This July, Green America attended the Congressional Renewable Energy Expo on Capitol Hill to tell policy makers and clean energy industry leaders all about the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. The bill, which has been introduced to the House of Representatives by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), seeks to provide new financing for clean energy projects including wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as home and commercial energy efficiency technologies. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) stopped by our booth to ask us a few questions about CEVBs. Watch their interview below, read more about the bill here, and contact your Representative and urge him or her to support clean energy in the US.
As students get ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from now through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.
At Oberlin College, April brings warm breezes, vibrant flowers, and golden sunlight—as well as a spirited contest that pits one dorm against another to see which can use the fewest resources. The Oberlin Ecolympics compares dorm-wide reductions in electricity and water use, with the most eco-savvy dorms winning prizes that include ice cream socials and infrastructure improvements, such as the installation of water refill stations.
“Ultimately, becoming sustainable will involve significant lifestyle changes on behalf of pretty much everyone,” says Oberlin Ecolympics Intern Abraham Rowe. “It’s important to have people actually attempt to make some sort of changes to their lifestyle, and then [see] what it feels like to live like that.”
Started in 2002, when several Oberlin students invented a building “dashboard” to monitor their energy and water use, the campus-wide contest takes place over three weeks. The contest is still guided by an online dashboard similar to the 2002 prototype, which monitors buildings and informs residents about their resource use. The contests also uses physical displays to keep the spirit of competition high.
Oberlin’s Office of Environmental Sustainability advertises, plans, and oversees the coordination, planning, and marketing of the campus’s Ecolympics efforts, which also involve educational events. In 2014, Oberlin’s 36 Ecolympics events included movie screenings, a local arboretum cleanup, a visit from animal rights activist Gene Bauer, and a workshop and concert hosted by a band that uses only vegetable oil to power its truck.The Office of Environmental Sustainability incentivized student attendance by rewarding the dorm that had the highest percentage of resident participation at the events.
Sustainability Coordinator Bridget Flynn says that the Ecolympics is an “extremely meaningful” competition, due to its student engagement and its tangible results: In 2014, Oberlin trimmed its electricity use during the event by 13,182 kWh, which saved $1,054, and the campus reduced its overall water use by 55,889 gallons, or $559. Rowe values Ecolympics because, once the contest is over, electricity and water use continue to decrease across campus, he says.
In addition, the competition has infected the city of Oberlin, whose public schools held their first resource reduction in conjunction with Ecolympics in 2014. One public school reduced its electricity use by 36.7 percent, an impressive feat given that only 50 to 60 percent of average US building’s electricity use is discretionary, or under the control of the building’s occupants.
Ecolympics is no longer confined to Oberlin’s borders. The students who first invented the Ecolympics dashboard went on to found the Lucid Design Group, which develops resource-monitoring building software for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike. In 2010, Lucid helped make this contest national. Called the Campus Conservation Nationals competition, it runs every spring at 119 colleges and universities across the country. Oberlin participates each year, and simultaneously continues to run its dorm-wide contest. Last year, the Campus Conservation Nationals judges ranked Oberlin as a “top-five water reducer.”
Both Rowe and Flynn advise schools that are interested in Ecolympics to check out the many resources that Campus Conservation Nationals offers. Environmental Dashboard Project Leader Danny Rosenberg, a 2012 Oberlin graduate, stresses the importance of involving the entire student body in the competition. “Try to tie [the competition] in with a broader effort to engage the college community on sustainability,” says Rosenberg. “Try to really build a culture around sustainability.”
Preventable Factory Fire in China Once Again Not Prevented
Co-written by Joey Friedman
75 Chinese workers at the Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Production Co. perished in a factory explosion on Saturday, August 2nd. Zhongrong makes automotive parts for General Motors Co. and other auto makers. Dense with dust, its believed the unfiltered air combusted upon contact with a heat source. Like many unfortunate factory fires, this could have been prevented by installing a simple ventilation system.
In an attempt to avoid responsibility, few head employees were willing to speak or take action after the explosion. Factory Chairman Wu Ji-tao was not found within reach for comment. The factory’s online contact, Zhang Ying refused to answer any questions regarding the blast. According to a report by The New York Times, China’s top work-safety agency pointed to local government to take on responsibility for the tragic event. Government officials are currently refusing to comment. Citic Dicastal Wheel Manufacturing Co., wheel-makers that subcontract orders to Zhongrong is also not available for comment.
General Motors deflects its relationship with the factory, making clear that is sources its parts through Citic Dicastal, its tier 1 supplier, and has no direct relationship with Zhongrong, this tier 2 supplier.
Of the more than 260 people onsite at the time of the explosion on early Saturday morning, 75 have died and nearly 200 are injured.
Combustible dust is a widely known manufacturing hazard. As a metal polishing plant, Zhongrong should have had a ventilation system in place before becoming operational. As the Wall Street Journal reported, without a ventilation system these explosions can happen without warning. ]
This incident helps to bring greater attention to the problem of poor ventilation systems and insufficient safety trainings in Chinese factories. It took two disasters within Apple supplier factories in China for Apple to finally “order” the factories to adopt new and safer techniques to prevent metal combustion fires, in 2012. The order would seem more sufficient if Chinese factories weren’t so well known for their questionable enforcement.
Apple is nearing its launch of the new iPhone 6, a product heavily in demand and gaining high expectations. Sources revealed that the crave for the new product is resulting in a rush to hire new factory employees, extend work hours, and increase of hazardous exposure for workers. Do our gadget-grubbing demands influence the unsafe conditions and harsh treatment of overseas factory workers?
Take action by signing a petition to Apple, to protect workers making the anticipated iPhone 6.
On Monday, July 14, Citibank agreed to pay a $7 billion settlement related to sub-prime mortgage-backed securities sold to investors during the lead up to the financial crisis of 2008. The settlement results from a Justice Department effort to crack down on the complex and risky behaviors that led Wall Street to the brink of collapse in 2008. While the overwhelming majority of Americans want to hold bankers accountable for gambling on peoples’ livelihoods, the recent settlements don’t represent a real victory for the population. If we break down the structure of the most recent settlement, it’s easy to see why.
Citi agreed to pay a total of $7 billion dollars to end a DOJ inquiry into its involvement in the financial crisis. Citi will pay $4.5 billion in cash, and $2.5 billion to provide relief to struggling homeowners and low-income tenants in the form of restructured mortgages. Of the $4.5 billion cash payment, $4 billion will go to the Justice Department as a civil penalty. The other $500 million will be paid as fees to state Attorneys General and to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
There are a few reasons why this settlement looks more like a PR stunt than Citi actually trying to right any wrongdoing. First of all, the majority of the settlement will go to the agencies doing the prosecution, pretty much to spend at their discretion. The prosecuting agencies do not represent the true victims of the housing crisis, the ones who were aggressively sold mortgages that they had no chance of affording a few years down the line. The lion’s share of the settlement, in effect, settles little more than legal fees.
Citigroup can count the loan modifications it will make for sub-prime borrowers under the government Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) as part of the settlement. This program awards incentive payments to the bank to modify bad loans. Citi will actually receive payments for abiding by the terms of the settlement they reached with the government. The assistance to homeowners, those most affected by the financial crisis, will therefore be subsidized.
And as if the taxpayer hasn’t already paid enough for the egregious actions of large financial institutions leading up to the financial crisis, any mortgage principal reductions to homeowners from Citi will come in the form of earned income for tax purposes. Any supposed relief homeowners enjoy will be taxed as income, in many cases negating any relief in the first place. This is due to the expiration of the Mortgage Debt Relief Forgiveness Act, which Congress has failed to renew. Without this essential protection, the settlement might actually leave some borrowers worse off.
The settlement reached between Citi and the Department of Justice doesn’t even address the losses incurred by investors who purchased securities backed by sub-prime mortgages in the lead-up to 2008.
At the end of the day, Citi will pay $7 billion to get regulators and investigators off its back. The settlement comes after JP Morgan Chase reached a similar agreement to the tune of $13 billion last year. The DOJ collects more cash than it knows what to do with, the mega-banks continue to gamble with real peoples’ homes (increasingly in the rental market that grew as a result of the crash), and tax-paying citizens are left to foot the bill. Nobody involved with the packaging and sale of toxic mortgages will see the inside of a jail cell, and all parties involved will move forward as if the mess didn’t occur in the first place. If you’re tired of the illusion of justice in our legal and financial systems, Green America urges you to take the time and tell Eric Holder to re-prioritize the prosecution of those involved mortgage fraud. Unless the people stand up and demand justice, there will be nothing to deter mega-banks like Citi from driving the economy to the brink of collapse all over again.
Co-authored by Joey Friedman
Of late, most of Apple’s labor scandals have stemmed from supplier factories in China. Today’s Wall Street Journal, however, points to a labor problem much closer to home. On Monday July 21, 20,000 hourly workers in California filed suit against Apple for workplace violations.
The case, originally filed back in 2011 by four Apple employees, now voices the position of 20,000 employees claiming Apple’s violation of wage and hour laws. Reports have been made that these employees were denied lunch breaks, rest breaks, and final paychecks while working for Apple. Other claims broadly illustrate mistreatment within the workplace. Multiple reports reflect that if certain labor policies were discussed among employees they became at risk for being “fired, sued or disciplined.”
The claims made by the thousands of California-based staff members exhibits behaviors of a hostile and threatening work environment. It is possible that such a harsh relationship between staff members and management is what has kept these employees fearfully quiet for any length of time. It’s clear that while Apple offers admiral benefits packages for its corporate employees, its hourly retail workers (and the workers on the other end of its supply chain, assembling its prized iGadgets) are not treated as well.
Apple is the second most profitable company in the world and recently announced second quarter profits of $7.75 billion dollars, up 12% since the same time last year. The company touts itself as a leader of social and environmental responsibility, however, in reality, Apple’s labor record seems to align more closely with that of Walmart.
This can’t go on. Send Apple a message>>
In the “letter” box you can add your concerns for workers in the U.S. as well as overseas.
Apple Facing Another Class-Action Suit by Employees, Wall Street Journal
Today, the Green America Better Paper Project and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are excited to announce that National Geographic is using recycled fiber in the pages of several of their publications – including their flagship publication that reaches over 4 million readers!
National Geographic’s move was the result of several years of assistance from the Better Paper Project and allies. Last year, with the support of the Better Paper Project and NRDC, National Geographic published a study finding that in 14 out of 14 environmental categories, recycled fiber is superior to virgin fiber in magazines. One year later, National Geographic now has plans in place to increase the amount of recycled fiber in their magazines. Their recycled paper use expansion means that more than 1,000 new tons of recycled paper will be used each year.
As a magazine reader, your opinion makes a difference to the publisher. Consumer concern played a big role in encouraging National Geographic to move to recycled fiber, and now it is very important to use your voice with other publishers – most of whom still use paper only of virgin fiber.
We’re asking all Green Americans to let the publishers of your favorite magazines know that you want them to use paper with recycled fiber. (Not sure if your magazine is using recycled paper? Check here to see a list of the leaders in the industry.)
You can send your message to them in any (or all) of the following ways:
- Write a letter to the editor – you can usually find an email or mailing address for the editor in the magazine or on their website. We’ve included the emails of a few popular publications below.
- Post to the magazine’s Facebook page.
- Send a “Tweet” to the editor using their Twitter address.
Follow the steps below to take action.
1. Letter to the Editor
Send To: Your favorite magazines
Subject: Are you using recycled paper?
I’ve recently learned that National Geographic Society (NGS) is beginning to use recycled paper in all the pages of their photography-centric flagship, National Geographic Magazine. I’d like to ask you if you are using recycled paper in your magazine, and if not, I strongly urge you to begin doing so.
Using recycled paper is critical to protecting the forests and biodiversity impacted when trees are logged for paper production and use. A life-cycle assessment (LCA) commissioned by NGS demonstrates that in all fourteen categories studied—including energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, etc. – recycled paper has a lower impact on the environment than traditional virgin tree fiber paper.
NGS worked closely with the Green America Better Paper Project to thoroughly study this issue. I encourage you to reach out to the Better Paper Project (www.betterpaper.org) for assistance and begin using recycled paper as soon as possible.
Thanks for your attention to this important issue.
PS – You can contact the Better Paper Project Director, Frank Locantore by email and phone: email@example.com, 202-872-5308
2. Post to Facebook
Here are some sample posts you can use to comment on a magazine’s Facebook page:
- Great publication. Do you print on recycled paper? I’d love to know that you are helping protect our forests and climate. Go to www.BetterPaper.org to find out how.
- Love this article. I want to love it more – can you tell me if it is printed on recycled paper? Go to www.BetterPaper.org to find out the benefits of recycled fiber.
Please contact Frank Locantore at the Better Paper Project (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you get a response from a publisher.
3. Send a Tweet
We understand if you are resisting the plethora of social media. But, in the magazine world, Twitter has become a really useful tool for the editors and writers to communicate with their audience. If you use Twitter, please consider sending some “Tweets.” Here are a few examples:
- You can help protect #forests, #climate, & #communities by using #recycled paper in [insert magazine Twitter name] #magazine.
- #whatsinyourpaper [insert magazine Twitter name]? Please contact @BetterPaperProj if you need help switching to #recycled #paper
- I love your [insert magazine Twitter name] magazine, but hate hurting the planet. Do you use #recycled paper? Ask @BetterPaperProj for help.
Thanks for all you do to make this a greener world!
Contact Information for Several Popular US Magazines
(If your favorite mags are not listed below, you can find contact information for the editor on most publisher websites and Facebook pages through Google).
Co-authored by Joey Friedman
After undercover investigations and resulting allegations of underage workers in one of Samsung’s supplier factories, Samsung has quickly made public response to this issue. Repeatedly pledging a “zero tolerance policy”, Samsung has currently suspended their involvement with Shinyang Electronic Co. Ltd, in Dongguan, China. Until recently, Shinyang produced phone covers and parts for Samsung. It’s a South Korean-invested facility which hires about 40% temporary workers, all reportedly under the age of 35.
Although Samsung has conducted its own audits of this factory (three since 2013, the most recent on June 25, 2014), the company uncovered no cases of child labor. China Labor Watch (CLW), however, found at least five children working on one production line in this facility, and estimate there could be as many as twenty children working on that line and more throughout the facility.
Samsung’s failure to notice such gross violations during multiple visits to Shinyang certainly questions the rigor and effectiveness of these audits. In response to the allegations made by CLW, Samsung launched another investigation last week and reported finding evidence of illegal hiring processes. If Samsung’s investigation concludes that illegal hiring practices were indeed used, Samsung is threatening to permanently terminate its involvement with Shinyang.
In an effort to completely eradicate child labor within electronic factories, it is reassuring to see such an adamant response from Samsung’s team. However, the repercussions that could result from termination would leave workers worse off. Most imminently, the reported 1,200 Chinese workers in this facility could immediately lose their jobs, as Samsung is a major purchaser from this facility.
Cutting ties also relieves a lot of responsibility from Samsung. Other major electronics factories have formal child labor remediation policies. Apple, for example, requires that suppliers found to be employing underage workers must return children to school, finance their education and continue to provide income.
Shinyang’s violations reach beyond underage workers. All workers—adults, minors, and children—are underpaid, overworked, malnourished and forced into hazardous situations. A strong child labor remediation process, along with an increased hourly wage, and overtime that respects national limits would go a long way to make Shinyang a better place to work.
As Samsung considers next steps with Shinyang, we strongly urge the company to invest more in Shinyang and reform the factory so that it is a decent place to work. Terminating business with this factory is just a temporary solution to a systemic problem. The high demand and low prices that Samsung imposes on its supplier factories indirectly pushes them to seek out the cheapest labor possible, and in this unfortunate instance, children.
- Another Samsung Supplier Exploiting Child Labor (CLW’s Report)
- Samsung Blog Post – July 14
- Samsung Blog Post – July 10
Never mind that exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asian markets would cause U.S. energy prices to rise. Never mind that opening up an export facility on the Maryland Eastern Shore would create incentives to open up Marcellus Shale deposits for gas production in the western region of the state. Even if we look past the massive greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and other environmental catastrophes associated with natural gas production, the planned LNG export facility in Cove Point raises a serious and immediate concern: safety.
In April, the assistant fire chief of the Solomons Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad stepped down from his post after expressing safety concerns over the Cove Point project. The concerns arose from the fact that the department had not received any formal LNG safety training, and was not prepared to deal with a potential catastrophic explosion. While responding to an LNG emergency would first be the responsibility of Calvert County, any volunteer without proper equipment or training is at a serious risk in doing so. A representative from Dominion stated that they were working with the county to educate volunteers on the hazards and risks of LNG.
So what exactly makes LNG so dangerous? Converting natural gas into its liquid form requires chilling the gas to -161.5o C (258.7o F) using massive refrigerant compressors. These compressors, powered by natural gas themselves, circulate the gas at close to atmospheric pressure until it becomes a liquid, making it easier to store and transport by ship. LNG can vaporize and form highly explosive clouds in pipelines and other parts of the facility if its container leaks. In a phenomenon called rapid phase transition, the heat transfer from spilling enough water at room temperature on the subzero LNG can cause a tremendous “cold explosion.”
Explosions in the last decade in Algeria and as recently as this past April in Washington state have left environmentalists, emergency responders, and citizens living near proposed facilities in the U.S. understandably concerned. So far there are two approved export facilities in Louisiana, with one already under construction. While the LNG industry maintains a respectable track record in taking safety measures to prevent explosions, leaks, and spills throughout the process, further expansion of liquefaction facilities situated around populated areas only increases the risk of an avoidable catastrophe. The bottom line is it only takes one mistake to create a devastating explosion, and irreparably harm a community.
Residents of Lusby, Maryland have organized and are demanding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC conduct a full environmental impact assessment to weigh the risks against the rewards of the Cove Point facility as touted by Dominion Resources. While Dominion dangles the prospect of 3000 construction jobs and 75 permanent positions to local power brokers, Calvert County residents are speaking up in defense of their delicate bay ecology, and the economy that depends on it. The risks posed by sea level rise, potential explosions, and large-scale environmental damage due to expanded fracking operations have many Marylanders in favor of clean energy development, such as offshore wind and solar.
Independent studies often find more hazards associated with the proposed facility than those commissioned by regulatory agencies. While the economic benefits of a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Cove Point have been presented loud and clear, it is also clear that those benefits would do little for a Bay town that’s lost its bay. After picketing the FERC building, submitting thousands of public comments demanding a full risk assessment, and gathering en masse on the streets of Washington, DC to protest the project, Lusby residents remain uneasy about what the future holds for their slice of the Chesapeake.
China Labor Watch’s (CLW) report, Another Samsung Supplier Exploiting Child Labor, documented child labor and other abuses at Shinyang Electronic Co. Ltd. Shinyang is a South Korean-owned company, mainly producing the covers and other parts for Samsung cell phones. The report revealed that five children (under 16) were found to be working in this facility, as well as numerous minors (under 18). These young workers are subject to the same long hours as other workers, and compensated less. These children were also working the night shift, from 8:00 pm to 8:00 am, six to seven days a week.
This news adds to mounting concern regarding Samsung’s labor record. Last month the Washington Post shared that more than 200 former Samsung workers are suffering from grave illnesses, allegedly contracted while working in Samsung plants.
Samsung’s own sustainability reports make no-mention of these issues. It’s most recent report stated stated the company inspected working conditions at over 200 suppliers in 2013 and that “no instances of child labor were found.” The violations found in CLW’s report raise questions about the effectiveness of Samsung’s self-monitoring and the truth of its reports.
In response, Green America and China Labor watch have teamed up to launch a petition to Samsung’s CEO calling on the company to immediately cease abusive labor practices in its supplier factories.