Moves from Trafigura, Shell, Vattenfall, Total and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month

Trafigura pays up

Trafigura has settled a class action brought in the UK by thousands of people from Ivory Coast regarding a toxic spill in 2006. A ship hired by Trafigura pumped out thousands of tonnes of poisonous waste near Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital. Local people said they became ill as a result of exposure to the toxins. Trafigura maintains that the waste caused only relatively mild flu-like symptoms. The oil company will pay out £30m, which amounts to about £1,000 per victim.

Hydrogen powered

Oil firms Shell and Total, power generator Vattenfall, and carmaker Daimler are among eight companies that have signed a memorandum of understanding with German transport minister Wolfgang Tiefensee to develop a national hydrogen fuel network for vehicles.

The consortium will aim by 2015 to enable several hundred thousand cars to run on the German road network by setting up hydrogen fuelling stations, and promoting electric vehicles fitted with hydrogen fuel cells. Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche says the scheme could lead to “widespread adoption” of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Green GDP

Societies should measure their progress using an indicator that does not just evaluate economic growth, the European commission said in September. The commission said it would propose in 2010 a new indicator that will be quoted as a headline figure as often as GDP, but will encompass issues such as nations’ greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, air pollution, water use and waste generation.

The French government has been thinking along the same lines. President Nicolas Sarkozy in September put forward what he called a “revolutionary” plan to measure the progress of nations on the basis of wellbeing. Sarkozy was announcing the results of a study he commissioned from former World Bank chief economist Joseph E Stiglitz.

Corruption reported

Anti-corruption campaigning NGO Transparency International’s annual roundup of global corruption has been published. Global Corruption Report 2009 states that in developing and transition countries alone, companies colluding with corrupt politicians and government officials, have supplied bribes estimated at up to $40 billion annually. The report concludes that corrupt practices remain a destructive force, and that bribery, price-fixing cartels and undue influence on public policy is costing billions and obstructing the path towards sustainable economic growth.

Small and compact

The principles of the United Nations Global Compact, dealing with how companies can incorporate labour standards, human rights, environment and anti-corruption as part of their way of doing business, are not just for big corporations, according to a report from the UN Development Programme’s Nordic office, and Denmark’s foreign ministry. The report highlights the experience of ten Danish small and medium-sized enterprises in implementing the Global Compact, finding that cross-sector partnerships can be key to effective implementation.

Brain drain

The UK government should not be too quick to give away British low-carbon innovations at the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen in December, according to the Confederation of British Industry. Although there is an impetus to tackle climate change by quickly sharing low-carbon innovation, the current intellectual property regime is working, and “any compulsory licensing of these technologies would be counter-productive and damaging in the longer term,” CBI deputy director-general John Cridland says.

Meanwhile, the European commission says EU and other wealthy nation governments should agree at Copenhagen to contribute to a fund of up to €100bn annually by 2020 for climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Governments could raise money for their poorer counterparts by auctioning emission allowances to companies participating in carbon markets.

Local brands for local people

Is localwashing the new greenwashing? Activists in the US have highlighted an increasing trend of multinational corporations rebranding their outlets and products as “local”, in order to address concerns about big-brand dominance and the environmental impact of food-miles. Examples of localwashing include Starbucks reopening stores in Seattle under names such as 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, and Venezuelan petroleum firm Citgo (proprietor: H Chavez) promoting its US fuelling stations as “Local. Loyal. Like it should be”.

Smart grids

Technology giant Siemens has announced a five-year plan to grab 20% of the world smart grid market by 2014. Smart grids are power-supply network that maximise efficiency by employing smart metering, intelligent infrastructure and controls, and intelligent data management.

Where the wind blows

GE is targeting wind power. It has completed the purchase of ScanWind, a Swedish-Norwegian wind turbine firm. Industry experts predict a 20-fold global increase by 2020 in offshore wind.

The focus on renewables was reinforced by Greenpeace with the release in September of a report claiming that the renewables revolution will lead to 1.2 million Europeans being employed in the power sector by 2020, compared to 850,000 if green power investments are not scaled up.


BMW cars sold in Europe in 2008 were 10% less polluting compared with the previous year, according to an assessment by campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E). Mazda, Hyundai and Ford cars also cut their emitted carbon dioxide per kilometre by between 6.7% and 8.2%. The least-polluting marques in Europe are still Fiat and Peugeot-Citroen, T&E says.

Power cuts

Systematic implementation of energy and resource-saving practices has saved the UK Cabinet Office £7m over one year, and has contributed to cutting the carbon footprint of central government computers by 12,000 tonnes. The green measures have included using double-sided printing and ensuring that computers are turned off at night. Cabinet Office minister Angela Smith said that “information technology is one of the hidden causes of climate change”, and private companies should learn from the government’s example.

Fishy business

The European commission has tried to persuade the EU’s 27 member countries to support a bid to have bluefin tuna listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The proposal was blocked by the so-called Club Med countries of Malta, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, France and Greece.

Another fish under threat is the New Zealand hoki, of which about 11% of a McDonald’s filet-o-fish is made. WWF Australia has expressed “major concerns” about its over-exploitation, and some restaurants, such as the US Long John Silver’s chain, have taken hoki off the menu.

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