Moves from the European Union, Church of England, IBM, Intel and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month

Cap-and-trade: the debate continues

Despite the fractious conclusion to December’s Copenhagen climate conference, the governments in two of the world’s most carbon-intensive countries, Australia and the US, continue in their efforts to introduce emissions trading systems. Australia’s house of representatives backed for the third time prime minister Kevin Rudd’s cap-and-trade plans, but these are likely to be rejected once again by the Australian senate. Anti-cap-and-trade forces have gathered around Tony Abbott, leader of Australia’s opposition, who has called emissions trading a “great big new tax on everything”.
Meanwhile, in the US, in an Economic Report of the President, Barack Obama reiterated his support for cap-and-trade, saying it would “create new incentives to finally make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy in America”. The US climate bill is under discussion in the Senate.

Phish supper

In the European Union, which already has an emissions trading system, different problems have come to light. Cap-and-trade participants have been subject to “phishing” attacks, leading some of them to reveal their passwords to cyber-criminals.
In Germany, seven ETS participants naively gave up their access codes, enabling fraudsters to transfer and sell their carbon credits. The criminals netted a cool €3.2m, the German Emissions Trading Authority says.

Church pulls out

The Church of England says it will sell its £3.8m interest in Vedanta, a FTSE 100 company that mines copper, iron ore and other metals in Australia, India and Zambia. The church objects to Vedanta’s plans for open-cast mining on Niyamgiri mountain in Orissa, India, which will threaten the livelihoods of the Dongria Kondh tribe.

The church says it had been in discussions with Vedanta for six months, but the company refused to show “the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect”, according to John Reynolds of the church’s ethical investment advisory group. (See also this month’s heavy industry briefing)

Workplace happiness good for health

Good employment practice is one of the keys to longer life, according to a UK government-sponsored investigation into health inequalities in England. The review, led by Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, finds that in England’s poorest districts, people can expect to die seven years earlier than their wealthier counterparts. Unemployment contributes to poor health, while employees live longer if they earn sufficiently, have opportunities for in-work development, are protected from unhealthy working conditions, and are able to balance work and family life. The government should provide incentives for “fair employment and good work for all”, the review says.


Paper has been getting a bad press, and claims such as “e-billing is more environmentally friendly” can be misleading, a paper-industry group has said. Two Sides, which supports the responsible production and use of print and paper, says paper is renewable and recyclable, and many corporate claims about the benefits of being “paper-free” are nothing more than greenwash.

According to Martyn Eustace of Two Sides: “Considering all the environmental costs of electronic communication, print and paper may well be the environmentally sustainable way to communicate.”

Top of the class

Technology giants IBM and Intel were the world’s most ethical corporations in 2009, according to rankings published in January by Swiss analysts Covalence. The Covalence ranking system assesses firms on criteria such as their adherence to international agreements, working conditions, and the impact of their production processes and products. In the 2009 list, HSBC and Marks & Spencer are in third and fourth place out of the 581 corporations surveyed, while Chevron, Halliburton and Monsanto get the wooden spoons.

No China crisis

Emergency measures to reduce pollution will ensure that the air is sweeter for visitors to the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, from May 1 to October 31. The city authorities have already banned black-smoke-belching vehicles, and have pledged to close factories, and stop construction and the clearing of farmers’ fields by burning, if air quality is not good enough. The Expo expects to attract 70 million visitors to its large site in the heart of the city. Chinese authorities took similar measures to clean up the air ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. (See Paul French)

Green police

Business beware. The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has introduced to parliament the Environmental Civil Sanctions (England) Order 2010. This will give two agencies, the Environment Agency and Natural England, more powers to penalise businesses that contravene environmental laws. Until now, smaller-scale environmental breaches would be punished either by dispatching stern letters, or by dragging wrongdoers to court, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Defra hopes new rules will be in place by April, giving the authorities powers to levy fines up to £250,000, or close businesses down until environmental infringements are corrected.

Plugged in

Argentina, Bolivia and Chile may be about to cash in on the likely boom in electric vehicles. They are sitting on large deposits of lithium, a metal required for rechargeable batteries. Bolivia in particular has a huge deposit at the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, but investment totalling $500m will be needed before it can be exploited. European Union industry ministers gave a fillip to electric cars in February, when they agreed to start work on a common strategy to promote fossil-fuel-free motoring.

Bluefin ban backed

The European parliament has lent its backing to a ban on the international trade in endangered bluefin tuna. A moratorium will be considered at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha in March. A number of EU countries favour a ban, though the bloc as a whole has yet to commit itself.

MEPs also say there should be a general prohibition on any trade involving other endangered animals, such as polar bears, tigers and sharks, while there should be no consideration of trade in ivory until 2028 at the earliest.

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