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American Retirement Funds said to contribute to Deforestation



Deforestation by crustmania via Flickr

A new transparency tool, “Deforestation Free Funds,” shows which global mutual funds contain palm-oil-related holdings, the fastest growing cause of rainforest destruction today.


Friends of the Earth and As You Sow created this free online database to allow individual investors, for the first time ever, to determine their links to tropical deforestation and land grabs. The tool then empowers investors to demand deforestation-free investment options and responsible policies from workplace retirement plan managers and major fund families.

The search platform, which currently encompasses 6,500 global mutual funds, will be expanded in the future to include all market drivers of deforestation. Currently, some 10 percent of the global palm oil industry is financed by equity investors, including many mutual funds. As of June 2016, U.S. mutual funds had a net investment of more than $5 billion dollars in palm oil producers.

Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, said, “Investments in palm oil are embedded in our pension funds, IRAs, and 401(k)s but most of us are not even aware of it. This web tool empowers investors to know exactly what they own so that they can pressure fund managers to implement sustainable investment policies and find investment options that support a forest-friendly future.”

Investments in palm oil are embedded in our pension funds, IRAs, and 401(k)s but most of us are not even aware of it.

new report by Friends of the Earth, which accompanies the database, names the top 10 U.S. asset managers invested in palm oil production, including BlackRock, Vanguard, CalPERS, TIAA-CREF and Dimensional Fund Advisors. The report also shows that none of these firms have clear criteria for disclosing or avoiding risks related to deforestation and land rights. “Are You Invested in Exploitation?” outlines ways that these institutions can take greater responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their investments.

Jeff Conant, senior international forests program manager at Friends of the Earth, said, “When Americans put their hard-earned money in savings and retirement accounts, they believe they are preparing for a better future. But large asset managers undermine that very future, globally speaking, by putting this money into destructive agribusiness firms,  generally through complex investment chains and failures in due diligence. Financial managers must stop investing in companies that grab land from subsistence farmers and Indigenous people in order to install massive plantations with dangerous, low-wage labor.”

The rapid expansion of oil palm plantations across the tropics has caused social conflict and human rights abuses in countries like Indonesia, Liberia, Nigeria, Guatemala and Malaysia. Destruction of native rainforests is driving orangutans, Sumatran tigers and other endangered species to the edge of extinction. Processed palm oil is used ubiquitously in over half of the packaged consumer products on shelves today, including lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, cookies, breakfast bars, instant noodles and donuts. It can be very challenging for consumers to avoid palm oil; this joint effort focuses on shareholder advocacy as an avenue to greater tropical forest protections.

In the past few years, thanks to public pressure, dozens of consumer brands and palm oil traders have promised to stop burning and destroying forests, grabbing land, and abusing human rights. But promises have been slow to materialize, and the finance industry has yet to address its role in driving destructive palm oil expansion. Furthermore, as “Are You Invested in Exploitation?” argues, the palm oil sector has concentrated tremendous wealth and power in countries with weak democracies and poor human rights records. These conditions enable corruption–something that investors should studiously avoid.

The tool highlights socially responsible funds that carefully consider issues like the environment and human rights. Some of these funds invest in companies specifically to gain a voice at the table, engage management and create real improvements in the company’s behavior. If individuals look up their investments and aren’t satisfied, Deforestation Free Funds can show them better-rated alternatives, and amplify their calls for reform. Future evolutions of the website will include information about all commodified sources of deforestation, including timber, paper, cattle, soy and sugar.

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Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family



Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace --

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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How Climate Change Altered this Engineer’s Life



how climate change affect our lives
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Living the life of an engineer likely sounds pretty glamorous: you are educated and highly regarded, typically have high paying gigs, and with the breadth of knowledge and array of fields of specialty, your possibility for jobs is usually immense.  But what if there was something else that needed your attention? Something bigger than just being an engineer, going to work every day and doing the same technical tasks typically associated with the profession?

For Kevin McCroary, that is exactly how it played out.  A successful engineer, gainfully employed in a prosperous job, a simple trip to the Philippines made him see that there was a bigger issue at hand than using his engineer training in a traditional profession.  This bigger issue was that of climate change.  And working as a volunteer for underprivileged children in the Philippines, he saw first-hand the extensive pollution and poverty that existed here and that impacted the livelihood of these kids and their families.

Upon returning home, from his trip to the Philippines he had a new perspective of the impact we as individuals and as humanity have on the earth, and more than that Kevin wanted to know more.  He started to do some research and study these human-environmental interactions, and shortly thereafter ended up in Greenland.  There, he spoke to a man who had lost his home in a tsunami, and, who, through consistent weather tracking could indeed confirm that the current weather trends were “strange:” there was undeniably a general warming tendency happening in the arctic, causing an array of negative effects.

The combination of these observations, as well as his own research, led Kevin to conclude that something had to be done.  With that in mind, he launched his project Legend Bracelet.  The mission is simple: create a reminder of the legacy we are leaving behind.  As individuals and as humanity, we are leaving behind an imprint on the earth, and the magnitude of it is something that needs to be brought to the forefront of public awareness.  The idea is to have a bracelet that can serve as a daily reminder of the impact on the earth that each of us can have every day, regardless of how big or small.  The bracelet has two capsules: the first is filled with sand or earth, and the second is empty.  As the owner, you are to fill the empty one with your own earth, carrying it with you as a reminder and symbol of your connection and commitment to helping look after our environment.

We are all impacted by climate change, and we all have a responsibility to help.  And it can start with something as simple as putting on a bracelet.  Support Kevin on his Kickstarter campaign for Legend Bracelet, tell others about it, or take action in your own way and play your part in slowing down the effects of climate change.  You may think “but I’m just one person!” You are indeed.  But so is he.  Every change starts with one.

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