ICYMI: Hectares of sustainable food news, ESG pro profiles & more

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ICYMI: Hectares of sustainable food news, ESG pro profiles & more

Dear readers: It's been a research-heavy week here at ICYMI HQ, with new studies hitting the wires that detail everything from profiles of ESG professionals to solutions for sustainable cities. But before we dig into that, let's start with a topic that's near and dear to my heart: food and agriculture.

Greener Food & Farming News

• Now you can learn where your Big Mac came from: Well, sort of. McDonald's UK this week announced that it would be offering members of the public the chance to become "Quality Scouts," and would be able to "follow the journey products make from farm to restaurant, meeting and interviewing farmers, food suppliers and McDonald's employees, before publishing their reports online later this year."

• Growing green at the office: Kyocera has found big success with its "Green Curtains" program of installing trellises on office buildings to reduce heat and provide shade to office workers. It's now taking the program a step further and planting food crops on those trellises, including gourds, cucumbers and peas on 28 Kyocera sites across Japan, China, Thailand and Brazil.

• A powerful solution to food waste: The Kroger Co., owner of several supermarket chains, unveiled this week an anaerobic digester system to convert food that can't be sold or donated into energy. The digester will take 55,000 tons of food waste per year and turn it into enough energy to provide 20 percent of the power needed for the company's 650,000-square-foot distribution center in Compton, Calif.

Speaking of food waste, 45 retailers in the U.K. last week signed on to the third phase of the Courtauld Commitment, pledging to reduce food waste by 1.1 million tonnes by 2015. All major U.K. grocery retailers --- Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Aldi and The Co-operative -- are among the signatories.

The dark side to "food safety" laws:  In the wake of a 2006 outbreak of e. coli that killed three and sickened nearly 300 people, the state of California enacted tough new legislation to try and prevent future outbreaks. Now, according to new research, not only did the regulations fail to prevent future outbreaks, they also destroyed wildlife habitat, polluted rivers and streams and degraded the soil. Further reading from people who knew better back then: Nina Planck and Michael Pollan.

Roundup of Recommended Research

• Why report? It's good for business. Why not? It's hard. A new report from Ernst & Young and the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship lays out the reasons [PDF] why companies should (and do) publish sustainability reports: Namely, transparency, competitive advantage, risk management, and stakeholder pressure. The report also details the main reasons why laggards don't: Namely, data is hard to get and internal support is sometimes lacking.

Farm photo by Rob Hainer on Shutterstock.

• Profiling ESG professionals: In keeping with the findings of our two-part article by Steve Voien published today, let's go ahead and call all you folks working on "sustainability" ESG professionals. And this week, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship released its 2013 Profile of the Professionals, highlighting who all of you people are, what you do, how much you like it, and so forth. (Our own John Davies publishes a similar look in January of each year, called The State of the Profession.) The good news: You all love what you do, and there are more of you than ever before. The less-good news: Budgets and staff are still tight, and the at-times Sisyphean nature of the struggle remains a big challenge.

• Profiling the Polluters: Ceres, NRDC and MJBradley have released the latest in their series of reports profiling emissions from the electric power sector, finding that overall air pollution emissions were down 70-plus percent since 1990, while greenhouse gas emissions are up 20 percent over 1990 (though those emissions have dropped slightly between 2008 and 2011). The report also details the methods used by the nation's four largest power generations -- AEP, Southern Company, NextEra Energy and Exelon -- to reduce their emissions.

• Solutions for more sustainable cities: At a conference in San Francisco this week, leaders from 22 cities around the world unveiled the most innovative solutions that cities have used to address their environmental and social challenges. Among the winners: Delivering Scalable Energy Efficiency in Global Cities by First Fuel in London; OPOS: One Planet Operating System for Cities by BioRegional in Tacoma, Wash.; and Sustain-A-Raisers! by Global Awareness Local Action in Rosario, Argentina.

Odds 'n' Sods

• The stealth approach to emissions reductions: Stories like this one, by Evan Lehmann in EENews, give me great hope that positive change is possible:

Cleveland's chamber of commerce is ready to launch an unusual program to help businesses get loans for energy efficiency retrofits. In Salt Lake City, the local chamber is promoting "clean air" to reduce gasoline use.

These out-of-the-ordinary pursuits by local business associations are increasingly being used in regions where the politics of climate change might not fly, but profits from clean energy do.

As ridiculous as it still seems to me that an entire swath of the political spectrum has ruled out well-established science based solely on partisan principle, it's nice to read that, in some quarters at least, "... many local business groups are seeing that environmental benefits are good for business." The whole article is full of little gems like that; be sure to check it out.

• Certified green clothes washers hit the market: The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and Underwriters Laboratories this week released the first third-party standard for environmentally friendlier washing machines LG has the first models to achieve the certification, which uses a lifecycle approach to identify six areas of impacts: materials, manufacturing and operations, energy and water consumption during use, innovation, use of consumables and end-of-life management.

• Be green, grow your green at home: It's long been a subtle irony that marijuana production -- that hippie-est of drugs -- has often been implicated in devastating environmental destruction, particularly in national and regional parks. But a new study published in the journal Energy Policy finds that growing 2.2 pounds of pot indoors is as carbon-intensive as driving across the country seven times. Maybe it's time for pot-farmer's markets...