A new film, "King Corn," examines the dominance of corn production in America's food production and processing system as well as the crop's use in various forms in a myriad of food products, beverages and in food preparation.
Filmmakers Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney (pictured at left in an Iowa corn field) argue in the film that corn is overproduced in the U.S. and that its overproduction and use in so many foods takes a heavy toll on public health, the environment and family farms. The filmmakers aren't anti-corn though--at least they weren't before and during the film's making.
The pair said they had no intent on showing the negative aspects of what the film says is an overproduction of corn and its ubiquitous use in processing and preparing the foods which make up the average American's diet. Rather, the filmmakers said their hope is "to raise awareness about how the food on our (Americans) plates gets there, for better or worse."
In the film Ellis and Cheney grow an acre of corn in Iowa and follow it through the production chain, first to an Iowa grain elevator for processing, then to a corn-fed cow farm in Colorado, and then on to Brooklyn, New York where they explore how the use of high fructose corn syrups in carbonated soda drinks has contributed to high obesity and diabetes rates in the U.S.
Corn not only is consumed fresh in the U.S. and fed to cows, pigs and other livestock, it's also the primary ingredient (in one form or another) in nearly every processed food and many beverages. High Fructose corn syrup is used in sodas other beverages and many processed foods, and corn oil is used to cook everything from donuts at donut shops to french fries at America's myriad fast food chains. Corn oil also is a staple in the homes of many American consumers who use it daily to cook with.
The filmmakers don't attack farmers for their heavy production of corn but rather examine the U.S. Government's subsidy systems which pays farmers well to produce crops such as corn in large numbers, both for the food supply, and increasingly to be used to make ethanol.
You can read a review about the film "King Corn" from New York Times writer Joe Drape here. The review was published in Thursday's (10-10) edition of the Times. You also can learn more about the film here at its website.
The issue of America's overproduction of corn and the health issues surrounding its use in so much of the country's foods has been discussed frequently in recent times. One of the most vociferous critics of corn overproduction in the U.S. as well as government subsidies for the crop is author Michael Pollen. His book, The Omnivor's Dilemma, examines this issue extensively. Pollen is interviewed in "King Corn" and in the film he argues that government corn crop subsidies have led to the overproduction of corn to the detriment of public health and the environment.
Of course others argue that corn is an important temporary source for making ethanol fuel in the U.S. until a better source-stock such as switch grass can be perfected and produced in sufficient quantities. Currently ethanol production in the U.S. is at an all-time high and growing rapidly. New ethanol plants are being built throughout the country. Its being mixed with petroleum-based gasoline to create a fuel which produces less carbon-based emissions.
At present corn is the primary source of producing ethanol in the U.S. In fact, so much corn is currently being used to produce ethanol fuels that corn prices worldwide are at record highs--and U.S. corn farmers are currently enjoying their most profitable time in decades.
The film is an important examination of the issue from public health, environmental, economic and social aspects. Agricultural production--in this particular case corn--touches on every aspect of life in the U.S., from how and what people eat, to politics and ecology. "King Corn" just opened in New York City and will be playing in theaters throughout the U.S. beginning this month.
Reports From the Wal-Mart Live Better Sustainability Summit
As we reported here on Wednesday Wal-Mart held an all day environmental sustainability conference in Rogers, Arkansas on Wednesday, October 10. The Wal-Mart Live Better Sustainability Summit brought together the chain's CEO Lee Scott and top Wal-Mart executives with representatives of non-profit environmental groups, non-governmental organizations, green businesses, Wal-Mart suppliers (2000 of them) and others for a full day of presentations, discussions, meetings and a trade show focusing on creating sustainability throughout the supply chain.
The overall response to the day-long conference among participants we've talked with seems positive. All generally said the sustainability conference was serious environmental business and not a public relations ploy. Many told us they liked the fact that environmental groups and corporate CEO's were brought together in such a forum as equals and treated each other that way. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott seemed to go out of his way to downplay the retailer as an green corporate leader, saying frequently that the summit was "kindergarten" or the beginning for Wal-Mart as it continues to seriously tackle sustainability issues and learn from others.
One of the participants at the Living Well Summit was Jefferey Hollender of the Seventh Generation Company, a pioneering producer and marketer of green cleaning and other household products. Hollender publishes and writes the "Inspired Protagonist" blog. He wrote this summary of the Wal-Mart sustainability summit in his blog on Thursday, October 11 following the conference. Hollender's impressions of the conference as a green business executive and environmentalist make interesting reading.
Another participant at the Living Well Sustainability Summit was Sami Grover, Director of Sustainability for "The Change," a company involved in creating environmental sustainability strategies. Grover wrote this piece on Thursday (10-11) following attendance at and participation in the green summit. Grover's piece is positive in an overall sense but also cautious and in some instances critical of certain things.
Grover says Wal-Mart CEO Scott told the gathering that "while the retailer is aiming for zero waste and 100% renewable energy , this still accounts for only 8% of its footprint (only 8% of Wal-Mart's environmental footprint comes from operations, the other 92% is found in the products it sells), and that Wal-Mart must green its supply chain if it has any chance of becoming sustainable." This is why the chain recently began asking its top suppliers to provide it with information on their supply chain energy use and carbon footprints. It's the beginning of Wal-Mart's efforts to "green" its supply chain with suppliers as Scott described at the summit.
Some important initiatives were announced and explained to Wal-Mart suppliers by Wal-Mart officials during the day-long green conference. At the summit John Flemming, executive vice president of merchandise for Wal-Mart, told suppliers and others the retailer's buyers will increasingly incorporate environmental sustainability and reduced waste into their product-development conversations with suppliers and potential suppliers. Flemming told those gathered that since 92% of Wal-Mart's environmental footprint is in the products it sells and the related supply chain, its suppliers will have to be involved, in order to achieve the zero waste and 100% renewable energy goals the company has set for itself.
Flemming and Greg Spragg, executive vice president for Wal-Mart's Sam's Club operation, issued a challenge to the supplier representatives at the sustainability summit. The executives told them the retailer plans to incorporate "Live Better" sustainability standards into 20% of the products on its shelves next year. Sam's Club plans to even aim higher, according to Spragg. The club store retailer hopes to apply the "Love Better" sustainability standards to all of the products in the Sam's stores by the end of 2008. Wal-Mart also will designate April as "Sustainable Products Month" in its stores as a way to emphasise the importance of this initiative to its suppliers Flemming said. Flemming didn't go into specifics on the exact "Live Better" standards but said they will incorporate current Wal-Mart sustainable standards with a few additions, and would be available shorty.
Not everybody is upbeat about the Living Better Sustainability Summit and Wal-Mart's green efforts however. The folks over at Wal-Martwatch.com, an organization and website critical of the retailer's business practices, offers this critic of the summit and some of the positive reactions and articles sighted here and published in general. You can read the Wal-Martwatch piece here.
France Unveils New Comprehensive 'Greenprint'
The French government along with a coalition of business groups, trade unionists and environmental activists is unveiling a new, comprehensive green blueprint that would among other things require carbon-footprint "eco-labels" on grocery products and fresh foods sold in supermarkets, reduce pesticides in agriculture (and triple the number of organic crops grown in the country and require more organic foods in French schools), tax certain forms of public transportation, and create a new public authority to study the effect of Genetically Modified (GM) seeds on agriculture and create a report for the government as it prepares new legislation on the GM seed and crop issue. France's farmers, food processors and major retailers have signed-on to the plan and have representatives in the coalition. The green master plan will be debated and then put to a vote at a green summit to be chaired by new French President Nicolas Sarkozy next month.
Green Rice Farming In China and Carbon Offsets
Eric Rey, president and CEO of Arcadia Biosciences, an agricultural biotechnology company in Davis, California, is hatching a plan to sell Chinese rice farmers a genetically rice seed he says can cut their use of nitrogen fertilizer significantly. Fertilizer use is among the highest cost of doing business for Chinese farmers--and it's also a major source of greenhouse gases, especially because the Chinese rice growers use lots of it in their rice fields. Once Rey has these Chinese rice farmers using his company's new bioengineered rice seed he then plans to sell the resulting carbon credits from the CO2 reductions on the fast-growing global carbon-offset exchange market.
Since agriculture contributes more to global greenhouse-gas emissions than the entire global transportation sector he may be on to something. Tuesday's (10-09) Wall Street Journal here has a feature article detailing and discussing Rey's plans as well as talking about the relationship between global farming and greenhouse-gas production and emissions. Since rice is the world's largest farm crop--and the majority of the world's people live on it--reducing carbon emissions in rice production has merits. Whether or not achieving that goal through the use of Genetically-modified seeds however will certainly be a topic that engenders much debate and discussion.
Tesco Chief Calls For Green Tax Scheme in the UK
Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy is calling for green taxes to replace some forms of existing income and sales-based taxes in the UK as a way to promote green behavior and penalize polluters. Sir Terry is leading the charge in the British food and retailing industry for the creation of carbon-footprint labeling on every product sold at retail. He is heading up an industry group that includes industry giants Unilever, Cadbury Schweppes, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and others that aims to pressure supply chains in the UK to report greenhouse-gas emissions data, emissions-reduction targets and climate change strategy on every grocery items sold in UK supermarkets. Shoppers would be able to read this green information right on a product's label just like they can with nutritional information.
Sir Terry says there was a dramatic decline in the sales of unhealthy products, and a dramatic increase in healthier ones, after nutritional labeling was introduced in the UK and elsewhere in the world. "I forsee exactly the same thing happening when customers are given more information about which products create the greatest emissions," he told a gathering of government and industry representatives earlier this week prior to the unveiing of the British chancellor's first pre-budget report. Sir Terry called for the green tax substitutes during this talk as well. He was supported in this talk by fellow corporate members of the Carbon Disclosure Project mentioned above. Among the group was Bob Wigley, chairman of Financial firm Merrill Lynch Europe. Wigley echoed Sir Terry's call for the green tax alternatives saying using "the power of the free markets provides us all with the best opportunity to make a substantial impact towards reducing the negative impact humans are having on the environment.
A number of UK food and beverage companies are in the process of measuring their carbon footprints as part of the effort, lead primarily by Tesco, to have "carbon labels" on all foods and drinks sold at retail. One company, Innocent, a major seller of fresh fruit smoothies in the UK, was surprised by where the company's major carbon emissions came from. According to
this article in the International Herald Tribune (10-10-07), the smoothie maker and marketer thought the transportation of tropical fruits for the smoothies from far away places like Central America to Britainn would account for the largest portion of their carbon emissions. However, they discovered this wasn't the case. Rather, by far and away the major source of the company's carbon emissions footprint turned out to come from the individual-serving petroleum-based plastic bottles its drinks are sold in. Other companies are finding similar suprises and making discoveries as they begin the process of researching, documenting and detailing their carbon footprints. The International Herald Tribune story here describes these companies and their efforts in detail.
UK Report: Supermarkets Getting Green But Much Work Ahead
A just-released report about UK-based supermarket chain green practices says the retailers are responding to consumer demands for more "eco-friendly" products and retail practices but still have more to do in order to become comprehensive "green grocers." The annual Green grocers Report by the National Consumer Council (NCC) surveyed eight retail chains in the UK including number one Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and four others. Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose were names the three most "environmentally-friendly" retail food chains in the report. Tesco was given a C- grade for its green efforts, which some think is somewhat low due to it's carbon labeling program described above. Food chain Asda, one of the eight surveyed, also recieved a C-. Top-three Sainsbury, M&S and Waitrose recieved B- grades. At the bottom of the heap were Morrison's, Somerfield and the Co-op which all recieved D- grades form the NCC. You can read more about the survey here.
Wal-Mart Installs Solar on 22 U.S. Stores, Distribution Centers
Wal Mart, in partnership with BP Solar, has just completed the installation of the mega-chain's first major solar power system installation. The project includes solar power cells and panel arrays at 22 Wal-Mart and Sam's club stores in California and Hawaii as well as at major distribution centers in both states. The project is part of a major solar power initiative Wal-Mart announced in partnership with BP in May of this year. It's also part of the broad green initiative CEO Lee Scott has set for the retailer. This initiative includes a goal of powering all Wal-Mart-owned stores and distribution centers in the U.S. with renewable energy sources.
BP Solar says the solar arrays at the 22 stores and the distribution centers will produce as much as 20 million killawat-hours of renewable energy annually. Further BP estimates that the solar installations will provide about 30 percent of the total energy needs of the store on which it is installed. Wal-Mart says it estimates the installation at the 22 stores and distribution centers will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions for the chain by about 6,500-10,000 metric tons per year. The chain says it has plans to continue installing more solar systems on stores and distribution centers in partnership with BP Solar.
Ethical Shopping Carts Track Food Miles
U.S.-based Electronic Data Systems (EDS) is developing an "ethical" shopping carts which can tell shoppers the environmental impact of the grocery products they buy as they push the cart throughout the supermarket. The cart has a bar-code scanner and wand which will tell shoppers information such as a product's carbon footprint, food miles traveled, the product's ethical sourcing, nutrition information and other environmental and health data. The unit keeps a running total so a consumer can monitor the "green content" of their shopping cart during their trip as well as before they get to the checkout.
EDS outlined the concept for the electronic "green shopping cart" in a paper they presented at a conference this week describing the cart which the company currently has in development. The company said it conducted a survey which found that a third of shoppers would like to have such bar code scanners on their shopping carts, according to Sion Roberts, EDS' director of consumer industries and retail. Eds also said in the paper that the cart would reduce the need for lots of packaging for food, helping retail food stores to tackle environmental concerns.
The environmental information--carbon footprint, food miles traveled, recyclability and the like--would be coded into the product bar code on the store shelf tags just like retail pricing and other information currently is. The small electronic units would then sit atop a shopping cart and shoppers would merely need to move the wand over the shelf tag bar code and they would get a read out on the screen of all the key environmental, nutritional and other information coded on the product tag. The unit would keep track of all this information and provide a tally for shoppers at any time. There currently is no word on when EDS plans to have the units ready for testing in stores.
Supermarket dumps plastic bags: A Maxi & Company Supermarket (part of the Lowlaw's chain) in Sherbrooke, Quebec will become the first grocery store in Quebec province--and only the third grocery store in the entire country--to stop using plastic shopping bags beginning in February, 2008. Starting then, customers will be required to bring their own reusable shopping bags to the store. The store also will sell various types of reusable bags for shoppers to buy. The store's decision to ban plastic shopping bag use is part of the pledge by Loblaw's to reduce one billion plastic bags from going into Canada's landfills within a year from now. In this case Loblaw's beat the Canadian government to the punch in terms of banning the bags. The times they are a' changing.
Others banning (and discouraging) plastic bags: In March of this year San Francisco, California instituted an outright city-wide ban on the use of plastic shopping bags at large retail stores like supermarkets, department stores and pharmacies. The first city in the U.S. to do so, San Francisco says the law will prevent about 180 million plastic bags from entering the municipal landfill each year. The state of California passed a law in July, 2007 (which was implemented last month) which requires large retail stores (those over about 10,000 square-feet) to place plastic shopping bag recycling containers in-store. The stores' must also have a plastics recycler pick up the bags. The California law also requires these retailers to offer reusable shopping bags for sale in their stores.
Ikea charging for plastic: All Ikea retail stores in the U.S. have began charging customers a nickle per plastic bag (if they want plastic) as a way to discourage the use of of the bags in their stores. They still offer 100% recyclable paper for free and are incouraging the use of reusable bags. The Swedish-based retailer is predicting the practice will reduce plastic bag use in its stores by 50%, from 70 million to 35 million in the first year alone.
Local activist gets UK town to voluntarly ban plastic: Modbury in Devon UK has become the first town in Europe to stop using plastic shopping bags altogether in its retail stores. The move didn't occur by a municipal ban/law however, but was the work of an activist named Rebecca Hosking, who began by convincing town retailers on a one-on-one basis to stop using plastic shopping bags. You can find out more about how she achieved this by reading this article Ms. Hosking wrote in The Guardian.
More about bags (reusable): Wal-Mart will begin introducing reusable shopping bags in its stores beginning this month. The washable, recyclable bags are made out of 85% recycled material and will sell for $1 each. Wal-Mart is coming a bit late to the offering of inexpensive, reusable shopping bags. Most major supermarket chains for example have already introduced such bags as well a more durable and attractive canvas shopping bags for sale in their stores. The bags will be rolled-out in the retailer's West Coast stores this week and then throughout the U.S. beginning this month. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott announced the "green" bag initiative at the Live Better Sustainability Sustainability Summit reported on above.
Poetic yet practical environmentalism: Poet, freedom fighter and former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the issue of global warming and carbon emissions. The piece, "Our Moral Footprint," is a serious and passionate discussion of the subject which goes beyond economics, and we recommend it to our readers. You can read it here.
This company takes sustainability to the next level: The Great Elephant Poo Poo Paper Company Limited is taking a rather undesired end-product--elephant poo--and turning it into a number of high-quality paper products. All of the products are completely odorless as well because of the 100% sustainable paper making process. You can learn more about the company here as well as visit their "poo-tique" where you can see their sustainable product line. The company's motto: "We're Number One At Number Two." What else could it be?
Hemp Bliss: No not "that" kind of bliss. In addition to soy, almond and good old fashion cow milk, there's now a new, organic certified milk beverage on the market called Hemp Bliss. Hemp Bliss is made from the hemp plant--which although is related to the infamous weed doesn't get one high if drank or smoked--and produced and marketed by Manitoba Harvest, a certified organic hemp food, oils and beverage product company based in Manitioba, Canada. Hemp Bliss milk comes in original, vanilla and chocolate flavors and comes packaged in recyclable tetra-pack-type containers. You can learn more about Manitoba Harvest here. Hemp is packed with nutrition including Essential Fatty Acids, Lineolic Acid and protein. The hemp milk is a bit stronger than soy milk but tastes similar to nut-based and grain-based beverages like almond milk.
Not Everbody is high on Fresh & Easy in USA: UK-retailer Tesco is set to open its first six Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets in Southern, California on November 8. The stores' average about 10,000 square-feet and feature upscale, prepared fresh foods, specialty and natural groceries and other offerings, with a major focus on fresh, grab-and-go type foods as well as fresh produce, a selection of meats. The venture has recieved much media attention in the U.S., most of it favorable. However, the Urban & Environmental Policy Center at Southern California-based Occidental College recently released a study of the grocer's potential impact in Southern California with its Fresh & Easy operation, which questions Tesco's environmental commitment along with its workplace issues, supple-chain program and other policies. You can read a summary of the study here as well as download a copy of the complete research report here. A coalition of community groups has been formed in Southern California which, based on the study's conclusions, is asking Tesco to make certain environmental and community-based commitments as it prepares to do business in the region.
The international confections industry has become a leader in combining environmental sustainability with organic and fair trade premium ingredients, creating the fastest-growing trend in confections consumption--what we call the "Green Gourmet" chocolate revolution. The leaders in this segment are primarily specialty and artisan confections' producers However, large companies like M&M Mars, Hershey and others are regognizing this trend and producing "green" premium confections products, as well as acquiring smaller, artisan companies. The key to this segment is the products' taste superior and use environmentally sustainable ingredients and practices. Below we highlight a few of these "Green Gourmet" confections products (and companies) which we feel are particularly innovative.
Laqusta's Lucious Truffles has combined environmental sustainability and all-vegan certified ingredients with top-quality, organic fair trade cacao beans to create a "Green Gourmet" chocolate truffle for today's lifestyle consumer who wants to indulge in premium taste combined with "eco-friendly" ingredients and a green corporate philosophy and practice. All of the truffles contain organic ingredients and are available in unique varieties like Coconut Rum, Double-Chocolate, Lemon, Pomegranate, Sea Salt, Port-Walnut and many more. The "green" truffles produced by the upstate, New York-based Laqusta's have gained a major following from consumers in the U.S. and even overseas. In fact the artisan confections-maker regularly sell-out of the fresh-produced delicacies. You can learn more about Laqusta's Lucious "Green Gourmet" Truffles here.
The Theo Chocolate Bar is a "green" trifecta. That green "trifecta" includes the use of only organic and fair trade cacao beans as well as all-sustainable packaging. Theo Chocolate, a Seattle, Washington-based premium organic and fair trade confection-maker, has produced a chocolate bar that Joseph Whinney, the company's founder, calls a "triple bottom line" business dedicated to conservation and responsible labor practices (what the British call ethical businesses) in addition to profit. The Theo Bar also is one of the best tasting chocolate bars in the U.S. according to Food & Wine magazine which gave the pemium chocolate product its prestigious 2007 "Eco-Epicurean" award. Theo bars are available in five "orign" premium dark chocolate varieties: Venezuela, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Panama. Each bar contains organic, fair trade cacao beans from only its namesake region hence the "origins" designation.
Newman's Own Organics' premium Chocolate Bars contain organic ingredients sourced from around the world. The line of premium taste chocolate bars contains organic cacao sourced from small farmers in the Talamanca region on the Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica. The organic sugar is from Mexico and Paraguay, the organic vanilla is from Madagascar, and the organic milk powder is produced in Colorado, USA by Horizon Organics. The organic, premium chocolate bars come in two sizes: 1.8 ounce and 2.8 ounce bars. There are six premium varieties: Milk Chocolate, Sweet Dark Chocolate, Butter Toffee Crunch, Milk Chocolate Crisp Rice, Sweet Dark Chocolate Orange and Sweet Dark Chocolate Expresso. And of course, Newman's own Organics, run by Paul Newman's daughter Nell, gives all profits from the sales of their products to charities via their foundation. The company also helps the cocao bean farmers in Costa Rica with sustainable farming support. More information on the premium chocolate bars from Newman's Own Organics here.
Weekly Green Report Ender
New Study: 92% of New College Grads Want to Work for A Green Company
A whopping 92% of recent college graduates and college students said they would give a preference to working for a company that is "environmentally-friendly," according to a new survey conducted by the company MonsterTrak, a division of online employment ginat Monster.com. MonsterTrak focuses specifically on recently graduated young professionals and college students. In addition, 80% of recent college graduates said they are interested in persuing a career that provides them with a way to make a positive inpact on the environment, according to the study. These numbers are impressive in terms of green career interest and track with similar polls taken by other organizations on the topic. You can read more about the study here.