Pepsi’s colouring concerns, policing YouTube ads and making sustainability profitable for coffee farmers

Pepsi’s slow phase out of cancer-causing colouring

With headlines that could lead to commercial suicide, Pepsi is under renewed pressure after independent testing has once again found carcinogenic caramel colouring in its drink.

This comes more than a year after the drinks company pledged to review its recipe in a bid to phase out the cancer-causing chemical. However, upon testing samples of the product from 10 different US states, the Centre for Environmental Health (CEH) found that the Pepsi drink still contained harmful levels of the caramel colouring.

Charles Margulis, spokesman at the CEH explains: “4-Mel is a chemical that the state of California has listed as known to cause cancer. It has been found in caramel colouring, as a by-product of the way companies have produced that ingredient.”

In 2011, following the introduction of a California law (Proposition 65) that stipulates that products containing cancer-causing ingredients must be labelled, the world’s rival giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which together account for 90% of the soft drinks market, pledged to review their recipes.

In the years that followed,Coke was found to have largely complied. However, cancer-causing chemicals in the caramel colouring of Pepsi was still found in products tested outside the state of California. Margulis says: “Pepsi decided to provide California retailers with cola produced with a new formulation of caramel colouring, but has not done so for the rest of the [US], as the company stated it would in March 2012. The company has not explained why it is taking so long, even while Coke has mostly changed its cola.”

The assessment revealed that Pepsi products tested outside California showed levels of 4-Mel between four and more than eight times higher than California safety levels. “It’s serious enough that I wouldn’t let my kids drink Pepsi, at least not until we do more testing next spring,” says Margulis.

In response to the study results, PepsiCo senior director Aurora Gonzalez confirmed: “4-Mel levels in our products in California are below Prop 65 levels. The rest of the US will be completed by February 2014.”

Google under attack for illicit ads

Internet powerhouse Google has come under attack in the US for allegedly making money from online ads on YouTube that promote illicit activities to viewers.

Google, which acquired the video streaming site in 2006, has been questioned by legal officials from both the US states of Nebraska and Oklahoma. The search-engine company has been asked to disclose the amount of revenue generated from these ads, as well as the measures it has put in place in order to monitor and repress such adverts.

Many of the videos in question showcase, and in some cases even promote, dangerous and illegal activities. One example instructs viewers how to buy prescription drugs without a prescription.

While YouTube is an open platform, some content, such as pornography, is monitored and prohibited. The video-streaming site has a number of review teams that work around the clock to monitor and respond to videos that have been flagged, deleting any content that violates YouTube policies or is deemed inappropriate.

With numbers reaching one billion users a month however, it is difficult to police the entirety of the content on the video-sharing website.

Of concern to the attorney-generals is the fact that Google appears to be actively seeking to profit by posting these types of ads on YouTube, a website known to be especially popular among the teen demographic.

These allegations are not new to Google. Mississippi state attorney-general Jim Hood recently criticised the search-engine for running ads of the very same nature. As a result, Google pulled several of these illicit ads from YouTube. The video site, however, is still rife with them.

Nike’s sustainable design app

With sustainability-related apps proving popular, Nike has joined the frenzy, recently launching a new app called Making. The app, which is available for free download, helps designers make informed decisions about the environmental footprint of the materials they choose when working on new creations.

It works by ranking materials used in apparel making in relation to four areas: water, energy, waste and chemistry. It also informs designers on whether a material uses recycled or organic content. For example, the app is able to tell designers that using triexta requires 59% less water than using cotton.

By allowing designers to instantly compare and assess the potential environmental consequences of their choices, they are then able to choose lower impact options.

Lee Holman, Nike’s vice-president for apparel design, says: “We’ve created the Making app to empower any designer around the world to make better materials choices in the initial stages of the innovation process, and to ultimately create products that are better for consumers and better for the planet.”

The app is powered by data from the Nike Materials Sustainability Index, a database comprising more than seven years’ worth of materials research and analysis.

Ikea’s solar-powered refugee shelter

The hip child of furniture making, Ikea, through the charitable Ikea Foundation, has recently rolled out an innovative shelter for the world’s 43 million refugees.

Ikea’s new flat-packed solar-powered hut, which takes four hours to assemble, boasts several advantages when compared with the traditional canvas tents commonly used as shelter for refugees. These range from being able to create its own electricity from solar panels, to offering refugees more protection, comfort and privacy.

Chris Williams of the Ikea Foundation explains that the innovation “will give refugees dignity, safety and the opportunity to rebuild their lives by providing them with a more solid, stable construction”.

In addition, while UN-provided tents on average last about six months, the Ikea shelter is built to last for five years. At nearly 18 square metres it is also twice as large as the traditional refugee tent.

Ikea’s innovation is made from lightweight plastic mounted on a solid steel structure. “It is important that the shelter is lightweight enough so that it can be easily and cost-efficiently transported, but strong enough to withstand the harsh conditions of refugee camps,” says Johan Karlsson, project manager at Refugee Housing Unit, which is manufacturing the shelter components for the Ikea Foundation’s design.

The new product is currently being deployed on the Ethiopian-Somali border, and in northern Iraq. There “the new prototype shelters will be tested by a sample of families who will give their feedback to help shape its development”, Williams adds.

Sustainable farmers earn more

Farmers taking part in the Nespresso AAA Sustainability Quality Programme in Colombia earn 87% more than those who are not.

Such is the main take-away to emerge from a recent study by the Colombian organisation Crece, which analysed the impact that the Nespresso programme has had on the lives of coffee farmers in the South American country.

The programme was launched in 2003 in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance. It encourages best practice among farmers in a bid to improve their livelihoods, their yields, coffee quality, and environmental conservation.

The study took place between 2009 and 2011, and involved more than 1,000 farmers, including more than 500 control group farmers. During those two years, the disparity between the social, environmental and economic differentials of AAA and non-AAA farmers grew continuously.

The findings suggest that Nespresso farmers are at least seven times more likely to employ waste-water management techniques than non-participants. It is also believed that their recycling rate is 50% higher, with higher probability of employing soil-conservation methods on their farms.

Michael Sheridan of the Borderlands Coffee Project says: “Coffee certifications and corporate sustainability programmes such as Nespresso’s AAA initiative have generated important economic, social and environmental benefits for farmers around the world. They have helped farmers access new markets, increase and stabilise incomes, build stronger community organisations, conserve water and soil, sink carbon and invest in a broad range of social projects.”

To guarantee that farmers are paid a fair price, the Nespresso programme involves paying premiums for both quality and sustainability. “The premium is around 30% to 40% above the standard market price for coffee and 10% to 15% above coffees of similar quality,” Nespresso spokeswoman Kelly Genton says.

Sheridan adds: “Our experience in Colombia confirms the Crece finding that farmers in the Nespresso AAA supply chain generally earn more than farmers who aren’t.” He adds, however, that Borderlands’ experience “indicates that the price gap may be a bit narrower than the report suggests”.

Currently, more than 56,000 farmers are part of the AAA Programme and Nespresso is sourcing about 80% of its coffee from AAA farms.

While both farmers and Nespresso seem to be benefiting from the corporate sourcing standard, Sheridan says financial pressures on farmers in Colombia remain. He says: “There are systemic pressures on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers that are not easily alleviated by certifications, sustainable sourcing programmes or even an 87% price premium. At the farm level, acute land constraints, changing climate patterns, and increased incidence and virulence of pests and diseases are structural threats.” Sheridan points out that limited access to essential goods and services and persistent market volatility conspire to keep coffee income low and chronically unstable.

Recycling saves GM big bucks

Waste reduction initiatives have saved General Motors $1bn over the past year. Through its reuse and recycling initiatives, the US car manufacturer claims to have been able to recycle 90% of its global manufacturing waste. One of its many initiatives involves replacing wooden pallets with reusable plastic, allowing the company to save 566 tonnes of waste. The automotive giant has also been able to achieve and run 105 landfill-free facilities around the world, and is working to meet the target of 125 landfill-free facilities by 2020.

Additionally, GM says it has managed to reduce energy costs by 80%, and as a result save $780,000 a year, through a energy conservation initiative at its US stamping plant in what is said to be the world’s largest LED upgrade.

coffee farmers  GM  google  Ikea  Nadine Hawa  Nike  Pepsi  supply chains  sustainability  YouTube 

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