Sustainable business, from the bottom up

fishermen-were-supported-by-fao-in-fishing-equipemnt-and-capacity-building

For the most part, corporate sustainability programs drive change from the top down. If Apple wants to improve safety at the factories where its products are made, or Walmart wants to reduce fertilizer runoff in agriculture, or McDonald’s pledges to buy beef raised in environmentally friendly ways, those companies set targets and goals, they deploy a mix of carrots and sticks to bring their suppliers along, those suppliers push further down the chain and, if all goes well, workers, farmers and maybe the planet are all a little better off.

Whatever one thinks of this theory of change–my view is that it works quite well–it does little for the billions of people who are untouched by global supply chains. In my latest story for Guardian Sustainable Business, I write about a project called Fish Forever that is designed to help fishermen and women who work beyond the reach of global supply chains.

I heard about Fish Forever from Brett Jenks, the chief executive of a conservation group called Rare, which is based in Arlington, VA.

Interestingly, Fish Forever is a collaboration of Rare with the Environmental Defense Fund and the sustainable fisheries group at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). It’s uncommon but welcome to see NGOs working together this way.

Here’s a bit more about the program, from my story:

Fish Forever is launching this year in five countries – Belize, Brazil, Indonesia, Mozambique and the Philippines. It targets fishers with a single boat or two, as well as those who fish from shore. In developing countries, these mostly poor, small-scale fishers account for half of all fish caught, the vast majority of which is consumed domestically….

Each Fish Forever partner brings expertise to the partnership. Environmental Defense has been a pioneer in rebuilding fisheries through what is often called rights-based management. Rare specializes in mobilizing communities in poor countries on behalf of conservation. And the scientists at UCSB are experts in monitoring and measuring the health of fisheries.

Here’s how the program works: with the backing of state or national governments, local fishers get exclusive fishing rights to a community fishing areas – a bay or stretch of coast. The community then has good reason to adopt conservation practices because it will reap the benefits if they work.

Typically, those practices include the establishment of a marine preserve, also known as no-take zone, located inside the community fishing area, or nearby. These no-take zones give fish in the area the opportunity to recover and regenerate themselves. Local fishers enforce the no-take zones themselves.

The idea is to create incentives for the community to think long-term about the value of their natural asset, and take steps to protect it.A sense of ownership leads to stewardship. As a wise man once said, no one washes a rental car.

Rare isn’t a high-profile NGO but it has attracted support from some big names. Michael Bloomberg, Hank and Wendy Paulson and Jeremy Grantham are all donors. Which leads me to conclude that Brett Jenks and his group must be doing something right.

You can read the rest of my story here.

2012’s green business heroes

Bill McKibben does the math

Bill McKibben does the math

Some say, and with reason, that 2012 was the best year ever. Never in the history of the world has there been less hunger, less disease and more prosperity. Of course there’s plenty to worry about–the fiscal cliff, gun violence, chaos in Syria and the Congo–as always there will be. But, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, the long arc of history bends towards a more just and sustainable world.

In the little corner of the world that occupies much of my attention–the places where business and sustainability intersect–it has not been a good year. Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. We’re burning more coal, oil and gas than ever. Policy is stuck, in the US and internationally. This will be the hottest year on record in the US, and still people don’t accept the science of climate change. Go figure.

That said, in this final blogpost of 2012,  I’d like to salute some people (again, mostly from the world of business and sustainability) who fought the good fight during the year  just past. Some are business people, others are politicians, activists and even journalists, but they are all doing what they can to bend the arc of history. They’re my green business heroes for 2012. [click to continue…]

Hurricane Sandy: A climate Pearl Harbor?

Only after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor did the US mobilize to enter World War II.

Might Hurricane Sandy mobilize the US to tackle global warming?

This isn’t my metaphor. People have been talking about “climate Pearl Harbors” for years. (Here’s a Joe Romm post from 2008.) The theory is that, because global warming is a slow-moving threat  that for a variety of peculiar reasons is incredibly difficult to resolve politically — for more on that, read my climate ebook, Suck It Up — a dramatic event, involving death and destruction, will be required to awaken a citizenry that is largely indifferent, confused or otherwise occupied.

Of course we’ve had plenty of extreme weather in recent years. Hurricane Katrina. A Russian heat wave that killed 700 in 2010. Floods in Australia in 2011. Disasters in places like Pakistan and Mali that barely made headlines.

But those involved black people, poor people, faraway people or, in the case of the wildfires and droughts that plagued the US this year, trees and crops.

Hurricane Sandy is affecting New Yorkers. New York, along with Washington, is the power center of the US. Wall Street. The news business. Media, fashion, advertising, PR. [click to continue…]

Sierra Club’s Brune: We’re stopping coal

Michael Brune

“We are starting to create the ecological U-turn that David Brower talked about, decades ago. On coal, it’s dramatic. We’ve seen a halt to the coal rush.”

“Primarily because of regulations (from)  the Obama administration, we can now project a future where our oil consumption will decline.”

“It’s not sufficient to address the problem, but it’s a positive trend.”

So says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. [David Brower, who was made famous in John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, was one of his predecessors.] Others fret that the environmental movement is on the defensive these days. Mike, an optimistic, sees progress.

Indeed, Mike argues that the effort by Republicans in the House to roll back a slew of environmental regulations as a sign that the enviros are winning.

“Republicans in Congress and their corporate benefactors are worried about the threat to the status quo in the energy industry,” he says. “That’s the reason this is happening. We’re making progress.” [click to continue…]

Maybe it’s time to stop talking about climate

Maybe it’s time to stop talking about climate change.

And to stop pushing for comprehensive “climate policy.”

That’s what New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, did last week when he gave $50 million to the Sierra Club to fight coal plants. Coal plants should be shuttered, he said, because they endanger public health, pollute the air, deposit mercury in lakes and contribute to asthma. “This is not about the future,” he said, “This is about today.” [See my blogpost, Mike Bloomberg takes on coal.]

Now here comes a group of international scholars and analysts, known as the Hartwell Group, with a new report called Climate Pragmatism, [PDF, download]  which argues that the best way to enact policies around climate change is to talk less about climate and more about curbing air pollution and promoting clean energy innovation.

Telling people to study climate science and make sacrifices–in effect, what Al Gore has tried valiantly to do–hasn’t worked and won’t, the report says.

Nor will the argument that we need to “save the planet” for future generations.

The report says:

The old climate framework failed because it would have imposed substantial costs associated with climate mitigation policies on developed nations today in exchange for climate benefits far off in time–benefits who attributes, magnitude, timing and distribution are not knowable with certainty.

By contrast:

The new framework now emerging will succeed to the degree that it prioritizes agreements that promise near-term economic, geopolitical and environmental benefits to economies around the world, while simultaneously reducing climate forcings, developing clean and affordable energy technologies, and improving societal resistance to climate impacts.

I called Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, to talk about the report. [click to continue…]

Mike Bloomberg takes on coal

Sierra Club's Mike Brune, Rep. Jim Moran and Michael Bloomberg

In a gutsy move, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today announced that his Bloomberg Philanthropies has pledged $50 million to the Sierra Club to fight coal plants.

He didn’t do it quietly, either. Bloomberg chartered a boat to take about 100 Sierra Club activists, friends, TV cameras and reporters out onto the Potomac River for a press conference in front of an Alexandria, Va., coal plant that environmentalist have been try shut, so far without success. Fittingly, he came to D.C. on a day when the heat was sweltering and authorities declared a “Code Orange,” an alert meaning that the air is too dirty for kids to play outside.

“The burning of coal does terrible harm to mothers, children and families across the country,” Bloomberg declared, calling coal a “self-inflicted public health risk.”

Bloomberg and Mike Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, set an ambitious goal for the group’s “Beyond Coal” campaign: They want to shut down about one-third of the nation’s coal plants and replace them with clean energy as quickly as possible.

“If we succeed, and I believe we will,” Bloomberg said, “we will save millions of lives and we will help millions of children avoid asthma and its debilitating effects.”

For those who care about climate change, air pollution and public health, this is the best news out of Washington, D.C., in some time. It comes in stark contrast to the goings-on on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans are doing everything they can to tame the EPA. [click to continue…]