Why globalization is (mostly) green

Shipping millions of containers of stuff around the world might seem to be bad for the planet but in the long run globalization will help us solve our environmental problems.

With apologies to anyone who took Econ101 in college and at the risk of oversimplification, here’s why:

  1. The global economy is not a zero-sum game.
  2.  Trade benefits buyers and sellers
  3. Rising incomes and wealth are good for the environment.

Ergo, globalization is mostly green.

This may seem self-evident to some but as I follow the conversation about business, the economy and sustainability in a number of venues — from the sparring over China in last week’s presidential debate to Mark Bittman’s musings about an ideal food label to the argument from some enviros that what we need is not economic growth, but “degrowth” — I’m surprised by lack of understanding of the benefits of trade, globalization and growth. [click to continue…]

A kinder, gentler hot dog

Melissa and Aaron Miller of Kinsman, Ohio recently received Food Alliance certification for their pastured pork and lamb.

Consider meat. It’s bad for the planet. It’s bad for your health if you eat too much of it, which most Americans do. (We eat three times more than the global average.) As for animal welfare, trust me, you don’t want to think about it.

Helene York is a vegetarian, but as director of strategic sourcing and research at Bon Appetit Management Co., a big food-service company, she needs to think about meat. This week, Bamco made a serious commitment to change the way it buys pork, beef, poultry and eggs.

First, the company said, it will

stop serving all pork produced using the cruel and inhumane practice of gestation crates and all eggs, including “liquid” ones (those removed from their shells), from hens confined to battery cages by 2015.

This won’t be easy. About 90 percent of female pigs are raised in metal cages so small that a pregnant sow cannot even turn around. This commitment aims to eliminate one of the worst practices in the meat industry.

Bon Appetit said it will also aim to drive best practices by promising that, by 2015,

at least 25 percent of all our meat, poultry, and eggs will meet the highest animal welfare standards, as verified by the independent third parties Animal Welfare Approved, Food Alliance, or Global Animal Partnership. These four groups don’t just ban gestation crates and battery cages, they prohibit routine antibiotics and all hormones, and reward producers for allowing animals to engage in their natural behaviors.

The news from Bon Appetit, which provides cafeteria food and catering to more than 400 companies, colleges and other venues in 31 states, comes in the wake of an announcement that McDonald’s–which, of course, is much bigger — will ask its pork suppliers to phase out gestation crates. (A stunned Mark Bittman wrote OMG: McDonald’s Does the Right Thing.) Bon Appetit and McDonald’s made their announcements in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights group. [click to continue…]

Smithfield Foods: Sustainable pork?

Unless you avoid pork for religious reasons, you’ve probably eaten pork products from Smithfield Foods: the bacon or sausage in a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, Armour-Eckrich bologna or ham, pork from Bob Evans or Jimmy Dean’s, an Esskay hot dog at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, and quite likely your Easter ham.

Smithfield is a pork giant. It has 49 factories, 500 or so hog farms, 48,000 employees and about $11 billion in revenues in FY2010. It slaughtered about 27 million animals last year in the U.S. “We’re the largest pork producer in the world, by a long shot,” says Dennis Treacy, the company’s chief sustainability officer.

Yes, Smithfield has a chief sustainability officer–and that may surprise you if you remember reading horror stories about Smithfield’s confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), its problems managing pig manure, its labor conflicts or animal welfare  issues in places like The New York Times and Rolling Stone. The company was featured–not in a flattering way–in the movie Food Inc. and sued by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Dennis Treacy

Treacy had problems with Smithfield, too, before joining the company. In fact, Treacy, who was the director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for the state of Virginia from 1998 to 2002 under Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore, once sued Smithfield for polluting the state’s waters.  (You could look it up.) In 1997, Smithfield was fined $12 million, one of the largest fines at the time, for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

Now, though, Treacy says Smithfield has cleaned up not just the water but its own act. He’s been with the company for nine years, and says he was hired to make the company more sustainable and improve its reputation. “We have slowly but surely built a sustainability program,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do, and everybody wants to work for a company that is respected.”

I met Dennis earlier this week in Washington. He seems like a good guy, and he’s spent his career on environmental issues–he studied fisheries and wildlife at Virginia Tech, got a law degree from Lewis and Clark in Oregon, which is a top environmental law school, and he lives on a small farm near Richmond where he and his wife raise chickens and rabbits. [click to continue…]

How to “green” a hamburger

Plastic bags, SUVs and hamburgers: No right-thinking tree-hugger would endorse them, at least not in public. But here’s the thing: While we can replace plastic bags with reusable ones, and we can electrify our SUVs, the world’s consumers will almost surely demand more, not less, beef in the years ahead.

Which is why the World Wildlife Fund has begun a conversation about, of all things, sustainable beef.

The WWF, led by Jason Clay, its iconoclastic senior vice president for “market transformation,” last fall convened a Global Conference on Sustainable Beef, bringing together environmentalists, academics and industry giants including Walmart, McDonald’s, Cargill and JBS, a Brazilian company that calls itself “the largest animal protein processing company in the world” and owns U.S. brands Swift and Pilgrim’s Pride.

The goal? To improve sustainability within the beef industry. [click to continue…]