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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Spring 2005: Newslines


NEWSLINES


Unocal Settlement Seen as Precedent for Corporate Accountability

Unocal Corp. in December reached an agreement in principle to settle human rights lawsuits against the company stemming from a pipeline project in Myanmar—formerly known as Burma—during the 1990s. According to a statement released by all involved parties Dec. 13, “Although the terms are confidential, the settlement in principle will compensate plaintiffs and provide funds enabling plaintiffs and their representatives to develop programs to improve living conditions, health care and education, and protect the rights of people from the pipeline region.”

The lawsuits against Unocal were filed in both state and federal courts in California by anonymous Myanmar residents, seeking compensation from the company for forced labor, murder, torture and rape carried out by Myanmar’s military during the construction of the pipeline. The suit claimed that Unocal, one of the major investors in the pipeline project, knowingly allowed the Myanmar military to perpetrate human rights abuses while carrying out the project. Unocal has denied knowledge of the abuses.

The federal suit settlement is seen as potentially important in setting a practical precedent, being the first settlement reached in a case brought against a U.S. company using the Alien Tort Claims Act, a law passed in 1789 that allows foreigners to sue companies in U.S. courts for alleged human rights violations abroad. Because the case was settled out of court, however, it will set no legal precedent. In May 2003, the Department of Justice submitted a brief to the court arguing against the use of the Alien Tort Claims Act in this way, urging the court to dismiss the case.

President Creates Committee to Oversee Ocean Policies
In December President Bush signed an executive order establishing the Committee on Ocean Policy, which was created in response to increased attention to the state of the world’s oceans. The committee will be led by James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and will include a number of White House Cabinet members.

The Pew Oceans Commission in June released a comprehensive review of U.S. oceans policy during the last 30 years, and in September the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy delivered to the President and Congress “An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century,” a comprehensive and coordinated national ocean policy framework. Creating an ocean policy committee was one of the 212 recommendations in the Commission on Ocean Policy’s report.

“The action plan highlights a series of legislative, administrative and regional actions that we will immediately undertake,” Connaughton said. “There’s a whole list of actions that were ready to go right away; we got all the interagency clearances on that. And then this high-level committee is going to be charged with taking up the development and implementation of plans for the significant longer-term agenda that the commission gave to us in their more than 200 recommendations.”

Roger T. Rufe, president and CEO of The Ocean Conservancy, responded positively to the development. “The time is now for ocean leaders to step forward, to build on this wave of momentum and, with help from the President's new oceans committee, embrace true reform,” Rufe said. “We eagerly await congressional action, and look forward to working with our legislative leaders.”

Starbucks and Collaborators Develop First FDA-Approved Recycled Content Packaging
Starbucks Coffee Co. announced in November that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted Starbucks supply chain member Mississippi River Corp. the first-ever approval to use recycled content in food packaging, specifically Starbucks’ hot beverage cups. Starbucks said it expects to convert its hot beverage cups to 10 percent-recycled material, an industry first.

“Beginning to use post consumer recycled content hot beverage cups is an important milestone for Starbucks in addressing the environmental impact associated with our paper-buying practices,” said Jim Donald, Starbucks CEO designate. “Starbucks’ goal is to convert hot cups in our U.S. company-operated retail stores by the end of calendar 2005. We will continue to explore ways to include recycled content in all Starbucks-branded paper goods in our stores.”

Starbucks collaborated for more than two years with suppliers Solo Cup Company, MeadWestvaco and Mississippi River Corp. to obtain FDA approval for the product. In September the FDA granted its consent.

Starbucks said it expects to introduce the recycled-content cups into U.S. retail stores after completing testing to validate performance, quality and safety issues. The hot beverage cups will look and perform the same, but the new cup is expected to lower the company’s dependence on tree fiber annually by more than five million pounds.

“As Starbucks continues to grow and expand its presence around the globe, we are actively working to incorporate environmental considerations in our business operations,” said Ben Packard, Starbucks director of environmental affairs. “We hope to have other future ‘firsts’ as we continue to look for innovative ways to improve our environmental performance.”

LEED Committee Issues PVC Draft Report

The U.S. Green Building Council in December issued a draft report from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee on the technical basis for a PVC-related materials credit in LEED. The draft follows two years of research by the committee, and represents what USGBC believes to be “the first (study) internationally to reconcile the occupational and environmental health impacts together with the life-cycle analysis (LCA) impacts over all major life cycle stages.”

The report is in response to a charge from USGBC to the LEED Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee to review available evidence “as a basis for a reasoned decision about the inclusion of a PVC-related credit in the LEED rating system.” Using both LCA and risk-assessment methods, along with other analyses, the committee concluded that the available evidence does not support creating a LEED credit for the elimination of PVC.

USGBC has posted the draft report for public comment on its Website, along with an official form for use in submitting comments. Public comments submitted by e-mail must be received by USGBC before midnight EST on February 15. Visit www. usgbc.org/LEED/tsac/pvcvinyl.asp to download the draft report and the official comment form.

Projections Show EU on Track to Meet Kyoto Targets

The European Union and most individual member states should be able to achieve their greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol on the basis of policies, measures and third-country projects currently planned, according to a progress report adopted in December by the European Commission. The latest emissions projections from member states suggest that a combination of existing domestic policies and measures, additional policies and measures that already are in an advanced state of planning, and emissions credits gained through the Protocol’s project-based mechanisms will deliver a total emissions cut of 8.6 percent by 2010 in the EU-15 (the 15 EU member states prior to the European Union expansion of 2004). This is despite the fact that some EU-15 member states are projected to have emissions in 2010 exceeding their legally binding targets. All new member states with targets are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol targets on the basis of existing and additional policies and measures.

Stavros Dimas, European Environment commissioner, said, “This progress report gives grounds for optimism that both the EU-15 and the new member states are well on course to meet their Kyoto targets. This is vital if the EU is to maintain its leading role in combating the global challenge of climate change. But the report also reminds us that emission reductions by 2002 were insufficient. Policies and measures, both the existing ones and the additional ones planned, have to be effectively implemented if we are to achieve the further cuts needed.”

The projected EU-15 emissions reduction reaches 8.6 percent when plans by six EU-15 member states to obtain emissions credits through the Protocol’s project-based mechanisms, Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism are factored in. These mechanisms enable industrialized states to invest in emissions-saving projects in the more than 100 non-EU countries that have ratified the Protocol. The resulting credits can be used toward meeting their Kyoto targets. More member states currently are finalizing plans to use the mechanisms.

The projections for 2010 do not account for some important measures that will soon start to bring further emissions reductions, such as the emissions trading scheme, nor does it account for the use of carbon “sinks” like as forests to offset emissions.

Green Power Group Announces Renewable Energy Purchases
The World Resources Institute and members of its Green Power Market Development Group in December announced 62 megawatts of new renewable energy purchases and projects, bringing the total purchases by the Green Power Group to 174 megawatts during the span of three years.

The 62 megawatts— enough to power 46,000 homes— represent purchases made in the past year for more than 80 facilities in 18 states. The purchases include 39 megawatts of renewable energy certificates, 21 megawatts of landfill gas, and two megawatts of wind and solar power.

The Green Power Group is a unique commercial and industrial partnership dedicated to building corporate markets for green power. Its members are Alcoa Inc., Cargill Dow LLC, Delphi Corp., The Dow Chemical Co., DuPont, FedEx Kinko’s, General Motors, IBM, Interface Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Pitney Bowes and Staples. The Green Power Group’s goal is to create 1,000 megawatts of new cost-competitive green power for corporate markets by 2010.

“Renewable energy is available, affordable, and offers companies economic and environmental benefits today,” said WRI President Jonathan Lash. “Natural gas prices, electricity reliability issues, and environmental concerns are all driving companies to diversify their energy purchases.”

As the announcement demonstrates, big businesses are also deploying these technologies. Johnson & Johnson is one of the country’s largest users of wind and solar power, and five Green Power Group members now purchase green power for 10 percent or more of their U.S. electricity.

Shaw Ends PVC Use, Ramps Up Recycling System
Shaw Industries Inc., the world’s largest carpet manufacturer, ran its last production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) carpet backing on Dec. 8. The PVC production line will be replaced with new tile-manufacturing equipment designed to increase capacity while decreasing energy consumption. Additional recycling capacity also will be added to the facility.

The backing for Shaw’s PVC tile products will be replaced with EcoWorx, a cradle-to-cradle product that can be sustainably recycled, has less embodied energy than traditional PVC carpet tiles, and maintains equal or greater performance. Since introduced in 1999, customers have preferred EcoWorx to PVC backing, driving the new technology to more than 80 percent of Shaw’s total carpet tile production.

New recycling equipment is being installed that can break down EcoWorx into its original components through an elutriation process. This material will be reassembled into new product at the tile manufacturing facility. The new equipment will prepare Shaw for the large volumes of post-consumer tile that will begin to flow back to its buildings as it reaches the end of its useful life. Shaw encourages customers to recycle by offering the benefit of an environmental guarantee on its EcoWorx products, which will ensure that Shaw picks up EcoWorx after use, at no charge to the customer, and recycles it into more EcoWorx.

The capacity of the elutriation system initially will allow Shaw to recycle 1.8 million square yards of carpet a year. This equipment will enable the company to separate the backing and fiber in a single pass, and meet the anticipated future growth capacity requirement of returned post consumer material for the next five to 10 years.


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