Moves from the Climate Exchange plc, National Ganga River Basin Authority, BASF and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month

Bangladesh breakers

The dirty business of ship breaking in Bangladesh was disrupted for ten days at the beginning of March by strikes and protests against stricter environmental conditions. Bangladesh’s high court in January told the government to enforce an order that would have seen the closure of ship breaking yards without environmental certification – in other words, most of them.

However, Jafar Alam, president of Bangladesh Ship Breakers’ Association, said the yards would be reopened “after a successful discussion with [the] commerce ministry on the withdrawal of the order”. Campaign groups say the onerous work of ship breaking is done by vulnerable migrant workers, including children, and deaths and serious injuries are common.

Marks sparks

Marks & Spencer is scaling up its plan to become the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015. It has added 80 pledges to its Plan A eco-strategy, including an initiative to ensure that all products it sells have at least one recognised sustainability label, and a scheme to insulate employees’ homes at company cost.

M&S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose says the firm had already saved £50m by being more green and efficient, and that the additional commitments would spread the greenness throughout M&S’s network of 2,000 suppliers. (See also ethical brands briefing)

E-waste worries

“Software bloat” is causing millions of personal computers to be unnecessarily scrapped, leading to an environmentally damaging e-waste mountain, according to researchers at Nottingham University Business School.

The short shelf life of PCs is caused in part by software developers creating programmes that use more processing power and memory than needed, resulting in consumers being forced to upgrade their equipment. Changes to electronic document formats, meaning they can only be read by newer software, also contribute to computers being rendered obsolete before their time.

E-waste from rich countries often piles up in poorer places, such as the Chinese city of Guiyu, the world’s alleged e-waste capital, where computers are stripped down by hand in hazardous conditions. The United Nations Environment Programme said the e-waste mountain was growing by about 40m tonnes a year, but that developing countries could benefit if they are able to manage the waste and recycle valuable materials from it.

On target

The European commission says that the EU should adopt five headline targets as part of a sustainable development push. The targets, to be met by 2020, would be legally binding, meaning potential fines for countries that fall short.

Some goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% relative to 1990 levels, have been set out in legislation already. But the EU could also aim to boost research spending to 3% of GDP, send at least 40% of the population to university, and lift 20 million Europeans out of poverty. EU countries will discuss the plans before agreeing national targets.

Meanwhile, Europe’s low-carbon economy plans got a boost with the publication of forecasts showing that the EU should comfortably meet another target, of generating 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Germany and Spain are apparently set to be the star performers, generating enough surplus renewable power to make up for the weaker performance of laggards such as Belgium and Italy.

Cap-and-trade profits

Climate Exchange plc, the London-based operator of the European Climate Exchange and the Chicago Climate Exchange, moved into profit for the first time in 2009, according to results published in March. The profit of £2.2m compares to a £2.5m loss in 2008. The firm said the outlook was rosy for its business of emissions trading, despite the limited outcome of December’s Copenhagen climate conference, because “political momentum” was returning to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Political momentum may be building, but public concern about climate change seems to be ebbing, a Gallup poll of American attitudes showed. The survey, conducted March 4-7, showed that 48% of Americans believe the threat of global warming is exaggerated, compared to 41% before the Copenhagen summit.

Ganges go ahead

India is moving ahead with its plans to clean up the Ganges river basin, which is polluted by waste ranging from industrial effluents to the remains of cremated corpses. The National Ganga River Basin Authority in early March approved $310m of projects to improve sewage management, clear canals and build crematoria along the river so that bodies are no longer burned on funeral pyres. The aim is that by 2020 no untreated effluent goes into the Ganges.

Don’t blame the florists

Flower farms situated around Kenya’s Lake Naivasha have been cleared of causing mass deaths of fish by pesticide dumping. A government report found that, rather than pollution from the farms, the lake’s shrinking area and inflows of sewage caused by flooding had led to the devastation of fish stocks.

Flower farmers have welcomed the report, saying that if it had pointed the finger of blame at them, the result could have been a consumer boycott in countries such the UK and Germany, where most Kenyan cut flowers end up. However, a government committee ordered further studies on the poor state of Lake Naivasha, the highest of the Rift Valley lakes, at nearly two kilometres above sea level.

Indonesian corruption

A survey of more than 2,000 Asian business executives has found Indonesia to be the most corrupt country in south-east Asia, slightly ahead of Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. The least-corrupt economies in the region are Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.

The survey, conducted by Hong Kong’s Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, marked Indonesia at 9.27 out of ten, where higher scores indicate the most corruption. By international comparison, the US is scored at 3.42, Japan at 3.49 and China at 6.52, though measuring corruption in China is “nothing more than guesswork” the consultancy admitted.

BASF’s bottom line

The world’s biggest chemicals firm BASF published its 2009 report in March, stamped with an A+ rating from the Global Reporting Initiative. BASF reports jointly on its business performance and its environmental and social performance. Savings from energy efficiency measures boosted the company’s bottom line by around £35m showing, BASF says, that “sustainable development [is] a success factor even in difficult times”.

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