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H&M suspends purchases for Brazilian leather as Amazon burns

Emily Dao

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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. 

Conclusions

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. 

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Amazon aims to be a decade ahead of Paris Agreement goals

Min Cheong Kim

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Amazon

Though Amazon has had a troubled sustainability past, often being dubbed as a company that lags behind other prominent technology companies in their strides to be more environmentally-friendly, it seems to be making a change. Just this week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company’s goals to be a decade ahead of Paris Agreement goals. Here’s what you need to know about Amazon’s sustainability future.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces new sustainability milestones

“If Amazon can set ambitious goals like this and make significant changes at their scale, we think many more companies should be able to do the same and will accept the challenge. We are excited to have others join,” said Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.

As the first signatory of The Climate Pledge, which calls on businesses of signatories to be net zero carbon by 2040, Amazon aims to be 10 years ahead of the United Nations Paris Agreement goals. The companies that sign the climate pledge would agree to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis, implement decarbonization strategies parallel to the Paris Agreement, and neutralize any remaining emissions by 2040.

Amazon has loftier goals

In addition to these commitments, Bezos announced an order of 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, a producer of emissions-free electric vehicles. In February, Rivian announced a $700 million investment round led by Amazon, who invested $440 million. Rivian’s vans will start to deliver packages to Amazon customers in 2021 and the plan is to have 10,000 on the road by 2022, then all 100,000 by 2030. This would save 4 million metric tons of carbon per year by 2030. 

Further, Amazon is pledging to reach 80% of renewable energy by 2024 and 100% by 2030. So far, amazon has launched wind and solar renewable energy projects that could be enough to power 368,000 U.S. homes. Adding on to the announcement, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Amazon is launching the Right Now Climate Fund which commits $100 million to restore and protect forests, wetlands, and peatlands globally. 

The newly launched sustainability website will report on Amazon’s commitments, initiatives, and performance to be transparent on their progress towards reaching The Climate Pledge. On the website are various updates and information on Amazon’s commitment to sustainability such as Shipment Zero and the company’s renewable energy projects around the world.

The company’s troubled sustainability past

Amazon has a massive environmental footprint due to a high record of carbon emissions by delivering about 1 billion packages a year to consumers. The company has been a target for environmental activists who were disappointed in the limited action taken to offset the emissions produced. In the past, Amazon had withheld their emission data from the public, creating more suspicion and doubt against the company’s environmental efforts. 

More than 1,500 Amazon employees plan to walk off the job to protest the company’s environmental responsibility as a part of a worldwide demonstration ahead of the U.N. climate summit in New York. While the recent announcement addresses most of the concerns of the protestors, Bezos noted that the company will continue to work with oil and gas companies because they have access to the best available tools for transition to sustainable approaches. 

Conclusions

As one of the most influential companies, this environmentally conscious announcement could set an example for other companies. Nonetheless, Amazon had a past of broken promises in regards to their social responsibility towards environmental concerns, and it will have to show firm action to convince the skeptics of their commitment. 



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Sixty-five companies band together to form an environmental partnership

Anna Pasek

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Companies band together to form an environmental partnership

Oil and Gas tycoons recently started taking responsibility for the environmental impact of their industry. Sixty-five companies banded together this past year to reduce their footprint through what they call the ‘Environmental Partnership’. The partnership is a coalition using sustainable extraction technologies, protecting both the planet and the future energy interests of the United States. Many quickly dismiss environmental commitments from an industry that has an objectively negative effect on the Earth. Coalitions like the Environmental Partnership foster false promises from big business. However, the National Center for Public Policy Research stated Thursday that the partnership has been largely successful in lowering the impact of the energy industry in America. 

The Environmental Partnership itself functions as a forum to share information regarding industry breakthroughs that reduce emissions. Improvements focus mostly on methane emission reduction, as methane is one of the main contributors to global warming. The majority of the equipment used in energy farming — pipelines, drills and the like — has the potential to leak this harmful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Fixing the plumbing

Over the past year alone, participating companies conducted more than 150,000 leak surveys across 78,000 production sites to find and fix leaky rigs. The leak rate across the board averaged to about .016%, much lower than EPA estimates. The majority of the leaks were fixed in just 60 days. ‘Pneumatic controllers,’ devices used to control gas temperature and pressure during extraction, also saw a remodel during the last year. 30,000 ‘high-bleed’ controllers were replaced, and 38 member companies simply stopped using them. Fixing leaks and replacing high-bleed controllers can cut site emissions by 40% and 60%, respectively, according to the EPA. 

On top of requiring their members to uphold more stringent emission standards, the Environmental Partnership also hosts industry workshops for oil and natural gas producers. Participating companies learn about new techniques and technologies that reduce methane and volatile organic compound emissions. Member and non-member companies share scientific data to further the improvement of sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies

Upwards and Onwards

The Environmental Partnership accomplished much more than those few examples this past year. Since their founding in 2017, they’ve grown their membership from just 26 companies to their current total of 65. Their membership increased by a startling 50% in just the first six months of operation. This total includes over half of the nation’s top energy firms. In their annual report, the EPA cited a 16% drop in methane emissions in the energy sector. It is reasonable to assume that this is in large part due to the work of the Environmental partnership. 32 of the top 40 natural gas producers and 21 of the nations top oil companies are members.

What they’ve accomplished in the last year exemplifies the success of a marriage of environmental responsibility with capitalism. The partnership meets the ever-increasing demand for energy while cutting emissions to 25 year lows. While production more than doubles across the board, member companies cut emissions by half. All reports state the partnership is fulfilling their goals and living up to their mission, something the world has recently been lacking.

To get a full view of what the Environmental Partnership has been up to in the past year, take a look at their annual report

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McDonald’s is finally realizing its global influence on the environment

Avery Maloto

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McDonald's

While its famous arches are at the corner of towns and cities across the globe, it is no surprise that McDonald’s holds the highest brand value of any quick-service chain in the world. However, with over 37,000 locations in more than 100 countries, the company is under public pressure to adopt a greener mindset. As time progresses it seems McDonald’s is realizing its global influence on the environment. At the forefront of the fast-food industry, McDonald’s is beginning to take a sustainable stance in its practices.

Going plastic free with its guest packaging

As the world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald’s feeds over 68 million people daily. With this, there is no doubt that its sales generate an unsettling amount of waste. However, in efforts to minimize its environmental footprint, McDonald’s has taken on the task of going plastic-free. 

Stated in a press release, McDonald’s made it a goal to make 100% of its guest packaging come from renewable, recycled, or certified material by 2025. With only 6 years left to reach this goal, it seems the company has a lot of work ahead of itself. However, test trials have already begun in Germany and Canada. 

With the European Union placing a ban on many single-use plastic items in 2021, McDonald’s is still trying to learn how to comply with the new regulations. But, for 10 days, the company opened up a nearly-plastic free restaurant this past June. Although not perfect, the experiment ended with results that many seemed to be McLovin’.

Here are some of McDonald’s sustainable swap-outs during the trial:

  • Edible waffle cups replaced condiment sachets and containers.
  • Paper straws replaced plastic straws.
  • Wooden cutlery replaced plastic cutlery.
  • Sandwiches were wrapped in packaging made from grass, not paper.
  • Chicken McNuggets were served in paper bags, rather than cardboard boxes.

Since this test-run, McDonald’s opened up two additional green restaurants in Ontario and British Columbia. Reports have not yet been released on the Canadian consumer responses. 

McDonald’s wants to save the bees

The plastic-free trial is not the only green project the fast-food giant has tackled. 

In Sweden, McDonald’s has teamed up with NORD DDB and JCDecaux to take on a surprising task: making tiny hotels for bees. Across the country, the company is transforming the backs of billboards into bee sanctuaries. Placing six hives on the back of each advertisement, McDonald’s strives to provide the insects a home to nest.

As stated by NORD DBB, “30% of wild bees in the country are threatened, mainly because they do not have enough resting areas”. While bees are responsible for a large portion of our food production through pollination, McDonald’s initiative behind the project is “to give back to the creatures, from a food provider to another food provider”.

If the initial trials are successful, the partnering companies will expand their project in 2020 to create more ‘hotels’.

Conclusion

McDonald’s efforts to become more sustainable are admirable. Many are excited to see where its green mindset will take it. However, it seems as if many of the company’s initiatives are still in the early stages. And until McDonald’s fully creates a permanent environmental game plan, the public will just have to wait and see.



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