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Saving the rainforest, one Green Square at a time

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Connecting consumers to sustainability issues is a challenge across all sectors and one that the Green Squares initiative is aiming to solve when it comes to the retail industry and deforestation.

Across the world, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate and increasing in pace. In 2012, the rate of Amazonian deforestation increased by 88%, according to satellite analysis conducted by Brazilian authorities. The shocking figures highlight why decisive action needs to be taken and consumers effectively engaged with.

Green Squares – an environment-focused loyalty scheme – points out that an area of rainforest the size of 14 football pitches is destroyed every minute globally. If this pace continues, all of the world’s rainforests will have disappeared within 35 years.

As well as being diversity rich areas and regulating the world’s climate, rainforests provide a variety of food and many raw ingredients that play a vital role in medicine.

Despite deforestation, and in particular the protection of rainforests, being an issue many consumers are concerned about, many fail to connect their shopping habits and lifestyle to consequences being felt elsewhere in the world.

Green Squares aims to offer a simple and effective way of “balancing the environmental cost of the lifestyles that we lead”. It works by businesses sponsoring areas of threatened rainforest. This area is then given to customers, with each Green Square representing a real square foot of rainforest, for a 12-month period.

Neil Ward, chief executive of Green Squares, explains, “Companies will use the Green Square as part of a loyalty programme – you can think of it like a green Nectar point. It doesn’t cost the consumer anything. It is paid for by the corporate client to give to their consumer for several reasons; one is to differentiate from competition.”

By purchasing through Green Squares, consumers can play an active role in creating more sustainable business practices and boosting environmental considerations. The online platform allows users to see exactly where their Green Squares are and share their progress on social media channels.

Consumers can collect Green Squares when purchasing from a wide variety of companies, including household names such as John Lewis, Asda, Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Boots – allowing consumers choice whilst still providing an ethical shopping experience.

With ambitious plans to create a “product that is universally recognised” and grow the number of businesses involved, consumers are likely to see their choice grow rapidly.

The reception has been phenomenal, but it is now a question of getting the message out there,” Ward says.

Prior to launching, a consumer survey conducted by an independent company found that 95% of people, from a variety of demographics, supported the idea once they understood how vital the rainforest is for life, such as the fact that around a quarter of drugs comes from a forest derivative and the environment holds around half the world’s species.

Ward adds, “This is a real challenge, people aren’t aware of the damage being done to rainforests, you hear a lot about fracking and other environmental issues but the rainforest and deforestation has dropped off the agenda.

“When you think that deforestation actually contributes more carbon to the atmosphere – around 17% of carbon – than the whole worldwide transport system and yet nobody is doing anything about that.”

Another area of concern the survey highlighted was that consumers often feel as though their contribution will not have an impact or that they are unsure of how to proceed. Green Squares aims to bridge this gap.

Directly competing businesses will not all be able to use the initiative, for instance only one of the large supermarkets will be part of the scheme. Instead, Green Squares will examine which businesses have embraced green practices and use the initiative as a tool to encourage a sustainable approach.

As well as offering businesses a way to demonstrate their ethical credentials, the other side of Green Squares focuses on what to do with the money raised. Some 80% of the money is ringfenced for projects. The firm has set up its own non-profit organisation with a charter, to ensure that the scheme doesn’t dictate to the local people.

The local people decide what the money should be used for, with 16% being allocated to natural capital whilst the rest goes to social and economical development capital. The funding is operated through accountants Kingston Smith in order to avoid mismanagement of funds, corruption and bribery.

Ward continued, “This is a product that can be used by any company anywhere in the world. It has the potential to be very significant, with significant amounts of money generated from this. What I didn’t want to happen was to find that in succession somebody starts to become imperialistic.”

He concludes, “Initially Green Squares can be used to boost a company’s profitability but ultimately I would like to get it to a situation where a company has to do it because if it doesn’t do it, it will see a sales drop. Coupled with this we want to save as much rainforest as possible. At the moment we’ve got 46,000 hectares in one project and another half a million lined up, with an additional five million lined up.  

“I would like to save all of the rainforest but that is unrealistic to set as a goal, so the goal is to do as much as we can as quickly as we can.” 

Photo: Green Squares  

Further reading:

Ethical consumer market now worth £54bn in the UK – up 12% in 2012

Online shopping could increase transport emissions

Amazon rainforest inhales more carbon than it emits, NASA study finds

ArBolivia: a co-operative investment in the Amazon rainforest

Ending deforestation would cut global emissions by one-fifth

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2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

Environmentally Sustainable Furniture for Dummies

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eco-friendly sustainable furniture choices
Shutterstock / By Rawpixel.com | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/rawpixel

We probably don’t think a great deal about our furniture choices. I know that I tend to just buy whatever looks pretty, seems functional and fits my budget. That usually means a trip to a few showrooms and big warehouse stores, like Ikea.

But we have a responsibility to the planet. We can do better. There are three major ways that our furniture can help the environment:

  1. Purchase used and/or recycled furniture and extends the lifecycle of precious materials.
  2. Source furniture that is free of environmentally unsustainable products.
  3. Choose furniture that doesn’t require electricity – opting for manual transitioning.

By investing in environmentally sustainable, high-qualify furniture, you’ll be able to pass down items from generation to generation. This will save your heirs on the cost of furnishing their own home, and help to protect the environment from wasteful fad furniture that only lasts a season or two.

Natural and Recycled Furniture Materials

If you absolutely love the look of wood furniture, search for environmentally sustainable products. For example, locally sourced wood or bamboo can easily be replenished without requiring excessive international harvesting of precious woods that harm the environment.

Sustainable wood products are only sourced from companies and locations that have the ability to quickly replace harvested wood – providing a responsible resource for generations of manufacturers and consumers.

Recycled furniture can either be a gently used item from someone else’s home, or a new piece of furniture that’s been used from reclaimed sources. You’ve probably seen examples of this at your local park – cities are increasingly using recycled materials to create benches and picnic tables.

But recycled materials don’t have to feel rough or rustic. Items made from recycled wood are readily available for order online or in-store. And believe it or not, electronic waste can be reclaimed and crafted into beautiful pieces of modern furniture.

The only limitation on recycled furniture design is the imagination of the creator. If you want to do it yourself, check out this DIY recycled furniture pinterest board!

Avoid Harsh Chemicals that Harm the Environment

Did you know that many cushions are made of highly-flammable polyurethane? Furniture manufacturers help keep our butts out of the hot seat by treating the materials in cushions with fire-retardant toxins. Unfortunately this padding breaks down overtime and the dust is both toxic to humans and the environment.

There are multiple lines of eco-friendly furniture that avoid the use of flammable polyurethane – often substituting with organic cotton. Just understand that you’re going to be in for a bit of sticker shock – eco-friendly furniture, when purchased new from major brands, gets pricey.

If you can’t afford the pricetag, I recommend finding used furniture from the same product line. There are a ton of websites dedicated to helping eco-friendly consumers find used organic, responsibly sourced products – and that includes furniture.

You’ll also want to stay away from faux leather. Furniture made from pleather and other leather substitutes are heavily treated with chemicals. That’s never a win.

Hypo-allergenic stuffing, combine with traditional leather might be a decent compromise if you have to have the leather look to tie a room together. But be conscious of the fact that tanning is not an environmentally friendly process, so try to limit these materials in your design.

In conclusion, it’s up to you how crazy you want to go. I think that as long as you stay with used furniture, you’re on the right track – even if it isn’t environmentally perfect, it’s at least a sunk cost for the environment – the damage has been done and you’re extending its useful life. But I think the most important takeaway here is buy quality items that you can pass down to your next generation – if that means spending more on higher quality new items that are sustainably sourced, so be it.

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