like lead and cadmium that leached into the water and air.
Ever Wonder What's Happened to the More Than 570 Million #iPhones Sold Since 2007 https://t.co/8zNGAUxJfG @ewg https://t.co/p5JwaTs5tL— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1456333757.0
As You Sow's work on e-waste began in 2003, led by Senior Vice President Conrad MacKerron, who formed a coalition of socially responsible investing allies including Calvert, Green Century, Pax and Walden Asset Management to press major brands like Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM and Apple to set e-waste take-back goals. Dell, already under pressure from a grassroots campaign, committed to a take back goal in 2004. Later that year HP, which had an initial take-back program operating, accelerated its goal, pledging to recycle one billion pounds of e-waste by 2007.
But Apple, in the process of moving from innovative creator of the Mac to a global electronics powerhouse dominating the personal electronics market, was typically silent and not open to dialogue. MacKerron reached out to former Vice President Al Gore, who was on the Apple board. Several shareholder proposals were filed. Still, there was no progress. Finally, at the 2006 shareholder meeting, Executive Director Larry Fahn was able to engage Steve Jobs in a friendly discussion as the resolution was presented, and Jobs agreed to meet and see if progress could be made. The shareholder proposal asking Apple to improve its e-waste policies received a decent vote of 10 percent of shares voted.
The meeting with Jobs would not occur until almost another year passed. In February 2007 MacKerron, Fahn, research associate Nishita Bakshi, and As You Sow board chair Thomas Van Dyck met with Jobs in his Cupertino office. True to form, Jobs offered brilliant insights but was also caustic, at times berating his visitors for overstepping their boundaries and railing against Greenpeace, which had launched a campaign for Apple to phase out toxins in its components, before acknowledging the recycling problem. The shareholder team held firm that an e-waste take-back policy was good for Apple and that competitors were way ahead.
At one point, Jobs dismissively tossed a presentation the group's staff had spent weeks preparing back across the table at them. It was time to improvise. Van Dyck and other team members launched into a series of questions during the meeting to find out where his top concerns were. They recall asking Jobs if he believed having a greener Apple would sell more products. He said no. The team asked, if Apple was perceived as an environmental laggard, might it sell less products? Jobs said, yes. He felt that his shareholders, employees, and community deserved better from Apple, and he wanted to beat his competitor Michael Dell of Dell Computers, which had already announced strong electronic waste take-back goals. The team saw that he was frustrated by Dell as a competitor, and despite his ire, by the end of the meeting, Jobs agreed to develop a strong recycling commitment. Three months later, the company announced goals as part of a broad set of environmental commitments known as "A Greener Apple."
The move came just a week before shareholders would have voted on another resolution asking Apple to report on improving e-waste take-back efforts, underscoring the importance of shareholder pressure. As You Sow withdrew the proposal in acknowledgement of the company's commitments, and an uncharacteristically chastened Jobs apologized to shareholders for not previously sharing its environmental policy plans when he was quoted in Waste News, on May 14, 2007: "It is generally not Apple's policy to trumpet our plans for the future. Unfortunately, this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple's desires and plans to become greener. So today we are changing our policy."
Our global economy is undergoing the "Great Transition" from an energy system based on fossil fuels to one based on clean, renewable energy sources and technologies. So as longtime advocates for a safe, just and sustainable future, we at As You Sow decided to partner with our friends at Corporate Knights and develop the Carbon Clean 200—to start a broad and dynamic conversation about how all investors can create a clean energy economy and how best to recognize companies that are already on this path.
Six years ago, students began to call on their university endowments to divest from fossil fuels, urging university leaders to stop profiting from companies that were destroying their future. Over time, many of those investments have increased risk in university endowment portfolios, and the trustees who listened to their students and aligned their institutions' investing with the school's mission ended up avoiding significant financial pain.
Since then, a great deal of effort has been devoted to identifying the fossil fuel companies that most threaten our fragile climate. These 200 companies were first identified by the Carbon Tracker Initiative in their seminal "Carbon Bubble" report. The Clean200 turns the Carbon Bubble inside out and asks which companies are currently profiting from participation in the clean transition and what is the best way to spot them?
How We Did It.
The Clean200 ranks the largest publicly listed companies worldwide by their total clean energy revenues as rated by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). In order to be eligible, a company must have a market capitalization greater than $1 billion (end of Q2 2016) and earn more than 10 percent of total revenues from clean energy sources.
More than 70 of the companies on the list receive a majority of their revenue from clean energy. The list excludes all oil and gas companies and utilities that generate less than 50 percent of their power from renewable sources, as well as the top 100 coal companies measured by reserves.
The list also filters out companies profiting from weapons manufacturing, tropical deforestation, the use of child and/or forced labor, and companies that engage in negative climate lobbying. We then took the top 200 and ranked them by estimated clean revenue—the Clean200.
We compared the Clean200 to the Carbon Underground 200, the list of the largest fossil fuel companies that the Divest-Invest movement and many fossil free mutual funds use as a screen. We also compared the Clean200 to the S&P 1200 global benchmark. Our findings were telling, to say the least. First, more than one-third of the Clean200 companies are Chinese, which speaks to a quiet green energy revolution brewing in the world's largest economy. Another interesting finding is that 26 countries are represented.
The performance analysis for each of the three lists is based on a "snapshot in time" analysis of current constituents as the BNEF clean energy revenue exposure database is new and does not go back in time. The analysis also introduces a survivorship bias that can be present when stocks which do not currently exist (because they have failed, for example) are excluded from the historical analysis. This bias can result in the overestimation of past returns.
We also noted that the top 10 Clean200 companies with a majority of their revenue from clean energy include Vestas (wind power), Philips Lighting (LED lighting), Xinjiang Gold-A (wind plants), Tesla Motors (electric vehicles), Gamesa (wind turbines), First Solar (solar modules), GCL-Poly Energy (solar grade polysilicon), China Longyuan-H (wind Farms), Kingspan Group (Insulation and building envelopes) and Acuity Brands (LED lights).
This inaugural version is just the beginning. We want to see how our Clean200 methodology may be improved over time, so we decided to make the data available to anyone and everyone on creative commons, and to update the list every quarter to track the changes and trends. With this list, we hope to open a broad and transparent global conversation. We hope that the best minds will find this thought exercise as exciting as we do and join us.
As You Sow and Corporate Knights are not investment advisors nor do we provide financial planning, legal or tax advice. Nothing in the Carbon Clean 200 Report shall constitute or be construed as an offering of financial instruments or as investment advice or investment recommendations.