Why RAN loves Mickey

Back in 2010, the activist group Rainforest Action Network sent a bunch of children’s books to a lab for analysis. They learned that the paper in most books — including those from The Walt Disney Co., which is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, producing 50 million books and 30 million magazines a year —  contained tropical hardwood pulp, likely from Indonesia. Many kids books are made in China, and China gets much of its paper from Indonesia, where rainforests are threatened by logging, mining and agriculture.

Not long after, RAN launched a campaign against Disney, which included protests at the company’s corporate headquarters in Burbank. The campaign ended today with a big victory, in the form of a Disney paper buying policy that RAN’s executive director, Rebecca Tarbotton, describes as second to none.

“We’ve seen a tremendous commitment from Disney,” she told me, by phone, from RAN’s offices in San Francisco.

Here’s Disney’s announcement and here is a summary of the policy. It’s complicated, and far-reaching, and it will be rolled out in two phases — with the first covering paper sourced directly by Disney or for use in Disney-branded products and packaging, and the second addressing paper sourced by  independent licensees.

Among the key principles: Disney is  promising to reduce its overall paper use. It will increase its use of recycled paper and paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. It will avoid paper that comes from “High Conservation Value Forests” as well as “High Carbon Value Forests,” recognizing the importance of forests not only to protect biodiversity but to absorb CO2 from the air. [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…]

Mickey Mouse, ravager of rainforests?

Those pesky activists from the Rainforest Action Network are at it again.

RAN protestors at Disney HQ

Today (May 19), four activists including a couple costumed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse were arrested outside the Burbank headquarters of The Walt Disney Co. They accused Disney of printing children’s books with paper that is driving the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests after after lab test results found that paper used in Disney’s kids books contained fiber from Indonesia.

Disney is the largest publisher of children’s books in the world, producing over 50 million books and 30 million magazines a year. RAN has been critical of Disney’s paper buying policies for more than a year, saying that [click to continue…]

Must-see TV: What’s wrong with our energy policy?

Today, few words but a couple of videos instead, one from the left and one from the right (because we strive to be nonpartisan here at www.marcgunther.com).

The first, from the activist group Rainforest Action Network, is about the tragedy of mountaintop removal coal mining. RAN is running a campaign against banks that finance mountaintop removal, notably PNC, Citi and UBS. More here.

One thing I learned from the video: MTR coal accounts for just 7% of the coal burned in the U.S. Is this really necessary?

The second one-minute video comes from the conservative end of the political spectrum, namely, Fred Smith, the founder and CEO of FedEx. An advocate of electric cars, Smith is bothered by America’s dependence on imported oil.  He’s got a business agenda of course–high oil prices hurt FedEx–but the benefits of electrifying the U.S.’s transportation sector go well beyond cost to include reduced greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and national security:

Thanks to Mitch Jackson for posting this on the FedEx blog. More info here. I’d encourage Fred Smith to talk to some of his Republican friends about why the threat of climate change is worth taking seriously.

PNC Bank: Helping to destroy mountains

2825430279_a3aa7cd059_oPNC, a big regional bank (annual revenues: $16 billion) based in Pittsburgh, has become the bank that environmental activists love to hate because of its support for mountaintop removal mining.

The bank was identified as the worst of the worst in Grading the Banks: A Mountaintop Removal Scorecard, a new ranking compiled by the Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club.

According to the report, the bank has made loans to six companies engaged in mountaintop removal mining: Massey Energy, Patriot Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, International Coal Group, Arch Coal and Consol Energy.

PNC, by the way, was a recipient of TARP funds (since paid back) so these loans were, at least in a small way, your tax dollars at work.

I emailed PNC to ask for their comment and got a prompt reply from Fred Solomon, vice president, corporate communications:

PNC’s practice is not to comment on analyst or other research reports, and in general, our credit policies are proprietary information.

Interesting. We’ll see how long that no-comment approach lasts, if any of the enviro groups decide to bring pressure directly on PNC, a major consumer bank in the mid-Atlantic region. Transparency, evidently, is not for now part of the PNC culture.

I’m returning to the topic of banks and coal after just a couple of weeks (See J.P. Morgan Chase’s Coal Problem) because of a couple of significant new developments. The first is the RAN/Sierra club report card–a tactic that, in the argot of the corporate campaigns, is known as “rank ’em and spank ’em”. The second is a new policy from by JP Morgan Chase, released just before the bank’s annual meeting, which was held today. [click to continue…]

JP Morgan Chase’s coal problem

Activists target Chase

Do we really want to keep blasting the tops off mountains, destroying forests and dumping the rubble into waterways, in order to extract and burn coal that is messing up the climate?

For now, the answer to that question is yes, despite vigorous efforts by environmentalists and activists in Appalachia to stop mountaintop removal mining. Some are behind a bill in Congress sponsored by Lamar Alexander, a Republican, to end the practice. Others are calling on big banks–in particular JP Morgan Chase–to stop financing mountaintop mining.

The pressure on JP Morgan Chase is coming from activist groups including the Sierra Club, the Rainforest Action Network and an Appalachian group called Climate Ground Zero which calls itself an “ongoing campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience in southern West Virginia to address mountaintop removal coal mining.” All are stepping up their efforts in advance of JP Morgan Chase’s annual shareholder meeting on May 18. They plan to release a list of the worst funders of MTR mining before then, and chances are Chase will be at or near the top.

What’s wrong with mountaintop removal mining? Lots. Here’s an overview from a [click to continue…]

Well, black is always in style

“I can’t understand,” Al Gore said a while ago, “why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.”

Just wait, Al. The Capitol Climate Action, a coalition of activist groups, is organizing what will almost surely be the largest mass civil disobedience for climate in U.S. history. The target: The Capitol Power Plant, a 99-year-old coal-burning plant, situated blocks from Capitol Hill, which heats and cools the U.S. Capitol. (It hasn’t generated electricity since 1952.) Organizers say the plant “symbolizes the stranglehold coal has over our government and future” and the nation’s wrong-headed climate policy. They also say:

As with Ghandi’s walk for independence and Martin Luther King’s march for equal rights, history now calls on people of conscience to peacefully take a principled stand on global warming.

This event could attract thousands of people. It’s endorsed by Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, Global Exchange, SDS (who knew they were still around?) and Tikkun. The writer and activist Bill McKibben, poet and activist Wendell Berry and climate scientist James Hansen all plan to attend. Here’s a link to letter from McKibben and Berry, well worth reading, explaining the thinking behind the event.

Now, there are a lot of controversial questions about coal. Can it be made clean? How else will we power the future? Will more expensive, low-carbon fuels create a drag on the economy? But I was amused to stumble upon a different question that’s sparking debate among the young people planning to attend the action: What should one wear to a protest against coal?

You’ve heard of dress for success? This is all about dress for arrest.

The organizers’ website says: “We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you.” This led to a “Strategy Note” on a website called It’s Getting Hot in Here, Dispatches From the Youth Climate Movement, headlined: “Dress to Impress at the Capitol Climate Action” noting that McKibben and Berry had asked participants to dress in their “Sunday best.” Blogger Joshua Kahn Russell included this photo from the civil rights movement:

He wrote:

We understand that we are the inheritors of this spirit and its tone of seriousness and respectability. Throughout the labor movement and various currents for racial justice people have chosen to wear suits as part of their message they send through these bold actions.

Debate ensued. One commenter wrote:

I think encouraging people to dress up is capitulating to established power, as though decision-makers won’t listen to us unless we dress up…. We should dress the way we feel comfortable, not to “impress.” Impress who?

Another shot back:

thinking like yours is exactly why progressive movements don’t get anywhere fast. …It may not be ideal or how you think things should be, but appearances matter, and they matter a lot in this country.

Which led to:

Business suits are part of the dominant/hegemonic cultural symbols of Wall Street.

And finally:

Honestly, shouldn’t we be wearing recycled clothing or something so that we don’t look like a bunch of hypocrites?

You gotta love the left. People can argue about anything.

Seriously, though–I’m excited to see the momentum gathering behind this protest. It could deliver a much-needed sense of urgency and a powerful grass-roots boost to ongoing efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and stop the construction of conventional coal-fired power plants that contribute to global warming. The issue is certainly generating attention. The business section of today’s New York Times ran an otherwise unremarkable story with the arresting headline, Is America Ready to Quit Coal?. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, NRDC and Environmental Defense have filed lawsuits to block coal plants and lobbied state legislatures and Congress. What’s been missing is grass-roots action.

Here’s an online ad featuring Susan Sarandon, urging people to attend the protest. Protesters are being urged to get training in nonviolent civil disobedience before the event.

I’m planning to cover the March 2 protest. Not sure yet how I’ll be dressed.

(Disclosures: my wife Karen Schneider of Greenpeace helped create the Susan Sarandon video, with The Concept Farm, a New York ad agency. I’m writing and consulting with NRDC and Environmental Defense Fund.)

Brainstorm Green 2009

Not long ago, Big Business and environmental activists were sworn enemies. No more. Today, companies and NGOs come together to work creatively around a variety of issues—from climate change to recycling to protecting the Amazon, from cleaning up dirty businesses like gold mining and to “greening” professional sports. One place they literally come together is at Brainstorm Green, FORTUNE’s conference about business and the environment, which will be back on Earth Day, 2009.

Helping to create Brainstorm Green was a highlight of my 12 years at FORTUNE, and I’m pleased that I’ll be back this year, co-chairing the event with my colleague Brian Dumaine, FORTUNE’s global editor. The program for this year’s Brainstorm Green is still a work in progress, but a group of us got a draft agenda down on paper last week and I’m confident that it will again be a lively, exciting, information-packed event. The theme, once again, will be: How can business help solve the world’s biggest environmental problems?

We’ll discuss and debate climate change regulation, “clean coal,” nuclear power, electric cars, the smart grid, investing in green, renewable energy, sustainable consumption (if there is such a thing), carbon finance and too many other topics to list here.

What makes Brainstorm Green special is the diversity of the crowd. This year, we’ll again hear from many of America’s most important environmental leaders, including Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense, Glenn Prickett of Conservation International, Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy (who was there last year on behalf of Goldman Sachs), David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Mindy Lubber of Ceres and Mike Brune of Rainforest Action Network. At least two dozen CEOs of big and medium-sized companies have agreed to speak, including Shai Agassi of Better Place (the electric car company), Ray Anderson of Interface, Carl Bass of Autodesk, David Crane of NRG Energy, Jeff Hollender of Seventh Generation, Fisk Johnson of S.C. Johnson, Donald Knauss of Clorox, Mike Morris of American Electric Power, Ralph Peterson of CH2M Hill, Jim Rogers of Duke Energy and Tom Werner of SunPower.

Other companies sending speakers include Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Mars, Intel, Boeing, McKinsey, the private-equity firm KKR and architectural firm HOK. That list is sure to grow.

We’ll also be joined by speakers whose ideas are shaping the sustainability debate. I’m looking forward to spending time with Paul Hawken, whose books have shaped much of my own thinking about business and the environment. The dynamic Van Jones, who is profiled in the current issue of The New York by Betsy Kolbert,  will talk about green jobs. The always-inspiring Janine Benyus, who spoke last year, will be back to show us how biomimicry works in practice. My friend Joel Makower, the guru of green business and author of Strategies for the Green Economy, will return as well.

Venture capitalists from some of America’s top firms and entrepreneurs touting exciting startups will round out the group. We’re hoping to attract senior officials from the new Obama administration as well.

You can find a full list of speakers on the Brainstorm Green website. That’s also the best place to propose new speakers or to sign up for the event. (FORTUNE screens all participants.) We’ll meet in a beautiful setting—the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, CA, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of you blogreaders there.

The trouble with Oreos

Not only is the world flat, it is amazingly interconnected. Who would have thought that Oreos or Cheez-Its could contribute to deforestation and global warming?

Today’s Sustainability column at fortune.com and cnnmoney.com looks at palm oil, the commodity that connects hundreds of products on supermarket shelves to the disappearing tropical forests of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Enviros who take a confrontational approach (Rainforest Action Network) as well as those who prefer to consult or collaborate (Conservation International, WWF) are attacking the palm oil problem. So are big agribusiness companies like ADM, Bunge and Cargill, although they’re not moving fast enough or far enough to satisfy the activists at RAN.

Interestingly, the palm oil story appears to be following a script that we’ve seen before in such diverse industries as forestry, mining and fishing: Enviros and consumer brands join together to bring pressure on the extractive industries or Big Ag to improve their practices.

Here’s how the column begins:

What do Oreo cookies made by Nabisco, Cheez-It crackers from Kellogg’s or General Mills’ Fiber One Chewy Bars have to do with global warming and the destruction of tropical rainforests? A lot, say environmental activists.

The link between the supermarket shelf, climate change and shrinking rainforests is palm oil, a controversial ingredient that may now be the most widely-traded vegetable oil in the world.

Here’s the problem: Demand for palm oil, which is found in soaps and cosmetics as well as food, has more than doubled in the last decade as worldwide food consumption has soared. Farmers, in turn, are expanding their plantations, burning forests in Indonesia and Malaysia, where nearly all of the palm oil imported to the United States originates. Deforestation is the primary reason that Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions are the third-highest in the world.

You can read the rest here.