McDonald’s counts the calories, ratings rated, more fracking concerns and US solar boom

Calorie countdown

The world’s biggest burger chain has started to include calorie counts on menus at its US restaurants, ahead of a federal law requiring restaurant chains to supply calorie information.

McDonald’s began the initiative in September, making it plain to customers that, for example, a Big Mac sandwich caries a 550 calorie load, while a McChicken Sandwich weighs in at 385.

McDonald’s USA president Jan Fields says: “We feel it’s important to do this for our customers.” An anti-obesity rule that could be finalised by the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2012 will require the posting of calorie information by all restaurants with 20 or more locations, and all vending machine operators with 20 or more machines.

Death of a journalist

A journalist murdered in Cambodia in September 2012 is thought to have been killed because of his investigations into illegal logging. Hang Serei Odom’s body was found in the boot of his car at a cashew plantation. Reports he filed shortly before he died alleged the involvement of the Cambodian military police in timber smuggling.

His death follows the killing in April 2012 by military police of Chut Wutty, an activist working to protect Prey Long, south-east Asia’s largest remaining lowland forest. No one has been prosecuted for Wutty’s killing, though it was witnessed by journalists he was guiding. Campaign group Global Witness says Cambodia has become a “mafia state” with a “kleptocratic elite”. China is the destination for most of its illegal timber exports.

Meanwhile, a Global Witness report on Liberia alleged that “logging companies, and a handful of government officials have … colluded to sell of a quarter of the whole country for logging”. In most cases, concessions have been granted under private use permits, a loophole enabling companies to bypass Liberia’s forestry regulations. One logging company, Atlantic Resources, now controls 8% of the territory of Liberia, Global Witness says. The head of Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority has been suspended, and the government has promised an investigation.

Copper bottomed

Archaeologists in Afghanistan are trying to complete, by the end of 2013, an excavation that would normally take at least a decade, before a Chinese mining company starts to exploit the world’s second largest copper deposit. The ancient and extensive Buddhist site, at Mes Aynak, near Kabul, has been called “one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Asia”, having more than 200 Buddha statues, and temple and monastery complexes.

China Metallurgical Group Corporation will start, in 2014, to mine the estimated $100bn of copper under the site, and has promised jobs and a major boost to the Afghan economy. Company executive deputy president Zhenguo Liu says: “We believe it will not take long for the problem [of the archaeological excavation] to be solved.” A forthcoming documentary will explore the issues.

Ratings given low rating

The most sustainable companies in their sectors, according to the latest annual revision of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, are Akzo Nobel, BMW, Swiss Re, Siemens and Unilever. Companies added to the index included Exxon, HP, Microsoft and Target, while Dell, Duke Energy, IBM and GlaxoSmithKline were dropped.

However, a survey of sustainability professionals has found that the DJSI and similar indices are rarely used for investment decisions. The Rate the Raters: Polling the Experts 2012 survey, conducted by researchers SustainAbility and GlobeScan, discovered that “by and large experts are using ratings only for information and not action”, according to Michael Sadowski of SustainAbility. Greater transparency in how sustainability ratings are arrived at could boost the credibility of the indices, the study says.

Fear of fracking

Doubts continue to be raised about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of rocks to release shale gas. The Czech Republic has became the third European Union country (after France and Bulgaria) to introduce a moratorium because of the environmental risks of fracking, while Germany’s environment ministry and Federal Environment Agency recommended that fracking should be banned from areas that supply drinking water in case of contamination.

Fracking is now well established in some parts of the US, but in Europe is at an exploratory stage. Some EU countries, including Poland and the UK, are more gung ho, believing shale gas could meet a significant proportion of their energy needs.

China crises

The number of major pollution incidents caused by companies in China rose to 41 in 2011, compared with between six and 14 in the preceding years. A report by Chinese government institute the Policy Research Centre for Environment and Economy found that some of China’s largest companies were involved, with a tendency not to immediately disclose details of incidents, or to release no public information. Shielding of companies by local authorities is a major barrier to transparency, according to researchers. Mass public protests against companies for known or suspected pollution have become more common in China, with authorities bowing to public pressure in some cases and withdrawing permits for factories.

Sea monster

Greenpeace in Australia has hailed a government decision to put a two-year moratorium on the world’s second-largest fishing vessel as a victory for sustainable oceans. Australia’s lower house narrowly backed a ban in Australian waters on the 142-metre Abel Tasman, a Dutch-owned but Australian-registered mega trawler, so that studies on its environmental impact could be carried out. Greenpeace says the Abel Tasman is a “monster ship”, representing a “devastating business model”. The Dutch government has protested, saying the ship’s owners had been transparent about their operations, and the Australian decision “might have implications for foreign direct investment”.

Super sun day

Major US retailers are way ahead of utilities and public authorities in the installation of solar power generation capacity, according to research by trade association the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Vote Solar Initiative. Wal-Mart now has 65,000 kilowatts of installed capacity, while warehouse retailer Costco has 38,900kW. By comparison, in the UK, Sainsbury’s has an installed capacity of about 16,000kW.

Other US firms covering their rooftops with solar panels include Kohl’s and Macy’s. The leader in terms of number of sites with solar generation is Ikea, with nearly 80% of its stores carrying solar panels. The top 20 US corporate rooftop installers generate $47.3m of solar electricity annually, the report says. 

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