Unlike most big companies, Amazon has never published a sustainability report. Recent hires suggest that may be about to change – but will the retailer play ball?
Amazon has a reputation for forward thinking, but when it comes to sustainability, the company has often fallen behind the times. For years, it has weathered criticism over its worker treatment, recycling and other sustainability metrics.
Recently, however, the online retailer has signaled that a change may be on the way. Dara O’Rourke, a leading expert on global supply chains, has joined the company’s sustainability team.
O’Rourke, 48, joins three other notable corporate responsibility executives at Amazon. Kara Hurst, the company’s director of worldwide sustainability and social responsibility, is the former CEO of The Sustainability Consortium; she became Amazon’s first sustainability leader in 2014. Christine Bader, author of The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist, joined Amazon last August. And, in December, the company hired Christina Page, who led energy and sustainability strategy at Yahoo for eight years.
It’s a dream team, of sorts. The question is, will it change Amazon?
“They’ve hired great people,” says sustainability consultant Andrew Winston. “But we really don’t know what they’re doing. Amazon is a very quiet company.”
In keeping with that reputation, Amazon didn’t make any of the executives available for interviews. Hurst and O’Rourke – neither of whom had previously been known for their reticence – declined to respond to questions via email.
Ironically, O’Rourke’s career has largely been about increasing transparency. In the 90s, he drew attention to the issue of sweatshops in developing countries by exposing what he called “exploitative and hazardous working conditions” in factories in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, notably those supplying Nike. He later co-founded Good Guide, which rates the environmental and social performance of consumer products, enabling buyers to make well-informed choices. Since 2003, he has taught environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dan Viederman, the chief executive of Verite, a nonprofit that aims to eliminating child labor, slavery and dangerous working conditions from global supply chains, says of O’Rourke: “He’s one of the most knowledgeable and independent people in the field.”
At Amazon, O’Rourke will be a senior principal scientist, leading a team called Sustainability Science, a spokesman for the company said. Amazon now has more than 50 people in its sustainability group, working on six teams: social responsibility, energy and environment, customer packaging experience, sustainability services, sustainability technology and sustainability science. A spokesman declined to elaborate on what each team does, but said the company expects its sustainability operation to grow significantly this year.
There’s certainly plenty to do. For years, Amazon has been mostly absent from the corporate responsibility conversation. In terms of corporate sustainability, Amazon continues to lag behind its competitors in the internet and technology industry, such as Apple and Microsoft, as well as rival brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy and Walmart.
Unlike most big companies, it has never published a sustainability report, nor has it reported on its carbon emissions to the CDP, an investor-backed nonprofit that has collected the most comprehensive set of global environmental data. It’s also not made itself a visible player in the environmental arena. Walmart, its biggest retail rival, has partnerships with respected nonprofits like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and aggressively works to drive efficiencies in its stores and fleet, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain. Best Buy has an industry-leading electronics recycling program. On recycling, Barbara Kyle, the national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, has called Amazon the “king of laggards”.
Its human rights record is harder to discern: unlike many companies that rely on global supply chains, Amazon does not disclose its overseas suppliers or publish the results of factory audits. Domestically, it is reputed to be a brutal place to work. Working conditions in its warehouses have been criticized in a series of stories in the Morning Call, a Pennsylvania newspaper, as well as by Mother Jones and Harper’s. White collar workers are under pressure, too, according to an an investigative story last year in the New York Times that was strongly disputed by Amazon.
All of this might have been understandable during Amazon’s startup days, but the company is now 20 years old and – at last count – the seventh largest US company by market capitalization, just ahead of Johnson & Johnson and GE.
That said, Amazon has recently taken steps towards recognizing its social and environmental responsibility. It has invested in wind and solar farms, and says that 40% of its electricity will come from renewable sources by the end of 2016. “They’re now on the short list of companies that buy large amounts of renewables,” says Winston.
The company headquarters are Leed certified, and it promotes recyclable packaging. Citing a single study from 2009, it says online shopping is inherently more environmentally friendly than traditional retailing.
Yet Amazon Prime, a subscription service that offers free shipping and has helped drive the company’s rapid growth, remains a problem according to some environmental advocates. “Free shipping means people don’t think about the consequences of shipping,” says Amy Larkin, a former Greenpeace executive and author of Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy. In reality, she notes, shipping isn’t “free” – it requires packaging, generates carbon emissions and may create waste – and a sustainable economy would account for those costs.
It’s not yet clear how Hurst and her team will advance Amazon’s sustainability efforts. But another technology company – Apple – has shown that getting the right people in place can turn around a company’s sustainability practices. Lisa Jackson, the former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief, has worked wonders for Apple, although to do so she needed the backing of the company’s new chief executive, Tim Cook. Apple is now transparent about its supply chain, a major buyer of renewable energy and a visible advocate for climate action.
Speaking of his company’s years of inertia, Cook said that “the time for inaction has passed”. It remains to be seen if, with his new sustainability team, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is echoing the sentiment.
Belgotex Floors’ recently released their Sustainability Report detailing their ongoing ‘Green Journey’ to ensure a greener tomorrow for all its stakeholders.
Although their growing “Eco collection” of carpets, backings and underlays contributes towards green design, Belgotex’s focus is more on resource efficiency and cleaner production than just producing a range of green materials.
Belgotex is cognisant of the fact that floorcoverings (carpets) can have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of humans and the environment and therefore it designs and develops floorcoverings under the following sustainable guidelines:
- Extending the life of an existing product through responsible manufacturing techniques and processes.
- Developing products that can be reworked in their existing form.
- Using raw materials that can be recycled at the end of their useful aesthetic life.
- Using recycled content whenever it is both economically and environmentally feasible.
Certified to ISO14001 standards, the company produces a range of flooring products that satisfy criteria for both GBCSA- Materials credits [EMS, recycled content, and
product stewardship], as well as for Indoor Environment Quality credits [by meeting the strict requirements for volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.] In their continued efforts to improve their production processes and products Belgotex centres its operations based on the 3 pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) and it is here where the greatest gains in terms of sustainability are being made.
“At Belgotex, sustainability extends way beyond mere environmental management and traditional recycling,” comments Kevin Walsh, Chief Operations Officer (COO) at Belgotex.
“Our main goal is to operate a green factory wherever economically and environmentally feasible,” he explains.
Careful examination of their operations identified the use of raw materials, energy management, carbon management, water management and air quality as having significant considerations.
Analysis of the use of natural resources in their manufacturing operations, as well as the energy used for that production results in continuous investment in new technology to enhance existing products and develop new ones. These upgrades have reduced energy and/or raw material consumption, without any loss of productivity or quality.
A number of key inputs to Belgotex’s products are derived from non-renewable fossil fuel products. To minimise the risks posed by raw material depletion and climate change, Belgotex are constantly seeking out new, more sustainable inputs and are committed to innovation within its product lines and manufacturing processes. Belgotex continues to strive to increase recycled content within its product range by implementing innovative raw material input strategies.
The raw materials for various “green” eco-products are derived from post-industrial and post-consumer waste such as Green underlay, Sportec Color rubber flooring and Grimebuster walk-off mats. The bestselling Berber Point 920 and other needlepunch ranges are made with a blend of polypropylene and recycled Eco Fibre. This Eco-fibre is manufactured using post production waste, which is re-pelletized(utilising the cutting edge Erema recycling machinery). The input of this recycled content in their production process considerably lowers the embodied energy associated with virgin raw material use. Nexbac Eco modular tile backing, contain up to 70% post-industrial waste (fly-ash) used as a filler in the backing.
Apart from the raw material supply, energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions are another major consideration, since the majority of Belgotex’s manufacturing processes are driven by fossil fuels. In an attempt to manage this risk and a potential carbon tax liability, Belgotex aims to positively manage this risk by tracking and mitigating its effects on the environment. In its 6th year of quantifying its carbon footprint, Belgotex is pleased to announce a ~ 16% reduction in its carbon footprint, due to the integrated carbon management systems implemented.
Belgotex incorporated a resource efficiency and cleaner production strategy that has seen the implementation of numerous initiatives that has resulted in the reduction of energy consumption by ~12%. This was achieved by amongst others, the R17 million roof-mounted solar plant that offset ~2.5% of carbon emissions, reducing them by 1386 tons per annum. A further 5% reduction target is anticipated with the possible installation of another 1MW solar plant.
A comprehensive water management system was implemented, reducing the factory’s water consumption by about 45% since 2009. A rain water harvesting initiative is currently being rolled out, for completion during the year. Many other water saving initiatives such as 100% solution dyed yarn production has resulted in a significant water, chemical and energy savings
Waste minimisation programmes form part of our EMS (ISO14001). Waste is monitored and measured continuously to ensure progress targets are met.
In line with the well-known 3R’s of waste management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – Belgotex seek to reduce inputs (for energy/resources), reuse materials and recycle waste from its operations wherever possible.
Stackable, mobile metal crates have replaced cardboard boxes or packaging of any kind in their yarn processing operations, reducing the amount of packaging to be recycled or sent to landfills. Bulk storage silos and stretch wrap are used wherever possible to eliminate the need for raw material packaging.
Belgotex’s Flooring Reclamation programme collects used or uplifted carpets from central collections points to be cleaned and sent to NGO’s such as KZN Wildlands for re-use and redistribution to impoverished communities in their “Green-preneur” project. Acquisition of innovative bit-winders has seen the elimination of a complete stream of waste by creating grade 1 yarn from waste creel-ends.
The acquisition of a new R5-million Erema machine enables the company to recycle production waste back into Eco fibre which is used in the production of standard ranges. Effectively reducing their waste rates from their carpet production processes to close to zero, the Erema machine offers up to 20% energy savings, resulting in lower production costs and reduced CO2 emissions.
Indoor Air Quality
Belgotex carpets and underlays have been tested and contain no harmful volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and meet the strict requirements for the Green Building Council’s indoor environmental quality.
Rest assured, whatever floor you choose from Belgotex Floors, it will always be green.
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MTN Group’s efforts to advance social development in its markets through the integration of sustainable business practices into day-to-day activities, is yielding positive outcomes, according to the company.
The company’s Sustainability Report for the year ended 31 December 2014 was released on 26 March 2015 and details how MTN’s voice and data products and services are creating sustainable economic value in its markets.
MTN Group President and CEO, Sifiso Dabengwa, states in the report that a concerted effort is being made to adapt the business in order to enable digital innovation to drive socio-economic change. “The ubiquitous availability of mobile devices means people can now drive digital innovation from anywhere in the world. This level of transformation demands a shift in thinking, a change in traditional ways of working and delivering services,” he said.
For its part, MTN has made significant developments in enabling digital inclusion and access to basic financial, m-health and m-insurance services across MTN’s markets. In this regard, 1,9 million affordable handsets were made available to customers, and 4 000 farmers received payment for cotton produce via MTN Mobile Money in 2014. In Nigeria, MTN offers Y’ello Life insurance for affordable cover to individuals and Y’ello Biz for easily accessible small business insurance protection, while m-health services are available in in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Yemen and Zambia.
Also contained in the report is information on how MTN is contributing to sustainable societies by ensuring safe and healthy living and working environments for employees, customers, communities and operations, as well as the strides made by MTN towards becoming a more eco-responsible business.
To this end, the company reduced and avoided more than 29 000 tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2014, which is the equivalent of taking 3 249 diesel cars off the road for one year. The report states that in the year, MTN realised R49,6 million savings from energy efficiency and green energy investments. In addition, 326 tonnes of electronic and electrical waste was handed over to small and medium sized e-waste handlers and recyclers.
Dabengwa states that while progress has been made, the company has a long way to go before comfortably addressing all of its material sustainability prerogatives, and MTN will continue to focus on these.
“We will continue to improve our environmental governance and management efforts to mitigate our physical, financial and regulatory risks and impact. We also want to further invest in digital skills development to improve our technical capabilities for more accessible, affordable and quality communications for our customers. Business partnerships remain a critical element of ensuring we can have a positive impact around scale and scope, and to extend the benefits of the digital society to all sectors,” he said.
The full MTN Group Limited Annual Sustainability Report for 2014 is available on www.MTN.com
Source: IT News Africa
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