Responsibility for ship-breaking, paying university fees by Bitcoin and are we past peak GM?

Hamburg under fire

The city of Hamburg should face up to its responsibility for the dismantling of old ships in dangerous conditions on the beaches of south Asia, according to German campaigners. Hamburg is the largest shareholder in shipping firm Hapag-Lloyd, one of the German companies that between them sent 68 vessels for breaking in 2013, mainly to India, according to Patrizia Heidegger of Shipbreaking Platform. Norbert Hackbusch, a German Left (political party) representative in the Hamburg parliament, says Hamburg is “very well able to influence the social and environmental standards of state or partly state-owned companies” and should “immediately meet with Hapag-Lloyd and work on a sustainable solution for ship recycling”. The city authorities say it is for the Hapag-Lloyd board to make the company’s decisions.

Under investigation

The UK’s national contact point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises agreed in February to examine a complaint from WWF about the operations of London-based oil explorer Soco. WWF says Soco’s activities in Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are illegal, even though the DRC government has given the company a concession in the area. Soco’s “alleged violations” include “threats and unlawful detention of local activists [and] withholding critical information,” according to WWF. Soco says it has limited control over information given to local people because the DRC government holds the title to an environmental impact assessment done on possible oil exploration. The OECD national contact point says it will look at “how the company should interpret its obligation to contribute to sustainable development”.

Paying in bits

The institute for leadership and sustainability (Iflas) at Cumbria University, based in northern England, has become the world’s first public institution to allow students to pay their course fees using Bitcoins. The digital dosh will be accepted from students wishing to study for a postgraduate certificate in sustainable leadership or a certificate of achievement in sustainable exchange. Iflas professor of sustainability leadership Jem Bendell says that considering alternatives to the current monetary system was needed as part of thinking about sustainability. “We haven’t designed a monetary system that helps us do stuff for each other in a way that people want. It’s an economy in which banks decide,” Bendell told San Francisco based Sea Change Radio. Bitcoins are increasingly accepted online and offline, but have been linked to some dodgy dealing and money laundering on the internet.

Smooth-running scheme

Most companies covered by Australia’s carbon pricing mechanism are surrendering carbon allowances and participating “positively and constructively”, despite the Australian government’s stated intention to scrap the scheme, according to the country’s Clean Energy Regulator. Data published in February shows that, in the 2012-13 financial year, companies surrendered enough allowances, priced at A$23 (£12.45) per tonne, to cover 99.6% of their obligations. However, the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, elected in September 2013, has described the carbon scheme as a tax that he will repeal. One of the few companies that has refused to pay its 2012-13 emissions bill is Queensland Nickel, owned by Australian multi-millionaire Clive Palmer – who is also a member of Australia’s parliament. Palmer says he will back Abbott’s plan and seek to have carbon payments made thus far refunded to businesses.

Chemical sting

An ongoing Greenpeace campaign on toxic substances in clothing has moved from examination of mass market products to more exclusive brands – but the hazardous chemicals found in the garments are the same. The Greenpeace Detox campaign says it had analysed clothing, including children’s, from eight high-end brands and found toxins in 16 out of 27 samples. Companies failing the test included Versace, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dior and Dolce & Gabbana. Chiara Campione of Greenpeace Italy says: “These brands need to detox their supply chains and realise that people can see through their grand illusion.” (For more on this story see NGOwatch.)

Laundry revolutionised

A Rotherham-based company is moving closer to offering in the US a domestic washing machine that it claims could revolutionise laundry and make it dramatically more sustainable. As featured previously in Ethical Corporation, the Xeros washing machine largely replaces water with reusable charged polymer beads that attract dirt away from clothing. According to the company, this cuts water use by 70% per wash, cuts energy use by half, and offers powerful cleaning. Xeros has already sold commercial models of its bead-cleaning machine in the UK and the US. For the domestic cleaning market, the US offers a better starting point because US washing machines typically have larger drum sizes, which suit the bead-cleaning process better.

GMO peaks

The planting of genetically modified crops in industrial nations has peaked, according to a report published by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a pro-GMO knowledge-transfer organisation supported by companies and some governments. In 2013, for the first time since 1996 when GMOs were commercialised, plantings in wealthy nations declined because of reduced sowing of GMO seeds in Australia and Canada. However, the developing world is taking over. “The major trend is going to be in the developing countries, which for the second consecutive year planted more than industrial countries,” ISAAA founder Clive James says. In Europe, opposition to GMO crops has meant that planting is limited, with Spain the main user of GMO seeds.

The tiny details

Belgium is set to become Europe’s second country to require vendors of chemicals and mixtures containing nanoparticles to submit information about their products to a government-run registry. The health risks of nanoparticles – or particles at nanometre scale – are not known, the Belgian government argued, and so a registry is needed for quicker response in case of health scares. After a trial period, the requirement to submit information about nanoparticles in substances could be extended to goods containing nanomaterials – which potentially could affect a wide range of products, from cosmetics to sportswear. The Belgian rule follows similar measures in France, where in 2013, the government received more than 3,400 filings on production and imports of nanoparticle substances.

Bitcoin  Carbon allowances  Chemicals  GM Crops  GMO  Greenpeace  Hamburg  Oil  Shipbreaking  Soco 

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