All the latest sustainable business news

Adding fuel to the fire

The European commission has infuriated environmental groups by listing as “sustainable” palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The listing means that biofuel produced from RSPO palm oil can count towards a legally binding European Union target for 10% of transport fuels to come from renewable sources by 2020. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace say that the decision amounts to “greenwashing” of palm oil, the production of which can drive destruction of tropical forests as areas are cleared for plantations. The RSPO says the decision was “critical in making real progress towards the supply and demand of sustainable commodities” and that certified palm oil does not “contribute to the sustained destruction of valuable tropical forests”.

Banking boost

Britain’s Green Investment Bank has opened for business. The Edinburgh-based GIB officially opened its doors at the end of November, with initial state backing of £3bn. The bank has also made its first investment, placing £8m into a project to construct Britain’s biggest anaerobic digestion plant (for conversion of waste into biogas), in Teesside. The bank’s contribution is matched by £8m in private funding. The GIB will “place the green economy at the heart of our recovery and position the UK at the forefront of the drive to develop green energy”, according to business secretary Vince Cable. Some of the bank’s powers, including its freedom to borrow from the capital markets, remain to be clarified, however.

Deforestation down

Some rare environmental good news: the rate of Amazon deforestation was down 27% in the year to 31 July 2012, and the lowest rate since records began in 1988. Andre Correa do Lago, Brazil’s head negotiator at the United Nations climate conference in Doha, Qatar, says measures to curb illegal logging had had an impact, and that emerging countries could do more on deforestation and other carbon-related issues if rich nations provided more funding, including to address poverty. Despite the improvement, more than 4,600 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest was lost in 2011-12, an area nearly twice the size of Luxembourg.

Sweet success

The self-declared “pre-eminent player in global snacking”, Mondelez International, formerly known as Kraft Foods, and the owner of brands such as Cadbury’s, has celebrated the launch of its new name with a plan to invest $400m over 10 years in a Cocoa Life sustainability programme. The scheme will help cocoa farmers, especially in Ivory Coast, where $100m will be invested to double the productivity of 75,000 smallholders. Money will also be spent on community, youth and environmental projects. Cocoa Life is the scaling up of the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership, which has run projects in the Dominican Republic, Ghana and India. In Ghana, it helped participants increase their household incomes by 200%, according to the company. “It’s about empowering cocoa communities,” Mondelez senior vice-president Bharat Puri says.

Prototype published

Integrated reporting of financial and non-financial results has come a step closer according to the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), which has published its “prototype” framework. Paul Druckman, the IIRC chief executive, says the prototype framework will help companies dip their toes in the waters of integrated reporting. “We are encouraging businesses to start testing the principles of integrated reporting and evaluating their relevance and applicability,” he says. Feedback is welcome, though the prototype framework is not part of the IIRC’s formal consultation process. The final framework is expected at the end of 2013. The IIRC prototype framework is available here

Local tariffs for local people

People living close to wind farms might have less of a not-in-my-backyard attitude if they receive a bonus via their electricity tariff. Good Energy, which provides renewable power, is offering a 20% discount to people living within 2km of its wind farm in Delabole on the north Cornish coast, in southwest England. The scheme is the first of its kind, according to the company. An extra bonus depending on how much electricity the wind farm produces could bring the net benefit for local residents up to £150 a year. The local tariff would “put renewables at the heart of the community,” says Good Energy chief executive Juliet Davenport.

Gender balance

At least 40% of non-executive board-member positions in European Union publicly listed companies should go to women, the European commission says. Under proposals published in mid-November, the quota would have to be met by 2020. Commission vice-president Viviane Reding says 11 EU countries, including France, Italy and Spain, have introduced some kind of rule on gender balance in boardrooms, and other countries should follow suit. However, although it would be binding for countries to take measures to meet the goal, no sanctions would be applied to companies missing the target if it could be shown that suitable candidates were not available. The proposal must survive examination by the European parliament and EU member state governments before becoming law.

How to avoid corruption

Executives hoping to avoid large fines or even prison sentences should they get caught up in corruption in foreign countries should read a 120-page guide to the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, published recently by the US government. The guide includes case studies, details on the scope of anti-bribery provisions, definitions of terms such as “corruptly” and “wilfully”, defences that might be accepted and the penalties that might apply to wrongdoers. Because of the damage done by corruption, enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is a “continuing priority at the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission,” the guide said. The act’s provisions can extend to non-US, as well as US, companies. The Resource guide to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is available here.

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