Blogs > Guest Blog > October 2012

Why RAN loves Mickey

Contributed by Marc Gunther.

Back in 2010, the activist group Rainforest Action Network sent a bunch of children’s books to a lab for analysis. They learned that the paper in most books — including those from The Walt Disney Co., which is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, producing 50 million books and 30 million magazines a year – contained tropical hardwood pulp, likely from Indonesia. Many kids books are made in China, and China gets much of its paper from Indonesia, where rainforests are threatened by logging, mining and agriculture.

Not long after, RAN launched a campaign against Disney, which included protests at the company’s corporate headquarters in Burbank. The campaign ended today with a big victory, in the form of a Disney paper buying policy that RAN’s executive director, Rebecca Tarbotton, describes as second to none.

“We’ve seen a tremendous commitment from Disney,” she told me, by phone, from RAN’s offices in San Francisco.

Here’s Disney’s announcement and here is a summary of the policy. It’s complicated, and far-reaching, and it will be rolled out in two phases — with the first covering paper sourced directly by Disney or for use in Disney-branded products and packaging, and the second addressing paper sourced by independent licensees.

Among the key principles: Disney is promising to reduce its overall paper use. It will increase its use of recycled paper and paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. It will avoid paper that comes from “High Conservation Value Forests” as well as “High Carbon Value Forests,” recognizing the importance of forests not only to protect biodiversity but to absorb CO2 from the air.

Importantly, the company specifically highlights Indonesia as a hotspot, and says Disney has “taken and will take action to eliminate paper fiber from unwanted sources in this region.”

As a practical matter, this means Disney will no longer procure paper from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s biggest paper companies, and one that has been harshly criticized not just by activists but by business-friendly environmental groups. APP and Asian Pacific Resources International Holdings (April), another Indonesian firm, have been blamed for exploiting Indonesian forests, which are disappearing at an estimated rate of 2.5 million acres a year.

“Putting all those things together puts Disney at the head of the pack, when it comes to a consumer-products company,” Tarbotton said.

What’s more, the new standards cover the sprawling Disney global empire–not just books and magazines but the paper used by its media networks like ABC and ESPN, by its theme parks and resorts, by its movie studio and, importantly, by more than literally thousands of licensees who make Disney products.

“We’re talking about a policy that covers the packaging on a Mickey doll in Russia as well as a cocktail napkin on a cruise line or the maps that are given out at Disney World in Florida,” Tarbotton said.

The complexity of Disney’s businesses, with global suppliers and licensees, helps explain why it too more than two years for the policy to take shape. RAN tried to hurry things along by staging a well-publicized protest in May, 2011, hanging a banner across the Disney Studios in Burbank saying: “Disney: Destroying Indonesia’s Rainforests.” [See my 2011 blogpost, Mickey Mouse, ravager of rainforests?]

Since then, RAN and other environmental groups including the World Resources Institute have been talking with Disney about how to improve its paper-buying practices.

In today’s announcement, Disney says it will continue to work with environmental groups to identify and prioritize regions with poor forest management and high rates of deforestation, and that it will report its progress on an annual basis. “They’ve got very good targets and timetables,” Tarbotton told me.

For Disney, the policy removes a stain on a company with a good reputation for environmental stewardship. The company’s DisneyNature movie unit has released feature-length documentaries in recent years including Earth, Oceans and African Cats. The company’s Worldwide Conservation Fund supports programs in 112 countries. And, as its press release noted, Disney has invested more than $27 million in forest carbon projects in the United States, Peru, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, and China since 2009.

Here, courtesy of RAN, is an image of what the group and its allies, now including Disney, are trying to prevent.


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Posted: 10/16/2012 2:39:39 PM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

Energy Conservation and Efficiencies

Homeowner Steps To Reduce Consumption and Lower Costs

Although the average homeowner is well aware of worldwide concerns about our dependency on nonrenewable energy resources like coal, natural gas and oil, his immediate and much more personal concern is more likely to be the $64,000 question: Is there anything I can do to lower my utility bills? And the answer is an emphatic YES! Some options call for professional expertise and installation so they cost more money but pay big dividends over time but others are smaller do-it-yourself projects which provide immediate results at relatively modest expense.

The best time to decide on measures to conserve energy and maximize efficiencies is in the planning stage of home construction or renovation but there are many things homeowners can do in older existing homes. There are two pathways to lowering residential energy costs. Energy conservation is reducing the amount of energy we use and energy efficiency is maximizing the effects of the energy we must use to provide the lifestyle, convenience, and comfort levels we want. Both of these pathways will result in cost reductions.

The first step is to audit the home's energy profile. Energy-savings gameplan and timetable components have many variables depending on geographic location, construction materials, floorplan and age of the house, the size of the family, existing appliances and their age, type of hot water heater, and the condition of heating and air conditioning units. What are the greediest energy guzzlers in the average home? Heating and air conditioning account for 50% share of usage, followed by major appliances with 27%, lighting 12% and all the others 11%.

Since heating and cooling the home accounts for such a large chunk of energy expense, it is important to keep it in good repair. Just as an annual physical monitors the homeowner's health status, a yearly tune-up of HVAC equipment will improve its efficiency, lower the operating cost, increase comfort levels and extend its life cycle. Change the filters once a month so the unit does not have to work as hard or run so long. Keep the thermostat on a constant 78 degrees in summertime and 68 degrees in the winter. Each degree up or down increases energy costs by 6%-8%. Keep yard debris and high grass away from outside condensers. Use trees or fencing as a shield to block direct sunshine.

Major appliances have wide variations in their longevity and range from 10 years for dish washers and microwaves to 19 years for a gas cooking stove. New appliances on the market currently are reported to be 50% more efficient than those available ten years ago.

Owner's operating manuals provide useful information on reducing energy costs.

Thomas Edison's invention has been lighting up the world for a very long time but research has shown those old-fashioned light bulbs to be very inefficient. Only about 10% if the electricity they produce is converted to light while the other 90% generates heat. In some places in the world, those incandescent light bulbs have been banned altogether. In the United States, their phaseout is scheduled for 2014 after which time only energy efficient bulbs such as halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL), and light- emitting diode (LED) bulbs will be available. There are still some positives and negatives being weighed on each of these, however. CFL's contain mercury so there are some health concerns for which a lot of research is being done. LED's have an advantage because they have instant on and off with no warmup period but, even though they have a longer lifespan, they are not as bright as other bulb products.

There is renewed interest in tinted window film to conserve energy. Heat penetration is reduced by up to 93% so energy costs go down and the home is also made more comfortable. These products are put on the outside of glazed windows to keep the sun's heat out in the summer and they are put on the inside of the window to keep the heat inside in wintertime. After the window is thoroughly cleaned, the film sheet is cut to size and pressed onto the glass. A squeegee is used to get the air and water out.

Installing window film is rated to be an easy-to-medium do-it-yourself project for homeowners. DIY film pays for itself in savings over two or three summers. Many vendors will pre-cut the film to specified measurements. Professional installers use a top quality film costing between $2.25 and $3.00 per sq ft with labor charges ranging from $5.00 to $7.00. The increased cost of professional installations is recouped over 4-6 summers.

A side benefit of these films is that they block out harmful UV rays which fade draperies, carpeting and upholstery. There is also an opaque product which provides privacy when installed in bathroom windows or on sliding glass doors. Traditional window treatments like blinds, shades and drapes do increase energy efficiency by absorbing heat from sunlight but they do not stop air leaks.

Weather stripping and caulking around door and window frames is an important part of the energy audit. Experts recommend getting a professional evaluation in determining if air is leaking in or out and where the leaks are located. The professionals will also give advice on the best way to correct a problem.

If your windows are very old, the bottom line is that it might make more sense to replace them. New windows are extremely energy efficient and will usually pay for themselves over a few years of energy savings.

Last but by no means least, inadequate insulation up in the attic may translate to 40% loss of cool air in the summertime and as much as 60% heat loss in winter. The average 10-15 years old house was originally fitted with R-11 to R-15 insulation but today the standard is R-30 so many older homes need at least another 5-10 inches. The new batting should be placed perpendicular to the ceiling joists.

Some homeowners are going the extra energy-mile and using solar energy to heat water. These systems are costly because they use silicon crystals. These crystals are becoming in short supply since they are being used in many more applications and this means their prices have risen. Alternative materials are being developed which have the potential to substantially lower future costs.

Energy conservation and improved efficiencies for the homeowner begin with a series of small steps in the search for doing more with less! When we start with our own small personal spaces, we are better prepared to meet and support the challenges of universal energy problems.

Contributed by:

Jared Diamond is a contributor with Home Star Search, an online informational resource on rent to own homes. Jared enjoys writing on matters ranging from energy efficiency to microeconomics.

Posted: 10/11/2012 10:29:53 AM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

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