High fashion flirts with eco, PepsiCo says no to Super Bowl advertising and Nokia’s Greenpeace tech award win

Unctad gets fashionable

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s biotrade initiative got all dolled up in January to celebrate the UN’s 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, replete with an “EcoChic” fashion show, plus a more demure business seminar. For two days, 500 high-profile guests from government, international organisations and the fashion and cosmetics industries convened in Geneva. They discussed how they can better support and promote biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

After a day of talks on issues such as “the rise of the ethical consumer and eco-fashion” and “luxury brands as sustainable role models”, the programme closed with a fashion show. This featured 50 looks from high-fashion designers including Diane Von Furstenberg and Thakoon. Sustainable fashion labels such as Edun, Noir and Ciel donated pieces from their latest collections. The programme closed with an exhibition celebrating sustainable fashion and accessories.

Eduardo Escobedo, economic affairs officer at Unctad, says the initiative allowed companies and organisations to walk in the fashion industry’s shoes and gain a fresh perspective on how they can help promote biodiversity conservation through their own global operations, as well as send that message to their consumers.

The luxury fashion industry is in a unique position. Escobedo says that because the industry handles small volumes of materials, it can more easily source them sustainably than mass-market brands.

“This initiative seeks to show in a practical way that we depend on biodiversity on a daily basis for what we wear, what we eat, what we use, because biodiversity is all around us,” Escobedo says. “It’s not something that’s only found in the Amazon, the Galapagos Islands or Madagascar. Our daily choices as consumers and users of biodiversity have a direct impact on it.”

PepsiCo skips the Super Bowl

America’s second biggest drinks brand is opting out of the game after a 23-year run. Instead of splurging on advertising during this year’s Super Bowl, PepsiCo partnered with non-profit groups DoSomething.org, CityYear and Global Giving in its Refresh Project. The online campaign enables consumers, companies and NGOs to submit up to 1,000 proposals a month related to health, environment or education. The public then votes on which will get a piece of the $20m dollar pie.

A sampling of the top submitted proposals include shipping 5,000 cases of Girl Scout cookies to US troops, and a cross-country cycling trip where participants build houses along the way to drive awareness about the dearth of affordable housing in America. Each month Pepsi has committed itself to awarding two $250,000 grants, ten $50,000 grants and ten $25,000 grants.

“In 2010, each of our beverage brands has a strategy and marketing platform that will be less about a singular event and more about a movement,” says Pepsi’s Nicole Bradley.

This is quite a departure for PepsiCo, which spent about $30m in 2009 for a few precious primetime advertising minutes. But in the context of a still recovering economy Pepsi is changing tactics, investing in a more philanthropic (and cost-effective) approach to advertising. Only Frito-Lay, owned by PepsiCo, will keep its advertising on game day.

PepsiCo is taking a bit of a risk by leaving the mega Super Bowl market for an interactive cause-marketing campaign. But the risk could well prove worthwhile, not only financially but also because it could lead to a stronger sustainable brand identity for the drinks giant.

Nokia leads in Greenpeace award

It’s rather fitting that Greenpeace released its latest Guide to Greener Electronics in the city of lights – yep, that’s right, Vegas. The guide seeks to cut through the greenwash and highlight companies that commit to sustainability through actions such as recycling outmoded electronics and eliminating hazardous substances from their products.

This year Greenpeace upped the ante by adding new criteria on energy and whether companies support legislation banning the use of toxic chemicals such as PVC from electronics. This year Nokia took first place, followed by Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, Phillips and Apple (which jumped from 9th place last year). With the leaders come the laggards, including Nintendo, Lenovo and Microsoft. (Somebody should text Bill G.)

So what’s the hope for this report? “We want a race to the top, not the bottom,” says Greenpeace’s Daniel Kessler. “We know these companies are competitive and are innovators. By competing and through public pressure, we know the electronics sector can clean up its act.”

H&M’s organic cotton conundrum

H&M is back in the hot seat. As highlighted in February’s Ethical Corporation, the Swedish high-street retailer was red flagged recently when it was suggested that one of its New York stores tossed – rather than donated or recycled – its unsold garments. What’s more, staff allegedly put holes in the garments to prevent non-customers from wearing them, which includes the city’s homeless facing below-freezing temperatures.

This time, H&M is being challenged by the German edition of the Financial Times because its line of certified organic cotton tested positive for genetically modified cotton, a big no-no in organic.

Roughly 30% of the tested H&M samples contained genetically modified cotton, according to Impetus, an independent lab in Germany. The contaminated cotton was ultimately traced to India, which supplies over half the world’s organic cotton.

While it’s not unheard of that genetically modified cotton could have slipped into an organic batch – and an H&M rep apparently conceded that this might have happened – the real onus is on the faulty monitoring systems of these global supply chains, which need to be more robust. Hopefully this time H&M and others have learned their lesson.

WEF announces a new sustainable partnership

In day one of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Nike and nine other partners introduced a pioneering move in sustainability. The initiative is GreenXchange (GX), a web-based marketplace that enables companies to share intellectual property in the hopes of spurring on better and more sustainable business solutions.

By exchanging research and best practice, GX helps to minimise redundancies and inefficiencies in innovation, making way for “more profitable and more meaningful business opportunities”. Companies can also hand-pick the type of licensing they prefer, whether it be research and attribution recognition or non-competitive usage. So it appears that everyone’s happy, right?

Apparently, Nike’s lawyers were initially less than thrilled with the idea. But they later recognised that GX will not only generate great environmental benefits through a wave of new sustainable solutions, but it also gives a competitive advantage to the companies sharing their precious patents, as all members can improve upon the patents and subsequently must share the superior version with everyone. Sustainable Air Jordans for everyone!

Google gets into … renewables?

Given the transformative power of Google, perhaps it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the web search and technology powerhouse is expanding its horizons – and its commitment to clean energy – by developing renewable energy technologies. Or should it?

Google’s self-titled green energy czar Bill Weihl explains that the company wants to develop clean technologies that can both reduce its carbon emissions and lower its overall energy costs which, given the enormousness of Google’s operations, are no small potatoes.

Google has demonstrated its strong commitment to the environment for quite some time now by, for example, investing in renewable energy companies through Google.org and working to make its operations carbon neutral.

Covergirl comes clean

American beauty brand Covergirl has joined parent company P&G’s signature philanthropic cause, the Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CDSW) programme, which helps prevent water-related diseases by providing clean drinking water to children in developing nations. In a show of support, Covergirl launched the Clean Makeup for Clean Water campaign and donated $500,000 to boot, which will bring 50m litres of clean water to children in need.

Covergirl is also getting its customers involved through an online contest where they submit short videos that show how they’ve helped improve the world and “why this makes you beautiful, inside and out”. But the real beauty is in the product: Covergirl will donate a week’s worth of clean drinking water for every entry received. The winners also walk away with a photo shoot and a trip to Africa on the next Clean Makeup for Clean Water mission.

Obama’s clean tech jobs push

The US president, Barack Obama, has made a big push for clean energy jobs by awarding $2.3bn in tax credits to American clean energy manufacturing projects. So far, 183 projects in 43 states have been competitively selected through a merit review process in areas including solar, wind, and geothermal energy equipment; fuel cells, microturbines and batteries; and electric cars, to name but a few.

One example in the solar energy category comes from PPG Industries, which will use the credits to produce a double anti-reflective coating for glass to make solar cells more efficient. The projects will also be matched by the private sector at about $5bn, bringing total investment to $7.7bn.

The hope is that these credits will give a needed boost to America’s renewable energy and clean technology manufacturing sectors, and can help the US double its renewable energy use over the next three years, which is an Obama goal.

The boost couldn’t come any sooner. According to the environmental research group Worldwatch, China is expected to be the global leader in renewable energy technologies in the next few years, which many attribute to its government’s strong support for renewable energy. Obama is definitely feeling the heat.

“The [tax credit] awards … will help close the clean energy gap that has grown between America and other nations while creating good jobs, reducing our carbon emissions, and increasing our energy security,” Obama says.

Green investment programmes have their critics, who argue that they don’t create a net gain in real jobs. So if the US does indeed want to up its game, the government should keep putting its money where its green mouth is.

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