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On Our Radar: Women in Tech - Transparency Grows and Solutions Emerge

SustainAbility Latest - Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - 10:17 pm

Flickr image by d2s

This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

California’s Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of the high tech industry, is becoming the central focus of a national debate around the representation of women and minorities in technology companies.

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For years, most Silicon Valley tech giants remained secretive about the composition of their workforce and resisted stakeholder and media requests to disclose diversity data. A number of leading tech companies – such as Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter – have now changed course and disclosed workforce diversity numbers. The data confirmed the underrepresentation of women and minorities that many had already observed. Several companies also announced new initiatives to address the issue. Google, for instance, has devised an experimental strategy to identify critical turning points and processes that stifle female promotion.

Shifting stakeholder expectations continue to build urgency around the issue. The Open Diversity Data project publicly calls out companies that do not release diversity data. Other NGOs – including Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code – are coming forward with innovative solutions to address systemic causes and increase the numbers of female computer engineers.

While tech companies have long struggled with the lack of female graduates, this is not just a pipeline issue – it is a matter of corporate responsibility. The well-documented machismo in the tech industry contributes to pushing out over half the qualified female talent between ages 25 and 30. Media pundits and feminist rights activists have become more outspoken about ‘brogramming culture’ and the misuse of cultural fit as an excuse for discrimination.

Shifting the balance of gender representation will require tackling deep systemic causes. Though there is a long road ahead, the tech community has broken the vows of secrecy and is looking to work on solutions.

What to look for: Critique of tech companies will become more pronounced. At the same time stakeholder collaboration with the firms can be expected to grow and evolve. For instance, a documentary Big Dream, in part underwritten by Microsoft, will chronicle the personal challenges faced by girls entering STEM fields.

Categories: Sustainability

Why Neil Young is wrong about genetically modified food labelling

CSR News - Wed, Nov 19, 2014 - 10:07 pm

Neil Young is urging you not to buy coffee at Starbucks anymore.

He’s upset that the Grocery Manufacturers Association, of which Starbucks is a member, is suing Vermont over the state’s new law that will require labelling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients by summer of 2016.

In an open letter, Young claims that “we have a right to know what we put in our mouths.” As I’ve argued before, that simply isn’t true, at least not as a generalization. You certainly have a right to control what you put in your mouth, but that doesn’t — and cannot possibly — include a right to know every detail of every thing you put in your mouth. If you don’t trust something, don’t eat or drink it. Don’t buy it. But you don’t have the right to insist on knowing everything about it. You might want to know whether your food was harvested by the light of a full moon, but you don’t have a right to that information. A business that refuses to give you that information isn’t violating your rights.

It doesn’t help, of course, that one of the other key players in the lawsuit is Monsanto, a company that for many people represents evil incarnate. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m no fan of Monsanto. But its involvement shouldn’t blind us to the fact that GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are, as a category, no less safe than any other kind of food. Nor should it blind us to the fact that the GMO category is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive if what you’re worried about is potentially-harmful forms of genetic modification. Scientists understand this. Neil Young does not.

Young is right about a couple of things, though. He rightly suggests, for example, that public pressure might get Starbucks to change its ways. This is quite plausible. Lots of companies are already caving in to irrational public fears regarding GMOs. Starbucks could be next, so Young’s strategy, regrettably, just might work.

He’s also right that there is more at stake, here, than what can be sold in one relatively small US state. It’s entirely possible that if the Vermont law is allowed to stand, the precedent it sets will help make it easier for other states to jump on the bandwagon.

But what Young is right about is far outweighed by what he’s wrong about. He claims that the lawsuit is trying to “stop accurate food labeling.” That’s a gross misrepresentation. There’s nothing importantly “accurate” about a label that says “this product contains GMOs,” even when it’s technically true. For that to count as accurate labelling, it would have to be a meaningful label (one that distinguishes one kind of ingredient from an importantly different kind) and it would have to have some chance of being understood by customers. Such a label is much more likely to be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mistakenly taken as a reliable guide to better purchasing decisions.

Consider: what if some jurisdiction foolishly passed a law saying that all foods containing carbon had to be labelled as such? What if someone opposed that law? Would they be fighting “accurate food labelling?” All food contains carbon. Pointing it out helps nobody. And claiming that they have a “right” to be told it is just plain silly.


Tasty Ways to Use Pumpkin Seeds

Chelsea Green - Wed, Nov 19, 2014 - 07:30 am

As much as we love pumpkins, sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out how to take advantage of all those nourishing seeds. Packed with rich nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, and plant-based omega-3s, these seeds are certainly worth the extra effort in the kitchen.  If you’re tired of the standard roasting drill, try some […]

The post Tasty Ways to Use Pumpkin Seeds appeared first on Chelsea Green.

Categories: Sustainability

Why Low-Impact Diets Are the Next Big Opportunity

SustainAbility Latest - Mon, Nov 17, 2014 - 09:16 pm

Flickr image by thebittenword.com

This article was co-written by Matt Loose and Aimee Watson.

What if everyone could have access to food that meets their dietary needs without preventing future generations from meeting theirs? That’s the idea at the heart of sustainable nutrition. Increased attention to the environmental impacts of food types drives interest in sustainable nutrition, helping spur innovation and interest in those foods that can deliver nutritional value with a reduced environmental footprint.

The agricultural footprint — the land required to grow the food sold — of the world’s largest global food companies, producers and traders is huge. As food demand increases in line with an increasing population, demand for land will grow.

Furthermore, the food industry has been affected by some of the most acute sustainability challenges we face today. Our changing climate will force shifts in where, how and what is grown. Globally, issues of droughts and floods as well as salinization and desertification will scramble the agricultural map as we know it and may reduce crop production. Falling temperatures will decrease crop yields at lower latitudes whilst other yields increase in higher regions.

To take just one example, researchers predict a two-thirds reduction in production in the world’s premier, typically lower lying wine regions such as France, Italy and California, and an increase in previously unsuitable (higher) regions such as the hills of Central China and the UK.

Growing populations are expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, forcing intensification of farming practices. Population increase, combined with changes to our diets, may mean farmers produce 70 percent more food by 2050 (90 percent of which is expected to come from intensification and higher-yield techniques). At the same time, we face rapid growth in acute diet-related disease, from obesity (an increase of 8 percent since 1980), to diabetes (186 million increase expected by 2030), heart conditions (set to remain the No. 1 killer globally with an expected death toll of 23.3 million by 2030) and cancers (an additional 8 million cases expected by 2030).

It is little wonder, then, that there is rapid innovation in the area of sustainable food, and that sustainable nutrition is emerging as an important new measure of food sustainability.

Progress on sustainable nutrition requires examining the full value chain of food products — from agricultural production to processing, preparation and disposal. Work is converging towards a common set of life-cycle-analysis type indicators including CO2, water and land use. Multi-national and multi-stakeholder projects are underway to develop appropriate measures. One such example is the work of the Sustainability Consortium, working to establish data sets for the life-cycle environmental and social impacts of food.

The environmental impact of your diet

With sustainable nutrition information in hand, food companies have begun comparing the environmental impacts of diets, menu options and food ingredients. The results of this research will be of huge importance to food scientists hoping to design low-impact foods. For example, there is significant interest in the potential to use flours from dried beans and legumes known as pulse flours, which are high in protein, as ingredients to reduce environmental impact and improve nutritional quality of commonly eaten affordable foods such as pasta.

How to communicate this information to non-expert consumer audiences is key, with clever infographics, ratios and labelling all playing their parts. For example, the carbon footprint comparing types of meats to types of crops might be expressed as car miles driven per 4 ounces consumed. Ultimately, though, environmentally better products also have to taste better, be better quality and be priced better for consumers’ preferences in order for change to happen at scale. As a result, innovation in vegetarian food offerings is picking up pace.

As scientists and consumers better understand the life-cycle of food, and as the sustainable-nutrition discussion gains momentum, designing menus and diets will become increasingly sophisticated. It will be possible to take into account a comprehensive environmental impact that’s far more advanced than the separate “issue labels” such as carbon footprint, sustainable sourcing or organic labels that are found on food today.

The implications of this important step forward are game-changing. Big food buyers could have the tools to design “environmentally friendly” menus. Retailers can be benchmarked on the sustainability of the food they sell. And investment in food companies can be made to target those with sustainable and nutritious portfolios.

Ultimately, the food companies with portfolios that combine superior environmental performance and more nutritious products will be the future stars of the food industry. The innovation and technology that surround sustainable nutrition suggests that this could be just around the corner — an exciting time for the food industry indeed.

This article originally appeared in What’s Next, SustainAbility’s column for GreenBiz.

Categories: Sustainability

Chelsea Green Publishing Turns 30!

Chelsea Green - Mon, Nov 17, 2014 - 09:54 am

Explore a slideshow of cover images from some of our most iconic books over the past 30 years. Excerpts from these books and close to 100 others are all part of a new Chelsea Green anthology celebrating our 30th anniversary – The Chelsea Green Reader. This collection offers readers a glimpse into our wide-ranging list […]

The post Chelsea Green Publishing Turns 30! appeared first on Chelsea Green.

Categories: Sustainability

Launch Event - See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance

SustainAbility Latest - Mon, Nov 17, 2014 - 09:04 am

SustainAbility is pleased to announce that we will be publishing our latest research on transparency on 5 December. To mark the launch we are hosting a breakfast roundtable in London with ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) exploring the key findings of our the work.

The breakfast roundtable will be held at:

Location: ACCA UK Office, 29 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3EE
Time: 08.00 – 10.00am (A light breakfast will be served from 08.00am)

Space is limited so please RSVP here.

Co-authors of the report Margo Mosher and Lorraine Smith will share key findings before hearing responses to the research from leading reporting and business sustainability experts.

The key thematic questions we will explore include:

  • What is ‘effective’ corporate transparency?
  • How can transparency drive better decision-making, impact performance and drive positive change?
  • How has, and how will, corporate transparency change?
Categories: Sustainability

On Our Radar: Human Rights Accountability Remains Elusive

SustainAbility Latest - Thu, Nov 13, 2014 - 08:03 pm

Flickr image by andres musta

This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

Global human rights violations have risen in the last decade and unless governments act to introduce stronger binding mechanisms and companies start viewing human rights compliance as an essential part of corporate accountability, progress on human rights will remain slow.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch and Maplecroft estimated that in the last six years global human rights violations have risen by 70 percent. A large share of this increase can be attributed to workers’ rights infringements, land grabs and supply chain violations in emerging markets. A survey of UK supply chain professionals showed that 1 in 10 businesses believe that slavery exists in their supply chain. Recent revelations of child labour in Samsung’s Asian supplier factories once again underscored that full visibility of the supply chain remains out of reach for many corporations.

While many companies have made progress in recent years, most human rights compliance mechanisms remain voluntary. The UN Guiding Principles have achieved significant buy-in from corporations, but they have no binding power. Several laws have also come under fire. In September, seventy academics, politicians and activists signed a petition arguing that the US Dodd-Frank Act, requiring firms to trace the minerals sourced in the Congo, has fuelled the conflict in the country.

New legislative initiatives are currently in the works. The UK Parliament is set to pass the Modern Slavery Bill, one of the first laws of its kind in the world. The EU is also debating new rules to regulate the sourcing of conflict minerals. While these measures may lead to some improvements, the real change will come when governments show stronger resolve to enact enforcement mechanisms and companies start viewing human rights compliance as an obligation – not a choice.

What to look for: The pressure on corporations to address human rights issues will grow while NGOs and the media will continue to closely monitor and expose violations. Companies should remain sensitive to compliance issues and take a proactive stance by implementing innovative measures and spearheading new partnerships or joining existing collaboration initiatives.

Categories: Sustainability

On Our Radar: Food Safety Concerns in China Spotlight Need for Greater Traceability

SustainAbility Latest - Wed, Nov 12, 2014 - 12:46 am

Flickr image by nachof

This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine – Issue 05: Unusual Activists.

A series of scandals have shaken food companies sourcing and selling in China, bringing into the spotlight persistent safety concerns and forcing corporations to review traceability tools and consider working more closely with suppliers to address the problems.

In July 2014, a supplier to McDonald’s and KFC in China was exposed for supplying rotten meat and falsifying product expiration dates during an undercover investigation by a local TV channel. Earlier this year Walmart recalled meat products, in a similar incident to the UK horsemeat scandal, as packs contained species of animals not identified on their labels.

The recent scandal in China (combined with sluggish demand) has contributed to the worst same-store sales decline in over a decade for McDonald’s. The company has announced an overhaul of its food safety strategy in the country including boosting the number of unannounced audits of suppliers, creating anonymous hotlines for suppliers to report non-compliant practices and appointing a new national food safety chief. Walmart has announced plans to triple its spending on food safety and pledged to increase checks on vendors and conduct DNA testing of meat sourced in China.

As customer confidence dips, consumer-facing innovations that enable greater traceability are entering the marketplace such as a prototype of smart chopsticks that transmit data to a mobile application that can trace for contaminated oil in food. In response to recent food safety scares, BT and Traceall Global have announced a collaboration on a new supply chain solution for consumers—a secure, centrally-managed web-based system delivering a 360° end-to-end view of a company’s supply chain.

What to look for: Food safety issues will continue to be a lightning rod for companies with supply chains deeply embedded in China. As companies galvanise their efforts to increase oversight of their supply chains, they will need to look beyond audits to communicate their transparency efforts to stakeholders.

Categories: Sustainability
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