Moves from Cape Verde, Bloom Energy, European Environmental Bureau, and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month

Carbon-conscious German firms

The 2010 version of the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) Global 500 report has ranked four German corporations among the world’s top five companies with the most carbon-conscious approach to “strategy, setting emissions reductions plans, governance and stakeholder communications”. Siemens, Deutsche Post, BASF, Bayer and Samsung Electronics, were setting the standard, the CDP says, and European firms were significantly ahead of their North American counterparts for carbon disclosure and performance. The CDP has also disclosed names of companies not revealing carbon information, including Amazon, Visa, Comcast and Honeywell International. See p7 for more on the report.

Controversial CRC change

The UK’s chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne has announced changes to the country’s Carbon Reduction Commitment. The CRC was previously a revenue neutral scheme for medium-sized companies that purchased permits depending on the size of their carbon emissions. The revenue from the permits would then be redistributed among the scheme’s members, encouraging efficiency and emissions reductions. Under Osborne’s new proposals, all the revenue will accrue to the UK Treasury under what amounts to a carbon tax. The government argues that the revised scheme will be simpler and still provide an incentive for companies to cut carbon.

Cape Verde goes green

Cape Verde is set to become Africa’s most wind-powered country after the government finalised financial backing in mid-October for the continent’s first large-scale wind project. The African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank will provide loans to cover around 70% of the €65m costs of the project, which will by 2012 meet a quarter of the energy needs of the country, an archipelago off the west African coast. Cape Verde’s 2020 aim is even more ambitious – for 50% of its energy to be renewable. The turbines for the wind farm will be made by Vestas, the Danish company that controversially closed in 2009 what was then the UK’s only wind turbine blade factory, on the Isle of Wight.

Batteries for buildings

The US company that claimed in February to have developed a low emission, low cost energy cell that could meet the electricity needs of office buildings, now says it will start to produce the fridge-sized boxes at the rate of one a day, and that demand is high. Silicon Valley based Bloom Energy says it has produced a high tech stand-alone electricity generator that produces power through chemical process. Input can be either fossil fuel, such as natural gas, or renewable material such as biogas.

In theory, electricity from the boxes is hugely more efficient than power from the grid, and can reduce carbon emissions to almost nothing. The boxes are not cheap, at around $800,000, but Bloom says companies that buy them can make back the money in three to five years through lower power costs. There has been some scepticism about the level of cost savings, but Bloom says satisfied customers already include Coca-Cola, eBay, Google and Wal-Mart.

Clean leaders

Bloom Energy is one of the companies in the 2010 Global Cleantech 100, a listing of the world’s most innovative clean technology companies published by the Guardian newspaper and the Cleantech Group. The latest ranking shows that California still dominates, with 32 of the listed firms based there. Britain also features prominently, with 10 companies included. But both the UK and the US could soon be overtaken by China. Four Chinese companies, dealing with solar power, LED lighting, batteries and waste management, made the list this year, but vast investment in cleantech in China promises far greater prominence in the future.

Chemicals listed

Retailers selling products containing hazardous chemicals are not meeting their obligations under the European Union’s Reach chemicals legislation, campaign group the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has found. Under the Reach law (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals), the most hazardous substances are gradually being listed and assessed with a view to being banned.

Once substances are listed, retailers selling products containing them are obliged within 45 days to respond to any customer requests with substance and safe use information. But an EEB test campaign found that only 22% of retailers complied. EEB letters sent to Carrefour, Tesco and Toys R Us were not even answered.

Sustainable motors

The greenest cars sold in the United States are Hondas, the US Union of Concerned Scientists says in a new ranking. According to the union, Honda beat Toyota and Hyundai to the green title in a “photo finish”. Vehicles were rated according to their emissions of smog-forming pollutants, carbon dioxide emissions and fuel efficiency. Bottom of the eight-manufacturer list (covering 90% percent of the vehicles sold in the US) was Chrysler, with General Motors and Ford doing only a little better. See CRWatch p21 for more.

Banks spanked

Some of Britain’s biggest banks have chosen to overlook concerns about the origin of money deposited by corrupt Nigerian politicians, according to campaigners Global Witness. The group says that Barclays, NatWest, RBS, HSBC and UBS, between 1999 and 2005, “helped to fuel corruption and entrench poverty in Nigeria” by accepting funds from Dieypreye Alamieyeseigha and Joshua Dariye, two former state governors who were impeached in 2005 and 2006 respectively for corrupt practices and money laundering.

Global Witness says that court documents related to the cases had shown the complicity of the banks. The group’s Robert Palmer says: “Large-scale corruption is simply not possible without a bank willing to process payments from dodgy sources.”

Shipyard fatalities

Unsafe Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards continue to suffer fatalities. The deaths of three workers, crushed beneath an iron plate that fell from a ship, have been highlighted by the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking. This latest incident, at Sheema Steels Shipbreaking in Chittagong, takes to at least 35 the number of deaths in the past year at south-east Asian dismantling yards.

The yards remain notoriously dangerous, with hazardous material removed from ghost ships with little or no safety precautions, despite attempts by Bangladesh’s high court to insist on environmental certification.

Fly greener

Global aviation should become 2% more fuel efficient each year until 2020 under a deal struck in October by the 190 contracting states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). In addition, growth in the sector should be carbon neutral after 2020, the body says.

The deal, struck at an ICAO conference in Montreal, does not exempt airlines from individual schemes such as the European Union’s emissions trading system, which they must join from 2012. The EU welcomed the agreement, but says it has come after “almost a decade of deadlock at ICAO on how to address emissions from international aviation”.

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