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May 21, 2015 / Elizabeth

Enough is Enough: It’s time we knew the True Cost of our clothes

Will 2015 be the year when we say enough is enough? The year we hit the tipping point and start to see change in the global garment industry?

The makers of the film The True Cost certainly hopes so. And so do I.

The film, screening in cities around the world starting May 29, exposes the problems that exist, and still too often remain hidden, in the world of fast fashion.

2014, the year after Rana Plaza collapsed taking the lives of 1,134 garment workers, was the most profitable year on record for the fashion industry, estimated at roughly $3 trillion USD.

And why is this so? Consumers around the world are fed messages that if only they purchase a certain garment to look a certain way, their lives will be better. And why not? It’s so cheap. If your life isn’t remarkably better after you buy said-garment, you can just buy another one. This trend is confirmed by the fact that we are consuming 500% more clothing than we were 2 decades ago. (Two decades ago was only 1995!) And we are throwing out more clothing too—on average 68 pounds of clothes per US consumer per year. This vicious cycle needs to stop, because it is workers and communities at the start of the supply chain that are paying the price for ever-more and ever-cheaper clothing.

The price on the hangtag of a Zara blazer or Gap dress is not at all indicative of the true cost of that garment. It does not reflect all the corners that are cut to get the garment on the shelf: the brand squeezing the factory to make the garment for less and less. The factory in turn squeezing workers, asking them to work long hours to meet quotas, for very little pay, often in unsafe conditions. Nor does it include the environmental costs—clothing factories require massive amounts of energy and water to operate and then discharge chemicals into the air and water surrounding the factory. These chemicals end up in the drinking water of the surrounding communities causing life-threatening diseases like cancer or serious mental and physical disabilities.

The True Cost is not just gloom and doom though. It follows fair trade companies like People Tree, which maintains direct and long-term relationships with producers all around the world.  People Tree is no small operation, it works with more than 4,000 artisans and produces garments as beautiful as anything you see in the windows of 5th avenue. People Tree is a model for other brands, proving a better way is possible.

The film is powerful and empowering. It asks us to question our consumption habits and to think about the people involved in making all the clothing we wear. It acknowledges that we live on a planet overwhelmed by problems that sometimes feel totally depressing and paralyzing.

But it also invites us to tackle these problems one at a time. What if we started with a problem we are all involved with—the clothes we choose to wear—and started to choose differently. These choices collectively will make a huge impact on the clothing sector. We can come together now and say enough is enough.

The True Cost will be screening in select cities starting May 29, and will also be available online and on DVD for $10-$15. 

May 14, 2015 / Green America

Want to feel inspired? Read what motivates Green America’s new member, Mr. Deepak Panjwani, to volunteer and contribute to our mission of a sustainable and just planet.

2014-09-06 11.35.45

Green America has a new member who has put forward a great deal of time and money to our mission. That person is Mr. Deepak Panjwani. We were fortunate enough to catch up with him and ask him a few questions about his previous volunteer work and what he thinks about Green America.

Green America: Can you tell us about Bloomberg’s volunteer program? How does it work?

Deepak Panjwani: Bloomberg’s Volunteer program is where Bloomberg L.P. Employees working for the private company can engage with Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic initiatives in his own foundation known as Bloomberg Philanthropies {www.bloomberg.org}. Throughout the year, employees are encouraged to volunteer at various events that Bloomberg Philanthropies (which is referred to in the company as BBOB which stands for Best of Bloomberg) promotes. BBOB actively gets involved in local communities where there are employee offices. They connect active employees with the charitable organizations that need volunteers to assist with various events. Bloomberg encourages its employees to volunteer a minimum of 25 hours in a year. Once an employee reaches that 25 hour milestone, BBOB will donate $2,500 to a nonprofit of their choice. This is capped at 50 hours, where Bloomberg will donate $5,000. We are given a vast extensive list of “approved” non-profit organizations located all over the world. Throughout the year, we can also submit suggestions to add new charitable organizations to this approved list. If and when an employee reaches 50 volunteer hours, options are given to split their donation into 2 organizations, both organizations receiving $2,500.

GA: Did you volunteer all of your 25 hours at one non-profit or various non-profits? Which non-profits did you volunteer at?

DP: I volunteered for 50 hours this year and was involved with several different charitable organizations, some that are recognized globally and some that are specifically serving the needs of individuals in my area. To name a few, I volunteered with the Make a Wish Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Eden Autism, Children’s Home Society, National Junior Tennis and Learning, Boys and Girls Club of America, and various local soup kitchens and animal shelters.

GA: What was one of your favorite volunteer experiences?

DP: It is extremely difficult to pick just one. This past December, I had the pleasure of working with a local animal shelter that brought adorable puppies and kittens to Rutgers University. We set up a “De-Stressing” area in a multi-purpose room in one of the student centers where college students could come and play with these adorable creatures in fenced enclosures. This was done for the benefit of the college students in the hopes of being able to relax and ease the heavy stress that exists during final exams while also providing exposure and awareness to these shelters that are looking for new pet owners who would want adopt these amazing animals. Another great experience was through the Make-a-Wish Foundation where I volunteered at one of their headquarters. The organization was having their annual summer BBQ/Picnic where all the families that had had a wish granted in the past year brought their friends and families for a fun themed event. Most of the volunteer staff was Bloomberg employees and the food and gifts were all provided through Bloomberg.

This event was profoundly moving because I was able to see the direct impact Make-a-Wish has on these children and their entire family. The wishes they are able to provide, through a long process of getting to know the children and helping them find their wish, provides them with hope, excitement, and a much needed break from thinking about hospital visits and treatments.

GA: Can you tell us how you first heard about Green America?

DP: I discovered Green America and the work that you do while I was researching the extensive list of approved charitable organizations that Bloomberg provides us. Employees are able to filter the extensive list based on region, causes, and various other criteria. Once I found your organization, I was redirected to your website where I found out a lot more about your mission and what Green America is all about.

GA: When and how did you first become concerned about “green” issues?

DP: Since I was an adolescent, I have always been keen on and aware of the environment. However, until recent years, I was not fully aware or cognizant of how destructive we, the human race, are on such a large scale throughout the world. The way humans currently live is extremely unsustainable. There is far too much excess and waste and far too much inequality in terms of living essentials throughout the world. After watching several documentaries and looking into the issue further, it became abundantly clear that we are taking advantage of resources and biodiversity that is not renewable. If we as 2014-09-06 10.04.36individuals do not do something to change this, we will lose countless, amazing species, plants, and natural remedies that this world has to offer. We simply have to live in harmony with our environment. While this is easier said than done, I believe it is attainable. We are currently burning energy in a way that creates such destruction and harm to our environment. I know there are scientists and other innovative inventors out there that have come up with alternative ways of energy or “free energy.” Unfortunately, this information is being suppressed by those that benefit from nonrenewable energy sources (oil, coal, nuclear, etc.) that we currently depend on. This is unsustainable and counter intuitive when it comes down to the human race being able to Thrive for centuries to come.

April 29, 2015 / Green America

New report exposes how the cleaning industry fails to protect your health

Guest article from Women’s Voices for the Earth

When cleaning product manufacturers assure you that product safety is their highest priority, do you ever wonder if their definition of “safe” might differ from yours?

Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) has released a new report, entitled “Deep Clean: What the cleaning industry should be doing to protect your health,” which exposes how cleaning product companies keep secret how they screen out dangerous chemicals from the products we use in our homes.

When cleaning product manufacturers assure you that product safety is their highest priority – do you ever wonder if their definition of “safe” might differ from yours?

The report rates four leading cleaning product manufacturers:

  • The Clorox Company—makers of Clorox, Pine-Sol, S.O.S., Tilex, Liquid-Plumber, Green Works)
  • Procter & Gamble—makers of Tide, Cascade, Dawn, Mr. Clean, Dreft Laundry, Febreze, Gain, Cheer
  • RB (formerly Reckitt Benckiser) —makers of Woolite, Lysol, Finish, AirWick, Old English
  • SC Johnson & Son, Inc. —makers of Pledge, Shout, Windex, Glade, Scrubbing Bubbles

According to the report, none of the four companies are fully transparent about the criteria included in their ingredient safety standards, making it impossible to compare the quality of any one company’s screening process to another. The report reveals that SC Johnson is one of the only major companies still using hormone disrupting synthetic musks, calling into question the integrity of their screening process. SC Johnson’s GreenlistTM process, which they hold up as evidence of its product safety, still allows synthetic musks! This begs the question: How exactly do hormone-disrupting chemicals like those even pass muster?

“Consumers are not content to take marketing rhetoric at face value. They want to know how a synthetic musk that’s linked to hormone disruption can pass SC Johnson’s GreenlistTM,” said Erin Switalski, Executive Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth. “We need clear insight into how a company determines whether or not a chemical is safe to use in their products.”

Little regulation exists in the U.S. to limit or control the use toxic chemicals in consumer products. Until federal and state regulations set safety and transparency standards, it’s up to companies to set their own safety standards for products. Since WVE launched its Safe Cleaning Products Initiative, they have taken aim at product safety, ingredient disclosure and eliminating toxic chemicals from cleaning products. As detailed in the Deep Clean report, manufacturers are responding to consumer demands and have made considerable strides towards removing certain toxic chemicals from their products and in publicly disclosing product ingredients for the first time on their websites.

“It’s a start,” said Switalski. “But transparency is still a huge issue. Assuring customers that products are ‘safe to use’ will ring hollow if companies don’t also explain what they mean by ‘safe’.”

In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in consumer demand for green cleaning products. Studies show that consumers, especially women, are spending their money on brands that reflect their concerns for safe products. Amid the increased demand for safe products, consumers are also suspicious of safety claims by major companies. Cleaning product companies must make their internal chemical screening processes much stronger and more transparent.

Deep Clean provides the clear framework of what we expect – of what consumers expect – an effective screening process to look like,” said Alexandra Scranton, WVE’s Director of Science and Research. “Critical to this framework is the simple task of publishing a company’s safety criteria in a transparent way.”

Download the “Deep Clean” report.

Then take action to tell SC Johnson it needs to improve its toxic chemical screening process if it wants to regain your trust.

April 25, 2015 / Elizabeth

World Fair Trade Day is May 9. Celebrate by Taking Action!

farmersThe fair trade movement in the US is growing, and that’s good news! But even as demand for fair trade products increases,  there are still millions of individuals working in agriculture around the world living in extreme poverty.

World Fair Trade Day aims to bring more awareness to the fair trade cause. This year, more than awareness, we’re trying to increase sales of fair trade products so that more money can get back to the farmers working in fair trade. We hope that as demand grows, so will supply, and that means that more farmers will join the fair trade system and more money will be transferred out of the conventional economy into one that is fair and sustainable.

Green America and Fair Trade Campaigns want to bring sustainable livelihoods to all this World Fair Trade Day. Here are three crucial actions to deepen your involvement in the Fair Trade Movement:

dear manager 1.) Request fair trade produce at your local supermarket.  

You already know that purchasing fair trade products empowers workers around the world to lift themselves out of poverty and grow their communities. But how many of us stop to think about the countless farmers and artisans behind the non-fair trade products that line supermarket shelves? These individuals often face substandard living conditions, low wages, even starvation.

In order to help these farmers and artisans we have to continue to increase the demand for fair trade products.  Click here to print a Product Request Card. Then, submit it to your supermarket chain.

Rogelia Serna Cruz and husband Luis Angel Juarez Morales of Tapachula, Chiapa smile as they harvest Fair Trade cucumbers.

Rogelia Serna Cruz and husband Luis Angel Juarez Morales of Tapachula, Chiapa smile as they harvest Fair Trade cucumbers.

2.) Educate yourself about the reality of many fruit and vegetable farmworkers. 

Last December the L.A. Times investigation “Product of Mexico exposed the poverty, hunger and unsafe working conditions that non-Fair Trade farmers confront on a daily basis.  The prospect of being fired forces many farmers and workers to endure these abuses silently.

Getting even one new fair trade product into your local supermarket has a tremendous impact in the lives of hundreds of farmers and artisans throughout the world. It can mean having a satisfying dinner instead of going to bed hungry, getting life-saving medical care instead of slowly succumbing to treatable illnesses, and creating an education system for one’s children that will prevent them from falling into poverty.

3.) Start or join a Fair Trade Campaign.  Click here to see our Fair Trade Campaign Map.

Will you help your community increase fair trade product availability this World Fair Trade Day? Show your concern for others by demanding food that feeds the people who grow and pick it. Make your voice count!

April 21, 2015 / Green America

HOW JACQUELINE GREENED HER INVESTMENTS

Read how a fellow Green American greened her investments, and then tell us your story too! Write in the comments below (please include your email so we can contact you to share your story) or email us at webster@greenamerica.org.

jacqueline-500wJacqueline Jenkins has been working on greening her finances for the past three years. She got started on this process by cutting her ties with Bank of America after it foreclosed on her daughter-in-law.

Although her daughter-in-law was working full-time, she ran into trouble making payments after interest rates went up. Jenkins says, “She tried to get them to reduce her payments, but they kept losing her paperwork. She would think they had gone down the right road, and then she would get another notice that the foreclosure was going through.”

After round after round of “misplaced” paperwork on the bank’s part, she declared bankruptcy, and Bank of America foreclosed. She had to find a new home for herself and her eight-year-old daughter.

“It was very hard on [my granddaughter], because she was very young when that was all going on. She didn’t understand no matter how much we tried to explain it to her,” says Jenkins. “That was her home. She didn’t understand why they had to leave their home.”

So after moving to the town of Floresville, TX, three years ago, Jenkins began the process of getting Bank of America out of her life. She says she used resources from Green America’s Break Up With Your Mega-Bank Campaign to make sure the process went smoothly. After opening up a bank account at Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union, she ended her relationship with Bank of America.

“I’m really happy I made that move,” she says. “It wasn’t that difficult.”

Her second step was helping her now 11-year-old granddaughter learn green banking habits. Jenkins helped her open an account at the credit union. “I told her why, and she’s older now, so she can grasp it better,” Jenkins says.

Jenkins’ success in breaking up with Bank of America got her thinking about other ways she could green her finances. She inherited oil stock and, after selling most of it off, had a little left that she wanted to re-invest in something more responsible. We referred her to our Guide to Fossil Fuel Divestment, where she could find a range of resources including financial planners and investment consultants that are specifically interested in helping people get dirty energy out of their portfolios and move their money into socially responsible investments.

Seeing how Bank of America’s predatory behavior played out in the lives of her friends and family has changed how Jenkins sees money. “It’s a true social lesson for all of us,” she says. “We can’t act like the banks work.”

Want us to share your story too? Write in the comments below (please include your email so we can contact you to share your story) or email us at webster@greenamerica.org.

April 8, 2015 / Elizabeth

Hershey’s Kisses Will Get A Makeover By 2016

2016 hershey barsHershey announced yesterday it will source enough certified and sustainable cocoa in 2016 to surpass the amount of cocoa required for the global production of four of its most popular chocolate brands including:

  • Hershey’s Bars
  • Kisses
  • Kit Kat(United States only)
  • Brookside

This announcement comes a little more than a month after Hershey announced it would transition to “simpler ingredients” in its products, including switching the sugar used in two of its flagship products (Hershey’s Bars and Kisses) from genetically modified sugar beets to sugar cane, which is non-GMO.

That means that by 2016, some of Hershey’s most iconic products, perhaps even Hershey Bars and Kisses, will not only be non-GMO, but also ethically certified as being made without child labor.

This is a huge win for consumers. For years, conscious “deep green” consumers have been pushing Hershey and other major food companies to make their products more responsibly, with a particular focus on farmers and the environment. In fact, Green America and our allies led the “Raise the Bar Hershey!” campaign and organized tens of thousands of consumers to come together and pressure Hershey to address the worst forms of child labor in its supply chain.

In October 2012, Hershey announced it would ethically certify all of its cocoa by 2020, following in the steps of other chocolate companies like Mars and Ferrero. Hershey also committed to reaching 50% by 2016, and announced in January 2015 that the company is ahead of schedule to meet this goal. Hershey’s recent announcement is another sign that Hershey is following through on its commitment to source 100% ethical chocolate by 2020.

On the non-GMO side of things, Hershey is now the leader amongst big candy companies. While Nestlé announced recently it would remove artificial flavors and dyes, it has not committed go non-GMO for any of its products or ingredients. Additionally Mars has yet to announce any non-GMO candy options.

Hershey and its competitors would be wise to continue the trend toward simpler ingredients across their offerings. According to Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, consumer food preferences are shifting quickly towards healthier options; and more than ever before, consumers are actively searching for organic and fair trade options that align with their values.

Check out our Chocolate Scorecard to find fair trade and organic chocolate options for your chocolate fix>>

April 7, 2015 / Sam Catherman

Environmental Costs Outweigh Corporate Profits

The 2015 State of Green Business report was just released, detailing the environmental performance of large companies around the world. The report, produced by GreenBiz and TruCost, illustrates the true costs of pollution, ecosystem depletion, and health impacts of unsustainable natural capital consumption by corporations and the alarming rate at which they are growing.

2010dirtyenergyAccording to the report, environmental costs, like greenhouse gas emissions and water abstraction (removing freshwater from the natural water cycle, and thus preventing its future use), would render most businesses unprofitable if they were responsible for paying for the impacts. The report found that environmental costs tallied up to $1 trillion (or 6.2% of GDP) for companies in the US, and $3 trillion worldwide.

The authors state, “Over the past five years, the proportion of company profit at risk consistently exceeds 100 percent of their profit… This means that, on average, companies would be unprofitable if they had to pay the actual costs associated with the commodities they consume and pollution they generate.”

It’s not all bad news, however. The report finds that the level of sustainable investment has been growing considerably in recent years. According the 2014 Trends Report published last November by US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, cited in GreenBiz’s report, sustainable assets totaling $6.57 trillion represented almost 18% of the $36.8 trillion in total assets under management, a 76% increase over 2012.

Social investors, joined by non-profits and growing consumer concern, are changing the ways that companies value natural resources. As a result, more companies are adopting the concept of ‘natural capital,’ which refers to “the stock of resources and ecosystem services on which all companies depend for their success.” Fresh water for industrial processes, and energy produced from fossil fuels (and its connected value to the clean air it pollutes) are the two largest forms of natural capital discussed in the report. Most companies are using these forms of capital at unsustainable levels. Due to rising shareholder and consumer concerns, companies are increasingly examining their businesses along their entire supply chain, where most natural capital expenditure occurs.

Additionally, science-based emissions reduction goals are becoming much more commonplace. Now, to really address the problems of overusing natural capital, corporations need to take a leadership role in reducing their imapcts. It is up to businesses to address their overall sustainability by assuming liability for their stranded assets (including certain fossil fuel reserves), adopting open and distributed sustainability systems, providing transparency along supply chains, and most importantly, supporting policies that advocate for sustainable business practices across the board.

March 27, 2015 / franteplitz

2015 Proxy Season Set to Break Record

shareholderimage2015[1]According to the latest Proxy Preview  — the authoritative, annually-updated compendium of shareholder resolutions – the 2015 shareholder resolution season is set to break yet another record in terms of the number of resolutions filed on social and environmental issues. This means that corporate management, and shareholders, will face resolutions on some of the most pressing issues facing our society and global community. This form of corporate engagement plays an important role, alongside strategies such as consumer pressure, in urging companies to improve their practices and policies. Shareholder resolutions play a key role in pushing companies to be accountable for the diverse range of impacts that their operations create or exacerbate.

When the Proxy Preview went to press this month, 433 social and environmental resolutions had been filed; 417 were filed at this time in 2014. The highest number of resolutions were filed on environmental issues including climate change; corporate political activity; human and labor rights; and on a range of sustainability issues.

Green America’s 2015 shareholder resolution focus lists highlight dozens of resolutions that Green America addresses throughout the year: carbon pollution; renewable energy; human rights; GMOs; deforestation; sustainability; recycling; and more.

So if you own direct company stock (not mutual funds) – be sure to open your proxy materials and VOTE! Investors are part-owners in the companies in which they invest, and as such, have a responsibility to weigh-in on issues to improve the company. Not sure what to do with your proxy when it arrives in the mail? See Green America’s infographic on What is a Proxy Ballot and What Do I Do With It?

So if you own stock directly in companies like Abbott Laboratories, Bank of America, Chevron, Delta Airlines, ExxonMobil, Google, Hess, Lowe’s, PepsiCo, Walmart, or Western Union – check out Green America’s 2015 Shareholder Resolution Lists for votes to support!

March 21, 2015 / Todd Larsen

Obama: Taking on Fracking?

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The Obama Administration has taken its first federal action to regulate fracking.  Unfortunately, the new rule won’t do much to address the growing problems that fracking causes.

The Bureau of Land Management issued the rules on Friday, March 20th.  The new rules only apply to fracking on federal lands, and would institute the following:

  • New well-construction requirements to ensure the protection of groundwater supplies;
  • Increased transparency by requiring companies to promptly and publicly disclose chemicals used fracking operations to the BLM through the website FracFocus;
  • Higher standards for wastewater storage.

While each of the above provisions represents an improvement over the current status of little of no regulation at all, the reality is that fracking should not be taking place on public lands period.

The growing evidence demonstrates that fracking harms air and water quality, damages local infrastructure, and is even causing an increase in earthquakes.

In addition, fracked gas is increasingly sent overseas, so the American public is not even using the resources taken from public and private lands in the U.S.  Corporations are profiting, but the American people bear the environmental and social costs of these exports without getting much benefit in return.

The Obama Administration’s embrace of fracking (with some regulation), alongside its support for increased oil drilling off the East Coast is all part of a failed “all of the above” energy strategy that is designed to appeal to conservatives, but in reality, just opens the door to increased pollution and climate emissions, while impeding the progress of clean energy in the U.S.

As a country, we can’t seriously embrace ambitious goals to address climate change (which the President says he supports), while also supporting increased fossil fuel production.  The problem with the new rules on fracking are that they try to put a band aid on the harms of fossil fuel production, when it is increasingly clear that the only sustainable course of action is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Make sure to let the Administration know that you want a true clean energy future. Please join Green America in calling on the President to take real action on climate change by creating a real plan to address carbon emissions, the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, and clean energy initiatives!

March 10, 2015 / Elizabeth

For just $12.38 per iPhone, Apple could pay its workers a livable wage. 

Today Apple’s shareowners will vote to approve the compensation packages of its top executives at its Annual Shareowner meeting in Cupertino, CA. The company broke records last quarter selling 74.5 million iPhones and earning $18 billion in profits.

Executives will be rewarded lavishly:
Tim Cook, CEO: $1.7 million salary, $9.2 million total compensation
Other senior VPs: $947,596 salary, $28 million average total compensation

What won’t be discussed at the meeting is the ongoing struggle of the workers who make Apple’s highly profitable products. While executives earn millions, workers make a little over $3/hour. In order to earn enough to cover living expenses workers rely on overtime, sometimes working as many as 64 hours per week at one Apple supplier, according to China Labor Watch.[1]

We’ve estimated that Apple could pay its 1.5 million workers a decent wage for only $12.38 more per device. That’s just 7% of its profits last quarter.[2]

Our latest infographic breaks this down.

Would you pay $12.38 more per iPhone to ensure workers are earning decent wages?

Apple could, and Apple should.

Apple Wages Infographic

Download infographic as PDF (for printing).

 

 


[1] Analyzing Labor Conditions of Pegatron and Foxconn: Apple’s Low-Cost Reality, China Labor Watch

[2] Explanation of calculations:

This calculation is conservative and rough, as there are many variables in production. It is meant to show how much workers in the supply chain are squeezed.
China Labor Watch estimates Apple’s quarterly labor costs at $3.4 billion per quarter (20RMB/hour for 1.5 million workers for a 55-hour work week). Average overtime hours per week at one major Apple supplier during Q1 2015 was 24 hours. Including overtime pay, Apple’s quarterly labor costs increase to $4 billion. CLW estimates it would cost Apple $5.3 billion per quarter to bring worker base wages up to a level that would cover basic living costs for an urban resident in China at 55 hours per week. This is  $1.3 billion more. Apple sold 105 million devices in Q1 2015. This is just $12.38 per device. This is also 7% of last quarter’s profits. 

 

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