Moves from British Columbia, Texas, the European commission, and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month

Let there be light

Argentina and the Canadian province of British Columbia have become the latest jurisdictions to outlaw old-style incandescent light bulbs, in favour of their lower energy fluorescent cousins. As of the beginning of 2011, Argentine and British Columbian retailers can no longer buy new stocks of incandescent bulbs, and must phase out their existing stocks within certain periods. The initiatives follow a European Union phase-out of incandescent bulbs that began in 2009.

However, though fluorescent bulbs reduce energy consumption, they present a waste disposal problem because they contain small amounts of poisonous mercury. Should you break a fluorescent bulb, EU advice is to “air the room before cleaning the lamp with a wet cloth”.

Texas two step

The state of Texas says that it will resist attempts by the Obama administration to cap greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities. With nationwide cap-and-trade legislation stalled in the US Congress, the US Environmental Protection Agency says that US states should now modify the conditions under which they grant permits to industrial plants, so that limits are placed on emissions of gases causing global warming.

Texas is appealing the EPA decision in the courts, arguing that the federal government is over-reaching itself. “Texas law does not currently deem greenhouse gases to be pollutants,” Texas attorney-general Greg Abbott says.

Responsibility review

The European approach to corporate social responsibility will be renewed in 2011, with the European commission promising a strategy paper that will “revive the global leadership of the European Union on CSR”. The paper will explore how business can make a bigger contribution to the fight against poverty in developing countries, how the United Nations Global Compact can be better implemented in the EU, and how companies can be encouraged to be more transparent in their disclosure of environmental and social information.

The last main EU initiative on the subject was in 2006, when the voluntary nature of CSR was emphasised. A commission consultation on disclosure of non-financial information by companies is open until the end of January.

Sustainability scans

A clever system for checking the sustainability of consumer goods arrived in the UK at the end of 2010, promising to keep companies on their toes. Barcoo is a mobile-phone app, developed in Germany, that allows consumers to scan product barcodes and receive on their mobiles a product sustainability rating.

Products and the brands behind them are scored according to a red/orange/green traffic light system, which also provides nutritional information for foods, and price comparison details. Some of the most-scanned items during the early days of the system, according to Barcoo, were the iPhone 4, X-box games, and Gucci’s Guilty perfume, a scan of which reveals that the company meets only two of 16 sustainability criteria.

Top markets

Britain’s most environmentally and ethically-minded supermarkets are the Co-op and Marks & Spencer, which are now far ahead of their 17 main competitors in sustainability terms, according to a Ethical Consumer magazine survey. Examples of Co-op and M&S commitments to sustainability are the fish-sourcing policy of the former, and the palm oil and climate change policies of the latter. Tesco, Asda and Netto find themselves at the bottom of the ranking.

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