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3 magic words to mute 'sustainababble'

Published April 15, 2014
3 magic words to mute 'sustainababble'

As more people use the term "sustainability" without a precise understanding of its underlying meaning, the significance of the word may, if unchecked, be diluted until it means nothing.

Recently, the webcomic XKCD depicted a graph of the use of the word "sustainable" between 1980 and the present, then projected its use through 2109 — at which point "all sentences are just the word 'sustainable' repeated over and over." The caption reads, "The word 'sustainable' is unsustainable."

This message has been especially important for the team at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, which organizes the state's annual Governor's Sustainability Awards. In order to ensure we do not dilute the meaning of sustainability and the spirit of the award, the ISTC is launching a fight against "sustainababble" (PDF).

We encourage our applicants to pursue projects that show scope, scale and significance relative to their organization's primary operations. We hope that these three Ss may help others in this same fight. Sustainability and pollution prevention award/certification programs must work especially hard to maintain their integrity amidst a growing cacophony of sustainababble.

The Governor's Sustainability Award

The Illinois Governor's Sustainability Award was founded in 1987 as the Governor's Pollution Prevention Award. In 2009, the name was changed in order to recognize the expanding scope of environmental initiatives among Illinois companies and organizations.

Illinois Governor's Sustainability Award image courtesy of ITSCOftentimes, when companies change a process to reduce waste or eliminate a hazard, they also find opportunities to save energy and water. They may even find that the environmental problem-solving process fits well as a core part of company operations.

In the mid-2000s, ISTC saw an increase in award applications from businesses outside of industrial and manufacturing sectors. Industrial or manufacturing facilities represented 70 percent of awardees in the early 2000s, but less than half of awardees since 2009. Applicants and winners from the education, government, non-profit, office-based and retail sectors have increased in recent years.

We are excited about this trend because it reflects a growing awareness that pollution prevention and efficiency have benefits for all sectors. But we are cautious to not lose touch with three key qualities of a sustainability award winner: scope, scale and significance.

1. Scope

In evaluating scope, we ask whether an applicant has made impact improvements in the areas most relevant to its business. The latest GRI reporting guidelines refer to this as materiality. For example, a clothing company's sustainability scope includes processes such as fabric manufacturing, washing and dyeing. If the company only touts its lighting retrofits and low-flow toilets, its scope is incomplete.

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (PDF) was a 2013 winner that had a strong scope. Almost all of its reported achievements centered on its primary business: Bus transport. In 2009, CUMTD began incorporating gas-electric hybrid buses into its fleet. Today, hybrid vehicles comprise more than 50 percent of its 102-bus fleet. All new buses also are fitted with diesel particulate filters, which remove 90 percent of particulate matter (soot) from emissions. To further reduce bus emissions, the district implemented an anti-idling policy, which mandates that bus drivers will idle for no more than three minutes.

40-foot hybrid bus image courtesy of CUMTD

CUMTD focused its water reduction initiatives on the wash bay, where buses are washed on a nightly basis. By installing a water conservation system that recycles rinse water, the district cut consumption by 20 percent. Additionally, the district now requires the bus garage's supervisor to make a daily decision about whether each bus truly needs a wash. This simple step cut water use by an additional 5 percent. CUMTD reports that these changes reduced water consumption from 12.4 gallons per vehicle-hour to 9.4 gallons per vehicle-hour.

2. Scale

Our awardees range from small family-owned organizations to multinational corporations. We want to continue recognizing a wide range of businesses for their accomplishments, so we evaluate scale relative to an organization's operations. Ideally, every applicant would report information on a relevant per-unit basis, as CUMTD did. Instead of simply reporting "gallons of water reduced," they reported gallons per vehicle-hour, providing us with a measure that can be compared across years, regardless of how many trips the buses make. This type of measurement, a normalized metric, is extremely helpful for evaluating the true scale of a sustainability project.

Each year, only a handful of applicants report normalized impact information, leaving it to our judges to evaluate the context and scale of our applicants' achievements. In 2014, we are nudging more applicants toward normalizing their data by requiring them to provide square footage, number of employees and annual hours of operation in their applications. These units allow us to compare year-to-year performance. The 2014 application also includes additional instructions on normalizing data by relevant units of production.

3. Significance

Significance is where we discover whether an applicant truly has incorporated sustainability — a commitment to environment, economy and society — into the operation of the company or organization. Sustainability has become a significant part of the organization when a company normalizes green purchasing practices, employees routinely seek efficiencies and management is as familiar with impact data as it is with financials. In 2013, 17 of the 27 awardees included descriptions of how true sustainability is being woven into the fabric of their operations, either through an active and multi-functional Green Team, ISO 14001 Certification or sustainability reporting efforts.

Plastic chip image by John MulrowPackaging design and manufacturing company and 2013 winner J.L. Clark (PDF) provides an excellent example of a company that pursues sustainability in a significant way. The company's Green Team includes several plant managers and engineers, the vice president of operations and often the president himself. It is a group well-positioned to evaluate and make changes that are highly relevant in both scope and scale.

In 2012, over 25 percent of J.L. Clark's waste reductions and cost savings were achieved by improving process efficiencies on the manufacturing floor. By grouping all high volume production lines in one area, the company was able to eliminate the need for two sets of constantly running chillers, cooling towers and air compressors. It also achieved significant savings by rebuilding and reprogramming injection molds and tooling. The involvement of engineers and plant managers in the Green Team made these achievements a seamless part of company operations, rather than a special side project.

The Green Team subdivides its work into four project categories: Land, Air, Sea and Mind. This framework ensures that the company addresses all aspects of sustainability in its constant quest for improvement. The evaluators also were impressed that the categories described their purpose and impact more explicitly than the word "sustainability" does.

Onward

As the administrator of the Governor's Sustainability Award, ISTC staff is keenly aware of sustainababble and excited to help more organizations pursue true sustainability. Sustainability award and certification programs, including ours, must practice continuous improvement by employing meaningful terms and greater rigor in our evaluations. In the fight against sustainababble, we must choose our weapons and words wisely.

Mute button image by Abel Tumik via Shutterstock



Jessica Marshall

Jessica Marshall is an award-winning science, environmental and health journalist. Her work has appeared in Discovery News, New Scientist, Nature, TheAtlantic.com and Science News for Kids, among other outlets. She has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and has taught science journalism at the University of Minnesota. She lives in St. Paul, Minn.

4 steps to keep food waste from super-sizing climate change

Published April 11, 2014
4 steps to keep food waste from super-sizing climate change

What do coal-fired power plants, SUVs and Sunday night leftovers have in common? Surprisingly, it’s carbon emissions — significant amounts, in fact. Our leftovers aren't belching out CO2, but our food production and consumption (or lack of it) habits appear to be contributing significantly to climate change.

According to a report released by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (PDF), food waste is one of the most overlooked causes of climate change and is gaining international attention as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Health, safety and environmental managers and others focused on managing resource inputs and carbon outputs no longer can ignore this piece of the sustainability pie.

While most sustainability professionals are at least broadly aware of the carbon impact of the food chain, the impact of what is wasted along the way is rarely included in the tally. From corn to cattle, growing and producing food requires vast energy inputs that result in greenhouse emissions. (In the case of cattle, there’s a certain degree of direct output as well.) But that’s just the beginning.

The FAO report paints a stark picture of the volume of wasted food; how that waste translates into loss of land, water and biodiversity; and the resulting economic costs and impacts on climate change.

So, just clean your plate, right?

Unfortunately, waste occurs at every step in the food chain, from production to processing, packaging and finally consumption. The farther along the chain the waste occurs, the greater the environmental impact as the toll taken by refrigeration, transportation, processing activity and packaging is compounded.

What we do when food finally gets to the fridge — the consumption phase of the food chain — accounts for more than 35 percent of the global greenhouse gas footprint of food waste. On the upside, this also may be where we as business managers, sustainability professionals and individuals can exercise the most control.

Supersized waste

Apple image (Credit: D H Wright via Flickr)If they saw our food waste, our Depression-era forebears would disown us.

According to the FAO report, about one-third of food produced for human consumption goes to waste. That’s about 1.4 billion tons of edible food annually plus even more in non-edible components. That equates to $750 billion dollars of food wasted annually.

For greenhouse gas specifically, the emissions associated with food waste is estimated at 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The economics of culinary efficiency

As individuals, reducing our personal food waste can be as simple as rethinking how we shop for, cook and store food. Buying local and buying unprocessed, whole foods — already in vogue for health and environmental reasons — also reduces the lifecycle waste of foods we eat. But at an institutional level, strategies become more complex.

For sustainability professionals, there are both economic and environmental incentives to consider in managing waste as an organization. Opportunities are in every sector, from food service providers to hospitals, prisons and schools.

Clearly, companies, organizations and public agencies taking steps to manage their carbon footprints must incorporate food waste into the calculus.

Compass takes action

For example, Compass Group NA recently launched an initiative to measure and reduce the environmental impacts associated with its food service operations. That meant examining the preparation and delivery of tens of thousands of meals daily in restaurants and corporate and campus cafeterias across North America.

Cherimoya seedling image by davecito via FlickrThe program's first phase focused on putting basic sustainability measures in place for daily operations. Chefs and kitchen managers were encouraged to implement best practices in one of four operational areas to shrink emissions. Efforts ranged from making menu changes (less meat, for example) to rethinking the use of energy-intensive kitchen equipment to addressing non-kitchen activities such as lighting and solid waste.

The company then deployed software dashboards that food managers now use to track emissions in real time. The Compass database accounts for production, packaging and transport of individually purchased food items, serving materials and cleaning chemicals and site-specific factors, so that GHG impacts can be accurately assessed.

Four steps to managing culinary efficiency

The Compass program is sophisticated, but most environmental managers can take more basic steps to assess and reduce the GHG contributions of food waste streams. Here are just four to consider.

1. Get the word out

Promote awareness among employees and partners and promote best practices by food service professionals charged with purchasing and preparation.

2. Measure what you do

We can only manage what we can measure.  Find out where your food waste is coming from today and how much is being generated, and then work to reduce waste as needed. Starting with low-hanging fruit (so to speak). Collect the data needed to make good decisions. You do not have to guess any more.

3. Improve food logistics to reduce waste

Food logistics — i.e. proper menu preparation and serving size allocation — can reduce waste considerably.  Don't prepare more than is needed or serve more than can be eaten. Every time food is thrown out, so is all the energy and carbon generated and used from the time the seed was planted or the animal born. Concerned about backlash from hungry diners? Look for opportunities to collaborate with customers to optimize meal sizes and menu selection to reduce food waste.

4. Repurpose uneaten food

Sending freshly prepared but unserved food to those in need — the homeless or shelters for women and children, for example — isn't just a way to give back to your community. It actually carbon impacts by reducing the amount of food prepared at shelters. And plate scrapings can become compost to enrich future harvests.



Advice for utilities: Don't cede power to clean energy

Published April 11, 2014
Advice for utilities: Don't cede power to clean energy

I once read that when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights legislation into law, he said something like, "I'm ceding the South to the Republican Party for the next 40 years." Listening to several utility CEOs talk at the WSJ ECO:nomics conference last week, it seemed like many were taking a parallel track: ceding electricity generation to the solar industry, perhaps forever.

The message from several utility CEOs was, "We're focusing on transmission and distribution and getting the grid shored up to withstand lots of points of generation, some of which will not be controlled by us." Now, I applaud that they don't have their heads in the sand about the growing market desire to create and store energy (it seems to me that some utilities are trying to fight the market signals rather than pivoting to coexist with/accommodate customer desires). But I'd also urge utilities not to cede the enviable marketing relationship they have with their customers.

Quite literally, utilities have an opportunity that every other industry wishes it had. They:

• Have all their customers' current contact information.

• Know all about their customers' behaviors and usage patterns.

• Can send a basic letter to any given customer and just about be guaranteed that the letter will be opened.

So, to all you utility executives out there, I'd say two things:

1. Don't cede your role as a customer relationship manager.

You may be beginning to put customer relationship management systems in place and only starting to think about how you can leverage all the data you have — but hang in there and stay the course. As other generation options proliferate, those companies will need a way to connect with customers. You could be that way.

2. As you focus on making the grid work for a thousand points of generation, tell your customers about it.

Let your customers know that you're working your tail off to ensure they have lots of generation options in the future, and that you'll make sure they can connect however they want to. Let them see you as a partner so they'll actually want you to play a role in the future as their "tour guide," mentor and concierge in the energy space. There's a profitable business model in that — one the solar industry, and even your customers, will be willing to pay for.

This story first appeared at the Shelton Group's Shelton Insights blog. Electricity pylons photo by Mark Sayer via Shutterstock.



$40 per ton: Well below the true cost of carbon

Published April 11, 2014
$40 per ton: Well below the true cost of carbon

Economics is largely just organized common sense, and it doesn't get much more common sense than benefit-cost analysis. Want to decide whether to buy that apple, make that investment or pass that clean air rule? Tally up the benefits. Tally up the costs. If benefits outweigh costs, do it.

Although in many ways climate change is a problem in its own league, the same principles apply. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said, "The costs of inaction are catastrophic," and they most likely would be. While climate change ought to be a risk management problem — an existential risk management problem on a planetary scale — that realization alone may not always be good enough. Despite the inherent risks and uncertainties, sometimes we need a specific number that we can plug into a benefit-cost analysis.

The U.S. government makes lots of regulatory decisions that have important implications for the climate. Any benefit-cost analysis of these decisions ought to include their climate impact. If a particular decision will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions — building the Keystone XL pipeline, for example — that figure ought to go on the cost side of the ledger. If the decision will lead to fewer greenhouse gas emissions — such as carbon pollution standards for power plants — that figure adds to the benefits side.

Such benefit-cost analyses require a dollar figure for the social cost of carbon pollution. The best we currently have is around $40 for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, calculated by averaging results from three of the most prominent and well-established climate-economic models. Uncertainties around the $40 value notwithstanding, putting in $0 is not an option. That, sadly, is what some with clear stakes in the outcome are arguing, however weak the ground they stand on.

In fact, $40 is very likely on the low end of the true cost of CO2, as a recent commentary in Nature points out. By definition, it only includes what is known and currently quantifiable. It doesn't include many things we know are linked to a changing climate that aren't so easily quantified, such as respiratory illness from increased ozone pollution, the costs of oceans turning ever more acidic and impacts on labor productivity from extreme heat. If these were factored in, the $40 figure certainly would be higher.

And the list of what's missing in the current calculation goes on. For example, the models used to calculate the $40 figure are based on costs associated with higher average temperatures rather than costs of increased weather extremes. Taking extreme events seriously in the social cost calculation would increase the $40 figure further still.

We know climate change is and will be costly. How costly exactly is up for discussion, but it's clear that we should at the very least use the $40 per ton figure in any benefit-cost analysis that involves climate impacts. That's common sense, too.

This story originally appeared on the Ensia website. Smokestack image by Vadim Petrakov via Shutterstock.



How Clean Energy and Waste Management turn trash into green fuel

By Timothy O'Connor and Chloe Looker
Published April 11, 2014
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Tags: Energy & Climate, Innovation, More... Energy & Climate, Innovation, Leaders
How Clean Energy and Waste Management turn trash into green fuel

Modern society makes a lot of garbage. The decomposition of organic material from garbage in landfills releases methane gas, a potent global warming pollutant.

At the same time, the modern transportation system is powered mostly by fossil fuels and also releases global warming and toxic air pollution. Today, two California companies are turning rotting lemons (garbage) into lemonade (low carbon fuels for cars and trucks), and are showing that AB 32 creates a powerful incentive for new ideas and innovations.

Although the ultimate solution to the problem of waste generation and pollution from landfills must include reduction of waste going into the landfills, the fact is landfills aren't going anywhere any time soon.

Many landfills combust methane from their garbage in onsite flares or engines, or vent it through carbon absorption systems. This release of combusted methane adds to the negative public health and climate impacts of the sites.

Clean Energy and Waste Management Inc. are looking to change traditional management of landfill gas, deploying an innovation that can help reduce pollution from the transportation sector and lead to reduced landfill emissions. Both companies are capturing landfill gas and turning it into an economically valuable commodity that displaces gasoline and diesel fuel from the economy. Also, provided that leaks are prevented when the landfill gas is captured, processed and distributed to consumers, the work of these two companies can help the climate and help California reach its pollution reductions goals. In addition, because processed landfill burns much cleaner than petroleum based fuels, using it in cars and trucks can result in cleaner air and other public health benefits.

Clean Energy produces a fuel named Redeem, available in either compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas. Redeem is produced at landfills outside California and then pumped into pipelines for use in the state. The company has built and operates three biomethane facilities and estimates they will have 10 plants owned by third parties throughout the U.S. by the year's end. The low carbon fuel receives carbon credits from the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard when it is used in the state, creating an opportunity for additional value.

Waste Management, Inc., in partnership with Linde North America, a gases and engineering company, built a facility in 2009 at the Altamont Landfill in Altamont, Calif., which produces liquefied natural gas from biomethane. Of about 1,500 natural gas trucks that Waste Management has in its fleet, approximately half use the renewable liquefied natural gas. Where possible, Waste Management also makes liquefied natural gas available to the public. In total, according to Waste Management, the Altamont Landfill is responsible for 33,000 tons of CO2 reductions per year, the equivalent of eliminating emissions from nearly 7,000 passenger vehicles.

According to company representatives, one of the biggest reasons for their massive investments is California's global warming law, AB 32. According to Harrison Clay, president of Clean Energy Renewable Fuels, "our company has seen significant sales in California because of programs like AB 32 and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard — policies like these that put a price on carbon make Clean Energy's Redeem a winner."

Waste Management tells a similar story. As Chuck White, director of regulatory affairs at Waste Management states, their fuel generates credits for sale in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard market and their customers — residential, commercial and government agencies alike — appreciate that the trucks that collect their waste are emitting significantly fewer harmful greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fleets.

Other stakeholders are taking note of the good work that Waste Management and Clean Energy are doing. According to Julia Levin, executive director of the Bioenergy Association of California, "The work by Clean Energy and Waste Management on biomethane is a triple win for California. They are demonstrating that we can produce clean-burning natural gas fuel that significantly cuts greenhouse gas emissions, reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and cleans up our air, while simultaneously closing the loop on waste."

In addition to reducing pollution through new technology, Waste Management and Clean Energy are showing leadership in other areas. Along with EDF, both companies are participating in a study led by West Virginia University to measure methane leakage from natural gas vehicles and fueling stations, the results of which are expected to be submitted for publication this summer.  

This article originally appeared as part of EDF's Innovators Series. CNG image by mrfiza via Shutterstock.

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GreenBiz Forum 2014: NGOs share corporate partnership success

Presenters: Gwen Ruta, Alisa Gravitz, Phil Radford
Published April 11, 2014
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Tags: GreenBiz Forum, Nonprofit, Partnerships


While NGOs and corporations may seem unlikely partners, they are increasingly teaming up to drive signficant sustainability progress. At GreenBiz Forum 2014, leaders from three prominent NGOs — Alisa Gravitz, executive director for Green America; Phil Radford, executive director at Greenpeace; and Gwen Ruta, vice president of programs for the Environmental Defense Fund — spoke out about how they're leveraging such collaborations to create change in regards to water, greenhouse gas emissions, supply chains and more.

In the face of government inaction, these associations have been particularly helpful in creating the kind of high-impact change that NGOs fight for. "We've realized that we need to continue to mobilize people to push for legislation, but that ultimately, companies have a huge amount of power," Radford said. "In order for us to win, we need [them] as partners to push for principled solutions."

 

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Los Angeles, Washington, Atlanta top Energy Star ratings

By Elsa Wenzel
Published April 10, 2014
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Tags: Architecture & Design, Building Design, More... Architecture & Design, Building Design, Buildings, Cities, Energy Efficiency, Operations & Maintenance, Renewables, Water Use
Los Angeles, Washington, Atlanta top Energy Star ratings

Commercial buildings are notorious energy hogs, making up 17 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. That's according to the EPA, which just released its latest list of the cities with the most Energy Star-certified buildings.

As it has for six years, Los Angeles tops the list, now counting close to 450 certified buildings. It's followed by Washington, D.C., which held the No. 2 spot last year as well. Atlanta, New York City and San Francisco follow.

Chicago dropped to No. 6 from No. 3 in 2013. Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia and Houston round out the top 10.

The EPA says that buildings with Energy Star credentials saved more than $3.1 billion on utility bills in a year, the equivalent of taking 3.3 million cars off the road. A structure must perform in the top 25 percent of buildings of its kind around the nation in order to be Energy Star-certified.

Energy Star focuses on efficiency measures. It isn't quite on the bleeding edge when it comes to green building programs, as is something like the Living Building Challenge, which requires net-zero energy, waste and water. However, Energy Star is a prerequisite for LEED-EBOM certification — the popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings for existing buildings.

The 20 types of eligible buildings include offices, retail stores, hotels, data centers, bank branches and hospitals, as well elementary and high schools and places of worship. The EPA says that Energy Star offices cost 50 cents per square foot less to operate than others.

Energy Star-certified buildings include a wide range of corporate headquarters: Aflac, Dr. Pepper Snapple, FedEx, Hertz, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Owens Corning, Samsung, US Airways and Whole Foods Market. Non-corporate Energy Star headquarters include those for Boys & Girls Club, the National Geographic Society and the International Monetary Fund. Here is the latest full list of buildings.

More than 23,000 U.S. buildings were Energy Star-certified by the end of 2013 — more than 10 times as many as there were a decade ago. The Environmental Protection Agency launched Energy Star for buildings in 1995 and issued its first "top cities" list in 2009. 

Here are the top 25 city rankings:

1. Los Angeles
2. Washington, D.C.
3. Atlanta
4. New York City
5. San Francisco
6. Chicago
7. Dallas
8. Denver
9. Philadelphia
10. Houston
11. Charlotte, N.C.
12. Phoenix
13. Boston
14. Seattle
15. San Diego
16. Minneapolis
17. Sacramento, Calif.
18. Miami
19. Cincinnati
20. San Jose, Calif.
21. Columbus, Oh.
22. Riverside, Calif.
23. Detroit
24. Portland, Ore.
25. Louisville, Ky.

Photo of Los Angeles by holbox via Shutterstock

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John Mulrow

Business/Industrial Sustainability Specialist
Illinois Sustainable Technology Center
John Mulrow is the Business/Industrial Sustainability Specialist in the Emerging Technologies and Technical Assistance Program out of Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Oak Brook office. Prior to joining ISTC John was an associate at Cascadia Consulting Group, based in San Jose, Calif. There he worked with municipal and corporate clients to design and implement recycling, composting, energy efficiency, and other sustainability programs. Previously, John has worked at environmental and non-profit organizations in Illinois, Washington D.C. and Zambia. He is a native of Wheaton, Ill.
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Facing May deadline, carmakers invite action on conflict minerals

By Tanya Bolden
Published April 10, 2014
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Tags: Supply Chain, Transportation
Facing May deadline, carmakers invite action on conflict minerals

At the AIAG Corporate Responsibility Summit, where automakers and suppliers are meeting near Detroit this week, I joined with other members of the global auto industry to launch an awareness campaign designed to accelerate action on conflict minerals, identified in a new survey (PDF) as the most significant issue facing the industry this year.

Thousands of companies face a May 31 deadline to file a Conflict Minerals Report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as required by law, and many more who do business with them will be asked to report up the supply chain. With that in mind, the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) created the conflict minerals campaign microsite, our latest tool to engage new and existing audiences by simplifying this complex issue.

The when, why and how of industry action

At AIAG, where I lead our corporate responsibility program, we started working on conflict minerals with our more than 1,000 member companies more than three years ago, when the Dodd-Frank Act was passed and set reporting requirements in motion.

By April 2011, AIAG and six of our largest members — Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota — issued a call to action to thousands of suppliers, encouraging them to join industry efforts and find common solutions to the conflict minerals issue. Our aim, then and now, is to do whatever we can as an industry to ensure that global vehicle production does not support armed conflict in central Africa, where the conflict minerals tin, tantalum, gold and tungsten often are mined.

The new campaign microsite illustrates how the use of conflict minerals benefits warlords and harms people in central Africa; how conflict minerals end up in vehicles and other consumer products; what action the auto industry has taken on the issue; and how companies can engage with AIAG on conflict minerals and meet the reporting deadline. We then guide people to resources, created by AIAG and our member companies, on the need to get started on conflict minerals reporting and complete the process including FAQs (PDF) and a checklist (PDF), a case study (PDF) on the approach several automakers and suppliers are taking, and two reporting tools we endorse: the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative’s Conflict Minerals Reporting Template and the iPoint Conflict Minerals Platform.

The importance of accelerating action on conflict minerals is confirmed by AIAG’s new Global Automotive Corporate Responsibility Survey (PDF). Nearly half of companies polled have a policy on conflict minerals reporting — yet only half of those companies with a policy said they will meet the SEC deadline, as required by law. The online survey (conducted in March) of more than 550 professionals working on corporate responsibility (CR) in automotive, manufacturing and other industries in 40 countries also revealed that AIAG member companies are more likely to have a conflict minerals policy, and more likely to meet the reporting deadline.

Survey: Energy efficiency, working conditions and reporting important too

Overall, more than seven in 10 survey respondents said CR is a significant priority at their companies, including issues related to business ethics, energy use and conservation, environmental emissions, reporting and supply chain transparency. The survey also found that:

Reducing energy use and waste are the most important environmental goals

Practices are in place to ensure responsible working conditions

The benefits of CR reporting are recognized, but the practice can be more common and rigorous

Only 30 percent of companies produce a CR report, and 8 percent plan to do so — less than the sum of those that don’t produce a report (19 percent) or don’t know if their company produces a report (43 percent). Of those who do report, only 23 percent use the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Framework. Most (67 percent) don’t know if the GRI Framework is used.

The survey confirms that the global automotive industry is focused on significant corporate responsibility issues. But it also reinforces the need to work together and intensify our efforts in other areas, such as conflict minerals reporting.

Top image of car alternator by testing via Shutterstock

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