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Benefit Corporations

I’ve always believed that corporations should focus not only on profit, but also on their community and the environment around them. In the past this has always been considered focusing on “triple bottom line”, or the three P’s (people, planet, and profit). Well, it wasn’t until recently that I learned that there is actual legislation that establish certain types of corporations as “benefit corporations”.

Benefit Corporations are a new, legal class of corporation that:

1) creates a material positive impact on society and the environment;

2) expands fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests when making decisions; and

3) reports on its overall social and environmental performance using recognized third party standards

Nine states, including New York and California this year, now recognize such corporations, and numerous states such as Pennsylvania and Colorado have introduced the legislation to enable companies to enlist as benefit corporations.

An interesting fact is that benefit corporations do not need to be certified. If you are starting a new company, you can simply incorporate as a benefit corporation in any state where legislation has been passed. If you have an existing company, you can elect to become a benefit corporation by amending your governing documents. Amendment requires a 2/3 super-majority vote of shareholders in most states. Also, while benefit corporations are required to publish an annual report assessing their overall social and environmental performance against a third party standard, that report is not required to be verified, certified, or audited by a third party standard organization.

My immediate reaction to this was that some companies might try to position themselves as benefit corporations for a pure marketing ploy, but do not actually follow through all and all. Which is why there is a third party company called B Corporation that for a fee, certifies companies to become a “B Corp”. Each certified B Corporation must have a minimum score of 80 out of 200 in the B Impact Assessment.
Additionally, benefit corporation is only legally recognized in the select number of states it is recognized, versus a certified B Corp is available to businesses in all 50 states and around the world.

You can find a list of benefit corporations here: http://www.benefitcorp.net/find-a-benefit-corp

And a list of B-Corp certified companies here: http://www.bcorporation.net/b-corporations

I think this is definitely a game-changer in how companies run their businesses. I’m sure there will be some critics who say that business is business and profit is king, but in my opinion, those days are slowly coming to an end. In today’s day and age, people are looking towards companies to create a material positive on society and the environment, and to meet standards of accountability and transparency. And by being a benefit corp and/or a B-Corp certified company, you are redefining what business means in today’s day and age.

Electronics recycling isn’t talked about much, but it’s definitely gaining traction. With electronics making up a huge part of daily lives (from our laptops to our iphones to our ipods), it’s important to know the implications of throwing electronics way in the trash.

20 to 50 million tons of electronics waste (often called e-waste) are discarded globally every year, according to Greenpeace. And e-waste is the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream, currently making up five percent of all municipal solid waste. According to the E.P.A., electronic waste contributes 70% of the toxins found in landfills, while only contributing 1% of the volume of materials in landfills.  Electronic waste contains many toxic materials including lead, mercury, cadmium, phosphors and flame-retardants. Recycling your electronics waste decreases energy and water use, reduces pollution, and keeps hazardous chemicals out of our air and water.

As of January 1st, 2012, businesses, non-profits, government entities, and anyone other than an individual or household consumer in the state of New York are prohibited from sending certain electronics to the landfill. This is the second phase of New York State’s Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act, which first went into effect last April, requiring manufacturers to provide free and convenient recycling options for items they sell in New York.

So what does that mean for you and me? Well, right now, we technically can still throw our unwanted electronics away with our regular garbage. But there are so many resources around that we really shouldn’t. Plus, we have to get in the habit of recycling our electronics, because the third phase of the Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act will take into effect on January 1st, 2015, when individual and household residents will no longer be permitted to discard electronics with household waste.

Below lists three ways that you can discard your electronics properly in New York City:

1. Lower East Side Ecology Center.  The LES Ecology Center offers free public compost collection and education, electronic waste recycling, stewardship of public open space, and environment education. It offers a number of programs that focus on teaching about environmental issues facing NYC and how to take responsibility for solving these problems. It holds electronics recycling events throughout the year, and in January there are a number of recycling events as part of its “After the Holidays E-waste Events”. Check out its website for more information.

2. Best Buy. All Best Buy stores in the US, including Puerto Rico, offer in-store solutions for customers to bring their old, unused, or unwanted consumer electronics — no matter where they were purchased — for recycling. And they’ll take just about anything electronic, including TVs, DVD players, computer monitors, audio and video cables, cell phones, and more. We all love Best Buy, and this is one more reason to love it even more!

3. The 4th Bin. Too lazy to go drop off your electronics? Then you can call up The 4th Bin and have them pick up your e-waste. The 4th Bin is actually the only electronic waste collection and recycling company in New York City that provides door-to-door pickup services for both business and residents. However, there is a slight fee associated with the pick-up. Check them out here for more info.

New Years Resolutions

Wow, I can’t believe another year has passed. Time really does fly. 2011 was kind of a busy year for me – I had a bunch of things both personally and work-wise that took up a lot of time and energy. But I have high hopes for 2012. I’ve recently started doing Bikram yoga a few times a week, and that has really changed my perspective on a lot of things. This moving meditation has really grounded my thoughts, and I’ve decided that I’m going to take 2012 as a new year for me to refocus on the things that are important to me. And one of those things is to increase my efforts in being green. I have a few things that I want to focus on in 2012:

1. Continue blogging. I know I haven’t posted many blogs this past year, but I’m hoping that in 2012 I will dedicate more time to this blog. This blog has been an important part of my life for the past few years, and I want to continue educating others on the importance of living a greener lifestyle.    

2. Cut down on meat consumption. People close to me know that I was vegetarian for about 2 years and then was vegan for almost 1 year. Veganism works for some people, but it didn’t work for my body. I became pretty weak and it was hard for me to get the proper nutrients as I traveled so much for my job. In 2012, I am going to follow the Meatless Monday regimen, and eat no meat for one day a week. Although I already do eat mostly vegetarian, I think that following Meatless Mondays will be a good way to cut down my meat consumption.

3. Continue volunteering for GrowNYC. I’ve been volunteering for GrowNYC for the past few years, and I truly think that it is a wonderful program. I’ve volunteered at various events educating NYC residents on the importance and best practices of recycling, and it is a wonderful feeling knowing that I made a direct impact on someone’s recycling behavior. Recycling is free and is a city-wide program, yet so many people still do not do it. It’s important for me to continue on this journey to educate more people on the benefits of recycling.

Happy New Year!!

About two weeks ago, my roommate Svetlana and I were walking around the Meatpacking District as we waited for our other friend Lauren to meet up with us for brunch. There just so happened to be a food festival going on, so we decided to check out some of the tents. Most of them were food samples from different restaurants in NYC, but what caught my eye was the booth that sold biodegradable water bottles.

I stopped by the Ciao water bottle booth solely because I was thirsty and wanted to buy some water. And then I saw that the brochure advertising that the Ciao water bottle is biodegradable. The salesperson said that the bottle was made out of a special type of plastic that would biodegrade in 2-5 years, versus the estimated 100 years it would take for a regular water bottle to biodegrade. Interesting! I walked away not only with my interest piqued and my thirst quenched, but I felt good about drinking from a biodegradable water bottle!

Based on the research I did on Ciao, the bottle is made from a petroleum based plastic that is enjected with an enzyme called Reverte. When the enzyme comes into contact with the UV spectrum of light, oxygen, and moisture, the enzyme breaks and separates the chains of plastic molecules of the bottle.

That sounds pretty cool to me. But, I’d have to do more research regarding whether or not this really is the next best thing since the CFL lightbulb.  Having the right microorganisms, temperature and humidity is required to avoid harmful greenhouse gas release during biodegradation. So I’m wondering if the biodegradation of the Ciao water bottles would actually biodegrade properly without releaseing methane or other greenhouse gases in the environment of landfills. The website says that it wont, but I guess we won’t know until it people actually test it.

Despite this concern, I still think it’s amazing that people are starting companies that really focus on making the environment a better place. I try to drink from a BPA-free plastic water bottle as much as I can, but I admit that sometimes when I’m on the run it is really convenient to just buy a bottle of water. The ugly truth is that plastic bottles won’t go away. Statistics show that the percentage of plastic bottles that were recycled in 2009 was 28% – which really is not that much, since there were 5.1 billion pounds of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and jars available in the U.S. for recycling in 2009. Yes, the best solution is the substitute all plastic bottles. But it’s not going to happen anytime soon. So the next best thing is to be innovative with the actual bottles. I think it’s a great step in the right direction towards environmental sustainability.

In New York City, you can find Ciao water bottles sold at University Deli on University and 13th and at Andy’s Deli on 18th and Broadway. Hopefully more distribution channels to come in the future!

Bike Share Coming to NYC!

When I was on a project in Minneapolis for 6 months, I frequently used the bike-share program there, Nice Ride MN. I thought it was awesome – you just go to a bike kiosk, rent a bike, ride around, and you can return it at any kiosk in the city. It was such an easy way to get around and to explore the city. And it definitely is so much more environmentally friend than driving. My friend Grace and I rode all around the city, exploring different restaurants, getting some exercise in, and hanging out by the gorgeous lakes around town.

So I was really excited to find out that a bike-share program will be coming to NYC. This past week, the Bloomberg administration announced that it had selected the company Alta Bicycle Share to run its bike share program that will roll out next summer.  Once fully implemented, with 600 rental stations and 10,000 bikes in NYC, it will be the largest bike-share effort in the country. I am definitely pro-bike-share program, but I do have a number of concerns about having a bike-share program in New York City. First of all, the streets of New York are definitely not like the streets of Minneapolis. In Minneapolis, there were bike lanes everywhere. And there’s a whole lot less traffic. Although 250 miles of bike lanes have been added to New York City in the past 4 years, I am still worried about the safety of so many bikers on busy NYC street. Sure, bikers will stay in bike lanes, but you can’t trust cars to stay out of them. Drivers in New York are relentless. I wonder if bicycle-related accidents will increase. And I’m also worried about bike theft. New York is definitely a very safe place, but people can be very clever in trying to steal those things out of the kiosks. 

So there obviously are a number of questions that still need to be answered, but no matter what, I think this is a wonderful step forward for greening New York City. And if I am assured that it will be a safe option to get around, I will definitely use it, because I definitely spend too much money on cabs! Less traffic leads to less congested air; more people riding bikes leads to healthier residents;  both add up to a healthier city!

 

I feel like a lot of people disregard large global companies as companies that would never have the capacity or the incentive to be environmentally friendly. And that may be true. A lot of companies do solely care about profits. But  it is the responsibility of companies of all sizes to care about the environmental impact they are making. And it’s even more important for large, already established companies to lead the way and set an example for smaller companies. That’s why I was happy to hear about a number of large sportswear brands have come to the spotlight as leaders in the sustainability initiative.

Just last month, Greenpeace initiated the Dirty Water Campaign – it released an investigative report focused on textile facilities in China that were found to be dischanrging hazardous and persistent chemicals into Chinese rivers. Not only does this pose serious threats to our ecosystems, but to human health as well. Greenpeace found that many global brands do business with these factories, such as Converse and H&M, but focused its campaign on Nike, Puma, and Adidas, three of the largest and most visible global sportswear brands.

At first, all three companies’ responses were the same: deny, deny, deny. They said that they used those factories just for knitting and sewing, and not wet processing like dyeing or printing, where the majority of chemical use in textile finishing processes occur. So that means they’re off the hook, right? Wrong. It’s unacceptable that such large and visible companies are not being proactive green business leaders!

And good thing some of them are recognizing this and doing something about it. In late July, Puma released a statement that said that it is committed to  “eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals from the whole lifecycle and all production procedures that are associated with the making and using of PUMA products by 2020”. And just last week, Nike followed suit. Nike released a press release stating that it is “committed to the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020”. Within the next two months, Nike will detail out a plan to eliminate hazardous chemicals within its supply chain addressing transparency, chemical management, and a timeline of the elimination of the highest priority hazardous chemicals.

What about Adidas? Well, it was pretty much in the dark. And Adidas didn’t step up until today. Today, Greenpeace released a second report of its Dirty Laundry campaign that reported the presence of nonylphenol ethxylates (NPEs) in clothing bought in Europe bearing labels from high profile brands such as Adidas and Abercrombie & Fitch. It was this that sparked Adidas to finally release a statement that it is planning to collaborate with other brands to develop supply chain standards. Not a bad start, but I think Adidas should still come up with an individual plan, as Nike has agreed to do.

As much as I think Greenpeace tactics may be at times extreme, this just shows me how important it is that organizations like Greenpeace exist. Otherwise, these three companies would have done nothing to clean up their supply chains. This is another huge win for Greenpeace and environmentalists all over the world. It’s so important for business leaders to lead us all down the path of corporate social responsibility. It’s a long road ahead, but Nike, Puma, and Adidas have shown me that they are taking a step in the right direction. And hopefully others will follow in their footsteps.

I’m really proud of my roommates for making recycling a priority in our apartment. We have a bin for bottles and jugs, and we have another for paper products. However, I do have a huge recycling pet peeve – when those toilet paper tubes aren’t recycled! Whenever I see a toilet paper tube in the bathroom garbage bin, I make a huge stink about it. Why? Because those toilet paper tubes are made out of paper, which means they are 100% recyclable. And it takes 2 seconds to put it into our already existent paper recycling bin!

But my roommates aren’t the only culprits. According to a Scott Naturals survey, 85% of Americans throw out those tubes instead of recycle them. But with 17 billion toilet paper tubes produced annually in the United States, that is A LOT of paper that could be recycled – 160 million pounds to be more precise. Put together end to end, these toilet paper tubes can stretch for more than one million miles!

So the smart people at Kimberly-Clark thought of a solution – how about tubeless toilet paper rolls? Have you ever heard of an idea and think to yourself, “I wish I thought of that!” Well, this was one of those times. Last night, I saw a commercial for Scott tube-free toilet paper that actually made me rewind the DVR so I could watch the commercial again. What a genius idea! A special winding technology keeps the toilet paper in place without needing a tube in the middle. The hole isn’t exactly a circle, but still fits over TP spindles. And every last piece of TP can be used – no more unusable last pieces because it’s glued onto the tube! Kimberly-Clark actually began testing out Scott Naturals tube-free toilet paper at some Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs throughout the Northeast in November of last year. And due to its success, you can now buy tube-free TP in a lot of other stores such as Walgreens, Shop-Rite, and Food Emporium.

I can’t wait to start buying tube-free toilet paper that will save trees as well as save me from yelling at my roommates for not recycling toilet paper tubes!

No more tubes!

Look for these at your local grocery store!