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H&M suspends purchases for Brazilian leather as Amazon burns

Emily Dao




On Friday, H&M announced it would temporarily suspend Brazilian leather purchases after mounting concerns that cattle ranching was a leading factor causing deforestation in the Amazon. As the second largest retailer in the world, this makes H&M the largest company to stop business in Brazil due to the burning of the rainforest. Just last week, VF Corporation—an international company including major retailers such as Timberland, Vans, and The North Face—also announced they would stop buying leather in Brazil until suppliers could confirm leather production wasn’t contributed to the fires. 

The fashion industry is one of the greatest polluters in the world, especially when it comes to fast-fashion retailers like H&M, which mass-produce inexpensive and often unsustainable clothing. But, increased pressures from environmentalists have urged many major fashion companies to rethink the way they produce clothing. 

Do you feel like H&M is actually dedicated to environmental sustainability?

A spokesperson for H&M told Forbes in a statement that the ban would continue “until there are credible assurance systems in place to verify that the leather does not contribute to environmental harm in the Amazon.” 

Man-made flames

According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), over 80,000 fires have ravaged Brazil just this year—80% more than the number of fires the country experienced last year. 

Over half of those fires are affecting the rainforest. 

Roughly 60% of the Amazon is located in Brazil, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported being the world’s top exporter of beef. Brazil also acts as a leader in the soybean industry, where it earns more revenue from soybean exports than any other good. Although these industries may be generating a lot of revenue for the country, they’re also responsible for a significant amount of environmental damage. That’s because, for both beef and soybean production, fires must be set to make room for agricultural land. 

In response to the fires blazing through the Amazon, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment tweeted the fires were caused by “dry weather, wind, and heat.” However, the science proves otherwise. Growing popularity in deforestation and slash-and-burn practices, methods used to clear space for agricultural land, are major reasons why the Amazon is up in flames.  

Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist at the University of São Paulo, told Science Magazine there was no question the peak in fires was due to these practices. 

“There is no doubt that this rise in fire activity is associated with a sharp rise in deforestation,” he said. 

Action can’t stop here

So while this decision by H&M and V.C. Corp. certainly serves as a strong statement against the Brazilian government’s seeming inaction, a lot more must be done to put out all these flames. In 2017, less than 1% of clothing from H&M was made out of leather. As for VF Corp., the company said 5% of its leather purchases came from Brazil.  

Ginger Cassady, the program director for the Rainforest Action Network, said more was still needed to be done

“While this statement from H&M is a welcome and strong signal, we need to remain cautious in our optimism until this promise turns into practice—and until we see real impact on the ground where these supply chains originate,” she said. 

Bolsonaro takes action under the heat

With rising pressure directed towards the Brazilian government, critics are eager to see how President Jair Bolsonaro will take on the heat. Bolsonaro, dubbed by opponents as “The Brazilian Donald Trump,” has been facing growing backlash for his environmental track record. During his presidency, Bolsonaro has rolled back several key environmental regulations and significantly cut back the budget for environmental protection agencies. 

So far, to tackle this environmental crisis, Bolsonaro has sent the military to fight the fires. Brazilian forces are stationed to border areas most vulnerable to the fires, where they have been ordered to put out the flames. In a televised address, Bolsonaro described the Brazilian government as one with “zero tolerance for crime,” as he said it was their duty to protect the rainforest from environmental crimes. Recently, Bolsonaro also signed an executive order banning fires during the Amazon’s dry season. Still, fires are only continuing to rage through the forest. 


In all, even though it may seem like H&M’s decision may just be a drop of water putting out an ever-growing fire, it’s certainly better than having a small contribution to a massive problem. The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and is home to 400 to 500 indigenous tribes, and—according to the Wildlife Conservation Society—30,000+ species of plants, 2.5 million species of insects, 1,500+ species of birds, 550 reptiles, and 500 mammals. 

The Amazon was once referred to as the “lungs of the Earth.” Now, the bulk of responsibility befalls upon corporations and governments to ensure the rainforest doesn’t suffocate. 


Kanye West Unveils Plans for More Sustainable Yeezy Shoes … Using Algae-Based Foam

Maryanne Derkaloustian



Kanye West

Though Kanye West is known for his radical opinions, nobody expected him to come out with algae-based Yeezy shoes. Well, it turns out, he’s joining the cadre of celebrities who have expressed their concern for the environment. And more so, he is echoing the sentiment that every business has a responsibility towards sustainable development. At the recent Fast Company Innovation Festival, Kanye revealed a new algae-based Yeezy design and plans to make older models environmentally friendly too.

Though for now the details of it all are still unclear, Kanye’s intent seems genuine enough for a start. In this day and age, it is understood that innovation and sustainability go hand in hand in any business. People expect the brands they know and love to have a proactive stance towards today’s sustainability problems.

So to take a step back, what is the algae craze anyway? And why, out of all materials, is Kanye looking to use algae in the newest Yeezy shoes?

The Algae Problem

Algae is typically harmless, but not when it grows out of control. Because farmers use excess fertilizer, plants don’t absorb it and it runs into bodies of water to feed algae colonies instead. And global warming isn’t helping either. Because algae grows in warm conditions, this summer’s weather resulted in a significant spike in algae levels.

High concentrations of algae lead to high concentrations of cyanobacteria, which can have adverse health effects. These can range from abdominal pain to severe respiratory paralysis. Moreover, this surplus of algae blocks sunlight from reaching plankton, which effectively disrupts aquatic food chains.

Kanye West Has A Solution

The new Yeezys require far less fossil fuels than its more environmentally-taxing counterparts. Though the shoe still contains a few petroleum-based chemicals, the main component, the algae-based foam, eliminates a good amount.

Because algae is renewable and abundant, it is a perfect candidate to use to make a shoe. Using it to make eco-friendly everyday items can mitigate several environmental threats.

Kanye West Is Revamping The Older Models Too

Kanye West Yeezy Shoes
The Current Yeezy Shoes From Adidas

West hasn’t completely forgotten about his older models. The company plans to move its headquarters to a 4,000-acre ranch in Wyoming, where it can farm all the fibers it needs.

Production will also move to the United States, where the company will also work on creating low-impact dyes. After all, dyes also create significant fashion-related environmental hazards.


It is always a pleasant surprise to see celebrities show concern about the planet and actually do something to tackle environmental issues. Kanye West, known already for his radical approach to fashion, seems to be a shoo-in for an initiative like the one he’s started.

Although his ideas are at their earliest stages, they show great promise, both to the environment and fashion worlds. And we can only wait to see what comes of them.

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McDonald’s Unveils Two New Sustainability Initiatives That Could Power 2,500 Stores

Maddie Blaauw



McDonald's sustainability projects new include two new renewables initiatives.

On Thursday, fast-food giant McDonald’s announces its latest sustainability plans to pursue two new renewable energy projects. These projects are virtual power purchase agreements with Apex Clean Energy and Ares Management, and are based in Texas. One project will be solar-energy based, and the other will generate power using wind energy. And altogether, these projects are estimated to be able to power over two thousand stores.

So just how much energy will be produced in the project and what will its impacts look like beyond just the numbers?

How Much Energy Will Be Produced In The McDonald’s Sustainability Project?

According to the business’s calculations, these two projects can produce 380 megawatts (MW) of energy. To give that number some context, that could power more than 2,500 McDonald’s restaurants.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, one MW of solar energy can power about 164 American homes. That means that the energy output from this project has the potential to power about 62,320 homes. 

However, this number can vary with differences in average sunshine, wind, and temperature that the solar panels endure. According to McDonald’s, this is contribution of renewable energy to the grid is more than any other restaurant company.

This agreement is also good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The restaurant’s power generation will aid in preventing 700,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This amount of emissions would otherwise be created during energy generation processes using non-renewable means like natural gas or coal.

This is equivalent to planting more than 11 million trees. It is also comparable to taking over 140,000 passenger cars off the road for a year.

So, What Is A VPPA?

A business produces a surplus of energy that it would rather sell to the grid than use itself. The grid is the supply of energy sent to other users, like private residences.

To do this, the business partners with an offtaker, someone who wants the electricity the business wants to offload. (This is frequently an electricity supplier.)

In a VPPA where the energy involved in the transaction comes from renewable resources, the company also receives renewable energy certificates, or RECs.

Energy from coal and energy from solar panels look the same once put into the grid. RECs are essentially proof that the energy that the company is selling is derived from renewable sources. The energy supplier pays for the energy and the RECs in a contract that typically lasts around 15 years.  

In short, this agreement gives McDonald’s an incentive to grow its renewable energy production. If this deal is a success, then it will majorly motivate other companies with the same scale as McDonald’s to make VPPAs as well and grow their renewable energy production. 

McDonald’s Sustainability Goals Broken Down

Many businesses have sustainability goals that deal with reducing their carbon footprint or energy usage, or utilizing renewable sources of energy.

Companies frequently make announcements of new sustainability goals. With their frequency, it is easy to become desensitized to them.

More than half of Fortune 500 companies have such goals. What’s more is that many of these companies take no concrete steps towards achieving their goals. This seemed to be the position of McDonald’s before this week.

Back in 2018, McDonald’s announced its Scale for Good environmental sustainability campaign. The goals contained within included reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 36% by 2030, and a 31% reduction in emissions intensity per metric ton of food and packaging.

McDonald's sustainability initiatives include a commitment to a 31% reduction in emissions intensity per metric ton of food and packaging, a promise made back in 2018.
McDonald’s sustainability initiatives include a commitment to a 31% reduction in emissions intensity per metric ton of food and packaging, a promise made back in 2018.

According to the restaurant chain, this would “prevent 150 million metric tons of C02 equivalents (CO2e) from being released into the atmosphere by 2030.”

Additionally, it would be the equivalent of “taking 32 million passenger cars off the road for an entire year or planting 3.8 billion trees and growing them for 10 years.”

Like other Fortune 500 companies, these are lofty goals. Unlike a majority of other Fortune 500 companies, though, McDonald’s has taken a concrete step to achieving these goals by creating the VPPAs. 

Looking Into The Future

Consuming more energy from renewable sources is a major step towards overall environmental sustainability and a step towards preventing further environmental damage.

With the announcement of this deal, hopefully other companies follow suit and make real, serious progress towards their own environmental goals. 

Final Note: We encourage the McDonald’s team and other companies making a difference in sustainability to reach out at We are always looking to work with companies to learn what they’re working on.

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Big-Name Photography Brands Commit To Becoming More Environmentally Sustainable

Maryanne Derkaloustian



How are players in the photography looking at the sustainability issue?

These days, media attention as it relates to sustainable seems to be on obvious areas like oil and gas. That said, we shouldn’t forget about industries that are more directly relevant to what people do on a daily basis. For instance, photography is an important pastime and hobby that many enjoy.

And more than just a means through which people capture their lives’ most precious moments, it’s an industry. That means we should take a look at its environmental impacts.

So far, the camera industry has been relatively shy of sustainability coverage. If you’re wondering how the makers of the world’s most popular cameras look at sustainability, keep reading.

Big-Name Photography Brands Called Out For Not Being Sustainable

In the past, companies like Sony and Panasonic have been labeled as unsustainable by several sources including the Center for Sustainable Organizations. As a result, these companies have set up initiatives they (hopefully) plan to follow.

Sony and Panasonic React To Make Their Businesses More Sustainable

Consequently, Sony has announced it will power 100% of its worldwide operations with renewable energy sources by 2040.

And currently, the company powers 100% of its European operations with renewable resources. Additionally, Panasonic wants to eliminate all of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

Canon Has Been Tackling Sustainability For Almost 30 Years

Many of these newer initiatives tend to evoke suspicion about greenwashing among consumers, but Canon’s commitment to sustainability goes back almost 30 years. Since 1990, the company has been collecting copier toner cartridges with the intent to recycle.

And more recently, aside from its work in cameras, the company has been developing lighter, more compact versions of its printers and projectors that use less power.

Canon’s newest Inkjet Printers, look to reduce power usage. Photo Credit: Canon Inc.

Smaller Players Also Look To Make Photography More Sustainable

But efforts to make photography a more sustainable business aren’t just coming from huge companies; startups are getting involved too.

Take, for instance, Lomography, a film upstart hailing from Vienna, which recently announced the release of its new camera, the LomoMod No. 1.

The company makes most of its camera parts out of cardboard. And although the other main feature, the liquid-fill lens, is made of plastic, the camera body is all cardboard, flat-packed to be assembled at home.

The LomoMod No. 1. Photo Credit: Lomography

The flat packing also minimizes space taken up, reducing the amount of packaging required to hold it.


Though photography is far from being one of the most unsustainable industries, companies that are prioritizing sustainability are allowing it to stay that way.

Whether it’s small photography companies or brands that have become household names, their continued commitment to sustainability will hopefully allow consumers to continue to capture the most important moments in their lives without taking a toll on the environment.

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