E-Reader Versus Book: The Eco-Math

With e-readers like Apple’s new iPad and Amazon’s Kindle touting their vast libraries of digital titles, some bookworms are bound to wonder if tomes-on-paper will one day become quaint relics. But the question also arises, which is more environmentally friendly: an e-reader or an old-fashioned book? »

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The Secret Life of Buildings

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has done an outstanding job in greening the industry. But as the LEED standard continues to evolve, the question is: What’s next?

To get a feel for where the green building marketplace might head one day, go to GoodGuide.com and look up any of the 75,000 consumer products they rate, from air fresheners to yogurt. GoodGuide aggregates more than 200 technical databases into a ten-point scale to rank products—and the companies that make them—on their environmental, health, and social impacts. Some of the databases evaluate items over their entire life cycle, from the extraction or harvesting of their contents through manufacture all the way to disposal.»

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Why Investors Should Consider Sustainability Risk Management

Here’s yet another concern for investors: sustainability risk management, or SRM. While the basic concept has been around for years, emerging market forces are creating a new strain of investor sustainability risk: point-of-purchase reputation risk. Disruptive systems are on the verge of revealing ecological impacts of products that could sink some brands — and boost others.

Regulatory and litigation risks have become familiar, and most companies have learned to avoid or manage them. The new kid on the block — reputation risk — may grow to be the most important for many businesses. One big reason? With Wal-Mart’s announcement in July that it is working with an academic consortium to develop a sustainability index for rating products, a never-seen-before level of transparency seems headed for their stores.»

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The Age of Eco-Angst

My grandson’s third birthday is at hand, and I’m looking at a toy racing car I won’t be giving him. Painted a bright yellow, this nifty little toy seemed just right for him when I paid a buck for it at a big box store. But before I could give it to him, I learned that cheap toys made in China, like this one, can have lead in their paint — particularly reds and yellows — to make them more shiny.

My pleasure at picturing his delight at the toy car melted into something between disgust and outrage. That nifty toy sits on my desk months after I bought it.»

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When Ecological Awareness Hurts

At a Cambridge restaurant one night, I was about to order the cod when my dining companion, Gregory Norris, whipped out his iPhone, accessed www.Blueocean.org, and told me the sad news. On the Eastern seaboard cod has been over-fished; while it’s fine to order it in San Francisco, with Pacific Ocean supplies plentiful, doing so in New England ups the pressure on dwindling stocks.

Then I talked to Dara O’Rourke, who spent years roaming the floors of factories throughout the Third World as a watchdog on behalf of agencies like UNESCO. O’Rourke tells me that garment workers are most likely to get injuries like gashes around two in the morning, when weariness and poor lighting combine with missing equipment safety guards.»

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Wal-Mart Exposes the De-Value Chain

Wal-Mart’s announcement of its new sustainability index marks the dawning of the age of ecological transparency in the marketplace. This is not just idle speculation; Wal-Mart has signaled that suppliers who ignore the requirements for ecological transparency will become “less relevant” to them. In other words, suppliers may one day compete for shelf space on the basis of their transparency about the ecological impacts of their products.

The retailer’s 100,000 suppliers around the world will have to calculate and disclose the total ecological costs of their products — and that data will be boiled down into a single rating that shoppers will see right next to the price tag.»

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